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Title: Servants of Sin - A Romance
Author: Bloundelle-Burton, John
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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SERVANTS OF SIN



BY THE SAME AUTHOR

ROMANCES

IN THE DAY OF ADVERSITY
ACROSS THE SALT SEAS
THE CLASH OF ARMS
DENOUNCED
THE SCOURGE OF GOD
THE HISPANIOLA PLATE
FORTUNE'S MY FOE
A GENTLEMAN ADVENTURER
THE DESERT SHIP


NOVELS OF TO-DAY

A BITTER HERITAGE
HIS OWN ENEMY
THE SILENT SHORE
THE SEAFARERS



SERVANTS OF SIN
A ROMANCE



BY
JOHN BLOUNDELLE-BURTON



"HOW DOTH THE CITY SIT SOLITARY THAT WAS
FULL OF PEOPLE! NOW IS SHE BECOME AS A
WIDOW! SHE THAT WAS GREAT AMONG THE
NATIONS AND PRINCESS AMONG THE PROVINCES."



METHUEN & CO.
36 ESSEX STREET W.C.
LONDON
1900



_Dramatised and produced for copyright purposes in London, May 1st_,
1900. _Licensed for production by the Lord Chamberlain, and entered at
Stationers' Hall as a Drama in IV. Acts_.



TO
MY FRIEND
ERNEST FOSTER



CONTENTS


CHAP.
      I. Monsieur le Duc.
     II. Les Demoiselles Montjoie at Home.
    III. The Romance of Monsieur Vandecque.
     IV. A Sister of Mercy.
      V. The Duke's Desire
     VI. The Duke's Bride.
    VII. Man And Wife.
   VIII. The Street Of The Holy Apostles.
     IX. Alone.
      X. The Prison of St. Martin des Champs.
     XI. The Condemned.
    XII. Marseilles.
   XIII. "My Wife! What Wife? I have no Wife."
    XIV. Where is the Man?
     XV. The Pest.
    XVI. "I had not Lived till now, could sorrow kill."
   XVII. An Aristocratic Resort.
  XVIII. "The Abandoned Orphan"--Prologue
    XIX. "The Abandoned Orphan"--Drama
     XX. "The Way to Dusty Death"
    XXI. A Night Ride.
   XXII. The Stricken City.
  XXIII. Within the Walls.
   XXIV. A Discovery.
    XXV. Face to Face.
   XXVI. "Revenge--Bitter! Ere Long Back on Itself Recoils!"
  XXVII. "I Love Her!--She is my Wife."
 XXVIII. The Walled-up Doors.
   XXIX. Asleep or Awake.
    XXX. "If after Every Tempest come such Calms!"



SERVANTS OF SIN



CHAPTER I

MONSIEUR LE DUC


Lifting aside the heavy tapestry that hung down in front of the window
of the tourelle which formed an angle of the room--a window from which
the Bastille might be seen frowning over the Quartier St. Antoine, a
third of a mile away--the man shrugged his shoulders, uttered a
peevish exclamation, and muttered, next:

"Snow! Snow! Snow! Always snow! Curse the snow!" Then he turned back
into the room, letting the curtain fall behind him, and seated himself
once more in a heavy fauteuil opposite the great fireplace, up the
chimney of which the logs roared in a cheerful blaze.

"Hard winters, now," he muttered once more, still thinking of the
weather outside; "always hard winters in Paris now. 'Twas so when I
rode back here after the campaign in Spain was over. When I rode
back," he repeated, "a year ago." He paused, reflecting; then
continued:

"Ay, a year ago. Why! so it was. A year ago to-day. A year this very
day. The last day of December. Ay, the bells were ringing from Notre
Dame, St. Roch--the Tour St. Jacques. To welcome in the New Year.
Almost, it seemed, judging by the events of the next few weeks, to
welcome me to my inheritance. To my inheritance! Yet, how far off that
inheritance seemed once! As far off as the love of those curs, my
relatives, was then."

He let himself sink farther and farther into the deep recesses of the
huge fauteuil as thus he mused, stretched out his long legs towards
the fire, stretched out, too, a long arm and a long, slim brown hand
towards where a flask of tokay stood, with a goblet by its side;
poured out a draught and drank it down.

"A far-off love, then," he said again, "now near, and warm, and
generous. Bah!"

Looking at the man as he lay stretched in the chair and revelling in
the luxury and comfort by which he was surrounded, one might have
thought there was some incongruity between him and those surroundings.
The room--the furniture and hangings--the latter a pale blue, bordered
with fawn-coloured lace--the dainty ornaments, the picture let in the
wall above the chimney-piece, with others above the doorway and
windows--did not match with the occupant. No more than it and they
matched with a bundle of swords in one corner of it; swords of all
kinds. One, a heavy, straight, cut-and-thrust weapon; another an
English rapier with flamboyant blade and straight quillon; a third of
the Colichemarde pattern; a fourth a viperish-looking spadroon; a
fifth a German Flamberg with deadly grooved blade and long-curled
quillons.

Surely a finished swordsman this, or a man who had been one!

Looking at him one might judge that he was so still--or could be so
upon occasion.

His wig was off--it hung upon the edge of an old praying-chair that
was pushed into a corner as though of no further use; certainly of
none to the present occupant of this room--and his black-cropped hair,
his small black moustache, which looked like a dab stuck on his upper
lip--since it extended no further on either side of his face than
beneath each nostril--added to his black eyes, gave him a saturnine
expression, not to say a menacing one. For the rest, he was a
thick-set, brawny man of perhaps five-and-forty, with a deeply-tanned
complexion that looked as though it had been exposed to many a
pitiless storm and many a fierce-beating sun; a complexion that, were
it not for a whiteness beneath the eyes, which seemed to tell of late
hours and too much wine, and other things that often enough go with
wine and wassail, would have been a healthy one.

Also, it was to be noted that, in some way, his apparel scarcely
seemed suited to him. The satin coat of russet brown; the deep
waistcoat of white satin, flowered with red roses and pink daisies and
little sprays of green leaves; the white knee-breeches also of satin,
the gold-buckled shoes, matched not with the sturdy form and fierce
face. Instead of this costume _à la Régence_ one would have more
expected to see the buff jerkin of a soldier, the brass spurs at the
heels of long brown riding-boots, and, likewise, one of the great
swords now reclining in the corner buckled close to his thigh. Or else
to have seen the man sitting in some barrack guardroom with, beneath
his feet, an uncarpeted floor, and, to his hand, a pint stoop, instead
of finding him here in this highly-ornamented saloon.

"The plague seize me!" he exclaimed, using one of his favourite oaths,
"but there is no going out to-night. Nor any likelihood of anyone
coming in. I cannot go forth to gaze upon my adorable Laure; neither
Morlaix nor Sainte Foix are likely to get here."

And, after glancing out at the fast falling snow, he abandoned himself
once more to his reflections. Though, now, those reflections were
aided by the perusal of a packet of letters which he drew forth from
an escritoire standing by the side of the fireplace. A bundle of
letters all written in a woman's hand.

He knew them well enough--by heart almost; he had read them over and
over again in the past year; it was perhaps, therefore, because of
this that he now glanced at them as they came to his hand; it
happening, consequently, that the one he had commenced to peruse was
the last he had received.

It was dated not more than a week back--the night before Christmas, of
the year 1719.

"Mon ami," it commenced, "I am desolated with grief that you cannot be
with me this Christmastide. I had hoped so much that we should have
spent the last New Year's Day together before our marriage."

"Bah!" exclaimed the man, impatiently. "Before our marriage. Bah!" and
he rattled the sheet in his hand as he went on with its perusal. "I
imagine that," the letter continued, "after all which has gone before
and has been between us it will ere long take place----."

"Ah!" he broke off once more, exclaiming, "Ah! you imagine that, dear
Marquise. You imagine that. Ha! you imagine that. So be it. Yet, on my
part, I imagine something quite the contrary. I dare to imagine it
will never take place. I think not. There are others--there is one
other. Laure--Laure--Laure Vauxcelles. My beautiful Laure!
Yet--yet--I know not. Am I wise? Does she love me? Love me! No matter
about that! She will be my wife; the mother of future Desparres.
However, let us see. To the Marquise." And again he regarded his
letters--flinging this one aside as though not worth the trouble of
further re-reading--and took up another. Yet it, also, seemed scarcely
to demand more consideration than that which he had accorded its
forerunner in his hands, and was also discarded; then another and
another, until he had come to the last of the little packet--that
which bore the earliest date. This commenced, however, with a vastly
different form of address than did the one of which we have seen a
portion. It opened with the pretty greeting, "My hero." And it opened,
too, with a very feminine form of rejoicing--a pæan of delight.

"At last, at last, at last, my soldier," the writer said, "at last,
thou hast come to thine own. The unhappy boy is dead; my hero, my
Alcides, is no longer the poor captain following the wars for hard
knocks; his position is assured; he is rich, the inheritor, nay, the
possessor of his great family title. I salute you, monsieur le----."

As his eyes reached those words, there came to his ears the noise of
the great bell pealing in the courtyard as though rung by one seeking
immediate entrance. Then, a moment later, the noise of lackeys
addressing one another; in another instant, the sound of a footfall in
the corridor outside--drawing nearer to the room where the man was.
Wherefore he came out of the tower with the window in it, to which he
had vainly gone, as though to observe what might be happening in the
street--knowing even as he did so that he could see nothing, since,
whoever his visitor might be, that visitor and his carriage, or
sedan-chair, had already entered the courtyard with his menials.

Then, in answer to the soft knock at the door, he bade the person come
in.

"Who is below?" he asked of the footman, thinking some friend had
kindly ventured forth on this inclement night to visit him--perhaps to
take a hand at pharaon or piquet.

"Monsieur, it is Madame la Marquise----"

"La Marquise?"

"Grignan de Poissy."

For a moment the man addressed stood still, facing his servant; his
eyes a little closed, his upper eyelids lowered somewhat; then he said
quietly:

"Show Madame la Marquise to this apartment. Or, rather, I will come
with you to welcome Madame la Marquise." While, suiting his action to
his words, he preceded the footman to the head of the great staircase
and warmly welcomed the lady who, by this time, was almost at the head
of it. Doubtless, she knew she would not be denied.

That this man had been (as the letter, which he had a few moments ago
but glanced at, said) "a poor captain following the wars" was no doubt
the fact; now, however, he was becoming a perfect courtier, and
testified that such was the case by his demeanour. With easy grace he
removed from her shoulders the great furred houppelande, or cloak,
which the ladies of the period of the Regency wore on such a night as
this, and carried it over his own arm; with equal grace he led her
into the room he had but now quitted, placed her in the great fauteuil
before the fire, and put before her feet a footstool, while he,
with great courtesy, even removed her shoes, and thus left her
silk-stockinged feet to benefit by the genial warmth thrown out by the
logs.

"I protest it is too good of you, Diane," he whispered, as he paid her
all these attentions, "too good of you to visit thus so idle an
admirer as I am. See, I, a soldier, a man used to all weathers, have
not dared to quit my own hearth on such a night as this. Yet Diane,
adorable Diane, why--why--expose yourself to the inclemency of the
night--even, almost, I might say, to the gossip of your--and of
my--menials."

"The gossip of your menials!" the lady exclaimed. "The gossip of your
menials? Will this fresh incident expose us to any further gossip, do
you suppose? It is a long while since our names have been coupled
together, Monsieur le Duc."

"Monsieur le Duc!" he repeated. "What a form of address! Monsieur le
Duc! My name to you is--has ever been--Armand."

"Ay, 'tis so," she answered, while, even as she continued speaking a
little bitterly to him, she shifted her feet upon the footstool, so
that they should get their full share of the luxurious warmth of the
fire. "'Tis so. Has been so for more years now than a woman cares to
count. Desparre," she said, addressing him shortly, "how long have we
known each other--how old am I?"

For answer he gave her a deprecatory shrug of the shoulders, as though
it were impossible such a question should be asked, or, being asked,
could possibly be answered by him; while she, her blue eyes fixed upon
his face, herself replied to the question. "It is twenty years," she
said, "since we first met."

"Alas!" with another shrug, meant this time to express a wince of
emotion.

"Yes, twenty years," she continued. "A long while, is it not? I, a
young widow then; you, Armand Desparre, a penniless porte-drapeau in
the Regiment de Bellebrune. Yet not so penniless either, if I remember
aright"--and the blue eyes looked steely now, as they gazed from
beneath their thick auburn fringe at him--"not penniless. You lived
well for an ensign absolutely without private means--rode a good
horse, could throw a main with the richest man in the regiment."

"Diane," he interrupted, "these suggestions, these reminiscences are
unseemly."

"Unseemly! Heavens! Yes, they are unseemly. However, no matter for
that. You are no longer a poor man. Armand Desparre is rich, he is no
more the poor marching soldier, he is Monsieur le Duc Desparre."

"More recollections," he said, with still another shrug. "Diane, we
know all this. The world, our world, knows who and what I am."

"Also our world knows, expects, that there is to be a Duchess
Desparre."

"Yes," he answered, "it knows, it expects, that."

"Expects! My God!" she exclaimed vehemently, "if it knew all it would
not only expect but insist that that duchesse should be the woman who
now bears the title of the Marquise Grignan de Poissy."

"It does not know all. Meanwhile," and his eye glanced towards the
heap of swords in the corner of the room, "who is there to insist on
what my conduct shall be--to order it to be otherwise than I choose it
shall be? Frankly, Diane, who is there to insist and make the
insistence good?"

"There are men of the De Poissy family," she replied, and her glance,
too, rested on those swords. "Desparre is not the only master of fence
in Paris."

"Chut! They are your kinsmen. I do not desire to slay them, nor, I
presume, will they desire to slay me. And, desiring, what could they
do? De Poissy himself is only a boy."

"He is the head of the house. He will not see the wife of the late
head slighted." Then, before he could make any answer to this remark,
she turned round suddenly on him and exclaimed, while again the blue
eyes looked steely through their heavy lashes:

"Who is Laure Vauxcelles?"

This question, asked with such unexpectedness, startled even the man's
cynical superciliousness, as he showed by the way in which he
stammered forth an answer that was no answer at all.

"Laure--Vauxcelles! What--what--do you know of her? She is not of
your--our--class."

"Pardon. Every woman who is well favoured is--of your class."

"What do you know of her?" he repeated, unheeding the taunt, though
with a look that might have been regarded as a menacing one.

"Only," she answered, "that which most of those who are of
your--our--class know. The gossip of the salon, the court, the Palais
Royal. Armand Desparre, I have been in Paris two days and was bidden
to the Regent's supper last night--otherwise I should have been still
at the Abbaye de Grignan dispensing New Year hospitality with the boy,
De Poissy. Instead, therefore, I was at supper in the oval room. And
de Parabére, de Sabran, de Noailles, le Duc de Richelieu--a dozen,
were there. One hears gossip in the oval room, 'specially when the
Regent has drunk sufficient of that stuff," and she nodded towards
Monsieur's still unfinished flask of tokay. "When he is asleep at the
head of his table endeavouring to--well--sleep off--shake off its
fumes ere going to his box close by to hear La Gautier sing."

"What did you hear?" Desparre asked now.

"Gossip," the Marquise answered. "Gossip. Perhaps true--perhaps idle.
God knows. The story of a man," she continued, with a shrug of her
shoulders, "no longer young, once very poor, yet always with pistoles
in his pocket, since he did not disdain to take gifts from a foolish
woman whom he had wronged and who loved him."

"Was that mentioned?"

"It was hinted at. It was known, too, by one listener, at
least--myself--to be true. A man," she continued, "now well to do,
able to gratify almost every desire he possesses. Of high position.
The story of a man," she went on with machine-like insistence, "who,
finding at last, however, one desire he is not able to gratify--the
desire of adding one more woman to his victims, and that a woman young
enough to be his daughter--is about to change his character. To
abandon that of knave, to adopt that of fool."

"Also," interrupted Monsieur le Duc, "a man who will demand from
Madame la Marquise Grignan de Poissy the name of her gossip. It is to
be desired that that gossip should be a man. Otherwise, her nephew the
Marquis Grignan de Poissy will perhaps consent to be Madame's
representative."

"To adopt the rôle of a fool," she continued, unheeding his words. "To
marry the woman--the niece of a broken-down gamester--who refuses to
become his victim. A creature bred up in the gutter!"

"Madame will allow that this--fool--is subject to no control or
criticism?"

"Madame will allow anything that Monsieur le Duc desires. Even, if he
pleases, that he is a coward and contemptible."



CHAPTER II

LES DEMOISELLES MONTJOIE AT HOME


Outside the snow had ceased to fall; in its place had come the clear,
crisp, and biting stillness of an intense frost, accompanied by that
penetrating cold which gives those who are subjected to it the feeling
that they are themselves gradually freezing, that the blood within
them is turning to ice itself. A cold, hard night; with the half-foot
long icicles cracking from the increasing density of the frost, and
falling, with a little clatter and a shivering, into atoms on the
heads or at the feet of the passers-by; a night on which beggars
huddled together for warmth in stoops and porches, or, being solitary,
laid down moaning in their agony on doorsteps until, at the end, there
came that warm, blissful glow which precedes death by frost. A night
when the well-to-do who were abroad drew cloaks, roquelaures, and
houppelandes tighter round them as they shivered and shook in chariots
and sedan chairs; when dogs were brought in from kennels and placed
before the blazing fires so that their unhappy carcases might be
thawed back to life and comfort, and when horses in their stalls had
rugs and cloths strapped over their backs so that, in the morning,
they should not be found stretched dead upon their straw.

Inside, except in the garrets and other dwellings of the outcasts, who
had neither fuel to their fires nor rags to their backs, every effort
was made to expel the winter cold; wood fires blazed on hearths and in
Alsatian stoves; each nook and cranny of every window was plugged
carefully; while men, and in many cases, women as well, drank spiced
Lunel and Florence, Richebourg and St. Georges, to keep their
temperatures up. And drank copiously, too.

It was the coldest night of the winter 1719-20; the coldest night of
that long spell of frost which had gripped Paris in its icy grasp.

Yet, in the salons of the Demoiselles Montjoie that frost was
confronted--defeated; it seemed unable to penetrate into the warmed
and scented rooms, over every door and window of which was hung arras
and tapestry; unable to touch, and cause to shiver in touching, either
the bare-shouldered women who lounged in the velvet fauteuils or the
group of men who, in their turn, wandered aimlessly about.

"Confusion!" exclaimed one of the latter, a well-dressed, middle-aged
man, "when is Susanne about to begin? What are we here for? To gaze
into each other's fascinating faces or to recount our week-old
scandals? The fiend take it! one might as well be at home and have
been spared the encounter with the night air!"

"Have patience, Morlaix!" exclaimed a second; "the game never begins
until the pigeons are here. Sportsmen fire not into the air, nor
against one another. Do you want to win my louis-d'ors, or I yours?
No, no! On the contrary, let us combine. So, so," he broke off, "there
come two. The Prince Mirabel and Sainte Foix."

"Mirabel and Sainte Foix!" exclaimed the other. "Mirabel and Sainte
Foix! My faith, all we shall get out of them will not make us fat.
Sainte Foix cannot have got a thousand louis-d'ors left in the world,
and those which he has Mirabel will attach for himself. Mon Dieu! that
one of the Rohans should be one of us!"

The other shrugged his shoulders; then he said:

"Speak for yourself, mon ami. Meanwhile, I do not consider myself the
same as Mirabel. I have not been kicked out of the army. I am no
protector of all the sharpers in Paris. Speak for yourself, my friend.
For yourself."

"Now, there," said the other, taking not the slightest notice of his
acquaintance's protestations, which he probably reckoned at their
proper value. "There is one who might be worth----"

"Nothing! He would have been once, but his money is all gone. La Mothe
over there has had some of it, Mirabel also; even I have touched a
little. Now, there is none to touch. They even say he owes the
respected Duc Desparre twenty thousand livres, and cannot pay them."

"Desparre will expect them."

"That is possible. But I have great doubts--as to his ever getting
them, I mean. Yet he is a gentleman, this Englishman; it may be he
will find means to pay. It is a pity he does not ask his countryman,
John Law, for assistance. He might put him in the way of making
something."

"He might; though that I also doubt. Law has bigger friends to help
than dissolute young Englishmen; and they are not countrymen, the
financier being Scotch. Meanwhile, as I say, Desparre will expect his
money. He will want it, rich as he is, for his honeymoon."

"His honeymoon! Faugh! the wretch. He is fifty if an hour. And,
frankly, is it true? Has he bought Laure Vauxcelles?"

"Ay, body and soul; from her uncle Vandecque. She is his, and cannot
escape; she is in his grip. There is no hope for her. Vandecque is her
guardian; our law gives him full power over her. It is obedience to
the guardian's orders--or--you know!"

"Yes, I know. A convent; the veil. I know. Ha! speak of the angels!
Behold!" and his eyes turned towards the heavily-curtained doorway, at
which a woman, accompanied by a man much her senior in years, appeared
at the moment.

A woman! Nay! little more than a girl--yet a girl who ere long would
be a beauteous woman. Tall and supple, with a figure giving promise of
ripe fulness ere many months should have passed, with a face of sweet
loveliness--possessing dark hazel eyes, an exquisite mouth, a head
crowned with light chestnut hair, one curl of which (called by the
roués of the Regent's Court a "follow me, young man") fell over the
shoulder to the fair bosom beneath. The face of a girl to dream of by
night, to stand before by day and worship.

No wonder that Desparre, forty-five years of age as he really was, and
a dissolute, depraved roué to whom swift advancing age had brought no
cessation of his evil yearnings, was supposed to have shown good taste
in purchasing this modern Iphigenia, in buying her from her uncle, the
gambler, Vandecque--the man who entered now by her side.

In this salon there was a score of women, all of whom were well
favoured enough; yet the glances they cast at Laure Vauxcelles showed
that they owned their superior here. Moreover, they envied her.
Desparre was thought to be enormously rich--had, indeed, always been
considered so since he inherited his dukedom; but now that he had
thrust his hand into the golden rain that fell in the Rue Quincampoix
and, with it, had drawn forth more than a million livres--as many
said!--there was not one of them who, being unmarried, would not have
sold herself to him. But he had elected to buy Laure Vauxcelles, they
understood; and yet Laure hated him. "She was a beautiful fool!" they
whispered to each other.

The tables were ready by the time she and her uncle had made their
greetings. The "guests" sat down to biribi, pharaon (faro), and
lansquenet. It was what they had come for, since the Demoiselles
Montjoie kept the most fashionable gambling-house in Paris--a house in
which the Regent had condescended to play ere now. A house in which,
many years later, a milliner's girl, who was brought there to exhibit
her beauty, managed to become transformed into a king's favourite,
known afterwards as Madame du Barry.

Soon the gamblers were at it fast and furious. The stockbrokers of the
Rues Quincampoix[1] and Vivienne--not having had enough excitement
during the day in buying and selling Mississippi shares--were now
engaged in retrieving their losses, if possible, or losing their
gains. Even the greater part of the women had left the velvet lounges
and fauteuils and were tempting fate according to their means, with
crowns, louis-d'ors shares of the Royal Bank, or "The Louisiana
Company"; gambling in sums from twenty pounds to a thousand.

And Vandecque, Laure's uncle, having now his purse well lined, though
once nothing rubbed themselves together within it but a few beggarly
coppers, was presiding at the lansquenet table, had flung down an
important sum to make a bank, and was--as loudly as the manners of
good society under the Regency would permit--inviting all round him to
try their chance. While they, on their part, were eager enough to
possess themselves of that purse's contents, though he himself had
very little fear that such was likely to be the case.

Two there were, however, who sat apart and did not join in the
play--one, the ruined young Englishman of whom Morlaix and his
companion had spoken, the other, Laure Vauxcelles, the woman who
was to be sold in marriage to Desparre. Neither had spoken, however,
on Laure's entrance with Vandecque. The man had remained seated
on one of the velvet lounges at the far end of the room, his eyes
fixed on the richly-painted ceiling, with its cupids and nymphs and
goddesses--fitting allegories to the greatest and most aristocratic
gambling hell in Paris! The girl, on entering, had cast one swift
glance at him from those, hazel eyes, and had then turned them away.
Yet he had seen that glance, although he had taken no notice of it.

Presently, the game waxing more and more furious while Vandecque's
back was turned to them (he being much occupied with his earnest
endeavours to capture all the bank notes and the obligations of the
Royal Bank and the Louisiana Company, and the little piles of gold
pieces scattered about), the young man rose from his seat, and,
walking to where Laure Vauxcelles sat some twenty paces from him,
staring straight before her, said:

"This should be almost Mademoiselle's last appearance here. Doubtless
Monsieur le Duc is anxious for--for his union with Mademoiselle. When,
if one may make so bold to ask, is it likely to take place?"

For answer, the girl seated before him raised her eyes to those of the
young Englishman, then--with a glance towards Vandecque's back,
rounded as it bent over the table, while he scooped up the stakes
which a successful deal of the cards had made his--said slowly:

"Never. Never--if I can prevent it."

She spoke in a low whisper, for fear the gambler should hear her, yet
it was clear and distinct enough to reach the ears of the man before
her; and, as he heard the words, he started. Yet, because--although he
was still very young--the life he had led, the people he had mixed
among in Paris, had taught him to steel himself against the exhibition
of all emotion, he said very quietly:

"Mademoiselle is, if I may say it, a little difficult. She appears to
reject all honest admiration offered to her. To--to desire to remain
untouched by the love of any man?"

"The love of any man! Does Monsieur Clarges regard the love of the Duc
Desparre as worth having? Does he regard the Duc Desparre as a man? As
one whose wife any woman should desire to become?"

Monsieur Clarges shrugged his shoulders, then he said:

"There have been others."

"Yes," she answered. "There have been others."

"And they were equally unfortunate. There was one----"

"There was one," she replied, interrupting, and with her glance firmly
fixed him, "who desired my love; who desired me for his wife. A year
ago. Is it not so? And, Monsieur Clarges, what was my answer to him?
You should know. Recall it."

"Your answer was that you did not love him; that, therefore, you could
be no wife of his. Now, Mademoiselle, recall yourself--it is your
turn--what he then said. It was this, I think. That he so loved you
that, without receiving back any love from you in return, he begged
you to grant his prayer; to believe that he would win that love at
last if you would but give yourself to him; while, if you desired it,
he would so show the reverence he held you in--that, once you were his
wife, he would demand nothing more from you. Nothing but that he might
be by your side; be but as a brother, a champion, a sentinel to watch
and guard over you, although a husband in truth. That was what he
said. That was all he desired. Mademoiselle, will the Duc Desparre be
as loyal a husband as this, do you think?"

"The Duc Desparre will never be husband of mine."

The Englishman again shrugged his shoulders. He had learnt the trick
well during a long exile in Paris--an exile dating from the time when
the Pretender's cause was lost by the Earl of Mar, and he, a Jacobite,
had followed him to France after the "'15."

"But how to avoid it now?" he asked. "The time draws near--is at hand.
How escape?"

"Is there not one way?" she asked, with again an upward glance of
those eyes.

"No no no!" he replied, his calmness deserting him now. "No! no! Not
that! Not that!"

"How else? There is no other."

As they spoke the play still went on at the tables; women shrieked
still, half in earnest half in jest, as a card turned up that told
against them. Still Vandecque crouched over the board where he held
the bank and where his greedy hands drew in the stakes, for he was
winning heavily. Already he had twenty thousand livres before him
drawn from the pockets of Mirabel, Sainte Foix, the stockbrokers of
the Rues Quincampoix and Vivienne, and from the female gamblers. And,
gambler himself, he had forgotten all else; he had forgotten almost
that the niece whom he guarded so carefully until the time should come
when he would hand her over to her purchaser, was in the room.

"It is an accursed law," the Englishman murmured; "a vile, accursed
law which gives a father or a guardian such power. In no other country
would it be possible. Yet Lau--Mademoiselle--that which you meditate
must never be. Oh! to think of it! To think of it!"

He buried his head in his hands now as he spoke--he had taken a
seat beside her--and reflected on the terror of the thing, the horror
that she, whom he had loved so madly--whom, alas! he loved still,
though she cared nothing for him--should be doomed to one of two
extremes--marriage with Desparre, or a convent. Or, worse--a third, a
more fearful horror! That which she meditated--death!

For that, if she had taken this resolve, she would carry it out he did
not doubt. She would never have proclaimed her intention had she not
been determined. She had said it was the only way!

But, suddenly, he looked up at her, bent his head nearer to hers,
whispered a word. Then said aloud:

"There is your safety. There your only chance. Take it."

As he spoke, she started, and a rich glow came into her face while her
eyes sparkled; but a moment later her countenance fell again, and she
drew away from him.

"No! no!" she said. "No! no! Not that way. Not that. Not such a
sacrifice as that. Never! never never!"



CHAPTER III

THE ROMANCE OF MONSIEUR VANDECQUE


An evening or so after the meeting between Laure Vauxcelles and Walter
Clarges at the gambling hell kept by the Demoiselles Montjoie,
Vandecque sat in the saloon of his apartments in the Passage du
Commerce. Very comfortable apartments they were, too, if bizarre
ornaments and rococo furniture, combined with the most gorgeous
colours possible to be obtained, could be considered as providing
comfort. Yet, since it was a period of bizarrerie and whimsical
caprice in furniture, clothing, and life generally (including morals),
it may be that, to most people--certainly to most people with whom the
once broken-down but now successful gambler was permitted to
associate--the rococo nature of his surroundings would not have
appeared particularly out of place. And, undoubtedly, such a warm nest
must have brought comfort to the heart of the man who paid at the
present moment 250f. a week for the right of occupying that nest,
since there had been a time once when he scarce knew how to find one
franc a day whereby to pay in advance for a night's lodgings in a back
alley. Also, he had passed, previously to that period of discomfort, a
portion of his life away from Paris in a condition which the French
termed politely (whenever they mentioned such an unpleasant subject)
"in retreat," and had been subjected to a process that they designated
as "_marqué_," which, in plain English, means that he had been at the
galleys as a slave and had been branded. "For the cause of religion,"
he said, if he ever said anything at all on the subject; "for a
question of theft and larceny with violence" being, however, written
in the factum of the eminent French counsel who appeared against him
before the judges in Paris.

His life had been a romance, he was in the habit of observing in his
moments of ease, which were when the gambling hells were closed during
the day-time, or the stockbrokers' offices in the Rues Quincampoix and
Vivienne during the night-time. And so, indeed, it had been if romance
is constituted and made up of robbery, cheating, chicanery, the
wearing of blazing scarlet coats one month and the standing
bare-backed in prison yards during the next, there to have the
shoulders and loins scourged with a whip previously steeped in brine.
A romance, if drinking flasks of champagne and iced tokay at one
period, and water out of street fountains at another, or riding in
gilt sedan-chairs one week and being flogged along at a cart tail
another, formed one. For all these things had happened to Jean
Vandecque, as well as the galleys in the past, with the carcan, or
collar around his neck, and the possession of the gorgeous apartments
in the Passage du Commerce at the present moment--all these, and many
more.

With also another romance--or the commencement and foundation of one.
That which has now to be told.

Struggling on foot along the great road that leads from the South to
Paris, ten years before this story begins, Jean Vandecque (with the
discharge of a liberated convict from the galley _Le Requin_ huddled
away in the bosom of his filthy shirt) viewed the capital at last--his
face burnt black by the Mediterranean suns under which he had slaved
for five years, and by the hot winds which had swept over his
nakedness during that time. God knows how he would have got so far,
how have traversed those weary miles without falling dead by the
wayside, had it not been for that internal power which he possessed
(in common with the lowest, as well as the highest of beasts) of
finding subsistence somehow; of supporting life. An egg stolen here
and there along the country roads; a fowl seized, throttled, and eaten
raw, if no sticks could be found wherewith to make a fire; a child
robbed of a loaf--and lucky that it was not throttled too; a lonely
grange despoiled; a shopkeeper's till in some hamlet emptied of a few
sous; a woman cajoled out of a drink of common wine; and Paris at
last. Paris, the home of the rich and well-to-do; the refuge of every
knave and sharper who wished to prey upon others. Paris, into which he
limped footsore and weary, and clad in dusty rags; Paris, full of
wealth and full of fools to be exploited.

He found his home, or, at least, he found the home in which his unhappy
wife sheltered; a garret under the roof of a crazy, tumble-down
house behind Notre Dame--found both home and wife after a day's
search and many inquiries made in cellars and reeking courts and
hideous alleys, into which none were allowed to penetrate except those
who bore the brand of vagabond and scoundrel stamped clear and
indelible upon them.

Also, he found something else: A child--a girl eight years
old--playing in a heap of charred faggots in the chimney; a child who
told him that she was hungry, and that there was no food at all in the
place.

"Whose is the brat?" he asked of his wife, knowing very well that, at
least, it was not hers, since it must of a certainty have been born
three years before he went "into retreat" on the Mediterranean.
"Whose? Have you grown so rich that you adopt children now; or is it
paid for, eh?"

"It is paid for," the patient creature said, shuddering at the man's
return, since she had hoped that he had died in the galley and would
never, consequently, wander back to Paris to molest her. "Paid for,
and will be----"

"Badly paid for, at least, since its adoption leads you to no better
circumstances than these in which I find you. Give me some food. I
have eaten nothing for hours."

"Nor I; nor the child there. Not for twenty-four hours. I have not a
sol; nor anything to sell."

The man looked at his wife from under bushy black eyebrows--though
eyebrows not much blacker than his baked face; then he thrust his hand
into his pocket and drew forth five sols and weighed them in his hands
as though they were gold pieces. He had stolen them that morning from
the basket of a blind man sleeping in the sun outside St. Roch, when
no one was looking.

"Go, buy bread," he said. "Get something. I am starving. Go."

"Bread--with these! They will not buy enough for one. And we are so
hungry, she and I. See, the child weeps for hunger. Have you no more?"

"Not a coin. Have you?"

"Alas! God, He knows! Nothing. And we are dying of hunger."

"How is it you are not at work, earning something?"

"They will trust me no more. They fear I shall sell the goods confided
to me. Who entrusts velvets, or silk, or laces to such as I, or lets
such as I enter their shops to work there?"

"What is to be done, then?"

"Die," the woman said. "There is nought else to do."

"Bah! In Paris! Imbecile! In Paris, full of wealth and food! Stay here
till I return."

And he went swiftly out. Some hours later, when the sun had sunk
behind the great roof of the Cathedral, when the children were playing
about beneath the spot where the statues were, and when the pigeons
were seeking their niches, those three were eating a hearty meal, all
seated on the floor, since there was neither chair nor table nor bed
within the room; a meal consisting of a loaf, a piece of bacon, and
some hard-boiled eggs. The woman and the child got but a poor share,
'tis true, their portions being the morsels which Vandecque tossed to
them every now and again; while of a wine bottle, which he constantly
applied to his mouth, they got nothing at all. Yet their hunger was
appeased; they were glad enough to do without drink.

*    *    *    *    *    *

The passing years brought changes to two of these outcasts, as it did
to the wealthy in Paris. Vandecque's wife had died of the small-pox
twelve months after his return; the adopted child, Vandecque's
_niece_, Mdlle. Vauxcelles, was developing fast into a lovely girl;
while as for Vandecque--well! the gallows bird, the man who had worn
the iron collar round his neck and who bore upon his shoulders the
brand, had disappeared, and in his place had come a grave, sedate
person clad always in sombre clothes, yet a man conspicuous for the
purity of his linen and lace and the neatness of his attire. While,
although he had not as yet attained to the splendour of the Passage du
Commerce, his rooms in the Rue du Paon were comfortable and there was
no lack of either food, or drink, or fuel--the three things that the
outcast who has escaped and triumphed over the miseries and memories
of the past most seeks to make sure of in the future.

He was known also to great and rich personages now, he had patrons
amongst the nobility and was acquainted with the roués who circled
round the Regent. He was prominent, and, as he frequently told
himself, was "respected."

He was a successful man.

How he had become so, however, he did not dilate on--or certainly not
on the earlier of his successes after his reappearance!--even when
making those statements about his romantic life with which he
occasionally favoured his friends. Had he done so, he would not,
perhaps, have shocked very much the ears, or morals, of his listeners,
but he must, at least, have betrayed the names of several eminent
patrons for whom he had done dirty work in a manner which might have
placed his own ears, if not his life, in danger, and would, thereby,
probably have led to his once more traversing the road to Marseilles
or to Cette--which is almost the same thing--to again partake of the
shelter of the galleys.

Yet he would never have found or come into contact with these
illustrious patrons, these men who required secret agents to minister
to their private pleasures, had it not been for a stupendous piece of
good fortune which befell him shortly after his return to Paris from
the Mediterranean. It was, indeed, so strange a piece of good fortune
that it may well be set down here as a striking instance of how the
Devil takes care of his own.

From his late wife he had never been able to obtain any information as
to who "the brat" was whom he had found playing about in the ashes on
the hearth in the garret, when he returned from his period of southern
seclusion; he had not found out even so much as what name she was
supposed to bear, except that of "Laure," which seemed to have been
bestowed on the child by Madame Vandecque on the principle that one
name was as good as another by which to call a child. She had said
herself that she did not know anything further--that, being horribly
poor after Vandecque had departed for the south, she had yielded to
the offer of an abbé--now dead--to adopt the girl, twenty-five
louis-d'ors being paid to her for doing so. That was all, she said,
that she knew. But, she added (with a firmness which considerably
astonished her lord and master) that, especially as she had come to
love the creature which was so dependent on her, she meant to carry
out her contract and to do her best by her. To Vandecque's suspicious
nature--a nature sharpened by countless acts of roguery of all
kinds--this statement presented itself as a lie, and he believed that
either his wife had received a very much larger sum of money in
payment for the child's adoption than she had stated, or that she was
surreptitiously receiving regular sums of money at intervals on its
behalf. Of the two ideas, he inclined more to the latter than the
former, and it was owing to this belief that he did not at once take
steps to disembarrass himself of the burden with which he found
himself saddled, and send the child of at once to the Home of the
Foundlings whence she would eventually have been sold to a beggar for
a few livres and trained to demand alms in the street, as usually
happened to deserted children in the reign of Louis the Great. Later
on he was thankful--he told himself that he was "devoutly
thankful"--that he had never done anything of the sort.

He was one day, about a year after his wife's death, mounting the
ricketty stairs which led to the garret in which he had found the
woman on his return, when, to his astonishment, he saw a Sister of
Charity standing outside the door of his room, looking hesitatingly
about her, and glancing down towards him as he ascended to where she
was. And it was very evident to him that the woman had been knocking
at his door without receiving any answer to her summons. This was a
thing certain to happen in any case, since it was Vandecque's habit on
quitting his shelter during the day-time to send Laure to play with
all the other vagrant children of the alley, and to put the key in his
pocket. At night, the plan was varied somewhat when he went forth, the
girl being sent to her bed and locked into the room for safety.

"Madame desires--?" he said now, as he reached the landing on which
the sister stood, while taking off his frayed hat to her with an
inimitable gesture of politeness which his varied and "romantic"
career had taught him well enough how to assume when necessary.
"Madame desires----"

"To see the woman, Madame Jasmin," the sister answered, her grave
solemn eyes roving over the man's poor clothes as she answered. Or,
perhaps, since his clothes in such a spot as this would scarcely be
out of place, examining his face with curiosity.

"Madame Jasmin!" he repeated to himself, but to himself only--"Madame
Jasmin!" How long it was since he had heard that name! Ages ago, it
seemed; ages. "Madame Jasmin!" The name his wife had borne as a young
widow of twenty, the name she had parted with for ever, on the morning
when she gave herself to him at the altar of St. Vincent de Paul. Yet,
now, of late years, she seemed to have used it again for some reason,
some purpose, and had probably done so during his retreat. Only--what
was that purpose? He must know that.

"Madame Jasmin," he said in a subdued voice--a voice that was meant
to, and perhaps did, express some sorrow for the worn, broken helpmate
and drudge who had gone away and left him, "Madame Jasmin is dead. A
year ago. My poor wife was delicate; our circumstances did not conduce
to----"

"Ah! your wife. You are, then, Monsieur Jasmin? She doubtless,
therefore--you--you understand why I am here? That I have brought what
was promised."

Understanding nothing, utterly astonished, yet with those consoling
words, "I have brought what was promised," sinking deep into his mind,
Vandecque bowed his head acquiescingly.

"I understand," he said. "Understand perfectly. Will not Madame give
herself the trouble to enter my poor abode? We can talk there at our
leisure." And he opened the door and ushered her within.



CHAPTER IV

A SISTER OF MERCY


Some betterment of his circumstances must have come to Vandecque
between the time when he had returned from the South and now (how it
had come, whether by villainy or honest labour, if he ever turned his
hand to such a thing, it would be impossible to say), since the
garret, though still poor and miserable, presented a better appearance
than it had previously done. There were, to wit, some chairs in it at
this time; cheap common things, yet fit to sit upon; a table with the
pretence of a cloth upon it; also a carpet, with a pattern that must
once have been so splendid that the beholder could but conclude that
it had passed from hand to hand in its descent, until it had at last'
reached this place. A miserable screen also shut off a bed in which,
doubtless, Vandecque reposed, while a large cupboard was fitted up as
a small bedroom, or closet, in which possibly the child slept.

In one of these chairs the owner of the room invited his visitor to be
seated, in the other he placed himself, the table between them. Then,
after a pause, while Vandecque's eyes sought again and again those of
the sister's, as though their owner was wondering what the next
revelation would be, the latter recommenced the conversation. She
repeated, too, the purport of her former words, if not the words
themselves.

"Doubtless Madame Jasmin told you that you might expect my coming. It
has been delayed longer than it should have been. Yet--yet--even in
the circumstances of my--of the person for whom I act--money is not
always quite easy to be obtained," and she looked at Vandecque as
though expecting an answer in assent.

"Naturally. Naturally," he made haste to reply, his quick wits
prompting him to understand what that reply should be, while also they
told him that this explanation, coupled with the presence here of the
visitor, gave an almost certain testimony to the fact that the money
mentioned had been now obtained. "Naturally. And--and--it was of no
import. Since my poor wife passed away we have managed to struggle
through our existence somehow."

Yet he would have given those ears which had so often been in peril of
the executioner's knife to know from what possible source any money
could have become due to his late wife. Her first husband had died in
almost poverty, he recalled; they had soon spent what little he had
had to leave his widow. Then, even as he thus pondered, the sister's
voice broke in on him again.

"It is understood that this is the last sum. And that it is applied,
as agreed upon with your late wife, to the proper bringing up and
educating of the child, and to her support by you. You understand
that; you give your promise as a man of honour? Your wife said that
you were a 'sailor'--sailors are, I have heard, always honourable
men."

"I--I was a sailor at the time she took charge of little Laure. As
one--as a man of honour--I promise. She shall have nought to complain
of. And I have come to love her. I--believe me--I have been good to
her, as good as, in my circumstances, I could be."

And, knave as Vandecque was, he was speaking the truth now. He had
been good to the child. These two, so strangely brought together, had
grown fond of each other, and the vagabond not only found a place in
his heart for the little thing, but, which was equally as much to the
purpose, found for himself a place in hers. If he had ever seriously
thought, in the first days of finding her in his garret, of sending
her to the home for abandoned children, he had long since forgotten
those ideas. He would not have parted with her now for that possible
sum of money which it seemed extremely likely he was going to become
the possessor of for having retained her.

"I do not doubt it. Yet, ere I can give you the money, there are
conditions to be complied with. First, I must see the child; next, you
must give me your solemn promise--a promise in writing--that you will
conform to my demands as to the bringing of her up. You will not
refuse?"

"Refuse!" said Vandecque. "Refuse! Madame, what is there to refuse?
That which you demand is that which I have ever intended, not
knowing that you were--not knowing when to expect your coming. Now
you have brought the money--you have brought it, have you not?"
speaking a little eagerly (for the life of him he could not help that
eagerness)--"my dearest desire can be accomplished."

"Yes, I have brought it," the woman answered. "It is here," and she
took from out her pocket a little canvas sack or bag, that to
Vandecque's eyes looked plump and fat. "It contains the promised sum,"
she said, "and it is--should be--enough. With that the child can be
fed, clothed, educated, if you husband it well. Fitted for a decent,
if simple, life. You agree that it is so, Monsieur Jasmin?"

Vandecque bowed his head courteously, acquiescingly, while muttering,
"Without doubt it is enough with careful husbanding." Yet, once more
he would have given everything, all he had in the world--though 'twas
little enough--to know what that small canvas bag contained. While, as
for acquiescing in its sufficiency, he would have done that even
though it contained but a handful of silver, as he thought might after
all be the case.

"Take it then," she said, passing it across the table to him, while
the principal thought in Vandecque's mind as she did so was that,
whosoever had chosen this simpleton for his, or her agent, must be a
fool, or one who had but little choice in the selection of a
go-between, "and, if you choose, count the gold; you will find it as
promised."

Count the gold! So it was gold! A bag full! Some two or three hundred
pieces at least, or he, whose whole life had been spent in getting
such things by hook or by crook, in gambling hells, or by, as that
accursed advocate had said who prosecuted for the King, theft and
larceny, or as a coiner, was unable to form any judgment. And they
were his, must be his, now. Were they not in his own room, to his
hand? Even though this idiotic Sister of Charity should decide to
repossess herself of them, what chance would she have of doing so.
Against him, the ex-galley slave. Him! the knave.

Yet he had to play a part, to reserve his efforts for something more
than this present bag of louis'. If one such was forthcoming, another
might be, in spite of what the foolish woman had said about it being
the last; for were there not such things as spyings and trackings, and
the unearthing of secrets; would there not be, afterwards, such things
as the discovery of some wealthy man or woman's false step? Oh that it
might be a woman's, since they were so much easier to deal with. And
then, extortion; blackmail. Ha! there was a bird somewhere in France
that laid golden eggs--that would lay golden eggs so long as it lived;
one that must be nourished and fed with confidence--at least, at
first--not frightened away.

He pushed the bag back towards the Sister, remembering he could wrench
it from her again at any moment. With a calm dignity, which might well
have become the most highbred gentleman of the Quartier St. Germain
hard by, he muttered that, as for counting, such an outrage was not to
be thought upon. Also he said:

"Madame has not seen the child. She stipulated that she should do so.
Had she not thus stipulated, I must myself have requested her to see
her."

Then he quitted the room, leaving the bag of money lying on the table,
and, descending one or two of the flights of stairs, sent a child whom
he knew, and whom he happened to observe leaving another room, to seek
for little Laure and bid her return at once. At one moment ere he
descended he had thought of turning the key (which he had left outside
when he and his visitor entered the apartment) softly in the lock and
thereby preventing her from escaping; but he remembered that he would
be on the stairs between her and the street, and that he did not mean
to go farther than the doorstep. She was safe.

He returned, therefore, saying that the child would be with them
shortly. Then to expedite matters (as he said), he asked if it would
not be well for him to sign the receipt as desired? The receipt or
promise, as to what he undertook to perform.

"That, too, is here," she replied, while Vandecque's shrewd eye
noticed, even as she spoke, that the bag of louis' lay untouched as he
had left it. "Read it, then sign."

He did read it, laughing inwardly to himself meanwhile, though showing
a grave, thoughtful face outwardly, since his sharp intelligence told
him that it was a document of no value whatever. It was made out in
the form of a receipt from Madame Jasmin--who had had no legal
existence for twelve years, and was now dead--to a person whose name
was carefully and studiously omitted from the paper (though that, he
knew, would afterwards be filled up) on behalf of a female child,
"styled Laure by the woman Jasmin." A piece of paper, he told himself,
not worth the drop of ink spilt upon it. Or, even though it were so,
not ever likely to be used or produced by the individual who took such
pains to shroud himself, or herself, in mystery. A worthless document,
which he would have signed for a franc, let alone a bag of golden
louis.'

Aloud, however, he said:

"To make it legal in the eyes of his Majesty's judges, the name of my
dear wife must be altered to that of mine. Shall I do it or will you?"

"You, if it pleases you."

Whereon Vandecque altered the name of "la femme Jasmin" to that of "le
Sieur Jasmin," householder, since, as he justly remarked aloud, he was
no longer a sailor, and then, with many flourishes--he being a master
hand at penmanship of all kinds--signed beneath the document the
words, "Christophe Jasmin." Christophe was not his name, but, as he
said to himself saturninely, no more was Jasmin, wherefore he might as
well assume the one as the other. Moreover, he reflected that should
the paper ever see the light again, it might be just as well for him
to be able to deny the whole name as a part of it.

As he finished this portion of the transaction, the door opened and
little Laure came in, hot and flushed with the games she had been
playing with the other _gamines_ of the court, yet with already upon
her face the promise of that beauty which was a few years later to
captivate the hearts of all who saw her, including the Duc Desparre
and the English exile, Walter Clarges. Only, there was as yet no sign
upon that face of the melancholy and sorrow which those later years
brought to it as she came to understand the life her guardian led; to
understand, too, the rottenness of the existence by which she was
surrounded. Instead, she was bright and merry as a child of her years
should be, gay and insouciant, not understanding nor foreseeing how
dark an opening to Life's future was hers. As for externals, she was
well enough dressed; better dressed, indeed, than those among whom she
mixed. Her little frock of dark Nimes serge--the almost invariable
costume of the lowly in France--was not a mass of rags and filth, her
boots and thread stockings not altogether a mockery.

"Madame sees," Vandecque remarked, as the child ran towards him with
her hands outstretched and her eyes full of gladness, until she
stopped, embarrassed at the sight of the strange lady with the solemn
glance; "Madame sees; she recognises that she need have no fear, no
apprehension."

"I see." Then, because she was a woman, she called Laure to her and
kissed and fondled the child, muttering, "Poor child; poor little
thing," beneath her breath. And, though she would have shuddered and
besought pardon for days and nights afterwards on her knees, had she
recognised what was passing through her mind, she was in truth
uttering maledictions on the mother who could thus send away for ever
from her so gentle and helpless a little creature as this; who could
send her forth to the life she was now leading, to the life that must
be before her.

The interview was at an end, and the sister rose from her seat. As for
Vandecque, he would willingly have given half of whatever might be in
that bag of money still lying on the table--his well-acted
indifference to the presence of such a thing preventing him from even
casting the most casual glance at it--could he have dared to ask one
question, or throw out one inquiry as to whom the principal might be
in the affair. Yet it was impossible to do so since he was supposed to
know all that his wife had known, while actually not aware if she
herself had been kept in ignorance of the child's connections or, on
the contrary, had been confided in. "If she had only known more," he
thought; "or, knowing more, had only divulged all to me."

But she was in her grave now, and, rascal though he had been, he could
not bring himself to curse the poor drudge lying in that grave for
having held her peace against such a man as he was, and knew himself
to be. If she knew all, then, he acknowledged, it was best she should
be silent; if she knew nothing--as he thought most likely--so, also,
it was best.

But, still, he meant to know himself, if possible, something about the
child's origin. He, at least, was under no promised bond of secrecy
and silence; he had never been confided in. For, to know everything
was, he felt certain, to see a comfortable future unroll itself before
him; a future free from all money troubles--the only discomfort which
he could imagine was serious in this world. The person who had sent
that bag of louis'--the woman had said it contained gold!--he repeated
to himself, could doubtless provide many more. He must know who that
person was.

With still an easy grace which seemed to be the remnant of a higher
life than that in which he now existed, he held the door open for his
visitor to pass out; with equally easy politeness he followed her down
the ricketty stairs and would have escorted her to the end of the
court, or alley, and afterwards, unknown to her, have followed the
simple creature to whatever portion of Paris she might have gone,
never losing sight of his quarry, but that, at the threshold, she
stopped suddenly and bade him come no farther.

"It must not be," she said. "Monsieur Jasmin, return. And--forget not
your duty to the child."

For a moment he paused dumfoundered, perceiving that this simpleton
was, in sober truth, no such fool as he had supposed her. Then he
bowed, wished her good day, promising all required of him as he did
so, and retired back into the passage of the house. Nor could any
glance thrown through the crack of the open door aid him farther. He
saw her pause at the entrance to the court, and, standing still, look
back for some minutes or so, as though desirous of observing if he was
following her; also, he saw her glance directed to the window of his
room above, as though seeking to discover if he was glancing out of
it; if he had rushed up there to spy upon her.

Then, a moment later, she was gone from out the entrance to the court.
And, creeping swiftly now to that entrance, and straining his eyes up
and down the long street, he observed that no sign of the woman was
visible.

He had lost all trace of her.

Amidst the hackney coaches and the hucksters' carts, and, sometimes, a
passing carriage of the nobility from the neighbouring Quartier St.
Germain, she had disappeared, leaving no sign behind.



CHAPTER V

THE DUKE'S DESIRE

Vandecque never discovered who that woman was, whence she came, nor
where she vanished to. Never, though he brought to bear upon the quest
which he instituted for her an amount of intelligent search that his
long training in all kinds of cunning had well fitted him to put in
action. He watched for days, nay, weeks, in the neighbourhood of the
Hospital of Mercy, to or from which most of the Sisters, who were not
engaged in nursing or other acts of charity elsewhere, passed
regularly--yet never, amongst some scores of them who met his eyes,
could he discover the woman he sought. He questioned, too, those in
the court who had been dwelling there when first his wife came to
occupy the garret in which he had found her later, as to whether they
could remember aught of the arrival of the child. He asked questions
that produced nothing satisfactory, since all testified to the truth
of that which the poor woman had so often told him--namely, that the
child was brought to her before she came to this spot. Indeed, he
would have questioned Laure herself as to what she could remember
concerning her earliest years, only what use was it to ask questions
of one who had been but an infant, unable even to talk, at the time
the event happened.

At last--and after being confronted for months by nothing but a dense
blackness of oblivion which he could not penetrate--he decided that
the woman who had appeared to him as a simple and unsophisticated
_religieuse_, capable only of blindly and faithfully carrying out the
orders given to her by another person, was, in truth, no Sister of
Charity whatever, but a scheming person who had temporarily assumed
the garb she wore as a disguise. He came also to believe that she
herself was Laure's mother, that she had bound herself in some way to
make the payment which he had by such extreme good fortune become the
recipient of, and that, in one thing at least, she had uttered the
actual truth--the actual truth when she had said that those louis'
would be the last forthcoming, that there could never be any more. Had
she not, he recalled to mind, said that such a sum as she brought was
not easily come by, as an excuse for her not having paid them before?
Also, had she not wept a little over the child, folded her to her
bosom, and called her "Poor little thing"? Did not both these things
most probably point to the fact that, judged by the latter actions,
she was the girl's mother, and, according to the statement which
preceded it, that she was not a woman of extraordinarily large means?
Had she been so, she would have been both able and willing to pay down
more than five hundred louis' for the hiding of her secret, and would,
to have that secret kept always safely (and also to possess the power
of seeing the child now and again without fear of detection) have been
prepared to make fresh payments from time to time.

For five hundred louis' was what the canvas bag had contained. Five
hundred louis', as Vandecque found when, on returning to the garret
after losing sight of the woman at the entrance to the court, he had
turned them all out on to the table. Five hundred louis' exactly,
neither more nor less, proving that the sum was a carefully counted
one; doubtless, too, one duly arranged for. Louis' that were of all
kinds, and of the reigns during which they had been in existence--the
original ones of Louis the Just; the more imposing ones of Le Roi
Soleil, with the great sun blazing on the reverse side; the bright,
new ones but recently struck for the present boy-king by order of the
Regent; all of which led the astute Vandecque to conclude that the
pile had been long accumulating--that the first batch might be an old
nest egg, or an inheritance; that the second batch was made up of
savings added gradually; that the third had been got together by hook
or by crook, with a determination to complete the full sum.

"Yet, what matters!" he said, to himself, as he tossed the gold pieces
about in his eager hands, and gloated over them with his greedy eyes;
tossing, too, a double louis d'or of the treacherous Le Juste, which
he had come across, to the child to play with--"what matters where
they come from, how they were gathered together to hide a woman's
shame? They are mine now! Mine! Mine! Mine! A capital! A bank! The
foundation of a fortune, carefully handled! Come, child; come, Laure;
come with me. To the _fournisseur's_, first; then to the dining rooms.
Some new, clean clothes for both of us, and then a meal to make our
hearts dance within us. We are rich, my child; rich, my little one.
Rich! Rich! Rich!"

For, to the whilom beggared outcast and galley slave, five hundred
louis' were wealth.

Time passed; in truth it seemed that Vandecque was indeed rich, or
growing rich. The garret was left behind; four rooms in the Rue du
Paon preceded by a year or so that apartment in the Passage du
Commerce at which he eventually arrived. Four rooms, one a
dining-room, another a parlour, in which at midnight there came
sometimes a score of men to gamble--women sometimes came too--and a
bedroom for each. He was growing well-to-do, his capital accumulating
as capital will accumulate in the hands of the man who always holds
the bank and makes it a stipulation that, on those terms alone, can
people gamble beneath his roof.

Meanwhile Laure was fast developing into a woman--was one almost. She
was now seventeen, for she was within a year of the time when the
exile, Walter Clarges, was to whisper the words of suggested salvation
in her ear in the saloon of the demoiselles Montjoie--suggested
salvation from her marriage with Monsieur le Duc Desparre, from his
embraces. A beautiful girl, too, with her sweet hair bound up now
about her shapely head, her deep hazel eyes full and lustrous, calm
and pure. Una herself passed no more undefiled amidst the horrors of
Wandering Wood than did Laure Vauxcelles amidst the gamblers and the
dissolute _roués_ who surrounded the court of Philippe le Débonnaire,
and who, ere the games began at night--when occasionally permitted to
see her--found time to cast admiring glances at her wondrous,
fast-budding beauty.

The name Vauxcelles was, of course, no more hers than was that of
Laure, which had been given to her by poor Madame Vandecque when first
she took the deserted and discarded waif to her kindly heart. But as
Vandecque had elected to style her his niece, so, too, he decided to
give her a name which would have been that of an actual niece if he
had ever had one. He recalled the fact that he had once possessed an
elder sister, now long since dead, who had married a man from Lorraine
whose name was Vauxcelles, and, he being also dead, the name was
bestowed on his _protégée_. It answered well enough, he told himself,
since Laure had come to his late wife far too early in her life to
remember aught that had preceded her arrival under the roof of the
unhappy woman's earlier garret; and it formed a sufficient answer and
explanation to any questions the girl might ever ask as to her origin.
In sober fact, she believed that she was actually the child of his
dead and gone sister and her husband.

She would have loved her uncle more dearly than she did--she would
have loved the grave, serious man who had suffered so for his
"religion," as he often told her, but for two things. The first was
that she knew him to be a gambler; that he grew rich by enticing men
to his apartments and by winning their money; that several young men
had been ruined beneath their roof, and that more than one had
destroyed himself after such ruin had fallen upon him. She knew, too,
that others stole so as to be able to take part in the faro and biribi
that was played there; to take part, too, in the brilliant society of
those members of the aristocracy who condescended to visit the Rue du
Paon and to win their stolen money. For there sometimes came, amongst
others, that most horrible of young roués, the Duc de Richelieu and
Fronsac, from whom the girl shrank as from a leper, or some noisome
reptile; there, too, came De Noailles, reeking with the impurities of
an unclean life; and De Biron, who was almost as bad. Sometimes also,
amongst the women, came the proud De Sabran, who condescended to be
the Regent's "friend," but redeemed herself in her own eyes by
insulting him hourly, and by telling him that, when God had finished
making men and lackeys, He took the remnants of the clay and made
Kings and Regents. Laughing La Phalaris came, too, sometimes; also
Madame de Parabère; once the Regent came himself; leaning heavily on
the arm of his Scotch financier, and, under his astute mathematical
calculations, managed to secure a large number of Vandecque's
pistoles, so that the latter cursed inwardly while maintaining
outwardly a face as calm and still as alabaster.

An illustrious company was this which met in the ex-galley slave's
apartments!

What to Laure was worse than all, however, was that her uncle
sometimes desired her to be agreeable to occasional guests who
honoured his rooms with their presence. Not, it is true, to the
dissolute roués nor the Regent's mistresses--to do the soiled and
smirched swindler of bygone days justice, he respected the girl's
innocence and purity too much for that--nor to those men who were
married and from whom there was nothing to be obtained. But he
perceived clearly enough her swift developing beauty; he knew that
there, in that beauty, was a charm so fresh and fascinating that it
might well be set as a stake against a great title, an ancient and
proud name, the possession of enormous wealth. Before loveliness
inferior to Laure's, and purity not more deep--for such would have
been impossible--he had known of, heard of, the heads of the noblest
houses in France bowing, while exchanging for the possession of such
charms the right to share their names. What had happened before, he
mused, might well happen again.

Laure, the outcast, the outcome of the gutters and the mud, the
abandoned child, might yet live to share a ducal coronet, a name borne
with honour since the days of the early Capets. And, with her, he
would mount, too, go hand in hand, put away for ever a disgraceful
past, a past from which he still feared that some spectre might yet
arise to denounce and proclaim him. If she would only yield to his
counsel--only do that! If she only would!

Suitors such as he desired were not lacking. One, he was resolved she
should accept by hook or by crook, as he said to himself in his own
phrase. This was the newly succeeded Duc Desparre, the man who a year
before had been serving as an officer on paltry pay in the Regiment de
Bellebrune, and taking part in the Catalonian campaign--the man who,
in middle life, had succeeded to a dukedom which a boy of eighteen had
himself succeeded to but a year before that. But the lad was then
already worn out with dissipation which a sickly constitution,
transmitted to him by half-a-dozen equally dissipated forerunners, was
not able to withstand. A cold contracted at a midnight fête given by
the Regent in the gardens of Madame de Parabère's country villa at
Asnieres, had done its work. It had placed in the hands of the soldier
who had nothing but his pay and his bundle of swords (and a few
presents occasionally sent him by an admiring woman), a dukedom, a
large estate, a great rent-roll.

It was six months before that snowy night on which the Marquise
Grignan de Poissy paid her visit to Monsieur le Duc, that Desparre,
flinging all considerations of family, of an ancient title and a still
more ancient name, to the winds, determined that this girl should be
his wife, that he would buy her with his coronet, since in no other
way could she be his.

"I desire her. I love her. I will possess her," he said to himself by
night and day; "I will. I must marry her. Curse it, 'tis strange, too,
how her beauty has bound me down; I who have loved so many, yet never
thought of marrying one of them. I, the poor soldier, who had nothing
to offer in exchange for a woman's heart but a wedding ring, and would
never give even that. Now that I am well to do, a great prize, I
sacrifice myself."

Yet he chuckled, too, as he resolved to make the sacrifice,
recognising that it was not only his love for and desire of possessing
this girl which was egging him on to the determination, but something
else as well. The desire to retaliate upon his numerous kinswomen who
had once ignored him, but who now grovelled at his feet. To wound, as
he termed them, the "women of his tribe," whose doors were mostly shut
to the beggarly captain of the Regiment de Bellebrune, but who, in
every case, would have now prostrated themselves before him with
pleasure--the elder ones because there was much of the family wealth
which he might direct towards them and their children eventually, if
he so chose, and also because rumour said that his acquaintanceship
with the Regent and John Law was doubling and trebling that wealth;
the younger ones because there was the title and the coronet and the
great position ready to be shared with some woman. Yet he meant to
defeat them all, to retaliate upon them for past slights. The only
share which they should have in any wedding of his would be the
witnessing of it with another woman, and that a woman of whom no one
knew anything beyond the fact that she belonged to the inferior
classes, and was the niece and ward of a man who kept a
gambling-house.

It would be a great, a stupendous retaliation--a retaliation he could
gloat over and revel in; a repayment for all he had endured in his
earlier days.

One thing alone stood in the way of the accomplishment of that
retaliation. Laure Vauxcelles refused absolutely to consent to become
the Duchesse Desparre--indeed, to marry anyone--as Vandecque told
Monsieur after he had well sounded his niece on the subject.

"Refuses!" Desparre exclaimed. "Refuses! It is incredible. Is there
any other? That English exile to wit, the man Clarges? If I know aught
of human emotions, he, too, loves her."

"She has refused him also."

"Yet the cases are widely different. He is a beggar; I am Desparre."

"She avers she will marry no one. She has also strange scruples about
this house, about the establishment I keep. She says that from such a
home as this no woman is fit to go forth as a wife."

"Her scruples show that she, at least, is fit to do so. Vandecque, she
must be my wife. I am resolved. What pressure can you bring to bear
upon her? Oh! that I, Desparre, should be forced to sue thus!" he
broke off, muttering to himself in his rage.

"I must think, reflect," Vandecque replied. "Leave it to me. You are
willing to wait, Monsieur?"

"I must have her. She must be my wife."

"Leave it to me."

Monsieur did leave it to him, and, as the autumn drew towards the
winter, Vandecque was able to tell his employer--for such he was--that
all scruples were overcome, that the girl was willing to become his
wife. One thing, however, he did not tell--namely, the influence he
had brought to bear upon her, such influence consisting of the
information he had furnished as to her being an unknown and nameless
waif and stray, who, as he said, he had adopted out of charity. For,
naturally enough, he omitted all mention of the bag of louis' d'or
which he had received on her behalf, and also all mention of anything
else which he imagined his wife had previously received. So, when his
tale was done, it was with no astonishment that he heard Laure
Vauxcelles announce that she was willing to become the Duchesse
Desparre, since he concluded that, as she had now learnt who she
was--or rather who she was not--she was willing to sink all trace of
what she doubtless considered was a shameful origin in a brilliant
future. It never dawned upon his warped and sordid mind that this very
story, while seeming to induce her to compliance, had, in truth,
forced her to a determination to seek oblivion in a manner far
different from that of marriage; an oblivion which should be utter.

As for Desparre, he asked no questions as to how Vandecque had brought
her to that compliance. It was sufficient for him to know, and revel
in the knowledge, that the girl, who moved his middle-aged pulses in a
manner in which they had never been stirred for years before by any
woman, was now to be his possession; sufficient for him also to know
that, in so becoming possessed of her, he would be able to administer
a crushing blow to the vanity as well as the cupidity of the family
which had so long ignored him; a blow from which he thought it was
very doubtful if their arrogance could ever recover.



CHAPTER VI

THE DUKE'S BRIDE


The Duc Desparre was making his toilette for his approaching
marriage--about to take place at midday at the church of St. Gervais,
which was conveniently placed between the streets in which his mansion
and Vandecque's new apartments were situated.

Strange to say, Monsieur was in a bad temper for such a joyous
occasion, and, in consequence, his valet was passing an extremely bad
time. Many things had conspired to bring about this unfortunate state
of affairs, the foremost of which was that there had been a great fall
in the value of "Mississippians" or "Louisiana" stock, owing to the
fact that adverse accounts were reaching France as to the state of the
colony. Some of the settlers, who had gone out within the last two or
three years, had but recently returned and given the lie to all the
flourishing accounts so assiduously put about. There were, they said,
neither gold mines nor silver to be found there, as had been stated;
the Indians, especially the Natchez, were in open warfare with the
French and slaughtering all who came in their way; the soil was
unproductive, marshy and feverous--the colonists were dying by
hundreds. Law, the great promoter of the Louisiana scheme, was a liar,
they said, while, La Salle and Hennepin, the Franciscan monk who had
sent home such flourishing accounts to the late king, were, they
added, the same; and so were all who held out any hopes that Louisiana
could ever be aught to France but a suitable place to which to send
its surplus population, there to find death. It is true these
wanderers had been flung into the Bastille for daring to return and
promulgate such statements--but, all the same, those statements had
their effect on the funds, and "Mississippians" had fallen.

Wherefore the Duc Desparre was a poorer man on this, his wedding morn,
than he had been yesterday, by one-half his newly acquired wealth, and
he was in a great state of irritation in consequence. While, also, he
remembered at this moment that Vandecque had had a deal of money from
him, none of which he was ever likely to see the colour of again. So
that, altogether, he was in a very bad humour--and there were other
things besides to annoy him.

"Have you sent this morning to enquire how Mademoiselle Vauxcelles
is?" he asked of his valet, who at this moment was affixing a patch to
his face. "She has not been well for four days, and has been
invisible. I trust her health is restored. What is the answer?"

"Mademoiselle is better, Monsieur," the man replied, "much better."

"Is that the answer? No message for me?"

"None was delivered to me from her, Monsieur le Duc. But Monsieur
Vandecque sent his compliments and said he expected you eagerly."

"Did he? Without doubt! Perhaps, too, he expects a little more money
from me." This he whispered to himself. "Well, he will find himself
disappointed. If he requires more he may go seek it at the gambling
tables, or of the devil; he will get nothing further from me.
Henceforth it will be sufficient to have to support his niece."

Then, his toilet being completed, he asked the valet if the company
were below and the carriages ready to convey them to the church where
the bride was to be met?

"They assemble, Monsieur le Duc, they assemble. Already the
distinguished relatives of Monsieur are arriving, and many friends
have called to ask after Monsieur's health this morning, and have
proceeded to the church," while, as the little clock struck eleven in
silvery tones, the man added, "If Monsieur is agreeable it will be
well to descend now, perhaps."

"So," said Desparre, rising, "I will descend. Yet, before I go, give
me my tablets, let me see that everything has been carried out as I
ordered," while, taking from the servant's hand a little ivory
notebook, he glanced his eye over it.

"Yes," he muttered. "Yes. Humph! Yes. Rosina's allowance to be paid
monthly--ha!--curse her!--yet, otherwise, she would not hold her
tongue. The exempt to sell up the widow Lestrange if she pays not by
the 31st. Good! Good! The outfitters to be told that I will not pay
for the new furniture until the end of the year; ha! but I shall not
pay it then, though." And, so, he read down his tablets until he had
gone through all his notes. When, bidding his man perfume his ruffles
and lace pocket-handkerchief, he descended to the salon to greet his
relatives and guests; those dearly beloved relatives, who, he strongly
believed and hoped, were cursing themselves and their fate at this
very moment.

In spite of their intense disapproval of the union which Desparre was
about to enter into, a union with the niece of a man whose reputation
was of the worst--which really would not have mattered much had he
belonged to the aristocracy!--those relatives had not thought it
altogether advisable to abstain from gracing the impending ceremony
with their presence. For Monsieur was the head of a great house, of
their great house, he had interest unbounded. And he was the Regent's
friend. He was almost one of the most prominent of the roués. What
might he not still do for them, in spite of this atrocious misalliance
he was about to perpetrate, if only they kept on friendly terms with
him? Then again, he was, as they supposed, enormously wealthy, rumour
saying that he had made some millions over Law's system--in which case
rumour, as usual, exaggerated--and, above all, he was approaching old
age; he was, and always had been, a dissolute man; there was little
likelihood that he would leave any heirs behind him. And, if so, there
would be some fine pickings for the others. Wherefore they swallowed
their disapproval and disgust of this forthcoming mésalliance and
trooped to his house to wish him that joy which they earnestly hoped
he would never experience, notwithstanding that it was a cruel, bitter
winter and that, unfortunately, wedding ceremonies took place at an
hour when most of them were accustomed to be snoring in their beds.

These relatives formed a strange group; a strange collection of beings
which, perhaps, no other period than that of the Regency, five years
after the death of Louis XIV., could have produced. There were old
women present, including his paternal aunt, the Dowager Duchesse
Desparre, whose lives had been one long sickening reek of immorality
and intrigue under The Great King; women who, as she had done, had
struggled and schemed for that king's favours--or for what was almost
as good, the reputation of having gained those favours. Women who had
betrayed their husbands over and over again, women who had sinned
against those husbands with the latters' own consent, so long as the
deception had aided their fortunes. Yet, withal, their manners were
those of the most perfect ease and grace which the world has ever
known, and which are now to be found only amongst dancing mistresses
and masters of ceremonies.

Amidst them all, however, the battered, half-worn-out roué moved with
a grace equal to theirs, he having become a very prince of posturers;
while bowing to one old harridan in whose veins ran the blood of
crusading knights and--some whispered--even of Henry of Navarre;
kissing the hand of another who had tapped the late Dauphin on the
cheek with her fan when he asked her if she liked hunting, and had
made answer that "innocent pleasures were not pleasure to her;"
leering at a younger female cousin in a manner that might almost have
made the Duc de Richelieu himself jealous, but which did not disturb
the fair recipient of the ogle at all. And he kissed the hand of the
Dowager Duchess with respectful rapture (though once she had refused
to let the impoverished soldier into her house), while he regretted
that such a trifle as his marriage should have brought her forth from
her home that morning; he carried a glass of tokay to one aunt and
ordered his servant to hand a cup of chocolate to another--the
distinction being made because the rank of this latter was not quite
so exalted as that of the former.

He was revelling in his revenge! And then, suddenly, his face dropped
and he stood staring at the door. Staring, indeed, with so ghastly a
look upon that face that a boon companion of his began to think that,
after all, an apoplectic fit was about to seize him, and that leeches
to his head and a cupping would more likely be his portion than a
wedding on that day.

For, at the door, was standing Vandecque, alone--and on his face was a
look which told the Duke very plainly that something had happened.

"What is it?" he muttered, as he came close to him, while lurching a
little in his gait, as the boon companion thought--as though he had
fetters about his feet--and while his words came from his mouth with
difficulty. "Speak. Speak. Curse you! speak. Why are you here
when--when--you should be with her--at--the--church?"

And all the time the eyes of the old and young members of his family
were looking at him, and the Dowager Duchess was wondering if the
bride had committed suicide sooner than go to his arms, while the
battered hulk who had been drinking the chocolate was raising the
wrinkles in her brow as much as she dared do without fear of cracking
her enamel, and leering at the other worn-out wreck whose shaking hand
held the glass of tokay.

"There is no Duchess yet," she whispered to a neighbour, through her
thin lips, "and my boy, Henri, is second in succession." And again she
leered hideously.

"Speak, I say," Desparre continued. "Something has happened. I can see
it in your face. Quick."

"She--she--is--gone. Escaped. Married," Vandecque stammered.
"Married!" And Desparre's face worked so that Vandecque turned his
eyes away while he muttered. "Alas! Yes. This morning."

"To whom? Tell me. Tell me. I--did--not--know--she had a lover."

"Nor I. Yet it appears she had. She loved him all the time. That
Englishman. Walter Clarges."

There was a click in the Chevalier's throat such as a clock makes ere
it is about to strike, and Vandecque saw the cords twitching in that
throat--after which Desparre gasped, "And I have called them here to
see my triumph!" and then glanced his eyes round his great salon. Then
he muttered, "Married!" and, controlling himself, walked steadily out
into the corridor and to a chair, into which he sank.

"Tell me here," he whispered, "here. Where they cannot see my face,
nor look at me."

"The woman found this in her room when she went to warn her the time
was near. She had no maid; therefore, I had engaged one from the
person who made the bridal dress. It was on her mirror. Look. Read."

Desparre took the paper in his hands; they were shaking, but he forced
them to be still; then he glanced at it. It ran:--

"I refuse to be sold to the man who would have bought me from you.
Therefore I have sought a lesser evil. I am gone to be married to
another man whom, even though I do not love him, I can respect. An
hour hence I shall be the wife of Monsieur Clarges. He has loved me
for a year; now, his love is so strong, or, I should better say, his
nobility is so great, that he sacrifices himself to save me. God
forgive me for accepting the sacrifice, but there was no other way
than death."

The Duke's hand fell to his knee while still holding the paper in it,
after which he raised his eyes to the other's face.

"You suspected nothing; knew nothing of this?" he asked, his lips
still twitching, his eyes half-closed in a way peculiar to him when
agitated or annoyed.

"Nothing. I swear it. Do you think that, if I had dreamed of such a
catastrophe, I would not have prevented it? It was to you I wished her
married--to you."

"Ay," Desparre answered, "no doubt. We have worked together in
other things--you--but no matter for that now." Then he raised his
half-hidden eyes to the other. "Where does this man live?" he asked.
"I do not know. Yet his address can be found. There are many to whom
he is known. Why do you ask?"

"Why!" and now there was another look in Desparre's face that
Vandecque did not understand. "Why! I will tell you. Yet, stay; ere I
do so send those people all away. Go. Tell them--damn them!--there is
no marriage to-day, nor--for--me--on any other day. Get rid of them.
Bid them pack. Then return," while, rising from the antique chair into
which he had dropped in the corridor, he went slowly into another
room, feeling that his feet dragged under him, that they were heavy as
lead.

"By night," he murmured, "it will be all over Paris--at Versailles and
St. Germain--the Palais Royal. The Regent will laugh and make merry
over it with La Phalaris--countless women whom I have cast off will be
gloating over it, laughing at the downfall, the humiliation of
Desparre--the fool, Desparre, who had boasted of the trick he was to
play on his kinsfolk. _Dieu!_ to be fooled by this beggar's brat. Yet.
Yet. Yet--well! let Orleans laugh--still--he shall help me to be
avenged. He shall. He must. Or--I will tell my tale, too. Sirac and I
know as much as he about the deaths of the Duc and Duchesse de
Bourgogne and the Duc de Bretagne--about the Spanish snuff. Ha! he
must avenge me on these two--he shall."

Vandecque came back now, saying that the company was departing, but
that some of the ladies, especially the Dowager Duchess, were very
anxious to see him and express their sympathy. Would he receive them?

"Sympathy, faugh! Let them express their sympathy to the Devil,
their master. Now, Vandecque, listen to me. There is but one way of
re-establishing myself in the eyes of Paris. By retaliation,
punishment--swift, hard, unceasing. You understand?"

Vandecque nodded.

"Good. If you did not understand I should have to assist your memory
with reminders of other things--which would have been no more
remembered had all gone well--and of several little matters in your
past known to me. However, you need no reminders such as those, I
think."

Again Vandecque showed by a nod that such was the case.

"Good. Therefore, you will assist me to rehabilitate myself. So. So.
Very well. We must begin at once. Because, Vandecque, I am not well,
this has been a great shock to me--and--and, Vandecque, I had
a--perhaps it was an apoplectic seizure six months ago, when--when--I
was falsely accused of--but no matter. I am afraid I may have another
ere long. I feel symptoms. My feet are heavy, my speech is uncertain.
I must not leave the thing undone."

"What," asked the other, "will you do?"

"What!" Desparre paused a moment, and again the twitching came to his
lips; then, when it was over, he went on. "What! Vandecque," speaking
rapidly this time, "do you love your niece at all?"

"Passably," and he shrugged his shoulders, "she was beloved of my dead
wife, and she was useful. Also, I hoped great things from her
marriage."

"Those hopes are vanished, Vandecque. So, too, for the matter of that,
is your niece. Therefore, it will not grieve you never to see her
again?"

"I shall never see her again. You forget she has a husband."

"No, Vandecque. No! I do not forget. It is that which I am
remembering."

"What do you mean, Monsieur?"

"Later on you will know. Meanwhile," and he put a finger out and
touched him, "do you love this Englishman, who has spoilt your niece's
chances?"

"Love him!" exclaimed Vandecque. "Love him! Ah! do I love him!" while,
as he spoke, he looked straight into Desparre's eyes.



CHAPTER VII

MAN AND WIFE


"This," said Walter Clarges, as he thrust open the door, "has been my
home for the last four years. You will find it comfortable enough, I
hope. Let me assist you to remove your cloak and hood."

It was a large room into which he led his newly-married wife, situated
on the ground floor of an old street, the Rue de la Dauphine, in the
Quartier St. Germain. A room in which a wood fire burnt on this cold
wintry day, and which was furnished sufficiently well--far more so,
indeed, than were the habitations of most of the English refugees in
Paris after the "'15." The furniture, if old and solid, was good of
its kind; there were a number of tables and chairs and a huge lounge,
an excellent Segoda carpet on the floor, and a good deal of that
silver placed about, against the sale of which, for gambling purposes,
a strangely stringent law had just been passed in France. On the walls
there were some pictures--one of an English country house, another of
a horse, a third of a lady.

"That is my mother," Clarges said. "My mother! Shall I ever see her
again? God knows!"

She, following him with her eyes as he moved about the room, could
think only of one thing; of the nobility of the sacrifice he had made
for her that morning; the sacrifice of his life. He had married her
because it was the only way to save her from Desparre, the only legal
bar he could place between her and her uncle's desire to sell her to
the best bidder who had appeared. The law, passed by the late King,
which accorded to fathers and guardians the total right to dispose of
the hands of their female children and wards, was terrible in its
power; there was no withstanding it. Nothing but a previous marriage
could save those children and wards, and, even if that marriage had
taken place clandestinely, the law punished it heavily. But, punish
severely as it might, it could not undo the marriage. That stood
against all.

"Oh! Monsieur Clarges," Laure exclaimed, as she sat by the side of his
great fire, the cloak removed from her shoulders, her hood off, and
her beautiful hair, unspoilt by any wig, looped up behind her head.
"Oh! Monsieur Clarges, now it is finished I reproach myself bitterly
with the wrong I have performed against you. I--I----"

"I beseech you," he said, coming back to where she sat, and standing
in front of her. "I beseech you not to do so. What has been done has
been my own thought; my own suggestion. And you will remember that,
when I asked you to be my wife a year ago and you refused, I told you
that, if you would accept me, I would never force my love on you
further than in desiring that I might serve you. The chance has come
for me to do so--I thank God it has come!--I have had my opportunity.
Whatever else may happen, I have been enabled to save you from the
terrible fate you dreaded."

He stood as he spoke against the great mantel-shelf, gazing down at
her, and she, while looking up at him in turn, recognised how great
was the nobility of this man. She saw, too, and she wondered now why
it struck her for the first time--struck her as it had never done
before--that he was one who should have but little difficulty in
gaining a woman's love if he desired it. She had always known that he
was possessed of good looks, was well-made and graceful, and had
clear-cut, handsome features. Now--perhaps because of what he had done
for her that day, because he had wrecked his existence to save
hers--hers! the existence of an abandoned child, a nameless woman--and
had placed a barrier between him and the love of some honest woman who
would make a home and happiness for him, she thought he seemed more
than good-looking; indeed, he almost seemed in her eyes superb in his
dignity and manliness. And she asked herself, "Why, why could she not
have given him the love he craved for? Why not?"

"There was," she said aloud and speaking slowly, while, with her hands
before her on her knees, she twined her fingers together. "There was
no just reason why you should have made this sacrifice for me. I--I
refused to give the love you craved, therefore you were absolved from
all consideration of me. I had no claim on you--no part nor share in
your life. Oh! Monsieur," she broke off, "why tempt me with so noble
an opportunity of escape from my impending fate; why tempt me to avail
myself of so great a surrender by you of all that could make life
dear? Especially since I have told you!--thank God, I told you!--that
I am a nameless woman. That I have no past."

"Hush," he said. "Hush, I beseech you. I loved you a year ago, and I
made my offer--even proffered my terms. You would not accept those
terms then; yet, because the offer was made, I have kept to it. Do you
think the story of your unacknowledged birth and parentage could cause
me to alter? Nay!--if I have saved you, I am content."

Still she looked up at him standing there; still, as she gazed at him
who had become her husband, she felt almost appalled at the
magnanimity of his nature. How far above her was this man whose
love she had refused; how great the nobleness of his sacrifice!
And--perhaps, because she was a woman--even as he spoke to her she
noticed that he never mentioned the love which had prompted him to the
sacrifice as being in the present, but always as having been in the
past. "I loved you last year," he had said once; not, "I love you."

"Now," he went on, seating himself in a chair opposite to her on the
other side of the great fireplace. "Now, let us talk of the future. Of
what we must do. This is what I purpose."

She raised her eyes from the fire again and looked at him, wondering
if he was about to suggest that their life should be arranged upon the
ordinary lines of a marriage brought about on the principles of
expediency; and, although she knew it not, there was upon her
beautiful face a glance which testified that her curiosity was
aroused.

Then he went on.

"You know," he said, "that my own country is closed to me. For such as
I, who, although little more than twenty at the time--for such as
those who were out with the Earl of Mar--there is no return to
England, in spite of the Elector having pardoned many. Nor, indeed,
would I have it so. We Clarges have been followers of the Royal House
always. My grandfather fell fighting against Fairfax and the Puritans;
my father was abroad with King Charles II., and returned with him; I
and my elder brother fought for the present King whom, across the
water, they term 'The Pretender.'" He paused a moment, then said, "I
pray I may not weary you. But, without these explanations, the
future--our future--can scarce be provided for."

"Go on," she said, very gently. Whereupon he continued. "England is
consequently closed to me--for ever. After to-day's work it may be
that France will be, too--and then----"

"France, too!" she repeated, startled, "France, too! and 'after
to-day's work.' Oh!" and she made a motion as though to rise from her
chair, "what do your words mean? Tell me. Tell me."

Her suddenly aroused anxiety surprised him somewhat; he wondered,
seeing it, if she feared that, even now, the relief against her fate
which he had provided her with was not sufficient; if still she feared
other troubles. Then, with a slight smile, he continued.

"I mean that--forgive me if I have to say so--I may be called to
account for my share in saving you from the Duc Desparre. He is a
powerful man--a favourite with the Regent and the Court--he may
endeavour to revenge himself. I have seen an advocate; I took his
advice yesterday so that what I did this morning I might do with my
eyes open, and there is no possible doubt that I have committed an
offence against the law in marrying a ward contrary to her guardian's
will, for which I may be punished."

"Oh!" she gasped. "Oh! this, too," and he saw that she had grown very
pale, whereupon he hastened to comfort her. "I beseech you," he said,
"have no fear. You are, so the advocate tells me, perfectly free from
any danger; nothing can happen to you----"

"Monsieur!" she cried. Then, under her breath, she muttered, "So be
it! He imagines I fear only for myself. Alas! it is not strange he
should."

As she spoke no more after that exclamation, he continued:

"Therefore, since France is now, perhaps, no longer likely to be more
of a home to me than England, this is what I have decided to do. To
leave France for ever--to find another home in another land. To begin
a new life."

"To begin a new life! Yes?"

"Yes. A new life. As you know--who can help but know if they have been
in France during the last year or so!--this country is colonising
largely in America; there are great prospects for those who choose to
go to the Mississippi; Louisiana is being peopled by the French;
emigrants, planters are called for largely. If I go there, it is not
at all probable that Desparre's vengeance will follow me; nay, a
willing colonist can even get exemption for his sins committed in
France. I intend to take steps for proceeding to the new world as soon
as may be."

She bent her head as though to signify that she heard all he said,
yet, even as she did so, there coursed again through her brain the
thought of how she had blasted this man's life. She was driving him
forth to a place of which she had heard the most terrible accounts, a
place overrun by savages who disputed every inch of their native
ground against the white man--sometimes, too, with other white men for
their allies--the very countrymen of him who sat before her. Of
herself she thought not at all; if he could endure the hardships that
must be faced, why, she, his wife, could endure them--must endure
them--too. She--but his voice aroused her from her thoughts, and it
showed that for her, at least, there was no likelihood of such
endurance being required.

"I intend," he was saying, "to take steps for proceeding there as soon
as may be. But, ere I go, your welfare has to be consulted--provided
for. This is what I purpose doing," while, as he spoke, he rose and
went towards a large, firmly-locked bureau that stood in one corner of
the room, and came back bearing in his hand a small iron box which he
proceeded to open. "This," he said, with a smile that seemed to her as
she watched him to be a terribly weary one, "contains all that I have
left in the world, except what my mother contrives at various periods
to furnish me with. It is not much now--but something. There are some
four thousand livres here; enough to provide you with your subsistence
for the time being; to assist you in doing what I wish--what I think
best for you to do."

"What," she asked, still with her eyes fixed on him, "is that?"

"It would be best," he continued, "that, when I am gone, you should
endeavour to make your way to England--to my mother. I shall write to
her at once telling her that I am married, that my future necessitates
my going to Louisiana, and that, out of her love for me, her last
remaining child--for my brother is dead--she will receive you as her
daughter. And she will do it, I know; she will greet you warmly as my
wife. Only," and now his voice sank very low, was very gentle, as he
continued, "one thing I must ask. It is that you do not undeceive her
about--the--condition we stand in to one another--that, for her
sake--she is old, and I am very dear to her--you will let her
suppose--that--there is love--some love, at least--between us. If you
will so far consent as to grant me this, it is all--the only demand--I
will ever make of you."

He lifted his eyes towards where she sat, not having dared to glance
at her while he made his request, but they did not meet hers in
return. Unseen by him, she had raised her hood as a screen to the side
of her face which was nearest to the logs; that, and her white hand,
now hid her features from him. He could not see aught but that hand.
Yet she had to speak, to make some answer to his request, and, a
moment later, she said from behind her hand in a voice that sounded
strangely changed to him:

"As you bid me I will do. All that you desire shall be carried out."

Then, for a moment, no further word was said by either. Presently he
spoke again. "Desparre is paid what I owe him--what I lost at play. It
will reach him by a safe hand at about the same time he learns that
you are--my wife, not his. And I owe no money now in Paris. All is
paid; during the past two days I have settled my affairs. As for these
apartments, when you desire to set out, do what you will with all that
they contain, excepting only those," and he pointed to the pictures of
the country house, the horse, and his mother. "Those I should not
desire to part with. I will take them with me to a friend. Now, I will
summon the concierge; she has orders to attend to all your wants."

She rose as he spoke and turned towards him, and he saw that there was
no colour left in her face; that, in truth, she was deathly pale. Her
eyes, too, he thought were dim--perhaps, from some feeling of regard
or gratitude which might have been awakened in her--and as she spoke
her voice trembled.

"Is this then," she asked, "our parting? Our last farewell?"

"Nay. Nay," he said, "not now. Though it will be very soon. But I
shall not leave Paris yet. Some trouble might arise; your uncle may
endeavour to regain possession of you--though that he cannot do, since
you are a married woman and have your lines. I shall stay near you for
some days; I shall even be in this house should you require me. Have
no fear. You will be quite safe. And, when I am assured that all is
well with you, we will part; but not before."

He went towards the hall to ring for the woman, but, ere he could
cross to where it was, she stopped him with a motion of her hand.

"Stay," she said, "stay. Let me speak now. Monsieur--my husband--I
have heard every word that has fallen from your lips. Monsieur, I
think you are the noblest man to whom ever woman plighted her troth--a
troth, alas! that, as she gave it, she had no thought of carrying out.
Oh!" she exclaimed, raising her eyes, "God forgive me for having
accepted this man's sacrifice. God forgive me."

Then, in a moment, before he had time to form the slightest suspicion
that she meditated any such thing, she had flung herself at his feet,
and, with hands clasped before her, was beseeching him also to pardon
her for having wrecked his life. But, gentle as ever, he raised her
from the ground and placed her again in the seat she had left,
beseeching her not to distress herself.

"Remember this," he said; "what I did I did out of the love I bore you
when first I sought yours; remember that, though you had no love in
your heart to give me, I had plighted my faith to you. Remember that
my duty is pledged to you; that, if I prosper, as I hope to do, you
shall prosper too. Or, better still, if in years to come this yoke
which you took upon yourself galls too much, and you have no longer
any need of it, we will find means to break it. I will find means to
set you free."

"To--set--me--free!" she repeated slowly.

"Yes. Now I will go and seek the concierge. Then I will leave you
until to-morrow. You will, as I have said, be perfectly safe
here--perfectly at liberty. Have no fear, I beg. No one can harm you."

The concierge came at his summons and took his orders, he telling her
briefly that the lady would occupy his apartments for a few days, and
that he would use some other rooms at the top of the house which she
had for disposal. Then, when he had seen a light meal brought to her
and the woman had withdrawn, he bade his wife good-night.

"In the morning," he said, "I will tell you how my plans are
progressing. I am about now to visit one who is much concerned with
the colonisation of Louisiana, and, indeed, of the whole of the
Mississippi--doubtless I may obtain some useful knowledge from him."

"And it is to this exile--this life in a savage land--that I have
driven you! You, a gentleman--I, God only knows what," she exclaimed.

"Nay, nay. In any circumstances I must have gone forth to seek my
living in some distant part of the world. It could not have been long
delayed--as well now as a month or a year later."

"At least, you would have gone forth free--free to make a home for
yourself, to have a wife, a----"

But he would listen to none of her self reproaches; would not, indeed,
let her utter them. Instead, he held out his hand to her--permitting
himself that one cold act of intimacy--and said, "Farewell. Farewell,
for the present. Farewell until to-morrow."

"Not farewell," she murmured gently, "not farewell No, not that."

"So be it," he answered, commanding himself and forcing back any
thoughts that rose to his mind at what seemed almost a plea from her.
"So be it. Instead, au revoir. We shall meet again."

And he went forth.



CHAPTER VIII

THE STREET OF THE HOLY APOSTLES


When Walter left his wife it was with the intention of proceeding to
the offices of the Louisiana Company, known more generally as Le
Mississippi, situated in the Rue Quincampoix. For, at this exact
period, which was one of a great crisis in the affairs of the "Law
System," as it was universally called, those offices were open day and
night, and were besieged by crowds made up of all classes of the
community. Duchess's carriages--the carriages of women who had made
Law the most welcome guest of their salons, who had petted and
actually kissed him--as often as not at the instigation of their
husbands, when they had any--jostled the equally sumptuous carriages
of the rich tradesmen's wives and _cocottes_, as well as those of
footmen who had suddenly become millionaires; while country people,
who had trudged up from provincial towns and remote villages, rubbed
shoulders with broken-down gentlemen and ladies, who had hoped to grow
rich in a moment by the "System." Broken-down gentlemen and ladies
who, after a few months of mirage-like affluence, were to find
themselves plunged into a worse poverty than they had ever previously
known.

For, as has been said, the "System" was breaking down, and France,
with all in it, would soon be in a more terrible state of ruin than it
had even been at the time of the death of that stupendous bankrupt and
spendthrift, "Le Grand Monarque."

The Bank of France had almost failed--at least it could not pay its
obligations or give cash for its notes, which had been issued to the
amount of two thousand seven hundred million francs, and the
Mississippi Company was approaching the same state; it could neither
redeem its bonds nor pay any interest on them.

Therefore all France was in a turmoil, and, naturally, the turmoil was
at its worst in Paris. Law--the creator of the "System" by which so
many had been ruined--had sought safety at the Palais Royal, where the
Regent lived; the gates of the Palais Royal itself were closed against
the howling mob that sought to force an entrance, the streets were
given up to anarchy and confusion. Meanwhile, in the hopes of quelling
the tumult, it was being industriously put about all over Paris that
fresh colonists were required to utilise the rich products of the soil
of Louisiana, and that, so teeming was this soil with all good things
for the necessary populating of the colony, that culprits in the
prisons were being sent out in shiploads, with, as a reward for their
emigration, a free pardon and a grant of land on their arrival in
America. And--which was a masterstroke of genius well worthy of John
Law--since the prisons were not considered full enough, innocent
people were being arrested wholesale and on the most flimsy pretences,
and thrust into those prisons, only to be thrust out of them again
into the convict ships, and, afterwards, on to the shores of America.

Many writers have spoken truly enough when they have since said that a
light purse dropped into an archer's or an exempt's hands might be
made the instrument of a terrible, as well as a most unjust and
inhuman, vengeance. It was done that night in Paris, and for many more
nights, with awful success. Girls who had jilted men, men who had
injured and betrayed women, successful rivals, faithless wives; a poet
whose verses had been preferred to another's and read before De
Parabére or the Duchesse de Berri and her lover and second husband,
the bully, Riom; an elder brother, a hundred others, all disappeared
during those nights of terror and were never seen or heard of again.
Not in France, that is to say, though sometimes (when they lay dying,
rotting to death on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, and, in their
last faint accents, would whisper how they had been trapped and sent
to this spot where pestilence and famine reeked) those who listened to
them shuddered and believed their story. For many of those who so
listened had been victims of a similar plot.

Down the street which led to the Rue de la Dauphine--one which
rejoiced in the name of the Rue des Saints Apostoliques--there came,
at almost the same moment when Walter Clarges quitted his wife, a band
of men. Of them, all were armed, some, the archers and the exempts,[2]
being so by virtue of their duty of arresting troublesome people,
especially drunkards and brawlers of both sexes, while two others
walking behind wore the ordinary rapier carried by people of position.
These two were Desparre and Vandecque. Inclusive of archers and
exempts the band numbered six.

"We may take them together," Desparre whispered in his comrade's ear,
"in which case so much the best. I imagine the English dog will show
fight."

"Without doubt! When was there ever an Englishman who did not? Yet,
what matter! These fellows," and Vandecque's eye indicated that he
referred to the attendants, "will have to seize on him, we but to
issue orders. Now," and he turned to the fellows mentioned, "we near
the street where the birds are. You understand," addressing the man
who seemed to be the leader, "what is to be done?"

"We understand," the man replied, though the answer was a husky one,
as if he had been drinking. "We understand. Take them both, without
injury if possible, then away with them to the prisons. She to St.
Martin-des-Champs, he to La Bastille. Ha! la Bastille. The kindly
mother, the gracious hostess! My faith! Yes."

"Yes," answered Vandecque. "Without injury, as you say, if possible.
But, remember, you are paid well for what you may have to do;
remember, too, the man is an Englishman; he has been a soldier and
fought against the King of England for that other whom he calls the
King; he will show his teeth. He is but newly married--this day--he
will not willingly exchange the warm embraces of his beautiful
young wife" (and as he spoke he could not resist looking at Desparre
out of the side of his eye) "for a bed of straw. You must be
prepared--for--for--well, for difficulties."

"We are prepared--I hope your purse is. We are near the spot--we
should desire to have the earnest before we begin. While as for
difficulties, why, if he makes any, we must----"

"Kill him--dead!"

The man started and looked round, appalled by the voice that hissed in
his ear. Yet he should have recognised it, since he had heard it
before that evening, though, perhaps, with scarcely so much venom in
its shaking tones then. And, as he saw Desparre's face close to his,
he drew back a little, while almost shuddering. There was something in
the glance, in the half-closed eyelids--the eyes glittering through
them--that unnerved him.

"Dead," hissed Desparre again. "Dead." And he put forth his hand and
laid it on the archer's sleeve, and clutched at his arm through that
sleeve so that the man winced with pain, as a moment before he had
winced, or almost winced, from a feeling of creepiness.

"Dead," Desparre repeated.

"Mon Dieu!" the man said, raising his hand to his forehead and
brushing it across the latter, "we know our business, monsieur; no
need to instruct us in it. Though as for killing, that is not our
account as a rule----"

"Peace," interrupted Desparre, "here is the reward. Hold out your
hand."

The man did as he was bid, and, in the light of a seven nights' old
moon that, by now, overtopped the roofs of the houses, Desparre
counted out twenty gold louis' d'or (rare enough at that moment, when
all France was deluged with worthless paper; coins to be kept
carefully and made much of!) into his hand, and twenty more into the
hands of the principal exempt. Yet his own hand shook so that each of
the vagabonds raised his eyes to his face and then withdrew them
swiftly. They liked the look of the money better than the appearance
of the features of the man who was paying it.

Then, suddenly, he started as he dropped the last piece into the
exempt's palm--while the latter, looking up again at Desparre, saw his
eyes staring down the street to the further end of it--though, at the
same time, there was a glance in them as if he were staring into
vacancy. Yet, in truth, they were fixed on a very palpable object--the
form of a man passing swiftly up the street of the Holy Apostles.

The form of Walter Clarges!

"See," Desparre whispered to Vandecque. "See. He comes. Ha! he has
left her alone. So! 'tis better." Then he turned to the Archers and
Exempts and muttered low: "There! There is the man. Coming towards
us. I would slay him myself--I could do it easily with the
secret thrust I know of," he whispered, "but I must risk
nothing--till--I--have--seen--her."

While, as he spoke, he moved off to the other side of the street and
withdrew into the porch, or stoop, of a door, wrapping his roquelaure
around him. Yet, as the fellows drew themselves together and prepared
to seize on the man advancing towards them, they heard his voice send
forth another whisper from within that porch.

"You know your office. Do it. And if he resists--slay him."

Approaching, Walter Clarges saw the group of men standing in the
roadside close up by the footway, while, because of the troubles and
turmoils in the streets, as well as because he knew well enough of the
lawlessness that prevailed that night, he let his left hand fall under
his cloak on to the hilt of his sword, and thus loosened the blade in
its sheath, so that it should be ready for his right to draw if
necessary. Then, a moment later, he saw Vandecque's figure in front of
the others, and, recognising his features in the gleam of the moon,
nerved himself for an encounter. Though, even now, he scarcely knew
what form that encounter might take.

"So," Vandecque exclaimed, "we have found you! That is well, and may
save trouble. Monsieur Clarges, you will have to go with us."

"Indeed! On what authority? State it quickly and briefly. I have no
time to spare."

"On the authority of the guardian of the woman whom you have removed
from his custody and married. The law has a punishment for that to
which you will have to submit."

"Possibly. Meanwhile, your warrant for my arrest and detention."

"The warrant is made out. I----"

"Show it."

"I shall not show it. It is sufficient for that later on. Meanwhile, I
warn you--come without resistance or we must resort to force. These
men are archers and exempts, if you resist them they will seize upon
you."

"Let them begin. I am ready," and, as he spoke, his sword had leaped
from its sheath and was glittering before their eyes in an instant.

"Begin," he repeated, "or stand back. My time is precious."

"It is against the law that you contend. I warn you," Vandecque called
out excitedly.

"So be it. It is for my freedom I contend. Whether it be either the
law or Vandecque, the sharper and swindler who embodies that law, I
care not. Let me pass, fellow," speaking impatiently, "or 'tis I who
will commence."

"Fall on," exclaimed Vandecque, "and do your duty. Seize on him."

'Twas easier said than done, however, as those five men found when
once they were engaged with the Englishman--well armed as they were.
The rapier wielded by Clarges seemed to have, indeed, the power of
five swords; it was everywhere--under their guard, perilously near
their lungs, through one man's throat already--a man who now lay
choking on the ground. Moreover, Clarges had had time to wind his
cloak swiftly round his left arm, and, with that arm bent, to ward off
several of their attacks. Nor was this difficult, since all were not
armed as well as he. The exempts had short swords of the cutlass
order, which would cut heavily but administer no thrust; the
archers had rapiers, or, rather, long thin tucks, which were more
deadly--Vandecque had a weapon as good as Clarge's own. Already it had
lunged twice at his breast--and hate had added, perhaps, an extra
force to those thrusts (for Vandecque was undone by the marriage that
had taken place that morning), and had twice been parried. Yet as
Clarges knew, he was spared but for a few moments; his fate was but
postponed. Against that rapier and the remaining blades--unless he
could kill the wielders of the latter, and so stand face to face with
Vandecque alone--he had no hope. The swordsman never lived yet who
could encounter four others--for the man on the ground was disposed
of--and keep them at bay for longer than a few moments.

He knew his end was at hand; at every moment he expected the sharp
thrust of the rapier through his body, or the heavy swinging blow that
would cleave his head in half. He knew one or the other must come, yet
he fought hard against the odds, with his back against the house
behind him, his teeth clenched, his breath coming faster and faster
from his lungs. And, all beset as he was, knowing that death was near
at hand, he whispered to himself "for her, for her."

Though once he thought, "'Tis better so, far better. Thus her way is
clear, and she is free of me."

He forgot--he was mercifully permitted to forget for a moment that,
free of him, she would still be open to Desparre's designs again, and
might still be forced to marry him.

Yet, a moment later, the recollection of this sprang swiftly as a
lightning flash to his mind. He must live for her, he must not be
slain and thereby set her free for Desparre.

Nerved afresh to his task by this memory, he fought with renewed
energy--fought like a tiger at bay, determined that, even though he
fell, he would not fall alone; that he would have some more companions
on the dark road he must go, as well as the man now dead at his feet.

"Two," he muttered through his set teeth as, darting like an adder's
fang, his rapier passed through a second man's breast-bone when, with
a yell of agony, the archer fell at his feet. "Two. Who next?"

But still there were three to contend with, Vandecque, an archer, and
an exempt. And these two were raining blows at him, while the
gambler's sword was making pass after pass--it being caught once in
the folds of the cloak over his left arm and missing once his left
breast by an inch, while ripping open the coat and waistcoat as it
darted by. Then, as he warded off another swinging blow from the
archer's weapon, he knew the time had come. His rapier was cleft in
twain by the heavier metal of the other blade--his hand held nothing
but the hilt and a few inches of sundered steel.

With a fierce exclamation he flung himself full at the man who had
disabled him, seized him by the throat ere he could swing his cutlass
again, and dashed with awful force the remnant of his sword in his
face, inflicting a frightful wound and battering the features into an
unrecognisable mass.

Yet, as he did so, he uttered a terrible moan himself and reeled back
heavily against the wall, sliding a moment after down it and rolling
to the ground. Vandecque's rapier was through his left lung, an inch
below the shoulder. The fight was finished.

"Is he dead?" that ruffian heard a harsh, raucous voice whisper as he
drew his sword from the other's body. "Is he dead?" while, turning, he
saw the cadaverous face of Desparre peering over his shoulder at their
victim.

"Dead," he replied breathlessly. "Mon Dieu! I hope so. Were he not, we
should all have been dead ourselves ere long. And then--then--he might
have found you out in your hiding-hole."



CHAPTER IX

ALONE


Laure scarcely moved for an hour after Walter had left her, but still
sat upon the couch, gazing into the wood fire--musing always.

Sometimes on the sacrifice this man had made; more often on the
profound depths of that sacrifice.

For it had in its depth that which she had never dreamed of; it had
taken a shape she had never looked for.

When he brought her to this apartment she had supposed that, from this
day, there was to commence a loveless life such as was so often
witnessed in the marriages of convenience with which she was familiar
enough in Paris; she had, indeed, told herself that she had escaped
one sacrifice only to become the victim of another.

She had escaped Desparre, only to become tied to this Englishman for
ever; an escape for the better, it was true, since he was young and
manly, while Desparre was old and--worse--depraved. But, still, a
sacrifice.

Yet, never had she dreamt of aught like this: of a marriage gone
through by him which was, in truth, all a sacrifice on his part but
none on hers. For he was bound to her for ever, and he asked nothing
from her in return. Not so much as a word of love, a look, a thought;
nothing! Nothing, though he knew by her confession that she was a
nameless, an abandoned child: the offspring of Shame! Yet he had taken
her for his wife.

As she meditated upon it all, her eyes still watching the logs as they
smouldered on the hearth, there rose into her mind a reflection
which--because she was a woman--was more painful than any that had
previously possessed it. The thought that this was no marriage of love
on his part, no clutching by him at the one opportunity that had
arisen of gaining her for his wife, and, with that gain, the other
opportunity of, in time, drawing her to him, but, instead, was simply
the fulfilment of a word promised and given a year ago, the redemption
of that which was in his eyes as a bond. He had told her once--a year
ago--that all he asked was to be allowed to be her servant, her
champion, her sentinel; and now the opportunity had come to prove his
word. That was all! And she, reflecting, recalling other Englishmen
whom she had met or heard of, who were living a life of exile in
Paris, remembered how they all prided themselves above aught else
upon the sacredness with which they regarded their word when once
passed--how, amongst all other men, they were renowned for keeping
that word. He would have kept his, she thought sorrowfully, with any
other woman as equally well as with her, simply because he had given
it.

Why the tears dropped from her eyes as she still mused and still gazed
into the dying embers, she could scarcely have told herself; all she
did know was that, gradually, a resolve was forming in her heart, a
determination that all the nobility should not be with him alone. On
her side also there should be, not a sacrifice--remembering what she
was, she dared not deem it that--but, at least, a reciprocity. If he
loved her still, if what he had done had not been prompted alone by
that sense of honour which governed all his countrymen's actions, then
he should have the reward that was his due. True or false as the
statement might be, she would declare that she loved him.

"Why not?" she whispered to herself. "Why not? Whom have I ever seen
or known more worthy of my love? Ah!" she murmured, "return, return,
my husband, that I, too, may make confession."

The winter night was come now, though from the churches near by the
hour of five was but striking. The Rue de la Dauphine was very still,
while yet, from a distance, there came the hum of many noises. She
knew that Paris was in a feverous state at this time, that Law's
bubble was bursting, that the Regent's popularity was gone, that the
boy-king's throne was in danger. And the archers, and the exempts, and
provost-marshal's guards were in these streets, carrying off the
turbulent ones to the many prisons of Paris, shooting them down
sometimes--as the report of a discharged carbine now and again
testified--clubbing them and beating out their brains as the most sure
way of preventing resistance.

Yet, amidst this distant noise which sometimes disturbed the quiet
street at intervals, her ears caught now a footstep outside the
door--the footsteps, indeed, of more than one person, as well as a
whispering that mixed itself and mingled with her own murmur of
"Return, my husband." So that she wondered if her wish was granted, if
he had returned, and was giving the concierge further orders in a low
tone that she might not be disturbed; or if he was saying "Good night"
to some friends--perhaps to those two other Englishmen who that day
had witnessed their marriage.

Then the door opened, and a man came in. A man who was not her
husband, but, instead, he who expected to have been that husband--the
Duc Desparre!

With a cry--a gasp that was half a shriek--she rose and stood facing
him, the table, to one side of which he had advanced, being between
them. Facing him, with her hand upon her heart,

"You!" she exclaimed. "You here?"

Even as she spoke she wondered what possessed, what ailed the man; he
was so changed since the time when last she had seen him. He had
thrown back the cloak in which he had been muffled against the wintry
air; while, because the habits of the courtier and the gentleman--or,
at least, the well-bred man--were strong upon him, he had also removed
his hat. He had come, he stood before her, she knew and felt, as an
avenger; but he had been of the great Louis' time and the instincts of
that period could not be put aside or forgotten.

Yet his appearance, the change which she noticed in him since they had
last met and she had listened to his hateful wooing, was terrible. His
face was white and drawn; the lines left by a dissolute life, perhaps
also by the rough life of a soldier--lines which had always been
strong and distinct--showed more plainly now; the eyes glistened
horribly. But, worse than all, more terrifying to behold than aught
else, were the twitchings of the muscles of his face and the shaking
of the long brown hand which was lifted now and again to that face, as
though to still the movement of his lips.

"Yes," he said, and she started as he spoke, for the voice of the man
was changed also; had she not stood before him she would scarce, she
thought, have known to whom it belonged. "Yes. We had to meet again,
Laure--Madame Clarges. To meet again. Once. Once more."

"Why?" she gasped. In truth, the girl was appalled, not only by his
presence there, but by his dreadful appearance, his indistinct,
raucous voice and shaking hands.

"Why! You ask why? Have you forgotten?
We--were--to--have--been--made--man and wife--this morning. Yet----"

"By no consent of mine," she cried, interrupting him and speaking
rapidly, "but of him--my uncle, my guardian. God! my guardian! My
guardian!" Then she continued, more calmly, "Yes, we were to have been
married thus: I to be sold; you to buy. Only, I did not choose it
should be so. Instead----"

"Instead," he replied, interrupting in his turn, "you married
another--thereby to escape me. I--I--hope--you do not love him very
dearly. Not, for--instance, more than, than you loved me?"

For a moment she paused ere answering, wondering dimly what lay
beneath his words, what threat was implied in them; but, still, with a
feeling of happiness unspeakable that now, at this moment, her
opportunity had come to fulfil some part of that reciprocity she had
resolved on. Even though he, her husband, could not hear the words,
she uttered them plainly, distinctly.

"Your hope is vain. I love my husband."

His shaking hand, clutching now at the table, shook even more than
before. For some time he essayed ineffectually to speak. Then, as once
more he appeared to be obtaining the mastery over his voice, she
resumed:

"Why do you come here? What do you require? Between us there is
nothing in common. Nothing. You had best leave me."

"Not yet. There is something further to be said--to be done."

And now he mastered himself with some great effort, so that, for a
time, he was coherent, intelligible; and continued:

"Listen," he said. "You did not love me. I knew that well enough, I
cared little enough upon that score. Yet I needed a wife; it pleased
me--for a reason other than your beauty--to select you. I announced to
all whom it concerned that I had done so. As for love, that had little
part or parcel in the matter. There was no more love--passion is not
love--in my heart for you than in yours for me. I have passed the time
for loving any woman; but----"

"Why, then," she asked, gazing at him, "seek me?"

"Because I am the bearer of a great name, a great fortune. Because I
despised the members of my family--they are all intriguing harridans
who formerly despised me. Because I sought a woman at once beautiful,
yet lowly, who should arouse equally their envy and their hate; who
should sting these women to madness with mortification. That is why I
selected you."

"You may now select another," she replied coldly. "Doubtless there are
many to whom the holder of so great a name, so great a fortune, will
prove acceptable."

"I shall not select another. Meanwhile, you have flouted me, exposed
me to the ridicule of the whole court--me, Desparre--of the whole of
Paris! Do you think that is to be quickly forgotten, overlooked? Do
you think that I, Desparre, will do either?"

"You must do what seems best to you," she said, still coldly.
"Monsieur le Duc, I am not your wife. What you may choose to do is of
absolute indifference to me."

He became, if such a thing were possible, more white than before. Once
his eye glanced at a chair close by as though he felt he must drop
into it; yet he forbore. Instead, planting both his shaking hands on
the table, he said:

"The trick was clever that you played. Yet--as you should know, you
who haunted the gambling-hells of Paris with your precious
guardian--you should know that, however clever a trickster may be,
there is generally one to be found who is his master. Always. Always.
He always finds his master, does that trickster. Shall I tell you of a
cleverer trick than yours?"

"What--what do you mean?"

"Attend. You hear that noise in the next street; do you know what it
is? It is the archers and the exempts carrying of people to prison who
are supposed to be insurgents, uprisers against the King, the
Regent--the 'System.' Many of those persons are quite innocent, they
are simply passers-by seeking their homes. Still, they have, some of
them, enemies, people whom they have wronged, perhaps even
inadvertently; yet the wronged ones have now their hour. A purse--a
very light one--dropped into an archer's or an exempt's hands--a
hint--a name--an address--and--that is all! To-night the prisons, La
Force, La Pitié, La Tournelle--the Bastille; to-morrow the false
accusations--a month later the wheel, or, at best, the Mississippi,
the Colonies. And--and--my purse is not light."

"Devil!" she murmured. "Devil incarnate!"

"Ay, an aroused one. Yet, 'tis your own doing. You should have
thought, you should have reflected. Desparre's name was known in those
choice circles which you and Vandecque affected--in your own gambling
hell. Had you ever heard it coupled with so weak a quality as
forgiveness for an insult, a slight? Nay, madame, nay! None can
prevent either insult or slight being offered--it is only the weak and
powerless who do not retaliate. And I, Desparre, am neither." While,
once more, as he spoke, the twitchings of his face presented a
terrible sight.

"You mean," she said, staring at him as one stares who is fascinated
by some horror from which, appalling as it is, the eyes cannot be
withdrawn, "you mean that this retaliation is to be visited on me. On
me--or, perhaps, one other. The man who enabled me to escape you--on
my husband?"

"I mean precisely that. On you. Yet without my purse's weight being
much tested, either. For against you, madame, I have legal claims that
will, I fear, prevent you from enjoying your new-found happiness for
some time, even were your husband able to share it with you, which he
is not----"

He stopped. For as he uttered those last words, "which he is not," she
had moved from the position in which she had stood all through the
interview; she had quitted that barricade which the table made between
them; she was advancing slowly round it to him. In her eyes there was
a light that terrified him; on her face a look at which he trembled
more than even his rage and unstrung nerves had previously caused him
to do. For, now, he saw that the victim was an equal foe--that the
aroused woman had changed places with him and was calling him to
account, instead of being called to account herself.

"Speak!" she said; her voice low, yet clear, her eyes blazing, her
whole frame rigid, "speak. Have done with equivocation, with hints and
threats. Speak, villain. Answer me." While, as she herself spoke, she
raised her hand and pointed it at him. "You say he cannot share my
new-found happiness with me. Answer me! Why can he not? Two hours
ago he was here, with me, in this room. Where is he now?"

Standing before her, his eyes peering at her--ghastly, horrible; upon
his face a look that was half a leer and half a snarl, he essayed to
tell her that which he had come to say. Yet, at first, he could utter
no word--almost it seemed to him as though he was suffocating, as
though his gall were rising and choking him. Yet, still, there was the
woman before him, close to him, her hand outstretched, her eyes
glaring into his. Again, too, he heard her words:

"My husband! Villain! Scoundrel! Answer me. Where is my husband?"

Then his voice came to him, though it seemed to her as though it was
the voice of one whom she had never known. At last he spoke.

"He is dead," he said, "Half an hour ago. Slain by my orders. Dead. My
wrong, my humiliation is avenged."

With a cry she sprang at him, frenzied, maddened at his words; her
hands at his throat, as though she would throttle him.

"Murderer!" she shrieked. "Murderer! By your orders--By your
orders--By----"

Yet, even as she spoke, the shaking assassin before her seemed to
vanish from her sight, the room swam before her and became darkened;
with a moan she sank swooning to the floor, forgetting, oblivious of,
all.

"Come in," said Monsieur le Duc a moment later, as he opened the door
and showed a white face to those waiting without. "Come in. She is
quite harmless. Now is your time."



CHAPTER X

THE PRISON OF ST MARTIN DES CHAMPS


The agreeable ceremony of marrying the prisoners to one another, ere
despatching them to Louisiana as convicts, was going on rapidly in the
yard of the Prison of St. Martin des Champs on a sunny morning of the
May which followed the ruin of Law's system; the paternal government
being under the impression that it was far better for moral
purposes--always matters of great importance in France!--that the new
tillers of the soil should go out as married couples.

Moreover, the Government were a little embarrassed as to what they
should do with all the convicts with which the numerous prisons of
Paris were stuffed, since, at this period, there was no opportunity of
drafting the men off into regiments, nor of utilising the services of
the women. France was ruined--consequently she was not at war just now
with any Power--while she had no money with which to keep her convicts
hard at work. But (the idea having entered Law's fertile brain ere he
prepared to flee) it was thought that Louisiana might still be made of
some service to the Mother Country if her soil could be utilised, and,
since there were no capitalists left of the original order and, if
there had been, none who would embark their capital in that region,
the Government had decided on peopling the place with fresh batches of
convicts. Thus they attained a double object; they emptied their
prisons and they provided a population for New France--a population
which, since it was free and absolved from all further punishment of
its past crimes, might, on reaching the shores of the Gulf of Mexico,
flourish and do well, or, since both the Indians and the neighbouring
English colonists were very troublesome, might be swept off the face
of the earth. But, even in the event of such a lamentable catastrophe
as this, they would, after all, be only ex-convicts whose loss could
be supplied by fresh relays.

Now, on this morning, it had come to the turn of the Prison of St.
Martin des Champs to be relieved of some of its inhabitants, while,
previous to their despatch to La Rochelle, and, in some cases, even
Marseilles, Toulon, and Cette (to which places they would have to walk
in chain-gangs, thereby to reach the convict transports), the marriage
ceremony was taking place between those who were willing to be united
together, and the governor and the chaplain were both in the yard
ready to officiate at the ceremony.

"Listen," said the chaplain, addressing the gaol birds who were
blinking in the rays of the bright morning sun--an unaccustomed sight
to them, since many of their numbers had been for months buried in
dark underground cells, attached each to a block of wood by the humane
process of having a chain passed round their throats which was stapled
on to the beam behind. "Listen, while I expound to you the law by
which you now practically become free men and women once more." While,
as he spoke, he turned his eyes and bobbed his head to the right where
the men were huddled together, and to the left where the women were.
"Free to become wealthy colonists and planters; married men and women
instead of cutpurses and outcasts, or lost women. Listen, I say."

"_Ohé!_" muttered one of the women, while almost all the others
laughed and grimaced, except two or three who scowled at the chaplain
and the governor and ground their teeth savagely together. "_Ohé!_
hark to him. Lost women! Think of that! The rogue! Who knows more of
such unhappy ones than the reverend father? Mon Dieu My sisters! You
remember?"

"Silence," bellowed the chaplain, who seemed a more important man than
the governor at this juncture, "silence, and listen to the law as
expounded by me and passed," the latter part of the sentence being
delivered as though of secondary importance--"by his Highness the
Regent. This is it."

Then, having cleared his throat, he began again:----

"All who leave by the transport ships from La Rochelle, Marseilles,
Cette, Toulon, Dunkirk, or Brest go forth as prisoners already
pardoned and absolved from a shameful yet well-deserved death;
absolved and pardoned from that most meritorious penalty, I say, yet
still prisoners and convicts. Yet, now, see what a noble and forgiving
Government does for you all, fruit of the Abbey of Mount Regret[3] as
you are. As you step upon the shores of New France your chains will
fall away from you; you will be free; you will become honourable
citizens once more of the noblest country in the world, with a vast
continent before you on which Nature has poured out her most bounteous
treasures--all for you."

"But how to obtain them, Roger, my friend?" screamed a bold-faced,
black-eyed young woman, who had evidently known the chaplain under
other circumstances than the present. "Tell us that," and she laughed
a strident laugh.

"Silence, wretch," again bawled the chaplain, whereat the woman
laughed once more derisively. "Silence, creature. It is to tell you
this--and for other things--that I am here after a night of fasting
and prayer. On landing, to each man will be allotted plots of the most
excellent fertile ground, either on the banks of the Mississippi, the
Fiore, the Ste. Susanne, the Trinité, or the Boca-Chica rivers." All
these names he read from a paper in his hand. "To each married
couple--remember this, you abandoned ones, who have hitherto despised
and scoffed at the holy bonds of matrimony, into which I now invite
you who are still unwed to enter--a treble plot. Also tools for
husbandry and the building of houses, barns, and sheds. Also," he went
on with great volubility, still glancing at the paper in his hand, "a
musket to each man, a sufficiency of powder and shot for the slaying
of wild beasts; though not those of your own kind," he added,
remembering, doubtless, their proclivities. Then, his recollection of
their lawless natures prompting him again, he also added. "For if you
slay one another you will undoubtedly be executed. Therefore, take
heed, and if the beasts of the forest offer not sufficient killing to
your murderous and unregenerate natures, why! assist in exterminating
the natives who, being not yet baptised and received into the bosom of
our Holy Mother Church, are not to be accounted human. Then, there are
the English from neighbouring settlements who war with and dispute the
power of France in their insolence. Those, too, you may slay and
despatch--if--if they give you fair cause, which undoubtedly their
fierce and brutal nature will prompt them to do."

"But how to live?" asked one man, an enormous and cruel-looking
ruffian; "how to live, Father Roger, until the land yields the
wherewithal?"

"Listen, and you will learn. On arriving, you will be sent to that
noble town now rising as a monument of France's greatness; the town of
new Orleans, so named after our pious and illustrious Regent. 'Tis but
eighteen miles from where you will land, if the captains of the
transports arrive at the proper spot; a morning's walk. There you may
earn money by assisting in laying out the streets, building the
houses, making yourself useful. Work half the day at this, devote the
other half to attending to your allotted settlements, if they are near
at hand; otherwise, if they are afar off, work one week at New
Orleans, another at your plantations; and, thereby, shall you grow
rich and prosperous. 'Tis not hard to do, and, if it is, why, 'tis
better than a roadside gallows, a prison cell, or the wheel--any of
which you have all deserved."

Whether he knew what he was talking about, or whether he knew how
impracticable were the schemes he propounded, cannot be told. It was
sufficient that, at least, the vagabonds before him knew no better
than he did, and, at any rate, he spoke truly in one particular--to
whatever life they went forth, it must be better than death on the
gallows or the wheel. And as they listened, they told each other that,
at the worst, they would be free and at liberty to commence a new life
of preying on their fellow creatures, if there were any worth preying
on.

"Now," the chaplain continued hastily, for a glance at the prison
clock showed him that the time for his midday meal was approaching--a
meal at which he generally ate heartily, since, from various causes,
he was ever a poor breakfaster; "now for the holy and irrevocable bond
of marriage to which I invite you to enter, so that, thereby, you
shall all lead a life of propriety and decency--which, as yet, none of
you have ever done!--and shall also increase the population of New
France. Therefore, stand forth, first, all you who are agreed on
marriage; after which those who are not yet affianced unto one another
can select spouses according to their tastes. Stand forth, I say, you
who are agreed."

Forth, at his bidding they came, many of them having already decided
on becoming united, since it seemed that those who were married might
derive more advantage from their emigration than those who were
single; and because, also, all in their own minds had decided that,
once in the foreign land to which they were going, the tie might
easily be broken if they got sick of it. Therefore they stood before
him, ready.

They were a strange, vile-looking crowd, such as, perhaps, no other
state of society but that which prevailed in the last days of the
Regency of Philip of Orleans could have produced. All were not of the
lowest orders; some there were who had commenced life in circumstances
which should almost have warranted them against ever coming to such
case as they were now in. The chaplain's list contained their
names--or such names as they chose to be known by--as well as their
prison numbers; it contained, too, information as to where other
particulars could be gathered. And in that list was an account of what
crimes they were condemned for.

Among the men, most had been convicted of robbery, accompanied
generally with violence; one had slain a youth in a gambling hell, or
tripot, after cheating him; another had drugged a friend and robbed
him; a third had broken into a church and stolen the sacred vessels; a
fourth had beaten a priest; a fifth had throttled his wife. While,
also, there were others convicted and sentenced to the gibbet or the
wheel for crimes which, besides these, seemed trifling: a shop boy who
had robbed his master: a master who had starved his shop boy to death;
a vicomte who had embezzled the trust money of a ward and lost it all
in the "System;" a clerk who had stolen money to indulge in loose
pleasures, and a literary man who had written against the doctrines of
Rome and had called her Babylon, he being prosecuted by the Cardinal
Dubois of pious life!

The women were, however, the greater sinners, besides being also
better educated in most cases, and, likewise, more hardened and
defiant. One was beautiful, her golden hair being knotted now behind
her head--wigs in the Prison of St. Martin des Champs were, naturally,
superfluous!--her eyes as blue as the cornflower, large, limpid, and
full of innocence; yet she had murdered her husband and her husband's
mother to marry a man who, from the moment she was arrested, had never
come near her nor sent her word nor message, nor money for her
defence. She was now about to marry the embezzling vicomte. Next to
her there stood, ready to bestow herself on the literary man, a woman
who was her exact opposite, a creature black and swarthy, yet with the
remains of magnificent florid beauty in her dissolute face; a woman
born beneath the warm sun of Hérault. She, too, had committed secret
murder on one who had wronged her; yet now she was to be married. And,
sometimes, as he glanced at her who in a few moments would be his
wife, the literary man who boasted that he had made Pope Clement
tremble trembled himself.

The others were all more or less alike; lost women, as Roger, the
priest had said--one of them was about to espouse the shop boy--young
viragoes, robbers of drunken men, and so forth. And all meant to lead
a new life in a new land, though not perhaps the manner of life which
the priest had so unctuously described.

"Stand forth," he said again now, for the clock had struck twelve and
his onion soup and stewed mutton were ready.

"Stand forth in front of me. Prepare to enter the Holy State."
Whereupon he rapidly ran his eye over the paper in his hand, compared
the numbers by which the convicts were known in the prison with the
names they had been tried under, and then, exhorting them to attend to
the ceremony in a decent and reverent attitude, he proceeded to make
each two into one.

Yet before he did so he gave them one last salutary admonition, one
paternal warning. "Remember," he said, "that this is no idle ceremony
to be gone through carelessly, but an entrance into the honourable
state of matrimony; an espousal of each other as binding on you by the
laws of the land as though it had taken place at the altar of Notre
Dame, and been performed by Monseigneur the Archbishop. Pause,
therefore, ere it is too late; before you pledge yourselves to one
another; ransack your memories; be sure that none of you men have
wives anywhere else; that none of you women--though, in truth, most of
you have taken steps to make yourselves widows without the assistance
of Fate--have husbands. For if any of you have such ties and the fact
is ever discovered, nothing can save you again. Wherever you are, in
France or her colonies, you will most assuredly be executed, for such
is the punishment of bigamy as laid down by his late most sacred
Majesty, urged thereto by the pious Madame de Maintenon. I have warned
you. Turn your eyes inwards," and as he spoke he cast his own eyes
over the convicts before him to see which of them trembled or turned
pale. Doubtless there were some to whom the warning came home--amongst
them there must of a surety have been some dissolute wives who had
deserted their husbands, and selfish husbands who, having grown tired
of supporting wives of whom they had sickened, had long disappeared
from their knowledge--yet all were hardened and gave no sign of
meditated bigamy. The New World was before them; their imaginations
were inflamed with the hopes of, a fresh and more free life in New
France, or elsewhere, if they could escape from the old world. If they
had deserted a dozen wives, or husbands, each was now willing to
accept another.

Therefore they gave no sign, and, after one more glance at their
brazen faces, the chaplain married those who stood before him to each
other.

Then he gave them his blessing and his hopes that their union might be
prosperous and fruitful, and also--this he did not forget--passed in a
sober and righteous manner, after which he dismissed them and
exclaimed--

"Now for the undecided ones. Come, you," and he advanced towards where
three or four men were making proposals to as many women. "Come you,
time runs apace; are you agreed?"

Two men and two women were agreed, the third man was unpropitious in
his suit. The woman to whom he offered himself refused to listen to
him, to even heed his words or to give any sign that she heard him.

"What is her number?" the priest asked, while the governor by his side
bent down and twitched at her coarse prison cloak, which she had drawn
close round her shoulders and the lower part of her face, thereby
probably to conceal the latter. "What is her number? Let us see," and
he looked at his notebook.

"54," the governor said, pointing to the figures sewn on her shoulder.

"54," muttered the chaplain, referring to the paper in his hand and,
after that, to a small memorandum book he drew from beneath his
cassock. "54. Humph! Ha!" Then, after reading from the book for a few
moments, he turned to the rejected suitor and said: "Young man, you do
not lose much. She is almost the worst, if not the worst, of all in
the list--she is----"

"She may reform--and--and--you see? She is beautiful."

"I see," murmured the chaplain, "that is true. Yet a dower you are
best without. What, my son, was your crime?"

"Oh as for that," the fellow stammered, "but little. My uncle was
rich; he would give me nothing--a--miser----"

"Precisely. Wherefore you helped yourself. Yet you were an innocent
beside this woman whom you now seek to wed. An innocent! She was
affianced to a rich man of illustrious family. On the day that was to
witness their wedding, on that very day she jilted him and married an
English vagabond--a swindler--who, report says, shortly deserted her.
But before he did so, they inveigled the one who should have been her
husband to their dwelling at night on some vile pretence, and then
attempted to strangle him, she doing the deed herself with those
hands," and he pointed to the thin white hands of the woman which held
the coarse hood about her face. While he continued: "Her victim was
found almost throttled at her feet--the exempts swore to it--part of
his cravat was in her hand when they rushed in. My man, you are well
free of the creature, even if you could by law have wedded her, which
is doubtful. The brigand, her husband, may be still alive, plundering,
robbing elsewhere."

He finished speaking, and the miserable creature who would have united
himself to the woman, shuddered at the escape he had had. Shuddered,
too, at the look of despair upon the woman's face, which he took for
the fury of a spitfire, as she, lifting her hood, stared up with
large, grief-stricken eyes from where she crouched, and said to the
chaplain:

"It is a lie! A lie! My husband was no adventurer, while, for that
other, would to God he were truly dead. He merited death."



CHAPTER XI

THE CONDEMNED


The prisons had not emptied quite as swiftly as the authorities
desired after they had been stuffed full of real and imaginary
criminals who were to people New France, with a view to proving that
the Mississippi scheme was not such a falsehood as had been stated.
The principal cause of this was that trustworthy galleys which could
cross the ocean from the western coast of France to the Gulf of Mexico
were not obtainable, while of the transports, only three, _La Duchesse
de Noailles_, _La Victoire_, and _La Duchesse de Berri_, were fit to
make the passage. The consequence was, therefore, that but one prison
emptied itself at a time, and that the month of May had come ere, for
the detained of the two remaining gaols, La Tournelle and St. Martin
des Champs, vessels had been provided for their reception, while even
these had to be hired from private owners by the Government.

On the unhappy creatures, whether actual or supposititious
malefactors, who had lain in damp and unclean dungeons during the
months which had now passed since the period of the great frost, this
fact fell with an even greater force of cruelty than anything which
the other evil-doers--incarcerated in La Pitié, La Salpêtrière,
Bicêtre or Vincennes--had had to undergo, since the incarcerated ones
of the latter places had to proceed only to La Rochelle or La Havre or
St. Malo, while those of the former had now to set out on a far more
terrible journey. They were to march, chained together, to Marseilles,
a distance, roughly, of 350 miles from Paris; to cross mountains and
vast plains beneath a sun which would be a burning one ere they had
accomplished half the distance, and to do so upon nourishment which
would scarcely suffice to keep alive those who had to make no
exertions whatsoever. The reason for this was that the private owners
of the vessels which were to be hired for the purposes of their
transport would only consent to let them be chartered for such use on
condition that Marseilles was made the port of embarkation. Their
ships belonged to, came into, that port; they would be there in the
beginning of June, and, if the Government chose to have their convicts
ready to proceed on board at that time, they were willing to undertake
their transportation to the Gulf. If not, then those vessels must be
used for the ordinary business they were employed upon, and, in no
circumstances, would they contract to proceed to any other port of
France, and certainly to none on the western coast, to await the
arrival of the convicts.

Marseilles was, therefore, decided on as the place to which the
miserable wretches still inhabiting La Tournelle and St. Martin des
Champs were to proceed. Three days after the marriages which the
chaplain of the latter place had performed (as the chaplain of the
former had also done) the chain gangs were ordered to set out. The day
was fixed--May 15--so, too, was the hour--that of eight o'clock in the
morning.

It is possible that upon this earth--beneath the eyes of God--no more
horrible nor more heart-rending sight has ever been witnessed than the
preparations for the departure, and the actual departure itself, of a
chain of galley slaves of both sexes towards the sea coast. And that
which was taking place on this 15th of May in the prison of St. Martin
des Champs might have wrung the hearts of even those persons who were
marble to the core; of even human fiends. Yet, however much the
process might be calculated to distress those who looked on, there was
a sufficiency of observers to cause the exit from the gaol to be so
surrounded that scarcely could the prisoners come forth, and the roads
and streets leading to the open country to be so stuffed and congested
with lookers-on as to be almost impassable. For to see the "strings,"
as they were called, depart was ever one of the spectacles of Paris.

Inside the prison, in its huge, vast yard, all were assembled at
daybreak--all who were to set out upon that horrible journey on foot
which was to know no end until the burning shores of the Mediterranean
were reached; the end of a journey which was then to give place to a
life of hell passed between close decks in ships none too seaworthy. A
life of weeks spent under the eyes of sentries with loaded muskets, of
overseers armed with whips coated with hardened pitch; of blasphemous
and brutal guards ready to strike with sticks, or the flats of sabres,
upon the backs of either men or women who disobeyed their orders and
injunctions; a life of horror to be endured until they were set ashore
free men and women in the New World. Perhaps the knowledge of that
impending freedom enabled some to look forward calmly to what they had
learned they would have to endure; perhaps--which was far more
probable--none among the murderers and murderesses, the thieves and
rogues and lost women, and innocent, guiltless victims, knew or dreamt
of what was before them. Far more probable!

All were in the courtyard at daybreak. And now began the ceremony of
preparing, of making the _toilette de voyage_, as it was brutally
termed, of the travellers ere they set out upon their journey. Into
the vast gaol-yard--called in bitter mockery and spite by generations
of convicts who had quitted it on their road to the galleys, the
"Court of Honour"--there came now three waggons filled with chains and
fetters; _carcans_, or iron collars, to be fitted on to the necks of
men and women alike; iron bolts to join together the chains which
attached each of those prisoners to one another. To be rivetted on
here in Paris; to be never struck off again until the journey of 350
miles was accomplished, and the human cattle stood upon the crazy
decks of the hired transports which were eventually to land them, free
at last, amidst the raging surf of the Gulf of Mexico.

Free then, but, until then, condemned convicts in actual fact as much
as if, instead of being on their way to the New World, there to begin
a new life, they were to step on board the galleys themselves and
there begin the hideous existence which France enforced on all those
who offended against her laws.

Before, however, these fetters and those chains were rivetted upon
their necks and wrists and ankles--rivetted cold, and thereby causing
awful agony to all the culprits--one thing had to be done. Those women
who, in the course of the months in which they had lain in prison, had
given birth to children, were now to be separated from them; separated
from them for ever in all likelihood, since it was certain that the
mothers would never return to France, and almost equally certain that
the children would never be likely to make their way to New France
when they grew up. Separated also--since the lawgivers of France
boasted that they punished but never persecuted--because these babes
had committed no crime; because, too, the Government paid no passage
money for children, nor arranged for their sustenance.

Three women had given birth thus to children during the time they lay
in the vaults of St. Martin des Champs, which was one of the places of
reception for these galley slaves who now figured under the name of
colonists; and, not knowing that their babes would ever be torn from
them, had rejoiced exceedingly over their birth. For they had hugged
the little creatures to their bosoms to keep them warm and to warm
themselves; they had kissed and fondled them and crooned strange
phrases of maternal love over them; had even looked forward with joy
unspeakable to the extra burden which they would have to carry on the
long march that they suspected, truly enough, lay before them. And
they had passed the helpless things round at night to other women who
had been torn, shrieking, from their own offspring, or had been
spirited off to gaol ere they could utter one last farewell to them,
or give them one last mad embrace; they had passed these newborn
babes round surreptitiously in the dark, and when the warders
slumbered, to these poor bereft mothers, so that they might pet them a
little, call them by the names of their own deserted and lost
children, and bring, thereby, some sort of comfort to their aching
hearts in doing so. While the women, these other women who had been
wrenched away from their offspring, had arranged with those happier
ones to assist in the carrying of the infants on the weary march and
to help those who owned them, their reward to be that they should hold
the little mites within their arms sometimes and, thereby, delude
themselves into the belief that it was their own flesh and blood which
they were clasping to their aching breasts.

Yet now--now!--those mothers who had been made happy by the coming of
the children were to be parted from them for ever. There strode
towards one of these mothers who was seated on the stone bench which
ran all round the Court of Honour, the Governor of St. Martin des
Champs (a stern man who had never possessed either wife or child, nor
anything of a home but tents and barracks, during a long life of
soldiering) accompanied by a woman from the Hospital of Charity--which
preceded by some years the Hospital for Foundlings--a nurse. And she,
that mother smiling there, had no idea, no suspicion, of aught that
was about to befall her. If any other of the convicts knew--which was
doubtful, since few had ever travelled the road before that all were
now to set out upon--not one spoke a word or gave a hint of the sorrow
that was to light upon the unhappy woman.

"Say farewell to your child," the governor exclaimed. "Quick! there is
no time to lose. Bid it adieu; then give it to this good nurse," and
he indicated that other woman who accompanied him.

The mother looked up at him with staring eyes. There was, in truth, a
half smile upon her face, as though she doubted if she heard aright
and was almost amused--if one so wretched as she could ever be amused
again!--at the strange, impossible form which the words he must
actually have uttered had taken to her ears. Then she said, quietly,
"What did monsieur say?"

"Bid your child adieu. Quick!" the governor repeated impatiently; "or
it will be taken without your farewells. Quick! I say. There are two
others to be dealt with."

"Bid my child--farewell!" she murmured, understanding his words at
last. "Bid it farewell. You mean that?" And, now, her eyes stared with
a horror that was awful to see. A horror that appalled even this man,
whose life had been passed amidst, first, the turbulence of years of
rough campaigning, and, next, amidst all the most depraved and savage
wild beasts of Paris humanity.

Above the roar of clanking cold iron being fastened upon the chains of
men and women, the rivetting and fitting of _carcans_ upon different
throats--the white throats of erring women, the knotted, corded
throats of men who had worn them before and slaved out portions of
their evil lives with those cursed iron bands swathed fast about
them--amidst, too, the cheers of the populace outside, through whose
ranks, by now, the first chain--that of some men--was passing, that
woman's shriek was heard. It rose above all; above hoarse curses from
the male savages at the pain caused by the hammer as it struck the
edges of their collars together; above yells from the female savages
as the same process went on; above, too, the trumpets of the
gendarmerie, which, a merciful Government allowed to bray outside the
prison gates as an encouragement to the unhappy wretches setting out
upon that journey; above everything else that shriek arose.

For she understood now! She knew that the little helpless mass of
human life which had lain so warm and snug within her arms for two or
three months was to be torn away from her for ever.

"No! No! No!" she moaned, ceasing at last to shriek. "No! No! No. Ah,
monsieur, see how small, how helpless it is. My child! My child! My
little child! And--monsieur--it is not well--it--it--oh--oh! God, how
I have watched over it; cared for it. I have prayed to Him--I, who
never prayed before; I, who scarce knew how to form a prayer.
It is not well. It cannot live without me. It cannot; it
cannot. It is death to part us; death to it and me. And it is
so--so helpless--and--so--innocent."

The governor had turned his back upon her. Perhaps her pleading had
wrung even his heart! Then the nurse spoke. The nurse, who, because
she was a gentle woman, wept.

"Fear not, poor girl," she whispered, even as she strove to take the
child from the arms which clasped it so tightly. "Fear not. It shall
be well attended to. And, see, here is a number," whereon she gave the
unhappy mother a piece of paper, on which she hastily scrawled some
figures. "If you ever return you may find it thus--when it grows
up--it--what is your name?"

"Le Blanc. I shall never return. Never." Then she moaned again. "My
child! My little child! And," she sobbed forth, "see, I had made a
sling wherewith to carry it--so--that--it should lie more easily upon
my breast. Oh! God--that I--that it--were dead."

Many women had watched this scene, amongst them the two other
newly-made mothers, who saw in it what was to be their own fate and
the fate of their babes. So, too, had Laure Vauxcelles, herself
bearing a collar now around her beautiful neck--a light one, it is
true, since the warder whose duty it was to attend to these matters,
among other things, had observed that she was young and handsome,
and, being himself young, or, at least, not old, had spared her as
much as possible. On her left wrist there was fastened a great iron
loop--great for so small a wrist!--through which was to run the chain
that would attach her to those before and those behind her. To her
right wrist was an iron bracelet with a short chain hanging to it,
which, a few moments later, would couple her to the woman who would
march by her side from Paris to Marseilles--if she ever reached the
latter place, which she prayed fervently she might never do.

The chain composed of men was already gone by now; out into the
street, beyond the prison gate, it had already passed; out into the
bright, warm sun, so cheering to those who had lain in that prison for
months--cheering now, but, ere long, to become an awful torture as the
days grew hotter and the south was neared. The chain composed of women
was about to follow. Of women, amongst whom, perhaps, were others as
innocent of guilt as Laure herself; women whom a relentless rival, a
rejected lover possessed of power, a suspicious, jealous husband also
possessed of power or--which was the same thing--of money, may have
consigned to this hellish doom. Women, too, who, although they were
the guilty things that Roger, the chaplain, had described them as
being, had possibly never walked three consecutive leagues in their
lives. Women who, instead, had in many cases ridden in carriages and
sedan chairs and coaches provided by their admirers. Yet now--now they
set forth to march to Marseilles, nearly 350 miles away by road; to
Marseilles, where, in the summer, the sun burned like a flaming
furnace, and to which the breeze of the southern sea came hot and
sultry as the breath from out of the mouth of a panting dog.

The trumpets of the gendarmerie pealed louder, the mob outside was
screaming frantically, people were hanging half-way out of the
windows; some boys who had climbed a tree which grew in the dusty, and
place beyond the prison gates, were waving their ragged caps and
chattering and grimacing. "The female cord" was passing forth. Ahead,
went four mounted gendarmes, then, next, four waggons, destined to
occasionally give a lift to those women who fell by the wayside, yet
did not die at once. They who did so were left behind for the Communes
to bury! Now, in the waggons, were seated the galley sergeants. There
was no reason why they should walk; they were neither criminals nor
women.

Then _la Châim_ issued from the gates, the two leading couples of the
double string, as the mob and the boys in the trees called them,
passed out. Amidst further roars, hurrahs, encouragements, low jeers
and fingerpointings, they came forth; amidst, too, exclamations from
some who recognised them. With, also, a woman's shriek issuing now and
again from out the mob's tight-packed density--a mother's heartbroken
cry perhaps, perhaps a sister's, perhaps a daughter's. Yet, with no
sign of sympathy from one set of beings who were witnessing the
spectacle; who had paid, and paid well, to thus witness it.
Beings--fashionable, well-dressed men and women, who had hired windows
at which to sit and see the chains go by, and who drank chocolate and
ate chipped bread and cakes and dainty butter brought from the cool
north; and laughed and chatted, and made appointments for the Gardens
of the Tuileries that night, or for boating parties on the Seine when
the evening air was cooling the atmosphere.

Laure passed out, too, at last, manacled, shackled to the dark
southern woman who had married the literary man. Passed out with her
head bent down, her feet dragging like lead beneath her, her heart
beating as though it must burst.

Passed out to what she knew and felt would be her death. To what she
prayed might be her death.



CHAPTER XII

MARSEILLES


The chain gangs--the men a mile ahead of the women--marched but slowly
on their way; indeed, it was impossible that they should progress very
fast. Some, as has been said, especially among the female prisoners,
had never been accustomed to walking at all; others, amongst both
women and men, soon became footsore. The months passed in the dungeons
of the prisons, with their bodies chained by the neck to the beam
behind them, had given their feet but little opportunity of exercise,
that only being obtainable which they got from stamping on the ground
to drive out the cold they suffered from during the winter period. No
wonder that all became footsore ere a fiftieth part of their toilsome
journey was covered.

Yet they went on; they had to go on. Marseilles was, to be exact, 356
miles from Paris by road, and they were timed to do the distance in
thirty days; must do it according to the contract made by the
Government with the owners of the ships which were to transport the
"colonists," the "emigrants," to New France. Thirty days for 356
miles.

About twelve miles a day! Not much that for pedestrians, for hardy
walkers, for people used to journeying on foot day by day. A thing to
be accomplished easily, and easily to be surpassed, by the countless
pedlars who swarmed over the face of France; by itinerant monks, by
wandering ballad-singers, strolling players and troops of showmen; yet
not easy for women or men who, even if they had ever walked at all,
were now quite out of practice; who, also, were ill-fed and, in many
cases, were sick and ailing. Yet they had to do it. It must be done.

Each morning, therefore, they set forth again on their route, no
matter whether the sun was beating down fiercely on their heads--they
being protected only by hats which they had been allowed to plait from
the prison straw, in anticipation of the forthcoming journey--or
whether the rain was falling in torrents. Each night they lay down
wherever the chain halted, which it generally did near some village or
hamlet, partly because there the colonists might be allowed to lie and
sleep beneath the shelter of barns and outhouses, but more
particularly because, thereby, the guards and the galley sergeants and
mounted gendarmes could find drinking shops and _pants_ wherein they
might rest and refresh themselves. And, gradually, as they went on and
on along the great southern road, through Montargis and Cosne, and by
Nevers, and on to Moulins and Montmarault, their numbers became a
little diminished nightly. Women dropped by the wayside, or, rather,
amidst the dust and mud of the high road; it was useless to place them
in the carts and carry them further; therefore they were left beneath
the hedges and the sparse bushes that bordered the route--left with
their coarse prison petticoat thrown over their dead faces to save
them from the flies--left there for the villagers to bury when they
were found. And, because the women passed along behind the men, they
saw--they could not help but see!--unless they were blinded by
staggering for league after league through heat and dust, that, with
the chain of men, the same thing had happened. Their bodies--some of
their bodies--were also to be seen lying beneath the hedges and the
bushes, but with no protecting rag over their faces.

Yet, still, those who were not dead went on and on, stumbling,
falling, being dragged up by the companion manacled to them, or by the
guards (kind in some cases, brutal in others) on and on, like women
walking in their sleep; their lids half closed over their glistening,
fever-lit eyes, their senses telling them they were suffering, even as
the dumb brutes' senses tell them that they are suffering. But no
more!

Shackled to the dark handsome woman of the south who had espoused the
writer who hated Rome and her customs, was Laure, alive still, though
praying that every day might be her last. That she would have ever
reached Clermont, to which they were by now arrived, had it not been
for this woman, was doubtful. For she, brought up by Vandecque in all
the luxury he could afford--partly from love of her, partly because
she was a saleable article that, carefully cherished, might fetch a
large price--was no more fitted to walk day by day a distance of from
ten to fifteen miles than she was fitted to sleep on the ground in
barns and outhouses, or to exist on bread and water and anything else
which her comrade could procure by stealing or begging from the
compassionate landlords of those inns where sometimes the chain
halted.

Yet she had done it, she had survived, she was alive; she could feel
the cool mountain air of the Dômes sweep down upon and revive her. She
was still alive.

It seemed to her as if a miracle alone could have kept her so; a
miracle that had for its instrument the woman Marion Lascelles
(Lascelles being the name of the man the latter had espoused, but from
whom she would be separated until they stood free in Louisiana). For
Marion, however vile her past had been, or whatever crimes she might
have steeped her hands in, was, at least, an angel of mercy to Laure,
though at first she had not been so. Instead, indeed, she, in her
great, masterful strength, which neither dungeon nor starvation had
been able to subdue, had strode fiercely along the baked roads which
led, as she muttered to herself, to the sea-coast first, and then to
freedom, though a freedom thousands of miles away. And, as she so
strode, she dragged at the chain which fastened Laure to her, until
once, in doing so, she brought down on her the eye of the officer, or
guard, who rode near.

"What ails her?" he asked, guiding his horse up close to them, while
Marion saw his hand tighten on the whip he held as though about to
administer a blow. "What ails her? Does she want a taste of this?" and
he shook it before their eyes. The fellows in charge of the chain
gangs were indeed officers, but, since none but the most brutal, or
those who had risen from the lowest ranks, would condescend to accept
this employment, to which they were regularly appointed for periods,
their savageness was not extraordinary.

"Nay," replied Marion; "it is my fault. I am too rough with her. And
you can see that she is a gentlewoman, delicately bred. If," and her
black eyes flashed at him, "you are a man, strike not one as helpless
as she is."

"Oh! as for that," the fellow answered, "there are no delicately-bred
ones here. Sentenced convicts all, while you are in our hands. Yet,
since you are the best-looking women in the gang--I love both fair and
dark myself!--I will not beat her this time. But there must be no
lagging; the transports sail under three weeks from now if the wind is
fair. We must be there--at Marseilles."

"She shall not lag," Marion replied. "If she fails I will carry her."

"God bless you," Laure said to her that night, as, still chained to
each other, they lay down together in a shelter for sheep outside
Issoire, since the dreary march was now almost half compassed though
many leagues had still to be accomplished. "God bless you, you are a
true woman." Then she put out her hand and touched the dark one of the
woman at her side, and called her "sister."

With this began their friendship; with it began, too, a revolution in
the hot, fiery blood that coursed through the veins of Marion
Lascelles. She scarcely knew at first what crime the woman next to her
had been condemned for, though she had caught something of what the
chaplain of the prison had said to the fellow who desired to marry
Laure; but one thing she did know, namely that, besides herself, this
was an innocent, suffering creature. And this weakling had called her
"sister"; had prayed God to bless her--to bless her! "When," she
mused, "when, if ever, had such a prayer gone up to heaven for her;
when, when?" Not, she thought, since she was a simple, innocent child,
roaming about the sandy, sunburnt beach of Hérault with her hand in
her mother's--a fisherman's widow, now years since dead. And from
that day she was no longer the fierce companion, but instead, the
protector of Laure, striving always to give the latter some portion of
her own sparse allowance of food; stealing bits of meat out of the
_pots-au-feu_ if the chance ever came her way, sharing all with her;
walking with her arm round her waist, while Laure's head reclined on
her shoulders.

"I shall die," the latter said more than once, "I shall die ere we
reach Marseilles. Oh! Marion, let them not leave me by the wayside."

"Bah!" Marion answered, "you shall not die. I will fight death for
you, wrestle with him, hold you back from him. You have to live."

"For what?" the other would ask. "For what?" and her soft eyes would
look so sad that Marion, still unregenerate, would swear a fierce
southern oath to herself, while she folded Laure to her bosom and
strained her to it with her strong arms. "For what?" Marion would
repeat. "Why, for freedom, first; for justice. That poor imbecile
marching ahead of us" (she was referring to her newly-espoused
husband) "has it seems the gift of writing, at least, since it has
brought him to this pass. We will tell him your history" (for Marion
knew it all now): "then he shall put it into words, and so, somehow,
it shall have its effect. In this new land to which we go there must
be a governor, or vice-regent, or someone in power. He will surely
help you, especially after he has seen you! And there are two other
reasons why you should live."

"I do not know them," Laure faltered.

"You love your husband?"

"Ah!" the other gasped.

"You love him, I say. My God! do I not know what love is!" and she
smote her breast as she spoke. "You love him. You have told me all.
You loved him; you came to love him on the day you married him, the
day he saved you from that--that animal!"

"He is dead!" Laure wailed. "He is dead!"

"I doubt it. Men do not die easily." Possibly, here, too, she was
speaking from experience. "I doubt it. More like, those animals,
Desparre and your uncle, caused him to be arrested and thrown into
prison; remember, they may have encountered him on their road to you.
He may be--who knows?--in the chain that is now on its road to Brest
or Dunkirk."

Laure wrung her hands and shook her head at this, while Marion
continued:--

"Or suppose Desparre lied to you; suppose they had not encountered him
at all. Suppose, I say, he came back to you that night, the next
morning, and found you gone; with none to tell where--you say yourself
that no servant appeared on the scene ere the exempts dragged you
away. Suppose he came back. What then?"

"I do not know; I cannot think."

"I can. He will find out what has become of you, follow you. _Mon
Dieu!_" as a sudden thought flashed into her mind. "Did he not tell
you he meant himself to emigrate to Louisiana, the very place to which
we go. Courage; courage; courage."

"Oh!" Laure gasped, "if--if I dared to hope that."

"Dared to hope! There is nothing else to be supposed but that. He will
be there. Surely, surely, Laure, you will meet your husband in this
colony, big as they say it is. All will be well."

"Nay," she said, "nay. It will never be well. He married me to save me
from Desparre; he had ceased to love me. Yet--yet, if I could see him
once again, only once, I would tell him----"

"What?"

"That I surrendered; that I had come to love him. Yet of what avail
would that? He will be a gentleman planter; I--I a released convict, a
woman earning her bread by labour. Also, he knows--that--I have no
origin."

"He knew it before he married you. And, knowing it, be sure he loved
you." And Marion Lascelles, whether she believed the comforting hopes
she had endeavoured to raise in the other's breast, or whether she had
only uttered them in the desire to put fresh strength into her sad
heart, would hear no word of doubt.

But still the chains went on, the men a mile ahead, the women
following behind. But ever on, and with the journey growing still more
toilsome to these poor creatures worn by this time to skeletons; more
toilsome because they were passing through Haute Loire and Ardèche now
and the mountains were all around them, and had to be climbed by their
bleeding, festering feet. Ascents that had to be made which lasted for
hours, followed by descents as wearying to their aching limbs.

In truth, it might have seemed to any who had observed that chain of
women that it was a small army of dead women which was passing through
the land. An army of dead women who had been burnt black and become
mummified, whose bony frames were enveloped in prison garments,
foul--even for such things--from rain and the mud they had slept in
and the white powdery dust that had blown on to them. Dead women, who,
when they halted, fell prostrate and gasping to the earth, or reclined
against rocks and trees rigidly, with staring, glassy eyes--eyes that
stared, indeed, but saw nothing. Women, in fact, to whose lips the
guards and the sergeants of the prisons--themselves burnt black,
though not worn to skin and bone by constant walking, since they had
their horses and the carts--were forced to hold cups of water, as
otherwise the prisoners must have died of thirst, not being able to
fetch or lift them for themselves. But still--with now half their
number left behind dead, amongst which were two of the women whose
children had been taken from them--they went on. Down by where the
Rhone swept and swirled; past Beaucaire and Tarascon, past Orgon and
Lambèse; past Aix, sacred twenty years before to the slaughter, and
the murder, and the mock trials of many Protestants still toiling at
the galleys, hopeless and heartbroken. On, on, on, until, beneath a
lurid evening sky, the eyes of the guards--but not the sightless eyes
of the women--discerned a great city lying upon the shores of a
limpid, waveless sea.

Marseilles! It was there before them, before the eyes of those men on
horseback and in the carts, only--what was happening, what was doing
in it? That, they could not understand.

For, beneath that lurid and gleaming sky, which had succeeded to an
awful thunderstorm that had passed over the unhappy chain gang an hour
before and drenched them afresh, as they had been drenched so many
times in their long march, they saw fires blazing from pinnacles and
towers, as well as upon the city walls. They knew, too, that similar
fires must be blazing in the streets and market-places and great open
spaces--they knew it by another fierce red light that rose up and
mingled with the red flames and flecks which the sun cast upon the
purple, storm-charged clouds.

"What is it?" a mounted gendarme whispered to a comrade. "What! Can
the storm, the lightning, have set the city in flames? Yet, surely not
in twenty places at once!"

"Nay, nay," the other muttered, his eyes shaded by his hands as he
glanced down to where those flaming lights were illuminating all the
heavens with their glare as the night grew on, and the fires burnt
more fiercely. "Nay; they burn fuel for some reason, they ignite it
themselves."

"What! What! What! For what reasons?"

"God knows," muttered the gendarme, becoming pious under this
awe-inspiring thing which he did not understand. "They did it once
before," the other whispered. "Once! nay, oftener. My grandam was a
Marseillaise. I have heard her tell the tale. They feared the pest."

"The pest--my God! Ere we left Paris people whispered that it had
broken out in the Levant. The Levant! Marseilles trades much there.
What if--if----" he stammered, turning white with fear and
apprehension.

"What if," said his comrade, taking him up, "it should be here!"



CHAPTER XIII

"MY WIFE! WHAT WIFE? I HAVE NO WIFE."


Two months before the chain-gangs set out for Marseilles from the
Prison of St. Martin des Champs, namely at the end of March, Walter
Clarges descended from a hackney coach outside the house in which he
had lived in the Rue de la Dauphine, and entered its roomy hall, or
passage. Then, taking a key from his pocket, he was about to open the
door of his own suite of apartments on the right of the hall, when he
saw that, attached to the door, was a great padlock which fastened a
chain into two staples fixed in the outer and inner framework. He saw,
too, something else. A spider's web that had been spun above the chain
itself by the insect, which, at the present moment, was reposing in
its self-made house.

For a moment, seeing this, he stood there pondering while looking down
upon the creature in its web--accepting, acknowledging, the sign of
desolation which this thing gave--then, ever so gently, he shrugged
his shoulders with a gesture that might have brought the tears to the
eyes of any woman--nay, of any man--who had observed him.

"Scarce," he muttered, "could I have expected aught else. After so
long. After so long." Then, turning away, he went to the back of the
long hall where, opening a small door, he called down some stairs to
the woman who had been the housekeeper three months before--at the
time when he brought Laure to his rooms.

Presently, after answering him from where she was, she appeared, her
sleeves turned up and her hands wet, as though fresh from some simple
household work, and, seeing him, exclaimed--

"In truth! It is Monsieur Clarges. Returned--at last! Monsieur has
been away long. Perhaps to his own land. No matter. Now he is back.
Yet--yet----" she said, looking up at him in the gleaming light of the
spring sun: "Monsieur has not been well. He is white--oh, so white!
Evidently not well."

"I have been close to death for months. At death's door. In the
hospital of the Trinity. No matter for that. Instead, tell me where
the lady is whom I left here on--on--the night I brought her. When did
she cease to occupy these rooms; when depart? As I see she must have
done by this." And he indicated with his finger the spider in its web.
"Also, what message, what letter has she left for me?"

For answer the woman glanced into his face with wide-open eyes--eyes
full of astonishment, surprise. Then she said:

"Monsieur asks strange questions. Letters! Messages! From her?"

"From her. Surely she did not go away and leave none behind."

"But--but----" the other stammered, she being appalled by the look in
his eyes; "beyond doubt she went with Monsieur. Upon that night. I
have ever thought so. I----"

"She went away upon that night!" he said, his voice deep and low.
"Upon that night?"

"Why, yes, Monsieur," the woman replied. "Why, yes." And now she found
her natural garrulity; she began to tell her tale, such as it was. "I
have always thought that, after Monsieur had given his orders as to
Madame's occupation of the rooms, he and the lady had changed their
minds and had decided to go away together. Especially since a
compatriot of Monsieur's called a few days later and said that Madame
was Monsieur's wife--that--that--the marriage had taken place on the
morning of that day."

"My compatriot told you that?"

"He told me so. As well as that he himself had assisted at the
wedding. Therefore, I felt no surprise at the absence of Monsieur and
Madame."

"What?" asked Walter Clarges, still in the low deep voice that was
owing, perhaps, to the thrust through the lungs he had received in the
Rue des Saints Apostoliques three months ago, perhaps to the tidings
he was now gleaning--"what happened on that night? How did she go
away? Surely, surely, you must have known she did not go with me."

"Alas!" the woman answered. "I knew nothing; saw nothing. I knew not
when she went, and deemed for certain that Monsieur had returned for
her. That he had taken her away with him."

"You mean, then, that she went alone? Walked forth from this house
alone. Leaving no word--no message. Has--never--since--sent--one. You
mean that?"

"Monsieur, I know not what I mean. Oh! Monsieur, listen. That night
was a night of horror. Awful things were being done outside. Monsieur
knows. Hideous, heart-rending things! A neighbour of mine, Madame
Prue, came in, rushed in in the evening, and said that the archers and
exempts were seizing people in the streets who had committed no
crimes, yet had been denounced by their neighbours as criminals. Her
own son, she said, was abroad in the streets, and he was so wild, as
well as hated by all in the quarter because he was a fighter and a
brawler in his cups. She feared--she feared--she knew not what. That
he might resist and become quarrelsome. Thereby, be lost and sent to
the prisons--the galleys; even, some whispered, to foreign lands,
exiled for ever. And she, Madame Prue, begged me to go with her, to
assist in finding him--to--to----" and the woman paused to take
breath.

"Go on," said Walter Clarges. "Go on. You went. When did you return?"

"Not for three hours. We could not find the son--he has never been
found yet. God alone knows where he is. His mother is heartbroken.
They say--they say there are hundreds in the prisons being transported
to foreign lands--to----."

"You came not back for three hours! And the lady--my--my--wife?"

"Monsieur, she was gone. And I thought nought of it. The streets were
in turbulence, shots were heard now and again; even houses, apartments
entered. I deemed you had returned for her, dreading to leave her
alone; that you had taken Madame away, dreading also to keep her in
this quarter. That you had, perhaps, sought a better one, or the
suburbs, and were enjoying--well! your honeymoon."

"My honeymoon," he whispered to himself. "My God!" Then he said aloud.
"And there was no message? No letter left in the room? You are sure?"

"There was nothing. I entered the room meaning to offer Madame some
supper--it was vacant. No sign of aught. The fire was gone out. The
lamp was extinct. There was--nothing."

"Nothing!" Walter repeated. "Nothing! No sign of aught. Not a line of
writing. No letter left then or come since."

"Oh," exclaimed the woman, "as for 'come since'--there are
several----"

"And you have kept me thus in torture! Where are they? Where? Where?
Doubtless one is from her?"

"I will go and fetch them. Since Monsieur has been away I have not
opened the rooms. Not since I cleaned them during the first days of
Monsieur's absence."

"Fetch them at once, I beseech you. Yet, ere you go, give me the key
of this padlock. Let me enter the rooms. Bring the letters here at
once."

The woman sped on her way to the back of the house, and, while she was
gone, Walter applied the key to the padlock--brushing away the spider
and its web as he did so--then turned the other key of the door and
entered his sitting-room while he muttered, "She will have gone to
England, as I wished her. She has written from there. All will be
well. All. All. Yet why did she go so soon? Why leave this house the
moment my back was turned?"

And, even as he remembered she had done this, he felt a pang at his
heart.

Why! Why I Why had she acted thus? Why before seeing him again; before
waiting for his return?

The rooms looked very lonely and desolate as he glanced around them,
while throwing open the wooden shutters ere he did so--lonely and
desolate as all rooms and houses invariably appear which have remained
unused and shut up for some considerable space of time. And they
seemed even more so than they would otherwise have done, because of
her whom he had left sitting by what was now a cold and empty hearth.
Where, he asked himself, where was she? Yet he would soon know--in an
instant; he could hear the woman's pattens clattering up the bare cold
steps of the stairs and along the hall--he would soon know.

She came in a moment later, one hand full of kindlings and paper to
make a fire, the other grasping some letters--half a dozen--a dozen.
And amongst them there must be one--more than one from her--he could
see the English frank--also the red post-boy stamped in the corner.
She had written.

He snatched as gently as might be the little parcel from the woman's
hand, ran the letters rapidly through his own--and recognised in a
moment that there were none, was not one, from her. Not one! Three
were from his mother, another was in a woman's writing which he did
not recognise, another from his compatriot, from him who had witnessed
his marriage. But from her--nothing!

He let the servant lay and light the fire while he stood by looking
down into the fast kindling flames and holding the letters in his hand
listlessly, then, when she rose from her knees and glanced at him
inquiringly, he shook his head gently.

"No," he said, in answer to her questioning eyes. "No. She has not
written yet. Not yet. Leave me now if you will. These at least must be
attended to."

When she had gone from out the room, after turning back ere she did so
to cast a swift glance at him, a glance which led her to passing her
apron across her eyes after she had gained the passage, he sat down in
the deep fauteuil by the fire in which he had so often sat since he
had lived there--the fauteuil in which his wife of a day had sat
before him on their wedding night--and brooded long ere he opened the
letters which lay to his hand.

"What does it mean?" he murmured to himself. "What? Were Vandecque and
that creeping snake, Desparre, whom I saw lurking in the porch of a
house ere I was vanquished, on their way here when we met? Did they
come on here afterwards? Yet, even so, what could they do to her?
Nothing! The law punishes not those women who disobey their parents or
guardians by marrying against their wish, but, instead, the man who
marries them. It could do nothing to her. If she went from here she
went of her own free will, even though cajoled by Vandecque into doing
so. As for Desparre, what harm could he do? She hated him; she married
me when she might have married him. No! No! It is Vandecque I must
seek. Vandecque! At once. At once. Now. Yet, to begin with, these
letters."

Those from his mother were the first to which he turned; before all
else he, this married yet wifeless man, sought news of her. Her love,
at least, never faltered; never! And, he reflected sadly, it was the
only woman's love he was ever likely to know. There could be no other
now that he was wedded to one who had disappeared from out his life an
hour after his back was turned.

"Yet, stay," he mused, as these thoughts sped swiftly through his
troubled mind. "Stay. She may have followed my injunctions and have
made her way to England. The news I seek may be here, in these."

But, even as he so thought, something, some fear or apprehension, told
him that it was not so, and that his mother had no information to give
him of his wife.

Swiftly he ran through his letters after opening them, putting away
for the moment all consideration of his mother's anxiety as to what
might have happened to him, since she had not heard from him for so
long. Swiftly only to find that, beyond all doubt, she had neither
seen nor heard aught of Laure. There was no mention of her. No word.

"I have no wife," he murmured. "No wife; nothing but a bond that will
for ever prevent me from having wife or child, or home. Ah well! so be
it. I saved her; saved her from him. Of my own free will I did it. It
is enough."

Yet, though she had gone away thus and had left him without word or
sign, he remembered that there was still one other thing--two other
things--for him to do. Things that he had mused upon for weeks as he
lay in the hospital in which he found himself on emerging from a long
delirium, and while his wounded lung was slowly healing--the
determination to find both Desparre and Vandecque, and, then, to slay
both.

To kill Vandecque as he would kill a rat or a snake that had bitten
him; to force Desparre to stand before him, rapier in hand, and to run
the villain through the lungs, even as his jackals had done to him
while their employer looked on from out the shelter of the porch.

This he meant to set about now, at once, to-day; but, first, let him
read his mother's letters and write one in reply.

Those letters were full of the distress she was in at gleaning no news
from him, full of tender dread as to what might have befallen him in
Paris, which, she had heard, even in her country seclusion, was in a
terrible state of turmoil in consequence of the bursting of the
Mississippi bubble and the ruin following thereon; also, they
expressed great fear that, in some manner, his Jacobite devotion might
have led him into trouble, even though he was out of England.

Thus the first two ran. The third contained stranger and more pregnant
news; news of so unexpected a nature that even this gentle, anxious
mother put aside for the moment her wail of distress over the lack of
tidings from her son to communicate it.

His distant cousin, she wrote, Lord Westover, was dead, burned to
death in his own house in Cumberland, and with him had also perished
his son; therefore Walter Clarges, her own dear son, had, unexpectedly
to all, inherited the title as well as a large and ample fortune. He
must, consequently, she said, on receipt of this at once put himself
in communication with the men of business of the Westover family, the
notary and the steward; if, too, she added, he could see his way to
giving in his adherence to the reigning family his career might now be
a great, almost an illustrious, one. The Hanoverian King was welcoming
all to his Court who had once espoused the now utterly ruined Stuart
cause. All would be forgotten if Walter but chose to give in his
allegiance to the new ruler of England. And, perhaps with a view to
inducing him to think seriously of such a change, she mentioned that
she had heard from a sure source that, not six months before he met
with his terrible death, the late Earl had seen King George, and had
been graciously received by him. There was, she thought, no doubt that
he at least had made his peace with the reigning monarch.

To Walter Clarges--or the Earl of Westover, as he now was--this news
seemed, however, of little value. Titles, political principles--which
he felt sure he should never feel disposed to change--even
considerable wealth, were at the present moment nothing to him;
nothing in comparison with what he had to do, with what he had set
himself to do.

This was to seek out and wreak his vengeance on those two men,
Desparre and his tool and creature, Vandecque. As for her, his
wife--now an English aristocrat, a woman of high patrician rank by
marriage--she had gone; she had left him without a word, without a
message as to what life she intended to lead henceforward, or what
existence to pursue. Yet, he had no quarrel with, no rancour against,
her; he could have none. He had offered himself to her as a man who
might be her earthly saviour, though without demanding in return any
of the rights of a husband, without demanding the slightest show or
pretence of affection; and she had taken him at his word, she had
accepted his sacrifice! That was all. Upon her he had no right to
exercise any vengeance whatsoever.

It was on Desparre first; on Vandecque next; or rather, on whichever
might first come to his hand, that the punishment must fall; and fall
it should, heavily. Of this he was resolved.

Pondering thus, he picked up the letter addressed to him in a woman's
handwriting, and, opening it, began its perusal.

Yet, as he did so, as he read through it swiftly, his face became
white and blanched. Once he muttered to himself, "My God, what awful
horror have I saved her from!" And once he shivered as though he sat
on some bleak moor, across which the wintry wind swept icily, instead
of in his own room, on the hearth of which the blazing logs now roared
cheerfully up the great open chimney.



CHAPTER XIV

WHERE IS THE MAN?


When Walter Clarges was left lying on the footway of the Rue des
Saints Apostoliques, on that cold, wintry night after Vandecque's
rapier had struck through his left lung, there was not an hour's life
left in him if succour had not been promptly at hand. Fortunately,
however, such was the case, and, ere he had been stretched there
twenty minutes, his prostrate form was found by a number of soldiers
of the "Regiment of Orleans," who happened to pass down the street on
their way to where their quarters were, near the Hôtel de Ville. All
these men had been drinking considerably on this night of lawlessness
and anarchy, they having, indeed, been sent forth under the charge of
some officers to restore, if possible, peace and tranquillity to the
streets, and to prevent the archers and exempts from continuing the
wholesale arresting and dragging off to prison (after first clubbing
and beating them senseless) of many innocent persons. And, for the
rescues which they had made of many such innocent people, they had met
with much gratitude and had been treated to draughts of liquor strong
enough and copious enough to have turned even more seasoned heads than
theirs, and were now reeling back to their quarters singing songs,
yelling out vulgar ribaldries, and accosting jocosely, and with many
barrack-room gallantries, the few women who ventured forth, or were
forced to be abroad on such a night.

"Body of a dog," said one, a big, brawny fellow, whose magnificent
uniform shone resplendent under the rays of the now fully risen moon,
as they flashed down from the snow upon the roofs, "is our Regent
turned fool? What will he gain by this devil's game of arresting all
the people who object to lose their money in his cursed schemes. 'Tis
well De Noailles sent us out into the streets to-night to stop it all,
or the boy-king might never sit on the old one's throne. By my
grandmother's soul, our good Parisians will not endure everything, and
Philippe, who is wise, when he is not drinking or making love, should
know better than to play such a fool's game. 'Tis that infernal
Dubois, or his English friend, the financier----"

"La! la!" said another, equally big and brawny, "blaspheme not Le
Débonnaire. He is our master. Ho! le Débonnaire!" Whereon he began to
sing a song that everyone sung in Paris at this time, in which he was
joined by all his comrades:


      "Long live our Regent,
       He is so débonnaire."


Then he broke off, exclaiming while his comrades continued the
refrain, "Ha! What have we here? Ten thousand thunders! Is it a
battlefield? Behold Look at this Dead men around! The house-wall
splashed with blood! How it gleams, sticky and shiny, in the moon's
rays! Poor beasts!"

"Beasts in truth!" exclaimed a third. "Archers, exempts! _Fichtre!_
who cares for them. Dirty police, watchmen essaying the duties of
soldiers--of gentlemen, of ourselves. Bah!" and he kicked a dead
archer lying in the road with such force that the thud of his
heavy-spurred riding-boots sounded hideously against the corpse's
ribs. "Let them lie there till the dogs find them."

"Ay! ay!" exclaimed the first of the speakers. "Let them lie. But this
other, here; this is no exempt nor archer--instead, a gentleman. Look
to his clothes and lace, and his hands. White as De Noailles's own.
Also, he is not dead yet."

Meanwhile, he who thus spoke was bending over Walter Clarges and had
already run his great muscular arm beneath the wounded man's
shoulders, thus lifting him into a sitting position, whereby a stream
of blood issued swiftly from his lips, and, running down his chin,
stained the steinkirk and breast lace beneath.

"That saves him," he exclaimed, "for a time, at least. The red
wine was choking the unfortunate. And observe; you understand?
This is a gentleman. Set upon by these sewer rats either for
robbery--or--or--or," and he winked sapiently, "by some rival."

Whereon, as he spoke, the man who had kicked the dead fellow lying in
the road looked very much as though he were about to repeat the
performance. Yet he was arrested in the act by what the other, who was
supporting Walter's still inanimate form, said:

"Nay, fool, kick not the garbage. They cannot feel. Instead, scour
their pockets. Doubtless the pay of Judas is in them. And, if so, 'tis
rightly ours for saving this one. To the soldier and gentleman the
spoils of war. To the gentlemen of Monseigneur's guard the perquisites
of those wretches."

Meanwhile, even as he spoke, the gentleman of Monseigneur's guard was
doing his best to restore the victim of Desparre and Vandecque to
life. Half a handful of snow was placed on the latter's burning
forehead; his vest was opened by the summary process of tearing the
lace out of it and wrenching the sides apart. Gradually, Clarges
unclosed his eyes, understanding what was being done.

"God bless you!" he murmured as well as the blood in his mouth would
let him. "God bless you! My purse is in my pocket. Take----" Then
relapsed into insensibility.

"Bah! for his purse. This is a gentleman. We do not rob one another.
The dog eats not dog, as the Jew said to the man who unhappily looked
like one. Instead, despoil those carrion, and, you others, help me to
bear him to the Trinity. 'Tis close at hand. Hast found aught,
Gaspard?"

"Ay!" the other gentleman of the guard replied. "A pocketful of
louis-d'ors. Ho! for Babette and Alison and the wine flask to-morrow."

"Good! Good!" the first replied. "The wine cup and the girls
to-morrow. Yet, not a word of anything to anybody. We found this
Monsieur stretched on the ground wounded. As for the refuse here," and
he looked scornfully at the dead men, "poof! we do not see them. They
are beneath the notice of sabreurs. Lift him gently; use your cloaks
as bands beneath his body. So away to the Trinity. Forward! _Marchez,
mes dragons!_"


*    *    *    *    *    *


The days drew into weeks, and the weeks into months. The winter, with
its snows and frosts was gone; the spring was coming. Yet, still,
Walter Clarges lay, white as a marble statue, in the hospital bed,
hovering 'twixt life and death. But, because he was young and healthy,
and had ever been sober and temperate, his constitution triumphed over
the thrust that had pierced his lung and gone dangerously near to
piercing his heart; his wound healed well and cleanly both inside and
out, his mouth ceased at last to fill with blood each time he coughed
or essayed to speak. Recovery was close at hand.

That he was a gentleman the surgeons recognised as plainly as the
good-natured swashbucklers of Monseigneur's guard had done. His
clear-cut, aristocratic features and his delicate shapely hands showed
this as surely as his rich apparel (he had put on the best he had for
his wedding), his jewelled watch by Tompion (which his father had left
him), and his well-filled purse seemed to testify the same. But they
did not know that what the purse contained was all he would have in
the world after he had made provision for the woman he had married in
the morning, and had paid every debt. At last, one day, the surgeon
spoke to him, telling him that he was well and cured. If he had a home
he might go forth to it, nothing now being required but that he should
exercise some little care with his lung, while endeavouring to catch
no chill--and so forth.

"Yes," he said, "I have a home, such as it is. An apartment in a back
street, yet good enough, perhaps, for an English exile--an English
Jacobite."

He had told them who he was and his name, while contenting himself
with simply describing the attack upon him as one made by armed
ruffians on that night of confusion, and thinking it best that he
should say no more. To narrate the reason why he had been thus
attacked, to state that he had taken a woman away from her lawful
guardian, and married her on the morning when she was about to have
become the wife of a prominent member of the noblesse--prominent in
more ways than one!--would, he knew, be unwise. It might be that, even
now, Desparre or Vandecque could set the law upon him, in spite of
their base attempt at murder. If such were the case, and he should
become a prisoner in the Bastille or Vincennes, his chance of being of
further help to his wife would be utterly gone. And, for the same
reason, he had not, during the last two weeks that he had been enabled
to speak or write, sent any message to the custodian of the house
where he lived, nor to his wife. He imagined that, since he had not
returned on that night as he had promised to do, she would continue to
remain on in the apartments in the Rue de la Dauphine until she heard
from him. He had shown her his strong box and had told her that it
contained four thousand livres, enough to provide her with her
subsistence for some time to come. Surely she would not fail to
utilise the money--would not forget that she was his lawful wife, and,
though caring nothing for him, was therefore fully entitled to do with
it what she chose. He would find her there on his return. And
then--then they would make their arrangements for parting. He would
force himself to bury, in what must henceforth be a dead heart, the
love and adoration he had for her. Nay, he would do more. He had told
her that, in days to come, he would find some means of setting her
free from the yoke of their marriage, that yoke which must gall her so
in the future. He could scarcely imagine as yet how this freedom was
to be obtained, but, because of that adoration, that love and worship
of his, it should be done. He had saved her from Desparre; soon she
would need him no more. Then she could fling him away, if any means
could be devised to break the bonds that bound her to him.

What he did find when he reached the house in the Rue de la Dauphine
has been told, and how, when there, he learned that his thoughts of
setting her free had long since been anticipated. She had waited for
no effort on his part. She had escaped and left him the first moment
that a chance arose, after having availed herself of the sacrifice he
had made, all too willingly, for her.

"So be it," he said at last, as he sat before the burning logs,
thinking over all these things, while that letter, written in some
unknown woman's handwriting, lay at his feet "So be it; she is gone. I
have no wife. Yet, yet"--and he gazed down as he spoke at the
paper--"had she known this story which it tells--if it is the truth,
she should have thanked me five thousand times over for the service I
did her. To have saved her from Desparre as her husband was, perhaps,
something worth doing--to save her from the awful, hellish union into
which she would have entered unknowingly, would surely have entitled
me to her everlasting gratitude--even without her love."

And, again, he shuddered as he glanced at the letter lying there.

"Now," he exclaimed, springing to his feet, "that is over; done with;
put away for ever. One thing alone is not--my vengeance."

"Vandecque's abode I know," he muttered, "though not the address of
that double-dyed scoundrel, his master. That I must learn later. Now
for the jackal."

He seized his roquelaure and was about to throw it over his shoulder
when he paused, remembering that he was unarmed--since the last sword
he had worn, that one which had been broken in the affray of the Rue
des Saints Apostoliques, was left where it had fallen. Then he went
into his sleeping room and came forth bearing a strong serviceable
rapier, which he passed through his sash.

"It has done good work for me before now," he mused; "'twill serve yet
to spit the foul creature I go to seek."

Whereupon, putting the letter from his unknown female correspondent in
his pocket, he went forth and made his way to the spot at which he had
met his wife on the morning of their ill-starred marriage; the "Jardin
des Roses," out of which the Passage du Commerce opened.

The roses were not yet in bloom, the spring flowers were only now
struggling into bud; yet all looked gay and bright, and vastly
different from what it had done on that cold wintry morning when Laure
had stolen forth trembling to the arbour in which he waited for her,
and had gone with him to that ceremony which she then regarded as but
a lesser evil than the one she fled from.

"What hopes we cherish, nourish in our hearts," he thought, as he went
swiftly over the crushed-shell paths to the opening of the Passage.
"Hopes never to be realised. Even as I married her, even as I vowed
that never would I ask her for her love, nor demand any consideration
for me as her husband, I still dreamed, still prayed that at
last--some day--in the distant future--she might come to love me. If
only a little. Only a little. And now! And now! And now! Ah, well! It
must be borne!"

He reached the house in the Passage as thus he meditated; reached it,
and summoned the concierge to come forth from his den. Then, when the
man stood before him ready to answer his inquiries, he said:

"I seek him who occupies the second floor of this house. Your tenant,
Vandecque."

"Vandecque!" the man exclaimed. "Monsieur Vandecque! You seek him?"
and the tones of the man's voice rose shriller and shriller with each
word he muttered. "You seek Monsieur Vandecque?"

"'Tis for that I am here. What else? Where is he?" Then, seeing a
blank look upon the man's face, he suddenly exclaimed: "Surely he is
not dead?"

"Dead; no. Not that I know of. Though, sometimes, I fear.
But--but--missing. He may be dead."

"Missing! Since when--how long ago?"

"Since the night of the--the--catastrophe. The night of the day when
mademoiselle threw over the illustrious duke to marry an English
outcast. They say--many think--that it broke his heart; turned him
demented. That he drowned himself, poor gentleman, plunged into the
Seine to hide----"

"Bah!" exclaimed Walter, "such fellows as that do not drown
themselves. More like he is in hiding for some foul crime, attempted
or done. If this is true that you tell me" (he thought it very likely
that the man was lying by Vandecque's orders) "what of his companions,
his clients--the men who gambled here. The 'illustrious duke' of whom
you make mention; where is that vagabond?"

The man rolled up his eyes to heaven as though fearing that the skies
must surely be about to fall at such profanation as this, and would
have replied uncivilly to his interrogator only--the accent of that
interrogator showed him to be an Englishman of the same class as the
man who had stolen the Duke's bride. And he remembered that Englishmen
were hot and choleric; above all that they permitted no insolence from
inferiors. He did not know but that, if he were impertinent, he might
find himself saluted with a kick or a blow. But, because he had as
much wit of a sub-acid kind as most of his countrymen, he muttered to
himself, "Apparently, Monsieur knows Monsieur le Duc." But, aloud, he
said, "Monsieur le Duc is extremely unwell. He is no longer strong; in
truth, he has lived too well since he removed himself from the army.
They say," and the fellow sunk his voice as though what he was now
about to impart was of too sacred a nature to be even whispered to the
vulgar air, "they say that Monsieur fears a little fluxion, a stroke
of apoplexy. His health, too, has suffered from the events of that
terrible morning, and that----"

"No matter for his health. Where is he? Tell me that. If I cannot find
Vandecque I must see him." Then, taking a louis from his pocket, he
held it out, while making no pretence of disguising the bribe. "Here,"
he said, "here is something for your information. Now, answer, where
is the man?"

"He is," the concierge said, slipping the louis with incredible
rapidity into his breeches' pocket, "at or near Montpelier. The
doctors there are the finest in the world, while the baths are of
great repute for such disorders as those of Monsieur le Duc."

"This is the truth? As well as that Vandecque has disappeared?"

"Monsieur, I swear it. And, if Monsieur doubts me, he can see Monsieur
Vandecque's apartments. They will prove to him that they have not been
occupied for months. Also, if Monsieur demands at the Hôtel Desparre
he will learn that, in this case as well, I speak the truth."

"I take you at your word. Let me see the apartments. Later, I will
verify what you say as to the absence of Desparre."

"Ascend, Monsieur," said the man, pointing to the stairs. "Ascend, if
you please." Walter Clarges did as was suggested, yet, even as he
preceded the concierge, he took occasion to put his hand beneath his
cloak and loosen his sword in its sheath. He did not know--he felt by
no means sure of what he might encounter when he reached those rooms
upon the second floor.



CHAPTER XV

THE PEST


Almost did those unhappy women of the cordon, or chain-gang--those
skeletons clad in rags--thank God that something was occurring down
below in the great city, the nature of which they could not divine
beyond the fact that it was horrible, and must be something
portentous, since it delayed their descent from the hill towards the
ships that were, doubtless, now waiting in the harbour to transport
them to New France. For, whatever the cause might be--whether the city
were in flames, or attacked by an enemy from the sea, or set on fire
in different places by the recent lightning--at least they were
enabled to rest; to cast themselves upon the dank earth that reeked
with the recent rain; to lie there with their eyes closed wearily.

Yet, amongst those women was one who knew--or guessed, surely--what
was the cause of those flames; what they signified. The dark woman of
Hérault--the woman who, as a child, had listened to stories told of
not so many years ago, when, forth from this smoking city which lay
now at their feet, had rushed countless people seeking the pure air of
the plains and mountains; people seeking to escape from the stifling
and pestiferous poison of the pest that was lurking in the narrow,
confined streets of Marseilles.

"It has come to the city again," she whispered in Laure's ear, as the
latter lay prostrate by her side--chained to her side--"As it has
come, they say, more than thirty times since first Christ walked the
earth--since Cæsar first made the place his. It must be that it has
come again."

"What?" murmured Laure, not understanding. "What has come? Freedom or
death? Which is it?"

"Probably both," Marion Lascelles answered. "Freedom and death. Both."

Then, because her eyes were clearer than the eyes of many by whom she
was surrounded, and because her great, strong frame had resisted even
the fatigues and the miseries of that terrible journey from Paris to
which so many of her original companions had succumbed--to which all
had succumbed, more or less!--she was able to observe that the mounted
gendarmes and the warders and gaolers were holding close consultation;
and that, also, they looked terror-stricken and agitated. She was able
to observe, too, that a moment later they had been joined by a
creature which had crept up the hill to where they were, and had
slowly drawn near to them. Yet it had done so as though half afraid to
approach too close, or as one who feared that he might be beaten away
as an unknown dog is driven off on approaching too near to the heels
of a stranger.

Thrusting her brown, sunburnt hands through her matted, coal-black
hair, now filled and clotted with mud that had once been the dust of
the long weary roads she had traversed until the rain turned it into
what it was, she parted that hair from off her eyes and glared
transfixed at the figure. It was that of a man almost old, his sparse
white locks glistening in the rays of the moon which now overtopped
the brow of the hill behind them--yet it was neither the man's age nor
his grey hairs that appalled her. Instead, it was his face, which was
of a loathsome yellow hue--it being plainly perceptible in the
moonbeams--as is the face of a man stricken to death with jaundice; a
face covered, too, with huge carbuncles and pustules, and with eyes of
a chalky, dense white, sunken in the hollow sockets.

"It is," Marion muttered hoarsely to herself, "the pest. That man is
sickening, has sickened of it. God help us all! Slave-drivers and
slaves alike. I saw one like him at Toulon once." And again she
muttered, "God help us all!"

Above her murmur, which hardly escaped beyond her white, clenched
teeth, there rose a shout from those whom she termed to herself the
slave-drivers--a shout of fury and of horror.

"Away, leper!" cried the man who had been the most stern of all the
guards, on seeing this figure near to him and his companions; "away,
or I shoot you like a dog," and he wrenched a great horse pistol from
out his belt as he spoke. "Away, I say, to a distance. At once."

The unfortunate, yellow-faced creature did as he was bidden, dragging
himself wearily off for several paces, while falling once, also, upon
one knee, yet recovering himself by the aid of a huge knotted stick he
held in his hands; then he turned and said in a voice which, though
feeble, was still strong enough to be heard:

"In the name of God give me some water. I burn within. Oh! that one
should live and yet endure such agony!"

"You shall have water--later," a warder answered. "Only, approach not
on peril of your life. Presently, a jar of water for you shall be
carried to a spot near here." Then the speaker asked huskily, and in a
voice which trembled with fear, "Is it the pest? Down there--in the
city?"

"It is the pest," the man replied, his awful white eyes gleaming
sickeningly. "They die in hundreds daily. Whole families--whole
streets of families--are dead. All mine are gone--my wife and seven
children. I, too, am stricken after nursing, burying them. I cannot
live. In pity's sake, put that jar of water where I can reach it
ere--ere they come forth!"

"They come forth?" the guards of the cordon exclaimed all together.
"Ere who come forth?"

"Many who are still left alive. All are fleeing who can leave the
city. It is a vast tomb. Hundreds lie dead in the streets--poisoning,
infecting the air. Also, the dogs--they, too, are stricken, through
tearing them. The rooks, likewise, who have swooped down upon the
bodies. God help me! The water! The water The water! Ere they come."

Perhaps it was compassion, perhaps fear, perhaps the knowledge that
ere long they, too, might be burning inwardly from the same cause as
that which now affected this unhappy man, which caused those brutal
custodians to take pity on his sufferings. But, from whatever cause it
might be, at least that pity was shown. A flat, squat bottle holding
about a pint was taken by one of them to a little rising knoll some
seventy yards away and put on the ground; then the pest-stricken man
was told he might go to it.

By now, even as he hobbled and dragged himself on his stick towards
that knoll, his white eyes gleaming horribly, the women of the
chain-gang had somewhat recovered from the stupor in which they had
been lying; some besides Marion Lascelles had even sat up upon the
rain-steeped ground and had heard all that had passed. And, now, they
raised their voices in a shrill clatter, shrieking to their
custodians:

"Release us! Release us! Set us free! We are not doomed to this;
instead, we are on our road to freedom. Strike off these accursed
irons; let us find safety somewhere. None meant that we should perish
thus," while Marion's voice was the loudest, most strident of all,
since she was the strongest and the fiercest.

A common fear--a common horror--was upon everyone by now: women
prisoners and captors, or custodians, alike; all dreaded what was
impending over them. Wherefore their cries and shrieks, which, before
this day, would have been answered with the lash or the heavy riding
wand, were replied to almost kindly.

"Have patience, good women," the gendarmes and guards replied, "have
patience. All may yet be well. If the vessels are in the port they
will soon carry you to sea; to a pure air away from this."

Yet still more hubbub arose from all the women. Those very women who,
upon the weary journey, had prayed that each day might be their last,
screamed at this time for life and safety and preservation from this
awful death--the death by the pest.

"Turn us back," they wailed. "Turn us back. It has not penetrated
inland, or we should have heard of it on the route. Turn us back, or
set us free to escape by ourselves. 'Tis all we ask. It is our due.
The law desires not our death. Above all, no such death as this!"

But again their guardians bade them have patience, telling them that
soon they would be on board the transports and well out upon the pure
bosom of the ocean.

"Well out!" cried Marion Lascelles, her voice still harsh and
strident, her accent defiant and contemptuous. "Well out to sea! Yes,
after traversing that fever-stricken city from one end to the other to
reach the docks. How shall we accomplish that; how will you, who must
accompany us? You! You, too! Can we pass through Marseilles unharmed?
Can you?" and again she emphasised the "you," while striking terror
into the men's hearts and making them quake as they sat on their
horses or reclined in the carts. "All are doomed. We, the prisoners.
You, the gaolers."

Those men knew it was as she said; they knew that their lives were
subject to as much risk, were as certain to be forfeited, as the lives
of the wretched women in their charge. Whereon they trembled and grew
pale, especially since they remembered that this was a woman of the
South, and, therefore, one who doubtless understood what she spoke of.
The people of the Midi had been reared from time immemorial on legends
telling of the horrors of the earlier pests.

Whatever terrors were felt by either prisoners or custodians, women or
men, were now, however, to be doubly, trebly intensified. They were to
see, here, upon this rising upland of sunburnt and, now, rain-soaked
grass, sights even more calculated to make their hearts beat with
apprehension, their nerves tingle, and their lips turn more white.

Forth from the smitten, pestiferous city lying at their feet--that
city which now flared with a hundred fires lit to purify it, if
possible--there came those who could escape while still life remained,
and while the poisonous venom of the scourge had not reduced them to
helplessness. They came dragging themselves feebly if already struck
by the disease; swiftly if, as yet, the fever had not penetrated their
systems nor death set its mark upon them. Walking rapidly in some
cases, crawling in others; running, almost leaping, if able to do so.
Doing anything, thereby to flee away in the open; out into the woods
and plains and mountains--anything to leave behind the accursed city
in which the houses were empty or only filled with corpses; the
accursed streets in which the dead bodies of men and women, of dogs
and crows, lay in huddled masses.

A band of nuns passed first--their heads bound in cloths that had been
steeped in vinegar into which gunpowder had been soaked; their holy
garments trailing on the ground, their rosaries clattering as they
went along, their faces white with terror though not with disease.
These were good, pious women, many of them young, who, until now, when
the panic of dread had seized upon them, had nursed the sick and dying
under the orders of their saintly bishop, Henri de Belsunce de
Castlemoron, but who, at last, had yielded to the fear that was upon
all within Marseilles, and had fled. They had fled from their
cloisters out into the open, rushing away from the city of death,
shrieking to those who were stricken to keep off from them in the name
of God and all his Saints; even arming themselves with what were
called the "Sticks of St. Roch," namely, canes from eight to ten feet
long, wherewith to ward off and push aside the passers-by and,
especially, the dogs which were supposed to be thoroughly infected
from the dead bodies at which they sniffed and sometimes tore. Nay,
not supposed only, since the creatures had already perished by
hundreds from having done so.

Running by their side, endeavouring to keep up with those over whom,
but a little while ago, she had ruled with a stern, unbending power,
went the mother superior, a fat, waddling woman, whose face may have
been comely once, but was now drawn with fright and terror. Yet--with
perhaps some recollections left in her mind, even now, of the sanctity
and charity that should be the accompaniment of her holy calling--she
paused on seeing the group of worn, sunburnt, and emaciated women
sitting there under the charge of their frightened warders, and asked
who and what they were?

"Galley slaves," one of these warders answered; "at least, emigrants.
They go to New France. Can we pass through the city, think you, holy
mother, or reach the ships without danger? Can we go on to safety and
pure breezes?"

"Alas!" the woman answered, gathering up her skirts even as she spoke,
so as to flee as swiftly as might be after her flock, which had gone
on without pausing when she herself did so. "Alas, there are no ships.
The galleys are moored outside 'tis true, but all else have put to sea
to escape. Turn back if you are wise. Ah!" she cried with a scream, a
shriek, as some other fugitives from the city passed near her, their
eyes chalky white, their faces yellow and blotched with great livid
carbuncles. "Oh, keep off! keep off!" And she waved her long stick
around her and then rushed precipitously after her band of nuns.

But still the refugees came forth, singly, in pairs, in families. Some
staggered under burdens which they bore, such as bags containing food
or jars holding water. Numbers of women carried not only babes in
their arms and folded to their breasts, but others strapped on to
their backs. Some men wheeled hand barrows before them with their
choicest household goods flung pell-mell into them; some, even, had
got rough vehicles drawn by horses or cows--in one or two instances by
dogs, and in another by a pig--by the side of which they walked while
their stricken relatives lay gasping within. Yet, even as these latter
passed along, that which was most distinctive in their manner was the
horror which those who still remained unstruck testified for those who
were stricken, yet whom the ties of blood still prompted them to save.
A son passed along with his aged mother dying on the truck he pushed
before him, yet he had bound his mouth up with vinegar-steeped cloths
so that her infected breath should not be inhaled by him; a husband,
whose wife was at the point of death, bore, fastened on his chest, a
small iron tray on which smoked burning sulphur, so that he should
inhale those fumes. Others, too, carried flasks and bottles of
spirituous liquors, from which they drank momentarily; some smoked
incessantly enormous pipes full of rank, coarse tobacco, and drew into
their lungs as much of the fumes as they could bear.

There, too, passed flying domestics and servitors, upon whose coarse
hands sparkled rich and sumptuous rings never made to be worn by such
as they, and carrying in those hands strong boxes and jewel boxes.
None need have asked how they became possessed of such treasures as
these! Imagination would have told at once of dead or dying employers,
of dark houses rifled, and of robbery successful.

Yet these fugitives were such as, up to now, had escaped the deadly
breath of the pest, and were not so horrible as those stricken by that
breath. These latter were too awful to behold as they staggered along
moaning, "I burn! I burn!" and then flung themselves down to lick the
rain-water off the grass beneath them, or to thrust their parched
tongues into rivulets formed by the recent downpour. They flung
themselves down, never, in many cases, to stagger to their feet again.
Exhausted they lay where they fell, and so they died.

The stream of refugees ceased not. Under the rays of the now risen
moon they poured forth continuously from the flaming city beneath
them, their faces lit also by the crimson-illuminated sky above. They
came on in numbers, running or walking, breathlessly if strong,
staggering, falling, moaning, shrieking sometimes, if already attacked
by the pest.

And Marion Lascelles sitting up upon the sodden hill slope, her
hands holding back her matted hair so that the soft wind now blowing
from above should not cause it to obscure her eyes, saw all these
passers-by, and felt a horror in her soul that she had never before
known in her tempestuous life. While, also, she saw something else,
and whispered in the ears of the half inanimate Laure what it was that
she perceived. "Observe, dear one," she muttered, "observe. The
guards, all of them, the gaolers and gendarmes move. They mix with
that rushing crowd; see, they disappear; almost, it seems, they
dissolve into the night. One understands what they have determined to
do. They flee, too; they dare not face this thing. They depart,
leaving us here. The cowards!" And if eyes as well as lips could hurl
contemptuous curses at others, the woman of the South hurled them now
at the departing captors.

"For," she said a moment later, "the safety the creatures seek they do
not give us the opportunity of finding as well. They have left us
chained and manacled so that we, on our part, cannot escape."



CHAPTER XVI

"I HAD NOT LIVED TILL NOW, COULD SORROW KILL"


The night wind rose as the hours went by, so that at last the cool
breezes brought ease, and, in a manner, restoration to those unhappy
women lying or sitting upon the slope of the hill which lay to the
north of Marseilles. Gradually, under its influence, many of them
began to feel more strength coming to their wasted and aching limbs,
while others, who up to now had been dazed and stupefied at the end of
their journey, began to understand that the long and terrible march
from Paris was at last concluded; that, henceforth, there was to be no
more dragging of weary, bleeding feet along league after league of
rough and stony roads.

Unhappily, however, as this fact dawned upon them, so did another and
more hideous one--the awful, ghastly fact that they had but escaped
from one terror to be surrounded by a second to which the first was
almost a trifle.

As their senses came back to many of them, such senses being aroused
by the continual excitement of the talk amongst those who were already
awake or had never slept since their arrival, they grasped this fact,
and became aware of what was now threatening them. They grasped the
fact that death in a more horrid garb than that which it had
previously worn had to be faced, and was around them; close to them;
and about to seize them in an awful embrace.

Some started to their feet shrieking as this knowledge dawned upon
them, while clanking their chains as they did so, and endeavouring to
tear from off their necks the loathsome _carcan_, or collar, in their
frenzy, or to rush away from where they were back to the great plain
through which they had passed but a day or so ago, or up to the
vine-clad heights of which they had caught a sight as they drew near
to the end of their journey. Anywhere! Anywhere, away from this new
terror which threatened them. Then, even as they wailed aloud, while
some cast themselves upon their knees and prayed to be spared from the
horrible contagion into which they had advanced, the voice of Marion
Lascelles was heard speaking to them, counselling them as to what they
should do, what measures take to preserve themselves from this fresh
calamity. And, because, all along that dreary road which stretched
from Paris in the north to Marseilles in the south, this woman's
strong, indomitable courage and contempt for suffering and misfortune
had cheered and comforted them, they hearkened to her now. They
welcomed, indeed, any words that fell from her lips.

"Listen," she said, "my sisters in misery. Listen to me. Of what use
is it for each to try and wrest from off her neck the accursed
_carcan_ that encloses it, to tear from off her wrists the accursed
cordon that binds her to her neighbour? It is impossible; not that
they might be thus easily parted with, did the warder rivet them to us
in Paris. Yet, how else have we progressed here but with them on; how
progressed along dusty roads, beneath the burning sun, the beating
rains, over mountains and across valleys. We have done this, I say to
you, yet now the night is fresh and cool."

"Thank God for that. For that," they murmured.

"Ay, thank Him for that. 'Tis well we do so, sinners as most of us
are. We need His help and blessing. But, hear me. Can we not also
retreat together, as we have advanced over all these leagues to this
plague-stricken spot? Can we not?"

But no more words were required from her; already they understood and
grasped her meaning. It was simple enough, yet, heretofore, their
despair and frenzy had prevented them from conceiving that, together,
they might escape from this place, as, together, they had reached it.

With cries of rejoicing and exultation they prepared to do what she
suggested; to flee at once from this awful spot. To join those who
were still pouring out of the city unceasingly, even though the
depth of the night was now upon them; to follow in the wake of those
who had already gone. They knew--those previous fugitives--they must
know--where to flee for safety; to follow them was to reach that
safety themselves.

Weak, enfeebled as they were, they prepared to act upon Marion's
advice; staggeringly they formed themselves once more into the lines
in which they had marched day after day and week after week; they
turned themselves about to unwind the tangled chains which ran from
the first woman of the chain-gang to the last, and placed themselves
in order to at once depart. And it seemed easier to their poor bruised
bodies, easier, too, to their aching hearts, to thus set about these
preparations for seeking safety since there were now no longer brutal
gendarmes nor custodians, nor guards of any kind to lash them with
whips or curse them with foul oaths.

Wherefore they turned back, commencing at once to retrace the road
they had come and walking in the same order as they walked from the
first--since the position of none could be altered. And by Marion's
side was Laure, as ever.

"You are refreshed," the former said to her companion; "you can
accomplish this? Strive--oh! strive--poor soul, to be brave! Remember,
every step we take, every moment, removes us farther and farther from
the risk of this awful thing. Be brave, dear one," and, herself still
strong and brave, unconquered and unconquerable, she placed her arm
around that of her more delicate fellow-prisoner and helped her upon
the way.

"I will be brave," Laure answered. "I will struggle to the end. My
heart is broken, death would be welcome--yet not such a death as this.
Oh! Marion, I do not desire to die thus--like those," and she pointed
to some of the awful yellow-faced victims who were being wheeled or
dragged along, or were staggering by themselves to the mountains and
open country. "Yet, surely," she added, "the risk is as great here as
in the city below, so long as we keep in their vicinity. Is it not?"

"Ay, it is," the other answered. "Yet we will break off from them ere
long. Alas! these chains. If we were only free of them we could all
separate; you and I could climb that little hill together which rises
over there; we could go on and on until the feverous breath of the
pest was left behind. But we can do nothing. All must stay together."

Still they went on, however--not swiftly, because amongst them there
was not one, not even Marion herself, who could progress otherwise
than slowly, owing to the fatigue that was upon them after their long
march, and owing, also, to the weight of their irons, as well as to
the fact that they were almost famished. Their last meal had been
eaten at midday, and they had been promised a full one by their late
guardians on entering the gates of Marseilles. Yet, now, they were
retreating from Marseilles, and there were no guardians left to
provide for them. When, Marion wondered, would they ever eat again;
how would food be found for the mouths of all in their company? There
were still some twenty women left chained together; how could they be
fed?

Even, however, as she reflected on all this, another thought arose in
her mind; one that had had no existence in it for many hours, or,
indeed, days.

"Where is the men's chain-gang, I wonder?" she mused aloud. "The men
who, poor wretches, are in many cases our newly-made husbands. Where
can they be? They were ahead of us all the way; therefore, since we
have not passed them, and since, also, we halted within musket-shot of
the city, it follows that they, at least, have entered the doomed
place--are doomed themselves. Great God! we who survive this are as
like as not to be widows again soon," and she laughed a harsh,
strident laugh that had no mirth in it, but was born of the bitterness
within her.

Those words "our newly-made husbands" gave rise to thoughts in Laure's
own sad heart that she would willingly have stifled if she had
possessed the power to do so. They recalled memories that (when she
had not been too dazed--almost too delirious--to dwell upon them
during the horrors of the past six weeks) she had endeavoured to
dispel. Memories of the noble Englishman who had sacrificed his
existence for her--nay! if that villain Desparre had spoken truth, his
very life--and whose sacrifice had obtained for her no more than the
state of misery in which she was now plunged.

"Yet," she whispered, half to herself, half aloud, so that Marion
heard her words; "yet, almost I pray that he may be dead----"

"Your husband?" the other interrupted. "You pray that he may be dead!
He who gave up all for you--the man whom you love. Whom, Laure, you
know you love?" For still Marion insisted, as she had insisted often
enough before during the journey, that Laure had come to love Walter
Clarges.

"Yes--I even pray for that--sometimes," the girl answered. "For--for
if he lives, how doubly vile must he deem me. What must he think of
me, supposing--supposing that Desparre lied--that he was not
dead--that he was not even met by that villain and his myrmidons--that
the whole story was false!"

"What should he think!" exclaimed Marion, not, in truth, grasping
Laure's meaning. "What should he think?"

"What? Why think that but I used him for my own selfish purposes to
escape from marriage with Desparre, as, God forgive me, was the case;
and that, once he had left me alone in his home, I next escaped from
him. How can he know--how dream of what befell me? Who was there to
tell him of what happened in that room? Even I, myself, know nothing
of what occurred from the time I fell prostrate at Desparre's feet,
until I awoke a prisoner in that--that prison, which I only left for
this," and she cast her eyes despairingly around upon her miserable
companions and upon the flying inhabitants of the stricken city who
still went on and on, their one hope being to leave the place behind.

But the brave heart, the strong mind of Marion Lascelles--neither of
which could be subdued by even that which now encompassed them--would
not for an instant agree to such hopelessness as her companion
expressed. Instead, she cried:

"Nay, nay. He would not do so. Believe that Desparre lied when he said
that your husband was dead, since how could such a creeping snake as
that slay such as he was, one so noble. Believe he lived, and, thus
living, returned to find you gone. But, in doing so----"

"He would hate, despise, loathe me. He would deem me what I was, base
and contemptible, and so, God help me! endeavour to forget. He would
remember nothing except that he had parted with his freedom for ever
to save so vile a thing as I."

"Again I say nay, Laure," and now Marion's voice sank even lower, her
tone became more deep. "Laure, I know the hearts of men--God help
_me_, too!--I have had cause to know them--bitter cause, brought about
sometimes by my own errors, sometimes by their own wickedness. And
I--I tell you, you have judged wrongly. This man, this Englishman,
loved you with his whole heart and soul; he loves you still."

"Alas! alas! it cannot be," Laure murmured. "It is impossible."

"At first," Marion went on, "he may, it is true, deem that you used
him only as a tool. He may do so because no man who ever lived has yet
understood woman's nature--ever sounded the depths of that nature.
Therefore, not knowing, as they none of them know, our hearts, he may
at first believe, as you say, that you sacrificed his existence to
your salvation. Not understanding, not guessing in his man's blindness
that, as he made the sacrifice, so the love for him sprang newborn
into your heart. Is it not so, Laure? Here in the midst of all these
horrors with which we are surrounded, here with death close at hand,
with infection in the air, ready to seize on one or all at any moment,
answer me. Speak truth as you would speak it on your death-bed. You
love him--loved him from that moment? Answer! Is it not so?"

"Yes," Laure said, faintly, her whisper being almost drowned in the
soft, cool breeze that came sweeping over them from the distant
mountain-tops of the Basses Alpes. "Yes, I loved him from the
first--from the moment when he took me to his house. Oh, God!" she
murmured, "when he told me that we must part, deeming that I could
never love him, almost I threw myself at his feet, almost I rushed to
his arms beseeching him to fold me in them, to stay by my side for
ever. And now--now--we shall never meet again."

"Never meet again, perhaps," said Marion, scorning to hold out hopes
to the other that she could not believe were ever likely to be
realised; "yet of one thing be sure, namely, that he will seek for
you. As time goes on he will learn the truth--how, I cannot tell, yet
surely he must learn it--and then--and then no power on earth, nothing
short of the will of God will prevent him from seeking for you."

"And finding me dead. Here, or in the new land to which we go."

"The new land to which we go!" Marion echoed, scornfully. "The new
land to which we go! I doubt if that will ever be. If it were not for
these cursed irons we should be free now--free for ever. We could
disperse singly, or in couples, wander forth over France, even seek
other lands. And--and you could write to him."

"Ah!" Laure exclaimed. "Write to him! To do that! Oh, Marion, Marion,
you are so strong, so brave! Set us free! Set us free! Set us free!"
Alas! that Marion should have spoken those words, or have let them
fall on Laure's ears, thus raising desires and expectations never to
be gratified. There was no freedom to come to them--none from so awful
a captivity as that which was now to enslave them.

For, even as Laure uttered her wail for freedom, which was born of her
companion's hopeful words, the atom of liberty they possessed--the
liberty of being able to remove from this fever-tainted spot to some
other that remained still unpoisoned by the breath of the pestilence,
although shackled and chained altogether--was taken away.

There came up swiftly behind them a band of men; they were a number of
convicts, drawn from the galleys lying at the Quai de Riveneuve, as
well as several of the beggars of Marseilles, known as "the crows:"
beggars who were employed and told off to act under the orders of the
sheriffs in removing the dead from the streets, in lighting nightly
the fires to purge the city, and in fulfilling the duties of the
police--mostly dead themselves by this time.

And in command of them were two sheriffs.

"These are the women, the emigrants," one of the latter said to the
other. "'Twas certain they could not be very far behind the men." Then
the speaker, who was mounted, rode his horse up to where this group of
desolate, forlorn wanderers stood hesitating while appalled by the
sudden stoppage of their escape, and said--

"Good women, whither are you going? Your destiny is Marseilles, en
route for New France."

For a moment those unhappy women stood helpless and silent, gazing
into each other's worn faces, not knowing what answer to make or what
to say. In truth they were paralysed with the fear that was upon them,
namely, that they were about to be driven into the infected city,
paralysed also with grief at their escape being cut off.

"Answer," the Sheriff said, not speaking harshly. And then, with all
the eyes of her companions in misery fixed on her and bidding her
plainly enough to act as their mouthpiece, Marion said--

"Those who drove us from Paris here have fled in fear of the contagion
that is amongst you. We, too, have sought to flee away from it. The
law which condemned us to transportation to New France, to be followed
by our freedom, did not condemn us to this."

"You speak truth," the Sheriff said, his voice a grave and solemn, yet
not unkindly, one. "Yet you must go on with what you are sent here
for. And--and--we need women's help here, such help as nursing and so
forth. You must come with us and stay until the ships, which have put
to sea in fear, return to transport you to New France."

"It is tyranny!" Marion Lascelles exclaimed. "Tyranny to force us
thus!"

"Not so," the Sheriff replied. "Not so. You will be treated well; your
freedom will begin at once. Your irons shall be struck off now. Also,
while you remain with us and work for us--heaven knows how we require
assistance--you shall have a daily wage and good food. But--you must
come."

"We shall die," Marion exclaimed, acting still as the spokeswoman of
all. "And our deaths will lie at your door."

But still the Sheriff spoke very gently, saying that, even so, they
must do as he bid them. Then, next, he ordered some of the convicts to
stand forward and remove their chains and collars, so that even the
short distance to be accomplished ere reaching the city should be no
more irksome than possible.

After which he said to the group of women, many of whom were sobbing
around him, some with fear of what they were about to encounter, and
some with joy at losing at last, their horrible, hateful iron burdens.

"Do not weep. Do not weep. Already is our once bright, joyous city a
vale of tears. Nay, there can be, I think, no more tears left for us
to shed. I myself can weep no more. I who, in the last week, have
buried my wife, my two daughters, and my little infant babe."

"Oh! oh!" gasped Marion and Laure and all the women standing round who
heard the bereaved man's words. "Oh! Unhappy man. Unhappy man!"



CHAPTER XVII

AN ARISTOCRATIC RESORT


The little watering-place of Eaux St. Fer, which stood on the slope of
a hill some few leagues outside Montpelier, and nearer than that city
to the southern sea-board, was very full this summer; so full, indeed,
that hardly could the visitors to it be accommodated with the
apartments they required. So full that, already it had incurred the
displeasure of many of those patrons--who were mostly of the ancient
nobility of France--at their being forced to rub shoulders with, and
also live cheek by jowl with, such common persons as--to go no
lower--those of the upper bourgeoisie. Yet it had to be done--the
doing of it could not be avoided; for this very year the waters of
Eaux St. Fer had bubbled forth a degree warmer than they had ever been
known to do before; they tasted more of saltpetre than any visitor
could recollect their having done previously, and tasted also more
unutterably nauseous; while marvellous cures of gout and rheumatism,
and complaints brought on by overeating and overdrinking and late
hours, as well as other indulgences, were reported daily. Even at this
very moment the gossips staying at The Garland (the fashionable
hostelry) were relating how Madame la Marquise de Montesprit, who was
noted for eating a pâté of snipe every night of her life for supper,
was already free from pain and able to sit up in her bed and play
piquet with the Abbé Leri, whose carbuncles were fast disappearing
from his face; while, too, the Chevalier Rancé d'Irval had lost eight
pounds of his terrible weight, and the Vicomtesse de Fraysnes had
announced that in another week she would actually appear without her
veil, so much improved was her complexion. Likewise, it was whispered
that, only a day or so before, three casks of the atrociously tasting
water had been sent up to Paris to no less a person than the Regent
himself.

Wherefore Eaux St. Fer was full to suffocation; dukes, duchesses, and
all the other members of what was even then called the old régime,
were huddled together pell-mell with bankers, merchants, even eminent
shopkeepers and tradesmen; and, except that in the principal alley, or
walk, it was understood that the nobility kept to one side of it, and
those whom they termed the "refuse" to the other, one could hardly
have told which were the people who boasted the blood of centuries in
their veins, and which were those who, if they knew who their
grandfathers were, knew no more. And, after all, when one's blood is
corrupted by every indulgence that human weakness can give way to
until the body is like a barrel, and the legs are like bolsters, and
the face is a mass of swollen impurity, or as white as that of a
corpse within its shroud, it matters very little whether that blood is
drawn from ancestors who fought at Ascalon and Jerusalem or peddled
vulgar wares in the lowest purlieus of cities.

"Mon ami!" exclaimed one of the high-born dames, who kept to the right
side of the alley, to an aristocrat who sat on a bench beneath a tree
close by where one of the fountains of Eaux St. Fer bubbled forth its
waters, "Mon ami, you do not look well this morning. Yet see how the
sun shines around; observe how it shows the wrinkles beneath the eyes
of Mademoiselle de Ste. Ange over there, and also the paint on the
face of the old Marquis de Pontvert. You should be gay, mon ami, this
morning."

"I am not well," replied the personage whom she addressed. "Neither in
health nor mind. Sometimes I wish I were a soldier again, living a
life of----"

"Neither in health nor mind!" the lady who had accosted him repeated.
"Come, now. That is not as it should be. Let us see. Tell me your
symptoms. First, for the health. What ails that?" and, as she asked
the question, she peered into the man's dull eyes with her own large
clear ones. Then she continued, "Remember, Monsieur le Duc, that,
although an arrangement once subsisting between us will never come to
a settlement now, we are still to be very good--friends. Is it not
so?" Yet, even as she asked the question, especially as she mentioned
the word "friends," she turned her face away from him on the pretence
of flicking off some dust from her farthest sleeve, and smiled, while
biting her full, red nether lip with her brilliantly white teeth.

Then she turned back to him, saying: "Now for the health. What is the
worst?"

"Diane, I suffer. I burn----"

"_Already!_" she exclaimed. And the Marquise laughed aloud at her own
cruel joke; a merry little, rippling laugh, and one more befitting a
girl of twenty than a woman nearly double that age. And her blue eyes
flashed saucily--though some might, however, have said, sinisterly.
Then she begged the other's pardon, and desired him to continue.

But, annoyed, petulant at her scoff, he would not do so; instead, he
turned his white face away from where she had taken a seat beside him,
and watched the other members of his own order strolling about under
the trees, their hats, when men, under their arms, their dresses, when
women, held up in many cases by little page boys.

She, on her part, did not press him to continue. She had strolled
forth that morning from The Garland, where she had been fortunate
enough to secure rooms for herself and her maid, with the full
determination of meeting Monsieur le Duc Desparre and of conversing
with him on a certain topic, her own share in which conversation she
had rehearsed a thousand times in the last seven months, and she meant
to do so still; but as for his health, or his mental troubles, she
cared not one jot. Indeed, had Diane Grignan de Poissy been asked what
gift of Fate she most desired should be accorded to her old lover at
the present time, she would doubtless have suggested that a long,
lingering illness, which should prevent him from ever again being able
to enjoy, in the slightest degree, the fortune and position he had
lately inherited, would be most agreeable to her. For this man sitting
by her side had, in his poverty, been her lover, he had accepted
substantial offerings from her under the guise of her future husband,
and, in his affluence, had refused to fulfil his pledge to her--a
Grignan de Poissy by marriage, a Saint Fresnoi de Buzanval by birth--a
woman notorious, famous, for her beauty even now!

No wonder she hated the "cadaverous infidel"--as often enough she
termed him in her own thoughts--the man now seated by her side.

Her presence in this resort of the sick and ailing was, like that of
many others, simply for her own purpose. Some of those others came to
keep assignations; some to win money off well-to-do invalids who,
although rushing with swift strides to their tombs, could not,
nevertheless, exist without gaming; some to carry on here the same
life which they led in Paris, but which life there was now at a
standstill and would be so until the leaves began to fall in the woods
round and about the capital. As for her, Diane Grignan de Poissy, she
needed neither to drink unpleasant waters that tasted of iron and
saltpetre, nor to bathe in them, nor to follow any regimen; though, to
suit her own ends, she gave out that she did thus need to do so.
Instead, and actually, in all her thirty-eight years she had never
know either ache or pain or ailment, but had revelled always in superb
health, notwithstanding the fact that she had been a maid of honour
once at Versailles to a daughter of the old King--that now-forgotten
"Roi Soleil!"--and had taken part since in many of the supper parties
given by Philippe le Débonnaire.

Yet in spite of all, she was here, at Eaux St. Fer.

Presently she spoke again, saying in a soft, subdued voice, into which
she contrived to throw a contrite tone--

"Armand, dear friend, you are not going to quarrel with me for a
foolish word; a silly joke! Armand, the memories of the past
brought me here--to see you. I heard that you were suffering, and
also--that--that--you--could not recover from the trick put upon you
by that girl--Laure Vauxc----"

"Silence!" he said, turning swiftly round on her. "Silence! Never
mention that name, that episode again in my hearing. It has damned me
in the eyes of Paris--of France--for ever. It has heaped ridicule on
me from which I can never recover. It is that--that--that--which has
broken me down. Neither Tokay, nor late nights--as I cause it to be
given out--nor----" He paused in his furious words, then said a moment
later, "Yet, so far as he, as she, are concerned, I have paid the
score. He is dead, she worse than dead."

"I know, I know," she murmured, her blue eyes almost averted, so that
he should not observe the glance that she felt, that she knew, must be
in them. "I know. Let us talk of it no more. Armand, forget it."

"Forget it! I shall never forget it. What can I do to drive it from my
own thoughts or to drive the memory of my humiliation by that beggar's
brat from out the memory of men--of all Paris!"

"Ignore it. Again I say, forget. Thus you cause others to do so."
Then, as though she, at least, had no intention of saying aught that
might re-open, or help to re-open, the wounds caused to his vanity by
the events of the winter, she picked up idly a book he had been
glancing at when she drew near him, and which had fallen on to the
crushed-shell path of the alley as they conversed. She picked it up
and began turning its fresh white pages over.

"It amuses you?" she asked. "This thing?" And she read out the title
of one of Piron's latest productions, the comic opera, "Arlequin
Deucalion."

"One must do something--to pass the time. If we cannot see a play, the
next best thing is to read one."

"Alas," his companion exclaimed, "the plays of to-day are so
stupid--so puerile! No plot, no characters bearing truth to life. Now
I! Now I--ah!----" she broke off. "Look at that! And just as we speak,
too, of plays and playwriters. Behold, Papa de Crébillon. Mon Dieu!
What is the matter with him. He jabbers like a monkey. Yet still he
bows with grace--the grace of a gentleman."

"He suffers from gout atrociously," Desparre muttered.

In truth, the figure which now approached the pair seated in the alley
might have been either of the things which Diane Grignan de Poissy had
mentioned, a monkey or a gentleman. His face was a drawn and twitching
one, filled with innumerable lines and with, set into it, deep sunken
eyes, while his manners were--for the period--perfect, his bow that of
a courtier, and worthy of the most refined member of the late Louis'
court. For the rest, he was a man of over forty years of age, and was
renowned already as the author of the popular dramas "Electra,"
"Atreus," and "Idomeneus." By his side walked a lad, his son, Claude
Prosper, destined to be better known even than his father, though not
so creditably.

"Good morning, Monsieur de Crébillon," cried the bright and joyous
Diane--bright and joyous as she assumed to be!--while the dramatist
drew near to where she and her companion were seated beneath the
acacias. "You are most welcome. 'Tis but now we were talking of plays
and dramas--lamenting, too----"

"Ah! Madame la Marquise!" exclaimed the dramatist at the word
"lamenting," while his face twitched worse than before, since assumed
horror was added to it now. "Lamenting; no! no! madame! lament
nothing. At least there is, I trust, nothing to lament in our modern
drama."

"Ay, but there is though!" the Marquise said. Then assuming an air of
playful reproof, she went on: "How is it that you all miss plot in
your productions now? Why have you no secrets reserved for the
end--for the dénouement, for the last moment ere they make ready to
extinguish the lights. Eh! Answer me that. Hardy was the last. Since
then it is all pompous declamation, heavy versification, dull pomp,
and thunder. Hardy belonged to a past day, but at least he excited his
listeners, kept them awake for what was to come--what they knew would
come--what they knew must come."

"Madame has said it----" the dramatist bowed at this moment to three
ladies of the aristocracy who passed by, while Desparre rose from his
seat to greet them with stiff courtesy, and Diane Grignan de Poissy
smiled affectionately. "Hardy did belong to a past day. We have
changed all that, Corneille changed it." At the name of Corneille he
bowed again solemnly. "Yet," he said, "plot is no bad thing. A little
vulgar and straining, perhaps, yet sufficiently interesting."

"Monsieur de Crébillon," Desparre exclaimed here, he not having spoken
a word before or acknowledged the dramatist's presence, except by a
glance, "you may be seated. There is a sufficiency of room upon this
bench."

With a gleam from his sunken eyes--which might have meant to testify
thanks to Monsieur le Duc, or might have meant to convey contempt--was
he not already a popular favourite among the highest ranks of the
aristocracy in Paris, and, even here, in Eaux St. Fer, one of those to
whom the fashionable side of the alley was thrown open as a right!--he
took his seat upon the vacant space on the other side of the Marquise.
Then, from out the hollow caverns of his eye-sockets he regarded her
steadily, while he said--

"Has Madame la Marquise by chance any protegé among her many friends
who has written a play with a plot? An embryo Hardy, for example.
Almost, if a poor poet might be permitted to have a thought," and
again his glance rested with contempt on Desparre; "I would wager such
to be the case. Some gentleman of her house who deems that he has the
sacred fire within him----"

"Supposing," interrupted Diane, "that one who is no poor
gentleman--but--but--as a matter of fact--myself--had conceived
a good drama, a--a--story so strange that she imagined it might
amuse--nay--interest an audience. Suppose that! Would it be possible
to----?"

"Madame," exclaimed le Duc Desparre, "have you turned dramatist. Are
you about to become a bluestocking?"

"Why not?" she asked, with a swift glance that met his; a glance that
reminded him--he knew not why--of the blue steely glitter of a rapier.
"Why not? Have not other women of France, of my class, done such
things?"

"Frequently," de Crébillon replied, answering the question addressed
to the other. "Frequently. Yet--yet--never that I can recall in
public, before the lower orders, the people. But to pass a soirée
away, to amuse one's friends in the country. That would be
another thing. A little comedy now,--with a brilliant, startling
conclusion--"

"Mine is not a comedy!"

"Perhaps," questioned the dramatist, "a great classical tragedy? With
a dénouement such as was used in early days?"

"Nay, a drama. One of our own times."

Still, as she spoke, she kept her eyes fixed full blaze upon de
Crébillon--yet--out of the side of them--she watched Monsieur le Duc.
And it might be that the sun was flickering the shadows of the acacia
leaves upon his face and, thereby, causing that face to look now as
though it were more yellow than white. She thought, at least, that
this was the tinge it was assuming. Yet--she might be mistaken.

"Will you not tell us, Madame la Marquise, something of this plot, at
least?" the duke asked, "give us some premonition of what this subject
is. Or prepare us for what we are to expect when this drama sees the
day?"

And she knew that his voice trembled as he spoke. "Nay, nay, Monsieur
le Duc," the dramatist exclaimed, "to do that would destroy the
pleasure of the representation. It would remove expectancy--the salt
of such things." Then, turning to the Marquise, he asked: "Is Madame's
little play written, or, at present, only conceived? If so, I should
be ravished to read it; to myself alone, or to a number of Madame's
friends. There are many here, in Eaux St. Fer. And the after dinner
hours are a little dull; such an afternoon would compensate for much."

"The plot is alone conceived. It is in the air only. Yet it is all
here," and she tapped with her finger on her white forehead over which
the golden hair curled crisply.

"Will Madame la Marquise permit that I construct a little play for the
benefit of her friends? The saloon of The Garland will hold all she
chooses to invite. Doubtless, Monsieur le Duc will agree with me that
no more ravishing entertainment could be provided in Eaux St. Fer,
which is a little--one may say--a little _triste_--sometimes."

Heavily, stolidly, Monsieur le Duc bowed his head acquiescingly;
though, had it been in his power to do so, he would have thrown
obstacles in the way of the Marquise's little plot ever falling into
de Crébillon's hands. He had seen something in that steely glitter of
her blue eyes which disturbed him, though he scarcely knew why such
should be the case--yet, also, he could not forget that this was a
woman whom he had wronged in the worst way possible to wrong such as
she--by scorning her in his prosperity. Therefore he was disturbed.

Half an hour later the alley was deserted, the visitors were going to
their dinners, it was one o'clock. The Duc had departed to his, the
Marquise Grignan de Poissy was strolling slowly towards The Garland,
there to partake of hers; de Crébillon and his son walked by her side.
And, as they did so, the dramatist said a word.

"Always," he remarked quietly, "I have thought that Madame la Marquise
was possessed of the deepest friendship for Monsieur le Duc."

"_Vraiment!_" she exclaimed, transfixing him with her wondrous eyes.
"_Vraiment!_ And has Monsieur de Crébillon seen fit to alter that
opinion?" To which the other made no answer, unless a shrug of his
lean shoulders was one.



CHAPTER XVIII

"THE ABANDONED ORPHAN"
PROLOGUE


The company had assembled in the saloon of the Garland and formed as
fashionable a collection of the upper aristocracy as any which could
perhaps be brought together outside Paris. Not even Vichy, the great
rival of Eaux St. Fer, could have drawn a larger number of persons
bearing the most high-sounding and aristocratic names of France. For
Eaux St. Fer was this year _la mode_, principally because of that one
extra degree of heat which the waters were reported to have assumed,
and, next, because of the rumour, now accepted as absolute truth, that
the Regent had casks and barrels of those waters sent with unfailing
regularity to Paris daily. And, still, for one other reason, namely,
that here the life of Paris might be resumed; the intrigues, the
flirtations, and the scandals of the _Maîtresse Vile_--or of that
portion of it which the highest aristocracy of the land condescended
to consider as Paris, namely, St. Germain, the Palais Royal and
Versailles--might be renewed; everything might be indulged in, here as
there, except the late hours of going to bed and the equally late ones
of rising, the overeating and overdrinking, and the general wear and
tear of already enfeebled constitutions. Everything might be the same
except these delights against which the fashionable physicians so
sternly set their faces.

"Do what you will," said those aristocratic tyrants, who (after having
preached up the place as one from which almost the elixir of a new
life might be drawn) had now followed their patients to the spot
thereby to guard over and protect them, and, also, to continue to
increase their bills. "Do all that you desire, save--a few things. No
late hours, no rich dishes, no potent wines, no heated rooms. Instead,
fresh air all day long in the valleys, or, above, on the hills; the
plain living of the country and long nights of rest; for drink, the
pure draughts of the springs and of milk. Thereby shall you all return
to Paris renovated and restored."

Yet they were careful not to add, "And ready to commence a fresh
career of dissipation which shall place you in our hands again and,
eventually, in the tombs of your aristocratic families."

Since, however, the visitors followed with more or less regularity the
prescribed regimen, the wholesomeness of the life was soon apparent in
renewed appetites, in cheeks which bloomed--almost, though not
quite--without the adventitious aid of paint and cosmetiques; in
nerves which ceased to quiver at every noise; in nights which were
passed in easy slumbers instead of being racked by the pangs of
indigestion. Wholesome enough indeed, revivifying and strengthening; a
life that recuperated wasted vitality and prepared its possessors for
a new season of dissipation and debauchery at the Regent's court. Yet,
withal, a deadly dull one! Wherefore, when it was whispered that they
were invited to "a representation of a play" by "a lady of rank,"
which play was, as they termed it themselves, "_Un secret de la
Comédie_," since everyone in Eaux St. Fer knew who the lady of rank
was, they flocked to the saloon of The Garland, and did so a little
more eagerly than they might otherwise have done, since there was also
in the air a whisper that, in the "representation," was something more
than the mere attempts of a would-be bluestocking to exhibit her
talents for dramatic construction.

De Crébillon possessed another talent besides an inventive genius and
a power of writing tragedies; he had a tongue which could whisper
smoothly but effectively, a glance which could suggest, and an
altogether admirable manner of exciting curiosity by a look alone.

So they were all gathered together now, two hours after their early
and salutary, but scarcely appetising, dinners had been eaten; and
they formed a mass of gorgeously-dressed, highbred men and women,
everyone of whom were known to the others, and everyone of whose
secrets were, in almost every case, also known to each other. Yet,
since each and all had a history, none being free from one skeleton of
the past (or present) at least, this was not a matter of very much
importance.

In costumes suited for the watering-places--yet made by the astute
hands of the workwomen of Mesdames Germeuil or Carvel, Versac or
Grandchamp, and produced under the equally astute eyes of those
authorities in dress--the ladies entered the room where the
representation was to take place, their pointed corsages and bouffante
sleeves, with their deep ruffles at the elbows, setting off well their
diamond-adorned head-dresses and their flowered robes. As for the men,
their dress was the dress of the most costly period in France, not
even excepting the days of the Great Monarch; their court-swords
gold-hilted; their lace at sleeve and breast and knee worth a small
fortune; their wigs works of art and of great cost.

"Mon ami," said the Marquise Grignan de Poissy to a youth who
approached her as she made her way through the press of her friends,
the young man being none other than her nephew, the present bearer of
the title of the de Poissys, "you are charming; your costume is
ravishing."

"Yet," she continued, "that is but a poor weapon to hang upon a man's
thigh," and she touched lightly with her finger the ivory and gold
hilt of the court-sword he carried by his side. "There is no fighting
quality in that."

"My dear aunt," exclaimed the young marquis, glancing at her
admiringly, for, even to him, the beauty of his late uncle's widow was
more or less alluring, "my dear aunt, it professes to have no fighting
qualities. It is only an ornament such as that," and he, too, put out
a finger and touched the baton, or cane, which she carried in her hand
in common with other ladies.

"Yet this," she said, "would strike a blow on any who molested me,
even though it broke in the attempt, being so poor a thing," and her
deep blue eyes gazed into his while sparkling like sapphires as they
did so.

"And," he replied, not understanding why those eyes so transfixed him,
or why, at the same time, he vibrated under their glance, "this would
run a man through who molested you, even though it broke in the
attempt, being so poor a thing," and he gave a little self-satisfied
laugh.

"Would it? You mean that?"

"Without doubt, I mean it," he replied, his voice gradually becoming
grave, while he stared fixedly at her, as though not comprehending.
"Without doubt, I mean it." Then he said, a moment later--speaking as
though he had penetrated the meaning she would convey: "My dear aunt
Diane, is there by chance anyone whom you wish run through? If so name
him. It shall be done, to-night, to-morrow, at dawn, for--for--the
honour of our house and--your bright eyes."

"No! No! No! No! I do but jest. Yet, come, sit by me, I--I am nervous
for the success of this play. I know the writer thereof----"

"So do I!" he interjected.

"And, see, all are in their places. De Crébillon comes on the platform
to speak the argument. Sit. Sit here, Agénor. Close by my side." Then
she muttered to herself so low that he could not hear her words.
"Almost I fear for that which I have done. Yet--Vengeance confound
him!--he merits it. And worse!"

An instant later the easy tones of de Crébillon were heard
announcing--as briefly and succinctly as though he were addressing the
players at the Français ere reading to them the plot of some new drama
by himself--what was to be offered to the audience.

Having opened his address with many compliments to those assembled
there and to their exalted rank, equalled only by their capacity of
judgment and their power to make or mar for ever that which would now
be submitted to them as the work of an illustrious unknown, he went
on--

"The scene is in two acts. The title is 'The Abandoned Orphan.' The
leading characters are Cidalise, who is the orphan, and Célie, who has
protected her. The first act exhibits the child's abandonment, the
second--but, no! Mesdames et Messieurs--that must be left for
representation, must be unrolled before you in the passage of the
play. Suffice it, therefore, if I say now that the work has been
hurriedly written so as to be presented before you for your
delectation; that the actors and actresses are the best obtainable
from a troupe now happily roaming in Provence; that, in effect, your
indulgence is begged by all. Mesdames et Messieurs, the play will now
begin."

Amidst such applause as so fashionable an audience as this felt called
upon to give, de Crébillon withdrew from the hastily-constructed
platform which had been erected in the great saloon--which was not, in
truth, very great--the blue curtain that was stretched across from one
side of the room to the other was withdrawn, and the play began. Yet
not before more than one person in the audience had whispered to
himself, or herself, "At whom does she aim?" Not before, too, more
than one had turned their eyes inwardly with much introspection. And
one who heard de Crébillon's words gave a sigh, almost a gasp of
relief. That one was Monsieur le Duc Desparre. To his knowledge he had
never abandoned any infant.

There was, naturally, no scenery; yet, all the same, some attempts had
been made to aid dramatic illusion. The landlord had lent some bits of
tapestry to decorate the walls, and some chairs and tables. In this
case only the commoner sort were required, since la scene depicted a
room not much better than a garret. And in this garret, as the curtain
was pulled aside, was depicted Célie having in her arms a bundle
supposed to be the child, Cidalise, while on the bed lay stretched the
unhappy mother, dead.

With that interminable monologue, so much used by the French
dramatists of the period, and so tolerated by the audience of the
period, Célie delivered in blank verse a long recitation of what had
led to this painful scene. Fortunately, the actress who played this
part was (as happened often enough in those days, when the wandering
troupes were quite as good as those which trod the boards of the
Parisian stages, though, through want of patronage or opportunity,
they very often never even so much as entered the capital) quite equal
to its rendition, she having a clear distinct diction which she knew
thoroughly well how to accompany with suitable gesture. Also, which
caused some remark even amongst this unemotional audience, she
bore a striking likeness to the highbred dame who was the
authoress of the drama. The woman was tall and exquisitely shaped; her
primrose-coloured hair--coloured thus, either by art and design, or
nature--curled in crisp curls about her head; her eyes were blue as
corn-flowers. Wherefore, as they gazed on her, there ran a suppressed
titter through that audience, a whispered word or so passed, more than
one head turned, and more than one pair of eyes rested inquiringly on
Diane Grignan de Poissy sitting some row or so of chairs back from the
platform. And there were some whose eyes sought the countenance of le
Duc Desparre and observed that his face, although blank as a mask,
showed signs of aroused interest; that his eyes were fixed eagerly on
the wandering mummer who enacted Célie.

"'Tis thee," whispered Agénor to his aunt. "'Tis thee!"

"Yes. It is I," she whispered back. In solemn diction, the woman
unfolded her story. The story of an innocent girl betrayed into a mock
marriage, a fictitious priest, desertion followed by death, and her
own determination to secure the child and to rear it, and, some day,
to use that child as a means whereby to wreak vengeance on the
betrayer because he was such in a double capacity. He had sworn his
love to Célie, to herself, as well as to the unfortunate woman now
lying dead; he had deceived them both. Only the dead woman was poor;
she was rich. Rich enough, at least, to provide in some way for that
child, to keep it alive until the time came for producing it. "As I
swear to do," Célie cried in rhyme, this being the last speech, or
tag, of the prologue, "even though I wait for years. For years." Then
she called on Ph[oe]bus and many other heathen divinities so dear to
the hearts of the French dramatists, to hear her register her vow.
And, thus, the prologue ended amidst a buzz from the audience, loud
calls for Célie, for de Crébillon, for the author. Expectancy had been
aroused, the most useful thing of all others, perhaps, to which a
prologue could be put. De Crébillon led on the blue-eyed,
golden-haired actress, and she, standing before the most exalted
audience which had ever witnessed her efforts, considered that her
fortune was as good as made. Henceforth, farewell, she hoped, to
acting in barns and hastily-erected booths in provincial towns and
villages, to the homage of country boors and simple country gentlemen.
She saw before her . . . what matters what she saw! In all that
audience none, except a few of the younger and most impressionable of
the men, thought of the handsome stroller; all desired to know what
the drama itself would bring forth.

For none doubted now (since they knew full well from de Crébillon's
whispered hints and suggestive glances who the author was) that
Desparre was the man pointed at as the betrayer of the woman who had
been seen stretched in the garret. All remembered that, for years,
even during the life of the old king, his name had been coupled with
that of the Marquise. And they remembered that she, who was once
looked upon as the certain Duchesse Desparre of the future, had never
become his wife; that instead, he had meant to wed with a woman who
had emerged none knew whence except that it was from the gutters of
the streets--from beneath a gambler's roof; and that even such a one
as this had jilted him! Jilted him who sat there now, still as a
statue, white as one, too. Looking like death itself!

What were they about to see? A denunciation of this man by his
abandoned child to that intended bride born of the gutter, a
denunciation so fierce and terrible that even she, that creature of
nothingness, shrank from him as something so base--so _scabreux_, as
they termed it in their whispers--that she dared not share his
illustrious name! Was that what was now to be depicted before them?
Was that the true reason for the scandal with which all Paris had rung
since the cruel months of winter; of which people still spoke apart
and in subdued murmurs? Was the abandoned orphan, or rather her
representative, to speak her denunciation on that platform? Was that
woman of the people to fly from him before their eyes? Was the Duc
Desparre to be held up before them here, on this summer day, in the
true colours which all knew him to possess, but which all, because he
was of their own patrician order, endeavoured to forget that he thus
possessed?

If so, then Diane Grignan de Poissy's vengeance was, indeed, an awful
one! If so, then God shield them from having their own secrets fall
into her possession, from having her vengeance aroused against them,
too!

As had been ever since the days of Hardy, of Corneille, of Moliere,
their attention was now drawn to the fact that the actual play was
about to commence by three thumps upon the stage from a club, and,
once more, they settled down to the enjoyment of the spectacle; the
buzz amongst them ceasing as again the curtain was drawn back. They
prepared for the denunciation! Yet, still, in their last whispers to
each other ere silence set in, they asked how that denunciation was to
take effect? There were but two female characters, Célie, the
protectress, Cidalise, the orphan. Where then was the character of the
woman to whom the man was to be denounced; the woman who should
represent before them that creature of the lower orders who, in actual
fact and life, had last winter fled from Desparre--the blanched figure
sitting before them--sooner than become his wife and a duchess?

Perhaps, after all, they thought and said, they had been
mistaken--perhaps, after all, it was not a true representation of
Desparre's degradation which was about to be offered to them! Perhaps
they had misjudged, overrated, the vengeance of Diane!

Well! they would soon see now. The curtain was withdrawn, the scene
was exposed, and it represented a pretty _salon_ adorned for a
festivity--a betrothal.

The play began.



CHAPTER XIX

"THE ABANDONED ORPHAN"
DRAMA


The usual guests who figure at stage weddings had assembled in the
salon. Evidently, the audience whispered, one to another, it was a
marriage contract, at least, which was about to be signed--or,
perhaps, an assemblage of relatives at the bride's house ere setting
forth to the church. No doubt of that, they thought, else why the
love-knots at ladies' wrists and breasts--quite clean and fresh
because, somehow, the poor strolling players who represented
high-born dames had been provided with them by the giver of the
entertainment--and why, also, had the gentlemen got on the best suits
which the baggage waggon of their troupe contained?

Wherefore, after seeing all this, the actual high-born dames and men
of ancient family in the audience gave many a sidelong glance at each
other, while the former's eyes frequently flashed leering looks over
their enamelled cheeks and from beneath their painted eyelashes and
eyebrows. For all recalled that, in the real drama which had happened
in Paris in the winter months--the real drama over which Baron and
Destouches and Poinsinet (who should never have been an author, since
he was born almost a gentleman), and other grinning devils of the pen,
had made such bitter mockery in verse and prose--in that real drama, a
marriage, renounced and broken, had formed the main incident.
Recalling all this, they settled down well into their seats, eager and
excited as to what was to come.

Enter amongst the guests, Célie. The handsome woman was made up to
look a little older now. Yet, "the deuce confound me!" said the
venerable Marquise de Champfleury, a lady who, fifty years before, had
been renowned for her _bonnes fortunes_ in the Royal circle, "the
deuce confound me! she resembles Diane more than ever." Which was
true, and was, perhaps, made more so by the fact that the woman was
now wearing a costly dress which Diane Grignan de Poissy had herself
worn more than once at Eaux St. Fer before all her friends, but which
she had now bestowed upon the wandering actress. The latter was,
indeed, so like Diane, that again and again the revered marquise
uttered her oaths as she regarded her.

To Célie there entered next Cidalise, young, slender, pretty,
yet--because sometimes the troupe were starving and had naught to eat
but that which was flung to them in charity, or a supper of broken
victuals given them by an innkeeper in return for a song or
performance before a handful of provincial shopkeepers--thin, and out
of condition. Nevertheless, she could deliver her lines well, and
speak as clearly as Charlotte Lenoir had done, or as La Gautier did
now--and would have become a leading actress, indeed might become one
yet, if she could only get a foothold in Paris.

In short, sharp sentences, such as the French dramatists loved to
intersperse with the terribly long monologues which, in other places,
they put into the mouths of their characters, Célie asked her if she
was resolved to carry out her contract and marry this man, this
Prince, who desired her for his wife? Yes, Cidalise replied, yes. Not
because she loved him, but because her origin was obscure, her present
surroundings revolting. Was not her uncle a gambler! At this there was
a movement amongst the audience; many exquisitely painted fans were
fluttered, a rustle of silk and satin and brocade was perceptible.
And, also, eyes gleamed into other eyes again, but none spoke. Even
the old Marquise de Champfleury swore no more. The aged trifler had
become interested, a novelty which had not occurred to her--unless in
connection with herself and her food and her health--for a long time.

Yet, because when all is said, these were ladies and gentlemen, not
one stole a glance in the direction of Monsieur le Duc.

Had they done so they would have seen that he sat motionless in his
seat, with his eyes half closed, yet glittering, as they gazed at the
two women on the stage.

Two more figures were now upon the scene. His Highness, the Prince,
the bridegroom predestinate, and also the uncle of Cidalise; the first
called Cléon, Prince de Fourbignac, the second, Dorante. They loved
such names as these, did those old French dramatists. Yet what was
there about the man who played the Prince which awoke recollections in
the minds of all the audience of another man they had once seen or
known who was not the Duc Desparre, but someone very like him?
How--how was that likeness produced? The vagabond, the stroller who
enacted the illustrious personage, was a big, hectoring fellow, with a
short-clipped, jet black moustache; an individual who looked more
accustomed to the guardroom than a salon, to a spadroon clanking against
his thigh--perhaps sticking out half a foot through its worn-out
scabbard--than to a clouded cane which he now wielded, even though
in a salon. His clothes, too--they were the best that could be found
in the frowsy, hair-covered trunk which carried the costumes of the
"first gentleman" of the troupe--seemed more fitted to some bully or
sharper than to an exquisite. So, too, did his expressions, his
"Health, belle comtesse!" to one high-born (stage) lady, his
"_Rasade_" to another whose glass touched his as she wished him
felicity; so, too, did his vulgar heartiness to all.

"A Prince!" the real aristocrats in front muttered to themselves and
each other, yet remembered that the words he uttered must for sure
have been put into his mouth either by the authoress, or her
collaborateur, De Crébillon. Only, why and wherefore? And still they
were puzzled, since many of them could recall in far back days some
fellow very much like the creature who was now strutting about the
stage and kicking a footman here and there, slapping the bare
shoulders of female guests, and giving low winks to his male friends.

There was some art in this, they muttered; some recollection which it
was intended to evoke. Whom had they ever known like this? What fellow
who, for some particular reason, had been admitted to their august
society--a society in which, to do them justice, they behaved
admirably and with exquisite grace so long as their actions were
public, no matter how much they atoned for that behaviour by extremely
questionable conduct in private?

Then they remembered all, memory being aroused by none other than the
respected Marquise de Champfleury.

"_Me damne!_" she whispered, changing her form of exclamation
somewhat--probably for fear of being monotonous. "_Me damne!_ does no
one recall our friend when a beggarly captain on the frontier? _Hein!_
he was the second, heir then, wherefore we permitted his presence
sometimes. Yet, only sometimes, God be praised! Had he not been an
heir, our lackeys should have kicked him down the street. You
remember; you, Fifine, and you, Finette? Heaven knows you are both old
enough to do so!"

After which the amiable aristocrat ceased her pleasing prattle, and
attended to the development of the drama before them.

They were all doing that now, eagerly, absorbingly, and even more
especially so since the fine memory of the old Marquise had recalled
to them, or most of them, the time when Desparre stamped about their
salons roughly, and, because he was the second heir to the dukedom and
almost sure to succeed to it some day, treated them all to a great
deal of what they termed privately in disgust, "his guardroom
manners." And, in remembering, they thought what good fortune it was
for Diane (if it was not the outcome of astute selection) to have
secured this rough fellow to personate the man she was undoubtedly
bent on exposing--the man who now sat staring at the stage with his
face as set as a mask, and as expressionless.

Meanwhile, the play went on. The signing of the contract which, all
recognised now, was the ceremony to be performed, was at hand. First
came the bridegroom, who--having ceased his tavern buffooneries--so
becoming to a Prince! and in the distribution of which he had included
Cidalise, who, with well-acted horror, shrank from him every time he
approached her--drew near the table at which the notary and his clerk
sat, and, having slapped the former on the back, affixed his signature
with a great deal of gesticulation, and then handed the quill with
ostentatious politeness to his future Princess.

"Sign, dear idol," he whispered in a stage whisper, "sign. I await
with eagerness the right to call thee mine." Only he marred somewhat
these affecting words by winking at another girl who stood by
Cidalise.

On either side of that Iphigenia were grouped now Célie and
Dorante--an old grisly actor this, round shouldered and ill-favoured,
who had forgotten to shave himself that morning, or who, perhaps,
imagined that, as he represented a Parisian gambler, it was a touch of
nature to go thus unclean--Cléon being of course next to Cidalise. And
to her, Célie spoke clearly, so clearly that her voice was heard by
everyone of the audience present in the salon of The Garland as she
said "Sign, Cidalise." Then she stood with her large blue eyes fixed
full on Cléon, while the expression in them told the spectators as
plainly as words could have done that the great moment was at hand,
that the dénouement was coming.

"Sign," she said again.

Taking the pen, the girl signed, repeating in stage fashion the
letters of the name "Cidalise," so that the audience, who could not
see the characters, should understand that they were being written
down.

"So," exclaimed Célie, her eyes still on Cléon, "So, Cidalise.
Continue."

"D. O. R.," murmured the bride as she pretended to write again, when,
suddenly, breaking in upon hers was heard the voice of the leading
actress. "No! Not that. If you sign further you must use another
name." Then, turning to Cléon she hissed rapidly:

"_Lâche!_ You abandoned one woman and deserted another. My time has
come."

Aroused thoroughly, the audience bent forward in their chairs. The
Marquise de Champfleury drew a quick breath, but cursed no more.
Agénor Grignan de Poissy felt his aunt's hand tighten convulsively on
his. Now, not one of the painted patricians glanced at the other; all
eyes were on the stage, except one pair--those of Diane--and they were
fixed on Desparre!

"What must I sign?" whispered Cidalise, trembling, and playing her
part as the audience said afterwards, _à ravir_. "What? What?"

"Demand of thy uncle--uncle, mon Dieu! Demand of Dorante. Speak,
Dorante."

"Thy real name," replied Dorante slowly, effectively, "is De
Fourbignac."

"Thou canst not marry him," and now the woman who represented Célie
was superb, as, with finger extended and eyes ablaze, she pointed at
Cléon, (she got to Paris at last and became the leading lady at the
Odéon!). "He is thy father. Even as he deserted me, so, too, he
deserted thy mother, leaving her to die of starvation. Villain!
_maraud!_" she exclaimed, turning on Cléon. "What did I promise thee?
Thus I fulfil my vow."

"And thus I avenge myself," cried Cléon, tugging at his rapier. "Thus,
traitress----"

But the actor did not finish his speech. From outside the wall of the
salon was heard ringing the great bell of The Garland; the bell which
was a signal to all who resided at the inn that now was the time when
the noblesse, in contradistinction to those of the commercial world,
repaired to the wells of Eaux St. Fer, there to take their glass of
those unutterably filthy, but health-giving waters. Perhaps it was an
arranged thing; arranged by the vengeful Diane, or the spiteful De
Crébillon. Perhaps, too, it was arranged that, as the bell ceased to
ring, the old Comte de la Ruffardière, a man who was of the very
highest position even among so fashionable an audience as that
assembled there, should rise from his chair and say, in a voice
exquisitely sweet and silvery:

"Mesdames et Messieurs,--you hear that bell. Alas, that it
should--although we are desolated in obeying it--that it should be
able to call us away from this most ravishing drama. Yet, my dear
friends, we have our healths, our most precious healths, to consult.
If we miss our revivifying glass what shall become of us? Madame,"
addressing the representative of Célie, "Monsieur," to Cléon,
"Mademoiselle," to Cidalise--his manners were of a truth perfect--not
for nothing had he handed the Grand Monarch his shirt for forty-two
nights in every year (by royal appointment), and watched his august
master's deportment both in public and private--"we are penetrated, we
are in despair, at having to depart ere this most exciting play is at
an end. A play, my faith! it is a tragedy of the first order. Yet,
yet, it must be so. We are all invalids--sufferers. Alas! the waters
the waters! We must partake of the waters!"

Then he bowed again, solemnly to each actress, in a friendly way to
the representatives of Cléon and Dorante, comprehensively to all. And,
strange to say, not one of those gifted Thespians seemed at all
surprised, nor in the least offended, at the departure of the
audience, which was now taking place rapidly. On the contrary, the
shrinking, persecuted Cidalise, that distinguished heroine and
once-about-to-be sacrificed one, tapped him lightly on his aged cheek
with her bridal fan as he stepped on to the foot-high stage, and
whispered, "be still, _vieux farceur_," while Célie regarded him with
a mocking smile in her blue eyes. Nor did Cléon refuse a fat purse
which, surreptitiously, the old courtier dropped into his hand, but,
instead, murmured his thanks again and again.

The audience had indeed departed now amidst rustlings of silks and
satins, the click-clack of light dress swords upon the parquet floor,
and the sharp tap of high heels. Diane, with her nephew, had slipped
out even as De la Ruffardière  commenced his oration; scarcely any
were left when he had concluded it and his withered old cheek had
received the accolade of Cidalise. And, it was strange! but not one
had looked at--in solemn truth, all had avoided looking at--the only
person who seemed to make no attempt to move. Desparre!

Desparre, who sat on and on in his seat, motionless as ever, and
always stone, marble white; his eyes glaring through their drooping
lids at the little stage on which the battered old courtier was
whispering his compliments.

Presently however, the latter turned and descended the foot-high
platform, casting his eyes,--for him, timidly and, undoubtedly,
furtively--at the silent, motionless figure sitting there. Then he
turned round to the actors and actresses who, themselves, had observed
Desparre, while, in a totally different tone from that in which he had
previously addressed them, he said:

"Begone. Quit the stage. Your parts are played. And," he muttered to
himself, "played with sufficient effect."

As they obeyed his orders--he watching them depart from the scene of
what was undoubtedly their triumph (never before had those wandering
comedians achieved such a success--in more ways than one), he went
over slowly to where the Duke sat and touched him gently on the
shoulder. The withered, battered old roué, who had known the secrets
and intrigues of the most intriguing court that ever existed in
Europe, had still something left that did duty for a heart.

"Come, Desparre. Come," he said. "The company has broken up. It is
time to--to--to take the waters."

But Monsieur le Duc, sitting there, his eyes still fixed on the stage,
made him no answer, though his lips moved once, and once he turned
those eyes and gazed at the old Chevalier by his side.

"Come, Desparre," the other repeated. "If not the waters, at least to
your apartments. Come."

Then, old and feeble though he was, he placed his hands under
Desparre's shoulders and endeavoured to assist him to rise.



CHAPTER XX

"THE WAY TO DUSTY DEATH"


"If," said Lolive, the Duke's valet, to himself later that day, "he
would speak, would say something--not sit there like one dead, I could
endure it very well. But, mon Dieu! he makes me shudder!"

It was not strange that the shivering servant should feel afraid,
though he scarce knew of what. One feels not afraid of the actual
dead--they can harm us no more, even if they have been able to do so
in life!--unless one is a coward as this valet was; yet, still, the
brave are sometimes appalled at the resemblance of death which, on
occasions, those who are yet alive are forced to assume, owing to some
strange stroke that has attacked either heart or nerve or brain. And
such a stroke as this, subtle and intangible, was the one which had
fallen upon Desparre.

He was alive, Lolive knew; he could move, he felt sure; almost, too,
was he confident that his master could speak if he chose. Yet neither
did he move nor speak. Instead, he did nothing but sit there immobile,
before the great cheval glass, staring into it, his hands lying
listless in his lap, his face colourless and his lips almost as much
so.

Once, the valet had made as though he was about to commence undressing
Desparre after having previously turned down the bed and prepared it
for his reception, but, although the latter had not spoken, he had
done what was to the menial's mind more terrifying. He had snarled at
him as an ill-conditioned cur snarls at those who go near him, while
showing, too, like a dog, his discoloured teeth with, over them, the
lips drawn back and, thereby, exhibiting his almost white gums. And
with, too, his eyes glistening horribly.

Then the man had withdrawn from close vicinity to that master and had
busied himself about the room, while doing anything rather than again
approach the chair in which the stricken form was seated. Also, he lit
the wax candles in all the branches about the room; on the dressing
table, over the bed, and in girandoles placed at even distances on the
walls, while receiving, as it seemed to him some comfort from the
light and brightness he had now produced. For some reason, which, as
with his other fears, he could not have explained, he feared to be
alone in the gathering darkness with that living statue.

Summoning up again, however, his courage, he approached once more his
master and pointed to the latter's feet and to the diamond-buckled
shoes upon them, then whispered timorously that it would be well if
Monsieur would at least allow those shoes to be removed. "Doubtless
Monsieur was tired," he said; "doubtless also it would relieve
Monsieur."

But again he drew back trembling. Once more that hateful snarl came on
Desparre's face, and once more there was the drawn-back lip. "What,"
the fellow asked himself, "what was he to do?" Then, suddenly he
bethought him of the fashionable doctors from Paris of whom Eaux St.
Fer was full; he would go and fetch one, if not two of them. Thereby,
at least, he would be acquitted of failing in his duty if the Duke
died to-night, which, judging by his present state, seemed more than
likely.

Thinking thus, he let his eyes wander round the room, while meditating
as he did so. Near to the bedside was a locked cupboard in which he
had placed, on their arrival, a large sum of money, a sum doubly
sufficient to pay any expenses Desparre might incur during his course
of waters; in a valise, bestowed in the same cupboard, was a small
coffer full of jewellery of considerable value. And, upon the walls of
the lodging, was the costly tapestry which, in accordance with most
noblemen and all wealthy persons in those days, Desparre had brought
with him, so that the often enough bare and scanty lodgings to be
found at such resorts as Eaux St. Fer might be rendered pleasant and
agreeable to the eyes. This he too regarded, remembering as well the
costly suits his master had with him; the wigs, each costing over a
thousand livres, the lace for sleeves and breast and for the
steinkirks and other cravats, and the ivory-hilted Court sword in
which was a great diamond. He recalled all the costly things
the room contained.

"If he should die to-night," he muttered inwardly--"to-night. None
would know what he brought with him and what he left behind. None, but
I. No other living soul knows what he possessed. He hated all his
kinsmen and kinswomen. None know. I will go seek the doctors; yet, ere
I do so--I will--will place these things out of sight. They must not
see too much."

Then the knave began moving about the room, "arranging" things, while,
even as he did so, he recalled a cabaret in Paris where heavy gambling
went on as well as eating and drinking, which was for sale for two
thousand crowns. If he had but that sum! And--and--Desparre might die
to-night! Wherefore, his eyes stole sideways towards the spectral
figure seated there--powerless, or almost so.

He might die to-night! Might die to-night! Well! Why not? Why might he
not die to-night? The doctor--the leading one from Paris--should visit
him. Yes, he should do that. He knew that doctor; he had seen him
called in before to gouty, or paralysed, or dropsical men and women
whose servant he himself had once been. And he knew the fashionable
physician's formula--the cheering words, accompanied, however, by a
slightly doubting phrase; the safe-guarding of his own reputation by a
hint to others that--"all the same"--"nevertheless"--"it might be--he
could not say. If there were any relatives they should be warned--not
alarmed, oh, no! only warned," and so forth. Well! the doctor should
come to see the Duke. Doubtless he would say some such thing before
himself and the landlord, who, he would take care, should also be in
the room. That would be sufficient. If the Duke did die to-night
suddenly, as he might very well do--as he would do--why then he,
Lolive, was safe. The doctor's words would have saved him.

He was sure now that Monsieur would die to-night. Quite sure. So sure
that he knew nothing could save the Duke. He would die to-night; he
even knew the time it would happen; between one and two of the clock,
when every soul in Eaux St. Fer would be wrapped in sleep, even to the
servants. Then, about that hour--perhaps nearer two than one--the Duke
would die. And the cabaret, the disguised gambling hell, would be his
in a month's----

"Lolive," uttered a voice from behind him. "Lolive!"

The man started; stopped in what he was doing; then dropped a dressing
case with almost a crash on to the shelf of a wardrobe, in which he
was placing the box and its contents, and withdrew his own head from
the inside of the great bureau. He scarcely dared, however, to turn
that head round to the spot whence the voice issued, since he knew
that he was white to the lips; since he felt that he was trembling a
little. Yet--he must do it--it had to be done--it was his master's
voice.

Therefore he turned, gazing with startled eyes at Desparre who was now
sitting up more firmly in his chair, and saw that some change had come
to him, that he had regained speech as well as sense, that he would
not die, could not by any chance be made to die, that night. The
possession of the cabaret was as far off as ever now!

"Ah, Monsieur, the Virgin be praised," he exclaimed fawningly and with
a smile of satisfaction, as he ran forward to where Desparre sat,
still rigid, though not so rigid as before. "Monsieur is better. What
happiness! Monsieur will go to bed now."

While, even as he spoke, he regained courage; confidence. Sick men had
died before now in their beds, in their sleep. Such things had been
often heard of: they might--would, doubtless--be heard of again.

His master spoke once more, the voice, harsh, bitter, raucous, yet
distinct.

"_Malotru!_" Desparre said, while, as he did so, his eyes gleamed
dully at the other, "you thought I was dead, or dying. Eh, dog? Well!
it is not so. Go--descend at once. Order my travelling carriage. We
depart to-night, in an hour--for--Marseilles."

"For Marseilles?"

"Ask no questions. Go. Hangdog I Go, I say. And come not back until
you bring me news that the carriage is prepared. Go, beast!"

"The horses, Monsieur; the coachman! He sleeps----"

But there the valet stopped. Desparre's eyes were on him. He was
afraid. Therefore he went, murmuring that Monsieur should be obeyed.

Left alone, Desparre still sat on for some moments in his chair,
listless and motionless. Then, slowly, he raised himself by using his
hands upon the arms of the chair as levers; he stood erect upon his
feet. He tried his legs, too, and found he could walk, though heavily
and with a feeling as if he had two senseless columns of lead beneath
him instead of limbs. Still, he could walk.

"The second time," he muttered to himself, as he did so. "The second
time. What--what did the physician tell me? What? That, if the first
stroke did not kill neither would the second, but that--that the third
was certain, unfailing. If that could not be avoided, all was lost.
All! No longer any hope. This is the second, when will the third come?
When? Perhaps--when I stand face to face with her again. With
Cidalise! My God! When she blasts me to death with one look. Cidalise!
Laure!"

He resumed his seat, resumed, too, his dejected musings.

"It was well done. Fool that I am never to have remembered that Diane
was implacable. Cidalise! Ha! I recollect. It was my pet name for the
woman I left behind in Paris when hastily summoned away. I loved that
woman. She--she--Diane must have known--have taken the child, have
reared it. And I should have married her--my own child! Oh, God! that
such awful, impious vengeance could be conceived. That, having found
out how, all unknowing, I loved the girl, she--she--she--that
merciless devil--would have stood by and let me marry her--my child.
My own child. The child of Cidalise."

Again he sat back in his chair. To an onlooker it would have seemed as
though it was still a statue sitting there before him. Yet he was
musing always and revolving horrible matter in his mind.

"Baulked thus," he reflected; "she evolved this scheme of revenge to
expose me to all. To tell me, too, that I have consigned my own child
to a living death, to exile in a savage land, to the chain gang. And,
I have gloated over it, not knowing. Not knowing! I have pictured the
woman whom I deemed to have outraged me as trudging those weary
leagues with the carcan round her neck, the chains about her limbs.
And she was my own child! My own child! My own child!"

Again he paused, thinking now of what lay before him. Of what he had
to do. What was it? Yes, he remembered his orders for the carriage to
be prepared. He had to hasten to Marseilles at once, as fast as that
coach (known as a "berceuse"), as that luxurious sleeping carriage
could be got there, and then to intercept the cordon of women who were
to be deported; to find her, to save her. And--and--and, if they had
already reached that city and left for New France--if they had
sailed--what to do next? What? Why, to follow in the first vessel that
went. To save her! To save her! To save her if she had not fallen dead
by the roadside, as he knew, as all France knew, the women and the men
did often enough fall dead on those awful journeys.

But if he found her; if God had spared her; if she still lived! What
then? What had he then to do? To stand before her whom he had most
unrighteously sent to so cruel a doom, to acknowledge himself so vile,
so deep a villain that life was too good for such as he; yet, also, to
purge himself in her eyes of one, of two, crimes. To prove to her that
he knew not that her mother, ere dying, had ever borne him a child; to
prove to her that he had never dreamt, when he proposed to marry her,
that he was so near committing the most hideous crime that could be
perpetrated. And afterwards--afterwards--then--well, then, she might
curse him as he stood before her, or the third stroke that he knew
would--must come--might come then. What mattered; nothing could matter
then. He would have saved her. That was enough.

Why did not the menial come to tell him the berceuse was ready--the
great cumbersome form of carriage which Guise had invented fifty years
before, so that one might sleep in their beds even while they
travelled on and on through day and night, and also take their meals
therein--the commodious carriage which had been built for himself in
exact imitation of that possessed by the present young Duc de
Richelieu et Fronsac.

Young Richelieu! What a scoundrelly ruffian he was, he found himself
meditating; what a villain, what a seducer; how he would have revelled
in the idea of a man marrying his own daughter after leaving the
mother to starve, how----. He broke off in these musings to curse
Lolive and all his pack of pampered servants, coachmen and footmen,
who were snoring still in their beds, and to curse himself; to wonder
when the third stroke would come and how: to wonder also if it would
be when he stood before his wronged daughter. To muse if he would fall
dead, writhing at her feet--to----

Lolive re-entered the room. The berceuse was ready, the horses got out
of the stables. Would Monsieur have all his goods packed and taken
with him, also his jewellery, or--or should he wake the landlord and
confide everything to him until--until Monsieur's return? Only, Lolive
thought to himself, Monsieur might, in truth, never return. He was
ill, very ill; he might die on the road to Marseilles. He hoped that,
at least (though he did not say so), the Duke would not take the money
and the jewellery with him. Thus, he could find it later!

"Take," said Desparre, his eyes glinting hideously, as Lolive thought,
"take all that is of small compass and of value. Give it to me, I will
bestow the money and jewellery where it will be safe in the carriage.
Give it to me."

With a smothered oath, the valet did as he was bidden, Desparre
placing the jewellery in the pockets of his vast travelling cloak, and
the money about him, and bidding Lolive pack the clothes, the wigs and
the swords at once, and swiftly. And the pistols; they, too, should
go.

"There are highwaymen, brigands, upon the road, Lolive," he muttered,
fixing the valet with his eye. "Thieves everywhere. It may befall that
I shall have to shoot a thief on the way. I had best be armed--ready."

Wherefore he took the box containing his silver-hilted pistols upon
his knee, and, with the lid up, sat regarding the man as he hastily
packed all that was to accompany them on the journey to Marseilles.

"My God!" the fellow muttered, "he makes me tremble. Can this man,
half alive, half dead, divine my thoughts?"

The boxes were packed at last with their changes of linen and clothes;
once more Desparre was left alone. Lolive was despatched to arouse the
landlord and to inform him that Monsieur had to depart at once for
Marseilles on important matters, but that his room was to be retained
for him and his furniture and other things taken proper care of. And
the valet was also bidden to say that the Duke did not require the
presence of the landlord to see him depart. The reason whereof being
that Desparre felt sure that the man knew as well as all in Eaux St.
Fer knew what had befallen him that day; and how a play had been
produced by a vengeful woman for the sole purpose of holding him up to
the derision, the execration, of all who were in the little
watering-place, nobility and others, as well as the "refuse" who had
not been admitted to the representation but were aware of what had
happened.

Everyone knew! He could never return here, nor to Paris. If he found
his child, if he saved her, then--then he must go away somewhere,
or--or, perhaps, then the third stroke would fall. Well, so best. He
would be better dead. He could not live long; he understood by the
doctor's manner that his doom was pronounced, assured. Better dead!

Upon the night air, up from the street below, he could hear the rumble
of the berceuse on the stones as it approached the door of the house
where he lodged; he could also hear the horses shaking their harness,
and the mutterings of the coachman and the footman at being thus
dragged forth from their beds at night.

It was time to go--time for Lolive and the footman to come up with the
carrying chair, which he used now when stairs had to be either
ascended or descended, not so much because he could not walk as
because he did not care to do so. He could have got down those stairs
to-night, he knew, even after this second shock, this further and last
warning of his impending end--only he would not. These menials, these
dogs of his, would have heard from Lolive of that stroke--they would
be peering curiously at him out of their low, cunning eyes to see
whether he were worse or not.

Therefore, he let them carry him down and place him on his bed in the
sleeping carriage, while all the time but one thought occupied his
mind.

That thought--what he would find at the end of his journey, and
whether he would find his child alive or dead?



CHAPTER XXI

A NIGHT RIDE


The berceuse had passed through Aix and was nearing Gardanne-le-Pin,
leaving to its right the dead lake known as l'Etang de Berre, while,
rising up on its left, were the last and most southern spurs of the
Lower Alps.

It was drawing very near to Marseilles. Inside that travelling
carriage, which comprised, as has been said, a sleeping apartment and
sitting-room combined, as well as a cooking place and a bed for the
servant, all was very quiet now except for the snores of the knavish
valet, Lolive, which occasionally reached the ears of the white-faced,
stricken man in the inner compartment; the man who, in spite of the
softness of the couch on which he lay, never closed his eyes, but
instead, whispered, muttered, continually to himself: "If I should be
too late. God! if the transports should have sailed!"

Behind, and just above where his head lay upon the pillow of that
couch, there was let into the panel of the carriage a small glass
window covered by a little curtain, or pad of leather, a convenience
as common in those days as in far later ones, and, through this,
Desparre, lifting himself at frequent intervals upon one elbow, would
glance now and again as a man might do who was desirous of noting--by
the objects which he passed on the road--how far he had got upon his
journey. Yet, hardly could this be the case with him now, since the
route the berceuse was following was one over which he had never
travelled before. In the many journeys he had made, either with the
regiment in which he had served so long or when riding swiftly to
rejoin it after leave of absence, this road had, by chance, never been
previously used by him. What, therefore, could this terror-haunted man
be in dread of seeing, when, lifting the leather pad, he placed his
white face against the glass and peered out; what did he see but the
foliage of the warm southern land lying steeped in the rays of the
moon, while no breeze rustled the leaves that hung lifelessly on the
branches in the unstirred, murky heat of an almost tropical summer's
night; or the white, gleaming, dusty road that stretched behind him
like a thread as far as his eyes could follow it?

In truth, he expected to see nothing; he knew that there was nothing
to come behind him which he need fear, unless it were some mounted
robber whom he could shoot, and would shoot, from the interior of his
carriage--from out that window--with his silver-mounted pistols--as he
would shoot a mad dog or a wolf that might attack him; he knew that
there was no human creature on earth who could molest him or bar his
way. He had made that safe, at least, he told himself, though, even in
the telling, in the recalling how he had done it, he shuddered. Still,
it was done! The Englishman who had thwarted him, as he then
considered, but for whose interference he now thanked the Being whom,
even in his evil heart, he acknowledged as God, was dead; had been
left lying dead upon the stones of Paris months ago. Dead, after
saving him from another infamy which he would have added to all the
horrors of his past life, though, in this case, unknowingly. And
Vandecque--ay, Vandecque--the man who could have told so much, who
could have told how that Englishman had been hacked and done to death
so that his patron's vengeance might be glutted both on him and the
woman he had once meant to marry. Well! Vandecque was safe. Neither
could that gambler rise up to denounce him, nor could he ever stand
before the world and point to Desparre as the murderer of the man who
had married his adopted niece. He, too, was disposed of. Yet, still,
the traveller glanced ever and anon through that window as the
berceuse rolled on, not knowing why he did so nor what he feared, nor
what he expected to see.

"Laure, his own child! His daughter!" he mused again, as he had now
mused for so long. The child of the one woman he had ever really
loved--of a woman who had fondly loved him, who had believed and
trusted in him. And he, called away suddenly to join his regiment to
take active service, had never even known what had befallen her, had
never even dreamt that she was about to become a mother. He had not
known that she had been cast forth into the streets by her parents to
die, but had, instead, deemed that she was false to him from the
moment he left Paris, and had, therefore, hidden herself away from him
ever afterwards.

Well! he was innocent of all this--innocent of all that had befallen
her and their child, innocent of what a hideous, hateful crime his
marriage would have been: yet guilty, blood-guilty in his vengeance on
that child after she had escaped from marrying him. Guilty of sending
her to the prison under a false charge of attempted murder--of
banishing her to a savage, almost unknown land. Guilty of murder in
yet another form than that which he had meted out to her husband--of
the cruel, wicked murder of an innocent woman. And now he had learnt
that this woman was his own child, his own flesh and blood!

And he might be too late to save her. The transports had probably
sailed, or--and again he shuddered--she might have fallen dead on the
road in that long, dreary march from Paris to the South. He knew well
enough what the horrors were that the chain-gangs experienced in
their journeys towards the sea-coast towns--nay, all France knew. They
had heard and talked for years of how the convict men and women
dropped dead day by day; of how, each morning, the cordon resumed its
march with some numbers short of what it had been on the previous
morning--of how bodies were left lying by the wayside to bake in the
sun and to have the eyes picked out by the crows until the communes
found and buried them.

Awful enough would have been his vengeance had she been an ordinary
woman who had despised and scorned him. But, as it was, she was his
own daughter!

Would he be in time to save her? Or, if not, would he still find her
alive if he should follow her to New France? And if so, if he could
save her either at Marseilles or in that town now rising at the mouth
of the Mississippi, then--then--well then, instead of hating Diane
Grignan de Poissy for the revenge she had taken on him, he would bless
her, worship her for at last revealing the secret she had so cherished
as an instrument of future vengeance.

In that night, as he thought all these things, a revolution took place
in the soul of Armand Desparre; he was no longer all bad. Vile as he
had been and execrable, a man who had trifled with women's hearts, who
had received benefits from at least one woman under the pretence of
becoming her husband eventually; a man who had been a very tiger in
his rage and hate against those who had thwarted him, and a shedder of
blood, yet now--now that his evil life stood revealed clearly before
him, he shuddered at it. On this night he registered a vow that, if he
lived, he would make amends. His child should be rescued if it were
possible, even though he, with paralysis staring him threateningly in
the face, should have to voyage to the other side of the world to save
her. That, at least, should be done. As for the Englishman murdered at
his instigation who was that child's husband, nothing could call him
back to life from the Paris graveyard in which he had doubtless been
lying for months; while for Vandecque--but of Vandecque he could not
dare to allow himself to think. His fate, as an accomplice removed,
was too terrible, even more terrible than his vengeance on Laure
Vauxcelles, as she had come to be called.

Unknowingly, Diane Grignan de Poissy had gone far by what she had
done--by the vengeance she had been nursing warm for years to use
against him if he proved faithless to her--towards enabling him to
whiten and purify his soul at last.

Again, as it had become customary for him to do since he had lain in
the travelling carriage, and from the time of quitting Eaux St. Fer,
he lifted the cover of the little window and glanced out. And it
seemed to him that the night was passing away, that soon the
day-spring would have come. The stars were paling and already the moon
sank towards the northwest; he saw birds moving in the trees and
pluming themselves and heard them twittering; also it had grown very
cold. Sounding his repeating clock it struck four. The August dawn was
near at hand. A little later and a grey light had come--daybreak.

The route stretched far behind him; for half a league he could see the
white thread tapering to a point, then disappearing sharply and
suddenly round a bend of the road which he remembered having passed.
And as he gazed, recalling this and recollecting that at that bend he
had noticed a lightning-blasted fir tree growing out of a sandy
hillock, he saw a black speck emerge from behind the point, with,
beneath it, a continual smoke of white dust. Then the speck grew and
grew, while the smoke of dust became larger and larger and also
whiter, until at last he knew that it was a horseman coming on at a
swift rate, a horseman who loomed larger and larger as each moment
passed and brought him rapidly nearer to the lumbering berceuse in
which the watcher sat.

"He rides apace," Desparre muttered; "hot and swiftly. He presses his
hat down upon his head as the morning breeze catches it and hurries
forward. It is some courrier du Roi who posts rapidly. One who rides
with orders."

Observing how well the man sat his horse, his body appearing as though
part of the animal's own, and how, thereby, the creature skimmed
easily along the road and overtook the berceuse more and more every
moment, he decided that this was some cavalry soldier, young and well
trained, whose skill had been acquired first in the schools and then,
mayhap, on many a battlefield. Whereon he sighed, recalling how he
himself, in other days, had ridden fast through summer nights and dewy
dawns, with no thought in his mind but his duty and--his future! And
now--now!--he was a broken-down invalid; a man whose soul was black
and withered with an evil past. Would he ever----?

He paused in his reflections, scarcely knowing why he did so or what
had caused their sudden termination. Yet he realised that something
quite different from those reflections had come to his mind to drive
them forth--some idea totally removed from them. What was it? What was
he thinking of? That--he comprehended at last, after still further
meditation--that this form following behind, enshrouded in its long
riding-cloak, was not strange to him; that he had seen those square
shoulders, which that cloak covered but did not conceal, somewhere
before. Yet, what a fantasy must this be! There were thousands of men
in France with as good a figure as this man's, as well-knit a frame,
as broad and shapely shoulders.

Perhaps he was going mad to imagine such things; perhaps madness
sometimes preceded that paralysis with which he was threatened and
which he feared so much! Yet, at this moment, when now the sun rose up
bright and warm from beyond where the Rhone lay, and threw a long
horizontal ray across the road that both he and the horseman were
travelling at a rapidly decreasing distance apart, the rider put up
his hand, unfastened the hook of his cloak, and, taking the latter
off, rolled it up and placed it before him on the saddle. Whereby he
revealed a well-shaped, manly form, clad in a dark riding suit
passemented with silver galloon. Yet, still, his face was not quite
visible since the laced three-cornered hat was now tilted well over it
to keep the rays of the bright morning sun from out his eyes, into
which they now streamed as the road made another turn.

"I am not mad," Desparre whispered to himself. "I have seen that form
before. Yet where? Where?"

This he could not answer. He could not even resolve in his own mind
whether the knowledge that he was acquainted with that on-coming
figure disturbed him or not, yet he turned his glance away from the
eyehole of the carriage and cast it on a shelf above the couch. A
shelf on which lay the box wherein reposed his silver-hilted pistols.

Then he returned to the little window, holding the leathern flap so
lowered with a finger raised above his head, that he could gaze forth
while exposing to view little more of his features than his eyes.

The horseman was overtaking him rapidly, he would be close to him
directly, so close that his face must then be plainly discernible; he
would be able to discover whether he had been deceived into that
quaint supposition that the figure was actually known to him, or
whether, instead, he was cherishing some strange delusion. Doubtless
the latter was the case! Yet, all the same, the finger let down the
flap a little more, so that there was now only a slit wide enough to
enable his eyes to peer through the glass.

At this moment the road took still another turn and, in an instant,
the rider was lost to his view. Then, next, that road rose
considerably, whereby the berceuse was forced to creep up the incline
at a pace which was less than a walk. The man behind him must,
therefore, come up in a few minutes; even his horse would, at a
walking pace alone, overtake his own animals as they struggled and
dragged at the heavy lumbering carriage behind them.

But still he kept the flap open with his upraised hand, and still he
peered forth from the window, it being darkened and blurred by the
moisture from his nostrils. Then, suddenly, the carriage stopped, the
horses were doubtless obliged to rest for an instant from their
labours, and, a moment or so later, the horseman had come round the
corner and up the inclined road at a trot, he reaching almost the back
of the berceuse ere pulling up. At which Desparre dropped the flap as
though it had been molten steel which seared his hand; dropped it and
staggered back on to the couch close by, whiter than before, shaking,
too, as if palsied! For he had not been deceived in his surmise as to
recognising the horseman's figure; he knew now that he had not. He had
seen the man's face at last! And it was the face of the man whom
Desparre thought to be long since lying buried in some Paris
graveyard, the face of the man who had married Laure; the husband of
the woman he had caused to be sent out an exile to the New World. That
man, alive--strong--well!

"What should he do? What? What? What?" he asked himself, as he
recognised this rider's presence and its nearness to him and observed
that he could hear the horse's blowings, as well as the great gusts
emitted from its nostrils and the way it shook itself on slackening
its pace on the other side of the back panel of his carriage. What? He
could not get out and fight him in his diseased, enfeebled state,
brought on by a year of hot and fiery debauch in Paris following on
years of coarser debauches when he had been a poor man; he would have
no chance--one thrust and he would be disarmed, a second and he would
be dead, run through and through. Yet he knew that, if the man outside
but caught a glimpse of his face, death must be his portion. They had
met often at Vandecque's and at the demoiselle's Montjoie; almost he
thought that the Englishman had recognised him as he concealed himself
in the porch of the house in the Rue des Saints Apostoliques--if he
saw his features now, he would drag him forth from the carriage,
throttle him, stab him to the heart. Doubtless he would do that at
once--these English were implacable when wronged!--doubtless, too, he
was in pursuit of him, had sought him in Paris, followed him to Eaux
St. Fer, was following him to Marseilles. For, that he should be here
endeavouring to find his wife he deemed impossible. She had been
almost spirited away to the prison of St. Martin-des-Champs and there
were but one or two knew what had become of her; while those who did
so know had been--had been--well--made secure.

He had followed him, and--now--he had found him! Now! and there was
but an inch, a half inch of carriage panel between them; at any moment
he might hear the man's summons to him to come forth and meet his
doom. And he would be powerless to resist--he was ill, he repeated to
himself again, and his servants were poltroons; they could not assist
him.

Thinking thus--glancing round the confined spot in which he was cooped
up--wondering what he should do, his eyes lighted on the pistol box
upon the shelf.

The pistol box! The pistol box! Whereon, seeing it, he began to muse
as to whether a shot well directed through that small window--not now,
in full daylight, but later, in some gloomy copse they might pass
through--would not be the shortest way to end all and free himself
from the enemy whom he had already so bitterly wronged.



CHAPTER XXII

THE STRICKEN CITY


Whatever effect such musings might have brought forth, even to
bloodshed, had Walter Clarges continued to ride close behind the
carriage containing his enemy--of which fact he was, in actual truth,
profoundly unconscious--cannot be told, since, scarcely had Desparre
given way to those musings, than events shaped themselves into so
different a form that the idea with regard to the pistols was at once
abandoned.

For, ere the summit of the ascent, which was in itself a trifling one,
had been reached by both the berceuse and the rider following it,
Desparre was surprised--nay, startled--to discover that the man he
dreaded so much was not by any possibility tracking him; that the
pursuit of him was not his object.

Clarges had ridden past the carriage almost immediately after
coming up with it; he had gone on ahead of it--and that rapidly,
too--directly after reaching level ground once more.

"Startled" is, indeed, the word most fitting to express the
feelings of the man who had but a moment before been quivering with
excitement--with nervous fear--within his carriage, not knowing
whether his end was close at hand or not. He had felt so sure that the
presence of that other, in this region so remote from where they had
ever met before, could only be due to the fact that Clarges was in
search of and in pursuit of him, that, when he discovered such was not
the case, his amazement was extreme. Since, if Clarges sought not him,
for whom did he look? Was it the woman who had become his wife? Yet,
if so, how did he know that she was, had been, near this spot, even
if, by now, already gone far away across the sea whose nearest waters
sparkled by this time in the morning sun. For Marseilles was close at
hand; another league or so, and Desparre would have reached that
city--would know the worst. He would know whether his child had
departed to that distant, remote colony, or had died on the roadside
ere reaching the city. But his freedom from the presence of that man,
of that avenger--even though it might be only momentary--even though
the Englishman might only have taken a place in front of the horses
instead of riding behind the carriage--enabled him to reflect more
calmly now on what the future would probably bring forth when he came
into contact with his enemy--as come he must. In those reflections he
began to understand that vengeance could scarcely be taken upon him,
sinner though he was. Clarges had married the daughter--he could not
slay the father. No! not although that father had plotted to slay
him--had in truth, nearly slain him by the hands of others. Not
although he had himself taken such hideous vengeance on that daughter,
not knowing who she was.

But, did the Englishman know all, or, if he were told of what was
absolutely the case, would he believe, would----?

A cry, a commotion ahead, broke in upon his meditations, his hopes of
personal salvation from a violent death. The carriage stopped with a
jerk and he heard sudden and excited talking. What was the reason? Had
Clarges suddenly faced round and ordered the coachman to halt ere he
proceeded to exercise his vengeance on the master--had he? What could
have happened? A moment later, the valet, aroused from his heavy,
perhaps guilty, slumbers, had thrust aside the curtain which separated
the bed-chamber (for so it was termed) from the fore part of the
berceuse, and was standing half in, half out, of the little room,
undressed as yet and with a look of agony; almost, indeed, a look of
horror, on his features.

"Oh! Monsieur, Monsieur le Duc," he gasped, "there is terrible news.
Terrible. We cannot go forward."

"Cannot go forward!" Desparre ejaculated. "Why not? Has that man--that
man who passed us endeavoured to stop the carriage?"

"No, Monsieur. No. But--but they flee from the city; in hundreds they
flee. There are some outside already, Marseilles is----"

"What?"

"Stricken with the pest. They die like flies; they lie in thousands
unburied in the streets. It is death to enter it. Nay, more," and the
man shook all over, "it is death to be here."

"My God! Marseilles stricken again. Yet we must go on. We must, I say.
Where is that--that cavalier who overtook--rode past us?"

"He has gone on, Monsieur le Duc. He would not be stayed, though
warned also. The people, the fugitives--there are a score at the inn a
few yards ahead of where we are--warned him to turn back ere too late,
and told him it was death to approach the city; that, here even, so
near to it, the air is infected, tainted, poisonous! He heeded them
not but said his mission was itself one of life or death, and that
this news made that mission--his reaching the city at once--even more
imperative. Oh! Monsieur le Duc, for God's sake give the orders to
turn back."

"Fool, poltroon, be silent So, also, by this news, if it be true, is
my reaching the city become more imperative. Where is this crowd, this
inn you speak of?"

It was natural he should ask the question, since the bed-chamber of
the berceuse had no other window but the little one at the back out of
which its occupant could gaze.

"Where," he repeated, "is the crowd--the inn?"

"Close outside, Monsieur; but, oh! in the name of all the Saints, go
not forth. It is death! It is death!"

"It is death if I do aught but go on," the Duke muttered to himself;
"death to her if she is there and cannot be saved." And, at that
moment, Desparre was at his best. Even this man of vile record was
dominated by some good angel now.

As he spoke, he pushed the valet aside and, shambling through the
still smaller compartment outside the curtain in which the fellow
slept and cooked, he appeared on the little platform beneath where the
coachman and a footman sat, and from which it was easy by a step to
reach the ground.

"What is this I hear of the pestilence at Marseilles?" he asked, as,
seeing in front of him an inn before which his carriage was drawn up,
as well as a number of strange, sickly-looking beings huddled about in
front of it--some lying on wooden benches running alongside tables and
some upon the ground--he addressed them. "What? Answer me."

Yet he knew that no answer was required. One glance at those beings
told all, especially to him who had once known the pest raging in
Catalonia and had seen the ravages it made, and once also at Bordeaux.
Those chalk-white faces, those yellow eyes and the great blotches
beneath them, were enough. These people might not be absolutely
stricken with the pestilence, yet they had almost been so ere they
fled.

"We have escaped," one answered, "though it may be only for a time. It
is in us. We burn with thirst, shiver with cold. On such a morn as
this! Marseilles is lost! Already forty thousand lie dead in her; they
pile quicklime on them in the streets to burn them up. At Aix ten
thousand are dead--at Toulon ten thousand; thousands more at a hundred
other places. Turn back. Turn back, whosoever you are; be warned in
time."

"Man," Desparre answered, "we have passed by Aix, yet we are not
stricken. I must go on," and his white face blanched even whiter while
his eyes rested on those unhappy people. Yet all the same, he did not,
would not, falter. He had vowed that his attempt to save his child
should act as his redemption if such might be the case; he would never
turn back! No, not though the pest awaited him with its fiery
poisonous breath at the gates; not even though the Englishman stood
before him with his drawn sword ready to be thrust through his heart.
He would go on.

He felt positive, something within warned him, that his hour was not
far off. And also some strange presentiment seemed to tell him that
by, or through, the pest his death was to come--not by the man whom he
had himself striven to slay.

Partly he was wrong, partly he was right. An awful penalty awaited him
for his misdeeds as well as through his misdeeds, though how the blow
was to be struck he had not truly divined.

"Who," he asked, still standing on the platform of his carriage with
his richly-embroidered sleeping gown around him, "are there besides
the Marseillais? Are--there--any--strangers?"

"Strangers. Nay, nay! Strangers. Bon Dieu! Does Monsieur think
strangers seek Marseilles now, when even we, the Marseillais, flee
from it? When we leave our houses, our goods, sometimes our own flesh
and blood, behind? Who should be there?"

"The commerce is great," he replied. "To all parts of the world go
forth ships laden with merchandise. All traffic, all commerce cannot
be stopped, even by such a scourge as this!"

"Not stopped!" the man replied. "Monsieur, you do not know. It is
impossible that monsieur should understand. There are no ships; they
lie out at sea. They will not approach. None, except the galleys.
Their cargo counts not."

For a moment the Duke made no reply, while his eyes wandered from that
group of fugitives to the people gazing forth from the inn window; to,
also, his own servants looking paralysed with fear as they stood
about, all having left the berceuse temporarily and crossed to the
other side of the road so as not to be too near to the infected ones;
then he said:

"There left Paris some weeks ago--many weeks now--two gangs of--of
emigrant convicts for--for the New World. One cordon was of men, the
other of--of women. Have they, are--are they there in that great pest
house?" And he drew in his breath as he awaited the reply.

"The men are there."

"My God!" he whispered.

"They arrived yesterday."

"Have they sailed--put to sea? For New France?"

"I know not. There are, I tell monsieur, no ships. Those which were to
transport those gallows' birds would not perhaps come in. They may
have gone elsewhere."

"And the women?"

"I know not. If they are there, they will work in the streets--the men
at burning and burying. The women at nursing."

"Have many persons there succumbed?"

"Many! Of those in the town almost half; at least a half."

Desparre asked no more questions but turned away, shaking at that last
reply. Yet a moment later he returned to where the fugitives were (he
was so white now that one whispered to another that already he was
"struck"), took from his pocket a purse, and, shaking from it several
gold pieces into his hand, held them out towards the poor creatures.
Yet, even as he did so, he paused a moment, saying:

"Nay, do not come for them--there!" And he threw the coins towards
where the people were huddled together.

For a moment they seemed astonished, even though he muttered,
"Doubtless they will be of assistance," and he noticed that only one
man in the small crowd picked them up--he with whom he had first
conversed. But he saw a man whose head was out of the window smile, if
the look upon his wretched face could be called by that name, whereby
he was led to believe that the man who had last spoken was some rich
merchant flying from the stricken city, even as the poorest and most
humble fled. He understood that wealth made no difference in such a
case as this.

He gave now the orders to proceed towards Marseilles, bidding his
coachman and footman resume their places on the box, and his valet
re-enter the berceuse. Instead, however, of doing so, they remained
standing stolidly upon the farther side of the road muttering to
themselves, shaking their heads, and looking into each other's eyes,
as though seeking for support in their disobedience.

At last the coachman spoke, saying:

"Monsieur le Duc, we cannot go on. We--we dare not. This is no duty of
ours--to risk our lives in this manner. No wages could repay us for
doing that."

"You must go on," Desparre said; "you must conduct me to the gates of
Marseilles. Beyond that, I demand no more. It is but two leagues. If I
were not sick and ailing I would dismiss you here and walk into the
city by myself. As it is, you must finish the journey. If not----"

"If not--what?" demanded the footman, speaking in an almost insolent
tone. "What, Monsieur le Duc? These are not feudal days; there is no
law here. All law is at an end, it seems; and--and, if it were not, no
law ever made can compel us to meet death in this manner."

For a moment Desparre looked at the man, his eyes glistening from his
pallid, sickly face; then he turned and slowly entered the berceuse. A
moment later he reappeared upon the platform, and now he held within
his hands his pistols. He was, however, too late. Whether the men had
divined what he had intended to do and how he meant to coerce them, or
whether they recognised that here was their chance--which might be
their last one--of escaping from the horrible prospect of death that
lay before them, at least they were gone, They had fled away the
moment his back was turned, and had disappeared into a copse lying
some distance from the road.

There remained, however, as Desparre supposed, Lolive; yet he
recollected that he had been in neither of the compartments as he
entered them. In an instant he understood that the man was gone too.
The fellow had slid into the inn while his master had been inside the
berceuse, and, passing swiftly through it to the back, had thereby
made his own escape also.

Desparre would, in days not so long since past, have given way to some
tempestuous gust of rage at this abandonment of him by his domestics,
creatures who had been well paid and fed, even pampered, since they
had been in his service and since he had come to affluence--he would
have endeavoured to find them, and, had he done so, have shot them
there and then. Yet now, either because he was a changed man in his
disposition, or because his physical infirmities were so great, he did
nothing beyond letting his glance rest upon the people standing about
who had been witnesses of the desertion. Then, at last, he addressed
them, haltingly--as he ever spoke now--his words coming with labour
from between his lips.

"I am," he said, "a rich man. And--and--there is one in Marseilles
dear to me, one whom I must save if I can. She is," the pause was very
long here, "my daughter, and--heretofore--I have treated her evilly.
I--must--see her if she be still alive; I must see her. If any here
will drive my carriage to Marseilles he may demand of me what he will.
Otherwise, I, feeble, sick, as I am, must do it myself. Even though I
fall dead from the box to the ground in the attempt."

For a moment none spoke. None! not even those who, a short time back,
would have performed so slight a task for a crown and have been glad
to do it. Not one, though now, doubtless, a hundred pistoles would be
forthcoming if asked from a man who travelled in so luxurious a
manner. They knew what was in that city; they had had awful experience
of the poisonous, infected breath that was mowing down thousands
weekly, and, though some in the little crowd were of the poorest of
the population, they did not stir to earn a golden reward. Gold,
precious as it was, fell to insignificance before the preservation of
their lives, squalid though such lives were even at the best of times.

A silence fell upon all; there was not one volunteer, not one who,
meeting Desparre's imploring glance as it roved over them, responded
to that glance. Then, suddenly, the man who had conversed with
Desparre when last he appeared on the platform, the one who had taken
no notice of the coins the latter tossed out in his sudden fit of
charity, came forward and took in his hands the reins lying on the
backs of the horses, and began to mount to the deserted box.

"I will drive you to the gates," he said quietly, "since your misery
is so extreme. Yet, in God's grace, it must be less than mine. You may
find this daughter of whom you speak alive even now--but for me--God
two of mine are gone. I shall never see them again. As for your money,
I need it not. I would have given a whole fleet of ships, a hundred
thousand louis--I could have done it very well and not felt the
loss--to have saved my children's lives. Oh! my children! My children!
My children!" and, as he shook the reins, he wept piteously.



CHAPTER XXIII

WITHIN THE WALLS


Midnight sounded from the tower of the ancient cathedral of
Marseilles--the deep tones of the bell, in unison with all the bells
of the other churches in the stricken city, being borne across the
upland by the soft breeze from off the Mediterranean to where the
women of the cordon stood--and those women were free at last from one
awful form of suffering. The hateful collar was gone from off their
necks; the chains that looped and bound them together had fallen from
their wrists under the blows of the convicts, and lay in a mass upon
the ground. They could hold up their heads and straighten the backs
which had been bowed so long by the weight of the collar; they could
stretch their limbs and rejoice--if such women could ever rejoice
again at aught!--that they might raise their arms unencumbered by
either steel or iron shackles. Yet, around their necks, around their
arms, were impressed livid marks that, if they should live, it would
take months to efface. More months than it had taken to produce the
impression which the things had stamped into their flesh.

Then the order was given by the Sheriff, that broken-hearted man, that
they should descend into the city; the very tones in which it was
uttered--so different from the harsh, cruel commands of the men who
had escorted the forlorn women from Paris!--being almost enough to
make compliance with that order easy.

"Come," said Marion Lascelles to Laure, "come, dear one. Even though
we march into the jaws of death, at least we go no longer as slaves,
but as freed women. Let be. Things might be worse. Had those cowardly
dogs, our warders, stayed by our side we should have been whipped or
cursed into this nest of pestilence."

So they went on, following their sorrowful guide; the men of the
galleys marching near them and relating the awful ravages of the
plague which had stricken the city. Yet not without some exclamations
of satisfaction issuing from the lips of those outcasts and mingling
with their story, since they dilated on the freedom which was now
theirs--except at nights when they were re-conducted to the galleys
moored by the Quai de Riveneuve; and on, also, the better class of
food which--at present! but at present only--they were able to obtain.
Upon, too, the almost certain fact of their being entirely pardoned
and released when the pestilence should at last be over.

"Will that come to us--if we live?" murmured Laure to the man who
walked by the side of her and of Marion. "Will anything we do here,
and any dangers to life we encounter, give us our pardon; save us from
voyaging to that unknown land?"

"Will it, _ma belle!_" answered the convict--a brawny, muscular,
fellow, who would have been a splendid specimen of humanity but for
the fact that he was gaunt and yellow and hideously disfigured by the
white cloth steeped in vinegar which he wore swathed round his lower
jaw, so that he might continuously inhale the aromatic flavour with
each breath he drew. "Will it! Who can doubt it! And, if not,
why--name, of a dog!--are we not free already?"

"Free! How?"

"In a manner we are so. What control is there over us--over you,
especially? You will live in the streets--or, if you prefer it, in any
house you choose to enter; have a care, though, that it is one from
which the healthy have fled in fear, not one in which the dead lie
poisoning the air. At any moment you can hide yourselves away. While
for us--well, there will come a night when we shall not return to the
galleys. That is all."

"Has," asked Marion, "a chain of male emigrants entered Marseilles but
a few hours before us? They should have done so, seeing that they were
not more than a day in advance."

"Yes, yes. They have come. Yet their fortune was different; better or
worse than yours, according to how one regards it. One of the merchant
ships was still in the port--off the port--a league out to sea, and,
well, they risked it. They took the human cargo; they are gone for New
France. Had you a man amongst them whom you loved, my black beauty?"
he asked, gazing into the dark eyes of Marion, those eyes whose
splendour not all she had gone through could dull.

"My husband was amongst them," she replied quietly; while, to herself,
she added: "Poor wretch! He did little enough good in marrying me. Yet
this leaves me free to devote myself to her."

"Your husband," the convict exclaimed with a laugh. "Your husband?
Good! he will never claim you. You can take another if you desire--the
first one who falls in love with those superb glances."

"Vagabond! be still," she answered, with such a look from the very
eyes he had been praising that the man was silent.

They were by now close to the northern gate of Marseilles; and here
for a little while they halted, the Sheriff, whose name was Le
Vieux--and who is still remembered there for his acts of mercy and
goodness to all--addressing some archers who formed a group outside
the gate, and bidding them produce food and wine, as well as some
vinegar-steeped cloths for the neck of each woman.

"Who are they?" asked another Sheriff, who came up at this moment,
while he scanned the worn and emaciated women and ran his eyes over
their dusty and weather-stained clothes. "Surely you are not bringing
to our charnel house the refugees from other stricken towns? Not from
Toulon and Arles?"

"Nay," replied Le Vieux, "not so. But women who may, by God's grace,
be yet of some service to those left alive. If there are any!" he
added ominously. Then he asked: "What is the count to-day?"

The other shrugged his shoulders ere he replied:

"There is no count. It is abandoned. Who shall count? The tellers
die themselves ere the record is made. Poublanc made a list
yesterday--now----"

"He is not dead? My God I he is not dead?" The other nodded his head
solemnly. After which he said:

"He lies on his doorstep--dead. He was struck this morning--now----!"


*    *    *    *    *    *


It was a charnel-house to which the Cordon entered! The second Sheriff
had spoken truly!

Yet, at this time, but half of the ninety thousand[4] who were to die
in Marseilles of this pestilence had achieved their doom. Still, all
was bad enough--awful, heart-rending! Not since ten thousand people
died daily in Rome, in the first century of the Christian era, had so
horrible a blight fallen upon any city. Nor had any city presented so
terrible a sight as did Marseilles now when the women entered it,
while glancing shudderingly to right and left as they passed along.

The dead lay unburied in the streets where they had fallen--men,
women, and children being huddled together in heaps; it seemed even as
if, after one heap had lain there for some hours, another had fallen
on top of it, so that one might suppose that these second layers of
dead represented those who, coming forth to search for their kindred
and friends, had in their turn been stricken and fallen over them.
There were also the bodies of many dogs lying stretched by the sides
of the human victims, it being thought afterwards that they had taken
the infection through sniffing at and caressing those who were dear to
them. Yet--heart-rending as such a sight as this was to see, and
doubly so as the women regarded it, partly under the rays of the moon
and partly by aid of the flames of the fires which had been lit to
destroy the contagion if possible--there was still worse to be
witnessed.

This was the sight of those still left alive.

The women who had once formed the chain of female emigrants, and who,
unfettered at last, marched along in company towards a spot where the
Sheriff had said they would be able to sleep in peace for the
remainder of the night, were now passing down a public promenade which
ran for some three hundred yards through the principal part of the
city. This promenade was known as Le Cours, and was bordered on each
side by trees, mostly acacias and limes, which in summer threw a
pleasant shade over the sitters and strollers during the day time,
and, in the evening of the same season, had often served as a place
for summer evening fetes to be held in, for open-air balmasqués, and
as a rendezvous for lovers. Now the picture it presented was
frightful!

In its midst there was a fountain with water gushing from the lips of
fauns, nymphs, and satyrs into a basin beneath, and at that fountain
the moon showed poor stricken men drinking copiously to cool their
burning thirst, or leaning over the smooth sides of the basin and
holding their extended tongues in the water. Or they lay gasping with
their heads against the stone-work, in their endeavours to cool the
heat of their throbbing brains, and to still, if might be, the
splitting headaches which racked them. For clothes, many had nothing
about them but a counterpane snatched hastily from off a bed ere they
had rushed forth in agony unspeakable; often, too, when they had left
their houses fully dressed, they had torn off their apparel in their
inability to bear the warmth imparted by the garments. Yet numbers of
them were not poor--if outward signs were sure testimony of wealth.
One woman--young, perhaps beautiful, ere stricken by the disfiguring
signs of the pest--was resplendent on breast and neck and hands with
jewels that glittered in the moonbeams. Doubtless she had seized all
she owned ere rushing from her house in misery!

If death levels all, so, too, had the pest in this desolated city
plunged into strange companionship persons who, in other days, would
never have been brought together. Hard by this bedizened woman was
another, a woman of the people--perhaps a beggar, or a work girl, or a
washer-woman at the best--who screamed and wailed over a dead babe
lying in her lap. At her side was an old man, well clad and handsomely
belaced, who shrieked forth offers of pistoles and louis' to any who
would ease him of his pain, and then suddenly paused to call to him a
dog hard by, to utter endearing words to it, and to endeavour to
persuade it to draw near to him and quit the spot on which it lay
writhing. A beggar, too! an awful thing of rags and patches! sat
gibbering near them, and held out a can into which a monk passing by
poured some soup, as he did into many others--yet, no sooner had the
man put the stuff to his mouth than he hurled away the can, shrieking
that the broth burned him to the vitals.

"This is the end," muttered Marion to herself, her dark eyes roving
over all and seeing all as the women passed along--themselves now
hideous in their vinegar-steeped wrappings--"the end of our journey!"
Then she glanced down, frightened, at Laure, to see if she had heard
her words. And she observed that this woman of gentler nature was
walking by her side with her eyes closed, while supported and guided
only by her own tender arm. The sight was too awful for Laure to gaze
upon.

The alley led into a street called La Rue de la Bourse, a broad and
stately one, full of large commodious houses such as the merchants of
Marseilles had been accustomed to inhabit for some centuries. Now, it
was deserted by all living things, while, at the same time, the dead
lay in the streets as thick as autumn leaves. Huddled together they
lay; some with their faces horribly distorted, some almost placid as
though they had died in their sleep, some with their heads broken in!
These were the people who had leapt from their windows in a frenzy of
delirium or in an agony of pain; or, being dead, had been flung forth
from those windows by the convicts and galley-slaves who had been sent
into the houses to free them from the poisonous bodies of those who
had expired.

Marion noticed, too, that the still living were driven off the
thresholds of some houses to which they clung--one man, who looked
like the master of the abode, was pouring cold water from a bucket
down the steps, so that none would be likely to lie there. And, next,
she heard a piteous dialogue between two others.

"It is my own house--my own house!" a man, writhing in a porch close
to where she was, gasped to another who parleyed with him from a door
open about half a foot. "Oh, my son! my son! let me die here on my own
doorstep, if I may not enter."

Then the son answered, his tones being muffled by the aromatic
bandages around his face:

"My father, it cannot be. Not because I am cruel to you, but because I
must be kind to others still unstruck. Your wife and mine, also myself
and my babes, are still free from the fever. Would you slay all, yet
with no avail to yourself? My father, think of us," and he shut the
door gently on the man while beseeching him once again to begone and
to carry the contagion he bore about him far away from the house which
contained all that should be dear to him.

"Brute!" cried Marion, hearing all this. "Brute! Animal!"

Then, because of her warm, impetuous Southern nature, she hurled more
than one curse up at the window from which she saw the son's white
face looking forth by now.

"Nay, nay," murmured the dying old man, while understanding. "Nay,
curse him not, good woman. He speaks well. Why should I poison them?
And--I am old, very old. I must have died soon in any hap. It matters
not."

"There are houses here," whispered the convict, who still walked by
Marion's and Laure's side, "at the end of the street, which are, by
some marvel, unaffected. Yet, also, they are deserted, because they
are so near to the poisoned ones. Seek shelter in one for the night, I
counsel you."

"Show me one of such," said Marion. "If there is room enough for all
of us," and she indicated with her eyes that she referred to the other
women who had marched in company from Paris.

"Follow me, then. There is a house at the end, the mansion of one of
our richest merchants. Yet he and all are gone; they have escaped
safely in one of his ships to sea. He will not return for months; not
until the city is free and purged. 'Twould hold a regiment," he added.
Then he led the way down towards the house he spoke of.

"To-morrow," he continued, "the Sheriffs will ask me where you are
disposed of, and I must say, since you will be required to lend aid.
Meanwhile, sleep well, all you women. Above all, when you are in, shut
fast every window so that no air enters the house to infect it. Forget
not."

"Be sure I will remember," Marion replied. "As well as to shut the
doors," she added, not liking too much the looks of this stalwart,
though gaunt ruffian, and mistrusting his familiarity, in spite of the
services he had more or less rendered them.

But the man only laughed, yet with some slight confusion apparent in
his manner, and said:

"Oh! you are too much of my own kind to have any fear. You women have
nothing to be robbed of--nothing to lose. And--Marseilles is full of
everything which any can desire, except food and health. Here is the
house. If you like it not, there are many others."

Casting her eyes up at what was in truth a mansion, Marion answered
that it would do very well. Then she advanced up the steps towards it,
still leading and supporting Laure, and bidding all the other women
follow her.

"My sisters," she cried, "here is rest and shelter from the poisoned
air of the city. And there should be good beds and couches within. Ah!
we have none of us known a bed for so long. We should sleep well
here."

Whereupon one and all filed in after her, uttering prayers that the
pestilence might not be lurking within the place and making it even
more dangerous than the open air.

"Fear not," the man replied. "Fear not. The owner fled at the first
outbreak. Not one has died here unless--unless some have crawled in to
do so. It is untainted."

"Now," said Marion to him, "begone and leave us. To-morrow we will do
aught that we are bidden. You will find us here," and as he stood upon
the steps of the house, she closed the door.

The place echoed gloomily with the reverberation. It appeared to be a
vast, mournful building as they cast their eyes around the great hall
into which the moonlight streamed through a window above the stairs.
Mournful now all deserted as it was, yet a building in which many a
festival and much gaiety had, for sure, taken place in vanished years.
The stairs were richly carpeted; so, too, the hall. Upon the walls
hung pictures and quaint curiosities, brought, doubtless, by the
owner's ships from far-off ports; bronzes and silken banners, great
jars of Eastern workmanship, savage weapons and shields and tokens;
also statues and statuettes in niches and corners.

"The mansion of a rich, wealthy merchant," Marion thought to herself,
seeing all these things plainly in the pure moonlight streaming from
the untainted heavens above. "The home of gentle women and bright,
happy men. Now, the refuge of such as we are--lepers, outcasts,
gaol-birds."

And even as she so thought, Marion pushed open a door on the right of
the hall, when, seeing that it led to a rich, handsome salon, she bade
her companions follow her.



CHAPTER XXIV

A DISCOVERY


Aided by the light of the moon which now soared high in the
heavens, she being in her second quarter, the women--of whom
there still remained many out of the original number that quitted
Paris--distributed themselves about this vast and sumptuous abode of
gloom. Some, and these were the women who felt the most worn out and
prostrate of all, flung themselves at once upon the rich Segoda
ottomans and lounges which were in the saloon they had entered; one or
two even cast themselves down upon the soft, thick Smyrna carpets,
protesting they could go no further, no, not so much as up a flight of
stairs even to find a bed; while others did what these would not, and
so proceeded to the first floor. Amongst them went Marion and Laure.

Yet this, they soon found, was also full of reception rooms and with
none of the sleeping apartments upon it; there being a vast saloon
stretching the whole length of the front of the house with smaller
rooms at the back, and in the former the two women cast themselves
down, lying close together upon a lounge so big that two more besides
themselves might easily have reposed thereon.

"Sleep," said Marion, "sleep for some hours at least. To-morrow they
will come for us; yet, heart up! the work cannot be hard. 'Tis but to
nurse the sick; and, remember, if we survive--if we escape
contagion--we shall doubtless be free. That Sheriff, that unhappy,
bereaved man promised as much; he will not go back upon his word."

"Can he undo the law?" muttered her companion, as now she prepared to
find rest by Marion's side. "Are we not condemned to be deported to
the other side of the world? How then can he set us free? And, even
though free, what use the freedom? We have not the wherewithal to
live."

"Bah!" exclaimed Marion, ruthlessly thrusting aside every doubt that
might rise in Laure's, or her own, mind as to the possibility of a
brighter future ahead: "Bah! we are outside the law's grip now. We can
set ourselves free at any moment. Can we not escape from out this city
as inhabitants who are fugitives? Or get away----"

"In these prison rags!" Laure exclaimed, recalling to the other's
memory how the garb they wore--the coarse black dress and the equally
coarse prison linen--was known and would be recognised from one side
of France to the other. "Marked, branded as we are Even with the
impress of the carcan still on our necks! It is impossible!"

"Is it? Child, you do not understand. Do you not think that in this
great, rich house there are countless handsome dresses and vast
quantities of women's clothing? We can go forth decked as we
choose--even as rich women fleeing from the scourge. Have no fear,"
the brave, sturdy creature added; "that we cannot depart when we
desire. And--leave all--trust all--to me."

"How to live though we should escape? I am fit for nothing. I can do
no work: even though I were strong. I know nothing. My uncle reared me
too delicately."

"I can do all, I am strong. I will work for both of us. Now sleep."

And they did sleep, lying side by side. Side by side as they had done
before when chained together, and as they had trudged along the awful
road which led to still more awful horrors than even the route could
produce. In the morning Marion arose as the first rays of dawn stole
in through the windows of the great room, while thinking at first, ere
she was thoroughly awake, that the guardians would come in a moment to
curse into consciousness all who still slept, and half dreaming that
she was again on the road. Then, she remembered that these men would
never trouble her more; that, in a manner of speaking, she and Laure
were free. Yet she remembered that their freedom was a ghastly one,
and that death was all around them; that the pestilence was slaying a
thousand people a day (as she had heard one galley slave say to
another); and that, ere they had been in Marseilles many hours, it
might lay its hot, poisonous hands on her and her companions.

Laure still slept, and, gazing down upon her, Marion saw how white and
worn she was--yet how beautiful still! Upon that beauty nothing which
she had yet undergone had had full power of destruction. Neither sun
nor rain nor wind, nor the long dreary tramp and the rough, coarse
food--not even the sleeping in outhouses and barns, and, sometimes, of
necessity, beneath the open heavens and in the cold night wind--could
spoil the soft graceful curves of chin or cheek, or alter the
features. Burnt black almost, worn to skin and bone, and with, on
those features, that look which toil almost ever, and sorrow always,
brings, she lay there as beautiful still in all the absolute
originality of her beauty as on the day she was supposed to be about
to marry one man and had married another.

Looking down upon her, that other woman, that woman whose own life had
been so turbulent--and who, like Laure, had been reared among the
people but who had, doubtless, never known the refining influences
which even such a man as Vandecque could offer to one whom he loved
for herself, as well as valued for her loveliness--wept. She wept hot,
scalding tears, such as only those amongst us whose lives have been
fierce and tempestuous (almost always, alas! because of those fiery
passions which Nature has implanted in our hearts, and which, could we
but have the arbitrament of them, we would hurl away for ever from
us), can weep. Then, slowly, she did that which she could not remember
having once done for long past years--not since she was a tiny,
innocent child. She sunk first on one knee and then on the other, and
so knelt at the side of the sleeping girl, murmuring:

"If I may dare to pray--I--I--who have so outraged Him and all His
laws. Yet, what to say--how to frame a prayer? 'Tis years since she
who taught me my first one at her knee--since she--ah! pity me, God,"
Marion broke off, "I know not how to pray."

Yet, all the same, she prayed (if, in truth, "prayer is the soul's
sincere desire, uttered or unexpressed") that this stricken, forlorn
woman might live through all the dangers that now encompassed her;
that once more she might see the noble, chivalrous man who had married
her, and be at last folded to his heart. While, even as she bent over
Laure, the latter's lips parted, and it seemed as though she muttered
the name "Walter."

"Ay", Marion muttered, "that is it. But where is he? Where? Oh! if he
were but near to save her." Then she sighed deeply, as she would not
have sighed could she have known that, already, the man whose name was
in the sleeping and waking thoughts of each woman had reached the
city, intent upon finding and rescuing his wife. His wife, whom he had
loved since first his eyes fell on her fresh, pure beauty in the
f[oe]tid, sickly air of a Paris gambling hell.

For Walter Clarges knew all now. He knew of the deadly, damnable
vengeance that Desparre had taken on the woman whom he would have
married if she had not cast him off for another. Himself!

The knowledge had come to Clarges in that strange way, by one of those
improbable incidents which are the jest of the ignorant scoffers who,
in their self-importance and self-sufficient conceit, are unaware that
actual life is more full of strange coincidences than the most subtle
of plot-weavers has ever been able to devise. It had come to him when
least to be expected--in such a manner and at such an opportune moment
as to make the knowledge vouchsafed to him appear to be the work of
Providence alone.

He had been passing one night at dusk down the street which led to
that in which he dwelt, while musing, as ever, on whether she had been
false to him--so bitterly, cruelly false as to make her memory and all
regrets worthless--when his attention was attracted by an altercation
going on between two men. One, a middle-aged, powerful-looking
individual; the other, a beggar and almost old.

"Fie! Fie! Shame on you!" he said to the former, as he saw him strike
the second with his cane. "For shame! The man is older than you, and
apparently feeble. Put up your stick, bully, or seek a more suitable
adversary."

"Monsieur's self to wit, perhaps," the aggressor sneered, yet ceasing
his blows all the same. "Pray, does Monsieur regulate the laws by
which gentlemen are to be molested by whining mendicants in the public
places of Paris? This fellow has followed me with his petition for
alms through a whole street."

"I will see that he does so no more," Walter Clarges said, quietly yet
effectively. "At least, you shall beat him no further. You had best
begone now," and there was something in his tone, as well as in his
stalwart appearance, which induced the other to draw off and proceed
on his way. Not, of course, without the usual protestations of
"another time," and "when the opportunity should serve," and so forth.
But, still, he went.

"What ails you?" asked Walter, gazing down now on the man whom he had
saved from further drubbing. "Answer," he continued, seeing that the
beggar turned his face away from him, and seemed, indeed, inclined to
shuffle off after mumbling some thanks in his throat which were almost
inaudible and entirely indistinct. "Answer me. And here is something
to heal your aches from that fellow's cane." Whereon he held out a
small silver coin to him.

But still the man made off, walking as swiftly as two lame feet would
allow, and keeping at the same time his face turned from the other, as
well as not seeing, or pretending not to see, the proffered coin.

"A strange beggar!" exclaimed Walter, now. "You pester a man until he
beats you, yet refuse alms when cheerfully offered. By heavens perhaps
he was not so wrong. At least, you are an ungrateful churl."

"I am not ungrateful," the fellow answered, turning suddenly upon
Walter, and showing a blotched, liquor-stained face. "No; yet I will
not take your money. It would blister me."

"In heaven's name, who are you?" Walter exclaimed, utterly amazed.

"Look at me and see!" And now the man thrust his blotchy visage close
up to the other's, as though inviting the most open inspection.

"I protest I never set eyes on you before. My friend, you have injured
someone else--evidently you must have injured him!--and mistake me for
that person."

"I do not mistake. You are the man who was set upon and done to death,
left for dead--as all supposed--on the night when Law's bubble was
nearly pricked; the man whose newly-married wife was flung into the
prison----"

"Ah! My God! What?"

"Of St. Martin des Champs, and thence deported to America. Nay, nay,"
the fellow shrieked suddenly, seeing the effect of his words; "do not
swoon, nor faint. Heavens!" he added to himself, "he is about to drop
dead at my feet."

He might well have thought so! The man before him had become as rigid
as a corpse that had been placed upright on its dead feet and left to
topple over to the earth as soon as all support was withdrawn.

Clarges' eyes were open, it was true--better, the appalled man
thought, they should have been shut than look at him as they did!--yet
they were glassy, staring, dreadful. His face was not white now with
the whiteness of human flesh--it was marble--alabaster--ghastly as the
dead! So, too, with his lips--they being but a thin, grey, livid line
upon that face. And he spoke not, no muscle twitched, no limb moved.
Only--one thing happened; one sign was given by the statue standing
before the shaking outcast. That sign consisted of a clink upon the
stones at his feet--the coin which that outcast had refused to take
had dropped from the other's nerveless, relaxed hand.

At last the man knew that he who was before him had not been turned to
stone, had not died standing there erect. From that livid line formed
of two compressed lips, a voice issued and said:--

"The prison of St. Martin des Champs! And--deported--to--America! Is
this true? You swear it?"

"Before Heaven and all the angels."

There was another pause, another moment of statuelike calm. Then,
again, that voice asked:--

"Whose doing was it? Who sent her--there?"

"The noble--the man they termed a Duke. The man she had jilted for
you."

"Come with me. I--I--can walk, move, now."

*    *    *    *    *    *

They were seated opposite to each other in Walter Clarges' room half
an hour later, and the fellow, who had by such a strange chance been
brought into contact with him, had told his tale, or partly told it.
He had described how he had been one of those employed by another who
worked under "the man they termed a Duke," to assist in falling on him
who was now before him; how they, the attackers, had left him for
dead, and how they had been bidden to follow to this very house to
assist in another matter.

"She lay there--there," he said, "when we came in," and he pointed to
a spot at the side of the table; "dead, too, as we all thought. He and
his creature, the man who gave you your _coup de grâce_, as we
imagined.--I--I cannot remember his name----"

"I can," Walter said. "It was Vandecque. Go on."

"That is the name. Vandecque bade us lift her up and convey her to the
prison. To St. Martin des Champs, because it was the nearest. And we
did so, Heaven pardon us! Yet, ere we set forth, that man, that
noble--that rat--he did one thing that even such ruffians as we were
shuddered at.

"What did he do?" Walter asked, dreading to know what awful outrage
might have been offered to his insensible wife as she lay before her
ruffian captor. "What? Tell me all."

"He tore from his lace cravat, where it hung down over his breast, a
piece of it; tore it roughly, raggedly and--and--he placed it in her
right hand, clenching the fingers on it. Then he whispered in his
lieutenant's ears, 'the evidence against her, mon ami. Yes. Yes. The
damning evidence, Vandecque.' Yes--Vandecque. That was the name."

Again the man was startled--at the look upon the face of the other. As
well as at the words he heard him mutter; the words:--"It shall be thy
evidence, too, blackest of devils. The passport to thy master."

Aloud he said:--

"Do you know more? Is--is--oh! my wife--my wife!--is--has she set
out?"

"La Châine went to Marseilles a month ago."

"How fast do they--does la Châine, as you term it--travel?"

"But slowly. Especially the chain-gang of women. They must needs go
slowly."

Again Walter Clarges said nothing for some moments; he was calculating
how long, if mounted on relay after relay of swift horses, it would
take him to catch up with that chain--to reach Marseilles as soon as
it--to rescue her. For he knew he could do it--he who was now an
English peer could save her who was an English peer's--who was
his--wife. He had but to yield on one point, to proclaim himself an
adherent of the King who sat on England's throne, and the ambassador
would obtain an order from the French Government to the prison
authorities to at once hand over his wife to him. And politics were
nothing now! They vanished for ever from his thoughts! Then he again
addressed the creature before him. "You should have been well paid for
your foul work," he said. "So paid that never again ought you to have
known want. How is it I find you a beggar?"

"Ah!" the man cried. "It was our ruin. We were blown upon somehow
to the ministry of police a day or two later for some little
errors--Heaven only knows how there were any who could do so, but thus
it was. We were imprisoned, ruined. I but escaped the galleys by a
chance. Yet, I, too, was ill-treated. I was cast into prison for two
months. God help me! I am ruined. There was some private enemy."

"Doubtless, your previous employer."

"I have thought so."

"And that other vagabond. That villain, Vandecque! What of him? He is
missing." The man cast his bloodshot eyes round the room as though
fearing that, even here, he might be overheard, or that the one whom
they called a duke might be somewhere near and able to wreak further
condign vengeance on him; then he whispered huskily:

"Ay--he is missing. Some of us--I have met them in the
wineshops--think he is dead. He knew too much. He--all of us--have
paid for our knowledge of that night's work. Yes, dead! we think."

"'Tis very possible. Desparre would leave no witness--none to call him
to account. Yet," muttered Walter to himself, "that account has soon
to be made. I am alive, at least. But first--first--for her. For
Laure!"



CHAPTER XXV

FACE TO FACE


It was during the day preceding the night on which those unhappy,
forlorn women were conducted down to the north gates of the
pest-ridden city that Walter Clarges himself entered Marseilles.

He had passed those women on the previous night, unseen in the
darkness and himself unseeing, while they, worn out and inert, lay in
some barns and outhouses belonging to a farm some miles off the city.
He had ridden by within two hundred yards of where the woman he loved
so much was enfolded in the arms of Marion Lascelles, half dead with
fatigue and misery. He had ridden by, not dreaming how near they were
to each other!

On the morning following he had also passed, not knowing whom it
contained, the travelling carriage of the man who had wrought so much
evil in his own and his wife's life; he had gone on fast and swiftly
towards Marseilles, impelled to even greater speed by the first news
of the horror which had fallen on the city, as well as by the hope
that he might be in time to rescue her from that horror and the danger
of an awful death. And, if not that--if happily, for so he must deem
it now, she, with the other female prisoners, should have been sent on
board the transports for New France and already departed--then he was
still full of the determination to follow her across the ocean, and
so, ultimately, effect her freedom.

Only an hour or two later, and after he and the villain Desparre had
passed the spot where the first news of the pest was heard by them, La
Châine went by too. Yet, by that time all around and within the inn
was desolate, while the place itself was abandoned and shut up, the
landlord and his family having closed the house and joined the other
refugees in their flight. The spot was too near to Marseilles to make
it safe to remain there; it was too much visited by the stricken
inhabitants as they fled to the open country to continue long
unattacked by the poisonous germs brought with them by those
inhabitants.

Walter entered the city, therefore, on the midday preceding the
arrival of those unhappy, forlorn women; he entered it at last after
having made what was, perhaps, one of the fastest journeys ever yet
effected from Paris to the great city in the South, so often spoken of
in happier days, by those who dwelt therein, as the Queen of the
Mediterranean.

How he had done it, how compassed all those leagues, he hardly knew.
Indeed, he could scarcely have given a description of how that long
journey had been made, and seemed, in truth, to remember nothing
beyond the fact that it had been accomplished more by the lavish use
of money than aught else. He had (he could recall, as he looked back
to what appeared almost an indistinct dream) bought more than one
horse and ridden it to a standstill; and had, next, hired as swift a
travelling carriage as it was possible to obtain, so that, thereby, he
might snatch some hour or so of rest. Then he remembered that he had
also left that in its turn, had bought another horse--and--and
had--nay, he could scarcely recollect what it was he had done next,
how progressed, where slept, and how taken food and nourishment. Yet,
what mattered? He had done it. He was here at last. That was enough.
But now that he was in the great seething plague spot, now that he was
here and riding his horse down Le Cours amidst heaps of decaying dead,
both human and canine (with, also, some crows poisoned and lying dead
from pecking at those who were stricken), all of whom tainted the air
and spread fresh poison and disease around, how was he to find her?
And if he found her, in _what_ condition would it be? Would she be
there, and his eyes glanced stealthily, nervously towards those
heaps--or--or--would he never find her at all! Some--he had been told
at the gate, where they handed him the repulsive cloth steeped in
vinegar which he was bidden to wrap round his neck--were destroyed by
quicklime as they died; while there was an awful whisper going about
that the thousands of dead now lying in the streets were to be burnt
in one vast holocaust, and that, likewise, the houses in which more
than a certain number had died were to be closed up for a long
space of time with what was termed "walled up doors and windows."
Suppose--suppose, therefore, she had died, or should die, in any of
these circumstances, and he should never find her--never hear of her
again! Never, although he had reached the very place in which she was!
Suppose he should never know what had been her actual fate!

"I must find her," he muttered; "I must find her!" And he prayed God
that he might do so ere long; that he might discover her alive and
well, so that he could rescue her from this loathsome place and take
her away with him to safety and health. He could make her so happy now
that he was rich. He must find her!

At the gate where he had been given the disinfectants, the man in
charge stared at him as one stares at a madman or some foolhardy
creature who insists on doing the very thing which all people
possessed of sanity are intent upon not doing at any cost. He stared
at the well-dressed stranger, who, flinging himself off his horse, had
battered at the gate to be let in--much the same as, on the other side
of it, people battered against it in their desire to be let out.

"Admit you!" exclaimed the galley slave who now filled the post of the
dead and gone gate-keepers (with, for reward, a prospect of freedom
before him when the pest should be finally over, if he should be alive
by that time). "Admit you! Name of Heaven one does not often hear that
request! Are you sick of life? It must be so!"

"Nay; instead, I seek to preserve life, even though I lose my own in
doing so. To preserve the life of one I love." Then, observing the
man's strange appearance, his red cap and convict's garb, he asked:
"Are you the warder of the gate?"

"For want of better! When one has not a snipe they take a blackbird. I
am the substitute of the warders. They lie in the outhouse now. I may
lie there, too, ere long."

"Has--has any cordon of women--female convicts--emigrants--passed in
lately? From Paris? Speak, I beseech you," and he had again recourse
to that which had not failed him yet, a gift of money.

The man pocketed the double piece in an instant. Then he said: "I
cannot say. I was sent here but yesterday--the warders would have
known."

"Go and ask them."

"Ask them. _Ciel!_ they would return a strange answer. Man, they are
dead! Do you not understand?"

"Is everybody dead in this unhappy place?" Walter asked, despairingly.

"Not yet. But as like as not they will soon be. You see, _mon ami_, we
die gaily. Of us, of us others--gentlemen condemned for crimes we
never committed--forty were sent into the city from our galleys two
days ago. Four remain alive. I am one." Then, changing the subject, he
said: "Is the life you love that of a woman who comes--or has come--in
the cordon of which you speak?"

"God pity me! yes. She is my wife. Yet an innocent."

"Ha! An innocent. So! so! We are all innocent--all the convicts and
convict emigrants. Also, our woman-kind. Well! enter, go find her if
she is here. Then, away at once. Escape is easy, for the sufficient
reason there will be none to stop you."

"Why not, therefore, flee yourself?"

"Oh I as for that, we have our reasons. We may grow rich by remaining,
and we are paid eight livres a day to encourage us. There is much
hidden treasure. And our costume is a little pronounced. We should not
get far. Moreover," with a look of incredible cunning, "we shall get
our yellow paper, our 'passport,' if we do well and survive! We shall
be gentlemen at large once more. If we survive!"

Sickened by the sordid calculations of this criminal, Walter Clarges
turned away, then, addressing the man once more, he said:

"I will go seek through the city for my wife. If I find her not I will
return to you. You will tell me if the cordon I have spoken of
arrives. Will you not?" and again he had recourse to the usual mode of
obtaining favours.

"Ay! never fear. If they come in you shall know of it."

Whereon Walter Clarges took his way down Le Cours and traversed the
rows of dead and dying who lay all around him at his horse's feet,
seeing as he went along the same horrors that, in the coming midnight,
his wife and her companions in misery were also to gaze upon. The
daylight showed him more than the dark of twelve hours later was to
show to them, yet robbed, perhaps, the surroundings of some of those
tragic shadows and black suggestions which night ever brings, or, at
least, hints at.

It was almost incredible that the ravages of an all devouring plague,
accompanied in human minds by the most terrible fear that can haunt
them--the fear of a swift-approaching, loathsome death--could have so
transformed an always gay, and generally brilliant, city into such a
place as it had now become. Incredible, also, that those who still
lived while dreading a death that might creep stealthily on them at
any moment, could act towards those already dead with the callous
indifference which they actually exhibited.

He saw some convicts flinging bodies from windows, high up in the
houses, down into the streets, where they would lie till some steps
could be taken for gathering and removing them--and he shuddered while
seeing that now and again the wretches laughed, even though the very
work that they were about might be at the moment impregnating them
with the disease itself. He saw a pretty woman--a once pretty
woman--flung forth in a sheet; an old man hurled naked from a window;
while a little babe would sometimes excite their derision, if, in the
flight to earth, anything happened that might be considered sufficient
to arouse it. He saw, too, lost children shrieking for their
parents--long afterwards it came to his knowledge that, in this time
of trouble and disorder, some strange mistakes had been made with
these little creatures. He learnt that beggars' offspring had
undoubtedly become confused with the children of rich merchants who
had died from the pest, and that the reverse had also happened. In one
case, many years afterwards (the account of which reached England and
was much discussed) a merchant's child had been mistaken for that of
an outcast woman, and had eventually earned its living as a domestic
servant working for the very pauper child who had, by another mistake,
been put in possession of the wealth the other should have inherited.

Still, he went on; nerved, steeled to endure such sights; determined
that neither regiments of dead, nor battalions of dying, nor scores of
frightened, trembling inhabitants fleeing to what they hoped might be
safety in some distant, untouched village, should prevent him from
seeking for the woman he had loved madly since first his eyes rested
on her. The woman he had won for his wife only to lose a few hours
later!

Through terrible spectacles he went, scanning every female form and
face, looking for women who might be clad in the coarse sacking of the
convict _emigrée_; peering at dying women and at dead. And he knew, he
could not fail to recognise, how awful a grip this pest had got on the
city, not only by the forms he saw lying about, but by the action of
the living. Monks and priests were passing to and fro, one holding a
can of broth, another administering the liquid to the stricken; yet
all, he observed, pressing hard to their own nostrils the
aromatically-steeped cloths with which they endeavoured to preserve
their own lives. He saw, too, an old and reverend bishop passing
across a market place, attended by some of his priests, who gave
benedictions to all around him and wept even as he did so. A bishop,
who, calm with that holy calm which he was surely fitted to be the
possessor of, disdained to do more than wear around his neck the
bandage which might preserve him from contagion. He pressed nothing to
his lips, but, instead, used those lips to utter prayers and to bestow
blessings all around him. This was, although Walter knew it not, the
saintly Belsunce de Castelmoron, the Reverend Bishop of Marseilles, of
whom Pope afterwards wrote:


      "Why drew Marseilles' good bishop purer breath,
       When nature sickened, and each gate was Death?"


Of convicts, galley slaves, there were many everywhere, since, as soon
as one batch sent from the vessels lying at the Quai de Riveneuve was
decimated, or more than decimated, another was turned into the city to
assist in removing the dead, and, where possible, burying them within
the city ramparts and port-walls, which had been discovered to be not
entirely solid but to possess large vacant spaces within them that
might serve as catacombs. And, also, they were removing many to the
churches, the vaults of which were opened, and, when stuffed full of
the dead, were filled with quicklime and closed up again, it
remaining doubtful, however, if the churches themselves could be used
for worship for many years to come.

In that dreadful ride he saw and heard such things that he wondered he
did not, himself, fall dead off his horse from horror. He saw men and
their wives afraid to approach each other for fear of contracting
contagion; he observed many people running about the streets who had
gone mad from fright; once, in the midst of all these shocking
surroundings, he perceived a wedding party--the bride and bridegroom
laughing and shrieking, while the man, who was either overcome with
drink or frenzy, called out boisterously, "Thy uncle can thwart us no
more, Julie. The pest has done us this service at least."

Next, he passed through a street at which a little trading was taking
place, some provisions being sold there. Yet he noticed what
precautions prevailed over even such transactions as these. He saw a
great cauldron of boiling water with a fire burning fiercely beneath
it, and into this cauldron was plunged every coin that changed hands,
pincers being used for the purpose. It was feared that even the pieces
of metal might convey the disease! And he observed that those who
brought fish to sell were driven away with shouts and execrations, and
made to retire with their bundles. It was rumoured, he heard one man
say, that all the fish near land were poisoned and infected by the
bodies that had been cast into the sea.

The night drew near as still he paced the city streets and open
places, and he knew that both he and his horse must rest
somewhere--either out in the open or in some deserted house or stable.
Food, too, must be obtained for both. Only--where?

Then he determined he would make his way back to the gate and discover
if, by any chance, the chain-gang of women had yet arrived. If it had
not, it must, he felt sure, be very near, or--perhaps--already lying
outside the city. To-morrow at daybreak he would begin his search
again.

Remembering the way he had come, guided by terrible signs, by shocking
sights which he recollected having passed on his way to the spot he
was now returning from; guided, also, by the glow left by the sun as
it began to sink, he went on his road back towards the gate, observing
the names of the streets at the corners as he did so. One, which now
he was passing through, and which he noticed was called _La Rue des
Carmes Déchaussés_, seemed to have, for some reason, been more
deserted by its inhabitants than several others he had traversed.
Perhaps, he thought, because the fever had developed itself more
pronouncedly here than elsewhere; perhaps because the inhabitants were
wealthy enough to take themselves off at the first sign of the
approach of the pestilence. That might be so. Now, the doors and, in
many cases, the windows stood open; he could see through these
windows--even in the fast falling dusk--that the rooms were
sumptuously furnished, yet how desolate and neglected all seemed! How
fearful must have been the terror of their owners when they could flee
while leaving behind them all their treasures and belongings, leaving
even their doors open behind them to the midnight prowlers or thieves
who must surely be about after dark. Or, had those prowlers and
thieves themselves burst open those doors, while neglecting to shut
them again after they had glutted themselves with the treasures
within?

Musing thus he halted, regarding one particularly open house--it was
number 77--then started to see he was not alone in the street.

Coming slowly up it was a man who walked as though with difficulty; a
man who, seeing a solitary woman's body lying on the footpath, crossed
over to her, turned over the body, and regarded the face. Then he
seemed to shake his head and walk on again towards where Walter
Clarges sat his horse observing him. And, far down the street, he saw
also another figure, indistinct as to features, distinct as to dress.
A man arrayed in the garb of a convict; a man who, as he crept along,
gave to the watcher the idea that he was tracking him who was ahead.

Ahead and near Clarges now, so near that he could see his features.
And, as he saw and recognised them, he gave a gasp, while exclaiming
hastily, "My God!"

For the first man of the two, the one who now drew close to him, was
Desparre!



CHAPTER XXVI

"REVENGE-BITTER! ERE LONG BACK ON ITSELF RECOILS!"


The night was close at hand as those two men came together, they being
brought so by the slow, heavy approach of Desparre towards where the
other sat his horse watching him. The dark had almost come. But,
still, there was a sufficiency of dusky light left beneath the stars
which began to twinkle above in the deep, sapphire sky for the
features of each to be recognised by the other.

"Yet," Clarges asked himself, as he dismounted and left his tired
horse standing unheld in the deserted street, "did Desparre recognise
his features?" He could hardly decide.

The man had stopped in that halting, dragging walk up the long,
deserted street which rose slightly on a hill; he had stopped and was
looking--yes, looking--staring--at him, yet saying nothing either with
his lips or by the expression of those glassy eyes. He was standing
still before him, mute and rigid.

And Clarges noted, all unimportant as it was, that far down the
street, a hundred yards away, the galley slave who was the only other
living creature about besides themselves, had halted too--had halted
and was looking up towards them as though wondering curiously what
these men might have to do with one another.

"Desparre!" exclaimed Walter Clarges now, abandoning all title, all
form of ceremony. "Desparre, how it is that you have been delivered
into my hands here to-night in this loathsome, plague-stricken spot, I
know not. Yet I know one thing. We have met. Met for me to kill you,
or for you to kill me!"

To his astonishment, to his utter amazement, the other was
silent--silent as if stricken dumb, as if turned to stone. But still
the glassy eyes regarded him and seemed to glisten in the light that
was almost darkness now.

Clarges paused a moment while observing that figure before him and
wondering if this might be some devilish ruse, some scheme concocted
in Desparre's mind for either saving himself or perpetrating some act
of treachery. The villain might, he thought, have a pistol in his
breast or pocket which he would suddenly draw forth and discharge full
at him. Then, seeing that the other still remained mute and
motionless, he said:

"No silence on your part can save you. Be dumb if you will, but act.
Draw your sword at once or stand there to be slain, to be righteously
executed. I have to avenge to-night the wrongs of myself and of my
wife--your daughter. Ha! you know that!"

As he mentioned "my wife--your daughter," he saw that he had moved the
man. His face became contorted with a horrible spasm; one part of it
seemed to be drawn down suddenly, the mouth, by the process, assuming
a hideous, one-sided grin.

Desparre was now awful to gaze upon.

Unsheathing his own sword, Clarges advanced towards him, uttering only
one word, the word "Draw." Then he stood before the other, waiting,
watching what he would do, while determined that, if he did not draw
as he bade him, he would thrust his weapon through his craven breast
and so put an end to his vile life.

At first Desparre did nothing, but stood stock and motionless before
him with always that drawn-down look upon one side of his face, though
now his lower jaw seemed, as seen through the dusk, to be working
horribly, and his teeth, one or two of which were discoloured, showing
like fangs.

Then he put his hand to his sword--it appeared as though that hand
would never reach the hilt, as though it were numbed or dead--and with
what looked like extreme effort, drew forth the blade. Yet only to let
it drop listlessly by his side directly afterwards, the point clicking
metallically against the cobble stones of the street as he did so.

Was the coward struck lifeless with fear? Almost, it seemed so. Yet
but a moment later, Clarges knew that it was something worse than fear
that possessed him. For now the sword he had held so languidly fell
altogether from his hand and clattered upon the stones as it did so,
while Desparre stood shaking before the man who was about to slay him,
his arms quivering helplessly, his face appalling in its distortions,
his body swaying. Then he, too, fell heavily, and lay, as it seemed,
lifeless before the other, his arms stretched out wide.

And Clarges, bending over him, regarding him as though he still
doubted whether this were a ruse or not, yet knowing, feeling certain,
that it was not so--did not perceive that the skulking form of the
galley-slave had drawn nearer to them--that the man was now crouching
in a stooping posture on the other side of the street regarding him
and Desparre, while his starting, eager eyes observed all that was
happening.

"Has he died of fright?" Clarges whispered to himself, while he bent
over the prostrate man. "Died of fright or by God's visitation? Or is
he dead? Anyway, he has escaped me for the present. So be it. We shall
meet again, unless this scourge which is over all the place takes him
or me, or both of us, before we can do so."

Whereupon, he left Desparre lying there. He could not stab him now,
helpless as he was and dead or dying? Yet, as he remounted his tired
steed which had stood tranquilly in the road where he had left it, he
remembered that, during the many weeks he had lain in the Paris
Hospital, and while the wounds administered at that craven's
instigation were healing, he had seen men brought into it who had
fallen almost lifeless in the street from paralysis and apoplexy. From
paralysis! Yes, that must be what had now stricken this man; he felt
sure it must. He remembered that there was one so brought in who had
dropped in the street suddenly--the doctors said from a great shock he
had received--whose face had been drawn down as Desparre's was, whose
jaws had twitched, even in his insensibility, in much the same way.

Yes, he reflected, it was that, it must be that which had stricken
this man thus at the moment when he had meant to slay him. One death
had saved him from another, since now he must surely be near his end.
If he did not perish of the stroke, the fever would doubtless lay hold
upon him. His account was made. And musing thus, thanking God, too,
that he had been spared from taking the life of even so great a
villain as Desparre, and from having for ever the burden of the man's
execution upon his head, he slowly rode off from the street of the
Barefooted Carmelites, to learn, if possible, whether the cordon of
women from Paris had yet arrived. But scarcely had his horse's hoofs
ceased to echo down that mournful, deserted place in which now lay two
bodies stretched upon their backs--the one, that of the poor dead
woman at the lower end of it, the other, that of the wealthy and
highly descended Armand, Duc Desparre--than forth from the porch
across the street there stole the form of the skulking convict,--the
convict who had been tracking Desparre from long before he entered the
street, the galley-slave who had stood, or crouched aside, to see what
should be the result of the meeting with the man who had dismounted
from his horse to parley with him.

With almost the sinuous crawl of the panther, this convict--old, and
with his close cropped hair flecked with grey--stole across the wide
street to where the form of Desparre lay; then, reaching that form, he
went down on one knee beside it, and, in the dark, felt all over it,
lifting up his own hands now and again and peering at them in the
night as though to see if they glistened with anything they might have
come against, while feeling also one palm with the fingers of the
other hand to discover if it was wet. Yet such was not the case.

"Almost I could have sworn," the _galérien_ muttered, "that I heard
his sword fall from him. That he was disarmed and therefore run
through a moment later. Yet he is not wounded; there is no blood. What
does it mean? That man was Walter Clarges--alive! Alive Alive! He whom
I have deemed dead for months. Her husband--and alive! He must have
slain him. He must. He must. He would be more than human, more than
man, to spare him after all that he and she have suffered. He must
have run that black treacherous heart through and through. Yet, there
is no wound that I can find; no blood!"

Again and again--feeling the body all over, feeling, too, that the
heart was beating beneath his hand and that there was no sign of cold
or stiffness coming into that form as it lay motionless there--he was
forced at last to the conclusion that, for some strange reason,
Clarges had spared his bitterest foe.

"Spared him," he hissed. "Spared him. Why, why, why!" and he rose to
his feet cursing Clarges for his weakness or folly. Cursing him even
as he looked down and meditated on throttling the man lying there
before him.

"He may spare him," he said. "I will not. My wrongs are as great, as
bitter as theirs. I will have his life. Here--to-night."

He had touched with his foot, some moments before, the sword which
Desparre had let fall from his nerveless hand, and the clatter of
which had led him to imagine that the duke had been disarmed. Now, he
picked up the weapon, tried it once against the stones, then bent over
the miserable man with his arm shortened so as to drive the blade a
moment later through throat and breast.

"Hellhound!" he muttered, "your hour is truly come. Devil! go to your
master. You swore she should go unharmed if I would but assist you in
your vengeance on him; that--that knowing I loved her--God, how I had
learnt to love her! in spite of my trying to force her to marry such
as you so that she might be great and powerful--she should be given
back to me. Whereby we could yet have lived happy, prosperous,
unmolested, together. Together! Together! And you sent her to exile
and death, and me--your tool--to the galleys. Die!"

And now, he drew back his arm so as to drive the blade home. Yet, even
as he did so, even before he thrust it through neck and chest, he
whispered savagely. "It is too good a death, it is too easy. He is
insensible from fear, he will die without pain. If there were any
other way--any method----"

He paused with his eyes roaming round the street from side to
side--then started. A moment afterwards he went up the steps of the
house with the sword still in his hand, and peered at the numbers
painted in great white figures on the door. In the dark of the summer
night, in the faint light given by the blazing southern stars, he
could decipher them.

"Seventy-seven," he muttered, "seventy-seven." Then paused again as
though thinking deeply, his empty hand fingering his grisly, unshaven
chin. "Seventy-seven. Ay! I do remember. This house was one of them.
One of the first. One of the worst. 'Twill serve."

He leant the sword against the side of the porch, muttering: "He would
not stab you to the heart--so--neither will I," then went slowly down
the steps again, and back to where Desparre lay unmoved. After which
he took both of the other's hands in his, drew them above the
shoulder, and stretched the arms out to their full length, and thus
hoisted the burden on his own gaunt shoulders--while bending--almost
staggering at first--under the weight. Yet he kept his feet; at last
he was able to straighten his back, and to stagger up the steps into
the house. Here, when once in it, he let the body down to the floor of
the passage and stood gasping and breathing heavily for some moments,
what time he muttered to himself:

"This will not do. Not here on the first floor. It is too near the
street. He must go higher. Higher yet. Otherwise he may be found--and
saved!"

Whereupon, having regained his breath, he lifted Desparre on to his
shoulders again and slowly mounted to the first floor of the house.
Then he rested there, and afterwards went on to the second. Here, as
was ever the case in the houses of the well-to-do in the city, the
sleeping apartments began; the principal bedroom of the master of the
house being in this instance on the front, or street side, while that
reserved for guests was on the back, and looked over a small plot of
ground, or garden. The moon, now peeping up, showed that both rooms
were in a state of great confusion--rooms to which, by this time, the
man had crept laboriously with his heavy, horrid burden on his back.
The bed, he could see, as still the rays stole in more fully to the
front apartment, was in disorder, the upper sheet and coverlet being
flung back as though some one had leapt hastily from them; the doors
of wardrobes and cupboards stood open; so, too, did the lid of a huge
strong-box bound and clasped with iron bands. Easy enough was it for
Vandecque to see that, from this room a hurried flight had been made,
and with only sufficient time allowed before the departure for the
more precious and smaller objects of value to be hastily gathered up.
For, upon the floor there lay--as he felt as well as saw, since his
feet struck against them--the larger articles of importance, the
silverware, the coffee pots and tea-pots, the salvers, and other
things. It had been a hurried flight!

"If," said Vandecque to himself, even as his eye glanced round on all
these things which he would once have deemed a rich booty had they
fallen into his hands, but which now he scorned, since, if he could
but gain his freedom by his conduct here and return to Paris a
liberated man, he would want for nothing, having at last grown rich
through the gambling house; "if I leave him in this house and he
recovers consciousness--strength--he may be able to attract attention;
to call for assistance from the window. He shall have no chance of
that. Come, murderer, come," and again he lifted the insensible man
upon his shoulders and bore him into the back, or spare, room.

This was not in a disordered condition. There would be no guests in
Marseilles at this time; no visitors from a healthy place to such an
unhealthy, stricken one as this. The bed was made and arranged, and on
to it Vandecque flung the body of his victim. His victim! Yes, yet how
long was it since he himself had been the victim? And, even as he
thought of how he had suffered at this man's hand, any compunctions he
might have had during the last hour--and, hardened as he was, he had
had them!--vanished for ever.

"Arrested by your orders," he muttered, glancing down upon Desparre as
he lay senseless on the bed; glaring down, indeed, though only able to
see the dim outline of his enemy's form, since, as yet, the moonbeams
had scarcely penetrated to this room. "By your orders, though not
knowing, never dreaming that it was so; not dreaming that my betrayal
came from you. Then the prison of La Tournelle--oh, God! for the third
time in my life--the condemnation to the galleys, this time in
perpetuity. I--I who had grown well-to-do, who had no need to be a
criminal again, who might have finished my life in ease. And
Laure--Laure--poor Laure!--whom I had hoped to see a Duchess, and
great--happy--or, at least, not unhappy! Cut-throat!" he almost
shrieked at the senseless man; "when I learnt, as we gaol birds do
learn from one another, all that you had done, I swore to escape from
these galleys somehow, to make my way back to Paris, to slay you. Yet,
it is better thus; far better. Lie there and die."

Then he went forth from the room, finding the key in the door and
turning it upon Desparre.

But, as he descended the stairs and returned to the street, taking no
precaution to deaden his footfall in the empty corridors, since he
knew well enough that there were none to hear them, he muttered to
himself, "Clarges spoke of her to him as 'his wife.' Also he said
'Your daughter.' Mon Dieu! was she that? Was she that? And if so, how
should the Englishman know it, how have found out what I spent years
in fruitlessly trying to discover?"

Musing thus, he caught up the sword which still stood in the porch,
flung it down a drain, and went slowly through the deserted streets
towards the Quai de Riveneuve where the galleys were, and to which the
convicts returned nightly to sleep--if they had not succumbed during
the day to the pestilence.



CHAPTER XXVII

"I LOVE HER!-SHE IS MY WIFE"


Down the Rue de la Bourse, wherein the women of la Châine had passed
the latter part of the night, the rays of the sun began to stream
horizontally as it rose far away over the Mediterranean and lit up the
side of the street in which stood the house where the weary creatures
lay.

A month before this period daybreak would have dawned upon a vastly
different scene from the one of lifeless desolation to which it now
brought light and warmth. The great warehouses at the back of the
merchants' residences--in which position most of those buildings in
Marseilles were situated--would have already begun to teem with human
life; with bands of sailors coming up from the harbour, either
bringing, or with the intention of carrying away, bales of goods and
merchandise; workmen, mechanics, clerks, and _employés_ of every kind
would have been passing up the street to their early work. Now, the
Rue de la Bourse, like scores of other streets in the City, was
absolutely deserted or only tenanted at various spots by the
dead--human and animal!--who lay about where they had fallen--on
doorsteps, in porches and stoops, sometimes even in the very middle
of the road.

On such a scene as this Marion gazed as she looked forth from
the room she and Laure had slept in; her mind full of sorrow and
perplexity--not for herself nor on her own account, but on that
of the other unhappy one over whom she watched. For herself she cared
not--she knew that her past, and the consequences resulting from the
actions of that past, had shut the door for ever against any sweetness
of existence for her in the future, nor was she much concerned as to
whether the pestilence slew her or not. Only--she had sworn to stand
by Laure until the end; therefore she knew that now, at this present
time and for some weeks or months at least, she must live, she must
take care of her own health if she would do what she had vowed to
perform. Afterwards, if she should see Laure spared by the hideous
scourge which now ravaged the place they had arrived at, spared to be
in some manner restored to the husband she had come at last to
love--then it mattered little what became of her. But she must live to
see that!

Marion went over to the girl now and once more gazed at her, observing
that she was sleeping calmly and easily; then she returned to the
window and continued her glances up and down the street. She was
watching for those who, as the convict had said, would come for them
soon after daybreak to lead them away to where their services would be
needed as nurses and helpers, and she wished to be on the alert to
prevent them from troubling Laure. She meant at once to tell them--her
teeming brain never being at a loss for an expedient!--that the girl
was ill or, at least, too weak to take any part in the proceedings for
which they might all be required on that day, and to beg her off. She
determined also that, whether the request was granted cheerfully or
not, Laure should rest for the next twenty-four hours. Her confidence
in her own powers and strength failed her no more now than they had
ever failed her in the most violent crises of her life--she was
resolved that what she desired should be accomplished.

Presently she saw them coming--or, rather, saw coming up the street a
band of men and women who, she could not doubt, were a party of nurses
and "crows," as the males were termed who attended to the work of
removing the dead and, if possible, to the disposing of them
elsewhere, namely, in the vaults of churches, the hollow walls of the
ramparts, and, in some cases, in old boats and decayed vessels which
were taken out to sea and there sunk. Whereon she went swiftly down
the stairs to the door to meet them.

Among this body of persons which now drew near she saw her
acquaintance of last night, the convict, who at once greeted her in
his strong Breton accent, he being, as he had told her at their first
meeting, a native of that province.

"Bon jour, Madame," he now cried with an attempt at
cheerfulness,--poor wretch! he had made some sort of compact with
himself that nothing should depress him, nor any horrors by which he
was surrounded frighten him, while forcing himself to regard his
impending liberty as a certainty which no pestilence must be allowed
to deprive him of. "Bon jour, Madame. And how is the young one?"

"She is not well," Marion answered, while glad, in a way, that she so
soon had an opportunity given her of declaring that Laure could not go
nursing that day; "also, she must rest." Then she regarded the members
of the group accompanying the man, while observing who and what they
were.

Two were monks; good, holy men, who, working cheerfully under the
orders of the bishop (as dozens of their brethren were doing in other
parts of Marseilles) were now acting as doctors, since--horrible to
relate--there was not one physician or surgeon now left either alive
or unstricken. In the beginning of the pestilence, the doctors of
Marseilles had scoffed at the disease being the plague; they had
called it nothing but a trifling malady, and, unhappily both for them
and all in the city, they had suffered for their obstinacy or, rather,
incredulity. They had been amongst the very first to break down under
the attacks of the loathsome fever which they had refused to
recognise. Consequently, the work which they should still have been
able to do had to be done by amateurs--such as these monks--or the
surgeons of the galleys, or any stranger in the city who understood
medicine and its uses, and was willing to risk his life in
administering it.

Of the others who formed the group some were "crows," as has been
said, while there were five women, three of them being under sentence
for life at the travaux forcés, yet now with a fair prospect of
freedom before them should they perform faithfully all that was
demanded of them at this awful crisis, and--also--preserve their
lives! Of the other two, one was an elderly lady whose whole existence
had been devoted to good works, she even having voyaged as far as Siam
with the missionaries sent out there; the second was a young and
beautiful woman of high position among the merchant families of the
place, who had broken her father's heart by her loose conduct and was
now endeavouring to soothe her own remorse by self-sacrifice.

There was also a Sheriff--not the same as he who had accosted La
Châine overnight--but another one, older than the former, and seeming
also much grief-stricken.

"If," said this man, addressing Marion, "the young woman of whom you
speak is indeed ill, let her rest; later, she may be able to be of
assistance. God forbid we should do aught to add to the sickness here.
She is not attacked with the pestilence?" he asked.

"Nay," said Marion. "Nay. But she is young and delicate. She is a
lady. Think, monsieur, of what she must have gone through in the past
few months. We others are mostly rough creatures, especially those who
have survived, since the loose women, the dissolute ones who set out
with us have--well--been left behind. But--but----"

"What was her crime? That of your friend? For what was she condemned?"

"She was an innocent woman!" cried Marion; and as she spoke her
lustrous eyes blazed into the man's before her. "God crush for ever
the scoundrel who bore false witness against her."

"There are other women in the house," the Sheriff said, almost
unheeding Marion's tempestuous outburst. "They at least can work, can
they not?"

"Oh! as for that," Marion answered, "I imagine so. I will go in and
see. Yes," she exclaimed, glancing up at a window in the house above
the room in which she and Laure had slept, she being now in the street
and amidst the group, "it would seem so. Behold, they look forth."

It was true that they did so, since, when all eyes were directed
upwards, the unkempt heads of the other surviving members of the
gang--heads covered in some cases with black hair, in some with
yellow, and, in one, with grey--were seen peering down into the
street.

"_Hola!_" cried Marion, "come down all of you. Come down and assist
at the good work. You have slept well, have you not?"

"Ay, we have slept. But now we are hungry. We want food. We cannot
work on empty stomachs; if we do the pest will seize on us."

"Descend," cried the Sheriff, "we bring food with us. For to-day," he
muttered to himself, turning aside his head. "To-morrow there may be
none. Already the country people will not enter the city nor take what
they deem to be our poisoned money. God help all!"

As he so muttered to himself he made a sign to one of the men who
carried a great copper pot, and to one of the condemned women who bore
in her hands a tin box, and bade them prepare some food, the man
lighting at his bidding a little brazier at the bottom of the big pot.
At the same time the female produced from her box some hard ship's
biscuits, and began, with a stone she picked up, to break them into
pieces.

By this time the other women had come down into the street, and,
inhaling the odour of the soup which was warming in the utensil,
betrayed intense desire to be at once supplied with some nourishment.

"A half cup to each," said the Sheriff, "and some biscuits. Later, you
shall have more. A warehouse is to be broken open at midday; it is
that of a merchant who supplies vessels with necessaries for long
voyages. God grant that we shall find enough for many days. Otherwise,
starvation will soon be added to our other miseries. Already seventy
such warehouses have been ransacked."

Obtaining a portion of soup and another of biscuit, Marion went back
to the house to Laure, though not before she had filled up the other
cup with her own share of soup, reserving only a scrap of the food for
herself; and, when there, she found the girl sitting up upon the couch
listening to the voices of those in the street.

"Have they come for us?" Laure asked wearily. "Must we now begin to
work? Well, so be it! I am ready."

"Nay, dearest," exclaimed the other. "You need not go forth to-day. I
have begged you off, because you are so worn and delicate. And see,
sweet, they are serving out food. Here is some good broth and biscuit.
Take it; it will nourish you."

"But it is not right," Laure exclaimed, "that I should stay behind.
They--you, too, Marion, my guide and comforter--are all as weary as I.
I will go also."

"No; no. Rest here till we come back. Then, to-morrow, if you are
stronger, you shall assist. Nay, you must do so if you can; thereby
the better to entitle you to your freedom. Oh! Laure, we must work for
that freedom. Then--at last--we can go away and live together, and I
can earn subsistence for both. Until we find your husband."

"You are in truth an angel, Marion," the girl exclaimed, flinging her
arms around the other's dark swarthy neck. "Oh! how--how could one as
good as you have ever come within the law's clutches. How----"

"Hush! Hush! I have been an awful sinner; I have deserved my fate, I
have been swayed and mastered by one passion after another--by love,
jealousy, hate, revenge. God forgive me! We southern women are all
like that! Yet--if I should live----"

"If you live! You shall, you must live! Oh! Marion, my guide, my
sister----"

"Ah, your sister! Yes! Say that again. Yet," she cried, springing to
her feet, "not now! Now we have to earn the freedom we long so for. I
must go; I must do my best and work for both of us. Ah, God! how good
it is, how peaceful, to be doing something at last, no matter if
danger lurks in it, that is not evil. Let me go, sweet. I shall come
back to you at night; therefore sleep well all day. And, see, I will
lock you in the house so that no harm may come anigh you. You will not
fear?"

"Never; knowing you are coming back to me."

Then they tore themselves apart, Marion taking every opportunity of
leaving Laure as comfortable as was possible, which opportunity was
not lacking since the room was, as has been said, furnished
luxuriously, and nothing was wanting that might make the couch of the
wearied girl an easy one. And so, after more embraces between them,
Marion went forth once more, falling in with the rest of the women and
following the Sheriff and the convict and the "crows," to do the work
they might be appointed to perform.

The bravest heart that ever beat--even her own, since there was none
braver!--might well be turned almost to stone by that which they had
to do; the sights they were forced to witness. And the daylight made
those sights even more terrible and more appalling than the night had
done, which, if it produced a weird and wizard air of solemnity that
spread itself around all the terrors of the pestilence, had; at least,
served also as a cloak to much. For now they saw the dead lying in
heaps upon each other--with, among them, the dying; they saw the awful
chalk-like faces turned up to the bright morning sun in the last
agonised glare of a hideous death, and the still whiter eye-balls
gleaming hideously. They saw, too--but description of these horrors
must cease. Suffice it that these women stood among a hecatomb of
victims such as other stricken cities had shown in earlier days, but
which none, not even London with its plague, had equalled for more
than a hundred years.

Gradually the women of the gang were distributed about in various
spots where it was thought they might be of service; to some fell the
task of holding cups of broth or of water to the lips of the dying; to
some the casting of disinfectants over the already dead; to others the
removal of newborn babes from the pestiferous atmosphere in which
their mothers lay. And Marion's task, because she was strong and
feared nothing, was to assist in the removal of the dead to the carts
that were to transport the bodies to the ramparts, in the hollows of
which many scores were to be interred in quicklime.

Engaged thus, she observed near her a gentleman--a man clad in black,
as one who wore mourning for a relative; a man young, handsome and
grave. One, too, whose face was white and careworn as though it had
become so through some poignant grief. He was talking to one of the
"crows" as her eyes fell on him, and--with an astonishment in her
mind which, she noticed, was not all an astonishment, but rather an
indistinct feeling that gradually merged itself into something that
she seemed to feel, did not partake altogether of the unexpected--she
observed that both men were regarding her. They were doing so, she
understood, by the glances cast at her by the "crow," and followed by
others from the stranger talking of her. Why, she asked herself, why?
Yet even as she did so, something within again apprised her, whispered
to her, that it was not strange they should be doing so. Then, with
the habit of years strong upon her, she cast one penetrating glance at
the new-comer from out of her dark eyes, and went on with the
loathsome work she was engaged upon.

Presently, however, she felt that the man clad in mourning had drawn
near to her--she knew it though she had looked round no more: a moment
later she heard him addressing her.

"You will pardon me," he whispered, "for what I have to say.
But--but--that unhappy creature with whom I have been conversing has
told me that--you--alas! that I must say it--have recently made a
journey from Paris. That you are----"

"A convicted woman," Marion replied swiftly, facing round on him, her
eyes ablaze; "a criminal! One of the women condemned to deportation to
the colonies. Well, he has spoken the truth. What then?"

"Forgive me. I speak not with a view to wound you, or to be offensive.
But, God help me, I seek one dear to me. An innocent woman condemned
to the same penance as you, and by one who is a double damned
scoundrel. She was of your chain. And--heaven pity us both, I love
her--she is my--wife."

"Your wife!" Marion repeated, standing before him, gazing full into
his eyes, holding still in her hand the white leprous-looking hand of
a dead woman whose body she had been helping to place in the cart.
"Your wife." And now her voice had sunk to as deep a murmur as it had
ever assumed, even in the softest moments of her bygone days of love
and passion. "Your wife. Amongst us?"

"It is so. Oh, speak; answer me. Is--is--yet almost I fear to ask.
Still--still I must do it. Is she still alive?"

"What?"--mastering herself, speaking firmly, though hoarsely--"What is
your name?"

"Walter Clarges. I am an Englishman."

"Laure's husband! Laure's husband!"

"You know her! You know--ah! does she live?"

"Yes. She lives."

"God! I thank thee!" the other murmured.



CHAPTER XXVIII

THE WALLED-UP DOORS


Marion Lascelles had hoped, had prayed that this moment would come at
last; that at some future day Laure's husband would stand face to face
with his wife again; that he would seek her out and find her even
though, to do so, he had to follow La Châine to the New World.

But now--now that what she had hoped for had come to pass, there
almost swept a revulsion of feeling over her. Standing before that
husband of the woman whom she had tended and nurtured, she smothered
within her bosom something that was akin to a groan. For his coming
brought, would bring, in an hour, in half-an-hour, in a few moments,
the joy unspeakable to Laure for which she had so much craved, while
to her--to Marion--the outcast, it brought also separation from the
only thing in all the wide world that she loved or could ever love
again. She had been racked by her love for men who had treated her
badly and on whom she had taken swift, unerring vengeance for their
infidelity; yet that was passed. Her heart had died, or, if not dead,
had steeled itself against all other love of a like nature (since the
condemned man whom she had married in the prison had been only
accepted as a husband because, in the distant land to which they had
been going together, such a union would be a matter of convenience and
profit, as well as, perhaps, safety). Yet into that heart had crept
another love, pure, unselfish, almost holy. Her love for Laure. And
now--now it would be worthless, valueless, of no esteem. At what price
would her fostering, her sister's love be valued when set off against
the love of husband?

Had she been a bad woman instead of an erring one only, a woman
resolved to attach to her for ever the one creature with whose
existence her own was, as she had vainly dreamed, inseparably bound
up; had she been the Marion Lascelles of ten, five, perhaps one year
ago, it may be--she feared it must have been--that she would have lied
to Walter Clarges standing there before her, his sad face irradiated
now, since she had not lied, with joy extreme. She would perhaps have
denied Laure's existence, have said that she had long since fallen
dead upon one of the roads along which she and the other women had
plodded weary and footsore; she would have done anything to have kept
the girl to herself. But not now. Not now. Not even though her heart
broke within her. Never! She loved Laure. Perish, therefore, all her
own feelings, her hopes of happy days to come and to be passed by the
other's side. She loved her; it was not by falsehood and treachery and
selfishness that that love must be testified.

"I cannot leave this work to which I am put," she said, speaking to
him as these thoughts continued to flow through her mind. "I have to
earn remission of the remainder of my sentence. Pardon for--for
myself. Yet, if you would see her now, she is to be found in the Rue
de la Bourse. The number is 3. Upon the first floor in the front room
you will find her."

She spoke calmly, almost hardly, Walter Clarges thought, and, thus
thinking, deemed her a cold-hearted, selfish woman, studying nought
but her own release and the swiftest method of obtaining it. Wherefore
he said:

"You know her. You must have marched in the same cordon with her."

"Yes, I know her."

"How can she have borne the terrors of the journey? How? How?"

"All had to bear it," Marion Lascelles answered, glancing up at him,
"or die."

"This house?" he asked, while almost shuddering at the cold,
indifferent tones in which the woman spoke, even while reflecting
that, since she had borne as much as Laure had done, it was not to be
expected that she should show any particular sympathy for a companion
in misfortune. "This house? Can admission be obtained to it? And why
is she there, when--when her companions in misery and unhappiness are
here?"

"This key," Marion said, drawing it from her pocket, "will admit you.
She is alone, sleeping. She is not as strong as some of us--us, the
outcasts, who are the rightful prey of the galleys and the scaffold.
Mercy has been shown her. She has been relieved from her work in these
streets to-day."

He took the key from her as she held it out to him, glancing at her
wonderingly as he did so, though understanding nothing of the cause
which produced her bitterness of tone--her self-contempt, as testified
by her speech. Then, thanking her, he repeated:

"No. 3, of the Rue de la Bourse. That is it?"

"That is it. You will find her there." After which she turned away and
slowly followed after the cart proceeding up the street with its
terrible burdens.

If Marion Lascelles had never before wrestled with all the strong
emotions which were born of her fiery nature day by day, and month by
month, she had done so this morning, was doing so now. And at last--at
last--she thanked God the better had overcome the worse--she had
conquered. None knew but herself, none should ever know, what hopes
she had formed in her bosom of happy days to come when she and the
delicate girl, whom she had supported all through the hideous journey
from Paris, and during their still more hideous entry into this
stricken city of death, should have escaped away to some spot where
they might at last be at peace. She had pictured to herself how she
would work and slave for Laure so that she should be at ease; how work
her fingers to the bone, bear any toil, so that--only that--she might
have the sweet companionship of the girl as recompense. And
now--now--the dream had vanished, the hope was past; they could never
be aught to each other. The husband was there, he had come to claim
his wife, as she herself had told Laure he would come; now he would be
all in all to her and she would be nothing. Yet she must not repine;
the prayers that she had forced herself to utter, almost without
knowing how to frame them, had been heard and answered. The God
against whom her life had been so long an outrage had granted her the
first request she had ever made to Him. Was it for her now to rebel
against the granting of it? Nay, nay, she answered to herself, never.
And, even in her misery and her awful sense of desolation, in her
appreciation of the solitude that must be hers for ever now, she found
a consolation. She had done that which she should do; she had sent the
husband straight to his wife's arms when she might so easily have
prevented him from even discovering that wife's existence. One lie,
one false hint, one word uttered to the effect that Laure had
succumbed upon the road and had been left behind for the communes to
bury her, and it would have been enough. She would have remained to
Marion; the husband could never have found her--he could never find
her. No, no! God be praised! she had been true and faithful; she had
not yielded to her own selfish hopes and desires.

"Take," said a soft and gentle voice in her ear at this moment; the
voice of the unhappy Sheriff who accompanied the carts that were
removing the dead, "take, good woman, more heed of yourself and your
own life. See, the cloth with the disinfectants has fallen from your
neck--it is lost. Beware of what you do. Otherwise you will be
stricken ere long yourself."

Turning, she glanced up at the speaker, then shrugged her shoulders
and went on with the loathsome task she was engaged upon--that of
bending over prostrate bodies to see if their owners were, indeed,
dead or not, and, if the latter, of assisting in their removal to the
carts. But that was all, she uttered no word in answer to the warning.

"You do not value your life?" the man continued, while thinking how
fine a woman this was; one so darkly handsome too, that, surely, she
must have some who loved her, criminal though she must undoubtedly be
since she had formed one of the chain-gang.

"No," she answered, looking up at him now. "I do not value it. Yet,
they say, 'tis to such as I am that death never comes."

"But, ere long, if you survive this visitation, you may--you shall--be
free. I will charge myself with your freedom."

"Free!" she answered, her eyes fixed on him with so sad a look that,
instinctively, he turned away. There was something in this woman's
life, he understood, which it was not for him to attempt to probe.

Left in peace by the Sheriff, Marion continued her work, following
close by the cart; yet bidding the man who led the horse to halt at
intervals wherever she found some poor body with distorted features
which told only too plainly that the last agony had been experienced;
halting herself sometimes to be of assistance to those who were still
alive. But always saying over and over again the words, "Free! Free!"

Free! Of what use was freedom now to her? What! Supposing she were
free to-night, to-morrow, what should she do with that freedom? Laure
wanted her no more, she would not miss her if she never went back to
the Rue de la Bourse; she had her husband now, the man whom, she
acknowledged, she had learned to love. Therefore, Marion resolved that
she would never go back. Never! Of that she was determined. She would
but be an incubus, be only in the way of their love. She would never
go back. Not even if the pestilence spared her, which, she hoped, it
might not do.

They had come by now to the street of the Barefooted Carmelites--a
street in which she perceived that there were no dead--or, only one, a
woman lying on one side of it. And here, strong as she was, she felt
that she must rest. Her limbs trembled beneath her--from fatigue and
want of sufficient nourishment, she thought, not daring to hope that
already the fever had stolen into her veins and that a better, surer
freedom than the one the Sheriff had suggested might be near at hand.
He, that Sheriff, had left them by now to attend to other duties in
the city, therefore there was at this time no living person with her
but the carman, who, with his ghastly burdens in his cart, walked
ahead of her.

"I must rest here," she said to him, "a little while. See, there is a
fountain in the street. We will drink," and she went towards the
fountain, which was represented by a statue of Cybele, from out of
whose bunch of keys the water gushed in half a dozen streams.

"Drink not," the carman exclaimed, warningly. "They say the source is
impregnated. All the water of Marseilles is poisonous now. Beware!"

"Bah! It must come from the bowels of the earth. There are no infected
bodies there. And," she muttered to herself, "even though there were I
still would drink." Whereon she drank, then sat down on the base of
the statue, which was large and spacious and would have furnished a
dozen persons with seats.

Presently, still sitting there--she saw come down the street a number
of men, some of them galley slaves, two of them officers. Then, when
all had advanced almost to where Marion sat observing them, one of the
latter drew from his pocket a list and began to read out several
names, while giving the convicts instructions as to what each had to
do. But what truly surprised Marion was that, behind all these men
there came some others leading the horses which drew two carts--carts
not filled with dead, but the one with mortar and the other with
bricks.

Gazing at these, and almost with interest for one whose mind was as
troubled as hers, she perceived that, of the galley slaves, one had
drawn away from the group, and, approaching the base of the fountain,
had sat down upon it near her and on the other side from that on which
the carman whom she had accompanied was sitting. An old criminal this;
a man of nearly sixty, grey and grizzled, and with a frosty bristling
on his unshaven chin and cheeks and upper lip. A man who sat with his
elbows on his knees and his face in his hands, staring in front of
him--at a house numbered 77.

"What do they do?" Marion asked of this staring man, while looking
round at him and noticing how worn and white he was, "and why are
these carts piled with bricks and mortar? What is it?"

"They brick up the houses that are infected; those in which the dead
lie. Those that are the worst."

"But--but--supposing there should be any living left in them. See,
they have commenced there, at 76, and without entering to make
inspection. That would be even more terrible than all else."

"The inspection has been made. The houses are marked already. Observe,
there is a chalk mark. Regard No. 76, at which the masons work."

"By whom has the inspection been made?"

"By me and another," the convict answered, turning his white and
ghastly face on her. "Three hours ago, this morning. At daybreak."

"All are not marked."

"No, all are not marked. Not--yet!" Ere she could, however, ask more,
one of the officers strode towards where they sat near together, and,
addressing the convict, who sprang respectfully to his feet, said:

"Have you thought, remembered yet, which is the house you had
forgotten. Idiot that you are! to have thus forgotten. Reflect again.
Recall the house. Otherwise we shall brick up one in which there are
no dead to be left to decay in it."

"I think--I think," the other answered--white and almost shivering, as
Marion, who was watching him curiously, observed, "it is that," and he
pointed to No. 77.

"You think! Yet are not positive? Go in again and see. Make sure this
time. Go."

Slowly the man obeyed him, walking over to the door of No. 77, and
then, after turning the handle, entering. And, while he was gone, the
masons went on with the bricking up of one or other of the houses
which bore the chalk-marked cross beneath their numbers.

Five minutes later the convict appeared again at the door and said,
loud enough for his voice to reach the officer's ears and also to
reach Marion's:

"This, Monsieur, is the house," while, as he spoke, his left hand went
to the pocket of his filthy galley's dress.

"You are sure?"

"I am--sure!"

"Mark it."

Therefore, in obedience to the order, the man drew forth a piece of
chalk from his pocket, and slowly marked the cross beneath the number
77. "Now," said the officer, seeing that the masons were ready to
begin upon that house, "fall in and lend assistance." Half-an-hour
later it was done, finished. Not for a year would that house be opened
again. By which time those who were in it--if any--would be skeletons.



CHAPTER XXIX

   Oh! let me be awake,
   Or let me sleep alway.


Left alone by Marion's departure, Laure endeavoured to sleep once more
and to obtain some return of the strength that she had lost in that
long, horrible march which she, in common with all the other women,
had been forced to make from Paris.

"If I could only sleep again," she murmured to herself, "sleep and
forget everything. Everything!"

Yet, because, perhaps, the early morning sun streamed so brightly
through the handsome curtains of the windows in spite of their having
been drawn carefully together by Marion ere she went forth, or because
the sparrows twittered so continuously from the eaves--the pestilence
brought neither death nor misery to them!--she could sleep no more.
Instead, she could only toss and turn upon the luxurious couch on
which she had lain all night, wondering, as she did so, if the
unhappy owner and his family who had fled affrighted from all their
wealth and sumptuous surroundings had now as soft a one whereon to
rest--wondering, too, what was to be the end of it all.

"As for him," she murmured, for her thoughts dwelt always, hour by
hour and day after day, upon the man who had sacrificed his
existence--his life for her, perhaps--if Desparre had spoken truly;
"as for him--oh, God!" she broke off, "if I could only see him once
again. Only once! To tell him how soon I had surrendered, how he had
conquered, even as he stood before me sad and unhappy on his own
hearth. To see him only once!"

Again she turned upon her pillows and cushions, again attempted to
sleep; but it was in vain. She was neither nervous nor alarmed at
being alone in the great, desolate house; since what had she, this
worn, emaciated outcast to fear!--therefore she thought that it must
be owing to her heavy slumber of the past night that she was now wide
awake. Or owing, perhaps, to her thoughts of him.

"If he were not slain," she pondered now while lying there, her eyes
open and staring at the richly painted and moulded ceiling of the vast
saloon, "he may be by this time in that land to which he was going.
And he will think, must think, that I fled from him the moment he had
left his house. Even though I should go on in the transports to the
same place wherein he is, and we might meet, he would cast me off,
discard me as one who is worthless."

Why had she not spoken on that night, she mused? Why? Why? Had she
said but one word, had she but held out some promise that, in time,
her love would grow, he would have stayed by her side, would never
have left the house. And, thus, there would have been no danger of his
being slain, if slain he was; nor could that crawling snake, Desparre,
have made his way to the house to which Walter had taken her, nor,
having done so, would he have been able to effect any harm.

"Slain! Slain!" she continued, musing, "slain! Yet some voice
whispers in my ears that it was not so, that Marion is right. That he
is alive. Still, even so, what can that profit me; how help me to put
aside my misery and despair? Alive! he would deem himself lawfully
free of me by my desertion, free to become another woman's lover--or
husband--free to whisper the words in her ears that he whispered once
in mine, to see his and her children grow up at his knee."

Excitedly she sprang from the couch and paced the floor, her thoughts
beyond endurance.

"No! no no!" she gasped again and again. A dozen times she cried out,
"No," in her despair. "Not that, not that! I loved you, Walter," she
murmured, "I loved you. If never before, then, at least, on the
morning when you risked everything in the world to obtain my freedom
from that fiend incarnate, when you led me through the garden, stood
at the altar by my side, made me your wife. Then, then, I loved you,
worshipped you. I cannot bear these thoughts, I cannot bear to deem
you another's. Oh, Walter! Walter!"

Soon, however, she became more calm; she recalled what she was now. An
outcast, a woman condemned to deportation; in truth, a convict, and
none the less so because, through one strange and awful circumstance,
it was almost certain that the exile to which she had been doomed
would never now be borne by her or her companion.

She became sufficiently calm now to speculate, while she paced the
floor of the vast room, as to what her and Marion's future would be if
spent together as both hoped; as to what poverty and struggles both
would have to contend with. Of how, too, they would grow older and
older together, until at last the parting came--that awful moment
when, of two who love each other dearly, one has to go while leaving
the other behind, stricken and prostrate.

But, suddenly, these meditations were broken in upon; to them
succeeded a more bodily fear, a terror of some tangible danger near at
hand.

She had heard a grating sound in the passage beneath, a sound that she
recognised at once in the hollow emptiness of the house to be that of
a large key turning in a lock; she heard next the hall door pushed
opened and a man's step below. What was it? Who could be coming?
Perhaps the _galérien_ of the night before who had escorted them to
this place, the man whose familiarities had been sternly repressed by
Marion. If so, what could he want? How could he have become possessed
of the key which Marion had at the last moment said should never quit
her possession until she returned in the evening? Yet, as she heard
the man's footfall below, while recognising as she did so that he was
entering each of the rooms on the lower floor one after the other, she
was able to calm her trepidation by reflecting that, whatever purpose
he might be there for, it could scarcely bode harm to her. What had
she--a beggar, clad in the rags of the galleys, with no remnants of
beauty, scarcely any of womanhood, left in her sunbaked, emaciated
face--to fear? What had she to tempt any man with, even if he were the
most ferocious and hardened of his sex. Then she heard the steps of
the intruder coming up the stairs. To this floor on which she was!
Well, she feared nothing; she would go forth and encounter him,
whosoever he might be, instead of locking herself in the saloon as a
moment ago she had thought of doing.

He might be bringing some message from Marion, some news she ought to
know. But, suddenly, her heart almost stopped beating. What if her one
friend in all the wide world, her one support and comfort, should be
stricken already! She must go forth on to the landing and learn what
the entry of this man into the house might portend. Reaching the head
of the stairs, looking down at him who was ascending, she knew that,
at least, this was no knavish galley-slave who mounted slowly towards
where she was; no thief, nor, did it seem likely, anyone who had been
sent with a message to her from Marion. More like, she thought, it was
the owner of this great, luxurious house. She could not see the man's
face as he ascended, since it was hidden by his three-cornered hat,
yet she observed that the rich mourning he wore--doubtless for some of
his family who had fallen victims to the pest--was, although smirched
and travel-stained, of the best. The black satin coat, the lace of his
cravat and ruffles, the costly sword, were those of one such as the
master of this house might be.

Then the man looked up, and their eyes met.

And, even as they did so, even as she clasped her breast with both her
hands, drawing back with a gasp, she knew, she understood, that her
husband had not recognised her! If, in her aching heart, there had
ever arisen any doubt of the ravages which her sufferings and
tribulation had caused to her beauty, that doubt was dispelled now; it
existed no longer. She was so changed that her own husband did not
know her!

But still he came on, step by step, up those stairs. On and up until
they stood face to face.

Then he knew her!

And, with a loud cry, he strode forward. A moment later his arms were
around her, her head was upon his breast.

"My wife! My wife!" he cried, "ah, my wife! Thank God, I have found
you."

*    *    *    *    *    *

Whatever havoc those sufferings and tribulations might have wrought
upon Laure no sign was given by her husband that he perceived them.
Instead, as hour after hour went by and still she lay in his arms
sobbing in her happiness, she learnt that to him she was as beautiful
as in the first hour he had cast his eyes upon her; that, always, even
though never more the fair rose and white should return to her
complexion, nor the mark left by the hateful carcan become effaced,
she would be to him the one woman in all the world. That he had
observed that devilish mark, and understood the story it told, she
perceived at once, as again and again he kissed the ring upon her neck
which the iron had stamped in, while murmuring words of love and deep
affection as he did so. But he heeded it no more than he did the
sunburn upon her face and throat and breast, the hollowness of her
eyes or the emaciation of her frame. All, all of her beauty would come
back amidst the pine-scented breezes and mountain air of the land to
which he would bear her, while she was surrounded, as she should be,
by everything that wealth and happiness could offer.

Wherefore she could only murmur again and again:

"What I feared most of all was that you deemed me heartless and
intriguing, that I had used you only as a means to my own end. Walter,
my love, my husband, I feared that I was banished from your heart. I
feared it even as I recognised that I had loved you from the first."

"That will be," he whispered back, "only when my heart has ceased to
beat."

So the day drew on and the sun had left the front of the house;
over the street, up which none came, and in which no footfall was
heard--over which, indeed, there reigned a silence as of death--the
shadows of the evening began to creep, ere they had told each other
all. Laure had narrated Desparre's visit to the Rue de la Dauphine,
far away in northern Paris, as well as everything that had befallen
her since she was cast into prison as a would-be murderess. Walter,
too, had told the tale of his misery when he returned to his
apartments, his discovery of what had been her fate, his instant
departure for this stricken city, and the encounter with Desparre.

"He here!" she had exclaimed, almost affrighted at the thought, in
spite of her husband's statement that, even though Desparre should not
be struck for death, he still was harmless for further injury, "what
could have brought him here? What!"

That Walter could not answer this question is certain; but that he
could divine how, in some way, Desparre must have learnt who and what
the woman was whom he had condemned to such fiendish punishment, he
felt assured. But he had vowed to himself that this fact should never
be made known to Laure; she must never learn that it was from her own
father's hand that the blow had fallen which consigned her to the
horrors of the past months. There was only one man who, if he were
still alive, could tell her now--since he was resolved that Desparre
should never again stand in her presence, nor be face to face with
her--only one, Vandecque. But it was not likely that Laure and he
would ever meet again. Had not the beggar, the miserable, shrinking
wretch whom he had saved from a beating in Paris, and who had informed
him of all, told him, too, that Desparre had made sure of Vandecque
and had silenced him for ever? No more was it likely that she and that
scoundrel would meet again than that she and Desparre would do so.

In the now swift-coming twilight of the summer evening they heard the
voices of women in the street below, and he, looking out inquiringly,
learned that they proceeded from her fellow-sufferers who were
returning to this house for the night. It was the time at which Marion
had told her that, according to what the man who had brought them to
this house had said, they would be released from their duties in the
streets.

Of Marion herself they had long since spoken when Walter came to that
part of his narrative wherein he narrated how he had found Laure out,
and had been able to reach her through this woman's assistance; while
his wife had described the other as one who had been her saviour and
guardian, one to whom she owed the fact that she was still alive.

And again they spoke of her, wondering how soon it would be ere she
returned.

"She is an angel of goodness," Laure said, "turbulent as her life has
been. Oh, Walter, Walter, I can never part from her. She must stay
with me always."

"Always," he answered; "always. If her life can be made happy, I will
make it so out of my deep gratitude for all that she has done for you.
If she will come with us her happiness shall be for ever assured."

"You will tell her so when she comes back to me? Now, at once, when
next she enters this room? You will not let her think, Walter--not for
one moment--that--that my new-found happiness shall bring misery in
its train for her?"

"At once I will tell her."

As he spoke, the women were coming up the stairs, heavily, dully,
gripping the balustrades as they did so; thanking God that, as yet,
not one of them seemed to be affected by the horrible contagion they
had been amongst. Thanking God, also, that there was another long
night of rest before them in which they could sleep soundly.

"Where?" asked Laure, leaving her husband alone in the vast saloon,
and going out on the landing as she heard the footsteps of the last
woman receding as she mounted to the floor on which the others had
slept the night before, "where is Marion? Has she not returned with
you all?"

"Nay, I know not," said one, who had also received much help from the
strong Southern woman whom they had come to regard as their leader. "I
know not. We have all been together, excepting her alone. Is she not
back?"

But as she asked the question and before Laure could answer it,
another woman who had mounted higher than the other looked over the
balustrade rail, and calling down, said:

"She is attending a convict who has been struck; who is, a monk said,
doomed. He fell in the Flower Market, writhing. One who was engaged in
walling up the doors of the infected houses. I saw her half-an-hour
ago."

Then descending a few steps of the stairs, so that now she stood but
little above where Laure was, she continued:

"The man wanders in his mind. He told Marion that your husband had
come here to seek for you in Marseilles; that he knew him; that he had
seen and recognised him."

"My husband has come here!--it is true--and has found me God be
praised," while, as she spoke, there was a look of such supreme
happiness in her eyes, on her whole face, that the other women could
not withdraw their gaze from her. "He has found me. Yet, how can this
stricken man, this galley slave, know him?"

"He says he does; and avers that it is so. He says, too, he must see
him ere he dies."

Then, because the woman was one who was more righteously sentenced to
deportation than most who had toiled in her company from Paris to
Marseilles, she having been a thief and a receiver of stolen goods for
many years in the Capital, she lowered her voice as she said:

"If he is here, best bid him go see the dying man. He may know of
hidden goods, of appropriated treasure securely put away, of wealth
easily to be acquired. Tell your husband, if he is in truth his
friend, if he has any such a friend----"

"My husband the friend of such as that!" Laure exclaimed. "God forbid!
He is an honest man! A gentleman!"

"All our husbands are!" the woman exclaimed with a grimace. "We can
all say that! Yet they cannot preserve us from such a fate as this!"
and she turned and recommenced the ascent of the stairs.

Relating this to Walter when she returned to the saloon, Laure
perceived that the information the woman had given her was surprising
to him.

"A dying convict!" he exclaimed, "who knows and recognises me!
Impossible. I know none. Yet," he continued, "it may be some man whom
I have met in the past. My own countrymen have found their way to the
galleys ere now. I will go."

"For God's sake beware of what you do," Laure whispered. "Put yourself
in no danger of this infection. Oh! Walter, if--if I lost you now that
you have come back to me, my heart would break."



CHAPTER XXX

"IF AFTER EVERY TEMPEST COME SUCH CALMS!"


The darkness of the night was over the city as Walter Clarges went
forth; a darkness that was almost weird and unearthly in that gloomy
street--far down at the other end of which could be seen the lurid
flames of the braziers burning. A weird and ghastly blending of sullen
flames, of gloaming and of night, through which no living creature
passed and in which one dead woman lay huddled up against the kerb,
neglected, unheeded. And, from above, the southern stars looked down
from their sapphire vault, they twinkling as clear and white as though
the city slumbered peacefully beneath them and all was well with it.

Meditating upon whom the unhappy man might be who had asked for him
while adding that he knew him, that he desired to see him ere he died,
Walter went on to where the braziers flared; went on, yet with his
thoughts also occupied with many other things besides this dying
galley slave. He went on with his heart beating with happiness.

He had found her--his life! his soul! the woman of his heart! Found
her! Found her alive! Thank God! Now--now--so soon as any vessel could
be discovered that would take them away from this stricken spot--no
matter though he paid half of his newly-inherited fortune to obtain
the use of it--now, they would be happy and always together. He would
bear her to England--his peace was made with the Government,
henceforth he was a subject of the new dynasty. He had paid that much
for the right to retrieve his wife if she should be still alive;
there, in England, health should come back to her body, beauty to her
face. In the pure, cool breezes of the northern home which had been
that of the Westovers for so long, she would gain strength, recover
fast. When he entered George's throne-room to personally testify his
adherence to a House which, for years, he and his had opposed with all
their power, one thing should at least be beyond denial. All should
acknowledge that the woman who leant upon his arm was fair enough to
excuse a thousand apostacies and that the determination to save the
life of one so beautiful as she, and this beautiful one his wife,
justified him in what he had done.

The braziers still burned and flared fiercely as he drew near them;
through the night air the aromatic odours of pine and thyme, of
vinegar and pitch, were diffused: around those braziers the sufferers
lay--some dead, some dying.

Asking his way to the Flower Market, and being directed thereto,
Walter went on until at last he reached the place; a little open
Square surrounded on all sides by tall, grey houses, from the windows
of which no light from candle or taper gleamed forth. Like all others
in the stricken city these houses were deserted, the inhabitants
either having fled or, if remaining, being dead within their own
walls.

But there was light in the close, stuffy Square itself. Placed on the
lumber of the stalls around the open market were pots and pans of
burning disinfectants that cast flickering shadows upon everything
near them; upon, too, a little group of persons gathered in the
middle of the spot where once the Provence roses and the great
luscious-scented lilies of the south, and the crimson fuchsias, had
been sold in handfuls by the flower-girls. Now, in their place, there
lay a man dying, Not in agony, as many had died who had been stricken
by the pest, but, instead calmly, insensibly.

A man old and grizzly; yet, looking, perhaps, older than he actually
was; white as marble, his lips grey, and, upon his chin and cheeks, a
white rim of unshaven beard of three or four days' growth. By his side
stood a monk muttering prayers and heedless as to whether the plague
struck him or not; at his other side knelt the dark woman who had
directed Walter to where he should find his wife--the woman whom he
had thought cold and dead of heart, yet whom he now knew to have been
Laure's friend and comforter. She was engaged in moistening the dying
man's lips with spirits, and in wiping the dank dews of death from off
his face, as Walter drew near.

"God bless you," he said, touching her brown hand with his as he came
to her side. "God bless you. She has told me; I know all. God bless
you."

Yet, even as he spoke to her, he wondered why she drew her hand
hurriedly away from his, and why, in the flicker of the flames around,
her dark eyes seemed to cast an almost baleful glance at him.

"My son," the monk said, gazing at the stranger while thinking,
perhaps, how good it was to see one so strong and healthy-looking
amidst all the surrounding disease. "My son, is it you for whom he
waits? But now, ten minutes past, he was sensible and averred he could
not die until he saw him for whom he looked. Knowing him to be here,
in Marseilles. Is it you?"

"It is I, holy father," Walter answered. "Yet, how should he know me?
Let me come nearer and observe him." He passed thereupon to the front
of the dying man, so that thus he might regard his face, while heeding
however, the monk's injunction not to put his own face too near the
other's, and to envelope his nostrils and mouth with a cloth which he
handed him. Then, this done--Walter remembering his new-found wife at
the moment, and how he must preserve his life for her sake--he bent
over a little nearer and gazed at the livid features beneath him.

At first he did not know the man. How should he? The now bristling
face had, when he last saw it, been ever scrupulously shaved; upon the
head, where now was only close-cropped grey hair, there had been a
tye-wig of irreproachable neatness; dark clothes of the best material
and cut had been the adornment of this dying man who, to-night, lay
prostrate in the hideous garments of the galleys. How should he know
him! Hardly might he have known his own father had he met him thus
similarly transformed.

Then, suddenly, the man opened his eyes--and he recognised him!

"Merciful God!" he exclaimed. "It is Vandecque."

"Vandecque!" a voice hissed close to his ear, a voice he would
scarcely have recognised as that of the southern woman, he had not
seen her lips move. "Vandecque! the betrayer of Laure! Heaven destroy
him!" while, as she spoke, her hand stole to her breast, opening her
dress as it did so.

"Be still," he said sternly; "be still. What! Is not the heaven you
have invoked about to punish him? Let go whatever your hand holds."

Yet, as he spoke, he recognised how great and strong had been this
woman's love for Laure when it could prompt her even now, at the man's
last hour, to desire to slay him.

Then Vandecque began to mutter; his eyes being fixed upon Walter with
the dull and filmy look which the dying ever have.

"I," he whispered, "I--loved her. The little child--that--that--wound
itself around my heart. She had been--wronged--by those of his--that
devil's own order. I would have made her prosperous--rich--one of that
order. A patrician instead of an outcast. I loved her. You thwarted
me. Therefore I helped him--to--slay you, as I thought."

He closed his eyes now and those around him thought that he was gone,
while the monk began the prayers for the dying. Yet, in a moment, he
spoke again.

"Save her--save--her. If she still lives."

"She lives," Walter said. "She is saved. By the woman at your side."

"All--is--therefore--well." Vandecque gasped. "All--all.
And--listen--listen. You spared that monster--Desparre--last night.
Fool! Yet--I was there to--finish the work."

"To finish the work! You! You slew him! He is dead!"

"Ay. Dead! Dead! And--" writhing as he spoke and with his agony upon
him, his last moment at hand. His lips were white now, not grey; his
eyelids were but two slits through which the glazed eyes peered.
"Dead--and _buried!_" Then the monk's voice alone uprose, reciting the
prayers for a passing soul.

*    *    *    *    *    *

The Mediterranean sparkling beneath the warm sun of the early autumn
sky; the blue waves lapping gently the sides of a French bilander
which, with all sail set on both her masts, is running swiftly before
a northern breeze past Cape de Gata towards Gibraltar. A northern
breeze with a touch of the west in it, that comes cool and fresh from
off the Sierra Nevada mountains and brings life and health and
strength in its breath. Towards Gibraltar the vessel goes on, its
course to be set later due north for the tumbling Bay, and then, at
last, to England--to happiness and content.

To obtain that bilander, to find seamen fit to work it, and to assure
the owner of his payment when once she should reach our shores (a
payment of a thousand louis d'ors being made for the voyage!) had been
no easy task for Walter Clarges, who now took his title openly; yet,
at last, it had been done. In Marseilles it was impossible; there was
no sailor to be discovered fit and strong enough to do so much as to
haul upon a halliard, while, in Toulon it was no better; but, at last,
at Istres in the mouth of the Rhone, to which they proceeded in an
open boat, the ship had been found and their escape from all the
tainted neighbourhood around assured. They were free! Free of the
poisoned South, free at last.

And now Lord Westover walked the deck of the rolling, pitching craft,
saying a word here and there to the rough sailor from Aude, who was
the master; another, now and again, to the dark-eyed woman who sat by
the taffrail beneath the swing of the after-sheet; and going next to a
cabin upon the deck and peering in through the window while speaking
to his wife within.

At first it had been hard to persuade that dark-eyed woman to
accompany them, to induce her to throw in her lot with theirs and bid
farewell to the land in which she had sinned and suffered. For she
was, indeed, almost distraught at the thought that never more would
she struggle and toil for the woman she had come to love so dearly;
that, henceforth, no sacrifice on her part was needed.

"Go back to her," she said to Walter after Vandecque had breathed his
last, while, since there was nothing else that could be done in a
place so encumbered with the dead as Marseilles was, they had left the
dead man lying where he died. "Go back to her. She needs you now. Not
me. Return to her," and, as she spoke, she cast herself down near the
market place as though about to sleep there.

"And you--Marion?" Walter said softly. "You! What of you? You will
come with me?"

"She wants me no longer. She has you."

"She needs you ever. You must never part. What shall become of her
without you; what will your life be in the future if you have no
longer her to tend and care for?"

"My life! My life!" she cried with an upward glance at him from where
she had thrown herself down. "What matters that! Every wreck is broken
to pieces at last. So shall I be."

Yet still he pleaded, repeating all that Laure had that day said of
her and telling of how she had declared that she could never go away
unless Marion came too; and, finally, he won. He won so far that, at
last, she consented to return to Laure, even though it were but to say
farewell to her and then go forth into oblivion for ever.

Yet now she was in the bilander with them, on her way to England
to pass the rest of her life in peace. How could she have
refused--how!--when the girl wept tears of joy in her arms and
murmured that, since she had her husband and Marion by her side, she
asked for nothing else? And so the ship went on and on, bearing those
in her to freedom and to peace. To a peace and contentment that Laure
had never dreamed could come to her again; to a happiness which once
Walter Clarges had never dared to hope should at last be his.



FOOTNOTES

[Footnote 1: This street served as the Bourse of the period.]

[Footnote 2: "Archers" were servants of the Provost Marshals and of a
position between gendarmes and policemen, but in the service of the
prisons. "Exempts" were a kind of Sheriff's officer.]

[Footnote 3: A slang name for the scaffold.]

[Footnote 4: The total number of deaths in Provence was finally
estimated to be 148,000. Aix and Toulon suffered the worst after
Marseilles.]



THE END



PRINTED BY
TURNBULL AND SPEARS,
EDINBURGH





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