Howthe son died
In 1617, twenty and some years after the horrible night during which Etienne came into the world, the Duc d’Herouville, then seventy-six years old, broken, decrepit, almost dead, was sitting at sunset in an immense arm-chair, before the gothic window of his bedroom, at the place where his wife had so vainly implored, by the sounds of the horn wasted on the air, the help of men and heaven. You might have thought him a body resurrected from the grave. His once energetic face, stripped of its sinister aspect by old age and suffering, was ghastly in color, matching the long meshes of white hair which fell around his bald head, the yellow skull of which seemed softening. The warrior and the fanatic still shone in those yellow eyes, tempered now by religious sentiment. Devotion had cast a monastic tone upon the face, formerly so hard, but now marked with tints which softened its expression. The reflections of the setting sun colored with a faintly ruddy tinge the head, which, in spite of all infirmities, was still vigorous. The feeble body, wrapped in brown garments, gave, by its heavy attitude and the absence of all movement, a vivid impression of the monotonous existence, the terrible repose of this man once so active, so enterprising, so vindictive.
“Enough!” he said to his chaplain.
That venerable old man was reading aloud the Gospel, standing before the master in a respectful attitude. The duke, like an old menagerie lion which has reached a decrepitude that is still full of majesty, turned to another white-haired man and said, holding out a fleshless arm covered with sparse hairs, still sinewy, but without vigor:—
“Your turn now, bonesetter. How am I to-day?”
“Doing well, monseigneur; the fever has ceased. You will live many years yet.”
“I wish I could see Maximilien here,” continued the duke, with a smile of satisfaction. “My fine boy! He commands a company in the King’s Guard. The Marechal d’Ancre takes care of my lad, and our gracious Queen Marie thinks of allying him nobly, now that he is created Duc de Nivron. My race will be worthily continued. The lad performed prodigies of valor in the attack on—”
At this moment Bertrand entered, holding a letter in his hand.
“What is this?” said the old lord, eagerly.
“A despatch brought by a courier sent to you by the king,” replied Bertrand.
“The king, and not the queen-mother!” exclaimed the duke. “What is happening? Have the Huguenots taken arms again? Tete-Dieu!” cried the old man, rising to his feet and casting a flaming glance at his three companions, “I’ll arm my soldiers once more, and, with Maximilien at my side, Normandy shall—”
“Sit down, my good seigneur,” said Beauvouloir, uneasy at seeing the duke give way to an excitement that was dangerous to a convalescent.