Love's Logic and Other Stories/"La Mort à la Mode"

Death à la mode.

LA MORT À LA MODE[1]

MONSIEUR LE DUC—MADAME LA MARQUISE

(The tumbril is the last of a row of several some of which have left, some of which stand at, the gates of the Conciergerie. The others are full, in this the Duc is alone. At the beginning of the conversation the tumbril stands still, later it is moving slowly, escorted through a turbulent crowd by National Guards to its destination in the Place Louis Quinze (Place de la Revolution.) The time is noon of a fine day during the Reign of Terror.)

DUC. Alone! My luck holds to the last. They're close as fish in a tub in the others—and by strange chance every man next to his worst enemy—or at least his best friend's husband! These rascals have no consideration. Ah, somebody coming here! I've to have company after all. A woman, too—deuce take it! (A lady is assisted into the tumbril. The Duc rises, bows, and starts.) Marquise! (The lady sinks on the bench across the tumbril.) You here! (He takes snuff and murmurs:) Awkward! (Pauses and murmurs again:) Even her! Curse the hounds!

Marquise. I—I heard you had escaped.

Duc. Ah, madame, I can no longer expect justice from you—only mercy. And—excuse me—M. le Marquis?

Marquise. He—he has gone——

Duc. Ah yes, yes. He went before us? I remember now. Er—my condolences. Marquise. But on what pretext are you——?

Marquise. They say that, as his wife, I shared his designs and was in his confidence.

Duc. How little they know of the world! (Smiling.) As his wife—In his confidence! How simple the blackguards are! (Looks at her.) I protest I feel my presence inopportune.

Marquise. No. (She holds out a little silver box.) Will you hold this for me? (He takes it.) You may look. (Opening it he finds rouge and a powder-puff. The Marquise smiles faintly.)

Duc. (Shutting box.) On my honor you've no need of it this morning. Your cheeks display the most charming flush. Ah, we move. (She starts.) Yes, yes, it jolts horribly. But I won't drop the rouge.

Marquise. Will it take long?

Duc. It? (Shrugs his shoulders.) Oh, before you know—before you know!

Marquise. No, no—I mean the journey.

Duc. Ah, the journey! It will seem short now. Before you came, I feared the tedium—though the crowd's amusing enough. Look at that fellow! Why in heaven's name does he shake his fist at me? He's not one of my people, not even from my province. (Smiles at the crowd and seats himself by the Marquise.) You're silent. Ah, I remember, now I remember! When we parted last, you vowed you'd never speak to me again.

Marquise. I thought I never should.

Duc. The things we think we never shall do include all the most delightful things we do.

Marquise. You seem to flatter yourself, monsieur. I meant what I said then; but times are changed.

Duc. Faith, yes! The times more than I.

Marquise. More than you? Ah, changeful times!

Duc. And their changes bring more grief than any of mine could.

Marquise. Oh, as for grief—! It was your rudeness I deplored, more than my loss.

Duc. I am never rude, madame. I may have been——

Marquise. (Low.) Unfaithful?

Duc. (Low.) (Unworthy, madame. (She looks at him for a moment and sighs. He smiles and is about to speak when a great shout is heard from the direction of the Place Louis Quinze. She starts turns a little pale, and involuntarily stretches out a hand to him.)

Marquise. What's that? What's happening?

Duc. Oh, they're excited! In truth, my dear Marquise, I have long wished—

Marquise. No, no—what was the shouting?

Duc. Well—er—in fact, I imagine that the first of our friends must have arrived.

Marquise. (Low.) Arrived! (He smiles, takes her hand and kisses it, then holds out the rouge-box with an air of mockery.) No, no—I won't.

Duc. Why, no! We've no need of it. Let me bring the color to your cheeks. Once on a time I—well, at least I have been there when it came. Ah, it comes now! Listen to me. I have long wished to——

Marquise. To explain?

Duc. (Smiling.) Ah, you were always a little—a little—exacting. No, no; nobody can explain these things. I wished only to——

Marquise. You daren't apologize!

Duc. Ah, and you never were quite just to my good breeding. No again! I wished to tell you frankly that I made a very great mistake. (A voice from the crowd shouts ""To Hell with them!" The Duc laughs.) The Church's prerogatives follow the King's! Ah well! A terrible mistake. Marquise.

Marquise. (Low hut eagerly.) You suspected me of—? Was that why you——?

Duc. No. I suspected her.

Marquise. Her? But of what?

Duc. Of wit, madame, and of charm. I was most unjust.

Marquise. (Smiling.) And not perhaps of one other thing—in which respect you were unjust too?

Duc. (Looking at her a moment and then smiling.) No, no—on my honor I was not refused.

Marquise. Oh, not refused! (She turns away.)

Duc. Shall I tell you the reason of that?

Marquise. Can't I—I at least—guess the reason?

Duc. You least of all can guess it. I did not ask, Marquise.

Marquise. (Turning quickly to him.) You didn't——?

Duc. On my word, no. You'll ask me why not?

Marquise Why not, indeed? It was unlike you, monsieur.

Duc. I thought of you—and behold, it became impossible. At the moment your image—(Another great shout is heard.) Hum, they never get tired of the sight, it seems. (He glances at the Marquise, but she has not noticed the shout. He takes her hand and presses it gently.)

Marquise. It is true? You ought to tell the truth now.

Duc. Now? (Laughs.) Ah, yes!

Marquise. Really true? (She draws her hand away sharply.)

Duc. You don't believe me?

Marquise. Yes, I believe you. But—but how stupid you were, monsieur!

Duc. Eh?

Marquise. How stupid you were, monsieur.

Duc. True. (Takes snuff.) True, by heaven! I was—monstrous stupid.

Marquise. To think that you could——

Duc. Love her?

Marquise. Forget me, monsieur. Alas, I lose all my pride in——(Pauses.)

Duc. In——? (Pauses. They smile and she blushes.)

Marquise. In any compliments you may have paid me.

Duc. (Softly.) You won't forgive me? Well, it's the fashion now. I must die twice to-day?

Marquise. Twice—die twice! (Looks at him and trembles a little.) I—I had almost forgotten what—where we were. (A fierce shout is heard, sounding nearer now.) Louis, they'll—they'll do nothing worse than—kill me? You don't answer, Louis!

Duc. Yes, yes. There's no fear—no fear of that.

Marquise. But you hesitated.

Duc. (Low.) If we must talk of death, pray let it be of mine. (She glances at him and lays her hand on his for a moment.) Yours seems too—too—(Smiles.) I want a word. Well, too incongruous, dear Marquise.

Marquise. I have confessed—and forgiven all my enemies.

Duc. Am I your enemy? Have you no forgiveness left for friends? (She looks at him gravely for a moment then smiles reluctantly.) Why, we were growing grave! That would be a bad ending.

Marquise. The most seemly ending!

Duc. For me? Oh, oh. Marquise! They'd think they'd got hold of the wrong man. Your hand's a trifle cold.

Marquise. (Laughing nervously.) Well, if it is? We've stopped again! Are we near now?

Duc. At the entrance of the Place I believe. (Looks at her and goes on quickly.) You and I have walked here together before now. You remember? Alone together—so often. (Rises.) Forgive me—as you face toward the Place the sun is in your eyes. Pray sit the other way. It's pleasanter to look toward the river—cooler to the eye. You remember our walks, dear Marquise?

Marquise. You still look toward the Place though.

Duc. (Laughing.) Why yes! I can't have the dogs saying I daren't——

Marquise. Are they to say it of me then, monsieur? (She rises and stands by him, looking toward the Place where the scaffold is now visible.)

Duc. (Removing his hat and bowing humbly.) I beg your pardon.

Marquise. (Very low.) Dear Louis, dear Louis——!

Duc. I thought life done. I was wrong a thousand times——!

Marquise. I cried when you——

Duc. Ah, if I beg them to torture me—Would that atone?

Marquise. They found me crying. Think of the humiliation!

Duc. Oh, I must have a talk with a priest—after all I must! (She turns away with a sob and then a gasping laugh.) Aye, that's life, dearest Marquise—and perhaps it's the other thing too.

Marquise. I care less now, Louis.

Duc. Give me your hand a minute. Yes, it's warmer now. And the rouge—why, madame, I swear the rouge is utterly superfluous! Shall we throw it to the mob? It's their favorite color. I'll leave it in the cart—when they turn on one another, some hero may be glad of it. Margot, dear Margot, are you cold? I thought you shivered as your arm touched mine.

Marquise. (Low.) No. I'm—I'm just a little afraid, Louis.

Duc. Oh, no, no, no—Margot, no. You're cold. Or—(Smiling.) Come, flatter me. Say it's agitation—say it's joy. Come, Margot, say that!

Marquise. (Drawing nearer.) They didn't know what they were doing when they sent me with you.

Duc. The ignorance of the fellows is extraordinary

Marquise. Because—everybody knew.

Duc. Alas, I was never too discreet! (More shouts are heard. The Guard in charge of the tumbril cries "Ready? We're the last") Hum! For to-day, I suppose he means! (He looks at her; her lips are moving. He takes off his hat and stands bareheaded. The movement of her lips ceases and she turns to him. He smiles.) I think you can have little need of prayer.

Marquise. You say that? You?

Duc. Yes, I say that, Margot. (They are at the foot of the scaffold now.) As for me—well, I have always followed the fashion—and prayers are not the fashion now. I was bitten by M. de Voltaire. By the way, perhaps he's had something to do with this—and we made him the fashion! How whimsical! (The National Guard turns and points his finger toward the scaffold.) What? Oh, at your service, monsieur. (He turns to the Marquise, smiling.) I must leave you—this time in love.

Marquise. (Stretching out her hands.) Let me go first.

Duc. On my soul, I couldn't. (Softly.) The way is dark, let me show it you.

Marquise. Louis, Louis!

Duc. And now—look now toward the river. Pray—toward the river! I want you to remember me at my best. And—Margot—you mustn't—you mustn't want the rouge. Your hand's warm—still warm.

Marquise. (Vehemently.) I will go first. I—I can't see you—I will go first.

Duc. Your will is my law always. (She turns to descend.) It has been pleasant to come with you.

Marquise. It was—easier—to come with you.

Duc. I am forgiven, Margot?

Marquise. Louis, dear Louis! (He raises her hand to his lips. She goes. He stands bareheaded, facing the scaffold while she suffers. Then he puts his hat on and mounts the scaffold. They carry past him the basket containing her head. A priest holds a crucifix before him. He starts and bows to the priest.)

Duc. I beg your pardon, father, but—I knew the lady very well. She died bravely, eh? Pardon? Think how we have lived as well as how we die? Yes, yes; most just and—er—apposite. Die truly penitent? Ah yes, yes. Forgive me—I'm not master of my time. (He bows and turns to the executioner and his assistants.) Don't keep me waiting. My desire is to follow Madame la Marquise. What? "The woman died well!" God save us—the woman! Well, as you please. Shall we say—(He places himself beneath the knife.) Shall we say, Margot? Nobody was ever like Margot. (Smiles, then looks up.) Well? Oh, you wait for me. Good! Messieurs, allez!

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