Silently Victor piloted her, and she could not choose but follow, though she felt sick with the sudden apprehension that had sprung to life as she left the sleeping world outside. She seemed to be leaving her freedom, all she valued, behind her as she entered this shadowy prison. And all for what? Her quivering heart could find no answer.
There was a heavy scent of hothouse flowers in the air. She almost gasped for breath in the exotic fragrance of the unseen blossoms. A strong impulse possessed her to turn and flee by the way she had come.
“Madame!” It was Victor’s voice, low and entreating. He had opened an inner door, and stood waiting for her.
Had he seen her wavering resolution, she wondered? Was he trying to hasten her ere it should wholly evaporate—to close the way of escape ere she could avail herself of it? Or was he anxious solely on Piers’ account—lest after all she might arrive too late?
She could not determine, but the urgency of his whisper moved her. She passed him and entered the room beyond.
It was dimly lighted by a single shaded electric lamp that illumined a writing-table. She saw that it was the ancient library of the Abbey, a wonderful apartment which she knew to contain an almost priceless collection of old parchments. It was lined with bookshelves and had the musty smell inseparable from aged bindings.
Victor motioned her silently to a door at the further end, but before either of them could reach it there came a sudden footfall on the other side, the handle turned sharply, and it opened.
“Ah!” exclaimed Victor, and fell back as one caught red-handed in a crime.
Avery stood quite motionless with her heart beating up against her throat, and a tragic sense of trespass overwhelming her. She could not find a single word to say, so sudden and so terrible was the ordeal. She could only wait in silence.
Piers stood still as one transfixed, with eyes that blazed sleepless out of a drawn, pale face; then at length with a single snap of the fingers imperiously he dismissed Victor by the still open door.
It closed discreetly upon the Frenchman’s exit, and then only did Piers move forward; he came to Avery, drew her to a chair, knelt mutely down before her, and bowed his head upon her lap.
“LA GRANDE PASSION”
She spoke to him at last, half-frightened by his silence, yet by his attitude wholly reassured. For he wanted her still, of that no doubt remained. His hands were clasped behind her. He could have held her in his arms; but he did not. He only knelt there at her feet in utter silence, his black head pillowed on her hands.
“Piers!” she said. “Piers! Let me help you!”
He groaned in answer, and she felt a great shiver run through him. She knew intuitively that he was battling for self-control and dared not for the moment show his face.