My child, said the Dowager, and her eyes dwelt on Valerie with a look of studied gentleness, “why will you not be reasonable?”

The constant reflection that Garnache was at large, making his way back to Paris to stir up vengeance for the outrage put upon him, was not without a certain chastening effect upon the Dowager. She had a way of saying that she had as good a stomach for a fight as any man in France, and a fight there should be if it came to it and Garnache should return to assail Condillac. Yet a certain pondering of the consequences, a certain counting of the cost—ordinarily unusual to her nature led her to have recourse to persuasion and to a gentleness no less unusual.

Valerie’s eyes were raised to hers with a look that held more scorn than wonder. They were standing in the antechamber of Valerie’s room. Yonder at his post lounged the recruit “Battista,” looking a trifle cleaner than when first he had been presented to the Marquise, but still not clean enough for a lady’s antechamber. He was leaning stolidly against the sill of the window, his eyes on the distant waters of the Isere, which shone a dull copper colour in the afterglow of the October sunset. His face was vacant, his eyes pensive, as he stood there undisturbed by the flow of a language he did not understand.

Fortunio and Marius had departed, and the Marquise—played upon by her unusual tremors—had remained behind for a last word with the obstinate girl.

“In what, madame,” asked Valerie, “does my conduct fall short of reasonableness?”

The Dowager made a movement of impatience. If at every step she were to be confronted by these questions, which had in them a savour of challenge, she was wasting time in remaining.

“You are unreasonable, in this foolish clinging to a promise given for you.”

“Given by me, madame,” the girl amended, knowing well to what promise the Dowager referred.

“Given by you, then; but given at an age when you could not understand the nature of it. They had no right to bind you so.”

“If it is for any to question that right, it is for me,” Valerie made answer, her eyes ever meeting the Dowager’s unflinchingly. “And I am content to leave that right unquestioned. I am content to fill the promise given. In honour I could not do less.”

“Ah! In honour!” The Dowager sighed. Then she came a step nearer, and her face grew sweetly wistful. “But your heart, child; what of your heart?”

“My heart concerns myself. I am the betrothed of Florimond—that is all that concerns the world and you. I respect and admire him more than any living man, and I shall be proud to become his wife when he returns, as his wife I shall become in spite of all that you and your son may do.”

The Dowager laughed softly, as if to herself.

“And if I tell you that Florimond is dead?”

“When you give me proof of that, I shall believe it,” the girl replied. The Marquise looked at her, her face manifesting no offence at the almost insulting words.

“And if I were to lay that proof before you?” she inquired, sadly almost.

Valerie’s eyes opened a trifle wider, as if in apprehension. But her answer was prompt and her voice steady. “It still could have no effect upon my attitude towards your son.”

“This is foolishness, Valerie—”

“In you it is, madame,” the girl broke in; “a foolishness to think you can constrain a girl, compel her affections, command her love, by such means as you have employed towards me. You think that it predisposes me to be wooed, that it opens my heart to your son, to see myself gaoled that he may pay me his court.”

“Gaoled, child? Who gaols you?” the Dowager cried, as if the most surprising utterance had fallen from Valerie’s lips.

Mademoiselle smiled in sorrow and some scorn.

“Am I not gaoled, then?” she asked. “What call you this? What does that fellow there? He is to lie outside my door at nights to see that none holds communication with me. He is to go with me each morning to the garden, when, by your gracious charity I take the air. Sleeping and waking the man is ever within hearing of any word that I may utter—”

“But he has no French!” the Dowager protested.

“To ensure, no doubt, against any attempt of mine to win him to my side, to induce him to aid me escape from this prison. Oh, madame, I tell you you do but waste time, and you punish me and harass yourself to little purpose. Had Marius been such a man as I might have felt it in my nature to love—which Heaven forbid!—these means by which you have sought to bring that thing about could but have resulted in making me hate him as I do.”

The Dowager’s fears were banished from her mind at that, and with them went all thought of conciliating Valerie. Anger gleamed in her eyes; the set of her lips grew suddenly sneering and cruel, so that the beauty of her face but served to render it hateful the more.

“So that you hate him, ma mie?” a ripple of mockery on the current of her voice, “and he a man such as any girl in France might be proud to wed. Well, well, you are not to be constrained, you say.” And the Marquise’s laugh was menacing and unpleasant. “Be not so sure, mademoiselle. Be not so sure of that. It may well betide that you shall come to beg upon your knees for this alliance with a man whom you tell me that you hate. Be not so sure you cannot be constrained.”

Their eyes met; both women were white to the lips, but it was curbed passion in the one, and deadly fear in the other; for what the Dowager’s words left unsaid her eyes most eloquently conveyed. The girl shrank back, her hands clenched, her lip caught in her teeth.

“There is a God in heaven, madame,” she reminded the Marquise.

“Aye—in heaven,” laughed the Marquise, turning to depart. She paused by the door, which the Italian had sprung forward to open for her.

“Marius shall take the air with you in the morning if it is fine. Ponder meanwhile what I have said.”

“Does this man remain here, madame?” inquired the girl, vainly seeking to render her voice steady.

“In the outer anteroom is his place: but as the key of this room is on his side of the door, he may enter here when he so pleases, or when he thinks that he has reason to. If the sight of him displeases you, you may lock yourself from it in your own chamber yonder.”

The same she said in Italian to the man, who bowed impassively, and followed the Dowager into the outer room, closing the door upon mademoiselle. It was a chamber almost bare of furniture, save for a table and chair which had been placed there, so that the gaoler might take his meals.

The man followed the Marquise across the bare floor, their steps resounding as they went, and he held the outer door for her.

Without another word she left him, and where he stood he could hear her steps as she tripped down the winding staircase of stone. At last the door of the courtyard closed with a bang, and the grating of a key announced to the mercenary that he and his charge were both imprisoned in that tower of the Chateau de Condillac.

Left alone in the anteroom, mademoiselle crossed to the window and dropped limply into a chair. Her face was still very white, her heart beating tumultuously, for the horrid threat that had been conveyed in the Dowager’s words had brought her her first thrill of real fear since the beginning of this wooing-by-force three months ago, a wooing which had become more insistent and less like a wooing day by day, until it had culminated in her present helpless position.

She was a strong-souled, high-spirited girl, but tonight hope seemed extinguished in her breast. Florimond, too, seemed to have abandoned her. Either he had forgotten her, or he was dead, as the Dowager said. Which might be the true state of things she did not greatly care. The realization of how utterly she was in the power of Madame de Condillac and her son, and the sudden chance discovery of how unscrupulously that power might be wielded, filled her mind to the exclusion of all else.

By the window she sat, watching, without heeding them, the fading colours in the sky. She was abandoned to these monsters, and it seemed they would devour her. She could hope for no help from outside since they had as she believed—slain Monsieur de Garnache. Her mind dwelt for a moment on that glimpse of rescue that had been hers a week ago, upon the few hours of liberty which she had enjoyed, but which only seemed now to increase the dark hopelessness of her imprisonment.

Again with the eyes of her mind she beheld that grim, stalwart figure, saw his great nose, his greying hair, his fierce mustachios and his stern, quick eyes. Again she heard the rasp of his metallic voice with its brisk derision. She saw him in the hall below, his foot upon the neck of that popinjay of Condillac daring them all to draw a breath, should he forbid it; again in fancy she rode on the withers of his horse at the gallop towards Grenoble. A sigh escaped her. Surely that was the first man who was indeed a man she had ever set eyes on since her father died. Had Garnache been spared, she would have felt courage and she would have hoped, for there was something about him that suggested energy and resource such as it is good to lean upon in times of stress. Again she heard that brisk, metallic voice: “Are you content, madame? Have you had fine deeds enough for one day?”

And then, breaking in upon her musings came the very voice of her day-dream, so suddenly, sounding so natural and lifelike that she almost screamed, so startled was she.

“Mademoiselle,” it said, “I beg that you’ll not utterly lose heart. I have come back to the thing Her Majesty bade me do, and I’ll do it, in spite of that tigress and her cub.”

She sat still as a statue, scarce breathing, her eyes fixed upon the violet sky. The voice had ceased, but still she sat on. Then it was slowly borne in upon her that that was no dream-voice, no trick of her overburdened mind. A voice, a living, actual voice had uttered those words in this room, here at her elbow.

She turned, and again she almost screamed; for there, just behind her, his glittering eyes fixed upon her with singular intentness, stood the swarthy, black-haired Italian gaoler they had given her because he had no French.

He had come up so quietly behind her that she had not heard his approach, and he was leaning forward now, with an odd suggestion of crouching in his attitude, like a beast about to spring. Yet his gaze riveted hers as with a fascination. And so, while she looked, his lips moved, and from them, in that same voice of her dreams, came from this man who had no French, the words:

“Be not afraid, mademoiselle. I am that blunderer, Garnache, that unworthy fool whose temper ruined what chance of saving you he had a week ago.”

She stared like one going mad.

“Garnache!” said she, in a husky whisper. “You Garnache?”

Yet the voice, she knew, was Garnache’s and none other. It was a voice not easily mistaken. And now, as she looked and looked, she saw that the man’s nose was Garnache’s, though oddly stained, and those keen eyes, they were Garnache’s too. But the hair that had been brown and flecked with grey was black; the reddish mustachios that had bristled like a mountain cat’s were black, too, and they hung limp and hid from sight the fine lines of his mouth. A hideous stubble of unshorn beard defaced his chin and face, and altered its sharp outline; and the clear, healthy skin that she remembered was now a dirty brown.

Suddenly the face smiled, and it was a smile that reassured her and drove away the last doubt that she had. She was on her feet in an instant.

“Monsieur, monsieur,” was all that she could say; but her longing was to fling her arms about the neck of this man, as she might have flung them about the neck of a brother or a father, and sob out upon his shoulder the sudden relief and revulsion that his presence brought.

Garnache saw something of her agitation, and to relieve it he smiled and began to tell her the circumstances of his return and his presentation to Madame as a knave who had no French.

“Fortune was very good to me, mademoiselle,” said he. “I had little hope that such a face as mine could be disguised, but I take no pride in what you see. It is the handiwork of Rabecque, the most ingenious lackey that ever served a foolish master. It helped me that having been ten years in Italy when I was younger, I acquired the language so well as to be able to impose even upon Fortunio. In that lay a circumstance which at once disarmed suspicion, and if I stay not so long as it shall take the dye to wear from my hair and beard and the staining from my face, I shall have little to fear.”

“But, monsieur,” she cried, “you have everything to fear!” And alarm grew in her eyes.

But he laughed again for answer. “I have faith in my luck, mademoiselle, and I think I am on the tide of it at present. I little hoped when I made my way into Condillac in this array that I should end, by virtue of my pretended ignorance of French, in being appointed gaoler to you. I had some ado to keep the joy from my eyes when I heard them planning it. It is a thing that has made all else easy.”

“But what can you do alone, monsieur?” she asked him; and there was a note almost of petulance in her voice.

He moved to the window, and leaned his elbow on the sill. The light was fast fading. “I know not yet. But I am here to contrive a means. I shall think and watch.”

“You know in what hourly peril I am placed,” she cried, and suddenly remembering that he must have overheard and understood the Dowager’s words, a sudden heat came to her cheeks to recede again and leave them marble-pale. And she thanked Heaven that in the dusk and in the shadow where she stood he could but ill make out her face.

“If you think that I have been rash in returning—”

“No, no, not rash, monsieur; noble and brave above all praise. I would indeed I could tell you how noble and brave I account your action.”

“It is as nothing to the bravery required to let Rabecque do this hideous work upon a face for which I have ever entertained some measure of respect.”

He jested, sooner than enlighten her that it was his egregious pride had fetched him back when he was but a few hours upon his journey Pariswards, his inability to brook the ridicule that would be his when he announced at the Luxembourg that failure had attended him.

“Ah, but what can you do alone?” she repeated.

“Give me at least a day or two to devise some means; let me look round and take the measure of this gaol. Some way there must be. I have not come so far and so successfully to be beaten now. Still,” he continued, “if you think that I overrate my strength or my resource, if you would sooner that I sought men and made an assault upon Condillac, endeavouring to carry it and to let the Queen’s will prevail by force of arms, tell me so, and I am gone tomorrow.”

“Whither would you go?” she cried, her voice strained with sudden affright.

“I might seek help at Lyons or Moulins. I might find loyal soldiers who would be willing to follow me by virtue of my warrant to levy such help as I may require, if I but tell them that the help was refused me in Grenoble. I am not sure that it would be so, for, unfortunately, my warrant is for the Seneschal of Dauphiny only. Still, I might make the attempt.”

“No, no,” she implored him, and in her eagerness to have him put all thought of leaving her from his mind, she caught him by the arm and raised a pleading face to his. “Do not leave me here, monsieur; of your pity do not leave me alone amongst them. Think me a coward if you will, monsieur: I am no less. They have made a coward of me.”

He understood the thing she dreaded, and a great pity welled up from his generous heart for this poor unfriended girl at the mercy of the beautiful witch of Condillac and her beautiful rascally son. He patted the hand that clutched his arm.

“I think, myself, that it will be best if I remain, now that I have come so far,” he said. “Let me ponder things. It may well be that I shall devise some way.”

“May Heaven inspire you, monsieur. I shall spend the night in prayer, I think, imploring God and His saints to show you the way you seek.”

“Heaven, I think, should hear your prayers, mademoiselle,” he answered musingly, his glance upon the white, saintly face that seemed to shine in the deepening gloom. Then, suddenly he stirred and bent to listen.

“Sh! Some one is coming,” he whispered. And he sped quickly from her side and into the outer room, where he sank noiselessly on to his chair as the steps ascended the stone staircase and a glow of yellow light grew gradually in the doorway that opened on to it.

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