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

disturbing effect upon the Dowager; the words he uttered, when she
had weighed them, brought an immense relief.  It seemed, then, that
he but needed convincing that this was Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye.
This argued that for the rest he was satisfied.

"There, monsieur, you are at fault," she cried, and she was smiling
into his grave eyes.  "Because once I put that jest upon you, you
imagine - "

"No, no," he broke in.  "You misapprehend me.  I do not say that
this is not Mademoiselle de La Vauvraye; I do not say that - "

He paused; he was at the end of his resources.  He did not know how
to put the thing without giving offence, and it had been his resolve
 - realizing the necessity for it - to conduct this matter with a
grave courtesy.

To feel that after having carried the affair so far with a for him
 - commendable lightness of touch, he should be at a loss for a
delicate word to convey a harsh accusation began to anger him.  And
once Garnache began to be angered, the rest followed quickly.  It
was just that flaw in his character that had been the ruin of him,
that had blighted what otherwise might have been a brilliant career.
Astute and wily as a fox, brave as a lion, and active as a panther,
gifted with intelligence, insight and resource, he had carried a
dozen enterprises up to the very threshold of success, there to have
ruined them all by giving way to some sudden access of choler.

So was it now.  His pause was but momentary.  Yet in that moment,
from calm and freezing that he had been, he became ruffled and hot.
The change was visible in his heightened colour, in his flashing
eyes, and in his twitching mustachios.  For just a second he sought
to smother his wrath; he had a glimmer of remembrance of the need
for caution and diplomacy in the darkness of anger that was
descending over him.  Then, without further warning, he exploded.

His nervous, sinewy hand clenched itself and fell with a crash upon
the table, overturning a flagon and sending a lake of wine across
the board, to trickle over at a dozen points and form in puddles at
the feet of Valerie.  Startled, they all watched him, mademoiselle
the most startled of the three.

"Madame," he thundered, "I have been receiving dancing-lessons at
your hands for long enough.  It is time, I think, we did a little
ordinary walking, else shall we get no farther along the road I mean
to go and that is the road to Paris with mademoiselle for company."

"Monsieur, monsieur!" cried the startled Marquise, placing herself
intrepidly before him; and Marius trembled for her, for so wild did
the man seem that he almost feared he might strike her.

"I have heard enough," he blazed.  "Not another word from any here
in Condillac!  I'll take this lady with me now, at once; and if any
here raises a finger to resist me, as Heaven is my witness, it will
be the last resistance he will ever offer any man.  Let a hand be
laid upon me, or a sword bared before my eyes, and I swear, madame,
that I'll come back and burn this dunghill of rebellion to the

In the blindness of his passion all his fine keenness was cast to
the wind, his all-observing watchfulness was smothered in the cloud
of anger that oppressed his brain.  He never saw the sign that
madame made to her son, never so much as noticed Marius's stealthy
progress towards the door.

"Oh," he continued, a satirical note running now through his
tempestuous voice, "it is a fine thing to cozen each other with
honeyed words, with smirks and with grimaces.  But we have done
with that, madame."  He towered grimly above her, shaking a
threatening finger in her very face.  "We have done with that.  We
shall resort to deeds, instead."

"Aye, monsieur," she answered very coldly, sneering upon his
red-hot fury, "there shall be deeds enough to satisfy even your
outrageous thirst for them."

That cold, sneering voice, with its note of threat, was like a hand
of ice upon his overheated brain.  It cooled him on the instant.
He stiffened, and looked about him.  He saw that Marius had
disappeared, and that mademoiselle had risen and was regarding him
with singularly imploring eyes.

He bit his lip in mortified chagrin.  He cursed himself inwardly
for a fool and a dolt - the more pitiable because he accounted
himself cunning above others.  Had he but kept his temper, had he
done no more than maintain the happy pretence that he was a slave
to the orders he had received - a mere machine - he might have
gained his ends by sheer audacity.  At least, his way of retreat
would have remained open, and he might have gone, to return another
day with force at his heels.

As it was, that pretty whelp, her son, had been sent, no doubt, for
men.  He stepped up to Valerie.

"Are you ready, mademoiselle?" said he; for little hope though he
might still have of winning through, yet he must do the best to
repair the damage that was of his making.

She saw that the storm of passion had passed, and she was infected
by the sudden, desperate daring that prompted that question of his.

"I am ready, monsieur," said she, and her boyish voice had an
intrepid ring.  "I will come with you as I am."

"Then, in God's name, let us be going."

They moved together towards the door, with never another glance for
the Dowager where she stood, patting the head of the hound that had
risen and come to stand beside her.  In silence she watched them,
a sinister smile upon her beautiful, ivory face.

Then came a sound of feet and voices in the anteroom.  The door was
flung violently open, and a half-dozen men with naked swords came
blundering into the room, Marius bringing up the rear.

With a cry of fear Valerie shrank back against the panelled wall,
her little hands to her cheeks, her eyes dilating with alarm.

Garnache's sword rasped out, an oath rattled from his clenched teeth,
and he fell on guard.  The men paused, and took his measure.  Marius
urged them on, as if they had been a pack of dogs.

"At him!" he snapped, his finger pointing, his handsome eyes flashing
angrily.  "Cut him down!"

They moved; but mademoiselle moved at the same moment.  She sprang
before them, between their swords and their prey.

"You shall not do it; you shall not do it!" she cried, and her face
looked drawn, her eyes distraught.  "It is murder - murder, you
curs!"  And the memory of how that dainty little lady stood undaunted
before so much bared steel, to shield him from those assassins, was
one that abode ever after with Garnache.

"Mademoiselle," said he, in a quiet voice, "if you will but stand
aside there will be some murder done among them first."

But she did not move.  Marius clenched his hands, fretted by the
delay.  The Dowager looked on and smiled and patted her dog's head.
To her mademoiselle now turned in appeal.

"Madame," she exclaimed, "you'll not allow it.  You'll not let them
do this thing.  Bid them put up their swords, madame.  Bethink you
that Monsieur de Garnache is here in the Queen's name."

Too well did madame bethink her of it.  Garnache need not plague
himself with vexation that his rash temper alone had wrought his
ruin now.  It had but accelerated it.  It was just possible, perhaps,
that suavity might have offered him opportunities; but, for the rest,
from the moment that he showed himself firm in his resolve to carry
mademoiselle to Paris, his doom was sealed.  Madame would never
willingly have allowed him to leave Condillac alive, for she realized
that did she do so he would stir up trouble enough to have them
outlawed.  He must perish here, and be forgotten.  If questions came
to be asked later, Condillac would know nothing of him.

"Monsieur de Garnache promised us some fine deeds on his own account,"
she mocked him.  "We but afford him the opportunity to perform them.
If these be not enough for his exceeding valour, there are more men
without whom we can summon."

A feeling of pity for mademoiselle - perhaps of no more than
decency - now overcame Marius.  He stepped forward.

"Valerie," he said, "it is not fitting you should remain."

"Aye, take her hence," the Dowager bade him, with a smile.  "Her
presence is unmanning our fine Parisian."

Eager to do so, over-eager, Marius came forward, past his men-at-arms,
until he was but some three paces from the girl and just out of reach
of a sudden dart of Garnache's sword.

Softly, very warily, Garnache slipped his right foot a little farther
to the right.  Suddenly he threw his weight upon it, so that he was
clear of the girl.  Before they understood what he was about, the
thing had taken place.  He had leaped forward, caught the young man
by the breast of his shimmering doublet, leaped back to shelter
beyond mademoiselle, hurled Marius to the ground, and planted his
foot, shod as it was in his thickly mudded riding-boot, full upon
the boy's long, shapely neck.

"Move so much as a finger, my pretty fellow," he snapped at him,
"and I'll crush the life from you as from a toad."

There was a sudden forward movement on the part of the men; but if
Garnache was vicious, he was calm.  Were he again to lose his temper
now, there would indeed be a speedy end to him.  That much he knew,
and kept repeating to himself, lest he should be tempted to forget

"Back!" he bade them in a voice so imperative that they stopped,
and looked on with gaping mouths.  "Back, or he perishes!"  And
dropping the point of his sword, he lightly rested it upon the
young man's breast.

In dismay they looked to the Dowager for instruction.  She craned
forward, the smile gone from her lips, a horror in her eyes, her
bosom heaving.  A moment ago she had smiled upon mademoiselle's
outward signs of fear; had mademoiselle been so minded, she might
in her turn have smiled now at the terror written large upon the
Dowager's own face.  But her attention was all absorbed by the
swiftly executed act by which Garnache had gained at least a
temporary advantage.

She had turned and looked at the strange spectacle of that dauntless
man, erect, his foot upon Marius's neck, like some fantastic figure
of a contemporary Saint George and a contemporary dragon.  She
pressed her hands tighter upon her bosom; her eyes sparkled with an
odd approval of that brisk deed.

But Garnache's watchful eyes were upon the Dowager.  He read the
anxious fear that marred the beauty of her face, and he took heart
at the sight, for he was dependent upon the extent to which he might
work upon her feelings.

"You smiled just now, madame, when it was intended to butcher a man
before your eyes.  You smile no longer, I observe, at this the first
of the fine deeds I promised you."

"Let him go," she said, and her voice was scarce louder than a
whisper, horror-laden.  "Let him go, monsieur, if you would save
your own neck."

"At that price, yes - though, believe me, you are paying too much
for so poor a life as this.  Still, you value the thing, and I hold
it; and so you'll forgive me if I am extortionate."

"Release him, and, in God's name, go your ways.  None shall stay
you," she promised him.

He smiled.  "I'll need some security for that.  I do not choose to
take your word for it, Madame de Condillac."

"What security can I give you?" she cried, wringing her hands, her
eyes on the boy's ashen face ashen from mingling fear and rage -
where it showed beyond Garnache's heavy boot.

"Bid one of your knaves summon my servant.  I left him awaiting me
in the courtyard."

The order was given, and one of the cut-throats departed.

In a tense and anxious silence they awaited his return, though he
kept them but an instant.

Rabecque's eyes took on a startled look when he had viewed the
situation.  Garnache called to him to deprive those present of their

"And let none refuse, or offer him violence," he added, "or your
master's life shall pay the price of it."

The Dowager with a ready anxiety repeated to them his commands.
Rabecque, understanding nothing, went from man to man, and received
from each his weapons.  He placed the armful on the windowseat, at
the far end of the apartment, as Garnache bade him.  At the other
end of the long room, Garnache ordered the disarmed men to range
themselves.  When that was done, the Parisian removed his foot from
his victim's neck.

"Stand up," he commanded, and Marius very readily obeyed him.

Garnache placed himself immediately behind the boy.  "Madame," said
he, "no harm shall come to your son if he is but wise.  Let him
disobey me, or let any man in Condillac lift a hand against us, and
that shall be the signal for Monsieur de Condillac's death.
Mademoiselle, it is your wish to accompany me to Paris?"

"Yes, monsieur," she answered fearlessly, her eyes sparkling now.

"We will be going then.  Place yourself alongside of Monsieur de
Condillac.  Rabecque, follow me.  Forward, Monsieur de Condillac.
You will be so good as to conduct us to our horses in the courtyard."

They made an odd procession as they marched out of the hall, under
the sullen eyes of the baulked cut-throats and their mistress.  On
the threshold Garnache paused, and looked over his shoulder.

"Are you content, madame?  Have you seen fine deeds enough for one
day?" he asked her, laughing.  But, white to the lips with chagrin,
she returned no answer.

Garnache and his party crossed the anteroom, after having taken the
precaution to lock the door upon the Marquise and her men, and
proceeding down a gloomy passage they gained the courtyard.  Here
Marius was consoled to find some men of the garrison of Condillac a
half-score, or so - all more or less armed, surrounding the horses
of Garnache and his lackey.  At sight of the odd group that now
appeared those ruffians stood at gaze, surprised, and with suspicions
aroused by Garnache's naked sword, ready for anything their master
might demand of them.

Marius had in that instant a gleam of hope.  Thus far, Garnache had
been master of the situation.  But surely the position would be
reversed when Garnache and his man came to mount their horses,
particularly considering how hampered they must be by Valerie.  This
danger Garnache, however, was no less quick to perceive, and with a
dismaying promptness did he take his measures.

"Remember," he threatened Monsieur de Condillac, "if any of your men
show their teeth it will be the worse for you."  They had come to a
halt on the threshold of the courtyard.  "You will be so good as to
bid them retreat through that doorway across the yard yonder."

Marius hesitated.  "And if I refuse?" he demanded hardily, but
keeping his back to Garnache.  The men stirred, and stray words of
mingling wonder and anger reached the Parisian.

"You will not," said Garnache, with quiet confidence.

"I think you make too sure," Marius replied, and dissembled his
misgivings in a short laugh.  Garnache became impatient.  His
position was not being improved by delay.

"Monsieur de Condillac," said he, speaking quickly and yet with an
incisiveness of tone that made his words sound deliberate, "I am a
desperate man in a desperate position.  Every moment that I tarry

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: