“Thanks, Monsieur; from a man like you such praise is poisonously sweet. Can you direct me to the Hotel de Perigny? I must see the Chevalier to-night.”
“I will myself show you the way,” said Du Puys, standing. “But wait a while. The Chevalier usually spends the evening here.”
“Drinking and dicing.”
Victor rose just as a small uproar occurred in the hallway. The door opened and a dozen cavaliers and officers came crowding in. All made for the fire, stamping and jostling and laughing. The leader, his eyes bloodshot and the lower lids puffed and discolored, threw his hat to the ceiling and caught it on his boot.
“Maitre—ho!” he cried. “Bring us the bowl, the merry bowl, the jolly and hot bowl. The devil himself must hunt for cheer to-night. How it blows!”
“In the private assembly, Messieurs,” said the host caressingly; “in the private assembly. All is ready but the hot water.” And respectfully, though determinedly, as one would guide a flock of sheep, he turned the roisterers toward the door that led into the private assembly-room. He had just learned that the Jesuits had arrived and that there was no room for them at the episcopal palace, and that they were on their way to the Corne d’Abondance. He did not desire them to form a poor opinion as to the moral character of the establishment. He knew the temper of these wild bloods; they were safer by themselves.
All the arrivals passed noisily into the private assembly: all save the leader, who was seen suddenly to steady himself after the manner of a drunken man trying to recover his dignity.
“Victor?” he cried in dismay.
“Paul?” frankly joyous.
In a moment they had embraced and were holding each other off at arm’s length.
AN ACHATES FOR AN AENEAS
“What are you doing here?” demanded the Chevalier roughly.
“Paul,” sadly, “you are drunk.”
“So I am,” moodily. “How long ago since I was sober? Bah! every pore in my body is a voice that calls loudly for wine. Drunk? My faith, yes! You make me laugh, Victor. When was I ever sober? As a boy I used to fall asleep in the cellars of the chateau. But you . . . What are you doing here in Rochelle?”
“I am here to command your immediate return to Paris.”
“Paris? Body of Bacchus! but it is fine gratitude on your part to accept this mission. So his Eminence thinks that I shall be safer in the Bastille? What a compliment!”
“No, Paul. He wishes simply to exonerate you and return to you your privileges. Ah! how could you do it?”
“Do what?” sinking upon one of the benches and striving to put together his wine-befuddled thoughts.
“Take the brunt of a crime you supposed I had done?”
“Supposed? Come, now; you are laughing!”