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   Chapter 14 BRETON FINDS A MARKER FOR HIS COPY OF RABELAIS

The Grey Cloak By Harold MacGrath Characters: 17461

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


After the calm the storm came, after the storm the rough winds and winnowed skies. At one moment the ship threatened to leap to heaven, at another, to plunge down to the sea's floor. Breton had a time of it one afternoon in the cabin. He was buffeted about like maize in a heated pan. He fell, and in trying to save himself he clutched at the garments hanging from the hooks. The cloth gave. The pommel of the Chevalier's rapier hit him in the forehead, cutting and dazing him. He rose, staggering, and indulged in a little profanity which made him eminently human. One by one he gathered up the fallen garments and cloaks. It was haphazard work: for now the floor was where the partition had been, and the ceiling where the bunk had stood. Keys had rolled from the Chevalier's pockets-keys, coins, and rings; and Breton scrambled and slid around on his hands and knees till he had recovered these treasures, which he knew to be all his master had. He thought of the elegant rubies and sapphires and topaz of the garters he had ordered for his master but four months gone. And that mysterious lady of high degree? Paris! Alas, Paris was so far away that he, Breton, was like to see it never again.

He stood up, balanced himself, and his eye caught sight of the grey cloak, which lay crumpled under the bunk.

"Ah! so it is you, wretched cloak, that gave way when I clung to you for help?" He stooped and dragged it forth by its skirts. "So it was you?" swinging it fiercely above his head and balancing himself nicely. The bruise on his forehead made him savage. "Whatever made me bring you to the Corne d'Abondance? What could you not tell, if voice were given to you? And Monsieur Paul used to look so fine in it! You make me cold in the spine!" He shook it again and again, then hung it up by the torn collar, which had yielded over-readily to his frenzied grasp.

As the ache in his head subsided, so diminished the strength of his wrath; and he went out to ask the Chevalier if he should keep the valuables in his own pocket or replace them in the pocket of the pantaloons from which they had fallen. The Chevalier took the rings and slipped them on his fingers, all save the signet ring, which he handed to his lackey.

"Keep this, lad, till I ask for it," was all he said.

Breton put the ring in the little chamois bag which his mother had given him. The ring rattled against a little silver crucifix. The lad then returned to the cabin and read his favorite book till his eyes grew weary. He looked about for a marker and espied some papers on the floor. These he thrust into his place and fell to dreaming.

Each afternoon the Chevalier was carried up to the deck; and what with the salt air and the natural vigor which he inherited from his father, the invalid's bones began to take on flesh and his interest in life became normal. It is true that when left alone a mask of gloom shadowed his face, and his thin fingers opened and closed nervously and unconsciously. Diane, Diane, Diane! It was the murmur of far-off voices, it was the whisper of the winds in the shrouds, it was the cry of the lonely gull and the stormy petrel. To pass through the weary years of his exile without again seeing that charming face, finally to strive in vain to recall it in all its perfect beauty! This thought affected him more than the thought of the stigma on his birth. That he could and would live down; he was still a man, with a brain and a heart and a strong arm. But Diane!

The Comte d'Hérouville, for some reason best known to himself, appeared to be acting with a view toward partial conciliation. The Chevalier did not wholly ignore this advance. D'Hérouville would fight fair as became a gentleman, and that was enough. Since they were soon to set about killing each other, what mattered the prologue?

The vicomte watched this play, and it caused him to smile. He knew the purpose of these advances: it was to bring about the freedom of the Chevalier's cabin. As yet neither he nor the count had found the golden opportunity. The Chevalier was never asleep or alone when they knocked at the door of his cabin.

Each day D'Hérouville approached the Chevalier when the latter was on deck.

"You are improving, Monsieur?" was the set inquiry.

"I am gaining every hour, Monsieur," always returned the invalid.

"That is well;" and then D'Hérouville would seek some other part of the ship. He ignored Victor as though he were not on board.

"Victor, you have not yet told me who the woman in the grey mask was," said the Chevalier.

"Bah!" said Victor, with fictitious nonchalance.

"She is fleeing from some one?"

"That may be."

"Who is she?" directly.

"I regret that I must leave you in the dark, Paul."

"But you said that you knew something of her history; and you can not know that without knowing her name."

Victor remained silent.

"Somehow," went on the Chevalier, "that grey mask continually intrudes into my dreams."

"That is because you have been ill, Paul."

"Is she some prince's light-o'-love?"

"She is no man's light-o'-love. Do not question me further. I may tell you nothing. She is a fugitive from the equivocal justice of France."

"Politics?"

"Politics."

"She comes from a good family?"

"So high that you would laugh were I to tell you."

"As she left the private assembly that night I caught the odor of vervain. Perhaps that is what printed her well upon my mind."

"Pretend to yourself that it was attar of roses, and forget her. She will never enter into your life, my good comrade."

"I am merely curious, indifferently curious. It is something to talk about. I daresay that she is pretty. Homely women never flee from anything but mirrors."

"And homely men," laughed the poet. "I am going to see Bouchard for a moment."

Du Puys, D'Hérouville and the vicomte drew their stools around the Chevalier, and discussed politics, religion, and women.

"Why is it that women intrigue?" asked the Chevalier, recalling the grey mask. "Is it because they wish the great to smile on them?"

"No," replied the vicomte; "rather that they wish to smile on the great. Women love secret power, that power which comes from behind the puppet-booth. A man must stand before his audience to appear as great; woman becomes most powerful when her power is not fully known. The king's mistress has ever been the mistress of the king."

"And Marie de Touchet?" asked Du Puys.

"Charles IX was not a fool; he was mad." D'Hérouville smoothed his beard.

Presently the Chevalier said to the vicomte: "Monsieur, will you be so kind as to seek my lackey? I am growing chilly and desire a shawl or a cloak."

"I will gladly seek him," said the vicomte, flashing a triumphant look at D'Hérouville, whose face became dark.

"Permit me to accompany you," requested the count.

"The vicomte will do, Monsieur," interposed the Chevalier, wonderingly.

The vicomte passed down the companionway and disappeared. He stopped before the Chevalier's cabin and knocked. The sound of his knuckles was as thunder in his ears. Breton opened the door, rubbing his eyes.

"Your master, my lad, has sent me for his grey cloak. Will you give it to me to carry to him?"

"The grey cloak?" repeated Breton, greatly astonished.

"Yes. Be quick about it, as your master complains of the cold."

"Why, Monsieur Paul has not touched the grey cloak …"

"Must I get it myself? Be quick!" The vicomte was pale with excitement and impatience.

Breton, without further parley, took down the cloak and passed it over to the vicomte.

"Monsieur will find the collar badly torn," he said.

"If he changes his mind, I will return shortly;" and the vicomte threw the cloak over his arm, left the cabin, and closed the door.

Breton wiped his hands on his breeches as if to wipe away the contaminating touch of the cloak. His eyes were bothering him of late, and he had not read from his favorite book since he left Panurge hunting for the prophetess. Being now awake and having nothing to do, he took down his master's sword and began polishing the blade. He had scarce begun his labor when the door opened and the vicomte stood on the threshold.

"My lad," he said, quietly, "you were right. Your master wants the purple cloak. I was wrong."

Without replying, Breton hung up the grey cloak and took down another.

"Is Monsieur le Vicomte seasick?" he asked.

"It is hunger, lad, which makes me pale."

As the vicomte reappeared upon deck, he saw D'Hérouville biting his nails. He met the questioning glance, and laughed coldly and mirthlessly.

"Chevalier," said the vicomte, "your lackey handed me the grey cloak first."

"The grey cl

oak?"

"Yes; but I recalled its history, and returned with this. Hang me, but you have a peculiar fancy. In your place, I should have burned that cloak long ago."

D'Hérouville looked interested.

"I have a morbid fancy for that cloak," returned the Chevalier. "I want it always with me. Murder will out, and that garment will some day … No matter."

"Have you ever searched the pockets?" asked D'Hérouville, in a quiet, cool tone.

The vicomte's eyes brightened. There was good metal in this D'Hérouville.

"Searched the pockets?" said the Chevalier. "Not I! I have not touched the cloak since I last wore it. I never expect to touch it. Vicomte, thank you for your trouble." The Chevalier threw the cloak around his shoulders and closed his eyes. The wind, blowing forcefully and steadily into his face produced a drowsiness.

Du Puys looked from one to the other. A grey cloak? All this was outside the circle of his understanding. When Victor returned the old soldier rose and made his way to the cabin. As he disappeared, D'Hérouville moved toward the wheel. From time to time he looked back at the vicomte, but that gentleman purposely refused to acknowledge these glances.

"Chevalier," he said, "you know why our poet here and myself are upon this ship: a certain paper, ten by twelve inches, stands between us and the block."

"Ah!" The Chevalier opened his eyes.

"Yes. Has it ever occurred to you, my poet, to investigate Monsieur le Chevalier's grey cloak; that is to say, search its pockets?"

Victor smothered an oath and thwacked his thigh. "Horns of Panurge!" softly.

"Then you have not. It would be droll if our salvation was accompanying us to the desert." The vicomte was up and heading toward D'Hérouville.

"Victor, lad," said the Chevalier, "go you and see if there is anything in the pockets of that grey cloak."

"Well, Monsieur?" said D'Hérouville, eagerly.

"There is a ghost upon the ship," replied the vicomte.

"You have secured the papers?"

"Papers?" with elevated brows. "Is there more than one, then?" the vicomte's tone hardening.

"Paper or papers, it matters not; I was speaking only in a general way."

"Do you recall that when I touched that cloak it gave forth a crackling sound as of paper?"

"It was paper," said the count impatiently. What was this man D'Halluys driving at?

"Well, as I said;" and the vicomte twisted the ends of his mustache and gnawed it between his teeth. "There is a ghost upon this ship. There was nothing in that pocket, not even a piece of paper as large as your thumb-nail."

"You lie!" roughly.

Their faces came close together.

"If Monsieur le Chevalier leaves enough of you, Monsieur," said the vicomte. His tone was gentle. "When I gave you my word it was given honestly, without reservation. There were no papers in that cloak. Some one has gone before us, or rather, some one has gone before me. You spoke of papers: what gave you to believe there was more than one? Monsieur, is not the lie on your side? Have you not had access to the Chevalier's room? You say that I lie; is not your own tongue crooked? Besides, let us not forget the poet, who, while he may be unaware of the commercial value of that paper, has no less an interest in it. You have given me the lie: go about your affairs as you please, and I shall do likewise. When we land, if the Chevalier does not kill you, I will."

"Why?"

"You tell me that I lie."

"Bah! Monsieur, under all circumstances there would be cause for war between us. Do you not love Madame de Brissac? Heigho! she has given the motley to us all. Are we not fine fools? It is droll. Well, I will write the Chevalier's discharge, and you shall go out by the same order. We are all cats in the bags, and some of us are likely to be scratched."

"It will be an exciting day, no doubt;" and the vicomte turned on his heel.

"There was nothing in the pockets of the cloak," said Victor, a while later.

On the second day of June the Saint Laurent dropped anchor before Quebec. The voyage had come to an end, and a prosperous voyage, indeed. There had been only one death at sea; they had encountered neither the Spaniard nor the outlaw; the menace of ice they had slipped past. What a welcome was roared to them from Fort Louis, from the cannon and batteries, high up on the cliffs! The echoes rolled across the river and were lost in the mighty forests beyond. Again and again came the flash, and the boom. It was wondrous to see the fire and smoke so far above one's head. Flags fluttered in the sunshine; all labor was stopped, and the great storehouses were closed for the remainder of the day. Canoes filled with peaceful Hurons sallied forth, and the wharves were almost blotted out of sight with crowding humanity.

Many notable faces could be identified here and there among the pressing throng on the wharves. Some were there to meet friends or relatives; some wanted the news from France; some came for mail to be delivered to the various points along the river. Prominent among them was Governor Lauson, a grey-haired, kindly civilian, who, though a shrewd speculator, was by no means the man to be at the head of the government in Canada. He was pulled this way and that, first by the Company, then by the priests, then by the seigneurs. Depredations by the Indians remained unpunished; and the fear of the great white father grew less and less. Surrounding Monsieur de Lauson was his staff and councillors, and the veterans Du Puys had left behind while in France. There were names which in their time were synonyms for courage and piety. The great Jesuits were absent in the south, in Onondaga, where they had erected a mission: Father Superior le Mercier, and Fathers Dablon and Le Moyne.

Immediately on landing, Father Chaumonot made a sign, and his sea-weary voyagers fell upon their knees and kissed the earth. New France!

"Now," said Victor, shaking himself, "let us burn up the remaining herrings and salt codfish. I see yonder a gentleman with a haunch of venison on his shoulder."

"One would think that you had had no duck or deer since we passed Acadia," laughed Du Puys. "But, patience, lad; Monsieur de Lauson invites all the gentlemen to the Fort at six to partake of his table. You have but four hours to wait for a feast such as will make your Paris eyes bulge."

"Praise be!"

As he breathed in the resinous, balsamic perfume which wafted across the mighty river from the forests and the river-rush; as his eye traveled up the glorious promontory, now mellowed in sunshine, to the summit bristling with cannon; as his gaze swept the broad reaches of the river, and returned to rest upon the joyous faces around him, joyous even in the face of daily peril, the Chevalier threw back his shoulders, as if bracing himself for the battle to come. Here he was to forget and build anew; France, his mother, was dead, and here was his foster-mother, rugged and brave, opening her arms to him. New France! Ah, well, there was here, somewhere, a niche for him, and the man in him vowed to fill it. He did not yet say "With God's help." It was early, and the sting of his misfortune still stirred the poison in his soul.

"New France, Paul," cried the poet at his side. The newness and strangeness of the scene had filled the poet's face with animation. No problems beset his buoyant soul.

"Yes, lad; this is New France. Fortune here seems to be of the masculine; and I daresay that you and I shall receive many cuffs in the days to come."

"Come, my friends," said Brother Jacques, "and I will show you the path which leads to the citadel."

And the three proceeded up the incline.

Sister Benie of the Ursulines was passing along the narrow road which led to the river. There was on her serene face the remains of what had been great beauty, such as is sometimes given to the bourgeois; but the purple eyes were wells of sadness and the lips ever drooped in pity and mercy. Across her pale cheek was a paler scar, which ran from the left temple to the chin. Sister Teresa, her companion, was young and plain. Soldiers and trappers and Indians passed them on the way up, touching their caps and hats; for Sister Benie was known from Montreal to Tadousac. Suddenly Sister Benie gave a low cry and pressed a hand upon her heart.

"Sister, you are ill?" asked her companion.

"A dizziness; it is gone now." Presently she caught the arm of a gentleman who was passing.

"My son," she said, sweetly, "can you tell me who is that young man walking with Brother Jacques; the tall one?"

"He? That is the Chevalier du Cévennes."

"His family?"

"He is the son of the Marquis de Périgny."

"Thank you, my son."

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