With a bow down to the very ground, Plessis retired, and the lady paused for a minute or two longer, leaning upon a small table in the middle of the room, and apparently thinking over what had passed.
“It is a strange thing,” she said to herself, after a moment, “a most strange thing, that the customs of the world, and what we call honour, so often requires us to do those things that every principle of right and justice, truth and religion, commands us not to do. God’s word tells us not to murder, yet men daily do it, and women think them all the nobler for trading in blood. If we violate the law, and do what is really wicked, we risk punishment on earth, and incur punishment hereafter; yet if we do strictly what honesty and justice tells us, in all cases, how many instances would be found, where men would shun us, and where our own hearts would condemn us also. Here I have it in my power to stop the effusion of much blood, to prevent the commission of many crimes, to strangle, perhaps, a civil war in its birth, merely by discovering the presence of these men in a land from which they are exiled—I have it in my power thereby to spare even themselves from evil acts and certain punishment: and yet my lips must be sealed, lest men should say I dealt treacherously with them. ’Tis a hard-dealing world, and I have suffered too much already by despising it, to despise it any more.”
As she thus came to the conclusion, which every woman, perhaps, will come to sooner or later, she turned and left the room; and while her foot was still upon the staircase, there came a sound of many horses’ feet from the small paved esplanade in front of the house.
“Ay, there they are,” murmured the lady in a low voice—“the men who would use any treacherous art whatever to accomplish their own purpose, and who would yet call any one traitor who divulged their schemes. Would to God that Helen would come back! I am weary of all this, and sick at heart, as well I may be.”
A sound in the hall below made her quicken her footsteps; and in two or three minutes more the room she had just quitted was occupied by five or six tenants of a very different character and appearance from herself.
The first person that entered the room after the lady quitted it was Monsieur Plessis himself, who, with a light in his hand, came quickly on before the rest, and gave a rapid glance round, as if to insure that no little articles belonging to its last tenant remained scattered about, to betray the fact of her dwelling in his house.