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The Suitors of Yvonne by Raphael Sabatini

Part 4 out of 4

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St. Auban came close upon our heels. At Monnerville we slept, and next
morning we were early afoot; by four o'clock in the afternoon we had
reached Orleans, whence--with fresh horses--we pursued our journey as far
as Meung, where we lay that night.

There we were joined by a sturdy rascal whom Michelot enlisted into my
service, seeing that not only did my means allow, but the enterprise upon
which I went might perchance demand another body servant. This recruit was
a swart, powerfully built man of about my own age; trusty, and a lover of
hard knocks, as Michelot--who had long counted him among his friends--
assured me. He owned the euphonious name of Abdon.

I spent twenty pistoles in suitable raiment and a horse for him, and as we
left Meung next day the knave cut a brave enough figure that added not a
little to my importance to have at my heels.

This, however, so retarded our departure, that night had fallen by the time
we reached Blois. Still our journey had been a passing swift one. We had
left Paris on a Monday, the fourth of June--I have good cause to remember,
since on that day I entered both upon my thirty-second year and my altered
fortunes; on the evening of Wednesday we reached Blois, having covered a
distance of forty-three leagues in less than three days.

Bidding Michelot carry my valise to the hostelry of the Vigne d'Or, and
there await my coming, I called to Abdon to attend me, and rode on, jaded
and travel-stained though I was, to Canaples, realising fully that there
was no time to lose.

Old Guilbert, who came in answer to my knock at the door of the château,
looked askance when he beheld me, and when I bade him carry my compliments
to the Chevalier, with the message that I desired immediate speech of him
on a matter of the gravest moment, he shook his grey head and protested
that it would be futile to obey me. Yet, in the end, when I had insisted,
he went upon my errand, but only to return with a disturbed countenance, to
tell me that the Chevalier refused to see me.

"But I must speak to him, Guilbert," I exclaimed, setting foot upon the top
step. "I have travelled expressly from Paris."

The man stood firm and again shook his head.

"I beseech you not to insist, Monsieur. M. le Chevalier has sworn to
dismiss me if I permit you to set foot within the château."

"Mille diables! This is madness! I seek to serve him," I cried, my temper
rising fast. "At least, Guilbert, will you tell Mademoiselle that I am
here, and that I--"

"I may carry no more messages for you, Monsieur," he broke in. "Listen!
There is M. le Chevalier."

In reality I could hear the old knight's voice, loud and shrill with anger,
and a moment later Louis, his intendant, came across the hall.

"Guilbert," he commanded harshly, "close the door. The night air is keen."

My cheeks aflame with anger, I still made one last attempt to gain an

"Master Louis," I exclaimed, "will you do me the favour to tell M. de

"You are wasting time, Monsieur," he interrupted. "M. de Canaples will not
see you. He bids you close the door, Guilbert."

"Pardieu! he shall see me!"

"The door, Guilbert!"

I took a step forward, but before I could gain the threshold, the door was
slammed in my face, and as I stood there, quivering with anger and
disappointment, I heard the bolts being shot within.

I turned with an oath.

"Come, Abdon," I growled, as I climbed once more into the saddle, "let us
leave the fool to the fate he has chosen."



In silence we rode back to Blois. Not that I lacked matter for
conversation. Anger and chagrin at the thought that I had come upon this
journey to earn naught but an insult and to have a door slammed in my face
made my gorge rise until it went near to choking me. I burned to revile
Canaples aloud, but Abdon's was not the ear into which I might pour the hot
words that welled up to my lips.

Yet if silent, the curses that I heaped upon the Chevalier's crassness were
none the less fervent, and to myself I thought with grim relish of how soon
and how dearly he would pay for the affront he had put upon me.

That satisfaction, however, endured not long; for presently I bethought me
of how heavily the punishment would fall upon Yvonne--and yet, of how she
would be left to the mercy of St. Auban, whose warrant from Mazarin would
invest with almost any and every power at Canaples.

I ground my teeth at the sudden thought, and for a moment I was on the
point of going back and forcing my way into the château at the sword point
if necessary, to warn and save the Chevalier in spite of himself and

It was not in such a fashion that I had thought to see my mission to
Canaples accomplished; I had dreamt of gratitude, and gratitude unbars the
door to much. Nevertheless, whether or not I earned it, I must return, and
succeed where for want of insistence I had failed awhile ago.

Of a certainty I should have acted thus, but that at the very moment upon
which I formed the resolution Abdon drew my attention to a dark shadow by
the roadside not twenty paces in front of us. This proved to be the
motionless figure of a horseman.

As soon as I was assured of it, I reined in my horse, and taking a pistol
from the holster, I levelled it at the shadow, accompanying the act by a

"Who goes there?"

The shadow stirred, and Michelot's voice answered me:

'T is I, Monsieur. They have arrived. I came to warn you."

"Who has arrived?" I shouted.

"The soldiers. They are lodged at the Lys de France."

An oath was the only comment I made as I turned the news over in my mind.
I must return to Canaples.

Then another thought occurred to me. The Chevalier was capable of going to
extremes to keep me from entering his house; he might for instance greet me
with a blunderbuss. It was not the fear of that that deterred me, but the
fear that did a charge of lead get mixed with my poor brains before I had
said what I went to say, matters would be no better, and there would be one
poor knave the less to adorn the world.

"What shall we do, Michelot?" I groaned, appealing in my despair to my

"Might it not be well to seek speech with M. de Montrésor?" quoth he.

I shrugged my shoulders. Nevertheless, after a moment's deliberation I
determined to make the attempt; if I succeeded something might come of it.

And so I pushed on to Blois with my knaves close at my heels.

Up the Rue Vieille we proceeded with caution, for the hostelry of the Vigne
d'Or, where Michelot had hired me a room, fortunately overlooking the
street, fronted the Lys de France, where St. Auban and his men were housed.

I gained that room of mine without mishap, and my first action was to deal
summarily with a fat and well-roasted capon which the landlord set before
me--for an empty stomach is a poor comrade in a desperate situation. That
meal, washed down with the best part of a bottle of red Anjou, did much to
restore me alike in body and in mind.

From my open window I gazed across the street at the Lys de France. The
door of the common-room, opening upon the street, was set wide, and across
the threshold came a flood of light in which there flitted the black
figures of maybe a dozen amazed rustics, drawn thither for all the world as
bats are drawn to a glare.

And there they hovered with open mouths and stupid eyes, hearkening to the
din of voices that floated out on the tranquil air, the snatches of ribald
songs, the raucous bursts of laughter, the clink of glasses, the clank of
steel, the rattle of dice, and the strange soldier oaths that fell with
every throw, and which to them must have sounded almost as words of some
foreign tongue.

Whilst I stood by my window, the landlord entered my room, and coming up to

"Thank Heaven they are not housed at the Vigne d'Or," he said. "It will
take Maître Bernard a week to rid his house of the stench of leather. They
are part of a stray company that is on its way to fight the Spaniards," he
informed me. "But methinks they will be forced to spend two or three days
at Blois; their horses are sadly jaded and will need that rest before they
can take the road again, thanks to the pace at which their boy of an
officer must have led them. There is a gentleman with them who wears a
mask. 'T is whispered that he is a prince of the blood who has made a vow
not to uncover his face until this war be ended, in expiation of some sin
committed in mad Paris."

I heard him in silence, and when he had done I thanked him for his
information. So! This was the story that the crafty St. Auban had spread
abroad to lull suspicion touching the real nature of their presence until
their horses should be fit to undertake the return journey to Paris, or
until he should have secured the person of M. de Canaples.

Towards eleven o'clock, as the lights in the hostelry opposite were burning
low, I descended, and made my way out into the now deserted street. The
troopers had apparently seen fit--or else been ordered--to seek their beds,
for the place had grown silent, and a servant was in the act of making fast
the door for the night. The porte-cochère was half closed, and a man
carrying a lantern was making fast the bolt, whistling aimlessly to
himself. Through the half of the door that was yet open, I beheld a window
from which the light fell upon a distant corner of the courtyard.

I drew near the fellow with the lantern, in whom I recognised René, the
hostler, and as I approached he flashed the light upon my face; then with a
gasp--"M. de Luynes," he exclaimed, remembering me from the time when I had
lodged at the Lys de France, three months ago.

"Sh!" I whispered, pressing a louis d'or into his hand. "Whose window is
that, René?" And I pointed towards the light.

"That," he replied, "is the room of the lieutenant and the gentleman in the

"I must take a look at them, René, and whilst I am looking I shall search
my pocket for another louis. Now let me in."

"I dare not, Monsieur. Maître Bernard may call me, and if the doors are
not closed--"

"Dame!" I broke in. "I shall stay but a moment."


"And you will have easily earned a louis d'or. If Bernard calls you--
peste, tell him that you have let fall something, and that you are seeking
it. There, let me pass."

1 got past him at last, and made my way swiftly towards the other end of
the quadrangle.

As I approached, the sound of voices smote my ear, for the lighted window
stood open. I stopped within half a dozen paces of it, and climbed on to
the step of a coach that stood there. Thence I could look straight into
the room, whilst the darkness hid me from the eyes of those I watched.

Three men there were; Montrésor, the sergeant of his troop, and a tall man
dressed in black, and wearing a black silk mask. This I concluded to be
St. Auban, despite the profusion of fair locks that fell upon his
shoulders, concealing--I rightly guessed--his natural hair, which was as
black as my own. It was a cunning addition to his disguise, and one well
calculated to lead people on to the wrong scent hereafter.

Presently, as I watched them, St. Auban spoke, and his voice was that of a
man whose gums are toothless, or else whose nether lip is drawn in over his
teeth whilst he speaks. Here again the dissimulation was as effective as
it was simple.

"So; that is concluded," were the words that reached me. "To-morrow we
will install our men at the château, for while we remain here it is
preposterous to lodge them at an inn. On the following day I hope that we
may be able to set out again."

"If we could obtain fresh horses--" began the sergeant, when he of the mask
interrupted him.

"Sangdieu! Think you my purse is bottomless? We return as we came, with
the Cardinal's horses. What signify a day or two, after all? Come--call
the landlord to light me to my room."

I had heard enough. But more than that, whilst I listened, an idea had of
a sudden sprung up in my mind which did away with the necessity of gaining
speech with Montresor--a contingency, moreover, that now presented
insuperable difficulties.

So I got down softly from my perch and made my way out of the yard, and,
after fulfilling my part of the bargain with René, across to the Vigne d'Or
and to my room, there to sit and mature the plan that of a sudden I had



Dame! What an ado there was next day in Blois, when the news came that the
troopers had installed themselves at the Château de Canaples and that the
Chevalier had been arrested for treason by order of the Lord Cardinal, and
that he would be taken to Paris, and--probably--the scaffold.

Men gathered in little knots at street corners, and with sullen brows and
threatening gestures they talked of the affair; and the more they talked,
the more clouded grew their looks, and more than one anti-cardinalist
pasquinade was heard in Blois that day.

Given a leader those men would have laid hands upon pikes and muskets, and
gone to the Chevalier's rescue. As I observed them, the thought did cross
my mind that I might contrive a pretty fight in the rose garden of Canaples
were I so inclined. And so inclined I should, indeed, have been but for
the plan that had come to me like an inspiration from above, and which
methought would prove safer in the end.

To carry out this plan of mine, I quitted Blois at nightfall, with my two
knaves, having paid my reckoning at the Lys de France, and given out that
we were journeying to Tours. We followed the road that leads to Canaples,
until we reached the first trees bordering the park. There I dismounted,
and, leaving Abdon to guard the horses, I made my way on foot, accompanied
by Michelot, towards the garden.

We gained this, and were on the point of quitting the shadow of the trees,
when of a sudden, by the light of the crescent moon, I beheld a man walking
in one of the alleys, not a hundred paces from where we stood. I had but
time to seize Michelot by the collar of his pourpoint and draw him towards
me. But as he trod precipitately backwards a twig snapped 'neath his foot
with a report that in the surrounding stillness was like a pistol shot.

I caught my breath as he who walked in the garden stood still, his face,
wrapped in the shadows of his hat, turned towards us.

"Who goes there?" he shouted. Then getting no reply he came resolutely
forward, whilst I drew a pistol wherewith to welcome him did he come too

On he came, and already I had brought my pistol to a level with his head,
when fortunately he repeated his question, "Who goes there?"--and this time
I recognised the voice of Montrésor, the very man I could then most wish to

"Hist! Montrésor!" I called softly. "'T is I--Luynes."

"So!" he exclaimed, coming close up to me. "You have reached Canaples at

"At last?" I echoed.

"Whom have you there?" he inquired abruptly.

"Only Michelot."

"Bid him fall behind a little."

When Michelot had complied with this request, "You see, M. de Luynes,"
quoth the officer, "that you have arrived too late."

There was a certain coldness in his tone that made me seek by my reply to
sound him.

"Indeed, I trust not, my friend. With your assistance I hope to get M. de
Canaples from the clutches of St. Auban."

He shook his head.

"It is impossible that I should help you," he replied with increasing
coldness. "Already once for your sake have I broken faith to those who pay
me, by setting you in a position to forestall St. Auban and get M. de
Canaples away before his arrival. Unfortunately, you have dallied on the
road, M. de Luynes, and Canaples is already a prisoner--a doomed one, I

"Is that your last word, Montrésor?" I inquired sadly.

"I am sorry," he answered in softened tones, "but you must see that I
cannot do otherwise. I warned you; more you cannot expect of me."

I sighed, and stood musing for an instant. Then--"You are right,
Montrésor. Nevertheless, I am still grateful to you for the warning you
gave me in Paris. God pity and help Canaples! Adieu, Montrésor. I do not
think that you will see me again."

He took my hand, but as he did so he pushed me back into the shadow from
which I had stepped to proffer it him.

"Peste!" he ejaculated. "The moon was full upon your face, and did St.
Auban chance to look out, he must have seen you."

I followed the indication of his thumb, and noted the lighted window to
which he pointed. A moment later he was gone, and as I joined Michelot, I
chuckled softly to myself.

For two hours and more I sat in the shrubbery, conversing in whispers with
Michelot, and watching the lights in the château die out one by one, until
St. Auban's window, which opened on to the terrace balcony, was the only
one that was not wrapt in darkness.

I waited a little while longer, then rising I cautiously made a tour of
inspection. Peace reigned everywhere, and the only sign of life was the
sentry, who with musket on shoulder paced in front of the main entrance, a
silent testimony of St. Auban's mistrust of the Blaisois and of his fears
of a possible surprise.

Satisfied that everyone slept I retraced my steps to the shrubbery where
Michelot awaited me, watching the square of light, and after exchanging
word with him, I again stepped forth.

When I was half way across the intervening space of garden, treading with
infinite precaution, a dark shadow obscured the window, which a second
later was thrown open. Crouching hastily behind a boxwood hedge, I watched
St. Auban--for I guessed that he it was--as he leaned out and gazed

For a little while he remained there, then he withdrew, leaving the
casement open, and presently I caught the grating of a chair on the parquet
floor within. If ever the gods favoured mortal, they favoured me at that

Stealthily as a cat I sprang towards the terrace, the steps to which I
climbed on hands and knees. Stooping, I sped silently across it until I
had gained the flower-bed immediately below the window that had drawn me to
it. Crouching there--for did I stand upright my chin would be on a level
with the sill--I paused to listen for some moments. The only sound I
caught was a rustle, as of paper. Emboldened, I took a deep breath, and
standing up I gazed straight into the chamber.

By the light of four tapers in heavy silver sconces, I beheld St. Auban
seated at a table littered with parchments, over which he was intently
poring. His back was towards me, and his long black hair hung straight
upon his shoulders. On the table, amid the papers, lay his golden wig and
black mask, and on the floor in the centre of the room, his back and breast
of blackened steel and his sword.

It needed but little shrewdness to guess those parchments before him to be
legal documents touching the Canaples estates, and his occupation that of
casting up exactly what profit he would reap from his infamous work of

So intent was the hound upon his calculations that my cautious movements
passed unheeded by him as I got astride of the window ledge. It was only
when I swung my right leg into the room that he turned his head, but before
his eyes reached me I was standing upright and motionless within the

I have seen fear of many sorts writ large upon the faces of men of many
conditions--from the awe that blanches the cheek of the boy soldier when
first he hears the cannon thundering to the terror that glazes the eye of
the vanquished swordsman who at every moment expects the deadly point in
his heart. But never had I gazed upon a countenance filled with such
abject ghastly terror as that which came over St. Auban's when his eyes met
mine that night.

He sprang up with an inarticulate cry that sank into something that I can
but liken to the rattle which issues from the throat of expiring men. For
a second he stood where he had risen, then terror loosened his knees, and
he sank back into his chair. His mouth fell open, and the trembling lips
were drawn down at the corners like those of a sobbing child; his cheeks
turned whiter than the lawn collar at his throat, and his eyes, wide open
in a horrid stare, were fixed on mine and, powerless to avert them, he met
my gaze--cold, stern, and implacable.

For a moment we remained thus, and I marvelled greatly to see a man whose
heart, if full of evil, I had yet deemed stout enough, stricken by fear
into so parlous and pitiful a condition.

Then I had the explanation of it as he lifted his right hand and made the
sign of the cross, first upon himself, then in the air, whilst his lips
moved, and I guessed that to himself he was muttering some prayer of
exorcising purport. There was the solution of the terror--sweat that stood
out in beads upon his brow--he had deemed me a spectre; the spectre of a
man he believed to have foully done to death on a spot across the Loire
visible from the window at my back.

At last he sufficiently mastered himself to break the awful silence.

"What do you want?" he whispered; then, his voice gaining power as he used
it-- "Speak," he commanded. "Man or devil, speak!"

I laughed for answer, harshly, mockingly; for never had I known a fiercer,
crueller mood. At the sound of that laugh, satanical though may have been
its ring, he sprang up again, and unsheathing a dagger he took a step
towards me.

"We shall see of what you are made," he cried. "If you blast me in the
act, I'll strike you!"

I laughed again, and raising my arm I gave him the nozzle of a pistol to

"Stand where you are, St. Auban, or, by the God above us, I'll send your
ghost a-wandering," quoth I coolly.

My voice, which I take it had nothing ghostly in it, and still more the
levelled pistol, which of all implements is the most unghostly, dispelled
his dread. The colour crept slowly back to his cheeks, and his mouth
closed with a snap of determination.

"Is it, indeed, you, master meddler?" he said. "Peste! I thought you dead
these three months."

"And you are overcome with joy to find that you were in error, eh, Marquis?
We Luynes die hard."

"It seems so, indeed," he answered with a cool effrontery past crediting in
one who but a moment ago had looked so pitiful. "What do you seek at

"Many things, Marquis. You among others."

"You have come to murder me," he cried, and again alarm overspread his

"Hoity, toity, Marquis! We do not all follow the same trade. Who talks of
murder? Faugh!"

Again he took a step towards me, but again the nozzle of my pistol drove
him back. To have pistoled him there and then as he deserved would have
brought the household about my ears, and that would have defeated my
object. To have fallen upon him and slain him with silent steel would have
equally embarrassed me, as you shall understand anon.

"You and I had a rendezvous at St. Sulpice des Reaux," I said calmly, "to
which you came with a band of hired assassins. For this you deserve to be
shot like the dog you are. But I have it in my heart to be generous to
you," I added in a tone of irony. "Come, take up your sword."

"To what purpose?"

"Do you question me? Take up your sword, man, and do my bidding; thus
shall you have a slender chance of life. Refuse and I pistol you without
compunction. So now put on that wig and mask."

When he obeyed me in this--"Now listen, St. Auban," I said. "You and I are
going together to that willow copse whither three months ago you lured
Yvonne de Canaples for the purpose of abducting her. On that spot you and
I shall presently face each other sword in hand, with none other to witness
our meeting save God, in whose hands the issue lies. That is your chance;
at the first sign that you meditate playing me any tricks, that chance is
lost to you." And I tapped my pistol significantly. "Now climb out
through that window."

When he had done so, I bade him stand six paces away whilst I followed, and
to discourage any foolish indiscretion on his part I again showed him my

He answered me with an impatient gesture, and by the light that fell on his
face I saw him sneer.

"Come on, you fool," he snarled, "and have done threatening. I'll talk to
you in the copse. And tread softly lest you arouse the sentry on the other

Rejoiced to see the man so wide awake in him, I followed him closely across
the terrace, and through the rose garden to the bank of the river. This we
followed until we came at last to the belt of willows, where, having found
a suitable patch of even and springy turf, I drew my sword and invited him
to make ready.

"Will you not strip?" he inquired sullenly.

"I do not think so," I answered. "The night air is sharp. Nevertheless,
do you make ready as best you deem fit, and that speedily, Monsieur."

With an exclamation of contempt, he divested himself of his wig, mask, and
doublet, then drawing his sword, he came forward, and announced himself at
my disposal.

As well you may conceive, we wasted no time in compliments, but straightway
went to work, and that with a zest that drew sparks from our rapiers at the
first contact.

The Marquis attacked me furiously, and therein lay his only chance; for a
fierce, rude sword-play that is easily dealt with in broad daylight is
vastly discomposing in such pale moonshine as lighted us. I defended
myself warily, for of a sudden I had grown conscious of the danger that I
ran did he once by luck or strength get past my guard with that point of
his which in the spare light I could not follow closely enough to feel

'Neath the fury of his onslaught I was compelled to break ground more than
once, and each time he was so swift to follow up his advantage that I had
ne'er a chance to retaliate.

Still fear or doubt of the issue I had none. I needed but to wait until
the Marquis's fury was spent by want of breath, to make an end of it. And
presently that which I waited for came about. His attack began to lag in
vigour, and the pressure of his blade to need less resistance, whilst his
breathing grew noisy as that of a broken-winded horse. Then with the rage
of a gambler who loses at every throw, he cursed and reviled me with every
thrust or lunge that I turned aside.

My turn was come; yet I held back, and let him spend his strength to the
utmost drop, whilst with my elbow close against my side and by an easy play
of wrist, I diverted each murderous stroke of his point that came again and
again for my heart.

When at last he had wasted in blasphemies what little breath his wild
exertions had left him, I let him feel on his blade the twist that heralded
my first riposte. He caught the thrust, and retreated a step, his
blasphemous tongue silenced, and his livid face bathed in perspiration.

Cruelly I toyed with him then, and with every disengagement I made him
realise that he was mastered, and that if I withheld the coup de grâce it
was but to prolong his agony. And to add to the bitterness of that agony
of his, I derided him whilst I fenced; with a recitation of his many sins I
mocked him, showing him how ripe he was for hell, and asking him how it
felt to die unshriven with such a load upon his soul.

Goaded to rage by my bitter words, he grit his teeth, and gathered what
rags of strength were left him for a final effort, And before I knew what
he was about, he had dropped on to his left knee, and with his body thrown
forward and supported within a foot of the ground by his left arm, he came,
like a snake, under my guard with his point directed upwards.

So swift had been this movement and so unlooked-for, that had I not sprung
backwards in the very nick of time, this narrative of mine had ne'er been
written. With a jeering laugh I knocked aside his sword, but even as I
disengaged, to thrust at him, he knelt up and caught my blade in his left
hand, and for all that it ate its way through the flesh to the very bones
of his fingers, he clung to it with that fierce strength and blind courage
that is born of despair.

Then raising himself on his knees again, he struck at me wildly. I swung
aside, and as his sword, missing its goal, shot past me, I caught his wrist
in a grip from which I contemptuously invited him to free himself. With
that began a fierce tugging and panting on both sides, which, however, was
of short duration, for presently, my blade, having severed the last sinew
of his fingers, was set free. Simultaneously I let go his wrist, pushing
his arm from me so violently that in his exhausted condition it caused him
to fall over on his side.

In an instant, however, he was up and at me again. Again our swords
clashed--but once only. It was time to finish. With a vigorous
disengagement I got past his feeble guard and sent my blade into him full
in the middle of his chest and out again at his back until a foot or so of
glittering steel protruded.

A shudder ran through him, and his mouth worked oddly, whilst spasmodically
he still sought, without avail, to raise his sword; then as I recovered my
blade, a half-stifled cry broke from his lips, and throwing up his arms, he
staggered and fell in a heap.

As I turned him over to see if he were dead, his eyes met mine, and were
full of piteous entreaty; his lips moved, and presently I caught the words:

"I am sped, Luynes." Then struggling up, and in a louder voice: "A
priest!" he gasped. "Get me a priest, Luynes. Jesu! Have mer--"

A rush of blood choked him and cut short his utterance. He writhed and
twitched for a moment, then his chin sank forward and he fell back, death
starkening his limbs and glazing the eyes which stared hideously upwards at
the cold, pitiless moon.

Such was the passing of the Marquis César de St. Auban.



For a little while I stood gazing down at my work, my mind full of the
unsolvable mysteries of life and death; then I bethought me that time stood
not still for me, and that something yet remained to be accomplished ere my
evening's task were done.

And forthwith I made shift to do a thing at the memory of which my blood is
chilled and my soul is filled with loathing even now--albeit the gulf of
many years separates me from that June night at Canaples.

To pass succinctly o'er an episode on which I have scant heart to tarry,
suffice it you to know that using my sash as a rope I bound a heavy stone
to St. Auban's ankle; then lifting the body in my arms, I half dragged,
half bore it across the little stretch of intervening sward to the water's
edge, and flung it in.

As I write I have the hideous picture in my mind, and again I can see St.
Auban's ghastly face grinning up at me through the moonlit waters, until at
last it was mercifully swallowed up in their black depths, and naught but a
circling wavelet that spread swiftly across the stream was left to tell of
what had chanced.

I dare not dwell upon the feelings that assailed me as I stooped to rinse
the blood from my hands, nor yet of the feverish haste wherewith I tore my
blood-stained doublet from my back, and hurled it wide into the stream.
For all my callousness I was sick and unmanned by that which had befallen.

No time, however, did I waste in mawkish sentiment, but setting my teeth
hard, I turned away from the river, and back to the trampled ground of our
recent conflict. There, with no other witness save the moon, I clad myself
in the Marquis's doublet of black velvet; I set his mask of silk upon my
face, his golden wig upon my head, and over that his sable hat with its
drooping feather. Next I buckled on his sword belt, wherefrom hung his
rapier that I had sheathed.

In Blois that day I had taken the precaution--knowing the errand upon which
I came--to procure myself haut-de-chausses of black velvet, and black
leather boots with gilt spurs that closely resembled those which St. Auban
had worn in life.

Now, as I have already written, St. Auban and I were of much the same build
and stature, and so methought with confidence that he would have shrewd
eyes, indeed, who could infer from my appearance that I was other than the
same masked gentleman who had that very day ridden into Canaples at the
head of a troop of his Eminence's guards.

I made my way swiftly back along the path that St. Auban and I had together
trodden but a little while ago, and past the château until I came to the
shrubbery where Michelot--faithful to the orders I had given him--awaited
my return. From his concealment he had seen me leave the château with the
Marquis, and as I suddenly loomed up before him now, he took me for the man
whose clothes I wore, and naturally enough assumed that ill had befallen
Gaston de Luynes. Of a certainty I had been pistolled by him had I not
spoken in time. I lingered but to give him certain necessary orders; then,
whilst he went off to join Abdon and see to their fulfilment, I made my way
stealthily, with eyes keeping watch around me, across the terrace, and
through the window into the room that St. Auban had left to follow me to
his death.

The tapers still burned, and in all respects the chamber was as it had
been; the back and breast pieces still lay upon the floor, and on the table
the littered documents. The door I ascertained had been locked on the
inside, a precaution which St. Auban had no doubt taken so that none might
spy upon the work that busied him.

I closed and made fast the window, then I bethought me that, being in
ignorance of the whereabouts of St. Auban's bed-chamber, I must perforce
spend the night as best I could within that very room.

And so I sat me down and pondered deeply o'er the work that was to come,
the part I was about to play, and the details of its playing. In this
manner did I while away perchance an hour; through the next one I must have
slept, for I awakened with a start to find three tapers spent and the last
one spluttering, and in the sky the streaks that heralded the summer dawn.

Again I fell to thinking; again I slept, and woke again to find the night
gone and the sunlight on my face. Someone knocked at the door, and that
knocking vibrated through my brain and set me wide-awake, indeed. It was
as the signal to uplift the curtain and let my play-acting commence.

Hastily I rose and shot a glance at the mirror to see that my wig hung
straight and that my mask was rightly adjusted. I started at my own
reflection, for methought that from the glass 't was St. Auban who looked
at me, as I had seen him look the night before when he had donned those
things at my command.

"Holà there, within!" came Montrésor's voice. "Monsieur le Capitaine!" A
fresh shower of blows descended on the oak panels.

I yawned with prodigious sonority, and overturned a chair with my foot.
Then bracing myself for the ordeal, through which I looked to what scant
information I possessed and my own mother wit, to bear me successfully, I
strode across to admit my visitor.

Muffling my voice, as I had heard St. Auban do at the inn, by drawing my
nether lip over my teeth--

"Pardieu!" quoth I, as I opened the door, "it seems, Lieutenant, that I
must have fallen asleep over those musty documents."

I trembled as I watched him, waiting for his reply, and I thanked Heaven
that in the rôle I had assumed a mask was worn, not only because it hid my
features, but because it hid the emotions which these might have betrayed.

"I was beginning to fear," he replied coldly, and without so much as
looking at me, "that worse had befallen you."

I breathed again.

"You mean--?"

"Pooh, nothing," said he half contemptuously. "Only methinks 't were well
whilst we remain at Canaples that you do not spend your nights in a room
within such easy access of the terrace."

"Your advice no doubt is sound, but as I shall not spend another night at
Canaples, it comes too late."

"You mean, Monsieur--?"

"That we set out for Paris to-day."

He shrugged his shoulders.

"Oh, ça! I have just visited the stables, and there are not four horses
fit for the journey. So that unless you have in mind the purchase of fresh

"Pish! My purse is not bottomless," I broke in, repeating the very words
that I heard St. Auban utter.

"So you said once before, Monsieur. Still, unless you are prepared to take
that course, the only alternative is to remain here until the horses are
sufficiently recovered. But perhaps you think of walking?" he added with a

"Such is your opinion, your time being worthless and it being of little
moment where you spend it. I have conceived a plan."


"Has it not occurred to you that the danger which threatens us and which
calls for the protection of a troop is only on this side of the Loire,
where the Blaisois might be minded to attempt a rescue of the Chevalier?
But over yonder, Chevalier, on the Chambord side, who cares a fig for the
Lord of Canaples or his fate? None; is it not so?"

He made an assenting gesture, whereupon I continued:

"This being so, I have bethought me that it will suffice if I take but
three or four men and the sergeant as an escort, and cross the river with
our prisoner after nightfall, travelling along the opposite shore until we
reach Orleans. What think you, Lieutenant?"

He shrugged his shoulders again.

"'T is you who command here," he answered with apathy, "not I."

"Nevertheless, do you not think the plan a safe one, as well as one that
will allay his Eminence's very natural impatience?"

"Oh, it is safe enough, I doubt not," he replied coldly.

"Your enthusiasm determines me," quoth I, with an irony that made him
wince. "And we will follow the plan, since you agree with me touching its
excellence. But keep the matter to yourself until an hour or so after

He bowed, so utterly my dupe that I could have laughed at him. Then--
"There is a little matter that I would mention," he said. "Mademoiselle de
Canaples has expressed a wish to accompany her father to Paris and has
asked me whether this will be permitted her."

My heart leaped. Surely the gods fought on my side!

"I cannot permit it," I answered icily.

"Monsieur, you are pitiless," he protested in a tone of indignation for
which I would gladly have embraced him.

I feigned to ponder.

"The matter needs consideration. Tell Mademoiselle that I will discuss it
with her at noon, if she will condescend to await me on the terrace; I will
then give her my definite reply. And now, Lieutenant, let us breakfast."

As completely as I had duped Montrésor did I presently dupe those of the
troopers with whom I came in contact, among others the sergeant--and anon
the Chevalier himself.

From the brief interview that I had with him I discovered that whilst he
but vaguely suspected me to be St. Auban--and when I say "he suspected me"
I mean he suspected him whose place I had taken--he was, nevertheless,
aware of the profit which his captor, whoever he might be, derived from
this business. It soon grew clear to me from what he said that St. Auban
had mocked him with it whilst concealing his identity; that he had told him
how he had obtained from Malpertuis the treasonable letter, and of the
bargain which it had enabled him to strike with Mazarin. I did not long
remain in his company, and, deeming the time not yet ripe for disclosures,
I said little in answer to his lengthy tirades, which had, I guessed, for
scope to trap me into betraying the identity he but suspected.

It wanted a few minutes to noon as I left the room in which the old
nobleman was confined, and by the door of which a trooper was stationed,
musket on shoulder. With every pulse a-throbbing at the thought of my
approaching interview with Mademoiselle, I made my way below and out into
the bright sunshine, the soldiers I chanced to meet saluting me as I passed

On the terrace I found Mademoiselle already awaiting me. She was standing,
as often I had seen her stand, with her back turned towards me and her
elbows resting upon the balustrade. But as my step sounded behind her, she
turned, and stood gazing at me with a face so grief-stricken and pale that
I burned to unmask and set her torturing fears at rest. I doffed my hat
and greeted her with a silent bow, which she contemptuously disregarded.

"My lieutenant tells me, Mademoiselle," said I in my counterfeited voice,
"that it is your desire to bear Monsieur your father company upon this
journey of his to Paris."

"With your permission, sir," she answered in a choking voice.

"It is a matter for consideration, Mademoiselle," I pursued. "There are in
it many features that may have escaped you, and which I shall discuss with
you if you will honour me by stepping into the garden below."

"Why will not the terrace serve?"

"Because I may have that to say which I would not have overheard."

She knit her brows and stared at me as though she would penetrate the black
cloth that hid my face. At last she shrugged her shoulders, and letting
her arms fall to her side in a gesture of helplessness and resignation--

"Soit; I will go with you," was all she said.

Side by side we went down the steps as a pair of lovers might have gone,
save that her face was white and drawn, and that her eyes looked straight
before her, and never once, until we reached the gravel path below, at her
companion. Side by side we walked along one of the rose-bordered alleys,
until at length I stopped.

"Mademoiselle," I said, speaking in the natural tones of that good-for-
naught Gaston de Luynes, "I have already decided, and you have my
permission to accompany your father."

At the sound of my voice she started, and with her left hand clutching at
the region of her heart, she stood, her head thrust forward, and on her
face the look of one who is confronted with some awful doubt. That look
was brief, however, and swift to replace it was one of hideous revelation.

"In God's name, who are you?" she cried in accents that bespoke internal

"Already you have guessed it, Mademoiselle," I answered, and I would have
added that which should have brought comfort to her distraught mind, when--

"You!" she gasped in a voice of profound horror. "You! You, the Judas who
has sold my father to the Cardinal for a paltry share in our estates. And
I believed that mask of yours to hide the face of St. Auban!"

Her words froze me into a stony mass of insensibility. There was no logic
in my attitude; I see it now. Appearances were all against me, and her
belief no more than justified. I overlooked all this, and instead of
saving time by recounting how I came to be there and thus delivering her
from the anguish that was torturing her, I stood, dumb and cruel, cut to
the quick by her scorn and her suspicions that I was capable of such a
thing as she imputed, and listening to the dictates of an empty pride that
prompted me to make her pay full penalty.

"Oh, God pity me!" she wailed. "Have you naught to say?"

Still I maintained my mad, resentful silence. And presently, as one who

"You!" she said again. "You, whom I--" She stopped short. "Oh! The
shame of it!" she moaned.

Reason at last came uppermost, and as in my mind I completed her broken
sentence, my heart gave a great throb and I was thawed to a gentler

"Mademoiselle!" I exclaimed.

But even as I spoke, she turned, and sweeping aside her gown that it might
not touch me, she moved rapidly towards the steps we had just descended.
Full of remorse, I sprang after her.

"Mademoiselle! Hear me," I cried, and put forth my hand to stay her.
Thereat she wheeled round and faced me, a blaze of fury in her grey eyes.

"Dare not to touch me," she panted. "You thief, you hound!"

I recoiled, and, like one turned to stone, I stood and watched her mount
the steps, my feelings swaying violently between anger and sorrow. Then my
eye fell upon Montrésor standing on the topmost step, and on his face there
was a sneering, insolent smile which told me that he had heard the epithets
she had bestowed upon me.

Albeit I sought that day another interview with Yvonne, I did not gain it,
and so I was forced to sun myself in solitude upon the terrace. But I
cherished for my consolation that broken sentence of hers, whereby I read
that the coldness which she had evinced for me before I left Canaples had
only been assumed.

And presently as I recalled what talks we had had, and one in particular
from which it now appeared to me that her coldness had sprung, a light
seemed suddenly to break upon my mind, as perchance it hath long ago broken
upon the minds of those who may happen upon these pages, and whose wits in
matters amorous are of a keener temper than were mine.

I who in all things had been arrogant, presumptuous, and self-satisfied,
had methought erred for once through over-humility.

And, indeed, even as I sat and pondered on that June day, it seemed to me a
thing incredible that she whom I accounted the most queenly and superb of
women should have deigned to grant a tender thought to one so mean, so far
beneath her as I had ever held myself to be.



Things came to pass that night as I had planned, and the fates which of
late had smiled upon me were kind unto the end.

Soon after ten, and before the moon had risen, a silent procession wended
its way from the château to the river. First went Montrésor and two of his
men; next came the Chevalier with Mademoiselle, and on either side of them
a trooper; whilst I, in head-piece and back and breast of steel, went last
with Mathurin, the sergeant--who warmly praised the plan I had devised for
the conveyance of M. de Canaples to Paris without further loss of time.

Two boats which I had caused to be secretly procured were in readiness, and
by these a couple of soldiers awaited us, holding the bridles of eight
horses, one of which was equipped with a lady's saddle. Five of these
belonged--or had belonged--to the Chevalier, whilst the others were three
of those that had brought the troop from Paris, and which I, in the teeth
of all protestations, had adjudged sufficiently recovered for the return

The embarkation was safely effected, M. de Canaples and Mademoiselle in one
boat with Montrésor, Mathurin, and myself; the sergeant took the oars;
Montrésor and I kept watch over our prisoner. In the other boat came the
four troopers, who were to accompany us, and one other who was to take the
boats, and Montrésor in them, back to Canaples. For the lieutenant was
returning, so that he might, with the remainder of the troop, follow us to
Paris so soon as the condition of the horses would permit it.

The beasts we took with us were swimming the stream, guided and upheld by
the men in the other boat.

Just as the moon began to show her face our bow grated on the shore at the
very point where I had intended that we should land. I sprang out and
turned to assist Mademoiselle.

But, disdaining my proffered hand, she stepped ashore unaided. The
Chevalier came next, and after him Montrésor and Mathurin.

Awhile we waited until the troopers brought their boat to land, then when
they had got the snorting animals safely ashore, I bade them look to the
prisoner, and requested Montrésor and Mathurin to step aside with me, as I
had something to communicate to them.

Walking between the pair, I drew them some twenty paces away from the group
by the water, towards a certain thicket in which I had bidden Michelot
await me.

"It has occurred to me, Messieurs," I began, speaking slowly and
deliberately as we paced along,--"it has occurred to me that despite all
the precautions taken to carry out my Lord Cardinal's wishes--a work at
least in which you, yourselves, have evinced a degree of zeal that I cannot
too highly commend to his Eminence--the possibility yet remains of some
mistake of trivial appearance, of some slight flaw that might yet cause the
miscarriage of those wishes."

They turned towards me, and although I could not make out the expressions
of their faces, in the gloom, yet I doubted not but that they were puzzled
ones at that lengthy and apparently meaningless harangue.

The sergeant was the first to speak, albeit I am certain that he understood
the less.

"I venture, M. le Capitaine, to think that your fears, though very natural,
are groundless."

"Say you so?" quoth I, with a backward glance to assure myself that we were
screened by the trees from the eyes of those behind us. "Say you so?
Well, well, mayhap you are right, though you speak of my fears being
groundless. I alluded to some possible mistake of yours--yours and M. de
Montrésor's--not of mine. And, by Heaven, a monstrous flaw there is in
this business, for if either of you so much as whisper I'll blow your
brains out!"

And to emphasise these words, as sinister as they were unlooked-for, I
raised both hands suddenly from beneath my cloak, and clapped the cold nose
of a pistol to the head of each of them.

I was obeyed as men are obeyed who thus uncompromisingly prove the force of
their commands. Seeing them resigned, I whistled softly, and in answer
there was a rustle from among the neighbouring trees, and presently two
shadows emerged from the thicket. In less time than it takes me to relate
it, Montrésor and his sergeant found themselves gagged, and each securely
bound to a tree.

Then, with Michelot and Abdon following a short distance behind me, I made
my way back to the troopers, and, feigning to stumble as I approached, I
hurtled so violently against two of them that I knocked the pair headlong
into the stream.

Scarce was it done, and almost before the remaining three had realised it,
there was a pistol at the head of each of them and sweet promises of an
eternal hereafter being whispered in their ears. They bore themselves with
charming discretion, and like lambs we led them each to a tree and dealt
with them as we had dealt with their officers, whilst the Chevalier and his
daughter watched us, bewildered and dumfounded at what they saw.

As soon as the other two had crawled--all unconscious of the fates of their
comrades--out of the river, we served them also in a like manner.

Bidding Abdon and Michelot lead the horses, and still speaking in my
assumed voice, I desired Mademoiselle and the Chevalier--who had not yet
sufficiently recovered from his bewilderment to have found his tongue--to
follow me. I led the way up the gentle slope to the spot where our first
victims were pinioned.

Montrésor's comely young face looked monstrous wicked in the moonlight, and
his eyes rolled curiously as he beheld me. Stepping up to him I freed him
of his gag--an act which I had almost regretted a moment later, for he
cleared his throat with so lusty a torrent of profanity that methought the
heavens must have fallen on us. At last when he was done with that--
"Before you leave me in this plight, M. de St. Auban," quoth he, "perchance
you will satisfy me with an explanation of your unfathomable deeds and of
this violence."

"St. Auban!" exclaimed the Chevalier.

"St. Auban!" cried Yvonne.

And albeit wonder rang in both their voices, yet their minds I knew went
different ways.

"No, not St. Auban," I answered with a laugh and putting aside all
counterfeit of speech.

"Par la mort Dieu! I know that voice," cried Montrésor.

"Mayhap, indeed! And know you not this face?" And as I spoke I whipped
away my wig and mask, and thrust my countenance close up to his.

"Thunder of God!" ejaculated the boy. Then--"Pardieu," he added, "there is
Michelot! How came I not to recognise him?"

"Since you would not assist me, Montrésor, you see I was forced to do
without you."

"But St. Auban?" he gasped. "Where is he?"

"In heaven, I hope--but I doubt it sadly."

"You have killed him?"

There and then, as briefly as I might, I told him, whilst the others stood
by to listen, how I had come upon the Marquis in the château the night
before and what had passed thereafter.

"And now," I said, as I cut his bonds, "it grieves me to charge you with an
impolite errand to his Eminence, but--"

"I'll not return to him," he burst out. "I dare not. Mon Dieu, you have
ruined me, Luynes!"

"Then come with me, and I'll build your fortunes anew and on a sounder
foundation. I have an influential letter in my pocket that should procure
us fortune in the service of the King of Spain."

He needed little pressing to fall in with my invitation, so we set the
sergeant free, and him instead I charged with a message that must have
given Mazarin endless pleasure when it was delivered to him. But he had
the Canaples estates wherewith to console himself and his never-failing
maxim that "chi canta, paga." Touching the Canaples estates, however, he
did not long enjoy them, for when he went into exile, two years later, the
Parliament returned them to their rightful owner.

The Chevalier de Canaples approached me timidly.

"Monsieur," quoth he, "I have wronged you very deeply. And this generous
rescue of one who has so little merited your aid truly puts me to so much
shame that I know not what thanks to offer you."

"Then offer none, Monsieur," I answered, taking his proffered hand.
"Moreover, time presses and we have a possible pursuit to baffle. So to
horse, Monsieurs."

I assisted Mademoiselle to mount, and she passively suffered me to do her
this office, having no word for me, and keeping her face averted from my
earnest gaze.

I sighed as I turned to mount the horse Michelot held for me; but methinks
't was more a sigh of satisfaction than of pain.

. . . . . . . .

All that night we travelled and all next day until Tours was reached
towards evening. There we halted for a sorely needed rest and for fresh

Three days later we arrived at Nantes, and a week from the night of the
Chevalier's rescue we took ship from that port to Santander.

That same evening, as I leaned upon the taffrail watching the distant coast
line of my beloved France, whose soil meseemed I was not like to tread
again for years, Yvonne came softly up behind me.

"Monsieur," she said in a voice that trembled somewhat, "I have, indeed,
misjudged you. The shame of it has made me hold aloof from you since we
left Blois. I cannot tell you, Monsieur, how deep that shame has been, or
with what sorrow I have been beset for the words I uttered at Canaples.
Had I but paused to think--"

"Nay, nay, Mademoiselle, 't was all my fault, I swear. I left you overlong
the dupe of appearances."

"But I should not have believed them so easily. Say that I am forgiven,
Monsieur," she pleaded; "tell me what reparation I can make."

"There is one reparation that you can make if you are so minded," I
answered, "but 'tis a life-long reparation."

They were bold words, indeed, but my voice played the coward and shook so
vilely that it bereft them of half their boldness. But, ah, Dieu, what
joy, what ecstasy was mine to see how they were read by her; to remark the
rich, warm blood dyeing her cheeks in a bewitching blush; to behold the
sparkle that brightened her matchless eyes as they met mine!



She was in my arms at last, and the work of reparation was begun whilst
together we gazed across the sun-gilt sea towards the fading shores of

If you be curious to learn how, guided by the gentle hand of her who
plucked me from the vile ways that in my old life I had trodden, I have
since achieved greatness, honour, and renown, History will tell you.

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