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Under the Red Robe (Chapter1)

2006-08-22 21:47

  Chapter I. At Zaton's

  'Marked cards!'

  There were a score round us when the fool, little knowing the man with whom he had to deal, and as little how to lose like a gentleman, flung the words in my teeth. He thought, I'll be sworn, that I should storm and swear and ruffle it like any common cock of the hackle. But that was never Gil de Berault's way. For a few seconds after he had spoken I did not even look at him. I passed my eye instead——smiling, bien entendu——round the ring of waiting faces, saw that there was no one except De Pombal I had cause to fear; and then at last I rose and looked at the fool with the grim face I have known impose on older and wiser men.

  'Marked cards, M. l'Anglais?' I said, with a chilling sneer. 'They are used, I am told, to trap players——not unbirched schoolboys.'

  'Yet I say that they are marked!' he replied hotly, in his queer foreign jargon. 'In my last hand I had nothing. You doubled the stakes. Bah, sir, you knew! You have swindled me!'

  'Monsieur is easy to swindle——when he plays with a mirror behind him,' I answered tartly.

  At that there was a great roar of laughter, which might have been heard in the street, and which brought to the table everyone in the eating-house whom his voice had not already attracted. But I did not relax my face. I waited until all was quiet again, and then waving aside two or three who stood between us and the entrance, I pointed gravely to the door.

  'There is a little space behind the church of St Jacques, M. l'Etranger,' I said, putting on my hat and taking my cloak on my arm. 'Doubtless you will accompany me thither?'

  He snatched up his hat, his face burning with shame and rage.

  'With pleasure!' he blurted out. 'To the devil, if you like!'

  I thought the matter arranged, when the Marquis laid his hand on the young fellow's arm and checked him.

  'This must not be,' he said, turning from him to me with his grand, fine-gentleman's air. 'You know me, M. de Berault. This matter has gone far enough.'

  'Too far! M. de Pombal,' I answered bitterly. 'Still, if you wish to take your friend's place, I shall raise no objection.'

  'Chut, man!' he retorted, shrugging his shoulders negligently. 'I know you, and I do not fight with men of your stamp. Nor need this gentleman.'

  'Undoubtedly,' I replied, bowing low, 'if he prefers to be caned in the streets.'

  That stung the Marquis.

  'Have a care! have a care!' he cried hotly. 'You go too far, M. Berault.'

  'De Berault, if you please,' I objected, eyeing him sternly. 'My family has borne the de as long as yours, M. de Pombal.'

  He could not deny that, and he answered, 'As you please;' at the same time restraining his friend by a gesture. 'But none the less,' he continued, 'take my advice. The Cardinal has forbidden duelling, and this time he means it! You have been in trouble once and gone free. A second time it may fare worse with you. Let this gentleman go, therefore, M. de Berault. Besides——why, shame upon you, man!' he exclaimed hotly; 'he is but a lad!'

  Two or three who stood behind me applauded that, But I turned and they met my eye; and they were as mum as mice.

  'His age is his own concern,' I said grimly. 'He was old enough a while ago to insult me.'

  'And I will prove my words!' the lad cried, exploding at last. He had spirit enough, and the Marquis had had hard work to restrain him so long. 'You do me no service, M. de Pombal,' he continued, pettishly shaking off his friend's hand. 'By your leave, this gentleman and I will settle this matter.'

  'That is better,' I said, nodding drily, while the Marquis stood aside, frowning and baffled. 'Permit me to lead the way.'

  Zaton's eating-house stands scarcely a hundred paces from St Jacques la Boucherie, and half the company went thither with us. The evening was wet, the light in the streets was waning, the streets themselves were dirty and slippery. There were few passers in the Rue St Antoine; and our party, which earlier in the day must have attracted notice and a crowd, crossed unmarked, and entered without interruption the paved triangle which lies immediately behind the church

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