"Do you call this style of thing a request?"
"What is the use of quarrelling over words. Well, to-morrow, my clients--though I am ashamed to speak of them as such--will send to a well known morning paper a tale, with the title, 'Story of a Day's Shooting.' Of course only initials will be used for the names, but no doubt will exist as to the identity of the actors in the tragedy."
"You forget that in actions for libel proofs are not admitted."
Mascarin shrugged his shoulders.
"My employers forget nothing," remarked he; "and it is upon this very point that they have based their plans For this reason they introduce into the matter a fifth party, of course an accomplice, whose name is introduced into the story in the paper. Upon the day of its appearance, this man lodges a complaint against the journal, and insists on proving in a court of justice, that he did not form one of the shooting-party."
"Then, my lord, this man insists that the journal should give a retraction of the injurious statement and summons as witnesses both yourself and the Baron de Clinchain, and as a conclusion, Ludovic; and as he claims damages, he employs a lawyer, who is one of the confederates and behind the scenes. The lawyer will speak something to this effect: 'That the Count de Mussidan is clearly a murderer; that the Baron de Clinchain is a perjurer, as proved by his own handwriting; Ludovic has been tampered with, but my client, an honorable man, must not be classed with these, etc., etc.' Have I made myself understood?"
Indeed, he had, and with such cold and merciless logic that it seemed hopeless to expect to escape from the net that had been spread.
As these thoughts passed through the Count's brain, he saw at a glance the whole terrible notoriety that the case would cause, and society gloating over the details. Yet such was the obstinacy of his disposition, and so impatient was he of control, that the more desperate his position seemed, the fiercer was his resistance. He knew the world well, and he also knew that the cutthroats who demanded his money with threats had every reason to dread the lynx eye of the law. If he refused to listen to them, as his heart urged him, perhaps they would not dare to carry out their threats. Had he alone been concerned in the matter, he would have resisted to the last, and fought it out to the last drop of his blood, and as a preliminary, would have beaten the sneering rogue before him to a jelly; but how dared he expose his friend Clinchain, who had already braved so much for him? As he paced up and down the library, these and many other thoughts swept across his brain, and he was undecided whether to submit to these extortions or throw the agent out of the window. His excited demeanor and the occasional interjections that burst from his lips showed Mascarin that the account of him was not exaggerated, and that when led by passion he would as soon shoot a fellow-creature as a rabbit. And yet, though he knew not whether he should make his exit by the door or the window, he sat twirling his fingers with the most unconcerned air imaginable. At last the Count gave ear to prudence. He stopped in front of the agent, and, taking no pains to hide his contempt, said,--