List Of Contents | Contents of St. Martin's Summer, by Rafael Sabatini
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

The Marquise swung round upon him in a passion.

"The girl found a dog of a traitor to bear a letter for her.  That
is enough.  If ever chance or fate should bring him my way, by God!
he shall hang without shrift."

Then she put her anger from her; put from her, too, the insolence
and scorn with which so lavishly she had addressed him hitherto.
Instead she assumed a suppliant air, her beautiful eyes meltingly
set upon his face.

"Tressan," said she in her altered voice, "I am beset by enemies.
But you will not forsake me?  You will stand by me to the end - will
you not, my friend?  I can count upon you, at least?"

"In all things, madame," he answered, under the spell of her gaze.
"What force does this man Garnache bring with him?  Have you

"He brings none," she answered, triumph in her glance.

"None?" he echoed, horror in his.  "None?  Then - then - "

He tossed his arms to heaven, and stood a limp and shaken thing.
She leaned forward, and regarded him stricken in surprise.

"Diable!  What ails you?" she snapped.  "Could I have given you
better news?"

"If you could have given me worse, I cannot think what it might have
been," he groaned.  Then, as if smitten by a sudden notion that
flashed a gleam of hope into this terrifying darkness that was
settling down upon him, he suddenly looked up.  "You mean to resist
him?" he inquired.

She stared at him a second, then laughed, a thought unpleasantly.

"Pish!  But you are mad," she scorned him.  "Do you need ask if I
intend to resist - I, with the strongest castle in Dauphiny?  By
God!  sir, if you need to hear me say it, hear me then say that I
shall resist him and as many as the Queen may send after him, for
as long as one stone of Condillac shall stand upon another."

The Seneschal blew out his lips, and fell once more to the chewing
of his beard.

"What did you mean when you said I could have given you no worse
news than that of his coming alone?" she questioned suddenly.

"Madame," said he, "if this man comes without force, and you resist
the orders of which he is the bearer, what think you will betide?"

"He will appeal to you for the men he needs that he may batter down
my walls," she answered calmly.

He looked at her incredulously.  "You realize it?" he ejaculated.
"You realize it?"

"What is there in it that should puzzle a babe?"

Her callousness was like a gust of wind upon the living embers of
his fears.  It blew them into a blaze of wrath, sudden and terrific
as that of such a man at bay could be.  He advanced upon her with
the rolling gait of the obese, his cheeks purple, his arms waving
wildly, his dyed mustachios bristling.

"And what of me, madame?" he spluttered.  "What of me?  Am I to be
ruined, gaoled, and hanged, maybe, for refusing him men? - for that
is what is in your mind.  Am I to make myself an outlaw?  Am I, who
have been Lord Seneschal of Dauphiny these fifteen years, to end
my days in degradation in the cause of a woman's matrimonial
projects for a simpering school-girl?  Seigneur du Ciel!" he roared,
"I think you are gone mad - mad, mad! over this affair.  You would
not think it too much to set the whole province in flames so that
you could have your way with this wretched child.  But, Ventregris!
to ruin me - to - to - "

He fell silent for very want of words; just gaped and gasped, and
then, with hands folded upon his paunch, he set himself to pace the

Madame de Condillac stood watching him, her face composed, her
glance cold.  She was like some stalwart oak, weathering with
unshaken front a hurricane.  When he had done, she moved away from
the fireplace, and, beating her side gently with her whip, she
stepped to the door.

"Au revoir, Monsieur de Tressan," said she, mighty cool, her back
towards him.

At that he halted in his feverish stride, stood still and threw up
his head.  His anger went out, as a candle is extinguished by a
puff of wind.  And in its place a new fear crept into his heart.

"Madame, madame!" he cried.  "Wait!  Hear me."

She paused, half-turned, and looked at him over her shoulder, scorn
in her glance, a sneer on her scarlet mouth, insolence in every
line of her.

"I think, monsieur, that I have heard a little more than enough,"
said she.  "I am assured, at least, that in you I have but a
fair-weather friend, a poor lipserver."

"Ah, not that, madame," he cried, and his voice was stricken.  "Say
not that.  I would serve you as would none other in all this world
 - you know it, Marquise; you know it."

She faced about, and confronted him, her smile a trifle broader, as
if amusement were now blending with her scorn.

"It is easy to protest.  Easy to say, 'I will die for you,' so long
as the need for such a sacrifice be remote.  But let me do no more
than ask a favour, and it is, 'What of my good name, madame?  What
of my seneschalship?  Am I to be gaoled or hanged to pleasure you?'
Faugh!" she ended, with a toss of her splendid head.  "The world is
peopled with your kind, and I - alas!  for a woman's intuitions -
had held you different from the rest."

Her words were to his soul as a sword of fire might have been to
his flesh.  They scorched and shrivelled it.  He saw himself as she
would have him see himself - a mean, contemptible craven; a coward
who made big talk in times of peace, but faced about and vanished
into hiding at the first sign of danger.  He felt himself the
meanest, vilest thing a-crawl upon this sinful earth, and she - dear
God! - had thought him different from the ruck.  She had held him in
high esteem, and behold, how short had he not fallen of all her
expectations!  Shame and vanity combined to work a sudden, sharp
revulsion in his feelings.

"Marquise," he cried, "you say no more than what is just.  But
punish me no further.  I meant not what I said.  I was beside
myself.  Let me atone - let my future actions make amends for that
odious departure from my true self."

There was no scorn now in her smile; only an ineffable tenderness,
beholding which he felt it in his heart to hang if need be that
he might continue high in her regard.  He sprang forward, and took
the hand she extended to him.

"I knew, Tressan," said she, "that you were not yourself, and that
when you bethought you of what you had said, my valiant, faithful
friend would not desert me."

He stooped over her hand, and slobbered kisses upon her
unresponsive glove.

"Madame," said he, "you may count upon me.  This fellow out of
Paris shall have no men from me, depend upon it."

She caught him by the shoulders, and held him so, before her.  Her
face was radiant, alluring; and her eyes dwelt on his with a kindness
he had never seen there save in some wild daydream of his.

"I will not refuse a service you offer me so gallantly," said she.
"It were an ill thing to wound you by so refusing it."

"Marquise," he cried, "it is as nothing to what I would do did the
occasion serve.  But when this thing 'tis done; when you have had
your way with Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye, and the nuptials shall
have been celebrated, then - dare I hope - ?"

He said no more in words, but his little blue eyes had an eloquence
that left nothing to mere speech.

Their glances met, she holding him always at arm's length by that
grip upon his shoulders, a grip that was firm and nervous.

In the Seneschal of Dauphiny, as she now gazed upon him, she beheld
a very toad of a man, and the soul of her shuddered at the sight of
him combining with the thing that he suggested.  But her glance was
steady and her lips maintained their smile, just as if that ugliness
of his had been invested with some abstract beauty existing only to
her gaze; a little colour crept into her cheeks, and red being the
colour of love's livery, Tressan misread its meaning.

She nodded to him across the little distance of her outstretched
arms, then smothered a laugh that drove him crazed with hope, and
breaking from him she sped swiftly, shyly it almost seemed to him,
to the door.

There she paused a moment looking back at him with a coyness that
might have become a girl of half her years, yet which her splendid
beauty saved from being unbecoming even in her.

One adorable smile she gave him, and before he could advance to
hold the door for her, she had opened it and passed out.



To promise rashly, particularly where a woman is the suppliant,
and afterwards, if not positively to repent the promise, at least
to regret that one did not hedge it with a few conditions, is a
proceeding not uncommon to youth.  In a man of advanced age, such
as Monsieur de Tressan, it never should have place; and, indeed,
it seldom has, unless that man has come again under the sway of the
influences by which youth, for good or ill, is governed.

Whilst the flush of his adoration was upon him, hot from the contact
of her presence, he knew no repentance, found room in his mind for
no regrets.  He crossed to the window, and pressed his huge round
face to the pane, in a futile effort to watch her mount and ride
out of the courtyard with her little troop of attendants.  Finding
that he might not - the window being placed too high - gratify his
wishes in that connection, he dropped into his chair, and sat in
the fast-deepening gloom, reviewing, fondly here, hurriedly there,
the interview that had but ended.

Thus night fell, and darkness settled down about him, relieved only
by the red glow of the logs smouldering on the hearth.  In the gloom
inspiration visited him.  He called for lights and Babylas.  Both
came, and he dispatched the lackey that lighted the tapers to summon
Monsieur d'Aubran, the commander of the garrison of Grenoble.

In the interval before the soldier's coming he conferred with Babylas
concerning what he had in mind, but he found his secretary
singularly dull and unimaginative.  So that, perforce, he must fall
back upon himself.  He sat glum and thoughtful, his mind in
unproductive travail, until the captain was announced.

Still without any definite plan, he blundered headlong, nevertheless,
into the necessary first step towards the fulfilment of his purpose.

"Captain," said he, looking mighty grave, "I have cause to believe
that all is not as it should be in the hills in the district of

"Is there trouble, monsieur?" inquired the captain, startled.

"Maybe there is, maybe there is not," returned the Seneschal
mysteriously.  "You shall have your full orders in the morning.
Meanwhile, make ready to repair to the neighbourhood of Montelimar
to-morrow with a couple of hundred men."

"A couple of hundred, monsieur!" exclaimed d'Aubran.  "But that
will be to empty Grenoble of soldiers."

"What of it?  We are not likely to require them here.  Let your
orders for preparation go round tonight, so that your knaves may be
ready to set out betimes to-morrow.  If you will be so good as to
wait upon me early you shall have your instructions."

Mystified, Monsieur d'Aubran departed on his errand, and my Lord
Seneschal went down to supper well pleased with the cunning device
by which he was to leave Grenoble without a garrison.  It was an
astute way of escape from the awkward situation into which his
attachment to the interests of the dowager of Condillac was likely
to place him.

But when the morning came he was less pleased with the idea, chiefly
because he had been unable to invent any details that should lend
it the necessary colour, and d'Aubran - worse luck - was an
intelligent officer who might evince a pardonable but embarrassing
curiosity.  A leader of soldiers has a right to know something at
least of the enterprise upon which he leads them.  By morning, too,
Tressan found that the intervening space of the night, since he had
seen Madame de Condillac, had cooled his ardour very considerably.

He had reached the incipient stages of regret of his rash promise.

When Captain d'Aubran was announced to him, he bade them ask him to
come again in an hour's time.  From mere regrets he was passing now,
through dismay, into utter repentance of his promise.  He sat in his
study, at his littered writing-table, his head in his hands, a
confusion of thoughts, a wild, frenzied striving after invention in
his brain.

Thus Anselme found him when he thrust aside the portiere to announce
that a Monsieur de Garnache, from Paris, was below, demanding to see
the Lord Seneschal at once upon an affair of State.

Tressan's flesh trembled and his heart fainted.  Then, suddenly,
desperately, he took his courage in both hands.  He remembered who
he was and what he was the King's Lord Seneschal of the Province of
Dauphiny.  Throughout that province, from the Rhone to the Alps,
his word was law, his name a terror to evildoers - and to some
others besides.  Was he to blench and tremble at the mention of the
name of a Court lackey out of Paris, who brought him a message from
the Queen-Regent?  Body of God! not he.

He heaved himself to his feet, warmed and heartened by the thought;
his eye sparkled, and there was a deeper flush than usual upon his

"Admit this Monsieur de Garnache," said he with a fine loftiness,
and in his heart he pondered what he would say and how he should
say it; how he should stand, how move, and how look.  His roving
eye caught sight of his secretary.  He remembered something - the
cherished pose of being a man plunged fathoms-deep in business.
Sharply he uttered his secretary's name.

Babylas raised his pale face; he knew what was coming; it had come
so many times before.  But there was no vestige of a smile on his
drooping lips, no gleam of amusement in his patient eye.  He thrust
aside the papers on which he was at work, and drew towards him a
fresh sheet on which to pen the letter which, he knew by experience,
Tressan was about to indite to the Queen-mother.  For these purposes
Her Majesty was Tressan's only correspondent.

Then the door opened, the portiere was swept aside,, and Anselme
announced "Monsieur de Garnache."

Tressan turned as the newcomer stepped briskly into the room, and
bowed, hat in hand, its long crimson feather sweeping the ground,
then straightened himself and permitted the Seneschal to take his

Tressan beheld a man of a good height, broad to the waist and spare
thence to the ground, who at first glance appeared to be mainly clad
in leather.  A buff jerkin fitted his body; below it there was a
glimpse of wine-coloured trunks, and hose of a slightly deeper hue,
which vanished immediately into a pair of huge thighboots of untanned
leather.  A leather swordbelt, gold-embroidered at the edges, carried
a long steel-halted rapier in a leather scabbard chaped with steel.
The sleeves of his doublet which protruded from his leather casing
were of the same colour and material as his trunks.  In one hand he
carried his broad black hat with its crimson feather, in the other a
little roll of parchment; and when he moved the creak of leather and
jingle of his spurs made pleasant music for a martial spirit.

Above all, this man's head, well set upon his shoulders, claimed some

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: