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   Chapter 32 THE ENVOI OF A GALLANT POET

The Grey Cloak By Harold MacGrath Characters: 9529

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Brother Jacques had done a wise thing. On the morning after the vicomte's singular confession, he had spoken a few words to the Black Kettle. From that hour the vicomte made no move that was not under the vigilant eye of the Onondaga. Wherever he went the Black Kettle followed with the soundless cunning of his race. Thus he had warned the settlement of what was going on at the hunting hut. Victor, having met him on his way up the trail, was first to arrive upon the scene.

"The poet!" said the vicomte airily. He was, with all his lawlessness, a gallant man. "Did I not prophesy that some day we should be at each other's throats?"

"Gabrielle," Victor said, "help is close at hand. I can keep this man at bay. If I should die, Gabrielle … you will not forget me?"

"How affecting! I am almost moved to tears!" mocked the vicomte.

"Well, Monsieur, let us go about our work without banter. There is no edict here, no meddling priests, only you and I. Engage!" Bare-headed he stood, scarce but a youth, no match ordinarily for the seasoned swordsman before him. But madame saw the courage of Bayard in his frank blue eyes. She turned her face toward the wall and wept. "Have patience, Paul," Victor called; "they will liberate you soon."

"So." The vicomte stretched out his arm. "Well, my writer of rondeaux, I have but little time to spare. As the fair Juliet says, 'I must be gone and live, or stay and die.' I can not fight the settlement which will soon be about my ears. You first, then your friend. I should scorn to separate, either on earth or in hades, such loving Orestes and Pylades. Madame, that kiss has cost me the joy of having your presence for the time being. Here shall the poet die, at his beloved's feet! Which is very fine." His blade darted out toward Victor's throat, and the last battle was begun. The vicomte was fighting for his liberty, and the poet was fighting to kill. They were almost evenly matched, for the vicomte was weary from his contest with D'Hérouville and the Chevalier. For many years madame saw this day in her dreams.

The blades clashed; there was the soft pad-pad of feet, the involuntary "ah!" when the point was nicely avoided; there were lunges in quart, there were cuts over and under, thrusts in flanconade and tierce, feint and double-feint, and sudden disengagements. The sweat trickled down the vicomte's face; Victor's forehead glistened with moisture. Suddenly Victor stooped; swift as the tongue of an adder his blade bit deeply into the vicomte's groin, making a terrible wound. The vicomte caught his breath in a gasp of exquisite pain.

… Death! The skull and the hollow eyes stared him in the face. He was dying! But before Victor could recover and guard the vicomte lunged, and his point came out dully red between Victor's shoulder-blades. The lad stood perfectly still. There was a question on his face rather than a sign of pain. His weapon clanged upon the hardened clay of the floor. He took a step toward madame, tottered, and fell at her feet. He clutched the skirts of her Indian garb and pressed it convulsively to his bleeding lips.

"Gabrielle … Gabrielle!" he murmured. His head fell back loosely. He was dead. Gallant poet!

Madame's flesh seemed turned into marble; she could not move, but leaned against the wall, her arms half extended on each side.

"See, Madame," said the vicomte; "see what love does! … It is sudden. But do not worry; I too, have said my little part … not very well, either." He steadied himself by catching hold of the table. The blood gushed from his wound, soaking his leg, and forming a pool on the clay. "Why, he was worth more than them all, for all he scribbled verses. Bah! I have come the ragged way, and by the ragged way I go. … It is a pity: either men should be born blind or women without beauty. The devil of the priests is in it all. And this is what love does!"

The door darkened again, and the Chevalier, Nicot, Father Chaumonot and four soldiers came in hurriedly. The Chevalier was first. With a cry he dropped beside Victor.

"Lad, lad!" he cried in anguish. "Speak to me, lad!" He touched the poet's hands, and rose. Like an angry lion he faced the vicomte.

"Ha!" said the vicomte, rousing from the numbness which was stealing away his senses. "So it is you? I had each hair on your head separate and standing; and but for a kiss you would now be mad. To have come all this way and to have stopped a moment too long! That is what they call irony. But I would give my soul to ten Jesuit hells could I meet you once again with the sword. You have always plucked the fruit out of my grasp. We walked together, but the sun was always on you and the cloud on me. Ah, well, your poet is dead … and I had no real enmi

ty toward him. … He was your friend. He will write no more ballades, and rondeaux, and triolets; eh, Madame? … Well, in a moment," as if he heard a voice calling. He balanced himself with difficulty.

Life returned to madame. Sobbing she sank beside Victor, calling to him wildly, fondled his head, shook his warm but nerveless hands, kissed his damp forehead, her tears falling on his yellow hair.

"He is gone!" she said piteously. "Victor is dead; he will not speak. Poor boy, poor boy!"

They were strong men; the tender quick of pity had grown thick. Yet they turned away. Father Chaumonot raised her gently.

"Yes, my daughter, he is dead. God will deal kindly with him, brave boy."

"Dead … as I shall soon be." The vicomte's dulling eyes roved from one face to another till they rested on madame. "He will sing no more; he will not fly southward this winter, nor next. Ah, Madame, will you forget that kiss? I believe not. Listen: … I did not kiss simply your lips; 'twas your memory. Ever shall that kiss stand between you and your lover's lips."

"It is true," she said brokenly. "You had a wicked heart, Monsieur. You, you have brought about all this misery. You have wantonly cast a shadow upon my life."

"Have I done that? Well, that is something … something."

"I forgive you."

"Eh? I am growing deaf!" He reeled toward the door, and the men made way for him. "I am growing blind, besides." He braced himself against the jamb of the door. "My faith! it is a pretty world. … I regret to leave it." He stared across the lake, but he could see nothing. A page of his youth came back.

"Monsieur," said Chaumonot, "you have many sins upon your soul. Shall I give you absolution?"

"Absolution?" The vicomte's lips grimaced; it might have been an attempt to smile. "Absolution for me? Where is Brother Jacques? That would be droll. … Those eyes! Absolution? That for your heaven," snapping his fingers, "and that for your hell. I know. It is all silence. There is nothing. I wonder …" His knees suddenly refused to support the weight of his body. He raised himself upon his hands. The trees were merging together; the lake was red and blurred. "Gabrielle, Gabrielle, I loved you after my own fashion! … The devil take that grey cloak!" And the vicomte's lawless soul went forth.

The men took the three bodies and placed them in the canoes. They were somewhat rough with the vicomte's.

"Gently, my brothers," said Nicot. "He was a rascal, but he was a man."

Madame and the Chevalier were alone. To both of them it seemed as though years had passed. Madame was weary. She would have liked to lie down and sleep … forever. The Chevalier brushed his eyes. He was a man. Weeping over death and in pity was denied him. At present he was incapable of accepting the full weight of the catastrophe. His own agony was too recent. Everything was vague and dreamy. His head ached painfully from the blow he had received in the fight.

"What did he do to you?" he asked, scarce knowing what he said.

"He kissed me; kissed me on the mouth, Monsieur." She wiped her lips again. "It is of no use. It will always be there."

"You are Madame de Brissac?"

"Yes." The hopelessness of her tone chilled him.

"And you loved Victor?"

Her head drooped. She was merely tired; but he accepted this as an affirmative answer.

"It would have been well, Madame, had I died in his place."

"Let us go," she said; "they are calling."

That was all.

Victor lay in the living-room of the fort. A shroud covered all but his face. A little gold crucifix, belonging to Father Chaumonot, lay against his lips. Candles burned at his head and at his feet. There was quiet in his breast, peace on his boyish face.

"Come, Anne," said madame softly.

"Let me watch," said Anne. "I have always loved him."

They buried Victor under the hill, at the foot of a kingly pine where a hawk had builded his eery home. A loving hand had carved upon the tree these words: "Here lies Victor de Saumaise, a brave and gallant Frenchman, a poet, a gentleman, and soldier. He lived honorably and he died well." Close to the shores of the lake they buried the vicomte and the last of the D'Hérouvilles. But only a roll of earth tells where they lie. Thus, a heart of sunshine and two hearts of storm repose in the eternal shadow, in peace, in silence. The same winds whisper mournfully above them, or sing joyously, or breathe in thunder. The heat of summer and the chill of winter pass and repass; the long grasses grow and die; the sun and the moon and the throbbing stars spread light upon these sepulchers. Two hundred and fifty years have come and gone, yet do they lie as on that day. After death, inanimation; only the inanimate is changeless.

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