It had all occurred so quickly and suddenly that no one had realised it all, until it was over, and the lad was lying prone on the ground, his elegant blue satin coat stained with red, and his antagonist bending over him.
There was nothing more to be done. Etiquette demanded that Deroulede should withdraw. He was not allowed to do anything for the boy whom he had so unwillingly sent to his death.
As before, no one took much notice of him. Silence, the awesome silence caused by the presence of the great Master, fell upon all those around. Only in the far corner a shrill voice was heard to say:
“I hold you at five hundred louis, Marquis. The parvenu is a good swordsman.”
The groups parted as Deroulede walked out of the room, followed by the Colonel and M. de Quettare, who stood by him to the last. Both were old and proved soldiers, both had chivalry and courage in them, with which to do tribute to the brave man whom they had seconded.
At the door of the establishment, they met the leech who had been summoned some little time ago to hold himself in readiness for any eventuality.
The great eventuality had occurred: it was beyond the leech’s learning. In the brilliantly lighted saloon above, the only son of the Duc de Marny was breathing his last, whilst Deroulede, wrapping his mantle closely round him, strode out into the dark street, all alone.
The head of the house of Marny was at this time barely seventy years of age. But he had lived every hour, every minute of his life, from the day when the Grand Monarque gave him his first appointment as gentleman page in waiting when he was a mere lad, barely twelve years of age, to the moment—some ten years ago now—when Nature’s relentless hand struck him down in the midst of his pleasures, withered him in a flash as she does a sturdy old oak, and nailed him— a cripple, almost a dotard—to the invalid chair which he would only quit for his last resting place.
Juliette was then a mere slip of a girl, an old man’s child, the spoilt darling of his last happy years. She had retained some of the melancholy which had characterised her mother, the gentle lady who had endured so much so patiently, and who had bequeathed this final tender burden—her baby girl—to the briljant, handsome husband whom she had so deeply loved, and so often forgiven.
When the Duc de Marny entered the final awesome stage of his gilded career, that deathlike life which he dragged on for ten years wearily to the grave, Juliette became his only joy, his one gleam of happiness in the midst of torturing memories.
In her deep, tender eyes he would see mirrored the present, the future for her, and would forget his past, with all its gaieties, its mad, merry years, that meant nothing now but bitter regrets, and endless rosary of the might-have-beens.