The sigh of satisfaction was quite unmistakable.
It could be heard from end to end, from corner to corner of the building. It sounded above the din of the orchestra who had just attacked with vigour the opening bars of a schottische, above the brouhaha of moving dancers and the frou-frou of skirts: it travelled from the small octagon hall, through the central salon to the tea-room, the ball-room and the card-room: it reverberated from the gallery: it distracted the ladies from their gossip and the gentlemen from their cards.
It was a universal, heartfelt 'Ah!' of intense and pleasurable satisfaction.
Sir Percy Blakeney and his lady had just arrived. It was close on midnight, and the ball had positively languished. What was a ball without the presence of Sir Percy? His Royal Highness too had been expected earlier than this. But it was not thought that he would come at all, despite his promise, if the spoilt pet of Bath society remained unaccountably absent; and the Assembly Rooms had worn an air of woe even in the face of the gaily dressed throng which filled every vast room in its remotest angle.
But now Sir Percy Blakeney had arrived, just before the clocks had struck midnight, and exactly one minute before His Royal Highness drove up himself from the Royal Apartments. Lady Blakeney was looking more radiant and beautiful than ever before, so every one remarked when a few moments later she appeared in the crowded ball-room on the arm of His Royal Highness and closely followed by my lord Anthony Dewhurst and by Sir Percy himself, who had the young Duchess of Flintshire on his arm.
'What do you mean, you incorrigible rogue,' her Grace was saying with playful severity to her cavalier, 'by coming so late to the ball? Another two minutes and you would have arrived after His Royal Highness himself: and how would you have justified such solecism, I would like to know.'
'By swearing that thoughts of your Grace had completely addled my poor brain,' he retorted gaily, 'and that in the mental contemplation of such charms I forgot time, place, social duties, everything.'
'Even the homage due to truth,' she laughed. 'Cannot you for once in your life be serious, Sir Percy?'
'Impossible, dear lady, whilst your dainty hand rests upon mine arm.'
It was not often that His Royal Highness graced Bath with his presence, and the occasion was made the excuse for quite exceptional gaiety and brilliancy. The new fashions of this memorable year of 1793 had defied the declaration of war and filtrated through from Paris: London milliners had not been backward in taking the hint, and though most of the more starchy dowagers obstinately adhered to the pre-war fashions --the huge hooped skirts, stiff stomachers, pointed waists, voluminous panniers and monumental head erections --the young and smart matrons were everywhere to be seen in the new gracefully flowing skirts innocent of steel constructions, the high waist line, the pouter pigeon-like draperies over their pretty bosoms.
Her Grace of Flintshire looked ravishing with her curly fair hair entirely free from powder, and Lady Betty Draitune's waist seemed to be nestling under her arm-pits. Of course Lady Blakeney wore the very latest thing in striped silks and gossamer-like muslin and lace, and it were hard to enumerate all the pretty débutantes and young brides who fluttered about the Assembly Rooms this night.
And gliding through that motley throng, bright-plumaged like a swarm of butterflies, there were a few figures dressed in somber blacks and greys -- the émigrés over from France -- men, women, young girls and gilded youth from out that seething cauldron of revolutionary France -- who had shaken the dust of that rampant demagogism from off their buckled shoes, taking away with them little else but their lives. Mostly chary of speech, grave in their demeanour, bearing upon their wan faces traces of that horror which had seized them when they saw all the traditions of their past tottering around them, the proletariat whom they had despised turning against them with all the fury of caged beasts let loose, their kindred and friends massacred, their King and Queen murdered. The shelter and security which hospitable England had extended to them, had not altogether removed from their hearts the awful sense of terror and of gloom.
Many of them had come to Bath because the more genial climate of the West of England consoled them for the inclemencies of London's fogs. Received with open arms and with that lavish hospitality which the refugees and the oppressed had already learned to look for in England, they had gradually allowed themselves to be drawn into the fashionable life of the gay little city. The Comtesse de Tournai was here and her daughter, Lady Ffoulkes, Sir Andrew's charming and happy bride, and M. Paul Déroulède and his wife -- beautiful Juliette Déroulède with the strange, haunted look in her large eyes, as of one who has looked closely on death; and M. le duc de Kernogan with his exquisite daughter, whose pretty airs of seriousness and of repose sat so quaintly upon her young face. But every one remarked as soon as M. le duc entered the rooms that M. Martin-Roget was not in attendance upon Mademoiselle, which was quite against the order of things; also that M. le duc appeared to keep a more sharp eye than usual upon his daughter in consequence, and that he asked somewhat anxiously if milor Anthony Dewhurst was in the room, and looked obviously relieved when the reply was in the negative.
At which trifling incident every one who was in the know smiled and whispered, for M. le duc made it no secret that he favoured his own compatriot's suit for Mademoiselle Yvonne's hand rather than that of my lord Tony --which-- as old Euclid has it --is absurd.
But with the arrival of the royal party M. de Kernogan's troubles began. To begin with, though M. Martin-Roget had not arrived, my lord Tony undoubtedly had. He had come in, in the wake of Lady Blakeney, but very soon he began wandering round the room obviously in search of some one. Immediately there appeared to be quite a conspiracy among the young folk in the ball-room to keep both Lord Tony's and Mlle. Yvonne's movements hidden from the prying eyes of M. le duc: and anon His Royal Highness, after a comprehensive survey of the ball-room and a few gracious words to his more intimate circle, wandered away to the card-room, and as luck would have it he claimed M. le duc de Kernogan for a partner at faro.
Now M. le duc was a courtier of the old régime: to have disobeyed the royal summons would in his eyes have been nothing short of a crime. He followed the royal party to the card-room, and on his way thither had one gleam of comfort in that he saw Lady Blakeney sitting on a sofa in the octagon hall engaged in conversation with his daughter, whilst Lord Anthony Dewhurst was nowhere in sight.
However, the gleam of comfort was very brief, for less than a quarter of an hour after he had sat down at His Highness' table, Lady Blakeney came into the card-room and stood thereafter for some little while close beside the Prince's chair. The next hour after that was one of special martyrdom for the anxious father, for he knew that his daughter was in all probability sitting out in a specially secluded corner in the company of my lord Tony.
If only Martin-Roget were here!
Martin-Roget with the eagle eyes and the airs of an accredited suitor would surely have intervened when my lord Tony in the face of the whole brilliant assembly in the ball-room, drew Mlle. de Kernogan into the seclusion of the recess underneath the gallery.
My lord Tony was never very glib of tongue. That peculiar dignified shyness which is one of the chief characteristics of well-bred Englishmen caused him to be tongue-tied when he had most to say. It was just with gesture and an appealing pressure of his hand upon her arm that he persuaded Yvonne de Kernogan to sit down beside him on the sofa in the remotest and darkest corner of the recess, and there she remained beside him silent and grave for a moment or two, and stole timid glances from time to time through the veil of her lashes at the finely-chiselled, expressive face of her young English lover.
He was pining to put a question to her, and so great was his excitement that his tongue refused him service, and she, knowing what was hovering on his lips, would not help him out, but a humorous twinkle in her dark eyes, and a faint smile round her lips lit up the habitual seriousness of her young face.
'Mademoiselle . . .' he managed to stammer at last. 'Mademoiselle Yvonne . . . you have seen Lady Blakeney?'
'Yes,' she replied demurely, 'I have seen Lady Blakeney.'
'And. . . and. . . she told you?'
'Yes. Lady Blakeney told me many things.'
'She told you that . . . that . . . In God's name, Mademoiselle Yvonne,' he added desperately, 'do help me out -- it is cruel to tease me! Can't you see that I'm nearly crazy with anxiety.'
Then she looked up at him, her dark eyes glowing and brilliant, her face shining with the light of a great tenderness.
'Nay, milor,' she said earnestly, 'I had no wish to tease you. But you will own 'tis a grave and serious step which Lady Blakeney suggested that I should take. I have had no time to think . . . as yet.'
'But there is no time for thinking, Mademoiselle Yvonne,' he said naïvely. 'If you will consent . . . Oh! you will consent, will you not?' he pleaded.
She made no immediate reply, but gradually her hand which rested upon the sofa stole nearer and then nearer to his: and with a quiver of exquisite happiness his hand closed upon hers. The tips of his fingers touched the smooth warm palm and poor Lord Tony had to close his eyes for a moment as his sense of superlative ecstasy threatened to make him faint. Slowly he lifted that soft white hand to his lips.
'Upon my word, Yvonne,' he said with quiet fervour, 'you will never have cause to regret that you have trusted me.'
'I know that well, milor,' she replied demurely.
She settled down a shade or two closer to him still.
They were now like two birds in a cosy nest -- secluded from the rest of the assembly, who appeared to them like dream-figures flitting in some other world that had nothing to do with their happiness. The strains of the orchestra who had struck the measure of the first figure of a contredanse sounded like fairy-music, distant, unreal in their ears. Only their love was real, their joy in one another's company, their hands clasped closely together!
'Tell me,' she said after awhile, 'how it all came about. It is all so terribly sudden. . . so exquisitely sudden. I was prepared of course . . . but not so soon . . and certainly not to-night. Tell me just how it happened.'
She spoke English quite fluently, with just a charming slight accent, which he thought the most adorable thing he had ever heard.
'You see, dear heart,' he replied, and there was a quiver of intense feeling in his voice as he spoke, 'there is a man who not only is the friend whom I love best in all the world, but is also the one whom I trust absolutely, more than myself. Two hours ago he sent for me and told me that grave danger threatened you -- threatened our love and our happiness, and he begged me to urge you to consent to a secret marriage . . . at once . . . to-night.'
'And you think this . . . this friend knew?'
'I know,' he replied earnestly, 'that he knew, or he would not have spoken to me as he did. He knows that my whole life is in your exquisite hands -- he knows that our happiness is somehow threated by that man Martin-Roget. How he obtained that information I could not guess . . . he had not the time or the inclination to tell me. I flew to make all arrangements for our marriage to-night and prayed to God-- as I have never prayed in my life before -- that you, dear heart, would deign to consent.'
'How could I refuse when Lady Blakeney advised? She is the kindest and dearest friend I possess. She and your friend ought to know one another. Will you not tell me who he is?'
'I will present him to you, dear heart, as soon as we are married,' he replied with awkward evasiveness. Then suddenly he exclaimed with boyish enthusiasm: 'I can't believe it! I can't believe it! It is the most extraordinary thing in the world . . .'
'What is that, milor?' she asked.
'That you should have cared for me at all. For of course you must care, of you wouldn't be sitting here with me now. . . you would not have consented . . would you?'
'You know that I do care, milor," she said in her grave quiet way. 'How could it be otherwise?'
'But I am so stupid and so slow,' he said naïvely. 'Why! look at me now. My heart is simply bursting with all that I want to say to you, but I just can't find the words, and I do nothing but talk rubbish and feel how you must despise me.'
Once more that humorous little smile played for a moment round Yvonne de Kernogan's serious mouth. She didn't say anything just then, but her delicate fingers gave his hand an expressive squeeze.
'You are not frightened?' he asked abruptly.
'Frightened? Of what?' she rejoined.
'At the step you are going to take?'
'Would I take it,' she retorted gently, 'if I had any misgivings?'
'Oh! if you had . . . Do you know that eve now . . ' he continued clumsily and haltingly, 'now that I have realized just what it will mean to have you . . . and just what it would mean to me, God help me-- if I were to lose you. . . well! . . that even now I would rather go through that hell than that you should feel the least bit doubtful or unhappy about it all.'
Again she smiled, gently, tenderly up into his eager, boyish face.
'The only unhappiness,' she said gravely, 'that could ever overtake me in the future would be parting from you, milor.'
'Oh! God bless you for that, my dear! God bless you for that! But for pity's sake turn your dear eyes away from me or I vow I shall go crazy with joy. Men do go crazy with joy sometimes, you know, and I feel that in another moment I shall stand up and shout at the top of my voice to all the people in the room that within the next few hours the loveliest girl in all the world is going to be my wife.'
'She certainly won't be that, if you do shout it at the top of your voice, milor, for father would hear you and there would be an end to our beautiful adventure.'
'It will be a beautiful adventure, won't it?' he sighed with unconcealed ecstasy.
'So beautiful, my dear lord,' she replied with gentle earnestness, 'so perfect, in fact, that I am almost afraid something must happen presently to upset it all.'
'Nothing can happen,' he assured her. 'M. Martin-Roget is not here, and His Royal Highness is even now monopolizing M. le duc de Kernogan so that he cannot get away.'
'Your friend must be very clever to manipulate so many strings on our behalf!'
'It is long past midnight now, sweetheart,' he said with sudden irrelevance.
'Yes, I know. I have been watching the time: and I have already thought everything out for the best. I very often go home from balls and routs in the company of Lady Ffoulkes and sleep in her house those nights. Father is always quite satisfied, when I do that, and to-night he will be doubly satisfied feeling that I shall be taken away from your society. Lady Ffoulkes is in the secret, of course, so Lady Blakeney told me, and she will be ready for me in a few minutes now: she'll take me home with her and there I will change my dress and rest for awhile, waiting for the happy hour. She will come to the church with me and then . . . oh then! Oh! my dear milor!' she added suddenly with a deep sigh whilst her whole face became irradiated with a light of intense happiness, 'as you say it is the most wonderful thing in all the world -- this-- our beautiful adventure together.'
'The parson will be ready at half-past six, dear heart, it was the earliest hour that I could secure . . . after that we go at once to your church and the priest will tie up any loose threads which our English parson failed to make tight. After those two ceremonies we shall be very much married, shan't we? . . . and nothing can come between us, dear heart, can it?' he queried with a look of intense anxiety on his young face.
'Nothing,' she replied. Then she added with a short sigh: 'Poor father!'
'Dear heart, he will only fret for a little while. I don't believe he can really want you to marry that man Martin-Roget. It is just obstinacy on his part. He can't have anything against me really . . . save of course that I am not clever and that I shall never do anything very big in the world . . . except to love you, Yvonne, with my whole heart and soul and with every fibre and muscle in me . . . Oh! I'll do that,' he added with boyish enthusiasm, 'better than any one else in all the world could do! And your father will, I'll be bound, forgive me for stealing you, when he sees that you are happy, and contented, and have everything you want and . . and . . '
As usual Lord Tony's eloquence was not equal to all that it should have expressed. He blushed furiously and with a quaint, shy gesture, passed his large, well-shaped hand over his smooth, brown hair. 'I am not much, I know,' he continued with a winning air of self-deprecation, 'and you are far above me as the stars -- you are so wonderful, so clever, so accomplished and I am nothing at all . . . but . . . but I have plenty of high-born connexions, and I have plenty of money and influential friends . . and . . and Sir Percy Blakeney, who is the most accomplished and finest gentleman in England calls me his friend.'
She smiled at his eagerness. She loved him for his clumsy little ways, his halting speech, that big, loving heart of his which was too full of fine and noble feelings to find vent in mere words.
'Have you ever met a finer man in all the world?' he added enthusiastically.
Yvonne de Kernogan smiled once more. Her recollections of Sir Percy Blakeney showed her an elegant man of the world, whose mind seemed chiefly occupied on the devising and the wearing of exquisite clothes, in the uttering of lively witticisms for the entertainment of his royal friend and the ladies of his entourage: it showed her a man of great wealth and vast possessions who seemed willing to spend both in the mere pursuit of pleasures. She liked Sir Percy Blakeney well enough, but she could not understand clever and charming Marguerite Blakeney's adoration for her inane and foppish husband, nor the whole-hearted admiration openly lavished upon him by men like Sir Andrew Ffoulkes, my lord Hastings, and others. She would gladly have seen her own dear milor choose a more sober and intellectual friend. But then she loved him for his marvellous power of whole-hearted friendship, for his loyalty to those he cared for, for everything in fact that made up the sum total of his winning personality, and she pinned her faith on that other mysterious friend whose individuality vastly intrigued her.
'I am more interested in your anonymous friend,' she said quaintly, 'than in Sir Percy Blakeney. But he too is kindness itself and Lady Blakeney is an angel. I like to think that the happiest days of my life -- our honeymoon, my dear lord -- will be spent in their house.'
'Blakeney has lent me Combwich Hall for as long as we like to stay there. We'll drive thither directly after the service, dear heart, and then we'll send a courier to your father and ask for his blessing and his forgiveness.'
'Poor father!' sighed Yvonne again. But evidently compassion for the father whom she had elected to deceive did not weigh over heavily in the balance of her happiness. Her little hand once more stole like a timid and confiding bird into the shelter of his firm grasp.
In the card-room at His Highness' table Sir Percy Blakeney was holding the bank and seemingly luck was dead against him. Around the various tables the ladies stood about, chattering and hindering the players. Nothing appeared serious to-night, not even the capricious chances of hazard.
His Royal Highness was in rare good humour, for he was winning prodigiously.
Her Grace of Flintshire placed her perfumed and beringed hand upon Sir Percy Blakeney's shoulder; she stood behind his chair, chattering incessantly in a high flutey treble just like a canary. Blakeney vowed that she was so ravishing that she had put Dame Fortune to flight.
'You have not yet told us, Sir Percy,' she said roguishly, 'how you came to arrive so late at the ball.'
'Alas, madam,' he sighed dolefully, ' 'twas the fault of my cravat.'
'Aye indeed! You see I spent the whole of to-day in perfecting my new method for tying a butterfly bow, so as to give the neck an appearance of utmost elegance with a minimum of discomfort. Lady Blakeney will bear me out when I say that I set my whole mind to my task. Was I not busy all day m'dear?' he added, making a formal appeal to Marguerite, who stood immediately behind His Highness' chair, and with her luminous eyes, full of merriment and shining with happiness, fixed upon her husband.
'You certainly spent a considerable time in front of the looking-glass,' she said gaily, 'with two valets in attendance and my lord Tony an interested spectator in the proceedings.'
'There now!' rejoined Sir Percy triumphantly, 'her ladyship's testimony thoroughly bears me out. And now you shall see what Tony says on the matter. Tony! Where's Tony!' he added as his lazy grey eyes sought the brilliant crowd in the card-room. 'Tony, where the devil are you?'
There was no reply, and anon Sir Percy's merry gaze encountered that of M. le duc de Kernogan who, dressed in sober black, looked strangely conspicuous in the midst of this throng of bright-coloured butterflies, and whose grave eyes, as they rested on the gorgeous figure of their English exquisite, held a world of contempt in their glance.
'Ah! M. le duc,' continued Blakeney, returning that scornful look with his habitual good-humoured one, 'I had not noticed that Mademoiselle Yvonne wsa not with you, else I had not thought of inquiring so loudly for my friend Tony.'
'My lord Antoine is dancing with my daughter, Sir Percy,' said the other man gravely, in excellent if somewhat laboured English, 'he had my permission to ask her.'
'And is a thrice happy man in consequence,' retorted Blakeney lightly, 'though I fear me M. Martin-Roget's wrath will descend upon my poor Tony's head with unexampled vigour in consequence.'
'M. Martin-Roget is not here this evening,' broke in the Duchess, 'and methought,' she added in a discreet whisper, 'that my lord Tony was all the happier for his absence. The two young people have spent a considerable time together under the shadow of the gallery in the ball-room, and, if I mistake not, Lord Tony is making the most of his time.'
She talked very volubly and with a slight North-country brogue which no doubt made it a little difficult for the stranger to catch her every word. But evidently M. le duc had understood the drift of what she said, for now he rejoined with some acerbity:
'Mlle. de Kernogan is too well educated, I hope, to allow the attentions of any gentlemen, against her father's will.'
'Come, come, M. de Kernogan,' here interposed His Royal Highness with easy familiarity, 'Lord Anthony Dewhurst is the son of my old friend the Marquis of Atiltone: one of our most distinguished families in this country, who have helped to make English history. He has moreover inherited a large fortune from his mother, who was a Cruche of Crewkerne and one of the richest heiresses in the land. He is a splendid fellow -- a fine sportsman, a loyal gentleman. His attentions to any young lady, however high-born, can be but flattering -- and I should say welcome-- to those who have her future welfare at heart.'
But in response to this gracious tirade, M. le duc de Kernogan bowed gravely, and his stern features did not relax as he said coldly:
'Your Royal Highness is pleased to take an interest in the affairs of my daughter. I am deeply grateful.'
There was a second's awkward pause, for every one felt that despite the obvious respect and deference M. le duc de Kernogan had endeavoured to inflict a snub upon the royal personage, and one or two hot-headed young fops in the immediate entourage even muttered the word: 'Impertinence!' inaudibly through their teeth. Only His Royal Highness appeared not to notice anything unusual or disrespectful in M. le duc's attitude. It seemed as if he was determined to remain good-humoured and pleasant. At any rate he chose to ignore the remark which had offended the ears of his entourage. Only those who stood opposite to His Highness, on the other side of the card table, declared afterwards that the Prince had frowned and that a haughty rejoinder undoubtedly hovered on his lips.
Be that as it may, he certainly did not show the slightest sign of ill-humour: quite gaily and unconcernedly he scooped up his winnings which Sir Percy Blakeney, who held the Bank, was at this moment pushing towards him.
'Don't go yet, M. de Kernogan,' he said as the Frenchman made a movement to work his way out of the crowd, feeling no doubt that the atmosphere round him had become somewhat frigid if not exactly inimical, 'odn't go yet, I beg of you. Pardi! Can't you see that you have been bringing me luck? As a rule Blakeney, who can so well afford to lose, has the devil's own good fortune, but to-night I have succeeded in getting some of my own back from him. Do not, I entreat you, break the run of my luck by going.'
'Oh, Monseigneur,' rejoined the old courtier suavely, 'how can my poor presence influence the gods, who of a surety always preside over your Highness' fortunes?'
'Don't attempt to explain it, my dear sir,' quoth the Prince gaily. 'I only know that if you go now, my luck may go with you and I shall blame you for my losses.'
'Oh! in that case, Monseigneur. . .'
'And with all that, Blakeney,' continued His Highness' once more taking up the cards and turning to his friend, 'remember that we still await your explanation as to your coming so late to the ball.'
'An omission, your Royal Highness,' rejoined Blakeney, 'an absence of mind brought about by your severity, and that of Her Grace. The trouble was that all my calculations with regard to the exact adjustment of the butterfly bow were upset when I realized that the set of the present day waistcoat would not harmonize with it. Less than two hours before I was due to appear at this ball my mind had to make a complete volte-face in the matter of cravats. I became bewildered, lost, utterly confused. I have only just recovered, and one word of criticism on my final efforts would plunge me now into the depths of despair.'
'Blakeney, you are absolutely incorrigible,' retorted His Highness with a laugh. 'M. le duc,' he added, once more turning to the grave Frenchman with his wonted graciousness, 'I pray you do not form your judgment on the gilded youth of England by the example of my friend Blakeney. Some of us can be serious when occasion demands, you know.'
'Your Highness is pleased to jest,' said M. de Kernogan stiffly. 'What greater occasion for seriousness can there be than the present one. True, England has never suffered as France is suffering now, but she has engaged in a conflict against the most powerful democracy the world has ever known, she has thrown down the gauntlet to a set of human beasts of prey who are as determined as they are ferocious. England will not emerge victorious from this conflict, Monseigneur, if her sons do not realize that war is not mere sport and that victory can only be attained by the sacrifice of levity and of pleasure.'
He had dropped into French in response to His Highness' remark, in order to express his thoughts more accurately. The Prince -- a little bored no doubt-- seemed disinclined to pursue the subject. Nevertheless, it seemed as if once again he made a decided effort not to show ill-humour. He even gave a knowing wink -- a wink!-- in the direction of his friend Blakeney and of Her Grace as if to beg them to set the ball of conversation rolling once more along a smoother -- a less boring-- path. He was obviously quite determined not to release M. de Kernogan from attendance near his royal person.
As usual Sir Percy threw himself in the breach, filling the sudden pause with his infectious laugh:
'La!' he said gaily, 'how beautifully M. le duc does talk. Ffoulkes,' he added, addressing Sir Andrew, who was standing close by, 'I'll wager you ten pounds to a pinch of snuff that you couldn't deliver yourself of such splendid sentiments, even in your own native lingo.'
'I won't take you, Blakeney,' retorted Sir Andrew with a laugh, 'I'm no good at peroration.'
'You should hear our distinguished guest M. Martin-Roget on the same subject,' continued Sir Percy with mock gravity. 'By Gad! can't he talk? I feel a d---d worm when he talks about our national levity, our insane worship of sport, our . . . our . . M. le duc,' he added with becoming seriousness and in atrocious French, 'I appeal to you. Does not M. Martin-Roget talk beautifully?'
'M. Martin-Roget,' replied the duc gravely, 'is a man of marvellous eloquence, fired by overwhelming patriotism. He is a man who must command respect wherever he goes.'
'You have known him long, M. le duc?' queried His Royal Highness graciously.
'Indeed not very long, Monseigneur. He came over as an émigré from Brest some three months ago, hidden in a smuggler's ship. He had been denounced as an aristocrat who was furthering the cause of the royalists in Brittany by helping them plentifully with money, but he succeeded in escaping, not only with his life, but also with the bulk of his fortune.'
'Ah! M. Martin-Roget is rich?'
'He is sole owner of a rich banking business in Brest, Monseigneur, which has no important branch in America and correspondents all over Europe. Monseigneur the Bishop of Brest recommended him specially to my notice in a very warm letter of introduction, wherein he speaks of M. Martin-Roget as a gentleman of the highest patriotism and integrity. Were I not quite satisfied as to M. Martin-Roget's antecedents and present connexions I would not have ventured to present him to your Highness.'
'Nor would you have accepted him as a suitor for your daughter, M. le duc, c'est entendu!' concluded His Highness urbanely. 'M. Martin-Roget's wealth will no doubt cover his lack of birth.'
'There are plenty of high-born gentlemen devoted to the royalist cause, Monseigneur,' rejoined the duc in his grave, formal manner. 'But the most just and purest of causes must at times be helped with money. The Vendéens in Brittany, the Princes at Coblentz are all sorely in need of funds. . .'
'And M. Martin-Roget son-in-law of M. le duc de Kernogan is more likely to feed those funds than M. Martin-Roget the plain business man who has no aristocratic connexions,' concluded His Royal Highness dryly. 'But even so, M. le duc,' he added more gravely, 'surely you cannot be so absolutely certain as you would wish that M. Martin-Roget's antecedents are just as he has told you. Monseigneur the Bishop of Brest may have acted in perfect good faith . . .'
'Monseigneur the Bishop of Brest, your Highness, is a man who has our cause, the cause of our King and of our Faith, as much at heart as I have myself. He would know that on his recommendation I would trust any man absolutely. He was not like to make careless use of such knowledge.'
'And you are quite satisfied that the worthy Bishop did not act under some dire pressure . . .?'
'Quite satisfied, Monseigneur,' replied the duc firmly. 'What pressure could there be that would influence a prelate of such high integrity as Monseigneur the Bishop of Brest?'
There was silence for a moment or two, during which the heavy bracket clock over the door struck the first hour after midnight. His Royal Highness looked round at Lady Blakeney, and she gave him a smile and an almost imperceptible nod. Sir Andrew Ffoulkes had in the meanwhile quietly slipped away.
'I understand,' said His Royal Highness quite gravely, turning back to M. le duc, 'and I must crave your pardon, sir, for what must have seemed to you an indiscretion. You have given me a very clear exposé of the situation. I confess that until to-night it had seemed to me --and to all your friends, Monsieur, a trifle obscure. In fact, it had been my intention to intercede with you in favour of my young friend Lord Anthony Dewhurst, who of a truth is deeply enamoured of your daughter.'
'Though your Highness' wishes are tantamount to a command, yet would I humbly assert that my wishes with regard to my daughter are based upon my loyalty and my duty to my Sovereign King Louis XVII, whom may God guard and protect, and that therefore it is beyond my power now to modify them.'
'May God trounce you for an obstinate fool,' murmured His Highness in English, and turning his head away so that the other should not hear him. But aloud and with studied graciousness he said:
'M. le duc, will you not take a hand at hazard? My luck is turning, and I have faith in yours. We must fleece Blakeney to-night. He has had Satan's own luck these past few weeks. Such good fortune becomes positively revolting.'
There was no more talk of Mlle. de Kernogan after that. Indeed her father felt that her future had already been discussed far too freely by all these well-wishers who of a truth were not a little indiscreet. He thought that the manners and customs of good society were very peculiar here in this fog-ridden England. What business was it of all these high-born ladies and gentlemen -- of His Royal Highness himself for that matter -- what plans he had made for Yvonne's future? Martin-Roget was bourgeois by birth, but he was vastly rich and had promised to pour a coupld of millions into the coffers of the royalist army if Mlle. de Kernogan became his wife. A couple of millions with more to follow, no doubt, and a loyal adherence to the royalist cause was worth these days all the blue blood that flowed in my lord Anthony Dewhurst's veins.
So at any rate thought M. le duc this night,
while His Royal Highness kept him at cards until the late hours
of the morning.