MoboReader > Literature > The Grey Cloak

   Chapter 8 THE LAST ROUT

The Grey Cloak By Harold MacGrath Characters: 32219

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

Time doled out to the marquis a lagging hour. There were moments when the sounds of merriment, coming from the dining-hall, awakened in his breast the slumbering canker of envy,-envy of youth, of health, of the joy of living. They were young in yonder room; the purse of life was filled with golden metal; Folly had not yet thrown aside her cunning mask, and she was still darling to the eye. Oh, to be young again; that light step of youth, that bold and sparkling glance, that steady hand,-if only these were once more his! Where was all the gold Time had given to him? Upon what had he expended it, to have become thus beggared? To find an apothecary having the elixir of eternal youth! How quickly he would gulp the draft to bring back that beauty which had so often compelled the admiration of women, a Duchesse de Montbazon, a Duchesse de Longueville, a Princesse de Savoie, among the great; a Margot Bourdaloue among the obscure!

Margot Bourdaloue… The marquis closed his eyes; the revelry dissolved into silence. How distinctly he could see that face, sculptured with all the delicacy of a Florentine cameo; that yellow hair of hers, full of captive sunshine; those eyes, giving forth the velvet-bloom of heartsease; those slender brown hands which defied the lowliness of her birth, and those ankles the beauty of which not even the clumsy sabots could conceal! He knew a duchess whose line of blood was older than the Capets' or the Bourbons'. Was not nature the great Satirist? To give nobility to that duchess and beauty to that peasant! Margot Bourdaloue, a girl of the people, of that race of animals he tolerated because they were necessary; of the people, who understood nothing of the poetry of passing loves; Margot Bourdaloue, the one softening influence his gay and careless life had known.

Sometimes in the heart of swamps, surrounded by chilling or fetid airs, a flower blossoms, tender and fragrant as any rose of sunny Tours: such a flower Margot had been. Thirty years; yet her face had lost to him not a single detail; for there are some faces which print themselves so indelibly upon the mind that they become not elusive like the memory of an enhancing melody or an exquisite poem, but lasting, like the sense of life itself. And Margot, daughter of his own miller-she had loved him with all the strength and fervor of her simple peasant heart. And he? Yes, yes; he could now see that he had loved her as deeply as it was possible for a noble to love a peasant. And in a moment of rage and jealousy and suspicion, he had struck her across the face with his riding-whip.

What a recompense for such a love! In all the thirty years only once had he heard from her: a letter, burning with love, stained and blurred with tears, lofty with forgiveness, between the lines of which he could read the quiet tragedy of an unimportant life. Whither had she gone, carrying that brutal, unjust blow? Was she living? … dead? Was there such a thing as a soul, and was the subtile force of hers compelling him to regret true happiness for the dross he had accepted as such? Soul? What! shall the atheist doubt in his old age?

For more than half an hour the marquis barred from his sight the scene surrounding, and wandered in familiar green fields where a certain mill-stream ran laughing to the sobbing sea; closed his ears to the shouts of laughter and snatches of ribald song, to hear again the nightingale, the stir of grasses under foot, the thrilling sweetness of the voice he loved. When he recovered from his dream he was surprised to find that he had caught the angle of his wife's eyes, those expressive and following eyes which Rubens left to posterity; and he saw in them something which was new-born: reproach.

"Yes," said the marquis, as if replying to this spirit of reproach; "yes, if there be souls, yours must hover about me in reproach; reproach not without its irony and gladness; for you see me all alone, Madame, unloved, unrespected, declining and forgotten. But I offer no complaint; only fools and hypocrites make lamentation. And I am less to this son of yours than the steward who reckons his accounts. Where place the blame? Upon these shoulders, Madame, stooped as you in life never saw them. I knew not, conceited gallant that I was, that beauty and strength were passing gifts. What nature gives she likewise takes away. Who would have dreamed that I should need an arm to lean on? Not I, Madame! What vanity we possess when we lack nothing! …"

From the dining-hall there came distinctly the Chevalier's voice lifted in song. He was singing one of Victor's triolets which the poet had joined to music:

"When Ma'm'selle drinks from her satin shoe,

I drink the wine from her radiant eyes;

And we sit in a casement made for two

When Ma'm'selle drinks from her satin shoe

With a Bacchante's love for a Bacchic brew!

Then kiss the grape, for the midnight flies

When Ma'm'selle drinks from her satin shoe,

And I the wine from her radiant eyes!"

"Madame, he sings well," said the marquis, whimsically. "What was it the Jesuits said? … corrupt and degenerate? Yes, those were the words. 'Tis true; and this disease of idleness is as infectious as the plague. And this son of mine, he is following the game path through which I passed … to this, palsy and senility! Oh, the subtile poisons, the intoxicating Hippocrenes I taught him how to drink! And now he turns and casts the dregs into my face. But as I said, I make no plaint; I do not lack courage. A pleasant pastime it was, this worldly lessoning; but I forgot that he was partly a reproduction of his Catholic mother; that where I stood rugged he would fall; that he did not possess ardor that is without fire, love that is without sentiment…"

A maudlin voice took up the Chevalier's song …

"When Ma'm'selle drinks from her satin shoe

With a Bacchante's love for a Bacchic brew!"

"Reparation, Madame?" went on the marquis. "Such things are beyond reparation. And yet it is possible to save him. But how? Behold! you inspire me. I will save him. I will pardon his insolence, his contempt, his indifference, which, having my bone, was bred in him. Still, the question rises: for what shall I save him? Shall he love a good woman some day? Mayhap. So I will save him, not for the Church, but for the possible but unknown quantity."

There was a chorus, noisy and out of all harmony. At the end there came a crash, followed by laughter. Some convivial spirit had lost his balance and had fallen to the floor, dragging with him several bottles.

Without heeding these sounds, the marquis continued his monologue. "Yes, I will save him. But not with kindly words, with promises, with appeals; he would laugh at me. No, Madame; human nature such as his does not stir to these when they come from the lips of one he does not hold in respect. The shock must be rude, penetrating. I must break his pride. And on what is pride based if not upon the pomp of riches? I will take away his purse. What was his antipathy to Mademoiselle de Montbazon? … That would be droll, upon honor! I never thought of that before;" and he indulged in noiseless laughter.

The roisterers could be heard discussing wagers, some of which concerned horses, scandals, and women. Ordinarily the marquis would have listened with secret pleasure to this equivocal pastime; but somehow it was at this moment distasteful to his ears.

"My faith! but these Jesuits have cast a peculiar melancholy over me; this frog's blood of mine would warm to generous impulses! … I wonder where I have seen that younger fanatic?" The marquis mused a while, but the riddle remained elusive and unexplained. He struck the bell to summon Jehan. "Announce to Monsieur le Comte my desire to hold speech with him, immediately."

"With Monsieur le Comte?" cried Jehan.

"Ass! must I repeat a command?"

Jehan hurried away, nearly overcome by surprise.

"A toast!" said the Vicomte d'Halluys: "the Chevalier's return to Paris and to favor!"

The roisterers filled their glasses. "To Paris, Chevalier, to court!"

"To the beautiful unknown," whispered the poet into his friend's ear.

"Thanks, Messieurs," said the Chevalier. "Paris!" and a thousand flashes of candle-light darted from the brimming glasses.

The scene was not without its picturesqueness. The low crockery shelves of polished mahogany running the length of the room and filled with rare porcelain, costly Italian glass, medieval silver, antique flagons, loving-cups of gold inlaid with amber and garnets; a dazzling array of candlesticks; a fireplace of shining mosaics; the mahogany table littered with broken glass, full and empty bottles, broken pipes, pools of overturned wine, shredded playing cards, cracked dice, and dead candles; somber-toned pictures and rusted armor lining the walls; the brilliant uniforms of the officers from Fort Louis, the laces and satins of the civilians; the flushed faces, some handsome, some sodden, some made hideous by the chisel and mallet of vice: all these produced a scene at once attractive and repelling.

"Vicomte," said the Chevalier, "we are all drunk. Let us see if there be steady hands among us. I make you a wager."

"On what?"

"There are eight candles on your side of the table, eight on mine. I will undertake to snuff mine in less time than it takes you to snuff yours. Say fifty pistoles to make it interesting."

"Done!" said the vicomte.

Perhaps Victor was the soberest man among them, next to the vicomte, who had jestingly been accused of having hollow bones, so marvelous was his capacity for wine and the art of concealing the effects. Several times the poet had crossed the vicomte's glance as it was leveled in the Chevalier's direction. Each time the vicomte's lips had been twisted into a half smile which was not unmixed with pitying contempt. Somehow the poet did not wholly trust the vicomte. Genius has strange instincts. While Victor admired the vicomte's wit, his courage, his recklessness, there was a depth to this man which did not challenge investigation, but rather repelled it. What did that half smile signify? Victor shrugged. Perhaps it was all his imagination. Perhaps it was because he had seen the vicomte look at Madame de Brissac … as he himself had often looked. Ah well, love is a thing over which neither man nor woman has control; and perhaps his half-defined antagonism was based upon jealousy. There was some satisfaction to know that the vicomte's head was in no less danger than his own. He brushed aside these thoughts, and centered his interest in the game which was about to begin.

The vicomte drew his sword, and accepted that of Lieutenant de Vandreuil of the fort, while the Chevalier joined to his own the rapier of his poet-friend. Both the vicomte and the Chevalier held enviable reputations as fancy swordsmen. To snuff a candle with a pair of swords held scissorwise is a feat to be accomplished only by an expert. Interest in the sport was always high; and to-night individual wagers as to the outcome sprang up around the table. "Saumaise," said the vicomte, "will you hold the watch?"

"With pleasure, Vicomte," accepting the vicomte's handsome time-piece. "Messieurs, it is now twenty-nine minutes after ten; promptly at thirty I shall give the word, preceding it with a one-two-three. Are you ready?"

The contestants nodded. Several seconds passed, in absolute silence.


The Chevalier succeeded in snuffing his candles three seconds sooner than the vicomte. The applause was loud. Breton was directed to go to the cellars and fetch a dozen bottles of white chambertin.

"You would have won, Vicomte," said the Chevalier, "but for a floating wick."

"Your courtesy exceeds everything," returned the vicomte, bowing with drunken exaggeration.

The doors slid back, and Jehan appeared on the threshold.

"Monsieur le Comte," he said, "Monsieur le Marquis, your father, desires to speak to you." Jehan viewed the scene phlegmatically,

"What!" The Chevalier set down his glass. His companions did likewise. "You are jesting, Jehan."

"No, Monsieur. This moment he commanded me to approach you."

"The marquis wishes to speak to me, you say?" The Chevalier looked about him to see how this news affected his friends. They were exchanging blank inquiries. "Tell Monsieur le Marquis that I will be with him presently."

"Now, Monsieur; pardon me, but he wishes to see you now."

"The devil! Messieurs, accept my excuses. My father is old and is doubtless attacked by a sudden chill. I will return immediately."

At the Chevalier's entrance the marquis did not rise; he merely turned his head. The Chevalier approached his chair, frowning.

"Monsieur," said the son, "Jehan has interrupted me to say that you desired to speak to me. Are you ill?"

"Not more than usual," answered the marquis dryly, catching the sarcasm underlying the Chevalier's solicitude. "It is regarding a matter far more serious and important than the state of my health. I am weary, Monsieur le Comte; weary of your dissipations, your carousals, your companions; I am weary of your continued disrespect."

"Monsieur, you never taught me to respect you," quietly, the flush gone from his cheeks.

The marquis nodded toward his wife's portrait, as if to say: "You see, Madame?" To his son he said: "If you can not respect me as your father, at least you might respect my age."

"Ah; honest age is always worthy of respect. But is yours honest, Monsieur? Have you not aged yourself?"

The marquis grew thoughtful at the conflict in view. "Monsieur, when I asked you to marry Mademoiselle de Montbazon, I forgot to say that she was not my daughter, but legally and legitimately the daughter of her father, the Duc de Montbazon."

This curious turn threw the Chevalier into a fit of uncontrollable laughter. The marquis waited patiently.

"I had no such thought. But your suggestion, had it occurred, might naturally have appealed to me. The supposition would not have been unreasonable."

"The lad is a wit!" cried the marquis, in mock admiration.

The Chevalier bowed. "Monsieur, if my presence at your h?tel is not agreeable to you, I will leave at once. It is a small matter where I spend the night, as I return to court to-morrow."

"Ah! And what brought about this good fortune which has returned you to her Majesty's graces?" The marquis never mentioned Mazarin.

"The cause would scarcely interest you, Monsieur," coldly. The roisterers were becoming hilarious once more, and the Chevalier grew restive.

"No, nothing interests me; but one grows weary of wine-bibbers and roisterers, of spendthrifts and sponges."

"Monsieur is old and can not appreciate the natural exuberance of youth."

The marquis fumbled at his lips.

"Surely, Monsieur," went on the Chevalier, the devil of banter in his tones, "surely you are not going to preach me a sermon after having taught me life from your own book?"

"Monsieur, attend to me. You have disappointed me in a hundred ways."

"What! have I not proved an apt scholar? Have I not succeeded in being written in Rochelle as a drunkard and a gamester? Perhaps I have not concerned myself sufficiently with women? Ah well, Monsieur, I am young yet; there is still time to make me totally hateful, not only to others, but to myself."

All these replies, which passed above and below the marquis's guard, pierced the quick; and the marquis, whose impulse had been good, but whose approach to the vital point of discussion was without tact, began to lose patience; and a cold anger awoke in his eyes.

"Monsieur le Comte," he said, rising, "I have summoned you here to discuss not the past, but the future." He was quite as tall as his son, but gaunt and with loosely hanging clothes.

"The future?" said the Chevalier. "Best assured, Monsieur, that you shall have no hand in mine."

"Be not too certain of that," replied the marquis, his lips parting in that chilling smile with which he had formerly greeted

opponents on the field of honor. "And, after all, you might have the politeness to remember that I am, whatever else, still your father."

The Chevalier bowed ironically. Had he been less drunk he would have read the warning which lay in his father's eyes, now brilliant with the spirit of conflict. But he rushed on to his doom, as it was written he should. Paris was in his mind, Paris and mademoiselle, whose letter lay warm against his heart. He turned to his mother's portrait, and again bowed, sweeping the floor with the plume of his hat.

"Madame, yours was a fortunate escape. Would that I had gone with you on the journey. Have you a spirit? Well, then, observe me; note the bister about my eyes, the swollen lips, the shaking hand. 'Twas a lesson I learned some years ago from Monsieur le Marquis, your husband, my father. You, Madame, died at my birth, therefore I have known no mother. Am I a drunkard, a wine-bibber, a roisterer by night? Say then, who taught me? Before I became of age my foolish heart was filled with love which must spend itself upon something. I offered this love, filial and respectful, to Monsieur le Marquis. Madame, the bottle was more responsive to this outburst of generous youth than Monsieur le Marquis, to whom I was a living plaything, a clay which he molded as a pastime-too readily, alas! And now, behold! he speaks of respect. It would be droll if it were not sad. True, he gave me gold; but he also taught me how to use this devil-key which unlocks the pathways of the world, wine-cellars and women's hearts. Respect? Has he ever taken me by the hand as natural fathers take their sons, and asked me to be his comrade? Has he ever taught me to rise to heights, to scorn the petty forms and molds of life? Have I not been as the captive eagle, drawn down at every flight? And for this … respect? Oh, Madame, scarcely! And often I thought of the happiness of beholding my father depending on me in his old age!"

"You thought that, Monsieur?" interrupted the marquis, his eyes losing some of their metallic hardness. "You thought that?" What irony lay in the taste of this knowledge!

"Monsieur," said the Chevalier with drunken asperity, "permit me to say that you are interrupting a fine apostrophe! … And as a culmination, he would have me wed the daughter of your mortal enemy, his mistress! It is some mad dream, Madame; we shall soon awake."

"Even immediately," replied the marquis calmly. The Chevalier had snuffed more than candles this night. He had snuffed also the belated paternal spark of affection which had suddenly kindled in his father's breast. "Your apostrophe, as you are pleased to term the maudlin talk of a drunken fool, is being addressed to my wife."

"Well?" insolently.

"Your mother, while worthy and beautiful, was not sufficiently noble to merit Rubens's brush. It is to be regretted, but I never had a portrait of your mother."

The roisterers burst into song again …

"When Ma'm'selle drinks from her satin shoe

With a Bacchante's love for a Bacchic brew!"

How this rollicking song penetrated the ominous silence which had suddenly filled the salon! The Chevalier grew rigid.

"What did I understand you to say, Monsieur?" with an unnatural quietness which somewhat confused the marquis.

"I said that I never had a portrait of your mother. Is that explicit enough? Yonder Rubens was my wife." The marquis spoke lightly. The tone hid well the hot wrath which for the moment obliterated his sense of truth and justice, two qualities the importance of which he had never till now forgotten. He watched the effect of this terrible thrust, and with monstrous satisfaction he saw the shiver which took his son in its chilling grasp and sent him staggering back. "Then you return to Paris to-morrow? … to be the Chevalier du Cévennes till the end? Ah well!" How often man over-reaches himself in the gratification of an ignoble revenge! "We all have our pastimes," went on the marquis, deepening the abyss into which he was finally to fall. "You were mine. I had intended to send you about some years ago; but I was lonely, and there was something in your spirit which amused me. You tickled my fancy. But now, I am weary; the pastime palls; you no longer amuse."

The Chevalier stood in the midst of chaos. He was experiencing that frightful plunge of Icarus, from the clouds to the sea. He was falling, falling. When one falls from a great height, when waters roll thunderously over one's head, strange and significant fragments of life pass and repass the vision. And at this moment there flashed across the Chevalier's brain, indistinctly it is true, the young Jesuit's words, spoken at the Silver Candlestick in Paris… "An object of scorn, contumely, and forgetfulness; to dream what might and should have been; to be proved guilty of a crime we did not commit; to be laughed at!" Spots of red blurred his sight; his nails sank into his palms; his breath came painfully; there was a straining at the roots of his hair.

"Monsieur," he cried hoarsely, "take care! Are you not telling me some dreadful lie?"

"It would be … scarcely worth while." The marquis controlled his agitation by gently patting the gold knob on his stick. His gaze wandered, seeking to rest upon some object other than his son. The first blinding heat of passion had subsided, and in the following haze he saw that he had committed a wrong which a thousand truths might not wholly efface. And yet he remained silent, obdurate: so little a thing as a word or the lack of it has changed the destinies of empires and of men.

A species of madness seized the Chevalier. With a fierce gesture he drew his sword. For a moment the marquis thought that he was about to be impaled upon it; but he gave no sign of fear. Presently the sword deviated from its horizontal line, declined gradually till the point touched the floor. The Chevalier leaned upon it, swaying slightly. His eyes burned like opals.

"No, Monsieur, no! I will let you live, to die of old age, alone, in silence, surrounded by those hideous phantoms which the approach of death creates from ill-spent lives. Since you have taught me that there is no God, I shall not waste a curse upon you for this wrong. Think not that the lust to kill is gone; no, no; but I had rather let you live to die in bed. So! I have been your pastime? I have now ceased to amuse you? … as my mother, whoever she may be, ceased to amuse?" His sardonian laugh chilled the marquis in the marrow. "And I have spent your gold, thinking it lawfully mine? … lorded over your broad lands, believing myself to be heir to them? … been Monsieur le Comte this and Monsieur le Comte that? How the gods must have laughed as I walked forth among the great, arrogant in my pride of birth and riches! Poor fool! Surely, Monsieur, it must be as you say: Heaven and hell are of our own contriving. Poor fool! And I have held my head so high, faced the world so fearlessly and contemptuously! … to find that I am this, this! My God, Monsieur, but you have stirred within me all the hate, the lust to kill, the gall of envy and despair! But live," his madness increasing; "live to die in bed, no kin beside you, not even the administering hand of a friendly priest to alleviate the horror of your death-bed! God! do men go mad this way?"

The marquis was trembling violently. Words thronged to his lips, only to be crushed back by the irony of fate. For a little he would have flung himself at his son's feet. He had lied, lied, lied! What could he say? His tongue lay hot against the palate, paralyzed. His brain was confused, dazzled, incoherent.

"And now for these sponging fools who call themselves my friends!" The Chevalier staggered off toward the dining-hall, from whence still came the rollicking song… It was all so incongruous; it was all so like a mad dream.

"What are you going to do?" cried the marquis, a vague terror lending him speech. "I have lied …"

"What! have you turned coward, too? What am I going to do? Patience, Monsieur, and you will see." The Chevalier flung apart the doors. His roistering friends greeted his appearance with delight. "A toast, Messieurs!" he cried, flourishing his sword.

Only the Vicomte d'Halluys and Victor saw that something unusual had taken place.

"Your friend," whispered the vicomte, "appears to be touched with a passing madness. Look at his eyes."

"What has happened?" murmured Victor, setting down his glass.

"Bah! Monsieur le Marquis has stopped the Chevalier's allowance;" and the vicomte sighed regretfully. From where he sat he could see the grim, motionless figure of the marquis, standing with his back to the fire.

"Fill up the goblets, Messieurs; to the brim!" The Chevalier stumbled among the fallen bottles. He reached the head of the table. Feverishly he poured out a glass of wine, spilling part of it. With a laugh he flung the bottle to the floor. "Listen!" with a sweeping glance which took in every face. "To Monsieur le Marquis, my noble father! Up, up!" waving his rapier. Yes, madness was in his eyes; it bubbled and frothed in his veins, burned and cracked his lips. "It is droll! Up, you beggars! … up, all of you! You, Vicomte; you, Saumaise! Drink to the marquis, the noble marquis, the pious marquis, who gives to the Church! Drink it, you beggars; drink it, I say!" The sword-blade rang on the table.

"To the marquis!" cried the drunkards in chorus. They saw nothing; all was dead within, save appetite.

"Ah, that is well! Listen. All this about you will one day be mine? Ah! I shall be called Monsieur le Marquis; I shall possess famous chateaux and magnificent h?tels? Fools! 'twas all a lie! I who was am not. I vanish from the scene like a play-actor. Drink it, you beggars! Drink it, you wine-bibbers! Drink it, you gamesters, you hunters of women! Drink to me, the marquis's … bastard!"

Twelve glasses hung in mid air; twelve faces were transfixed with horror and incredulity; twelve pairs of eyes stared stupidly at the mad toast-master. In the salon the marquis listened with eyes distended, with jaw fallen, lips sunken inward and of a color as sickly as blue chalk… A maudlin sob caught one roisterer by the throat, and the tableau was broken by the falling of his glass to the table, where it lay shattered in foaming wine.

"Paul," cried Victor; "my God, Paul, are you mad?"

"I know you not." Then with a sudden wave of disgust, the Chevalier cried: "Now, one and all of you, out of my sight! Away with you! You look too hardily at the brand of pleasure on my brow. Out, you beggars, sponges and cheats! Out, I say! Back to the devil who spawned you!" He drove them forth with the flat of his sword. He saw nothing, heard nothing, knew nothing save that he was mad, possessed of a capital frenzy, the victim of some frightful dream; save that he saw through blood, that the lust to kill, to rend, and to destroy was on him. The flat of his sword fell rudely but impartially.

Like a pack of demoralized sheep the roisterers crowded and pressed into the hall. The vicomte turned angrily and attempted to draw his sword.

"Fool!" cried Victor, seizing the vicomte's hand; "can you not see that he is mad? He would kill you!"

"Curse it, he is striking me with his sword!"

"He is mad!"

"Well, well, Master Poet; I can wait. What a night!"

It had ceased snowing; the world lay dimly white. The roisterers flocked down the steps to the street. One fell into a drift and lay there sobbing.

"What now?" asked the vicomte.

"I am sorry," said the inebriate.

"The devil! The Chevalier has a friend here," laughed the vicomte, assisting the roisterer to his feet. "Come along, Saumaise."

"I shall wait."

"As you please;" and the vicomte continued on.

Victor watched them till they dwindled into the semblance of so many ravens. He rubbed his fevered face with snow, and waited.

Meantime the Chevalier returned to the table. "Drink, you beggars; drink, I say!" The sword swept the table, crashing among the bottles and glasses and candlesticks, "Take the news to Paris, fools! Spell it largely! It will amuse the court. Drink, drink, drink!" Wine bubbled and ran about the table; candles sputtered and died; still the sword rose and fell. Then came silence, broken only by heavy breathing and the ticking of the clock in the salon. The Chevalier sat crouched in his chair, his arm and sword resting on the table where they had at length fallen.

The marquis recovered from his stupor. He hurried toward the dining-hall, fumbling his lips, mumbling incoherent sentences. He came to a stand on the threshold.

"Blundering fool," he cried passionately, "what have you said and done?"

At the sound of his father's voice, the Chevalier's rage returned; but it was a cold rage, actionless.

"What have I done? I have written it large, Monsieur, that I am only your poor bastard. How Paris will laugh!" He gazed around, dimly noting the havoc. He rose, the sword still in his grasp. "What! the marquis so many times a father, to die without legal issue?"

The marquis raised his cane to strike, so great was his passion and chagrin; but palsy seized his arm.

"Drunken fool!" he roared; "be bastard, then; play drunken fool to the end!"

"Who was my mother?"

"Find that out yourself, drunkard! Never from me shall you know!"

"It is just as well." The Chevalier took from his pocket his purse. He cast it contemptuously at his father's feet.

"The last of the gold you gave me. Now, Monsieur, listen. I shall never again cross the threshold of any house of yours; never again shall I look upon your face, nor hear with patience your name spoken. In spite of all you have done, I shall yet become a man. Somewhere I shall begin anew. I shall find a level, and from that I shall rise. And I shall become what you will never become, respected." He picked up his cloak and hat. He looked steadily into his father's eyes, then swung on his heels, passed through the salon, thence to the street.

"Paul?" said Victor.

"Is that you, Victor?" quietly.

"Yes, Paul." Victor gently replaced the Chevalier's sword into its scabbard, and locking his arm in his friend's, the two walked in silence toward the Corne d'Abondance.

And the marquis? Ah, God-the God he did not believe in!-only God could analyse his thoughts.

"Fool!" he cried, seeing himself alone and the gift of prescience foretelling that he was to be henceforth and forever alone,-"senile fool! Dotard!" He beat about with his cane even as the Chevalier had beaten about with his sword. "Double fool! to lose him for the sake of a lie, a damnable lie, and the lack of courage to own to it!" A Venetian mirror caught his attention. He stood before it, and seeing his reflection he beat the glass into a thousand fragments.

Jehan appeared, white and trembling, carrying his master's candlestick.

"Ah!" cried the marquis. "'Tis you. Jehan, call your master a fool."

"I, Monsieur?" Jehan retreated.

"Aye; or I promise to beat your worthless body within an inch of death. Call me a fool, whose wrath, over-leaped his prudence and sense of truth and honor. Call me a fool."


"Quickly!" The cane rose.

"God forgive me this disrespect! … Monsieur, you are a fool!"

"A senile, doting fool."

"A senile, doting fool!" repeated Jehan, weeping.

"That is well. My candle. Listen to me." The marquis moved toward the staircase. "Monsieur le Comte has left this house for good and all, so he says. Should he return to-morrow …"

Jehan listened attentively, as attentively as his dazed mind would permit.

"Should he come back within a month …" The marquis had by this time reached the first landing.

"Yes, Monsieur."

"If he ever comes back …"

"I am listening."

"Let him in."

And the marquis vanished beyond the landing, leaving the astonished lackey staring at the vanishing point. He saw the ruin and desolation in the dining-hall, from which arose the odor of stale wine and smoke.

"Mother of Jesus! What has happened?"

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

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top