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I Will Repay

Prologue
I
Paris: 1783.
"Coward! Coward! Coward!"
The words rang out, clear, strident, passionate, in a crescendo of agonised
humiliation.
The boy, quivering with rage, had sprung to his feet, and, losing his balance, he
fell forward clutching at the table, whilst with a convulsive movement of the lids,
he tried in vain to suppress the tears of shame which were blinding him.
"Coward!" He tried to shout the insult so that all might hear, but his parched
throat refused him service, his trembling hand sought the scattered cards upon
the table, he collected them together, quickly, nervously, fingering them with
feverish energy, then he hurled them at the man opposite, whilst with a final effort
he still contrived to mutter: "Coward!"
The older men tried to interpose, but the young ones only laughed, quite
prepared for the adventure which must inevitably ensue, the only possible ending
to a quarrel such as this.
Conciliation or arbitration was out of the question. Déroulède should have known
better than to speak disrespectfully of Adèle de Montchéri, when the little
Vicomte de Marny's infatuation for the notorious beauty had been the talk of
Paris and Versailles these many months past.
Adèle was very lovely and a veritable tower of greed and egotism. The Marnys
were rich and the little Vicomte very young, and just now the brightly-plumaged
hawk was busy plucking the latest pigeon, newly arrived from its ancestral cote.
The boy was still in the initial stage of his infatuation. To him Adèle was a
paragon of all the virtues, and he would have done battle on her behalf against
the entire aristocracy of France, in a vain endeavour to justify his own exalted
opinion of one of the most dissolute women of the epoch. He was a first-rate
swordsman too, and his friends had already learned that it was best to avoid all
allusions to Adèle's beauty and weaknesses.
But Déroulède was a noted blunderer. He was little versed in the manners and
tones of that high society in which, somehow, he still seemed and intruder. But
for his great wealth, no doubt, he never would have been admitted within the
intimate circle of aristocratic France. His ancestry was somewhat doubtful and
his coat-of-arms unadorned with quarterings.
But little was known of his family or the origin of its wealth; it was only known that
his father had suddenly become the late King's dearest friend, and commonly
surmised that Déroulède gold had on more than one occasion filled the emptied
coffers of the First Gentleman of France.
Déroulède had not sought the present quarrel. He had merely blundered in that
clumsy way of his, which was no doubt a part of the inheritance bequeathed to
him by his bourgeois ancestry.
He knew nothing of the little Vicomte's private affairs, still less of his relationship
with Adèle, but he knew enough of the world and enough of Paris to be
acquainted with the lady's reputation. He hated at all times to speak of women.
 
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