But the events of the night are not over. As soon as I had seen mademoiselle comfortably ensconced in my old room up stairs, I returned to the sitting room, where the marquis still lingered. He was standing in the window when I entered, and turned with quite a bright face to greet me. But that brightness soon vanished as he met my glance, and it was with something like dismay that he commented upon my paleness, and asked if I were ill.
I told him I was ill at ease; that events of a most serious nature were transpiring in the house; that he was concerned in them heavily, grievously; that I could not rest till I had taken him into my confidence, and shown him upon what a precipice he was standing.
He evidently considered me demented, but as he looked at me longer, and noted my steady and unflinching gaze, he gradually turned pale, and uttered, in irrepressible anxiety, the one word —“Honora!”
“Miss Urquhart is well,” I began, “and is as ignorant as yourself of the shadows that hover over her. She is all innocence and truth, sir. Honor, candor and purity dwell in her heart, and happiness in her eyes. Yet is that happiness threatened by the worst calamity that can befall a sensitive human being, and if you hold her in esteem —”
“Ma foi!” he broke in, with violent impetuosity. “I do not esteem her; I love her. What are these dreadful secrets? How is her happiness threatened? Tell me without hesitation, for I have entreated her to be my wife, and she —”
“She thinks it is a parent’s whim, alone, which keeps her from responding fully to your wishes,” I finished. “But madame’s objections have deeper ground than that. Miserable woman as she is, she has some idea of honor left. She knew her daughter could not safely marry into a high and noble family, and so —”
“What is this you say?” came again in the quick and hurried tones of despair. “Mrs. Urquhart —”
“Wait,” I broke in. “You call her Mrs. Urquhart, but she has no claim to that title. She and Edwin Urquhart have never been married.”
He recoiled sharply, with a gesture of complete disbelief.
“How do you know?” he demanded. “They are strangers to you. I have known them in their own home. All the world credits their marriage, and —”
“All the world does not know what transpired in this house sixteen years ago, when Edwin Urquhart stopped here with his bride on his way to France.”
He stared, seemed shaken, but presently hastened to remark:
“Ah, madame, you acknowledge that she is his wife. You said bride. One does not call a woman by that name without acknowledging a marriage service.”
“The woman he brought here was his bride. Edwin Urquhart is no common criminal, Marquis de la Roche–Guyon.”
It was hard to make him understand. It was hard to undermine his trust, step by step, inch by inch, till he found no hope, no shred of doubt to cling to. But it had to be done. If only to avert worse calamities and more heart-rending scenes, he must know at once, and before he took another step in relation to Miss Urquhart, just what her position was, and to what shame and suffering he was subjecting himself by accepting her love and pledging his own.
The task was not done till I had shown him this diary of mine, and related all that had just occurred in the room below. Then, indeed, he seemed to comprehend his position, and completely crushed and horror-stricken, subsided into a dreadful silence before me, the lines of years coming into his face as I watched him, till he became scarcely recognizable for the lordly and light-hearted cavalier whose dreams of love I had so fearfully interrupted some half hour or so before. From this lethargy of despair I did not seek to rouse him. I knew when he had anything to say he would speak, and till he had faced the situation and had made up his mind to his duty, I could wait his decision with perfect confidence in his fine nature and nice sense of honor.
You may, therefore, imagine my feelings when, after a long delay — an hour at least — he suddenly remarked:
“We have been a proud family. From time immemorial we have held ourselves aloof from whatever could be thought to stain our honor or impeach our good name. I cannot drag the unfathomable disgrace of all these crimes into a record so pure as that of the Roche–Guyon race. Though I had wished to bestow upon my wife a name and position of which she could be proud, I must content myself with merely giving her the comfort of a true heart and such support as can be provided by a loving but unaccustomed hand.”
“Marquis —” I commenced.
But he cut my words short with a firm and determined gesture.
“My name is Louis de Fontaine,” he explained. “Henceforth my cousin will be known as the marquis. It is the least I can do for the old French honor.”
’Twas so simply, so determinedly done that I stood aghast as much at the serenity of his manner as the act which required such depth of sacrifice from one of his traditions and rearing.
“Then you continue to consider yourself the suitor of Miss Urquhart,” I stammered. “You will marry her, though her parents may be called upon to perish upon the scaffold in an ignominy as great as ever befell two guilty mortals?”
The answer came brokenly, but with unwavering strength:
“Did you not say that she was innocent? Is she to be crushed beneath the guilt of her parents? Am I to take the last prop from one so soon to be bereft of all the supports upon which she has leaned from infancy? If I cling to her, she may live through her horror and shame; but should I fail her — great heavens! would we not have another life to answer for before God? Besides,” he added, with the simplicity which marked his whole bearing, “I love her. I could not do otherwise if I would.”
To this final word I could make no rejoinder. With a reverence unmingled with the taint of compassion, I took my departure, and being anxious by this time to know how my young charge was bearing her seclusion, I went to the room where I had left her, and softly opened the door.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55