"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!"
"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?"
"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?"
"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.