Fredric had been at the University in Nantes when the messenger arrived. The emissary went straightway to the chemistry lab, being assured he’d find the young nobleman toiling conscientiously over the molecular compounds now believed to constitute the makeup of the universe. Eventually he located Frederic in one of the cheaper bordellos, toiling conscientiously over a mountainous trollope known as La Grande Volaille.
Protesting vigorously, Frederic was bundled first into his breeches and then into a waiting coach, which set off back to the family chateau. He had barely time to retch out his hangover into a soiled petticoat he’d retained in the belief it was his handkerchief, when Frederic was informed that his father, the Marquis, was awaiting both him and the last rites.
Things were at last beginning to look up. Frederic, always an acquisitive lad, had managed to accumulate an impressive array of debts and a variety of social diseases in his short stay in academe. His father’s would not be the only release from worldly cares. He brightened up considerably, clapped the emissary on the back and asked if he had a bottle or two about him, and possibly some cold meats.
Rubbing his hands breezily Frederic bustled into his father’s sickroom, the curtains drawn, the old man lying gaunt and still in the half-light.
“Still hanging on, father?” cried the son. “Do hurry up.”
“This world can be a harsh and difficult place,” wheezed his father. “Even so, I could not in all conscience leave it to your tender mercies.”
He produced an ancient flintlock pistol from beneath the bedclothes and put a ball straight through Frederic’s forehead.
“A man has certain obligations,” the marquis murmured to the emissary before joining his son, albeit temporarily, on his journey to the hereafter.