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    Chapter 16

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    Chapter 16
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    Meanwhile, Claude, robbed of his prey, had gone into the town in great
    disgust. As he passed from the bridge, and paused before he entered the
    huddle of narrow streets that climbed the hill, he had on his left the
    glittering heights of snow, rising ridge above ridge to the blue; and
    most distant among them Mont Blanc itself, etherealised by the frosty
    sunshine and clear air of a December morning. But Mont Blanc might have
    been a marsh, the Rhone, pouring its icy volume from the lake, might
    have been a brook, for him. Aware, at length, of the peril in which Anne
    stood, and not doubting that these colloquies of Messers Blondel and
    Louis, these man[oe]uvrings to be rid of his presence, were part of a
    conspiracy against her, he burned with the desire to thwart it. They had
    made a puppet of him; they had sent him to and fro at their will and
    pleasure; and they had done this, no doubt, in order that in his absence
    they might work--Heaven knew what vile and miserable work! But he would
    know, too! He was going to know! He would not be so tricked thrice.

    His indignation went beyond the Syndic. The smug-faced towns-folk whom
    he met and jostled in the narrow ways, and whose grave starched looks he
    countered with hot defiant glances--he included them in his anathema. He
    extended to them the contempt in which he held Blondel and Louis and the
    rest. They were all of a breed, a bigoted breed; all dull, blind worms,
    insensible to the beauty of self-sacrifice, or the purity of affection.
    All, self-sufficient dolts, as far removed, as immeasurably divided from
    her whom he loved, as the gloomy lanes of this close city lay below the
    clear loveliness of the snow-peaks! For, after all, he had lifted his
    eyes to the mountains.

    One thing only perplexed him. He understood the attitude of Basterga and
    Grio and Louis towards the girl. He discerned the sword of Damocles that
    they held over her, the fear of a charge of witchcraft, or of some vile
    heresy, in which they kept her. But how came Blondel in the plot? What
    was his part, what his object? If he had been sincere in that attempt on
    Basterga's secrets, which Madame's delirious words had frustrated, was
    he sincere now? Was his object now as then--the suppression of the
    devilish practices of which he had warned Claude, and in the punishment
    of which he had threatened to include the girl with her tempter?
    Presumably it was, and he was still trying to reach the goal by other
    ways, using Louis as he had used Claude, or tried to use him.

    And yet Claude doubted. He began to suspect--for love is jealous--that
    Blondel had behind this a more secret, a more personal, a more selfish
    aim. Had the young girl, still in her teens, caught the fancy of the man
    of sixty? There was nothing unnatural in the idea; such things were,
    even in Geneva; and Louis was a go-between, not above the task. In that
    case she who had showed a brave front to Basterga all these months, who
    had not blenched before the daily and hourly persecution to which she
    had been exposed in her home, was not likely to succumb to the senile
    advances of a man who might be her grandfather!

    If he did not hold her secret. But if he did hold it? If he did hold
    it, and the cruel power it gave? If he held it, he who had only to lift
    his hand to consign her to duress on a charge so dark and dangerous that
    innocence itself was no protection against it? So plausible that even
    her lover had for a short time held it true? What then?

    Claude, who had by this time reached the Tertasse gate and passed
    through it from the town side, paused on the ramparts and bared his
    head. What then?

    He had his answer. Framed in the immensity of sky and earth that lay
    before him, he saw his loneliness and hers, his insignificance and hers,
    his helplessness and hers; he, a foreigner, young, without name or
    reputation, or aught but a strong right hand; she, almost a child, alone
    or worse than alone, in this great city--one of the weak things which
    the world's car daily and hourly crushes into the mud, their very cries
    unheard and unheeded. Of no more account than the straw which the turbid
    Rhone, bore one moment on its swirling tide, and the next swallowed from
    sight beneath its current!

    They were two--and a mad woman! And against them were Blondel and
    Basterga and Grio and Louis, and presently all the town of Geneva! All
    these gloomy, narrow, righteous men, and shrieking, frightened
    women--frightened lest any drop of the pitch fall on them and destroy
    them! Love is a marvellous educator. Almost as clearly as we of a later
    day, he saw how outbreaks of superstition, such as that which he
    dreaded, began, and came to a head, and ended. A chance word at a door,
    a spiteful rumour or a sick child, the charge, the torture, the widening
    net of accusation, the fire in the market-place. So it had been in
    Bamberg and Wurzburg, in Geneva two generations back, in Alsace scarce
    as many years back: at Edinburgh in Scotland where thirty persons had
    suffered in one day--ten years ago that; in the district of Como, where
    a round thousand had suffered!

    Nobility had not availed to save some, nor court-favour others; nor
    wealth, nor youth, nor beauty. And what had he or she to urge, what had
    they to put forward that would in the smallest degree avail them? That
    could even for a moment stem or avert the current of popular madness
    which power itself had striven in vain to dam. Nothing!

    And yet he did not blench, nor would he; being half French and of good
    blood, at a time when good French blood ran the more generously for a
    half century of war. He would not have blenched, even if he had not,
    from the sunlit view of God's earth and heaven which lay before his
    eyes, drawn other thoughts than that one of his own littleness and
    insignificance. As this view of vale and mountain had once before lifted
    his judgment above the miasma of a cruel superstition, so it raised him
    now above creeping fears and filled him with confidence in something
    more stable than magistrates or mobs. Love, like the sunlight, shone
    aslant the dark places of the prospect and filled them with warmth.
    Sacrifice for her he loved took on the beauty of the peaks, cold but
    lovely; and hope and courage, like the clear blue of the vault above,
    looked smiling down on the brief dangers and the brief troubles of man's

    The clock of St. Gervais was striking eleven as, still in exalted mood,
    he turned his back on the view and entered the house in the Corraterie.
    He had entered on his return from his fruitless visit to Blondel, and
    had satisfied himself that Anne was safe. Doubtless she was still safe,
    for the house was quiet.

    In his new mood he was almost inclined to quarrel with this. In the
    ardour of his passion he would gladly have seen the danger immediate,
    the peril present, that he might prove to her how much he loved her,
    how deeply he felt for her, what he would dare for her. To die on the
    hearth of the living-room, at her feet and saving her, seemed for a
    moment the thing most desirable--the purest happiness!

    That was denied him. The house was quiet, as in a morning it commonly
    was. So quiet that he recalled without effort the dreams which he had
    dreamed on that spot, and the thoughts which had filled his heart to
    bursting a few hours before. The great pot was there, simmering on its
    hook; and on the small table beside it, the table that Basterga and Grio
    occupied, stood a platter with a few dried herbs and a knife fresh from
    her hand. Claude made sure that he was unobserved, and raising the knife
    to his lips, kissed the haft gently and reverently, thinking what she
    had suffered many a day while using it! What fear, and grief and
    humiliation, and----

    He stood erect, his face red: he listened intently. Upstairs, breaking
    the long silence of the house, opening as it were a window to admit the
    sun, a voice had uplifted itself in song. The voice had some of the
    tones of Anne's voice, and something that reminded him of her voice. But
    when had he heard her sing? When had aught so clear, so mirthful, or so
    young fallen from her as this; this melody, laden with life and youth
    and abundance, that rose and fell and floated to his ears through the
    half-open door of the staircase?

    He crept to the staircase door and listened; yes, it was her voice, but
    not such as he had ever heard it. It was her voice as he could fancy it
    in another life, a life in which she was as other girls, darkened by no
    fear, pinched by no anxiety, crushed by no contumely; such as her voice
    might have been, uplifted in the garden of his old home on the French
    border, amid bees and flowers and fresh-scented herbs. Her voice,
    doubtless, it was; but it sorted so ill with the thoughts he had been
    thinking, that with his astonishment was mingled something of shock and
    of loss. He had dreamed of dying for her or with her, and she sang! He
    was prepared for peril, and her voice vied with the lark's in joyous

    Leaning forward to hear more clearly, he touched the door. It was ajar,
    and before he could hinder it, it closed with a sharp sound. The singing
    ceased with an abruptness that told, or he was much mistaken, of
    self-remembrance. And presently, after an interval of no more than a few
    seconds, during which he pictured the singer listening, he heard her
    begin to descend.

    Two men may do the same thing from motives as far apart as the poles.
    Claude did what Louis would have done. As the foot drew near the
    staircase door, treading, less willingly, less lightly, more like that
    of Anne with every step, he slid into his closet, and stood. Through the
    crack between the hinges of the open door, he would be able to view her
    face when she appeared.

    A second later she came, and he saw. The light of the song was still in
    her eyes, but mingled, as she looked round the room to learn who was
    there, with something of exaltation and defiance. Christian maidens
    might have worn some such aspect, he thought--but he was in love--as
    they passed to the lions. Or Esther, when she went unbidden into the
    inner court of the King's House, and before the golden sceptre moved.
    Something had happened to her. But what?

    She did not see him, and after standing a moment to assure herself that
    she was alone, she passed to the hearth. She lifted the lid of the pot,
    bent over it, and slowly stirred the broth; then, having covered it
    again, she began to chop the dried herbs on the platter. Even in her
    manner of doing this, he fancied a change; a something unlike the Anne
    he had known, the Anne he had come to love. The face was more animated,
    the action quicker, the step lighter, the carriage more free. She began
    to sing, and stopped; fell into a reverie, with the knife in her hand,
    and the herb half cut; again roused herself to finish her task; finally
    having slid the herbs from the platter to the pot, she stood in a second
    reverie, with her eyes fixed on the window.

    He began to feel the falseness of his position. It was too late to show
    himself, and if she discovered him what would she think of him? Would
    she believe that in spying upon her he had some evil purpose, some low
    motive, such as Louis might have had? His cheek grew hot. And then--he
    forgot himself.

    Her eyes had left the window and fallen to the window-seat. It was the
    thing she did then which drew him out of himself. Moving to the
    window--he had to stoop forward to keep her within the range of his
    sight--she took from it a glove, held it a moment, regarding it; then
    with a tender, yet whimsical laugh, a laugh half happiness, half
    ridicule of herself, she kissed it.

    It was Claude's glove. And if, with that before his eyes he could have
    restrained himself, the option was not his. She turned in the act, and
    saw him; with a startled cry she put--none too soon--the table between

    They faced one another across it, he flushed, eager, with love in his
    eyes, and on his lips; she blushing but not ashamed, her new-found joy
    in her eyes, and in the pose of her head.

    "Anne!" he cried. "I know now! I know! I have seen and you cannot
    deceive me!"

    "In what?" she said, a smile trembling on her lips. "And of what, Messer
    Claude, are you so certain, if you please?"

    "That you love me!" he replied. "But not a hundredth part"--he stretched
    his arms across the table towards her "as much as I love you and have
    loved you for weeks! As I loved you even before I learned last

    "What?" Into her face--that had not found one hard look to rebuke his
    boldness--came something of her old silent, watchful self. "What did you
    learn last night?"

    "Your secret!"

    "I have none!" Quick as thought the words came from her lips. "I have
    none! God is merciful," with a gesture of her open arms, as if she put
    something from her, "and it is gone! If you know, if you guess aught of
    what it was"--her eyes questioned his and read in them if not that which
    he knew, that which he thought of her.

    "I ask you to be silent."

    "I will, after I have----"

    "Now! Always!"

    "Not till I have spoken once!" he cried. "Not till I have told you once
    what I think of you! Last night I heard. And I understood. I saw what
    you had gone through, what you had feared, what had been your life all
    these weeks, rising and lying down! I saw what you meant when you bade
    me go anywhere but here, and why you suffered what you did at their
    hands, and why they dared to treat you--so! And had they been here I
    would have killed them!" he added, his eyes sparkling. "And had you been

    "Yes?" she did not seek to check him now. Her bearing was changed, her
    eyes, soft and tender, met his as no eyes had ever met his.

    "I should have worshipped you! I should have knelt as I kneel now!" he
    cried. And sinking on his knees he extended his arms across the table
    and took her unresisting hands. "If you no longer have a secret, you
    had one, and I bless God for it! For without it I might not have known
    you, Anne! I might not have----"

    "Perhaps you do not know me now," she said; but she did not withdraw her
    hands or her eyes. Only into the latter grew a shade of trouble. "I have
    done--you do not know what I have done. I am a thief."


    "It is true. I am a thief."

    "What is it to me?" He laughed a laugh as tender as her eyes. "You are a
    thief, for you have stolen my heart. For the rest, do you think that I
    do not know you now? That I can be twice deceived? Twice take gold for
    dross, and my own for another thing? I know you!"

    "But you do not know," she said tremulously, "what I have done--what I
    did last night--or what may come of it."

    "I know that what comes of it will happen, not to one but to two," he
    replied bravely. "And that is all I ask to know. That, and that you are
    content it shall be so?"




    There are things, other than wine, that bring truth to the surface. That
    which had happened to the girl in the last few hours, that which had
    melted her into unwonted song, was of these things; and the tone of her
    voice as she repeated the word "Content!" the surrender of her eyes that
    placed her heart in his keeping, as frankly as she left her hands in
    his, proclaimed it. The reserves of her sex, the tricks of coyness and
    reticence men look for in maids, were shaken from her; and as man to man
    her eyes told him the truth, told him that if she had ever doubted she
    no longer doubted that she loved him. In the heart which a single
    passion, the purest of which men and women are capable, had engrossed
    so long, Nature, who, expel her as you will, will still return, had won
    her right and carved her kingdom.

    And she knew that it was well with her--whatever the upshot of last
    night. To be lonely no more; to be no longer the protector, but the
    protected; to know the comfort of the strong arm as well as of the
    following eye, the joy of receiving as well as of giving; to know that,
    however dark the future might lower, she had no longer to face it alone,
    no longer to plan and hope and fear and suffer alone, but with
    _him_--the sense of these things so mingled with her gratitude on her
    mother's account that the new affection, instead of weakening the old
    became as it were part of it; while the old stretched onwards its pious
    hand to bless the new.

    If Claude did not read all this in her eyes, and in that one word
    "Content?" he read so much that never devotee before relic rose more
    gently or more reverently to his feet. Because all was his he would take
    nothing. "As I stand by you, may God stand by me," he said, still
    holding her hands in his, and with the table between them.

    "I have no fear," she replied in a low voice. "Yet--if you fail, may He
    forgive you as fully as I must forgive you. What shall I say to you on
    my part, Messer Claude?"

    "That you love me."

    "I love you," she murmured with an intonation which ravished the young
    man's heart and brought the blood to his cheeks. "I love you. What

    "There is no more," he cried. "There can be no more. If that be true,
    nothing matters."

    "No!" she said, beginning to tremble under a weight of emotion too heavy
    for her, following as it did the excitement of the night. "No!" she
    continued, raising her eyes which had fallen before the ardour of his
    gaze. "But there must be something you wish to ask me. You must wish to

    "I have heard what I wished to know."


    "Tell me what you please."

    She stood in thought an instant: then, with a sigh, "He came to me last
    evening," she said, "when you were at his house."

    "Messer Blondel?"

    "Yes. He wished me to procure for him a certain drug that Messer
    Basterga kept in his room."

    Claude stared. "In a steel casket chained to the wall?" he asked.

    "Yes," she whispered with some surprise. "You knew of it, then? He had
    tried to procure it through Louis, and on the pretence that the box
    contained papers needed by the State. Failing in that he came last
    evening to me, and told me the truth."

    "The truth?" Claude asked, wondering. "But was it the truth?"

    "It was." Her eyes, like stars on a rainy night, shone softly. "I have
    proved it." Again, with a ring of exultation in her voice, "I have
    proved it!" she cried.


    "There was in the box a drug, he told me, possessed of an almost
    miraculous power over disease of body and mind; so rare and so wonderful
    that none could buy it, and he knew of but this one dose, of which
    Messer Basterga had possessed himself. He begged me to take it and to
    give it to him. He had on him, he said, a fatal illness, and if he did
    not get this--he must die." Her voice shook. "He must die! Now God help

    "You took it."

    "I took it." Her face, as her eyes dropped before his, betrayed trouble
    and doubt. "I took it," she continued, trembling. "If I have done wrong,
    God forgive me. For I stole it."

    His face betrayed his amazement, but he did not release her hands.
    "Why?" he said.

    "To give it to her," she answered. "To my mother. I thought then that it
    was right--it was a chance. I thought--now I don't know, I don't know!"
    she repeated. The shade on her face grew deeper. "I thought I was right
    then. Now--I--I am frightened." She looked at him with eyes in which her
    doubts were mirrored. She shivered, she who had been so joyous a moment
    before, and her hands, which hitherto had lain passive in his, returned
    his pressure feverishly. "I fear now!" she exclaimed. "I fear! What is
    it? What has happened--in the last minute?"

    He would have drawn her to him, seeing that her nerves were shaken; but
    the table was between them, and before he could pass round it, a sound
    caught his ear, a shadow fell between them, and looking up he discovered
    Basterga's face peering through the nearer casement. It was pressed
    against the small leaded panes, and possibly it was this which by
    flattening the huge features imparted to them a look of malignity. Or
    the look--which startled Claude, albeit he was no coward--might have
    been only the natural expression of one, who suspected what was afoot
    between them and came to mar it. Whatever it meant, the girl's cry of
    dismay found an echo on Claude's lips. Involuntarily he dropped her
    hands; but--and the action was symbolical of the change in her life--he
    stepped at the same moment between her and the door. Whatever she had
    done, right or wrong, was his concern now.
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