Copyright
Alexandre Dumas.

Comtesse de Charny (Volume 2) online

. (page 10 of 24)
Online LibraryAlexandre DumasComtesse de Charny (Volume 2) → online text (page 10 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


robust men of their appetite.

So it was not Billot's abstinence that worried Pitou,
for every one is at liberty to eat or not, as one pleases.
Besides, the less Billot ate, the more there was left for
Pitou. What perplexed and annoyed him most was the
farmer's silence.



138 LA COMTESSE DE CHARNY.

Now, when Pitou ate in company with others, he dearly
loved to talk. He had noticed, too, that conversation is a
great aid to digestion; and this fact had impressed itself
so deeply on his mind that when he ate alone he always
sang.

The reader must not suppose for a moment that Pitou
was in a melancholy frame of mind. Quite the contrary.
For some time past, his life at Haramont had been unusually
pleasant. As we know, Pitou loved Catherine, or, rather,
he adored her; and the word in this connection is to be
taken literally. How is it with the Italian or Spaniard
who adores the Madonna? To see her, to kneel before her,
to pray to her, — that is all he asks.

Sometimes the worthy fellow experienced a slight feel-
ing of jealousy when he brought Catherine one of Isidore's
letters from the post, or carried back one of hers, addressed
to Isidore; but, take it all in all, his situation was incom-
parably better than when he returned to the farm after his
first visit to Paris, when Catherine, seeing in him only an
enemy of nobles and aristocrats, had shown him the door,
telling him there was no work at the farm for such as he.

Ignorant of Catherine's condition, Pitou saw no reason
why this pleasant state of things should not continue in-
definitely; so it was with deep regret that he left Hara-
mont. His superior rank, however, obliged him to set
an example of zeal; so he took an affectionate leave of
Catherine, commending her to Father Clouis' care, and
promising to return as soon as possible.

Shortly after he reached Paris he called upon Doctor
Gilbert to render an account of the manner in which the
twenty-five louis had been expended; and Doctor Gilbert
gave him twenty-five louis more, to be devoted, not to the
equipment of the Haramont Guards this time, but to
Pitou's own individual use.

Pitou accepted the money simply and ingenuously.
Whatever Monsieur Gilbert — who was little less than a
god in Pitou's eyes — saw fit to give, it was perfectly right



DANCING HERE. 139

for him to accept, exactly as he accepted the rain or sun-
shine Jehovah saw fit to send.

As the honest fellow was about to take leave, Gilbert
looked up at him and said, —

"I have an idea that Billot has a good deal that he wants
to say to me. While I am talking with him, would you
like to pay Sebastian a visit? "

"Yes, indeed; I've been wanting to ask permission
dreadfully, but didn't dare."

Gilbert reflected a moment; then he took up a pen and
wrote a few lines, which he sealed, and addressed to his
son. "Here, Pitou," he remarked, "take a cab and go
and see Sebastian. After he reads what I have written,
he will probably want to pay a visit. In that case, I am
sure you will be kind enough to take him where he wishes
to go, and wait for him outside. He may keep you wait-
ing an hour or so; but, knowing how good-natured you
are, I feel sure the knowledge that you are doing me a
service will console you."

"You need have no fears on that score; besides, I '11 buy
some bread on the way, and if I get tired of waiting, I can
eat."

"A very good idea," responded Gilbert, smiling. "Only
remember it is not well for man to live by bread alone,
but to drink as well as eat."

"Then I '11 buy a chunk of hogshead cheese and a bottle
of wine as well as the bread."

"Bravo! " cried Gilbert, laughing.

So Pitou ran down and hired a cab, and was driven to
the college of Louis le Grand, where he found Sebastian
walking in the garden. After embracing him affectionately,
Pitou gave the lad his father's letter.

"Did my father tell you you were to take me some-
where? " he asked, after perusing the missive.

"Yes, if you desire to go."

"And I do very much; so, in order that we may lose no
time, you had better go and ask permission of the abbé,
while I go and dress. I will meet you in the courtyard."



140 LA COMTESSE DE CHARNY.

Pitou consented very readily, for the idea of presenting
liiiuself before the principal as a federal delegate, and
therefore entitled to due consideration, pleased him not
a little.

By the time Pitou came out of the superintendent's
office, Sebastian had descended the stairs leading to it.

"Here I am! " he exclaimed. "Let us start at once."

Sebastian was no longer a child, but a handsome youth
of sixteen, with laughing blue eyes and a face framed in
thick masses of wavy chestnut hair.

When they reached the carriage, which was waiting for
them at the gate, Sebastian ordered the coachman to drive
to number nine Rue Coq-Héron, the iirst gateway after
passing the Eue Coquillière.

This address had no significance whatever to Pitou, so
he entered the carriage behind Sebastian without making
any comment; but as they passed a baker's he shouted to
the driver to stop, and, jumping out, ran into the shop and
purchased a two-pound loaf.

A little further on he stopped the vehicle again at a wine-
shop, and again at a butcher's shop, laying in a fresh stock
of provisions in each establishment.

"Now drive on to the Rue Coq-Héron as fast as you
please," he shouted to the coachman; "I 've got all I want."

As they neared the house, Sebastian manifested the
utmost excitement. He even jumped up and put his head
out of the window and shouted, "Go ahead, driver! hurry
up! " — though it must be admitted this adjuration did not
affect the rate of speed a particle.

But at last the cab reached the Rue-Coq Héron, and
stopped in front of number nine.

Without waiting for the coachman, Sebastian opened
the door, gave Pitou a last rousing hug, jumped to the
ground, rang sharply, and asked to see Madame de Charny;
but before the porter had time to answer, he rushed past
him towards the pavilion.

The concierge, seeing he was such a handsome, well'



DANCING HERE. 141

dressed youth, made no attempt to stop liim, but contented
himself witli fastening the gate; but at the expiration of
about five minutes, during which Pitou had attacked his
hogshead cheese, uncorked his bottle of wine, and made
vigorous inroads upon his loaf, the concierge opened the
carriage door, hat in hand, and addressed these words to
Pitou, — which he had to repeat twice, however.

"The Comtesse de Charny begs Captain Pitou will do
her the favour to come in, instead of waiting for Monsieur
Sebastian in the cab."

The words had to be repeated twice, as we have pre-
viously remarked, before Pitou could grasp their meaning;
but as a repetition elfectually prevented any misunderstand-
ing on his part, he was compelled to reluctantly restore
his cheese to the paper in which it had been wrapped, and
prop up his bottle of wine in the corner behind the cushions,
in order to prevent its contents from being spilled.

Then he followed the porter; but great was his astonish-
ment when he beheld Sebastian seated beside a beautiful
woman, who pressed him fondly to her as she extended her
other hand to Pitou and said, "You have conferred such a
great and unexpected pleasure upon me by bringing Sebas-
tian to see me, Monsieur Pitou, that I wish to thank you
in person."

Pitou stared wildly, and stammered and blushed; but he
did not take the hand the beautiful stranger so graciously
offered him.

"Take her hand and kiss it," cried Sebastian. "My
mother gives you permission."

" Your mother ? " cried Pitou.

Sebastian nodded affirmatively.

"Yes, his mother ^^ replied Andrée, her face radiant;
"his mother, who has not seen her boy for nine long
months; his mother, who never saw him but once before,
but who, in the hope that you will bring him to see her
again, reveals her secret to you, though this secret would
make a great deal of trouble if it should become known."



142 LA COMTESSE DE CHARNY.

When any one appealed to Pitou's feelings or his loj'-alty,
there was never any doubt as to the result.

"Oh, madame!" he exclaimed, seizing her hand and
kissing it, "you need have no fears; your secret is safe
here;" and, drawing himself up, he placed his hand upon
his heart with an air of dignity that became him well.

"And now, Monsieur Pitou, my son tells me you have
not lunched," continued the countess; "so will you not do
me the favour to step into the dining-room while I talk
with Sebastian? You shall be served at once, and thus
make up for lost time."

In a few minutes this promise was indeed fulfilled.
Two savoury cutlets, a cold fowl, and a jar of preserves
were placed upon the table, beside a bottle of claret, a
Venetian goblet of exquisite fineness, and a pile of dainty
China plates.

Despite the elegance of the table appointments, we dare
not say that Pitou did not think longingly of his two-pound
loaf and his chunk of hogshead cheese.

As he was cutting up the fowl, after having despatched
the cutlets, the dining-room door onened, and a young
gentleman entered, as if with the intention of passing
through the room into the parlour.

Pitou looked up just as the young gentleman looked
down, and the two, recognising each other, uttered an
exclamation of astonishment.

"Ange Pitou! " cried one.

" Monsieur Isidore ! " cried the other.

Pitou rose to his feet, his heart throbbing violently ; for
the sight of this young nobleman recalled the bitterest
hours he had ever experienced. As for Isidore, the sight
of Pitou reminded him of nothing save the obligations
Catherine had told him she owed to the worthy fellow; so
he walked straight up to him and said, most cordially, —

"Ah, Monsieur Pitou, is it you? I am delighted to
meet you, and to have an opportunity to thank you for the
services you have rendered me."



DANCING HERE. 143

"Monsieur, I rendered those services to Mademoiselle
Catherine, and to her alone," said Pitou, in a firni voice,
though he was trembling in every limb.

"Yes; up to the time you first discovered that I loved
her. After that, the service was rendered to me as well ;
and as you must have been put to considerable expense in
transmitting our letters, and building that little house at
Clouise Rock — "

And Isidore put his hand in his pocket.

But Pitou checked him.

"Monsieur," he said, with that dignity which so aston-
ished one at times, "I give my services when it pleases me
to do so, and I ask no pay for them. I repeat that those
services were rendered to Mademoiselle Catherine. She is
my friend, and if she thinks she owes me anything, she
will settle her indebtedness herself; but you, monsieur,
owe me nothing, for whatever I may have done, was done
for Mademoiselle Catherine, and not for you. So you must
offer me nothing."

The words, and especially the tone in which they were
uttered, impressed Isidore deeply.

"Indeed, I do owe you something, Monsieur Pitou," he
said, bowing slightly, "and I have something to offer you
as well. I owe you my sincere thanks, and I offer you my
hand. I hope you will do me the honour to accept both."

Isidore's reply was so noble, and his manner so gracious,
that Pitou was conquered, and he held out his hand.

Just as the tips of their fingers touched, the countess
appeared on the threshold of the door leading into the
parlour.

"You asked to see me, Monsieur Isidore," she said.
"Here I am."

Isidore bowed to Pitou and followed the countess into
the parlour.

He was about to close the door; but Andrée took hold of
it, and it consequently remained half open, so that Pitou
could hear all that was said in the parlour. He noticed,



144 LA COMTESSE DE CHAENY.

too, that the door at the other end of the parlour had also
been left open, so that Sebastian, too, could hear the con-
versation between the countess and the viscount.

"You asked for me, monsieur," said Andrée. "May I
inquire to what I am indebted for the honour of this
visit?"

"I heard from my brother Olivier yesterday, madame;
and in this, as in previous letters, he requested me to lay
his remembrances at your feet. He is still unable to say
when he shall return, but he would be glad to be assured of
your well-being, either by means of a letter sent through
me, or merely a message."

" I have not been able to answer the letter with which
Monsieur de Charny honoured me when he went away, as
I had no idea of his whereabouts ; but I will gladly avail
myself of your kind offer to send him my compliments
as a respectful and submissive wife. If you will kindly
take a letter to Monsieur de Charny, I will have it ready
to-morrow."

" Write the letter by all means, madame," replied Isidore;
" but instead of coming for it to-morrow, I will call in five
or six days. I have a short journey to make. Just how
long I shall be absent I cannot say, but as soon as I
return, I will call to pay my respects and receive your
commission."

Isidore bowed to the countess, who returned the saluta-
tion, and who must have shown him out by another door,
as he did not pass through the dining-room where Pitou,
having made away with the fowl, was attacking the jar of
sweetmeats.

The jar was as dry as the bottle, from which Pitou had
long since squeezed the last drop, before the countess re-
appeared with Sebastian.

It was difficult to recognise the grave Comtesse de Charny
in this young mother, whose eyes sparkled with joy, and
upon whose lips a smile of such ineffable tenderness played.
Even her pale cheeks had taken on a roseate hue which



DANCING HERE. 145

surprised Andrée herself; for maternal love — that crown-
ing joy of a woman's existence — had re-entered her heart
during the hours spent with her son.

Again she covered Sebastian's face with kisses, before
restoring him to Pitou, whose rough fist she pressed warmly
with her soft white hands.

As for Sebastian, he embraced his mother with the same
ardour he manifested in everything he did; for his love
had cooled only temporarily by reason of the imprudent
remark the countess had made during their conversation
in regard to Gilbert nearly a year before. During his
secluded life at school the recollection of his beautiful
tender mother had been ever present in his mind; so when
Gilbert's letter granting him permission to spend an hour
or two with her reached him, it gratified the most ardent
desire of his heart.

Gilbert had deferred this visit so long purely from
motives of delicacy; for he knew if he conducted Sebastian
to the coimtess himself, his presence would deprive her of
much of the happiness she would otherwise have felt in
meeting her son, while if he intrusted the matter to any
one save kind-hearted, innocent Pitou, he would endanger
a secret that was not entirely his own.

Pitou took leave of the countess without asking any
questions, or even casting a curious glance at her sur-
roundings, and led Sebastian — who turned again and
again to exchange one more farewell kiss with his mother
— to the carriage, where he found the cheese safe in
its wrappings, and the bottle of wine still ensconced in its
corner.

In the evening he began work at the Champ de Mars,
where he spent the next night and several subsequent
nights. He received many compliments from Monsieur
Maillard, who recognised him, as well as from Monsieur
Bailly, to whom he made himself known. He also met
Elie and Hull in, two men who had figured conspicuously
in the taking of the Bastile, like himself, and beheld,

VOL. II. — 10



146 LA COMTESSE DE CHAENT.

without the slightest envy, the medals they wore in their
button-holes, though he and Billot had as much right to
them as anybody in the world.

At last, when the momentous day came, he took his
place in the ranks of delegates with Billot near the Porte
St. Denis, and, it is needless to say, detached a ham, a
loaf of bread, and a bottle of wine from the end of a like
number of strings.

He approached the Patriot Altar and danced Ûie farandole,
with an actress from the opera on one side of him, and a
Bernardine nun on the other. He also had the satisfac-
tion of seeing himself represented by Lafayette in the oath-
taking, which he considered a great honour. Afterwards,
too, when Lafayette passed down the line on his white
charger, Pitou had the additional gratification of receiv-
ing one out of the three or four thousand hand-shakes
the popular general distributed en route.

Then he and Billot went to see the games and illumina-
tions and fireworks on the Champs Ely sees; after which
they decided to end up the day at the Bastile, where
Pitou was fortunate enough to secure a vacant table, and
immediately ordered two loaves of bread, a sausage, and
two bottles of wine.

When Isidore announced his contemplated absence of
several days, Pitou did not suspect that he intended spend-
ing this time at Villers-Cotterets. Nor did he know that
six days afterwards Catherine had given birth to a boy;
that she had left Clouise Rock by night, one week after-
wards ; and that she had arrived in Paris on the very morn-
ing of the fke, and caught a glimpse of Pitou and Billot
near the Porte St. Denis.

Not knowing any of these things, there was nothing to
make him sad except Billot's sadness.



THE APPOINTMENT. 147



CHAPTER XXIV.



THE APPOINTMENT.



As we remarked at the beginning of the preceding chapter,
Pitou resolved to be as gay as possible himself, in the hope
of dispelling Billot's melancholy and making him talk, —
if that w as a possible thing.

"Say, Father Billot," he began, "who would ever have
supposed, when you picked me up on Ermonville Heath
and we started off post-haste to Paris, that you and I
should have played such a prominent part in the taking
of the Bastile ? "

"No one," responded the farmer, laconically.

"The deuce!" Pitou said to himself; "the talking is
likely to be all on one side, it seems to me. Well, here
goes for another trial!"

"And even after we took the Bastile, Farmer Billot,
who would ever have supposed that one year from that
time I should be a captain and you a federal delegate, and
that we two should be supping on the site of the old for-
tress? Who would ever have believed it, I say?"

"Nobody," responded Billot, still more gruffly.

"And now I think of it, it was just one year ago to-day
that you and I entered the city hall, and you took Monsieur
de Flesselles by the collar and made him hand over some
powder to you, while I stood guard at the door. A few
minutes later it was through a gate which stood just there
that you entered the Bastile, after making Monsieur
Maillard write the famous note which I was to read to the
people in case you did not come out again. Right over
there, where that pile of old chains and handcuffs lies, is



148 LA COMTESSE DE CHAKNY.

where you first met Monsieur Delaunay. Poor man ! I can
see him now in his linen coat and three-cornered hat, his
red ribbon and sword-cane. There is another who has
gone to join Flesselles."

Billot evinced no disposition to respond; nevertheless
Pitou persevered.

"Just think of it," he continued: "Monsieur Delaunay
showed you through the whole fortress, from top to bottom,
and you studied it and measured it, — those walls thirty
feet thick at the base, and fifteen at the top. And after
you had examined it all carefully, and got safely out again,
you said to us, as if it were merely a matter of climbing
a hayloft, 'Friends, let us take the Bastile!' And take
it we did, that same famous old Bastile, — took it so etïec-
tually that to-day we are eating sausage and drinking
Burgundy on the very spot where it once stood."

Still the farmer was silent; but Pitou went bravely on.
"What a strange affair it was! When I think of that
piece of work, — the shouts, the deafening noise — But
talking of noise, what is going on over there? Say,
Pather Billot, something must be up; everybody's run-
ning. Come, let's go and see, like ever3^body else! Come,
Father Billot, come!"

The commotion was caused by a man who had the rare
gift of creating o. furore wherever he went.

Cries of "Long live Mirabeau!" went up from a thou-
sand vigorous throats, — the throats of men slow to change
their opinions about leaders after they have once fairly
adopted them.

It was indeed Mirabeau, who, with a closely veiled woman
on his arm, had come to visit the Bastile. Any one but
Mirabeau would have been alarmed at finding such a crowd
at his heels, especially as some low yet threatening ex-
clamations could be heard amid the plaudits of the crowd,
— such exclamations as that which greeted the chariot of
the Roman conqueror w^hen some one called out to him,
"Caesar, forget not that thou art mortal! "



THE APPOINTMENT. 149

But this stormy soul seemed to be in its element amid
thunder and lightning and raging tempest. He passed on
through the shouting, excited throng with a smiling face,
calm gaze, and commanding gesture, still holding on his
arm the unknown woman, who seemed to tremble before
the breath of her companion's popularity.

Pitou jumped upon a chair, and from the chair to a table,
and, hoisting his three-cornered hat upon the point of his
sword, shouted, "Long live Mirabeau!" as lustily as the
rest.

Billot evinced no signs either of sympathy or antipathy,
but simply crossed his arms upon his stalwart breast and
murmured, "They say he betrays the people."

" Bah ! that was said about all tlie great men of antiquity,
from Aristides to Cicero," retorted Pitou; and he cheered
on even more lustil}', until the great orator disappeared
from sight in the crowd.

"Well, I'm glad I've seen Mirabeau," he exclaimed,
jumping down from his perch. "Let's go back now and
finish our second bottle, and get the best of that sausage; "
and he led the farmer back to the table, where the remains
of their repast still awaited them. They found a third
chair drawn up to their table, however, and a man seated
in it.

Pitou looked at Billot, who was gazing intently at the
intruder.

This was a sort of fraternity day, so a certain amount of
license was permissible; but Pitou, who was still hungry,
thought this stranger was taking rather too great a liberty,
especially as he made no apology for his intrusion, but
merely surveyed the farmer and his companion with a
humorous expression which seemed to be habitual to him.

Billot was evidently not in a mood to tolerate this
scrutiny; but before he had time to utter a protest, the
stranger made a peculiar sign, to which Billot, after an
instant's hesitation, responded.

After this sign made by the Unknown, and returned by



150 LA COMTESSE DE CHAKNY.

Billotj the farmer and Pitou resumed their seats. The
stranger was the first to speak.

"Brothers, you do not know me, but I know you," he
remarked.

Billot looked searehingly at the Unknown, but Pitou,
who was more outspoken, exclaimed, —

"Nonsense! Do you really know us?"

"I know you, Captain Pitou, and you, Farmer Billot."

"You've hit it, certainly," responded Pitou.

"But why so gloomy, Billot?" inquired the stranger.
" Is it because they have forgotten to hang a fourteenth of
July medal in your button-hole, and pay you such honours
as have been paid to Maillard, Elie, and Hullin? Or is it
because, on returning to your farm in October, you found
your granaries empty and your fields bare?"

"I am rich; what does the loss of one year's harvest
matter to me?"

The Unknown looked Billot full in the face.

" Then is it because your daughter Catherine — "

"Silence!" thundered the farmer. "Don't speak of
that."

" And why not, if I speak in order to assist you in gain-
ing your revenge?"

"That makes a difference," said Billot, smiling and
turning pale simultaneously.

Pitou forgot to eat or drink, and gazed at the man as
one miglit gaze upon some wonderful magician.

"And how do you hope to accomplish your object? tell
me! By merely killing one individual, as you have been
trying to do?"

Billot became livid, and Pitou felt a cold shiver run
down his back.

" Or by pursuing all of his caste ? "

"By hunting them all down; for the crime of one is the
crime of all. As Doctor Gilbert said, when I told him,
'Poor Billot! What has happened to you has happened
to a hundred thousand fathers. How would these young



THE APPOINTMENT. 151

noblemen amuse themselves, if they could not lead the
daughters of common people astray, or the old ones, if
they could not eat at the king's expense? ' Doctor Gilbert
knows what he is talking about."

"Did Gilbert say that to you?"


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

Online LibraryAlexandre DumasComtesse de Charny (Volume 2) → online text (page 10 of 24)