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TEN THOUSAND LIVRES IN A POCKET
The Chevalier, who had merely closed his eyes, opened them and looked up inquiringly. "Breton," he said, "return in half an hour." Breton laid aside his book and departed. "Now, my father and my brother," began the Chevalier lightly, "what is it you have to say to me the importance of which necessitates the exclusion of my servant?"
"I wish to do you a service, Monsieur."
"That is kind of you. And what may this service be?"
"A simple warning."
"The Comte d'Hérouville has no love for you."
"Nor I for him." The Chevalier drew the coverlet to his chin and stared through the square port-hole.
"When we land you will still be weak."
"Not so weak that I can not stand."
"All this means that you will fight him?"
"A woman, a vulgar jest and a glass of wine. Monsieur le Comte and myself have been forbidden to meet under the pain of indefinite imprisonment. Yonder it will be different."
"Mademoiselle de Longueville . . ."
"Has forgotten the incident, as I had, till D'Hérouville came on board in search of some woman. Monsieur de Saumaise played him a trick of some kind, and I stepped between."
"Can you be dissuaded?"
"Not the smallest particle. I shall be strong, never fear."
"I am drawn toward you, Monsieur. I am a priest, but I love courage and the unconfused mind which accompanies it. You are a brave man."
"Yes. Who has heard you complain?"
"Against what?" The Chevalier had propped himself on his elbow.
The Jesuit closed his lips and shook his head.
"Against what?" with piercing eyes. "Did I speak strange words when fever moved my tongue?"
"You have said too much or too little," sharply.
"I have heard of Monsieur d'Hérouville; he is not a good man."
"Against what did I not complain?" insistently.
"Against the misfortune which brought you here," lowly.
"You know? . . . From whom?" drawing his tongue across his parched lips.
"I have done wrong to excite you. There were words passed to and fro that morning at the Corne d'Abondance. Need I say more? Monsieur de Saumaise knows, and the vicomte; why should you fear me, who have nothing but brotherly love for you?"
"What is your name?" sinking wearily back among the pillows.
"Father Jacques, or Brother Jacques, familiarly."
"I mean your worldly name."
"I have almost forgotten it," evasively.
"You have not always been a priest?"
"Since I was eighteen." Silence. "Have you anything on your mind of which you wish to be relieved?"
"Nothing. One can not confess who is no nearer God than I."
"Hush! That is blasphemy."
"I am sorely tried."
"Your trials are but a pebble on the sea's floor. Always remember that, Monsieur; it will make the days less dark. No matter how much you may suffer in the days to come, do not forget that at one time you enjoyed to the full all worldly pleasures; that to you was given the golden key of life as you loved it. Thousands have been denied these, and your sufferings compared to theirs is as a child's plaint compared to a man's agony. God has some definite purpose in crossing our paths. Have patience."
"You, too, have suffered?" interestedly. Those almost incredible eyes,--what mystery lurked in their abysmal greys? "You, too, have suffered?" the Chevalier repeated.
"I?" A shiver ran over Brother Jacques's frame; his form shook and vibrated like a harpstring rudely struck. "Yes, I have suffered; but God is applying a remedy called forgetfulness. They will carry you up to the deck this afternoon?"
"Yes. I am told that there are to be games."
Here Breton returned, followed by Victor, who carried a roll of paper in his hand. Brother Jacques pressed the poet's arm affectionately. He had grown to love this youth whose cheeriness and amiability never left him.
"Paul, my boy," said Victor, when the priest had gone, "I have started a ballade of double refrain."
"Is it gay, lad?" The Chevalier was glad to see his friend. There was no mystery here; he could see to the bottom of this well.
"Not so gay as it might be, nor so melancholy as I strove to make it. Frankly, I was a trifle homesick this morning. There was something in the air which recalled to me the Loire in the springtime."
The Chevalier looked at Breton, who flushed. "Homesick, eh?" he said. "Well, don't be ashamed of it, Victor; Breton here was moping but half an hour ago over the hills of Périgny. And, truth to tell, so was I."
"Ha!" cried the poet with satisfaction, "that sounds like Paul of old."
"What are the games this afternoon?" asked the Chevalier. "Will there be foils?"
"Yes." Victor straightened out his papers and cleared his voice.
"And you will take part?"
"Does the vicomte enter the bouts?"
"He does. I daresay that we shall come together."
"I had rather you would decline," said the Chevalier.
"What! not to face him with the foils?"
"He is a better fencer than you, Victor; and to witness your defeat would be no less a humiliation to me than to you. You can reasonably decline."
"And have that boor D'Hérouville laugh? No! Let him give me the chance, and I will give him the back of my hand. Hang it, Paul, what made you interfere?"
"I have a prior claim. You recollect it well enough. He spoke lightly of the conduct of Mademoiselle de Longueville, and I threw a glass of champagne in his face. You had best decline to measure swords with the vicomte."
"Horns of Panurge! Some of these broken gentlemen doubt my ability. Besides, I may learn something of the vicomte's strength. I wonder what it is: when I am out of his presence I dislike him; when he approaches me, my dislike melts in the air."
"Read me what you have written," resignedly.
"I have polished only the third stanza and the envoi. I will read these to you; and tell me where it lacks smoothness."
"Beatrice is vanished and with her her smiles; Others shall kiss away Henriette's tears, Others surrender to Marguerite's wiles: Where is La Place with its musketeers? Oh, but the days they shall lengthen to years Ere I return o'er these pathless seas, Carried wherever the Pilot steers! And where are the belles of the balconies?
"Prince, where is the tavern's light that cheers? Where is La Place with its musketeers, Golden nights and the May-time breeze? And where are the belles of the balconies?"
"That will do very well," was the Chevalier's comment. His thought was carried back, even as the poet's, to La Place Royale. "Read the whole of it, even if it be in the rough. It will divert me." And, listening, he watched his garments swinging to and fro from the hook, particularly the grey cloak. It held a strange fascination.
"Monsieur improves constantly," observed Breton, soberly.
Victor laughed, and began explaining the difficulty of constructing a ballade of double refrain, when a hand fell upon the door.
"Enter," called the Chevalier, listlessly.
The door opened and the vicomte came in. Great good nature beamed from his countenance. His strong white teeth displayed themselves in a smile.
"And how are you this morning, Chevalier?" he inquired.
"Only a little more thickness to my blood," returned the Chevalier, smiling with equal good nature, "and I shall be able to stand up and look into your eyes. Help yourself to a stool. It is good to be ill once in a while, if only to test one's friendships. I am feeling vastly better. Let me thank you for your kindness during the crisis."
"Don't speak of it, Chevalier. It is with great happiness that I see you on the highway to complete recovery. There was a time when we feared for you." The vicomte took advantage of the Chevalier's courtesy and drew forward the remaining stool. "I would that you were well enough to take part in the bouts this afternoon. I was in the Academy that morning when you disarmed Comminges. La! but the lieutenant was a most surprised man when his sword went rolling to the mat."
"It was merely an accident, Vicomte," deprecatingly. "Monsieur de Comminges slipped, and I took advantage of his mishap, which I should not have done."
Victor's eyebrows arched. He had witnessed the match, and knew that the Chevalier had executed an amazing stroke.
"You are too modest, Chevalier," replied the vicomte. "I learn that you have entered the bouts, my poet. I tried to interest D'Hérouville, but he declined. He goes about like a moping owl, watching ever for a returning ship which he may hail."
"We shall probably come together," said Victor.
"And I was just telling him, Vicomte," put in the Chevalier, "to decline to measure foils with so hardy a swordsman as yourself. You are taller, your weight is greater, and your reach is longer. How monotonous to lie here, weak and useless!"
"Monsieur de Saumaise may withdraw with all honor," said the vicomte.
"You are very discouraging, Paul," and Victor stuffed his poem into his doublet. "Still, what you advance is in the main true. But every man has a certain trick of his own which he has worked out all by himself, regardless of rules, in defiance of the teachings of the fencing-master. Perhaps I have one which the vicomte is not familiar with."
"I hope so," said the Chevalier.
"Doubtless he has," added the vicomte.
At four the fencing bouts began between the gentlemen. There were some exciting contests, but ere half an hour was gone the number had resolved itself into two, Victor and the vicomte.
"Well, Monsieur," said the latter, pleasantly, "suppose we share the laurels?"
"We shall, with your permission, make the victory more definite," replied the poet, testing his foil and saluting the ladies above.
"As you please," and the vicomte stepped into position.
It was a pretty exhibition. For a long time it seemed that neither Victor nor the vicomte had any advantage. What Victor lacked in reach and height he made up in agility. He was as light on his feet as a cat. In and out he went, round and round; twice his button came within an inch of the vicomte's breast. The second round brought no conclusion. As the foils met in the third bout, the vicomte spoke.
"Now, Monsieur," he said, but in so low a tone that only Victor heard him, "take care. You have made a brave showing, and, on my word, you hold a tolerable blade for a poet. Now then!"
Victor smiled, but a moment later his smile died away, and he drew his lips inward with anxiety. He felt a new power in the foil slithering up and down his own. Suddenly a thousand needles stung his wrist: his foil lay rolling about the deck. The vicomte bowed jestingly, stepped forward and picked up the foil, presenting it to its owner. Again they resumed guard. Quick as light the vicomte's foil went almost double against the poet's doublet. From this time on the poet played warily. He maintained a splendid defense, so splendid that doubt began to gather in the vicomte's eyes. Twice Victor stooped and his foil slid under the vicomte's guard, touching him roughly on the thigh, But Victor was fighting against the inevitable. Gradually the vicomte broke down the defense, and again Victor's foil was wrested from his grasp. The contest came to an end, with seven points for the vicomte and two for the poet. The vicomte was loudly applauded, as was due a famous swordsman and a hail-fellow.
The Chevalier, who had followed each stroke with feverish eyes, sighed with chagrin. There were three strokes he had taught Victor, and the poet had not used one of them.
"Why did you let those opportunities pass?" he asked, petulantly.
"Some day I may need those strokes. The vicomte does not know that I possess them." Victor smiled; then he frowned. "He is made of iron; he is a stone wall; but he is not as brilliant and daring as you are, Paul."
"Let us prolong the truce indefinitely," said the vicomte, later.
Victor bowed without speaking. The courtesy had something non-committal in it, and it did not escape the keen eye of the vicomte.
"Monsieur, you are the most gallant poet I know," and the vicomte saluted gravely.
They were becalmed the next day and the day following. The afternoon of the second day promised to be dull and uninteresting, but grew suddenly pregnant with possibilities when the Comte d'Hérouville addressed the vicomte with these words: "Monsieur, I should like to speak to the Chevalier du Cévennes. Will you take upon yourself the responsibility of conducting me to his cabin? It is not possible for me to ask the courtesy of Monsieur de Saumaise. My patience becomes strained at the sight of him."
"Certainly, Monsieur," answered the vicomte, pleasantly, though the perpendicular line above his nose deepened. "I dare venture that the matter concerns the coming engagement at Quebec, and you desire a witness."
"Your surmise is correct. I do not wish to take advantage of him. I wish to know if he believes he will be in condition."
"Follow me." The vicomte started toward the companionway.
The Chevalier lay in his bunk, in profound slumber. Breton was dozing over his Rabelais. The clothes on the hooks moved but slightly. As the two visitors entered, the lackey lifted his head and placed a finger against his lips.
"He sleeps?" whispered the vicomte.
Breton nodded, eying d'Hérouville with disapproval.
The vicomte stared at the wan face on the pillow. He shrugged his shoulders, and there was an essence of pity in the movement. Meanwhile the count gazed with idle curiosity at the partitions. He saw the Chevalier's court rapier with its jeweled hilt. The Chevalier's grandsire had flaunted the slender blade under the great Constable's nose in the days of Henri II. There had been a time when he himself had worn a rapier even more valuable; but the Jews had swallowed it even as the gaming tables had swallowed his patrimony. Next he fingered the long campaign rapier, and looked away as if trying to penetrate the future. A sharp gasp slipped past his lips.
"Boy," he said lowly and with apparent calm, "was not that a ship passing?"
Breton looked out of the port-hole. As he did so the count grasped the vicomte's arm. The vicomte turned quickly, and for the first time his eyes encountered the grey cloak. His breath came sharply, while his hand stretched forth mechanically and touched the garment, sinister and repelling though it was. There followed his touch a crackling sound, as of paper. D'Hérouville paled. On the contrary, the vicomte smiled.
"Messieurs," said Breton, "your eyes deceived you. The horizon is clear. But take care, or you will have monsieur's clothes from the hooks."
"Tell your master," said the vicomte, "that we shall pay him a visit later, when he wakes." He opened the door, and followed D'Hérouville out.
Once outside the two men gazed into each other's eyes. Each sought to discover something that lay behind.
"The cloak!" D'Hérouville ran his fingers through his beard. "The Chevalier has never searched the pockets."
"Let us lay the matter before him and acquaint him with our suspicions," said the vicomte, his eyes burning. "His comrade's danger is common to both of us. We will ask the Chevalier for his word, and he will never break it."
"No! a thousand devils, no! Place my neck under his heel? Not I."
"You have some plan?"
"Beaufort offers five thousand livres for that paper, and Gaston will give five thousand more to have proof that it is destroyed. That is ten thousand, Monsieur."
"And I offer to share with you."
"You do not need money, Monsieur."
"I? The Jews have me tied in a thousand knots!" replied the count, bitterly.
"I am not the least inclined toward partnership. You must manoeuver to reach the inside of that cloak before I do. There is nothing more to be said, Monsieur."
"Take care!" menacingly.
"Faith! Monsieur," the vicomte said, coolly, "my sword is quite as long as yours. And there is the Chevalier. You must fight him first."
"And if you find the paper?" forcing a calm into his tones.
"I shall take the next ship back to France. I will see Beaufort and Gaston, and the bubble will be pricked."
"Perhaps you may never return."
"As to that, we shall see. Come, is there not something more than ten thousand livres behind that paper?"
"You banter. I do not understand."
"Is not madame's name there?"
"She is a widow, young, beautiful, and rich. And this incriminating signature of hers,--what a fine thing it would be to hold over her head! She is a woman, and a woman is easily duped in all things save love."
D'Hérouville trembled. "You are forcing war."
"So be it," tranquilly. "I will make one compact with you; if I find the paper I will inform you. Will you accept a like?"
"Good. Now, then, once in Paris, I will stake ten thousand livres against your tentative claims to madame's hand. We will play at vingt-et-un. That is true gambling, Monsieur, and you are a good judge."
"I pick up the gauntlet with pleasure, under all conditions. Besides, an idea has occurred to me. The paper may not be what we think it is. The man who killed De Brissac is not one to give up or throw away the rewards. Eh, Monsieur?"
"Perhaps he was pressed for time. His life perhaps depended upon his escape. He may have dropped the cloak," shrewdly, "and some friend found it and returned it to the Chevalier. A plausible supposition, as you will agree."
"You may tell me a lie," said D'Hérouville, thoughtfully.
"It would not be necessary, Monsieur le Comte," returned the vicomte, suggestively tapping his sword.
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