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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Suitors Of Yvonne - Chapter 16. The Way Of Woman
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The Suitors Of Yvonne - Chapter 16. The Way Of Woman Post by :karrine Category :Long Stories Author :Rafael Sabatini Date :May 2012 Read :3513

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The Suitors Of Yvonne - Chapter 16. The Way Of Woman

CHAPTER XVI. THE WAY OF WOMAN

For all that I realised that this love of mine for Yvonne was as a child still-born--a thing that had no existence save in the heart that had begotten it--I rejoiced meanly at the thought that she was not destined to become Andrea's wife. For since I understood that this woman--who to me was like no other of her sex--was not for so poor a thing as Gaston de Luynes, like the dog in the fable I wished that no other might possess her. Inevitable it seemed that sooner or later one must come who would woo and win her. But ere that befell, my Lord Cardinal would have meted out justice to me--the justice of the rope meseemed--and I should not be by to gnash my teeth in jealousy.

That evening, when the Chevalier de Canaples had gone to pay a visit to his vineyard,--the thing that, next to himself, he loved most in this world,--and whilst Genevieve and Andrea were vowing a deathless love to each other in the rose garden, their favourite haunt when the Chevalier was absent, I seized the opportunity for making my adieux to Yvonne.

We were leaning together upon the balustrade of the terrace, and our faces were turned towards the river and the wooded shores beyond--a landscape this that was as alive and beautiful now as it had been dead and grey when first I came to Canaples two months ago.

Scarce were my first words spoken when she turned towards me, and methought--but I was mad, I told myself--that there was a catch in her voice as she exclaimed, "You are leaving us, Monsieur?"

"To-morrow morning I shall crave Monsieur your father's permission to quit Canaples."

"But why, Monsieur? Have we not made you happy here?"

"So happy, Mademoiselle," I answered with fervour, "that at times it passes my belief that I am indeed Gaston de Luynes. But go I must. My honour demands of me this sacrifice."

And in answer to the look of astonishment that filled her wondrous eyes, I told her what I had told Andrea touching my parole to Montresor, and the necessity of its redemption. As Andrea had done, she also dubbed it madness, but her glance was, nevertheless, so full of admiration, that methought to have earned it was worth the immolation of liberty--of life perchance; who could say?

"Before I go, Mademoiselle," I pursued, looking straight before me as I spoke, and dimly conscious that her glance was bent upon my face--"before I go, I fain would thank you for all that you have done for me here. Your care has saved my life, Mademoiselle; your kindness, methinks, has saved my soul. For it seems to me that I am no longer the same man whom Michelot fished out of the Loire that night two months ago. I would thank you, Mademoiselle, for the happiness that has been mine during the past few days--a happiness such as for years has not fallen to my lot. To another and worthier man, the task of thanking you might be an easy one; but to me, who know myself to be so far beneath you, the obligation is so overwhelming that I know of no words to fitly express it."

"Monsieur, Monsieur, I beseech you! Already you have said overmuch."

"Nay, Mademoiselle; not half enough."

"Have you forgotten, then, what you did for me? Our trivial service to you is but unseemly recompense. What other man would have come to my rescue as you came, with such odds against you--and forgetting the affronting words wherewith that very day I had met your warning? Tell me, Monsieur, who would have done that?"

"Why, any man who deemed himself a gentleman, and who possessed such knowledge as I had."

She laughed a laugh of unbelief.

"You are mistaken, sir," she answered. "The deed was worthy of one of those preux chevaliers we read of, and I have never known but one man capable of accomplishing it."

Those words and the tone wherein they were uttered set my brain on fire. I turned towards her; our glances met, and her eyes--those eyes that but a while ago had never looked on me without avowing the disdain wherein she had held me--were now filled with a light of kindliness, of sympathy, of tenderness that seemed more than I could endure.

Already my hand was thrust into the bosom of my doublet, and my fingers were about to drag forth that little shred of green velvet that I had found in the coppice on the day of her abduction, and that I had kept ever since as one keeps the relic of a departed saint. Another moment and I should have poured out the story of the mad, hopeless passion that filled my heart to bursting, when of a sudden--"Yvonne, Yvonne!" came Genevieve's fresh voice from the other end of the terrace. The spell of that moment was broken.

Methought Mademoiselle made a little gesture of impatience as she answered her sister's call; then, with a word of apology, she left me.

Half dazed by the emotions that had made sport of me, I leaned over the balustrade, and with my elbows on the stone and my chin on my palms, I stared stupidly before me, thanking God for having sent Genevieve in time to save me from again earning Mademoiselle's scorn. For as I grew sober I did not doubt that with scorn she would have met the wild words that already trembled on my lips.

I laughed harshly and aloud, such a laugh as those in Hell may vent. "Gaston, Gaston!" I muttered, "at thirty-two you are more a fool than ever you were at twenty."

I told myself then that my fancy had vested her tone and look with a kindliness far beyond that which they contained, and as I thought of how I had deemed impatient the little gesture wherewith she had greeted Genevieve's interruption I laughed again.

From the reverie into which, naturally enough, I lapsed, it was Mademoiselle who aroused me. She stood beside me with an unrest of manner so unusual in her, that straightway I guessed the substance of her talk with Genevieve.

"So, Mademoiselle," I said, without waiting for her to speak, "you have learned what is afoot?"

"I have," she answered. "That they love each other is no news to me. That they intend to wed does not surprise me. But that they should contemplate a secret marriage passes my comprehension."

I cleared my throat as men will when about to embark upon a perilous subject with no starting-point determined.

"It is time, Mademoiselle," I began, "that you should learn the true cause of M. de Mancini's presence at Canaples. It will enlighten you touching his motives for a secret wedding. Had things fallen out as was intended by those who planned his visit--Monsieur your father and my Lord Cardinal--it is improbable that you would ever have heard that which it now becomes necessary that I should tell you. I trust, Mademoiselle," I continued, "that you will hear me in a neutral spirit, without permitting your personal feelings to enter into your consideration of that which I shall unfold."

"So long a preface augurs anything but well," she interposed, looking monstrous serious.

"Not ill, at least, I hope. Hear me then. Your father and his Eminence are friends; the one has a daughter who is said to be very wealthy and whom he, with fond ambition, desires to see wedded to a man who can give her an illustrious name; the other possesses a nephew whom he can ennoble by the highest title that a man may bear who is not a prince of the blood,--and borne indeed by few who are not,--and whom he desires to see contract an alliance that will bring him enough of riches to enable him to bear his title with becoming dignity." I glanced at Mademoiselle, whose cheeks were growing an ominous red.

"Well, Mademoiselle," I continued, "your father and Monseigneur de Mazarin appear to have bared their heart's desire to each other, and M. de Mancini was sent to Canaples to woo and win your father's elder daughter."

A long pause followed, during which she stood with face aflame, averted eyes, and heaving bosom, betraying the feelings that stormed within her at the disclosure of the bargain whereof she had been a part. At length--"Oh, Monsieur!" she exclaimed in a choking voice, and clenching her shapely hands, "to think--"

"I beseech you not to think, Mademoiselle," I interrupted calmly, for, having taken the first plunge, I was now master of myself. "The ironical little god, whom the ancients painted with bandaged eyes, has led M. de Mancini by the nose in this matter, and things have gone awry for the plotters. There, Mademoiselle, you have the reason for a clandestine union. Did Monsieur your father guess how Andrea's affections have"--I caught the word "miscarried" betimes, and substituted--"gone against his wishes, his opposition is not a thing to be doubted."

"Are you sure there is no mistake?" she inquired after a pause. "Is all this really true, Monsieur?"

"It is, indeed."

"But how comes it that my father has seen naught of what has been so plain to me--that M. de Mancini was ever at my sister's side?"

"Your father, Mademoiselle, is much engrossed in his vineyard. Moreover, when the Chevalier has been at hand he has been careful to show no greater regard for the one than for the other of you. I instructed him in this duplicity many weeks ago."

She looked at me for a moment.

"Oh, Monsieur," she cried passionately, "how deep is my humiliation! To think that I was made a part of so vile a bargain! Oh, I am glad that M. de Mancini has proved above the sordid task to which they set him--glad that he will dupe the Cardinal and my father."

"So am not I, Mademoiselle," I exclaimed. She vouchsafed me a stare of ineffable surprise.

"How?

"Diable!" I answered. "I am M. de Mancini's friend. It was to shield him that I fought your brother; again, because of my attitude towards him was it that I went perilously near assassination at Reaux. Enemies sprang up about him when the Cardinal's matrimonial projects became known. Your brother picked a quarrel with him, and when I had dealt with your brother, St. Auban appeared, and after St. Auban there were others. When it is known that he has played this trick upon 'Uncle Giulio' his enemies will disappear; but, on the other hand, his prospects will all be blighted, and for that I am sorry."

"So that was the motive of your duel with Eugene!"

"At last you learn it."

"And," she added in a curious voice, "you would have been better pleased had M. de Mancini carried out his uncle's wishes?"

"It matters little what I would think, Mademoiselle," I answered guardedly, for I could not read that curious tone of hers.

"Nevertheless, I am curious to hear your answer."

What answer could I make? The truth--that for all my fine talk, I was at heart and in a sense right glad that she was not to become Andrea's wife--would have seemed ungallant. Moreover, I must have added the explanation that I desired to see her no man's wife, so that I might not seem to contradict myself. Therefore--

"In truth, Mademoiselle," I answered, lying glibly, "it would have given me more pleasure had Andrea chosen to obey his Eminence."

Her manner froze upon the instant.

"In the consideration of your friend's advancement," she replied, half contemptuously, "you forget, M. de Luynes, to consider me. Am I, then, a thing to be bartered into the hands of the first fortune-hunter who woos me because he has been bidden so to do, and who is to marry me for political purposes? Pshaw, M. de Luynes!" she added, with a scornful laugh, "after all, I was a fool to expect aught else from--"

She checked herself abruptly, and a sudden access of mercy left the stinging "you" unuttered. I stood by, dumb and sheepish, not understanding how the words that I had deemed gallant could have brought this tempest down upon my head. Before I could say aught that might have righted matters, or perchance made them worse--"Since you leave Canaples to-morrow," quoth she, "I will say 'Adieu,' Monsieur, for it is unlikely that we shall meet again."

With a slight inclination of her head, and withholding her hand intentionally, she moved away, whilst I stood, as only a fool or a statue would stand, and watched her go.

Once she paused, and, indeed, half turned, whereupon hope knocked at my heart again; but before I had admitted it, she had resumed her walk towards the house. Hungrily I followed her graceful, lissom figure with my eyes until she had crossed the threshold. Then, with a dull ache in my breast, I flung myself upon a stone seat, and, addressing myself to the setting sun for want of a better audience, I roundly cursed her sex for the knottiest puzzle that had ever plagued the mind of man in the unravelling.

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