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Historical Romances: Under the Red Robe, Count Han

The outlaw might be taken by another


She

did not answer.

"Because, if you do," I continued, "you will let me tell my tale. Say no but once more, Mademoiselle,--I am only human,--and I go. And you will repent it all your life."

I had done better had I taken that tone from the beginning. She winced, her head drooped, she seemed to grow smaller. All in a moment, as it were, her pride collapsed. "I will hear you," she answered feebly.

"Then we will ride on, if you please," I said, keeping the advantage I had gained. "You need not fear. Your brother will follow."

I caught hold of her rein and turned her horse, and she suffered it without demur. In a moment we were pacing side by side, the long, straight road before us. At the end where it topped the hill, I could see the finger-post,--two faint black lines against the sky. When we reached that, involuntarily I checked my horse and made it move more slowly.

"Well, Sir," she said impatiently. And her figure shook as if with cold.

"It is a tale I desire to tell you, Mademoiselle," I answered, speaking with effort. "Perhaps I may seem to begin a long way off, but before I end, I promise to interest you. Two months ago there was living in Paris a man, perhaps a bad man, at any rate, by common report, a hard man."

She turned to me suddenly,

her eyes gleaming through her mask. "Oh, Monsieur, spare me this!" she said, quietly scornful. "I will take it for granted."

"Very well," I replied steadfastly. "Good or bad, this man, one day, in defiance of the Cardinal's edict against duelling, fought with a young Englishman behind St. Jacques Church. The Englishman had influence, the person of whom I speak had none, and an indifferent name; he was arrested, thrown into the Chatelet, cast for death, left for days to face death. At the last an offer was made to him. If he would seek out and deliver up another man, an outlaw with a price upon his head, he should himself go free."

I paused and drew a deep breath. Then I continued, looking not at her, but into the distance: "Mademoiselle, it seems easy now to say what course he should have chosen. It seems hard now to find excuses for him. But there was one thing which I plead for him. The task he was asked to undertake was a dangerous one. He risked, he knew he must risk, and the event proved him right, his life against the life of this unknown man. And--one thing more--there was time before him. The outlaw might be taken by another, might be killed, might die, might--. But there, Mademoiselle, we know what answer this person made. He took the baser course, and on his honour, on his parole, with money supplied to him, went free,--free on the condition that he delivered up this other man."


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