Poems & Short Stories: 4,271
Forum Members: 70,634
Forum Posts: 1,033,546
And over 2 million unique readers monthly!
For two weeks Brother Jacques lay silent on his cot; lay with an apathy which alarmed the good brothers of the Order. He spoke to no one, and no sound swerved his dull gaze from the whitewashed ceiling of his little room in the college. Only one man could solve the mystery of this apathy, the secret of this insensibility, and his lips were sealed as securely as the door of a donjon-keep: Jehan. Not even the Chevalier could gather a single ray of light from the grim old valet. He was silence itself.
Two weeks, and then Brother Jacques rose, put on his gown and his rosary and his shovel-shaped hat. The settlers, soldiers, trappers and seigneurs saw him walk alone, day after day, along the narrow winding streets, his chin in his collar, his shoulders stooped, his hands clasped behind his back. It was only when some child asked him for a blessing that he raised his eyes and smiled. Sometimes the snow beat down upon him with blinding force and the north winds cut like the lash of the Flagellants. He heeded not; winter set no chill upon his flesh. One morning he resolved to go forth upon his expiation. He made up his pack quietly. Drawn by an irresistible, occult force, he wandered into the room of the château where the tragedy had occurred. . . . The letter! He felt in the pocket of his gown. He drew a stool to the window which gave upon the balcony overlooking the lower town and the river, and sat down.
"To Monsieur le Marquis de Périgny, to be delivered into his hands at my death."
He eyed the address, undecided. He was weighing the advisability of letting the Chevalier read it first. And yet he had an equal right to the reading. He sighed, drew forth the contents and read . . . read with shaking hands, read with terror, amazement, exultation, belief and unbelief. He rose quickly; the room, it was close; he breathed with difficulty. And the marquis had requested that he read it! Irony! He had taken it up in his hands twice, and had not known! Irony, irony, irony! He opened the window and stepped out upon the balcony. Above the world, half hidden under the spotless fleece of winter, a white sun shone in a pallid sky.
Brother Jacques's skin was transparent, his hair was patched with grey, his eyes were hollow, but at this moment his mien was lordly. His pack lay on the floor beyond, forgotten. With his head high, his nostrils wide, his arms pressing his sides and his hands clenched, he looked toward France. The smoke, curling up from the chimneys below, he saw not, nor the tree-dotted Isle of Orléans, nor the rolling mainshore opposite. His gaze in fancy had traversed more than three thousand miles. He saw a grand château, terraced, with gardens, smooth driveways, fountains and classic marbles, crisp green hills behind all these, and a stream of running water.
He looked again and saw a great hôtel, surrounded by a high wall, along the top of which, ran a cheval-de-frise. Inside all was gloomy and splendid, rich and ancient. Magnificent tapestries graced the walls, famous paintings, rare cut-glass, chased silver and filigreed gold, and painted porcelain.
Again; and in his dream-vision he saw mighty palaces and many lights, the coming and going of great personages, soldiers famed in war, statesmen, beautiful women with satin and jewels and humid eyes; great feasts, music, and the loveliest flowers.
His! All these things were his. It was empire; it was power, content, riches. His! Had he not starved, begged, suffered? These were his, all his, his by human law and divine. That letter! It had lain under the marquis's eyes all this time, and he had not known. That was well. But that fate should so unceremoniously thrust it into his hands! Ah, that was all very strange, obscure. The wind, coming with a gust, stirred the beads of his rosary; and he remembered. He cast a glance at his pack. Could he carry it again? He caught up his rosary. Should he put this aside? He was young; there were long years before him. He had suffered half the span of a man's life; need he suffer longer?
He opened the letter and read it once again.
"To Monsieur le Marquis de Périgny: A necromancer in the Rue Dauphin tells me that I shall not outlive you, which is to be regretted. Therefore, my honored Marquis, I leave you this peculiar legacy. When you married the Princess Charlotte it was not because you loved her, but because you hated me who loved her. You laughed when I swore to you that some day I would have my revenge. Shortly after you were married a trusted servant of mine left my house to serve me in yours. And he served me well indeed, as presently you shall learn. Two days before Madame le Marquise gave birth to your son and heir, a certain handsome peasant named Margot Bourdaloue also entered into the world a son of yours which was not your heir. Think you that it is Madame la Marquise's son who ruffles it here in Paris under the name of the Chevalier du Cévennes? I leave you to answer this question, to solve this puzzle, or become mad over it. Recollect, I do not say that the Chevalier is not the son of Madame la Marquise; I say, think you he is? Monsieur, believe me, you have my heartiest sympathy in your trouble. LOUIS DE BRISSAC."
Brother Jacques's brows met in the effort to recall the significance of this name. Ah! the Grande Madame whom the Chevalier, his brother, loved: his brother. His brother. Brother Jacques had forgotten his brother. He raised his eyes toward heaven, as if to make an appeal; but his gaze dropped quickly and roved. Somehow, he could not look to heaven; the sun was too bright. He saw the figures of a man and woman who were leaning against the parapet. The man's arm was clasped around the woman's waist, their heads were close together, and they seemed to be looking toward the south, as indeed they were. Lovers, mused Brother Jacques. Why not he, too? Had not the marquis said that he was too handsome for a priest? Why should he not be a lover, likewise? A lover, indeed, when the one woman he loved was at this very hour praying in the Convent of the Ursulines! Presently the man below turned his head. It was the Chevalier. . . . This time, when Brother Jacques raised his eyes toward God, his gaze did not falter. He had cursed the author of his being, which was very close to cursing his God. There was before him, expiation. He smiled wanly.
His brother. Slowly he tore the letter in two, the halves into quarters, the quarters into infinitesimal squares. He took a pinch of them and extended his arm, dropping the particles of paper upon the current of the wind. They rose, fell, eddied, swam, and rose again, finally to fall on the roofs below. Again and again he repeated this act, till not a single square remained in his hand. His brother. He re-entered the room, shouldered his pack, and passed from the château. The dream of empire was gone; the day of expiation was begun. Later he was seen making his way toward the parapet.
The Chevalier and madame continued to gaze toward the south, toward the scene of the great catastrophe of their lives. They had been talking it over again: the journey through the forest, the conflict at the hut, the day in the hills.
"Peace," said madame.
"Peace and love," said the Chevalier.
"And that poor father of yours! But you forgave him?"
"And Jehan will not tell you who Sister Benie was?"
"No. And he appears so terrified when I mention the matter that I shall make no further inquiries."
"And Brother Jacques?"
"Faith, he puzzles me. It was like enough the reaction. You recall how infrequently he spoke during that journey, how little he ate or slept. Ah well, there are no more puzzles, questions, problems or hardships. Peace has come. We shall return to France in the spring."
"If thou faint in the day of adversity," she said, taking his hand and pressing it lovingly against her cheek. "I love you."
"Here comes Brother Jacques," he said. "He is coming toward us. Ah, he carries a pack."
The Chevalier greeted him gravely, and madame smiled.
"Whither bound?" asked the Chevalier.
Brother Jacques pointed toward the forest. "Yonder, where the beast is and the savage."
"Even to-day." Then Brother Jacques placed a hand on the Chevalier's shoulder and looked long and steadily into his eyes. "Farewell, my brother," he said; "farewell." He turned and left them.
The Chevalier took madame's hand and kissed it.
"How strangely," she said, following with her eyes the priest's diminishing figure; "how strangely he said 'my brother'!"
A scrap of white paper fluttered past them. She made as though to catch it, but it eluded her, and was gone.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
|Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily|
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.