“Very well, monsieur,” he said. “Nine o’clock, then; and we’ll see if you’ll talk as pertly afterwards.”
On that he flung away, before the jeers of the provincial deputies. Nor did it soothe his rage to be laughed at by urchins all the way down the Rue Dauphine because of the mud and filth that dripped from his satin breeches and the tails of his elegant, striped coat.
But though the members of the Third had jeered on the surface, they trembled underneath with fear and indignation. It was too much. Lagron killed by one of these bullies, and now his successor challenged, and about to be killed by another of them on the very first day of his appearance to take the dead man’s place. Several came now to implore Andre-Louis not to go to the Bois, to ignore the challenge and the whole affair, which was but a deliberate attempt to put him out of the way. He listened seriously, shook his head gloomily, and promised at last to think it over.
He was in his seat again for the afternoon session as if nothing disturbed him.
But in the morning, when the Assembly met, his place was vacant, and so was M. de Chabrillane’s. Gloom and resentment sat upon the members of the Third, and brought a more than usually acrid note into their debates. They disapproved of the rashness of the new recruit to their body. Some openly condemned his lack of circumspection. Very few — and those only the little group in Le Chapelier’s confidence — ever expected to see him again.
It was, therefore, as much in amazement as in relief that at a few minutes after ten they saw him enter, calm, composed, and bland, and thread his way to his seat. The speaker occupying the rostrum at that moment — a member of the Privileged — stopped short to stare in incredulous dismay. Here was something that he could not understand at all. Then from somewhere, to satisfy the amazement on both sides of the assembly, a voice explained the phenomenon contemptuously.
“They haven’t met. He has shirked it at the last moment.”
It must be so, thought all; the mystification ceased, and men were settling back into their seats. But now, having reached his place, having heard the voice that explained the matter to the universal satisfaction, Andre-Louis paused before taking his seat. He felt it incumbent upon him to reveal the true fact.
“M. le President, my excuses for my late arrival.” There was no necessity for this. It was a mere piece of theatricality, such as it was not in Scaramouche’s nature to forgo. “I have been detained by an engagement of a pressing nature. I bring you also the excuses of M. de Chabrillane. He, unfortunately, will be permanently absent from this Assembly in future.”
The silence was complete. Andre-Louis sat down.
THE PALADIN OF THE THIRD