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CHAPTER XII

THE OVERWHELMING REASON


M. de La Tour d'Azyr was seen no more in the Manege - or indeed in
Paris at all - throughout all the months that the National Assembly
remained in session to complete its work of providing France with
a constitution. After all, though the wound to his body had been
comparatively slight, the wound to such a pride as his had been
all but mortal.

The rumour ran that he had emigrated. But that was only half the
truth. The whole of it was that he had joined that group of noble
travellers who came and went between the Tuileries and the
headquarters of the emigres at Coblenz. He became, in short, a
member of the royalist secret service that in the end was to bring
down the monarchy in ruins.

As for Andre-Louis, his godfather's house saw him no more, as a
result of his conviction that M. de Kercadiou would not relent from
his written resolve never to receive him again if the duel were
fought.

He threw himself into his duties at the Assembly with such zeal and
effect that when - its purpose accomplished - the Constituent was
dissolved in September of the following year, membership of the
Legislative, whose election followed immediately, was thrust upon
him.

He considered then, like many others, that the Revolution was a
thing accomplished, that France had only to govern herself by the
Constitution which had been given her, and that all would now be
well. And so it might have been but that the Court could not bring
itself to accept the altered state of things. As a result of its
intrigues half Europe was arming to hurl herself upon France, and
her quarrel was the quarrel of the French King with his people.
That was the horror at the root of all the horrors that were to come.

Of the counter-revolutionary troubles that were everywhere being
stirred up by the clergy, none were more acute than those of Brittany,
and, in view of the influence it was hoped he would wield in his
native province, it was proposed to Andre-Louis by the Commission of
Twelve, in the early days of the Girondin ministry, that he should
go thither to combat the unrest. He was desired to proceed
peacefully, but his powers were almost absolute, as is shown by the
orders he carried - orders enjoining all to render him assistance
and warning those who might hinder him that they would do so at
their peril.

He accepted the task, and he was one of the five plenipotentiaries
despatched on the same errand in that spring of 1792. It kept him
absent from Paris for four months and might have kept him longer
but that at the beginning of August he was recalled. More imminent
than any trouble in Brittany was the trouble brewing in Paris itself;
when the political sky was blacker than it had been since '89.
Paris realized that the hour was rapidly approaching which would
see the climax of the long struggle between Equality and Privilege.
And it was towards a city so disposed that Andre-Louis came speeding
from the West, to find there also the climax of his own disturbed
career.

Mlle. de Kercadiou, too, was in Paris in those days of early August,
on a visit to her uncle's cousin and dearest friend, Mme. de
Plougastel. And although nothing could now be plainer than the
seething unrest that heralded the explosion to come, yet the air of
gaiety, indeed of jocularity, prevailing at Court - whither madame
and mademoiselle went almost daily - reassured them. M. de
Plougastel had come and gone again, back to Coblenz on that secret
business that kept him now almost constantly absent from his wife.
But whilst with her he had positively assured her that all measures
were taken, and that an insurrection was a thing to be welcomed,
because it could have one only conclusion, the final crushing of
the Revolution in the courtyard of the Tuileries. That, he added,
was why the King remained in Paris. But for his confidence in that
he would put himself in the centre of his Swiss and his knights of
the dagger, and quit the capital. They would hack a way out for
him easily if his departure were opposed. But not even that would
be necessary.

Yet in those early days of August, after her husband's departure
the effect of his inspiring words was gradually dissipated by the
march of events under madame's own eyes. And finally on the
afternoon of the ninth, there arrived at the Hotel Plougastel a
messenger from Meudon bearing a note from M. de Kercadiou in
which he urgently bade mademoiselle join him there at once, and
advised her hostess to accompany her.

You may have realized that M. de Kercadiou was of those who make
friends with men of all classes. His ancient lineage placed him
on terms of equality with members of the noblesse; his simple
manners - something between the rustic and the bourgeois - and his
natural affability placed him on equally good terms with those who
by birth were his inferiors. In Meudon he was known and esteemed
of all the simple folk, and it was Rougane, the friendly mayor,
who, informed on the 9th of August of the storm that was brewing
for the morrow, and knowing of mademoiselle's absence in Paris,
had warningly advised him to withdraw her from what in the next
four-and-twenty hours might be a zone of danger for all persons
of quality, particularly those suspected of connections with the
Court party.

Now there was no doubt whatever of Mme. de Plougastel's connection
with the Court. It was not even to be doubted - indeed, measure of
proof of it was to be forthcoming - that those vigilant and
ubiquitous secret societies that watched over the cradle of the
young revolution were fully informed of the frequent journeyings of
M. de Plougastel to Coblenz, and entertained no illusions on the
score of the reason for them. Given, then, a defeat of the Court
party in the struggle that was preparing, the position in Paris of
Mme. de Plougastel could not be other than fraught with danger, and
that danger would be shared by any guest of birth at her hotel.

M. de Kercadiou's affection for both those women quickened the fears
aroused in him by Rougane's warning. Hence that hastily dispatched
note, desiring his niece and imploring his friend to come at once
to Meudon.

The friendly mayor carried his complaisance a step farther, and
dispatched the letter to Paris by the hands of his own son, an
intelligent lad of nineteen. It was late in the afternoon of that
perfect August day when young Rougane presented himself at the
Hotel Plougastel.

He was graciously received by Mme. de Plougastel in the salon, whose
splendours, when combined with the great air of the lady herself,
overwhelmed the lad's simple, unsophisticated soul. Madame made up
her mind at once.

M. de Kercadiou's urgent message no more than confirmed her own
fears and inclinations. She decided upon instant departure.

"Bien, madame," said the youth. "Then I have the honour to take
my leave."

But she would not let him go. First to the kitchen to refresh
himself, whilst she and mademoiselle made ready, and then a seat
for him in her carriage as far as Meudon. She could not suffer him
to return on foot as he had come.

Though in all the circumstances it was no more than his due, yet
the kindliness that in such a moment of agitation could take thought
for another was presently to be rewarded. Had she done less than
this, she would have known - if nothing worse - at least some hours
of anguish even greater than those that were already in store for her.

It wanted, perhaps, a half-hour to sunset when they set out in her
carriage with intent to leave Paris by the Porte Saint-Martin. They
travelled with a single footman behind. Rougane - terrifying
condescension - was given a seat inside the carriage with the ladies,
and proceeded to fall in love with Mlle. de Kercadiou, whom he
accounted the most beautiful being he had ever seen, yet who talked
to him simply and unaffectedly as with an equal. The thing went to
his head a little, and disturbed certain republican notions which
he had hitherto conceived himself to have thoroughly digested.

The carriage drew up at the barrier, checked there by a picket of
the National Guard posted before the iron gates.

The sergeant in command strode to the door of the vehicle. The
Countess put her head from the window.

"The barrier is closed, madame," she was curtly informed.

"Closed!" she echoed. The thing was incredible. "But... but do
you mean that we cannot pass?"

Not unless you have a permit, madame." The sergeant leaned
nonchalantly on his pike. "The orders are that no one is to leave
or enter without proper papers."

"Whose orders?"

"Orders of the Commune of Paris."

"But I must go into the country this evening." Madame's voice was
almost petulant. "I am expected."

"In that case let madame procure a permit."

"Where is it to be procured?"

"At the Hotel de Ville or at the headquarters of madame's section."

She considered a moment. "To the section, then. Be so good as to
tell my coachman to drive to the Bondy Section."

He saluted her and stepped back. "Section Bondy, Rue des Morts,"
he bade the driver.

Madame sank into her seat again, in a state of agitation fully
shared by mademoiselle. Rougane set himself to pacify and reassure
them. The section would put the matter in order. They would most
certainly be accorded a permit. What possible reason could there
be for refusing them? A mere formality, after all!

His assurance uplifted them merely to prepare them for a still more
profound dejection when presently they met with a flat refusal from
the president of the section who received the Countess.

"Your name, madame?" he had asked brusquely. A rude fellow of the
most advanced republican type, he had not even risen out of
deference to the ladies when they entered. He was there, he would
have told you, to perform the duties of his office, not to give
dancing-lessons.

"Plougastel," he repeated after her, without title, as if it had
been the name of a butcher or baker. He took down a heavy volume
from a shelf on his right, opened it and turned the pages. It was
a sort of directory of his section. Presently he found what he
sought. "Comte de Plougastel, Hotel Plougastel, Rue du Paradis.
Is that it?"

"That is correct, monsieur," she answered, with what civility she
could muster before the fellow's affronting rudeness.

There was a long moment of silence, during which he studied certain
pencilled entries against the name. The sections had been working
in the last few weeks much more systematically than was generally
suspected.

"Your husband is with you, madame?" he asked curtly, his eyes still
conning that page.

"M. le Comte is not with me," she answered, stressing the title.

"Not with you?" He looked up suddenly, and directed upon her a
glance in which suspicion seemed to blend with derision. "Where
is he?"

"He is not in Paris, monsieur.

"Ab! Is he at Coblenz, do you think?"

Madame felt herself turning cold. There was something ominous in
all this. To what end had the sections informed themselves so
thoroughly of the comings and goings of their inhabitants? What was
preparing? She had a sense of being trapped, of being taken in a
net that had been cast unseen.

"I do not know, monsieur," she said, her voice unsteady.

"Of course not." He seemed to sneer. "No matter. And you wish to
leave Paris also? Where do you desire to go?"

"To Meudon."

"Your business there?"

The blood leapt to her face. His insolence was unbearable to a
woman who in all her life had never known anything but the utmost
deference from inferiors and equals alike. Nevertheless, realizing
that she was face to face with forces entirely new, she controlled
herself, stifled her resentment, and answered steadily.

"I wish to conduct this lady, Mlle. de Kercadiou, back to her uncle
who resides there."

"Is that all? Another day will do for that, madame. The matter is
not pressing."

"Pardon, monsieur, to us the matter is very pressing."

"You have not convinced me of it, and the barriers are closed to all
who cannot prove the most urgent and satisfactory reasons for wishing
to pass. You will wait, madame, until the restriction is removed.
Good-evening."

"But, monsieur... "

"Good-evening, madame," he repeated significantly, a dismissal more
contemptuous and despotic than any royal "You have leave to go.

Madame went out with Aline. Both were quivering with the anger that
prudence had urged them to suppress. They climbed into the coach
again, desiring to be driven home.

Rougane's astonishment turned into dismay when they told him what
had taken place. "Why not try the Hotel de Ville, madame?" he
suggested.

"After that? It would be useless. We must resign ourselves to
remaining in Paris until the barriers are opened again."

"Perhaps it will not matter to us either way by then, madame," said
Aline.

"Aline!" she exclaimed in horror.

"Mademoiselle!" cried Rougane on the same note. And then, because
he perceived that people detained in this fashion must be in some
danger not yet discernible, but on that account more dreadful, he
set his wits to work. As they were approaching the Hotel Plougastel
once more, he announced that he had solved the problem.

"A passport from without would do equally well," he announced.
"Listen, now, and trust to me. I will go back to Meudon at once.
My father shall give me two permits - one for myself alone, and
another for three persons - from Meudon to Paris and back to Meudon.
I reenter Paris with my own permit, which I then proceed to destroy,
and we leave together, we three, on the strength of the other one,
representing ourselves as having come from Meudon in the course of
the day. It is quite simple, after all. If I go at once, I shall
be back to-night."

"But how will you leave?" asked Aline.

"I? Pooh! As to that, have no anxiety. My father is Mayor of
Meudon. There are plenty who know him. I will go to the Hotel de
Ville, and tell them what is, after all, true - that I am caught
in Paris by the closing of the barriers, and that my father is
expecting me home this evening. They will pass me through. It is
quite simple."

His confidence uplifted them again. The thing seemed as easy as
he represented it.

"Then let your passport be for four, my friend," madame begged him.
"There is Jacques," she explained, indicating the footman who had
just assisted them to alight.

Rougane departed confident of soon returning, leaving them to await
him with the same confidence. But the hours succeeded one another,
the night closed in, bedtime came, and still there was no sign of
his return.

They waited until midnight, each pretending for the other's sake
to a confidence fully sustained, each invaded by vague premonitions
of evil, yet beguiling the time by playing tric-trac in the great
salon, as if they had not a single anxious thought between them.

At last on the stroke of midnight, madame sighed and rose.

"It will be for to-morrow morning," she said, not believing it.

"Of course," Aline agreed. "It would really have been impossible
for him to have returned to-night. And it will be much better to
travel to-morrow. The journey at so late an hour would tire you
so much, dear madame."

Thus they made pretence.

Early in the morning they were awakened by a din of bells - the
tocsins of the sections ringing the alarm. To their startled ears
came later the rolling of drums, and at one time they heard the
sounds of a multitude on the march. Paris was rising. Later still
came the rattle of small-arms in the distance and the deeper boom
of cannon. Battle was joined between the men of the sections and
the men of the Court. The people in arms had attacked the Tuileries.
Wildest rumours flew in all directions, and some of them found their
way through the servants to the Hotel Plougastel, of that terrible
fight for the palace which was to end in the purposeless massacre
of all those whom the invertebrate monarch abandoned there, whilst
placing himself and his family under the protection of the Assembly.
Purposeless to the end, ever adopting the course pointed out to him
by evil counsellors, he prepared for resistance only until the need
for resistance really arose, whereupon he ordered a surrender which
left those who had stood by him to the last at the mercy of a
frenzied mob.

And while this was happening in the Tuileries, the two women at the
Hotel Plougastel still waited for the return of Rougane, though now
with ever-lessening hope. And Rougane did not return. The affair
did not appear so simple to the father as to the son. Rougane the
elder was rightly afraid to lend himself to such a piece of
deception.

He went with his son to inform M. de Kercadiou of what had happened,
and told him frankly of the thing his son suggested, but which he
dared not do.

M. de Kercadiou sought to move him by intercessions and even by the
offer of bribes. But Rougane remained firm.

"Monsieur," he said, "if it were discovered against me, as it
inevitably would be, I should, hang for it. Apart from that, and
in spite of my anxiety to do all in my power to serve you, it
would be a breach of trust such as I could not contemplate. You
must not ask me, monsieur."

"But what do you conceive is going to happen?" asked the
half-demented gentleman.

"It is war," said Rougane, who was well informed, as we have seen.
"War between the people and the Court. I am desolated that my
warning should have come too late. But, when all is said, I do not
think that you need really alarm yourself. War will not be made
on women. M. de Kercadiou clung for comfort to that assurance after
the mayor and his son had departed. But at the back of his mind
there remained the knowledge of the traffic in which M. de Plougastel
was engaged. What if the revolutionaries were equally well informed?
And most probably they were. The women-folk political offenders had
been known aforetime to suffer for the sins of their men. Anything
was possible in a popular upheaval, and Aline would be exposed
jointly with Mme. de Plougastel.

Late that night, as he sat gloomily in his brother's library, the
pipe in which he had sought solace extinguished between his fingers,
there came a sharp knocking at the door.

To the old seneschal of Gavrillac who went to open there stood
revealed upon the threshold a slim young man in a dark olive
surcoat, the skirts of which reached down to his calves. He wore
boots, buckskins, and a small-sword, and round his waist there was
a tricolour sash, in his hat a tricolour cockade, which gave him an
official look extremely sinister to the eyes of that old retainer
of feudalism, who shared to the full his master's present fears.

"Monsieur desires?" he asked, between respect and mistrust.

And then a crisp voice startled him.

"Why, Benoit! Name of a name! Have you completely forgotten me?"

With a shaking hand the old man raised the lantern he carried so
as to throw its light more fully upon that lean, wide-mouthed
countenance.

"M. Andre!" he cried. "M.Andre!" And then he looked at the sash
and the cockade, and hesitated, apparently at a loss.

But Andre-Louis stepped past him into the wide vestibule, with its
tessellated floor of black-and-white marble.

"If my godfather has not yet retired, take me to him. If he has
retired, take me to him all the same."

"Oh, but certainly, M. Andre - and I am sure he will be ravished to
see you. No, he has not yet retired. This way, M. Andre; this way,
if you please."

The returning Andre-Louis, reaching Meudon a half-hour ago, had
gone straight to the mayor for some definite news of what might be
happening in Paris that should either confirm or dispel the ominous
rumours that he had met in ever-increasing volume as he approached
the capital. Rougane informed him that insurrection was imminent,
that already the sections had possessed themselves of the barriers,
and that it was impossible for any person not fully accredited to
enter or leave the city.

Andre-Louis bowed his head, his thoughts of the gravest. He had
for some time perceived the danger of this second revolution from
within the first, which might destroy everything that had been done,
and give the reins of power to a villainous faction that would
plunge the country into anarchy. The thing he had feared was more
than ever on the point of taking place. He would go on at once,
that very night, and see for himself what was happening.

And then, as he was leaving, he turned again to Rougane to ask if
M. de Kercadiou was still at Meudon.

"You know him, monsieur?"

"He is my godfather."

"Your godfather! And you a representative! Why, then, you may be
the very man he needs." And Rougane told him of his son's errand
into Paris that afternoon and its result.

No more was required. That two years ago his godfather should upon
certain terms have refused him his house weighed for nothing at the
moment. He left his travelling carriage at the little inn and went
straight to M. de Kercadiou.

And M. de Kercadiou, startled in such an hour by this sudden
apparition, of one against whom he nursed a bitter grievance,
greeted him in terms almost identical with those in which in that
same room he had greeted him on a similar occasion once before.

"What do you want here, sir?"

"To serve you if possible, my godfather," was the disarming answer.

But it did not disarm M. de Kercadiou. "You have stayed away so
long that I hoped you would not again disturb me."

"I should not have ventured to disobey you now were it not for the
hope that I can be of service. I have seen Rougane, the mayor... "

"What's that you say about not venturing to disobey?"

"You forbade me your house, monsieur."

M. de Kercadiou stared at him helplessly.

"And is that why you have not come near me in all this time?"

"Of course. Why else?"

M. de Kercadiou continued to stare. Then he swore under his breath.
It disconcerted him to have to deal with a man who insisted upon
taking him so literally. He had expected that Andre-Louis would
have come contritely to admit his fault and beg to be taken back
into favour. He said so.

"But how could I hope that you meant less than you said, monsieur?
You were so very definite in your declaration. What expressions of
contrition could have served me without a purpose of amendment?
And I had no notion of amending. We may yet be thankful for that."

"Thankful?"

"I am a representative. I have certain powers. I am very
opportunely returning to Paris. Can I serve you where Rougane
cannot? The need, monsieur, would appear to be very urgent if the
half of what I suspect is true. Aline should be placed in safety
at once."

M. de Kercadiou surrendered unconditionally. He came over and took
Andre-Louis' hand.

"My boy," he said, and he was visibly moved, "there is in you a
certain nobility that is not to be denied. If I seemed harsh with
you, then, it was because I was fighting against your evil
proclivities. I desired to keep you out of the evil path of
politics that have brought this unfortunate country into so terrible
a pass. The enemy on the frontier; civil war about to flame out at
home. That is what you revolution. aries have done."

Andre-Louis did not argue. He passed on.

"About Aline?" he asked. And himself answered his own question:
"She is in Paris, and she must be brought out of it at once, before
the place becomes a shambles, as well it may once the passions that
have been brewing all these months are let loose. Young Rougane's
plan is good. At least, I cannot think of a better one."

"But Rougane the elder will not hear of it."

"You mean he will not do it on his own responsibility. But he has
consented to do it on mine. I have left him a note over my signature
to the effect that a safe-conduct for Mlle. de Kercadiou to go to
Paris and return is issued by him in compliance with orders from me.
The powers I carry and of which I have satisfied him are his
sufficient justification for obeying me in this. I have left him
that note on the understanding that he is to use it only in an
extreme case, for his own protection. In exchange he has given me
this safe-conduct."

"You already have it!"

M. de Kercadiou took the sheet of paper that Andre-Louis held out.
His hand shook. He approached it to the cluster of candles burning
on the console and screwed up his short-sighted eyes to read.

"If you send that to Paris by young Rougane in the morning," said
Andre-Louis, "Aline should be here by noon. Nothing, of course,
could be done to-night without provoking suspicion. The hour is
too late. And now, monsieur my godfather, you know exactly why I
intrude in violation of your commands. If there is any other way
in which I can serve you, you have but to name it whilst I am here."

"But there is, Andre. Did not Rougane tell you that there were
others... "

"He mentioned Mme. de Plougastel and her servant."

"Then why... ?" M. de Kercadiou broke off, looking his question.

Very solemnly Andre-Louis shook his head.

"That is impossible," he said.

M. de Kercadiou's mouth fell open in astonishment. "Impossible!"
he repeated. "But why?"

"Monsieur, I can do what I am doing for Aline without offending my
conscience. Besides, for Aline I would offend my conscience and do
it. But Mme. de Plougastel is in very different case. Neither Aline
nor any of hers have been concerned in counter-revolutionary work,
which is the true source of the calamity that now threatens to
overtake us. I can procure her removal from Paris without
self-reproach, convinced that I am doing nothing that any one could
censure, or that might become the subject of enquiries. But Mme. de
Plougastel is the wife of M. le Comte de Plougastel, whom all the
world knows to be an agent between the Court and the emigres."

"That is no fault of hers," cried M. de Kercadiou through his
consternation.

"Agreed. But she may be called upon at any moment to establish the
fact that she is not a party to these manoeuvres. It is known that
she was in Paris to-day. Should she be sought to-morrow and should
it be found that she has gone, enquiries will certainly be made,
from which it must result that I have betrayed my trust, and abused
my powers to serve personal ends. I hope, monsieur, that you will
understand that the risk is too great to be run for the sake of a
stranger."

"A stranger?" said the Seigneur reproachfully.

"Practically a stranger to me," said Andre-Louis.

"But she is not a stranger to me, Andre. She is my cousin and very
dear and valued friend. And, mon Dieu, what you say but increases
the urgency of getting her out of Paris. She must be rescued, Andre,
at all costs - she must be rescued! Why, her case is infinitely
more urgent than Aline's!"

He stood a suppliant before his godson, very different now from the
stern man who had greeted him on his arrival. His face was pale,
his hands shook, and there were beads of perspiration on his brow.

"Monsieur my godfather, I would do anything in reason. But I cannot
do this. To rescue her might mean ruin for Aline and yourself as
well as for me."

"We must take the risk."

"You have a right to speak for yourself, of course."

"Oh, and for you, believe me, Andre, for you!" He came close to
the young man. "Andre, I implore you to take my word for that, and
to obtain this permit for Mme. de Plougastel."

Andre looked at him mystified. "This is fantastic," he said. "I
have grateful memories of the lady's interest in me for a few days
once when I was a child, and again more recently in Paris when she
sought to convert me to what she accounts the true political
religion. But I do not risk my neck for her - no, nor yours, nor
Aline's."

"Ah! But, Andre... "

"That is my last word, monsieur. It is growing late, and I desire
to sleep in Paris."

"No, no! Wait!" The Lord of Gavrillac was displaying signs of
unspeakable distress. "Andre, you must!"

There was in this insistence and, still more, in the frenzied
manner of it, something so unreasonable that Andre could not fail
to assume that some dark and mysterious motive lay behind it.

"I must?" he echoed. "Why must I? Your reasons,monsieur?"

"Andre, my reasons are overwhelming."

"Pray allow me to be the judge of that." Andre-Louis' manner was
almost peremptory.

The demand seemed to reduce M. de Kercadiou to despair. He paced
the room, his hands tight-clasped behind him, his brow wrinkled.
At last he came to stand before his godson.

"Can't you take my word for it that these reasons exist?" he cried
in anguish.

"In such a matter as this - a matter that may involve my neck? Oh,
monsieur, is that reasonable?"

"I violate my word of honour, my oath, if I tell you." M. de
Kercadiou turned away, wringing his hands, his condition visibly
piteous; then turned again to Andre. "But in this extremity, in
this desperate extremity, and since you so ungenerously insist, I
shall have to tell you. God help me, I have no choice. She will
realize that when she knows. Andre, my boy... " He paused again,
a man afraid. He set a hand on his godson's shoulder, and to his
increasing amazement Andre-Louis perceived that over those pale,
short-sighted eyes there was a film of tears. "Mme. de Plougastel
is your mother."

Followed, for a long moment, utter silence. This thing that he was
told was not immediately understood. When understanding came at
last Andre-Louis' first impulse was to cry out. But he possessed
himself, and played the Stoic. He must ever be playing something.
That was in his nature. And he was true to his nature even in this
supreme moment. He continued silent until, obeying that queer
histrionic instinct, he could trust himself to speak without emotion.
"I see," he said, at last, quite coolly.

His mind was sweeping back over the past. Swiftly he reviewed his
memories of Mme. de Plougastel, her singular if sporadic interest
in him, the curious blend of affection and wistfulness which her
manner towards him had always presented, and at last he understood
so much that hithert had intrigued him.

"I see," he said again; and added now, "Of course, any but a fool
would have guessed it long ago."

It was M. de Kercadiou who cried out, M. de Kercadiou who recoiled
as from a blow.

"My God, Andre, of what are you made? You can take such an
announcement in this fashion?".

"And how would you have me take it? Should it surprise me to
discover that I had a mother? After all, a mother is an
indispensable necessity to getting one's self born."

He sat down abruptly, to conceal the too-revealing fact that his
limbs were shaking. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket to
mop his brow, which had grown damp. And then,quite suddenly, he
found himself weeping.

At the sight of those tears streaming silently down that face that
had turned so pale, M. de Kercadiou came quickly across to him. He
sat down beside him and threw an arm affectionately over his shoulder.

"Andre, my poor lad," he murmured. "I... I was fool enough to think
ou had no heart. You deceived me with your infernal pretence, and
now I see... I see... " He was not sure what it was that he saw, or
else he hesitated to express it.

"I: is nothing, monsieur. I am tired out, and... and I have a cold
in the head." And then, finding the part beyond his power, he
abruptly threw it up, utterly abandoned all pretence. "Why... why
has there been all this mystery?" he asked. "Was it intended that
I should never know?"

"I: was, Andre. It... it had to be, for prudence' sake."

"Eut why? Complete your confidence, sir. Surely you cannot leave
it there. Having told me so much, you must tell me all."

"'The reason, my boy, is that you were born some three years after
your mother's marriage with M. de Plougastel, some eighteen months
after M. de Plougastel had been away with the army, and some four
months before his return to his wife. It is a matter that M. de
Plougastel has never suspeted, and for gravest family reasons must
never suspect. That is why the utmost secrecy has been preserved.
That is why none was ever allowed to know. Your mother came betimes
into Brittany, and under an assumed name spent some months in the
village of Moreau. It was while she was there that you were born."

Andre-Louis turned it over in his mind. He had dried his tears.
And sat now rigid and collected.

"When you say that none was ever allowed to know, you are telling
me, of course, that you, monsieur... "

"Oh, mon Dieu, no!" The denial came in a violent outburst. M. de
Kercadiou sprang to his feet propelled from Andre's side by the
violence of his emotions. It was as if the very suggestion filled
him with horror. "I was the only other one who knew. But it is
not as you think, Andre. You cannot imagine that I should lie to
you, that I should deny you if you were my son?"

"If you say that I am not, monsieur, that is sufficient."

"You are not. I was Therese's cousin and also, as she well knew,
her truest friend. She knew that she could trust me; and it was
to me she came for help in her extremity. Once, years before, I
would have married her. But, of course, I am not the sort of man
a woman could love. She trusted, however, to my love for her, and
I have kept her trust."

"Then, who was my father?"

"I don't know. She never told me. It was her secret, and I did
not pry. It is not in my nature, Andre."

Andre-Louis got up, and stood silently facing M. de Kercadiou.

"You believe me, Andre."

"Naturally, monsieur; and I am sorry, I am sorry that I am not your
son.

M. de Kercadiou gripped his godson's hand convulsively, and held
it a moment with no word spoken. Then as they fell away from each
other again:

"And now, what will you do, Andre?" he asked. "Now that you know?"

Andre-Louis stood awhile. considering, then broke into laughter.
The situation had its humours. He explained them.

"What difference should the knowledge make? Is filial piety to be
called into existence by the mere announcement of relationship? Am
I to risk my neck through lack of circumspection on behalf of a
mother so very circumspect that she had no intention of ever
revealing herself? The discovery rests upon the merest chance,
upon a fall of the dice of Fate. Is that to weigh with me?"

"The decision is with you, Andre."

"Nay, it is beyond me. Decide it who can, I cannot."

"You mean that you refuse even now?"

"I mean that I consent. Since I cannot decide what it is that I
should do, it only remains for me to do what a son should. It is
grotesque; but all life is grotesque."

"You will never, never regret it."

"I hope not," said Andre. "Yet I think it very likely that I shall.
And now I had better see Rougane again at once, and obtain from him
the other two permits required. Then perhaps it will be best that
I take them to Paris myself, in the morning. If you will give me a
bed, monsieur, I shall be grateful. I... I confess that I am hardly
in case to do more to-night."





Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini
Category:
General Fiction

Romance Literature
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