Brother Jacques had done a wise thing. On the morning after the vicomte'_ingular confession, he had spoken a few words to the Black Kettle. From tha_our the vicomte made no move that was not under the vigilant eye of th_nondaga. Wherever he went the Black Kettle followed with the soundles_unning of his race. Thus he had warned the settlement of what was going on a_he hunting hut. Victor, having met him on his way up the trail, was first t_rrive upon the scene.
"The poet!" said the vicomte airily. He was, with all his lawlessness, _allant man. "Did I not prophesy that some day we should be at each other'_hroats?"
"Gabrielle," Victor said, "help is close at hand. I can keep this man at bay.
If I should die, Gabrielle … you will not forget me?"
"How affecting! I am almost moved to tears!" mocked the vicomte.
"Well, Monsieur, let us go about our work without banter. There is no edic_ere, no meddling priests, only you and I. Engage!" Bare-headed he stood, scarce but a youth, no match ordinarily for the seasoned swordsman before him.
But madame saw the courage of Bayard in his frank blue eyes. She turned he_ace toward the wall and wept. "Have patience, Paul," Victor called; "the_ill liberate you soon."
"So." The vicomte stretched out his arm. "Well, my writer of rondeaux, I hav_ut little time to spare. As the fair Juliet says, 'I must be gone and live, or stay and die.' I can not fight the settlement which will soon be about m_ars. You first, then your friend. I should scorn to separate, either on eart_r in hades, such loving Orestes and Pylades. Madame, that kiss has cost m_he joy of having your presence for the time being. Here shall the poet die, at his beloved's feet! Which is very fine." His blade darted out towar_ictor's throat, and the last battle was begun. The vicomte was fighting fo_is liberty, and the poet was fighting to kill. They were almost evenl_atched, for the vicomte was weary from his contest with D'Hérouville and th_hevalier. For many years madame saw this day in her dreams.
The blades clashed; there was the soft pad-pad of feet, the involuntary "ah!"
when the point was nicely avoided; there were lunges in quart, there were cut_ver and under, thrusts in flanconade and tierce, feint and double-feint, an_udden disengagements. The sweat trickled down the vicomte's face; Victor'_orehead glistened with moisture. Suddenly Victor stooped; swift as the tongu_f an adder his blade bit deeply into the vicomte's groin, making a terribl_ound. The vicomte caught his breath in a gasp of exquisite pain.
… Death! The skull and the hollow eyes stared him in the face. He was dying!
But before Victor could recover and guard the vicomte lunged, and his poin_ame out dully red between Victor's shoulder-blades. The lad stood perfectl_till. There was a question on his face rather than a sign of pain. His weapo_langed upon the hardened clay of the floor. He took a step toward madame, tottered, and fell at her feet. He clutched the skirts of her Indian garb an_ressed it convulsively to his bleeding lips.
"Gabrielle … Gabrielle!" he murmured. His head fell back loosely. He was dead.
Madame's flesh seemed turned into marble; she could not move, but leane_gainst the wall, her arms half extended on each side.
"See, Madame," said the vicomte; "see what love does! … It is sudden. But d_ot worry; I too, have said my little part … not very well, either." H_teadied himself by catching hold of the table. The blood gushed from hi_ound, soaking his leg, and forming a pool on the clay. "Why, he was wort_ore than them all, for all he scribbled verses. Bah! I have come the ragge_ay, and by the ragged way I go. … It is a pity: either men should be bor_lind or women without beauty. The devil of the priests is in it all. And thi_s what love does!"
The door darkened again, and the Chevalier, Nicot, Father Chaumonot and fou_oldiers came in hurriedly. The Chevalier was first. With a cry he droppe_eside Victor.
"Lad, lad!" he cried in anguish. "Speak to me, lad!" He touched the poet'_ands, and rose. Like an angry lion he faced the vicomte.
"Ha!" said the vicomte, rousing from the numbness which was stealing away hi_enses. "So it is you? I had each hair on your head separate and standing; an_ut for a kiss you would now be mad. To have come all this way and to hav_topped a moment too long! That is what they call irony. But I would give m_oul to ten Jesuit hells could I meet you once again with the sword. You hav_lways plucked the fruit out of my grasp. We walked together, but the sun wa_lways on you and the cloud on me. Ah, well, your poet is dead … and I had n_eal enmity toward him. … He was your friend. He will write no more ballades, and rondeaux, and triolets; eh, Madame? … Well, in a moment," as if he heard _oice calling. He balanced himself with difficulty.
Life returned to madame. Sobbing she sank beside Victor, calling to hi_ildly, fondled his head, shook his warm but nerveless hands, kissed his dam_orehead, her tears falling on his yellow hair.
"He is gone!" she said piteously. "Victor is dead; he will not speak. Poo_oy, poor boy!"
They were strong men; the tender quick of pity had grown thick. Yet the_urned away. Father Chaumonot raised her gently.
"Yes, my daughter, he is dead. God will deal kindly with him, brave boy."
"Dead … as I shall soon be." The vicomte's dulling eyes roved from one face t_nother till they rested on madame. "He will sing no more; he will not fl_outhward this winter, nor next. Ah, Madame, will you forget that kiss? _elieve not. Listen: … I did not kiss simply your lips; 'twas your memory.
Ever shall that kiss stand between you and your lover's lips."
"It is true," she said brokenly. "You had a wicked heart, Monsieur. You, yo_ave brought about all this misery. You have wantonly cast a shadow upon m_ife."
"Have I done that? Well, that is something … something."
"I forgive you."
"Eh? I am growing deaf!" He reeled toward the door, and the men made way fo_im. "I am growing blind, besides." He braced himself against the jamb of th_oor. "My faith! it is a pretty world. … I regret to leave it." He stare_cross the lake, but he could see nothing. A page of his youth came back.
"Monsieur," said Chaumonot, "you have many sins upon your soul. Shall I giv_ou absolution?"
"Absolution?" The vicomte's lips grimaced; it might have been an attempt t_mile. "Absolution for me? Where is Brother Jacques? That would be droll. … Those eyes! Absolution? That for your heaven," snapping his fingers, "and tha_or your hell. I know. It is all silence. There is nothing. I wonder …" Hi_nees suddenly refused to support the weight of his body. He raised himsel_pon his hands. The trees were merging together; the lake was red and blurred.
"Gabrielle, Gabrielle, I loved you after my own fashion! … The devil take tha_rey cloak!" And the vicomte's lawless soul went forth.
The men took the three bodies and placed them in the canoes. They wer_omewhat rough with the vicomte's.
"Gently, my brothers," said Nicot. "He was a rascal, but he was a man."
Madame and the Chevalier were alone. To both of them it seemed as though year_ad passed. Madame was weary. She would have liked to lie down and sleep … forever. The Chevalier brushed his eyes. He was a man. Weeping over death an_n pity was denied him. At present he was incapable of accepting the ful_eight of the catastrophe. His own agony was too recent. Everything was vagu_nd dreamy. His head ached painfully from the blow he had received in th_ight.
"What did he do to you?" he asked, scarce knowing what he said.
"He kissed me; kissed me on the mouth, Monsieur." She wiped her lips again.
"It is of no use. It will always be there."
"You are Madame de Brissac?"
"Yes." The hopelessness of her tone chilled him.
"And you loved Victor?"
Her head drooped. She was merely tired; but he accepted this as an affirmativ_nswer.
"It would have been well, Madame, had I died in his place."
"Let us go," she said; "they are calling."
That was all.
Victor lay in the living-room of the fort. A shroud covered all but his face.
A little gold crucifix, belonging to Father Chaumonot, lay against his lips.
Candles burned at his head and at his feet. There was quiet in his breast, peace on his boyish face.
"Come, Anne," said madame softly.
"Let me watch," said Anne. "I have always loved him."
They buried Victor under the hill, at the foot of a kingly pine where a haw_ad builded his eery home. A loving hand had carved upon the tree these words:
"Here lies Victor de Saumaise, a brave and gallant Frenchman, a poet, _entleman, and soldier. He lived honorably and he died well." Close to th_hores of the lake they buried the vicomte and the last of the D'Hérouvilles.
But only a roll of earth tells where they lie. Thus, a heart of sunshine an_wo hearts of storm repose in the eternal shadow, in peace, in silence. Th_ame winds whisper mournfully above them, or sing joyously, or breathe i_hunder. The heat of summer and the chill of winter pass and repass; the lon_rasses grow and die; the sun and the moon and the throbbing stars sprea_ight upon these sepulchers. Two hundred and fifty years have come and gone, yet do they lie as on that day. After death, inanimation; only the inanimat_s changeless.