The Amethyst Ring
The Amethyst Ring
That day the Duc de Brécé was entertaining General Cartier de Chalmot, Abbé Guitrel, and Lerond, the ex-deputy, at Brécé. They had visited the stables, the kennels, the pheasantry, and had been talking, all the time, about the Affair.
As the twilight fell, they commenced to stroll slowly along the great avenue of the park. Before them the château rose up, in the dapple grey sky, with its heavy façade laden with pediments and crowned with the high-pitched roofs of the Empire period.
"I am convinced," said M. de Brécé, "as I said before, that the fuss made over this affair is, and can only be, some abominable plot instigated by the enemies of France."
"And of religion," gently added Abbé Guitrel. "It is impossible to be a good Frenchman without being a good Christian. And it is clear that the scandal was started in the first place by freethinkers and freemasons, by Protestants."
"And Jews," went on M. de Brécé, "Jews and Germans. What unheard-of audacity to question the decision of a court martial! For, when all is said and done, it is quite impossible for seven French officers to have made a mistake."
"No, of course, that is not to be thought of," said the Abbé Guitrel.
"Generally speaking," put in M. Lerond, "a miscarriage of justice is a most improbable thing. I would even go so far as to say an impossible thing, inasmuch as the law protects the accused in so many ways. I am speaking of civil law, and I say the same of martial law. As far as courts martial are concerned, even supposing the prisoner's interest to be less thoroughly safeguarded owing to the comparatively summary form of procedure, he finds all necessary security in the character of his judges. To my mind it is an insult to the Army, to doubt the legality of a verdict delivered by a court martial."
"You are quite correct," replied the Duke. "Besides, can anyone really believe seven French officers to be mistaken? Is such a thing conceivable, General?"
"Hardly," replied General Cartier de Chalmot. "It would take a great deal to make me believe it."
"A syndicate of treachery!" cried M. de Brécé. "The thing is unheard of!"
Conversation flagged and fell. The Duke and the General had just caught sight of some pheasants in a clearing, and, smitten simultaneously with the burning and instinctive desire to kill, mentally recorded a regret at having no guns with them.
"You have the finest coverts in the district," said the General to the Duc de Brécé.
The Duke was deep in thought.
"I don't care what anyone says," he remarked, "the Jews will never be any good to France."
The Duc de Brécé, eldest son of the late Duke-who had cut a dash among the light-horse at the Assemblée de Versailles-had entered public life after the death of the Comte de Chambord. He had never known the days of hope, the hours of ardent struggle, of monarchical enterprises as exciting as a conspiracy and as impassioned as an act of faith. He had never seen the tapestried bed offered to the Prince by noble ladies, nor the banners, the flags and the white horses which were to bring the King to his own again. By right of birth as a Brécé he took his place as deputy at the Palais-Bourbon, nourishing a secret enmity against the Comte de Paris, and a hidden wish never to see the restoration, if it were to be in favour of the younger branch of the Royal Family. With this one exception he was a loyal and faithful Royalist. He was drawn into intrigues which he did not understand, made a hopeless muddle of his votes, spent his m oney freely in Paris, and when the elections took place found himself defeated at Brécé by Dr. Cotard.
From that day onward he devoted his time to farming, to his family and to religion. All that remained of his hereditary domain, which in 1789 was composed of one hundred and twelve parishes, comprising one hundred and sevent