Part 2 out of 5
and I know not what besides - in all of which I confess that even
to me there was a certain degree of novelty. Roxalanne listened
with an air of amusement that showed how well she read him. Later,
when I found myself alone with her by the river, whither we had
gone after the repast and the Chevalier's reminiscences were at
an end, she reverted to that conversation.
"Is not my cousin a great fanfarron, monsieur," she asked.
"Surely you know your cousin better than I," I answered cautiously.
"Why question me upon his character?"
"I was hardly questioning; I was commenting. He spent a fortnight
in Paris once, and he accounts himself, or would have us account
him, intimate with every courtier at the Luxembourg. Oh, he is very
amusing, this good cousin, but tiresome too." She laughed, and
there was the faintest note of scorn in her amusement. "Now,
touching this Marquis de Bardelys, it is very plain that the
Chevalier boasted when he said that they were as brothers - he and
the Marquis - is it not? He grew ill at ease when you reminded
him of the possibility of the Marquis's visit to Lavedan." And she
laughed quaintly to herself. "Do you think that he so much as
knows Bardelys?" she asked me suddenly.
"Not so much as by sight," I answered. "He is full of information
concerning that unworthy gentleman, but it is only information
that the meanest scullion in Paris might afford you, and just as
"Why do you speak of him as unworthy? Are you of the same opinion
as my father?"
"Aye, and with better cause."
"You know him well?"
"Know him? Pardieu, he is my worst enemy. A worn-out libertine;
a sneering, cynical misogynist; a nauseated reveller; a hateful
egotist. There is no more unworthy person, I'll swear, in all
France. Peste! The very memory of the fellow makes me sick.
Let us talk of other things."
But although I urged it with the best will and the best intentions
in the world, I was not to have my way. The air became suddenly
heavy with the scent of musk, and the Chevalier de Saint-Eustache
stood before us, and forced the conversation once more upon the
odious topic of Monsieur de Bardelys.
The poor fool came with a plan of campaign carefully considered,
bent now upon overthrowing me with the knowledge he would exhibit,
and whereby he looked to encompass my humiliation before his cousin.
"Speaking of Bardelys, Monsieur de Lesperon--"
"My dear Chevalier, we were no longer speaking of him."
He smiled darkly. "Let us speak of him, then."
"But are there not a thousand more interesting things that we might
This he took for a fresh sign of fear, and so he pressed what he
accounted his advantage.
"Yet have patience; there is a point on which perhaps you can give
me some information."
"Impossible," said I.
"Are you acquainted with the Duchesse de Bourgogne?"
"I was," I answered casually, and as casually I added, "Are you?"
"Excellently well," he replied unhesitatingly. "I was in Paris at
the time of the scandal with Bardelys."
I looked up quickly.
"Was it then that you met her?" I inquired in an idle sort of way.
"Yes. I was in the confidence of Bardelys, and one night after we
had supped at his hotel - one of those suppers graced by every wit
in Paris - he asked me if I were minded to accompany him to the
Louvre. We went. A masque was in progress."
"Ah," said I, after the manner of one who suddenly takes in the
entire situation; "and it was at this masque that you met the
"You have guessed it. Ah, monsieur, if I were to tell you of the
things that I witnessed that night, they would amaze you," said he,
with a great air and a casual glance at Mademoiselle to see into
what depth of wonder these glimpses into his wicked past were
"I doubt it not," said I, thinking that if his imagination were as
fertile in that connection as it had been in mine he was likely,
indeed, to have some amazing things to tell. "But do I understand
you to say that that was the time of the scandal you have touched
"The scandal burst three days after that masque. It came as a
surprise to most people. As for me - from what Bardelys had told
me - I expected nothing less."
"Pardon, Chevalier, but how old do you happen to be?"
"A curious question that," said he, knitting his brows.
"Perhaps. But will you not answer it?"
"I am twenty-one," said he. "What of it?"
"You are twenty, mon cousin," Roxalanne corrected him.
He looked at her a second with an injured air.
"Why, true - twenty! That is so," he acquiesced; and again, "what
of it?" he demanded.
"What of it, monsieur?" I echoed. "Will you forgive me if I
express amazement at your precocity, and congratulate you upon it?"
His brows went if possible closer together and his face grew very
red. He knew that somewhere a pitfall awaited him, yet hardly where.
"I do not understand you."
"Bethink you, Chevalier. Ten years have flown since this scandal
you refer to. So that at the time of your supping with Bardelys and
the wits of Paris, at the time of his making a confidant of you and
carrying you off to a masque at the Louvre, at the time of his
presenting you to the Duchesse de Bourgogne, you were just ten years
of age. I never had cause to think over-well of Bardelys, but had
you not told me yourself, I should have hesitated to believe him so
vile a despoiler of innocence, such a perverter of youth."
He crimsoned to the very roots of his hair.
Roxalanne broke into a laugh. "My cousin, my cousin," she cried,
"they that would become masters should begin early, is it not so?"
"Monsieur de Lesperon," said he, in a very formal voice, "do you
wish me to apprehend that you have put me through this catechism
for the purpose of casting a doubt upon what I have said?"
"But have I done that? Have I cast a doubt?" I asked, with the
"So I apprehend."
"Then you apprehend amiss. Your words, I assure you, admit of no
doubt whatever. And now, monsieur, if you will have mercy upon me,
we will talk of other things. I am so weary of this unfortunate
Bardelys and his affairs. He may be the fashion of Paris and at
Court, but down here his very name befouls the air. Mademoiselle,"
I said, turning to Roxalanne, "you promised me a lesson in the lore
"Come, then," said she, and, being an exceedingly wise child, she
plunged straightway into the history of the shrubs about us.
Thus did we avert a storm that for a moment was very imminent. Yet
some mischief was done, and some good, too, perhaps. For if I made
an enemy of the Chevalier de Saint-Eustache by humbling him in the
eyes of the one woman before whom he sought to shine, I established
a bond 'twixt Roxalanne and myself by that same humiliation of a
foolish coxcomb, whose boastfulness had long wearied her.
THE HOSTILITY OF SAINT-EUSTACHE
In the days that followed I saw much of the Chevalier de
Saint-Eustache. He was a very constant visitor at Lavedan, and the
reason of it was not far to seek. For my own part, I disliked
him - I had done so from the moment when first I had set eyes on
him - and since hatred, like affection, is often a matter of
reciprocity, the Chevalier was not slow to return my dislike. Our
manner gradually, by almost imperceptible stages, grew more distant,
until by the end of a week it had become so hostile that Lavedan
found occasion to comment upon it.
"Beware of Saint-Eustache," he warned me. "You are becoming very
manifestly distasteful to each other, and I would urge you to have
a care. I don't trust him. His attachment to our Cause is of a
lukewarm character, and he gives me uneasiness, for he may do much
harm if he is so inclined. It is on this account that I tolerate
his presence at Lavedan. Frankly, I fear him, and I would counsel
you to do no less. The man is a liar, even if but a boastful liar
and liars are never long out of mischief."
The wisdom of the words was unquestionable, but the advice in them
was not easily followed, particularly by one whose position was so
peculiar as my own. In a way I had little cause to fear the harm
the Chevalier might do me, but I was impelled to consider the harm
that at the same time he might do the Vicomte.
Despite our growing enmity, the Chevalier and I were very frequently
thrown together. The reason for this was, of course, that wherever
Roxalanne was to be found there, generally, were we both to be found
also. Yet had I advantages that must have gone to swell a rancour
based as much upon jealousy as any other sentiment, for whilst he
was but a daily visitor at Lavedan, I was established there
Of the use that I made of that time I find it difficult to speak.
From the first moment that I had beheld Roxalanne I had realized
the truth of Chatellerault's assertion that I had never known a
woman. He was right. Those that I had met and by whom I had
judged the sex had, by contrast with this child, little claim to
the title. Virtue I had accounted a shadow without substance;
innocence, a synonym for ignorance; love, a fable, a fairy tale
for the delectation of overgrown children.
In the company of Roxalanne de Lavedan all those old, cynical
beliefs, built up upon a youth of undesirable experiences, were
shattered and the error of them exposed. Swiftly was I becoming a
convert to the faith which so long I had sneered at, and as lovesick
as any unfledged youth in his first amour.
Damn! It was something for a man who had lived as I had lived to
have his pulses quicken and his colour change at a maid's approach;
to find himself colouring under her smile and paling under her
disdain; to have his mind running on rhymes, and his soul so enslaved
that, if she is not to be won, chagrin will dislodge it from his body.
Here was a fine mood for a man who had entered upon his business by
pledging himself to win and wed this girl in cold and supreme
indifference to her personality. And that pledge, how I cursed it
during those days at Lavedan! How I cursed Chatellerault, cunning,
subtle trickster that he was! How I cursed myself for my lack of
chivalry and honour in having been lured so easily into so damnable
a business! For when the memory of that wager rose before me it
brought despair in its train. Had I found Roxalanne the sort of
woman that I had looked to find - the only sort that I had ever
known - then matters had been easy. I had set myself in cold blood,
and by such wiles as I knew, to win such affection as might be hers
to bestow; and I would have married her in much the same spirit as
a man performs any other of the necessary acts of his lifetime and
station. I would have told her that I was Bardelys, and to the woman
that I had expected to find there had been no difficulty in making
the confession. But to Roxalanne! Had there been no wager, I might
have confessed my identity. As it was, I found it impossible to
avow the one without the other. For the sweet innocence that
invested her gentle, trusting soul must have given pause to any but
the most abandoned of men before committing a vileness in connection
We were much together during that week, and just as day by day, hour
by hour, my passion grew and grew until it absorbed me utterly, so,
too, did it seem to me that it awakened in her a responsive note.
There was an odd light at times in her soft eyes; I came upon her
more than once with snatches of love-songs on her lips, and when she
smiled upon me there was a sweet tenderness in her smile, which, had
things been different, would have gladdened my soul beyond all else;
but which, things being as they were, was rather wont to heighten
my despair. I was no coxcomb; I had had experiences, and I knew
these signs. But something, too, I guessed of the heart of such a
one as Roxalanne. To the full I realized the pain and shame I should
inflict upon her when my confession came; I realized, too, how the
love of this dear child, so honourable and high of mind, must turn
to contempt and scorn when I plucked away my mask, and let her see
how poor a countenance I wore beneath.
And yet I drifted with the tide of things. It was my habit so to
drift, and the habit of a lifetime is not to be set at naught in a
day by a resolve, however firm. A score of times was I reminded
that an evil is but increased by being ignored. A score of times
confession trembled on my lips, and I burned to tell her everything
from its inception - the environment that had erstwhile warped me,
the honesty by which I was now inspired - and so cast myself upon
the mercy of her belief.
She might accept my story, and, attaching credit to it, forgive me
the deception I had practised, and recognize the great truth that
must ring out in the avowal of my love. But, on the other hand,
she might not accept it; she might deem my confession a shrewd part
of my scheme, and the dread of that kept me silent day by day.
Fully did I see how with every hour that sped confession became
more and more difficult. The sooner the thing were done, the
greater the likelihood of my being believed; the later I left it,
the more probable was it that I should be discredited. Alas!
Bardelys, it seemed, had added cowardice to his other short-comings.
As for the coldness of Roxalanne, that was a pretty fable of
Chatellerault's; or else no more than an assumption, an invention
of the imaginative La Fosse. Far, indeed, from it, I found no
arrogance or coldness in her. All unversed in the artifices of her
sex, all unacquainted with the wiles of coquetry, she was the very
incarnation of naturalness and maidenly simplicity. To the tales
that - with many expurgations - I told her of Court life, to the
pictures that I drew of Paris, the Luxembourg, the Louvre, the
Palais Cardinal, and the courtiers that thronged those historic
palaces, she listened avidly and enthralled; and much as Othello won
the heart of Desdemona by a recital of the perils he had endured, so
it seemed to me was I winning the heart of Roxalanne by telling her
of the things that I had seen.
Once or twice she expressed wonder at the depth and intimacy of the
knowledge of such matters exhibited by a simple Gascon gentleman,
whereupon I would urge, in explanation, the appointment in the Guards
that Lesperon had held some few years ago, a position that will reveal
much to an observant man.
The Vicomte noted our growing intimacy, yet set no restraint upon it.
Down in his heart I believe that noble gentleman would have been well
pleased had matters gone to extremes between us, for however
impoverished he might deem me; Lesperon's estates in Gascony being,
as I have said, likely to suffer sequestration in view of his treason
--he remembered the causes of this and the deep devotion of the man
I impersonated to the affairs of Gaston d'Orleans.
Again, he feared the very obvious courtship of the Chevalier de
Saint-Eustache, and he would have welcomed a turn of events that
would effectually have frustrated it. That he did not himself
interfere so far as the Chevalier's wooing was concerned, I could
but set down to the mistrust of Saint-Eustache - amounting almost
to fear - of which he had spoken.
As for the Vicomtesse, the same causes that had won me some of the
daughter's regard gained me also no little of the mother's.
She had been attached to the Chevalier until my coming. But what
did the Chevalier know of the great world compared with what I
could tell? Her love of scandal drew her to me with inquiries upon
this person and that person, many of them but names to her.
My knowledge and wealth of detail - for all that I curbed it lest
I should seem to know too much - delighted her prurient soul. Had
she been more motherly, this same knowledge that I exhibited should
have made her ponder what manner of life I had led, and should have
inspired her to account me no fit companion for her daughter. But
a selfish woman, little inclined to be plagued by the concerns of
another - even when that other was her daughter - she left things
to the destructive course that they were shaping.
And so everything - if we except perhaps the Chevalier de
Saint-Eustache - conspired to the advancement of my suit, in a
manner that must have made Chatellerault grind his teeth in rage
if he could have witnessed it, but which made me grind mine in
despair when I pondered the situation in detail.
One evening - I had been ten days at the chateau - we went a
half-league or so up the Garonne in a boat, she and I. As we were
returning, drifting with the stream, the oars idle in my hand, I
spoke of leaving Lavedan.
She looked up quickly; her expression was almost of alarm, and her
eyes dilated as they met mine - for, as I have said, she was all
unversed in the ways of her sex, and by nature too guileless to
attempt to disguise her feelings or dissemble them.
"But why must you go so soon?" she asked. "You are safe at Lavedan,
and abroad you may be in danger. It was but two days ago that they
took a poor young gentleman of these parts at Pau; so that you see
the persecution is not yet ended. Are you" - and her voice trembled
ever so slightly - "are you weary of us, monsieur?"
I shook my head at that, and smiled wistfully.
"Weary?" I echoed. "Surely, mademoiselle, you do not think it?
Surely your heart must tell you something very different?"
She dropped her eyes before the passion of my gaze. And when
presently she answered me, there was no guile in her words; there
were the dictates of the intuitions of her sex, and nothing more.
"But it is possible, monsieur. You are accustomed to the great
"The great world of Lesperon, in Gascony?" I interrupted.
"No, no; the great world you have inhabited at Paris and elsewhere.
I can understand that at Lavedan you should find little of interest,
and - and that your inactivity should render you impatient to be
"If there were so little to interest me then it might be as you say.
But, oh, mademoiselle--" I ceased abruptly. Fool! I had almost
fallen a prey to the seductions that the time afforded me. The
balmy, languorous eventide, the broad, smooth river down which we
glided, the foliage, the shadows on the water, her presence, and our
isolation amid such surroundings, had almost blotted out the matter
of the wager and of my duplicity.
She laughed a little nervous laugh, and - maybe to ease the tension
that my sudden silence had begotten - "You see," she said, "how your
imagination deserts you when you seek to draw upon it for proof of
what you protest. You were about to tell me of - of the interests
that hold you at Lavedan, and when you come to ponder them, you find
that you can think of nothing. Is it - is it not so?" She put the
question very timidly, as if half afraid of the answer she might
"No; it is not so," I said.
I paused a moment, and in that moment I wrestled with myself.
Confession and avowal - confession of what I had undertaken, and
avowal of the love that had so unexpectedly come to me - trembled
upon my lips, to be driven shuddering away in fear.
Have I not said that this Bardelys was become a coward? Then my
cowardice suggested a course to me - flight. I would leave Lavedan.
I would return to Paris and to Chatellerault, owning defeat and
paying my wager. It was the only course open to me. My honour, so
tardily aroused, demanded no less. Yet, not so much because of that
as because it was suddenly revealed to me as the easier course, did
I determine to pursue it. What thereafter might become of me I did
not know, nor in that hour of my heart's agony did it seem to matter
"There is much, mademoiselle, much, indeed, to hold me firmly at
Lavedan," I pursued at last. "But my - my obligations demand of me
that I depart."
"You mean the Cause," she cried. "But, believe me, you can do
nothing. To sacrifice yourself cannot profit it. Infinitely better
you can serve the Duke by waiting until the time is ripe for another
blow. And how can you better preserve your life than by remaining
at Lavedan until the persecutions are at an end?"
"I was not thinking of the Cause, mademoiselle, but of myself alone
--of my own personal honour. I would that I could explain; but I am
afraid," I ended lamely.
"Afraid?" she echoed, now raising her eyes in wonder.
"Aye, afraid. Afraid of your contempt, of your scorn."
The wonder in her glance increased and asked a question that I could
not answer. I stretched forward, and caught one of the hands lying
idle in her lap.
"Roxalanne," I murmured very gently, and my tone, my touch, and the
use of her name drove her eyes for refuge behind their lids again.
A flush spread upon the ivory pallor of her face, to fade as swiftly,
leaving it very white. Her bosom rose and fell in agitation, and
the little hand I held trembled in my grasp. There was a moment's
silence. Not that I had need to think or choose my words. But
there was a lump in my throat - aye, I take no shame in confessing
it, for this was the first time that a good and true emotion had
been vouchsafed me since the Duchesse de Bourgogne had shattered
my illusions ten years ago.
"Roxalanne," I resumed presently, when I was more master of myself,
"we have been good friends, you and I, since that night when I
climbed for shelter to your chamber, have we not?"
"But yes, monsieur," she faltered.
"Ten days ago it is. Think of it - no more than ten days. And it
seems as if I had been months at Lavedan, so well have we become
acquainted. In these ten days we have formed opinions of each other.
But with this difference, that whilst mine are right, yours are
wrong. I have come to know you for the sweetest, gentlest saint in
all this world. Would to God I had known you earlier! It might
have been very different; I might have been - I would have been -
different, and I would not have done what I have done. You have
come to know me for an unfortunate but honest gentleman. Such am
I not. I am under false colours here, mademoiselle. Unfortunate
I may be - at least, of late I seem to have become so. Honest I
am not - I have not been. There, child, I can tell you no more. I
am too great a coward. But when later you shall come to hear the
truth - when, after I am gone, they may tell you a strange story
touching this fellow Lesperon who sought the hospitality of your
father's house - bethink you of my restraint in this hour; bethink
you of my departure. You will understand these things perhaps
afterwards. But bethink you of them, and you will unriddle them for
yourself, perhaps. Be merciful upon me then; judge me not
I paused, and for a moment we were silent. Then suddenly she looked
up; her fingers tightened upon mine.
"Monsieur de Lesperon," she pleaded, "of what do speak? You are
torturing me, monsieur."
"Look in my face, Roxalanne. Can you see nothing there of how I am
"Then tell me, monsieur," she begged, her voice a very caress of
suppliant softness, - "tell me what vexes you and sets a curb upon
your tongue. You exaggerate, I am assured. You could do nothing
dishonourable, nothing vile."
"Child," I cried, "I thank God that you are right! I cannot do
what is dishonourable, and I will not, for all that a month ago
I pledged myself to do it!"
A sudden horror, a doubt, a suspicion flashed into her glance.
"You - you do not mean that you are a spy?" she asked; and from my
heart a prayer of thanks went up to Heaven that this at least it
was mine frankly to deny.
"No, no - not that. I am no spy."
Her face cleared again, and she sighed.
"It is, I think, the only thing I could not forgive. Since it is
not that, will you not tell me what it is?"
For a moment the temptation to confess, to tell her everything, was
again upon me. But the futility of it appalled me.
"Don't ask me," I besought her; "you will learn it soon enough."
For I was confident that once my wager was paid, the news of it and
of the ruin of Bardelys would spread across the face of France like
a ripple over water. Presently--
"Forgive me for having come into your life, Roxalanne!" I implored
her, and then I sighed again. "Helas! Had I but known you earlier!
I did not dream such women lived in this worn-out France."
"I will not pry, monsieur, since your resolve appears to be so firm.
But if - if after I have heard this thing you speak of," she said
presently, speaking with averted eyes, "and if, having heard it, I
judge you more mercifully than you judge yourself, and I send for
you, will you - will you come back to Lavedan?"
My heart gave a great bound - a great, a sudden throb of hope. But
as sudden and as great was the rebound into despair.
"You will not send for me, be assured of that," I said with finality;
and we spoke no more.
I took the oars and plied them vigorously. I was in haste to end
the situation. Tomorrow I must think of my departure, and, as I
rowed, I pondered the words that had passed between us. Not one
word of love had there been, and yet, in the very omission of it,
avowal had lain on either side. A strange wooing had been mine - a
wooing that precluded the possibility of winning, and yet a wooing
that had won. Aye, it had won; but it might not take. I made fine
distinctions and quaint paradoxes as I tugged at my oars, for the
human mind is a curiously complex thing, and with some of us there
is no such spur to humour as the sting of pain.
Roxalanne sat white and very thoughtful, but with veiled eyes, so
that I might guess nothing of what passed within her mind.
At last we reached the chateau, and as I brought the boat to the
terrace steps, it was Saint-Eustache who came forward to offer his
wrist to Mademoiselle.
He noted the pallor of her face, and darted me a quick,
suspicion-laden glance. As we were walking towards the chateau--
"Monsieur de Lesperon," said he in a curious tone, "do you know that
a rumour of your death is current in the province?"
"I had hoped that such a rumour might get abroad when I disappeared,"
I answered calmly.
"And you have taken no single step to contradict it?"
"Why should I, since in that rumour may be said to lie my safety?"
"Nevertheless, monsieur, voyons. Surely you might at least relieve
the anxieties the affliction, I might almost say - of those who are
"Ah!" said I. "And who may these be?"
He shrugged his shoulders and pursed his lips in a curiously
deprecatory smile. With a sidelong glance at Mademoiselle--
"Do you need that I name Mademoiselle de Marsac?" he sneered.
I stood still, my wits busily working, my face impassive under his
scrutinizing glance. In a flash it came to me that this must be
the writer of some of the letters Lesperon had given me, the original
of the miniature I carried.
As I was silent, I grew suddenly conscious of another pair of eyes
observing me, Mademoiselle's. She remembered what I had said, she
may have remembered how I had cried out the wish that I had met her
earlier, and she may not have been slow to find an interpretation
for my words. I could have groaned in my rage at such a
misinterpretation. I could have taken the Chevalier round to the
other side of the chateau and killed him with the greatest relish
in the world. But I restrained myself, I resigned myself to be
misunderstood. What choice had I?
"Monsieur de Saint-Eustache," said I very coldly, and looking him
straight between his close-set eyes, "I have permitted you many
liberties, but there is one that I cannot permit any one - and, much
as I honour you, I can make no exception in your favour. That is
to interfere in my concerns and presume to dictate to me the manner
in which I shall conduct them. Be good enough to bear that in your
In a moment he was all servility. The sneer passed out of his face,
the arrogance out of his demeanour. He became as full of smiles
and capers as the meanest sycophant.
"You will forgive me, monsieur!" he cried, spreading his hands, and
with the humblest smile in the world. "I perceive that I have taken
a great liberty; yet you have misunderstood its purport. I sought
to sound you touching the wisdom of a step upon which I have
"That is, monsieur?" I asked, throwing back my head, with the scent
of danger breast high.
"I took it upon myself to-day to mention the fact that you are alive
and well to one who had a right, I thought, to know of it, and who
is coming hither tomorrow."
"That was a presumption you may regret," said I between my teeth.
"To whom do you impart this information?"
"To your friend, Monsieur de Marsac," he answered, and through his
mask of humility the sneer was again growing apparent. "He will
be here tomorrow," he repeated.
Marsac was that friend of Lesperon's to whose warm commendation of
the Gascon rebel I owed the courtesy and kindness that the Vicomte
de Lavedan had meted out to me since my coming.
Is it wonderful that I stood as if frozen, my wits refusing to work
and my countenance wearing, I doubt not, a very stricken look? Here
was one coming to Lavedan who knew Lesperon - one who would unmask me
and say that I was an impostor. What would happen then? A spy they
would of a certainty account me, and that they would make short work
of me I never doubted. But that was something that troubled me less
than the opinion Mademoiselle must form. How would she interpret
what I had said that day? In what light would she view me hereafter?
Such questions sped like swift arrows through my mind, and in their
train came a dull anger with myself that I had not told her
everything that afternoon. It was too late now. The confession
would come no longer of my own free will, as it might have done an
hour ago, but would be forced from me by the circumstances that
impended. Thus it would no longer have any virtue to recommend it
to her mercy.
"The news seems hardly welcome, Monsieur de Lesperon," said
Roxalanne in a voice that was inscrutable. Her tone stirred me, for
it betokened suspicion already. Something might yet chance to aid
me, and in the mean while I might spoil all did I yield to this
dread of the morrow. By an effort I mastered myself, and in tones
calm and level, that betrayed nothing of the tempest in my soul--
"It is not welcome, mademoiselle," I answered. "I have excellent
reasons for not desiring to meet Monsieur de Marsac."
"Excellent, indeed, are they!" lisped Saint-Eustache, with an ugly
droop at the corners of his mouth. "I doubt not you'll find it
hard to offer a plausible reason for having left him and his sister
without news that you were alive."
"Monsieur," said I at random, "why will you drag in his sister's
"Why?" he echoed, and he eyed me with undisguised amusement. He
was standing erect, his head thrown back, his right arm outstretched
from the shoulder, and his hand resting lightly upon the gold mount
of his beribboned cane. He let his eyes wander from me to Roxalanne,
then back again to me. At last: "Is it wonderful that I should
drag in the name of your betrothed?" said he. But perhaps you will
deny that Mademoiselle de Marsac is that to you?" he suggested.
And I, forgetting for the moment the part I played and the man whose
identity I had put on, made answer hotly: "I do deny it."
"Why, then, you lie," said he, and shrugged hits shoulders with
In all my life I do not think it could be said of me that I had ever
given way to rage. Rude, untutored minds may fall a prey to passion,
but a gentleman, I hold, is never angry. Nor was I then, so far as
the outward signs of anger count. I doffed my hat with a sweep to
Roxalanne, who stood by with fear and wonder blending in her glance.
"Mademoiselle, you will forgive that I find it necessary to birch
this babbling schoolboy in your presence."
Then, with the pleasantest manner in the world, I stepped aside, and
plucked the cane from the Chevalier's hand before he had so much as
guessed what I was about. I bowed before him with the utmost
politeness, as if craving his leave and tolerance for what I was
about to do, and then, before he had recovered from his astonishment,
I had laid that cane three times in quick succession across his
shoulders. With a cry at once of pain and of mortification, he
sprang back, and his hand dropped to his hilt.
"Monsieur," Roxalanne cried to him, "do you not see that he is
But he saw nothing, or, if he saw, thanked Heaven that things were
in such case, and got his sword out. Thereupon Roxalanne would have
stepped between us, but with arm outstretched I restrained her.
"Have no fear, mademoiselle," said I very quietly; for if the wrist
that had overcome La Vertoile were not with a stick a match for a
couple of such swords as this coxcomb's, then was I forever shamed.
He bore down upon me furiously, his point coming straight for my
throat. I took the blade on the cane; then, as he disengaged and
came at me lower, I made counter-parry, and pursuing the circle after
I had caught his steel, I carried it out of his hand. It whirled an
instant, a shimmering wheel of light, then it clattered against the
marble balustrade half a dozen yards away. With his sword it seemed
that his courage, too, departed, and he stood at my mercy, a curious
picture of foolishness, surprise, and fear.
Now the Chevalier de Saint-Eustache was a young man, and in the young
we can forgive much. But to forgive such an act as he had been
guilty of - that of drawing his sword upon a man who carried no
weapons - would have been not only a ridiculous toleration, but an
utter neglect of duty. As an older man it behoved me to read the
Chevalier a lesson in manners and gentlemanly feeling. So, quite
dispassionately, and purely for his own future good, I went about
the task, and administered him a thrashing that for thoroughness it
would be hard to better. I was not discriminating. I brought my
cane down with a rhythmical precision, and whether it took him on
the head, the back, or the shoulders, I held to be more his affair
than mine. I had a moral to inculcate, and the injuries he might
receive in the course of it were inconsiderable details so that the
lesson was borne in upon his soul. Two or three times he sought to
close with me, but I eluded him; I had no mind to descend to a vulgar
exchange of blows. My object was not to brawl, but to administer
chastisement, and this object I may claim to have accomplished with
a fair degree of success.
At last Roxalanne interfered; but only when one blow a little more
violent, perhaps, than its precursors resulted in the sudden snapping
of the cane and Monsieur de Eustache's utter collapse into a moaning
"I deplore, mademoiselle, to have offended your sight with such a
spectacle, but unless these lessons are administered upon the instant
their effect is not half so salutary."
"He deserved it, monsieur," said she, with a note almost of
fierceness in her voice. And of such poor mettle are we that her
resentment against that groaning mass of fopperies and wheals sent a
thrill of pleasure through me. I walked over to the spot where his
sword had fallen, and picked it up.
"Monsieur de Saint-Eustache," said I, "you have so dishonoured this
blade that I do not think you would care to wear it again." Saying
which, I snapped it across my knee, and flung it far out into the
river, for all that the hilt was a costly one, richly wrought in
bronze and gold.
He raised his livid countenance, and his eyes blazed impotent fury.
"Par la mort Dieu!" he cried hoarsely, "you shall give me
satisfaction for this!"
"If you account yourself still unsatisfied, I am at your service when
you will," said I courteously.
Then, before more could be said, I saw Monsieur de Lavedan and the
Vicomtesse approaching hurriedly across the parterre. The Vicomte's
brow was black with what might have appeared anger, but which I
rightly construed into apprehension.
"What has taken place? What have you done?" he asked of me.
"He has brutally assaulted the Chevalier," cried Madame shrilly, her
eyes malevolently set upon me. "He is only a child, this poor
Saint-Eustache," she reproached me. "I saw it all from my window,
Monsieur de Lesperon. It was brutal; it was cowardly. So to beat
a boy! Shame! If you had a quarrel with him, are there not
prescribed methods for their adjustment between gentlemen? Pardieu,
could you not have given him proper satisfaction?"
"If madame will give herself the trouble of attentively examining
this poor Saint-Eustache," said I, with a sarcasm which her virulence
prompted, "you will agree, I think, that I have given him very
proper and very thorough satisfaction. I would have met him sword
in hand, but the Chevalier has the fault of the very young - he is
precipitate; he was in too great a haste, and he could not wait
until I got a sword. So I was forced to do what I could with a cane."
"But you provoked him," she flashed back.
"Whoever told you so has misinformed you, madame. On the contrary,
he provoked me. He gave me the lie. I struck him - could I do
less? - and he drew. I defended myself, and I supplemented my
defence by a caning, so that this poor Saint-Eustache might realize
the unworthiness of what he had done. That is all, madame."
But she was not so easily to be appeased, not even when Mademoiselle
and the Vicomte joined their voices to mine in extenuation of my
conduct. It was like Lavedan. For all that he was full of dread
of the result and of the vengeance Saint-Eustache might wreak - boy
though he was - he expressed himself freely touching the Chevalier's
behaviour and the fittingness of the punishment that had overtaken
The Vicomtesse stood in small awe of her husband, but his judgment
upon a point of honour was a matter that she would not dare contest.
She was ministering to the still prostrate Chevalier who, I think,
remained prostrate now that he might continue to make appeal to her
sympathy - when suddenly she cut in upon Roxalanne's defence of me.
"Where have you been?" she demanded suddenly.
"When, my mother?"
"This afternoon," answered the Vicomtesse impatiently. "The
Chevalier was waiting two hours for you."
Roxalanne coloured to the roots of her hair. The Vicomte frowned.
"Waiting for me, my mother? But why for me?"
"Answer my question - where have you been?"
"I was with Monsieur de Lesperon," she answered simply.
"Alone?" the Vicomtesse almost shrieked.
"But yes." The poor child's tones were laden with wonder at this
"God's death!" she snapped. "It seems that my daughter is no better
Heaven knows what may have been coming, for she had the most
virulent, scandalous tongue that I have ever known in a woman's
head - which is much for one who has lived at Court to say. But
the Vicomte, sharing my fears, perhaps, and wishing to spare the
child's ears, interposed quickly "Come, madame, what airs are these?
What sudden assumption of graces that we do not affect? We are not
in Paris. This is not the Luxembourg. En province comme en
province, and here we are simple folk--"
"Simple folk?" she interrupted, gasping. "By God, am I married to
a ploughman? Am I Vicomtesse of Lavedan, or the wife of a boor of
the countryside? And is the honour of your daughter a matter--"
"The honour of my daughter is not in question, madame," he
interrupted in his turn, and with a sudden sternness that spent
the fire of her indignation as a spark that is trampled underfoot.
Then, in a calm, level voice: "Ah, here are the servants," said he.
"Permit them, madame, to take charge of Monsieur de Saint-Eustache.
Anatole, you had better order the carriage for Monsieur le Chevalier.
I do not think that he will be able to ride home."
Anatole peered at the pale young gentleman on the ground, then he
turned his little wizened face upon me, and grinned in a singularly
solemn fashion. Monsieur de Saint-Eustache was little loved, it
Leaning heavily upon the arm of one of the lacqueys, the Chevalier
moved painfully towards the courtyard, where the carriage was being
prepared for him. At the last moment he turned and beckoned the
Vicomte to his side.
"As God lives, Monsieur de Lavedan," he swore, breathing heavily
in the fury that beset him, "you shall bitterly regret having taken
sides to-day with that Gascon bully. Remember me, both of you, when
you are journeying to Toulouse."
The Vicomte stood beside him, impassive and unmoved by that grim
threat, for all that to him it must have sounded like a
"Adieu, monsieur - a speedy recovery," was all he answered.
But I stepped up to them. "Do you not think, Vicomte, that it were
better to detain him?" I asked.
"Pshaw!" he ejaculated. "Let him go."
The Chevalier's eyes met mine in a look of terror. Perhaps already
that young man repented him of his menace, and he realized the folly
of threatening one in whose power he still chanced to be.
"Bethink you, monsieur," I cried. "Yours is a noble and useful life.
Mine is not without value, either. Shall we suffer these lives - aye,
and the happiness of your wife and daughter - to be destroyed by this
"Let him go, monsieur; let him go. I am not afraid."
I bowed and stepped back, motioning to the lacquey to take the fellow
away, much as I should have motioned him to remove some uncleanness
from before me.
The Vicomtesse withdrew in high dudgeon to her chamber, and I did not
see her again that evening. Mademoiselle I saw once, for a moment,
and she employed that moment to question me touching the origin of
my quarrel with Saint-Eustache.
"Did he really lie, Monsieur de Lesperon?" she asked.
"Upon my honour, mademoiselle," I answered solemnly, "I have
plighted my troth to no living woman." Then my chin sank to my
breast as I bethought me of how tomorrow she must opine me the
vilest liar living - for I was resolved to be gone before Marsac
arrived - since the real Lesperon I did not doubt was, indeed,
betrothed to Mademoiselle de Marsac.
"I shall leave Lavedan betimes to-morrow, mademoiselle," I pursued
presently. "What has happened to-day makes my departure all the
more urgent. Delay may have its dangers. You will hear strange
things of me, as already I have warned you. But be merciful. Much
will be true, much false; yet the truth itself is very vile, and--"
I stopped short, in despair of explaining or even tempering what
had to come. I shrugged my shoulders in my abandonment of hope, and
I turned towards the window. She crossed the room and came to stand
"Will you not tell me? Have you no faith in me? Ah, Monsieur de
"'Sh! child, I cannot. It is too late to tell you now."
"Oh, not too late! From what you say they will tell me, I should
think, perhaps, worse of you than you deserve. What is this thing
you hide? What is this mystery? Tell me, monsieur. Tell me."
Did ever woman more plainly tell a man she loved him, and that
loving him she would find all excuses for him? Was ever woman in
better case to hear a confession from the man that loved her, and
of whose love she was assured by every instinct that her sex
possesses in such matters? Those two questions leapt into my mind,
and in resolving them I all but determined to speak even now in
the eleventh hour.
And then - I know not how - a fresh barrier seemed to arise. It
was not merely a matter of telling her of the wager I was embarked
upon; not merely a matter of telling her of the duplicity that I
had practised, of the impostures by which I had gained admittance
to her father's confidence and trust; not merely a matter of
confessing that I was not Lesperon. There would still be the
necessity of saying who I was. Even if she forgave all else, could
she forgive me for being Bardelys the notorious Bardelys, the
libertine, the rake, some of whose exploits she had heard of from
her mother, painted a hundred times blacker than they really were?
Might she not shrink from me when I told her I was that man? In
her pure innocence she deemed, no doubt, that the life of every
man who accounted himself a gentleman was moderately clean. She
would not see in me - as did her mother - no more than a type of
the best class in France, and having no more than the vices of my
order. As a monster of profligacy might she behold me, and that
--ah, Dieu! - I could not endure that she should do whilst I
It may be - indeed, now, as I look back, I know that I exaggerated
my case. I imagined she would see it as I saw it then. For would
you credit it? With this great love that was now come to me, it
seemed the ideals of my boyhood were returned, and I abhorred the
man that I had been. The life I had led now filled me with disgust
and loathing; the notions I had formed seemed to me now all vicious
and distorted, my cynicism shallow and unjust.
"Monsieur de Lesperon," she called softly to me, noting my silence.
I turned to her. I set my hand lightly upon her arm; I let my gaze
encounter the upward glance of her eyes - blue as forget-me-nots.
"You suffer!" she murmured, with sweet compassion.
"Worse, Roxalanne! I have sown in your heart too the seed of
suffering. Oh, I am too unworthy!" I cried out; "and when you come
to discover how unworthy it will hurt you; it will sting your pride
to think how kind you were to me." She smiled incredulously, in
denial of my words. "No, child; I cannot tell you."
She sighed, and then before more could be said there was a sound
at the door, and we started away from each other. The Vicomte
entered, and my last chance of confessing, of perhaps averting
much of what followed, was lost to me.
Into the mind of every thoughtful man must come at times with
bitterness the reflection of how utterly we are at the mercy of
Fate, the victims of her every whim and caprice. We may set out
with the loftiest, the sternest resolutions to steer our lives
along a well-considered course, yet the slightest of fortuitous
circumstances will suffice to force us into a direction that we had
no thought of taking.
Now, had it pleased Monsieur de Marsac to have come to Lavedan at
any reasonable hour of the day, I should have been already upon
the road to Paris, intent to own defeat and pay my wager. A night
of thought, besides strengthening my determination to follow such a
course, had brought the reflection that I might thereafter return
to Roxalanne, a poor man, it is true, but one at least whose
intentions might not be misconstrued.
And so, when at last I sank into sleep, my mind was happier than
it had been for many days. Of Roxalanne's love I was assured, and
it seemed that I might win her, after all, once I removed the
barrier of shame that now deterred me. It may be that those
thoughts kept me awake until a late hour, and that to this I owe
it that when on the morrow I awakened the morning was well advanced.
The sun was flooding my chamber, and at my bedside stood Anatole.
"What's o'clock?" I inquired, sitting bolt upright.
"Past ten," said he, with stern disapproval.
"And you have let me sleep?" I cried.
"We do little else at Lavedan even when we are awake," he grumbled.
"There was no reason why monsieur should rise." Then, holding out
a paper, "Monsieur Stanislas de Marsac was here betimes this morning
with Mademoiselle his sister. He left this letter for you, monsieur."
Amaze and apprehension were quickly followed by relief, since
Anatole's words suggested that Marsac had not remained. I took the
letter, nevertheless, with some misgivings, and whilst I turned it
over in my hands I questioned the old servant.
"He stayed an hour at the chateau, monsieur," Anatole informed me.
"Monsieur le Vicomte would have had you roused, but he would not
hear of it. 'If what Monsieur de Saint-Eustache has told me touching
your guest should prove to be true,' said he, 'I would prefer not
to meet him under your roof, monsieur.' 'Monsieur de Saint-Eustache,'
my master replied, 'is not a person whose word should have weight
with any man of honour.' But in spite of that, Monsieur de Marsac
held to his resolve, and although he would offer no explanation in
answer to my master's many questions, you were not aroused.
"At the end of a half-hour his sister entered with Mademoiselle.
They had been walking together on the terrace, and Mademoiselle de
Marsac appeared very angry. 'Affairs are exactly as Monsieur de
Saint-Eustache has represented them,' said she to her brother. At
that he swore a most villainous oath, and called for writing
materials. At the moment of his departure he desired me to deliver
this letter to you, and then rode away in a fury, and, seemingly,
not on the best of terms with Monsieur le Vicomte."
"And his sister?" I asked quickly.
"She went with him. A fine pair, as I live!" he added, casting
his eyes to the ceiling.
At least I could breathe freely. They were gone, and whatever
damage they may have done to the character of poor Rene de Lesperon
ere they departed, they were not there, at all events, to denounce
me for an impostor. With a mental apology to the shade of the
departed Lesperon for all the discredit I was bringing down upon
his name, I broke the seal of that momentous epistle, which enclosed
a length of some thirty-two inches of string.
Monsieur [I read], wherever I may chance to meet you it shall be my
duty to kill you.
A rich beginning, in all faith! If he could but maintain that
uncompromising dramatic flavour to the end, his epistle should be
worth the trouble of deciphering, for he penned a vile scrawl of
It is because of this [the letter proceeded] that I have refrained
from coming face to face with you this morning. The times are too
troublous and the province is in too dangerous a condition to admit
of an act that might draw the eyes of the Keeper of the Seals upon
Lavedan. To my respect, then, to Monsieur le Vicomte and to my own
devotion to the Cause we mutually serve do you owe it that you still
live. I am on my way to Spain to seek shelter there from the King's
To save myself is a duty that I owe as much to myself as to the
Cause. But there is another duty, one that I owe my sister, whom
you have so outrageously slighted, and this duty, by God's grace, I
will perform before I leave. Of your honour, monsieur, we will not
speak, for reasons into which I need not enter, and I make no appeal
to it. But if you have a spark of manhood left, if you are not an
utter craven as well as a knave, I shall expect you on the day after
tomorrow, at any hour before noon, at the Auberge de la Couronne at
Grenade. There, monsieur, if you please, we will adjust our
differences. That you may come prepared, and so that no time need
be wasted when we meet, I send you the length of my sword.
Thus ended that angry, fire-breathing epistle. I refolded it
thoughtfully, then, having taken my resolve, I leapt from the bed
and desired Anatole to assist me to dress.
I found the Vicomte much exercised in mind as to the meaning of
Marsac's extraordinary behaviour, and I was relieved to see that he,
at least, could conjecture no cause for it. In reply to the
questions with which he very naturally assailed me, I assured him
that it was no more than a matter of a misunderstanding; that
Monsieur de Marsac had asked me to meet him at Grenade in two days'
time, and that I should then, no doubt, be able to make all clear.
Meanwhile, I regretted the incident, since it necessitated my
remaining and encroaching for two days longer upon the Vicomte's
hospitality. To all this, however, he made the reply that I
expected, concluding with the remark that for the present at least
it would seem as if the Chevalier de Saint-Eustache had been
satisfied with creating this trouble betwixt myself and Marsac.
From what Anatole had said, I had already concluded that Marsac had
exercised the greatest reticence. But the interview between his
sister and Roxalanne filled me with the gravest anxiety. Women are
not wont to practise the restraint of men under such circumstances,
and for all that Mademoiselle de Marsac may not have expressed it
in so many words that I was her faithless lover, yet women are
quick to detect and interpret the signs of disorders springing from
such causes, and I had every fear that Roxalanne was come to the
conclusion that I had lied to her yesternight. With an uneasy
spirit, then, I went in quest of her, and I found her walking in
the old rose garden behind the chateau.
She did not at first remark my approach, and I had leisure for some
moments to observe her and to note the sadness that dwelt in her
profile and the listlessness of her movements. This, then, was my
work - mine, and that of Monsieur de Chatellerault, and those other
merry gentlemen who had sat at my table in Paris nigh upon a month
I moved, and the gravel crunched under my foot, whereupon she turned,
and, at sight of me advancing towards her, she started. The blood
mounted to her face, to ebb again upon the instant, leaving it paler
than it had been. She made as if to depart; then she appeared to
check herself, and stood immovable and outwardly calm, awaiting my
But her eyes were averted, and her bosom rose and fell too swiftly
to lend colour to that mask of indifference she hurriedly put on.
Yet, as I drew nigh, she was the first to speak, and the triviality
of her words came as a shock to me, and for all my knowledge of
woman's way caused me to doubt for a moment whether perhaps her
calm were not real, after all.
"You are a laggard this morning, Monsieur de Lesperon." And, with
a half laugh, she turned aside to break a rose from its stem.
"True," I answered stupidly; "I slept over-late."
"A thousand pities, since thus you missed seeing Mademoiselle de
Marsac. Have they told you that she was here?"
"Yes, mademoiselle. Stanislas de Marsac left a letter for me."
"You will regret not having seen them, no doubt?" quoth she.
I evaded the interrogative note in her voice. "That is their fault.
They appear to have preferred to avoid me."
"Is it matter for wonder?" she flashed, with a sudden gleam of fury
which she as suddenly controlled. With the old indifference, she
added, "You do not seem perturbed, monsieur?"
"On the contrary, mademoiselle; I am very deeply perturbed."
"At not having seen your betrothed?" she asked, and now for the
first time her eyes were raised, and they met mine with a look that
was a stab.
"Mademoiselle, I had the honour of telling you yesterday that I had
plighted my troth to no living woman."
At that reminder of yesterday she winced, and I was sorry that I
had uttered it, for it must have set the wound in her pride
a-bleeding again. Yesterday I had as much as told her that I loved
her, and yesterday she had as much as answered me that she loved me,
for yesterday I had sworn that Saint-Eustache's story of my betrothal
was a lie. To-day she had had assurance of the truth from the very
woman to whom Lesperon's faith was plighted, and I could imagine
something of her shame.
"Yesterday, monsieur," she answered contemptuously, "you lied in
"Nay, I spoke the truth in all. Oh, God in heaven, mademoiselle,"
I exclaimed in sudden passion, "will you not believe me? Will you
not accept my word for what I say, and have a little patience until
I shall have discharged such obligations as will permit me to
"Explain?" quoth she, with withering disdain.
"There is a hideous misunderstanding in all this. I am the victim
of a miserable chain of circumstances. Oh, I can say no more!
These Marsacs I shall easily pacify. I am to meet Monsieur de
Marsac at Grenade on the day after to-morrow. In my pocket I have
a letter from this living sword-blade, in which he tells me that he
will give himself the pleasure of killing me then. Yet--"
"I hope he does, monsieur!" she cut in, with a fierceness before
which I fell dumb and left my sentence unfinished. "I shall pray
God that he may!" she added. "You deserve it as no man deserved it
For a moment I stood stricken, indeed, by her words. Then, my
reason grasping the motive of that fierceness, a sudden joy pervaded
me. It was a fierceness breathing that hatred that is a part of
love, than which, it is true, no hatred can be more deadly. And yet
so eloquently did it tell me of those very feelings which she sought
jealously to conceal, that, moved by a sudden impulse, I stepped
close up to her.
"Roxalanne," I said fervently, "you do not hope for it. What would
your life be if I were dead? Child, child, you love me even as I
love you." I caught her suddenly to me with infinite tenderness,
with reverence almost. "Can you lend no ear to the voice of this
love? Can you not have faith in me a little? Can you not think
that if I were quite as unworthy as you make-believe to your very
self, this love could have no place?"
"It has no place!" she cried. "You lie - as in all things else.
I do not love you. I hate you. Dieu! How I hate you!"
She had lain in my arms until then, with upturned face and piteous,
frightened eyes - like a bird that feels itself within the toils of
a snake, yet whose horror is blent with a certain fascination. Now,
as she spoke, her will seemed to reassert itself, and she struggled
to break from me. But as her fierceness of hatred grew, so did my
fierceness of resolve gain strength, and I held her tightly.
"Why do you hate me?" I asked steadily. "Ask yourself, Roxalanne,
and tell me what answer your heart makes. Does it not answer that
indeed you do not hate me - that you love me?"
"Oh, God, to be so insulted!" she cried out. "Will you not release
me, miserable? Must I call for help? Oh, you shall suffer for
this! As there is a Heaven, you shall be punished!"
But in my passion I held her, despite entreaties, threats, and
struggles. I was brutal, if you will. Yet think of what was in
my soul at being so misjudged, at finding myself in this position,
and deal not over harshly with me. The courage to confess which I
had lacked for days, came to me then. I must tell her. Let the
result be what it might, it could not be worse than this, and this
I could endure no longer.
"I will not listen! Enough of insults have I heard already. Let
"Nay, but you shall hear me. I am not Rene de Lesperon. Had these
Marsacs been less impetuous and foolish, had they waited to have
seen me this morning, they would have told you so."
She paused for a second in her struggles to regard me. Then, with
a sudden contemptuous laugh, she renewed her efforts more vigorously
"What fresh lies do you offer me? Release me, I will hear no more!"
"As Heaven is my witness, I have told you the truth. I know how
wild a sound it has, and that is partly why I did not tell you
earlier. But your disdain I cannot suffer. That you should deem
me a liar in professing to love you--"
Her struggles were grown so frantic that I was forced to relax
my grip. But this I did with a suddenness that threw her out of
balance, and she was in danger of falling backwards. To save
herself, she caught at my doublet, which was torn open under the
We stood some few feet apart, and, white and palpitating in her
anger, she confronted me. Her eyes lashed me with their scorn, but
under my steady, unflinching gaze they fell at last. When next she
raised them there was a smile of quiet but unutterable contempt
upon her lips.
"Will you swear," said she, "that you are not Rene de Lesperon?
That Mademoiselle de Marsac is not your betrothed?"
"Yes - by my every hope of Heaven!" I cried passionately.
She continued to survey me with that quiet smile of mocking scorn.
"I have heard it said," quoth she, "that the greatest liars are ever
those that are readiest to take oath." Then, with a sudden gasp of
loathing, "I think you have dropped something, monsieur," said she,
pointing to the ground. And without waiting for more, she swung
round and left me.
Face upwards at my feet lay the miniature that poor Lesperon had
entrusted to me in his dying moments. It had dropped from my doublet
in the struggle, and I never doubted now but that the picture it
contained was that of Mademoiselle de Marsac.
A NIGHT ALARM
I was returning that same afternoon from a long walk that I had
taken - for my mood was of that unenviable sort that impels a man
to be moving - when I found a travelling-chaise drawn up in the
quadrangle as if ready for a journey. As I mounted the steps of
the chateau I came face to face with mademoiselle, descending. I
drew aside that she might pass; and this she did with her chin in
the air, and her petticoat drawn to her that it might not touch me.
I would have spoken to her, but her eyes looked straight before her
with a glance that was too forbidding; besides which there was the
gaze of a half-dozen grooms upon us. So, bowing before her - the
plume of my doffed hat sweeping the ground - I let her go. Yet I
remained standing where she had passed me, and watched her enter
the coach. I looked after the vehicle as it wheeled round and
rattled out over the drawbridge, to raise a cloud of dust on the
white, dry road beyond.
In that hour I experienced a sense of desolation and a pain to which
I find it difficult to give expression. It seemed to me as if she
had gone out of my life for all time - as if no reparation that I
could ever make would suffice to win her back after what had passed
between us that morning. Already wounded in her pride by what
Mademoiselle de Marsac had told her of our relations, my behaviour
in the rose garden had completed the work of turning into hatred
the tender feelings that but yesterday she had all but confessed
for me. That she hated me now, I was well assured. My reflections
as I walked had borne it in upon me how rash, how mad had been my
desperate action, and with bitterness I realized that I had destroyed
the last chance of ever mending matters.
Not even the payment of my wager and my return in my true character
could avail me now. The payment of my wager, forsooth! Even that
lost what virtue it might have contained. Where was the heroism of
such an act? Had I not failed, indeed? And was not, therefore, the
payment of my wager become inevitable?
Fool! fool! Why had I not profited that gentle mood of hers when
we had drifted down the stream together? Why had I not told her
then of the whole business from its ugly inception down to the pass
to which things were come, adding that to repair the evil I was
going back to Paris to pay my wager, and that when that was done,
I would return to ask her to become my wife? That was the course
a man of sense would have adopted. He would have seen the dangers
that beset him in my false position, and would have been quick to
have forestalled them in the only manner possible.
Heigh-ho! It was done. The game was at an end, and I had bungled
my part of it like any fool. One task remained me - that of meeting
Marsac at Grenade and doing justice to the memory of poor Lesperon.
What might betide thereafter mattered little. I should be ruined
when I had settled with Chatellerault, and Marcel de Saint-Pol, de
Bardelys, that brilliant star in the firmament of the Court of
France, would suffer an abrupt eclipse, would be quenched for all
time. But this weighed little with me then. I had lost everything
that I might have valued - everything that might have brought fresh
zest to a jaded, satiated life.
Later that day I was told by the Vicomte that there was a rumour
current to the effect that the Marquis de Bardelys was dead. Idly
I inquired how the rumour had been spread, and he told me that a
riderless horse, which had been captured a few days ago by some
peasants, had been recognized by Monsieur de Bardelys's servants as
belonging to their master, and that as nothing had been seen or
heard of him for a fortnight, it was believed that he must have met
with some mischance. Not even that piece of information served to
arouse my interest. Let them believe me dead if they would. To
him that is suffering worse than death to be accounted dead is a
The next day passed without incident. Mademoiselle's absence
continued and I would have questioned the Vicomte concerning it,
but a not unnatural hesitancy beset me, and I refrained.
On the morrow I was to leave Lavedan, but there were no preparations
to be made, no packing to be done, for during my sojourn there I
had been indebted to the generous hospitality of the Vicomte for my
very apparel. We supped quietly together that night the Vicomte
and I - for the Vicomtesse was keeping her room.
I withdrew early to my chamber, and long I lay awake, revolving a
gloomy future in my mind. I had given no thought to what I should
do after having offered my explanation to Monsieur de Marsac on the
morrow, nor could I now bring myself to consider it with any degree
of interest. I would communicate with Chatellerault to inform him
that I accounted my wager lost. I would send him my note of hand,
making over to him my Picardy estates, and I would request him to
pay off and disband my servants both in Paris and at Bardelys.
As for myself, I did not know, and, as I have hinted, I cared but
little, in what places my future life might lie. I had still a
little property by Beaugency, but scant inclination to withdraw to
it. To Paris I would not return; that much I was determined upon;
but upon no more. I had thoughts of going to Spain. Yet that
course seemed no less futile than any other of which I could bethink
me. I fell asleep at last, vowing that it would be a mercy and a
fine solution to the puzzle of how to dispose of the future if I
were to awaken no more.
I was, however, destined to be roused again just as the veil of
night was being lifted and the chill breath of dawn was upon the
world. There was a loud knocking at the gates of Lavedan, confused
noises of voices, of pattering feet, of doors opening and closing
within the chateau.
There was a rapping at my chamber door, and when I went to open, I
found the Vicomte on the threshold, nightcapped, in his shirt, and
bearing a lighted taper.
"There are troopers at the gate!" he exclaimed as he entered the
room. "That dog Saint-Eustache has already been at work!"
For all the agitation that must have been besetting him, his manner
was serene as ever. "What are we to do?" he asked.
"You are admitting them - naturally?" said I, inquiry in my voice.
"Why, yes"; and he shrugged his shoulders. "What could it avail us
to resist them? Even had I been prepared for it, it would be futile
to attempt to suffer a siege."
I wrapped a dressing-gown about me, for the morning air was chill.
"Monsieur le Vicomte," said I gravely, "I heartily deplore that
Monsieur de Marsac's affairs should have detained me here. But for
him, I had left Lavedan two days ago. As it is, I tremble for you,
but we may at least hope that my being taken in your house will draw
down no ill results upon you. I shall never forgive myself if
through my having taken refuge here I should have encompassed your
"There is no question of that," he replied, with the quick generosity
characteristic of the man. "This is the work of Saint-Eustache.
Sooner or later I always feared that it would happen, for sooner or
later he and I must have come to enmity over my daughter. That
knave had me in his power. He knew - being himself outwardly one of
us - to what extent I was involved in the late rebellion, and I knew
enough of him to be assured that if some day he should wish to do me
ill, he would never scruple to turn traitor. I am afraid, Monsieur
de Lesperon, that it is not for you alone - perhaps not for you at
all - that the soldiers have come, but for me."
Then, before I could answer him, the door was flung wide, and into
the room, in nightcap and hastily donned robe - looking a very
megere in that disfiguring deshabille - swept the Vicomtesse.
"See," she cried to her husband, her strident voice raised in
reproach - "see to what a pass you have brought us!"
"Anne, Anne!" he exclaimed, approaching her and seeking to soothe
her; "be calm, my poor child, and be brave."
But, evading him, she towered, lean and malevolent as a fury.
"Calm?" she echoed contemptuously. "Brave?" Then a short laugh
broke from her - a despairing, mocking, mirthless expression of
anger. "By God, do you add effrontery to your other failings?
Dare you bid me be calm and brave in such an hour? Have I been
warning you fruitlessly these twelve months past, that, after
disregarding me and deriding my warnings, you should bid me be
calm now that my fears are realized?"
There was a sound of creaking gates below. The Vicomte heard it.
"Madame," he said, putting aside his erstwhile tender manner, and
speaking with a lofty dignity, "the troopers have been admitted.
Let me entreat you to retire. It is not befitting our station--"
"What is our station?" she interrupted harshly. "Rebels - proscribed,
houseless beggars. That is our station, thanks to you and your
insane meddling with treason. What is to become of us, fool? What
is to become of Roxalanne and me when they shall have hanged you and
have driven us from Lavedan? By God's death, a fine season this to
talk of the dignity of our station! Did I not warn you, malheureux,
to leave party faction alone? You laughed at me."
"Madame, your memory does me an injustice," he answered in a
strangled voice. "I never laughed at you in all my life."
"You did as much, at least. Did you not bid me busy myself with
women's affairs? Did you not bid me leave you to follow your own
judgment? You have followed it - to a pretty purpose, as God lives!
These gentlemen of the King's will cause you to follow it a little
farther," she pursued, with heartless, loathsome sarcasm. "You will
follow it as far as the scaffold at Toulouse. That, you will tell
me, is your own affair. But what provision have you made for your
wife and daughter? Did you marry me and get her to leave us to
perish of starvation? Or are we to turn kitchen wenches or
sempstresses for our livelihood?"
With a groan, the Vicomte sank down upon the bed, and covered his
face with his hands.
"God pity me!" he cried, in a voice of agony - an agony such as the
fear of death could never have infused into his brave soul; an agony
born of the heartlessness of this woman who for twenty years had
shared his bed and board, and who now in the hour of his adversity
failed him so cruelly - so tragically.
"Aye," she mocked in her bitterness, "call upon God to pity you,
for I shall not."
She paced the room now, like a caged lioness, her face livid with
the fury that possessed her. She no longer asked questions; she
no longer addressed him; oath followed oath from her thin lips, and
the hideousness of this woman's blasphemy made me shudder. At last
there were heavy steps upon the stairs, and, moved by a sudden
impulse "Madame," I cried, "let me prevail upon you to restrain
She swung round to face me, her dose-set eyes ablaze with anger.
"Sangdieu! By what right do you--" she began but this was no time
to let a woman's tongue go babbling on; no time for ceremony; no
season for making a leg and addressing her with a simper. I caught
her viciously by the wrist, and with my face close up to hers "Folle!"
I cried, and I'll swear no man had ever used the word to her before.
She gasped and choked in her surprise and rage. Then lowering my
voice lest it should reach the approaching soldiers: "Would you ruin
the Vicomte and yourself?" I muttered. Her eyes asked me a question,
and I answered it. "How do you know that the soldiers have come for
your husband? It may be that they are seeking me - and only me.
They may know nothing of the Vicomte's defection. Shall you, then,
be the one to inform them of it by your unbridled rantings and your
Her jaw fell open in astonishment. This was a side of the question
she had not considered.
"Let me prevail upon you, madame, to withdraw and to be of good
courage. It is more than likely that you alarm yourself without
She continued to stare at me in her amazement and the confusion that
was congenital with it, and if there was not time for her to withdraw,
at least the possibility I had suggested acted as a timely warning.
In that moment the door opened again, and on the threshold appeared
a young man in a plumed hat and corselet, carrying a naked sword in
one hand and a lanthorn in the other. Behind him I caught the gleam
of steel from the troopers at his heels.
"Which of you is Monsieur Rene de Lesperon?" he inquired politely,
his utterance flavoured by a strong Gascon accent.
I stood forward. "I am known by that name, Monsieur le Capitaine,"
He looked at me wistfully, apologetically almost, then "In the King's
name, Monsieur de Lesperon, I call upon you to yield!" said he.
"I have been expecting you. My sword is yonder, monsieur," I
replied suavely. "If you will allow me to dress, I shall be ready
to accompany you in a few minutes."
He bowed, and it at once became clear that his business at Lavedan
was - as I had suggested to the Vicomtesse might be possible - with
"I am grateful for the readiness of your submission," said this very
polite gentleman. He was a comely lad, with blue eyes and a
good-humoured mouth, to which a pair of bristling moustaches sought
vainly to impart an expression of ferocity.
"Before you proceed to dress, monsieur, I have another duty to
"Discharge your duty, monsieur," I answered. Whereupon he made a
sign to his men, and in a moment they were ransacking my garments
and effects. While this was taking place, he turned to the Vicomte
and Vicomtesse, and offered them a thousand apologies for having
interrupted their slumbers, and for so rudely depriving them of
their guest. He advanced in his excuse the troublous nature of the
times, and threw in a bunch of malisons at the circumstances which
forced upon soldiers the odious duties of the tipstaff, hoping that
we would think him none the less a gentleman for the unsavoury
business upon which he was engaged.
From my clothes they took the letters addressed to Lesperon which
that poor gentleman had entrusted to me on the night of his death;
and among these there was one from the Duc d'Orleans himself, which
would alone have sufficed to have hanged a regiment. Besides these,
they took Monsieur de Marsac's letter of two days ago, and the
locket containing the picture of Mademoiselle de Marsac.
The papers and the portrait they delivered to the Captain, who took
them with the same air of deprecation tainted with disgust that
coloured all his actions in connection with my arrest.
To this same repugnance for his catchpoll work do I owe it that at
the moment of setting out he offered to let me ride without the
annoyance of an escort if I would pass him my parole not to attempt
We were standing, then, in the hall of the chateau. His men were
already in the courtyard, and there were only present Monsieur le
Vicomte and Anatole - the latter reflecting the look of sorrow that
haunted his master's face. The Captain's generosity was certainly
leading him beyond the bounds of his authority, and it touched me.
"Monsieur is very generous," said I.
He shrugged his shoulders impatiently.
"Cap de Dieu!" he cried - he had a way of swearing that reminded me
of my friend Cazalet. "It is no generosity, monsieur. It is a
desire to make this obscene work more congenial to the spirit of a
gentleman, which, devil take me, I cannot stifle, not for the King
himself. And then, Monsieur de Lesperon, are we not
fellow-countrymen? Are we not Gascons both? Pardieu, there is no
more respected a name in the whole of Gascony than that of Lesperon,
and that you belong to so honourable a family is alone more than
sufficient to warrant such slight favours as it may be in my power
to show you."
"You have my parole that I will attempt no escape, Monsieur le
Capitaine," I answered, bowing may acknowledgment of his compliments.
"I am Mironsac de Castelroux, of Chateau Rouge in Gascony," he
informed me, returning my bow. My faith, had he not made a pretty
soldier he would have made an admirable master of deportment.
My leave-taking of Monsieur de Lavedan was brief but cordial;
apologetic on my part, intensely sympathetic on his. And so I went
out alone with Castelroux upon the road to Toulouse, his men being
ordered to follow in half an hour's time and to travel at their
As we cantered along - Castelroux and I - we talked of many things,
and I found him an amusing and agreeable companion. Had my mood
been other than despairing, the news he gave me might have
occasioned me some concern; for it seemed that prisoners arraigned
for treason and participation in the late rising were being very
summarily treated. Many were never so much as heard in their own
defence, the evidence collected of their defection being submitted
to the Tribunal, and judgment being forthwith passed upon them by
judges who had no ears for anything they might advance in their
The evidence of my identity was complete: there was my own admission
to Castelroux; the evidence of the treason of Lesperon was none the
less complete; in fact, it was notorious; and there was the Duke's
letter found amongst my effects. If the judges refused to lend an
ear to my assurances that I was not Lesperon at all, but the missing
Bardelys, my troubles were likely to receive a very summary solution.
The fear of it, however, weighed not over-heavily upon me. I was
supremely indifferent. Life was at an end so far as I was concerned.
I had ruined the one chance of real happiness that had ever been
held out to me, and if the gentlemen of the courts of Toulouse were
pleased to send me unheeded to the scaffold, what should it signify?
But there was another matter that did interest me, and that was my
interview with Marsac. Touching this, I spoke to my captor.
"There is a gentleman I wish to see at Grenade this morning. You
have amongst the papers taken from me a letter making this
assignation, Monsieur le Capitaine, and I should be indeed grateful
if you would determine that we shall break our fast there, so that
I may have an opportunity of seeing him. The matter is to me of
the highest importance."
"It concerns--?" he asked.
"A lady," I answered.
"Ah, yes! But the letter is of the nature of a challenge, is it
not? Naturally, I cannot permit you to endanger your life."
"Lest we disappoint the headsman at Toulouse?" I laughed. "Have no
fear. There shall be no duel!"
"Then I am content, monsieur, and you shall see your friend."
I thanked him, and we talked of other things thereafter as we rode
in the early morning along the Toulouse road. Our conversation
found its way, I scarce know how, to the topic of Paris and the
Court, and when I casually mentioned, in passing, that I was well
acquainted with the Luxembourg, he inquired whether I had ever
chanced to meet a young spark of the name of Mironsac.
"Mironsac?" I echoed. "Why, yes." And I was on the point of adding
that I knew the youth intimately, and what a kindness I had for him,
when, deeming it imprudent, I contented myself with asking, "You
"Pardieu!" he swore. "The fellow is my cousin. We are both
Mironsacs; he is Mironsac of Castelvert, whilst I, as you may
remember I told you, am Mironsac of Castelroux. To distinguish us,
he is always known as Mironsac, and I as Castelroux. Peste! It is
not the only distinction, for while he basks in the sunshine of the
great world of Paris - they are wealthy, the Mironsacs of Castelvert
--I, a poor devil of a Gascony cadet, am playing the catchpoll in
I looked at him with fresh interest, for the mention of that dear
lad Mironsac brought back to my mind the night in Paris on which my
ill-starred wager had been laid, and I was reminded of how that
high-minded youth had sought - when it was too late to reason me out
of the undertaking by alluding to the dishonour with which in his
honest eyes it must be fraught.
We spoke of his cousin - Castelroux and I - and I went so far now
as to confess that I had some love for the youth, whom I praised in
unmistakable terms. This inclined to increase the friendliness
which my young Captain had manifested since my arrest, and I was
presently emboldened by it to beg of him to add to the many favours
that I already owed him by returning to me the portrait which his
men had subtracted from my pocket. It was my wish to return this
to Marsac, whilst at the same time it would afford corroboration of
To this Castelroux made no difficulty.
"Why, yes," said he, and he produced it. "I crave your pardon for
not having done the thing of my own accord. What can the Keeper of
the Seals want with that picture?"
I thanked him, and pocketed the locket.
"Poor lady!" he sighed, a note of compassion in his voice. "By my
soul, Monsieur de Lesperon, fine work this for soldiers, is it not?
Diable! It is enough to turn a gentleman's stomach sour for life,
and make him go hide himself from the eyes of honest men. Had I
known that soldiering meant such business, I had thought twice
before I adopted it as a career for a man of honour. I had remained
in Gascony and tilled the earth sooner than have lent myself to this!"
"My good young friend," I laughed, "what you do, you do in the King's
"So does every tipstaff," he answered impatiently, his moustaches
bristling as the result of the scornful twist he gave his lips. "To
think that I should have a hand in bringing tears to the eyes of that
sweet lady! Quelle besogne! Bon Dieu, quelle besogne!"
I laughed at the distress vented in that whimsical Gascon tongue of
his, whereupon he eyed me in a wonder that was tempered with
admiration. For to his brave soul a gentleman so stoical as to
laugh under such parlous circumstances was very properly a gentleman
to be admired.
THE RISEN DEAD
It was close upon ten o'clock as we rode into the yard of the
imposing Hotel de la Couronne at Grenade.
Castelroux engaged a private room on the first floor - a handsome
chamber overlooking the courtyard - and in answer to the inquiries
that I made I was informed by the landlord that Monsieur de Marsac
was not yet arrived.
"My assignation was 'before noon,' Monsieur de Castelroux," said I.
"With your permission, I would wait until noon."
He made no difficulty. Two hours were of no account. We had all
risen very early, and he was, himself, he said, entitled to some
Whilst I stood by the window it came to pass than a very tall,
indifferently apparelled gentleman issued from the hostelry and
halted for some moments in conversation with the ostler below. He
walked with an enfeebled step, and leaned heavily for support upon
a stout cane. As he turned to reenter the inn I had a glimpse of
a face woefully pale, about which, as about the man's whole figure,
there was a something that was familiar - a something that puzzled
me, and on which my mind was still dwelling when presently I sat
down to breakfast with Castelroux.
It may have been a half-hour later, and, our meal being at an end,
we were sitting talking - I growing impatient the while that this
Monsieur de Marsac should keep me waiting so - when of a sudden the
rattle of hoofs drew me once more to the window. A gentleman,
riding very recklessly, had just dashed through the porte-cochere,
and was in the act of pulling up his horse. He was a lean, active
man, very richly dressed, and with a face that by its swarthiness
of skin and the sable hue of beard and hair looked almost black.
"Ah, you are there!" he cried, with something between a snarl and
a laugh, and addressing somebody within the shelter of the porch.
"Par la mort Dieu, I had hardly looked to find you!"
From the recess of the doorway I heard a gasp of amazement and a
cry of "Marsac! You here?"
So this was the gentleman I was to see! A stable boy had taken his
reins, and he leapt nimbly to the ground. Into my range of vision
hobbled now the enfeebled gentleman whom earlier I had noticed.
"My dear Stanislas!" he cried, "I cannot tell you how rejoiced I am
to see you!" and he approached Marsac with arms that were opened as
if to embrace him.
The newcomer surveyed him a moment in wonder, with eyes grown dull.
Then abruptly raising his hand, he struck the fellow on the breast,
and thrust him back so violently that but for the stable-boy's
intervention he had of a certainty fallen. With a look of startled
amazement on his haggard face, the invalid regarded his assailant.
As for Marsac, he stepped close up to him.
"What is this?" he cried harshly. "What is this make-believe
feebleness? That you are pale, poltroon, I do not wonder! But why
these tottering limbs? Why this assumption of weakness? Do you
look to trick me by these signs?"
"Have you taken leave of your senses?" exclaimed the other, a note
of responsive anger sounding in his voice. "Have you gone mad,
"Abandon this pretence," was the contemptuous answer. "Two days
ago at Lavedan, my friend, they informed me how complete was your
recovery; from what they told us, it was easy to guess why you
tarried there and left us without news of you. That was my
reason, as you may have surmised, for writing to you. My sister
has mourned you for dead - was mourning you for dead whilst you
sat at the feet of your Roxalanne and made love to her among the
roses of Lavedan."
"Lavedan?" echoed the other slowly. Then, raising his voice, "what
the devil are you saying?" he blazed. "What do I know of Lavedan?"
In a flash it had come to me who that enfeebled gentleman was.
Rodenard, the blunderer, had been at fault when he had said that
Lesperon had expired. Clearly he could have no more than swooned;
for here, in the flesh, was Lesperon himself, the man I had left
for dead in that barn by Mirepoix.
How or where he had recovered were things that at the moment did
not exercise my mind - nor have I since been at any pains to
unravel the mystery of it; but there he was, and for the moment
that fact was all-sufficing. What complications would come of his
presence Heaven alone could foretell.
"Put an end to this play-acting!" roared the savage Marsac. "It
will avail you nothing. My sister's tears may have weighed lightly
with you, but you shall pay the price of them, and of the slight
you have put upon her."
"My God, Marsac!" cried the other, roused to an equal fierceness.
"Will you explain?"
"Aye," snarled Marsac, and his sword flashed from his scabbard,"
I'll explain. As God lives, I'll explain - with this!" And he
whirled his blade under the eyes of the invalid. "Come, my master,
the comedy's played out. Cast aside that crutch and draw; draw,
man, or, sangdieu, I'll run you through as you stand!"
There was a commotion below. The landlord and a posse of his
satellites - waiters, ostlers, and stableboys - rushed between
them, and sought to restrain the bloodthirsty Marsac. But he
shook them off as a bull shakes off a pack of dogs, and like an
angry bull, too, did he stand his ground and bellow. In a moment
his sweeping sword had cleared a circle about him. In its
lightning dartings hither and thither at random, it had stung a
waiter in the calf, and when the fellow saw the blood staining his
hose, he added to the general din his shrieks that he was murdered.
Marsac swore and threatened in a breath, and a kitchen wench, from
a point of vantage on the steps, called shame upon him and abused
him roundly for a cowardly assassin to assail a poor sufferer who
could hardly stand upright.
"Po' Cap de Dieu!" swore Castelroux at my elbow. "Saw you ever such
an ado? What has chanced?"
But I never stayed to answer him. Unless I acted quickly blood
would assuredly be shed. I was the one man who could explain
matters, and it was a mercy for Lesperon that I should have been at
hand in the hour of his meeting that fire-eater Marsac. I forgot
the circumstances in which I stood to Castelroux; I forgot
everything but the imminent necessity that I should intervene.
Some seven feet below our window was the roof of the porch; from
that to the ground it might be some eight feet more. Before my
Gascon captain knew what I was about, I had swung myself down from
the window on to the projecting porch. A second later, I created
a diversion by landing in the midst of the courtyard fray, with the
alarmed Castelroux - who imagined that I was escaping - following
by the same unusual road, and shouting as he came "Monsieur de
Lesperon! Hi! Monsieur de Lesperon! Mordieu! Remember your
parole, Monsieur de Lesperon!"
Nothing could have been better calculated to stem Marsac's fury;
nothing could have so predisposed him to lend an ear to what I had
to say, for it was very evident that Castelroux's words were
addressed to me, and that it was I whom he called by the name of
Lesperon. In an instant I was at Marsac's side. But before I
could utter a word, "What the devil does this mean?" he asked,
eyeing me with fierce suspicion.
"It means, monsieur, that there are more Lesperons than one in
France. I am the Lesperon who was at Lavedan. If you doubt me,
ask this gentleman, who arrested me there last night. Ask him,
too, why we have halted here. Ask him, if you will, to show you
the letter that you left at Lavedan making an assignation here
before noon to-day, which letter I received."
The suspicion faded from Marsac's eyes, and they grew round with
wonder as he listened to this prodigious array of evidence.
Lesperon looked on in no less amazement, yet I am sure from the
manner of his glance that he did not recognize in me the man that
had succoured him at Mirepoix. That, after all, was natural
enough; for the minds of men in such reduced conditions as had been
his upon that night are not prone to receive very clear impressions,
and still less prone to retain such impressions as they do receive.
Before Marsac could answer me, Castelroux was at my side.
"A thousand apologies!" he laughed. "A fool might have guessed the
errand that took you so quickly through that window, and none but
a fool would have suspected you of seeking to escape. It was
unworthy in me, Monsieur de Lesperon."
I turned to him while those others still stood gaping, and led him
"Monsieur le Capitaine," said I, "you find it troublesome enough
to reconcile your conscience with such arrests as you are charged
to make, is it not so.
"Mordieu!" he cried, by way of emphatically assenting.
"Now, if you should chance to overhear words betraying to you
certain people whom otherwise you would never suspect of being
rebels, your soldier's duty would, nevertheless, compel you to
apprehend them, would it not?"
"Why, true. I am afraid it would," he answered, with a grimace.
"But, if forewarned that by being present in a certain place you
should overhear such words, what course would you pursue?"
"Avoid it like a pestilence, monsieur," he answered promptly.
"Then, Monsieur le Capitaine, may I trespass upon your generosity
to beseech you to let me take these litigants to our room upstairs,
and to leave us alone there for a half-hour?"
Frankness was my best friend in dealing with Castelroux - frankness
and his distaste for the business they had charged him with. As
for Marsac and Lesperon, they were both eager enough to have the
mystery explained, and when Castelroux having consented - I invited
them to my chamber, they came readily enough.
Since Monsieur de Lesperon did not recognize me, there was no reason
why I should enlighten him touching my identity, and every reason
why I should not. As soon as they were seated, I went to the heart
of the matter at once and without preamble.
"A fortnight ago, gentlemen," said I, "I was driven by a pack of
dragoons across the Garonne. I was wounded in the shoulder and very
exhausted, and I knocked at the gates of Lavedan to crave shelter.
That shelter, gentlemen, was afforded me, and when I had announced
myself as Monsieur de Lesperon, it was all the more cordially
because one Monsieur de Marsac, who was a friend of the Vicomte de
Lavedan, and a partisan in the lost cause of Orleans, happened often
to have spoken of a certain Monsieur de Lesperon as his very dear
friend. I have no doubt, gentlemen, that you will think harshly of
me because I did not enlighten the Vicomte. But there were reasons
for which I trust you will not press me, since I shall find it
difficult to answer you with truth."
"But is your name Lesperon?" cried Lesperon.
"That, monsieur, is a small matter. Whether my name is Lesperon or
not, I confess to having practised a duplicity upon the Vicomte and
his family, since I am certainly not the Lesperon whose identity I
accepted. But if I accepted that identity, monsieur, I also
accepted your liabilities, and so I think that you should find it
in your heart to extend me some measure of forgiveness. As Rene de
Lesperon, of Lesperon in Gascony, I was arrested last night at
Lavedan, and, as you may observe, I am being taken to Toulouse to
stand the charge of high treason. I have not demurred; I have not
denied in the hour of trouble the identity that served me in my
hour of need. I am taking the bitter with the sweet, and I assure
you, gentlemen, that the bitter predominates in a very marked degree."
"But this must not be," cried Lesperon, rising. "I know not what use
you may have made of my name, but I have no reason to think that you
can have brought discredit upon it, and so--"
"I thank you, monsieur, but--"
"And so I cannot submit that you shall go to Toulouse in my stead.
Where is this officer whose prisoner you are? Pray summon him,
monsieur, and let us set the matter right."
"This is very generous," I answered calmly. "But I have crimes
enough upon my head, and so, if the worst should befall me, I am
simply atoning in one person for the errors of two."
"But that is no concern of mine!" he cried.
"It is so much your concern that if you commit so egregious a blunder
as to denounce yourself, you will have ruined yourself, without
materially benefitting me.
He still objected, but in this strain I argued for some time, and
to such good purpose that in the end I made him realize that by