Philip’s face lighted up again, and they did their best by way of preparation, collecting wood for torches, and putting aside food at their meals. It was a very forlorn hope, but the occupation it caused was effectual in keeping up Philip’s spirits, and saving him from despondency.
But if ne’er so close you wall him,
Do the best that you may;
Blind Love, if so you call him,
Will find out his way.—OLD SONG
‘Too late,’ muttered Berenger to himself, as he stood by the fire in his prison-chamber. Humfrey and Philip were busy in the vaults, and he was taking his turn in waiting in the sitting-room to disarm suspicion. ‘It is too late now, and I thank God that so it is.’
‘Do you indeed, M. le Baron?’ said a low voice close beside him; and, as he turned in haste, he beheld, at the foot of the turret-stair, the youth Aime de Selinville, holding a dark lantern in his hand, and veiling its light.
‘Ha!’ and he started to his feet. ‘Whence come you?’
‘From my Lady,’ was the youth’s answer. ’She has sent me to ask whether you persist in what you replied to her the other day. For if not, she bids me say that it is not too late.’
‘And if I do persevere?’
’Then—ah! what do I know? Who can tell how far malice can go? And there are towers and bastilles where hope never enters. Moreover, your researches underground are known.’
‘Sir,’ said Berenger, the heart-sinking quelled by the effort of resistance, ’Madame de Selinville has my answer—I must take the consequences. Tell her, if she truly wishes me well, the honourable way of saving us would be to let our English friends know what has befallen us.’
’You forget, M. le Baron, even if she could proclaim the dishonour of her family, interference from a foreign power might only lead to a surer mode of removing you,’ said Aime, lowering his voice and shuddering.
’Even so, I should thank her. Then would the bitterest pang be taken away. Those at our home would not deem us faithless recreants.’
‘Thank her!’ murmured the lad in an inward voice. ’Very well, sir, I will carry her your decision. It is your final one. Disgrace, prison, death—rather than freedom, love, wealth!’
‘The semblance of dishonour rather than the reality!’ said Berenger, firmly.
The light-footed page disappeared, and in a few moments a very different tread came up from below, and Philip appeared.
‘What is it, Berry? Methought I heard a voice.’
‘Forgive me, brother,’ said Berenger, holding out his hand; ’I have thrown away another offer.’
’Tush, the thing to pardon would be having accepted one. I only wish they would leave us in peace! What was it this time?’
’A messenger through young Selinville. Strange, to trust her secrets to that lad. But hush, here he is again, much sooner than I thought. What, sir, have you been with your lady again?’