Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
THE INSOLENCE OF MADAME LA MARQUISE
Duncombe was passed from the concierge to a footman, and from a footman to a quietly dressed groom of the chambers, who brought him at last to Madame la Marquise. She gave him the tips of her fingers and a somewhat inquiring gaze.
"Sir George Duncombe, is it not?" she remarked. "I am not receiving this afternoon, but your message was so urgent. Forgive me, but it was not by any chance my husband whom you wished to see?"
"Your husband would have done as well, Madame," Duncombe answered bluntly, "but I learned that he was not at home. My visit is really to Miss Poynton. I should be exceedingly obliged if you would allow me the privilege of a few minutes' conversation with her."
The forehead of the Marquise was wrinkled with surprise. She stood amidst all the wonders of her magnificent drawing-room like a dainty Dresden doll--petite, cold, dressed to perfection. Her manner and her tone were alike frigid.
"But, Monsieur," she said, "that is wholly impossible. Mademoiselle is too thoroughly upset by the terrible news in the paper this morning. It is unheard of. Monsieur may call again if he is a friend of Mademoiselle Poynton's--say, in a fortnight."
"Marquise," he said, "it is necessary that I see Mademoiselle at once. I am the bearer of good news."
The Marquise looked at him steadily.
"Of good news, Monsieur?"
"But how can that be?"
"If Madame will give me the opportunity," he said, "I should only be too glad to explain--to Mademoiselle Poynton."
"If, indeed, it should be good news," the Marquise said slowly, "it were better broken gradually to Mademoiselle. I will take her a message."
"Permit me to see her, Marquise," he begged. "My errand is indeed important."
She shook her head.
"It is not," she said, "according to the convenances. Mademoiselle is under my protection. I have not the honor of knowing you, Monsieur."
Duncombe raised his eyebrows.
"But you remember calling at my house in Norfolk, and bringing Miss Poynton away," he said.
She stared at him calmly.
"The matter," she said, "has escaped my memory. I do not love your country, Monsieur, and my rare visits there do not linger in my mind."
"Your husband," he reminded her, "asked me to visit you here."
"My husband's friends," she replied, "are not mine."
The calm insolence of her manner towards him took him aback. He had scarcely expected such a reception.
"I can only apologize, Madame," he said with a bow, "for intruding. I will await your husband's return in the hall."
He bowed low, and turned to leave the room. He had almost reached the door before she stopped him.
He turned round. Her voice was different.
"Come and sit down here," she said, pointing to a sofa by her side.
He obeyed her, thoroughly amazed. She leaned back amongst the cushions and looked at him thoughtfully.
"How is it that you--an Englishman--speak French so well?" she asked.
"I lived in Paris for some years," he answered.
"Indeed! And yet you returned to--Norfolk, is it?"
"It is true, Madame!" he admitted.
"How droll!" she murmured. "Miss Poynton--she is an old friend of yours?"
"I am very anxious to see her, Madame!"
He hesitated. After all, his was no secret mission.
"I have reason to believe," he said, "that a mistake has been made in the identity of the body found in the Seine and supposed to be her brother's."
She gave a little start. It seemed to him that from that moment she regarded him with more interest.
"But that, Monsieur," she said, "is not possible."
She did not answer him for a moment. Instead she rang a bell.
A servant appeared almost immediately.
"Request Monsieur le Marquis to step this way immediately he returns," she ordered.
The man bowed and withdrew. The Marquise turned again to Duncombe.
"It is quite impossible!" she repeated. "Do you know who it was that identified--the young man?"
Duncombe shook his head.
"I know nothing," he said. "I saw the notice in the paper, and I have been to the Morgue with a friend."
"Were you allowed to see it?"
"No! For some reason or other we were not. But we managed to bribe one of the attendants, and we got the police description."
"This," Madame said, "is interesting. Well?"
"There was one point in particular in the description," Duncombe said, "and a very important one, which proved to us both that the dead man was not Guy Poynton."
"It is no secret, I presume?" she said. "Tell me what it was."
Duncombe hesitated. He saw no reason for concealing the facts.
"The height of the body," he said, "was given as five feet nine. Guy Poynton was over six feet."
The Marquise nodded her head slowly.
"And now," she said, "shall I tell you who it is who identified the body at the Morgue--apart from the papers which were found in his pocket, and which certainly belonged to Mr. Poynton?"
"I should be interested to know," he admitted.
"It was Miss Poynton herself. It is that which has upset her so. She recognized him at once."
"Are you sure of this, Madame?" Duncombe asked.
"I myself," the Marquise answered, "accompanied her there. It was terrible."
Duncombe looked very grave.
"I am indeed sorry to hear this," he said. "There can be no possibility of any mistake, then?"
"None whatever!" the Marquise declared.
"You will permit me to see her?" Duncombe begged. "If I am not a very old friend--I am at least an intimate one."
The Marquise shook her head.
"She is not in a fit state to see any one," she declared. "The visit to the Morgue has upset her almost as much as the affair itself. You must have patience, Monsieur. In a fortnight or three weeks at the earliest she may be disposed to see friends. Certainly not at present."
"I may send her a message?" Duncombe asked.
The Marquise nodded.
"Yes. You may write it, if you like."
"And I may wait for an answer?"
Duncombe scribbled a few lines on the back of a visiting-card. The Marquise took it from him and rose.
"I will return," she said. "You shall be entirely satisfied."
She left him alone for nearly ten minutes. She had scarcely left the room when another visitor entered. The Vicomte de Bergillac, in a dark brown suit and an apple-green tie, bowed to Duncombe, and carefully selected the most comfortable chair in his vicinity.
"So you took my advice, Monsieur," he remarked, helping himself to a cushion from another chair, and placing it behind his head.
"I admit it," Duncombe answered. "On the whole I believe that it was very good advice."
"Would you," the Vicomte murmured, "like another dose?"
"I trust," Duncombe said, "that there is no necessity."
The Vicomte reflected.
"Why are you here?" he asked.
"To see Miss Poynton."
"And again why?"
Duncombe smiled. The boy's manner was so devoid of impertinence that he found it impossible to resent his questions.
"Well," he said, "I came hoping to bring Miss Poynton some good news. I had information which led me seriously to doubt whether the body which has been found in the Seine is really her brother's."
The Vicomte sat up as though he had been shot.
"My friend," he said slowly, "I take some interest in you, but, upon my word, I begin to believe that you will end your days in the Morgue yourself. As you value your life, don't tell any one else what you have told me. I trust that I am the first."
"I have told the Marquise," Duncombe answered, "and she has gone to find out whether Miss Poynton will see me."
The Vicomte's patent boot tapped the floor slowly.
"You have told the Marquise," he repeated thoughtfully. "Stop! I must think!"
There was a short silence. Then the Vicomte looked up.
"Very well," he said. "Now listen! Have you any confidence in me?"
"Undoubtedly," Duncombe answered. "The advice you gave me before was, I know, good. It was confirmed a few hours following, and, as you know, I followed it."
"Then listen," the Vicomte said. "L'affaire Poynton is in excellent hands. The young lady will come to no harm. You are here, I know, because you are her friend. You can help her if you will."
"How?" Duncombe asked.
"By leaving Paris to-day."
"Your advice," Duncombe said grimly, "seems to lack variety."
The Vicomte shrugged his shoulders.
"The other affair," he said; "is still open. If I stepped to the telephone here you would be arrested within the hour."
"Can't you leave the riddles out and talk so that an ordinary man can understand you for a few minutes?" Duncombe begged.
"It is exactly what remains impossible," the Vicomte answered smoothly. "But you know the old saying, you have doubtless something similar in your own country, 'It is from our friends we suffer most.' Your presence here, your--forgive me--somewhat clumsy attempts to solve this affaire Poynton, are likely to be a cause of embarrassment to the young lady herself and to others. Apart from that, it will certainly cost you your life."
"Without some shadow of an explanation," Duncombe said calmly, "I remain where I am in case I can be of assistance to Miss Poynton."
The young man shrugged his shoulders, and sauntering to a mirror rearranged his tie. Madame la Marquise entered.
"You, Henri!" she exclaimed.
He bowed low with exaggerated grace, and kissed the tips of her fingers.
"I!" he answered. "And--for this time with a perfectly legitimate reason for my coming. A commission from my uncle."
"Exactly, dear cousin."
"But why," she asked, "did they not show you into my room?"
"I learnt that my friend Sir George Duncombe was here, and I desired to see him," he rejoined.
She shrugged her dainty shoulders.
"You will wait!" she directed. Then she turned to Duncombe, and handed him a sealed envelope.
"If you please," she said, "will you read that--now."
He tore it open, and read the few hasty lines. Then he looked up, and met the Marquise's expectant gaze.
"Madame," he said slowly, "does this come from Miss Poynton of her own free will?"
She laughed insolently.
"Monsieur," she said, "my guests are subject to no coercion in this house."
He bowed, and turned towards the door.
"Your answer, Monsieur?" she called out.
"There is no answer," he replied.
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.