In the great hall of Condillac, where the Marquise, her son, and Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye had been at dinner, a sudden confusion had been spread by the arrival of that courier so soon as it was known that he bore letters from Florimond, Marquis de Condillac.

Madame had risen hastily, fear and defiance blending in her face, and she had at once commanded mademoiselle’s withdrawal. Valerie had wondered might there not be letters—or, leastways, messages—for herself from her betrothed. But her pride had suppressed the eager question that welled up to her lips. She would, too, have questioned the courier concerning Florimond’s health; she would have asked him how the Marquis looked, and where the messenger had left him. But of all this that she craved to know, nothing could she bring herself to ask before the Marquise.

She rose in silence upon hearing the Dowager order Fortunio to summon Battista that he might re-conduct mademoiselle to her apartments, and she moved a few paces down the hall, towards the door, in proud, submissive readiness to depart. Yet she could not keep her eyes from the dust-stained courier, who, having flung his hat and whip upon the floor, was now opening his wallet, the Dowager standing before him to receive his papers.

Marius, affecting an insouciance he did not feel, remained at table, his page behind his chair, his hound stretched at his feet; and he now sipped his wine, now held it to the light that he might observe the beauty of its deep red colour.

At last Fortunio returned, and mademoiselle took her departure, head in the air and outwardly seeming nowise concerned in what was taking place. With her went Fortunio. And the Marquise, who now held the package she had received from the courier, bade the page depart also.

When the three were at last alone, she paused before opening the letter and turned again to the messenger. She made a brave figure in the flood of sunlight that poured through the gules and azures of the long blazoned windows, her tall, lissome figure clad in a close-fitting robe of black velvet, her abundant glossy black hair rolled back under its white coif, her black eyes and scarlet lips detaching from the ivory of her face, in which no trace of emotion showed, for all the anxiety that consumed her.

“Where left you the Marquis de Condillac?” she asked the fellow.

“At La Rochette, madame,” the courier answered,’ and his answer brought Marius to his feet with an oath.

“So near?” he cried out. But the Dowager’s glance remained calm and untroubled.

“How does it happen that he did not hasten himself, to Condillac?” she asked.

“I do not know, madame. I did not see Monsieur le Marquis. It was his servant brought me that letter with orders to ride hither.”

Marius approached his mother, his brow clouded.

“Let us see what he says,” he suggested anxiously. But his mother did not heed him. She stood balancing the package in her hand.

“Can you tell us, then, nothing of Monsieur le Marquis?”

“Nothing more than I have told you, madame.”

She bade Marius call Fortunio, and then dismissed the courier, bidding her captain see to his refreshment.

Then, alone at last with her son, she hastily tore the covering from the letter, unfolded it and read. And Marius, moved by anxiety, came to stand beside and just behind her, where he too might read. The letter ran:

“MY VERY DEAR MARQUISE,—I do not doubt but that it will pleasure you to hear that I am on my way home, and that but for a touch of fever that has detained us here at La Rochette, I should be at Condillac as soon as the messenger who is the bearer of these presents. A courier from Paris found me a fortnight since in Milan, with letters setting forth that my father had been dead six months, and that it was considered expedient at Court that I should return home forthwith to assume the administration of Condillac. I am lost in wonder that a communication of this nature should have been addressed to me from Paris instead of from you, as surely it must have been your duty to advise me of my father’s decease at the time of that untoward event. I am cast down by grief at this evil news, and the summons from Court has brought me in all haste from Milan. The lack of news from Condillac has been for months a matter of surprise to me. My father’s death may be some explanation of this, but scarcely explanation enough. However, madame, I count upon it that you will be able to dispel such doubts as I am fostering. I count too, upon being at Condillac by the end of week, but I beg that neither you nor my dear Marius will allow this circumstance to make any difference to yourselves, just as, although I am returning to assume the government of Condillac as the Court has suggested to me, I hope that yourself and my dear brother will continue to make it your home for as long as it shall pleasure you. So long shall it pleasure me.

“I am, my dear marquise, your very humble and very affectionate servant and stepson,


When she had read to the end, the Dowager turned back and read aloud the passage: “However, madame, I count upon it that you will be able to dispel such doubts as I am fostering.” She looked at her son, who had shifted his position, so that he was now confronting her.

“He has his suspicions that all is not as it should be,” sneered Marius.

“Yet his tone is amiable throughout. It cannot be that they said too much in that letter from Paris.” A little trill of bitter laughter escaped her. “We are to continue to make this our home for as long as it shall pleasure us. So long shall it pleasure him!”

Then, with a sudden seriousness, she folded the letter and, putting her hands behind her, looked up into her son’s face.

“Well?” she asked. “What are you going to do?”

“Strange that he makes no mention of Valerie” said Marius pensively.

“Pooh! A Condillac thinks lightly of his women. What are you going to do?”

His handsome countenance, so marvellously like her own, was overcast. He looked gloomily at his mother for a moment; then with a slight twitch of the shoulders he turned and moved past her slowly in the direction of the hearth. He leaned his elbow on the overmantel and rested his brow against his clenched right hand, and stood so awhile in moody thought. She watched him, a frown between her arrogant eyes.

“Aye, ponder it,” said she. “He is at La Rochette, within a day’s ride, and only detained there by a touch of fever. In any case he promises to be here by the end of the week. By Saturday, then, Condillac will have passed out of our power; it will be lost to you irretrievably. Will you lose La Vauvraye as well?”

He let his hand fall to his side, and turned, fully to face her.

“What can I do? What can we do?” he asked, a shade of petulance in his question.

She stepped close up to him and rested her hand lightly upon his shoulder.

“You have had three months in which to woo that girl, and you have tarried sadly over it, Marius. You have now at most three days in which to accomplish it. What will you do?”

“I have been maladroit perhaps,” he said, with bitterness. “I have been over-patient with her. I have counted too much upon the chance of Florimond’s being dead, as seemed from the utter lack of news of him. Yet what could I do? Carry her off by force and compel at the dagger’s point some priest to marry us?”

She moved her hand from his shoulder and smiled, as if she derided him and his heat.

“You want for invention, Marius,” said she. “And yet I beg that you will exert your mind, or Sunday next shall find us well-nigh homeless. I’ll take no charity from the Marquis de Condillac, nor, I think, will you.”

“If all fails,” said he, “we have still your house in Touraine.”

“My house?” she echoed, her voice shrill with scorn. “My hovel, you would say. Could you abide there—in such a sty?”

Vertudieu! If all else failed, we might be glad of it.”

“Glad of it? Not I, for one. Yet all else will fail unless you bestir yourself in the next three days. Condillac is as good as lost to you already, since Florimond is upon the threshold. La Vauvraye most certainly will be lost to you as well unless you make haste to snatch it in the little moment that is left you.”

“Can I achieve the impossible, madame?” he cried, and his impatience waxed beneath this unreasonable insistence of his mother’s.

“Who asks it of you?”

“Do not you, madame?”

“I? Pish! All that I urge is that you take Valerie across the border into Savoy where you can find a priest to marry you, and get it done this side of Saturday.”

“And is not that the impossible? She will not go with me, as you well know, madame.”

There was a moment’s silence. The Dowager shot him a glance; then her eyes fell. Her bosom stirred as if some strange excitement moved her. Fear and shame were her emotions; for a way she knew by which mademoiselle might be induced to go with him—not only willingly, but eagerly, she thought—to the altar. But she was his mother, and even her harsh nature shuddered before the task of instructing him in this vile thing. Why had the fool not wit enough to see it for himself?

Observing her silence Marius smiled sardonically.

“You may well ponder it,” said he. “It is an easy matter to tell me what I should do. Tell me, rather, how it should be done.”

His blindness stirred her anger, and her anger whelmed her hesitation.

“Were I in your place, Marius, I should find a way,” said she, in a voice utterly expressionless, her eyes averted ever from his own.

He scanned her curiously. Her agitation was plain to him, and it puzzled him, as did the downcast glance of eyes usually so bold and insolent in their gaze. Then he pondered her tone, so laden with expression by its very expressionlessness, and suddenly a flood of light broke upon his mind, revealing very clearly and hideously her meaning. He caught his breath with a sudden gasp and blenched a little. Then his lips tightened suddenly.

“In that case, madame,” he said, after a pause, and speaking as if he were still without revelation of her meaning, “I can but regret that you are not in my place. For, as it is, I am thinking we shall have to make the best of the hovel in Touraine.”

She bit her lip in the intensity of her chagrin and shame. She was no fool, nor did she imagine from his words that her meaning had been lost upon him. She knew that he had understood, and that he chose to pretend that he had not. She looked up suddenly, her dark eyes blazing, a splash of colour in either cheek.

“Fool!” she snapped at him; “you lily-livered fool! Are you indeed my son? Are you—by God!—that you talk so lightly of yielding?” She advanced a step in his direction. “Through your cowardice you may be content to spend your days in beggary; not so am I; nor shall I be, so long as I have an arm and a voice. You may go hence if your courage fails you outright; but I’ll throw up the bridge and entrench myself within these walls. Florimond de Condillac sets no foot in here while I live; and if he should come within range of musket-shot, it will be the worse for him.”

“I think you are mad, madame—mad so to talk of resisting him, as you are mad to call me coward. I’ll leave you till you are come to a more tranquil frame of mind.” And turning upon his heel, his face on fire from the lash of her contempt, he strode down the hall and passed out, leaving her alone.

White again, with heaving bosom and clenched hands, she stood a moment where he had left her, then dropped into a chair, and taking her chin in her hand she rested her elbow on her knee. Thus she remained, the firelight tinting her perfect profile, on which little might be read of the storm that was raging in her soul. Another woman in her place would have sought relief in tears, but tears came rarely to the beautiful eyes of the Marquise de Condillac.

She sat there until the sun had passed from the windows behind her and the corners of the room were lost in the quickening shadows. At last she was disturbed by the entrance of a lackey, who announced that Monsieur le Comte de Tressan, Lord Seneschal of Dauphiny, was come to Condillac.

She bade the fellow call help to clear the board, where still was set their interrupted noontide meal, and then to admit the Seneschal. With her back to the stirring, bustling servants she stood, pensively regarding the flames, and a smile that was mocking rather than aught else spread upon her face.

If all else failed her, she told herself, there would be no Touraine hovel for her. She could always be Comtesse de Tressan. Let Marius work out alone the punishment of his cowardice.

Away in the Northern Tower, where mademoiselle was lodged, she sat in eager talk with Garnache, who had returned unobserved and successful from his journey of espionage.

He had told her what from the conversation of Marius and his mother he had learned touching the contents of that letter. Florimond lay as near as La Rochette, detained there by a touch of fever, but promising to be at Condillac by the end of the week. Since that was so, Valerie opined there was no longer the need to put themselves to the trouble of the escape they had planned. Let them wait until Florimond came.

But Garnache shook his head. He had heard more; and for all that he accounted her at present safe from Marius, yet he made no false estimate of that supple gentleman’s character, was not deluded by his momentary show of niceness. As the time of Florimond’s arrival grew nearer, he thought it very possible that Marius might be rendered desperate. There was grave danger in remaining. He said naught of this, yet he convinced mademoiselle that it were best to go.

“Though there will no longer be the need of a toilsome journey as far as Paris,” he concluded. “A four hours’ ride to La Rochette, and you may embrace your betrothed.”

“Did he speak of me in his letter, know you, monsieur?” she inquired.

“I heard them say that he did not,” Garnache replied. “But it may well be that he had good reason. He may suspect more than he has written.”

“In that case,” she asked—and there was a wounded note in her voice—“Why should a touch of fever keep him at La Rochette? Would a touch of fever keep you from the woman you loved, monsieur, if you knew, or even suspected, that she was in durance?”

“I do not know, mademoiselle. I am an old man who has never loved, and so it would be unfair of me to pass judgment upon lovers. That they think not as other folk is notorious; their minds are for the time disordered.”

Nevertheless he looked at her where she sat by the window, so gentle, so lissome, so sweet, and so frail, and he had a shrewd notion that were he Florimond de Condillac, whether he feared her in durance or not, not the fever, nor the plague itself should keep him for the best part of a week at La Rochette within easy ride of her.

She smiled gently at his words, and turned the conversation to the matter that imported most.

“Tonight then, it is determined that we are to go?”

“At midnight or a little after. Be in readiness, mademoiselle, and do not keep me waiting when I rap upon your door. Haste may be of importance.”

“You may count upon me, my friend,” she answered him, and stirred by a sudden impulse she held out her hand. “You have been very good to me, Monsieur de Garnache. You have made life very different for me since your coming. I had it in my mind to blame you once for your rashness in returning alone. I was a little fool. You can never know the peace that has come to me from having you at hand. The fears, the terrors that possessed me before you came have all been dispelled in this last week that you have been my sentry in two senses.”

He took the hand she held out to him, and looked down at her out of his grimy, disfigured face, an odd tenderness stirring him. He felt as might have felt a father towards his daughter—at least, so thought he then.

“Child,” he answered her, “you overrate it. I have done no less than I could do, no more than any other would have done.”

“Yet more than Florimond has done—and he my betrothed. A touch of fever was excuse enough to keep him at La Rochette, whilst the peril of death did not suffice to deter you from coming hither.”

“You forget, mademoiselle, that, maybe, he does not know your circumstances.”

“Maybe he does not,” said she, with a half-sigh. Then she looked up into his face again. “I am sad at the thought of going, monsieur,” she surprised him by saying.

“Sad?” he cried. Then he laughed. “But what can there be to sadden you?”

“This, monsieur: that after to-night it is odds I shall never see you more.” She said it without hesitation and without coquetry, for her upbringing had been simple and natural in an atmosphere different far from that in which had been reared the courtly women he had known. “You will return to Paris and the great world, and I shall live out my life in this, little corner of Dauphiny. You will forget me in the bustle of your career, monsieur; but I shall always hold your memory very dear and very gratefully. You are the only friend I have ever known since my father died excepting Florimond, though it is so long since I have seen him, and he never came to me in times of stress as you have done.”

“Mademoiselle,” he answered, touched despite himself more touched than he could have believed possible to his callous, world-worn nature—“you make me very proud; you make me feel a little better than I am, for if I have earned your regard and friendship, there must be some good in old Garnache. Believe me, mademoiselle, I too shall not forget.”

And thereafter they remained a spell in silence, she sitting by the window, gazing out into the bright October sky, he standing by her chair, thoughtfully considering her brown head so gracefully set upon her little shoulders. A feeling came to him that was odd and unusual; he sought to interpret it, and he supposed it to mean that he wished that at some time in the dim past he might have married some woman who would have borne him for daughter such a one as this.

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