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CHAPTER V

MADAME DE PLOUGASTEL


The postilion drew rein, and the footman opened the door, letting
down the steps and proffering his arm to his mistress to assist her
to alight, since that was the wish she had expressed. Then he
opened one wing of the iron gates, and held it for her. She was a
woman of something more than forty, who once must have been very
lovely, who was very lovely still with the refining quality that
age brings to some women. Her dress and carriage alike advertised
great rank.

"I take my leave here, since you have a visitor," said Andre-Louis.

"But it is an old acquaintance of your own, Andre. You remember
Mme. la Comtesse de Plougastel?"

He looked at the approaching lady, whom Aline was now hastening
forward to meet, and because she was named to him he recognized her.
He must, he thought, had he but looked, have recognized her without
prompting anywhere at any time, and this although it was some
sixteen years since last he had seen her. The sight of her now
brought it all back to him - a treasured memory that had never
permitted itself to be entirely overlaid by subsequent events.

When he was a boy of ten, on the eve of being sent to school at
Rennes, she had come on a visit to his godfather, who was her
cousin. It happened that at the time he was taken by Rabouillet
to the Manor of Gavrillac, and there he had been presented to Mme.
de Plougastel. The great lady, in all the glory then of her
youthful beauty, with her gentle, cultured voice - so cultured
that she had seemed to speak a language almost unknown to the
little Breton lad - and her majestic air of the great world, had
scared him a little at first. Very gently had she allayed those
fears of his, and by some mysterious enchantment she had completely
enslaved his regard. He recalled now the terror in which he had
gone to the embrace to which he was bidden, and the subsequent
reluctance with which he had left those soft round arms. He
remembered, too, how sweetly she had smelled and the very perfume
she had used, a perfume as of lilac - for memory is singularly
tenacious in these matters.

For three days whilst she had been at Gavrillac, he had gone daily
to the manor, and so had spent hours in her company. A childless
woman with the maternal instinct strong within her, she had taken
this precociously intelligent, wide-eyed lad to her heart.

"Give him to me, Cousin Quintin," he remembered her saying on the
last of those days to his godfather. "Let me take him back with
me to Versailles as my adopted child."

But the Seigneur had gravely shaken his head in silent refusal, and
there had been no further question of such a thing. And then, when
she said good-bye to him - the thing came flooding back to him now
- there had been tears in her eyes.

"Think of me sometimes, Andre-Louis," had been her last words.

He remembered how flattered he had been to have won within so short
a time the affection of this great lady. The thing had given him a
sense of importance that had endured for months thereafter, finally
to fade into oblivion.

But all was vividly remembered now upon beholding her again, after
sixteen years, profoundly changed and matured, the girl - for she
had been no more in those old days - sunk in this worldly woman
with the air of calm dignity and complete self-possession. Yet, he
insisted, he must have known her anywhere again.

Aline embraced her affectionately, and then answering the questioning
glance with faintly raised eyebrows that madame was directing towards
Aline's companion -

"This is Andre-Louis," she said. "You remember Andre-Louis, madame?"

Madame checked. Andre-Louis saw the surprise ripple over her face,
taking with it some of her colour, leaving her for a moment
breathless.

And then the voice - the well-remembered rich, musical voice - richer
and deeper now than of yore, repeated his name:

"Andre-Louis!"

Her manner of uttering it suggested that it awakened memories,
memories perhaps of the departed youth with which it was associated.
And she paused a long moment, considering him, a little wide-eyed,
what time he bowed before her.

"But of course I remember him," she said at last, and came towards
him, putting out her hand. He kissed it dutifully, submissively,
instinctively. "And this is what you have grown into?" She
appraised him, and he flushed with pride at the satisfaction in
her tone. He seemed to have gone back sixteen years, and to be
again the little Breton lad at Gavrillac. She turned to Aline.
"How mistaken Quintin was in his assumptions. He was pleased to
see him again, was he not?"

"So pleased, madame, that he has shown me the door," said
Andre-Louis.

"Ah!" She frowned, conning him still with those dark, wistful eyes
of hers. "We must change that, Aline. He is of course very angry
with you. But it is not the way to make converts. I will plead
for you, Andre-Louis. I am a good advocate."

He thanked her and took his leave.

"I leave my case in your hands with gratitude. My homage, madame."

And so it happened that in spite of his godfather's forbidding
reception of him, the fragment of a song was on his lips as his
yellow chaise whirled him back to Paris and the Rue du Hasard.
That meeting with Mme. de Plougastel had enheartened him; her
promise to plead his case in alliance with Aline gave him assurance
that all would be well.

That he was justified of this was proved when on the following
Thursday towards noon his academy was invaded by M. de Kercadiou.
Gilles, the boy, brought him word of it, and breaking off at once
the lesson upon which he was engaged, he pulled off his mask, and
went as he was - in a chamois Waistcoat buttoned to the chin and
with his foil under his arm to the modest salon below, where his
godfather awaited him.

The florid little Lord of Gavrillac stood almost defiantly to
receive him.

"I have been over-persuaded to forgive you," he announced
aggressively, seeming thereby to imply that he consented to this
merely so as to put an end to tiresome importunities.

Andre-Louis was not misled. He detected a pretence adopted by the
Seigneur so as to enable him to retreat in good order.

"My blessings on the persuaders, whoever they may have been. You
restore me my happiness, monsieur my godfather."

He took the hand that was proffered and kissed it, yielding to the
impulse of the unfailing habit of his boyish days. It was an act
symbolical of his complete submission, reestablishing between
himself and his godfather the bond of protected and protector, with
all the mutual claims and duties that it carries. No mere words
could more completely have made his peace with this man who loved
him.

M. de Kercadiou's face flushed a deeper pink, his lip trembled, and
there was a huskiness in the voice that murmured "My dear boy!"
Then he recollected himself, threw back his great head and frowned.
His voice resumed its habitual shrillness. "You realize, I hope,
that you have behaved damnably... damnably, and with the utmost
ingratitude?"

"Does not that depend upon the point of view?" quoth Andre-Louis,
but his tone was studiously conciliatory.

"It depends upon a fact, and not upon any point of view. Since I
have been persuaded to overlook it, I trust that at least you have
some intention of reforming."

"I... I will abstain from politics," said Andre-Louis, that being
the utmost he could say with truth.

"That is something, at least." His godfather permitted himself to
be mollified, now that a concession - or a seeming concession - had
been made to his just resentment.

"A chair, monsieur."

"No, no. I have come to carry you off to pay a visit with me. You
owe it entirely to Mme. de Plougastel that I consent to receive you
again. I desire that you come with me to thank her."

"I have my engagements here... " began Andre-Louis, and then broke
off. "No matter! I will arrange it. A moment." And he was
turning away to reenter the academy.

"What are your engagements? You are not by chance a
fencing-instructor?" M. de Kercadiou had observed the leather
waistcoat and the foil tucked under Andre-Louis' arm.

"I am the master of this academy - the academy of the late Bertrand
des Amis, the most flourishing school of arms in Paris to-day."

M. de Kercadiou's brows went up.

"And you are master of it?"

"Maitre en fait d'Armes. I succeeded to the academy upon the death
of des Amis."

He left M. Kercadiou to think it over, and went to make his
arrangements and effect the necessary changes in his toilet.

"So that is why you have taken to wearing a sword," said M. de
Kercadiou, as they climbed into his waiting carriage.

"That and the need to guard one's self in these times."

"And do you mean to tell me that a man who lives by what is after
all an honourable profession, a profession mainly supported by the
nobility, can at the same time associate himself with these
peddling attorneys and low pamphleteers who are spreading dissension
and insubordination?"

"You forget that I am a peddling attorney myself, made so by your
own wishes, monsieur."

M. de Kercadiou grunted, and took snuff. "You say the academy
flourishes?" he asked presently.

"It does. I have two assistant instructors. I could employ a third.
It is hard work."

"That should mean that your circumstances are affluent."

"I have reason to be satisfied. I have far more than I need."

"Then you'll be able to do your share in paying off this national
debt," growled the nobleman, well content that as he conceived it
- some of the evil Andre-Louis had helped to sow should recoil
upon him.

Then the talk veered to Mme. de Plougastel. M. de Kercadiou,
Andre-Louis gathered, but not the reason for it, disapproved most
strongly of this visit. But then Madame la Comtesse was a headstrong
woman whom there was no denying, whom all the world obeyed. M. de
Plougastel was at present absent in Germany, but would shortly be
returning. It was an indiscreet admission from which it was easy
to infer that M. de Plougastel was one of those intriguing emissaries
who came and went between the Queen of France and her brother, the
Emperor of Austria.

The carriage drew up before a handsome hotel in the Faubourg
Saint-Denis, at the corner of the Rue Paradis, and they were ushered
by a sleek servant into a little boudoir, all gilt and brocade, that
opened upon a terrace above a garden that was a park in miniature.
Here madame awaited them. She rose, dismissing the young person who
had been reading to her, and came forward with both hands outheld to
greet her cousin Kercadiou.

"I almost feared you would not keep your word," she said. "It was
unjust. But then I hardly hoped that you would succeed in bringing
him." And her glance, gentle, and smiling welcome upon him,
indicated Andre-Louis.

The young man made answer with formal gallantry.

"The memory of you, madame, is too deeply imprinted on my heart for
any persuasions to have been necessary."

"Ah, the courtier!" said madame, and abandoned him her hand. "We
are to have a little talk, Andre-Louis," she informed him, with a
gravity that left him vaguely ill at ease.

They sat down, and for a while the conversation was of general
matters, chiefly concerned, however, with Andre-Louis, his
occupations and his views. And all the while madame was studying
him attentively with those gentle, wistful eyes, until again that
sense of uneasiness began to pervade him. He realized instinctively
that he had been brought here for some purpose deeper than that
which had been avowed.

At last, as if the thing were concerted - and the clumsy Lord of
Gavrillac was the last man in the world to cover his tracks - his
godfather rose and, upon a pretext of desiring to survey the garden,
sauntered through the windows on to the terrace, over whose white
stone balustrade the geraniums trailed in a scarlet riot. Thence
he vanished among the foliage below.

"Now we can talk more intimately," said madame. "Come here, and
sit beside me." She indicated the empty half of the settee she
occupied.

Andre-Louis went obediently, but a little uncomfortably. "You
know," she said gently, placing a hand upon his arm, "that you have
behaved very ill, that your godfather's resentment is very justly
founded?"

"Madame, if I knew that, I should be the most unhappy, the most
despairing of men.". And he explained himself, as he had explained
himself on Sunday to his godfather. "What I did, I did because it
was the only means to my hand in a country in which justice was
paralyzed by Privilege to make war upon an infamous scoundrel who
had killed my best friend - a wanton, brutal act of murder, which
there was no law to punish. And as if that were not enough -
forgive me if I speak with the utmost frankness, madame - he
afterwards debauched the woman I was to have married."

"Ah, mon Dieu!" she cried out.

"Forgive me. I know that it is horrible. You perceive, perhaps,
what I suffered, how I came to be driven. That last affair of which
I am guilty - the riot that began in the Feydau Theatre and
afterwards enveloped the whole city of Nantes - was provoked by
this."

"Who was she, this girl?"

It was like a woman, he thought, to fasten upon the unessential.

"Oh, a theatre girl, a poor fool of whom I have no regrets. La
Binet was her name. I was a player at the time in her father's
troupe. That was after the Rennes business, when it was necessary
to hide from such justice as exists in France - the gallows'
justice for unfortunates who are not 'born.' This added wrong
led me to provoke a riot in the theatre."

"Poor boy," she said tenderly. "Only a woman's heart can realize
what you must have suffered; and because of that I can so readily
forgive you. But now... "

"Ah, but you don't understand, madame. If to-day I thought that I
had none but personal grounds for having lent a hand in the holy
work of abolishing Privilege, I think I should cut my throat. My
true justification lies in the insincerity of those who intended
that the convocation of the States General should be a sham, mere
dust in the eyes of the nation."

"Was it not, perhaps, wise to have been insincere in such a matter?"

He looked at her blankly.

"Can it ever be wise, madame, to be insincere?"

"Oh, indeed it can; believe me, who am twice your age, and know my
world."

"I should say, madame, that nothing is wise that complicates
existence; and I know of nothing that so complicates it as
insincerity. Consider a moment the complications that have arisen
out of this."

"But surely, Andre-Louis, your views have not been so perverted
that you do not see that a governing class is a necessity in any
country?"

"Why, of course. But not necessarily a hereditary one."

"What else?"

He answered her with an epigram. "Man, madame, is the child of his
own work. Let there be no inheriting of rights but from such a
parent. Thus a nation's best will always predominate, and such a
nation will achieve greatly."

"But do you account birth of no importance?"

"Of none, madame - or else my own might trouble me." From the deep
flush that stained her face, he feared that he had offended by what
was almost an indelicacy. But the reproof that he was expecting
did not come. Instead -

"And does it not?" she asked. "Never, Andre?"

"Never, madame. I am content."

"You have never.., never regretted your lack of parents' care?"

He laughed, sweeping aside her sweet charitable concern that was so
superfluous. "On the contrary, madame, I tremble to think what
they might have made of me, and I am grateful to have had the
fashioning of myself."

She looked at him for a moment very sadly, and then, smiling, gently
shook her head.

"You do not want self-satisfaction... Yet I could wish that you
saw things differently, Andre. It is a moment of great
opportunities for a young man of talent and spirit. I could help
you; I could help you, perhaps, to go very far if you would permit
yourself to be helped after my fashion."

"Yes," he thought, "help me to a halter by sending me on treasonable
missions to Austria on the Queen's behalf, like M. de Plougastel.
That would certainly end in a high position for me."

Aloud he answered more as politeness prompted. "I am grateful,
madame. But you will see that, holding the ideals I have expressed,
I could not serve any cause that is opposed to their realization."

"You are misled by prejudice, Andre-Louis, by personal grievances.
Will you allow them to stand in the way of your advancement?"

"If what I call ideals were really prejudices, would it be honest
of me to run counter to them whilst holding them?"

"If I could convince you that you are mistaken! I could help you
so much to find a worthy employment for the talents you possess.
In the service of the King you would prosper quickly. Will you
think of it, Andre-Louis, and let us talk of this again?"

He answered her with formal, chill politeness.

"I fear that it would be idle, madame. Yet your interest in me is
very flattering, and I thank you. It is unfortunate for me that I
am so headstrong."

"And now who deals in insincerity?" she asked him.

"Ah, but you see, madame, it is an insincerity that does not
mislead."

And then M. de Kercadiou came in through the window again, and
announced fussily that he must be getting back to Meudon, and that
he would take his godson with him and set him down at the Rue du
Hasard.

"You must bring him again, Quintin," the Countess said, as they
took their leave of her.

"Some day, perhaps,"said M. de Kercadiou vaguely, and swept his
godson out.

In the carriage he asked him bluntly of what madame had talked.

"She was very kind - a sweet woman," said Andre-Louis pensively.

"Devil take you, I didn't ask you the opinion that you presume
to have formed of her. I asked you what she said to you.

"She strove to point out to me the error of my ways. She spoke of
great things that I might do - to which she would very kindly help
me - if I were to come to my senses. But as miracles do not happen,
I gave her little encouragement to hope."

"I see. I see. Did she say anything else?"

He was so peremptory that Andre-Louis turned to look at him.

"What else did you expect her to say, monsieur my godfather?"

"Oh, nothing."

"Then she fulfilled your expectations."

"Eh? Oh, a thousand devils, why can't you express yourself in a
sensible manner that a plain man can understand without having to
think about it?"

He sulked after that most of the way to the Rue du Hasard, or so
it seemed to Andre-Louis. At least he sat silent, gloomily
thoughtful to judge by his expression.

"You may come and see us soon again at Meudon," he told
Andre-Louis at parting. "But please remember - no revolutionary
politics in future, if we are to remain friends."





Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini
Category:
General Fiction

Romance Literature
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