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."
"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.
"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.