“You are to understand that if you are still there in two minutes it will be very much the worse for you.” And M. de Lesdiguieres tinkled the silver hand-bell upon his table.
“I have informed you, monsieur, that a duel — so-called — has been fought, and a man killed. It seems that I must remind you, the administrator of the King’s justice, that duels are against the law, and that it is your duty to hold an inquiry. I come as the legal representative of the bereaved mother of M. de Vilmorin to demand of you the inquiry that is due.”
The door behind Andre-Louis opened softly. M. de Lesdiguieres, pale with anger, contained himself with difficulty.
“You seek to compel us, do you, you impudent rascal?” he growled. “You think the King’s justice is to be driven headlong by the voice of any impudent roturier? I marvel at my own patience with you. But I give you a last warning, master lawyer; keep a closer guard over that insolent tongue of yours, or you will have cause very bitterly to regret its glibness.” He waved a jewelled, contemptuous hand, and spoke to the usher standing behind Andre. “To the door!” he said, shortly.
Andre-Louis hesitated a second. Then with a shrug he turned. This was the windmill, indeed, and he a poor knight of rueful countenance. To attack it at closer quarters would mean being dashed to pieces. Yet on the threshold he turned again.
“M. de Lesdiguieres,” said he, “may I recite to you an interesting fact in natural history? The tiger is a great lord in the jungle, and was for centuries the terror of lesser beasts, including the wolf. The wolf, himself a hunter, wearied of being hunted. He took to associating with other wolves, and then the wolves, driven to form packs for self-protection, discovered the power of the pack, and took to hunting the tiger, with disastrous results to him. You should study Buffon, M. de Lesdiguieres.”
“I have studied a buffoon this morning, I think,” was the punning sneer with which M. de Lesdiguieres replied. But that he conceived himself witty, it is probable he would not have condescended to reply at all. “I don’t understand you,” he added.
“But you will, M. de Lesdiguieres. You will,” said Andre-Louis, and so departed.
He had broken his futile lance with the windmill — the image suggested by M. de Kercadiou persisted in his mind — and it was, he perceived, by sheer good fortune that he had escaped without hurt. There remained the wind itself — the whirlwind. And the events in Rennes, reflex of the graver events in Nantes, had set that wind blowing in his favour.
He set out briskly to retrace his steps towards the Place Royale, where the gathering of the populace was greatest, where, as he judged, lay the heart and brain of this commotion that was exciting the city.