"'Beautiful as an angel, and headstrong as a devil'—Alison was not headstrong."
Ormskirk rose suddenly and approached an open window. It was a starless sight, temperately cool, with no air stirring. Below was a garden of some sort, and a flat roof which would be that of the stables, and beyond, abrupt as a painted scene, a black wall of houses stood against a steel-colored, vacant sky, reaching precisely to the middle of the vista. Only a solitary poplar, to the rear of the garden, qualified this sombre monotony of right angles. Ormskirk saw the world as an ugly mechanical drawing, fashioned for utility, meticulously outlined with a ruler. Yet there was a scent of growing things to nudge the senses.
"No, Alison was different. And Alison has been dead near twenty years. And God help me! I no longer regret even Alison. I should have been more truthful in talking with poor Harry Heleigh. But, as always, the temptation to be picturesque was irresistible. Besides, the truth is humiliating.
"The real tragedy of life is to learn that it is not really tragic. To learn that the world is gross, that it lacks nobility, that to considerate persons it must be in effect quite unimportant,—here are commonplaces, sweepings from the tub of the immaturest cynic. But to learn that you yourself were thoughtfully constructed in harmony with the world you were to live in, that you yourself are incapable of any great passion—eh, this is an athletic blow to human vanity. Well! I acknowledge it. My love for Alison Pleydell was the one sincere thing in my life. And it is dead. I do not think of her once a month. I do not regret her except when I am tipsy or bored or listening to music, and wish to fancy myself the picturesque victim of a flint-hearted world. Which is a romantic lie; I move like a man of card-board in a card-board world. Certain faculties and tastes and mannerisms I undoubtedly possess, but if I have any personality at all, I am not aware of it; I am a mechanism that eats and sleeps and clumsily perambulates a ball that spins around a larger ball that revolves about another, and so on, ad infinitum. Some day the mechanism will be broken. Or it will slowly wear out, perhaps. And then it will go to the dust-heap. And that will be the end of the great Duke of Ormskirk.
"John Bulmer did not think so. It is true that John Bulmer was a magnanimous fool,—Upon the other hand, John Bulmer would never have stared out of an ugly window at an uglier landscape and have talked yet uglier nonsense to it. He would have been off post-haste after the young person who is 'beautiful as an angel and headstrong as a devil.' And afterward he would have been very happy or else very miserable. I begin to think that John Bulmer was more sensible than the great Duke of Ormskirk. I would—I would that he were still alive."
His Grace slapped one palm against his thigh with unwonted vigor. "Behold, what I am longing for! I am longing for John Bulmer."
Presently he sounded the gong upon his desk. And presently he said: "My adorable Pawsey, the great Duke of Ormskirk is now going to pay his respects to George Guelph, King of Britain, France, and Ireland, defender of the faith. Duke of Brunswick and Lunenburg, and supreme head of the Anglican and Hibernian Church. And to-morrow Mr. John Bulmer will set forth upon a little journey into Poictesme. You will obligingly pack a valise. No, I shall not require you,—for John Bulmer was entirely capable of dressing and shaving himself. So kindly go to the devil, Pawsey, and stop staring at me."
Later in the evening Pawsey, a thought mellowed by the ale of Dover, deplored with tears the instability of a nation whose pilots were addicted to tippling.
"Drunk as David's sow!" said Pawsey, "and 'im in the hactual presence of 'is Sacred Majesty!"
Thus it came about that, five days later, arrived at Bellegarde Mr. John Bulmer, kinsman and accredited emissary of the great Duke of Ormskirk. He brought with him and in due course delivered a casket of jewels and a letter from the Duke to his betrothed. The diamonds were magnificent, and the letter was a paragon of polite ardors.
Mr. Bulmer found the chateau in charge of a distant cousin to de Puysange, the Marquis de Soyecourt; with whom were the Duchess, a gentle and beautiful lady, her two children, and the Demoiselle Claire. The Duke himself was still at Marly, with most of his people, but at Bellegarde momentarily they looked for his return. Meanwhile de Soyecourt, an exquisite and sociable and immoral young gentleman of forty-one, was lonely, and protested that any civilized company was, in the oafish provinces, a charity of celestial pre-arrangement. He would not hear of Mr. Bulmer's leaving Bellegarde; and after a little protestation the latter proved persuadable.
"Mr. Bulmer," the Duke's letter of introduction informed the Marquis, "is my kinsman and may be regarded as discreet. The evanishment of his tiny patrimony, spirited away some years ago by divers over-friendly ladies, hath taught the man humility, and procured for me the privilege of paying for his support: but I find him more valuable than his cost. He is tolerably honest, not too often tipsy, makes an excellent salad, and will convey a letter or hold a door with fidelity and despatch. Employ his services, monsieur, if you have need of them; I place him at your command."
In fine, they at Bellegarde judged Mr. Bulmer to rank somewhere between lackeyship and gentility, and treated him in accordance. It was an age of parasitism, and John Bulmer, if a parasite, was the Phormio of a very great man: when his patron expressed a desire Mr. Bulmer fulfilled it without boggling over inconvenient scruples, perhaps; and there was the worst that could with equity be said of him. An impoverished gentleman must live somehow, and, deuce take it! there must be rather pretty pickings among the broken meats of an Ormskirk. To this effect de Soyecourt moralized one evening as the two sat over their wine.
John Bulmer candidly assented. "I live as best I may," he said. "In a word 'I am his Highness' dog at Kew—' But mark you, I do not complete the quotation, monsieur."
"Which ends, as I remember it, 'I pray you, sir, whose dog are you?' Well, Mr. Bulmer, each of us wards his own kennel somewhere, whether it be in a king's court or in a woman's heart, and it is necessary that he pay the rent of it in such coin as the owner may demand. Beggars cannot be choosers, Mr. Bulmer." The Marquis went away moodily, and John Bulmer poured out another glass.
"Were I Gaston, you would not kennel here, my friend. The Duchess has too many claims to be admired,—for undoubtedly people do go about unchained who can admire a blonde,—and always your eyes follow her. I noticed it a week ago."
And during this week Mr. Bulmer had seen a deal of Claire de Puysange, with results that you will presently ascertain. It was natural she should desire to learn something of the man she was so soon to marry, and of whose personality she was so ignorant; she had not even seen a picture of him, by example. Was he handsome?
John Bulmer believed him rather remarkably handsome, when you considered how frequently his love-affairs had left disastrous souvenirs: yes, for a man in middle life so often patched up by quack doctors, Ormskirk looked wholesome enough, said Mr. Bulmer. He may have had his occult purposes, this poor cousin, but of Ormskirk he undoubtedly spoke with engaging candor. Here was no parasite cringingly praising his patron to the skies. The Duke's career was touched on, with its grimy passages no whit extenuated: before Dettingen Cousin Ormskirk had, it must be confessed, taken a bribe from de Noailles, and in return had seen to it that the English did not follow up their empty victory; and 'twas well known Ormskirk got his dukedom through the Countess of Yarmouth, to whom the King could deny nothing. What were the Duke's relations with this liberal lady?—a shrug rendered Mr. Bulmer's avowal of ignorance tolerably explicit. Then, too, Mr. Bulmer readily conceded, the Duke's atrocities after Culloden were somewhat over-notorious for denial: all the prisoners were shot out-of-hand; seventy-two of them were driven into an inn-yard and massacred en masse. Yes, there were women among them, but not over a half-dozen children, at most. Mademoiselle was not to class his noble patron with Herod, understand,—only a few brats of no importance.
In fine, he told her all the highly colored tales that envy and malice and ignorance had been able to concoct concerning the great Duke. Many of them John Bulmer knew to be false; nevertheless, he had a large mythology to choose from, he picked his instances with care, he narrated them with gusto and discretion,—and in the end he got his reward.
For the girl rose, flame-faced, and burlesqued a courtesy in his direction. "Monsieur Bulmer, I make you my compliments. You have very fully explained what manner of man is this to whom my brother has sold me."
"And wherefore do you accord me this sudden adulation?" said John Bulmer.
"Because in France we have learned that lackeys are always powerful. Le Bel is here omnipotent, Monsieur Bulmer; but he is lackey to a satyr only; and therefore, I felicitate you, monsieur, who are lackey to a fiend."
John Bulmer looked rather grave. "Civility is an inexpensive wear, mademoiselle, but it becomes everybody."
"Lackey!" she flung over her shoulder, as she left him.
John Bulmer began to whistle an air then popular across the Channel. Later his melody was stilled.
"'Beautiful as an angel, and headstrong as a devil!'" said John Bulmer. "You have an eye, Gaston!"
That evening came a letter from Gaston to de Soyecourt, which the latter read aloud at supper. Gossip of the court it was for the most part, garrulous, and peppered with deductions of a caustic and diverting sort, but containing no word of a return to Bellegarde, in this vocal rendering. For in the reading one paragraph was elided.
"I arrive," the Duke had written, "within three or at most four days after this will be received. You are to breathe not a syllable of my coming, dear Louis, for I do not come alone. Achille Cazaio has intimidated Poictesme long enough; I consider it is not desirable that a peer of France should be at the mercy of a chicken-thief, particularly when Fortune whispers, as the lady now does:
"Viens punir le coupable; Les oracles, les dieux, tout nous est favorable.
"Understand, in fine, that Madame de Pompadour has graciously obtained for me the loan of the dragoons of Entrechat for an entire fortnight, so that I return not in submission, but, like Caesar and Coriolanus and other exiled captains of antiquity, at the head of a glorious army. We will harry the Taunenfels, we will hang the vile bandit more high than Haman of old, we will, in a word, enjoy the supreme pleasure of the chase, enhanced by the knowledge we pursue a note-worthy quarry. Homicide is, after all, the most satisfying recreation life affords us, since man alone knows how thoroughly man deserves to be slaughtered. A tiger, now, has his deficiencies, perhaps, viewed as a roommate; yet a tiger is at least acceptable to the eye, a vision very pleasantly suggestive, we will say, of buttered toast; whereas, our fellow-creatures, my dear Louis,—" And in this strain de Puysange continued, with intolerably scandalous examples as parapets for his argument.
That night de Soyecourt re-read this paragraph. "So the Pompadour has kindly tendered him the loan of certain dragoons? She is very fond of Gaston, is la petite Etoiles, beyond doubt. And accordingly her dragoons are to garrison Bellegarde for a whole fortnight. Good, good!" said the Marquis; "I think that all goes well."
He sat for a long while, smiling, preoccupied with his imaginings, which were far adrift in the future. Louis de Soyecourt was a subtle little man, freakish and amiable, and, on a minute scale, handsome. He reminded people of a dissipated elf; his excesses were notorious, yet always he preserved the face of an ecclesiastic and the eyes of an aging seraph; and bodily there was as yet no trace of the corpulence which marred his later years.
To-night he slept soundly. His conscience was always, they say, to the very end of his long life, the conscience of a child, vulnerable by physical punishment, but by nothing else.
Next day John Bulmer rode through the Forest of Acaire, and sang as he went. Yet he disapproved of the country.
"For I am of the opinion," John Bulmer meditated, "that France just now is too much like a flower-garden situate upon the slope of a volcano. The eye is pleasantly titillated, but the ear catches eloquent rumblings. This is not a very healthy country, I think. These shaggy-haired, dumb peasants trouble me. I had thought France a nation of de Puysanges; I find it rather a nation of beasts who are growing hungry. Presently they will begin to feed, and I am not at all certain as to the urbanity of their table manners."
However, it was no affair of his; so he put the matter out of mind, and as he rode through the forest, carolled blithely. Trees were marshalled on each side with an effect of colonnades; everywhere there was a sniff of the cathedral, of a cheery cathedral all green and gold and full-bodied browns, where the industrious motes swam, like the fishes fairies angle for, in every long and rigid shaft of sunlight,—or rather (John Bulmer decided), as though Time had just passed by with a broom, intent to garnish the least nook of Acaire against Spring's occupancy of it. Then there were tiny white butterflies, frail as dream-stuff. There were anemones; and John Bulmer sighed at their insolent perfection. Theirs was a frank allure; in the solemn forest they alone of growing things were wanton, for they coquetted with the wind, and their pink was the pink of flesh.
He recollected that he was corpulent—and forty-five. "And yet, praise Heaven," said John Bulmer, "something stirs in this sleepy skull of mine."
Sang John Bulmer:
"April wakes, and the gifts are good Which April grants in this lonely wood Mid the wistful sounds of a solitude, Whose immemorial murmuring Is the voice of Spring And murmurs the burden of burgeoning.
"April wakes, and her heart is high, For the Bassarids and the Fauns are nigh, And prosperous leaves lisp busily Over flattered brakes, whence the breezes bring Vext twittering To swell the burden of burgeoning.
"April wakes, and afield, astray, She calls to whom at the end I say. Heart o' my Heart, I am thine alway,— And I follow, follow her carolling, For I hear her sing Above the burden of burgeoning.
"April wakes;—it were good to live (Yet April passes), though April give No other gift for our pleasuring Than the old, old burden of burgeoning—"
He paused here. Not far ahead a woman's voice had given a sudden scream, followed by continuous calls for aid.
"Now, if I choose, will begin the first fytte of John Bulmer's adventures," he meditated, leisurely. "The woman is in some sort of trouble. If I go to her assistance I shall probably involve myself in a most unattractive mess, and eventually be arrested by the constable,—if they have any constables in this operatic domain, the which I doubt. I shall accordingly emulate the example of the long-headed Levite, and sensibly pass by on the other side. Halt! I there recognize the voice of the Duke of Ormskirk. I came into this country to find John Bulmer; and John Bulmer would most certainly have spurred his gallant charger upon the craven who is just now molesting yonder female. In consequence, my gallant charger, we will at once proceed to confound the dastardly villain."
He came presently into an open glade, which the keen sunlight lit without obstruction. Obviously arranged, was his first appraisal of the tableau there presented. A woman in blue half-knelt, half-lay, upon the young grass, while a man, bending over, fettered her hands behind her back. A swarthy and exuberantly bearded fellow, attired in green-and-russet, stood beside them, displaying magnificent teeth in exactly the grin which hieratic art imputes to devils. Yet farther off a Dominican Friar sat upon a stone and displayed rather more unctuous amusement. Three horses and a mule diversified the background. All in all, a thought larger than life, a shade too obviously posed, a sign-painter's notion of a heroic picture, was John Bulmer's verdict. From his holster he drew a pistol.
The lesser rascal rose from the prostrate woman. "Finished, my captain,—" he began. Against the forest verdure he made an excellent mark. John Bulmer shot him neatly through the head.
Startled by the detonation, the Friar and the man in green-and-russet wheeled about to find Mr. Bulmer, with his most heroical bearing, negligently replacing the discharged pistol. The woman lay absolutely still, face downward, in a clump of fern.
"Gentlemen," said John Bulmer, "I lament that your sylvan diversions should be thus interrupted by the fact that an elderly person like myself, quite old enough to know better, has seen fit to adopt the pursuit of knight-errantry. You need not trouble yourselves about your companion, for I have blown out most of the substance nature intended him to think with. One of you, I regret to observe, is rendered immune by the garb of an order which I consider misguided, indeed, but with which I have no quarrel. With the other I beg leave to request the honor of exchanging a few passes as the recumbent lady's champion."
"Sacred blue!" remarked the bearded man; "you presume to oppose, then, of all persons, me! You fool, I am Achille Cazaio!"
"I deplore the circumstance that I am not overwhelmed by the revelation," John Bulmer said, as he dismounted, "and I entreat you to bear in mind, friend Achille, that in Poictesme I am a stranger. And, unhappily, the names of many estimable persons have not an international celebrity." Thus speaking, he drew and placed himself on guard.
With a shrug the Friar turned and reseated himself upon the stone. He appeared a sensible man. But Cazaio flashed out a long sword and hurled himself upon John Bulmer.
Cazaio thus obtained a butcherly thrust in the shoulder, "Friend Achille," said John Bulmer, "that was tolerably severe for a first hit. Does it content you?"
The hairy man raged. "Eh, my God!" Cazaio shrieked, "do you mock me, you misbegotten one! Before you can give me such another I shall have settled you outright. Already hell gapes for you. Fool, I am Achille Cazaio!"
"Yes, yes, you had mentioned that," said his opponent. "And, in return, allow me to present Mr. John Bulmer, thoroughly enjoying himself for the first time in a quarter of a century, Angelo taught me this thrust. Can you parry it, friend Achille?" Mr. Bulmer cut open the other's forehead.
"Well done!" Cazaio grunted. He attacked with renewed fury, but now the blood was streaming down his face and into his eyes in such a manner that he was momentarily compelled to carry his hand toward his countenance in order to wipe away the heavy trickle. John Bulmer lowered his point.
"Friend Achille, it is not reasonable I should continue our engagement to its denouement, since by that boastful parade of skill I have inadvertently turned you into a blind man. Can you not stanch your wound sufficiently to make possible a renewal of our exercise on somewhat more equal terms?"
"Not now," the other replied, breathing heavily,—"not now, Monsieur Bulmaire. You have conquered, and the woman is yours. Yet lend me my life for a little till I may meet you more equitably. I will not fail you,—I swear it—I, Achille Cazaio."
"Why, God bless my soul!" said John Bulmer, "do you imagine that I am forming a collection of vagrant females? Permit me, pray, to assist you to your horse. And if you would so far honor me as to accept the temporary loan of my handkerchief—"
Solicitously Mr. Bulmer bound up his opponent's head, and more lately aided him to mount one of the grazing horses. Cazaio was moved to say:
"You are a gallant enemy, Monsieur Bulmaire. I shall have the pleasure of cutting your throat on Thursday next, if that date be convenient to you."
"Believe me," said John Bulmer, "I am always at your disposal. Let this spot, then, be our rendezvous, since I am wofully ignorant concerning your local geography. And meantime, my friend, if I may be so bold, I would suggest a little practice in parrying. You are of Boisrobert's school, I note, and in attack undeniably brilliant, whereas your defence—unvarying defect of Boisrobert's followers!—is lamentably weak."
"I perceive that monsieur is a connoisseur in these matters," said Cazaio; "I am the more highly honored. Till Thursday, then." And with an inclination of his bandaged head—and a furtive glance toward the insensate woman,—he rode away singing.
Sang Achille Cazaio:
"But, oh, the world is wide, dear lass, That I must wander through, And many a wind and tide, dear lass, Must flow 'twixt me and you, Ere love that may not be denied Shall bring me back to you, —Dear lass! Shall bring me back to you."
Thus singing, he disappeared; meantime John Bulmer had turned toward the woman. The Dominican sat upon the stone, placidly grinning.
"And now," said John Bulmer, "we revert to the origin of all this tomfoolery,—who, true to every instinct of her sex, has caused as much trouble as lay within her power and then fainted. A little water from the brook, if you will be so good. Master Friar,—Hey!—why, you damned rascal!"
As John Bulmer bent above the woman, the Friar had stabbed John Bulmer between the shoulders. The dagger broke like glass.
"Oh, the devil!" said the churchman; "what sort of a duellist is this who fights in a shirt of Milanese armor!" He stood for a moment, silent, in sincere horror. "I lack words," he said,—"Oh, vile coward! I lack words to arraign this hideous revelation! There is a code of honor that obtains all over the world, and any duellist who descends to secret armor is, as you are perfectly aware, guilty of supersticery. He is no fit associate for gentlemen, he is rather the appropriate companion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram in their fiery pit. Faugh, you sneak-thief!"
John Bulmer was a thought abashed, and for an instant showed it. Then, "Permit me," he equably replied, "to point out that I did not come hither with any belligerent intent. My undershirt, therefore, I was entitled to regard as a purely natural advantage,—as much so as would have been a greater length of arm, which, you conceive, does not obligate a gentleman to cut off his fingers before he fights."
"I scent the casuist," said the Friar, shaking his head. "Frankly, you had hoodwinked me: I was admiring you as a second Palmerin; and all the while you were letting off those gasconades, adopting those heroic postures, and exhibiting such romantic magnanimity, you were actually as safe from poor Cazaio as though you had been in Crim Tartary rather than Acaire!"
"But the pose was magnificent," John Bulmer pleaded, "and I have a leaning that way when one loses nothing by it. Besides, I consider secret armor to be no more than a rational precaution in any country where the clergy are addicted to casual assassination."
"It is human to err," the Friar replied, "and Cazaio would have given me a thousand crowns for your head. Believe me, the man is meditating some horrible mischief against you, for otherwise he would not have been so damnably polite."
"The information is distressing," said John Bulmer; and added, "This Cazaio appears to be a personage?"
"I retort," said the Friar, "that your ignorance is even more remarkable than my news. Achille Cazaio is the bugbear of all Poictesme, he is as powerful in these parts as ever old Manuel was."
"But I have never heard of this old Manuel either—"
"In fact, your ignorance seems limitless. For any child could tell you that Cazaio roosts in the Taunenfels yonder, with some hundreds of brigands in his company. Poictesme is, in effect, his pocket-book, from which he takes whatever he has need of, and the Duc de Puysange, our nominal lord, pays him an annual tribute to respect Bellegarde."
"This appears to be an unusual country," quoth John Bulmer; "where a brigand rules, and the forests are infested by homicidal clergymen and harassed females. Which reminds me that I have been guilty of an act of ungallantry,—and faith! while you and I have been chatting, the lady, with a rare discretion, has peacefully come back to her senses."
"She has regained nothing very valuable," said the Friar, with a shrug, "Alone in Acaire!" But John Bulmer had assisted the woman to her feet, and had given a little cry at sight of her face, and now he stood quite motionless, holding both her unfettered hands.
"You!" he said. And when speech returned to him, after a lengthy interval, he spoke with odd irrelevance. "Now I appear to understand why God created me."
He was puzzled. For there had come to him, unheralded and simply, a sense of something infinitely greater than his mind could conceive; and analysis might only pluck at it, impotently, as a wearied swimmer might pluck at the sides of a well. Ormskirk and Ormskirk's powers now somehow dwindled from the zone of serious consideration, as did the radiant world, and even the woman who stood before him; trifles, these: and his contentment spurned the stars to know that, somehow, this woman and he were but a part, an infinitesimal part, of a scheme which was ineffably vast and perfect.... That was the knowledge he sensed, unwordably, as he regarded this woman now.
She was tall, just as tall as he. It was a blunt-witted devil who whispered John Bulmer that, inch paralleling inch, the woman is taller than the man and subtly renders him absurd; and that in a decade this woman would be stout. There was no meaning now in any whispering save hers. John Bulmer perceived, with a blurred thrill,—as if of memory, as if he were recollecting something once familiar to him, a great while ago,—that the girl was tall and deep-bosomed, and that her hair was dark, all crinkles, but (he somehow knew) very soft to the touch. The full oval of her face had throughout the rich tint of cream, so that he now understood the blowziness of pink cheeks; but her mouth was vivid. It was a mouth not wholly deficient in attractions, he estimated. Her nose managed to be Roman without overdoing it. And her eyes, candid and appraising, he found to be the color that blue is in Paradise; it was odd their lower lids should be straight lines, so that when she laughed her eyes were converted into right-angled triangles; and it was still more odd that when you gazed into them your reach of vision should be extended until you saw without effort for miles and miles.
And now for a longish while these eyes returned his scrutiny, without any trace of embarrassment; and whatever may have been the thoughts of Mademoiselle de Puysange, she gave them no expression. But presently the girl glanced down toward the dead man.
"It was you who killed him?" she said. "You!"
"I had that privilege," John Bulmer admitted. "And on Thursday afternoon, God willing, I shall kill the other."
"You are kind, Monsieur Bulmer. And I am not ungrateful. And for that which happened yesterday I entreat your pardon."
"I can pardon you for calling me a lackey, mademoiselle, only upon condition that you permit me to be your lackey for the remainder of your jaunt. Poictesme appears a somewhat too romantic country for unaccompanied women to traverse in any comfort."
"My thought to a comma," the Dominican put in,—"unaccompanied ladies do not ordinarily drop from the forest oaks like acorns. I said as much to Cazaio a half-hour ago. Look you, we two and Michault,—who formerly incited this carcass and, from what I know of him, is by this time occupying hell's hottest gridiron,—were riding peacefully toward Beauseant. Then this lady pops out of nowhere, and Cazaio promptly expresses an extreme admiration for her person."
"The rest," John Bulmer said, "I can imagine. Oh, believe me, I look forward to next Thursday!"
"But for you," the girl said, "I would now be the prisoner of that devil upon the Taunenfels! Three to one you fought,—and you conquered! I have misjudged you, Monsieur Bulmer. I had thought you only an indolent old gentleman, not very brave,—because—"
"Because otherwise I would not have been the devil's lackey?" said John Bulmer. "Eh, mademoiselle, I have been inspecting the world for more years than I care to confess; I have observed the king upon his throne, and the caught thief upon his coffin in passage for the gallows: and I suspect they both came thither through taking such employment as chance offered. Meanwhile, we waste daylight. You were journeying—?"
"To Perdigon," Claire answered. She drew nearer to him and laid one hand upon his arm. "You are a gallant man, Monsieur Bulmer. Surely you understand. Two weeks ago my brother affianced me to the Duke of Ormskirk. Ormskirk!—ah, I know he is your kinsman,—your patron,—but you yourself could not deny that the world reeks with his infamy. And my own brother, monsieur, had betrothed me to this perjurer, to that lewd rake, to that inhuman devil who slaughters defenceless prisoners, men, women, and children alike. Why, I had sooner marry the first beggar or the ugliest fiend in hell!" the girl wailed, and she wrung her plump little hands in desperation.
"Good, good!" he cried, in his soul. "It appears my eloquence of yesterday was greater than I knew of!"
Claire resumed: "But you cannot argue with Gaston—he merely shrugs. So I decided to go over to Perdigon and marry Gerard des Roches. He has wanted to marry me for a long while, but Gaston said he was too poor. And, O Monsieur Bulmer, Gerard is so very, very stupid!—but he was the only person available, and in any event," she concluded, with a sigh of resignation, "he is preferable to that terrible Ormskirk."
John Bulmer gazed on her considerately. "'Beautiful as an angel, and headstrong as a devil,'" was his thought, "You have an eye, Gaston!" Aloud John Bulmer said: "Your remedy against your brother's tyranny, mademoiselle, is quite masterly, though perhaps a trifle Draconic. Yet if on his return he find you already married, he undoubtedly cannot hand you over to this wicked Ormskirk. Marry, therefore, by all means,—but not with this stupid Gerard."
"With whom, then?" she wondered.
"Fate has planned it," he laughed; "here are you and I, and yonder is the clergyman whom Madam Destiny has thoughtfully thrown in our way."
"Not you," she answered, gravely. "I am too deeply in your debt, Monsieur Bulmer, to think of marrying you."
"You refuse," he said, "because you have known for some days past that I loved you. Yet it is really this fact which gives me my claim to become your husband. You have need of a man to do you this little service. I know of at least one person whose happiness it would be to die if thereby he might save you a toothache. This man you cannot deny—you have not the right to deny this man his single opportunity of serving you."
"I like you very much," she faltered; and then, with disheartening hastiness, "Of course, I like you very much; but I am not in love with you."
He shook his head at her, "I would think the worse of your intellect if you were. I adore you. Granted: but that constitutes no cut-throat mortgage. It is merely a state of mind which I have somehow blundered into, and with which you have no concern. So I ask nothing of you save to marry me. You may, if you like, look upon me as insane; it is the view toward which I myself incline. However, mine is a domesticated mania and vexes no one save myself; and even I derive no little amusement from its manifestations. Eh, Monsieur Jourdain may laugh at me for a puling lover!" cried John Bulmer; "but, heavens! if only he could see the unplumbed depths of ludicrousness I discover in my own soul! The mirth of Atlas could not do it justice."
Claire meditated for a while, her eyes inscrutable and yet not unkindly. "It shall be as you will," she said at last. "Yes, certainly, I will marry you."
"O Mother of God!" said the Dominican, in profound disgust; "I cannot marry two maniacs." But, in view of John Bulmer's sword and pistol, he went through the ceremony without further protest.
And something embryonic in John Bulmer seemed to come, with the knave's benediction, into flowerage. He saw, as if upon a sudden, how fine she was; all the gracious and friendly youth of her: and he deliberated, dizzily, the awe of her spirited and alert eyes; why, the woman was afraid of him! That sunny and vivid glade had become, to him, an island about which past happenings lapped like a fretted sea. "Dear me!" he reflected, "but I am really in a very bad way indeed."
Now Mistress Bulmer gazed shyly at her husband. "We will go back to Bellegarde," Claire began, "and inform Louis de Soyecourt that I cannot marry the Duke of Ormskirk, because I have already married you, Jean Bulmer,—"
"I would follow you," said John Bulmer, "though hell yawned between us. I employ the particular expression as customary in all these cases of romantic infatuation."
"Yet I," the Friar observed, "would, to the contrary, advise removal from Poictesme as soon as may be possible. For I warn you that if you return to Bellegarde, Monsieur de Soyecourt will have you hanged."
"Reverend sir," John Bulmer replied, "do you actually believe this consideration would be to me of any moment?"
The Friar inspected his countenance. By and by the Friar said: "I emphatically do not. And to think that at the beginning of our acquaintanceship I took you for a sensible person!" Afterward the Friar mounted his mule and left them.
Then silently John Bulmer assisted his wife to the back of one of the horses, and they turned eastward into the Forest of Acaire. Mr. Bulmer's countenance was politely interested, and he chatted pleasantly of the forenoon's adventure. Claire told him something of her earlier memories of Cazaio. So the two returned to Bellegarde. Then Claire led the way toward the western facade, where her apartments were, and they came to a postern-door, very narrow and with a grating.
"Help me down," the girl said. Immediately this was done; Claire remained quite still. Her cheeks were smouldering and her left hand was lying inert in John Bulmer's broader palm.
"Wait here," she said, "and let me go in first. Someone may be on watch. There is perhaps danger—"
"My dear," said John Bulmer, "I perfectly comprehend you are about to enter that postern, and close it in my face, and afterward hold discourse with me through that little wicket. I assent, because I love you so profoundly that I am capable not merely of tearing the world asunder like paper at your command, but even of leaving you if you bid me do so."
"Your suspicions," she replied, "are prematurely marital. I am trying to protect you, and you are the first to accuse me of underhand dealing! I will prove to you how unjust are your notions." She entered the postern, closed and bolted it, and appeared at the wicket.
"The Friar was intelligent," said Claire de Puysange, "and beyond doubt the most sensible thing you can do is to get out of Poictesme as soon as possible. You have been serviceable to me, and for that I thank you: but the master of Bellegarde has the right of the low, the middle, and the high justice, and if my husband show his face at Bellegarde he will infallibly be hanged. If you claim me in England, Ormskirk will have you knifed in some dark alleyway, just as, you tell me, he disposed of Monsieur Traquair and Captain Dungelt. I am sorry, because I like you, even though you are fat."
"You bid me leave you?" said John Bulmer. He was comfortably seated upon the turf.
"For your own good," said she, "I advise you to." And she closed the wicket.
"The acceptance of advice," said John Bulmer, "is luckily optional. I shall therefore go down into the village, purchase a lute, have supper, and I shall be here at sunrise to greet you with an aubade, according to the ancient custom of Poictesme."
The wicket remained closed.
"I will go to Marly, inform Gaston of the entire matter, and then my wife is mine. I have tricked her neatly.
"I will do nothing of the sort. Gaston, can give me the woman's body only. I shall accordingly buy me a lute."
Achille Cazaio on the Taunenfels did not sleep that night....
The two essays [Footnote: The twenty-first chapter of Du Maillot's Hommes Illustres; and the fifth of d'Avranches's Ancetres de la Revolution. Loewe has an excellent digest of this data.] dealing with the man have scarcely touched his capabilities. His exploits in and about Paris and his Gascon doings, while important enough in the outcome, are but the gesticulations of a puppet: the historian's real concern is with the hands that manoeuvered above Cazaio; and whether or no Achille Cazaio organized the riots in Toulouse and Guienne and Bearn is a question with which, at this late day, there can be little profitable commerce.
One recommends this Cazaio rather to the spinners of romance: with his morality—a trifle buccaneerish on occasion—once discreetly palliated, history affords few heroes more instantly taking to the fancy....One casts a hankering eye toward this Cazaio's rumored parentage, his hopeless and life-long adoration of Claire de Puysange, his dealings with d'Argenson and King Louis le Bien-Aime, the obscure and mischievous imbroglios in Spain, and finally his aggrandizement and his flame-lit death, as du Maillot, say, records these happenings: and one finds therein the outline of an impelling hero, and laments that our traffic must be with a stolid and less livelily tinted Bulmer. And with a sigh one passes on toward the labor prearranged....
To-night Cazaio's desires were astir, and consciousness of his own power was tempting him. He had never troubled Poictesme much: the Taunenfels were accessible on that side, and so long as he confined his depredations to the frontier, the Duc de Puysange merely shrugged and rendered his annual tribute; it was not a great sum, and the Duke preferred to pay it rather than forsake his international squabbles to quash a purely parochial nuisance like a bandit, who was, too, a kinsman....
Meanwhile Cazaio had grown stronger than de Puysange knew. It was a time of disaffection: the more violent here and there were beginning to assert that before hanging a superfluous peasant or two de Puysange ought to bore himself with inquiries concerning the abstract justice of the action. For everywhere the irrational lower classes were grumbling about the very miseries and maltreatments that had efficiently disposed of their fathers for centuries: they seemed not to respect tradition: already they were posting placards in the Paris boulevards,—"Shave the King for a monk, hang the Pompadour, and break Machault on the wheel,"—and already a boy of twelve, one Joseph Guillotin, was running about the streets of Saintes yonder. So the commoners flocked to Cazaio in the Taunenfels until, little by little, he had gathered an army about him.
And at Bellegarde, de Soyecourt had only a handful of men, Cazaio meditated to-night. And the woman was there,—the woman whose eyes were blue and incurious, whose face was always scornful.
In history they liken Achille Cazaio to Simon de Montfort, and the Gracchi, and other graspers at fruit as yet unripe; or, if the perfervid word of d'Avranches be accepted, you may regard him as "le Saint-Jean de la Revolution glorieuse." But I think you may with more wisdom regard him as a man of strong passions, any one of which, for the time being, possessed him utterly.
Now he struck his palm upon the table.
"I have never seen a woman one-half so beautiful, Dom Michel. I am more than ever in love with her."
"In that event," the Friar considered, "it is, of course, unfortunate she should have a brand-new husband. Husbands are often thought much of when they are a novelty."
"You bungled matters, you fat, mouse-hearted rascal. You could quite easily have killed him."
The Dominican spread out his hands, and afterward reached for the bottle. "Milanese armor!" said Dom Michel Fregose. [Footnote: The same ecclesiastic who more lately dubbed himself, with Marechal de Richelieu's encouragement, l'Abbe de Trans, and was discreditably involved in the forgeries of Madame de St. Vincent.]
"Yet I am master of Poictesme," Cazaio thundered, "I have ten men to de Soyecourt's one. Am I, then, lightly to be thwarted?"
"Undoubtedly you could take Bellegarde—and the woman along with the castle,—if you decided they were worth the price of a little killing. I think they are not worth it, I strongly advise you to have up a wench from the village, to put out the light, and exercise your imagination."
Cazaio shook his head. "No, Dom Michel, you churchmen live too lewdly to understand the tyranny of love."
"—Besides, there is that trifling matter of your understanding with de Puysange,—and, besides, de Puysange will be here in two days."
Cazaio snapped his fingers. "He will arrive after the fair." Cazaio uncorked the ink-bottle with an august gesture.
"Write!" said Achille Cazaio.
As John Bulmer leisurely ascended from the village the birds were waking. Whether day were at hand or no was a matter of twittering debate overhead, but in the west the stars were paling one by one, like candles puffed out by the pretentious little wind that was bustling about the turquoise cupola of heaven; and eastward Bellegarde showed stark, as though scissored from a painting, against a sky of gray-and-rose. Here was a world of faint ambiguity. Here was the exquisite tension of dawn, curiously a-chime with John Bulmer's mood, for just now he found the universe too beautiful to put any actual faith in its existence. He had strayed into Faery somehow—into Atlantis, or Avalon, or "a wood near Athens,"—into a land of opalescence and vapor and delicate color, that would vanish, bubble-like, at the discreet tap of Pawsey fetching in his shaving-water; meantime John Bulmer's memory snatched at each loveliness, jealously, as a pug snatches bits of sugar.
Beneath her window he paused and shifted his lute before him. Then he began to sing, exultant in the unreality of everything and of himself in particular.
Sang John Bulmer,
"Speed forth, my song, the sun's ambassador, Lest in the east night prove the conqueror, The day be slain, and darkness triumph,—for The sun is single, but her eyes are twain.
"And now the sunlight and the night contest A doubtful battle, and day bides at best Doubtful, until she waken. 'Tis attest The sun is single.
"But her eyes are twain,— And should the light of all the world delay, And darkness prove victorious? Is it day Now that the sun alone is risen?
"Nay, The sun is single, but her eyes are twain,— Twain firmaments that mock with heavenlier hue The heavens' less lordly and less gracious blue, And lit with sunlier sunlight through and through,
"The sun is single, but her eyes are twain, And of fair things this side of Paradise Fairest, of goodly things most goodly,"
He paused here and smote a resonant and louder chord. His voice ascended in dulcet supplication.
"Rise, And succor the benighted world that cries, The sun is single, but her eyes are twain!"
"Eh—? So it is you, is it?" Claire was peeping disdainfully from the window. Her throat was bare, and her dusky hair was a shade dishevelled, and in her meditative eyes he caught the flicker of her tardiest dream just as it vanished.
"It is I," John Bulmer confessed—"come to awaken you according to the ancient custom of Poictesme."
"I would much rather have had my sleep out," said she, resentfully. "In perfect frankness, I find you and your ancient customs a nuisance."
"You lack romance, my wife."
"Oh—?" She was a person of many cryptic exclamations, this bride of his. Presently she said: "Indeed, Monsieur Bulmer, I entreat you to leave Poictesme. I have informed Louis of everything, and he is rather furious."
John Bulmer said, "Do you comprehend why I have not already played the emigrant?"
After a little pause, she answered, "Yes."
"And for the same reason I can never leave you so long as this gross body is at my disposal. You are about to tell me that if I remain here I shall probably be hanged on account of what happened yesterday. There are grounds for my considering this outcome unlikely, but if I knew it to be inevitable—if I had but one hour's start of Jack Ketch,—I swear to you I would not budge."
"I am heartily sorry," she replied, "since if I had known you really cared for me—so much—I would never have married you. Oh, it is impossible!" the girl laughed, with a trace of worriment. "You had not laid eyes on me until a week ago yesterday!"
"My dear," John Bulmer answered, "I am perhaps inadequately acquainted with the etiquette of such matters, but I make bold to question if love is exclusively regulated by clock-ticks. Observe!" he said, with a sort of fury: "there is a mocking demon in me who twists my tongue into a jest even when I am most serious. I love you: and I dare not tell you so without a grin. Then when you laugh at me I, too, can laugh, and the whole transaction can be regarded as a parody. Oh, I am indeed a coward!"
"You are nothing of the sort! You proved that yesterday."
"Yesterday I shot an unsuspecting man, and afterward fenced with another—in a shirt of Milanese armor! Yes, I was astoundingly heroic yesterday, for the simple reason that all the while I knew myself to be as safe as though I were snug at home snoring under an eider-down quilt. Yet, to do me justice, I am a shade less afraid of physical danger than of ridicule."
She gave him a womanly answer. "You are not ridiculous, and to wear armor was very sensible of you."
"To the contrary, I am extremely ridiculous. For observe: I am an elderly man, quite old enough to be your father; I am fat—No, that is kind of you, but I am not of pleasing portliness, I am just unpardonably fat; and, I believe, I am not possessed of any fatal beauty of feature such as would by ordinary impel young women to pursue me with unsolicited affection: and being all this, I presume to love you. To me, at least, that appears ridiculous."
"Ah, do not laugh!" she said. "Do not laugh, Monsieur Bulmer!"
But John Bulmer persisted in that curious laughter. "Because," he presently stated, "the whole affair is so very diverting."
"Believe me," Claire began, "I am sorry that you care—so much. I—do not understand. I am sorry,—I am not sorry," the girl said, in a new tone, and you saw her transfigured; "I am glad! Do you comprehend?—I am glad!" And then she swiftly closed the window.
John Bulmer observed. "I am perhaps subject to hallucinations, for otherwise the fact had been previously noted by geographers that heaven is immediately adjacent to Poictesme."
Presently the old flippancy came back to him, since an ancient custom is not lightly broken; and John Bulmer smiled sleepily and shook his head. "Here am I on my honeymoon, with my wife locked up in the chateau, and with me locked out of it. My position savors too much of George Dandin's to be quite acceptable. Let us set about rectifying matters."
He came to the great gate of the castle and found two sentries there. He thought this odd, but they recognized him as de Soyecourt's guest, and after a whispered consultation admitted him. In the courtyard a lackey took charge of Monsieur Bulmer, and he was conducted into the presence of the Marquis de Soyecourt. "What the devil!" thought John Bulmer, "is Bellegarde in a state of siege?"
The little Marquis sat beside the Duchesse de Puysange, to the rear of a long table with a crimson cover. Their attitudes smacked vaguely of the judicial, and before them stood, guarded by four attendants, a ragged and dissolute looking fellow whom the Marquis was languidly considering.
"My dear man," de Soyecourt was saying as John Bulmer came into the room "when you brought this extraordinary epistle to Bellegarde, you must have been perfectly aware that thereby you were forfeiting your life. Accordingly, I am compelled to deny your absurd claims to the immunity of a herald, just as I would decline to receive a herald from the cockroaches."
"That is cowardly," the man said. "I come as the representative of an honorable enemy who desires to warn you before he strikes."
"You come as the representative of vermin," de Soyecourt retorted, "and as such I receive you. You will therefore, permit me to wish you a pleasant journey into eternity. Why, hola, madame! here is that vagabond guest of ours returned to observation!" The Marquis rose and stepped forward, all abeam. "Mr. Bulmer, I can assure you that I was never more delighted to see anyone in my entire life."
"Pardon, monseigneur," one of the attendants here put in,—"but what shall we do with this Achon?"
The Marquis slightly turned his head, his hand still grasping John Bulmer's. "Why, hang him, of course," he said. "Did I forget to tell you? But yes, take him out, and have him confessed by Frere Joseph, and hang him at once." The four men removed their prisoner.
"You find us in the act of dispensing justice," the Marquis continued, "yet at Bellegarde we temper it with mercy, so that I shall ask no indiscreet questions concerning your absence of last night."
"But I, monsieur," said John Bulmer, "I, too, have come to demand justice."
"Tete-bleu, Mr. Bulmer! and what can I have the joy of doing for you in that respect?"
"You can restore to me my wife."
And now de Soyecourt cast a smile toward the Duchess, who appeared troubled. "Would you not have known this was an Englishman," he queried, "by the avowed desire for the society of his own wife? They are a mad race. And indeed, Mr. Bulmer, I would very gladly restore to you this hitherto unheard-of spouse if but I were blest with her acquaintance. As it is—" He waved his hand.
"I married her only yesterday," said John Bulmer, "and I have reason to believe that she is now within Bellegarde."
He saw the eyes of de Soyecourt slowly narrow. "Jacques," said the Marquis, "fetch me the pistol within that cabinet." The Marquis resumed his seat to the rear of the table, the weapon lying before him. "You may go now, Jacques; this gentleman and I are about to hold a little private conversation." Then, when the door had closed upon the lackey, de Soyecourt said, "Pray draw up a chair within just ten feet of this table, monsieur, and oblige me with your wife's maiden name."
"She was formerly known," John Bulmer answered, "as Mademoiselle Claire de Puysange."
The Duchess spoke for the first time. "Oh, the poor man! Monsieur de Soyecourt, he is evidently insane."
"I do not know about that," the Marquis said, fretfully, "but in any event I hope that no more people will come to Bellegarde upon missions which, compel me to have them hanged. First there was this Achon, and now you, Mr. Bulmer, come to annoy me.—Listen, monsieur," he went on, presently: "last evening Mademoiselle de Puysange announced to the Duchess and me that her impending match with the Duke of Ormskirk must necessarily be broken off, as she was already married. She had, she stated, encountered you and a clergyman yonder the forest, where, on the spur of the moment, you two had espoused each other; and was quite unable to inform us what had become of you after the ceremony. You can conceive that, as a sensible man, I did not credit a word of her story. But now, as I understand it, you corroborate this moonstruck narrative?"
John Bulmer bowed his head. "I have that honor, monsieur."
De Soyecourt sounded the gong beside him. "In that event, it is uncommonly convenient to have you in hand. Your return, to Bellegarde I regard as opportune, even though I am compelled to attribute it to insanity; personally, I disapprove of this match with Milor Ormskirk, but as Gaston is bent upon it, you will understand that in reason my only course is to make Claire a widow as soon as may be possible."
"It is intended, then," John Bulmer queried, "that I am to follow Achon?"
"I can but trust," said the Marquis, politely, "that your course of life has qualified you for a superior flight, since Achon's departing, I apprehend, is not unakin to a descent."
"No!" the Duchess cried, suddenly; "Monsieur de Soyecourt, can you not see the man is out of his senses? Let Claire be sent for. There is some mistake."
De Soyecourt shrugged. "Yen know that I can refuse you nothing. Jacques," he called, to the appearing lackey, "request Mademoiselle de Puysange to honor us, if it be convenient, with her presence. Nay, I pray you, do not rise, Mr. Bulmer; I am of a nervous disposition, startled by the least movement, and my finger, as you may note, is immediately upon the trigger."
So they sat thus, John Bulmer beginning to feel rather foolish as time wore on, though actually it was not a long while before Claire had appeared in the doorway and had paused there. You saw a great wave of color flood her countenance, then swiftly ebb. John Bulmer observed, with a thrill, that she made no sound, but simply waited, composed and alert, to find out how much de Soyecourt knew before she spoke.
The little Marquis said, "Claire, this gentleman informs us that you married him yesterday."
Tranquilly she inspected her claimant. "I did not see Monsieur Bulmer at all yesterday, so far as I remember. Why, surely, Louis, you did not take my nonsense of last night in earnest?" she demanded, and gave a mellow ripple of laughter. "Yes, you actually believed it; you actually believed that I walked into the forest and married the first man I met there, and that this is he. As it happens I did not; so please let Monsieur Bulmer go at once, and put away that absurd pistol—at once, Louis, do you hear?"
The Duchess shook her head. "She is lying, Monsieur de Soyecourt, and undoubtedly this is the man."
John Bulmer went to the girl and took her hand. "You are trying to save me, I know. But need I warn you that the reward of Ananias was never a synonym for felicity?"
"Jean Bulmer! Jean Bulmer!" the girl asked, and her voice was tender; "why did you return to Bellegarde, Jean Bulmer?"
"I came," he answered, "for the absurd reason that I cannot live without you."
They stood thus for a while, both her hands clasped in his, "I believe you," she said at last, "even though I do not understand at all, Jean Bulmer." And then she wheeled upon the Marquis, "Yes, yes!" Claire said; "the man is my husband. And I will not have him harmed. Do you comprehend?—you shall not touch him, because you are not fit to touch him, Louis, and also because I do not wish it."
De Soyecourt looked toward the Duchess as if for advice. "It is a nuisance, but evidently she cannot marry Milor Ormskirk so long as Mr. Bulmer is alive. I suppose it would be better to hang him out-of-hand?"
"Monsieur de Puysange would prefer it, I imagine," said the Duchess; "nevertheless, it appears a great pity."
"In nature," the Marquis assented, "we deplore the loss of Mr. Bulmer's company. Yet as matters stand—"
"But they are in love with each other," the Duchess pointed out, with a sorry little laugh. "Can you not see that, my friend?"
"Hein?" said the Marquis; "why, then, it is doubly important that Mr. Bulmer be hanged as soon as possible." He reached for the gong, but Claire had begun to speak.
"I am not at all in love with him! You are of a profound imbecility, Helene. I think he is a detestable person, because he always looks at you as if he saw something extremely ridiculous, but was too polite to notice it. He is invariably making me suspect I have a smut on my nose. But in spite of that, I consider him a very pleasant old gentleman, and I will not have him hanged!" With which ultimatum she stamped her foot.
"Yes, madame," said the Marquis, critically; "after all, she is in love with him. That is unfortunate, is it not, for Milor Ormskirk,—and even for Achille Cazaio," he added, with a shrug.
"I fail to see," a dignified young lady stated, "what Cazaio, at least, has to do with your galimatias."
"Simply that I received this morning a letter demanding you be surrendered to Cazaio," de Soyecourt answered as he sounded the gong. "Otherwise, our amiable friend of the Taunenfels announces he will attack Bellegarde. I, of course, hanged his herald and despatched messengers to Gaston, whom I look for to-morrow. If Gaston indeed arrive to-morrow morning, Mr. Bulmer, I shall relinquish you to him; in other circumstances will be laid upon me the deplorable necessity of summoning a Protestant minister from Manneville, and, after your spiritual affairs are put in order, of hanging you—suppose we say at noon?"
"The hour suits me," said John Bulmer, "as well as another. But no better. And I warn you it will not suit the Duke of Ormskirk, either, whose relative—whose very near relative—" He posed for the astounding revelation.
But little de Soyecourt had drawn closer to him. "Mr. Bulmer, I have somehow omitted to mention that two years ago I was at Aix-la-Chapelle, when the treaty was in progress, and there saw your great kinsman. I cut no particular figure at the convocation, and it is unlikely he recalls my features; but I remember his quite clearly."
"Indeed?" said John Bulmer, courteously; "it appears, then, that monsieur is a physiognomist?"
"You flatter me," the Marquis returned. "My skill in that science enabled me to deduce only the veriest truisms—such as that the man who for fifteen years had beaten France, had hoodwinked France, would in France be not oversafe could we conceive him fool enough to hazard a trip into this country."
"Especially alone?" said John Bulmer.
"Especially," the Marquis assented, "if he came alone. But, ma foi! I am discourteous. You were about to say—?"
"That a comic subject declines to be set forth in tragic verse," John Bulmer answered, "and afterward to inquire the way to my dungeon."
But John Bulmer escaped a dungeon after all; for at parting de Soyecourt graciously offered to accept Mr. Bulmer's parole, which he gave willingly enough, and thereby obtained the liberty of a tiny enclosed garden, whence a stairway led to his new apartment on the second floor of what had been known as the Constable's Tower, since du Guesclin held it for six weeks against Sir Robert Knollys. This was a part of the ancient fortress in which, they say, Poictesme's most famous hero, Dom Manuel, dwelt and performed such wonders, a long while before Bellegarde was remodeled by Duke Florian.
The garden, gravel-pathed, was a trim place, all green and white. It contained four poplars, and in the center was a fountain, where three Nereids contended with a brawny Triton for the possession of a turtle whose nostrils spurted water. A circle of attendant turtles, half-submerged, shot inferior jets from their gaping mouths. It was an odd, and not unhandsome piece, [Footnote: Designed by Simon Guillain. This fountain is still to be seen at Bellegarde, though the exuberancy of Revolutionary patriotism has bereft the Triton of his head and of the lifted arm.] and John Bulmer inspected it with appreciation, and then the garden, and having found all things satisfactory, sat down and chuckled sleepily and waited.
"De Soyecourt has been aware of my identity throughout the entire week! Faith, then, I am a greater fool than even I suspected, since this fop of the boulevards has been able to trick me so long. He has some card up his sleeve, too, has our good Marquis—Eh, well! Gaston comes to-morrow, and thenceforward all is plain sailing. Meantime I conjecture that the poor captive will presently have visitors."
He had dinner first, though, and at this meal gave an excellent account of himself. Shortly afterward, as he sat over his coffee, little de Soyecourt unlocked the high and narrow gate which constituted the one entrance to the garden, and sauntered forward, dapper and smiling.
"I entreat your pardon, Monsieur le Duc," de Soyecourt began, "that I have not visited you sooner. But in unsettled times, you comprehend, the master of a beleaguered fortress is kept busy. Cazaio, I now learn, means to attack to-morrow, and I have been fortifying against him. However, I attach no particular importance to the man's threats, as I have despatched three couriers to Gaston, one of whom must in reason get to him; and in that event Gaston should arrive early in the afternoon, accompanied by the dragoons of Entrechat. And subsequently—eh bien! if Cazaio has stirred up a hornets'-nest he has only himself to thank for it." The Marquis snapped his fingers and hummed a merry air, being to all appearance in excellent spirits.
"That is well," said John Bulmer,—"for, believe me, I shall be unfeignedly glad to see Gaston once more."
"Decidedly," said the Marquis, sniffing, "they give my prisoners much better coffee than they deign to afford me, I shall make bold to ask you for a cup of it, while we converse sensibly." He sat down opposite John Bulmer. "Oh, about Gaston," said the Marquis, as he added the sugar—"it is deplorable that you will not see Gaston again, at least, not in this naughty world of ours."
"I am the more grieved," said John Bulmer, gravely, "for I love the man."
"It is necessary, you conceive, that I hang you, at latest, before twelve o'clock to-morrow, since Gaston is a little too fond of you to fall in with my plans. His premature arrival would in effect admit the bull of equity into the china-shop of my intentions. And day-dreams are fragile stuff, Monsieur d'Ormskirk! Indeed, I am giving you this so brief reprieve only because I am, unwilling to have upon my conscience the reproach of hanging without due preparation a man whom of all politicians in the universe I most unfeignedly like and respect. The Protestant minister has been sent for, and will, I sincerely trust, be here at dawn. Otherwise—really, I am desolated, Monsieur le Duc, but you surely comprehend that I cannot wait upon his leisure."
John Bulmer cracked a filbert. "So I am to die to-morrow? I do not presume to dictate, monsieur, but I would appreciate some explanation of your motive."
"Which I freely render," the Marquis replied. "When I recognized you a week ago—as I did at first glance,—I was astounded. That you, the man in all the world most cordially hated by Frenchmen, should venture into France quite unattended was a conception to confound belief. Still, here you were, and I comprehended that such an opportunity would not rap twice upon the door. So I despatched a letter post-haste to Madame de Pompadour at Marly—"
"I begin to comprehend," John Bulmer said. "Old Tournehem's daughter [Footnote: Mr. Bulmer here refers to a venerable scandal. The Pompadour was, in the eyes of the law, at least, the daughter of Francois Poisson.] hates me as she hates no other man alive. Frankly, monsieur, the little strumpet has some cause to,—may I trouble you for the nut-crackers? a thousand thanks,—since I have outwitted her more than once, both in diplomacy and on the battle-field. With me out of the way, I comprehend that France might attempt to renew the war, and our late treaty would be so much wasted paper. Yes, I comprehend that the woman would give a deal for me—But what the devil! France has no allies. She dare not provoke England just at present; she has no allies, monsieur, for I can assure you that Prussia is out of the game. Then what is the woman driving at?"
"Far be it from me," said the Marquis, with becoming modesty, "to meddle with affairs of state. Nevertheless, madame is willing to purchase you—at any price."
John Bulmer slapped his thigh, "Kaunitz! behold the key. Eh, eh, I have it now; not long ago the Empress despatched a special ambassador to Versailles,—one Anton Wenzel Kaunitz, a man I never heard of. Why, this Moravian count is a genius of the first water. He will combine France and Austria, implacable enemies since the Great Cardinal's time. Ah, I have it now, monsieur,—Frederick of Prussia has published verses against the Pompadour which she can never pardon—eh, against the Czaritza, too! Why, what a thing it is to be a poet! now Russia will join the league. And Sweden, of course, because she wants Pomerania, which King Frederick claims. Monsieur de Soyecourt, I protest it will be one of the prettiest messes ever stirred up in history! And to think that I am to miss it all!"
"I regret," de Soyecourt said, "to deny you the pleasure of participation. In sober verity I regret it. But unluckily, Monsieur d'Ormskirk, your dissolution is the sole security of my happiness; and in effect"—he shrugged,—"you comprehend my unfortunate position."
"One of the prettiest messes ever stirred up in all history!" John Bulmer lamented; "and I to miss it! The policy of centuries shrugged aside, and the map of the world made over as lightly as if it were one of last year's gowns! Decidedly I shall never again cast reflections upon the woman in politics, for this is superb. Why, this coup is worthy of me! And what is Petticoat the Second to give you, pray, for making all this possible?"
"She will give me," the Marquis retorted, "according to advices received from her yesterday, a lettre-de-cachet for Gaston de Puysange. Gaston is a man of ability, but he is also a man of unbridled tongue. He has expressed his opinion concerning the Pompadour, to cite an instance, as freely as ever did the Comte de Maurepas. You know what happened to de Maurepas. Ah, yes, Gaston is undoubtedly a peer of France, but the Pompadour is queen of that kingdom. And in consequence—on the day that Madame de Pompadour learns of your death,—Gaston goes to the Bastile."
"Naturally," John Bulmer assented, "since imprisonment in the Bastile is by ordinary the reward of common-sense when manifested by a Frenchman. What the devil, monsieur! The Duchess' uncle, Marechal de Richelieu, has been there four times, and Gaston himself, if I am not mistaken, has sojourned there twice. And neither is one whit the worse for it."
The Marquis sipped his coffee. "The Bastile is not a very healthy place. Besides, I have a friend there,—a gaoler. He was formerly a chemist."
John Bulmer elevated the right eyebrow. "Poison?"
"Dieu m'en garde!" The Marquis was appalled. "Nay, monsieur, merely an unforeseeable attack of heart-disease."
"Ah! ah!" said John Bulmer, very slowly. He presently resumed: "Afterward the Duchesse de Puysange will be a widow. And already she is fond of you; but unfortunately the Duchess—with every possible deference,—is a trifle prudish. I see it all now, quite plainly; and out of pure friendliness, I warn you that in my opinion the Duchess is hopelessly in love with her husband."
"We should suspect no well bred lady of provincialism," returned the Marquis, "and so I shall take my chance. Believe me, Monsieur le Duc, I profoundly regret that you and Gaston must be sacrificed in order to afford me this same chance."
But John Bulmer was chuckling. "My faith!" he said, and softly chafed his hands together, "how sincerely you will be horrified when your impetuous error is discovered—just too late! You were merely endeavoring to serve your beloved Gaston and the Duke of Ormskirk when you hanged the rascal who had impudently stolen the woman intended to cement their friendship! The Duke fell a victim to his own folly, and you acted precipitately, perhaps, but out of pure zeal. You will probably weep. Meanwhile your lettre-de-cachet is on the road, and presently Gaston, too, is trapped and murdered. You weep yet more tears—oh, vociferous tears!—-and the Duchess succumbs to you because you were so devotedly attached to her former husband. And England will sit snug while France reconquers Europe. Monsieur, I make you my compliments on one of the tidiest plots ever brooded over."
"It rejoices me," the Marquis returned, "that a conspirator of many years' standing should commend my maiden effort." He rose. "And now, Monsieur d'Ormskirk," he continued, with extended hand, "matters being thus amicably adjusted, shall we say adieu?"
John Bulmer considered. "Well,—no!" said he, at last; "I commend your cleverness, Monsieur de Soyecourt, but as concerns your hand I must confess to a distaste."
The Marquis smiled. "Because at the bottom of your heart you despise me," he said. "Ah, believe me, monsieur, your contempt for de Soyecourt is less great than mine. And yet I have a weakness for him,—a weakness which induces me to indulge all his desires."
He bowed with ceremony and left the garden.
John Bulmer sat down to consider more at leisure these revelations. He foreread like a placard Jeanne d'Etoiles' magnificent scheme: it would convulse all Europe. England would remain supine, because Henry Pelham could hardly hold the ministry together, even now; Newcastle was a fool; and Ormskirk would be dead. He would barter his soul for one hour of liberty, he thought. A riot, now,—ay, a riot in Paris, a blow from within, would temporarily stupefy French enterprise and gain England time for preparation. And a riot could be arranged so easily! Meanwhile he was a prisoner, Pelham's hands were tied, and Newcastle was a fool, and the Pompadour was disastrously remote from being a fool.
"It is possible to announce that I am the Duke of Ormskirk—and to what end? Faith, I had as well proclaim myself the Pope of Rome or the Cazique of Mexico: the jackanapes will effect to regard my confession as the device of a desperate man and will hang me just the same; and his infernal comedy will go on without a hitch. Nay, I am fairly trapped, and Monsieur de Soyecourt holds the winning hand—Now that I think of it he even has, in Mr. Bulmer's letter of introduction, my formally signed statement that I am not Ormskirk. It was tactful of the small rascal not to allude to that crowning piece of stupidity: I appreciate his forbearance. But even so, to be outwitted—and hanged—-by a smirking Hop-o'-my-thumb!
"Oh, this is very annoying!" said John Bulmer, in his impotence.
He sat down once more, sulkily, like an overfed cat, and began to read with desperate attention: "'Here may men understand that be of worship, that he was never formed that at every time might stand, but sometimes he was put to the worse by evil fortune. And at sometimes the worse knight putteth the better knight into rebuke.' Behold a niggardly salve rather than a panacea." He turned several pages. "'And then said Sir Tristram to Sir Lamorake, "I require you if ye happen to meet with Sir Palomides—"'" Startled, John Bulmer glanced about the garden.
It turned on a sudden into the primal garden of Paradise. "I came," she loftily explained, "because I considered it my duty to apologize in person for leading you into great danger. Our scouts tell us that already Cazaio is marshalling his men upon the Taunenfels."
"And yet," John Bulmer said, as he arose, and put away his book, "Bellegarde is a strong place. And our good Marquis, whatever else he may be, is neither a fool nor a coward."
Claire shrugged. "Cazaio has ten men to our one. Yet perhaps we can hold out till Gaston comes with his dragoons. And then—well, I have some influence with Gaston. He will not deny me,—ah, surely he will not deny me if I go down on my knees to him and wear my very prettiest gown. Nay, at bottom Gaston is kind, my friend, and he will spare you."
"To be your husband?" said John Bulmer.
Twice she faltered "No." And then she cried, with a sudden flare of irritation: "I do not love you! I cannot help that. Oh, you—you unutterable bully!"
Gravely he shook his head at her.
"But indeed you are a bully. You are trying to bully me into caring for you, and you know it. What else moved you to return to Bellegarde, and to sit here, a doomed man, tranquilly reading? Yes, but you were,—I happened to see you, through the key-hole in the gate. And why else should you be doing that unless you were trying to bully me into admiring you?"
"Because I adore you," said John Bulmer, taking affairs in order; "and because in this noble and joyous history of the great conqueror and excellent monarch, King Arthur, I find much diverting matter; and because, to be quite frank, Claire, I consider an existence without you neither alluring nor possible."
She had noticeably pinkened. "Oh, monsieur," the girl cried, "you are laughing because you are afraid that I will laugh at what you are saying to me. Believe me, I have no desire to laugh. It frightens me, rather. I had thought that nowadays no man could behave with a foolishness so divine. I had thought all such extravagancy perished with the Launcelot and Palomides of your book. And I had thought—that in any event, you had no earthly right to call me Claire."
"Superficially, the reproach is just," he assented, "but what was the name your Palomides cried in battle, pray? Was it not Ysoude! when his searching sword had at last found the joints of his adversary's armor, or when the foe's helmet spouted blood? Ysoude! when the line of adverse spears wavered and broke, and the Saracen was victor? Was it not Ysoude! he murmured riding over alien hill and valley in pursuit of the Questing Beast?—'the glatisant beast'? Assuredly, he cried Ysoude! and meantime La Beale Ysoude sits snug in Cornwall with Tristram, who dons his armor once in a while to roll Palomides in the sand coram populo. Still the name was sweet, and I protest the Saracen had a perfect right to mention it whenever he felt so inclined."
"You jest at everything," she lamented—"which is one of the many traits that I dislike in you."
"Knowing your heart to be very tender," he submitted, "I am endeavoring to present as jovial and callous an appearance as may be possible—to you, whom I love as Palomides loved Ysoude. Otherwise, you might be cruelly upset by your compassion and sympathy. Yet stay; is there not another similitude? Assuredly, for you love me much as Ysoude loved Palomides. What the deuce is all this lamentation to you? You do not value it the beard of an onion,—while of course grieving that your friendship should have been so utterly misconstrued, and wrongly interpreted,—and—trusting that nothing you have said or done has misled me—Oh, but I know you women!"
"Indeed, I sometimes wonder," she reflected, "what sort of women you have been friends with hitherto? They must have been very patient of nonsense."
"Ah, do you think so?—At all events, you interrupt my peroration. For we have fought, you and I, a—battle which is over, so far as I am concerned. And the other side has won. Well! Pompey was reckoned a very pretty fellow in his day, but he took to his heels at Pharsalia, for all that; and Hannibal, I have heard, did not have matters entirely his own way at Zama. Good men have been beaten before this. So, without stopping to cry over spilt milk,—heyho!" he interpolated, with a grimace, "it was uncommonly sweet milk, though,—let's back to our tents and reckon up our wounds."
"I am decidedly of the opinion," she said, "that for all your talk you will find your heart unscratched." Irony bewildered Claire, though she invariably recognized it, and gave it a polite smile.
John Bulmer said: "Faith, I do not intend to flatter your vanity by going into a decline on the spot. For in perfect frankness, I find no mortal wounds anywhere. No, we have it on the best authority that, while many men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, it was never for love. I am inclined to agree with Rosalind: an aneurism may be fatal, but a broken heart kills nobody. Lovers have died in divers manners since the antique world was made, but not the most luckless of them was slain by love. Even Palomides, as my book informs me, went abroad with Launcelot and probably died an old man here in France,—peaceably, in his bed, with the family physician in attendance, and every other circumstance becoming to a genteel demise. And I dare assert that long before this he had learned to chuckle over his youthful follies, and had protested to his wife that La Beale Ysoude squinted, or was freckled, or the like; and had insisted, laughingly, that the best of us must sow our wild oats. And at the last it was his wife who mixed his gruel and smoothed his pillow and sat up with him at night; so that if he died thinking of Madame Palomides rather than of La Beale Ysoude, who shall blame him? Not I, for one," said John Bulmer, stoutly; "If it was not heroic, it was at least respectable, and, above all, natural; and I expect some day to gasp out a similar valedictory. No, not to-morrow at noon, I think: I shall probably get out of this, somehow. And when, in any event, I set about the process of dying, I may be thinking of you, O fair lost lady! and again I may not be thinking of you. Who can say? A fly, for instance, may have lighted upon my nose and his tickling may have distracted my ultimate thoughts. Meanwhile, I love you consumedly, and you do not care a snap of your fingers for me."
"I—I am sorry," she said, inadequately.
"You are the more gracious." And his face sank down into his hands, and Claire was forgotten, for he was remembering Alison Pleydell and that ancient bankruptcy of his heart in youth, and this preposterous old John Bulmer (he reflected) was simply revelling in pity for himself.
A hand, feather-soft, fell upon, his shoulder, "And who was your Ysoude, Jean Bulmer?"
"A woman who died twenty years ago,—a woman dead before you were born, my dear."
Claire gave a little stifled moan, "Oh—oh, I loathe her!" she cried.
But when he raised his head Claire was gone.
He sat long in the twilight, now; rising insensibly about him. The garden had become a grave, yet not unfriendly, place; the white straining Nereids were taking on a tinge of violet, the verdure was of a deeper hue, that was all; and the fountain plashed unhurriedly, as though measuring a reasonable interval (he whimsically imagined) between the asking of a riddle and its solution given gratis by the asker.
He loved the woman; granted: but did not love rise the higher above a corner-stone of delusion? And this he could never afford. He considered Claire to be not extravagantly clever, he could have improved upon her ears (to cite one instance), which were rather clumsily modelled; her finger-tips were a thought too thick, a shade too practical, and in fine she was no more the most beautiful woman in the world than she was the tallest: and yet he loved her as certainly he had loved none of his recent mistresses. Even so, here was no infatuation, no roseate and kindly haze surrounding a goddess, such as that which had by ordinary accompanied Alison Pleydell....
"I am grown older, perhaps. Perhaps it is merely that I am fashioned of baser stuff than—-say, Achille Cazaio or de Soyecourt. Or perhaps it is that this overmastering, all-engulfing love is a mere figment of the poet, an age-long superstition as zealously preserved as that of the inscrutability of women, by men who don't believe a syllable of the nonsense they are transmitting. Ysoude is dead; and I love my young French wife as thoroughly as Palomides did, with as great a passion as was possible to either of us oldsters. Well! all life is a compromise; I compromise with tradition by loving her unselfishly, by loving her with the very best that remains in John Bulmer.
"And yet, I wish—
"True, I may be hanged at noon to-morrow, which would somewhat disconcert my plan. I shall not bother about that. Always there remains the chance that, somehow, Gaston may arrive in time: otherwise—why, otherwise I shall be hanged, and as to what will happen afterward I decline to enter into any discussion even with myself. I have my belief, but it is bolstered by no iota of knowledge. Faith, let us live this life as a gentleman should, and keep our hands and our consciences as clean as may be possible, and for the outcome trust to God's common-sense. There are people who must divert Him vastly by their frantic efforts to keep out of hell. For my own part, I would not think of wearing a pelisse in the Desert of Sahara merely because I happened to be sailing for Greenland during the ensuing week. I shall trust to His common-sense.
"And yet, I wish—
"I wish Reinault would hurry with the supper-trays. I am growing very hungry."
That night he was roused by a tapping at his door. "Jean Bulmer, Jean Bulmer! I have bribed Reinault. I have the keys. Come, and I will set you free."
"Free to do what?" said John Bulmer.
"To escape—to flee to your foggy England," said the voice without,—"and to your hideous Englishwomen."
"Do you go with me?" said John Bulmer.
"I do not." This was spoken from the turrets of decision.
"In that event," said John Bulmer, "I shall return to my dreams, which I infinitely prefer to the realities of a hollow existence. And, besides, now one thinks of it, I have given my parole."
An infuriate voice came through the key-hole. "You are undoubtedly a bully," it stated. "I loathe you." Followed silence.
Presently the voice said, "Because if you really loved her you were no better than she was, and so I hate you both."
"'Beautiful as an angel, and headstrong as a devil,'" was John Bulmer's meditation. Afterward John Bulmer turned over and went back to sleep.
For after all, as he reflected, he had given his parole.
He was awakened later by a shriek that was followed by a hubbub of tumult. John Bulmer sat erect in bed. He heard a medley of yelling, of musketry, and of crashes, like the dilapidation of falling battlements. He knew well enough what had happened. Cazaio and his men were making a night attack upon Bellegarde.
John Bulmer arose and, having lighted two candles, dressed himself. He cast aside the first cravat as a failure, knotted the second with scrupulous nicety, and afterward sat down, facing the door to his apartment, and trimmed his finger nails. Outside was Pandemonium, and the little scrap of sky visible from his one window was now of a sullen red.
"It is very curious I do not suffer more acutely. As a matter of fact, I am not conscious of any particular feeling at all. I believe that most of us when we are confronted with a situation demanding high joy or agony find ourselves devoid of emotion. They have evidently taken de Soyecourt by surprise. She is yonder in that hell outside and will inevitably be captured by its most lustful devil—or else be murdered. I am here like a trapped rat, impotent, waiting to be killed, which Cazaio's men will presently attend to when they ransack the place and find me. And I feel nothing, absolutely nothing.
"By this she has probably fallen into Cazaio's power—"
And the man went mad. He dashed upon the locked door, and tore at it with soft-white hands, so that presently they were all blood. He beat his face upon the door, cutting open his forehead.
He shook his bleeding hands toward heaven. "In my time I have been cruel. I am less cruel than You! Let me go!"
The door opened and she stood upon the threshold. His arms were about her and repeatedly he kissed her, mercilessly, with hard kisses, crushing her in his embrace.
"Jean, Jean!" she sobbed, beneath his lips, and lay quite still in his arms. He saw how white and tender a thing she was, and the fierce embrace relaxed.
"You came to me!" he said.
"Louis had forgotten you. They had all retreated to the Inner Tower. [Footnote: The inner ward, or ballium, which (according to Quinault) was defended by ten towers, connected by an embattled stone wall about thirty feet in height and eight feet thick, on the summit of which was a footway; now demolished to make way for the famous gardens.] Cazaio cannot take that, for he has no cannon. Louis can hold out there until Gaston comes with help," Claire rapidly explained. "But the thieves are burning Bellegarde. I could bribe no man to set you free. They were afraid to venture."
"And you came," said John Bulmer—"you left the tall safe Inner Tower to come to me!"
"I could not let you die, Jean Bulmer."
"Why, then I must live not unworthily the life which, you have given me. O God!" John Bulmer cried, "what a pitiful creature was that great Duke of Ormskirk! Now make a man of me, O God!"
"Listen, dear madman," she breathed; "we cannot go out into Bellegarde. They are everywhere—Cazaio's men. They are building huge fires about the Inner Tower; but it is all stone, and I think Louis can hold out. But we, Jean Bulmer, can only retreat to the roofing of this place. There is a trap-door to admit you to the top, and there—there we can at least live until the dawn."
"I am unarmed," John Bulmer said; "and weaponless, I cannot hold even a trap-door against armed men."
"I have brought you weapons," Claire returned, and waved one hand toward the outer passageway. "Naturally I would not overlook that. There were many dead men on my way hither, and they had no need of weapons. I have a sword here and two pistols."
"You are," said John Bulmer, with supreme conviction, "the most wonderful woman in the universe. By all means let us get to the top of this infernal tower and live there as long as we may find living possible. But first, will you permit me to make myself a thought tidier? For in my recent agitation as to your whereabouts I have, I perceive, somewhat disordered both my person and my apparel."
Claire laughed a little sadly. "You have been sincere for once in your existence, and you are hideously ashamed, is it not? Ah, my friend, I would like you so much better if you were not always playing at life, not always posing as if for your portrait."
"For my part," he returned, obscurely, from the rear of a wet towel, "I fail to perceive any particular merit in dying with a dirty face. We are about to deal with a most important and, it well may be, the final crisis of our lives. So let us do it with decency."
Afterward John Bulmer changed his cravat, since the one he wore was soiled and crumpled and stained a little with his blood; and they went up the winding stairway to the top of the Constable's Tower. These two passed through the trap-door into a moonlight which drenched the world; westward the higher walls of the Hugonet Wing shut off that part of Bellegarde where men were slaughtering one another, and turrets, black and untenanted, stood in strong relief against a sky of shifting crimson and gold. At their feet was the tiny enclosed garden half-hidden by the poplar boughs. To the east the Tower dropped sheer to the moat; and past that was the curve of the highway leading to the main entrance of the chateau, and beyond this road you saw Amneran and the moonlighted plains of the Duardenez, and one little tributary, a thread of pulsing silver, in passage to the great river which showed as a smear of white, like a chalk-mark on the world's rim.
John Bulmer closed the trap-door. They stood with clasped hands, eyes straining toward the east, whence help must arrive if help came at all.
"No sign of Gaston," the girl said. "We most die presently, Jean Bulmer."
"I am sorry," he said,—"Oh, I am hideously sorry that we two must die."
"I am not afraid, Jean Bulmer. But life would be very sweet, with you."
"That was my thought, too.... I have always bungled this affair of living, you conceive. I had considered the world a healthy and not intolerable prison, where each man must get through his day's work as best he might, soiling his fingers as much as necessity demanded—but no more,—so that at the end he might sleep soundly—or perhaps that he might go to heaven and pluck eternally at a harp, or else to hell and burn eternally, just as divines say we will. I never bothered about it, much, so long as there was my day's work at hand, demanding performance. And in consequence I missed the whole meaning of life."
"That is not so!" Claire replied. "No man has achieved more, as everybody knows."
This was an odd speech. But he answered, idly: "Eh, I have done well enough as respectable persons judge these matters. And I went to church on Sundays, and I paid my tithes. Trifles, these, sweetheart; for in every man, as I now see quite plainly, there is a god. And the god must judge, and the man himself must be the temple and the instrument of the god. It is very simple, I see now. And whether he go to church or no is a matter of trivial importance, so long as the man obeys the god who is within him." John Bulmer was silent, staring vaguely toward the blank horizon.
"And now that you have discovered this," she murmured, "therefore you wish to live?"
"Why, partly on account of that," he said, "yet perhaps mostly on account of you.... But heyho!" said John Bulmer; "I am disfiguring my last hours by inflicting upon a lady my half-baked theology. Let us sit down, my dear, and talk of trifles till they find us. And then I will kill you, sweetheart, and afterward myself. Presently come dawn and death; and my heart, according to the ancient custom of Poictesme, is crying, 'Oy Dieus! Oy Dieus, de l'alba tantost ve!' But for all that, my mouth will resolutely discourse of the last Parisian flounces, or of your unfathomable eyes, or of Monsieur de Voltaire's new tragedy of Oreste,—or, in fine, of any topic you may elect."
He smiled, with a twinging undercurrent of regret that not even in impendent death did he find any stimulus to the heroical. But the girl had given a muffled cry.
"Look, Jean! Already they come for us."
Through the little garden a man was running, running frenziedly from one wall to another when he found the place had no outlet save the gate through which he had scuttled. It was fat Guiton, the steward of the Duc de Puysange. Presently came Achille Cazaio with a wet sword, and harried the unarmed old man, wantonly driving him about the poplars, pricking him in the quivering shoulders, but never killing him. All the while the steward screamed with a monotonous shrill wailing.
After a little he fell at Cazaio's feet, shrieking for mercy.
"Fool!" said the latter, "I am Achille Cazaio. I have no mercy in me."
He kicked the steward in the face two or three times, and Guiton, his countenance all blood, black in the moonlight, embraced the brigand's and wept. Presently Cazaio slowly drove his sword into the back of the prostrate man, who shrieked, "O Jesu!" and began to cough and choke. Five times Cazaio spitted the writhing thing, and afterward was Guiton's soul released from the tortured body.
"Is it well, think you," said John Bulmer, "that I should die without first killing Achille Cazaio?"
"No!" the girl answered, fiercely.
Then John Bulmer leaned upon the parapet of the Constable's Tower and called aloud, "Friend Achille, your conduct disappoints me."
The man started, peered about, and presently stared upward. "Monsieur Bulmaire, to encounter you is indeed an unlooked-for pleasure. May I inquire wherein I have been so ill-fated as to offend?"
"You have an engagement to fight me on Thursday afternoon, friend Achille, so that to all intent I hold a mortgage on your life. I submit that, in consequence, you have no right to endanger that life by besieging castles and wasting the night in assassinations."
"There is something in what you say, Monsieur Bulmaire," the brigand replied, "and I very heartily apologize for not thinking of it earlier. But in the way of business, you understand,—However, may I trust it will please you to release me from this inconvenient obligation?" Cazaio added, with a smile. "My men are waiting for me yonder, you comprehend."
"In fact," said John Bulmer, hospitably, "up here the moonlight is as clear as day. We can settle our affair in five minutes."
"I come," said Cazaio, and plunged into the entrance to the Constable's Tower.
"The pistol! quick!" said Claire.
"And for what, pray?" said John Bulmer.
"So that from behind, as he lifts the trap-door, I may shoot him through the head. Do you stand in front as though to receive him. It will be quite simple."
"My dear creature," said John Bulmer, "I am now doubly persuaded that God entirely omitted what we term a sense of honor when He created the woman. I mean to kill this rapscallion, but I mean to kill him fairly." He unbolted the trap-door and immediately Cazaio stood upon the roof, his sword drawn.
Achille Cazaio stared at the tranquil woman, and now his countenance was less that of a satyr than of a demon. "At four in the morning! I congratulate you, Monsieur Bulmaire," he said,—"Oh, decidedly, I congratulate you."
"Thank you," said John Bulmer, sword in hand; "yes, we were married yesterday."
Cazaio drew a pistol from his girdle and fired full in John Bulmer's face; but the latter had fallen upon one knee, and the ball sped harmlessly above him.
"You are very careless with fire-arms," John Bulmer lamented, "Really, friend Achille, if you are not more circumspect you will presently injure somebody, and will forever afterward be consumed with unavailing regret and compunctions. Now let us get down to our affair."
They crossed blades in the moonlight, Cazaio was in a disastrous condition; John Bulmer's tolerant acceptance of any meanness that a Cazaio might attempt, the vital shame of this new and baser failure before Claire's very eyes, had made of Cazaio a crazed beast. He slobbered little flecks of foam, clinging like hoar-frost to the tangled beard, and he breathed with shuddering inhalations, like a man in agony, the while that he charged with redoubling thrusts. The Englishman appeared to be enjoying himself, discreetly; he chuckled as the other, cursing, shifted from tierce to quart, and he met the assault with a nice inevitableness. In all, each movement had the comely precision of finely adjusted clockwork, though at times John Bulmer's face showed a spurt of amusement roused by the brigand's extravagancy of gesture and Cazaio's contortions as he strove to pass the line of steel that flickered cannily between his sword and John Bulmer's portly bosom.
Then John Bulmer, too, attacked. "For Guiton!" said he, as his point slipped into Cazaio's breast. John Bulmer recoiled and lodged another thrust in the brigand's throat. "For attempting to assassinate me!" His foot stamped as his sword ran deep into Cazaio's belly. "For insulting my wife by thinking of her obscenely! You are a dead man, friend Achille."
Cazaio had dropped his sword, reeling as if drunken against the western battlement. "My comfort," he said, hoarsely, while one hand tore at his jetting throat—"my comfort is that I could not perish slain by a braver enemy." He moaned and stumbled backward. Momentarily his knees gripped the low embrasure. Then his feet flipped upward, convulsively, so that John Bulmer saw the man's spurs glitter and twitch in the moonlight, and John Bulmer heard a snapping and crackling and swishing among the poplars, and heard the heavy, unvibrant thud of Cazaio's body upon the turf.
"May he find more mercy than he has merited," said John Bulmer, "for the man had excellent traits. Yes, in him the making of a very good swordsman was spoiled by that abominable Boisrobert."
But Claire had caught him by the shoulder. "Look, Jean!"
He turned toward the Duardenez. A troop of horsemen was nearing. Now they swept about the curve in the highway and at their head was de Puysange, laughing terribly. The dragoons went by like a tumult in a sick man's dream, and the Hugonet Wing had screened them.
"Then Bellegarde is relieved," said John Bulmer, "and your life, at least, is saved."
The girl stormed. "You—you abominable trickster! You would not be content with the keys of heaven if you had not got them by outwitting somebody! Do you fancy I had never seen the Duke of Ormskirk's portrait? Gaston sent me one six months ago."
"Ah!" said John Bulmer, very quietly. He took up the discarded scabbard, and he sheathed his sword without speaking.
Presently he said, "You have been cognizant all along that I was the Duke of Ormskirk?"
"Yes," she answered, promptly.
"And you married me, knowing that I was—God save the mark!—the great Duke of Ormskirk? knowing that you made what we must grossly term a brilliant match?"
"I married you because, in spite of Jean Bulmer, you had betrayed yourself to be a daring and a gallant gentleman,—and because, for a moment, I thought that I did not dislike the Duke of Ormskirk quite so much as I ought to."
He digested this.
"O Jean Bulmer," the girl said, "they tell me you were ever a fortunate man, but I consider you the unluckiest I know of. For always you are afraid to be yourself. Sometimes you forget, and are just you—and then, ohe! you remember, and are only a sulky, fat old gentleman who is not you at all, somehow; so that at times I detest you, and at times I cannot thoroughly detest you. So that I played out the comedy, Jean Bulmer. I meant in the end to tell Louis who you were, of course, and not let them hang you; but I never quite trusted you; and I never knew whether I detested you or no, at bottom, until last night."
"Last night you left the safe Inner Tower to come to me—to save me at all hazards, or else to die with me—And for what reason, did you do this?"
"You are bullying me!" she wailed.
"And for what reason, did you do this?" he repeated, without any change of intonation.
"Can you not guess?" she asked. "Oh, because I am a fool!" she stated, very happily, for his arms were about her.
"Eh, in that event—" said the Duke of Ormskirk. "Look!" said he, with a deeper thrill of speech, "it is the dawn."
They turned hand in hand; and out of the east the sun came statelily, and a new day was upon them.
HEART OF GOLD
As Played at Paris, in the May of 1750