Deroulede seemed to hesitate. Blakeney had spoken in his usual airy manner, and was even now busy readjusting the set of his perfectly-tailored coat.
“Perhaps you cannot quite trust me?” laughed Sir Percy gaily. “I seemed too lukewarm just now.”
“No; it’s not that, Blakeney!” said Deroulede quietly at last. “There is no mistrust in me, all the mistrust is on your side.”
“Faith!—” began Sir Percy.
“Nay! do not explain. I understand and appreciate your friendship, but I should like to convince you how unjust is your mistrust of one of God’s purest angels, that ever walked the earth.”
“Oho! that’s it, is it, friend Deroulede? Methought you had foresworn the sex altogether, and now you are in love.”
“Madly, blindly, stupidly in love, my friend,” said Deroulede with a sigh. “Hopelessly, I fear me!”
“She is the daughter of the late Duc de Marny, one of the oldest names in France; a Royalist to the backbone...”
“Hence your overwhelming sympathy for the Queen!”
“Nay! you wrong me there, friend. I’d have tried to save the Queen, even if I had never learned to love Juliette. But you see now how unjust were your suspicions.”
“Had I any?”
“Don’t deny it. You were loud in urging me to burn those papers a moment ago. You called them useless and dangerous and now...”
“I still think them useless and dangerous, and by reading them would wish to confirm my opinion and give weight to my arguments.”
“If I were to part from them now I would seem to be mistrusting her.”
“You are a mad idealist, my dear Deroulede!”
“How can I help it? I have lived under the same roof with her for three weeks now. I have begun to understand what a saint is like.”
“And ’twill be when you understand that your idol has feet of clay that you’ll learn the real lesson of love,” said Blakeney earnestly.
“Is it love to worship a saint in heaven, whom you dare not touch, who hovers above you like a cloud, which floats away from you even as you gaze? To love is to feel one being in the world at one with us, our equal in sin as well as in virtue. To love, for us men, is to clasp one woman with our arms, feeling that she lives and breathes just as we do, suffers as we do, thinks with us, loves with us, and, above all, sins with us. Your mock saint who stands in a niche is not a woman if she have not suffered, still less a woman if she have not sinned. Fall at the feet of your idol an you wish, but drag her down to your level after that—the only level she should ever reach, that of your heart.”
Who shall render faithfully a true account of the magnetism which poured forth from this remarkable man as he spoke: this well-dressed, foppish apostle of the greatest love that man has ever known. And as he spoke the whole story of his own great, true love for the woman who once had so deeply wronged him seemed to stand clearly written in the strong, lazy, good-humoured, kindly face glowing with tenderness for her.