Scaramouche - A Romance Of The French Revolution (Book III - The Sword)
by Rafael Sabatini
Book III - The Sword
II. QUOS DEUS VULT PERDERE
III. PRESIDENT LE CHAPELIER
IV. AT MEUDON
V. MADAME DE PLOUGASTEL
VII. THE SPADASSINICIDES
VIII. THE PALADIN OF THE THIRD
IX. TORN PRIDE
X. THE RETURNING CARRIAGE
XII. THE OVERWHELMING REASON
XIV. THE BARRIER
CHAPTER I. TRANSITION
"You may agree," wrote Andre-Louis from Paris to Le Chapelier, in a letter which survives, "that it is to be regretted I should definitely have discarded the livery of Scaramouche, since clearly there could be no livery fitter for my wear. It seems to be my part always to stir up strife and then to slip away before I am caught in the crash of the warring elements I have aroused. It is a humiliating reflection. I seek consolation in the reminder of Epictetus (do you ever read Epictetus?) that we are but actors in a play of such a part as it may please the Director to assign us. It does not, however, console me to have been cast for a part so contemptible, to find myself excelling ever in the art of running away. But if I am not brave, at least I am prudent; so that where I lack one virtue I may lay claim to possessing another almost to excess. On a previous occasion they wanted to hang me for sedition. Should I have stayed to be hanged? This time they may want to hang me for several things, including murder; for I do not know whether that scoundrel Binet be alive or dead from the dose of lead I pumped into his fat paunch. Nor can I say that I very greatly care. If I have a hope at all in the matter it is that he is dead—and damned. But I am really indifferent. My own concerns are troubling me enough. I have all but spent the little money that I contrived to conceal about me before I fled from Nantes on that dreadful night; and both of the only two professions of which I can claim to know anything—the law and the stage—are closed to me, since I cannot find employment in either without revealing myself as a fellow who is urgently wanted by the hangman. As things are it is very possible that I may die of hunger, especially considering the present price of victuals in this ravenous city. Again I have recourse to Epictetus for comfort. 'It is better,' he says, 'to die of hunger having lived without grief and fear, than to live with a troubled spirit amid abundance.' I seem likely to perish in the estate that he accounts so enviable. That it does not seem exactly enviable to me merely proves that as a Stoic I am not a success."
There is also another letter of his written at about the same time to the Marquis de La Tour d'Azyr—a letter since published by M. Emile Quersac in his "Undercurrents of the Revolution in Brittany," unearthed by him from the archives of Rennes, to which it had been consigned by M. de Lesdiguieres, who had received it for justiciary purposes from the Marquis.
"The Paris newspapers," he writes in this, "which have reported in considerable detail the fracas at the Theatre Feydau and disclosed the true identity of the Scaramouche who provoked it, inform me also that you have escaped the fate I had intended for you when I raised that storm of public opinion and public indignation. I would not have you take satisfaction in the thought that I regret your escape. I do not. I rejoice in it. To deal justice by death has this disadvantage that the victim has no knowledge that justice has overtaken him. Had you died, had you been torn limb from limb that night, I should now repine in the thought of your eternal and untroubled slumber. Not in euthanasia, but in torment of mind should the guilty atone. You see, I am not sure that hell hereafter is a certainty, whilst I am quite sure that it can be a certainty in this life; and I desire you to continue to live yet awhile that you may taste something of its bitterness.
"You murdered Philippe de Vilmorin because you feared what you described as his very dangerous gift of eloquence, I took an oath that day that your evil deed should be fruitless; that I would render it so; that the voice you had done murder to stifle should in spite of that ring like a trumpet through the land. That was my conception of revenge. Do you realize how I have been fulfilling it, how I shall continue to fulfil it as occasion offers? In the speech with which I fired the people of Rennes on the very morrow of that deed, did you not hear the voice of Philippe de Vilmorin uttering the ideas that were his with a fire and a passion greater than he could have commanded because Nemesis lent me her inflaming aid? In the voice of Omnes Omnibus at Nantes my voice again— demanding the petition that sounded the knell of your hopes of coercing the Third Estate, did you not hear again the voice of Philippe de Vilmorin? Did you not reflect that it was the mind of the man you had murdered, resurrected in me his surviving friend, which made necessary your futile attempt under arms last January, wherein your order, finally beaten, was driven to seek sanctuary in the Cordelier Convent? And that night when from the stage of the Feydau you were denounced to the people, did you not hear yet again, in the voice of Scaramouche, the voice of Philippe de Vilmorin, using that dangerous gift of eloquence which you so foolishly imagined you could silence with a sword-thrust? It is becoming a persecution—is it not?—this voice from the grave that insists upon making itself heard, that will not rest until you have been cast into the pit. You will be regretting by now that you did not kill me too, as I invited you on that occasion. I can picture to myself the bitterness of this regret, and I contemplate it with satisfaction. Regret of neglected opportunity is the worst hell that a living soul can inhabit, particularly such a soul as yours. It is because of this that I am glad to know that you survived the riot at the Feydau, although at the time it was no part of my intention that you should. Because of this I am content that you should live to enrage and suffer in the shadow of your evil deed, knowing at last—since you had not hitherto the wit to discern it for yourself—that the voice of Philippe de Vilmorin will follow you to denounce you ever more loudly, ever more insistently, until having lived in dread you shall go down in blood under the just rage which your victim's dangerous gift of eloquence is kindling against you."
I find it odd that he should have omitted from this letter all mention of Mlle. Binet, and I am disposed to account it at least a partial insincerity that he should have assigned entirely to his self-imposed mission, and not at all to his lacerated feelings in the matter of Climene, the action which he had taken at the Feydau.
Those two letters, both written in April of that year 1789, had for only immediate effect to increase the activity with which Andre-Louis Moreau was being sought.
Le Chapelier would have found him so as to lend him assistance, to urge upon him once again that he should take up a political career. The electors of Nantes would have found him—at least, they would have found Omnes Omnibus, of whose identity with himself they were still in ignorance—on each of the several occasions when a vacancy occurred in their body. And the Marquis de La Tour d'Azyr and M. de Lesdiguieres would have found him that they might send him to the gallows.
With a purpose no less vindictive was he being sought by M. Binet, now unhappily recovered from his wound to face completest ruin. His troupe had deserted him during his illness, and reconstituted under the direction of Polichinelle it was now striving with tolerable success to continue upon the lines which Andre-Louis had laid down. M. le Marquis, prevented by the riot from expressing in person to Mlle. Binet his purpose of making an end of their relations, had been constrained to write to her to that effect from Azyr a few days later. He tempered the blow by enclosing in discharge of all liabilities a bill on the Caisse d'Escompte for a hundred louis. Nevertheless it almost crushed the unfortunate and it enabled her father when he recovered to enrage her by pointing out that she owed this turn of events to the premature surrender she had made in defiance of his sound worldly advice. Father and daughter alike were left to assign the Marquis' desertion, naturally enough, to the riot at the Feydau. They laid that with the rest to the account of Scaramouche, and were forced in bitterness to admit that the scoundrel had taken a superlative revenge. Climene may even have come to consider that it would have paid her better to have run a straight course with Scaramouche and by marrying him to have trusted to his undoubted talents to place her on the summit to which her ambition urged her, and to which it was now futile for her to aspire. If so, that reflection must have been her sufficient punishment. For, as Andre-Louis so truly says, there is no worse hell than that provided by the regrets for wasted opportunities.
Meanwhile the fiercely sought Andre-Louis Moreau had gone to earth completely for the present. And the brisk police of Paris, urged on by the King's Lieutenant from Rennes, hunted for him in vain. Yet he might have been found in a house in the Rue du Hasard within a stone's throw of the Palais Royal, whither purest chance had conducted him.
That which in his letter to Le Chapelier he represents as a contingency of the near future was, in fact, the case in which already he found himself. He was destitute. His money was exhausted, including that procured by the sale of such articles of adornment as were not of absolute necessity.
So desperate was his case that strolling one gusty April morning down the Rue du Hasard with his nose in the wind looking for what might be picked up, he stopped to read a notice outside the door of a house on the left side of the street as you approach the Rue de Richelieu. There was no reason why he should have gone down the Rue du Hasard. Perhaps its name attracted him, as appropriate to his case.
The notice written in a big round hand announced that a young man of good address with some knowledge of swordsmanship was required by M. Bertrand des Amis on the second floor. Above this notice was a black oblong board, and on this a shield, which in vulgar terms may be described as red charged with two swords crossed and four fleurs de lys, one in each angle of the saltire. Under the shield, in letters of gold, ran the legend:
BERTRAND DES AMIS
Maitre en fait d'Armes des Academies du Roi
Andre-Louis stood considering. He could claim, he thought, to possess the qualifications demanded. He was certainly young and he believed of tolerable address, whilst the fencing-lessons he had received in Nantes had given him at least an elementary knowledge of swordsmanship. The notice looked as if it had been pinned there some days ago, suggesting that applicants for the post were not very numerous. In that case perhaps M. Bertrand des Amis would not be too exigent. And anyway, Andre-Louis had not eaten for four-and-twenty hours, and whilst the employment here offered—the precise nature of which he was yet to ascertain—did not appear to be such as Andre-Louis would deliberately have chosen, he was in no case now to be fastidious.
Then, too, he liked the name of Bertrand des Amis. It felicitously combined suggestions of chivalry and friendliness. Also the man's profession being of a kind that is flavoured with romance it was possible that M. Bertrand des Amis would not ask too many questions.
In the end he climbed to the second floor. On the landing he paused outside a door, on which was written "Academy of M. Bertrand des Amis." He pushed this open, and found himself in a sparsely furnished, untenanted antechamber. From a room beyond, the door of which was closed, came the stamping of feet, the click and slither of steel upon steel, and dominating these sounds a vibrant sonorous voice speaking a language that was certainly French; but such French as is never heard outside a fencing-school.
"Coulez! Mais, coulez donc!...So! Now the flanconnade—en carte...And here is the riposte...Let us begin again. Come! The ward of fierce...Make the coupe, and then the quinte par dessus les armes...O, mais allongez! Allongez! Allez au fond!" the voice cried in expostulation. "Come, that was better." The blades ceased.
"Remember: the hand in pronation, the elbow not too far out. That will do for to-day. On Wednesday we shall see you tirer au mur. It is more deliberate. Speed will follow when the mechanism of the movements is more assured."
Another voice murmured in answer. The steps moved aside. The lesson was at an end. Andre-Louis tapped on the door.
It was opened by a tall, slender, gracefully proportioned man of perhaps forty. Black silk breeches and stockings ending in light shoes clothed him from the waist down. Above he was encased to the chin in a closely fitting plastron of leather, His face was aquiline and swarthy, his eyes full and dark, his mouth firm and his clubbed hair was of a lustrous black with here and there a thread of silver showing.
In the crook of his left arm he carried a fencing-mask, a thing of leather with a wire grating to protect the eyes. His keen glance played over Andre-Louis from head to foot.
"Monsieur?" he inquired, politely.
It was clear that he mistook Andre-Louis' quality, which is not surprising, for despite his sadly reduced fortunes, his exterior was irreproachable, and M. des Amis was not to guess that he carried upon his back the whole of his possessions.
"You have a notice below, monsieur," he said, and from the swift lighting of the fencing-master's eyes he saw that he had been correct in his assumption that applicants for the position had not been jostling one another on his threshold. And then that flash of satisfaction was followed by a look of surprise.
"You are come in regard to that?"
Andre-Louis shrugged and half smiled. "One must live," said he.
"But come in. Sit down there. I shall be at your...I shall be free to attend to you in a moment."
Andre-Louis took a seat on the bench ranged against one of the whitewashed walls. The room was long and low, its floor entirely bare. Plain wooden forms such as that which he occupied were placed here and there against the wall. These last were plastered with fencing trophies, masks, crossed foils, stuffed plastrons, and a variety of swords, daggers, and targets, belonging to a variety of ages and countries. There was also a portrait of an obese, big-nosed gentleman in an elaborately curled wig, wearing the blue ribbon of the Saint Esprit, in whom Andre-Louis recognized the King. And there was a framed parchment—M. des Amis' certificate from the King's Academy. A bookcase occupied one corner, and near this, facing the last of the four windows that abundantly lighted the long room, there was a small writing-table and an armchair. A plump and beautifully dressed young gentleman stood by this table in the act of resuming coat and wig. M. des Amis sauntered over to him—moving, thought Andre-Louis, with extraordinary grace and elasticity—and stood in talk with him whilst also assisting him to complete his toilet.
At last the young gentleman took his departure, mopping himself with a fine kerchief that left a trail of perfume on the air. M. des Amis closed the door, and turned to the applicant, who rose at once.
"Where have you studied?" quoth the fencing-master abruptly.
"Studied?" Andre-Louis was taken aback by the question. "Oh, at Louis Le Grand."
M. des Amis frowned, looking up sharply as if to see whether his applicant was taking the liberty of amusing himself.
"In Heaven's name! I am not asking you where you did your humanities, but in what academy you studied fencing."
"Oh—fencing!" It had hardly ever occurred to Andre-Louis that the sword ranked seriously as a study. "I never studied it very much. I had some lessons in...in the country once."
The master's eyebrows went up. "But then?" he cried. "Why trouble to come up two flights of stairs?" He was impatient.
"The notice does not demand a high degree of proficiency. If I am not proficient enough, yet knowing the rudiments I can easily improve. I learn most things readily," Andre-Louis commended himself. "For the rest: I possess the other qualifications. I am young, as you observe: and I leave you to judge whether I am wrong in assuming that my address is good. I am by profession a man of the robe, though I realize that the motto here is cedat toga armis."
M. des Amis smiled approvingly. Undoubtedly the young man had a good address, and a certain readiness of wit, it would appear. He ran a critical eye over his physical points. "What is your name?" he asked.
Andre-Louis hesitated a moment. "Andre-Louis," he said.
The dark, keen eyes conned him more searchingly.
"Well? Andre-Louis what?"
"Just Andre-Louis. Louis is my surname."
"Oh! An odd surname. You come from Brittany by your accent. Why did you leave it?"
"To save my skin," he answered, without reflecting. And then made haste to cover the blunder. "I have an enemy," he explained.
M. des Amis frowned, stroking his square chin. "You ran away?"
"You may say so.
"A coward, eh?"
"I don't think so." And then he lied romantically. Surely a man who lived by the sword should have a weakness for the romantic. "You see, my enemy is a swordsman of great strength—the best blade in the province, if not the best blade in France. That is his repute. I thought I would come to Paris to learn something of the art, and then go back and kill him. That, to be frank, is why your notice attracted me. You see, I have not the means to take lessons otherwise. I thought to find work here in the law. But I have failed. There are too many lawyers in Paris as it is, and whilst waiting I have consumed the little money that I had, so that...so that, enfin, your notice seemed to me something to which a special providence had directed me."
M. des Amis gripped him by the shoulders, and looked into his face.
"Is this true, my friend?" he asked.
"Not a word of it," said Andre-Louis, wrecking his chances on an irresistible impulse to say the unexpected. But he didn't wreck them. M. des Amis burst into laughter; and having laughed his fill, confessed himself charmed by his applicant's fundamental honesty.
"Take off your coat," he said, "and let us see what you can do. Nature, at least, designed you for a swordsman. You are light, active, and supple, with a good length of arm, and you seem intelligent. I may make something of you, teach you enough for my purpose, which is that you should give the elements of the art to new pupils before I take them in hand to finish them. Let us try. Take that mask and foil, and come over here."
He led him to the end of the room, where the bare floor was scored with lines of chalk to guide the beginner in the management of his feet.
At the end of a ten minutes' bout, M. des Amis offered him the situation, and explained it. In addition to imparting the rudiments of the art to beginners, he was to brush out the fencing-room every morning, keep the foils furbished, assist the gentlemen who came for lessons to dress and undress, and make himself generally useful. His wages for the present were to be forty livres a month, and he might sleep in an alcove behind the fencing-room if he had no other lodging.
The position, you see, had its humiliations. But, if Andre-Louis would hope to dine, he must begin by eating his pride as an hors d'oeuvre.
"And so," he said, controlling a grimace, "the robe yields not only to the sword, but to the broom as well. Be it so. I stay."
It is characteristic of him that, having made that choice, he should have thrown himself into the work with enthusiasm. It was ever his way to do whatever he did with all the resources of his mind and energies of his body. When he was not instructing very young gentlemen in the elements of the art, showing them the elaborate and intricate salute—which with a few days' hard practice he had mastered to perfection—and the eight guards, he was himself hard at work on those same guards, exercising eye, wrist, and knees.
Perceiving his enthusiasm, and seeing the obvious possibilities it opened out of turning him into a really effective assistant, M. des Amis presently took him more seriously in hand.
"Your application and zeal, my friend, are deserving of more than forty livres a month," the master informed him at the end of a week. "For the present, however, I will make up what else I consider due to you by imparting to you secrets of this noble art. Your future depends upon how you profit by your exceptional good fortune in receiving instruction from me."
Thereafter every morning before the opening of the academy, the master would fence for half an hour with his new assistant. Under this really excellent tuition Andre-Louis improved at a rate that both astounded and flattered M. des Amis. He would have been less flattered and more astounded had he known that at least half the secret of Andre-Louis' amazing progress lay in the fact that he was devouring the contents of the master's library, which was made up of a dozen or so treatises on fencing by such great masters as La Bessiere, Danet, and the syndic of the King's Academy, Augustin Rousseau. To M. des Amis, whose swordsmanship was all based on practice and not at all on theory, who was indeed no theorist or student in any sense, that little library was merely a suitable adjunct to a fencing-academy, a proper piece of decorative furniture. The books themselves meant nothing to him in any other sense. He had not the type of mind that could have read them with profit nor could he understand that another should do so. Andre-Louis, on the contrary, a man with the habit of study, with the acquired faculty of learning from books, read those works with enormous profit, kept their precepts in mind, critically set off those of one master against those of another, and made for himself a choice which he proceeded to put into practice.
At the end of a month it suddenly dawned upon M. des Amis that his assistant had developed into a fencer of very considerable force, a man in a bout with whom it became necessary to exert himself if he were to escape defeat.
"I said from the first," he told him one day, "that Nature designed you for a swordsman. See how justified I was, and see also how well I have known how to mould the material with which Nature has equipped you."
"To the master be the glory," said Andre-Louis.
His relations with M. des Amis had meanwhile become of the friendliest, and he was now beginning to receive from him other pupils than mere beginners. In fact Andre-Louis was becoming an assistant in a much fuller sense of the word. M. des Amis, a chivalrous, open-handed fellow, far from taking advantage of what he had guessed to be the young man's difficulties, rewarded his zeal by increasing his wages to four louis a month.
From the' earnest and thoughtful study of the theories of others, it followed now—as not uncommonly happens—that Andre-Louis came to develop theories of his own. He lay one June morning on his little truckle bed in the alcove behind the academy, considering a passage that he had read last night in Danet on double and triple feints. It had seemed to him when reading it that Danet had stopped short on the threshold of a great discovery in the art of fencing. Essentially a theorist, Andre-Louis perceived the theory suggested, which Danet himself in suggesting it had not perceived. He lay now on his back, surveying the cracks in the ceiling and considering this matter further with the lucidity that early morning often brings to an acute intelligence. You are to remember that for close upon two months now the sword had been Andre-Louis' daily exercise and almost hourly thought. Protracted concentration upon the subject was giving him an extraordinary penetration of vision. Swordsmanship as he learnt and taught and saw it daily practised consisted of a series of attacks and parries, a series of disengages from one line into another. But always a limited series. A half-dozen disengages on either side was, strictly speaking, usually as far as any engagement went. Then one recommenced. But even so, these disengages were fortuitous. What if from first to last they should be calculated?
That was part of the thought—one of the two legs on which his theory was to stand; the other was: what would happen if one so elaborated Danet's ideas on the triple feint as to merge them into a series of actual calculated disengages to culminate at the fourth or fifth or even sixth disengage? That is to say, if one were to make a series of attacks inviting ripostes again to be countered, each of which was not intended to go home, but simply to play the opponent's blade into a line that must open him ultimately, and as predetermined, for an irresistible lunge. Each counter of the opponent's would have to be preconsidered in this widening of his guard, a widening so gradual that he should himself be unconscious of it, and throughout intent upon getting home his own point on one of those counters.
Andre-Louis had been in his time a chess-player of some force, and at chess he had excelled by virtue of his capacity for thinking ahead. That virtue applied to fencing should all but revolutionize the art. It was so applied already, of course, but only in an elementary and very limited fashion, in mere feints, single, double, or triple. But even the triple feint should be a clumsy device compared with this method upon which he theorized.
He considered further, and the conviction grew that he held the key of a discovery. He was impatient to put his theory to the test.
That morning he was given a pupil of some force, against whom usually he was hard put to it to defend himself. Coming on guard, he made up his mind to hit him on the fourth disengage, predetermining the four passes that should lead up to it. They engaged in tierce, and Andre-Louis led the attack by a beat and a straightening of the arm. Came the demi-contre he expected, which he promptly countered by a thrust in quinte; this being countered again, he reentered still lower, and being again correctly parried, as he had calculated, he lunged swirling his point into carte, and got home full upon his opponent's breast. The ease of it surprised him.
They began again. This time he resolved to go in on the fifth disengage, and in on that he went with the same ease. Then, complicating the matter further, he decided to try the sixth, and worked out in his mind the combination of the five preliminary engages. Yet again he succeeded as easily as before.
The young gentleman opposed to him laughed with just a tinge of mortification in his voice.
"I am all to pieces this morning," he said.
"You are not of your usual force," Andre-Louis politely agreed. And then greatly daring, always to test that theory of his to the uttermost: "So much so," he added, "that I could almost be sure of hitting you as and when I declare."
The capable pupil looked at him with a half-sneer. "Ah, that, no," said he.
"Let us try. On the fourth disengage I shall touch you. Allons! En garde!"
And as he promised, so it happened.
The young gentleman who, hitherto, had held no great opinion of Andre-Louis' swordsmanship, accounting him well enough for purposes of practice when the master was otherwise engaged, opened wide his eyes. In a burst of mingled generosity and intoxication, Andre-Louis was almost for disclosing his method—a method which a little later was to become a commonplace of the fencing-rooms. Betimes he checked himself. To reveal his secret would be to destroy the prestige that must accrue to him from exercising it.
At noon, the academy being empty, M. des Amis called Andre-Louis to one of the occasional lessons which he still received. And for the first time in all his experience with Andre-Louis, M. des Amis received from him a full hit in the course of the first bout. He laughed, well pleased, like the generous fellow he was.
"Aha! You are improving very fast, my friend." He still laughed, though not so well pleased, when he was hit in the second bout. After that he settled down to fight in earnest with the result that Andre-Louis was hit three times in succession. The speed and accuracy of the fencing-master when fully exerting himself disconcerted Andre-Louis' theory, which for want of being exercised in practice still demanded too much consideration.
But that his theory was sound he accounted fully established, and with that, for the moment, he was content. It remained only to perfect by practice the application of it. To this he now devoted himself with the passionate enthusiasm of the discoverer. He confined himself to a half-dozen combinations, which he practised assiduously until each had become almost automatic. And he proved their infallibility upon the best among M. des Amis' pupils.
Finally, a week or so after that last bout of his with des Amis, the master called him once more to practice.
Hit again in the first bout, the master set himself to exert all his skill against his assistant. But to-day it availed him nothing before Andre-Louis' impetuous attacks.
After the third hit, M. des Amis stepped back and pulled off his mask.
"What's this?" he asked. He was pale, and his dark brows were contracted in a frown. Not in years had he been so wounded in his self-love. "Have you been taught a secret botte?"
He had always boasted that he knew too much about the sword to believe any nonsense about secret bottes; but this performance of Andre-Louis' had shaken his convictions on that score.
"No," said Andre-Louis. "I have been working hard; and it happens that I fence with my brains."
"So I perceive. Well, well, I think I have taught you enough, my friend. I have no intention of having an assistant who is superior to myself."
"Little danger of that," said Andre-Louis, smiling pleasantly. "You have been fencing hard all morning, and you are tired, whilst I, having done little, am entirely fresh. That is the only secret of my momentary success."
His tact and the fundamental good-nature of M. des Amis prevented the matter from going farther along the road it was almost threatening to take. And thereafter, when they fenced together, Andre-Louis, who continued daily to perfect his theory into an almost infallible system, saw to it that M. des Amis always scored against him at least two hits for every one of his own. So much he would grant to discretion, but no more. He desired that M. des Amis should be conscious of his strength, without, however, discovering so much of its real extent as would have excited in him an unnecessary degree of jealousy.
And so well did he contrive that whilst he became ever of greater assistance to the master—for his style and general fencing, too, had materially improved—he was also a source of pride to him as the most brilliant of all the pupils that had ever passed through his academy. Never did Andre-Louis disillusion him by revealing the fact that his skill was due far more to M. des Amis' library and his own mother wit than to any lessons received.
CHAPTER II. QUOS DEUS VULT PERDERE
Once again, precisely as he had done when he joined the Binet troupe, did Andre-Louis now settle down whole-heartedly to the new profession into which necessity had driven him, and in which he found effective concealment from those who might seek him to his hurt. This profession might—although in fact it did not—have brought him to consider himself at last as a man of action. He had not, however, on that account ceased to be a man of thought, and the events of the spring and summer months of that year 1789 in Paris provided him with abundant matter for reflection. He read there in the raw what is perhaps the most amazing page in the history of human development, and in the end he was forced to the conclusion that all his early preconceptions had been at fault, and that it was such exalted, passionate enthusiasts as Vilmorin who had been right.
I suspect him of actually taking pride in the fact that he had been mistaken, complacently attributing his error to the circumstance that he had been, himself, of too sane and logical a mind to gauge the depths of human insanity now revealed.
He watched the growth of hunger, the increasing poverty and distress of Paris during that spring, and assigned it to its proper cause, together with the patience with which the people bore it. The world of France was in a state of hushed, of paralyzed expectancy, waiting for the States General to assemble and for centuries of tyranny to end. And because of this expectancy, industry had come to a standstill, the stream of trade had dwindled to a trickle. Men would not buy or sell until they clearly saw the means by which the genius of the Swiss banker, M. Necker, was to deliver them from this morass. And because of this paralysis of affairs the men of the people were thrown out of work and left to starve with their wives and children.
Looking on, Andre-Louis smiled grimly. So far he was right. The sufferers were ever the proletariat. The men who sought to make this revolution, the electors—here in Paris as elsewhere—were men of substance, notable bourgeois, wealthy traders. And whilst these, despising the canaille, and envying the privileged, talked largely of equality—by which they meant an ascending equality that should confuse themselves with the gentry—the proletariat perished of want in its kennels.
At last with the month of May the deputies arrived, Andre-Louis' friend Le Chapelier prominent amongst them, and the States General were inaugurated at Versailles. It was then that affairs began to become interesting, then that Andre-Louis began seriously to doubt the soundness of the views he had held hitherto.
When the royal proclamation had gone forth decreeing that the deputies of the Third Estate should number twice as many as those of the other two orders together, Andre-Louis had believed that the preponderance of votes thus assured to the Third Estate rendered inevitable the reforms to which they had pledged themselves.
But he had reckoned without the power of the privileged orders over the proud Austrian queen, and her power over the obese, phlegmatic, irresolute monarch. That the privileged orders should deliver battle in defence of their privileges, Andre-Louis could understand. Man being what he is, and labouring under his curse of acquisitiveness, will never willingly surrender possessions, whether they be justly or unjustly held. But what surprised Andre-Louis was the unutterable crassness of the methods by which the Privileged ranged themselves for battle. They opposed brute force to reason and philosophy, and battalions of foreign mercenaries to ideas. As if ideas were to be impaled on bayonets!
The war between the Privileged and the Court on one side, and the Assembly and the People on the other had begun.
The Third Estate contained itself, and waited; waited with the patience of nature; waited a month whilst, with the paralysis of business now complete, the skeleton hand of famine took a firmer grip of Paris; waited a month whilst Privilege gradually assembled an army in Versailles to intimidate it—an army of fifteen regiments, nine of which were Swiss and German—and mounted a park of artillery before the building in which the deputies sat. But the deputies refused to be intimidated; they refused to see the guns and foreign uniforms; they refused to see anything but the purpose for which they had been brought together by royal proclamation.
Thus until the 10th of June, when that great thinker and metaphysician, the Abbe Sieyes, gave the signal: "It is time," said he, "to cut the cable."
And the opportunity came soon, at the very beginning of July. M. du Chatelet, a harsh, haughty disciplinarian, proposed to transfer the eleven French Guards placed under arrest from the military gaol of the Abbaye to the filthy prison of Bicetre reserved for thieves and felons of the lowest order. Word of that intention going forth, the people at last met violence with violence. A mob four thousand strong broke into the Abbaye, and delivered thence not only the eleven guardsmen, but all the other prisoners, with the exception of one whom they discovered to be a thief, and whom they put back again.
That was open revolt at last, and with revolt Privilege knew how to deal. It would strangle this mutinous Paris in the iron grip of the foreign regiments. Measures were quickly concerted. Old Marechal de Broglie, a veteran of the Seven Years' War, imbued with a soldier's contempt for civilians, conceiving that the sight of a uniform would be enough to restore peace and order, took control with Besenval as his second-in-command. The foreign regiments were stationed in the environs of Paris, regiments whose very names were an irritation to the Parisians, regiments of Reisbach, of Diesbach, of Nassau, Esterhazy, and Roehmer. Reenforcements of Swiss were sent to the Bastille between whose crenels already since the 30th of June were to be seen the menacing mouths of loaded cannon.
On the 10th of July the electors once more addressed the King to request the withdrawal of the troops. They were answered next day that the troops served the purpose of defending the liberties of the Assembly! And on the next day to that, which was a Sunday, the philanthropist Dr. Guillotin—whose philanthropic engine of painless death was before very long to find a deal of work, came from the Assembly, of which he was a member, to assure the electors of Paris that all was well, appearances notwithstanding, since Necker was more firmly in the saddle than ever. He did not know that at the very moment in which he was speaking so confidently, the oft-dismissed and oft-recalled M. Necker had just been dismissed yet again by the hostile cabal about the Queen. Privilege wanted conclusive measures, and conclusive measures it would have— conclusive to itself.
And at the same time yet another philanthropist, also a doctor, one Jean-Paul Mara, of Italian extraction—better known as Marat, the gallicized form of name he adopted—a man of letters, too, who had spent some years in England, and there published several works on sociology, was writing:
"Have a care! Consider what would be the fatal effect of a seditious movement. If you should have the misfortune to give way to that, you will be treated as people in revolt, and blood will flow."
Andre-Louis was in the gardens of the Palais Royal, that place of shops and puppet-shows, of circus and cafes, of gaming houses and brothels, that universal rendezvous, on that Sunday morning when the news of Necker's dismissal spread, carrying with it dismay and fury. Into Necker's dismissal the people read the triumph of the party hostile to themselves. It sounded the knell of all hope of redress of their wrongs.
He beheld a slight young man with a pock-marked face, redeemed from utter ugliness by a pair of magnificent eyes, leap to a table outside the Café de Foy, a drawn sword in his hand, crying, "To arms!" And then upon the silence of astonishment that cry imposed, this young man poured a flood of inflammatory eloquence, delivered in a voice marred at moments by a stutter. He told the people that the Germans on the Champ de Mars would enter Paris that night to butcher the inhabitants. "Let us mount a cockade!" he cried, and tore a leaf from a tree to serve his purpose—the green cockade of hope.
Enthusiasm swept the crowd, a motley crowd made up of men and women of every class, from vagabond to nobleman, from harlot to lady of fashion. Trees were despoiled of their leaves, and the green cockade was flaunted from almost every head.
"You are caught between two fires," the incendiary's stuttering voice raved on. "Between the Germans on the Champ de Mars and the Swiss in the Bastille. To arms, then! To arms!"
Excitement boiled up and over. From a neighbouring waxworks show came the bust of Necker, and presently a bust of that comedian the Duke of Orleans, who had a party and who was as ready as any other of the budding opportunists of those days to take advantage of the moment for his own aggrandizement. The bust of Necker was draped with crepe.
Andre-Louis looked on, and grew afraid. Marat's pamphlet had impressed him. It had expressed what himself he had expressed more than half a year ago to the mob at Rennes. This crowd, he felt must be restrained. That hot-headed, irresponsible stutterer would have the town in a blaze by night unless something were done. The young man, a causeless advocate of the Palais named Camille Desmoulins, later to become famous, leapt down from his table still waving his sword, still shouting, "To arms! Follow me!" Andre-Louis advanced to occupy the improvised rostrum, which the stutterer had just vacated, to make an effort at counteracting that inflammatory performance. He thrust through the crowd, and came suddenly face to face with a tall man beautifully dressed, whose handsome countenance was sternly set, whose great sombre eyes mouldered as if with suppressed anger.
Thus face to face, each looking into the eyes of the other, they stood for a long moment, the jostling crowd streaming past them, unheeded. Then Andre-Louis laughed.
"That fellow, too, has a very dangerous gift of eloquence, M. le Marquis," he said. "In fact there are a number of such in France to-day. They grow from the soil, which you and yours have irrigated with the blood of the martyrs of liberty. Soon it may be your blood instead. The soil is parched, and thirsty for it."
"Gallows-bird!" he was answered. "The police will do your affair for you. I shall tell the Lieutenant-General that you are to be found in Paris."
"My God, man!" cried Andre-Louis, "will you never get sense? Will you talk like that of Lieutenant-Generals when Paris itself is likely to tumble about your ears or take fire under your feet? Raise your voice, M. le Marquis. Denounce me here, to these. You will make a hero of me in such an hour as this. Or shall I denounce you? I think I will. I think it is high time you received your wages. Hi! You others, listen to me! Let me present you to..."
A rush of men hurtled against him, swept him along with them, do what he would, separating him from M. de La Tour d'Azyr, so oddly met. He sought to breast that human torrent; the Marquis, caught in an eddy of it, remained where he had been, and Andre-Louis' last glimpse of him was of a man smiling with tight lips, an ugly smile.
Meanwhile the gardens were emptying in the wake of that stuttering firebrand who had mounted the green cockade. The human torrent poured out into the Rue de Richelieu, and Andre-Louis perforce must suffer himself to be borne along by it, at least as far as the Rue du Hasard. There he sidled out of it, and having no wish to be crushed to death or to take further part in the madness that was afoot, he slipped down the street, and so got home to the deserted academy. For there were no pupils to-day, and even M. des Amis, like Andre-Louis, had gone out to seek for news of what was happening at Versailles.
This was no normal state of things at the Academy of Bertrand des Amis. Whatever else in Paris might have been at a standstill lately, the fencing academy had flourished as never hitherto. Usually both the master and his assistant were busy from morning until dusk, and already Andre-Louis was being paid now by the lessons that he gave, the master allowing him one half of the fee in each case for himself, an arrangement which the assistant found profitable. On Sundays the academy made half-holiday; but on this Sunday such had been the state of suspense and ferment in the city that no one having appeared by eleven o'clock both des Amis and Andre-Louis had gone out. Little they thought as they lightly took leave of each other —they were very good friends by now—that they were never to meet again in this world.
Bloodshed there was that day in Paris. On the Place Vendome a detachment of dragoons awaited the crowd out of which Andre-Louis had slipped. The horsemen swept down upon the mob, dispersed it, smashed the waxen effigy of M. Necker, and killed one man on the spot—an unfortunate French Guard who stood his ground. That was a beginning. As a consequence Besenval brought up his Swiss from the Champ de Mars and marshalled them in battle order on the Champs Elysees with four pieces of artillery. His dragoons he stationed in the Place Louis XV. That evening an enormous crowd, streaming along the Champs Elysees and the Tuileries Gardens, considered with eyes of alarm that warlike preparation. Some insults were cast upon those foreign mercenaries and some stones were flung. Besenval, losing his head, or acting under orders, sent for his dragoons and ordered them to disperse the crowd, But that crowd was too dense to be dispersed in this fashion; so dense that it was impossible for the horsemen to move without crushing some one. There were several crushed, and as a consequence when the dragoons, led by the Prince de Lambesc, advanced into the Tuileries Gardens, the outraged crowd met them with a fusillade of stones and bottles. Lambesc gave the order to fire. There was a stampede. Pouring forth from the Tuileries through the city went those indignant people with their story of German cavalry trampling upon women and children, and uttering now in grimmest earnest the call to arms, raised at noon by Desmoulins in the Palais Royal.
The victims were taken up and borne thence, and amongst them was Bertrand des Amis, himself—like all who lived by the sword—an ardent upholder of the noblesse, trampled to death under hooves of foreign horsemen launched by the noblesse and led by a nobleman.
To Andre-Louis, waiting that evening on the second floor of No. 13 Rue du Hasard for the return of his friend and master, four men of the people brought that broken body of one of the earliest victims of the Revolution that was now launched in earnest.
CHAPTER III. PRESIDENT LE CHAPELIER
The ferment of Paris which, during the two following days, resembled an armed camp rather than a city, delayed the burial of Bertrand des Amis until the Wednesday of that eventful week. Amid events that were shaking a nation to its foundations the death of a fencing-master passed almost unnoticed even among his pupils, most of whom did not come to the academy during the two days that his body lay there. Some few, however, did come, and these conveyed the news to others, with the result that the master was followed to Pere Lachaise by a score of young men at the head of whom as chief mourner walked Andre-Louis.
There were no relatives to be advised so far as Andre-Louis was aware, although within a week of M. des Amis' death a sister turned up from Passy to claim his heritage. This was considerable, for the master had prospered and saved money, most of which was invested in the Compagnie des Eaux and the National Debt. Andre-Louis consigned her to the lawyers, and saw her no more.
The death of des Amis left him with so profound a sense of loneliness and desolation that he had no thought or care for the sudden access of fortune which it automatically procured him. To the master's sister might fall such wealth as he had amassed, but Andre-Louis succeeded to the mine itself from which that wealth had been extracted, the fencing-school in which by now he was himself so well established as an instructor that its numerous pupils looked to him to carry it forward successfully as its chief. And never was there a season in which fencing-academies knew such prosperity as in these troubled days, when every man was sharpening his sword and schooling himself in the uses of it.
It was not until a couple of weeks later that Andre-Louis realized what had really happened to him, and he found himself at the same time an exhausted man, for during that fortnight he had been doing the work of two. If he had not hit upon the happy expedient of pairing-off his more advanced pupils to fence with each other, himself standing by to criticize, correct and otherwise instruct, he must have found the task utterly beyond his strength. Even so, it was necessary for him to fence some six hours daily, and every day he brought arrears of lassitude from yesterday until he was in danger of succumbing under the increasing burden of fatigue. In the end he took an assistant to deal with beginners, who gave the hardest work. He found him readily enough by good fortune in one of his own pupils named Le Duc. As the summer advanced, and the concourse of pupils steadily increased, it became necessary for him to take yet another assistant—an able young instructor named Galoche—and another room on the floor above.
They were strenuous days for Andre-Louis, more strenuous than he had ever known, even when he had been at work to build up the Binet Company; but it follows that they were days of extraordinary prosperity. He comments regretfully upon the fact that Bertrand des Amis should have died by ill-chance on the very eve of so profitable a vogue of sword-play.
The arms of the Academie du Roi, to which Andre-Louis had no title, still continued to be displayed outside his door. He had overcome the difficulty in a manner worthy of Scaramouche. He left the escutcheon and the legend "Academie de Bertrand des Amis, Maitre en fait d'Armes des Academies du Roi," appending to it the further legend: "Conducted by Andre-Louis."
With little time now in which to go abroad it was from his pupils and the newspapers—of which a flood had risen in Paris with the establishment of the freedom of the Press—that he learnt of the revolutionary processes around him, following upon, as a measure of anticlimax, the fall of the Bastille. That had happened whilst M. des Amis lay dead, on the day before they buried him, and was indeed the chief reason of the delay in his burial. It was an event that had its inspiration in that ill-considered charge of Prince Lambesc in which the fencing-master had been killed.
The outraged people had besieged the electors in the Hotel de Ville, demanding arms with which to defend their lives from these foreign murderers hired by despotism. And in the end the electors had consented to give them arms, or, rather—for arms it had none to give—to permit them to arm themselves. Also it had given them a cockade, of red and blue, the colours of Paris. Because these colours were also those of the liveries of the Duke of Orleans, white was added to them—the white of the ancient standard of France—and thus was the tricolour born. Further, a permanent committee of electors was appointed to watch over public order.
Thus empowered the people went to work with such good effect that within thirty-six hours sixty thousand pikes had been forged. At nine o'clock on Tuesday morning thirty thousand men were before the Invalides. By eleven o'clock they had ravished it of its store of arms amounting to some thirty thousand muskets, whilst others had seized the Arsenal and possessed themselves of powder.
Thus they prepared to resist the attack that from seven points was to be launched that evening upon the city. But Paris did not wait for the attack. It took the initiative. Mad with enthusiasm it conceived the insane project of taking that terrible menacing fortress, the Bastille, and, what is more, it succeeded, as you know, before five o'clock that night, aided in the enterprise by the French Guards with cannon.
The news of it, borne to Versailles by Lambesc in flight with his dragoons before the vast armed force that had sprouted from the paving-stones of Paris, gave the Court pause. The people were in possession of the guns captured from the Bastille. They were erecting barricades in the streets, and mounting these guns upon them. The attack had been too long delayed. It must be abandoned since now it could lead only to fruitless slaughter that must further shake the already sorely shaken prestige of Royalty.
And so the Court, growing momentarily wise again under the spur of fear, preferred to temporize. Necker should be brought back yet once again, the three orders should sit united as the National Assembly demanded. It was the completest surrender of force to force, the only argument. The King went alone to inform the National Assembly of that eleventh-hour resolve, to the great comfort of its members, who viewed with pain and alarm the dreadful state of things in Paris. "No force but the force of reason and argument" was their watchword, and it was so to continue for two years yet, with a patience and fortitude in the face of ceaseless provocation to which insufficient justice has been done.
As the King was leaving the Assembly, a woman, embracing his knees, gave tongue to what might well be the question of all France:
"Ah, sire, are you really sincere? Are you sure they will not make you change your mind?"
Yet no such question was asked when a couple of days later the King, alone and unguarded save by the representatives of the Nation, came to Paris to complete the peacemaking, the surrender of Privilege. The Court was filled with terror by the adventure. Were they not the "enemy," these mutinous Parisians? And should a King go thus among his enemies? If he shared some of that fear, as the gloom of him might lead us to suppose, he must have found it idle. What if two hundred thousand men under arms—men without uniforms and with the most extraordinary motley of weapons ever seen—awaited him? They awaited him as a guard of honour.
Mayor Bailly at the barrier presented him with the keys of the city. "These are the same keys that were presented to Henri IV. He had reconquered his people. Now the people have reconquered their King."
At the Hotel de Ville Mayor Bailly offered him the new cockade, the tricoloured symbol of constitutional France, and when he had given his royal confirmation to the formation of the Garde Bourgeoise and to the appointments of Bailly and Lafayette, he departed again for Versailles amid the shouts of "Vive le Roi!" from his loyal people.
And now you see Privilege—before the cannon's mouth, as it were —submitting at last, where had they submitted sooner they might have saved oceans of blood—chiefly their own. They come, nobles and clergy, to join the National Assembly, to labour with it upon this constitution that is to regenerate France. But the reunion is a mockery—as much a mockery as that of the Archbishop of Paris singing the Te Deum for the fall of the Bastille—most grotesque and incredible of all these grotesque and incredible events. All that has happened to the National Assembly is that it has introduced five or six hundred enemies to hamper and hinder its deliberations.
But all this is an oft-told tale, to be read in detail elsewhere. I give you here just so much of it as I have found in Andre-Louis' own writings, almost in his own words, reflecting the changes that were operated in his mind. Silent now, he came fully to believe in those things in which he had not believed when earlier he had preached them.
Meanwhile together with the change in his fortune had come a change in his position towards the law, a change brought about by the other changes wrought around him. No longer need he hide himself. Who in these days would prefer against him the grotesque charge of sedition for what he had done in Brittany? What court would dare to send him to the gallows for having said in advance what all France was saying now? As for that other possible charge of murder, who should concern himself with the death of the miserable Binet killed by him—if, indeed, he had killed him, as he hoped—in self-defence.
And so one fine day in early August, Andre-Louis gave himself a holiday from the academy, which was now working smoothly under his assistants, hired a chaise and drove out to Versailles to the Café d'Amaury, which he knew for the meeting-place of the Club Breton, the seed from which was to spring that Society of the Friends of the Constitution better known as the Jacobins. He went to seek Le Chapelier, who had been one of the founders of the club, a man of great prominence now, president of the Assembly in this important season when it was deliberating upon the Declaration of the Rights of Man.
Le Chapelier's importance was reflected in the sudden servility of the shirt-sleeved, white-aproned waiter of whom Andre-Louis inquired for the representative.
M. Le Chapelier was above-stairs with friends. The waiter desired to serve the gentleman, but hesitated to break in upon the assembly in which M. le Depute found himself.
Andre-Louis gave him a piece of silver to encourage him to make the attempt. Then he sat down at a marble-topped table by the window looking out over the wide tree-encircled square. There, in that common-room of the café, deserted at this hour of mid-afternoon, the great man came to him. Less than a year ago he had yielded precedence to Andre-Louis in a matter of delicate leadership; to-day he stood on the heights, one of the great leaders of the Nation in travail, and Andre-Louis was deep down in the shadows of the general mass.
The thought was in the minds of both as they scanned each other, each noting in the other the marked change that a few months had wrought. In Le Chapelier, Andre-Louis observed certain heightened refinements of dress that went with certain subtler refinements of countenance. He was thinner than of old, his face was pale and there was a weariness in the eyes that considered his visitor through a gold-rimmed spy-glass. In Andre-Louis those jaded but quick-moving eyes of the Breton deputy noted changes even more marked. The almost constant swordmanship of these last months had given Andre-Louis a grace of movement, a poise, and a curious, indefinable air of dignity, of command. He seemed taller by virtue of this, and he was dressed with an elegance which if quiet was none the less rich. He wore a small silver-hilted sword, and wore it as if used to it, and his black hair that Le Chapelier had never seen other than fluttering lank about his bony cheeks was glossy now and gathered into a club. Almost he had the air of a petit-maitre.
In both, however, the changes were purely superficial, as each was soon to reveal to the other. Le Chapelier was ever the same direct and downright Breton, abrupt of manner and of speech. He stood smiling a moment in mingled surprise and pleasure; then opened wide his arms. They embraced under the awe-stricken gaze of the waiter, who at once effaced himself.
"Andre-Louis, my friend! Whence do you drop?"
"We drop from above. I come from below to survey at close quarters one who is on the heights."
"On the heights! But that you willed it so, it is yourself might now be standing in my place."
"I have a poor head for heights, and I find the atmosphere too rarefied. Indeed, you look none too well on it yourself, Isaac. You are pale."
"The Assembly was in session all last night. That is all. These damned Privileged multiply our difficulties. They will do so until we decree their abolition."
They sat down. "Abolition! You contemplate so much? Not that you surprise me. You have always been an extremist."
"I contemplate it that I may save them. I seek to abolish them officially, so as to save them from abolition of another kind at the hands of a people they exasperate."
"I see. And the King?"
"The King is the incarnation of the Nation. We shall deliver him together with the Nation from the bondage of Privilege. Our constitution will accomplish it. You agree?"
Andre-Louis shrugged. "Does it matter? I am a dreamer in politics, not a man of action. Until lately I have been very moderate; more moderate than you think. But now almost I am a republican. I have been watching, and I have perceived that this King is—just nothing, a puppet who dances according to the hand that pulls the string."
"This King, you say? What other king is possible? You are surely not of those who weave dreams about Orleans? He has a sort of party, a following largely recruited by the popular hatred of the Queen and the known fact that she hates him. There are some who have thought of making him regent, some even more; Robespierre is of the number."
"Who?" asked Andre-Louis, to whom the name was unknown.
"Robespierre—a preposterous little lawyer who represents Arras, a shabby, clumsy, timid dullard, who will make speeches through his nose to which nobody listens—an ultra-royalist whom the royalists and the Orleanists are using for their own ends. He has pertinacity, and he insists upon being heard. He may be listened to some day. But that he, or the others, will ever make anything of Orleans...pish! Orleans himself may desire it, but the man is a eunuch in crime; he would, but he can't. The phrase is Mirabeau's."
He broke off to demand Andre-Louis' news of himself.
"You did not treat me as a friend when you wrote to me," he complained. "You gave me no clue to your whereabouts; you represented yourself as on the verge of destitution and withheld from me the means to come to your assistance. I have been troubled in mind about you, Andre. Yet to judge by your appearance I might have spared myself that. You seem prosperous, assured. Tell me of it."
Andre-Louis told him frankly all that there was to tell. "Do you know that you are an amazement to me?" said the deputy. "From the robe to the buskin, and now from the buskin to the sword! What will be the end of you, I wonder?"
"The gallows, probably."
"Pish! Be serious. Why not the toga of the senator in senatorial France? It might be yours now if you had willed it so."
"The surest way to the gallows of all," laughed Andre-Louis.
At the moment Le Chapelier manifested impatience. I wonder did the phrase cross his mind that day four years later when himself he rode in the death-cart to the Greve.
"We are sixty-six Breton deputies in the Assembly. Should a vacancy occur, will you act as suppleant? A word from me together with the influence of your name in Rennes and Nantes, and the thing is done."
Andre-Louis laughed outright. "Do you know, Isaac, that I never meet you but you seek to thrust me into politics?"
"Because you have a gift for politics. You were born for politics."
"Ah, yes—Scaramouche in real life. I've played it on the stage. Let that suffice. Tell me, Isaac, what news of my old friend, La Tour d'Azyr?"
"He is here in Versailles, damn him—a thorn in the flesh of the Assembly. They've burnt his chateau at La Tour d'Azyr. Unfortunately he wasn't in it at the time. The flames haven't even singed his insolence. He dreams that when this philosophic aberration is at an end, there will be serfs to rebuild it for him."
"So there has been trouble in Brittany?" Andre-Louis had become suddenly grave, his thoughts swinging to Gavrillac.
"An abundance of it, and elsewhere too. Can you wonder? These delays at such a time, with famine in the land? Chateaux have been going up in smoke during the last fortnight. The peasants took their cue from the Parisians, and treated every castle as a Bastille. Order is being restored, there as here, and they are quieter now."
"What of Gavrillac? Do you know?"
"I believe all to be well. M. de Kercadiou was not a Marquis de La Tour d'Azyr. He was in sympathy with his people. It is not likely that they would injure Gavrillac. But don't you correspond with your godfather?"
"In the circumstances—no. What you tell me would make it now more difficult than ever, for he must account me one of those who helped to light the torch that has set fire to so much belonging to his class. Ascertain for me that all is well, and let me know."
"I will, at once."
At parting, when Andre-Louis was on the point of stepping into his cabriolet to return to Paris, he sought information on another matter.
"Do you happen to know if M. de La Tour d'Azyr has married?" he asked.
"I don't; which really means that he hasn't. One would have heard of it in the case of that exalted Privileged."
"To be sure." Andre-Louis spoke indifferently. "Au revoir, Isaac! You'll come and see me—13 Rue du Hasard. Come soon."
"As soon and as often as my duties will allow. They keep me chained here at present."
"Poor slave of duty with your gospel of liberty!"
"True! And because of that I will come. I have a duty to Brittany: to make Omnes Omnibus one of her representatives in the National Assembly."
"That is a duty you will oblige me by neglecting," laughed Andre-Louis, and drove away.
CHAPTER IV. AT MEUDON
Later in the week he received a visit from Le Chapelier just before noon.
"I have news for you, Andre. Your godfather is at Meudon. He arrived there two days ago. Had you heard?"
"But no. How should I hear? Why is he at Meudon?" He was conscious of a faint excitement, which he could hardly have explained.
"I don't know. There have been fresh disturbances in Brittany. It may be due to that."
"And so he has come for shelter to his brother?" asked Andre-Louis.
"To his brother's house, yes; but not to his brother. Where do you live at all, Andre? Do you never hear any of the news? Etienne de Gavrillac emigrated years ago. He was of the household of M. d'Artois, and he crossed the frontier with him. By now, no doubt, he is in Germany with him, conspiring against France. For that is what the emigres are doing. That Austrian woman at the Tuileries will end by destroying the monarchy."
"Yes, yes," said Andre-Louis impatiently. Politics interested him not at all this morning. "But about Gavrillac?"
"Why, haven't I told you that Gavrillac is at Meudon, installed in the house his brother has left? Dieu de Dieu! Don't I speak French or don't you understand the language? I believe that Rabouillet, his intendant, is in charge of Gavrillac. I have brought you the news the moment I received it. I thought you would probably wish to go out to Meudon."
"Of course. I will go at once—that is, as soon as I can. I can't to-day, nor yet to-morrow. I am too busy here." He waved a hand towards the inner room, whence proceeded the click-click of blades, the quick moving of feet, and the voice of the instructor, Le Duc.
"Well, well, that is your own affair. You are busy. I leave you now. Let us dine this evening at the Café de Foy. Kersain will be of the party."
"A moment!" Andre-Louis' voice arrested him on the threshold. "Is Mlle. de Kercadiou with her uncle?"
"How the devil should I know? Go and find out."
He was gone, and Andre-Louis stood there a moment deep in thought. Then he turned and went back to resume with his pupil, the Vicomte de Villeniort, the interrupted exposition of the demi-contre of Danet, illustrating with a small-sword the advantages to be derived from its adoption.
Thereafter he fenced with the Vicomte, who was perhaps the ablest of his pupils at the time, and all the while his thoughts were on the heights of Meudon, his mind casting up the lessons he had to give that afternoon and on the morrow, and wondering which of these he might postpone without deranging the academy. When having touched the Vicomte three times in succession, he paused and wrenched himself back to the present, it was to marvel at the precision to be gained by purely mechanical action. Without bestowing a thought upon what he was doing, his wrist and arm and knees had automatically performed their work, like the accurate fighting engine into which constant practice for a year and more had combined them.
Not until Sunday was Andre-Louis able to satisfy a wish which the impatience of the intervening days had converted into a yearning. Dressed with more than ordinary care, his head elegantly coiffed —by one of those hairdressers to the nobility of whom so many were being thrown out of employment by the stream of emigration which was now flowing freely—Andre-Louis mounted his hired carriage, and drove out to Meudon.
The house of the younger Kercadiou no more resembled that of the head of the family than did his person. A man of the Court, where his brother was essentially a man of the soil, an officer of the household of M. le Comte d'Artois, he had built for himself and his family an imposing villa on the heights of Meudon in a miniature park, conveniently situated for him midway between Versailles and Paris, and easily accessible from either. M. d'Artois—the royal tennis-player—had been amongst the very first to emigrate. Together with the Condes, the Contis, the Polignacs, and others of the Queen's intimate council, old Marshal de Broglie and the Prince de Lambesc, who realized that their very names had become odious to the people, he had quitted France immediately after the fall of the Bastille. He had gone to play tennis beyond the frontier—and there consummate the work of ruining the French monarchy upon which he and those others had been engaged in France. With him, amongst several members of his household went Etienne de Kercadiou, and with Etienne de Kercadiou went his family, a wife and four children. Thus it was that the Seigneur de Gavrillac, glad to escape from a province so peculiarly disturbed as that of Brittany—where the nobles had shown themselves the most intransigent of all France —had come to occupy in his brother's absence the courtier's handsome villa at Meudon.
That he was quite happy there is not to be supposed. A man of his almost Spartan habits, accustomed to plain fare and self-help, was a little uneasy in this sybaritic abode, with its soft carpets, profusion of gilding, and battalion of sleek, silent-footed servants —for Kercadiou the younger had left his entire household behind. Time, which at Gavrillac he had kept so fully employed in agrarian concerns, here hung heavily upon his hands. In self-defence he slept a great deal, and but for Aline, who made no attempt to conceal her delight at this proximity to Paris and the heart of things, it is possible that he would have beat a retreat almost at once from surroundings that sorted so ill with his habits. Later on, perhaps, he would accustom himself and grow resigned to this luxurious inactivity. In the meantime the novelty of it fretted him, and it was into the presence of a peevish and rather somnolent M. de Kercadiou that Andre-Louis was ushered in the early hours of the afternoon of that Sunday in June. He was unannounced, as had ever been the custom at Gavrillac. This because Benoit, M. de Kercadiou's old seneschal, had accompanied his seigneur upon this soft adventure, and was installed—to the ceaseless and but half-concealed hilarity of the impertinent valetaille that M. Etienne had left—as his maitre d'hotel here at Meudon.
Benoit had welcomed M. Andre with incoherencies of delight; almost had he gambolled about him like some faithful dog, whilst conducting him to the salon and the presence of the Lord of Gavrillac, who would—in the words of Benoit—be ravished to see M. Andre again.
"Monseigneur! Monseigneur!" he cried in a quavering voice, entering a pace or two in advance of the visitor. "It is M. Andre... M. Andre, your godson, who comes to kiss your hand. He is here...and so fine that you would hardly know him. Here he is, monseigneur! Is he not beautiful?"
And the old servant rubbed his hands in conviction of the delight that he believed he was conveying to his master.
Andre-Louis crossed the threshold of that great room, soft-carpeted to the foot, dazzling to the eye. It was immensely lofty, and its festooned ceiling was carried on fluted pillars with gilded capitals. The door by which he entered, and the windows that opened upon the garden, were of an enormous height—almost, indeed, the full height of the room itself. It was a room overwhelmingly gilded, with an abundance of ormolu encrustations on the furniture, in which it nowise differed from what was customary in the dwellings of people of birth and wealth. Never, indeed, was there a time in which so much gold was employed decoratively as in this age when coined gold was almost unprocurable, and paper money had been put into circulation to supply the lack. It was a saying of Andre-Louis' that if these people could only have been induced to put the paper on their walls and the gold into their pockets, the finances of the kingdom might soon have been in better case.
The Seigneur—furbished and beruffled to harmonize with his surroundings—had risen, startled by this exuberant invasion on the part of Benoit, who had been almost as forlorn as himself since their coming to Meudon.
"What is it? Eh?" His pale, short-sighted eyes peered at the visitor. "Andre!" said he, between surprise and sternness; and the colour deepened in his great pink face.
Benoit, with his back to his master, deliberately winked and grinned at Andre-Louis to encourage him not to be put off by any apparent hostility on the part of his godfather. That done, the intelligent old fellow discreetly effaced himself.
"What do you want here?" growled M. de Kercadiou.
"No more than to kiss your hand, as Benoit has told you, monsieur my godfather," said Andre-Louis submissively, bowing his sleek black head.
"You have contrived without kissing it for two years."
"Do not, monsieur, reproach me with my misfortune."
The little man stood very stiffly erect, his disproportionately large head thrown back, his pale prominent eyes very stern.
"Did you think to make your outrageous offence any better by vanishing in that heartless manner, by leaving us without knowledge of whether you were alive or dead?"
"At first it was dangerous—dangerous to my life—to disclose my whereabouts. Then for a time I was in need, almost destitute, and my pride forbade me, after what I had done and the view you must take of it, to appeal to you for help. Later..."
"Destitute?" The Seigneur interrupted. For a moment his lip trembled. Then he steadied himself, and the frown deepened as he surveyed this very changed and elegant godson of his, noted the quiet richness of his apparel, the paste buckles and red heels to his shoes, the sword hilted in mother-o'-pearl and silver, and the carefully dressed hair that he had always seen hanging in wisps about his face. "At least you do not look destitute now," he sneered.
"I am not. I have prospered since. In that, monsieur, I differ from the ordinary prodigal, who returns only when he needs assistance. I return solely because I love you, monsieur—to tell you so. I have come at the very first moment after hearing of your presence here." He advanced. "Monsieur my godfather!" he said, and held out his hand.
But M. de Kercadiou remained unbending, wrapped in his cold dignity and resentment.
"Whatever tribulations you may have suffered or consider that you may have suffered, they are far less than your disgraceful conduct deserved, and I observe that they have nothing abated your impudence. You think that you have but to come here and say, 'Monsieur my godfather!' and everything is to be forgiven and forgotten. That is your error. You have committed too great a wrong; you have offended against everything by which I hold, and against myself personally, by your betrayal of my trust in you. You are one of those unspeakable scoundrels who are responsible for this revolution."
"Alas, monsieur, I see that you share the common delusion. These unspeakable scoundrels but demanded a constitution, as was promised them from the throne. They were not to know that the promise was insincere, or that its fulfilment would be baulked by the privileged orders. The men who have precipitated this revolution, monsieur, are the nobles and the prelates."
"You dare—and at such a time as this—stand there and tell me such abominable lies! You dare to say that the nobles have made the revolution, when scores of them, following the example of M. le Duc d'Aiguillon, have flung their privileges, even their title-deeds, into the lap of the people! Or perhaps you deny it?"
"Oh, no. Having wantonly set fire to their house, they now try to put it out by throwing water on it; and where they fail they put the entire blame on the flames."
"I see that you have come here to talk politics."
"Far from it. I have come, if possible, to explain myself. To understand is always to forgive. That is a great saying of Montaigne's. If I could make you understand..."
"You can't. You'll never make me understand how you came to render yourself so odiously notorious in Brittany."
"Ah, not odiously, monsieur!"
"Certainly, odiously—among those that matter. It is said even that you were Omnes Omnibus, though that I cannot, will not believe."
"Yet it is true."
M. de Kercadiou choked. "And you confess it? You dare to confess it?"
"What a man dares to do, he should dare to confess—unless he is a coward."
"Oh, and to be sure you were very brave, running away each time after you had done the mischief, turning comedian to hide yourself, doing more mischief as a comedian, provoking a riot in Nantes, and then running away again, to become God knows what—something dishonest by the affluent look of you. My God, man, I tell you that in these past two years I have hoped that you were dead, and you profoundly disappoint me that you are not!" He beat his hands together, and raised his shrill voice to call—"Benoit!" He strode away towards the fireplace, scarlet in the face, shaking with the passion into which he had worked himself. "Dead, I might have forgiven you, as one who had paid for his evil, and his folly. Living, I never can forgive you. You have gone too far. God alone knows where it will end.
"Benoit, the door. M. Andre-Louis Moreau to the door!" The tone argued an irrevocable determination. Pale and self-contained, but with a queer pain at his heart, Andre-Louis heard that dismissal, saw Benoit's white, scared face and shaking hands half-raised as if he were about to expostulate with his master. And then another voice, a crisp, boyish voice, cut in.
"Uncle!" it cried, a world of indignation and surprise in its pitch, and then: "Andre!" And this time a note almost of gladness, certainly of welcome, was blended with the surprise that still remained.
Both turned, half the room between them at the moment, and beheld Aline in one of the long, open windows, arrested there in the act of entering from the garden, Aline in a milk-maid bonnet of the latest mode, though without any of the tricolour embellishments that were so commonly to be seen upon them.
The thin lips of Andre's long mouth twisted into a queer smile. Into his mind had flashed the memory of their last parting. He saw himself again, standing burning with indignation upon the pavement of Nantes, looking after her carriage as it receded down the Avenue de Gigan.
She was coming towards him now with outstretched hands, a heightened colour in her cheeks, a smile of welcome on her lips. He bowed low and kissed her hand in silence.
Then with a glance and a gesture she dismissed Benoit, and in her imperious fashion constituted herself Andre's advocate against that harsh dismissal which she had overheard.
"Uncle," she said, leaving Andre and crossing to M. de Kercadiou, "you make me ashamed of you! To allow a feeling of peevishness to overwhelm all your affection for Andre!"
"I have no affection for him. I had once. He chose to extinguish it. He can go to the devil; and please observe that I don't permit you to interfere."
"But if he confesses that he has done wrong..."
"He confesses nothing of the kind. He comes here to argue with me about these infernal Rights of Man. He proclaims himself unrepentant. He announces himself with pride to have been, as all Brittany says, the scoundrel who hid himself under the sobriquet of Omnes Omnibus. Is that to be condoned?"
She turned to look at Andre across the wide space that now separated them.
"But is this really so? Don't you repent, Andre—now that you see all the harm that has come?"
It was a clear invitation to him, a pleading to him to say that he repented, to make his peace with his godfather. For a moment it almost moved him. Then, considering the subterfuge unworthy, he answered truthfully, though the pain he was suffering rang in his voice.
"To confess repentance," he said slowly, "would be to confess to a monstrous crime. Don't you see that? Oh, monsieur, have patience with me; let me explain myself a little. You say that I am in part responsible for something of all this that has happened. My exhortations of the people at Rennes and twice afterwards at Nantes are said to have had their share in what followed there. It may be so. It would be beyond my power positively to deny it. Revolution followed and bloodshed. More may yet come. To repent implies a recognition that I have done wrong. How shall I say that I have done wrong, and thus take a share of the responsibility for all that blood upon my soul? I will be quite frank with you to show you how far, indeed, I am from repentance. What I did, I actually did against all my convictions at the time. Because there was no justice in France to move against the murderer of Philippe de Vilmorin, I moved in the only way that I imagined could make the evil done recoil upon the hand that did it, and those other hands that had the power but not the spirit to punish. Since then I have come to see that I was wrong, and that Philippe de Vilmorin and those who thought with him were in the right.
"You must realize, monsieur, that it is with sincerest thankfulness that I find I have done nothing calling for repentance; that, on the contrary, when France is given the inestimable boon of a constitution, as will shortly happen, I may take pride in having played my part in bringing about the conditions that have made this possible."
There was a pause. M. de Kercadiou's face turned from pink to purple.
"You have quite finished?" he said harshly.
"If you have understood me, monsieur."
"Oh, I have understood you, and...and I beg that you will go."
Andre-Louis shrugged his shoulders and hung his head. He had come there so joyously, in such yearning, merely to receive a final dismissal. He looked at Aline. Her face was pale and troubled; but her wit failed to show her how she could come to his assistance. His excessive honesty had burnt all his boats.
"Very well, monsieur. Yet this I would ask you to remember after I am gone. I have not come to you as one seeking assistance, as one driven to you by need. I am no returning prodigal, as I have said. I am one who, needing nothing, asking nothing, master of his own destinies, has come to you driven by affection only, urged by the love and gratitude he bears you and will continue to bear you."
"Ah, yes!" cried Aline, turning now to her uncle. Here at least was an argument in Andre's favour, thought she. "That is true. Surely that..."
Inarticulately he hissed her into silence, exasperated.
"Hereafter perhaps that will help you to think of me more kindly, monsieur.
"I see no occasion, sir, to think of you at all. Again, I beg that you will go."
Andre-Louis looked at Aline an instant, as if still hesitating.
She answered him by a glance at her furious uncle, a faint shrug, and a lift of the eyebrows, dejection the while in her countenance.
It was as if she said: "You see his mood. There is nothing to be done."
He bowed with that singular grace the fencing-room had given him and went out by the door.
"Oh, it is cruel!" cried Aline, in a stifled voice, her hands clenched, and she sprang to the window.
"Aline!" her uncle's voice arrested her. "Where are you going?"
"But we do not know where he is to be found."
"Who wants to find the scoundrel?"
"We may never see him again."
"That is most fervently to be desired."
Aline said "Ouf!" and went out by the window.
He called after her, imperiously commanding her return. But Aline —dutiful child—closed her ears lest she must disobey him, and sped light-footed across the lawn to the avenue there to intercept the departing Andre-Louis.
As he came forth wrapped in gloom, she stepped from the bordering trees into his path.
"Aline!" he cried, joyously almost.
"I did not want you to go like this. I couldn't let you," she explained herself. "I know him better than you do, and I know that his great soft heart will presently melt. He will be filled with regret. He will want to send for you, and he will not know where to send."
"You think that?"
"Oh, I know it! You arrive in a bad moment. He is peevish and cross-grained, poor man, since he came here. These soft surroundings are all so strange to him. He wearies himself away from his beloved Gavrillac, his hunting and tillage, and the truth is that in his mind he very largely blames you for what has happened —for the necessity, or at least, the wisdom, of this change. Brittany, you must know, was becoming too unsafe. The chateau of La Tour d'Azyr, amongst others, was burnt to the ground some months ago. At any moment, given a fresh excitement, it may be the turn of Gavrillac. And for this and his present discomfort he blames you and your friends. But he will come round presently. He will be sorry that he sent you away like this—for I know that he loves you, Andre, in spite of all. I shall reason with him when the time comes. And then we shall want to know where to find you."
"At number 13, Rue du Hasard. The number is unlucky, the name of the street appropriate. Therefore both are easy to remember."
She nodded. "I will walk with you to the gates." And side by side now they proceeded at a leisurely pace down the long avenue in the June sunshine dappled by the shadows of the bordering trees. "You are looking well, Andre; and do you know that you have changed a deal? I am glad that you have prospered." And then, abruptly changing the subject before he had time to answer her, she came to the matter uppermost in her mind.
"I have so wanted to see you in all these months, Andre. You were the only one who could help me; the only one who could tell me the truth, and I was angry with you for never having written to say where you were to be found."
"Of course you encouraged me to do so when last we met in Nantes."
"What? Still resentful?"
"I am never resentful. You should know that." He expressed one of his vanities. He loved to think himself a Stoic. "But I still bear the scar of a wound that would be the better for the balm of your retraction."
"Why, then, I retract, Andre. And now tell me."
"Yes, a self-seeking retraction," said he. "You give me something that you may obtain something." He laughed quite pleasantly. "Well, well; command me."
"Tell me, Andre." She paused, as if in some difficulty, and then went on, her eyes upon the ground: "Tell me—the truth of that event at the Feydau."
The request fetched a frown to his brow. He suspected at once the thought that prompted it. Quite simply and briefly he gave her his version of the affair.
She listened very attentively. When he had done she sighed; her face was very thoughtful.
"That is much what I was told," she said. "But it was added that M. de La Tour d'Azyr had gone to the theatre expressly for the purpose of breaking finally with La Binet. Do you know if that was so?"
"I don't; nor of any reason why it should be so. La Binet provided him the sort of amusement that he and his kind are forever craving..."
"Oh, there was a reason," she interrupted him. "I was the reason. I spoke to Mme. de Sautron. I told her that I would not continue to receive one who came to me contaminated in that fashion." She spoke of it with obvious difficulty, her colour rising as he watched her half-averted face.
"Had you listened to me..." he was beginning, when again she interrupted him.
"M. de Sautron conveyed my decision to him, and afterwards represented him to me as a man in despair, repentant, ready to give proofs—any proofs—of his sincerity and devotion to me. He told me that M. de La Tour d'Azyr had sworn to him that he would cut short that affair, that he would see La Binet no more. And then, on the very next day I heard of his having all but lost his life in that riot at the theatre. He had gone straight from that interview with M. de Sautron, straight from those protestations of future wisdom, to La Binet. I was indignant. I pronounced myself finally. I stated definitely that I would not in any circumstances receive M. de La Tour d'Azyr again! And then they pressed this explanation upon me. For a long time I would not believe it."
"So that you believe it now," said Andre quickly. "Why?"
"I have not said that I believe it now. But...but...neither can I disbelieve. Since we came to Meudon M. de La Tour d'Azyr has been here, and himself he has sworn to me that it was so."
"Oh, if M. de La Tour d'Azyr has sworn..." Andre-Louis was laughing on a bitter note of sarcasm.
"Have you ever known him lie?" she cut in sharply. That checked him. "M. de La Tour d'Azyr is, after all, a man of honour, and men of honour never deal in falsehood. Have you ever known him do so, that you should sneer as you have done?"
"No," he confessed. Common justice demanded that he should admit that virtue at least in his enemy. "I have not known him lie, it is true. His kind is too arrogant, too self-confident to have recourse to untruth. But I have known him do things as vile..."
"Nothing is as vile," she interrupted, speaking from the code by which she had been reared. "It is for liars only—who are first cousin to thieves—that there is no hope. It is in falsehood only that there is real loss of honour."
"You are defending that satyr, I think," he said frostily.
"I desire to be just."
"Justice may seem to you a different matter when at last you shall have resolved yourself to become Marquise de La Tour d'Azyr." He spoke bitterly.
"I don't think that I shall ever take that resolve."
"But you are still not sure—in spite of everything."
"Can one ever be sure of anything in this world?"
"Yes. One can be sure of being foolish."
Either she did not hear or did not heed him.
"You do not of your own knowledge know that it was not as M. de La Tour d'Azyr asserts—that he went to the Feydau that night?"
"I don't," he admitted. "It is of course possible. But does it matter?"
"It might matter. Tell me; what became of La Binet after all?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know?" She turned to consider him. "And you can say it with that indifference! I thought...I thought you loved her, Andre."
"So did I, for a little while. I was mistaken. It required a La Tour d'Azyr to disclose the truth to me. They have their uses, these gentlemen. They help stupid fellows like myself to perceive important truths. I was fortunate that revelation in my case preceded marriage. I can now look back upon the episode with equanimity and thankfulness for my near escape from the consequences of what was no more than an aberration of the senses. It is a thing commonly confused with love. The experience, as you see, was very instructive."
She looked at him in frank surprise.
"Do you know, Andre, I sometimes think that you have no heart."
"Presumably because I sometimes betray intelligence. And what of yourself, Aline? What of your own attitude from the outset where M. de La Tour d'Azyr is concerned? Does that show heart? If I were to tell you what it really shows, we should end by quarrelling again, and God knows I can't afford to quarrel with you now. I...I shall take another way."
"What do you mean?"
"Why, nothing at the moment, for you are not in any danger of marrying that animal."
"And if I were?"
"Ah! In that case affection for you would discover to me some means of preventing it—unless..." He paused.
"Unless?" she demanded, challengingly, drawn to the full of her sort height, her eyes imperious.
"Unless you could also tell me that you loved him," said he simply, whereat she was as suddenly and most oddly softened. And then he added, shaking his head: "But that of course is impossible."
"Why?" she asked him, quite gently now.
"Because you are what you are, Aline—utterly good and pure and adorable. Angels do not mate with devils. His wife you might become, but never his mate, Aline—never."
They had reached the wrought-iron gates at the end of the avenue. Through these they beheld the waiting yellow chaise which had brought Andre-Louis. From near at hand came the creak of other wheels, the beat of other hooves, and now another vehicle came in sight, and drew to a stand-still beside the yellow chaise—a handsome equipage with polished mahogany panels on which the gold and azure of armorial bearings flashed brilliantly in the sunlight. A footman swung to earth to throw wide the gates; but in that moment the lady who occupied the carriage, perceiving Aline, waved to her and issued a command.
CHAPTER V. MADAME DE PLOUGASTEL
The postilion drew rein, and the footman opened the door, letting down the steps and proffering his arm to his mistress to assist her to alight, since that was the wish she had expressed. Then he opened one wing of the iron gates, and held it for her. She was a woman of something more than forty, who once must have been very lovely, who was very lovely still with the refining quality that age brings to some women. Her dress and carriage alike advertised great rank.
"I take my leave here, since you have a visitor," said Andre-Louis.
"But it is an old acquaintance of your own, Andre. You remember Mme. la Comtesse de Plougastel?"
He looked at the approaching lady, whom Aline was now hastening forward to meet, and because she was named to him he recognized her. He must, he thought, had he but looked, have recognized her without prompting anywhere at any time, and this although it was some sixteen years since last he had seen her. The sight of her now brought it all back to him—a treasured memory that had never permitted itself to be entirely overlaid by subsequent events.
When he was a boy of ten, on the eve of being sent to school at Rennes, she had come on a visit to his godfather, who was her cousin. It happened that at the time he was taken by Rabouillet to the Manor of Gavrillac, and there he had been presented to Mme. de Plougastel. The great lady, in all the glory then of her youthful beauty, with her gentle, cultured voice—so cultured that she had seemed to speak a language almost unknown to the little Breton lad—and her majestic air of the great world, had scared him a little at first. Very gently had she allayed those fears of his, and by some mysterious enchantment she had completely enslaved his regard. He recalled now the terror in which he had gone to the embrace to which he was bidden, and the subsequent reluctance with which he had left those soft round arms. He remembered, too, how sweetly she had smelled and the very perfume she had used, a perfume as of lilac—for memory is singularly tenacious in these matters.
For three days whilst she had been at Gavrillac, he had gone daily to the manor, and so had spent hours in her company. A childless woman with the maternal instinct strong within her, she had taken this precociously intelligent, wide-eyed lad to her heart.
"Give him to me, Cousin Quintin," he remembered her saying on the last of those days to his godfather. "Let me take him back with me to Versailles as my adopted child."
But the Seigneur had gravely shaken his head in silent refusal, and there had been no further question of such a thing. And then, when she said good-bye to him—the thing came flooding back to him now —there had been tears in her eyes.
"Think of me sometimes, Andre-Louis," had been her last words.
He remembered how flattered he had been to have won within so short a time the affection of this great lady. The thing had given him a sense of importance that had endured for months thereafter, finally to fade into oblivion.
But all was vividly remembered now upon beholding her again, after sixteen years, profoundly changed and matured, the girl—for she had been no more in those old days—sunk in this worldly woman with the air of calm dignity and complete self-possession. Yet, he insisted, he must have known her anywhere again.
Aline embraced her affectionately, and then answering the questioning glance with faintly raised eyebrows that madame was directing towards Aline's companion—
"This is Andre-Louis," she said. "You remember Andre-Louis, madame?"
Madame checked. Andre-Louis saw the surprise ripple over her face, taking with it some of her colour, leaving her for a moment breathless.
And then the voice—the well-remembered rich, musical voice—richer and deeper now than of yore, repeated his name:
Her manner of uttering it suggested that it awakened memories, memories perhaps of the departed youth with which it was associated. And she paused a long moment, considering him, a little wide-eyed, what time he bowed before her.
"But of course I remember him," she said at last, and came towards him, putting out her hand. He kissed it dutifully, submissively, instinctively. "And this is what you have grown into?" She appraised him, and he flushed with pride at the satisfaction in her tone. He seemed to have gone back sixteen years, and to be again the little Breton lad at Gavrillac. She turned to Aline. "How mistaken Quintin was in his assumptions. He was pleased to see him again, was he not?"
"So pleased, madame, that he has shown me the door," said Andre-Louis.
"Ah!" She frowned, conning him still with those dark, wistful eyes of hers. "We must change that, Aline. He is of course very angry with you. But it is not the way to make converts. I will plead for you, Andre-Louis. I am a good advocate."
He thanked her and took his leave.
"I leave my case in your hands with gratitude. My homage, madame."
And so it happened that in spite of his godfather's forbidding reception of him, the fragment of a song was on his lips as his yellow chaise whirled him back to Paris and the Rue du Hasard. That meeting with Mme. de Plougastel had enheartened him; her promise to plead his case in alliance with Aline gave him assurance that all would be well.
That he was justified of this was proved when on the following Thursday towards noon his academy was invaded by M. de Kercadiou. Gilles, the boy, brought him word of it, and breaking off at once the lesson upon which he was engaged, he pulled off his mask, and went as he was—in a chamois waistcoat buttoned to the chin and with his foil under his arm to the modest salon below, where his godfather awaited him.
The florid little Lord of Gavrillac stood almost defiantly to receive him.
"I have been over-persuaded to forgive you," he announced aggressively, seeming thereby to imply that he consented to this merely so as to put an end to tiresome importunities.
Andre-Louis was not misled. He detected a pretence adopted by the Seigneur so as to enable him to retreat in good order.
"My blessings on the persuaders, whoever they may have been. You restore me my happiness, monsieur my godfather."
He took the hand that was proffered and kissed it, yielding to the impulse of the unfailing habit of his boyish days. It was an act symbolical of his complete submission, reestablishing between himself and his godfather the bond of protected and protector, with all the mutual claims and duties that it carries. No mere words could more completely have made his peace with this man who loved him.
M. de Kercadiou's face flushed a deeper pink, his lip trembled, and there was a huskiness in the voice that murmured "My dear boy!" Then he recollected himself, threw back his great head and frowned. His voice resumed its habitual shrillness. "You realize, I hope, that you have behaved damnably...damnably, and with the utmost ingratitude?"
"Does not that depend upon the point of view?" quoth Andre-Louis, but his tone was studiously conciliatory.
"It depends upon a fact, and not upon any point of view. Since I have been persuaded to overlook it, I trust that at least you have some intention of reforming."
"I...I will abstain from politics," said Andre-Louis, that being the utmost he could say with truth.
"That is something, at least." His godfather permitted himself to be mollified, now that a concession—or a seeming concession—had been made to his just resentment.
"A chair, monsieur."
"No, no. I have come to carry you off to pay a visit with me. You owe it entirely to Mme. de Plougastel that I consent to receive you again. I desire that you come with me to thank her."
"I have my engagements here..." began Andre-Louis, and then broke off. "No matter! I will arrange it. A moment." And he was turning away to reenter the academy.
"What are your engagements? You are not by chance a fencing-instructor?" M. de Kercadiou had observed the leather waistcoat and the foil tucked under Andre-Louis' arm.
"I am the master of this academy—the academy of the late Bertrand des Amis, the most flourishing school of arms in Paris to-day."
M. de Kercadiou's brows went up.
"And you are master of it?"
"Maitre en fait d'Armes. I succeeded to the academy upon the death of des Amis."
He left M. Kercadiou to think it over, and went to make his arrangements and effect the necessary changes in his toilet.
"So that is why you have taken to wearing a sword," said M. de Kercadiou, as they climbed into his waiting carriage.
"That and the need to guard one's self in these times."
"And do you mean to tell me that a man who lives by what is after all an honourable profession, a profession mainly supported by the nobility, can at the same time associate himself with these peddling attorneys and low pamphleteers who are spreading dissension and insubordination?"
"You forget that I am a peddling attorney myself, made so by your own wishes, monsieur."
M. de Kercadiou grunted, and took snuff. "You say the academy flourishes?" he asked presently.
"It does. I have two assistant instructors. I could employ a third. It is hard work."
"That should mean that your circumstances are affluent."
"I have reason to be satisfied. I have far more than I need."
"Then you'll be able to do your share in paying off this national debt," growled the nobleman, well content that as he conceived it —some of the evil Andre-Louis had helped to sow should recoil upon him.
Then the talk veered to Mme. de Plougastel. M. de Kercadiou, Andre-Louis gathered, but not the reason for it, disapproved most strongly of this visit. But then Madame la Comtesse was a headstrong woman whom there was no denying, whom all the world obeyed. M. de Plougastel was at present absent in Germany, but would shortly be returning. It was an indiscreet admission from which it was easy to infer that M. de Plougastel was one of those intriguing emissaries who came and went between the Queen of France and her brother, the Emperor of Austria.
The carriage drew up before a handsome hotel in the Faubourg Saint-Denis, at the corner of the Rue Paradis, and they were ushered by a sleek servant into a little boudoir, all gilt and brocade, that opened upon a terrace above a garden that was a park in miniature. Here madame awaited them. She rose, dismissing the young person who had been reading to her, and came forward with both hands outheld to greet her cousin Kercadiou.
"I almost feared you would not keep your word," she said. "It was unjust. But then I hardly hoped that you would succeed in bringing him." And her glance, gentle, and smiling welcome upon him, indicated Andre-Louis.
The young man made answer with formal gallantry.
"The memory of you, madame, is too deeply imprinted on my heart for any persuasions to have been necessary."
"Ah, the courtier!" said madame, and abandoned him her hand. "We are to have a little talk, Andre-Louis," she informed him, with a gravity that left him vaguely ill at ease.
They sat down, and for a while the conversation was of general matters, chiefly concerned, however, with Andre-Louis, his occupations and his views. And all the while madame was studying him attentively with those gentle, wistful eyes, until again that sense of uneasiness began to pervade him. He realized instinctively that he had been brought here for some purpose deeper than that which had been avowed.
At last, as if the thing were concerted—and the clumsy Lord of Gavrillac was the last man in the world to cover his tracks—his godfather rose and, upon a pretext of desiring to survey the garden, sauntered through the windows on to the terrace, over whose white stone balustrade the geraniums trailed in a scarlet riot. Thence he vanished among the foliage below.
"Now we can talk more intimately," said madame. "Come here, and sit beside me." She indicated the empty half of the settee she occupied.
Andre-Louis went obediently, but a little uncomfortably. "You know," she said gently, placing a hand upon his arm, "that you have behaved very ill, that your godfather's resentment is very justly founded?"
"Madame, if I knew that, I should be the most unhappy, the most despairing of men." And he explained himself, as he had explained himself on Sunday to his godfather. "What I did, I did because it was the only means to my hand in a country in which justice was paralyzed by Privilege to make war upon an infamous scoundrel who had killed my best friend—a wanton, brutal act of murder, which there was no law to punish. And as if that were not enough— forgive me if I speak with the utmost frankness, madame—he afterwards debauched the woman I was to have married."
"Ah, mon Dieu!" she cried out.
"Forgive me. I know that it is horrible. You perceive, perhaps, what I suffered, how I came to be driven. That last affair of which I am guilty—the riot that began in the Feydau Theatre and afterwards enveloped the whole city of Nantes—was provoked by this."
"Who was she, this girl?"
It was like a woman, he thought, to fasten upon the unessential.
"Oh, a theatre girl, a poor fool of whom I have no regrets. La Binet was her name. I was a player at the time in her father's troupe. That was after the Rennes business, when it was necessary to hide from such justice as exists in France—the gallows' justice for unfortunates who are not 'born.' This added wrong led me to provoke a riot in the theatre."
"Poor boy," she said tenderly. "Only a woman's heart can realize what you must have suffered; and because of that I can so readily forgive you. But now..."
"Ah, but you don't understand, madame. If to-day I thought that I had none but personal grounds for having lent a hand in the holy work of abolishing Privilege, I think I should cut my throat. My true justification lies in the insincerity of those who intended that the convocation of the States General should be a sham, mere dust in the eyes of the nation."
"Was it not, perhaps, wise to have been insincere in such a matter?"
He looked at her blankly.
"Can it ever be wise, madame, to be insincere?"
"Oh, indeed it can; believe me, who am twice your age, and know my world."
"I should say, madame, that nothing is wise that complicates existence; and I know of nothing that so complicates it as insincerity. Consider a moment the complications that have arisen out of this."
"But surely, Andre-Louis, your views have not been so perverted that you do not see that a governing class is a necessity in any country?"
"Why, of course. But not necessarily a hereditary one."
He answered her with an epigram. "Man, madame, is the child of his own work. Let there be no inheriting of rights but from such a parent. Thus a nation's best will always predominate, and such a nation will achieve greatly."
"But do you account birth of no importance?"
"Of none, madame—or else my own might trouble me." From the deep flush that stained her face, he feared that he had offended by what was almost an indelicacy. But the reproof that he was expecting did not come. Instead—
"And does it not?" she asked. "Never, Andre?"
"Never, madame. I am content."
"You have never...never regretted your lack of parents' care?"
He laughed, sweeping aside her sweet charitable concern that was so superfluous. "On the contrary, madame, I tremble to think what they might have made of me, and I am grateful to have had the fashioning of myself."
She looked at him for a moment very sadly, and then, smiling, gently shook her head.
"You do not want self-satisfaction... Yet I could wish that you saw things differently, Andre. It is a moment of great opportunities for a young man of talent and spirit. I could help you; I could help you, perhaps, to go very far if you would permit yourself to be helped after my fashion."
"Yes," he thought, "help me to a halter by sending me on treasonable missions to Austria on the Queen's behalf, like M. de Plougastel. That would certainly end in a high position for me."
Aloud he answered more as politeness prompted. "I am grateful, madame. But you will see that, holding the ideals I have expressed, I could not serve any cause that is opposed to their realization."
"You are misled by prejudice, Andre-Louis, by personal grievances. Will you allow them to stand in the way of your advancement?"
"If what I call ideals were really prejudices, would it be honest of me to run counter to them whilst holding them?"
"If I could convince you that you are mistaken! I could help you so much to find a worthy employment for the talents you possess. In the service of the King you would prosper quickly. Will you think of it, Andre-Louis, and let us talk of this again?"
He answered her with formal, chill politeness.
"I fear that it would be idle, madame. Yet your interest in me is very flattering, and I thank you. It is unfortunate for me that I am so headstrong."
"And now who deals in insincerity?" she asked him.
"Ah, but you see, madame, it is an insincerity that does not mislead."
And then M. de Kercadiou came in through the window again, and announced fussily that he must be getting back to Meudon, and that he would take his godson with him and set him down at the Rue du Hasard.
"You must bring him again, Quintin," the Countess said, as they took their leave of her.
"Some day, perhaps," said M. de Kercadiou vaguely, and swept his godson out.
In the carriage he asked him bluntly of what madame had talked.
"She was very kind—a sweet woman," said Andre-Louis pensively.
"Devil take you, I didn't ask you the opinion that you presume to have formed of her. I asked you what she said to you."
"She strove to point out to me the error of my ways. She spoke of great things that I might do—to which she would very kindly help me—if I were to come to my senses. But as miracles do not happen, I gave her little encouragement to hope."
"I see. I see. Did she say anything else?"
He was so peremptory that Andre-Louis turned to look at him.
"What else did you expect her to say, monsieur my godfather?"
"Then she fulfilled your expectations."
"Eh? Oh, a thousand devils, why can't you express yourself in a sensible manner that a plain man can understand without having to think about it?"
He sulked after that most of the way to the Rue du Hasard, or so it seemed to Andre-Louis. At least he sat silent, gloomily thoughtful to judge by his expression.
"You may come and see us soon again at Meudon," he told Andre-Louis at parting. "But please remember—no revolutionary politics in future, if we are to remain friends."
CHAPTER VI. POLITICIANS
One morning in August the academy in the Rue du Hasard was invaded by Le Chapelier accompanied by a man of remarkable appearance, whose herculean stature and disfigured countenance seemed vaguely familiar to Andre-Louis. He was a man of little, if anything, over thirty, with small bright eyes buried in an enormous face. His cheek-bones were prominent, his nose awry, as if it had been broken by a blow, and his mouth was rendered almost shapeless by the scars of another injury. (A bull had horned him in the face when he was but a lad.) As if that were not enough to render his appearance terrible, his cheeks were deeply pock-marked. He was dressed untidily in a long scarlet coat that descended almost to his ankles, soiled buckskin breeches and boots with reversed tops. His shirt, none too clean, was open at the throat, the collar hanging limply over an unknotted cravat, displaying fully the muscular neck that rose like a pillar from his massive shoulders. He swung a cane that was almost a club in his left hand, and there was a cockade in his biscuit-coloured, conical hat. He carried himself with an aggressive, masterful air, that great head of his thrown back as if he were eternally at defiance.
Le Chapelier, whose manner was very grave, named him to Andre-Louis.
"This is M. Danton, a brother-lawyer, President of the Cordeliers, of whom you will have heard."
Of course Andre-Louis had heard of him. Who had not, by then?
Looking at him now with interest, Andre-Louis wondered how it came that all, or nearly all the leading innovators, were pock-marked. Mirabeau, the journalist Desmoulins, the philanthropist Marat, Robespierre the little lawyer from Arras, this formidable fellow Danton, and several others he could call to mind all bore upon them the scars of smallpox. Almost he began to wonder was there any connection between the two. Did an attack of smallpox produce certain moral results which found expression in this way?
He dismissed the idle speculation, or rather it was shattered by the startling thunder of Danton's voice.
"This —— Chapelier has told me of you. He says that you are a patriotic ——."
More than by the tone was Andre-Louis startled by the obscenities with which the Colossus did not hesitate to interlard his first speech to a total stranger. He laughed outright. There was nothing else to do.
"If he has told you that, he has told you more than the truth! I am a patriot. The rest my modesty compels me to disavow."
"You're a joker too, it seems," roared the other, but he laughed nevertheless, and the volume of it shook the windows. "There's no offence in me. I am like that."
"What a pity," said Andre-Louis.
It disconcerted the king of the markets. "Eh? what's this, Chapelier? Does he give himself airs, your friend here?"
The spruce Breton, a very petit-maitre in appearance by contrast with his companion, but nevertheless of a down-right manner quite equal to Danton's in brutality, though dispensing with the emphasis of foulness, shrugged as he answered him:
"It is merely that he doesn't like your manners, which is not at all surprising. They are execrable."
"Ah, bah! You are all like that, you —— Bretons. Let's come to business. You'll have heard what took place in the Assembly yesterday? You haven't? My God, where do you live? Have you heard that this scoundrel who calls himself King of France gave passage across French soil the other day to Austrian troops going to crush those who fight for liberty in Belgium? Have you heard that, by any chance?"
"Yes," said Andre-Louis coldly, masking his irritation before the other's hectoring manner. "I have heard that."
"Oh! And what do you think of it?" arms akimbo, the Colossus towered above him.
Andre-Louis turned aside to Le Chapelier.
"I don't think I understand. Have you brought this gentleman here to examine my conscience?"
"Name of a name! He's prickly as a—porcupine!" Danton protested.
"No, no." Le Chapelier was conciliatory, seeking to provide an antidote to the irritant administered by his companion. "We require your help, Andre. Danton here thinks that you are the very man for us. Listen now..."
"That's it. You tell him," Danton agreed. "You both talk the same mincing—sort of French. He'll probably understand you."
Le Chapelier went on without heeding the interruption. "This violation by the King of the obvious rights of a country engaged in framing a constitution that shall make it free has shattered every philanthropic illusion we still cherished. There are those who go so far as to proclaim the King the vowed enemy of France. But that, of course, is excessive."
"Who says so?" blazed Danton, and swore horribly by way of conveying his total disagreement.
Le Chapelier waved him into silence, and proceeded.
"Anyhow, the matter has been more than enough, added to all the rest, to set us by the ears again in the Assembly. It is open war between the Third Estate and the Privileged."
"Was it ever anything else?"
"Perhaps not; but it has assumed a new character. You'll have heard of the duel between Lameth and the Duc de Castries?"
"A trifling affair."
"In its results. But it might have been far other. Mirabeau is challenged and insulted now at every sitting. But he goes his way, cold-bloodedly wise. Others are not so circumspect; they meet insult with insult, blow with blow, and blood is being shed in private duels. The thing is reduced by these swordsmen of the nobility to a system."
Andre-Louis nodded. He was thinking of Philippe de Vilmorin. "Yes," he said, "it is an old trick of theirs. It is so simple and direct—like themselves. I wonder only that they didn't hit upon this system sooner. In the early days of the States General, at Versailles, it might have had a better effect. Now, it comes a little late."
"But they mean to make up for lost time—sacred name!" cried Danton. "Challenges are flying right and left between these bully-swordsmen, these spadassinicides, and poor devils of the robe who have never learnt to fence with anything but a quill. It's just —— murder. Yet if I were to go amongst messieurs les nobles and crunch an addled head or two with this stick of mine, snap a few aristocratic necks between these fingers which the good God has given me for the purpose, the law would send me to atone upon the gallows. This in a land that is striving after liberty. Why, Dieu me damne! I am not even allowed to keep my hat on in the theatre. But they—these—!"
"He is right," said Le Chapelier. "The thing has become unendurable, insufferable. Two days ago M. d'Ambly threatened Mirabeau with his cane before the whole Assembly. Yesterday M. de Faussigny leapt up and harangued his order by inviting murder. 'Why don't we fall on these scoundrels, sword in hand?' he asked. Those were his very words: 'Why don't we fall on these scoundrels, sword in hand.'"
"It is so much simpler than lawmaking," said Andre-Louis.
"Lagron, the deputy from Ancenis in the Loire, said something that we did not hear in answer. As he was leaving the Manege one of these bullies grossly insulted him. Lagron no more than used his elbow to push past when the fellow cried out that he had been struck, and issued his challenge. They fought this morning early in the Champs Elysees, and Lagron was killed, run through the stomach deliberately by a man who fought like a fencing-master, and poor Lagron did not even own a sword. He had to borrow one to go to the assignation."
Andre-Louis—his mind ever on Vilmorin, whose case was here repeated, even to the details—was swept by a gust of passion. He clenched his hands, and his jaws set. Danton's little eyes observed him keenly.
"Well? And what do you think of that? Noblesse oblige, eh? The thing is we must oblige them too, these—-s. We must pay them back in the same coin; meet them with the same weapons. Abolish them; tumble these assassinateurs into the abyss of nothingness by the same means."
"How? Name of God! haven't I said it?"
"That is where we require your help," Le Chapelier put in. "There must be men of patriotic feeling among the more advanced of your pupils. M. Danton's idea is that a little band of these—say a half-dozen, with yourself at their head—might read these bullies a sharp lesson."
"And how, precisely, had M. Danton thought that this might be done?"
M. Danton spoke for himself, vehemently.
"Why, thus: We post you in the Manege, at the hour when the Assembly is rising. We point out the six leading phlebotomists, and let you loose to insult them before they have time to insult any of the representatives. Then to-morrow morning, six —— phlebotomists themselves phlebotomized secundum artem. That will give the others something to think about. It will give them a great deal to think about, by—-! If necessary the dose may be repeated to ensure a cure. If you kill the—-s, so much the better."
He paused, his sallow face flushed with the enthusiasm of his idea. Andre-Louis stared at him inscrutably.
"Well, what do you say to that?"
"That it is most ingenious." And Andre-Louis turned aside to look out of the window.
"And is that all you think of it?"
"I will not tell you what else I think of it because you probably would not understand. For you, M. Danton, there is at least this excuse that you did not know me. But you, Isaac—to bring this gentleman here with such a proposal!"
Le Chapelier was overwhelmed in confusion. "I confess I hesitated," he apologized. "But M. Danton would not take my word for it that the proposal might not be to your taste."
"I would not!" Danton broke in, bellowing. He swung upon Le Chapelier, brandishing his great arms. "You told me monsieur was a patriot. Patriotism knows no scruples. You call this mincing dancing-master a patriot?"
"Would you, monsieur, out of patriotism consent to become an assassin?"
"Of course I would. Haven't I told you so? Haven't I told you that I would gladly go among them with my club, and crack them like so many —— fleas?"
"Why not, then?"
"Why not? Because I should get myself hanged. Haven't I said so?"
"But what of that—being a patriot? Why not, like another Curtius, jump into the gulf, since you believe that your country would benefit by your death?"
M. Danton showed signs of exasperation. "Because my country will benefit more by my life."
"Permit me, monsieur, to suffer from a similar vanity."
"You? But where would be the danger to you? You would do your work under the cloak of duelling—as they do."
"Have you reflected, monsieur, that the law will hardly regard a fencing-master who kills his opponent as an ordinary combatant, particularly if it can be shown that the fencing-master himself provoked the attack?"
"So! Name of a name!" M. Danton blew out his cheeks and delivered himself with withering scorn. "It comes to this, then: you are afraid!"
"You may think so if you choose—that I am afraid to do slyly and treacherously that which a thrasonical patriot like yourself is afraid of doing frankly and openly. I have other reasons. But that one should suffice you."
Danton gasped. Then he swore more amazingly and variedly than ever.
"By—-! you are right," he admitted, to Andre-Louis' amazement. "You are right, and I am wrong. I am as bad a patriot as you are, and I am a coward as well." And he invoked the whole Pantheon to witness his self-denunciation. "Only, you see, I count for something: and if they take me and hang me, why, there it is! Monsieur, we must find some other way. Forgive the intrusion. Adieu!" He held out his enormous hand..
Le Chapelier stood hesitating, crestfallen.
"You understand, Andre? I am sorry that..."
"Say no more, please. Come and see me soon again. I would press you to remain, but it is striking nine, and the first of my pupils is about to arrive."
"Nor would I permit it," said Danton. "Between us we must resolve the riddle of how to extinguish M. de La Tour d'Azyr and his friends."
Sharp as a pistol-shot came that question, as Danton was turning away. The tone of it brought him up short. He turned again, Le Chapelier with him.
"I said M. de La Tour d'Azyr."
"What has he to do with the proposal you were making me?"
"He? Why, he is the phlebotomist in chief."
And Le Chapelier added. "It is he who killed Lagron."
"Not a friend of yours, is he?" wondered Danton.
"And it is La Tour d'Azyr you desire me to kill?" asked Andre-Louis very slowly, after the manner of one whose thoughts are meanwhile pondering the subject.
"That's it," said Danton. "And not a job for a prentice hand, I can assure you.
"Ah, but this alters things," said Andre-Louis, thinking aloud. "It offers a great temptation."
"Why, then...?" The Colossus took a step towards him again.
"Wait!" He put up his hand. Then with chin sunk on his breast, he paced away to the window, musing.
Le Chapelier and Danton exchanged glances, then watched him, waiting, what time he considered.
At first he almost wondered why he should not of his own accord have decided upon some such course as this to settle that long-standing account of M. de La Tour d'Azyr. What was the use of this great skill in fence that he had come to acquire, unless he could turn it to account to avenge Vilmorin, and to make Aline safe from the lure of her own ambition? It would be an easy thing to seek out La Tour d'Azyr, put a mortal affront upon him, and thus bring him to the point. To-day this would be murder, murder as treacherous as that which La Tour d'Azyr had done upon Philippe de Vilmorin; for to-day the old positions were reversed, and it was Andre-Louis who might go to such an assignation without a doubt of the issue. It was a moral obstacle of which he made short work. But there remained the legal obstacle he had expounded to Danton. There was still a law in France; the same law which he had found it impossible to move against La Tour d'Azyr, but which would move briskly enough against himself in like case. And then, suddenly, as if by inspiration, he saw the way—a way which if adopted would probably bring La Tour d'Azyr to a poetic justice, bring him, insolent, confident, to thrust himself upon Andre-Louis' sword, with all the odium of provocation on his own side.
He turned to them again, and they saw that he was very pale, that his great dark eyes glowed oddly.
"There will probably be some difficulty in finding a suppleant for this poor Lagron," he said. "Our fellow-countrymen will be none so eager to offer themselves to the swords of Privilege."
"True enough," said Le Chapelier gloomily; and then, as if suddenly leaping to the thing in Andre-Louis' mind: "Andre!" he cried. "Would you..."
"It is what I was considering. It would give me a legitimate place in the Assembly. If your Tour d'Azyrs choose to seek me out then, why, their blood be upon their own heads. I shall certainly do nothing to discourage them." He smiled curiously. "I am just a rascal who tries to be honest—Scaramouche always, in fact; a creature of sophistries. Do you think that Ancenis would have me for its representative?"
"Will it have Omnes Omnibus for its representative?" Le Chapelier was laughing, his countenance eager. "Ancenis will be convulsed with pride. It is not Rennes or Nantes, as it might have been had you wished it. But it gives you a voice for Brittany."
"I should have to go to Ancenis..."
"No need at all. A letter from me to the Municipality, and the Municipality will confirm you at once. No need to move from here. In a fortnight at most the thing can be accomplished. It is settled, then?"
Andre-Louis considered yet a moment. There was his academy. But he could make arrangements with Le Duc and Galoche to carry it on for him whilst himself directing and advising. Le Duc, after all, was become a thoroughly efficient master, and he was a trustworthy fellow. At need a third assistant could be engaged.
"Be it so," he said at last.
Le Chapelier clasped hands with him and became congratulatorily voluble, until interrupted by the red-coated giant at the door.
"What exactly does it mean to our business, anyway?" he asked. "Does it mean that when you are a representative you will not scruple to skewer M. le Marquis?"
"If M. le Marquis should offer himself to be skewered, as he no doubt will."
"I perceive the distinction," said M. Danton, and sneered. "You've an ingenious mind." He turned to Le Chapelier. "What did you say he was to begin with—a lawyer, wasn't it?"
"Yes, I was a lawyer, and afterwards a mountebank."
"And this is the result!"
"As you say. And do you know that we are after all not so dissimilar, you and I?"
"Once like you I went about inciting other people to go and kill the man I wanted dead. You'll say I was a coward, of course."
Le Chapelier prepared to slip between them as the clouds gathered on the giant's brow. Then these were dispelled again, and the great laugh vibrated through the long room.
"You've touched me for the second time, and in the same place. Oh, you can fence, my lad. We should be friends. Rue des Cordeliers is my address. Any —— scoundrel will tell you where Danton lodges. Desmoulins lives underneath. Come and visit us one evening. There's always a bottle for a friend."
CHAPTER VII. THE SPADASSINICIDES
After an absence of rather more than a week, M. le Marquis de La Tour d'Azyr was back in his place on the Cote Droit of the National Assembly. Properly speaking, we should already at this date allude to him as the ci-devant Marquis de La Tour d'Azyr, for the time was September of 1790, two months after the passing—on the motion of that downright Breton leveller, Le Chapelier—of the decree that nobility should no more be hereditary than infamy; that just as the brand of the gallows must not defile the possibly worthy descendants of one who had been convicted of evil, neither should the blazon advertising achievement glorify the possibly unworthy descendants of one who had proved himself good. And so the decree had been passed abolishing hereditary nobility and consigning family escutcheons to the rubbish-heap of things no longer to be tolerated by an enlightened generation of philosophers. M. le Comte de Lafayette, who had supported the motion, left the Assembly as plain M. Motier, the great tribune Count Mirabeau became plain M. Riquetti, and M. le Marquis de La Tour d'Azyr just simple M. Lesarques. The thing was done in one of those exaltations produced by the approach of the great National Festival of the Champ de Mars, and no doubt it was thoroughly repented on the morrow by those who had lent themselves to it. Thus, although law by now, it was a law that no one troubled just yet to enforce.
That, however, is by the way. The time, as I have said, was September, the day dull and showery, and some of the damp and gloom of it seemed to have penetrated the long Hall of the Manege, where on their eight rows of green benches elliptically arranged in ascending tiers about the space known as La Piste, sat some eight or nine hundred of the representatives of the three orders that composed the nation.
The matter under debate by the constitution-builders was whether the deliberating body to succeed the Constituent Assembly should work in conjunction with the King, whether it should be periodic or permanent, whether it should govern by two chambers or by one.
The Abbe Maury, son of a cobbler, and therefore in these days of antitheses orator-in-chief of the party of the Right—the Blacks, as those who fought Privilege's losing battles were known—was in the tribune. He appeared to be urging the adoption of a two-chambers system framed on the English model. He was, if anything, more long-winded and prosy even than his habit; his arguments assumed more and more the form of a sermon; the tribune of the National Assembly became more and more like a pulpit; but the members, conversely, less and less like a congregation. They grew restive under that steady flow of pompous verbiage, and it was in vain that the four ushers in black satin breeches and carefully powdered heads, chain of office on their breasts, gilded sword at their sides, circulated in the Piste, clapping their hands, and hissing:
"Silence! En place!"
Equally vain was the intermittent ringing of the bell by the president at his green-covered table facing the tribune. The Abbe Maury had talked too long, and for some time had failed to interest the members. Realizing it at last, he ceased, whereupon the hum of conversation became general. And then it fell abruptly. There was a silence of expectancy, and a turning of heads, a craning of necks. Even the group of secretaries at the round table below the president's dais roused themselves from their usual apathy to consider this young man who was mounting the tribune of the Assembly for the first time.
"M. Andre-Louis Moreau, deputy suppleant, vice Emmanuel Lagron, deceased, for Ancenis in the Department of the Loire."
M. de La Tour d'Azyr shook himself out of the gloomy abstraction in which he had sat. The successor of the deputy he had slain must, in any event, be an object of grim interest to him. You conceive how that interest was heightened when he heard him named, when, looking across, he recognized indeed in this Andre-Louis Moreau the young scoundrel who was continually crossing his path, continually exerting against him a deep-moving, sinister influence to make him regret that he should have spared his life that day at Gavrillac two years ago. That he should thus have stepped into the shoes of Lagron seemed to M. de La Tour d'Azyr too apt for mere coincidence, a direct challenge in itself.
He looked at the young man in wonder rather than in anger, and looking at him he was filled by a vague, almost a premonitory, uneasiness.
At the very outset, the presence which in itself he conceived to be a challenge was to demonstrate itself for this in no equivocal terms.
"I come before you," Andre-Louis began, "as a deputy-suppleant to fill the place of one who was murdered some three weeks ago."
It was a challenging opening that instantly provoked an indignant outcry from the Blacks. Andre-Louis paused, and looked at them, smiling a little, a singularly self-confident young man.
"The gentlemen of the Right, M. le President, do not appear to like my words. But that is not surprising. The gentlemen of the Right notoriously do not like the truth."
This time there was uproar. The members of the Left roared with laughter, those of the Right thundered menacingly. The ushers circulated at a pace beyond their usual, agitated themselves, clapped their hands, and called in vain for silence.
The President rang his bell.
Above the general din came the voice of La Tour d'Azyr, who had half-risen from his seat: "Mountebank! This is not the theatre!"
"No, monsieur, it is becoming a hunting-ground for bully-swordsmen," was the answer, and the uproar grew.
The deputy-suppleant looked round and waited. Near at hand he met the encouraging grin of Le Chapelier, and the quiet, approving smile of Kersain, another Breton deputy of his acquaintance. A little farther off he saw the great head of Mirabeau thrown back, the great eyes regarding him from under a frown in a sort of wonder, and yonder, among all that moving sea of faces, the sallow countenance of the Arras' lawyer Robespierre—or de Robespierre, as the little snob now called himself, having assumed the aristocratic particle as the prerogative of a man of his distinction in the councils of his country. With his tip-tilted nose in the air, his carefully curled head on one side, the deputy for Arras was observing Andre-Louis attentively. The horn-rimmed spectacles he used for reading were thrust up on to his pale forehead, and it was through a levelled spy-glass that he considered the speaker, his thin-lipped mouth stretched a little in that tiger-cat smile that was afterwards to become so famous and so feared.
Gradually the uproar wore itself out, and diminished so that at last the President could make himself heard. Leaning forward, he gravely addressed the young man in the tribune:
"Monsieur, if you wish to be heard, let me beg of you not to be provocative in your language." And then to the others: "Messieurs, if we are to proceed, I beg that you will restrain your feelings until the deputy-suppleant has concluded his discourse."
"I shall endeavour to obey, M. le President, leaving provocation to the gentlemen of the Right. If the few words I have used so far have been provocative, I regret it. But it was necessary that I should refer to the distinguished deputy whose place I come so unworthily to fill, and it was unavoidable that I should refer to the event which has procured us this sad necessity. The deputy Lagron was a man of singular nobility of mind, a selfless, dutiful, zealous man, inflamed by the high purpose of doing his duty by his electors and by this Assembly. He possessed what his opponents would call a dangerous gift of eloquence."
La Tour d'Azyr writhed at the well-known phrase—his own phrase —the phrase that he had used to explain his action in the matter of Philippe de Vilmorin, the phrase that from time to time had been cast in his teeth with such vindictive menace.
And then the crisp voice of the witty Canales, that very rapier of the Privileged party, cut sharply into the speaker's momentary pause.
"M. le President," he asked with great solemnity, "has the deputy-suppleant mounted the tribune for the purpose of taking part in the debate on the constitution of the legislative assemblies, or for the purpose of pronouncing a funeral oration upon the departed deputy Lagron?"
This time it was the Blacks who gave way to mirth, until checked by the deputy-suppleant.
"That laughter is obscene!" In this truly Gallic fashion he flung his glove into the face of Privilege, determined, you see, upon no half measures; and the rippling laughter perished on the instant quenched in speechless fury.
Solemnly he proceeded.
"You all know how Lagron died. To refer to his death at all requires courage, to laugh in referring to it requires something that I will not attempt to qualify. If I have alluded to his decease, it is because my own appearance among you seemed to render some such allusion necessary. It is mine to take up the burden which he set down. I do not pretend that I have the strength, the courage, or the wisdom of Lagron; but with every ounce of such strength and courage and wisdom as I possess that burden will I bear. And I trust, for the sake of those who might attempt it, that the means taken to impose silence upon that eloquent voice will not be taken to impose silence upon mine."
There was a faint murmur of applause from the Left, splutter of contemptuous laughter from the Right.
"Rhodomont!" a voice called to him.
He looked in the direction of that voice, proceeding from the group of spadassins amid the Blacks across the Piste, and he smiled. Inaudibly his lips answered:
"No, my friend—Scaramouche; Scaramouche, the subtle, dangerous fellow who goes tortuously to his ends." Aloud, he resumed: "M. le President, there are those who will not understand that the purpose for which we are assembled here is the making of laws by which France may be equitably governed, by which France may be lifted out of the morass of bankruptcy into which she is in danger of sinking. For there are some who want, it seems, not laws, but blood; I solemnly warn them that this blood will end by choking them, if they do not learn in time to discard force and allow reason to prevail."
Again in that phrase there was something that stirred a memory in La Tour d'Azyr. He turned in the fresh uproar to speak to his cousin Chabrillane who sat beside him.
"A daring rogue, this bastard of Gavrillac's," said he.
Chabrillane looked at him with gleaming eyes, his face white with anger.
"Let him talk himself out. I don't think he will be heard again after to-day. Leave this to me."
Hardly could La Tour have told you why, but he sank back in his seat with a sense of relief. He had been telling himself that here was matter demanding action, a challenge that he must take up. But despite his rage he felt a singular unwillingness. This fellow had a trick of reminding him, he supposed, too unpleasantly of that young abbe done to death in the garden behind the Breton arme at Gavrillac. Not that the death of Philippe de Vilmorin lay heavily upon M. de La Tour d'Azyr's conscience. He had accounted himself fully justified of his action. It was that the whole thing as his memory revived it for him made an unpleasant picture: that distraught boy kneeling over the bleeding body of the friend he had loved, and almost begging to be slain with him, dubbing the Marquis murderer and coward to incite him.
Meanwhile, leaving now the subject of the death of Lagron, the deputy-suppleant had at last brought himself into order, and was speaking upon the question under debate. He contributed nothing of value to it; he urged nothing definite. His speech on the subject was very brief—that being the pretext and not the purpose for which he had ascended the tribune.
When later he was leaving the hall at the end of the sitting, with Le Chapelier at his side, he found himself densely surrounded by deputies as by a body-guard. Most of them were Bretons, who aimed at screening him from the provocations which his own provocative words in the Assembly could not fail to bring down upon his head. For a moment the massive form of Mirabeau brought up alongside of him.
"Felicitations, M. Moreau," said the great man. "You acquitted yourself very well. They will want your blood, no doubt. But be discreet, monsieur, if I may presume to advise you, and do not allow yourself to be misled by any false sense of quixotry. Ignore their challenges. I do so myself. I place each challenger upon my list. There are some fifty there already, and there they will remain. Refuse them what they are pleased to call satisfaction, and all will be well." Andre-Louis smiled and sighed.
"It requires courage," said the hypocrite.
"Of course it does. But you would appear to have plenty."
"Hardly enough, perhaps. But I shall do my best."
They had come through the vestibule, and although this was lined with eager Blacks waiting for the young man who had insulted them so flagrantly from the rostrum, Andre-Louis' body-guard had prevented any of them from reaching him.
Emerging now into the open, under the great awning at the head of the Carriere, erected to enable carriages to reach the door under cover, those in front of him dispersed a little, and there was a moment as he reached the limit of the awning when his front was entirely uncovered. Outside the rain was falling heavily, churning the ground into thick mud, and for a moment Andre-Louis, with Le Chapelier ever at his side, stood hesitating to step out into the deluge.
The watchful Chabrillane had seen his chance, and by a detour that took him momentarily out into the rain, he came face to face with the too-daring young Breton. Rudely, violently, he thrust Andre-Louis back, as if to make room for himself under the shelter.
Not for a second was Andre-Louis under any delusion as to the man's deliberate purpose, nor were those who stood near him, who made a belated and ineffectual attempt to close about him. He was grievously disappointed. It was not Chabrillane he had been expecting. His disappointment was reflected on his countenance, to be mistaken for something very different by the arrogant Chevalier.
But if Chabrillane was the man appointed to deal with him, he would make the best of it.
"I think you are pushing against me, monsieur," he said, very civilly, and with elbow and shoulder he thrust M. de Chabrillane back into the rain.
"I desire to take shelter, monsieur," the Chevalier hectored.
"You may do so without standing on my feet. I have a prejudice against any one standing on my feet. My feet are very tender. Perhaps you did not know it, monsieur. Please say no more."
"Why, I wasn't speaking, you lout!" exclaimed the Chevalier, slightly discomposed.
"Were you not? I thought perhaps you were about to apologize."
"Apologize?" Chabrillane laughed. "To you! Do you know that you are amusing?" He stepped under the awning for the second time, and again in view of all thrust Andre-Louis rudely back.
"Ah!" cried Andre-Louis, with a grimace. "You hurt me, monsieur. I have told you not to push against me." He raised his voice that all might hear him, and once more impelled M. de Chabrillane back into the rain.
Now, for all his slenderness, his assiduous daily sword-practice had given Andre-Louis an arm of iron. Also he threw his weight into the thrust. His assailant reeled backwards a few steps, and then his heel struck a baulk of timber left on the ground by some workmen that morning, and he sat down suddenly in the mud.
A roar of laughter rose from all who witnessed the fine gentleman's downfall. He rose, mud-bespattered, in a fury, and in that fury sprang at Andre-Louis.
Andre-Louis had made him ridiculous, which was altogether unforgivable.
"You shall meet me for this!" he spluttered. "I shall kill you for it."
His inflamed face was within a foot of Andre-Louis'. Andre-Louis laughed. In the silence everybody heard the laugh and the words that followed.
"Oh, is that what you wanted? But why didn't you say so before? You would have spared me the trouble of knocking you down. I thought gentlemen of your profession invariably conducted these affairs with decency, decorum, and a certain grace. Had you done so, you might have saved your breeches."
"How soon shall we settle this?" snapped Chabrillane, livid with very real fury.
"Whenever you please, monsieur. It is for you to say when it will suit your convenience to kill me. I think that was the intention you announced, was it not?" Andre-Louis was suavity itself.
"To-morrow morning, in the Bois. Perhaps you will bring a friend."
"Certainly, monsieur. To-morrow morning, then. I hope we shall have fine weather. I detest the rain."
Chabrillane looked at him almost with amazement Andre-Louis smiled pleasantly.
"Don't let me detain you now, monsieur. We quite understand each other. I shall be in the Bois at nine o'clock to-morrow morning."
"That is too late for me, monsieur."
"Any other hour would be too early for me. I do not like to have my habits disturbed. Nine o'clock or not at all, as you please."
"But I must be at the Assembly at nine, for the morning session."
"I am afraid, monsieur, you will have to kill me first, and I have a prejudice against being killed before nine o'clock."
Now this was too complete a subversion of the usual procedure for M. de Chabrillane's stomach. Here was a rustic deputy assuming with him precisely the tone of sinister mockery which his class usually dealt out to their victims of the Third Estate. And to heighten the irritation, Andre-Louis—the actor, Scaramouche always—produced his snuffbox, and proffered it with a steady hand to Le Chapelier before helping himself.
Chabrillane, it seemed, after all that he had suffered, was not even to be allowed to make a good exit.
"Very well, monsieur," he said. "Nine o'clock, then; and we'll see if you'll talk as pertly afterwards."
On that he flung away, before the jeers of the provincial deputies. Nor did it soothe his rage to be laughed at by urchins all the way down the Rue Dauphine because of the mud and filth that dripped from his satin breeches and the tails of his elegant, striped coat.
But though the members of the Third had jeered on the surface, they trembled underneath with fear and indignation. It was too much. Lagron killed by one of these bullies, and now his successor challenged, and about to be killed by another of them on the very first day of his appearance to take the dead man's place. Several came now to implore Andre-Louis not to go to the Bois, to ignore the challenge and the whole affair, which was but a deliberate attempt to put him out of the way. He listened seriously, shook his head gloomily, and promised at last to think it over.
He was in his seat again for the afternoon session as if nothing disturbed him.
But in the morning, when the Assembly met, his place was vacant, and so was M. de Chabrillane's. Gloom and resentment sat upon the members of the Third, and brought a more than usually acrid note into their debates. They disapproved of the rashness of the new recruit to their body. Some openly condemned his lack of circumspection. Very few—and those only the little group in Le Chapelier's confidence—ever expected to see him again.
It was, therefore, as much in amazement as in relief that at a few minutes after ten they saw him enter, calm, composed, and bland, and thread his way to his seat. The speaker occupying the rostrum at that moment—a member of the Privileged—stopped short to stare in incredulous dismay. Here was something that he could not understand at all. Then from somewhere, to satisfy the amazement on both sides of the assembly, a voice explained the phenomenon contemptuously.
"They haven't met. He has shirked it at the last moment."
It must be so, thought all; the mystification ceased, and men were settling back into their seats. But now, having reached his place, having heard the voice that explained the matter to the universal satisfaction, Andre-Louis paused before taking his seat. He felt it incumbent upon him to reveal the true fact.
"M. le President, my excuses for my late arrival." There was no necessity for this. It was a mere piece of theatricality, such as it was not in Scaramouche's nature to forgo. "I have been detained by an engagement of a pressing nature. I bring you also the excuses of M. de Chabrillane. He, unfortunately, will be permanently absent from this Assembly in future."
The silence was complete. Andre-Louis sat down.
HAPTER VIII. THE PALADIN OF THE THIRD
M. Le Chevalier de Chabrillane had been closely connected, you will remember, with the iniquitous affair in which Philippe de Vilmorin had lost his life. We know enough to justify a surmise that he had not merely been La Tour d'Azyr's second in the encounter, but actually an instigator of the business. Andre-Louis may therefore have felt a justifiable satisfaction in offering up the Chevalier's life to the Manes of his murdered friend. He may have viewed it as an act of common justice not to be procured by any other means. Also it is to be remembered that Chabrillane had gone confidently to the meeting, conceiving that he, a practised ferailleur, had to deal with a bourgeois utterly unskilled in swordsmanship. Morally, then, he was little better than a murderer, and that he should have tumbled into the pit he conceived that he dug for Andre-Louis was a poetic retribution. Yet, notwithstanding all this, I should find the cynical note on which Andre-Louis announced the issue to the Assembly utterly detestable did I believe it sincere. It would justify Aline of the expressed opinion, which she held in common with so many others who had come into close contact with him, that Andre-Louis was quite heartless.
You have seen something of the same heartlessness in his conduct when he discovered the faithlessness of La Binet although that is belied by the measures he took to avenge himself. His subsequent contempt of the woman I account to be born of the affection in which for a time he held her. That this affection was as deep as he first imagined, I do not believe; but that it was as shallow as he would almost be at pains to make it appear by the completeness with which he affects to have put her from his mind when he discovered her worthlessness, I do not believe; nor, as I have said, do his actions encourage that belief. Then, again, his callous cynicism in hoping that he had killed Binet is also an affectation. Knowing that such things as Binet are better out of the world, he can have suffered no compunction; he had, you must remember, that rarely level vision which sees things in their just proportions, and never either magnifies or reduces them by sentimental considerations. At the same time, that he should contemplate the taking of life with such complete and cynical equanimity, whatever the justification, is quite incredible.
Similarly now, it is not to be believed that in coming straight from the Bois de Boulogne, straight from the killing of a man, he should be sincerely expressing his nature in alluding to the fact in terms of such outrageous flippancy. Not quite to such an extent was he the incarnation of Scaramouche. But sufficiently was he so ever to mask his true feelings by an arresting gesture, his true thoughts by an effective phrase. He was the actor always, a man ever calculating the effect he would produce, ever avoiding self-revelation, ever concerned to overlay his real character by an assumed and quite fictitious one. There was in this something of impishness, and something of other things.
Nobody laughed now at his flippancy. He did not intend that anybody should. He intended to be terrible; and he knew that the more flippant and casual his tone, the more terrible would be its effect. He produced exactly the effect he desired.
What followed in a place where feelings and practices had become what they had become is not difficult to surmise. When the session rose, there were a dozen spadassins awaiting him in the vestibule, and this time the men of his own party were less concerned to guard him. He seemed so entirely capable of guarding himself; he appeared, for all his circumspection, to have so completely carried the war into the enemy's camp, so completely to have adopted their own methods, that his fellows scarcely felt the need to protect him as yesterday.
As he emerged, he scanned that hostile file, whose air and garments marked them so clearly for what they were. He paused, seeking the man he expected, the man he was most anxious to oblige. But M. de La Tour d'Azyr was absent from those eager ranks. This seemed to him odd. La Tour d'Azyr was Chabrillane's cousin and closest friend. Surely he should have been among the first to-day. The fact was that La Tour d'Azyr was too deeply overcome by amazement and grief at the utterly unexpected event. Also his vindictiveness was held curiously in leash. Perhaps he, too, remembered the part played by Chabrillane in the affair at Gavrillac, and saw in this obscure Andre-Louis Moreau, who had so persistently persecuted him ever since, an ordained avenger. The repugnance he felt to come to the point, with him, particularly after this culminating provocation, was puzzling even to himself. But it existed, and it curbed him now.
To Andre-Louis, since La Tour was not one of that waiting pack, it mattered little on that Tuesday morning who should be the next. The next, as it happened, was the young Vicomte de La Motte-Royau, one of the deadliest blades in the group.
On the Wednesday morning, coming again an hour or so late to the Assembly, Andre-Louis announced—in much the same terms as he had announced the death of Chabrillane—that M. de La Motte-Royau would probably not disturb the harmony of the Assembly for some weeks to come, assuming that he were so fortunate as to recover ultimately from the effects of an unpleasant accident with which he had quite unexpectedly had the misfortune to meet that morning.
On Thursday he made an identical announcement with regard to the Vidame de Blavon. On Friday he told them that he had been delayed by M. de Troiscantins, and then turning to the members of the Cote Droit, and lengthening his face to a sympathetic gravity:
"I am glad to inform you, messieurs, that M. des Troiscantins is in the hands of a very competent surgeon who hopes with care to restore him to your councils in a few weeks' time."
It was paralyzing, fantastic, unreal; and friend and foe in that assembly sat alike stupefied under those bland daily announcements. Four of the most redoubtable spadassinicides put away for a time, one of them dead—and all this performed with such an air of indifference and announced in such casual terms by a wretched little provincial lawyer!
He began to assume in their eyes a romantic aspect. Even that group of philosophers of the Cote Gauche, who refused to worship any force but the force of reason, began to look upon him with a respect and consideration which no oratorical triumphs could ever have procured him.
And from the Assembly the fame of him oozed out gradually over Paris. Desmoulins wrote a panegyric upon him in his paper "Les Revolutions," wherein he dubbed him the "Paladin of the Third Estate," a name that caught the fancy of the people, and clung to him for some time. Disdainfully was he mentioned in the "Actes des Apotres," the mocking organ of the Privileged party, so light-heartedly and provocatively edited by a group of gentlemen afflicted by a singular mental myopy.
The Friday of that very busy week in the life of this young man who even thereafter is to persist in reminding us that he is not in any sense a man of action, found the vestibule of the Manege empty of swordsmen when he made his leisurely and expectant egress between Le Chapelier and Kersain.
So surprised was he that he checked in his stride.
"Have they had enough?" he wondered, addressing the question to Le Chapelier.
"They have had enough of you, I should think," was the answer. "They will prefer to turn their attention to some one less able to take care of himself."
Now this was disappointing. Andre-Louis had lent himself to this business with a very definite object in view. The slaying of Chabrillane had, as far as it went, been satisfactory. He had regarded that as a sort of acceptable hors d'oeuvre. But the three who had followed were no affair of his at all. He had met them with a certain amount of repugnance, and dealt with each as lightly as consideration of his own safety permitted. Was the baiting of him now to cease whilst the man at whom he aimed had not presented himself? In that case it would be necessary to force the pace!
Out there under the awning a group of gentlemen stood in earnest talk. Scanning the group in a rapid glance, Andre-Louis perceived M. de La Tour d'Azyr amongst them. He tightened his lips. He must afford no provocation. It must be for them to fasten their quarrels upon him. Already the "Actes des Apotres" that morning had torn the mask from his face, and proclaimed him the fencing-master of the Rue du Hasard, successor to Bertrand des Amis. Hazardous as it had been hitherto for a man of his condition to engage in single combat it was rendered doubly so by this exposure, offered to the public as an aristocratic apologia.
Still, matters could not be left where they were, or he should have had all his pains for nothing. Carefully looking away from that group of gentlemen, he raised his voice so that his words must carry to their ears.
"It begins to look as if my fears of having to spend the remainder of my days in the Bois were idle."
Out of the corner of his eye he caught the stir his words created in that group. Its members had turned to look at him; but for the moment that was all. A little more was necessary. Pacing slowly along between his friends he resumed:
"But is it not remarkable that the assassin of Lagron should make no move against Lagron's successor? Or perhaps it is not remarkable. Perhaps there are good reasons. Perhaps the gentleman is prudent."
He had passed the group by now, and he left that last sentence of his to trail behind him, and after it sent laughter, insolent and provoking.
He had not long to wait. Came a quick step behind him, and a hand falling upon his shoulder, spun him violently round. He was brought face to face with M. de La Tour d'Azyr, whose handsome countenance was calm and composed, but whose eyes reflected something of the sudden blaze of passion stirring in him. Behind him several members of the group were approaching more slowly. The others—like Andre-Louis' two companions—remained at gaze.
"You spoke of me, I think," said the Marquis quietly.
"I spoke of an assassin—yes. But to these my friends." Andre-Louis' manner was no less quiet, indeed the quieter of the two, for he was the more experienced actor.
"You spoke loudly enough to be overheard," said the Marquis, answering the insinuation that he had been eavesdropping.
"Those who wish to overhear frequently contrive to do so."
"I perceive that it is your aim to be offensive."
"Oh, but you are mistaken, M. le Marquis. I have no wish to be offensive. But I resent having hands violently laid upon me, especially when they are hands that I cannot consider clean, In the circumstances I can hardly be expected to be polite."
The elder man's eyelids flickered. Almost he caught himself admiring Andre-Louis' bearing. Rather, he feared that his own must suffer by comparison. Because of this, he enraged altogether, and lost control of himself.
"You spoke of me as the assassin of Lagron. I do not affect to misunderstand you. You expounded your views to me once before, and I remember."
"But what flattery, monsieur!"
"You called me an assassin then, because I used my skill to dispose of a turbulent hot-head who made the world unsafe for me. But how much better are you, M. the fencing-master, when you oppose yourself to men whose skill is as naturally inferior to your own!"
M. de La Tour d'Azyr's friends looked grave, perturbed. It was really incredible to find this great gentleman so far forgetting himself as to descend to argument with a canaille of a lawyer-swordsman. And what was worse, it was an argument in which he was being made ridiculous.
"I oppose myself to them!" said Andre-Louis on a tone of amused protest. "Ah, pardon, M. le Marquis; it is they who chose to oppose themselves to me—and so stupidly. They push me, they slap my face, they tread on my toes, they call me by unpleasant names. What if I am a fencing-master? Must I on that account submit to every manner of ill-treatment from your bad-mannered friends? Perhaps had they found out sooner that I am a fencing-master their manners would have been better. But to blame me for that! What injustice!"
"Comedian!" the Marquis contemptuously apostrophized him. "Does it alter the case? Are these men who have opposed you men who live by the sword like yourself?"
"On the contrary, M. le Marquis, I have found them men who died by the sword with astonishing ease. I cannot suppose that you desire to add yourself to their number."
"And why, if you please?" La Tour d'Azyr's face had flamed scarlet before that sneer.
"Oh," Andre-Louis raised his eyebrows and pursed his lips, a man considering. He delivered himself slowly. "Because, monsieur, you prefer the easy victim—the Lagrons and Vilmorins of this world, mere sheep for your butchering. That is why."
And then the Marquis struck him.
Andre-Louis stepped back. His eyes gleamed a moment; the next they were smiling up into the face of his tall enemy.
"No better than the others, after all! Well, well! Remark, I beg you, how history repeats itself—with certain differences. Because poor Vilmorin could not bear a vile lie with which you goaded him, he struck you. Because you cannot bear an equally vile truth which I have uttered, you strike me. But always is the vileness yours. And now as then for the striker there is..." He broke off. "But why name it? You will remember what there is. Yourself you wrote it that day with the point of your too-ready sword. But there. I will meet you if you desire it, monsieur."
"What else do you suppose that I desire? To talk?"
Andre-Louis turned to his friends and sighed. "So that I am to go another jaunt to the Bois. Isaac, perhaps you will kindly have a word with one of these friends of M. le Marquis', and arrange for nine o'clock to-morrow, as usual."
"Not to-morrow," said the Marquis shortly to Le Chapeher. "I have an engagement in the country, which I cannot postpone."
Le Chapelier looked at Andre-Louis.
"Then for M. le Marquis' convenience, we will say Sunday at the same hour."
"I do not fight on Sunday. I am not a pagan to break the holy day."
"But surely the good God would not have the presumption to damn a gentleman of M. le Marquis' quality on that account? Ah, well, Isaac, please arrange for Monday, if it is not a feast-day or monsieur has not some other pressing engagement. I leave it in your hands."
He bowed with the air of a man wearied by these details, and threading his arm through Kersain's withdrew.
"Ah, Dieu de Dieu! But what a trick of it you have," said the Breton deputy, entirely unsophisticated in these matters.
"To be sure I have. I have taken lessons at their hands." He laughed. He was in excellent good-humour. And Kersain was enrolled in the ranks of those who accounted Andre-Louis a man without heart or conscience.
But in his "Confessions" he tells us—and this is one of the glimpses that reveal the true man under all that make-believe —that on that night he went down on his knees to commune with his dead friend Philippe, and to call his spirit to witness that he was about to take the last step in the fulfilment of the oath sworn upon his body at Gavrillac two years ago.
CHAPTER IX. TORN PRIDE
M. de La Tour d'Azyr's engagement in the country on that Sunday was with M. de Kercadiou. To fulfil it he drove out early in the day to Meudon, taking with him in his pocket a copy of the last issue of "Les Actes des Apotres," a journal whose merry sallies at the expense of the innovators greatly diverted the Seigneur de Gavrillac. The venomous scorn it poured upon those worthless rapscallions afforded him a certain solatium against the discomforts of expatriation by which he was afflicted as a result of their detestable energies.
Twice in the last month, had M. de La Tour d'Azyr gone to visit the Lord of Gavrillac at Meudon, and the sight of Aline, so sweet and fresh, so bright and of so lively a mind, had caused those embers smouldering under the ashes of the past, embers which until now he had believed utterly extinct, to kindle into flame once more. He desired her as we desire Heaven. I believe that it was the purest passion of his life; that had it come to him earlier he might have been a vastly different man. The cruelest wound that in all his selfish life he had taken was when she sent him word, quite definitely after the affair at the Feydau, that she could not again in any circumstances receive him. At one blow—through that disgraceful riot—he had been robbed of a mistress he prized and of a wife who had become a necessity to the very soul of him. The sordid love of La Binet might have consoled him for the compulsory renunciation of his exalted love of Aline, just as to his exalted love of Aline he had been ready to sacrifice his attachment to La Binet. But that ill-timed riot had robbed him at once of both. Faithful to his word to Sautron he had definitely broken with La Binet, only to find that Aline had definitely broken with him. And by the time that he had sufficiently recovered from his grief to think again of La Binet, the comedienne had vanished beyond discovery.
For all this he blamed, and most bitterly blamed, Andre-Louis. That low-born provincial lout pursued him like a Nemesis, was become indeed the evil genius of his life. That was it—the evil genius of his life! And it was odds that on Monday...He did not like to think of Monday. He was not particularly afraid of death. He was as brave as his kind in that respect, too brave in the ordinary way, and too confident of his skill, to have considered even remotely such a possibility as that of dying in a duel. It was only that it would seem like a proper consummation of all the evil that he had suffered directly or indirectly through this Andre-Louis Moreau that he should perish ignobly by his hand. Almost he could hear that insolent, pleasant voice making the flippant announcement to the Assembly on Monday morning.
He shook off the mood, angry with himself for entertaining it. It was maudlin. After all Chabrillane and La Motte-Royau were quite exceptional swordsmen, but neither of them really approached his own formidable calibre. Reaction began to flow, as he drove out through country lanes flooded with pleasant September sunshine. His spirits rose. A premonition of victory stirred within him Far from fearing Monday's meeting, as he had so unreasonably been doing; he began to look forward to it. It should afford him the means of setting a definite term to this persecution of which he had been the victim. He would crush this insolent and persistent flea that had been stinging him at every opportunity. Borne upward on that wave of optimism, he took presently a more hopeful view of his case with Aline.
At their first meeting a month ago he had used the utmost frankness with her. He had told her the whole truth of his motives in going that night to the Feydau; he had made her realize that she had acted unjustly towards him. True he had gone no farther.
But that was very far to have gone as a beginning. And in their last meeting, now a fortnight old, she had received him with frank friendliness. True, she had been a little aloof. But that was to be expected until he quite explicitly avowed that he had revived the hope of winning her. He had been a fool not to have returned before to-day.
Thus in that mood of new-born confidence—a confidence risen from the very ashes of despondency—came he on that Sunday morning to Meudon. He was gay and jovial with M. de Kercadiou what time he waited in the salon for mademoiselle to show herself. He pronounced with confidence on the country's future. There were signs already —he wore the rosiest spectacles that morning—of a change of opinion, of a more moderate note. The Nation began to perceive whither this lawyer rabble was leading it. He pulled out "The Acts of the Apostles" and read a stinging paragraph. Then, when mademoiselle at last made her appearance, he resigned the journal into the hands of M. de Kercadiou.
M. de Kercadiou, with his niece's future to consider, went to read the paper in the garden, taking up there a position whence he could keep the couple within sight—as his obligations seemed to demand of him—whilst being discreetly out of earshot.
The Marquis made the most of an opportunity that might be brief. He quite frankly declared himself, and begged, implored to be taken back into Aline's good graces, to be admitted at least to the hope that one day before very long she would bring herself to consider him in a nearer relationship.
"Mademoiselle," he told her, his voice vibrating with a feeling that admitted of no doubt, "you cannot lack conviction of my utter sincerity. The very constancy of my devotion should afford you this. It is just that I should have been banished from you, since I showed myself so utterly unworthy of the great honour to which I aspired. But this banishment has nowise diminished my devotion. If you could conceive what I have suffered, you would agree that I have fully expiated my abject fault."
She looked at him with a curious, gentle wistfulness on her lovely face.
"Monsieur, it is not you whom I doubt. It is myself."
"You mean your feelings towards me?"
"But that I can understand. After what has happened..."
"It was always so, monsieur," she interrupted quietly. "You speak of me as if lost to you by your own action. That is to say too much. Let me be frank with you. Monsieur, I was never yours to lose. I am conscious of the honour that you do me. I esteem you very deeply..."
"But, then," he cried, on a high note of confidence, "from such a beginning..."
"Who shall assure me that it is a beginning? May it not be the whole? Had I held you in affection, monsieur, I should have sent for you after the affair of which you have spoken. I should at least not have condemned you without hearing your explanation. As it was..." She shrugged, smiling gently, sadly. "You see..."
But his optimism far from being crushed was stimulated. "But it is to give me hope, mademoiselle. If already I possess so much, I may look with confidence to win more. I shall prove myself worthy. I swear to do that. Who that is permitted the privilege of being near you could do other than seek to render himself worthy?"
And then before she could add a word, M. de Kercadiou came blustering through the window, his spectacles on his forehead, his face inflamed, waving in his hand "The Acts of the Apostles," and apparently reduced to speechlessness.
Had the Marquis expressed himself aloud he would have been profane. As it was he bit his lip in vexation at this most inopportune interruption.
Aline sprang up, alarmed by her uncle's agitation.
"What has happened?"
"Happened?" He found speech at last. "The scoundrel! The faithless dog! I consented to overlook the past on the clear condition that he should avoid revolutionary politics in future. That condition he accepted, and now"—he smacked the news-sheet furiously—"he has played me false again. Not only has he gone into politics, once more, but he is actually a member of the Assembly, and what is worse he has been using his assassin's skill as a fencing-master, turning himself into a bully-swordsman. My God! Is there any law at all left in France?"
One doubt M. de La Tour d'Azyr had entertained, though only faintly, to mar the perfect serenity of his growing optimism. That doubt concerned this man Moreau and his relations with M. de Kercadiou. He knew what once they had been, and how changed they subsequently were by the ingratitude of Moreau's own behavior in turning against the class to which his benefactor belonged. What he did not know was that a reconciliation had been effected. For in the past month—ever since circumstances had driven Andre-Louis to depart from his undertaking to steer clear of politics—the young man had not ventured to approach Meudon, and as it happened his name had not been mentioned in La Tour d'Azyr's hearing on the occasion of either of his own previous visits. He learnt of that reconciliation now; but he learnt at the same time that the breach was now renewed, and rendered wider and more impassable than ever. Therefore he did not hesitate to avow his own position.
"There is a law," he answered. "The law that this rash young man himself evokes. The law of the sword." He spoke very gravely, almost sadly. For he realized that after all the ground was tender. "You are not to suppose that he is to continue indefinitely his career of evil and of murder. Sooner or later he will meet a sword that will avenge the others. You have observed that my cousin Chabrillane is among the number of this assassin's victims; that he was killed on Tuesday last."
"If I have not expressed my condolence, Azyr, it is because my indignation stifles at the moment every other feeling. The scoundrel! You say that sooner or later he will meet a sword that will avenge the others. I pray that it may be soon."
The Marquis answered him quietly, without anything but sorrow in his voice. "I think your prayer is likely to be heard. This wretched young man has an engagement for to-morrow, when his account may be definitely settled."
He spoke with such calm conviction that his words had all the sound of a sentence of death. They suddenly stemmed the flow of M. de Kercadiou's anger. The colour receded from his inflamed face; dread looked out of his pale eyes, to inform M. de La Tour d'Azyr, more clearly than any words, that M. de Kercadiou's hot speech had been the expression of unreflecting anger, that his prayer that retribution might soon overtake his godson had been unconsciously insincere. Confronted now by the fact that this retribution was about to be visited upon that scoundrel, the fundamental gentleness and kindliness of his nature asserted itself; his anger was suddenly whelmed in apprehension; his affection for the lad beat up to the surface, making Andre-Louis' sin, however hideous, a thing of no account by comparison with the threatened punishment.
M. de Kercadiou moistened his lips.
"With whom is this engagement?" he asked in a voice that by an effort he contrived to render steady.
M. de La Tour d'Azyr bowed his handsome head, his eyes upon the gleaming parquetry of the floor. "With myself," he answered quietly, conscious already with a tightening of the heart that his answer must sow dismay. He caught the sound of a faint outcry from Aline; he saw the sudden recoil of M. de Kercadiou. And then he plunged headlong into the explanation that he deemed necessary.
"In view of his relations with you, M. de Kercadiou, and because of my deep regard for you, I did my best to avoid this, even though as you will understand the death of my dear friend and cousin Chabrillane seemed to summon me to action, even though I knew that my circumspection was becoming matter for criticism among my friends. But yesterday this unbridled young man made further restraint impossible to me. He provoked me deliberately and publicly. He put upon me the very grossest affront, and...to-morrow morning in the Bois...we meet."
He faltered a little at the end, fully conscious of the hostile atmosphere in which he suddenly found himself. Hostility from M. de Kercadiou, the latter's earlier change of manner had already led him to expect; the hostility of mademoiselle came more in the nature of a surprise.
He began to understand what difficulties the course to which he was committed must raise up for him. A fresh obstacle was to be flung across the path which he had just cleared, as he imagined. Yet his pride and his sense of the justice due to be done admitted of no weakening.
In bitterness he realized now, as he looked from uncle to niece —his glance, usually so direct and bold, now oddly furtive—that though to-morrow he might kill Andre-Louis, yet even by his death Andre-Louis would take vengeance upon him. He had exaggerated nothing in reaching the conclusion that this Andre-Louis Moreau was the evil genius of his life. He saw now that do what he would, kill him even though he might, he could never conquer him. The last word would always be with Andre-Louis Moreau. In bitterness, in rage, and in humiliation—a thing almost unknown to him—did he realize it, and the realization steeled his purpose for all that he perceived its futility.
Outwardly he showed himself calm and self-contained, properly suggesting a man regretfully accepting the inevitable. It would have been as impossible to find fault with his bearing as to attempt to turn him from the matter to which he was committed. And so M. de Kercadiou perceived.
"My God!" was all that he said, scarcely above his breath, yet almost in a groan.
M. de La Tour d'Azyr did, as always, the thing that sensibility demanded of him. He took his leave. He understood that to linger where his news had produced such an effect would be impossible, indecent. So he departed, in a bitterness comparable only with his erstwhile optimism, the sweet fruit of hope turned to a thing of gall even as it touched his lips. Oh, yes; the last word, indeed, was with Andre-Louis Moreau—always!
Uncle and niece looked at each other as he passed out, and there was horror in the eyes of both. Aline's pallor was deathly almost, and standing there now she wrung her hands as if in pain.
"Why did you not ask him—beg him..." She broke off.
"To what end? He was in the right, and...and there are things one cannot ask; things it would be a useless humiliation to ask." He sat down, groaning. "Oh, the poor boy—the poor, misguided boy."
In the mind of neither, you see, was there any doubt of what must be the issue. The calm confidence in which La Tour d'Azyr had spoken compelled itself to be shared. He was no vainglorious boaster, and they knew of what a force as a swordsman he was generally accounted.
"What does humiliation matter? A life is at issue—Andre's life."
"I know. My God, don't I know? And I would humiliate myself if by humiliating myself I could hope to prevail. But Azyr is a hard, relentless man, and..."
Abruptly she left him.
She overtook the Marquis as he was in the act of stepping his carriage. He turned as she called, and bowed.
At once he guessed her errand, tasted in anticipation the unparalleled bitterness of being compelled to refuse her. Yet at her invitation he stepped back into the cool of the hall.
In the middle of the floor of chequered marbles, black and white, stood a carved table of black oak. By this he halted, leaning lightly against it whilst she sat enthroned in the great crimson chair beside it.
"Monsieur, I cannot allow you so to depart," she said. "You cannot realize, monsieur, what a blow would be dealt my uncle if...if evil, irrevocable evil were to overtake his godson to-morrow. The expressions that he used at first..."
"Mademoiselle, I perceived their true value. Spare yourself. Believe me I am profoundly desolated by circumstances which I had not expected to find. You must believe me when I say that. It is all that I can say."
"Must it really be all? Andre is very dear to his godfather."
The pleading tone cut him like a knife; and then suddenly it aroused another emotion—an emotion which he realized to be utterly unworthy, an emotion which, in his overwhelming pride of race, seemed almost sullying, yet not to be repressed. He hesitated to give it utterance; hesitated even remotely to suggest so horrible a thing as that in a man of such lowly origin he might conceivably discover a rival. Yet that sudden pang of jealousy was stronger than his monstrous pride.
"And to you, mademoiselle? What is this Andre-Louis Moreau to you? You will pardon the question. But I desire clearly to understand."
Watching her he beheld the scarlet stain that overspread her face. He read in it at first confusion, until the gleam of her blue eyes announced its source to lie in anger. That comforted him; since he had affronted her, he was reassured. It did not occur to him that the anger might have another source.
"Andre and I have been playmates from infancy. He is very dear to me, too; almost I regard him as a brother. Were I in need of help, and were my uncle not available, Andre would be the first man to whom I should turn. Are you sufficiently answered, monsieur? Or is there more of me you would desire revealed?"
He bit his lip. He was unnerved, he thought, this morning; otherwise the silly suspicion with which he had offended could never have occurred to him.
He bowed very low. "Mademoiselle, forgive that I should have troubled you with such a question. You have answered more fully than I could have hoped or wished."
He said no more than that. He waited for her to resume. At a loss, she sat in silence awhile, a pucker on her white brow, her fingers nervously drumming on the table. At last she flung herself headlong against the impassive, polished front that he presented.
"I have come, monsieur, to beg you to put off this meeting."
She saw the faint raising of his dark eyebrows, the faintly regretful smile that scarcely did more than tinge his fine lips, and she hurried on. "What honour can await you in such an engagement, monsieur?"
It was a shrewd thrust at the pride of race that she accounted his paramount sentiment, that had as often lured him into error as it had urged him into good.
"I do not seek honour in it, mademoiselle, but—I must say it —justice. The engagement, as I have explained, is not of my seeking. It has been thrust upon me, and in honour I cannot draw back."
"Why, what dishonour would there be in sparing him? Surely, monsieur, none would call your courage in question? None could misapprehend your motives."
"You are mistaken, mademoiselle. My motives would most certainly be misapprehended. You forget that this young man has acquired in the past week a certain reputation that might well make a man hesitate to meet him."
She brushed that aside almost contemptuously, conceiving it the merest quibble.
"Some men, yes. But not you, M. le Marquis."
Her confidence in him on every count was most sweetly flattering. But there was a bitterness behind the sweet.
"Even I, mademoiselle, let me assure you. And there is more than that. This quarrel which M. Moreau has forced upon me is no new thing. It is merely the culmination of a long-drawn persecution.
"Which you invited," she cut in. "Be just, monsieur."
"I hope that it is not in my nature to be otherwise, mademoiselle."
"Consider, then, that you killed his friend."
"I find in that nothing with which to reproach myself. My justification lay in the circumstances—the subsequent events in this distracted country surely confirm it."
"And..." She faltered a little, and looked away from him for the first time. "And that you...that you...And what of Mademoiselle Binet, whom he was to have married?"
He stared at her for a moment in sheer surprise. "Was to have married?" he repeated incredulously, dismayed almost.
"You did not know that?"
"But how do you?"
"Did I not tell you that we are as brother and sister almost? I have his confidence. He told me, before...before you made it impossible."
He looked away, chin in hand, his glance thoughtful, disturbed, almost wistful.
"There is," he said slowly, musingly, "a singular fatality at work between that man and me, bringing us ever each by turns athwart the other's path..."
He sighed; then swung to face her again, speaking more briskly: "Mademoiselle, until this moment I had no knowledge—no suspicion of this thing. But..." He broke off, considered, and then shrugged. "If I wronged him, I did so unconsciously. It would be unjust to blame me, surely. In all our actions it must be the intention alone that counts."
"But does it make no difference?"
"None that I can discern, mademoiselle. It gives me no justification to withdraw from that to which I am irrevocably committed. No justification, indeed, could ever be greater than my concern for the pain it must occasion my good friend, your uncle, and perhaps yourself, mademoiselle."
She rose suddenly, squarely confronting him, desperate now, driven to play the only card upon which she thought she might count.
"Monsieur," she said, "you did me the honour to-day to speak in certain terms; to...to allude to certain hopes with which you honour me."
He looked at her almost in fear. In silence, not daring to speak, he waited for her to continue.
"I...I...Will you please to understand, monsieur, that if you persist in this matter, if...unless you can break this engagement of yours to-morrow morning in the Bois, you are not to presume to mention this subject to me again, or, indeed, ever again to approach me."
To put the matter in this negative way was as far as she could possibly go. It was for him to make the positive proposal to which she had thus thrown wide the door.
"Mademoiselle, you cannot mean..."
"I do, monsieur...irrevocably, please to understand." He looked at her with eyes of misery, his handsome, manly face as pale as she had ever seen it. The hand he had been holding out in protest began to shake. He lowered it to his side again, lest she should perceive its tremor. Thus a brief second, while the battle was fought within him, the bitter engagement between his desires and what he conceived to be the demands of his honour, never perceiving how far his honour was buttressed by implacable vindictiveness. Retreat, he conceived, was impossible without shame; and shame was to him an agony unthinkable. She asked too much. She could not understand what she was asking, else she would never be so unreasonable, so unjust. But also he saw that it would be futile to attempt to make her understand.
It was the end. Though he kill Andre-Louis Moreau in the morning as he fiercely hoped he would, yet the victory even in death must lie with Andre-Louis Moreau.
He bowed profoundly, grave and sorrowful of face as he was grave and sorrowful of heart.
"Mademoiselle, my homage," he murmured, and turned to go.
"But you have not answered me!" she called after him in terror.
He checked on the threshold, and turned; and there from the cool gloom of the hall she saw him a black, graceful silhouette against the brilliant sunshine beyond—a memory of him that was to cling as something sinister and menacing in the dread hours that were to follow.
"What would you, mademoiselle? I but spared myself and you the pain of a refusal."
He was gone leaving her crushed and raging. She sank down again into the great red chair, and sat there crumpled, her elbows on the table, her face in her hands—a face that was on fire with shame and passion. She had offered herself, and she had been refused! The inconceivable had befallen her. The humiliation of it seemed to her something that could never be effaced.
Startled, appalled, she stepped back, her hand pressed to her tortured breast.
CHAPTER X. THE RETURNING CARRIAGE
M. de Kercadiou wrote a letter.
"Godson," he began, without any softening adjective, "I have learnt with pain and indignation that you have dishonoured yourself again by breaking the pledge you gave me to abstain from politics. With still greater pain and indignation do I learn that your name has become in a few short days a byword, that you have discarded the weapon of false, insidious arguments against my class—the class to which you owe everything—for the sword of the assassin. It has come to my knowledge that you have an assignation to-morrow with my good friend M. de La Tour d'Azyr. A gentleman of his station is under certain obligations imposed upon him by his birth, which do not permit him to draw back from an engagement. But you labour under no such disadvantages. For a man of your class to refuse an engagement of honour, or to neglect it when made, entails no sacrifice. Your peers will probably be of the opinion that you display a commendable prudence. Therefore I beg you, indeed, did I think that I still exercise over you any such authority as the favours you have received from me should entitle me to exercise, I would command you, to allow this matter to go no farther, and to refrain from rendering yourself to your assignation to-morrow morning. Having no such authority, as your past conduct now makes clear, having no reason to hope that a proper sentiment of gratitude to me will induce to give heed to this my most earnest request, I am compelled to add that should you survive to-morrow's encounter, I can in no circumstances ever again permit myself to be conscious of your existence. If any spark survives of the affection that once you expressed for me, or if you set any value upon the affection, which, in spite of all that you have done to forfeit it, is the chief prompter of this letter, you will not refuse to do as I am asking."
It was not a tactful letter. M. de Kercadiou was not a tactful man. Read it as he would, Andre-Louis—when it was delivered to him on that Sunday afternoon by the groom dispatched with it into Paris —could read into it only concern for M. La Tour d'Azyr, M. de Kercadiou's good friend, as he called him, and prospective nephew-in-law.
He kept the groom waiting a full hour while composing his answer. Brief though it was, it cost him very considerable effort and several unsuccessful attempts. In the end this is what he wrote:
Monsieur my godfather—You make refusal singularly hard for
me when you appeal to me upon the ground of affection. It is a
thing of which all my life I shall hail the opportunity to give you
proofs, and I am therefore desolated beyond anything I could hope
to express that I cannot give you the proof you ask to-day. There
is too much between M. de La Tour d'Azyr and me. Also you do me and
my class —whatever it may be—less than justice when you
say that obligations of honour are not binding upon us. So binding
do I count them, that, if I would, I could not now draw back.
If hereafter you should persist in the harsh intention you express, I must suffer it. That I shall suffer be assured.
Your affectionate and grateful godson Andre-Louis
He dispatched that letter by M. de Kercadiou's groom, and conceived this to be the end of the matter. It cut him keenly; but he bore the wound with that outward stoicism he affected.
Next morning, at a quarter past eight, as with Le Chapelier—who had come to break his fast with him—he was rising from table to set out for the Bois, his housekeeper startled him by announcing Mademoiselle de Kercadiou.
He looked at his watch. Although his cabriolet was already at the door, he had a few minutes to spare. He excused himself from Le Chapelier, and went briskly out to the anteroom.
She advanced to meet him, her manner eager, almost feverish.
"I will not affect ignorance of why you have come," he said quickly, to make short work. "But time presses, and I warn you that only the most solid of reasons can be worth stating."
It surprised her. It amounted to a rebuff at the very outset, before she had uttered a word; and that was the last thing she had expected from Andre-Louis. Moreover, there was about him an air of aloofness that was unusual where she was concerned, and his voice had been singularly cold and formal.
It wounded her. She was not to guess the conclusion to which he had leapt. He made with regard to her—as was but natural, after all—the same mistake that he had made with regard to yesterday's letter from his godfather. He conceived that the mainspring of action here was solely concern for M. de La Tour d'Azyr. That it might be concern for himself never entered his mind. So absolute was his own conviction of what must be the inevitable issue of that meeting that he could not conceive of any one entertaining a fear on his behalf.
What he assumed to be anxiety on the score of the predestined victim had irritated him in M. de Kercadiou; in Aline it filled him with a cold anger; he argued from it that she had hardly been frank with him; that ambition was urging her to consider with favour the suit of M. de La Tour d'Azyr. And than this there was no spur that could have driven more relentlessly in his purpose, since to save her was in his eyes almost as momentous as to avenge the past.
She conned him searchingly, and the complete calm of him at such a time amazed her. She could not repress the mention of it.
"How calm you are, Andre!"
"I am not easily disturbed. It is a vanity of mine."
"But...Oh, Andre, this meeting must not take place!" She came close up to him, to set her hands upon his shoulders, and stood so, her face within a foot of his own.
"You know, of course, of some good reason why it should not?" said he.
"You may be killed," she answered him, and her eyes dilated as she spoke.
It was so far from anything that he had expected that for a moment he could only stare at her. Then he thought he had understood. He laughed as he removed her hands from his shoulders, and stepped back. This was a shallow device, childish and unworthy in her.
"Can you really think to prevail by attempting to frighten me?" he asked, and almost sneered.
"Oh, you are surely mad! M. de La Tour d'Azyr is reputed the most dangerous sword in France."
"Have you never noticed that most reputations are undeserved? Chabrillane was a dangerous swordsman, and Chabrillane is underground. La Motte-Royau was an even more dangerous swordsman, and he is in a surgeon's hands. So are the other spadassinicides who dreamt of skewering a poor sheep of a provincial lawyer. And here to-day comes the chief, the fine flower of these bully-swordsmen. He comes, for wages long overdue. Be sure of that. So if you have no other reason to urge..."
It was the sarcasm of him that mystified her. Could he possibly be sincere in his assurance that he must prevail against M. de La Tour d'Azyr? To her in her limited knowledge, her mind filled with her uncle's contrary conviction, it seemed that Andre-Louis was only acting; he would act a part to the very end.
Be that as it might, she shifted her ground to answer him.
"You had my uncle's letter?"
"And I answered it."
"I know. But what he said, he will fulfil. Do not dream that he will relent if you carry out this horrible purpose."
"Come, now, that is a better reason than the other," said he. "If there is a reason in the world that could move me it would be that. But there is too much between La Tour d'Azyr and me. There is an oath I swore on the dead hand of Philippe de Vilmorin. I could never have hoped that God would afford me so great an opportunity of keeping it."
"You have not kept it yet," she warned him.
He smiled at her. "True!" he said. "But nine o'clock will soon be here. Tell me," he asked her suddenly, "why did you not carry this request of yours to M. de La Tour d'Azyr?"
"I did," she answered him, and flushed as she remembered her yesterday's rejection. He interpreted the flush quite otherwise.
"And he?" he asked.
"M. de La Tour d'Azyr's obligations..." she was beginning: then she broke off to answer shortly: "Oh, he refused."
"So, so. He must, of course, whatever it may have cost him. Yet in his place I should have counted the cost as nothing. But men are different, you see." He sighed. "Also in your place, had that been so, I think I should have left the matter there. But then..."
"I don't understand you, Andre."
"I am not so very obscure. Not nearly so obscure as I can be. Turn it over in your mind. It may help to comfort you presently." He consulted his watch again. "Pray use this house as your own. I must be going."
Le Chapelier put his head in at the door.
"Forgive the intrusion. But we shall be late, Andre, unless you..."
"Coming," Andre answered him. "If you will await my return, Aline, you will oblige me deeply. Particularly in view of your uncle's resolve."
She did not answer him. She was numbed. He took her silence for assent, and, bowing, left her. Standing there she heard his steps going down the stairs together with Le Chapelier's. He was speaking to his friend, and his voice was calm and normal.
Oh, he was mad—blinded by self-confidence and vanity. As his carriage rattled away, she sat down limply, with a sense of exhaustion and nausea. She was sick and faint with horror. Andre-Louis was going to his death. Conviction of it—an unreasoning conviction, the result, perhaps, of all M. de Kercadiou's rantings—entered her soul. Awhile she sat thus, paralyzed by hopelessness. Then she sprang up again, wringing her hands. She must do something to avert this horror. But what could she do? To follow him to the Bois and intervene there would be to make a scandal for no purpose. The conventions of conduct were all against her, offering a barrier that was not to be overstepped. Was there no one could help her?
Standing there, half-frenzied by her helplessness, she caught again a sound of vehicles and hooves on the cobbles of the street below. A carriage was approaching. It drew up with a clatter before the fencing-academy. Could it be Andre-Louis returning? Passionately she snatched at that straw of hope. Knocking, loud and urgent, fell upon the door. She heard Andre-Louis' housekeeper, her wooden shoes clanking upon the stairs, hurrying down to open.
She sped to the door of the anteroom, and pulling it wide stood breathlessly to listen. But the voice that floated up to her was not the voice she so desperately hoped to hear. It was a woman's voice asking in urgent tones for M. Andre-Louis—a voice at first vaguely familiar, then clearly recognized, the voice of Mme. de Plougastel.
Excited, she ran to the head of the narrow staircase in time to hear Mme. de Plougastel exclaim in agitation:
"He has gone already! Oh, but how long since? Which way did he take?"
It was enough to inform Aline that Mme. de Plougastel's errand must be akin to her own. At the moment, in the general distress and confusion of her mind, her mental vision focussed entirely on the one vital point, she found in this no matter for astonishment. The singular regard conceived by Mme. de Plougastel for Andre-Louis seemed to her then a sufficient explanation.
Without pausing to consider, she ran down that steep staircase, calling:
The portly, comely housekeeper drew aside, and the two ladies faced each other on that threshold. Mme. de Plougastel looked white and haggard, a nameless dread staring from her eyes.
"Aline! You here!" she exclaimed. And then in the urgency sweeping aside all minor considerations, "Were you also too late?" she asked.
"No, madame. I saw him. I implored him. But he would not listen."
"Oh, this is horrible!" Mme. de Plougastel shuddered as she spoke. "I heard of it only half an hour ago, and I came at once, to prevent it at all costs."
The two women looked blankly, despairingly, at each other. In the sunshine-flooded street one or two shabby idlers were pausing to eye the handsome equipage with its magnificent bay horses, and the two great ladies on the doorstep of the fencing-academy. From across the way came the raucous voice of an itinerant bellows-mender raised in the cry of his trade:
"A raccommoder les vieux soufflets!"
Madame swung to the housekeeper.
"How long is it since monsieur left?"
"Ten minutes, maybe; hardly more." Conceiving these great ladies to be friends of her invincible master's latest victim, the good woman preserved a decently stolid exterior.
Madame wrung her hands. "Ten minutes! Oh!" It was almost a moan. "Which way did he go?"
"The assignation is for nine o'clock in the Bois de Boulogne," Aline informed her. "Could we follow? Could we prevail if we did?"
"Ah, my God! The question is should we come in time? At nine o'clock! And it wants but little more than a quarter of an hour. Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu!" Madame clasped and unclasped her hands in anguish. "Do you know, at least, where in the Bois they are to meet?"
"No—only that it is in the Bois."
"In the Bois!" Madame was flung into a frenzy. "The Bois is nearly half as large as Paris." But she swept breathlessly on, "Come, Aline: get in, get in!"
Then to her coachman. "To the Bois de Boulogne by way of the Cours la Reine," she commanded, "as fast as you can drive. There are ten pistoles for you if we are in time. Whip up, man!"
She thrust Aline into the carriage, and sprang after her with the energy of a girl. The heavy vehicle—too heavy by far for this race with time—was moving before she had taken her seat. Rocking and lurching it went, earning the maledictions of more than one pedestrian whom it narrowly avoided crushing against a wall or trampling underfoot.
Madame sat back with closed eyes and trembling lips. Her face showed very white and drawn. Aline watched her in silence. Almost it seemed to her that Mme. de Plougastel was suffering as deeply as herself, enduring an anguish of apprehension as great as her own.
Later Aline was to wonder at this. But at the moment all the thought of which her half-numbed mind was capable was bestowed upon their desperate errand.
The carriage rolled across the Place Louis XV and out on to the Cours la Reine at last. Along that beautiful, tree-bordered avenue between the Champs Elysees and the Seine, almost empty at this hour of the day, they made better speed, leaving now a cloud of dust behind them.
But fast to danger-point as was the speed, to the women in that carriage it was too slow. As they reached the barrier at the end of the Cours, nine o'clock was striking in the city behind them, and every stroke of it seemed to sound a note of doom.
Yet here at the barrier the regulations compelled a momentary halt. Aline enquired of the sergeant-in-charge how long it was since a cabriolet such as she described had gone that way. She was answered that some twenty minutes ago a vehicle had passed the barrier containing the deputy M. le Chapelier and the Paladin of the Third Estate, M. Moreau. The sergeant was very well informed. He could make a shrewd guess, he said, with a grin, of the business that took M. Moreau that way so early in the day.
They left him, to speed on now through the open country, following the road that continued to hug the river. They sat back mutely despairing, staring hopelessly ahead, Aline's hand clasped tight in madame's. In the distance, across the meadows on their right, they could see already the long, dusky line of trees of the Bois, and presently the carriage swung aside following a branch of the road that turned to the right, away from the river and heading straight for the forest.
Mademoiselle broke at last the silence of hopelessness that had reigned between them since they had passed the barrier.
"Oh, it is impossible that we should come in time! Impossible!"
"Don't say it! Don't say it!" madame cried out.
"But it is long past nine, madame! Andre would be punctual, and these...affairs do not take long. It...it will be all over by now."
Madame shivered, and closed her eyes. Presently, however, she opened them again, and stirred. Then she put her head from the window. "A carriage is approaching," she announced, and her tone conveyed the thing she feared.
"Not already! Oh, not already!" Thus Aline expressed the silently communicated thought. She experienced a difficulty in breathing, felt the sudden need of air. Something in her throat was throbbing as if it would suffocate her; a mist came and went before her eyes.
In a cloud of dust an open caleche was speeding towards them, coming from the Bois. They watched it, both pale, neither venturing to speak, Aline, indeed, without breath to do so.
As it approached, it slowed down, perforce, as they did, to effect a safe passage in that narrow road. Aline was at the window with Mme. de Plougastel, and with fearful eyes both looked into this open carriage that was drawing abreast of them.
"Which of them is it, madame? Oh, which of them?" gasped Aline, scarce daring to look, her senses swimming.
On the near side sat a swarthy young gentleman unknown to either of the ladies. He was smiling as he spoke to his companion. A moment later and the man sitting beyond came into view. He was not smiling. His face was white and set, and it was the face of the Marquis de La Tour d'Azyr.
For a long moment, in speechless horror, both women stared at him, until, perceiving them, blankest surprise invaded his stern face.
In that moment, with a long shuddering sigh Aline sank swooning to the carriage floor behind Mme. de Plougastel.
CHAPTER XI. INFERENCES
By fast driving Andre-Louis had reached the ground some minutes ahead of time, notwithstanding the slight delay in setting out. There he had found M. de La Tour d'Azyr already awaiting him, supported by a M. d'Ormesson, a swarthy young gentleman in the blue uniform of a captain in the Gardes du Corps.
Andre-Louis had been silent and preoccupied throughout that drive. He was perturbed by his last interview with Mademoiselle de Kercadiou and the rash inferences which he had drawn as to her motives.
"Decidedly," he had said, "this man must be killed."
Le Chapelier had not answered him. Almost, indeed, had the Breton shuddered at his compatriot's cold-bloodedness. He had often of late thought that this fellow Moreau was hardly human. Also he had found him incomprehensibly inconsistent. When first this spadassinicide business had been proposed to him, he had been so very lofty and disdainful. Yet, having embraced it, he went about it at times with a ghoulish flippancy that was revolting, at times with a detachment that was more revolting still.
Their preparations were made quickly and in silence, yet without undue haste or other sign of nervousness on either side. In both men the same grim determination prevailed. The opponent must be killed; there could be no half-measures here. Stripped each of coat and waistcoat, shoeless and with shirt-sleeves rolled to the elbow, they faced each other at last, with the common resolve of paying in full the long score that stood between them. I doubt if either of them entertained a misgiving as to what must be the issue.
Beside them, and opposite each other, stood Le Chapelier and the young captain, alert and watchful.
The slender, wickedly delicate blades clashed together, and after a momentary glizade were whirling, swift and bright as lightnings, and almost as impossible to follow with the eye. The Marquis led the attack, impetuously and vigorously, and almost at once Andre-Louis realized that he had to deal with an opponent of a very different mettle from those successive duellists of last week, not excluding La Motte-Royau, of terrible reputation.
Here was a man whom much and constant practice had given extraordinary speed and a technique that was almost perfect. In addition, he enjoyed over Andre-Louis physical advantages of strength and length of reach, which rendered him altogether formidable. And he was cool, too; cool and self-contained; fearless and purposeful. Would anything shake that calm, wondered Andre-Louis?
He desired the punishment to be as full as he could make it. Not content to kill the Marquis as the Marquis had killed Philippe, he desired that he should first know himself as powerless to avert that death as Philippe had been. Nothing less would content Andre-Louis. M. le Marquis must begin by tasting of that cup of despair. It was in the account; part of the quittance due.
As with a breaking sweep Andre-Louis parried the heavy lunge in which that first series of passes culminated, he actually laughed —gleefully, after the fashion of a boy at a sport he loves.
That extraordinary, ill-timed laugh made M. de La Tour d'Azyr's recovery hastier and less correctly dignified than it would otherwise have been. It startled and discomposed him, who had already been discomposed by the failure to get home with a lunge so beautifully timed and so truly delivered.
He, too, had realized that his opponent's force was above anything that he could have expected, fencing-master though he might be, and on that account he had put forth his utmost energy to make an end at once.
More than the actual parry, the laugh by which it was accompanied seemed to make of that end no more than a beginning. And yet it was the end of something. It was the end of that absolute confidence that had hitherto inspired M. de La Tour d'Azyr. He no longer looked upon the issue as a thing forgone. He realized that if he was to prevail in this encounter, he must go warily and fence as he had never fenced yet in all his life.
They settled down again; and again—on the principle this time that the soundest defence is in attack—it was the Marquis who made the game. Andre-Louis allowed him to do so, desired him to do so; desired him to spend himself and that magnificent speed of his against the greater speed that whole days of fencing in succession for nearly two years had given the master. With a beautiful, easy pressure of forte on foible Andre-Louis kept himself completely covered in that second bout, which once more culminated in a lunge.
Expecting it now, Andre-Louis parried it by no more than a deflecting touch. At the same moment he stepped suddenly forward, right within the other's guard, thus placing his man so completely at his mercy that, as if fascinated, the Marquis did not even attempt to recover himself.
This time Andre-Louis did not laugh: He just smiled into the dilating eyes of M. de La Tour d'Azyr, and made no shift to use his advantage.
"Come, come, monsieur!" he bade him sharply. "Am I to run my blade through an uncovered man?" Deliberately he fell back, whilst his shaken opponent recovered himself at last.
M. d'Ormesson released the breath which horror had for a moment caught. Le Chapelier swore softly, muttering:
"Name of a name! It is tempting Providence to play the fool in this fashion!"
Andre-Louis observed the ashen pallor that now over spread the face of his opponent.
"I think you begin to realize, monsieur, what Philippe de Vilmorin must have felt that day at Gavrillac. I desired that you should first do so. Since that is accomplished, why, here's to make an end."
He went in with lightning rapidity. For a moment his point seemed to La Tour d'Azyr to be everywhere at once, and then from a low engagement in sixte, Andre-Louis stretched forward with swift and vigorous ease to lunge in tierce. He drove his point to transfix his opponent whom a series of calculated disengages uncovered in that line. But to his amazement and chagrin, La Tour d'Azyr parried the stroke; infinitely more to his chagrin La Tour d'Azyr parried it just too late. Had he completely parried it, all would yet have been well. But striking the blade in the last fraction of a second, the Marquis deflected the point from the line of his body, yet not so completely but that a couple of feet of that hard-driven steel tore through the muscles of his sword-arm.
To the seconds none of these details had been visible. All that they had seen had been a swift whirl of flashing blades, and then Andre-Louis stretched almost to the ground in an upward lunge that had pierced the Marquis' right arm just below the shoulder.
The sword fell from the suddenly relaxed grip of La Tour d'Azyr's fingers, which had been rendered powerless, and he stood now disarmed, his lip in his teeth, his face white, his chest heaving, before his opponent, who had at once recovered. With the blood-tinged tip of his sword resting on the ground, Andre-Louis surveyed him grimly, as we survey the prey that through our own clumsiness has escaped us at the last moment.
In the Assembly and in the newspapers this might be hailed as another victory for the Paladin of the Third Estate; only himself could know the extent and the bitternest of the failure.
M. d'Ormesson had sprung to the side of his principal.
"You are hurt!" he had cried stupidly.
"It is nothing," said La Tour d'Azyr. "A scratch." But his lip writhed, and the torn sleeve of his fine cambric shirt was full of blood.
D'Ormesson, a practical man in such matters, produced a linen kerchief, which he tore quickly into strips to improvise a bandage.
Still Andre-Louis continued to stand there, looking on as if bemused. He continued so until Le Chapelier touched him on the arm. Then at last he roused himself, sighed, and turned away to resume his garments, nor did he address or look again at his late opponent, but left the ground at once.
As, with Le Chapelier, he was walking slowly and in silent dejection towards the entrance of the Bois, where they had left their carriage, they were passed by the caleche conveying La Tour d'Azyr and his second—which had originally driven almost right up to the spot of the encounter. The Marquis' wounded arm was carried in a sling improvised from his companion's sword-belt. His sky-blue coat with three collars had been buttoned over this, so that the right sleeve hung empty. Otherwise, saving a certain pallor, he looked much his usual self.
And now you understand how it was that he was the first to return, and that seeing him thus returning, apparently safe and sound, the two ladies, intent upon preventing the encounter, should have assumed that their worst fears were realized.
Mme. de Plougastel attempted to call out, but her voice refused its office. She attempted to throw open the door of her own carriage; but her fingers fumbled clumsily and ineffectively with the handle. And meanwhile the caleche was slowly passing, La Tour d'Azyr's fine eyes sombrely yet intently meeting her own anguished gaze. And then she saw something else. M. d'Ormesson, leaning back again from the forward inclination of his body to join his own to his companion's salutation of the Countess, disclosed the empty right sleeve of M. de La Tour d'Azyr's blue coat. More, the near side of the coat itself turned back from the point near the throat where it was caught together by single button, revealed the slung arm beneath in its blood-sodden cambric sleeve.
Even now she feared to jump to the obvious conclusion feared lest perhaps the Marquis, though himself wounded, might have dealt his adversary a deadlier wound.
She found her voice at last, and at the same moment signalled to the driver of the caleche to stop.
As it was pulled to a standstill, M. d'Ormesson alighted, and so met madame in the little space between the two carriages.
"Where is M. Moreau?" was the question with which she surprised him.
"Following at his leisure, no doubt, madame," he answered, recovering.
"He is not hurt?"
"Unfortunately it is we who..." M. d'Ormesson was beginning, when from behind him M. de La Tour d'Azyr's voice cut in crisply:
"This interest on your part in M. Moreau, dear Countess..."
He broke off, observing a vague challenge in the air with which she confronted him. But indeed his sentence did not need completing.
There was a vaguely awkward pause. And then she looked at M. d'Ormesson. Her manner changed. She offered what appeared to be an explanation of her concern for M. Moreau.
"Mademoiselle de Kercadiou is with me. The poor child has fainted."
There was more, a deal more, she would have said just then, but for M. d'Ormesson's presence.
Moved by a deep solicitude for Mademoiselle de Kertadiou, de La Tour d'Azyr sprang up despite his wound.
"I am in poor case to render assistance, madame," he said, an apologetic smile on his pale face. "But..."
With the aid of d'Ormesson, and in spite of the latter's protestations, he got down from the caleche, which then moved on a little way, so as to leave the road clear—for another carriage that was approaching from the direction of the Bois.
And thus it happened that when a few moments later that approaching cabriolet overtook and passed the halted vehicles, Andre-Louis beheld a very touching scene. Standing up to obtain a better view, he saw Aline in a half-swooning condition—she was beginning to revive by now—seated in the doorway of the carriage, supported by Mme. de Plougastel. In an attitude of deepest concern, M. de La Tour d'Azyr, his wound notwithstanding, was bending over the girl, whilst behind him stood M. d'Ormesson and madame's footman.
The Countess looked up and saw him as he was driven past. Her face lighted; almost it seemed to him she was about to greet him or to call him, wherefore, to avoid a difficulty, arising out of the presence there of his late antagonist, he anticipated her by bowing frigidly—for his mood was frigid, the more frigid by virtue of what he saw—and then resumed his seat with eyes that looked deliberately ahead.
Could anything more completely have confirmed him in his conviction that it was on M. de La Tour d'Azyr's account that Aline had come to plead with him that morning? For what his eyes had seen, of course, was a lady overcome with emotion at the sight of blood of her dear friend, and that same dear friend restoring her with assurances that his hurt was very far from mortal. Later, much later, he was to blame his own perverse stupidity. Almost is he too severe in his self-condemnation. For how else could he have interpreted the scene he beheld, his preconceptions being what they were?
That which he had already been suspecting, he now accounted proven to him. Aline had been wanting in candour on the subject of her feelings towards M. de La Tour d'Azyr. It was, he supposed, a woman's way to be secretive in such matters, and he must not blame her. Nor could he blame her in his heart for having succumbed to the singular charm of such a man as the Marquis—for not even his hostility could blind him to M. de La Tour d'Azyr's attractions. That she had succumbed was betrayed, he thought, by the weakness that had overtaken her upon seeing him wounded.
"My God!" he cried aloud. "What must she have suffered, then, if I had killed him as I intended!"
If only she had used candour with him, she could so easily have won his consent to the thing she asked. If only she had told him what now he saw, that she loved M. de La Tour d'Azyr, instead of leaving him to assume her only regard for the Marquis to be based on unworthy worldly ambition, he would at once have yielded.
He fetched a sigh, and breathed a prayer for forgiveness to the shade of Vilmorin.
"It is perhaps as well that my lunge went wide," he said.
"What do you mean?" wondered Le Chapelier.
"That in this business I must relinquish all hope of recommencing."
CHAPTER XII. THE OVERWHELMING REASON
M. de La Tour d'Azyr was seen no more in the Manege—or indeed in Paris at all—throughout all the months that the National Assembly remained in session to complete its work of providing France with a constitution. After all, though the wound to his body had been comparatively slight, the wound to such a pride as his had been all but mortal.
The rumour ran that he had emigrated. But that was only half the truth. The whole of it was that he had joined that group of noble travellers who came and went between the Tuileries and the headquarters of the emigres at Coblenz. He became, in short, a member of the royalist secret service that in the end was to bring down the monarchy in ruins.
As for Andre-Louis, his godfather's house saw him no more, as a result of his conviction that M. de Kercadiou would not relent from his written resolve never to receive him again if the duel were fought.
He threw himself into his duties at the Assembly with such zeal and effect that when—its purpose accomplished—the Constituent was dissolved in September of the following year, membership of the Legislative, whose election followed immediately, was thrust upon him.
He considered then, like many others, that the Revolution was a thing accomplished, that France had only to govern herself by the Constitution which had been given her, and that all would now be well. And so it might have been but that the Court could not bring itself to accept the altered state of things. As a result of its intrigues half Europe was arming to hurl herself upon France, and her quarrel was the quarrel of the French King with his people. That was the horror at the root of all the horrors that were to come.
Of the counter-revolutionary troubles that were everywhere being stirred up by the clergy, none were more acute than those of Brittany, and, in view of the influence it was hoped he would wield in his native province, it was proposed to Andre-Louis by the Commission of Twelve, in the early days of the Girondin ministry, that he should go thither to combat the unrest. He was desired to proceed peacefully, but his powers were almost absolute, as is shown by the orders he carried—orders enjoining all to render him assistance and warning those who might hinder him that they would do so at their peril.
He accepted the task, and he was one of the five plenipotentiaries despatched on the same errand in that spring of 1792. It kept him absent from Paris for four months and might have kept him longer but that at the beginning of August he was recalled. More imminent than any trouble in Brittany was the trouble brewing in Paris itself; when the political sky was blacker than it had been since '89. Paris realized that the hour was rapidly approaching which would see the climax of the long struggle between Equality and Privilege. And it was towards a city so disposed that Andre-Louis came speeding from the West, to find there also the climax of his own disturbed career.
Mlle. de Kercadiou, too, was in Paris in those days of early August, on a visit to her uncle's cousin and dearest friend, Mme. de Plougastel. And although nothing could now be plainer than the seething unrest that heralded the explosion to come, yet the air of gaiety, indeed of jocularity, prevailing at Court—whither madame and mademoiselle went almost daily—reassured them. M. de Plougastel had come and gone again, back to Coblenz on that secret business that kept him now almost constantly absent from his wife. But whilst with her he had positively assured her that all measures were taken, and that an insurrection was a thing to be welcomed, because it could have one only conclusion, the final crushing of the Revolution in the courtyard of the Tuileries. That, he added, was why the King remained in Paris. But for his confidence in that he would put himself in the centre of his Swiss and his knights of the dagger, and quit the capital. They would hack a way out for him easily if his departure were opposed. But not even that would be necessary.
Yet in those early days of August, after her husband's departure the effect of his inspiring words was gradually dissipated by the march of events under madame's own eyes. And finally on the afternoon of the ninth, there arrived at the Hotel Plougastel a messenger from Meudon bearing a note from M. de Kercadiou in which he urgently bade mademoiselle join him there at once, and advised her hostess to accompany her.
You may have realized that M. de Kercadiou was of those who make friends with men of all classes. His ancient lineage placed him on terms of equality with members of the noblesse; his simple manners—something between the rustic and the bourgeois—and his natural affability placed him on equally good terms with those who by birth were his inferiors. In Meudon he was known and esteemed of all the simple folk, and it was Rougane, the friendly mayor, who, informed on the 9th of August of the storm that was brewing for the morrow, and knowing of mademoiselle's absence in Paris, had warningly advised him to withdraw her from what in the next four-and-twenty hours might be a zone of danger for all persons of quality, particularly those suspected of connections with the Court party.
Now there was no doubt whatever of Mme. de Plougastel's connection with the Court. It was not even to be doubted—indeed, measure of proof of it was to be forthcoming—that those vigilant and ubiquitous secret societies that watched over the cradle of the young revolution were fully informed of the frequent journeyings of M. de Plougastel to Coblenz, and entertained no illusions on the score of the reason for them. Given, then, a defeat of the Court party in the struggle that was preparing, the position in Paris of Mme. de Plougastel could not be other than fraught with danger, and that danger would be shared by any guest of birth at her hotel.
M. de Kercadiou's affection for both those women quickened the fears aroused in him by Rougane's warning. Hence that hastily dispatched note, desiring his niece and imploring his friend to come at once to Meudon.
The friendly mayor carried his complaisance a step farther, and dispatched the letter to Paris by the hands of his own son, an intelligent lad of nineteen. It was late in the afternoon of that perfect August day when young Rougane presented himself at the Hotel Plougastel.
He was graciously received by Mme. de Plougastel in the salon, whose splendours, when combined with the great air of the lady herself, overwhelmed the lad's simple, unsophisticated soul. Madame made up her mind at once.
M. de Kercadiou's urgent message no more than confirmed her own fears and inclinations. She decided upon instant departure.
"Bien, madame," said the youth. "Then I have the honour to take my leave."
But she would not let him go. First to the kitchen to refresh himself, whilst she and mademoiselle made ready, and then a seat for him in her carriage as far as Meudon. She could not suffer him to return on foot as he had come.
Though in all the circumstances it was no more than his due, yet the kindliness that in such a moment of agitation could take thought for another was presently to be rewarded. Had she done less than this, she would have known—if nothing worse—at least some hours of anguish even greater than those that were already in store for her.
It wanted, perhaps, a half-hour to sunset when they set out in her carriage with intent to leave Paris by the Porte Saint-Martin. They travelled with a single footman behind. Rougane—terrifying condescension—was given a seat inside the carriage with the ladies, and proceeded to fall in love with Mlle. de Kercadiou, whom he accounted the most beautiful being he had ever seen, yet who talked to him simply and unaffectedly as with an equal. The thing went to his head a little, and disturbed certain republican notions which he had hitherto conceived himself to have thoroughly digested.
The carriage drew up at the barrier, checked there by a picket of the National Guard posted before the iron gates.
The sergeant in command strode to the door of the vehicle. The Countess put her head from the window.
"The barrier is closed, madame," she was curtly informed.
"Closed!" she echoed. The thing was incredible. "But...but do you mean that we cannot pass?"
"Not unless you have a permit, madame." The sergeant leaned nonchalantly on his pike. "The orders are that no one is to leave or enter without proper papers."
"Orders of the Commune of Paris."
"But I must go into the country this evening." Madame's voice was almost petulant. "I am expected."
"In that case let madame procure a permit."
"Where is it to be procured?"
"At the Hotel de Ville or at the headquarters of madame's section."
She considered a moment. "To the section, then. Be so good as to tell my coachman to drive to the Bondy Section."
He saluted her and stepped back. "Section Bondy, Rue des Morts," he bade the driver.
Madame sank into her seat again, in a state of agitation fully shared by mademoiselle. Rougane set himself to pacify and reassure them. The section would put the matter in order. They would most certainly be accorded a permit. What possible reason could there be for refusing them? A mere formality, after all!
His assurance uplifted them merely to prepare them for a still more profound dejection when presently they met with a flat refusal from the president of the section who received the Countess.
"Your name, madame?" he had asked brusquely. A rude fellow of the most advanced republican type, he had not even risen out of deference to the ladies when they entered. He was there, he would have told you, to perform the duties of his office, not to give dancing-lessons.
"Plougastel," he repeated after her, without title, as if it had been the name of a butcher or baker. He took down a heavy volume from a shelf on his right, opened it and turned the pages. It was a sort of directory of his section. Presently he found what he sought. "Comte de Plougastel, Hotel Plougastel, Rue du Paradis. Is that it?"
"That is correct, monsieur," she answered, with what civility she could muster before the fellow's affronting rudeness.
There was a long moment of silence, during which he studied certain pencilled entries against the name. The sections had been working in the last few weeks much more systematically than was generally suspected.
"Your husband is with you, madame?" he asked curtly, his eyes still conning that page.
"M. le Comte is not with me," she answered, stressing the title.
"Not with you?" He looked up suddenly, and directed upon her a glance in which suspicion seemed to blend with derision. "Where is he?"
"He is not in Paris, monsieur.
"Ah! Is he at Coblenz, do you think?"
Madame felt herself turning cold. There was something ominous in all this. To what end had the sections informed themselves so thoroughly of the comings and goings of their inhabitants? What was preparing? She had a sense of being trapped, of being taken in a net that had been cast unseen.
"I do not know, monsieur," she said, her voice unsteady.
"Of course not." He seemed to sneer. "No matter. And you wish to leave Paris also? Where do you desire to go?"
"Your business there?"
The blood leapt to her face. His insolence was unbearable to a woman who in all her life had never known anything but the utmost deference from inferiors and equals alike. Nevertheless, realizing that she was face to face with forces entirely new, she controlled herself, stifled her resentment, and answered steadily.
"I wish to conduct this lady, Mlle. de Kercadiou, back to her uncle who resides there."
"Is that all? Another day will do for that, madame. The matter is not pressing."
"Pardon, monsieur, to us the matter is very pressing."
"You have not convinced me of it, and the barriers are closed to all who cannot prove the most urgent and satisfactory reasons for wishing to pass. You will wait, madame, until the restriction is removed. Good-evening."
"Good-evening, madame," he repeated significantly, a dismissal more contemptuous and despotic than any royal "You have leave to go."
Madame went out with Aline. Both were quivering with the anger that prudence had urged them to suppress. They climbed into the coach again, desiring to be driven home.
Rougane's astonishment turned into dismay when they told him what had taken place. "Why not try the Hotel de Ville, madame?" he suggested.
"After that? It would be useless. We must resign ourselves to remaining in Paris until the barriers are opened again."
"Perhaps it will not matter to us either way by then, madame," said Aline.
"Aline!" she exclaimed in horror.
"Mademoiselle!" cried Rougane on the same note. And then, because he perceived that people detained in this fashion must be in some danger not yet discernible, but on that account more dreadful, he set his wits to work. As they were approaching the Hotel Plougastel once more, he announced that he had solved the problem.
"A passport from without would do equally well," he announced. "Listen, now, and trust to me. I will go back to Meudon at once. My father shall give me two permits—one for myself alone, and another for three persons—from Meudon to Paris and back to Meudon. I reenter Paris with my own permit, which I then proceed to destroy, and we leave together, we three, on the strength of the other one, representing ourselves as having come from Meudon in the course of the day. It is quite simple, after all. If I go at once, I shall be back to-night."
"But how will you leave?" asked Aline.
"I? Pooh! As to that, have no anxiety. My father is Mayor of Meudon. There are plenty who know him. I will go to the Hotel de Ville, and tell them what is, after all, true—that I am caught in Paris by the closing of the barriers, and that my father is expecting me home this evening. They will pass me through. It is quite simple."
His confidence uplifted them again. The thing seemed as easy as he represented it.
"Then let your passport be for four, my friend," madame begged him. "There is Jacques," she explained, indicating the footman who had just assisted them to alight.
Rougane departed confident of soon returning, leaving them to await him with the same confidence. But the hours succeeded one another, the night closed in, bedtime came, and still there was no sign of his return.
They waited until midnight, each pretending for the other's sake to a confidence fully sustained, each invaded by vague premonitions of evil, yet beguiling the time by playing tric-trac in the great salon, as if they had not a single anxious thought between them.
At last on the stroke of midnight, madame sighed and rose.
"It will be for to-morrow morning," she said, not believing it.
"Of course," Aline agreed. "It would really have been impossible for him to have returned to-night. And it will be much better to travel to-morrow. The journey at so late an hour would tire you so much, dear madame."
Thus they made pretence.
Early in the morning they were awakened by a din of bells—the tocsins of the sections ringing the alarm. To their startled ears came later the rolling of drums, and at one time they heard the sounds of a multitude on the march. Paris was rising. Later still came the rattle of small-arms in the distance and the deeper boom of cannon. Battle was joined between the men of the sections and the men of the Court. The people in arms had attacked the Tuileries. Wildest rumours flew in all directions, and some of them found their way through the servants to the Hotel Plougastel, of that terrible fight for the palace which was to end in the purposeless massacre of all those whom the invertebrate monarch abandoned there, whilst placing himself and his family under the protection of the Assembly. Purposeless to the end, ever adopting the course pointed out to him by evil counsellors, he prepared for resistance only until the need for resistance really arose, whereupon he ordered a surrender which left those who had stood by him to the last at the mercy of a frenzied mob.
And while this was happening in the Tuileries, the two women at the Hotel Plougastel still waited for the return of Rougane, though now with ever-lessening hope. And Rougane did not return. The affair did not appear so simple to the father as to the son. Rougane the elder was rightly afraid to lend himself to such a piece of deception.
He went with his son to inform M. de Kercadiou of what had happened, and told him frankly of the thing his son suggested, but which he dared not do.
M. de Kercadiou sought to move him by intercessions and even by the offer of bribes. But Rougane remained firm.
"Monsieur," he said, "if it were discovered against me, as it inevitably would be, I should hang for it. Apart from that, and in spite of my anxiety to do all in my power to serve you, it would be a breach of trust such as I could not contemplate. You must not ask me, monsieur."
"But what do you conceive is going to happen?" asked the half-demented gentleman.
"It is war," said Rougane, who was well informed, as we have seen. "War between the people and the Court. I am desolated that my warning should have come too late. But, when all is said, I do not think that you need really alarm yourself. War will not be made on women." M. de Kercadiou clung for comfort to that assurance after the mayor and his son had departed. But at the back of his mind there remained the knowledge of the traffic in which M. de Plougastel was engaged. What if the revolutionaries were equally well informed? And most probably they were. The women-folk political offenders had been known aforetime to suffer for the sins of their men. Anything was possible in a popular upheaval, and Aline would be exposed jointly with Mme. de Plougastel.
Late that night, as he sat gloomily in his brother's library, the pipe in which he had sought solace extinguished between his fingers, there came a sharp knocking at the door.
To the old seneschal of Gavrillac who went to open there stood revealed upon the threshold a slim young man in a dark olive surcoat, the skirts of which reached down to his calves. He wore boots, buckskins, and a small-sword, and round his waist there was a tricolour sash, in his hat a tricolour cockade, which gave him an official look extremely sinister to the eyes of that old retainer of feudalism, who shared to the full his master's present fears.
"Monsieur desires?" he asked, between respect and mistrust.
And then a crisp voice startled him.
"Why, Benoit! Name of a name! Have you completely forgotten me?"
With a shaking hand the old man raised the lantern he carried so as to throw its light more fully upon that lean, wide-mouthed countenance.
"M. Andre!" he cried. "M. Andre!" And then he looked at the sash and the cockade, and hesitated, apparently at a loss.
But Andre-Louis stepped past him into the wide vestibule, with its tessellated floor of black-and-white marble.
"If my godfather has not yet retired, take me to him. If he has retired, take me to him all the same."
"Oh, but certainly, M. Andre—and I am sure he will be ravished to see you. No, he has not yet retired. This way, M. Andre; this way, if you please."
The returning Andre-Louis, reaching Meudon a half-hour ago, had gone straight to the mayor for some definite news of what might be happening in Paris that should either confirm or dispel the ominous rumours that he had met in ever-increasing volume as he approached the capital. Rougane informed him that insurrection was imminent, that already the sections had possessed themselves of the barriers, and that it was impossible for any person not fully accredited to enter or leave the city.
Andre-Louis bowed his head, his thoughts of the gravest. He had for some time perceived the danger of this second revolution from within the first, which might destroy everything that had been done, and give the reins of power to a villainous faction that would plunge the country into anarchy. The thing he had feared was more than ever on the point of taking place. He would go on at once, that very night, and see for himself what was happening.
And then, as he was leaving, he turned again to Rougane to ask if M. de Kercadiou was still at Meudon.
"You know him, monsieur?"
"He is my godfather."
"Your godfather! And you a representative! Why, then, you may be the very man he needs." And Rougane told him of his son's errand into Paris that afternoon and its result.
No more was required. That two years ago his godfather should upon certain terms have refused him his house weighed for nothing at the moment. He left his travelling carriage at the little inn and went straight to M. de Kercadiou.
And M. de Kercadiou, startled in such an hour by this sudden apparition, of one against whom he nursed a bitter grievance, greeted him in terms almost identical with those in which in that same room he had greeted him on a similar occasion once before.
"What do you want here, sir?"
"To serve you if possible, my godfather," was the disarming answer.
But it did not disarm M. de Kercadiou. "You have stayed away so long that I hoped you would not again disturb me."
"I should not have ventured to disobey you now were it not for the hope that I can be of service. I have seen Rougane, the mayor..."
"What's that you say about not venturing to disobey?"
"You forbade me your house, monsieur."
M. de Kercadiou stared at him helplessly.
"And is that why you have not come near me in all this time?"
"Of course. Why else?"
M. de Kercadiou continued to stare. Then he swore under his breath. It disconcerted him to have to deal with a man who insisted upon taking him so literally. He had expected that Andre-Louis would have come contritely to admit his fault and beg to be taken back into favour. He said so.
"But how could I hope that you meant less than you said, monsieur? You were so very definite in your declaration. What expressions of contrition could have served me without a purpose of amendment? And I had no notion of amending. We may yet be thankful for that."
"I am a representative. I have certain powers. I am very opportunely returning to Paris. Can I serve you where Rougane cannot? The need, monsieur, would appear to be very urgent if the half of what I suspect is true. Aline should be placed in safety at once."
M. de Kercadiou surrendered unconditionally. He came over and took Andre-Louis' hand.
"My boy," he said, and he was visibly moved, "there is in you a certain nobility that is not to be denied. If I seemed harsh with you, then, it was because I was fighting against your evil proclivities. I desired to keep you out of the evil path of politics that have brought this unfortunate country into so terrible a pass. The enemy on the frontier; civil war about to flame out at home. That is what you revolutionaries have done."
Andre-Louis did not argue. He passed on.
"About Aline?" he asked. And himself answered his own question: "She is in Paris, and she must be brought out of it at once, before the place becomes a shambles, as well it may once the passions that have been brewing all these months are let loose. Young Rougane's plan is good. At least, I cannot think of a better one."
"But Rougane the elder will not hear of it."
"You mean he will not do it on his own responsibility. But he has consented to do it on mine. I have left him a note over my signature to the effect that a safe-conduct for Mlle. de Kercadiou to go to Paris and return is issued by him in compliance with orders from me. The powers I carry and of which I have satisfied him are his sufficient justification for obeying me in this. I have left him that note on the understanding that he is to use it only in an extreme case, for his own protection. In exchange he has given me this safe-conduct."
"You already have it!"
M. de Kercadiou took the sheet of paper that Andre-Louis held out. His hand shook. He approached it to the cluster of candles burning on the console and screwed up his short-sighted eyes to read.
"If you send that to Paris by young Rougane in the morning," said Andre-Louis, "Aline should be here by noon. Nothing, of course, could be done to-night without provoking suspicion. The hour is too late. And now, monsieur my godfather, you know exactly why I intrude in violation of your commands. If there is any other way in which I can serve you, you have but to name it whilst I am here."
"But there is, Andre. Did not Rougane tell you that there were others..."
"He mentioned Mme. de Plougastel and her servant."
"Then why...?" M. de Kercadiou broke off, looking his question.
Very solemnly Andre-Louis shook his head.
"That is impossible," he said.
M. de Kercadiou's mouth fell open in astonishment. "Impossible!" he repeated. "But why?"
"Monsieur, I can do what I am doing for Aline without offending my conscience. Besides, for Aline I would offend my conscience and do it. But Mme. de Plougastel is in very different case. Neither Aline nor any of hers have been concerned in counter-revolutionary work, which is the true source of the calamity that now threatens to overtake us. I can procure her removal from Paris without self-reproach, convinced that I am doing nothing that any one could censure, or that might become the subject of enquiries. But Mme. de Plougastel is the wife of M. le Comte de Plougastel, whom all the world knows to be an agent between the Court and the emigres."
"That is no fault of hers," cried M. de Kercadiou through his consternation.
"Agreed. But she may be called upon at any moment to establish the fact that she is not a party to these manoeuvres. It is known that she was in Paris to-day. Should she be sought to-morrow and should it be found that she has gone, enquiries will certainly be made, from which it must result that I have betrayed my trust, and abused my powers to serve personal ends. I hope, monsieur, that you will understand that the risk is too great to be run for the sake of a stranger."
"A stranger?" said the Seigneur reproachfully.
"Practically a stranger to me," said Andre-Louis.
"But she is not a stranger to me, Andre. She is my cousin and very dear and valued friend. And, mon Dieu, what you say but increases the urgency of getting her out of Paris. She must be rescued, Andre, at all costs—she must be rescued! Why, her case is infinitely more urgent than Aline's!"
He stood a suppliant before his godson, very different now from the stern man who had greeted him on his arrival. His face was pale, his hands shook, and there were beads of perspiration on his brow.
"Monsieur my godfather, I would do anything in reason. But I cannot do this. To rescue her might mean ruin for Aline and yourself as well as for me."
"We must take the risk."
"You have a right to speak for yourself, of course."
"Oh, and for you, believe me, Andre, for you!" He came close to the young man. "Andre, I implore you to take my word for that, and to obtain this permit for Mme. de Plougastel."
Andre looked at him mystified. "This is fantastic," he said. "I have grateful memories of the lady's interest in me for a few days once when I was a child, and again more recently in Paris when she sought to convert me to what she accounts the true political religion. But I do not risk my neck for her—no, nor yours, nor Aline's."
"Ah! But, Andre..."
"That is my last word, monsieur. It is growing late, and I desire to sleep in Paris."
"No, no! Wait!" The Lord of Gavrillac was displaying signs of unspeakable distress. "Andre, you must!"
There was in this insistence and, still more, in the frenzied manner of it, something so unreasonable that Andre could not fail to assume that some dark and mysterious motive lay behind it.
"I must?" he echoed. "Why must I? Your reasons, monsieur?"
"Andre, my reasons are overwhelming."
"Pray allow me to be the judge of that." Andre-Louis' manner was almost peremptory.
The demand seemed to reduce M. de Kercadiou to despair. He paced the room, his hands tight-clasped behind him, his brow wrinkled. At last he came to stand before his godson.
"Can't you take my word for it that these reasons exist?" he cried in anguish.
"In such a matter as this—a matter that may involve my neck? Oh, monsieur, is that reasonable?"
"I violate my word of honour, my oath, if I tell you." M. de Kercadiou turned away, wringing his hands, his condition visibly piteous; then turned again to Andre. "But in this extremity, in this desperate extremity, and since you so ungenerously insist, I shall have to tell you. God help me, I have no choice. She will realize that when she knows. Andre, my boy..." He paused again, a man afraid. He set a hand on his godson's shoulder, and to his increasing amazement Andre-Louis perceived that over those pale, short-sighted eyes there was a film of tears. "Mme. de Plougastel is your mother."
Followed, for a long moment, utter silence. This thing that he was told was not immediately understood. When understanding came at last Andre-Louis' first impulse was to cry out. But he possessed himself, and played the Stoic. He must ever be playing something. That was in his nature. And he was true to his nature even in this supreme moment. He continued silent until, obeying that queer histrionic instinct, he could trust himself to speak without emotion. "I see," he said, at last, quite coolly.
His mind was sweeping back over the past. Swiftly he reviewed his memories of Mme. de Plougastel, her singular if sporadic interest in him, the curious blend of affection and wistfulness which her manner towards him had always presented, and at last he understood so much that hitherto had intrigued him.
"I see," he said again; and added now, "Of course, any but a fool would have guessed it long ago."
It was M. de Kercadiou who cried out, M. de Kercadiou who recoiled as from a blow.
"My God, Andre, of what are you made? You can take such an announcement in this fashion?"
"And how would you have me take it? Should it surprise me to discover that I had a mother? After all, a mother is an indispensable necessity to getting one's self born."
He sat down abruptly, to conceal the too-revealing fact that his limbs were shaking. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket to mop his brow, which had grown damp. And then, quite suddenly, he found himself weeping.
At the sight of those tears streaming silently down that face that had turned so pale, M. de Kercadiou came quickly across to him. He sat down beside him and threw an arm affectionately over his shoulder.
"Andre, my poor lad," he murmured. "I...I was fool enough to think you had no heart. You deceived me with your infernal pretence, and now I see...I see..." He was not sure what it was that he saw, or else he hesitated to express it.
"It is nothing, monsieur. I am tired out, and...and I have a cold in the head." And then, finding the part beyond his power, he abruptly threw it up, utterly abandoned all pretence. "Why...why has there been all this mystery?" he asked. "Was it intended that I should never know?"
"It was, Andre. It...it had to be, for prudence' sake."
"But why? Complete your confidence, sir. Surely you cannot leave it there. Having told me so much, you must tell me all."
"The reason, my boy, is that you were born some three years after your mother's marriage with M. de Plougastel, some eighteen months after M. de Plougastel had been away with the army, and some four months before his return to his wife. It is a matter that M. de Plougastel has never suspected, and for gravest family reasons must never suspect. That is why the utmost secrecy has been preserved. That is why none was ever allowed to know. Your mother came betimes into Brittany, and under an assumed name spent some months in the village of Moreau. It was while she was there that you were born."
Andre-Louis turned it over in his mind. He had dried his tears. And sat now rigid and collected.
"When you say that none was ever allowed to know, you are telling me, of course, that you, monsieur..."
"Oh, mon Dieu, no!" The denial came in a violent outburst. M. de Kercadiou sprang to his feet propelled from Andre's side by the violence of his emotions. It was as if the very suggestion filled him with horror. "I was the only other one who knew. But it is not as you think, Andre. You cannot imagine that I should lie to you, that I should deny you if you were my son?"
"If you say that I am not, monsieur, that is sufficient."
"You are not. I was Therese's cousin and also, as she well knew, her truest friend. She knew that she could trust me; and it was to me she came for help in her extremity. Once, years before, I would have married her. But, of course, I am not the sort of man a woman could love. She trusted, however, to my love for her, and I have kept her trust."
"Then, who was my father?"
"I don't know. She never told me. It was her secret, and I did not pry. It is not in my nature, Andre."
Andre-Louis got up, and stood silently facing M. de Kercadiou.
"You believe me, Andre."
"Naturally, monsieur; and I am sorry, I am sorry that I am not your son."
M. de Kercadiou gripped his godson's hand convulsively, and held it a moment with no word spoken. Then as they fell away from each other again:
"And now, what will you do, Andre?" he asked. "Now that you know?"
Andre-Louis stood awhile, considering, then broke into laughter. The situation had its humours. He explained them.
"What difference should the knowledge make? Is filial piety to be called into existence by the mere announcement of relationship? Am I to risk my neck through lack of circumspection on behalf of a mother so very circumspect that she had no intention of ever revealing herself? The discovery rests upon the merest chance, upon a fall of the dice of Fate. Is that to weigh with me?"
"The decision is with you, Andre."
"Nay, it is beyond me. Decide it who can, I cannot."
"You mean that you refuse even now?"
"I mean that I consent. Since I cannot decide what it is that I should do, it only remains for me to do what a son should. It is grotesque; but all life is grotesque."
"You will never, never regret it."
"I hope not," said Andre. "Yet I think it very likely that I shall. And now I had better see Rougane again at once, and obtain from him the other two permits required. Then perhaps it will be best that I take them to Paris myself, in the morning. If you will give me a bed, monsieur, I shall be grateful. I...I confess that I am hardly in case to do more to-night."
CHAPTER XIII. SANCTUARY
Into the late afternoon of that endless day of horror with its perpetual alarms, its volleying musketry, rolling drums, and distant muttering of angry multitudes, Mme. de Plougastel and Aline sat waiting in that handsome house in the Rue du Paradis. It was no longer for Rougane they waited. They realized that, be the reason what it might—and by now many reasons must no doubt exist—this friendly messenger would not return. They waited without knowing for what. They waited for whatever might betide.
At one time early in the afternoon the roar of battle approached them, racing swiftly in their direction, swelling each moment in volume and in horror. It was the frenzied clamour of a multitude drunk with blood and bent on destruction. Near at hand that fierce wave of humanity checked in its turbulent progress. Followed blows of pikes upon a door and imperious calls to open, and thereafter came the rending of timbers, the shivering of glass, screams of terror blending with screams of rage, and, running through these shrill sounds, the deeper diapason of bestial laughter.
It was a hunt of two wretched Swiss guardsmen seeking blindly to escape. And they were run to earth in a house in the neighbourhood, and there cruelly done to death by that demoniac mob. The thing accomplished, the hunters, male and female, forming into a battalion, came swinging down the Rue du Paradis, chanting the song of Marseilles—a song new to Paris in those days:
Allons, enfants de la patrie! Le jour de gloire est arrive Contre nous de la tyrannie L'etendard sanglant est leve.
Nearer it came, raucously bawled by some hundreds of voices, a dread sound that had come so suddenly to displace at least temporarily the merry, trivial air of the "Ca ira!" which hitherto had been the revolutionary carillon. Instinctively Mme. de Plougastel and Aline clung to each other. They had heard the sound of the ravishing of that other house in the neighbourhood, without knowledge of the reason. What if now it should be the turn of the Hotel Plougastel! There was no real cause to fear it, save that amid a turmoil imperfectly understood and therefore the more awe-inspiring, the worst must be feared always.
The dreadful song so dreadfully sung, and the thunder of heavily shod feet upon the roughly paved street, passed on and receded. They breathed again, almost as if a miracle had saved them, to yield to fresh alarm an instant later, when madame's young footman, Jacques, the most trusted of her servants, burst into their presence unceremoniously with a scared face, bringing the announcement that a man who had just climbed over the garden wall professed himself a friend of madame's, and desired to be brought immediately to her presence.
"But he looks like a sansculotte, madame," the staunch fellow warned her.
Her thoughts and hopes leapt at once to Rougane.
"Bring him in," she commanded breathlessly.
Jacques went out, to return presently accompanied by a tall man in a long, shabby, and very ample overcoat and a wide-brimmed hat that was turned down all round, and adorned by an enormous tricolour cockade. This hat he removed as he entered.
Jacques, standing behind him, perceived that his hair, although now in some disorder, bore signs of having been carefully dressed. It was clubbed, and it carried some lingering vestiges of powder. The young footman wondered what it was in the man's face, which was turned from him, that should cause his mistress to out and recoil. Then he found himself dismissed abruptly by a gesture.
The newcomer advanced to the middle of the salon, moving like a man exhausted and breathing hard. There he leaned against a table, across which he confronted Mme. de Plougastel. And she stood regarding him, a strange horror in her eyes.
In the background, on a settle at the salon's far end, sat Aline staring in bewilderment and some fear at a face which, if unrecognizable through the mask of blood and dust that smeared it, was yet familiar. And then the man spoke, and instantly she knew the voice for that of the Marquis de La Tour d'Azyr.
"My dear friend," he was saying, "forgive me if I startled you. Forgive me if I thrust myself in here without leave, at such a time, in such a manner. But...you see how it is with me. I am a fugitive. In the course of my distracted flight, not knowing which way to turn for safety, I thought of you. I told myself that if I could but safely reach your house, I might find sanctuary."
"You are in danger?"
"In danger?" Almost he seemed silently to laugh at the unnecessary question. "If I were to show myself openly in the streets just now, I might with luck contrive to live for five minutes! My friend, it has been a massacre. Some few of us escaped from the Tuileries at the end, to be hunted to death in the streets. I doubt if by this time a single Swiss survives. They had the worst of it, poor devils. And as for us—my God! They hate us more than they hate the Swiss. Hence this filthy disguise."
He peeled off the shaggy greatcoat, and casting it from him stepped forth in the black satin that had been the general livery of the hundred knights of the dagger who had rallied in the Tuileries that morning to the defence of their king.
His coat was rent across the back, his neckcloth and the ruffles at his wrists were torn and bloodstained; with his smeared face and disordered headdress he was terrible to behold. Yet he contrived to carry himself with his habitual easy assurance, remembered to kiss the trembling hand which Mme. de Plougastel extended to him in welcome.
"You did well to come to me, Gervais," she said. "Yes, here is sanctuary for the present. You will be quite safe, at least for as long as we are safe. My servants are entirely trustworthy. Sit down and tell me all."
He obeyed her, collapsing almost into the armchair which she thrust forward, a man exhausted, whether by physical exertion or by nerve-strain, or both. He drew a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped some of the blood and dirt from his face.
"It is soon told." His tone was bitter with the bitterness of despair. "This, my dear, is the end of us. Plougastel is lucky in being across the frontier at such a time. Had I not been fool enough to trust those who to-day have proved themselves utterly unworthy of trust, that is where I should be myself. My remaining in Paris is the crowning folly of a life full of follies and mistakes. That I should come to you in my hour of most urgent need adds point to it." He laughed in his bitterness.
Madame moistened her dry lips. "And...and now?" she asked him.
"It only remains to get away as soon as may be, if it is still possible. Here in France there is no longer any room for us—at least, not above ground. To-day has proved it." And then he looked up at her, standing there beside him so pale and timid, and he smiled. He patted the fine hand that rested upon the arm of his chair. "My dear Therese, unless you carry charitableness to the length of giving me to drink, you will see me perish of thirst under your eyes before ever the canaille has a chance to finish me."
She started. "I should have thought of it!" she cried in self-reproach, and she turned quickly. "Aline," she begged, "tell Jacques to bring..."
"Aline!" he echoed, interrupting, and swinging round in his turn. Then, as Aline rose into view, detaching from her background, and he at last perceived her, he heaved himself abruptly to his weary legs again, and stood there stiffly bowing to her across the space of gleaming floor. "Mademoiselle, I had not suspected your presence," he said, and he seemed extraordinarily ill-at-ease, a man startled, as if caught in an illicit act.
"I perceived it, monsieur," she answered, as she advanced to do madame's commission. She paused before him. "From my heart, monsieur, I grieve that we should meet again in circumstances so very painful."
Not since the day of his duel with Andre-Louis—the day which had seen the death and burial of his last hope of winning her—had they stood face to face.
He checked as if on the point of answering her. His glance strayed to Mme. de Plougastel, and, oddly reticent for one who could be very glib, he bowed in silence.
"But sit, monsieur, I beg. You are fatigued."
"You are gracious to observe it. With your permission, then." And he resumed his seat. She continued on her way to the door and passed out upon her errand.
When presently she returned they had almost unaccountably changed places. It was Mme. de Plougastel who was seated in that armchair of brocade and gilt, and M. de La Tour d'Azyr who, despite his lassitude, was leaning over the back of it talking earnestly, seeming by his attitude to plead with her. On Aline's entrance he broke off instantly and moved away, so that she was left with a sense of having intruded. Further she observed that the Countess was in tears.
Following her came presently the diligent Jacques, bearing a tray laden with food and wine. Madame poured for her guest, and he drank a long draught of the Burgundy, then begged, holding forth his grimy hands, that he might mend his appearance before sitting down to eat.
He was led away and valeted by Jacques, and when he returned he had removed from his person the last vestige of the rough handling he had received. He looked almost his normal self, the disorder in his attire repaired, calm and dignified and courtly in his bearing, but very pale and haggard of face, seeming suddenly to have increased in years, to have reached in appearance the age that was in fact his own.
As he ate and drank—and this with appetite, for as he told them he had not tasted food since early morning—he entered into the details of the dreadful events of the day, and gave them the particulars of his own escape from the Tuileries when all was seen to be lost and when the Swiss, having burnt their last cartridge, were submitting to wholesale massacre at the hands of the indescribably furious mob.
"Oh, it was all most ill done," he ended critically. "We were timid when we should have been resolute, and resolute at last when it was too late. That is the history of our side from the beginning of this accursed struggle. We have lacked proper leadership throughout, and now—as I have said already—there is an end to us. It but remains to escape, as soon as we can discover how the thing is to be accomplished."
Madame told him of the hopes that she had centred upon Rougane.
It lifted him out of his gloom. He was disposed to be optimistic.
"You are wrong to have abandoned that hope," he assured her. "If this mayor is so well disposed, he certainly can do as his son promised. But last night it would have been too late for him to have reached you, and to-day, assuming that he had come to Paris, almost impossible for him to win across the streets from the other side. It is most likely that he will yet come. I pray that he may; for the knowledge that you and Mlle. de Kercadiou are out of this would comfort me above all."
"We should take you with us," said madame.
"Ah! But how?"
"Young Rougane was to bring me permits for three persons—Aline, myself, and my footman, Jacques. You would take the place of Jacques."
"Faith, to get out of Paris, madame, there is no man whose place I would not take." And he laughed.
Their spirits rose with his and their flagging hopes revived. But as dusk descended again upon the city, without any sign of the deliverer they awaited, those hopes began to ebb once more.
M. de La Tour d'Azyr at last pleaded weariness, and begged to be permitted to withdraw that he might endeavour to take some rest against whatever might have to be faced in the immediate future. When he had gone, madame persuaded Aline to go and lie down.
"I will call you, my dear, the moment he arrives," she said, bravely maintaining that pretence of a confidence that had by now entirely evaporated.
Aline kissed her affectionately, and departed, outwardly so calm and unperturbed as to leave the Countess wondering whether she realized the peril by which they were surrounded, a peril infinitely increased by the presence in that house of a man so widely known and detested as M. de La Tour d'Azyr, a man who was probably being sought for by his enemies at this moment.
Left alone, madame lay down on a couch in the salon itself, to be ready for any emergency. It was a hot summer night, and the glass doors opening upon the luxuriant garden stood wide to admit the air. On that air came intermittently from the distance sounds of the continuing horrible activities of the populace, the aftermath of that bloody day.
Mme. de Plougastel lay there, listening to those sounds for upwards of an hour, thanking Heaven that for the present at least the disturbances were distant, dreading lest at any moment they should occur nearer at hand, lest this Bondy section in which her hotel was situated should become the scene of horrors similar to those whose echoes reached her ears from other sections away to the south and west.
The couch occupied by the Countess lay in shadow; for all the lights in that long salon had been extinguished with the exception of a cluster of candles in a massive silver candle branch placed on a round marquetry table in the middle of the room—an island of light in the surrounding gloom.
The timepiece on the overmantel chimed melodiously the hour of ten, and then, startling in the suddenness with which it broke the immediate silence, another sound vibrated through the house, and brought madame to her feet, in a breathless mingling of hope and dread. Some one was knocking sharply on the door below. Followed moments of agonized suspense, culminating in the abrupt invasion of the room by the footman Jacques. He looked round, not seeing his mistress at first.
"Madame! Madame!" he panted, out of breath.
"What is it, Jacques!" Her voice was steady now that the need for self-control seemed thrust upon her. She advanced from the shadows into that island of light about the table. "There is a man below. He is asking...he is demanding to see you at once."
"A man?" she questioned.
"He...he seems to be an official; at least he wears the sash of office. And he refuses to give any name; he says that his name would convey nothing to you. He insists that he must see you in person and at once."
"An official?" said madame.
"An official," Jacques repeated. "I would not have admitted him, but that he demanded it in the name of the Nation. Madame, it is for you to say what shall be done. Robert is with me. If you wish it...whatever it may be..."
"My good Jacques, no, no." She was perfectly composed. "If this man intended evil, surely he would not come alone. Conduct him to me, and then beg Mlle. de Kercadiou to join me if she is awake."
Jacques departed, himself partly reassured. Madame seated herself in the armchair by the table well within the light. She smoothed her dress with a mechanical hand. If, as it would seem, her hopes had been futile, so had her momentary fears. A man on any but an errand of peace would have brought some following with him, as she had said.
The door opened again, and Jacques reappeared; after him, stepping briskly past him, came a slight man in a wide-brimmed hat, adorned by a tricolour cockade. About the waist of an olive-green riding-coat he wore a broad tricolour sash; a sword hung at his side.
He swept off his hat, and the candlelight glinted on the steel buckle in front of it. Madame found herself silently regarded by a pair of large, dark eyes set in a lean, brown face, eyes that were most singularly intent and searching.
She leaned forward, incredulity swept across her countenance. Then her eyes kindled, and the colour came creeping back into her pale cheeks. She rose suddenly. She was trembling.
"Andre-Louis!" she exclaimed.
CHAPTER XIV. THE BARRIER
That gift of laughter of his seemed utterly extinguished. For once there was no gleam of humour in those dark eyes, as they continued to consider her with that queer stare of scrutiny. And yet, though his gaze was sombre, his thoughts were not. With his cruelly true mental vision which pierced through shams, and his capacity for detached observation—which properly applied might have carried him very far, indeed—he perceived the grotesqueness, the artificiality of the emotion which in that moment he experienced, but by which he refused to be possessed. It sprang entirely from the consciousness that she was his mother; as if, all things considered, the more or less accidental fact that she had brought him into the world could establish between them any real bond at this time of day! The motherhood that bears and forsakes is less than animal. He had considered this; he had been given ample leisure in which to consider it during those long, turbulent hours in which he had been forced to wait, because it would have been almost impossible to have won across that seething city, and certainly unwise to have attempted so to do.
He had reached the conclusion that by consenting to go to her rescue at such a time he stood committed to a piece of purely sentimental quixotry. The quittances which the Mayor of Meudon had exacted from him before he would issue the necessary safe-conducts placed the whole of his future, perhaps his very life, in jeopardy. And he had consented to do this not for the sake of a reality, but out of regard for an idea—he who all his life had avoided the false lure of worthless and hollow sentimentality.
Thus thought Andre-Louis as he considered her now so searchingly, finding it, naturally enough, a matter of extraordinary interest to look consciously upon his mother for the first time at the age of eight-and-twenty.
From her he looked at last at Jacques, who remained at attention, waiting by the open door.
"Could we be alone, madame?" he asked her.
She waved the footman away, and the door closed. In agitated silence, unquestioning, she waited for him to account for his presence there at so extraordinary a time.
"Rougane could not return," he informed her shortly. "At M. de Kercadiou's request, I come instead."
"You! You are sent to rescue us!" The note of amazement in her voice was stronger than that of het relief.
"That, and to make your acquaintance, madame."
"To make my acquaintance? But what do you mean, Andre-Louis?"
"This letter from M. de Kercadiou will tell you." Intrigued by his odd words and odder manner, she took the folded sheet. She broke the seal with shaking hands, and with shaking hands approached the written page to the light. Her eyes grew troubled as she read; the shaking of her hands increased, and midway through that reading a moan escaped her. One glance that was almost terror she darted at the slim, straight man standing so incredibly impassive upon the edge of the light, and then she endeavoured to read on. But the crabbed characters of M. de Kercadiou swam distortedly under her eyes. She could not read. Besides, what could it matter what else he said. She had read enough. The sheet fluttered from her hands to the table, and out of a face that was like a face of wax, she looked now with a wistfulness, a sadness indescribable, at Andre-Louis.
"And so you know, my child?" Her voice was stifled to a whisper.
"I know, madame my mother."
The grimness, the subtle blend of merciless derision and reproach in which it was uttered completely escaped her. She cried out at the new name. For her in that moment time and the world stood still. Her peril there in Paris as the wife of an intriguer at Coblenz was blotted out, together with every other consideration —thrust out of a consciousness that could find room for nothing else beside the fact that she stood acknowledged by her only son, this child begotten in adultery, borne furtively and in shame in a remote Brittany village eight-and-twenty years ago. Not even a thought for the betrayal of that inviolable secret, or the consequences that might follow, could she spare in this supreme moment.
She took one or two faltering steps towards him, hesitating. Then she opened her arms. Sobs suffocated her voice.
"Won't you come to me, Andre-Louis?"
A moment yet he stood hesitating, startled by that appeal, angered almost by his heart's response to it, reason and sentiment at grips in his soul. This was not real, his reason postulated; this poignant emotion that she displayed and that he experienced was fantastic. Yet he went. Her arms enfolded him; her wet cheek was pressed hard against his own; her frame, which the years had not yet succeeded in robbing of its grace, was shaken by the passionate storm within her.
"Oh, Andre-Louis, my child, if you knew how I have hungered to hold you so! If you knew how in denying myself this I have atoned and suffered! Kercadiou should not have told you—not even now. It was wrong—most wrong, perhaps, to you. It would have been better that he should have left me here to my fate, whatever that may be. And yet—come what may of this—to be able to hold you so, to be able to acknowledge you, to hear you call me mother—oh! Andre-Louis, I cannot now regret it. I cannot...I cannot wish it otherwise."
"Is there any need, madame?" he asked her, his stoicism deeply shaken. "There is no occasion to take others into our confidence. This is for to-night alone. To-night we are mother and son. To-morrow we resume our former places, and, outwardly at least, forget."
"Forget? Have you no heart, Andre-Louis?"
The question recalled him curiously to his attitude towards life —that histrionic attitude of his that he accounted true philosophy. Also he remembered what lay before them; and he realized that he must master not only himself but her; that to yield too far to sentiment at such a time might be the ruin of them all.
"It is a question propounded to me so often that it must contain the truth," said he. "My rearing is to blame for that."
She tightened her clutch about his neck even as he would have attempted to disengage himself from her embrace.
"You do not blame me for your rearing? Knowing all, as you do, Andre-Louis, you cannot altogether blame. You must be merciful to me. You must forgive me. You must! I had no choice."
"When we know all of whatever it may be, we can never do anything but forgive, madame. That is the profoundest religious truth that was ever written. It contains, in fact, a whole religion—the noblest religion any man could have to guide him. I say this for your comfort, madame my mother."
She sprang away from him with a startled cry. Beyond him in the shadows by the door a pale figure shimmered ghostly. It advanced into the light, and resolved itself into Aline. She had come in answer to that forgotten summons madame had sent her by Jacques. Entering unperceived she had seen Andre-Louis in the embrace of the woman whom he addressed as "mother." She had recognized him instantly by his voice, and she could not have said what bewildered her more: his presence there or the thing she overheard.
"You heard, Aline?" madame exclaimed.
"I could not help it, madame. You sent for me. I am sorry if..." She broke off, and looked at Andre-Louis long and curiously. She was pale, but quite composed. She held out her hand to him. "And so you have come at last, Andre," said she. "You might have come before."
"I come when I am wanted," was his answer. "Which is the only time in which one can be sure of being received." He said it without bitterness, and having said it stooped to kiss her hand.
"You can forgive me what is past, I hope, since I failed of my purpose," he said gently, half-pleading. "I could not have come to you pretending that the failure was intentional—a compromise between the necessities of the case and your own wishes. For it was not that. And yet, you do not seem to have profited by my failure. You are still a maid."
She turned her shoulder to him.
"There are things," she said, "that you will never understand."
"Life, for one," he acknowledged. "I confess that I am finding it bewildering. The very explanations calculated to simplify it seem but to complicate it further." And he looked at Mme. de Plougastel.
"You mean something, I suppose," said mademoiselle.
"Aline!" It was the Countess who spoke. She knew the danger of half-discoveries. "I can trust you, child, I know, and Andre-Louis, I am sure, will offer no objection." She had taken up the letter to show it to Aline. Yet first her eyes questioned him.
"Oh, none, madame," he assured her. "It is entirely a matter for yourself."
Aline looked from one to the other with troubled eyes, hesitating to take the letter that was now proffered. When she had read it through, she very thoughtfully replaced it on the table. A moment she stood there with bowed head, the other two watching her. Then impulsively she ran to madame and put her arms about her.
"Aline!" It was a cry of wonder, almost of joy. "You do not utterly abhor me!"
"My dear," said Aline, and kissed the tear-stained face that seemed to have grown years older in these last few hours.
In the background Andre-Louis, steeling himself against emotionalism, spoke with the voice of Scaramouche.
"It would be well, mesdames, to postpone all transports until they can be indulged at greater leisure and in more security. It is growing late. If we are to get out of this shambles we should be wise to take the road without more delay."
It was a tonic as effective as it was necessary. It startled them into remembrance of their circumstances, and under the spur of it they went at once to make their preparations.
They left him for perhaps a quarter of an hour, to pace that long room alone, saved only from impatience by the turmoil of his mind. When at length they returned, they were accompanied by a tall man in a full-skirted shaggy greatcoat and a broad hat the brim of which was turned down all around. He remained respectfully by the door in the shadows.
Between them the two women had concerted it thus, or rather the Countess had so concerted it when Aline had warned her that Andre-Louis' bitter hostility towards the Marquis made it unthinkable that he should move a finger consciously to save him.
Now despite the close friendship uniting M. de Kercadiou and his niece with Mme. de Plougastel, there were several matters concerning them of which the Countess was in ignorance. One of these was the project at one time existing of a marriage between Aline and M. de La Tour d'Azyr. It was a matter that Aline—naturally enough in the state of her feelings—had never mentioned, nor had M. de Kercadiou ever alluded to it since his coming to Meudon, by when he had perceived how unlikely it was ever to be realized.
M. de La Tour d'Azyr's concern for Aline on that morning of the duel when he had found her half-swooning in Mme. de Plougastel's carriage had been of a circumspection that betrayed nothing of his real interest in her, and therefore had appeared no more than natural in one who must account himself the cause of her distress. Similarly Mme. de Plougastel had never realized nor did she realize now—for Aline did not trouble fully to enlighten her—that the hostility between the two men was other than political, the quarrel other than that which already had taken Andre-Louis to the Bois on every day of the preceding week. But, at least, she realized that even if Andre-Louis' rancour should have no other source, yet that inconclusive duel was cause enough for Aline's fears.
And so she had proposed this obvious deception; and Aline had consented to be a passive party to it. They had made the mistake of not fully forewarning and persuading M. de La Tour d'Azyr. They had trusted entirely to his anxiety to escape from Paris to keep him rigidly within the part imposed upon him. They had reckoned without the queer sense of honour that moved such men as M. le Marquis, nurtured upon a code of shams.
Andre-Louis, turning to scan that muffled figure, advanced from the dark depths of the salon. As the light beat on his white, lean face the pseudo-footman started. The next moment he too stepped forward into the light, and swept his broad-brimmed hat from his brow. As he did so Andre-Louis observed that his hand was fine and white and that a jewel flashed from one of the fingers. Then he caught his breath, and stiffened in every line as he recognized the face revealed to him.
"Monsieur," that stern, proud man was saying, "I cannot take advantage of your ignorance. If these ladies can persuade you to save me, at least it is due to you that you shall know whom you are saving."
He stood there by the table very erect and dignified, ready to perish as he had lived—if perish he must—without fear and without deception.
Andre-Louis came slowly forward until he reached the table on the other side, and then at last the muscles of his set face relaxed, and he laughed.
"You laugh?" said M. de La Tour d'Azyr, frowning, offended.
"It is so damnably amusing," said Andre-Louis.
"You've an odd sense of humour, M. Moreau."
"Oh, admitted. The unexpected always moves me so. I have found you many things in the course of our acquaintance. To-night you are the one thing I never expected to find you: an honest man."
M. de La Tour d'Azyr quivered. But he attempted no reply.
"Because of that, monsieur, I am disposed to be clement. It is probably a foolishness. But you have surprised me into it. I give you three minutes, monsieur, in which to leave this house, and to take your own measures for your safety. What afterwards happens to you shall be no concern of mine."
"Ah, no, Andre! Listen..." Madame began in anguish.
"Pardon, madame. It is the utmost that I will do, and already I am violating what I conceive to be my duty. If M. de La Tour d'Azyr remains he not only ruins himself, but he imperils you. For unless he departs at once, he goes with me to the headquarters of the section, and the section will have his head on a pike inside the hour. He is a notorious counter-revolutionary, a knight of the dagger, one of those whom an exasperated populace is determined to exterminate. Now, monsieur, you know what awaits you. Resolve yourself and at once, for these ladies' sake."
"But you don't know, Andre-Louis!" Mme. de Plougastel's condition was one of anguish indescribable. She came to him and clutched his arm. "For the love of Heaven, Andre-Louis, be merciful with him! You must!"
"But that is what I am being, madame—merciful; more merciful than he deserves. And he knows it. Fate has meddled most oddly in our concerns to bring us together to-night. Almost it is as if Fate were forcing retribution at last upon him. Yet, for your sakes, I take no advantage of it, provided that he does at once as I have desired him."
And now from beyond the table the Marquis spoke icily, and as he spoke his right hand stirred under the ample folds of his greatcoat.
"I am glad, M. Moreau, that you take that tone with me. You relieve me of the last scruple. You spoke of Fate just now, and I must agree with you that Fate has meddled oddly, though perhaps not to the end that you discern. For years now you have chosen to stand in my path and thwart me at every turn, holding over me a perpetual menace. Persistently you have sought my life in various ways, first indirectly and at last directly. Your intervention in my affairs has ruined my highest hopes—more effectively, perhaps, than you suppose. Throughout you have been my evil genius. And you are even one of the agents of this climax of despair that has been reached by me to-night."
"Wait! Listen!" Madame was panting. She flung away from Andre-Louis, as if moved by some premonition of what was coming. "Gervais! This is horrible!"
"Horrible, perhaps, but inevitable. Himself he has invited it. I am a man in despair, the fugitive of a lost cause. That man holds the keys of escape. And, besides, between him and me there is a reckoning to be paid."
His hand came from beneath the coat at last, and it came armed with a pistol.
Mme. de Plougastel screamed, and flung herself upon him. On her knees now, she clung to his arm with all her strength and might.
Vainly he sought to shake himself free of that desperate clutch.
"Therese!" he cried. "Are you mad? Will you destroy me and yourself? This creature has the safe-conducts that mean our salvation. Himself, he is nothing."
From the background Aline, a breathless, horror-stricken spectator of that scene, spoke sharply, her quick mind pointing out the line of checkmate.
"Burn the safe-conducts, Andre-Louis. Burn them at once—in the candles there."
But Andre-Louis had taken advantage of that moment of M. de La Tour d'Azyr's impotence to draw a pistol in his turn. "I think it will be better to burn his brains instead," he said. "Stand away from him, madame."
Far from obeying that imperious command, Mme. de Plougastel rose to her feet to cover the Marquis with her body. But she still clung to his arm, clung to it with unsuspected strength that continued to prevent him from attempting to use the pistol.
"Andre! For God's sake, Andre!" she panted hoarsely over her shoulder.
"Stand away, madame," he commanded her again, more sternly, "and let this murderer take his due. He is jeopardizing all our lives, and his own has been forfeit these years. Stand away!" He sprang forward with intent now to fire at his enemy over her shoulder, and Aline moved too late to hinder him.
Panting, gasping, haggard of face, on the verge almost of hysteria, the distracted Countess flung at last an effective, a terrible barrier between the hatred of those men, each intent upon taking the other's life.
"He is your father, Andre! Gervais, he is your son—our son! The letter there...on the table...O my God!" And she slipped nervelessly to the ground, and crouched there sobbing at the feet of M. de La Tour d'Azyr.
CHAPTER XV. SAFE-CONDUCT
Across the body of that convulsively sobbing woman, the mother of one and the mistress of the other, the eyes of those mortal enemies met, invested with a startled, appalled interest that admitted of no words.
Beyond the table, as if turned to stone by this culminating horror of revelation, stood Aline.
M. de La Tour d'Azyr was the first to stir. Into his bewildered mind came the memory of something that Mme. de Plougastel had said of a letter that was on the table. He came forward, unhindered. The announcement made, Mme. de Plougastel no longer feared the sequel, and so she let him go. He walked unsteadily past this new-found son of his, and took up the sheet that lay beside the candlebranch. A long moment he stood reading it, none heeding him. Aline's eyes were all on Andre-Louis, full of wonder and commiseration, whilst Andre-Louis was staring down, in stupefied fascination, at his mother.
M. de La Tour d'Azyr read the letter slowly through. Then very quietly he replaced it. His next concern, being the product of an artificial age sternly schooled in the suppression of emotion, was to compose himself. Then he stepped back to Mme. de Plougastel's side and stooped to raise her.
"Therese," he said.
Obeying, by instinct, the implied command, she made an effort to rise and to control herself in her turn. The Marquis half conducted, half carried her to the armchair by the table.
Andre-Louis looked on. Still numbed and bewildered, he made no attempt to assist. He saw as in a dream the Marquis bending over Mme. de Plougastel. As in a dream he heard him ask:
"How long have you known this, Therese?"
"I...I have always known it...always. I confided him to Kercadiou. I saw him once as a child...Oh, but what of that?"
"Why was I never told? Why did you deceive me? Why did you tell me that this child had died a few days after birth? Why, Therese? Why?"
"I was afraid. I...I thought it better so—that nobody, nobody, not even you, should know. And nobody has known save Quintin until last night, when to induce him to come here and save me he was forced to tell him."
"But I, Therese?" the Marquis insisted. "It was my right to know."
"Your right? What could you have done? Acknowledge him? And then? Ha!" It was a queer, desperate note of laughter. "There was Plougastel; there was my family. And there was you...you, yourself, who had ceased to care, in whom the fear of discovery had stifled love. Why should I have told you, then? Why? I should not have told you now had there been any other way to...to save you both. Once before I suffered just such dreadful apprehensions when you and he fought in the Bois. I was on my way to prevent it when you met me. I would have divulged the truth, as a last resource, to avert that horror. But mercifully God spared me the necessity then."
It had not occurred to any of them to doubt her statement, incredible though it might seem. Had any done so her present words must have resolved all doubt, explaining as they did much that to each of her listeners had been obscure until this moment.
M. de La Tour d'Azyr, overcome; reeled away to a chair and sat down heavily. Losing command of himself for a moment, he took his haggard face in his hands.
Through the windows open to the garden came from the distance the faint throbbing of a drum to remind them of what was happening around them. But the sound went unheeded. To each it must have seemed that here they were face to face with a horror greater than any that might be tormenting Paris. At last Andre-Louis began to speak, his voice level and unutterably cold.
"M. de La Tour d'Azyr," he said, "I trust that you'll agree that this disclosure, which can hardly be more distasteful and horrible to you than it is to me, alters nothing,—since it effaces nothing of all that lies between us. Or, if it alters anything, it is merely to add something to that score. And yet...Oh, but what can it avail to talk! Here, monsieur, take this safe-conduct which is made out for Mme. de Plougastel's footman, and with it make your escape as best you can. In return I will beg of you the favour never to allow me to see you or hear of you again."
"Andre!" His mother swung upon him with that cry. And yet again that question. "Have you no heart? What has he ever done to you that you should nurse so bitter a hatred of him?"
"You shall hear, madame. Once, two years ago in this very room I told you of a man who had brutally killed my dearest friend and debauched the girl I was to have married. M. de La Tour d'Azyr is that man."
A moan was her only answer. She covered her face with her hands.
The Marquis rose slowly to his feet again. He came slowly forward, his smouldering eyes scanning his son's face.
"You are hard," he said grimly. "But I recognize the hardness. It derives from the blood you bear."
"Spare me that," said Andre-Louis.
The Marquis inclined his head. "I will not mention it again. But I desire that you should at least understand me, and you too, Therese. You accuse me, sir, of murdering your dearest friend. I will admit that the means employed were perhaps unworthy. But what other means were at my command to meet an urgency that every day since then proves to have existed? M. de Vilmorin was a revolutionary, a man of new ideas that should overthrow society and rebuild it more akin to the desires of such as himself. I belonged to the order that quite as justifiably desired society to remain as it was. Not only was it better so for me and mine, but I also contend, and you have yet to prove me wrong, that it is better so for all the world; that, indeed, no other conceivable society is possible. Every human society must of necessity be composed of several strata. You may disturb it temporarily into an amorphous whole by a revolution such as this; but only temporarily. Soon out of the chaos which is all that you and your kind can ever produce, order must be restored or life will perish; and with the restoration of order comes the restoration of the various strata necessary to organized society. Those that were yesterday at the top may in the new order of things find themselves dispossessed without any benefit to the whole. That change I resisted. The spirit of it I fought with whatever weapons were available, whenever and wherever I encountered it. M. de Vilmorin was an incendiary of the worst type, a man of eloquence full of false ideals that misled poor ignorant men into believing that the change proposed could make the world a better place for them. You are an intelligent man, and I defy you to answer me from your heart and conscience that such a thing was true or possible. You know that it is untrue; you know that it is a pernicious doctrine; and what made it worse on the lips of M. de Vilmorin was that he was sincere and eloquent. His voice was a danger that must be removed—silenced. So much was necessary in self-defence. In self-defence I did it. I had no grudge against M. de Vilmorin. He was a man of my own class; a gentleman of pleasant ways, amiable, estimable, and able.
"You conceive me slaying him for the very lust of slaying, like some beast of the jungle flinging itself upon its natural prey. That has been your error from the first. I did what I did with the very heaviest heart—oh, spare me your sneer!—I do not lie, I have never lied. And I swear to you here and now, by my every hope of Heaven, that what I say is true. I loathed the thing I did. Yet for my own sake and the sake of my order I must do it. Ask yourself whether M. de Vilmorin would have hesitated for a moment if by procuring my death he could have brought the Utopia of his dreams a moment nearer realization.
"After that. You determined that the sweetest vengeance would be to frustrate my ends by reviving in yourself the voice that I had silenced, by yourself carrying forward the fantastic apostleship of equality that was M. de Vilmorin's. You lacked the vision that would have shown you that God did not create men equals. Well, you are in case to-night to judge which of us was right, which wrong. You see what is happening here in Paris. You see the foul spectre of Anarchy stalking through a land fallen into confusion. Probably you have enough imagination to conceive something of what must follow. And do you deceive yourself that out of this filth and ruin there will rise up an ideal form of society? Don't you understand that society must re-order itself presently out of all this?
"But why say more? I must have said enough to make you understand the only thing that really matters—that I killed M. de Vilmorin as a matter of duty to my order. And the truth—which though it may offend you should also convince you—is that to-night I can look back on the deed with equanimity, without a single regret, apart from what lies between you and me.
"When, kneeling beside the body of your friend that day at Gavrillac, you insulted and provoked me, had I been the tiger you conceived me I must have killed you too. I am, as you may know, a man of quick passions. Yet I curbed the natural anger you aroused in me, because I could forgive an affront to myself where I could not overlook a calculated attack upon my order."
He paused a moment. Andre-Louis stood rigid listening and wondering. So, too, the others. Then M. le Marquis resumed, on a note of less assurance. "In the matter of Mlle. Binet I was unfortunate. I wronged you through inadvertence. I had no knowledge of the relations between you."
Andre-Louis interrupted him sharply at last with a question: "Would it have made a difference if you had?"
"No," he was answered frankly. "I have the faults of my kind. I cannot pretend that any such scruple as you suggest would have weighed with me. But can you—if you are capable of any detached judgment—blame me very much for that?"
"All things considered, monsieur, I am rapidly being forced to the conclusion that it is impossible to blame any man for anything in this world; that we are all of us the sport of destiny. Consider, monsieur, this gathering—this family gathering—here to-night, whilst out there...O my God, let us make an end! Let us go our ways and write 'finis' to this horrible chapter of our lives."
M. le La Tour considered him gravely, sadly, in silence for a moment.
"Perhaps it is best," he said, at length, in a small voice. He turned to Mme. de Plougastel. "If a wrong I have to admit in my life, a wrong that I must bitterly regret, it is the wrong that I have done to you, my dear..."
"Not now, Gervais! Not now!" she faltered, interrupting him.
"Now—for the first and the last time. I am going. It is not likely that we shall ever meet again—that I shall ever see any of you again—you who should have been the nearest and dearest to me. We are all, he says, the sport of destiny. Ah, but not quite. Destiny is an intelligent force, moving with purpose. In life we pay for the evil that in life we do. That is the lesson that I have learnt to-night. By an act of betrayal I begot unknown to me a son who, whilst as ignorant as myself of our relationship, has come to be the evil genius of my life, to cross and thwart me, and finally to help to pull me down in ruin. It is just—poetically just. My full and resigned acceptance of that fact is the only atonement I can offer you."
He stooped and took one of madame's hands that lay limply in her lap.
"Good-bye, Therese!" His voice broke. He had reached the end of his iron self-control.
She rose and clung to him a moment, unashamed before them. The ashes of that dead romance had been deeply stirred this night, and deep down some lingering embers had been found that glowed brightly now before their final extinction. Yet she made no attempt to detain him. She understood that their son had pointed out the only wise, the only possible course, and was thankful that M. de La Tour d'Azyr accepted it.
"God keep you, Gervais," she murmured. "You will take the safe-conduct, and...and you will let me know when you are safe?"
He held her face between his hands an instant; then very gently kissed her and put her from him. Standing erect, and outwardly calm again, he looked across at Andre-Louis who was proffering him a sheet of paper.
"It is the safe-conduct. Take it, monsieur. It is my first and last gift to you, and certainly the last gift I should ever have thought of making you—the gift of life. In a sense it makes us quits. The irony, sir, is not mine, but Fate's. Take it, monsieur, and go in peace."
M. de La Tour d'Azyr took it. His eyes looked hungrily into the lean face confronting him, so sternly set. He thrust the paper into his bosom, and then abruptly, convulsively, held out his hand. His son's eyes asked a question.
"Let there be peace between us, in God's name," said the Marquis thickly.
Pity stirred at last in Andre-Louis. Some of the sternness left his face. He sighed. "Good-bye, monsieur," he said.
"You are hard," his father told him, speaking wistfully. "But perhaps you are in the right so to be. In other circumstances I should have been proud to have owned you as my son. As it is..." He broke off abruptly, and as abruptly added, "Good-bye."
He loosed his son's hand and stepped back. They bowed formally to each other. And then M. de La Tour d'Azyr bowed to Mlle. de Kercadiou in utter silence, a bow that contained something of utter renunciation, of finality.
That done he turned and walked stiffly out of the room, and so out of all their lives. Months later they were to hear if him in the service of the Emperor of Austria.
CHAPTER XVI. SUNRISE
Andre-Louis took the air next morning on the terrace at Meudon. The hour was very early, and the newly risen sun was transmuting into diamonds the dewdrops that still lingered on the lawn. Down in the valley, five miles away, the morning mists were rising over Paris. Yet early as it was that house on the hill was astir already, in a bustle of preparation for the departure that was imminent.
Andre-Louis had won safely out of Paris last night with his mother and Aline, and to-day they were to set out all of them for Coblenz.
To Andre-Louis, sauntering there with hands clasped behind him and head hunched between his shoulders—for life had never been richer in material for reflection—came presently Aline through one of the glass doors from the library.
"You're early astir," she greeted him.
"Faith, yes. I haven't been to bed. No," he assured her, in answer to her exclamation. "I spent the night, or what was left of it, sitting at the window thinking."
"My poor Andre!"
"You describe me perfectly. I am very poor—for I know nothing, understand nothing. It is not a calamitous condition until it is realized. Then..." He threw out his arms, and let them fall again. His face she observed was very drawn and haggard.
She paced with him along the old granite balustrade over which the geraniums flung their mantle of green and scarlet.
"Have you decided what you are going to do?" she asked him.
"I have decided that I have no choice. I, too, must emigrate. I am lucky to be able to do so, lucky to have found no one amid yesterday's chaos in Paris to whom I could report myself as I foolishly desired, else I might no longer be armed with these." He drew from his pocket the powerful passport of the Commission of Twelve, enjoining upon all Frenchmen to lend him such assistance as he might require, and warning those who might think of hindering him that they did so at their own peril. He spread it before her. "With this I conduct you all safely to the frontier. Over the frontier M. de Kercadiou and Mme. de Plougastel will have to conduct me; and then we shall be quits."
"Quits?" quoth she. "But you will be unable to return!"
"You conceive, of course, my eagerness to do so. My child, in a day or two there will be enquiries. It will be asked what has become of me. Things will transpire. Then the hunt will start. But by then we shall be well upon our way, well ahead of any possible pursuit. You don't imagine that I could ever give the government any satisfactory explanation of my absence—assuming that any government remains to which to explain it?"
"You mean...that you will sacrifice your future, this career upon which you have embarked?" It took her breath away.
"In the pass to which things have come there is no career for me down there—at least no honest one. And I hope you do not think that I could be dishonest. It is the day of the Dantons, and the Marats, the day of the rabble. The reins of government will be tossed to the populace, or else the populace, drunk with the conceit with which the Dantons and the Marats have filled it, will seize the reins by force. Chaos must follow, and a despotism of brutes and apes, a government of the whole by its lowest parts. It cannot endure, because unless a nation is ruled by its best elements it must wither and decay."
"I thought you were a republican," said she.
"Why, so I am. I am talking like one. I desire a society which selects its rulers, from the best elements of every class and denies the right of any class or corporation to usurp the government to itself—whether it be the nobles, the clergy, the bourgeoisie, or the proletariat. For government by any one class is fatal to the welfare of the whole. Two years ago our ideal seemed to have been realized. The monopoly of power had been taken from the class that had held it too long and too unjustly by the hollow right of heredity. It had been distributed as evenly as might be throughout the State, and if men had only paused there, all would have been well. But our impetus carried us too far, the privileged orders goaded us on by their very opposition, and the result is the horror of which yesterday you saw no more than the beginnings. No, no," he ended. "Careers there may be for venal place-seekers, for opportunists; but none for a man who desires to respect himself. It is time to go. I make no sacrifice in going."
"But where will you go? What will you do?"
"Oh, something. Consider that in four years I have been lawyer, politician, swordsman, and buffoon—especially the latter. There is always a place in the world for Scaramouche. Besides, do you know that unlike Scaramouche I have been oddly provident? I am the owner of a little farm in Saxony. I think that agriculture might suit me. It is a meditative occupation; and when all is said, I am not a man of action. I haven't the qualities for the part."
She looked up into his face, and there was a wistful smile in her deep blue eyes.
"Is there any part for which you have not the qualities, I wonder?"
"Do you really? Yet you cannot say that I have made a success of any of those which I have played. I have always ended by running away. I am running away now from a thriving fencing-academy, which is likely to become the property of Le Duc. That comes of having gone into politics, from which I am also running away. It is the one thing in which I really excel. That, too, is an attribute of Scaramouche."
"Why will you always be deriding yourself?" she wondered.
"Because I recognize myself for part of this mad world, I suppose. You wouldn't have me take it seriously? I should lose my reason utterly if I did; especially since discovering my parents."
"Don't, Andre!" she begged him. "You are insincere, you know."
"Of course I am. Do you expect sincerity in man when hypocrisy is the very keynote of human nature? We are nurtured on it; we are schooled in it, we live by it; and we rarely realize it. You have seen it rampant and out of hand in France during the past four years—cant and hypocrisy on the lips of the revolutionaries, cant and hypocrisy on the lips of the upholders of the old regime; a riot of hypocrisy out of which in the end is begotten chaos. And I who criticize it all on this beautiful God-given morning am the rankest and most contemptible hypocrite of all. It was this —the realization of this truth kept me awake all night. For two years I have persecuted by every means in my power...M. de La Tour d'Azyr."
He paused before uttering the name, paused as if hesitating how to speak of him.
"And in those two years I have deceived myself as to the motive that was spurring me. He spoke of me last night as the evil genius of his life, and himself he recognized the justice of this. It may be that he was right, and because of that it is probable that even had he not killed Philippe de Vilmorin, things would still have been the same. Indeed, to-day I know that they must have been. That is why I call myself a hypocrite, a poor, self-duping hypocrite."
"But why, Andre?"
He stood still and looked at her. "Because he sought you, Aline. Because in that alone he must have found me ranged against him, utterly intransigeant. Because of that I must have strained every nerve to bring him down—so as to save you from becoming the prey of your own ambition.
"I wish to speak of him no more than I must. After this, I trust never to speak of him again. Before the lines of our lives crossed, I knew him for what he was, I knew the report of him that ran the countryside. Even then I found him detestable. You heard him allude last night to the unfortunate La Binet. You heard him plead, in extenuation of his fault, his mode of life, his rearing. To that there is no answer, I suppose. He conforms to type. Enough! But to me, he was the embodiment of evil, just as you have always been the embodiment of good; he was the embodiment of sin, just as you are the embodiment of purity. I had enthroned you so high, Aline, so high, and yet no higher than your place. Could I, then, suffer that you should be dragged down by ambition, could I suffer the evil I detested to mate with the good I loved? What could have come of it but your own damnation, as I told you that day at Gavrillac? Because of that my detestation of him became a personal, active thing. I resolved to save you at all costs from a fate so horrible. Had you been able to tell me that you loved him it would have been different. I should have hoped that in a union sanctified by love you would have raised him to your own pure heights. But that out of considerations of worldly advancement you should lovelessly consent to mate with him...Oh, it was vile and hopeless. And so I fought him—a rat fighting a lion—fought him relentlessly until I saw that love had come to take in your heart the place of ambition. Then I desisted."
"Until you saw that love had taken the place of ambition!" Tears had been gathering in her eyes whilst he was speaking. Now amazement eliminated her emotion. "But when did you see that? When?"
"I—I was mistaken. I know it now. Yet, at the time...surely, Aline, that morning when you came to beg me not to keep my engagement with him in the Bois, you were moved by concern for him?"
"For him! It was concern for you," she cried, without thinking what she said.
But it did not convince him. "For me? When you knew—when all the world knew what I had been doing daily for a week!"
"Ah, but he, he was different from the others you had met. His reputation stood high. My uncle accounted him invincible; he persuaded me that if you met nothing could save you."
He looked at her frowning.
"Why this, Aline?" he asked her with some sternness. "I can understand that, having changed since then, you should now wish to disown those sentiments. It is a woman's way, I suppose."
"Oh, what are you saying, Andre? How wrong you are! It is the truth I have told you!"
"And was it concern for me," he asked her, "that laid you swooning when you saw him return wounded from the meeting? That was what opened my eyes."
"Wounded? I had not seen his wound. I saw him sitting alive and apparently unhurt in his caleche, and I concluded that he had killed you as he had said he would. What else could I conclude?"
He saw light, dazzling, blinding, and it scared him. He fell back, a hand to his brow. "And that was why you fainted?" he asked incredulously.
She looked at him without answering. As she began to realize how much she had been swept into saying by her eagerness to make him realize his error, a sudden fear came creeping into her eyes.
He held out both hands to her.
"Aline! Aline!" His voice broke on the name. "It was I..."
"O blind Andre, it was always you—always! Never, never did I think of him, not even for loveless marriage, save once for a little while, when...when that theatre girl came into your life, and then..." She broke off, shrugged, and turned her head away. "I thought of following ambition, since there was nothing left to follow."
He shook himself. "I am dreaming, of course, or else I am mad," he said.
"Blind, Andre; just blind," she assured him.
"Blind only where it would have been presumption to have seen."
"And yet," she answered him with a flash of the Aline he had known of old, "I have never found you lack presumption."
M. de Kercadiou, emerging a moment later from the library window, beheld them holding hands and staring each at the other, beatifically, as if each saw Paradise in the other's face.
End of Scaramouche - A Romance Of The French Revolution (Book III - The Sword) by Rafael Sabatini