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St. Martin's Summer by Rafael Sabatini

Part 6 out of 6

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and it struck a real terror into the heart of the Marquise and
heightened that which was already afflicting her fat lover,

The monks drew themselves erect. It was as if a sudden gust of
wind had swept through their ranks and set them all in motion.
Cowls fell back and habits were swept aside, and where twenty monks
had stood, there were standing now a score of nimble, stalwart men
in the livery of Condillac, all fully armed, all grinning in
enjoyment of her and Tressan's dismay.

One of them turned aside and locked the door of the chamber. But
his movement went unheeded by the Dowager, whose beautiful eyes,
starting with horror, were now back upon the grim figure of the
Abbot, marvelling almost to see no transformation wrought in him.

"Treachery!" she breathed, in an awful voice, that was no louder
than a whisper, and again her eyes travelled round the company,
and suddenly they fastened upon Fortunio, standing six paces from
her to the right, pulling thoughtfully at his mustachios, and
manifesting no surprise at what had taken place.

In a sudden, blind choler, she swept round, plucked the dagger from
Tressan's belt and flung herself upon the treacherous captain. He
had betrayed her in some way; he had delivered up Condillac - into
whose power she had yet had no time to think. She caught him by
the throat with a hand of such nervous strength as one would little
have suspected from its white and delicate contour. Her dagger was
poised in the air, and the captain, taken thus suddenly, was palsied
with amazement and could raise no hand to defend himself from the
blow impending.

But the Abbot stepped suddenly to her side and caught her wrist in
his thin, transparent hand.

"Forbear," he bade her. "The man is but a tool."

She fell back - dragged back almost by the Abbot -- panting with
rage and grief; and then she noticed that during the moment that
her back had been turned the pall had been swept from the coffin.
The sight of the bare deal box arrested her attention, and for the
moment turned aside her anger. What fresh surprise did they prepare

No sooner had she asked herself the question than herself she
answered it, and an icy hand seemed to close about her heart. It
was Marius who was dead. They had lied to her. Marius's was the
body they had borne to Condillac - those men in the livery of her

With a sudden sob in her throat she took a step towards the coffin.
She must see for herself. One way or the other she must at once
dispel this torturing doubt. But ere she had taken three paces,
she stood arrested again, her hands jerked suddenly to the height
of her breast, her lips parting to let out a scream of terror. For
the coffin-lid had slowly raised and clattered over. And as if to
pile terror for her, a figure rose from the box, and, sitting up,
looked round with a grim smile; and the figure was the figure of
a man whom she knew to be dead, a man who had died by her
contriving - it was the figure of Garnache. It was Garnache as
he had been on the occasion of his first coming to Condillac, as
he had been on the day they had sought his life in this very room.
How well she knew that great hooked nose and the bright, steely
blue eyes, the dark brown hair, ash-coloured at the temples where
age had paled it, and the fierce, reddish mustachios, bristling
above the firm mouth and long, square chin.

She stared and stared, her beautiful face livid and distorted,
till there was no beauty to be seen in it, what time the Abbot
regarded her coldly and Tressan, behind her, turned almost sick
with terror. But not the terror of ghosts was it afflicted him. He
saw in Garnache a man who was still of the quick - a man who by
some miracle had escaped the fate to which they supposed him to
have succumbed; and his terror was the terror of the reckoning
which that man would ask.

After a moment's pause, as if relishing the sensation he had created,
Garnache rose to his feet and leapt briskly to the ground. There
was nothing ghostly about the thud with which he alighted on his
feet before her. A part of her terror left her; yet not quite all.
She saw that she had but a man to deal with, yet she began to
realize that this man was very terrible.

"Garnache again!" she gasped.

He bowed serenely, his lips smiling.

"Aye, madame," he told her pleasantly, "always Garnache. Tenacious
as a leech, madame; and like a leech come hither to do a little
work of purification."

Her eyes, now kindling again as she recovered from her recent fears,
sought Fortunio's shifty glance. Garnache followed it and read
what was in her mind.

"What Fortunio has done," said he, "he has done by your son's
authority and sanction."

"Marius?" she inquired, and she was almost fearful lest she should
hear that by her son he meant her stepson, and that Marius was dead.

"Yes, Marius," he answered her. "I bent him to my will. I
threatened him that he and this fellow of his, this comrade in arms
so worthy of his master, should be broken on the wheel together
unless I were implicitly obeyed. If they would save their lives,
this was their chance. They were wise, and they took it, and thus
afforded me the means of penetrating into Condillac and rescuing
Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye."

"Then Marius - ?" She left her question unfinished, her hand
clutching nervously at the bosom of her gown.

"Is sound and well, as Fortunio truthfully will have told you. But
he is not yet out of my grasp, nor will be until the affairs of
Condillac are settled. For if I meet with further opposition here,
broken on the wheel he shall be yet, I promise you."

Still she made a last attempt at hectoring it. The long habit of
mastership dies hard. She threw back her head; her courage revived
now that she knew Marius to be alive and sound.

"Fine words," she sneered. "But who are you that you can threaten
so and promise so?"

"I am the Queen-Regent's humble mouthpiece, madame. What I threaten,
I threaten in her name. Ruffle it no longer, I beseech you. It
will prove little worth your while. You are deposed, madame, and
you had best take your deposition with dignity and calm - in all
friendliness do I advise it."

"I am not yet come so low that I need your advice," she answered

"You may before the sun sets," he answered, with his quiet smile.
"The Marquis de Condillac and his wife are still at La Rochette,
waiting until my business here is done that they may come home."

"His wife?" she cried.

"His wife, madame. He has brought home a wife from Italy."

"Then - then - Marius?" She said no more than that. Maybe she had
no intention of muttering even so much of her thoughts aloud. But
Garnache caught the trend of her mind, and he marvelled to see how
strong a habit of thought can be. At once upon hearing of the
Marquis's marriage her mind had flown back to its wonted pondering
of the possibilities of Marius's wedding Valerie.

But Garnache dispelled such speculations.

"No, madame," said he. "Marius looks elsewhere for a wife - unless
mademoiselle of her own free will should elect to wed him - a thing
unlikely." Then, with a sudden change to sternness - "Mademoiselle
de La Vauvraye is well, madame?" he asked.

She nodded her head, but made no answer in words. He turned to

"Go fetch her," he bade the captain, and one of the men unlocked
the door to let Fortunio out upon that errand.

The Parisian took a turn in the apartment, and came close to Tressan.
He nodded to the Seneschal with a friendliness that turned him sick
with fright.

"Well met, my dear Lord Seneschal. I am rejoiced to find you here.
Had it been otherwise I must have sent for you. There is a little
matter to be settled between us. You may depend upon me to settle
it to your present satisfaction, if to your future grief." And,
with a smile, he passed on, leaving the Seneschal too palsied to
answer him, too stricken to disclaim his share in what had taken
place at Condillac.

"You have terms to make with me?" the Marquise questioned proudly.

"Certainly," he answered, with his grim courtesy. "Upon your
acceptance of those terms shall depend Marius's life and your own
future liberty."

"What are they?"

"That within the hour all your people - to the last scullion - shall
have laid down their arms and vacated Condillac."

It was beyond her power to refuse.

"The Marquis will not drive me forth?" she half affirmed, half asked.

"The Marquis, madame, has no power in this matter. It is for the
Queen to deal with your insubordination - for me as the Queen's

"If I consent, monsieur, what then?"

He shrugged his shoulders, and smiled quietly.

"There is no 'if,' madame. Consent you must, willingly or
unwillingly. To make sure of that have I come back thus and with
force. But should you deliver battle, you will be worsted - and it
will be very ill for you. Bid your men depart, as I have told you,
and you also shall have liberty to go hence."

"Aye, but whither?" she cried, in a sudden frenzy of anger.

"I realize, madame, from what I know of your circumstances that
you will be well-nigh homeless. You should have thought of how
one day you might come to be dependent upon the Marquis de
Condillac's generosity before you set yourself to conspire against
him, before you sought to encompass his death. You can hardly
look for generosity at his hands now, and so you will be all but
homeless, unless - " He paused, and his eyes strayed to Tressan
and were laden with a sardonic look.

"You take a very daring tone with me," she told him. "You speak to
me as no man has ever dared to speak."

"When the power was yours, madame, you dealt with me as none has
ever dared to deal. The advantage now is mine. Behold how I use
it in your own interests; observe how generously I shall deal with
you who deal in murder. Monsieur de Tressan," he called briskly.
The Seneschal started forward as if some one had prodded him

"Mu - monsieur?" said he.

"With you, too, will I return good for evil. Come hither."

The Seneschal approached, wondering what was about to take place.
The Marquise watched his coming, a cold glitter in her eye, for -
keener of mental vision than Tressan - she already knew the hideous
purpose that was in Garnache's mind.

The soldiers grinned; the Abbot looked on with an impassive face.

"The Marquise de Condillac is likely to be homeless henceforth,"
said the Parisian, addressing the Seneschal. "Will you not be
gallant enough to offer her a home, Monsieur de Tressan?"

"Will I?" gasped Tressan, scarce daring to believe his own ears,
his eyes staring with a look that was almost one of vacancy.
"Madame well knows how readily."

"Oho?" crowed Garnache, who had been observing madame's face. "She
knows? Then do so, monsieur; and on that condition I will forget
your indiscretions here. I pledge you my word that you shall not
be called to further account for the lives that have been lost
through your treachery and want of loyalty, provided that of your
own free will you lay down your Seneschalship of Dauphiny an office
which I cannot consent to see you filling hereafter."

Tressan stared from the Dowager to Garnache and back to the Dowager.
She stood there as if Garnache's words had turned her into marble,
bereft of speech through very rage. And then the door opened, and
Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye entered, followed closely by Fortunio.

At sight of Garnache she stood still, set her hand on her heart,
and uttered a low cry. Was it indeed Garnache she saw - Garnache,
her brave knight-errant? He looked no longer as he had looked
during those days when he had been her gaoler; but he looked as she
liked to think of him since she had accounted him dead. He advanced
to meet her, a smile in his eyes that had something wistful in it.
He held out both hands to her, and she took them, and there, under
the eyes of all, before he could snatch them away, she had stooped
and kissed them, whilst a murmur of "Thank God! Thank God!" escaped
from her lips to heaven.

"Mademoiselle, mademoiselle!" he remonstrated, when it was too late
to stay her. "You must not; it is not seemly in me to allow it."

He saw in the act no more than an expression of the gratitude for
what he had done to serve her, and for the risk in which his life
had been so willingly placed in that service. Under the suasion of
his words she grew calm again; then, suddenly, a fear stirred her
once more in that place where she had known naught but fears.

"Why are you here, monsieur? You have come into danger again?"

"No, no," he laughed. "These are my own men at least, for the time
being. I am come in power this time, to administer justice. What
shall be done with this lady, mademoiselle?" he asked; and knowing
well the merciful sweetness of the girl's soul, he added, "Speak,
now. Her fate shall rest in your hands."

Valerie looked at her enemy, and then her eyes strayed round the
room and took stock of the men standing there in silence, of the
Abbot who still remained at the table-head, a pale, scarce-interested
spectator of this odd scene.

The change had come so abruptly. A few minutes ago she had been
still a prisoner, suffering tortures at having heard that Marius
was to return that day, and that, willy-nilly, she must wed him now.
And now she was free it seemed: her champion was returned in power,
and he stood bidding her decide the fate of her late oppressors.

Madame's face was ashen. She judged the girl by her own self; she
had no knowledge of any such infinite sweetness as that of this
child's nature, a sweetness that could do no hurt to any. Death
was what the Marquise expected, since she knew that death would she
herself have pronounced had the positions been reversed. But -

"Let her go in peace, monsieur," she heard mademoiselle say, and she
could not believe but that she was being mocked. And as if mockery
were at issue, Garnache laughed.

"We will let her go, mademoiselle - yet not quite her own way. You
must not longer remain unrestrained, madame," he told the Marquise.
"Natures such as yours need a man's guidance. I think you will be
sufficiently punished if you wed this rash Monsieur de Tressan, just
as he will be sufficiently punished later when disillusionment
follows his present youthful ardour. Make each other happy, then,"
and he waved his arms from one to the other. "Our good Father,
here, will tie the knot at once, and then, my Lord Seneschal, you
may bear home your bride. Her son shall follow you."

But the Marquise blazed out now. She stamped her foot, and her
eyes seemed to have taken fire.

"Never, sir! Never in life!" she cried. "I will not be so
constrained. I am the Marquise de Condillac, monsieur. Do not
forget it!"

"I am hardly in danger of doing that. It is because I remember it
that I urge you to change your estate with all dispatch; and cease
to be the Marquise de Condillac. That same Marquise has a heavy
score against her. Let her evade payment by this metamorphosis.
I have opened for you, madame, a door through which you may escape."

"You are insolent," she told him. "By God, sir! I am no baggage to
be disposed of by the will of any man."

At that Garnache himself took fire. Her anger proved as the steel
smiting the flint of his own nature, and one of his fierce bursts
of blazing passion whirled about her head.

"And what of this child, here?" he thundered. "What of her, madame?
Was she a baggage to be disposed of by the will of any man or woman?
Yet you sought to dispose of her against her heart, against her
nature, against her plighted word. Enough said!" he barked, and so
terrific was his mien and voice that the stout-spirited Dowager was
cowed, and recoiled as he advanced a step in her direction. "Get
you married. Take you this man to husband, you who with such
calmness sought to drive others into unwilling wedlock. Do it,
madame, and do it now, or by the Heaven above us, you shall come to
Paris with me, and you'll not find them nice there. It will avail
you little to storm and shout at them that you are Marquise de
Condillac. As a murderess and a rebel shall you be tried, and as
both or either it is odds you will be broken on the wheel - and your
son with you. So make your choice, madame."

He ceased. Valerie had caught him by the arm. At once his fury
fell from him. He turned to her.

"What is it, child?"

"Do not compel her, if she will not wed him," said she. "I know -
and - she did not - how terrible a thing it is."

"Nay, patience, child," he soothed her, smiling now, his smile as
the sunshine that succeeds a thunderstorm.

"It is none so bad with her. She is but coy. They had plighted
their troth already, so it seems. Besides, I do not compel her.
She shall marry him of her own free will - or else go to Paris and
stand her trial and the consequences."

"They had plighted their troth, do you say?"

"Well - had you not, Monsieur le Seneschal?"

"We had, monsieur," said Tressan, with conscious pride; "and for
myself I am ready for these immediate nuptials."

"Then, in God's name, let Madame give us her answer now. We have
not the day to waste."

She stood looking at him, her toe tapping the ground, her eyes
sullenly angry. And in the end, half-fainting in her great
disdain, she consented to do his will. Paris and the wheel formed
too horrible an alternative; besides, even if that were spared her,
there was but a hovel in Touraine for her, and Tressan, for all
his fat ugliness, was wealthy.

So the Abbot, who had lent himself to the mummery of coming there
to read a burial service, made ready now, by order of the Queen's
emissary, to solemnize a wedding.

It was soon done. Fortunio stood sponsor for Tressan, and Garnache
himself insisted upon handing the Lord Seneschal his bride, a stroke
of irony which hurt the proud lady of Condillac more than all her
sufferings of the past half-hour.

When it was over and the Dowager Marquise de Condillac had been
converted into the Comtesse de Tressan, Garnache bade them depart
in peace and at once.

"As I have promised, you shall be spared all prosecution, Monsieur
de Tressan," he assured the Seneschal at parting. "But you must
resign at once the King's Seneschalship of Dauphiny, else will you
put me to the necessity of having you deprived of your office - and
that might entail unpleasant consequences."

They went, madame with bowed head, her stubborn pride broken at
last as the Abbot of Saint Francis had so confidently promised her.
After them went the Abbot and the lackeys of Florimond, and Fortunio
went with these to carry out Garnache's orders that the men of the
Dowager's garrison be sent packing at once, leaving with the
Parisian, in the great hall, just Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye.



Uneasy in his mind, seeking some way to tell the thing and acquit
himself of the painful task before him, Garnache took a turn in the

Mademoiselle leaned against the table, which was still burdened by
the empty coffin, and observed him. His ponderings were vain; he
could find no way to tell, his story. She had said that she did not
exactly love this Florimond, that her loyalty to him was no more
than her loyalty to her father's wishes. Nevertheless, he thought,
what manner of hurt must not her pride receive when she learned that
Florimond had brought him home a wife? Garnache was full of pity
for her and for the loneliness that must be hers hereafter, mistress
of a vast estate in Dauphiny, alone and friendless. And he was a
little sorry for himself and the loneliness which, he felt, would
be his hereafter; but that was by the way.

At last it was she herself who broke the silence.

"Monsieur," she asked him, and her voice was strained and husky,
"were you in time to save Florimond?"

"Yes, mademoiselle," he answered readily, glad that by that question
she should have introduced the subject. "I was in time."

"And Marius?" she inquired. "From what I heard you say, I take it
that he has suffered no harm."

"He has suffered none. I have spared him that he might participate
in the joy of his mother at her union with Monsieur de Tressan."

"I am glad it was so, monsieur. Tell me of it." Her voice sounded
formal and constrained.

But either he did not hear or did not heed the question.

"Mademoiselle," he said slowly. "Florimond is coming - "

"Florimond?" she broke in, and her voice went shrill, as if with a
sudden fear, her cheeks turned white as chalk. The thing that for
months she had hoped and prayed for was come at last, and it struck
her almost dead with terror.

He remarked the change, and set it down to a natural excitement.
He paused a moment. Then:

"He is still at La Rochette. But he does no more than wait until he
shall have learned that his stepmother has departed from Condillac."

"But - why - why - ? Was he then in no haste to come to me?" she
inquired, her voice faltering.

"He is - " He stopped and tugged at his mustachios, his eyes
regarding her sombrely. He was close beside her now, where he had
halted, and he set his hand gently upon her shoulder, looked down
into that winsome little oval face she raised to his.

"Mademoiselle," he inquired, "would it afflict you very sorely if
you were not destined, after all, to wed the Lord of Condillac?"

"Afflict me?" she echoed. The very question set her gasping with
hope. "No - no, monsieur; it would not afflict me."

"That is true? That is really, really true?" he cried, and his tone
seemed less despondent.

"Don't you know how true it is?" she said, in such accents and with
such a shy upward look that something seemed suddenly to take
Garnache by the throat. The blood flew to his cheeks. He fancied
an odd meaning in those words of hers - a meaning that set his
pulses throbbing faster than joy or peril had ever set them yet.
Then he checked himself, and deep down in his soul he seemed to
hear a peal of mocking laughter - just such a burst of sardonic
mirth as had broken from his lips two nights ago when on his way
to Voiron. Then he went back to the business he had in hand.

"I am glad it is so with you," he said quietly. "Because Florimond
has brought him home a wife."

The words were out, and he stood back as stands a man who, having
cast an insult, prepares to ward the blow he expects in answer. He
had looked for a storm, a wild, frantic outburst; the lightning of
flashing, angry eyes; the thunder of outraged pride. Instead, here
was a gentle calm, a wan smile overspreading her sweet, pale face,
and then she hid that face in her hands, buried face and hands upon
his shoulder and fell to weeping very quietly.

This, he thought, was almost worse than the tempest he had looked
for. How was he to know that these tears were the overflow of a
heart that was on the point of bursting from sheer joy? He patted
her shoulder; he soothed her.

"Little child," he whispered in her ear. "What does it matter? You
did not really love him. He was all unworthy of you. Do not grieve,
child. So, so, that is better."

She was looking up at him, smiling through the tears that suffused
er eyes.

"I am weeping for joy, monsieur," said she.

"For you?" quoth he. "Vertudieu! There is no end to the things a
woman weeps for!"

Unconsciously, instinctively almost, she nestled closer to him, and
again his pulses throbbed, again that flush came to overspread his
lean countenance. Very softly he whispered in her ear:

"Will you go to Paris with me, mademoiselle?"

He meant by that question no more than to ask whether, now that here
in Dauphiny she would be friendless and alone, it were not better
for her to place herself under the care of the Queen-Regent. But
what blame to her if she misunderstood the question, if she read in
it the very words her heart was longing to hear from him? The very
gentleness of his tone implied his meaning to be the one she desired.
She raised her hazel eyes again to his, she nestled closer to him,
and then, with a shy fluttering of her lids, a delicious red
suffusing her virgin cheek, she answered very softly:

"I will go anywhere with you, monsieur - anywhere."

With a cry he broke from her. There was no fancying now; no
possibility of misunderstanding. He saw how she had misread his
question, how she had delivered herself up to him in answer. His
almost roughness startled her, and she stared at him as he stamped
down the apartment and back to where she stood, seeking in vain to
master the turbulence of his feelings. He stood still again. He
took her by the shoulders and held her at arms' length, before him,
thus surveying her, and there was trouble in his keen eyes.

"Mademoiselle, mademoiselle!" he cried. "Valerie, my child, what
are you saying to me?"

"What would you have me say?" she asked, her eyes upon the floor.
"Was I too forward? It seemed to me there could not be question of
such a thing between us now. I belong to you. What man has ever
served a woman as you have served me? What better friend, what
nobler lover did ever woman have? Why then need I take shame at
confessing my devotion?"

He swallowed hard, and there was a mist before his eyes - eyes that
had looked unmoved on many a scene of carnage.

"You know not what you do," he cried out, and his voice was as the
voice of one in pain. "I am old."

"Old?" she echoed in deep surprise, and she looked up at him, as if
she sought evidence of what he stated.

"Aye, old," he assured her bitterly. "Look at the grey in my hair,
the wrinkles in my face. I am no likely lover for you, child.
You'll need a lusty, comely young gallant."

She looked at him, and a faint smile flickered at the corners of her
lips. She observed his straight, handsome figure; his fine air of
dignity and of strength. Every inch a man was he; never lived there
one who was more a man; and what more than such a man could any maid

"You are all that I would have you," she answered him, and in his
mind he almost cursed her stubbornness, her want of reason.

"I am peevish and cross-grained," he informed her, "and I have grown
old in ignorance of woman's ways. Love has never come to me until
now. What manner of lover, think you, can I make?"

Her eyes were on the windows at his back. The sunshine striking
through them seemed to give her the reply she sought.

"To-morrow will be Saint Martin's Day," she told him; "yet see with
a warmth the sun is shining."

"A poor, make-believe Saint Martin's Summer," said he. "I am fitly
answered by your allegory."

"Oh, not make-believe, not make-believe," she exclaimed. "There is
no make-believe in the sun's brightness and its warmth. We see it
and we feel it, and we are none the less glad of it because the
time of year should be November; rather do we take the greater joy
in it. And it is not yet November in your life, not yet by many

"What you say is apt, perhaps," said he, "and may seem more apt than
it is since my name is Martin, though I am no saint." Then he shook
off this mood that he accounted selfish; this mood that would take
her - as the wolf takes the lamb - with no thought but for his own

"No, no!" he cried out. "It were unworthy in me!"

"When I love you, Martin?" she asked him gently.

A moment he stared at her, as if through those clear eyes he would
penetrate to the very depths of her maiden soul. Then he sank on
to his knees before her as any stripling lover might have done, and
kissed her hands in token of the fact that he was conquered.

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