The Golden Dog/Chapter XXX

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112519The Golden Dog — Chapter XXXWilliam Kirby (1817-1906)

Chapter XXX: "No Speech of Silk Will Serve Your Turn"[edit]

Angelique des Meloises was duly informed, through the sharp espionage of Lizette, as to what had become of Le Gardeur after that memorable night of conflict between love and ambition, when she rejected the offer of his hand and gave herself up to the illusions of her imagination.

She was sorry, yet flattered, at Lizette's account of his conduct at the Taverne de Menut; for, although pleased to think that Le Gardeur loved her to the point of self-destruction, she honestly pitied him, and felt, or thought she felt, that she could sacrifice anything except herself for his sake.

Angelique pondered in her own strange, fitful way over Le Gardeur. She had no thought of losing him wholly. She would continue to hold him in her silken string, and keep him under the spell of her fascinations. She still admired him,--nay, loved him, she thought. She could not help doing so; and if she could not help it, where was the blame? She would not, to be sure, sacrifice for him the brilliant hopes which danced before her imagination like fire-flies in a summer night--for no man in the world would she do that! The Royal Intendant was the mark she aimed at. She was ready to go through fire and water to reach that goal of her ambition. But if she gave the Intendant her hand it was enough; it was all she could give him, but not the smallest corner of her heart, which she acknowledged to herself belonged only to Le Gardeur de Repentigny.

While bent on accomplishing this scheme by every means in her power, and which involved necessarily the ruin of Le Gardeur, she took a sort of perverse pride in enumerating the hundred points of personal and moral superiority possessed by him over the Intendant and all others of her admirers. If she sacrificed her love to her ambition, hating herself while she did so, it was a sort of satisfaction to think that Le Gardeur's sacrifice was not less complete than her own; and she rather felt pleased with the reflection that his heart would be broken, and no other woman would ever fill that place in his affections which she had once occupied.

The days that elapsed after their final interview were days of vexation to Angelique. She was angry with herself, almost; angry with Le Gardeur that he had taken her at her word, and still more angry that she did not reap the immediate reward of her treachery against her own heart. She was like a spoiled and wilful child which will neither have a thing nor let it go. She would discard her lover and still retain his love! and felt irritated and even jealous when she heard of his departure to Tilly with his sister, who had thus, apparently, more influence to take him away from the city than Angelique had to keep him there.

But her mind was especially worked upon almost to madness by the ardent professions of love, with the careful avoidance of any proposal of marriage, on the part of the Intendant. She had received his daily visits with a determination to please and fascinate him. She had dressed herself with elaborate care, and no woman in New France equalled Angelique in the perfection of her attire. She studied his tastes in her conversation and demeanor, which were free beyond even her wont, because she saw that a manner bold and unconstrained took best with him. Angelique's free style was the most perfect piece of acting in the world. She laughed loudly at his wit, and heard without blushes his double entendres and coarse jests, not less coarse because spoken in the polished dialect of Paris. She stood it all, but with no more result than is left by a brilliant display of fireworks after it is over. She could read in the eager looks and manner of the Intendant that she had fixed his admiration and stirred his passions, but she knew by a no less sure intuition that she had not, with all her blandishments, suggested to his mind one serious thought of marriage.

In vain she reverted to the subject of matrimony, in apparent jest but secret earnest. The Intendant, quick-witted as herself, would accept the challenge, talk with her and caracole on the topic which she had caparisoned so gaily for him, and amid compliments and pleasantries, ride away from the point, she knew not whither! Then Angelique would be angry after his departure, and swear,--she could swear shockingly for a lady when she was angry!--and vow she would marry Le Gardeur after all; but her pride was stung, not her love. No man had ever defeated her when she chose to subdue him, neither should this proud Intendant! So Angelique collected her scattered forces again, and laid closer siege to Bigot than ever.

The great ball at the Palais had been the object of absorbing interest to the fashionable society of the Capital for many weeks. It came on at last, turning the heads of half the city with its splendor.

Angelique shone the acknowledged queen of the Intendant's ball. Her natural grace and beauty, set off by the exquisite taste and richness of her attire, threw into eclipse the fairest of her rivals. If there was one present who, in admiration of her own charms, claimed for herself the first place, she freely conceded to Angelique the second. But Angelique feared no rival there. Her only fear was at Beaumanoir. She was profoundly conscious of her own superiority to all present, while she relished the envy and jealousy which it created. She cared but little what the women thought of her, and boldly challenging the homage of the men, obtained it as her rightful due.

Still, under the gay smiles and lively badinage which she showered on all around as she moved through the brilliant throng, Angelique felt a bitter spirit of discontent rankling in her bosom. She was angry, and she knew why, and still more angry because upon herself lay the blame! Not that she blamed herself for having rejected Le Gardeur: she had done that deliberately and for a price; but the price was not yet paid, and she had, sometimes, qualms of doubt whether it would ever be paid!

She who had had her own way with all men, now encountered a man who spoke and looked like one who had had his own way with all women, and who meant to have his own way with her!

She gazed often upon the face of Bigot, and the more she looked the more inscrutable it appeared to her. She tried to sound the depths of his thoughts, but her inquiry was like the dropping of a stone into the bottomless pit of that deep cavern of the dark and bloody ground talked of by adventurous voyageurs from the Far West.

That Bigot admired her beyond all other women at the ball, was visible enough from the marked attention which he lavished upon her and the courtly flatteries that flowed like honey from his lips. She also read her preeminence in his favor from the jealous eyes of a host of rivals who watched her every movement. But Angelique felt that the admiration of the Intendant was not of that kind which had driven so many men mad for her sake. She knew Bigot would never go mad for her, much as he was fascinated! and why? why?

Angelique, while listening to his honeyed flatteries as he led her gaily through the ballroom, asked herself again and again, why did he carefully avoid the one topic that filled her thoughts, or spoke of it only in his mocking manner, which tortured her to madness with doubt and perplexity?

As she leaned on the arm of the courtly Intendant, laughing like one possessed with the very spirit of gaiety at his sallies and jests, her mind was torn with bitter comparisons as she remembered Le Gardeur, his handsome face and his transparent admiration, so full of love and ready for any sacrifice for her sake,--and she had cast it all away for this inscrutable voluptuary, a man who had no respect for women, but who admired her person, condescended to be pleased with it, and affected to be caught by the lures she held out to him, but which she felt would be of no more avail to hold him fast than the threads which a spider throws from bush to bush on a summer morn will hold fast a bird which flies athwart them!

The gayest of the gay to all outward appearance, Angelique missed sorely the presence of Le Gardeur, and she resented his absence from the ball as a slight and a wrong to her sovereignty, which never released a lover from his allegiance.

The fair demoiselles at the ball, less resolutely ambitious than Angelique, found by degrees, in the devotion of other cavaliers, ample compensation for only so much of the Intendant's favor as he liberally bestowed on all the sex; but that did not content Angelique: she looked with sharpest eyes of inquisition upon the bright glances which now and then shot across the room where she sat by the side of Bigot, apparently steeped in happiness, but with a serpent biting at her heart, for she felt that Bigot was really unimpressible as a stone under her most subtle manipulation.

Her thoughts ran in a round of ceaseless repetition of the question: "Why can I not subdue Francois Bigot as I have subdued every other man who exposed his weak side to my power?" and Angelique pressed her foot hard upon the floor as the answer returned ever the same: "The heart of the Intendant is away at Beaumanoir! That pale, pensive lady" (Angelique used a more coarse and emphatic word) "stands between him and me like a spectre as she is, and obstructs the path I have sacrificed so much to enter!"

"I cannot endure the heat of the ballroom, Bigot!" said Angelique; "I will dance no more to-night! I would rather sit and catch fireflies on the terrace than chase forever without overtaking it the bird that has escaped from my bosom!"

The Intendant, ever attentive to her wishes, offered his arm to lead her into the pleached walks of the illuminated garden. Angelique rose, gathered up her rich train, and with an air of royal coquetry took his arm and accompanied the Intendant on a promenade down the grand alley of roses.

"What favorite bird has escaped from your bosom, Angelique?" asked the Intendant, who had, however, a shrewd guess of the meaning of her metaphor.

"The pleasure I had in anticipation of this ball! The bird has flown, I know not where or how. I have no pleasure here at all!" exclaimed she, petulantly, although she knew the ball had been really got up mainly for her own pleasure.

"And yet Momus himself might have been your father, and Euphrosyne your mother, Angelique," replied Bigot, "to judge by your gaiety to- night. If you have no pleasure, it is because you have given it all away to others! But I have caught the bird you lost, let me restore it to your bosom pray!" He laid his hand lightly and caressingly upon her arm. Her bosom was beating wildly; she removed his hand, and held it firmly grasped in her own.

"Chevalier!" said she, "the pleasure of a king is in the loyalty of his subjects, the pleasure of a woman in the fidelity of her lover!" She was going to say more, but stopped. But she gave him a glance which insinuated more than all she left unsaid.

Bigot smiled to himself. "Angelique is jealous!" thought he, but he only remarked, "That is an aphorism which I believe with all my heart! If the pleasure of a woman be in the fidelity of her lover, I know no one who should be more happy than Angelique des Meloises! No lady in New France has a right to claim greater devotion from a lover, and no one receives it!"

"But I have no faith in the fidelity of my lover! and I am not happy, Chevalier! far from it!" replied she, with one of those impulsive speeches that seemed frankness itself, but in this woman were artful to a degree.

"Why so?" replied he; "pleasure will never leave you, Angelique, unless you wilfully chase it away from your side! All women envy your beauty, all men struggle to obtain your smiles. For myself, I would gather all the joys and treasures of the world, and lay them at your feet, would you let me!

"I do not hinder you, Chevalier!" she replied, with a laugh of incredulity, "but you do not do it! It is only your politeness to say that. I have told you that the pleasure of a woman is in the fidelity of her lover; tell me now, Chevalier, what is the highest pleasure of a man?"

"The beauty and condescension of his mistress,--at least, I know none greater." Bigot looked at her as if his speech ought to receive acknowledgement on the spot.

"And it is your politeness to say that, also, Chevalier!" replied she very coolly.

"I wish I could say of your condescension, Angelique, what I have said of your beauty: Francois Bigot would then feel the highest pleasure of a man." The Intendant only half knew the woman he was seeking to deceive. She got angry.

Angelique looked up with a scornful flash. "My condescension, Chevalier? to what have I not condescended on the faith of your solemn promise that the lady of Beaumanoir should not remain under your roof? She is still there, Chevalier, in spite of your promise!"

Bigot was on the point of denying the fact, but there was sharpness in Angelique's tone, and clearness of all doubt in her eyes. He saw he would gain nothing by denial.

"She knows the whole secret, I do believe!" muttered he. "Argus with his hundred eyes was a blind man compared to a woman's two eyes sharpened by jealousy."

"The lady of Beaumanoir accuses me of no sin that I repent of!" replied he. "True! I promised to send her away, and so I will; but she is a woman, a lady, who has claims upon me for gentle usage. If it were your case, Angelique--"

Angelique quitted his arm and stood confronting him, flaming with indignation. She did not let him finish his sentence: "If it were my case, Bigot! as if that could ever be my case, and you alive to speak of it!"

Bigot stepped backwards. He was not sure but a poniard glittered in the clenched hand of Angelique. It was but the flash of her diamond rings as she lifted it suddenly. She almost struck him.

"Do not blame me for infidelities committed before I knew you, Angelique!" said he, seizing her hand, which he held forcibly in his, in spite of her efforts to wrench it away.

"It is my nature to worship beauty at every shrine. I have ever done so until I found the concentration of all my divinities in you. I could not, if I would, be unfaithful to you, Angelique des Meloises!" Bigot was a firm believer in the classical faith that Jove laughs at lovers' perjuries.

"You mock me, Bigot!" replied she. "You are the only man who has ever dared to do so twice."

"When did I mock you twice, Angelique?" asked he, with an air of injured innocence.

"Now! and when you pledged yourself to remove the lady of Beaumanoir from your house! I admire your courage, Bigot, in playing false with me and still hoping to win! But never speak to me more of love while that pale spectre haunts the secret chambers of the Chateau!"

"She shall be removed, Angelique, since you insist upon it," replied he, secretly irritated; "but where is the harm? I pledge my faith she shall not stand in the way of my love for you."

"Better she were dead than do so!" whispered Angelique to herself. "It is my due, Bigot!" replied she aloud, "you know what I have given up for your sake!"

"Yes! I know you have banished Le Gardeur de Repentigny when it had been better to keep him securely in the ranks of the Grand Company. Why did you refuse to marry him, Angelique?"

The question fairly choked her with anger. "Why did I refuse to marry him? Francois Bigot! Do you ask me seriously that question? Did you not tell me of your own love, and all but offer me your hand, giving me to understand--miserable sinner that you are, or as you think me to be--that you pledged your own faith to me, as first in your choice, and I have done that which I had better have been dead and buried with the heaviest pyramid of Egypt on top of me, buried without hope of resurrection, than have done?"

Bigot, accustomed as he was to woman's upbraidings, scarcely knew what to reply to this passionate outburst. He had spoken to her words of love, plenty of them, but the idea of marriage had not flashed across his mind for a moment,--not a word of that had escaped his lips. He had as little guessed the height of Angelique's ambition as she the depths of his craft and wickedness, and yet there was a wonderful similarity between the characters of both,--the same bold, defiant spirit, the same inordinate ambition, the same void of principle in selecting means to ends,--only the one fascinated with the lures of love, the other by the charms of wit, the temptations of money, or effected his purposes by the rough application of force.

"You call me rightly a miserable sinner," said he, half smiling, as one not very miserable although a sinner. "If love of fair women be a sin, I am one of the greatest of sinners; and in your fair presence, Angelique, I am sinning at this moment enough to sink a shipload of saints and angels!"

"You have sunk me in my own and the world's estimation, if you mean what you say, Bigot!" replied she, unconsciously tearing in strips the fan she held in her hand. "You love all women too well ever to be capable of fixing your heart upon one!" A tear, of vexation perhaps, stood in her angry eye as she said this, and her cheek twitched with fierce emotion.

"Come, Angelique!" said he, soothingly, "some of our guests have entered this alley. Let us walk down to the terrace. The moon is shining bright over the broad river, and I will swear to you by St. Picaut, my patron, whom I never deceive, that my love for all womankind has not hindered me from fixing my supreme affection upon you."

Angelique allowed him to press her hand, which he did with fervor. She almost believed his words. She could scarcely imagine another woman seriously preferred to herself, when she chose to flatter a man with a belief of her own preference for him.

They walked down a long alley brilliantly illuminated with lamps of Bohemian glass, which shone like the diamonds, rubies, and emeralds which grew upon the trees in the garden of Aladdin.

At every angle of the geometrically-cut paths of hard-beaten sea- shells, white as snow, stood the statue of a faun, a nymph, or dryad, in Parian marble, holding a torch, which illuminated a great vase running over with fresh, blooming flowers, presenting a vista of royal magnificence which bore testimony to the wealth and splendid tastes of the Intendant.

The garden walks were not deserted: their beauty drew out many a couple who sauntered merrily, or lovingly, down the pleached avenues, which looked like the corridors of a gorgeously-decorated palace.

Bigot and Angelique moved among the guests, receiving, as they passed, obsequious salutations, which to Angelique seemed a foretaste of royalty. She had seen the gardens of the palace many times before, but never illuminated as now. The sight of them so grandly decorated filled her with admiration of their owner, and she resolved that, cost what it would, the homage paid to her to-night, as the partner of the Intendant, should become hers by right on his hearthstone as the first lady in New France.

Angelique threw back her veil that all might see her, that the women might envy and the men admire her, as she leaned confidingly on the arm of Bigot, looking up in his face with that wonderful smile of hers which had brought so many men to ruin at her feet, and talking with such enchantment as no woman could talk but Angelique des Meloises.

Well understanding that her only road to success was to completely fascinate the Intendant, she bent herself to the task with such power of witchery and such simulation of real passion, that Bigot, wary and experienced gladiator as he was in the arena of love, was more than once brought to the brink of a proposal for her hand.

She watched every movement of his features, at these critical moments when he seemed just falling into the snares so artfully set for him. When she caught his eyes glowing with passionate admiration, she shyly affected to withdraw hers from his gaze, turning on him at times flashes of her dark eyes which electrified every nerve of his sensuous nature. She felt the pressure of his hand, the changed and softened inflections of his voice, she knew the words of her fate were trembling on his lips, and yet they did not come! The shadow of that pale hand at Beaumanoir, weak and delicate as it was, seemed to lay itself upon his lips when about to speak to her, and snatch away the words which Angelique, trembling with anticipation, was ready to barter away body and soul to hear spoken.

In a shady passage through a thick greenery where the lights were dimmer and no one was near, she allowed his arm for a moment to encircle her yielding form, and she knew by his quick breath that the words were moulded in his thoughts, and were on the point to rush forth in a torrent of speech. Still they came not, and Bigot again, to her unutterable disgust, shied off like a full-blooded horse which starts suddenly away from some object by the wayside and throws his rider headlong on the ground. So again were dashed the ardent expectations of Angelique.

She listened to the gallant and gay speeches of Bigot, which seemed to flutter like birds round her, but never lit on the ground where she had spread her net like a crafty fowler as she was, until she went almost mad with suppressed anger and passionate excitement. But she kept on replying with badinage light as his own, and with laughter so soft and silvery that it seemed a gentle dew from Heaven, instead of the drift and flying foam of the storm that was raging in her bosom.

She read and re-read glimpses of his hidden thoughts that went and came like faces in a dream, and she saw in her imagination the dark, pleading eyes and pale face of the lady of Beaumanoir. It came now like a revelation, confirming a thousand suspicions that Bigot loved that pale, sad face too well ever to marry Angelique des Meloises while its possessor lived at Beaumanoir,--or while she lived at all!

And it came to that! In this walk with Bigot round the glorious garden, with God's flowers shedding fragrance around them; with God's stars shining overhead above all the glitter and illusion of the thousand lamps, Angelique repeated to herself the terrific words, "Bigot loves that pale, sad face too well ever to marry me while its possessor lives at Beaumanoir--or while she lives at all!"

The thought haunted her! It would not leave her! She leaned heavily upon his arm as she swept like a queen of Cyprus through the flower-bordered walks, brushing the roses and lilies with her proud train, and treading, with as dainty a foot as ever bewitched human eye, the white paths that led back to the grand terrace of the Palace.

Her fevered imagination played tricks in keeping with her fear: more than once she fancied she saw the shadowy form of a beautiful woman walking on the other side of Bigot next his heart! It was the form of Caroline bearing a child in one arm, and claiming, by that supreme appeal to a man's heart, the first place in his affections.

The figure sometimes vanished, sometimes reappeared in the same place, and once and the last time assumed the figure and look of Our Lady of St. Foye, triumphant after a thousand sufferings, and still ever bearing the face and look of the lady of Beaumanoir.

Emerging at last from the dim avenue into the full light, where a fountain sent up showers of sparkling crystals, the figure vanished, and Angelique sat down on a quaintly-carved seat under a mountain- ash, very tired, and profoundly vexed at all things and with everybody.

A servant in gorgeous livery brought a message from the ballroom to the Intendant.

He was summoned for a dance, but he would not leave Angelique, he said. But Angelique begged for a short rest: it was so pleasant in the garden. She would remain by the fountain. She liked its sparkling and splashing, it refreshed her; the Intendant could come for her in half an hour; she wanted to be alone; she felt in a hard, unamiable mood, she said, and he only made her worse by stopping with her when others wanted him, and he wanted others!

The Intendant protested, in terms of the warmest gallantry, that he would not leave her; but seeing Angelique really desired at the present moment to be alone, and reflecting that he was himself sacrificing too much for the sake of one goddess, while a hundred others were adorned and waiting for his offerings, he promised in half an hour to return for her to this spot by the fountain, and proceeded towards the Palace.

Angelique sat watching the play and sparkle of the fountain, which she compared to her own vain exertions to fascinate the Intendant, and thought that her efforts had been just as brilliant, and just as futile!

She was sadly perplexed. There was a depth in Bigot's character which she could not fathom, a bottomless abyss into which she was falling and could not save herself. Whichever way she turned the eidolon of Caroline met her as a bar to all further progress in her design upon the Intendant.

The dim half-vision of Caroline which she had seen in the pleached walk, she knew was only the shadow and projection of her own thoughts, a brooding fancy which she had unconsciously conjured up into the form of her hated rival. The addition of the child was the creation of the deep and jealous imaginings which had often crossed her mind. She thought of that yet unborn pledge of a once mutual affection as the secret spell by which Caroline, pale and feeble as she was, still held the heart of the Intendant in some sort of allegiance.

"It is that vile, weak thing!" said she bitterly and angrily to herself, "which is stronger than I. It is by that she excites his pity, and pity draws after it the renewal of his love. If the hope of what is not yet be so potent with Bigot, what will not the reality prove ere long? The annihilation of all my brilliant anticipations! I have drawn a blank in life's lottery, by the rejection of Le Gardeur for his sake! It is the hand of that shadowy babe which plucks away the words of proposal from the lips of Bigot, which gives his love to its vile mother, and leaves to me the mere ashes of his passion, words which mean nothing, which will never mean anything but insult to Angelique des Meloises, so long as that woman lives to claim the hand which but for her would be mine!"

Dark fancies fluttered across the mind of Angelique during the absence of the Intendant. They came like a flight of birds of evil omen, ravens, choughs, and owls, the embodiments of wicked thoughts. But such thoughts suited her mood, and she neither chid nor banished them, but let them light and brood, and hatch fresh mischief in her soul.

She looked up to see who was laughing so merrily while she was so angry and so sad, and beheld the Intendant jesting and toying with a cluster of laughing girls who had caught him at the turn of the broad stair of the terrace. They kept him there in utter oblivion of Angelique! Not that she cared for his presence at that moment, or felt angry, as she would have done at a neglect of Le Gardeur, but it was one proof among a thousand others that, gallant and gay as he was among the throng of fair guests who were flattering and tempting him on every side, not one of them, herself included, could feel sure she had made an impression lasting longer than the present moment upon the heart of the Intendant.

But Bigot had neither forgotten Angelique nor himself. His wily spirit was contriving how best to give an impetus to his intrigue with her without committing himself to any promise of marriage. He resolved to bring this beautiful but exacting girl wholly under his power. He comprehended fully that Angelique was prepared to accept his hand at any moment, nay, almost demanded it; but the price of marriage was what Bigot would not, dared not pay, and as a true courtier of the period he believed thoroughly in his ability to beguile any woman he chose, and cheat her of the price she set upon her love.