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Chapter 3 THE MUTILATED HAND

  • "Monsieur Paul?" cried the handsome widow of Monsieur Boisjoli, stepping fro_ehind the pastry counter.
  • "Yes, Mignon, it is I," said the Chevalier; "that is, what remains of me."
  • "What happiness to see you again!" she exclaimed. She turned to a waiter.
  • "Charlot, bring Monsieur le Chevalier the pheasant pie, the ragout of hare, and a bottle of chambertin from the bin of '36."
  • "Sorceress!" laughed the Chevalier; "you have sounded the very soul of me.
  • Thanks, Mignon, thanks! Next to love, what is more to a man than a ful_tomach? Ah, you should have seen me when I came in! And devil take this nos_f mine; not even steam and water have thawed the frost from it." He chucke_er under the chin and smiled comically, all of which made manifest that th_elations existing between the hostess of the Candlestick and her principa_enant were of the most cordial and Platonic character.
  • "And you have just returned from Rome? Ah, what a terrible ride!"
  • "Abominable, Mignon."
  • "And I see you hungry!" She sighed, and her black eyes grew moist and tender.
  • Madame Boisjoli was only thirty-two. She was young.
  • "But alive, Mignon, alive; don't forget that."
  • "You have had adventures?" eagerly; for she was a woman who loved the recita_f exploits. Monsieur Boisjoli had fallen as a soldier at Charenton.
  • "Adventures? Oh, as they go," slapping his rapier and his pockets which ha_ecently been very empty.
  • "You have been wounded?"
  • "Only in the pockets, dear, and in the tender quick of comfort. And will yo_ave Charlot hasten that pie? I can smell it from afar, and my mouth waters."
  • "This moment, Monsieur;" and she flew away to the kitchens.
  • The Chevalier took this temporary absence as an opportunity to look about him.
  • Only one table was occupied. This occupant was a priest who was gravely dinin_ff black bread and milk served in a wooden bowl. But for the extreme pallo_f his skin, which doubtless had its origin in the constant mortification o_he flesh, he would have been a singularly handsome man. His features wer_legantly designed, but it was evident that melancholy had recast them in _erious mold. His face was clean-shaven, and his hair clipped, close to th_kull. There was something eminently noble in the loftiness of the forehead, and at the same time there was something subtly cruel in the turn of th_ether lip, as though the spirit and the flesh were constantly at war. He wa_oung, possibly not older than the Chevalier, who was thirty.
  • The priest, as if feeling the Chevalier's scrutiny, raised his eyes. As thei_lances met, casually in the way of gratifying a natural curiosity, both me_xperienced a mental disturbance which was at once strange and annoying. Thos_arge, penetrating grey eyes; each seemed to be looking into his own as in _irror.
  • The Chevalier was first to disembarrass himself. "A tolerably shrewd night, Monsieur," he said with a friendly gesture.
  • "It is the frost in the air, my son," the priest responded in a mello_arytone. "May Saint Ignatius listen kindly to the poor. Ah, this gulf yo_all Paris, I like it not."
  • "You are but recently arrived?" asked the Chevalier politely.
  • "I came two days ago. I leave for Rouen this night."
  • "What! you travel at night, and leave a cheery tavern like this?" All at onc_he crinkle of a chill ran across the Chevalier's shoulders. The thumb, th_orefinger and the second of the priest's left hand were twisted, reddene_tumps.
  • "Yes, at night; and the wind will be rough, beyond the hills. But I hav_uffered worse discomforts;" and to this statement the priest added a sou_mile. He had seen the shudder. He dropped the maimed hand below the level o_he table.
  • "You ride, however?" suggested the Chevalier.
  • "A Spanish mule, the gift of Father Vincent."
  • "Her Majesty's confessor?"
  • "Yes."
  • "You are a Jesuit?"
  • "I have the happiness to serve God in that order. I have just presented m_espects to her Majesty and Cardinal Mazarin. I am come from America, my son, to see his Eminence in regard to the raising of funds for some new missions w_ave in mind; but I have been indifferently successful, due possibly to m_ack of eloquence and to the fact that my superior, Father Chaumonot, wa_nable to accompany me to Paris. I shall meet him in Rouen."
  • "And so you are from that country of which I have heard so much of late—tha_rance across the sea?" The Chevalier's tones expressed genuine interest. H_ould now account for the presence of the mutilated hand. Here was a man wh_ad seen strange adventures in a strange land. "New France!" musingly.
  • "Yes, my son; and I am all eagerness to return."
  • The Chevalier laughed pleasantly. "Pardon my irrelevancy, but I confess tha_t excites my amusement to be called 'son' by one who can not be older tha_yself."
  • "It is a habit I acquired with the savages. And yet, I have known men of fift_o be young," said the Jesuit, his brows sinking. "I have known men of thirt_o be old. Youth never leaves us till we have suffered. I am old, very old."
  • He was addressing some inner thought rather than the Chevalier.
  • "Well, I am thirty, myself," said the Chevalier with assumed lightness. "I a_either young nor old. I stand on the threshold. I can not say that I hav_uffered since I have known only physical discomforts. But to call me 'son' …"
  • "Well, then," replied the priest, smiling, "since the disparity in years is s_mall as to destroy the dignity of the term, I shall call you my brother. Al_en are brothers; it is the Word."
  • "That is true." How familiar this priest's eyes were! "But some are rich an_ome are poor; beggars and thieves and cutthroats; nobly and basely born."
  • The Jesuit gazed thoughtfully into his bowl. "Yes, some are nobly and some ar_asely born. I have often contemplated what a terrible thing it must be t_ossess a delicate, sensitive soul and a body disowned; to long for th_lories of the world from behind the bar sinister, an object of scorn, contumely and forgetfulness; to be cut away from the love of women and th_ffection of men, the two strongest of human ties; to dream what might an_hould have been; to be proved guilty of a crime we did not commit; to b_aughed at, to beg futilely, always subject to that mental conflict betwee_ove and hate, charity and envy. Yes; I can think of nothing which stabs s_eeply as the finger of ridicule, unmerited. I am not referring to th_hildren of kings, but to the forgotten by the lesser nobility."
  • His voice had risen steadily, losing its music but gaining a thrillin_ntenseness. Strange words for a priest, thought the Chevalier, who had spoke_ith irony aforethought. Glories of the world, the love of women; did not al_riests forswear these? Perhaps his eyes expressed his thought, for he noted _aint color on the priest's checks.
  • "I am speaking as a moral physician, Monsieur," continued the priest, hi_omposure recovered; "one who seeks to observe all spiritual diseases in orde_o apply a remedy."
  • "And is there a remedy for a case such as you have described?" asked th_hevalier, half mockingly.
  • "Yes; God gives us a remedy even for such an ill."
  • "And what might the remedy be?"
  • "Death."
  • "What is your religious name, Monsieur?" asked the Chevalier, strangel_ubdued.
  • "I am Father Jacques,  _protégé_  of the kindly Chaumonot. But I am known t_y brothers and friends as Brother Jacques. And you, Monsieur, are doubtles_onnected with the court."
  • "Yes. I am known as the Chevalier du Cévennes, under De Guitaut, in he_ajesty's Guards."
  • "Cévennes?" the priest repeated, ruminating. "Why, that is the name of _ountain range in the South."
  • "So it is. I was born in that region, and it pleased me to bear Cévennes as _ame of war. I possess a title, but I do not assume it; I simply draw it_evenues." The Chevalier scowled at his buckles, as if some disagreeabl_hought had come to him.
  • The priest remarked the change in the soldier's voice; it had grown harsh an_epellent. "Monsieur, I proceed from Rouen to Rochelle; are you familiar wit_hat city?"
  • "Rochelle? Oh, indifferently."
  • The Jesuit plucked at his lips for a space, as if hesitant to break th_ilence. "Have you ever heard of the Marquis de Périgny?"
  • The Chevalier whirled about. "The Marquis de Périgny? Ah, yes; I have heard o_hat gentleman. Why do you ask?"
  • "It is said that while he is a bad Catholic, he is generous in his charities.
  • Father Chaumonot and I intend to apply to him for assistance. Mazarin has no_een very liberal. Ah, how little they dream of the length and breadth an_iches of this France across the sea! Monsieur le Marquis is rich?"
  • "Rich; but a bad Catholic truly." The Chevalier laughed without merriment.
  • "The marquis and charity? Why not oil and water? They mix equally well."
  • "You do not seem quite friendly toward the Marquis?" suggested Brothe_acques.
  • "No; I am not particularly fond of Monsieur le Marquis," patting the pommel o_is sword.
  • "Monsieur le Marquis has wronged you?" asked the priest, a fire leaping int_is eyes.
  • "It is a private affair, Monsieur," coldly.
  • "Pardon me!" Brother Jacques made a gesture of humility. He rolled the brea_rumbs into a ball which he dropped into the bowl. Presently he pushed asid_he bowl and rose, his long black cassock falling to his ankles. He drew hi_osary through his belt and put on his shovel-shaped hat.
  • Again the Chevalier's attention was drawn toward the mutilated hand.
  • "The pastimes of savages, Monsieur," Brother Jacques said grimly, holding ou_is hand for inspection: "the torture of the pipe, which I stood but poorly.
  • Well, my brother, I am outward bound, and Rouen is far away. The night i_eautiful, for the wind will drive away the snow-clouds and the stars wil_hine brightly. Peace be with you."
  • "I wish you well, Monsieur," returned the Chevalier politely.
  • Then Brother Jacques left the Candlestick, mounted his mule, and rode away, caring as little as the Chevalier whether or not their paths should cros_gain.
  • "Monsieur le Marquis!" murmured the Chevalier, staring at the empty bowl. "S_he marquis, my father, gives to the Church? That is droll. Now, why does th_arquis give to the Church? He has me there. Bah! and this priest's eyes. Ah!"
  • as he saw Madame Boisjoli returning, followed by Charlot who carried th_moking supper; "here is something that promises well."
  • "Brother Jacques is gone?" said madame, her eyes roving.
  • "Yes." The Chevalier sat down at a table.
  • "Monsieur Paul?" timidly.
  • "Well, Mignon?" smiling. Mignon was certainly good to look at.
  • "Did you notice Brother Jacques's eyes?"
  • "Do you mean to say that you, too, observed them?" with a shade of annoyance.
  • Vanity compelled him to resent this absurd likeness.
  • "Immediately. It was so strange. And what a handsome priest!" slyly.
  • "Shall I call him back, Mignon?" laughing.
  • Madame exhibited a rounded shoulder.
  • "Bah with them all, Mignon, priests, cardinals, and journeys." And half a_our later, having demolished all madame had set before him, besides sharin_he excellent chambertin, the Chevalier felt the man made whole again. Th_armth of the wine turned the edge of his sterner thoughts; and at ten minute_o eight he went forth, a brave and gallant man, handsome and gaily attired, his eyes glowing with anticipating love, blissfully unconscious of th_xtraordinary things which were to fall to his lot from this night onward.
  • The distance from the Candlestick was too short for the need of a horse, s_he Chevalier walked, lightly humming an old chanson of the reign of Loui_III, among whose royal pastimes was that of shaving his courtiers:
  • " _Alas, my poor barber,         What is it makes you sad?"
  • "It is the grand king Louis,         Thirteenth of that name._"
  • He swung into the Rue Dauphin and mounted the Pont Neuf, glancing idly belo_t the ferrymen whose torches threw on the black bosom of the Seine lon_avering threads of phantom fire. The snow-clouds had passed over, and th_tars were shining; the wind was falling. The quays were white; the Louvr_eemed but a vast pile of ghostly stones. The hands of the clock in the quain_ater-tower La Samaritaine pointed at five to eight. Oddly enough there cam_o the Chevalier a transitory picture of a young Jesuit priest, windin_hrough the bleak hills on the way to Rouen. The glories of the world, th_ove of women? What romance lay smoldering beneath that black cassock? Wha_ecret grief? What sin? Brother Jacques? The name signified nothing. Like al_ourtiers of his time, the Chevalier entertained the belief that when _andsome youth took the orders it was in the effort to bury some grief rathe_han to assist in the alleviation of the sorrows of mankind.
  • He walked on, skirting the Louvre and presently entering the courtyard of th_alais Royal. The number of flambeaux, carriages and  _calèches_  indicated t_im that Mazarin was giving a party. He lifted his cloak from his shoulders, shook it, and threw it over his arm, and ascended the broad staircase, hi_eart beating swiftly. Would he see her? Would she be in the gallery? Woul_his night dispel the mystery? At the first landing he ran almost into Captai_e Guitaut, who was descending.
  • "Cévennes?" cried the captain, frankly astounded.
  • "And freshly from Rome, my Captain. His Eminence is giving a party?"
  • "Are you weary of life, Monsieur?" asked the captain. "What are you doin_ere? I had supposed you to be a man of sense, and on the way to Spain. And m_ord of honor, you stick your head down the lion's mouth! Follow your nose, follow your nose; it is none of my affair." And the gruff old captain passe_n down the stairs.
  • The Chevalier stared after him in bewilderment. Spain? … Weary of life? Wha_ad happened?
  • "Monsieur du Cévennes?" cried a thin voice at his elbow.
  • The Chevalier turned and beheld Bernouin, the cardinal's valet.
  • "Ah!" said the Chevalier. Here was a man to explain the captain's riddle.
  • "Will you announce to his Eminence that I have returned from Rome, and als_xplain why you are looking at me with such bulging eyes? Am I a ghost?" Th_hevalier, being rich, was one of the few who were never overawed by th_randeur of Mazarin's valet. "What is the matter?"
  • "Matter?" repeated the valet. "Matter? Nothing, Monsieur, nothing!" quickly.
  • "I will this instant announce your return to monseigneur."
  • "One would think that I had been trying to run away," mused the Chevalier, following the valet.
  • Meanwhile a lackey dressed in no particular livery entered the Hôtel of th_ilver Candlestick and inquired for Monsieur Breton, lackey to Monsieur l_hevalier du Cévennes. He was directed to the floor above. On hearing a knock, Breton hastily closed the book he was reading and went to the door. Th_allway was so dark that he could distinguish no feature of his caller.
  • "Monsieur Breton?" the strange lackey inquired,
  • "Are you seeking me?" Breton asked diplomatically.
  • "I was directed to deliver this to you. It is for your master," and th_tranger placed a bundle in Breton's hands. Immediately he turned an_isappeared down the stairs. Evidently he desired not to be questioned.
  • Breton surveyed the bundle doubtfully, turned it this way and that. On openin_t he was greatly surprised to find his master's celebrated grey cloak. H_xamined it. It was soiled and rent in several places. Breton hung it up i_he closet, shaking his head.
  • "This is very irregular," he muttered. "Monsieur de Saumaise would never hav_eturned it in this condition; besides, Hector would have been the messenger.
  • What will Monsieur Paul say when he sees it?"
  • And, knowing that he had no cause to worry, and having not the slightes_arning that his master's liberty was in danger, Breton reseated himself b_he candles and continued his indulgence in stolen sweets; that is to say, h_enewed the adventures of that remarkable offspring of Gargantua.