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

instead of some message to this purport, you sent Monsieur de
Tressan back to me with a girl taken from some kitchen or barnyard,
whom it was sought to pass off upon me as Mademoiselle de La

The Marquise laughed, and her son, who had shown signs of
perturbation, taking his cue from her, laughed too.

"It was a jest, monsieur" - she told him, miserably conscious that
the explanation could sound no lamer.

"My compliments, madame, upon the humour that prevails in Dauphiny.
But your jest failed of its purpose.  It did not amuse me, nor, so
far as I could discern, was Monsieur de Tressan greatly taken with
it.  But all this is of little moment, madame," he continued.
"Since you tell me that Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye is content to
remain here, I am satisfied that it is so."

They were the very words that she desired to hear from him; yet his
manner of uttering them gave her little reassurance.  The smile on
her lips was forced; her watchful eyes smiled not at all.

"Still," he continued, "you will be so good as to remember that I
am not my own master in this affair.  Were that so, I should not
fail to relieve you at once of my unbidden presence."

"Oh, monsieur - "

"But, being the Queen's emissary, I have her orders to obey, and
those orders are to convey Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye to Paris.
They make no allowance for any change that may have occurred in
mademoiselle's inclinations.  If the journey is now distasteful to
her, she has but her own rashness to blame in having sought it
herself.  What imports is that she is bidden by the Queen to repair
to Paris; as a loyal subject she must obey the Queen's commands;
you, as a loyal subject, must see to it that she obeys them.  So,
madame, I count upon your influence with mademoiselle to see that
she is ready to set out by noon to-morrow.  One day already has
been wasted me by your - ah - jest, madame.  The Queen likes her
ambassadors to be brisk."

The Dowager reclined in her chair, and bit her lip.  This man was
too keen for her.  She had no illusions.  He had seen through her
as if she had been made of glass; he had penetrated her artifices
and detected her falsehoods.  Yet feigning to believe her and them,
he had first neutralized her only weapons - other than offensive -
then used them for her own defeat.  Marius it was who took up the

"Monsieur," he cried - and there was a frown drawing together his
fine brows - "what you suggest amounts to a tyranny on the Queen's

Garnache was on his feet, his chair grating the polished floor.

"Monsieur says?" quoth he, his glittering eye challenging the rash
boy to repeat his words.

But the Dowager intervened with a little trill of laughter.

"Bon Dieu!  Marius, what are you saying?  Foolish boy!  And you,
Monsieur de Garnache, do not heed him, I beg you.  We are so far
from Court in this little corner of Dauphiny, and my son has been
reared in so free an atmosphere that he is sometimes betrayed into
expressions whose impropriety he does not realize."

Garnache bowed in token of his perfect satisfaction, and at that
moment two servants entered bearing flagons and beakers, fruits and
sweetmeats, which they placed upon the table.  The Dowager rose,
and went to do the honours of the board.  The servants withdrew.

"You will taste our wine of Condillac, monsieur?"

He acquiesced, expressing thanks, and watched her fill a beaker for
him, one for herself, and another for her son.  She brought him the
cup in her hands.  He took it with a grave inclination of the head.
Then she proffered him the sweetmeats.  To take one, he set down the
cup on the table, by which he had also come to stand.  His left hand
was gloved and held his beaver and whip.

She nibbled, herself, at one of the comfits, and he followed her
example.  The boy, a trifle sullen since the last words, stood on
the hearth with his back to the fire, his hands clasped behind him.

"Monsieur," she said, "do you think it would enable you to comply
with what I have signified to be not only our own wishes, but those
of Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye herself, if she were to state them
to you?"

He looked up sharply, his lips parting in a smile that revealed his
strong white teeth.

"Are you proposing another of your jests, madame?"

She laughed outright.  A wonderful assurance was hers, thought
Monsieur de Garnache.  "Mon Dieu! no, monsieur," she cried.  "If
you will, you may see the lady herself."

He took a turn in the apartment, idly, as does a man in thought.

"Very well," said he, at last.  "I do not say that it will alter my
determination.  But perhaps - yes, I should be glad of an opportunity
of the honour of making Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye's acquaintance.
But no impersonations, I beg, madame!"  He said it half-laughingly,
taking his cue from her.

"You need have no fear of any."

She walked to the door, opened it, and called "Gaston!"  In answer
came the page whom Garnache had found in the room when he was

"Desire Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye to come to us here at once,"
she bade the boy, and closed the door.

Garnache had been all eyes for some furtive sign, some whispered
word; but he had surprised neither.

His pacing had brought him to the opposite end of the board, where
stood the cup of wine madame had poured for Marius.  His own,
Garnache, had left untouched.  As if abstractedly, he now took up
the beaker, pledged madame with his glance, and drank.  She watched
him, and suddenly a suspicion darted through her mind - a suspicion
that he suspected them.

Dieu!  What a man was this!  He took no chances.  Madame reflected
that this augured ill for the success of the last resource upon
which, should all else fail, she was counting to keep mademoiselle
at Condillac.  It seemed incredible that one so wary and watchful
should have committed the rashness of venturing alone into Condillac
without taking his precautions to ensure his ability to retreat.

In her heart she felt daunted by him.  But in the matter of that
wine - the faintest of smiles hovered ion her lips, her eyebrows
went up a shade.  Then she took up the cup that had been poured for
the Parisian, and bore it to her son.

"Marius, you are not drinking," said she.  And seeing a command in
her eyes; he took the beaker from her hand and bore it to his lips,
emptying the half of it, whilst with the faintest smile of scorn the
Dowager swept Garnache a glance of protest, as of one repudiating
an unworthy challenge.

Then the door opened, and the eyes of all three were centred upon
the girl that entered.



You sent for me, madame," said the girl, seeming to hesitate upon
the threshold of the room, and her voice - a pleasant, boyish
contralto - was very cold and conveyed a suggestion of disdain.

The Marquise detected that inauspicious note, and was moved by it
to regret her already of having embarked upon so bold a game as to
confront Monsieur de Garnache with Valerie.  It was a step she had
decided upon as a last means of convincing the Parisian of the truth
of her statement touching the change that had taken place in
mademoiselle's inclinations.  And she had provided for it as soon
as she heard of Garnache's arrival by informing mademoiselle that
should she be sent for, she must tell the gentleman from Paris that
it was her wish to remain at Condillac.  Mademoiselle had
incontinently refused, and madame, to win her compliance, had
resorted to threats.

"You will do as you consider best, of course," she had said, in a
voice that was ominously sweet.  "But I promise you that if you do
otherwise than as I tell you, you shall be married before sunset to
Marius, whether you be willing or not.  Monsieur de Garnache comes
alone, and if I so will it alone he shall depart or not at all.  I
have men enough at Condillac to see my orders carried out, no matter
what they be.

"You may tell yourself that this fellow will return to help you.
Perhaps he will; but when he does, it will be too late so far as you
shall be concerned."

Terrified by that threat, Valerie had blenched, and had felt her
spirit deserting her.

"And if I comply, madame?" she had asked.  "If I do as you wish, if
I tell this gentleman that I no longer desire to go to Paris - what

The Dowager's manner had become more affectionate.  She had patted
the shrinking girl upon the shoulder.  "In that case, Valerie, you
shall suffer no constraint; you shall continue here as you have done."

"And has there been no constraint hitherto?" had been the girl's
indignant rejoinder.

"Hardly, child," the Dowager had returned.  "We have sought to
guide you to a wise choice - no more than that.  Nor shall we do
more hereafter if you do my pleasure now and give this Monsieur de
Garnache the answer that I bid you.  But if you fail me, remember
 - you marry Marius before nightfall."

She had not waited for the girl to promise her compliance.  She was
too clever a woman to show anxiety on that score.  She left her with
that threat vibrating in her mind, confident that she would scare
the girl into obedience by the very assurance she exhibited that
Valerie would not dare to disobey.

But now, at the sound of that chill voice, at the sight of that calm,
resolved countenance, madame was regretting that she had not stayed
to receive the girl's promise before she made so very sure of her

She glanced anxiously at Garnache.  His eyes were upon the girl.  He
was remarking the slender, supple figure, moderately tall and looking
taller in its black gown of mourning; the oval face, a trifle pale
now from the agitation that stirred her, with its fine level brows,
its clear, hazel eyes, and its crown of lustrous brown hair rolled
back under the daintiest of white coifs.  His glance dwelt
appreciatively on the slender nose, with its delicate nostrils, the
charming line of mouth and chin, the dazzling whiteness of her skin,
conspicuous not only in neck and face but in the long, slender hands
that were clasped before her.

These signs of breeding, everywhere proclaimed, left him content
that here was no imposture; the girl before him was, indeed, Valerie
de La Vauvraye.

At madame's invitation she came forward.  Marius hastened to close
the door and to set a chair for her, his manner an admirable
suggestion of ardour restrained by deference.

She sat down with an outward calm under which none would have
suspected the full extent of her agitation, and she bent her eyes
upon the man whom the Queen had sent for her deliverance.

After all, Garnache's appearance was hardly suggestive of the role
of Perseus which had been thrust upon him.  She saw a tall, spare
man, with prominent cheek-bones, a gaunt, high-bridged nose, very
fierce mustachios, and a pair of eyes that were as keen as
sword-blades and felt to her glance as penetrating.  There was
little about him like to take a woman's fancy or claim more than a
moderate share of her attention, even when circumstances rendered
her as interested in him as was now Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye.

There fell a silence, broken at last by Marius, who leaned, a
supple, graceful figure, his elbow resting upon the summit of
Valerie's chair.

"Monsieur de Garnache does us the injustice to find a difficulty
in believing that you no longer wish to leave us."

That was by no means what Garnache had implied; still, since it
really expressed his mind, he did not trouble to correct Marius.

Valerie said nothing, but her eyes travelled to madame's countenance,
where she found a frown.  Garnache observed the silence, and drew
his own conclusions.

"So we have sent for you, Valerie," said the Dowager, taking up her
son's sentence, "that you may yourself assure Monsieur de Garnache
that it is so."

Her voice was stern; it bore to the girl's ears a subtle, unworded
repetition of the threat the Marquise had already voiced.
Mademoiselle caught it, and Garnache caught it too, although he
failed to interpret it as precisely as he would have liked.

The girl seemed to experience a difficulty in answering.  Her eyes
roved to Garnache's, and fell away in affright before their glitter.
That man's glance seemed to read her very mind, she thought; and
suddenly the reflection that had terrified her became her hope.  If
it were as she deemed it, what matter what she said?  He would know
the truth, in spite of all.

"Yes, madame," she said at last, and her voice was wholly void of
expression.  "Yes, monsieur, it is as madame says.  It is my wish
to remain at Condillac."

>From the Dowager, standing a pace or two away from Garnache, came
the sound of a half-sigh.  Garnache missed nothing.  He caught the
sound, and accepted it as an expression of relief.  The Marquise
stepped back a pace; idly, one might have thought; not so thought
Garnache.  It had this advantage: that it enabled her to stand where
he might not watch her face without turning his head.  He was content
that such was her motive.  To defeat her object, to show her that he
had guessed it, he stepped back, too, also with that same idleness
of air, so that he was once more in line with her.  And then he
spoke, addressing Valerie.

"Mademoiselle, that you should have written to the Queen in haste
is deplorable now that your views have undergone this change.  I am
a stupid man, mademoiselle, just a blunt soldier with orders to
obey and no authority to think.  My orders are to conduct you to
Paris.  Your will was not taken into consideration.  I know not how
the Queen would have me act, seeing your reluctance; it may be that
she would elect to leave you here, as you desire.  But it is not
for me to arrogate to determine the Queen's mind.  I can but be
guided by her orders, and those orders leave me no course but one
 - to ask you, mademoiselle, to make ready immediately to go with

The look of relief that swept into Valerie's face, the little flush
of colour that warmed her cheeks, hitherto so pale, were all the
confirmation that he needed of what he suspected.

"But, monsieur," said Marius, "it must be plain to you that since
the Queen's orders are but a compliance with mademoiselle's wishes,
now that mademoiselle's wishes have altered, so too would Her
Majesty's commands alter to comply with them once more"

"That may be plain to you, monsieur; for me, unfortunately, there
are my orders for only guide," Garnache persisted.  "Does not
mademoiselle herself agree with me?"

She was about to speak; her glance had looked eager, her lips had
parted.  Then, of a sudden, the little colour faded from her cheeks
again, and she seemed stricken with a silence.  Garnache's eyes,
directed in a sidelong glance to the Marquise's face, surprised
there a frown that had prompted that sudden change.

He half-turned, his manner changing suddenly to a freezing civility.

"Madame la Marquise," said he, "I beg with all deference to suggest
that I am not allowed the interview you promised me with Mademoiselle
de La Vauvraye."

The ominous coldness with which he had begun to speak had had a

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: