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El Dorado

30.
Afterwards
"I am sorry, Lady Blakeney," said a harsh, dry voice close to her; "the incident at
the end of your visit was none of our making, remember."
She turned away, sickened with horror at thought of contact with this wretch. She
had heard the heavy oaken door swing to behind her on its ponderous hinges,
and the key once again turn in the lock. She felt as if she had suddenly been
thrust into a coffin, and that clods of earth were being thrown upon her breast,
oppressing her heart so that she could not breathe.
Had she looked for the last time on the man whom she loved beyond everything
else on earth, whom she worshipped more ardently day by day? Was she even
now carrying within the folds of her kerchief a message from a dying man to his
comrades?
Mechanically she followed Chauvelin down the corridor and along the passages
which she had traversed a brief half-hour ago. From some distant church tower a
clock tolled the hour of ten. It had then really only been little more than thirty brief
minutes since first she had entered this grim building, which seemed less stony
than the monsters who held authority within it ; to her it seemed that centuries
had gone over her head during that time. She felt like an old woman, unable to
straighten her back or to steady her limbs; she could only dimly see some few
paces ahead the trim figure of Chauvelin walking with measured steps, his hands
held behind his back, his head thrown up with what looked like triumphant
defiance.
At the door of the cubicle where she had been forced to submit to the indignity of
being searched by a wardress, the latter was now standing, waiting with
characteristic stolidity. In her hand she held the steel files, the dagger and the
purse which, as Marguerite passed, she held out to her.
"Your property, citizeness," she said placidly.
She emptied the purse into her own hand, and solemnly counted out the twenty
pieces of gold. She was about to replace them all into the purse, when
Marguerite pressed one of them back into her wrinkled hand.
"Nineteen will be enough, citizeness," she said; "keep one for yourself, not only
for me, but for all the poor women who come here with their heart full of hope,
and go hence with it full of despair."
The woman turned calm, lack-lustre eyes on her, and silently pocketed the gold
piece with a grudgingly muttered word of thanks.
Chauvelin during this brief interlude, had walked thoughtlessly on ahead.
Marguerite, peering down the length of the narrow corridor, spied his sable-clad
figure some hundred metres further on as it crossed the dim circle of light thrown
by one of the lamps.
She was about to follow, when it seemed to her as if some one was moving in
the darkness close beside her. The wardress was even now in the act of closing
the door of her cubicle, and there were a couple of soldiers who were
disappearing from view round one end of the passage, whilst Chauvelin's
retreating form was lost in the gloom at the other.
 
 
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