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177 I started from my seat; we bowed, and, stretching out a hand to the fire, Doltaire said, “Ah, my captain, we meet too seldom. Let me see: five months—ah yes, nearly five months. Believe me, I have not breakfasted so heartily since. You are looking older—older. Solitude to the active mind is not to be endured alone—no.” “Monsieur Doltaire is the surgeon to my solitude,” said I. “H’m!” he answered, “a jail surgeon merely. And that brings me to a point, monsieur. I have had letters from France. The Grande Marquise—I may as well be frank with you—womanlike, yearns violently for those silly letters which you hold. She would sell our France for them. There is a chance for you who would serve your country so. Serve it, and yourself—and me. We have no news yet as to your doom, but be sure it is certain. La Pompadour knows all, and if you are stubborn, twenty deaths were too few. I can save you little longer, even were it my will so to do. For myself, the great lady girds at me for being so poor an agent. You, monsieur”—he smiled whimsically—“will agree that I have been persistent—and intelligent.” “So much so,” rejoined I, “as to be intrusive.” He smiled again. “If La Pompadour could hear you, she would understand why I prefer the live amusing lion to the dead dog. When you are gone, I shall be inconsolable. I am a born inquisitor.” Chapter XV In the Chamber of Torture 178 “You were born for better things than this,” I answered. He took a seat and mused for a moment. “For larger things, you mean,” was his reply. “Perhaps—perhaps. I have one gift of the strong man—I am inexorable when I make for my end. As a general, I would pour men into the maw of death as corn into the hopper, if that would build a bridge to my end. You call to mind how those Spaniards conquered the Mexique city which was all canals like Venice? They filled the waterways with shattered houses and the bodies of their enemies, as they fought their way to Montezuma’s palace. So I would know not pity if I had a great cause. In anything vital I would have success at all cost, and to get, destroy as I went—if I were a great man.” I thought with horror of his pursuit of my dear Alixe. “I am your hunter,” had been his words to her, and I knew not what had happened in all these months. “If you were a great man, you should have the best prerogative of greatness,” I remarked quietly. “And what is that? Some excellent moral, I doubt not,” was the rejoinder. “Mercy,” I replied. “Tush!” he retorted, “mercy is for the fireside, not for the throne. In great causes, what is a screw of tyranny here, a bolt of oppression there, or a few thousand lives!” He suddenly got to his feet, and, looking into the distance, made a swift motion of his hand, his eyes half closed, his brows brooding and firm. “I should look beyond the moment, the year, or the generation. Why fret because the hour of death comes sooner than we looked for? In the movement of the ponderous car some honest folk must be crushed by the wicked wheels. No, no, in large affairs there must be no thought of the detail of misery, else what should be done in the world! He who is the strongest shall survive, and he alone. It is all conflict—all. For when conflict ceases, and those who could and should be great spend their time chasing butterflies among the fountains, there comes miasma and their doom. Mercy? Mercy? No, 179 no: for none but the poor and sick and overridden, in time of peace; in time of war, mercy for none, pity nowhere, till the joybells ring the great man home.” “But mercy to women always,” said I, “in war or peace.” He withdrew his eyes as if from a distant prospect, and they dropped to the stove, where I had corn parching. He nodded, as if amused, but did not answer at once, and taking from my hand the feather with which I stirred the corn, softly whisked some off for himself, and smiled at the remaining kernels as they danced upon the hot iron. After a...


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