‘I ask nothing better,’ I cried.
‘A horse and an escort are waiting at the gates.’
‘I am ready to start at this instant.’
‘Nay, there can be no such very great hurry,’ said my uncle. ’Surely you will wait for luncheon, Lieutenant Gerard.’
‘The Emperor’s commissions, sir, are not carried out in such a manner,’ said the young hussar sternly. ’I have already wasted too much time. We must be upon our way in five minutes.’
My uncle placed his hand upon my arm and led me slowly towards the gateway, through which my cousin Sibylle had already passed.
’There is one matter that I wish to speak to you about before you go. Since my time is so short you will forgive me if I introduce it without preamble. You have seen your cousin Sibylle, and though her behaviour this morning is such as to prejudice you against her, yet I can assure you that she is a very amiable girl. She spoke just now as if she had mentioned the plan which I had conceived to you. I confess to you that I cannot imagine anything more convenient than that we should unite in order to settle once for all every question as to which branch of the family shall hold the estates.’
‘Unfortunately,’ said I, ‘there are objections.’
‘And pray what are they?’
’The fact that my cousin’s hand, as I have just learned, is promised to another.’
‘That need not hinder us,’ said he, with a sour smile; ’I will undertake that he never claims the promise.’
’I fear that I have the English idea of marriage, that it should go by love and not by convenience. But in any case your scheme is out of the question, for my own affections are pledged to a young lady in England.’
He looked wickedly at me out of the corners of his grey eyes.
‘Think well what you are doing, Louis,’ said he, in a sibilant whisper which was as menacing as a serpent’s hiss. ’You are deranging my plans, and that is not done with impunity.’
‘It is not a matter in which I have any choice.’
He gripped me by the sleeve, and waved his hand round as Satan may have done when he showed the kingdoms and principalities. ’Look at the park,’ he cried, ’the fields, the woods. Look at the old castle in which your fathers have lived for eight hundred years. You have but to say the word and it is all yours once more.’
There flashed up into my memory the little red-brick house at Ashford, and Eugenie’s sweet pale face looking over the laurel bushes which grew by the window.
‘It is impossible!’ said I.
There must have been something in my manner which made him comprehend that it really was so, for his face darkened with anger, and his persuasion changed in an instant to menace.
’If I had known this they might have done what they wished with you last night,’ said he, ‘I would never have put out a finger to save you.’