“God keep you, Gervais,” she murmured. “You will take the safe-conduct, and... and you will let me know when you are safe?”
He held her face between his hands an instant; then very gently kissed her and put her from him. Standing erect, and outwardly calm again, he looked across at Andre-Louis who was proffering him a sheet of paper.
“It is the safe-conduct. Take it, monsieur. It is my first and last gift to you, and certainly the last gift I should ever have thought of making you — the gift of life. In a sense it makes us quits. The irony, sir, is not mine, but Fate’s. Take it, monsieur, and go in peace.”
M. de La Tour d’Azyr took it. His eyes looked hungrily into the lean face confronting him, so sternly set. He thrust the paper into his bosom, and then abruptly, convulsively, held out his hand. His son’s eyes asked a question.
“Let there be peace between us, in God’s name,” said the Marquis thickly.
Pity stirred at last in Andre-Louis. Some of the sternness left his face. He sighed. “Good-bye, monsieur,” he said.
“You are hard,” his father told him, speaking wistfully. “But perhaps you are in the right so to be. In other circumstances I should have been proud to have owned you as my son. As it is... " He broke off abruptly, and as abruptly added, “Good-bye.”
He loosed his son’s hand and stepped back. They bowed formally to each other. And then M. de La Tour d’Azyr bowed to Mlle. de Kercadiou in utter silence, a bow that contained something of utter renunciation, of finality.
That done he turned and walked stiffly out of the room, and so out of all their lives. Months later they were to hear if him in the service of the Emperor of Austria.
Andre-Louis took the air next morning on the terrace at Meudon. The hour was very early, and the newly risen sun was transmuting into diamonds the dewdrops that still lingered on the lawn. Down in the valley, five miles away, the morning mists were rising over Paris. Yet early as it was that house on the hill was astir already, in a bustle of preparation for the departure that was imminent.
Andre-Louis had won safely out of Paris last night with his mother and Aline, and to-day they were to set out all of them for Coblenz.
To Andre-Louis, sauntering there with hands clasped behind him and head hunched between his shoulders — for life had never been richer in material for reflection — came presently Aline through one of the glass doors from the library.
“You’re early astir,” she greeted him.
“Faith, yes. I haven’t been to bed. No,” he assured her, in answer to her exclamation. “I spent the night, or what was left of it, sitting at the window thinking.”
“My poor Andre!”
“You describe me perfectly. I am very poor — for I know nothing, understand nothing. It is not a calamitous condition until it is realized. Then... " He threw out his arms, and let them fall again. His face she observed was very drawn and haggard.