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The Grey Cloak By Harold MacGrath Characters: 21667

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

The Chevalier du Cévennes occupied the apartment on the first floor of the H?tel of the Silver Candlestick, in the Rue Guénégaud. The apartment consisted of three rooms. In all Paris there was not to be found the like of them. They were not only elegant, they were simple; for true elegance is always closely allied to simplicity. Persian rugs covered the floors, rugs upon which many a true believer had knelt in evening prayer; Moorish tapestries hung from the walls, making a fine and mellow background for the various pieces of ancient and modern armor; here and there were Greek marbles and Italian vases; and several spirited paintings filled the gaps left between one tapestry and another. Sometimes the Chevalier entertained his noble friends, young and old, in these rooms; and the famous kitchens of Madame Boisjoli, the landlady of the Candlestick, supplied the delicacies of his tables. Ordinarily the Chevalier dined in the cheery assembly-room below; for, like all true gourmands of refinement, he believed that there is as much appetite in a man's ears and eyes as in his stomach, and to feed the latter properly there must be light, a coming and going of old and new faces, the rumor of voices, the jest, and the snatch of song.

At this moment the Chevalier was taking a bath, and was splashing about in the warm water, laughing with the joyous heart of a boy. With the mild steam rose the vague perfume of violets. Brave as a Crillon though he was, fearless as a Bussy, the Chevalier was something of a fop; not the mincing, lisping fop, but one who loved physical cleanliness, who took pride in the whiteness of his skin, the clarity of his eyes. There had been summer nights in the brilliant gardens of La Place Royale when he had been pointed out as one of the handsomest youths in Paris. Ah, those summer nights, the cymbals and trumpets of les beaux mousquetaires, the display of feathers and lace, unwrought pearls and ropes of precious stones, the lisping and murmuring of silks, the variety of colors, the fair dames with their hoods, their masks, their elaborate coiffures, the crowds in the balconies! All the celebrities of court might be seen promenading the Place; and to be identified as one above many was a plume such as all Mazarin's gold could not buy.

"My faith! but this has been a day," he murmured, gazing wistfully at his ragged nails. "Till I entered this tub there was nothing but lead in my veins, nothing but marble on my bones. Look at those boots, Breton, lad; a spur gone, the soles loose, the heels cracked. And that cloak! The mud on the skirts is a week old. And that scabbard was new when I left Paris. When I came up I looked like a swashbuckler in one of Scudéry's plays. I let no one see me. Indeed, I doubt if any would have recognized me. But a man can not ride from Rome to Paris, after having ridden from Paris to Rome, changing neither his clothes nor his horse, without losing some particle of his fastidiousness, and, body of Bacchus! I have lost no small particle of mine."

"Ah, Monsieur Paul," said the lackey, hiding the cast-off clothing in the closet, "I am that glad to see you safe and sound again!"

"Your own face is welcome, lad. What weather I have seen!" wringing his mustache and royal. "And Heaven forfend that another such ride falls my lot." He smiled at the ruddy heap in the fireplace.

What a ride, indeed! For nearly two weeks he had ridden over hills and mountains, through valleys and gorges, access deep and shallow streams, sometimes beneath the sun, sometimes beneath the moon or the stars, sometimes beneath the flying black canopies of midnight storms, always and ever toward Paris. He had been harried by straggling Spaniards; he had drawn his sword three times in unavoidable tavern brawls; he had been robbed of his purse; he had even pawned his signet-ring for a night's lodging: all because Mazarin had asked a question which only the pope could answer.

Paris at last!-Paris the fanciful, the illogical, the changeable, the wholly delightful Paris! He knew his Paris well, did the Chevalier. He had been absent thirty days, and on the way in from Fontainebleau, where he had spent the preceding night at the expense of his signet-ring, he had wondered what changes had taken place among the exiles and favorites during this time. What if the Grande Mademoiselle again headed that comic revolution, the Fronde, as in the old days when she climbed the walls at Orléans and assumed command against the forces of the king? What if Monsieur de Retz issued orders from the Palais Royal, using the same-pen with which Mazarin had demanded his resignation as Archbishop of Paris? In fact, what if Madame de Longueville, aided by the middle class, had once more taken up quarters in the H?tel de Ville? Oh! so many things happened in Paris in thirty days that the Chevalier would not have been surprised to learn that the boy Louis had declared to govern his kingdom without the assistance of ministers, priests, and old women. Ah, that Fronde! Those had been gallant days, laughable, it is true; but every one seemed to be able to pluck a feather from the golden goose of fortune. He was eighteen then, and had followed the royal exodus to Germain.

The Chevalier sighed as he continued to absorb the genial heat of the water. The captain at the Porte Saint Antoine had told him that the Grande Mademoiselle was still in exile at Blois, writing lampoons against the court and particularly against Mazarin; that De Retz was biting his nails, full of rage and impotence against those fetters which banishment casts around men of action; that Madame de Longueville was conducting a love-intrigue in Normandy; and that Louis had to borrow or beg his pocket-money. Strange as it seemed to the Chevalier, Paris was unchanged.

But what warmed the Chevalier's heart, even as the water warmed his body, was the thought of that adorable mystery, that tantalizing, haunting mystery, the woman unknown. This very room was made precious by the fact that its air had once embraced her with a familiarity such as he had never dared assume. What a night that had been! She had come, masked; she had dined; at his protestations of love she had laughed, as one laughs who hears a droll story; and in the attempt to put his arm around her waist, the cold light flashing from her half-hidden eyes had stilled and abashed him. Why did she hold him, yet repel? What was her object? Was she some princess who had been hidden away during her girlhood, to appear only when the bud opened into womanhood, rich, glorious, and warm? Like a sunbeam, like a shadow, she flitted through the corridors and galleries of the Louvre and the Palais Royal, and whenever he had sought to point her out to some one, to discover her name, lo, she was gone! Tormenting mystery! Ah, that soft lisp of hers, those enchanting caprices, those amazing extravagances of fancy, that wit which possessed the sparkle of white chambertin! He would never forget that summer night when, dressed as a boy, she had gone with him swashbuckling along the quays. And for all these meetings, for all her supplicating or imperious notes, what had been his reward? To kiss her hand when she came, to kiss her hand when she went, and all the while her lips burned like a cardinal poppy and her eyes lured like those phantom lakes of the desert. True, he had often kissed her perfumed tresses without her knowledge; but what was that? Why had he never taken by force that which entreaty did not win? Love. Man never uses force where he loves. When would the day come when the hedge of mystery inclosing her would be leveled? "Love you, Monsieur?" she had said. "Ah, well, in a way!"

The Chevalier smiled. Yes, it was fine to be young, and rich, and in love. He recalled their first meeting. He had been placed on guard at the entrance to the grand gallery at the Palais Royal, where Mazarin was giving a mask. Presently a slender, elegant youth in the garb of a grey musketeer approached.

"Your name, Monsieur, if you please," he said, scanning the list of invited guests.

"I am one of those who pass without the interrogatory." The voice was hoarse, affectedly so; and this roused the Chevalier's suspicions.

"I can not believe that," he laughed, "since Monsieur le Duc, his Majesty's brother, was good enough to permit me to question him." He leaned against the wall, smiling and twisting his mustache. What a charming musketeer!

"What!" haughtily, "you parley with me?" A gauntleted hand flew to a jeweled hilt.

"Monsieur will not be so rude?" mockingly.

"Monsieur!" with a stamp of the foot-a charming foot.

"Monsieur!" he mimicked, also stamping a foot which, though shapely, was scarce charming.

Then through the curtain of the mask there came a low, rollicking laugh. The hand fell away from the sword-hilt, and a grey gauntlet slipped to the floor, discovering a hand as dazzling white and begemmed as that on which Anne of Austria prided herself.

"Death of my life!" said a voice as soft and musical as the vibration of a bell, "you make an admirable Cerberus. My gauntlet." The sweep of the hand fascinated him. "Are your ears like the sailors' of Ulysses, filled with wax? I am asking you to pick up my gauntlet."

As he stooped to obey the command, a laugh sounded behind him, and he knew that he had been tricked. The little musketeer had vanished. For a moment he was disturbed. In vain he searched the gauntlet for some distinguishing sign. But as reason told him that no harm could possibly come from the prank, his fears subsided, and he laughed. On being relieved from duty, later, he sought her, to return the gauntlet. She was talking to Mademoiselle de Longueville. As she saw the Chevalier, she moved away. The Chevalier, determined on seeing the adventure to its end, followed her deliberately. She sat in a window-seat. Without ceremony he sat down beside her.

"Monsieur," he said, smiling, and he was very handsome when he smiled, "permit me to return this gauntlet."

She folded her arms, and this movement of her shoulders told him that she was laughing silently.

"Are you madame or mademoiselle?" he asked, eagerly.

She raised her mask for an instant, and his subjugation was complete. The conversation which ensued was so piquant and charming that thereafter whatever warmth the gauntlet knew was gathered not from her hand but from the Chevalier's heart.

The growing chill in the water brought the Chevalier out of his reverie. He leaped from the tub and shone rosily in the firelight, as elegantly proportioned a youth as ever was that fabulous Leander of the Hellespont.

"Bring me those towels I purchased from the wandering Persian. I regret that I did not have them blessed by his Holiness. For who knows wha

t spell the heretic Saracen may have cast over them?"

"Monsieur knows," said Breton piously, "that I have had them sprinkled with the blessed water."

The Chevalier laughed. He was rather a godless youth, and whatever religion he possessed was merely observance of forms. "Donkey, if the devil himself had offered them for sale, I should have taken them, for they pleased me; and besides, they have created a fashion. I shall wear my new baldric-the red one. I report at the Palais Royal at eight, and I've an empty stomach to attend to. Be lively, lad. Duty, duty, always duty," snatching the towels. "I have been in the saddle since morning; I am still dead with stiffness; yet duty calls. Bah! I had rather be fighting the Spaniard with Turenne than idle away at the Louvre. Never any fighting save in pothouses; nothing but ride, ride, ride, here, there, everywhere, bearing despatches not worth the paper written on, but worth a man's head if he lose them. And what about? Is this person ill? Condolences. Is this person a father? Congratulations. Monsieur, the king's uncle, is ailing; I romp to Blois. A cabal is being formed in Brussels; I gallop away. His Eminence hears of a new rouge; off I go. And here I have been to Rome and back with a message which made the pope laugh; is it true that he is about to appoint a successor? Mazarin, tiring of being a left-handed king, aspires to the mantle of Saint Peter. Mazarin always selects me for petty service. Why? Oh, Monsieur le Chevalier, having an income, need not be paid moneys; because Monsieur le Chevalier was born in the saddle, his father is an eagle, his grandsire was a centaur. And don't forget the grey cloak, lad, the apple of my eye, the admiration of the ladies, and the confusion of mine enemies; my own particular grey cloak." By this time the Chevalier was getting into his clothes; fine cambrics, silk hose, velvet pantaloons, grey doublet, and shoes with buckles and red heels.

"But the grey cloak, Monsieur Paul …" began the lackey.

"What! you have dared to soil it?"

"No, Monsieur; but you have forgotten that you loaned it to Monsieur de Saumaise, prior to your departure to Italy. He has not returned it."

"That's not like Victor. And I had dreamed of wearing that cloak. Mademoiselle complimented me on it, and that fop De Montausier asked me how many pistoles I paid for it."

"The purple cloak is new, Monsieur. It is fully as handsome as the grey one. All it lacks is the square collar you invented."

"Ah well, since there is no grey cloak. Now the gossip. First of all, my debts and debtors."

"Monsieur de Saumaise," said Breton, "has remitted the ten louis he lost to you at tennis."

"There's a friend; ruined himself to do it. Poetry and improvidence; how they cling together!"

"Brisemont, the jeweler, says that the garters you ordered will come to one hundred and ten pistoles. But he wants to know what the central gem shall be, rubies or sapphires surrounding."

"Topaz for the central gem, rubies and diamonds for the rest. The clasps must match topaz eyes. And they must be done by Monday."

"Monsieur's eyes are grey," the lackey observed slyly.

"Rascal, you are asking a question!"

"No, Monsieur, I was simply stating a fact. Plutarch says …"

"Plutarch? What next?" in astonishment.

"I have just bought a copy of Amyot's translation with the money you gave me. Plutarch is fine, Monsieur."

"What shall a gentleman do when his lackey starts to quote Plutarch?" with mock helplessness. "Well, lad, read Plutarch and profit. But keep your grimy hands off my Rabelais, or I'll trounce you."

Breton flushed guiltily. If there was one thing he enjoyed more than another it was the adventures of the worthy Pantagruel and his resourceful esquire; but he had never been able to complete this record of extravagant exploits, partly because he could not read fast enough and partly because his master kept finding new hiding places for it.

"A messenger from De Guitaut," he said, "called this morning for you."

"For me? That is strange. The captain knew that I could not arrive before to-night, which is the twentieth."

"I told the officer that. He laughed curiously and said that he expected to find you absent."

"What the devil did he call for, then?"

Breton made a grimace which explained his inability to answer this question.

The Chevalier stood still and twisted his mustache till the ends were like needle-points. "Horns of Panurge! as Victor would say; is it possible for any man save Homer to be in two places at once? Possibly I am to race for some other end of France. I like it not. Mazarin thinks because I am in her Majesty's Guards that I belong to him. Plague take him, I say."

He snapped the buckles on his shoes, while Breton drew from its worn scabbard the Chevalier's campaign rapier, long and flexile, dreaded by many and respected by all, and thrust it into the new scabbard,

"Ah, Monsieur," said Breton, stirred by that philosophy which, one gathers from a first reading of Plutarch, "a man is a deal like a sword. If he be good and true, it matters not into what kind of scabbard he is thrust."

"Aye, lad; but how much more confidence a handsome scabbard gives a man! Even a sword, dressed well, attracts the eye; and, heart of mine, what other aim have we poor mortals than to attract?"

"Madame Boisjoli makes out her charges at twelve louis, including the keep of the horses."

"That is reasonable, considering my absence. Mignon is an excellent woman."

"The Vicomte d'Halluys did not come as he promised with the eight hundred pistoles he lost to you at vingt-et-un."

"Ah!" The Chevalier studied the pattern in the rug. "Eh, well, since I had no pistoles, I have lost none. I was deep in wine, and so was he; doubtless he has forgotten. The sight of me will recall his delinquency."

"That is all of the debts and credits, Monsieur."

"The gossip, then, while I trim my nails. Paris can not have stood still like the sun of Joshua's time, simply because I was not here."

"Beaufort has made up with Madame de Montbazon."

"Even old loves can become new loves. Go on."

Breton recounted the other important court news, while the Chevalier nodded, or frowned, as the news affected him.

"Mademoiselle Catharine …"

"Has that woman been here again?"

"Yes, Monsieur."

"You attended her down the stairs?"

"I did, but she behaved coarsely and threatened not to cease coming until you had established her in the millinery."

The Chevalier roared with laughter. "And all I did was to kiss the lass and compliment her cheeks. There's a warning for you, lad."

Breton looked aggrieved. His master's gallantries never ceased to cause him secret unrest.

"Yesterday your quarterly remittance from Monsieur le Marquis, your father, arrived."

"Was there a letter?" with subdued eagerness.

"There was nothing but the gold, Monsieur," answered Breton, his eyes lowered. How many times during the past four years had his master asked this question, always to receive the same answer?

The Chevalier's shoulders drooped. "Who brought it?"

"Jehan," said the lackey.

"Had he anything to say?"

"Very little. Monsieur le Marquis has closed the chateau in Périgny and is living at the h?tel in Rochelle."

"He mentions my name?"

"No, Monsieur."

The Chevalier crossed the room and stood by one of the windows. It was snowing ever so lightly. The snow-clouds, separating at times as they rushed over the night, discovered the starry bowl of heaven. Some noble lady's carriage passed surrounded by flaring torches. But the young man saw none of these things. A sense of incompleteness had taken hold of him. The heir to a marquisate, the possessor of an income of forty thousand livres the year, endowed with health and physical beauty, and yet there was a flaw which marred the whole. It was true that he was light-hearted, always and ever ready for a rout, whether with women or with men, whether with wine or with dice; but under all this brave show there was a canker which ate with subtile slowness, but surely. To be disillusioned at the age of sixteen by one's own father! To be given gold and duplicate keys to the wine-cellars! To be eye-witness of Roman knights over which this father had presided like a Tiberius!

The Duchesse de Montbazon had been in her youth a fancy of the marquis, his father. Was it not a fine stroke of irony to decide that this son of his should marry the obscure daughter of madame?-the daughter about whom very few had ever heard? Without the Chevalier's sanction, miniatures had been exchanged. When the marquis presented him with that of Mademoiselle de Montbazon, together with his desires, he had ground the one under foot without glancing at it, and had laughed at the other as preposterous. Since that night the marquis had ceased to recall his name. The Chevalier's mother had died at his birth; thus, he knew neither maternal nor paternal love; and a man must love something which is common with his blood. Even now he would have gone half-way, had his father's love come to meet him. But no; Monsieur le Marquis loved only his famous wines, his stories, and his souvenirs. Bah! this daughter had been easily consoled. The Comte de Brissac was fully sixty. The Chevalier squared his shoulders and shifted his baldric.

With forced gaiety he turned to his lackey. "Lad, let us love only ourselves. Self-love is always true to us. We will spend our gold and play the butterfly while the summer lasts. It will be cold soon, and then … pouf! To-morrow you will take the gold and balance my accounts."

"Yes, Monsieur. Will Monsieur permit a familiarity by recalling a forbidden subject?"


"Monsieur le Comte de Brissac died last night," solemnly.

"What! of old age?" ironically.

"Of steel. A gallant was entering by a window, presumably to entertain madame, who is said to be young and as beautiful as her mother was. Monsieur le Comte appeared upon the scene; but his guard was weak. He was run through the neck. The gallant wore a mask. That is all I know of the scandal."

"Happy the star which guided me from the pitfall of wedded life! What an escape! I must inform Monsieur le Marquis. He will certainly relish this bit of scandal which all but happened at his own fireside. Certainly I shall inform him. It will be like caviar to the appetite. I shall dine before the effect wears off." The Chevalier put on his hat and cloak, and took a final look in the Venetian mirror. "Don't wait for me, lad; I shall be late. Perhaps to-night I shall learn her name."

Breton smiled discreetly as his master left the room. Between a Catharine of the millinery and a mysterious lady of fashion there was no inconsiderable difference.

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