At his own door he was met by Anne Mie in tears.
“She has gone”, murmured the young girl. “I feel as if I had murdered her.”
“Gone? Who? Where?” queried Deroulede rapidly, an icy feeling of terror gripping him by the heart-strings.
“Juliette has gone,” replied Anne Mie; “those awful brutes took her away.”
“Directly after you left. That man Merlin found some ashes and scraps of paper in her room...”
“Yes; and a torn letter-case.”
“She said that they were love letters, which she had been burning for fear you should see them.”
“She said so? Anne Mie, Anne Mie, are you quite sure?”
It was all so horrible, and he did not quite understand it all; his brain, which was usually so keen and so active, refused him service at this terrible juncture.
“Yes; I am quite sure,” continued Anne Mie, in the midst of her tears. “And oh! that awful Merlin said some dastardly things. But she persisted in her story, that she had—another lover. Oh, Paul, I am sure it is not true. I hated her because—because—you loved her so, and I mistrusted her, but I cannot believe that she was quite as base as that.”
“No, no, child,” he said in a toneless, miserable voice; “she was not so base as that. Tell me more of what she said.”
“She said very little else. But Merlin asked her whether she had denounced you so as to get you out of the way. He hinted that— that...”
“That I was her lover too?”
“Yes,” murmured Anne Mie.
She hardly liked to look at him; the strong face had become hard and set in its misery.
“And she allowed them to say all this?” he asked at last.
“Yes. And she followed them without a murmur, as Merlin said she would have to answer before the Committee of Public Safety, for having fooled the representatives of the people.”
“She’ll answer for it with her life,” murmured Deroulede. “And with mine!” he added half audibly.
Anne Mie did not hear him; her pathetic little soul was filled with a great, an overwhelming pity of Juliette and for Paul.
“Before they took her away,” she said, placing her thin, delicate-looking hands on his arm. “I ran to her, and bade her farewell. The soldiers pushed me roughly aside; but I contrived to kiss her—and then she whispered a few words to me.”
“Yes? What were they?”
“‘It was an oath,’ she said. ’I swore it to my father and to my dead brother. Tell him,’” repeated Anne Mie slowly.
Now he understood, and oh! how he pitied her. How terribly she must have suffered in her poor, harassed soul when her noble, upright nature fought against this hideous treachery.
That she was true and brave in herself, of that Deroulede had no doubt. And now this awful sin upon her conscience, which must be causing her endless misery.