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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?"
  • annoyed.
  • "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.