Your lordship knows me too well to suppose I could stoop to such ignominy. I must leave out all my defence-- your lordship wills it so! I do not know what are my faults; I know only my punishment, and it is greater than I have the courage to face. My uncle, I implore your pity: pardon me so far; do not send me for life into a debtors' jail--a pauper debtor.'
'Chat et vieux, pardonnez?' said my uncle, quoting from La Fontaine; and then, opening a pale-blue eye full on Alain, he delivered with some emphasis:
'La jeunesse se flatte et croit tout obtenir; La vieillesse est impitoyable.'
The blood leaped darkly into Alain's face. He turned to Romaine and me, and his eyes flashed.
'It is your turn now,' he said. 'At least it shall be prison for prison with the two viscounts.'
'Not so, Mr. Alain, by your leave,' said Romaine. 'There are a few formalities to be considered first.'
But Alain was already striding towards the door.
'Stop a moment, stop a moment!' cried Romaine. 'Remember your own counsel not to despise an adversary.'
'If I do not despise I hate you!' he cried, giving a loose to his passion. 'Be warned of that, both of you.'
'I understand you to threaten Monsieur le Vicomte Anne,' said the lawyer. 'Do you know, I would not do that. I am afraid, I am very much afraid, if you were to do as you propose, you might drive me into extremes.'
'You have made me a beggar and a bankrupt,' said Alain. What extreme is left?'
'I scarce like to put a name upon it in this company,' replied Romaine. 'But there are worse things than even bankruptcy, and worse places than a debtors' jail.'
The words were so significantly said that there went a visible thrill through Alain; sudden as a sword-stroke, he fell pale again.
'I do not understand you,' said he.
'O yes, you do,' returned Romaine. 'I believe you understand me very well. You must not suppose that all this time, while you were so very busy, others were entirely idle. You must not fancy, because I am an Englishman, that I have not the intelligence to pursue an inquiry. Great as is my regard for the honour of your house, M. Alain de St.-Yves, if I hear of you moving directly or indirectly in this matter, I shall do my duty, let it cost what it will: that is, I shall communicate the real name of the Buonapartist spy who signs his letters Rue Gregoire de Tours.'
I confess my heart was already almost altogether on the side of my insulted and unhappy cousin; and if it had not been before, it must have been so now, so horrid was the shock with which he heard his infamy exposed. Speech was denied him; he carried his hand to his neckcloth; he staggered; I thought he must have fallen. I ran to help him, and at that he revived, recoiled before me, and stood there with arms stretched forth as if to preserve himself from the outrage of my touch.
'Hands off!' he somehow managed to articulate.
'You will now, I hope,' pursued the lawyer, without any change of voice, 'understand the position in which you are placed, and how delicately it behoves you to conduct yourself. Your arrest hangs, if I may so express myself, by a hair; and as you will be under the perpetual vigilance of myself and my agents, you must look to it narrowly that you walk straight. Upon the least dubiety, I will take action.' He snuffed, looking critically at the tortured man. 'And now let me remind you that your chaise is at the door. This interview is agitating to his lordship--it cannot be agreeable for you--and I suggest that it need not be further drawn out. It does not enter into the views of your uncle, the Count, that you should again sleep under this roof.'
As Alain turned and passed without a word or a sign from the apartment, I instantly followed. I suppose I must be at bottom possessed of some humanity; at least, this accumulated torture, this slow butchery of a man as by quarters of rock, had wholly changed my sympathies. At that moment I loathed both my uncle and the lawyer for their coldblooded cruelty.