THE RETURNING CARRIAGE
M. de Kercadiou wrote a letter.
“Godson,” he began, without any softening adjective, “I have learnt with pain and indignation that you have dishonoured yourself again by breaking the pledge you gave me to abstain from politics. With still greater pain and indignation do I learn that your name has become in a few short days a byword, that you have discarded the weapon of false, insidious arguments against my class — the class to which you owe everything — for the sword of the assassin. It has come to my knowledge that you have an assignation to-morrow with my good friend M. de La Tour d’Azyr. A gentleman of his station is under certain obligations imposed upon him by his birth, which do not permit him to draw back from an engagement. But you labour under no such disadvantages. For a man of your class to refuse an engagement of honour, or to neglect it when made, entails no sacrifice. Your peers will probably be of the opinion that you display a commendable prudence. Therefore I beg you, indeed, did I think that I still exercise over you any such authority as the favours you have received from me should entitle me to exercise, I would command you, to allow this matter to go no farther, and to refrain from rendering yourself to your assignation to-morrow morning. Having no such authority, as your past conduct now makes clear, having no reason to hope that a proper sentiment of gratitude to me will induce to give heed to this my most earnest request, I am compelled to add that should you survive to-morrow’s encounter, I can in no circumstances ever again permit myself to be conscious of your existence. If any spark survives of the affection that once you expressed for me, or if you set any value upon the affection, which, in spite of all that you have done to forfeit it, is the chief prompter of this letter, you will not refuse to do as I am asking.”
It was not a tactful letter. M. de Kercadiou was not a tactful man. Read it as he would, Andre-Louis — when it was delivered to him on that Sunday afternoon by the groom dispatched with it into Paris — could read into it only concern for M. La Tour d’Azyr, M. de Kercadiou’s good friend, as he called him, and prospective nephew-in-law.
He kept the groom waiting a full hour while composing his answer. Brief though it was, it cost him very considerable effort and several unsuccessful attempts. In the end this is what he wrote:
Monsieur my godfather — You make refusal singularly hard for me when you appeal to me upon the ground of affection. It is a thing of which all my life I shall hail the opportunity to give you proofs, and I am therefore desolated beyond anything I could hope to express that I cannot give you the proof you ask to-day. There is too much between M. de La Tour d’Azyr and me. Also you do me and my class - whatever it may be — less than justice when you say that obligations of honour are not binding upon us. So binding do I count them, that, if I would, I could not now draw back.