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The Grey Cloak By Harold MacGrath Characters: 30635

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

Night, with fold on fold of ragged purple, with wide obliterating hand, came roughly down upon the ancient city of Rochelle, which seemed slowly to draw itself together and assume the proportions of a huge, menacing rock. Of the roof lines, but lately of many hues and reaches, there now remained only a long series of grotesque black profiles which zigzagged from north to south, from ruined wall to ruined wall. The last dull silver gleam of day trembled a moment on the far careening horizon, then vanished; and presently the storm which had threatened all through the day broke forth, doubly furious. A silent stinging snow whipped in from the sea, and the lordly voices of the surges rose to inharmonious thunders in the straits of Antioch, or burst in rugged chorus against the rock-bound coasts of the gloomy promontory and the isles of Ré and Oléron. As the vigor of the storm increased, the harbor towers Saint Nicholas and the Chain, looming in the blur like suppliant arms, and the sea walls began gradually to waver and recede in the accumulating haze, while across the dim yellow flame in the tower of the Lantern the snow flurried in grey, shapeless, interminable shadows. Hither and thither the wind rushed, bold and blusterous, sometimes carrying landward the intermittent crashing of the surf as it fell, wrathful yet impotent, on the great dike by which, twenty-odd years before, the immortal Richelieu had snuffed the last heroic spark of the Reformists.

The little ships, the great ships, the fisherman's sloop, the king's corvette, and the merchantman, all lay anchored in the basin and harbor, their prows boring into the gale, their crude hulls rising and falling, tossing and plunging, tugging like living things at their hempen cables. The snow fell upon them, changing them into phantoms, all seemingly eager to join in the mad revel of the storm. And the lights at the mastheads, swooping now downward, now upward, now from side to side, dappled the troubled waters with sickly gold. A desert of marshes behind it, a limitless sea before it, gave to this brave old city an isolation at once splendid and melancholy; and thrice melancholy it stood this wild March night, witnessing as it did the final travail of winter, pregnant with spring.

At seven o'clock the ice-clad packet from Dieppe entered the harbor and dropped anchor. Among those who disembarked were two Jesuit priests and an Iroquois Indian, who immediately set out for the episcopal palace. They passed unobserved through the streets, for the blinding, whirling snow turned them into shadow-shapes, or effaced them totally from sight. Besides, wayfarers were few and the hardy mariners had by this time sought the warm chimney in the favorite inn. For well they knew that there were times when God wished to be alone with His sea; and he was either a poor Catholic or a bad Huguenot who refused to be convinced that the Master had contrived the sea and the storm for His own especial pastime.

The favorite inn! What a call to food and wine and cheer the name of the favorite inn sounded in the ears of the mariners! It meant the mantle of ease and indolence, a moment in which again to feel beneath one's feet the kindly restful earth. For in those days the voyages were long and joyless, fraught with the innumerable perils of outlawed flags and preying navies; so that, with all his love of the sea, the mariner's true goal was home port and a cozy corner in the familiar inn. There, with a cup of gin or mulled wine at his elbow and the bowl of a Holland clay propped in a horny fist, he might listen tranquilly to the sobbing of the tempest in the gaping chimney. What if the night voiced its pains shrewdly, walls encompassed him; what if its frozen tears melted on the panes or smoked on the trampled threshold, glowing logs sent forth a permeating heat, expanding his sense of luxury and content. What with the solace of the new-found weed, and the genial brothers of the sea surrounding, tempests offered no terrors to him.

Listen. Perhaps here is some indomitable Ulysses, who, scorning a blind immortalizer, recites his own rude Odyssey. What exploits! What adventures on the broad seas and in the new-found wildernesses of the West! Ah, but a man was a man then; there were no mythic gods to guide or to thwart him; and he rose or fell according to the might of his arm and the length of his sword. Hate sought no flimsy pretexts, but came forth boldly; love entered the lists neither with caution nor with mental reservation; and favor, though inconsiderate as ever, was not niggard with her largess. Truly the mariner had not to draw on his imagination; the age of which he was a picturesque particle was a brave and gallant one: an Odyssey indeed, composed of Richelieus, sons and grandsons of the great Henri, Buckinghams, Stuarts, Cromwells, Mazarins, and Monks; Maries de Medicis, Annes of Austria, Mesdames de Longueville; of Royalists, Frondeurs, and Commonwealth; of Catholics, Huguenots, and Puritans. Some were dead, it is true; but never a great ship passes without leaving a turbulent wake. And there, in the West, rising serenely above all these tangles of civil wars and political intrigues, was the splendid star of New France. Happy and envied was the mariner who could tell of its vast riches, of its endless forests, of its cruel brown savages, of its mighty rivers and freshwater seas.

New France! How many a ruined gamester, hearing these words, lifted his head, the fires of hope lighting anew in his burnt-out eyes? How many a fallen house looked longingly toward this promised land? New France! Was not the name itself Fortune's earnest, her pledge of treasures lightly to be won? The gamester went to his garret to dream of golden dice, the fallen noble of rehabilitated castles, the peasant of freedom and liberty. Even the solemn monk, tossing on his pallet, pierced with his gaze the grey walls of his monastery, annihilated the space between him and the fruitful wilderness, and saw in fancy the building of great cities and cathedrals and a glittering miter on his own tonsured head.

In that day there was situate in the Rue du Palais, south of the harbor, an inn which was the delight of all those mariners whose palates were still unimpaired by the brine of the seven seas, and whose purses spoke well of the hazards of chance. Erected at the time when Henri II and Diane de Poitiers turned the sober city into one of licentious dalliance, it had cheered the wayfarer during four generations. It was three stories high, constructed of stone, gabled and balconied, with a roof which resembled an assortment of fanciful noses. Here and there the brown walls were lightened by patches of plaster and sea-cobble; for though the buildings in the Rue du Palais had stood in the shelter of the walls and fortifications, few had been exempt from Monseigneur the Cardinal's iron compliments to the Huguenots.

Swinging on an iron bar which projected from the porticoed entrance, and supported by two grimacing cherubs, once daintily pink, but now verging on rubicundity, a change due either to the vicissitudes of the weather or to the close proximity to the wine-cellars,-was a horn of plenty, the pristine glory of which had also departed. This invitation often excited the stranger's laughter; but the Rochellais themselves never laughed at it, for to them it represented a familiar object, which, however incongruous or ridiculous, is always dear to the human heart. At night a green lantern was attached to the horn. At the left of the building was a walled court pierced by a gate which gave entrance to the stables. For not only the jolly mariners found pleasure at the Corne d'Abondance. The wild bloods of the town came thither to riot and play, to junket and carouse. The inn had seen many a mad night, and on the stone flooring lay written many an invisible epitaph.

The host himself was a man of note, one Jean le Borgne, whose cousin was the agent of D'Aunay in the Tour-D'Aunay quarrel over Acadia in New France. He had purchased the inn during the year '29, and since that time it had become the most popular in the city; and as a result of his enterprise, the Pomme de Pin, in the shadow of the one remaining city gate, Porte de la Grosse-Horloge, had lost the patronage of the nobility. Ma?tre le Borgne recognized the importance of catering more to the jaded palate than to the palate in normal condition; hence, his popularity. In truth, he had the most delectable vintages outside the governor's cellars; they came from Bordeaux, Anjou, Burgundy, Champagne, and Sicily. His cook was an excommunicated monk from Touraine, a province, according to the merry Vicar of Meudon, in which cooks, like poets, were born, not bred. His spits for turning a fat goose or capon were unrivaled even in Paris, whither his fame had gone through a speech of the Duc de Rohan, who said, shortly after the siege, that if ever he gained the good graces of Louis, he would come back for that monk.

What a list he placed before the gourmand! There were hams boiled in sherry or madeira with pistachios, eels, reared in soft water and fed on chickens' entrails and served with anchovy paste and garlic, fried stuffed pigs' ears, eggs with cocks' combs, dormice in honey, pigeons with mushrooms, crabs boiled in sherry, crawfish and salmon and lobster, caviar pickled in the brine of spring-salt, pheasants stuffed with chestnuts and lambs' hearts, grainless cheeses, raisins soaked in honey and brandy, potted hare, chicken sausages, mutton fed on the marshes, boars boned and served whole and stuffed with oysters,-a list which would have opened the eyes of such an indifferent eater as Lucullus!

There was a private hall for the ladies and the nobly born; but the common assembly-room was invariably chosen by all those who were not accompanied by ladies. The huge fireplace, with high-backed benches jutting out from each side of it, the quaint, heavy bowlegged tables and chairs, the liberality of lights, the continuous coming and going of the brilliantly uniformed officers stationed at Fort Louis, the silks and satins of the nobles, the soberer woolens of the burghers and seamen, all combined to give the room a peculiar charm and color. Thus, with the golden pistole of Spain, the louis and crown and livre of France, and the stray Holland and English coins, Ma?tre le Borgne began quickly to gorge his treasure-chests; and no one begrudged him, unless it was Ma?tre Olivet of the Pomme de Pin.

Outside the storm continued. The windows and casements shuddered spasmodically, and the festive horn and cherubs creaked dismally on the rusted hinges. The early watch passed by, banging their staffs on the cobbles and doubtless cursing their unfortunate calling. Two of them carried lanterns which swung in harmony to the tread of feet, causing long, weird, shadowy legs to race back and forth across the sea-walls. The muffled stroke of a bell sounded frequently, coming presumably from the episcopal palace, since the historic bell in the H?tel de Ville was permitted no longer to ring.

Inside the tavern it was warm enough. Ma?tre le Borgne, a short, portly man with a high benevolent crown, as bald as the eggs he turned into omelets, stood somewhat back from the roaring chimney, one hand under his ample apron-belt, the other polishing his shining dome. He was perplexed. Neither the noise of the storm nor the frequent clatter of a dish as it fell to the floor disturbed him. A potboy, rushing past with his arms full of tankards, bumped into the landlord; but not even this aroused him. His gaze wandered from the right-hand bench to the left-hand bench, and back again, from the nut-brown military countenance of Captain Zachary du Puys, soldier of fortune, to the sea-withered countenance of Joseph Bouchard, master of the good ship Saint Laurent, which lay in the harbor.

"A savage!" said the host.

The soldier lowered his pipe and laughed. "Put your fears aside, good landlord. You are bald; it will be your salvation."

"Still," said the mariner, his mouth serious but his eyes smiling, "still, that bald crown may be a great temptation to the hatchet. The scalping-knife or the hatchet, one or the other, it is all the same."

"Eye of the bull! does he carry his hatchet?" gasped the host, cherishing with renewed tenderness the subject of their jests. "And an Iroquois, too, the most terrible of them all, they say. What shall I do to protect my guests?"

Du Puys and Bouchard laughed boisterously, for the host's face, on which was a mixture of fear and doubt, was as comical as a gargoyle.

"Why not lure him into the cellar and lock him there?" suggested Bouchard.

"But my wines?"

"True. He would drink them. He would also eat your finest sausages. And, once good and drunk, he would burn down the inn about your ears." Bouchard shook his head.

"Our Lady!"

"Or give him a bed," suggested Du Pays.

"What! a bed?"

"Surely, since he must sleep like other human beings."

"With an eye open," supplemented Bouchard. "I would not trust an Iroquois, saving he was dead and buried in consecrated ground." And he wagged his head as if to express his inability to pronounce in words his suspicions and distrust.

"And his yell will congeal the blood in thy veins," said Du Puys; "for beside him the Turk doth but whisper. I know; I have seen and fought them both."

Ma?tre le Borgne began to perspire. "I am lost! But you, Messieurs, you will defend yourselves?"

"To the death!" both tormentors cried; then burst into laughter.

This laughter did not reassure Ma?tre le Borgne, who had seen Huguenots and Catholics laughing and dying in the streets.

"Ho, Ma?tre, but you are a droll fellow!" Bouchard exclaimed. "This Indian is accompanied by Fathers Chaumonot and Jacques. It is not impossible that they have relieved La Chaudière Noire of his tomahawk and scalping-knife. And besides, this is France; even a Turk is harmless here. Monsieur the Black Kettle speaks French and is a devout Catholic."

"A Catholic?" incredulously.

"Aye, pious and abstemious," with a sly glance at the innkeeper, who was known to love his wines in proportion to his praise of them.

"The patience of these Jesuits!" the host murmured, breathing a long sigh, such as one does from whose shoulders a weight has been suddenly lifted. "Ah, Messieurs, but your joke frightened me cruelly. And they call him the Black Kettle? But perhaps they will stay at the episcopal palace, that is, if the host from Dieppe arrives to-night. And who taught him French?"

"Father Chaumonot, who knows his Indian as a Turk knows his Koran."

"And does his Majesty intend to make Frenchmen of these savages?"

"They are already Frenchmen," was the answer. "There remains only to teach them how to speak and pray like Frenchmen."

"And he will be quiet and docile?" ventured the inn-keeper, who still entertained some doubts.

"If no one offers him an indignity. The Iroquois is a proud man. But I see Monsieur Nicot calling to you; Monsieur Nicot, whose ancestor, God bless him! introduced this weed into France;" and Du Puys refilled his pipe, applied an ember, took off his faded baldric and rapier, and reclined full len

gth on the bench. Ma?tre le Borgne hurried away to attend to the wants of Monsieur Nicot. Presently the soldier said: "Shall we sail to-morrow, Master Mariner?"

"As the weather wills." Bouchard bent toward the fire and with the aid of a pair of tongs drew forth the end of a broken spit, white with heat. This he plunged into a tankard of spiced port; and at once there arose a fragrant steam. He dropped the smoking metal to the floor, and drank deeply from the tankard. "Zachary, we shall see spring all glorious at Quebec, which is the most beautiful promontory in all the world. Upon its cliffs France will build her a new and mighty Paris. You will become a great captain, and I shall grow as rich as our host's cousin."

"Amen; and may the Holy Virgin speed us to the promised land." Du Puys blew above his head a winding cloud of smoke. "A brave race, these black cassocks; for they carry the Word into the jaws of death. Ad majorem Dei gloriam. There was Father Jogues. What privations, what tortures he endured! And an Iroquois sank a hatchet into his brain. I have seen the Spaniard at his worst, the Italian, the Turk, but for matchless cruelty the Iroquois has no rival. And this cunning Mazarin promises and promises us money and men, while those who reckon on his word struggle and die. Ah well, monseigneur has the gout; he will die of it."

"And this Marquis de Périgny; will not Father Chaumonot waste his time?" asked the mariner.

"Who can say? The marquis is a strange man. He is neither Catholic nor Huguenot; he fears neither God nor the devil. He laughs at death, since to him there is no hereafter. Yet withal, he is a man of justice and of many generous impulses. But woe to the man who crosses his path. His peasants are well fed and clothed warmly; his servants refuse to leave him. He was one of the gayest and wildest courtiers in Paris, a man who has killed twenty men in duels. There are two things that may be said in his favor; he is without hypocrisy, and is an honest and fearless enemy. Louis XIII was his friend, the Duc de Rohan his comrade. He has called Gaston of Orléans a coward to his face.

"He was one of those gallants who, when Richelieu passed an edict concerning the loose women of the city, placed one in the cardinal's chamber and accused him of breaking his own edict. Richelieu annulled the act, but he never forgave the marquis for telling the story to Madame de Montbazon, who in turn related it to the queen. The marquis threw his hat in the face of the Duc de Longueville when the latter accused him of receiving billets from madame. There was a duel. The duke carried a bad arm to Normandy, and the marquis dined a week with the governor of the Bastille. That was the marquis's last affair. It happened before the Fronde. Since then he has remained in seclusion, fortifying himself against old age. His h?tel is in the Rue des Augustines, near the former residence of Henri II.

"The marquis's son you have seen-drunk most of the time. Happy his mother, who died at his birth. 'Tis a pity, too, for the boy has a good heart and wrongs no one but himself. He has been sent home from court in disgrace, though what disgrace no one seems to know. Some piece of gallantry, no doubt, which ended in a duel. He and his father are at odds. They seldom speak. The Chevalier, having money, drinks and gambles. The Vicomte d'Halluys won a thousand livres from him last night in the private assembly."

"Wild blood," said Bouchard, draining his tankard. "France has too much of it. Wine and dicing and women: fine snares the devil sets with these. How have you recruited?"

"Tolerably well. Twenty gentlemen will sail with us; mostly improvident younger sons. But what's this turmoil between our comrade Nicot and Ma?tre le Borgne?" sliding his booted legs to the floor and sitting upright.

Bouchard glanced over his shoulder. Nicot was waving his arms and pointing to his vis-à-vis at the table, while the innkeeper was shrugging and bowing and spreading his hands.

"He leaves the table," cried Nicot, "or I leave the inn."

"But, Monsieur, there is no other place," protested the ma?tre; "and he has paid in advance."

"I tell you he smells abominably of horse."

"I, Monsieur?" mildly inquired the cause of the argument. He was a young man of twenty-three or four, with a countenance more ingenuous than handsome, expressive of that mobility which is inseparable from a nature buoyant and humorous.

"Thousand thunders, yes! Am I a gentleman, and a soldier, to sit with a reeking stable-boy?"

"If I smell of the horse," said the young man, calmly helping himself to a quarter of rabbit pie, "Monsieur smells strongly of the ass."

Whereupon a titter ran round the room. This did not serve to mollify the anger of the irascible Nicot, whose hand went to his sword.

"Softly, softly!" warned the youth, taking up the carving knife and jestingly testing the edge with his thumb-nail.

Some one laughed aloud.

"Monsieur Nicot, for pity's sake, remember where you are!" Ma?tre le Borgne pressed back the soldier.

"Ah! it is Monsieur Nicot who has such a delicate nose?" said the youth banteringly. "Well, Monsieur Nicot, permit me to finish this excellent pie. I have tasted nothing half so good since I left Paris."

"Postilion!" cried Nicot, pushing Le Borgne aside.

"Monsieur," continued the youth imperturbably, "I am on the king's service."

Several at the tables stretched their necks to observe the stranger. A courier from the king was not an everyday event in Rochelle. De Puys rose.

"Pah!" snorted Nicot; "you look the groom a league off. Leave the table."

"All in good time, Monsieur. If I wear the livery of a stable-boy, it is because I was compelled by certain industrious gentlemen of the road to adopt it in exchange for my own. The devil! one does not ride naked in March. They left me only my sword and papers and some pistoles which I had previously hidden in the band of my hat. Monsieur, I find a chair; I take it. Having ordered a pie, I eat it; in fact, I continue to eat it, though your displeasure causes me great sorrow. Sit down, or go away; otherwise you will annoy me; and I warn you that I am something terrible when I am annoyed." But the good nature on his face belied this statement.

"Rascal, I will flog you with the flat of my sword!" roared Nicot; and he was about to draw when a strong hand restrained him.

"Patience, comrade, patience; you go too fast." Du Puys loosened Nicot's hand.

The young man leaned back in his chair and twirled the ends of his blond mustache. "If I were not so tired I could enjoy this comedy. Horns of Panurge! did you Huguenots eat so many horses that your gorge rises at the smell of one?"

"Monsieur, are you indeed from the king?" asked Du Puys courteously. The very coolness of the stranger marked him as a man of importance.

"I have that honor."

"May I be so forward as to ask your name?"

"Victor de Saumaise, cadet in her Majesty's Guards, De Guitaut's company."

"And your business?"

"The king's, Monsieur; horns of Panurge, the king's! which is to say, none of yours." This time he pushed back his chair, stood upon his feet and swung his sword in place. "Is this once more a rebel city? And are you, Monsieur, successor to Guibon, the mayor, or the governor of the province, or some equally distinguished person, to question me in this fashion? I never draw my sword in pothouses; I simply dine in them; otherwise I should be tempted to find out why a gentleman can not be left in peace."

"Your reply, Monsieur," returned Du Puys, coloring, "would be entirely just were it not for the fact that a messenger from Paris directly concerns me. I am Captain Zachary du Puys, of Fort Louis, Quebec."

"Indeed, Captain," said De Saumaise, smiling again, "that simplifies everything. You are one of the gentlemen whom I am come to seek."

"Monsieur," said the choleric Nicot, "accept my apologies; but, nevertheless, I still adhere to the statement, that you smell badly of wet horses." He bowed.

"And I accept the apology and confess to the impeachment."

"And besides," said Nicot, naively, "you kicked my shin cruelly."

"What! I thought it was the table-leg! It is my turn to apologise. You no longer crave my blood?"

"No, Monsieur," sadly. Every one laughed.

Ma?tre le Borgne, wiped his perspiring forehead and waited for the orders which were likely to follow this amicable settlement of the dispute; and bewailed not unwisely. Brawls were the bane of his existence, and he did his utmost to prevent them from becoming common affairs at the Corne d'Abondance. He trotted off to the cellars, muttering into his beard. Nicot and the king's messenger finished their supper, and then the latter was led to one of the chimney benches by Du Puys, who was desirous of questioning him.

"Monsieur," began De Saumaise, "I am told that I bear your commission as major." He produced a packet which he gave to the captain.

"I am perfectly aware of that. It was one of Mazarin's playful devices. I was to have had it while in Paris; and his Eminence put me off for no other reason than to worry me. Ah, well, he has the gout."

"And he has also the money," laughed Victor; "and may he never rid himself of the one till he parts from the other. But I congratulate you, Major; and her Majesty and Father Vincent de Paul wish you well in your perilous undertaking. Come; tell me about this wonderful New France. Is it true that gold is picked up as one would pick up sand?"

"By the Hundred Associates, traders, and liquor dealers," grimly.

"Alas! I had hopes 'twere picked up without labor. The rings on my purse slip off both ends, as the saying goes."

"Why not come to Quebec? You have influence; become a grand seigneur."

"Faith, I love my Paris too well. And I have no desire to wear out my existence in opening paths for my descendants, always supposing I leave any. No, no! There is small pleasure in praying all day and fighting all night. No, thank you. Paris is plenty for me." Yet there was something in the young man's face which spoke of fear, a nervous look such as one wears when caught in the toils of secret dread.

"Still, life at court must have its pinches, since his Majesty sleeps between ragged sheets. What kind of money-chest does this Mazarin possess that, engulfing all the revenues of France, the gold never reaches high enough to be taken out again?"

"With all his faults, Mazarin is a great minister. He is a better financier than Richelieu was. He is husbanding. Louis XIV will become a great king whenever Mazarin dies. We who live shall see. Louis is simply repressed. He will burst forth all the more quickly when the time comes."

"Is it true that her Majesty is at times attacked by a strange malady?"

"A cancer has been discovered growing in her breast."

Du Puys opened his commission and ran over it. He studied the lean, slanting chirography of the prime minister and stroked his grizzled chin. His thought went back to the days when the handsome Buckingham threw his pearls into an admiring crowd. "Woman and the world's end," he mused. "Who will solve them?"

"Who indeed!" echoed Victor, resting his chin on the knuckles of his hand. "Monsieur, you have heard of the Chevalier du Cévennes?"

"Aye; recently dismissed from court, stripped of his honors, and exiled in disgrace."

"I am here to command his immediate return to Paris," and De Saumaise blinked moodily at the fire.

"And what brought about this good fortune?"

"His innocence and another man's honesty."


"Monsieur, you are a man of experience; are there not times when the best of us are unable to surmount temptation?"

"Only his Holiness is infallible."

"The Chevalier was unjustly exiled for a crime he knew nothing about. He suffered all this ignominy to save a comrade in arms, whom he believed to be guilty, but who was as innocent as himself. Only a week ago this comrade became aware of what had happened. Even had he been guilty he would not have made profit from his friend's generosity. It was fine of the chevalier; do you not agree with me?"

"Then the Chevalier is not all bad?" said Du Puys.

"No. But he is the son of his father. You have met the Marquis de Périgny?"

"Only to pass him on the streets. But here comes the host with the punch. What shall the toast be?"

"New France."

"My compliments on your good taste."

And they bowed gravely to each other, drinking in silence. The youth renewed his gaze at the fire, this time attracted by the chimney soot as it wavered above the springing flames, now incandescent, now black as jet, now tearing itself from the brick and flying heavenward. Sometimes the low, fierce music of the storm could be heard in the chimney. Du Puys, glancing over the lid of his pewter pot, observed the young man kindly.

"Monsieur," he asked, "are you related to the poet De Saumaise?"

The youth lifted his head, disclosing an embarrassed smile. "Yes, Monsieur. I have the ill-luck to be that very person."

"Then I am doubly glad to meet you. While in Paris I heard your praises sung not infrequently."

The poet held up a protesting hand. "You overwhelm me, Monsieur. If I write an occasional ballade, it is for the mere pleasure of writing, and not because I seek notoriety such as Voiture enjoyed when in favor."

"I like that ballade of yours on 'Henri at Cahors.' It has the true martial ring to it that captivates the soldier."

"Thanks, Monsieur; from a man like you such praise is poisonously sweet. Can you direct me to the Hotel de Périgny? I must see the Chevalier to-night."

"I will myself show you the way," said Du Puys, standing. "But wait a while. The Chevalier usually spends the evening here."


"Drinking and dicing."

Victor rose just as a small uproar occurred in the hallway. The door opened and a dozen cavaliers and officers came crowding in. All made for the fire, stamping and jostling and laughing. The leader, his eyes bloodshot and the lower lids puffed and discolored, threw his hat to the ceiling and caught it on his boot.

"Ma?tre-ho!" he cried. "Bring us the bowl, the merry bowl, the jolly and hot bowl. The devil himself must hunt for cheer to-night. How it blows!"

"In the private assembly, Messieurs," said the host caressingly; "in the private assembly. All is ready but the hot water." And respectfully, though determinedly, as one would guide a flock of sheep, he turned the roisterers toward the door that led into the private assembly-room. He had just learned that the Jesuits had arrived and that there was no room for them at the episcopal palace, and that they were on their way to the Corne d'Abondance. He did not desire them to form a poor opinion as to the moral character of the establishment. He knew the temper of these wild bloods; they were safer by themselves.

All the arrivals passed noisily into the private assembly: all save the leader, who was seen suddenly to steady himself after the manner of a drunken man trying to recover his dignity.

"Victor?" he cried in dismay.

"Paul?" frankly joyous.

In a moment they had embraced and were holding each other off at arm's length.

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