She raised no objection, and for my part I was overjoyed at the proposal, as it gave me an opportunity of learning more of this singular cousin of mine, who had told me so much and yet seemed to know so much more. What was the meaning of this obscure warning which she had given me against her father, and why was she so frankly anxious to know about my love affairs? These were the two questions which pressed for an answer. So out we went together into the sweet coast-land air, the sweeter for the gale of the night before, and we walked through the old yew-lined paths, and out into the park, and so round the castle, looking up at the gables, the grey pinnacles, the oak-mullioned windows, the ancient wing with its crenulated walls and its meurtriere windows, the modern with its pleasant verandah and veil of honeysuckle. And as she showed me each fresh little detail, with a particularity which made me understand how dear the place had become to her, she would still keep offering her apologies for the fact that she should be the hostess and I the visitor.
‘It is not against you but against ourselves that I was bitter,’ said she, ’for are we not the cuckoos who have taken a strange nest and driven out those who built it? It makes me blush to think that my father should invite you to your own house.’
‘Perhaps we had been rooted here too long,’ I answered. ’Perhaps it is for our own good that we are driven out to carve our own fortunes, as I intend to do.’
‘You say that you are going to the Emperor?’
‘You know that he is in camp near here?’
‘So I have heard.’
‘But your family is still proscribed?’
’I have done him no harm. I will go boldly to him and ask him to admit me into his service.’
‘Well,’ said she, ’there are some who call him a usurper, and wish him all evil; but for my own part I have never heard of anything that he has said and done which was not great and noble. But I had expected that you would be quite an Englishman, Cousin Louis, and come over here with your pockets full of Pitt’s guineas and your heart of treason.’
‘I have met nothing but hospitality from the English,’ I answered; ’but my heart has always been French.’
‘But your father fought against us at Quiberon.’
‘Let each generation settle its own quarrels,’ said I. ’I am quite of your father’s opinion about that.’
‘Do not judge my father by his words, but by his deeds,’ said she, with a warning finger upraised; ’and, above all, Cousin Louis, unless you wish to have my life upon your conscience, never let him suspect that I have said a word to set you on your guard.’
‘Your life!’ I gasped.
‘Oh, yes, he would not stick at that!’ she cried. ’He killed my mother. I do not say that he slaughtered her, but I mean that his cold brutality broke her gentle heart. Now perhaps you begin to understand why I can talk of him in this fashion.’