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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Trampling Of The Lilies - Part 2. The New Rule - Chapter 9. The Captives
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The Trampling Of The Lilies - Part 2. The New Rule - Chapter 9. The Captives Post by :ecwip05 Category :Long Stories Author :Rafael Sabatini Date :May 2012 Read :777

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The Trampling Of The Lilies - Part 2. The New Rule - Chapter 9. The Captives

PART II. THE NEW RULE
CHAPTER IX. THE CAPTIVES

Amid the sordid surroundings of Charlot's private quarters the Captain and the Deputy supped that evening. The supper sorted well with the house--a greasy, ill-cooked meal that proved little inviting to the somewhat fastidious La Boulaye. But the wine, plundered, no doubt, in common with the goblets out of which they drank it--was more than good, and whilst La Boulaye showed his appreciation of it, Charlot abused it like a soldier. They sat facing each other across the little deal table, whose stains were now hidden by a cloth, and to light them they had four tapers set in silver candlesticks of magnificent workmanship, and most wondrous weight, which Tardivet informed his guest had been the property of a ci-devant prince of the blood.

As the night wore on Captain Charlot grew boisterous and more confidential. He came at length to speak of the last capture they had made.

"I have taken prizes, Caron," said he, "which a king might not despise. But to-day--" He raised his eyes to the ceiling and wagged his head.

"Well?" quoth La Boulaye. "What about to-day?"

"I have made a capture worth more than all the others put together. It was an indifferent-looking berline, and my men were within an ace of allowing it to pass. But I have a nose, mon cher"--and he tapped the organ with ludicrous significance--"and, bon Dieu, what affair! I can smell an aristocrat a league off. Down upon that coach I swooped like a hawk upon a sparrow. Within it sat two women, thickly veiled, and I give you my word that in a sense I pitied them, for not a doubt of it, but they were in the act of congratulating themselves upon their escape from France. But sentiment may become fatal if permitted to interfere with enterprise. Stifling my regrets I desired them to alight, and they being wise obeyed me without demur. I allowed them to retain their veils. I sought the sight of things other than women's faces, and a brief survey of the coach showed me where to bestow my attention. I lifted the back seat. It came up like the lid of the chest it was, and beneath it I discovered enough gold and silver plate to outweigh in value almost everything that I had ever taken. But that was by no means all. Under the front seat there was a chest of gold--louis d'ors they were, some two or three thousand at least--and, besides that, a little iron-bound box of gems which in itself was worth more than all the rest of the contents of that treasure-casket of a coach. I tell you, Caron, I dropped the lid of that seat in some haste, for I was not minded that my men should become as wise as I. I stepped down and bade, the women re-enter, and hither under strong escort I have brought them."

"And these treasures?" asked La Boulaye.

"They are still in the coach below, with the women. I have told these that they shall spend the night there. To-morrow I shall see to them and give them their liberty--which is a more generous proceeding than might befall them at the hands of another. When they are gone comes the division of the spoil." He closed one eye slowly, in a very ponderous wink. "To my men I shall relegate the gold and silver plate as well as the money. For myself I shall only retain the little iron-bound box. My followers will account me more than generous and themselves more than satisfied. As for me, La Boulaye--by St. Guillotine, I am tempted to emigrate also and set up as an aristocrat myself in Prussia or England, for in that little box there is something more than a fortune. I asked you to-day whether you were minded to lay information against me in Paris. My faith, I am little concerned whether you do or not, for I think that before you can reach Paris, Captain Charlot Tardivet will be no more than a name in the Republican army. Abroad I shall call myself Charlot du Tardivet, and I shall sleep in fine linen and live on truffles and champagne. Caron, your health!"

He drained his glass, and laughed softly to himself as he set it down.

"Do you trust your men?" asked La Boulaye.

"Eh? Trust them? Name of a name! They know me. I have placed the ten most faithful ones on guard. They answer to the rest of us with their necks for the safety of their charge. Come hither, Caron."

He rose somewhat unsteadily, and lurched across to the window. La Boulaye followed him, and gazing out under his indication, he beheld the coach by the blaze of a fire which the men had lighted to keep them from freezing at their post.

"Does that look secure?"

"Why, yes--secure enough. But if those fellows were to take it into their heads that it would be more profitable to share the prize among ten than among sixty?"

"Secreanom!!" swore Charlot impatiently. "You do my wits poor credit. For what do you take me? Have I gone through so much, think you, without learning how little men are to be trusted? Faugh! Look at the porte-cochere. The gates are closed--aye, and locked, mon cher, and the keys are here, in my pocket. Do you imagine they are to be broken through without arousing anyone? And then, the horses. They are in the stables over there, and again, the keys are in my pocket. So that, you see, I do not leave everything to the honesty of my ten most faithful ones."

"You have learned wisdom, not a doubt of it," laughed the Deputy.

"In a hard school, Caron," answered the Captain soberly. "Aye, name of a name, in a monstrous hard school."

He turned from the window, and the light of the tapers falling on his face, showed it heavily scored with lines of pain, testifying to the ugly memories which the Deputy's light words had evoked. Then suddenly he laughed, half-bitterly, half humourously.

"La, la!" said he. "The thing's past. Charlot Tardivet the bridegroom of Bellecour and Captain Charlot of Dumouriez' army are different men-very different."

He strode back to the table, filled his goblet, and gulped down the wine. Then he crossed to the fire and stood with his back to La Boulaye for a spell. When next he faced his companion all signs of emotion had cleared from his countenance. It was again the callous, reckless face of Captain Charlot, rendered a trifle more reckless and a trifle more callous by the wine-flush on his cheeks and the wine-glitter in his eye.

"Caron" said he, with a half-smile, "shall we have these ladies in to supper?"

"God forbid!" ejaculated La Boulaye.

"Nay, but I will," the other insisted, and he moved across to the window.

As he passed him, La Boulaye laid a detaining hand upon his arm.

"Not that, Charlot," he begged impressively, his dark face very set. "Plunder them, turn them destitute upon the world, if you will, but remember, at least, that they are women."

Charlot laughed in his face.

"It is something to remember, is it not? They remembered it of our women, these aristocrats!"

There was so much ugly truth in the Captain's words, and such a suggestion of just, if bitter, retribution in his mental attitude, that La Boulaye released his arm, at a loss for further arguments wherewith to curb him.

"Paydi!" Charlot continued, "I have a mind for a frolic. Does not justice give me the right to claim that these aristocrats shall amuse me?"

With an oath he turned abruptly, and pulled the casement open.

"Guyot!" he called, and a voice from below made answer to him.

"You will make my compliments to the citoyennes in the coach, Guyot, and tell them that the Citizen-captain Tardivet requests the honour of their company to supper."

Then he went to the door, and calling Dame Capoulade, he bade her set two fresh covers; in which he was expeditiously obeyed. La Boulaye stood by the fire, his pale face impassive now and almost indifferent. Charlot returned to the window to learn from Guyot that the citoyennes thanked the Citizen-captain, but that they were tired and sought to be excused, asking nothing better than to be allowed to remain at peace in their carriage.

"Sacred name of a name!" he croaked, a trifle thickly, for the wine he had taken was mastering him more and more. "Are they defying us? Since they will not accept an invitation, compel them to obey a command. Bring them up at once, Guyot."

"At once, Captain," was the answer, and Guyot went about the business.

Charlot closed the window and approached the table.

"They are coquettish these scented dames," he mocked, as he poured himself out some wine. "You are not drinking Caron."

"It is perhaps wise that one of us should remain sober," answered the Deputy quietly, for in spite of a certain sympathy with the feelings by which Charlot was actuated, he was in dead antipathy to this baiting of women that seemed toward.

Charlot made no answer. He drained his goblet and set it down with a bang. Then he flung himself into a chair, and stretching out his long, booted legs he began to hum the refrain of the "Marseillaise." Thus a few moments went by. Then there came a sound of steps upon the creaking stairs, and the gruff voice of the soldier urging the ladies to ascend more speedily.

At last the door opened and two women entered, followed by Guyot. Charlot lurched to his feet.

"You have come, Mesdames," said he, forgetting the mode of address prescribed by the Convention, and clumsily essaying to make a leg. "Be welcome! Guyot, go to the devil."

For a moment or two after the soldier's departure the women remained in the shadow, then, at the Captain's invitation, which they dared not disobey, they came forward into the halo of candle-light. Simultaneously La Boulaye caught his breath, and took a step forward. Then he drew back again until his shoulders touched the overmantel and there he remained, staring at the newcomers, who as yet, did not appear to have observed him.

They wore no headgear, and their scarfs were thrown back upon their shoulders, revealing to the stricken gaze of La Boulaye the countenances of the Marquise de Bellecour and her daughter.

And now, as they advanced into the light, Charlot recognised them too. In the act of offering a chair he stood, arrested, his eyes devouring first one, then the other of then, with a glance that seemed to have grown oddly sobered. The flush died from his face, and his lips twitched like those of a man who seeks to control his emotions. Then slowly the colour crept back into his cheeks, a curl of mockery appeared on the coarse mouth, and the eyes beamed evilly.

They tense silence was broken by the bang with which he dropped the chair he had half raised. As he leaned forward now, La Boulaye read in his face the thought that had leapt into the Captain's mind, and had it been a question of any woman other than Zuzanne de Bellecour, the Deputy might have indulged in the consideration of what a wonderful retribution was there here. Into the hands of the man whose bride the Marquis de Bellecour had torn from him were now delivered by a wonderful chance the wife and daughter of that same Bellecour. And at Boisvert this briganding Captain was as much to-night the lord of life and death, and all besides, as had been the Marquis of Bellecour of old. But he pondered not these things, for all that the stern irony of the coincidence did not escape him. That evil look in Charlot's eyes, that sinister smile on Charlot's lips, more than suggested what manner of vengeance the Captain would exact--and that, for the time, was matter enough to absorb the Deputy's whole attention.

And the women did not see him. They were too much engrossed in the figure fronting them, and agonisedly, with cheeks white and bosoms heaving, they waited, in their dread suspense. At last, drawing himself to the full of his stalwart height, the Captain laughed grimly and spoke.

"Mesdames," said he, his very tone an insult in its brutal derision, "we Republicans have abolished God, and until tonight I have held the Republic right, arguing that if a God there was, His leanings must be aristocratic, since He never seemed to concern Himself with the misfortunes of the lowly-born. But tonight, mesdames, I know that the Republic is at fault. There is a God--a God of justice and retribution, who has delivered you, of all people in the world, into my hands. Look on me well, Ci-devant Marquise de Bellecour, and you, Mademoiselle de Bellecour. Look in my face and see if you know me again. Not you. You never heeded me as you rode by in those proud days. But heard you ever tell of one Charlot Tardivet, a base vassal whose wife your husband, Madame, and your father, Mademoiselle, took from him on his bridal morn? Heard you ever tell of that poor girl--one Marie Tardivet--who died of grief as a consequence of that brutality? But no; such matters were too trivial for your notice if you saw them, or for your memory if you ever heard tell of them. What was the life of a peasant more than that of any other animal of the land, that the concern of it should perturb the sereneness of your aristocratic being? Mesdames, that Charlot Tardivet am I; that Marie Tardivet was my wife. I knew not whom you were when I bade you sup at my table but now that I know it--what do you look for at my hands?"

It was the Marquise who answered him. She was deathly pale, and her words came breathlessly: for all that their import was very bold.

"We look for the recollection that we are women and unless you are as cowardly as--"

"Citoyenne," he broke in harshly, answering her as he had answered La Boulaye, "was my wife less a woman think you? Pah! There is yet another here who was wronged," he announced, and he waved his hand in the direction of La Boulaye, who stood, stiff and pale, by the hearth.

The women turned, and at sight of the Deputy a cry escaped Suzanne. It was a cry of hope, for here was one who would surely lend them aid. It was a fact, she thought, upon which the Captain had not counted. But La Boulaye stood straight and cold, and not by so much as an inclination of the head did he acknowledge that grim introduction. Charlot, mistaking Mademoiselle's exclamation, laughed softly.

"Well may you cry out, Citoyenne," said he, "for him I see you recognise. He is the man who sought to rescue my wife from the clutches of your lordly and most noble father. For his pains he was flogged until they believed him dead. Is it not very fitting that he should be with me now to receive you?"

"But he, at least, is in my debt," cried Mademoiselle, now making a step forward, and sustained by an excitement born of hope. "Whatever may be my father's sins, M. la Boulaye, at least, will not seek to visit them upon the daughter, for he owes his life to me, and he will not forget the debt."

Charlot's brows were suddenly knit with vexation. He half-turned to La Boulaye, as if to speak; but ere he could utter a word--

"The debt has been paid, Citoyenne," said Caron impassively.

Before that cold answer, so coldly delivered, Mademoiselle recoiled.

"Paid!" she echoed mechanically.

"Aye, paid," he rejoined. "You claimed your brother's life in payment, and I gave it to you. Do you not think that we are quits? Besides," he ended suddenly, "Captain Tardivet is the master here. Address your appeals to him, Citoyenne."

With terror written on her face, she turned from him to meet the flushed countenance of Charlot, who, with arms akimbo and his head on one side, was regarding her at once with mockery and satisfaction.

"What do you intend by us, Monsieur?" she questioned in a choking voice.

He smiled inscrutably.

"Allay your fears, Citoyenne; you will find me very gentle."

"I knew you would prove generous," she cried.

"But, yes, Citoyenne," he rejoined, in the tones we employ to those who fear unreasonably. "I shall prove generous; as generous as--as was my lord your father."

La Boulaye trembled, but his face remained calmly expressionless as he watched that grim scene.

"Monsieur!" Suzanne cried out in horror.

"You will not dare, you scum!" blazed the Marchioness.

Charlot shrugged his shoulders and laughed, whereupon Madame de Bellecour seemed to become a being transformed. Her ample flesh, which but a moment back had quivered in fear, quivered now more violently still in anger. The colour flowed back into her cheeks until they flamed an angry crimson, and her vituperations rang in so loud and fierce a voice that at last, putting his hands to his ears, Charlot crossed to the door.

"Silence!" he roared at her, so savagely that her spirit forsook her on the instant. "I will put an end to this," he swore, as he opened the door. "Hold there! Is Guyot below?"

"Here, Captain," came a voice.

Charlot retraced his steps, leaving the door wide, his eyes dwelling upon Suzanne until she shrank under its gaze, as she might have done from the touch of some unclean thing. She drew near to her mother, in whom the brief paroxysm of rage was now succeeded by a no less violent paroxysm of weeping. On the stairs sounded Guyot's ascending steps.

"Mother," whispered Suzanne, setting her arms about her in a vain attempt to comfort. Then she heard Charlot's voice curtly bidding Guyot to reconduct the Marquise to her carriage.

Madame de Bellecour heard it also, and roused herself once more.

"I will not go," she stormed, anger flashing again from the tear-laden eyes. "I will not leave my daughter."

Charlot shrugged his shoulders callously.

"Take her away, Guyot," he said, shortly, and the sturdy soldier obeyed him with a roughness that took no account of either birth or sex.

When the Marquise's last scream had died away in the distance, Charlot turned once more to Suzanne, and it seemed that he sought to compose his features into an expression of gentleness beyond their rugged limitations. But the glance of his blue eyes was kind, and mistaking the purport of that kindness, Mademoiselle began an appeal to his better feelings.

Straight and tall, pale and delicate she stood, her beauty rendered, perhaps, the more appealing by virtue of the fear reflected on her countenance. Her blue eyes were veiled behind their long black lashes, her lips were tremulous, and her hands clasped and unclasped as she now made her prayer to the Republican. But in the hardened heart of Charlot no breath of pity stirred. He beheld her beauty and he bethought him of his wrongs. For the rest, perhaps, had she been less comely he had been less vengeful.

And yonder by the hearth stood La Boulaye like a statue, unmoved and immovable. The Captain was speaking to her, gently and soothingly, but her thoughts became more taken with the silence of La Boulaye than with the speech of Charlot. Even in that parlous moment she had leisure to despise herself for having once--on the day on which, in answer to her intercessions, he had spared her brother's life--entertained a kindly, almost wistful, thought concerning this man whom she now deemed a dastard.

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