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El Dorado

29.
For The Sake Of That Helpless Innocent
The next instant he was kneeling on the floor and his hands were wandering over
the small, irregular flagstones immediately underneath the table. Marguerite had
risen to her feet; she watched her husband with intent and puzzled eyes; she
saw him suddenly pass his slender fingers along a crevice between two
flagstones, then raise one of these slightly and from beneath it extract a small
bundle of papers, each carefully folded and sealed. Then he replaced the stone
and once more rose to his knees.
He gave a quick glance toward the doorway. That corner of his cell, the recess
wherein stood the table, was invisible to any one who had not actually crossed
the threshold. Reassured that his movements could not have been and were not
watched, he drew Marguerite closer to him.
"Dear heart," he whispered, "I want to place these papers in your care. Look
upon them as my last will and testament. I succeeded in fooling those brutes one
day by pretending to be willing to accede to their will. They gave me pen and ink
and paper and wax, and I was to write out an order to my followers to bring the
Dauphin hither. They left me in peace for one quarter of an hour, which gave me
time to write three letters--one for Armand and the other two for Ffoulkes, and to
hide them under the flooring of my cell. You see, dear, I knew that you would
come and that I could give them to you then."
He paused, and that, ghost of a smile once more hovered round his lips. He was
thinking of that day when he had fooled Heron and Chauvelin into the belief that
their devilry had succeeded, and that they had brought the reckless adventurer to
his knees. He smiled at the recollection of their wrath when they knew that they
had been tricked, and after a quarter of an hour s anxious waiting found a few
sheets of paper scribbled over with incoherent words or satirical verse, and the
prisoner having apparently snatched ten minutes' sleep, which seemingly had
restored to him quite a modicum of his strength.
But of this he told Marguerite nothing, nor of the insults and the humiliation which
he had had to bear in consequence of that trick. He did not tell her that directly
afterwards the order went forth that the prisoner was to be kept on bread and
water in the future, nor that Chauvelin had stood by laughing and jeering while ...
No! he did not tell her all that; the recollection of it all had still the power to make
him laugh; was it not all a part and parcel of that great gamble for human lives
wherein he had held the winning cards himself for so long?
"It is your turn now," he had said even then to his bitter enemy.
"Yes!" Chauvelin had replied, "our turn at last. And you will not bend my fine
English gentleman, we'll break you yet, never fear."
It was the thought of it all, of that hand to hand, will to will, spirit to spirit struggle
that lighted up his haggard face even now, gave him a fresh zest for life, a desire
to combat and to conquer in spite of all, in spite of the odds that had martyred his
body but left the mind, the will, the power still unconquered.
He was pressing one of the papers into her hand, holding her fingers tightly in
his, and compelling her gaze with the ardent excitement of his own.
 
 
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