The Grey Cloak (Chapter 9)

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Chapter 9

The roisterers went their devious ways, sobered and subdued. So deep
was their distraction that the watch passed unmolested. Usually a rout
was rounded out and finished by robbing the watch of their staffs and
lanterns; by singing in front of the hôtel of the mayor or the
episcopal palace; by yielding to any extravagant whim suggested by
mischief. But to-night mischief itself was quiet and uninventive. Had
there been a violent death among them, the roisterers would have
accepted the event with drunken philosophy. The catastrophe of this
night, however, was beyond their imagination: they were still-voiced
and horrified. The Chevalier du Cévennes, that prince of good fellows
. . . was a nobody, a son of the left hand! Those who owed the
Chevalier money or gratitude now recollected with no small satisfaction
that they had not paid their indebtedness. Truly adversity is the
crucible in which the quality of friendship is tried.

On the way to the Corne d'Abondance the self-made victim of this
night's madness and his friend exchanged no words. There was nothing
to be said. But there was death in the Chevalier's heart; his chin was
sunken in his collar, and he bore heavily on Victor's arm; from time to
time he hiccoughed. Victor bit his lips to repress the sighs which
urged against them.

"Where do you wish to go, Paul?" he asked, when they arrived under the
green lantern and tarnished cherubs of the tavern.

"Have I still a place to go?" the Chevalier asked. "Ah well, lead on,
wherever you will; I am in your keeping."

So together they entered the tavern.

"Maître," said Victor to le Borgne, "is the private assembly in use?"

"No, Monsieur; you wish to use it?"

"Yes; and see that no one disturbs us."

In passing through the common assembly, Victor saw Du Puys and Bouchard
in conversation with the Jesuits. Brother Jacques glanced carelessly
in the Chevalier's direction, frowned at some thought, and turned his
head away. The Iroquois had fallen asleep in a chair close to the
fire. In a far corner Victor discovered the form of the Vicomte
d'Halluys; he was apparently sleeping on his arms, which were extended
across the table.

"Why do I dislike that man?" Victor asked in thought. "There is
something in his banter which strikes me as coming from a man consumed
either by hate or envy." He pushed the Chevalier into the private
assembly, followed and closed the door.

"Ah!" The Chevalier sank into a chair. "Three hours ago I was
laughing and drinking in this room. Devil take me, but time flies!"

"God knows, Paul," said Victor, brokenly, "what you have done this
night. You are mad, mad! What are you going to do? You have publicly
branded yourself as the illegitimate son of the marquis."

"It is true," simply.

"True or false, you have published it without cause or reason. Good
God! and they will laugh at you; and I will kill all who laugh in my
presence. What madness!" Victor flung his hat on the table, strode
the length of the room, beating his hands and rumpling his hair.

"How you go on, Victor!" said the Chevalier with half a smile. "And
you love me still?"

"And will, to the latest breath in my body. I know of no other man I
love so wholly as I love you."

"I would lose two marquisates rather than be without this knowledge."

"But oh! what have you done? To-morrow . . . What will you do

"To-morrow? A bottle of wine, lad; and wherefore to-morrow?
To-morrow? There will always be a tomorrow. The world began on one
and will end on one. So give me wine, bubbling with lies, false
promises, phantom happiness, mockery and despair. Each bottle is but
lies; and yet how well each bottle tells them! Wine, Victor; do you
hear me? I must never come sober again; in drunkenness, there lies
oblivion. What! shall I come sober . . . to feel, to care? . . . to
hear them laugh? No, no! See!" brushing his forehead, beaded with
moisture; "I am sweating gall, lad. God!" striking the table with his
fist; "could you but look within and see the lust to kill, the
damnation and despair! Woe to him whom I hear laugh! And yet . . . he
will be within his rights. Whenever men tire of torturing animals,
nature gives them a cripple or a bastard to play with. And look! I am
calm, my hand no longer shakes."

Victor leaned against the chimney, haggard of face, silent of tongue.

The Chevalier took out a letter and held it close to the candle-light.
He sighed. Victor saw that he was not looking at the letter, but
through it and beyond. Some time passed.

"And, Victor, I was going back to Paris to-morrow, to life and to love.
Within this scented envelope a woman has written the equivalent of 'I
love you!' as only a loving woman can write it. How quickly the candle
would eat it! But shall I destroy it? No. Rather let me keep it to
remind myself what was and what might have been. Far away from here I
shall read it again and again, till it crumbles in my hand and scatters
into dust." He hid the letter in his doublet and drew forth a
miniature. Like a ruddy ember it lay in his hand. "Paris! O prince
of cities, there lies upon your stones the broken cup which held my
youth!" The yellow of the candle and the red of the fire gave a
singularly rich tone to his face, from which the dullness of
intoxication was suddenly gone.

"Paul, you are breaking my heart," cried Victor, choking. His poet's
soul, and only such as his, could comprehend how full was the
Chevalier's cup of misery.

"Only women's hearts break, lad, and then in verse. Shall I weep? No.
Let me laugh; for, my faith, it is laughable. I brought it on myself.
Fate led me to the precipice, and I myself jumped over. Yesterday I
had pride, I was heir to splendid estates, with forty thousand livres
the year to spend. To-night . . . Let me see; the vicomte owes me
fifty pistoles. It will be a start in life . . . And much have I
snuffed besides candles to-night! By all means, let me laugh."

This irony overcame Victor, who sat down, covered his face, and wept

"You weep? And I . . . I am denied the joy of cursing."

"But what made you speak? In God's name, what possessed you to publish
this misfortune?"

"On my word, Victor, I do not know. Wine, perhaps; perhaps anger,
madness, or what you will. I know only this: I could not help myself.
Poor fool! Yes, I was mad. But he roused within me all the disgust of
life, and it struck me blind. But regret is the cruelest of mental
poisons; and there is enough in my cup without that. And that poor
marquis; I believe I must have caused him some annoyance and chagrin."

"But what will you do?"

"What shall I do? Paris shall see me no more, nor France. I shall go
. . . Yes; thanks, Brother Jacques, thanks! I shall go to that France
across the sea and become . . . a grand seigneur, owning a hut in the
wilderness. Monsieur le Chevalier, lately a fop at court will become a
habitant of the forests, will wear furs, and seek his food by the aid
of a musket. It will be a merry life, Victor; no dicing, no tennis, no
women, no wine." The Chevalier rested his chin in his hands, staring
at the candle. "On Thursday next there will be a mask ball at the
Palais Royal; but the Chevalier du Cévennes will not be with his
company. He will be on the way to New France, with many another broken
soldier, to measure his sword against fortune's. And from the
camp-fires, lad, I shall conjure up women's faces, and choose among the
most patient . . . my mother's. Vanity!" suddenly. "But for vanity I
had not been here. Look, Victor; it was not wine, it was not madness.
It was vanity in the shape of a grey cloak, a grey cloak. Will you
call Major du Puys?"

"Paul, you can not mean it?"

"Frankly, can I remain in France? Have I not already put France behind

"And what's to become of me?" asked the poet.

"You? Why, you will shortly find Madame de Brissac, marry her, and
become a fine country gentleman. And when Mazarin becomes forgetful or
dies, you will return to Paris, your head secure upon your shoulders.
As for me, New France, and a fresh quill, and I will be a man yet,"
smiling. "And I give you the contents of my rooms at the Candlestick."

"What! live among these ghosts of happy times? I could not!"

"Well, I will give them to Mignon, then. There is one who will miss
me. Will you call the major, or shall I?"

"I will call him, since you are determined."

"I shall take the grey cloak, too, lad. I will wear that token of
vanity into rags. Faith, I have not looked at it once since I loaned
it to you."

"And the unknown?"

"When we come to the end of a book, my poet, we lay it down. What
woman's love could surmount this birth of mine, these empty pockets? I
have still some reason; that bids me close the book. Yonder, from what
I have learned, they are in need of men's arms and brains, not
ancestry, noble birth. And there is some good blood in this arm,
however it may have come into the world." The Chevalier extended it
across the table and the veins swelled upon the wrist and hand. "Seek
the major, lad."

When the major entered the Chevalier stood up. "Monsieur," he said,
"pardon me for interrupting you, but is it true that to-morrow you sail
for Quebec?"

"The weather permitting," answered Du Puys, vaguely wondering why the
Chevalier wished to see him. His shrewd glance traveled from the
Chevalier to Victor, and he saw that they had been drinking.

"Thanks," said the Chevalier. "You are recruiting?"

"Yes, Monsieur. I have succeeded indifferently well."

"Is there room in your company for another recruit?"

"You have a friend who wishes to seek his fortune?" smiling grimly.

"I am speaking for myself. I wish to visit that country. Will you
accept my sword and services?"

"You, Monsieur?" dumfounded. "You, a common trooper in Quebec? You
are jesting!"

"Not at all. I shall never return to Paris."

"Monsieur le Comte . . ." began Du Puys.

The Chevalier raised his hand. "Not Monsieur le Comte; simply Monsieur
le Chevalier du Cévennes; Cévennes for the sake of brevity."

"Monsieur, then, pardon a frank soldier. The life at Quebec is not at
all suited to one who has been accustomed to the ease and luxury of
court. There is all the difference in the world between De Guitaut's
company in Paris and Du Puy's ragged band in Quebec. Certainly, a man
as rich as yourself . . ."

"I have not a denier in my pockets," said the Chevalier, with a short

"Not at present, perhaps," replied Du Puys. "But one does not lose
forty thousand livres in a night, and that, I understand, is your

"I lost them to-night," quietly.

"Forty thousand livres?" gasped the soldier. "You have lost a fortune,
then?" annoyed.

"Yes; and more than that, I have lost the source from which they came,
these forty thousand livres. I see that you are mystified. Perhaps
you will learn in the morning how I came to lose this fortune. Will
you accept my sword?"

"Monsieur," answered Du Puys, "you are in wine. Come to me in the
morning; you will have changed your mind."

"And if not?"

"Then I shall give you a place in the company. But, word of honor, I
do not understand . . ."

"It is not necessary that you should. The question is, is my past
record as a soldier sufficient?"

"Your courage is well known, Monsieur."

"That is all. Good night, Major. I shall sign your papers at nine

Du Puys returned to his party. They asked questions mutely.

"Father," he said to Chaumonot, "here is a coil. Monsieur le Chevalier
du Cévennes, son of the Marquis de Périgny, wishes to sign for Quebec."

The Vicomte d'Halluys lifted his head from his arms. But none took
notice of him.

"What!" cried Brother Jacques. "That fop? . . . in Quebec?"

"It is as I have the honor of telling you," said Du Puys. "There is
something going on. We shall soon learn what it is."

The Vicomte d'Halluys rose and came over to the table. "Do I
understand you to say that the Chevalier is to sign for Quebec?" His
tone possessed a disagreeable quality. He was always insolent in the
presence of churchmen.

"Yes, Monsieur," said Du Puys. "You were with him to-night. Perhaps
you can explain the Chevalier's extraordinary conduct? He tells me
that he has lost forty thousand livres to-night."

"He has, indeed, lost them." The vicomte seemed far away in thought.

"Forty thousand livres?" murmured Brother Jacques. He also forgot
those around him. Forty thousand livres, and he had never called one
hundred his own!

"Monsieur," repeated the major, "can you account for the Chevalier's
strange behavior?"

"I can," said the vicomte, "but I refuse. There are looser tongues
than mine. I will say this: the Chevalier will never enter his
father's house again, either here, in Paris, or in Périgny. There is
hot blood in that family; it clashed to-night; that is all. Be good to
the Chevalier, Messieurs; let him go to Quebec, for he can not remain
in France."

"Has he committed a crime?" asked Du Puys anxiously.

"No, Major," carelessly, "but it seems that some one else has."

"And the Chevalier is shielding him?" asked Brother Jacques.

The vicomte gazed down at the young Jesuit, and smiled contemptuously.
"Is he shielding some one, you ask? I do not say so. But keep your
Jesuit ears open; you will hear something to-morrow." Noting with
satisfaction the color on Brother Jacques's cheeks, the vicomte turned
to Captain Bouchard. "I have determined to take a cabin to Quebec,
Monsieur. I have some land near Montreal which I wish to investigate."

"You, Monsieur?" said the sailor. "The only cabin-room left is next to
mine, and expensive."

"I will pay you in advance. I must go to Quebec. I can not wait."

"Very well, Monsieur."

The vicomte went to the door of the private assembly and knocked
boldly. Victor answered the summons.

"D'Halluys?" cried Victor, stepping back.

"Yes, Monsieur. Pardon the intrusion, but I have something to say to
Monsieur le Chevalier."

He bared his head, looked serenely into Victor's doubting eyes, and
turned to the Chevalier, whose face was without any sign of welcome or
displeasure. "Monsieur," the vicomte began, "it is very
embarrassing--Patience, Monsieur de Saumaise!" for Victor had laid his
hand upon his sword; "my errand is purely pacific. It is very
embarrassing, then, to approach a man so deeply in trouble as yourself.
I know not what madness seized you to-night. I am not here to offer
you sympathy; sympathy is cheap consolation. I am here to say that no
man shall in my presence speak lightly of your misfortune. Let me be
frank with you. I have often envied your success in Paris; and there
were times when this envy was not unmixed with hate. But a catastrophe
like that to-night wipes out such petty things as envy and hate."

"Take care, Monsieur," said Victor haughtily. He believed that he
caught an undercurrent of raillery.

"Why, Monsieur, what have I said?" looking from one to the other.

"Proceed, Vicomte," said the Chevalier, motioning Victor to be quiet.
He was curious to learn what the vicomte had to say.

"To continue, then: you are a man of extraordinary courage, and I have
always admired you even while I envied you. To-night I lost to you
some fifty pistoles. Give me the happiness of crossing out this
trifling debt," and the vicomte counted out fifty golden pistoles which
he laid on the table. There was no particle of offense in his actions.

"To prove to you my entire good will, I will place my life into your
keeping, Monsieur le Chevalier. Doubtless Saumaise has told you that
at present Paris is uninhabitable both to himself and to me. The
shadows of the Bastille and the block cast their gloom upon us. We
have conspired against the head of the state, which is Mazarin. There
is a certain paper, which, if seen by the cardinal, will cause the
signing of our death warrants. Monsieur de Saumaise, have you any idea
who stole your cloak?"

"It was not my cloak, Monsieur," said Victor, with a frown; "it was
loaned to me by Monsieur le Chevalier."

"Yours?" cried the vicomte, turning to the Chevalier.

"Yes." The Chevalier thoughtfully fingered the golden coin. One
slipped through his fingers and went jangling along the stone of the

"I was wondering where I had seen it before. Hang me, but this is all
pretty well muddled up. There was a traitor somewhere, or a coward.
What think you, Saumaise; does not this look like Gaston of Orléans?"

Victor started. "I never thought of him!"

"Ah! If Gaston has that paper, France is small, Monsieur," said the
vicomte, addressing the Chevalier, "I learn that you are bound for
Quebec. Come, Saumaise; here is our opportunity. Let the three of us
point westward."

Victor remained silent. As oil rises to the surface of water, so rose
his distrust. He could not shut out the vision of that half-smile of
the hour gone.

"Monsieur," said the Chevalier, looking up, "this is like you. You
have something of the Bayard in your veins. It takes a man of courage
to address me, after what has happened. I am become a pariah; he who
touches my hand loses caste."

"Bah! Honestly, now, Chevalier, is it not the man rather than the
escutcheon? A trooper is my friend if he has courage; I would not let
a coward black my boots, not if he were a king."

"If ever I have offended you, pray forgive me."

"Offended me? Well, yes," easily. "There was Madame de Flavigny of
Normandy; but that was three years ago. Such affairs begin and end
quickly. My self-love was somewhat knocked about; that was all. If
the weather permits, the Saint Laurent will sail at one o'clock. Till
then, Messieurs," and bowing gravely the vicomte retired.

Both Victor and the Chevalier stared, at the door through which the
vicomte vanished. Victor frowned; the Chevalier smiled.

"Curse his insolence!" cried the poet, slapping his sword.

"Lad, what an evil mind you have!" said the Chevalier in surprise.

"There is something below all this. Did he pay you those pistoles he
lost to you in December?"

"To the last coin."

"Have you played with him since?"

"Yes, and won. Last night he won back the amount he lost to me; and
with these fifty pistoles our accounts are square. What have you
against the vicomte? I have always found him a man. And of all those
who called themselves my friends, has not he alone stood forth?"

"There is some motive," still persisted the poet.

"Time will discover it."

"Oh, the devil, Paul! he loves Madame de Brissac; and my gorge rises at
the sight of him."

"What! is all Paris in love with Madame de Brissac? You have explained
your antipathy. Every man has a right to love."

"I know it."

"I wonder how it happens that I have never seen this daughter of the

"You have your own affair."

"Past tense, my lad, past tense. Now, I wish to be alone. I have some
thinking to do which requires complete isolation. Go to bed and sleep,
and do not worry about me. Come at seven; I shall be awake." The
Chevalier stood and held forth his arms. They embraced. Once alone
the outcast blew out the candle, folded his arms on the table, and hid
his face in them. After that it was very still in the private
assembly, save for the occasional moaning in the chimney.

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