[Illustration: Soon the fire settled to its work.]
THE LADY AT TALLWOODS
The arrival of the four visitors at Tallwoods, and their departure so soon thereafter, were events of course not unknown to Josephine, but only conjecture could exist in her mind as to the real nature of the errand in either case. Jeanne, her maid, speculated as to this openly.
“That docteur also, he is now gone,” said she, ruefully. “But yet, behold the better opportunity for us to escape, Madame. Ah, were it not for the injury of madame, I should say, let us at once set out—we could follow the road.”
“But they will return!” exclaimed her mistress. “We can not tell how long they will be gone. And, Jeanne, I suffer.”
“Ah, my poor angel! You suffer! It is criminal! We dare not start. But believe me, Madame, even so, it is not all misfortune. Suppose we remain; suppose Monsieur Dunwodee comes back? You suffer. He has pity. Pity is then your friend. In that itself are you most strong. Content yourself to be weak and helpless for a time. Not even that brute, that assassin, that criminal, dare offend you now, Madame. But—of course he is impossible for one like madame; yet I have delight to hear even a brute, an assassin, make such love! Ah, mon Dieu!”
Jeanne pursed a lip impartially. “Mon Dieu! And he was repressed, by reason of my presence. He was restrained, none the less, by this raiment here of another, so mysterious. Ah, if he—”
“Tais-toi donc, Jeanne!” exclaimed her mistress. “No more! We shall stay until to-morrow, at least.”
And so the day passed. The sleepy life of the old plantation went on about them in silence. As a wild animal pursued, oppressed, but for the time left alone in some hiding-place, gains greater courage with each moment of freedom from pursuit, so Josephine St. Auban gained a groundless hope with the passing of the hours. Even the long night at length rolled away. Jeanne slept in her mistress’ room. Nothing occurred to disturb their rest.
It was evening of the second day, and the shadows again were lying long across the valley, when there came slowly filing into view along the turn of the road the band of returning riders. At their head was the tall form of Dunwody, the others following, straggling, drooping in their saddles as though from long hours of exertion. The cavalcade slowly approached and drew up at the front door. As they dismounted the faces of all showed haggard, worn and stern.
“There has been combat, Madame!” whispered Jeanne. “See, he has been hurt. Look—those others!”
Dunwody got out of his saddle with difficulty. He limped as he stood now. A slender man near him got down unaided, a tall German-looking man followed suit. The group broke apart and showed a girl, riding, bound. Some one undid the bonds and helped her to the ground.