It was a brave and simple declaration of first principles, and none the less affecting, because it came from the lips of a faithful, ignorant old man. It was just such simple loyalty that natures like Leroux’s never knew, frustrating the most cunning plans based on self-interest.
I realized the strength of Pierre’s argument. His duty lay first toward his kin; then he would place his life at his master’s service. But he would have to cover many miles before he returned.
He went without a backward glance; but I saw his throat heave, and I knew what the parting meant to him. The feudal loyalty of the past was all his faith.
I flung myself down on my blanket. I was utterly exhausted, and with that dead weariness which precludes sleep. The candle was burning low and was guttering down upon one side, and a pool of hardening grease was spreading over the table-top.
I walked over to the table and blew it out. We must husband it; the darkness in the cave would become unbearable without a candle to light.
I lay down again. The silence was loneliness itself, and not rendered less lonely by the occasional cries of the old man and the drip, drip of water. I could not see anything, and Jacqueline might have been a woman of stone, for she made not the least movement.
But I felt her presence; I seemed to feel her thoughts, to live in her.
At last I spoke to her.
I heard her start, and knew that she had raised her head and was looking after me. I crawled toward her, dragging my blanket after me. I felt in the darkness for the place where I knew her hand must be and took it in mine.
“Jacqueline,” I said, “you know I did not steal your money, don’t you?”
“Forgive me, monsieur,” I heard her whisper.
“Forgive me, Jacqueline, for I have brought heavy trouble upon you. But with God’s aid I am going to save you both—your father and you—and take you away somewhere where all the past can be forgotten.”
She sighed heavily, and I felt a tear drop on my hand.
“Jacqueline!” I cried.
“Ah, M. Hewlett”—the weariness of her voice went to my heart—“it might have been different—if——”
“If what, Jacqueline?”
“If there had not been the blood of a dead man between us,” she moaned. “If—you—had not—killed him!”
Her words were a revelation to me, for I learned that she had mercifully been spared the full remembrance of what had happened in the Tenth Street apartment. She thought that it was I who had killed Louis d’Epernay.
And how could I deny this, when to do so would be to bring to her mind the knowledge of her own dreadful guilt?
The dotard stirred and muttered, and she whispered to him and soothed him as though he were a child. Presently he began to breathe heavily, as old men breathe in sleep. But Jacqueline crouched there in the same motionless silence, and I knew that she was awake and suffering.