Armand sat in the armchair in front of the fire. His head rested against one hand;
in the other he held the letter written by the friend whom he had betrayed.
Twice he had read it now, and already was every word of that minute, clear
writing graven upon the innermost fibres of his body, upon the most secret cells
of his brain.
Armand, I know. I knew even before Chauvelin came to me, and stood there
hoping to gloat over the soul-agony a man who finds that he has been betrayed
by his dearest friend. But that d--d reprobate did not get that satisfaction, for I
was prepared. Not only do I know, Armand, but I UNDERSTAND. I, who do not
know what love is, have realised how small a thing is honour, loyalty, or
friendship when weighed in the balance of a loved one's need.
To save Jeanne you sold me to Heron and his crowd. We are men, Armand, and
the word forgiveness has only been spoken once these past two thousand years,
and then it was spoken by Divine lips. But Marguerite loves you, and mayhap
soon you will be all that is left her to love on this earth. Because of this she must
never know .... As for you, Armand--well, God help you! But meseems that the
hell which you are enduring now is ten thousand times worse than mine. I have
heard your furtive footsteps in the corridor outside the grated window of this cell,
and would not then have exchanged my hell for yours. Therefore, Armand, and
because Marguerite loves you, I would wish to turn to you in the hour that I need
help. I am in a tight corner, but the hour may come when a comrade's hand might
mean life to me. I have thought of you, Armand partly because having taken
more than my life, your own belongs to me, and partly because the plan which I
have in my mind will carry with it grave risks for the man who stands by me.
I swore once that never would I risk a comrade's life to save mine own; but
matters are so different now ... we are both in hell, Armand, and I in striving to
get out of mine will be showing you a way out of yours.
Will you retake possession of your lodgings in the Rue de la Croix Blanche? I
should always know then where to find you on an emergency. But if at any time
you receive another letter from me, be its contents what they may, act in
accordance with the letter, and send a copy of it at once to Ffoulkes or to
Marguerite. Keep in close touch with them both. Tell her I so far forgave your
disobedience (there was nothing more) that I may yet trust my life and mine
honour in your hands.
I shall have no means of ascertaining definitely whether you will do all that I ask;
but somehow, Armand, I know that you will.
For the third time Armand read the letter through.
"But, Armand," he repeated, murmuring the words softly tinder his breath, "I know
that you will."
Prompted by some indefinable instinct, moved by a force that compelled, he
allowed himself to glide from the chair on to the floor, on to his knees.
All the pent-up bitterness, the humiliation, the shame of the past few days,
surged up from his heart to his lips in one great cry of pain.