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Chapter 10 THE DILIGENCE FROM ROUEN AND THE MASQUERADING LADIES

  • The diligence from Rouen rolled and careened along the road to Rochelle.
  • Eddies of snow, wind-formed, whirled hither and thither, or danced around th_ehicle like spirits possessed of infinite mischief. Here and there a sickl_ree stretched forth its barren arms blackly against the almost endles_eaches of white. Sometimes the horses struggled through drifts which nearl_eached their bellies; again, they staggered through hidden marsh pools. Th_ostilion, wrapped in a blanket, cursed deeply and with ardor. He swung hi_hip not so much to urge the horses as to keep the blood moving in his body.
  • Devil take women who forced him to follow the king's highway in such weather!
  • Ten miles back they had passed a most promising inn. Stop? Not they! Rochelle, Rochelle, and nothing but Rochelle!
  • "How lonely!" A woman had pushed aside the curtain and was peering into th_ight. There was no light save that which came from the pallor of the storm, dim and misty. "It has stopped snowing. But how strange the air smells!"
  • "It is the sea … We are nearing the city. It is abominably cold."
  • "The sea, the sea!" The voice was rich and young, but heavy with weariness.
  • "And we are nearing Rochelle? Good! My confidence begins to return. You mus_ide me well, Anne."
  • "Mazarin shall never find you. You will remain in the city till I take leav_f earthly affairs."
  • "A convent, Anne? Oh, if you will. But why Canada? You are mad to think of it.
  • You are but eighteen. You have not even known what love is yet."
  • "Have you?"
  • There was a laugh. It was light-hearted. It was a sign that the sadness an_eariness which weighed upon the voice were ephemeral.
  • "That is no answer."
  • "Anne, have I had occasion to fall in love with any man when I know man s_ell? You make me laugh! Not one of them is worthy a sigh. To make fools o_hem; what a pastime!"
  • "Take care that one does not make a fool of you, Gabrielle."
  • "Ah, he would be worth loving!"
  • "But what are you going to do with the property?"
  • "Mazarin has already posted the seals upon it."
  • "Confiscated?"
  • "About to be. That is why I fled to Rouen. My mother warned me that th_ardinal had found certain documents which proved that a conspiracy wa_orming at the hôtel. Monsieur's name was the only one he could find. Hi_minence thought that by making a prisoner of me he might force me to disclos_he names of those most intimate with monsieur. He is searching France for me, Anne; and you know how well he searches when he sets about it. Will he fin_e? I think not. His arm can not reach very far into Spain. How lucky it wa_hat I should meet you in Rouen! I was wondering where in the world I shoul_o. And I shall live peacefully in that little red château of yours. Oh! i_ou knew what it is to be free! The odious life I have lived! He used to brin_is actress into the dining-hall. Pah! the paint was so thick on her face tha_he might have been a negress for all you could tell what her color was. An_e left her a house near the forest park and seven thousand livres beside.
  • Free!" She drew in deep breaths of briny air.
  • "Gabrielle, you are a mystery to me. Four years out of convent, and not _over; I mean one upon whom you might bestow love. And that handsome Vicomt_'Halluys?"
  • "Pouf! I would not throw him yesterday's rose."
  • "And Monsieur de Saumaise?"
  • "Well, yes; he is a gallant fellow. And I fear that I have brought troubl_nto his household. But love him? As we love our brothers. The pulse neve_ounds, the color never comes and goes, the tongue is never motionless nor th_oice silenced in the presence of a brother. My love for Victor is friendshi_ithout envy, distrust, or self-interest. He came upon my sadness and shado_s a rainbow comes on the heels of a storm. But love him with the heart'_ove, the love which a woman gives to one man and only once?"
  • "Poor Victor!" said Anne.
  • "Oh, do not worry about Victor. He is a poet. One of their prerogatives is t_all in love every third moon. But the poor boy! Anne, I have endangered hi_ead, and quite innocently, too. I knew not what was going on till too late."
  • "And you put your name to that paper!"
  • "What would you? Monsieur le Comte would have broken my wrist, and there ar_lack and blue spots on my arm yet."
  • "Tell me about that grey cloak."
  • "There is nothing to tell, save that Victor did not wear it. And somethin_old me from the beginning that he was innocent."
  • "And the Chevalier du Cévennes could not have worn it because he was i_ontainebleau that dreadful night."
  • "The Chevalier du Cévennes is living in Rochelle?" asked Gabrielle.
  • "Yes. Was it not gallant of him to accept punishment in Victor's stead?"
  • "What else could he do, being a gentleman?"
  • "Why does your voice grow cold at the mention of his name?" asked Anne.
  • "It is your imagination, dear. My philosophy has healed the wounded vanity.
  • Point out the Chevalier to me, I should like to see the man who declined a_lliance with the house of Montbazon."
  • "I thought that you possessed a miniature of him?"
  • "It contained only the face of a boy; I want to see the man. Besides, I do no_xactly know what has become of the picture, which was badly painted."
  • "I will point him out. Was the Comte d'Hérouville among the conspirators?"
  • "Yes. How I hate that man!"
  • "Keep out of his path, Gabrielle. He would stop at nothing. There is madnes_n that man's veins."
  • "I do not fear him. Many a day will pass ere I see him again, or poor Victor, for that matter. I wonder where he has gone?"
  • "I would I could fathom that heart of yours."
  • "It is very light and free just now."
  • "Am I your confidante in all things?"
  • "I believe so."
  • "The year I lived with you at the hôtel taught me that you are like sand; _reat many strange things going on below."
  • "What a compliment! But give up trying to fathom me, Anne. I love you bette_hen you laugh. Must you be a nun, you who were once so gay?"
  • "I am weary."
  • "Of what? You ask me if I am your confidante in all things; Anne, are yo_ine?"
  • No answer.
  • "So. Well, I shall not question you." The speaker drew her companion close_nd retucked the robes; and silence fell upon the two, silence broken only b_he wind, the flapping leather curtains, and the muffled howling of th_ostilion.
  • It was twelve o'clock when the diligence drew up before the Corne d'Abondance.
  • The host came out, holding a candle above his head and shading his eyes wit_is unengaged hand.
  • "Maître, I have brought you two guests," said the postilion, sliding off hi_orse and grunting with satisfaction.
  • "Gentlemen, I hope."
  • "Ladies!" and lowering his voice, the postilion added: "Ladies of high degree, I can tell you. One is the granddaughter of an admiral and the other can no_e less than a duchess."
  • "Ladies? Oh, that is most unfortunate! The ladies' chamber is all upset, an_very other room is engaged. They will be compelled to wait fully an hour."
  • "That will not inconvenience us, Monsieur," said a voice from the window o_he diligence, "provided we may have something hot to drink; wines and ho_ater, with a dash of sugar and brandy. Come, my dear; and don't forget you_ask."
  • "How disappointing that the hôtel was closed! Well, we can put up with th_avern till morning."
  • With some difficulty the two women alighted and entered the common assembl_oom, followed by the postilion who staggered under bulky portmanteaus. The_pproached the fire unconcernedly, ignoring the attention which their entranc_roused. The youngest gave a slight scream as the Iroquois rose abruptly an_oved away from the chimney.
  • "Holy Virgin!" Anne cried, clutching Gabrielle's arm; "it is an Indian!" Th_ision of quiet in a Quebec convent grew vague.
  • "Hush! he would not be here if he were dangerous." Gabrielle turned her grey- masked face toward the fire and rested a hand on the broad mantel.
  • Victor, who had taken a table which sat in the shadow and who was trying b_he aid of champagne to forget the tragic scene of the hour gone, came near t_asting a glass of that divine nectar of Nepenthe. He brushed his eyes an_eld a palm to his ear. "That voice!" he murmured. "It is not possible!"
  • At this same moment the vicomte turned his head, his face describing a_xpression of doubt and astonishment. He was like a man trying to recollec_he sound of a forgotten voice, a melody. He stared at the two figures, th_ne of medium height, slender and elegant, the other plump and small, at th_rey mask and then at the black. These were not masks of coquetry and larking, masks which begin at the brow and end at the lips: they were curtained.
  • Seized, by an impulse, occult or mechanic, the vicomte rose and drew near. Th_ounger woman made a gesture. Was it of recognition? The vicomte could no_ay. But he saw her lean toward her companion, whisper a word which caused th_rey mask to wheel quickly. She seemed to grow taller, while a repelling ligh_lashed from the eyeholes of the grey mask.
  • "Mesdames," said the vicomte with elaborate courtesy, "the sight of the India_oubtless alarms you, but he is perfectly harmless. Permit a gentleman t_ffer his services to two ladies who appear to be traveling alone."
  • Father Chaumonot frowned from his chair and would have risen but for th_estraining hand of Bouchard, who, like all seamen, was fond of gallantry.
  • "Monsieur," replied the black mask, coldly and impudently, "we are indee_lone; and upon the strength of this assertion, will you not resume you_onversation with yonder gentlemen and allow my companion and myself t_ontinue ours?"
  • "Mademoiselle," said the vicomte eagerly, "I swear to you, that your voice i_amiliar to my ears." He addressed the black mask, but he looked searchingl_t the grey. His reward was small. She maintained under his scrutiny an icy, motionless dignity.
  • "And permit me to say," returned the black mask, "that while your voice is no_amiliar, the tone is, and very displeasing to my ears. And if you do not a_nce resume your seat, I shall be forced to ask aid of yonder priest."
  • "Yes, yes! that voice I have heard before!" Then, quick as a flash, he ha_lucked the strings of her mask, disclosing a round, piquant face, now whit_ith fury.
  • "Oh, Monsieur!" she cried; "if I were a man!"
  • "This grows interesting," whispered Bouchard to Du Puys.
  • "Anne de Vaudemont?" exclaimed the vicomte; "in Rochelle?" The vicomte steppe_ack confused. He stared undecidedly at mademoiselle's companion. Sh_eliberately turned her back.
  • Victor was upon his feet, and his bottle of wine lay frothing on the floor. H_ame forward.
  • "Vicomte, your actions are very disagreeable to me," he said. The end of hi_cabbard was aggressively high in the air. He was not so tall a man as th_icomte, but his shoulders were as broad and his chest as deep.
  • Neither the vicomte nor the poet heard the surprised exclamation which cam_ith a muffled sound from behind the grey mask. She swayed slightly. Th_ounger threw her arms around her, but never took her eyes from the flushe_ountenance of Victor de Saumaise.
  • "Indeed!" replied the vicomte coolly; "and how do you account for that?" H_poke with that good nature which deceives only those who are not banterer_hemselves.
  • "It is not necessary to particularize," proudly, "to a gentleman of your wid_ccomplishments."
  • "Monsieur de Saumaise, your servant," said the vicomte. "Ladies, I beg of yo_o accept my apologies. I admit the extent of my rudeness, Mademoiselle." H_owed and turned away, leaving Victor puzzled and diffident.
  • "Mademoiselle de Vaudemont," he said, "is it possible that I see you here i_ochelle?" How his heart beat at the sight of that figure standing by th_antel.
  • "And you, Monsieur; what are you doing here?"
  • "I am contemplating a journey to Spain," carelessly.
  • "Success to your journey," said Anne, frankly holding out a hand. But she wa_isibly distressed as she glanced at her companion. "Is the Vicomte d'Halluy_oing to Spain also?" smiling.
  • Victor shrugged. "He professes to have business in Quebec. That beautifu_aris has grown so unhealthy!"
  • "Quebec?" The woman in the grey mask spun on her heels. "Monsieur, did I hea_ou say Quebec?"
  • "Yes, Madame la Comtesse."
  • The grey mask made a gesture of dissent. Presently she spoke. "Monsieur, yo_ave made a mistake. There is no Madame la Comtesse here."
  • Victor did not reply.
  • "Do you hear, Monsieur?"
  • "Yes, Madame. Our eyes and ears sometimes deceive us, but never the heart."
  • Madame flung out a hand in protest. "Never mind, Monsieur, what the hear_ays; it is not worth while."
  • Victor grew pale. There was a double meaning to this sentence. Anne eyed hi_nxiously.
  • A disturbance at the table caught Victor's ear. He saw that the vicomte an_he others were proceeding toward the stairs. The vicomte was last to mount.
  • At the landing he stopped, looked down at the group by the chimney, shrugged, and went on.
  • Maître le Borgne came in from the kitchens. "If the ladies will follow me _ill conduct them to their rooms. A fire is under way. The wines and brand_nd sugar are on the table; and the warming-pan stands by the chimney."
  • "Anne," said madame, "go you to the room with the host. I will follow yo_hortly. I have something to say to Monsieur de Saumaise."
  • There was a decision in her tones which caused Victor to experience a chil_ot devoid of dread. If only he could read the face behind the mask!
  • Anne followed Maître le Borgne upstairs. Victor and madame were alone. H_aited patiently for her to speak. She devoted some moments absently t_rushing with her boot the stray pieces of charred wood which littered th_road hearthstone.
  • "Victor," she said of a sudden, "forgive me!"
  • "Forgive you for what?"
  • "For innocently bringing this trouble upon you, for endangering your head."
  • "Oh, that is nothing. Danger is spice to a man's palate. But will you no_emove your mask that I may look upon your face while you speak?" There was _reak in his voice. This unexpected meeting seemed to have taken the solid_rom under his feet.
  • "You have been drinking!" with agitation.
  • "I have been striving to forget. But wine makes us reckless, not forgetful."
  • He rumpled his hair. "But will you not remove the mask?"
  • "Victor, you ought never to look upon my face again."
  • "Do you suppose that I could forget your face, a single contour or line o_t?"
  • "I have been so thoughtless! Forgive me! It was my hope that many month_hould pass ere we met again. But fate has willed it otherwise. I have but fe_ords to say to you. I beg you to listen earnestly to them. It is true that i_our company I have passed many a pleasant hour. Your wit, your gossip, you_xcellent verses, and your unending gaiety dispelled many a cloud of which yo_new nothing, nor shall know. When I fled from Paris there was a moment when _elieved you to be guilty of that abominable crime. That grey cloak; I ha_een you wear it. Forgive me for doubting so brave a gentleman as yourself. _ave learned all. You never spoke of the Chevalier du Cévennes as being you_omrade in arms. That was excessive delicacy on your part. Monsieur, our path_ust part to widen indefinitely."
  • "How calmly you put the cold of death in my heart!" The passion in his voic_as a pain to her. Well she knew that he loved her deeply, honestly, lastingly. "Gabrielle, you know that I love you. You are free."
  • "Love?" with voice metallic. "Talk not to me of love. If I have inspired yo_ith an unhappy passion, forgive me, for it was done without intent. I hav_layed you an evil turn." She sank on one of the benches and fumbled, with th_trings of her mask.
  • "So: the dream vanishes; the fire becomes ashes. Is it really you, Gabrielle?
  • Has not the wine turned the world upside-down, brought you here only in fancy?
  • This night is truly some strange dream. I shall wake to-morrow in Paris. _hall receive a note from you, bidding me bring the latest book. The Chevalie_ill dine with his beautiful unknown … Gabrielle, tell me that you love n_ne," anger and love and despair alternately changing his voice, "yes, tell m_hat!"
  • "Victor, I love no man. And God keep me from that folly. You are making m_ery unhappy!" She bent her head upon her arm.
  • "Oh, my vanished dream, do not weep on my account! You are not to blame. _ove you well. That is God's blame, not yours, since He molded you, gave you _eautiful face, a beautiful mind, a beautiful heart. Well, I will be silent. _ill go about my affairs, laughing. I shall write rollicking verses, fight _ew duels, and sign a few papers under which the ax lies hidden! … Do you kno_ow well I love you?" sinking beside her and taking her hand before she coul_lace it beyond his reach. He put a kiss on it. "Listen. If it means anythin_oward your happiness and content of mind, I will promise to be silen_orever." Suddenly he dropped the hand and rose. "Your presence i_verpowering: I can not answer for myself. You were right. We ought not t_ave met again."
  • "I must go," she said, also rising. She moved blindly across the room, irresolutely. Seeing a door, she turned the knob and entered.
  • It was only after the door closed that Victor recollected. Paul and sh_ogether in that room? What irony! He was about to rush after madame, when hi_teps were arrested by a voice coming from the stairs. The vicomte wa_escending.
  • "Ah, Monsieur de Saumaise," said the vicomte, "how fortunate to find yo_lone!"
  • "Fortunate, indeed!" replied Victor. Here was a man upon whom to wreak hi_rath, disappointment and despair. Justice or injustice, neither balanced o_he scales of his wrath. He crossed over to the chimney, stood with his bac_o the fire and waited.
  • The vicomte approached within a yard, stopped; twisted his mustache, restin_is left hand on his hip. His discerning inspection was soon completed. He wa_ully aware of the desperate and reckless light in the poet's eyes.
  • "Monsieur de Saumaise, you have this night offered me four distinct affronts.
  • Men have died for less than one."
  • "Ah!" Victor clasped his hands behind his back and rocked on his heels.
  • "At the Hôtel de Périgny you called me a fool when the Chevalier struck m_ith his sword. I shall pass over that. The Chevalier was mad, and we all wer_xcited. But three times in this tavern you have annoyed me. Your temperament, being that of a poet, at times gets the better of you. My knowledge of thi_ccounts for my patience."
  • "That is magnanimous, Monsieur," railingly.
  • "Were I not bound for a far country I might call you to account."
  • "It is possible, then?"
  • "Braver men than you find it to their benefit to respect this sword of mine."
  • "Then you have a sword?"
  • The vicomte laughed. It was real laughter, unfeigned. He was too keen _anterer himself not to appreciate this gift in the poet. "What a lively la_ou are!" he exclaimed. "But four affronts make a long account for a singl_ight."
  • "I am ready now and at all times to close the account."
  • "Do you love Paris?" asked the vicomte, adding his mite to the bantering.
  • "Not so much as I did."
  • "Has not Rochelle become suddenly attractive?"
  • "Rochelle? I do not say so."
  • "Come; confess that the unexpected advent of Madame de Brissac has brough_his change about."
  • "Were we not discoursing on affronts?"
  • "Only as a sign of my displeasure. By September I dare say I shall return t_rance. I promise to look you up; and if by that time your manner has no_ndergone a desirable change I shall take my sword and trim the rude edges o_our courtesy."
  • "September? That is a long while to wait. Why not come to Spain with me? W_ould have it out there. Quebec? Do you fear Mazarin, then, so much as that?"
  • "Do you doubt my courage, Monsieur?" asked the vicomte, his eyes cold an_rilliant with points of light.
  • "But September?"
  • "Come, Monsieur; you are playing the boy. You will admit that I possess som_ourage. 'Twould be a fool's pastime to measure swords when neither of us i_ertain that to-morrow will see our heads safe upon our shoulders. I am no_iving you a challenge. I am simply warning you."
  • "Warning? You are kind. However, one would think that you are afraid to die."
  • "I am. There is always something which makes life worth the living. But it i_ot the fear of dying by the sword. My courage has never been questioned.
  • Neither has yours. But there is some doubt as regards your temper and reaso_bility. Brave? To be sure you are. At this very moment you would draw agains_ne of the best blades in France were I to permit you. But when it comes ma_o man, Monsieur, you have to stand on your toes to look into my eyes. My ar_s three inches longer than yours; my weight is greater. I have thre_onsiderable advantages over you. I simply do not desire your life; it i_ecessary neither to my honor nor to my happiness."
  • "To desire and to accomplish are two different things, Monsieur."
  • "Not to me, Monsieur," grimly. "When my desire attacks an obstacle it mus_ive way or result in my death. I have had many desires and many obstacles, and I am still living."
  • "But you may be killed abroad. That would disappoint me terribly."
  • "Monsieur de Saumaise, I have seen for some months that you have bee_ourishing a secret antipathy to me. Be frank enough to explain why ou_dmiration is not mutual." The vicomte seated himself on a bench, and thre_is scabbard across his knees.
  • "Since you have put the question frankly I will answer frankly. For some tim_ have distrusted you. What was to be your gain in joining the conspiracy?"
  • "And yours?" quietly. "I think we both overlooked that part of the contract.
  • Proceed."
  • "Well, I distrust you at this moment, for I know not what your purpose is t_peak of affronts and refuse to let me give satisfaction. I distrust an_islike you for the manner in which you approached the Chevalier tonight.
  • There was in your words a biting sarcasm and contempt which, he in his troubl_id not grasp. And let me tell you, Monsieur, if you ever dare mentio_ublicly the Chevalier's misfortune, I shall not wait for you to draw you_word."
  • The vicomte swung about his scabbard and began lightly to tap the floor wit_t. Here and there a cinder rose in dust. The vicomte's face was grave an_houghtful. "You have rendered my simple words into a Greek chorus. That i_ike you poets; you are super-sensitive; you misconstrue commonplaces; yo_agnify the simple. I am truly sorry for the Chevalier. Now there's a man. H_s superb with the rapier, light and quick as a cat; a daredevil, who had no_is match in Paris. Free with his money, a famous drinker, and never an enemy.
  • Yes, I will apologize for my bad taste in approaching him to-night. I shoul_ave waited till morning."
  • "You were rude to Mademoiselle de Vaudemont." Victor suddenly refused t_onciliate.
  • "Rude? Well, yes; I admit that. My word of honor, I could not contain mysel_t the sound of her voice."
  • "Or of madame's?" shrewdly.
  • "Or of madame's." The vicomte smoothed his mustache.
  • Their eyes met, and the flame in the vicomte's disquieted Victor, courageou_hough he was.
  • "It seems to me," said the vicomte, "that you have been needlessly beatin_bout the bush. Why did you not say to me, 'Monsieur, you love Madame d_rissac. I love her also. The world is too small for both of us?'"
  • "I depended upon your keen sense," replied Victor.
  • "I am almost tempted to favor you. I could use a short rapier."
  • "Good!" said Victor. "There is plenty of room. I have not killed a man sinc_his year Thursday."
  • "And having killed me," replied the vicomte, rising, and there was a smile o_is lips, "you would be forced to seek out Monsieur le Comte d'Hérouville, _an of devastated estates and violent temper, the roughest swordsman sinc_rillon's time; D'Hérouville, whose greed is as great and fierce as his love.
  • Have you thought of him, my poet? Ah well, something tells me that the time i_ot far distant when we shall be rushing at each other's throats. For th_resent, a truce. You love madame; so do I. She is free. We are all young. Wi_er, if you can, and I will step aside. But until you win her … I wish yo_ood night. I am going for a tramp along the sea-walls. I beg of you not t_ollow."
  • The echo of the slamming door had scarce died away when Victor, raging an_otent to do the vicomte harm, flung out after him. With his sword drawn h_ooked savagely up and down the street, but the vicomte was nowhere in sight.
  • The cold air, however, was grateful to the poet's feverish cheeks and achin_yes; so he strode on absently, with no destination in mind. It was only whe_he Hôtel de Périgny loomed before him, with its bleak walls and siniste_heval-de-frise, that his sense of locality revived. He raised a hand whic_ast a silent malediction on this evil house and its master, swung about an_urried back to the tavern, recollecting that Gabrielle and Paul wer_ogether.
  • "And all those dreams of her, they vanish like the hours. That hope, tha_oyous hope, of calling her mine shall buoy me up no more. She does not lov_e! God save me from another such unhappy night. We have all been stricke_ith madness." He struck at the snow-drifts with his sword. The snow, dry an_usty, flew up into his face.
  • Meanwhile, when madame entered the private assembly-room her eyes, blurre_ith tears, saw only the half dead fire. With her hand she groped along th_antel, and finding a candle, lit it. She did not care where she was, so lon_s she was alone; alone with her unhappy thoughts. She sat with her bac_oward the Chevalier, who had fallen into a slight doze. Presently the silenc_as destroyed by a hiccoughing sob. She had forced the end of her kerchie_gainst her lips to stifle the sound, but ineffectually.
  • The Chevalier raised his head… . A woman? Or was his brain mocking him? An_asked? How came she here? He was confused, and his sense of emergency la_allow. He knew not what to do. One thing was certain; he must make known hi_resence, for he was positive that she was unaware of it. He rose, and th_oise of his chair sliding back brought from her an affrighted cry. Sh_urned. The light of the candle played upon his face.
  • "Madame, pardon me, but I have been asleep. I did not hear you enter. It wa_ery careless of them to show you in here."
  • She rose without speaking and walked toward the door, with no uncertain step, with a dignity not lacking in majesty.
  • "She sees I have been drinking," he thought. "Pray, Madame, do not leave.
  • Rather let me do that."
  • She made a gesture, hurried but final, and left him.
  • "It seems to me," mused the Chevalier, resuming his seat, "that I have los_allantry to-night, among other considerable things. I might have opened th_oor for her. I wonder why she did not speak?"