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   Chapter 16 THE POET EXPLAINS TO MONSIEUR DE LAUSON

The Grey Cloak By Harold MacGrath Characters: 10272

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


By the next morning all Quebec had heard of the double duel, and speculation ran high as to the cause. All Quebec, to be sure, amounted only to a few hundreds; and a genuine duel at this period was a rare happening. So everybody knew that D'Hérouville and De Leviston were in hospital, seriously though not dangerously wounded, and that Monsieur de Saumaise was in the guardhouse, where, it was supposed, he would remain for some time to come, in order that his hot blood might cool appreciably. As for Monsieur d'Halluys, he was not under the governor's direct jurisdiction, and was simply ordered to stay in his room.

The officers and civilians respected the governor's command, and no outsider gathered a word of information from them. The officers, talking among themselves, secretly admired the poet's pluck. Like all men of evil repute, De Leviston was a first-class swordsman and the poet's stroke had lessened his fame. As for what had caused the fight between the vicomte and D'Hérouville, they were somewhat at a loss to say or account for. The governor himself was exceedingly wrathful. At ten o'clock he summoned Victor to appear before him, to render a full account of the affair. The savages made life hazardous enough, without the additional terror of duels.

Victor found the governor alone, and for this he was thankful.

"Monsieur de Saumaise," De Lauson began, sternly, "I gave you credit for being a young man of sense."

"And a man of heart, too, your Excellency, I hope," replied the poet, valiantly.

"Heart? Is it heart to break the edict, to upset the peace of my household, to set tongues wagging? Persons will want to know the cause of this foolish duel. I am positive that it was fought contrary to the Chevalier's wishes. He conducted himself admirably last night. You have done more harm than good with your impetuosity. My command would have been respected, and your friend's misfortune would have gone no farther than my dining-room."

"And Monsieur de Leviston?" with a shade of irony which escaped the governor.

"Would have remained silent on the pain of being sent back to France, where the Bastille awaits him. He was exiled to this country, and he may not leave it till the year sixty. De Maisonneuve would have stood by me in the matter. So you see that you have blundered in the worst possible manner."

"And the Vicomte d'Halluys?"

"If D'Hérouville dies, the vicomte shall return to France in irons."

"Monsieur," with a sign of heat, "there are some insults which can not be treated with contempt. I should have proved myself a false friend and a coward had I done otherwise than I did."

"What does the Chevalier say about your fighting his battles for him?" asked the governor, quietly.

Victor's gaze rested on his boots.

"He doesn't approve, then?" The governor drummed with his fingers. "I thought as much. At your age I was young myself. Youth sees affronts where it ought to see caution and circumspection."

"When I have arrived at your Excellency's age …"

"No sarcasm, if you please. You are still under arrest."

Victor bowed, and twirled his hat, which was sadly in need of a new plume.

"I warn you, if De Leviston dies I shall hang you high from one of the Chevalier's gibbets on Orléans. If he lives, I shall keep in touch with your future conduct, Monsieur; so take good care of yourself."

"De Leviston will not die. Such men as he do not die honestly in bed. But he was only a puppet in this instance."

"A puppet? Explain."

"There was another who prompted him from behind."

"Who?" sharply.

"I am afraid that at present I can not name him."

"D'Hérouville? Be careful, Monsieur; this is a grave accusation you are making. You will be forced to prove it." The governor looked worried; for to him the Comte d'Hérouville was a great noble.

"I did not name him. There was a woman behind all this; a woman who is the innocent cause."

"Ha! a woman?" The governor leaned forward on his elbows.

"Yes."

"Who?"

"Mademoiselle de Longueville. D'Hérouville insulted her and the Chevalier took up her cause."

"Why, then, did you not pick your quarrel with the count?"

"The vicomte had some prior claim."

The governor got up and walked about, biting his mustache. Victor eyed him with some anxiety.

"But the Chevalier; why did he not defend himself?"

Victor breathed impatiently. "Frankly, Monsieur, how can he defend himself?"

"True." The governor scrubbed his beard. He was in a quandary and knew not which way to move. Tardy decision was the stumbling-block in the path of this well meaning man. Problems irritated him; and in his secret heart he wished he had never seen the Chevalier, D'Hérouville, the poet, or the vicomte, since they upset his quiet. He had enough to do with public affairs without having private ones thrust gratuitously upon his care. "Well, well," he said, reseating himself; "you know my wishes. Nothing but publicity will come of duels and brawls, and publicity is the last thing the Chevalier is seeking. I feel genuinely sorry for him. The stain on his name does not prevent

him from being a brave man and a gentleman. Control yourself, Monsieur de Saumaise, and the day will come when you will thank me for the advice. As you have no incentive for running away, I will put you on your word, and the vicomte also. You may go. While I admire the spirit which led you to take up the Chevalier's cause, I deplore it. Who, then, will succeed Monsieur le Marquis?"

"That is a question I can not answer. To the best of my knowledge, no one will succeed Monsieur le Marquis de Périgny."

"So this is what brought him over here? What brought you?"

"Friendship for him, an empty purse and a pocketful of ambition."

The answer pleased De Lauson, and he nodded. "That is all."

"Thank you, Monsieur."

"I shall keep you in mind … if you escape the gibbet."

Monsieur de Saumaise, in displaying his teeth, signified that the least of his worries was the thought of the gibbet.

And so concluded the interview.

The Chevalier remained in his room all day, putting aside his food, and staring beyond the river. His eyes were dull and the lids discolored from sleeplessness. Victor waited for him to heap reproach upon him; but never a word did the Chevalier utter. The only sign he gave of the volcano raging and burning beneath the thin mask of calm was the ceaseless knotting of the muscles of the jaw and the compressed lips. When the poet broke forth, reviling his own conduct, the Chevalier silenced him with a gesture of the hand.

"You are wasting your breath. What you have done can not be undone." The tones of his voice were all on a dull level, cold and unimpassioned.

Victor was struck with admiration at the sight of such extraordinary control; and he trembled to think of the whirlwind which would some day be let loose.

"I will kill De Leviston the first opportunity," he said.

The Chevalier arose. "No, lad; the man who told him. He is mine!"

Victor sought out Brother Jacques for advice; but Brother Jacques's advice was similar to the Chevalier's and the governors.

So the day wore on into evening, and only then did the Chevalier venture forth. He wandered aimlessly about the ramparts, alone, having declined Victor's company, and avoiding all whom he saw. He wanted to be alone, alone, forever alone. Longingly he gazed toward the blackening forests. Yonder was a haven. Into those shadowy woods he might plunge and hide himself, built him a hut, and become lost to civilization, his name forgotten and his name forgetting. O fool in wine that he had been! To cut himself off from the joys and haunts of men in a moment of drunken insanity! He had driven the marquis with taunts and gibes; he had shouted his ignoble birth across a table; and he expected, by coming to this wilderness, to lose the Nemesis he himself had set upon his heels! What a fool! What a fool! He had cast out his heart for the rooks and the daws. Wherever he might go, the world would go also, and the covert smile … and the covert smile … God, how apart from all mankind he seemed this night. But for Victor he would have sought the woods at once, facing the Iroquois fearlessly. He must remain, to bow his head before the glances of the curious, the head that once was held so high; accept rebuffs without murmur, stand aside, step down, and follow. If a man laughed at him, he must turn away: his sword could no longer protect him. How his lips thirsted for the wine-cup, for one mad night, and then … oblivion! An outcast! What would be his end? O the long years! For him there should be no wifely lips to kiss away the penciled lines of care; the happy voices of children would never make music in his ears. He was alone, always and ever alone!

Presently the Chevalier bowed his head upon the cold iron of the cannon. The crimson west grew fainter and fainter; and the evening breeze came up and stirred the Company's flags on the warehouses far below.

Suddenly the Chevalier lifted his head. He was still an officer and a gentleman. He would stand taller, look into each eye and dare with his own. It was not what he had been, nor what had been done to him; it was what he was, would be and do. If every hand was to be against his, so be it. D'Hérouville? Some day that laugh should cost him dear. The vicomte? What was his misfortune to the vicomte that he should pick a quarrel on his account? Was he a gallant fellow like Victor? He would learn.

He put on his hat. It was dark. Lights began to flicker in the fort and the chateau. The resolution seemed to give him new strength, and he squared his shoulders, took in deep breaths, entered the officers' mess and dined.

The men about him were for the most part manly men, brave, open-handed, rough outwardly and soft within. And as they saw him take his seat quietly, a sparkle of admiration gleamed from every eye. The vicomte and Victor, both out on parole, took their plates and glasses and ranged alongside of the Chevalier. In France they would have either left the room or cheered him; as it was, they all finished the evening meal as if nothing extraordinary had happened.

So the Chevalier won his first victory.

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