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VII. A Year of Nobility Henry van Dyke

An Alliance Of Rivals

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Finally the matter came to a head. Something happened to the soup one Sunday morning--tobacco probably. Certainly it was very bad, only fit to throw away; and the whole camp was mad. It was not really Pierre who played the trick; but it was he who sneered that the camp would be better off if the cook knew less about castles and more about cooking. Jean answered that what the camp needed was to get rid of a badreux who thought it was a joke to poison the soup. Pierre took this as a personal allusion and requested him to discuss the question outside. But before the discussion began he made some general remarks about the character and pretensions of Jean.

"A marquis!" said he. "This bagoulard gives himself out for a marquis! He is nothing of the kind,--a rank humbug. There is a title in the family, an estate in France, it is true. But it is mine. I have seen the papers. I have paid money to the lawyer. I am waiting now for him to arrange the matter. This man knows nothing about it. He is a fraud. I will fight him now and settle the matter."

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If a bucket of ice-water had been thrown over Jean he could not have cooled off more suddenly. He was dazed. Another marquis? This was a complication he had never dreamed of. It overwhelmed him like an avalanche. He must have time to dig himself out of this difficulty.

"But stop," he cried; "you go too fast. This is more serious than a pot of soup. I must hear about this. Let us talk first, Pierre, and afterwards--"

The camp was delighted. It was a fine comedy,--two fools instead of one. The men pricked up their ears and clamoured for a full explanation, a debate in open court.

But that was not Jean's way. He had made no secret of his expectations, but he did not care to confide all the details of his family history to a crowd of fellows who would probably not understand and would certainly laugh. Pierre was wrong of course, but at least he was in earnest. That was something.

"This affair is between Pierre and me," said Jean. "We shall speak of it by ourselves."

In the snow-muffled forest, that afternoon, where the great tree- trunks rose like pillars of black granite from a marble floor, and the branches of spruce and fir wove a dark green roof above their heads, these two stray shoots of a noble stock tried to untangle their family history. It was little that they knew about it. They could get back to their grandfathers, but beyond that the trail was rather blind. Where they crossed neither Jean nor Pierre could tell. In fact, both of their minds had been empty vessels for the plausible lawyer to fill, and he had filled them with various and windy stuff. There were discrepancies and contradictions, denials and disputes, flashes of anger and clouds of suspicion.

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The Ruling Passion
Henry van Dyke

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