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The House of the Wolf by Stanley Weyman

Part 4 out of 4

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"That is true," said Louis quietly. "Why so many words?"

But the Vidame went on as if he had not heard. "I did not leave
you to them," he resumed, "and yet I hate you--more than I ever
hated any man yet, and I am not apt to forgive. But now the time
has come, sir, for my revenge! The oath I swore to your mistress
a fortnight ago I will keep to the letter. I--Silence, babe!"
he thundered, turning suddenly, "or I will keep my word with you
too!"

Croisette had muttered something, and this had drawn on him the
glare of Bezers' eyes. But the threat was effectual. Croisette
was silent. The two were left henceforth to one another.

Yet the Vidame seemed to be put out by the interruption.
Muttering a string of oaths he strode from us to the window and
back again. The cool cynicism, with which he was wont to veil
his anger and impose on other men, while it heightened the effect
of his ruthless deeds, in part fell from him. He showed himself
as he was--masterful, and violent, hating, with all the strength
of a turbulent nature which had never known a check. I quailed
before him myself. I confess it.

"Listen!" he continued harshly, coming back and taking his place
in front of us at last, his manner more violent than before the
interruption. "I might have left you to die in that hell yonder!
And I did not leave you. I had but to hold my hand and you would
have been torn to pieces! The wolf, however, does not hunt with
the rats, and a Bezers wants no help in his vengeance from king
or CANAILLE! When I hunt my enemy down I will hunt him alone, do
you hear? And as there is a heaven above me"--he paused a
moment--"if I ever meet you face to face again, M. de Pavannes, I
will kill you where you stand!"

He paused, and the murmur of the crowd without came to my ears;
but mingled with and heightened by some confusion in my thoughts.
I struggled feebly with this, seeing a rush of colour to
Croisette's face, a lightening in his eyes as if a veil had been
raised from before them. Some confusion--for I thought I grasped
the Vidame's meaning; yet there he was still glowering on his
victim with the same grim visage, still speaking in the same
rough tone. "Listen, M. de Pavannes," he continued, rising to
his full height and waving his hand with a certain majesty
towards the window--no one had spoken. "The doors are open! Your
mistress is at Caylus. The road is clear, go to her; go to her,
and tell her that I have saved your life, and that I give it to
you not out of love, but out of hate! If you had flinched I
would have killed you, for so you would have suffered most, M. de
Pavannes. As it is, take your life--a gift! and suffer as I
should if I were saved and spared by my enemy!"

Slowly the full sense of his words came home to me. Slowly; not
in its full completeness indeed until I heard Louis in broken
phrases, phrases half proud and half humble, thanking him for his
generosity. Even then I almost lost the true and wondrous
meaning of the thing when I heard his answer. For he cut
Pavannes short with bitter caustic gibes, spurned his proffered
gratitude with insults, and replied to his acknowledgments with
threats.

"Go! go!" he continued to cry violently. "Have I brought you
so far safely that you will cheat me of my vengeance at the last,
and provoke me to kill you? Away! and take these blind puppies
with you! Reckon me as much your enemy now as ever! And if I
meet you, be sure you will meet a foe! Begone, M. de Pavannes,
begone!"

"But, M. de Bezers," Louis persisted, "hear me. It takes two
to--"

"Begone! begone! before we do one another a mischief!" cried
the Vidame furiously. "Every word you say in that strain is an
injury to me. It robs me of my vengeance. Go! in God's name!"

And we went; for there was no change, no promise of softening in
his malignant aspect as he spoke; nor any as he stood and watched
us draw off slowly from him. We went one by one, each lingering
after the other, striving, out of a natural desire to thank him,
to break through that stern reserve. But grim and unrelenting, a
picture of scorn to the last, he saw us go.

My latest memory of that strange man--still fresh after a lapse
of two and fifty years--is of a huge form towering in the gloom
below the state canopy, the sunlight which poured in through the
windows and flooded us, falling short of him; of a pair of fierce
cross eyes, that seemed to glow as they covered us; of a lip that
curled as in the enjoyment of some cruel jest. And so I--and I
think each of us four saw the last of Raoul de Mar, Vidame de
Bezers, in this life.

He was a man whom we cannot judge by to-day's standard; for he
was such an one in his vices and his virtues as the present day
does not know; one who in his time did immense evil--and if his
friends be believed, little good. But the evil is forgotten; the
good lives. And if all that good save one act were buried with
him, this one act alone, the act of a French gentleman, would be
told of him--ay! and will be told--as long as the kingdom of
France, and the gracious memory of the late king, shall endure.

* * * * * *

I see again by the simple process of shutting my eyes, the little
party of five--for Jean, our servant, had rejoined us--who on
that summer day rode over the hills to Caylus, threading the
mazes of the holm-oaks, and galloping down the rides, and
hallooing the hare from her form, but never pursuing her;
arousing the nestling farmhouses from their sleepy stillness by
joyous shout and laugh, and sniffing, as we climbed the hill-side
again, the scent of the ferns that died crushed under our horses'
hoofs--died only that they might add one little pleasure more to
the happiness God had given us. Rare and sweet indeed are those
few days in life, when it seems that all creation lives only that
we may have pleasure in it, and thank God for it. It is well
that we should make the most of them, as we surely did of that
day.

It was nightfall when we reached the edge of the uplands, and
looked down on Caylus. The last rays of the sun lingered with
us, but the valley below was dark; so dark that even the rock
about which our homes clustered would have been invisible save
for the half-dozen lights that were beginning to twinkle into
being on its summit. A silence fell upon us as we slowly wended
our way down the well-known path.

All day long we had ridden in great joy; if thoughtless, yet
innocent; if selfish, yet thankful; and always blithely, with a
great exultation and relief at heart, a great rejoicing for our
own sakes and for Kit's.

Now with the nightfall and the darkness, now when we were near
our home, and on the eve of giving joy to another, we grew
silent. There arose other thoughts--thoughts of all that had
happened since we had last ascended that track; and so our minds
turned naturally back to him to whom we owed our happiness--to
the giant left behind in his pride and power and his loneliness.
The others could think of him with full hearts, yet without
shame. But I reddened, reflecting how it would have been with us
if I had had my way; if I had resorted in my shortsightedness to
one last violent, cowardly deed, and killed him, as I had twice
wished to do.

Pavannes would then have been lost almost certainly. Only the
Vidame with his powerful troop--we never knew whether he had
gathered them for that purpose or merely with an eye to his
government--could have saved him. And few men however powerful--
perhaps Bezers only of all men in Paris would have dared to
snatch him from the mob when once it had sighted him. I dwell on
this now that my grandchildren may take warning by it, though
never will they see such days as I have seen.

And so we clattered up the steep street of Caylus with a pleasant
melancholy upon us, and passed, not without a more serious
thought, the gloomy, frowning portals, all barred and shuttered,
of the House of the Wolf, and under the very window, sombre and
vacant, from which Bezers had incited the rabble in their attack
on Pavannes' courier. We had gone by day, and we came back by
night. But we had gone trembling, and we came back in joy.

We did not need to ring the great bell. Jean's cry, "Ho! Gate
there! Open for my lords!" had scarcely passed his lips before
we were admitted. And ere we could mount the ramp, one person
outran those who came forth to see what the matter was; one
outran Madame Claude, outran old Gil, outran the hurrying
servants, and the welcome of the house. I saw a slender figure
all in white break away from the little crowd and dart towards
us, disclosing as it reached me a face that seemed still whiter
than its robes, and yet a face that seemed all eyes--eyes that
asked the question the lips could not frame.

I stood aside with a low bow, my hat in my hand; and said simply
--it was the great effect of my life--"VOILA Monsieur!"

And then I saw the sun rise in a woman's face.

* * * * * *

The Vidame de Bezers died as he had lived. He was still Governor
of Cahors when Henry the Great attacked it on the night of the
17th of June, 1580. Taken by surprise and wounded in the first
confusion of the assault, he still defended himself and his
charge with desperate courage, fighting from street to street,
and house to house for five nights and as many days. While he
lived Henry's destiny and the fate of France trembled in the
balance. But he fell at length, his brain pierced by the ball of
an arquebuse, and died an hour before sunset on the 22nd of June.
The garrison immediately surrendered.

Marie and I were present in this action on the side of the King
of Navarre, and at the request of that prince hastened to pay
such honours to the body of the Vidame as were due to his renown
and might serve to evince our gratitude. A year later his
remains were removed from Cahors, and laid where they now rest in
his own Abbey Church of Bezers, under a monument which very
briefly tells of his stormy life and his valour. No matter. He
has small need of a monument whose name lives in the history of
his country, and whose epitaph is written in the lives of men.

NOTE.--THE CHARACTER AND CONDUCT OF VIDAME DE BEZERS, AS THEY
APPEAR IN THE ABOVE MEMOIR FIND A PARALLEL IN AN ACCOUNT GIVEN BY
DE THOU OF ONE OF THE MOST REMARKABLE INCIDENTS IN THE MASSACRE
OF ST. BARTHOLOMEW: "AMID SUCH EXAMPLES," HE WRITES, "OF THE
FEROCITY OF THE CITY, A THING HAPPENED WORTHY TO BE RELATED, AND
WHICH MAY PERHAPS IN SOME DEGREE WEIGH AGAINST THESE ATROCITIES.
THERE WAS A DEADLY HATRED, WHICH UP TO THIS TIME THE INTERVENTION
OF THEIR FRIENDS AND NEIGHBOURS HAD FAILED TO APPEASE, BETWEEN
TWO MEN--VEZINS, THE LIEUTENANT OF HONORATUS OF SAVOY, MARSHAL
VILLARS, A MAN NOTABLE AMONG THE NOBILITY OF THE PROVINCE FOR HIS
VALOUR, BUT OBNOXIOUS TO MANY OWING TO HIS BRUTAL DISPOSITION
(ferina natura), AND REGNIER, A YOUNG MAN OF LIKE RANK AND
VIGOUR, BUT OF MILDER CHARACTER. WHEN REGNIER THEN, IN THE
MIDDLE OF THAT GREAT UPROAR, DEATH MEETING HIS EYE EVERYWHERE,
WAS MAKING UP HIS MIND TO THE WORST, HIS DOOR WAS SUDDENLY BURST
OPEN, AND VEZINS, WITH TWO OTHER MEN, STOOD BEFORE HIM SWORD IN
HAND. UPON THIS REGNIER, ASSURED OF DEATH, KNELT DOWN AND ASKED
MERCY OF HEAVEN: BUT VEZINS IN A HARSH VOICE BID HIM RISE FROM
HIS PRAYERS AND MOUNT A PALFREY ALREADY STANDING READY IN THE
STREET FOR HIM. SO HE LED REGNIER--UNCERTAIN FOR THE TIME
WHITHER HE WAS BEING TAKEN--OUT OF THE CITY, AND PUT HIM ON HIS
HONOUR TO GO WITH HIM WITHOUT TRYING TO ESCAPE. AND TOGETHER,
WITHOUT PAUSING IN THEIR JOURNEY, THE TWO TRAVELLED ALL THE WAY
TO GUIENNE. DURING THIS TIME VEZINS HONOURED REGNIER WITH VERY
LITTLE CONVERSATION; BUT SO FAR CARED FOR HIM THAT FOOD WAS
PREPARED FOR HIM AT THE INNS BY HIS SERVANTS: AND SO THEY CAME
TO QUERCY AND THE CASTLE OF REGNIER. THERE VEZINS TURNED TO HIM
AND SAID, "YOU KNOW HOW I HAVE FOR A LONG TIME BACK SOUGHT TO
AVENGE MYSELF ON YOU, AND HOW EASILY I MIGHT NOW HAVE DONE IT TO
THE FULL, HAD I BEEN WILLING TO USE THIS OPPORTUNITY. BUT SHAME
WOULD NOT SUFFER IT; AND BESIDES, YOUR COURAGE SEEMED WORTHY TO
BE SET AGAINST MINE ON EVEN TERMS. TAKE THEREFORE THE LIFE WHICH
YOU OWE TO MY KINDNESS." WITH MUCH MORE WHICH THE CURIOUS WILL
FIND IN THE 2ND (FOLIO) VOLUME OF DE THOU.

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