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   Chapter 33 HOW GABRIELLE DIANE DE MONTBAZON LOVED

The Grey Cloak By Harold MacGrath Characters: 11955

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


How Brother Jacques, the Chevalier, Madame de Brissac and Anne de Vaudemont, guided by the Black Kettle, reached Quebec late in November, passing through a thousand perils, the bitter cold of nights and the silence of days more terrifying than the wolf's howl or the whine of the panther whose jaws dripped with the water of hunger, is history, as is the final doom of the Onondaga mission, which occurred early the following year. What became of the vicomte's confederates is unknown.

All throughout the wild journey the Chevalier's efforts were directed toward keeping up the lagging spirits of the women, who found it easier to despair than to hope. Night after night he sat beside them during his watch, always giving up his place reluctantly. That his constant cheeriness had its effect there is no doubt; for before they came within sight of the chateau madame had smiled twice.

They arrived in Quebec late in the afternoon. Immediately Anne entered the Ursulines, to come forth again only when a nun.

Breton fell upon his ragged knees in thanksgiving. The sight of his gaunt, bearded master filled him with the keenest joy, for this master of his had been given up as dead.

"And Monsieur le Marquis?" was the Chevalier's first question.

"He lives."

Early that evening Breton came to the Chevalier, who was dreaming before his fire.

"Monsieur Paul, but I have found such a remarkable paper in my copy of Rabelais! Here it is."

The Chevalier glanced at it indifferently … and at once became absorbed. It was the list of the cabal which had cost the lives of four strong men. He remained seated, lost in meditation. From time to time he opened the paper and refolded it. The movement was purely mechanical, and had no significance.

"Monsieur," said Breton timidly, "will you do me the honor to tell me what has happened? Monsieur de Saumaise, the vicomte and Monsieur d'Hérouville; they are not with you?"

"Well, lad, perhaps it is due you;" and the Chevalier recounted a simple story of what had befallen him.

"Ah, that brave Monsieur de Saumaise!" exclaimed Breton, tears in his eyes. "And what became of the grey cloak, Monsieur?"

The Chevalier did not immediately reply.

"What became of it, Monsieur?"

"The Vicomte d'Halluys sleeps in it, lad. It is his shroud."

And not another word spoke the Chevalier to Breton that night. He sat before the bright chimney: old scenes, old scenes, with the gay poet moving blithely among them. Madame had heard the vicomte's insults, but now there was nothing to explain to her. What should he do with his useless life? There was no future; everything beyond was dark with monotony. It was a cruel revenge madame had taken, but she had asked his forgiveness, and he had forgiven. Would she return to France in the spring? Would she become a nun? Would his father live or die, and would he send for him? The winter wind sang in the chimney and the windows shuddered. He looked out. It was the storm of the winds which bring no snow. Nine o'clock! How long the nights would be now, having no dreams!

There came presently a timorous knocking on the panels of the door. Only Breton heard it, and he rose silently to answer this delicate summons. He looked at his master. The Chevalier was deep in his melancholy recollections. It seemed to Breton that Quebec was filled with phantoms: he had listened to so many strange noises these lonely nights, waiting and hoping for his master's return. He was not sure that this gentle rapping was not a deception. Besides, it was past nine. Who could be calling this time of night? A trooper or an officer would have put the full weight of his fist against the door. He stopped and put his hand to his ear. The knocking came again. Breton opened the door quietly, and to his unbounded surprise a woman entered. She pointed toward the hall. Breton, comprehending that she wished to be alone with his master, tiptoed out; and the door closed.

The visitor stood with her back to the door, silent and motionless as a statue. A burning log crackled with a sharp report, and a thousand sparks flew heaven-ward. There were wonderful lights in this woman's eyes and a high color on her somewhat thin cheeks. A minute passed; and another ticked itself into eternity. The Chevalier sat upright and stirred restlessly. The paper of the cabal crackled in his hand. … What was it? he wondered. Something, he could not tell what, seemed drawing, drawing. He became vaguely conscious of a presence. He turned his head slowly.

"Madame?" He jumped to his feet, his hand bearing heavily upon the back of his chair. "Madame?" he repeated.

The great courage which had brought her here ebbed, and her hand stole toward the latch. Neither of them realized how long a time they faced each other, a wonder in his eyes, an unfamiliar glory in hers.

"Monsieur …" she began; but her throat contracted and grew hot. She could not bring another word to her lips. The glisten in her eyes dimmed for a moment, but the color on her cheeks deepened and spread to her throat and brow.

"Madame," he said, speaking first to disembarrass her, "here is something which belongs to you."

The outstretched arm and paper fascinated her. She did not move.

"It is yours, Madame. It is the list of the cabal. I was going to bring it to you in the morning." He forced a smile to his lips to reassure her.

Ah, those treacherous knees of hers! Where was her courage? Alas, for that magnanimous resolve! Whither had it flown? But as the firelight bathed his pale face and emphasized the grey hair and the red scar above one of his temples, both her courage and resolve came back. She walked slowly over to him and took the paper, approached the fire, sank, and eagerly scanned the parchment. She gave a cry of exultation, end thrust the evil thing into the flames.

"Burn!" she cried, clasping her hands. "Burn, burn, burn! And let all the inglorious past burn with you! Bu

rn!"

It was almost hysterical; it was almost childish; but he thought he had never seen a more exquisite picture. And she was so soon to pass out of his life as completely as though she had never entered it. From somewhere she had obtained a blue velvet gown with slashed sleeves and flaring wrists, of a fashion easily fifty years old. On her hair sat a small round cap of the same material, with a rim of amber beads. Was it possible that, save for these past six hours, he had been this woman's companion for more than five weeks; that she had accepted each new discomfort and peril without complaint; that he had guarded her night after night in the lonely forests? A slender thread of golden flame encircled her throat, and disappeared below the ruffle of lace. Doubtless it was a locket; and perchance poor Victor's face lay close to that warmly beating heart. What evil star shone over him that day when he crushed her likeness beneath his foot without looking at it? He sighed. As the last black ash whirled up the gaping chimney she regained her height. She faced him.

"Four men have died because of that," waving her hand toward the fire; "and one had a great soul."

"Ah, Madame, not an hour passes that I do not envy his sleep."

"Monsieur, before this evil tide swept over us, I sent you a letter. Have you read it?" All her color was gone now, back to her fluttering heart.

"A letter? You sent me a letter?" He did not recall the episode at once.

"Yes." She was twisting her handkerchief.

It was this simple act which brightened his memory. He went over to his table. Her gaze, full of trouble and shame, followed him. Yes, there lay the letter; a film of dust covered it. He remembered.

"It was an answer," he said, smiling sadly. He did not quite understand. "It was an answer to my …"

"Give it to me, Monsieur; do not read it!" she begged, one hand pressing her heart, the other extended toward him appealingly.

"Not read it?" Her very agitation told him that there was something in the letter worth reading. He calmly tore it open and read the biting words, the scorn and contempt which she had penned that memorable day. The letter added nothing to the bitterness of his cup, only he was surprised at the quality of her wrath on that day. But what surprised him more was when she snatched it from his hands, rushed to the fire, and cast the letter into it. She watched it writhe and curl and crisp and vanish. He saw nothing in this action but a noble regret that she had caused him pain. Nevertheless, all was not clear to him.

Silence.

"Well, Madame?"

"I … I have brought you another!" Redder than ever her face flamed. The handkerchief was resolving itself into shreds.

"Another letter?" vaguely.

"No, no! Another … another answer!"

How still everything had suddenly grown to him! "Another answer? You have brought me another answer?" Then the wine of life rushed through his veins, and all darkness was gone. "Diane, Diane!" he cried, springing toward her.

"Yes, yes; always call me that! Never call me Gabrielle!"

"And Victor?"

Her hands were against his breast and she was pushing him back. "Oh, it is true that I loved him, as a woman would love a brave and gallant brother." A strand of hair fell athwart her eyes and she brushed it aside.

"But I?-I, whom you have made dance so sorrily?-but I?"

"To-night I saw you … I could see you," incoherently, "alone, bereft of the friend you loved and who loved you … I thought of you as you faced them all that day! … How calm and brave you were! … You said that some day you would force me to love you. You said I was dishonest. I was, I was! But you could never force me to love you, because … because …" With a superb gesture of abandon which swept aside all barriers, all hesitancies, all that hedging convention which compels a woman to be silent, she said: "If you do not immediately tell me that you still love me madly, I shall die of shame!"

"Diane!" He forced her hands from her burning face.

"Yes, yes; I love you, love you with all my soul; all, all! And I have come to you this night in my shame, knowing that you would never have come to me. Wait!" still pressing him back, for he was eager now to make up in this exquisite moment all he had lost. "Oh, I tried to hate you; lied to myself that I wanted nothing but to bring you to your knees and then laugh at you. For each moment I have made you suffer I have suffered an hour. Paul, Paul, can you love me still?"

He knelt, kissing her hands madly. "You are the breath of my life, the coming of morning after a long night of darkness. Love you? With my latest breath!"

"It was my heart you put your heel upon, for I loved you from the moment I saw your miniature. Paul!" She bent her head till her cheek rested upon his hair. "So many days have been wasted, so many days! I have always loved you. Look!" The locket lay in her hand. The face there was his own.

"And you come to me?" It was so difficult to believe. "Ah, but you heard what the vicomte said that day?" a shade of gloom mingling with the gladness on his face.

"I saw only you in the doorway, defending my honor with your life. I tried to tell you then that I loved you, but I could not."

"I am not worthy," he said, rising from his knees.

"I love you!"

"I have been a gamester."

"I love you!" The music in her voice deepened and vibrated. The strings of the harp of life gave forth their fullest sound.

"I have been a roisterer by night. I have looked into the bottom of many an unwise cup."

"Do you not hear me say that I love you? There is no past now, Paul; there is nothing but the future. Once, I promised in a letter that if you found me you might take what I had always denied you, my lips."

He put his arms around her and took from her glowing lips that fairest and most perfect flower which grows in the garden of love: the first kiss.

And there was no shadow between.

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