“What does it mean?” Dorothea managed to ask.
“It means Dartmoor.”
Dorothea’s candlestick shook in her hand, and the extinguisher fell on the floor. Her brother picked it up and restored it.
“Naturally,” he murmured with brotherly concern, “your nerves! It has been a trying night, but you comported yourself admirably, Dorothea. Ibbetson assures me he could not have tied the bandage better himself. I felt proud of my sister.” He kissed her gallantly and pulled out his watch. “Past twelve o’clock!—time they were round with the barouche. The sooner we get Master Raoul down to the Infirmary and pack him in bed, the better.”
As Dorothea went up the stairs she heard the sound of wheels on the gravel.
She could not accept his sacrifice. No; a way must be found to save him, and in her prayers that night she began to seek it. But while she prayed, her heart was bowed over a great joy. She had a hero for a lover!
She saw no more of him, and heard very little, before the Court Martial met. No one acquainted with the code of that age—so strait-laced in its proprieties, so full-blooded in its vices—will need to be told that she never dreamed of asking her brother’s permission to visit the Prisoners’ Infirmary. He reported—once a day, perhaps, and casually— that the patient was doing well. Dorothea ventured once to sound General Rochambeau, but the old aristocrat answered stiffly that he took no interest in declasses, and plainly hinted that, in his judgment, M. Raoul had sinned past pardon; which but added to her remorse. From time to time she obtained some hearsay news through Polly; but Polly’s chief interest now lay in her approaching marriage.
For the Commissary, while accepting Raoul’s version of his capture, had an intuitive gift which saved him from wholly believing in it. Indeed, his conduct of the affair, if we consider the extent of his knowledge, was nothing less than masterly. Corporal Zeally found himself a sergeant within forty-eight hours, and within an hour of the announcement he and Polly were given an audience in the Bayfield library, with the result that Parson Milliton cried their banns in Axcester Church on the following Sunday, and the bride-elect received a month’s wages and three weeks’ notice of dismissal, with a hint that the reason for her short retention—to instruct her successor in Miss Dorothea’s ways—was ostensible rather than real. With Raoul’s fate he declined to meddle. “Here,” he said in effect, “is my report, including the prisoner’s confession. I do my simple duty in presenting it. But the young man was captured in my grounds; he was known to be a protege of my brother’s. Finding him wounded and faint with loss of blood, we naturally did our best for him, and this again renders me perhaps too sympathetic. The law is the law, however, and must take its course.” No attitude could have been more proper or have shown better feeling.