He knelt, kissing her hands madly. “You are the breath of my life, the coming of morning after a long night of darkness. Love you? With my latest breath!”
“It was my heart you put your heel upon, for I loved you from the moment I saw your miniature. Paul!” She bent her head till her cheek rested upon his hair. “So many days have been wasted, so many days! I have always loved you. Look!” The locket lay in her hand. The face there was his own.
“And you come to me?” It was so difficult to believe. “Ah, but you heard what the vicomte said that day?” a shade of gloom mingling with the gladness on his face.
“I saw only you in the doorway, defending my honor with your life. I tried to tell you then that I loved you, but I could not.”
“I am not worthy,” he said, rising from his knees.
“I love you!”
“I have been a gamester.”
“I love you!” The music in her voice deepened and vibrated. The strings of the harp of life gave forth their fullest sound.
“I have been a roisterer by night. I have looked into the bottom of many an unwise cup.”
“Do you not hear me say that I love you? There is no past now, Paul; there is nothing but the future. Once, I promised in a letter that if you found me you might take what I had always denied you, my lips.”
He put his arms around her and took from her glowing lips that fairest and most perfect flower which grows in the garden of love: the first kiss.
And there was no shadow between.
THE ABSOLUTION OF MONSIEUR LE MARQUIS DE PERIGNY
The Chateau Saint Louis shimmered in the November moonlight. It was a castle in dream. Solitude brooded over the pile as a mother broods over an empty cot. High above the citadel the gilded ball of the flagstaff glittered like a warm topaz. Below, the roofs of the warehouses shone like silver under gauze. A crooked black line marked the course of the icy river, and here and there a phantom moon flashed upon it. The quiet beauty of all this was broken by the red harshness of artificial light which gleamed from a single window in the chateau, like a Cyclopean eye. Stillness was within. If any moved about on this floor it was on tiptoe. Death stood at the door and peered into the darkest corners. For the Marquis de Perigny was about to start out upon that journey which has no visible end, which leaves no trail behind: men setting out this way forget the way back, being without desire.
Who shall plumb the depth of the bitterness in this old man’s heart, as he lay among his pillows, his head moving feebly from side to side, his attenuated fingers plucking at the coverlet, his tongue stealing slowly along his cracked and burning lips. Fragments of his life passed in ragged panorama. His mind wandered, and again became keen with the old-time cynicism and philosophy, as a coal glows and fades in a fitful wind. In all these weeks he had left his bed but once . . . to find that his son was lost in the woods, a captive, perhaps dead. Too late; he had always been too late. He had turned the forgiving hand away. And how had he wronged that hand?