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- The Seats Of The Mighty, Volume 3. - 2/13 -


SHE is not here--no.' And again, another, 'Why should not Voban be here? One man has not enough bread to eat, and Bigot steals his corn. Another hungers for a wife to sit by his fire, and Bigot takes the maid, and Voban stuffs his mouth with humble pie like the rest. Chut! shall not Bigot have his fill?' And yet another, and voila, she was a woman, she say, 'Look at the Intendant down there with madame. And M'sieu' Cournal, he also is there. What does M'sieu' Cournal care? No, not at all. The rich man, what he care, if he has gold? Virtue! ha, ha! what is that in your wife if you have gold for it? Nothing. See his hand at the Intendant's arm. See how M'sieu' Doltaire look at them, and then up here at us. What is it in his mind, you think? Eh? You think he say to himself, A wife all to himself is the poor man's one luxury? Eh? Ah, M'sieu' Doltaire, you are right, you are right. You catch up my child from its basket in the market-place one day, and you shake it ver' soft, an' you say, "Madame, I will stake the last year of my life that I can put my finger on the father of this child." And when I laugh in his face, he say again, "And if he thought he wasn't its father, he would cut out the liver of the other--eh?" And I laugh, and say, "My Jacques would follow him to hell to do it." Then he say, Voban, he say to me, "That is the difference between you and us. We only kill men who meddle with our mistresses!" Ah, that M'sieu' Doltaire, he put a louis in the hand of my babe, and he not even kiss me on the cheek. Pshaw! Jacques would sell him fifty kisses for fifty louis. But sell me, or a child of me? Well, Voban, you can guess! Pah, barber, if you do not care what he did to the poor Mathilde, there are other maids in St. Roch.'"

Voban paused a moment then added quietly, "How do you think I bear it all? With a smile? No, I hear with my ears open and my heart close tight. Do they think they can teach me? Do they guess I sit down and hear all without a cry from my throat or a will in my body? Ah, m'sieu' le Capitaine, it is you who know. You saw what I would have go to do with M'sieu' Doltaire before the day of the Great Birth. You saw if I am coward--if I not take the sword when it was at my throat without a whine. No, m'sieu', I can wait. Then is a time for everything. At first I am all in a muddle, I not how what to do; but by-and-bye it all come to me, and you shall one day what I wait for. Yes, you shall see. I look down on that people dancing there, quiet and still, and I hear some laugh at me, and now and then some one say a good word to me that make me shut my hands tight, so the tears not come to my eyes. But I felt alone--so much alone. The world does not want a sad man. In my shop I try to laugh as of old, and I am not sour or heavy, but I can see men do not say droll things to me as once back time. No, I am not as I was. What am I to do? There is but one way. What is great to one man is not to another. What kills the one does not kill the other. Take away from some people one thing, and they will not care; from others that same, and there is nothing to live for, except just to live, and because a man does not like death."

He paused. "You are right, Voban," said I. "Go on."

He was silent again for a time, and then he moved his hand in a helpless sort of way across his forehead. It had become deeply lined and wrinkled all in a couple of years. His temples were sunken, his cheeks hollow, and his face was full of those shadows which lend a sort of tragedy to even the humblest and least distinguished countenance. His eyes had a restlessness, anon an intense steadiness almost uncanny, and his thin, long fingers had a stealthiness of motion, a soft swiftness, which struck me strangly. I never saw a man so changed. He was like a vessel wrested from its moorings; like some craft, filled with explosives, set loose along a shore lined with fishing-smacks, which might come foul of one, and blow the company of men and boats into the air. As he stood there, his face half turned to me for a moment, this came to my mind, and I said to him, "Voban, you look like some wicked gun which would blow us all to pieces."

He wheeled, and came to me so swiftly that I shrank back in my chair with alarm, his action was so sudden, and, peering into my face, he said, glancing, as I thought, anxiously at the jailer, "Blow--blow--how blow us all to pieces, m'sieu'?" He eyed me with suspicion, and I could see that he felt like some hurt animal among its captors, ready to fight, yet not knowing from what point danger would come. Something pregnant in what I said had struck home, yet I could not guess then what it was, though afterwards it came to me with great force and vividness.

"I meant nothing, Voban," answered I, "save that you look dangerous."

I half put out my hand to touch his arm in a friendly way, but I saw that the jailer was watching, and I did not. Voban felt what I was about to do, and his face instantly softened, and his blood-shot eyes gave me a look of gratitude. Then he said:

"I will tell you what happen next I know the palace very well, and when I see the Intendant and M'sieu' Doltaire and others leave the ballroom I knew that they go to the chamber which they call 'la Chambre de la Joie,' to play at cards. So I steal away out of the crowd into a passage which, as it seem, go nowhere, and come quick, all at once, to a bare wall. But I know the way. In one corner of the passage I press a spring, and a little panel open. I crawl through and close it behin'. Then I feel my way along the dark corner till I come to another panel. This I open, and I see light. You ask how I can do this? Well, I tell you. There is the valet of Bigot, he is my friend. You not guess who it is? No? It is a man whose crime in France I know. He was afraid when he saw me here, but I say to him, 'No, I will not speak--never'; and he is all my friend just when I most need. Eh, voila, I see light, as I said, and I push aside heavy curtains ver' little, and there is the Chamber of the Joy below. There they all are, the Intendant and the rest, sitting down to the tables. There was Capitaine Lancy, M'sieu' Cadet, M'sieu' Cournal, M'sieu' le Chevalier de Levis, and M'sieu' le Generale, le Marquis de Montcalm. I am astonish to see him there, the great General, in his grand coat of blue and gold and red, and laces tres beau at his throat, with a fine jewel. Ah, he is not ver' high on his feet, but he has an eye all fire, and a laugh come quick to his lips, and he speak ver' galant, but he never let them, Messieurs Cadet, Marin, Lancy, and the rest, be thick friends with him. They do not clap their hands on his shoulder comme le bon camarade--non!

"Well, they sit down to play, and soon there is much noise and laughing, and then sometimes a silence, and then again the noise, and you can see one snuff a candle with the points of two rapiers, or hear a sword jangle at a chair, or listen to some one sing ver' soft a song as he hold a good hand of cards, or the ring of louis on the table, or the sound of glass as it break on the floor. And once a young gentleman--alas! he is so young--he get up from his chair, and cry out, 'All is lost! I go to die!' He raise a pistol to his head; but M'sieu' Doltaire catch his hand, and say quite soft and gentle, 'No, no, mon enfant, enough of making fun of us. Here is the hunder' louis I borrow of you yesterday. Take your revenge.' The lad sit down slow, looking ver' strange at M'sieu' Doltaire. And it is true: he took his revenge out of M'sieu' Cadet, for he win--I saw it--three hunder' louis. Then M'sieu' Doltaire lean over to him and say, 'M'sieu', you will carry for me a message to the citadel for M'sieu' Ramesay, the commandant.' Ah, it was a sight to see M'sieu' Cadet's face, going this way and that. But it was no use: the young gentleman pocket his louis, and go away with a letter from M'sieu' Doltaire. But M'sieu' Doltaire, he laugh in the face of M'sieu' Cadet, and say ver' pleasant, 'That is a servant of the King, m'sieu', who live by his sword alone. Why should civilians be so greedy? Come, play, M'sieu' Cadet. If M'sieu' the General will play with me, we two will what we can do with you and his Excellency the Intendant.'

"They sit just beneath me, and I hear all what is said, I see all the looks of them, every card that is played. M'sieu' the General have not play yet, but watch M'sieu' Doltaire and the Intendant at the cards. With a smile he now sit down. Then M'sieu' Doltaire, he say, 'M'sieu' Cadet, let us have no mistake--let us be commercial.' He take out his watch. 'I have two hours to spare; are you dispose to play for that time only? To the moment we will rise, and there shall be no question of satisfaction, no discontent anywhere--eh, shall it be so, if m'sieu' the General can spare the time also?' It is agree that the General play for one hour and go, and that M'sieu' Doltaire and the Intendant play for the rest of the time.

"They begin, and I hide there and watch. The time go ver' fast, and my breath catch in my throat to see how great the stakes they play for. I hear M'sieu' Doltaire say at last, with a smile, taking out his watch, 'M'sieu' the General, your time is up, and you take with you twenty thousan' francs.'

"The General, he smile and wave his hand, as if sorry to take so much from M'sieu' Cadet and the Intendant. M'sieu' Cadet sit dark, and speak nothing at first, but at last he get up and turn on his heel and walk away, leaving what he lose on the table. M'sieu' the General bow also, and go from the room. Then M'sieu' Doltaire and the Intendant play. One by one the other players stop, and come and watch these. Something get into the two gentlemen, for both are pale, and the face of the Intendant all of spots, and his little round eyes like specks of red fire; but M'sieu' Doltaire's face, it is still, and his brows bend over, and now and then he make a little laughing out of his lips. All at once I hear him say, 'Double the stakes, your Excellency!' The Intendant look up sharp and say, 'What! Two hunder' thousan' francs!'--as if M'sieu' Doltaire could not pay such a like that. M'sieu' Doltaire smile ver' wicked, and answer, 'Make it three hunder' thousan' francs, your Excellency.' It is so still in the Chamber of the Joy that all you hear for a minute was the fat Monsieur Varin breathe like a hog, and the rattle of a spur as some one slide a foot on the floor.

"The Intendant look blank; then he nod his head for answer, and each write on a piece of paper. As they begin, M'sieu' Doltaire take out his watch and lay it on the table, and the Intendant do the same, and they both look at the time. The watch of the Intendant is all jewels. 'Will you not add the watches to the stake?' say M'sieu' Doltaire. The Intendant look, and shrug a shoulder, and shake his head for no, and M'sieu' Doltaire smile in a sly way, so that the Intendant's teeth show at his lips and his eyes almost close, he is so angry.

"Just this minute I hear a low noise behind me, and then some one give a little cry. I turn quick and Madame Cournal. She stretch her hand, and touch my lips, and motion me not to stir. I look down again, and I see that M'sieu' Doltaire look up to the where I am, for he hear that sound, I think--I not know sure. But he say once more, 'The watch, the watch, your Excellency! I have a fancy for yours!' I feel madame breathe hard beside me, but I not like to look at her. I am not afraid of men, but a woman that way--ah, it make me shiver! She will betray me, I think. All at once I feel her hand at my belt, then at my pocket, to see if I have a weapon; for the thought come to her that I am there to kill Bigot. But I raise my hands and say, 'No,' ver' quiet, and she nod her head all right.

"The Intendant wave his hand at M'sieu' Doltaire to say he would not stake the watch, for I know it is one madame give him; and then


The Seats Of The Mighty, Volume 3. - 2/13

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