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CHAPTER VI

POLITICIANS


One morning in August the academy in the Rue du Hasard was invaded
by Le Chapelier accompanied by a man of remarkable appearance, whose
herculean stature and disfigured countenance seemed vaguely familiar
to Andre-Louis. He was a man of little, if anything, over thirty,
with small bright eyes buried in an enormous face. His cheek-bones
were prominent, his nose awry, as if it had been broken by a blow,
and his mouth was rendered almost shapeless by the scars of another
injury. (A bull had horned him in the face when he was but a lad.)
As if that were not enough to render his appearance terrible, his
cheeks were deeply pock-marked. He was dressed untidily in a long
scarlet coat that descended almost to his ankles, soiled buckskin
breeches and boots with reversed tops. His shirt, none too clean,
was open at the throat, the collar hanging limply over an unknotted
cravat, displaying fully the muscular neck that rose like a pillar
from his massive shoulders. He swung a cane that was almost a club
in his left hand, and there was a cockade in his biscuit-coloured,
conical hat. He carried himself with an aggressive, masterful air,
that great head of his thrown back as if he were eternally at
defiance.

Le Chapelier, whose manner was very grave, named him to Andre-Louis.

"This is M. Danton, a brother-lawyer, President of the Cordeliers,
of whom you will have heard."

Of course Andre-Louis had heard of him. Who had not, by then?

Looking at him now with interest, Andre-Louis wondered how it came
that all, or nearly all the leading innovators, were pock-marked.
Mirabeau, the journalist Desmoulins, the philanthropist Marat,
Robespierre the little lawyer from Arras, this formidable fellow
Danton, and several others he could call to mind all bore upon
them the scars of smallpox. Almost he began to wonder was there
any connection between the two. Did an attack of smallpox produce
certain moral results which found expression in this way?

He dismissed the idle speculation, or rather it was shattered by
the startling thunder of Danton's voice.

"This -- Chapelier has told me of you. He says that you are a
patriotic -- ."

More than by the tone was Andre-Louis startled by the obscenities
with which the Colossus did not hesitate to interlard his first
speech to a total stranger. He laughed outright. There was nothing
else to do.

"If he has told you that, he has told you more than the truth! I
am a patriot. The rest my modesty compels me to disavow."

"You're a joker too, it seems," roared the other, but he laughed
nevertheless, and the volume of it shook the windows. "There's no
offence in me. I am like that."

"What a pity," said Andre-Louis.

It disconcerted the king of the markets. "Eh? what's this,
Chapelier? Does he give himself airs, your friend here?"

The spruce Breton, a very petit-maitre in appearance by contrast
with his companion, but nevertheless of a down-right manner quite
equal to Danton's in brutality, though dispensing with the emphasis
of foulness, shrugged as he answered him:

"It is merely that he doesn't like your manners, which is not at all
surprising. They are execrable."

"Ah, bah! You are all like that, you - Bretons. Let's come to
business. You'll have heard what took place in the Assembly
yesterday? You haven't? My God, where do you live? Have you heard
that this scoundrel who calls himself King of France gave passage
across French soil the other day to Austrian troops going to crush
those who fight for liberty in Belgium? Have you heard that, by
any chance?"

"Yes," said Andre-Louis coldly, masking his irritation before the
other's hectoring manner. "I have heard that."

"Oh! And what do you think of it?" arms akimbo, the Colossus
towered above him.

Andre-Louis turned aside to Le Chapelier.

"I don't think I understand. Have you brought this gentleman here
to examine my conscience?"

"Name of a name! He 's prickly as a - porcupine!" Danton protested.

"No, no." Le Chapelier was conciliatory, seeking to provide an
antidote to the irritant administered by his companion. "We require
your help, Andre. Danton here thinks that you are the very man for
us. Listen now... "

"That's it. You tell him," Danton agreed. "You both talk the same
mincing - sort of French. He'll probably understand you."

Le Chapelier went on without heeding the interruption. "This
violation by the King of the obvious rights of a country engaged
in framing a constitution that shall make it free has shattered
every philanthropic illusion we still cherished. There are those
who go so far as to proclaim the King the vowed enemy of France.
But that, of course, is excessive.

"Who says so?" blazed Danton, and swore horribly by way of
conveying his total disagreement.

Le Chapelier waved him into silence, and proceeded.

"Anyhow, the matter has been more than enough, added to all the
rest, to set us by the ears again in the Assembly. It is open
war between the Third Estate and the Privileged."

"Was it ever anything else?"

"Perhaps not; but it has assumed a new character. You'll have
heard of the duel between Lameth and the Duc de Castries?"

"A trifling affair."

"In its results. But it might have been far other. Mirabeau is
challenged and insulted now at every sitting. But he goes his
way, cold-bloodedly wise. Others are not so circumspect; they
meet insult with insult, blow with blow, and blood is being shed
in private duels. The thing is reduced by these swordsmen of
the nobility to a system."

Andre-Louis nodded. He was thinking of Philippe de Vilmorin.
"Yes," he said, "it is an old trick of theirs. It is so simple and
direct - like themselves. I wonder only that they didn't hit upon
this system sooner. In the early days of the States General, at
Versailles, it might have had a better effect. Now, it comes a
little late."

"But they mean to make up for lost time - sacred name!" cried
Danton. "Challenges are flying right and left between these
bully-swordsmen, these spadassinicides, and poor devils of the robe
who have never learnt to fence with anything but a quill. It's
just -- murder. Yet if I were to go amongst messieurs les nobles
and crunch an addled head or two with this stick of mine, snap a
few aristocratic necks between these fingers which the good God has
given me for the purpose, the law would send me to atone upon the
gallows. This in a land that is striving after liberty. Why, Dieu
me damne! I am not even allowed to keep my hat on in the theatre.
But they - these --s!"

"He is right," said Le Chapelier. "The thing has become unendurable,
insufferable. Two days ago M. d'Ambly threatened Mirabeau with his
cane before the whole Assembly. Yesterday M. de Faussigny leapt up
and harangued his order by inviting murder. 'Why don't we fall on
these scoundrels, sword in hand?' he asked. Those were his very
words: 'Why don't we fall on these scoundrels, sword in hand.'"

"It is so much simpler than lawmaking," said Andre-Louis.

"Lagron, the deputy from Ancenis in the Loire, said something that
we did not hear in answer. As he was leaving the Manege one of
these bullies grossly insulted him. Lagron no more than used his
elbow to push past when the fellow cried out that he had been
struck, and issued his challenge. They fought this morning early
in the Champs Elysees, and Lagron was killed, run through the
stomach deliberately by a man who fought like a fencing-master,
and poor Lagron did not even own a sword. He had to borrow one to
go to the assignation."

Andre-Louis - his mind ever on Vilmorin, whose case was here
repeated, even to the details - was swept by a gust of passion.
He clenched his hands, and his jaws set. Danton's little eyes
observed him keenly.

"Well? And what do you think of that? Noblesse oblige, eh? The
thing is we must oblige them too, these --s. We must pay them back
in the same coin; meet them with the same weapons. Abolish them;
tumble these assassinateurs into the abyss of nothingness by the
same means.

"But how?"

"How? Name of God! haven't I said it?"

"That is where we require your help," Le Chapelier put in. "There
must be men of patriotic feeling among the more advanced of your
pupils. M. Danton's idea is that a little band of these - say a
half-dozen, with yourself at their head - might read these bullies
a sharp lesson."

Andre-Louis frowned.

"And how, precisely, had M. Danton thought that this might be done?"

M. Danton spoke for himself, vehemently.

"Why, thus: We post you in the Manege, at the hour when the Assembly
is rising. We point out the six leading phlebotomists, and let you
loose to insult them before they have time to insult any of the
representatives. Then to-morrow morning, six -- phlebotomists
themselves phlebotomized secundum artem. That will give the others
something to think about. It will give them a great deal to think
about, by --! If necessary the dose may be repeated to ensure a
cure. If you kill the --s, so much the better."

He paused, his sallow face flushed with the enthusiasm of his idea.
Andre-Louis stared at him inscrutably.

"Well, what do you say to that?"

"That it is most ingenious." And Andre-Louis turned aside to look
out of the window.

"And is that all you think of it?"

"I will not tell you what else I think of it because you probably
would not understand. For you, M. Danton, there is at least this
excuse that you did not know me. But you, Isaac - to bring this
gentleman here with such a proposal!"

Le Chapelier was overwhelmed in confusion. "I confess I hesitated,"
he apologized. "But M. Danton would not take my word for it that
the proposal might not be to your taste."

"I would not!" Danton broke in, bellowing. He swung upon Le
Chapelier, brandishing his great arms. "You told me monsieur was
a patriot. Patriotism knows no scruples. You call this mincing
dancing-master a patriot?"

"Would you, monsieur, out of patriotism consent to become an
assassin?"

"Of course I would. haven't I told you so? haven't I told you
that I would gladly go among them with my club, and crack them
like so many - fleas?"

"Why not, then?"

"Why not? Because I should get myself hanged. Haven't I said so?"

"But what of that-being a patriot? Why not, like another Curtius,
jump into the gulf, since you believe that your country would
benefit by your death?"

M. Danton showed signs of exasperation. "Because my country will
benefit more by my life."

"Permit me, monsieur, to suffer from a similar vanity."

"You? But where would be the danger to you? You would do your
work under the cloak of duelling - as they do."

"Have you reflected, monsieur, that the law will hardly regard a
fencing-master who kills his opponent as an ordinary combatant,
particularly if it can be shown that the fencing-master himself
provoked the attack?"

"So! Name of a name!" M. Danton blew out his cheeks and delivered
himself with withering scorn. "It comes to this, then: you are
afraid!"

"You may think so if you choose - that I am afraid to do slyly and
treacherously that which a thrasonical patriot like yourself is
afraid of doing frankly and openly. I have other reasons. But that
one should suffice you."

Danton gasped. Then he swore more amazingly and variedly than ever.

"By --! you are right," he admitted, to Andre-Louis' amazement.
"You are right, and I am wrong. I am as bad a patriot as you are,
and I am a coward as well." And he invoked the whole Pantheon to
witness his self-denunciation. "Only, you see, I count for
something: and if they take me and hang me, why, there it is!
Monsieur, we must find some other way. Forgive the intrusion.
Adieu!" He held out his enormous hand..

Le Chapelier stood hesitating, crestfallen.

"You understand, Andre? I am sorry that... "

"Say no more, please. Come and see me soon again. I would press
you to remain, but it is striking nine, and the first of my pupils
is about to arrive."

"Nor would I permit it,". said Danton. "Between us we must resolve
the riddle of how to extinguish M. de La Tour d'Azyr and his friends."

"Who?"

Sharp as a pistol-shot came that question, as Danton was turning
away. The tone of it brought him up short. He turned again, Le
Chapelier with him.

"I said M. de La Tour d'Azyr."

"What has he to do with the proposal you were making me?"

"He? Why, he is the phlebotomist in chief."

And Le Chapelier added. "It is he who killed Lagron."

"Not a friend of yours, is he?" wondered Danton.

"And it is La Tour d'Azyr you desire me to kill?" asked Andre-Louis
very slowly, after the manner of one whose thoughts are meanwhile
pondering the subject.

"That's it," said Danton. "And not a job for a prentice hand, I
can assure you.

"Ah, but this alters things," said Andre-Louis, thinking aloud.
"It offers a great temptation."

"Why, then... ?" The Colossus took a step towards him again.

"Wait!" He put up his hand. Then with chin sunk on his breast,
he paced away to the window, musing.

Le Chapelier and Danton exchanged glances, then watched him,
waiting, what time he considered.

At first he almost wondered why he should not of his own accord
have decided upon some such course as this to settle that
long-standing account of M. de La Tour d'Azyr. What was the use
of this great skill in fence that he had come to acquire, unless
he could turn it to account to avenge Vilmorin, and to make Aline
safe from the lure of her own ambition? It would be an easy thing
to seek out La Tour d'Azyr, put a mortal affront upon him, and
thus bring him to the point. To-day this would be murder, murder
as treacherous as that which La Tour d'Azyr had done upon Philippe
de Vilmorin; for to-day the old positions were reversed, and it
was Andre-Louis who might go to such an assignation without a doubt
of the issue. It was a moral obstacle of which he made short work.
But there remained the legal obstacle he had expounded to Danton.
There was still a law in France; the same law which he had found it
impossible to move against La Tour d'Azyr, but which would move
briskly enough against himself in like case. And then, suddenly,
as if by inspiration, he saw the way - a way which if adopted would
probably bring La Tour d'Azyr to a poetic justice, bring him,
insolent, confident, to thrust himself upon Andre-Louis' sword,
with all the odium of provocation on his own side.

He turned to them again, and they saw that he was very pale, that
his great dark eyes glowed oddly.

"There will probably be some difficulty in finding a suppleant for
this poor Lagron," he said. "Our fellow-countrymen will be none so
eager to offer themselves to the swords of Privilege.

"True enough," said Le Chapelier gloomily; and then, as if suddenly
leaping to the thing in Andre-Louis' mind: "Andre!" he cried.
"Would you... "

"It is what I was considering. It would give me a legitimate place
in the Assembly. If your Tour d'Azyrs choose to seek me out then,
why, their blood be upon their own heads. I shall certainly do
nothing to discourage them." He smiled curiously. "I am just a
rascal who tries to be honest - Scaramouche always, in fact; a
creature of sophistries. Do you think that Ancenis would have me
for its representative?"

"Will it have Omnes Omnibus for its representative?" Le Chapelier
was laughing, his countenance eager. "Ancenis will be convulsed
with pride. It is not Rennes or Nantes, as it might have been had
you wished it. But it gives you a voice for Brittany."

"I should have to go to Ancenis... "

"No need at all. A letter from me to the Municipality, and the
Municipality will confirm you at once. No need to move from here.
In a fortnight at most the thing can be accomplished. It is
settled, then?"

Andre-Louis considered yet a moment. There was his academy. But
he could make arrangements with Le Duc and Galoche to carry it on
for him whilst himself directing and advising. Le Duc, after all,
was become a thoroughly efficient master, and he was a trustworthy
fellow. At need a third assistant could be engaged.

"Be it so," he said at last.

Le Chapelier clasped hands with him and became congratulatorily
voluble, until interrupted by the red-coated giant at the door.

"What exactly does it mean to our business, anyway?" he asked.
"Does it mean that when you are a representative you will not
scruple to skewer M. le Marquis?"

"If M. le Marquis should offer himself to be skewered, as he no
doubt will."

"I perceive the distinction," said M. Danton, and sneered. "You've
an ingenious mind." He turned to Le Chapelier. "What did you say
he was to begin with - a lawyer, wasn't it?"

"Yes, I was a lawyer, and afterwards a mountebank."

"And this is the result!"

"As you say. And do you know that we are after all not so
dissimilar, you and I?"

"What?"

"Once like you I went about inciting other people to go and kill
the man I wanted dead. You'll say I was a coward, of course."

Le Chapelier prepared to slip between them as the clouds gathered
on the giant's brow. Then these were dispelled again, and the
great laugh vibrated through the long room.

"You've touched me for the second time, and in the same place. Oh,
you can fence, my lad. We should be friends. Rue des Cordeliers
is my address. Any - scoundrel will tell you where Danton lodges.
Desmoulins lives underneath. Come and visit us one evening. There's
always a bottle for a friend."





Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini
Category:
General Fiction

Romance Literature
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