“I don’t know,” said the girl simply. “Isn’t it an instinct?”
“Not a very unerring one in this case, I fear.”
“Because your own love for Paul Deroulede has blinded you—–Ah! you must pardon me, mademoiselle; you sought this conversation and not I, and I fear me I have wounded you. Yet I would wish you to know how deep is my sympathy with you, and how great my desire to render you a service if I could.”
“I was about to ask a service of you, monsieur.”
“Then command me, I beg of you.”
“You are Paul’s friend—persuade him that that woman in his house is a standing danger to his life and liberty.”
“He would not listen to me.”
“Oh! a man always listens to another.”
“Except on one subject—the woman he loves.”
He had said the last words very gently but very firmly. He was deeply, tenderly sorry for the poor, deformed, fragile girl, doomed to be a witness of that most heartrending of human tragedies, the passing away of her own scarce-hoped-for happiness. But he felt that at this moment the kindest act would be one of complete truth. He knew that Paul Deroulede’s heart was completely given to Juliette de Marny; he too, like Anne Mie, instinctively mistrusted the beautiful girl and her strange, silent ways, but, unlike the poor hunchback, he knew that no sin which Juliette might commit would henceforth tear her from out the heart of his friend; that if, indeed, she turned out to be false, or even treacherous, she would, nevertheless, still hold a place in Deroulede’s very soul, which no one else would ever fill.
“You think he loves her?” asked Anne Mie at last.
“I am sure of it.”
“Ah! I do not know. I would trust your instinct—a woman’s—sooner than my own.”
“She is false, I tell you, and is hatching treason against Paul.”
“Then all we can do is to wait.”
“And watch carefully, earnestly, all the time. There! shall I pledge you my word that Deroulede shall come to no harm?”
“Pledge me your word that you’ll part him from that woman.”
“Nay; that is beyond my power. A man like Paul Deroulede only loves once in life, but when he does, it is for always.”
Once more she was silent, pressing her lips closely together, as if afraid of what she might say.
He saw that she was bitterly disappointed, and sought for a means of tempering the cruelty of the blow.
“It will be your task to watch over Paul,” he said; “with your friendship to guard and protect him, we need have no fear for his safety, I think.”
“I will watch,” she replied quietly.
Gradually he had led her steps back towards the Rue Ecole de Medecine.
A great melancholy had fallen over his bold, adventurous spirit. How full of tragedies was this great city, in the last throes of its insane and cruel struggle for an unattainable goal. And yet, despite its guillotine and mock trials, its tyrannical laws and overfilled prisons, its very sorrows paled before the dead, dull misery of this deformed girl’s heart.