The Ruse of Madame Martin by Edmund Leamy

Nature was a little unkind to Danton Martin when it encased a great soul in a small body; and Love, which can also play fantastic tricks, had mated him with a wife fully a head over him and otherwise of ample proportions, of whom, not without reason, he was very proud. She was uncommonly handsome, had a fine figure, and knew how to make the most of it; and if at times he felt rebuked by Madame’s superior size, there was, by way of compensation, their only child, Lucille, who was just home from the convent, and who was no taller than her father, and was a perfect copy of her mother’s beauty. Her little face was as bright as a summer day without its sameness, and its sparkling vivacity had turned the heads of all the young fellows of Merploer; and when Monsieur Martin was seated with his little Lucille beside him on the Place, on the days on which the band played, and saw the many admiring glances cast in her direction, he felt as proud as a king on his throne.

Not, indeed, that he was a respector of kings, quite the contrary. He was, as he asserted, a republican of the republicans. Did not, he would ask, did not one of his ancestors take part in the storming of the Bastille? Did not another dip his handkerchief in the blood of Monsieur Veto, and coming to later times, did not Martin père fall wounded in the fusilade of the coup d’état of “Napoleon the Little,” and did he not quit France rather than live under a hated Empire, and return to it only when the Republic was once more built on the ruins of a throne? Alas, there were not wanting some to hint that the wound was a myth, and that he went to England solely to better himself, and came back only when he had secured a competence, if not a fortune. Be this as it may, Martin père married the daughter of a rich shipowner in Merploer, and as a proof of his republican faith he gave to his only son the name of Danton.

Danton Martin did his best to live up to the great name, but it was no easy task in quiet times of peace and slow reform, and the republican sentiment of Merploer was sluggish if not almost stagnant.

Danton Martin had his hours of despondency, and at times he would, in the solitude of his dressing-room, but not always unperceived by Madame, stand before the mirror and, endeavouring to assume a leonine aspect, strike his chest and recall the famous words which had been uttered at the foot of the scaffold, “Danton, no weakness!”

Inspired by the great name and example, Danton Martin founded a political club in Merploer at “Le Vieux Corsaire.” Its object was to disseminate true republican principles. Its motto “The Republic One and Indivisible.”

Every member of the club who saluted a fellow member was bound to follow up the salute with the aspiration “Long live the Republic,” to which the invariable rejoinder was “One and Indivisible.”

This phrase had a special virtue in Danton Martin’s eyes. By a Republic One and Indivisible he meant one that should be supreme over the minds of all true Frenchmen, and that should brook no rival to its influence. Therefore what he styled the pretensions of the Church were to be beaten down. Again and again he proclaimed these views at “Le Vieux Corsaire,” and as a public proof of his faith he caused the phrase to be inscribed round a head of Liberty carved in relief on a plaque over the front entrance to his villa, called after his little daughter “Villa Lucille.”

But, alas, there were not wanting some envious tongues to assert that Danton Martin’s republican principles went no further than his hall-door, and that inside the Villa Lucille the loud-voiced orator of “Le Vieux Corsaire” was as quiet as the proverbial church mouse.

There was something more than a grain of truth in this. Madame had not troubled herself with her husband’s views in politics until the laws suppressing the religious congregations were set in motion. When, however, matters had proceeded so far that the good Sisters, by whom she, and, subsequently, Lucille, had been educated, were turned out upon the street, Madame’s indignation knew no bounds.

“A nice kind of Republic your Republic is,” she cried to Danton; “it abandoned the provinces to Germany without striking a single blow to recover them; and the only employment it can find for its army (which, we are told, is the one hope of France) is to break into convents, and fling defenceless women into the street. Your Republic, one and indivisible, is splitting France in two. Never speak to me of it again!”

Danton winced, but was silent; he was weak enough to find extenuating circumstances for Madame’s indignation. Had she not been brought up, he said, by the Sisters, and what else could be expected from her?

The Martin marriage had been one of affection on both sides, and this was the first dark cloud which had lowered over Villa Lucille, and it was destined to become darker.

Lucille had a very dear school friend—Yolande de Lauvens—whose brother, Henri, was a lieutenant in the Engineers; and Yolande having been on a long visit to Lucille, Henri had, thanks to Madame, who had a very high opinion of the young lieutenant, many opportunities of seeing Lucille, of course always in her mother’s presence. The result was that the young people fell in love. Monsieur Martin had perceived nothing of this, and it was with genuine astonishment that he learned from Madame that the lieutenant only waited his assent to become a suitor for his daughter’s hand. He had never even suspected such a thing. More than once he had stated to his friends that he would take care that Lucille should become the wife of a true Republican, and on several occasions at the meetings at “Le Vieux Corsaire” he had declared that the Republic could not thoroughly rely upon the army until the aristocrats among the officers had been weeded out, and he would recall with glowing words the achievements of the armies of the First Republic, when the aristocrats had fled and turned their arms against their country. Lieutenant de Lauvens was an aristocrat, and on this matter Danton felt that he could not give way. His reply to Madame’s pleadings was summed up in the final sentence:

“Madame, the thing is impossible, and in this at least you shall find that Danton Martin will show no weakness!”

Danton meant to be firm, but although Madame appeared to have accepted his position as final, and Lucille said nothing, he was very unhappy, and day after day his unhappiness increased. For the first time, something had come between him and those whom he loved best in all the world.

It was, perhaps, as well for him that he was able to find some distraction in the preparations, which were being made on a grand scale, for the reception of the Minister of Marine, who was coming to Merploer on an approaching fête, and whose visit was to be the occasion of a demonstration in force of true republicanism.

One of the features of the demonstration was a procession which should pass twice along the boulevard, at the top of which stood a most conspicuous object—Villa Lucille, and Danton tried to encourage the hope that on the day of the procession the balcony would be graced by the presence of Madame and Lucille. Once or twice he hinted as much to Madame, but she received the hint in chilling silence. Danton, however, still hopeful gave orders that the balcony should be gaily decorated with evergreens and trophies of tricolour flags.

At length the night preceding the great day arrived. Danton came home very late, as he had been detained helping to perfect the arrangements for the morrow.

Assuming that all were asleep, he crept upstairs. At Lucille’s room he paused, and, leaving his candle on the landing, he gently pushed open the door that he might go in, as usual, to whisper good-night to her, as she lay asleep in her little nest, under the guardianship of a Madonna, before whose shrine a small red lamp was always burning. To-night he was surprised to find the room in utter darkness. The lamp must have gone out, he thought. He brought in his candle, and when by its light he saw the room he was hardly able to suppress an exclamation of amazement. It had undergone a complete metamorphosis. The dainty curtains had gone from the bed; the shrine had been removed, and also the pictures of the saints from the walls. Instead of these were portraits of Danton and other Titans of the great Revolution, and over Lucille’s bed was a lurid picture of the execution of Louis XVI.

Bending over the sleeping Lucille, he thought he noticed the trace of tears on her cheek. Utterly perplexed, he stole out of the room hoping to find some explanation from his wife, but she was snoring the snore of the just; and on the bedroom wall facing the door was the legend “Liberty, Fraternity, Equality—or Death.”

Danton did not dare to rouse Madame; and desirous of blotting out the words that seemed to mock him, he blew out the candle and went to bed in the dark.

After about an hour he woke with a scream.

“What is the matter, Danton?”

“Oh, nothing, chérie, I’ve had a nightmare.”

“No weakness, Danton.”

“No, chérie.”

Madame in a second or two was again snoring rhythmically, but to Danton sleep did not return so speedily. He had been dreaming of processions; then he thought he was in a tumbrel on the way to execution, and that the angry crowd with threatening gestures were hurling fierce oaths at him, and turning to escape the sight he found himself face to face with a fellow victim—it was Lucille! Although he knew now that it was only a nightmare, the horrible vision kept renewing itself, but merciful sleep came to him at last, and, when he awoke again, it was the cheery voice of the bonne offering her usual good morning to Monsieur and Madame, as she entered the bedroom with the petit déjeuner.

“Good-morning, Julie,” replied Madame; “long live the Republic!”

“One and indivisible,” replied Julie, in a solemn voice.

Danton rubbed his eyes, and he could hardly trust his ears. Julie was in the costume of a drummer boy of the First Republic!

“Good-morning, mamma!” sang a voice in the next room.

“Our birdie is awake,” said Madame; and then, in a louder tone, “Good-morning, dearest! Long live the Republic!”

“One and indivisible,” replied Lucille, and then, “Good-morning, papa!”

“Good-morning, chérie!”

“Long live the Republic,” said Lucille, gaily.

For the first time in his life the reply seemed to stick in Danton’s throat; but he got it out, “One and indivisible!” and he coughed as if his coffee had gone against his breath. When he recovered he addressed his wife, who had risen and pulled back the curtains of the balcony. “Pray, Madame, will you be good enough to explain?”

“The explanation is as simple as I hope it will be gratifying,” said Madame, in the tone of a tragedy queen. “The ‘Republic, one and indivisible’ has entered our house and taken possession of it. It has entered my bosom and taken possession of it. It has entered the bosom of Lucille and taken possession of it, and never again shall it be said that the Villa Lucille is divided against itself. Never again shall the scoffer say that the republicanism of Danton Martin stops outside his hall-door. We shall silence him to-day, Danton; we shall silence the scoffer to-day! You have asked that Lucille and I should appear on the balcony when the procession passes. We shall be there—I, as the genius of Liberty and Lucille as a daughter of the Republic. See,” continued Madame, as she moved towards a wardrobe, “here are my helmet, lance, and shield, and I have also pink tights.”

“Tights!” Danton was hardly able to gasp out the word. The idea of Madame’s ample figure in tights nearly took away his breath.

“Yes,” Madame went on, as if she had not noticed his surprise; “but I shall, of course, wear a little classic drapery out of respect for the prejudices of Lucille. But see how the helmet becomes me.”

She opened the wardrobe, and Danton saw the gleam of polished armour. She donned a helmet, slipped her left arm through a shield, and, taking a lance in her right hand, stood with her back against the wall, under the legend of “Liberty, Fraternity, Equality—or Death.”

Danton could only look; he was speechless.

“Listen, Danton, listen; do you hear the cry? ‘Vive le Drapeau Rouge!’ It is the workmen who are passing. You see I have arranged the tricolour on the balcony, so that only the red shows.”

“But, my God, Madame, the Drapeau Rouge!”

“No weakness, Danton! No weakness!”

“Rub-a-dub-a-dub!”

“What is that?” demanded Danton, as he heard the sound of a drum downstairs.

“It is Julie practising the Carmagnole.”

“The what? Are you all mad?”

“There, the baker is ringing,” said Madame, and passing by Danton, she went towards the door and called out, “Two loaves, Julie; two loaves.”

“And is Julie going to the baker in that costume?” shrieked Danton, and, attired in his pyjamas, he rushed downstairs.

“Mille diables!” he yelled, as he pulled back Julie from the hall-door. “To the kitchen, hussy.”

But Julie, lightly tapping the drum, sped upstairs to her mistress.

“Good-morning, Monsieur,” said the baker, “long live the Republic.”

“Two loaves,” replied Danton. “I am busy to-day, Monsieur,” he added, to explain his brusqueness and stop further conversation.

“Ah, yes, Monsieur Danton, you will soon have to go to the Mairie. I shall go up there myself when I shall have delivered my bread. It will be a great day for the procession. ‘Vive le Drapeau Rouge!’” And the baker waved his hand towards the balcony as Danton almost shut the door in his face.

Danton flung the loaves on the table in the hall, and again hearing the tap of a drum, this time from above, he bounded upstairs and rushed into the bedroom. There was Julie beating the drum, Lucille standing beside her in a white linen costume, sash a little below her knees, and wearing a Phrygian cap. Next her, and towering over her, was majestic Madame. Danton was beside himself. Forgetting that he had no slippers on, he kicked viciously at the drum, as he yelled to Julie to leave the room.

“To your bedroom, mademoiselle,” he cried to Lucille, who was only too glad to slip away. He confronted Madame, “It is time to put an end to this pantomime, Madame.”

“Pantomime! They are quite in earnest in the street, Monsieur. Listen, there is no mistaking the sincerity of that cry. Hear the workmen as they pass, ‘Vive le Drapeau Rouge.’”

“And you have really folded the tricolour!” exclaimed Danton, who, extreme as he was, was not yet prepared to substitute the red flag for the tricolour.

“And why not,” replied Madame; “I think of your ancestors, Danton; of him who dipped his handkerchief in the blood of Monsieur Veto; think of him who——”

“My ancestors be hanged!” cried Danton.

“They richly deserved it, I have no doubt,” replied Madame; “but what would they say at ‘Le Vieux Corsaire’ if they heard you speak in that fashion?”

“But, Madame, you cannot mean to be present in that guise on the balcony?”

“Of course not, this is my robe de nuit. I have not yet put on the tights.”

“But it is impossible for me to believe it, Madame.”

“If seeing is believing, you will believe it, Monsieur, this costume will do for the present,” and Madame, without more ado, proceeded to unlock the glass door opening on the balcony, and was apparently in the act of stepping out when Danton managed to get between her and it.

“Madame! Madame! you cannot mean this! Augustine! Augustine! Chérie!”

There was no mistaking the tenderness of his tone.

Madame took her hand from the lock.

“Ah, Danton, Danton, why did you ever allow ‘Le Vieux Corsaire’ to come between you and me—married these twenty years. I, proud of my husband always, and he, I think, had no reason to be ashamed of me.”

“My love! My pride! My noble Augustine! Nothing shall come between us.”

“But it has, Danton. Your ‘Vieux Corsaire,’ and your ‘Drapeau Rouge,’ and your ‘mangeurs de prêtres’—you have brought it all between you and me and between our child and her happiness.”

“Down with the ‘Drapeau Rouge!’ Augustine, let me disarrange that fatal flag,” and he ran to the balcony, and, with a few deft and rapid tugs, drew out the blue folds and the white folds from the festoon of bunting until the balcony was gay at every point with the hues of the orthodox and veritable tricolour. Then he rushed back into the room, his arms outspread, his eyes streaming, his breast panting, a little geyser and volcano of emotion.

“Come to my bosom, my Augustine! Lucille, where art thou?”

Lucille ran to him.

“Thy father is an ogre. Oh, no, no; no more! Thou shalt have thy lieutenant, the choice of thine own heart, my child, and thy father’s blessing a thousand thousand times. Nothing shall come between us again, Augustine. Thy Danton is thine, and thine only—thine and Lucille’s.”

“Thou wilt not mind what they will say at the ‘Vieux Corsaire,’” murmured Madame between her sobs.

“Vieux diable! Vieux sac-à-papier. No more cares thy Danton what they say. Que mon nom soit flétri—là bas—que mes chéries soient heureuses!”

“That’s my good Danton,” said Madame, wiping her eyes with her handkerchief and disengaging her ample form from the little man’s fond embrace.

“Then Madame will wear to-day the black passementerie instead of the costume Ninth Thermidor,” said Julie, the bonne, discreetly at the door.

“Yes, Julie, we will witness the procession this morning, clothed in our right clothes—and in our right mind, eh, my Danton.”

“Mon chou!”

******

There was a wedding shortly afterwards at the Church of Notre Dame de Merploer which gave great scandal at the Vieux Corsaire. The ceremony even included a nuptial sermon from the curé. But Danton Martin never turned up afterwards—then or ever again—to be scourged with the merited scorn of his fellow philosophers. They agreed that he had fallen under the tyranny of the “jupon.”