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37 A s I entered the Intendant’s palace with Doltaire I had a singular feeling of elation. My spirits rose unaccountably, and I felt as though it were a fête night, and the day’s duty over, the hour of play was come. I must needs have felt ashamed of it then, and now, were I not sure it was some unbidden operation of the senses. Maybe a merciful Spirit sees how, left alone, we should have stumbled and lost ourselves in our own gloom, and so gives us a new temper fitted to our needs. I remember that at the great door I turned back and smiled upon the ruined granary, and sniffed the air laden with the scent of burnt corn—the people’s bread; that I saw old men and women who could not be moved by news of victory, shaking with cold, even beside this vast furnace, and peevishly babbling of their hunger, and I did not say, “Poor souls!” that for a time the power to feel my own misfortunes seemed gone, and a hard, light indifference came on me. For it is true I came into the great dining-hall, and looked upon the long loaded table, with its hundred candles, its flagons and pitchers of wine, and on the faces of so many idle, careless gentlemen bid to a carouse, with a manner, I believe, as reckless and jaunty as their own. And I kept it up, though I saw it was not what they had looked for. I did not at once know who was there, but presently, at a distance from Chapter III The Wager and the Sword 38 me, I saw the face of Juste Duvarney, the brother of my sweet Alixe, a man of but twenty or so, who had a name for wildness, for no badness that I ever heard of, and for a fiery temper. He was in the service of the Governor, an ensign. He had been little at home since I had come to Quebec, having been employed up to the past year in the service of the Governor of Montreal. We bowed, but he made no motion to come to me, and the Intendant engaged me almost at once in gossip of the town; suddenly, however, diverging upon some questions of public tactics and civic government. He much surprised me, for though I knew him brave and able, I had never thought of him save as the adroit politician and servant of the King, the tyrant and the libertine. I might have known by that very scene a few hours before that he had a wide, deep knowledge of human nature, and despised it; unlike Doltaire, who had a keener mind, was more refined even in wickedness, and, knowing the world, laughed at it more than he despised it, which was the sign of the greater mind. And indeed, in spite of all the causes I had to hate Doltaire, it is but just to say he had by nature all the large gifts—misused and disordered as they were. He was the product of his age; having no real moral sense, living life wantonly, making his own law of right or wrong. As a lad, I was taught to think the evil person carried evil in his face, repelling the healthy mind; but long ago I found that this was error. I had no reason to admire Doltaire, and yet to this hour his handsome face, with its shadows and shifting lights, haunts me, charms me. The thought came to me as I talked with the Intendant, and I looked round the room. Some present were of coarse calibre—bushranging sons of seigneurs and petty nobles, dashing and profane, and something barbarous; but most had gifts of person and speech, and all seemed capable. My spirits continued high. I sprang alertly to meet wit and gossip, my mind ran nimbly here and there, I filled the rôle of honoured guest. But when came the table and wine, a change befell me. From the first drop I drank, my spirits suffered a decline. On one side the Intendant 39 rallied me, on the other Doltaire. I ate on, drank on; but while smiling by the force of will, I grew graver little by little. Yet it was a gravity which had no apparent motive, for I was not thinking of my troubles, not even of the night’s stake and the...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781771120456
Related ISBN
9781771120449
MARC Record
OCLC
966771243
Pages
408
Launched on MUSE
2017-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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