There are more things in heaven and earth,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
Isabel carefully folded the paper back up. She considered it for a moment and then extended her hand with the paper to the Comte du Malfait. He did not immediately take it and Isabel hazarded a glance into his face. The instant she did so she knew she had made a terrible error. His eyes were the color of the darkest wood. He wore a mustache is the style of a French grenadier, and Isabel had been told by someone who would know such things that he had indeed served in the Grenadier à Cheval. While most men of his wealth powdered their hair, Malfait did not. Rather, the only white upon his head were a few strands of hair. Absently, Isabel noted that the few white hairs matched the series of parallel white scars on his right cheek and throat.
Upon this thought Isabel woke as if from a reverie. “Pardon me, my lord,” she said and looked away. Malfait took the letter, and Isabel moved away from him toward the open French doors that were across the room. She looked out onto the house’s gardens that were slowly being consumed by the darkness. There was something about the Comte’s face. It is true that is was pleasing to look upon, but Isabel found herself frightened when her eyes fell upon Malfait’s face. One evening, when she had been clandestinely listening to her father talking to a merchant lately arrived from India, she heard a most horrid tale. The merchant told her father of a viper native to that far off land that rises up and sways back and forth. Its poor victims are thus transfixed and unable to move as their death draws in upon them. Isabel shivered and imagined she knew how the prey of that serpent felt.
“Thank you for sharing this…letter with me.” It was not a letter. It possessed no salutation and no signature. However, Isabel knew of no other term for it. “Georges will show you out.” Isabel moved to a small table and clutched a small brass bell, but before she could ring it, Malfait was at her side and had taken hold of her hand.
“Wait, my dear Isabel,” he said. The words were no louder than a whisper. “I did not come here merely to show you what Philippe had written before he escaped.”
Isabel started. “What do mean escaped? The storm and waves undermined the tower and when it collapsed he was lost with it.”
Malfait shook his head. “I visited his cell myself. Only the outer wall had fallen away. All was in order and undisturbed. His bed, his table – where I found this,” Here Malfait held up the folded papers. “Everything.”
Isabel used all her strength to resist looking into that perilous face. “But the castellan determined that Philippe had fallen into the sea.”
“The castellan, the Inquisition, the lord mayor. None would like to admit that such a heretic escaped justice.” Malfait held up a finger. “But, he escaped none the less.”
A host of fears had manifested themselves as Isabel had read Philippe’s words. They had lurked on the outer edges of her thoughts. Now they assailed her directly. Isabel clutched in vain at the edge of the table, and her vision dimmed.
But a moment later, she became aware of strong arms gripping her and holding her up. Isabel raised her hand and held it before her eyes until she was satisfied her sight had returned. “Thank you my lord. I was overcome by the intelligence that my poor Philippe’s mind was broken.” Isabel hazard a look at Malfait. “But please, I must take my leave.”
Malfait shook his head. “You do not know the true horror of these events,” he said and re-positioned his hands onto her shoulders. “Or the terrible danger you are in!”
Isabel composed herself and straightened her posture, and stared resolutely into Malfait’s breast, the Comte being considerably taller. She studied the damask decoration of his rose-colored waistcoat. “My lord. It is true that I loved my dear Philippe and in the eyes of the Church he has committed a mortal sin. But the letter – his mind was clearly broken. I shall prefer to trust in the mercy of God and pray for the salvation of his soul.”
She shook her head. “And as to your fancy that he climbed down the side of the broken tower. Well, it seems more credible the poor boy walked to the edge to peer out at the destruction nature had wrought and…fell. Now you must go.”
Isabel tried to move away but Malfait maintained his hold on her shoulders. “Listen to me!” The Comte released one of her shoulders only to take hold of Isabel’s chin. He gently lifted her face so that she had no choice but to look into his eyes. “Your Philippe did not describe making a pact with Satan or Lucifer. No! He made his orisons to ancient pagan gods.”
Isabel opened her mouth to speak, but Malfait shifted the hand that held her chin so that one of his long fingers covered her lips. “No! I can read your thoughts in your eyes, and I can assure you they are not the same! You have read his words and I am sure he told you more of my reputation. Believe me my fair Isabel, these dark gods exist and are far greater than the Church’s Lucifer!” He slide his hand from her lips to her cheek. “And they demand a high price! I do not believe they would be interested in a broken man. They would demand something greater to conjure up such a potent storm. They take what they want, and I am certain that the will come for you!” Malfait’s placed his finger on Isabel’s bare collarbone and traced the gold chain she wore down to the gold cross that lay upon her white skin. “And this will not provide protection.” He enveloped the cross in the palm of his hand and lowered his head so that his lips almost touched her ear. “But I can,” he whispered. “Come with me tonight. If you refuse, if you delay, you shall surely face horrors worse than death.”
The lace that decorated the cuff of the Comte’s shirt and that now lay upon Isabel’s bosom produce a peculiar feeling in her, and again she felt that she might swoon. She looked toward the door and tried to cry out for help.
However, before she could form words, the door opened and two servants appeared. Malfait released Isabel and turned toward the servants, his face twisted with anger.
Isabel’s servant, Georges, advanced three paces into the room, snapped to attention, and said, “Pardon me, my lady, the Comte’s servant demands to speak –“
Malfait’s servant did not wait for any further formalities. “My lord! The army of the Bourbons has crossed the Var. Some say Nice is already in their possession!”
Isabel noticed the Comte blanched, and for a moment was speechless. Presently, Malfait recovered and said, “Jacques! How dare you display such rude behavior! Return to the carriage at once!”
Jacques scurried out of the room.
Malfait was silent for a moment and then turned to Isabel. “My lady,” he said, “I have detained you long enough. Adieu!” The Comte bowed, took Isabel’s hand, and pressed his lips to it. Glancing upwards he whispered, “Think upon my words. Send for me, and I shall sweep you away to safety.”
Before Isabel could protest, Malfait was gone.