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Chapter 16 THE POET EXPLAINS TO MONSIEUR DE LAUSON

  • By the next morning all Quebec had heard of the double duel, and speculatio_an high as to the cause. All Quebec, to be sure, amounted only to a fe_undreds; and a genuine duel at this period was a rare happening. So everybod_new that D'Hérouville and De Leviston were in hospital, seriously though no_angerously wounded, and that Monsieur de Saumaise was in the guardhouse, where, it was supposed, he would remain for some time to come, in order tha_is hot blood might cool appreciably. As for Monsieur d'Halluys, he was no_nder the governor's direct jurisdiction, and was simply ordered to stay i_is room.
  • The officers and civilians respected the governor's command, and no outside_athered a word of information from them. The officers, talking amon_hemselves, secretly admired the poet's pluck. Like all men of evil repute, D_eviston was a first-class swordsman and the poet's stroke had lessened hi_ame. As for what had caused the fight between the vicomte and D'Hérouville, they were somewhat at a loss to say or account for. The governor himself wa_xceedingly wrathful. At ten o'clock he summoned Victor to appear before him, to render a full account of the affair. The savages made life hazardou_nough, without the additional terror of duels.
  • Victor found the governor alone, and for this he was thankful.
  • "Monsieur de Saumaise," De Lauson began, sternly, "I gave you credit for bein_ young man of sense."
  • "And a man of heart, too, your Excellency, I hope," replied the poet, valiantly.
  • "Heart? Is it heart to break the edict, to upset the peace of my household, t_et tongues wagging? Persons will want to know the cause of this foolish duel.
  • I am positive that it was fought contrary to the Chevalier's wishes. H_onducted himself admirably last night. You have done more harm than good wit_our impetuosity. My command would have been respected, and your friend'_isfortune would have gone no farther than my dining-room."
  • "And Monsieur de Leviston?" with a shade of irony which escaped the governor.
  • "Would have remained silent on the pain of being sent back to France, wher_he Bastille awaits him. He was exiled to this country, and he may not leav_t till the year sixty. De Maisonneuve would have stood by me in the matter.
  • So you see that you have blundered in the worst possible manner."
  • "And the Vicomte d'Halluys?"
  • "If D'Hérouville dies, the vicomte shall return to France in irons."
  • "Monsieur," with a sign of heat, "there are some insults which can not b_reated with contempt. I should have proved myself a false friend and a cowar_ad I done otherwise than I did."
  • "What does the Chevalier say about your fighting his battles for him?" aske_he governor, quietly.
  • Victor's gaze rested on his boots.
  • "He doesn't approve, then?" The governor drummed with his fingers. "I though_s much. At your age I was young myself. Youth sees affronts where it ought t_ee caution and circumspection."
  • "When I have arrived at your Excellency's age …"
  • "No sarcasm, if you please. You are still under arrest."
  • Victor bowed, and twirled his hat, which was sadly in need of a new plume.
  • "I warn you, if De Leviston dies I shall hang you high from one of th_hevalier's gibbets on Orléans. If he lives, I shall keep in touch with you_uture conduct, Monsieur; so take good care of yourself."
  • "De Leviston will not die. Such men as he do not die honestly in bed. But h_as only a puppet in this instance."
  • "A puppet? Explain."
  • "There was another who prompted him from behind."
  • "Who?" sharply.
  • "I am afraid that at present I can not name him."
  • "D'Hérouville? Be careful, Monsieur; this is a grave accusation you ar_aking. You will be forced to prove it." The governor looked worried; for t_im the Comte d'Hérouville was a great noble.
  • "I did not name him. There was a woman behind all this; a woman who is th_nnocent cause."
  • "Ha! a woman?" The governor leaned forward on his elbows.
  • "Yes."
  • "Who?"
  • "Mademoiselle de Longueville. D'Hérouville insulted her and the Chevalier too_p her cause."
  • "Why, then, did you not pick your quarrel with the count?"
  • "The vicomte had some prior claim."
  • The governor got up and walked about, biting his mustache. Victor eyed hi_ith some anxiety.
  • "But the Chevalier; why did he not defend himself?"
  • Victor breathed impatiently. "Frankly, Monsieur, how can he defend himself?"
  • "True." The governor scrubbed his beard. He was in a quandary and knew no_hich way to move. Tardy decision was the stumbling-block in the path of thi_ell meaning man. Problems irritated him; and in his secret heart he wished h_ad never seen the Chevalier, D'Hérouville, the poet, or the vicomte, sinc_hey upset his quiet. He had enough to do with public affairs without havin_rivate ones thrust gratuitously upon his care. "Well, well," he said, reseating himself; "you know my wishes. Nothing but publicity will come o_uels and brawls, and publicity is the last thing the Chevalier is seeking. _eel genuinely sorry for him. The stain on his name does not prevent him fro_eing a brave man and a gentleman. Control yourself, Monsieur de Saumaise, an_he day will come when you will thank me for the advice. As you have n_ncentive for running away, I will put you on your word, and the vicomte also.
  • You may go. While I admire the spirit which led you to take up the Chevalier'_ause, I deplore it. Who, then, will succeed Monsieur le Marquis?"
  • "That is a question I can not answer. To the best of my knowledge, no one wil_ucceed Monsieur le Marquis de Périgny."
  • "So this is what brought him over here? What brought you?"
  • "Friendship for him, an empty purse and a pocketful of ambition."
  • The answer pleased De Lauson, and he nodded. "That is all."
  • "Thank you, Monsieur."
  • "I shall keep you in mind … if you escape the gibbet."
  • Monsieur de Saumaise, in displaying his teeth, signified that the least of hi_orries was the thought of the gibbet.
  • And so concluded the interview.
  • The Chevalier remained in his room all day, putting aside his food, an_taring beyond the river. His eyes were dull and the lids discolored fro_leeplessness. Victor waited for him to heap reproach upon him; but never _ord did the Chevalier utter. The only sign he gave of the volcano raging an_urning beneath the thin mask of calm was the ceaseless knotting of th_uscles of the jaw and the compressed lips. When the poet broke forth, reviling his own conduct, the Chevalier silenced him with a gesture of th_and.
  • "You are wasting your breath. What you have done can not be undone." The tone_f his voice were all on a dull level, cold and unimpassioned.
  • Victor was struck with admiration at the sight of such extraordinary control; and he trembled to think of the whirlwind which would some day be let loose.
  • "I will kill De Leviston the first opportunity," he said.
  • The Chevalier arose. "No, lad; the man who told him. He is mine!"
  • Victor sought out Brother Jacques for advice; but Brother Jacques's advice wa_imilar to the Chevalier's and the governors.
  • So the day wore on into evening, and only then did the Chevalier ventur_orth. He wandered aimlessly about the ramparts, alone, having decline_ictor's company, and avoiding all whom he saw. He wanted to be alone, alone, forever alone. Longingly he gazed toward the blackening forests. Yonder was _aven. Into those shadowy woods he might plunge and hide himself, built him _ut, and become lost to civilization, his name forgotten and his nam_orgetting. O fool in wine that he had been! To cut himself off from the joy_nd haunts of men in a moment of drunken insanity! He had driven the marqui_ith taunts and gibes; he had shouted his ignoble birth across a table; and h_xpected, by coming to this wilderness, to lose the Nemesis he himself had se_pon his heels! What a fool! What a fool! He had cast out his heart for th_ooks and the daws. Wherever he might go, the world would go also, and th_overt smile … and the covert smile … God, how apart from all mankind h_eemed this night. But for Victor he would have sought the woods at once, facing the Iroquois fearlessly. He must remain, to bow his head before th_lances of the curious, the head that once was held so high; accept rebuff_ithout murmur, stand aside, step down, and follow. If a man laughed at him, he must turn away: his sword could no longer protect him. How his lip_hirsted for the wine-cup, for one mad night, and then … oblivion! An outcast!
  • What would be his end? O the long years! For him there should be no wifel_ips to kiss away the penciled lines of care; the happy voices of childre_ould never make music in his ears. He was alone, always and ever alone!
  • Presently the Chevalier bowed his head upon the cold iron of the cannon. Th_rimson west grew fainter and fainter; and the evening breeze came up an_tirred the Company's flags on the warehouses far below.
  • Suddenly the Chevalier lifted his head. He was still an officer and _entleman. He would stand taller, look into each eye and dare with his own. I_as not what he had been, nor what had been done to him; it was what he was, would be and do. If every hand was to be against his, so be it. D'Hérouville?
  • Some day that laugh should cost him dear. The vicomte? What was his misfortun_o the vicomte that he should pick a quarrel on his account? Was he a gallan_ellow like Victor? He would learn.
  • He put on his hat. It was dark. Lights began to flicker in the fort and th_hâteau. The resolution seemed to give him new strength, and he squared hi_houlders, took in deep breaths, entered the officers' mess and dined.
  • The men about him were for the most part manly men, brave, open-handed, roug_utwardly and soft within. And as they saw him take his seat quietly, _parkle of admiration gleamed from every eye. The vicomte and Victor, both ou_n parole, took their plates and glasses and ranged alongside of th_hevalier. In France they would have either left the room or cheered him; a_t was, they all finished the evening meal as if nothing extraordinary ha_appened.
  • So the Chevalier won his first victory.