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   Chapter 15 THE SUPPER

The Grey Cloak By Harold MacGrath Characters: 18713

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


"Monsieur du Cévennes," said D'Hérouville, just before supper that first night of their arrival on Canadian soil, "I see that you are not quite strong enough to keep the engagement. This day two weeks: will that be agreeable?"

"It will; though I should be better pleased to fix the scene for to-morrow morning."

D'Hérouville raised a deprecating hand. "I should not like to have it said that I took advantage of a man's weakness. Of course, if you wish absolutely to force it …"

The Chevalier looked thoughtfully at his pale hands. "I shall take advantage of your courtesy, Monsieur le Comte."

"How polite men are when about to cut each other's throats!" The Vicomte d'Halluys adjusted his baldric and entered the great dining-hall of the Chateau Saint Louis.

He and D'Hérouville sat side by side.

"Vicomte, you have never told me why the Chevalier is here. Why should he leave France, he, who possessed a fortune, who had Mazarin's favor, and who had all the ladies at his feet?"

"Ask him when you meet him," answered the vicomte, testing the governor's burgundy.

"And will you pay me those ten thousand livres which you wagered against my claims for madame's hand?"

The vicomte took a sip of the wine. There was no verbal answer, but his eyes spoke.

"Quebec promises to afford a variety," commented d'Hérouville, glancing to where the Chevalier sat.

"It is quite probable," affably returned the vicomte. "This is good wine for a wilderness like this. To be sure, it comes from France; I had forgotten."

The first fortnight passed with the excitement attendant to taking up quarters in a strange land. The Chevalier, Victor and the vicomte were given rooms in the citadel; D'Hérouville accepted the courtesy of the governor and became a resident of the chateau; father Chaumonot, Major du Puys, and his selected recruits, had already made off for Onondaga. A word from Father Chaumonot into the governor's ear promoted the Chevalier to a lieutenancy in lieu of Nicot's absence in Onondaga. Everything began very well.

Seldom a day went by without a skirmish with the Iroquois, who had grown impudent and fearless again. The Iroquois were determined to destroy their ancient enemies, the Hurons, primarily because they hated them, and secondarily because they were allies of the French. France did what she could in reason to stop these depredations, but the task needed an iron gauntlet, and De Lauson was a civilian. At this period the Mohawks were the fiercest, the Onondagas having agreed to a temporary treaty. Marauders were brought in and punished, but usually the punishment was trivial compared to the offense. The governor wished to rule by kindness; but his lieutenants knew the Indian thoroughly. He must not be treated with kindness where justice was merited; it gave him the idea that the white man was afraid. Therefore, his depredations should be met with a vengeance swift and final and convincing. But nine times out of ten De Lauson and the priests overruled the soldiers; and the depredations continued unabated. Once, however, the Chevalier succeeded in having several gibbets erected on the island of Orléans, and upon these gibbets he strung half a dozen redskins who had murdered a family of peaceful Hurons.

Though he went about somberly, untalkative and morose, the Chevalier proved himself a capital soldier, readily adapting himself to the privations of scouting and the loneliness of long watches in the night. He studied his Indian as one who intended to take up his abode among them for many years to come. He discarded the uniform for the deerskin of the trapper. But the Chevalier made no friends among the inhabitants; and when not on duty he was seen only in the company of Victor, the vicomte and Brother Jacques, who was assisting him in learning the Indian languages. Brown he grew, lithe and active as the enemy he watched and studied. Never a complaint fell from his lips; he accepted without question the most hazardous duty.

"Keep your eye upon Monsieur le Chevalier," said De Lauson; "for he will count largely before the year is gone."

As for Victor, he was more or less indifferent. He was perfectly willing to fight the Indian, but his gorge rose at the thought of studying him as an individual. As a rule he found them to be unclean, vulgar and evil-minded; and the hideous paints disturbed his dreams. Secretly, his enthusiasm for New France had already waned, and there were times when he longed for the road to Spain-Spain which by now held for him the dearest treasure in all the world. But not even the keen-eyed Brother Jacques read this beneath the poet's buoyancy and lightness of spirit. Besides, Brother Jacques had set himself to watch the Comte d'Hérouville and the Vicomte d'Halluys, and this was far more important to him than the condition of the poet's temperament.

D'Hérouville mingled with the great seigneurs, and, backed by his reputation as a famous swordsman, did about as he pleased. He watched the Chevalier's progress toward health; and he noted with some concern his enemy's quick, springy step, the clear and steady eye. He still ignored the poet as completely as though he did not exist.

Every Friday night the table was given up to the governor's gentlemen councillors, friends, and officers. Victor and the Chevalier were on this list, as were the vicomte and D'Hérouville. Usually these were enjoyable evenings. Victor became famous as a raconteur, and the Chevalier lost some of his taciturnity in this friendly intercourse. D'Hérouville's conduct was irreproachable in every sense.

One day the Chevalier entered one of the school-rooms. In his arms he held a small white child which had sprained its weak ankle while playing on the lumber pile outside the convent of the Ursulines. Sister Benie was quick to note how tenderly he held the sobbing child.

"Give him to me, Monsieur," she said, her velvet eyes moist with pity.

The Chevalier placed the little boy in her arms, and he experienced a strange thrill as he noticed the manner in which she wrapt the boy to her heart. How often Breton's mother, his nurse, had taken him to her breast that way! And he stood there marveling over that beautiful mystery which God had created, for the wonder of man, the woman and the child.

"I chanced to be passing and heard his cry," he said, diffidently.

"Playing the good Samaritan?" asked a voice from the window. The Sister and the Chevalier looked around and saw the vicomte leaning on the window-sill. "Why was it not my happiness to tarry by that lumber-pile. I saw the lad.'"

"Ah, it is you, Vicomte?" said the Chevalier, pleasantly.

"Yes, Chevalier. Will you walk with me?"

Being without excuse, the Chevalier joined him, and together they proceeded toward the quarters.

Sister Benie stared after them till they had disappeared around the corner of the building.

"Chevalier," said the vicomte, "do you remember Henri de Leviston?"

"De Leviston?" The Chevalier frowned. "Yes; I recollect him. Why?"

"He is here."

"In Quebec?"

"Yes. He came in this morning from Montreal, where he is connected with the Associates. Was he not in your company three or four years ago? He was dismissed, so I heard, for prying into De Guitaut's private despatches."

"I remember the incident. I was the one who denounced him. It was a disagreeable duty, but De Guitaut had put me on De Leviston's tracks. It was unavoidable."

"You had best beware of him."

"I am perfectly in health, thank you," replied the Chevalier.

The vicomte covertly ran his eye over his companion. It was not to be denied that the Chevalier had gained wonderfully in the fortnight. The air, the constant labor, and the natural medicine which he inhaled in the forests, had given a nervous springiness to his step and had cleared his eyes till the whites were like china. No; the Chevalier need have no fear of De Leviston, was the vicomte's mental comment.

"Well, you do look proper. The wine is all out of your system, and there is balsam in your blood. A wonderful country!" The vicomte stopped before his door.

"Yes, it is a wonderful country. It is not France; it is better than the mother country. Ambition has a finer aim; charity is without speculation; and a man must be a man here, else he can not exist."

"That is an illusion," replied the vicomte. "Only the women have what you call a finer ambition. The men are puling as in France. The Company seeks riches without working; the military seek batons without war; and these Jesuits … Bah! What are they trying to do? To rule the pope, and through him, the world. My faith, I can barely keep from laughing at some of the stories these priests tell all in good faith."

"My thought did not include the great," said the Chevalier, quietly. "I meant the lower orders. They will eventually become men and women in the highest sense. There is no time for dalliance and play; labor is the monitor best suited to hold back, to trim and regulate a man's morals and habits. There is no idleness here, Vicomte."

"I do not know but you are right."

"Shall you remain here long?" asked the Chevalier.

"Who can say? I would return to France on the next boat were my neck less delicately attached to my shoulders. Let us say six months; it will have qui

eted down by then. Devil take me, but I should like to feel that paper crackling between my fingers. And you meet D'Hérouville in two days?"

"In two days."

"Will you not join me in a glass of the governor's old burgundy as a toast to your success?"

"Thank you, but I am on duty. They are bringing some Mohawks up from the lower town, and I am to take charge of them."

"Good luck to you;" and the vicomte waved a friendly hand as he started off toward the citadel.

The Chevalier with a dozen men started for the lower town. But his mind was not on his duty. He was thinking of Diane, her gay laughter, her rollicking songs, the old days.

"Monsieur, are we to go to Sillery?" asked a trooper, respectfully.

"Sillery?" The Chevalier shook himself, and took the right path.

The Chevalier and Victor sat on their narrow cots that night. Brother Jacques had just gone. The windows were open, and the balmy air of summer drifted in, carrying with it forest odors and the freshness of the rising dew. Fireflies sparkled in the grass, and the pale stars of early evening pierced the delicate green of the heavens. A single candle flickered on the table, and the candlestick was an empty burgundy bottle. The call of one sentry to another broke the solemn quiet.

"And you have not grown sick for home since you left the sea?" asked the Chevalier.

"Not I!" There were times when Victor could lie cheerfully and without the prick of conscience. "One hasn't time to think of home. But how are you getting on with your Iroquois?"

"Fairly."

"You are determined to meet D'Hérouville?"

The Chevalier extended his right arm, allowing Victor to press it with his fingers. Victor whistled softly. The arm, while thin, was like a staff of oak. Presently the same arm reached out and snuffed the candle.

"Shall you ever go back to France, Paul?"

A sigh from the other side of the room.

"I saw the vicomte talking to De Leviston to-day. De Leviston was scowling. They separated when I approached."

"Will you have the goodness to go to sleep?"

"What the devil brings De Leviston so high on this side the water?"

Silence.

"I never liked his sneaking face."

A sentry called, another, and still another.

"Are you there, Paul?"

No answer.

"You're as surly as a papoose!"

Soon after that there was nothing to be heard but the deep and regular breathing of two healthy men resting in sleep.

Some fourteen gentlemen sat around the governor's table the third Friday night. There were the governor and his civic staff and his officers, three or four merchants, and two priests, Brother Jacques and Dollier de Casson, that brother to Rabelais, with his Jove-like smile and his Herculean proportions. De Casson had arrived that day from Three Rivers, and he had come for aid.

Two chairs were vacant, and presently the vicomte filled one of them. The other was reserved for the Chevalier.

Victor was telling some amusing tales of the court; how Beaufort was always blundering, how Mazarin was always saving, how Louis was always making love, and how the queen was always praying.

"Ah, Monsieur de Saumaise," said the governor, "you must not tell jests at the expense of their Majesties; Mazarin I do not mind, for he is certainly niggard with funds and with men."

"How that handsome young king of ours will spend money when a new prime minister is needed!" was the vicomte's comment, his gaze falling on the Chevalier's empty chair. "Do you remember how Mazarin took away Scarron's pension? Scarron asked that it be renewed; and Mazarin refused, bidding the wit to be of good cheer. Scarron replied, 'Monseigneur, I should indeed be in good cheer were I not positive that I shall not outlive your parsimony.'"

When the Chevalier finally came in he was cordially greeted by the governor. He took his chair, filled his glass and lit his pipe. He waved aside all food, stating that he had eaten his supper in the lower town.

No sooner had he lighted his pipe than De Leviston rose, shoving back his chair noisily. A cold, sneering contempt marked his swart face.

"What is the matter, Monsieur de Leviston?" asked the governor, mildly.

"Your Excellency will pardon me," said De Leviston; "but I find, it impossible to sit at this table till another person leaves it."

Surprise and consternation lay written on every face. The Chevalier lowered his pipe, and looked from one face to another. He was so tired with the labor of the day, that he had forgotten all about himself and his history.

The governor sat rigid in his chair. Victor's hand rested on the table; he was ready to rise and meet the blow he knew was coming.

"Explain yourself," said the governor, coldly. "You impugn the conduct or honor of some gentleman at my table? Take care, Monsieur."

"It is my regret."

"Who is this person who has aroused your displeasure, and what has he done that he may not sit in the presence of gentlemen?"

Victor rose, white and trembling.

"Sit down, Monsieur de Saumaise," commanded the governor, sternly.

"He calls himself the Chevalier du Cévennes." De Leviston smiled.

Every eye was leveled at the Chevalier. Victor felt his heart swelling. It had come at last! Brother Jacques leaned forward, peering into every face. D'Hérouville's face was expressive of deep surprise, and the vicomte was staring at De Leviston as if he believed that gentleman to be mad.

"Calls himself the Chevalier du Cévennes?" thundered the governor. "Calls himself? This demands an immediate explanation from you, Monsieur de Leviston."

"I object to sit at a table with a person who does not know who his mother was." Each word was deliberately and carefully measured.

"Death of my life!" roared the governor, upon his feet.

The Chevalier reached over and caught De Lauson's sleeve. "Hush, Monsieur; what Monsieur de Leviston says is … true." He got up, white as the broken pipe that lay at the side of his plate. Under the chair was his hat. He reached for it. Looking neither to the right nor to the left, he walked quietly and with dignity from the room.

There was a single laugh, rude and loud. It came from D'Hérouville.

The general silence which followed lasted several minutes. The Chevalier's declaration had stunned them. The governor was first to recover. He rose again, quietly, though his eyes sparkled with anger.

"Monsieur de Leviston," he said, "you have wilfully broken and destroyed the peace and dignity of my household. I shall cross you from my list, and the sooner you return to Montreal, the better. Your peculiar sense of honor in no wise appeals to me. It is an ignoble revenge; for do not doubt that I know your own history, Monsieur, and also the part the Chevalier had in it. But believing you had come to this country to repair your honor, I have assisted you by inviting you to partake of my bounty and of my friendship."

De Leviston paled, and turned a scowling face to those about him. He found no sympathy in any eye, not even in D'Hérouville's.

"You have wounded brutally and with intent," went on the governor, "the heart of a man who has not only proved himself a gentleman, but a hero. And I add this: Let no one repeat what has happened, or he shall feel the weight of my displeasure, and my displeasure will mean much to promotion and liberty." He pushed his chair under the table, which signified that he was to retire.

The gentlemen left the table with him.

Outside, Victor approached D'Hérouville, ignoring De Leviston. The vicomte followed in the rear.

"Monsieur d'Hérouville, you have a bad heart," said the poet. "You have laughed insolently at a man whose misfortune is none of his own making. You are a poltroon and a coward!"

The vicomte interposed. "D'Hérouville, listen to me. After what has happened you will refuse to meet the Chevalier."

"I certainly shall."

"I am at your service," said the vicomte.

"D'Halluys," cried the poet, "you have no right to interfere."

"Stand aside, Monsieur de Saumaise." The vicomte pressed the poet back.

"Vicomte," said D'Hérouville, "I will not fight you to-night."

"I am certain. Here is a phrase which leaves no misunderstanding." The vicomte slapped D'Hérouville in the face.

"Damnation!" D'Hérouville fell back.

Victor turned to De Leviston. "I will waive the question of gentleman," and he struck De Leviston even as the vicomte had struck D'Hérouville.

"Curse you, I will accompany you!" roared De Leviston.

"Very good," returned the poet. "Vicomte, there is a fine place back of the Ursulines. Let us go there."

When Victor entered, his room that night, an hour later, it was dark. He groped for the candle and stoked the flint. As soon as his eyes grew accustomed to the glare of the light, he looked about, and his shadow wavered on the plastered walls. The Chevalier lay on his cot, his face buried in his arms. Victor touched him and he stirred.

"It is all right, Paul." Victor threw his sword and baldric into a corner and sat down beside his stricken friend, throwing an arm around his shoulders. "I have just this moment run De Leviston through the shoulder. That vicomte is a cool hand. He put his blade nicely between D'Hérouville's ribs. They will both remain in hospital for two or three weeks. It was a good fight."

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