List Of Contents | Contents of The Suitors of Yvonne, by Rafael Sabatini
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I have seen fear of many sorts writ large upon the faces of men of many
conditions--from the awe that blanches the cheek of the boy soldier when
first he hears the cannon thundering to the terror that glazes the eye of
the vanquished swordsman who at every moment expects the deadly point in
his heart.  But never had I gazed upon a countenance filled with such
abject ghastly terror as that which came over St. Auban's when his eyes met
mine that night.

He sprang up with an inarticulate cry that sank into something that I can
but liken to the rattle which issues from the throat of expiring men.  For
a second he stood where he had risen, then terror loosened his knees, and
he sank back into his chair.  His mouth fell open, and the trembling lips
were drawn down at the corners like those of a sobbing child; his cheeks
turned whiter than the lawn collar at his throat, and his eyes, wide open
in a horrid stare, were fixed on mine and, powerless to avert them, he met
my gaze--cold, stern, and implacable.

For a moment we remained thus, and I marvelled greatly to see a man whose
heart, if full of evil, I had yet deemed stout enough, stricken by fear
into so parlous and pitiful a condition.

Then I had the explanation of it as he lifted his right hand and made the
sign of the cross, first upon himself, then in the air, whilst his lips
moved, and I guessed that to himself he was muttering some prayer of
exorcising purport.  There was the solution of the terror--sweat that stood
out in beads upon his brow--he had deemed me a spectre; the spectre of a
man he believed to have foully done to death on a spot across the Loire
visible from the window at my back.

At last he sufficiently mastered himself to break the awful silence.

"What do you want?" he whispered; then, his voice gaining power as he used
it-- "Speak," he commanded.  "Man or devil, speak!"

I laughed for answer, harshly, mockingly; for never had I known a fiercer,
crueller mood.  At the sound of that laugh, satanical though may have been
its ring, he sprang up again, and unsheathing a dagger he took a step
towards me.

"We shall see of what you are made," he cried.  "If you blast me in the
act, I'll strike you!"

I laughed again, and raising my arm I gave him the nozzle of a pistol to

"Stand where you are, St. Auban, or, by the God above us, I'll send your
ghost a-wandering," quoth I coolly.

My voice, which I take it had nothing ghostly in it, and still more the
levelled pistol, which of all implements is the most unghostly, dispelled
his dread.  The colour crept slowly back to his cheeks, and his mouth
closed with a snap of determination.

"Is it, indeed, you, master meddler?" he said.  "Peste!  I thought you dead
these three months."

"And you are overcome with joy to find that you were in error, eh, Marquis? 
We Luynes die hard."

"It seems so, indeed," he answered with a cool effrontery past crediting in
one who but a moment ago had looked so pitiful.  "What do you seek at

"Many things, Marquis.  You among others."

"You have come to murder me," he cried, and again alarm overspread his

"Hoity, toity, Marquis!  We do not all follow the same trade.  Who talks of
murder?  Faugh!"

Again he took a step towards me, but again the nozzle of my pistol drove
him back.  To have pistoled him there and then as he deserved would have
brought the household about my ears, and that would have defeated my
object.  To have fallen upon him and slain him with silent steel would have
equally embarrassed me, as you shall understand anon.

"You and I had a rendezvous at St. Sulpice des Reaux," I said calmly, "to
which you came with a band of hired assassins.  For this you deserve to be
shot like the dog you are.  But I have it in my heart to be generous to
you," I added in a tone of irony.  "Come, take up your sword."

"To what purpose?"

"Do you question me?  Take up your sword, man, and do my bidding; thus
shall you have a slender chance of life.  Refuse and I pistol you without
compunction.  So now put on that wig and mask."

When he obeyed me in this--"Now listen, St. Auban," I said.  "You and I are
going together to that willow copse whither three months ago you lured
Yvonne de Canaples for the purpose of abducting her.  On that spot you and
I shall presently face each other sword in hand, with none other to witness
our meeting save God, in whose hands the issue lies.  That is your chance;
at the first sign that you meditate playing me any tricks, that chance is
lost to you."  And I tapped my pistol significantly.  "Now climb out
through that window."

When he had done so, I bade him stand six paces away whilst I followed, and
to discourage any foolish indiscretion on his part I again showed him my

He answered me with an impatient gesture, and by the light that fell on his
face I saw him sneer.

"Come on, you fool," he snarled, "and have done threatening.  I'll talk to
you in the copse.  And tread softly lest you arouse the sentry on the other

Rejoiced to see the man so wide awake in him, I followed him closely across
the terrace, and through the rose garden to the bank of the river.  This we
followed until we came at last to the belt of willows, where, having found
a suitable patch of even and springy turf, I drew my sword and invited him
to make ready.

"Will you not strip?" he inquired sullenly.

"I do not think so," I answered.  "The night air is sharp.  Nevertheless,
do you make ready as best you deem fit, and that speedily, Monsieur."

With an exclamation of contempt, he divested himself of his wig, mask, and
doublet, then drawing his sword, he came forward, and announced himself at
my disposal.

As well you may conceive, we wasted no time in compliments, but straightway
went to work, and that with a zest that drew sparks from our rapiers at the
first contact.

The Marquis attacked me furiously, and therein lay his only chance; for a
fierce, rude sword-play that is easily dealt with in broad daylight is
vastly discomposing in such pale moonshine as lighted us.  I defended
myself warily, for of a sudden I had grown conscious of the danger that I
ran did he once by luck or strength get past my guard with that point of
his which in the spare light I could not follow closely enough to feel

'Neath the fury of his onslaught I was compelled to break ground more than
once, and each time he was so swift to follow up his advantage that I had
ne'er a chance to retaliate.

Still fear or doubt of the issue I had none.  I needed but to wait until
the Marquis's fury was spent by want of breath, to make an end of it.  And
presently that which I waited for came about.  His attack began to lag in
vigour, and the pressure of his blade to need less resistance, whilst his
breathing grew noisy as that of a broken-winded horse.  Then with the rage
of a gambler who loses at every throw, he cursed and reviled me with every
thrust or lunge that I turned aside.

My turn was come; yet I held back, and let him spend his strength to the
utmost drop, whilst with my elbow close against my side and by an easy play
of wrist, I diverted each murderous stroke of his point that came again and
again for my heart.

When at last he had wasted in blasphemies what little breath his wild
exertions had left him, I let him feel on his blade the twist that heralded
my first riposte.  He caught the thrust, and retreated a step, his
blasphemous tongue silenced, and his livid face bathed in perspiration.

Cruelly I toyed with him then, and with every disengagement I made him
realise that he was mastered, and that if I withheld the coup de grâce it
was but to prolong his agony.  And to add to the bitterness of that agony
of his, I derided him whilst I fenced; with a recitation of his many sins I
mocked him, showing him how ripe he was for hell, and asking him how it
felt to die unshriven with such a load upon his soul.

Goaded to rage by my bitter words, he grit his teeth, and gathered what
rags of strength were left him for a final effort, And before I knew what
he was about, he had dropped on to his left knee, and with his body thrown
forward and supported within a foot of the ground by his left arm, he came,
like a snake, under my guard with his point directed upwards.

So swift had been this movement and so unlooked-for, that had I not sprung
backwards in the very nick of time, this narrative of mine had ne'er been
written.  With a jeering laugh I knocked aside his sword, but even as I
disengaged, to thrust at him, he knelt up and caught my blade in his left
hand, and for all that it ate its way through the flesh to the very bones
of his fingers, he clung to it with that fierce strength and blind courage
that is born of despair.

Then raising himself on his knees again, he struck at me wildly.  I swung
aside, and as his sword, missing its goal, shot past me, I caught his wrist
in a grip from which I contemptuously invited him to free himself.  With
that began a fierce tugging and panting on both sides, which, however, was
of short duration, for presently, my blade, having severed the last sinew
of his fingers, was set free.  Simultaneously I let go his wrist, pushing
his arm from me so violently that in his exhausted condition it caused him
to fall over on his side.

In an instant, however, he was up and at me again.  Again our swords
clashed--but once only.  It was time to finish.  With a vigorous
disengagement I got past his feeble guard and sent my blade into him full
in the middle of his chest and out again at his back until a foot or so of
glittering steel protruded.

A shudder ran through him, and his mouth worked oddly, whilst spasmodically
he still sought, without avail, to raise his sword; then as I recovered my
blade, a half-stifled cry broke from his lips, and throwing up his arms, he
staggered and fell in a heap.

As I turned him over to see if he were dead, his eyes met mine, and were
full of piteous entreaty; his lips moved, and presently I caught the words:

"I am sped, Luynes."  Then struggling up, and in a louder voice: "A
priest!" he gasped.  "Get me a priest, Luynes.  Jesu!  Have mer--"

A rush of blood choked him and cut short his utterance.  He writhed and
twitched for a moment, then his chin sank forward and he fell back, death
starkening his limbs and glazing the eyes which stared hideously upwards at
the cold, pitiless moon.

Such was the passing of the Marquis César de St. Auban.



For a little while I stood gazing down at my work, my mind full of the
unsolvable mysteries of life and death; then I bethought me that time stood
not still for me, and that something yet remained to be accomplished ere my
evening's task were done.

And forthwith I made shift to do a thing at the memory of which my blood is
chilled and my soul is filled with loathing even now--albeit the gulf of
many years separates me from that June night at Canaples.

To pass succinctly o'er an episode on which I have scant heart to tarry,
suffice it you to know that using my sash as a rope I bound a heavy stone
to St. Auban's ankle; then lifting the body in my arms, I half dragged,
half bore it across the little stretch of intervening sward to the water's
edge, and flung it in.

As I write I have the hideous picture in my mind, and again I can see St.
Auban's ghastly face grinning up at me through the moonlit waters, until at
last it was mercifully swallowed up in their black depths, and naught but a
circling wavelet that spread swiftly across the stream was left to tell of
what had chanced.

I dare not dwell upon the feelings that assailed me as I stooped to rinse
the blood from my hands, nor yet of the feverish haste wherewith I tore my
blood-stained doublet from my back, and hurled it wide into the stream. 
For all my callousness I was sick and unmanned by that which had befallen.

No time, however, did I waste in mawkish sentiment, but setting my teeth
hard, I turned away from the river, and back to the trampled ground of our
recent conflict.  There, with no other witness save the moon, I clad myself
in the Marquis's doublet of black velvet; I set his mask of silk upon my
face, his golden wig upon my head, and over that his sable hat with its
drooping feather.  Next I buckled on his sword belt, wherefrom hung his
rapier that I had sheathed.

In Blois that day I had taken the precaution--knowing the errand upon which
I came--to procure myself haut-de-chausses of black velvet, and black
leather boots with gilt spurs that closely resembled those which St. Auban
had worn in life.

Now, as I have already written, St. Auban and I were of much the same build
and stature, and so methought with confidence that he would have shrewd
eyes, indeed, who could infer from my appearance that I was other than the
same masked gentleman who had that very day ridden into Canaples at the
head of a troop of his Eminence's guards.

I made my way swiftly back along the path that St. Auban and I had together
trodden but a little while ago, and past the château until I came to the
shrubbery where Michelot--faithful to the orders I had given him--awaited
my return.  From his concealment he had seen me leave the château with the
Marquis, and as I suddenly loomed up before him now, he took me for the man
whose clothes I wore, and naturally enough assumed that ill had befallen
Gaston de Luynes.  Of a certainty I had been pistolled by him had I not
spoken in time.  I lingered but to give him certain necessary orders; then,
whilst he went off to join Abdon and see to their fulfilment, I made my way
stealthily, with eyes keeping watch around me, across the terrace, and
through the window into the room that St. Auban had left to follow me to
his death.

The tapers still burned, and in all respects the chamber was as it had
been; the back and breast pieces still lay upon the floor, and on the table
the littered documents.  The door I ascertained had been locked on the
inside, a precaution which St. Auban had no doubt taken so that none might
spy upon the work that busied him.

I closed and made fast the window, then I bethought me that, being in
ignorance of the whereabouts of St. Auban's bed-chamber, I must perforce
spend the night as best I could within that very room.

And so I sat me down and pondered deeply o'er the work that was to come,
the part I was about to play, and the details of its playing.  In this
manner did I while away perchance an hour; through the next one I must have
slept, for I awakened with a start to find three tapers spent and the last
one spluttering, and in the sky the streaks that heralded the summer dawn.

Again I fell to thinking; again I slept, and woke again to find the night
gone and the sunlight on my face.  Someone knocked at the door, and that
knocking vibrated through my brain and set me wide-awake, indeed.  It was
as the signal to uplift the curtain and let my play-acting commence.

Hastily I rose and shot a glance at the mirror to see that my wig hung
straight and that my mask was rightly adjusted.  I started at my own

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