For the second time that day Andre–Louis set out for the chateau, walking briskly, and heeding not at all the curious eyes that followed him through the village, and the whisperings that marked his passage through the people, all agog by now with that day’s event in which he had been an actor.
He was ushered by Benoit, the elderly body-servant, rather grandiloquently called the seneschal, into the ground-floor room known traditionally as the library. It still contained several shelves of neglected volumes, from which it derived its title, but implements of the chase — fowling-pieces, powder-horns, hunting-bags, sheath-knives — obtruded far more prominently than those of study. The furniture was massive, of oak richly carved, and belonging to another age. Great massive oak beams crossed the rather lofty whitewashed ceiling.
Here the squat Seigneur de Gavrillac was restlessly pacing when Andre–Louis was introduced. He was already informed, as he announced at once, of what had taken place at the Breton arme. M. de Chabrillane had just left him, and he confessed himself deeply grieved and deeply perplexed.
“The pity of it!” he said. “The pity of it!” He bowed his enormous head. “So estimable a young man, and so full of promise. Ah, this La Tour d’Azyr is a hard man, and he feels very strongly in these matters. He may be right. I don’t know. I have never killed a man for holding different views from mine. In fact, I have never killed a man at all. It isn’t in my nature. I shouldn’t sleep of nights if I did. But men are differently made.”
“The question, monsieur my godfather,” said Andre–Louis, “is what is to be done.” He was quite calm and self-possessed, but very white.
M. de Kercadiou stared at him blankly out of his pale eyes.
“Why, what the devil is there to do? From what I am told, Vilmorin went so far as to strike M. le Marquis.”
“Under the very grossest provocation.”
“Which he himself provoked by his revolutionary language. The poor lad’s head was full of this encyclopaedist trash. It comes of too much reading. I have never set much store by books, Andre; and I have never known anything but trouble to come out of learning. It unsettles a man. It complicates his views of life, destroys the simplicity which makes for peace of mind and happiness. Let this miserable affair be a warning to you, Andre. You are, yourself, too prone to these new-fashioned speculations upon a different constitution of the social order. You see what comes of it. A fine, estimable young man, the only prop of his widowed mother too, forgets himself, his position, his duty to that mother — everything; and goes and gets himself killed like this. It is infernally sad. On my soul it is sad.” He produced a handkerchief, and blew his nose with vehemence.
Andre–Louis felt a tightening of his heart, a lessening of the hopes, never too sanguine, which he had founded upon his godfather.
“Your criticisms,” he said, “are all for the conduct of the dead, and none for that of the murderer. It does not seem possible that you should be in sympathy with such a crime.”
“Crime?” shrilled M. de Kercadiou. “My God, boy, you are speaking of M. de La Tour d’Azyr.”
“I am, and of the abominable murder he has committed . . . ”
“Stop!” M. de Kercadiou was very emphatic. “I cannot permit that you apply such terms to him. I cannot permit it. M. le Marquis is my friend, and is likely very soon to stand in a still closer relationship.”
“Notwithstanding this?” asked Andre–Louis.
M. de Kercadiou was frankly impatient.
“Why, what has this to do with it? I may deplore it. But I have no right to condemn it. It is a common way of adjusting differences between gentlemen.”
“You really believe that?”
“What the devil do you imply, Andre? Should I say a thing that I don’t believe? You begin to make me angry.”
“‘Thou shalt not kill,’ is the King’s law as well as God’s.”
“You are determined to quarrel with me, I think. It was a duel . . . ”
Andre–Louis interrupted him. “It is no more a duel than if it had been fought with pistols of which only M. le Marquis’s was loaded. He invited Philippe to discuss the matter further, with the deliberate intent of forcing a quarrel upon him and killing him. Be patient with me, monsieur my god-father. I am not telling you of what I imagine but what M. le Marquis himself admitted to me.”
Dominated a little by the young man’s earnestness, M. de Kercadiou’s pale eyes fell away. He turned with a shrug, and sauntered over to the window.
“It would need a court of honour to decide such an issue. And we have no courts of honour,” he said.
“But we have courts of justice.”
With returning testiness the seigneur swung round to face him again. “And what court of justice, do you think, would listen to such a plea as you appear to have in mind?”
“There is the court of the King’s Lieutenant at Rennes.”
“And do you think the King’s Lieutenant would listen to you?”
“Not to me, perhaps, Monsieur. But if you were to bring the plaint . . . ”
“I bring the plaint?” M. de Kercadiou’s pale eyes were wide with horror of the suggestion.
“The thing happened here on your domain.”
“I bring a plaint against M. de La Tour d’Azyr! You are out of your senses, I think. Oh, you are mad; as mad as that poor friend of yours who has come to this end through meddling in what did not concern him. The language he used here to M. le Marquis on the score of Mabey was of the most offensive. Perhaps you didn’t know that. It does not at all surprise me that the Marquis should have desired satisfaction.”
“I see,” said Andre–Louis, on a note of hopelessness.
“You see? What the devil do you see?”
“That I shall have to depend upon myself alone.”
“And what the devil do you propose to do, if you please?”
“I shall go to Rennes, and lay the facts before the King’s Lieutenant.”
“He’ll be too busy to see you.” And M. de Kercadiou’s mind swung a trifle inconsequently, as weak minds will. “There is trouble enough in Rennes already on the score of these crazy States General, with which the wonderful M. Necker is to repair the finances of the kingdom. As if a peddling Swiss bank-clerk, who is also a damned Protestant, could succeed where such men as Calonne and Brienne have failed.”
“Good-afternoon, monsieur my godfather,” said Andre–Louis.
“Where are you going?” was the querulous demand.
“Home at present. To Rennes in the morning.”
“Wait, boy, wait!” The squat little man rolled forward, affectionate concern on his great ugly face, and he set one of his podgy hands on his godson’s shoulder. “Now listen to me, Andre,” he reasoned. “This is sheer knight-errantry — moonshine, lunacy. You’ll come to no good by it if you persist. You’ve read ‘Don Quixote,’ and what happened to him when he went tilting against windmills. It’s what will happen to you, neither more nor less. Leave things as they are, my boy. I wouldn’t have a mischief happen to you.”
Andre–Louis looked at him, smiling wanly.
“I swore an oath to-day which it would damn my soul to break.”
“You mean that you’ll go in spite of anything that I may say?” Impetuous as he was inconsequent, M. de Kercadiou was bristling again. “Very well, then, go . . . Go to the devil!”
“I will begin with the King’s Lieutenant.”
“And if you get into the trouble you are seeking, don’t come whimpering to me for assistance,” the seigneur stormed. He was very angry now. “Since you choose to disobey me, you can break your empty head against the windmill, and be damned to you.”
Andre–Louis bowed with a touch of irony, and reached the door.
“If the windmill should prove too formidable,” said he, from the threshold, “I may see what can be done with the wind. Good-bye, monsieur my godfather.”
He was gone, and M. de Kercadiou was alone, purple in the face, puzzling out that last cryptic utterance, and not at all happy in his mind, either on the score of his godson or of M. de La Tour d’Azyr. He was disposed to be angry with them both. He found these headstrong, wilful men who relentlessly followed their own impulses very disturbing and irritating. Himself he loved his ease, and to be at peace with his neighbours; and that seemed to him so obviously the supreme good of life that he was disposed to brand them as fools who troubled to seek other things.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59