List Of Contents | Contents of St. Martin's Summer, by Rafael Sabatini
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imperfections, was more lovable than the nature of her own offspring.
And their common father had never seen aught but the faults of
Marius and the virtues of Florimond.  She had resented this, and
Marius had resented it; and Marius, having inherited with his
mother's beauty his mother's arrogant, dominant spirit, had returned
with insolence such admonitions as from time to time his father
gave him, and thus the breach had grown.  Later, since he could not
be heir to Condillac, the Marquise's eyes, greedy of advancement
for him, had fallen covetously upon the richer La Vauvraye, whose
lord had then no son, whose heiress was a little girl.

By an alliance easy to compass, since the lords of Condillac and La
Vauvraye were lifelong friends, Marius's fortunes might handsomely
have been mended.  Yet when she herself bore the suggestion of it
to the Marquis, he had seized upon it, approved it, but adopted it
for Florimond's benefit instead.

Thereafter war had raged fiercely in the family of Condillac - a
war between the Marquis and Florimond on the one side, and the
Marquise and Marius on the other.  And so bitterly was it waged
that it was by the old Marquis's suggestion that at last Florimond
had gone upon his travels to see the world and carry arms in
foreign service.

Her hopes that he would take his death, as was a common thing when
warring, rose high - so high as to become almost assurance, a
thing to be reckoned with.  Florimond would return no more, and
her son should fill the place to which he was entitled by his
beauty of person and the high mental gifts his doting mother saw
in him.

Yet the months grew into years, and at long intervals
full of hope for the Marquise news came of Florimond, and the news
was ever that he was well and thriving, gathering honours and
drinking deep of life.

And now, at last, when matters seemed to have been tumbled into her
lap that she might dispose of them as she listed; now, when in her
anxiety to see her son supplant his step-brother in the possession
of La Vauvraye - if not, perhaps, in that of Condillac as well she
had done a rashness which might end in making her and Marius
outlaws, news came that this hated Florimond was at the door;
tardily returned, yet returned in time to overthrow her schemes
and to make her son the pauper that her husband's will had seemed
to aim at rendering him.

Her mind skimmed lightly over all these matters, seeking somewhere
some wrong that should stand out stark and glaring, upon which she
might seize, and offer it to the Seneschal as an explanation of her
hatred.  But nowhere could she find the thing she sought.  Her
hatred had for foundation a material too impalpable to be fashioned
into words.  Tressan's voice aroused her from her thoughts.

"Have you laid no plans, madame?" he asked her.  "It were surely a
madness now to attempt to withstand the Marquis."

"The Marquis?  Ah yes - Florimond."  She sat forward out of the
shadows in which her great chair enveloped her, and let candle and
firelight play about the matchless beauty of her perfect face.
There was a flush upon it, the flush of battle; and she was about
to tell the Seneschal that not while one stone of Condillac should
stand upon another, not while a gasp of breath remained in her
frail body, would she surrender.  But she checked her rashness.
Well might it be that in the end she should abandon such a purpose.
Tressan was ugly as a toad, the most absurd, ridiculous bridegroom
that ever led woman to the altar.  Yet rumour ran that he was rich,
and as a last resource, for the sake of his possessions she might
bring herself to endure his signal shortcomings.

"I have taken no resolve as yet," said she, in a wistful voice.
"I founded hopes upon Marius which Marius threatens to frustrate.
I think I had best resign myself to the poverty of my Touraine home."

And then the Seneschal realized that the time was now.  The
opportunity he might have sought in vain was almost thrust upon him.
In the spirit he blessed Florimond for returning so opportunely; in
the flesh he rose from the chair and, without more ado, he cast
himself upon his knees before the Dowager.  He cast himself down,
and the Dowager experienced a faint stirring of surprise that she
heard no flop such as must attend the violent falling of so fat a
body.  But the next instant, realizing the purpose of his absurd
posture, she shrank back with a faint gasp, and her face was
mercifully blurred to his sight once more amid the shadows of her
chair.  Thus was he spared the look of utter loathing, of
unconquerable, irrepressible disgust that leapt into her countenance.

His voice quivered with ridiculous emotion, his little fat red
fingers trembled as he outheld them in a theatrical gesture of

"Never contemplate poverty, madame, until you have discarded me,"
he implored her.  "Say but that you will, and you shall be lady of
Tressan.  All that I have would prove but poor adornment to a
beauty such as yours, and I should shrink from offering it you,
were it not that, with it all, I can offer you the fondest heart
in France.  Marquise - Clotilde, I cast myself humbly at your feet.
Do with me as you will.  I love you."

By an effort she crushed down her loathing of him - a loathing that
grew a hundredfold as she beheld him now transformed by his
amorousness into the semblance almost of a satyr -and listened to
his foolish rantings.

As Marquise de Condillac it hurt her pride to listen and not have
him whipped for his audacity; as a woman it insulted her.  Yet the
Marquise and the woman she alike repressed.  She would give him no
answer - she could not, so near was she to fainting with disdain
of him - yet must she give him hope against the time when, should
all else fail, she might have to swallow the bitter draught he was
now holding to her lips.  So she temporized.

She controlled her voice into a tone of gentle sadness; she set a
mask of sorrow upon her insolent face.

"Monsieur, monsieur," she sighed, and so far overcame her nausea
as for an instant to touch his hand in a little gesture of caress,
"you must not speak so to a widow of six months, nor must I listen."

The quivering grew in his hands and voice; but no longer did they
shake through fear of a rebuff: they trembled now in the eager
strength of the hope he gathered from her words.  She was so
beautiful, so peerless, so noble, so proud - and he so utterly
unworthy - that naught but her plight had given him courage to
utter his proposal.  And she answered him in such terms!

"You give me hope, Marquise?  If I come again - ?"

She sighed, and her face, which was once more within the light,
showed a look of sad inquiry.

"If I thought that what you have said, you have said out of pity,
because you fear lest my necessities should hurt me, I could give
you no hope at all.  I have my pride, mon ami.  But if what you
have said you would still have said though I had continued mistress
of Condillac, then, Tressan, you may repeat it to me hereafter, at
a season when I may listen."

His joy welled up and overflowed in him as overflows a river in
time of spate.

He bent forward, caught her hand, and bore it to his lips.

"Clotilde!" he cried, in a smothered voice; then the door opened,
and Marius stepped into the long chamber.

At the creaking sound of the opening door the Seneschal bestirred
himself to rise.  Even the very young care not so to be surprised,
how much less, then, a man well past the prime of life?  He came
up laboriously - the more laboriously by virtue of his very efforts
to show himself still nimble in his mistress's eyes.  Upon the
intruder he turned a crimson, furious face, perspiration gleaming
like varnish on brow and nose.  At sight of Marius, who stood
arrested, scowling villainously upon the pair, the fire died
suddenly from his glance.

"Ah, my dear Marius," said he, with a flourish and an air of being
mightily at his ease.  But the young man's eyes went over and
beyond him to rest in a look of scrutiny upon his mother.  She had
risen too, and he had been in time to see the startled manner of
her rising.  In her cheeks there was a guilty flush, but her eyes
boldly met and threw back her son's regard.

Marius came slowly down the room, and no word was spoken.  The
Seneschal cleared his throat with noisy nervousness.  Madame stood
hand on hip, the flush fading slowly, her glance resuming its
habitual lazy insolence.  By the fire Marius paused and kicked
the logs into a blaze, regardless of the delicate fabric of his
rosetted shoes.

"Monsieur le Seneschal," said madame calmly, came to see us in the
matter of the courier."

"Ah!" said Marius, with an insolent lifting of his brows and a
sidelong look at Tressan; and Tressan registered in his heart a vow
that when he should have come to wed the mother, he would not
forget to take payment for that glance from her pert son.

"Monsieur le Comte will remain and sup with us before riding back
to Grenoble," she added.

"Ah!" said he again, in the same tone.  And that for the moment was
all he said.  He remained by the fire, standing between them where
he had planted himself in the flesh, as if to symbolize the
attitude he intended in the spirit.

But one chance he had, before supper was laid, of a word alone with
his mother, in her own closet.

"Madame," he said, his sternness mingling with alarm, "are you mad
that you encourage the suit of this hedgehog Tressan?"

She looked him up and down with a deliberate eye, her lip curling
a little.

"Surely, Marius, it is my own concern."

"Not so," he answered her, and his grasp fastened almost viciously
on her wrist.  "I think that it is mine as well.  Mother, bethink
you," and his tone changed to an imploring key, "bethink you what
you would do!  Would you - you - mate with such a thing as that?"

His emphasis of the pronoun was very eloquent.  Not in all the
words of the French language could he have told her better how high
he placed her in his thoughts, how utterly she must fall, how
unutterably be soiled by an alliance with Tressan.

"I had hoped you would have saved me from it, Marius," she answered
him, her eyes seeming to gaze down into the depths of his.  "At La
Vauvraye I had hoped to live out my widowhood in tranquil dignity.
But - "  She let her arms fall sharply to her sides, and uttered a
little sneering laugh.

"But, mother," he cried, "between the dignity of La Vauvraye and
the indignity of Tressan, surely there is some middle course?"

"Aye," she answered scornfully, "starvation on a dunghill in
Touraine - or something near akin to it, for which I have no

He released her wrist and stood with bent head, clenching and
unclenching his long white hands, and she watched him, watching
in him the working of his proud and stubborn spirit.

"Mother," he cried at last, and the word sounded absurd between
them, by so little did he seem the younger of the twain, "mother,
you shall not do it you must not!"

"You leave me little alternative - alas!" sighed she.  "Had you been
more adroit you had been wed by now, Marius, and the future would
give us no concern.  As it is, Florimond comes home, and we - "
She spread her hands and thrust out her nether lip in a grimace that
was almost ugly.  Then: "Come," she said briskly.  "Supper is laid,
and my Lord Seneschal will be awaiting us."

And before he could reply she had swept past him and taken her way
below.  He followed gloomily, and in gloom sat he at table, never
heeding the reckless gaiety of the Seneschal and the forced mirth
of the Marquise.  He well understood the sort of tacit bargain that
his mother had made with him.  She had seen her advantage in his
loathing of the proposed union with Tressan, and she had used it
to the full.  Either he must compel Valerie to wed him this side
of Saturday or resign himself to see his mother - his beautiful,
peerless mother - married to this skin of lard that called itself
a man.

Living, he had never entertained for his father a son's respect,
nor, dead, did he now reverence his memory as becomes a son.  But
in that hour, as he sat at table, facing this gross wooer of his
mother's, his eyes were raised to the portrait of the florid-visaged
haughty Marquis de Condillac, where it looked down upon them from
the panelled wall, and from his soul he offered up to that portrait
of his dead sire an apology for the successor whom his widow
destined him.

He ate little, but drank great draughts, as men will when their mood
is sullen and dejected, and the heat of the wine, warming his veins
and lifting from him some of the gloom that had settled over him,
lent him anon a certain recklessness very different from the manner
of his sober moments.

Chancing suddenly to raise his eyes from the cup into which he had
been gazing, absorbed as gazes a seer into his crystal, he caught
on the Seneschal's lips s so odious a smile, in the man's eyes so
greedy, hateful a leer as he bent them on the Marquise, that he
had much ado not to alter the expression of that flabby face by
hurling at it the cup he held.

He curbed himself; he smiled sardonically upon the pair; and in that
moment he swore that be the cost what it might, he would frustrate
the union of those two.  His thoughts flew to Valerie, and the road
they took was fouled with the mud of ugly deeds.  A despair, grim
at first, then mocking, took possession of him.  He loved Valerie
to distraction.  Loved her for herself, apart from all worldly
advantages that must accrue to him from an alliance with her.  His
mother saw in that projected marriage no more than the acquisition
of the lands of La Vauvraye, and she may even have thought that he
himself saw no more.  In that she was wrong; but because of it she
may have been justified of her impatience with him at the tardiness,
the very clumsiness with which he urged his suit.  How was she to
know that it was just the sincerity of his passion made him clumsy?
For like many another, normally glib, self-assured, and graceful,
Marius grew halting, shy, and clumsy only where he loved.

But in the despair that took him now the quality of his passion
seemed to change.  Partly it was the wine, partly the sight of this
other lover - of whom there must be an end - whose very glance
seemed to him an insult to his mother.  His imagination had taken
fire that night, and it had ripened him for any villainy.  The
Seneschal and the wine, between them, had opened the floodgates of
all that was evil in his nature, and that evil thundered out in a
great torrent that bid fair to sweep all before it.

And suddenly, unexpectedly for the others, who were by now resigned
to his moody silence, the evil found expression.  The Marquise had
spoken of something - something of slight importance - that must be
done before Florimond returned.  Abruptly Marius swung round in his
seat to face his mother.  "Must this Florimond return?" he asked,
and for all that he uttered no more words, so ample in their
expression were those four that he had uttered and the tone of them,

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