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   Chapter 3 THE MUTILATED HAND

The Grey Cloak By Harold MacGrath Characters: 16124

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


"Monsieur Paul?" cried the handsome widow of Monsieur Boisjoli, stepping from behind the pastry counter.

"Yes, Mignon, it is I," said the Chevalier; "that is, what remains of me."

"What happiness to see you again!" she exclaimed. She turned to a waiter. "Charlot, bring Monsieur le Chevalier the pheasant pie, the ragout of hare, and a bottle of chambertin from the bin of '36."

"Sorceress!" laughed the Chevalier; "you have sounded the very soul of me. Thanks, Mignon, thanks! Next to love, what is more to a man than a full stomach? Ah, you should have seen me when I came in! And devil take this nose of mine; not even steam and water have thawed the frost from it." He chucked her under the chin and smiled comically, all of which made manifest that the relations existing between the hostess of the Candlestick and her principal tenant were of the most cordial and Platonic character.

"And you have just returned from Rome? Ah, what a terrible ride!"

"Abominable, Mignon."

"And I see you hungry!" She sighed, and her black eyes grew moist and tender. Madame Boisjoli was only thirty-two. She was young.

"But alive, Mignon, alive; don't forget that."

"You have had adventures?" eagerly; for she was a woman who loved the recital of exploits. Monsieur Boisjoli had fallen as a soldier at Charenton.

"Adventures? Oh, as they go," slapping his rapier and his pockets which had recently been very empty.

"You have been wounded?"

"Only in the pockets, dear, and in the tender quick of comfort. And will you have Charlot hasten that pie? I can smell it from afar, and my mouth waters."

"This moment, Monsieur;" and she flew away to the kitchens.

The Chevalier took this temporary absence as an opportunity to look about him. Only one table was occupied. This occupant was a priest who was gravely dining off black bread and milk served in a wooden bowl. But for the extreme pallor of his skin, which doubtless had its origin in the constant mortification of the flesh, he would have been a singularly handsome man. His features were elegantly designed, but it was evident that melancholy had recast them in a serious mold. His face was clean-shaven, and his hair clipped, close to the skull. There was something eminently noble in the loftiness of the forehead, and at the same time there was something subtly cruel in the turn of the nether lip, as though the spirit and the flesh were constantly at war. He was young, possibly not older than the Chevalier, who was thirty.

The priest, as if feeling the Chevalier's scrutiny, raised his eyes. As their glances met, casually in the way of gratifying a natural curiosity, both men experienced a mental disturbance which was at once strange and annoying. Those large, penetrating grey eyes; each seemed to be looking into his own as in a mirror.

The Chevalier was first to disembarrass himself. "A tolerably shrewd night, Monsieur," he said with a friendly gesture.

"It is the frost in the air, my son," the priest responded in a mellow barytone. "May Saint Ignatius listen kindly to the poor. Ah, this gulf you call Paris, I like it not."

"You are but recently arrived?" asked the Chevalier politely.

"I came two days ago. I leave for Rouen this night."

"What! you travel at night, and leave a cheery tavern like this?" All at once the crinkle of a chill ran across the Chevalier's shoulders. The thumb, the forefinger and the second of the priest's left hand were twisted, reddened stumps.

"Yes, at night; and the wind will be rough, beyond the hills. But I have suffered worse discomforts;" and to this statement the priest added a sour smile. He had seen the shudder. He dropped the maimed hand below the level of the table.

"You ride, however?" suggested the Chevalier.

"A Spanish mule, the gift of Father Vincent."

"Her Majesty's confessor?"

"Yes."

"You are a Jesuit?"

"I have the happiness to serve God in that order. I have just presented my respects to her Majesty and Cardinal Mazarin. I am come from America, my son, to see his Eminence in regard to the raising of funds for some new missions we have in mind; but I have been indifferently successful, due possibly to my lack of eloquence and to the fact that my superior, Father Chaumonot, was unable to accompany me to Paris. I shall meet him in Rouen."

"And so you are from that country of which I have heard so much of late-that France across the sea?" The Chevalier's tones expressed genuine interest. He could now account for the presence of the mutilated hand. Here was a man who had seen strange adventures in a strange land. "New France!" musingly.

"Yes, my son; and I am all eagerness to return."

The Chevalier laughed pleasantly. "Pardon my irrelevancy, but I confess that it excites my amusement to be called 'son' by one who can not be older than myself."

"It is a habit I acquired with the savages. And yet, I have known men of fifty to be young," said the Jesuit, his brows sinking. "I have known men of thirty to be old. Youth never leaves us till we have suffered. I am old, very old." He was addressing some inner thought rather than the Chevalier.

"Well, I am thirty, myself," said the Chevalier with assumed lightness. "I am neither young nor old. I stand on the threshold. I can not say that I have suffered since I have known only physical discomforts. But to call me 'son' …"

"Well, then," replied the priest, smiling, "since the disparity in years is so small as to destroy the dignity of the term, I shall call you my brother. All men are brothers; it is the Word."

"That is true." How familiar this priest's eyes were! "But some are rich and some are poor; beggars and thieves and cutthroats; nobly and basely born."

The Jesuit gazed thoughtfully into his bowl. "Yes, some are nobly and some are basely born. I have often contemplated what a terrible thing it must be to possess a delicate, sensitive soul and a body disowned; to long for the glories of the world from behind the bar sinister, an object of scorn, contumely and forgetfulness; to be cut away from the love of women and the affection of men, the two strongest of human ties; to dream what might and should have been; to be proved guilty of a crime we did not commit; to be laughed at, to beg futilely, always subject to that mental conflict between love and hate, charity and envy. Yes; I can think of nothing which stabs so deeply as the finger of ridicule, unmerited. I am not referring to the children of kings, but to the forgotten by the lesser nobility."

His voice had risen steadily, losing its music but gaining a thrilling intenseness. Strange words for a priest, thought the Chevalier, who had spoken with irony aforethought. Glories of the world, the love of women; did not all priests forswear these? Perhaps his eyes expressed his thought, for he noted a faint color on the priest's checks.

"I am speaking as a moral physician, Monsieur," continued the priest, his composure recovered; "one who seeks to observe all spiritual diseases in order to apply a remedy."

"And is there a remedy for a case such as you have described?" asked the Chevalier, half mockingly.

"Yes; God gives us a remedy even for such an ill."

"And what might the remedy be?"

"Death."

"What is your religious name, Monsieur?" asked the Chevalier, strangely subdued.

"I am Father Jacques, protégé of the kindly Chaumonot. But I am known to my brothers and friends as Brother Jacques. And you, Monsieur, are doubtless connected with the court."

"Yes. I am known as the Chevalier du Cévennes, under De Guitaut, in her Majesty's Guards."

"Cévennes?" the priest repeated, ruminating. "Why, that is the name of a mountain range in the South."

"So it is. I was born in that region, and it pleased me to bear Cévennes as a name of war. I possess a title, but I do not assume it; I simply draw its revenues." The Chevalier scowled at his buckles, as if some disagreeable thought had come to him.

The priest remarked the change in the soldier's voice;

it had grown harsh and repellent. "Monsieur, I proceed from Rouen to Rochelle; are you familiar with that city?"

"Rochelle? Oh, indifferently."

The Jesuit plucked at his lips for a space, as if hesitant to break the silence. "Have you ever heard of the Marquis de Périgny?"

The Chevalier whirled about. "The Marquis de Périgny? Ah, yes; I have heard of that gentleman. Why do you ask?"

"It is said that while he is a bad Catholic, he is generous in his charities. Father Chaumonot and I intend to apply to him for assistance. Mazarin has not been very liberal. Ah, how little they dream of the length and breadth and riches of this France across the sea! Monsieur le Marquis is rich?"

"Rich; but a bad Catholic truly." The Chevalier laughed without merriment. "The marquis and charity? Why not oil and water? They mix equally well."

"You do not seem quite friendly toward the Marquis?" suggested Brother Jacques.

"No; I am not particularly fond of Monsieur le Marquis," patting the pommel of his sword.

"Monsieur le Marquis has wronged you?" asked the priest, a fire leaping into his eyes.

"It is a private affair, Monsieur," coldly.

"Pardon me!" Brother Jacques made a gesture of humility. He rolled the bread crumbs into a ball which he dropped into the bowl. Presently he pushed aside the bowl and rose, his long black cassock falling to his ankles. He drew his rosary through his belt and put on his shovel-shaped hat.

Again the Chevalier's attention was drawn toward the mutilated hand.

"The pastimes of savages, Monsieur," Brother Jacques said grimly, holding out his hand for inspection: "the torture of the pipe, which I stood but poorly. Well, my brother, I am outward bound, and Rouen is far away. The night is beautiful, for the wind will drive away the snow-clouds and the stars will shine brightly. Peace be with you."

"I wish you well, Monsieur," returned the Chevalier politely.

Then Brother Jacques left the Candlestick, mounted his mule, and rode away, caring as little as the Chevalier whether or not their paths should cross again.

"Monsieur le Marquis!" murmured the Chevalier, staring at the empty bowl. "So the marquis, my father, gives to the Church? That is droll. Now, why does the marquis give to the Church? He has me there. Bah! and this priest's eyes. Ah!" as he saw Madame Boisjoli returning, followed by Charlot who carried the smoking supper; "here is something that promises well."

"Brother Jacques is gone?" said madame, her eyes roving.

"Yes." The Chevalier sat down at a table.

"Monsieur Paul?" timidly.

"Well, Mignon?" smiling. Mignon was certainly good to look at.

"Did you notice Brother Jacques's eyes?"

"Do you mean to say that you, too, observed them?" with a shade of annoyance. Vanity compelled him to resent this absurd likeness.

"Immediately. It was so strange. And what a handsome priest!" slyly.

"Shall I call him back, Mignon?" laughing.

Madame exhibited a rounded shoulder.

"Bah with them all, Mignon, priests, cardinals, and journeys." And half an hour later, having demolished all madame had set before him, besides sharing the excellent chambertin, the Chevalier felt the man made whole again. The warmth of the wine turned the edge of his sterner thoughts; and at ten minutes to eight he went forth, a brave and gallant man, handsome and gaily attired, his eyes glowing with anticipating love, blissfully unconscious of the extraordinary things which were to fall to his lot from this night onward.

The distance from the Candlestick was too short for the need of a horse, so the Chevalier walked, lightly humming an old chanson of the reign of Louis XIII, among whose royal pastimes was that of shaving his courtiers:

"Alas, my poor barber,

What is it makes you sad?"

"It is the grand king Louis,

Thirteenth of that name."

He swung into the Rue Dauphin and mounted the Pont Neuf, glancing idly below at the ferrymen whose torches threw on the black bosom of the Seine long wavering threads of phantom fire. The snow-clouds had passed over, and the stars were shining; the wind was falling. The quays were white; the Louvre seemed but a vast pile of ghostly stones. The hands of the clock in the quaint water-tower La Samaritaine pointed at five to eight. Oddly enough there came to the Chevalier a transitory picture of a young Jesuit priest, winding through the bleak hills on the way to Rouen. The glories of the world, the love of women? What romance lay smoldering beneath that black cassock? What secret grief? What sin? Brother Jacques? The name signified nothing. Like all courtiers of his time, the Chevalier entertained the belief that when a handsome youth took the orders it was in the effort to bury some grief rather than to assist in the alleviation of the sorrows of mankind.

He walked on, skirting the Louvre and presently entering the courtyard of the Palais Royal. The number of flambeaux, carriages and calèches indicated to him that Mazarin was giving a party. He lifted his cloak from his shoulders, shook it, and threw it over his arm, and ascended the broad staircase, his heart beating swiftly. Would he see her? Would she be in the gallery? Would this night dispel the mystery? At the first landing he ran almost into Captain de Guitaut, who was descending.

"Cévennes?" cried the captain, frankly astounded.

"And freshly from Rome, my Captain. His Eminence is giving a party?"

"Are you weary of life, Monsieur?" asked the captain. "What are you doing here? I had supposed you to be a man of sense, and on the way to Spain. And my word of honor, you stick your head down the lion's mouth! Follow your nose, follow your nose; it is none of my affair." And the gruff old captain passed on down the stairs.

The Chevalier stared after him in bewilderment. Spain? … Weary of life? What had happened?

"Monsieur du Cévennes?" cried a thin voice at his elbow.

The Chevalier turned and beheld Bernouin, the cardinal's valet.

"Ah!" said the Chevalier. Here was a man to explain the captain's riddle. "Will you announce to his Eminence that I have returned from Rome, and also explain why you are looking at me with such bulging eyes? Am I a ghost?" The Chevalier, being rich, was one of the few who were never overawed by the grandeur of Mazarin's valet. "What is the matter?"

"Matter?" repeated the valet. "Matter? Nothing, Monsieur, nothing!" quickly. "I will this instant announce your return to monseigneur."

"One would think that I had been trying to run away," mused the Chevalier, following the valet.

Meanwhile a lackey dressed in no particular livery entered the H?tel of the Silver Candlestick and inquired for Monsieur Breton, lackey to Monsieur le Chevalier du Cévennes. He was directed to the floor above. On hearing a knock, Breton hastily closed the book he was reading and went to the door. The hallway was so dark that he could distinguish no feature of his caller.

"Monsieur Breton?" the strange lackey inquired,

"Are you seeking me?" Breton asked diplomatically.

"I was directed to deliver this to you. It is for your master," and the stranger placed a bundle in Breton's hands. Immediately he turned and disappeared down the stairs. Evidently he desired not to be questioned.

Breton surveyed the bundle doubtfully, turned it this way and that. On opening it he was greatly surprised to find his master's celebrated grey cloak. He examined it. It was soiled and rent in several places. Breton hung it up in the closet, shaking his head.

"This is very irregular," he muttered. "Monsieur de Saumaise would never have returned it in this condition; besides, Hector would have been the messenger. What will Monsieur Paul say when he sees it?"

And, knowing that he had no cause to worry, and having not the slightest warning that his master's liberty was in danger, Breton reseated himself by the candles and continued his indulgence in stolen sweets; that is to say, he renewed the adventures of that remarkable offspring of Gargantua.

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