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The Grey Cloak By Harold MacGrath Characters: 18021

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

A man's brain can accept only so many blows or surprises at one time; after that he becomes dazed, incapable of lucid thought. At this moment it seemed to the Chevalier that he was passing through some extravagant dream. The marquis was unreal; yonder was a vapor assuming the form of a woman. He stared patiently, waiting for the dream to dissolve.

He was staring into a beautiful face, lively, yet possessing that unmarred serenity which the Greeks gave to their female statues; but it was warm as living flesh is warm. Every feature expressed nobility in the catholic sense of the word; the proud, delicate nose, the amiable, curving mouth, the firm chin and graceful throat. In the candle-light the skin had that creamy pallor of porcelain held between the eye and the sun. The hair alone would have been a glory even to a Helen. It could be likened to no color other than that russet gold which lines the chestnut bur. The eyes were of that changing amber of woodland pools in autumn; and a soul lurked in them, a brave, merry soul, more given to song and laughter than to tears. The child of Venus had taken up his abode in this woman's heart; for to see her was to love her, and to love her was to despair.

The tableau lasted several seconds. She was first to recover; being a woman, her mind moved swifter.

"Do I wear the shield of Perseus, and is the head of Medusa thereupon? Truly, I have turned Monsieur du Cévennes into stone!"

"Diane, can it be you?" he gasped, seeing that the beautiful vision did not vanish into thin air.

"Diane?" she repeated, moving toward the mantel. "No; not Diane. I am no longer the huntress; I flee. Call me Daphne."

He sprang forward, but she raised her hand warningly.

"Do not come too close, Monsieur, or I shall be forced to change myself into laurel," still keeping hold of the mythological thread.

"What does it all mean? I am dazed!" He covered his eyes, then withdrew his hand. "You are still there? You do not disappear?"

"I am flesh and blood as yet," with low laughter.

"And you are here in Quebec?" advancing, his face radiant with love and joy.

"Take care, or you will stumble against your vanity." Her glance roved toward the door. There was something of madness in the Chevalier's eyes. In his hands her mask had become a shapeless mass of silken cloth. "I did not come to Quebec because you were here, Monsieur; though I was perfectly aware of your presence here. That is why I ask you not to stumble against your vanity."

"What do you here, in Heaven's name?"

"I am contemplating peace and quiet for the remainder of my days. It is quite possible that within a few weeks I shall become … a nun."

"A nun?" stupefied.

"The idea seems to annoy you, Monsieur," a chill settling upon her tones.

"Annoy me? No; it terrifies me. God did not intend you to be a nun; you were born for love. And is there a man in all the world who loves you half as fondly as I? You are here in Quebec! And I never even dared dream of such a possibility!"

"I accompanied a dear friend of mine, whose intention to enter the Ursulines stirred the desire in my own heart. Love? Is any man worthy of a woman's love? What protestations, what vows to-day! And to-morrow, over a cup of wine, the man boasts of a conquest, and casts about for another victim. It is so."

"You wrote a letter to me," he said, remembering. "It was in quite a different tone." He advanced again.

"Was I so indiscreet?" jestingly, though the rise and fall of her bosom was more than normal. "Monsieur, do not think for the briefest moment that I followed you!"

"I know not what to think. But that letter …"

"What did I say?"

"You said that France was large, but that if I loved you I would find you."

"And you searched diligently; you sought the four ends of France?" with quiet sarcasm.

He could find no words.

"Ah! Have you that letter? I should like to read it." She put forth her hand with a little imperious gesture.

He fumbled in his blouse. Had his mind been less blunted he would have thought twice before trusting the missive into her keeping. But he gave it to her docilely. There beat but one thought in his brain: she was here in Quebec.

She took down a candle from the mantel. She read aloud, and her tone was flippant. "'Forgive! How could I have doubted so gallant a gentleman!' What was it I doubted?" puckering her brow. "No matter." She went on: "'You have asked me if I love you. Find me and put the question. France is large. If you love me you will find me. You have complained that I have never permitted you to kiss me.'" She paused, glanced obliquely at the scrawl, and shrugged. "Can it be possible that I wrote this-'I kiss your handsome grey eyes a thousand times'?" Calmly she folded the letter. "Well, Monsieur, and you searched thoroughly, I have no doubt. This would be an incentive to the most laggard gallant."

"I … I was in deep trouble." The words choked him. "I was about to start …" He glanced about helplessly.

"And … ?" The scorn on her face deepened. He became conscious that the candle and the letter were drawing dangerously close.

"Good God, Diane! how can I tell you? You would not understand! … What are you doing?" springing toward her to stay her arm. But he was too late. The flame was already eating into the heart of that precious testament.

She moved swiftly, and a table stood between them. He was powerless. The letter crumbled into black flakes upon the table. She set down the candle, breathing quickly, her amber eyes blazing with triumph.

"That was not honorable. I trusted you."

"I trusted, too, Monsieur; I trusted overmuch. Besides, desiring to become a nun, it would have compromised me."

"Did you come three thousand miles to accomplish this?" anger swelling his tones.

"It was a part of my plans," coolly. "To how many gallants have you shown this ridiculous letter?"

His brain began to clear; for he saw that his love hung in the balance. "And had I followed you to the four ends of France, had I sought you from town to city and from city to town … ?"

"You would have grown thin, Monsieur."

"And mad! For you would have been here in Quebec. And I have kissed that letter a thousand times!"

"Is it possible?"

"Diane …"

"I am Diane no longer," she interrupted.

"In God's name, what shall I call you, then?" his despair maddening him.

"You may call me … a dream. And I advise you to wake soon."

The man in him came to his rescue. He suddenly reached across the table and caught her wrist. With his unengaged hand he caught up the ashes and let them flutter back to the table.

"A lie, a woman's lie! Is that why the ash is black? Have I wronged you in any way? Has my love been else than honest? Who are you?" vehemently.

"I am play, Monsieur; pastime, frolic," insolently. "Was not that what you named me in the single hours?"

"Are you some prince's light-o'-love?" roughly.

The blood of wrath spread over her cheeks.

"Your name?"

"I am not afraid of you, Monsieur; but you are twisting my arm cruelly. Will you not let go? Thank you!"

"You will not tell me who you are?"


"Nor what your object was in playing with my heart?"

"Perhaps I had best tell you the truth. Monsieur, it was a trap I set for you that night in Paris, when I came dressed as a musketeer. My love of mischief was piqued. I had heard so much about the fascinating Chevalier du Cévennes and his conquests. There was Mademoiselle de Longueville, Mademoiselle de Fontrailles, the little Coislin, and I know not how many others. And you walked over their hearts in such a cavalierly way, rumor had it, that I could not resist the temptation to see what manner of man you were. You were only the usual lord of creation, a trite pattern. You amused me, and I was curious to see how long you would remain constant."

"Are you not also a trite pattern?"

"I constituted myself a kind of vengeance. Mademoiselle Catharine expected you to establish her in the millinery. Have you done so?"

The Chevalier fell back from the table. This thrust utterly confused and bewildered him. It was so groundless and unexpected.

"She is very plump, and her cheeks are like winter apples. She had at one time been in my service, but I had reasons to discharge her. I compliment you upon your taste. After kissing my hands, these," holding out those beautiful members of an exquisite anatomy, "you could go and kiss the cheeks of a serving-wench! Monsieur, I come from a proud and noble race. A man can not, after having kissed my hands, press his lips to the cheeks of a Catharine and return again to me. I wrote that letter to lead you a dance such as you would not soon forget. And see! you did not trouble yourself to start to find me. And a Catharine! Faugh! Her hands are large and red, her eyes are bold; when she is thirty she will be fat and perhaps dispensing cheap wine in a low cabaret. And you called me Rosali

nd between times and signed your verses and letters Orlando! You quoted from Petrarch and said I was your Laura. My faith! man is a curious animal. I have been told that I am beautiful; and from me you turned to a Catharine! I suspect she is lodged somewhere here in Quebec."

"A Catharine!" he repeated, wildly. The devil gathered up the reins. "This is a mad, fantastic world! You kiss my handsome grey eyes a thousand times, then? What rapture! Catharine? What a pretext! It has no saving grace. You are mad, I am mad; the world is one of those Italian panoramas! A thousand kisses, Diane … No; you have ceased to be the huntress. You are Daphne. Well, I will play Apollo to your Daphne. Let us see if you will change into laurel!" Lightly he leaped the table, and she was locked in his arms. "What! daughter of Perseus and Terra, you are still in human shape? Ah! then the gods themselves are lies!"

She said nothing, but there was fear and rage in her eyes; and her heart beat furiously against his.

Presently he pressed her from him with a pressure gentle but steady. "Have no fear, Diane, or Daphne, or whatever you may be pleased to call yourself. I am a gentleman. I will not take by force what you would not willingly give. I have never played with a woman's heart nor with a man's honor. And as for Catharine, I laugh. It is true that I kissed her cheeks. I had been drinking, and the wine was still in my head. I had left you. My heart was light and happy. I would have kissed a spaniel, had a spaniel crossed my path instead of a Catharine. There was no more taint to those kisses I gave to her than to those you have often thoughtlessly given to the flowers in your garden. I loved you truly; I love you still. Catharine is a poor pretext. There is something you have not told me. Say truthfully that your belief is that I was secretly paying court to that poor Madame de Brissac, and that I wore the grey cloak that terrible night; that I fled from France because of these things. You say that you are about to become a nun. You do, then, believe in God. Well," releasing her, "I swear to you by that God that I never saw Madame de Brissac; that I was far away from Paris on the nineteenth of February. You have wantonly and cruelly destroyed the only token I had which was closely associated with my love of you. This locket means nothing." He pulled it forth, took the chain from round his neck. "You never wore it; it is nothing. I do not need it to recall your likeness. Since I have been the puppet, since even God mocks me by bringing you here, take the locket."

She looked, not at the locket nor at the hand which held it, but into his eyes. In hers the wrath was gone; there was even a humorous sparkle under the heavy lashes. She made no sign that she saw the jeweled miniature. She was thinking how strong he was, how handsomely dignity and pride sat upon his face.

"Will you take it?" he repeated.

Her hands went slowly behind her back.

"Does this mean that, having lain upon my heart for more than a year, it is no longer of value to you?" He laid the chain and locket upon the table. "Yesterday I had thought my cup was full." The mask lay crumpled at his feet, and he recovered it absently. "You?" he cried, suddenly, as the picture came back. He looked at the mask, then at her. "Was it you who came into that room at the Corne d'Abondance in Rochelle, and when I addressed you, would not speak? Oh! You, were implicated in a conspiracy, and you were on the way to Spain. Saumaise! He knows who you are, and by the friendship he holds for me and I for him, he shall tell me!" He became all eagerness again. "Vervain! I might have known. Diane, give me some hope that all this mystery shall some day be brushed aside. I am innocent of any evil; I have committed no crime. Will you give me some hope, the barest straw?"

She did not answer. She was nervously fingering the ashes of her letter.

"You do not answer? So be it. You have asked me why I did not seek you. Some day you will learn. Since you refuse to take the locket, I will keep it. Poor fool that I have been, with all these dreams!"

"You are destroying my mask, Monsieur."

He pressed his lips against the silken lips where hers had been so often.

"Keep it," she said, carelessly, "or destroy it. It is valueless. Will you stand aside? I wish to go."

He stood back, and she passed out. Her face remained in the shadow. He strove to read it, in vain. Ah, well, Quebec was small. And she had taken the voyage on the same ship as his father. … She had not heard; she could not have heard! Ah, where was this labyrinth to lead, and who was to throw him the guiding thread? He had returned that evening from Three Rivers, if not happy, at least in a contented frame of mind … to learn that a lie had sent him into the wilderness, a lie crueler in effect than the accepted truth! … to learn that the woman he loved was about to become a nun! No! She should not become a nun. He would accept his father's word, resume his titles long grown dusty, and set about winning this mysterious beauty. For she was worth winning, from the sole of her charming foot to the glorious crown on her brow. He would see her again; Quebec was indeed small. He would cast aside the mantle of gloom, become a good fellow, laugh frequently, sing occasionally; in fine, become his former self.

Here Victor rushed in, breathless.

"Paul, lad," he cried, "have you heard the astonishing news?"


"Monsieur le Marquis is here!"

"I have seen him, Victor, and spoken to him,"

"A reconciliation? The Virgin save me, but you will return to France!"

"Not I, lad," with a gaiety which deceived the poet. "I will tell you something later. Have you had your supper?"


"Then off with us both. And, a bottle of the governor's burgundy which I have been saving."

"Wine?" excitedly.

"Does not the name sound good? And, by the way, did you know that that woman with the grey mask, who was at the Corne d'Abondance …"

"I have seen her," quietly.

"What is her name, and what has she done?" indifferently.

"Her name I can not tell you, Paul."

"Can not? Why not 'will not'?"

"Will not, then. I have given my promise."

"Have I ever kept a secret from you, Victor?"


"Name it."

"That mysterious mademoiselle whom you call Diane. You have never even told me what she looks like."

"I could not if I tried. But this woman in the mask; at least you might tell me what she has done."

"Politics. Conspiracy, like misery, loves company. … Who has been burning paper?" sniffing.

"Burning paper?"

"Yes; and here's the ash. You've been burning something?"

"Not I, lad," with an abrupt laugh. "Hang it, let us go and eat."

"Yes; I am anxious to know why Monsieur le Marquis is here."

"And the burgundy; it will be like old times." There was sweat on the Chevalier's forehead, and he drew his sleeve across it.

From an obscure corner of the council chamber the figure of a man emerged. He walked on tiptoe toward the table. The black ash on the table fascinated him. For several moments he stared at it.

"'I kiss your handsome grey eyes a thousand times'," he said, softly. He touched the ash with the tip of his finger, and the feathery particles sifted about, as if the living had imparted to the inanimate the sense of uneasiness. "For a space I thought he would kiss her. In faith, there is more to Monsieur du Cévennes than I had credited to his account. It takes power, in the presence of that woman, to resist the temptation to kiss her. But here's a new element, a new page which makes interesting reading."

The man twirled the ends of his mustache.

"What a curious game of chess life is! Here's a simple play made complicated. How serenely I moved toward the coveted checkmate, to find a castle towering in the way! I came in here to await young Montaigne. He fails to appear. Chance brings others here, and lo! it becomes a new game. And D'Hérouville will be out of hospital to-morrow or next day. Quebec promises to become as lively as Paris. Diane, he called her. What is her object in concealing her name? By all the gargoyles of Notre Dame, but she would lure a bishop from his fish of a Friday!"

He gathered up a pinch of the ash and blew it into the air.

"Happily the poet smelt nothing but paper. Lockets and love-letters; and D'Hérouville and I for cutting each other's throats! That is droll. … My faith, I will do it! It will be a tolerably good stroke. 'I kiss your handsome grey eyes a thousand times'! Chevalier, Chevalier! Dip steel into blood, and little comes of it; but dip steel into that black liquid named ink, and a kingdom topples. She is to become a nun, too, she says. I think not."

It was the Vicomte d'Halluys; and when, shortly after this soliloquy, Montaigne came in, he saw that the vicomte was smiling and stabbing with the tip of his finger some black ash which sifted about on the table.

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