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AN ACHATES FOR AN AENEAS
"What are you doing here?" demanded the Chevalier roughly.
"Paul," sadly, "you are drunk."
"So I am," moodily. "How long ago since I was sober? Bah! every pore in my body is a voice that calls loudly for wine. Drunk? My faith, yes! You make me laugh, Victor. When was I ever sober? As a boy I used to fall asleep in the cellars of the château. But you . . . What are you doing here in Rochelle?"
"I am here to command your immediate return to Paris."
"Paris? Body of Bacchus! but it is fine gratitude on your part to accept this mission. So his Eminence thinks that I shall be safer in the Bastille? What a compliment!"
"No, Paul. He wishes simply to exonerate you and return to you your privileges. Ah! how could you do it?"
"Do what?" sinking upon one of the benches and striving to put together his wine-befuddled thoughts.
"Take the brunt of a crime you supposed I had done?"
"Supposed? Come, now; you are laughing!"
"Word of honor: supposed I had done. It was not till a week ago that I learned what you had done. How I galloped back to Paris! It was magnificent of you; it was fine."
"But you? And that cloak which I lent to you?"
"Well, I was as little concerned as you, which I proved to Mazarin. I was at my sister's wedding at Blois. Your grey cloak was stolen from my room the day before De Brissac met his violent end. My lad, Hector, found the cloak in a tavern. How, he would not say. He dared not keep it, so sent it to the Candlestick in care of another lad. He understood that its disappearance might bring harm to you. I trounced him well for his carelessness in permitting the cloak to be stolen."
"This is all very unusual. Stolen, from you?" bewildered.
"And it was not you?"
"Am I a killer of old men? No, Paul. De Brissac and I were on excellent terms. You ought to know me better. I do not climb into windows, especially when the door is always open for me. I am like my sword, loyal, frank, and honest; we scorn braggart's cunning, dark alleys, stealth; we look not at a man's back but into his face; we prefer sunshine to darkness. And listen," tapping his sword: "he who has done this thing, be he never so far away, yet shall this long sword of mine find him and snuff his candle out."
"Good lad, forgive! I am drunk, atrociously drunk; and I have been drunk so long!" The Chevalier swept the hair out of his eyes. "Have you an enemy? Have I?"
"Enemies, enemies? If you but knew how I have searched my memory for a sign of one! The only enemy I could find was . . . myself. Here is your signet-ring, the one you pawned at Fontainebleau. You see, Mazarin went to the bottom of things."
The Chevalier slipped the ring on his finger, twirled it, and remained silent.
"Well?" said Victor, humorously.
"You never told me about Madame de Brissac." The Chevalier held the beryl of the ring toward the light and watched the flames dance upon its surface.
"Why should I have told you? I knew how matters stood between you and madame; it would have annoyed you. It was not want of confidence, Paul; it was diffidence. Are you sober enough to hear all about it now?"
"Sober? Well, I can listen." The Chevalier was but half awake mentally; he still looked at Victor as one would look at an apparition.
"So. Well, then," Victor began, "once upon a time there lived a great noble. He was valiant in wars and passing loves. From the age of eighteen to sixty, Mars nor Venus had withheld their favors. He was a Henri IV without a crown."
"Like that good father of mine," said the Chevalier, scowling.
"His sixtieth birthday came, and it was then he found that the garden of pleasure, that had offered so many charming flowers for his plucking, had drawn to its end. Behind, there were only souvenirs; before, nothing but barren fields. Suddenly he remembered that he had forgotten to marry. A name such as his must not sink into oblivion. He must have a wife, young and innocent. He did not seek love; in this his heart was as a cinder on a dead hearth. He desired an ornament to grace his home, innocence to protect his worldly honor. Strange, how these men who have tasted all fruits, the bitter and the sweet, should in their old age crave the companionship of youth and innocence. So he cast about. Being rich, he waived the question of any dowry save beauty and birth. A certain lady-in-waiting, formerly, to the queen, solved the problem for him. In a month her daughter would leave her convent, fresh and innocent as the dews of morning."
"O rare poet!" interrupted the Chevalier, with a droll turn of the head.
"This pleased the noble greatly. Men who have never found their ideals grow near-sighted at sixty. The marriage was celebrated quietly; few persons had ever heard of Gabrielle de Montbazon. Monsieur le Comte returned to Paris and reopened his hôtel. But he kept away from court and mingled only with those who were in disfavor. Among his friends he wore his young wife as one would wear a flower. He evinced the same pride in showing her off as he would in showing off a fine horse, a famous picture, a rare drinking-cup. Madame was at first dazzled; it was such a change from convent life. He kept wondrous guard over her the first year. He never had any young companions at the hôtel; they were all antique like himself. Paul, there is something which age refuses to understand. Youth, like a flower, does not thrive in dusty nooks, in dark cellars."
"How about mushrooms? They grow in cellars; and the thought of them makes my mouth water."
"Paul, you are unkind to laugh."
"Have I not told you that I am drunk? Go on."
"Well, then, youth is like a flower; it must have air and sunshine, the freedom of its graceful stem. Nature does not leap from May to December. The year culminates in the warm breath of summer. Youth culminates in the sunshine of love. The year bereft of summer is less mournful than youth deprived of love. So. A young girl, married to a man old enough to be her grandsire, misses the glory of her summer, the realization of her convent dreams. Gradually she comprehends that she has been cheated, cruelly cheated. What happens? She begins by comparing her husband who is old to the gallants who are young. This is but natural."
"And exciting," interpolated the Chevalier.
"By and by, the world as contrived by man shows her many loopholes through which she may pass without disturbing her conscience. Ah, but these steps are so imperceptible that one does not perceive how far one goes till one looks back to find the way closed. Behold the irony of fate! During the second year Monsieur le Comte falls in love with one of Scudery's actresses, and, commits all sorts of follies for her sake. Ah well, there were gallants enough. And one found favor in madame's eyes; at least, so it seemed to him. In the summer months they promenaded the gardens of La Place Royale, on the Cours de la Reine, always at dusk. When it grew colder this gallant, who was of a poetical turn of mind, read her verses from Voiture, Malherbe, or Ronsard . . ."
"Not to mention Saumaise," said the Chevalier.
"He was usually seated at her feet in her boudoir. Sometimes they discussed the merits of Ronsard, or a novel by the Marquis d'Urfe. On my word of honor, Paul, to kiss her hand was the limit of my courage. She fascinated; her eyes were pitfalls; men looked into them but to tumble in. Gay one moment, sad the next; a burst of sunshine, a cloud!"
"What! you are talking about yourself?" asked the Chevalier. "Poet that you are, how well you tell a story! And you feared to offend me? I should have laughed. Is she pretty?"
"She is like her mother when her mother was twenty: the handsomest woman in Paris, which is to say, in all France."
"And you love her?"
"So much as that your poet's neck is very near the ax," lowly.
"Eh? What's that?"
The poet glanced hastily about. There was no one within hearing. "I asked Mazarin for this mission simply because I feared to remain in Paris and dare not now return. Your poet put his name upon a piece of paper which might have proved an epic but which has turned out to be pretty poor stuff. This paper was in De Brissac's care; was, I say, because it was missing the morning after his death. To-morrow, a week or a month from now, Mazarin will have it. And . . ." Victor drew his finger across his throat.
"A conspiracy? And you have put your name to it, you, who have never been more serious than a sonnet? Were you mad, or drunk?"
"They call it madness. Madame's innocent eyes drew me into it. I've only a vague idea what the conspiracy is about. Not that madame knew what was going on. Politics was a large word to her, embracing all those things which neither excited nor interested her. Lord love you, there were a dozen besides myself, madame's beauty being the magnet."
"And the plot?"
"Mazarin's abduction and forced resignation, Condé's return from Spain and Gaston's reinstatement at court."
"And your reward?"
"Hang me!" with a comical expression, "I had forgotten all about that end of it. A captaincy of some sort. Devil take cabals! And madame, finding out too late what had been going on, and having innocently attached her name to the paper, is gone from Paris, leaving advice for me to do the same. So here I am, ready to cross into Spain the moment you set out for Paris. Mazarin has taken it into his head to imitate Richelieu: off with the head rather than let the state feed the stomach."
"So that is why De Beaufort, thinking me to be the guilty man, sought me out and demanded the paper? My faith, this grows interesting. But oh! wise poet, did you not hear me tell you never to sign your name to anything save poetry?"
"It might have been a poem . . . I wonder whither madame has flown? By the way, Mademoiselle de Longueville gave me a letter to give to you. It is unaddressed. I promised to deliver it to you."
The Chevalier took the letter and opened it carelessly; but no sooner did he recognize the almost illegible but wholly aristocratic pothooks than a fit of trembling seized him. The faint odor of vervain filled his nostrils, and he breathed quickly.
"Forgive! How could I have doubled so gallant a gentleman! You have asked me if I love you. Find me and put the question again. I leave Paris indefinitely. France is large. If you love me you will find me. You complain that I have never permitted you to kiss me. Read. In this missive I kiss your handsome grey eyes a thousand times. Diane."
A wild desire sprang into the Chevalier's heart to mount and ride to Paris that very night. The storm was nothing; his heart was warm, sending a heat into his cheeks and a sparkle into his dull eyes.
"Horns of Panurge! you weep?" cried Victor jestingly. "Good! You are maudlin. What is this news which makes you weep?"
"Ah, lad," said the Chevalier, standing, "you have brought me more than exoneration; you have brought me life, life and love. France is small when a beloved voice calls. I shall learn who she is, this glorious creature. A month and I shall have solved the enchantment. Victor, I have told you of her. Sometimes it seems that I must wake to find it all a dream. For nearly a year she has kept me dangling in mid air. She is as learned as Aspasia, as holding as Calypso, as fascinating as Circe. She is loveliness and wisdom; and I love her madly."
"And you will return to-morrow ?" asked Victor regretfully.
"To-morrow! Blessed day! Back to life and love! . . . Forgive me, lad; joy made me forget! I will see you safely in Spain."
Victor brooded for a space. "Horns of Panurge! Could I but lay my hands upon that paper!"
"No moping, lad. The bowl awaits; trouble shall smother in the cup. We shall make this night one for memory. I have a château in the Cévennes, and it shall be yours till all this blows over. Ah!"
The door leading to the private assembly opened. On the threshold stood a man of thirty-three or four, his countenance haughty and as clean cut as a Greek medallion. The eyes were large and black, the brows slanting and heavy, the nose high-bridged and fierce, the chin aggressive. There lay over all this a mask of reckless humor and gaiety. It was the face of a man who, had he curbed his desires and walked with circumspection, would have known enduring greatness as a captain, as an explorer, as a theologian. Not a contour of the face hut expressed force, courage, daring, immobility of purpose.
"Hurrah, Chevalier!" he cried; "the bowl will soon be empty."
"The Vicomte d'Halluys?" murmured Victor. "Paul, there is another gentleman bound for Spain. We shall have company."
"What? The astute vicomte, that diplomat?"
"Even so. The Vicomte d'Halluys, wit, duelist, devil-may-care, spendthrift. Ho, Vicomte!" the poet called.
"Saumaise?" cried the man at the door, coming forward.
"Go in, Paul," said the poet; "I want a word with him."
The Chevalier passed into the private assembly. The vicomte and the poet looked into each other's eyes for a moment. The vicomte slapped his thigh and laughed.
"Hang me from a gargoyle on Notre Dame," he broke forth, "if it isn't the poet!"
"The same," less hilariously.
"I thought you had gone to Holland?"
"I can talk Spanish," replied Victor, "but not a word of Dutch. And you? Is it Spain?"
"Nay; when the time comes I'm for New France. I have some property there; a fine excuse to see it. What a joke! How well it will read in Monsieur Somebody's memoirs! What is new?"
"Mazarin has not yet come into possession of that paper. Beaufort will see to that, so far as it lies in his power. I am all at sea."
"And I soon shall be! Come on, then. We are making a night of it." And the vicomte caught the poet by the arm and dragged him into the private assembly.
Around a huge silver bowl sat a company of roisterers, all flushed with wine and the attendant false happiness. Long clay pipes clouded the candle-light; there was the jingle of gold and the purr of shuffling cards; and here and there were some given to the voicing of ribald songs. To Victor this was no uncommon scene; and it was not long before he had thrown himself with gay enthusiasm into this mad carouse.
Shortly after the door had closed upon the company of merry-makers and their loud voices had resolved into untranslatable murmurs, three men came into the public room and ranged themselves in front of the fire. The close fitting, long black cassocks, the wide-brimmed hats looped up at the sides, proclaimed two of them to belong to the Society of Jesus. The third, his body clothed in nondescript skins and furs, his feet in beaded moccasins, his head hatless and the coarse black hair adorned with a solitary feather from a heron's wing and glistening with melting snow, the color of his skin unburnished copper, his eyes black, fierce, restless,--all these marked the savage of the New World. Potboys, grooms, and guests all craned their necks to get a glimpse of this strange and formidable being of whom they had heard such stories as curdled the blood and filled the night with troubled dreams. A crowd gathered about, whispering and nodding and pointing. The Iroquois beheld all this commotion with indifference not unmixed with contempt. When he saw Du Puys and Bouchard pressing through the crowd, his lips relaxed. These were men whom he knew to be men and tried warriors. After greeting the two priests, Du Puys led them to a table and directed Maître le Borgne to bring supper for three. The Iroquois, receiving a pleasant nod from Father Chaumonot, took his place at the table. And Le Borgne, pale and trembling, took the red man's order for meat and water.
"Ah, Captain," said Chaumonot, "it is good to see you again."
"Major, Father; Major."
"You have received your commission, then?"
"Congratulations! Will you direct me at once to the Hôtel de Périgny? I must see the marquis to-night, since we sail to-morrow."
"As soon as you have completed your supper," said Du Puys. Then lowering his voice: "The marquis's son is in yonder room."
"Then the marquis has a son?" said Brother Jacques, with an indescribable smile. "And by what name is he known?"
"The Chevalier du Cévennes."
Strange fires glowed in the young Jesuit's eyes. He plucked at his rosary. "The Chevalier du Cévennes: the ways of God are inscrutable."
"In what way, my son?" asked Chaumonot.
"I met the Chevalier in Paris." Brother Jacques folded his arms and stared absently at his plate.
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