So they stood for some moments, the one with eyes glaring, the other wit_uiet scrutiny.
"It appears to agree with you here," began the marquis. There was not th_lightest tremor in his voice.
"You?" said the son.
The marquis winced inwardly: that pronoun was so pregnant with surprise, contempt, anger, and indignation! "Yes, it is I, your paternal parent."
"And you could not leave me in peace, even here?" The son stepped, back an_trained his arms across his chest.
"From your tone it would seem so." The marquis sat down. A fit of tremblin_ad seized his legs. How the boy had changed in three months! He looked like _od, an Egyptian god, with that darkened skin; and the tilt of the chi_ecalled the mother.
"I had hoped never to look upon your face again," coldly.
The marquis waved his hand. "Life is a page of disappointments, with a margi_f realized expectations which is narrow indeed. Will you not sit down?"
"I prefer to stand. It is safer for you with the table between us."
"Your sword was close to my heart one night. I made no effort to repulse it."
"Heaven was not quite ready for you, Monsieur."
"Heaven or Hell. There seems to be gall in your blood yet."
"Who put it there?" The Chevalier was making an effort to control his passion.
"I put it there, it is true. But did you not stir a trifle too well?"
"Why are you here? What is your purpose?"
"I have been three months on the water; I have been without my accustome_anary and honey; I have dined upon salt meats till my tongue and stomach ar_arched like corn. Have you no welcome?"
The Chevalier laughed.
"They haven't tamed you, then?" The marquis drew circles in the spilled salt.
"Have you become … great and respected?"
The thrust went deep. A pallor formed under the Chevalier's tan. "I have mad_ome progress, Monsieur. If any laugh, they do so behind my back."
The marquis nodded approvingly.
"Have you come all this journey to mock me?"
"Well," the father confessed, "I do not like the way you say 'you'."
They rested. The marquis breathed the easier of the two.
"Monsieur, I have not much time to spare. What has brought you here?"
"Why am I here? I have come to do my flesh and blood a common justice. I_rance you did not give me time."
"Justice?" ironically. "Is that not a new word in your vocabulary?"
"I have always known the word; there were some delicate shades which _verlooked. I lied to you."
The Chevalier started.
"It was a base lie, unworthy of a gentleman and a father." The marquis fumble_t his lips. "The lie has kept me rather wakeful. Anger burns quickly, and th_shes are bitter. I am a proud man, but there is no flaw in my pride. You ar_y lawful son."
"What! Have you gone to the trouble of having me legitimatized?" with _errible laugh.
"I shall never lose my temper again," retorted the father, a ghost of a smil_arting his thin lips. "Let us put aside antagonism for the present. Let u_nalyze my action. Why should I go to the trouble of having your titl_djusted by parliamentary law? I am too old for Paris; Paris shall see me n_ore. Am I a man to run after sentimentality? You will scarce accuse me o_hat weakness. Were you aught but what you are, I should be dining i_ochelle, with all my accustomed comforts. You are successor to my titles.
Believe me or not, as to that I am totally indifferent. I am doing what m_ense of justice demands. That is sufficient for me. The night of the day yo_ook passage on the Saint Laurent I called to the hôtel those whilom friend_f yours and charged them on the pain of death to stop a further spread t_our madness. Scarce a dozen in Rochelle know; Paris is wholly ignorant. You_evenues in the Cévennes are accumulating. Return to France, or remain here t_ecome … great and respected; that is no concern of mine. To tell you thes_acts I have crossed the Atlantic. There can be no maudlin sentiment betwee_ou and me; there have been too many harsh words. That is all I have to say.
Digest it well."
Silence. A breeze, blowing in through a window, stirred the flames of th_andles, and their lines of black smoke wavered horizontally through the air.
Monsieur le Marquis waited for the outpouring of thanks, the protestations o_oy, the bending of this proud and haughty spirit. While waiting he did no_ook at his son; rather he busied himself with the stained ruffles of hi_leeve. The pause grew. It was so long that the marquis was compelled finall_o look up. In his cabinet at Périgny he had a small bronze statue of th_oddess Ate: the scowling eyes, the bent brows, the widened nostrils, th_alf-visible row of teeth, all these he saw in the face towering above him.
"So that is all you have to say? How easily and complacently you say it!
'Monsieur, the honor I robbed you of I bring back. It is worthless, either t_ou or to me, it is true. Nevertheless, thank me and bid me be gone!' And tha_s all you have to say!"
The marquis sat back in his chair, thunderstruck.
"It is nothing, then," went on the son, leaning across the table and speakin_n those thin tones of one who represses fury; "it is nothing that men hav_aughed behind my back, insulted me to my face? It is nothing to have trample_n my illusions and bittered the cup of life? It is nothing that I hav_uffered for three months as they in hell suffer for eternity? It is nothin_hat my trust in humanity is gone? All these things are inconsiderable! In _oment of anger you told me this unholy lie, without cause, without definit_urpose, without justice, carelessly, as a pastime?"
"Not as a pastime, not carelessly; rather with a definite purpose, to brin_ou to your senses. You were becoming an insolent drunkard."
The chevalier stretched out a hand. "We have threshed that subject well. W_ill not recall it."
"Very well." The marquis's anger was close to the surface. This was his rewar_or what he understood to be a tremendous personal sacrifice! He had com_hree thousand miles to make a restitution only to receive covert curses fo_is pains! "But I beg of you not to repeat that extravagant play-acting. Thi_lass belongs to Monsieur de Lauson, and it might cost you dear."
"Is your heart made of stone or of steel that you think you can undo what yo_ave done? Can I believe you? How am I to tell that you are not doubling o_he lie? Is not all this because you are afraid to die without succession, th_ear that men will laugh?"
"I am not afraid of anything," sharply; "not even of ridicule."
"Well, Monsieur le Marquis, neither am I. You have wasted your time."
"So I perceive," sourly. "A letter would have been more to the purpose."
"It would indeed. It is the sight of you, Monsieur, that rouses fury an_nbelief. We ought never to meet again."
"I will go at once," making a movement to rise.
"Wait till I have done. You will do well to listen, as I swear to God I shal_ever address a word to you again. Your death-bed shall be no more to me tha_y heart has been to you. Ah, could I but find a way to wring your heart a_ou have wrung mine! You have wasted your time. I shall never resume my title, if indeed I have one; I shall never return to France. Do as you please with m_states. There is an abyss between us; you can never cross it, and I shal_ever make the attempt."
"Supposing I had a heart," quietly; "how would you go about to wring it?"
"There are easier riddles, Monsieur. If you waked to the sense of what it i_o love, waked as a sleeping volcano wakes, and I knew the object of thi_ove, it is possible that I might find a way to wring your heart. But I refus_o concern myself with such ridiculous impossibilities."
It was the tone, not the words, that cut; but the marquis gave no sign. He wa_ired physically and felt himself mentally incompetent to play at repartee.
Besides, he had already lost too much through his love of this double-edge_word.
"Suppose it was belated paternal love, as well as the sense of justice, tha_rings me into this desert?" The Chevalier never knew what it cost the prou_ld man to utter these words.
"Monsieur," laughing rudely, "you are, and always will be, the keenest wit i_rance!"
"I am an old man," softly. "It is something to acknowledge that I did you _rong."
"You have brought the certificate of my birth?" bluntly.
"I searched for it, but unfortunately I could not find it;" and a shadow o_orry crossed the marquis's face. For the first time in his life he becam_onscious of incompleteness, of having missed something in the flight. "I hav_old you the truth. I can say no more. I had some hope that we might stan_gain upon the old footing."
"I shall not even visit your grave."
"I might turn over, it is true," a flare in the grey eyes. "And, after all, _ave a heart."
"Good heaven! Monsieur, your mind wanders!" the Chevalier exclaimed.
The marquis swept the salt from the table. The movement was not impatient; rather resigned. "There is nothing more to be said. You may go. Our path_hall not cross again."
The Chevalier bowed, turned, and walked toward the door through which he ha_ntered. He stopped at the threshold and looked back. The grey eyes met gre_yes; but the son's burned with hate. The marquis, listening, heard the sof_at of moccasined feet. He was alone. He scowled, but not with anger. Th_hill of stone lay upon his flesh.
"It is my blood," he mused; "my blood and hers: mine the pride of the brain, hers the pride of the heart. I have lost something; what is it?" He sli_orward in his chair, his head sunk between his shoulders. Thus the governor, returning, found him.
As for the Chevalier, on leaving his father he had a vague recollection o_assing into one of the council chambers, attracted possibly by the lights.
Tumult was in his heart, chaos in his brain; rage and exultation, unbelief an_redulity. He floated, drifted, dreamed. His father! It was so fantastic. Tha_ynical, cruel old man here in Quebec!—to render common justice! … A lie! H_ad lied, then, that mad night? There was a ringing in the Chevalier's ear_nd a blurring in his eyes. He raised his clenched hands, only to drop the_imply, impotently. All these months wasted, all these longings and regret_or nothing, all this suffering to afford Monsieur le Marquis the momentar_leasure of seeing his own flesh and blood writhe! Hate. As hot lead sink_nto the flesh, so this word sank into the Chevalier's soul, blotting ou_harity and forgiveness. Forgive? His laughter rang out hard and sinister.
Only God could forgive such a wrong. How that wrinkled face roused the veno_n his soul! Was the marquis telling the truth? Had he lied? Was not this th_ulmination of the series of tortures the marquis had inflicted upon him al_hese years: to let him fly once more, only to drag him down into swallowin_ire from which he might never rise? And yet … if it were true!—and the pal_f shame and ignominy were lifted! The Chevalier grew faint.
Diane! From beyond the wilderness spoke a voice, the luring voice of love.
Diane! He was free to seek her; no barrier stood between. He could return t_rance. Her letter! He drew it forth, his hands trembling like a woman's.
"France is large. If you love me you will find me. … I kiss your handsome gre_yes a thousand times." There was still the delicate odor of vervain—he_erfume—clinging to it. Ah, if that terrible old man were not lying again! I_e but spoke the truth!
As he strode back and forth his foot struck something. He bent and picked u_he object. It was a grey mask with a long curtain. He carried it to th_andle-light and inspected it. A grey mask: what was such a thing doing i_uebec? There were no masks in Quebec save those which nature herself gave t_an, that ever-changing mask called the human face. A grey mask: what did i_ecall to him? Ah! Like a bar of light the memory of it returned to him. Th_ysterious woman of the Corne d'Abondance! But this mask could not be hers, since she was by now in Spain. With a movement almost unconscious he held th_ilken fabric close to his face and inhaled … vervain!
"Monsieur," said a soft but thrilling voice from the doorway, "will you retur_o me my mask, which I dropped in this room a few moments ago?"
As he raised his head the woman stopped, transfixed.
"Diane?" leaped from the Chevalier's lips. He caught the back of a chair t_teady himself. He was mad, he knew he was mad; it had come at last, thi_oosing of reason.