Read CHAPTER XVIII of Calvert of Strathore, free online book, by Carter Goodloe, on ReadCentral.com.

MR. CALVERT FIGHTS A DUEL

The welcome which Mr. Calvert received at the Legation was even more cordial than he had dared to hope for, Mr. Morris being surprised and delighted beyond measure by the young man’s sudden arrival. As for Calvert, the sight of his old friend and the cheerful, sumptuous air of the new Legation, where Mr. Morris was but just established, were inexpressibly pleasant.

“I think you have a talent for making yourself comfortable even in the midst of horrors,” he said, looking about the brilliantly lit drawing-room, for Mr. Morris was expecting a large company to supper. “In these rooms I can scarcely believe I have been for days travelling through a country strangely and terribly changed since I last saw it so desolate and soldier-ridden and suspicious that I am truly glad to get within these walls. And to-night, when my passport had been examined for the hundredth time since leaving Havre and we had passed the city barrier, I thought the very look and sound of these streets of Paris had changed utterly in the last two years.”

“And indeed they have, Ned,” returned Mr. Morris, earnestly. “Each day sees that difference grow more and more marked, more and more terrible. Anarchy and bloodshed are becoming rampant, all semblance of order is gone. The rest of the diplomatic corps look upon me as a madman to come here at this time and set up a legation. They are asking for their passports the Spanish Minister withdrew yesterday and Lord Gower is in the devil of a fright,” he says, laughing. “But as for myself, I have no fear and shall uphold the interests and independence of the American Legation to the last gasp. God only knows whether this house will prove a protection, but, in all events, I shall not abandon it, nor my friends here, voluntarily,” he adds, intrepidly. “I could have wished, however, boy, that events had kept you out of France just now. Though I urged you to accompany me, when I returned and realized the awful state of affairs here, I was heartily glad you had not yielded to my wishes.”

“As it happened, though,” said Calvert, “events have brought me,” and in a few words he told Mr. Morris of all that had occurred at the house of Monsieur de la Luzerne, and of the uneasiness he felt at the manner and threats of St. Aulaire.

“He is capable of any villany. We must thresh this matter out to-morrow, Ned. Had I known you were coming I would have had no guests here to-night. We could have had a quiet evening together, and I could have shown you over my new establishment. All this must wait, however, and now you had best go to your room and dress for supper.” But Mr. Calvert, begging to be excused from the company that evening, and saying that he would go out by himself and get a look at this changed Paris, left Mr. Morris to entertain his guests, who were beginning to arrive.

“I would offer you my carriage,” said Mr. Morris, as the young man turned away, “but ’twere best you walked abroad. Carriages are but little the fashion these days they are being rapidly abolished along with everything else that makes life comfortable in this city.”

Mr. Calvert went out into the dimly lit street that, despite the hour, was full of a restless throng of people, who seemed to be wandering about as aimlessly as himself. Here and there he encountered squads of the National Guard being manoeuvred by their lieutenants, here and there mobs of ragged men, shouting and cursing and bearing torches which rained sparks of fire as they were swung aloft, and once, as he passed the Abbaie St. Germain des Pres, a horrible throng pressed by him, holding high in their midst a head on a dripping pike. He turned away, sick at the sight, and, making his way down by the quays, crossed by the Pont Royal to the other side of the city. He stopped for an instant on the bridge to look down the river, and, as he did so, he recalled that Christmas Eve two years before when he and Mr. Morris had stood on that same spot. Much, very much, had happened since; it seemed as if both a long and a short time had elapsed; perhaps, the greatest difference he felt was that then he had been eager to leave Paris; now he was relieved to be back. He strolled along under the glittering stars and the fast-sailing clouds, through ill-lighted streets and past deserted mansions whose owners were in voluntary exile beyond the Rhine, until he suddenly bethought himself of a little cafe in the Champs Elysees not far from the Demi-Lune du Cours de la Reine, where he and Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Morris had often gone together. It occurred to him that he was both thirsty and a little tired, and that he would turn in there for something to drink and to see what might be happening.

Not much was happening, for a wonder. The gusty March wind, sweeping through the gardens and under the lighted arcades, seemed to have swept away the usual throng of strollers in the Champs Elysees. Even the cafe was deserted except for a small group in a far corner of the room, which Mr. Calvert scarce noticed as he passed in. A cheerful fire was burning in an open grate, near which were set a screen and a settle. Mr. Calvert ensconced himself comfortably in this cosy corner and, calling for a glass of wine, fell to reading the day’s copy of the Moniteur lying on the table beside him. But his thoughts were other-where than with the account of the Assembly’s proceedings. Although he was in Paris and near the woman he loved, he was as greatly in the dark as ever as to what course to pursue to protect her. He knew not in what direction to turn, seeing that he knew not what danger threatened. After he had seen St. Aulaire, pressing affairs had detained him in London three days before he could set out for Paris. He knew not whether that worthy had arrived there before him or not whether he intended to return to Paris at all or to work through some secret agency. A thousand vague plans for discovering these things floated through his mind and were rejected one after the other. All were alike in one respect she must not know, if possible, that he was rendering her any service. Though he realized that this danger hanging over her endeared her to him a thousand times more than ever, though the chivalry of his nature impelled him to serve her, he knew she did not love him, nor ever could, and all the pride and hardness of youth made him resolve to guard his secret more jealously than ever. He had humbled himself once before her and she had treated him lightly, indifferently, contemptuously, and he had no mind to suffer a second humiliation.

Upon one thing he was resolved that he would see d’Azay in the morning and discover if he knew of any peril that threatened. As this thought passed through his mind he suddenly heard d’Azay’s name distinctly pronounced from the other side of the room. He laid the copy of the Moniteur, which he had been turning in his hands, quietly down upon the table and listened. The voices from the corner, which had been low and confused on his entrance, were now louder and bolder. Either the speakers did not know that they were not alone or else the wine had made them careless.

“’Tis a pleasure I have long had in contemplation and which has become peculiarly dear to me of late,” and the speaker laughed mockingly. “I shall denounce d’Azay to-morrow.”

Calvert started and looked hurriedly through the small panel of glass at the top of the screen. Even before he looked he knew he was not mistaken St. Aulaire sat at the table with three companions, and it was he who had spoken. Two of the men one of them had a most villainous countenance Calvert had never seen before, but the third one he discovered, to his intense surprise, was Bertrand Bertrand, whose honest lackey’s face now wore a curious and sinister look of power and importance. So, it was in the society of such that Monsieur de St. Aulaire now talked and drank familiarly!

“He has already been denounced and released,” says Bertrand, moodily.

“He will not be released this time,” replies St. Aulaire, with so much evident satisfaction as to strike one of the other two drinkers with astonishment.

“Not entirely a matter of patriotism, I judge?” he questioned, with a chuckle.

“A duty I owe myself as well as to my country,” says St. Aulaire, so much mocking meaning in his voice and glance that his three listeners fell to laughing.

“There is a lady to whom I owe a small debt of ingratitude, and I like best to settle the case in this fashion.”

So that was his method of punishment! To strike Adrienne through her brother to spare her and take away all that she loved! Calvert thought ’twas a way worthy of its author, and so strong a desire took possession of him to leap upon St. Aulaire and strike him dead that he caught hold of the sides of the chair to restrain himself.

“But you are not a member of the Assembly,” objected the man who had hitherto kept silent.

“I have observed that a denunciation from the gallery is more dramatic and effective than one from the floor. Besides, there is no one just at present to do it for me. I am well prepared. When I rise to-morrow and call the attention of Monsieur de Gensonne to the fact that I have proof of the treasonable relations of Monsieur d’Azay with the chiefs of the counter-revolutionists across the Rhine, ’twill be as if Monsieur d’Azay already stood condemned before the bar of the Assembly,” and he struck the table with his clinched fist.

While the glasses were still rattling from the blow and St. Aulaire’s companions laughing at his vehemence, Mr. Calvert made his decision. By St. Aulaire’s own confession there was no one else interested, for the moment, at least, in denouncing d’Azay. If he were out of the way that denunciation would not take place and d’Azay might be got out of Paris. At all hazards and at all costs St. Aulaire must not go to the Assembly on the next day. At all hazards and at all costs St. Aulaire must not know that he, Calvert, desired to prevent his going. He must be surprised, driven to his own destruction, if it could be done.

Very quietly Calvert arose from his place by the fire, and, passing out by a door concealed from the rest of the room by the screen, he made his way through a vestibule, where he put on his coat and hat again and so back into the room he had just left. But this time he entered noisily and by an entrance near the table, at which were seated St. Aulaire and his friends. At sight of St. Aulaire Mr. Calvert affected an extreme surprise. He bowed low, and smiling, but without a word, he advanced to him and, drawing off his heavy glove, struck him with it across his flushed face. The four sprang to their feet, and Bertrand, recognizing Calvert, called out, “Monsieur Monsieur Calvert!” All his airs of equality and importance fell from him, and he ran toward his former master, but Calvert waved him aside.

“The last time Monsieur de St. Aulaire and I met, gentlemen,” says Calvert, looking around contemptuously at the company, “he insulted me grossly. Unfortunately he was drunk drunk, I repeat it, and in no condition to answer for himself. I demand satisfaction to-night.”

“And, by God! you shall have it,” cried St. Aulaire, half beside himself. His face was quite white now except for the red mark across it, which Calvert’s blow had furrowed, and his eyes were wild and staring. The suddenness and fierceness of Calvert’s attack had driven every thought out of his mind but the wish to avenge the insult offered him, and almost without a word more the party left the room and went out into one of the allees of the Champs Elysees close beside the cafe. Such affairs were so common in the Champs Elysees and elsewhere in Paris in those days that, though they were but a few feet from the public thoroughfare, they apprehended no interference from the guard or the passers-by. ’Twas the aristocratic mode of helping forward the revolution, and there were almost as many victims by it as by the more republican one of la lanterne and the pike.

Though it was the first affair of honor that Calvert had ever been engaged in, the compelling necessity he was under and that unusual steadiness and calmness of character he possessed rendered him less nervous and more master of himself than was the older man, who had had numberless affairs of the kind.

“Will you choose swords or will you fight in the English mode with pistols?” said Calvert, with another low bow to St. Aulaire.

“Both, by God!” shouted St. Aulaire. “We will follow the lead of Bazencourt and St. Luce!” But here Bertrand and another of his companions interfered (the third and villainous-looking fellow said nothing and seemed indifferent on the subject), and declared they could not be party to murder, and that terrible affair had been no less. It had been known and talked of all over Paris, the shameful conditions being that the combatants should fight first with swords, and the one who fell, and fell wounded only, was to have his brains blown out by the other.

One of the company brought from the house a lantern and a pair of English pistols, and both agreeing to fight with them, and the ground being hastily measured, the two gentlemen threw off their coats and took up their positions. The light was so uncertain from the occasional fitful brightness of the moon shining through the clouds and the light from the swaying lantern, held aloft by Bertrand, who took his stand near Calvert and watched him with his old devotion, that ’twas almost impossible for either combatant to take accurate aim.

At the word “Fire!” both pistols cracked, and St. Aulaire, staggering forward a few steps, fell, wounded in the groin. Calvert was untouched, but before he could collect himself or move to the assistance of St. Aulaire, he suddenly heard the sound of coach-wheels passing close to the allée, and, at the same instant, to his astonishment, he felt a sharp pain tear its way from his left shoulder to the wrist. He turned his head an instant to see who had attacked him from this unexpected quarter and was just in time to see the scoundrel who had been in St. Aulaire’s company throw down his stained sword and make for the boulevard. And then as he reeled forward, the blood spurting from the long gash in his arm, all grew black before him and he knew no more.