Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

Gallantry by James Branch Cabell

Part 4 out of 6

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.6 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

incited this carcass and, from what I know of him, is by this time
occupying hell's hottest gridiron,--were riding peacefully toward
Beauseant. Then this lady pops out of nowhere, and Cazaio promptly
expresses an extreme admiration for her person."

"The rest," John Bulmer said, "I can imagine. Oh, believe me, I look
forward to next Thursday!"

"But for you," the girl said, "I would now be the prisoner of that devil
upon the Taunenfels! Three to one you fought,--and you conquered! I have
misjudged you, Monsieur Bulmer. I had thought you only an indolent old
gentleman, not very brave,--because--"

"Because otherwise I would not have been the devil's lackey?" said John
Bulmer. "Eh, mademoiselle, I have been inspecting the world for more years
than I care to confess; I have observed the king upon his throne, and the
caught thief upon his coffin in passage for the gallows: and I suspect
they both came thither through taking such employment as chance offered.
Meanwhile, we waste daylight. You were journeying--?"

"To Perdigon," Claire answered. She drew nearer to him and laid one
hand upon his arm. "You are a gallant man, Monsieur Bulmer. Surely you
understand. Two weeks ago my brother affianced me to the Duke of Ormskirk.
Ormskirk!--ah, I know he is your kinsman,--your patron,--but you yourself
could not deny that the world reeks with his infamy. And my own brother,
monsieur, had betrothed me to this perjurer, to that lewd rake, to that
inhuman devil who slaughters defenceless prisoners, men, women, and
children alike. Why, I had sooner marry the first beggar or the ugliest
fiend in hell!" the girl wailed, and she wrung her plump little hands in
desperation.

"Good, good!" he cried, in his soul. "It appears my eloquence of yesterday
was greater than I knew of!"

Claire resumed: "But you cannot argue with Gaston--he merely shrugs. So I
decided to go over to Perdigon and marry Gerard des Roches. He has wanted
to marry me for a long while, but Gaston said he was too poor. And, O
Monsieur Bulmer, Gerard is so very, very stupid!--but he was the only
person available, and in any event," she concluded, with a sigh of
resignation, "he is preferable to that terrible Ormskirk."

John Bulmer gazed on her considerately. "'Beautiful as an angel, and
headstrong as a devil,'" was his thought, "You have an eye, Gaston!"
Aloud John Bulmer said: "Your remedy against your brother's tyranny,
mademoiselle, is quite masterly, though perhaps a trifle Draconic. Yet if
on his return he find you already married, he undoubtedly cannot hand you
over to this wicked Ormskirk. Marry, therefore, by all means,--but not with
this stupid Gerard."

"With whom, then?" she wondered.

"Fate has planned it," he laughed; "here are you and I, and yonder is the
clergyman whom Madam Destiny has thoughtfully thrown in our way."

"Not you," she answered, gravely. "I am too deeply in your debt, Monsieur
Bulmer, to think of marrying you."

"You refuse," he said, "because you have known for some days past that I
loved you. Yet it is really this fact which gives me my claim to become
your husband. You have need of a man to do you this little service. I know
of at least one person whose happiness it would be to die if thereby he
might save you a toothache. This man you cannot deny--you have not the
right to deny this man his single opportunity of serving you."

"I like you very much," she faltered; and then, with disheartening
hastiness, "Of course, I like you very much; but I am not in love with
you."

He shook his head at her, "I would think the worse of your intellect if you
were. I adore you. Granted: but that constitutes no cut-throat mortgage.
It is merely a state of mind which I have somehow blundered into, and with
which you have no concern. So I ask nothing of you save to marry me. You
may, if you like, look upon me as insane; it is the view toward which I
myself incline. However, mine is a domesticated mania and vexes no one save
myself; and even I derive no little amusement from its manifestations. Eh,
Monsieur Jourdain may laugh at me for a puling lover!" cried John Bulmer;
"but, heavens! if only he could see the unplumbed depths of ludicrousness I
discover in my own soul! The mirth of Atlas could not do it justice."

Claire meditated for a while, her eyes inscrutable and yet not unkindly.
"It shall be as you will," she said at last. "Yes, certainly, I will marry
you."

"O Mother of God!" said the Dominican, in profound disgust; "I cannot marry
two maniacs." But, in view of John Bulmer's sword and pistol, he went
through the ceremony without further protest.

And something embryonic in John Bulmer seemed to come, with the knave's
benediction, into flowerage. He saw, as if upon a sudden, how fine she was;
all the gracious and friendly youth of her: and he deliberated, dizzily,
the awe of her spirited and alert eyes; why, the woman was afraid of him!
That sunny and vivid glade had become, to him, an island about which past
happenings lapped like a fretted sea. "Dear me!" he reflected, "but I am
really in a very bad way indeed."

Now Mistress Bulmer gazed shyly at her husband. "We will go back to
Bellegarde," Claire began, "and inform Louis de Soyecourt that I cannot
marry the Duke of Ormskirk, because I have already married you, Jean
Bulmer,--"

"I would follow you," said John Bulmer, "though hell yawned between us.
I employ the particular expression as customary in all these cases of
romantic infatuation."

"Yet I," the Friar observed, "would, to the contrary, advise removal from
Poictesme as soon as may be possible. For I warn you that if you return to
Bellegarde, Monsieur de Soyecourt will have you hanged."

"Reverend sir," John Bulmer replied, "do you actually believe this
consideration would be to me of any moment?"

The Friar inspected his countenance. By and by the Friar said: "I
emphatically do not. And to think that at the beginning of our
acquaintanceship I took you for a sensible person!" Afterward the Friar
mounted his mule and left them.

Then silently John Bulmer assisted his wife to the back of one of the
horses, and they turned eastward into the Forest of Acaire. Mr. Bulmer's
countenance was politely interested, and he chatted pleasantly of the
forenoon's adventure. Claire told him something of her earlier memories
of Cazaio. So the two returned to Bellegarde. Then Claire led the way
toward the western facade, where her apartments were, and they came to a
postern-door, very narrow and with a grating.

"Help me down," the girl said. Immediately this was done; Claire remained
quite still. Her cheeks were smouldering and her left hand was lying inert
in John Bulmer's broader palm.

"Wait here," she said, "and let me go in first. Someone may be on watch.
There is perhaps danger--"

"My dear," said John Bulmer, "I perfectly comprehend you are about to enter
that postern, and close it in my face, and afterward hold discourse with me
through that little wicket. I assent, because I love you so profoundly that
I am capable not merely of tearing the world asunder like paper at your
command, but even of leaving you if you bid me do so."

"Your suspicions," she replied, "are prematurely marital. I am trying to
protect you, and you are the first to accuse me of underhand dealing! I
will prove to you how unjust are your notions." She entered the postern,
closed and bolted it, and appeared at the wicket.

"The Friar was intelligent," said Claire de Puysange, "and beyond doubt
the most sensible thing you can do is to get out of Poictesme as soon as
possible. You have been serviceable to me, and for that I thank you: but
the master of Bellegarde has the right of the low, the middle, and the high
justice, and if my husband show his face at Bellegarde he will infallibly
be hanged. If you claim me in England, Ormskirk will have you knifed in
some dark alleyway, just as, you tell me, he disposed of Monsieur Traquair
and Captain Dungelt. I am sorry, because I like you, even though you are
fat."

"You bid me leave you?" said John Bulmer. He was comfortably seated upon
the turf.

"For your own good," said she, "I advise you to." And she closed the
wicket.

"The acceptance of advice," said John Bulmer, "is luckily optional. I shall
therefore go down into the village, purchase a lute, have supper, and I
shall be here at sunrise to greet you with an aubade, according to the
ancient custom of Poictesme."

The wicket remained closed.

VI

"I will go to Marly, inform Gaston of the entire matter, and then my wife
is mine. I have tricked her neatly.

"I will do nothing of the sort. Gaston, can give me the woman's body only.
I shall accordingly buy me a lute."

VII

Achille Cazaio on the Taunenfels did not sleep that night....

The two essays [Footnote: The twenty-first chapter of Du Maillot's _Hommes
Illustres_; and the fifth of d'Avranches's _Ancetres de la Revolution_.
Loewe has an excellent digest of this data.] dealing with the man have
scarcely touched his capabilities. His exploits in and about Paris and
his Gascon doings, while important enough in the outcome, are but the
gesticulations of a puppet: the historian's real concern is with the hands
that manoeuvered above Cazaio; and whether or no Achille Cazaio organized
the riots in Toulouse and Guienne and Bearn is a question with which, at
this late day, there can be little profitable commerce.

One recommends this Cazaio rather to the spinners of romance: with his
morality--a trifle buccaneerish on occasion--once discreetly palliated,
history affords few heroes more instantly taking to the fancy....One casts
a hankering eye toward this Cazaio's rumored parentage, his hopeless and
life-long adoration of Claire de Puysange, his dealings with d'Argenson and
King Louis le Bien-Aime, the obscure and mischievous imbroglios in Spain,
and finally his aggrandizement and his flame-lit death, as du Maillot,
say, records these happenings: and one finds therein the outline of an
impelling hero, and laments that our traffic must be with a stolid and less
livelily tinted Bulmer. And with a sigh one passes on toward the labor
prearranged....

To-night Cazaio's desires were astir, and consciousness of his own power
was tempting him. He had never troubled Poictesme much: the Taunenfels were
accessible on that side, and so long as he confined his depredations to
the frontier, the Duc de Puysange merely shrugged and rendered his annual
tribute; it was not a great sum, and the Duke preferred to pay it rather
than forsake his international squabbles to quash a purely parochial
nuisance like a bandit, who was, too, a kinsman....

Meanwhile Cazaio had grown stronger than de Puysange knew. It was a time
of disaffection: the more violent here and there were beginning to assert
that before hanging a superfluous peasant or two de Puysange ought to bore
himself with inquiries concerning the abstract justice of the action. For
everywhere the irrational lower classes were grumbling about the very
miseries and maltreatments that had efficiently disposed of their fathers
for centuries: they seemed not to respect tradition: already they were
posting placards in the Paris boulevards,--"Shave the King for a monk, hang
the Pompadour, and break Machault on the wheel,"--and already a boy of
twelve, one Joseph Guillotin, was running about the streets of Saintes
yonder. So the commoners flocked to Cazaio in the Taunenfels until, little
by little, he had gathered an army about him.

And at Bellegarde, de Soyecourt had only a handful of men, Cazaio meditated
to-night. And the woman was there,--the woman whose eyes were blue and
incurious, whose face was always scornful.

In history they liken Achille Cazaio to Simon de Montfort, and the Gracchi,
and other graspers at fruit as yet unripe; or, if the perfervid word of
d'Avranches be accepted, you may regard him as "_le Saint-Jean de la
Revolution glorieuse_." But I think you may with more wisdom regard him as
a man of strong passions, any one of which, for the time being, possessed
him utterly.

Now he struck his palm upon the table.

"I have never seen a woman one-half so beautiful, Dom Michel. I am more
than ever in love with her."

"In that event," the Friar considered, "it is, of course, unfortunate she
should have a brand-new husband. Husbands are often thought much of when
they are a novelty."

"You bungled matters, you fat, mouse-hearted rascal. You could quite easily
have killed him."

The Dominican spread out his hands, and afterward reached for the bottle.
"Milanese armor!" said Dom Michel Fregose. [Footnote: The same ecclesiastic
who more lately dubbed himself, with Marechal de Richelieu's encouragement,
l'Abbe de Trans, and was discreditably involved in the forgeries of Madame
de St. Vincent.]

"Yet I am master of Poictesme," Cazaio thundered, "I have ten men to de
Soyecourt's one. Am I, then, lightly to be thwarted?"

"Undoubtedly you could take Bellegarde--and the woman along with the
castle,--if you decided they were worth the price of a little killing. I
think they are not worth it, I strongly advise you to have up a wench from
the village, to put out the light, and exercise your imagination."

Cazaio shook his head. "No, Dom Michel, you churchmen live too lewdly to
understand the tyranny of love."

"--Besides, there is that trifling matter of your understanding with de
Puysange,--and, besides, de Puysange will be here in two days."

Cazaio snapped his fingers. "He will arrive after the fair." Cazaio
uncorked the ink-bottle with an august gesture.

"Write!" said Achille Cazaio.

VIII

As John Bulmer leisurely ascended from the village the birds were waking.
Whether day were at hand or no was a matter of twittering debate overhead,
but in the west the stars were paling one by one, like candles puffed out
by the pretentious little wind that was bustling about the turquoise cupola
of heaven; and eastward Bellegarde showed stark, as though scissored from
a painting, against a sky of gray-and-rose. Here was a world of faint
ambiguity. Here was the exquisite tension of dawn, curiously a-chime with
John Bulmer's mood, for just now he found the universe too beautiful to put
any actual faith in its existence. He had strayed into Faery somehow--into
Atlantis, or Avalon, or "a wood near Athens,"--into a land of opalescence
and vapor and delicate color, that would vanish, bubble-like, at the
discreet tap of Pawsey fetching in his shaving-water; meantime John
Bulmer's memory snatched at each loveliness, jealously, as a pug snatches
bits of sugar.

Beneath her window he paused and shifted his lute before him. Then he
began to sing, exultant in the unreality of everything and of himself in
particular.

Sang John Bulmer,

"Speed forth, my song, the sun's ambassador,
Lest in the east night prove the conqueror,
The day be slain, and darkness triumph,--for
The sun is single, but her eyes are twain.

"And now the sunlight and the night contest
A doubtful battle, and day bides at best
Doubtful, until she waken. 'Tis attest
The sun is single.

"But her eyes are twain,--
And should the light of all the world delay,
And darkness prove victorious? Is it day
Now that the sun alone is risen?

"Nay,
The sun is single, but her eyes are twain,--
Twain firmaments that mock with heavenlier hue
The heavens' less lordly and less gracious blue,
And lit with sunlier sunlight through and through,

"The sun is single, but her eyes are twain,
And of fair things this side of Paradise
Fairest, of goodly things most goodly,"

He paused here and smote a resonant and louder chord. His voice ascended in
dulcet supplication.

"Rise,
And succor the benighted world that cries,
_The sun is single, but her eyes are twain!_"

"Eh--? So it is you, is it?" Claire was peeping disdainfully from the
window. Her throat was bare, and her dusky hair was a shade dishevelled,
and in her meditative eyes he caught the flicker of her tardiest dream just
as it vanished.

"It is I," John Bulmer confessed--"come to awaken you according to the
ancient custom of Poictesme."

"I would much rather have had my sleep out," said she, resentfully. "In
perfect frankness, I find you and your ancient customs a nuisance."

"You lack romance, my wife."

"Oh--?" She was a person of many cryptic exclamations, this bride of his.
Presently she said: "Indeed, Monsieur Bulmer, I entreat you to leave
Poictesme. I have informed Louis of everything, and he is rather furious."

John Bulmer said, "Do you comprehend why I have not already played the
emigrant?"

After a little pause, she answered, "Yes."

"And for the same reason I can never leave you so long as this gross
body is at my disposal. You are about to tell me that if I remain here I
shall probably be hanged on account of what happened yesterday. There are
grounds for my considering this outcome unlikely, but if I knew it to be
inevitable--if I had but one hour's start of Jack Ketch,--I swear to you I
would not budge."

"I am heartily sorry," she replied, "since if I had known you really cared
for me--so much--I would never have married you. Oh, it is impossible!" the
girl laughed, with a trace of worriment. "You had not laid eyes on me until
a week ago yesterday!"

"My dear," John Bulmer answered, "I am perhaps inadequately acquainted
with the etiquette of such matters, but I make bold to question if love is
exclusively regulated by clock-ticks. Observe!" he said, with a sort of
fury: "there is a mocking demon in me who twists my tongue into a jest even
when I am most serious. I love you: and I dare not tell you so without
a grin. Then when you laugh at me I, too, can laugh, and the whole
transaction can be regarded as a parody. Oh, I am indeed a coward!"

"You are nothing of the sort! You proved that yesterday."

"Yesterday I shot an unsuspecting man, and afterward fenced with
another--in a shirt of Milanese armor! Yes, I was astoundingly heroic
yesterday, for the simple reason that all the while I knew myself to be as
safe as though I were snug at home snoring under an eider-down quilt. Yet,
to do me justice, I am a shade less afraid of physical danger than of
ridicule."

She gave him a womanly answer. "You are not ridiculous, and to wear armor
was very sensible of you."

"To the contrary, I am extremely ridiculous. For observe: I am an elderly
man, quite old enough to be your father; I am fat--No, that is kind of you,
but I am not of pleasing portliness, I am just unpardonably fat; and, I
believe, I am not possessed of any fatal beauty of feature such as would
by ordinary impel young women to pursue me with unsolicited affection:
and being all this, I presume to love you. To me, at least, that appears
ridiculous."

"Ah, do not laugh!" she said. "Do not laugh, Monsieur Bulmer!"

But John Bulmer persisted in that curious laughter. "Because," he presently
stated, "the whole affair is so very diverting."

"Believe me," Claire began, "I am sorry that you care--so much. I--do not
understand. I am sorry,--I am not sorry," the girl said, in a new tone, and
you saw her transfigured; "I am glad! Do you comprehend?--I am glad!" And
then she swiftly closed the window.

John Bulmer observed. "I am perhaps subject to hallucinations, for
otherwise the fact had been previously noted by geographers that heaven is
immediately adjacent to Poictesme."

IX

Presently the old flippancy came back to him, since an ancient custom is
not lightly broken; and John Bulmer smiled sleepily and shook his head.
"Here am I on my honeymoon, with my wife locked up in the chateau, and with
me locked out of it. My position savors too much of George Dandin's to be
quite acceptable. Let us set about rectifying matters."

He came to the great gate of the castle and found two sentries there. He
thought this odd, but they recognized him as de Soyecourt's guest, and
after a whispered consultation admitted him. In the courtyard a lackey took
charge of Monsieur Bulmer, and he was conducted into the presence of the
Marquis de Soyecourt. "What the devil!" thought John Bulmer, "is Bellegarde
in a state of siege?"

The little Marquis sat beside the Duchesse de Puysange, to the rear of a
long table with a crimson cover. Their attitudes smacked vaguely of the
judicial, and before them stood, guarded by four attendants, a ragged and
dissolute looking fellow whom the Marquis was languidly considering.

"My dear man," de Soyecourt was saying as John Bulmer came into the room
"when you brought this extraordinary epistle to Bellegarde, you must
have been perfectly aware that thereby you were forfeiting your life.
Accordingly, I am compelled to deny your absurd claims to the immunity of a
herald, just as I would decline to receive a herald from the cockroaches."

"That is cowardly," the man said. "I come as the representative of an
honorable enemy who desires to warn you before he strikes."

"You come as the representative of vermin," de Soyecourt retorted, "and as
such I receive you. You will therefore, permit me to wish you a pleasant
journey into eternity. Why, hola, madame! here is that vagabond guest of
ours returned to observation!" The Marquis rose and stepped forward, all
abeam. "Mr. Bulmer, I can assure you that I was never more delighted to see
anyone in my entire life."

"Pardon, monseigneur," one of the attendants here put in,--"but what shall
we do with this Achon?"

The Marquis slightly turned his head, his hand still grasping John
Bulmer's. "Why, hang him, of course," he said. "Did I forget to tell you?
But yes, take him out, and have him confessed by Frere Joseph, and hang him
at once." The four men removed their prisoner.

"You find us in the act of dispensing justice," the Marquis continued, "yet
at Bellegarde we temper it with mercy, so that I shall ask no indiscreet
questions concerning your absence of last night."

"But I, monsieur," said John Bulmer, "I, too, have come to demand justice."

"Tete-bleu, Mr. Bulmer! and what can I have the joy of doing for you in
that respect?"

"You can restore to me my wife."

And now de Soyecourt cast a smile toward the Duchess, who appeared
troubled. "Would you not have known this was an Englishman," he queried,
"by the avowed desire for the society of his own wife? They are a mad race.
And indeed, Mr. Bulmer, I would very gladly restore to you this hitherto
unheard-of spouse if but I were blest with her acquaintance. As it is--" He
waved his hand.

"I married her only yesterday," said John Bulmer, "and I have reason to
believe that she is now within Bellegarde."

He saw the eyes of de Soyecourt slowly narrow. "Jacques," said the Marquis,
"fetch me the pistol within that cabinet." The Marquis resumed his seat
to the rear of the table, the weapon lying before him. "You may go
now, Jacques; this gentleman and I are about to hold a little private
conversation." Then, when the door had closed upon the lackey, de Soyecourt
said, "Pray draw up a chair within just ten feet of this table, monsieur,
and oblige me with your wife's maiden name."

"She was formerly known," John Bulmer answered, "as Mademoiselle Claire de
Puysange."

The Duchess spoke for the first time. "Oh, the poor man! Monsieur de
Soyecourt, he is evidently insane."

"I do not know about that," the Marquis said, fretfully, "but in any event
I hope that no more people will come to Bellegarde upon missions which,
compel me to have them hanged. First there was this Achon, and now you, Mr.
Bulmer, come to annoy me.--Listen, monsieur," he went on, presently: "last
evening Mademoiselle de Puysange announced to the Duchess and me that her
impending match with the Duke of Ormskirk must necessarily be broken off,
as she was already married. She had, she stated, encountered you and a
clergyman yonder the forest, where, on the spur of the moment, you two had
espoused each other; and was quite unable to inform us what had become of
you after the ceremony. You can conceive that, as a sensible man, I did not
credit a word of her story. But now, as I understand it, you corroborate
this moonstruck narrative?"

John Bulmer bowed his head. "I have that honor, monsieur."

De Soyecourt sounded the gong beside him. "In that event, it is uncommonly
convenient to have you in hand. Your return, to Bellegarde I regard
as opportune, even though I am compelled to attribute it to insanity;
personally, I disapprove of this match with Milor Ormskirk, but as Gaston
is bent upon it, you will understand that in reason my only course is to
make Claire a widow as soon as may be possible."

"It is intended, then," John Bulmer queried, "that I am to follow Achon?"

"I can but trust," said the Marquis, politely, "that your course of life
has qualified you for a superior flight, since Achon's departing, I
apprehend, is not unakin to a descent."

"No!" the Duchess cried, suddenly; "Monsieur de Soyecourt, can you not
see the man is out of his senses? Let Claire be sent for. There is some
mistake."

De Soyecourt shrugged. "Yen know that I can refuse you nothing. Jacques,"
he called, to the appearing lackey, "request Mademoiselle de Puysange to
honor us, if it be convenient, with her presence. Nay, I pray you, do not
rise, Mr. Bulmer; I am of a nervous disposition, startled by the least
movement, and my finger, as you may note, is immediately upon the trigger."

So they sat thus, John Bulmer beginning to feel rather foolish as time wore
on, though actually it was not a long while before Claire had appeared in
the doorway and had paused there. You saw a great wave of color flood her
countenance, then swiftly ebb. John Bulmer observed, with a thrill, that
she made no sound, but simply waited, composed and alert, to find out how
much de Soyecourt knew before she spoke.

The little Marquis said, "Claire, this gentleman informs us that you
married him yesterday."

Tranquilly she inspected her claimant. "I did not see Monsieur Bulmer at
all yesterday, so far as I remember. Why, surely, Louis, you did not take
my nonsense of last night in earnest?" she demanded, and gave a mellow
ripple of laughter. "Yes, you actually believed it; you actually believed
that I walked into the forest and married the first man I met there, and
that this is he. As it happens I did not; so please let Monsieur Bulmer go
at once, and put away that absurd pistol--at once, Louis, do you hear?"

The Duchess shook her head. "She is lying, Monsieur de Soyecourt, and
undoubtedly this is the man."

John Bulmer went to the girl and took her hand. "You are trying to save me,
I know. But need I warn you that the reward of Ananias was never a synonym
for felicity?"

"Jean Bulmer! Jean Bulmer!" the girl asked, and her voice was tender; "why
did you return to Bellegarde, Jean Bulmer?"

"I came," he answered, "for the absurd reason that I cannot live without
you."

They stood thus for a while, both her hands clasped in his, "I believe
you," she said at last, "even though I do not understand at all, Jean
Bulmer." And then she wheeled upon the Marquis, "Yes, yes!" Claire
said; "the man is my husband. And I will not have him harmed. Do you
comprehend?--you shall not touch him, because you are not fit to touch him,
Louis, and also because I do not wish it."

De Soyecourt looked toward the Duchess as if for advice. "It is a nuisance,
but evidently she cannot marry Milor Ormskirk so long as Mr. Bulmer is
alive. I suppose it would be better to hang him out-of-hand?"

"Monsieur de Puysange would prefer it, I imagine," said the Duchess;
"nevertheless, it appears a great pity."

"In nature," the Marquis assented, "we deplore the loss of Mr. Bulmer's
company. Yet as matters stand--"

"But they are in love with each other," the Duchess pointed out, with a
sorry little laugh. "Can you not see that, my friend?"

"Hein?" said the Marquis; "why, then, it is doubly important that Mr.
Bulmer be hanged as soon as possible." He reached for the gong, but Claire
had begun to speak.

"I am not at all in love with him! You are of a profound imbecility,
Helene. I think he is a detestable person, because he always looks at you
as if he saw something extremely ridiculous, but was too polite to notice
it. He is invariably making me suspect I have a smut on my nose. But in
spite of that, I consider him a very pleasant old gentleman, and I will not
have him hanged!" With which ultimatum she stamped her foot.

"Yes, madame," said the Marquis, critically; "after all, she is in love
with him. That is unfortunate, is it not, for Milor Ormskirk,--and even for
Achille Cazaio," he added, with a shrug.

"I fail to see," a dignified young lady stated, "what Cazaio, at least, has
to do with your galimatias."

"Simply that I received this morning a letter demanding you be surrendered
to Cazaio," de Soyecourt answered as he sounded the gong. "Otherwise, our
amiable friend of the Taunenfels announces he will attack Bellegarde. I,
of course, hanged his herald and despatched messengers to Gaston, whom I
look for to-morrow. If Gaston indeed arrive to-morrow morning, Mr. Bulmer,
I shall relinquish you to him; in other circumstances will be laid upon
me the deplorable necessity of summoning a Protestant minister from
Manneville, and, after your spiritual affairs are put in order, of hanging
you--suppose we say at noon?"

"The hour suits me," said John Bulmer, "as well as another. But no better.
And I warn you it will not suit the Duke of Ormskirk, either, whose
relative--whose very near relative--" He posed for the astounding
revelation.

But little de Soyecourt had drawn closer to him. "Mr. Bulmer, I have
somehow omitted to mention that two years ago I was at Aix-la-Chapelle,
when the treaty was in progress, and there saw your great kinsman. I cut
no particular figure at the convocation, and it is unlikely he recalls my
features; but I remember his quite clearly."

"Indeed?" said John Bulmer, courteously; "it appears, then, that monsieur
is a physiognomist?"

"You flatter me," the Marquis returned. "My skill in that science enabled
me to deduce only the veriest truisms--such as that the man who for fifteen
years had beaten France, had hoodwinked France, would in France be not
oversafe could we conceive him fool enough to hazard a trip into this
country."

"Especially alone?" said John Bulmer.

"Especially," the Marquis assented, "if he came alone. But, ma foi! I am
discourteous. You were about to say--?"

"That a comic subject declines to be set forth in tragic verse," John
Bulmer answered, "and afterward to inquire the way to my dungeon."

X

But John Bulmer escaped a dungeon after all; for at parting de Soyecourt
graciously offered to accept Mr. Bulmer's parole, which he gave willingly
enough, and thereby obtained the liberty of a tiny enclosed garden, whence
a stairway led to his new apartment on the second floor of what had been
known as the Constable's Tower, since du Guesclin held it for six weeks
against Sir Robert Knollys. This was a part of the ancient fortress in
which, they say, Poictesme's most famous hero, Dom Manuel, dwelt and
performed such wonders, a long while before Bellegarde was remodeled by
Duke Florian.

The garden, gravel-pathed, was a trim place, all green and white. It
contained four poplars, and in the center was a fountain, where three
Nereids contended with a brawny Triton for the possession of a turtle whose
nostrils spurted water. A circle of attendant turtles, half-submerged, shot
inferior jets from their gaping mouths. It was an odd, and not unhandsome
piece, [Footnote: Designed by Simon Guillain. This fountain is still to be
seen at Bellegarde, though the exuberancy of Revolutionary patriotism has
bereft the Triton of his head and of the lifted arm.] and John Bulmer
inspected it with appreciation, and then the garden, and having found all
things satisfactory, sat down and chuckled sleepily and waited.

"De Soyecourt has been aware of my identity throughout the entire week!
Faith, then, I am a greater fool than even I suspected, since this fop of
the boulevards has been able to trick me so long. He has some card up his
sleeve, too, has our good Marquis--Eh, well! Gaston comes to-morrow, and
thenceforward all is plain sailing. Meantime I conjecture that the poor
captive will presently have visitors."

He had dinner first, though, and at this meal gave an excellent account of
himself. Shortly afterward, as he sat over his coffee, little de Soyecourt
unlocked the high and narrow gate which constituted the one entrance to the
garden, and sauntered forward, dapper and smiling.

"I entreat your pardon, Monsieur le Duc," de Soyecourt began, "that I have
not visited you sooner. But in unsettled times, you comprehend, the master
of a beleaguered fortress is kept busy. Cazaio, I now learn, means to
attack to-morrow, and I have been fortifying against him. However, I attach
no particular importance to the man's threats, as I have despatched three
couriers to Gaston, one of whom must in reason get to him; and in that
event Gaston should arrive early in the afternoon, accompanied by the
dragoons of Entrechat. And subsequently--eh bien! if Cazaio has stirred up
a hornets'-nest he has only himself to thank for it." The Marquis snapped
his fingers and hummed a merry air, being to all appearance in excellent
spirits.

"That is well," said John Bulmer,--"for, believe me, I shall be unfeignedly
glad to see Gaston once more."

"Decidedly," said the Marquis, sniffing, "they give my prisoners much
better coffee than they deign to afford me, I shall make bold to ask you
for a cup of it, while we converse sensibly." He sat down opposite John
Bulmer. "Oh, about Gaston," said the Marquis, as he added the sugar--"it
is deplorable that you will not see Gaston again, at least, not in this
naughty world of ours."

"I am the more grieved," said John Bulmer, gravely, "for I love the man."

"It is necessary, you conceive, that I hang you, at latest, before twelve
o'clock to-morrow, since Gaston is a little too fond of you to fall in with
my plans. His premature arrival would in effect admit the bull of equity
into the china-shop of my intentions. And day-dreams are fragile stuff,
Monsieur d'Ormskirk! Indeed, I am giving you this so brief reprieve only
because I am, unwilling to have upon my conscience the reproach of hanging
without due preparation a man whom of all politicians in the universe I
most unfeignedly like and respect. The Protestant minister has been sent
for, and will, I sincerely trust, be here at dawn. Otherwise--really, I am
desolated, Monsieur le Duc, but you surely comprehend that I cannot wait
upon his leisure."

John Bulmer cracked a filbert. "So I am to die to-morrow? I do not presume
to dictate, monsieur, but I would appreciate some explanation of your
motive."

"Which I freely render," the Marquis replied. "When I recognized you a week
ago--as I did at first glance,--I was astounded. That you, the man in all
the world most cordially hated by Frenchmen, should venture into France
quite unattended was a conception to confound belief. Still, here you were,
and I comprehended that such an opportunity would not rap twice upon
the door. So I despatched a letter post-haste to Madame de Pompadour at
Marly--"

"I begin to comprehend," John Bulmer said. "Old Tournehem's daughter
[Footnote: Mr. Bulmer here refers to a venerable scandal. The Pompadour
was, in the eyes of the law, at least, the daughter of Francois Poisson.]
hates me as she hates no other man alive. Frankly, monsieur, the little
strumpet has some cause to,--may I trouble you for the nut-crackers? a
thousand thanks,--since I have outwitted her more than once, both in
diplomacy and on the battle-field. With me out of the way, I comprehend
that France might attempt to renew the war, and our late treaty would be so
much wasted paper. Yes, I comprehend that the woman would give a deal for
me--But what the devil! France has no allies. She dare not provoke England
just at present; she has no allies, monsieur, for I can assure you that
Prussia is out of the game. Then what is the woman driving at?"

"Far be it from me," said the Marquis, with becoming modesty, "to meddle
with affairs of state. Nevertheless, madame is willing to purchase you--at
any price."

John Bulmer slapped his thigh, "Kaunitz! behold the key. Eh, eh, I have
it now; not long ago the Empress despatched a special ambassador to
Versailles,--one Anton Wenzel Kaunitz, a man I never heard of. Why, this
Moravian count is a genius of the first water. He will combine France and
Austria, implacable enemies since the Great Cardinal's time. Ah, I have
it now, monsieur,--Frederick of Prussia has published verses against the
Pompadour which she can never pardon--eh, against the Czaritza, too! Why,
what a thing it is to be a poet! now Russia will join the league. And
Sweden, of course, because she wants Pomerania, which King Frederick
claims. Monsieur de Soyecourt, I protest it will be one of the prettiest
messes ever stirred up in history! And to think that I am to miss it all!"

"I regret," de Soyecourt said, "to deny you the pleasure of participation.
In sober verity I regret it. But unluckily, Monsieur d'Ormskirk, your
dissolution is the sole security of my happiness; and in effect"--he
shrugged,--"you comprehend my unfortunate position."

"One of the prettiest messes ever stirred up in all history!" John Bulmer
lamented; "and I to miss it! The policy of centuries shrugged aside, and
the map of the world made over as lightly as if it were one of last year's
gowns! Decidedly I shall never again cast reflections upon the woman in
politics, for this is superb. Why, this coup is worthy of me! And what is
Petticoat the Second to give you, pray, for making all this possible?"

"She will give me," the Marquis retorted, "according to advices received
from her yesterday, a lettre-de-cachet for Gaston de Puysange. Gaston is a
man of ability, but he is also a man of unbridled tongue. He has expressed
his opinion concerning the Pompadour, to cite an instance, as freely as
ever did the Comte de Maurepas. You know what happened to de Maurepas. Ah,
yes, Gaston is undoubtedly a peer of France, but the Pompadour is queen
of that kingdom. And in consequence--on the day that Madame de Pompadour
learns of your death,--Gaston goes to the Bastile."

"Naturally," John Bulmer assented, "since imprisonment in the Bastile is by
ordinary the reward of common-sense when manifested by a Frenchman. What
the devil, monsieur! The Duchess' uncle, Marechal de Richelieu, has been
there four times, and Gaston himself, if I am not mistaken, has sojourned
there twice. And neither is one whit the worse for it."

The Marquis sipped his coffee. "The Bastile is not a very healthy place.
Besides, I have a friend there,--a gaoler. He was formerly a chemist."

John Bulmer elevated the right eyebrow. "Poison?"

"Dieu m'en garde!" The Marquis was appalled. "Nay, monsieur, merely an
unforeseeable attack of heart-disease."

"Ah! ah!" said John Bulmer, very slowly. He presently resumed: "Afterward
the Duchesse de Puysange will be a widow. And already she is fond of you;
but unfortunately the Duchess--with every possible deference,--is a trifle
prudish. I see it all now, quite plainly; and out of pure friendliness,
I warn you that in my opinion the Duchess is hopelessly in love with her
husband."

"We should suspect no well bred lady of provincialism," returned the
Marquis, "and so I shall take my chance. Believe me, Monsieur le Duc, I
profoundly regret that you and Gaston must be sacrificed in order to afford
me this same chance."

But John Bulmer was chuckling. "My faith!" he said, and softly chafed his
hands together, "how sincerely you will be horrified when your impetuous
error is discovered--just too late! You were merely endeavoring to serve
your beloved Gaston and the Duke of Ormskirk when you hanged the rascal
who had impudently stolen the woman intended to cement their friendship!
The Duke fell a victim to his own folly, and you acted precipitately,
perhaps, but out of pure zeal. You will probably weep. Meanwhile your
lettre-de-cachet is on the road, and presently Gaston, too, is trapped
and murdered. You weep yet more tears--oh, vociferous tears!---and the
Duchess succumbs to you because you were so devotedly attached to her
former husband. And England will sit snug while France reconquers Europe.
Monsieur, I make you my compliments on one of the tidiest plots ever
brooded over."

"It rejoices me," the Marquis returned, "that a conspirator of many years'
standing should commend my maiden effort." He rose. "And now, Monsieur
d'Ormskirk," he continued, with extended hand, "matters being thus amicably
adjusted, shall we say adieu?"

John Bulmer considered. "Well,--no!" said he, at last; "I commend your
cleverness, Monsieur de Soyecourt, but as concerns your hand I must confess
to a distaste."

The Marquis smiled. "Because at the bottom of your heart you despise me,"
he said. "Ah, believe me, monsieur, your contempt for de Soyecourt is less
great than mine. And yet I have a weakness for him,--a weakness which
induces me to indulge all his desires."

He bowed with ceremony and left the garden.

XI

John Bulmer sat down to consider more at leisure these revelations. He
foreread like a placard Jeanne d'Etoiles' magnificent scheme: it would
convulse all Europe. England would remain supine, because Henry Pelham
could hardly hold the ministry together, even now; Newcastle was a fool;
and Ormskirk would be dead. He would barter his soul for one hour of
liberty, he thought. A riot, now,--ay, a riot in Paris, a blow from within,
would temporarily stupefy French enterprise and gain England time for
preparation. And a riot could be arranged so easily! Meanwhile he was a
prisoner, Pelham's hands were tied, and Newcastle was a fool, and the
Pompadour was disastrously remote from being a fool.

"It is possible to announce that I am the Duke of Ormskirk--and to what
end? Faith, I had as well proclaim myself the Pope of Rome or the Cazique
of Mexico: the jackanapes will effect to regard my confession as the device
of a desperate man and will hang me just the same; and his infernal comedy
will go on without a hitch. Nay, I am fairly trapped, and Monsieur de
Soyecourt holds the winning hand--Now that I think of it he even has, in
Mr. Bulmer's letter of introduction, my formally signed statement that I
am not Ormskirk. It was tactful of the small rascal not to allude to that
crowning piece of stupidity: I appreciate his forbearance. But even so, to
be outwitted--and hanged---by a smirking Hop-o'-my-thumb!

"Oh, this is very annoying!" said John Bulmer, in his impotence.

He sat down once more, sulkily, like an overfed cat, and began to read with
desperate attention: "'Here may men understand that be of worship, that he
was never formed that at every time might stand, but sometimes he was put
to the worse by evil fortune. And at sometimes the worse knight putteth
the better knight into rebuke.' Behold a niggardly salve rather than a
panacea." He turned several pages. "'And then said Sir Tristram to Sir
Lamorake, "I require you if ye happen to meet with Sir Palomides--"'"
Startled, John Bulmer glanced about the garden.

It turned on a sudden into the primal garden of Paradise. "I came," she
loftily explained, "because I considered it my duty to apologize in person
for leading you into great danger. Our scouts tell us that already Cazaio
is marshalling his men upon the Taunenfels."

"And yet," John Bulmer said, as he arose, and put away his book,
"Bellegarde is a strong place. And our good Marquis, whatever else he may
be, is neither a fool nor a coward."

Claire shrugged. "Cazaio has ten men to our one. Yet perhaps we can hold
out till Gaston comes with his dragoons. And then--well, I have some
influence with Gaston. He will not deny me,--ah, surely he will not deny me
if I go down on my knees to him and wear my very prettiest gown. Nay, at
bottom Gaston is kind, my friend, and he will spare you."

"To be your husband?" said John Bulmer.

Twice she faltered "No." And then she cried, with a sudden flare of
irritation: "I do not love you! I cannot help that. Oh, you--you
unutterable bully!"

Gravely he shook his head at her.

"But indeed you are a bully. You are trying to bully me into caring for
you, and you know it. What else moved you to return to Bellegarde, and to
sit here, a doomed man, tranquilly reading? Yes, but you were,--I happened
to see you, through the key-hole in the gate. And why else should you be
doing that unless you were trying to bully me into admiring you?"

"Because I adore you," said John Bulmer, taking affairs in order; "and
because in this noble and joyous history of the great conqueror and
excellent monarch, King Arthur, I find much diverting matter; and because,
to be quite frank, Claire, I consider an existence without you neither
alluring nor possible."

She had noticeably pinkened. "Oh, monsieur," the girl cried, "you are
laughing because you are afraid that I will laugh at what you are saying to
me. Believe me, I have no desire to laugh. It frightens me, rather. I had
thought that nowadays no man could behave with a foolishness so divine. I
had thought all such extravagancy perished with the Launcelot and Palomides
of your book. And I had thought--that in any event, you had no earthly
right to call me Claire."

"Superficially, the reproach is just," he assented, "but what was the
name your Palomides cried in battle, pray? Was it not _Ysoude!_ when his
searching sword had at last found the joints of his adversary's armor, or
when the foe's helmet spouted blood? _Ysoude!_ when the line of adverse
spears wavered and broke, and the Saracen was victor? Was it not _Ysoude!_
he murmured riding over alien hill and valley in pursuit of the Questing
Beast?--'the glatisant beast'? Assuredly, he cried _Ysoude!_ and meantime
La Beale Ysoude sits snug in Cornwall with Tristram, who dons his armor
once in a while to roll Palomides in the sand _coram populo_. Still the
name was sweet, and I protest the Saracen had a perfect right to mention it
whenever he felt so inclined."

"You jest at everything," she lamented--"which is one of the many traits
that I dislike in you."

"Knowing your heart to be very tender," he submitted, "I am endeavoring to
present as jovial and callous an appearance as may be possible--to you,
whom I love as Palomides loved Ysoude. Otherwise, you might be cruelly
upset by your compassion and sympathy. Yet stay; is there not another
similitude? Assuredly, for you love me much as Ysoude loved Palomides. What
the deuce is all this lamentation to you? You do not value it the beard of
an onion,--while of course grieving that your friendship should have been
so utterly misconstrued, and wrongly interpreted,--and--trusting that
nothing you have said or done has misled me--Oh, but I know you women!"

"Indeed, I sometimes wonder," she reflected, "what sort of women you have
been friends with hitherto? They must have been very patient of nonsense."

"Ah, do you think so?--At all events, you interrupt my peroration. For we
have fought, you and I, a--battle which is over, so far as I am concerned.
And the other side has won. Well! Pompey was reckoned a very pretty fellow
in his day, but he took to his heels at Pharsalia, for all that; and
Hannibal, I have heard, did not have matters entirely his own way at Zama.
Good men have been beaten before this. So, without stopping to cry over
spilt milk,--heyho!" he interpolated, with a grimace, "it was uncommonly
sweet milk, though,--let's back to our tents and reckon up our wounds."

"I am decidedly of the opinion," she said, "that for all your talk you
will find your heart unscratched." Irony bewildered Claire, though she
invariably recognized it, and gave it a polite smile.

John Bulmer said: "Faith, I do not intend to flatter your vanity by going
into a decline on the spot. For in perfect frankness, I find no mortal
wounds anywhere. No, we have it on the best authority that, while many men
have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, it was never for
love. I am inclined to agree with Rosalind: an aneurism may be fatal, but
a broken heart kills nobody. Lovers have died in divers manners since the
antique world was made, but not the most luckless of them was slain by
love. Even Palomides, as my book informs me, went abroad with Launcelot and
probably died an old man here in France,--peaceably, in his bed, with the
family physician in attendance, and every other circumstance becoming to
a genteel demise. And I dare assert that long before this he had learned
to chuckle over his youthful follies, and had protested to his wife that
La Beale Ysoude squinted, or was freckled, or the like; and had insisted,
laughingly, that the best of us must sow our wild oats. And at the last it
was his wife who mixed his gruel and smoothed his pillow and sat up with
him at night; so that if he died thinking of Madame Palomides rather than
of La Beale Ysoude, who shall blame him? Not I, for one," said John Bulmer,
stoutly; "If it was not heroic, it was at least respectable, and, above
all, natural; and I expect some day to gasp out a similar valedictory. No,
not to-morrow at noon, I think: I shall probably get out of this, somehow.
And when, in any event, I set about the process of dying, I may be thinking
of you, O fair lost lady! and again I may not be thinking of you. Who can
say? A fly, for instance, may have lighted upon my nose and his tickling
may have distracted my ultimate thoughts. Meanwhile, I love you consumedly,
and you do not care a snap of your fingers for me."

"I--I am sorry," she said, inadequately.

"You are the more gracious." And his face sank down into his hands, and
Claire was forgotten, for he was remembering Alison Pleydell and that
ancient bankruptcy of his heart in youth, and this preposterous old John
Bulmer (he reflected) was simply revelling in pity for himself.

A hand, feather-soft, fell upon, his shoulder, "And who was your Ysoude,
Jean Bulmer?"

"A woman who died twenty years ago,--a woman dead before you were born, my
dear."

Claire gave a little stifled moan, "Oh--oh, I loathe her!" she cried.

But when he raised his head Claire was gone.

XII

He sat long in the twilight, now; rising insensibly about him. The garden
had become a grave, yet not unfriendly, place; the white straining Nereids
were taking on a tinge of violet, the verdure was of a deeper hue, that was
all; and the fountain plashed unhurriedly, as though measuring a reasonable
interval (he whimsically imagined) between the asking of a riddle and its
solution given gratis by the asker.

He loved the woman; granted: but did not love rise the higher above a
corner-stone of delusion? And this he could never afford. He considered
Claire to be not extravagantly clever, he could have improved upon her
ears (to cite one instance), which were rather clumsily modelled; her
finger-tips were a thought too thick, a shade too practical, and in fine
she was no more the most beautiful woman in the world than she was the
tallest: and yet he loved her as certainly he had loved none of his recent
mistresses. Even so, here was no infatuation, no roseate and kindly haze
surrounding a goddess, such as that which had by ordinary accompanied
Alison Pleydell....

"I am grown older, perhaps. Perhaps it is merely that I am fashioned of
baser stuff than---say, Achille Cazaio or de Soyecourt. Or perhaps it
is that this overmastering, all-engulfing love is a mere figment of the
poet, an age-long superstition as zealously preserved as that of the
inscrutability of women, by men who don't believe a syllable of the
nonsense they are transmitting. Ysoude is dead; and I love my young
French wife as thoroughly as Palomides did, with as great a passion as
was possible to either of us oldsters. Well! all life is a compromise; I
compromise with tradition by loving her unselfishly, by loving her with the
very best that remains in John Bulmer.

"And yet, I wish--

"True, I may be hanged at noon to-morrow, which would somewhat disconcert
my plan. I shall not bother about that. Always there remains the chance
that, somehow, Gaston may arrive in time: otherwise--why, otherwise I shall
be hanged, and as to what will happen afterward I decline to enter into any
discussion even with myself. I have my belief, but it is bolstered by no
iota of knowledge. Faith, let us live this life as a gentleman should, and
keep our hands and our consciences as clean as may be possible, and for the
outcome trust to God's common-sense. There are people who must divert Him
vastly by their frantic efforts to keep out of hell. For my own part, I
would not think of wearing a pelisse in the Desert of Sahara merely because
I happened to be sailing for Greenland during the ensuing week. I shall
trust to His common-sense.

"And yet, I wish--

"I wish Reinault would hurry with the supper-trays. I am growing very
hungry."

XIII

That night he was roused by a tapping at his door. "Jean Bulmer, Jean
Bulmer! I have bribed Reinault. I have the keys. Come, and I will set you
free."

"Free to do what?" said John Bulmer.

"To escape--to flee to your foggy England," said the voice without,--"and
to your hideous Englishwomen."

"Do you go with me?" said John Bulmer.

"I do not." This was spoken from the turrets of decision.

"In that event," said John Bulmer, "I shall return to my dreams, which I
infinitely prefer to the realities of a hollow existence. And, besides, now
one thinks of it, I have given my parole."

An infuriate voice came through the key-hole. "You are undoubtedly a
bully," it stated. "I loathe you." Followed silence.

Presently the voice said, "Because if you really loved her you were no
better than she was, and so I hate you both."

"'Beautiful as an angel, and headstrong as a devil,'" was John Bulmer's
meditation. Afterward John Bulmer turned over and went back to sleep.

For after all, as he reflected, he had given his parole.

XIV

He was awakened later by a shriek that was followed by a hubbub of tumult.
John Bulmer sat erect in bed. He heard a medley of yelling, of musketry,
and of crashes, like the dilapidation of falling battlements. He knew well
enough what had happened. Cazaio and his men were making a night attack
upon Bellegarde.

John Bulmer arose and, having lighted two candles, dressed himself. He cast
aside the first cravat as a failure, knotted the second with scrupulous
nicety, and afterward sat down, facing the door to his apartment, and
trimmed his finger nails. Outside was Pandemonium, and the little scrap of
sky visible from his one window was now of a sullen red.

"It is very curious I do not suffer more acutely. As a matter of fact, I
am not conscious of any particular feeling at all. I believe that most of
us when we are confronted with a situation demanding high joy or agony
find ourselves devoid of emotion. They have evidently taken de Soyecourt
by surprise. She is yonder in that hell outside and will inevitably be
captured by its most lustful devil--or else be murdered. I am here like
a trapped rat, impotent, waiting to be killed, which Cazaio's men will
presently attend to when they ransack the place and find me. And I feel
nothing, absolutely nothing.

"By this she has probably fallen into Cazaio's power--"

And the man went mad. He dashed upon the locked door, and tore at it with
soft-white hands, so that presently they were all blood. He beat his face
upon the door, cutting open his forehead.

He shook his bleeding hands toward heaven. "In my time I have been cruel. I
am less cruel than You! Let me go!"

The door opened and she stood upon the threshold. His arms were about her
and repeatedly he kissed her, mercilessly, with hard kisses, crushing her
in his embrace.

"Jean, Jean!" she sobbed, beneath his lips, and lay quite still in his
arms. He saw how white and tender a thing she was, and the fierce embrace
relaxed.

"You came to me!" he said.

"Louis had forgotten you. They had all retreated to the Inner Tower.
[Footnote: The inner ward, or ballium, which (according to Quinault) was
defended by ten towers, connected by an embattled stone wall about thirty
feet in height and eight feet thick, on the summit of which was a footway;
now demolished to make way for the famous gardens.] Cazaio cannot take
that, for he has no cannon. Louis can hold out there until Gaston comes
with help," Claire rapidly explained. "But the thieves are burning
Bellegarde. I could bribe no man to set you free. They were afraid to
venture."

"And you came," said John Bulmer--"you left the tall safe Inner Tower to
come to me!"

"I could not let you die, Jean Bulmer."

"Why, then I must live not unworthily the life which, you have given me. O
God!" John Bulmer cried, "what a pitiful creature was that great Duke of
Ormskirk! Now make a man of me, O God!"

"Listen, dear madman," she breathed; "we cannot go out into Bellegarde.
They are everywhere--Cazaio's men. They are building huge fires about the
Inner Tower; but it is all stone, and I think Louis can hold out. But we,
Jean Bulmer, can only retreat to the roofing of this place. There is a
trap-door to admit you to the top, and there--there we can at least live
until the dawn."

"I am unarmed," John Bulmer said; "and weaponless, I cannot hold even a
trap-door against armed men."

"I have brought you weapons," Claire returned, and waved one hand toward
the outer passageway. "Naturally I would not overlook that. There were many
dead men on my way hither, and they had no need of weapons. I have a sword
here and two pistols."

"You are," said John Bulmer, with supreme conviction, "the most wonderful
woman in the universe. By all means let us get to the top of this infernal
tower and live there as long as we may find living possible. But first,
will you permit me to make myself a thought tidier? For in my recent
agitation as to your whereabouts I have, I perceive, somewhat disordered
both my person and my apparel."

Claire laughed a little sadly. "You have been sincere for once in your
existence, and you are hideously ashamed, is it not? Ah, my friend, I would
like you so much better if you were not always playing at life, not always
posing as if for your portrait."

"For my part," he returned, obscurely, from the rear of a wet towel, "I
fail to perceive any particular merit in dying with a dirty face. We are
about to deal with a most important and, it well may be, the final crisis
of our lives. So let us do it with decency."

Afterward John Bulmer changed his cravat, since the one he wore was soiled
and crumpled and stained a little with his blood; and they went up the
winding stairway to the top of the Constable's Tower. These two passed
through the trap-door into a moonlight which drenched the world; westward
the higher walls of the Hugonet Wing shut off that part of Bellegarde where
men were slaughtering one another, and turrets, black and untenanted, stood
in strong relief against a sky of shifting crimson and gold. At their feet
was the tiny enclosed garden half-hidden by the poplar boughs. To the east
the Tower dropped sheer to the moat; and past that was the curve of the
highway leading to the main entrance of the chateau, and beyond this road
you saw Amneran and the moonlighted plains of the Duardenez, and one little
tributary, a thread of pulsing silver, in passage to the great river which
showed as a smear of white, like a chalk-mark on the world's rim.

John Bulmer closed the trap-door. They stood with clasped hands, eyes
straining toward the east, whence help must arrive if help came at all.

"No sign of Gaston," the girl said. "We most die presently, Jean Bulmer."

"I am sorry," he said,--"Oh, I am hideously sorry that we two must die."

"I am not afraid, Jean Bulmer. But life would be very sweet, with you."

"That was my thought, too.... I have always bungled this affair of living,
you conceive. I had considered the world a healthy and not intolerable
prison, where each man must get through his day's work as best he might,
soiling his fingers as much as necessity demanded--but no more,--so that at
the end he might sleep soundly--or perhaps that he might go to heaven and
pluck eternally at a harp, or else to hell and burn eternally, just as
divines say we will. I never bothered about it, much, so long as there was
my day's work at hand, demanding performance. And in consequence I missed
the whole meaning of life."

"That is not so!" Claire replied. "No man has achieved more, as everybody
knows."

This was an odd speech. But he answered, idly: "Eh, I have done well
enough as respectable persons judge these matters. And I went to church on
Sundays, and I paid my tithes. Trifles, these, sweetheart; for in every
man, as I now see quite plainly, there is a god. And the god must judge,
and the man himself must be the temple and the instrument of the god. It is
very simple, I see now. And whether he go to church or no is a matter of
trivial importance, so long as the man obeys the god who is within him."
John Bulmer was silent, staring vaguely toward the blank horizon.

"And now that you have discovered this," she murmured, "therefore you wish
to live?"

"Why, partly on account of that," he said, "yet perhaps mostly on account
of you.... But heyho!" said John Bulmer; "I am disfiguring my last hours
by inflicting upon a lady my half-baked theology. Let us sit down, my
dear, and talk of trifles till they find us. And then I will kill you,
sweetheart, and afterward myself. Presently come dawn and death; and my
heart, according to the ancient custom of Poictesme, is crying, '_Oy
Dieus! Oy Dieus, de l'alba tantost ve!_' But for all that, my mouth will
resolutely discourse of the last Parisian flounces, or of your unfathomable
eyes, or of Monsieur de Voltaire's new tragedy of _Oreste_,--or, in fine,
of any topic you may elect."

He smiled, with a twinging undercurrent of regret that not even in
impendent death did he find any stimulus to the heroical. But the girl had
given a muffled cry.

"Look, Jean! Already they come for us."

Through the little garden a man was running, running frenziedly from
one wall to another when he found the place had no outlet save the gate
through which he had scuttled. It was fat Guiton, the steward of the Duc de
Puysange. Presently came Achille Cazaio with a wet sword, and harried the
unarmed old man, wantonly driving him about the poplars, pricking him in
the quivering shoulders, but never killing him. All the while the steward
screamed with a monotonous shrill wailing.

After a little he fell at Cazaio's feet, shrieking for mercy.

"Fool!" said the latter, "I am Achille Cazaio. I have no mercy in me."

He kicked the steward in the face two or three times, and Guiton, his
countenance all blood, black in the moonlight, embraced the brigand's
and wept. Presently Cazaio slowly drove his sword into the back of the
prostrate man, who shrieked, "O Jesu!" and began to cough and choke. Five
times Cazaio spitted the writhing thing, and afterward was Guiton's soul
released from the tortured body.

"Is it well, think you," said John Bulmer, "that I should die without first
killing Achille Cazaio?"

"No!" the girl answered, fiercely.

Then John Bulmer leaned upon the parapet of the Constable's Tower and
called aloud, "Friend Achille, your conduct disappoints me."

The man started, peered about, and presently stared upward. "Monsieur
Bulmaire, to encounter you is indeed an unlooked-for pleasure. May I
inquire wherein I have been so ill-fated as to offend?"

"You have an engagement to fight me on Thursday afternoon, friend Achille,
so that to all intent I hold a mortgage on your life. I submit that, in
consequence, you have no right to endanger that life by besieging castles
and wasting the night in assassinations."

"There is something in what you say, Monsieur Bulmaire," the brigand
replied, "and I very heartily apologize for not thinking of it earlier.
But in the way of business, you understand,--However, may I trust it will
please you to release me from this inconvenient obligation?" Cazaio added,
with a smile. "My men are waiting for me yonder, you comprehend."

"In fact," said John Bulmer, hospitably, "up here the moonlight is as clear
as day. We can settle our affair in five minutes."

"I come," said Cazaio, and plunged into the entrance to the Constable's
Tower.

"The pistol! quick!" said Claire.

"And for what, pray?" said John Bulmer.

"So that from behind, as he lifts the trap-door, I may shoot him through
the head. Do you stand in front as though to receive him. It will be quite
simple."

XV

"My dear creature," said John Bulmer, "I am now doubly persuaded that God
entirely omitted what we term a sense of honor when He created the woman. I
mean to kill this rapscallion, but I mean to kill him fairly." He unbolted
the trap-door and immediately Cazaio stood upon the roof, his sword drawn.

Achille Cazaio stared at the tranquil woman, and now his countenance
was less that of a satyr than of a demon. "At four in the morning!
I congratulate you, Monsieur Bulmaire," he said,--"Oh, decidedly, I
congratulate you."

"Thank you," said John Bulmer, sword in hand; "yes, we were married
yesterday."

Cazaio drew a pistol from his girdle and fired full in John Bulmer's face;
but the latter had fallen upon one knee, and the ball sped harmlessly above
him.

"You are very careless with fire-arms," John Bulmer lamented, "Really,
friend Achille, if you are not more circumspect you will presently injure
somebody, and will forever afterward be consumed with unavailing regret and
compunctions. Now let us get down to our affair."

They crossed blades in the moonlight, Cazaio was in a disastrous condition;
John Bulmer's tolerant acceptance of any meanness that a Cazaio might
attempt, the vital shame of this new and baser failure before Claire's very
eyes, had made of Cazaio a crazed beast. He slobbered little flecks of
foam, clinging like hoar-frost to the tangled beard, and he breathed with
shuddering inhalations, like a man in agony, the while that he charged
with redoubling thrusts. The Englishman appeared to be enjoying himself,
discreetly; he chuckled as the other, cursing, shifted from tierce to
quart, and he met the assault with a nice inevitableness. In all, each
movement had the comely precision of finely adjusted clockwork, though
at times John Bulmer's face showed a spurt of amusement roused by the
brigand's extravagancy of gesture and Cazaio's contortions as he strove to
pass the line of steel that flickered cannily between his sword and John
Bulmer's portly bosom.

Then John Bulmer, too, attacked. "For Guiton!" said he, as his point
slipped into Cazaio's breast. John Bulmer recoiled and lodged another
thrust in the brigand's throat. "For attempting to assassinate me!" His
foot stamped as his sword ran deep into Cazaio's belly. "For insulting my
wife by thinking of her obscenely! You are a dead man, friend Achille."

Cazaio had dropped his sword, reeling as if drunken against the western
battlement. "My comfort," he said, hoarsely, while one hand tore at his
jetting throat--"my comfort is that I could not perish slain by a braver
enemy." He moaned and stumbled backward. Momentarily his knees gripped the
low embrasure. Then his feet flipped upward, convulsively, so that John
Bulmer saw the man's spurs glitter and twitch in the moonlight, and John
Bulmer heard a snapping and crackling and swishing among the poplars, and
heard the heavy, unvibrant thud of Cazaio's body upon the turf.

"May he find more mercy than he has merited," said John Bulmer, "for the
man had excellent traits. Yes, in him the making of a very good swordsman
was spoiled by that abominable Boisrobert."

But Claire had caught him by the shoulder. "Look, Jean!"

He turned toward the Duardenez. A troop of horsemen was nearing. Now they
swept about the curve in the highway and at their head was de Puysange,
laughing terribly. The dragoons went by like a tumult in a sick man's
dream, and the Hugonet Wing had screened them.

"Then Bellegarde is relieved," said John Bulmer, "and your life, at least,
is saved."

The girl stormed. "You--you abominable trickster! You would not be content
with the keys of heaven if you had not got them by outwitting somebody! Do
you fancy I had never seen the Duke of Ormskirk's portrait? Gaston sent me
one six months ago."

"Ah!" said John Bulmer, very quietly. He took up the discarded scabbard,
and he sheathed his sword without speaking.

Presently he said, "You have been cognizant all along that I was the Duke
of Ormskirk?"

"Yes," she answered, promptly.

"And you married me, knowing that I was--God save the mark!--the great Duke
of Ormskirk? knowing that you made what we must grossly term a brilliant
match?"

"I married you because, in spite of Jean Bulmer, you had betrayed yourself
to be a daring and a gallant gentleman,--and because, for a moment, I
thought that I did not dislike the Duke of Ormskirk quite so much as I
ought to."

He digested this.

"O Jean Bulmer," the girl said, "they tell me you were ever a fortunate
man, but I consider you the unluckiest I know of. For always you are afraid
to be yourself. Sometimes you forget, and are just you--and then, ohe! you
remember, and are only a sulky, fat old gentleman who is not you at all,
somehow; so that at times I detest you, and at times I cannot thoroughly
detest you. So that I played out the comedy, Jean Bulmer. I meant in the
end to tell Louis who you were, of course, and not let them hang you; but I
never quite trusted you; and I never knew whether I detested you or no, at
bottom, until last night."

"Last night you left the safe Inner Tower to come to me--to save me at all
hazards, or else to die with me--And for what reason, did you do this?"

"You are bullying me!" she wailed.

"And for what reason, did you do this?" he repeated, without any change of
intonation.

"Can you not guess?" she asked. "Oh, because I am a fool!" she stated, very
happily, for his arms were about her.

"Eh, in that event--" said the Duke of Ormskirk. "Look!" said he, with a
deeper thrill of speech, "it is the dawn."

They turned hand in hand; and out of the east the sun came statelily, and a
new day was upon them.

VIII

HEART OF GOLD

_As Played at Paris, in the May of 1750_

"_Cette amoureuse ardeur qui dans les coeurs s'excite N'est point, comme
l'on scait, un effet du merite; Le caprice y prend part, et, quand
quelqu'un nous plaist, Souvent nous avons peine a dire pourquoy c'est. Mais
on vois que l'amour se gouverne autrement._"

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

DUC DE PUYSANGE, somewhat given to women, and now and then to
good-fellowship, but a man of excellent disposition.

MARQUIS DE SOYECOURT, his cousin, and loves de Puysange's wife.

DUKE OF ORMSKIRK.

DUCHESSE DE PUYSANGE, a precise, but amiable and patient, woman.

ANTOINE, LACKEYS to de Puysange, Etc.

SCENE

Paris, mostly within and about the Hotel de Puysange.

HEART OF GOLD

PROEM:--_Necessitated by a Change of Scene_

You are not to imagine that John Bulmer debated an exposure of de
Soyecourt. "Live and let live" was the Englishman's axiom; the exuberant
Cazaio was dead, his men were either slain or dispersed, and the whole
tangle of errors--with judicious reservations--had now been unravelled to
Gaston's satisfaction. And Claire de Puysange was now Duchess of Ormskirk.
Why, then, meddle with Destiny, who appeared, after all, to possess a
certain sense of equity?

So Ormskirk smiled as he presently went about Paris, on his own business,
and when he and Louis de Soyecourt encountered each other their
friendliness was monstrous in its geniality.

They were now one and all in Paris, where Ormskirk's marriage had been
again, and more publicly, solemnized. De Puysange swore that his sister was
on this occasion the loveliest person affordable by the resources of the
universe, but de Soyecourt backed another candidate; so that over their
wine the two gentlemen presently fell into a dispute.

"Nay, but I protest to you she is the most beautiful woman in all Paris!"
cried the Marquis de Soyecourt, and kissed his finger-tips gallantly.

"My dear Louis," the Duc de Puysange retorted, "her eyes are noticeable,
perhaps; and I grant you," he added, slowly, "that her husband is not often
troubled by--that which they notice."

"--And the cleverest!"

"I have admitted she knows when to be silent. What more would you demand of
any woman?"

"And yet--" The little Marquis waved a reproachful forefinger.

"Why, but," said the Duke, with utter comprehension, "it is not for nothing
that our house traces from the great Jurgen--"

He was in a genial midnight mood, and, on other subjects, inclined to be
garrulous; for the world, viewed through a slight haze, of vinous origin,
seemed a pleasant place, and inspired a kindly desire to say diverting
things about the world's contents. He knew the Marquis to be patient,
and even stolid, under a fusillade of epigram and paradox; in short, de
Puysange knew the hour and the antagonist for midnight talk to be at hand.
And a saturnalia of phrases whirled in his brain, demanding utterance.

He waved them aside. Certain inbred ideas are strangely tenacious of
existence, and it happened to be his wife they were discussing. It would
not be good form, de Puysange felt, for him to evince great interest in
this topic....

I

"And yet," de Puysange queried, as he climbed democratically into a public
hackney coach, "why not? For my part, I see no good and sufficient reason
for discriminating against the only woman one has sworn to love and cherish
and honor. It is true that several hundred people witnessed the promise,
with a perfect understanding of the jest, and that the keeping of this oath
involves a certain breach of faith with society. Eh bien! let us, then,
deceive the world--and the flesh--and the devil! Let us snap our fingers at
this unholy trinity, and assert the right, when the whim takes us, to make
unstinted love to our own wives!"

He settled back in the _fiacre_ to deliberate. "It is bourgeois? Bah! the
word is the first refuge of the unskilful poseur! It is bourgeois to be
born, to breathe, to sleep, or eat; in which of the functions that consume
the greater part of my life do I differ from my grocer? Bourgeois! why,
rightly considered, to be a human being at all is quite inordinately
bourgeois! And it is very notably grocer-like to maintain a grave face and
two establishments, to chuckle privily over the fragments of the seventh
commandment, to repent, upon detection, and afterward--ces betes-la!--to
drink poison. Ma foi, I infinitely prefer the domestic coffee!"

The Duc de Puysange laughed, and made as though to wave aside the crudities
of life. "All vice is bourgeois, and fornication in particular tends
to become sordid, outworn, vieux jeu! In youth, I grant you, it is the
unexpurgated that always happens. But at my age--misericorde!--the
men yawn, and les demoiselles--bah! les demoiselles have the souls of
accountants! They buy and sell, as my grocer does. The satiation of carnal
desires is no longer a matter of splendid crimes and sorrows and kingdoms
lost; it is a matter of business."

The harsh and swarthy face relaxed. With, a little sigh the Duc de Puysange
had closed his fevered eyes. About them were a multitude of tiny lines,
and of this fact he was obscurely conscious, in a wearied fashion, when he
again looked out on the wellnigh deserted streets, now troubled by a hint
of dawn. His eyes were old; they had seen much. Two workmen shambled by,
chatting on their way to the day's work; in the attic yonder a drunken
fellow sang, "Ah, bouteille ma mie," he bellowed, "pourquoi vous
vuidez-vous?"

De Puysange laughed. "I suppose I have no conscience, but at least, I can
lay claim to a certain fastidiousness. I am very wicked,"--he smiled,
without mirth or bitterness,--"I have sinned notably as the world accounts
it; indeed, I think, my repute is as abominable as that of any man living.
And I am tired,--alas, I am damnably tired! I have found the seven deadly
sins deadly, beyond, doubt, but only deadly dull and deadly commonplace. I
have perseveringly frisked in the high places of iniquity, I have junketed
with all evil gods, and the utmost they could pretend to offer any of their
servitors was a spasm. I renounce them, as feeble-minded deities, I snap
my fingers, very much as did my progenitor, the great Jurgen, at all their
over-rated mysteries."

His glance caught and clung for a moment to the paling splendor of the moon
that hung low in the vacant, dove-colored heavens. A faint pang, half-envy,
half-regret, vexed the Duke with a dull twinge. "I wish too that by living
continently I could have done, once for all, with this faded pose and this
idle making of phrases! Eheu! there is a certain proverb concerning pitch
so cynical that I suspect it of being truthful. However,--we shall see."

De Puysange smiled. "The most beautiful woman in all Paris? Ah, yes, she is
quite that, is this grave silent female whose eyes are more fathomless and
cold than oceans! And how cordially she despises me! Ma foi, I think that
if her blood--which is, beyond doubt, of a pale-pink color,--be ever
stirred, at all, it is with loathing of her husband. Well, life holds many
surprises for madame, now that I become quite as virtuous as she is. We
will arrange a very pleasant comedy of belated courtship; for are we not
bidden to love one another? So be it,--I am henceforth the model pere de
famille."

Now the _fiacre_ clattered before the Hotel de Puysange.

The door was opened by a dull-eyed lackey, whom de Puysange greeted with
a smile, "Bon jour, Antoine!" cried the Duke; "I trust that your wife and
doubtless very charming children have good health?"

"Beyond question, monseigneur," the man answered, stolidly.

"That is excellent hearing," de Puysange said, "and it rejoices me to be
reassured of their welfare. For the happiness of others, Antoine, is
very dear to the heart of a father--and of a husband." The Duke chuckled
seraphically as he passed down the hall. The man stared after him, and
shrugged.

"Rather worse than usual," Antoine considered.

II

Next morning the Duchesse de Puysange received an immoderate armful of
roses, with a fair copy of some execrable verses. De Puysange spent the
afternoon, selecting bonbons and wholesome books,--"for his fiancee," he
gravely informed the shopman.

At the Opera he never left her box; afterward, at the Comtesse de
Hauteville's, he created a furor by sitting out three dances in the
conservatory with his wife. Mademoiselle Tiercelin had already received his
regrets that he was spending that night at home.

III

The month wore on.

"It is the true honeymoon," said the Duke.

In that event he might easily have found a quieter place than Paris wherein
to spend it. Police agents had of late been promised a premium for any
sturdy beggar, whether male or female, they could secure to populate
the new plantation of Louisiana; and as the premium was large, genteel
burgesses, and in particular the children of genteel burgesses, were
presently disappearing in a fashion their families found annoying. Now,
from nowhere, arose and spread the curious rumor that King Louis, somewhat
the worse for his diversions in the Parc-aux-Cerfs, daily restored his
vigor by bathing in the blood of young children; and parents of the
absentees began to manifest a double dissatisfaction, for the deduction was
obvious.

There were riots. In one of them Madame de Pompadour barely escaped with
her life, [Footnote: This was on the afternoon of the famous ball given
by the Pompadour in honor of the new Duchess of Ormskirk.] and the King
himself on his way to Compiegne, was turned back at the Porte St. Antoine,
and forced to make a detour rather than enter his own capital. After this
affair de Puysange went straight to his brother-in-law.

"Jean," said he, "for a newly married man you receive too much company. And
afterward your visitors talk blasphemously in cabarets and shoot the King's
musketeers. I would appreciate an explanation."

Ormskirk shrugged. "Merely a makeshift, Gaston. Merely a device to gain
time wherein England may prepare against the alliance of France and
Austria. Your secret treaty will never be signed as long as Paris is given
over to rioters. Nay, the Empress may well hesitate to ally herself with
a king who thus clamantly cannot govern even his own realm. And meanwhile
England will prepare herself. We will be ready to fight you in five years,
but we do not intend to be hurried about it."

"Yes," de Puysange assented;--"yet you err in sending Cumberland to defend
Hanover. You will need a better man there."

Ormskirk slapped his thigh. "So you intercepted that last despatch, after
all! And I could have sworn Candale was trustworthy!"

"My adored Jean," replied de Puysange, "he has been in my pay for six
months! Console yourself with the reflection that you overbid us in
Noumaria."

"Yes, but old Ludwig held out for more than the whole duchy is worth. We
paid of course. We had to pay."

"And one of course congratulates you upon securing the quite essential
support of that duchy. Still, Jean, if there were any accident--" De
Puysange was really unbelievably ugly when he smiled. "For accidents do
occur.... It is war, then?"

"My dear fellow," said Ormskirk, "of course it is war. We are about to fly
at each other's throats, with half of Europe to back each of us. We begin
the greatest game we have ever played. And we will manage it very badly, I
dare say, since we are each of us just now besotted with adoration of our
wives."

"At times," said de Puysange, with dignity, "your galimatias are
insufferable. Now let us talk like reasonable beings. In regard to
Pomerania, you will readily understand that the interests of humanity--"

IV

Still the suggestion haunted him. It would be a nuance too ridiculous, of
course, to care seriously for one's wife, and yet Helene de Puysange
was undeniably a handsome woman. As they sat over the remains of their
dinner,--_a deux_, by the Duke's request,--she seemed to her husband quite
incredibly beautiful. She exhaled the effects of a water-color in discreet
and delicate tinctures. Lithe and fine and proud she was to the merest
glance; yet patience, a thought conscious of itself, beaconed in her eyes,
and she appeared, with urbanity, to regard life as, upon the whole, a
countrified performance. De Puysange liked that air; he liked the reticence
of every glance and speech and gesture,--liked, above all, the thinnish
oval of her face and the staid splendor of her hair. Here was no vulgar
yellow, no crass and hackneyed gold ... and yet there was a clarified and
gauzier shade of gold ... the color of the moon by daylight, say.... Then,
as the pleasures of digestion lapsed gently into the initial amenities of
sleep, she spoke.

"Monsieur," said she, "will you be pleased to tell me the meaning of this
comedy?"

"Madame," de Puysange answered, and raised his gloomy eyebrows, "I do not
entirely comprehend."

"Ah," said she, "believe me, I do not undervalue your perception. I have
always esteemed your cleverness, monsieur, however much"--she paused for
a moment, a fluctuating smile upon her lips,--"however much I may have
regretted its manifestations. I am not clever, and to me cleverness has
always seemed to be an infinite incapacity for hard work; its results
are usually a few sonnets, an undesirable wife, and a warning for one's
acquaintances. In your case it is, of course, different; you have your
statesmanship to play with--"

"And statesmen have no need of cleverness, you would imply, madame?"

"I do not say that. In any event, you are the Duc de Puysange, and the
weight of a great name stifles stupidity and cleverness without any
partiality. With you, cleverness has taken the form of a tendency to
intoxication, amours, and--amiability. I have acquiesced in this. But, for
the past month--"

"The happiest period of my life!" breathed the Duke.

"--you have been pleased to present me with flowers, bonbons, jewels, and
what not. You have actually accorded your wife the courtesies you usually
preserve for the ladies of the ballet. You have dogged my footsteps, you
have attempted to intrude into my bedroom, you have talked to me as--well,
very much as--"

"Much as the others do?" de Puysange queried, helpfully. "Pardon me,
madame, but, in one's own husband, I had thought this very routine might
savor of originality."

The Duchess flushed, "All the world knows, monsieur, that in your
estimation what men have said to me, or I to them, has been for fifteen
years a matter of no moment! It is not due to you that I am still--"

"A pearl," finished the Duke, gallantly,--then touched himself upon the
chest,--"cast before swine," he sighed.

She rose to her feet. "Yes, cast before swine!" she cried, with a quick
lift of speech. She seemed very tall as she stood tapping her fingers upon
the table, irresolutely; but after an instant she laughed and spread out
her fine hands in an impotent gesture. "Ah, monsieur," she said, "my father
entrusted to your keeping a clean-minded girl! What have you made of her,
Gaston?"

A strange and profoundly unreasonable happiness swept through the Duke's
soul as she spoke his given name for the first time within his memory.
Surely, the deep contralto voice had lingered over it?--half-tenderly,
half-caressingly, one might think.

The Duke put aside his coffee-cup and, rising, took his wife's soft hands
in his. "What have I made of her? I have made of her, Helene, the one
object of all my desires."

Her face flushed. "Mountebank!" she cried, and struggled to free herself;
"do you mistake me, then, for a raddle-faced actress in a barn? Ah, les
demoiselles have formed you, monsieur,--they have formed you well!"

"Pardon!" said the Duke. He released her hands, he swept back his hair with
a gesture of impatience. He turned from his wife, and strolled toward a
window, where, for a little, he tapped upon the pane, his murky countenance
twitching oddly, as he stared into the quiet and sunlit street. "Madame,"
he began, in a level voice, "I will tell you the meaning of the comedy. To
me,--always, as you know, a creature of whims,--there came, a month ago, a
new whim which I thought attractive, unconventional, promising. It was to
make love to my own wife rather than to another man's. Ah, I grant you, it
is incredible," he cried, when the Duchess raised her hand as though to
speak,--"incredible, fantastic, and ungentlemanly! So be it; nevertheless,
I have played out my role. I have been the model husband; I have put away
wine and--les demoiselles; for it pleased me, in my petty insolence, to
patronize, rather than to defy, the laws of God and man. Your perfection
irritated me, madame; it pleased me to demonstrate how easy is this trick
of treating the world as the antechamber of a future existence. It pleased
me to have in my life one space, however short, over which neither the
Recording Angel nor even you might draw a long countenance. It pleased me,
in effect, to play out the comedy, smug-faced and immaculate,--for the
time. I concede that I have failed in my part. Hiss me from the stage,
madame; add one more insult to the already considerable list of those
affronts which I have put upon you; one more will scarcely matter."

She faced him with set lips. "So, monsieur, your boasted comedy amounts
only to this?"

"I am not sure of its meaning, madame. I think that, perhaps, the swine,
wallowing in the mire which they have neither strength nor will to leave,
may yet, at times, long--and long whole-heartedly--" De Puysange snapped
his fingers. "Peste!" said he, "let us now have done with this dreary
comedy! Beyond doubt de Soyecourt has much to answer for, in those idle
words which were its germ. Let us hiss both collaborators, madame."

"De Soyecourt!" she marveled, with, a little start. "Was it he who prompted
you to make love to me?"

"Without intention," pleaded the Duke. "He twitted me for my inability, as
your husband, to gain your affections; but I do not question his finest
sensibilities would be outraged by our disastrous revival of Philemon and
Baucis."

"Ah--!" said she. She was smiling at some reflection or other.

There was a pause. The Duc de Puysange drummed upon the window-pane; the
Duchess, still faintly smiling, trifled with the thin gold chain that hung
about her neck. Both knew their display of emotion to have been somewhat
unmodern, not entirely _a la mode_.

"Decidedly," spoke de Puysange, and turned toward her with a slight
grimace, "I am no longer fit to play the lover; yet a little while, madame,
and you must stir my gruel-posset, and arrange the pillows more comfortably
about the octogenarian."

"Ah, Gaston," she answered, and in protest raised her slender fingers, "let
us have no more heroics. We are not well fitted for them, you and I."

"So it would appear," the Duc de Puysange conceded, not without sulkiness.

"Let us be friends," she pleaded. "Remember, it was fifteen years ago I
made the grave mistake of marrying a very charming man--"

"Merci!" cried the Duke.

"--and I did not know that I was thereby denying myself the pleasure of his
acquaintance. I have learned too late that marrying a man is only the most
civil way of striking him from one's visiting-list." The Duchess hesitated.
"Frankly, Gaston, I do not regret the past month."

"It has been adorable!" sighed the Duke.

"Yes," she admitted; "except those awkward moments when you would insist on
making love to me."

"But no, madame," cried he, "it was precisely--"

"O my husband, my husband!" she interrupted, with a shrug of the shoulders;
"why, you do it so badly!"

The Duc de Puysange took a short turn about the apartment. "Yet I married
you," said he, "at sixteen--out of a convent!"

"Mon ami," she murmured, in apology, "am I not to be frank with you? Would
you have only the connubial confidences?"

"But I had no idea--" he began.

"Why, Gaston, it bored me to the very verge of yawning in my lover's
countenance. I, too, had no idea but that it would bore you equally--"

"Hein?" said the Duke.

"--to hear what d'Humieres--"

"He squints!" cried the Duc de Puysange.

"--or de Crequy--"

"That red-haired ape!" he muttered.

"--or d'Arlanges, or--or any of them, was pleased to say. In fact, it was
my duty to conceal from my husband anything which might involve him in
duels. Now that we are friends, of course it is entirely different."

The Duchess smiled; the Duke walked up and down the room with the contained
ferocity of a caged tiger.

"In duels! in a whole series of duels! So these seducers besiege you
in platoons. Ma foi, friendship is a good oculist! Already my vision
improves."

"Gaston!" she cried. The Duchess rose and laid both hands upon his
shoulders. "Gaston--?" she repeated.

For a heart-beat the Duc de Puysange looked into his wife's eyes; then he
sadly smiled and shook his head. "Madame," said the Duke, "I do not doubt
you. Ah, believe me, I have comprehended, always, that in your keeping my
honor was quite safe--far more safe than in mine, as Heaven and most of the
fiends well know. You have been a true and faithful wife to a worthless
brute who has not deserved it." He lifted her fingers to his lips. De
Puysange stood very erect; his heels clicked together, and his voice was
earnest. "I thank you, madame, and I pray you to believe that I have never
doubted you. You are too perfect to err--Frankly, and between friends."
added the Duke, "it was your cold perfection which frightened me. You are
an icicle, Helene."

She was silent for a moment. "Ah!" she said, and sighed; "you think so?"

"Once, then--?" The Duc de Puysange seated himself beside his wife, and
took her hand.

"I--it was nothing." Her lashes fell, and dull color flushed through her
countenance.

"Between friends," the Duke suggested, "there should be no reservations."

"But it is such a pitiably inartistic little history!" the Duchess
protested. "Eh bien, if you must have it! For I was a girl once,--an
innocent girl, as given as are most girls to long reveries and bright,
callow day-dreams. And there was a man--"

"There always is," said the Duke, darkly.

"Why, he never even knew, mon ami!" cried his wife, and laughed, and
clapped her hands. "He was much older than I; there were stories about
him--oh, a great many stories,--and one hears even in a convent--" She
paused with a reminiscent smile. "And I used to wonder shyly what this
very fearful reprobate might be like. I thought of him with de Lauzun,
and Dom Juan, and with the Duc de Grammont, and all those other scented,
shimmering, magnificent libertines over whom les ingenues--wonder; only, I
thought of him, more often than of the others, I made little prayers for
him to the Virgin. And I procured a tiny miniature of him. And, when I came
out of the convent, I met him at my father's house. [Footnote: She was of
the Aigullon family, and sister to d'Agenois, the first and very politic
lover of Madame de la Tournelle, afterward mistress to Louis Quinze under
the title of Duchesse de Chateauroux. The later relations between the
d'Aigullons and Madame du Barry are well-known.] And that was all."

"All?" The Duc de Puysange had raised his swart eyebrows, and he slightly
smiled.

"All," she re-echoed, firmly. "Oh, I assure you he was still too youthful
to have any time to devote to young girls. He was courteous--no more. But I
kept the picture,--ah, girls are so foolish, Gaston!" The Duchess, with a
light laugh, drew upward the thin chain about her neck. At its end was a
little heart-shaped locket of dull gold, with a diamond sunk deep in each
side. She regarded the locket with a quaint sadness. "It is a long while
since I have seen that miniature, for it has been sealed in here," said
she, "ever since--since some one gave me the locket"

Now the Duc de Puysange took this trinket, still tepid and perfumed from
contact with her flesh. He turned it awkwardly in his hand, his eyes
flashing volumes of wonderment and inquiry. Yet he did not appear jealous,
nor excessively unhappy. "And never," he demanded, some vital emotion
catching at his voice--"never since then--?"

"I never, of course, approved of him," she answered; and at this point de
Puysange noted--so near as he could remember for the first time in his
existence,--the curve of her trailing lashes. Why but his wife had lovely
eyelashes, lashes so unusual that he drew nearer to observe them more at
his ease. "Still,--I hardly know how to tell you--still, without him the
world was more quiet, less colorful; it held, appreciably, less to catch
the eye and ear. Eh, he had an air, Gaston; he was never an admirable man,
but, somehow, he was invariably the centre of the picture."

"And you have always--always you have cared for him?" said the Duke,
drawing nearer and yet more near to her.

"Other men," she murmured, "seem futile and of minor importance, after
him." The lashes lifted. They fell, promptly. "So, I have always kept the
heart, mon ami. And, yes, I have always loved him, I suppose."

The chain had moved and quivered in his hand. Was it man or woman who
trembled? wondered the Duc de Puysange. For a moment he stood immovable,
every nerve in his body tense. Surely, it was she who trembled? It seemed
to him that this woman, whose cold perfection had galled him so long, now
stood with downcast eyes, and blushed and trembled, too, like any rustic
maiden come shamefaced to her first tryst.

"Helene--!" he cried.

"But no, my story is too dull," she protested, and shrugged her shoulders,
and disengaged herself--half-fearfully, it seemed to her husband. "Even
more insipid than your comedy," she added, with a not unkindly smile. "Do
we drive this afternoon?"

"In effect, yes!" cried the Duke. He paused and laughed--a low and gentle
laugh, pulsing with unutterable content. "Since this afternoon, madame--"

"Is cloudless?" she queried.

"Nay, far more than that," de Puysange amended; "it is refulgent."

V

What time the Duchess prepared her person for the drive the Duke walked
in the garden of the Hotel de Puysange. Up and down a shady avenue of
lime-trees he paced, and chuckled to himself, and smiled benignantly upon
the moss-incrusted statues,--a proceeding that was, beyond any reasonable
doubt, prompted by his happiness rather than by the artistic merits of
the postured images, since they constituted a formidable and broken-nosed
collection of the most cumbrous, the most incredible, and the most hideous
instances of sculpture the family of Puysange had been able to accumulate
for, as the phrase is, love or money. Amid these mute, gray travesties of
antiquity and the tastes of his ancestors, the Duc de Puysange exulted.

"Ma foi, will life never learn to improve upon the extravagancies of
romance? Why, it is the old story,--the hackneyed story of the husband and
wife who fall in love with each other! Life is a very gross plagiarist. And
she--did she think I had forgotten how I gave her that little locket so
long ago? Eh, ma femme, so 'some one'--'some one' who cannot be alluded to
without a pause and an adorable flush--presented you with your locket! Nay,
love is not always blind!"

The Duke paused before a puff-jawed Triton, who wallowed in an arid basin
and uplifted toward heaven what an indulgent observer might construe as a
broken conch-shell. "Love! Mon Dieu, how are the superior fallen! I have
not the decency to conceal even from myself that I love my wife! I am
shameless, I had as lief proclaim it from the house-tops. And a month
ago--tarare, the ignorant beast I was! Moreover, at that time I had not
passed a month in her company,--eh bien, I defy Diogenes and Timon to come
through such a testing with unscratched hearts. I love her. And she loves
me!"

He drew a deep breath, and he lifted his comely hands toward the pale
spring sky, where the west wind was shepherding a sluggish flock of clouds.
"O sun, moon, and stars!" de Puysange said, aloud: "I call you to witness
that she loves me! Always she has loved me! O kindly little universe! O
little kings, tricked out with garish crowns and sceptres, you are masters
of your petty kingdoms, but I am master of her heart!

"I do not deserve it," he conceded, to a dilapidated faun, who, though his
flute and the hands that held it had been missing for over a quarter of
a century, piped, on with unimpaired and fatuous mirth. "Ah, heart of
gold--demented trinket that you are, I have not merited that you should
retain my likeness all these years! If I had my deserts--parbleu! let us
accept such benefits as the gods provide, and not question the wisdom
of their dispensations. What man of forty-three may dare to ask for his
deserts? No, we prefer instead the dealings of blind chance and all the
gross injustices by which so many of us escape hanging"....

VI

"So madame has visitors? Eh bien, let us, then, behold these naughty
visitors, who would sever a husband from his wife!"

Book of the day: