Uneasy in his mind, seeking some way to tell the thing and acquit himself of the painful task before him, Garnache took a turn in the apartment.

Mademoiselle leaned against the table, which was still burdened by the empty coffin, and observed him. His ponderings were vain; he could find no way to tell, his story. She had said that she did not exactly love this Florimond, that her loyalty to him was no more than her loyalty to her father’s wishes. Nevertheless, he thought, what manner of hurt must not her pride receive when she learned that Florimond had brought him home a wife? Garnache was full of pity for her and for the loneliness that must be hers hereafter, mistress of a vast estate in Dauphiny, alone and friendless. And he was a little sorry for himself and the loneliness which, he felt, would be his hereafter; but that was by the way.

At last it was she herself who broke the silence.

“Monsieur,” she asked him, and her voice was strained and husky, “were you in time to save Florimond?”

“Yes, mademoiselle,” he answered readily, glad that by that question she should have introduced the subject. “I was in time.”

“And Marius?” she inquired. “From what I heard you say, I take it that he has suffered no harm.”

“He has suffered none. I have spared him that he might participate in the joy of his mother at her union with Monsieur de Tressan.”

“I am glad it was so, monsieur. Tell me of it.” Her voice sounded formal and constrained.

But either he did not hear or did not heed the question.

“Mademoiselle,” he said slowly. “Florimond is coming—”

“Florimond?” she broke in, and her voice went shrill, as if with a sudden fear, her cheeks turned white as chalk. The thing that for months she had hoped and prayed for was come at last, and it struck her almost dead with terror.

He remarked the change, and set it down to a natural excitement. He paused a moment. Then:

“He is still at La Rochette. But he does no more than wait until he shall have learned that his stepmother has departed from Condillac.”

“But—why—why—? Was he then in no haste to come to me?” she inquired, her voice faltering.

“He is—” He stopped and tugged at his mustachios, his eyes regarding her sombrely. He was close beside her now, where he had halted, and he set his hand gently upon her shoulder, looked down into that winsome little oval face she raised to his.

“Mademoiselle,” he inquired, “would it afflict you very sorely if you were not destined, after all, to wed the Lord of Condillac?”

“Afflict me?” she echoed. The very question set her gasping with hope. “No—no, monsieur; it would not afflict me.”

“That is true? That is really, really true?” he cried, and his tone seemed less despondent.

“Don’t you know how true it is?” she said, in such accents and with such a shy upward look that something seemed suddenly to take Garnache by the throat. The blood flew to his cheeks. He fancied an odd meaning in those words of hers—a meaning that set his pulses throbbing faster than joy or peril had ever set them yet. Then he checked himself, and deep down in his soul he seemed to hear a peal of mocking laughter—just such a burst of sardonic mirth as had broken from his lips two nights ago when on his way to Voiron. Then he went back to the business he had in hand.

“I am glad it is so with you,” he said quietly. “Because Florimond has brought him home a wife.”

The words were out, and he stood back as stands a man who, having cast an insult, prepares to ward the blow he expects in answer. He had looked for a storm, a wild, frantic outburst; the lightning of flashing, angry eyes; the thunder of outraged pride. Instead, here was a gentle calm, a wan smile overspreading her sweet, pale face, and then she hid that face in her hands, buried face and hands upon his shoulder and fell to weeping very quietly.

This, he thought, was almost worse than the tempest he had looked for. How was he to know that these tears were the overflow of a heart that was on the point of bursting from sheer joy? He patted her shoulder; he soothed her.

“Little child,” he whispered in her ear. “What does it matter? You did not really love him. He was all unworthy of you. Do not grieve, child. So, so, that is better.”

She was looking up at him, smiling through the tears that suffused er eyes.

“I am weeping for joy, monsieur,” said she.

“For joy?” quoth he. “Vertudieu! There is no end to the things a woman weeps for!”

Unconsciously, instinctively almost, she nestled closer to him, and again his pulses throbbed, again that flush came to overspread his lean countenance. Very softly he whispered in her ear:

“Will you go to Paris with me, mademoiselle?”

He meant by that question no more than to ask whether, now that here in Dauphiny she would be friendless and alone, it were not better for her to place herself under the care of the Queen-Regent. But what blame to her if she misunderstood the question, if she read in it the very words her heart was longing to hear from him? The very gentleness of his tone implied his meaning to be the one she desired. She raised her hazel eyes again to his, she nestled closer to him, and then, with a shy fluttering of her lids, a delicious red suffusing her virgin cheek, she answered very softly:

“I will go anywhere with you, monsieur—anywhere.”

With a cry he broke from her. There was no fancying now; no possibility of misunderstanding. He saw how she had misread his question, how she had delivered herself up to him in answer. His almost roughness startled her, and she stared at him as he stamped down the apartment and back to where she stood, seeking in vain to master the turbulence of his feelings. He stood still again. He took her by the shoulders and held her at arms’ length, before him, thus surveying her, and there was trouble in his keen eyes.

“Mademoiselle, mademoiselle!” he cried. “Valerie, my child, what are you saying to me?”

“What would you have me say?” she asked, her eyes upon the floor. “Was I too forward? It seemed to me there could not be question of such a thing between us now. I belong to you. What man has ever served a woman as you have served me? What better friend, what nobler lover did ever woman have? Why then need I take shame at confessing my devotion?”

He swallowed hard, and there was a mist before his eyes—eyes that had looked unmoved on many a scene of carnage.

“You know not what you do,” he cried out, and his voice was as the voice of one in pain. “I am old.”

“Old?” she echoed in deep surprise, and she looked up at him, as if she sought evidence of what he stated.

“Aye, old,” he assured her bitterly. “Look at the grey in my hair, the wrinkles in my face. I am no likely lover for you, child. You’ll need a lusty, comely young gallant.”

She looked at him, and a faint smile flickered at the corners of her lips. She observed his straight, handsome figure; his fine air of dignity and of strength. Every inch a man was he; never lived there one who was more a man; and what more than such a man could any maid desire?

“You are all that I would have you,” she answered him, and in his mind he almost cursed her stubbornness, her want of reason.

“I am peevish and cross-grained,” he informed her, “and I have grown old in ignorance of woman’s ways. Love has never come to me until now. What manner of lover, think you, can I make?”

Her eyes were on the windows at his back. The sunshine striking through them seemed to give her the reply she sought.

“To-morrow will be Saint Martin’s Day,” she told him; “yet see with a warmth the sun is shining.”

“A poor, make-believe Saint Martin’s Summer,” said he. “I am fitly answered by your allegory.”

“Oh, not make-believe, not make-believe,” she exclaimed. “There is no make-believe in the sun’s brightness and its warmth. We see it and we feel it, and we are none the less glad of it because the time of year should be November; rather do we take the greater joy in it. And it is not yet November in your life, not yet by many months.”

“What you say is apt, perhaps,” said he, “and may seem more apt than it is since my name is Martin, though I am no saint.” Then he shook off this mood that he accounted selfish; this mood that would take her—as the wolf takes the lamb—with no thought but for his own hunger.

“No, no!” he cried out. “It were unworthy in me!”

“When I love you, Martin?” she asked him gently.

A moment he stared at her, as if through those clear eyes he would penetrate to the very depths of her maiden soul. Then he sank on to his knees before her as any stripling lover might have done, and kissed her hands in token of the fact that he was conquered.

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