The young Frenchman did very well what he had planned to do. His guess that the Duke would cheat proved good. As the unshod half-dozen figures that had been standing noiselessly in the entryway stole softly into the shadows of the chamber, he leaned across the table and smilingly plucked a card out of the big Englishman's sleeve.
"Merci, M. le Duc!" he laughed, rising and stepping back from the table.
The Englishman cried out, "It means the dirty work of silencing you with my bare hands!" and came at him.
"Do not move," said M. Beaucaire, so sharply that the other paused. "Observe behind you."
The Englishman turned, and saw what trap he had blundered into; then stood transfixed, impotent, alternately scarlet with rage and white with the vital shame of discovery. M. Beaucaire remarked, indicating the silent figures by a polite wave of the hand, "Is it not a compliment to monsieur that I procure six large men to subdue him? They are quite devote' to me, and monsieur is alone. Could it be that he did not wish even his lackeys to know he play with the yo'ng Frenchman who Meestaire Nash does not like in the pomp-room? Monsieur is unfortunate to have come on foot and alone to my apartment."
The Duke's mouth foamed over with chaotic revilement. His captor smiled brightly, and made a slight gesture, as one who brushes aside a boisterous insect. With the same motion he quelled to stony quiet a resentful impetus of his servants toward the Englishman.
"It's murder, is it, you carrion!" finished the Duke.
M. Beaucaire lifted his shoulders in a mock shiver. "What words! No, no, no! No killing! A such word to a such host! No, no, not mur-r-der; only disgrace!" He laughed a clear, light laugh with a rising inflection, seeming to launch himself upon an adventurous quest for sympathy.
"You little devilish scullion!" spat out the Duke.
"Tut, tut! But I forget. Monsieur has pursue' his studies of deportment amongs' his fellow-countrymen.
"Do you dream a soul in Bath will take your word that I - that I - "
"That M. le Duc de Winterset had a card up his sleeve?"
"You pitiful stroller, you stableboy, born in a stable - "
"Is it not an honor to be born where monsieur must have been bred?"
"You scurvy foot-boy, you greasy barber, you cutthroat groom - "
"Overwhelm'!" The young man bowed with imperturbable elation. "M. le Duc appoint' me to all the office' of his househol'."
"You mustachioed fool, there are not five people of quality in Bath will speak to you - "
"No, monsieur, not on the parade; but how many come to play with me here? Because I will play always, night or day, for what one will, for any long, and al - ways fair, monsieur."
"You outrageous varlet! Every one knows you came to England as the French Ambassador's barber. What man of fashion will listen to you? Who will believe you?"
"All people, monsieur. Do you think I have not calculate', that I shall make a failure of my little enterprise?"
"Will monsieur not reseat himself?" M. Beaucaire made a low bow. "So. We must not be too tire' for Lady Malbourne's rout. Ha, ha! And you, Jean, Victor, and you others, retire; go in the hallway. Attend at the entrance, Francois. So; now we shall talk. Monsieur, I wish you to think very cool. Then listen; I will be briefly. It is that I am well known to be all, entire' hones'. Gamblist? Ah, yes; true and mos profitable; but fair, al - ways fair; every one say that. Is it not so? Think of it. And - is there never a w'isper come to M. le Duc that not all people belief him to play al - ways hones'? Ha, ha! Did it almos' be said to him las' year, after when he play' with Milor' Tappin'ford at the chocolate-house - "
"You dirty scandal-monger!" the Duke burst out. "I'll - "
"Monsieur, monsieur!" said the Frenchman. "It is a poor valor to insult a helpless captor. Can he retort upon his own victim? But it is for you to think of what I say. True, I am not reco'nize on the parade; that my frien's who come here do not present me to their ladies; that Meestaire Nash has reboff' me in the pomp-room; still, am I not known for being hones' and fair in my play, and will I not be belief, even I, when I lif' my voice and charge you aloud with what is already w'isper'? Think of it! You are a noble, and there will be some hang-dogs who might not fall away from you. Only such would be lef' to you. Do you want it tol'? And you can keep out of France, monsieur? I have lef' his service, but I have still the ear of M. de Mirepoix, and he know' I never lie. Not a gentleman will play you when you come to Paris."
The Englishman's white lip showed a row of scarlet dots upon it. "How much do you want?" he said.
The room rang with the gay laughter of Beaucaire. "I hol' your note' for seven-hunder' pound'. You can have them, monsieur. Why does a such great man come to play M. Beaucaire? Because no one else willin' to play M. le Duc - he cannot pay. Ha, ha! So he come' to good Monsieur Beaucaire. Money, ha, ha! What I want with money?"
His Grace of Winterset's features were set awry to a sinister pattern. He sat glaring at his companion in a snarling silence.
"Money? Pouf!" snapped the little gambler. "No, no, no! It is that M. le Duc, impoverish', somewhat in a bad odor as he is, yet command the entree any-where - onless I - Ha, ha! Eh, monsieur?"
"Ha! You dare think to force me - "
M. Beaucaire twirled the tip of his slender mustache around the end of his white forefinger. Then he said: "Monsieur and me goin' to Lady Malbourne's ball to-night - M. le Duc and me!"
The Englishman roared, "Curse your impudence!"
"Sit quiet. Oh, yes, that's all; we goin' together."
"Certain. I make all my little plan'. 'Tis all arrange'." He paused, and then said gravely, "You goin' present me to Lady Mary Carlisle."
The other laughed in utter scorn. "Lady Mary Carlisle, of all women alive, would be the first to prefer the devil to a man of no birth, barber."
"'Tis all arrange'; have no fear; nobody question monsieur's You goin' take me to-night - "
"Yes. And after - then I have the entree. Is it much I ask? This one little favor, and I never w'isper, never breathe that - it is to say, I am always forever silent of monsieur's misfortune."
"You have the entree!" sneered the other. "Go to a lackeys' rout and dance with the kitchen maids. If I would, I could not present you to Bath society. I should have cartels from the fathers, brothers, and lovers of every wench and madam in the place, even I. You would be thrust from Lady Malbourne's door five minutes after you entered it."
"No, no, no!"
"Half the gentlemen in Bath have been here to play. They would know you, wouldn't they, fool? You've had thousands out of Bantison, Rakell, Guilford, and Townbrake. They would have you lashed by the grooms as your ugly deserts are. You to speak to Lady Mary Carlisle! 'Od's blood! You! Also, dolt, she would know you if you escaped the others. She stood within a yard of you when Nash expelled you the pump-room."
M. Beaucaire flushed slightly. "You think I did not see?" he asked.
"Do you dream that' because Winterset introduces a low fellow he will be tolerated - that Bath will receive a barber?"
"I have the distinction to call monsieur's attention," replied the young man gayly, "I have renounce that profession."
"I am now a man of honor!"
"A man of the parts," continued the the young Frenchman, "and of deportment; is it not so? Have you seen me of a fluster, or gross ever, or, what sall I say - bourgeois? Shall you be shame' for your guest' manner? No, no! And my appearance, is it of the people? Clearly, no. Do I not compare in taste of apparel with your yo'ng Englishman? Ha, ha! To be hope'. Ha, ha! So I am goin' talk with Lady Mary Carlisle."
"Bah!" The Duke made a savage burlesque. "'Lady Mary Carlisle, may I assume the honor of presenting the barber of the Marquis de Mirepoix?' So, is it?"
"No, monsieur," smiled the young man. "Quite not so. You shall have nothing to worry you, nothing in the worl'. I am goin' to assassinate my poor mustachio - also remove this horrible black peruke, and emerge in my own hair. Behol'!" He swept the heavy curled, mass from his head as he spoke, and his hair, coiled under the great wig, fell to his shoulders, and sparkled yellow in the candle-light. He tossed his head to shake the hair back from his cheeks. "When it is dress', I am transform nobody can know me; you shall observe. See how little I ask of you, how very little bit. No one shall reco'nize 'M. Beaucaire' or 'Victor.' Ha, ha! 'Tis all arrange'; you have nothing to fear."
"Curse you," said the Duke, "do you think I'm going to be saddled with you wherever I go as long as you choose?"
"A mistake. No. All I requi - All I beg - is this one evening. 'Tis all shall be necessary. After, I shall not need monsieur.
"Take heed to yourself - after!" vouchsafed the Englishman between his teeth.
"Conquered!" cried M. Beaucaire, and clapped his hands gleefully. "Conquered for the night! Aha, it ts riz'nable! I shall meet what you send - after. One cannot hope too much of your patience. It is but natural you should attemp' a little avengement for the rascal trap I was such a wicked fellow as to set for you. I shall meet some strange frien's of yours after to-night; not so? I must try to be not too much frighten'." He looked at the Duke curiously. "You want to know why I create this tragedy, why I am so unkind as to entrap monsieur?"
His Grace of Winterset replied with a chill glance; a pulse in the nobleman's cheek beat less relentlessly; his eye raged not so bitterly; the steady purple of his own color was returning; his voice was less hoarse; he was regaining his habit. "'Tis ever the manner of the vulgar," he observed, "to wish to be seen with people of fashion."
"Oh, no, no, no!" The Frenchman laughed. "'Tis not that. Am I not already one of these 'men of fashion'? I lack only the reputation of birth. Monsieur is goin' supply that. Ha, ha! I shall be noble from to-night. 'Victor,' the artis', is condemn' to death; his throat shall be cut with his own razor. 'M. Beaucaire - ' Here the young man sprang to his feet, caught up the black wig, clapped into it a dice-box from the table, and hurled it violently through the open door. "'M. Beaucaire' shall be choke' with his own dice-box. Who is the Phoenix to remain? What advantage have I not over other men of rank who are merely born to it? I may choose my own. No! Choose for me, monsieur. Shall I be chevalier, comte, vicomte, marquis, what? None. Out of compliment to monsieur can I wish to be anything he is not? No, no! I shall be M. le Duc, M. le Duc de - de Chateaurien. Ha, ha! You see? You are my confrere."
M. Beaucaire trod a dainty step or two, waving his hand politely to the Duke, as though in invitation to join the celebration of his rank. The Englishman watched, his eye still and harsh, already gathering in craftiness. Beaucaire stopped suddenly. "But how I forget my age! I am twenty-three," he said, with a sigh. "I rejoice too much to be of the quality. It has been too great for me, and I had always belief' myself free of such ambition. I thought it was enough to behol' the opera without wishing to sing; but no, England have teach' me I have those vulgar desire'. Monsieur, I am goin' tell you a secret: the ladies of your country are very diff'runt than ours. One may adore the demoiselle, one must worship the lady of England. Our ladies have the - it is the beauty of youth; yours remain comely at thirty. Ours are flowers, yours are stars! See, I betray myself, I am so poor a patriot. And there is one among these stars - ah, yes, there is one - the poor Frenchman has observe' from his humble distance; even there he could bask in the glowing!" M. Beaucaire turned to the window, and looked out into the dark. He did not see the lights of the town. When he turned again, he had half forgotten his prisoner; other pictures were before him.
"Ah, what radiance!" he cried. "Those people up over the sky, they want to show they wish the earth to be happy, so they smile, and make this lady. Gold-haired, an angel of heaven, and yet a Diana of the chase! I see her fly by me on her great horse one day; she touch' his mane with her fingers. I buy
that clipping from the groom. I have it here with my dear brother's picture. Ah, you! Oh, yes, you laugh! What do you know! 'Twas all I could get. But I have heard of the endeavor of M. le Duc to recoup his fortunes. This alliance shall fail. It is not the way - that heritage shall be safe' from him! It is you and me, monsieur! You can laugh! The war is open', and by me! There is one great step taken: until to-night there was nothing for you to ruin, to-morrow you have got a noble of France - your own protege - to besiege and sack. And you are to lose, because you think such ruin easy, and because you understand nothing - far less - of divinity. How could you know? You have not the fiber; the heart of a lady is a blank to you; you know nothing of the vibration. There are some words that were made only to tell of Lady Mary, for her alone - bellissima, divine, glorieuse! Ah, how I have watch' her! It is sad to me when I see her surround' by your yo'ng captains, your nobles, your rattles, your beaux - ha, ha! - and I mus' hol' far aloof. It is sad for me - but oh, jus' to watch her and to wonder! Strange it is, but I have almos' cry out with rapture at a look I have see' her give another man, so beautiful it was, so tender, so dazzling of the eyes and so mirthful of the lips. Ah, divine coquetry! A look for another, ah-i -me! for many others; and even to you, one day, a rose, while I - I, monsieur, could not even be so blessed as to be the groun' beneath her little shoe! But to-night, monsieur - ha, ha! - to-night, monsieur, you and me, two princes, M. le Duc de Winterset and M. le Duc de Chateaurien - ha, ha! you see ? - we are goin' arm-in-arm to that ball, and I am goin' have one of those looks, I! And a rose! I! It is time. But ten minute', nonsieur. I make my apology to keep you waitin' so long while I go in the nex' room and execute my poor mustachio - that will be my only murder for jus' this one evening - and inves' myself in white satin. Ha, ha! I shall be very gran', monsieur. Francois, send Louis to me; Victor, to order two chairs for monsieur and me; we are goin' out in the worl' to-right!"