Chapter 9 THE FIFTY PISTOLES OF MONSIEUR LE VICOMTE
The roisterers went their devious ways, sobered and subdued. So deep was thei_istraction that the watch passed unmolested. Usually a rout was rounded ou_nd finished by robbing the watch of their staffs and lanterns; by singing i_ront of the hôtel of the mayor or the episcopal palace; by yielding to an_xtravagant whim suggested by mischief. But to-night mischief itself was quie_nd uninventive. Had there been a violent death among them, the roisterer_ould have accepted the event with drunken philosophy. The catastrophe of thi_ight, however, was beyond their imagination: they were still-voiced an_orrified. The Chevalier du Cévennes, that prince of good fellows … was _obody, a son of the left hand! Those who owed the Chevalier money o_ratitude now recollected with no small satisfaction that they had not pai_heir indebtedness. Truly adversity is the crucible in which the quality o_riendship is tried.
On the way to the Corne d'Abondance the self-made victim of this night'_adness and his friend exchanged no words. There was nothing to be said. Bu_here was death in the Chevalier's heart; his chin was sunken in his collar, and he bore heavily on Victor's arm; from time to time he hiccoughed. Victo_it his lips to repress the sighs which urged against them.
"Where do you wish to go, Paul?" he asked, when they arrived under the gree_antern and tarnished cherubs of the tavern.
"Have I still a place to go?" the Chevalier asked. "Ah well, lead on, whereve_ou will; I am in your keeping."
So together they entered the tavern.
"Maître," said Victor to le Borgne, "is the private assembly in use?"
"No, Monsieur; you wish to use it?"
"Yes; and see that no one disturbs us."
In passing through the common assembly, Victor saw Du Puys and Bouchard i_onversation with the Jesuits. Brother Jacques glanced carelessly in th_hevalier's direction, frowned at some thought, and turned his head away. Th_roquois had fallen asleep in a chair close to the fire. In a far corne_ictor discovered the form of the Vicomte d'Halluys; he was apparentl_leeping on his arms, which were extended across the table.
"Why do I dislike that man?" Victor asked in thought. "There is something i_is banter which strikes me as coming from a man consumed either by hate o_nvy." He pushed the Chevalier into the private assembly, followed and close_he door.
"Ah!" The Chevalier sank into a chair. "Three hours ago I was laughing an_rinking in this room. Devil take me, but time flies!"
"God knows, Paul," said Victor, brokenly, "what you have done this night. Yo_re mad, mad! What are you going to do? You have publicly branded yourself a_he illegitimate son of the marquis."
"It is true," simply.
"True or false, you have published it without cause or reason. Good God! an_hey will laugh at you; and I will kill all who laugh in my presence. Wha_adness!" Victor flung his hat on the table, strode the length of the room, beating his hands and rumpling his hair.
"How you go on, Victor!" said the Chevalier with half a smile. "And you lov_e still?"
"And will, to the latest breath in my body. I know of no other man I love s_holly as I love you."
"I would lose two marquisates rather than be without this knowledge."
"But oh! what have you done? To-morrow … What will you do to-morrow?"
"To-morrow? A bottle of wine, lad; and wherefore to-morrow? To-morrow? Ther_ill always be a tomorrow. The world began on one and will end on one. So giv_e wine, bubbling with lies, false promises, phantom happiness, mockery an_espair. Each bottle is but lies; and yet how well each bottle tells them!
Wine, Victor; do you hear me? I must never come sober again; in drunkenness, there lies oblivion. What! shall I come sober … to feel, to care? … to hea_hem laugh? No, no! See!" brushing his forehead, beaded with moisture; "I a_weating gall, lad. God!" striking the table with his fist; "could you bu_ook within and see the lust to kill, the damnation and despair! Woe to hi_hom I hear laugh! And yet … he will be within his rights. Whenever men tir_f torturing animals, nature gives them a cripple or a bastard to play with.
And look! I am calm, my hand no longer shakes."
Victor leaned against the chimney, haggard of face, silent of tongue.
The Chevalier took out a letter and held it close to the candle-light. H_ighed. Victor saw that he was not looking at the letter, but through it an_eyond. Some time passed.
"And, Victor, I was going back to Paris to-morrow, to life and to love. Withi_his scented envelope a woman has written the equivalent of 'I love you!' a_nly a loving woman can write it. How quickly the candle would eat it! Bu_hall I destroy it? No. Rather let me keep it to remind myself what was an_hat might have been. Far away from here I shall read it again and again, til_t crumbles in my hand and scatters into dust." He hid the letter in hi_oublet and drew forth a miniature. Like a ruddy ember it lay in his hand.
"Paris! O prince of cities, there lies upon your stones the broken cup whic_eld my youth!" The yellow of the candle and the red of the fire gave _ingularly rich tone to his face, from which the dullness of intoxication wa_uddenly gone.
"Paul, you are breaking my heart," cried Victor, choking. His poet's soul, an_nly such as his, could comprehend how full was the Chevalier's cup of misery.
"Only women's hearts break, lad, and then in verse. Shall I weep? No. Let m_augh; for, my faith, it is laughable. I brought it on myself. Fate led me t_he precipice, and I myself jumped over. Yesterday I had pride, I was heir t_plendid estates, with forty thousand livres the year to spend. To-night … Le_e see; the vicomte owes me fifty pistoles. It will be a start in life … An_uch have I snuffed besides candles to-night! By all means, let me laugh."
This irony overcame Victor, who sat down, covered his face, and wep_oiselessly.
"You weep? And I … I am denied the joy of cursing."
"But what made you speak? In God's name, what possessed you to publish thi_isfortune?"
"On my word, Victor, I do not know. Wine, perhaps; perhaps anger, madness, o_hat you will. I know only this: I could not help myself. Poor fool! Yes, _as mad. But he roused within me all the disgust of life, and it struck m_lind. But regret is the cruelest of mental poisons; and there is enough in m_up without that. And that poor marquis; I believe I must have caused him som_nnoyance and chagrin."
"But what will you do?"
"What shall I do? Paris shall see me no more, nor France. I shall go … Yes; thanks, Brother Jacques, thanks! I shall go to that France across the sea an_ecome … a grand seigneur, owning a hut in the wilderness. Monsieur l_hevalier, lately a fop at court will become a habitant of the forests, wil_ear furs, and seek his food by the aid of a musket. It will be a merry life, Victor; no dicing, no tennis, no women, no wine." The Chevalier rested hi_hin in his hands, staring at the candle. "On Thursday next there will be _ask ball at the Palais Royal; but the Chevalier du Cévennes will not be wit_is company. He will be on the way to New France, with many another broke_oldier, to measure his sword against fortune's. And from the camp-fires, lad, I shall conjure up women's faces, and choose among the most patient … m_other's. Vanity!" suddenly. "But for vanity I had not been here. Look, Victor; it was not wine, it was not madness. It was vanity in the shape of _rey cloak, a grey cloak. Will you call Major du Puys?"
"Paul, you can not mean it?"
"Frankly, can I remain in France? Have I not already put France behind me?"
"And what's to become of me?" asked the poet.
"You? Why, you will shortly find Madame de Brissac, marry her, and become _ine country gentleman. And when Mazarin becomes forgetful or dies, you wil_eturn to Paris, your head secure upon your shoulders. As for me, New France, and a fresh quill, and I will be a man yet," smiling. "And I give you th_ontents of my rooms at the Candlestick."
"What! live among these ghosts of happy times? I could not!"
"Well, I will give them to Mignon, then. There is one who will miss me. Wil_ou call the major, or shall I?"
"I will call him, since you are determined."
"I shall take the grey cloak, too, lad. I will wear that token of vanity int_ags. Faith, I have not looked at it once since I loaned it to you."
"And the unknown?"
"When we come to the end of a book, my poet, we lay it down. What woman's lov_ould surmount this birth of mine, these empty pockets? I have still som_eason; that bids me close the book. Yonder, from what I have learned, the_re in need of men's arms and brains, not ancestry, noble birth. And there i_ome good blood in this arm, however it may have come into the world." Th_hevalier extended it across the table and the veins swelled upon the wris_nd hand. "Seek the major, lad."
When the major entered the Chevalier stood up. "Monsieur," he said, "pardon m_or interrupting you, but is it true that to-morrow you sail for Quebec?"
"The weather permitting," answered Du Puys, vaguely wondering why th_hevalier wished to see him. His shrewd glance traveled from the Chevalier t_ictor, and he saw that they had been drinking.
"Thanks," said the Chevalier. "You are recruiting?"
"Yes, Monsieur. I have succeeded indifferently well."
"Is there room in your company for another recruit?"
"You have a friend who wishes to seek his fortune?" smiling grimly.
"I am speaking for myself. I wish to visit that country. Will you accept m_word and services?"
"You, Monsieur?" dumfounded. "You, a common trooper in Quebec? You ar_esting!"
"Not at all. I shall never return to Paris."
"Monsieur le Comte …" began Du Puys.
The Chevalier raised his hand. "Not Monsieur le Comte; simply Monsieur l_hevalier du Cévennes; Cévennes for the sake of brevity."
"Monsieur, then, pardon a frank soldier. The life at Quebec is not at al_uited to one who has been accustomed to the ease and luxury of court. Ther_s all the difference in the world between De Guitaut's company in Paris an_u Puy's ragged band in Quebec. Certainly, a man as rich as yourself …"
"I have not a denier in my pockets," said the Chevalier, with a short laugh.
"Not at present, perhaps," replied Du Puys. "But one does not lose fort_housand livres in a night, and that, I understand, is your revenue."
"I lost them to-night," quietly.
"Forty thousand livres?" gasped the soldier. "You have lost a fortune, then?"
"Yes; and more than that, I have lost the source from which they came, thes_orty thousand livres. I see that you are mystified. Perhaps you will learn i_he morning how I came to lose this fortune. Will you accept my sword?"
"Monsieur," answered Du Puys, "you are in wine. Come to me in the morning; yo_ill have changed your mind."
"And if not?"
"Then I shall give you a place in the company. But, word of honor, I do no_nderstand …"
"It is not necessary that you should. The question is, is my past record as _oldier sufficient?"
"Your courage is well known, Monsieur."
"That is all. Good night, Major. I shall sign your papers at nine to-morrow."
Du Puys returned to his party. They asked questions mutely.
"Father," he said to Chaumonot, "here is a coil. Monsieur le Chevalier d_évennes, son of the Marquis de Périgny, wishes to sign for Quebec."
The Vicomte d'Halluys lifted his head from his arms. But none took notice o_im.
"What!" cried Brother Jacques. "That fop? … in Quebec?"
"It is as I have the honor of telling you," said Du Puys. "There is somethin_oing on. We shall soon learn what it is."
The Vicomte d'Halluys rose and came over to the table. "Do I understand you t_ay that the Chevalier is to sign for Quebec?" His tone possessed _isagreeable quality. He was always insolent in the presence of churchmen.
"Yes, Monsieur," said Du Puys. "You were with him to-night. Perhaps you ca_xplain the Chevalier's extraordinary conduct? He tells me that he has los_orty thousand livres to-night."
"He has, indeed, lost them." The vicomte seemed far away in thought.
"Forty thousand livres?" murmured Brother Jacques. He also forgot those aroun_im. Forty thousand livres, and he had never called one hundred his own!
"Monsieur," repeated the major, "can you account for the Chevalier's strang_ehavior?"
"I can," said the vicomte, "but I refuse. There are looser tongues than mine.
I will say this: the Chevalier will never enter his father's house again, either here, in Paris, or in Périgny. There is hot blood in that family; i_lashed to-night; that is all. Be good to the Chevalier, Messieurs; let him g_o Quebec, for he can not remain in France."
"Has he committed a crime?" asked Du Puys anxiously.
"No, Major," carelessly, "but it seems that some one else has."
"And the Chevalier is shielding him?" asked Brother Jacques.
The vicomte gazed down at the young Jesuit, and smiled contemptuously. "Is h_hielding some one, you ask? I do not say so. But keep your Jesuit ears open; you will hear something to-morrow." Noting with satisfaction the color o_rother Jacques's cheeks, the vicomte turned to Captain Bouchard. "I hav_etermined to take a cabin to Quebec, Monsieur. I have some land near Montrea_hich I wish to investigate."
"You, Monsieur?" said the sailor. "The only cabin-room left is next to mine, and expensive."
"I will pay you in advance. I must go to Quebec. I can not wait."
"Very well, Monsieur."
The vicomte went to the door of the private assembly and knocked boldly.
Victor answered the summons.
"D'Halluys?" cried Victor, stepping back.
"Yes, Monsieur. Pardon the intrusion, but I have something to say to Monsieu_e Chevalier."
He bared his head, looked serenely into Victor's doubting eyes, and turned t_he Chevalier, whose face was without any sign of welcome or displeasure.
"Monsieur," the vicomte began, "it is very embarrassing—Patience, Monsieur d_aumaise!" for Victor had laid his hand upon his sword; "my errand is purel_acific. It is very embarrassing, then, to approach a man so deeply in troubl_s yourself. I know not what madness seized you to-night. I am not here t_ffer you sympathy; sympathy is cheap consolation. I am here to say that n_an shall in my presence speak lightly of your misfortune. Let me be fran_ith you. I have often envied your success in Paris; and there were times whe_his envy was not unmixed with hate. But a catastrophe like that to-nigh_ipes out such petty things as envy and hate."
"Take care, Monsieur," said Victor haughtily. He believed that he caught a_ndercurrent of raillery.
"Why, Monsieur, what have I said?" looking from one to the other.
"Proceed, Vicomte," said the Chevalier, motioning Victor to be quiet. He wa_urious to learn what the vicomte had to say.
"To continue, then: you are a man of extraordinary courage, and I have alway_dmired you even while I envied you. To-night I lost to you some fift_istoles. Give me the happiness of crossing out this trifling debt," and th_icomte counted out fifty golden pistoles which he laid on the table. Ther_as no particle of offense in his actions.
"To prove to you my entire good will, I will place my life into your keeping, Monsieur le Chevalier. Doubtless Saumaise has told you that at present Pari_s uninhabitable both to himself and to me. The shadows of the Bastille an_he block cast their gloom upon us. We have conspired against the head of th_tate, which is Mazarin. There is a certain paper, which, if seen by th_ardinal, will cause the signing of our death warrants. Monsieur de Saumaise, have you any idea who stole your cloak?"
"It was not my cloak, Monsieur," said Victor, with a frown; "it was loaned t_e by Monsieur le Chevalier."
"Yours?" cried the vicomte, turning to the Chevalier.
"Yes." The Chevalier thoughtfully fingered the golden coin. One slippe_hrough his fingers and went jangling along the stone of the floor.
"I was wondering where I had seen it before. Hang me, but this is all prett_ell muddled up. There was a traitor somewhere, or a coward. What think you, Saumaise; does not this look like Gaston of Orléans?"
Victor started. "I never thought of him!"
"Ah! If Gaston has that paper, France is small, Monsieur," said the vicomte, addressing the Chevalier, "I learn that you are bound for Quebec. Come, Saumaise; here is our opportunity. Let the three of us point westward."
Victor remained silent. As oil rises to the surface of water, so rose hi_istrust. He could not shut out the vision of that half-smile of the hou_one.
"Monsieur," said the Chevalier, looking up, "this is like you. You hav_omething of the Bayard in your veins. It takes a man of courage to addres_e, after what has happened. I am become a pariah; he who touches my han_oses caste."
"Bah! Honestly, now, Chevalier, is it not the man rather than the escutcheon?
A trooper is my friend if he has courage; I would not let a coward black m_oots, not if he were a king."
"If ever I have offended you, pray forgive me."
"Offended me? Well, yes," easily. "There was Madame de Flavigny of Normandy; but that was three years ago. Such affairs begin and end quickly. My self-lov_as somewhat knocked about; that was all. If the weather permits, the Sain_aurent will sail at one o'clock. Till then, Messieurs," and bowing gravel_he vicomte retired.
Both Victor and the Chevalier stared, at the door through which the vicomt_anished. Victor frowned; the Chevalier smiled.
"Curse his insolence!" cried the poet, slapping his sword.
"Lad, what an evil mind you have!" said the Chevalier in surprise.
"There is something below all this. Did he pay you those pistoles he lost t_ou in December?"
"To the last coin."
"Have you played with him since?"
"Yes, and won. Last night he won back the amount he lost to me; and with thes_ifty pistoles our accounts are square. What have you against the vicomte? _ave always found him a man. And of all those who called themselves m_riends, has not he alone stood forth?"
"There is some motive," still persisted the poet.
"Time will discover it."
"Oh, the devil, Paul! he loves Madame de Brissac; and my gorge rises at th_ight of him."
"What! is all Paris in love with Madame de Brissac? You have explained you_ntipathy. Every man has a right to love."
"I know it."
"I wonder how it happens that I have never seen this daughter of th_ontbazons?"
"You have your own affair."
"Past tense, my lad, past tense. Now, I wish to be alone. I have some thinkin_o do which requires complete isolation. Go to bed and sleep, and do not worr_bout me. Come at seven; I shall be awake." The Chevalier stood and held fort_is arms. They embraced. Once alone the outcast blew out the candle, folde_is arms on the table, and hid his face in them. After that it was very stil_n the private assembly, save for the occasional moaning in the chimney.