I WILL REPAY
I WILL REPAY
BARONESS EMMUSKA ORCZY
By Baroness Orczy.
"Coward! Coward! Coward!"
The words rang out clear strident passionate in a crescendo of
The boy quivering with rage had sprung to his feet and losing his
balance he fell forward clutching at the table whilst with a
convulsive movement of the lids he tried in vain to suppress the tears
of shame which were blinding him.
"Coward!" He tried to shout the insult so that all might hear but his
parched throat refused him service his trembling hand sought the
scattered cards upon the table he collected them together quickly
nervously fingering them with feverish energy then he hurled them at
the man opposite whilst with a final effort he still contrived to
The older men tried to interpose but the young ones only laughed
quite prepared for the adventure which must inevitably ensue the only
possible ending to a quarrel such as this.
Conciliation or arbitration was out of the question. Deroulede should have
known better than to speak disrespectfully of Adele de Montcheri when the
little Vicomte de Marny's infatuation for the notorious beauty had been
the talk of Paris and Versailles these many months past.
Adele was very lovely and a veritable tower of greed and egotism. The
Marnys were rich and the little Vicomte very young and just now the
brightly-plumaged hawk was busy plucking the latest pigeon newly
arrived from its ancestral cote.
The boy was still in the initial stage of his infatuation. To him Adele
was a paragon of all the virtues and he would have done battle on her
behalf against the entire aristocracy of France in a vain endeavour to
justify his own exalted opinion of one of the most dissolute women of
the epoch. He was a first-rate swordsman too and his friends had
already learned that it was best to avoid all allusions to Adele's beauty
But Deroulede was a noted blunderer. He was little versed in the manners
and tones of that high society in which somehow he still seemed and
intruder. But for his great wealth no doubt he never would have been
admitted within the intimate circle of aristocratic France. His
ancestry was somewhat doubtful and his coat-of-arms unadorned with
But little was known of his family or the origin of its wealth; it was
only known that his father had suddenly become the late King's dearest
friend and commonly surmised that Deroulede gold had on more than one
occasion filled the emptied coffers of the First Gentleman of France.
Deroulede had not sought the present quarrel. He had merely blundered in
that clumsy way of his which was no doubt a part of the inheritance
bequeathed to him by his bourgeois ancestry.
He knew nothing of the little Vicomte's private affairs still less of
his relationship with Adele but he knew enough of the world and enough
of Paris to be acquainted with the lady's reputation. He hated at all
times to speak of women. He was not what in those days would be termed
a ladies' man and was even somewhat unpopular with the sex. But in
this instance the conversation had drifted in that direction and when
Adele's name was mentioned every one became silent save the little
Vicomte who waxed enthusiastic.
A shrug of the shoulders on Deroulede's part had aroused the boy's ire
then a few casual words and without further warning the insult had
been hurled and the cards thrown in the older man's face.
Deroulede did not move from his seat. He sat erect and placid one knee
crossed over the other his serious rather swarthy face perhaps a
shade paler than usual: otherwise it seemed as if the insult had never
reached his ears or the cards struck his cheeck.
He had perceived his blunder just twenty seconds too late. Now he was
sorry for the boy and angered with himself but it was too late to draw
back. To avoid a conflict he would at this moment have sacrificed half
his fortune but not one particle of his dignity.
He knew and respected the old Duc de Marny a feeble old man now
almost a dotard whose hitherto spotless blason the young Vicomte his
son was doing his best to besmirch.
When the boy fell forward blind and drunk with rage Deroulede leant
towards him automatically quite kindly and helped him to his feet.
He would have asked the lad's pardon for his own thoughtlessness had
that been possible: but the stilted code of so-called honour forbade so
logical a proceeding. It would have done no good and could but
imperil his own reputation without averting the traditional sequel.
The panelled walls of the celebrated gaming saloon had often witnessed
scenes such as this. All those present acted by routine. The
etiquette of duelling prescribed certain formalities and these were
strictly but rapidly adhered to.
The young Vicomte was quickly surrounded by a close circle of friends.
His great name his wealth his father's influence had opened for him
every door in Versailles and Paris. At this moment he might have had
an army of seconds to support him in the coming conflict.
Deroulede for a while was left alone near the card table where the
unsnuffed candles began smouldering in their sockets. He had risen to
his feet somewhat bewildered at the rapid turn of events. His dark
restless eyes wandered for a moment round the room as if in quick
search for a friend.
But where the Vicomte was at home by right Deroulede had only been
admitted by reason of his wealth. His acquaintances and sycophants
were many but his friends very few.
For the first time this fact was brought home to him. Every one in the
room must have known and realised that he had not wilfully sought this
quarrel that throughout he had borne himself as any gentleman would
yet now when the issue was so close at hand no one came forward to
stand by him.
"For form's sake monsieur will you choose your seconds?"
It was the young Marquis de Villefranche who spoke a little haughtily
with a certain ironical condescension towards the rich parvenu who was
about to have the honour of crossing swords with one of the noblest
gentlemen in France.
"I pray you Monsieur le Marquis" rejoined Deroulede coldly "to make the
choice for me. You see I have few friends in Paris."
The Marquis bowed and gracefully flourished his lace handkerchief. He
was accustomed to being appealed to in all matters pertaining to
etiquette to the toilet to the latest cut in coats and the procedure
in duels. Good-natured foppish and idle he felt quite happy and in
his element thus to be made chief organiser of the tragic farce about
to be enacted on the parquet floor of the gaming saloon.
He looked about the room for a while scrutinising the faces of those
around him. The gilded youth was crowding round De Marny; a few older
men stood in a group at the farther end of the room: to these the
Marquis turned and addressing one of them an elderly man with a
military bearing and a shabby brown coat:
"Mon Colonel" he said with another flourishing bow; "I am deputed by
M. Deroulede to provide him with seconds for this affair of honour may I
call upon you to..."
"Certainly certainly" replied the Colonel. "I am not intimately
acquainted with M. Deroulede but since you stand sponsor M. le Marquis..."
"Oh!" rejoined the Marquis lightly "a mere matter of form you know.
M. Deroulede belongs to the entourage of Her Majesty. He is a man of
honour. But I am not his sponsor. Marny is my friend and if you
prefer not to..."
"Indeed I am entirely at M. Deroulede's service" said the Colonel who had
thrown a quick scrutinising glance at the isolated figure near the
card table "if he will accept my services..."
"He will be very glad to accept my dear Colonel" whispered the
Marquis with an ironical twist of his aristocrate lips. "He has no
friends in our set and if you and De Quettare will honour him I think
he should be grateful."
M. de Quettare adjutant to M. le Colonel was ready to follow in the
footsteps of his chief and the two men after the prescribed
salutations to M. le Marquis de Villefranche went across to speak to
"If you will accept our services monsieur" began the Colonel
abruptly "mine and my adjutant's M. de Quettare we place ourselves
entirely at your disposal."
"I thank you messieurs" rejoined Deroulede. "The whole thing is a farce
and that young man is a fool; but I have been in the wrong and..."
"You would wish to apologise?" queried the Colonel icily.
The worthy soldier had heard something of Deroulede's reputed bourgeois
ancestry. This suggestion of an apology was no doubt in accordance
with the customs of the middle-classes but the Colonel literally
gasped at the unworthiness of the proceeding. An apology? Bah!
Disgusting! cowardly! beneath the dignity of any gentleman however
wrong he might be. How could two soldiers of His Majesty's army
identify themselves with such doings?
But Deroulede seemed unconscious of the enormity of his suggestion.
"If I could avoid a conflict" he said "I would telle the Vicomte that
I had no knowledge of his admiration for the lady we were discussing
"Are you so very much afraid of getting a sword scratch monsieur?"
interrupted the Colonel impatiently whilst M. de Quettare elevated a
pair of aristocratic eyebrows in bewilderment at such an extraordinary
display of bourgeois cowardice.
"You mean Monsieur le Colonel?" - queried Deroulede.
"That you must either fight the Vicomte de Marn to-night or clear out
of Paris to-morrow. Your position in our set would become untenable"
retorted the Colonel not unkindly for in spite of Deroulede's
extraordinary attitude there was nothing in his bearing or his
appearance that suggested cowardice or fear.
"I bow to your superior knowledge of your friends M. le Colonel"
responded Deroulede as he silently drew his sword from its sheath.
The centre of the saloon was quickly cleared. The seconds measured the
length of the swords and then stood behind the antagonists slightly in
advance of the groups of spectators who stood massed all round the
They represented the flower of what France had of the best and noblest
in name in lineage in chivalry in that year of grace 1783. The
storm-cloud which a few years hence was destined to break over their
heads sweeping them from their palaces to the prison and the
guillotine was only gathering very slowly in the dim horizon of
squalid starving Paris: for the next half-dozen years they would still
dance and gamble fight and flirt surround a tottering throne and
hoodwink a weak monarch. The Fates' avenging sword still rested in its
sheath; the relentless ceaseless wheel still bore them up in their
whirl of pleasure; the downward movement had only just begun: the cry
of the oppressed children of France had not yet been heard above the
din of dance music and lovers' serenades.
The young Duc de Chateaudun was there he who nine years later went to
the guillotine on that cold September morning his hair dressed in the
latest fashion the finest Mechlin lace around his wrists playing a
final game of piquet with his younger brother as the tumbril bore them
along through the hooting yelling crowd of the half-naked starvelings
There was the Vicomte de Mirepoix who a few years later standing on
the platform of the guillotine laid a bet with M. de Miranges that his
own blood would flow bluer than that of any other head cut off that day
in France. Citizen Samson heard the bet made and when De Mirepoix's
head fell into the basket the headsman lifted it up for M. de Miranges
to see. The latter laughed.
"Mirepoix was always a braggart" he said lightly as he laid his head
upon the block.
"Who'll take my bet that my blood turns out to be bluer than his?"
But of all these comedies these tragico-farces of later years none
who were present on that night when the Vicomte de Marny fought Paul
Deroulede had as yet any presentiment.
They watched the two men fighting with the same casual interest at
first which they would have bestowed on the dancing of a new movement
in the minuet.
De Marny came of a race that had wielded the sword of many centuries
but he was hot excited not a little addled with wine and rage. Deroulede
was lucky; he would come out of the affair with a slight scratch.
A good swordsman too that wealthy parvenu. It was interesting to
watch his sword-play: very quiet at first no feint or parry scarcely
a riposte only _en garde_ always _en garde_ very carefully steadily
ready for his antagonist at every turn and in every circumstance.
Gradually the circle round the combatants narrowed. A few discreet
exclamations of admiration greeted Deroulede's most successful parry. De
Marny was getting more and more excited the older man more and more
sober and reserved.
A thoughtless lunge placed the little Vicomte at his opponent's mercy.
The next instant he was disarmed and the seconds were pressing forward
to end the conflict.
Honour was satisfied: the parvenu and the scion of the ancient race had
crossed swords over the reputation of one of the most dissolute women
in France. Deroulede's moderation was a lesson to all the hot-headed young
bloods who toyed with their lives their honour their reputation as
lightly as they did with their lace-edged handkerchiefs and gold
Already Deroulede had drawn back. With the gentle tact peculiar to kindly
people he avoided looking at his disarmed antagonist. But something
in the older man's attitude seemed to further nettle the
over-stimulated sensibility of the young Vicomte.
"This is no child's play monsieur" he said excitedly. "I demand full
"And are you not satisfied?" queried Deroulede. "You have borne yourself
bravely you have fought in honour of your liege lady. I on the other
"You" shouted the boy hoarsely "you shall publicly apologise to a
noble and virtuous woman whom you have outraged -now-at-once-on your
"You are mad Vicomte" rejoined Deroulede coldly. "I am willing to ask
your forgiveness for my blunder..."
"An apology-in public-on your knees..."
The boy had become more and more excited. He had suffered humiliation
after humiliation. He was a mere lad spoilt adulated pampered from
his boyhood: the wine had got into his head the intoxication of rage
and hatred blinded his saner judgment.
"Coward!" he shouted again and again.
His seconds tried to interpose but he waved them feverishly aside. He
would listen to no one. He saw no one save the man who had insulted
Adele and who was heaping further insults upon her by refusing this
public acknowledgment of her virtues.
De Marny hated Deroulede at this moment with the most deadly hatred the
heart of man can conceive. The older man's calm his chivalry his
consideration only enhanced the boy's anger and shame.
The hubbub had become general. Everyone seemed carried away with this
strange fever of enmity which was seething in the Vicomte's veins.
Most of the young men crowded round De Marny doing their best to
pacify him. The Marquis de Villefranche declared that the matter was
getting quite outside the rules.
No one took much notice of Deroulede. In the remote corners of the saloon
a few elderly dandies were laying bets as to the ultimate issue of the
Deroulede however was beginning to lose his temper. He had no friends in
that room and therefore there was no sympathetic observer there to
note the gradual darkening of his eyes like the gathering of a cloud
heavy with the coming storm.
"I pray you messieurs let us cease the argument" he said at last in
a loud impatient voice. "M. le Vicomte de Marny desires a further
lesson and by God! he shall have it. En garde M. le Vicomte!"
The crowd quickly drew back. The seconds once more assumed the bearing
and imperturbable expression which their important function demanded.
The hubbub ceased as the swords began to clash.
Everyone felt that farce was turning to tragedy.
And yet it was obvious from the first that Deroulede merely meant once
more to disarm his antagonist to give him one more lesson a little
more severe perhaps than the last. He was such a briljant swordsman
and De Marny was so excited that the advantage was with him from the
How it all happened nobody afterwards could say. There is no doubt
that the little Vicomte's sword-play had become more and more wild:
that he uncovered himself in the most reckless way whilst lunging
wildly at his opponent's breast until at last in one of these mad
unguarded moments he seemed literally to throw himself upon Deroulede's
The latter tried with lightning-swift motion of the wrist to avoid the
fatal issue but it was too late and without a sigh or groan scarce a
tremor the Vicomte de Marny fell.
The sword dropped out of his hand and it was Deroulede himself who caught
the boy in his arms.
It had all occurred so quickly and suddenly that no one had realised it
all until it was over and the lad was lying prone on the ground his
elegant blue satin coat stained with red and his antagonist bending
There was nothing more to be done. Etiquette demanded that Deroulede
should withdraw. He was not allowed to do anything for the boy whom he
had so unwillingly sent to his death.
As before no one took much notice of him. Silence the awesome
silence caused by the presence of the great Master fell upon all those
around. Only in the far corner a shrill voice was heard to say:
"I hold you at five hundred louis Marquis. The parvenu is a good
The groups parted as Deroulede walked out of the room followed by the
Colonel and M. de Quettare who stood by him to the last. Both were
old and proved soldiers both had chivalry and courage in them with
which to do tribute to the brave man whom they had seconded.
At the door of the establishment they met the leech who had been
summoned some little time ago to hold himself in readiness for any
The great eventuality had occurred: it was beyond the leech's learning.
In the brilliantly lighted saloon above the only son of the Duc de
Marny was breathing his last whilst Deroulede wrapping his mantle closely
round him strode out into the dark street all alone.
The head of the house of Marny was at this time barely seventy years of
age. But he had lived every hour every minute of his life from the
day when the Grand Monarque gave him his first appointment as gentleman
page in waiting when he was a mere lad barely twelve years of age to
the moment - some ten years ago now - when Nature's relentless hand
struck him down in the midst of his pleasures withered him in a flash
as she does a sturdy old oak and nailed him - a cripple almost a
dotard - to the invalid chair which he would only quit for his last
Juliette was then a mere slip of a girl an old man's child the spoilt
darling of his last happy years. She had retained some of the
melancholy which had characterised her mother the gentle lady who had
endured so much so patiently and who had bequeathed this final tender
burden - her baby girl - to the briljant handsome husband whom she had
so deeply loved and so often forgiven.
When the Duc de Marny entered the final awesome stage of his gilded
career that deathlike life which he dragged on for ten years wearily
to the grave Juliette became his only joy his one gleam of happiness
in the midst of torturing memories.
In her deep tender eyes he would see mirrored the present the future
for her and would forget his past with all its gaieties its mad
merry years that meant nothing now but bitter regrets and endless
rosary of the might-have-beens.
And then there was the boy. The little Vicomte the future Duc de
Marny who would in _his_ life and with _his_ youth recreate the glory
of the family and make France once more ring with the echo of brave
deeds and gallant adventures which had made the name of Marny so
glorious in camp and court.
The Vicomte was not his father's love but he was his father's pride
and from the depths of his huge cushioned arm-chair the old man would
listen with delight to stories from Versailles and Paris the young
Queen and the fascinating Lamballe the latest play and the newest star
in the theatrical firmament. His feeble tottering mind would then
take him back along the paths of memory to his own youth and his own
triumphs and in the joy and pride in his son he would forget himself
for the sake of the boy.
When they brought the Vicomte home that night Juliette was the first