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   Chapter 5 A DESPERATE RESOLUTION

Zibeline, Complete By Phillipe de Massa Characters: 6250

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The chimneys and roofs of the tall houses along the boulevards stood out sharp and clear in the light of the rising sun. Here and there squads of street-cleaners appeared, and belated hucksters urged their horses toward the markets; but except for these, the streets were deserted, and the little coupe that carried Caesar and his misfortunes rolled rapidly toward the Barriere du Trone.

With all the coach-windows lowered, in order to admit the fresh morning air, the energetic nobleman, buffeted by ill-luck, suddenly raised his head and steadily looked in the face the consequences of his defeat. He, too, could say that all was lost save honor; and already, from the depths of his virile soul, sprang the only resolution that seemed to him worthy of himself.

When he entered his own rooms in order to dress, his mind was made up; and although, during the military exercises that morning, his commands were more abrupt than usual, no one would have suspected that his mind was preoccupied by any unusual trouble.

He decided to call upon his superior officer that afternoon to request from him authorization to seek an exchange for Africa. Then he went quietly to breakfast at the pension of the officers of his own rank, who, observing his calm demeanor, in contrast to their own, knew that he must be unaware of the important news just published in the morning journals. General de Lorencez, after an unsuccessful attack upon the walls of Puebla, had been compelled to retreat toward Orizaba, and to intrench there while waiting for reenforcements.

This military event awakened the liveliest discussions, and in the midst of the repast a quartermaster entered to announce the reply to the report, first presenting his open register to the senior lieutenant.

"Ah! By Jove, fellows! what luck!" cried that officer, joyously.

"What is it?" demanded the others in chorus.

"Listen to this!" And he read aloud: "'General Order: An expedition corps, composed of two divisions of infantry, under the command of General Forey, is in process of forming, in order to be sent to Mexico on urgent business. The brigade of the advance guard will be composed of the First Regiment of Zouaves and the Eighteenth Battalion of infantry. As soon as these companies shall be prepared for war, this battalion will proceed by the shortest route to Toulon; thence they will embark aboard the Imperial on the twenty-sixth day of June next.'"

Arousing cheer drowned the end of the reading of this bulletin, the tenor of which gave to Henri's aspirations an immediate and more advantageous prospect immediate, because, as his company was the first to march, he was assured of not remaining longer at the garrison; more advantageous, because the dangers of a foreign expedition opened a much larger field for his chances of promotion.

Consequently, less than a month remained to him in which to settle his indebtedness. After the reading of the bulletin, he asked one of his brother officers to take his place until evening, caught the first train to town, and, alighting at the Bastille, went directly to the Hotel de Mo

ntgeron, where he had temporary quarters whenever he chose to use them.

"Is the Duke at home?" he inquired of the Swiss.

Receiving an affirmative reply, he crossed the courtyard, and was soon announced to his brother-in-law, the noble proprietor of La Sarthe, deputy of the Legitimist opposition to the Corps Legislatif of the Empire.

The Duc de Montgeron listened in silence to his relative's explanation of his situation. When the recital was finished, without uttering a syllable he opened a drawer, drew out a legal paper, and handed it to Henri, saying:

"This is my marriage contract. Read it, and you will see that I have had, from the head of my family, three hundred and fifteen thousand livres income. I do not say this to you in order to contrast my riches with your ruin, but only to prove to you that I was perfectly well able to marry your sister even had she possessed no dot. That dot yields seven hundred and fifteen thousand francs' income, at three per cent. We were married under the law of community of goods, which greatly simplifies matters when husband and wife have, as have Jeanne and myself, but one heart and one way of looking at things. To consult her would be, perhaps, to injure her. To-morrow I will sell the necessary stock, and ere the end of the week Monsieur Durand, your notary and ours, shall hold at your disposal the amount of the sum you lost last night."

The blood rose to the cheeks of the young officer.

"I-I" he stammered, pressing convulsively the hands of his brother-in-law. "Shall I let you pay the ransom for my madness and folly? Shall I a second time despoil my sister, already robbed by me of one half her rightful share? I should die of shame! Or, rather-wait a moment! Let us reverse our situations for an instant, and if you will swear to me that, were you in my place, you would accept-Ah, you see! You hesitate as much now as you hesitated little a moment ago in your simple and cordial burst of generosity: Consequently, I refuse!"

"What do you mean to do, then?"

"To sell Prerolles immediately-to-day, if possible. This determination troubles you because of the grief it will cause Jeanne. It will grieve me, too. And the courage to tell this to her is the only effort to which my strength is unequal. Only you can tell it in such a way as to soften the blow-"

"I will try to do it," said the Duke.

"I thank you! As to the personal belongings and the family portraits, their place is at Montgeron, is it not?"

"That is understood. Now, one word more, Henri."

"Speak!"

"Have you not another embarrassment to settle?"

"I have indeed, and the sooner the better. Unhappily-"

"You have not enough money," finished the Duke. "I have received this morning twenty-five thousand francs' rent from my farms. Will you allow me to lend them to you?"

"To be repaid from the price of the sale? Very willingly, this time."

And he placed in an envelope the notes handed him by his brother-in-law.

"This is the last will and testament of love," said the Marquis, as he departed, to give the necessary instructions to his notary.

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