Impulsively, he even tore apart the front of his coat, as though indeed to invite such scrutiny. He stood before her, trembling, choking. The passion of his speech caused the color again to rush to the Lady Catharine’s face. For a moment her bosom rose and fell tumultuously, deep answering as of old unto deep, in the ancient, wondrous way.
“Is it the part of manhood to persecute a woman, Mr. Law?” she asked, her own uncertitude now showing in her tone.
“I do not know,” he answered.
Lady Catharine looked at him curiously.
“Do you love me, Mr. Law?” she asked, directly.
“I have no answer.”
“Did you love that other woman?”
It took all his courage to reply. “I am not fit to answer,” said he.
“And you would love me, too, for a time and in a way?”
“I will not answer. I will not trifle.”
“And I am to think Mr. Law better than himself, better than other men; since you say no man dare ask actual justice?”
“Worse than other men, and yet a man. A man—my God! Lady Catharine—a man unworthy, yet a man seized fatally of that love which neither life nor death can alter!”
As one fascinated, Lady Catharine sat looking at him. “Then,” said she, “any man may say to any woman—Mr. Law says to me—’I have cared for such, and so many other women to the extent, let us say, of so many pounds sterling. But I love you to the extent of twice as many pounds, shillings and pence?’ Is that the dole we women may expect, Mr. Law?”
“Have back your own words!” he cried. “Nothing is enough but all! And as God witnesseth in this hour, I have loved you with all my heart-beats, with all my prayers. I call upon you now, in the name of that love I know you once bore me—”
Upon the face of the Lady Catharine there blazed the red mark of the shame of Knollys. Covering her face with her hands, she suddenly bent forward, and from her lips there broke a sob of pain.
In a flash Law was at her side, kneeling, seeking to draw away her fingers with hands that trembled as much as her own.
“Do not! Do not!” he cried. “I am not worth it! It shall be as you like. Let me go away forever. This I can not endure!”
“Ah, John Law, John Law!” murmured Catharine Knollys, “why did you break my heart!”
THE REGENT’S PROMISE
“Tell me, then, Monsieur L’as, of this new America. I would fain have some information at first hand. There was rumor, I know not how exact, that you once traveled in those regions.”
Thus spake his Grace Philippe, Duke of Orleans, regent of France, now, in effect, ruler of France. It was the audience which had been arranged for John Law, that opportunity for which he had waited all his life. Before him now, as he stood in the great council chamber, facing this man whose ambitions ended where his own began—at the convivial board and at the gaming table—he saw the path which led to the success that he had craved so long. He, Law of Lauriston, sometime adventurer and gambler, was now playing his last and greatest game.