Book 3 Chapter 16 Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini

Andre-Louis took the air next morning on the terrace at Meudon. The hour was very early, and the newly risen sun was transmuting into diamonds the dewdrops that still lingered on the lawn. Down in the valley, five miles away, the morning mists were rising over Paris. Yet early as it was that house on the hill was astir already, in a bustle of preparation for the departure that was imminent.

Andre-Louis had won safely out of Paris last night with his mother and Aline, and to-day they were to set out all of them for Coblenz.

To Andre-Louis, sauntering there with hands clasped behind him and head hunched between his shoulders—for life had never been richer in material for reflection—came presently Aline through one of the glass doors from the library.

“You’re early astir,” she greeted him.

“Faith, yes. I haven’t been to bed. No,” he assured her, in answer to her exclamation. “I spent the night, or what was left of it, sitting at the window thinking.”

“My poor Andre!”

“You describe me perfectly. I am very poor—for I know nothing, understand nothing. It is not a calamitous condition until it is realized. Then...” He threw out his arms, and let them fall again. His face she observed was very drawn and haggard.

She paced with him along the old granite balustrade over which the geraniums flung their mantle of green and scarlet.

“Have you decided what you are going to do?” she asked him.

“I have decided that I have no choice. I, too, must emigrate. I am lucky to be able to do so, lucky to have found no one amid yesterday’s chaos in Paris to whom I could report myself as I foolishly desired, else I might no longer be armed with these.” He drew from his pocket the powerful passport of the Commission of Twelve, enjoining upon all Frenchmen to lend him such assistance as he might require, and warning those who might think of hindering him that they did so at their own peril. He spread it before her. “With this I conduct you all safely to the frontier. Over the frontier M. de Kercadiou and Mme. de Plougastel will have to conduct me; and then we shall be quits.”

“Quits?” quoth she. “But you will be unable to return!”

“You conceive, of course, my eagerness to do so. My child, in a day or two there will be enquiries. It will be asked what has become of me. Things will transpire. Then the hunt will start. But by then we shall be well upon our way, well ahead of any possible pursuit. You don’t imagine that I could ever give the government any satisfactory explanation of my absence—assuming that any government remains to which to explain it?”

“You mean... that you will sacrifice your future, this career upon which you have embarked?” It took her breath away.

“In the pass to which things have come there is no career for me down there—at least no honest one. And I hope you do not think that I could be dishonest. It is the day of the Dantons, and the Marats, the day of the rabble. The reins of government will be tossed to the populace, or else the populace, drunk with the conceit with which the Dantons and the Marats have filled it, will seize the reins by force. Chaos must follow, and a despotism of brutes and apes, a government of the whole by its lowest parts. It cannot endure, because unless a nation is ruled by its best elements it must wither and decay.”

“I thought you were a republican,” said she.

“Why, so I am. I am talking like one. I desire a society which selects its rulers from the best elements of every class and denies the right of any class or corporation to usurp the government to itself—whether it be the nobles, the clergy, the bourgeoisie, or the proletariat. For government by any one class is fatal to the welfare of the whole. Two years ago our ideal seemed to have been realized. The monopoly of power had been taken from the class that had held it too long and too unjustly by the hollow right of heredity. It had been distributed as evenly as might be throughout the State, and if men had only paused there, all would have been well. But our impetus carried us too far, the privileged orders goaded us on by their very opposition, and the result is the horror of which yesterday you saw no more than the beginnings. No, no,” he ended. “Careers there may be for venal place-seekers, for opportunists; but none for a man who desires to respect himself. It is time to go. I make no sacrifice in going.”

“But where will you go? What will you do?”

“Oh, something. Consider that in four years I have been lawyer, politician, swordsman, and buffoon—especially the latter. There is always a place in the world for Scaramouche. Besides, do you know that unlike Scaramouche I have been oddly provident? I am the owner of a little farm in Saxony. I think that agriculture might suit me. It is a meditative occupation; and when all is said, I am not a man of action. I haven’t the qualities for the part.”

She looked up into his face, and there was a wistful smile in her deep blue eyes.

“Is there any part for which you have not the qualities, I wonder?”

“Do you really? Yet you cannot say that I have made a success of any of those which I have played. I have always ended by running away. I am running away now from a thriving fencing-academy, which is likely to become the property of Le Duc. That comes of having gone into politics, from which I am also running away. It is the one thing in which I really excel. That, too, is an attribute of Scaramouche.”

“Why will you always be deriding yourself?” she wondered.

“Because I recognize myself for part of this mad world, I suppose. You wouldn’t have me take it seriously? I should lose my reason utterly if I did; especially since discovering my parents.”

“Don’t, Andre!” she begged him. “You are insincere, you know.”

“Of course I am. Do you expect sincerity in man when hypocrisy is the very keynote of human nature? We are nurtured on it; we are schooled in it, we live by it; and we rarely realize it. You have seen it rampant and out of hand in France during the past four years—cant and hypocrisy on the lips of the revolutionaries, cant and hypocrisy on the lips of the upholders of the old regime; a riot of hypocrisy out of which in the end is begotten chaos. And I who criticize it all on this beautiful God-given morning am the rankest and most contemptible hypocrite of all. It was this—the realization of this truth kept me awake all night. For two years I have persecuted by every means in my power... M. de La Tour d’Azyr.”

He paused before uttering the name, paused as if hesitating how to speak of him.

“And in those two years I have deceived myself as to the motive that was spurring me. He spoke of me last night as the evil genius of his life, and himself he recognized the justice of this. It may be that he was right, and because of that it is probable that even had he not killed Philippe de Vilmorin, things would still have been the same. Indeed, to-day I know that they must have been. That is why I call myself a hypocrite, a poor, self-duping hypocrite.”

“But why, Andre?”

He stood still and looked at her. “Because he sought you, Aline. Because in that alone he must have found me ranged against him, utterly intransigeant. Because of that I must have strained every nerve to bring him down—so as to save you from becoming the prey of your own ambition.

“I wish to speak of him no more than I must. After this, I trust never to speak of him again. Before the lines of our lives crossed, I knew him for what he was, I knew the report of him that ran the countryside. Even then I found him detestable. You heard him allude last night to the unfortunate La Binet. You heard him plead, in extenuation of his fault, his mode of life, his rearing. To that there is no answer, I suppose. He conforms to type. Enough! But to me, he was the embodiment of evil, just as you have always been the embodiment of good; he was the embodiment of sin, just as you are the embodiment of purity. I had enthroned you so high, Aline, so high, and yet no higher than your place. Could I, then, suffer that you should be dragged down by ambition, could I suffer the evil I detested to mate with the good I loved? What could have come of it but your own damnation, as I told you that day at Gavrillac? Because of that my detestation of him became a personal, active thing. I resolved to save you at all costs from a fate so horrible. Had you been able to tell me that you loved him it would have been different. I should have hoped that in a union sanctified by love you would have raised him to your own pure heights. But that out of considerations of worldly advancement you should lovelessly consent to mate with him... Oh, it was vile and hopeless. And so I fought him—a rat fighting a lion—fought him relentlessly until I saw that love had come to take in your heart the place of ambition. Then I desisted.”

“Until you saw that love had taken the place of ambition!” Tears had been gathering in her eyes whilst he was speaking. Now amazement eliminated her emotion. “But when did you see that? When?”

“I—I was mistaken. I know it now. Yet, at the time... surely, Aline, that morning when you came to beg me not to keep my engagement with him in the Bois, you were moved by concern for him?”

“For him! It was concern for you,” she cried, without thinking what she said.

But it did not convince him. “For me? When you knew—when all the world knew what I had been doing daily for a week!”

“Ah, but he, he was different from the others you had met. His reputation stood high. My uncle accounted him invincible; he persuaded me that if you met nothing could save you.”

He looked at her frowning.

“Why this, Aline?” he asked her with some sternness. “I can understand that, having changed since then, you should now wish to disown those sentiments. It is a woman’s way, I suppose.”

“Oh, what are you saying, Andre? How wrong you are! It is the truth I have told you!”

“And was it concern for me,” he asked her, “that laid you swooning when you saw him return wounded from the meeting? That was what opened my eyes.”

“Wounded? I had not seen his wound. I saw him sitting alive and apparently unhurt in his caleche, and I concluded that he had killed you as he had said he would. What else could I conclude?”

He saw light, dazzling, blinding, and it scared him. He fell back, a hand to his brow. “And that was why you fainted?” he asked incredulously.

She looked at him without answering. As she began to realize how much she had been swept into saying by her eagerness to make him realize his error, a sudden fear came creeping into her eyes.

He held out both hands to her.

“Aline! Aline!” His voice broke on the name. “It was I...”

“O blind Andre, it was always you—always! Never, never did I think of him, not even for loveless marriage, save once for a little while, when... when that theatre girl came into your life, and then...” She broke off, shrugged, and turned her head away. “I thought of following ambition, since there was nothing left to follow.”

He shook himself. “I am dreaming, of course, or else I am mad,” he said.

“Blind, Andre; just blind,” she assured him.

“Blind only where it would have been presumption to have seen.”

“And yet,” she answered him with a flash of the Aline he had known of old, “I have never found you lack presumption.”

M. de Kercadiou, emerging a moment later from the library window, beheld them holding hands and staring each at the other, beatifically, as if each saw Paradise in the other’s face.