There was no answer, only a
smothered groan. The mother's heart overflowed, tears streamed down her aged
cheeks as she rose and drew Alan's head down on her shoulder.
"Alan, my boy, do not grieve;
God's way is the best way always. I honor your patriotism. I share it, darling!
You have forgotten that I sent your brother, who even now may be suffering or
dead." "Mother, I am a brute! I don't ask you to forgive me. I acknowledge that
ambition has blinded me; my motive was not the purest patriotism."
"Hush, Alan ! you do yourself
injustice. I know your brave, proud spirit; but, darling, you see which way lies
your path, do you not? Even today a letter from your uncle speaks of a position
soon at your command, in which, with your youth and energy, you may sooner than
you think be untrammeled." There was utter silence. The storm had quieted.
Alan's face was stern and pale; but as he rose to leave the room he bent for a
moment over the chair which his mother had again resumed. The look and gentle
caress which accompanied it assured the victory.
GRACE was skimming down stairs to
the blithe tripping notes of "Malbrook s'eu va t-en guerre" as Alan stalked in
the hall the following morning; but she stopped suddenly with a vivid blush as
she met his dark eves and quiet salutation. She had involuntarily expected a
little more ardor from her lover; but though they found the library unoccupied
Alan still maintained his cool gravity, not so much as offering to kiss her
dainty little hand, where gleamed his own seal ring, with its crest and motto of
"Au vrai courage rien impossible." Alan broke silence, however, at once.
"Grace, I have come to release
you from yesterday's promise, to ask your pardon for my rashness." He seemed to
think a quick plunge better than any slower procedure. Grace looked steadily and
silently up at him, unprepared and incredulous, waiting for a fuller meaning of
his words. His task was not easy; the very presence of the little Joan d'Arc, as
he had often called her, made it hard for him to quell the aim which for months
had been tightening its power.
"Reasons which have restrained me
this long fled while in your persuasive presence yesterday, Grace, and I told
you that which I ought not to have done--a share of the perils and glories of
our time is not for me, nor the guerdon which you promised; since I can not
fight I must not claim the reward." Slowly, rather bitterly he spoke. Slowly,
rather sadly she replied: "Au vrai courage rien impossible," slipping off the
ring as she quoted its motto. The bauble fell with a tinkle on the hearth. Alan
stooped to pick it up, his eyes flashing, the veins in his temples swelling. Did
she mean to taunt him, was it not enough that he was enduring the sacrifice of
his great desire without this added pain?
He was hurt, angry, and proud.
Swiftly reviewing the past, as his mother had done, in few words to Grace he
explained himself, she listening with downcast eyes. Hurriedly he went on, not
defending himself, not arguing his case, merely telling her what he thought she
had the right to know. Then he rose, and very gracefully, with manly earnestness
and feeling, thanked Grace for her willingness to share his duties,
relinquishing at the same time the cherished hope which for a few short hours
had made him a happy man. It was a dark, lowering day, and the wind was rising.
The library seemed to grow darker, the air chillier. Grace shivered a little. In
her eyes was an absent, dreary, disappointed expression. She was looking down
still, and her hands were clasped listlessly before her, Again she murmured. "Au
vrai courage rien impossible." Again Alan's eyes flashed, but his voice was calm
and low. Though a conqueror, he was wounded, but nothing now could make him
flinch from his determination.
"What is vrai courage, Grace?"
She looked up at him. "I was
thinking, Alan." Her voice was so sweet and sad that the thought of her taunting
him seemed an ignoble suspicion. Eager words were rising to his lips, but he
paused as he saw the absent, pained expression fading from her eyes and a
clearer light dawning under the fringed lids. She was so beautiful, and he so
loved her, that for one moment he longed to say, "Grace, honor, duty, life
itself is at your disposal. Command what you will, I obey;" but the man in him
was too strong, too vital for that. "No," he thought, "I can give her up too. I
have done it; the struggle is over; cost what it may, duty shall win.
Grace stood still with clasped
hands, but the lithe fingers were no longer listless; her proud little head was
poised dauntlessly as she spoke—
"Yes, Alan, I was thinking over
that motto; for once the man who bears it on his shield proves it in his life."
Alan started. Had he heard
aright? Was he in his sane, sober senses?
Still, with the same verve in
face and speech as on the previous day, she went on—
"Courage to deny yourself fame
and honor, courage to choose the humbler duty, and courage to give up what
seemed to be dear to you"—blushiug exquisitely and modestly as she spoke so of
herself—"that is vrai courage. I honor you, Alan, for possessing it as much as I
do the soldier who bleeds for our country." Alan's voice for a moment could not
find steady utterance; his stern resolve and self-denial, with the forlorn
prospect of a loveless life before him, had so fixed themselves in his mind that
he looked at Grace mentally as one does actually at strong sunshine after being
in the dark; but her earnest admiration and glance of warm regard brought him
quickly to her side. "What, Grace, is it true? Can you, then, love me, though
not your warrior hero?"
For all answer she let his arms
encircle her and buried her face in his bosom.