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The Grey Cloak By Harold MacGrath Characters: 18383

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

The next morning the vicomte went to the hospital to inquire into the state of the Comte d'Hérouville's health. He found that gentleman walking back and forth in the ward. There was little of the invalid about him save for the pallor on his cheeks, which provided proof that his blood was not yet of its accustomed thickness. At the sight of the vicomte he neither frowned nor smiled; the expression on his face remained unchanged, but he ceased his pacing. The two men contemplated each other, and the tableau lasted for a minute.

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

The vicomte was genuinely surprised at the strides toward completeness which D'Hérouville had made. An ordinary man would still have been either in bed or in a chair. But none of this surprise appeared on the Vicomte's face. He had come with a purpose, and he went at it directly.

"Count," he replied, "you and I have been playing hide and seek in the woods, needlessly and purposelessly."

"I scarce comprehend your words or your presence."

"I will explain at once. Madame de Brissac has made sorry fools of us all. She is here in Quebec."

"What?" The pain caused by the sudden intake of breath stooped D'Hérouville's shoulders.

"I have the honor, then, of bringing you the news? Yes," easily, "Madame de Brissac is in Quebec. Why, is as yet unknown to me."

"What is your purpose in bringing me this lie?" asked D'Hérouville, recovering. "I have been surrounded by lies ever since I stepped foot in Rochelle. I shall kill Monsieur de Saumaise a week hence."

"And you do not wish satisfaction from me?" slyly.

A fury leaped into D'Hérouville's eyes, but suddenly died away. "I am living only with that end in view. It was very clever of you to make them think you were taking up the Chevalier's cause. You hoodwinked them nicely."

The vicomte played with the ends of his mustache, as was his habit.

"You say Madame de Brissac is in Quebec ?"

"Yes. And presently your own eyes shall prove the truth of my statement."

D'Hérouville glanced at his sword, which hung upon the wall. "In Quebec," he mused. "A lie in this case would be objectless."

"As you see. And would you believe it, there has been a love intrigue between her and the Chevalier! There's a woman, now! How cleverly she juggled with us all!"

"The Chevalier?"

"Yes. How you love that man! Droll, is it not? She has been masquerading, and to this day he hasn't the slightest idea who she is."

"Come, now, Vicomte," with assumed good nature; "your purpose; out with it."

"I am not a man to waste time, certainly."

"You will give me satisfaction, then?"

"You have but to name the day. The truth is, under the present circumstances the world has suddenly contracted."

D'Hérouville nodded. "That is to say, it is no longer large enough for both of us. I comprehend that perfectly."

"As I knew you would. I am exceedingly chagrined," continued the vicomte, "at seeing you walking above the sod when, by a little more care on my part, you would be resting neatly under it. But at that time I had no other idea than temporarily to disable you. Could we but see into the future sometimes!"

"In your place I should recoil from the gift." The count was shaking with rage. "I shall not lose my temper when next we meet. If you were not careful, I was equally careless."

"Within a week's time, Monsieur. By that date you will be as strong as a bull. Your vitality is remarkable. But listen. Madame de Brissac shall be my wife. First, I love her for herself; and then because De Brissac left some handsome property."

"Which has Mazarin's seals of confiscation upon it," mockingly.

"They can be removed," imperturbably. "I tell you frankly that I shall overcome all obstacles to reach my end. You are one of the obstacles which must be removed, and I am here this morning expressly to acquaint you with this fact."

"Perhaps I shall kill you."

"There will be the Chevalier."

"Measure swords with him?" sneeringly. "I believe not."

"There will still remain Monsieur de Saumaise, who, for all his rhymes, handles a pretty blade."

D'Hérouville snapped his fingers. "His death I have already determined."

"Besides, if I read the Chevalier rightly he will force you. You laughed too loudly."

"I will laugh again, even more loudly."

"He will strike you … even as I did."

D'Hérouville spat. "Leave me, Monsieur. My wound may open again, and that would put me back."

"I advise you to take the air to-day."

"I shall do so."

They were very courtly in those old days.

So D'Hérouville went forth to take the air that afternoon and incidentally to pay his respects in person to Madame de Brissac. Fortune favored him, for he met her coming down the path from the upper town. He lifted his hat gravely and barred her path.

"Madame, my delight at seeing you is inexpressible."

Madame's countenance signified that the delight was his alone; she shared no particle of it. She knew that eventually their paths would cross again, but she had prepared no plans to meet this certainty. Her gaze swerved from his and rested longingly on the Henri IV in the harbor. She had determined to return to France upon it. The amazing episode of the night before convinced her that her safety lay rather in France than in Canada. But she had confided this determination to no one, not even to Anne.

"Have you no welcome, Madame?"

"My husband's friends," she said, "were not always mine; and I see no reason why you should continue further to address me."

"De Brissac? Bah! I was never his friend."

"So much the more doubt upon your honesty;" and she moved as if to pass.

"Madame, D'Halluys told me this morning that he is determined that you shall be his wife."

"The vicomte's confidence is altogether too large." She laughed, and made another ineffectual attempt to pass. "Monsieur, you are detaining me."

"That is correct. I have much to say to you. In the first place, you played us all for a pack of fools, and all the while you were carrying on an intrigue with that fellow who calls himself the Chevalier du Cévennes."

Madame's lips closed firmly, and a circle of color spotted her cheeks. There had been times recently when she regretted De Brissac's death.

"What have you to say, Madame?" he demanded.

"To you? Nothing, save that if you do not at once stand aside I shall call for aid. Your impertinence is even greater than Monsieur d'Halluys'. I wonder at your courage in thus addressing me."

"I am not a patient man, Madame," coming closer. "I have publicly vowed my love for you, and Heaven nor hell shall keep me from you."

"Not even myself? Come, Monsieur," wrathfully, "you are acting like a fool or a boy. Women such as I am are not won in this braggart fashion. Certainly you must admit that I have something to say in regard to the disposition of my hand. And let me say this at once: I shall wed no man; and were either you or Monsieur le Comte the last man in the world, I should run away and hide. Stand aside."

"And if I should use force?" throwing aside the reins of self-control.

"Force, force!" flinging wide her hands; "you speak to me of force! Monsieur, you are not a fool, but a madman."

"But we are still tender toward the Chevalier?" snarling.

"The least I can say of Monsieur le Chevalier is that he is a gentleman."

"A gentleman? Ho! that is rich. A gentleman!"

The path was at this point almost too narrow for her to walk around him; so she waited without replying.

"And do not forget, Madame, that you are a fugitive from justice, and that a word to Monsieur de Lauson …"

"I dare you to speak, Monsieur," with growing anger. "Have you no bogus paper to hold over my head? Are you about to play the vicomte's trick second-hand?"

"I know nothing about his tricks, but I shall kill him at an early date."

Madame's shrug said plainly that it mattered nothing to her. "Once more, will you stand aside, or must I call?"

"Call, Madame!" His violence got the better of him, and he seized her wrist. "Call to the fellow who calls himself the Chevalier; call!"

"Do I hear some one calling my name?" said a voice not far away.

D'Hérouville looked over madame's shoulder, while madame turned with relief. She quickly released her wrist and sped some distance up the path, passing the Chevalier, who did not stop till he stood face to face with D'Hérouville.

"You were about to remark?" began the Chevalier, a frank and honest hatred in his eyes.

The count eyed him contemptuously. "Stand out of the way, you …"

"Do not speak that word aloud, Monsieur," interrupted the Chevalier, gloomily, "or I will force it down your throat, though we both tumble over the cliff."

D'Hérouville knew the Périgny blood well enough to believe that the Chevalier was in earnest. "It would be your one opportunity," he said; "for you do not suppose I shall do you the honor to cross swords with you."

"Most certainly I do. You laughed that night, and no man shall laugh at me and boast of it."

"I shall always laugh," and the count's laughter, loud and insulting, drifted to where

madame stood.

There was something so sinister in the echo that she became chilled. She watched the two men, fascinated by she knew not what.

"You shall die for that laugh," said the Chevalier, paling.

"By the cliff, then, but never by the sword."

"By the sword. I shall challenge you at the first mess you attend. If you refuse and state your reasons, I promise to knock you down. If you persist in refusing, I shall slap your face wherever and whenever we chance to meet. That is all I have to say to you; I trust that it is explicit."

D'Hérouville's eyes were full of venom. "It wants only the poet to challenge me, and the circle will be complete. I will fight the poet and the vicomte; they come from no doubtful source. As for you, I will do you the honor to hire a trooper to take my place. Fight you? You make me laugh against my will! And as for threats, listen to me. Strike me, and by the gods! Madame shall learn who you are, or, rather, who you pretend to be." The count whistled a bar of music, swung about cavalierly, and retraced his steps toward the lower town.

The Chevalier stared at his retreating figure till it sank below the level of the ridge. He was without redress; he was impotent; D'Hérouville would do as he said. God! He struck his hands together in his despair, forgetful that madame saw his slightest movement. When he recollected her, he moved toward her. Madame. D'Hérouville had called her madame.

On seeing him approach her first desire was to move in the same direction; that is to say, to keep the distance at its present measure. A thousand questions flitted through her brain. She had heard a sentence which so mystified her that the impulse to flee went as suddenly as it came. She succeeded in composing her features by the time he arrived at her side.

"Madame," he said, quietly, "whither were you bound?"

She looked at him blankly. For the life of her she could not tell at that moment what had been her destination! The situation struck her as so absurd that she could barely stifle the hysterical laughter which rushed to her lips.

"I … I will return to the chateau," she finally replied.

"The count was annoying you?" walking beside her.

"Thanks to you, Monsieur, the annoyance is past."

Some ground was gone over in silence. This silence disturbed her far more than the sound of his voice. It gave him a certain mastery. So she spoke.

"You said 'Madame'," tentatively.

"Such was the title D'Hérouville applied." And again he became silent.

"Did he tell you my name?" with a sudden and unexpected fierceness.

"No, Madame; he did not speak your name. But he knows it; while I, who love you honorably and more than my life, I must remain in ignorance. An expedition is to start soon, Madame, and as I shall join it, my presence here will no longer afford you annoyance."

"Wherefore this rage, Madame, shining in your beautiful eyes, thinning your lips, widening your nostrils?"

Madame was in a rage; but not even the promise of salvation would have forced the cause from her lips. O for Paris, where, lightly and wittily, she could humble this man! Here wit was stale on the tongue, and every one went about with a serious purpose. She went on, her chin tilted, her gaze lofty. The wind tossed her hair, there were phantom roses on her cheeks which bloomed and withered and bloomed yet again. Diane, indeed: Diane of the green Aegean sea and the marbles of Athens!

"You need go no farther, Monsieur. It is quite unnecessary, as I know the way perfectly."

"I prefer to see you safe inside the chateau," with quiet determination.

Was this the gallant who had attracted her fancy? This was not the way he had made love in former days. Slyly her eyes revolved in his direction. His temples were grey! She had not noted this change till now. Grey; and the face, tanned even in the shaven jaws, was careworn. There was a gesture which escaped his notice. Why had she been guilty of the inexcusable madness, the inexplicable folly, of this voyage?

"Madame, this is your door."

The Chevalier stepped aside and uncovered.

"Monsieur, you have lost a valuable art." There was a fleeting glance, and she vanished within, leaving him puzzled and astonished by the unexpected softening of her voice. How long he stood there, with his gaze fixed upon the vacant doorway, he never knew. What did she mean?

"Well, Paul?" And Victor, having come up behind, laid his hand on the Chevalier's arm. "Do you know her, then?" nodding toward the door.

"Know her?" The Chevalier faced his comrade. "Would to God, lad, I did not, for she has made me the most unhappy of men."

The poet trembled in terror at the light within. "She is … ?"

"Yes, Diane; Diane, whose name I murmur in my dreams, waking or sleeping."

"She?" in half a whisper. "Her name?"

"Her name? No! I know her as a mystery; as Tantalus thirsting for the fruit which hangs ever beyond the reach, I know her; as a woman who is not what she seems, always masked, with or without the cambric. Know her?" with a laugh full of despair.

Victor was a man of courage and resource. "I know where there's a two-quart bottle of burgundy, Paul. Bah! life will look cheerful enough through that mellow red. Come with me."

The Chevalier followed him to the lower town, where, in a room in one of the warehouses, they sat down to the wine.

"Let the women go hang, lad, one and all!" cried the Chevalier, after his sixth and final glass.

"Let them go hang!" But Victor did not confide; not he, loyal friend! And when he held his emptied glass on high, sighed, and dropped it on the earthen floor, the Chevalier did not know that his comrade's heart lay shattered with the glass. Gallant poet!

As madame threaded her way through the dim corridor, but one thought occupied her mind. It echoed and re-echoed-"Or, rather, what you pretend to be." What did D'Hérouville mean by that? To what did the Chevalier pretend? Her foot struck something. It was a book. Absently she stooped and picked it up, carrying it to her room. "Or, rather, what you pretend to be." If only she had heard the first part of the sentence, or what had led to it! The Chevalier was gradually becoming as much of a mystery to her as she was to him. There had been a sea-change; he was no longer a fop; there was grey in his hair; he was a man. In her room there was light from the sun. Carelessly she glanced at the book. It was grey with dust, which she blew away. Evidently it had lain some time in the corridor. She flapped the covers. The title, dim and worn, smiled drolly up. She blushed, and abruptly laid the offending volume on the table. The merry Vicar of Meudon was not wholly acceptable to her woman's mind. To whom did it belong, this foundling book? With a grimace which would have caused Rabelais to smile, she turned back the cover.

"The Chevalier's!" To what did he pretend? "I shall send it back to his room. Gabrielle, Gabrielle, thou wert a fool, and a fool's folly has brought you to Quebec! A nun? I should die! Why did I come? In mercy's name, why? … A letter?" An oblong envelope, lying on the floor, attracted her attention. She took it up with a deal more curiosity than she had the book. "To Monsieur le Marquis de Périgny," she read, "to be delivered into his hands at my death." She studied the scrawl. It was not the Chevalier's; and yet, how strangely familiar to her eyes! Should she send it directly to the marquis or to the son? She debated for several moments. Then she touched the bell and summoned the woman whom the governor had kindly placed at her service.

"Take this book and letter to Monsieur du Cévennes, and if he is not there, leave it in his room." Her lack of curiosity saved her. Some women would have opened the letter, read, and been destroyed. But madame's guiding star was undimmed.

It was just before the evening mess that the Chevalier, on entering his room, saw the volume and the letter. He gave his attention immediately to the letter; and, became strangely fascinated. It was addressed to his father! "To Monsieur le Marquis de Périgny, to be delivered into his hands at my death." Whose death? The Chevalier rested the letter on the palm of his hand. How came it here? He inspected the envelope. It was unsealed. He balanced it, first on one hand, then, on the other. Was it the wine that caused the shudder? Whose death? kept ringing through his brain. How the gods must have smiled as they played with the fate of this man! Terror and tragedy, and only an opaque sheet of paper between! Whose death? The envelope was old, the ink was faded. What was written within? Did the contents in any way concern him? It was within a finger's reach. But he hesitated, as a blind man hesitates when the guiding hand is suddenly withdrawn. "To Monsieur le Marquis de Périgny, to be delivered into his hands at my death."

"It is his, not mine; let him read it. Breton, lad, here's your Rabelais, come back I know not how. But here is a letter which you will deliver to Jehan, who in turn will see that it reaches its owner."

Thus, the gods, having had their fill of play, relented.

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