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XIV. One O'clock Precisely!
Supper had been extremely gay. All those present declared that never had Lady
Blakeney been more adorable, nor that "demmed idiot" Sir Percy more amusing.
His Royal Highness had laughed until the tears streamed down his cheeks at
Blakeney's foolish yet funny repartees. His doggerel verse, "We seek him here,
we seek him there," etc., was sung to the tune of "Ho! Merry Britons!" and to the
accompaniment of glasses knocked loudly against the table. Lord Grenville,
moreover, had a most perfect cook--some wags asserted that he was a scion of
the old French NOBLESSE, who having lost his fortune, had come to seek it in
the CUISINE of the Foreign Office.
Marguerite Blakeney was in her most brilliant mood, and surely not a soul in that
crowded supper-room had even an inkling of the terrible struggle which was
raging within her heart.
The clock was ticking so mercilessly on. It was long past midnight, and even the
Prince of Wales was thinking of leaving the supper-table. Within the next half-
hour the destinies of two brave men would be pitted against one another--the
dearly-beloved brother and he, the unknown hero.
Marguerite had not tried to see Chauvelin during this last hour; she knew that his
keen, fox-like eyes would terrify her at once, and incline the balance of her
decision towards Armand. Whilst she did not see him, there still lingered in her
heart of hearts a vague, undefined hope that "something" would occur,
something big, enormous, epoch-making, which would shift from her young,
weak shoulders this terrible burden of responsibility, of having to choose between
two such cruel alternatives.
But the minutes ticked on with that dull monotony which they invariably seem to
assume when our very nerves ache with their incessant ticking.
After supper, dancing was resumed. His Royal Highness had left, and there was
general talk of departing among the older guests; the young were indefatigable
and had started on a new gavotte, which would fill the next quarter of an hour.
Marguerite did not feel equal to another dance; there is a limit to the most
enduring of self-control. Escorted by a Cabinet Minister, she had once more
found her way to the tiny boudoir, still the most deserted among all the rooms.
She knew that Chauvelin must be lying in wait for her somewhere, ready to seize
the first possible opportunity for a TETE-A-TETE. His eyes had met hers for a
moment after the 'fore-supper minuet, and she knew that the keen diplomat, with
those searching pale eyes of his, had divined that her work was accomplished.