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CHAPTER VI

THE WINDMILL


There was between Nantes and Rennes an established service of three
stage-coaches weekly in each direction, which for a sum of
twenty-four livres - roughly, the equivalent of an English guinea
- would carry you the seventy and odd miles of the journey in some
fourteen hours. Once a week one of the diligences going in each
direction would swerve aside from the highroad to call at Gavrillac,
to bring and take letters, newspapers, and sometimes passengers. It
was usually by this coach that Andre-Louis came and went when the
occasion offered. At present, however, he was too much in haste to
lose a day awaiting the passing of that diligence. So it was on a
horse hired from the Breton arme that he set out next morning; and
an hour's brisk ride under a grey wintry sky, by a half-ruined road
through ten miles of flat, uninteresting country, brought him to the
city of Rennes.

He rode across the main bridge over the Vilaine, and so into the
upper and principal part of that important city of some thirty
thousand souls, most of whom, he opined from the seething, clamant
crowds that everywhere blocked his way, must on this day have taken
to the streets. Clearly Philippe had not overstated the excitement
prevailing there.

He pushed on as best he could, and so came at last to the Place
Royale, where he found the crowd to be most dense. From the plinth
of the equestrian statue of Louis XV, a white-faced young man was
excitedly addressing the multitude. His youth and dress proclaimed
the student, and a group of his fellows, acting as a guard of honour
to him, kept the immediate precincts of the statue.

Over the heads of the crowd Andre-Louis caught a few of the phrases
flung forth by that eager voice.

"It was the promise of the King... It is the King's authority they
flout... They arrogate to themselves the whole sovereignty in
Brittany. The King has dissolved them... These insolent nobles
defying their sovereign and the people... "

Had he not known already, from what Philippe had told him, of the
events which had brought the Third Estate to the point of active
revolt, those few phrases would fully have informed him. This popular
display of temper was most opportune to his need, he thought. And in
the hope that it might serve his turn by disposing to reasonableness
the mind of the King's Lieutenant, he pushed on up the wide and
well-paved Rue Royale, where the concourse of people began to diminish.
He put up his hired horse at the Come de Cerf, and set out again, on
foot, to the Palais de Justice.

There was a brawling mob by the framework of poles and scaffoldings
about the building cathedral, upon which work had been commenced
a year ago. But he did not pause to ascertain the particular cause
of that gathering. He strode on, and thus came presently to the
handsome Italianate palace that was one of the few public edifices
hat had survived the devastating fire of sixty years ago.

He won through with difficulty to the great hall, known as the Salle
des Pas Perdus, where he was left to cool his heels for a full
half-hour after he had found an usher so condescending as to inform
the god who presided over that shrine of Justice that a lawyer from
Gavrillac humbly begged an audience on an affair of gravity.

That the god condescended to see him at all was probably due to the
grave complexion of the hour. At long length he was escorted up
the broad stone staircase, and ushered into a spacious, meagrely
furnished anteroom, to make one of a waiting crowd of clients,
mostly men.

There he spent another half-hour, and employed the time in
considering exactly what he should say. This consideration made
him realize the weakness of the case he proposed to set before a
man whose views of law and morality were coloured by his social
rank.

At last he was ushered through a narrow but very massive and richly
decorated door into a fine, well-lighted room furnished with enough
gilt and satin to have supplied the boudoir of a lady of fashion.

It was a trivial setting for a King's Lieutenant, but about the
King's Lieutenant there was - at least to ordinary eyes - nothing
trivial. At the far end of the chamber, to the right of one of the
tall windows that looked out over the inner court, before a
goat-legged writing-table with Watteau panels, heavily encrusted
with ormolu, sat that exalted being. Above a scarlet coat with an
order flaming on its breast, and a billow of lace in which diamonds
sparkled like drops of water, sprouted the massive powdered head
of M. de Lesdiguieres. It was thrown back to scowl upon this
visitor with an expectant arrogance that made Andre-Louis wonder
almost was a genuflexion awaited from him.

Perceiving a lean, lantern-jawed young man, with straight, lank
black hair, in a caped riding-coat of brown cloth, and yellow
buckskin breeches, his knee-boots splashed with mud, the scowl upon
that August visage deepened until it brought together the thick
black eyebrows above the great hooked nose.

"You announce yourself as a lawyer of Gavrillac with an important
communication," he growled. It was a peremptory command to make
this communication without wasting the valuable time of a King's
Lieutenant, of whose immense importance it conveyed something more
than a hint. M. de Lesdiguieres accounted himself an imposing
personality, and he had every reason to do so, for in his time he
had seen many a poor devil scared out of all his senses by the
thunder of his voice.

He waited now to see the same thing happen to this youthful lawyer
from Gavrillac. But he waited in vain.

Andre-Louis found him ridiculous. He knew pretentiousness for the
mask of worthlessness and weakness. And here he beheld
pretentiousness incarnate. It was to be read in that arrogant
poise of the head, that scowling brow, the inflexion of that
reverberating voice. Even more difficult than it is for a man to
be a hero to his valet - who has witnessed the dispersal of the
parts that make up the imposing whole - is it for a man to be a
hero to the student of Man who has witnessed the same in a different
sense.

Andre-Louis stood forward boldly - impudently, thought M. de
Lesdiguieres.

"You are His Majesty's Lieutenant here in Brittany," he said - and
it almost seemed to the August lord of life and death that this
fellow had the incredible effrontery to address him as one man
speaking to another. "You are the dispenser of the King's high
justice in this province."

Surprise spread on that handsome, sallow face under the heavily
powdered wig.

"Is your business concerned with this infernal insubordination of
the canaille?" he asked.

"It is not, monsieur."

The black eyebrows rose. "Then what the devil do you mean by
intruding upon me at a time when all my attention is being claimed
by the obvious urgency of this disgraceful affair?"

"The affair that brings me is no less disgraceful and no less urgent."

"It will have to wait!" thundered the great man in a passion, and
tossing back a cloud of lace from his hand, he reached for the
little silver bell upon his table.

"A moment, monsieur!" Andre-Louis' tone was peremptory. M. de
Lesdiguieres checked in sheer amazement at its impudence. "I can
state it very briefly... "

"Haven't I said already... "

"And when you have heard it," Andre-Louis went on, relentlessly,
interrupting the interruption, "you will agree with me as to its
character."

M. de Lesdiguieres considered him very sternly.

"What is your name?" he asked.

"Andre-Louis Moreau."

"Well, Andre-Louis Moreau, if you can state your plea briefly, I
will hear you. But I warn you that I shall be very angry if you
fail to justify the impertinence of this insistence at so
inopportune a moment."

"You shall be the judge of that, monsieur," said Andre-Louis, and
he proceeded at once to state his case, beginning with the shooting
of Mabey, and passing thence to the killing of M. de Vilmorin. But
he withheld until the end the name of the great gentleman against
whom he demanded justice, persuaded that did he introduce it earlier
he would not be allowed to proceed.

He had a gift of oratory of whose full powers he was himself hardly
conscious yet, though destined very soon to become so.. He told
his story well, without exaggeration, yet with a force of simple
appeal that was irresistible. Gradually the great man's face relaxed
from its forbidding severity. Interest, warming almost to sympathy,
came to be reflected on it.

"And who, sir, is the man you charge with this?"

"The Marquis de La Tour d'Azyr."

The effect of that formidable name was immediate. Dismayed anger,
and an arrogance more utter than before, took the place of the
sympathy he had been betrayed into displaying.

"Who?" he shouted, and without waiting for an answer, "Why, here's
impudence," he stormed on, "to come before me with such a charge
against a gentleman of M. de La Tour d'Azyr's eminence! How dare
you speak of him as a coward."

"I speak of him as a murderer," the young man corrected. "And I
demand justice against him."

"You demand it, do you? My God, what next?"

"That is for you to say, monsieur."

It surprised the great gentleman into a more or less successful
effort of self-control.

"Let me warn you," said he, acidly, "that it is not wise to make
wild accusations against a nobleman. That, in itself, is a
punishable offence, as you may learn. Now listen to me. In this
matter of Mabey - assuming your statement of it to be exact - the
gamekeeper may have exceeded his duty; but by so little that it is
hardly worth comment. Consider, however, that in any case it is
not a matter for the King's Lieutenant, or for any court but the
seigneurial court of M. de La Tour d'Azyr himself. It is before
the magistrates of his own appointing that such a matter must be
laid, since it is matter strictly concerning his own seigneurial
jurisdiction. As a lawyer you should not need to be told so much."

"As a lawyer, I am prepared to argue the point. But, as a lawyer
I also realize that if that case were prosecuted, it could only end
in the unjust punishment of a wretched gamekeeper, who did no more
than carry out his orders, but who none the less would now be made
a scapegoat, if scapegoat were necessary. I am not concerned to
hang Benet on the gallows earned by M. de La Tour d'Azyr."

M. de Lesdiguieres smote the table violently. "My God!" he cried
out, to add more quietly, on a note of menace, "You are singularly
insolent, my man."

"That is not my intention, sir, I assure you. I am a lawyer,
pleading a case - the case of M. de Vilmorin. It is for his
assassination that I have come to beg the King's justice."

"But you yourself have said that it was a duel!" cried the
Lieutenant, between anger and bewilderment.

"I have said that it was made to appear a duel. There is a
distinction, as I shall show, if you will condescend to hear me out."

"Take your own time, sir!" said the ironical M. de Lesdiguieres,
whose tenure of office had never yet held anything that remotely
resembled this experience.

Andre-Louis took him literally. "I thank you, sir," he answered,
solemnly, and submitted his argument. "It can be shown that M. de
Vilmorin never practised fencing in all his life, and it is notorious
that M. de La Tour d'Azyr is an exceptional swordsman. Is it a duel,
monsieur, where one of the combatants alone is armed? For it amounts
to that on a comparison of their measures of respective skill."

"There has scarcely been a duel fought on which the same trumpery
argument might not be advanced."

"But not always with equal justice. And in one case, at least, it
was advanced successfully."

"Successfully? When was that?"

"Ten years ago, in Dauphiny. I refer to the case of M. de Gesvres,
a gentleman of that province, who forced a duel upon M. de la Roche
Jeannine, and killed him. M. de Jeannine was a member of a powerful
family, which exerted itself to obtain justice. It put forward just
such arguments as now obtain against M. de La Tour d'Azyr. As you
will remember, the judges held that the provocation had proceeded
of intent from M. de Gesvres; they found him guilty of premeditated
murder, and he was hanged."

M. de Lesdiguieres exploded yet again. "Death of my life!" he cried.
"Have you the effrontery to suggest that M. de La Tour d'Azyr should
be hanged? Have you?"

"But why not, monsieur, if it is the law, and there is precedent
for it, as I have shown you, and if it can be established that what
I state is the truth - as established it can be without difficulty?"

"Do you ask me, why not? Have you temerity to ask me that?"

"I have, monsieur. Can you answer me? If you cannot, monsieur, I
shall understand that whilst it is possible for a powerful family
like that of La Roche Jeannine to set the law in motion, the law
must remain inert for the obscure and uninfluential, however
brutally wronged by a great nobleman."

M. de Lesdiguieres perceived that in argument he would accomplish
nothing against this impassive, resolute young man. The menace of
him grew more fierce.

"I should advise you to take yourself off at once, and to be
thankful for the opportunity to depart unscathed."

"I am, then, to understand, monsieur, that there will be no inquiry
into this case? That nothing that I can say will move you?"

"You are to understand that if you are still there in two minutes
it will be very much the worse for you." And M. de Lesdiguieres
tinkled the silver hand-bell upon his table.

"I have informed you, monsieur, that a duel - so-called - has been
fought, and a man killed. It seems that I must remind you, the
administrator of the King's justice, that duels are against the law,
and that it is your duty to hold an inquiry. I come as the legal
representative of the bereaved mother of M. de Vilmorin to demand
of you the inquiry that is due."

The door behind Andre-Louis opened softly. M. de Lesdiguieres,
pale with anger, contained himself with difficulty.

"You seek to compel us, do you, you impudent rascal?" he growled.
"You think the King's justice is to be driven headlong by the voice
of any impudent roturier? I marvel at my own patience with you.
But I give you a last warning, master lawyer; keep a closer guard
over that insolent tongue of yours, or you will have cause very
bitterly to regret its glibness." He waved a jewelled, contemptuous
hand, and spoke to the usher standing behind Andre. "To the door!"
he said, shortly.

Andre-Louis hesitated a second. Then with a shrug he turned. This
was the windmill, indeed, and he a poor knight of rueful countenance.
To attack it at closer quarters would mean being dashed to pieces.
Yet on the threshold he turned again.

"M. de Lesdiguieres," said he, "may I recite to you an interesting
fact in natural history? The tiger is a great lord in the jungle,
and was for centuries the terror of lesser beasts, including the
wolf. The wolf, himself a hunter, wearied of being hunted. He
took to associating with other wolves, and then the wolves, driven
to form packs for self-protection, discovered the power of the pack,
and took to hunting the tiger, with disastrous results to him. You
should study Buffon, M. de Lesdiguieres."

"I have studied a buffoon this morning, I think," was the punning
sneer with which M. de Lesdiguieres replied. But that he conceived
himself witty, it is probable he would not have condescended to
reply at all. "I don't understand you," he added.

"But you will, M. de Lesdiguieres. You will," said Andre-Louis,
and so departed.





Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini
Category:
General Fiction

Romance Literature
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