reflection, for methought that from the glass 't was St. Auban who looked at me, as I had seen him look the night before when he had donned those things at my command. "Holà there, within!" came Montrésor's voice. "Monsieur le Capitaine!" A fresh shower of blows descended on the oak panels. I yawned with prodigious sonority, and overturned a chair with my foot. Then bracing myself for the ordeal, through which I looked to what scant information I possessed and my own mother wit, to bear me successfully, I strode across to admit my visitor. Muffling my voice, as I had heard St. Auban do at the inn, by drawing my nether lip over my teeth-- "Pardieu!" quoth I, as I opened the door, "it seems, Lieutenant, that I must have fallen asleep over those musty documents." I trembled as I watched him, waiting for his reply, and I thanked Heaven that in the rôle I had assumed a mask was worn, not only because it hid my features, but because it hid the emotions which these might have betrayed. "I was beginning to fear," he replied coldly, and without so much as looking at me, "that worse had befallen you." I breathed again. "You mean--?" "Pooh, nothing," said he half contemptuously. "Only methinks 't were well whilst we remain at Canaples that you do not spend your nights in a room within such easy access of the terrace." "Your advice no doubt is sound, but as I shall not spend another night at Canaples, it comes too late." "You mean, Monsieur--?" "That we set out for Paris to-day." He shrugged his shoulders. "Oh, ça! I have just visited the stables, and there are not four horses fit for the journey. So that unless you have in mind the purchase of fresh animals--" "Pish! My purse is not bottomless," I broke in, repeating the very words that I heard St. Auban utter. "So you said once before, Monsieur. Still, unless you are prepared to take that course, the only alternative is to remain here until the horses are sufficiently recovered. But perhaps you think of walking?" he added with a sniff. "Such is your opinion, your time being worthless and it being of little moment where you spend it. I have conceived a plan." "Ah!" "Has it not occurred to you that the danger which threatens us and which calls for the protection of a troop is only on this side of the Loire, where the Blaisois might be minded to attempt a rescue of the Chevalier? But over yonder, Chevalier, on the Chambord side, who cares a fig for the Lord of Canaples or his fate? None; is it not so?" He made an assenting gesture, whereupon I continued: "This being so, I have bethought me that it will suffice if I take but three or four men and the sergeant as an escort, and cross the river with our prisoner after nightfall, travelling along the opposite shore until we reach Orleans. What think you, Lieutenant?" He shrugged his shoulders again. "'T is you who command here," he answered with apathy, "not I." "Nevertheless, do you not think the plan a safe one, as well as one that will allay his Eminence's very natural impatience?" "Oh, it is safe enough, I doubt not," he replied coldly. "Your enthusiasm determines me," quoth I, with an irony that made him wince. "And we will follow the plan, since you agree with me touching its excellence. But keep the matter to yourself until an hour or so after sunset." He bowed, so utterly my dupe that I could have laughed at him. Then-- "There is a little matter that I would mention," he said. "Mademoiselle de Canaples has expressed a wish to accompany her father to Paris and has asked me whether this will be permitted her." My heart leaped. Surely the gods fought on my side! "I cannot permit it," I answered icily. "Monsieur, you are pitiless," he protested in a tone of indignation for which I would gladly have embraced him. I feigned to ponder. "The matter needs consideration. Tell Mademoiselle that I will discuss it with her at noon, if she will condescend to await me on the terrace; I will then give her my definite reply. And now, Lieutenant, let us breakfast." As completely as I had duped Montrésor did I presently dupe those of the troopers with whom I came in contact, among others the sergeant--and anon the Chevalier himself. From the brief interview that I had with him I discovered that whilst he but vaguely suspected me to be St. Auban--and when I say "he suspected me" I mean he suspected him whose place I had taken--he was, nevertheless, aware of the profit which his captor, whoever he might be, derived from this business. It soon grew clear to me from what he said that St. Auban had mocked him with it whilst concealing his identity; that he had told him how he had obtained from Malpertuis the treasonable letter, and of the bargain which it had enabled him to strike with Mazarin. I did not long remain in his company, and, deeming the time not yet ripe for disclosures, I said little in answer to his lengthy tirades, which had, I guessed, for scope to trap me into betraying the identity he but suspected. It wanted a few minutes to noon as I left the room in which the old nobleman was confined, and by the door of which a trooper was stationed, musket on shoulder. With every pulse a-throbbing at the thought of my approaching interview with Mademoiselle, I made my way below and out into the bright sunshine, the soldiers I chanced to meet saluting me as I passed them. On the terrace I found Mademoiselle already awaiting me. She was standing, as often I had seen her stand, with her back turned towards me and her elbows resting upon the balustrade. But as my step sounded behind her, she turned, and stood gazing at me with a face so grief-stricken and pale that I burned to unmask and set her torturing fears at rest. I doffed my hat and greeted her with a silent bow, which she contemptuously disregarded. "My lieutenant tells me, Mademoiselle," said I in my counterfeited voice, "that it is your desire to bear Monsieur your father company upon this journey of his to Paris." "With your permission, sir," she answered in a choking voice. "It is a matter for consideration, Mademoiselle," I pursued. "There are in it many features that may have escaped you, and which I shall discuss with you if you will honour me by stepping into the garden below." "Why will not the terrace serve?" "Because I may have that to say which I would not have overheard." She knit her brows and stared at me as though she would penetrate the black cloth that hid my face. At last she shrugged her shoulders, and letting her arms fall to her side in a gesture of helplessness and resignation-- "Soit; I will go with you," was all she said. Side by side we went down the steps as a pair of lovers might have gone, save that her face was white and drawn, and that her eyes looked straight before her, and never once, until we reached the gravel path below, at her companion. Side by side we walked along one of the rose-bordered alleys, until at length I stopped. "Mademoiselle," I said, speaking in the natural tones of that good-for- naught Gaston de Luynes, "I have already decided, and you have my permission to accompany your father." At the sound of my voice she started, and with her left hand clutching at the region of her heart, she stood, her head thrust forward, and on her face the look of one who is confronted with some awful doubt. That look was brief, however, and swift to replace it was one of hideous revelation. "In God's name, who are you?" she cried in accents that bespoke internal agony. "Already you have guessed it, Mademoiselle," I answered, and I would have added that which should have brought comfort to her distraught mind, when-- "You!" she gasped in a voice of profound horror. "You! You, the Judas who has sold my father to the Cardinal for a paltry share in our estates. And I believed that mask of yours to hide the face of St. Auban!" Her words froze me into a stony mass of insensibility. There was no logic in my attitude; I see it now. Appearances were all against me, and her belief no more than justified. I overlooked all this, and instead of saving time by recounting how I came to be there and thus delivering her from the anguish that was torturing her, I stood, dumb and cruel, cut to the quick by her scorn and her suspicions that I was capable of such a thing as she imputed, and listening to the dictates of an empty pride that prompted me to make her pay full penalty. "Oh, God pity me!" she wailed. "Have you naught to say?" Still I maintained my mad, resentful silence. And presently, as one who muses-- "You!" she said again. "You, whom I--" She stopped short. "Oh! The shame of it!" she moaned. Reason at last came uppermost, and as in my mind I completed her broken sentence, my heart gave a great throb and I was thawed to a gentler purpose. "Mademoiselle!" I exclaimed. But even as I spoke, she turned, and sweeping aside her gown that it might not touch me, she moved rapidly towards the steps we had just descended. Full of remorse, I sprang after her. "Mademoiselle! Hear me," I cried, and put forth my hand to stay her. Thereat she wheeled round and faced me, a blaze of fury in her grey eyes. "Dare not to touch me," she panted. "You thief, you hound!" I recoiled, and, like one turned to stone, I stood and watched her mount the steps, my feelings swaying violently between anger and sorrow. Then my eye fell upon Montrésor standing on the topmost step, and on his face there was a sneering, insolent smile which told me that he had heard the epithets she had bestowed upon me. Albeit I sought that day another interview with Yvonne, I did not gain it, and so I was forced to sun myself in solitude upon the terrace. But I cherished for my consolation that broken sentence of hers, whereby I read that the coldness which she had evinced for me before I left Canaples had only been assumed. And presently as I recalled what talks we had had, and one in particular from which it now appeared to me that her coldness had sprung, a light seemed suddenly to break upon my mind, as perchance it hath long ago broken upon the minds of those who may happen upon these pages, and whose wits in matters amorous are of a keener temper than were mine. I who in all things had been arrogant, presumptuous, and self-satisfied, had methought erred for once through over-humility. And, indeed, even as I sat and pondered on that June day, it seemed to me a thing incredible that she whom I accounted the most queenly and superb of women should have deigned to grant a tender thought to one so mean, so far beneath her as I had ever held myself to be. CHAPTER XXVI REPARATION Things came to pass that night as I had planned, and the fates which of late had smiled upon me were kind unto the end. Soon after ten, and before the moon had risen, a silent procession wended its way from the château to the river. First went Montrésor and two of his men; next came the Chevalier with Mademoiselle, and on either side of them a trooper; whilst I, in head-piece and back and breast of steel, went last with Mathurin, the sergeant--who warmly praised the plan I had devised for the conveyance of M. de Canaples to Paris without further loss of time. Two boats which I had caused to be secretly procured were in readiness, and by these a couple of soldiers awaited us, holding the bridles of eight horses, one of which was equipped with a lady's saddle. Five of these belonged--or had belonged--to the Chevalier, whilst the others were three of those that had brought the troop from Paris, and which I, in the teeth of all protestations, had adjudged sufficiently recovered for the return journey. The embarkation was safely effected, M. de Canaples and Mademoiselle in one boat with Montrésor, Mathurin, and myself; the sergeant took the oars; Montrésor and I kept watch over our prisoner. In the other boat came the four troopers, who were to accompany us, and one other who was to take the boats, and Montrésor in them, back to Canaples. For the lieutenant was returning, so that he might, with the remainder of the troop, follow us to Paris so soon as the condition of the horses would permit it. The beasts we took with us were swimming the stream, guided and upheld by the men in the other boat. Just as the moon began to show her face our bow grated on the shore at the very point where I had intended that we should land. I sprang out and turned to assist Mademoiselle. But, disdaining my proffered hand, she stepped ashore unaided. The Chevalier came next, and after him Montrésor and Mathurin. Awhile we waited until the troopers brought their boat to land, then when they had got the snorting animals safely ashore, I bade them look to the prisoner, and requested Montrésor and Mathurin to step aside with me, as I had something to communicate to them. Walking between the pair, I drew them some twenty paces away from the group by the water, towards a certain thicket in which I had bidden Michelot await me. "It has occurred to me, Messieurs," I began, speaking slowly and deliberately as we paced along,--"it has occurred to me that despite all the precautions taken to carry out my Lord Cardinal's wishes--a work at least in which you, yourselves, have evinced a degree of zeal that I cannot too highly commend to his Eminence--the possibility yet remains of some mistake of trivial appearance, of some slight flaw that might yet cause the miscarriage of those wishes." They turned towards me, and although I could not make out the expressions of their faces, in the gloom, yet I doubted not but that they were puzzled ones at that lengthy and apparently meaningless harangue. The sergeant was the first to speak, albeit I am certain that he understood the less. "I venture, M. le Capitaine, to think that your fears, though very natural, are groundless." "Say you so?" quoth I, with a backward glance to assure myself that we were screened by the trees from the eyes of those behind us. "Say you so? Well, well, mayhap you are right, though you speak of my fears being groundless. I alluded to some possible mistake of yours--yours and M. de Montrésor's--not of mine. And, by Heaven, a monstrous flaw there is in this business, for if either of you so much as whisper I'll blow your brains out!" And to emphasise these words, as sinister as they were unlooked-for, I raised both hands suddenly from beneath my cloak, and clapped the cold nose of a pistol to the head of each of them. I was obeyed as men are obeyed who thus uncompromisingly prove the force of their commands. Seeing them resigned, I whistled softly, and in answer there was a rustle from among the neighbouring trees, and presently two shadows emerged from the thicket. In less time than it takes me to relate it, Montrésor and his sergeant found themselves gagged, and each securely bound to a tree. Then, with Michelot and Abdon following a short distance behind me, I made my way back to the troopers, and, feigning to stumble as I approached, I hurtled so violently against two of them that I knocked the pair headlong into the stream. Scarce was it done, and almost before the remaining three had realised it, there was a pistol at the head of each of them and sweet promises of an eternal hereafter being whispered in their ears. They bore themselves with charming discretion, and like lambs we led them each to a tree and dealt with them as we had dealt with their officers, whilst the Chevalier and his daughter watched us, bewildered and dumfounded at what they saw. As soon as the other two had crawled--all unconscious of the fates of their comrades--out of the river, we served them also in a like manner. Bidding Abdon and Michelot lead the horses, and still speaking in my assumed voice, I desired Mademoiselle and the Chevalier--who had not yet sufficiently recovered from his bewilderment to have found his tongue--to follow me. I led the way up the gentle slope to the spot where our first victims were pinioned. Montrésor's comely young face looked monstrous wicked in the moonlight, and his eyes rolled curiously as he beheld me. Stepping up to him I freed him of his gag--an act which I had almost regretted a moment later, for he cleared his throat with so lusty a torrent of profanity that methought the heavens must have fallen on us. At last when he was done with that-- "Before you leave me in this plight, M. de St. Auban," quoth he, "perchance you will satisfy me with an explanation of your unfathomable deeds and of this violence." "St. Auban!" exclaimed the Chevalier. "St. Auban!" cried Yvonne. And albeit wonder rang in both their voices, yet their minds I knew went different ways. "No, not St. Auban," I answered with a laugh and putting aside all counterfeit of speech. "Par la mort Dieu! I know that voice," cried Montrésor. "Mayhap, indeed! And know you not this face?" And as I spoke I whipped away my wig and mask, and thrust my countenance close up to his. "Thunder of God!" ejaculated the boy. Then--"Pardieu," he added, "there is Michelot! How came I not to recognise him?" "Since you would not assist me, Montrésor, you see I was forced to do without you." "But St. Auban?" he gasped. "Where is he?" "In heaven, I hope--but I doubt it sadly." "You have killed him?" There and then, as briefly as I might, I told him, whilst the others stood by to listen, how I had come upon the Marquis in the château the night before and what had passed thereafter. "And now," I said, as I cut his bonds, "it grieves me to charge you with an impolite errand to his Eminence, but--" "I'll not return to him," he burst out. "I dare not. Mon Dieu, you have ruined me, Luynes!" "Then come with me, and I'll build your fortunes anew and on a sounder foundation. I have an influential letter in my pocket that should procure us fortune in the service of the King of Spain." He needed little pressing to fall in with my invitation, so we set the sergeant free, and him instead I charged with a message that must have given Mazarin endless pleasure when it was delivered to him. But he had the Canaples estates wherewith to console himself and his never-failing maxim that "chi canta, paga." Touching the Canaples estates, however, he did not long enjoy them, for when he went into exile, two years later, the Parliament returned them to their rightful owner. The Chevalier de Canaples approached me timidly. "Monsieur," quoth he, "I have wronged you very deeply. And this generous rescue of one who has so little merited your aid truly puts me to so much shame that I know not what thanks to offer you." "Then offer none, Monsieur," I answered, taking his proffered hand. "Moreover, time presses and we have a possible pursuit to baffle. So to horse, Monsieurs." I assisted Mademoiselle to mount, and she passively suffered me to do her this office, having no word for me, and keeping her face averted from my earnest gaze. I sighed as I turned to mount the horse Michelot held for me; but methinks 't was more a sigh of satisfaction than of pain. . . . . . . . . All that night we travelled and all next day until Tours was reached towards evening. There we halted for a sorely needed rest and for fresh horses. Three days later we arrived at Nantes, and a week from the night of the Chevalier's rescue we took ship from that port to Santander. That same evening, as I leaned upon the taffrail watching the distant coast line of my beloved France, whose soil meseemed I was not like to tread again for years, Yvonne came softly up behind me. "Monsieur," she said in a voice that trembled somewhat, "I have, indeed, misjudged you. The shame of it has made me hold aloof from you since we left Blois. I cannot tell you, Monsieur, how deep that shame has been, or with what sorrow I have been beset for the words I uttered at Canaples. Had I but paused to think--" "Nay, nay, Mademoiselle, 't was all my fault, I swear. I left you overlong the dupe of appearances." "But I should not have believed them so easily. Say that I am forgiven, Monsieur," she pleaded; "tell me what reparation I can make." "There is one reparation that you can make if you are so minded," I answered, "but 'tis a life-long reparation." They were bold words, indeed, but my voice played the coward and shook so vilely that it bereft them of half their boldness. But, ah, Dieu, what joy, what ecstasy was mine to see how they were read by her; to remark the rich, warm blood dyeing her cheeks in a bewitching blush; to behold the sparkle that brightened her matchless eyes as they met mine! "Yvonne!" "Gaston!" She was in my arms at last, and the work of reparation was begun whilst together we gazed across the sun-gilt sea towards the fading shores of France. If you be curious to learn how, guided by the gentle hand of her who plucked me from the vile ways that in my old life I had trodden, I have since achieved greatness, honour, and renown, History will tell you.
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