Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 21 AN INGENIOUS IDEA AND A WOMAN'S WIT

  • Madame sat down. There was an interval of silence, during which the candle_eemed to move strangely from side to side, and the dark face beyond wa_lurred and indistinct; all save the eyes, which, like the lidless orbs of _nake, held and fascinated her. Vaguely she comprehended the peril of _onfused mind, and strove to draw upon that secret inward strength whic_iscovers itself in crises.
  • "How did you obtain that paper, Monsieur?"
  • The calm of her voice, though he knew it to be forced, surprised him. "How di_ obtain it? By strategy."
  • "Ah! not by the sword, then?" leaning upon the table, her fingers alon_etraying her agitation. "Not by the sword, and the mask, and the grey cloak?"
  • As if the question afforded him infinite amusement, the vicomte laughed.
  • "Would I be here?" he said. "Would I have ventured into this desert? Rathe_ould I not have spoken yonder in France? I shall tell you how I obtained it … after we are married."
  • Madame raised a hand and nervously tapped a knuckle against her teeth.
  • "Which is it to be, Madame?" caressing the paper.
  • "Monsieur, you are not without foresight and reason. Have you contemplate_hat I should become in time, forced into a marriage with a man whom I shoul_ot love, with whom I should always associate the sword, and the mask, and th_rey cloak?"
  • "I have speculated upon that side of it," easily, "and am willing to take th_isk. In time you would forget all about the sword and the cloak, since the_an in no wise be associated with me. Eventually you would grow to love me."
  • "Either you understand nothing about women, or you are guilty of gros_atuity."
  • "I understand woman tolerably well, and I have rubbed against too many edge_o be fatuous."
  • "Indeed, I believe you have much to learn."
  • "If I showed this paper to the governor of Quebec …"
  • "Which you will not do, there being no magic liquid this side of France."
  • "It would be simple to cut out the name."
  • "You would still have to explain to Monsieur de Lauson how you came int_ossession of it."
  • "Madame, the more I listen to you, the more determined I am that you shal_ecome my wife. I admire the versatility of your mind, the coolness of you_ogic. Not one woman in a thousand could talk to so much effect, whe_mprisonment or death …"
  • "Or marriage!"
  • "… faced her as surely as it faces you."
  • "Permit me to see the paper, Monsieur."
  • Some men would have surrendered to the seductiveness of her voice; not so th_icomte.
  • "Scarcely, Madame," smiling.
  • "How am I to know that it is genuine? Allow me to glance at it?"
  • "And witness you tear it up, or … burn it like a love-letter?" shrewdly.
  • Madame stiffened in her chair.
  • "Have you ever burned a love-letter, Madame?" asked the vicomte.
  • Madame turned pale from rage and shame. The rage nearly overcame the fear an_error which she was so admirably concealing.
  • "Have you?" pitilessly.
  • "You … ?"
  • "Yes," intuitively. He touched the particles of burnt paper and laughed.
  • "You were in this room?"
  • "I was. It was not intentional eavesdropping; my word of honor, as to that. _ame in here, having an unimportant engagement with a friend. He was late.
  • While I waited, in walked Monsieur le Chevalier, then yourself."
  • "Monsieur, you might have made known your presence."
  • "It is true that I might; but I should have missed a very fine comedy. Madame, I compliment you. How well you have kept undiscovered, even undreamt of, thi_harming intrigue!"
  • Madame gazed at the door and wondered if she could reach it before he could.
  • "So, sometimes you are called 'Diane'? You are no longer the huntress; you ar_aphne!"
  • "Monsieur!"
  • "And you would turn into a laurel tree! My faith, Madame, it was a charmin_cene! You are as erudite as a student fresh from the Sorbonne."
  • "Monsieur, this is far away from the subject."
  • "Let me see; there was a line worthy of Monsieur de Saumaise at his best. Ah, yes! 'I kiss your handsome grey eyes a thousand times'! Ah well, let us giv_he Chevalier credit; he certainly has a handsome pair of eyes, as many a dam_nd demoiselle at court will attest. It was truly a delightful letter; onl_he music of it was somewhat inharmonious to my ears."
  • "Take care, Monsieur, that I do not choose the block. I am not wholly withou_ourage."
  • "Pardon me! Jealousy has an evil sting. I ask you to pardon me. Besides, i_as evident that you had some definite purpose in trifling with the Chevalier.
  • Well, he is out of the game."
  • "Do you know what brought him here?" veering into a new channel to lull th_icomte's caution. She had an idea.
  • "I do; but it would not sound pleasant in your ears."
  • "He followed …"
  • "A woman?" with quick anticipation. "I do not say so. I brought him into ou_onversation merely to prove to you that I was more in your confidence tha_ou dreamed of."
  • Madame drew her fingers across her brow.
  • "Does any one else know that you have this paper?" Madame manoeuvered he_hair, bringing it as close as possible to the table. Less than three fee_ntervened between her and the vicomte.
  • "You and I alone are in the secret, Madame."
  • "If I should call for help?"
  • "Call, Madame; many will hear. But this paper, and the general fear of Mazari_ince the Fronde, and the fact that I have practically obliterated m_ignature by scratching a pen across it … Well, if you think it wise."
  • Her arms dropped upon the table, and the despair on her face deceived him.
  • "Monsieur, this is unmanly, cruel!"
  • "All is fair in love and war. My love compels me to use force. What if thi_ocument had fallen into D'Hérouville's hands? He would have gone about i_ess gently."
  • Madame bent her head upon her arms, and the candles threw a golden sparkl_nto her hair. The vicomte's heart beat fast, and his hand stole forth an_overed above that beautiful head but dared not touch it. Presently madam_ooked up. There were tears in her eyes, but the vicomte did not know tha_hey were tears of rage.
  • "Think, Madame," he said eagerly; "is a dungeon more agreeable to you than _m, and would not a dungeon be worse than death?"
  • Madame roughly brushed her eyes. "You speak of love; I doubt your sincerity."
  • "I love you so well that I would kill D'Hérouville and De Saumaise and D_évennes, all of them, rather than that one of them should possess the righ_o call you his."
  • "But can you not see how impossible life with you would be after this night? _hould hold you in perpetual fear."
  • "I will find a way to overcome that fear."
  • "But each time I look at you would recall this humiliating moment. I am _roud woman, Monsieur, and I suffer now from humiliation as I never suffere_efore;" all of which was true. "I am a Montbazon; it is very close to roya_lood. If I were forced to marry you, you would certainly live to regret it."
  • "As I said, I am willing to risk it." Then his voice softened. "Ah, but I lov_ou! 'Gabrielle, Gabrielle'! That name is the ebb and flow of my heart'_lood. Promise, Madame, promise; for I shall do as I say. Will you enjoy th_ungeon? I think not. Do not doubt that there is an element of greatness i_his heart of mine. With you as my wife I shall become great; D'Halluys wil_e a name to live among those of the great captains."
  • Madame locked her hands, her fingers twisting and untwisting … To gai_ossession of that paper!
  • "How often I watched you in Paris," he went on, "wondering at first who yo_ere, and then, knowing, why you were not at court with your brilliant mother.
  • I have seen you so many times in the gardens, just as twilight dissolved th_rightness of day. I have often followed you, but always at a respectfu_istance. And one night the happiness was mine to meet you at the hôtel o_onsieur le Comte. Oh! I know perfectly well the rumors you have hear_egarding certain exploits. But remember, I have grown up in camps, an_oldiers are neither careful nor provident. Poverty dogged my footsteps; an_e must live how we can. No good woman has ever crossed my path to lighten it_hadows, to smooth its roughness. Environment is the mold that forms the man.
  • I am what circumstance has made me. You, Madame, can change all this."
  • He leaned over the table, his eyes shining, his face glowing with love which, though half lawless, was nevertheless the best that was in him. Another woma_ight have marked the beauty on his face; but madame saw only the power of it, the power which she hated and feared. Besides, his love in no wise lessene_is caution. His left hand was wound tightly around the paper.
  • "Monsieur, you are without reason!"
  • "Love has crowded reason out."
  • "Your proposal is cruel and terrible."
  • "It is your angle of vision."
  • "I had thought to find peace and security; alas!"
  • "If I were positive that you loved some one else …" meditatively.
  • "Well?"
  • "I should hunt him out and kill him. There would then be no obstacle."
  • "You will do as you say: consign me to imprisonment or death?"
  • "As much as I love you. You have your choice."
  • "Give me but a day," she pleaded.
  • "Truthfully, I dare not."
  • "But this paper; I must see it!" wildly.
  • The vicomte's hand tightened. "I will place the paper in your hands on the da_f our marriage, unreservedly. You will then have the power to commit me, i_o you will. Come, Madame; it grows on toward night. Which is it to be? _ontbazon's word is as good as a king's louis."
  • "Once it has been given!"
  • As a cat leaps, as the shadow of a bird passes, madame's hand flew out an_rasped the projecting end of the paper. The short struggle was nothing; th_ed marks on her wrists were painless. Swiftly she rose and stepped, back, breathing quickly but with triumph. He made as though to leap, but in tha_oment she had smoothed out the crumpled paper. A glance, and it fluttered t_he table. Her laughter was very close to tears.
  • "Monsieur le Vicomte, what a clever wooer you are!" She fled toward the door, opened it, and was gone.
  • The vicomte sat down.
  • "Truly, that woman must be mine!"
  • He took up the paper, smoothed it, and laughed. The paper was totally blank.