“Juliette!” he murmured at last, as his soul went out to her in a passionate appeal for the first kiss.
A shudder seemed to go through her entire frame, her very lips turned white and cold, and he, not understanding, timorous, chivalrous and humble, thought that she was repelled by his ardour and frightened by a passion to which she was too pure to respond.
Nothing but that one word had been spoken—just her name, an appeal from a strong man, overmastered at last by his boundless love—and she, poor, stricken soul, who had so much loved, so deeply wronged him, shuddered at the thought af what she might have done, had Fate not helped her to save him.
Half ashamed of his passion, he bowed his dark head over her hands, and, once more forcing himself to be calm now, he kissed her finger-tips reverently.
When he looked up again the hard lines in her face had softened, and two tears were slowly trickling down her pale cheeks.
“Will you forgive me, madonna?” he said gently. “I am only a man and you are very beautiful. No—don’t take your little hands away. I am quite calm now, and know how one should speak to angels.”
Reason, justice, rectitude—everything was urging Juliette to close her ears to the words of love, spoken by the man whom she had betrayed. But who shall blame her for listening to the sweetest sound the ears of a woman can ever hear—the sound of the voice of the loved one in his first declaration of love?
She sat and listened, whilst he whispered to her those soft, endearing words, of which a strong man alone possesses the enchanting secret.
She sat and listened, whilst all around her was still. Madame Deroulede, at the farther end of the room, was softly muttering a few prayers.
They were all alone these two in the mad and beautiful world, which man has created for himself—the world of romance—that world more wonderful than any heaven, where only those may enter who have learned the sweet lesson of love. Deroulede roamed in it at will. He had created his own romance, wherein he was as a humble worshipper, spending his life in the service of his madonna.
And she too forgot the earth, forgot the reality, her oath, her crime and its punishment, and began to think that it was good to live, good to love, and good to have at her feet the one man in all the world whom she could fondly worship.
Who shall tell what he whispered? Enough that she listened and that she smiled; and he, seeing her smile, felt happy.
The opening and shutting of the door roused them both from their dreams.
Anne Mie, pale, trembling, with eyes looking wild and terrified, had glided into the room.
Deroulede had sprung to his feet. In a moment he had thrust his own happiness into the background at sight of the poor child’s obvious suffering. He went quickly towards her, and would have spoken to her, but she run past him up to Madame Deroulede, as if she were beside herself with some unexplainable terror.