“Paul?” said Victor.
“Is that you, Victor?” quietly.
“Yes, Paul.” Victor gently replaced the Chevalier’s sword into its scabbard, and locking his arm in his friend’s, the two walked in silence toward the Corne d’Abondance.
And the marquis? Ah, God—the God he did not believe in!—only God could analyse his thoughts.
“Fool!” he cried, seeing himself alone and the gift of prescience foretelling that he was to be henceforth and forever alone,—“senile fool! Dotard!” He beat about with his cane even as the Chevalier had beaten about with his sword. “Double fool! to lose him for the sake of a lie, a damnable lie, and the lack of courage to own to it!” A Venetian mirror caught his attention. He stood before it, and seeing his reflection he beat the glass into a thousand fragments.
Jehan appeared, white and trembling, carrying his master’s candlestick.
“Ah!” cried the marquis. “’Tis you. Jehan, call your master a fool.”
“I, Monsieur?” Jehan retreated.
“Aye; or I promise to beat your worthless body within an inch of death. Call me a fool, whose wrath, over-leaped his prudence and sense of truth and honor. Call me a fool.”
“Quickly!” The cane rose.
“God forgive me this disrespect! . . . Monsieur, you are a fool!”
“A senile, doting fool.”
“A senile, doting fool!” repeated Jehan, weeping.
“That is well. My candle. Listen to me.” The marquis moved toward the staircase. “Monsieur le Comte has left this house for good and all, so he says. Should he return to-morrow . . .”
Jehan listened attentively, as attentively as his dazed mind would permit.
“Should he come back within a month . . .” The marquis had by this time reached the first landing.
“If he ever comes back . . .”
“I am listening.”
“Let him in.”
And the marquis vanished beyond the landing, leaving the astonished lackey staring at the vanishing point. He saw the ruin and desolation in the dining-hall, from which arose the odor of stale wine and smoke.
“Mother of Jesus! What has happened?”
THE FIFTY PISTOLES OF MONSIEUR LE VICOMTE
The roisterers went their devious ways, sobered and subdued. So deep was their distraction that the watch passed unmolested. Usually a rout was rounded out and finished by robbing the watch of their staffs and lanterns; by singing in front of the hotel of the mayor or the episcopal palace; by yielding to any extravagant whim suggested by mischief. But to-night mischief itself was quiet and uninventive. Had there been a violent death among them, the roisterers would have accepted the event with drunken philosophy. The catastrophe of this night, however, was beyond their imagination: they were still-voiced and horrified. The Chevalier du Cevennes, that prince of good fellows . . . was a nobody, a son of the left hand! Those who owed the Chevalier money or gratitude now recollected with no small satisfaction that they had not paid their indebtedness. Truly adversity is the crucible in which the quality of friendship is tried.