MoboReader> Literature > The Grey Cloak

   Chapter 4 AN AENEAS FOR AN ACHATES

The Grey Cloak By Harold MacGrath Characters: 28286

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


In the grand gallery of the Palais Royal stood a mahogany table, the bellying legs of which, decorated with Venetian-wrought gold, sparkled and glittered in the light of the flames that rose and fell in the gaping chimney-place. Around this table were seated four persons of note: the aging Maréchal de Villeroi, Madame de Motteville of imperishable memoirs, Anne of Austria, and Cardinal Mazarin. The Italian, having won a pile of golden louis from the soldier, was smiling amiably and building yellow pyramids, forgetful for the time being of his gouty foot which dozed on a cushion under the table. This astute politician was still a handsome man, but the Fronde and the turbulent nobility had left their imprint. There were many lines wrinkling the circle of his eyes, and the brilliant color on his cheeks was the effect of rouge and fever.

The queen gazed covetously at Mazarin's winnings. She was growing fat, and the three long curls on each side of her face in no wise diminished its width; but her throat was still firm and white, and her hands, saving their plumpness, were yet the envy of many a beautiful woman. Anne of Austria was now devoted to three things; her prayers, her hands, and her plays.

As for the other two, Madame de Motteville looked hungry and politely bored, while the old maréchal scowled at his cards.

Near-by, on a pile of cushions, sat Philippe d'Orléans, the king's brother. He was cutting horses from three-colored prints and was sailing them up the chimney. At the left of the fireplace, the dark locks of the girl mingling with the golden curls of the boy, both poring over a hook filled with war-like pictures, the one interested by the martial spirit native to his blood, the other by the desire to please, sat the boy Louis and Mademoiselle de Mancini, Mazarin's niece. From time to time the cardinal permitted his gaze to wander in their direction, and there was fatherly affection in his smile. Mazarin liked to call these gatherings "family parties."

The center of the gallery presented an animated scene. The beautiful Madame de Turenne, whose husband was the maréchal-general of the armies of France, then engaged in war against Spain, under whose banners the great Condé was meeting with a long series of defeats, the Comtesse de Soissons, the Abbé de la Rivre, Madame de Brigy, the Duc and Duchesse de Montausier,-all were laughing and exchanging badinage with the Duc de Gramont, who was playing execrably on Mademoiselle de Longueville's guitar. Surrounding were the younger courtiers and ladies, who also were enjoying the affair. There are few things which amuse young people as much as the sight of an elderly, dignified man making a clown of himself.

"Oh, Monsieur le Duc," cried Mademoiselle de Longueville, springing from the window-seat from which position she had been staring at the flambeaux below, "if you fought as badly as you play, you would never have gained the baton."

"Mademoiselle, each has its time and place, the battle and the madrigal, Homer and Voiture, and besides, I never play when I fight;" and De Gramont continued his thrumming.

Just outside the pale of this merry circle the Duc de Beaufort leaned over the chair of Madame de Montbazon, and carried on a conversation in low tones. The duchess exhibited at intervals a fine set of teeth. In the old days when the literary salons of the H?tel de Rambouillet were at zenith, the Duchesse de Montbazon was known to be at once the handsomest and most ignorant woman in France. But none denied that she possessed a natural wit or the ability successfully to intrigue; and many were the grand sieurs who had knelt at her feet. But now, like Anne of Austria, she was devoting her time to prayers and to the preservation of what beauty remained.

"So De Brissac is dead?" said Beaufort seriously. "Ah well, we all must die. I hope he has straightened up his affairs and that his papers fall into worthy hands." The prince glanced covertly toward Mazarin. "But it was all his own fault. The idea of a man of sixty marrying a girl of seventeen, fresh from convent, and a beauty, too, they say. He deserved it."

"Beaufort, few persons deserve violent deaths," replied the duchess; and with a perceptible frown she added: "And are you aware that Madame de Brissac, of whom you speak so lightly, is my own daughter?"

Beaufort started back from the chair. "Word of honor, I had forgotten! But it was so long ago, and no one seems to have heard of her. Your daughter! Why was she never presented at court?"

"She was presented three years ago, informally. I wished it so. Monsieur, we women love to hold a surprise in reserve. When we are no longer attractive, a daughter more or less does not matter."

"Truly I had forgotten. Eh well, we can not remember everything, especially when one spends five years in Vincennes," with another furtive glance at Mazarin. "But why De Brissac? If this daughter has half the beauty you had in your youth …"

Madame frowned.

"Half the beauty you still possess …"

Madame laughed. "Take care, or it will be said that Beaufort is become a wit."

Beaufort went on serenely-"there had been many a princeling."

Madame contemplated the rosy horn on the tips of her fingers. "Monsieur le Comte was rich."

"Admitted."

"His title was old."

"Again admitted. And all very well had he been only half as old as his title, this son-in-law of yours. Your son-in-law! It reads like one of Marguerite's tender tales. The daughter is three times younger than the husband who is old enough to be the father of his wife's mother. I must tell Scarron; he will make me laugh in retelling it."

Madame's lips formed for a spiteful utterance, but what she said was: "Prison life has aged you."

"Aged me, Madame?" reproachfully. "I grow old? Never. I have found the elixir of life."

"You will give me the recipe?" softening.

"You already possess it."

"I? Pray, explain."

"We who have the faculty of learning, without the use of books, of refusing to take life seriously, of forgetting injuries,-we never grow old. We simply die."

A third person would have enjoyed this blundering, unconscious irony which in no wise disturbed madame.

"The recipe is this," continued Beaufort: "enjoy the hours as they come; borrow not in advance, but spend the hour you have; shake the past from the shoulders like a worn-out cloak; laugh at and with your enemies; and be sure you have enemies, or life's without salt."

Madame gazed dreamily at the picture-lined walls. She smiled, recalling some happy souvenir. Presently she asked: "And who is this Chevalier du Cévennes?"

"A capital soldier, a gay fellow, rich and extravagant. I do not know him intimately, but I should like to. I knew his father well. The Marquis de Périgny was …"

"The Marquis de Périgny!" interrupted the duchess, half rising from her seat. "Do you mean to tell me that the Chevalier du Cévennes is the son of the Marquis de Périgny?" For a moment her mind was confused; so many recollections awoke to life at the mention of this name. "The Marquis de Périgny!"

Beaufort smiled. "Yes. Do you not recall the gay and brilliant marquis of fifteen years ago?"

Madame colored. "You said that the past should be shaken from the shoulders like a worn-out cloak."

"True. Ah, but that mad marquis!" reminiscently. "What a man he must have been in his youth! A fatalist, for I have seen him walk into the enemy's fire, laughing. Handsome? Too handsome. Courage? He was always fighting; he was a lion. How we youngsters applauded him! He told Richelieu to his face that he would be delighted to have him visit Périgny and dance the saraband before his peasant girls. He was always breaking the edicts, and but for the king he would have spent most of his time in the Bastille. He hasn't been to court in ten years."

"And is this son handsome?"

"Handsome and rich, with the valor of a Crillon. The daughter of a Montbazon would never look at a clod. … Monks of Touraine!" he ejaculated. "I remember now. I have seen her. Madame, I compliment you."

"Beaufort, believe me when I say that my daughter and the Chevalier du Cévennes have never met face to face. I am in a position to know. Since presentation Gabrielle has not been to court, unless it has been without my knowledge. Certainly the motive must have been robbery."

"Nothing of the sort. Nothing was missing from the H?tel de Brissac. The Chevalier is rich."

"The Chevalier? I tell you that the association is impossible. In the first place … It is of no matter," biting her lips. "I know."

"Ventre Saint Gris! as my grandfather used to say, there is but one grey cloak lined with purple satin, but one square velvet collar, a fashion which the Chevalier invented himself. Three persons saw and recognized the cloak. If the Chevalier returns, it is the Bastille and forgetfulness. Mazarin is becoming as strict as those pot-hat Puritans yonder in England. He might possibly overlook a duel in the open; but to enter a man's house by the window … What more is there to be said? And all this recalls what my father used to say. De Brissac and the Marquis de Périgny were deadly enemies. It seems that De Brissac had one love affair; Madame la Marquise while she was a Savoy princess. She loved the marquis, and he married her because De Brissac wanted her. But De Brissac evidently never had his revenge."

Madame felt that she could no longer sustain the conversation. In her own mind she was positive that her daughter and the son of her old flame had never met. A man does not fall in love with a woman after he refuses to look at her; and the Chevalier had refused to look at Gabrielle. Why? Her mind was not subtile enough to pierce the veil.

A lackey approached Beaufort.

"I was directed to give this note to your Highness." The lackey bowed profoundly and retired.

Beaufort opened the note, scanned the lines, and grew deadly pale. What he read was this: "Monsieur le Comte's private papers are missing, taken by his assailant, who entered the h?tel for that purpose. Be careful." The note was unsigned.

At this moment Bernouin approached Mazarin and whispered something in his ear.

"Impossible!" cried the cardinal.

"It is true, nevertheless," replied the valet. "He is in the anteroom."

"The fellow is a fool! Does he think to brazen it out? I shall make an example of him. De Meilleraye, take my cards, and if you lose more than ten louis! … Ladies, an affair of state," and Mazarin rose and limped into the adjoining cabinet. "Bring him into this room," he said to the valet. He then stationed two gentlemen of the musketeers behind his chair, sat down and waited, a grimace of pain twisting his lips.

Meanwhile the Chevalier entered the gallery, following Bernouin. His face wore a puzzled, troubled expression. All this ado somewhat confused him.

"He is handsome," said Madame de Montbazon; "handsomer than ever his father was."

"He is more than handsome," said Beaufort, whose astonishment was genuine; "he is brave. What the devil brings him here into the wolf's maw?"

"His innocence. You see I was correct;" and madame's face grew placid again. So satisfied was she that she did not notice Beaufort's pallor nor the fever which burned in his brilliant eyes.

When the Chevalier was ushered into Mazarin's presence he was in great perturbation. Diane had not met him in the gallery as she had fairly promised, and the young page who had played Mercury to their intrigue stared him coolly in the face when questioned, and went about his affairs cavalierly. What did it mean? He scarce saw Mazarin or the serious faces of the musketeers. With no small effort he succeeded in finding his voice.

"Monseigneur, I have the honor to report to you the success of my mission. His Holiness directed me to give you this message." He choked; he could utter no more.

Mazarin read wrongly these signs of agitation. He took the missive and laid it aside. He drummed with his fingers, a sign that he was contemplating something disagreeable.

"Monsieur, when did you arrive?" he asked.

"At six this evening, Monseigneur," answered the Chevalier listlessly … He had entered Paris with joy in his heart, but now everything seemed to be going wrong.

"Take care, Monsieur," said Mazarin, lifting a warning finger. "You arrived yesterday, secretly."

"I? Why, Monseigneur, this is the twentieth of February, the evening we agreed upon. I slept last night at the Pineapple in Fontainebleau. I repeat to you, I arrived scarce two hours ago." It was now for the first time that he noted the seriousness of the faces confronting him.

"And I repeat that you arrived last night."

"Monseigneur, that is telling me that I lie!"

"Then tell the truth." Mazarin did not particularly relish the Chevalier's haughtiness. "You were in Paris last night."

"Monseigneur, I am a gentleman. While I lack many virtues, I do not lack courage and truthfulness. When I say that I slept in Fontainebleau, I say so truthfully. Your Eminence will tell me the cause of this peculiar interrogatory. There is an accusation pending." There was no fear in the Chevalier's face, but there was pride and courage and something bordering closely on contempt.

"Very well, then," replied Mazarin icily. "You were in Paris last night. You had an appointment at the H?tel de Brissac. You entered by a window. Being surprised by the aged Brissac, you killed him."

The musketeers, who knew the Chevalier's courage, exchanged glances of surprise and disbelief. As for the accused, he stepped back, horrified.

"Monseigneur, one or the other of us is mad! I pray God that it be myself; for it can not be possible that the first minister in France would accuse of such a crime a gentleman who not only possesses courage but pride."

"Weigh your words, Monsieur le Chevalier," warned the cardinal. The Chevalier's tone was not pleasing to his cardinal's ear.

"You ask me to weigh my words, Monseigneur?-to weigh my words?" with a gesture which caused the musketeers to draw

closer to Mazarin, "Oh, I am calm, gentlemen; I am calm!" He threw his hat to the floor, drew his sword and tossed it beside the hat, and folding his arms he said, his voice full of sudden wrath-wrath, against the ironical turn of fortune which had changed his cup of wine into salt:-"Now, Monseigneur, I demand of you that privilege which belongs to and is inseparable from my house: the right to face my accusers."

"I warn you, Monsieur," said Mazarin, "I like not this manner you assume. There were witnesses, and trustworthy ones. Yon may rely upon that."

"Trustworthy? That is not possible. I did not know De Brissac. I have never exchanged a word with him."

"It is not advanced that you knew Monsieur le Comte. But there was madame, who, it is said, was at one time affianced to you." Mazarin was a keen physiognomist; and as he read the utter bewilderment written on the Chevalier's face, his own grew somewhat puzzled.

"Monseigneur, as our Lady is witness, I have never, to my knowledge, set eyes upon Madame de Brissac, though it is true that at one time it was my father's wish that I should wed Mademoiselle de Montbazon."

"Monsieur, when a man wears such fashionable clothes as you wear, he naturally fixes the memory, becomes conspicuous. Do not forget the grey cloak, Monsieur le Chevalier."

"The grey cloak?" The Chevalier's face brightened. "Why, Monseigneur, the grey cloak …" He stopped. Victor de Saumaise, his friend, his comrade in arms, Victor the gay and careless, who was without any influence save that which his cheeriness and honesty and wit gave him! Victor the poet, the fashionable Villon, with his ballade, his rondeau, his triolet, his chant-royal!-Victor, who had put his own breast before his at Lens! The Chevalier regained his composure, he saw his way clearly, and said quietly: "I have not worn my grey cloak since the king's party at Louvre. I can only repeat that I was not in Paris last night. I slept at the Pineapple at Fontainebleau. Having no money, I pawned my ring for a night's lodging. If you will send some gentleman to make inquiries, the truth of my statement will be verified." There was now no wrath in the Chevalier's voice; but there was a quality of resignation in it which struck the acute ear of the cardinal and caused him to raise his penciled brows.

"Monsieur, you are hiding something," he said quickly, even shrewdly.

"I?"

"You, Monsieur. I believe that you slept in Fontainebleau. But who wore your grey cloak?"

"I can not say truthfully because I do not know."

"Take care!"

"I do not know who wore my cloak."

"A while back you said something about truth. You are not telling it now. I will know who killed De Brissac, an honored and respected gentleman, whatever his political opinions may have been in the past. It was an encounter under questionable circumstances. The edict reads that whosoever shall be found guilty of killing in a personal quarrel shall be subject to imprisonment or death. The name of the man who wore your cloak, or I shall hold you culpable and punish you in his stead."

The Chevalier stooped and recovered his hat, but he did not touch the sword.

"It is impossible for me to tell you, Monseigneur. I do not know. The cloak may have been stolen and worn by some one I never saw."

"To whom did you lend the cloak?"

"To tell that might bring another innocent man under a cloud. Besides, I have been absent thirty days; that is a long time to remember so trivial a thing."

"Which is to say that you refuse to tell me?" not without some admiration.

"It is," quietly.

"Your exoneration for the name, Chevalier. The alternative is your resignation from the Guards and your exile."

Exile from Paris was death to the courtier; but the Chevalier was more than a courtier, he was a soldier. "I refuse to tell you, Monseigneur. It is unfair of you to ask me."

"So be it. For the sake of your father, the marquis,-and I have often wondered why you never assume your lawful title,-for the sake of your father, then, who is still remembered kindly by her Majesty, I shall not send you to the Bastille as was my original intention. Your exile shall be in the sum of five years. You are to remain in France. If you rebel and draw your sword against your country, confiscation and death. You are also prohibited from offering your services to France against any nation she may be at war with. If within these five years you set foot inside of Paris, the Bastille, with an additional three years."

"Monseigneur, that is severe punishment for a man whose only crime is the possession of a grey cloak."

"Death of my life! I am not punishing you; I am punishing the man who killed De Brissac. Come, come, Monsieur le Comte," in a kindly tone; "do not be a fool, do not throw away a brilliant career for the sake of a friendship. I who know tell you that it is not worth while. Friendship, I have learned, is but a guise for self-interest."

The Chevalier, having nothing to say, bowed.

"Go, then, to your estates." Mazarin was angry. "Mark me, I shall find this friend of yours, but I shall not remit one hour of your punishment. Messieurs," turning to the musketeers, "conduct Monsieur le Chevalier to his lodgings and remain with him till dawn, when you will show him the road to Orléans. And remember, he must see no one." Then Mazarin went back to the gallery and resumed his game. "What! De Meilleraye, you have won only three louis? Give me the cards; and tell his Grace of Gramont that I am weary of his discords."

"Monsieur le Chevalier," said one of the musketeers, waking the Chevalier from his stupor, "pardon us a disagreeable duty."

The other musketeer restored the Chevalier's rapier.

"Proceed, Messieurs," said the Chevalier, picking up his hat and thrusting his sword into its scabbard; "I dare say this moment is distasteful to us all."

The musketeers conducted him through the secret staircase to the court below. The Duc de Beaufort, who had been waiting, came forward.

"Stand back, Messieurs," said the prince; "I have a word to say to Monsieur le Chevalier."

Mazarin's word was much, but the soldier loved his Beaufort. The two musketeers withdrew a dozen paces.

"Monsieur," said the duke lowly, "that paper, and my word as a gentleman, you shall go free."

"Paper? I do not understand your Highness."

"Come, come, Monsieur," said the duke impatiently; "it is your liberty. Besides, I am willing to pay well."

"Your Highness," coldly, "you are talking over my head. I do not understand a word you say."

Beaufort stared into the Chevalier's face. "Why did you enter De Brissac's … ?"

"I have explained all that to monseigneur, the cardinal. Is everybody mad in Paris?" with a burst of anger. "I arrive in Paris at six this evening, and straightway I am accused of having killed a man I have seen scarce a half dozen times in my life. And now your Highness talks of papers! I know nothing about papers. Ask Mazarin, Monsieur. Mazarin knows that I was not in Paris yesterday."

"What!" incredulously.

"Messieurs," called the Chevalier. The musketeers returned. "Tell his Highness for me that monseigneur acquits me of all connection with the De Brissac affair, and that I am being punished and exiled because I happen to possess a grey cloak."

"It is true, your Highness."

"Whom are you shielding?" demanded the prince with an oath. He was alarmed.

"Since I refused to tell his Eminence it is not probable that I shall tell your Highness."

Beaufort left in a rage. The prince's lackey spent a most uncomfortable hour that night when his Highness, son of Monsieur le Duc de Vend?me, retired.

The Chevalier espied a yellow calèche, Mademoiselle de Longueville herself in the act of entering it. Mademoiselle was the only person he knew to be in the confidence of Diane.

"Messieurs, will you permit me to speak to Mademoiselle de Longueville?" he asked.

"Do you think that monsieur can see mademoiselle?" said one to the other, humorously.

"It is too dark for him to see her. His Eminence said nothing about Monsieur le Chevalier speaking to any one he could not see."

"Thanks, Messieurs, thanks!" And the Chevalier hastened to the calèche. "Mademoiselle …"

"Monsieur," she interrupted, "I have a message for you. A certain lady whom we both know requests me to say that she forbids you further to address her. Her reasons … Well, she gives none. As for me, Monsieur, I believe you to be a gentleman and a man of honor who is above exile and calumny."

"God bless you, Mademoiselle. Tell her for me that whatever her indictments are, I am innocent; and that we do not love when we do not trust."

She gave him a curious glance. "You have not yet discovered who she is?"

"No, Mademoiselle. Will you tell me?"

"She is … No; to tell you would be wrong and it would do you no good. Forget her, Chevalier. I should." And she drew the curtain and ordered her lackeys to drive on.

"It is snowing," said the Chevalier, irrelevantly, when the musketeers rejoined him.

"So it is, so it is," one replied. "Put on your hat, Monsieur, or my word for it, you will catch a devil of a chill."

The Chevalier put on his hat. "Five years … his Eminence said five years?"

"Yes, Monsieur. But what are five years to a man like yourself? You have youth and money, and the little Rochellaises are pretty. My word! the time will pass quickly enough. Come; we will go to your lodging. Did his Eminence say anything about wine, Georges?" to his companion.

"Nothing prohibitory. I once heard him say 'Bonum vinum laetificat cor hominis.'"

"What does that mean?"

"Good wine rejoices the heart of man. Let us watch for the dawn with the Chevalier, who is a man in all things. Monsieur, whoever your friend may be, I hope he is not without gratitude."

"Yes, yes! Let's off to the Chevalier's. The Candlestick has some fine burgundy. It is cold and wine warms the heart."

The Chevalier burst into a despairing laugh, "Wine! That is the word, my comrades. On to the Candlestick!" he cried in a high voice. He caught the musketeers by the arms and dragged them toward the gate. "Wine rejoices the heart of man: and one forgets. Let Mazarin take away my liberty; praise be to Bacchus, he can not take away my thirst! And oh! I shall be thirsty these five long years. On to the Candlestick! I know a mellow vintage; and we three shall put the candle out to-night."

And the three of them made off for the Candlestick.

Dawn. A Swiss leaned sleepily against one of the stone abutments which supported the barriers of the Porte Saint Antoine. These barriers would not be raised for the general public till nine; yet the Swiss, rubbing his gummed eyes, saw the approach of three men, one of whom was leading a handsome Spanish jennet. The three men walked unevenly, now and then laughing uproariously and slapping one another on the back. Presently one stepped upon a slippery cobble and went sprawling into the snow, to the great merriment of his companions, who had some difficulty in raising the fallen man to his feet.

"Go along with you, Messieurs," said the Swiss enviously; "you are all drunk."

"Go along yourself," said Georges, assuming a bacchanalian pose.

"What do you want?" asked the Swiss, laughing.

"To pass this gentleman out of the city," said Georges; "and here is the order."

"Very good," replied the Swiss.

The Chevalier climbed into the saddle. Breton was to follow with the personal effects. The barriers creaked, opened the way, and the Chevalier passed forth. There was a cheering word or two, a waving of hats, and then the barriers fell back into place. A quarter of a mile away, having reached an elevation, the exile stopped his horse and turned in the saddle. As he strained his bloodshot eyes toward the city, the mask of intoxication fell away from his face, leaving it worn and wretched. The snow lay everywhere, white, untrampled, blinding. The pale yellow beams of the sun broke in brilliant flashes against the windows of the Priory of Jacobins, while above the city, the still sleeping city, rose long spiral threads of opal-tinted smoke.

Five years. And for what? Friendship. How simple to have told Mazarin that he had loaned the cloak to Victor de Saumaise. A dozen words. His head was throbbing violently and his throat was hot. He took off his hat and the keen air of morning cooled his damp forehead. Five years. He could see this year drag itself to its dismal end, and another, and another, till five had come and gone, each growing infinitely longer and duller and more hopeless. Of what use were youth and riches without a Paris? Friendship? Was he not, as Mazarin had pointed out, a fool for his pains? It was giving away five years of life and love. A word? No. He straightened in the saddle, and the fumes of wine receded from his brain, leaving a temporary clearness. Yes, he was right, a hundred times right. Victor would have done the same for him, and he could do no less for Victor. And there was something fine and lofty in the sacrifice to him who until now had never sacrificed so much as an hour from his worldly pleasures. It appealed to all that was good in him, leaving a wholesomeness in his heart that was tonic and elevating.

And yet … How strongly her face appeared before him! If only he could have stayed long enough to explain to her, to convince her of his loyalty; ah, then would this exile be a summer's rustication. He fumbled at his throat and drew forth a ruby-studded miniature. He kissed it and hid it from sight. By proxy she had turned him aside in contempt. Why? What had he done? … Did she think him guilty of De Brissac's death? or, worse still, of conducting an intrigue with Madame de Brissac, whom he had never seen?

"Ah, well, Victor offered his life for mine. I can do no less than give him five years in exchange. And where is yesterday?" He had passed along this very road yesterday. "Eh, where indeed is yesterday?"

He looked once more toward Paris, then turned his back toward it forever.

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares