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Historical Romances: Under the Red Robe, Count Han

She took the packet slowly and began to unroll it


I threw it, Mademoiselle," I replied, "that I might mislead your rascals and be free to return. Oh! believe me," I continued, letting something of myself, something of my triumph, appear at last in my voice. "You have made a mistake! You would have done better had you trusted me. I am no bundle of sawdust, Mademoiselle, but a man: a man with an arm to shield and a brain to serve, and--as I am going to teach you--a heart also!"

She shivered.

"In the orange-coloured sachet that you lost I believe there were eighteen stones of great value?"

She made no answer, but she looked at me as if I fascinated her. Her very breath seemed to pause and wait on my words. She was so little conscious of anything else, of anything outside ourselves, that a score of men might have come up behind her unseen and unnoticed.

I took from my breast a little packet wrapped in soft leather, and held it towards her. "Will you open this?" I said. "I believe it contains what you lost. That it contains all I will not answer, Mademoiselle, because I spilled the stones on the floor of my room, and I may have failed to find some. But the others can be recovered--I know where they are."

She took the packet slowly and began to unroll it, her fingers shaking. A few turns and the mild lustre of the stones made a kind of moonlight in her hands--such

a shimmering glory of imprisoned light as has ruined many a woman and robbed many a man of his honour. _Morbleu!_ as I looked at them--and as she stood looking at them in dull, entranced perplexity--I wondered how I had come to resist the temptation.

While I gazed her hands began to waver. "I cannot count," she muttered helplessly. "How many are there?"

"In all, eighteen.'

"They should be eighteen," she said.

She closed her hand on them with that, and opened it again, and did so twice, as if to reassure herself that the stones were real and that she was not dreaming. Then she turned to me with sudden fierceness, and I saw that her beautiful face, sharpened by the greed of possession, was grown as keen and vicious as before. "Well?" she muttered between her teeth. "Your price, man? Your price?"

"I am coming to it now, Mademoiselle," I said gravely. "It is a simple matter. You remember the afternoon when I followed you--clumsily and thoughtlessly perhaps--through the wood to restore these things? It seems about a month ago. I believe it happened the day before yesterday. You called me then some very harsh names, which I will not hurt you by repeating. The only price I ask for restoring your jewels is that you recall those names.

"How?" she muttered. "I do not understand."

I repeated my words very slowly. "The only price or reward I ask, Mademoiselle, is that you take back those names, and say that they were not deserved."

"And the jewels?" she exclaimed hoarsely.

"They are yours. They are nothing to me. Take them, and say that you do not think of me-- Nay, I cannot say the words, Mademoiselle."

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