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|Part I||Baroness Emmuska Orczy|
XII What Love Is
|Page 2 of 6||
"Would you have preferred it, Armand," he said quietly, "if I had said the word that your ears have heard even though my lips have not uttered it?"
"I don't understand," murmured Armand defiantly.
"What sign would you have had me make?" continued Sir Percy, his pleasant voice falling calm and mellow on the younger man's supersensitive consciousness: "That of branding you, Marguerite's brother, as a liar and a cheat?"
"Blakeney!" retorted the other, as with flaming cheeks and wrathful eyes he took a menacing step toward his friend; "had any man but you dared to speak such words to me--"
"I pray to God, Armand, that no man but I has the right to speak them."
"You have no right."
"Every right, my friend. Do I not hold your oath? ... Are you not prepared to break it?"
"I'll not break my oath to you. I'll serve and help you in every way you can command ... my life I'll give to the cause ... give me the most dangerous--the most difficult task to perform.... I'll do it--I'll do it gladly."
"I have given you an over-difficult and dangerous task."
"Bah! To leave Paris in order to engage horses, while you and the others do all the work. That is neither difficult nor dangerous."
"It will be difficult for you, Armand, because your head Is not sufficiently cool to foresee serious eventualities and to prepare against them. It is dangerous, because you are a man in love, and a man in love is apt to run his head--and that of his friends-- blindly into a noose."
"Who told you that I was in love?"
"You yourself, my good fellow. Had you not told me so at the outset," he continued, still speaking very quietly and deliberately and never raising his voice, "I would even now be standing over you, dog-whip in hand, to thrash you as a defaulting coward and a perjurer .... Bah!" he added with a return to his habitual bonhomie, "I would no doubt even have lost my temper with you. Which would have been purposeless and excessively bad form. Eh?"
A violent retort had sprung to Armand's lips. But fortunately at that very moment his eyes, glowing with anger, caught those of Blakeney fixed with lazy good-nature upon his. Something of that irresistible dignity which pervaded the whole personality of the man checked Armand's hotheaded words on his lips.
"I cannot leave Paris to-morrow," he reiterated more calmly.
"Because you have arranged to see her again?"
"Because she saved my life to-day, and is herself in danger."
"She is in no danger," said Blakeney simply, "since she saved the life of my friend."
The cry was wrung from Armand St. Just's very soul. Despite the tumult of passion which was raging in his heart, he was conscious again of the magnetic power which bound so many to this man's service. The words he had said--simple though they were--had sent a thrill through Armand's veins. He felt himself disarmed. His resistance fell before the subtle strength of an unbendable will; nothing remained in his heart but an overwhelming sense of shame and of impotence.
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