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Page:Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869) v1.djvu/321

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BARKILPHEDRO IN AMBUSCADE.

circumstance that can aid him is the quality which distinguishes the able scoundrel, and elevates the villain into the demon. To make yourself master of circumstances, that is true genius. The real scoundrel strikes you with the first stone he can pick up. Clever malefactors count on the unexpected, that strange accomplice in so many crimes; they grasp the incident and leap on it: there is no better Ars poetica for this species of talent. Meanwhile be sure with whom you have to deal; survey the ground carefully.

With Barkilphedro the ground was Queen Anne. Barkilphedro approached the queen, and so close that sometimes he fancied he heard the monologues of her Majesty. Sometimes he was present at conversations between the sisters; neither did they forbid his slipping in a word now and then. He profited by this to disparage himself,—a way of inspiring confidence. One day in the garden at Hampton Court, being behind the duchess, who was behind the queen, he heard Anne enunciate this sentiment:—

"Brute beasts are fortunate; they run no risk of going to hell."

"They are there already," replied Josiana.

This answer, which bluntly substituted philosophy for religion, displeased the queen. If, perchance, there was any meaning in the observation, Anne felt that she ought to appear shocked.

"My dear," said she to Josiana, "we talk of hell like a couple of fools. We had better ask Barkilphedro about it. He ought to know all about such things."

"As a devil?" said Josiana.

"As a beast," replied Barkilphedro, with a bow.

"Madam," said the queen to Josiana, "he is cleverer than we."

For a man like Barkilphedro to approach the queen