"There is not,"pursued the nephew, in his former tone, "a face I can look at, in all this country round about us, which looks at me with any deference on it but the dark deference of fear and slavery."
"A compliment,"said the Marquis, "to the grandeur of the family, merited by the manner in which the family has sustained its grandeur. Hah!"And he took another gentle little pinch of snuff, and lightly crossed his legs.
But, when his nephew, leaning an elbow on the table, covered his eyes thoughtfully and dejectedly with his hand, the fine mask looked at him sideways with a stronger concentration of keenness, closeness, and dislike, than was comportable with its wearer's assumption of indifference.
"Repression is the only lasting philosophy. The dark deference of fear and slavery, my friend,"observed the Marquis, "will keep the dogs obedient to the whip, as long as this roof,"looking up to it, "shuts out the sky."
That might not be so long as the Marquis supposed. If a picture of the chateau as it was to be a very few years hence, and of fifty like it as they too were to be a very few years hence, could have been shown to him that night, he might have been at a loss to claim his own from the ghastly, fire-charred, plunder-wrecked rains. As for the roof he vaunted, he might have found that shutting out the sky in a new way — to wit, for ever, from the eyes of the bodies into which its lead was fired, out of the barrels of a hundred thousand muskets.
"Meanwhile,"said the Marquis, "I will preserve the honour and repose of the family, if you will not. But you must be fatigued. Shall we terminate our conference for the night?"
"A moment more."
"An hour, if you please."
"Sir,"said the nephew, "we have done wrong, and are reaping the fruits of wrong."
"We have done wrong?"repeated the Marquis, with an inquiring smile, and delicately pointing, first to his nephew, then to himself.
"Our family; our honourable family, whose honour is of so much account to both of us, in such different ways. Even in my father's time, we did a world of wrong, injuring every human creature who came between us and our pleasure, whatever it was. Why need I speak of my father's time, when it is equally yours? Can I separate my father's twin-brother, joint inheritor, and next successor, from himself?"
"Death has done that!"said the Marquis.
"And has left me,"answered the nephew, "bound to a system that is frightful to me, responsible for it, but powerless in it; seeking to execute the last request of my dear mother's lips, and obey the last look of my dear mother's eyes, which implored me to have mercy and to redress; and tortured by seeking assistance and power in vain."
"Seeking them from me, my nephew,"said the Marquis, touching him on the breast with his forefinger — they were now standing by the hearth — "you will for ever seek them in vain, be assured."
Every fine straight line in the clear whiteness of his face, was cruelly, craftily, and closely compressed, while he stood looking quietly at his nephew, with his snuff-box in his hand. Once again he touched him on the breast, as though his finger were the fine point of a small sword, with which, in delicate finesse, he ran him through the body, and said,
"My friend, I will die, perpetuating the system under which I have lived."
When he had said it, he took a culminating pinch of snuff, and put his box in his pocket.
"Better to be a rational creature,"he added then, after ringing a small bell on the table, "and accept your natural destiny. But you are lost, Monsieur Charles, I see."
"This property and France are lost to me,"said the nephew, sadly; "I renounce them."
Continued on next page...