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Madame the Countess de Foljambe's soirees—such a woman, Strong!—such an eye!—such a hand at the pianner. Lor bless you, she'd sit down and sing to you, and gaze at you, until she warbled your soul out of your body a'most. She asked me to go to her evening parties every Toosday; and didn't I take opera-boxes and give her dinners at the restaurateur's, that's all? But I had a run of luck at the tables, and it was not in the dinners and opera-boxes that poor Clavering's money went. No, be hanged to it, it was swep off in another way. One night, at the Countess's, there was several of us at supper—Mr. Bloundell-Bloundelk the Honourable Deuceace, the Marky de la Tour de Force—all tip-top nobs, sir, and the height of fashion, when we had supper, and champagne you may be sure in plenty, and then some of that confounded brandy. I would have it—I would go on at it— the Countess mixed the tumblers of punch for me, and we had cards as well as grog after supper, and I played and drank until I don't know what I did. I was like I was last night. I was taken away and put to bed somehow, and never woke until the next day, to a roaring headache, and to see my servant, who said the Honourable Deuceace wanted to see me, and was waiting in the sitting-room. 'How are you, Colonel?' says he, a coming into my bedroom. * How long did you stay last night after I went away? The play was getting too high for me, and I'd lost enough to you for one night.'
"' To me,' says I, 'how's that, my dear feller?' (for though he was an Earl's son, we was as familiar as you and me). 'How's that, my dear feller ?' says I, and he tells me, that he had borrowed thirty louis of me at vingt-et-un, that he gave me an I O U for it the night before, which I put into my pocket-book before he left the room. I takes out my cardcase—it was the Countess as worked it for me—and there was the I O U sure enough, and he paid me thirty louis in gold down upon the table at my bedside. So I said he was a gentleman, and asked him if he would like to take anything, when my servant should get it for him; but the Honourable Deuceace don't drink of a morning, and he went away to jpbe business which he said he had.
"Presently there's another ring at my outer door; and this time it's Bloundell-Bloundell and the Marky that comes in. 'Bong jour, Marky,' says L 'Good morning—no headache?' says he. So I said I had one; and how I must have been uncommon queer the night afore; but they both declared I didn't show no signs of having had too much, but took my liquor as grave as a judge.
"' So,' says the Marky, 'Deuceace has been with you; we met him in the Palais Eoyal as we were coming from breakfast. Has he settled with you? Get it while you can: he's a slippery card; and as he won three ponies of Bloundell, I recommend you to get your money while he has some.'
"' He has paid me,' says I; 'but I knew no more than the dead that he owed me anything, and don't remember a bit about lending him thirty louis.'
"The Marky and Bloundell looks and smiles at each other at this; and Bloundell says, 'Colonel, you are a queer feller. No man could have supposed, from your manners, that you had tasted anything stronger than tea all night, and yet you forget things in the morning. Come, come,—tell that to the marines, my friend,—we won't have it at any price.'
"' En effet,' says the Marky, twiddling his little black mustachios in the chimney-glass, and making a lunge or two as he used to do at the fencing-school. (He was a wonder at the fencing-school, and I've seen him knock down the image fourteen times running, at Lepage's.) 'Let us speak of affairs. Colonel, you understand that affairs of honour are best settled at once: perhaps it won't be inconvenient to you to arrange our little matters of last night.'
"' What little matters?' says I. 'Do you owe me any money, Marky?'
"'Bah!' says he; 'do not let us have any more 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 BloundellBloundell, 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 honour, 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 didn'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 hadn'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.
'"Iam 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 didn'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 oan't stand seeing a woman cry—never could—not whilst I'm fond of her. She said she could not bear to think of my losing so much money in her house. Wouldn't I take her diamonds and necklaces, and pay part?
"I swore I wouldn't touch a farthing's worth of her jewellery, 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 wouldn't have sounded well in French," Strong said, laughing.
"Never mind about names," said the other sulkily: "a man of honour 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 honour?'
"' Field of honour 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 honour—I thought, I—but no matter. Goodbye, sir.'—And she was sweeping out of the room, her voice regular choking in her pocket-handkerchief.
"' 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 honour.'
'' 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 raan of fashion and honour; 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 wouldn'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.