List Of Contents | Contents of St. Martin's Summer, by Rafael Sabatini
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that his meaning left little work to the imagination.

Madame turned to stare at him, surprise ineffable in her glance -
not at the thing that he suggested, but at the abruptness with
which the suggestion came.  The cynical, sneering tone rang in her
ears after the words were spoken, and she looked in his face for a
confirmation of their full purport.

She observed the wine-flush on his cheek, the wine-glitter in his
eye, and she remarked the slight smile on his lips and the cynical
assumption of nonchalance with which he fingered the jewel in his
ear as he returned her gaze.  She beheld now in her son a man more
purposeful than she had ever known before.

A tense silence had followed his words, and the Lord Seneschal
gaped at him, some of the colour fading from his plethoric
countenance, suspecting as he did the true drift of Marius's
suggestion.  At last it was madame who spoke - very softly, with
a narrowing of the eyes.

"Call Fortunio," was all she said, but Marius understood full well
the purpose for which she would have Fortunio called.

With a half-smile he rose, and going to the door he bade his page
who was idling in the anteroom go summon the captain.  Then he paced
slowly back, not to the place he had lately occupied at table, but
to the hearth, where he took his stand with his shoulders squared to
the overmantel.

Fortunio came, fair-haired and fresh-complexioned as a babe, his
supple, not ungraceful figure tawdrily clad in showy clothes of poor
material the worse for hard usage and spilt wine.  The Countess bade
him sit, and with her own hands she poured a cup of Anjou for him.

In some wonder, and,, for all his ordinary self-possession, with a
little awkwardness, the captain did her bidding, and with an
apologetic air he took the seat she offered him.

He drank this wine, and here was a spell of silence till Marius,
grown impatient, brutally put the thing for which the Marquise
sought delicate words.

"We have sent for you, Fortunio," said he, in a blustering tone,
"to inquire of you what price you'd ask to cut the throat of my
brother, the Marquis de Condillac."

The Seneschal sank back in his chair with a gasp.  The captain, a
frown between his frank-seeming, wide-set eyes, started round to
look at the boy.  The business was by no means too strong for the
ruffler's stomach, but the words in which it was conveyed to him
most emphatically were.

"Monsieur de Condillac," said he, with an odd assumption of dignity,
"I think you have mistaken your man.  I am a soldier, not a

"But yes," the Marquise soothed him, throwing herself instantly into
the breach, and laying a long, slender hand upon the frayed green
velvet of the captain's sleeve.  "What my son means and what he says
are vastly different things."

"It will sorely tax your wits, madame," laughed Marius brutally, "to
make clear that difference."

And then the Seneschal nervously cleared his throat and muttering
that it waxed late and he must be riding home, made shift to rise.
Him, too, the Marquise at once subdued.  She was not minded that he
should go just yet.  It might be useful to her hereafter to have
had him present at this conference, into which she meant to draw him
until she should have made him one with them, a party to their guilt.
For the task she needed not over many words: just one or two and a
melting glance or so, and the rebellion in his bosom was quelled at

But with the captain her wiles were not so readily successful.  He
had no hopes of winning her to wife - haply no desire, since he was
not a man of very great ambitions.  On the other hand, he had
against him the very worst record in France, and for all that he
might embark upon this business under the auspices of the Lord
Seneschal himself, he knew not how far the Lord Seneschal might dare
to go thereafter to save him from a hanging, should it come to that.

He said as much in words.  In a business of this kind, he knew from
experience, the more difficulties he advanced, the better a bargain
he drove in the end; and if he was to be persuaded to risk his neck
in this, he should want good payment.  But even for good payment on
this occasion he was none too sure as yet that he would let himself
be persuaded.

"Monsieur Fortunio," the Marquise said, very softly," heed not
Monsieur Marius's words.  Attend to me.  The Marquis de Condillac,
as no doubt you will have learned for yourself, is lying at La
Rochette.  Now it happens that he is noxious to us - let the reasons
be what they may.  We need a friend to put him out of our way.  Will
you be that friend?"

"You will observe," sneered Marius, "how wide a difference there is
between what the Marquise suggests and my own frank question of what
price you would take to cut my brother's throat."

"I observe no difference, which is what you would say," Fortunio
answered truculently, his head well back, his brown eyes resentful
of offence - for none can be so resentful of imputed villainy as
your villain who is thorough-paced.  "And," he concluded, "I return
you the same answer, madame - that I am no cut-throat."

She repressed her anger at Marius's sneering interference, and made
a little gesture of dismay with her eloquent white hands.

"But we do not ask you to cut a throat."

"I have heard amiss, then," said he, his insolence abating nothing.

"You have heard aright, but you have understood amiss.  There are
other ways of doing these things.  If it were but the cutting of a
throat, should we have sent for you?  There are a dozen in the
garrison would have sufficed for our purpose."

"What is it, then, you need?" quoth he.

"We want an affair contrived with all decency.  The Marquis is at
the Sanglier Noir at La Rochette.  You can have no difficulty in
finding him, and having found him, less difficulty still in giving
or provoking insult."

"Excellent," murmured Marius from the background.  "It is such an
enterprise as should please a ready swordsman of your calibre,

"A duel?" quoth the fellow, and his insolence went out of him,
thrust out by sheer dismay; his mouth fell open.  A duel was another
affair altogether.  "But, Sangdieu! what if he should slay me?  Have
you thought of that?"

"Slay you?" cried the Marquise, her eyes resting on his face with
an expression as of wonder at such a question.  "You jest,

"And he with the fever," put in Marius, sneering.

"Ah!" muttered Fortunio.  "He has the fever?  The fever is something.
But - but - accidents will happen."

"Florimond was ever an indifferent swordsman," murmured Marius
dreamily, as if communing with himself.

The captain wheeled upon him once more.

"Why, then, Monsieur Marius," said he, "since that is so and you
are skilled - as skilled as am I, or more - and he has a fever,
where is the need to hire me to the task?"

"Where?" echoed Marius.  "What affair may that be of yours?  We
ask you to name a price on which you will do this thing.  Have
done with counter-questions."

Marius was skilled with the foils, as Fortunio said, but he cared
not for unbaited steel, and he was conscious of it, so that the
captain's half-sneer had touched him on the raw.  But he was
foolish to take that tone in answer.  There was a truculent,
Southern pride in the ruffler which sprang immediately into life
and which naught that they could say thereafter would stamp out.

"Must I say again that you mistake your man?" was his retort, and
as he spoke he rose, as though to signify that the subject wearied
him and that his remaining to pursue it must be idle.  "I am not
of those to whom you can say: `I need such an one killed, name me
the price at which you'll be his butcher."'

The Marquise wrung her hands in pretty mimicry of despair, and
poured out soothing words, as one might pour oil upon stormy
waters.  The Seneschal sat in stolid silence, a half-scared
spectator of this odd scene, what time the Marquise talked and
talked until she had brought Fortunio back to some measure of

Such reasoning as she made use of she climaxed by an offer of no
less a sum than a hundred pistoles.  The captain licked his lips
and pulled at his mustachios.  For all his vaunted scorn of being
a butcher at a price, now that he heard the price he seemed not
half so scornful.

"Tell me again the thing that you need doing and the manner of it,"
said he, as one who was moved to reconsider.  She told him, and
when she had done he made a compromise.

"If I go upon this business, madame, I go not alone."

"Oh, as for that," said Marius, "it shall be as you will.  Take what
men you want with you."

"And hang with them afterwards, maybe," he sneered, his insolence
returning.  "The hundred pistoles would avail me little then.  Look
you, Monsieur de Condillac, and you, madame, if I go, I'll need to
take with me a better hostage than the whole garrison of this place.
I'll need for shield some one who will see to it that he is not hurt
himself, just as I shall see to it that he is hurt before I am."

"What do you mean?  Speak out, Fortunio," the Marquise bade him.

"I mean, madame, that I will go, not to do this thing, but to stand
by and render help if help be needed.  Let Monsieur de Condillac go,
and I will go with him, and I will undertake to see to it that he
returns unhurt and that we leave the other stark."

Both started, and the Seneschal leaned heavily upon the table.  He
was not, with all his faults, a man of blood, and this talk of
butchery turned him sick and faint.

Vainly now did the Marquise seek to alter the captain's resolution;
but in this she received a sudden check from Marius himself.  He
cut in upon her arguments to ask the captain:

"How can you promise so much?  Do you mean that you and I must fall
upon him?  You forget that he will have men about him.  A duel is
one thing, a rough-and-tumble another, and we shall fare none so
well in this, I'm thinking."

The captain closed one eye, and a leer of subtle cunning overspread
his face.

"I've thought of that," said he.  "Neither a duel nor a
rough-and-tumble do I propose, but something between the two;
something that shall seem a duel yet be a rough-and-tumble."

"Explain yourself."

"What further explanation does it ask?  We come upon Monsieur le
Marquis where his men are not.  We penetrate, let us say, into his
chamber.  I turn the key in the door.  We are alone with him and you
provoke him.  He is angry, and must fight you there and then.  I am
your friend; I must fill the office of second for both sides.  You
engage, and I stand aside and let you fight it out.  You say he is
indifferently skilled with the sword, and, in addition, that he has
a fever.  Thus you should contrive to put your steel through him,
and a duel it will have been.  But if by luck or skill he should
have you in danger, I shall be at hand to flick in my sword at the
right moment and make an opening through which you may send yours

"Believe me it were better - " began the Dowager.  But Marius, who
of a sudden was much taken with the notion, again broke in.

"Are you to be depended upon to make no mistake, Fortunio?"

"Per Bacco!" swore the ruffler.  "A mistake must cost me a hundred
pistoles.  I think you may depend upon me there.  If I err at all,
it will be on the side of eagerness to see you make short work of
him.  You have my answer now, monsieur.  If we talk all night, you
shall not move me further.  But if my proposal suits you, I am your

"And I yours, Fortunio," answered Marius, and there was a ring
almost of exultation in his voice.

The Dowager looked from one to the other, as if she were weighing
the men and satisfying herself that Marius ran no risk.  She put
a question or two to her son, another to the captain; then, seeming
satisfied with what had been agreed, she nodded her head and told
them they had best be stirring with the dawn.

"You will have light enough by half-past six.  Do not delay later
in taking the road.  And see that you are back here by nightfall;
I shall be anxious till you are returned."

She poured wine again for the captain, and Marius coming up to the
table filled himself a glass, which he tossed off.  The Marquise
was speaking to Tressan.

"Will you not drink to the success of the venture?" she asked him,
in a coaxing tone, her eyes upon his own.  "I think we are like to
see the end of our troubles now, monsieur, and Marius shall be
lord both of Condillac and La Vauvraye."

And the gross, foolish Seneschal, under the spell of her magnificent
eyes, slowly raised his cup to his lips and drank to the success
of that murderous business.  Marius stood still, a frown between
his eyes haled thither by the mention of La Vauvraye.  He might be
winning it, as his mother said, but he would have preferred to have
won it differently.  Then the frown was smoothed away; a sardonic
smile replaced it; another cup of wine he poured himself.  Then,
without word to any there, he turned on his heel and went from the
room, a trifle unsteady in his gait, yet with such lines of
purposefulness in the way he bore himself that the three of them
stared after him in dull surprise.



In her apartments in the Northern Tower Valerie had supped, and -
to spare Monsieur de Garnache the full indignity of that part of
the offices he was charged with - she had herself removed the cloth
and set the things in the guard-room, where they might lie till
morning.  When that was done - and despite her protests, Garnache
had insisted upon lending a hand the Parisian reminded her that it
was already after nine, and urged her to make such preparations as
incumbed her for their journey.

"My preparations are soon made," she assured him with a smile.  "I
need but what I may carry in a cloak."

They fell to talking of their impending flight, and they laughed
together at the discomfiture that would be the Dowager's and her
son's when, in the morning, they came to discover the empty cage.
>From that they passed on to talk of Valerie herself, of her earlier
life at La Vauvraye, and later the conversation shifted to Garnache,
and she questioned him touching the warring he had seen in early
youth, and afterwards asked him for particulars of Paris - that
wonderful city which to her mind was the only earthly parallel of
Paradise - and of the life at Court.

Thus in intimate talk did they while away the time of waiting, and
in the hour that sped they came, perhaps, to know more of each
other than they had done hitherto.  Intimate, indeed, had they
unconsciously become already.  Their singular position, locked
together in that tower - a position utterly impossible under any
but the conditions that attended it - had conduced to that
good-fellowship, whilst the girl's trust and dependence upon the
man, the man's observance of that trust, and his determination to
show her that it had not been misplaced, had done the rest.

But to-night they seemed to have drawn nearer in spirit to each
other, and that, maybe, it was that prompted Valerie to sigh, and

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