Samuel Walkey.

For the sake of the duchesse; a page from the life of the Vicomte de Championnet online

. (page 1 of 13)
Online LibrarySamuel WalkeyFor the sake of the duchesse; a page from the life of the Vicomte de Championnet → online text (page 1 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


r ®<^ Juki



I , (^



^



/ >



i



'/^'^@ OM€llie.Jl5



<L JkJ>





% vS.Walkey-



j




THE LIBRARY

OF

THE UNIVERSITY

OF CALIFORNIA



GIFT OF

Mary Randall



% fhr fi^^U^/i,




FOR THE SAKE OF THE DUCHESSE



FOR THE SAKE OF THE
DUCHESSE



H page from tbe %itc of tbe IDtcomte Oe
Cbampionnet



BY

S. WALKEY



»



NEW YORK

FREDERICK A. STOKES COMPANY

PUBLISHERS



Copyright, 1899,
By Frederick A. Stokes Company



GIFT •



.Ayv



CONTENTS



CHAP. PAGB

I. A ROYAL TEMPTER I

II. MADAME LA DUCHESSE MAKES LOVE 9

III. THE MIDNIGHT RIDE TO PONTIGNY 23

IV. THE DUEL AT NIGHT 32

V. CHEVERNY 47

VI. MADEMOISELLE SHOWS HER TEETH 60

VII. MONSIEUR IS A DEVIL 7^

VIII. M. LE MARQUIS IS FOILED 85

IX. THE INCONSISTENCIES OF WOMAN 94

X. THE cardinal's LETTERS IO4

XI. THE COMING OF MADAME LA DUCHESSE 117

XII. MADEMOISELLE AUR^LIE AT BAY 1 29

XIII. THE FACE AT THE WINDOW 14°

XIV. SILVAIN 1 58

XV. THE REGENT THREATENS 162

XVI. THE MARQUIS MAKES A CONFESSION I70

XVII. TRAGEDY I^I

XVIII. DE CHAMPIONNET PLAYS THE MAN I9I

XIX. LOVE OR HONOUR 199

XX. THE DUCHESSE WINS 2IO

XXI. SAINTE ROXANE 2I7

XXII. FOR THE SAKE OF MADEMOISELLE 229

XXIII. LIFE AND LOVE 236



ivi854J.i9



FOR THE SAKE OF THE DUCHESSE



CHAPTER I

A ROYAL TEMPTER

" No ! " I cried. " There's my answer, Monsei-
gneur ! "

'' Then you refuse to obey me ? "

" Absolutely," I returned. '* I am not a mur-
derer ! "

And with this I lounged off towards an oriel, leav-
ing the Regent of France and Dubois to stare at one
another across the wine-stained, card-strewn table.
Snow was driving against the windows of the Lux-
embourg, and a red gush of light, pouring from the
great portico out upon the wide, glittering gardens,
created a scene of exquisite romance that held me
chained, until a shuffling of feet caused me to glance'
round on my companions, and I saw that Dubois was
kindling some fresh candles. I hated Dubois ; he
was coarse to the marrow, despicably sleek and low,



2 FOR THE SAKE OF THE DUCHESSE

and had a vile habit of audibly sucking his teeth in
a manner which made me itch to tickle his lungs
with the point of my rapier ; and although this little
wretch had lured me to the Luxembourg on a pre-
tence that M. Due d'Orleans desired the loan of my
brain and my sword for a dangerous State mission, I
began to suspect he intended to make me his cat's-
paw in a devilish plot of his own conception.

He had set the Regent to ask me deliberately to
kill a man as though I were naught but a common
stabber, a black rogue, or a red rascal — me, Audran
de Championnet, a Vicomte of France and a gentle-
man ! What if it were true that I had fought
twenty duels in three years: what if my name had
been bandied to and fro by enemies as that of a
gambler, an adventurer, and a rufBing rogue, ready
to sell his sword to the highest bidder? None of
these slurs upon my free fashion of living a gay life
in my own way gave the Regent or Dubois a right
to imagine that money could buy my honour !

While I stayed raging in the oriel, Philippe d'Or-
leans called me by name, and I strolled back to the
table, caring no more for my illustrious companions
than if they had been fellow-drinkers at a tavern, and
fearing them not at all.

" Well, Monseigneur ? " I said, folding my arms,
and looking upon him with a burning eye.



A ROYAL TEMPTER 3

*' You were hasty, Vicomte," he replied. " You
allowed me no time to explain my position."

" It seemed too plain. You requested me to kill
a man, and I declined, so the matter is at an end.
With your permission, Monseigneur, I will take my
leave and retire."

And I caught up my hat and cloak.

" I beg you to wait a little," he cried, slipping his
arm through mine. " You fared ill at cards, and I
fear those few louis won by Dubois were all you
possessed."

The blood surged to my face and neck.

" I should like to see you often at Court, Vicomte.
At one time yours was a familiar figure, and my
daughter, the Duchesse de Berri, always regarded
you with something more, I think, than ordinary
admiration. Are your estates gone ? "

" All, Monseigneur ! "

*' You were ever a sad gamester."

I bowed.

'' And a fool."

I laughed.

" And an extremely bold, accomplished, and
charming rascal."

I bowed again.

" You honour me, Monseigneur."

" Where have you been the last two years?"



4 FOR THE SAKE OF THE DUCHESSE

" Making the most of a gay life, Monseigneur.'*

" Which has now come to an end."

*' All things have their price," I reflected.

" And yet your sword is priceless."

It was Dubois. He was sipping some Moselle
and glancing at me with a sly leer, and whenever his
lips were free from the glass he sucked his teeth
with maddening persistence.

*' And yet your sword is priceless," he repeated.
" Vicomte, His Highness the Regent has learned
that the Chevalier de Cheverny holds the strings of
another intrigue fostered by Cardinal Alberoni — an
intrigue which should be crushed within a month.
You are the man to crush it."

" France is at stake," said the Regent, looking
very stout and princely.

'' And Monseigneur's head may be in danger."

" Yours also, Abbe."

Dubois made a horrible grimace, and scowled at
me when I laughed.

*' You say Alberoni is implicated? " I said.

** Deeply. Come, de Championnet, here is a mis-
sion which will bring you riches, power, royal favour,
fame, honour "

I stopped him by a gesture.

'* A mission tainted by murder is scarcely an
honourable one, Monseigneur."



A ROYAL TEMPTER 5

" A mission full of romance — of danger, and of
subtlety," continued the Regent ; " and if hearsay
goes for aught, there is no man in Europe with so
great a love towards these things ^^ Audran de
Championnet. This is M. lAbbe's little plot, Vi-
comte. He has discovered that the heir to de
Cheverny's estates is his nephew, Silvain, a man
who was banished from France ten years ago for
some extraordinary crime."

" It was committed while I was his brother lieu-
tenant in the Royal Guards, Monseigneur."

" Exactly. You very much resemble one another
in appearance, I believe ? "

" The likeness often allowed me to take his place
in the guard-room while he diced, drank, or played
cards, and sometimes I claimed the same favour at his
hands."

" So Dubois told me."

" But how does he know.

" M. I'Abbe knows everything," said the Regent.

'* Yes, everything," said Dubois. " M. le Vi-
comte, this man has come to Paris from England,
and I have him safe in the Bastille. To-night I
will give him the Regent's pardon, set him free, and
then, while he makes his way to the Chevalier
de Cheverny's chateau, you will spring on his
trail, track him to his first halting-place, force a



6 FOR THE SAKE OF THE DUCHESSE

quarrel with the rogue, and run him through the
heart ! "

'' A great thought of yours, M. I'Abbe ! " I
cried, ironically.

" Superb ! " he purred, scratching the table with
his nails. " When he is dead, you will take posses-
sion of his papers and rings, particularly a signet
given him by the Chevalier, and ride on to the
Chateau de Cheverny, where I dare say you will re-
ceive an enthusiastic welcome, especially as you
will, of course, possess the pardon, establishing your
right as heir to the whole domain, and if your dis-
guise is perfect they will never so much as dream
their guest is anyone but Silvain."

'' Excellently worked out ! " I said.

*' The plot is sublime," returned Dubois. " When
you have entirely won the confidence of the Chev-
alier, search for the letters relating to the intrigue,
and send them to Monseigneur the Regent. He
will then hold the conspirators in the hollow of his
hand, and Alberoni shall be the laughing-stock of
Europe. After your work is done, name your price,
M. le Vicomte, and I do not think you will find us
niggardly. Can you suggest any improvement on
my proposals?"

" They are perfect, M. I'Abbe."

" And you believe they will work? "



A ROYAL TEMPTER 7

"Admirably, if you succeed in finding a man
with enough wit, craft, and baseness to carry
them through. Search for a rascal ; no one calling
himself a gentleman would touch so despicable a

plot ! "

The Regent started ; Dubois turned first white,
then purple, with rings of green around his eyes,
and I had a thought that the little wretch might
spit at me. He glanced up with a vicious flash
of his teeth, beating the table with skinny fingers,
and longing, I know, to feel them close upon my
throat.

" What if we command you to obey us, M. le
Vicomte?" he snarled, a fleck of froth quivering
upon his lips.

'' By my soul, I'd say no ! " I cried. " Nay, by
the God above me, I'd rot in the Bastille all my
days ; I'd die on the scaffold or be broken on the
wheel, before my hands should bear the red stain
of so foul a deed ! "

A great silence reigned in the chamber ; Dubois
watched the Regent, and the Regent watched Du-
bois until I tired of waiting, and swung away once
more to the oriel with debonair nonchalance, hum-
ming a snatch of a gay chanson. I heard mutter-
ings from behind, and a slight noise of pattering
feet, but I stood gazing out into the snowy night



8 FOR THE SAKE OF THE DUCHESSE

until the sounds dwindled to a long, intense stillness,
broken only by the merry crackling of the fire.

*' Ah, M. le Vicomte, you have come back to me
at last ! "

I spun round on my heel to find the Regent and
Dubois gone, and that I was alone with Madame la
Duchesse de Berri.



CHAPTER II

MADAME LA DUCHESSE MAKES LOVE

Madame floated towards me with both her little
white hands outstretched — a charming vision in
cream and gold, and although the oriel, shrouded by-
silken tapestry, lay in semi-darkness, the leaping fire-
light played upon the dazzling beauty of her face,
and I thought I had never seen any woman half
so fascinating — so splendid to the eye — so superb
in the grace and magnificent hauteur of her car-
riage.

She slid the tips of her fingers into my hands,
and I laid my lips upon them — all my heart seeming
to flame with unquenchable fire. A subtle perfume
from her hair floated around me, and I had a thirst
to crush her in my arms, even though I died on the
scaffold for my insolence — all my old, reckless,
hopeless passion for Madame waked and waked
again — long-forgotten ambitions stirred my soul
afresh, and while she stayed there laughing upon

pie with soft, alluring eye^whqse lustre no diamonds

9



lo FOR THE SAKE OF THE DUCHESSE

could surpass, whose beauty no sapphire could
equal, I dreamed dreams in which I soared high as
the lover and ultimately the husband — ay, even
the husband — of the daughter of the Regent of
France.

*' So you have come back to me," she murmured.
" Do you find me changed, Audran — less beautiful
— grown old ? "

" Madame, the rose is still in her first and loveli-
est bloom."

*' But the frost of widowhood has touched her."

" And left her more sublime."

" A widow at twenty," she reflected. " I seem to
be a hundred, at the very least. Perhaps my heart
was born old. How many summers have you lived,
Vicomte?"

" Thirty-five, Madame la Duchesse," I repHed.
" It is I who am the life-worn one."

" And the loveless ? "

Her eyes were challenging mine with a glance of
inimitable coquetry, and, finding no other answer
ready, I bowed. She glided away from me, nestling
back amid the silken tapestry until her face was
hidden. Presently she gave a little quick ripple of
laughter.

'* Were you never in love, Audran ? "

'' Once, Madame."



MADAME LA DUCIIESSE MAKES LOVE ii

**With me? I am concealing my face for mod-
esty's sake."

'' With you, Madame la Duchesse ! It was hope-
less, and I left Paris when you married M. le Due de
Berri."

" I was forced to marry him," she returned.
" Women's hearts are never free, Vicomte, and
'tis seldom love mates with love. I hear you have
gambled away all your demesne."

" It is true."

" And your delightful chateau?"

" It is mine no longer, Madame. I am simply
Audran de Championnet, a poor adventurer, driven
to sell his wits or his sword for a few louis with
which to buy wine and bread."

" And yet you were once so gay."

" I am gay still, Madame la Duchesse."

'' Have you never a regret ? "

** Regret is a foolish weakness that may be trod-
den upon," I replied, smiling.

" But not extinguished. Audran, there was a
night, long ago, when at Versailles you spoke to
me of love. Have you forgotten it ? "

** Madame, my memory was always extraordinary.
You were kind to me, if I recollect aright, and gave
me hope."

" I adored you," she whispered, stretching out her



12 FOR THE SAKE OF THE DUCHESSE

arms and letting the shimmery tapestry drop away
from her dazzling shoulders. " You were my hero,
my king ! "

I leapt forward, fell on my knees, and kissed her
hands afresh with burning kisses of passionate
adoration. All my love was young again — it had
blossomed anew, and Madame la Duchesse was
mine, mine, mine ! I arose and flung wide my arms
to her. What cared I now for the grey amid my
hair or the face furrowed by perished hopes ; for the
stained and ragged coat upon my back, my empty
purse and gambled patrimony ? Madame was my
queen, and had given me back a heart for love ;
Madame was my joy, and she had brought me
sweetness ; and to live for her would be my glory, to
fight for her my pride ; and I swore beneath my
breath that the man who dared stand 'twixt my love
and me should taste my bright sword to the hilt !
Ambition, too, had caught my soul, and I saw a
swift vision of myself as a great power in France,
second only to the Regent, for I would cause the
dismissal of Dubois and rid Philippe d'Orleans of a
pestilent rascal. And yet — and yet, if I staked my
peace and my fortune on this one mighty throw,
would my luck hold? Should I win through with
clean hands? Madame la Duchesse still retained
my fingers, although she had refrained from falling



MADAME LA DUCHESSE MAKES LOVE 13

on my breast ; and when I looked down into the
witchery of her eyes, shining like deep, unfathom-
able pools on which bright moonlight glittered, I saw
that they beckoned me still further along the path
of love.

" Will you yield yourself to me ? " I murmured.

" If I only dared ! " came the subtle answer.
"Audran, while our first love blossomed it was
plucked and cast aside. May it not be so again ? "

"Never!" I cried. *'You were young then,
Madame, and I was reckless. Naught on earth shall
part us a second time."

" But will my father consent ? You are homeless,
M. le Vicomte, and I do not think the Regent
would look on you with greater favour than he
showed before, unless you could accomplish some
great mission which might gain you his friendship
and gratitude. Even the Devil loves good serv-
ants ! "

She laughed ever so softly, leaning against my
shoulder in a manner which brought one stray tress
of her scented hair to float across my cheek, and I
slipped my arm around her waist, holding her very
close to me.

" You hurt me ! " she whispered. *' You are a
rough lover, Audran ! If I promise you my love,
what will you dare for my sake ? "



14 FOR THE SAKE OF THE DUCHESSE

''Anything in the world, Madame ! " I answered.
" I would almost sell my soul for you ! "

" Almost ? " she asked, taking my fingers and
raising them to her full, red lips.

"■ Nay, altogether ! " I said. " A man can do
without a soul in France in these days, Madame la
Duchesse."

'' I know a way by which, at one stroke, you may
claim the Regent's regard, and win riches and
honour," she mused, glancing at me with charming
sweetness.

" How ? " I asked, devouring her beauty.

** By procuring some papers from the Chevalier de
Cheverny," she whispered, setting her lips close to
my ear ; and my heart seemed to stand still. So
Madame, too, was in the plot ! I saw it all, and
cursed a thousand times my lack of wit in failing to
peer through this veil of artful and masterly diplo-
macy.

The Regent and Dubois, finding me firm, had
conspired to assail my heart by the wiles of the
Duchesse de Berri ! She continued to lean against
my shoulder, and my growing coldness made me
shiver. The chamber was almost entirely in gloom,
for the candles kindled by Dubois had guttered, one
by one, in their rich, heavy sconces, and were slowly
burning out.



MADAME LA DUCHESSE MAKES LOVE 15

The snow seemed to have ceased, for a bright
moonbeam crept through the glistening glass of the
great window, and lay like a silver ribbon about
our feet ; while another, striking higher, lighted
Madame's face, when she gently slid closer to me,
and lay at last upon my breast. I saw her eyes,
glorious as sapphires, claiming love from mine. I
heard the swift panting of her breath, the quick
beating of her heart, the impatient pattering of one
little foot on the ringing, resonant floor, and in an
instant my bitter resentment of her duplicity in
M. I'Abb^'s scheme had vanished, and I was bending
to drink my fill from the fountain of her lips, when
she struggled free, and, while gliding away, the
mockery of her silvery laugh floated back to my
ears like chiming bells, beckoning me onward
towards the gate of dishonour and shame. *' Quid
proderit homini, si totum mundum lucretur, si
animae suae detrimentum patiatur ? " This thought
momentarily stabbed at my heart, and I dare say my
face, robbed of all ripe colour, the gift of Spanish and
Italian suns, was grey and sweat-bedewed, — the face
of a man fast caught by black temptation ; yet,
though my will was strong enough to break the
chains, I trampled on that will, and followed Madame
to her retreat amid the tapestry. I drew her forth,
laughing low.



i6 FOR THE SAKE OF THE DUCHESSE

" M. le Vicomte, you are rough again ! " she whis
pered. " Let me go ! You have no right to hold
my hands so tightly ! "

"No right?" I said, " no right? Are you not
mine, Duchesse ? "

" Not yet, Audran," she replied, crossing her feet,
and leaning against the wainscot with the moon-
beams playing round her. " There is only one way
by which I may be won. You must gain riches : I
am scarcely the woman to marry a pauper.'*

I bent my head in silence.

" And you must acquire power. How would
M. le Due de Championnet sound ? "

*' You madden me, Duchesse ! "

" With a wide domain, an exquisite chateau,
and apartments at Versailles and the Luxem-
bourg? "

" Madame, do not taunt me more."

" And Madame de Berri your wife ! " she mur-
mured, raising her face towards m.ine. '* Do you
hesitate longer to serve Monseigneur the Regent in
this matter regarding the Chevalier de Cheverny — a
traitor and enemy to France?"

I dropped her hands. When I dreamed of win-
ning Madame's love, I had not thought of this as
the only way to take her heart by storm. She had
given me hope while fulfilment hung aloof in



MADAME LA DUCHESSE MAKES LOVE 17

mockery at a fool's romance, and now that hope
was gone. She had offered me herself : she had
offered me dishonour. Was it possible she could not
know the diabolical intention of Dubois with regard
to the Chevalier ? Did she know that by implicating
myself in his plot I was playing the parts of a thief
and a murderer ?

** You are long in answering me, Audran," she
murmured, drawing a little jewelled watch from her
bosom and holding it up to catch the moonlight.
^' It is now nearly ten o'clock ! When the Luxem-
bourg bell strikes I must leave you here alone.
Why do you hesitate ? I have asked you such a
little thing — it is nothing ! "

" Is it nothing to kill a man for no reason, Ma-
dame ? Is it a little thing to enter a man's chateau
by fraud ; to gain his confidence, perhaps even his
affection, and then rob him of letters which will
probably bring his grey hairs to the scaffold ? "

Madame la Duchesse, with characteristic volatil-
ity, changed from warm summer to a bitter hail-
storm.

*' Let him die there ! " she cried, stamping her
foot. " He is betraying France ! And who are
you, Vicomte, to speak like this? A gamester, a
scoundrel, an unscrupulous mercenary unworthy of
kissing the dust on my shoes. Do not touch me ;



i8 FOR THE SAKE OF THE DUCHESSE

I am the daughter of Phih'ppe d'Orleans, and you —

and you "

I was rude enough to laugh in her face. " I am
Audran de Championnet, Madame," I said, " and I
have no wish to take you in my arms again. You
have called me a scoundrel and a mercenary ; but I
say that you lie, Duchesse, and that I am still a
man of honour and a gentleman. Had Dubois taunt-
ed me as you have done, I would have sent my
blade between his ribs ; had your father the Regent
dared throw insults in my teeth, I would have made
him retract them, one by one, at the point of my
sword ; but you are a woman, and your sex is your
shield, although I confess I should glory in tossing
you down amid the snow, if I thought 'twould cool
your hot tongue ! "

''Devil!" she cried.

"Temptress!" I answered, and she made a pre-
tence of spitting at me.

I laughed insolently, and, leaving the oriel, took
my hat, and swung my cloak around me.

" I bid you a long farewell, Duchesse I " I cried,
and moved towards the door.

"Come back, Audran ! " she commanded.

'' Nay," I replied. " A scoundrel and a mercenary
is no company for Madame la Duchesse de Berri."

" But I love you ! I love you ! " she cried, and



MADAME LA DUCHESSE MAKES LOVE 19

came running down the chamber. The candles had
flickered and gone out, and the moonbeams warred
with the great fire's flame, which flung a bloody
glow upon the gleaming floor, carving grotesque
crosses here and there, and bathing Madame's form
in an aureole of beauty while she knelt before me,
the very incarnation of the Temptress. She clasped
my knees wath her soft white arms, laying her face
against my rough riding-boots, and swearing ever-
lasting loyalty and love ; and gazing down, I drank
her witchery until it ran through and through my
body, warm, like rich wine, and the blood in my
veins waxed hotter and hotter.

I was no saint, and Madame's was an allurement
scarce to be withstood by mortal man. My heart
leaped riotously. All my shreds of honour and hon-
ourable pride fled before my one desire as chaff before
the wind, and to gain Madame la Duchesse for my
wife I was ready to sell my soul a thousand times.
I was no longer the Audran de Championnet who
an hour ago had glared at Dubois as though he were
a thing unfit to live, but Audran de Championnet
the fallen, the bravo, the willing thief and murderer,
and a woman had loosed my passions until I cared
not the fling of a coin what evil my sword and my
sublety might work so long as she became mine
own. 'Tis ever thus ! A woman is a spur driving



20 FOR THE SAKE OF THE DUCHESSE

a man towards Heaven or Damnation, and by my
soul, that night at the Luxembourg, Madame start-
ed me most gaily down the latter road. Stooping,
I drew her up to me, and crushed her to my breast ;
and while her lips clung to mine the bell began
slowly to toll the hour.

'' Audran, you will be true?" she whispered, let-
ting her hand stray over my neck. *' Monseigneur
may depend on you to accomplish this mission?"

She flung back her head and gazed upon my face
with great, shining eyes.

** I will do it," I answered, '' for your sake, Ma-
dame ! "

Next moment a little gold crucifix was pressed
against my burning lips.

" Swear that you will not fail me," she murmured.

''If Madame gives me herself?"

*' I am yours now ! " she replied, nestling closer ;
'' and when you come back, Audran, you shall claim
me from Monseigneur as your wife ! "

" And you will marry me? " I asked.

" I promise," Madame la Duchesse whispered.

She held the crucifix again to my lips, and I took
the oath.

Immediately the words were spoken she rustled
away from me, the door opened, and Philippe d'Or-
leans entered.



MADAME LA DUCHESSE MAKES LOVE 21

''What, in darkness?" he exclaimed. ''Fie,
Madame ; your imprudence surpasses your mod-
esty."

" Modesty's a poor thing, and out of place nowa-
days ! " returned Madame la Duchesse. " M. le
Vicomte has been making love to me."

And she lied so charmingly that I laughed aloud.

"Indeed! This is serious!" exclaimed the Re-
gent, crossing the chamber to stand within the
circle of warm firelight.

" It was exquisite while it lasted, Monseigneur,"
Madame's voice rippled on. " What a pity Audran
is so poor?"

" Why, Duchesse ? " he demanded.

" Because if he were rich I might marry him,"


1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibrarySamuel WalkeyFor the sake of the duchesse; a page from the life of the Vicomte de Championnet → online text (page 1 of 13)