Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 32 THE ENVOI OF A GALLANT POET

  • 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.
  • Gallant poet!
  • 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.