M. de La Tour d’Azyr was seen no more in the Manege — or indeed in Paris at all — throughout all the months that the National Assembly remained in session to complete its work of providing France with a constitution. After all, though the wound to his body had been comparatively slight, the wound to such a pride as his had been all but mortal.
The rumour ran that he had emigrated. But that was only half the truth. The whole of it was that he had joined that group of noble travellers who came and went between the Tuileries and the headquarters of the emigres at Coblenz. He became, in short, a member of the royalist secret service that in the end was to bring down the monarchy in ruins.
As for Andre–Louis, his godfather’s house saw him no more, as a result of his conviction that M. de Kercadiou would not relent from his written resolve never to receive him again if the duel were fought.
He threw himself into his duties at the Assembly with such zeal and effect that when — its purpose accomplished — the Constituent was dissolved in September of the following year, membership of the Legislative, whose election followed immediately, was thrust upon him.
He considered then, like many others, that the Revolution was a thing accomplished, that France had only to govern herself by the Constitution which had been given her, and that all would now be well. And so it might have been but that the Court could not bring itself to accept the altered state of things. As a result of its intrigues half Europe was arming to hurl herself upon France, and her quarrel was the quarrel of the French King with his people. That was the horror at the root of all the horrors that were to come.
Of the counter-revolutionary troubles that were everywhere being stirred up by the clergy, none were more acute than those of Brittany, and, in view of the influence it was hoped he would wield in his native province, it was proposed to Andre–Louis by the Commission of Twelve, in the early days of the Girondin ministry, that he should go thither to combat the unrest. He was desired to proceed peacefully, but his powers were almost absolute, as is shown by the orders he carried — orders enjoining all to render him assistance and warning those who might hinder him that they would do so at their peril.
He accepted the task, and he was one of the five plenipotentiaries despatched on the same errand in that spring of 1792. It kept him absent from Paris for four months and might have kept him longer but that at the beginning of August he was recalled. More imminent than any trouble in Brittany was the trouble brewing in Paris itself; when the political sky was blacker than it had been since ‘89. Paris realized that the hour was rapidly approaching which would see the climax of the long struggle between Equality and Privilege. And it was towards a city so disposed that Andre–Louis came speeding from the West, to find there also the climax of his own disturbed career.
Mlle. de Kercadiou, too, was in Paris in those days of early August, on a visit to her uncle’s cousin and dearest friend, Mme. de Plougastel. And although nothing could now be plainer than the seething unrest that heralded the explosion to come, yet the air of gaiety, indeed of jocularity, prevailing at Court — whither madame and mademoiselle went almost daily — reassured them. M. de Plougastel had come and gone again, back to Coblenz on that secret business that kept him now almost constantly absent from his wife. But whilst with her he had positively assured her that all measures were taken, and that an insurrection was a thing to be welcomed, because it could have one only conclusion, the final crushing of the Revolution in the courtyard of the Tuileries. That, he added, was why the King remained in Paris. But for his confidence in that he would put himself in the centre of his Swiss and his knights of the dagger, and quit the capital. They would hack a way out for him easily if his departure were opposed. But not even that would be necessary.
Yet in those early days of August, after her husband’s departure the effect of his inspiring words was gradually dissipated by the march of events under madame’s own eyes. And finally on the afternoon of the ninth, there arrived at the Hotel Plougastel a messenger from Meudon bearing a note from M. de Kercadiou in which he urgently bade mademoiselle join him there at once, and advised her hostess to accompany her.
You may have realized that M. de Kercadiou was of those who make friends with men of all classes. His ancient lineage placed him on terms of equality with members of the noblesse; his simple manners — something between the rustic and the bourgeois — and his natural affability placed him on equally good terms with those who by birth were his inferiors. In Meudon he was known and esteemed of all the simple folk, and it was Rougane, the friendly mayor, who, informed on the 9th of August of the storm that was brewing for the morrow, and knowing of mademoiselle’s absence in Paris, had warningly advised him to withdraw her from what in the next four-and-twenty hours might be a zone of danger for all persons of quality, particularly those suspected of connections with the Court party.
Now there was no doubt whatever of Mme. de Plougastel’s connection with the Court. It was not even to be doubted — indeed, measure of proof of it was to be forthcoming — that those vigilant and ubiquitous secret societies that watched over the cradle of the young revolution were fully informed of the frequent journeyings of M. de Plougastel to Coblenz, and entertained no illusions on the score of the reason for them. Given, then, a defeat of the Court party in the struggle that was preparing, the position in Paris of Mme. de Plougastel could not be other than fraught with danger, and that danger would be shared by any guest of birth at her hotel.
M. de Kercadiou’s affection for both those women quickened the fears aroused in him by Rougane’s warning. Hence that hastily dispatched note, desiring his niece and imploring his friend to come at once to Meudon.
The friendly mayor carried his complaisance a step farther, and dispatched the letter to Paris by the hands of his own son, an intelligent lad of nineteen. It was late in the afternoon of that perfect August day when young Rougane presented himself at the Hotel Plougastel.
He was graciously received by Mme. de Plougastel in the salon, whose splendours, when combined with the great air of the lady herself, overwhelmed the lad’s simple, unsophisticated soul. Madame made up her mind at once.
M. de Kercadiou’s urgent message no more than confirmed her own fears and inclinations. She decided upon instant departure.
“Bien, madame,” said the youth. “Then I have the honour to take my leave.”
But she would not let him go. First to the kitchen to refresh himself, whilst she and mademoiselle made ready, and then a seat for him in her carriage as far as Meudon. She could not suffer him to return on foot as he had come.
Though in all the circumstances it was no more than his due, yet the kindliness that in such a moment of agitation could take thought for another was presently to be rewarded. Had she done less than this, she would have known — if nothing worse — at least some hours of anguish even greater than those that were already in store for her.
It wanted, perhaps, a half-hour to sunset when they set out in her carriage with intent to leave Paris by the Porte Saint–Martin. They travelled with a single footman behind. Rougane — terrifying condescension — was given a seat inside the carriage with the ladies, and proceeded to fall in love with Mlle. de Kercadiou, whom he accounted the most beautiful being he had ever seen, yet who talked to him simply and unaffectedly as with an equal. The thing went to his head a little, and disturbed certain republican notions which he had hitherto conceived himself to have thoroughly digested.
The carriage drew up at the barrier, checked there by a picket of the National Guard posted before the iron gates.
The sergeant in command strode to the door of the vehicle. The Countess put her head from the window.
“The barrier is closed, madame,” she was curtly informed.
“Closed!” she echoed. The thing was incredible. “But . . . but do you mean that we cannot pass?”
“Not unless you have a permit, madame.” The sergeant leaned nonchalantly on his pike. “The orders are that no one is to leave or enter without proper papers.”
“Orders of the Commune of Paris.”
“But I must go into the country this evening.” Madame’s voice was almost petulant. “I am expected.”
“In that case let madame procure a permit.”
“Where is it to be procured?”
“At the Hotel de Ville or at the headquarters of madame’s section.”
She considered a moment. “To the section, then. Be so good as to tell my coachman to drive to the Bondy Section.”
He saluted her and stepped back. “Section Bondy, Rue des Morts,” he bade the driver.
Madame sank into her seat again, in a state of agitation fully shared by mademoiselle. Rougane set himself to pacify and reassure them. The section would put the matter in order. They would most certainly be accorded a permit. What possible reason could there be for refusing them? A mere formality, after all!
His assurance uplifted them merely to prepare them for a still more profound dejection when presently they met with a flat refusal from the president of the section who received the Countess.
“Your name, madame?” he had asked brusquely. A rude fellow of the most advanced republican type, he had not even risen out of deference to the ladies when they entered. He was there, he would have told you, to perform the duties of his office, not to give dancing-lessons.
“Plougastel,” he repeated after her, without title, as if it had been the name of a butcher or baker. He took down a heavy volume from a shelf on his right, opened it and turned the pages. It was a sort of directory of his section. Presently he found what he sought. “Comte de Plougastel, Hotel Plougastel, Rue du Paradis. Is that it?”
“That is correct, monsieur,” she answered, with what civility she could muster before the fellow’s affronting rudeness.
There was a long moment of silence, during which he studied certain pencilled entries against the name. The sections had been working in the last few weeks much more systematically than was generally suspected.
“Your husband is with you, madame?” he asked curtly, his eyes still conning that page.
“M. le Comte is not with me,” she answered, stressing the title.
“Not with you?” He looked up suddenly, and directed upon her a glance in which suspicion seemed to blend with derision. “Where is he?”
“He is not in Paris, monsieur.
“Ah! Is he at Coblenz, do you think?”
Madame felt herself turning cold. There was something ominous in all this. To what end had the sections informed themselves so thoroughly of the comings and goings of their inhabitants? What was preparing? She had a sense of being trapped, of being taken in a net that had been cast unseen.
“I do not know, monsieur,” she said, her voice unsteady.
“Of course not.” He seemed to sneer. “No matter. And you wish to leave Paris also? Where do you desire to go?”
“Your business there?”
The blood leapt to her face. His insolence was unbearable to a woman who in all her life had never known anything but the utmost deference from inferiors and equals alike. Nevertheless, realizing that she was face to face with forces entirely new, she controlled herself, stifled her resentment, and answered steadily.
“I wish to conduct this lady, Mlle. de Kercadiou, back to her uncle who resides there.”
“Is that all? Another day will do for that, madame. The matter is not pressing.”
“Pardon, monsieur, to us the matter is very pressing.”
“You have not convinced me of it, and the barriers are closed to all who cannot prove the most urgent and satisfactory reasons for wishing to pass. You will wait, madame, until the restriction is removed. Good-evening.”
“But, monsieur . . . ”
“Good-evening, madame,” he repeated significantly, a dismissal more contemptuous and despotic than any royal “You have leave to go.”
Madame went out with Aline. Both were quivering with the anger that prudence had urged them to suppress. They climbed into the coach again, desiring to be driven home.
Rougane’s astonishment turned into dismay when they told him what had taken place. “Why not try the Hotel de Ville, madame?” he suggested.
“After that? It would be useless. We must resign ourselves to remaining in Paris until the barriers are opened again.”
“Perhaps it will not matter to us either way by then, madame,” said Aline.
“Aline!” she exclaimed in horror.
“Mademoiselle!” cried Rougane on the same note. And then, because he perceived that people detained in this fashion must be in some danger not yet discernible, but on that account more dreadful, he set his wits to work. As they were approaching the Hotel Plougastel once more, he announced that he had solved the problem.
“A passport from without would do equally well,” he announced. “Listen, now, and trust to me. I will go back to Meudon at once. My father shall give me two permits — one for myself alone, and another for three persons — from Meudon to Paris and back to Meudon. I reenter Paris with my own permit, which I then proceed to destroy, and we leave together, we three, on the strength of the other one, representing ourselves as having come from Meudon in the course of the day. It is quite simple, after all. If I go at once, I shall be back to-night.”
“But how will you leave?” asked Aline.
“I? Pooh! As to that, have no anxiety. My father is Mayor of Meudon. There are plenty who know him. I will go to the Hotel de Ville, and tell them what is, after all, true — that I am caught in Paris by the closing of the barriers, and that my father is expecting me home this evening. They will pass me through. It is quite simple.”
His confidence uplifted them again. The thing seemed as easy as he represented it.
“Then let your passport be for four, my friend,” madame begged him. “There is Jacques,” she explained, indicating the footman who had just assisted them to alight.
Rougane departed confident of soon returning, leaving them to await him with the same confidence. But the hours succeeded one another, the night closed in, bedtime came, and still there was no sign of his return.
They waited until midnight, each pretending for the other’s sake to a confidence fully sustained, each invaded by vague premonitions of evil, yet beguiling the time by playing tric-trac in the great salon, as if they had not a single anxious thought between them.
At last on the stroke of midnight, madame sighed and rose.
“It will be for to-morrow morning,” she said, not believing it.
“Of course,” Aline agreed. “It would really have been impossible for him to have returned to-night. And it will be much better to travel to-morrow. The journey at so late an hour would tire you so much, dear madame.”
Thus they made pretence.
Early in the morning they were awakened by a din of bells — the tocsins of the sections ringing the alarm. To their startled ears came later the rolling of drums, and at one time they heard the sounds of a multitude on the march. Paris was rising. Later still came the rattle of small-arms in the distance and the deeper boom of cannon. Battle was joined between the men of the sections and the men of the Court. The people in arms had attacked the Tuileries. Wildest rumours flew in all directions, and some of them found their way through the servants to the Hotel Plougastel, of that terrible fight for the palace which was to end in the purposeless massacre of all those whom the invertebrate monarch abandoned there, whilst placing himself and his family under the protection of the Assembly. Purposeless to the end, ever adopting the course pointed out to him by evil counsellors, he prepared for resistance only until the need for resistance really arose, whereupon he ordered a surrender which left those who had stood by him to the last at the mercy of a frenzied mob.
And while this was happening in the Tuileries, the two women at the Hotel Plougastel still waited for the return of Rougane, though now with ever-lessening hope. And Rougane did not return. The affair did not appear so simple to the father as to the son. Rougane the elder was rightly afraid to lend himself to such a piece of deception.
He went with his son to inform M. de Kercadiou of what had happened, and told him frankly of the thing his son suggested, but which he dared not do.
M. de Kercadiou sought to move him by intercessions and even by the offer of bribes. But Rougane remained firm.
“Monsieur,” he said, “if it were discovered against me, as it inevitably would be, I should hang for it. Apart from that, and in spite of my anxiety to do all in my power to serve you, it would be a breach of trust such as I could not contemplate. You must not ask me, monsieur.”
“But what do you conceive is going to happen?” asked the half-demented gentleman.
“It is war,” said Rougane, who was well informed, as we have seen. “War between the people and the Court. I am desolated that my warning should have come too late. But, when all is said, I do not think that you need really alarm yourself. War will not be made on women.” M. de Kercadiou clung for comfort to that assurance after the mayor and his son had departed. But at the back of his mind there remained the knowledge of the traffic in which M. de Plougastel was engaged. What if the revolutionaries were equally well informed? And most probably they were. The women-folk political offenders had been known aforetime to suffer for the sins of their men. Anything was possible in a popular upheaval, and Aline would be exposed jointly with Mme. de Plougastel.
Late that night, as he sat gloomily in his brother’s library, the pipe in which he had sought solace extinguished between his fingers, there came a sharp knocking at the door.
To the old seneschal of Gavrillac who went to open there stood revealed upon the threshold a slim young man in a dark olive surcoat, the skirts of which reached down to his calves. He wore boots, buckskins, and a small-sword, and round his waist there was a tricolour sash, in his hat a tricolour cockade, which gave him an official look extremely sinister to the eyes of that old retainer of feudalism, who shared to the full his master’s present fears.
“Monsieur desires?” he asked, between respect and mistrust.
And then a crisp voice startled him.
“Why, Benoit! Name of a name! Have you completely forgotten me?”
With a shaking hand the old man raised the lantern he carried so as to throw its light more fully upon that lean, wide-mouthed countenance.
“M. Andre!” he cried. “M. Andre!” And then he looked at the sash and the cockade, and hesitated, apparently at a loss.
But Andre–Louis stepped past him into the wide vestibule, with its tessellated floor of black-and-white marble.
“If my godfather has not yet retired, take me to him. If he has retired, take me to him all the same.”
“Oh, but certainly, M. Andre — and I am sure he will be ravished to see you. No, he has not yet retired. This way, M. Andre; this way, if you please.”
The returning Andre–Louis, reaching Meudon a half-hour ago, had gone straight to the mayor for some definite news of what might be happening in Paris that should either confirm or dispel the ominous rumours that he had met in ever-increasing volume as he approached the capital. Rougane informed him that insurrection was imminent, that already the sections had possessed themselves of the barriers, and that it was impossible for any person not fully accredited to enter or leave the city.
Andre–Louis bowed his head, his thoughts of the gravest. He had for some time perceived the danger of this second revolution from within the first, which might destroy everything that had been done, and give the reins of power to a villainous faction that would plunge the country into anarchy. The thing he had feared was more than ever on the point of taking place. He would go on at once, that very night, and see for himself what was happening.
And then, as he was leaving, he turned again to Rougane to ask if M. de Kercadiou was still at Meudon.
“You know him, monsieur?”
“He is my godfather.”
“Your godfather! And you a representative! Why, then, you may be the very man he needs.” And Rougane told him of his son’s errand into Paris that afternoon and its result.
No more was required. That two years ago his godfather should upon certain terms have refused him his house weighed for nothing at the moment. He left his travelling carriage at the little inn and went straight to M. de Kercadiou.
And M. de Kercadiou, startled in such an hour by this sudden apparition, of one against whom he nursed a bitter grievance, greeted him in terms almost identical with those in which in that same room he had greeted him on a similar occasion once before.
“What do you want here, sir?”
“To serve you if possible, my godfather,” was the disarming answer.
But it did not disarm M. de Kercadiou. “You have stayed away so long that I hoped you would not again disturb me.”
“I should not have ventured to disobey you now were it not for the hope that I can be of service. I have seen Rougane, the mayor . . . ”
“What’s that you say about not venturing to disobey?”
“You forbade me your house, monsieur.”
M. de Kercadiou stared at him helplessly.
“And is that why you have not come near me in all this time?”
“Of course. Why else?”
M. de Kercadiou continued to stare. Then he swore under his breath. It disconcerted him to have to deal with a man who insisted upon taking him so literally. He had expected that Andre–Louis would have come contritely to admit his fault and beg to be taken back into favour. He said so.
“But how could I hope that you meant less than you said, monsieur? You were so very definite in your declaration. What expressions of contrition could have served me without a purpose of amendment? And I had no notion of amending. We may yet be thankful for that.”
“I am a representative. I have certain powers. I am very opportunely returning to Paris. Can I serve you where Rougane cannot? The need, monsieur, would appear to be very urgent if the half of what I suspect is true. Aline should be placed in safety at once.”
M. de Kercadiou surrendered unconditionally. He came over and took Andre–Louis’ hand.
“My boy,” he said, and he was visibly moved, “there is in you a certain nobility that is not to be denied. If I seemed harsh with you, then, it was because I was fighting against your evil proclivities. I desired to keep you out of the evil path of politics that have brought this unfortunate country into so terrible a pass. The enemy on the frontier; civil war about to flame out at home. That is what you revolutionaries have done.”
Andre–Louis did not argue. He passed on.
“About Aline?” he asked. And himself answered his own question: “She is in Paris, and she must be brought out of it at once, before the place becomes a shambles, as well it may once the passions that have been brewing all these months are let loose. Young Rougane’s plan is good. At least, I cannot think of a better one.”
“But Rougane the elder will not hear of it.”
“You mean he will not do it on his own responsibility. But he has consented to do it on mine. I have left him a note over my signature to the effect that a safe-conduct for Mlle. de Kercadiou to go to Paris and return is issued by him in compliance with orders from me. The powers I carry and of which I have satisfied him are his sufficient justification for obeying me in this. I have left him that note on the understanding that he is to use it only in an extreme case, for his own protection. In exchange he has given me this safe-conduct.”
“You already have it!”
M. de Kercadiou took the sheet of paper that Andre–Louis held out. His hand shook. He approached it to the cluster of candles burning on the console and screwed up his short-sighted eyes to read.
“If you send that to Paris by young Rougane in the morning,” said Andre–Louis, “Aline should be here by noon. Nothing, of course, could be done to-night without provoking suspicion. The hour is too late. And now, monsieur my godfather, you know exactly why I intrude in violation of your commands. If there is any other way in which I can serve you, you have but to name it whilst I am here.”
“But there is, Andre. Did not Rougane tell you that there were others . . . ”
“He mentioned Mme. de Plougastel and her servant.”
“Then why . . .?” M. de Kercadiou broke off, looking his question.
Very solemnly Andre–Louis shook his head.
“That is impossible,” he said.
M. de Kercadiou’s mouth fell open in astonishment. “Impossible!” he repeated. “But why?”
“Monsieur, I can do what I am doing for Aline without offending my conscience. Besides, for Aline I would offend my conscience and do it. But Mme. de Plougastel is in very different case. Neither Aline nor any of hers have been concerned in counter-revolutionary work, which is the true source of the calamity that now threatens to overtake us. I can procure her removal from Paris without self-reproach, convinced that I am doing nothing that any one could censure, or that might become the subject of enquiries. But Mme. de Plougastel is the wife of M. le Comte de Plougastel, whom all the world knows to be an agent between the Court and the emigres.”
“That is no fault of hers,” cried M. de Kercadiou through his consternation.
“Agreed. But she may be called upon at any moment to establish the fact that she is not a party to these manoeuvres. It is known that she was in Paris to-day. Should she be sought to-morrow and should it be found that she has gone, enquiries will certainly be made, from which it must result that I have betrayed my trust, and abused my powers to serve personal ends. I hope, monsieur, that you will understand that the risk is too great to be run for the sake of a stranger.”
“A stranger?” said the Seigneur reproachfully.
“Practically a stranger to me,” said Andre–Louis.
“But she is not a stranger to me, Andre. She is my cousin and very dear and valued friend. And, mon Dieu, what you say but increases the urgency of getting her out of Paris. She must be rescued, Andre, at all costs — she must be rescued! Why, her case is infinitely more urgent than Aline’s!”
He stood a suppliant before his godson, very different now from the stern man who had greeted him on his arrival. His face was pale, his hands shook, and there were beads of perspiration on his brow.
“Monsieur my godfather, I would do anything in reason. But I cannot do this. To rescue her might mean ruin for Aline and yourself as well as for me.”
“We must take the risk.”
“You have a right to speak for yourself, of course.”
“Oh, and for you, believe me, Andre, for you!” He came close to the young man. “Andre, I implore you to take my word for that, and to obtain this permit for Mme. de Plougastel.”
Andre looked at him mystified. “This is fantastic,” he said. “I have grateful memories of the lady’s interest in me for a few days once when I was a child, and again more recently in Paris when she sought to convert me to what she accounts the true political religion. But I do not risk my neck for her — no, nor yours, nor Aline’s.”
“Ah! But, Andre . . . ”
“That is my last word, monsieur. It is growing late, and I desire to sleep in Paris.”
“No, no! Wait!” The Lord of Gavrillac was displaying signs of unspeakable distress. “Andre, you must!”
There was in this insistence and, still more, in the frenzied manner of it, something so unreasonable that Andre could not fail to assume that some dark and mysterious motive lay behind it.
“I must?” he echoed. “Why must I? Your reasons, monsieur?”
“Andre, my reasons are overwhelming.”
“Pray allow me to be the judge of that.” Andre–Louis’ manner was almost peremptory.
The demand seemed to reduce M. de Kercadiou to despair. He paced the room, his hands tight-clasped behind him, his brow wrinkled. At last he came to stand before his godson.
“Can’t you take my word for it that these reasons exist?” he cried in anguish.
“In such a matter as this — a matter that may involve my neck? Oh, monsieur, is that reasonable?”
“I violate my word of honour, my oath, if I tell you.” M. de Kercadiou turned away, wringing his hands, his condition visibly piteous; then turned again to Andre. “But in this extremity, in this desperate extremity, and since you so ungenerously insist, I shall have to tell you. God help me, I have no choice. She will realize that when she knows. Andre, my boy . . . ” He paused again, a man afraid. He set a hand on his godson’s shoulder, and to his increasing amazement Andre–Louis perceived that over those pale, short-sighted eyes there was a film of tears. “Mme. de Plougastel is your mother.”
Followed, for a long moment, utter silence. This thing that he was told was not immediately understood. When understanding came at last Andre–Louis’ first impulse was to cry out. But he possessed himself, and played the Stoic. He must ever be playing something. That was in his nature. And he was true to his nature even in this supreme moment. He continued silent until, obeying that queer histrionic instinct, he could trust himself to speak without emotion. “I see,” he said, at last, quite coolly.
His mind was sweeping back over the past. Swiftly he reviewed his memories of Mme. de Plougastel, her singular if sporadic interest in him, the curious blend of affection and wistfulness which her manner towards him had always presented, and at last he understood so much that hitherto had intrigued him.
“I see,” he said again; and added now, “Of course, any but a fool would have guessed it long ago.”
It was M. de Kercadiou who cried out, M. de Kercadiou who recoiled as from a blow.
“My God, Andre, of what are you made? You can take such an announcement in this fashion?”
“And how would you have me take it? Should it surprise me to discover that I had a mother? After all, a mother is an indispensable necessity to getting one’s self born.”
He sat down abruptly, to conceal the too-revealing fact that his limbs were shaking. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket to mop his brow, which had grown damp. And then, quite suddenly, he found himself weeping.
At the sight of those tears streaming silently down that face that had turned so pale, M. de Kercadiou came quickly across to him. He sat down beside him and threw an arm affectionately over his shoulder.
“Andre, my poor lad,” he murmured. “I . . . I was fool enough to think you had no heart. You deceived me with your infernal pretence, and now I see . . . I see . . . ” He was not sure what it was that he saw, or else he hesitated to express it.
“It is nothing, monsieur. I am tired out, and . . . and I have a cold in the head.” And then, finding the part beyond his power, he abruptly threw it up, utterly abandoned all pretence. “Why . . . why has there been all this mystery?” he asked. “Was it intended that I should never know?”
“It was, Andre. It . . . it had to be, for prudence’ sake.”
“But why? Complete your confidence, sir. Surely you cannot leave it there. Having told me so much, you must tell me all.”
“The reason, my boy, is that you were born some three years after your mother’s marriage with M. de Plougastel, some eighteen months after M. de Plougastel had been away with the army, and some four months before his return to his wife. It is a matter that M. de Plougastel has never suspected, and for gravest family reasons must never suspect. That is why the utmost secrecy has been preserved. That is why none was ever allowed to know. Your mother came betimes into Brittany, and under an assumed name spent some months in the village of Moreau. It was while she was there that you were born.”
Andre–Louis turned it over in his mind. He had dried his tears. And sat now rigid and collected.
“When you say that none was ever allowed to know, you are telling me, of course, that you, monsieur . . . ”
“Oh, mon Dieu, no!” The denial came in a violent outburst. M. de Kercadiou sprang to his feet propelled from Andre’s side by the violence of his emotions. It was as if the very suggestion filled him with horror. “I was the only other one who knew. But it is not as you think, Andre. You cannot imagine that I should lie to you, that I should deny you if you were my son?”
“If you say that I am not, monsieur, that is sufficient.”
“You are not. I was Therese’s cousin and also, as she well knew, her truest friend. She knew that she could trust me; and it was to me she came for help in her extremity. Once, years before, I would have married her. But, of course, I am not the sort of man a woman could love. She trusted, however, to my love for her, and I have kept her trust.”
“Then, who was my father?”
“I don’t know. She never told me. It was her secret, and I did not pry. It is not in my nature, Andre.”
Andre–Louis got up, and stood silently facing M. de Kercadiou.
“You believe me, Andre.”
“Naturally, monsieur; and I am sorry, I am sorry that I am not your son.”
M. de Kercadiou gripped his godson’s hand convulsively, and held it a moment with no word spoken. Then as they fell away from each other again:
“And now, what will you do, Andre?” he asked. “Now that you know?”
Andre–Louis stood awhile, considering, then broke into laughter. The situation had its humours. He explained them.
“What difference should the knowledge make? Is filial piety to be called into existence by the mere announcement of relationship? Am I to risk my neck through lack of circumspection on behalf of a mother so very circumspect that she had no intention of ever revealing herself? The discovery rests upon the merest chance, upon a fall of the dice of Fate. Is that to weigh with me?”
“The decision is with you, Andre.”
“Nay, it is beyond me. Decide it who can, I cannot.”
“You mean that you refuse even now?”
“I mean that I consent. Since I cannot decide what it is that I should do, it only remains for me to do what a son should. It is grotesque; but all life is grotesque.”
“You will never, never regret it.”
“I hope not,” said Andre. “Yet I think it very likely that I shall. And now I had better see Rougane again at once, and obtain from him the other two permits required. Then perhaps it will be best that I take them to Paris myself, in the morning. If you will give me a bed, monsieur, I shall be grateful. I . . . I confess that I am hardly in case to do more to-night.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59