“Bones—yes, and human. Where they lie, the other must be near. Ah, Lacombe, Lacombe; you will yield me my own at last!”
He was shaking a slow finger at the poor remnants—a rib or two, the half of a yellow skull.
Suddenly he was down on his knees, tearing at the black, thick soil, diving into it, tossing it hither and thither.
A pause, a rending exclamation, and he was on his feet again with a scream of ecstasy. An oblong casket, rusty, corroded, but unbroken, was in his hand.
“Now,” he whispered, sibilant through the wind, controlling himself, though he was shaking from head to foot, “now to return as we have come. Not a word, not a word till we have this safe in the cottage!”
They found, after some search, a difficult way up. By-and-by they stood once more on the lip of the fall, and paused for breath.
It was at this very instant that De Jussac dropped the box beside him and threw up his hands.
“The guillotine!” he shrieked, and fell headlong into the pit he had just issued from.
The poor bandaged figure; the approaching death; the dog whining softly in the yard.
“I am dying, my little Plancine?”
The girl’s forehead was bowed on the homely quilt.
“Nay, cry not, little one! I go very happy. That (he indicated by a motion of his eyelids the fatal box, which, yet unopened, lay on a table by the sunny window) shall repay thee for thy long devotion, for thy poverty, and for thy brave sweetness with the old papa.”
“No, no, no!”
“But they are diamonds, Plancine—such diamonds, my bird. They have flashed at Versailles, at the little Trianon. They were honoured to lie on the breast of a beautiful and courageous woman—thine aunt, Plancine; the most noble the Comtesse de la Morne. She gave her wealth, almost her life, for her king—all but her diamonds. It was at Brussels, whither I had escaped from The Terror—I, a weak and desolate boy of but fourteen. I lived with her, in her common, cheap lodging. For five years we made out our friendless and deserted existence in company. In truth, we were an embarrassment, and they looked at us askance. Long after her mind failed her, the memory of her own former beauty dwelt with her; yet she could not comprehend but that it was still a talisman to conjure with. Even to the end she would deck herself and coquet to her glass. But she was good and faithful, Plancine; and, at the last, when she was dying, she gave me this box. ’It contains all that is left to me of my former condition,’ she said. ’It shall make thy fortune for thee in England, my nephew, whither thou must journey when poor Dorine is underground.’ By that I knew it was her cherished diamonds she bequeathed me. ‘They do not want thee here,’ she said. ’Thou must take boat for England when I am gone.’
“But George, my friend!”