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   Chapter 24 GUY POYNTON AGAIN

A Maker of History By E. Phillips Oppenheim Characters: 9064

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


"I Suppose," the boy said thoughtfully, "I must seem to you beastly ungrateful. You've been a perfect brick to me ever since that night. But I can't help being a bit homesick. You see, it was really the first time I'd ever been away from home for long, and though my little place isn't a patch on this, of course, still, I was born there, and I'm jolly fond of it."

His companion nodded, and his dark eyes rested for a moment upon the other's face. Guy Poynton was idly watching the reapers at work in the golden valley below, and he did not catch his friend's expression.

"You are very young, mon cher ami," he said. "As one grows older one demands change. Change always of scene and occupation. Now I, too, am most hideously bored here, although it is my home. For me to live is only possible in Paris-Paris, the beautiful."

Guy looked away from the fields. He resented a little his friend's air of superiority.

"There's only a year's difference in our ages!" he remarked.

Henri de Bergillac smiled-this time more expressively than ever, and held out his hands.

"I speak of experience, not years," he said. "You have lived for twenty years in a very delightful spot no doubt, but away from everything which makes life endurable, possible even, for the child of the cities. I have lived for twenty-one years mostly in Paris. Ah, the difference!"

Guy shrugged his shoulders, and leaned back in his chair.

"Well," he said briefly, "tastes differ. I've seen quite all I want to of Paris for the rest of my life. Give me a fine June morning in the country, and a tramp round the farm, or an early morning start in September walking down the partridges, or a gray day in November with a good gee underneath, plenty of grass ahead, and hounds talking. Good God, I wish I were back in England."

Henri smiled and caressed his upper lip, where symptoms of a moustache were beginning to appear.

"My dear Guy," he said, "you speak crudely because you do not understand. You know of Paris only its grosser side. How can one learn more when he cannot even speak its language? You know the Paris of the tourist. The real magic of my beautiful city has never entered into your heart. Your little dabble in its vices and frivolities must not count to you as anything final. The joy of Paris to one who understands is the exquisite refinement, the unsurpassed culture, of its abysmal wickedness."

"The devil!" Guy exclaimed. "Have you found out all that for yourself?"

Henri was slightly annoyed. He was always annoyed when he was not taken seriously.

"I have had the advantage," he said, "of many friendships with men whose names you would scarcely know, but who directed the intellectual tendencies of the younger generation of Parisians. People call us decadents-I suppose, because we prefer intellectual progression to physical activity. I am afraid, dear friend, that you would never be one of us."

"I am quite sure of it," Guy answered.

"You will not even drink absinthe," Henri continued, helping himself from a little carafe which stood between them, "absolutely the most artistic of all drinks. You prefer a thing you call a pipe to my choicest cigarettes, and you have upon your cheeks a color of which a ploughboy should be ashamed."

Guy laughed good-humoredly.

"Well, I can't help being sunburnt!" he declared. Henri sighed delicately.

"Ah, it is not only that," he said. "I wish so much that I could make you understand. You positively cultivate good health, take cold baths and walks and exercises to preserve it."

"Why the dickens shouldn't I?"

Henri half closed his eyes. He was a dutiful nephew, but he felt that another month with this clodhopper of an English boy would mean the snapping of his finely strung nerves.

"My friend," he began gently, "we in Paris of the set to whom I belong do not consider good health to be a state which makes for intellectual progression. Good health means the triumph of the physical side of man over the nervous. The healthy animal sleeps and eats too much. He does not know the stimulus of pain. His normal condition is unaspiring-not to say bovine. The first essential, therefore, of life, according to our tenets, is to get rid of superfluous health."

Guy did not trust himself to speak this time. He only stared at his companion, who seemed pleased to have evoked his interest.

"Directly the body is weakened," Henri continued, "the brain begins to act. With the indisposition for physical effort comes activity of the im

agination. Cigarettes, drugs, our friend here," he continued, patting the carafe, "late nights, la belle passion-all these-all these--"

He broke off in the middle of his sentence. Simultaneously he abandoned his carefully chosen attitude of studied languor. He was leaning forward in his chair watching a carriage which had just come into sight along the straight wide road which led from the outside world to the chateau.

"The devil!" he exclaimed. "My respected uncle! Jacques!"

A man-servant stepped out upon the terrace.

"Monsieur!"

"Remove the absinthe, Jacques. Monsieur le Duc arrives!"

Guy, who also had been watching the carriage, gave utterance to a little exclamation. He pointed to two figures on horseback who rode behind the carriage.

"The gendarmes!" he exclaimed. "They have come for me at last!"

His face was no longer ruddy. The pallor of fear had crept to his cheeks. A note of despair rang in his voice.

His companion only laughed.

"Gendarmes, perhaps," he answered, "but not for you, my young friend. Have I not told you that you are in sanctuary here? A guest of the Duc de Bergillac evades all suspicion. Ah, I understand well those gendarmes. Let their presence cause you no anxiety, cher monsieur. They are a guard of honor for my reverend uncle and the personage who rides with him."

Guy resumed his chair, and sat with his head buried in his hands in an attitude of depression. His companion leaned over the stone balustrade of the terrace and waved his hand to the occupants of the carriage below. They pulled up at the bottom of the steps and commenced slowly to ascend. In obedience to an imperious gesture from his uncle, Henri advanced to meet them. He greeted his uncle with graceful affection. Before the other man, although his appearance was homely and his dress almost untidy, he bowed very low indeed, and accepted his proffered hand as a mark of favor.

The Duc de Bergillac was tall, sallow, with black moustache and imperial. He possessed all the personal essentials of the aristocrat, and he had the air of one accustomed to command.

"Henri," he said, "your young friend is with you?"

"But certainly," his nephew answered with a sigh. "Am I not always obedient? He has scarcely been out of my sight since we arrived."

"Very good! You saw us arrive just now. Did you mention the name of Monsieur Grisson?" the Duke asked.

"But certainly not!" Henri answered.

The Duke nodded.

"You have discretion," he said. "Monsieur Grisson is here incognito. He wishes to hear your young friend's story from his own lips."

The Duke's companion nodded silently. He had the air of a silent man. He was short, inclined to be stout, and his dress and bearing were almost bourgeois. His features were large and not particularly intelligent, his cheeks were puffy, and his gray beard ill-humored. He had the double neck of the Frenchman of the lower class who has not denied himself the joys of the cuisine, and his appearance would have been hopelessly commonplace but for the deep-set brilliant black eyes which lit up his whole face and gave it an aspect of power.

"After déjeuner, you understand," he said. "It is well that your young friend should not understand that I came here for no other reason. I will see first your manuscripts, Monsieur le Duc."

The Duke waved his hand courteously to Guy as the two men passed along on their way to the library. Henri resumed his seat with a little shrug of the shoulders.

"My respected uncle will bring such strange people here to see his manuscripts and collection of missals," he remarked. "For myself it is a hobby which wearies me. And you, mon cher Guy?"

"I know nothing about them," he answered. "But the gendarmes, Henri? Why did they ride with your uncle's carriage?"

Henri smiled reassuringly.

"The old gentleman," he said, "has something to do with the Government, and they were in attendance upon him. You can realize, my friend," he added, "that you are indeed in a republican country. Such people must have the entrée to our houses, even to our table. I presume that you will have the pleasure of taking luncheon with him even."

A man-servant came out upon the terrace.

"Monsieur le Duc desires me to say that luncheon is served," he announced.

Henri passed his arm through his friend's.

"Come," he said, "let us go and see if we can amuse ourselves with my uncle's venerable friend. I do not suppose that he speaks English, but I will interpret for you."

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