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


they begin to play. No one stir. The cards go out flip, flip, on the table, and with a little soft scrape in the hands, and I hear Bigot's hound much a bone. All at once M'sieu' Doltaire throw down his cards, and say, 'Mine, Bigot! Three hunder' thousan' francs, and the time is up!' The other get from his chair, and say, 'How would you have pay if you had lost, Doltaire?' And m'sieu' answer, 'From the coffers of the King, like you, Bigot' His tone is odd. I feel madame's breath go hard. Bigot turn round and say to the others, 'Will you take your way to the great hall, messieurs, and M'sieu' Doltaire and I will follow. We have some private conf'rence.' They all turn away, all but M'sieu' Cournal, and leave the room, whispering. 'I will join you soon, Cournal,' say his Excellency. M'sieu' Cournal not go, for he have been drinking, and something stubborn got into him. But the Intendant order him rough, and he go. I can hear madame gnash her teeth sof' beside me.

"When the door close, the Intendant turn to M'sieu' Doltaire and say, 'What is the end for which you play?' M'sieu' Doltaire make a light motion of his hand, and answer, 'For three hunder' thousan' francs.' 'And to pay, m'sieu', how to pay if you have lost?' M'sieu' Doltaire lay his hand on his sword sof'. 'From the King's coffers, as I say; he owes me more than he has paid. But not like you, Bigot. I have earned, this way and that, all that I might ever get from the King's coffers--even this three hunder' thousan' francs, ten times told. But you, Bigot--tush! why should we make bubbles of words?' The Intendant get white in the face, but there are spots on it like on a late apple of an old tree. 'You go too far, Doltaire,' he say. 'You have hint before my officers and my friends that I make free with the King's coffers.' M'sieu' answer, 'You should see no such hints, if your palms were not musty.' 'How know you,' ask the Intendant, 'that my hands are musty from the King's coffers?' M'sieu' arrange his laces, and say light, 'As easy from the must as I tell how time passes in your nights by the ticking of this trinket here.' He raise his sword and touch the Intendant's watch on the table.

"I never hear such silence as there is for a minute, and then the Intendant say, 'You have gone one step too far. The must on my hands, seen through your eyes, is no matter, but when you must the name of a lady there is but one end. You understan', m'sieu', there is but one end.' M'sieu' laugh. 'The sword, you mean? Eh? No, no, I will not fight with you. I am not here to rid the King of so excellent an officer, however large fee he force for his services.' 'And I tell you,' say the Intendant, 'that I will not have you cast a slight upon a lady.' Madame beside me start up, and whisper to me, 'If you betray me, you shall die. If you be still, I too will say nothing.' But then a thing happen. Another voice sound from below, and there, coming from behind a great screen of oak wood, is M'sieu' Cournal, his face all red with wine, his hand on his sword. 'Bah!' he say, coming forward--'bah! I will speak for madame. I will speak. I have been silent long enough.' He come between the two, and, raising his sword, he strike the time-piece and smash it. 'Ha! ha!' he say, wild with drink, 'I have you both here alone.' He snap his fingers under the Intendant's nose. 'It is time I protect my wife's name from you, and by God, I will do it!' At that M'sieu' Doltaire laugh, and Cournal turn to him, and say, 'Batard!' The Intendant have out his sword, and he roar in a hoarse voice, 'Dog, you shall die!' But M'sieu' Doltaire strike up his sword, and face the drunken man. 'No, leave that to me. The King's cause goes shipwreck; we can't change helmsman now. Think--scandal and your disgrace!' Then he make a pass at m'sieu' Cournal, who parry quick. Another, and he prick his shoulder. Another, and then madame beside me, as I spring back, throw aside the curtains, and cry out, 'No, m'sieu'! no! For shame!'

"I kneel in a corner behind the curtains, and wait and listen. There is not a sound for a moment; then I hear a laugh from M'sieu' Cournal, such a laugh make me sick--loud, and full of what you call not care and the devil. Madame speak down at them. 'Ah,' she say, 'it is so fine a sport to drag a woman's name in the mire!' Her voice is full of spirit. and she look beautiful--beautiful. I never guess how a woman like that look; so full of pride, and to speak like you could think knives sing as they strike steel--sharp and cold. 'I came to see how gentlemen look at play, and they end in brawling over a lady!'

"M'sieu' Doltaire speak to her, and they all put up their swords, and M'sieu' Cournal sit down at a table, and he stare and stare up at the balcony, and make a motion now and then with his hand. M'sieu' Doltaire say to her, 'Madame, you must excuse our entertainment; we did not know we had an audience so distinguished.' She reply, 'As scene-shifter and prompter, M'sieu' Doltaire, you have a gift. Your Excellency,' she say to the Intendant, 'I will wait for you at the top of the great staircase, if you will be so good as to take me to the ballroom.' The Intendant and M'sieu' Doltaire bow, and turn to the door, and M'sieu' Cournal scowl, and make as if to follow; but madame speak down at him, 'M'sieu'--Argand'--like that! and he turn back, and sit down. I think she forget me, I keep so still. The others bow and scrape, and leave the room, and the two are alone--alone, for what am I? What if a dog hear great people speak? No, it is no matter!

"There is all still for a little while, and I watch her face as she lean over the rail and look down at him; it is like stone, like stone that aches, and her eyes stare and stare at him. He look up at her and scowl; then he laugh, with a toss of the finger, and sit down. All at once he put his hand on his sword, and gnash his teeth.

"Then she speak down to him, her voice ver' quiet. 'Argand,' she say, 'you are more a man drunk than sober. Argand,' she go on, 'years ago, they said you were a brave man; you fight well, you do good work for the King, your name goes with a sweet sound to Versailles. You had only your sword and my poor fortune and me then--that is all; but you were a man. You had ambition, so had I. What can a woman do? You had your sword, your country, the King's service. I had beauty; I wanted power--ah yes, power, that was the thing! But I was young and a fool; you were older. You talked fine things then, but you had a base heart, so much baser than mine.... I might have been a good woman. I was a fool, and weak, and vain, but you were base--so base--coward and betrayer, you!'

"At that m'sieu' start up and snatch at his sword, and speak out between his teeth, 'By God, I will kill you to-night!' She smile cold and hard, and say, 'No, no, you will not; it is too late for killing; that should have been done before. You sold your right to kill long ago, Argand Cournal. You have been close friends with the man who gave me power, and you gold.' Then she get fierce. 'Who gave you gold before he gave me power, traitor?' Like that she speak. 'Do you never think of what you have lost?' Then she break out in a laugh. 'Pah! Listen: if there must be killing, why not be the great Roman--drunk!'

"Then she laugh so hard a laugh, and turn away, and go quick by me and not see me. She step into the dark, and he sit down in the chair, and look straight in front of him. I do not stir, and after a minute she come back sof', and peep down, her face all differen'. 'Argand! Argand!' she say ver' tender and low, 'if--if--if'--like that. But just then he see the broken watch on the floor, and he stoop, with a laugh, and pick up the pieces; then he get a candle and look on the floor everywhere for the jewels, and he pick them up, and put them away one by one in his purse like a miser. He keep on looking, and once the fire of the candle burn his beard, and he swear, and she stare and stare at him. He sit down at the table, and look at the jewels and laugh to himself. Then she draw herself up, and shake, and put her hands to her eyes, and 'C'est fini! c'est fini!' she whisper, and that is all.

"When she is gone, after a little time he change--ah, he change much, he go to a table and pour out a great bowl of wine, and then another, and he drink them both, and he begin to walk up and down the floor. He sway now and then, but he keep on for a long time. Once a servant come, but he wave him away, and he scowl and talk to himself, and shut the doors and lock them. Then he walk on and on. At last he sit down, and he face me. In front of him are candles, and he stare between them, and stare and stare. I sit and watch, and I feel a pity. I hear him say, 'Antoinette! Antoinette! My dear Antoinette! We are lost forever, my Antoinette!' Then he take the purse from his pocket, and throw it up to the balcony where I am. 'Pretty sins,' he say, 'follow the sinner!' It lie there, and it have sprung open, and I can see the jewels shine, but I not touch it--no. Well, he sit there long--long, and his face get gray and his cheeks all hollow.

"I hear the clock strike one! two! three! four! Once some one come and try the door, but go away again, and he never stir; he is like a dead man. At last I fall asleep. When I wake up, he still sit there, but his head lie in his arms. I look round. Ah, it is not a fine sight--no. The candles burn so low, and there is a smell of wick, and the grease runs here and there down the great candlesticks. Upon the floor, this place and that, is a card, and pieces of paper, and a scarf, and a broken glass, and something that shine by a small table. This is a picture in a little gold frame. On all the tables stand glasses, some full, and some empty of wine. And just as the dawn come in through the tall windows, a cat crawl out from somewhere, all ver' thin and shy, and walk across the floor; it make the room look so much alone. At last it come and move against m'sieu's legs, and he lift his head and look down at it, and nod, and say something which I not hear. After that he get up, and pull himself together with a shake, and walk down the room. Then he see the little gold picture on the floor which some drunk young officer drop, and he pick it up and look at it, and walk again. 'Poor fool!' he say, and look at the picture again. 'Poor fool! Will he curse her some day--a child with a face like that? Ah!' And he throw the picture down. Then he walk away to the doors, unlock them, and go out. Soon I steal away through the panels, and out of the palace ver' quiet, and go home. But I can see that room in my mind."

Again the jailer hurried Voban; There was no excuse for him to remain longer; so I gave him a message to Alixe, and slipped into his hand a transcript from my journal. Then he left me, and I sat and thought upon the strange events of the evening which he had described to me. That he was bent on mischief I felt sure, but how it would come, what were his plans, I could not guess. Then suddenly there flashed into my mind my words to him, "blow us all to pieces," and his consternation and strange eagerness. It came to me suddenly: he meant to blow up the Intendance. When? And how? It seemed absurd to think of it. Yet--yet-- The grim humour of the thing possessed me, and I sat back and laughed heartily.

In the midst of my mirth the cell door opened and let in Doltaire.

XV

IN THE CHAMBER OF TORTURE

I started from my seat; we bowed, and, stretching out a hand to the fire, Doltaire said, "Ah, my Captain, we meet too seldom. Let


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

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