List Of Contents | Contents of La Constantin, by Alexandre Dumas, Pere
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

no notion of letting herself be sacrificed to a rival.  If ever she
finds herself deceived, good-bye to prudence and reserve, and then--"

A look and a touch of the commander's knee cut this panegyric short,
to which the treasurer was listening with open-eyed astonishment.

"What enthusiasm!" he exclaimed.  "Well, and then----"

"Why, then," went on the young man, with a laugh, "if my uncle
behaves badly, I, his nephew, will try to make up for his
wrong-doing: he can't blame me then.  But until then he may be quite
easy, as he well knows."

"Oh yes, and in proof of that I am going to take Moranges with me
to-night.  He is young and inexperienced, and it will be a good
lesson for him to see how a gallant whose amorous intrigues did not
begin yesterday sets about getting even with a coquette.  He can turn
it to account later on.

"On my word," said Jeannin, "my notion is that he is in no great need
of a teacher; however, that's your business, not mine.  Let us return
to what we were talking about just now.  Are we agreed; and shall we
amuse ourselves by paying out the lady in, her own coin?"

"If you like."

"Which of us is to begin?"

De Jars struck the table with the handle of his dagger.

"More wine, gentlemen?" said the drawer, running up.

"No, dice; and be quick about it."

"Three casts each and the highest wins," said Jeannin.  "You begin."

"I throw for myself and nephew."  The dice rolled on the table.

"Ace and three."

"It's my turn now.  Six and five."

"Pass it over.  Five and two."

"We're equal.  Four and two."

"Now let me.  Ace and blank."

"Double six."

"You have won."

"And I'm off at once, said Jeannin, rising, and muffling himself in
his mantle, "It's now half-past seven.  We shall see each other
again at eight, so I won't say good-bye."

"Good luck to you!"

Leaving the tavern and turning into the rue Pavee, he took the
direction of the river.


In 1658, at the corner of the streets Git-le-Coeur and Le Hurepoix
(the site of the latter being now occupied by the Quai des Augustins
as far as Pont Saint-Michel), stood the great mansion which Francis I
had bought and fitted up for the Duchesse d'Etampes.  It was at this
period if not in ruins at least beginning to show the ravages of
time.  Its rich interior decorations had lost their splendour and
become antiquated.  Fashion had taken up its abode in the Marais,
near the Place Royale, and it was thither that profligate women and
celebrated beauties now enticed the humming swarm of old rakes and
young libertines.  Not one of them all would have thought of residing
in the mansion, or even in the quarter, wherein the king's mistress
had once dwelt.  It would have been a step downward in the social
scale, and equivalent to a confession that their charms were falling
in the public estimation.  Still, the old palace was not empty; it
had, on the contrary, several tenants.  Like the provinces of
Alexander's empire, its vast suites of rooms had been subdivided; and
so neglected was it by the gay world that people of the commonest
description strutted about with impunity where once the proudest
nobles had been glad to gain admittance.  There in semi-isolation and
despoiled of her greatness lived Angelique-Louise de Guerchi,
formerly companion to Mademoiselle de Pons and then maid of honour to
Anne of Austria.  Her love intrigues and the scandals they gave rise
to had led to her dismissal from court.  Not that she was a greater
sinner than many who remained behind, only she was unlucky enough or
stupid enough to be found out.  Her admirers were so indiscreet that
they had not left her a shred of reputation, and in a court where a
cardinal is the lover of a queen, a hypocritical appearance of
decorum is indispensable to success.  So Angelique had to suffer for
the faults she was not clever enough to hide.  Unfortunately for her,
her income went up and down with the number and wealth of her
admirers, so when she left the court all her possessions consisted of
a few articles she had gathered together out of the wreck of her
former luxury, and these she was now selling one by one to procure
the necessaries of life, while she looked back from afar with an
envious eye at the brilliant world from which she had been exiled,
and longed for better days.  All hope was not at an end for her.  By
a strange law which does not speak well for human nature, vice finds
success easier to attain than virtue.  There is no courtesan, no
matter how low she has fallen, who cannot find a dupe ready to defend
against the world an honour of which no vestige remains.  A man who
doubts the virtue of the most virtuous woman, who shows himself
inexorably severe when he discovers the lightest inclination to
falter in one whose conduct has hitherto been above reproach, will
stoop and pick up out of the gutter a blighted and tarnished
reputation and protect and defend it against all slights, and devote
his life to the attempt to restore lustre to the unclean thing dulled
by the touch of many fingers.  In her days of prosperity Commander de
Jars and the king's treasurer had both fluttered round Mademoiselle
de Guerchi, and neither had fluttered in vain.  Short as was the
period necessary to overcome her scruples, in as short a period it
dawned on the two candidates for her favour that each had a
successful rival in the other, and that however potent as a reason
for surrender the doubloons of the treasurer had been, the personal
appearance of the commander had proved equally cogent.  As both had
felt for her only a passing fancy and not a serious passion, their
explanations with each other led to no quarrel between them; silently
and simultaneously they withdrew from her circle, without even
letting her know they had found her out, but quite determined to
revenge, themselves on her should a chance ever offer.  However,
other affairs of a similar nature had intervened to prevent their
carrying out this laudable intention; Jeannin had laid siege to a
more inaccessible beauty, who had refused to listen to his sighs for
less than 30 crowns, paid in advance, and de Jars had become quite
absorbed by his adventure with the convent boarder at La Raquette,
and the business of that young stranger whom he passed off as his
nephew.  Mademoiselle de Guerchi had never seen them again; and with
her it was out of sight out of mind.  At the moment when she comes
into our story she was weaving her toils round a certain Duc de
Vitry, whom she had seen at court, but whose acquaintance she had
never made, and who had been absent when the scandalous occurrence
which led to her disgrace came to light.  He was a man of from
twenty-five to twenty-six years of age, who idled his life away: his
courage was undoubted, and being as credulous as an old libertine, he
was ready to draw his sword at any moment to defend the lady whose
cause he had espoused, should any insolent slanderer dare to hint
there was a smirch on her virtue.  Being deaf to all reports, he
seemed one of those men expressly framed by heaven to be the
consolation of fallen women; such a man as in our times a retired
opera-dancer or a superannuated professional beauty would welcome
with open arms.  He had only one fault--he was married.  It is true
he neglected his wife, according to the custom of the time, and it is
probably also true that his wife cared very little about his
infidelities.  But still she was an insurmountable obstacle to the
fulfilment of Mademoiselle de Guerchi's hopes, who but for her might
have looked forward to one day becoming a duchess.

For about three weeks, however, at the time we are speaking of, the
duke had neither crossed her threshold nor written.  He had told her
he was going for a few days to Normandy, where he had large estates,
but had remained absent so long after the date he had fixed for his
return that she began to feel uneasy.  What could be keeping him?
Some new flame, perhaps.  The anxiety of the lady was all the more
keen, that until now nothing had passed between them but looks of
languor and words of love.  The duke had laid himself and all he
possessed at the feet of Angelique, and Angelique had refused his
offer.  A too prompt surrender would have justified the reports so
wickedly spread against her; and, made wise by experience, she was
resolved not to compromise her future as she had compromised her
past.  But while playing at virtue she had also to play at
disinterestedness, and her pecuniary resources were consequently
almost exhausted.  She had proportioned the length of her resistance
to the length of her purse, and now the prolonged absence of her
lover threatened to disturb the equilibrium which she had established
between her virtue and her money.  So it happened that the cause of
the lovelorn Duc de Vitry was in great peril just at the moment when
de Jars and Jeannin resolved to approach the fair one anew.  She was
sitting lost in thought, pondering in all good faith on the small
profit it was to a woman to be virtuous, when she heard voices in the
antechamber.  Then her door opened, and the king's treasurer walked

As this interview and those which follow took place in the presence
of witnesses, we are obliged to ask the reader to accompany us for a
time to another part of the same house.

We have said there were several tenants: now the person who occupied
the rooms next to those in which Mademoiselle de Guerchi lived was a
shopkeeper's widow called Rapally, who was owner of one of the
thirty-two houses which then occupied the bridge Saint-Michel.  They
had all been constructed at the owner's cost, in return for a lease
for ever.  The widow Rapally's avowed age was forty, but those who
knew her longest added another ten years to that: so, to avoid error,
let us say she was forty-five.  She was a solid little body, rather
stouter than was necessary for beauty; her hair was black, her
complexion brown, her eyes prominent and always moving; lively,
active, and if one once yielded to her whims, exacting beyond
measure; but until then buxom and soft, and inclined to pet and spoil

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: