A Bachelor's Establishment/Chapter XV
While the foregoing plot was progressing, Philippe was walking arm in arm with his uncle along the boulevard Baron.
"The two great tacticians are coming to close quarters at last," thought Monsieur Hochon as he watched the colonel marching off with his uncle; "I am curious to see the end of the game, and what becomes of the stake of ninety thousand francs a year."
"My dear uncle," said Philippe, whose phraseology had a flavor of his affinities in Paris, "you love this girl, and you are devilishly right. She is damnably handsome! Instead of billing and cooing she makes you trot like a valet; well, that's all simple enough; but she wants to see you six feet underground, so that she may marry Max, whom she adores."
"I know that, Philippe, but I love her all the same."
"Well, I have sworn by the soul of my mother, who is your own sister," continued Philippe, "to make your Rabouilleuse as supple as my glove, and the same as she was before that scoundrel, who is unworthy to have served in the Imperial Guard, ever came to quarter himself in your house."
"Ah! if you could do that!—" said the old man.
"It is very easy," answered Philippe, cutting his uncle short. "I'll kill Max as I would a dog; but—on one condition," added the old campaigner.
"What is that?" said Rouget, looking at his nephew in a stupid way.
"Don't sign that power of attorney which they want of you before the third of December; put them off till then. Your torturers only want it to enable them to sell the fifty thousand a year you have in the Funds, so that they may run off to Paris and pay for their wedding festivities out of your millions."
"I am afraid so," replied Rouget.
"Well, whatever they may say or do to you, put off giving that power of attorney until next week."
"Yes; but when Flore talks to me she stirs my very soul, till I don't know what I do. I give you my word, when she looks at me in a certain way, her blue eyes seem like paradise, and I am no longer master of myself,—especially when for some days she had been harsh to me."
"Well, whether she is sweet or sour, don't do more than promise to sign the paper, and let me know the night before you are going to do it. That will answer. Maxence shall not be your proxy unless he first kills me. If I kill him, you must agree to take me in his place, and I'll undertake to break in that handsome girl and keep her at your beck and call. Yes, Flore shall love you, and if she doesn't satisfy you—thunder! I'll thrash her."
"Oh! I never could allow that. A blow struck at Flore would break my heart."
"But it is the only way to govern women and horses. A man makes himself feared, or loved, or respected. Now that is what I wanted to whisper in your ear—Good-morning, gentlemen," he said to Mignonnet and Carpentier, who came up at the moment; "I am taking my uncle for a walk, as you see, and trying to improve him; for we are in an age when children are obliged to educate their grandparents."
They all bowed to each other.
"You behold in my dear uncle the effects of an unhappy passion. Those two want to strip him of his fortune and leave him in the lurch—you know to whom I refer? He sees the plot; but he hasn't the courage to give up his SUGAR-PLUM for a few days so as to baffle it."
Philippe briefly explained his uncle's position.
"Gentlemen," he remarked, in conclusion, "you see there are no two ways of saving him: either Colonel Bridau must kill Captain Gilet, or Captain Gilet must kill Colonel Bridau. We celebrate the Emperor's coronation on the day after to-morrow; I rely upon you to arrange the seats at the banquet so that I shall sit opposite to Gilet. You will do me the honor, I hope, of being my seconds."
"We will appoint you to preside, and sit ourselves on either side of you. Max, as vice-president, will of course sit opposite," said Mignonnet.
"Oh! the scoundrel will have Potel and Renard with him," said Carpentier. "In spite of all that Issoudun now knows and says of his midnight maraudings, those two worthy officers, who have already been his seconds, remain faithful to him."
"You see how it all maps out, uncle," said Philippe. "Therefore, sign no paper before the third of December; the next day you shall be free, happy, and beloved by Flore, without having to coax for it."
"You don't know him, Philippe," said the terrified old man. "Maxence has killed nine men in duels."
"Yes; but ninety thousand francs a year didn't depend on it," answered Philippe.
"A bad conscience shakes the hand," remarked Mignonnet sententiously.
"In a few days from now," resumed Philippe, "you and the Rabouilleuse will be living together as sweet as honey,—that is, after she gets through mourning. At first she'll twist like a worm, and yelp, and weep; but never mind, let the water run!"
The two soldiers approved of Philippe's arguments, and tried to hearten up old Rouget, with whom they walked about for nearly two hours. At last Philippe took his uncle home, saying as they parted:—
"Don't take any steps without me. I know women. I have paid for one, who cost me far more than Flore can ever cost you. But she taught me how to behave to the fair sex for the rest of my days. Women are bad children; they are inferior animals to men; we must make them fear us; the worst condition in the world is to be governed by such brutes."
It was about half-past two in the afternoon when the old man got home. Kouski opened the door in tears,—that is, by Max's orders, he gave signs of weeping.
"Oh! Monsieur, Madame has gone away, and taken Vedie with her!"
"Gone—a—way!" said the old man in a strangled voice.
The blow was so violent that Rouget sat down on the stairs, unable to stand. A moment after, he rose, looked about the hall, into the kitchen, went up to his own room, searched all the chambers, and returned to the salon, where he threw himself into a chair, and burst into tears.
"Where is she?" he sobbed. "Oh! where is she? where is Max?"
"I don't know," answered Kouski. "The captain went out without telling me."
Gilet thought it politic to be seen sauntering about the town. By leaving the old man alone with his despair, he knew he should make him feel his desertion the more keenly, and reduce him to docility. To keep Philippe from assisting his uncle at this crisis, he had given Kouski strict orders not to open the door to any one. Flore away, the miserable old man grew frantic, and the situation of things approached a crisis. During his walk through the town, Maxence Gilet was avoided by many persons who a day or two earlier would have hastened to shake hands with him. A general reaction had set in against him. The deeds of the Knights of Idleness were ringing on every tongue. The tale of Joseph Bridau's arrest, now cleared up, disgraced Max in the eyes of all; and his life and conduct received in one day their just award. Gilet met Captain Potel, who was looking for him, and seemed almost beside himself.
"What's the matter with you, Potel?"
"My dear fellow, the Imperial Guard is being black-guarded all over the town! These civilians are crying you down! and it goes to the bottom of my heart."
"What are they complaining of?" asked Max.
"Of what you do at night."
"As if we couldn't amuse ourselves a little!"
"But that isn't all," said Potel.
Potel belonged to the same class as the officer who replied to the burgomasters: "Eh! your town will be paid for, if we do burn it!" So he was very little troubled about the deeds of the Order of Idleness.
"What more?" inquired Gilet.
"The Guard is against the Guard. It is that that breaks my heart. Bridau has set all these bourgeois on you. The Guard against the Guard! no, it ought not to be! You can't back down, Max; you must meet Bridau. I had a great mind to pick a quarrel with the low scoundrel myself and send him to the shades; I wish I had, and then the bourgeois wouldn't have seen the spectacle of the Guard against the Guard. In war times, I don't say anything against it. Two heroes of the Guard may quarrel, and fight,—but at least there are no civilians to look on and sneer. No, I say that big villain never served in the Guard. A guardsman would never behave as he does to another guardsman, under the very eyes of the bourgeois; impossible! Ah! it's all wrong; the Guard is disgraced—and here, at Issoudun! where it was once so honored."
"Come, Potel, don't worry yourself," answered Max; "even if you do not see me at the banquet—"
"What! do you mean that you won't be there the day after to-morrow?" cried Potel, interrupting his friend. "Do you wish to be called a coward? and have it said you are running away from Bridau? No, no! The unmounted grenadiers of the Guard can not draw back before the dragoons of the Guard. Arrange your business in some other way and be there!"
"One more to send to the shades!" said Max. "Well, I think I can manage my business so as to get there—For," he thought to himself, "that power of attorney ought not to be in my name; as old Heron says, it would look too much like theft."
This lion, tangled in the meshes Philippe Bridau was weaving for him, muttered between his teeth as he went along; he avoided the looks of those he met and returned home by the boulevard Vilatte, still talking to himself.
"I will have that money before I fight," he said. "If I die, it shall not go to Philippe. I must put it in Flore's name. She will follow my instructions, and go straight to Paris. Once there, she can marry, if she chooses, the son of some marshal of France who has been sent to the right-about. I'll have that power of attorney made in Baruch's name, and he'll transfer the property by my order."
Max, to do him justice, was never more cool and calm in appearance than when his blood and his ideas were boiling. No man ever united in a higher degree the qualities which make a great general. If his career had not been cut short by his captivity at Cabrera, the Emperor would certainly have found him one of those men who are necessary to the success of vast enterprises. When he entered the room where the hapless victim of all these comic and tragic scenes was still weeping, Max asked the meaning of such distress; seemed surprised, pretended that he knew nothing, and heard, with well-acted amazement, of Flore's departure. He questioned Kouski, to obtain some light on the object of this inexplicable journey.
"Madame said like this," Kouski replied, "—that I was to tell monsieur she had taken twenty thousand francs in gold from his drawer, thinking that monsieur wouldn't refuse her that amount as wages for the last twenty-two years."
"Wages?" exclaimed Rouget.
"Yes," replied Kouski. "Ah! I shall never come back," she said to Vedie as she drove away. "Poor Vedie, who is so attached to monsieur, remonstrated with madame. 'No, no,' she answered, 'he has no affection for me; he lets his nephew treat me like the lowest of the low'; and she wept—oh! bitterly."
"Eh! what do I care for Philippe?" cried the old man, whom Max was watching. "Where is Flore? how can we find out where she is?"
"Philippe, whose advice you follow, will help you," said Max coldly.
"Philippe?" said the old man, "what has he to do with the poor child? There is no one but you, my good Max, who can find Flore. She will follow you—you could bring her back to me—"
"I don't wish to oppose Monsieur Bridau," observed Max.
"As for that," cried Rouget, "if that hinders you, he told me he meant to kill you."
"Ah!" exclaimed Gilet, laughing, "we will see about it!"
"My friend," said the old man, "find Flore, and I will do all she wants of me."
"Some one must have seen her as she passed through the town," said Maxence to Kouski. "Serve dinner; put everything on the table, and then go and make inquiries from place to place. Let us know, by dessert, which road Mademoiselle Brazier has taken."
This order quieted for a time the poor creature, who was moaning like a child that has lost its nurse. At this moment Rouget, who hated Max, thought his tormentor an angel. A passion like that of this miserable old man for Flore is astonishingly like the emotions of childhood. At six o'clock, the Pole, who had merely taken a walk, returned to announce that Flore had driven towards Vatan.
"Madame is going back to her own people, that's plain," said Kouski.
"Would you like to go to Vatan to-night?" said Max. "The road is bad, but Kouski knows how to drive, and you'll make your peace better to-night than to-morrow morning."
"Let us go!" cried Rouget.
"Put the horse in quietly," said Max to Kouski; "manage, if you can, that the town shall not know of this nonsense, for Monsieur Rouget's sake. Saddle my horse," he added in a whisper. "I will ride on ahead of you."
Monsieur Hochon had already notified Philippe of Flore's departure; and the colonel rose from Monsieur Mignonnet's dinner-table to rush to the place Saint-Jean; for he at once guessed the meaning of this clever strategy. When Philippe presented himself at his uncle's house, Kouski answered through a window that Monsieur Rouget was unable to see any one.
"Fario," said Philippe to the Spaniard, who was stationed in the Grande-Narette, "go and tell Benjamin to mount his horse; it is all-important that I shall know what Gilet does with my uncle."
"They are now putting the horse into the caleche," said Fario, who had been watching the Rouget stable.
"If they go towards Vatan," answered Philippe, "get me another horse, and come yourself with Benjamin to Monsieur Mignonnet's."
"What do you mean to do?" asked Monsieur Hochon, who had come out of his own house when he saw Philippe and Fario standing together.
"The genius of a general, my dear Monsieur Hochon," said Philippe, "consists not only in carefully observing the enemy's movements, but also in guessing his intentions from those movements, and in modifying his own plan whenever the enemy interferes with it by some unexpected action. Now, if my uncle and Max drive out together, they are going to Vatan; Maxence will have promised to reconcile him with Flore, who 'fugit ad salices,'—the manoeuvre is General Virgil's. If that's the line they take, I don't yet know what I shall do; I shall have some hours to think it over, for my uncle can't sign a power of attorney at ten o'clock at night; the notaries will all be in bed. If, as I rather fancy, Max goes on in advance of my uncle to teach Flore her lesson,—which seems necessary and probable,—the rogue is lost! you will see the sort of revenge we old soldiers take in a game of this kind. Now, as I need a helper for this last stroke, I must go back to Mignonnet's and make an arrangement with my friend Carpentier."
Shaking hands with Monsieur Hochon, Philippe went off down the Petite-Narette to Mignonnet's house. Ten minutes later, Monsieur Hochon saw Max ride off at a quick trot; and the old miser's curiosity was so powerfully excited that he remained standing at his window, eagerly expecting to hear the wheels of the old demi-fortune, which was not long in coming. Jean-Jacques's impatience made him follow Max within twenty minutes. Kouski, no doubt under orders from his master, walked the horse through the town.
"If they get to Paris, all is lost," thought Monsieur Hochon.
At this moment, a lad from the faubourg de Rome came to the Hochon house with a letter for Baruch. The two grandsons, much subdued by the events of the morning, had kept their rooms of their own accord during the day. Thinking over their prospects, they saw plainly that they had better be cautious with their grandparents. Baruch knew very well the influence which his grandfather Hochon exerted over his grandfather and grandmother Borniche: Monsieur Hochon would not hesitate to get their property for Adolphine if his conduct were such as to make them pin their hopes on the grand marriage with which his grandfather had threatened him that morning. Being richer than Francois, Baruch had the most to lose; he therefore counselled an absolute surrender, with no other condition than the payment of their debt to Max. As for Francois, his future was entirely in the hands of his grandfather; he had no expectations except from him, and by the guardianship account, he was now his debtor. The two young men accordingly gave solemn promises of amendment, prompted by their imperilled interests, and by the hope Madame Hochon held out, that the debt to Max should be paid.
"You have done very wrong," she said to them; "repair it by future good conduct, and Monsieur Hochon will forget it."
So, when Francois had read the letter which had been brought for Baruch, over the latter's shoulder, he whispered in his ear, "Ask grandpapa's advice."
"Read this," said Baruch, taking the letter to old Hochon.
"Read it to me yourself; I haven't my spectacles."
My dear Friend,—I hope you will not hesitate, under the serious
circumstances in which I find myself, to do me the service of
receiving a power of attorney from Monsieur Rouget. Be at Vatan
to-morrow morning at nine o'clock. I shall probably send you to
Paris, but don't be uneasy; I will furnish you with money for the
journey, and join you there immediately. I am almost sure I shall
be obliged to leave Issoudun, December third.
Adieu. I count on your friendship; rely on that of your friend,
"God be praised!" exclaimed Monsieur Hochon; "the property of that old idiot is saved from the claws of the devil."
"It will be if you say so," said Madame Hochon; "and I thank God,—who has no doubt heard my prayers. The prosperity of the wicked is always fleeting."
"You must go to Vatan, and accept the power of attorney from Monsieur Rouget," said the old man to Baruch. "Their object is to get fifty thousand francs a year transferred to Mademoiselle Brazier. They will send you to Paris, and you must seem to go; but you are to stop at Orleans, and wait there till you hear from me. Let no one—not a soul—know where you lodge; go to the first inn you come to in the faubourg Bannier, no matter if it is only a post-house—"
"Look here!" cried Francois, who had rushed to the window at the sudden noise of wheels in the Grande-Narette. "Here's something new!—Pere Rouget and Colonel Bridau coming back together in the caleche, Benjamin and Captain Carpentier following on horseback!"
"I'll go over," cried Monsieur Hochon, whose curiosity carried the day over every other feeling.
Monsieur Hochon found old Rouget in his bedroom, writing the following letter at his nephew's dictation:
Mademoiselle,—If you do not start to return here the moment you
receive this letter, your conduct will show such ingratitude for
all my goodness that I shall revoke the will I have made in your
favor, and give my property to my nephew Philippe. You will
understand that Monsieur Gilet can no longer be my guest after
staying with you at Vatan. I send this letter by Captain
Carpentier, who will put it into your own hands. I hope you will
listen to his advice; he will speak to you with authority from me.
"Captain Carpentier and I MET my uncle, who was so foolish as to follow Mademoiselle Brazier and Monsieur Gilet to Vatan," said Philippe, with sarcastic emphasis, to Monsieur Hochon. "I have made my uncle see that he was running his head into a noose; for that girl will abandon him the moment she gets him to sign a power of attorney, by which they mean to obtain the income of his money in the Funds. That letter will bring her back under his roof, the handsome runaway! this very night, or I'm mistaken. I promise to make her as pliable as a bit of whalebone for the rest of her days, if my uncle allows me to take Maxence Gilet's place; which, in my opinion, he ought never to have had in the first place. Am I not right?—and yet here's my uncle bemoaning himself!"
"Neighbor," said Monsieur Hochon, "you have taken the best means to get peace in your household. Destroy your will, and Flore will be once more what she used to be in the early days."
"No, she will never forgive me for what I have made her suffer," whimpered the old man; "she will no longer love me."
"She shall love you, and closely too; I'll take care of that," said Philippe.
"Come, open your eyes!" exclaimed Monsieur Hochon. "They mean to rob you and abandon you."
"Oh! I was sure of it!" cried the poor imbecile.
"See, here is a letter Maxence has written to my grandson Borniche," said old Hochon. "Read it."
"What infamy!" exclaimed Carpentier, as he listened to the letter, which Rouget read aloud, weeping.
"Is that plain enough, uncle?" demanded Philippe. "Hold that hussy by her interests and she'll adore you as you deserve."
"She loves Maxence too well; she will leave me," cried the frightened old man.
"But, uncle, Maxence or I,—one or the other of us—won't leave our footsteps in the dust of Issoudun three days hence."
"Well then go, Monsieur Carpentier," said Rouget; "if you promise me to bring her back, go! You are a good man; say to her in my name all you think you ought to say."
"Captain Carpentier will whisper in her ear that I have sent to Paris for a woman whose youth and beauty are captivating; that will bring the jade back in a hurry!"
The captain departed, driving himself in the old caleche; Benjamin accompanied him on horseback, for Kouski was nowhere to be found. Though threatened by the officers with arrest and the loss of his situation, the Pole had gone to Vatan on a hired horse, to warn Max and Flore of the adversary's move. After fulfilling his mission, Carpentier, who did not wish to drive back with Flore, was to change places with Benjamin, and take the latter's horse.
When Philippe was told of Kouski's flight he said to Benjamin, "You will take the Pole's place, from this time on. It is all mapping out, papa Hochon!" cried the lieutenant-colonel. "That banquet will be jovial!"
"You will come and live here, of course," said the old miser.
"I have told Fario to send me all my things," answered Philippe. "I shall sleep in the room adjoining Gilet's apartment,—if my uncle consents."
"What will come of all this?" cried the terrified old man.
"Mademoiselle Flore Brazier is coming, gentle as a paschal lamb," replied Monsieur Hochon.
"God grant it!" exclaimed Rouget, wiping his eyes.
"It is now seven o'clock," said Philippe; "the sovereign of your heart will be here at half-past eleven: you'll never see Gilet again, and you will be as happy ever after as a pope.—If you want me to succeed," he whispered to Monsieur Hochon, "stay here till the hussy comes; you can help me in keeping the old man up to his resolution; and, together, we'll make that crab-girl see on which side her bread is buttered."
Monsieur Hochon felt the reasonableness of the request and stayed: but they had their hands full, for old Rouget gave way to childish lamentations, which were only quieted by Philippe's repeating over and over a dozen times:—
"Uncle, you will see that I am right when Flore returns to you as tender as ever. You shall be petted; you will save your property: be guided by my advice, and you'll live in paradise for the rest of your days."
When, about half-past eleven, wheels were heard in the Grande-Narette, the question was, whether the carriage were returning full or empty. Rouget's face wore an expression of agony, which changed to the prostration of excessive joy when he saw the two women, as the carriage turned to enter the courtyard.
"Kouski," said Philippe, giving a hand to Flore to help her down. "You are no longer in Monsieur Rouget's service. You will not sleep here to-night; get your things together, and go. Benjamin takes your place."
"Are you the master here?" said Flore sarcastically.
"With your permission," replied Philippe, squeezing her hand as if in a vice. "Come! we must have an understanding, you and I"; and he led the bewildered woman out into the place Saint-Jean.
"My fine lady," began the old campaigner, stretching out his right hand, "three days hence, Maxence Gilet will be sent to the shades by that arm, or his will have taken me off guard. If I die, you will be the mistress of my poor imbecile uncle; 'bene sit.' If I remain on my pins, you'll have to walk straight, and keep him supplied with first-class happiness. If you don't, I know girls in Paris who are, with all due respect, much prettier than you; for they are only seventeen years old: they would make my uncle excessively happy, and they are in my interests. Begin your attentions this very evening; if the old man is not as gay as a lark to-morrow morning, I have only a word to say to you; it is this, pay attention to it,—there is but one way to kill a man without the interference of the law, and that is to fight a duel with him; but I know three ways to get rid of a woman: mind that, my beauty!"
During this address, Flore shook like a person with the ague.
"Kill Max—?" she said, gazing at Philippe in the moonlight.
"Come, here's my uncle."
Old Rouget, turning a deaf ear to Monsieur Hochon's remonstrances, now came out into the street, and took Flore by the hand, as a miser might have grasped his treasure; he drew her back to the house and into his own room and shut the door.
"This is Saint-Lambert's day, and he who deserts his place, loses it," remarked Benjamin to the Pole.
"My master will shut your mouth for you," answered Kouski, departing to join Max who established himself at the hotel de la Poste.
On the morrow, between nine and eleven o'clock, all the women talked to each other from door to door throughout the town. The story of the wonderful change in the Rouget household spread everywhere. The upshot of the conversations was the same on all sides,—
"What will happen at the banquet between Max and Colonel Bridau?"
Philippe said but few words to the Vedie,—"Six hundred francs' annuity, or dismissal." They were enough, however, to keep her neutral, for a time, between the two great powers, Philippe and Flore.
Knowing Max's life to be in danger, Flore became more affectionate to Rouget than in the first days of their alliance. Alas! in love, a self-interested devotion is sometimes more agreeable than a truthful one; and that is why many men pay so much for clever deceivers. The Rabouilleuse did not appear till the next morning, when she came down to breakfast with Rouget on her arm. Tears filled her eyes as she beheld, sitting in Max's place, the terrible adversary, with his sombre blue eyes, and the cold, sinister expression on his face.
"What is the matter, mademoiselle?" he said, after wishing his uncle good-morning.
"She can't endure the idea of your fighting Maxence," said old Rouget.
"I have not the slightest desire to kill Gilet," answered Philippe. "He need only take himself off from Issoudun and go to America on a venture. I should be the first to advise you to give him an outfit, and to wish him a safe voyage. He would soon make a fortune there, and that is far more honorable than turning Issoudun topsy-turvy at night, and playing the devil in your household."
"Well, that's fair enough," said Rouget, glancing at Flore.
"A-mer-i-ca!" she ejaculated, sobbing.
"It is better to kick his legs about in a free country than have them rot in a pine box in France. However, perhaps you think he is a good shot, and can kill me; it's on the cards," observed the colonel.
"Will you let me speak to him?" said Flore, imploring Philippe in a humble and submissive tone.
"Certainly; he can come here and pack up his things. I will stay with my uncle during that time; for I shall not leave the old man again," replied Philippe.
"Vedie," cried Flore, "run to the hotel, and tell Monsieur Gilet that I beg him—"
"—to come and get his belongings," said Philippe, interrupting Flore's message.
"Yes, yes, Vedie; that will be a good pretext to see me; I must speak to him."
Terror controlled her hatred; and the shock which her whole being experienced when she first encountered this strong and pitiless nature was now so overwhelming that she bowed before Philippe just as Rouget had been in the habit of bending before her. She anxiously awaited Vedie's return. The woman brought a formal refusal from Max, who requested Mademoiselle Brazier to send his things to the hotel de la Poste.
"Will you allow me to take them to him?" she said to Jean-Jacques Rouget.
"Yes, but will you come back?" said the old man.
"If Mademoiselle is not back by midday, you will give me a power of attorney to attend to your property," said Philippe, looking at Flore. "Take Vedie with you, to save appearances, mademoiselle. In future you are to think of my uncle's honor."
Flore could get nothing out of Max. Desperate at having allowed himself, before the eyes of the whole town, to be routed out of his shameless position, Gilet was too proud to run away from Philippe. The Rabouilleuse combated this objection, and proposed that they should fly together to America; but Max, who did not want Flore without her money, and yet did not wish the girl to see the bottom of his heart, insisted on his intention of killing Philippe.
"We have committed a monstrous folly," he said. "We ought all three to have gone to Paris and spent the winter there; but how could one guess, from the mere sight of that fellow's big carcass, that things would turn out as they have? The turn of events is enough to make one giddy! I took the colonel for one of those fire-eaters who haven't two ideas in their head; that was the blunder I made. As I didn't have the sense to double like a hare in the beginning, I'll not be such a coward as to back down before him. He has lowered me in the estimation of this town, and I cannot get back what I have lost unless I kill him."
"Go to America with forty thousand francs. I'll find a way to get rid of that scoundrel, and join you. It would be much wiser."
"What would people say of me?" he exclaimed. "No; I have buried nine already. The fellow doesn't seem as if he knew much; he went from school to the army, and there he was always fighting till 1815; then he went to America, and I doubt if the brute ever set foot in a fencing-alley; while I have no match with the sabre. The sabre is his arm; I shall seem very generous in offering it to him,—for I mean, if possible, to let him insult me,—and I can easily run him through. Unquestionably, it is my wisest course. Don't be uneasy; we shall be masters of the field in a couple of days."
That it was that a stupid point of honor had more influence over Max than sound policy. When Flore got home she shut herself up to cry at ease. During the whole of that day gossip ran wild in Issoudun, and the duel between Philippe and Maxence was considered inevitable.
"Ah! Monsieur Hochon," said Mignonnet, who, accompanied by Carpentier, met the old man on the boulevard Baron, "we are very uneasy; for Gilet is clever with all weapons."
"Never mind," said the old provincial diplomatist; "Philippe has managed this thing well from the beginning. I should never have thought that big, easy-going fellow would have succeeded as he has. The two have rolled together like a couple of thunder-clouds."
"Oh!" said Carpentier, "Philippe is a remarkable man. His conduct before the Court of Peers was a masterpiece of diplomacy."
"Well, Captain Renard," said one of the townsfolk to Max's friend. "They say wolves don't devour each other, but it seems that Max is going to set his teeth in Colonel Bridau. That's pretty serious among you gentlemen of the Old Guard."
"You make fun of it, do you? Because the poor fellow amused himself a little at night, you are all against him," said Potel. "But Gilet is a man who couldn't stay in a hole like Issoudun without finding something to do."
"Well, gentlemen," remarked another, "Max and the colonel must play out their game. Bridau had to avenge his brother. Don't you remember Max's treachery to the poor lad?"
"Bah! nothing but an artist," said Renard.
"But the real question is about the old man's property," said a third. "They say Monsieur Gilet was laying hands on fifty thousand francs a year, when the colonel turned him out of his uncle's house."
"Gilet rob a man! Come, don't say that to any one but me, Monsieur Canivet," cried Potel. "If you do, I'll make you swallow your tongue,—and without any sauce."
Every household in town offered prayers for the honorable Colonel Bridau.