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Title: The Third Estate Author: Marjorie Bowen * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1300891h.html Language: English Date first posted: Mar 2013 Most recent update: Mar 2013 This eBook was produced by: Colin Choat Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au
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|• Part I. The Joy of
• Chapter I
• Chapter II
• Chapter III
• Chapter IV
• Chapter V
• Chapter VI
• Chapter VII
• Chapter VIII
• Chapter IX
• Chapter X
• Chapter XI
• Chapter XII
• Chapter XIII
• Chapter XIV
• Chapter XV
• Chapter XVI
• Chapter XVII
• Chapter XVIII
• Chapter XIX
• Chapter XX
• Chapter XXI
• Chapter XXII
• Chapter XXIII
• Chapter XXIV
|• Part II. The
• Chapter I
• Chapter II
• Chapter III
• Chapter IV
• Chapter V
• Chapter VI
• Chapter VII
• Part III. The New Order
• Chapter I
• Chapter II
• Chapter III
• Chapter IV
• Chapter V
• Chapter VI
• Chapter VII
• Chapter VIII
• Chapter IX
• Chapter X
• Chapter XI
• Chapter XII
• Chapter XIII
M. de Sarcey was bored; he stretched and yawned and, wandering aimlessly to the balcony, looked out into the courtyard of the mansion and up at the pale summer sky.
He was not often bored. At thirty years of age, life had scarcely begun to pall on him, and he contrived to find interest and pleasure in vice, in idleness, and in uselessness. He had no definite aim and no definite occupation; he was a captain in one of the smartest regiments in France, he held several well-paid sinecures about the Court, and, as he was intelligent and full of energy, he had amused himself in turn with all the arts and all the sciences.
He believed in nothing but himself and the impregnable position of a peer of France. Young, brilliant, unscrupulous and completely sure of himself, he had already made his name conspicuous 'among his own class by his excesses, his gifts, his extravagance, and by something more unusual than any of these, a certain fierceness and wildness which was rather more than the mere wilfulness of a high-spirited young man brought up without restraint, and involved elements both strange and dangerous. He had the reputation of being utterly heartless; he had his friends and his companions, but he was more feared than liked, for his haughtiness never stooped to conciliate or please. Among the many assets that made him fortune's favourite were his extreme good looks and superb health, neither of which had as yet been affected by his way of life.
His face was beautiful, though hard and dark, and with eyes that were expressionless except for an intense vitality; he was robust, but so tall and graceful, so elegant, that this look of strength was disguised.
When he was alone, as now, something of his true self flashed to the surface; he stopped yawning, and his dark eyes glanced round the room. He was being kept waiting, and his impatience was ill concealed.
He had come to sign his marriage contract and to see, for the first time, his future wife. It was a good match, one that did credit to his prudence; he had made a fair bargain with his advantages of person and rank, for the lady was immensely wealthy, and his own fortune, vast as it was, had begun to suffer considerably from his boundless extravagances and though his future wife was not of his rank, she was of good birth, her father being one of the Judges of His Majesty's courts and Président de la troisième chambre de la cour des aides à Paris, and that the family whom he was honouring with his alliance should be just sufficiently below him in rank to be grateful for his favour was by no mean displeasing to M. de Sarcey.
He had avoided marriage as long as he could, but it had become inevitable, and he was not displeased with the match he had arranged for himself. As for the lady, Pélagie de Haultpenne, she had remained with her mother at her father's country house while her marriage was being negotiated, and the Marquis had not yet seen her. He guessed that Mademoiselle de Haultpenne was neither beautiful nor clever, and it did not trouble him in the least; she was sufficiently well born and well educated to be able to take her place as Marquise de Sarcey, and that was all he asked of her.
He turned back into the room, and a frown was beginning to darken his face when M. le Président entered.
M. de Sarcey was civil, hardly more; the older man courteous to deference; it was, from his point of view, a most brilliant match.
He could not long conceal his pride and pleasure in an offer he had received for his second daughter.
'Eugénie has been only six months from her convent, Monsieur, and the Duc de Rochefort has asked for her hand,' he announced.
De Sarcey was slightly surprised; he knew and did not like de Rochefort, and he could not understand the motive for this proposed match. Mademoiselle Eugénie was not an heiress, as he well knew, having insisted on almost the whole of her father's fortune being settled on the elder daughter.
'He is content to take her with a very small dowry,' continued the Président, with a smile of satisfaction.
'A love match?' asked the Marquis, with a curious inflection.
The President laughed.
'I leave you to draw your own conclusions, M. le Marquis. M. de Rochefort saw her once when she was driving with her sister and he made me this offer. I was not honoured with his previous acquaintance.'
'You have accepted him, Monsieur?'
'I believe that I shall. You know him?'
'Yes. But he is not of my friends. I never heard anything about him. But you would be well advised to accept his offer, M. le Président, he is certainly a peer of France.'
The speech and the manner in which it was delivered were almost insolent but M. de Haultpenne was used to accepting insolence from his future son-in-law. He knew that only his own great wealth made such an affiance possible. M. de Sarcey was, perhaps, the most eligible bachelor in the kingdom and his haughtiness could easily be condoned.
The Marquis pulled out a little watch gleaming with diamonds, and was about to remark with some impatience that he was almost due at Versailles, when Madame de Haultpenne entered accompanied by her daughter and two notaries.
While the President was busying himself with papers and his wife was discreetly whispering with the lawyers, the betrothed couple were left face to face before the gilt and alabaster mantelpiece.
They looked at each other with a keenness hardly disguised by the indifferent commonplaces of their greeting, languid on his side, timid on hers.
Each formed a quick impression of the other that nothing ever effaced.
He saw a tall girl of twenty-three or four years of age, dressed in white, with care but without much taste. Her features were thin and irregular; her dark hair, unpowdered, was drawn too severely back from a forehead too high; her eyes were large, gentle and intelligent, she continually peered with them as if short-sighted. The chin was receding, the throat and neck too thin, the mouth too straight-lipped; she had no colour and her pallor looked unhealthy.
The Marquis summed her up instantly as a plain woman and one whom he would not have turned his head to look at had he met her under any other circumstances. Her timid expression, almost wistful, and her air of self-effacement which was almost pleading, did not at all appeal to him.
He was slightly vexed; she was less presentable than he had expected; he mentally decided to see as little as possible of her after their marriage.
Pélagie de Haultpenne's impression of her promised husband was very different; she thought him the most handsome man she had ever seen, and stood abashed and secretly trembling before his overwhelming presence.
M. de Sarcey was indeed at this time at the zenith of his unusual beauty, and there was not a woman who looked at him who was not secretly stirred with admiration. The face was almost flawless: only, perhaps, slightly too dark and swarthy in the skin; the nose was arched, the lips curved, the chin slightly cleft, the dark brown eyes sparkling and magnificent and arched by thick black brows, the hair naturally wavy and showing black even through the powder and pomade. It was a face that might easily have expressed cruelty, scarcely tenderness or any generous emotion; a face easily roused to a look of passion, vivid with health and eager life.
The young girl lowered her eyes; the vividness and force of the man's personality silenced her, yet she was desperately anxious to interest him, to attract.
'You have not been long in Paris, Mademoiselle?' asked the Marquis.
'No,' she answered. 'I am—quite new to everything, Monsieur.'
'I am but lately come from Versailles and must immediately return,' he said; he spoke with the intention of letting her know that she must not expect to see much of him, but she was too agitated to take his meaning.
'Oh, there have been strange events at Versailles, have there not,' she said confusedly, anxious to show that she knew something of his world. 'The National Assembly and M. de Mirabeau—'
'I do not trouble about those things,' he answered.
'Oh!' She was at a loss, her large, gentle eyes fixed on him with a wistful expression. 'Several strange stories are abroad in Paris—'
'Naturally,' he replied; 'but it is really all very stupid.'
'Monsieur is not interested in politics?' she ventured.
'Not so far,' he smiled. 'I am capable of being interested in anything, but at present it is very dull. A foolish confusion, and beyond M. de Mirabeau to set right.'
'But he is a dangerous man?'
'Perhaps. He had made the Queen and the Comte d'Artois very angry.'
'And the King?'
'His Majesty is never angry.'
As he spoke the Marquis looked round to see if he could escape from his conversation, and M. le Président, watchful and apprehensive, rightly interpreted this glance and hastened to say that the papers were ready for signing.
M. de Sarcey crossed over to the little marble and ormolu table and put his signature to his marriage contract.
M. de Haultpenne could not forbear a glance of triumph at the proud bent head; somehow he had never felt sure of the reckless young noble whom it had taken almost his entire fortune to buy as his son-in-law.
Pélagie de Haultpenne remained by the fireplace; she also was looking at the superb figure of M. de Sarcey.
Her heart was in a tumult. She was serious-minded and intelligent, the counsels of a worldly mother had not been able to efface the gentler teachings of the nuns in her convent school and the romantic dreams of a shy, modest nature. She had always wished most earnestly that her marriage might be more than the mere conventional union of wealth and rank, had always been eager for some mythical lover. Now, in this man signing the documents that were the pledge of his faith and hers, she thought that she saw even more than the embodiment of all her girlhood's fancies.
She wanted to do something to make him understand that she meant to be a good and faithful wife, but the formality of the occasion silenced her; she stood mute, a white figure in front of the alabaster and gilt mantelpiece, her dark head reflected in the circular mirror, her dark eyes full of longing and eagerness and a certain fear.
M. de Sarcey cast down the quill and turned his back on the bowing notaries; now that his curiosity about Pélagie was satisfied and he had found her so utterly uninteresting, his one thought was to escape from the mansion of M. de Haultpenne.
The day of the marriage was fixed—in a month's time at.
St. Roch at two o'clock; afterwards he would take his bride down to his château in Provence.
'If my duties at Versailles permit,' was his comment; 'but my Paris hôtel is always ready.'
They were deferential towards this observation. Both mother, father, and notaries knew that he had not the slightest intention of spending even a day in the company of his wife. But Pélagie had not understood this; she was still very simple, her shyness had kept her from much knowledge of the world.
Now, when her marriage date was mentioned she coloured, almost painfully; the Marquis turned to her and she at once dropped her glance.
'When may I wait on you again?' he asked in the most formal of tones.
Pélagie paled at the direct question.
'If Monseigneur is returning to Versailles, he must decide according to his leisure,' she answered.
'My leisure is much occupied, Mademoiselle,' he replied with a little smile.
'And mine very idle,' she said with a certain dignity, 'so that is another reason for M. le Marquis to say when he will wait on me.'
Madame la Présidente came to her help; she begged the presence of the Marquis at a fête she was giving to celebrate the double betrothal—his own and that of Eugénie. He accepted casually, indifferently kissed the hands of the ladies and took his leave, walking slowly from the room as if he had already forgotten the company.
Pélagie de Haultpenne watched him go; her father and the lawyers soon followed, and she was left alone with her mother.
'Oh, Madame,' she said, suddenly overwhelmed, 'what kind of man is that?'
Madame la Présidente lifted her shoulders.
'He hardly looked at me,' said Pélagie.
'He signed the contracts,' said her mother.
'I know. It is a great deal of money and he needs money. You told me so.'
'What of it?'
'I do not know. I did not imagine him like that—'
'What is there to complain of?' asked the elder woman sharply. 'He is very handsome.'
'Too handsome,' murmured Pélagie. 'Madame, I should like to speak to him. I—I do not want him to despise me or dislike me.'
'That rests with you, my daughter.'
'But I—want to speak to him,' said Pélagie, in a helpless tone.
'I will find you an opportunity at the fête—if he comes.'
'Oh, he would never dare to stay away!'
'I think M. de Sarcey would dare anything,' returned Madame la Présidente indifferently; 'and it is past the hour for the fitting of your gowns.'
Pélagie followed her mother obediently; she was in a state of nervous excitement, glad to have any diversion, even that of choosing clothes in which she had never been very interested. She missed her betrothed by a few minutes; she had scarcely passed through the folding doors that led to her mother's apartments when he returned, remembering that he had left his cloak on the chair by the open window.
He was surprised to find the room already empty. He remembered something that he had wanted to say to M. le Président.
He picked up his cloak, and paused, undecided on whether or not he should ring; in this moment of indecision the inner doors opened and a girl entered.
She was face to face with him before she saw him. She made an instant impression of brightness. Her hair was loose and a brilliant golden brown, her cheeks were flushed, her eyes bright. She wore a dress of amber-coloured muslin and a cap of white lace fastened under the chin by a black velvet strap.
When she saw Made Sarcey she paused, and they looked at each other in silence.
He was so near that he could see the bloom on her cheeks and the gold light in the tendrils of her hair.
She was very young, with a soft, rounded figure, but there was nothing foolish about her sweetness; the grey eyes that looked from under the golden lashes were full of life and intelligence.
'I did not know that you were coming so soon,' she said, and she coloured, conscious in his glance of a steadiness that had passed courtesy: de Sarcey was looking at her as he had never looked at a woman before.
'You are Eugénie?' he asked.
She continued to look at him bravely.
'Monsieur is waiting?' she added. 'Monsieur would like to see my father?'
'I have seen your father,' he answered, 'and all the business is done.'
She seemed surprised and almost startled at this.
'The business done!' she repeated. 'The marriage contract signed!'
The blood came to her face and she moved away from him; her figure showed a supple grace and simplicity against the ornate splendour of the room.
'You are M. de Rochefort?' she asked, and her lips trembling a little belied the courage of her tone.
The Marquis saw her mistake; she took him for the suitor of whom her father had told him, and she thought that the marriage contract of which he spoke was her own. It suited him to encourage her in this belief, for he was greatly interested.
'Are you satisfied with this marriage?' he asked.
'Your own, Mademoiselle.'
She moved yet further away.
'I know nothing of M. de Rochefort beyond what common report tells,' she replied.
'But it is a fine name and a fine fortune, Mademoiselle.' She looked at him straightly.
'Both are too fine for me.'
'Yet you will be glad to think that your husband has not made a mercenary match.'
'Yes,' she said frankly. 'I have a very small dowry. My father told me you saw me abroad—that pleased me, Monseigneur, that you should come and ask for me from that one glimpse. I thought such foolishness was out of fashion.'
'I never follow a fashion, Mademoiselle,' answered M. de Sarcey. 'I sometimes set one. I could make you the fashion if I wished.'
Eugénie de Haultpenne regarded him curiously.
'You are not the kind of man I thought you were, M. de Rochefort,' she said.
He was pleased by the fineness of her perception.
'In what way do I differ?' he asked.
'You do not seem to me the sort of man to be romantic,' she answered.
'What do you know of men—or romance?'
'Very little. But I have thought a great deal. One has one's ideas.'
'And your idea was not like me?'
M. de Sarcey laughed; they were talking with great intimacy. This pleased him, he hated all conventions. It was also something new to him, for he had never been able to speak to a young girl of his own class alone or on frank terms of friendship.
'But you find me tolerable, Mademoiselle?' he asked.
'I should not stay and speak to you if I did not,' she replied; she hesitated, then added, 'I feel as if we had met before.'
'We have,' he answered earnestly. 'Who knows how many centuries ago! Everything about you is familiar to me, your figure, your hair, your eyes—how many times has that fair head rested on my shoulder, how many times have you put your hand in mine.'
He spoke gravely and she looked at him, trembling. 'Oh, this frightens me,' she murmured.
'Why should it frighten you?'
She controlled herself.
'It is a strange way to speak, Monsieur,' she said.
'Do you not feel it is true?'
'I think you have no right to ask that.'
'This is the first time we have spoken together, Monsieur.' M. de Sarcey laughed.
'Would you put me off with these commonplaces, Eugénie? Do you not know who I am, you foolish girl?'
He spoke with a note of elation in his voice, a look of elation in his dark eyes.
Eugénie backed away.
'No, I do not know who you are,' she murmured, 'something strange has happened.'
He went up to her and took her hand; delicately he pushed back the yellow muslin sleeve and gazed intently at her round white arm.
'I am your master, Eugénie,' he said; 'you cannot withstand me.'
She laughed tremulously, but made no attempt to release herself.
'I do not even know your name,' she said under her breath. 'That does not matter.'
He bent and gently kissed the bare arm from the wrist to the shoulder.
Now she struggled to be free.
'What are you doing to me?' she cried.
'I take what is my own—you sweet woman, mine, mine! Will you kiss me?'
She turned her face away.
'Oh, no!' she answered.
'As you like. It makes no difference. You must be mine.'
She looked at him now, her face flushed, with bright eyes and parted lips.
'Give me time,' she said.
'To find out if you love me?' he smiled. 'You know.'
'Perhaps I do,' she answered quietly, 'I have always been strange.'
'Yes,' he said. 'I also; people think I'm mad. You will hear curious things of me. Does it matter?'
She had moved away from him and stood leaning against a tulip-wood table that was set against the white-painted wall. She looked extremely beautiful, startled and surprised by emotion.
'Does it matter what you hear of me?' he repeated.
'It is between us—now and always?'
'Now and always,' she repeated almost mechanically.
He laughed. Her acceptance of his instant claim, her confusion, in which there was no suggestion of alarm, intoxicated him with a sensation of sweet power such as he had never known; he felt that she was his in every fibre of his body, and she did not deny it.
They looked at each other for a moment of bewildering joy and triumph, then he made a little exclamation and advanced softly towards her.
But the door of the room \was flung open and the Marquis instinctively stepped back.
'M. le Duc de Rochefort,' announced the valet, and a slim gentleman entered.
M. de Sarcey drew himself up with a look of hatred; the girl gave a little cry.
'M. de Rochefort!' she exclaimed, turning to the newcomer. He looked from her to her companion, and his fair, delicate face hardened.
'I do not understand, Mademoiselle—' he began. Desperate and trembling, she repeated her question.
'You are M. de Rochefort?'
'Yes, Mademoiselle.' As he spoke he looked at the other man, obviously awaiting an explanation. 'M. de Sarcey?' he questioned.
The Marquis was quite at his ease; he took no trouble to be civil.
'I am here on my own business, M. le Duc. Mademoiselle de Haultpenne has perhaps confused our identities.'
Eugénie had caught the name of her sister's betrothed husband.
'Who are you, Monsieur?' she asked hurriedly. He bowed.
'The Marquis de Sarcey.'
He made no excuses for the mistake he had purposely encouraged, and she stared at him, almost beside herself with horror.
'M. de Sarcey!' she murmured. 'Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu!' The young duke, standing between the two, looked from one to the other with a coldness that was fast becoming anger. 'I do not understand,' he repeated.
M. de Sarcey turned suddenly and pulled the silk bell-rope by the door.
'I believe your business will be with M. le Président,' he said.
'And yours?' asked de Rochefort sharply.
'Mine is concluded. I simply returned for my cloak,' smiled the Marquis.
He picked it up as he spoke, looked long and meaningfully at Eugénie, gave a curt bow to the duke and, walking very slowly with an air of insolent indifference, left the room.
'M. de Sarcey is your sister's betrothed?' asked M. de
Rochefort; he was very flushed.
'Yes,' said Eugénie; she was struggling for her self-control with a desperation she could hardly disguise.
'I am sorry M. le Président should receive him into his family.'
'Why?' she asked.
He pulled himself up.
'Forgive me. We meet informally—not as I had meant, Mademoiselle.'
Eugénie had mastered herself.
'Forgive me, Monseigneur,' she replied. 'I was here by chance. I came to fetch something. I forget what. I will retire. My father will be here immediately.'
She turned towards the inner doors by which she had entered, then hesitated and turned to look again at the man who had come here as her suitor, almost as her accepted suitor.
She saw a slightly made man, refined, fair and serious.
There was something of the languor of ill-health in his manner, a certain aloofness of nobility; he was dressed simply in grey satin, and in every detail was as different as possible from the man whom she had mistaken for him 'My father will be here immediately,' she repeated dully.
He came to open the door for her.
'You are very eager to escape my company,' he said wistfully.
She made some faint gesture of protest and left, drawing the folding doors to behind her with a sigh of relief, of desperation.
With an unsteady step she passed straight through the inner apartments to her sister's boudoir. The mantua-makers had gone with their silks and brocades, their chatter and flattery, and Pélagie had sent away her maid and sat alone by the window which was open on the summer twilight.
The soft light of a cloudless sunset filled the beautiful little apartment, which was painted with white and roses, and hung with straw-coloured silk. A silver bowl on the table near Pélagie was full of flowers, tuberoses and jasmine, and their perfume mingled with the fresh scents of summer that came in from the garden on which the casement opened.
Eugénie seated herself on the low settee beside her sister; she did not know why she had come here nor what she was going to do or say.
Pélagie looked at her sharply.
'You seem ill,' she said, 'as if you had fever—you are so flushed.'
'I have never had fever,' answered Eugénie; she gazed down at the hands clasped tightly in her lap.
What had happened? What was going to happen? She must control herself—she had only spoken to him for a few moments—and he was not M. de Rochefort, the man who had fallen in love with her after one look, the man to whom her father proposed to give her—he was her sister's promised husband.
Had he not spoken of the signing of the marriage contract?
The other, the man who had interrupted them, whose features she could hardly remember, he would be bargaining with her father for her even now.
Pélagie took her glance from her sister and gazed out of the window.
'Eugénie,' she said, 'I have seen M. de Sarcey—do you wish to hear about it?'
'M. de Sarcey,' repeated the younger girl; she shivered. 'Yes, tell me about him'
'I am very happy,' said Pélagie shyly, but with great intensity. 'Oh, Eugénie, I am sure I shall love him!'
'M. de Sarcey?' echoed Eugénie stupidly.
'Who else? He is to be my husband.'
Eugénie put her hand to her forehead.
'What is he like?' she asked.
'I could not say—he confused me,' she answered. 'He was so different from what I had thought—so splendid.'
'He has the reputation for being splendid,' said Eugénie.
'I know. But I never thought of him like that! If you could see him!'
'I suppose I shall see him.'
'Oh, yes—he is coming to our fête—and then we shall see M. de Rochefort also.'
'I should like to be in the garden now,' she said. 'Will you come out?'
'No, it is too late, and you are not even dressed. Why do you spend the day in that neglected style, Eugénie? I am not dressed, but that is because the mantua-makers have been—'
'And because you have been dreaming,' said Eugénie.
Pélagie coloured. Her dark hair lay about her shoulders she wore a shapeless white wrap, she was bowed forward. Eugénie, looking at her with a new intentness, thought she had never looked so plain.
'Yes, perhaps I have been dreaming,' she replied with a certain wistfulness; 'it has been an important day for me. I should like to pray that we may be happy.'
'You and M. de Sarcey!' cried Eugénie swiftly.
'Of course it is a marriage of convenience,' continued Pélagie with her air of gentle dignity, 'but I might turn it into happiness.'
'Do you know anything about him?' asked the younger sister.
'Only what everyone knows.'
'What is that?'
'The usual tales,' said Pélagie with some reluctance. 'They say he is very extravagant, a rake, rather pitiless—'
'I am sure it is true.'
'Because he is a de Sarcey, brought up like a Prince, in a Prince's household—handsome and brilliant—isn't he handsome and brilliant, Pélagie?'
Her tone surprised her sister, who gave her a quick scrutiny.
'Are you sure you are not ill, Eugénie? You seem excited—go and dress, dear.'
'No, I shall not dress to-day—'
'But it is a week since you have worn powder—'
'Let me be, Pélagie. I am tired. I have had to listen all day to mother's talk of M. de Rochefort.'
'She never thought to make such good matches for us,' said Pélagie ingenuously.
She kept her soft, wistful gaze on her sister; the vivid beauty of the girl gave her a strange, secret sense of uneasiness. An unpleasant sensation of envy invaded her gentle heart, but she dismissed it. She was secure in her splendid lover, what did it matter if she was not beautiful like Eugénie?
'I am going out,' said the young girl suddenly. 'Do you see the moon?'
She pointed to the disc like faded gold, that was rising in the sky behind the poplar trees.
'Very well—but take a shawl, and come in soon—I should like to talk to you.'
'About M. de Sarcey?' asked Eugénie, with a strange smile.
'Yes—Oh, I am very happy tonight!' Pélagie held out her hand in an outburst of confidence. 'I—hope you will be happy also, Eugénie.'
I wonder; I wonder if we can both be happy.' She did not take Pélagie's outstretched hand, but hurried out of the room.
'I feel intoxicated,' she thought to herself. Was there ever such an evening?'
She laughed softly.
'What will he do? What is his name? Why have I not met him before? Oh, my love, my love!'
M. de Sarcey paused and looked back at the mansion of M. le Président; he would have returned had it not been for the presence of M. de Rochefort.
He was in no mood to return to Versailles; his duties there were a mere excuse. He lingered in indecision, then resolved to visit his petite maison at Auteuil.
First he returned to his great Paris Hôtel, in the fashionable Faubourg St. Germain, called his valet, changed his clothes and ordered his coach.
Then he changed his mind, flung himself into a riding habit, took the first horse they brought him and rode towards Auteuil.
Donatien de Sarcey, Marquis de Sarcey, Prince de Beaucy, with a dozen other titles and lord of a dozen fiefs and estates, relative of the Rohan, the Soissons, the Soubise and almost every great family in France, captain in the famous corps des chevaux légers, and occupying several honourably useless posts at Court, was a man who, till now, had never had a wish ungratified nor a desire unsatisfied.
He was in the prime of life, and having succeeded in repairing his damaged fortunes by a wealthy marriage, and not being the least interested in, or concerned by, the embarrassments of the Government, the finances of M. Necker or the popular grouses, he would have ridden to-night to Auteuil calmly self-satisfied and proudly self-assured as usual, if he had not chanced to meet Eugénie de Haultpenne.
He wanted, for the first time, a woman who was out of his reach.
Eugénie's price was marriage, and he was already contracted to her sister whose dowry was necessary to him. And she herself was promised to another man. It was the thought of this rival that roused the primitive forces beneath his callous cynicism; he felt a murderous rage when he thought of M. de Rochefort. The girl was clearly his; she had responded to his claim in a manner that sent the blood to his heart just thinking of it.
He did not analyse his feelings nor pause to wonder if this was love, but he knew that never had he been so roused and excited; the image of Eugénie de Haultpenne, bright, vital, never left his mind.
It was unthinkable that she should not be his; his instinct was to return at once and force her to swear fidelity to him. He wanted to see her again also, he wanted to study her and see what made her so different from all the others. He had dreamt of a woman like that, long ago—he had thought he might find her in a picture, in a statue, in a poem, but never as a human being.
Never had his desire been so fierce, never the object of it so unobtainable.
He looked up at the moon, now crystal clear in a dark sky and raged inwardly. He was in the mood to break his marriage contract, but he needed the money; his rage deepened as he realised that. He thought of Pélagie with contempt and irritation—but her dowry was necessary.
His thoughts turned to M. de Rochefort. He had always disliked that young nobleman, who was a friend of M. de Mirabeau and M. de Lafayette, who affected to interest himself in the troubles of the people and who had sat at the feet of M. Benjamin Franklin during the American's visit to Versailles.
A man who knew nothing about horses or cards or women or sport, a poor swordsman, in bad health—this was to be the husband of Eugénie!
M. de Sarcey arrived at his destination in the worst of humours; he had a savage desire to do a mischief to someone—anyone who came his way.
The house before which he alighted was enclosed by a high-walled garden and stood in open country on the bank of the river. M. de Sarcey had the key of the garden door in his pocket; he unlocked this and whistled. A valet came instantly running and took his horse. The Marquis, without a word, turned through the dark garden towards the house which rose square and black against the moonlit sky. He climbed the few steps of a terrace and, unlocking a long window that served as a door, entered.
He flung off his hat and mantle. He felt stifled by the close, perfumed room, the prettiness of the rose-painted walls and the crowd of gilt and satin furniture. The valet entered, discreet and self-effacing.
'Madame would be pleased to know if Monsieur will sup with her,' he said.
M. de Sarcey paused with his hand on the door; he had completely forgotten Madame. Now he recalled the woman who, by his latest caprice, had been installed as mistress of his petite maison.
He wondered if she afforded the least chance of amusement or distraction, and thought not; but she was something to be cruel to, something on whom to vent his vexation and his rage.
'Tell Madame I am coming,' he said.
The valet, who on occasion was loquacious and confidential in his report of his guardianship, saw his master's mood and slipped away silently..
The Marquis paused to torture himself by thinking what it would have meant if the woman waiting for him had been Eugénie de Haultpenne, Eugénie with her arms outstretched, her lips parted, her eyes shining. He turned, in an evil mood, crossed an antechamber and entered the most beautiful room of the beautiful little house.
This was entirely decorated in ivory-coloured silk, which, drawn into gilt-framed panels, covered the walls, the spindle-legged gold furniture, and was draped with gilt cords across the tall window.
The candles in their gilt sconces were shaded by rose-coloured silk screens; on the delicate alabaster chimney-piece was a porcelain clock, and above it a landscape in pastel.
An extravagant supper was set on a table in the centre of the room; the covers were for two, and there was a profusion of silver, of painted china, of fine glass, of lace napery, of expensive flowers.
For once the Marquis did not match this lavish and beautiful setting of wealth and elegance; he wore a plain riding suit of black cloth, a black brocade waistcoat and a lawn cravat, soft boots still dusty, and spurs. The something strong and fierce and brutal that always underlay his elegance and his pride was very noticeable to-night. He went up to the supper table, looked at the wines, poured out two glasses of malaga and drank them swiftly.
He then rang the bell and ordered the supper. At the sound of the bell an inner door opened and a woman entered. 'I did not know that you were coming,' she said.
'Nor did I,' he assured her grimly.
Her practised eye glanced at his sombre and careless attire, at his passionate dark face.
'Still sullen?' she asked lightly, but her eyes showed wariness.
He looked at her evilly.
'Still Donatien de Sarcey,' he said insolently.
The woman seated herself at the supper-table with an air of indifference to her companion; she was, however, intently and furtively observing him.
She was Julie Morel, of the 'Comédie Italienne,' more beautiful than talented, the heroine of many emotional adventures, of considerable intelligence and still more considerable experience of men and things.
She would have been in love with M. de Sarcey if he had allowed it; his brief and imperious wooing had stirred her as he had never failed to stir any woman whom he set himself to win, but afterwards he had made no attempt to disguise his indifference towards a conquest chiefly made for the pleasure of vexing someone else. Julie Morel knew that if this other whom he happened to despise had not been pursuing her M. de Sarcey would have never troubled to glance in her direction. This was the cause of some regret to the actress; he interested her and roused her, and it would have pleased her to have him as a more willing lover.
As she looked at him now and noticed his disordered clothes and his bad humour, she thought, with a strange pang, 'I should like to be the woman he loves.'
Then she wondered if men like him ever loved anyone.
Presently the Marquis flung himself into the vacant chair opposite. He ate little and drank a great deal; he was not habitually a heavy drinker, but he could on occasion exceed in this, as in everything else.
Julie's meal was also a mere token; she soon made a sign to the valet to leave them.
The thought of drawing out M. de Sarcey in his present stormy mood amused and excited her. She moved slowly from the supper-table and seated herself on a slender-legged couch which was piled with white satin cushions, and rested her arms on a little ormolu table which held a vase of lustrous deep blue porcelain filled with white lilac and yellow roses.
M. de Sarcey lifted his sullen eyes and looked at her.
She was a very beautiful woman, and if she was carefully painted and carefully powdered it was not visible in the soft light. The impression she made was of great delicacy and dazzling fairness. She looked all that was idle and frivolous, but her large blue eyes, the brilliancy of which was heightened by a touch of carmine pencil in the corners, gazed at the Marquis with an expression that was far from stupid.
'Monseigneur signed his marriage contract to-day?' she asked.
He still lounged by the disordered supper-table; not all the rose-coloured glow of the shaded candles could disguise the darkness of his face, the sullenness of his expression.
'Yes, I signed my marriage contract,' he answered unpleasantly.
'Did you see the lady?'
In truth he could hardly remember Pélagie so completely had her image been effaced by that of her younger sister. The question recalled someone pale and earnest—someone whom he would very surely learn to hate.
'Yes, I saw her.'
'Is she the cause of Monseigneur's ill-humour?' asked Julie; she passed her frail hands, covered with long paste rings, delicately to and fro in the masses of white lilac.
'Perhaps,' said the Marquis laconically.
'Tell me what she is like.'
'I have forgotten.'
'Ah, then you are fortunate,' smiled the actress. 'One so easily forgotten cannot be a great irritation.'
'I may forget her person—I cannot forget her existence.'
'No?' asked Julie drily.
'No. A woman who is one's wife must make a difference in one's life.'
'I suppose so. She has a great fortune, has she not?'
'You are insolent, Julie.'
'No, only curious. I cannot suppose that Monseigneur would marry for less than a large fortune.'
He emptied his glass before he answered.
'Then you are wrong. I might marry for much less.'
'You? For what?'
'To possess a woman,' he answered fiercely.
She was surprised out of her cool manner.
'My God! Who is she?'
He lifted his head, angrily turning on her.
'Did I say she was in existence? I spoke of what I might do. As it is I am contracted to Mademoiselle de Haultpenne, so let the matter rest.'
Julie was unmoved by his anger.
'I am sorry for Mademoiselle de Haultpenne,' she remarked.
'You will have cause to be,' he returned.
'Poor fool!' continued the actress, 'I suppose she is young and romantic. Probably she will worship you—and you will break her heart.'
'Women are such fools,' said Julie, with a note of contempt in her lazy voice; 'at least good women. I think women like myself are the only ones who have any sense at all.'
'Are you so sensible?' he asked. He had never regarded her as anything but a plaything that could be bought at a price which was none too high.
'I have my wisdom,' she answered. 'I would never devote myself to one who did not love me'—she looked at him straightly—'and I would never, under any circumstances, marry Monseigneur.'
The audacity of this statement startled him; his pride was roused.
'You are not amusing, Madame,' he assured her haughtily. 'It is you who cannot be amused,' she answered. 'Why should I try to amuse you? You are in an evil mood. And I said nothing so strange. You said you were capable of marrying merely to possess a woman. If I were that woman I should say "no" to you.'
'Ah!' he replied, still flushed from what he took to be her insolence. 'I was thinking of a woman whom I could possess in no other way—your price, Julie, is not quite so high.'
'If you were in love with me I might raise my price!' She rose. 'Love! how jaded one gets with the word, how few of us know what it means.'
She approached him and laid her delicate, sparkling hand on his sleeve.
'Why did you come here to-night? Was it to make me your confidante?'
'What makes you think so?' he asked quickly.
'Something has happened to you,' she said; 'you are almost beside yourself. This woman—who is she?'
He was half soothed, half offended by her frankness. He had really joined Julie with the thought of distracting himself by venting his brutal humour on her, but her quiet, her indifference had disarmed him. He looked up at her with his dark eyes full of a sombre and sinister fire and hesitated, as if considering whether he should respond to her question.
'You spoke of love just now,' he said at length. 'What do you know about love?'
There was a strange note in his voice, always a low and beautiful voice, which did not go unnoticed by Julie Morel.
'What do I know indeed?' she answered. 'I think some of us are capable of doing great things, strange things—for love.'
'Do you think I am one of those?'
'Yes, I think so.'
She lightly caressed the thick curls, still stained with pomade, that hung over his shoulders.
'Tell me what else you think about me,' he answered, looking up at her intently.
'I think that you have met someone who disturbs you, I—oh, I think Monseigneur is in love,' she sighed a little.
'And if I am?' he asked.
'Well, then, I am sorry for all—the woman, your wife—everyone.'
'Why?' he demanded.
'Because Monseigneur is not a man to consider the honour or the happiness of others where his desires are concerned—and so tragedies are made.'
She had never spoken to him so frankly, perhaps no one had ever spoken to him so frankly He hardly knew her in this mood, it was as if she had thrown aside some mask.
'I will not admit myself in love so easily,' he answered. 'How is one woman more than another—in what way different? The one I saw to-day may be won as others have been won—and so forgotten.'
'Poor creature,' said Julie. She looked at him curiously. 'If I had cared for you, how I should be suffering now,' she added.
'But caring was not in the bargain, was it, Julie?'
'No. When do you go to Versailles?' she asked abruptly.
At this his countenance darkened again.
'But you will have to go, will you not? The Court is in confusion with M. de Mirabeau and his National Assembly, or whatever he calls it—'
'Damn Mirabeau,' said the Marquis. 'Why are you interested in these things?' he added sharply.
She turned away, moving about the room restlessly.
'I am interested. It is all so new. It seems to me that everything is changing. I admire M. de Mirabeau.'
The Marquis was roused to open anger.
'Why?' he demanded fiercely.
'First because he is a noble, yet is deputy of the third estate and speaks for the people—'
'A noble!' scoffed M. de Sarcey; 'a landless fellow who was denied the privileges of his order because he held no fief—and so vents his spite by voicing the venom of shopkeepers and clerks!'
'But he has power, he is doing something—he has held together the third estate against the King and the Court—more, against the Queen and M. d'Artois. They will not disperse—there is talk of moving them by force. Your regiment will be called; surely, Monsieur.'
M. de Sarcey had never taken any interest in the embarrassments which had caused the King to recall M. Necker and to convoke a meeting of the States General to which the representatives of the people were invited, nor had he followed the doings of the third estate, who had stood their ground against King, clergy and nobles in their struggle for what they called the rights of the people.
The Marquis had not even troubled to go and vote with his own order; the whole thing was so absurd, he did not allow it to occupy his mind for a moment.
And Julie Morel was the last person whom he would have expected to be interested in the disorders at Versailles.
He looked at her with surprise.
'I am leaving your house to-morrow, Monsieur,' she said with a little smile.
He did not care whether she left him or not but it was he who was used to giving the signal of dismissal, and her words annoyed him.
'Are you tired of me?' he challenged.
'I do not see much of you, do I?' she answered. 'I wish to return to the theatre, this idleness tires me. There is so much happening now—I feel I want to be in the midst of the action.'
The Marquis raised his eyebrows.
'You scoff,' continued Julie; 'but there is a spirit of change abroad. This order of things is coming to an end.'
'Which order of things, my fair friend?'
'This,' she repeated. 'All will change—one sees signs—everywhere.'
'Women such as you will not change,' he remarked cynically.
'Nor men such as you, Monsieur,' she returned. 'But our world will change; you perhaps will never enjoy such power nor we endure such bondage as now.'
She looked at him intently, and her blue eyes were darkened by intense feeling.
'I feel I am worth more than your disdain,' she added, 'and that you are worth less than my flattery—and that the time is coming when we might meet more as equals.'
'Keep your pretty fancies if they amuse you,' he answered.
He crossed to the slender marble mantelpiece and leant his elbow there, and looked past the delicate clock at the reflection of his own dark and troubled face in the circular mirror. Julie's talk of politics had brought only one thought to his mind—that he might really be summoned to Versailles, which would mean abandonment of his pursuit of Eugénie.
Julie, who was standing near to him, spoke again. 'I suppose all your fortune comes that way—feudal rights, the "gabelle" the rents of the poorest. I suppose you pay no taxes, and take the first fruits of the unpaid labour of your serfs. All this' she glanced round the beautiful room—'was bought with that money.'
'Remember it when you admire M. de Mirabeau,' he answered grimly; 'it is that money that has always kept you pretty and well fed and idle, my pretty dear.'
'Yes, that was what I was thinking,' she said. 'It is a curious thought—for I also am of the third estate, I belong to the people M. de Mirabeau is defending.'
'M. de Mirabeau will not defend them long when he finds that his eloquence does not pay his debts,' said the Marquis impatiently. 'The fellow ought to be whipped for the trouble he is causing.'
'M. de Rochefort says he is a great man.'
The Marquis flared into open anger at mention of that name.
'M. de Rochefort! What do you know of M. de Rochefort!' The vehemence of his tone, his look, startled Julie.
'I have met M. de Rochefort—he is a serious young man. I mention him because I have heard so few people talk seriously of these things.'
'I hope he will attach himself to that charlatan,' exclaimed the Marquis. 'I hope that they will go to damned perdition together!'
'Why do you hate him?' asked Julie.
'Leave me alone,' said M. de Sarcey. Julie guessed that M. de Rochefort must be his rival, and she was rather surprised that a heartless libertine like M. de Sarcey and a serious gentleman like the young Duke should both be in love with the same woman. She smiled to herself at his display of jealousy, for she had no doubt which of the two the lady would prefer.
The Marquis suddenly paused before her.
'You think I am mad for a woman,' he said violently, 'and I swear you are wrong. I attach no importance to any of you—do you understand? Why are you so dull to-night? You used to be fond of me. I come to you out of humour, and you talk of M. de Mirabeau and the States General!'
'Perhaps I am out of humour also,' she smiled.
He put his hand on her fine shoulder and let it lie there heavily; she was lovely as a white rose and she interested him more in her coldness than she had ever done; he had expected to be flattered and coaxed from his mood, and he was piqued at the way in which she had received him.
'Kiss me,' he said.
'Why not?' she answered lightly.
She turned the fair, wreathed head towards him and held up her soft mouth and slipped her slim hands round his neck.
But the sense of her nearness maddened him; as she touched him he thought of the other woman who had so roused him, and he pushed Julie away almost with violence.
The actress flushed hotly.
'You are mad to-night, M. le Marquis,' she said. She had never been held so lightly as this man held her, never been so slighted as he had just slighted her.
'Leave me,' he answered roughly.
An angry answer was on her lips, for she knew her value, but his face frightened her into silence; he looked to her like a man possessed of a devil. She gazed at him for a second, then turned and entered her bedchamber; he heard her calling for her maid and locking her door, and then he forgot her completely.
He continued to gaze at his reflection in the glass; in some way it comforted him 'By God, I am strong enough to win the Madonna herself,' he said. 'Surely I shall have that girl I saw to-day.'
It was impossible for de Sarcey to sleep; he was full of restless excitement and brooding rage. He left the room and the house, and went out into the garden. The air was fragrant with the scent of blossoms, and the drowsy tinkle of a fountain struck pleasantly on the ear.
The Marquis turned in the direction of this fountain and slowly descended the shallow steps that led to the water. He seated himself on the lowest step, dropped his face in his hands and bitterly, clear-headedly, considered the situation.
He tried to think of Eugénie coolly; he had seen women more beautiful, he did not know enough of her to know if she was clever or brilliant, she was not very nobly born—probably straight from a convent—probably stupid. But he felt sure she was capable of returning his passion—and that was all he wanted; he ground his teeth as he thought of it—she was so completely and undeniably his, and so unattainable.
He had to admit that she was unattainable; she was guarded, hedged about, watched by her parents—and soon to be watched by her promised husband. It was doubtful if he would be able to see her alone for five minutes, be able to speak two words to her; he thought that he had already aroused M. de Rochefort's jealousy, and now she would be protected more than ever and any attempt to see her by stealth would instantly cause a scandal.
He was not afraid of that in itself; the Haultpennes were afraid of him and greedily eager for the match, but he knew that once it had been observed that he noticed Eugénie she would be immediately removed beyond his reach.
And the girl?
If he could believe her eyes she expected him to do something; he could hardly contain himself as he thought of her waiting for him.
He rose up angrily and returned to the house; the supper things had been removed and the candles extinguished, but a silver lamp had been left burning for his convenience. He snatched it up and went into the inner room where he had left his hat and mantle and rang the bell.
The valet came, struggling with sleep; he paid for his easy idle life by these occasional vagaries on the part of his master.
'I want my horse,' said M. de Sarcey.
The lackey went to give the order; the Marquis flung on his hat and fastened his mantle. Some Italian stones were lying on a table.
A purple gem caught his eye; he picked it up and put it in his pocket.
The valet returned to say the horse was ready; he knew better than to ask when his master was returning or to demand instructions, and the Marquis vouchsafed nothing.
He turned his horse down the lone drive, dismissed the groom at the gates and rode towards Paris. He went straight to the house of M. le Président in the rue Neuve du Luxembourg. He had no fixed plan nor purpose in his mind except that of seeing Eugénie, of continuing the interview that had been interrupted by the arrival of M. de Rochefort.
It was dawn when he reached Paris, and full daylight when he walked his horse through the still, silent streets of the fashionable quarter where M. le Président dwelt.
When he arrived at his destination he rode twice past the entrance, baffled by those closed iron gates of the courtyard, and by the severe front of the hôtel, the closed doors and shuttered windows.
Probably they were all still asleep—but not Eugénie, he did not believe that Eugénie had slept to-night.
He turned away, left his horse at the first stable he could find, and came back on foot to the mansion of the Haultpennes. This time he went to the back of the house, which opened on a quiet side street. Here he found what he was looking for, a small door in the high wall that surrounded the garden.
This was locked and without handle or knocker.
The Marquis still carried his riding-whip; he struck violently on the door with this. For some time he waited, but at length the door was opened and a gardener looked cautiously out.
The Marquis pushed him aside and entered the garden.
'Fellow,' he said, 'I must see Mademoiselle Eugénie—here—is anyone awake who can bid her come down to me?'
The gardener stared in absolute amazement at this gentleman who came at such an hour with such a demand, and his look of dazed stupidity roused all the Marquis' angry impatience. He was tempted to cut the man across the face with his whip, but restrained himself; this fool was his only means of finding what he sought.
He resorted to the only other means he knew of dealing with his inferiors; he thrust his hand in his breeches pocket and took out two pieces of gold.
Two more if you bring the lady here,' he said. 'Make haste—it is a matter on which depends life—and perhaps death.'
The sight of the money cleared the fellow's dazed senses.
'Almost everyone is still abed, Monseigneur,' he replied, 'but Mademoiselle Eugénie is abroad. I saw her on the terraces when it was not yet seven o'clock.'
M. de Sarcey's dark eyes flashed with triumph; so she had not slept!
He had known it.
'Go and find her,' he commanded, 'and tell her I am here.' The man, though overawed, still hesitated.
'Mademoiselle Eugénie is up betimes every morning,' he said, 'but never have I seen her as early as this morning. Is she—waiting for you, Monsieur?'
'Tell her I am here and she will come,' replied the Marquis impatiently.
'She may have returned to the house.'
'In that case you must find her maid and give the message. Make haste, fool, or the whole house will be astir.'
'I do not know Monseigneur's name.'
'I am the Marquis de Sarcey,' said the young man, utterly recklessly.
At this name that he knew as that of the betrothed husband of Mademoiselle Pélagie, the man moved back as if frightened.
'Will you not do my bidding?' cried the Marquis, and the gardener turned away, clutching the money.
The Marquis sank down on a low stone bench that stood among the poplar trees. He was tired, more by emotion than by physical fatigue, though he had not slept, had eaten little, and had ridden to Auteuil and back since last he saw Eugénie.
The quiet of the garden, so different in its simplicity from the exotic beauty of that garden he had just left soothed him. He felt almost at peace in this moment—so near to her, in the surroundings that were her surroundings—waiting for her to come.
And even while the thought was causing his heart to stir, she came, running along the path through the box and laurel, out-stripping her startled guide.
He rose, all his strength returned at the sight of her. He flung his purse, not stopping to count the contents, to the gardener, and told him to be gone in a tone that sent the man hurrying away.
Eugénie paused a few feet from him; she also had slept little that night. Unconsciously she had been waiting for him, expecting him. And now she saw him before her in his tumbled attire, his hair disordered, his boots muddy, without powder, pomade or patches, but resplendent in his gallant good looks, she felt all force of resistance or denial or remorse or fear swallowed up in the intense joy that thrilled her from head to foot.
She took a step towards him, and he put his hand on her shoulder, gazing at her with passionate intensity.
She wore a gown of lemon-coloured stuff, with blue ribbons and a muslin apron, a muslin cap drawn over her bright curls.
In the low-cut bosom of her gown was a cluster of already drooping jasmine flowers.
'Swear that you love me,' said M. de Sarcey; his voice had changed utterly, to a deep note, like music.
'You know it,' she stammered.
'Yes, I know it, but you must tell me so—again and again—'
'I am afraid to tell you so!'
'Afraid of me?'
He had drawn her to him, and she leant against him, her hands resting on his heart.
'Afraid of me?' he repeated.
'Afraid of myself—afraid of—Oh, my God, I do not know!'
'You are happy?'
'You know it.'
'You have thought of me—all night?'
'I have thought of nothing else!'
He stooped to kiss her, but the sudden tightening of his embrace and the note in his voice stirred her into resistance; she dragged herself from his arms and turned to the stone bench where he had rested.
'Give me time, let me think,' she whispered.
He was beside her at once bending over her and holding her hands.
'Why do you want to think?' he demanded. 'Are you not mine?'
'Yes—yes I am yours.' She lifted her eyes to his and added passionately. 'What must you think of a woman won so easily!'
'Why do you talk to me like that?' he asked almost roughly. But she could not dismiss the fear which was now her uppermost emotion, the woman's fear of not being sufficiently valued, the dread of having given herself too impetuously.
'I am not what you might think,' she said. 'I have never done this before—I have never been touched before!' He laughed.
'You do not need to say that to me,' he returned. 'I know something of women. No need to explain to me—as well explain to a gardener the difference between a carnation and a violet!'
'Oh, you do understand—you do not think me worthless!' she implored.
'If I had not understood I should not have taken you in my arms. If I had been playing, I should have kissed your hand. No more. But I took you like a king entering his kingdom. I knew you were mine. My woman—my mate—my soul, perhaps.'
He laid his face, pale with passion, on her shoulder, as he sat on the bench beside her.
'Listen, Eugénie. You must listen. I have never adored a woman before. I have never paused for any woman before. They have been as flowers of the day to me, to be picked and forgotten—but before you my life stops. I adore you—you can do what you wish with me. You have the love of a man who has never loved before—do you understand this—do you understand, Eugénie?'
He raised his head, and, taking hold of her shoulders, gazed down into her face.
She could not answer; it seemed to her impossible that this magnificent man was really so moved by her. She could be bold in her dreams of him, but now that they were face to face she felt as if the whole thing was a fancy with no solid basis.
'Listen to me,' he said, speaking with passionate earnestness. 'This is the most important moment of your life—'
'Yes,' she murmured.
'And if you are false to it, if you are false to this truth that there is between you and me—you will never be happy all your days—'
'No, I shall never be false to you.' The thought of it gave her fresh strength. 'How could I say to another what I have said to you? I do not play at these things.'
'That I know, but you must not be afraid or shy with me. You are mine. Think of it, Eugénie, mine, mine!' He paused, his face transfigured. 'I have never possessed a human being—I have never owned even a dog. And now I possess you—and you me—think of it Eugénie.'
Still she could not believe it, could not completely respond to his passion which had so easily overcome all there was between them, all the real and artificial difficulties that divided them and claimed her so triumphantly.
She wanted to get away and think, and yet she did not want these moments ever to end.
'I love you'—she whispered—'but—'
'And I love you without but,' he interrupted impetuously. 'I love you as a man loves a woman—the woman. Kiss me.'
This time she made no resistance; but his kiss sent the blood to her face and she desperately struggled away. 'Why do you leave me?' he asked.
'You kiss me as if you want to kill me,' she said.
'Kiss me,' he answered. 'See, I will not touch you, only kiss me.'
She leant forward and her lips softly touched his dark cheek. He laughed.
'Your ingenuous kisses! You know nothing. Nothing about love.'
'I know I love you,' she stammered. 'I know I want to be with you always. You must forgive me if I am stupid. I want to please you.'
'You please me—by Heaven you please me!'
'Have patience with me. I hardly know what I do. There is my father—and M. de Rochefort.'
The name of M. de Rochefort was like water on the fire of his emotion.
It recalled to him instantly the falsity of his position, the obstacles and difficulties before him, and the recklessness of his own action, both in regard to Eugénie and himself. It also roused all his rage and jealousy.
'You must swear to me never to marry M. de Rochefort,' he said roughly.
'Oh, never,' she answered with conviction. 'Oh, never, never indeed.'
For her the young Duke did not exist; he was not even a personality. His projected marriage with her did not trouble her, it was too remote, too absurd. She could and would refuse at every cost.
'But you?' she added, questioning his silence. 'You and Pélagie?'
He rose from the bench and crossed to the wall. Eugénie sat watching him; she realised the insecurity and the danger of her position. At any moment someone might come upon them; it was even possible that the gardener, having safely pocketed his fee, might inform at the house of this secret interview.
But Eugénie would sooner face whatever might come than alarm her lover by reminding him of their danger; she did not wish in any way to distract him from herself.
He raised his eyes to look at her, leaning his shoulder against the wall, in the attitude of a man exhausted.
'Speak to me!' cried Eugénie.
'What shall I say to you? Swear to me not to even see M. de Rochefort.'
'Oh, God!' exclaimed the girl desperately. 'Why should you say that to me? I do not even think of M. de Rochefort!'
'Nor of any other man?'
'Nor of any other man! Why do you torture me, you know it!'
'But I want to hear you say so.'
'There is no need for your jealousy,' she answered. 'If my faith was our only trouble we should be happy indeed.'
He returned to his seat beside her and took her hands in his.
'Wear a higher gown, Eugénie, and longer sleeves—you are not for the eyes of others.' He suddenly bent and kissed her wrist with a violence that left the red mark of his teeth on the white flesh.
'I do not know your name,' whispered Eugénie, shivering. 'Donatien,' he answered, absorbed, looking at her hand and turning it about.
'What are you going to do?' she stammered.
He raised his dark eyes, now brooding and thoughtful, from the contemplation of her hand; something in his look both frightened and fascinated her.
'What are you going to do with me?' she asked again. 'I do not know,' he answered.
Her instincts of honour and rectitude urged her to use a name that she knew hateful to both of them.
'You must break with Pélagie—this is not fair to her—' Pélagie can marry M. de Rochefort,' he said, with a sudden smile.
Eugénie was thankful for this palliative for her conscience. 'Indeed and it would be most pleasant,' she said eagerly. 'He seemed to me like Pélagie, grave and good.'
And she tried to forget her sister's words of happiness that were faintly sounding, like an echo, in her heart.
'And I am neither. I am not good, Eugénie,' said the Marquis. 'What have you heard about me?' he added suddenly.
'Heard about you. What should I have heard? I have been at a school in Artois. Madame keeps us very quiet, and as soon as Pélagie's marriage was talked of we were sent away. Madame always spoke of you as—brilliant'
'A brilliant match for us,' she would have said, but for sudden shame.
'And now, what are you going to do?' she added.
'Leave it all to me, Eugénie, I will do everything. I only ask you to love me.'
He rose with sudden energy.
'This must end,' he continued. 'Trust in me. Eugénie, tell me I have all your trust, all your faith.'
'All, all!' She rose also and stood facing him.
'It is enough,' he said. 'I have seen you, I have heard you, I have held you in my arms.'
He turned towards the little door by which he had entered.
'Ah, must you go!' she cried. She clung to him now, bold at the thought of losing him, and holding up her lovely face, flushed with passion and tenderness.
But he put her aside.
'Nay, there is much to do—one kiss, one only, dear.' He kissed her forehead as he spoke.
'Ah, you are cold,' she cried desperately. 'I shall soon be forgotten.'
'I shall never forget you. I will not kiss you now—you are mine, it is enough—useless to light the lamp of love for nothing—think of me continually until we meet again. Goodbye, my beloved.'
She followed him to the narrow door against which she leant, all her beauty radiant, tempting him to stay.
He took her face between his hands and kissed her again; then, as he was leaving her, he took out the purple stone from his pocket and put it in her hand.
'Look at that and think of me,' he said, and hurried away. Eugénie turned back into the garden, bewildered, distraught.
He had said that he was hers—that this affection was for ever, the strongest thing in his life. She tried to recall his every word; he loved her—loved her as she had never dreamt to be loved, as she had never imagined men could, or did, love.
She stared at the purple gem he had given her, kissed it and slipped it into the bosom of her dress, then hurried across the garden and into the house.
She saw nothing of her sister or mother. She went quickly to her own room and locked the door, flung herself face downwards on her bed, drew the dark gleaming jewel from her dress and pressed it to her lips.
Meanwhile, de Sarcey returned to his hôtel, half wondering and half resentful about this emotion which had only been intensified by this second sight of Eugénie, and which was more intense and more absorbing than he had imagined any feeling could be.
When he reached his house he found a communication ordering him join his regiment at Versailles by the next day; the disorders were growing in that town, all efforts to dislodge or ignore the Assembly of M. de Mirabeau had proved unavailing, and the famous chevaux légers were needed at their post.
M. de Sarcey cared nothing about the troubles and tumults at Versailles; he scarcely knew their cause or object. One face only rose before him—this would mean separation from Eugénie; he had only a few hours in Paris, and then he must leave, perhaps for a considerable time.
And meanwhile the Haultpennes would be sending out the porte-claquette with the announcement of his betrothal to Pélagie and arranging a marriage between Eugénie and M. de Rochefort.
The Marquis violently cursed M. de Mirabeau and his intolerable company of agitators, also the weakness of the Government that had allowed things to come to this pass. But his rage did not help the Marquis; his hand was forced and he knew it; he must take a step he had not wished to take—at least so immediately. The Haultpennes were afraid of him, and he had never, in all his life, been afraid of anyone. He gave his orders for the journey to Versailles on the morrow, and sent a valet round to M. le Président with a message to say that he would wait on him that afternoon.
Then he flung himself on his bed, worn out, in much the same position that Eugénie lay on hers, and fell asleep, dreaming much the same dreams.
At the hour he had named, M. de Sarcey arrived at the rue Neuve du Luxembourg and was at once ushered into the private room of M. de Haultpenne. He seated himself without ceremony, his hat and his cane in his hand, and looked at M. le Président.
That gentleman was never alone with his future son-in-law without feeling overawed and slightly uncomfortable. He received M. de Sarcey with exaggerated courtesy. He had been at some pains to keep the appointment, because he really was due at a sitting of the Courts but he said nothing of this, but expressed himself as flattered by the visit.
He did not add that it surprised him; he had thought that everything had been settled yesterday, even to the date for the marriage.
The Marquis turned his full dark eyes on him.
'I have come, Monsieur,' he said abruptly, 'to speak of my proposed marriage.'
M. le Président bent his head.
'I am ordered to Versailles,' continued the Marquis, 'immediately. I leave to-morrow, and this affair must be settled before I go.' He spoke without embarrassment, without feeling any.
'I am at your service,' said M. le Président courteously, almost humbly.
'First of all,' said the Marquis, 'I wish you to suspend the sending out of the porte-claquette with the announcement of the marriage.'
M. de Haultpenne looked at him sharply.
'I am sorry for that, Monseigneur. Madame my wife sent off the announcement this very morning.'
'Madame was in a vast hurry,' said the Marquis, his face clouding with instant impatience. 'I am sorry that she should have been so hasty.'
'So hasty, Monseigneur? What reason was there for delay?' He started, rather alarmed by the haughty face of M. de Sarcey.
Was not everything settled yesterday?' he added.
'I believe so. But there must be an alteration in the contract I signed.'
M. le Président looked relieved.
'An alteration!' he answered readily. 'Why, anything—in reason, in my power,' he added, with sudden caution, for it occurred to him that the Marquis might be wishing to extort more money, and more than the huge sums he had already settled on Pélagie, M. de Haultpenne could not afford without stripping himself altogether.
The Marquis divined his fear.
'It is not about the settlements that I wished to speak,' he said, expressing himself with the frank haughtiness that was almost insolence, 'but on another, matter.'
'Another matter!' echoed M. le Président, staring at him. 'Does that surprise you?'
'I confess I cannot imagine what this matter can be.'
'It may amaze you.'
The Marquis leant back in his chair, his legs crossed, his hand, half-hidden in lace, resting on his cane, his dark eyes fixed on M. de Haultpenne, with an expression which seemed to say that he did not care if that person was amazed or not.
M. le Président looked back at him doubtfully. An always lurking fear of this magnificent noble whom he had bought for his daughter sprang suddenly into life; some of the stories that he had heard of M. de Sarcey, things that he had tried lately to forget, flashed through his mind.
'You must enlighten me, Monseigneur,' he said, rather tremulously.
'I will make myself brief, Monsieur le Président. I am pressed for time.'
M. de Sarcey did not change his position nor lower his eyes.
'I wish you to change the name of the lady in that paper,' he said. 'I wish to marry Mademoiselle Eugénie instead of her sister.'
M. le Président was so astonished that for a moment his face did not change; he remained leaning forward with his expression of courteous attention petrified on his features.
This stupidity, though it argued well for submission to his wishes, roused the ready impatience of the Marquis.
'Did you not, Monsieur, understand what I said?'
'Scarcely,' murmured M. de Haultpenne.
'I wish,' said the Marquis, with deadly clearness, 'to marry Mademoiselle Eugénie, not Mademoiselle Pélagie.'
M. le Président moved now and an exclamation broke from his lips.
'My God!' he said.
He remembered the half-envious warnings he had received from many to the effect that M. de Sarcey would not be safely landed in the net of matrimony without considerable difficulty and many unpleasant surprises by the way. He rallied himself to meet this unheard-of situation which was utterly unsuspected by him; he did not even know that the Marquis had seen Eugénie.
'If this is a jest or a caprice—' he began.
M. de Sarcey interrupted.
It is neither. Please, Monsieur le Président, understand that I am perfectly serious.'
'But what you ask is impossible,' said M. de Haultpenne, rousing himself. 'Impossible, Monseigneur!'
The direct question baffled the older man; with every moment he felt more bewildered and ill at ease.
'It—it is absurd!' he stammered. 'Beside, the porte-claquette has gone out—'
'I regret the haste that sent it,' returned the Marquis, 'but it can be recalled. After all, it is only a question of altering the name of the lady.'
Before this coolness, so like insolence, and this proposal, so preposterous and sudden, the anger of M. de Haultpenne began to rise; it was the anger of a slow, obstinate man who feels himself deceived.
'Only a question of altering the name!' he repeated, red in the face. 'You must explain yourself, Monsieur. Do I understand that you object to marrying my daughter Pélagie?'
'I do not think she would be a suitable wife for me—nor I a suitable husband for her,' returned the Marquis.
'This decision is very sudden. You raised no objection before.'
'I did not see Mademoiselle till yesterday.'
'But you signed the contract after you had seen her!'
'And after I had signed the contract I changed my mind,' said M. de Sarcey calmly.
M. le Président was now so vexed that he lost his awe.
'But this is intolerable, Monsieur!' he cried. 'You make a jest of me! You insult me in thus declining this alliance!'
'I do not decline an alliance with your family, Monsieur, I wish to marry your daughter, Eugénie.'
This brought M. de Haultpenne to another aspect of this bewildering situation.
'When did you see Eugénie?' he asked, dazed.
'Yesterday. In your house. I discerned in her the woman whom I wish to marry,' replied the Marquis.
M. le Président remembered that the Duc de Rochefort had asked for Eugene's hand after one glimpse of her face; he had never considered his younger daughter so beautiful. He thought, as Julie Morel had thought, that it was strange that she should have the same effect on two such different men.
He was both vexed and offended.
'Monsieur,' he said firmly, 'we cannot even discuss this matter. It is impossible to revoke the announcements of your marriage, it is impossible for my younger daughter to marry before the elder.'
'The matter must be discussed,' returned the Marquis, with more energy than he had yet shown. 'You must consider the situation.'
'Consider the situation!' repeated M. le Président highly irritated. 'I have given you my answer, Monsieur, there is nothing more to be said on the matter.'
'There is everything to be said,' said M. de Sarcey. 'I refuse to marry Mademoiselle Pélagie.'
'You cannot,' replied M. le Président hotly. 'As a man of honour you cannot!'
M. de Sarcey smiled unpleasantly.
Throughout the whole of his life no considerations of honour had ever troubled him. What he called honour was only his pride and related entirely to his dealings with men, questions of courage and fair play at cards; the word did not enter at all into any of his affairs with women.
'We have perhaps different ideas of honour,' he replied.
The other man was silenced; he knew that there had been little of honour in his own career and none in this disposal of his daughter.
'We will talk of the matter from a different point of view,' added M. de Sarcey.
'Yes,' said M. de Haultpenne sharply; he recalled suddenly his principal weapon that till now in his confusion he had forgotten. 'What of Pélagie's dowry?'
M. de Sarcey's face darkened.
'You could give the same dowry to whichever of your daughters I married,' he returned haughtily.
'No,' answered the other, strengthened by the sense of power. 'Eugénie has next to nothing. You know, better than I, how her portion was squeezed to provide for her elder sister.'
'To provide for the Marquise de Sarcey—if your younger daughter takes that position she will require the provision you intended for the elder.'
'That is clear, Monsieur,' returned M. de Haultpenne, with a wry smile; 'but what you suggest is impossible. I have no object in consenting to such an arrangement.'
He paused, then played what he felt to be a trump card.
'M. de Rochefort,' he said quietly, 'is willing to take my daughter Eugénie with the smallest of dowries. I have given my consent to his proposal and the contract is in preparation.'
M. de Sarcey's face became livid at this mention of his rival.
'I beg you to consider what you say, what you do,' he said roughly. 'Why should you give M. de Rochefort this preference over me? He is not of my rank, never can be of my position.'
M. le Président was quick to press his advantage.
'I give him preference over you, Monseigneur? When I give you my elder daughter with five times the settlements of her sister?'
'I do not want your elder daughter, M. le Président—'
'That may be.' M. de Haultpenne was now angered past any deference to the great noble. 'But this exchange you suggest is impossible. All else aside, I could not countenance such an insult to Pélagie.'
'Then this alliance between our families will never take place!' said the Marquis fiercely. He rose, as if he could endure inaction no longer, and began pacing up and down the room.
For one desperate moment M. de Haultpenne, in his alarm at losing a match in every way so brilliant, considered the proposal of the Marquis, and if he could possibly reconcile it with other interests. But a second's reflection showed him that he could not. Eugénie was a much more marketable commodity than her sister, as had been abundantly proved; he could settle her well and at little expense; M. de Rochefort was eager for the match. But if he gave Eugénie and the bulk of his fortune to M. de Sarcey, he would have Pélagie, plain and penniless, on his hands. Besides there would be the scandal, the offence to M. de Rochefort, the affront to Pélagie, his wife's rage—none of these things could he face; the proposition was utterly impossible.
It must be refused even at the cost of enraging M. de Sarcey into breaking the match.
And M. de Haultpenne did not think that even the Marquis would dare do that. He needed the money too much. M. le Président had taken care to inform himself of the state of his son-in-law's affairs.
'I can do nothing,' he said, with the firmness caused by this review of the strength of his position.
'Nor I,' returned the Marquis, coming to a stop before his chair.
M. le Président rose.
'You cannot break the contract, Monseigneur.'
'You take a bold tone.'
'I speak as I am justified in speaking, Monseigneur.'
'You would hold me to that contract?'
A bitter smile crossed the pale face of the Marquis.
'You are preparing a happy life for your daughter, Monsieur.'
M. de Haultpenne shrugged his shoulders.
'We will not discuss that,' he replied drily. 'My part is to keep you to this engagement which is already known to all Paris and which cannot be broken except to bring disgrace and shame on my daughter. That I cannot and will not permit.'
The Marquis stood motionless; for all his power he was trapped. He had put his name to the document that legally made Pélagie his promised wife, and he did need the money she would bring him.
M. de Haultpenne followed up his advantage.
'If this M. de Mirabeau's proposals are forced on the King, someone in Monseigneur's position will do well to marry well—if the gabelle is abolished, the nobility taxed, I take it Monseigneur's fortune will suffer.'
'The thing is impossible,' returned the Marquis contemptuously.
The reforms of which M. le Président spoke concerned a state of affairs at which M. de Sarcey did not even glance; but it was the bitter truth that, vast as his resources were, he had need of the Haultpenne fortune. And despise M. de Haultpenne as he would, M. le Président was of too important a position to be openly insulted, and if he defied all les convenances sufficiently to break off his marriage he would have everyone against him, even his own relations. M. de Haultpenne was not without influence at Court, and the Marquis might find pressure put on him from the King himself.
He could see no escape from his abominable position. Pélagie must be his wife and Eugénie must be taken from him.
Pale with anger, he stood resting on his cane and looking at the man who had defeated his desires.
'Do you mean to force me into this marriage?' he asked.
'I should not use that word—"force", Monseigneur,' replied M. le Président.
'You may use what word you like—you take my meaning?' M. de Haultpenne answered the challenge with some dignity.
'If you press me to a reply—then I say, yes, Monsieur le Marquis—I do force you to keep your obligations to my daughter.'
For one moment M. de Sarcey's eyes flashed hatred; but he had himself well in hand.
'It is a decision you may regret, Monsieur,' he said quietly. 'Possibly.'
The older man could not ignore the challenge. 'And why?' he demanded. He also was pale with the strain of this interview, his nostrils were distended, his lips compressed.
'I am not,' replied the Marquis with unmistakable insolence, more dangerous than any fury, 'a man who is turned away, by any circumstance, from any object that he has in view. I may be checked, but I swear to you that I cannot be stopped—or thwarted.'
'Why do you tell this to me?' asked M. de Haultpenne.
'I wonder? You may take it as you will—a warning perhaps.'
'You will carry out your marriage contract, M. le Marquis?' he said with as much dignity as he could manage. 'That is all I ask of you.'
There was the slightest pause before the Marquis answered. 'I shall carry it out,' he said finally.
'And you will not again refer to the subject of this conversation?'
A slight smile curved the lips of M. de Sarcey.
'No, I shall not speak of it again,' he said; he paused and looked ahead of him with narrowed eyes as if he was regarding some image of his imagination; then he turned his full dark glance with sinister intentness on the older man.
'Good day, M. le Président,' he said abruptly, and with the slightest bow left him.
M. de Haultpenne sank back into his chair in considerable agitation.
His thoughts ran hither and thither, glancing at all aspects of this unpleasant matter. M. de Sarcey was dangerous, he was not to be trusted.
Still he would marry Pélagie. He hesitated as to whether he should tell her about the Marquis' mad request; it certainly would distress her. At the same time he wanted to put her on her guard.
His wife at least he would tell; and he would speak to Eugénie.
He rose and went to the boudoir where his wife and daughters whiled away the hours before supper.
Madame was engaged on the new work called 'frivolity'; a fine net of gold cord fell over her violet brocade dress, and her firm white fingers were twisted in and out of the shining threads as she moved the little ivory spool backwards and forwards. Pélagie was beside her on the long couch; she, had a book open on her white skirts, but her gentle eyes were watching her mother's work.
Eugénie sat on a low chair by the long window that opened on to the terrace. Her hair was unpowdered and loosely dressed; she wore her morning gown of yellow with blue ribbons.
Her father looked at her sharply, with a new interest; he noticed her beauty as he had never noticed it.
Certainly she was lovely, voluptuously lovely, a creature of light and warmth, colour and bloom; compared with her, Pélagie looked pale and sickly and uninteresting, a woman of no attraction.
The newly alert gaze of M. de Haultpenne detected other things in Eugénie besides her beauty.
He noticed her absorbed, dreamy eyes, the closed look of her face, the look of one who dwells on a wonderful secret. She seemed not to notice his entrance, and his first words did not rouse her from her reverie.
'M. de Sarcey has been, has he not?' asked Pélagie. 'Why did he not come to see us?'
Now Eugénie looked up; looked up, and in her movement and her glance completely betrayed herself to the observant eyes of her father.
He had meant to consult with his wife first; now he resolved to speak to Eugénie.
'M. de Sarcey has been called to Versailles for some time,' he answered, 'and had no leisure.'
As he spoke he still watched Eugénie's face; it seemed as if a veil had been dropped over it.
'Summoned to Versailles!' cried Pélagie in open dismay. 'But he will return for the fête?'
'I do not know. How did you know that he had been, Pélagie?'
'I was in the front of the house and saw him ride up. I have been expecting him.'
'You never told us,' commented Madame.
M. de Haultpenne turned to his younger daughter, who remained silent.
'I wish to speak to you alone, Eugénie.'
'You wish to see Eugénie now, Monsieur, and alone?' asked Madame de Haultpenne in some surprise.
'Now and alone,' repeated her husband.
The two elder ladies rose at once and left the room. Pélagie was too vexed by the unceremonious departure of M. de Sarcey to think of anything else; her mother suspected trouble. She thought Eugénie had been making difficulties about her marriage with M. de Rochefort and shot her younger daughter a warning glance as she departed.
Eugénie remained seated. She had at once connected the visit of the Marquis with their interview of that morning; she could imagine what he had said—the reason of his abrupt departure; he had claimed her. 'Leave it to me,' he had said, and this was what it had meant; he had gone straight to her father and claimed her. She had expected no less; in her eyes no other course of action was possible, but she trembled with joy and relief that the thing was done, and with gratitude that his action had been so swift.
M. de Haultpenne took the chair nearest to her; a little work-table of tulip-wood and porcelain was between them; he rested his hand on it and spoke at once, a frown on his face.
'Eugénie, have you seen the Marquis de Sarcey?' he asked. 'I saw him yesterday. He came back for something and I was passing to the salon to take up my music.'
'You were alone?'
'Yes, Monsieur, it was a question of a few moments.'
'And what did he say to you, Eugénie?'
The girl hesitated; she did not know how much M. de Sarcey had told. 'Oh, Monsieur!' she cried impulsively, 'why this probing? You are aware, you must be aware, of how matters stand—'
She faced him, flushed and desperate, but by no means shaken in her courage. Her words made M. le Président's spirit sink; things were worse than he had feared.
He spoke angrily.
'I know too much for my peace and your credit, Eugénie. Have you been exchanging words of love, at the first glance, with your sister's contracted husband?'
The colour faded in Eugénie's fair face.
'Do not speak of it like that, Monsieur. He and Pélagie were strangers.'
'He was a stranger to you.'
'But I love him,' said the girl, using the words the Marquis had not used in speaking of her.
She rose and leant against the back of the chair.
'I cannot explain it,' she added breathlessly, 'but we must belong to each other—we do belong to each other.'
'All this from a few moments' speech?' said M. le Président bitterly.
'You do not understand!' cried Eugénie. It was the eternal cry of passion confronted by the cold judgment of the world.
'Girl, you are crazed,' said the father hotly. 'I must send you from Paris. Back to your convent if need be—'
She winced now, and a look of astonishment clouded her face. 'Send me away? But has not M. de Sarcey spoken to you?'
He has spoken, and I have answered.'
At these words Eugénie stepped back.
'You have refused your consent to our marriage?' she whispered.
'You talk like a fool. M. de Sarcey was not free to ask for you. Can you not understand that he is contracted to Pélagie? The porte-claquette went out to-day.'
'But it is monstrous that he should marry Pélagie.'
'It is monstrous that you should even think of one who is almost your brother. Girl, girl, what has happened to you? Is this the teaching of the good Sisters!'
Eugénie looked at him desperately; she could not put into words her sense of injustice, of sorrow, of despair.
'Did he not ask for me?' she demanded, a catch in her breath.
'He made me the proposal of a madman—that your sister's name should be changed for yours.'
He saw the joy that flashed into her darkened eyes.
'But M. de Sarcey soon renounced you, child, when he found that I would not transfer to you Pélagie's dowry,' he added cruelly.
'Oh, oh,' whispered Eugénie.
'He needs the money,' continued M. de Haultpenne, 'and, great as he is, he cannot afford to insult me—openly. So I brought him to reason. We shall hear no more of this folly.'
'He consented to let the contract stand, he is going to marry Pélagie?' asked Eugénie; such treachery, such desertion seemed to her impossible. She looked down at a red mark on her wrist—the mark of his kiss.
'It is impossible!' she cried. 'He cannot be going to do this thing!'
'You do not know the world,' said M. le Président. 'You know nothing at all of such men as M. de Sarcey. I speak to you now to warn you against him—you must never see him, nor speak to him, nor write to him, do you hear?'
'Oh, my God, has he renounced me?' sobbed Eugénie.
'Utterly. He gave me his word to speak of the matter no more. It was just a caprice, and when he saw that it collided with his interests he renounced it.'
M. de Haultpenne did not want to add anything of the veiled threat that told of a firm and unalterable passion; even in his own soul he did not care to admit to that.
'I cannot believe it!' cried Eugénie desperately.
'The nineteenth of next month he is to marry your sister. Nothing will be in the least changed.'
'This cannot be,' answered Eugénie. 'Monsieur, it would be a crime, a horrible thing. I cannot believe that you will permit it. For all our sakes.'
M. de Haultpenne looked cruelly at the fair face so like his own, pale now and distorted with despair.
'If this marriage is also the wish of the Marquis? I tell you he needs the money. He is desirous to marry Pélagie.'
'If this is true, then all love's a lie!' cried Eugénie in her misery.
'You have behaved like a fool,' said M. le Président coldly. 'M. de Sarcey is a man of a thousand love affairs. One week one, the next week another. Do you wish to be one of the whims of a rake?'
'If he is like that, why do you marry him to Pélagie?'
'Love is not in the marriage contract. Pélagie will be his wife, however his likings may rove.'
'I should be his wife,' flashed Eugénie, 'and then his likings would not rove!'
'Unfortunately he will not take you with the dowry I can offer,' returned M. de Haultpenne grimly.
'Does money enter into this?'
'Into the calculations of M. de Sarcey. As you observe.'
Eugénie sank into the chair and put her hands to her face.
Her father's irritation flared at the despair in her attitude; he considered that he had been very forbearing before an unheard-of state of affairs.
'No more of such childishness, Eugénie,' he said sternly: 'Let your pride help you to forget an admiration that was an insult. You see how he values you—let that strengthen you, if nothing else can.'
For answer she raised her head with a desperate look and fell to her knees, stretching out her arms to her father.
'Do not let this happen!' she cried in a voice almost incoherent with emotion. 'This is no whim to me—my life is on it! Have pity on me—on him!'
He was maddened by her attitude, her tears, her agony; he flung himself away from the hands she held out.
'Have you no shame? I tell you the man does not want you for his wife—do you plead to be his wanton? My God, I shall marry you to M. de Rochefort as soon as possible.'
'No, no,' she answered quickly. 'I at least will be true if he is false. I will marry no one, J swear!'
'Then you will go into a convent,' he replied in a towering passion. 'I will not be so disgraced and shamed!' and he stormed out of the room.
In the outer chamber was Pélagie, placid and gentle, with her book and her sewing; she had recovered from her disappointment at the non-appearance of her betrothed; she thought that he might still come. When she saw her father furiously leave the room where he had been with Eugénie, she rose quickly, in some alarm. But he passed her without a glance and left the chamber.
She put down her book and her work and hurried into the boudoir her father had just left.
The sight that met her startled gaze was Eugénie kneeling on the floor, her arms flung over the seat of a chair, her head sunk on her arms.
Pélagie closed the door.
'Eugénie,' she said in a low frightened voice, 'Eugénie—Eugénie.'
The girl looked up, her hair was falling loose against her flushed cheeks.
'Oh, Eugénie what has happened?' cried Pélagie in alarm.
Cool and composed, in her precise elegant gown and her correctly dressed hair, she was a strange contrast to the dishevelled figure of Eugénie; they seemed utterly unlike sisters.
'Are you ill?' continued the elder girl. 'You look as if you had a fever. What has father been saying to you? Will you not speak to me?'
She tried to raise her sister, but was not strong enough, so sat on the floor beside her, putting her arm round her waist. 'Yes, I am ill,' murmured Eugénie, looking down at the floor.
'My dear—let me help you up—yes, you are ill—your hands are so hot.' Soft-hearted Pélagie gazed at her in distress.
'Leave me,' said Eugénie.
No, not like this—come to the couch. Shall I call someone? Is there anything you wish, dear?'
Seeing that Eugénie resisted her caress she rose and went to the bell.
'Call no one,' said the younger girl, and she also rose.
Pélagie paused, looking at her intently; she was very fond of Eugénie.
Will you not tell me?' she asked softly, a little wistfully. Eugénie suddenly looked at her, putting back a lock of the bright hair with a swift gesture.
'Oh, Pélagie!' she said, 'you must not marry M. de Sarcey!' Pélagie stared in utter amazement.
'You must not marry him,' Eugénie said again; 'it would be terrible—for all of us.'
'What has he done?' stammered Pélagie. She knew, dimly, something of the reputation of the Marquis.
'What has he done?' echoed Eugénie wildly. 'He has made me love him—and he loves me.'
Pélagie gave a quick little cry like one stabbed unawares. 'Are you meaning this?' she said at last, very faintly.
'Yes. We have only seen each other twice, but I know. Oh, you can understand, if father will not!'
'Twice?' questioned Pélagie drearily; she seated herself on the couch, for her limbs seemed suddenly heavy.
'Yesterday—we met by chance a few moments. This morning he came to see me—in the garden.'
Pélagie felt her heart contract at the thought of this love—love that she had only dared to approach in dreams. 'What are we to do?' she asked in a bewildered fashion. Her dazed gentleness moved Eugénie to some compassion.
'Pélagie, it hurts me that this should be. Perhaps you cared too. But it was only for a few moments that you saw him.'
'It could have been no more with you.'
'But that was different,' said Eugénie. 'It was—How can I explain to you?'
How could she? Pélagie recognised that her sister was in a world which she had never entered—nor dared to contemplate entering which was beyond her; she looked at Eugénie with envy, almost with awe.
This morning, when she was asleep, he, that splendid creature to whom she had hardly dared lift her eyes, had come to see Eugénie, defying everything. She felt that if anything so wonderful had happened to her she would have died of joy.
'It would be terrible for you to marry him,' continued Eugénie. 'Do you not see that?'
Pélagie did not answer this question; it seemed as if she did not hear it. 'What did he say to you?' she asked in a low voice.
'I do not know. I could not tell,' replied Eugénie.
It was perfectly true; not to a catechising angel could she have put into words what had passed between her and M. de Sarcey.
'Did he kiss you?'
'Kiss me?' said Eugénie; she put out her hand and looked at the red sign on the wrist. 'Yes, he kissed me,' she whispered.
'And—and you love him?'
Pélagie used the word she stressed, shyly; she could not remember having ever spoken it before in connection with man and woman.
Eugénie paced about the room.
'Have I not told you?'
'And only yesterday we both saw him for the first time,' said Pélagie slowly. She still could not grasp the situation, nor understand in the least what was to be done.
'You will not marry him?' cried Eugénie; she seemed unable to think of anything beyond this.
'But does it rest with me?' asked Pélagie helplessly. 'What does father say?'
'He says you must.'
'Then what shall I do?'
'You can refuse,' flashed Eugénie, 'as I am refusing to marry M. de Rochefort.'
Slowly the full complications, the full miseries began to dawn on Pélagie. 'Oh, what have you done!' she cried sharply.
Before she could speak further, Madame de Haultpenne entered the darkening room.
Eugénie flung herself on the couch and turned her face away from her mother, whom she felt had become her enemy, or would soon become so. Madame de Haultpenne had not seen her husband and knew nothing of what had happened, but she at once discerned that there was trouble and sorrow between the two girls.
Pélagie, a pale neat figure, stood, with drooping shoulders, in the centre of the room.
'What is this?' asked Madame le Présidente sharply. She was more her daughters' mistress than their friend, and allowed them no secrets.
Pélagie was in no mood to deceive her; a full realisation of the truth was coming to her, she was smitten with horror and indignant grief.
'Oh, Madame!' she cried bitterly. 'M. de Sarcey loves Eugénie and she him, and my marriage must be stopped—'
Two men sat in the parlour of a little tavern on the outskirts of Versailles along the Paris road. They were discussing with much animation the present state of affairs in Versailles.
A month previous the three orders—nobles, clergy, and third estate—had met in one of the salons of the palace of Versailles to discuss the grievances and difficulties which had got beyond any glossing over or concealing by the cleverest or the most unscrupulous of ministers.
The finances of France had proved too much even for the methodical talents of a Swiss banker, who, in defiance of precedent, had applied order and system to the medieval intricacies of French taxes and French revenues. France generally was proving too much for anyone who tried to meddle with her writhings between luxury and starvation, but the newly-elected deputies of the third estate, to whom the poorer classes looked for some miracle of deliverance from a life long grown intolerable, were applying themselves to the task of making order out of chaos, with much ardour and determination.
The fifth of May, the States General, after having been received: by the King and attending mass, had solemnly opened, and wild hopes and expectations had for a time gleamed before the eyes of thinking men.
But from the moment the pomp and ceremonies ceased and the serious business of the assembly began, the grave farce to which the King and the two first orders had lent their name was apparent. Nobility and clergy refused to associate themselves with the third estate, left the seats prepared for them vacant and held their meeting in another chamber of he palace.
The third estate thus abandoned, ridiculed, left in confusion and embarrassment, conscious that every day fresh troops were being called into the town, aware of the Court intrigue that was defeating them, aware of the enmity of at least a portion of the Court headed by the Queen and the Count d'Artois, aware of the enmity of the nobles headed by the Prince de Conde and the Prince de Conti, their addresses ignored by the King, their invitations to a conference refused by the other two orders, took matters into their own hands, and, spurred on by the fiery genius of the Comte de Mirabeau elected a president and called themselves, on the suggestion of Deputy Mounier, 'Assembly of the Representatives of the Nation,' which was the clearest defiance Court and nobles had yet received.
They were soon to receive another, yet more daring.
The Assembly, under the presidency of Bailly, passed a resolution temporarily granting the new taxes but declaring the gathering of them illegal until the Assembly should have finished its deliberations.
This vote was passed before four thousand applauding citizens who were eager spectators of the deliberations of the deputies.
The Court lost no time; two regiments of Swiss were brought into the town, all the officers of the chevaux légers and the régiment du Duc de Bourgogne were recalled, and Versailles was full of muskets and swords, the flower of the French nobility among the officers, the pick of the French troops among the men.
It was the evening of the day on which these troops had entered Versailles, the day when the heralds, proceeding through the streets of the town had announced that the meeting of the States General was suspended until the end of the month, that these two men, Camille Desmoulins and Jacques Danton, sat in the little tavern discussing these events.
Neither believed that the Assembly would obey the order of the Court; had not all the members sworn to be faithful to their trust?
The younger of the two, Camille Desmoulins, already famous for his speeches in the Palais Royal and his ardent enthusiasm in the cause of the people, was flushed with ill-suppressed excitement.
He could hardly bear to wait till the morning to see whether the Assembly would meet as usual or not.
'The Court will never permit it,' he said anxiously. 'I see that—'
'There are certain things that M. de Mirabeau will not permit,' replied Jacques Danton heartily. 'That man has power.'
'I do not altogether trust him,' said Camille Desmoulins in a low voice; 'he is, after all, a noble. I think him ambitious, I know him in debt. I believe he will only stay with us while his interests are served.'
'Well? What does it matter if the fellow's motives are not pure? I know him for what he is, a penniless provincial noble who has led a scandalous life and whose own order have denied him. But, by God, I also know him for a man of genius!'
An officer of the chevaux légers with his orderly had entered the tavern, and the few who were drinking in the outer parlour moved aside in awe before so great a personage. Danton and Desmoulins, gazing through the open door of the inner room, observed this newcomer with great curiosity.
He was young, with looks that could not fail to impress the most casual observer. There was, however, something either in his face or his carriage or his manner slightly sinister, and his extreme haughtiness was noticeable in every movement. He wore the full uniform of his regiment: a scarlet coat with facings of white silk, huge skirts and pockets finished with buttons of gold and silver, white silk breeches, high soft riding boots, a full white scarf embroidered in gold passed over the shoulder and knotted at the waist, white gauntlets and a tricorne hat, worn tilted, embroidered with gold and finished with a great white cockade. His sword gleamed with highly polished gold and steel; there was a diamond in the voluminous lace on his breast, his hair was rolled and curled and fastened with a wide black ribbon.
'Who is it?' asked Desmoulins.
'The thing we fight,' answered Danton.
'Yes—but this man, you know him?'
'Tis the Marquis de Sarcey!'
'Yes, he came recently to join his regiment. I saw him before.'
'I believe I have seen him in Paris—I forget.'
'But you have heard the name?' asked Danton.
'An infamous name! Typical of his race, a corrupted race, of his class, a wicked class, a creature expert in every vice, used to every dishonour, useless, arrogant, a parasite on the labour of others! It is such as he we must destroy, Camille—root up and destroy for ever!'
Desmoulins was still looking curiously at the brilliant figure of the officer.
'Is he not going to be married soon?'
'To Mademoiselle de Haultpenne—daughter of that old villain who managed to dip his hand into the coffers of the State in the last reign. It is to be in a few days. These marriages, Camille!'
'One pities the women.'
'The women are the same race—they are glad to be bought and sold. I have no pity for the women—they breed the men. Imagine his mother!'
He did not wait for a reply, but fired by his thoughts continued hotly, his rough voice lowered to a swelling whisper:
'Think what that man comes from—what his life has been, what supports him! The taxes wrung from the starving, the money gained by those who are considered less than the beasts, the corvée, the forced labour, the stolen harvests, all the oppression, the corruption, the foul misuse of power, the wailing misery, the dumb despair that go to supply the means for the wicked luxury and the base vices of that man!'
He had hardly finished speaking when the young officer turned his head sharply and looked through the open door straight at the couple seated at the table in the inner parlour.
Both the men were a little taken aback; not only did they feel the slight confusion common to those who are suddenly discovered in keen observation by the object of their curiosity, but there was something in the brilliant glance of the officer that was disquieting.
The gentle gaze of Camille Desmoulins sank; but Danton soon recovered his rather imprudent assurance.
The officer turned, and walking with an insolent slowness, came towards them. Pausing in the doorway, he put up the square glass he carried and surveyed them curiously as if they had been part of the furniture; then he called his servant and told him to ask the innkeeper who these two people were.
'Two good members of the third estate, M. le Marquis,' said Jacques Danton, resting his elbows on the edge of the table and thrusting forward his heavy jaw.
M. de Sarcey took no notice.
The innkeeper came and in haste supplied the information stumbling over his words in explaining the utter respectability of M. Danton and M. Desmoulins.
M. de Sarcey addressed his servant as if he disdained to hold communication with the others.
'Tell the fellow,' he said, 'to take care how he entertains dangerous agitators here—this is not a moment for leniency.' The shuddering innkeeper vehemently promised and withdrew; he was afraid even to be in the shadow of M. de Sarcey. But Jacques Danton rose in his place.
'Do you pay us the compliment of considering us dangerous, M. le Marquis?' he asked.
M. de Sarcey was turning away without a word when some whim took him to stay, much as he might have stopped to amuse himself with some strange animal he found in his path.
'About as dangerous as M. de Mirabeau and your Assembly,' he answered.
'I am complimented,' replied Jacques Danton.
'Because M. de Mirabeau is going to be very dangerous indeed.'
'To such as yourself, Monsieur?'
'To such as you, M. le Marquis,' replied Danton.
'This is diverting,' smiled M. de Sarcey. 'I have never spoken with people like yourself before. I suppose you really take all this seriously?'
Danton smiled also.
'The Assembly and M. de Mirabeau?' he asked.
'And such agitations.'
'We take them,' replied Danton, 'very seriously.'
'How amusing. Only your Assembly has ceased to exist. It will not meet to-morrow.'
'I think it will!' cried Camille Desmoulins.
M. de Sarcey flickered him a glance; these two commoners were ceasing to divert him.
'The thoughts of Monsieur are no doubt valuable,' he said, in a tone that brought the blood to the pale face of Camille Desmoulins, and he turned away.
M. de Sarcey rode back to Versailles. As soon as he entered the palace he was informed that M. de Condé wished to see him at once.
He found that prince in his own apartments in company with his son, M. d'Enghien and M. de Conti.
'Well, what of to-morrow, Messieurs?' he asked as he entered.
Something in his presence, his extreme handsomeness, his haughty carriage, the repressed force he conveyed, so different from the languid demeanour usual to the young men of his rank, inspired and pleased the three nobles; princes of the blood as they were, none of them typified so completely as M. de Sarcey all that was most powerful in the aristocracy of France, that aristocracy that now, for the first time in its existence, was almost being forced to defend its immemorial privileges.
M. de Condé took his hand; the Marquis had been educated in his house and was as familiar to him as his son.
'It is the moment for strong measures—the strongest of measures,' he said. 'We have reason to believe that the third estate will try to meet as usual to-morrow.'
'I hope that His Majesty has resolved that it shall be only try,' answered the Marquis hotly.
'It has been so decided,' returned M. de Conde.
'What will be done?'
'You, Marquis, will occupy the courtyard with your troops—a detachment of the garde française will hold the salle des petits plaisirs where these mongrels have been meeting—and if they persist, you will tell them it is His Majesty's pleasure that they disperse.'
The eyes of the Marquis gleamed with satisfaction; he could have had no task more to his liking.
'This should have been done before, Monseigneur,' he replied. 'These people become actually insolent; two to-day, starveling lawyers, I think, almost defied me in the "Lion d'or."'
'And what did you discover there?' asked M. de Conti.
'Nothing in detail—only that undoubtedly the place is used as a meeting house for these wretches. As well to arrest the landlord and close the inn. Some peasant deputy lodges there and supplies contraband books to his companions.'
'God help us!' cried M. de Condé, in considerable emotion, 'how has the country come to such a pass!'
M. d'Enghien, who had hitherto sat in silence, now spoke.
'I cannot understand how it could not all have been suppressed sooner. Why were the States General ever called?' he demanded.
'How were the new taxes and imposts to be raised without their consent?' returned his father. 'And it was supposed to quiet the people.'
'Quiet them!' cried M. de Conti, 'it has raised a tempest about our ears.'
Not a tempest, I hope,' said M. de Sarcey.
'At least it is a considerable vexation,' answered M. de Condé. 'These rascals will not be dispersed so easily as they were called together.'
'They need the bayonet's point and the flat end of the sword,' returned the Marquis, who was impatient of politics of which he understood nothing.
'I fear it will take more subtle measures,' replied M. de Condé despondently. 'They are, many of them, not fools.'
'There is the Comte de Mirabeau, who has some breeding,' said M. de Conti, 'and he is dangerous.'
'His name brings us to a matter on which the Queen wishes to see you, Marquis,' remarked M. de Condé. 'Her Majesty will soon be expecting us.' He looked at his watch and rose.
M. de Sarcey was an intimate in the gay and brilliant circle that surrounded the Queen; he had constantly been one of the parties with which she diverted herself at the Trianon, often her companion in the fêtes in the beautiful grounds of Versailles, beside her in the chase, the ball, the concert, one of the most favoured of her courtiers, but he had never been asked by her to perform any service, nor had she ever spoken to him of politics, or, indeed, of any serious matter.
Therefore he was slightly surprised at the grave tone with which M. de Conde spoke, and, as he followed the three princes of the blood, he wondered what the Queen wanted of him, and if it was possible that she was really disturbed about the events in Versailles. The King was at the chase and probably had not returned, so it was not likely that anything serious was afoot.
The four gentlemen were shown into the presence of the Queen.
She was with Madame de Lamballe in one of the smallest of her apartments—a little boudoir painted entirely in white, with gilt and porcelain cabinets and tables and curtains of straw-coloured silks.
In her person she was slight and would have been graceful but for the encumbering paniers, flounces and folds of her extravagant dress; her face, very delicate and refined in line and colour, was of undeniable and rare charm. The eyes were large, pale blue and lustrous, the nose arched and haughty, the mouth fresh and full; the lower lip and jaw protruded slightly, destroying the regularity of the features and increasing the expression of haughtiness and now sorrow: she had lately lost a child.
Her neck and throat, her hands and arms were beautiful; rouge and powder had given her a perfect complexion. Taken in all, she seemed very beautiful and one who fully knew her value, both as Queen and woman.
Madame de Lamballe was like an echo of her loveliness without her pride. A blonde beauty, of the same delicate type as the Queen, and arrayed with the same fantastic and artificial grace, she had an air of shrinking shyness and timidity which did not betray the utter frivolity of her character.
As M. de Sarcey kissed the Queen's hand he saw that she was agitated, and he did not remember ever having seen her agitated before.
'Ah, Marquis!' she said. 'You have heard something of our vexations?'
She glanced at him and added, without waiting for his reply, fearing he might speak of her recent grief.
'But you will wish me to speak of your marriage. I have not seen you since it was arranged.'
'On the contrary, Madame, I am very grateful when I am allowed to forget my marriage.'
'Poor M. de Sarcey!' smiled the Queen. 'What a pity the fine fortunes are only to be found with the—insignificant women. I suppose she is insignificant, Marquis?'
'So completely, Madame, that I do not recall a single feature.'
'Please do not bring her to Court,' said Madame de Lamballe, who had been slightly piqued by this marriage of one of her train of cavaliers.
'No,' added the Queen, who perhaps shared the same sentiment, 'we are dull enough lately, Marquis. One hears nothing but politics from morning till night. And one cannot imagine that the daughter of M. de Haultpenne would be amusing.'
'She will remain in Paris, Madame, or go into the country,' replied the Marquis.
The full blue eyes of the Queen glanced at him with an air of mockery.
'You are to be congratulated on a marriage completely a la mode, Monsieur,' she said.
He bowed in silence; the three princes were seated, but the Marquis had remained standing before the two ladies. His dark good looks, his brilliant uniform did not seem quite in place in the pale little boudoir. The Queen, under all her frivolity was romantic and now sad at heart. Something within her was vexed at this sordid marriage of the man who was one of the most brilliant ornaments of her brilliant Court. She dismissed the feeling, but M. de Sarcey had slightly lost favour in her eyes.
'When is your marriage?' she smiled.
'The day after to-morrow, Madame. I have permission for two days. To-morrow Madame de Haultpenne gives a fête.'
'A fête!' exclaimed the Queen. 'Everyone is here—Paris must be empty.'
She looked at M. de Condé.
'Am I to tell M. de Sarcey what we require of him?' she asked.
'If your Majesty pleases,' replied the prince.
'Well,' said the Queen lightly, 'I will do what I can—but I so soon get these things confused.'
'I wish M. d'Artois was here, he knows all about it,' said Madame de Lamballe plaintively.
Marie Antoinette turned her lovely eyes full on M. de Sarcey.
'It is this dreadful third estate,' she said; 'they are really giving a lot of trouble, it seems as if one would never hear the end of them—they are some of them just peasants, Monsieur!'
'But the sitting is suspended, Madame, and they are not, M. de Conde tells me, to be allowed to meet to-morrow,' replied M. de Sarcey quickly.
'But they have passed all sorts of stupid oaths among themselves not to disperse, and they might resist,' said the Queen impatiently; 'they will not vote the supplies and M. Necker does not know what to do—I think they must be mad!'
'I cannot think why they are not all arrested!' remarked Madame de Lamballe plaintively. 'I am so tired of hearing about them.'
'His Majesty will not go so far so soon—it might be dangerous,' remarked M. de Conti.
The lovely de Lamballe made flippant reply.
'I think His Majesty very tiresome!'
'It is that odious M. Necker,' said the Queen; 'he is no use at all, and so disagreeable.'
She looked again, and earnestly, at M. de Sarcey.
He observed that for all the lightness of her manner, she was considerably disturbed. The struggle with the third estate which had agitated the Court for the last month had not been without its effect on the one who, with the Comte d'Artois, had been the most violent opponent of these representatives of the people.
M. de Sarcey was not greatly interested in the matter, which could only at intervals distract him from his own private affairs; he gazed at the two fair women before him and thought how Eugénie, in her loose morning gown, outshone both.
'I cannot imagine why these rogues were called together,' he said.
Marie Antoinette shrugged her shoulders.
'To quiet the people they said—to pass the new imposts—one hardly understands,' she replied.
The new imposts should have been collected without calling on the consent of these villains,' said the Marquis, who was completely intolerant of any concessions to democracy.
If he could have spoken frankly he would have scorned the King as a weak fool in permitting this muddle in the affairs of State. The last Louis, dealing with finances as complicated, discontent as noisy, corruption as vast, had managed not to be disturbed a single day by any of these vexatious voices shouting from the gutters and the ditches.
'I will tell you what I want of you,' said the Queen suddenly. 'I want you, before the States meet at the end of the month, to see M. de Mirabeau.'
M. de Sarcey laughed.
'Your Majesty wishes me to see M. de Mirabeau?'
'Command me. But I know nothing of the fellow.'
'We none of us know him,' replied the Queen. 'He is dangerous. The only man of breeding they have. The mob listen to him, he has a certain influence.'
The Marquis still smiled; he could hardly take M. de Mirabeau seriously.
'Of course he can be bought,' said the Queen gravely.
'Of course, Madame. He must be desperately in want of money.'
'And he must be bought,' continued Marie Antoinette. 'You will see him, find out what he wants and promise it.'
The Marquis had never been remotely a politician, but the way the Queen was handling this struck even him.
'What am I to offer?' he asked.
'Anything he wants,' answered the Queen vaguely. 'Money, titles, a post at Court. After all, he is a man of some rank.'
'And some spirit!' laughed Madame de Lamballe. 'Have you heard how he fled to Holland with M. de Mounier's wife? He has been imprisoned twice too. I hear he is very ugly.'
'He is certainly very insolent,' said Marie Antoinette.
The Queen's interest in politics was confined to a dutiful support of the interests of Austria; of France and her internal affairs she understood nothing. Yet, beside the boredom of the three Bourbon princes, the frivolity of Madame de Lamballe, the cynicism of M. de Sarcey, the Queen's point of view showed some sense; she was uneasy, she was disturbed.
She felt, vaguely but convincedly, that this matter of the third estate was a serious one, that it should be met firmly, that, somehow or other, M. de Mirabeau should be silenced and the estate dispersed. That her methods were tactless, haughty and foolish, was, perhaps, not her fault. There was no one to tell her that there were other ways of dealing with the third estate besides regiments of soldiers, and other ways of dealing with M. de Mirabeau besides crude bribes offered by a man like M. de Sarcey, but she used the weapons she had and dealt with the things she knew.
'You will do this for me, Marquis?' she asked, and her manner made the matter personal. She had that almost bold frankness of demeanour only possible to the honourable and sweet; amidst much vice and much corruption, which she both tolerated and protected, the Queen remained fresh of heart.
'I will perform this matter as your Majesty's servant, faithful and zealous,' replied the Marquis.
Marie Antoinette rose; a slight but pungent perfume stirred from her rustling silk skirts.
'Whose flowers do you wear?' she asked with a little smile. 'I have forgotten,' returned M. de Sarcey.
The Queen's slim fingers drew out a red rosebud from the crystal goblet on the little table by her side.
He kissed her hand as she gave him the little flower.
'I want you to see M. de Mirabeau as soon as you return from Paris.'
'I will do so, and immediately lay the result of my endeavours at the feet of your Majesty.'
In the corridors of the palace he met M. d'Artois and M. de Provence, the King's brothers; they were still in their hunting costume and were going towards the apartments of the Queen.
The serious, scholarly face of the elder was depressed in expression, the haughty, dissipated countenance of. M. d'Artois irritated and clouded.
'Everyone seems disturbed except His Majesty,' thought de Sarcey; and he was pleased, for he liked, specially in his present mood, to watch the confusions and troubles of others when they did not affect himself.
His passing sense of cynical satisfaction, however, was of but a moment's duration; he had hardly lost sight of the two princes before he came face to face with an officer in the blue and red uniform of the régiment de Bourgogne.
It was M. de Rochefort.
The Marquis stiffened and paused.
The young Duke looked at him and paused also, saluted and smiled.
He seemed to have forgotten their last meeting, or at least to bear no ill-will in consequence.
'You also at Versailles—I think everyone is here,' he said. 'My God, but things are serious, Monsieur!'
'And dangerous for the Court—this Assembly has matters in its own hands.'
'It is to be dispersed to-morrow,' replied M. de Sarcey.
'That will make no difference—save to inflame the people.'
'This is strange talk to be heard here—in the King's palace!'
'It is talk that will be heard in the King's bedchamber, Marquis!'
M. de Sarcey looked at him keenly. His delicate face was grave and sad, his light brown hair carelessly powdered, his eyes looked tired; he wore his hat and mantle.
M. de Sarcey hated him intensely; he wanted to indulge this hatred by being with him. Besides, he was a link with Eugénie, he must find out how far he was committed to her; he decided to spend the evening with M. de Rochefort.
'You have no appointment?' he asked abruptly.
'No, I am just going off duty.'
'Come and sup with me. I also have nothing to do before to-morrow.'
The young Duke looked slightly surprised at this from a man whom he hardly knew; but he was excited and in want of company—even the calm, sardonic company of M. de Sarcey, and he accepted the invitation with his habitual pleasantness.
The two young men, so similar in their brilliant uniforms, so utterly different in thought and character and sentiment, sat together over the supper-table in the splendid apartment of M. de Sarcey.
'It seems hardly possible, Monsieur,' said the young Duke earnestly, 'that you have noticed none of these things.'
'I have never been interested in politics,' replied M. de Sarcey.
'But this goes beyond politics,' said M. de Rochefort.
The Marquis smiled.
'I know what you are about to say—the world is changing—the old order passes away—look at America, listen to M. Franklin—to all the chatterers since Diderot! But, M. le Duc, it is not possible that you have been affected by these ideas?'
The pale face of M. de Rochefort flushed slightly at this sarcastic speech.
'I think you will not long speak like that,' he answered. 'Matters are changing every day, nay, every hour. Do you realise, M. le Marquis, what has happened?'
'I know that when M. Necker was recalled he found the deficit in the finances beyond his management, and like a Swiss, and a Protestant, said so. I know that the Parliament refused to pass the new imposts without the convocation of the States General—that Calonne and Brienne could do nothing—that, afraid of bankruptcy, the King recalled the States General—and now, having called them, cannot manage them—is that not all?'
M. de Rochefort listened to this dry statement with a sad face.
'Is that all you know of France and her miseries?'
'I think so,' smiled M. de Sarcey.
'You have not cared even to take your seat in the States General?'
'I attended one sitting—the first—it was not very interesting.'
'No? Did it not interest you to see how the third estate put on their hats when we put on ours? The last time they were called they were hatless—and on their knees.'
'This insolence will be punished,' replied the Marquis indifferently.
'No, Monsieur,' said the Duke gravely, 'it is our insolence that will be punished!'
M. de Sarcey looked at him sharply.
'You speak like M. de Mirabeau.'
'By heaven, I feel like M. de Mirabeau!' exclaimed M. de Rochefort with a flash in his gentle eyes. 'The man is right—the only one who is right.'
'And we are all wrong?' asked M. de Sarcey, humouring him
M. de Rochefort rose in his agitation and stood leaning against the mantelpiece.
'Everything is wrong, our order most of all. This has been coming for years—only no one would see it. But now the progress is very rapid. Once the people are out of hand it will be—terrible.'
'Possibly,' replied the Marquis.
He did not take seriously what M. de Rochefort said. Ever since he could remember the Government had been in difficulties, the Court short of money, the country on the verge of bankruptcy—but things had lasted so far and he believed they would continue to. It added to his already sufficient contempt of the young Duke that he should be so overwhelmed by the present behaviour of the third estate.
He fed his hatred of his companion by watching his agitation which was almost like personal distress. Plainly the young man, delicate in body and serious of mind, was overwrought to a painful degree.
'Why should he want Eugénie?' thought the Marquis fiercely. 'Why can he not be content with his damned politics? He has no blood in his body.' But if he felt amazement at M. de Rochefort's agitation, the Duke was amazed at his indifference.
'It seems impossible that you neither know nor care about these things!' he cried.
M. de Sarcey smiled.
'My own life has fully occupied me,' he replied. 'And does so still,' he added.
He meant these last words as a challenge; he wished to lead the conversation away from the abstract to the personal, but the Duke, utterly absorbed, did not notice the tone.
'The Assembly will not disperse to-morrow,' he said, 'and they have the people with them.'
'Curse the Assembly,' replied the Marquis calmly. 'A handful of shopkeepers and peasants, starveling lawyers and hedgerow doctors!'
'They have the nation behind them, Monsieur!' cried M. de Rochefort.
'The people, by God, the people!'
'You mean the peasantry, Monsieur?' smiled the Marquis. 'I mean the people, Monsieur, the third estate!'
'Hardly a very important section of the community, my dear Duke.'
'The most important of all, Monsieur, as you will see,' answered M. de Rochefort sadly. 'You are a man of intelligence. If you reflect, you must see what is happening, you must see that the King's position is untenable—'
'In what way?' asked M. de Sarcey, really astonished now.
'First, because he plays fast and loose—he calls the States and the country is enthusiastic; but this third estate, upon which everything depends is deceived, insulted, threatened. The Queen and M. d'Artois take matters in their own hands—it is like children playing with fire!'
'You think Her Majesty interferes too much?' smiled M. de Sarcey.
'I am sure of it. And interferes with the greatest indiscretion. This is not woman's work. The Queen has always been most imprudent. And, like yourself, Monsieur, has never troubled to understand the times.'
'They are very ordinary times.'
'No, they are most extraordinary—have you not learnt something from this revolt in America? And we try to govern France by a feudal system that is dropping to pieces with decay and corruption!'
He crossed again to the mantelpiece, resting his elbow on it.
'Have you ever thought,' he continued, 'how the people live? How your overseer collects his money from your peasants, how afterwards come the monks for their share, how the taxes mount and the food costs more and the harvest fails and the famine comes and there is no one to whom to appeal? Have you ever thought of the bitter, the hopeless misery, steeped in filth, disease and ignorance which labours to supply this—'
He indicated the elegant room, and M. de Sarcey was reminded of the words of Julie Morel.
'I suppose you have learnt all this from M. de Mirabeau,' he remarked.
'My God, Marquis! I have learnt it from my own observation. And there is not only the peasantry—but these others, starveling lawyers and doctors, as you say, shopkeepers and farmers—what chance have they? The Court, the nobles, the clergy suck them bone dry. The country is in an agony.'
'My dear Duke, you should certainly be in this famous Assembly yourself.'
'Ah, you mock,' replied M. de Rochefort sadly, 'but I know the truth—I know the spirit of Paris—the power of men like Mirabeau. And I know the King.'
'We all know the King,' smiled M. de Sarcey.
'And yet you remain calm and confident. The King is neither one thing nor the other, his reign has been concession after concession, all useless—he has no energy, no force, no convictions; when M. Necker speaks to him he agrees with M. Necker, when the Queen, he agrees with the Queen.'
'The pleasantest way,' smiled M. de Sarcey.
M. de Rochefort gave him a strange look.
'You will not be serious, Monsieur, and I weary you.' He paused a moment, then added:
'I am in some distress to-night, for I see chaos and ruin ahead. And,' was on the eve of being happy.'
Instantly every nerve in the Marquis's body was at attention. 'You refer to your projected marriage?' he asked smoothly. The devil in him was alert now, awake and eager, awaiting his chance, playing with his enemy in an intensity of restrained cruelty.
The young Duke looked at him earnestly.
'We have never been intimate, Monsieur, but we are to be brothers, it seems.'
M. de Sarcey kept his eyes lowered; he was afraid of what might be seen in them.
'M. de Haultpenne has consented to my proposal. I received the dispatch yesterday. But for these evil times I should be happy:
'Perhaps it seems strange to you that one should seek happiness in marriage?'
'All that you say, Monsieur, seems to me a little strange. I am interested.'
'Some women, Monsieur, could give one everything—everything. All that there is in the world. I have often thought, have dreamt, of such a one. And in Eugénie de Haultpenne I have found her—surely.'
Hearing her name on the lips of his rival, M. de Sarcey bent his forehead on the hilt of his sword and looked on the ground. But he was able to command his voice.
'What makes you take this romantic view of this lady?'
M. de Rochefort knew the utterly sordid motives of the Marquis's match; he was desirous that the same should not be imputed to him.
'I would take her without a dowry,' he added, 'though I am not rich.'
'Doubtless Monsieur has felt scruples in collecting his taxes.'
'Exactly. I have done what I could on my estates,' answered the young Duke simply.
M. le Marquis rose; his sword clattered into place at his side.
'What do you mean to do?' he asked.
They stood facing each other; both were rather pale.
'Most men in my place would marry, raise what money they could and fly the country,' said M. de Rochefort. 'Fly the country!'
'Is that what you think to do?'
'I said that is what most men, knowing what I know, would do.'
'But Monsieur wears the uniform of France,' replied M. de Sarcey.
'I do not forget.'
'Perhaps that would not weigh with you, M. le Duc, if you thought it expedient to leave France.'
'Something weighs with me, I know not what,' replied M. de Rochefort quietly. 'I shall stay in France.'
'Possibly to support M. de Mirabeau?' asked the Marquis. 'No. To obey my commands as a soldier. To support my own order.'
'You think it will need support?'
'I think—' began M. de Rochefort; then he checked himself—'we can only go on from day to day. Things have gone beyond the meddling of any of us.'
'The happiness of which you spoke just now, Monsieur, should give you a less grave demeanour—a less sorrowful outlook on the future.'
'My happiness,' said M. de Rochefort thoughtfully and sadly, 'is still only a dream. How do I know that from all this threatening darkness I can snatch gladness?'
'You will be at Madame de Haultpenne's fête to-morrow?' asked the Marquis abruptly.
If I can. I believe, I am sure, that there will be trouble to-morrow.'
'I have orders to charge the people if they prove difficult'
'My God!' broke from the Duke.
'Is not the régiment de Bourgogne on duty?'
'Yes, we are stationed in the courtyard—with the Swiss.'
'I hope,' said M. de Sarcey impetuously, 'we shall give these dogs a lesson!'
'I fear,' replied the Duke, 'that it will be M. de Mirabeau who will give us all a lesson!'
He picked up his mantle and hat and turned to M. de Sarcey to take his farewells.
'I shall see you to-morrow night,' said the Marquis.
His desire to insult, to challenge, could hardly be restrained.
'I do not think that you will marry Eugénie de Haultpenne,' he said.
The young Duke lifted his tired eyes in surprise to the dark face so near his own.
In that moment he was sorry that he had ever spoken of Eugénie to this man—sorry even that he had supped with him.
'I wonder why you say that,' he said quietly.
There was no mistaking the insolence with which M. de Sarcey reiterated these two words; the Duke was too gracious to be offended easily, nor was he aware of any cause of offence between himself and the Marquis.
'Perhaps you will soon find out,' M. de Sarcey added.
The Duke frowned; he paused, with his hand on the door.
'I think I am slow,' he said. 'What ought I to understand from your words, M. le Marquis?'
M. de Sarcey laughed in his face.
'You have dulled your brains with politics, Monsieur!'
M. de Rochefort bit his lips; he was completely at a loss. He saw that his companion was trying to quarrel with him and could only imagine that he was not sober.
'I will take my leave,' he said, and opened the door. 'Monsieur could do no better,' replied M. de Sarcey.
At this last wanton insult the young Duke suddenly fired.
'I am sorry that our future relationship prevents me resenting this insolence,' he cried.
'Our future relationship need not trouble Monsieur.'
M. de Rochefort controlled himself.
He did not wish to quarrel With this man who would so soon be a member of Eugénie's family.
'Let me take my departure,' he said quietly, 'we will meet in another mood.'
M. de Sarcey stood aside from the door.
'My moods do not change so easily,' he answered.
Again there was a challenge that the other man could hardly ignore.
'If Monsieur will explain,' he said, very disturbed.
The Marquis was silent for a short time. He knew that his conduct was not justified, that this was neither the moment nor the place for him to force a quarrel on M. de Rochefort.
'I give you good night, M. le Duc,' he said, and turned on his heel.
The other looked at him, hesitated a moment, and then left without further word.
The Marquis took a turn about the room, then dashed open the window, tearing apart the curtains, and looked out on to the cold, starlit gardens of Versailles.
He did not care if what M. de Rochefort had said was true; France might hurtle to disaster to-morrow if he could only snatch to himself his woman from the ruins.
The fête at Madame de Haultpenne's brilliant mansion was not so brilliant as she had hoped to make it; the crisis in political affairs had called many to Versailles, but the festival that marked the betrothal of Pélagie de Haultpenne was well attended and grand enough to satisfy even the vanity of Madame la Présidente. The wedding on the morrow would not be so magnificent, as the bridegroom's military duties necessitated his immediate return to Versailles.
M. de Sarcey found the hôtel already full when he arrived; the garden already lit with red and yellow lamps. Madame de Haultpenne received him with cold composure, but her husband was nervous in his manner; he eyed the Marquis with trepidation.
Pélagie looked as if about to faint. With her high pomaded coiffure, her plumes, her hoop, her lace petticoats and silver satin skirts, all the usual details of aristocratic and fashionable attire, she looked like' some poor doll dressed to show off rich garments. Only in the dark, heavy eyes showed the frightened soul of the human being.
Her betrothed husband had to lead her out to the lawn at the back of the house and with her open the dances; he was her partner for the first gavotte. They stood side by side under the lamp-lit laurels; as yet they had not spoken beyond the first formal greeting. He had almost forgotten her presence, so intently was he watching the crowd for a sight of Eugénie, whom so far he had not seen.
But Pélagie was acutely, terribly conscious of him; through many bitter hours had she been thinking of this moment when she would be with him, able to speak to him There was so much to say and yet no words in which to say it. Still, make some attempt she must even though she died of shame; the turmoil in her soul could not be utterly suppressed. She desperately drew his attention by some foolish remark about the fête.
He looked at her.
'Does it please you, Mademoiselle?'
'I never cared for ceremony,' she replied, hardly able to command herself.
He smiled, not pleasantly.
'There is no need that Mademoiselle should endure ceremonies in the future. I have a country house as quiet as a convent.'
'But you will live in Paris—Versailles?' she faltered.
'I do not know where it will please me to live, Mademoiselle.' The courage of desperation came to Pélagie.
'I know what you mean,' she whispered; her trembling hand touched his shining sleeve. 'But I could not help it,' she added on a feverish note of appeal. 'Let us be kind to each other.'
'Kindness was not in the contract, Mademoiselle,' he answered.
He was still looking at her, and she turned away, as much from his eyes as his tone.
'Oh God, you speak as if you hate me!' she murmured. 'Mademoiselle did not expect—love?' he answered brutally. What do you mean?' she asked foolishly.
'Only that this is a mariage de convenance and it would be better for us to remember it—'
'It would be better if you were kind,' returned Pélagie wildly.
'Kind!' he said. 'I have never yet used kindness to a woman.'
She could say no more; his cruelty struck her dumb. She had been bred in the convention that men were always courteous to women: his words, his tone, shocked her utterly.
The blood burnt in her thin cheeks under the powder and the paint; she could not say nor do anything more—not by a breath could she stay the tragedy that she felt closing round her, round all of them.
The music sounded from the white pavilion that had been erected for the orchestra, and Pélagie and her betrothed moved through the stiff meaures of the dance.
She was conscious of nothing except that she was clumsy and awkward, that she could not manage her hoop nor her train, her gloves nor her fan. But what did it matter? She thought she hated M. de Sarcey, but she knew that if he had flung her one kind word she would have loved him.
When the dance was over he led her to her mother, left them both without compliments or excuses, and went in search of Eugénie. He wasted no time in subterfuge or manoeuvring, he stopped the first lackey he saw and, with the same utter recklessness with which he had demanded her on their previous meeting, asked for the younger Mademoiselle de Haultpenne. He was fiercely afraid that she might not be there, that she had been sent away, or was confined to the house.
The valet told the Marquis that Mademoiselle had gone down to the lake with a party of other ladies.
'What does she wear?' asked M. de Sarcey; in the illusive light and shade, the women all with powdered locks and glittering dresses looked much the same.
'Monseigneur will know her—she is the only lady here in black.'
This startled yet pleased him He was glad of the stranger in her; all that was wild in him leapt to meet what was wild in her. He turned quickly down the paths that led to the small piece of artificial water called the lake. It was overhung with willow trees and lit by strings of amber-coloured lamps which threw quivering reflections into the still water.
There, amid the gay-coloured brocades and velvets, he saw the black gown.
He went up to her at once, ignoring her companions.
'I have a message for you from M. de Rochefort, Mademoiselle,' he said; and the other women moved away to right and left.
Eugénie turned sharply and faced him. She wore no hoop, and her gown was of simple black silk. But this attire did not appear to be mourning, for at her breast was a cluster of bright green ribbons and round her throat a string of emeralds. Still, her appearance was notably simple and her hair, though slightly powdered, was dressed low and loosely; she had the instinct of the beautiful woman not to disguise herself in any extreme of fashion.
She gave him one bright look and then was turning away. 'I entreat you to listen to me,' he said hoarsely.
Eugénie again faced him.
'Speak,' she said.
He glanced at the group of ladies still chattering near. 'We are not alone,' he said, with increasing agitation.
She still looked at him straightly.
'We are as much alone as we ever shall be, Monsieur.'
'I knew you could be cruel,' he said swiftly.
'And all Paris knew that you could be false,' she replied. 'Yet I believed you—I had faith—'
'Keep that faith in me,' he whispered hoarsely, 'or I shall go mad. Mad! I thought that I was mad, this many a time since I wrote to your mother agreeing to keep my marriage contract.'
'Why did you do it?' she asked in a low, desperate voice, and he saw she knew of the letter.
He answered fiercely, coming closer to her, so that his cloak touched her shoulder. Eugénie did not move.
'I was forced. You know that. As you know that you are the only woman who has ever moved me—'
'Stop—stop!' she whispered, her self-control breaking. 'You will bring a curse upon us.'
'I am cursed,' he answered. 'If I had been a rich man—' At that she turned on him.
'But Monsieur is not rich—he is poor, broken with debts, a roué, a gambler, a trifler, and this marriage is his one hope of retrieving his name. And he is bad and shallow—worthless to the bottom of his wicked heart, and all the world knows it. God pity his poor wife!'
'Yes, God pity her,' said the Marquis through his teeth.
Eugénie laughed, and the laugh matched her dark dress and bright loveliness. She had raised her hands to her breast and her head was held high; they had both to speak low, conscious of the public place, but her voice was full and hoarse.
'I, too, am bad and shallow,' she said passionately. 'If Monsieur is a roué, I am a coquette—doubtless Monsieur knows that, and values me very lightly—because I laughed and jested with him and met him in the garden secretly!'
'You love me.'
'No! no! I played at it—I played!'
'You love me,' he insisted. 'Do you think that I shall let you go?'
'This talk is insult and dishonour,' she said hotly. 'I do not wish to listen to you—'
'You shall listen.'
'If you importune me I shall put myself under the protection of M. de Rochefort.'
'M. de Rochefort!'
'My betrothed husband. My betrothed husband.'
'Eugénie!' he cried furiously.
She was looking at him now with what seemed hatred—and there was an accent of hatred in her voice as she answered:
'Monsieur thought that I should go into a convent?'
She turned away from him with a violent movement and ran blindly through the darkness of the trees; she dropped on to the first seat she found, a stone bench beneath a group of ilex trees. Her whole body was shaken with emotion.
If I could die,' she whispered, 'if I could die—'
She heard him following her; she looked round to see him beside her, standing and looking down at her. The moonlight was full on her face, but he was all in shadow.
'It does not matter what you say or do, Eugénie,' he said almost gently. 'I love your anger, your insults—all—only you must not speak of M. de Rochefort to me—'
'I shall marry him.'
'You must not jest about these things,' he said imperiously. 'Have you not sworn to me not to think of anyone but me?'
'And what did you swear?' she asked with great bitterness.
'No oath but this—to win you and hold you; and do you think I shall be turned from that—even if death crosses my path?'
She was amazed by the sense of something strong and terrible against which it seemed to her she could not contend; all the conventions of honour, decency and justice in which she had been brought up were scattered by this man's words, and something wild and fierce and desperate, that was in her own soul struggled to fling aside all restraint and answer him as he had spoken—truth to truth, passion to passion.
But he was, to-morrow, to be her sister's husband.
She clung to that grim fact and sat silent, staring past his inscrutable figure.
'Listen,' he said gently. 'You must not think of anything except that I love you. What is this ceremony to-morrow? Nothing. You must know what marriage means to-day—a matter of convenience, a stupid necessity—it does not touch what there is between you and me—You know that I speak the truth?'
'I know that this is all terrible,' she answered. She clasped her hands in sudden weakness. 'If you have any compassion for me, leave me!'
He had been waiting for this moment when her strength should desert her. He seated himself beside her and took her in his arms; repeatedly he gently kissed her, caressed her, and soothed her as if she were a child.
'Have you suffered, darling?' he asked. 'Have you suffered these days? You were right to be angry with me—I should have taken you away at once. Will you come with me now—would you? Away through the little door I entered that morning, under my mantle—we two together. Will you come, my sweet?'
'You are mad,' she answered, but languidly as one who speaks from the depths of a dream.
'Yes, when I am with you I am mad—nothing matters beside an affection so immense, a love so strong! Why did I not find you before? I would like to live my life over again—with you beside me.'
She moved her head back on his shoulder so that her face was looking up at his.
'And what of the other women?' she asked. 'I have heard things—since I saw you—'
'Yes, they would tell you tales of me,' he answered. 'What does it matter to you? You have the adoration of a man who has never adored anything before. Eugénie! you are to me not one woman, but all women—not one love, but all love; there is no creature worthy to be called a woman save you, and no passion worthy to be called love but this love.'
'I cannot believe you,' she answered faintly. 'You play false.'
It does not matter what you say,' he answered. 'I speak the truth, and you know it. If I lost you, I should lose all the light of life. Come away with me—'
'To-morrow we could be across the frontier.'
'Let this marriage go if you wish, anything you wish. I do not need money. I have none, but I do not need it. Are you afraid to come with me? I will make a shield of my body; it shall stand between you and the world.'
As he finished speaking he kissed her, and laughed and kissed her again.
But Eugénie dragged herself free.
'No, no, I cannot believe it,' she breathed. 'How often have you not said these things before? I have been too easy—God help me, and you shame me for your amusement—'
She staggered to her feet and he rose also.
She hardly knew what she said or did, but keenly conscious of one thing and clinging to it—that this terrible love was monstrous, impossible, and that she must fly from the fierce temptation. Instinct told her that to plead with him was only to further arouse his resistance; he was in every way beyond her control, her persuasion. She could only defy him to the best of her desperate strength.
'I will have no more,' she said, facing him, faint and breathless. 'I know not how it is that I have so easily listened, how it is that I have come to this moment—but I will never see you again—never—'
'That is not for you to decide.'
'At least you shall not speak as you have spoken, shall not touch me—I will never see you alone! I will speak to my father, to M. de Rochefort—'
'Take care,' interrupted M. de Sarcey, 'how you degrade this thing—'
'I degrade it!'
'Yes—with this resistance, with these threats, you make it a vulgar intrigue. Tell M. de Rochefort what you will,' he added violently, 'and take the consequences.'
'I shall marry M. de Rochefort.'
'And I shall win you all the same. Do you think that fool would come in my way? Leave him alone. I have warned you.'
'Of what?' she asked unsteadily.
'Do you want it more clearly? I say I know how to deal with anyone who comes between us—that I shall never cease to pursue you, and that though you may fly from me I shall follow you, and if you do not take me with love you must take me with hate—'
'It will be hate indeed if you use me so—' whispered Eugénie.
She looked round for means to escape, but he caught her by the shoulders and turned her again towards him.
'Did I not say,' he asked wildly and reproachfully, 'that if you were not true to me you would never be happy again?
Have you forgotten all that? If you will not have this marriage, let it go—come with me—'
'No, no, I think you are mad! Why did you consent to renounce me? You make a jest of all of us. It is an outrage, an insult. Let me go—'
She struggled fiercely to be free of him; her hair was shaken from the loose dressing, her face distorted. 'You must let me go,' she insisted. 'If M. de Rochefort was here I would call him to come and strike you—'
'Eugénie, Eugénie, you are lying to me, and lying to yourself—'
He drew her desperately resisting figure close to him; she turned aside her face and strained away. He kissed her neck.
'Now leave me—if you can,' he said triumphantly.
'Yes, I can,' breathed Eugénie. 'I can and do—for ever.'
She tore herself free with the strength born of desperation. 'You will let me pass,' she gasped, 'unless you want a scandal—unless—you want me—to shriek—' a she allowed no agitation or vexation to appear in her manner.
Without a word he stepped aside and she ran away. As soon as she saw him she beckoned him with her painted fan, and he came, with his slow insolent walk, and stood, waiting for her to speak.
He checked an insane impulse to pursue her openly; he flung himself on the seat and stared before him. 'Do you not join the dancers?' she asked.
So he had been defeated, utterly. After he had lost his head sufficiently to be ready to fling everything to the winds, even his marriage and his military duties, his name, his position, everything for her sake; she had flouted him as if he had been a lout offering a posy of hedgerow flowers. 'I dance ill to any piping save my own, Madame,' he answered.
Most fiercely he wanted to make others suffer also. He would willingly drag the whole Haultpenne family into ruin for this piece of work—the white-faced girl they were forcing on him, the crafty father who had been so close with his bargain, the plebeian mother who covertly defied him, and this girl who was his, who denied him and rejected him. Pélagie lifted frightened eyes—her mother remained calm. 'Then you will stay with us, Monsieur, as a spectator?' she said.
He resolved that he would show all of them that they had been worse than fools in thus dealing with him. Pélagie made a feverish effort to speak naturally.
And M. de Rochefort-'How strange Eugénie looks in that black dress. Eugénie always did dress so strangely.'
He rose as he thought of M. de Rochefort and walked slowly back towards the lake. He was aware that his absence from the fête would be noticed, but he was quite indifferent to this; he even hoped that there might be comment that would vex the Haultpennes. She leant forward, peering with her short-sighted eyes across the lamp-lit space of lawn.
He knew that M. le Président would not dare remonstrate with him under any pretext whatever, and that so long as he married Pélagie the family would take anything from him The Marquis turned instantly.
So he remained by the lake, away from the festivities, trying to brace himself to the part he must play, endeavouring to calm his rage and agitation. Eugénie's dark figure was moving through the steps of a gavotte.
He had meant what he said when he declared that if Eugénie was not his in love she must be in hate; he swore in his dark heart to obtain her, even if the action caused her death. 'Who is your sister's partner, Mademoiselle?' he asked swiftly.
After a while he gained more control, and turned, in the blackest of moods, towards the lawn where the dancing was proceeding. It was Madame la Présidente who answered.
Madame de Haultpenne was there in a small open pavilion near the musicians; Pélagie was seated beside her, and a servant was giving them fruit and ices. 'M. le Duc de Rochefort,' she said with infinite satisfaction. But she was frightened at the face M. de Sarcey turned on her.
If Madame missed the presence of her future son-in-law 'I left M. de Rochefort at Versailles!' he exclaimed fiercely. 'Later he obtained leave, Monsieur,' returned Madame de Haultpenne, 'he has just arrived.'
'His betrothal to Eugénie is to be announced to-morrow,' said Pélagie with the imprudence of timidity.
'Ah!' said M. de Sarcey.
He left both of them and went to the door of the pavilion. Eugénie saw him instantly, and laughed the louder and talked the faster with M. de Rochefort.
This subterfuge did not deceive the Marquis, but enraged him. It did not matter to him how Eugénie conducted herself, he felt secure of her, but he hated to think that the other man was complacently enjoying her graciousness.
When the dance was over he left Pélagie and her mother without a look and went straight across to Eugénie.
The young Duke greeted him pleasantly; he still wore his uniform and looked tired, but he seemed at ease and even happy, which maddened the Marquis.
Eugénie appeared perfectly composed; her fine fingers still rested lightly on M. de Rochefort's sleeve. She looked at the Marquis and laughed.
'Do you know, Monsieur, M. de Rochefort has been telling me that we must no longer use powder in our hair there are so many people starving and they need the flour for bread!'
The Marquis gave her glance for glance.
'Mademoiselle is more charming in déshabillé without powder,' he said slowly.
M. de Rochefort looked at him sharply. M. de Sarcey turned his full dark eyes on him with an unveiled gaze, and the other man knew instantly that an implacable enemy was facing him.
That night Pélagie lay restless in uneasy sleep; she thought, for some while, that her sister was in the room; standing at the end of the bed and gazing down between the silk curtains She stared at this figure, half seen, and mysterious and at last, with a great effort, dragged herself into a sitting posture.
'Is it Eugénie?' she asked faintly.
'It is I, Pélagie, I was waiting for you to wake,' answered her sister's voice.
Pélagie was more terrified by this human encounter than she had been by her half-remembered nightmare.
'Oh, God, what do you want with me?' she cried.
Eugénie came round the side of the bed and stood between her sister and the window.
'I want to speak to you, Pélagie. To-morrow is your wedding day—there is so little time. It seemed so strange to me,' she added passionately, 'that you could sleep to-night!'
'I have not been sleeping,' answered the elder sister fretfully. 'I have had terrible dreams and my head aches!'
'Poor Pélagie!' said Eugénie softly. 'Shall I light the lamp?'
'Yes, if you want to talk. Why 'do you come like this to frighten me?'
'Did you not say your dreams terrified you?' replied Eugénie. 'I have come to save you from those dreams.'
She moved about the room lightly, found the little gilt lamp, the flint and tinder, the taper, and struck a light.
She set it on the tulip-wood table by the bed. Pélagie, without powder, paint, hoop or head-dress, looked entirely different from the gorgeous figure that had moved through the gavotte with M. de Sarcey a few hours ago. She showed now as merely a sickly young woman, haggard and disturbed.
Eugénie looked at her keenly.
'Pélagie,' she said under her breath, 'you must not marry Donatien de Sarcey to-morrow.'
'Why not to-morrow—the day is fixed!' cried Pélagie. 'Neither to-morrow nor any other day,' answered Eugénie. Pélagie shivered.
'I will not have you come and speak to me of this again—it was never to be mentioned—this—disgraceful thing,' she stammered in weak anger.
'I also meant never to speak again,' said Eugénie slowly, 'but it is something too strong for any of our vows. Pélagie, during these dreadful days when we have not dared to speak, hardly to glance at each other, have you not understood how impossible it all is?'
Pélagie did not care for this rending aside of the veil; her frightened heart preferred to shelter behind ambiguous passivity, the subterfuge of submission and silence. Her attempt at frankness with M. de Sarcey had been met with a brutal repulse that had caused her to yet further shrink into herself. She could make no effort to alter a destiny too strong for her to meddle with, and the sight of Eugénie's beauty and Eugénie's emotion hardened her. Since the day of the marriage contract-signing, jealousy and bitterness had been slowly killing her one-time affection for her sister. Now she made anew an attempt to thrust all this trouble and horror into the background.
'What has happened to you again, Eugénie?' she asked. 'You have been so docile. I thought you were reconciled to M. de Rochefort.'
'I can never marry him nor any man but Donatien de Sarcey I thought I could—I tried, but I cannot. I warn you that I cannot, Pélagie.'
'Warn me!' exclaimed the elder girl.
'Warn you that if I am forced—if he is forced—something terrible will happen,' said Eugénie, speaking with difficulty.
As if unable to any longer stand she seated herself in the little gold cane chair by the bedside.
Pélagie noted with envious eyes how the lamplight fell on the little curls that escaped the loose cap and fell on the fair white neck.
'I do not understand why you come to torture me with this,' she said bitterly, 'why you try to revive, at the last moment, all this scandal and trouble. I can do nothing you know that.'
'You can refuse to marry him—refuse,' said Eugénie eagerly.
'But if he does not wish it?' asked Pélagie blushing. Pélagie—he loves me.'
'Then why did he write that letter?'
'I do not know. It does not matter, really. I suppose we each thought we could do what was expected of us—'
She paused and clasped her hands tightly in her lap.
Pélagie eyed her with increasing anger—the anger of the ignored and slighted woman. She felt a deep and growing indignation that she should be so outraged and humiliated.
'The Marquis de Sarcey does not wish the marriage evaded or postponed,' she said coldly.
Eugénie raised brilliant eyes.
'Oh, Pélagie! He wished me to run away with him tonight—he wanted to take me away with him from the fête—twice he offered to forgo this marriage if I wished!'
Pélagie's sallow face flushed painfully.
'I do not believe anything so shameful!' she cried hotly; 'it is impossible!'
'Why do you harden yourself against me?' asked her sister. 'I do not want to hurt you—why should you be hurt? It was just an arranged marriage—it does not slight you that we care for each other. Many other good matches will come your way. But for me there is only this one thing in the world.'
Pélagie threw herself down on the pillows and lay with her: face half hidden.
'How could you ever think to marry him,' added Eugénie, 'when you know that he loves me?'
But Pélagie clung to the conventions, to the laws and codes by which she was justified, before which she had bee bitterly wronged. The man was hers before all the laws by which they regulated their lives. If he had never seen Eugénie, the marriage would never have been interfered with by a breath, and he would have cared for her as much as most men care for their wives; and she would have had her brilliant position, her great name—all that her limited ambitions had ever yearned for.
As she considered these things she felt a stronger resentment, a deeper bitterness against Eugénie.
'All this talk is useless,' she said. 'Everything must be left as it is—'
Eugénie turned towards her earnestly.
'Listen, Pélagie. When he spoke like that to-night I repulsed him. I insulted him—I refused to listen, I quoted M. de Rochefort—God help me! I tried to think of you, of all of us, of honour and dignity. I talked to him no more—he left without a farewell. And then, as soon as I was alone and could listen to my own heart, I knew the truth.'
Pélagie's dark eyes stared up from the tumbled pillow.
'And I thought I would come and tell the truth to you,' continued Eugénie unsteadily. 'What is the use of lies to any of us?'
'What do you mean by this truth?' asked the elder sister hoarsely.
'I mean that I know that honour and dignity do not really matter, that I do not care about anything, that I wanted to go with him to-night—on any terms—that I know he will not cease to pursue, and that one day I shall yield—and therefore you must not marry him—'
'Stop,' said Pélagie, sitting up. 'You speak wickedly! Do you mean that if he was my husband you would still foster this foolish fancy?'
'I have warned you,' she said.
'I do not know where you learned these horrible things,' she whispered. 'You, a year from the convent! But you were always wild and strange—'
Eugénie suddenly fell on her knees on the bed step and dropped her lovely head on the coverlet.
'It would be a crime for you to marry him,' she said in a stifled voice.
Pélagie stared over the bent figure; her eyes were blank with misery. No rush of strong or generous emotion helped her over this moment; her heart was depressed,' her body chilled. She had neither the security of one in the right nor the courage of one in the wrong. She clung to convention, yet could not wholly believe in it, she tried to think herself virtuous in her attitude, yet secretly only felt herself mean. Something within her told her Eugénie was right, yet her desires and her convictions said that Eugénie was wrong. She did not dare to one or the other opinion, but shivered between two extremes.
When she thought of Donatien de Sarcey she was afraid to go on with her marriage; when she thought of her parents she was afraid to draw back.
And mingled with all these feelings, and perhaps the strongest of any was jealousy of the woman who had put her in such a position, a bitterness almost amounting to hatred against the beauty, the vitality, the passion, which had made her poor little personality, her timid little feelings, her shivering little dreams, count as nothing.
She stared at the window, and the tears slowly filled her eyes and burnt the tired lids.
The dawn, pale and fresh and still, was breaking behind the house-tops and the trees. The birds moved and sang in the depths of the June blossoms, the clear light spread further and further across the sky which changed to a faint clear green colour.
'My wedding day,' thought Pélagie.
By turning her head she could see through the open door of the adjoining closet where her bridal dress hung ready on the stand covered by sheets of silver paper, to the white boxes of the mantua-makers, and the caskets on the ormolu table which held the jewels she was to wear.
Pélagie looked from this to the motionless figure of her sister.
'How useless it has been, all this pain and trouble—he will not look at me to-morrow.'
She pictured herself alone in his Paris hôtel, for she made no doubt that he would leave her at once to return to Versailles, and for a moment she felt that she would rather face the wrath of her parents than that utter loneliness and humiliation.
Eugénie raised her face; she was flushed, but she had not been weeping; her dry eyes hardened Pélagie.
With every moment now the daylight was strengthening; the rays of the lamp no longer showed, only the red flame cast a dull glow over the two women, so close to each other, alike in grief, so different in all else.
Eugénie clasped her hands on the coverlet.
'If you will not have compassion on yourself—on him—have pity on me,' she said desperately. 'You used to be fond of me, Pélagie, oh, will you not have mercy now?'
'And what of me!' cried the elder sister wildly. 'Is no one to have compassion on me?'
'Pélagie, if you do this you will be happy—they will send you to the country for a while, that is all.'
'I shall go to him,' whispered Eugénie.
Pélagie laughed hysterically. 'But you would have no dowry—and he is broken with debts!'
'We could leave the country.'
'To leave all honour behind!'
'Did I not tell you that honour has ceased to count?' said Eugénie. 'Somehow we should come together. Listen, Pélagie,' she put out her hands and seized her sister's cold wrists. 'Things are changing—one feels it, even the servants talk of it; change is in the air, great and terrible things may happen. M. de Rochefort was telling me last night, even the Government shakes, and for the first time in centuries the people speak—perhaps the things that we hold so much by will not have so much value, money and titles and luxury. Do you not feel all this?'
She moistened her lips and pressed the cold hands of the silent woman to whom she spoke.
'Do you not understand something of this, Pélagie?'
The elder sister fixed her gaze on the dawn that glowed now through the long window.
'Do you not understand what this is between Donatien de Sarcey and myself?' persisted Eugénie desperately.
'I understand that you have ruined everything,' answered Pélagie reluctantly.
'It was not I!' cried Eugénie.
'If you had not been there it would not have happened.'
'How can you be so cruel? I would not be so hard on you if you told me of some love of yours!'
Pélagie looked at her wildly. 'You know that no one will ever love me,' she replied.
'Nay, why are you bitter?'
'How can you tell that I could not have grown to love this man who is to be my husband?'
There was no mistaking the jealousy, the enmity of her tone.
As she looked round and saw the room full of daylight she shivered from head to foot.
'See, there are my wedding clothes,' cried Pélagie, pointing to the closet. The people will soon be here to dress me—how can I cause a scandal now?'
'Better that scandal now than the tragedy there will be afterwards,' answered Eugénie passionately.
Pélagie flung herself down in the bed, her face in the pillows.
'Oh, God!' cried Eugénie, looking round, 'there is so little time! Will you not, by all you hold sacred, think of what you do before it is too late?'
Pélagie did not look up, her answer came muffled and hoarse: 'If you have any respect for me—for yourself, for our parents, you will leave me before my chamber women come.'
Eugénie gazed at her with a look of almost incredulous despair; the thin huddled figure, every line of which was clear in the growing light, suddenly seemed to her hateful.
'Is that your answer, Pélagie?'
Now the elder sister raised her haggard face.
'It is my answer.'
Eugénie looked at her a moment before she turned away, 'You will bring a curse upon us all,' she said.
The royal sitting of the States General having been finally fixed for the 23rd of June, the Marquis de Sarcey was recalled, by that date, three days after his marriage, to Versailles.
The officers of his company were eager in asking him the condition of Paris; that of Versailles, they said, was alarming.
M. de Sarcey had not noticed the condition of Paris, he was in a humour strangely fierce and sullen for one who was so indomitably proud, and showed no interest in the affairs of the Court nor in the sittings of the Assembly of M. de Mirabeau, as the third estate was now generally called.
He was even impatient when one of his acquaintances, the Prince de Lambesc, began to recount to him what had happened since he had left Versailles.
'M. d'Artois turned them out of the salle du jeu de paume with the excuse of wishing to play there, and the canaille, with half the rabble of the town at their heels, actually went to the Church of St. Louis and held their sitting there!'
'Why were they not dispersed by the soldiery?' asked M. de Sarcey impatiently.
M. de Lambesc shrugged his shoulders.
'M. d'Artois wished to, but His Majesty restrained him—'
M. de Sarcey's glance showed utter contempt for His Majesty.
'How then is it proposed to deal with these dogs?' he demanded.
'The King will make a speech to-day—'
'Who wrote it?'
'One supposes it is the work of the Queen and M. d'Artois. M. Necker washes his hands of it, I know, and I think the King is in considerable agitation. Also M. de Provence.'
'What are the points of this speech?' asked the Marquis with a slight show of interest.
'He means to put an end to all this brawling and confusion,' returned M. de Lambesc confidently. 'M. d'Artois told me that all the resolutions and oaths of the third estate will be annulled and they will be ordered to vote the supplies without troubling themselves about anything else:
'And so good-bye to all their dreams of attacking the privileges of the nobility,' smiled M. de Sarcey grimly. 'We were to be taxed, were we not? All feudal charters torn up, all levies renounced?'
'I believe,' laughed the Prince, 'that was the scheme of M. de Mirabeau.'
This reminded the Marquis of the mission entrusted to him by the Queen and which he had utterly forgotten in the tumult of his own affairs.
It was now too late to see the popular leader before the royal sitting, afterwards, the Marquis hoped, it would not be necessary.
'M. de Mirabeau had better take care,' he answered.
'The fellow is beside himself,' said M. de Lambesc; 'he is doing this because he is desperate. I believe he has no money at all till the old Marquis dies, and then the estates are encumbered—with paying his debts, of course—the Mounier affair cost something.'
'Three years of Vincennes,' said the Marquis, 'and it was worth it, if he loved the woman.'
M. de Lambesc glanced curiously at the speaker; he had never thought to hear M. de Sarcey so express himself.
'Caught at last,' he reflected. 'Can it possibly be his wife?'
The two young officers were now joined by a third, M. de Rochefort.
He looked tired, almost ill in the grey light of the rainy day which fell through the tall window near which they stood.
M. de Sarcey had not seen him or Eugénie since the evening of Madame de Haultpenne's fête; the young Duke's leave had been for a few hours only, and he had returned at once to Versailles.
This sudden sight of him shook the Marquis. Eugénie, defying him, repulsing him, hating him, he had last seen leaning on this man's arm.
He looked out of the window so that his face might not betray him.
But M. de Rochefort was far too disturbed to notice the demeanour of the Marquis.
'Are you on duty to-day?' he asked M. de Lambesc.
'Yes, my troop keep the courtyard—and you, Monsieur?'
'The régiment de Bourgogne are to keep the gates—'
'An ugly temper is expected in the crowd?'
'Yes, do you not think so?' replied M. de Rochefort. 'My God,' he added, in great agitation, 'is there no one to stop the King? No one to tell him what he will rouse to-day, what a mad and dangerous things he does to insult and defy the people?'
'M. Necker advised him to be moderate, I think,' said M. de Lambesc, 'but it is the Queen and M. d'Artois—'
'The Queen!' exclaimed the Duke in a tone of deep reproach.
M. de Sarcey turned swiftly now and advanced a step between the two officers.
'That is a strange tone in which to name Her Majesty in the corridors of Versailles,' he said with great haughtiness.
M. de Lambesc was startled, and, being a peaceable man, strove to be conciliatory.
'We talk too much of politics,' he said, 'and confuse our wits.'
'We shall have more than this to confuse our wits, Monsieur,' said M. de Rochefort; 'the times are terrible. Paris is almost in revolt.'
He spoke to the Prince, ignoring both the challenge and the person of the Marquis.
'Revolts can be put down,' said M. de Lambesc.
'Not without men or money, Monsieur,' returned the Duke. 'Not with such a Government as ours.'
He smiled again and passed on.
'M. de Rochefort is depressing,' said M. de Lambesc with some uneasiness.
'A friend of these plebeians, of Mirabeau, of Lafayette, and the Americans!' answered M. de Sarcey with deep scorn. 'He is not fit to wear the uniform of France.'
'I have never heard you speak of any man with such hate,' remarked the other.
'Perhaps I never had such cause to hate any man,' replied M. de Sarcey; 'but that tale is not for now.'
But M. de Lambesc could hardly restrain his curiosity.
'M. de Rochefort seems to me so particularly inoffensive,' he remarked.
'Inoffensive!' sneered the Marquis. 'I suppose a rat or any other vermin would seem inoffensive until it crossed your path.'
'What has M. de Rochefort done to you?' asked the Prince.
M. de Sarcey suddenly laughed.
'Irritated me, my dear friend, irritated me, like the poor silly fool he is. And now, Monsieur, it is time we were at our posts. I believe I am in attendance on His Majesty.'
'Oh, Lord!' yawned M. de Lambesc, 'I wish the States would vote the supplies and end the business—I have never been so bored in my life.'
'If they would let us charge the mob,' said M. de Sarcey; 'but the King has as much courage as a girl of ten.'
He gave M. de Lambesc a fleeting smile and turned away.
He was tired, restless and desperately unhappy; the two days since his marriage he had spent in his house at Auteuil. The tears and misery of his wife had been fuel to the flame of his own unhappy wrath; he had neither been able to obtain a glimpse of Eugénie nor to get into any communication with her, and her marriage with M. de Rochefort had been announced in the porte-claquette.
M. de Sarcey took this as a direct insult flung at him by the Haultpenne family, and as an insult that Eugénie had endorsed. His pride and his unreasonable passion were both inflamed almost to madness; he had slept too little and drunk too much and was in a reckless condition of mind ready for any desperate action.
He appeared, however, among the officers who escorted the King to the sitting of the States General, outwardly calm, inwardly ready for any savage devilry that might offer.
The meeting was again held in the salle des petits plaisirs, and the third estate were kept waiting in the courtyard while the seats were arranged for the nobility and clergy.
The day being one of steady rain, the commoners, when finally permitted to enter were greeted with shouts of mocking laughter on account of their wet and draggled appearance; they took their seats, however, without protest.
The nobles continued to make open comment on this amusing episode, which was known to be a device on the part of the Queen and her following to openly humiliate the third estate.
And indeed the plain black robes of the commoners, clinging wet to the often ungainly figures of shopkeepers and farmers, afforded an ill contrast to the rich suit, the gold lace, the sword and plume which were allowed to the first order and which were set off by all the elegance and ease of men born to luxury and display.
The jokes, the whispers and the laughter had not ceased when the King entered.
He was accompanied by the Queen, the Princes of his house and his Court.
The States rose and the royal procession came round and paused by the throne, the places being assigned by the Master of the Ceremonies.
The King was a heavy man, the seeds of hereditary disease, checked by great care and great skill, had given him a false air of health and robustness, but he was neither strong nor sound, being too stout for his age and weighted by the lethargy produced by his habit of body. He lacked neither kindness nor intelligence, and his inclinations were all towards what was just, thoughtful and good, but he fatally lacked energy and moral courage, and all his impulses were clouded and hindered by his natural sloth and by his profound faith in his race and his position.
Beside him, the Queen, erect, graceful, sharp and brilliant as a fine sword, full of vitality and energy, appeared royal indeed. She wore her robes with haughty unconsciousness, and her bright blue eyes, full of disdain and defiance, swept a proud, challenging glance over the ranks of the third estate. The Comte de Provence looked, as Louis, heavy and dull, but the King's younger brother, the Comte d'Artois, was in close attendance on the Queen and was the first to lead the jests and laughter at the expense of the wet and shivering commoners.
Marie Antoinette smiled and whispered to her brother-in-law behind her fan.
The King, still standing, spoke a few words. He said that, as during a sitting of two months, the States had not been able to agree, he was letting them know his will, so that there might be an end to these unhappy delays and divisions.
He spoke quietly and without expression; a profound silence followed as he seated himself on the throne, the Queen taking her place on his right.
She still continued, with a gay and frivolous air, to whisper over her shoulder to M. d'Artois, who stood behind her, together with M. de Condé and other princes of the blood.
A secretary now stepped forward and started to read the sovereign will. It was couched in the terms M. de Lambesc had described to de Sarcey, and consisted in annulling all the deliberations and resolutions of the third estate and demanding the instant voting of supplies without any further reference to the wishes of the electors. It concluded by a sharp reprimand to the third estate, which was bidden to concern itself no more with the affairs of the nation, but to leave the welfare of the people in the hands of the King who alone could give happiness to France.
The language was that of a tyrant speaking to slaves, a complete defiance of all promises, pleas and disturbances; the third estate, the people they represented, the grievances they had come to redress, the reforms they had suggested, were alike completely ignored.
The sitting was declared suspended till the morrow and the secretary retired to his place.
Again complete silence.
The King rose and glanced, not without pride, at the three orders of his realm, then turned and left the hall, followed by the Court, and, almost immediately, the two first orders of the nobles and clergy.
The members of the third estate alone retained their seats, nearly six hundred of them, all drawn together with the common object of discovering some remedy for these terrible times.
There was a moment's ominous silence before one man rose from his seat.
This deputy, despite his dress of a commoner, had an air as haughty and commanding as any young noble who had laughed and sneered behind the King, and was in himself of a remarkable appearance—tall, powerful, with thick black hair carelessly dressed, his face rough, square-hewn, marked by dissipation and the ravages of disease. Yet he bore more signs of intelligence and of power than any man there, and neither the nobility of his birth, the scandals of his life nor his ruined fortunes prevented him from being the acknowledged leader of the third estate in their present desperate struggle.
Such was Honoré Gabriel Riquetti, Comte de Mirabeau, of a fighting race and a wild Italian stock. Raising his powerful arm and pointing to the throne, he spoke in a voice that echoed to the very ceiling of the hall.
'The King's words offend us and the twenty-six million of Frenchmen whom we represent—and who elected us in the hope of a better future! And despite his words, I say that we must remain faithful to the oath we took not to separate until we have given a Constitution to France!'
The words had hardly left his lips before the Master of the Ceremonies, de Bézè, entered the hall, advanced to the estrade in front of the throne, white wand in hand, and said something which the Assembly could not hear.
'Speak louder!' cried several voices.
De Bézè answered loudly in a haughty manner:
'Gentlemen, you have heard the orders of the King. The sitting is suspended.'
Mirabeau never moved from his place. His brilliant glance measured the Court functionary from head to foot; the Assembly, with tacit accord, awaited his reply.
'Yes,' he said, in a voice of thunder, 'yes, we have heard the orders that were put into the mouth of His Majesty! But you cannot be the emissary of the King to the States General, you who have here neither place nor right to speak! You are not the man to remind us of the royal commands! However, I tell you this, that if you were really sent to disperse us, that you must go and fetch the soldiery, for we are here as representatives of the nation and shall not abandon our posts save at the point of the bayonet!'
At this challenge the Assembly rose as one man with one great cry:
'We shall stay—as we have sworn to stay!'
And a fair young man with glasses, who was one Robespierre, a young lawyer of some distinction and perhaps the coolest person amid the fierce excitement, whispered to his neighbour:
'Do you understand what has happened? The King has lost—and forever.'
There was some confusion in the palace of Versailles and much confusion in the town.
Towards two o'clock, as the Assembly still refused to disperse, carpenters were sent to dismount the seats and take away the benches. The third estate, despite this, continued the sitting until six in the evening, passing the momentous resolution that they persisted in their previous measures and proclaimed the persons of the deputies sacred during the present session; not one of them was to be touched or interfered with, on pain of the instant wrath and reprisals of the French nation.
It was a complete answer to the challenge of the King.
The most ominous sign—to the Court at least—was that the garde française, had been ordered to fire on the crowd when it swarmed up to the gates of the château—and not a man had moved.
'If we cannot trust the army—' said the Queen. She was quite bewildered by this turn of events; never in her most despondent moments had she thought that the Assembly would go to this extreme of defiance, or that the people would so dare to support their deputies.
Every post brought accounts of a terrible condition of affairs in the provinces; the people were starving, besieging in their despair houses and farms, shouting for bread, robbing fruit and vegetables from the gardens of châteaux and convents and the keepers and servants of noble and priest, like the soldiers in the courtyard of Versailles, were not firing nor interfering, either out of fear or sympathy.
The news from Paris was bad; newspapers had been suppressed, clubs closed, agitators arrested, but the tumult grew the same; young Camille Desmoulins was speaking to the people in the Palais Royal, ten thousand were gathered there.
The Prince de Lambesc with his allemands royals, was at once dispatched to the capital; other soldiers were to follow.
There was a stir and a confusion, a movement of fear and expectation such as had not been seen since that May day, fifteen years ago, when the last King lay dying.
So thought the Marquis de Sarcey as he mingled with that anxious crowd.
The strange times, the excitement that was in the air, the sense that this was the eve of new and strange events, had at last penetrated his self-absorption, and all that was wild and lawless in his nature was awakened and pleased by the prospect of fierce and bloody action. For the moment even the image of Eugénie was dimmed; he envied M. de Lambesc; he would have liked to cut through the Paris mob at the head of his troop.
He made his way into the presence of the Queen. The King no one had seen; it was said that he had returned to Marly. Such a thing was unlikely, indeed hardly possible, but the rumour served to answer those who inquired for His Majesty. The Queen looked haggard; the Marquis noticed that she was considerably changed since he had seen her last.
But she had lost nothing of her pride nor in any way altered her point of view; she felt herself for the moment defeated in a way in which she had never thought to be defeated. But she was prepared to strike the harder and more desperately in order to triumph next time.
She had many men with her now in her beautiful little withdrawing-room: M. de Broglie, the war minister; M. de Besueval, commandant of Paris; M. d'Artois, fierce and agitated; M. de Condé, passive but full of immovable obstinate pride; several young nobles like M. de Sarcey, the flower of the first estate, ardent, excited, roused at last to realise that this thing they had so long scoffed at was dangerous.
She welcomed M. de Sarcey cordially; she felt her main strength rested in men such as this. He had come to protest the loyalty of his troop, the readiness of himself for any service, and was a very splendid and gallant young figure as he kissed the pale fingers she offered.
'Are your men loyal, Monsieur?' asked Marie Antoinette sadly. 'Yesterday two companies of the garde française did not fire when ordered.'
'Why did your Majesty withdraw the garde du corps?' demanded M. de Sarcey impetuously. 'I would have cut down people and soldiery alike.'
'Perhaps others were of your opinion,' said M. d'Artois bitterly, 'but His Majesty is always for moderation.'
'And there is no doubt that the people were dangerous,' added M. de Broglie. 'His Grace of Paris had his coach doors smashed. I believe they would have stopped him had not his horses been too fresh—'
'Soldiers, soldiers!' cried the Queen, throwing up her head. 'If the French cannot be relied upon, employ the foreign troops, Monsieur de Broglie.' Her blue eyes flashed at the newly appointed minister of war who was to accomplish by force all that diplomacy had so long struggled in vain to achieve.
'You are a brave soldier, M. le Maréchal,' she added, 'and a famous one—you have done much abroad—now we ask you to do something at home—silence this canaille, restore order. It must be done.'
'Madame,' replied the Duc de Broglie earnestly. 'I have ordered up regiments to the number of thirty thousand—the Pandours—the Swiss château vieux-the troops of M. Esterhazy and Salis Samade—'
'Enough,' said the Queen, 'bring up all you can—I rely more on the Swiss and German, I rely most of all on you yourself, Monsieur.'
She smiled brightly at him, well used to paying with smiles, and dismissed him to his headquarters.
She turned now to M. de Besueval. The commandant of Paris was full of comfort.
Montmartre was being fortified, cannon guarded the bridge of Sèvres—it was not likely that the people could do much; they were starving. No one could fight on a diet of husks and offal.
'Poor wretches!' murmured the Queen.
'Then you do not fear much disturbance in Paris?' asked M. d'Artois.
M. de Besueval could not say; he advised bringing up all the military possible. He thought there might be bloodshed, these meetings in the Palais Royal were dangerous.
'Why have they ever been permitted?' asked the Queen indignantly. 'Why are not these people scattered? And men like this Desmoulins, why are they not arrested?'
'Madame—if one cannot rely on the police or the soldiers—they also being of this canaille—' Marie Antoinette tapped her foot impatiently.
'Take your cannon into the Palais Royal if need be, Monsieur!' she cried, 'but quiet Paris.'
And so M. de Besueval was dismissed to his gigantic task.
M. de Sarcey had listened to these conversations with ill-concealed impatience; he was convinced, in his supreme self-confidence, that if he had held the place of either M. de Broglie or M. de Besueval he would have known how to act.
He admired the Queen; he had long been the companion of her amusements, and had become used to her as a witty, charming woman, a gracious mistress and a loyal friend. Now he saw her in a new aspect, resolute, fiery, undaunted. He was sure that she would never yield, even if the mob rushed into her apartments as they had into those of M. Necker, even if all her soldiers played her false and let her enemies within her gates. His blood tingled with the desire to support her, to do her some service.
'Had I been on guard in the court, Madame,' he said impetuously, 'the crowd would not have entered the palace.'
The Queen smiled at him; her mood responded to his. She had often admired in him what he had only just discovered in her; unflinching courage and a pride unable to admit defeat.
'I believe it,' she said.
'If your Majesty would send me to Paris—'
'It is all in the hands of M. de Broglie—and I should like to keep you at Versailles,' answered Marie Antoinette.
M. de Condé spoke with a smile of self-satisfaction: 'We are putting up cannon on the Queen's stable—'
'It covers the "National Assembly,"' added M. d'Artois. 'The sight may inspire them in their deliberations—'
'You have not seen M. de Mirabeau?' asked the Queen suddenly.
'Nay, Madame, I have been in Paris.'
'For your marriage, yes, of course.'
'I am grieved to seem negligent,' continued the Marquis, really vexed that he had not carried out the Queen's commands.
'It is of no moment,' she answered, rather sadly. 'M. d'Artois sent an emissary—it was no use.'
The rogue,' said M. d'Artois, with heat, 'is holding out until he can sell his friendship at a higher price.'
'After yesterday he is worth a high price,' remarked M. de Condé laconically.
'He has defeated us,' said the Queen quietly. 'Without him the Assembly would have dispersed—now the King will have to make concessions.'
The very word fired M. de Sarcey.
'The King will make concessions!' he cried.
'At the moment he may have to,' said M. d'Artois bitterly.
For a moment the Marquis was silent; he remembered what M. de Rochefort had said: He had a curious impression that the world had changed, that some things that had been could never be again; this sensation both cooled and steadied him. When he presently left the Queen's presence his demeanour was serious and he was thinking less of Eugénie than since he had met her; his attention was now fixed on the part he might play in the crisis that might be impending.
The palace was full of the staff of M. de Broglie. M. Necker was closeted with the King, who was not hunting at Marly but deep in doleful consultation with his minister.
M. de Besueval had returned to Paris, fresh troops at his back; cannon was being dragged into place in the royal park, the tramp and rattle of the regiments pouring into the town became as incessant, as meaningless as the sound of the sea becomes to the dwellers on the shore.
M. de Sarcey received the orders of M. de Broglie to take his troop and clear the Paris road in front of the palace gates.
He went at once, with about fifty men, and took up his station in front of the great iron gates that divided the palace from the road.
An immense crowd had gathered and were surging to and fro in the broad avenue; at sight of the cavalry they began to mutter.
The Marquis, reining in his great black horse at the head of his men, heard some of the comments.
'The chevaux légers! the Marquis de Sarcey's troops!'
'Best be quiet—these are not like the garde française.'
'Will they fire?'
'Let them fire!'
The Marquis sat motionless, enjoying their hate; his immovable figure in the brilliant uniform with the haughty white Bourbon cockade stood for this people for all that threatened and wronged them.
At the first sign of resistance he meant to use force, and he calculated that he had not enough men to deal with such a number; he turned to his orderly and ordered him to go to the palace and ask for reinforcements.
The dark eyes of the aristocrat flickered over the crowd with amusement and scorn; then his glance fell on a face quite near to him, that was like a flower amid these other faces.
It was the pure simple face of a young girl, of that frail loveliness not uncommon in early youth. She wore a green gown and a straw hat with green ribbons; she seemed out of place, bewildered if not frightened.
As the Marquis de Sarcey looked at her she looked at him, and coloured, shrinking a little. He recalled her, even her name; he had a good memory.
She was Rose Deshoulières; a girl who had once given him some roses.
Somehow she reminded him of Eugénie, though she was utterly dissimilar in appearance, and the thwarted passion woke and stung. He turned sharply in his saddle; the reinforcements were coming across the courtyard and through the open gates.
They were a detachment of the régiment de Bourgogne, and M. de Rochefort was in command.
'Now what devil sent him here?' thought the Marquis, and his mood swung swiftly to one of rage against all the world.
He spoke quietly, as if he addressed a stranger.
'You have been sent to support me, Monsieur? The rabble are getting out of hand, and I am going to charge them if they do not immediately disperse.'
'For God's sake,' cried the young Duke, 'think what you do!'
Twilight was obscuring the splendour of the June day; the two officers were in shadow as they faced each other in front of the pushing, muttering crowd which was every moment becoming more dense and more restless.
'I think of my orders, Monsieur,' replied the Marquis, with extreme haughtiness.
'Surely even M. de Broglie has not ordered these people to be cleared by force?'
'Monsieur, were you sent here to take command?' demanded M. de Sarcey.
The Duke flushed; it was plain that the Marquis hated him, and he was at a loss to know why. 'This is no moment for our personal dislikes, Monsieur,' he said coldly. 'You are in command here and will do as you please. But I conjure you most earnestly, be most careful now—a false step might cause undreamt-of mischief—'
'I obey the orders of M. de Broglie,' flashed the Marquis.
'M. de Broglie is a soldier, not a statesman, he hardly understands what he does. Do you think France can be silenced now by a round of grapeshot?'
'You talk as one would expect the friend of ranting plebeians to talk,' replied M. de Sarcey. 'Why do you not put off your uniform and join those with whom you sympathise?'
M. de. Rochefort answered gravely in perfect command of his temper.
'The reason for your persistent insults I shall demand later. Now I only do my duty in warning you to be prudent.'
'Warning me?' smiled the Marquis. 'I answer to M. de Broglie.'
'M. de Broglie! You will answer to the God above us if you provoke bloodshed now. These poor people do no harm. They are here to see that M. Necker does not depart—to catch a glimpse of the Assembly—they are half of them women and most of them hungry.' He spoke with deep feeling and his face was pale.
M. de Sarcey turned his back on him and gave the command to his sergeant.
'The people press too near the gates, advance your men to keep them back.'
The conversation between the two officers had been watched by the crowd with a certain earnest wistfulness; for a moment their movement and their excitement was in suspension, but as the cavalry began to advance upon them, clearing the way with the hoofs and breasts of the horses, making the crowd press back on each other, their temper turned swiftly to resentment.
Several bitter shouts arose; the names of the Queen, of M. d'Artois and of M. de Sarcey were coupled with insults.
The Marquis, his face distorted with rage, advanced his charger against the close ranks of the people, as if he had been pressing through undergrowth.
M. de Rochefort tried to manage his plunging horse so as not to harm the frightened people near him.
'It is men such as you,' he cried bitterly, 'who have brought about the downfall of France!'
A labouring man who was being forced off his feet, suddenly turned and struck M. de Sarcey's horse in the face; the animal reared, and it took all the skill of the Marquis to keep his seat.
It was the signal for which he had been waiting; as he recovered his seat he drew his sabre and turned in his saddle to call to his men.
But M. de Rochefort had seized his bridle.
'There are women, girls here,' he said desperately. 'Think of Madame la Marquise—'
He used the name of the few days' wife in good faith; he would not believe that any man could be so utterly indifferent to the woman whom he had just married that the thought of her could entirely fail to awaken some tenderness. But to M. de Sarcey the recollection of Pélagie's pale weeping face was merely hateful, and to be reminded of her existence by M. de Rochefort nothing but a bitter affront.
He shook off the young Duke's restraining hand as if he had been one of the crowd, and gave the order to charge; if his men had been armed with carbines it would have been an order to fire.
Instantly the ranks of the chevaux légers glittered with steel as the sabres sprang from the scabbards.
The Marquis's horse plunged forward, he heard the clatter of his cavalry behind him, saw the shrieking mob fall away in front, heard M. de Rochefort cry out, and swept forward, striking right and left with the flat of his sword.
The defenceless people went down with incredible swiftness; those at the back fled, vanishing instantly, like rabbits burrowing underground; those in front were ridden down, scattered to right and left.
The Marquis felt his bridle suddenly wrenched; he struck downwards with the flat of his sword; something shrieked, something fell; his startled horse reared.
He looked down.
The girl in the green gown was lying in the trodden dust; she raised herself to her knees; her hat still clung by the green ribbons to the fallen black hair; she flung her arm up over her eyes, under it blood could be seen trickling down her chin and over the cheap cambric at her throat.
'I meant no harm!' she cried.
The oncoming soldiery who were now driving the people before them in every direction would have trampled her down, but the Marquis flung up his sword to stay them.
'Take up this woman,' he commanded.
Before he could be obeyed, M. de Rochefort had pushed to the front.
Breathless, he flung himself from the saddle and stooped over the girl.
'I think that you have killed this child!' he cried, as he stooped to lift the piteous figure.
'She should have chosen better company,' said the Marquis.
The Avenue was now clear except for those who had fallen; the deepening dusk prevented M. de Sarcey from seeing how many there were, but he was satisfied. Sheathing his sword, he ordered his troop back to their posts.
In the early days of July de Sarcey went to see M. de Mirabeau, whose services had now become invaluable to the Court.
He found the man who was the soul of the opposition to the Court in the small garden of the modest house where he was lodging. It was very hot, even now, towards the evening and M. de Mirabeau was seated under a little trellis of vines near the garden wall; he seemed very much at his ease and had wine on a table at his side.
He rose when he saw M. de Sarcey, and came a step forward.
He had been slow in granting this interview, the purport of which he understood perfectly.
Instinctively the two men eyed and measured each other, perhaps with the more interest as there was something similar in their type. They had, in common, a certain boldness, a certain audacity, a physical and mental power unflinching and unscrupulous.
Here the likeness ended. M. de Sarcey had nothing of the experience and brilliance of M. de Mirabeau, and M. de Mirabeau had nothing of the beauty and elegance of M. de Sarcey. Yet, though ten years older, ugly, plainly dressed and scarred with disease, M. de Mirabeau was fully able to hold his own with the young officer.
Both were peers of France, both were wild and impetuous. Had the man now deputy of the third estate been brought up in the same way as Donatien de Sarcey, he might have been what that young man was; had Donatien de Sarcey been brought up as M. de Mirabeau, he might have behaved the same, been as lawless, as often in prison, as defiant now of his own class and order, as eager to cast down the privileges which had been denied him.
Even at this first glance there was no antipathy between them.
They laughed, and seated themselves side by side in the little arbour.
'This visit will do me no good with my friends of the Assembly,' said M. de Mirabeau. 'Do you know that you have a very bad name among us plebeians, M. le Marquis?'
'For what reason?' smiled M. de Sarcey.
He was observing his companion with great curiosity; the manner of M. de Mirabeau was entirely different from the fierce and sombre air that he affected in the Assembly. He was quiet, at his ease, and spoke lightly. His dress was careless, a green cloth suit, plain ruffles, his thick wavy black hair unpowdered, but his black eyes were as compelling as ever.
'Why do we dislike you?' answered the Count, 'for your aristocratic vices, Monsieur!'
'I am complimented.'
'For your treatment of the people,' continued M. de Mirabeau, keeping his eyes on the superb young face beside him.
'Doubtless,' returned the Marquis, 'if Monsieur had owned estates like mine, he would have spent his life there, solacing his people—doubtless Monsieur would have refused to collect his taxes, however his debts might be?'
M. de Mirabeau smiled.
'If I had been in your place I should have done what you do,' he replied. 'You have had splendid fortune. I have always been an adventurer. Yet I wonder if I have not enjoyed my life as much as you have enjoyed yours?'
'Including Rhé and Vincennes?'
'Including my prisons, Monsieur.'
M. de Sarcey was fascinated by this spirit so akin to his own. For the first time in his life he felt a pang of wonder as to whether he had not missed something by the assured magnificence of his position, a sudden glimpse of how splendid it might have been to have been free even from the chains of luxury and custom.
The two looked at each other and again both laughed.
'You play a strange part, M. le Comte,' said M. de Sarcey. 'I do not envy you your present position.'
'In a few months, nay, in a few weeks, you may be very glad to change places with me, Monsieur,' replied the Count calmly.
The finality of his tone startled M. de Sarcey.
'What do you think will happen?' he asked curiously. 'Revolution,' said M. de Mirabeau concisely. 'The overthrow of the Monarchy. The overthrow of such men as you, M. le Marquis.'
Again Donatien de Sarcey laughed.
'I fear that you are a visionary, M. de Mirabeau,' he remarked.
'No, I am a very practical man.' The black eyes flashed. 'And that is why I am where I am. On the winning side. You, Monsieur, have come with offers from the Court. The Queen, I suppose. You were a foolish choice, but everything the Court does is—damned foolish. Well, my answer is very simple—it is No to all your offers.'
'Monsieur is then so pure a patriot?' sneered M. de Sarcey.
'We are not talking of my patriotism, but of my present position. I can do what I like with the Assembly. It is my creation.'
'Because of that I am here, M. le Comte.'
M. de Mirabeau leant forward on the small table that held the wineglasses.
'And do you think that my present position could be bought by anything the King could offer? I beg you to consider a moment, Monsieur, what it is, in this moment, to be the leader of the third estate!'
His full lips curved with a smile of triumphant, slightly insolent power.
'You would not admit me to your ranks, Monsieur, because I held no fief. And now I hold you all in the hollow of my hand. I can dash you down—so!' he lightly picked up a wineglass and lightly let it fall to the ground, where it shivered to pieces in the dust. 'I am the voice of the Assembly, Monsieur, and the Assembly is the voice of France. Perhaps Monsieur has hardly noticed France? She has been silent a long while, but now she begins to speak. And do you think that I would change my position in the forefront of something so tremendous for some lackey's place at Court—a pension, a ribbon, the smiles of your foolish Queen! These things have ceased to be of value, Monsieur, to men such as I.'
M. de Sarcey had listened quietly.
What has value in your eyes, Monsieur?' he asked. M. de Mirabeau answered swiftly and decisively.
'Liberty and power.'
'You are right,' said the Marquis, in quick response; 'but do you think to find these among the people?'
'There and there only. The King no longer counts, the nobles must go, the Church must fall—these things are dead and corrupted; in the third estate alone is there force and vitality.'
'We shall see,' said M. de Sarcey grimly. 'I do not see myself so easily extinguished.'
'You are a fine, bold young man,' replied M. de Mirabeau, 'and I have no doubt that you will fight to the death—but your order will be too much for you, it will drag you down—you must go, M. le Marquis.'
M. de Sarcey put his hand lightly on the hilt of his elegant sword.
'I would sooner lose all I possess and die naked in a ditch,' he said haughtily, 'than I would concede one tithe or jot to you and your damned third estate. I stand by what my ancestors have won for me. If I wear gold lace, it is because my forbears wore the red cross of the Crusades; if I carry a sword, it is because they knew how to wear and wield a weapon. We, the gentle-folk, the knights, made this France of which you boast, we keep what we have won. You, doubtless, play a clever part, M. de Mirabeau, in rousing these little clerks and shopkeepers in defiance. You were a desperate and broken man and this was your chance, and they were glad of a gentleman to give them courage. One understands. But I have a different temper. I cannot think you do a splendid thing in stirring this filth of the gutter, these dregs of humanity. But call them up, inflame the plebeians, Monsieur, set them on us, and let them pull us down if you can. I would sooner die, even that way, than I would wear the woollen cloak of a commoner or drink my wine with such as you associate with on the benches of the States General.'
M. de Mirabeau, still leaning on the table, listened to this speech with interest, never taking his intense dark eyes from the young noble's face.
'And this is the spirit of the nobles of France!' he said softly. I hope so, Monsieur.'
'There is M. d'Orléans and some like M. de Rochefort—' M. de Sarcey lifted his lip contemptuously.
'M. d'Orléans, as yourself, Monsieur, was not well received by his own order. M. de Rochefort is a fool.'
'You think so?'
'And an offensive fool,' added the Marquis, his old grievance against his rival springing to life.
'You are intolerant, Monsieur,' smiled M. de Mirabeau, 'I like you, but I see that it is quite useless for me to advise you or warn you.'
'Quite,' replied M. de Sarcey. 'I would go my own way if I saw hell across the path. I have never met yet the thing I feared. I do not think that I shall find it in your third estate.'
'You may not be frightened, but you may be destroyed,' replied M. de Mirabeau.
'Possibly. And Monsieur, is he so very safe?'
'Safe enough to reject your offers—all offers of the Court.' M. de Sarcey rose, a magnificent figure in his brilliant uniform against the dusty vine leaves of the arbour.
'Then it is useless to prolong this interview. I may assume that you stand entirely for the interests of the third estate?'
M. de Mirabeau rose also.
'No,' he replied, 'you may assume that I stand for the interests of Honoré Gabriel de Riquetti, and that for the moment these are identical with those of the third estate.'
M. de Sarcey courteously bowed his head.
'You are quite decided?'
'Quite,' replied M. de Mirabeau. 'The Court could offer me nothing,' he added with a smile, 'that I should value as much as the position I now hold. I say nothing of virtue, or patriotism, Monsieur, I merely state that the power I possess is worth more to me than any bribe offered by the order, which, as you remark, refused me admission to their ranks. I think the Court should be very careful—I think M de Broglie is a mistake. I think the Queen is behaving very foolishly I think men like yourself are riding to your ruin as surely as if you galloped over a precipice. And I am very happy, and rather proud to be with the woollen cloaks of the third estate.'
'I thank you for your frankness,' replied M. de Sarcey. 'I would gladly see you at perdition, and I hope that the devil may overtake you before we meet again—our paths are not likely to cross in the future; if you have the pleasure of hearing that I have gone down first, you may believe that I was quite content to do so in defence of my order and that I regret nothing and repent nothing.'
'I believe it,' smiled M. de Mirabeau. 'And I am more generous than you, Monsieur, for I wish you luck and that you may escape the fate I rather distinctly foresee for you—'
'It is very kind of Monsieur to become prophetic on my account,' returned the Marquis. He looked at his companion a second; they were standing close together, their eyes level.
M. de Sarcey suddenly smiled.
'Was Sophie Mounier worth three years in jail?' he asked.
M. de Mirabeau slightly started and quivered, like a horse pulled up short; his eyes narrowed; but he continued to gaze at the other unflinchingly.
'Because I want a woman I can only have at the risk of paying the price you paid,' continued the Marquis. 'Is it worth it?'
'You young devil,' muttered M. de Mirabeau. Then he added abruptly—'Yes'—and turned away.
M. de Sarcey found a considerable change when he went to Paris and it further excited his already buoyant mood. He observed that here and there the soldiers were fighting with the citizens, that most of the men and several of the women were armed, crudely but effectively, and that the appearance of fresh troops was the signal for fresh rage on the part of the crowds. He took his men to the accommodation that had been provided in the depot of M. de Lambesc in the Chaussée d'Antin. Some hussars were already there, as well as the dragoons of M. de Lambesc and M. de Rochefort's troop.
The Marquis dismounted and went into the dreary little guard-room where the officers were gathered.
M. de Rochefort was seated at the table; his hair was unpowdered and loosely tied; he rested his face in his hand and his elbow on the table; he looked both ill and sad. M. de Lambesc was calm, but he had nothing of his usual buoyancy. He stood with his feet rather far apart and was smoking Virginian in a long clay pipe.
The Marquis dropped into the rough wooden chair; he was tired with the long ride. He glanced at M. de Rochefort, the sight of whom filled him with irritation; it reminded him that his rival had had several days start of him in Paris.
'I would have come sooner,' he said; 'but M. de Broglie kept me. There is some confusion at Versailles because of this change of Ministry.
'We shall be glad of your troop,' said M. de Lambesc. 'We have had to continually disperse the crowds. Everything is in a turmoil. M. de Besueval does not seem to know his business. No billets can be found—half the soldiers sleep in the streets!'
'And the garde française?' asked the Marquis.
'You heard? They have joined the people—entered into some association or other,' replied M. de Lambesc grimly. 'They broke out of l'Abbay with the help of the people—and even the Swiss refused to fire on them.'
'And the town has armed the citizens—the burgher guard,' said M. de Rochefort. 'We are on the edge of revolution. When you have prisons forced and the soldiers refusing to fire—'
'Why all this heat on the part of Paris?' asked the Marquis. 'There seems to be a riot in every street—'
'Not Paris only—the whole country is rising,' replied M. de Rochefort. 'The surrounding of the National Assembly with soldiers was what inflamed them—and the exile of M. Necker—as anyone could have foreseen it would,' he added bitterly.
He rose, he had been on duty all the previous night and he was exhausted; the strain of the last few days in Paris had been terrible.
Taking up his hat and gloves he left the room.
M. de Sarcey gave a sideway glance after him.
'M. le Duc has lost his courage?' he questioned.
M. de Lambesc shrugged his fine shoulders.
'His nerve, I think. His marriage weighs on him,' he replied.
His marriage?' said the Marquis quietly.
'To your sister-in-law,' smiled the Prince. 'He told me he wished to hasten it and send her out of the country, at least out of Paris—'
'He does not think Paris safe.'
'Ah,' murmured the Marquis.
M. de Lambesc looked at him intently.
'Nor do I,' he said.
The Prince knocked out his pipe on the chimneypiece above the desolate hearth.
'I would not keep my wife here,' he answered composedly. 'We have again imprisoned the garde française, but it means, even if the King pardons them, one of our best regiments lost. The petit suisse are disaffected. Camille Desmoulins from the Palais Royal seems to rule Paris. The soldiers on the Champ-de-Mars are not willing to march on the capital. I see difficult times ahead—and women are better away.'
'You are thinking of the Marquise de Sarcey?' suggested the Marquis easily.
'I should send her away—to Artois, Provence, where you will. Believe me, there is no security in Paris—for anyone'
M. de Sarcey rose.
'You think she might be frightened?'
'Easily. Things look—ugly.'
The two nobles exchanged a glance.
'Do you think we can hold our own?' asked M. de Sarcey. 'No,' said M. de Lambesc. 'There is everything against us.'
They both smiled.
'Well, I must report to M. de Besueval. Will you dine with me before I go home—if a tavern is open—?'
'With pleasure. You will see for yourself the temper of the canaille. It is interesting.'
'You will be here when I return?'
'I am on duty till eight.'
'I shall be here. Au revoir, M. le Prince'
'Au revoir, M. le Marquis.'
M. de Sarcey went out into the streets of Paris with his mind and heart in a tumult. M. de Lambesc, who was no fool and had been as indifferent and sceptical as himself as to the state of affairs in France, now warned him that things were desperate, almost hopeless. M. de Rochefort thought so too, and was going to marry Eugénie under this excuse and send her out of the country.
His blood tingled at this thought. Eugénie was to be snatched from him like this—taken away from under his very nose by that pale little fool de Rochefort!
The bare idea was intolerable; he was prepared to go any lengths to prevent such an event. His mood, restrained hitherto by prudence, caution, selfishness and outside events, now veered entirely to recklessness.
He had hesitated even to see Eugénie, for he had not been prepared, even for her sake, to risk and almost certainly lose all that made life splendid. But if there was little or nothing to lose, if revolution, chaos, disaster were really ahead, might not he, as well as M. de Rochefort, snatch his love from the flames and ruins?
Only two things still held him back: his duty as a soldier, his friendship for the Queen. He reported to the Commandant of Paris, who confirmed M. de Lambesc's words.
Things were ugly indeed—not only in Paris, but all over the country. One was doing what one could, but the situation was unprecedented, and everything was lacking—money, organisation, goodwill, tact, men.
'Paris is rising at the voice of M. de Mirabeau—and that agitator Desmoulins,' said M. de Besueval bitterly; and the Marquis, recalling that interview under the dusty wine arbour, thought grimly that the wild Provencal had been right; this was more worth having than anything the Court could offer.
He dined with M. de Lambesc at one of the fashionable eating-houses then went on foot to his hôtel.
People were singing and shouting in the streets; the fights with the soldiery were becoming more frequent; respectable citizens were mingled with the outpourings of the slums in common indignation. All the shops and the lower windows of the houses were shuttered; the priests had disappeared, the officers were being insulted, the Pandours and Swiss stoned as they passed.
M. de Sarcey rather envied M. de Mirabeau.
His arrival threw his household into some confusion; he had not been expected. But everything was in order, nothing had disturbed the pomp of the splendid mansion. In a moment the servants were at their posts, silent, humble, attentive.
It was only the master in his dusty uniform, with his distracted air, who was changed, slightly different from the noble who usually kept his state here.
He asked for his wife.
She was already in bed.
'I must see her,' said the Marquis, and sent a valet to announce his coming.
A few moments later he was shown into the antechamber to Pélagie's apartments.
A maid was lighting the candles; the room was exactly as it had left the decorator's hands. The white painted walls, the gilt furniture, the Aubusson carpet, the gold clock and alabaster Cupids, the tables of rose-wood and porcelain, bore no trace of the personality of the new Marquise; she had altered, added nothing.
Something in the aspect of this luxurious room added to his weariness; he thought Eugénie's surroundings would never be like this.
When the maid had finished with the candles she withdrew, and Pélagie appeared in the inner doorway.
She looked ill with fright; a grey silk wrap was flung over her night rail and her hair was falling over her shoulders. 'Good evening, Madame,' said M. de Sarcey.
'Oh, what has happened?' cried Pélagie. 'At this hour—and in this attire'—she shrank back as if she wanted to retire into the darkness of the inner room.
'One is not forbidden to appear in déshabillé before one's husband,' smiled the Marquis grimly.
'My husband,' murmured Pélagie; she looked still bewildered with fear and confusion.
'Sit down,' he said. 'I want to speak to you.'
She dropped timidly into the nearest chair—graceful enough, pretty enough in this shaded light with her dark eyes and hair.
'I have been ordered here to Paris with my troop,' continued
M. de Sarcey. 'To-morrow I have to guard the Quartier St. Antoine. Where is your father?'
'He left for Versailles to-day. He wished to-find out for himself what is happening. Oh, Monseigneur, is it very terrible?'
'I think that it may be. Here I cannot protect you. Tomorrow you had better go to the Château de Beaucy.'
'Is—Paris—dangerous?' she gasped. 'I heard there were troops at Sevres, at the Champ-de-Mars, at St. Denis, and that we were safe. Is there peril after all?'
'There may be.' He paused, then asked abruptly, 'and Eugénie?'
'She is with our mother,' Pélagie clasped her hands tightly. 'I think they have been alarmed; there was a terrible riot when the news came of M. Necker's exile.'
'M. de Rochefort proposes to marry her at once and send her out of the country?'
'You know no more than this?'
'I heard that it was to be a private marriage,' faltered Pélagie.
'And Eugénie has consented?'
He stood quite still, with his face averted from his wife. The sight of his struggle gave her some strength.
'Please let me stay,' she said. 'I am not frightened.'
'It is impossible. I shall send the whole household to Beaucy. M. de Lambesc assured me the troops were not to be trusted.
Pélagie rose; the splendid figure in the dusty, gorgeous uniform, who mocked her with his title of 'husband,' moved her to unutterable yearning.
'I know that I can be of no use to you—but if I might stay—'
He turned his dark face towards her.
'Why do you wish to stay?' he demanded.
She coloured painfully, but she faced him with a certain dignity.
'I should not care to think that you were in danger, Monseigneur, and that I was far away.'
'I am in no danger. I am able to manage my affairs. But it would hamper me to be responsible for the safety of women. The people are dangerous and the soldiery disaffected.'
Pélagie felt desperate; to be utterly banished from all part in the affairs of men, to be swept aside with servants to a place of safety seemed to her intolerable. Timid as she was, she would rather run any risk than be relegated to such nullity of existence; she had been suppressed, in the background, for too long waiting for life to begin.
'It can be a matter of such indifference to Monseigneur what becomes of me,' she said, 'that he might gratify my desire to remain in Paris.'
'You do not understand,' he replied; 'it would not please me to see the Marquise de Sarcey alarmed by this canaille.'
She saw that now that she bore his name she had acquired a certain value in his eyes, and she was pleased with even this amount of notice; his manner was kinder to her than it had been before their marriage. She was too inexperienced to know that he was easy with her because too absorbed in other things to spare energy for anger.
'In a day or so, when you are ready, oblige me by your departure, Madame. I will write to my steward. I believe there has been some trouble there, but of course it will be easily suppressed.'
'You look tired,' said Pélagie quickly, 'and troubled, Monsieur. Could we not in these times that are so strange and dangerous, confide in each other?'
'Ah, Madame, I fear that is impossible,' he answered, and smiled a little.
He turned to go, but the Marquise tried to force an issue with him. It seemed to her tired heart, sick with brooding through long days of loneliness, that anything would be better than that he should leave her with this quiet indifference.
'I believe you hate me,' she said quietly. 'I believe that you blame me for it all—but it was not my fault.'
He stood motionless, at once deeply offended and coldly angry.
'It were better for you not to inquire either into my hates or my loves, Madame,' he replied. 'I think there was nothing of either in our marriage contract.'
In a moment, all that was tragic and bitter between them seemed to leap forward and grin at them, like a hideous face staring through rent veils.
'It were better for you to be kind to me,' said Pélagie, holding out her hand as if she kept him off; the gesture was unconscious, for he seemed to threaten her.
But he stood quietly looking at her with calm eyes.
'Good night, Madame,' he said. 'I have to return to the depot of M. de Lambesc in the Chaussée d'Antin.'
She was powerless to keep him by any further word or gesture, and he was about to leave her when a sound from outside made him pause with his hand on the door.
Pélagie turned also, listening.
It was a long roll of a drum.
'The soldiers—' stammered Pélagie.
'No—I think—the people.'
He moved swiftly to the window, pulled aside the blue silk curtains and opened the shutters; she had never seen him do anything so rapidly.
He stepped out on to the balcony and she crept up behind him and peered over his shoulder. The night was warm and still and dark, here and there the yellow light of the street lamps cast a glow over the cobbled road.
Again and again sounded the roll of a drum, steady, coming nearer.
Then round the corner of the street came a procession of people, marching in orderly fashion and lit by lanterns and torches; some of them were members of the town militia, others were citizens of all ranks and ages. They carried guns and swords and pistols.
In front of them marched the drummer, and as they passed others slipped out of the shadows and joined them, so that the procession swelled as it went.
'They are calling the citizens to arms,' said the Marquis.
As the crowd passed beneath the mansions they looked up, some of them at the square of lighted window and at the two figures standing before it; but they took no notice, only marched on, faces grim in the glow of their torches and lanterns, their hats or coats fastened with the drooping chestnut leaves, stripped, at Camille Desmoulins' command, from the trees of the Palais Royal.
So they swept out of sight into the darkness, and the roll of the drum died into the distance.
'Where did they get their arms?' murmured the Marquis. 'They must have been sacking the armourers' shops.'
'They have been doing that for several days,' whispered Pélagie, 'and the grain depots—nothing seems to prevail. They say there is a committee sitting at the Hôtel de Ville—yet they cannot restrain the people—'
She spoke with great agitation, and warm and airless as the night was, she shivered violently.
'Please do not leave me, Monsieur,' she said. 'It is not safe in the streets. Indeed, you should have seen them when they made a procession carrying the bust of M. de Necker—the allemand royals could not disperse them, and people were killed on the Pont Tournant—'
He took her gently by the shoulder and turned her back into the room.
Everything was quiet now except for the occasional faint echo of the distant drum. To Pélagie this silence seemed full of menace. Through the open door of her room she saw her maid moving about anxiously, now and then peering from the window which she had opened.
She looked at the Marquis; he was pale as he stood by the window in an attitude of listening.
Now that his glance was no longer on her, she could venture to look at him closely. He had an air of suppressed excitement, but his whole face was shadowed with fatigue; the hair was disordered on his forehead, his cravat tumbled, the summer dust still on his blue and scarlet coat and in the folds of his white sills scarf.
Pélagie noticed these details with the quick, painful observation of love; he seemed to her by far the most splendid thing she had ever known. She thought that if he would stay with her and give her a little kindness, she would be indifferent to whatever terror might surround them: indeed that she would welcome any disaster that might bring them together.
And then, to them both, in the tense and expectant silence, came a sound so sudden and so terrible that they started and turned to each other with a mutual stare of incredulity. A deep incessant and penetrating clang, a brass tongue beating in a brass mouth shattered the silence of the night.
Pélagie's nerves, long strained, gave way.
'What is it?' she cried. 'What is it? I cannot bear it I'
Her terror was increased by the look on her husband's face; he was ashen.
'What is it?' she almost screamed.
The maid came running from the inner room, wringing her hands.
'It is the tocsin of the Hôtel de Ville,' said the Marquis.
And as he spoke the whole air became alive with noise, a clamour that bewildered all the senses—the tocsins of all the churches of Paris answering the summons of the Hôtel de Ville.
In the mansion of M. le Président de Haultpenne two women, Madame la Présidente and her daughter, sat together in the beautiful salon that suddenly seemed so lonely, so remote from the world, and listened to the sound of the tocsin, which had continued through the slow hours of dawn to the full sunshine of the July day.
M. de Haultpenne had not returned from Versailles as had been expected; a message from Pélagie had told them of her husband's return, and that, at the sound of the tocsin, he had again left to join his troop at the depot of M. de Lambesc in the Chaussée d'Antin.
Madame de Haultpenne had taken some comfort from the fact that her powerful son-in-law was in Paris; had it not been for some lingering doubts as to the prudence of bringing him and Eugénie together, she would have gone with her daughter to the Hôtel de Sarcey.
In the last few hours the situation, already anxious and alarming, had become beyond belief threatening and terrible. In this enclosed house, in this quarter remote from the heart of the city, they had not seen much of the disorders, but the valet who brought the message from Pélagie was full of tales of the state of Paris.
The people had forced the Garde-Meuble and had armed themselves with the weapons, no matter how antique, that they found there; all carriages, carts, waggons of provisions and goods entering Paris had been stopped at the gates of the town and transported to the Place de Grève; but so far no house had been pillaged, nor violence attempted.
The streets were crowded so that it was almost impossible to move; and the people were crying continually—'Arms! Arms!' and arms had been promised to them.
Twelve thousand rifles were expected from the factory at Charleville, and thirty thousand others were soon to follow. In the Hôtel de Ville the more responsible of the citizens were organising the burgher militia Forty-eight thousand men was the first levy, and all citizens were invited to enrol; the medical students, the clerks of the Chalet and the garde française had at once volunteered their services; detachments of this militia were already patrolling the streets; each quarter of the city was organising its own defences.
The valet of M. de Sarcey was unwilling to try to cross Paris and return to his master's house in the quarter St. Germain; he was afraid that the soldiers on the Champde-Mars would march on the city, and that there would be bloody fighting in the streets.
Madame la Présidente was not sorry to keep him; several of her own menservants had gone out and not returned, having either joined the people or been unable to traverse the crowds.
'I wish your father would return,' she said anxiously to Eugénie, 'or that M. de Rochefort would come—I feel abandoned here, and this seems a revolt against authority. Of course one cannot believe that fellow's tales, but one would like definite news—'
Eugénie did not answer. She had not slept since the tocsin had wakened her, and since she had heard that Donatien de Sarcey was in Paris, she had had only one thought: that he was in the midst of danger.
She rose from her chair, and went to the window, then turned suddenly to her mother.
'Madame, let us go to Pélagie—she is alone and will be really glad, and there we shall hear the news—'
'And there you will be near Donatien de Sarcey,' added
Madame in her thoughts; she had not been slow to notice and interpret the girl's intense excitement and anxiety.
'We should never be able to cross the city,' she said aloud; 'everything is in uproar and confusion—'
'We could walk,' replied Eugénie eagerly. 'No one would notice two women on foot—'
'But I am expecting your father and M. de Rochefort—'
'We could leave a message for them.'
Madame de Haultpenne looked at her doubtfully. She would herself have preferred to be under the protection of M. de Sarcey, with whom she wished to arrange for the removal of herself and her daughters into the country, but she was not sure that she could trust Eugénie.
While she was still hesitating, M. de Rochefort was announced.
He kissed the hands of Madame de Haultpenne, and looked eagerly at Eugénie, who remained standing by the open window.
The elder woman was unfeignedly glad to see him; she assailed him with questions.
'Madame, it is difficult to answer these things,' replied the young Duke gravely. 'It certainly is a revolt; how far it will go I cannot tell. News from Versailles this morning says that the Assembly is doing all in its power to conciliate.'
'But in Paris!' cried Madame de Haultpenne. 'Is nothing being done in Paris?'
'The committee at the Hôtel de Ville are doing all in their power, Madame. The people have been quieted by the Prévôt des Marchands' promise of arms from Charleville—each district has its battalion of the town militia. They have been persuaded to exchange the green cockade of Camille Desmoulins for the red and blue of Paris—'
'But what is 'the use of this?' interrupted the lady impatiently. 'This is revolt! Where are the soldiers?'
'The militia will keep order,' replied the Duke; 'we can hope no more than that at present. I think M. de Necker will have to return—'
'I suppose one is safe?' asked Madame de Haultpenne with some haughtiness.
'For the present certainly.' His glance went to the silent Eugénie.
'You have seen M. de Sarcey, Monsieur?'
'Yes—on his arrival yesterday. I have not seen him since.' Then, with a certain effort, M. de Rochefort turned to the girl at the window. 'Might I speak to Mademoiselle Eugénie, Madame? I have so little time.'
Madame le Présidente rose; she was a brave woman, but her nerve had been shaken by the events of the last few days. For the moment she did not feel so eager for formality and etiquette, nor did the manner of the young Duke indicate that he would tolerate much ceremony.
'You will speak better to Eugénie alone,' she answered. 'I will leave' you a little while, child,' she added to her daughter. 'Do as Monseigneur says, he knows best how to protect us.'
As soon as she was gone Eugénie turned quickly and looked at M. de Rochefort.
'You are tired,' she said. 'Have you breakfasted? Shall I not give you something, Monsieur?'
'I thank you for your gentle kindness,' he answered, 'but I will not eat.' He crossed to her side. 'I have to speak to you, Eugénie, as seriously as I ever spoke to anyone.' He slightly coloured. 'I do not know if this is distasteful to you—but the times are desperate'
'Nay,' replied Eugénie gently, 'if you see me quiet before my people, it is because I know they are my enemies—I never think of you as such, Monsieur.'
She seated herself, with an air of weariness, on a little settee near the folding doors. It was here that she had first met Donatien de Sarcey. She glanced at M. de Rochefort; his slim figure erect in the splendid uniform, his eager, gentle face, so intent on her, his expression of care and concern for her all gave her an impression of his nobility and strength. She knew that he truly loved her, that he would never fail her as the other man had failed her, that he did not have it in him to be deceitful or fickle or brutal or cruel, and she felt a certain gratitude towards him The part he played in her tragedy was a blameless one, and in a vague way she was sorry, in her loneliness and weariness, that this was not the man to whom she had given her heart.
'I know you are my friend,' she added with a faint smile. 'Speak to me frankly—I am tired of subterfuge.'
He caught eagerly at the opening given him by this mood.
'Yes, Eugénie,' he replied, 'I wish to speak frankly, without ceremony. Our world is changing about us and with great swiftness. I know more, I fear more, than I dare tell—I care about one thing only—protecting you—'
Eugénie looked out of the window at the poplar trees against the blue that were to her so like prison walls. Her eyes were veiled with the long lashes, the sun glowed over her loveliness, giving her a sleepy look. Her radiant fairness was triumphant.
'Why do you care for me?' she asked abruptly.
She felt him hesitate, and she turned her head and looked at him swiftly.
'I want the truth,' she added passionately. 'I am so weary of lies—and conventions; in this moment at least let me have the truth.'
He met her glance gravely.
It was the first time that they had spoken without ceremony. The clang of the tocsin had swept away everything artificial in their relations, and they met simply as man and woman.
'I give you the truth,' he answered quietly. 'Through a life that has been rather lonely, rather thoughtful, a little apart from the life of my fellows, I have never thought much of women, and nothing at all of marriage. When I saw you I saw someone before whom my dreams stopped—you seemed to me my soul, my companion, my solace and my inspiration. Eugénie, how can one speak of dreams? I was foolish enough to ask for you as if you had been an ordinary woman. I thought that once you were my wife I could make life so different to you that you would come to care to be with me. I thought I might awake you to all there is of truth and beauty beyond the narrow orbit of such an existence as ours.' He sat down and covered his face with his hands. 'But you do not care for me,' he added. 'You do not even know me.'
'Yet we are betrothed,' said Eugénie; she looked at the bent, fair head and wondered at herself that his deep sincerity left her so unmoved. She knew he was good and fine; why could she not care for him—why not?—why not?
'Let things stay as they were,' she said wearily. 'After all it is best to leave the truth alone.' And she remembered that she had asked the truth from him and was only guarding her own heart. What if he knew the truth of her?
He looked up, his unhappiness increased by her sad coldness.
'You can have your promise back, Eugénie,' he said. 'And go into a convent?' she said.
She tried to rouse herself, to respond, to accept with a good grace what he offered; she knew that she could look for nothing better than this.
Donatien de Sarcey had gone out of her life. She had repulsed him; he was her sister's husband. That should separate him from her as much as death itself; even to think of him now should be out of the question.
She had not heard from him nor seen him since his marriage; for all she knew, he might have forgotten her. It would be better if she could forget also, better that she should put this other barrier between them. And there was so little choice. If she took the desperate step of refusing M. de Rochefort, she could only expect an unendurable life. Ever since M. de Sarcey's interview with her father her home had been a prison, her family its jailers; she knew that she was being watched and spied upon even by her own maid, and she thought that M. de Rochefort would be a more gentle guardian than her own people.
'Why should I speak like this?' she said hastily. 'Let everything stay as it was, Monsieur—'
'Nay, you asked for the truth,' he replied gravely, 'and I have tried to give it to you.'
Yes, she had asked for the truth, but now she was afraid of it. She rose swiftly and took a few steps towards the Duke.
'Let everything be as it was,' she repeated.
He rose also and stood looking at her with sad, unsatisfied eyes.
'Treat me at least as your friend—give me my name,' he entreated.
'What is your name?' asked Eugénie. 'Ah, I remember—Dominique.'
She put her hand to her forehead and again glanced out of the window at the row of poplars. She was filled with a desperate restlessness, a desire to end this interview, to escape.
But he was speaking again, earnestly, pleadingly. 'Eugénie, I wish to be able to protect you, to shelter you.'
Her heart ached; she wanted neither shelter nor protection, but freedom and action. Still, she must hear him out.
'Continue, Monsieur,' she said.
'My château in Normandy would be as safe as England—my people are loyal, I have never given them cause to hate me, I have many relations near. If you were there I should be content, whatever might happen in Paris. Your mother could go with you if you wished—'
She hardly understood what he was saying.
'What do you want of me?' she asked, and her tone begged him to hurry.
'I wish you to marry me at once, and let my gentleman take you to Normandy while the barriers are still open.'
She knew that he was generous, that he was offering his all and asking nothing in return. In every way he brought more to the match than she did, and this was no moment for a man to be hampering himself with a wife. She made an effort to respond.
'Indeed I thank you, but it would not be just for me to take advantage of your chivalry—'
He took her hands in his. 'Why? If indeed you mean to trust yourself to me, I ask you to do so now. This is not a time for ceremony, Eugénie, I should like you to be out of Paris to-morrow.'
To-morrow!' she murmured.
'I could arrange our marriage in a few hours—' He paused, struck by the almost wild look on her face. 'I implore you to be frank with me,' he added desperately. 'If I am distasteful, tell me so and I will trouble you no more. If you mean to become my wife, accept what I can offer now without childish fears or excuses.'
She controlled herself.
'Yes, yes, you are right. I do not know what is the matter with me to-day. The tocsin, I think. I did not sleep. Yes, why not now instead of in a few weeks' time?—and I never liked ceremony.'
He was at once softened; tenderly he pressed the hands that still trembled in his grasp.
'Poor child, I think they have not been kind to you.'
'Not kind,' said Eugénie, with a frightened look. 'But you, you will be kind, will you not—Dominique?'
'God help me to be kind to you,' he answered, very moved. 'God help me to make you happy.'
Eugénie withdrew her hands and took a pace towards the window.
'Listen,' she said. 'Give me this evening and to-morrow for my preparations—the day after we can be married in the morning, and that day will leave Paris. Will that please you?'
'Absolutely. I will arrange my leave so that I can escort you as far as the gates. You will tell Madame de Haultpenne of this? I have, darling, no more time'
'Yes, I will tell her. And now go—you must be needed. You will let me hear to-day where I am to meet you?'
'I will arrange everything. If I cannot return to-day I will send my gentleman. God bless you, Eugénie.'
He bent and lightly kissed her cheek and so left her, never suspecting the tumult in her heart, never guessing the secret of her agitation, only thinking her very young, unawakened, full of caprice and timidity. His mind and heart, his straightforward nature, could not imagine her other than a creature untouched by human passion and incapable of deception or falsity.
Eugénie went to the window that looked on the garden; she felt a great relief that he had gone. He made so little impression on her, that she could scarcely recall his appearance the moment he was out of her sight.
She leaned her head against the window frame and stared at the encompassing poplar trees and the encircling blue; beneath those trees she had met him, that one unforgettable time. Her hand stole to her bosom, where, beneath the black fichu, a blood-purple jewel was pinned in a bag of white silk.
She tried to persuade herself that this proposal of M. de Rochefort was fortunate. What could she hope for better than a nominal marriage and a departure from Paris to the quiet of the country? Her parents would be pleased, Pélagie pacified; she would no longer be a girl to be reprimanded and threatened, but a great lady, accountable to no one but her husband.
Yes, she should be pleased and content.
But it was useless; she was filled with a wildness that was the wildness of despair.
Her lips were dry, her throat parched, a curious little tremor shook her limbs, everything about her, even the familiar articles of furniture in the room, seemed grotesque. She crept back to the couch by the table, clasped her hands over her throbbing forehead, and in bitter rebellion against her fate, cursed the hour in which she had met Donatien de Sarcey.
Outside, the cry of the world sounded again in the call of the tocsin, and the rumble of the heavy artillery entering Paris.
That afternoon and evening the people were still waiting impatiently for the arms from Charleville, as promised by the Prévôt des Marchands. The excitement grew hourly; the citizens began to believe they had been deceived, and that they were to be kept without weapons till nightfall when an attack would be made on them by the troops gathered in the Champ-de-Mars.
Their attitude was becoming deeply menacing when a certain measure of calm was restored by the arrival of a number of cases, stamped 'artillery,' and which were believed to Contain the promised guns.
An immense crowd escorted these cases to the Mel de Ville, where they were opened in the presence of the Committee.
They contained nothing but old rags and pieces of wood.
At this crude deception the crowd broke out into angry threats both against the Committee and the Prévôt des Marchands; this latter, in some fear, sent to Chartreux for arms, but without result.
The Committee, seeing no other means of quieting the people, then ordered fifty thousand guns to be manufactured in Paris, and the work was put in hand at once. To prevent riots the city was ordered to be illuminated as soon as dark fell, and the patrols of the burgher guards of the various quarters were told to keep watch in the streets all night.
Meanwhile the Court, reassured by the ministers who had taken the place of the Necker Cabinet, continued to put in execution the plans for quelling the people by force. The King's declaration of the 23rd June was renewed; the chief minister, M. de Breteuil, promised that in three days the royal wish would be law throughout the kingdom; a hundred million paper notes were issued to supply the immediate needs of the almost bankrupt country, and M. de Broglie continued to concentrate troops on Paris.
Neither he nor any of those about him believed for a moment that the revolt of the capital was anything other than a passing disturbance or that civilians could long resist.
The Assembly, voiced by M. de Mirabeau, demanded the recall of the troops, and established couriers to bring them news from the capital every half-hour. M. de Noailles, one of the deputies, was sent to Paris to judge for himself the progress of events.
This was the situation when the fourteenth of July drew to a close, and M. de Sarcey, who had been on duty with his troop all day, was at last able to return to his hôtel for a few hours' rest.
He was so tired that he could hardly hold himself upright.
It was now quite clear to him that the insurrection might any moment break into excesses of bloody fury; the thing was incredible, but it was beyond all denial. The people were rising against the nobles, the Court, the Government, the King, and they would not be quickly or easily repressed. M. de Sarcey was longing for fierce reprisals, and the fact that there were not yet enough troops in Paris for these to be possible, chafed him almost beyond endurance.
He thought of Pélagie; her obstinacy in refusing to leave Paris further enraged him. Never in his life, used to complete independence of action, had he been so fretted and galled on every hand as he was now.
His valet served him with dinner in one of the great rooms he so disliked and so seldom used.
He intended, as soon as he had finished to send for Pélagie, but was too exhausted. He dropped on to one of the couches and fell heavily asleep, heedless of the noise, the tramping feet outside, the coming and going in the house.
Pélagie, who had passed a day of bitter isolation in the midst of tumult that had seemed endless, who could neither sleep nor in any way rest, finally ventured into the great salon where the Marquis slept. She picked up a candle from the table and looked round the room; she saw the scarlet and white of her husband's uniform and crossed to where he lay on a gold brocade couch, the silk pillows crushed under his head.
From outside came the sound of the champing horses and the jangle of the harness.
'I wonder why he brought the soldiers?' she thought. She felt homesick and sad; her head ached and her eyes were smarting.
The Marquis moved, turned, opened his eyes, and seeing the woman with the light, sat up and yawned.
'Has anyone been here for me?' he asked, looking at her without surprise.
'I thought M. de Lambesc might have sent for me.'
'I have seen no one,' replied Pélagie, at a loss as she always was when face to face with her husband.
He stared at her.
'Why do you not leave Paris?' he asked. 'The city is rising. I brought sixty dragoons with me, but they cannot be spared to remain here.'
Pélagie crossed to the table and put down the light; she was glad of this excuse to stand with her back to him.
'I wanted to speak to you about that,' she answered. 'A few hours ago I had a letter from Eugénie'—she hurried over the name, and her shaking fingers pulled at a bunch of grapes on the table; she did not turn to the Marquis, but she knew he was listening intently. 'Eugénie is to be married the day after to-morrow—early in the morning, at St. Germain des Prés, and they—she and our mother—would like me to come to the ceremony.'
The Marquis was silent.
Pélagie continued with some desperation: 'Afterwards I will leave Paris, if you wish. M. de Rochefort is sending Eugénie to Normandy—hence this hurried, private marriage.'
Still he did not answer, and now she turned and glanced at him; he had not changed his attitude, but he was looking on the ground.
'Give me some wine,' he said abruptly.
She poured a glass of the Alicante that stood among the supper things and brought it to him. She noticed that his hand was shaking so that he spilled some of the wine into the bosom of his shirt.
'Get me some coffee,' he said. 'If I am to be up on duty for the rest of the night I must have something to keep me awake.'
Then he suddenly looked at Pélagie.
'Do you want to go to your sister's wedding?' he demanded.
'It is as you please,' she stammered.
'As I please!' he echoed contemptuously.
Pélagie rang the bell, ordered the supper things to be cleared and coffee to be brought.
'I do not care or not if I go to this wedding,' she said as soon as the valet had left them; 'but I do care, very sincerely, whether I displease you or not. I would like to remain in Paris, here in your house, but if this is a vexation to you I will leave when you wish.'
'There's a good child,' remarked the Marquis, and she could not tell if he mocked or not. 'One should have an easy life with a wife so dutiful. All the same, you will manage to get your own way, eh? For I told you to be gone yesterday.'
'I thought that you might wish me to go to Eugénie's marriage,' she answered.
His reply came easily, but the straight, keen look of his dark eyes belied the indifference of his speech.
'Why, that is a woman's business,' he said, 'and you may go or not as you think. Poor Eugénie! So she is to be banished to Normandy, to M. de Rochefort's pious relatives!'
He gave a short laugh, and Pélagie did not like the sound of it; she felt her own agitation increasing beyond her control.
'Please believe that I only try not to offend you,' she whispered. 'I will do anything you wish—only'—her throat ached and she could hardly articulate the words—'show me some consideration.'
He rose and took up his sword.
'It is because I consider you that I wish you to leave Paris.'
'I do not mean consideration for my safety.'
He looked at her over his shoulder, and smiled a little as if at some secret thought.
'Why do you sit up so late, Madame?' he asked. 'You will lose your nerve—and your complexion.'
He buckled on his sword and turned towards the open window.
Again Pélagie felt herself defeated; she could do nothing with him. He put her aside with a completeness, with a lightness against which she had no weapons; she felt that he had forgotten her even as he turned away.
Bitter tears burnt in her eyes, and she felt a sick desire to creep away into oblivion.
The coffee was brought and she served it, the fine eggshell service in the silver filigree almost slipping from her cold fingers as she handled the pieces.
He drank the coffee with a certain eagerness; there was now no sign of fatigue about him, he was alert and composed, appeared absorbed, too, in some inner thought.
Pélagie, too disheartened to attempt further speech, waited on him in silence. She had a certain dreary satisfaction in the fact that he did not, as he so easily might have done, leave her presence. He was still at the window, drinking his coffee, when the valet announced M. de Lambesc. Pélagie would have escaped, but the officer was immediately behind the servant.
M. de Sarcey presented his friend as he crossed the room. 'M. le Prince de Lambesc, Madame—M. le Prince, Madame la Marquise de Sarcey, who has elected to share my perils,' and he continued to sip his coffee.
M. de Lambesc bent over Pélagie's hand, in one glance summed her up as plain, and dismissed her from his mind.
For a grandee trained to perpetual calm, he was in some agitation. His handsome face, newly shaved and powdered, was pale; he had been roused from his bed, but he had made a precise toilet.
'They want your troop at once,' he said. 'The people are beyond all control; they have heard that the troops are coming in from Sèvres and they call for arms. The Committee can get nothing from Charleville or Chartreux and the Arsenal is empty—so what have these ruffians done—sacked the Invalides!'
'Damn them to perdition!' exclaimed the Marquis fiercely. 'Then they are all armed!'
'Nearly all, curse them! They have pikes, swords and quantities of guns—they had out I know not how many barrels of powder.'
'But M. de Sombreuil, he is the governor of the Invalides—was he not there?'
'He could do nothing—he was overpowered,' answered M. de Lambesc; 'and now nearly the whole population is armed and the Committee powerless to control them.'
'And M. de la Salle, he still holds the command of the Militia?'
'Yes, but he can do nothing.'
'It seems incredible!' exclaimed the Marquis. He put down his coffee cup and gave an angry sigh. 'Had I been M. de Sombreuil I would have fired the powder magazine sooner than surrender,' he said bitterly.
'Well, he did not,' replied M. de Lambesc with a dry smile; 'and the question is, how are we to hold Paris till the troops arrive?'
'Have you seen M. de Besueval?'
'Yes, he sent me here to you—he says you should take your troop to St. Antoine.'
'Because, late last night, M. Delaunay turned the guns, of the Bastille towards the people, and they are so enraged that they threaten an attack on the fortress.'
'Well, I heard them as I came along just now, shouting for arms and the Bastille in one breath. Anyhow, M. Delaunay has asked for troops and M. de Besueval sent me here to you. Have you your pistol? The streets are dangerous.'
At these final words Pélagie, who had listened with painful eagerness to the conversation between the two men from which she had been so absolutely excluded, felt her control fail.
She watched her husband quickly adjust his hair and his cravat in front of an oval mirror near the couch, pick up his cloak, fling it down again, put on his hat, pull on his gloves, and call for his orderly to bring his pistols.
It had all happened so quickly that she could hardly believe that he was really going away—going out into the uproar of the enraged city—perhaps to his death.
'Oh, you cannot leave me like this!' she cried desperately. He paused and looked at her as if he had forgotten her till she spoke.
'I will leave as many soldiers as I can. You think the private hôtels are safe?' he turned to M. de Lambesc.
'For the moment all the attention of the crowd is directed to the Bastille—but I should advise the Marquise to leave Paris to-morrow.'
'I have already instructed my gentleman to escort her, but she will not go,' replied M. de Sarcey; he looked at his wife with a strange smile. 'You must do as you wish, Madame, I do not know when I shall be able to return.'
He left her without further farewell, and M. de Lambesc saluted her and followed.
For a second Pélagie stood in a bewilderment of pain, and then she hurled open the door and ran out on to the landing; in her desperation she called the name she had never used before:
He turned and came up the stairs to her; she held out her hands.
'If you have any compassion in your heart, do not leave me like this—'
He put his arm round her, for she looked as if she would fall. At last he responded, sincerity to sincerity. I can leave you in no other way,' he said swiftly.
Now the guard was dropped: she saw in his face, she heard in his tone, his emotion laid bare.
'Because you hate me?' she cried.
'No! Because of what I mean to do!' he answered passionately.
He put her away from him and ran to join M. de Lambesc; she heard his voice again, eager now and fierce, a man out on man's business and glad to be doing it.
She rushed across the candle-lit room and out on to the balcony.
'Oh, come back and tell me what you meant—come back!' she cried.
The dawn was breaking and the pale light of day struggled against the bold glare of the tossing flambeaux as the troop clattered out of the courtyard. In a moment they were gone and she was alone with that distant hum and throb of a risen city, the beat of many drums, the sound of many voices crying, 'To the Bastille! the Bastille!'
By the time that morning's full light shone over the streets of Paris, the people were armed and massed in the streets with one objective—the fortress and prison of the Bastille, which was synonymous in the minds of all with both the strength and cruelty of the ruling classes.
Everyone now carried weapons, either those sacked from the armourer's shop, or the antique sabres and muskets taken from the Garde-Meuble, and the rich treasure of guns, pikes, swords and pistols plundered from the arsenal of the Invalides.
From here also they had taken cannon, which were placed at the entries to the principal streets, on the quays, bridges, and in front of the château of the Tuileries to defend the capital against the soldiers who were expected every hour to march on Paris from Sevres, from the Champ-de-Mars, and from St. Denis.
Meanwhile, from one end of the city to the other, rang out the cry—The Bastille!—The Bastille!'
The fear and hate which this gloomy stronghold had so long inspired made it an object of hatred to the people which was now fast breaking from the last bonds of order.
And this hatred had been finally excited to extreme fury by the action of M. Delaunay in turning his cannon towards the rue St. Antoine. The Committee sitting in the Hôtel de Ville became themselves alarmed by the condition of affairs, and sent a message to the governor of the Bastille, asking him to remove his cannon and not to provoke the citizens by any act of hostility. His answer was to raise the drawbridge and post the sentinels; his walls were nine feet thick, and he did not recognise the Committee as his master.
M. de la Salle, who had been elected temporary chief of the militia, tried to restrain this burgher army. But his authority was no longer recognised; though as yet no blood had been shed and no act of violence committed, the groups that issued from all quarters, armed and grim, and made their way to the Quartier St. Antoine, could leave no doubt that both bloodshed and violence were intended.
M. de Besueval was in despair, the Committee was powerless; the troops disaffected, murmuring; the garde francaise had openly joined the people and were marching in the ranks of the citizen militia. A detachment of dragoons sent to quiet the people in the Place de Grève, which had become a depository of all the carts, carriages, and waggons stopped at the gates, were met by the people as friends. Quiet hands caught at their bridles, and the soldiers of the King dismounted and joined those whom they had been sent to punish.
M. de Sarcey, who had been in the saddle since he left his hôtel at dawn, returned, towards two of the clock, to the depot in the Chaussée d'Antin.
There he found M. de Lambesc and a few other officers. They had a hasty meal together. They were all hot, for the July sun was blazing from a cloudless sky, exhausted and almost beside themselves with rage. M. de Sarcey, who had been nearly pulled from his horse near the Pont Tournant, was dark with bitter fury, though he, like the others, maintained a haughty outward calm.
They were all unafraid, their one emotion was fury that what they had always thought too low, to be considered should thus defy, thwart, and even, it might be, defeat them.
M. de Sarcey could hardly eat; apart from the anger roused by the insurrection of Paris, he was torn by intense inner emotion, which, like a hidden wound, burnt and stung. Through the long, exhausting hours of that intolerable day his tortured mind had continually dwelt on the picture of the radiant Eugénie, in that quiet mansion in the rue Neuve du Luxembourg, preparing for her wedding to-morrow morning.
He rose and began to pace up and down the room.
'Why do not the troops from St. Denis and Sevres come?' he exclaimed fiercely. 'Why do they not send the men on the Champ-de-Mars?'
'M. de Besueval does not dare,' replied M. de Lambesc. 'He tries to compromise—and they have their cannon out now, and well posted too, the devils'
'M. de Sombreuil should be shot for allowing them to sack the Invalides,' said the Marquis; he crossed to the mantelpiece and rested his elbow there and dropped his aching head into his hand.
The Prince de Lambesc shrugged his shoulders; no one could be more enraged than he was at playing a losing game, but he had no private sorrows to distract him, and had been too long a courtier to betray emotion.
Another officer of the régiment de Bourgogne entered; he was dusty and breathless, and called for wine before he would speak.
M. de Lambesc's quick glance ran over him.
'Things become worse?' he asked.
'Worse, by God! I have been to the Hôtel de Villem de Besueval sent me there to speak to M. de la Salle'—the young man spoke hastily—'but he can do nothing to keep order. The Committee itself is powerless. The Prévôt des Marchands seemed afraid for himself—he said the people were infuriated with him for the affair of the arms—no one can do anything.'
'I knew it,' said M. de Lambesc quietly. 'The devil himself is loose in Paris. Well, anything else?'
He finished his wine and proceeded to fill his pipe.
The young officer dropped into a chair and wiped his damp forehead with his laced handkerchief.
'They sent a deputy, M. de la Rosière, to the Bastille,' continued the newcomer, 'to ask M. Delaunay to remove the guns from the tower, which he refused to do, saying it was their habitual position—but he backed them from the shot holes. He seemed very uneasy this deputy said in his report to the Committee, but by no means disposed to surrender.'
'How many men has he got?' asked M. de Lambesc.
'De la Rosière says he saw about forty Swiss and about eighty Invalides. He made them all swear not to fire into the people or in any way provoke them—they seemed well disposed towards the citizens, he thought.'
'God help M. Delaunay!' exclaimed one of the officers.
'I think the Committee will do what it can,' replied the Captain of the régiment de Bourgogne; 'the members seemed frightened. De Flesselles told me he would amuse the people as best he could until troops arrive, he has sent a message to that effect to M. Delaunay.'
'How long,' asked M. de Lambesc, now leaning forward on the table and smoking, 'can de Flesselles or anyone else amuse the good people of Paris at this moment? It seems to me they require rather strong diversion.'
'I fear the troops will never arrive in time,' remarked one of his companions grimly.
'I fear not,' replied the last corner. 'All the rooms of the Hôtel de Ville are full of an angry crowd demanding munition—'
'For what purpose?' asked M. de Lambesc.
'They want to bring up the garde française with cannon against the Bastille—'
M. de Sarcey turned suddenly.
'We have talked enough!' he cried fiercely. 'Let us do something—in God's name!'
'Do what, my dear Marquis?' smiled M. de Lambesc.
'Go to the assistance of M. Delaunay—cut down as many of this canaille as we can before they cut down us!' replied M. de Sarcey.
'M. de Besueval sent me here,' said the officer of the régiment de Bourgogne, 'to see how many men were in the depot. "Perhaps the streets should be patrolled as much as possible" he said, but seemed undecided'
'I will go at once,' interrupted the Marquis, and turned to take up the pistols he had put down before he ate.
'Monseigneur, you can do nothing,' said the young officer sadly. 'M. de Besueval himself has no hope—talked of withdrawing from Paris with the allemand royals.'
'My God! will M. Delaunay surrender then?' exclaimed the Marquis.
'He said not—spoke, to the deputy, of sooner blowing up the powder magazine, and so, the whole quarter—'
'Then he is a man after my own heart, and I will go and assist him.
'But it is madness, Monsieur, madness!' exclaimed the young officer.
'Are we not all mad to-day?' replied M. de Sarcey with a fierce glance round the pale faces of his companions. 'I am as capable as any other man of taking my part in this fight.'
M. de Lambesc spoke quietly.
'It were better to go first to M. de Besueval. If he intends withdrawing it is useless for us to remain—merely to be massacred.'
M. de Sarcey buckled on his pistols.
'I cannot leave Paris even if every other officer goes—there is a lady here for whose safety I must answer.'
'Ah, the Marquise! I warned you to send her away.'
'The Marquise left Paris a few hours ago,' said M. de Sarcey briefly. 'My gentleman took her to Château Beaucy.'
'I am glad. She passed the gates safely?'
'So I was told,' replied M. de Sarcey.
'And you are not free to follow her?' inquired M. de Lambesc.
No—not until this lady is safe.'
So saying, M. de Sarcey, without waiting for further comment, left the room.
Pélagie was no longer on his mind. That morning his gentleman, acting on his orders, had escorted her, her maid and valet, from Paris—she was, as far as he knew, safe.
But Eugénie was still in the city; Eugénie, who to-morrow was to marry M. de Rochefort.
M. de Sarcey had not seen his rival all day; he believed that he was stationed on the Place de Grève.
It was now towards four o'clock; the Marquis called together his troop, which had so far shown no sign of disloyalty, and proceeded towards the Quartier St. Antoine.
But the streets were impassable; the garde française had dragged up cannon which were to be fired at the redoubtable fortress, and groups of citizens, wearing red and blue cockades, pressed behind the soldiers, shouting, 'The Bastille! Give us the Bastille!'
A young man mounted on a horse decked with the colours of the city, forced his way through the seething crowd.
Withdraw! withdraw!' he shouted to the Marquis, 'they have got the drawbridge down, they have cut the chains! They are entering the Bastille! The garrison have hung out the white flag!'
'Has M. Delaunay surrendered?' cried the Marquis to the young man whose progress had also been arrested by that mighty onrush of the people.
'Nay, the citizens have forced the bridges—they are burning straw in the courtyard—overpowering the garrison—the governor will be taken prisoner—if you would avoid bloodshed—withdraw.'
The speaker was familiar to M. de Sarcey, a second glance showed him that this was the young man he had seen in the inn at Versailles—Camille Desmoulins, the orator of the Palais Royal.
'You win to-day,' said the Marquis, 'but beware of tomorrow.'
He saw that it would be useless to try and get further into the Quartier St. Antoine which was now chaos from end to end, and he got his troop in order as best he could and turned towards the Hôtel de Ville, intending to make a last appeal to the Committee to restore some order in the city.
But by the time he had fought his way half a mile dusk was falling, and the hot dusty wind had dropped and another cavalcade was before him and marched into the presence of the trembling deputies sitting in the Hôtel de Ville.
This was a procession of men, fierce and shouting; they showed the keys and the flag of the Bastille, and they cast on the table before the Provost, M. de Flesselles, a long, bloody, pomaded neck curl.
It belonged to the man to whom the Provost had promised assistance earlier on in the day—M. Delaunay, Governor of the Bastille, who had tried to blow himself up, tried to stab himself with his sword cane, who had been dragged along by the mob and finally murdered, begging for a quick death, near the Place de Grève.
In the glow of the flambeaux, smoking in the wind, M. de Sarcey, whose troop was melting behind him, found himself next to M. de Rochefort, who was leaving the Hôtel de Vile.
The young Duke looked ill, he had his handkerchief to his mouth.
'They are killing people in the streets,' he said. 'They are hanging soldiers on the Place de Grève—one with his hand off—'
'What are you going to do?' asked the Marquis.
They could hardly hear each other speak for the voices to right and left of them.
'There will be general massacre,' said the Duke desperately. 'Oh, my God, what a way to die! They had him down—'
'Of whom do you speak?' cried the Marquis, gripping him by the arm.
'Delunay—and Major de Losmes—I saw them afterwards—and the women—I do not think that the women are safe!' They may bayonet all the women in Paris except one—and she shall be safe, so leave talk of the women, de Rochefort!' The Duke looked at him with startled, angry eyes.
'You speak like a devil—what is the matter with you?' M. de Sarcey still held him by the arm.
'What is the matter with any of us to-night. Let us get out of this—they will have us unhorsed.'
'Where do you want to go?'
To the depot—let us see if de Lambesc is still in Paris.'
As he spoke he put spurs to his horse and the plunging animal cleared him a little space through the crowd. He had not more than ten dragoons behind him, but they managed to force their way through the great crowd round the Hôtel de Ville and get down to the banks of the Seine.
They would not have escaped had not the attention of the people been occupied by another object. The Provost, M. de Flesselles, had been confronted with his letter found in M. Delaunay's pocket, in which he promised to pacify the Parisians until reinforcements should arrive.
And now the men who had taken the Bastille were leading the Provost out to the Place de Grève.
M. de Rochefort caught one glimpse of his protesting face as he was hustled along by his captors.
'What are they going to do with him?' he exclaimed.
'Hang him or put a bullet through him,' replied the Marquis shortly. 'He played fast and loose with us—good luck to him. Make haste while they are occupied with him—in the devil's name, de Rochefort, come along.'
The young Duke had tried to turn back and in so doing had stopped the whole cavalcade, but M. de Sarcey seized his reins and somehow they made their way along the muddy banks of the river and through side streets where fewer people gathered, and so to the depot in the Chaussée d'Antin.
M. de Lambesc and his officers had gone; there were only a few soldiers left to guard the barracks, and they, for safety, they said, were wearing the blue and red badges of the city.
Rumour had it that M. de Besueval, with the foreign troops and all his staff, was slipping out of Paris under cover of the dark, leaving the city entirely in the hands of the insurgents. 'Curse de Besueval,' said M. de Sarcey. He looked round at his companion. 'Had you not better follow him, M. le Duc?'
M. de Rochefort shook his head.
'Are you going to faint?' asked the Marquis, eyeing him with contempt. 'You look like a sick girl'
The Duke wiped his pale face and sank into the chair by the plain barracks table.
'It was Delaunay of whom I was thinking,' he said quietly. 'He was of my acquaintance—and de Flesselles—it would have been easier to have died too than to leave him to be murdered.'
'Our friends of the Bastille would have soon gratified your wish had you put yourself forward,' remarked the Marquis drily.
'My life is not my own,' replied de Rochefort. 'I marry Mademoiselle de Haultpenne in a few hours. I must not fail her.'
'No, indeed,' agreed M. de Sarcey, who never took his dark eyes off the other man.
'You also are staying in Paris?' asked de Rochefort with a great effort to control himself.
For a few hours,' said the Marquis. 'M. le Président has returned, I hear. He will bring his daughter to the church tomorrow?'
'Yes.' The Duke looked at him closely, hesitated, then said: 'You always speak as if you disliked me, but I think that is your manner with many men, and you are Eugénie's brother-in-law—and we have come together in this time of danger—will you stay and accompany me to the church tomorrow?'
'Why not?' smiled the Marquis. 'What hour is it?'
'Eight of the clock at St. Germain des Près.'
The Marquis glanced covertly at the wooden clock in the corner of the guard-room; it was now nearly midnight.
'I will return here for you by seven,' he answered.
'You are leaving the 'depot?' exclaimed de Rochefort; despite his dislike of this man he wanted his company tonight.
'I must return to my hôtel—my people wait for me. What do you intend to do to-morrow when the lady is on her way to Normandy?'
'I will escort her as far as necessary, then I shall return to Versailles—nothing can be done in Paris.'
'Well, I give you good night,' returned the Marquis, and, walking with his usual easy slowness, he left the room.
De Rochefort, overwrought, exhausted, agitated, made a pillow of his cloak and dropped on the floor to snatch a few hours sleep.
The Marquis went into the courtyard. Several soldiers were about, who regarded him with doubtful sullen looks.
He called for a fresh horse; they brought him the best that was in the stables, and one held it for him to mount.
M. de Sarcey gave him a flickering glance.
'You dog,' he said suddenly, 'do you dare come into my presence with that cockade in your hat?'
The fellow flinched but stood his ground.
''Tis the colours of the city of Paris, Monseigneur,' he replied sullenly.
'Take it out,' said the Marquis. He looked round the others, who were drawing nearer to see and listen. 'And you also, you low devils,' he added. 'Are you so sure of the winning side? Do you imagine that you can insult your officer? Take out the cockades—I shoot with my own hand he who refuses'
They knew he had no power behind him, and they hated him, but there was only a moment's hesitation before they reluctantly took out the colours and cast them on the ground.
The Marquis mounted and reined in his horse so that the animal's hoof stamped on the cockade of the soldier who stood nearest.
At the sight of this and the look on M. de Sarcey's face the man broke into sudden fury.
'Curse you for a damned aristocrat!' he cried, and swung his body forward to catch the bridle.
Instantly the Marquis whipped out his pistol and exploded it in the man's face; a groan rose from the other soldiers as they saw their companion fall.
'A little discipline, my friends,' said the Marquis quietly, and rode away and not one of the men lifted a hand to detain him.
M. de Sarcey found his hôtel in darkness; the porter had gone from the gates and the door was closed. At the sound of the horse's hoofs in the cobbled courtyard, however, Antoine, the Marquis's personal servant, appeared holding a lantern.
The two went up through the vast, empty mansion. The four long rays of the lantern glanced on the gilt banisters, the painted walls, the soft carpets, the silk hangings.
'Has everyone gone?' asked M. de Sarcey.
'And why did you stay?'
'I had no reason for leaving, Monseigneur,' replied the valet quietly.
'The same reason as the others,' smiled the Marquis.
'If Monseigneur will excuse—not the same reason as the others. I am Monseigneur's particular servant—and I never liked the canaille.'
'I am leaving Paris—do you care to come, Antoine?'
'I will go anywhere with Monseigneur.'
'Then help me get ready. I leave in a few hours—and first I go to the rue Neuve du Luxembourg. You will pack up my jewels, get ready the smallest cabriolet—then you may tome and dress me. I will take one portmanteau of clothes—the plainest—and you must get your own things ready.'
The valet listened with the humble impassivity of the perfect servant.
If Monseigneur would like some supper, it is ready,' he suggested.
There were no further words between them, no explanations, no vows or promises, no comments even as to the strange circumstances under which they found themselves, but the master knew that he could rely on the servant to the death, and the servant knew that the master would protect him and never forget his fidelity.
The Marquis ate the cold meal luxuriously prepared for him, then he went to his satin-wood desk and wrote several letters; one to his steward at Chateau Beaucy, one to his steward in Alsace, one to his bankers, and a fourth to a bank in Venice. When the letters were finally sealed and directed he frowned over the question of posting them; the post would be dangerous if indeed it was still running.
He lifted his shoulders with a sudden little laugh, stretched himself and yawned.
The valet was ready as soon as the letters were finished; clothes and jewels were packed, and the portmanteau strapped into the cabriolet.
The Marquis took off his uniform and all his soldier's trappings.
As he took off the pistols he remembered that he had emptied one and ordered the valet to recharge it; the man obeyed without comment.
A couple of candles only lit the magnificent bedroom; the sound of the crowd grew nearer; the wavering lights of torches were cast through the chinks in the shutters.
'I think they are barricading the streets,' said the Marquis.
'I think so, Monseigneur'
Eugénie de Haultpenne opened her long windows on to the hot night. A lamp burnt behind her and cast a beam across the terrace and on to the shrubs in the garden. The house was very still; there was no one in Eugénie's apartments except herself; her mother's maid had fled to her own people, and Eugénie's chamber-woman was sleeping with Madame de Haultpenne.
M. le Président, with such men servants as had remained, slept, dressed, downstairs ready for any alarm.
Eugénie's fair head sank forward on her breast; she hated herself, she hated life and all the world.
To-morrow the last vestige of her freedom would be taken from her; she would become de Rochefort's wife. Her heart contracted with fright as she thought of her own youth and the long years ahead. She struggled hard to be resigned, to compose herself, to accept her fate with grace and dignity. She looked over her shoulder round the little beautiful room with a faint sensation of home-sickness; she had not been unhappy here till she had met the man she must not remember and could not forget. She glanced at the various objects, all familiar, and some beloved, that in a few hours she must leave for ever, and she thought with utter dismay of the Norman château that would so soon be her home.
Through these thoughts of anguish, a slight sound penetrated her ears; a step outside.
Without rising she looked round.
A man in a dark travelling cloak was standing in the open window. She knew him instantly, and the first thought of her bewildered brain was how different he looked from when she had last seen him, and repulsed him, at the fête.
He had hurt his hand and was twisting a handkerchief round the palm; she noticed the little spots of blood on the linen, and that he wore a pistol.
She continued to stare at him without change of attitude or expression.
M. de Sarcey entered the room.
'Eugénie! Oh, Eugénie!' he said.
The sound of his voice roused her to a full sense of what his coming meant, of what was before them—the struggle beyond her strength, her joy too strong for her to renounce.
She clapped her hands before her eyes.
'Oh, God kill me!' she murmured. 'God kill me quickly' He came nearer, treading softly.
She still kept her hand before her eyes so that she might shut out his image.
'I do not ask you why you are here, for I would exchange few words with you,' she said desperately. 'I only beseech you, if you have any honour, and pity—to leave me.'
'I have left you too long,' replied M. de Sarcey quietly. 'The thought of you has cost me all my peace. And now for you. I have forgone everything.'
He approached her and held out his hand.
'Tie this up for me, child,' he said. 'I cut it climbing the wall. Our little door was shut.'
'Leave me,' answered Eugénie without moving her hands.
'Nay, I will not. You shall listen to me, Eugénie.'
She felt he was near and crouched against the bed, drawing as far away as possible.
'Did I not repulse you once?' she demanded. 'Did I not send you away with scorn for your mad wickedness?'
He laughed a little.
'Darling, we will not speak of folly nor waste these precious minutes. You knew this had to be—I have loved you always.'
Now she dared to look up at the dark face gazing down at her.
'You dare say that!' she whispered.
It is the truth, and you know it—the time has passed for pretence. I want you, who are Love itself to me.'
'I think you are mad,' said Eugénie stupidly. She rose and held on to the dark bed curtains, she felt too weak to stand alone. 'Why will you not have some pity?' she continued hastily. 'I am to marry de Rochefort to-morrow morning. Have you killed him?' she added with a sudden look of horror.
'Nay, for there was no need. He will never trouble us. Let him go. My love, make no more words about it—come with me.'
'Where?' she asked vaguely. 'What do you mean?'
'We will leave France. I have abandoned all—for you. I put off my uniform for you. This is love, Eugénie, you cannot resist it.' He spoke urgently, twisting the handkerchief tighter round his hand. 'Your lamp guided me. Did you set this light for me?'
'Before heaven I never thought of you!' she answered.
'Say no more,' said the Marquis; 'we were forced apart and I have been in hell.
'What do you think it has been for me? But now it is too late. Ruined as we all are, have pity—'
He took several paces about the room, looking away from her.
'Have pity on me, Eugénie,' he said in a low voice.
Her reply was one word.
'What is she to me?' he answered fiercely. The has what she bargained for—she is safe—she does not enter my life—but you are mine, and cannot refuse to go with me.'
'I can—I do. I told you once that you were indifferent to me—and now I tell you that I hate you. I call on God to hear me—'
He suddenly turned and took her hand.
'Do not lie, Eugénie. You know I love you, and because of that your heart excuses me of everything.'
Her eyes flashed to him.
'Have you come here to force me?' she asked desperately.
He took her other hand and glanced at her from head to foot.
'Better not remind me that you are in my power,' he said briefly.
'Nay—I will call my father—the servants—at all costs—'
'Then I shall kill us both.'
'Ah, yes,' she cried with breaking courage, 'kill me—but do not make me suffer so.'
He flushed, released her hands and took her gently in his arms.
'Ah, sweet,' he said softly. 'I would not hurt you, I would not touch you—but of yourself you will come with me—'
The girl broke away.
'This is impossible—is there no God to save me?'
'There is no God and no devil stronger than my love—'
She looked at him piteously.
'You are tempting me to sin—to sin—to sin—with sweet words.'
'To love, to love, Eugénie—'
'Oh, why,' cried she in bitter self-contempt, 'do I not ring the bell and deliver you to justice?'
'Why, so you may,' he answered with a little smile, 'and I will end ten centuries of honour with an ignoble death—but first kiss me—'
'Kiss you?' she faltered.
'I have left all for you, Eugénie, is a kiss too much to ask?'
He approached her, and she did not move away; he put his hand on her shoulder.
'At last. At last,' he said in a low tone, 'I have found you. I touch you. And you let me.'
Eugénie laughed, lifting her fair face, staring into his dark eyes.
'It is I who am mad, I think,' she said. 'Properly mad. I am cursed. What have I done to be cursed? Ay, I let you.'
'Kiss me,' he answered.
She obeyed him, strangely still. Then she suddenly cried out and laughed again. 'My lover,' she said hoarsely. 'My lover—mine! Kiss me again—take me—kill me.'
'No, live—live for love's, sake!' he returned triumphantly, 'and I will show you what life can be. Say you love me—say it, Eugénie—'
She put her arms round his neck and leant, trembling, against him, looking up at him while she spoke in a torrent of desperate words.
'I love you. I love you. As you are, I love you. If you are wicked, I am wicked—for I wanted you to come; even if it meant killing that man, I wanted you to come to me, to me! What have I thought of these awful weeks except this: why does he not come to me—even through blood and dishonour—why does he not come? I was dying of it—dying...
'And I—and I—'
'Now I can fight no more—I am vanquished, I am overcome—shame and ruin for all of us—but I can fight no more'
Almost beside himself with triumph, but restraining himself to a semblance of calm, the Marquis drew her towards the window.
'Like this?' she said. 'My clothes—my jewels—?'
'I have everything. We will go to my house at Auteuil first—we can slip down the river; then to Italy—I have the cabriolet at the gate—'
'Then you were so sure of me!' cried Eugénie, clinging to his arm.
'So sure of you—'
'My shoes—I have no proper shoes—'
'I will carry you so that you do not soil your feet—'
In all his life de Sarcey had known no more triumphant hour than this. He had killed a man, he had revenged himself on a family who had thwarted him, he had won the long-desired woman; in all these things he satisfied the wildness that was in him, vindicated his pride. As he drew Eugénie into the shelter of his cloak, he was not so wholly occupied, even with this prized woman in her complete surrender, that he could not pause to take one of his gloves from his pocket and toss it on to the square of lamplight on the floor of the deserted chamber.
And there it lay, in mocking challenge, long after the voices had ceased, the stealthy steps had died away in the garden and the little cabriolet had sped secretly to Auteuil.
The lamp burnt out, and the sun rose and lit the disordered room and the man's glove on the carpet by the bed.
And women, knocking at the door that concealed emptiness, summoned the young girl to dress for her wedding.
A woman stood at the window of a yellow marble palace on the Lung' Arno, in the city of Pisa.
It was the first hour of the long light southern evening, July and hot, but now there was coolness and an air of rest and quiet. She sighed, touched with that sense of loneliness, not unmingled with fear, that sometimes comes in the midst of great happiness.
'Let us go out, Dorine,' she said to her maid. 'Let us go to the bridge and see Monseigneur come home.'
She took a white silk shawl from a chair and flung it over the shoulders of her white gown and put on a yellow Leghorn hat; she was leaving the room when, with a sudden impulse, she turned and looked at herself in the long, gilt-framed mirror that hung on the painted wall.
In the depths of the old greenish glass she saw herself; a fair bright woman in white, and she had the curious impression that she was looking at a stranger.
Was this Eugénie de Haultpenne of that life seeming now so long ago? Who was this woman who for two years had been called Madame de Beaucy?
The falsity of her whole life seemed to colour even her image of herself, even her own personality seemed obscured by the strangeness of her position, the secret fears that overshadowed her joys, the dangers that threatened her happiness; for all she had, and was, depended on one thing only—a man's constancy.
Sometimes she shuddered at this. Accustomed all her life to complete security, she could hardly, even now, face how completely she was cut off from everything except one man's affection, one man's protection.
She hurried down the wide marble steps, glad to be in the outside air. With eager feet she turned to the arched stone bridge which, near by, spanned the yellow river.
Her mood changed swiftly; now she was radiantly happy.
Leaning over the low balustrade she watched a small boat that was rowing against the tide. Two men were rowing with the short Venetian stroke, a boy was at the tiller. Eugénie crossed to meet them. As she reached the opposite side of the river, her maid, who had lagged behind, overtook her hurriedly.
'Letters, Madame,' she said breathlessly, as she joined her mistress.
There were never any letters for Madame.
'Why have you brought them here?' asked Eugénie impatiently.
'Antoine gave them to me, Madame—the post has just arrived.'
'You know that Monseigneur will not read them till he returns,' said Eugénie in the same tone.
She did not like letters, nor indeed anything that disturbed the enchantment of this life in which she somewhat desperately enclosed herself.
'Give them to me,' she added, and took the heavy packet from Dorine.
She glanced at it and saw that, as she had expected, it was from the steward of the Provence estate—she was aware of no one else who knew the whereabouts of the Marquis de Sarcey. Slowly she walked to the steps, the package in her hand; she hated it because it came from France. She did not wish to remember France; yet she knew that it was necessary that the Marquis should keep in touch with his agents, that the money that fed and clothed them in their pleasant idleness came from this source.
Almost furtively she glanced at the superscription.
MONSEIGNEUR S.A. LE PRINCE DE BEAUCY,
He was known by no other name here—and she was called the Princess de Beaucy, and no one had ever doubted her title.
She waited at the head of the stairs, and the two men came up, carrying their coats.
The first one on to the pavement of the Lung' Arno was a tall young man with dark red hair; he carried a light blue coat into which he slipped his arms as he came up.
The second was the man who, in the strictest sense, was all the world to the woman who waited to greet him.
Donatien de Sarcey wore a silk shirt open at the neck, light breeches and hose, and a dark green sash; his face was slightly flushed, and his waving black hair hung loose from the red ribbon that tied it in his neck.
'Good evening, Prince Chigi,' said Eugénie addressing the first comer—then, 'Letters for you,' she said, turning to the Marquis.
'Keep them,' he smiled, 'I have no pocket.'
He looked back down the steps and gave his hand, to the boy who was scrambling up the slippery stone.
'What a beautiful evening!' cried the young Italian. 'We have rowed nearly to the sea—down to the fishing nets.'
'You are tired?' laughed Eugénie.
'Nay, Princess, for it was your lord who sent the boat along. He rows splendidly.'
'He does everything well,' said Eugénie.
She glanced back at the Marquis, who was supporting the boy as he walked along the parapet. He was a beautiful child of no more than eight, with the bloom of the grape in his hair and the bloom of the peach in his face, graceful and as full of movement as a wild bird. He was laughing down at the man who held him, and the Marquis was laughing up at him; they seemed absorbed in each other.
Something in the strength and wildness of her lover and the weakness and wildness of the child and the fierce beauty of both, sent a pang through Eugénie's heart. She knew that she might think herself greatly fortunate that there was no one to inherit the penalties of her rash action, but she could not be glad that both as woman and lover she was thus incomplete; she thought too that a child would have been another bond to hold him by.
'Come along,' she said to her companion, 'we will not wait for them.'
As she spoke M. de Sarcey called out through the dusk. 'I will take the child home and come immediately.'
'He is very fond of little Valentino,' said Prince Chigi as they crossed the bridge.
'It is a charming child,' answered Eugénie, and she spoke coldly, for she thought that she heard pity in the remark.
The young Italian glanced at the packet she held; the white square of it, blotched with the great seals, glimmered through the dusk.
'News from France, Princess?' he asked; he spoke in her tongue, very fluently.
'Yes,' answered Eugénie briefly.
'Your poor country! It is always bad news, I fear.'
'There is no chance of your return to Paris, Madame?'
'This must be terrible for you, this exile,' said Prince Chigi.
They had now reached the other side of the river. As they neared the palace, Antoine came out and lit the iron lamp above the narrow door; a flood of yellow light broke the cool colours of the evening.
Eugénie, pausing on the step to take leave of her companion, suddenly became aware of his personality, as if something hitherto walking in shadow had stepped into the sun.
The glow of the hanging lantern fell over him as he stood at the foot of the white steps, over his pale face with the clearly marked brows and dark eyes and the dark, heavy auburn hair, over his graceful figure in the loose, tumbled blue coat, the unknotted cravat and cambric-ruffled shirt.
For the first time Eugénie thought it rather a peculiar face, more like a carefully carved bust than a human face; and in one eye was a defect, to-night very noticeable, where one lid drooped lower than the other.
'Good night, M. de Chigi,' said Eugénie.
He took her hand and kissed it very deliberately.
'I am always at your service,' he murmured.
'Why do you say that?' asked Eugénie sharply; she drew away her hand.
He came closer; somewhere he had about him a sprig of citronella, she could smell the pungent perfume.
'It is possible that you might have need of me,' he said gravely.
'It is quite impossible,' said Eugénie, and entered the house.
She glanced back, to see him, without change of expression, turn away.
He knows,' she thought. It would not be difficult, she reflected bitterly, for anyone to find out that Prince de Beaucy was the same man as the Marquis de Sarcey, who had fled from Paris with his wife's sister on the night of the revolution in Paris.
Her first impulse was to tell the Marquis; but she was so fearful of disturbing in any way the peace of their lives that she soon decided to deal with the young Roman herself. She did not wish to leave Pisa, for she had come to love the town and the house. There were pleasant acquaintances here, an easy idle life; there was all the Marquis needed, companions, hunting, rowing, the hundred little interests with which he filled his days. He had never reminded her of what he had put aside for her sake, never shown himself anything but passionately fond and satisfied and she was eager, almost painfully eager, that he should have the life he liked.
In one year of wandering and another year of quiet life in this placid town she had herself known happiness so complete that she trembled with the terror that it was too perfect to last. And now Prince Chigi had disturbed her by the hint that he knew all the shame and horror that clung to her which she had tried so fiercely to forget, to thrust aside for ever.
The Marquis came into the room. He still had his coat over his arm. She turned and looked at him, and was greatly tempted to tell him of Prince Chigi and her sense of danger.
'Ah, letters,' he said, and took up the packet from the black table.
Eugénie's vexation and fear now vented itself on the servants.
'Antoine gave them to Dorine to bring to you, but you went away with the child,' she answered. 'They are too—they know too much, all of them—Dorine and the men.'
He looked up from the seal he was breaking.
'Do they annoy you, Eugénie?'
She could not, in justice, say a word against them there.
'Nay, they are all that is discreet and civil,' she said, 'but I should like them to go.'
'Oh, they fret me,' she answered reluctantly.
The Marquis smiled.
'Ah, whim—well, they will stay.'
She flushed a little at that.
'You indulge them—it has always been a plague to me to have these people who—'
'Know everything,' she would have finished, but pride kept her silent.
'It would plague me to be waited on by these Italians,' he replied.
And he began opening the letter as if the subject was dismissed.
Eugénie went up to him and put her hand on his arm.
'Do not look at those papers now,' she pleaded. 'You know that I hate to hear—of France.'
He turned his dark face towards her.
'Why, you are agitated, Eugénie—you know what these are, from my stewards, my bankers?'
'Still, do not read them now—let us have supper first.'
She stole a glance at the open packet in his hands; he laughed and held them out to her.
Will you read them?' he asked.
'No, no, I want to hear nothing—you know that—'
'Well, I will tell you nothing.'
As he spoke he threw the packet back on to the table; an envelope fell out at their feet.
He stooped to pick it up; it was addressed to him, at his chateau at Beaucy, in a hand which was strange to him.
'Donatien, do not read them now,' urged Eugénie again, for she saw that he was looking at the letter curiously.
'Let me see the signature,' he answered, and with a little stiletto he carried in his pocket he slit open the fastenings.
Eugénie rested her head on his shoulder. 'Only—the signature,' she said, and as he did not respond, drew the letter down to see the name for herself.
It was Pélagie de Sarcey.
The Marquis put his arm round Eugénie, but she drew away from him completely and went to the window.
The name of Pelagic had not been mentioned between them, nor her existence even obliquely referred to since they had left Paris together two years ago.
And now this letter.
Was it possible that she had written before and that he had never told her? Was it possible that in her dread of touching on the past she had allowed herself to know too little of what was happening between the Marquis and those whom he had left behind?
She looked over her shoulder into the room. M. de Sarcey had flung his coat over the table against which he leant; he was reading the letter.
Eugénie could not endure this.
'Please,' she said, 'spare me. Leave that till afterwards.'
He looked up; she noticed at once that he was slightly pale.
'I am sorry you saw this, Eugénie,' he said gently.
'No, I am glad. Is it the first?' she asked.
'Yes,' he replied. He folded the letter up and put it in his breeches pocket.
'I want to see it,' said Eugénie. 'Will you not show it to me?'
She held out her hand.
'I have not read it myself yet,' he answered.
Eugénie dropped her hand to her side.
'What is she writing to you about? It is not just that she should write.'
The Marquis shrugged his shoulders; he appeared thoughtful, almost absorbed, which filled Eugénie with a desperate desire to distract him, at any cost, from that letter.
'Who is Prince Chigi?' she asked abruptly.
'I do not know,' he answered with complete indifference. 'Do you like him?' she asked sharply.
He put on his coat and came to her at the window.
Well,' said Eugénie breathlessly, 'he knows about us'
'Eh?' the Marquis was roused now. 'What does he know?'
'That I am not your wife.'
It was the first time that she had put the thing into words; she would not have done so now had she not been so overwrought and agitated.
The Marquis looked at her keenly, as if trying to fathom her mood.
'He spoke to me to-night as he could not have spoken had he not known,' she said.
'Well, we can manage him,' said M. de Sarcey. 'Perhaps he heard something in Rome or Florence—'
'You seem to think that it does not matter,' said Eugénie with some bitterness.
'Does it?' he asked. 'You and I have never given much heed to other people.'
He drew her, with a gentle and caressing movement, out on to the narrow balcony with the iron balustrade.
'Look how beautiful it is to-night,' said the Marquis. 'It seems as if something was out here that loved us—but you seem sad. Why?'
'I have lived in such a delicate fabric,' she answered, 'that a touch can damage it.
'Has your happiness been such a slight thing?' he asked.
'Oh, oh no,' she turned and clung to him. 'Between you and me, everything seems right, always—but—'
She paused; she could not explain that as long as it was tacitly accepted in her household and universally believed by their outside world that her position was one of honour, she was happy and untroubled by conscience, but the moment that she suspected her secret was known, she became sensitive to a look, a gesture, and tortured with inward shame.
'Are you thinking of Provino di Chigi?' asked the Marquis. 'Yes—of what else?'
'I thought perhaps—of that letter.'
'Must you remind me of that?'
'We shall have to think of it.'
'You said you had not read it—how do you know we must think of it?' she asked impatiently.
'I glanced at the contents—'
Eugénie was assailed by a terrible sense of insecurity.
She pressed close to her lover and locked her hands behind his neck.
'Do me a favour, Donatien,' she whispered eagerly; 'give me that letter and let me destroy it.'
'Because I do not want,' answered Eugénie desperately, 'to hear anything of her or of France.'
'You have heard nothing for two years, Eugénie,' he replied. 'If you wish you shall hear nothing now.'
'I know you have been good—you have shielded me from everything. I know, I know, and continue to keep me in the dark. I could not well bear anything else. You too must forget—'
'Hush, Eugénie, hush, you are like a child, there is no cause for this agitation. Kiss me—be good.'
But she turned her head aside and moved away from him back into the room; he had not promised to give her the letter; she was sure that he would read it, perhaps reply.
Therefore she would have to read it too, and affairs that she wished to avoid for ever must be dragged in from the dark and faced.
In the room opening from the one they were in the supper was laid. She seated herself in the black carved chair at the head of the table, and looked past the six candle flames at the face of Donatien de Sarcey.
For two years he had been faithful, kind and content. What more could she wish for? She knew enough of him to know that it was far more than she might have dared to hope. He had been true to the tremendous and persistent passion that had caused him to put aside everything for her, and if she felt that there was a part of him shut away from her, a side of him that she did not know, it was idiotic to dwell on such fears and doubts.
And idiotic to dwell on Prince Chigi's quiet insolence. So she argued with herself.
But the letter from Pélagie—that must be faced.
When the servants were gone she rose and went round to the Marquis.
The window was open behind him and the soft night air filled the room. Someone was singing across the river, and the stars, rising higher, hung above the balcony; Eugénie could see them framed in the dark lines of the high window.
'Let me see that letter,' she said gently. She bent over him and her fair hair touched his dark curls; he started slightly as if roused from a reverie.
'Shall I not read it first?' he asked.
Eugénie steadied herself.
'Let us read it together,' she said.
He took the letter from his pocket and spread it on the table, first moving back the tall glasses and the dishes of fruit.
Eugénie leant on the arm of his chair. She noticed the strangeness of the writing; she did not remember that she had ever seen Pélagie's hand. She also noticed the address at the head of the sheet. So Pélagie had returned.
'She went home?'
'Yes,' he answered briefly. 'She returned to the house of M. le Président immediately.'
Two years of that, thought Eugénie. She could picture something of what that life must have been for the deserted wife.
Together, in the candlelight, they read the letter.
HôTEL DE HAULTPENNE, PARIS
June 30th, 1791
To Monseigneur the Marquis de Sarcey.
You may think it strange that I should write to you, but I believe that it would be stranger if I did not do so. For two years I have been without news of you. I do not know where you are, and I send this letter to Château Beaucy—I cannot tell if it will reach you. I think that if it does you will answer it, though perhaps that is a strange amount of confidence for a woman to place in a husband who deserted her so soon and so heartlessly. Monsieur, I write in the greatest distress. Perhaps you do not know how matters are here.
The country is in a revolution; their Majesties endeavoured to fly the country, but were stopped at Varennes and brought back; they are now prisoners in the Temple.
You may judge by this into what condition of anarchy we are fallen.
The Court is now powerless to protect anyone, and all of gentle birth are suspected by the new Government, which is the National Assembly.
My father was arrested yesterday; he is now in La Force. My mother is very ill, many of our friends are in prison, many of them have fled.
M. de Rochefort has joined the party of M. d'Orléans but has no power to help us. Nearly all the estates of my father have been confiscated and his country houses burnt down.
We greatly lack money, and live here in two rooms doing our own work.
I think we shall soon be arrested.
I especially am under suspicion as the wife of a prominent aristocrat and an emigrant; as you are not here to answer for yourself, I must answer for you.
I hear that they have destroyed your château in Artois. M. de Lambesc was murdered in the streets.
I think if we are arrested we may certainly be beheaded; they have no respect for women, and the law is no protection.
We might get to England, but we have no friends and no money.
The Emperor and the King of Prussia are coming, I hear, to the assistance of their Majesties, but I doubt that they will be in time.
I cannot tell how much you know of these things, nor if you take any interest at all in France.
I write to let you know our personal plight, I thought that you should know.
It seemed to me such a chance for you. You betrayed everything, even your duty as a soldier—you might redeem it now, if you came back.
I wonder if you have it in you to come back and face everything?
I am the only creature who bears your name, and I appeal to you to return and show that you have at least that last virtue of courage.
There is no one else who is interested enough in you to write like this, and whatever woman is with you now will urge you to stay in safety.
You must decide.
I may not be able to write again; I may be in prison or dead by the time you receive this.
The great indifference I know you feel towards me may not be disturbed by this letter—perhaps it will merely amuse you that I should still think of you; but I am, in name, the Marquise de Sarcey and feel some duty towards you.
My husband, I want you to have this chance.
PELAGIE DE SARCEY.
This was the letter that they read together in the lovely Pisan evening. It was as if a third presence, disturbing, terrible, had been introduced into their solitude.
Eugénie could also see the dark eyes, the thin face and slender figure of Pélagie in the shadows beyond the candle-lit table.
'Burn it,' she said hoarsely. 'Burn it and forget.'
He did not raise his head from contemplation of the letter.
'Oh, God!' cried Eugénie desperately. 'I did not know that she was clever enough to write to you like that!'
Now he glanced up.
'Clever?' he repeated.
'What else! The cunning of it! Little better than a trap—'
'There is no trap, for there is no disguise,' he replied; 'she tells me of the danger.'
'That she may spur you into encountering it!' exclaimed Eugénie.
'She may be dead—even as we speak,' said M. de Sarcey quietly.
Eugénie took the letter from before him and crushed it up.
'This shall not come between us,' she said fiercely. 'This cannot come between us.'
He answered instantly.
'Nothing can come between us. But I must go to France.'
Her anguish was as sharp and sudden as befitted a blow so abrupt and cruel, yet, even as she was filled with despair she realised that she had felt this disaster threatening her, that she had known that something terrible was going to happen.
Only she had imagined the menace came from Prince Chigi, not from this letter.
'You must not go—you cannot and shall not go,' she said violently.
He took her hand as if to restrain and soothe her distress. 'Why, I am not going to-day, or to-morrow, Eugénie.'
'You must not go at all.'
He smiled up at her; he was still seated and she standing by his chair.
'Am I to let them think I am afraid to return?' he asked. 'Does it matter? What did you say to me just now—that we have never troubled about the judgment of others?'
'Eugénie, there is no need to think about this now—there are many things to be considered.'
But she could by no means control her violent emotion. 'You have told me that you mean to go. That is enough.'
'I shall return—'
'It is death to go to France now—you may judge as much from that letter!'
The Marquis was silent.
Eugénie cast the crumpled letter down on the shadowed floor and escaped on to the narrow iron balcony to gain some calm, some strength of spirit; she leant heavily against the façade behind her and stared into the dark.
She could not reason on what had happened; only one aspect of the case could she see: Pelagic had called him, and he was going.
She gave no thought to the news the letter contained—the arrest of her father, the danger of her family, Pélagie's bitter plight, answerable by the man who had abandoned her. She had never loved any of them, she considered it their fault that she was not Donatien de Sarcey's wife.
The letter had aroused no compassion in her heart; it seemed to her a trap, a trick to separate her and him, a thrust in the dark, a subtle piece of cleverness on the part of Pelagic.
While she had been perfectly sure of him, she had not cared—but now her position rankled. Passionately she came back to what she had said to him—'it is never different, never, never.' She was not his wife and he was acutely aware of the fact, and when the test came all the oaths and vows counted as nothing, and she was reckoned as any other light o'love—to be easily left—probably easily forgotten.
She looked round into the room; other people had joined the Marquis now; the supper had been cleared and the cards brought out.
De Sarcey was leaning across the table smiling and talking with that air of serene self-containment that she had never yet been able either to wholly shake or wholly penetrate.
As she watched Prince Chigi left the little group and joined her on the balcony. 'Why do you deny us your company to-night, Princess?' he asked.
Eugénie looked at him. 'Why did you say what you did to me this evening?' she asked.
He looked at her with sudden blazing eagerness in his eyes.
'I heard about you in Rome as one, Princess, who might need a friend—a powerful friend,' he answered, speaking carefully.
So he knew—and dared to let her know that he knew.
'You are very bold,' she answered. 'Are you not afraid of M. de Beaucy?'
No,' he said quietly.
'Well,' replied Eugénie, 'I shall remember that, Monseigneur.'
She passed him and entered the room; the Marquis was playing cards. He did not raise his eyes when Eugénie passed, but when Prince Chigi entered from the balcony de Sarcey gave him a quick glance.
Eugénie, without a word to anyone, left the room and went upstairs.
Provino di Chigi joined the card players; he was extremely quiet and took his leave early.
After midnight, when the last guest had gone and the house was in stillness, M. de Sarcey went up to his bedroom.
Antoine was, as usual, in attendance; his master looked at him searchingly and told him to close the door.
'Everyone is in bed, Antoine?'
As he spoke, the valet closed the windows against the crowds of night-flies and mosquitoes that rose from the river, and adjusted the silver lamp that stood on the table by the bed.
The Marquis sat down at the foot of the bed.
'Antoine,' he said, 'I must return to Paris.'
Not by a quiver did the servant betray any astonishment. 'Yes, Monseigneur.'
'And soon. Madame la Marquise is in danger—largely on my account. I believe I am proscribed by the National Assembly. Madame's letter was written nearly a month ago—I must start in a few days.'
'It is understood,' said the valet, 'that I accompany Monseigneur?'
And his thin dark face was keen and sharp as a knife as he looked at his master.
'I do not know,' replied M. de Sarcey slowly. 'Someone must be left here.'
M. de Sarcey gave him a queer look.
'I think Madame had better go into a convent till I return—return!' he added suddenly. 'I fancy this is a journey from which one does not return. Now what in the name of the devil am I going to do with my unfortunate Eugénie?'
The valet looked at him with almost painful eagerness.
'I await the commands of Monseigneur.'
'I do not know,' replied the Marquis slowly, If you had better go or stay. Perhaps my journey would be easier alone. I think there may be difficulties. France is not what it was, my friend. I would have gone before if it had not been—Well,' he suddenly laughed, 'we must decide quickly, Antoine. I should be over the frontier in a few days.'
He rose and walked slowly up and down the room.
'De Lambesc was murdered in the streets,' he said abruptly, 'and the Queen is a prisoner. And I was their friend, Antoine, and one of His Majesty's officers. Confound all beautiful women. Believe me, Antoine, this is the last time—even if I live. And what am I going to do with her? She takes it very badly.'
'They always do,' said the valet. 'But Monseigneur has been very devoted.'
'That will not make the leaving of her easier,' said the Marquis grimly. 'She will be crying herself to sleep now, Antoine.'
'But this does not move Monseigneur?' asked the valet tentatively.
'It does not alter my resolve.'
The valet moved about the room, unobtrusively occupying himself in arranging this and that. The Marquis had again flung himself in the chair at the end of the bed; his glance followed the neat, quietly moving figure of Antoine.
This servant was now the only fellow-countryman of his acquaintance, and the man who had been more in his confidence and knew more about him than any other; he was probably more frankly himself when with this man than in any other company.
'You have known me a long time now, Antoine,' he remarked.
'A number of years, Monseigneur—ever since Monsieur was with M. le Prince de Conde.'
'Why, yes,' said M. de Sarcey thoughtfully. 'And you have never known me pay so high a price for any lady as I paid for this one, have you Antoine?—or known me to be so long faithful'
'I should have married her, Antoine. If those stiff-necked fools had not thwarted me, she would have been my wife. Everything would have been different. I suppose I was a fool too—every man is, once in his life. Damn love.'
'Monseigneur has been bored in Italy?'
'You know that I am never bored, Antoine,' said the Marquis.
'One of Monseigneur's quality might easily be wearied in a town as provincial as this. There is no one here who would have been of Monseigneur's acquaintance in Paris.'
'Only Prince Chigi,' replied M. de Sarcey quietly; he still looked at the valet.
'Prince Chigi is out of place in Pisa, Monsieur,' said the valet.
The Marquis smiled at this evidence of the sure instinct and delicate perception of the servant.
'He has his purpose in staying here—he had his purpose in coming, Antoine.' believe so, Monseigneur.'
He heard about me in Rome—one passes as an émigré here—but he heard the truth from—God knows what source. He came here from curiosity and idleness. He stays—you know why he stays, Antoine?'
'Ah—you do—well, why?'
'I am not to speak till Monseigneur bids me.'
Bah, you are too tactful,' said the Marquis.
'M. di Chigi is here because of Madame.'
The valet turned and looked at his master—there was a little gleam in his close-set eyes. 'Monsieur must dispose of M. di Chigi before he leaves Pisa.'
'That is what I thought,' replied the Marquis—'but how? Naturally he does not know that I am aware either of his knowledge—or his intentions. But he has betrayed himself to me very completely. I rather like him,' he added irrelevantly.
He stretched himself a little.
'I had better leave you in charge and go alone,' he said. 'Monseigneur knows that I should be able to protect anything that belongs to him.'
'I think you would—with Gervaise and Dorine to help you. I have bought this house, and there is enough money in Italy to keep her splendidly—for a long while. I do not think that any of my estates will pay much longer. The dowry of the Marquis was returned to her. So one is not rich, Antoine. But for this lady there should be enough.'
'Monseigneur will leave her here in Pisa?' asked the valet. 'Well—since there is no time to go anywhere else Antoine. I must be away—in two days.'
He spoke lightly, and rising, took off his loose coat.
'God, how hot it is!' he added. 'Do you remember—two years ago, almost to the very day—when we left Paris? It has been a lovely interlude. Put out paper and pens, Antoine, I have to write a letter to-night.'
In a moment the valet had the materials ready on the heavy desk of black wood and coloured stones that stood before the window. The Marquis wrote a short note, sealed it and gave it to Antoine.
'You will deliver that to M. di Chigi early in the morning.' The servant took the letter and the eyes of the two men met. 'Monseigneur is coming to conclusions with M. di Chigi?' The man spoke with an emotion well repressed but evident. 'Yes.
'Monseigneur is determined to go on this journey—at once?'
The valet bowed and turned away.
M. de Sarcey rose. 'You may leave me, Antoine.'
The servant turned to the door, paused, then, as one acting on a sudden impulse, turned back into the room. The Marquis looked at him.
'What is it?' he demanded sharply, for the man's face was changed.
'Oh, Monsieur—I cannot leave it all thus!' cried the valet desperately. 'You know what it means to return to France? Oh, God, you know?'
'I know, Antoine.'
They stood facing each other; for once the roles of master and man dropped between them.
'Monsieur,' said the servant swiftly, 'no one in Pisa knows: only you and I are aware of what France is now. You have told me—I have heard for myself. Monsieur—it is death—there is not a chance.'
'Scarcely. I was among the first to be proscribed—and M. de Haultpenne had a lettre de cachet out against me for abduction. Between the two—' He smiled at the man.
'Madame does not know?'
'She guesses there is danger—she is not aware of the truth.'
For the moment the valet stared at the proud dark face that gazed so quietly at his distress, then he suddenly threw himself on his knees before his master.
'The truth is that you go to meet certain death!' he cried. 'Monsieur-!'
M. de Sarcey turned on him fiercely.
'But death—and for a woman!' Antoine tried to catch at the Marquis; he was still on his knees, his face distorted.
'Get up,' thundered M. de Sarcey. 'It is for no woman but for a man, for Donatien de Sarcey! Stand aside, you fool, you know who I am—'
'But this is all for the Marquise—' sobbed the valet, 'a woman—'
'No. I am going because when the peers of France are called to the last account a de Sarcey must be among them. Get up—command yourself.'
The man rose, trembling, with an effort at composure; he made a. gesture of protest, and was about to speak. The Marquis, however, seized him by the arm with a grip that made the man wince.
'Be quiet, Antoine, you know what I will not take from you. Dare to let anyone know my danger and I will send you from my service.'
There could be no more awful threat for the valet, but his desperate agony for the one thing on earth that he cared for made him defiant as he had never before dreamt of being.
'Monsieur will take me with him,' he said obstinately, almost sullenly.
No—because I need you here.'
The valet faced him with dogged persistency.
'Monsieur said that I might always stay with him—I came to serve Monsieur, not Madame.'
'You will serve me—in a difficult matter.'
'I am Monsieur's personal servant—it is right that I should go with him.'
M. de Sarcey shook him and flung him off; the valet bit his lips. The Marquis, forgetting his own strength, had nearly broken the man's arm.
'If you are not quiet, Antoine, I shall thrash you,' he said. Silenced, the man drew back.
'If you do not care to stay in Pisa you can easily find another place,' added the Marquis. Tut if you will not serve me here, you certainly shall not come with me to France.'
Antoine was silent for a second.
'Monseigneur knows that I would serve him anywhere,' he said at length.
'Very well—I will tell you what I want of you presently; for the moment be silent—to everyone. To-morrow you may pack my portmanteaux. I shall take Gervaise as far as the frontier. Good night.
The valet hesitated, looked at him; the glance of the two men again met; the valet reluctantly turned away and left the room.
'Ah, well,' thought the Marquis as he went to the desk, 'it makes it all easier to have that devil whom one can trust.'
He lit the candles on the desk, pushed back the tangled black hair from his eyes and began to write letters, a task which he continued far into the night.
Eugénie rose early the next morning. She was restless and ill at ease; desperate thoughts had tormented her during her sleepless night, and the dawn did not lend her much hope.
A fate that she could not fight against seemed to mock her, telling her that she had wandered out of her fool's paradise and the gates were closed behind her. A dreadful sense of desolation already filled her heart; she could not, with any degree of calm, contemplate the possibility of her happiness being abruptly and cruelly ended by the departure of the Marquis.
Her unhappiness was further increased on hearing that the Marquis had already left the palace—he had gone riding towards Livorno and said nothing about his return.
Eugénie almost wept at the prospect of the blank hours before her. She went down into the loggia that surrounded the courtyard at the back of the palace; it was a pleasant place overhung with jasmine, and cool and shady.
In the middle of the courtyard oleanders and syringa grew and in the centre of these bushes was a small pond filled with purple and white lily flags with spear-like leaves.
Eugénie seated herself in a cushioned chair in the shade of the loggia.
Her whole being chafed fiercely against her fate; she re solved not to endure any anguish that any action of hers, however desperate, could avoid.
A footstep sounded on the stone pavement behind her. Eugénie looked round eagerly, her whole being suddenly radiant.
It was not M. de Sarcey, but the young Italian prince who was coming towards her through the shadows of the arcade.
Eugénie sat forward; the sunlight that already shone in the courtyard was beginning to enter the loggia, and shone over her feet and the hem of her dress. She wore a loose yellow muslin, nearly the colour of her hair, and a dark red sash; she was neither painted nor powdered, and her only ornaments were the fine gold Etruscan bracelets she wore on her bare arms.
Until Prince Chigi was beside her chair she did not speak. Then she said, looking up at him:
'M. de Beaucy is out riding.'
'May I amuse you till he returns?'
Eugénie gazed at him steadily; she was sure he had known that she was alone, sure that not too cautiously, and in his own way he was pursuing her and her anger was not against him but against the Marquis. Had she been the Marquise it would not have been possible for anyone to treat her so lightly. Still in these moments of intolerable aching suspense she was glad to see this young man. As she was quite indifferent to him, she believed that she could manage him without difficulty.
'I do not know that you are very amusing, Prince,' she answered, 'but you may stay.'
She did not offer him her hand and she looked at him without smiling.
Provino di Chigi made no step towards her, but leant against the nearest pillar of the loggia.
Eugénie, looking at him, wondered in her bitterness of heart in what way he was so different from Donatien de Sarcey—that the one should be all, the other nothing to her. She wondered if both were not equally idle, useless, unscrupulous and proud—the same in youth and position, and if M. de Sarcey's advantage was not solely in his handsomeness.
Prince Chigi was watching her. She knew that his perceptions were unusually swift and that nothing escaped him; she was aware that both last night and again now he knew that she was troubled. She turned her lovely face towards him and spoke with that frankness that could be either a defect or a virtue with her, but which it was not in her nature to avoid.
'What did you hear of me in Rome?' she asked.
He gave her a slow look.
'That you were the most beautiful woman in France,' he answered readily.
'No one could have told you that,' said Eugénie. 'I had not any reputation as a beauty—no one saw me. I hardly left my father's house.'
'Nevertheless I see for myself that it is true,' he said. 'At least you are the most beautiful woman that I have ever seen.'
Eugénie gave a hard laugh.
'And you think it a pity that I should be exiled in Pisa?'
'I do not think that you will remain exiled in Pisa.'
She looked at him boldly. 'Perhaps I am not always for Pisa,' she added. 'One would prefer France—and surely these troubles will not last for ever—one hopes to return.'
'I hope you will not,' said Prince Chigi.
She noticed that he gave her no title, and the flush deepened in her cheeks.
'You might as well tell me what you know of me as you show it in your manner,' she said.
He did not falter in his composure, though he was unused to frankness, especially from women.
'What would you like me to say to you?' he asked.
'Shall I tell you?'
She sat up and held out her hand; the gold filigree bracelets had slipped and were hanging loosely round her white wrist. He turned from the pillar and took her hand gently; as he bent towards her she could again distinguish the scent of citronella that she had noticed last night; she drew back.
'Are you afraid of me?' he asked quickly.
'No,' she answered, 'of nothing—not even of the truth. That is what I want you to tell me—the truth.'
For the first time since she had known him she saw his face change; the smooth contours took on an expression of intense feeling.
'I shall go crazy!' he cried in his own language, and he put her hand on his heart where she could feel the heavy beats through the fine silk shirt.
'I suppose you think that you love me?' said Eugénie.
'I think that you are mine,' he said, bending over her. 'I think that you were always meant to be mine—'
Eugénie gave an exclamation of sheer pain, dragged her hand away and rose. Almost in these very words had Donatien de Sarcey addressed her first, and she had treasured them in her heart as something special, only to find that they were among the commonplaces of a rake's love-making; it seemed to write 'fool' over her whole conduct.
She turned away in real anguish, hardly knowing what to do.
The Prince was startled. 'Are you not well?' he asked anxiously, and put his arm round her as if to support her.
'I am not well,' she answered, turning in his embrace so that she looked at him. 'My soul is sick—life is all worn out and spoilt for me—but you would not understand that!'
'A woman like you!' he said unsteadily. 'What has happened to you?'
'Oh, you can guess—perhaps you know, everyone will be discussing it—I am on the market-place to be stared at.'
'He is leaving you?'
'And if he did?' she had drawn away from him, but his arm was still about her waist.
'And if he did,' answered Prince Chigi, now flushed in the face, 'I would love and guard you as well as ever he has done—'
'I believe you would,' said Eugénie sharply, 'and that is the bare truth.'
She moved away from him and leant against the pillar where he had stood. Prince Chigi hesitated a moment then suddenly stiffened where he stood; with an almost imperceptible movement he smoothed the ruffles of his shirt and cravat and turned in leisurely fashion away from Eugénie.
M. de Sarcey was coming along the loggia; he had two crop-eared, brindled Corsican dogs with him. He greeted Eugénie and Prince Chigi with perfect pleasantness.
'You had my note?' he asked the Italian.
'I came here to thank you for it, M. de Beaucy.'
'You can come to us this evening?'
'How more pleasantly should my leisure be occupied?'
M. de Sarcey smiled.
'You notice I make the occasion a formal one—I have my reason.'
'What are you talking of?' asked Eugénie without moving.
'I have asked M. di Chigi to supper to-night,' said the
'Oh, how dull,' smiled Eugénie, 'how ordinary-'
She looked away from both of them.
'You should take Madame up the mountains or to the sea,' said Prince Chigi. 'The town is too hot and empty.'
'Yes,' returned M. de Sarcey indifferently. 'One wonders that anyone of your quality should remain here—but doubtless you have a great attraction here.'
'A great attraction,' said the Italian. 'I look forward to the day when I can tell you what it is.'
He gracefully took his leave and turned away, walking slowly down the now completely sun-filled loggia.
Eugénie and her lover now looked at each other as they had never looked before.
'I think that we had better go up the mountains,' said Eugénie. 'It is too hot here, as he said—'
'If you wish you can leave Pisa when I am gone.'
'Are you really going, then?' she asked.
'Have you ever known me change a resolution?' he asked quietly.
She had not. From that first resolution to win her he had been constant to his expressed desires.
'Do not go, please do not go,' she said with a new, rough note in her voice. 'Just think, for one moment, what it means to me. Donatien, have I not made you happy?'
'You know my gratitude,' he answered with a little smile. He leant over the back of the chair she had left.
'If you cared for me as you cared two years ago,' said Eugénie insistently, 'you would not leave me under any excuse whatever.'
'I only leave you,' he answered, 'for reasons that are more powerful than any love.'
'And what are those?'
'You may call them—name and honour,' he said carefully.
'This to me!' cried Eugénie with heaving breast. 'Your honour!'
He flushed as she had seldom seen him; he was thinking that his valet understood him better than Eugénie. 'Yes, my honour,' he said. 'As I interpret the term. It has nothing to do with women.'
No—nothing to do with women!' repeated Eugénie. 'It excuses you—towards me?'
'It does not touch our relationship.'
'You think not? You may abandon me and I must wait—for how long?'
'I have never broken faith with you, therefore you may believe me when I tell you that I will return to you, if I am alive.'
Eugénie looked at him and her eyes were hard.
'I think you lie,' she said. 'I believe that you are tired of me, and that this is the usual excuse. I am not sure even that you are going to France.'
'Perhaps it is better for you to think so,' he replied.
'It is impossible for you to return to Pélagie!' she cried with a bitterness that could no longer be repressed. 'What can Pélagie be to you?'
'Someone who has given me a chance—as she says. I wish it had been you, but I am afraid you do not understand, my poor Eugénie. Darling, I wish you would not hurt yourself over this. I cannot argue about it—'
'Nor I!' she cried wildly. 'I only know that you are leaving me—'
'Not leaving you, or the vows I swore to Love. I have kept to Love; but there are other things—you know how I have cared for you.'
She turned from the pillar and came towards him
'Then if you have cared, if you do care, have compassion on me now. I gave up everything for you—how much I only begin to realise—and nothing but your constancy, your presence can make up to me.' She held out her hands; she was trembling, and her words stumbled over each other. 'They—and you—and you—forced me beyond my strength—do not make me hate you for it.'
He took her hands and caressed them.
'Poor Eugénie,' he said; 'but you know that you would do it again—'
'I have never thought of anyone but you—'
'Yet the moment you were angry with me you allowed another man to make love to you. Well, why not? I did not, somehow, imagine that you would be different from other women-you cannot understand much beside love. Poor child! Well, I loved you, I love you still, I never pledged myself to more than that—and I will provide for your happiness, darling—'
She could not speak with anguish and rage; there was no resistance in her when he drew her to him and kissed her where the tangled hair fell on her forehead. Then he put her gently away from him and left her, calling his dogs and whistling as soon as he was out of her hearing.
Eugénie went on her knees and buried her face in the red cushions; she felt that in this moment Pélagie had been avenged.
For the rest of that day Eugénie did not see the Marquis alone; more than ever it seemed to her that he was tired of her, that he even wished to avoid speaking to her. She could not understand this invitation to Prince Chigi, whose intentions he seemed to have so easily read, and she thought of refusing to be present at the supper. Yet she knew that if he wished her to attend she would have to, and also that she was far too overwrought to be able to endure solitude or the company of Dorine.
When the time came she put on her finest dress and was rewarded by the Marquis's quick look as she entered the supper room. He kissed her hand and frankly praised her loveliness.
Eugénie did not answer; she took her place at the table, resting her elbows on the lace cloth and her chin in her hands. Her eyes, brilliant from tears, cast a long glance at M. de Sarcey, who remained standing, waiting for his guest.
He wore a coat of a fine white cloth and a waistcoat of gold brocade; she had not seen him in white since that day in her father's garden when he had asked her to run away with him. Had she gone then she might now have been his wife. Looking back, it seemed to her that she had behaved like an utter fool; she had refused him when he was free, and surrendered when both of them were pledged, and now the castle built on sand had fallen, and she must find what she could among the ruins.
When Prince Chigi arrived he could not, for all his composure, forbear a glance of almost startled admiration at Eugénie. Her dress of rose-red damask velvet, the loose dressing of her curls through which were threaded braids of seed pearls, the soft light of the six candles, her own air of tension, combined to give her beauty a lustre that made her truly the most beautiful woman the young Italian had ever seen.
Antoine had taken the last dish away and the table was bare except for the wine, the glasses, the fruit, some silver plates, and the golden bowl of full-blown roses that stood beneath the candles, before there was a pause in the falsely gay conversation between these three, who in reality knew so little of each other. Both Prince Chigi and Eugénie glanced covertly at the Marquis.
Eugénie was drinking the amber-coloured Italian wines with a certain eagerness; she noticed that Prince Chigi had continually filled his glass, but that the Marquis had drunk only water. She picked up some of the rose petals that had fallen on the cloth and dropped them into her wineglass and held it up against the candle-light and watched them float on the pale wine enclosed by the crystal glass. Her bare throat and shoulders and arms were golden white, and her hair, entangled with the candle rays, seemed to gleam like precious metal.
The Marquis looked at her, and then at Prince Chigi.
She sat at the end of the table with her back to the window, the men either side of her; she leant forward, still holding up her glass, and glanced from one to the other.
'We are suddenly silent,' she smiled.
'Yet there is a good deal to say,' answered M. de Sarcey. 'To me?' asked Prince Chigi lightly.
The Italian filled his glass with a steady hand.
'I am quite at your service,' he said.
De Sarcey looked at him. 'Monsieur,' he said, 'as you have interfered in my affairs you must tolerate hearing something of them.'
The Italian bent forward and moved aside the candlestick with the six candles that stood between them, so that he could clearly see the other man's face.
'Yes?' he said.
'You know who I am?'
'Yes. M. de Sarcey.'
'You have heard something of me?'
Eugénie stared down the table at these two men suddenly facing each other with the masks off.
'You heard of me in Rome,' said M. de Sarcey. 'You satisfied your curiosity by coming here—you admired my lady—you paid court to her—not troubling about much circumspection or caution—'
Prince Chigi rose, holding on to the back of the chair. 'Let Madame retire before I answer you,' he said.
'No,' replied M. de Sarcey, 'for her own satisfaction she stays.'
The Italian turned to her swiftly.
'Is that your wish?'
She gave him a challenging look and her answer was full of bitterness. 'You see that I belong to M. de Sarcey and must do as he desires.'
'And as for your answer,' said the Marquis, also rising, 'there is no need of it. If, as you say, you know of me, you know what I am likely to do now—you know that I never took what you have offered—'
He passed suddenly round the table and struck Prince Chigi on the mouth; the heavy signet ring cut the Italian's lip, and even as he started back from the blow, a drop of blood fell on his chin.
Eugénie rose, sweeping her glass to the floor.
'This before me!' she cried.
'Yes, before you, my dear, so that you can see which of your admirers is the better man.'
Prince Chigi's face, usually so calm, was distorted with fury; he pressed his handkerchief to his lips and could hardly command his voice.
'You insult me like this—before a woman,' he hissed.
'As you insulted me behind my back,' returned the Marquis calmly. He drew out his sword. 'We can settle this now.'
'By God, we can!' cried Prince Chigi.
Eugénie came round the table.
'Let me go,' she whispered.
Nay, you stay,' commanded the Marquis. 'This is the first of my duels fought for a woman—but I have made you an exception in every way, Eugénie.'
'It is not fair,' she pleaded, 'without seconds—the light is bad—wait.'
M. de Sarcey laughed.
'It is my wish—Antoine keeps the door, we shall not be disturbed.'
'It is also my wish,' said Prince Chigi, who had recovered his composure. 'You have seen me insulted—see me avenged, Madame.' And he flung off his coat and waistcoat and unsheathed his sword.
Seeing that they were in earnest and that she had not the least influence with either of them in this man's way of settling a man's business, sheer terror seized her.
'Let me go,' she said, and stumbled towards the door. M. de Sarcey caught her arm.
'Have you no courage at all?' he asked, and she thought that his voice was contemptuous.
'Oh, God, I am very wretched!' she murmured; she sank into a black chair against the wall and hid her face.
M. de Sarcey moved the branched candlestick to the top of a black bureau where the candles shed an even light over the greater part of the room, leaving shadow only in the far end where Eugénie sat. He then closed the windows so that nothing might be heard in the street, and with the help of M. di Chigi moved back the table; a space of clear red-tiled floor was now available.
M. de Sarcey took off his coat and waistcoat and they measured their swords.
In thin silken shirts and light breeches they looked at a cursory glance much the same, but M. de Beaucy was in reality by far the more powerful of the two; his perfectly proportioned figure, however, did not at once convey the immense strength he really owned.
His sword was found to be a fraction shorter than that of his adversary, but he waived this advantage, which was indeed a trifling one.
'There should be a priest,' said M. di Chigi.
'A surgeon would be more useful,' replied M. de Sarcey; 'but doubtless you are a good churchman.'
'Still, I was confessed yesterday,' said the Italian, and seemed to reassure himself with this reflection.
Eugénie lifted her head and looked at them.
'This is barbarous,' she exclaimed desperately; 'if one is hurt—it will be murder.'
'There will be no murder,' said M. de Sarcey. He spoke without turning to her, and she felt herself more than ever in the background of his thoughts.
The sound of the two fine blades striking each other rang in the candle-lit room, and the one shuddering spectator saw the two men move backwards and then again forwards, so that neither left his original place and neither gained an advantage. During these two years of exile the Marquis had not neglected his sword practice and he was near perfection, but what stood him in even more stead than his skill was his great strength. When Prince Chigi, young and vigorous as he was, began to show signs of fatigue, even though no more than a quiver of the arm, a heave of the chest, M. de Sarcey was not even breathless; his weapon seemed light as a straw in his hand.
The moments passed; Eugénie, who had never seen a duel before, was none the less sure that the Marquis was merely playing with his opponent. She saw the moisture appearing on Prince Chigi's forehead, a tightening of his lips; a tremble in his sword arm; his attempts to pass the other's guard became hurried and ill-judged.
'Do not lose your temper,' said the Marquis sweetly, ''tis a certain step towards failure in most undertakings.'
The Italian flushed, with passionate vexation; he shortened his sword foolishly, and M. de Sarcey's black blade touched his breast.
A spot of red showed on the thin shirt.
'You did that purposely!' cried Prince Chigi.
'Gave you your life?—yes.' And again, with finest skill, de Sarcey passed Chigi's guard and pricked him over the heart.
Eugénie rose and held on to the arms of the black chair. Prince Chigi was breathing hard; he was agitated and angry; the Marquis was forcing him backwards.
'This has gone on long enough,' said Eugénie hoarsely; 'this cannot be!'
Neither of the men took any notice of her; for a few moments more the duel continued; then Prince Chigi, with his back almost against the wall, had his sword struck out of his tired hand. The weapon clattered on to the tiled floor and the Italian stood defenceless to his enemy's blade, which was at his breast. But the Marquis instantly lowered his sword, and Prince Chigi leant back against the wall, his gaze downcast, knowing that his life had been given to him three times.
'Why have you done this?' he asked, striving to be calm.
'To put you under an obligation,' replied M. de Sarcey. 'Also to show you that if I wished, so I could deal with any man. You, clever with your sword, will admit this.'
He stood with his bare weapon in his hand and looked from the man to the woman, and his glance towards Eugénie seemed to say: 'You see, I could keep you against the world, if I wanted to—I could have laid your cavalier dead at your feet if it had suited me to do so.'
Prince Chigi controlled himself; he was gentleman enough to see that he could only cover his humiliation by meeting with generosity of his own the generosity of the man who by skill and strength had vanquished him. He had never been so near death as in the last half-hour, and he loved his life, and in his soul rejoiced that it did not have to end.
'I think I am in your hands,' he said. 'Will you tell me your purpose, M. de Sarcey?'
He still leant against the wall, exhausted, but he held himself erect.
'It is I,' said the Marquis, 'who am in your hands. I am sorry to vex or weary you, but you interfered in my affairs at your own peril and you must pay, M. le Prince, not with your death, which is of no use at all to me—but with your life.'
Still holding the bare sword, he again glanced at Eugénie standing motionless before her chair, and then at Prince Chigi, leaning against the painted wall. When he spoke he addressed the man.
'Before I say anything more—it is understood we meet as equals, that I trust you as my peer. You know my name, I yours. I speak to you, perhaps appeal to you,' he added with infinite pride, 'as a man of honour—'
Prince Chigi bowed.
'I must leave Pisa,' continued the Marquis, 'to-morrow. I have been called to France to answer for my family in these new troubles. I cannot by any means delay this going—not in honour delay it, you understand, M. le Prince?'
'I understand,' replied the Italian, who was listening very intently.
'My business affairs are arranged—my money and property are in safe banks in Italy. Antoine, my servant, has my instructions—this household need not be interfered with. But there is one other thing—and that the most important.'
He gave a gentle glance at Eugénie.
'For this I need someone of my own rank—one whose word would be above suspicion, whose oath would bind him against his dearest desires—'
Prince Chigi, still looking at him intently, did not speak. Eugénie, beautiful in the tawny shadow, never moved.
'There is nothing dearer to me than this lady,' said M. de Sarcey. 'And I am going to ask you to be her guardian while I am away.'
Prince Chigi flinched a little.
'If you will explain,' he said rapidly.
'Think that she is your sister—look after her as if she was your sister. Let other men know this: allow no slander to touch her name. There is no need for you to live in the same town, but you can protect her—with your sword and with your tongue. She has been Madame de Beaucy here, let her be Madame de Beaucy still—keep your knowledge to yourself. Treat this lady as if she were my wife and I were your friend. I think you must understand me. I know that you have sufficient power and leisure to do it—and I ask it of you.'
Eugénie wished to cry out to Prince Chigi to refuse, but she could not find her voice, nor would he look at her; his attention was entirely occupied by M. de Sarcey.
'And if I refuse?' he said.
'I do not think you will refuse. You owe me something. And I trust you.'
'No, I shall not refuse,' answered Prince Chigi gravely. 'And I thank you for asking it of me.'
'I have your word?'
'My word—if you wish I will swear on the cross to guard and respect this lady—'
The Marquis smiled.
'You certainly have a greater regard for God than you have for me, M. le Prince—therefore it would be as well for you to pass your word to Him.'
He took from his pocket a crucifix of amber and silver, and going to the table placed it on one corner, his manner had lost its lightness.
'Swear to do as I have asked you, M. le Prince,' he said.
Provino di Chigi came to the table; his face' was pale. Eugénie moved forward and put her hand on the table near the little crucifix that lay between the two men.
'Am I a doll to be thus treated?' she asked bitterly.
If you were the Madonna,' said the Marquis gravely, 'I could do no more for you.'
But Eugénie did not believe this; she felt that she was being mocked at, placed out of the reach of a man who loved her by a cunning trick of jealousy on the part of one who loved her no more. She looked up into M. de Sarcey's face and laughed in direct challenge. It was as if she had said—'I can make this man break his oath to you whenever I want to.'
'One moment,' said the Marquis, putting his hand over the crucifix. 'You must respect this lady for your own sake.'
The candles were behind them and they stared into each other's face through the shadows.
'She is not my wife and never can be, M. di Chigi—but she could be yours—'
He caught the Italian's wrist before he could answer.
'It is possible that I may not return—death could prevent me—nothing else; in that case, should you have from Antoine sure news of my death, you will marry the widow of M. de Beaucy—'
'Oh!' murmured Prince Chigi.
'Swear—' commanded the Marquis.
'This is insult—outrage!' cried Eugénie fiercely.
'Ah?—I thought you and Prince Chigi were fond of each other,' smiled the Marquis.
Prince Chigi glanced at him, then smiled too.
'You certainly put me in a strange position,' he said.
'Your hesitancy is not very gallant,' said M. de Sarcey. 'Come,' he added uncovering the crucifix—'swear—I make no threats because I treat you as a man of honour—but I leave behind a servant who will allow no commands of mine to be trifled with.'
The men looked into each other's eyes.
'I mean it,' said M. de Sarcey.
Prince Chigi dropped his gaze; he took up the shining crucifix and kissed it.
'Say,' said the Marquis, 'I will treat and respect this lady as one whom I intend to make my wife—'
Prince Chigi repeated the words.
'And if I hear of the death of M. de Sarcey, I will marry her at the first opportunity.'
Quietly the Italian said the words, and then added—'And this I swear.'
The Marquis held out his hand.
'I am greatly obliged to you. Antoine has his instructions. He will tell you anything you want to know.'
Prince Chigi gave him his hand, gazing at him keenly.
'I will make this my farewell—I leave early to-morrow,' added the Marquis.
Provino di Chigi put on his coat and waistcoat. M. de Sarcey, to save him the humiliation of stooping for his weapon, picked it up for him and handed it to him hilt first.
In that moment the Marquis was unarmed, as he had left his sword on the table.
Prince Chigi took the rapier and flushed.
'We understand each other?' said M. de Sarcey.
'I think so, Monseigneur. My adieux, Madame.'
He left the room very quietly.
Eugénie, who was still leaning against the table, put out her hand and swept the crucifix to the floor.
'You devil!' she said. 'What would you have done if he had refused?'
The Marquis put on his coat.
'I should have killed him And he knew it.'
Horror came over Eugénie, chilling her anger.
'Oh, that it should end like this!' she whispered.
M. de Sarcey sheathed his sword.
'It might have ended in such a much worse fashion,' he remarked. 'I do not see why you are so distressed. M. di Chigi does not seem distasteful to you. And he is a better match than M. de Rochefort.'
She turned away and sank across the shadowed black chair, and bent her head in acute despair.
'Where is your love,' she asked, 'that I so believed in? All France knew you were false—but I believed in you.'
'Where are the roses of yester year?' answered M. de Sarcey. 'Their blooming was not a lie because they now are dead. If I live, I shall not fail to return—if I die, you can remember I did for no woman what I did for you.'
'I want neither memories nor anticipation,' cried Eugénie. 'I want my life now.'
M. de Sarcey paused at the door.
'I know,' he said looking back at her, 'and therefore I have provided Provino di Chigi.'
The is safe, Antoine,' said M. de Sarcey, 'he has taken his oath. But you'll watch him. And not let him know. And you'll see, you and Dorine, that she has no money and no chance of selling her jewels. And to him you'll be deferential. Write to me at Château Beaucy, and I'll write as long as I can. The money will be sent from the bankers. And when you hear I am dead, you will give those two letters—one to him—one to her. And for yourself you'll never lack a good place. And that's all, Antoine.'
He turned to the window near which was placed his portmanteau. Above the palaces of Pisa the dawn glowed.
'She looked very beautiful last night,' he said, 'and she will be waiting for me to come and say good-bye. But no farewells, Antoine. Tell her that if I live I'll return—and never let her know I have no chance of life.'
He opened the long window and the fresh air blew in.
'The open road again,' he said softly, looking over the sleeping town. 'There is nothing like it, Antoine.'
Not even if there is death at the end, Monsieur?' asked the valet.
'Death is at the end of every road. I would rather run than crawl to meet it. Hush, Antoine, you must never weep for me,' and he looked with some tenderness at the valet who was terribly moved.
'Poor wretch! Well, be just with the dogs who understand justice, and tolerant with the women who understand it not.' He stepped on to the narrow balcony and the early wind blew across his face.
'There was never a beautiful woman among them all,' he said, 'who was worth two years of a life such as mine.'
Madame de Sarcey shivered in the August evening; the fresh wind that blew in from the gardens of the Luxembourg chilled her so; she drew her cotton gown closer round her shoulders and turned to a small lamp over which she was heating coffee.
The large house was completely empty; the woman who waited on her and kept her company had returned to her own family for the night and Pélagie was alone. The room in which she sat was one of the only two in the mansion still habitable. All the valuables had been sold, and most of the furniture taken out and burnt by the mob on the night when M. de Haultpenne had been arrested.
She lit a candle and placed it on the table. When she had arranged her meal, and while she was waiting for the coffee to heat, she left the room and walked about those empty rooms which had once been her magnificent home—where she and Eugénie had been born, where they had lived in a tranquillity that now seemed happiness. She glanced out of the long windows at the garden, which, for all it was long neglected, was blossoming with a luxuriant wildness.
Once she raised her head as if listening, then she hurried back to her coffee.
As she held the pot in her hands she turned and listened again, the flame of the lamp flaring beside her and the candle in the pewter stick casting a glow over her straightened figure.
It was as she had thought, there were footsteps in the house; someone was there.
She put out the lamp, placed the coffee on the table, returned to the open door and waited. The room into which this door opened had been the ante-chamber and gave on to the stairs.
Someone was coming; she could hear the footsteps very clearly and the rattle of a sword; she, crossed the empty room and went out.
A man was coming up the carpetless steps; Pélagie leant over the ornate baluster.
'Is that you?' she asked in a low voice.
He raised his face; she knew him even in the heavy dusk. 'M. de Sarcey,' she said. 'M. de Sarcey—'
His beautiful face showed above the folds of the dark mantle he wore; he held his hat in his hand and his dark hair seemed one with the shadows of the background.
She gripped the balustrade; when he was beside her, she spoke again.
'How did you enter?'
'By the postern gate,' he answered; 'and it is easy to force an entry into the house. Are you alone, and no better protected than this?'
'Come this way,' she said. 'Here I have a few chairs—and food. I wonder if you need food?'
'I am very tired,' replied the Marquis.
So with these commonplace words they met, without touching each other's hands, or looking into each other's eyes.
He followed her into the room where the supper was laid and flung his hat and cloak on the first chair.
'Yes, you are tired,' said Pélagie, raising her eyes to his face. 'Sit down and I will make you some coffee.'
He threw himself into one of the wand-bottomed chairs and looked at Pélagie as she busied herself at the table; in her red striped cotton dress, her white apron and loose cap, she might have been a servant or a peasant. His glance travelled round the room, noting the details of stark poverty and neglect, and he thought of the other sister as he had last seen her, in the yellow palace on the banks of the Arno.
Pélagie brought him the coffee. As he took the coarse cup from her, she recalled the last time she had served him, and a little smile curved her tired mouth.
'You will find everything very rough,' she said. 'One so soon becomes used to it—one forgets; but to you it must seem very strange.'
'I came to find the strange,' he replied; he drank his coffee with evident pleasure, then turned his black eyes on Pélagie. 'Are you glad to see me?'
'I am glad you have returned,' she answered, and seated herself at the supper table.
'Did you think that I should?'
'I was sure that you would.'
'Thank you,' said M. de Sarcey.
'I was waiting for you,' said Pélagie, still speaking with calm indifference. 'As I had no means of communicating with you, I thought it better to wait here. Your own hôtel is burnt down.'
'So I have seen,' replied the Marquis grimly.
'And I believe all your estates are confiscated—the feudal charters were burnt long ago.'
'Beaucy remains—I was there a few days ago,' he seated himself at the table.
'I know,' said Pélagie, 'but I could not get there.'
'You have no money?'
'None. You are thinking of my dowry? Father took all of it for bribes—but it was no good.'
The Marquis's dark face twisted. So that was the end of that fortune which had seemed so important in the eyes of all of them—the sole reason of his disastrous marriage.
'I know what you are thinking,' said Pélagie, 'and you are right. But you should never have sent it back.'
'Tell me about everything after supper,' he said. 'I am hungry.'
She gave him what there was—hardly enough for both, and the commonest food. She brought a bottle of cheap wine from the cupboard and made more coffee, and again he remembered the other sister and the last supper he had had with her.
Pélagie, in her calm, her containment, her easy distant manner, was totally different from the timid woman of two years ago who had hardly had the courage to speak to him or to look him in the face.
Not that she looked at him now, but it seemed scarcely fear that kept her eyes away.
M. de Sarcey told her of his journey, he had travelled as an' Italian with an Italian passport. Influence with acquaintances at Florence and some bribery had got him over the frontier; he had been suspected once or twice, but had managed to reach his estate of Beaucy.
His steward, finding the position untenable, was preparing to relinquish his post; few rents could be collected, no labour obtained for the land. Still, the château had so far been overlooked, and might remain so, as Provence was not yet violently affected by the revolution, but it would have to be abandoned.
From there the Marquis had come to Paris, still passing as an Italian silk merchant, and was at present without a home; he had taken rooms in the rue du Bac, but had left them, as he suspected that the people of the house did not believe his story.
'I believe,' he added with all his usual haughtiness, 'that to disclose my name would be to render myself useless—but it is not pleasant to lurk in disguise.'
'You are in danger,' said Pélagie, 'the greatest danger.'
'You warned me that I should be.'
They left the table and he returned to the chair over which his hat and cloak were flung. Pélagie, moving about and clearing away the supper things, glanced at him covertly.
Looking at him, she was convinced that it was hopeless to think he would escape detection and denunciation; even if his face had not been well known and well hated, his movement, his speech, his dress, all proclaimed him an aristocrat.
She came and sat on the chair beside him, clasping her thin hands in her apron.
'I have brought you to your death,' she said, gazing into the handsome face.
At this, the first sign of feeling that she had given, he flushed. 'Perhaps I owe you my death,' he said.
'Oh, no,' answered Pélagie. 'You must not think that—you must never think that—what I wrote was for your own sake. Believe me, I thought you should know.'
'And I thank you,' he answered.
Pélagie peered at him; her short-sighted eyes were further weakened by much weeping, and only the one candle lit the room.
'How is my sister?' she asked.
'She is well,' said M. de Sarcey.
'You—you have provided for her?'
'Yes.' He looked away.
'You may think it strange of me to ask,' said Pélagie, with a little smile, 'but I was very fond of Eugénie.'
'And now,' said the Marquis carefully, 'tell me about yourself—how you come to be here, and where are your parents and friends?'
Pélagie answered in an even, expressionless tone.
'I come to be here because I have nowhere else to go. You can hardly realise how things have changed. Everything. I stayed as long as I could in your hôtel—but about a year ago it was confiscated and the furniture sold. You are considered as émigré. My father tried to get in with the new powers, but it was no good—we were suspected from the first. Of course,' she added deliberately, 'neither my father nor my family recovered from the scandal, the disaster of the two marriages on which he had counted so much. After that day of the taking of the Bastille it has been just one step down after another. My father, however, was released a few days ago, and my mother has joined him in an attempt to reach England or Holland.'
'Why did you not go with them?' asked the Marquis quickly.
'Because of that letter I had written to you. I thought you would come. And I had to be here to meet you.' She smiled a little. 'You would not be able to find anyone—all your friends are scattered. If I had not been here you would have walked straight into a trap. And might have thought of it as a trap set by me. You cannot think,' she repeated, 'how different everything is.'
The Marquis did not answer, and she went on telling him something more of the changed state of affairs in France, something of the terrible time through which the ruling classes had passed, the flight, exile, poverty and death to which the aristocracy had been reduced. The King was virtually deposed, virtually a prisoner, and the country was governed by the 'elect' of the people in the shape of the National Assembly. She added something of their own private troubles, from the disgrace and misery caused by the double betrayal of that flight two years ago to the consummation of complete ruin in the voluntary exile of M. de Haultpenne.
M. de Rochefort, she added, shocked by the action of M. de Sarcey, had denounced his title, surrendered his estates, and was now one of the Republican party most completely opposed to the Court and the aristocracy.
The Marquis did not listen very attentively. The steps by which the present result had been obtained did not greatly interest him; things had to be dealt with as they were, and it did little good to dwell on the details of the past.
He had had a very shrewd idea of what was happening in France before he left Italy, and was not so surprised at the change he had found in everything. He offered no comment on Pélagie's recital, but sat silent, leaning forward in the chair with his elbow on his knee and his head in his hand.
The candle was burning to the socket. Pélagie, used to waiting on herself, noticing it, rose and placed another in the pewter stick.
'It is all supposed to be very great and glorious,' she said. 'They have their committees and their clubs and their liberties—but I do not know who benefits. There are two foreign armies on the frontiers, the shopkeepers are ruined with the new laws, the food is very dear and they have had to send to America for grain. They say the peasants are starving just the same, and they have had to take the church money to run the Government. It seems to me complete confusion—but I am only a simpleton, I suppose.'
'There is no longer M. de Mirabeau,' said the Marquis.
'No,' answered Pélagie, 'he was a moderate man and restrained the Republicans—now there are those who want to depose the King even if he would accept the Constitution. But what does it matter?'
She stood motionless, her finger-tips resting on the edge of the table, looking down; the open window was behind her with the dark summer night and the stars shining through the poplar trees.
Again the Marquis thought of the bright beauty of the other sister on which these same stars had looked so short a while ago, when she had pleaded with him not to leave her. He rose, almost with impatience, and went up to Pélagie.
'Tell me that you are glad I have come back,' he said.
He put his hand on her shoulder, and she suddenly broke down, flinging aside her monotonous calm.
'Oh, if you knew—if you could guess what I have suffered!'
'Poor child,' said M. de Sarcey.
She clung to him, lifting her thin face with the stricken eyes.
'Oh, what a fool I was!' she sobbed, 'what a fool! But I knew nothing—nothing—you should not have let me do it. I did not understand. How could you be so cruel?'
He knew that she referred to their disastrous marriage, and he did not answer. He smoothed the hair back from her face, supporting her with his other arm about her shoulders.
'It has been—terrible,' she said. 'Such humiliation, such despair—such loneliness. I did not know one could suffer so much—I did not know anything. I thought I was fond of you—you seemed to me something wonderful,' she laughed. 'I suppose you might be to someone you loved'—she drew back and stared up at him. 'Think of her two years and mine—is it not strange that I do not hate you?'
'We will talk no more of it,' he said. 'I take my life in my own hands and answer to God for what I do. You are the Marquise de Sarcey, and I thank you that you've not dishonoured the name We built up something, the foundations of which have been pulled away, and we must do the best we can with the ruins. I have money, and some influence still, I think. I will take you to your parents, or wherever you may wish to go.'
And by this speech Pélagie knew that his pride was unchanged, that he felt neither shame nor remorse for the past. She wondered if he still loved Eugénie, but she could not bring herself to ask.
He put her from him suddenly.
'I am tired, Pélagie. I have had no proper rest since I left Italy. We will talk about this in the morning.'
She took up the candle and showed him her own room and her own bed.
'You may sleep here,' she said. 'There are other chambers arranged near by.'
He thanked her, never questioning her statement nor the conditions of the house. He seemed not to have noticed that the entire house was dismantled and servantless. Pélagie smiled a little, noting it, and then sighed; he had yet to learn all the hard lessons that two years of changed conditions had taught her so bitterly.
He flung himself at once on the bed, without removing his coat; she saw that he was completely exhausted, and taking the candle left him.
In the other room she seated herself at the deal table, dropped her head on her arms in the attitude of one utterly overcome and sad.
Pélagie awoke from an oblivion that was more like a swoon than a sleep, to see the candle guttering away in a long sheet of wax, and the summer dawn throwing a pale light into the room.
She moved slowly; her limbs were stiff and she felt sick and feeble. Only now could she gauge what the event she had yesterday accepted so calmly really meant to her, or how she had been keeping her strength for that moment, waiting, hoping in a composure that had taken all her force to maintain. And now it had really happened and he had come back.
He had left the woman for whom he had abandoned his brilliant career, to return to a country where his name was execrated, his class loathed, where he could expect little save arrest and possibly death. When she had written to him she had purposely exaggerated his probable dangers, she had wished to be perfectly fair.
And he had come just the same.
And now—what was she going to do?
She felt too tired to think much; slowly, almost painfully, she got water and washed her face, put up her hair and smoothed her dress.
Then she went cautiously into the next room and looked at her husband.
He lay as she had left him, on his back, with his head to one side and one arm hanging over the side of the bed. She recalled that other time when she had looked at him in his sleep, and bitter yearning brought the tears to her eyes.
He had come back because of his pride, she knew that.
She had given him his chance to vindicate his pride—and his courage, and it seemed to her that there was no more for her to do.
Quietly she seated herself on one of the hair trunks and went on looking at him.
'I know now that my heart is broken,' she thought; 'all this time I have been wondering what was the matter with me. And now I know. I have had nothing out of life. Nothing at all. And it does not seem to matter. Perhaps I still do not understand anything.'
She shivered as the early wind stirred through the open window.
'My husband—mine. And I must not even think of him. He belongs to Eugénie. But even that does not seem to matter. I wonder if I could have loved him as much as she if he had let me? How he must dislike me. How I must weary him Everyone finds me wearisome—even my mother was glad to leave me.'
She sighed a little and returned to the other room.
She arranged the table for another meal, and when the woman came for her daily service she sent her away, taking from her the bread and milk which she set on the table.
In the crockery cupboard were an ink horn and a few sheets of paper.
She took these out, wrote, slowly and with care, a few lines, and put the note in the front of her dress; then she made herself some strong coffee, of which she drank several cups; she ate a piece of bread and rearranged the table.
Pélagie wondered what Eugénie was doing now and if he ever meant to return to her; she could about as well imagine that life in Italy as she could imagine that first interview by the postern gate—both to her were dim, unreal.
Had she been still capable of feeling any gladness, she would have been glad of his return, not because she still cherished any illusion that he would ever mean anything more to her than he did now (for she recognised that Eugénie was between them like a double-edged sword), but because she had a strong and rather curious desire that he should conduct himself well at this terrible moment, a rather strange understanding of his rank, his pride, his character; it gave her a steady satisfaction that he would now take his place among his peers.
As for herself—she checked her thoughts at reflection on herself and shrugged her shoulders.
She went to a little box she kept in the cupboard in which was the small hoard of money left her by her father, and took out a gold piece that she put in her dress with the letter she had just written.
She heard her husband moving about in the inner room, and set the coffee over the lamp to re-heat.
He appeared presently at the door, dishevelled and without coat and waistcoat; he was surprised at his own long sleep, and complained of having nothing with which to make his toilet; his baggage, he said, he had left at the inn in the town.
Pélagie gave him what she had herself, and smiled to observe how put out he was, how helpless without his valet. He complained that he had no means of shaving, and looked with annoyance at his dusty boots.
'Have you no one here at all?' he asked. Not a woman for yourself—no boy?'
He seemed to only just begin to realise the circumstances under which she was living.
'Good God, Madame, 'tis impossible that Paris is in this condition!' he exclaimed.
'With money one can buy anything in Paris,' answered Pélagie. 'I have no money.'
'But your allowance from Beaucy?'
'My father took that—it is what we have been living on. I have enough till the next is due. We were quite, quite ruined. So much went in bribes.'
'Devishly bad managed ones,' said the Marquis.
'Of course I could have gone into lodgings with a maid,' said Pélagie, 'but I knew that if you came you would never find me. And also I preferred to stay here. At one time I thought I should be arrested, but it seems I am safe for the present.'
She did not add that a certain respect and pity had been extended to her as the victim of the wickedness of a much hated man.
De Sarcey, with no good grace, was arranging his neckcloth and dressing his hair at the little gilt mirror on the dressing-table. Pélagie watched him curiously; it had still not occurred to him that this was her room, and that she had slept across the table to leave the one bed free for him.
'Have you no friends at all?' he asked. 'Does no one ever come?'
'M. de Rochefort—yes,' she answered. 'I think he will be here this morning.'
The Marquis gave her a startled look.
'M. de Rochefort!' he repeated.
'Yes,' said Pélagie. 'And he still has your glove—that you left that night.'
M. de Sarcey looked away and Pélagie returned to her coffee.
He joined her almost immediately and ate his breakfast with pleasure. He seemed rather bewildered, and looked several times round the apartment.
'As this place seems totally unfurnished,' he observed at length, 'we will move immediately—this morning. To the inn till we can find better accommodation. I did not notice any disturbance in the town nor do I believe we are in any special danger. Everyone seems to be coming and going just the same.'
'You should have been here the other day, when M. Delafayette fired on the people in the Champ-de-Mars.'
'Why that?' asked the Marquis with some interest.
'Oh, the people are no longer content with the Assembly, which they believe is corrupt, and whilst the Deputies argue as to whether the King shall abdicate or not, the people come to civil war on the matter. There was a great deal of rioting, and petitions came in from all over the country to beg the Assembly to depose His Majesty, who had broken the oath, so they said, that he had taken to the new Constitution. I hardly understand it all. But a great crowd gathered on the Champde-Mars and set up an altar of Liberty; and M. Delafayette was sent with M. Bailly—and the order was given to fire, and I know not how many of these poor wretches killed.'
'I wonder,' said the Marquis, 'that that prim republican Delafayette had so much spirit.'
'He killed many innocent—it was a massacre,' replied Pélagie. 'Camille Desmoulins and Jacques Danton are infuriated, they address the people in the streets to inflame them against the Assembly.'
'Which seems to have been no greater success than His Majesty,' remarked M. de Sarcey.
'They said its power went with the death of M. de Mirabeau—he kept them together and was all for moderation.'
'I wonder how much the Court paid him for that same moderation,' said the Marquis.
Pélagie shrugged her shoulders.
'Some say he was bribed. At any rate, it would seem that the Court's last hope went with him—the rest, whether they call themselves "Girondins" or "Jacobins," are equally hostile to the King.'
'I thought these "Girondins" served the Court,' said the Marquis.
'They want war, I think; the others would settle internal affairs first—it is all very confused. I trouble very little about it. I suppose,' she added suddenly, 'that you will join M. d'Artois at Frankfurt?'
He pushed his chair back from the table and looked up at her with his dark eyes full of a strange amusement.
'Has he joined the Austrians who are invading France?' he inquired.
'Yes—have you not heard? All the nobility who fled—émigrés they call them—are with him. Almost all the aristocrats fled when the King tried to get away—and now M. d'Artois has them in Lorraine.'
'Certainly I shall join them, when you are in safety.'
'They talk of confiscating all their estates.'
'There does not seem much left to confiscate,' replied the Marquis drily.
'Still,' replied Pélagie, 'there is something, a livelihood—'
'I, Madame,' said the Marquis, 'care nothing for a livelihood.'
'There will also most likely be a decree of death passed on those who join M. d'Artois now,' answered Pélagie. 'You see, the people have no longer any confidence in the Assembly. There is one Robespierre who daily inflames them. Everyone tells me terrible things may happen soon. All the nobles, except men like M. de Rochefort and M. Delafayette, who are against the Court, have left Paris—nay France. I do not think there is one man of your rank left in the entire Kingdom—that is why I told you of your danger. No one knows that you were in Italy, and many must think that you are in Lorraine.'
M. de Sarcey remained silent; he had gathered something of the affairs of France, and as far as his own affairs were concerned he knew perfectly well the danger of his position. Then in M. de Rochefort, a man whom he had most grievously insulted, he had an active enemy among the ruling powers.
He stretched himself and rose from his chair.
'Why did you write that letter, and now urge me to consider danger?' he asked curiously.
'I wanted you to come. I could not bear to think you were in Italy at such a moment,' she answered. 'And now I want you to understand your danger—'
'I understand,' he interrupted quietly; 'and I understood it even before I left Paris. And I do not care.'
A slight flush brightened her wan face.
'That is what I wanted you to say,' she replied.
She looked at him long, and then she added: 'There is one thing more. If you should live through these disorders, what will you do?'
'We may leave that,' said the Marquis.
No—we cannot leave it. Please answer me. What will you do?'
He hesitated a second, but her calm and her sincerity forced him to deal fairly with her.
'Madame,' he replied, 'I owe you much—but I owe Mademoiselle de Haultpenne more. If it is possible in honour to do so, I shall return to Italy.'
'I think,' said Pélagie quietly, 'it is the only thing for you to do.'
He looked at her a moment, then stooped and lifted her hand and kissed it.
'Oh!' she said. 'You are sorry for me, perhaps? You need not be—I have ceased to feel anything.'
She moved away from him abruptly.
'What do you mean to do? I must go out—I have purchases to make.'
He frowned at that.
'You go out—alone?'
'This must end—it is an extremity for which there is no need. I ascertained yesterday that my house at Auteuil is untouched—the gardener who was left to look after it is still there. It is not the place to take you to, but it is better than this.'
His house at Auteuil! M. de Rochefort had traced him and Eugénie as far as that.
'Very well,' she said quickly, 'it does not matter at all—'
'I will at once make arrangements. I will go and get a hackney—' and the Marquis, who neither by temper nor training was fitted to deal with details and who was growing more impatient of his surroundings with every moment, left the house, telling her to await his return.
The moment he had left the room, and while his steps were still echoing in the empty corridors, Pélagie hurried into the bedroom and changed her dress.
She put on her finest dress, which was of green and white striped silk with a muslin fichu; then she tied on a Leghorn hat with black ribbons, put the letter back into her dress, and taking the gold piece in her hand, hurried from the house.
The day was so beautiful, that it might have caused the blood to stir in the veins of the most unhappy. But Pélagie felt nothing as she stepped into the summer heat, but with the air of one to whom the road is familiar and whose thoughts are completely absorbed, she hurried along with her eyes on the ground.
She paused at a little chemist's shop and entered. The man knew her and greeted her respectfully; she told him she wanted some more headache draughts, such as she had bought before on the doctor's orders—'but a double quantity, as I am going away.'
'Ah, Madame will be missed in the quarter; but Paris is no place for peace and quiet.'
Pélagie leaned across the counter, and, in the dim light that was almost darkness compared with the bright sunlight without, watched the man measuring the brownish fluid into the little glass bottle.
Behind him the blue and white jars, in their niches, lined the shop, the odour of the drugs they contained permeated the close air. Pélagie noticed how the scales were the only bright object in the obscurity, and how as a drop of the liquid the chemist was preparing fell on the paper wrapper it stained it dull red.
'Madame will be careful—only two drops at a time—'
Pélagie took the bottle and laid down the gold piece.
'I will be careful. I have such dreadful headaches, and this makes me sleep.'
The chemist had some difficulty in finding change.
'It is not often that one sees gold—'tis all the new paper money!'
Pélagie left the shop. She gave the handful of small money she carried to the first poor creature she met and hurried away from the tremulous blessings.
She had almost reached the gates of her father's house when she met M. de Rochefort.
She started, flushed, and held out her hand.
'I was coming to see you, Madame,' said M. de Rochefort. He pressed her thin fingers and looked with friendly kindness into her faded face; he was fond of Pélagie, and thought she had been most shamefully treated, not only by her husband, but by her parents as well.
He was now the sincerest and most powerful friend of Madame de Sarcey. Though not in the Assembly, de Rochefort, through his friendship with M. de Mirabeau and M. Delafayette, held a high command in the National Guard, and was not without influence among the Deputies and at the clubs. His ordered finances had not suffered from the new order, and though he had not been wealthy as a courtier he was a rich man for his present circumstances.
'Let us walk up and down the street a little,' said Pélagie hurriedly. 'I do not wish to go home yet.'
'That house must be indeed dreary,' said M. de Rochefort. 'Madame, as your friend I must insist on your leaving it. Believe what one man knows of another,' he added, 'when I tell you that your husband will not return.'
She knew that he thought her foolish and sentimental, perhaps a little unbalanced in this matter of waiting here for the Marquis, and she made no attempt to defend herself.
'If he does return, what will you do?' she asked.
They walked slowly side by side up the sunny street, in front of the chemist's shop and a stall where fruit lay in withe baskets. There was no one about, and in this quiet street no sound of traffic, only a great sense of stillness and of summer; the clean white houses were all shuttered, the sky was a cloudless blue.
'What should I do?' repeated M. de Rochefort rather vaguely; he had never faced the question, for he looked upon the return of M. de Sarcey as a thing as unlikely as the return of one from hell.
'Well,' said Pélagie, 'if he should come back he would be in great danger. And ruined. And reckless. And you would have it in your power to do him harm. One has seen, in my father's case, how times have changed. I think that if M. de Sarcey returned he would find himself in Vincennes.'
'Under the old régime,' returned the Duke coldly, 'he would have found himself in the Bastille.'
'I know. But now, as things are, there is no one to be revenged on him except you and I, Monsieur.'
'I wish no revenge,' said M. de Rochefort. 'I only hope that I may never see him again.'
'I was more wronged than you,' said Pélagie, speaking eagerly. 'And I feel no anger at all, about—either of them.'
He gave her a quick glance.
'Is it possible,' he exclaimed, 'that you will have any affection for M. de Sarcey?'
'Well, at least I do not hate him,' she smiled. 'Nor yet my sister. Perhaps they had not all the fault that you would think. I was to blame too—I want you, should you ever meet him, to remember that.'
'Madame,' said M. de Rochefort bitterly, 'I could never listen to excuses for either the Marquis de Sarcey or Mademoiselle de Haultpenne. Both grossly deceived and insulted me. And it would be difficult for me to refrain from coming to issues with M. de Sarcey, were I to meet him.'
Pélagie put her hand on the scarlet sleeve of his uniform.
'You loved Eugénie,' she said earnestly, 'and you are fond of me, I think, at least sorry for me. Now for the sake of these two poor women, both of whom have been unhappy, both of whom were more fools than wicked, will you not make me a promise?'
They paused in their slow walk and stood looking intently at each other.
'Come,' urged Pélagie, 'this is the new dawn, the era of liberty, of new things—let the old wrongs be forgotten. She would have done you more wrong had she married you.'
'I do not speak of her,' he replied, distressed. 'She had been dead to me these two years—'
'Then forgive him,' said Pélagie. 'You are free and fortunate—be generous.'
'We are so unlikely ever to meet, unless it is on the Austrian battlefields, if he has the courage to go there—'
'But if you should—promise me that you will not injure him—not denounce him or set his enemies on him.'
He did not want to promise this. He felt he could only remain passive towards the Marquis de Sarcey by not seeing him, and that the moment he looked again into that calm, insolent face he would have to exact bitter retribution for the wrong he had suffered. But all his chivalry, all his gentleness were called forth by Pélagie, a woman cheated of her life and abandoned by all, a figure to him, who was infinitely pathetic.
'I would do nothing to vex you,' he said at length, 'nothing in the world. I think I may give you that promise—the more readily,' he added with a sudden flush, 'that I have found my happiness. A very sweet woman has consented to be my wife.'
Pélagie's tired, anxious face cleared with pleasure.
'Oh, I am so glad,' she said with sincere warmth. 'Who is she? Ah, I am glad you have told me—'tis a weight off my mind.'
'I will bring her to see you,' replied M. de Rochefort gratified. 'She is no aristocrat, but very good and dear. She is staying now with my cousin, Madame de Marsan. But let us return to your affairs. Suitable lodgings must be found for you; if you wish, I will recover the value of your dowry from the estates of M. de Sarcey—and you must leave Paris. The feeling against the émigrés grows. I believe you are safe—still—'
'Yes, yes,' interrupted Pélagie hastily. 'I am going away soon, quite soon—I am only a trouble and an anxiety here, am I not? Now I must go back. Thank, oh, thank you for everything.'
She held out her hand and moved away, then on a sudden impulse turned again.
'Thank you,' she repeated earnestly. 'You have been almost my only friend. And thank you for your promise.'
She glanced at him rather wistfully.
'When may I come and see you?' he asked.
'Oh, soon—after a day or so. There is an old friend of my mother I have found, and whom I think I should visit—she is poor and lonely now and we might be company.'
M. de Rochefort commended this idea, and asked for the address of the lady. After a second's hesitation Pélagie gave it and hurried away.
The Marquis was waiting on the steps of the hôtel; he had a hackney coach in readiness and was impatient at his wife's delay.
'Do not stop for anything,' he said. 'I shall hire servants who can come for your things. I wish you had not gone out—I do not care for you to be in the streets alone.'
'I am sorry,' said Pélagie, panting a little. 'I did not mean to be so long. I went to procure some drops for my head. I have dreadful headaches. And then—I met M. de Rochefort—'
'Well?' asked M. de Sarcey still impatient, galled by the delay and the pale haggard appearance of his wife.
'I did not tell him you were back,' she smiled. 'He is going to be married. If you meet him do not irritate him—he is powerful now.'
'On the safe side,' sneered the Marquis. 'I have no fear of him—he is afraid of me. Had he not been he would have followed me—even to Italy. Are you ready?' he added, descending the steps.
'One moment—I must go upstairs; I have to fetch something—'
She lingered, looking at him strangely, as if she would impress on her mind his powerful figure in the light travelling cloak, his dark sullen face.
'One moment, Donatien,' she said, 'only a moment,' and she hurried through the hall and ran lightly up the splendid bare stairs.
It was curious to hear her use his name; he remembered only one other occasion on which she had done so.
He leant against the pilaster of the open door and waited for her; gloom clouded his face.
'What a marriage,' he reflected. 'I think she is the most unattractive woman that I ever saw. Who would imagine she was the sister of Eugénie?'
He waited some time, curbing his impatience with difficulty, then, as she did not return and there was no sound in the house he went upstairs.
He found his way to the two rooms he had entered last night.
The first was empty; the breakfast things were still on the table; the sunshine now streaming into the room lay over the unwashed cups and plates..
He tapped at the half-open door of the inner room; as there was no answer, he opened it and entered.
The chintz cover was thrown up over 'the unmade bed on which he had slept the night before, and there she lay, her straw hat fallen from her head and her body twisted into an unnatural attitude.
In a moment M. de Sarcey was by her side.
'Madame la Marquise!' he cried. 'Get up—Madame. Pélagie!'
But even as he spoke, the last faint breath passed her stiffening lips, and her eyes stared up at him in eternal stillness.
The Marquis stepped back.
'Pélagie!' he said again, and it was as if he called to another person than that woman on the bed; it seemed such a minute ago since she had been running up the stairs—he wanted to call her to help this poor creature. The empty house was suddenly horrible.
Again he bent over her. Her face was damp, he felt her pulse, her heart; she was still warm. He closed her eyes and smoothed her dress.
Then he noticed, on the chair beside the bed, an empty glass bottle lying on a piece of paper. He picked it up—it was stained with the last drops of the poison.
It was addressed to him. He opened it and stared at the handwriting he had seen only once before.
MONSIEUR DE SARCEY,
I did not ask you to return that I might be a burden on you. I could not live abroad with my parents nor in France with you. I have never been anything, perhaps the best thing in my life is the resolution to end it. There need be no scandal. My doctor, who is Monsieur Jean Dumouriez, near here, in the Rue d'Angers, knows me as Madame Philipeaux and that I have long been ill, and have been taking drugs for my headaches. I went to confession three days ago, but I do not think that really matters. I hope you will be able to marry Eugénie—I do not know if you can get a special dispensation. We were never anything but strangers, so I have no right to give you advice. Still I hope you will join the army in Lorraine. Farewell.
PéLAGIE DE SARCEY
He looked from her letter to her dead face.
'Thou hast shamed me,' he said, using the familiar form that she had never heard from him.
He gazed at her for a long time, then went and pulled down the blind. He descended to the courtyard where the hackney coach waited, horse and driver asleep in the sun. He roused the man and drove to the address of the doctor given in Pélagie's letter.
'There is a lady dead of your nostrums,' said the Marquis bitterly, and the bewildered doctor could get no more out of him till they reached the house in the rue de Luxembourg. He was alarmed by this gloomy figure who sat staring out of the window with his hat pulled down to his eyes.
'You have not been here before?' asked M. de Sarcey as they entered the house.
Nay, Monsieur,' said the doctor glancing round the dismantled hall, 'and I must beg you to give me some particulars of this case—'
'Come upstairs,' interrupted the Marquis, and led the way.
The doctor followed; he realised that he was dealing with a great noble—probably a returned émigré; the manner of the Marquis was no longer much in use in Paris.
The Marquis led him straight to the bed, indicated Pélagie, and with great coldness, asked his opinion.
The doctor bent over her a second only.
'Dead,' he said laconically.
'You know her?' asked M. de Sarcey.
'I knew her as Madame Philipeaux,' he answered. 'She came to me several times—she was in very poor health, but in no danger of death. What had she been taking?'
The Marquis pointed to the bottle he had left on the chair.
'You will make your inquiries and you will do your duty,' he said. 'Remember, whatever you think, you can prove nothing.'
'Who are you?' asked the doctor.
'I am the Marquis de Sarcey—and this is my wife.'
'M. de Sarcey!'
'Yes. Remember it, and let it help you to be discreet. Madame la Marquise shall be buried with all fitting honour, at Sainte Sulpice. You will arrange with the priests?'
The doctor was still staring at the bottle he held.
'I suppose it was suicide, M. le Marquis?' he said.
He knew something of the scandal with which Paris had rung two years ago.
'Monsieur,' replied the Marquis, 'Madame la Marquise is at your mercy. I presume that she trusted you. She mentioned your name in a letter she left for me.'
The doctor looked from the bottle to the dead woman. 'Monsieur is also at my mercy,' he remarked.
'No,' said M. de Sarcey, 'for I can answer for myself—she cannot.'
He went into the outer room and sat down on the chair where he had flung himself the night before.
Presently the doctor followed and gently closed the door of the bedchamber behind him.
'I shall not interfere in the affairs of Monsieur,' he said quietly.
The Marquis looked up as if he had forgotten his presence.
'I thank you,' he answered. 'What does one do on these occasions? You must not judge by this house—there is money.' The doctor glanced at him curiously.
'Monsieur is ill?'
'No,' replied M. de Sarcey, 'but I am very sorry.'
The funeral was over; the coffin that, under a rich pall, had stood two days and nights before the altar, had been lowered into the vault and the workmen were fixing the stone in place.
The priests had gone, and the vast church was empty except for the solitary mourner who remained seated before the altar on which the red lamps were burning; the light was dim, the air heavy with the bluish fumes of incense. No sound from the bitter, agitated outer world entered here; the silence was complete except for the noise of the workmen's tools as they fastened down the entrance to the vault.
The Marquis was listening to this sound; he saw in front of his eyes the name-plate of the coffin as it had flashed in the candlelight before it was lowered into the obscurity below.
'Pélagie Victorine Anne Claire de Haultpenne, Marquise de Sarcey. August 30th, 1791, aged 27 years.'
Presently the workmen, having finished their task, went quietly out of the church by a side door. The Marquis remained where he was. He was thinking how little the dead woman had touched his life; in fact never so much as now when she lay within a few feet of him, wrapped in her shroud.
Her death had not defeated the purpose of his coming, but it had given an air of futility to his actions and spoilt the joy of the adventure of his return.
He did not know what to do; to join M. d'Artois seemed only another exile, and to linger in Paris was pointless.
Yet amid all his indecision it never occurred to him to return to Italy. He had scarcely glanced at the affairs of his own country since his return, but the very atmosphere breathed a danger and excitement he could not now turn his back on.
He decided to see the Queen, but for the moment had no heart for this interview nor any impetus towards definite action.
Since the first days of his arrival in Paris he had taken no trouble to disguise his identity. The doctor might inform against him at any minute; the priests here knew him. At the inn where he now stayed he called himself M. de Beaucy, a disguise easily penetrated.
With a little sigh he rose from his place by the altar and went round to the Lady Chapel and paused by the stone newly reset above the body of Pélagie.
At the very last moment he had looked at her once more, and the eyes he had closed had opened again and had stared up at him, and he recalled the old superstition that when the dead keep their eyes open they are waiting for someone to follow. For the first time in his life he thought of the possibility of death for himself—thought of his own body, of which he was so proud, in which he had such confidence, enclosed in the dark vault, in the lonely church. Of his spirit he did not think at all, any more than he thought of the spirit of Pélagie, yet something that had nothing to do with flesh and blood made him shudder slightly, as he turned away from his wife's grave.
He left the church slowly, and with a sensation of relief stepped out into the brilliant sunshine of the square.
It was drawing towards evening, but still very hot. He took off his mourning cloak and threw it over his arm; as he paused to do this he heard an exclamation, and turned to see a woman who had stopped to stare at him. He, too, stared at her, not instantly knowing her, though her face was familiar.
She was dressed in the fashion affected by the Extremists—hoop, powder and small waist discarded; a long gown of striped silk clinging to the figure, a flowing mantle, a straw hat with ribbons, and her hair in simple curls on her shoulders.
She had been buying flowers from the woman who sat round the great fountain in the centre of the square, and she held a large bunch of tuber-roses and fern.
'M. de Sarcey!' she said breathlessly.
As she spoke he knew her; it was Julie Morel, the actress.
He smiled without answering; she glanced over his mourning attire.
'Ah, who is dead?' she asked quickly.
'A friend of mine,' said the Marquis.
She flushed a little, and her eyes shone with interest and curiosity.
'You have come back, Monsieur, to stay? Do you know it is dangerous? All the nobility have joined M. d'Artois.'
'And your third estate rules,' smiled M. de Sarcey.
'You remember our conversation?' she said. 'How long ago it seems! Yes, everything is different, and will be more different still. It is very splendid.'
'For the third estate,' added the Marquis drily.
'For everyone really,' she answered quickly. 'Now one sees how bad and wicked everything was.'
She spoke with much animation and eagerness. Her old weariness and distaste of life had gone, but the shade of the straw hat could not disguise the paint on her face nor some of the lines the paint was meant to conceal; the serene style of the Republican fashions was not kind to her artificial beauty.
'She is much older than I thought,' reflected the Marquis; 'but I do not think I ever saw her in the sunlight before.'
Will you walk with me a little way?' she said. 'I can tell you many things, Monsieur, that may be useful to you.'
She would not so have spoken to him in the old days. In her tone and in her manner was a subtle change, yet she showed every desire to be friendly.
They crossed the square together. She was still playing at the Théâtre Français she said; she had been very successful lately, she had many friends among the now ruling class—the third estate. She was independent now; she went her own way and was proud of her courage; conventions were out of fashion, religion was ignored, virtue was twisted into different meanings. Julie Morel, once the plaything of the nobles, now regarded herself as a priestess of liberty. The Marquis, listening to her talk, thought that she had lost a great deal of the good sense that had once distinguished her from others of her class.
She told him where she was singing that evening and begged him to come.
'You have never heard me sing. Oh, I am much praised! You'll need no card—say I invited you. And take another name. You see, I am afraid for you—you were always so reckless.'
She put her hand on his arm as if she had been an equal, and with much earnestness repeated her invitation.
'There will not be many people there, but you will see some of our coming men.'
'Your "Jacobins" and "Girondists" from the clubs?' he smiled
'Oh, some of them, and perhaps Maximilian Robespierre—but that does not matter, does it? I mean—he has never met you.'
'I think,' said M. de Sarcey, 'it is scarcely likely.'
'Please come—you must hear me sing, Monsieur, and it will be interesting for you to see what manner of society there is now in Paris.'
'Perhaps I shall be there,' he answered.
She seemed pleased beyond concealment; she had now to attend at the theatre and could no longer linger, but she left him with warm hopes of seeing him that evening.
M. de Sarcey looked after her with a strange expression. He admitted to himself that Paris was indeed changed; the demeanour of this woman revealed to him as nothing else had done the altered conditions of the country.
He returned to his inn, which was near the Porte St. Denis, and went straight to his bedchamber and asked for paper and ink.
When it was brought he sat motionless at the desk and stared down at the blank sheet. He meant to write to Eugénie, telling her of her sister's death, but the sentences would not frame themselves.
It seemed as if this thing could not be put into words between him and Eugénie. He thought of her as he had last seen her, with the brocade gown and the fruit and roses in her hair and the wine cup in her hand, the rich Italian night about her, but somehow the picture was dim compared with that of Pélagie on the chintz bed, with her poor stiffened face and blind eyes that would not close.
He flung down the pen; he could not write to Eugénie.
He had already written to her from Château Beaucy, a letter tenderly expressing sorrow at their parting and excusing himself for not having taken farewell of her. When he had written that he had found himself using conventional phrasings that came all too readily—now he could not write to her at all, and in the light that Pélagie's death had thrown on his own feelings, he knew that he was out of love with Eugénie.
He could, if he wished, return to her now; he could marry her, as Pélagie seemed to have desired. The thing might be difficult and scandalous, but he had no doubt that it could be done; he could fetch her and take her with him to Lorraine—he knew that many of the nobles had their families with them.
But the truth was that he did not wish to; he was free, certainly, of Pélagie, and he wished also to keep free of Eugénie.
As he considered it dishonourable to break a promise, he maintained his idea of returning to her; he did not think he would marry her; there seemed no need. If the old order again triumphed, as he had no doubt it would, and his estates and his position was returned to him unimpaired, he would find it necessary to have a wife and heir—but he did not think of Eugénie in that connection.
Yet they had been very happy together—as happy as he had ever thought to be; remembering that happiness to did not regret the price he had paid, and he believed he might be happy with her again. He was none the less astonished that he missed her so little, that her image was lost amid the events of the last few weeks, in the interest of the changed life about him, in the excitement of the future and his own share in the crowded existence of his countrymen who formed part of those events.
He took Pélagie's letter from his breast pocket where it had lain since the day of her death, read it again, lit the taper in the wax holder and burnt it to an ash that he scattered over the floor.
It was now getting late. M. de Sarcey sat silent awhile in the dark, thinking.
Then he called for candles, changed his mourning suit and went out into the warm, dark streets.
With some difficulty he found his way to the house of Madame Duran, near the Palais Royal, the address Julie Morel had given him as that of the house where she was to sing to-night.
M. de Sarcey found the hall full of guests; no name was demanded of him, and he passed upstairs. The house was handsome and had been newly decorated; it was brilliantly lit, and the windows were set open on the summer night. The Marquis ascended to the large reception room on the first floor, crowded by the strangest company of people he had ever seen together.
Julie Morel was standing in the open folding doors that led to an inner apartment; she seemed to be waiting for him and claimed him instantly, so that he passed among the guests under her protection. But almost instantly someone began playing on the harpsichord that occupied one end of the inner room, and the actress had to leave him. He withdrew into a little alcove, used for card playing, where he could see without attracting much notice. The topics of conversation were the same as the Marquis had heard at the inn; fears of an invasion, of a counter revolution in the country, mistrust of the Court, and even of M. Delafayette, complaints of the priests who had refused to take the oaths to the new Constitution, and who were wandering about the country exhorting the people to resist the 'patriots'—the growing unpopularity of the Jacobins, from whom the King had now chosen his Ministry—and the price of food.
Julie Morel had taken her place by the harpsichord and some silence fell on the chattering assembly. The actress was mounted on a little dais; two silver sconces filled with candles fixed on the white wall behind her shed a warm light over her slender figure.
She was dressed in white, a straight gown of classic lines with a gold border and a gold cord under the bust; her shoulders and arms were bare, and her elaborately curled yellow hair was bound by a fillet.
She held a sheet of music in one hand, but this she scarcely glanced at; standing facing the room she started to sing an aria from 'La Cecchina.' Her voice was full and strong, and she sang with much feeling. Piccini's suave music filled the chamber and all eyes were on the singer.
M. de Sarcey saw that she was singing at him, that all the beauty, the pleading, the passion in her music was directed towards him.
She was ignoring the rest of the room and appealing to him; her great eyes stared at him boldly.
He would have left at once only he was too indifferent to all of it to make the effort to move, so continued to sit where he was, gazing at the people in whose lives and interests he had no part, and whose existence he had been unaware of till now.
The song ended and Julie Morel was surrounded by flatterers; the merits of Piccini and Glück were discussed with an air of understanding.
The conversation began again, the same topics discussed in almost the same words. Refreshment was handed round, and a great deal of wine drunk during tirades against the tyranny that had brought the peasantry to starvation, and a great many sweet cakes were broken and crumbled on the floor while the enormity of the American grain and the high prices was argued upon. And now the Marquis began to attract notice.
He was as plainly dressed as anyone there but he needed no aid to make him conspicuous; not only was he an extremely good-looking man in the prime of his youth, but he bore in his expression, in his movement, in his silence, the unmistakable air of a gentleman, one of the class that had so long ruled and tyrannised, been so hated and so feared.
As he sat there, absolutely quiet, many keen glances were shot in his direction. He rose and moved away from the alcove. Julie Morel left her admirers to come to him. She, who knew perhaps better than anyone there the attraction of the fineness of breeding and looks and wealth, having had some experience of these in her time, was keenly conscious of the contrast between the noble and the members of the third estate. There was no one there who could match with him in any quality that pleases the senses or the imagination, and the actress wished to claim him and distinguish him with her favour.
But as she came towards him he turned sharply.
He had heard a feminine voice say in quick and rather sweet accents: 'Oh no, that is not the Marquis de Sarcey!'
For the moment amid the crowd about him he could not discover who had spoken till he heard the same voice adding earnestly: 'I know M. de Sarcey, and that is certainly not he.'
The speaker was a young girl; she addressed two older women and her back was towards him. The Marquis passed on, but he watched the girl, and presently, seeing her alone, he crossed swiftly to her. Julie Morel had been prevented from joining him by two men who had barred her way and were speaking to her with much animation; she was watching him, however, out of the corners of her eyes.
M. de Sarcey gazed keenly at the young girl who had spoken his name. She could not have been more than twenty, and her dark hair was simply dressed round an oval face, lovely in a simple and innocent way. Her clothes were neither fantastic nor tawdry, and her one adornment was a necklet of fine pearls, yet she could never have been taken as anything other than a member of the third estate.
'Why did you deny my name?' asked M. de Sarcey.
She flushed vividly and seemed painfully embarrassed; he took pity on her and added gently:
'There is no need for you to be afraid of me, Rose Deshoulières.'
'You remember me!' she exclaimed.
'As you remembered me,' he smiled.
'Ah, that—that was different.' She could not look at him. 'You knew me,' he answered. 'Why did you deny me?' She looked round furtively.
'I thought it dangerous for you to be here, Monseigneur. I think you have a number of enemies.'
'You have heard little good of me, eh?' he asked.
'I believe there are many who would gladly do you harm,' she evaded; it was evident that she had heard the blackest tales of him, the most scandalous stories, but it was also evident that, simple and ingenuous as she was, she had cherished another image of him to which she remained faithful.
'You saved my life,' she added suddenly, and he remembered his visit to her bedside in the inn at Versailles after he had struck her down in the street with his sword. She had been dying, and only by exerting great power over her, had he persuaded her to live.
'And what use have you made of it?' he asked.
She looked bewildered.
'It is so strange to meet you, Monseigneur,' she said in faltering tones. 'I never thought to meet you again. Why does Monseigneur come here? It is not your world.'
'Nor yours,' he smiled.
No,' she agreed wistfully. 'I do not like it, really—though it is considered a very grand thing for me. I would rather be in the country at peace. I understand so little of anyone or anything now—and I get so tired.'
She paused, glanced round the room, and added:
'Please, Monseigneur, go away. That woman knew you—she had seen you in Versailles, and now I see her speaking to others.'
She spoke very gently, and with genuine concern for his safety showing in her look and voice.
'Why, child, what do you think they can do to me?' he asked.
'I do not know—you can tell better than I—but I know that all these people hate you and would harm you very willingly. I could tell you some things; but I am afraid to talk longer now—'
'You have liberty, Mademoiselle?' he asked.
'Yes,' she replied, wondering.
'Then come to the church of St. Germain l'Auxerois to-morrow for the early Mass. I am leaving Paris soon. And first I should like to speak to you, little Rose.'
'Oh, I will come,' she said, blushing with pleasure. 'Indeed, Monseigneur, I shall not fail.'
She seemed so honoured by his notice as if these two years had made no change in their positions, as they had certainly made no change in her simple nature.
Fearful of attracting further attention to the Marquis by a prolonged conversation she left him, to lose herself in the crowd that every minute was becoming noisier and freer in speech and gesture as the wine circulated and the hot night wore on.
Immediately the Marquis was alone he was joined by Julie Morel, now a little flushed beneath the paint.
'Do you know who that was?' she asked in a familiar tone. 'A pretty girl,' he answered indifferently.
'Why did she speak to you?'
'I spoke to her.'
'It was foolish of you. I told you, Monsieur, to be careful.'
'That girls knows me.'
'Yes; I met her at Versailles, two years ago.'
'You know Rose Deshoulières!' exclaimed Julie.
'I have known,' he replied, 'stranger people. She is a good little girl.'
Julie shrugged her bare shoulders.
'Very likely. Her father is a clever man—he will be in power before long—he is a friend of M. Robespierre. You will hear of these men presently. Poor Rose! Of course she is very foolish, almost a simpleton.'
As she spoke, she looked at him curiously, with a glance of intense meaning.
'Did Rose tell you of her betrothal?' she asked.
He did not reward her by the least sign of astonishment. 'No,' he replied indifferently.
'Well, that is a good jest,' smiled Julie. 'She ought to be very proud. It is a good match for her. And one that will interest you, M. de Sarcey. I wonder why she did not tell you? Perhaps she has more sense than it would appear.'
'She could hardly have supposed that it would interest me,' he replied coldly.
'I think it would,' said Julie. 'The name of her promised husband is M. de Rochefort.'
As the full meaning of what she said struck him, he gave her a swift, strange look.
'Does it make a difference?' whispered Julie. 'Do you not think that you might let her alone? You would not twice make a fool of poor M. de Rochefort?'
'He seems quite able to do that for himself,' replied the Marquis easily. 'Is he here to-night?'
'No—he is on duty. They have just made him a Major—he is quite a favourite.'
She spoke carelessly, but she was annoyed that the Marquis had so lightly ignored her reference to the past. She was the prettiest woman there, and she did not like the indifference with which he received her marked favour.
'M. Robespierre is looking at you,' she said. 'Perhaps he knows you.'
'I am extremely flattered,' smiled the Marquis. 'It is indeed possible that I am known to many people not of my acquaintance.'
His glance flickered over the pale and slight young man whose name he had heard quoted in Paris as that of the patriot most able to defeat a treacherous King and a corrupt Assembly.
Julie Morel was called again to sing. The moment he was released from her the Marquis looked round for Rose, but she had disappeared among the crowd of people in the outer room.
The betrothed of M. de Rochefort!—that was an ironical move on the part of fate! M. de Sarcey did not keep from his face a slightly wry smile.
Julie Morel ended her singing and was drinking champagne with M. Robespierre; she was flushed to her throat, the rouge glistened on her lips and the goad fillet was slipping through her gold locks.
M. de Sarcey left the room and turned down the dimly-lit stairs. He was glad of the semi-darkness after the harsh glare of the crowded salon, of the quiet after the noise and licence of the excited people.
He descended slowly into the great hall, which was empty and illumined only by a small, hanging lamp, and had opened the door on the hot and moonless night, when he heard hurried steps behind him. A soft arm was flung round his neck, a soft weight leant against him, and Julie Morel lifted her face to his.
'Why are you going away without me?' she asked. 'Do you think I have ever forgotten you?'
The thin white gown was slipping from her shoulders that showed pale in the lamp-light; she clung to him, offering her lips.
'Kiss me, Donatien, kiss me,' she whispered. 'Let us enjoy this glorious new era together—'
The era may be new,' he said, 'but your trade is very old—'
'My trade is now to please you,' she answered.
He put her from him with a suddenness that was almost violence.
'You failed to do that two years ago,' he said, 'and what I threw aside then I do not pick up now.'
She was stiff with fury at the sudden brutality; she could hardly speak.
'You talk to me like that!' she breathed.
'Take your graces to the members of the third estate, my dear,' said the Marquis. 'I daresay Maximilian Robespierre will be grateful for the leavings of a de Sarcey.'
He laughed in her face as she stood rigid, lightly touched her under the chin, and turned away down the dark street.
The sun shone with a pure brightness on the waters of the Seine and on the ornate towers of St. Germain l'Auxerois; in the porch women were selling roses in flat baskets; an occasional passer-by slipped into the darkness of the church.
M. de Sarcey was late; he did not arrive until the Mass was over and the priests had departed, but Rose Deshoulières had not failed nor become impatient.
As soon as his eyes became accustomed to the gloom he saw the slight figure seated not far from the door, near the dim red lights of a side altar.
He crossed to her and took the rush chair beside her; she turned and looked at him earnestly; she held a prayer book in her lap.
'Monseigneur is late,' she whispered; 'but I also was late. I was detained at home.'
M. de Sarcey put his hat across his knee and leant back. Rose stiffened at his nearness and sat immovable, looking timidly at her lap.
She seemed very agitated.
'Monseigneur,' she said hurriedly, and as if it was a speech prepared before his coming, 'I am only an ignorant girl and have never been able to understand much of anything—but I do understand that you are in great danger.'
'So you told me last night,' he answered, moved to a certain gentleness by her timidity and sincerity.
'But this is worse, Monseigneur.'
She lifted troubled dark eyes to his grave face.
'After you left last night—M. de Rochefort came. He had been kept on duty late—I—' she paused and seemed unable to explain herself.
'You are promised to M. de Rochefort,' said the Marquis.
'Ah, you know, Monsieur? My father arranged it,' she added ingenuously. 'It is a very grand thing for me, but does not seem quite real.'
M. de Sarcey smiled.
'I hope you will be very happy,' he said. 'M. de Rochefort is a good man.'
'Oh, he is very kind,' she replied hastily. 'I see very little of him—but I did not mean to speak of that. He is your enemy,' she added with the abruptness of awkwardness.
M. de Sarcey wondered if she knew why the Duke was his enemy and what version of the story had been told to her; he fancied that she must know no details of the episode or she would not be so friendly.
'It was terrible last night,' continued Rose. 'Mademoiselle Morel, the actress, was denouncing you to everyone. M. Robespierre tried to keep her quiet—she would not be—she—she said horrible things. I think she had too much champagne,' added the girl gravely.
'It is just possible,' admitted the Marquis. 'So she made a scene?'
'A terrible scene. She wanted to know how it was that émigrés were permitted to return, and that she was sure you were there as a spy; and how had you got there, and why had you been allowed to go; and everyone became very excited, and said it was people like you who were poisoning the King's mind and in league with the Austrians.'
She paused breathless.
'And then, I suppose, M. de Rochefort came and poured oil on the troubled waters?' asked M. de Sarcey.
'Mademoiselle Morel spoke to him as soon as he came, and he said, yes, he knew that you had returned; and then they were all about him—but he made his cousin take me away and I heard no more. Only they were still all talking about you when I left, Monseigneur.'
'I daresay they had hold of some diverting tales,' remarked M. de Sarcey.
She glanced at him doubtfully.
'Monseigneur seems to take it as a jest,' she said.
'Child, I take it all in deadly earnest,' he smiled. 'Your third estate is powerful.'
Rose clasped her hands tightly with a certain effort.
'M. de Rochefort came this morning very early and I do not know what he said to his cousin, but when I came down she was crying and saying if he would have her flatter the popular party she could not avoid low company, and he was angry, and told me he had heard that I spoke with you yesterday and that I must never do so again.'
She stopped, looked away, then hurried on:
'And he said something about your wife, Monsieur—the "unfortunate Marquise," he called her, and a Doctor Dumouriez, and he said it would be better for you to leave the country.'
M. de Sarcey was silent a moment, and she did not dare say more, being fearful that she had offended him.
'Did M. de Rochefort tell you that the Marquise de Sarcey was dead?' he asked at length.
'No,' trembled Rose, 'but I thought she must be—from the way he spoke.'
'Yesterday I buried her in the church of Saint Sulpice,' said the Marquis.
The girl shuddered violently.
'Yesterday!' she exclaimed in a tone of deep horror.
He turned in his chair, looked at her, and laid his hand lightly on her arm.
'Child, I have frightened you,' he said; 'still, you have heard worse things of me than that.'
'I suppose I have not believed them,' she whispered.
'Believe them all,' replied M. de Sarcey. 'By the code of your third estate I am—a wicked man.'
She was silent. 'I do not think you can be wicked, Monsieur,' she said at length. 'Why did you come and save me?'
'Why did I ride you down, Rose?' he smiled.
'Oh, we were only poor people,' replied the girl; her deep-seated prejudices were not to be uprooted even by her father's rise and her betrothal to an aristocrat.
'M. de Rochefort came and saw you also when you were ill,' said the Marquis.
She answered earnestly.
'But he did not save me. You saved me, Monsieur—I used to think you might come back,' she added wistfully, 'which was foolish of me, of course. However times have changed, you remain a prince and I of the people.'
'You have some sense, Rose,' remarked M. de Sarcey. 'But you have secured a high-born lover,' he added.
'M. de Rochefort has forgone his rank,' she replied gravely. 'Besides, he is—well—'
She paused blankly.
'You are not in love with him, I fear,' said the Marquis. 'Poor de Rochefort! I wonder if anyone ever has been.'
'He is dull,' faltered Rose.
M. de Sarcey smiled. This ignorant simple girl had discovered in the young Duke the same defect as had the proud and fiery Eugénie; it confirmed him in his belief that all women had the same instinct with regard to their choice of a lover.
'But your wife,' breathed Rose, returning to the thing that had so shocked her code of decency. The Marquis still kept his hand on her trembling arm.
'We will talk no more of her, my dear—she had her own will. One may take what consolation one can from that.'
'Will you leave Paris?' she asked, gazing at him in the dim light of the dark old church.
Nay,' he answered. 'I shall go to-day to the Tuileries.'
'Oh!' exclaimed Rose. 'I do not think that the King can do anything now for anybody.'
'He is still the King,' said the Marquis grimly. 'And the Queen is my friend.'
'It would be much more prudent for you to leave Paris,' Rose ventured doubtfully.
'I do not think of prudence,' said M. de Sarcey. 'There will be something I can do. Do you think that I am frightened of your Dantons and your Robespierres?'
His eyes flashed and he looked more moved than she had yet seen him, and so to her simple judgment seemed at once more human and within her reach. The affectionate solicitude that had always filled her gentle heart when she thought of him urged her beyond doubt and timidity.
She put her hand over his and leant towards him, and said with her heart's secret in her words, 'I know that you are afraid of nothing—but I entreat you not to run into danger!'
'The world would be little the poorer if I did,' said the Marquis lightly, 'and we are all of us in danger nowadays, my little Rose.'
'But I think you are so reckless,' pleaded the girl. 'Why were you there last night? You do not realise how fierce these people are!'
'Your people,' he smiled.
'No,' she said gravely. 'I do not belong to them really—we were just quiet country-folk before father was elected deputy of the third estate, and I know nothing of all these plots and troubles and hate against the King.'
She looked at him intently with an expression he could not read.
'I might easily have been Monseigneur's servant,' she added with great sweetness. 'I should have been very glad to be. That is the feeling I have for you, Monsieur, the wish to be of service. I do not expect even your notice.'
'You have been of service in coming here to-day,' he replied, 'and at some risk to yourself, child.'
'I never made any promise to M. de Rochefort,' said Rose, 'so he would have no right to scold me. I fear he is often angry with me, for, although he says he is one of the people now, he would like, I know, to make a lady of me, and I shall never be that.'
M. de Sarcey laughed at her frankness that was not untouched with shrewdness.
She inspired him with a respect that he had not often felt for women greatly her superior in breeding, cleverness and intelligence, for there was about this simple nature a dignity and a modesty both unconscious and touching. He knew that Rose would give up everything for him as completely as Eugénie had done, but this time he had nothing to offer in return—not even the shadow of love, only an amused tenderness.
He did not remember having ever before taken this attitude towards any woman who had crossed his path, and he wondered if it were the image of Pélagie influencing him, and if that obscure life and death were to make more difference to his existence than he knew.
He looked at the girl. 'You must go home, Rose,' he said. 'You will be missed, and this meeting is not worth to you—disputes.'
He rose, and she got to her feet trembling. The dimness of the church, and blinking red lamps of the altar, one or two dark figures kneeling before distant shrines, surrounded them with an atmosphere of mystery; their conversation had been in low tones, almost whispers, and they could only dimly see each other's faces.
'And this is what I really came for,' said the Marquis, putting his hand in his pocket, 'to give you a wedding present, Rose.'
He gently clasped round her wrist a bracelet of diamonds that sparkled faintly in the flickering lights of the side altar.
'Ah, a wedding present!' cried Rose, staring at the jewel in a desperate way. 'Oh, Monsieur, I cannot go on with it—'
'Hush, Rose,' he interrupted almost sternly. 'You know nothing at all. You are very ignorant; do you hear me? You must do as I tell you.'
She began to cry, gently, hiding her face in her hands.
'You will go back to M. de Rochefort, and you will make him a good wife. You were made for the conventions, child, and if you try to depart from them you will only fall over a precipice. Believe me. Remember what I said to you before, Rose—life, youth, the sun—there is nothing more for any of us. And you have all three. My dear, when you are old you will wonder you ever cried for anything when you had twenty years!'
She stifled her sobs, drew out her handkerchief and wiped her eyes.
'Monseigneur knows best,' she said sadly and submissively. 'Come into the sun,' he replied gently.
They passed out of the dim old church into the dark doorway where the sunshine fell across the old stone.
Rose looked up at M. de Sarcey with eyes still blurred with tears. Then she put her lips to the bracelet he had clasped on her wrist, turned, and ran away without a word.
The Marquis clapped on his hat and went in the direction of his inn near the Porte St. Denis. He resolved that this must end at once. It was intolerable to lurk thus in Paris, half in disguise, the object of the curiosity and malice of the third estate, of the spite of the Julie Morels and the adoration of the Rose Deshoulières. He must get back into his own world where he would be at home, where he would know how to deal with hate and love.
He was tired and disgusted; he had never meant to remain inactive so long after his return, nor to so mix with people whom he could neither understand nor tolerate.
It was the death of Pélagie that had delayed his intentions and altered his plans; he saw too how this had worked against him in the eyes of his enemies. Evidently de Rochefort, going to the empty house in rue Neuve du Luxembourg, had heard the whole tragedy, and found the doctor, who, despite his promises of discretion and his high fees, had been loose-tongued.
It was time to be free of all of them; he decided that afternoon to wait upon the Queen.
He found two letters for him at the inn; the first a bare report from Antoine—all was well in Pisa, Prince Chigi was fulfilling his promise to the letter, Madame was sullen but eating and sleeping well, despite the great heat, and had refused to go to the sea or up the mountains. The other letter was from M. de Rochefort; the Marquis remembered with a sneer that he could only have known of his whereabouts from Julie Morel to whom he had chanced to mention where he was staying.
There were only a few lines.
Owing to a promise I made to that most unfortunate lady, your late wife, I seek neither to meet you nor molest you, but I advise and warn you to leave France.
DOMINIQUE DE ROCHEFORT.
The Marquis replied with a note as brief.
In return for your forbearance I offer you this counsel; do not forget the lover in the patriot, or your second wedding day may find you again without a bride.
DONATIEN DE SARCEY.
The name of M. de Sarcey gained him a ready admittance to the Tuileries, but when he saw the curious looks of officers and guards, chamberlains and ushers, he realised that he had been bold to utter the name of an aristocrat, even in the palace of the King.
The Gironde Ministry and an army sworn, not to the house of Bourbon, but to the new Constitution of France, had changed the aspect of the King's own dwelling-place. M. de Sarcey saw nothing familiar except the Swiss Guard, and he wondered, rather grimly, what use they would be against Paris—against France.
As he passed through the antechambers he noticed how plainly the men whom he met were dressed; some had not even shoe buckles; his own black satin and powdered hair seemed out of place now, even in the Tuileries.
Finally he was admitted to the presence of the Queen. He had thought that she might, perhaps, refuse to see him; he was a returned fugitive with a criminal charge hanging over his head, and Marie Antoinette had been always severe in these matters, despite her frivolity. He had reckoned, however, on their old friendship and something on the desperation of her position.
There was one lady with her when she received M. de Sarcey, Mademoiselle de. Talmont, known slightly to him in the old days as a playmate of the royal children and Madame Elisabeth. Now he saw her changed from a gay and laughing girl into a grave woman; she remained standing behind the table with the flowers, and held a little book in her hands.
The Queen greeted the Marquis with a cold and slightly sarcastic smile.
'You have chosen a strange moment for your return,' she said; she gave him her hand. 'Neither you nor I can be of any use to each other now,' she added.
'Your Majesty is mistaken,' said M. de Sarcey, kissing her fingers.
'Am I, M. le Marquis?' she asked rather wistfully. De Sarcey in many ways had always been a man after her own heart, and after the people with whom she had been lately surrounded (the best of them, such as M. Delafayette, hateful to her), his presence was like balm.
'Madame,' said the Marquis. 'I have returned to Paris to offer your Majesty what is left to me, my sword and my wits.'
The Queen turned aside and rested her elbows on the table near the bowl of flowers. De Sarcey, gazing at her, felt a devotion, an admiration, such as he had never felt in the days of their common splendour. How different she was from the women with whom he had lately been in contact—from Julie, from Rose—even from Eugénie. He felt a deeper disgust towards that world into which he had stepped in his reckless passion, a stranger desire than ever to return where he belonged.
'We are in no plight to refuse anything, are we, Gabrielle?' said the Queen at length, and she lifted her delicate head and looked with a slight smile at Mademoiselle de Talmont.
The clear eyes of the younger woman glanced at the dark face of M. de Sarcey.
'Your Majesty has need of loyal service,' she replied.
She was of the same type as the Queen, proud, delicate, and had now the same look of strain and forced containment.
'Mademoiselle,' said the Marquis, 'I do not believe there is anyone who would question the loyalty of a de Sarcey to the throne of France.'
'What caused you to return?' asked the Queen.
He answered without flinching.
'A letter from Madame my wife telling me how matters stood in France—the disorders of the canaille and the perils of my peers.'
'Your wife,' repeated Marie Antoinette curiously. 'I never saw anything of the Marquise. I heard her people behaved foolishly—M. le Président had to flee?'
'And the Marquise?'
'Is dead,' said M. de Sarcey gravely.
Both women gave him a quick look.
'Oh!' said the Queen.
'And at peace,' continued M. de Sarcey in the same inscrutable tones. 'She was a good woman. She need not enter our discussions, Madame.'
The Queen faintly smiled.
'It was an unfortunate marriage,' she said. 'At least so I understand. Particularly for the Marquise.'
'It was fortunate, Madame,' he replied, 'in that it was so brief.'
Marie Antoinette drew a spray of jasmine from the bowl and turned it about in her slender fingers.
'Were it not for the disorders of the present times and the flight of M. de Haultpenne, I think you would be in Vincennes, M. le Marquis.'
'Your Majesty has the power to send me there now,' he replied. 'It would be a popular move with the Assembly. I have been only a few hours in Paris, but I know not by what chance I have escaped my enemies.'
'Can you tell me why you should escape them, Monsieur?' asked the Queen; 'or why you should avoid the penalty of your—indiscretions?'
'Madame,' replied the Marquis, 'be assured that I shall not avoid one or the other—and that I do not wish to; had I done so I could have remained in exile. But your Majesty must judge if I am of use within Vincennes, or if this is a good moment to arrest one hated by the people.'
Marie Antoinette looked him in the eyes.
'I think,' she said, 'that the King still has power to pardon those who offend him. I believe I can promise you, M. le Marquis, that the past will be forgotten.'
M. de Sarcey knew that this meant a formal pardon for the ugly charge which hung over him, and also protection against his creditors, and he did not doubt that, as Marie Antoinette said, the King was still able to revoke warrants and pardon his nobles as in the days of his predecessor, whose friends could sin with impunity as long as they did not directly offend His Majesty.
'It only remains,' said M. de Sarcey, 'for your Majesty to tell me how I am to use the liberty you give me.'
The Queen regarded him again wistfully; his youth, his vigour, his pride and loyalty spoke to her of the old days and of much that she had lost.
'What can I do?' he asked again and the Queen was grateful to him for the passionate sincerity that showed in his voice and eyes.
She was only, she said, pretending to submit; the King was hoodwinking the Gironde Ministry that had been forced on him by the Assembly. A great many deputies were in the pay of the Court. M. de Mirabeau had been receiving a pension at the time of his death.
'I thought that he would come to it,' remarked M. de Sarcey.
'A pity he died,' replied the Queen. 'He was a very able man and most useful to us, though, of course, an adventurer—but one could tolerate him'
She went on to tell the Marquis that M. de Rochambeau had been given the command of the army, and that the King was sure of him. 'The Assembly are sure to declare war on Austria, but M. de Rochambeau knows what to do I think too that M. Delafayette will return to his duty—several regiments, I am assured, would go over to M. d'Artois.'
But the Queen's great hope, after all, remained in the entry of the foreign troops into France before the distracted and divided Assembly had had time to declare war.
She knew by heart the positions on the frontier, and was in constant communication with the various generals d'Artois, the King's brother, at Coblentz, Condé at Worms and Mirabeau-Tonneau at Ettenheim. The country was ill defended, and the Queen was quite confident that any war must soon end in a complete victory for her own people, and therefore did not care how soon or late the party of the Gironde triumphed.
The Jacobins, under the guidance of M. Robespierre, were a danger, for they wished to settle internal disorders before proceeding to war, and it was quite true that they had the great body of the people with them, and the majority of the clubs and the newspapers, also that they were very violent and aimed at no less than a Republic.
But they were all of the worst canaille, and even now the Queen could not take too seriously what she regarded as the dregs of the nation. She did not disguise the calm satisfaction with which she looked forward to the day when Austrian swords would reckon with Robespierre and his party.
'I think there is nothing you can do in Paris, Monsieur, nothing,' concluded the Queen. 'We have this week sent a messenger to Berlin, asking the King of Prussia to hasten his troops.'
M. de Sarcey glanced past the Queen at the lovely face of Gabrielle de Talmont. While the Queen spoke, she had seated herself behind the flowers, listening intently and gravely. She also was aristocrat among aristocrats, her brother was with the army of M. d'Artois, and all her fortunes one with the royal cause. To M. de Sarcey she typified even more than the Queen (for Marie Antoinette was a foreigner) the France he knew and loved; it was two years since he had seen such a woman, and he looked at her for a long time.
'Madame,' he said, addressing the Queen, 'I will go to my estates at Beaucy, tax all I can, buy arms and ammunition, raise all the ruffians round about who can be bought for a few pence, I doubt not, and join M. d'Artois. I believe,' he added thoughtfully, 'I can raise a good troop for His Majesty.'
This idea was the kind to please the Queen; it did not trouble her any more than it occurred to him that his proposed action would be illegal and calculated to inflame the people at a critical moment.
She gave him her hand, thanked him warmly, and begged him to wait on her and the King before he left Paris.
M. de Sarcey left the Tuileries with a light heart.
Yet, a certain remorse touched him because for the first time he felt he was paying for his impetuous passions; looking at Gabrielle de Talmont had opened his eyes to many things.
She was the sort of woman whom he had known all his life, taken for granted and hardly noticed; but now he knew that this was the type of woman he wished he had married. She made Rose and Julie both, in their different ways, appear cheap and foolish, Eugénie tawdry, and poor Pélagie, whom he kept apart, in his mind, at best a terrible mistake. He felt slightly disgusted with himself that he had put a woman like Gabrielle de Talmont out of his reach, and his mood came to a point when he regretted the price he had paid for Eugénie.
M. de Sarcey, after his interview with the Queen, made his way across Paris to his inn, where an unpleasant task awaited him; he must write to Eugénie.
Strange that it ever should be unpleasant to write to Eugénie or even to think of her. She was still as she had always been, in no way had she failed him; and he would not admit that he was tired of her. She remained his ideal love, the creature to whom he would return—sooner or later. This, however, he left vague in his thoughts, for the restoration of the monarchy and his one-time dignities were not compatible with any reunion with Eugénie.
He would have liked to have dismissed her from his thoughts and entirely devote himself to the new adventure before him, but he could not, and somehow he must tell her of the death of Pélagie, the death that meant his freedom.
He did not think that she would be other than fiercely satisfied, regarding Pélagie's end as mere expiation of an intolerable wrong towards herself. She had always refused to allow the fact of her marriage to put her sister in the right; to her Pélagie had always been the interloper, the one whose weakness and jealousy had been the cause of the whole disaster.
M. de Sarcey did not share this view, and his idea of Eugénie's reception of the news did not please him. He fastened on the thought as indication of a defect in her; she was hard—perhaps cruel. It gratified him to think that he might attribute to this lack of softness in her his own faithlessness; he thought that her spell would have lasted longer if she had more of tenderness and gentleness. He was himself without these qualities, but he liked to see them in women.
At the inn, he found two letters from Pisa.
One glance assured him that both were from Antoine, the valet.
His first sensation was one of relief that he did not have to read a letter from Eugénie; then his face hardened with the reflection that she was showing temper and had no right to such prolonged anger.
He was standing with the two letters in his hand, when the door opened swiftly and another man came in.
M. de Sarcey looked up fiercely; intrusions on his privacy were the last things he could learn to tolerate in this plebeian Paris.
When he saw who his visitor was, he remained motionless. M. de Rochefort faced him.
'I have been waiting for you, M. le Marquis,' he said.
'I should scarcely have returned earlier had I been aware of the fact, Monsieur,' replied M. de Sarcey haughtily.
He spoke with obvious intent to insult; the sight of the young Duke was extremely distasteful to him. Bitter scorn was roused in his breast by the sight of the uniform of the garde française that Dominique de Rochefort wore.
'I warned you to leave Paris,' said M. de Rochefort.
'And I answered you,' replied M. de Sarcey; he coolly opened one of the letters and read it as if no one had been present.
'It is about your answer that I wish to see you,' said the young Duke breathing hard.
M. de Sarcey glanced over the letter. Nothing had changed in Pisa. Eugénie was sullen, kept herself apart, but did not refuse the civilities Prince Chigi had caused to be lavished on her as Madame de Beaucy, whose husband had entrusted her to his charge: she had accepted the invitation of a great lady of his acquaintance to spend the last weeks of the summer in a castle in the Apennines.
M. de Sarcey was slightly pacified in his irritation to learn that Provino di Chigi had kept his word.
He put down the letter, open, on the table and eyed M. de Rochefort with a malicious smile.
'News of Eugénie de Haultpenne,' he said. 'Would you care to read it?'
The young Duke shuddered before a wickedness to which he was by no means equal; he felt that only blood could satisfy his loathing of this man.
'You are beyond an honest man's dealing,' he stammered; 'but I must somehow settle with you before I go.'
'Why?' asked the Marquis.
'Because of your damned insolent letter!' cried M. de Rochefort, suddenly red in the face. 'How dare you—my God, how dare you—a second time to so insult me?'
'Is it only the second time?' smiled M. de Sarcey, who had now completely recovered his good humour at sight of the other's anger obviously so badly in hand. 'It is certainly the first time that I have been able to provoke you.'
M. de Rochefort put his hand to his sword.
The Marquis laughed shortly.
'Do not be a fool. Swordsmanship is my amusement. I should certainly kill you, and I cannot think you want to die for my diversion. Remember little Rose.'
'Do you dare to speak of her!' cried M. de Rochefort beside himself, yet totally incapable of dealing with his adversary.
'I speak of her,' smiled M. de Sarcey, 'How will you prevent me? Do you not wish to hear news of Eugénie?'
And he flicked the letter across the table.
'That woman—' choked de Rochefort.
'Well, she is happier than she would have been if you had married her,' said M. de Sarcey.
'She is your second self—a creature not to be mentioned!' replied the young Duke. 'And if I had not made a promise to your most unhappy wife—'
This mention of Pélagie darkened the good humour of the Marquis.
'Leave that subject,' he said haughtily. 'You have no need of excuses for your forbearance, Monsieur. With the prudence that generally distinguishes one of your virtues you leave alone what you cannot master—'
De Rochefort controlled himself; he was lacking neither in courage nor pride, and really acted with restraint in regard to this man, to him absolutely detestable, because of his promise to a woman whom he had respected and pitied and who was so tragically dead.
He returned with equal hate the glance that M. de Sarcey gave him, seeing in him the type of all the tyranny and folly that had brought about the revolution.
'I return to the object of my visit,' he said coldly. 'It is again to ask you to leave Paris. Men of your stamp will not long be tolerated; affairs are changing swiftly and more completely than you can realise. Go back to Italy—my forbearance, at which you sneer, will not stretch to endure your presence in France. Remember, I have it in my power to send you to a common prison.'
'A stupid boast,' said M. de Sarcey, with no sign of anger beyond a light in his eyes. 'Now leave me before you provoke me.'
'You think I am afraid of you?' asked M. de Rochefort.
'Your comfortable politics, the uniform you wear, show your love of life,' replied the Marquis with a smile 'So I think you are not too eager to cross swords with me.'
'I did not speak of swords,' said M. de Rochefort, his hands gripping the edge of the table that was between them, 'but of the punishment that is due to you for your many infamies. Monsieur, I consider that you have lost your right to meet a gentleman on equal terms.'
This, coming from one not even his equal in rank, was utterly unendurable to M. de Sarcey; his native impatience rose, overwhelming his amusement and his indifferent scorn.
He came swiftly round the table.
'I am tired of your chatter,' he said. 'By God, I would kill you if it were not for little Rose, who won't so easily find another fool of your quality.'
M. de Rochefort gave a quick cry and raised his hand as if to strike the dark dangerous face so near to his. But the Marquis was first; he seized his man by the breast of the hated uniform, and with the full force of his superb strength shook him and threw him down. M. de Rochefort had no chance, he fell, striking the floor heavily and doubling his arm beneath him.
The Marquis, suddenly indifferent again, looked at him with neither anger nor scorn; the young Duke groaned and fainted like a girl.
De Sarcey rang the bell. When the servant came he made up a careless tale of someone taken ill, and left the room before the astonished maid could question him He then went upstairs, called his hired valet, ordered him to put his things together, and before the doctor had arrived to attend M. de Rochefort, the Marquis, emptying his purse to the host without waiting for the bill, left in a coach for Auteuil.
His interview with de Rochefort had finally disgusted him with this present Paris.
As the hired hackney rolled towards the suburbs he took only one pleasant memory with him from the capital that had so long been his home—the image of Gabrielle de Talmont, untouched, irreproachable—unattainable.
M. de Sarcey was most disagreeably impressed by his house at Auteuil; it was neglected, dirty and uncomfortable, most of the valuables had been removed and the decorations were tarnished and faded.
The gardener to whom the Marquis had given the keys on the night of his flight from Paris swore to having been faithful to his trust; but during the riots, he said, the house had been broken into and despoiled.
M. de Sarcey did not believe the tale insofar as the teller's conscience was concerned, but, in present circumstances, was bound to accept it. He surveyed his devastated property with angry disgust, and felt still further confirmed in his fierce desire to scourge into submission the people who had dared such insolence.
He had been expected in Auteuil ever since his arrival in Paris, and his bedroom was prepared for him, but was very far from the luxury to which he was accustomed, and the wife of the gardener was in attendance.
M. de Sarcey instantly dismissed this woman and he flung himself into a chair by the open window.
It was very hot with the heavy heat of the last days of summer, and though now late the Marquis felt no wish to sleep.
He looked out into the darkness that concealed the garden—he remembered how Eugénie had passed through the July flowers in that garden, breathing happiness and love and energy and joy, that she had been like a radiancy in the darkness, as if from her emanated life and light.
She had been perfect; even when he tried to dissect his memories he could find no fault in her. He decided, without emotion but with a certain vexation, that never again would he find a woman so completely desirable, nor would he look for such a one—he was not the man to seek to repeat an experience; the boundless zest for life urged him on to the new, the untried, the difficult of attainment.
His thoughts went to the woman whom he had seen to-day with the Queen. He was sure that in Eugénie's place she would have married de Rochefort and endured any agonies of repressed love sooner than step from her proud dignity; she had neither the beauty nor the vitality of Eugénie, perhaps neither the force nor the strength, but she had the power and value of one who was and always would be above reproach.
'I should like to make that woman care for me, to see what she would do,' thought M. de Sarcey.
He rose to ring for the valet, and as he did so his glance fell on the two letters that he had brought with him from Paris and flung on to the dressing-table.
One was still unopened. He took it up and toyed with it a moment, overcoming a certain distaste with anything connected with the establishment in Italy. Then he opened the valet's letter and a thin sheet of paper fell out; he glanced at this thinking it was the long-expected communication from Eugénie.
But the fine Italian writing, which might have been that of a woman, ended in the signature—Provino di Chigi.'
At the sight of this the face of the Marquis hardened; he gave an impatient exclamation at the dim light and took the letter close to the candles on the mantelpiece.
It was dated from Pisa a few weeks before, and written in a correct and elegant French:—
Monseigneur le Marquis de Sarcey, Prince de Beaucy, etc.
I am writing to acquaint you, through the means of Antoine, your valet, with the termination of the strange and romantic pact I found myself obliged to honour to make with you. That I have scrupulously kept this no doubt you have been informed by your valet Antoine, who, I make no doubt, has been reporting to you on my conduct, and I do not think that, in the light of this, my past behaviour, you will doubt that I should have fulfilled my compact to the end.
The Marquis shook the letter impatiently, and searched through the involved phrases for the gist of the matter.
But you will hardly wonder that the fact that the matter has been taken out of my hands should be for me as a matter of relief and rejoicing. The lady has herself decided her affairs, and I fear that her action will hardly be as pleasant to you as I must confess it is to me.
At the house of my kinswoman, the Marchese Malateste, where she was received with all honour, she made the acquaintance of a gentleman to whom she confided the truth of her position, with the astonishing result that he asked for her hand in marriage, which offer she accepted.
She is therefore beyond either my or your control or assistance. Doubtless she will write to you.
I beg your acknowledgment of this letter and of the fact that I am now acquitted of my charge.
Monseigneur, your servant,
PROVINO DI CHIGI.
'The whore!' cried the Marquis.
He snatched at the enclosing letter written by the valet, which contained few and desperate words.
'She is to be married—at Christmas, she says. Meanwhile he has given her all the money she needs and taken a villa for her in Florence. She will no longer endure any of us in her sight, and he has put his own people about her. He is a Florentine noble, nearly seventy, but still a man of a fine presence and of much power—a certain Dollabella—I cannot find out much about him What am I to do? She has told him everything, so there is no weapon to use against her—she snaps her fingers at us—he is very wealthy. Monseigneur, you know that I would have given my life for this not to happen—but I was helpless—'
M. de Sarcey did not read the remaining protestations of rage, regret and fidelity; he threw down the two letters on the mantelpiece and stood motionless for a long time.
At last he shrugged his shoulders, and with a violent movement went again to the open window.
'I am sorry,' he said aloud and fiercely, 'that I took any trouble with the girl.'
Then he instantly laughed at the sheer futility of the words.
Well, the thing was done—cut as if with a knife. There was no need for him to think any more of Eugénie, she would cost him neither thought nor money. In no way could she so completely have lifted the burden of her existence, the weight of her responsibility from his shoulders.
He should have been pleased; he had escaped the consequences of the indulgence of a capricious passion more easily than he could possibly have hoped. He need not communicate with Eugénie again, never see her—she had written a mocking 'finis' over the story of their love.
But he was not satisfied; on the contrary, he was deeply angered that she should have flung aside the hope of his return in this way.
He had imagined her angry, offended, sullen—but never as prepared to forgo the hope of seeing him again. In his heart he was amazed at her faithlessness to a love that he himself had regarded as finished, for he considered that he possessed the prerogative of change.
Well, she was no longer any concern of his, let her go down the wind and find her fortune with her kind.
He had done with the Haultpenne family; it had been a disastrous acquaintance, but it was over.
Before him were liberty and new experience. He should have been happy, but it was with a heavy heart that he wrote to Antoine instructing him to sell everything in Pisa and return to Château Beaucy with his fellow-servants. And that night he did not sleep or even undress, but, when his letters were finished, sat at the window watching the dawn break over the garden that was revealed neglected and spoiled—a thing of yesterday, like the love of Eugénie.
At Château Beaucy, M. de Sarcey found himself in his old position of feudal tyrant.
Free of all sentimental distractions he applied the full vigour of his character to the scheme he had put before himself, and before the autumn was well advanced he had effected in his domains a counter revolution. He imposed his own taxes, raised his own levies, stored ammunition and weapons, swept all the ruffians who hung about the frontier into bands of mercenary soldiers with which, in the name of the King, he terrorised the province.
The clergy were on his side, as were many of the small gentry, and several nobles, hitherto in hiding or obscurity, came forward to serve under his bold leadership.
M. d'Artois and the Queen sent him warm messages of congratulation. Paris was furious, and his example was quoted in the Assembly as a proof of the lawlessness of the nobility and as a further incentive to remove a monarchy that had made such a state of affairs possible. Thus he did considerable harm to the cause that he had so violently espoused; but this troubled neither him nor Marie Antoinette; their hope was in Austria, and they daily despised more and more the third estate, which seemed to be hesitating and weakening itself in quarrellings and confusion.
Never, since the fatal summer of '89, had the royal cause seemed so hopeful. The people were split into two parties equally violent and almost equally powerful, and distracted by a number of leaders had no longer the single-minded force and undiverted directness of purpose that had enabled them, under the brilliant guidance of Mirabeau, to impose a new Constitution on France.
And now the more moderate men, seeing the desperate expedients and terrible extremities to which the third estate was ready to resort, veered round to the Court. Even the liberal-minded Lafayette was not prepared to follow the Assembly any further in checking the royal authority, and men like M. de Sarcey knew that M. de Rochambeau, the commander of the forces to be led against the invaders gathering daily more thickly on the frontier, was secretly disposed well towards the King and Queen and therefore towards the Austrians.
In November the Assembly passed the long-expected decree that all émigrés were to return at once, under pain of death and confiscation of their goods if they delayed. The King vetoed this as he had vetoed the other decree against the royalist priests.
Antoine, delayed in Italy and making the long journey in painful stages, arrived at Château Beaucy in the last days of the year.
The Marquis was out when the valet came to the château. It was a bitter day of grey skies and snowflakes. A low wind cut through the desolate trees, and the crows flew black against the snow-drifts, but in the great hall of the château, the bare walls of which were hung with hunting trophies, a huge fire blazed; the sunk hearth, six feet across, was filled by immense logs which sent flames roaring up the deep-mouthed chimney.
The valet waited here, comfortable in the glow of the fire, watching the people come and go—the secretaries, the servants, the guards and soldiers of M. de Sarcey, who clattered to and fro, laughing, talking and whispering together.
Before he had reached Château Beaucy Antoine had heard reports of the position of his master, stories of his deeds and words and of the terror inspired by his name, now more than ever loathed and feared, and as he watched this living evidence of the Marquis's power and position, he wondered how this man had been able to endure two such years as those in Italy.
When M. de Sarcey returned he was attended by a number of gentlemen. His quick glance fell at once on the valet, who stood in the red light cast from the vast fireplace, and he crossed to him with a rapid step, noticeable in him, for his walk was usually very slow.
'Why, Antoine!' he said.
'Monseigneur—' said the valet, bowing very low and with a flush of real pleasure in his thin dark face.
'You have come from Pisa?' asked the Marquis quickly. 'Yes, Monseigneur.'
'And have news?'
'I have accounts to give Monseigneur of Monseigneur's affairs.'
M. de Sarcey did not answer, he gazed into the depths of the huge fire and his attitude was one of reflection.
The valet inwardly quavered at the thought of the news he had to tell—and the reception it was likely to receive.
'I will speak to you at once,' said M. de Sarcey suddenly.
Ignoring those waiting in the hall, he led the way into a little apartment near the sweeping staircase which he had converted into a cabinet after the manner of Versailles.
M. de Sarcey smiled at the valet, who stood humbly waiting his pleasure to speak.
'And what of the lady?' he asked, and drew his gloves off slowly, loosening each finger-tip carefully.
'Does Monseigneur want the whole story from the beginning?'
M. de Sarcey laughed; he seemed entirely indifferent to the subject, though he had raised it.
'I am afraid it is rather a stupid story, Antoine,' he remarked.
'It is one that is rather difficult to understand, Monseigneur.'
'On the contrary, Antoine, it is perfectly easy of comprehension. A woman who considered herself slighted generally loses her head. But I should be asking you of your journey. You came through without mishap?'
He tossed his gloves on to the ormolu table near him and glanced kindly at the valet.
'Monseigneur, there were a great many mishaps, but I have managed to reach Château Beaucy with all Monseigneur's papers intact.'
'You came alone?'
'Nay, Monseigneur, but with Gervaise and Dorine'
'They are here?'
'At the inn, Monseigneur.'
'And Mademoiselle de Haultpenne is married?' asked the Marquis abruptly.
'Ah, not married?'
'Nor very like to be, Monseigneur.'
M. de Sarcey's eyelids flickered.
'Who has changed? The bride or the groom?'
'The lady, Monseigneur.'
'This is interesting, Antoine.'
'I was afraid that Monseigneur might find it vexatious,' replied the valet with some trepidation.
'Antoine,' replied the Marquis, 'I am not in the humour to be vexed by little things,' and he slightly stressed the last two words.
His brilliant eyes turned to the papers on his desk. There was a letter there from M. d'Artois. He broke the seal and glanced over the contents. The Bourbon Prince warmly approved of a scheme proposed by M. de Sarcey whereby the émigrés could supply themselves with money; this being nothing less than the manufacturing, without limits, of paper currency at Frankfurt; that it would go far to ruin completely the already shaken credit of France troubled neither the Prince nor the Marquis.
He looked up gratified from his glance at the letter. Antoine's news did not greatly interest him; he was pleased to see his faithful servant again, but it seemed to him that the fellow came from another world. Was the moon so far away as Pisa?
'I will hear you later as to your stewardship. And as to the doings of Mademoiselle, they have scarcely any more interest for either of us, eh, Antoine?'
Even the valet was slightly stirred by the utter heartlessness of the handsome face turned towards him. 'Monseigneur does not care to hear what has become of her?' he asked.
M. de Sarcey looked at him steadily.
'Antoine, did she not entirely leave my protection?'
'She told her story to another man—she invoked and accepted his assistance—she left my house for his house, my servants for his servants—she put off my jewels to wear his. Is not this what you told me, Antoine?'
'It is true, Monseigneur, she never returned to Pisa, but went straight to the Marchese's villa in Florence to make preparations for her marriage; she sent her jewels back to Dorine and never asked even for her clothes.'
The hard smile did not alter on the lips of M. de Sarcey. 'Well, then, Antoine,' he replied, 'I have no more interest in the future of this woman.'
'Then God help her, Monseigneur!' exclaimed the valet. 'Does that mean that she is past all help from man?' asked M. de Sarcey.
'It means that in this world she relies entirely on you, Monseigneur.'
'In that case she had better indeed turn her attention to the next,' replied the Marquis; and he looked again at the papers before him as if he was tired of the subject.
But the valet did not leave. With the air of a man who has something on his mind he waited in a silence that was somewhat anxious despite his perfect training in self-effacement.
'Monseigneur, there is something I must tell you,' he said, and his voice was slightly changed.
M. de Sarcey turned in his chair.
'Monseigneur will be displeased.'
The Marquis lifted his shoulders.
'I have already remarked, Antoine,' he said agreeably, 'that I am in no humour to be lightly disturbed.'
'I thank Monseigneur for his goodness, but I feel ill at ease in the news I have to give.'
'News?' asked M. de Sarcey lightly.
'Of Mademoiselle de Haultpenne.'
'Truly the subject is neither pleasant nor necessary,' said the Marquis.
'I fear it is necessary, Monseigneur.'
'Why?' demanded the Marquis haughtily. 'Have I not said that I have no further interest in that lady?'
The valet came a step nearer. 'I must tell Monseigneur the story from the beginning—'
'You will risk being tedious,' interrupted M. de Sarcey. 'Give me the conclusion, I doubt not that I can understand all from that.'
The conclusion, Monseigneur,' said the valet desperately, 'is that Mademoiselle de Haultpenne is now at Beaucy.'
A swift and terrible change came over the smooth countenance of M. de Sarcey.
'By God!' he cried. 'You dared to bring her here!'
Antoine clasped his hands.
'Monseigneur, she would come, and she is a woman not easy to withstand. She came to Pisa just before we were leaving and would have all news of you from me. She said that she had left the Marchese—the old man—a few days before the marriage was fixed—'
'She was a fool,' broke in M. de Sarcey violently, 'and you are worse than a fool. And now you will amend your folly. You will take Mademoiselle de Haultpenne away again.'
'Take her away, I say—back to Italy—to her parents in England—anywhere—I will not have her in Beaucy. I will not see her.'
'Monseigneur was not wont to be so hard with this lady,' said the valet dismally. 'I thought that Monseigneur's feeling was of a different quality—'
'Then you should know me better by now,' returned the Marquis fiercely. 'Did you ever know me look again at a woman I had done with? And now my days are full of other things. And I think to get married.'
'Monseigneur thinks to get married!' stammered the valet.
'Does it surprise you, Antoine?' sneered M. de Sarcey. 'I think your wits have become a little rusted in Italy. Being, by the devil's mercy, free of my first mistake, I intend to please myself this time—at leisure. The lady is exceptional. Tell Mademoiselle de Haultpenne what I have said—and get her away—somehow—from Beaucy.'
'Monseigneur—means this? Monseigneur perhaps does not understand?'
'I understand perfectly—the vagaries of a foolish woman'
'Oh, Monseigneur,' broke out the valet. 'I do believe this lady is sincere—she seemed to me half mad with the grief of it—this crazy marriage was but an act of desperation—'
'Had she been faithful I should have returned—at my pleasure,' replied the Marquis sternly. 'She chose to leave me, and she is no further concern of mine. Tell her so.'
The valet bowed.
'There is no further message?' he ventured.
'I may await on Monseigneur again?'
'Yes, I must see you about those Italian affairs. Come to-morrow morning. Where are you staying?'
'At the inn at Beaucy, Monseigneur.'
'Yes, Monseigneur. Mademoiselle is attended by Dorine.'
'It is all damned silly,' said M. de Sarcey. 'You will get rid of her if you mean to stay in my service. And now please ring for candles.'
The valet found the bell-rope, pulled it, and departed, bowing again on the threshold of the room.
The Marquis stood by the fire, staring at the floor, and did not move when the lights were brought in and placed on the desk and table and the curtains drawn over the winter night.
He felt no obligation whatsoever towards Eugénie. He had paid for her, he had taken some trouble to provide for her, she had flung his bounty in his face and made a fool of herself with another man, evoking the scandal he had so carefully avoided. He intended to marry Gabrielle de Talmont; he had become acquainted with her brother at the Court of M. d'Artois, and had already found that his suit was not likely to be unacceptable. His past scandals were easily forgotten in the present importance of his position, and his probably brilliant future when the monarchy should be restored to its ancient dignity. The aristocracy was drawn closer together than it had ever been before, and a match such as this was not likely to be thwarted by relatives on either side.
Mademoiselle de Talmont was a woman such as his mother had been, one who would honour his lineage; it pleased him to think of her as his wife. He saw the future very fair and fortunate; it must not be disturbed by even the shadow of Eugénie de Haultpenne.
Eugénie sat in the best bedroom of the meagre inn, the only accommodation the village of Beaucy afforded. Antoine had wished her to take lodgings in the neighbouring town, but she was obstinate in her refusal.
The inn, little better than a tavern, was as uncomfortable as the valet had said it would be. A fire of spluttering boughs filled the room with acrid smoke that drifted out of the open casement on to the snow-covered yard and the white fields beyond.
A low bed, a table, two chairs, a ewer and basin on a rough stand, an old wooden image of St. Joseph, completed the furniture of the room. The walls were dirty plaster, the floor bare boards. At the end of the bed stood Eugene's trunk, and some of the contents, clothes and scarfs and shoes, were flung over the print quilt; on the floor were some beautiful furs and a splendid dressing case and several toilet articles in gold and crystal and silver and enamel, looking very incongruous in the squalid poverty of the place.
But more incongruous than any of these things was the woman who crouched forward over the reluctant flame, and for sheer cold endured the smoke.
Even here, in these surroundings and weary and chilled, she had not lost that air of radiancy, that glow of splendour that could never fail to win the eyes and touch the hearts of men.
Dorine, neat, pretty and unchanged, was in the room, on her knees amid the portmanteaux and boxes.
A quiet and tacit friendship existed now between the two women who for so long had been merely mistress and maid, secretly antagonistic. From the day when Eugénie, without a shred of pride or dignity left, had come on foot, penniless, to the door of the palace in Pisa and had sobbed herself sick on Dorine's shoulder, the little Parisian had been the fallen lady's champion. She did not perhaps admit this, but she showed it in her actions; she was of the same breed as Antoine, unscrupulous, cynical, trained from childhood in the service of the great. She had been the confidante of many ladies in the old days at Auteuil, arid never been more than heartlessly amused or bored by scenes and tears, but her quick wits and what soul there was in her, recognised, in Eugénie, what she had never seen in a human being before, namely, a true and great emotion. Dorine had never imagined it as possible that anyone would really forgo any advantage for the sake of love, and Eugénie's desperate sacrifice, complete self-abnegation and humble surrender, moved her to awe and respect; she was content to serve what she dimly felt to be the strongest thing she had ever met.
Eugénie sat forward with sudden impatience.
'Why does not Antoine return—it is getting dark.'
'I expect he had to wait. Monseigneur is so occupied! He is like a king here now—everyone afraid of him How angry that canaille in Paris must be!'
'I wonder if he is cruel,' said Eugénie. 'Do you think so?'
Dorine held up a lace petticoat to the fading light, eyeing it for rents.
'Cruel? One "born" like Monseigneur is not likely to be weak. There are two men to be hanged to-morrow.'
'That is what I heard,' shivered Eugénie. 'The girl who brought in the breakfast told me. Why hanged?'
'They were trying to steal some of the grain stored for the soldiers of Monseigneur.'
'But he cannot hang them for that—without a trial—'
'On his own fief he can do what he wishes, of course.'
'But it is against the law, the new laws made by the third estate.'
'But Monseigneur is fighting the third estate, Madame!'
'I think,' said Eugénie with sudden energy, 'that he is wicked and cruel and base—and I see why there was a revolt against the aristocracy-and I am glad that such men as M. de Sarcey are being swept away.'
'My faith,' said Dorine. 'I do not think that Monseigneur will ever be swept away—or his like. I am sure that with the help of such, His Majesty will triumph after all, and all these base rogues be put to flight.'
'I understand none of it,' answered Eugénie. 'Strange to think that my parents are in exile and that I do not care at all. Ruined, and I do not care. If they had been as they were when I left them, they would never have looked on me again—they would have turned me into the street—or perhaps, for the name's sake, have shut me into a convent.'
She paused and leant back in her chair.
'If Pélagie had been alive I think she would have been kind to me,' she added sharply.
'Madame must not think about that,' replied Dorine smoothly, she did not greatly desire to think about it herself; there were some things even her facile morality did not care to dwell on.
Eugénie moved her fair head impatiently.
'Shut the window, Dorine, and call for lights—it is nearly dark. And still Antoine does not come.'
The maid rose and closed the casement. The smoke had lessened and the logs were spluttering into a fitful blaze; they gave out a great crackling noise, and now and then sparks flew into the darkening room and on to Eugénie's tumbled dress.
'There is no bell,' said Dorine. 'I will go and see if I can find someone. Madame needs some supper too.'
Eugénie did not answer; she lay back in the chair, her face in shadow, only the fire-light showed the loops of her hair like bright gold.
Dorine glanced at her and left the room. Eugénie heard the door close and moved her head restlessly, then she sat up and looked round, her hands pressed to her forehead.
She looked at the sordid room and her own scattered possessions—indicating homelessness, desolation, flight—all the anguish of abandonment.
'If I could die,' she groaned. 'If I could only die. He will never have me back. Never—never.'
Like a sudden strain of music wafted by some unknown wind came the memory of those two perfect years in Italy, and she felt her heart turn over with a physical pain that made her gasp.
Dorine returned with a little oil lamp that she set on the narrow mantelpiece.
'They are bringing up the supper,' she said with a grimace of disgust, 'but no dog could eat it.'
A rough peasant girl in wooden shoes followed her, stared with unrestrained curiosity at this strange lady suddenly illuminating the dingy inn, and slowly and clumsily began to lay the supper.
Eugénie glanced at the food with loathing.
'My faith,' said the maid in despair, 'but this is impossible. I will go down and see if I can make an omelette for Madame, there must be eggs—and a little wine—'
'Nothing,' said Eugénie, 'nothing—I feel sick at the thought of food.'
Dorine crossed over to her and touched her on the shoulder with a gesture of real affection.
'You have taken nothing all day but a little coffee and milk—and, Madame, you must not look ill—Monseigneur dislikes illness—'
'Give me a little soup,' said Eugénie. 'I am not ill—if I was happy I should not look haggard.'
Dorine was turning eagerly to the table when a knock at the door caused her to pause.
'It is Antoine,' exclaimed Eugénie, and the little colour that was in her face faded.
'I wish you had had some supper first,' said Dorine; but her mistress had already called 'Come in,' and the valet entered.
'Madame is not comfortable here?' he began instantly, but Eugénie checked him.
'Do not evade me,' she said gently. 'You know that all I care about is your news. I have come a long way and suffered much—for this. Tell me quickly, did you see Monseigneur?'
'Yes, Madame,' replied Antoine.
He could not look into her wild and beautiful face that gazed at him with such desperate eagerness. He shared Dorine's feeling of loyalty towards Eugénie; she had won them in her downfall as she had never won them in her pride; the valet had taken a deep interest in the object of her journey, and had secretly shared the hopes he must now scatter.
'How was he looking?' asked Eugénie. 'Well—and happy?'
'Monseigneur was—Monseigneur,' replied the valet awkwardly. 'The château is full of people—it is like a Court—and all is guarded by soldiery.'
'Antoine,' said Eugénie, 'you are keeping bad news from me.'
'Tell me, did he speak of me?'
Still the valet could not raise his eyes; he looked on the ground as he answered.
'I told Monseigneur that Madame was at Beaucy.'
'Well?' the word was like a cry for help; Dorine moved nearer to her mistress.
The valet's courage failed him.
'Madame, I must see M. le Marquis again—I was only with him a few moments—he was much occupied—'
'You were with him long enough!' cried Eugénie. 'Do not torture me—after all, I never had any hope.'
The valet bowed.
'Madame, Monseigneur told me that he considered it best for you to leave Beaucy.'
Eugénie was silent, and Antoine raised his eyes; her face frightened him.
'Madame—' he began in great agitation.
'Tell me the rest,' interrupted Eugénie. 'Tell me all—you see I am quite calm. I expected this.'
'Monseigneur said very little,' replied the valet wretchedly. 'He will not see me?'
'I do not think so, Madame,' and he nerved himself to deliver the final blow. 'Monseigneur spoke of getting married.'
'Oh!' said Eugénie.
An exclamation of anger broke from Dorine.
'Ah, the men!' she cried.
Eugénie took hold of the back of the chair.
'Married?' she said. 'And to whom?'
'He did not say, Madame. But from the talk of some of his household whom I met there is no secret made of the matter—it is the Prince de Talmont's sister, and everyone is said to be very willing.'
'Thank you, Antoine, thank you,' said Eugénie. 'There is nothing more to say—of course, of course, M. de Sarcey must marry—'
Her voice trailed off and she stood staring at the miserable supper getting cold on the table.
'Go away,' said Dorine in a violent whisper, pushing the valet towards the door. 'You have been a clumsy fool—you may have killed her. Don't you know a little more about women by now? Go away—and send up some wine—the best they have—and quick.'
She closed the door on the agitated valet and came back with swift steps to Eugénie.
'Madame must not believe what that fool says—it is one of Monseigneur's tricks—he was always fond of a bitter jest.'
'I am quite well,' said Eugénie; she caught hold of the other woman's wrist, and Dorine almost shuddered at the coldness of her hand, 'but I must see him—just once more.'
'Sit down,' urged Dorine, and the tears were in her eyes, usually so bright and hard.
Eugénie obeyed like a child.
'It will be all right when I see him,' she said, and a slow smile quivered over her face.
M. de Sarcey refused to see Eugénie; it seemed to him that whatever took place in their interview it could not be other than an ugly ending to what had been very splendid. He wanted to think of Eugénie as he had last seen her in the brocade gown in the rich Pisan room. He was angry with her. He had loved her romantically, splendidly; he had left her romantically, splendidly, and in a strange and generous fashion provided for her in case he should not return, which in his own good time he had always meant to do, and she had spoilt everything.
Besides, he was very busy mustering all the men, collecting all the arms and money he could, with the idea of joining M. d'Artois at the head of his own troop.
He had been advised that he could not long hope to hold Beaucy or to continue to play the feudal tyrant in his own fief. His behaviour had caused passionate anger in every party except that of the Court, and even there some deplored his high-handedness for which others beside himself would have to pay.
He had half a mind to burn the great château that had been the home of his family for nearly a thousand years, rather than allow it to fall into the hands of the third estate, but over this he hesitated, for his love for the old castle was almost as strong as his pride.
Antoine had to confess to the Marquis his failure, in the attempt to induce Eugénie to leave Beaucy, and to admit that she was still at the inn with the maid.
'And I suppose they are penniless?' asked the Marquis.
He went through the accounts of the Italian affairs and found there was a fair sum of money to his credit with the Florentine bankers; he decided to give this to Eugénie, together with the house in Pisa and the jewels he had bought for her and she had returned—but not until she had left Beaucy.
Antoine was sent down to the inn with a few louis for present needs. These he did not dare offer to Eugénie, but Dorine thankfully accepted them. The lady knew nothing of money, had never had it to spend except on trinkets and pleasure, but the maid, used as she was to luxury, was very well aware of the power even of a few sou.
'Will he see her?' she asked the valet, and her look and tone were contemptuous of both man and master.
'Not he—but if she goes away he will provide for her, and, after all, she cannot ask more,' said Antoine, who had gone over now completely to the influence of his master.
'She does not ask so much, 'said Dorine hotly. 'Only a few moments' speech with one who once could not keep out of her sight. She is ill—but she won't understand that he has no pity at all.'
'A woman like that should not ask for pity, there is the mistake,' grumbled Antoine. 'Why did she have to be so crazy—why couldn't she marry the old Marchese?'
'You have seen for yourself why,' replied the maid curtly. 'There never has been and never will be anyone for her but Monseigneur. There are some women like that.'
'Why do you not try and reason her out of it?'
'Oh, bah, you who understand nothing,' said Dorine impatiently. 'I might as well try and reason anyone out of a fit of the plague—-I might kill, but I could not cure.'
'Well,' said Antoine defensively, 'why did she make a fool of herself with that old man if it has never been anyone but Monseigneur?'
Dorine snapped her fingers in his face.
'Did I not tell you that you understand nothing?'
The valet shrugged.
'Monseigneur is going to be married and that is an end of it; he is always with M. de Talmont, and they say at the château that the match is as good as arranged.'
'Well,' answered Dorine viciously, 'I shall not go to attire his wife.'
'But you had better leave this poor thing to come to her senses alone, Dorine. Monseigneur is growing angry at her remaining here—the scandal—'
'Monseigneur is new to scandal, and sensitive, eh?' sneered the maid.
Antoine lowered his voice.
'This is the Marquise's sister. He would not care for people to know that.'
'Who is there who doesn't know that he ran off to Italy with the Marquise's sister? Even your Mademoiselle de Talmont is aware of that.'
'Yes,' replied the valet, 'it is hushed up—she is supposed to be married, in a convent—provided for—if it were to be known that she is here! And of course it has come to the ears of Monseigneur that her presence is causing comment—everyone wondering who she is and why she stays—'
Dorine was impatiently scornful.
'Monseigneur has no reputation to lose—in any way. He is one of fortune's favourites that he is not in prison—'tis an ugly story about his wife's death, when all is said and done,' she laughed. 'One scandal more or less won't hurt him—she will pay for it—not he.'
'You are very hot in her defence,' replied Antoine gloomily. 'I don't know what you hope to do with her. I tell you the truth when I tell you that Monseigneur has utterly done with her.'
'He cannot be sure of that himself till he has seen her again.'
'She is nothing to impress him—she has lost her looks, and he is not thinking of women now. And I tell you that he'll not endure scenes. Get her away. I give you good advice. Let me know where you go and I will tell Monseigneur that he may send the money—and he said you were to have all you needed for your moving—'
'Oh, bah,' cried Dorine. 'Do you and your master think that these things are to be settled by a few louis? She isn't an opera dancer or the daughter of a shopkeeper.'
'I'll not argue with you,' replied the valet. 'I speak the truth—it may be bitter, but it should be useful. You and your lady had better go before Monseigneur sends word to the inn-keeper to turn you out. He is capable of it. I know he won't leave Beaucy with you still here.'
'He is leaving Beaucy?' asked Dorine quickly.
In a few days—to join M. d'Artois.'
'Well, I will think over your advice,' said the maid, and pushed him quickly out of the inn parlour, closing the door rudely in his face.
After she had allowed a moment for his departure she went slowly upstairs to Eugénie's bedroom. Her own skill and care had done something to make the room orderly and pleasant, but she had not been able to achieve much with such miserable materials, and the place looked dreary in the cold light reflected from the snowy fields outside.
Eugénie sat in the deep, low chair by the fire; her appearance justified the valet's criticism. Dorine gave a swift glance at this despairing figure, and proceeded to draw the fire together, that Eugénie had allowed to fall into embers in the centre and untouched wood at the edges.
'Antoine has been here,' she said quickly. 'He says that Monseigneur will soon be leaving Beaucy—'
'Without seeing me?' asked Eugénie, sitting up. No—this is not possible. He is only keeping me waiting for a test. I must write another letter, Dorine,' and she looked at the little travelling desk on the rough table.
Dorine had never found the courage to tell her that Antoine had brought back all her letters unopened, and that she herself had secretly burnt them when Eugénie was asleep.
'I think that you should see him, Madame,' she answered. 'Surely with all the people there are going to and fro to the château now you could get in? I would go with Madame as far as the gates—'
Eugénie looked at her wistfully.
'I had thought of that—but he would be so angry.'
'But not discourteous—once he saw you face to face—'
'I do not want his courtesy.'
'You want his attention, Madame, you want to let him see you—'
Eugénie stared at her, almost stupidly.
'I am afraid of him—he is very cruel—he had those two men hanged.'
'Well then,' said Dorine with the slight sharpness of impatience, 'you must give up thinking about him at all, Madame, and set your mind on other things.'
'It makes no difference to me if he is cruel or not—if he hangs two or two hundred, you know that, Dorine'
'Then why should you refer to such matters at all—' Again Eugénie laughed.
'What else can L think of—sitting here alone?'
She bent over the fire and held out her hands to the golden glow. 'You think that I should go to the château, just like a supplicant—and wait his pleasure, or be turned from his doors, or force into his presence?' she added, and she did not speak with pride or sarcasm but with misery and humility.
'Oh, là,' said the maid with some despair. 'I think there is no other way—he will leave Beaucy, and it will be no such easy matter to follow him to the camp of M. d'Artois.'
'I will go,' said Eugénie with sudden energy. 'To-morrow at all costs—if he is abroad I will wait his return. My God, is it possible that it should come to this—that he refuses me a few moments' speech?'
Dorine had seen it come to that many times, and with a swifter transition than Eugénie had experienced; but she admitted that this was an exceptional case, and that Eugénie might have expected different treatment from that meted out to her predecessors. Therefore she said nothing of her past experience of Monseigneur's handling of spent love affairs, merely reflecting that she knew him better than this woman who was staking everything on his mercy—and this thought was accompanied by a swift pang for Eugénie.
That unfortunate lady had risen and was standing with her hand on the back of her chair.
'How shall I get through the night?' she asked desperately; she was now frantic to put her plan into execution. 'Hew shall I wait till the time comes for us to start?'
Dorine summed up her mood and dealt with it firmly.
'You will go to bed, Madame, and sleep, or you will look fifty years old to-morrow and Monseigneur will not even recognise you.'
Eugénie Laughed hysterically, but Dorine's attempts were unavailing. Neither her tact nor her sympathy, her reproaches nor her good advice could induce Eugénie to rest or keep calm; she burnt candles all night, and only slept for an hour towards the bitter winter dawn.
Eugénie went over in her mind all that she would do and say in this interview; the whole thing became suddenly transparently clear. She saw how they would look, heard what they would say, knew that she could be eloquent on her burning theme. There was much to be said, everything that was common to an eternal situation and everything peculiar to this particular one. She had her defences ready, then reasoned herself into thinking that she needed no defences; it was he who was utterly in the wrong, and she who would be able to prove it, convict him, and bring him triumphantly back to his old allegiance. Somehow, now she regarded seeing him as a certainty, she no longer felt any doubt as to the successful issue of the meeting.
Her old confidence in herself returned; she remembered all the men who had been infatuated with her; she felt entirely reassured as to her own power.
In the early cold of the grey morning she dressed herself in a gown of rose-coloured taffeta bought in Florence in those brief days of hysterical desperation when she had thought that she could content herself with a prudent splendour and a guarded happiness as the wife of an old man, and Eugénie, again beautifully and carefully dressed, regained something of her old radiancy.
She was standing erect, looking at herself in the gilt and tortoiseshell mirror which she held in her hand, and Dorine was smoothing out a large white fur muff, when the inn maid came into the room without knocking, holding a letter in her hand.
She remained gasping at Eugénie, who was indeed a marvellous sight for such a setting, but the lady snatched the letter and ordered her away.
The envelope was addressed to Dorine, in Antoine's writing.
Eugénie, with a wild look, tore it open.
The few lines stated that Monseigneur was leaving Beaucy to join M. d'Artois—next day towards ten; the soldiers of the third estate were advancing, and orders had been left to burn the château.
'To-day—is it to-day?' cried Eugénie. Dorine took the envelope and compared the dates.
'Yes, to-day—it must be—now he would be leaving—at any moment.'
'But he must pass here,' said Dorine.
Eugénie sat down; she was aware of one thing only—that she felt ill.
'You must see him,' remarked Dorine, who was both angry and baulked and in that moment loathed all men.
'Shall I stop him in the street?' asked Eugénie foolishly. Dorine was looking furiously at the fatal letter.
'This should have come last night,' she said. 'We ought to have known this last night—'
She rushed downstairs to confront the people of the inn with their carelessness, but no one took any notice of her; they were all in the street watching for the passing of Monseigneur.
Dorine went out among the crowd. All the inhabitants of the little village were out to see this passing of the last de Sarcey who would either return in venomous triumph or never return at all. Dorine shivered in her shawl and was turning back through the crowd when round the bend of the twisting street came M. de Sarcey at the head of a little troop; the main portion of his army had gone round the longer but easier way. There were some shouts and some curses from those he passed, but his complete indifference to both inspired a general awe.
He was riding slowly and drew rein before the door of the inn.
'There is someone here whom I must see,' he said pleasantly, and, as his eye fell on Dorine, he nodded and smiled.
'Your mistress,' he added, and dismounting easily he went into the inn parlour. The gaping crowd would have closed in on him, but he put them lightly back with the end of his whip.
With an air of complete composure he drew off one of his gloves and took a packet of papers from the pocket of his coat.
Dorine had rushed up the stairs; Eugénie was already half-way down them, clinging to the dirty rail and listening. The two women clasped each other a second.
'I cannot see him now,' said Eugénie desperately. 'I ill—this is not just—'
'He rides away—he waits to see you,' replied Dorine, and forced her down the last few stairs.
Eugénie walked to the half-open door of the parlour, pushed it wide and entered. The vivid eyes of M. de Sarcey gave her one full glance; he did not find her greatly changed, but he knew at once that she would never trouble him again.
'Good day, Eugénie,' he said pleasantly. 'I wished to leave these in your hands before I go.' He showed her the packet he held, but made no attempt to approach her, simply laid it on the table. 'You will find yourself provided for. Will you not wish me good luck?'
Eugénie did not speak; she was staring at him, thinking how utterly untouched he was by any emotion—how unchanged.
'Well, perhaps silence is best,' he added, drawing on his glove. 'Good-bye, Eugénie.'
He moved to the door; as he passed her she put her hand on his sleeve.
'Pélagie died that we might come together,' she said. He winced slightly.
'That Pélagie died is one of many reasons why we cannot come together,' he replied gently.
'And so you leave me?'
M. de Sarcey smiled.
'I paid for you more than I have ever paid for anything. You do not need words and compliments and excuses after that? Good-bye.'
He touched his hat to her and was gone.
Eugénie heard the sound of the little troop rapidly riding away.
She snatched at the packet he had left: bankers' bills, legal letters, money—her pension.
She flung them all to the ground, and her wild glance went round the sordid room. On the sideboard were a loaf and a knife; this last she snatched up, hid it in her jacket and ran upstairs.
Dorine was at the window.
'Go away,' said Eugénie thickly, 'and—come back in—ten minutes.'
Dorine recognised defeat and withdrew to let her mistress face her overthrow alone.
Eugénie pulled off her jacket and hat and flung herself on the bed, the knife in her hands.
Dorine would tell him; at least it would make him think of her again. Pélagie had died in the same way. She tore open her dress, ripping the silk and cambric.
This, of course, was what it was bound to come to; no one who had loved as she had loved could expect any different death from this.
She nursed the knife and felt the edges, then looked round the miserable room; her glance fell on the trunk by the bedside and at the tumble of clothes on top of it from which Dorine had selected her last toilette.
What a long time it seemed since she had bought a new gown, or slept in a comfortable bed, or ridden in her own coach.
Lovely memories of Italy came to her mind. She thought with great kindness of the old Marchese. She believed he would take her back, even now; she was sure of that, when she reflected on it—though not as his wife, perhaps.
Was love the only thing in the world, or much more important than anything else?
The knife dropped from her grasp; she drew her dress together, she was cold.
The opening door startled her; it was Dorine creeping back.
'I want to write a letter,' said Eugénie. 'Get me some paper and ink.'
Dorine sped away again, shaking her head; as if letters could move M. de Sarcey!
When she returned, Eugénie was still seated on the bed in attitude of reflection. She rose and took the writing and set them out on the little table where she had her meals; her hands shook a great deal.
'Go down to the parlour,' she said, 'and bring me those papers on the floor. They are valuable.'
She drew the wooden chair up to the table and began to write. Dorine left the room throwing up her hands at the folly of these persistent passions.
But the superscription on the letter Eugénie was writing was to Florence; and it began:
'Caro mio amore—'
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