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Chapter 18 THE MASTER OF IRONIES

  • So they stood for some moments, the one with eyes glaring, the other wit_uiet scrutiny.
  • "It appears to agree with you here," began the marquis. There was not th_lightest tremor in his voice.
  • "You?" said the son.
  • The marquis winced inwardly: that pronoun was so pregnant with surprise, contempt, anger, and indignation! "Yes, it is I, your paternal parent."
  • "And you could not leave me in peace, even here?" The son stepped, back an_trained his arms across his chest.
  • "From your tone it would seem so." The marquis sat down. A fit of tremblin_ad seized his legs. How the boy had changed in three months! He looked like _od, an Egyptian god, with that darkened skin; and the tilt of the chi_ecalled the mother.
  • "I had hoped never to look upon your face again," coldly.
  • The marquis waved his hand. "Life is a page of disappointments, with a margi_f realized expectations which is narrow indeed. Will you not sit down?"
  • "I prefer to stand. It is safer for you with the table between us."
  • "Your sword was close to my heart one night. I made no effort to repulse it."
  • "Heaven was not quite ready for you, Monsieur."
  • "Heaven or Hell. There seems to be gall in your blood yet."
  • "Who put it there?" The Chevalier was making an effort to control his passion.
  • "I put it there, it is true. But did you not stir a trifle too well?"
  • "Why are you here? What is your purpose?"
  • "I have been three months on the water; I have been without my accustome_anary and honey; I have dined upon salt meats till my tongue and stomach ar_arched like corn. Have you no welcome?"
  • The Chevalier laughed.
  • "They haven't tamed you, then?" The marquis drew circles in the spilled salt.
  • "Have you become … great and respected?"
  • The thrust went deep. A pallor formed under the Chevalier's tan. "I have mad_ome progress, Monsieur. If any laugh, they do so behind my back."
  • The marquis nodded approvingly.
  • "Have you come all this journey to mock me?"
  • "Well," the father confessed, "I do not like the way you say 'you'."
  • They rested. The marquis breathed the easier of the two.
  • "Monsieur, I have not much time to spare. What has brought you here?"
  • "Why am I here? I have come to do my flesh and blood a common justice. I_rance you did not give me time."
  • "Justice?" ironically. "Is that not a new word in your vocabulary?"
  • "I have always known the word; there were some delicate shades which _verlooked. I lied to you."
  • The Chevalier started.
  • "It was a base lie, unworthy of a gentleman and a father." The marquis fumble_t his lips. "The lie has kept me rather wakeful. Anger burns quickly, and th_shes are bitter. I am a proud man, but there is no flaw in my pride. You ar_y lawful son."
  • "What! Have you gone to the trouble of having me legitimatized?" with _errible laugh.
  • "I shall never lose my temper again," retorted the father, a ghost of a smil_arting his thin lips. "Let us put aside antagonism for the present. Let u_nalyze my action. Why should I go to the trouble of having your titl_djusted by parliamentary law? I am too old for Paris; Paris shall see me n_ore. Am I a man to run after sentimentality? You will scarce accuse me o_hat weakness. Were you aught but what you are, I should be dining i_ochelle, with all my accustomed comforts. You are successor to my titles.
  • Believe me or not, as to that I am totally indifferent. I am doing what m_ense of justice demands. That is sufficient for me. The night of the day yo_ook passage on the Saint Laurent I called to the hôtel those whilom friend_f yours and charged them on the pain of death to stop a further spread t_our madness. Scarce a dozen in Rochelle know; Paris is wholly ignorant. You_evenues in the Cévennes are accumulating. Return to France, or remain here t_ecome … great and respected; that is no concern of mine. To tell you thes_acts I have crossed the Atlantic. There can be no maudlin sentiment betwee_ou and me; there have been too many harsh words. That is all I have to say.
  • Digest it well."
  • Silence. A breeze, blowing in through a window, stirred the flames of th_andles, and their lines of black smoke wavered horizontally through the air.
  • Monsieur le Marquis waited for the outpouring of thanks, the protestations o_oy, the bending of this proud and haughty spirit. While waiting he did no_ook at his son; rather he busied himself with the stained ruffles of hi_leeve. The pause grew. It was so long that the marquis was compelled finall_o look up. In his cabinet at Périgny he had a small bronze statue of th_oddess Ate: the scowling eyes, the bent brows, the widened nostrils, th_alf-visible row of teeth, all these he saw in the face towering above him.
  • "So that is all you have to say? How easily and complacently you say it!
  • 'Monsieur, the honor I robbed you of I bring back. It is worthless, either t_ou or to me, it is true. Nevertheless, thank me and bid me be gone!' And tha_s all you have to say!"
  • The marquis sat back in his chair, thunderstruck.
  • "It is nothing, then," went on the son, leaning across the table and speakin_n those thin tones of one who represses fury; "it is nothing that men hav_aughed behind my back, insulted me to my face? It is nothing to have trample_n my illusions and bittered the cup of life? It is nothing that I hav_uffered for three months as they in hell suffer for eternity? It is nothin_hat my trust in humanity is gone? All these things are inconsiderable! In _oment of anger you told me this unholy lie, without cause, without definit_urpose, without justice, carelessly, as a pastime?"
  • "Not as a pastime, not carelessly; rather with a definite purpose, to brin_ou to your senses. You were becoming an insolent drunkard."
  • The chevalier stretched out a hand. "We have threshed that subject well. W_ill not recall it."
  • "Very well." The marquis's anger was close to the surface. This was his rewar_or what he understood to be a tremendous personal sacrifice! He had com_hree thousand miles to make a restitution only to receive covert curses fo_is pains! "But I beg of you not to repeat that extravagant play-acting. Thi_lass belongs to Monsieur de Lauson, and it might cost you dear."
  • "Is your heart made of stone or of steel that you think you can undo what yo_ave done? Can I believe you? How am I to tell that you are not doubling o_he lie? Is not all this because you are afraid to die without succession, th_ear that men will laugh?"
  • "I am not afraid of anything," sharply; "not even of ridicule."
  • "Well, Monsieur le Marquis, neither am I. You have wasted your time."
  • "So I perceive," sourly. "A letter would have been more to the purpose."
  • "It would indeed. It is the sight of you, Monsieur, that rouses fury an_nbelief. We ought never to meet again."
  • "I will go at once," making a movement to rise.
  • "Wait till I have done. You will do well to listen, as I swear to God I shal_ever address a word to you again. Your death-bed shall be no more to me tha_y heart has been to you. Ah, could I but find a way to wring your heart a_ou have wrung mine! You have wasted your time. I shall never resume my title, if indeed I have one; I shall never return to France. Do as you please with m_states. There is an abyss between us; you can never cross it, and I shal_ever make the attempt."
  • "Supposing I had a heart," quietly; "how would you go about to wring it?"
  • "There are easier riddles, Monsieur. If you waked to the sense of what it i_o love, waked as a sleeping volcano wakes, and I knew the object of thi_ove, it is possible that I might find a way to wring your heart. But I refus_o concern myself with such ridiculous impossibilities."
  • It was the tone, not the words, that cut; but the marquis gave no sign. He wa_ired physically and felt himself mentally incompetent to play at repartee.
  • Besides, he had already lost too much through his love of this double-edge_word.
  • "Suppose it was belated paternal love, as well as the sense of justice, tha_rings me into this desert?" The Chevalier never knew what it cost the prou_ld man to utter these words.
  • "Monsieur," laughing rudely, "you are, and always will be, the keenest wit i_rance!"
  • "I am an old man," softly. "It is something to acknowledge that I did you _rong."
  • "You have brought the certificate of my birth?" bluntly.
  • "I searched for it, but unfortunately I could not find it;" and a shadow o_orry crossed the marquis's face. For the first time in his life he becam_onscious of incompleteness, of having missed something in the flight. "I hav_old you the truth. I can say no more. I had some hope that we might stan_gain upon the old footing."
  • "I shall not even visit your grave."
  • "I might turn over, it is true," a flare in the grey eyes. "And, after all, _ave a heart."
  • "Good heaven! Monsieur, your mind wanders!" the Chevalier exclaimed.
  • The marquis swept the salt from the table. The movement was not impatient; rather resigned. "There is nothing more to be said. You may go. Our path_hall not cross again."
  • The Chevalier bowed, turned, and walked toward the door through which he ha_ntered. He stopped at the threshold and looked back. The grey eyes met gre_yes; but the son's burned with hate. The marquis, listening, heard the sof_at of moccasined feet. He was alone. He scowled, but not with anger. Th_hill of stone lay upon his flesh.
  • "It is my blood," he mused; "my blood and hers: mine the pride of the brain, hers the pride of the heart. I have lost something; what is it?" He sli_orward in his chair, his head sunk between his shoulders. Thus the governor, returning, found him.
  • As for the Chevalier, on leaving his father he had a vague recollection o_assing into one of the council chambers, attracted possibly by the lights.
  • Tumult was in his heart, chaos in his brain; rage and exultation, unbelief an_redulity. He floated, drifted, dreamed. His father! It was so fantastic. Tha_ynical, cruel old man here in Quebec!—to render common justice! … A lie! H_ad lied, then, that mad night? There was a ringing in the Chevalier's ear_nd a blurring in his eyes. He raised his clenched hands, only to drop the_imply, impotently. All these months wasted, all these longings and regret_or nothing, all this suffering to afford Monsieur le Marquis the momentar_leasure of seeing his own flesh and blood writhe! Hate. As hot lead sink_nto the flesh, so this word sank into the Chevalier's soul, blotting ou_harity and forgiveness. Forgive? His laughter rang out hard and sinister.
  • Only God could forgive such a wrong. How that wrinkled face roused the veno_n his soul! Was the marquis telling the truth? Had he lied? Was not this th_ulmination of the series of tortures the marquis had inflicted upon him al_hese years: to let him fly once more, only to drag him down into swallowin_ire from which he might never rise? And yet … if it were true!—and the pal_f shame and ignominy were lifted! The Chevalier grew faint.
  • Diane! From beyond the wilderness spoke a voice, the luring voice of love.
  • Diane! He was free to seek her; no barrier stood between. He could return t_rance. Her letter! He drew it forth, his hands trembling like a woman's.
  • "France is large. If you love me you will find me. … I kiss your handsome gre_yes a thousand times." There was still the delicate odor of vervain—he_erfume—clinging to it. Ah, if that terrible old man were not lying again! I_e but spoke the truth!
  • As he strode back and forth his foot struck something. He bent and picked u_he object. It was a grey mask with a long curtain. He carried it to th_andle-light and inspected it. A grey mask: what was such a thing doing i_uebec? There were no masks in Quebec save those which nature herself gave t_an, that ever-changing mask called the human face. A grey mask: what did i_ecall to him? Ah! Like a bar of light the memory of it returned to him. Th_ysterious woman of the Corne d'Abondance! But this mask could not be hers, since she was by now in Spain. With a movement almost unconscious he held th_ilken fabric close to his face and inhaled … vervain!
  • "Monsieur," said a soft but thrilling voice from the doorway, "will you retur_o me my mask, which I dropped in this room a few moments ago?"
  • As he raised his head the woman stopped, transfixed.
  • "Diane?" leaped from the Chevalier's lips. He caught the back of a chair t_teady himself. He was mad, he knew he was mad; it had come at last, thi_oosing of reason.