I Will Repay by Baroness Orczy - HTML preview
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"Vengeance is mine"
The pretence of a headache enabled Juliette to keep in her room the greater part of the day. She would have liked to shut herself out from the entire world during those hours which she spent face to face with her own thoughts and her own sufferings.
The sight of Anne Mie's pathetic little face as she brought her food and delicacies and various little comforts, was positive torture to the poor, harrowed soul.
At very sound in the great, silent house she started up, quivering with apprehension and horror. Had the sword of Damocles, which she herself had suspended, already fallen over the heads of those who had shown her nothing but kindness?
She could not think of Madame Déroulède or of Anne Mie without the most agonising, the most torturing shame.
And what of him--the man she had so remorselessly, so ruthlessly betrayed to a tribunal which would know no mercy?
Juliette dared not think of him.
She had never tried to analyse her feelings with regard to him. At the time of Charlotte Corday's trial, when his sonorous voice rang out in its pathetic appeal for the misguided woman, Juliette had given him ungrudging admiration. She remembered now how strongly his magnetic personality had roused in her a feeling of enthusiasm for the poor girl, who had come from the depths of her quiet provincial home, in order to accomplish the horrible deed which would immortalise her name through all the ages to come, and cause her countrymen to proclaim her "greater than Brutus.”
Déroulède was pleading for the life of that woman, and it was his very appeal which had aroused Juliette's dormant energy, for the cause which her dead father had enjoined her not to forget. It was Déroulède again whom she had seen but a few weeks ago, standing alone before the mob who would have torn her to pieces, haranguing them on her behalf, speaking to them with that quiet, strong voice of his, ruling them with the rule of love and pity, and turning their wrath to gentleness.
Did she hate him, then?
Surely, surely she hated him for having thrust himself into her life, for having caused her brother's death and covered her father's declining years with sorrow. And, above all, she hated him--indeed, indeed it was hate!--for being the cause of this most hideous action of her life: an action to which she had been driven against her will, one of basest ingratitude and treachery, foreign to every sentiment within her heart, cowardly, abject, the unconscious outcome of this strange magnetism which emanated from him and had cast a spell over her, transforming her individuality and will power, and making of her an unconscious and automatic instrument of Fate.
She would not speak of God's finger again: it was Fate--pagan, devilish Fate!-- the weird, shrivelled women who sit and spin their interminable thread. They had decreed; and Juliette, unable to fight, blind and broken by the conflict, had succumbed to the Megaeras and their relentless wheel.
At length silence and loneliness became unendurable. She called Pétronelle, and ordered her to pack her boxes.
"We leave for England to-day", she said curtly.
"For England?" gasped the worthy old soul, who was feeling very happy and comfortable in this hospitable house, and was loth to leave it. "So soon?”
"Why, yes; we had talked of it for some time. We cannot remain here always. My cousins De Crécy are there, and my aunt De Coudremont. We shall be among friends, Pétronelle, if we ever get there.”
"If we ever get there!" sighed poor Pétronelle; "we have but very little money, ma chérie, and no passports. Have you thought of asking M. Déroulède for them." "No, no," rejoined Juliette hastily; "I'll see to the passports somehow, Pétronelle. Sir Percy Blakeney is English; he'll tell me what to do.”
"Do you know where he lives, my jewel?”
"Yes; I heard him tell Madame Déroulède last night that he was lodging with a provincial named Brogard at the Sign of the Cruche Cassée. I'll go seek him, Pétronelle; I am sure he will help me. The English are so resourceful and practical. He'll get us our passports, I know, and advise us as to the best way to proceed. Do you stay here and get all our things ready. I'll not be long.”
She took up a cloak and hood, and, throwing them over her arm, she slipped out of the room.
Déroulède had left the house earlier in the day. She hoped that he had not yet returned, and ran down the stairs quickly, so that she might go out unperceived. The house was quite peaceful and still. It seemed strange to Juliette that there did not hang over it some sort of pall-like presentiment of coming evil.
From the kitchen, at some little distance from the hall, Anne Mie's voice was heard singing an old ditty:
"De ta tige détachée Pauvre feuille désséchée Où vas-tu?”
Juliette paused a moment. An awful ache had seized her heart; her eyes unconsciously filled with tears, as they roamed round the walls of this house which had sheltered her so hospitably, these three weeks past.
And now whither was she going? Like the poor, dead leaf of the song, she was wastrel, torn from the parent bough, homeless, friendless, having turned against the one hand which, in this great time of peril, had been extended to her in kindness and in love.
Conscience was beginning to rise up against her, and that hydra-headed tyrant Remorse. She closed her eyes to shut out the hideous vision of her crime; she tried to forget this home which her treachery had desecrated.
"Je vais où va toute chose
Où va la feuille de rose Et la feuille de laurier," sang Anne Mie plaintively.
A great sob broke from Juliette's aching heart. The misery of it all was more than she could bear. Ah, pity her if you can! She had fought and striven, and been conquered. A girl's soul is so young, so impressionable; and she had grown up with that one, awful, all-pervading idea of duty to accomplish, a most solemn oath to fulfil, one sworn to her dying father, and on the dead body of her brother. She had begged for guidance, prayed for release, and the voice from above had remained silent. Weak, miserable, cringing, the human soul, when torn with earthly passion, must look at its own strength for the fight.
And now the end had come. That swift, scarce tangible dream of peace, which had flitted through her mind during the past few weeks, had vanished with the dawn, and she was left desolate, alone with her great sin and its lifelong expiation.
Scarce knowing what she did, she fell on her knees, there on that threshold, which she was about to leave for ever. Fate had placed on her young shoulders a burden too heavy for her to bear.
At first she did not move. It was his voice coming from the study behind her. Its magic thrilled her, as it had done that day in the Hall of Justice. Strong, passionate, tender, it seemed now to raise every echo of response in her heart. She thought it was a dream, and remained there on her knees lest it should be dispelled.
Then she heard his footsteps on the flagstones of the hall. Anne Mie's plaintive singing had died away in the distance. She started, and jumped to her feet, hastily drying her eyes. The momentary dream was dispelled, and she was ashamed of her weakness.
He, the cause of all her sorrows, of her sin, and of her degradation, had no right to see her suffer.
She would have fled out of the house now, but it was too late. He had come out of his study, and, seeing her there on her knees weeping, he came quickly forward, trying, with all the innate chivalry of his upright nature, not to let her see that he had been a witness to her tears.
"You are going out, mademoiselle?" he said courteously, as, wrapping her cloak around her, she was turning towards the door.
"Yes, yes," she replied hastily; "a small errand, I..." "Is it anything I can do for you?”
"If..." he added, with visible embarrassment, "if your errand would brook a delay, might I crave the honour of your presence in my study for a few moments?”
"My errand brooks of no delay, Citizen Déroulède," she said as composedly as she could, "and perhaps on my return I might...”
"I am leaving almost directly, mademoiselle, and I would wish to bid you good- bye.”
He stood aside to allow her to pass, either out, through the street door or across the hall to his study.
There had been no reproach in his voice towards the guest, who was thus leaving him without a word of farewell. Perhaps if there had been any, Juliette would have rebelled. As it was, an unconquerable magnetism seemed to draw her towards him, and, making an almost imperceptible sign of acquiescence, she glided past him into his room.
The study was dark and cool; for the room faced the west, and the shutters had been closed, in order to keep out the hot August sun. At first Juliette could see nothing, but she felt his presence near her, as he followed her into the room, leaving the door slightly ajar.
"It is kind of you, mademoiselle," he said gently, "to accede to my request, which was perhaps presumptuous. But, you see, I am leaving this house to-day, and I had a selfish longing to hear your voice bidding me farewell.”
Juliette's large, burning eyes were gradually piercing the semi-gloom around her. She could see him distinctly now, standing close beside her, in an attitude of the deepest, almost reverential respect.
The study was as usual neat and tidy, denoting the orderly habits of a man of action and energy. On the ground there was a valise, ready strapped as if or a journey, and on the top of it a bulky letter-case of stout pigskin, secured with a small steel lock. Juliette's eyes fastened upon this case with a look of fascination and of horror. Obviously it contained Déroulède's papers, the plans for Marie Antoinette's escape, the passports of which he had spoken the day before to his friend, Sir Percy Blakeney--the proofs, in fact, which she had offered to the representatives of the people, in support of her denunciation of the Citizen- Deputy.
After his request he had said nothing more. He was waiting for her to speak; but her voice felt parched; it seemed to her as if hands of steel were gripping her throat, smothering the words she would have longed to speak.
"Will you not wish me godspeed, mademoiselle?" he repeated gently. "Godspeed?" Oh! the awful irony of it all! Should God speed him to a mock trial and to the guillotine? He was going thither, though he did not know it, and was even now trying to take the hand which had deliberately sent him there.
At last she made an effort to speak, and in a toneless, even voice she contrived to murmur:
"You are not going for long, Citizen-Deputy?”
"In these times, mademoiselle," he replied, "any farewell might be for ever. But I am actually going for a month to the Conciergerie, to take charge of the unfortunate prisoner there.”
"For a month!" she repeated mechanically.
"Oh yes!" he said, with a smile. "You see, our present Government is afraid that poor Marie Antoinette will exercise her fascinations over any lieutenant-governor of her prison, if he remain near her long enough, so a new one is appointed every month. I shall be in charge during this coming Vendémiaire. I shall hope to return before the equinox, but--who can tell?”
"In any case then, Citoyen Déroulède, the farewell I bid you to-night will be a very long one.”
"A month will seem a century to me," he said earnestly, "since I must spend it without seeing you, but...”
He looked long and searchingly at her. He did not understand her in her present mood, so scared and wild did she seem, so unlike that girlish, light-hearted self, which had made the dull old house so bright these past few weeks.
"But I should not dare to hope," he murmured, "that a similar reason would cause you to call that month a long one.”
She turned perhaps a trifle paler thant she had been hitherto, and her eyes roamed round the room like those of a trapped hare seeking to escape.
"You misunderstand me, Citoyen Déroulède," she said at last hurriedly. "You have all been kind--very kind--but Pétronelle and I can no longer trespass on your hospitality. We have friends in England, and many enemies here...”
"I know," he interrupted quietly; "it would be the most arrant selfishness on my part to suggest, that you should stay here an hour longer than necessary. I fear that after to-day my roof may no longer prove a sheltering one for you. But will you allow me to arrange for your safety, as I am arranging for that of my mother and Anne Mie? My English friend Sir Percy Blakeney, has a yacht in readiness off the Normandy coast. I have already seen to your passports and to all the arrangements of your journey as far as there, and Sir Percy, or one of his friends, will see you safely on board the English yacht. He has given me his promise that he will do this, and I trust him as I would myself. For the journey through France, my name is a sufficient guarantee that you will be unmolested; and if you will allow it, my mother and Anne Mie will travel in your company. Then..."
"I pray you stop, Citizen Déroulède," she suddenly interrupted excitedly. "You must forgive me, but I cannot allow thus to make any arrangements for me. Pétronelle and I must do as best we can. All your time and trouble should be spent for the benefit of those who have a claim upon you, whilst I..."
"You speak unkindly, mademoiselle; there is no question of claim."
"And you have no right to think..." she continued, with a growing, nervous excitement, drawing her hand hurriedly away, for he had tried to seize it.
"Ah! pardon me," he interrupted earnestly, "there you are wrong. I have the right to think of you and for you--the inalienable right conferred upon me by my great love for you."
"Nay, Juliette; I know my folly, and I know my presumption. I know the pride of your caste and of your party, and how much you despise the partisan of the squalid mob of France. Have I said that I aspired to gain your love? I wonder if I have ever dreamed it? I only know, Juliette, that you are to me something akin to the angels, something white and ethereal, intangible, and perhaps ununderstandable. Yet, knowing my folly, I glory in it, my dear, and I would not let you go out of my life without telling you of that, which has made every hour of the past few weeks a paradise for me--my love for you, Juliette."
He spoke in that low, impressive voice of his, and with those soft, appealing tones with which she had once heard him pleading for poor Charlotte Corday. Yet now he was not pleading for himself, not for his selfish wish or for his own happiness, only pleading for his love, that she should know of it, and, knowing it, have pity in her heart for him, and let him serve her to the end.
He did not say anything more for a while; he had taken her hand, which she no longer withdrew from him, for there was sweet pleasure in feeling his strong fingers close tremblingly over hers. He pressed his lips upon her hand, upon the soft palm and delicate wrist, his burning kisses bearing witness to the tumultuous passion, which his reverence for her was holding in check.
She tried to tear herself away from him, but he would not let her go:
"Do not go away just yet, Juliette," he pleaded. "Think! I may never see you again; but when you are far from me--in England, perhaps-- amongst your own kith and kin, will you try sometimes to think kindly of one who so wildly, so madly worships you?"
She would have stilled, an she could, the beating of her heart, which went out to him at last with all the passionate intensity of her great, pent-up love. Every word he spoke had its echo within her very soul, and she tried not to hear his tender appeal, not to see his dark head bending in worship before her. She tried to forget his presence, not to know that he was there--he, the man whom she had betrayed to serve her own miserable vengeance, whom in her mad, exalted rage she had thought that she hated, but whom she now knew that she loved better than her life, better than her soul, her tradidions, or her oath.
Now, at this moment, she made every effort to conjure up the vision of her brother brought home dead upon a stretcher, of her father's declining years, rendered hideous by the mind unhinged through the great sorrow.
She tried to think of the avenging finger of God pointing the way to the fulfilment of her oath, and called to Him to stand by her in this terrible agony of her soul. And God spoke to her at last; through the eternal vistas of boundless universe, from that heaven which had known no pity, His voice came to her now, clear, awesome, and implacable:
"Vengeance is mine! I will repay!"