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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesDevereux - Book 4 - Chapter 8. In Which There Is Reason To Fear...
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Devereux - Book 4 - Chapter 8. In Which There Is Reason To Fear... Post by :Gregrey Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :2478

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Devereux - Book 4 - Chapter 8. In Which There Is Reason To Fear...

BOOK IV CHAPTER VIII. IN WHICH THERE IS REASON TO FEAR THAT PRINCES ARE NOT INVARIABLY FREE FROM HUMAN PECCADILLOES

ON entering Paris, my veteran fellow-traveller took leave of me, and I proceeded to my hotel. When the first excitement of my thoughts was a little subsided, and after some feelings of a more public nature, I began to consider what influence the King's death was likely to have on my own fortunes. I could not but see at a glance that for the cause of the Chevalier, and the destiny of his present exertions in Scotland, it was the most fatal event that could have occurred.

The balance of power in the contending factions of France would, I foresaw, lie entirely between the Duke of Orleans and the legitimatized children of the late king: the latter, closely leagued as they were with Madame de Maintenon, could not be much disposed to consider the welfare of Count Devereux; and my wishes, therefore, naturally settled on the former. I was not doomed to a long suspense. Every one knows that the very next day the Duke of Orleans appeared before Parliament, and was proclaimed Regent; that the will of the late King was set aside; and that the Duke of Maine suddenly became as low in power as he had always been despicable in intellect. A little hubbub ensued: people in general laughed at the Regent's _finesse_; and the more sagacious admired the courage and address of which the _finesse was composed. The Regent's mother wrote a letter of sixty-nine pages about it; and the Duchess of Maine boxed the Duke's ears very heartily for not being as clever as herself. All Paris teemed with joyous forebodings; and the Regent, whom every one some time ago had suspected of poisoning his cousins, every one now declared to be the most perfect prince that could possibly be imagined, and the very picture of Henri Quatre in goodness as well as physiognomy. Three days after this event, one happened to myself with which my public career may be said to commence.

I had spent the evening at a house in a distant part of Paris, and, invited by the beauty of the night, had dismissed my carriage, and was walking home alone and on foot. Occupied with my reflections, and not very well acquainted with the dangerous and dark streets of Paris, in which it was very rare for those who have carriages to wander on foot, I insensibly strayed from my proper direction. When I first discovered this disagreeable fact, I was in a filthy and obscure lane rather than street, which I did not remember having ever honoured with my presence before. While I was pausing in the vain hope and anxious endeavour to shape out some imaginary chart--some "map of the mind," by which to direct my bewildered course--I heard a confused noise proceed from another lane at right angles with the one in which I then was. I listened: the sound became more distinct; I recognized human voices in loud and angry altercation; a moment more and there was a scream. Though I did not attach much importance to the circumstance, I thought I might as well approach nearer to the quarter of noise. I walked to the door of the house from which the scream proceeded; it was very small and mean. Just as I neared it, a window was thrown open, and a voice cried, "Help! help! for God's sake, help!"

"What's the matter?" I asked.

"Whoever you are, save us!" cried the voice, "and that instantly, or we shall be murdered;" and, the moment after, the voice ceased abruptly, and was succeeded by the clashing of swords.

I beat loudly at the door; I shouted out,--no answer; the scuffle within seemed to increase. I saw a small blind alley to the left; one of the unfortunate women to whom such places are homes was standing in it.

"What possibility is there of entering the house?" I asked.

"Oh!" said she, "it does not matter; it is not the first time gentlemen have cut each other's throats _there_."

"What! is it a house of bad repute?"

"Yes; and where there are bullies who wear knives, and take purses, as well as ladies who--"

"Good heavens!" cried I, interrupting her, "there is no time to be lost. Is there no way of entrance but at this door?"

"Yes, if you are bold enough to enter at another!"

"Where?"

"Down this alley."

Immediately I entered the alley; the woman pointed to a small, dark, narrow flight of stairs; I ascended; the sounds increased in loudness. I mounted to the second flight; a light streamed from a door; the clashing of swords was distinctly audible within; I broke open the door, and found myself a witness and intruder on a scene at once ludicrous and fearful.

A table, covered with bottles and the remnants of a meal, was in the centre of the room; several articles of women's dress were scattered over the floor; two women of unequivocal description were clinging to a man richly dressed, and who having fortunately got behind an immense chair, that had been overthrown probably in the scuffle, managed to keep off with awkward address a fierce-looking fellow, who had less scope for the ability of his sword-arm, from the circumstance of his attempting to pull away the chair with his left hand. Whenever he stooped to effect this object his antagonist thrust at him very vigorously, and had it not been for the embarrassment his female enemies occasioned him, the latter would, in all probability, have despatched or disabled his besieger. This fortified gentleman, being backed by the window, I immediately concluded to be the person who had called to me for assistance.

At the other corner of the apartment was another cavalier, who used his sword with singular skill, but who, being hard pressed by two lusty fellows, was forced to employ that skill rather in defence than attack. Altogether, the disordered appearance of the room, the broken bottles, the fumes with which the hot atmosphere teemed, the evident profligacy of the two women, the half-undressed guise of the cavaliers, and the ruffian air and collected ferocity of the assailants, plainly denoted that it was one of those perilous festivals of pleasure in which imprudent gallants were often, in that day, betrayed by treacherous Delilahs into the hands of Philistines, who, not contented with stripping them for the sake of plunder, frequently murdered them for the sake of secrecy.

Having taken a rapid but satisfactory survey of the scene, I did not think it necessary to make any preparatory parley. I threw myself upon the nearest bravo with so hearty a good will that I ran him through the body before he had recovered his surprise at my appearance. This somewhat startled the other two; they drew back and demanded quarter.

"Quarter, indeed!" cried the farther cavalier, releasing himself from his astonished female assailants, and leaping nimbly over his bulwark into the centre of the room, "quarter, indeed, rascally _ivrognes_! No; it is our turn now! and, by Joseph of Arimathea! you shall sup with Pilate to-night." So saying, he pressed his old assailant so fiercely that, after a short contest, the latter retreated till he had backed himself to the door; he then suddenly turned round, and vanished in a twinkling. The third and remaining ruffian was far from thinking himself a match for three men; he fell on his knees, and implored mercy. However, the _ci-devant sustainer of the besieged chair was but little disposed to afford him the clemency he demanded, and approached the crestfallen bravo with so grim an air of truculent delight, brandishing his sword and uttering the most terrible threats, that there would have been small doubt of the final catastrophe of the trembling bully, had not the other gallant thrown himself in the way of his friend.

"Put up thy sword," said he, laughing, and yet with an air of command; "we must not court crime, and then punish it." Then, turning to the bully, he said, "Rise, Sir Rascal! the devil spares thee a little longer, and this gentleman will not disobey _his as well as _thy master's wishes. Begone!"

The fellow wanted no second invitation: he sprang to his legs, and to the door. The disappointed cavalier assisted his descent down the stairs with a kick that would have done the work of the sword to any flesh not accustomed to similar applications. Putting up his rapier, the milder gentleman then turned to _the ladies_, who lay huddled together under shelter of the chair which their intended victim had deserted.

"Ah, Mesdames," said he, gravely, and with a low bow, "I am sorry for your disappointment. As long as you contented yourselves with robbery, it were a shame to have interfered with your innocent amusements; but cold steel becomes serious. Monsieur D'Argenson will favour you with some inquiries to-morrow; at present, I recommend you to empty what remains in the bottle. Adieu! Monsieur, to whom I am so greatly indebted, honour me with your arm down these stairs. You" (turning to his friend) "will follow us, and keep a sharp look behind. _Allons! Vive Henri Quatre_!"

As we descended the dark and rough stairs, my new companion said, "What an excellent antidote to the effects of the _vin de champagne is this same fighting! I feel as if I had not tasted a drop these six hours. What fortune brought you hither, Monsieur?" addressing me.

We were now at the foot of the first flight of stairs; a high and small window admitted the moonlight, and we saw each other's faces clearly.

"That fortune," answered I, looking at my acquaintance steadily, but with an expression of profound respect,--"that fortune which watches over kingdoms, and which, I trust, may in no place or circumstance be a deserter from your Highness."

"Highness!" said my companion, colouring, and darting a glance, first at his friend and then at me. "Hist, Sir, you know me, then,--speak low,--you know, then, for whom you have drawn your sword?"

"Yes, so please your Highness. I have drawn it this night for Philip of Orleans; I trust yet, in another scene and for another cause, to draw it for the Regent of France!"

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