Scaramouche (2 of 153)
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But because Andre-Louis was Philippe's dearest friend - indeed, his almost brother - the young seminarist sought him out in the first instance. He found him at breakfast alone in the long, low-ceilinged, white-panelled dining-room at Rabouillet's - the only home that Andre-Louis had ever known - and after embracing him, deafened him with his denunciation of M. de La Tour d'Azyr.
"I have heard of it already," said Andre-Louis.
"You speak as if the thing had not surprised you," his friend reproached him.
"Nothing beastly can surprise me when done by a beast. And La Tour d'Azyr is a beast, as all the world knows. The more fool Mabey for stealing his pheasants. He should have stolen somebody else's."
"Is that all you have to say about it?"
"What more is there to say? I've a practical mind, I hope."
"What more there is to say I propose to say to your godfather, M. de Kercadiou. I shall appeal to him for justice."
"Against M. de La Tour d'Azyr?" Andre-Louis raised his eyebrows.
"My dear ingenuous Philippe, dog doesn't eat dog."
"You are unjust to your godfather. He is a humane man."
"Oh, as humane as you please. But this isn't a question of humanity. It's a question of game-laws."
M. de Vilmorin tossed his long arms to Heaven in disgust. He was a tall, slender young gentleman, a year or two younger than Andre-Louis. He was very soberly dressed in black, as became a seminarist, with white bands at wrists and throat and silver buckles to his shoes. His neatly clubbed brown hair was innocent of powder.
"You talk like a lawyer," he exploded.
"Naturally. But don't waste anger on me on that account. Tell me what you want me to do."
"I want you to come to M. de Kercadiou with me, and to use your influence to obtain justice. I suppose I am asking too much."
"My dear Philippe, I exist to serve you. I warn you that it is a futile quest; but give me leave to finish my breakfast, and I am at your orders."
M. de Vilmorin dropped into a winged armchair by the well-swept hearth, on which a piled-up fire of pine logs was burning cheerily. And whilst he waited now he gave his friend the latest news of the events in Rennes. Young, ardent, enthusiastic, and inspired by Utopian ideals, he passionately denounced the rebellious attitude of the privileged.
Andre-Louis, already fully aware of the trend of feeling in the ranks of an order in whose deliberations he took part as the representative of a nobleman, was not at all surprised by what he heard. M. de Vilmorin found it exasperating that his friend should apparently decline to share his own indignation.
"Don't you see what it means?" he cried. "The nobles, by disobeying the King, are striking at the very foundations of the throne. Don't they perceive that their very existence depends upon it; that if the throne falls over, it is they who stand nearest to it who will be crushed? Don't they see that?"
"Evidently not. They are just governing classes, and I never heard of governing classes that had eyes for anything but their own profit."
"That is our grievance. That is what we are going to change."
"You are going to abolish governing classes? An interesting experiment. I believe it was the original plan of creation, and it might have succeeded but for Cain."
"What we are going to do," said M. de Vilmorin, curbing his exasperation, "is to transfer the government to other hands."
"And you think that will make a difference?"
"I know it will."
"Ah! I take it that being now in minor orders, you already possess the confidence of the Almighty. He will have confided to you His intention of changing the pattern of mankind."
M. de Vilmorin's fine ascetic face grew overcast. "You are profane, Andre," he reproved his friend.
"I assure you that I am quite serious. To do what you imply would require nothing short of divine intervention. You must change man, not systems. Can you and our vapouring friends of the Literary Chamber of Rennes, or any other learned society of France, devise a system of government that has never yet been tried? Surely not. And can they say of any system tried that it proved other than a failure in the end? My dear Philippe, the future is to be read with certainty only in the past. Ab actu ad posse valet consecutio. Man never changes. He is always greedy, always acquisitive, always vile. I am speaking of Man in the bulk."