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jesting. I have your note of hand for three hundred and forty louis. La void!' says he, taking out a paper from his pocket-book.
"'And mine for two hundred and ten,' says Bloundell-Bloundell, and he pulls out his bit of paper.
"I was in such a rage of wonder at this, that I sprang out of bed, and wrapped my dressing-gown round me. 'Are you come here to make a fool of me?' says I. 'I don't owe you two hundred, or two thousand, or two louis; and I won't pay you a farthing. Do you suppose you can catch me with your notes of hand? I laugh at 'em, and at you; and I believe you to be a couple —'
"'A couple of what?' says Mr. Bloundell. 'You, of course, are aware that we are a couple of men of honor, Colonel Altamont, and not come here to trifle or to listen to abuse from you. You will either pay us or we will expose you as a cheat, and chastise you as a cheat, too,' says Bloundell.
"' Oui parbleu,' says the Marky, — but I did n't mind him, for I could have thrown the little fellow out of the window; but it was different with Bloundell, — he was a large man, that weighs three stone more than me, and stands six inches higher, and I think he could have done for me.
"' Monsieur will pay, or Monsieur will give me the reason why. I believe you're little better than a polisson, Colonel Altamont,' — that was the phrase he used" Altamont said with a grin — " and I got plenty more of this language from the two fellers, and was in the thick of the row with them, when another of our party came in. This was a friend of mine —a gent I had met at Boulogne, and had taken to the Countess's myself. And as he had n't played at all on the previous night, and had actually warned me against Bloundell and the others, I told the story to him, and so did the other two.
"'I am very sorry,' says he. 'You would go on playing: the Countess entreated you to discontinue. These gentlemen offered repeatedly to stop. It was you that insisted on the large stakes, not they,' in fact he charged dead against me: and when the two others went away, he told me how the Marky would shoot me as sure as my name was — was what it is. 'I left the Countess crying, too,' said he. 'She hates these two men; she has warned you repeatedly against them' (which she actually had done, and often told me never to play with them), 'and now, Colonel, I have left her in hysterics almost, lest there should be any quarrel between you, and that confounded Marky should put a bullet through your head. It's my belief,' says my friend, 'that that woman is distractedly in love with you.'
"'Do you think so?' says I; upon which my friend told me how she had actually gone down on her knees to him and said, 'Save Colonel Altamont!'
"As soon as I was dressed, I went and called upon that lovely woman. She gave a shriek and pretty near fainted when she saw me. She called me Ferdinand, — I 'm blest if she did n't."
"I thought your name was Jack," said Strong, with a laugh; at which the Colonel blushed very much behind his dyed whiskers.
"A man may have more names than one, mayn't he, Strong?" Altamont asked. "When I'm with a lady, I like to take a good one. She called me by my Christian name. She cried fit to break your heart. I can't stand seeing a woman cry — never could — not fond of her. She said she could not x—18
bear to think of my losing so much money in her house. Would n't I take her diamonds and necklaces, and pay part?
"I swore I wouldn't touch a farthing's worth of her jewelry, which perhaps I did not think was worth a great deal, — but what can a woman do more than give you her all? That's the sort I like, and I know there's plenty of 'em. And I told her to be easy about the money, for I would not pay one single farthing.
"' Then they 'll shoot you,' says she; 'they 'll kill my Ferdinand.'"
"They 'll kill my Jack would n't have sounded well in French," Strong said, laughing.
"Never mind about names," said the other, sulkily: "a man of honor may take any name he chooses, I suppose."
"Well, go on with your story," said Strong. "She said they would kill you."
"' No,' says I, 'they won't: for I will not let that scamp of a Marquis send me out of the world; and if he lays a hand on me, I 'll brain him, Marquis as he is.'
"At this the Countess shrank back from me as if I had said something very shocking. 'Do I understand Colonel Altamont aright?' says she; 'and that a British officer refuses to meet any person who provokes him to the field of honor?'
"' Field of honor be hanged, Countess!' says I. 'You would not have me be a target for that little scoundrel's pistol practice.'
"' Colonel Altamont,' says the Countess, 'I thought you were a man of honor — I thought, I — but no matter. Good-by, sir.' — And she was sweeping out of the room, her voice regular choking in her pockethandkerchief.
"' Countess!' says I, rushing after her and seizing her hand.
"' Leave me, Monsieur le Colonel,' says she, shaking me off, 'my father was a General of the Grand Army. A soldier should know how to pay all his debts of honor.'
"What could I do? Everybody was against me. Caroline said I had lost the money: though I didn't remember a syllable about the business. I had taken Deuceace's money too; but then it was because he offered it to me, you know, and that's a different thing. Every one of these chaps was a man of fashion and honor; and the Marky and the Countess of the first families in France. And by Jove, sir, rather than offend her, I paid the money up: five hundred and sixty gold Napoleons, by Jove: besides three hundred which I lost when I had my revenge.
"And I can't tell you at this minute whether I was done or not," concluded the Colonel, musing. "Sometimes I think I was: but then Caroline was so fond of me. That woman would never have seen me done: never, I 'm sure she would n't: at least, if she would, I 'm deceived in woman."
Any further revelations of his past life which Altamont might have been disposed to confide to his honest comrade the Chevalier, were interrupted by a knocking at the outer door of their chambers; which, when opened by Grady the servant, admitted no less a person than Sir Francis Clavering into the presence of the two worthies.
"The Governor, by Jove," cried Strong, regarding the arrival of his patron with surprise. "What's brought you here?" growled Altamont, looking sternly from under his heavy eyebrows at the Baronet. "It's no good, I warrant." And indeed, good very seldom brought Sir Francis Clavering into that or any other place.
Whenever he came into Shepherd's Inn, it was money that brought the unlucky Baronet into those precincts; and there was commonly a gentleman of the money-dealing world in waiting for him at Strong's chambers, or at Campion's below; and a question of bills to negotiate or to renew. Clavering was a man who had never looked his debts fairly in the face, familiar as he had been with them all his life; as long as he could renew a bill, his mind was easy regarding it; and he would sign almost anything for to-morrow, provided to-day could be left unmolested. He was a man whom scarcely any amount of fortune could have benefited permanently, and who was made to be ruined, to cheat small tradesmen, to be the victim of astuter sharpers; to be niggardly and reckless, and as destitute of honesty as the people who cheated him, and a dupe, chiefly because he was too mean to be a successful knave. He had told more lies in his time, and undergone more baseness of stratagem in order to stave off a small debt, or to swindle a poor creditor, than would have sufficed to make a fortune for a braver rogue. He was abject and a shuffler in the very height of his prosperity. Had he been a Crown Prince — he could not have been more weak, useless, dissolute or ungrateful. He could not move through life except leaning on the arm of somebody; and yet he never had an agent but he mistrusted him; and marred any plans which might be arranged for his benefit, by secretly acting against the people whom he employed. Strong knew Clavering, and judged him quite correctly. It was not as friends that this pair met; but the Chevalier worked for his principal, as he would when in the