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In the summer of 1706, two years after the second battle of Hochstett, which Englishmen call Blenheim, in a world ringing with the names of Marlborough and Eugene, Louis of Baden and Villars, Villeroy the Incapable and Boufflers the Brave--a world, for us of later days, of dark chaos, luridly lit by the flames of burning hamlets, and galloped through by huge troopers wearing periwigs and thigh boots, and carrying pistols two feet long in the barrel--one of the Austrian captains sat down before the frontier town of Huymonde, in Spanish Flanders, and prepared to take it.
Whereat Huymonde was not too greatly or too fearfully moved. A warm town, of fat burghers and narrow streets, and oak wainscots that winked in the firelight, and burnished flagons that caught the drinker's smile, it was not to be lightly excited; and it had been besieged, heaven only knows how many times before. Men made ready as for a long frost, took count of wine and provisions, and hiding a portion of each under the cellar floor, thanked God that they were not the garrison, and that times were changed since the Thirty Years' War. These things done and the siege formed, they folded their hands and let themselves slide into the current of an idle life, flecked from time to time with bubbles of excitement. When the Austrian guns rumbled without, and the smoke eddied slowly over the walls, they stood in the streets, their hands in their muffs, and gossiped not unpleasantly; when the cannon were silent they smoked their long pipes on the ramparts, and measured the advance of the trenches, and listened while the oldest inhabitant prosed of the sack by Spinola in '24 and the winter siege of '41.
Whether the good townsfolk were as brave in private--when at home with their wives, for instance--may be doubted; but this for certain, the Burgomaster's trouble lay all with the women. Whether they had less faith in the great Louis, Fourteenth of the name, King of France--who, indeed, seemed in these days less superior to a world in arms than in the dawn of his glory--or they found the oldest inhabitant's tales too precisely to the point, they had a way of growing restive once a week, besieged the good Burgomaster's house, and demanded--with a thousand shrill and voluble tongues--immediate surrender on terms. Between whiles, being busy with scrubbing and baking, and washing their children, they were quiet enough. But as surely as Sunday came round, and with it a clean house and leisure to chat with the neighbours, the Burgomaster's hour came too, and with it the mob of women shaking crooked fingers at him, and bursting his ears with their shrill abuse. He was a bold man, but he began to dream at night of De Witt and his fate--of which he knew, with many gruesome particulars; and, from a stout and pompous burgher, he dwindled in six weeks to a lean and morose old tyrant. Withal he had no choice, for at his shoulder lurked the French Commandant, a resolute man with a wit of his own and a pet curtain--between the Stadthaus bastion and the bastion of the Bronze Horse, and very handy to the former--whereat he shot deserters and the like on the smallest pretext.
Still, the Burgomaster, as he wiped his sallow face, and watched the last of the women withdraw on the seventh Sunday of the Siege, began to think that, rather than pass through this again, he would face even the curtain and a volley; if he were sure that one volley would do it, and no botching. The ordeal had been more severe than usual: his cheek still twitched, and he leaned against his official table to belie his trembling knees. He had been settling a change of billets, when the viragos broke in on him, and only his clerk had been present; for his council--and this he felt sorely--much bullied in old days, were treating him to solitude and the monopoly of the burden. His clerk was with him now; but affected to be busy with the papers on the table. Perhaps he was scared too, and equally bent on hiding it; at any rate, it was the Burgomaster who first discovered that they were not alone, but that one woman still lingered. She had placed herself in a corner of the oak seat that ran round the panelled room; and the stained glass of the windows, blazoned with the arms of Huymonde and the Counts of Flanders, cast a veil of tawny lights between her and the gazer; behind which she seemed to lurk. The Burgomaster started, then remembered that the danger was over for the time--he was not afraid of one woman; and in a harsh voice he bade her follow her mates.
"Begone, wench!" he said. "And go to your prayers! That is women's work. Leave these things to men."
The woman rose to her full height. "When men," she answered, in a voice at which the Burgomaster started afresh, "hide themselves, it is time women stood forward. Where is your son?"
The Burgomaster swore.
"Where is your son?" the woman repeated firmly.
The Burgomaster swore again, his sallow face grown purple: then he looked at his clerk and signed to him to go. The clerk went, wondering and gaping--for this was unusual--and the two were left together.
At that the Burgomaster found his voice. "You Jezebel!" he cried, approaching the woman. "How dare you come here to make mischief? How dare you lay your tongue to my son's name? Do you know, shameless one, that if I were to give the word----"
But at that word the woman caught fire, blazed up, and outdid him in rage. She was a middle-aged woman and spare, with a face naturally pale and refined, and an air of pride that peeped even through the neat poverty of her dress. But at that word she shook her hands in his face and her eyes blazed.
"Shameless?" she retorted. "No, but shameful; and through whom? Through your son, your villain, your craven of a son who hides now! Through your base-born tradesman of a son who dare face neither woman nor man."
"Silence!" the Burgomaster cried. "Silence!"
She broke off, but only to throw her whole soul into one breathless cry.
"Will he marry her?" she panted; and she held out her hands to him, palm uppermost. "Will he marry her? In a word."
"No," the Burgomaster answered grimly.
She flung up her arms.
"Then beware!" she cried wildly, and for the first time she raised her voice to the pitch of those other shrews. "Beware! You and yours have brought us to shame; but the end is not yet, the end is not yet! You do not know us."
At that he rallied himself. "I may not know you yet," he said hardily, and indeed brutally; "but I know this, that such things as these come, woman, of people setting themselves up to be better than their neighbours, when they are as poor as church mice. They come of slighting honest fellows and setting caps at those above you. Your daughter--or you, woman, if you like it better--set the trap, and you are caught in it yourselves. That is all."
"You wretch!" she gasped. "And he--will not marry her?"
"Not while I live," he answered firmly.
"And that is your last word?"
"It is," he said. "My very last."
He was on his guard, prepared to defend himself even against actual violence. For he knew what angry women were and of what they were capable even against a Burgomaster. But after a tense pause of suspense, during every moment of which he expected her to fall upon him, she said only, "Where is he?"
"I shall not tell you," he answered. "Nor would it help you if you knew!"
"And that is all?"
"That is all."
It was not their first interview. She had pled with him before, and knelt and wept and abased herself before him. She had done all that the love that tore her heartstrings--the love that made it so much more difficult to see her child suffer than to suffer herself, the love that every moment painted the bare room at home, and her daughter prostrate there in shame and despair--she had done all that even love could suggest. There was no room therefore for farther pleading, for farther prayers; she had threatened, and she had failed. What, then, remained to be done?
Nothing, the Burgomaster thought, as in a flash of triumph and relief he watched her go, outfaced and defeated. Nothing; and he hugged himself on the prudence that had despatched his son out of the way in time, and rendered a match with that proud pauper brat impossible. Nothing; but to the woman, as she went, it seemed that everything remained to be done. As she left the little square with its tall slender gabled houses and plunged into the narrow street that led to her house on the wall, the story of her life in Huymonde spread itself before her in a string of scenes that now--now alas! but never before--seemed to find their natural sequence in this tragedy. Nine years before she had come to Huymonde with her artist husband; but the great art of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was already dying or dead in Flanders, and with it the artistic sense, and the honour once paid to it. Huymonde made delft still, and pottery, but on old conventional lines, in an endless repetition of old formal patterns, with no touch of genius or appreciation. Trade, and a desire to win the florid ease, the sleek comfort of the burgher, possessed the town wholly. The artist had found himself a stranger in a strange land; had struggled on, despising and despised, in the quaint house on the wall, at which he had snatched on his first coming because it looked over the open country. There, after seven years, he had slipped out of life, scarcely better known, and no whit more highly appreciated than on the day of his arrival.
After that the story was of two women living sola cum solā--one wholly for the other--suspected, if not disliked, by their neighbours, and for their part alien in all their thoughts and standards; since the artist's widow could not forget that he had been the favourite pupil of Peter Paul's old age, or that her father had counted quarterings. Sola cum solā, until one day the war began, and Huymonde set about looking to its defences. Then a young man appeared on a certain evening to inspect the House on the Wall, and see that the window, which looked out upon the level country side, was safely and properly built up and strengthened.
"You must have a sergeant and guard billeted here!" was his first sharp word; and the widow had sighed at this invasion of their privacy, which was also their poverty. But the young girl, standing sideways in that very window, which was to be closed, had pouted her red lips and frowned on the intruder, and the sergeant had not come, nor the guard. Instead the young man had returned, at first weekly, then at shorter intervals, to see that the window defences remained intact; and with his appearance life in the House on the Wall had become a different thing. He was the son of the Burgomaster of the town, he would be the richest man in the town, his wife might repay with interest and advantage the dull bovine scorn to which the city dames had treated her mother. The widow permitted herself to hope. Her child was beautiful, with the creamy fairness of Gueldres, and as pure as the sky. The young man was gay and handsome; qualities which made their due impression on the elder woman's heart, long unfamiliar with them. So, for more than a year he had had the run of the house, he had been one of the family; and then one day he had disappeared, and then one other day----
Oh, God of vengeance! She paused in the darkening street, as she thought of it. Beside her a long window, warmly curtained, sent out a stream of ruddy light. From the opposite house issued cheery voices and tinkling laughter, and the steam of cooking. And before and behind, whichever way she looked, firelight flashed through diamond panes and glowed in the heart of green bottle-glass. Out in the street men shouldered past her, talking blithely; and in distant kitchens cups clinked and ware clattered, and every house--every house from garret to parlour, seemed to her a home happy and gleeful. A home; and her home! She stood at the thought and cursed them; cursed them, and like the echo of her whispered words the solemn boom of a cannon floated over the town.
A chance passer, seeing her stand thus, caught the whiteness of her face, and thought her afraid. "Cheer up, mother!" he said over his shoulder, "they are all bark and little bite!"
"I would they bit to the bone!" she cried in fury.
But luckily he was gone too far to hear or to understand; and, resuming her course, she hurried on, her head bowed. A few minutes' walking brought her to the foot of the stone steps that, in two parallel flights, led up to the low-browed door of her house. There, as she set her foot on the lowest stair, and wearily began the ascent, a man advanced out of the darkness and touched her sleeve. For an instant she thought it the man, and she caught her breath and stepped back. But his first word showed her her mistake.
"You live here?" he said abruptly. "Can I come in?"
In ordinary times his foreign accent and the glint of a pistol-barrel, which caught her eye as he spoke, would have set her on her guard. But to-night she had nothing to lose--nothing, it seemed to her, to hope. She scarcely looked at the man. "As you please," she said dully. "What do you want?"
"To speak to you."
"Come in then," she said.
She did not turn to him again until they stood together in the room above, and the door was shut. Then she asked him a second time what he wanted.
"Are we alone?" he returned, staring suspiciously about him.
"My daughter is above," she answered. "There is no one else in the house."
"And you are poor?"
She shrugged her shoulders indifferently, and by a movement of her hands seemed to put the room in evidence; one or two pictures, standing on easels, and a few common painter's properties redeemed it from utter bareness, utter misery, yet left it cold and faded.
Nevertheless, his next question took her by surprise. "What rent do you pay?" he asked harshly.
"What rent?" she repeated, shaken out of her moodiness.
"Yes. How many crowns?"
"Twenty," she answered mechanically. What was his aim? What did he want?
"Yes, a year."
The man had a round shaven whitish face that sat in the circle of a tightly tied Steinkirk cravat, like an ivory ball in a cup; and short hair, that might on occasion line a periwig. Notwithstanding his pistol, he had rather the air of a tradesman than a soldier until you met his eyes, which flashed with a keen glitter that belied his smug face and shaven cheeks. Those eyes caught the widow's eyes as he answered her, and held them.
"Twenty crowns a year," he said. "Then listen. I will give you two hundred crowns for this house--for one night."
"For this house for one night?" she repeated, thinking she had not heard aright.
"For this house, for one night!" he answered.
Then she understood. She was quick-witted, she had lived long in the house and knew it. Without more she knew that God or the devil had put that which she sought into her hands; and her first impulse was to pure joy. The thirst for vengeance welled up, hot and resistless. Now she could be avenged on all; on the hard-hearted tyrant who had rejected her prayer, on the sleek dames who would point the finger at her child, on the smug town that had looked askance at her all these years--that had set her beyond the pale of its dull grovelling pleasures, and shut her up in that lonely House on the Wall! Now--now she had it in her hand to take tenfold for one. Her face so shone at the thought that the man watching her felt a touch of misgiving; though he was of the boldest or he had not been there on that errand.
"When?" she said. "When?"
"To-morrow night," he answered. And then, leaning forward, and speaking lightly but in a low voice, he went on, "It is a simple matter. All you have to do is to find a lodging and begone from here by sunset, leaving the door on the latch. No more; for the money it shall be paid to you, half to-night and half the day after to-morrow."
"I want no money," she said.
"No money?" he exclaimed incredulously.
"No, no money," she answered, in a tone and with a look that silenced him.
"But you will do it?" he said, almost with timidity.
"I will do it," she answered. "At sunset to-morrow you will find the door on the latch and the house empty. After that see that you do your part!"
His eyes lightened. "Have no fear," he said grimly. "But mark one thing, mistress," he continued. "It is an odd thing to do for nothing."
"That is my business!" she cried, with a flash of rage.
He had been about to warn her that during the next twenty-four hours she would be watched, and that on the least sign of a message passing between her and those in authority the plot would be abandoned. But at that look he held his peace, said curtly that it was a bargain then; and in a twinkling he was gone, leaving her--leaving her alone with her secret.
Yet for a time it was not of that or of her vengeance that she thought. Her mind was busy with the years of solitude and estrangement she had passed in that house and that room; with the depression that little by little had sapped her husband's strength and hope, with the slow decay of their goods, their cheerfulness, even the artistic joys that had at first upheld them; with the aloofness that had doomed her and her child to a dreary existence; with this last great wrong.
"Yes, let it be! let it be!" she cried. In fancy she saw the town lie below her--as she had often seen it with the actual eye from the ramparts--she saw the clustering mass of warm red roofs and walls, the outlying towers, the church, the one long straight street; and with outstretched arm she doomed it--doomed it with a vengeful sense of the righteousness of the sentence.
Yet, strange to say, that which was uppermost in her mind and steeled her soul and justified the worst, was not the last thing of which she had to complain--her daughter's wrong--but the long years of loneliness, the hundred, nay, the thousand, petty slights of the past, bearable at the time and in detail, but intolerable in the retrospect now hope was gone. She dwelt on these, and the thought of what was coming filled her with a fearful joy. She thought of them, and took the lamp and passed into the next room, and, throwing the light on the rough face of brickwork that closed the great window, she eyed the cracks eagerly, and scarcely kept her fingers from beginning the work. For she understood the plot. One man working silently within, in darkness, could demolish the wall in an hour; then a whistle, rope ladders, a line of men ascending, and before midnight the house would vomit armed men, the nearest gate would be seized, the town would lie at the mercy of the enemy!
Presently she had to go to her daughter, but the current of her thoughts kept the same course. The girl was sullen, and lay with her face to the wall, and gave short answers, venting her misery after the common human fashion on the one who loved her best. The mother bore it, not as before with the patience that scorned even to upbraid, but grimly, setting down each peevish word to the score that was so soon to be paid. She lay all night beside her child, and in the small hours heard her weep and felt the bed shake with her unhappiness, and carried the score farther; nay, busied herself with it, so that day and the twittering of sparrows and the booming of the early guns took her by surprise. Took her by surprise, but worked no change in her thoughts.
She was so completely under the influence of the idea, that she felt no fear; the chance of discovery, and the certainty that if discovered she would be done to death without mercy, did not trouble her in the least. She went about her ordinary tasks until late in the afternoon; then, without preface or explanation, she told her daughter that she was going out to seek a lodging.
The girl was profoundly astonished. "A lodging?" she cried, sitting up. "For us?"
"Yes," the mother answered coldly. "For whom do you think?"
"And you will leave this house?"
"Leave this house--for a lodging--to-night?" the girl faltered. She could not believe her ears. "Why? What has happened?"
Then the woman, in the fierceness of her mood, turned her arms against her child. "Need you ask?" she cried bitterly. "Do you want to go on living in this house--in this house, which was your father's? To go in and out at this door, and meet our neighbours and talk with them on these steps? To wait here--here, where every one knows you, for the shame that will come? For the man who will never come?"
The girl sank back, shuddering and weeping. The woman covered her head and went out, and presently returned; and in the grey of the evening, which within the walls fell early, the two left the house, the elder carrying a bundle of clothes, the younger whimpering and wondering. Stupefied by the suddenness of the movement, and her mother's stern purpose, she did not observe that they had left the door on the latch, and the House on the Wall unguarded.
The people with whom they had found a lodging, a little room under the sharply sloping tiles, knew them by name and sight--that in so small a place was inevitable--but found nothing strange in the woman's reason for moving; she said that at home the firing broke her daughter's rest. The housewife indeed could sympathize with her, and did so. "I never go to bed myself," she said roundly, "but I dream of those wretches sacking the town, and look to awake with my throat cut."
"Tut--tut!" her husband answered angrily. "You will live to wag your tongue and make mischief a score of years yet. And for the town being sacked, there is small chance of that--in these days."
The elder of his new lodgers repeated his words. "Small chance of that?" she said mechanically. "Is that so?"
The man looked at her with patronage. "Little or none," he said. "If we have to cry Enough, we shall cry it in time, and on terms you may be sure; and they will march in like gentlemen, and an end of it."
"But if it happen at night?" the woman asked curiously. She felt a strange compulsion to put the question. "If they should take us by surprise? What then?"
The man shrugged his shoulders. "Well, then, of course, things might be different," he said. "But, sho! it won't happen. No fear!" he continued hastily, and in a tone that belied his words. "And you, wife, get back to your pots and leave this talking! You frighten yourself to death with imaginings!"
The woman from the House on the Wall went upstairs to her garret. She did not repent of what she had done; but a sense of its greatness began to take hold of her, and whether she would or not, she found herself waiting--waiting and watching for she alone knew what. Given a companion less preoccupied with misery and she must have been suspected. But the girl lay moodily on her bed, and the widow was at liberty to stand at the window with her hands spread on the sill, and look, and listen, and look, and listen, unwatched. She could not see the street, for below their dormer the roof ran down steeply a yard or more to the eaves; but she had full command of the opposite houses, and at one of the windows a young girl was dressing herself. The woman watched her plait her fair hair, looking sideways the while at a little mirror; and saw her put on a poor necklace and remove it again and try a piece of ribbon. Gradually the watcher became interested; from interest she passed to speculation, and wondered with a slight shudder how this girl would fare between that and morning. And then the girl looked up and met the woman's eyes with the innocence of her own--and the woman fell back from the window as if a hand had struck her.
She went no more after that to the window; but until it was quite dark she sat in a chair with her hands on her lap, forcing herself to quietude, as women will, where men would tramp the floor unceasingly. When it was quite dark she trimmed and lit the lamp, and still she did not repent. But she listened more and more closely, and with less concealment. And the face of the girl preening herself at her poor mirror returned again and again, and troubled her. She could contemplate the fate of the town as a whole, and say, let it be! Ay, in God's name let it be! But the one face seen at a window, the one case brought home to her, clung to her mind, and pricked and pained her--dully.
By-and-by she heard the clock strike ten, and her daughter, turning feverishly on the bed, asked her peevishly when she was going to lie down. "Presently," she answered, "presently." And still she sat and listened, and still the girl's face haunted her. She began to picture in detail the thing for which she was waiting. She fancied that she could hear the first alert, followed by single cries, these by a roar of alarm, this by the wild rush of feet; then she heard the crashing volley, the rattle of hoofs on the pavement, the whirl of the flight through the streets, the shouts of "Germany! Germany!" as the troops swept in triumphant! And then--ah, then!--she heard the things that would follow, the crashing in of doors, the sudden glare of flames, the screams of men driven to the wall, the yells of drunken Saxons, the shrieks of women, the----
No more! No more! She could not bear it. With a shudder she stood erect, and looked about her--wildly. The lamp burned low, her daughter was asleep. With a swift movement the mother caught up a shawl that lay beside the bed, and turned to the door.
Alas, too late. She had repented, but too late. With her hand on the latch, her foot on the threshold, she stood, arrested by a low distant cry that caught her ear, and swelled even as she listened to it, into a roar of many voices rousing the town. What was it? Alas, she knew; she knew, and cowered against the door whitefaced and shaking. A moment passed, and the alarm, after sinking, rose again, and now there was no doubt of its meaning. Shod feet pattered through the streets, windows clattered up noisily; a wild medley of voices broke out, and again in a few seconds was lost in the crashing sound of the very volley she had foreheard!
From that moment it seemed to her that hell was broken loose in the town; and she had loosed it! She could no longer, in the din that rose from the street, distinguish one sound from another; but the crash of distant cannon, the heavy tramp of feet near at hand, the screams and cries and shouting, the blare of trumpets, all rose in a confused babel of sounds that shook the very houses, and blanched the cheeks and drove the blood to the heart. The woman, cowering against the door, covered her ears, and groaned. Her horror at what she had done was so great, that she did not heed what was passing near her, nor give a thought to the child in the same room with her until the latter's voice struck her ear, and she turned and found her daughter standing in the middle of the floor, her hand to her breast, and her eyes wide. Then the mother awoke in her again; with pallid shaking lips she cried to her to lie down--to lie down, for there was no danger.
But the girl raised her hand for silence. "Hush!" she said. "I hear a step! It is his! It is his! And he is coming to me! Mother, he is coming to me!"
The mother imagined that terror had turned the girl's brain; it was inconceivable that in that roar of sound a single step could make itself heard, or be recognized. And she tried, in a voice that shook with horror and remorse, to repeat her meaningless words of comfort. But they died on her lips, died still-born, as the door flew open, and a man rushed in, gazed an instant, then caught her child in his arms.
It was the Burgomaster's son!
The woman from the House on the Wall leaned an instant against the door-post, gazing at them. Little by little as she looked the expression in her eyes changed, and they took the cold, fixed, distant look of a sleep-walker. A moment and she drew a shuddering breath, and turned and went out, and, groping in the outside darkness for the balustrade, went unfaltering into the street.
A part of the garrison happened to be retreating that way at the time. A few were still turning to fire at intervals; but the greater number were hurrying along with bent heads, keeping close to the houses, and intent only on escaping. Reaching the middle of the roadway she stood there like a rock, her face turned in the direction whence the fugitives were hastening.
Presently she saw that for which she waited. In the reek of smoke about the burning gate, towards which she looked--and the flames of which filled the street with a smoky glare--the glitter of steel shone out; and in a moment, rank on rank, a dense column of men appeared, marching shoulder to shoulder. She watched them come nearer and nearer, filling the street from wall to wall, until she could see the glare of their eyes; then with a cry which was lost in the tumult she rushed on the bayonets.
With eyes shut, with arms open to receive the thrust. But the man whom she had singled out--for one she had singled out--dropped his point with an oath, and dealt her a buffet with butt and elbow that flung her aside unhurt. A second did the same, and a third, until, bandied from one to another, she fell against the wall, breathless and dizzy, but unhurt.
The column swept on; and she rose. She had escaped--by a miracle, as it seemed to her. But despair still held her, and the roar of a mine exploding not far off, the stunning report of which was followed by heartrending wails, drove her again on her fate. She had not far to look, for hard on the foot followed a troop of dragoons. The horses, excited by the fire and the explosion, were plunging in every direction; and even as the crazed woman's eyes alighted on them one fell and threw its rider. It seemed to her that she saw her doom; and, darting from the wall, she flung herself before them.
What was one woman on such a night, in such an inferno? The torrent of iron, remorseless, unchecked, thundered over her and drove on along the street. It seemed impossible that she should have escaped. Yet when some came to look to the fallen soldier--whose neck was broken--the woman beside him rose unhurt and without a scratch, and staggered to the wall. There she leaned one moment to recover her breath and shake off her giddiness, and a second to think; then with a new expression on her face, an expression between hope and fear, she took her way weakly along the street. The first turning on the right, the second on the left brought her unmolested--for the enemy were quelling the last resistance in the Square--to the front of the House on the Wall. She looked up eagerly and saw that the windows were dark; looked at the door, and by the light of the distant fire saw that it was closed.
Still she scarcely dared to hope that the thing was true; that thing which her miraculous escape had suggested to a mind almost unhinged. It took her more than a minute to mount the steps and push the heavy door open, and satisfy herself that in the outer room at least all was as she had left it. A spark of fire still glowed on the hearth; she groped her way to it, and blew it into a flame; and with shaking hands she lit a spill of wood and waved it above her head, then held it.
Yes, here all was as she had left it. But in the farther room--the room? What would she find there? She stared at the door and dared not open it; then with a desperate hand tore it open, and stood on the threshold.
Yes, and here! Here, too, all was as she had left it. She waved the little brand above her head heedless of the sparks, waved it until it flamed high and cast a light into every corner. But the searcher's eyes sought only one thing, saw only one thing, and that was the mask of brickwork that blocked the great window.
It was untouched! It was untouched! She had hoped as much for the last five minutes; for everything, the closed door, the unchanged room had pointed to it. Yet now that she was assured of it, and knew for certain that she had not done the thing--that guilty as she had been in will, not one life lost that night lay at her door, not one outrage, she fell on her face and wept--wept, though it was the sweetest moment of her life, prayed though she sought nothing but to thank God--prayed and wept with childish cries of gratitude, until the light at her side went out and left her in darkness, and through a rift in the masonry a single star peered in at her.
In Huymonde there was wailing enough that night; ruin and loss, and a broadcasting of lifelong sentences of penury. One fell to the Burgomaster's lot; and had she still aught against him--but she had not--the score was paid. And many prayed, and a few, when morning came, and showed their roofs still standing, gave thanks. But to this woman prostrate through the hours on the floor of the forsaken House on the Wall, all that night was one long prayer and thanksgiving. For she had passed through the fire, the smell of the singeing was on her garments, and yet she was saved.
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