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    Chapter Four

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    Chapter 4
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    There fell a clear September night, when the moon was radiant over town and country, over cobbled streets and winding roads. From the fields the mists rose slowly, and the air was mild and fragrant, while distances were white and full of mystery. All of Bath that pretended to fashion or condition was present that evening at a fete at the house of a country gentleman of the neighborhood. When the stately junket was concluded, it was the pleasure of M. de Chateaurien to form one of the escort of Lady Mary's carriage for the return. As they took the road, Sir Hugh Guilford and Mr. Bantison, engaging in indistinct but vigorous remonstrance with Mr. Molyneux over some matter, fell fifty or more paces behind, where they continued to ride, keeping up their argument. Half a dozen other gallants rode in advance, muttering among themselves, or attended laxly upon Lady Mary's aunt on the other side of the coach, while the happy Frenchman was permitted to ride close to that adorable window which framed the fairest face in England.

    He sang for her a little French song, a song of the voyageur who dreamed of home. The lady, listening, looking up at the bright moon, felt a warm drop upon her cheek, and he saw the tears sparkling upon her lashes.

    "Mademoiselle," he whispered then, "I, too, have been a wanderer, but my dreams were not of France; no, I do not dream of that home, of that dear country. It is of a dearer country, a dream country - a country of gold and snow," he cried softly, looking it her white brow and the fair, lightly powdered hair above it. "Gold and snow, and the blue sky of a lady's eyes!"

    "I had thought the ladies of France were dark, sir.

    "Cruel! It is that she will not understan'! Have I speak of the ladies of France? No, no, no! It is of the faires' country; yes, 'tis a province of heaven, mademoiselle. Do I not renounce my allegiance to France? Oh, yes! I am subjec' - no, content to be slave - in the lan' of the blue sky, the gold, and the snow.

    "A very pretty figure," answered Lady Mary, her eyes downcast. "But does it not hint a notable experience in the making of such speeches?"

    "Tormentress! No. It prove only the inspiration it is to know you."

    "We English ladies hear plenty of the like sir; and we even grow brilliant enough to detect the assurance that lies beneath the courtesies of our own gallants."

    "Merci! I should believe so!" ejaculated M. de Chateaurien: but he smothered the words upon his lips.

    Her eyes were not lifted. She went on: "We come, in time, to believe that true feeling comes faltering forth, not glibly; that smoothness betokens the adept in the art, sir, rather than your true - your true - " She was herself faltering; more, blushing deeply, and halting to a full stop in terror of a word. There was a silence.

    "Your - true - lover," he said huskily. When he had said that word both trembled. She turned half away into the darkness of the coach.

    "I know what make' you to doubt me," he said, faltering himself, though it was not his art that prompted him. "They have tol' you the French do nothing al - ways but make love, is it not so? Yes, you think I am like that. You think I am like that now!"

    She made no sign.

    "I suppose," he sighed, "I am unriz'nable; I would have the snow not so col' - for jus' me."

    She did not answer.

    "Turn to me," he said.

    The fragrance of the fields came to them, and from the distance the faint, clear note of a hunting-horn.

    "Turn to me.

    The lovely head was bent very low. Her little gloved hand lay upon the narrow window ledge. He laid his own gently upon it. The two hands were shaking like twin leaves in the breeze. Hers was not drawn away. After a pause, neither knew how long, he felt the warm fingers turn and clasp themselves tremulously about his own. At last she looked up bravely and met his eyes. The horn was wound again - nearer.

    "All the cold was gone from the snows - long ago," she said.

    "My beautiful!" he whispered; it was all he could say. "My beautiful!" But she clutched his arm, startled.

    "'Ware the road!" A wild halloo sounded ahead. The horn wound loudly. "'Ware the road!" There sprang up out of the night a flying thunder of hoof-beats. The gentlemen riding idly in front of the coach scattered to the hedge-sides; and, with drawn swords flashing in the moon, a party of horsemen charged down the highway, their cries blasting the night.

    "Barber! Kill the barber!" they screamed. "Barber! Kill the barber!"

    Beaucaire had but time to draw his sword when they were upon him.

    "A moi!" his voice rang out clearly as he rose in his stirrups. "A moi, Francois, Louis, Berquin! A moi, Francois!"

    The cavaliers came straight at him. He parried the thrust of the first, but the shock of collision hurled his horse against the side of the coach. "Sacred swine!" he cried bitterly. "To endanger a lady, to make this brawl in a lady's presence! Drive on!" he shouted.

    "No!" cried Lady Mary.

    The Frenchman's assailants were masked, but they were not highwaymen. "Barber! Barber!" they shouted hoarsely, and closed in on him in a circle.

    "See how he use his steel!" laughed M. Beaucaire, as his point passed through a tawdry waistcoat. For a moment he cut through the ring and cleared a space about him, and Lady Mary saw his face shining in the moonlight. "Canaille!" he hissed, as his horse sank beneath him; and, though guarding his head from the rain of blows from above, he managed to drag headlong from his saddle the man who had hamstrung the poor brute. The fellow came suddenly to the ground, and lay there.

    "Is it not a compliment," said a heavy voice, "to bring six large men to subdue monsieur?"

    "Oh, you are there, my frien'! In the rear - a little in the rear, I think. Ha, ha!"

    The Frenchman's play with his weapon was a revelation of skill, the more extraordinary as he held in his hand only a light dress sword. But the ring closed about him, and his keen defense could not avail him for more than a few moments. Lady Mary's outriders, the gallants of her escort, rode up close to the coach and encircled it, not interfering.

    "Sir Hugh Guilford!" cried Lady Mary wildly, "if you will not help him, give me your sword!" She would have leaped to the ground, but Sir Hugh held the door.

    "Sit quiet, madam," he said to her; then, to the man on the box, "Drive on."

    "If he does, I'll kill him!" she said fiercely. "Ah, what cowards! Will you see the Duke murdered?"

    "The Duke!" laughed Guilford. "They will not kill him, unless - be easy, dear madam, 'twill be explained. Gad's life!" he muttered to Molyneux, "'Twere time the varlet had his lashing! D'ye hear her?"

    "Barber or no barber," answered Molyneux, "I wish I had warned him. He fights as few gentlemen could. Ah - ah! Look at that! 'Tis a shame!"

    On foot, his hat gone, his white coat sadly rent and gashed, flecked, too, with red, M. Beaucgjre, wary, alert, brilliant, seemed to transform himself into a dozen fencing-masters; and, though his skill appeared to lie in delicacy and quickness, his play being continually with the point, sheer strength failed to beat him down. The young man was laughing like a child.

    "Believe me," said Molyneux "he's no barber! No, and never was!"

    For a moment there was even a chance that M. Beaucaire might have the best of it. Two of his adversaries were prostrate, more than one were groaning, and the indomitable Frenchman had actually almost beat off the ruffians, when, by a trick, he was overcome. One of them, dismounting, ran in suddenly from behind, and seized his blade in a thick leather gauntlet. Before Beaucaire could disengage the weapon, two others threw themselves from their horses and hurled him to the earth. "A moi! A moi, Francois!" he cried as he went down, his sword in fragments, but his voice unbroken and clear.

    "Shame!" muttered one or two of the gentlemen about the coach.

    "'Twas dastardly to take him so, said Molyneux. "Whatever his deservings, I'm nigh of a mind to offer bim a rescue in the Duke's face."

    "Truss him up, lads," said the heavy voice. Clear the way in front of the coach. There sit those whom we avenge upon a presumptuous lackey. Now, Whiffen, you have a fair audience, lay on and baste him."

    Two men began to drag M. Beaucaire toward a great oak by the roadside. Another took from his saddle a heavy whip with three thongs.

    "A moi, Francois!"

    There was borne on the breeze an answer - " Monseigneur! Monseigneur!" The cry grew louder suddenly. The clatter of hoofs urged to an anguish of speed sounded on the night. M. Beaucaire's servants had lagged sorely behind, but they made up for it now. Almost before the noise of their own steeds they came riding down the moonlit aisle between the mists. Chosen men, these servants of Beaucaire, and like a thunderbolt they fell upon the astounded cavaliers.

    "Chateaurien! Chateaurien!" they shouted, and smote so swiftly that, through lack of time, they showed no proper judgment, discriminating nothing between non-combatants and their master's foes. They charged first into the group about M. Beaucaire, and broke and routed it utterly. Two of them leaped to the young man's side, while the other four, swerving, scarce losing the momentum of their onset, bore on upon the gentlemen near the coach, who went down beneath the fierceness of the onslaught, cursing manfully.

    "Our just deserts," said Mr. Moly-neux, his mouth full of dust and philosophy.

    Sir Hugh Guilford's horse fell with him, being literally ridden over, and the baronet's leg was pinned under the saddle. In less than ten minutes from the first attack on M. Beaucaire, the attacking party had fled in disorder, and the patrician non-combatants, choking with expletives, consumed with wrath, were prisoners, disarmed by the Frenchman's lackeys.

    Guilford's discomfiture had freed the doors of the coach; so it was that when M. Beaucaire, struggling to rise, assisted by his servants, threw out one hand to balance himself, he found it seized between two small, cold palms, and he looked into two warm, dilating eyes, that were doubly beautiful because of the fright and rage that found room in them, too.

    M. le Duc Chateaurien sprang to his feet without the aid of his lackeys, and bowed low before Lady Mary.

    "I make ten thousan' apology to be' the cause of a such melee in your presence," he said; and then, turning to Francois, he spoke in French: "Ah, thou scoundrel! A little, and it had been too late."

    Francois knelt in the dust before him. "Pardon!" he said. "Monseigneur commanded us to follow far in the rear, to remain unobserved. The wind malignantly blew against monseigneur's voice."

    "See what it might have cost, my children," said his master, pointing to the ropes with which they would have bound him and to the whip lying beside them. A shudder passed over the lackey's frame; the utter horror in his face echoed in the eyes of his fellows.

    "Oh, monseigneur!" Francois sprang back, and tossed his arms to heaven.

    "But it did not happen," said M. Beaucaire.

    "It could not!" exclaimed Francois.

    "No. And you did very well, my children - " the young man smiled benevolently - "very well. And now," he continued, turning to Lady Mary and speaking in English, "let me be asking of our gallants yonder what make' them to be in cabal with highwaymen. One should come to a polite understanding with them, you think? Not so?"

    He bowed, offering his hand to conduct her to the coach, where Molyneux and his companions, having drawn Sir Hugh from under his horse, were engaged in reviving and reassuring Lady Rellerton, who had fainted. But Lady Mary stayed Beaucaire with a gesture, and the two stood where they were.

    "Monseigneur!" she said, with a note of raillery in her voice, but raillery so tender that he started with happiness. His movement brought him a hot spasm of pain, and he clapped his hand to a red stain on his waistcoat.

    "You are hurt!"

    "It is nothing," smiled M. Beaucaire. Then, that she might not see the stain spreading, he held his handkerchief over the spot. "I am a little - but jus' a trifling - bruise'; 'tis all."

    "You shall ride in the coach," she whispered. "Will you be pleased, M. de Chateaurien?"

    "Ah, my beautiful!" She seemed to wave before him like a shining mist. "I wish that ride might las' for al - ways! Can you say that, mademoiselle?"

    "Monseigneur," she cried in a passion of admiration, "I would what you would have be, should be. What do you not deserve? You are the bravest man in the world!"

    "Ha, ha! I am jus' a poor Frenchman."

    "Would that a few Englishmen had shown themselves as 'poor' tonight. The vile cowards, not to help you!" With that, suddenly possessed by her anger, she swept away from him to the coach.

    Sir Hugh, groaning loudly, was being assisted into the vehicle.

    "My little poltroons," she said, "what are you doing with your fellow-craven, Sir Hugh Guilford, there?"

    "Madam," replied Molyneux humbly, "Sir Hugh's leg is broken. Lady Rellerton graciously permits him to be taken in."

    "I do not permit it! M. de Chateaurien rides with us."

    "But - "

    "Sir! Leave the wretch to groan by the roadside," she cried fiercely, "which plight I would were that of all of you! But there will be a pretty story for the gossips to-morrow! And I could almost find pity for you when I think of the wits when you return to town. Fine gentlemen you; hardy bravos, by heaven! to leave one man to meet a troop of horse single-handed, while you huddle in shelter until you are overthrown and disarmed by servants! Oh, the wits! Heaven save you from the wits!"

    "madam."

    "Address me no more! M. de Chateaurien, Lady Rellerton and I will greatly esteem the honor of your company. Will you come?"

    She stepped quickly into the coach, and was gathering her skirts to make room for the Frenchman, when a heavy voice spoke from the shadows of the tree by the wayside.

    "Lady Mary Carlisle will, no doubt, listen to a word of counsel on this point."

    The Duke of Winterset rode out into the moonlight, composedly untieing a mask from about his head. He had not shared the flight of his followers, but had retired into the shade of the oak, whence he now made his presence known with the utmost coolness.

    "Gracious heavens, 'tis Winterset!" exclaimed Lady Rellerton.

    "Turned highwayman and cut-throat," cried Lady Mary.

    "No, no," laughed M. Beaucaire, somewhat unsteadily, as he stood, swaying a little, with one hand on the coach-door, the other pressed hard on his side, "he only oversee'; he is jus' a little bashful, sometime'. He is a great man, but he don' want all the glory!"

    "Barber," replied the Duke, "I must tell you that I gladly descend to bandy words with you; your monstrous impudence is a claim to rank I cannot ignore. But a lackey who has himself followed by six other lackeys - "

    "Ha, ha! Has not M. le Duc been busy all this evening to justify me? And I think mine mus' be the bes' six. Ha, ha! You think?"

    "M. de Chateaurien," said Lady Mary, "we are waiting for you."

    "Pardon," he replied. "He has something to say; maybe it is bes' if you hear it now."

    "I wish to hear nothing from him - ever!"

    "My faith, madam," cried the Duke, "this saucy fellow has paid you the last insult! He is so sure of you he does not fear you will believe the truth. When all is told, if you do not agree he deserved the lashing we planned to - "

    "I'll hear no more!"

    "You will bitterly repent it, madam. For your own sake I entreat - "

    "And I also," broke in M. Beaucaire. "Permit me, mademoiselle; let him speak."

    "Then let him be brief," said Lady Mary, "for I am earnest to be quit of him. His explanation or an attack on my friend and on my carriage should be made to my brother."

    "Alas that he was not here," said the Duke, "to aid me! Madam, was your carriage threatened? I have endeavored only to expunge a debt I owed to Bath and to avenge an insult offered to yourself through - "

    "Sir, sir, my patience will bear little more!"

    "A thousan' apology," said M. Beaucaire. "You will listen, I only beg, Lady Mary?"

    She made an angry gesture of assent.

    "Madam, I will be brief as I may. Two months ago there came to Bath a French gambler calling himself Beaucaire, a desperate fellow with the cards or dice, and all the men of fashion went to play at his lodging, where he won considerable sums. He was small, wore a black wig and mustachio. He had the insolence to show himself everywhere until the Master of Ceremonies rebuffed him in the pump-room, as you know, and after that he forbore his visits to the rooms. Mr. Nash explained (and was confirmed, madam, by indubitable information) that this Beaucaire was a man of unspeakable, vile, low birth, being, in fact, no other than a lackey of the French king's ambassador, Victor by name, de Mirepoix's barber. Although his condition was known, the hideous impudence of the fellow did not desert him, and he remained in Bath, where none would speak to him."

    "Is your farrago nigh done, sir?"

    "A few moments, madam. One evening, three weeks gone, I observed a very elegant equipage draw up to my door, and the Duke of Chateaurien was announced. The young man's manners were worthy - according to the French acceptance - and 'twere idle to deny him the most monstrous assurance. He declared himself a noble traveling for pleasure. He had taken lodgings in Bath for a season, he said, and called at once to pay his respects to me. His tone was so candid - in truth, I am the simplest of men, very easily gulled - and his stroke so bold, that I did not for one moment suspect him; and, to my poignant regret - though in the humblest spirit I have shown myself eager to atone - that very evening I had the shame of presenting him to yourself."

    "The shame, sir!"

    "Have patience, pray, madam. Ay, the shame! You know what figure he hath cut in Bath since that evening. All ran merrily with him until several days ago Captain Badger denounced him as an impostor, vowing that Chateaurien was nothing."

    "Pardon," interrupted M. Beaucaire. "'Castle Nowhere' would have been so much better. Why did you not make him say it that way, monsieur?"

    Lady Mary started; she was looking at the Duke, and her face was white. He continued: "Poor Captam Badger was stabbed that same day. - "

    "Most befitting poor Captain Badger," muttered Molyneux.

    " - - And his adversary had the marvelous insolence to declare that he fought in my quarrel! This afternoon the wounded man sent for me, and imparted a very horrifying intelligence. He had discovered a lackey whom he had seen waiting upon Beaucaire in attendance at the door of this Chateaurien's lodging. Beaucaire had disappeared the day before Chateaurien's arrival. Captain Badger looked closely at Chateaurien at their next meeting, and identified him with the missing Beaucaire beyond the faintest doubt. Overcome with indignation, he immediately proclaimed the impostor. Out of regard for me, he did not charge him with being Beaucaire; the poor soul was unwilling to put upon me the humiliation of having introduced a barber; but the secret weighed upon him till he sent for me and put everything in my hands. I accepted the odium; thinking only of atonement. I went to Sir John Wimpledon's fite. I took poor Sir Hugh, there, and these other gentlemen aside, and told them my news. We narrowly observed this man, and were shocked at our simplicity in not having discovered him before. These are men of honor and cool judgment, madam. Mr. Molyneux had acted for him in the affair of Captain Badger, and was strongly prejudiced in his favor; but Mr. Molyneux, Sir Hugh, Mr. Bantison, every one of them, in short, recognized him. In spite of his smooth face and his light hair, the adventurer Beaucaire was writ upon him amazing plain. Look at him, madam, if he will dare the inspection. You saw this Beaucaire well, the day of his expulsion from the rooms. Is not this he?"

    M. Beaucaire stepped close to her. Her pale face twitched.

    "Look!" he said.

    "Oh, oh!" she whispered with a dry throat, and fell back in the carriage.

    "Is it so?" cried the Duke.

    "I do not know. - I - cannot tell."

    "One moment more. I begged these gentlemen to allow me to wipe out the insult I had unhappily offered to Bath, but particularly to you. They agreed not to forestall me or to interfere. I left Sir John Wimpledon's early, and arranged to give the sorry rascal a lashing under your own eyes, a satisfaction due the lady into whose presence he had dared to force himself."

    "'Noblesse oblige'?" said M. Beaucaire in a tone of gentle inquiry.

    "And now, madam," said the Duke, "I will detain you not one second longer. I plead the good purpose of my intentions, begging you to believe that the desire to avenge a hateful outrage, next to the wish to serve you, forms the dearest motive in the heart of Winterset."

    "Bravo!" cried Beaucaire softly.

    Lady Mary leaned toward him, a thriving terror in her eyes. "It is false?" she faltered.

    "Monsieur should not have been born so high. He could have made little book'."

    "You mean it is false?" she cried breathlessly.

    "'Od's blood, is she not convinced?" broke out Mr. Bantison. "Fellow, were you not the ambassador's barber?"

    "It is all false?" she whispered.

    "The mos' fine art, mademoiselle. How long you think it take M. de Winterset to learn that speech after he write it out? It is a mix of what is true and the mos' chaste art. Monsieur has become a man of letters. Perhaps he may enjoy that more than the wars. Ha, ha!"

    Mr. Bantison burst into a roar of laughter. "Do French gentlemen fight lackeys? Ho, ho, ho! A pretty country! We English do as was done to-night, have our servants beat them."

    "And attend ourselves," added M. Beaucaire, looking at the Duke, "somewhat in the background? But, pardon," he mocked, "that remind' me. Francois, return to Mr. Bantison and these gentlemen their weapons."

    "Will you answer a question?" said Molyneux mildly.

    "Oh, with pleasure, monsieur."

    "Were you ever a barber?"

    "No, monsieur," laughed the young man.

    "Pah!" exclaimed Bantison. "Let me question him. Now, fellow, a confession may save you from jail. Do you deny you are Beaucaire?"

    "Deny to a such judge?"

    "Ha!" said Bantison. "What more do you want, Molyneux? Fellow, do you deny that you came to London in the ambassador's suite?"

    "No, I do not deny."

    "He admits it! Didn't you come as his barber?"

    "Yes, my frien', as his barber." Lady Mary cried out faintly, and, shuddering, put both hands over her eyes.

    "I'm sorry," said Molyneux. "You fight like a gentleman."

    "I thank you, monsieur."

    "You called yourself Beaucaire?"

    "Yes, monsieur." He was swaying to and fro; his servants ran to support him.

    "I wish - " continued Molyncux, hesitating. "Evil take me! - but I'm sorry you're hurt."

    "Assist Sir Hugh into my carriage," said Lady Mary.

    "Farewell, mademoiselle!" M. Beaucaire's voice was very faint. His eyes were fixed upon her face. She did not look toward him.

    They were propping Sir Hugh on the cushions. The Duke rode up close to Beaucaire, but Francois seized his bridle fiercely, and forced the horse back on its haunches.

    "The man's servants worship him," said Molyneux.

    "Curse your insolence!" exclaimed the Duke. "How much am I to bear from this varlet and his varlets? Beaucaire, if you have not left Bath by to-morrow noon, you will be clapped into jail, and the lashing you escaped to-night shall be given you thrice tenfold!"

    "I shall be-in the - Assemily - Room' at nine - o'clock, one week - from - to-night," answered the young man, smiling jauntily, though his lips were colorless. The words cost him nearly all his breath and strength. "You mus' keep - in the - backgroun', monsieur. Ha, ha!" The door of the coach closed with a slam.

    "Mademoiselle - fare - well!"

    "Drive on!" said Lady Mary.

    M. Beaucaire followed the cariiage with his eyes. As the noise of the wheels and the hoof-beats of the accompanying cavalcade grew fainter in the distance, the handkerchief he had held against his side dropped into the white dust, a heavy red splotch.

    "Only - roses," he gasped, and fell back in the arms of his servants.
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