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The Grey Cloak By Harold MacGrath Characters: 12670

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

So they stood for some moments, the one with eyes glaring, the other with quiet scrutiny.

"It appears to agree with you here," began the marquis. There was not the slightest tremor in his voice.

"You?" said the son.

The marquis winced inwardly: that pronoun was so pregnant with surprise, contempt, anger, and indignation! "Yes, it is I, your paternal parent."

"And you could not leave me in peace, even here?" The son stepped, back and strained his arms across his chest.

"From your tone it would seem so." The marquis sat down. A fit of trembling had seized his legs. How the boy had changed in three months! He looked like a god, an Egyptian god, with that darkened skin; and the tilt of the chin recalled the mother.

"I had hoped never to look upon your face again," coldly.

The marquis waved his hand. "Life is a page of disappointments, with a margin of realized expectations which is narrow indeed. Will you not sit down?"

"I prefer to stand. It is safer for you with the table between us."

"Your sword was close to my heart one night. I made no effort to repulse it."

"Heaven was not quite ready for you, Monsieur."

"Heaven or Hell. There seems to be gall in your blood yet."

"Who put it there?" The Chevalier was making an effort to control his passion.

"I put it there, it is true. But did you not stir a trifle too well?"

"Why are you here? What is your purpose?"

"I have been three months on the water; I have been without my accustomed canary and honey; I have dined upon salt meats till my tongue and stomach are parched like corn. Have you no welcome?"

The Chevalier laughed.

"They haven't tamed you, then?" The marquis drew circles in the spilled salt. "Have you become … great and respected?"

The thrust went deep. A pallor formed under the Chevalier's tan. "I have made some progress, Monsieur. If any laugh, they do so behind my back."

The marquis nodded approvingly.

"Have you come all this journey to mock me?"

"Well," the father confessed, "I do not like the way you say 'you'."

They rested. The marquis breathed the easier of the two.

"Monsieur, I have not much time to spare. What has brought you here?"

"Why am I here? I have come to do my flesh and blood a common justice. In France you did not give me time."

"Justice?" ironically. "Is that not a new word in your vocabulary?"

"I have always known the word; there were some delicate shades which I overlooked. I lied to you."

The Chevalier started.

"It was a base lie, unworthy of a gentleman and a father." The marquis fumbled at his lips. "The lie has kept me rather wakeful. Anger burns quickly, and the ashes are bitter. I am a proud man, but there is no flaw in my pride. You are my lawful son."

"What! Have you gone to the trouble of having me legitimatized?" with a terrible laugh.

"I shall never lose my temper again," retorted the father, a ghost of a smile parting his thin lips. "Let us put aside antagonism for the present. Let us analyze my action. Why should I go to the trouble of having your title adjusted by parliamentary law? I am too old for Paris; Paris shall see me no more. Am I a man to run after sentimentality? You will scarce accuse me of that weakness. Were you aught but what you are, I should be dining in Rochelle, with all my accustomed comforts. You are successor to my titles. Believe me or not, as to that I am totally indifferent. I am doing what my sense of justice demands. That is sufficient for me. The night of the day you took passage on the Saint Laurent I called to the h?tel those whilom friends of yours and charged them on the pain of death to stop a further spread to your madness. Scarce a dozen in Rochelle know; Paris is wholly ignorant. Your revenues in the Cévennes are accumulating. Return to France, or remain here to become … great and respected; that is no concern of mine. To tell you these facts I have crossed the Atlantic. There can be no maudlin sentiment between you and me; there have been too many harsh words. That is all I have to say. Digest it well."

Silence. A breeze, blowing in through a window, stirred the flames of the candles, and their lines of black smoke wavered horizontally through the air. Monsieur le Marquis waited for the outpouring of thanks, the protestations of joy, the bending of this proud and haughty spirit. While waiting he did not look at his son; rather he busied himself with the stained ruffles of his sleeve. The pause grew. It was so long that the marquis was compelled finally to look up. In his cabinet at Périgny he had a small bronze statue of the goddess Ate: the scowling eyes, the bent brows, the widened nostrils, the half-visible row of teeth, all these he saw in the face towering above him.

"So that is all you have to say? How easily and complacently you say it! 'Monsieur, the honor I robbed you of I bring back. It is worthless, either to you or to me, it is true. Nevertheless, thank me and bid me be gone!' And that is all you have to say!"

The marquis sat back in his chair, thunderstruck.

"It is nothing, then," went on the son, leaning across the table and speaking in those thin tones of one who represses fury; "it is nothing that men have laughed behind my back, insulted me to my face? It is nothing to have trampled on my illusions and bittered the cup of life? It is nothing that I have suffered for three months as they in hell suffer for eternity? It is nothing that my trust in humanity is gone? All these things are inconsiderable! In a moment of anger you told me this unholy lie, without cause, without definite purpose, without justice, carelessly, as a pastime?"

"Not as a pastime, not carelessly; rather with a definite purpose, to bring you to your senses. You were becoming an insolent drunkard."

The chevalier stretched out a hand. "We have threshed that subject well. We will not recall it."

"Very well." The marquis's anger was close to the surface. This was his reward for what he understood to be a tremendous personal sacrifice! He had come three thousand miles to make a restitution only to receive covert curses for his pains! "But I beg of you not to repeat that extravagant play-acting. This glass belongs to Monsieur de Lauson, and it might cost you dear."

"Is your heart made of stone or of steel

that you think you can undo what you have done? Can I believe you? How am I to tell that you are not doubling on the lie? Is not all this because you are afraid to die without succession, the fear that men will laugh?"

"I am not afraid of anything," sharply; "not even of ridicule."

"Well, Monsieur le Marquis, neither am I. You have wasted your time."

"So I perceive," sourly. "A letter would have been more to the purpose."

"It would indeed. It is the sight of you, Monsieur, that rouses fury and unbelief. We ought never to meet again."

"I will go at once," making a movement to rise.

"Wait till I have done. You will do well to listen, as I swear to God I shall never address a word to you again. Your death-bed shall be no more to me than my heart has been to you. Ah, could I but find a way to wring your heart as you have wrung mine! You have wasted your time. I shall never resume my title, if indeed I have one; I shall never return to France. Do as you please with my estates. There is an abyss between us; you can never cross it, and I shall never make the attempt."

"Supposing I had a heart," quietly; "how would you go about to wring it?"

"There are easier riddles, Monsieur. If you waked to the sense of what it is to love, waked as a sleeping volcano wakes, and I knew the object of this love, it is possible that I might find a way to wring your heart. But I refuse to concern myself with such ridiculous impossibilities."

It was the tone, not the words, that cut; but the marquis gave no sign. He was tired physically and felt himself mentally incompetent to play at repartee. Besides, he had already lost too much through his love of this double-edged sword.

"Suppose it was belated paternal love, as well as the sense of justice, that brings me into this desert?" The Chevalier never knew what it cost the proud old man to utter these words.

"Monsieur," laughing rudely, "you are, and always will be, the keenest wit in France!"

"I am an old man," softly. "It is something to acknowledge that I did you a wrong."

"You have brought the certificate of my birth?" bluntly.

"I searched for it, but unfortunately I could not find it;" and a shadow of worry crossed the marquis's face. For the first time in his life he became conscious of incompleteness, of having missed something in the flight. "I have told you the truth. I can say no more. I had some hope that we might stand again upon the old footing."

"I shall not even visit your grave."

"I might turn over, it is true," a flare in the grey eyes. "And, after all, I have a heart."

"Good heaven! Monsieur, your mind wanders!" the Chevalier exclaimed.

The marquis swept the salt from the table. The movement was not impatient; rather resigned. "There is nothing more to be said. You may go. Our paths shall not cross again."

The Chevalier bowed, turned, and walked toward the door through which he had entered. He stopped at the threshold and looked back. The grey eyes met grey eyes; but the son's burned with hate. The marquis, listening, heard the soft pat of moccasined feet. He was alone. He scowled, but not with anger. The chill of stone lay upon his flesh.

"It is my blood," he mused; "my blood and hers: mine the pride of the brain, hers the pride of the heart. I have lost something; what is it?" He slid forward in his chair, his head sunk between his shoulders. Thus the governor, returning, found him.

As for the Chevalier, on leaving his father he had a vague recollection of passing into one of the council chambers, attracted possibly by the lights. Tumult was in his heart, chaos in his brain; rage and exultation, unbelief and credulity. He floated, drifted, dreamed. His father! It was so fantastic. That cynical, cruel old man here in Quebec!-to render common justice! … A lie! He had lied, then, that mad night? There was a ringing in the Chevalier's ears and a blurring in his eyes. He raised his clenched hands, only to drop them limply, impotently. All these months wasted, all these longings and regrets for nothing, all this suffering to afford Monsieur le Marquis the momentary pleasure of seeing his own flesh and blood writhe! Hate. As hot lead sinks into the flesh, so this word sank into the Chevalier's soul, blotting out charity and forgiveness. Forgive? His laughter rang out hard and sinister. Only God could forgive such a wrong. How that wrinkled face roused the venom in his soul! Was the marquis telling the truth? Had he lied? Was not this the culmination of the series of tortures the marquis had inflicted upon him all these years: to let him fly once more, only to drag him down into swallowing mire from which he might never rise? And yet … if it were true!-and the pall of shame and ignominy were lifted! The Chevalier grew faint.

Diane! From beyond the wilderness spoke a voice, the luring voice of love. Diane! He was free to seek her; no barrier stood between. He could return to France. Her letter! He drew it forth, his hands trembling like a woman's. "France is large. If you love me you will find me. … I kiss your handsome grey eyes a thousand times." There was still the delicate odor of vervain-her perfume-clinging to it. Ah, if that terrible old man were not lying again! If he but spoke the truth!

As he strode back and forth his foot struck something. He bent and picked up the object. It was a grey mask with a long curtain. He carried it to the candle-light and inspected it. A grey mask: what was such a thing doing in Quebec? There were no masks in Quebec save those which nature herself gave to man, that ever-changing mask called the human face. A grey mask: what did it recall to him? Ah! Like a bar of light the memory of it returned to him. The mysterious woman of the Corne d'Abondance! But this mask could not be hers, since she was by now in Spain. With a movement almost unconscious he held the silken fabric close to his face and inhaled … vervain!

"Monsieur," said a soft but thrilling voice from the doorway, "will you return to me my mask, which I dropped in this room a few moments ago?"

As he raised his head the woman stopped, transfixed.

"Diane?" leaped from the Chevalier's lips. He caught the back of a chair to steady himself. He was mad, he knew he was mad; it had come at last, this loosing of reason.

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