S. Weir (Silas Weir) Mitchell.

The Guillotine club, and other stories online

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Let me hear, De la Motte, how it looks to you.
Of course, it is sure so far that neither club
knows who M. Joseph is/

"Yes, as yet as yet. The only ray of com
fort is that my uncle, who did not know of
these last challenges when he nominated me, is
now wild with terror lest I shall be killed, and
has gone out of town to his vineyards in the
South. Of course the two councils are pru
dently silent, as is their custom." The count
seemed relieved at being taken seriously.

"Go on," said Merton. "Get Greville inside
this maze, and see how he can find a way out.
I can t. I end by laughing. I should laugh
if I were to be married. Go on."

The count made a weak attempt to smile.
"My aunt would not leave me a penny if she
knew I were ah, mon Dieu! a Jacobin. My
uncle is appalled into silence. I cannot resign
from either club without disgrace. I cannot
explain without both clubs feeling insulted. I
should have a dozen affairs on my hands. I
can t I can t Diable! How can M. Joseph
insult the Count de la Motte ? Or I insult me ?


It is like some maddening dream." He
laughed and seemed to me a trifle hysterical.

"Where now is the advice?" said Merton to

"Upon my word, it is nowhere."

De la Motte sat still, regarding with a kind
of malignant satisfaction the obvious fact that
I had, like Merton himself, been beaten by the
remorseless logic of the situation. I consid
ered how it would answer to do this or that.
To each suggestion there was a sufficing nega
tive. At last I said: "Suppose you do noth
ing, and your month goes by. What then?"

"Both clubs would seek explanations. I
what can I what could I say?"

"It is bewildering," I said. "Is it permitted
to speak of this to M. Blanchelande?"

"Oh, never. That is not to be thought of."
As we talked over this amazing situation, Cap
tain Merton sat silent at my desk, smoking,
and seemed to me to be stating the case in
equations. In fact he was merely yielding to
one of the habits into which thinking men fall
while deeply cogitating, and was idly writing



numbers here and there on the page of a blot
ter. At last he threw down the pencil and
swinging round said with decision, "If I were
in this trap, I should tell the whole pack of
fools to go to well, Hades."

"Heroic American commonplace," said I.
"We are in France."

"So it seems. It is as interesting as a
charade. These societies have no relation that
is not hostile, Count?"

"None, of course. Absolutely none."

"Very good. Let M. Joseph report to the
Jacobins that having personally insulted his
chosen antagonist, that is you, he cannot get a
fight out of him. You see, De la Motte, you
have only to call yourself a fool, or worse,
which you at least may feel at liberty to do.
You can also write to the other fellows, the
Royalists, that so far you have been quite un
able to find the person whose name as respon
dent has been sent to you by the Jacobin Club,
with a false address. All this is true. Any
thing," said Merton, "to gain time."

I laughed great laughter at the new, doubly


comic situation this would create, while the
captain insisted that it would let our man out,
and fill both clubs with joy at the humiliation
presumably inflicted on their hereditary foes.
There, that is all of my wisdom/ said the
American. "A cigar, please."

The count s look of puzzled earnestness evi
dently amused my captain, for whom it was all
a gigantic joke, and of course also a matter
which might at any time become grave with
out which possibility even the humor would for
him have lacked something.

We talked it over endlessly, my own advice
being to confess to both councils in confidence.
To this neither De la Motte nor Merton would
listen. Finally we decided to send the two
letters. They were composed with care and
duly delivered. Any replies for the count were
to be sent by the council of the Society of An
cestors to my care as his second, and letters to
M. Joseph from the Jacobins were to be called
for at M. Granson s. The American captain
continuously enjoyed the new situation, and so
having played our cards, we waited.


The captain said to me one night, it was
late, I remember, "I have found Paris pretty
slow since we closed out that diplomatic adven
ture, and really I have seen until now nothing
to equal our Porthos and Aramis. Will they
answer one another or the count ?"

As we talked, De la Motte came in. He was
always coming in just now. Overhearing us,
he said : "I can gratify your curiosity. Read


Citizen Joseph is informed that this is not the only
occasion when the Royalists have shown cowardice.
The citizen will be further advised. Caution is need
ful, as the police are troubling the Jacobin Club.

"So I, the Count de la Motte, am a coward!
Mon Dieu!" said he.

"On your own evidence," laughed Merton.
"It gets funnier every minute. To-day it does
appear to have reached the earthly maximum
of the droll. To-morrow it will be somewhere
in the fourth dimension of the comic. If you



could only just laugh at it, Count, you would
feel better."

"I find it anything but laughable," said the

"Well," I said, "you are right; it is not alto
gether a mere jest of fate. To-day it is comic
enough, to-morrow we may find it anything but

"What of the other club?" asked Merton.

"I have here," I replied, "the letter from the
Ancestors sent to my care. Let us hear it."

De la Motte opened it, and read it aloud :

The Secretary of the Society of Ancestors has re
ceived the letter of the Count de la Motte. The
council has sent to the Jacobin Club a statement of
the contents with, as usual, no mention of names.
Their council state in a note that you, Monsieur, have
been grossly insulted, and will not fight, of course a
lie which you will deal with to your satisfaction when
you are able to discover this man.

"What a delicious tangle!" said Merton.
"What next? If I am correct, the Jacobins
are a bit uneasy because of the police. Yes.



That was plain. Just wait a little." Merton
reflected in silence, the count studying him
with some confidence that he would find an
exit from this maze. At last the American
officer said decisively, "We want time, but how
to get it?"

" Why time?" I asked.

"Because well, something may cause this
Jacobin Club to be rounded up. Nothing is
more likely or by Jove ! De la Motte, here s
a priceless idea: you could get smallpox or
typhoid fever be in bed a month."

"What, I ? Back out ? Avoid a fight"

"What, with yourself, De la Motte? You
ought to, you must, in some decent way, dis
appear for a few weeks."

"I ought to disappear forever or kill some
body. Here is my own club thinking me oh
me, M. Joseph, afraid, and that club of ver
min believes that I, the Count de la Motte, am
a coward, and I I I think I shall go mad."

"That would perhaps, answer," said Mer
ton, "if well managed, but the fun would be at
an end. And there would have to be an ex-



planation, the thing of all others to avoid.
Disappear, my dear friend."

The count fell back in his chair, the figure
of despair. "How can I? Is it I, M. Joseph,
or De la Motte, who is to disappear? Mon

We continued our talk after he left us.
"You are right, Merton, about the police/ I
said. "Blanchelande was here to-day, and
tells me the Guillotine Society has been warned,
whatever that may mean."

"Humph!" said Merton, "is that so? By
Jove ! I mean to see this game played out."

"Of course; and we must somehow get our
friend out of his scrape. But why, Merton,
are you so incautious? Alphonse has been in
and out, and you go on talking as if we were
discussing a play at the theater."

"My dear Greville, you may be sure that
fellow knows all about it. The other business
was far more serious, and you know how use
ful Alphonse was. I want to talk to him.
Oh, not now. Send him to me at ten to



"Yes, if you wish it." I had my doubts con
cerning this consultation. The captain s
methods were, as I knew, somewhat radical.
Before we parted, he asked in a casual way if
there had been any personal pledges exacted
of those present at either club. I said no.

"I see. The police will, I trust, relieve us ;
but time is what is needed. Don t forget Al-
phonse. I wonder what the next act will be
How to become Twins ? Good-by."

AFTER breakfast the next day I saw noth
ing of my valet until evening. He came
in, arranged my clothes, and disappeared. At
breakfast the following day I thought it well
to investigate.

"So you saw the captain, Alphonse? He
kept you busy all day, I presume."

"Yes, Monsieur. He is in a very good
humor, as he was that night in the rain. Well,
he told me that I knew all about this affair of
M. the Count de la Motte. I could but say
the captain has an open-air voice, very good
for cavalry orders, easy to hear."


"He said he would tell me the whole busi
ness, if it was not clear to me. I said it was
not needed. Then he said the Jacobin Club
was objectionable; he was informed it would
have to meet elsewhere. If the police knew



that You see, Monsieur, the captain is an
innocent person. If he had known that I had
a cousin on the police, he would not have said
such things. But you see, he has a confidence
in human nature, and is of a liberal nature, a
thing most agreeable to my cousin."

The valet s face was as a mask. What else
passed between the captain and this delightful,
trustworthy scamp I desired not to know.

After a brief silence he added, "It may be

" What else?"

"Oh, nothing, Monsieur."

As the days of the next week went by, De
la Motte uneasily shuttle-cocked, as Merton
said, between our rooms until I, believing the
thing at an end, was rather bored.

On Saturday I heard Merton s matchless
laughter as returning from the Odeon I en
tered my rooms. He was alone.

"Well," I said, "what now?" Few men
laugh outright when alone. "What s up

"Oh, it is becoming sweetly simple. The



Jacobins desire M. Joseph to make the neces
sary insult physically such as he may find
agreeably productive of a row. I like the way
they put it. The Royalists do not report ex
cept to say they have again written, denying
the slander concerning their man. Both clubs
consider some abrupt and specific action de
sirable. It is a sort of mutual hornet s nest,
both swarms furious. This young fellow is in
a state of panic. He will presently do some
thing rash. I see a rather carefully worded
article in Le Temps about clubs and secret

"Well," I said, "I am getting rather bored
with these societies and our hopeless young
count. Not the ingenuity of Dumas could
answer these last notes. He is at his wit s

"There is more end to mine," said Merton,
"and to tell you the truth, in this slow town I
am enjoying the position of counselor in this
mess. Are you going to Baron St. Pierre s
this afternoon?"

"Yes," said I. "I will call for you."


"Do," he returned. "All of the best fencers
in Paris will be there. We are to play our club
against the army men." Since his duel with
Porthos, a passionate lover of the foil, he had
become of unusual competence.

"Will De la Motte be there?" he added.

"Yes, he is sure to be."

A gayer scene than the garden back of the
baron s chateau on this sunny afternoon could
not be found. Welcomed by the host in the
house, we passed out into and through the
garden. Beyond it, within a semicircle of tall
box, was a grassy space, and about it were
chairs and little tables with refreshments.
The scene was gay with undress uniforms and
well-clad men, devotees of the foil.

De la Motte and others spoke to us as we
strolled about and watched the pairs of fencers
on the green. About four, we sat down and
saw with interest the prearranged matches.
Before five o clock the army had lost the match.
Bets were paid and gay challenges given and
accepted, the temporary judges, of whom De


la Motte was one, deciding as to the winners
in these manly games.

Then, to my amusement, I saw the Ameri
can captain s athletic figure matched against
our old acquaintance the colonel Aramis, as
we called him. He was well known to me as
one of the best blades in France, but the
American was younger and of amazing quick
ness. I saw the couple engage and saw, too,
very soon that on the part of Aramis there was
some vexed remembrance of an unpleasant
past. The button on the foil does not insure
good temper, and presently I observed, as did
other experts, that both men were too much in
earnest. As they fell back after a bout, the
French gentleman a little flushed, the captain
smiling, something which I did not hear was
said by De la Motte about the match. I under
stood him to have decided a disputed point in
favor of the French colonel.

To the amazement of all within earshot,
Captain Merton said abruptly in a loud voice,
"That is not true/ Had we been alone, a



word about hasty speech and an apology would
have settled the matter; but here, overheard
by a group of brother-officers, the reply was
unavoidable. De la Motte went up to Merton
and said with quiet courtesy, "I may, indeed, I
surely have misunderstood your words. An
apology the simplest will answer, a word "

"I do not make apologies."

There was a murmur of disapprobation,
while the captain, entirely undisturbed, stood
still. When the unfortunate reply to De la
Motte s appeal was made, I hurriedly left a
group, seeing Merton as it were without the
support he certainly did not deserve. "This
way," I said to him, drawing him aside.
"Cannot this be helped? It is easy to end it;
a word will answer. You have both given
such proofs of courage as will quiet criticism."

"My dear Greville, it is going to be helped.
I shall have no occasion to have made my will.
Droll, is n t it? Fourth act."

I neither liked nor understood it. I made
no rejoinder, for now the reasonable counsel
of postponement having failed, and the



younger men and the count insisting on imme-
diate action, his seconds, Major Leuret and
the baron, asked who were Captain Merton s
friends. The American captain turned to me
at once, and then, to my astonishment, to
Aramis, who accepted. Amid the ominous
silence which fell on this gay crowd, I had a
word with my principal, asking for instruc

"No apology," said he to me sternly, "and
swords, as of course we have the choice of

With the other seconds I went into the
chateau. No attempt at a peaceable ending
was even hinted. My proposal of swords was
accepted, and weapons were selected from
Baron St. Pierre s armory. I was distressed
beyond measure, because not only were both
men my friends, but I felt ashamed of the be
havior of Merton, whose courteous ways had
everywhere made him a favorite.

As I came out with the dueling-swords under
my arm, every one drew back, and the voices
fell away. The two men stripped to the waist


turned toward us. The American was quiet
and smiled faintly as he received his blade. I
thought De la Motte looked uneasy and a little
flushed. It seemed to me a most outrageous

Then Major Leuret and I took each a sword
and stepped aside. The baron, turning, said
to his guests, "Now, gentlemen, I need not ask
for absolute silence."

The major said: "En garde, messieurs.

De la Motte attacked with instant fury and
the extreme of imprudence. Merton was cool,
careful, and watchful. I had become expert
with the foil, and knew very quickly that he
was not using his advantages. He was in
splendid condition, and the other man was
clearly not so, and began at the close of the
second bout to show signs of fatigue.

The captain parried in tierce, and, riposting,
to speak technically, thrust quickly, his sword
passing through the outside of the count s
right arm below the shoulder. The count s
sword dropped, hanging from his limp hand,




the blood running freely down his bare arm as
he stood awaiting our decision, flushed, pant
ing, and looking from one to the other.

The silence was unbroken as De Leuret
called a regimental surgeon, who put on a tem
porary dressing and said, as he turned to us,
a few words which forced us as the seconds
to conclude the affair at an end.

De la Motte went away with the surgeon
and his major. I said to Merton, "We had
better go."

"Of course I only waited for you to give the
signal." With this he said in passing a word
of thanks to the colonel we called Aramis, and,
taking my arm, walked across the garden
through groups of gentlemen, who ceased to
speak as we approached, and were evidently
by no means pleased with my principal. He
went with me quietly, not the least disturbed.
At the door he shook hands with the baron,
saying to me as we passed out : "Your rooms,
Greville. I want to talk to you." I saw that
he did not wish to speak for a time, and al
though I was indignant at his loss of temper



and what it had cost, I held my tongue until
we were seated in my salon. Then I said,
"Why did you of all men lose your temper and
insult that good fellow ?"

"Well, now, Greville, for an American I did
expect something better of you."

"What do you mean?"

"Yesterday these cursed Jacobins sent M.
Joseph a statement to the effect that his report
of having insulted his Royalist was denied, and
he must at once proceed to extremities or ex
plain to the council. This morning the Guil
lotine Club informed him that he was invited
to state to M. Blanchelande what further had
passed between him and the lying Jacobin.
We were thus invited to explode comic fire
works for Paris."

"Well," I said, "what has all this got to do
with your very unpleasant and needless quar

"Unpleasant, certainly. Needless ? No.
The man is half-crazy. He can t kick him
self. These two fool clubs have called him,
and he holds no hand. Oh, I beg your pardon ;


he has two of a kind, after a fashion, much of
a kind. Jolly idea. You are not usually slow.
For a little sword-wound this gentleman is out
of a ruinous scrape."
"But, Merton, it was outrageous."
"Oh, perhaps; but now a note to Blanche-
lande from you as second will satisfy the An
cestors that the Count de la Motte is off the
list of possible duelists for a good while to
come. As for the Jacobins, I do not know.
My hope lies with Alphonse and the police.
You were rather full in your revelations to


"But you did not"

"Yes, I did. Where the deuce are your
cigarettes? I must see De la Motte, and


"See him ! He will never forgive you."
"Then he will be a fool and an ungrateful

fool. But see him yourself and set his mind

at ease. Now, don t look at me that way.

Wasn t it delightful? Couldn t negotiate

smallpox; had to take next best."

I fell back in my chair. He was right, of



course. The audacity of the thing, the cool
adjustment of a dreadful difficulty by means
like these, the risks, the opprobrium caused by
seeming ill temper and insult, I do not think
troubled the captain for a moment.
He said, "You think it abominable."
"Frankly, yes. I do."

"Well, put it the other way. You were at
the end of your resources, I almost, and this
man half-crazed. I do a minor surgical op
eration, and presto! the patient is cured. At
all events, we gain time. The fact is, Greville,
you are cross on account of my apparent be
havior. Now I must go ; but if any one "
"Oh, by George ! no more duels."
"Well, let them rage. Good-by."
I inquired next day for De la Motte, and
learned that he was doing well, but declined to
see me. Two days later I called, and was so,
persistent that he sent me word that I might
come up to his room. His apartments were in
a small hotel in the rue d Alger and were very
modest and simple. As I approached his bed
side, he said: "You have forced me to see





you, but why, Monsieur, I cannot comprehend.
I beg of you to be brief. Pray be seated."

"I came/ said I, "because as your friend and
Captain Mer ton s some explanation "

He broke in angrily. "Some explanation,
Monsieur? A man insults me as if with in
tention, and presents me, besides, with this
sacre wound. I had no idea the thing hurt so
much/ There was a good deal of the boy
about this very pleasant young soldier.
"Dame!" and he groaned.

"But, my dear Count, did it never occur to
you that what you desired, that some one would
shoot you, has virtually come about ? I mean
that you are literally hors de combat for
months, and that a note to M. Blanchelande
from me will relieve you of the necessity of
kicking M. Joseph or explaining what you can t

"Mon Dieu, that is so. I thought of that
last night."

"Might you not also have realized that for
a trivial wound "

"Trivial! I wish you had it. I can t turn



over on that side, and I always sleep on my
right side." Then I laughed, and so did he.

"Trivial, I insist. For a slight wound, you
have escaped being the jest of every club and
gazette in Paris as the man who was two men
and was expected to kick himself. Some clever
brute would make a neat little lever de rideau
for the Odeon "

"I would kill him."

"You can t kill all Paris when it laughs

He groaned. "Excuse me, that shoulder!"

"Why," said I, "do you suppose a courteous,
honorable man doubted your word, your de
cision, so well, so brutally and with no rea
son to do so."

"Lost his temper, I presume."

"What, this man? Oh, no. And he might
have ended your duel easily three or four
times. You are no match for him. He
played with you."

"Sacre! But why?"

"Perhaps he meant to do you the friendly


service of presenting you with three weeks in


"But true. That man is your friend."
"Mon Dieu! Is this really so? What a
man! Has he said so? Come, honestly?"

"You Americans are singular people."
"You have a slight wound. He has more
or less accepted in your service the conse
quences of what he said to you in the garden.
He neither can nor will explain to these gentle
men. To do so would be impossible. Now,
who is the worse wounded, you, his friend,
or he?"

The count was silent. "Any arrangement
with you for a mock duel would have been for
gentlemen out of the question. He took the
risks for himself and you. No, do not answer
me, but read this letter from Merton."
"Have the kindness to open it for me."
I did so, and gave it to him. I had already
seen it. There were two notes:



MY DEAR FRIEND: We were at a crisis, and I took
the one way to get you over it. You could not sham
sick or explain or, in fact, do anything. You must
forgive me, and use as seems best the inclosed letter.

Yours truly,

Arthur Merton.

The other note ran thus :

MY DEAR COUNT: I beg of you to receive my most
humble apology for my display of bad temper and
to express my regret at the consequences. You are
at liberty to show this to any of the gentlemen who
were present. I have already apologized to the baron
our host. I have the honor to be

Yours, etc.

"St. Denis ! but your captain is a gentleman
of the best. Ask him to come and see me."

"I will, and you must not get well too soon.
Your uncle is anxious, and is both silent and
scared, no bad thing. Mile. Rosalie is in tears ;
altogether you ought not to be an unhappy
young man."

"Well, you have brought me some sunshine,
but I am what you call bored. My aunt calls,
but cannot mount the stairs. Do come soon
again and Merton."



"I think you want better care. I will let
you have Alphonse for a week or so."

"Delightful. He is most amusing, and at
the Guillotine Club is our servant, as you saw."

"Yes; he will enliven you. By the way, he
knows pretty much all there is to know about
this embroglio."


"Yes; but you may trust him. He was in
and through a very perilous adventure with
Merton and me some time ago, and showed
courage and discretion. No one will hear of
the duel of M. Joseph and Count de la Motte

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Online LibraryS. Weir (Silas Weir) MitchellThe Guillotine club, and other stories → online text (page 3 of 10)