Escal Vigor/Part I/Chapter VIII

VIII.

Together with Blandine, the Count had taken with him to Escal Vigor his only servant, the same who had accompanied him at the time of the carriage accident.

Thibaut Landrillon, son of an Ardennes forest guard, was a solid, squat, thick-set man, not badly made. Having passed a long time in barracks he had retained something of the reveller and the libertine, a "breaker of dishes and of hearts," as he used to say, in his jargon of the guard-room. His face was round, his eyes brown and very sharp and lively, having in them a sort of moist expression of lubricity; he had a small nervous nose, like a King Charles pug-dog, thick lips of the hue of red lead, the sign at once of cruelty and sensuality; a slight moustache; reddish cheeks with a menacing look of inflammation about them; small, hairy satyr's ears; hair coarse, like brushwood; his style of talking was thick and bantering; his hips rolling, his legs crooked. A free-liver of a low class, he concealed under an appearance of rough honesty and an affected air of goodfellowship, a rapacious and crafty spirit.

His scurrilous manners, his vulgar and sarcastic sallies, had, however, the power of amusing and diverting the ever pensive and pre-occupied master of Escal-Vigor, just as the court jesters and buffoons in former days beguiled and dissipated the melancholy, or latent remorse, of tyrants. A vicious wanton, who had wallowed in the gutters of debauchery, a stable-boy from head to foot, his morals smelling as much of the dunghill as his cloth over-all and high boots, the fellow reeked of the very dregs of the populace. The cap stuck on the side of his head resembled the cap of a trooper. Ever with his hands thrust deep in his breeches' pockets, a short clay-pipe stuck in the corner of his mouth, or a quid of tobacco wandering from one cheek to the other, he would surround himself with acidulous streams of saliva, or suffocating volumes of smoke, from which his vocabulary seemed to derive its lively flavour and vivid colour.

No kindness would have touched, or softened him. As regards his master, who had picked him up out of the dirt, in spite of a shady character and deplorable references, he nourished the envy, ill-will and rancour, of a beggar against a rich man, and of a common rascal against a well-born gentleman; a ferocious angriness disguised under the devil-may-carishness of a street arab. His disinterested airs masked an unbridled hankering after trivial luxuries, for temperaments of this stamp covet those purely physical sensations exclusively, which the possession of gold can alone procure. As for the intellectual pleasures which Kehlmark enjoyed, Landrillon held them as so many frivolities.

The Count permitted a great deal of latitude to this rascal. He smiled as Landrillon rattled off his doughty deeds as a frequenter of low lodging-houses and an explorer of garrets. But, where Landrillon showed himself particularly incomparable was in his out-breaks as a woman-hater, in his paradoxical and disparaging tirades against a sex, which all the same, if he was to be believed, had never been sparing in its favors to him.

Whilst they lived in town, Landrillon was not lodged in the Dowager's house, but above the stables situated at some distance from the villa, as Madame de Kehlmark had never been able to support his monkeyish grimaces.

At present the fellow was well established in the house, and, as the soldier's saying goes, if he concealed his play he had at least well drawn up his plan. Not likely that he would be content all his life with the pickings and perquisites of an unfaithful domestic! The groom had projects of quite other importance. If rough Claudie aimed at becoming the Countess of Kehlmark, Landrillon was looking forward to espousing the housekeeper of the château. It goes without saying that he had guessed, from the first, the liaison between Henry and Blandine; but not at all ill-stomached at that, he would be well content with the leavings of his master. The manageress of Escal-Vigor was a sufficiently appetising wench in the eyes of our amateur, but he would marry her above all, for the love of the "splendid bit of spoof which she had managed to ring out of the old woman." On his side, our executioner of hearts considered he had not drawn a bad number in the lottery of personal advantages, and, moreover, he possessed into the bargain, some rather fat savings.

With all this, the honest-mannered Blandine commanded in the mind of the swaggering astonisher of trashy hussies, no small amount of respect. "Ah," he ruminated, "she has the looks of a real lady, the damsel!" No doubt of it, she'd do him credit commodiously installed behind the zinc counter of a fashionable sporting bar, that should be the resort and meeting-house of bookmakers and their dupes.

"But you must begin, my boy, by getting the individual to like you," said Landrillon to himself. So far, sharing the dislike of the late Countess, she had shown the valet scant sympathy; but Thibaut Heartsmasher was not the man to suffer himself to be easily put off. Besides, there was no hurry, he had plenty of time.

Possibly she was still cheating herself with some matrimonial illusion in the direction of Kehlmark! Thibaut was much astonished to see her, now a person of independent means, accompany Kehlmark to Smaragdis. It was that even, which decided him to go with them.

"Hang it!" said he to himself. "If she sticks with the boss, it's only because she flatters herself on being able to ensnare him. Rotten counting, all the same! The youngster seems to have taken his bellyful of her! Devil a bit of chance that he'll ever marry you, my girl!"—"But, I catch on," he ruminated another day, pulling his nose, which, with him, was a sign of satisfaction! "the sly hussy thinks to round out her money-bag by taking the management of the house. No bad taste that! We'll only hit it off together all the better."

The scoundrel reckoned up everybody else's conscience by the scale of his own. Such artful villains miss the scent entirely when it is a matter of discovering noble motives.

At Escal-Vigor he resolved to push his point without further hesitation. Neglected by the Dykgrave and feeling weary and the time tedious Mrs Housekeeper might perhaps be more inclined to lend an ear to the declarations of the gallant coachman. If the minx should continue to entrench herself behind grand airs and to drape herself in virtue, the fellow hoped to reach his ends by other arguments; should patience and persuasion fail to win him his ends, he had quite made up his mind to take her by surprise and enjoy her by main force. Where would be the harm? Good heavens, she might have fallen in with a male much more repulsive than he! As regards personal advantages, the coachman considered himself at least the equal of his master. The fair one would thus lose nothing over the exchange.

Kehlmark continued to put up with the tone and manners of this free-mouthed jack-a-napes, as to whose real character and disposition he was completely mistaken. The Count was even minded to believe that the licentiousness and cynicism of the fellow were the result of an excess of frankness and a largeness of views, almost philosophic, and analogous some what to his own ideas.

The Count had moreover, been touched by the eagerness with which the domestic had agreed to quit the capital and accompany him to Smaragdis:

"So thou, too, wilt come and bury thyself with me on this gull's perch, my poor Thibaut? Well, that's not bad of thee!"

He was far from imagining the real springs of action in the ruffian's mind, his utter blindness even going so far as to consider his fidelity and devotion as on a par with that of the noble Blandine. In truth, he would perhaps have less easily spared the snakish, petulant presence of the valet, than the enveloping tenderness and devoted fervour of Blandine.

The reader will better understand from the sequel how it was that the raillery, perpetual sarcasms, and blasphemies of this low-minded rogue soothed the Dykgrave's embittered spirit. It will be seen too, how such an affectionate, subtle, and passionate nature tolerated so long the vicinity of this perfectly hoggish character, who was incapable of comprehending any love whatsoever, and whose experiences of sexual relationship had been, all his life, confined to the atmosphere of tripe-shops and brothels.