Far away came a call, but the vicomte did not hear it. He was too busy feasting his eyes. He had forgotten.
“So be it,” he said. “This kiss shall last a full breath. Then we must be on the way.”
A shadow darkened the doorway.
“Monsieur, here is a kiss for you, cold with death.”
Madame cried out in joy. The vicomte whirled around, with an oath, his sword in his hand. Victor, pale but serene and confident, stood between him and freedom.
THE ENVOI OF A GALLANT POET
Brother Jacques had done a wise thing. On the morning after the vicomte’s singular confession, he had spoken a few words to the Black Kettle. From that hour the vicomte made no move that was not under the vigilant eye of the Onondaga. Wherever he went the Black Kettle followed with the soundless cunning of his race. Thus he had warned the settlement of what was going on at the hunting hut. Victor, having met him on his way up the trail, was first to arrive upon the scene.
“The poet!” said the vicomte airily. He was, with all his lawlessness, a gallant man. “Did I not prophesy that some day we should be at each other’s throats?”
“Gabrielle,” Victor said, “help is close at hand. I can keep this man at bay. If I should die, Gabrielle . . . you will not forget me?”
“How affecting! I am almost moved to tears!” mocked the vicomte.
“Well, Monsieur, let us go about our work without banter. There is no edict here, no meddling priests, only you and I. Engage!” Bare-headed he stood, scarce but a youth, no match ordinarily for the seasoned swordsman before him. But madame saw the courage of Bayard in his frank blue eyes. She turned her face toward the wall and wept. “Have patience, Paul,” Victor called; “they will liberate you soon.”
“So.” The vicomte stretched out his arm. “Well, my writer of rondeaux, I have but little time to spare. As the fair Juliet says, ’I must be gone and live, or stay and die.’ I can not fight the settlement which will soon be about my ears. You first, then your friend. I should scorn to separate, either on earth or in hades, such loving Orestes and Pylades. Madame, that kiss has cost me the joy of having your presence for the time being. Here shall the poet die, at his beloved’s feet! Which is very fine.” His blade darted out toward Victor’s throat, and the last battle was begun. The vicomte was fighting for his liberty, and the poet was fighting to kill. They were almost evenly matched, for the vicomte was weary from his contest with D’Herouville and the Chevalier. For many years madame saw this day in her dreams.
The blades clashed; there was the soft pad-pad of feet, the involuntary “ah!” when the point was nicely avoided; there were lunges in quart, there were cuts over and under, thrusts in flanconade and tierce, feint and double-feint, and sudden disengagements. The sweat trickled down the vicomte’s face; Victor’s forehead glistened with moisture. Suddenly Victor stooped; swift as the tongue of an adder his blade bit deeply into the vicomte’s groin, making a terrible wound. The vicomte caught his breath in a gasp of exquisite pain.