Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 17

THE BROTHERS


Be angry as
You will, it shall have scope;
Ah, Cassius, you are yoked with a lamb
That carries anger, as the flint bears fire—
Who, much enforced, shows a hasty spark,
And straight is cold again.
And from henceforth
When you are over earnest with your brother,
He'll think your mother chides, and leave you so.
--Shakespeare

Our readers will perhaps have been surprised, that after the violent manner in which Paul had insulted Lectoure the day before, a meeting had not been appointed for the following morning; but Lieutenant Walter, who had been commissioned to regulate the conditions of the duel, together with Count d'Auray, had received from his commander directions to make every concession, saving on one point, and this was, that Paul would not meet Lectoure until the afternoon.

The reason for this was, that the young captain felt, that until the time arrived when he should have wound up this strange drama, in which, having in the first instance mingled only as a stranger, he at last found himself in the position of the head of the family, his life belonged not to himself, and that he had not the right to risk it. Moreover, as we have seen, the delay he had fixed was not a long one; and Lectoure, who was ignorant of the reason which could have induced his adversary to require it, had acceded to it without much difficulty.

Paul had therefore determined not to lose a moment, and therefore, as soon as the hour arrived at which he could, with propriety, present himself to the marchioness, he bent his steps towards the castle.

The events of the previous evening, and of that day also, had occasioned so much confusion in the stately residence, that he entered it without meeting a single servant to announce him. He nevertheless traversed the apartments, following the direction he had before twice taken, and on going into the drawing-room, found Marguerite lying fainting on the floor.

On seeing the contract lying on the table, and his sister deprived of consciousness, Paul readily imagined that a dreadful scene must have taken place between the marchioness and her daughter. He ran to Marguerite, raised her in his arms, and opened one of the windows to give her air. The state in which Marguerite then was, proceeded more from a complete prostration of strength, than an actual fainting fit; and therefore, as soon as she felt that assistance was being rendered her, and with a kindness, which left no doubt as to the feelings of the person who had thus endeavored to relieve her, she opened her eyes, and recognized her brother, that living Providence, whom God had sent to sustain her every time she felt she was about to succumb.

Marguerite related to Paul, that her mother had endeavored to compel her to sign the contract, in order to get her to leave the castle with her brother, and that having been overcome by her grief, and carried away by the dreadful situation in which she was placed, she had allowed her mother to perceive that she knew all.

Paul comprehended at once the feelings which must have rent the heart of the marchioness, who, after twenty years of silence, isolation and anguish, saw, without being able to divine the manner in which it had been brought about, that in one moment her secret had been revealed to one of the two persons, from whom she was most anxious to conceal it. Therefore, compassionating the sufferings of his mother, he resolved to terminate them as speedily as he could, by hastening on the interview he had come to seek, and which would at once enlighten her as to the intentions of that son, whose existence she was so unwilling to acknowledge, Marguerite, on her side, wished to obtain her mother's forgiveness; she, therefore, undertook to inform the marchioness that the young captain waited her orders.

Paul, therefore, remained alone, leaning against the high chimney-piece, above which was carved the escutcheon of his family, and began to lose himself in the thoughts, which the successive and hurried events of the last few hours gave rise to, and which had rendered him the sovereign arbiter of all that house, when one of the side doors suddenly opened, and Emanuel appeared with a case of pistols in his hand. On hearing the door open, Paul turned his eyes toward them, and immediately perceiving the young man, bowed to him with that sweet and fraternal expression, which reflected in his features the serenity of his soul.

Emanuel, on the contrary, although he returned the salutation, as politeness required, allowed those hostile feelings which the presence of the man whom he regarded as his personal and determined enemy had awakened to flush his features, and they instantly assumed a look of fierce defiance.

"I was on the point of setting out to seek for you, sir," said Emanuel, placing the pistols upon the table, and remaining at some distance from Paul; "and that, however, without precisely knowing where to find you; for, like the evil genii of our popular traditions, you appear to have the gift of being every where, and nowhere. But a servant informed me that he had seen you enter the castle, and I thank you for having saved me the trouble I was about to take, in thus anticipating my desire."

"I am happy," replied Paul, "that my desire in this instance, although probably emanating from a totally different cause, has so harmoniously chimed in with yours. Well, then, I am here—what do you ask of me?"

"Cannot you divine even that, sir?" replied Emanuel, with increasing agitation. "In that case—and you will allow me to express my astonishment that it should be so—you are but ill-informed as to the duties of a gentleman and an officer, and this is a fresh insult that you put upon me."

"Believe me, Emanuel," rejoined Paul, in a calm tone—

"I yesterday called myself the count; to-day I call myself the Marquis d'Auray," said Emanuel, interrupting him with a gesture of haughtiness and contempt; "and I beg, sir, that you will not forget it."

An almost imperceptible smile passed over the lips of Paul.

"I was saying, then," continued Emanuel, "that you but imperfectly comprehend the feelings of a gentleman, if you believed that I would permit another to take up, on my behalf, a quarrel which you came here to seek. Yes, sir, for it is you who have thrown yourself across my path, and not I who have sought you."

"His lordship, the Marquis d'Auray," said Paul, smiling, "forgets his visit on board the Indienne."

"A truce to your cavils, sir, and let us at once proceed to facts. Yesterday, I know not from what strange and inexplicable feeling, when I proposed to you that, which I will not say every gentleman, every officer, but simply, any man of courage would instantly, and without hesitation, have acceded to, you refused, sir, and evading my provocation, you went, as it were, behind my back to seek an adversary, who, although not precisely a stranger to the quarrel, yet good taste should have dictated that he ought not to have been drawn into it."

"Believe me, that in this, sir," replied Paul, with the calmness and the same candor of manner which had accompanied all he said; I was compelled to yield to the exigency of the case, which did not leave me the choice of an adversary. You had proposed a duel, which I could not accept, you being my adversary, but which was perfectly indifferent to me with any other person. I am too much habituated to encounters of this description, and to encounters of a far more murderous and mortal nature, to consider an event of this kind, but as one of the usual accidents of my adventurous life. You will, however, please to remember that it was not I who sought this duel; you, yesterday, proposed it to me; but, as I could not, I again repeat it, appear as your antagonist, I selected M. de Lectoure, as I would have done M. de Nozay or M. la Jarry, because he happened to be there, within my reach—and because, if it were absolutely necessary that I should kill some one, I preferred killing an useless and insolent fop, rather than a good and honest country gentleman, who would consider himself dishonored, did he but dream that he had entered into a bargain of so vile and despicable a nature as that which the Baron de Lectoure has, in reality, proposed to you."

"'Tis well, sir," said Emanuel, jeeringly; "continue to constitute yourself as the redresser of wrongs, to dub yourself the knight-errant of oppressed princesses, and to shield yourself under the buckler of your mysterious replies! As long as this antiquated quixotism does not come in collision with my views, my interests, and my engagements, I will fully permit it to wander over the whole earth, and ocean also, even from pole to pole, and I shall merely smile at it as it passes by me; but whenever this madness breaks out against me, as yours has done, sir; whenever, in the intimate concerns of a family of which I am the head, I meet a stranger, who orders as a master where I alone have the right to raise my voice, I shall present myself before him, as I now do before you, should I have the happiness to meet him alone as I do you, and then feeling assured, that no one will come to interrupt us before I had obtained the necessary explanation, I would say to him: 'You have, if not insulted me, at all events wounded my feelings, sir, by coming to my house, and injuring me in my in-terests, and my family affections. It is then with me, and not with another, that you ought to fight, and you shall fight with me.'"

"You are mistaken, Emanuel," replied Paul; "I will not fight, at all events, with you; the thing is impossible."

"Oh! sir, the time of enigmas is gone by," cried Emanuel, impatiently; "we live in the midst of a world, in which at every moment we elbow a reality. Let us, therefore, leave the poetical and the mysterious, to the authors of romances and tragedies. Your presence in this castle has been marked by circumstances too fatal to render it necessary to add that which is not, to that which is. Lusignan returned, notwithstanding the order which condemned him to transportation; my sister, who, for the first time, has shown herself rebellious against the orders of her mother; my father, killed by your mere presence: these are the disasters by which you have been accompanied, which have heralded you from another hemisphere, and have formed your funereal escort: for all this, you have to account to me; therefore, speak, sir; speak as a man should to a man, in the broad daylight, face to face, and not as a phantom gliding in the darkness, which escapes under the cloud of night, letting fall some few solemn and prophetic words, as if from the other world. Such things are well calculated to terrify nurses and children! Speak, sir, speak! Look at me, you will see that I am calm. If you have anything to reveal to me I will listen to you."

"The secret which you ask of me is not my own," replied Paul, whose perfect calmness strongly contrasted with the feverish excitement of Emanuel; "believe what I have said, and do not insist farther. Farewell!"

After pronouncing these words, Paul moved toward the door.

"Oh!" cried Emanuel, rushing between him and the door, to prevent his passage; "you shall not leave me thus, sir! I have you now, we are alone in this room, without fear of any interruption, into which, it was not I that enticed you, but you have come here of your own free will. Therefore, hearken to that which I am about to say. The person you have insulted is myself! the person to whom you owe satisfaction is myself!

"The person with whom you have to fight is——"

"You are mad, sir," tranquilly replied Paul; "I have already told you it is impossible. Therefore, allow me to withdraw."

"Take care, sir," cried Emanuel, stretching out his hand to the box, and taking out the pistols; "take care, sir. After having done every thing in my power to compel you to act as a gentleman, I may treat you as a brigand.—You are here in a house, in which you are a total stranger; you have entered it, I know not how, nor for what purpose; if you have not come into it to despoil us of our gold and jewels, you have entered it to steal the obedience of a daughter to her mother, and to cancel the sacred promise given by a friend to a friend. In one case or the other, you are a violator, whom I have met at the moment that his hands were about to seize a treasure; that treasure, is honor, the most precious of all riches! Come, sir, believe me, you will do better to accept this weapon"—Emanuel endeavored to thrust one of the pistols into Paul's hand—"and defend yourself."

"You may kill me, sir," replied Paul, again placing his elbow on the chimney-piece, as if he were continuing an ordinary conversation; "although I do not believe that God would permit so great a crime: but you shall not force me to fight with you. I have before told you so, and I repeat it."

"Take the pistol, sir!" cried Emanuel, "take it, sir, I tell you! you believe that the threat I am making is but a vain menace; undeceive yourself! for three days have you fatigued my patience! for three days have you filled my soul with gall and hatred! for three days have I familiarised my mind with the idea of ridding myself of you; whether it be by a duel or by murder! Do not imagine, that the dread of punishment withholds my hand; this castle is isolated, mute, and deaf. The sea is there; and before you could be even laid in the tomb, I should be in England. Therefore, sir, for the last time, I say to you, take this pistol and defend yourself." Paul, without uttering a word, gently put the pistol aside.

"Well then!" cried Emanuel, exasperated to the highest degree, by the sangfroid of his adversary; "as you will not defend yourself like a man, die like a dog!" And so saying, he raised the muzzle of the pistol to the level of the captain's breast.

At that moment a dreadful shriek was heard; it was Marguerite, who had returned from her mother, and who had, at a glance, comprehended all that had happened. She rushed upon Emanuel, and at that instant he fired the pistol, but the direction of the ball having been changed by the young girl's striking up his arm, it passed two or three inches above Paul's head, and shattered the glass above the chimney-piece.

"My brother!" cried Marguerite, with one bound, springing to were Paul stood, and throwing her arms around him: "my brother, are you not wounded?"

"Your brother!" exclaimed Emanuel, letting fall the pistol which was still smoking; "your brother!"

"Well, Emanuel!" said Paul, with the same calmness which he had evinced during the whole of this painful scene; "do you now comprehend why it was I could not fight with you?"

At that moment, the marchioness appeared at the door, pale as a spectre, for she had heard the report of the pistol; then looking around her with an expression of infinite terror, and seeing that no one was wounded, she silently raised her eyes to heaven, as if to ask if its anger was at length appeased. She remained thus for some time in an attitude of mental thanksgiving. When she again cast down her eyes, Emanuel and Marguerite were on their knees before her, each holding one of her hands, and covering it with tears and kisses.

"I thank you, my children," said the marchioness, after a short silence; "and now leave me with this young man."

Marguerite and Emanuel bowed with an expression of the most profound respect, and obeyed the command of their mother.



Alexandre Dumas pere

Sorry, no summary available yet.