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CHAPTER VII

THE SPADASSINICIDES


After an absence of rather more than a week, M. le Marquis de La
Tour d'Azyr was back in his place on the Cote Droit of the National
Assembly. Properly speaking, we should already at this date allude
to him as the ci-devant Marquis de La Tour d'Azyr, for the time was
September of 1790, two months after the passing - on the motion of
that downright Breton leveller, Le Chapelier - of the decree that
nobility should no more be hereditary than infamy; that just as
the brand of the gallows must not defile the possibly worthy
descendants of one who had been convicted of evil, neither should
the blazon advertising achievement glorify the possibly unworthy
descendants of one who had proved himself good. And so the decree
had been passed abolishing hereditary nobility and consigning
family escutcheons to the rubbish-heap of things no longer to be
tolerated by an enlightened generation of philosophers. M. le
Comte de Lafayette, who had supported the motion, left the Assembly
as plain M. Motier, the great tribune Count Mirabeau became plain
M. Riquetti, and M. le Marquis de La Tour d'Azyr just simple M.
Lesarques. The thing was done in one of those exaltations produced
by the approach of the great National Festival of the Champ de
Mars, and no doubt it was thoroughly repented on the morrow by
those who had lent themselves to it. Thus, although law by now,
it was a law that no one troubled just yet to enforce.

That, however, is by the way. The time, as I have said, was
September, the day dull and showery, and some of the damp and gloom
of it seemed to have penetrated the long Hall of the Manege, where
on their eight rows of green benches elliptically arranged in
ascending tiers about the space known as La Piste, sat some eight
or nine hundred of the representatives of the three orders that
composed the nation.

The matter under debate by. the constitution-builders was whether
the deliberating body to succeed the Constituent Assembly should
work in conjunction with the King, whether it should be periodic
or permanent, whether it should govern by two chambers or by one.

The Abbe Maury, son of a cobbler, and therefore in these days of
antitheses orator-in-chief of the party of the Right - the Blacks,
as those who fought Privilege's losing battles were known - was in
the tribune. He appeared to be urging the adoption of a
two-chambers system framed on the English model. He was, if
anything, more long-winded and prosy even than his habit; his
arguments assumed more and more the form of a sermon; the tribune
of the National Assembly became more and more like a pulpit; but
the members, conversely, less and less like a congregation. They
grew restive under that steady flow of pompous verbiage, and it
was in vain that the four ushers in black satin breeches and
carefully powdered heads, chain of office on their breasts, gilded
sword at their sides, circulated in the Piste, clapping their
hands, and hissing

"Silence! En place!"

Equally vain was the intermittent ringing of the bell by the
president at his green-covered table facing the tribune. The Abbe
Maury had talked too long, and for some time had failed to interest
the members. Realizing it at last, he ceased, whereupon the hum
of conversation became general. And then. it fell abruptly.
There was a silence of expectancy, and a turning of heads, a
craning of necks. Even the group of secretaries at the round table
below the president's dais roused themselves from their usual
apathy to consider this young man who was mounting the tribune of
the Assembly for the first time.

"M. Andre-Louis Moreau, deputy suppleant, vice Emmanuel Lagron,
deceased, for Ancenis in the Department of the Loire."

M. de La Tour d'Azyr shook himself out of the gloomy abstraction in
which he had sat. The successor of the deputy he had slain must,
in any event, be an object of grim interest to him. You conceive
how that interest was heightened when he heard him named, when,
looking across, he recognized indeed in this Andre-Louis Moreau
the young scoundrel who was continually crossing his path,
continually exerting against him a deep-moving, sinister influence
to make him regret that he should have spared his life that day at
Gavrillac two years ago. That he should thus have stepped into
the shoes of Lagron seemed to M. de La Tour d'Azyr too apt for
mere coincidence, a direct challenge in itself.

He looked at the young man in wonder rather than in anger, and
looking at him he was filled by a vague, almost a premonitory,
uneasiness.

At the very outset, the presence which in itself he conceived to
be a challenge was to demonstrate itself for this in no equivocal
terms.

"I come before you," Andre-Louis began, "as a deputy-suppleant
to fill the place of one who was murdered some three weeks ago."

It was a challenging opening that instantly provoked an indignant
outcry from the Blacks. Andre-Louis paused, and looked at them,
smiling a little, a singularly self-confident young man.

"The gentlemen of the Right, M. le President, do not appear to like
my words. But that is not surprising. The gentlemen of the Right
notoriously do not like the truth."

This time there was uproar. The members of the Left roared with
laughter, those of the Right thundered menacingly. The ushers
circulated at a pace beyond their usual, agitated themselves,
clapped their hands, and called in vain for silence.

The President rang his bell.

Above the general din came the voice of La Tour d'Azyr, who had
half-risen from his seat: "Mountebank! This is not the theatre!"

"No, monsieur, it is becoming a hunting-ground for bully-swordsmen,"
was the answer, and the uproar grew.

The deputy-suppleant looked round and waited. Near at hand he met
the encouraging grin of Le Chapelier, and the quiet, approving smile
of Kersain, another Breton deputy of his acquaintance. A little
farther off he saw the great head of Mirabeau thrown back, the great
eyes regarding him from under a frown in a sort of wonder, and
yonder, among all that moving sea of faces, the sallow countenance
of the Arras' lawyer Robespierre - or de Robespierre, as the little
snob now called himself, having assumed the aristocratic particle
as the prerogative of a man of his distinction in the councils of
his country. With his tip-tilted nose in the air, his carefully
curled head on one side, the deputy for Arras was observing
Andre-Louis attentively. The horn-rimmed spectacles he used for
reading were thrust up on to his pale forehead, and it was through a
levelled spy-glass that he considered the speaker, his thin-lipped
mouth stretched a little in that tiger-cat smile that was afterwards
to become so famous and so feared.

Gradually the uproar wore itself out, and diminished so that at last
the President could make himself heard. Leaning forward, he gravely
addressed the young man in the tribune:

"Monsieur, if you wish to be heard, let me beg of you not to be
provocative in your language." And then to the others: "Messieurs,
if we are to proceed, I beg that you will restrain your feelings
until the deputy-suppleant has concluded his discourse."

"I shall endeavour to obey, M. le President, leaving provocation to
the gentlemen of the Right. If the few words I have used so far
have been provocative, I regret it. But it was necessary that I
should refer to the distinguished deputy whose place I come so
unworthily to fill, and it was unavoidable that I should refer to
the event which has procured us this sad necessity. The deputy
Lagron was a man of singular nobility of mind, a selfless, dutiful,
zealous man, inflamed by the high purpose of doing his duty by his
electors and by this Assembly. He possessed what his opponents
would call a dangerous gift of eloquence."

La Tour d'Azyr writhed at the well-known phrase - his own phrase
- the phrase that he had used to explain his action in the matter
of Philippe de Vilmorin, the phrase that from time to time had been
cast in his teeth with such vindictive menace.

And then the crisp voice of the witty Canales, that very rapier of
the Privileged party, cut sharply into the speaker's momentary pause.

"M. le President," he asked with great solemnity, "has the
deputy-suppleant mounted the tribune for the purpose of taking part
in the debate on the constitution of the legislative assemblies,
or for the purpose of pronouncing a funeral oration upon the
departed deputy Lagron?"

This time it was the Blacks who gave way to mirth, until checked
by the deputy-suppleant.

"That laughter is obscene!" In this truly Gallic fashion he flung
his glove into the face of Privilege, determined, you see, upon no
half measures; and the rippling laughter perished on the instant
quenched in speechless fury.

Solemnly he proceeded.

"You all know how Lagron died. To refer to his death at all
requires courage, to laugh in referring to it requires something
that I will not attempt to qualify. If I have alluded to his
decease, it is because my own appearance among you seemed to render
some such allusion necessary. It is mine to take up the burden
which he set down. I do not pretend that I have the strength, the
courage, or the wisdom of Lagron; but with every ounce of such
strength and courage and wisdom as I possess that burden will I
bear. And I trust, for the sake of those who might attempt it,
that the means taken to impose silence upon that eloquent voice
will not be taken to impose silence upon mine.

There was a faint murmur of applause from the Left, splutter of
contemptuous laughter from the Right.

"Rhodomont!" a voice called to him.

He looked in the direction of that voice, proceeding from the group
of spadassins amid the Blacks across the Piste, and he smiled.
Inaudibly his lips answered:

"No, my friend - Scaramouche; Scaramouche, the subtle, dangerous
fellow who goes tortuously to his ends." Aloud, he resumed: "M.
le President, there are those who will not understand that the
purpose for which we are assembled here is the making of laws by
which France may be equitably governed, by which France may be
lifted out of the morass of bankruptcy into which she is in danger
of sinking. For there are some who want, it seems, not laws, but
blood; I solemnly warn them that this blood will end by choking
them, if they do not learn in time to discard force and allow reason
to prevail."

Again in that phrase there was something that stirred a memory in
La Tour d'Azyr. He turned in the fresh uproar to speak to his
cousin Chabrillane who sat beside him.

"A daring rogue, this bastard of Gavrillac's," said he.

Chabrillane looked at him with gleaming eyes, his face white with
anger.

"Let him talk himself out. I don't think he will be heard again
after to-day. Leave this to me."

Hardly could La Tour have told you why, but he sank back in his seat
with a sense of relief. He had been telling himself that here was
matter demanding action, a challenge that he must take up. But
despite his rage he felt a singular unwillingness. This fellow had
a trick of reminding him, he supposed, too unpleasantly of that
young abbe done to death in the garden behind the" Breton arme" at
Gavrillac. Not that the death of Philippe de Vilmorin lay heavily
upon M. de La Tour d'Azyr's conscience. He had accounted himself
fully justified of his action. It was that the whole thing as his
memory revived it for him made an unpleasant picture: that
distraught boy kneeling over the bleeding body of the friend he
had loved, and almost begging to be slain with him, dubbing the
Marquis murderer and coward to incite him.

Meanwhile, leaving now the subject of the death of Lagron, the
deputy-suppleant had at last brought himself into order, and was
speaking upon the question under debate. He contributed nothing
of value to it; he urged nothing definite. His speech on the
subject was very brief - that being the pretext and not the purpose
for which he had ascended the tribune.

When later he was leaving the hall at the end of the sitting, with
Le Chapelier at his side, he found himself densely surrounded by
deputies as by a body-guard. Most of them were Bretons, who aimed
at screening him from the provocations which his own provocative
words in the Assembly could not fail to bring down upon his head.
For a moment the massive form of Mirabeau brought up alongside of
him.

"Felicitations, M. Moreau," said the great man. "You acquitted
yourself very well. They will want your blood, no doubt. But be
discreet, monsieur, if I may presume to advise you, and do not
allow yourself to be misled by any false sense of quixotry.
Ignore their challenges. I do so myself. I place each challenger
upon my list. There are some fifty there already, and there they
will remain. Refuse them what they are pleased to call satisfaction,
and all will be well." Andre-Louis smiled and sighed. "It requires
courage," said the hypocrite.

"Of course it does. But you would appear to have plenty."

"Hardly enough, perhaps. But I shall do my best."

They had come through the vestibule, and although this was lined
with eager Blacks waiting for the young man who had insulted them
so flagrantly from the rostrum, Andre-Louis' body-guard had
prevented any of them from reaching him.

Emerging now into the open, under the great awning at the head of
the Carriere, erected to enable carriages to reach the door under
cover, those in front of him dispersed a little, and there was a
moment as he reached the limit of the awning when his front was
entirely uncovered. Outside the rain was falling heavily, churning
the ground into thick mud, and for a moment Andre-Louis, with Le
Chapelier ever at his side, stood hesitating to step out into the
deluge.

The watchful Chabrillane had seen his chance, and by a detour that
took him momentarily out into the rain, he came face to face with
the too-daring young Breton. Rudely, violently, he thrust
Andre-Louis back, as if to make room for himself under the shelter.

Not for a second was Andre-Louis under any delusion as to the man's
deliberate purpose, nor were those who stood near him, who made a
belated and ineffectual attempt to close about him. He was grievously
disappointed. It was not Chabrillane he had been expecting. His
disappointment was reflected on his countenance, to be mistaken for
something very different by the arrogant Chevalier.

But if Chabrillane was the man appointed to deal with him, he would
make the best of it.

"I think you are pushing against me, monsieur," he said, very
civilly, and with elbow and shoulder he thrust M. de Chabrillane
back into the rain.

"I desire to take shelter, monsieur," the Chevalier hectored.

"You may do so without standing on my feet. I have a prejudice
against any one standing on my feet. My feet are very tender.
Perhaps you did not know it, monsieur. Please say no more.

"Why, I wasn't speaking, you lout!" exclaimed the Chevalier,
slightly discomposed.

"Were you not? I thought perhaps you were about to apologize."

"Apologize?" Chabrillane laughed. "To you! Do you know that you
are amusing?" He stepped under the awning for the second time,
and again in view of all thrust Andre-Louis rudely back.

"Ahi!" cried Andre-Louis, with a grimace. "You hurt me, monsieur.
I have told you not to push against me." He raised his voice that
all might hear him, and once more impelled M. de Chabrillane back
into the rain.

Now, for all his slenderness, his assiduous daily sword-practice
had given Andre-Louis an arm of iron. Also he threw his weight
into the thrust. His assailant reeled backwards a few steps, and
then his heel struck a baulk of timber left on the ground by some
workmen that morning, and he sat down suddenly in the mud.

A roar of laughter rose from all who witnessed the fine gentleman's
downfall. He rose, mud-bespattered, in a fury, and in that fury
sprang at Andre-Louis.

Andre-Louis had made him ridiculous, which was altogether
unforgivable.

"You shall meet me for this!" he spluttered. "I shall kill you
for it."

His inflamed face was within a foot of Andre-Louis'. Andre-Louis
laughed. In the silence everybody heard the laugh and the words
that followed.

"Oh, is that what you wanted? But why didn't you say so before?
You would have spared me the trouble of knocking you down. I
thought gentlemen of your profession invariably conducted these
affairs with decency, decorum, and a certain grace. Had you done
so, you might have saved your breeches."

"How soon shall we settle this?" snapped Chabrillane, livid with
very real fury.

"Whenever you please, monsieur. It is for you to say when it will
suit your convenience to kill me. I think that was the intention
you announced, was it not?" Andre-Louis was suavity itself.

"To-morrow morning, in the Bois. Perhaps you will bring a friend."

"Certainly, monsieur. To-morrow morning, then. I hope we shall
have fine weather. I detest the rain."

Chabrillane looked at him almost with amazement Andre-Louis smiled
pleasantly.

"Don't let me detain you now, monsieur. We quite understand each
other. I shall be in the Bois at nine o'clock to-morrow morning."

"That is too late for me, monsieur."

"Any other hour would be too early for me. I do not like to have
my habits disturbed. Nine o'clock or not at all, as you please."

"But I must be at the Assembly at nine, for the morning session."

"I am afraid, monsieur, you will have to kill me first, and I
have a prejudice against being killed before nine o'clock."

Now this was too complete a subversion of the usual procedure for
M. de Chabrillane's stomach. Here was a rustic deputy assuming
with him precisely the tone of sinister mockery which his class
usually dealt out to their victims of the Third Estate. And to
heighten the irritation, Andre-Louis - the actor, Scaramouche
always - produced his snuffbox, and proffered it with a steady
hand to Le Chapelier before helping himself.

Chabrillane, it seemed, after all that he had suffered, was not
even to be allowed to make a good exit.

"Very well, monsieur," he said. "Nine o'clock, then; and we'll see
if you'll talk as pertly afterwards."

On that he flung away, before the jeers of the provincial deputies.
Nor did it soothe his rage to be laughed at by urchins all the way
down the Rue Dauphine because of the mud and filth that dripped
from his satin breeches and the tails of his elegant, striped coat.

But though the members of the Third had jeered on the surface, they
trembled underneath with fear and indignation. It was too much.
Lagron killed by one of these bullies, and now his successor
challenged, and about to be killed by another of them on the very
first day of his appearance to take the dead man's place. Several
came now to implore Andre-Louis not to go to the Bois, to ignore
the challenge and the whole affair, which was but a deliberate
attempt to put him out of the way. He listened seriously, shook
his head gloomily, and promised at last to think it over.

He was in his seat again for the afternoon session as if nothing
disturbed him.

But in the morning, when the Assembly met, his place was vacant,
and so was M. de Chabrillane's. Gloom and resentment sat upon the
members of the Third, and brought a more than usually acrid note
into their debates. They disapproved of the rashness of the new
recruit to their body. Some openly condemned his lack of
circumspection. Very few - and those only the little group in Le
Chapelier's confidence - ever expected to see him again.

It was, therefore, as much in amazement as in relief that at a few
minutes after ten they saw him enter, calm, composed, and bland,
and thread his way to his seat. The speaker occupying the rostrum
at that moment - a member of the Privileged - stopped short to stare
in incredulous dismay. Here was something that he could not
understand at all. Then from somewhere, to satisfy the amazement
on both sides of the assembly, a voice explained the phenomenon
contemptuously.

"They haven't met. He has shirked it at the last moment."

It must be so, thought all; the mystification ceased, and men were
settling back into their seats. But now, having reached his place,
having heard the voice that explained the matter to the universal
satisfaction, Andre-Louis paused before taking his seat. He felt
it incumbent upon him to reveal the true fact.

"M. le President, my excuses for my late arrival." There was no
necessity for this. It was a mere piece of theatricality, such as
it was not in Scaramouche's nature to forgo. "I have been detained
by an engagement of a pressing nature. I bring you also the excuses
of M. de Chabrillane. He, unfortunately, will be permanently absent
from this Assembly in future."

The silence was complete. Andre-Louis sat down.





Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini
Category:
General Fiction

Romance Literature
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