“Not without Juliette Marny, shall we say?” rejoined Sir Percy placidly.
“And I fear me that she has placed herself beyond our reach,” said Deroulede sombrely.
“You know that she is in the Luxembourg Prison?” queried the Englishman suddenly.
“I guessed it, but could find no proof.”
“And that she will be tried to-morrow?”
“They never keep a prisoner pining too long,” replied Deroulede bitterly. “I guessed that too.”
“What do you mean to do?”
“Defend her with the last breath in my body.”
“You love her still, then?” asked Blakeney, with a smile.
“Still?” The look, the accent, the agony of a hopeless passion conveyed in that one word, told Sir Percy Blakeney all that he wished to know.
“Yet she betrayed you,” he said tentatively.
“And to atone for that sin—an oath, mind you, friend, sworn to her father—she is already to give her life for me.”
“And you are prepared to forgive?”
“To understand is to forgive,” rejoined Deroulede simply, “and I love her.”
“Your madonna!” said Blakeney, with a gently ironical smile.
“No; the woman I love, with all her weaknesses, all her sins; the woman to gain whom I would give my soul, to save whom I will give my life.”
“She does not love me—would she have betrayed me else?”
He sat beside the table, and buried his head in his hands. Not even his dearest friend should see how much he had suffered, how deeply his love had been wounded.
Sir Percy said nothing, a curious, pleasant smile lurked round the corners of his mobile mouth. Through his mind there flitted the vision of beautiful Marguerite, who had so much loved yet so deeply wronged him, and, looking at his friend, he thought that Deroulede too would soon learn all the contradictions, which wage a constant war in the innermost recesses of a feminine heart.
He made a movement as if he would say something more, something of grave import, then seemed to think better of it, and shrugged his broad shoulders, as if to say:
“Let time and chance take their course now.”
When Deroulede looked up again Sir Percy was sitting placidly in the arm-chair, with an absolutely blank expression on his face.
“Now that you know how much I love her, my friend,” said Deroulede as soon as he had mastered his emotions, “will you look after her when they have condemned me, and save her for my sake?”
A curious, enigmatic smile suddenly illumined Sir Percy’s earnest countenance.
“Save her? Do you attribute supernatural powers to me, then, or to The League of The Scarlet Pimpernel?”
“To you, I think,” rejoined Deroulede seriously.
Once more it seemed as if Sir Percy were about to reveal something of great importance to his friend, then once more he checked himself. The Scarlet Pimpernel was, above all, far-seeing and practical, a man of action and not of impulse. The glowing eyes of his friend, his nervous, febrile movements, did not suggest that he was in a fit state to be entrusted with plans, the success of which hung on a mere thread.