Seats Of The Mighty by Gilbert Parker
XIV. Argand Cournal
The most meagre intelligence came to me from the outer world. I no longer saw Gabord; he had suddenly been with drawn and a new jailer substituted, and the sentinels outside my door and beneath the window of my cell refused all information. For months I had no news whatever of Alixe or of those affairs nearest my heart. I heard nothing of Doltaire, little of Bigot, and there was no sign of Voban.
Sometimes I could see my new jailer studying me, if my plans were a puzzle to his brain. At first he used regularly to try the bars of the window, and search the wall as though he thought my devices might be found there.
Scarrat and Flavelle, the guards at my door, set too high a price on their favours, and they talked seldom, and then with brutal jests and ribaldry, of matters in the town which were not vital to me. Yet once or twice, from things they said, I came to know that all was not well between Bigot and Doltaire on one hand, and Doltaire and the Governor on the other. Doltaire had set the Governor and the Intendant scheming against him because of his adherence to the cause of neither, and his power to render the plans of either of no avail when he chose, as in my case. Vaudreuil's vanity was injured, and besides, he counted Doltaire too strong a friend of Bigot. Bigot, I doubted not, found in Madame Cournal's liking for Doltaire all sorts of things of which he never would have dreamed; for there is no such potent devilry in this world as the jealousy of such a sort of man over a woman whose vanity and cupidity are the springs of her affections. Doltaire's imprisonment in a room of the Intendance was not so mysterious as suggestive. I foresaw a strife, a complication of intrigues, and internal enmities which would be (as they were) the ruin of New France. I saw, in imagination, the English army at the gates of Quebec, and those who sat in the seats of the mighty, sworn to personal enmities--Vaudreuil through vanity, Bigot through cupidity, Doltaire by the innate malice of his nature--sacrificing the country; the scarlet body of British power moving down upon a dishonoured city, never to take its foot from that sword of France which fell there on the soil of the New World.
But there was another factor in the situation which I have not dwelt on before. Over a year earlier, when war was being carried into Prussia by Austria and France, and against England, the ally of Prussia, the French Minister of War, D'Argenson, had, by the grace of La Pompadour, sent General the Marquis de Montcalm to Canada, to protect the colony with a small army. From the first, Montcalm, fiery, impetuous, and honourable, was at variance with Vaudreuil, who, though honest himself, had never dared to make open stand against Bigot. When Montcalm came, practically taking the military command out of the hands of the Governor, Vaudreuil developed a singular jealous spirit against the General. It began to express itself about the time I was thrown into the citadel dungeon, and I knew from what Alixe had told me, and from the gossip of the soldiers, that there was a more open show of disagreement now.
The Governor, seeing how ill it was to be at variance with both Montcalm and Bigot, presently began to covet a reconciliation with the latter. To this Bigot was by no means averse, for his own position had danger. His followers and confederates, Cournal, Marin, Cadet, and Rigaud, were robbing the King with a daring and effrontery which must ultimately bring disaster. This he knew, but it was his plan to hold on for a time longer, and then to retire before the axe fell, with an immense fortune. Therefore, about the time set for my execution, he began to close with the overtures of the Governor, and presently the two formed a confederacy against the Marquis de Montcalm. Into it they tried to draw Doltaire, and were surprised to find that he stood them off as to anything more than outward show of friendliness.
Truth was, Doltaire, who had no sordid feeling in him, loathed alike the cupidity of Bigot and the incompetency of the Governor, and respected Montcalm for his honour, and reproached him for his rashness. From first to last, he was, without show of it, the best friend Montcalm had in the province; and though he held aloof from bringing punishment to Bigot, he despised him and his friends, and was not slow to make that plain. D'Argenson made inquiry of Doltaire when Montcalm's honest criticisms were sent to France in cipher, and Doltaire returned the reply that Bigot was the only man who could serve Canada efficiently in this crisis; that he had abounding fertility of resource, a clear head, a strong will, and great administrative faculty. This was all he would say, save that when the war was over other matters might be conned. Meanwhile France must pay liberally for the Intendant's services.
Through a friend in France, Bigot came to know that his affairs were moving to a crisis, and saw that it would be wise to retire; but he loved the very air of crisis, and Madame Cournal, anxious to keep him in Canada, encouraged him in his natural feeling to stand or fall with the colony. He never showed aught but a hold and confident face to the public, and was in all regards the most conspicuous figure in New France. When, two years before, Montcalm took Oswego from the English, Bigot threw open his palace to the populace for two days' feasting, and every night during the war he entertained lavishly, though the people went hungry, and their own corn, bought for the King, was sold back to them at famine prices.
As the Governor amid the Intendant grew together in friendship, Vaudreuil sinking past disapproval in present selfish necessity, they quietly combined against Doltaire as against Montcalm. Yet at this very time Doltaire was living in the Intendance, and, as he had told Alixe, not without some personal danger. He had before been offered rooms at the Chateau St. Louis; but these he would not take, for he could not bear to be within touch of the Governor's vanity and timidity. He would of preference have stayed in the Intendance had he known that pitfalls and traps were at every footstep. Danger gave a piquancy to his existence. I think he did not greatly value Madame Cournal's admiration of himself; but when it drove Bigot to retaliation, his imagination got an impulse, and he entered upon a conflict which ran parallel with the war, and with that delicate antagonism which Alixe waged against him, long undiscovered by himself.
At my wits' end for news, at last I begged my jailer to convey a message for me to the Governor, asking that the barber be let come to me. The next day an answer arrived in the person of Voban himself, accompanied by the jailer. For a time there was little speech between us, but as he tended me we talked. We could do so with safety, for Voban knew English; and though he spoke it brokenly, he had freedom in it, and the jailer knew no word of it. At first the fellow blustered, but I waved him off. He was a man of better education than Gabord, but of inferior judgment and shrewdness. He made no trial thereafter to interrupt our talk, but sat and drummed upon a stool with his keys, or loitered at the window, or now and again thrust his hand into my pockets, as if to see if weapons were concealed in them.
"Voban," said I, "what has happened since I saw you at the Intendance? Tell me first of mademoiselle. You have nothing from her for me?"
"Nothing," he answered. "There is no time. A soldier come an hour ago with an order from the Governor, and I must go all at once. So I come as you see. But as for the ma'm'selle, she is well. Voila, there is no one like her in New France. I do not know all, as you can guess, but they say she can do what she will at the Chateau. It is a wonder to see her drive. A month ago, a droll thing come to pass. She is driving on the ice with ma'm'selle Lotbiniere and her brother Charles. M'sieu' Charles, he has the reins. Soon, ver' quick, the horses start with all their might. M'sieu' saw and pull, but they go the faster. Like that for a mile or so; then ma'm'selle remember there is a great crack in the ice a mile farther on, and beyond the ice is weak and rotten, for there the curren' is ver' strongest. She see that M'sieu' Charles, he can do nothing, so she reach and take the reins. The horses go on; it make no diff'rence at first. But she begin to talk to them so sof', and to pull ver' steady, and at last she get them shaping to the shore. She have the reins wound on her hands, and people on the shore, they watch. Little on little the horses pull up, and stop at last not a hunder' feet from the great crack and the rotten ice. Then she turn them round and drive them home.
"You should hear the people cheer as she drive up Mountain Street. The bishop stand at the window of his palace and smile at her as she pass, and m'sieu'"--he looked at the jailer and paused--"m'sieu' the gentleman we do not love, he stand in the street with his cap off for two minutes as she come, and after she go by, and say a grand compliment to her, so that her face go pale. He get froze ears for his pains--that was a cold day. Well, at night there was a grand dinner at the Intendance, and afterwards a ball in the splendid room which that man" (he meant Bigot: I shall use names when quoting him further, that he may be better understood) "built for the poor people of the land for to dance down their sorrows. So you can guess I would be there--happy. Ah yes, so happy! I go and stand in the great gallery above the hall of dance, with crowd of people, and look down at the grand folk.
"One man come to me and say, 'Ah, Voban, is it you here? Who would think it!'--like that. Another, he come and say, 'Voban, he can not keep away from the Intendance. Who does he come to look for? But no, she is not here--no.' And again, another, 'Why should not Voban be here? One man has not enough bread to eat, and Bigot steals his corn. Another hungers for a wife to sit by his fire, and Bigot takes the maid, and Voban stuffs his mouth with humble pie like the rest. Chut! shall not Bigot have his fill?' And yet another, and voila, she was a woman, she say, 'Look at the Intendant down there with madame. And M'sieu' Cournal, he also is there. What does M'sieu' Cournal care? No, not at all. The rich man, what he care, if he has gold? Virtue! ha, ha! what is that in your wife if you have gold for it? Nothing. See his hand at the Intendant's arm. See how M'sieu' Doltaire look at them, and then up here at us. What is it in his mind, you think? Eh? You think he say to himself, A wife all to himself is the poor man's one luxury? Eh? Ah, M'sieu' Doltaire, you are right, you are right. You catch up my child from its basket in the market-place one day, and you shake it ver' soft, an' you say, "Madame, I will stake the last year of my life that I can put my finger on the father of this child." And when I laugh in his face, he say again, "And if he thought he wasn't its father, he would cut out the liver of the other--eh?" And I laugh, and say, "My Jacques would follow him to hell to do it." Then he say, Voban, he say to me, "That is the difference between you and us. We only kill men who meddle with our mistresses!" Ah, that M'sieu' Doltaire, he put a louis in the hand of my babe, and he not even kiss me on the cheek. Pshaw! Jacques would sell him fifty kisses for fifty louis. But sell me, or a child of me? Well, Voban, you can guess! Pah, barber, if you do not care what he did to the poor Mathilde, there are other maids in St. Roch.'"
Voban paused a moment then added quietly, "How do you think I bear it all? With a smile? No, I hear with my ears open and my heart close tight. Do they think they can teach me? Do they guess I sit down and hear all without a cry from my throat or a will in my body? Ah, m'sieu' le Capitaine, it is you who know. You saw what I would have go to do with M'sieu' Doltaire before the day of the Great Birth. You saw if I am coward--if I not take the sword when it was at my throat without a whine. No, m'sieu', I can wait. Then is a time for everything. At first I am all in a muddle, I not how what to do; but by-and-bye it all come to me, and you shall one day what I wait for. Yes, you shall see. I look down on that people dancing there, quiet and still, and I hear some laugh at me, and now and then some one say a good word to me that make me shut my hands tight, so the tears not come to my eyes. But I felt alone--so much alone. The world does not want a sad man. In my shop I try to laugh as of old, and I am not sour or heavy, but I can see men do not say droll things to me as once back time. No, I am not as I was. What am I to do? There is but one way. What is great to one man is not to another. What kills the one does not kill the other. Take away from some people one thing, and they will not care; from others that same, and there is nothing to live for, except just to live, and because a man does not like death."
He paused. "You are right, Voban," said I. "Go on."
He was silent again for a time, and then he moved his hand in a helpless sort of way across his forehead. It had become deeply lined and wrinkled all in a couple of years. His temples were sunken, his cheeks hollow, and his face was full of those shadows which lend a sort of tragedy to even the humblest and least distinguished countenance. His eyes had a restlessness, anon an intense steadiness almost uncanny, and his thin, long fingers had a stealthiness of motion, a soft swiftness, which struck me strangly. I never saw a man so changed. He was like a vessel wrested from its moorings; like some craft, filled with explosives, set loose along a shore lined with fishing-smacks, which might come foul of one, and blow the company of men and boats into the air. As he stood there, his face half turned to me for a moment, this came to my mind, and I said to him, "Voban, you look like some wicked gun which would blow us all to pieces."
He wheeled, and came to me so swiftly that I shrank back in my chair with alarm, his action was so sudden, and, peering into my face, he said, glancing, as I thought, anxiously at the jailer, "Blow--blow--how blow us all to pieces, m'sieu'?" He eyed me with suspicion, and I could see that he felt like some hurt animal among its captors, ready to fight, yet not knowing from what point danger would come. Something pregnant in what I said had struck home, yet I could not guess then what it was, though afterwards it came to me with great force and vividness.
"I meant nothing, Voban," answered I, "save that you look dangerous."
I half put out my hand to touch his arm in a friendly way, but I saw that the jailer was watching, and I did not. Voban felt what I was about to do, and his face instantly softened, and his blood-shot eyes gave me a look of gratitude. Then he said:
"I will tell you what happen next I know the palace very well, and when I see the Intendant and M'sieu' Doltaire and others leave the ballroom I knew that they go to the chamber which they call 'la Chambre de la Joie,' to play at cards. So I steal away out of the crowd into a passage which, as it seem, go nowhere, and come quick, all at once, to a bare wall. But I know the way. In one corner of the passage I press a spring, and a little panel open. I crawl through and close it behin'. Then I feel my way along the dark corner till I come to another panel. This I open, and I see light. You ask how I can do this? Well, I tell you. There is the valet of Bigot, he is my friend. You not guess who it is? No? It is a man whose crime in France I know. He was afraid when he saw me here, but I say to him, 'No, I will not speak--never'; and he is all my friend just when I most need. Eh, voila, I see light, as I said, and I push aside heavy curtains ver' little, and there is the Chamber of the Joy below. There they all are, the Intendant and the rest, sitting down to the tables. There was Capitaine Lancy, M'sieu' Cadet, M'sieu' Cournal, M'sieu' le Chevalier de Levis, and M'sieu' le Generale, le Marquis de Montcalm. I am astonish to see him there, the great General, in his grand coat of blue and gold and red, and laces tres beau at his throat, with a fine jewel. Ah, he is not ver' high on his feet, but he has an eye all fire, and a laugh come quick to his lips, and he speak ver' galant, but he never let them, Messieurs Cadet, Marin, Lancy, and the rest, be thick friends with him. They do not clap their hands on his shoulder comme le bon camarade--non!
"Well, they sit down to play, and soon there is much noise and laughing, and then sometimes a silence, and then again the noise, and you can see one snuff a candle with the points of two rapiers, or hear a sword jangle at a chair, or listen to some one sing ver' soft a song as he hold a good hand of cards, or the ring of louis on the table, or the sound of glass as it break on the floor. And once a young gentleman--alas! he is so young--he get up from his chair, and cry out, 'All is lost! I go to die!' He raise a pistol to his head; but M'sieu' Doltaire catch his hand, and say quite soft and gentle, 'No, no, mon enfant, enough of making fun of us. Here is the hunder' louis I borrow of you yesterday. Take your revenge.' The lad sit down slow, looking ver' strange at M'sieu' Doltaire. And it is true: he took his revenge out of M'sieu' Cadet, for he win--I saw it--three hunder' louis. Then M'sieu' Doltaire lean over to him and say, 'M'sieu', you will carry for me a message to the citadel for M'sieu' Ramesay, the commandant.' Ah, it was a sight to see M'sieu' Cadet's face, going this way and that. But it was no use: the young gentleman pocket his louis, and go away with a letter from M'sieu' Doltaire. But M'sieu' Doltaire, he laugh in the face of M'sieu' Cadet, and say ver' pleasant, 'That is a servant of the King, m'sieu', who live by his sword alone. Why should civilians be so greedy? Come, play, M'sieu' Cadet. If M'sieu' the General will play with me, we two will what we can do with you and his Excellency the Intendant.'
"They sit just beneath me, and I hear all what is said, I see all the looks of them, every card that is played. M'sieu' the General have not play yet, but watch M'sieu' Doltaire and the Intendant at the cards. With a smile he now sit down. Then M'sieu' Doltaire, he say, 'M'sieu' Cadet, let us have no mistake--let us be commercial.' He take out his watch. 'I have two hours to spare; are you dispose to play for that time only? To the moment we will rise, and there shall be no question of satisfaction, no discontent anywhere--eh, shall it be so, if m'sieu' the General can spare the time also?' It is agree that the General play for one hour and go, and that M'sieu' Doltaire and the Intendant play for the rest of the time.
"They begin, and I hide there and watch. The time go ver' fast, and my breath catch in my throat to see how great the stakes they play for. I hear M'sieu' Doltaire say at last, with a smile, taking out his watch, 'M'sieu' the General, your time is up, and you take with you twenty thousan' francs.'
"The General, he smile and wave his hand, as if sorry to take so much from M'sieu' Cadet and the Intendant. M'sieu' Cadet sit dark, and speak nothing at first, but at last he get up and turn on his heel and walk away, leaving what he lose on the table. M'sieu' the General bow also, and go from the room. Then M'sieu' Doltaire and the Intendant play. One by one the other players stop, and come and watch these. Something get into the two gentlemen, for both are pale, and the face of the Intendant all of spots, and his little round eyes like specks of red fire; but M'sieu' Doltaire's face, it is still, and his brows bend over, and now and then he make a little laughing out of his lips. All at once I hear him say, 'Double the stakes, your Excellency!' The Intendant look up sharp and say, 'What! Two hunder' thousan' francs!'--as if M'sieu' Doltaire could not pay such a like that. M'sieu' Doltaire smile ver' wicked, and answer, 'Make it three hunder' thousan' francs, your Excellency.' It is so still in the Chamber of the Joy that all you hear for a minute was the fat Monsieur Varin breathe like a hog, and the rattle of a spur as some one slide a foot on the floor.
"The Intendant look blank; then he nod his head for answer, and each write on a piece of paper. As they begin, M'sieu' Doltaire take out his watch and lay it on the table, and the Intendant do the same, and they both look at the time. The watch of the Intendant is all jewels. 'Will you not add the watches to the stake?' say M'sieu' Doltaire. The Intendant look, and shrug a shoulder, and shake his head for no, and M'sieu' Doltaire smile in a sly way, so that the Intendant's teeth show at his lips and his eyes almost close, he is so angry.
"Just this minute I hear a low noise behind me, and then some one give a little cry. I turn quick and Madame Cournal. She stretch her hand, and touch my lips, and motion me not to stir. I look down again, and I see that M'sieu' Doltaire look up to the where I am, for he hear that sound, I think--I not know sure. But he say once more, 'The watch, the watch, your Excellency! I have a fancy for yours!' I feel madame breathe hard beside me, but I not like to look at her. I am not afraid of men, but a woman that way--ah, it make me shiver! She will betray me, I think. All at once I feel her hand at my belt, then at my pocket, to see if I have a weapon; for the thought come to her that I am there to kill Bigot. But I raise my hands and say, 'No,' ver' quiet, and she nod her head all right.
"The Intendant wave his hand at M'sieu' Doltaire to say he would not stake the watch, for I know it is one madame give him; and then they begin to play. No one stir. The cards go out flip, flip, on the table, and with a little soft scrape in the hands, and I hear Bigot's hound much a bone. All at once M'sieu' Doltaire throw down his cards, and say, 'Mine, Bigot! Three hunder' thousan' francs, and the time is up!' The other get from his chair, and say, 'How would you have pay if you had lost, Doltaire?' And m'sieu' answer, 'From the coffers of the King, like you, Bigot' His tone is odd. I feel madame's breath go hard. Bigot turn round and say to the others, 'Will you take your way to the great hall, messieurs, and M'sieu' Doltaire and I will follow. We have some private conf'rence.' They all turn away, all but M'sieu' Cournal, and leave the room, whispering. 'I will join you soon, Cournal,' say his Excellency. M'sieu' Cournal not go, for he have been drinking, and something stubborn got into him. But the Intendant order him rough, and he go. I can hear madame gnash her teeth sof' beside me.
"When the door close, the Intendant turn to M'sieu' Doltaire and say, 'What is the end for which you play?' M'sieu' Doltaire make a light motion of his hand, and answer, 'For three hunder' thousan' francs.' 'And to pay, m'sieu', how to pay if you have lost?' M'sieu' Doltaire lay his hand on his sword sof'. 'From the King's coffers, as I say; he owes me more than he has paid. But not like you, Bigot. I have earned, this way and that, all that I might ever get from the King's coffers--even this three hunder' thousan' francs, ten times told. But you, Bigot--tush! why should we make bubbles of words?' The Intendant get white in the face, but there are spots on it like on a late apple of an old tree. 'You go too far, Doltaire,' he say. 'You have hint before my officers and my friends that I make free with the King's coffers.' M'sieu' answer, 'You should see no such hints, if your palms were not musty.' 'How know you,' ask the Intendant, 'that my hands are musty from the King's coffers?' M'sieu' arrange his laces, and say light, 'As easy from the must as I tell how time passes in your nights by the ticking of this trinket here.' He raise his sword and touch the Intendant's watch on the table.
"I never hear such silence as there is for a minute, and then the Intendant say, 'You have gone one step too far. The must on my hands, seen through your eyes, is no matter, but when you must the name of a lady there is but one end. You understan', m'sieu', there is but one end.' M'sieu' laugh. 'The sword, you mean? Eh? No, no, I will not fight with you. I am not here to rid the King of so excellent an officer, however large fee he force for his services.' 'And I tell you,' say the Intendant, 'that I will not have you cast a slight upon a lady.' Madame beside me start up, and whisper to me, 'If you betray me, you shall die. If you be still, I too will say nothing.' But then a thing happen. Another voice sound from below, and there, coming from behind a great screen of oak wood, is M'sieu' Cournal, his face all red with wine, his hand on his sword. 'Bah!' he say, coming forward--'bah! I will speak for madame. I will speak. I have been silent long enough.' He come between the two, and, raising his sword, he strike the time-piece and smash it. 'Ha! ha!' he say, wild with drink, 'I have you both here alone.' He snap his fingers under the Intendant's nose. 'It is time I protect my wife's name from you, and by God, I will do it!' At that M'sieu' Doltaire laugh, and Cournal turn to him, and say, 'Batard!' The Intendant have out his sword, and he roar in a hoarse voice, 'Dog, you shall die!' But M'sieu' Doltaire strike up his sword, and face the drunken man. 'No, leave that to me. The King's cause goes shipwreck; we can't change helmsman now. Think--scandal and your disgrace!' Then he make a pass at m'sieu' Cournal, who parry quick. Another, and he prick his shoulder. Another, and then madame beside me, as I spring back, throw aside the curtains, and cry out, 'No, m'sieu'! no! For shame!'
"I kneel in a corner behind the curtains, and wait and listen. There is not a sound for a moment; then I hear a laugh from M'sieu' Cournal, such a laugh make me sick--loud, and full of what you call not care and the devil. Madame speak down at them. 'Ah,' she say, 'it is so fine a sport to drag a woman's name in the mire!' Her voice is full of spirit. and she look beautiful--beautiful. I never guess how a woman like that look; so full of pride, and to speak like you could think knives sing as they strike steel--sharp and cold. 'I came to see how gentlemen look at play, and they end in brawling over a lady!'
"M'sieu' Doltaire speak to her, and they all put up their swords, and M'sieu' Cournal sit down at a table, and he stare and stare up at the balcony, and make a motion now and then with his hand. M'sieu' Doltaire say to her, 'Madame, you must excuse our entertainment; we did not know we had an audience so distinguished.' She reply, 'As scene-shifter and prompter, M'sieu' Doltaire, you have a gift. Your Excellency,' she say to the Intendant, 'I will wait for you at the top of the great staircase, if you will be so good as to take me to the ballroom.' The Intendant and M'sieu' Doltaire bow, and turn to the door, and M'sieu' Cournal scowl, and make as if to follow; but madame speak down at him, 'M'sieu'--Argand'--like that! and he turn back, and sit down. I think she forget me, I keep so still. The others bow and scrape, and leave the room, and the two are alone--alone, for what am I? What if a dog hear great people speak? No, it is no matter!
"There is all still for a little while, and I watch her face as she lean over the rail and look down at him; it is like stone, like stone that aches, and her eyes stare and stare at him. He look up at her and scowl; then he laugh, with a toss of the finger, and sit down. All at once he put his hand on his sword, and gnash his teeth.
"Then she speak down to him, her voice ver' quiet. 'Argand,' she say, 'you are more a man drunk than sober. Argand,' she go on, 'years ago, they said you were a brave man; you fight well, you do good work for the King, your name goes with a sweet sound to Versailles. You had only your sword and my poor fortune and me then--that is all; but you were a man. You had ambition, so had I. What can a woman do? You had your sword, your country, the King's service. I had beauty; I wanted power--ah yes, power, that was the thing! But I was young and a fool; you were older. You talked fine things then, but you had a base heart, so much baser than mine.... I might have been a good woman. I was a fool, and weak, and vain, but you were base--so base--coward and betrayer, you!'
"At that m'sieu' start up and snatch at his sword, and speak out between his teeth, 'By God, I will kill you to-night!' She smile cold and hard, and say, 'No, no, you will not; it is too late for killing; that should have been done before. You sold your right to kill long ago, Argand Cournal. You have been close friends with the man who gave me power, and you gold.' Then she get fierce. 'Who gave you gold before he gave me power, traitor?' Like that she speak. 'Do you never think of what you have lost?' Then she break out in a laugh. 'Pah! Listen: if there must be killing, why not be the great Roman--drunk!'
"Then she laugh so hard a laugh, and turn away, and go quick by me and not see me. She step into the dark, and he sit down in the chair, and look straight in front of him. I do not stir, and after a minute she come back sof', and peep down, her face all differen'. 'Argand! Argand!' she say ver' tender and low, 'if--if--if'--like that. But just then he see the broken watch on the floor, and he stoop, with a laugh, and pick up the pieces; then he get a candle and look on the floor everywhere for the jewels, and he pick them up, and put them away one by one in his purse like a miser. He keep on looking, and once the fire of the candle burn his beard, and he swear, and she stare and stare at him. He sit down at the table, and look at the jewels and laugh to himself. Then she draw herself up, and shake, and put her hands to her eyes, and 'C'est fini! c'est fini!' she whisper, and that is all.
"When she is gone, after a little time he change--ah, he change much, he go to a table and pour out a great bowl of wine, and then another, and he drink them both, and he begin to walk up and down the floor. He sway now and then, but he keep on for a long time. Once a servant come, but he wave him away, and he scowl and talk to himself, and shut the doors and lock them. Then he walk on and on. At last he sit down, and he face me. In front of him are candles, and he stare between them, and stare and stare. I sit and watch, and I feel a pity. I hear him say, 'Antoinette! Antoinette! My dear Antoinette! We are lost forever, my Antoinette!' Then he take the purse from his pocket, and throw it up to the balcony where I am. 'Pretty sins,' he say, 'follow the sinner!' It lie there, and it have sprung open, and I can see the jewels shine, but I not touch it--no. Well, he sit there long--long, and his face get gray and his cheeks all hollow.
"I hear the clock strike one! two! three! four! Once some one come and try the door, but go away again, and he never stir; he is like a dead man. At last I fall asleep. When I wake up, he still sit there, but his head lie in his arms. I look round. Ah, it is not a fine sight--no. The candles burn so low, and there is a smell of wick, and the grease runs here and there down the great candlesticks. Upon the floor, this place and that, is a card, and pieces of paper, and a scarf, and a broken glass, and something that shine by a small table. This is a picture in a little gold frame. On all the tables stand glasses, some full, and some empty of wine. And just as the dawn come in through the tall windows, a cat crawl out from somewhere, all ver' thin and shy, and walk across the floor; it make the room look so much alone. At last it come and move against m'sieu's legs, and he lift his head and look down at it, and nod, and say something which I not hear. After that he get up, and pull himself together with a shake, and walk down the room. Then he see the little gold picture on the floor which some drunk young officer drop, and he pick it up and look at it, and walk again. 'Poor fool!' he say, and look at the picture again. 'Poor fool! Will he curse her some day--a child with a face like that? Ah!' And he throw the picture down. Then he walk away to the doors, unlock them, and go out. Soon I steal away through the panels, and out of the palace ver' quiet, and go home. But I can see that room in my mind."
Again the jailer hurried Voban; There was no excuse for him to remain longer; so I gave him a message to Alixe, and slipped into his hand a transcript from my journal. Then he left me, and I sat and thought upon the strange events of the evening which he had described to me. That he was bent on mischief I felt sure, but how it would come, what were his plans, I could not guess. Then suddenly there flashed into my mind my words to him, "blow us all to pieces," and his consternation and strange eagerness. It came to me suddenly: he meant to blow up the Intendance. When? And how? It seemed absurd to think of it. Yet--yet-- The grim humour of the thing possessed me, and I sat back and laughed heartily.
In the midst of my mirth the cell door opened and let in Doltaire.