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Baroness Emmuska Orczy
I WILL REPAY
First published in 1906
Copyright © 2018 Classica Libris
“Coward! Coward! Coward!”
The words rang out, clear, strident, passionate, in a crescendo of agonised humiliation.
The boy, quivering with rage, had sprung to his feet, and, losing his balance, he fell forward clutching at the table, whilst with a convulsive movement of the lids, he tried in vain to suppress the tears of shame which were blinding him.
“Coward!” He tried to shout the insult so that all might hear, but his parched throat refused him service, his trembling hand sought the scattered cards upon the table, he collected them together, quickly, nervously, fingering them with feverish energy, then he hurled them at the man opposite, whilst with a final effort he still contrived to mutter: “Coward!”
The older men tried to interpose, but the young ones only laughed, quite prepared for the adventure which must inevitably ensue, the only possible ending to a quarrel such as this.
Conciliation or arbitration was out of the question. Déroulède should have known better than to speak disrespectfully of Adèle de Montchéri, when the little Vicomte de Marny’s infatuation for the notorious beauty had been the talk of Paris and Versailles these many months past.
Adèle was very lovely and a veritable tower of greed and egotism. The Marnys were rich and the little Vicomte very young, and just now the brightly-plumaged hawk was busy plucking the latest pigeon, newly arrived from its ancestral cote.
The boy was still in the initial stage of his infatuation. To him Adèle was a paragon of all the virtues, and he would have done battle on her behalf against the entire aristocracy of France, in a vain endeavour to justify his own exalted opinion of one of the most dissolute women of the epoch. He was a first-rate swordsman too, and his friends had already learned that it was best to avoid all allusions to Adèle’s beauty and weaknesses.
But Déroulède was a noted blunderer. He was little versed in the manners and tones of that high society in which, somehow, he still seemed an intruder. But for his great wealth, no doubt, he never would have been admitted within the intimate circle of aristocratic France. His ancestry was somewhat doubtful and his coat-of-arms unadorned with quarterings.
But little was known of his family or the origin of its wealth; it was only known that his father had suddenly become the late King’s dearest friend, and commonly surmised that Déroulède gold had on more than one occasion filled the emptied coffers of the First Gentleman of France.
Déroulède had not sought the present quarrel. He had merely blundered in that clumsy way of his, which was no doubt a part of the inheritance bequeathed to him by his bourgeois ancestry.
He knew nothing of the little Vicomte’s private affairs, still less of his relationship with Adèle, but he knew enough of the world and enough of Paris to be acquainted with the lady’s reputation. He hated at all times to speak of women. He was not what in those days would be termed a ladies’ man, and was even somewhat unpopular with the sex. But in this instance the conversation had drifted in that direction, and when Adèle’s name was mentioned, every one became silent, save the little Vicomte, who waxed enthusiastic.
A shrug of the shoulders on Déroulède’s part had aroused the boy’s ire, then a few casual words, and, without further warning, the insult had been hurled and the cards thrown in the older man’s face.
Déroulède did not move from his seat. He sat erect and placid, one knee crossed over the other, his serious, rather swarthy face perhaps a shade paler than usual: otherwise it seemed as if the insult had never reached his ears, or the cards struck his cheek.
He had perceived his blunder, just twenty seconds too late. Now he was sorry for the boy and angered with himself, but it was too late to draw back. To avoid a conflict he would at this moment have sacrificed half his fortune, but not one particle of his dignity.
He knew and respected the old Duc de Marny, a feeble old man now, almost a dotard whose hitherto spotless blason, the young Vicomte, his son, was doing his best to besmirch.
When the boy fell forward, blind and drunk with rage, Déroulède leant towards him automatically, quite kindly, and helped him to his feet. He would have asked the lad’s pardon for his own thoughtlessness, had that been possible: but the stilted code of so-called honour forbade so logical a proceeding. It would have done no good, and could but imperil his own reputation without averting the traditional sequel.
The panelled walls of the celebrated gaming saloon had often witnessed scenes such as this. All those present acted by routine. The etiquette of duelling prescribed certain formalities, and these were strictly but rapidly adhered to.
The young Vicomte was quickly surrounded by a close circle of friends. His great name, his wealth, his father’s influence, had opened for him every door in Versailles and Paris. At this moment he might have had an army of seconds to support him in the coming conflict.
Déroulède for a while was left alone near the card table, where the unsnuffed candles began smouldering in their sockets. He had risen to his feet, somewhat bewildered at the rapid turn of events. His dark, restless eyes wandered for a moment round the room, as if in quick search for a friend.
But where the Vicomte was at home by right, Déroulède had only been admitted by reason of his wealth. His acquaintances and sycophants were many, but his friends very few.
For the first time this fact was brought home to him. Every one in the room must have known and realised that he had not wilfully sought this quarrel, that throughout he had borne himself as any gentleman would, yet now, when the issue was so close at hand, no one came forward to stand by him.
“For form’s sake, Monsieur, will you choose your seconds?”
It was the young Marquis de Villefranche who spoke, a little haughtily, with a certain ironical condescension towards the rich parvenu, who was about to have the honour of crossing swords with one of the noblest gentlemen in France.
“I pray you, Monsieur le Marquis,” rejoined Déroulède coldly, “to make the choice for me. You see, I have few friends in Paris.”
The Marquis bowed, and gracefully flourished his lace handkerchief. He was accustomed to being appealed to in all matters pertaining to etiquette, to the toilet, to the latest cut in coats, and the procedure in duels. Good-natured, foppish, and idle, he felt quite happy and in his element thus to be made chief organiser of the tragic farce, about to be enacted on the parquet floor of the gaming saloon.
He looked about the room for a while, scrutinising the faces of those around him. The gilded youth was crowding round De Marny; a few older men stood in a group at the farther end of the room: to these the Marquis turned, and addressing one of them, an elderly man with a military bearing and a shabby brown coat:
“Mon Colonel,” he said, with another flourishing bow; “I am deputed by M. Déroulède to provide him with seconds for this affair of honour, may I call upon you to…”
“Certainly, certainly,” replied the Colonel. “I am not intimately acquainted with M. Déroulède, but since you stand sponsor, M. le Marquis…”
“Oh!” rejoined the Marquis, lightly, “a mere matter of form, you know. M. Déroulède belongs to the entourage of Her Majesty. He is a man of honour. But I am not his sponsor. Marny is my friend, and if you prefer not to…”
“Indeed I am entirely at M. Déroulède’s service,” said the Colonel, who had thrown a quick, scrutinising glance at the isolated figure near the card table, “if he will accept my services…”
“He will be very glad to accept, my dear Colonel,” whispered the Marquis with an ironical twist of his aristocratic lips. “He has no friends in our set, and if you and De Quettare will honour him, I think he should be grateful.”
M. de Quettare, adjutant to M. le Colonel, was ready to follow in the footsteps of his chief, and the two men, after the prescribed salutations to M. le Marquis de Villefranche, went across to speak to Déroulède.
“If you will accept our services, Monsieur,” began the Colonel abruptly, “mine, and my adjutant’s, M. de Quettare, we place ourselves entirely at your disposal.”
“I thank you, messieurs,” rejoined Déroulède. “The whole thing is a farce, and that young man is a fool; but I have been in the wrong and…”
“You would wish to apologise?” queried the Colonel icily.
The worthy soldier had heard something of Déroulède’s reputed bourgeois ancestry. This suggestion of an apology was no doubt in accordance with the customs of the middle-classes, but the Colonel literally gasped at the unworthiness of the proceeding. An apology? Bah! Disgusting! cowardly! beneath the dignity of any gentleman, however wrong he might be. How could two soldiers of His Majesty’s army identify themselves with such doings?
But Déroulède seemed unconscious of the enormity of his suggestion.
“If I could avoid a conflict,” he said, “I would tell the Vicomte that I had no knowledge of his admiration for the lady we were discussing and…”
“Are you so very much afraid of getting a sword scratch, Monsieur?” interrupted the Colonel impatiently, whilst M. de Quettare elevated a pair of aristocratic eyebrows in bewilderment at such an extraordinary display of bourgeois cowardice.
“You mean, Monsieur le Colonel?” queried Déroulède.
“That you must either fight the Vicomte de Marny to-night, or clear out of Paris to-morrow. Your position in our set would become untenable,” retorted the Colonel, not unkindly, for in spite of Déroulède’s extraordinary attitude, there was nothing in his bearing or his appearance that suggested cowardice or fear.
“I bow to your superior knowledge of your friends, M. le Colonel,” responded Déroulède, as he silently drew his sword from its sheath.
The centre of the saloon was quickly cleared. The seconds measured the length of the swords and then stood behind the antagonists, slightly in advance of the groups of spectators, who stood massed all round the room.
They represented the flower of what France had of the best and noblest in name, in lineage, in chivalry, in that year of grace 1783. The storm-cloud which a few years hence was destined to break over their heads, sweeping them from their palaces to the prison and the guillotine, was only gathering very slowly in the dim horizon of squalid, starving Paris: for the next half-dozen years they would still dance and gamble, fight and flirt, surround a tottering throne, and hoodwink a weak monarch. The Fates’ avenging sword still rested in its sheath; the relentless, ceaseless wheel still bore them up in their whirl of pleasure; the downward movement had only just begun: the cry of the oppressed children of France had not yet been heard above the din of dance music and lovers’ serenades.
The young Duc de Châteaudun was there, he who, nine years later, went to the guillotine on that cold September morning, his hair dressed in the latest fashion, the finest Mechlin lace around his wrists, playing a final game of piquet with his younger brother, as the tumbril bore them along through the hooting, yelling crowd of the half-naked starvelings of Paris.
There was the Vicomte de Mirepoix, who, a few years later, standing on the platform of the guillotine, laid a bet with M. de Miranges that his own blood would flow bluer than that of any other head cut off that day in France. Citizen Samson heard the bet made, and when De Mirepoix’s head fell into the basket, the headsman lifted it up for M. de Miranges to see. The latter laughed.
“Mirepoix was always a braggart,” he said lightly, as he laid his head upon the block.
“Who’ll take my bet that my blood turns out to be bluer than his?”
But of all these comedies, these tragico-farces of later years, none who were present on that night, when the Vicomte de Marny fought Paul Déroulède, had as yet any presentiment.
They watched the two men fighting, with the same casual interest, at first, which they would have bestowed on the dancing of a new movement in the minuet.
De Marny came of a race that had wielded the sword of many centuries, but he was hot, excited, not a little addled with wine and rage. Déroulède was lucky; he would come out of the affair with a slight scratch.
A good swordsman too, that wealthy parvenu. It was interesting to watch his sword-play: very quiet at first, no feint or parry, scarcely a riposte, only en garde, always en garde very carefully, steadily, ready for his antagonist at every turn and in every circumstance.
Gradually the circle round the combatants narrowed. A few discreet exclamations of admiration greeted Déroulède’s most successful parry. De Marny was getting more and more excited, the older man more and more sober and reserved.
A thoughtless lunge placed the little Vicomte at his opponent’s mercy. The next instant he was disarmed, and the seconds were pressing forward to end the conflict.
Honour was satisfied: the parvenu and the scion of the ancient race had crossed swords over the reputation of one of the most dissolute women in France. Déroulède’s moderation was a lesson to all the hot-headed young bloods who toyed with their lives, their honour, their reputation as lightly as they did with their lace-edged handkerchiefs and gold snuff-boxes.
Already Déroulède had drawn back. With the gentle tact peculiar to kindly people, he avoided looking at his disarmed antagonist. But something in the older man’s attitude seemed to further nettle the over-stimulated sensibility of the young Vicomte.
“This is no child’s play, Monsieur,” he said excitedly. “I demand full satisfaction.”
“And are you not satisfied?” queried Déroulède. “You have borne yourself bravely, you have fought in honour of your liege lady. I, on the other hand…”
“You,” shouted the boy hoarsely, “you shall publicly apologise to a noble and virtuous woman whom you have outraged — now — at — once — on your knees…”
“You are mad, Vicomte,” rejoined Déroulède coldly. “I am willing to ask your forgiveness for my blunder…”
“An apology — in public — on your knees…”
The boy had become more and more excited. He had suffered humiliation after humiliation. He was a mere lad, spoilt, adulated, pampered from his boyhood: the wine had got into his head, the intoxication of rage and hatred blinded his saner judgment.
“Coward!” he shouted again and again.
His seconds tried to interpose, but he waved them feverishly aside. He would listen to no one. He saw no one save the man who had insulted Adèle, and who was heaping further insults upon her, by refusing this public acknowledgment of her virtues.
De Marny hated Déroulède at this moment with the most deadly hatred the heart of man can conceive. The older man’s calm, his chivalry, his consideration only enhanced the boy’s anger and shame.
The hubbub had become general. Everyone seemed carried away with this strange fever of enmity, which was seething in the Vicomte’s veins. Most of the young men crowded round De Marny, doing their best to pacify him. The Marquis de Villefranche declared that the matter was getting quite outside the rules.
No one took much notice of Déroulède. In the remote corners of the saloon a few elderly dandies were laying bets as to the ultimate issue of the quarrel.
Déroulède, however, was beginning to lose his temper. He had no friends in that room, and therefore there was no sympathetic observer there, to note the gradual darkening of his eyes, like the gathering of a cloud heavy with the coming storm.
“I pray you, messieurs, let us cease the argument,” he said at last, in a loud, impatient voice. “M. le Vicomte de Marny desires a further lesson, and, by God! he shall have it. En garde, M. le Vicomte!”
The crowd quickly drew back. The seconds once more assumed the bearing and imperturbable expression which their important function demanded. The hubbub ceased as the swords began to clash.
Everyone felt that farce was turning to tragedy.
And yet it was obvious from the first that Déroulède merely meant once more to disarm his antagonist, to give him one more lesson, a little more severe perhaps than the last. He was such a brilliant swordsman, and De Marny was so excited, that the advantage was with him from the very first.
How it all happened, nobody afterwards could say. There is no doubt that the little Vicomte’s sword-play had become more and more wild: that he uncovered himself in the most reckless way, whilst lunging wildly at his opponent’s breast, until at last, in one of these mad, unguarded moments, he seemed literally to throw himself upon Déroulède’s weapon.
The latter tried with lightning-swift motion of the wrist to avoid the fatal issue, but it was too late, and without a sigh or groan, scarce a tremor, the Vicomte de Marny fell.
The sword dropped out of his hand, and it was Déroulède himself who caught the boy in his arms.
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 Déroulède 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 Déroulède 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 Déroulède, 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 brilliant, 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.
And then there was the boy. The little Vicomte, the future Duc de Marny, who would in his life and with his youth recreate the glory of the family, and make France once more ring with the echo of brave deeds and gallant adventures, which had made the name of Marny so glorious in camp and court.
The Vicomte was not his father’s love, but he was his father’s pride, and from the depths of his huge, cushioned arm-chair, the old man would listen with delight to stories from Versailles and Paris, the young Queen and the fascinating Lamballe, the latest play and the newest star in the theatrical firmament. His feeble, tottering mind would then take him back, along the paths of memory, to his own youth and his own triumphs, and in the joy and pride in his son, he would forget himself for the sake of the boy.
When they brought the Vicomte home that night, Juliette was the first to wake. She heard the noise outside the great gates, the coach slowly drawing up, the ring for the doorkeeper, and the sound of Matthieu’s mutterings, who never liked to be called up in the middle of the night to let anyone through the gates.
Somehow a presentiment of evil at once struck the young girl: the footsteps sounded so heavy and muffled along the flagged courtyard, and up the great oak staircase. It seemed as if they were carrying something heavy, something inert or dead.
She jumped out of bed and hastily wrapped a cloak round her thin girlish shoulders, and slipped her feet into a pair of heelless shoes, then she opened her bedroom door and looked out upon the landing.
Two men, whom she did not know, were walking upstairs abreast, two more were carrying a heavy burden, and Matthieu was behind moaning and crying bitterly.
Juliette did not move. She stood in the doorway rigid as a statue. The little cortège went past her. No one saw her, for the landings in the Hotel de Marny are very wide, and Matthieu’s lantern only threw a dim, flickering light upon the floor.
The men stopped outside the Vicomte’s room. Matthieu opened it, and then the five men disappeared within, with their heavy burden.
A moment later old Pétronelle, who had been Juliette’s nurse, and was now her devoted slave, came to her, all bathed in tears.
She had just heard the news, and she could scarcely speak, but she folded the young girl, her dear pet lamb, in her arms, and rocking herself to and fro she sobbed and eased her aching, motherly heart.
But Juliette did not cry. It was all so sudden, so awful. She, at fourteen years of age, had never dreamed of death; and now there was her brother, her Philippe, in whom she had so much joy, so much pride — he was dead — and her father must be told…
The awfulness of this task seemed to Juliette like unto the last Judgment Day; a thing so terrible, so appalling, so impossible, that it would take a host of angels to proclaim its inevitableness.
The old cripple, with one foot in the grave, whose whole feeble mind, whose pride, whose final flicker of hope was concentrated in his boy, must be told that the lad had been brought home dead.
“Will you tell him, Pétronelle?” she asked repeatedly, during the brief intervals when the violence of the old nurse’s grief subsided somewhat.
“No — no — darling, I cannot — I cannot—” moaned Pétronelle, amidst a renewed shower of sobs.
Juliette’s entire soul — a child’s soul it was — rose in revolt at thought of what was before her. She felt angered with God for having put such a thing upon her. What right had He to demand a girl of her years to endure so much mental agony?
To lose her brother, and to witness her father’s grief! She couldn’t! she couldn’t! she couldn’t! God was evil and unjust!
A distant tinkle of a bell made all her nerves suddenly quiver. Her father was awake then? He had heard the noise, and was ringing his bell to ask for an explanation of the disturbance.
With one quick movement Juliette jerked herself free from the nurse’s arms, and before Pétronelle could prevent her, she had run out of the room, straight across the dark landing to a large panelled door opposite.
The old Duc de Marny was sitting on the edge of his bed, with his long, thin legs dangling helplessly to the ground.
Crippled as he was, he had struggled to this upright position, he was making frantic, miserable efforts to raise himself still further. He, too, had heard the dull thud of feet, the shuffling gait of men when carrying a heavy burden.
His mind flew back half-a-century, to the days when he had witnessed scenes wherein he was then merely a half-interested spectator. He knew the cortège composed of valets and friends, with the leech walking beside that precious burden, which anon would be deposited on the bed and left to the tender care of a mourning family.
Who knows what pictures were conjured up before that enfeebled vision? But he guessed. And when Juliette dashed into his room and stood before him, pale, trembling, a world of misery in her great eyes, she knew that he guessed and that she need not tell him. God had already done that for her.
Pierre, the old Duc’s devoted valet, dressed him as quickly as he could. M. le Duc insisted on having his habit de cérémonie, the rich suit of black velvet with the priceless lace and diamond buttons, which he had worn when they laid le Roi Soleil to his eternal rest.
He put on his orders and buckled on his sword. The gorgeous clothes, which had suited him so well in the prime of his manhood, hung somewhat loosely on his attenuated frame, but he looked a grand and imposing figure, with his white hair tied behind with a great black bow, and the fine jabot of beautiful point d’Angleterre falling in a soft cascade below his chin.
Then holding himself as upright as he could, he sat in his invalid chair, and four flunkeys in full livery carried him to the deathbed of his son.
All the house was astir by now. Torches burned in great sockets in the vast hall and along the massive oak stairway, and hundreds of candles flickered ghostlike in the vast apartments of the princely mansion.
The numerous servants were arrayed on the landing, all dressed in the rich livery of the ducal house.
The death of an heir of the Marnys is an event that history makes a note of.
The old Duc’s chair was placed close to the bed, where lay the dead body of the young Vicomte. He made no movement, nor did he utter a word or sigh. Some of those who were present at the time declared that his mind had completely given way, and that he neither felt nor understood the death of his son.
The Marquis de Villefranche, who had followed his friend to the last, took a final leave of the sorrowing house.
Juliette scarcely noticed him. Her eyes were fixed on her father. She would not look at her brother. A childlike fear had seized her, there, suddenly, between these two silent figures: the living and the dead.
But just as the Marquis was leaving the room, the old man spoke for the first time.
“Marquis,” he said very quietly, “you forget — you have not yet told me who killed my son.”
“It was in a fair fight, M. de Duc,” replied the young Marquis, awed in spite of all his frivolity, his light-heartedness, by this strange, almost mysterious tragedy.
“Who killed my son, M. le Marquis?” repeated the old man mechanically. “I have the right to know,” he added with sudden, weird energy.
“It was M. Paul Déroulède, M. le Duc,” replied the Marquis. “I repeat, it was in fair fight.”
The old Duc sighed as if in satisfaction. Then with a courteous gesture of farewell reminiscent of the grand siècle he added:
“All thanks from me and mine to you, Marquis, would seem but a mockery. Your devotion to my son is beyond human thanks. I’ll not detain you now. Farewell.”
Escorted by two lacqueys, the Marquis passed out of the room.
“Dismiss all the servants, Juliette, I have something to say,” said the old Duc, and the young girl, silent, obedient, did as her father bade her.
Father and sister were alone with their dead. As soon as the last hushed footsteps of the retreating servants died away in the distance, the Duc de Marny seemed to throw away the lethargy which had enveloped him until now. With a quick, feverish gesture he seized his daughter’s wrist, and murmured excitedly:
“His name. You heard his name, Juliette?”
“Yes, father,” replied the child.
“Paul Déroulède! Paul Déroulède! You’ll not forget it?”
“He killed your brother! You understand that? Killed my only son, the hope of my house, the last descendant of the most glorious race that has ever added lustre to the history of France.”
“In fair fight, father!” protested the child.
“’Tis not fair for a man to kill a boy,” retorted the old man, with furious energy.
“Déroulède is thirty: my boy was scarce out of his teens: may the vengeance of God fall upon the murderer!”
Juliette, awed, terrified, was gazing at her father with great, wondering eyes. He seemed unlike himself. His face wore a curious expression of ecstasy and of hatred, also of hope and exultation, whenever he looked steadily at her.
That the final glimmer of a tottering reason was fast leaving the poor, aching head she was too young to realise. Madness was a word that had only a vague meaning for her. Though she did not understand her father at the present moment, though she was half afraid of him, she would have rejected with scorn and horror any suggestion that he was mad.
Therefore when he took her hand and, drawing her nearer to the bed and to himself, placed it upon her dead brother’s breast, she recoiled at the touch of the inanimate body, so unlike anything she had ever touched before, but she obeyed her father without any question, and listened to his words as to those of a sage.
“Juliette, you are now fourteen, and able to understand what I am going to ask of you. If I were not chained to this miserable chair, if I were not a hopeless, abject cripple, I would not depute anyone, not even you, my only child, to do that, which God demands that one of us should do.”
He paused a moment, then continued earnestly:
“Remember, Juliette, that you are of the house of Marny, that you are a Catholic, and that God hears you now. For you shall swear an oath before Him and me, an oath from which only death can relieve you. Will you swear, my child?”
“If you wish it, father.”
“You have been to confession lately, Juliette?”
“Yes, father; also to holy communion, yesterday,” replied the child. “It was the Fête-Dieu, you know.”
“Then you are in a state of grace, my child?”
“I was yesterday morning, father,” replied the young girl naïvely, “but I have committed some little sins since then.”
“Then make your confession to God in your heart now. You must be in a state of grace when you speak the oath.”
The child closed her eyes, and as the old man watched her, he could see the lips framing the words of her spiritual confession.
Juliette made the sign of the cross, then opened her eyes and looked at her father.
“I am ready, father,” she said; “I hope God has forgiven me the little sins of yesterday.”
“Will you swear, my child?”
“That you will avenge your brother’s death on his murderer?”
“Swear it, my child!”
“How can I fulfil that oath, father? I don’t understand…”
“God will guide you, my child. When you are older you will understand.”
For a moment Juliette still hesitated. She was just on that borderland between childhood and womanhood when all the sensibilities, the nervous system, the emotions, are strung to their highest pitch.
Throughout her short life she had worshipped her father with a whole-hearted, passionate devotion, which had completely blinded her to his weakening faculties and the feebleness of his mind.
She was also in that initial stage of enthusiastic piety which overwhelms every girl of temperament, if she be brought up in the Roman Catholic religion, when she is first initiated into the mysteries of the Sacraments.
Juliette had been to confession and communion. She had been confirmed by Monseigneur, the Archbishop. Her ardent nature had responded to the full to the sensuous and ecstatic expressions of the ancient faith.
And somehow her father’s wish, her brother’s death, all seemed mingled in her brain with that religion, for which in her juvenile enthusiasm she would willingly have laid down her life.
She thought of all the saints, whose lives she had been reading. Her young heart quivered at the thought of their sacrifices, their martyrdoms, their sense of duty.
An exaltation, morbid perhaps, superstitious and overwhelming, took possession of her mind; also, perhaps, far back in the innermost recesses of her heart, a pride in her own importance, her mission in life, her individuality: for she was a girl after all, a mere child, about to become a woman.
But the old Duc was waxing impatient.
“Surely you do not hesitate, Juliette, with your dead brother’s body clamouring mutely for revenge? You, the only Marny left now! — for from this day I too shall be as dead.”
“No, father,” said the young girl in an awed whisper, “I do not hesitate. I will swear, just as you bid me.”
“Repeat the words after me, my child.”
“Before the face of Almighty God, who sees and hears me…”
“Before the face of Almighty God, who sees and hears me,” repeated Juliette firmly.
“I swear that I will seek out Paul Déroulède.”
“I swear that I will seek out Paul Déroulède.”
“And in any manner which God may dictate to me encompass his death, his ruin or dishonour, in revenge for my brother’s death.”
“And in any manner which God may dictate to me encompass his death, his ruin or dishonour, in revenge for my brother’s death,” said Juliette solemnly.
“May my brother’s soul remain in torment until the final Judgment Day if I should break my oath, but may it rest in eternal peace the day on which his death is fitly avenged.”
“May my brother’s soul remain in torment until the final Judgment Day if I should break my oath, but may it rest in eternal peace the day on which his death is fitly avenged.”
The child fell upon her knees. The oath was spoken, the old man was satisfied.
He called for his valet, and allowed himself quietly to be put to bed.
One brief hour had transformed a child into a woman. A dangerous transformation when the brain is overburdened with emotions, when the nerves are overstrung and the heart full to breaking.
For the moment, however, the childlike nature reasserted itself for the last time, for Juliette, sobbing, had fled out of the room, to the privacy of her own apartment, and thrown herself passionately into the arms of kind old Pétronelle.
It would have been very difficult to say why citizen Déroulède was quite so popular as he was. Still more difficult would it have been to state the reason why he remained immune from the prosecutions, which were being conducted at the rate of several scores a day, now against the moderate Gironde, anon against the fanatic Mountain, until the whole of France was transformed into one gigantic prison, that daily fed the guillotine.
But Déroulède remained unscathed. Even Merlin’s law of the suspect had so far failed to touch him. And when, last July, the murder of Marat brought an entire holocaust of victims to the guillotine — from Adam Lux, who would have put up a statue in honour of Charlotte Corday, with the inscription: “Greater than Brutus”, to Charlier, who would have had her publicly tortured and burned at the stake for her crime — Déroulède alone said nothing, and was allowed to remain silent.
The most seething time of that seething revolution. No one knew in the morning if his head would still be on his own shoulders in the evening, or if it would be held up by citizen Samson the headsman, for the sans-culottes of Paris to see.
Yet Déroulède was allowed to go his own way. Marat once said of him: “Il n’est pas dangereux.” The phrase had been taken up. Within the precincts of the National Convention, Marat was still looked upon as the great protagonist of Liberty, a martyr to his own convictions carried to the extreme, to squalor and dirt, to the downward levelling of man to what is the lowest type in humanity. And his sayings were still treasured up: even the Girondins did not dare to attack his memory. Dead Marat was more powerful than his living presentment had been.
And he had said that Déroulède was not dangerous. Not dangerous to Republicanism, to liberty, to that downward, levelling process, the tearing down of old traditions, and the annihilation of past pretensions.