“‘You shall suffer for this,’ I heard a cruel voice say in a hissing whisper; ‘you will not ask to leave again!’ and at those evil words a cry of anguish — a human cry — broke from my boy’s lips, and with a yell of fury I sprang forward to save him or to die with him. But what happened then I know not. Whether a human hand or a fiend’s struck me down I shall never now know. I remember a blow — the sense that hell’s mouth was opening to receive me; that the mocking laughter of devils was in my ears. Then I knew no more till (they tell me it was many weeks later) I awoke from a long strange sleep in yon cabin where I live. An old woodman had found me, and had carried me there. Sir Hugh had given him a few silver pieces to take care of me. He had filled my place, and my old home was occupied by another; but had it not been so, no power on earth would have taken me back there. I had grown old in one night. I had lost my strength, my cunning, my heart. I stayed on with the old man awhile, and as he fell sick and died when the next snow fell upon the ground, Master Bernard de Brocas appointed me as woodman in his stead, and here I have remained ever since. I know not how the time has sped. I have no heart or hope in life. My child is gone — possessed by fiends who have him in their clutches, so that I may never win him back to me. I hate my life, yet fear to die; for then I might see him the sport of devils, and be, as before, powerless to succour him. I have long ceased to be shriven for my sins. What good to me is forgiveness, if my child will be doomed to hellfire for evermore? No hope in this world, no hope after death. Woe is me that ever I was born! Woe is me! woe is me!”
The energy which had supported the old man as he told his tale now appeared suddenly to desert him. With a low moan he sank upon the ground and buried his face in his hands, whilst the boys stood and gazed at him, and then at one another, their faces full of interest and sympathy, their hearts burning with indignation against the wicked foe of their own race, who seemed to bring misery and wrong wherever he moved.
“And thou hast never seen thy son again?” asked Raymond softly. “Is he yet alive, knowest thou?”
“I have never seen him again: they say that he still lives. But what is life to one who is sold and bound over, body and soul, to the powers of darkness?”
Then the old man buried his face once more in his hands, and seemed to forget even the presence of the boys; and Gaston and Raymond stole silently away, with many backward glances at the bowed and stricken figure, unable to find any words either to help or comfort him.