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´╗┐Title: From the Memoirs of a Minister of France
Author: Weyman, Stanley John, 1855-1928
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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FROM THE MEMOIRS OF A MINISTER OF FRANCE

BY

STANLEY WEYMAN



CONTENTS.

    I.--THE CLOCKMAKER OF POISSY
   II.--THE TENNIS BALLS
  III.--TWO MAYORS OF BOTTITORT
   IV.--LA TOUSSAINT
    V.--THE LOST CIPHER
   VI.--THE MAN OF MONCEAUX
  VII.--THE GOVERNOR OF GUERET
 VIII.--THE OPEN SHUTTER
   IX.--THE MAID OF HONOUR
    X.--FARMING THE TAXES
   XI.--THE CAT AND THE KING
  XII.--AT FONTAINEBLEAU



I.

THE CLOCKMAKER OF POISSY.


Foreseeing that some who do not love me will be swift to allege that in
the preparation of these memoirs I have set down only such things as
redound to my credit, and have suppressed the many experiences not so
propitious which fall to the lot of the most sagacious while in power,
I take this opportunity of refuting that calumny.  For the truth stands
so far the other way that my respect for the King's person has led me
to omit many things creditable to me; and some, it may be, that place
me in a higher light than any I have set down.  And not only that:  but
I propose in this very place to narrate the curious details of an
adventure wherein I showed to less advantage than usual; and on which I
should, were I moved by the petty feelings imputed to me by malice, be
absolutely silent.

One day, about a fortnight after the quarrel between the King and the
Duchess of Beaufort, which I have described, and which arose, it will
be remembered, out of my refusal to pay the christening expenses of her
second son on the scale of a child of France, I was sitting in my
lodgings at St. Germains when Maignan announced that M. de Perrot
desired to see me.  Knowing Perrot to be one of the most notorious
beggars about the court, with an insatiable maw of his own and an
endless train of nephews and nieces, I was at first for being employed;
but, reflecting that in the crisis in the King's affairs which I saw
approaching--and which must, if he pursued his expressed intention of
marrying the Duchess, be fraught with infinite danger to the State and
himself--the least help might be of the greatest moment, I bade them
admit him; privately determining to throw the odium of any refusal upon
the overweening influence of Madame de Sourdis, the Duchess's aunt.

Accordingly I met him with civility, and was not surprised when, with
his second speech, he brought out the word FAVOUR.  But I was
surprised--for, as I have said, I knew him to be the best practised
beggar in the world--to note in his manner some indications of
embarrassment and nervousness; which, when I did not immediately
assent, increased to a sensible extent.

"It is a very small thing, M. de Rosny," he said, breathing hard.

On that hint I declared my willingness to serve him.  "But," I added,
shrugging my shoulders and speaking in a confidential tone, "no one
knows the Court better than you do, M. de Perrot. You are in all our
secrets, and you must be aware that at present--I say nothing of the
Duchess, she is a good woman, and devoted to his Majesty--but there are
others--"

"I know," he answered, with a flash of malevolence that did not escape
me.  "But this is a private favour, M. de Rosny.  It is nothing that
Madame de Sourdis can desire, either for herself or for others."

That aroused my curiosity.  Only the week before, Madame de Sourdis had
obtained a Hat for her son, and the post of assistant Deputy
Comptroller of Buildings for her Groom of the Chambers. For her niece
the Duchess she meditated obtaining nothing less than a crown.  I was
at pains, therefore, to think of any office, post, or pension that
could be beyond the pale of her desires; and in a fit of gaiety I bade
M. de Perrot speak out and explain his riddle.

"It is a small thing," he said, with ill-disguised nervousness. "The
King hunts to-morrow."

"Yes," I said.

"And very commonly he rides back in your company, M. le Marquis."

"Sometimes," I said; "or with M. d'Epernon.  Or, if he is in a mood for
scandal, with M. la Varenne or Vitry."

"But with you, if you wish it, and care to contrive it so," he
persisted, with a cunning look.

I shrugged my shoulders.  "Well?"  I said, wondering more and more what
he would be at.

"I have a house on the farther side of Poissy," he continued. "And I
should take it as a favour, M. de Rosny, if you could induce the King
to dismount there to-morrow and take a cup of wine."

"That is a very small thing," I said bluntly, wondering much why he had
made so great a parade of the matter, and still more why he seemed so
ill at ease.  "Yet, after such a prelude, if any but a friend of your
tried loyalty asked it, I might expect to find Spanish liquorice in the
cup."

"That is out of the question, in my case," he answered with a slight
assumption of offence, which he immediately dropped.  "And you say it
is a small thing; it is the more easily granted, M. de Rosny."

"But the King goes and comes at his pleasure," I replied warily. "Of
course, he might-take it into his head to descend at your house.  There
would be nothing surprising in such a visit.  I think that he has paid
you one before, M. de Perrot?"

He assented eagerly.

"And he may do so," I said, smiling, "to-morrow.  But then, again, he
may not.  The chase may lead him another way; or he may be late in
returning; or--in fine, a hundred things may happen."

I had no mind to go farther than that; and I supposed that it would
satisfy him, and that he would thank me and take his leave. To my
surprise, however, he stood his ground, and even pressed me more than
was polite; while his countenance, when I again eluded him, assumed an
expression of chagrin and vexation so much in excess of the occasion as
to awaken fresh doubts in my mind.  But these only the more confirmed
me in my resolution to commit myself no farther, especially as he was
not a man I loved or could trust; and in the end he had to retire with
such comfort as I had already given him.

In itself, and on the surface, the thing seemed to be a trifle,
unworthy of the serious consideration of any man.  But in so far as it
touched the King's person and movements, I was inclined to view it in
another light; and this the more, as I still had fresh in my memory the
remarkable manner in which Father Cotton, the Jesuit, had given me a
warning by a word about a boxwood fire. After a moment's thought,
therefore, I summoned Boisrueil, one of my gentlemen, who had an
acknowledged talent for collecting gossip; and I told him in a casual
way that M. de Perrot had been with me.

"He has not been at Court for a week," he remarked.

"Indeed?"  I said.

"He applied for the post of Assistant Deputy Comptroller of Buildings
for his nephew, and took offence when it was given to Madame de
Sourdis' Groom of the Chambers."

"Ha!"  I said; "a dangerous malcontent."

Boisrueil smiled.  "He has lived a week out of the sunshine of his
Majesty's countenance, your excellency.  After that, all things are
possible."

This was my own estimate of the man, whom I took to be one of those
smug, pliant self-seekers whom Courts and peace breed up. I could
imagine no danger that could threaten the King from such a quarter;
while curiosity inclined me to grant his request.  As it happened, the
deer the next day took us in the direction of Poissy, and the King, who
was always itching to discuss with me the question of his projected
marriage, and as constantly, since our long talk in the garden at
Rennes, avoiding the subject when with me, bade me ride home with him.
On coming within half a mile of Perrot's I let fall his name, and in a
very natural way suggested that the King should alight there for a few
minutes.

It was one of the things Henry delighted to do, for, endowed with the
easiest manners, and able in a moment to exchange the formality of the
Louvre for the freedom of the camp, he could give to such cheap favours
their full value.  He consented on the instant, therefore; and turning
our horses into a by-road, we sauntered down it with no greater
attendance than a couple of pages.

The sun was near setting, and its rays, which still gilded the
tree-tops, left the wood below pensive and melancholy.  The house stood
in a solitary place on the edge of the forest, half a mile from Poissy;
and these two things had their effect on my mind.  I began to wish that
we had brought with us half a troop of horse, or at least two or three
gentlemen; and, startled by the thought of the unknown chances to
which, out of mere idle curiosity, I was exposing the King, I would
gladly have turned back.  But without explanation I could not do so;
and while I hesitated Henry cried out gaily that we were there.

A short avenue of limes led from the forest road to the door.  I looked
curiously before us as we rode under the trees, in some fear lest M. de
Perrot's preparations should discover my complicity, and apprise the
King that he was expected.  But so far was this from being the case
that no one appeared; the house rose still and silent in the mellow
light of sunset, and, for all that we could see, might have been the
fabled palace of enchantment.

"'He is Jean de Nivelle's dog; he runs away when you call him,'" the
King quoted.  "Get down, Rosny.  We have reached the palace of the
Sleeping Princess.  It remains only to sound the horn, and--"

I was in the act of dismounting, with my back to him, when his words
came to this sudden stop.  I turned to learn what caused it, and saw
standing in the aperture of the wicket, which had been silently opened,
a girl, little more than a child, of the most striking beauty.
Surprise shone in her eyes, and shyness and alarm had brought the
colour to her cheeks; while the level rays of the sun, which forced her
to screen her eyes with one small hand, clothed her figure in a robe of
lucent glory.  I heard the King whistle low.  Before I could speak he
had flung himself from his horse and, throwing the reins to one of the
pages, was bowing before her.

"We were about to sound the horn, Mademoiselle," he said, smiling.

"The horn, Monsieur?"  she exclaimed, opening her eyes in wonder, and
staring at him with the prettiest face of astonishment.

"Yes, Mademoiselle; to awaken the sleeping princess," he rejoined.
"But I see that she is already awake."

Through the innocence of her eyes flashed a sudden gleam of archness.
"Monsieur flatters himself," she said, with a smile that just revealed
the whiteness of her teeth.

It was such an answer as delighted the King; who loved, above all
things, a combination of wit and beauty, and never for any long time
wore the chains of a woman who did not unite sense to more showy
attractions.  From the effect which the grace and freshness of the girl
had on me, I could judge in a degree of the impression made on him; his
next words showed not only its depth, but that he was determined to
enjoy the adventure to the full. He presented me to her as M. de Sage,
and inquiring affectionately after Perrot, learned in a trice that she
was his niece, not long from a convent at Loches; finally, begging to
be allowed to rest awhile, he dropped a gallant hint that a cup of wine
from her hands would be acceptable.

All this, and her innocent doubt what she ought to do, thus brought
face to face with two strange cavaliers, threw the girl into such a
state of blushing confusion as redoubled her charms. It appeared that
her uncle had been summoned unexpectedly to Marly, and had taken his
son with him; and that the household had seized the occasion to go to a
village FETE at Acheres.  Only an old servant remained in the house;
who presently appeared and took her orders.  I saw from the man's start
of consternation that he knew the King; but a glance from Henry's eyes
bidding me keep up the illusion, I followed the fellow and charged him
not to betray the King's incognito.  When I returned, I found that
Mademoiselle had conducted her visitor to a grassy terrace which ran
along the south side of the house, and was screened from the forest by
an alley of apple trees, and from the east wind by a hedge of yew.
Here, where the last rays of the sun threw sinuous shadows on the turf,
and Paris seemed a million miles away, they were walking up and down,
the sound of their laughter breaking the woodland silence.
Mademoiselle had a fan, with which and an air of convent coquetry she
occasionally shaded her eyes.  The King carried his hat in his hand.
It was such an adventure as he loved, with all his heart; and I stood a
little way off, smiling, and thinking grimly of M. de Perrot.

On a sudden, hearing a step behind me, I turned, and saw a young man in
a riding-dress come quickly through an opening in the yew hedge.  As I
turned, he stopped; his jaw fell, and he stood rooted to the ground,
gazing at the two on the terrace, while his face, which a moment before
had worn an air of pleased expectancy, grew on a sudden dark with
passion, and put on such a look as made me move towards him.  Before I
reached him, However, M. de Perrot himself appeared at his side.  The
young man flashed round on him.  "MON DIEU, sir!"  he cried, in a voice
choked with anger; "I see it all now!  I understand why I was carried
away to Marly!  I--but it shall not be!  I swear it shall not!"

Between him and me--for, needless to say, I, too, understood all--M. de
Perrot was awkwardly placed.  But he showed the presence of mind of the
old courtier.  "Silence, sir!"  He exclaimed imperatively.  "Do you not
see M. de Rosny?  Go to him at once and pay your respects to him, and
request him to honour you with his protection.  Or--I see that you are
overcome by the honour which the King does us.  Go, first, and change
your dress.  Go, boy!"

The lad retired sullenly, and M. de Perrot, free to deal with me alone,
approached me, smiling assiduously, and trying hard to hide some
consciousness and a little shame under a mask of cordiality.  "A
thousand pardons, M. de Rosny," he cried with effusion, "for an absence
quite unpardonable.  But I so little expected to see his Majesty after
what you said, and--"

"Are in no hurry to interrupt him now you are here," I replied bluntly,
determined that, whoever he deceived, he should not flatter himself he
deceived me.  "Pooh, man!  I am not a fool," I continued.

"What is this?"  he cried, with a desperate attempt to keep up the
farce.  "I don't understand you!"

"No, the shoe is on the other foot--I understand you," I replied drily.
"Chut, man!"  I continued, "you don't make a cats-paw of me.  I see the
game.  You are for sitting in Madame de Sourdis' seat, and giving your
son a Hat, and your groom a Comptrollership, and your niece a--"

"Hush, hush, M. de Rosny," he muttered, turning white and red, and
wiping his brow with his kerchief.  "MON DIEU!  your words might--"

"If overheard, make things very unpleasant for M. de Perrot," I said.

"And M. de Rosny?"

I shrugged my shoulders contemptuously.  "Tush, man!"  I said. "Do you
think that I sit in no safer seat than that?"

"Ah!  But when Madame de Beaufort is Queen?"  he said slily.

"If she ever is," I replied, affecting greater confidence than I at
that time felt.

"Well, to be sure," he said slowly, "if she ever is."  And he looked
towards the King and his companion, who were still chatting gaily.
Then he stole a crafty glance at me.  "Do you wish her to be?"  he
muttered.

"Queen?"  I said, "God forbid!"

"It would be a disgrace to France?"  he whispered; and he laid his hand
on my arm, and looked eagerly into my face.

"Yes," I said.

"A blot on his fame?"

I nodded.

"A--a slur on a score of noble families?"

I could not deny it.

"Then--is it not worth while to avoid all that?"  he murmured, his face
pale, and his small eyes glued to mine.  "Is it not worth a
little--sacrifice, M. de Rosny?"

"And risk?"  I said.  "Possibly."

While the words were still on my lips, something stirred close to us,
behind the yew hedge beside which we were standing.  Perrot darted in a
moment to the opening, and I after him.  We were just in time to catch
a glimpse of a figure disappearing round the corner of the house.
"Well," I said grimly, "what about being overheard now?"

M. de Perrot wiped his face.  "Thank Heaven!"  he said, "it was only my
son.  Now let me explain to you--"

But our hasty movement had caught the King's eye, and he came towards
us, covering himself as he approached.  I had now an opportunity of
learning whether the girl was, in fact, as innocent as she seemed, and
as every particular of our reception had declared her; and I watched
her closely when Perrot's mode of address betrayed the King's identity.
Suffice it that the vivid blush which on the instant suffused her face,
and the lively emotion which almost overcame her, left me in no doubt.
With a charming air of bashfulness, and just so much timid awkwardness
as rendered her doubly bewitching, she tried to kneel and kiss the
King's hand.  He would not permit this, however, but saluted her cheek.

"It seems that you were right, sire," she murmured, curtseying in a
pretty confusion, "The princess was not awake."

Henry laughed gaily.  "Come now; tell me frankly, Mademoiselle," he
said.  "For whom did you take me?"

"Not for the King, sire," she answered, with a gleam of roguishness.
"You told me that the King was a good man, whose benevolent impulses
were constantly checked--"

"Ah!"

"By M. de Rosny, his Minister."

The outburst of laughter which greeted this apprised her that she was
again at fault; and Henry, who liked nothing better than such
mystifications, introducing me by my proper name, we diverted ourselves
for some minutes with her alarm and excuses.  After that it was time to
take leave, if we would sup at home and the King would not be missed;
and accordingly, but not without some further badinage, in which
Mademoiselle de Brut displayed wit equal to her beauty, and an
agreeable refinement not always found with either, we departed.

It should be clearly understood at this point, that, notwithstanding
all I have set down, I was fully determined (in accordance with a rule
I have constantly followed, and would enjoin on all who do not desire
to find themselves one day saddled with an ugly name) to have no part
in the affair; and this though the advantage of altering the King's
intentions towards Madame de Beaufort was never more vividly present to
my mind.  As we rode, indeed, he put several questions concerning the
Baron, and his family, and connections; and, falling into a reverie,
and smiling a good deal at his thoughts, left me in no doubt as to the
impression made upon him.  But being engaged at the time with the
Spanish treaty, and resolved, as I have said, to steer a course
uninfluenced by such intrigues, I did not let my mind dwell upon the
matter; nor gave it, indeed, a second thought until the next afternoon,
when, sitting at an open window of my lodging, I heard a voice in the
street ask where the Duchess de Beaufort had her apartment.

The voice struck a chord in my memory, and I looked out.  The man who
had put the question, and who was now being directed on his way--by
Maignan, my equerry, as it chanced had his back to me, and I could see
only that he was young, shabbily dressed, and with the air of a workman
carried a small frail of tools on his shoulder.  But presently, in the
act of thanking Maignan, he turned so that I saw his face, and with
that it flashed upon me in a moment who he was.

Accustomed to follow a train of thought quickly, and to act; on its
conclusion with energy, I had Maignan called and furnished with his
instructions before the man had gone twenty paces; and within the
minute I had the satisfaction of seeing the two return together.  As
they passed under the window I heard my servant explaining with the
utmost naturalness that he had misunderstood the stranger, and that
this was Madame de Beaufort's; after which scarce a minute elapsed
before the door of my room opened, and he appeared ushering in young
Perrot!

Or so it seemed to me; and the start of surprise and consternation
which escaped the stranger when he first saw me confirmed me in the
impression.  But a moment later I doubted; so natural was the posture
into which the man fell, and so stupid the look of inquiry which he
turned first on me and then on Maignan.  As he stood before me,
shifting his feet and staring about him in vacant wonder, I began to
think that I had made a mistake; and, clearly, either I had done so or
this young man was possessed of talents and a power of controlling his
features beyond the ordinary.  He unslung his tools, and saluting me
abjectly waited in silence.  After a moment's thought, I asked him
peremptorily what was his errand with the Duchess de Beaufort.

"To show her a watch, your excellency," he stammered, his mouth open,
his eyes staring.  I could detect no flaw in his acting.

"What are you, then?"  I said.

"A clockmaker, my lord."

"Has Madame sent for you?"

"No, my lord," he stuttered, trembling.

"Do you want to sell her the watch?"

He muttered that he did; and that he meant no harm by it.

"Show it to me, then," I said curtly.

He grew red at that, and seemed for an instant not to understand. But
on my repeating the order he thrust his hand into his breast, and
producing a parcel began to unfasten it.  This he did so slowly that I
was soon for thinking that there was no watch in it; but in the end he
found one and handed it to me.

"You did not make this," I said, opening it.

"No, my lord," he answered; "it is German, and old."

I saw that it was of excellent workmanship, and I was about to hand it
back to him, almost persuaded that I had made a mistake, when in a
second my doubts were solved.  Engraved on the thick end of the egg,
and partly erased by wear, was a dog's head, which I knew to be the
crest of the Perrots.

"So," I said, preparing to return it to him, "you are a clockmaker?"

"Yes, your excellency," he muttered.  And I thought that I caught the
sound of a sigh of relief.

I gave the watch to Maignan to hand to him.  "Very well," I said. "I
have need of one.  The clock in the next room--a gift from his
Majesty--is out of order, and at a standstill.  You can go and attend
to it; and see that you do so skilfully.  And do you, Maignan," I
continued with meaning, "go with him.  When he has made the clock go,
let him go; and not before, or you answer for it.  You understand,
sirrah?"

Maignan saluted obsequiously, and in a moment hurried young Perrot from
the room; leaving me to congratulate myself on the strange and
fortuitous circumstance that had thrown him in my way, and enabled me
to guard against a RENCONTRE that might have had the most embarassing
consequences.

It required no great sagacity to foresee the next move; and I was not
surprised when, about an hour later, I heard a clatter of hoofs
outside, and a voice inquiring hurriedly for the Marquis de Rosny.  One
of my people announced M. de Perrot, and I bade them admit him.  In a
twinkling he came up, pale with heat, and covered with dust, his eyes
almost starting from his head and his cheeks trembling with agitation.
Almost before the door was shut, he cried out that we were undone.

I was willing to divert myself with him for a time, and I pretended to
know nothing.  "What?"  I said, rising.  "Has the King met with an
accident?"

"Worse!  worse!"  he cried, waving his hat with a gesture of despair.
"My son--you saw my son yesterday?"

"Yes," I said.

"He overheard us!"

"Not us," I said drily.  "You.  But what then, M. de Perrot?  You are
master in your own house."

"But he is not in my house," he wailed.  "He has gone!  Fled! Decamped!
I had words with him this morning, you understand."

"About your niece?"

M. de Perrot's face took a delicate shade of red, and he nodded; he
could not speak.  He seemed for an instant in danger of some kind of
fit.  Then he found his voice again.  "The fool prated of love!  Of
love!"  he said with such a look--like that of a dying fowl--that I
could have laughed aloud.  "And when I bade him remember his duty he
threatened me.  He, that unnatural boy, threatened to betray me, to
ruin me, to go to Madame de Beaufort and tell her all--all, you
understand.  And I doing so much, and making such sacrifices for him!"

"Yes," I said, "I see that.  And what did you do?"

"I broke my cane on his back," M. de Perrot answered with unction, "and
locked him in his room.  But what is the use?  The boy has no natural
feelings!"

"He got out through the window?"

Perrot nodded; and being at leisure, now that he had explained his
woes, to feel their full depth, shed actual tears of rage and terror;
now moaning that Madame would never forgive him, and that if he escaped
the Bastille he would lose all his employments and be the
laughing-stock of the Court; and now striving to show that his peril
was mine, and that it was to my interest to help him.

I allowed him to go on in this strain for some time, and then, having
sufficiently diverted myself with his forebodings, I bade him in an
altered voice to take courage.  "For I think I know," I said, "where
your son is."

"At Madame's?"  he groaned.

"No; here," I said.

"MON DIEU!  Where?"  he cried.  And he sprang up, startled out of his
lamentations.

"Here; in my lodging," I answered.

"My son is here?"  he said.

"In the next room," I replied, smiling indulgently at his astonishment,
which was only less amusing than his terror.  "I have but to touch this
bell, and Maignan will bring him to you."

Full of wonder and admiration, he implored me to ring and have him
brought immediately; since until he had set eyes on him he could not
feel safe.  Accordingly I rang my hand-bell, and Maignan opened the
door.  "The clockmaker," I said nodding.

He looked at me stupidly.  "The clock-maker, your excellency?"

"Yes; bring him in," I said.

"But--he has gone!"  he exclaimed.

"Gone?" I cried, scarcely able to believe my ears.  "Gone, sirrah!  and
I told you to detain him!"

"Until he had mended the clock, my lord," Maignan stammered, quite out
of countenance.  "But he set it going half-an-hour ago; and I let him
go, according to your order."

It is in the face of such CONTRETEMPS as these that the low-bred man
betrays himself.  Yet such was my chagrin on this occasion, and so
sudden the shock, that it was all I could do to maintain my SANGFROID,
and, dismissing Maignan with a look, be content to punish M. de Perrot
with a sneer.  "I did not know that your son was a tradesman," I said.
He wrung his hands.  "He has low tastes," he cried.  "He always had.
He has amused himself that way, And now by this time he is with Madame
de Beaufort and we are undone!"

"Not we," I answered curtly; "speak for yourself, M. de Perrot."

But though, having no mind to appear in his eyes dependent on Madame's
favour or caprice, I thus checked his familiarity, I am free to confess
that my calmness was partly assumed; and that, though I knew my
position to be unassailable--based as it was on solid services rendered
to the King, my master, and on the familiar affection with which he
honoured me through so many years--I could not view the prospect of a
fresh collision with Madame without some misgiving.  Having gained the
mastery in the two quarrels we had had, I was the less inclined to
excite her to fresh intrigues; and as unwilling to give the King reason
to think that we could not live at peace.  Accordingly, after a
moment's consideration, I told Perrot that, rather than he should
suffer, I would go to Madame de Beaufort myself, and give such
explanations as would place another complexion on the matter.

He overwhelmed me with thanks, and, besides, to show his gratitude--for
he was still on thorns, picturing her wrath and resentment he insisted
on accompanying me to the Cloitre de St. Germain, where Madame had her
apartment.  By the way, he asked me what I should say to her.

"Whatever will get you out of the scrape," I answered curtly.

"Then anything!"  he cried with fervour.  "Anything, my dear friend.
Oh, that unnatural boy!"

"I suppose that the girl is as big a fool?"  I said.

"Bigger!  bigger!"  he answered.  "I don't know where she learned such
things!"

"She prated of love, too, then?"

"To be sure," he groaned, "and without a sou of DOT!"

"Well, well," I said, "here we are.  I will do what I can."

Fortunately the King was not there, and Madame would receive me. I
thought, indeed, that her doors flew open with suspicious speed, and
that way was made for me more easily than usual; and I soon found that
I was not wrong in the inference I drew from these facts.  For when I
entered her chamber that remarkable woman, who, whatever her enemies
may say, combined with her beauty a very uncommon degree of sense and
discretion, met me with a low courtesy and a smile of derision.  "So,"
she said, "M. de Rosny, not satisfied with furnishing me with evidence,
gives me proof."

"How, Madame?"  I said; though I well understood.

"By his presence here," she answered.  "An hour ago," she continued,
"the King was with me.  I had not then the slightest ground to expect
this honour, or I am sure that his Majesty would have stayed to share
it.  But I have since seen reason to expect it, and you observe that I
am not unprepared."

She spoke with a sparkling eye, and an expression of the most lively
resentment; so that, had M. de Perrot been in my place I think that he
would have shed more tears.  I was myself somewhat dashed, though I
knew the prudence that governed her in her most impetuous sallies;
still, to avoid the risk of hearing things which we might both
afterwards wish unsaid, I came to the point. "I fear that I have timed
my visit ill, Madame," I said.  "You have some complaint against me."

"Only that you are like the others," she answered with a fine contempt.
"You profess one thing and do another."

"As for example?"

"For example!"  she replied, with a scornful laugh.  "How many times
have you told me that you left women, and intrigues in which women had
part, on one side?"

I bowed.

"And now I find you--you and that Perrot, that creature!--intriguing
against me; intriguing with some country chit to--"

"Madame!"  I said, cutting her short with a show of temper, "where did
you get this?"

"Do you deny it?"  she cried, looking so beautiful in her anger that I
thought I had never seen her to such advantage.  "Do you deny that you
took the King there?"

"No.  Certainly I took the King there."

"To Perrot's?  You admit it?"

"Certainly," I said, "for a purpose."

"A purpose!"  she cried with withering scorn.  "Was it not that the
King might see that girl?"

"Yes," I replied patiently, "it was."

She stared at me.  "And you can tell me that to my face!"  she said.

"I see no reason why I should not, Madame," I replied easily--"I cannot
conceive why you should object to the union--and many why you should
desire to see two people happy.  Otherwise, if I had had any idea, even
the slightest, that the matter was obnoxious to you, I would not have
engaged in it."

"But--what was your purpose then?"  she muttered, in a different tone.

"To obtain the King's good word with M. de Perrot to permit the
marriage of his son with his niece; who is, unfortunately, without a
portion."

Madame uttered a low exclamation, and her eyes wandering from me, she
took up--as if her thoughts strayed also--a small ornament; from the
table beside her.  "Ah!"  she said, looking at it closely.  "But
Perrot's son did he know of this?"

"No," I answered, smiling.  "But I have heard that women can love as
well as men, Madame.  And sometimes ingenuously."

I heard her draw a sigh of relief, and I knew that if I had not
persuaded her I had accomplished much.  I was not surprised when,
laying down the ornament with which she had been toying, she turned on
me one of those rare smiles to which the King could refuse nothing; and
wherein wit, tenderness, and gaiety were so happily blended that no
conceivable beauty of feature, uninspired by sensibility, could vie
with them.  "Good friend, I have sinned," she said.  "But I am a woman,
and I love.  Pardon me. As for your PROTEGEE, from this moment she is
mine also.  I will speak to the King this evening; and if he does not
at once," Madame continued, with a gleam of archness that showed me
that she was not yet free from suspicion, "issue his commands to M. de
Perrot, I shall know what to think; and his Majesty will suffer!"

I thanked her profusely, and in fitting terms.  Then, after a word or
two about some assignments for the expenses of her household, in
settling which there had been delay--a matter wherein, also, I
contrived to do her pleasure and the King's service no wrong--I very
willingly took my leave, and, calling my people, started homewards on
foot.  I had not gone twenty paces, however, before M. de Perrot, whose
impatience had chained him to the spot, crossed the street and joined
himself to me.  "My dear friend," he cried, embracing me fervently, "is
all well?"

"Yes," I said.

"She is appeased?"

"Absolutely."

He heaved a deep sigh of relief, and, almost crying in his joy, began
to thank me, with all the extravagance of phrase and gesture to which
men of his mean spirit are prone.  Through all I heard him silently,
and with secret amusement, knowing that the end was not yet.  At length
he asked me what explanation I had given.

"The only explanation possible," I answered bluntly.  "I had to combat
Madame's jealousy.  I did it in the only way in which it could be done:
by stating that your niece loved your son, and by imploring her good
word on their behalf."

He sprang a pace from me with a cry of rage and astonishment. "You did
that?"  he screamed.

"Softly, softly, M. de Perrot," I said, in a voice which brought him
somewhat to his senses.  "Certainly I did.  You bade me say whatever
was necessary, and I did so.  No more.  If you wish, however," I added
grimly, "to explain to Madame that--"

But with a wail of lamentation he rushed from me, and in a moment was
lost in the darkness; leaving me to smile at this odd termination of an
intrigue that, but for a lad's adroitness, might have altered the
fortunes not of M. de Perrot only but of the King my master and of
France.



II.

THE TENNIS BALLS.


A few weeks before the death of the Duchess of Beaufort, on Easter Eve,
1599, made so great a change in the relations of all at Court that
"Sourdis mourning" came to be a phrase for grief, genuine because
interested, an affair that might have had a serious issue began,
imperceptibly at the time, in the veriest trifle.

One day, while the King was still absent from Paris, I had a mind to
play tennis, and for that purpose summoned La Trape, who had the charge
of my balls, and sometimes, in the absence of better company, played
with me.  Of late the balls he bought had given me small satisfaction,
and I bade him bring me the bag, that I might choose the best.  He did
so, and I had not handled half-a-dozen before I found one, and later
three others, so much more neatly sewn than the rest, and in all points
so superior, that even an untrained eye could not fail to detect the
difference.

"Look, man!"  I said, holding out one of these for his inspection.
"These are balls; the rest are rubbish.  Cannot you see the difference?
Where did you buy these?  At Constant's?"

He muttered, "No, my lord," and looked confused.

This roused my curiosity.  "Where, then?"  I said sharply.

"Of a man who was at the gate yesterday."

"Oh!"  I said.  "Selling tennis balls?"

"Yes, my lord."

"Some rogue of a marker," I exclaimed, "from whom you bought filched
goods!  Who was it, man?"

"I don't know his name," La Trape answered.  "He was a Spaniard."

"Well?"

"Who wanted to have an audience of your excellency."

"Ho!"  I said drily.  "Now I understand.  Bring me your book. Or, tell
me, what have you charged me for these balls?"

"Two francs," he muttered reluctantly.

"And never gave a sou, I'll swear!"  I retorted.  "You took the poor
devil's balls, and left him at the gate!  Ay, it is rogues like you get
me a bad name!"  I continued, affecting more anger than I felt--for, in
truth, I was rather pleased with my quickness in discovering the cheat.
"You steal and I bear the blame, and pay to boot!  Off with you and
find the fellow, and bring him to me, or it will be the worse for you!"

Glad to escape so easily, La Trape ran to the gate; but he failed to
find his friend, and two or three days elapsed before I thought again
of the matter, such petty rogueries being ingrained in a great man's
VALETAILLE, and being no more to be removed than the hairs from a man's
arm.  At the end of that time La Trape came to me, bringing the
Spaniard; who had appeared again at the gate.  The stranger proved to
be a small, slight man, pale and yet brown, with quick-glancing eyes.
His dress was decent, but very poor, with more than one rent neatly
darned.  He made me a profound reverence, and stood waiting, with his
cap in his hand, to be addressed; but, with all his humility, I did not
fail to detect an easiness of deportment and a propriety that did not
seem absolutely strange since he was a Spaniard, but which struck me,
nevertheless, as requiring some explanation.  I asked him, civilly, who
he was.  He answered that his name was Diego.

"You speak French?"

"I am of Guipuzcoa, my lord," he answered, "where we sometimes speak
three tongues."

"That is true," I said.  "And it is your trade to make tennis balls?"

"No, my lord; to use them," he answered with a certain dignity.

"You are a player, then?"

"If it please your excellency."

"Where have you played?"

"At Madrid, where I was the keeper of the Duke of Segovia's court; and
at Toledo, where I frequently had the honour of playing against M. de
Montserrat."

"You are a good player?"

"If your excellency," he answered impulsively, "will give me an
opportunity--"

"Softly, softly," I said, somewhat taken aback by his earnestness.
"Granted that you are a player, you seem to have played to small
purpose.. Why are you here, my friend, and not in Madrid?"

He drew up his sleeves, and showed me that his wrists were deeply
scarred.

I shrugged my shoulders.  "You have been in the hands of the Holy
Brotherhood?"  I said.

"No, my lord," he answered bitterly.  "Of the Holy Inquisition."

"You are a Protestant?"

He bowed.

On that I fell to considering him with more attention, but at the same
time with some distrust; reflecting that he was a Spaniard, and
recalling the numberless plots against his Majesty of which that nation
had been guilty.  Still, if his tale were true he deserved support;
with a view therefore to testing this I questioned him farther, and
learned that he had for a long time disguised his opinions, until,
opening them in an easy moment to a fellow servant, he found himself
upon the first occasion of quarrel betrayed to the Fathers.  After
suffering much, and giving himself up for lost in their dungeons, he
made his escape in a manner sufficiently remarkable, if I might believe
his story.  In the prison with him lay a Moor, for whose exchange
against a Christian taken by the Sallee pirates an order came down.  It
arrived in the evening; the Moor was to be removed in the morning.  An
hour after the arrival of the news, however, and when the two had just
been locked up for the night, the Moor, overcome with excess of joy,
suddenly expired.  At first the Spaniard was for giving the alarm; but,
being an ingenious fellow, in a few minutes he summoned all his wits
together and made a plan.  Contriving to blacken his face and hands
with charcoal he changed clothes with the corpse, and muffling himself
up after the fashion of the Moors in a cold climate he succeeded in the
early morning in passing out in his place.  Those who had charge of him
had no reason to expect an escape, and once on the road he had little
difficulty in getting away, and eventually reached France after a
succession of narrow chances.

All this the man told me so simply that I knew not which to admire
more, the daring of his device--since for a white man to pass for a
brown is beyond the common scope of such disguises--or his present
modesty in relating it.  However, neither of these things seemed to my
mind a good reason for disbelief.  As to the one, I considered that an
impostor would have put forward something more simple; and as to the
other, I have all my life long observed that those who have had strange
experiences tell them in a very ordinary way.  Besides, I had fresh in
my mind the diverting escape of the Duke of Nemours from Lyons, which I
have elsewhere related.  On the other hand, and despite all these
things, the story might be false; so with a view to testing one part of
it, at least, I bade him come and play with me that afternoon.

"My lord," he said bluntly, "I had rather not.  For if I defeat your
excellency, I may defeat also your good intentions.  And if I permit
you to win, I shall seem to be an impostor."

Somewhat surprised by his forethought, I reassured him on this point;
and his game, which proved to be one of remarkable strength and
finesse, and fairly on an equality, as it seemed to me, with that of
the best French players, persuaded me that at any rate the first part
of his tale was true.  Accordingly I made him a present, and, in
addition, bade Maignan pay him a small allowance for a while.  For this
he showed his gratitude by attaching himself to my household; and as it
was the fashion at that time to keep tennis masters of this class, I
found it occasionally amusing to pit him against other well-known
players. In the course of a few weeks he gained me great credit; and
though I am not so foolish as to attach importance to such trifles,
but, on the contrary, think an old soldier who stood fast at Coutras,
or even a clerk who has served the King honestly--if such a prodigy
there be--more deserving than these professors, still I do not err on
the other side; but count him a fool who, because he has solid cause to
value himself, disdains the ECLAT which the attachment of such persons
gives him in the public eye.

The man went by the name of Diego the Spaniard, and his story, which
gradually became known, together with the excellence of his play, made
him so much the fashion that more than one tried to detach him from my
service.  The King heard of him, and would have played with him, but
the sudden death of Madame de Beaufort, which occurred soon afterwards,
threw the Court into mourning; and for a while, in pursuing the
negotiations for the King's divorce, and in conducting a correspondence
of the most delicate character with the Queen, I lost sight of my
player--insomuch, that I scarcely knew whether he still formed part of
my suite or not.

My attention was presently recalled to him, however, in a rather
remarkable manner.  One morning Don Antonio d'Evora, Secretary to the
Spanish Embassy, and a brother of that d'Evora who commanded the
Spanish Foot at Paris in '94, called on me at the Arsenal, to which I
had just removed, and desired to see me.  I bade them admit him; but as
my secretaries were at the time at work with me, I left them and
received him in the garden--supposing that he wished to speak to me,
about the affair of Saluces, and preferring, like the King my master,
to talk of matters of State in the open air.

However, I was mistaken.  Don Antonio said nothing about Savoy, but
after the usual preliminaries, which a Spaniard never omits, plunged
into a long harangue upon the comity which, now that peace reigned,
should exist between the two nations.  For some time I waited patiently
to learn what he would be at; but he seemed to be lost in his own
eloquence, and at last I took him up.

"All this is very well, M. d'Evora," I said.  "I quite agree with you
that the times are changed, that amity is not the same thing as war,
and that a grain of sand in the eye is unpleasant," for he had said all
of these things.  "But I fail, being a plain man and no diplomatist, to
see what you want me to do."

"It is the smallest matter," he said, waving his hand gracefully.

"And yet," I retorted, "you seem to find a difficulty in coming at it."

"As you do at the grain of sand in the eye," he answered wittily.
"After all, however, in what you say, M. de Rosny, there is some truth.
I feel that I am, on delicate ground; but I am sure that you will
pardon me.  You have in your suite a certain Diego."

"It may be so," I said, masking my surprise, and affecting indifference.

"A tennis-player."

I shrugged my shoulders.  "The man is known," I said.

"A Protestant?"

"It is not impossible."

"And a subject of the King, my master.  A man," Don Antonio continued,
with increasing stiffness, "in fine, M. de Rosny, who, after committing
various offences, murdered his comrade in prison, and, escaping in his
clothes, took refuge in this country."

I shrugged my shoulders again.

"I have no knowledge of that," I said coldly.

"No, or I am sure that you would not harbour the fellow," the secretary
answered.  "Now that you do know it, however, I take it for granted
that you will dismiss him?  If you held any but the great place you do
hold, M. de Rosny, it would be different; but all the world see who
follow you, and this man's presence stains you, and is an offence to my
master."

"Softly, softly, M. d'Evora," I said, with a little warmth.  "You go
too fast.  Let me tell you first, that, for my honour, I take care of
it myself; and, secondly, for your master, I do not allow even my own
to meddle with my household."

"But, my lord," he said pompously, "the King of Spain--"

"Is the King of Spain," I answered, cutting him short without much
ceremony.  "But in the Arsenal of Paris, which, for the present, is my
house, I am king.  And I brook no usurpers, M. d'Evora."

He assented to that with a constrained smile.

"Then I can say no more," he answered.  "I have warned you that the man
is a rogue.  If you will still entertain him, I wash my hands of it.
But I fear the consequences, M. de Rosny, and, frankly, it lessens my
opinion of your sagacity."

Thereat I bowed in my turn, and after the exchange of some civilities
he took his leave.  Considering his application after he was gone, I
confess that I found nothing surprising in it; and had it come from a
man whom I held in greater respect I might have complied with it in an
indirect fashion.  But though it might have led me under some
circumstances to discard Diego, naturally, since it confirmed his story
in some points, and proved besides that he was not a persona grata at
the Spanish Embassy, it did not lead me to value him less.  And as
within the week he was so fortunate as to defeat La Varenne's champion
in a great match at the Louvre, and won also a match, at M. de
Montpensier's which put fifty crowns into my pocket, I thought less and
less of d'Evora's remonstrance; until the king's return put it quite
out of my head.  The entanglement with Mademoiselle d'Entragues, which
was destined to be the most fatal of all Henry's attachments, was then
in the forming; and the king plunged into every kind of amusement with
fresh zest.  The very day after his return he matched his marker, a
rogue, but an excellent player, against my man; and laid me twenty
crowns on the event, the match to be played on the following Saturday
after a dinner which M. de Lude was giving in honour of the lady.

On the Thursday, however, who should come in to me, while I was sitting
alone after supper, but Maignan:  who, closing the door and dismissing
the page who waited there, told me with a very long face and an air of
vast importance that he had discovered something.

"Something?"  I said, being inclined at the moment to be merry. "What?
A plot to reduce your perquisites, you rascal?"

"No, my lord," he answered stoutly.  "But to tap your excellency's
secrets."

"Indeed," I said pleasantly, not believing a word of it.  "And who is
to hang?"

"The Spaniard," he answered in a low voice.

That sobered me, by putting the matter in a new light; and I sat a
moment looking at him and reviewing Diego's story, which assumed on the
instant an aspect so uncommon and almost incredible that I wondered how
I had ever allowed it to pass. But when I proceeded from this to the
substance of Maignan's charge I found an IMPASSE in this direction
also, and I smiled. "So it is Diego, is it?"  I said.  "You think that
he is a spy?"

Maignan nodded.

"Then, tell me," I asked, "what opportunity has he of learning more
than all the world knows?  He has not been in my apartments since I
engaged him.  He has seen none of my papers.  The youngest footboy
could tell all he has learned."

"True, my lord," Maignan answered slowly; "but--"

"Well?"

"I saw him this evening, talking with a Priest in the Rue Petits Pois;
and he calls himself a Protestant."

"Ah!  You are sure that the man was a priest?"

"I know him."

"For whom?"

"One of the chaplains at the Spanish Embassy."

It was natural that after this I should take a more serious view of the
matter; and I did so.  But my former difficulty still remained, for,
assuming this to be a cunning plot, and d'Evora's application to me a
ruse to throw me off my guard, I could not see where their advantage
lay; since the Spaniard's occupation was not of a nature to give him
the entry to my confidence or the chance of ransacking my papers.  I
questioned Maignan further, therefore, but without result.  He had seen
the two together in a secret kind of way, viewing them himself from the
window of a house where he had an assignation.  He had not been near
enough to hear what they said, but he was sure that no quarrel took
place between them, and equally certain that it was no chance meeting
that brought them together.

Infected by his assurance, I could still see no issue; and no object in
such an intrigue.  And in the end I contented myself with bidding him
watch the Spaniard closely, and report to me the following evening;
adding that he might confide the matter to La Trape, who was a supple
fellow, and of the two the easier companion.

Accordingly, next evening Maignan again appeared, this time with a face
even longer; so that at first I supposed him to have discovered a plot
worse than Chastel's; but it turned out that he had discovered nothing.
The Spaniard had spent the morning in lounging and the afternoon in
practice at the Louvre, and from first to last had conducted himself in
the most innocent manner possible.  On this I rallied Maignan on his
mare's nest, and was inclined to dismiss the matter as such; still,
before doing so, I thought I would see La Trape, and dismissing Maignan
I sent for him.

When he was come, "Well," I said, "have you anything to say?"

"One little thing only, your excellency," he answered slyly, "and of no
importance."

"But you did not tell it to Maignan?"

"No, my Lord," he replied, his face relaxing in a cunning smile.

"Well?"

"Once to-day I saw Diego where he should not have been."

"Where?"

"In the King's dressing-room at the tennis-court."

"You saw him there?"

"I saw him coming out," he answered.

It may be imagined how I felt on hearing this; for although I might
have thought nothing of the matter before my suspicions were
aroused--since any man might visit such a place out of curiosity--now,
my mind being disturbed, I was quick to conceive the worst, and saw
with horror my beloved master already destroyed through my
carelessness.  I questioned La Trape in a fury, but could learn nothing
more.  He had seen the man slip out, and that was all.

"But did you not go in yourself?"  I said, restraining my impatience
with difficulty.

"Afterwards?  Yes, my lord."

"And made no discovery?"

He shook his head.

"Was anything prepared for his Majesty?"

"There was sherbet; and some water."

"You tried them?"

La Trape grinned.  "No, my lord," he said.  "But I gave some to
Maignan."

"Not explaining?"

"No, my lord."

"You sacrilegious rascal!"  I cried, amused in spite of my anxiety.
"And he was none the worse?"

"No, my lord."

Not satisfied yet, I continued to press him, but with so little success
that I still found myself unable to decide whether the Spaniard had
wandered in innocently or to explore his ground. In the end, therefore,
I made up my mind to see things for myself; and early next morning, at
an hour when I was not likely to be observed, I went out by a back
door, and with my face muffled and no other attendance than Maignan and
La Trape, went to the tennis-court and examined the dressing-room.

This was a small closet on the first floor, of a size to hold two or
three persons, and with a casement through which the King, if he wished
to be private, might watch the game.  Its sole furniture consisted of a
little table with a mirror, a seat for his Majesty, and a couple of
stools, so that it offered small scope for investigation.  True, the
stale sherbet and the water were still there, the carafes standing on
the table beside an empty comfit box, and a few toilet necessaries; and
it will be believed that I lost no time in examining them.  But I made
no discovery, and when I had passed my eye over everything else that
the room contained, and noticed nothing that seemed in the slightest
degree suspicious, I found myself completely at a loss. I went to the
window, and for a moment looked idly into the court.

But neither did any light come thence, and I had turned again and was
about to leave, when my eye alighted on a certain thing and I stopped.

"What is that?"  I said.  It was a thin case, book-shaped, of Genoa
velvet, somewhat worn.

"Plaister," Maignan, who was waiting at the door, answered.  "His
Majesty's hand is not well yet, and as your excellency knows, he--"

"Silence, fool!"  I cried, and I stood rooted to the spot, overwhelmed
by the conviction that I held the clue to the mystery, and so shaken by
the horror which that conviction naturally brought with it that I could
not move a finger.  A design so fiendish and monstrous as that which I
suspected might rouse the dullest sensibilities, in a case where it
threatened the meanest; but being aimed in this at the King, my master,
from whom I had received so many benefits, and on whose life the
well-being of all depended, it goaded me to the warmest resentment.  I
looked round the tennis-court--which, empty, shadowy and silent, seemed
a fit place for such horrors--with rage and repulsion; apprehending in
a moment of sad presage all the accursed strokes of an enemy whom
nothing could propitiate, and who, sooner or later, must set all my
care at nought, and take from France her greatest benefactor.

But, it will be said, I had no proof, only a conjecture; and this is
true, but of it hereafter.  Suffice it that, as soon as I had swallowed
my indignation, I took all the precautions affection could suggest or
duty enjoin, omitting nothing; and then, confiding the matter to no one
the two men who were with me excepted--I prepared to observe the issue
with gloomy satisfaction.

The match was to take place at three in the afternoon.  A little after
that hour, I arrived at the tennis-court, attended by La Font and other
gentlemen, and M. l'Huillier, the councillor, who had dined with me.
L'Huillier's business had detained me somewhat, and the men had begun;
but as I had anticipated this, I had begged my good friend De Vic to
have an eye to my interests. The King, who was in the gallery, had with
him M. de Montpensier, the Comte de Lude, Vitry, Varennes, and the
Florentine Ambassador, with Sancy and some others.  Mademoiselle
d'Entragues and two ladies had taken possession of his closet, and from
the casement were pouring forth a perpetual fire of badinage and BONS
MOTS.  The tennis-court, in a word, presented as different an aspect as
possible from that which it had worn in the morning. The sharp crack of
the ball, as it bounded from side to side, was almost lost in the crisp
laughter and babel of voices; which as I entered rose into a perfect
uproar, Mademoiselle having just flung a whole lapful of roses across
the court in return for some witticism.  These falling short of the
gallery had lighted on the head of the astonished Diego, causing a
temporary cessation of play, during which I took my seat.

Madame de Lude's saucy eye picked me out in a moment.  "Oh, the grave
man!"  she cried.  "Crown him, too, with roses."

"As they crowned the skull at the feast, madame?"  I answered, saluting
her gallantly.

"No, but as the man whom the King delighteth to honour," she answered,
making a face at me.  "Ha!  ha!  I am not afraid!  I am not afraid!  I
am not afraid!"

There was a good deal of laughter at this.  "What shall I do to her, M.
de Rosny?"  Mademoiselle cried out, coming to my rescue.

"If you will have the goodness to kiss her, mademoiselle," I answered,
"I will consider it an advance, and as one of the council of the King's
finances, my credit should be good for the re--"

"Thank you!"  the King cried, nimbly cutting me short.  "But as my
finances seem to be the security, faith, I will see to the repayment
myself!  Let them start again; but I am afraid that my twenty crowns
are yours, Grand Master; your man is in fine play."

I looked into the court.  Diego, lithe and sinewy, with his cropped
black hair, high colour, and quick shallow eyes, bounded here and
there, swift and active as a panther.  Seeing him thus, with his heart
in his returns, I could not but doubt; more, as the game proceeded,
amid the laughter and jests and witty sallies of the courtiers, I felt
the doubt grow; the riddle became each minute more abstruse, the man
more mysterious.  But that was of no moment now.

A little after four o'clock the match ended in my favour; on which the
King, tired of inaction, sprang up, and declaring that he would try
Diego's strength himself, entered the court.  I followed, with Vitry
and others, and several strokes which had been made were tested and
discussed.  Presently, the King going to talk with Mademoiselle at her
window, I remarked the Spaniard and Maignan, with the King's marker,
and one or two others waiting at the further door.  Almost at the same
moment I observed a sudden movement among them, and voices raised
higher than was decent, and I called out sharply to know what it was.

"An accident, my lord," one of the men answered respectfully.

"It is nothing," another muttered.  "Maignan was playing tricks, your
excellency, and cut Diego's hand a little; that is all."

"Cut his hand now!"  I exclaimed angrily "And the King about to play
with him.  Let me see it!"

Diego sulkily held up his hand, and I saw a cut, ugly but of no
importance.

"Pooh!"  I said; "it is nothing.  Get some plaister.  Here, you," I
continued wrathfully, turning to Maignan, "since you have done the
mischief, booby, you must repair it.  Get some plaister, do you hear?
He cannot play in that state."

Diego muttered something, and Maignan that he had not got any; but
before I could answer that he must get some, La Trape thrust his may to
the front, and producing a small piece from his pocket, proceeded with
a droll air of extreme carefulness to treat the hand.  The other knaves
fell into the joke, and the Spaniard had no option but to submit;
though his scowling face showed that he bore Maignan no good-will, and
that but for my presence he might not have been so complaisant.  La
Trape was bringing his surgery to an end by demanding a fee, in the
most comical manner possible, when the King returned to our part of the
court.  "What is it?"  he said.  "Is anything the matter?"

"No, sire," I said.  "My man has cut his hand a little, but it is
nothing."

"Can he play?"  Henry asked with his accustomed good-nature.

"Oh, yes, sire," I answered.  "I have bound it up with a strip of
plaister from the case in your Majesty's closet."

"He has not lost blood?"

"No, sire."

And he had not.  But it was small wonder that the King asked; small
wonder, for the man's face had changed in the last ten seconds to a
strange leaden colour; a terror like that of a wild beast that sees
itself trapped had leapt into his eyes.  He shot a furtive glance round
him, and I saw him slide his hand behind him.  But I was prepared for
that, and as the King moved off a space I slipped to the man's side, as
if to give him some directions about his game.

"Listen," I said, in a voice heard only by him; "take the dressing off
your hand, and I have you broken on the wheel.  You understand?  Now
play."

Assuring myself that he did understand, and that Maignan and La Trape
were at hand if he should attempt anything, I went back to my place,
and sitting down by De Vic began to watch that strange game; while
Mademoiselle's laughter and Madame de Lude's gibes floated across the
court, and mingled with the eager applause and more dexterous
criticisms of the courtiers.  The light was beginning to sink, and for
this reason, perhaps, no one perceived the Spaniard's pallor; but De
Vic, after a rally or two, remarked that he was not playing his full
strength.

"Wise man!"  he added.

"Yes," I said.  "Who plays well against kings plays ill."

De Vic laughed.  "How he sweats!"  he said, "and he never turned a hair
when he played Colet.  I suppose he is nervous."

"Probably," I said.

And so they chattered and laughed--chattered and laughed, seeing an
ordinary game between the King and a marker; while I, for whom the
court had grown sombre as a dungeon, saw a villain struggling in his
own toils, livid with the fear of death, and tortured by horrible
apprehensions.  Use and habit were still so powerful with the man that
he played on mechanically with his hands, but his eyes every now and
then sought mine with the look of the trapped beast; and on these
occasions I could see his lips move in prayer or cursing.  The sweat
poured down his face as he moved to and fro, and I, fancied that his
features were beginning to twitch.  Presently--I have said that the
light was failing, so that it was not in my imagination only that the
court was sombre--the King held his ball.  "My friend, your man is not
well," he said, turning to me.

"It is nothing, sire; the honour you do him makes him nervous," I
answered.  "Play up, sirrah," I continued; "you make too good a
courtier."

Mademoiselle d'Entragues clapped her hands and laughed at the hit; and
I saw Diego glare at her with an indescribable look, in which hatred
and despair and a horror of reproach were so nicely mingled with
something as exceptional as his position, that the whole baffled words.
Doubtless the gibes and laughter he heard, the trifling that went on
round him, the very game in which he was engaged, and from which he
dared not draw back, seemed in his eyes the most appalling mockery; but
ignorant who were in the secret, unable to guess how his diabolical
plot had been discovered, uncertain even whether the whole were not a
concerted piece, he went on playing his part mechanically; with
starting eyes and labouring chest, and lips that, twitching and
working, lost colour each minute.  At length he missed a stroke, and
staggering leaned against the wall, his-face livid and ghastly. The
King took the alarm at that, and cried out that something was wrong.
Those who were sitting rose.  I nodded to Maignan to go to the man.

"It is a fit," I said.  "He is subject to them, and doubtless the
excitement--but I am sorry that it has spoiled your Majesty's game.

"It has not," Henry answered kindly.  "The light is gone.  But have him
looked to, will you, my friend?  If La Riviere were here he might do
something for him."

While he spoke, the servants had gathered round the man, but with the
timidity which characterises that class in such emergencies, they would
not touch him.  As I crossed the court, and they made way for me, the
Spaniard, who was still standing, though in a strange and distorted
fashion, turned his bloodshot eyes on me.

"A priest!"  he muttered, framing the words with difficulty, "a priest!"

I directed Maignan to fetch one.  "And do you," I continued to the
other servants, "take him into a room somewhere."

They obeyed, reluctantly.  As they carried him out, the King, content
with my statement, was giving his hand to Mademoiselle to descend the
stairs; and neither he nor any, save the two men in my confidence, had
the slightest suspicion that aught was the matter beyond a natural
illness.  But I shuddered when I considered how narrow had been the
King's escape, how trifling the circumstance which had led to
suspicion, how fortuitous the inspiration by which I had chanced on
discovery.  The delay of a single day, the occurrence of the slightest
mishap, might have been fatal not to him only but to the best interests
of France; which his death at a time when he was still childless must
have plunged into the most melancholy of wars.

Of the wretched Spaniard I need say little more.  Caught in his own
snare, he was no sooner withdrawn from the court than he fell into
violent convulsions, which held him until midnight when he died with
symptoms and under circumstances so nearly resembling those which had
attended the death of Madame de Beaufort at Easter, that I have several
times dwelt on the strange coincidence, and striven to find the
connecting link.  But I never hit on it; and the King's death, and that
unexplained tendency to imitate great crimes under which the vulgar
labour, prevailed with me to keep the matter secret.  Nay, as I
believed that d'Evora had played the part of an unconscious tool, and
as a hint pressed home sufficed to procure the withdrawal of the
chaplain whom Maignan had named, I did not think it necessary to
disclose the matter even to the King my master.



III.

TWO MAYORS OF BOTTITORT.


Believing that I have now set down all those particulars of the treaty
with Epernon and the consequent pacification of Brittany in the year
1598 which it will be of advantage to the public to know, that it may
the better distinguish in the future those who have selfishly
impoverished the State from those who, in its behalf, have incurred
obloquy and high looks, I proceed next to the events which followed the
King's return to Paris.

But, first, and by way of sampling the diverting episodes that will
occur from time to time in the most laborious existence, and for the
moment reduce the minister to the level of the man, I am tempted to
narrate an adventure that befell me on my return, between Rennes and
Vitre; when the King having preceded me at speed under the pretext of
urgency, but really that he might avoid the prolix addresses that
awaited him in every town, I found myself no more minded to suffer.
Having sacrificed my ease, therefore, in two of the more important
places, and come within as many stages of Vitre, I determined also on a
holiday. Accordingly, directing my baggage and the numerous escort and
suite that attended me to the full tale of four-score horses--to keep
the high road, I struck myself into a byway, intending to seek
hospitality for the night at a house of M. de Laval's; and on the
second evening to render myself with a good grace to the eulogia and
tedious mercies of the Vitre townsfolk.

I kept with me only La Font and two servants.  The day was fine, and
the air brisk; the country open, affording many distant prospects which
the sun rendered cheerful.  We rode for some time, therefore, with the
gaiety of schoolboys released from their tasks, and dining at noon in
the lee of one of the great boulders that there dot the plain, took
pleasure in applying to the life of courts every evil epithet that came
to mind.  For a little time afterwards we rode as cheerfully; but about
three in the afternoon the sky became overcast, and almost at the same
moment we discovered that we had strayed from the track.  The country
in that district resembles the more western parts of Brittany, in
consisting of huge tracts of bog and moorland strewn with rocks and
covered with gorse; which present a cheerful aspect in sunshine, but
are savage and barren to a degree when viewed through sheets of rain or
under a sombre sky.

The position, therefore, was not without its discomforts.  I had taken
care to choose a servant who was familiar with the country, but his
knowledge seemed now at fault.  However, under his direction we
retraced our steps, but still without regaining the road; and as a
small rain presently began to fall and the day to decline, the
landscape which in the morning had flaunted a wild and rugged beauty,
changed to a brown and dreary waste set here and there with ghost-like
stones.  Once astray on this, we found our path beset with sloughs and
morasses; among which we saw every prospect of passing the night, when
La Font espied at a little distance a wind-swept wood that, clothing a
low shoulder of the moor, promised at least a change and shelter.  We
made towards it, and discovered not only all that we had expected to
see, but a path and a guide.

The latter was as much surprised to see us as we to see her, for when
we came upon her she was sitting on the bank beside the path weeping
bitterly.  On hearing us, however, she sprang up and discovered the
form of a young girl, bare-foot and bareheaded, wearing only a short
ragged frock of homespun.  Nevertheless, her face was neither stupid
nor uncomely; and though, at the first alarm, supposing us to be either
robbers or hobgoblins--of which last the people of that country are
peculiarly fearful--she made as if she would escape across the moor,
she stopped as soon as she heard my voice.  I asked her gently where we
were.

At first she did not understand, but the servant who had played the
guide so ill, speaking to her in the PATOIS of the country, she
answered that we were near St. Brieuc, a hamlet not far from Bottitort,
and considerably off our road.  Asked how far it was to Bottitort, she
answered--between two and three leagues, and an indifferent road.

We could ride the distance in a couple of hours, and there remained
almost as much daylight.  But the horses were tired, so, resigning
myself to the prospect of some discomfort, I asked her if there was an
inn at St. Brieuc.

"A poor place for your honours," she answered, staring at us in
innocent wonder, the forgotten tears not dry on her cheeks.

"Never mind; take us to it," I answered.

She turned at the word and tripped on before us.  I bade the servant
ask her, as we went, why she had been crying, and learned through him
that she had been to her uncle's two leagues away to borrow money for
her mother; that the uncle would not lend it, and that now they would
be turned out of their house; that her father was lately dead, and that
her mother kept the inn, and owed the money for meal and cider.

"At least, she says that she does not owe it," the man corrected
himself, "for her father paid as usual at Corpus Christi; but after his
death M. Grabot said that he had not paid, and--"

"M. Grabot?"  I said.  "Who is he?"

"The Mayor of Bottitort."

"The creditor?"

"Yes."

"And how much is owing?"  I asked.

"Nothing, she says."

"But how much does he say?"

"Twenty crowns."

Doubtless some will view my conduct on this occasion with surprise; and
wonder why I troubled myself with inquiries so minute upon a matter so
mean.  But these do not consider that ministers are the King's eyes;
and that in a State no class is so unimportant that it can be safely
overlooked.  Moreover, as the settlement of the finances was one of the
objects of my stay in those parts--and I seldom had the opportunity of
checking the statements made to me by the farmers and lessees of the
taxes, the receivers, gatherers, and, in a word, all the corrupt class
that imparts such views of a province as suit its interests--I was glad
to learn anything that threw light on the real condition of the
country:  the more, as I had to receive at Vitre a deputation of the
notables and officials of the district.

Accordingly, I continued to put questions to her until, crossing a
ridge, we came at last within sight of the inn, a lonely house of
stone, standing in the hollow of the moor and sheltered on one side by
a few gnarled trees that took off in a degree from the bleakness of its
aspect.  The house was of one story only, with a window on either side
of the door, and no other appeared in sight; but a little smoke rising
from the chimney seemed to promise a better reception than the desolate
landscape and the girl's scanty dress had led us to expect.

As we drew nearer, however, a thing happened so remarkable as to draw
our attention in a moment from all these points, and bring us, gaping,
to a standstill.  The shutters of the two windows were suddenly closed
before our eyes with a clap that came sharply on the wind.  Then, in a
twinkling, one window flew open again and a man, seemingly naked,
bounded from it, fled with inconceivable rapidity across the front of
the house and vanished through the other window, which opened to
receive him.  He had scarcely gained that shelter before a coal-black
figure followed him, leaping out of the one window and in at the other
with the same astonishing swiftness--a swiftness which was so great
that before any of us could utter more than an exclamation, the two
figures appeared again round the corner of the house, in the same
order, but this time with so small an interval that the fugitive barely
saved himself through the window.  Once more, while we stared in
stupefaction, they flashed out and in; and this time it seemed to me
that as they vanished the black spectre seized its victim.

When I say that all this time the two figures uttered no sound, that
there was no other living being in sight, and that on every side of the
solitary house the moor, growing each minute more eerie as the day
waned, spread to the horizon, the more superstitious among us may be
pardoned if they gave way to their fears.  La Font was the first to
speak.

"MON DIEU!"  he cried--while the girl moaned in terror, the Breton
crossed himself, and La Trape looked uncomfortable--"the place is
bewitched!"

"Nonsense!"  I said.  "Who is in the house, girl?"

"Only my mother," she wailed.  "Oh, my poor mother!"

I silenced her, scolding them all for fools, and her first; and La
Font, recovering himself, did the same.  But this was the year of that
strange appearance of the spectre horseman at Fontainebleau of which so
much has been said; and my servants, when we had approached the house a
little nearer, and it still remained silent and, as it were, dead to
the eye, would go no farther, but stood in sheer terror and permitted
me to go on alone with La Font.  I confess that the loneliness of the
house, and the dreary waste that surrounded it (which seemed to exclude
the idea of trickery) were not without their effect on my spirits; and
that as I dismounted and approached the door, I felt a kind of chill
not remarkable under the circumstances.

But the courage of the gentleman differs from that of the vulgar in
that he fears yet goes; and I lifted the latch, and entered boldly.
The scene which met my eyes inside was sufficiently commonplace to
reassure me.  At the farther end of a long bare room, draughty,
half-lighted, and having an earthen floor, yet possessing that air of
homeliness which a wood fire never fails to impart, sat a single
traveller; who had drawn his small table under the open chimney, and
there, with his feet almost in the fire, was partaking of a poor meal
of black bread and onions.  He was a tall, spare man, with sloping
shoulders and a long sour face, of which, as I entered, he gave me the
full benefit.

I looked round the room, but look as I might I could see no one else,
nor anything that explained what we had witnessed and I accosted the
man civilly, wishing him good evening.  He made an answer, but
indistinctly, and, this done, went on with his meal like one who viewed
our arrival with little pleasure; while I, puzzled and astonished by
the ordinary look of things and the stillness of the house, affected to
warm my feet at the logs.  At length, espying no signs of disturbance
anywhere, I asked him if he was alone.

"I was, sir," he answered gravely.

I was going on to tell him, though reluctantly, what we had seen
outside, and to question him upon it, when on a sudden, before I could
speak again, he leaned towards me and accosted me with startling
abruptness.  "Sir," he said, "I should like to have your opinion of
Louis Eleven."

I stared at him in the most perfect astonishment; and was for a moment
so completely taken aback that I mechanically repeated his words.  For
answer, he did so also.

"The Eleventh Louis?"  I said.

"Yes," he rejoined, turning his pale visage full upon me.  "What is
your opinion of him, sir?  He was a man?"

"Well," I said, shrugging my shoulders, "I take that for granted."  I
began to think that the traveller was demented.

"And a king?"

"Yes, I suppose so," I answered contemptuously.  "I never heard it
doubted."

He leaned towards me, and spoke with the most eager impressiveness.  "A
man--and a king!"  he said.  "Yet neither a manly king, nor a kingly
man!  You take me?"

"Yes," I said impatiently.  "I see what you mean.

"Neither a kingly man, nor a manly king!"  he repeated with solemn
gusto.  "You take me clearly, I think?"

I had no stomach for further fooleries, and I was about to answer him
with some sharpness--though I could not for the life of me tell whether
he was mad or an eccentric when a harsh voice shrieked in my ear,
"Bob!"  and in a twinkling a red figure appeared bounding and whirling
in the middle of the kitchen; now springing into the air until its head
touched the rafters, now eddying round and round the floor in the
giddiest gyrations.  At the first glance, startled by the voice in my
ear, I recoiled; but a second disclosing what it was, and the secret of
our alarm outside, I masked my movement; and when the man brought his
performance to a sudden stop, and falling on one knee in an attitude of
exaggerated respect held out his cap, I was ready for him.

"Why, you knave," I said, "you should be whipped, not rewarded. Who
gave you leave to play pranks on travellers?"

He looked at me with a droll smile on his round merry face, which at
its gravest was a thing to laugh at.  "Let him whip who is scared," he
said, with roguish impudence.  "Or if there is to be whipping, my lord,
whip Louis XI."

Thus reminded, I turned to the solemn traveller; but my eyes had no
sooner met his than he twisted his visage into so wry a smile--if smile
it could be called--that wherever there was a horse collar he must have
won the prize.  To hide my amusement, I asked them what they were.
"Mountebanks?"  I said curtly.

"Your lordship has pricked the garter offhand," the merry man answered
cheerfully.  "You see before you the renowned Pierre Paladin
VOILA!--and Philibert Le Grand!  of the Breton fairs, monsieur."

"But why this foolery--here?"  I said.

"We took you for another, monsieur," he answered.

"Whom you intended to frighten?"

"Precisely, your grace."

"Well, you are nice rogues," I said, looking at him.

"So is he," he answered, undaunted.

I left the matter there for a moment, while I summoned La Font and the
servants; whose rage, when, entering a-tiptoe and with some misgiving,
they discovered how they had been deceived, and by whom, was scarcely
to be restrained even by my presence. However, aided by Philibert's
comicalities, I presently secured a truce, and the two strollers
vacating in my honour the table by the fire--though they had not the
slightest notion who I was we were soon on terms.  I had taken the
precaution to bring a meal with me, and while La Trape and his
companion unpacked it, and I dried my riding boots, I asked the players
who it was they had meant to frighten.

They were not very willing to tell me, but at length confessed, to my
astonishment, that it was M. Grabot.

"Grabot--Grabot!"  I said, striving to recollect where I had heard the
name.  "The Mayor of Bottitort?"

The solemn man made an atrocious grimace.  Then, "Yes, monsieur, the
Mayor of Bottitort," he said frankly.  "A year ago he put Philibert in
the stocks for a riddle; that is his affair.  And the woman of this
house has more than once befriended me, and he is for turning her out
for a debt she does not owe; and that is my affair.  However, your
lordship's arrival has saved him for this time."

"You expected him here this evening, then?"

"He is coming," he answered, with more than his usual gloom.  "He
passed this way this morning, and announced that on his return he
should spend the night here.  We found the goodwife all of a tremble
when we arrived.  He is a hard man, monsieur," the mountebank continued
bitterly.  "She cried after him that she hoped that God would change
his heart, but he only answered that even if St. Brieuc changed his
body--you know the legend, monseigneur, doubtless--he should be here."

"And here he is," the other, who had been looking out of one of the
windows, cried.  "I see his lanthorn coming down the hill. And by St.
Brieuc, I have it!  I have it," the droll continued, suddenly spinning
round in a wild dance of triumph on the floor, and then as suddenly
stopping and falling into an attitude before us.  "Monsieur, if you
will help us, I have the richest jest ever played.  Pierre, listen.
You, gentlemen all, listen!  We will pretend that he is changed.  He is
a pompous man; he thinks the Mayor of Bottitort equal to the Saint
Pere.  Well, Pierre shall be M. Grabot, Mayor of Bottitort.  You,
monsieur, that we may give him enough of mayors, shall be the Mayor of
Gol, and I will be the Mayor of St. Just.  This gentleman shall swear
to us, so shall the servants.  For him, he does not exist.  Oh, we will
punish him finely."

"But," I said, astounded by the very audacity of the rogue's
proposition, "you do not flatter yourself that you will deceive him?"

"We shall, monsieur, if you will help," he answered confidently. "I
will be warrant for it we shall."

The thing had little of dignity in it, and I wonder now that I
complied; but I have always shared with the King, my master, a taste
for drolleries of the kind suggested; while nothing that I had as yet
heard of this Grabot was of a nature to induce me to spare him.  Seeing
that La Font was tickled with the idea, and that the servants were
a-grin, and the more eager to trick others as they had just been
tricked themselves, I was tempted to consent.

After this, the preparations took not a minute.  Philibert covered his
fool's clothes with a cloak, and their table was drawn nearer to the
fire, so as, with mine, to take up the whole hearth.  La Trape fell
into an attitude behind me; and the Breton, adopting a refinement
suggested at the last moment, was sent out to intercept Grabot before
he entered, and tell him that the inn was full, and that he had better
pass on.

The knave did his business so well that Grabot, being just such a man
as the stroller had described to us, the altercation on the threshold
was of itself the most amusing thing in the world. "Who?"  we heard a
loud, coarse voice exclaim.  "Who d'ye say are here, man?"

"The Mayor of Bottitort."

"MILLE DIABLES!"

"The Mayor of Bottitort and the Mayors of Gol and St. Just," the
servant repeated as if he noticed nothing amiss.

"That is a lie!"  the new comer replied, with a snort of triumph, "and
an impudent one.  But you have got the wrong sow by the ear this time."

"Why, man," a third voice, somewhat nasal and rustical, struck in,
"don't you know the Mayor of Bottitort?"

"I should," my Breton answered bluntly, and making, as we guessed, a
stand before them.  "For I am his servant, and he is this moment at his
meat."

"The Mayor of Bottitort?"

"Yes."

"M. Grabot?"

"Yes."

"And you are his servant?"

"I have thought so for some time," the Breton answered contemptuously.

The Mayor fairly roared in his indignation.  "You--his servant! The
Mayor of Bottitort's?"  he cried in a voice of thunder. "I'll tell you
what you are; you are a liar!--a liar, man, that is what you are!  Why,
you fool, I am the Mayor of Bottitort myself. Now, do you see how you
have wasted yourself?  Out of my way!  Jehan, follow me in.  I shall
look into this.  There is some knavery here, but if Simon Grabot cannot
get to the bottom of it the Mayor of Bottitort will.  Follow me, I say.
My servant indeed?  Come, come!"

And, still grumbling, he flung open the door, which the Breton had left
ajar, and stalked in upon us, fuming and blowing out his cheeks for all
the world like a bantam cock with its feathers erect.  He was a short,
pursy man; with a short nose, a wide face, and small eyes.  But had he
been Caesar and Alexander rolled into one, he could not have crossed
the threshold with a more tremendous assumption of dignity.  Once
inside, he stood and glared at us, somewhat taken aback, I think, for
the moment by our numbers; but recovering himself almost immediately,
he strutted towards us, and, without uncovering or saluting us, he
asked in a deep voice who was responsible for the man outside.

"I am," the graver mountebank answered, looking at the stranger with a
sober air of surprise.  "He is my servant."

"Ah!"  the Mayor exclaimed, with a withering glance.  "And who, may I
ask, are you?"

"You may ask, certainly," the player answered drily.  "But until you
take off your hat I shall not answer."

The Mayor gasped at this rebuff, and turned, if it were possible, a
shade redder; but he uncovered.

"Now I do not mind telling you," Pierre continued, with a mild dignity
admirably assumed, "that I am Simon Grabot, and have the honour to be
Mayor of Bottitort."

"You!"

"Yes, monsieur, I; though perhaps unworthy."

I looked to see an explosion, but the Mayor was too far gone. "Why, you
swindling impostor," he said, with something that was almost admiration
in his tone.  "You are the very prince of cheats!  The king of
cozeners!  But for all that, let me tell you, you have chosen the wrong
ROLE this time.  For I--I, sir, am the Mayor of Bottitort, the very man
whose name you have taken!"

Pierre stared at him in composed silence, which his comrade was the
first to break.  "Is he mad?"  he said in a low voice.

The grave man shook his head.

The Mayor heard and saw; and getting no other answer, began to tremble
between passion and a natural, though ill-defined, misgiving, which the
silent gaze of so large a party--for we all looked at him
compassionately--was well calculated to produce. "Mad?"  he cried.
"No, but some one is, Sir," he continued, turning to La Font with a
gesture in which appeal and impatience were curiously blended, "Do you
know this man?"

"M. Grabot?  Certainly," he answered, without blushing.  "And have
these ten years."

"And you say that he is M. Grabot?"  the poor Mayor retorted, his jaw
falling ludicrously.

"Certainly.  Who should he be?"

The Mayor looked round him, sudden beads of sweat on his brow. "MON
DIEU!" he cried.  "You are all in it.  Here, you, do you know this
person?"

La Trape, to whom he addressed himself, shrugged his shoulders. "I
should," he said.  "The Mayor is pretty well known about here."

"The Mayor?"

"Ay."

"But I am the Mayor--I," Grabot answered eagerly, tapping himself on
the breast in the most absurd manner.  "Don't you know me, my friend?"

"I never saw you before, to my knowledge," the rascal answered
contemptuously; "and I know this country pretty well.  I should think
that you have been crossing St. Brieuc's brook, and forgotten to say
your--"

"Hush!"  the stout player interposed with some sharpness.  "Let him
alone.  LE BON DIEU knows that such a thing may happen to the best of
us."

The Mayor clapped his hand to his head.  "Sir," he said almost humbly,
addressing the last speaker, "I seem to know your voice. Your name, if
you please?"

"Fracasse," he answered pleasantly.  "I am Mayor of Gol."

"You--Fracasse, Mayor of Gol?"  Grabot exclaimed between rage and
terror.  "But Fracasse is a tall man.  I know him as well as I know my
brother."

The pseudo-Fracasse smiled, but did not contradict him.

The Mayor wiped the moisture from his brow.  He had all the
characteristics of an obstinate man; but if there is one thing which I
have found in a long career more true than another, it is that no one
can resist the statements of his fellows.  So much, I verily believe,
is this the case, that if ten men maintain black to be white, the
eleventh will presently be brought into their opinion.  Besides, the
Mayor had a currish side.  He looked piteously from one to another of
us, his cheeks seemed to grow in a moment pale and flabby, and he was
on the point of whimpering, when at the last moment he bethought him of
his servant, and turned to him in a spurt of sudden thankfulness.
"Why, Jehan, man, I had forgotten you," he said.  "Are these men mad,
or am I?"

But Jehan, a simple rustic, was in a state of ludicrous bewilderment.
"Dol, master, I don't know," he stuttered, rubbing his head.

"But I am myself," the Mayor cried, in a most ridiculous tone of
remonstrance.

"Dol, and I don't know," the man whimpered.  "I do believe that there
is a change in you.  I never saw you look the like before. And I never
said any PATER either.  Holy saints!"  the poor fool continued
piteously, "I wish I were at home.  And there, for all I know, my wife
has got another man."

He began to blubber at this; which to us was the most ludicrous
thought, so that it was all we could do to restrain our laughter. But
the Mayor saw things in another light.  Shaken by our steady
persistence in our story, and astounded by our want of respect, the
defection of his follower utterly cowed him.  After staring wildly
about him for a moment, he fairly turned tail, and sat down on an old
box by the door, where with his hands on his knees, he looked out
before him with such an expression of chap-fallen bewilderment as
nearly discovered our plot by throwing us into fits of laughter.

Still he was not persuaded; for, from time to time, he roused himself,
and lifting his head cast suspicious glances at our party.  But the two
strollers, who were now in their element, played their parts with so
much craft and delicacy, and with such an infinity of humour besides,
that everything he overheard plunged him deeper in the slough.  They
knew something of local affairs, and called one another Mayor very
naturally; and mentioning their wives, let drop other scraps of
information that, catching his ear, made the wretched man every now and
then sit up as if a wasp had stung him.  One story in particular which
the false Mayor told--and which, it appeared, was to the knowledge of
all the country round the real Mayor's stock anecdote--had an absurd
effect upon him.  He straightened himself, listened as if his life
depended upon it, and when he heard the well-known ending, uttered,
doubtless, in something of his old tone, he collapsed into himself like
a man who had no longer faith in anything.

Presently, however, an effort of common-sense would again disperse the
fog.  He would raise his head, his eye grow bright, something of his
old pugnacity would come back to him.  He would appear--this more than
once--to be on the point of rising to challenge us.  But these
occasions were as skilfully met as they were easily detected; and as
the rogues had invariably some stroke in reserve that in a twinkling
flung him back into his old state of dazed bewilderment, while it
well-nigh killed us with stifled mirth, they only gave ever new point
to the jest.

This, to be brief, was carried on until I retired; and probably the two
strollers would have kept it up longer if the ludicrous doubt whether
he was himself, which they had lodged in the Mayor's mind, had not at
last spurred him to action.  An hour before midnight, feeling it rankle
intolerably, I suppose, he sprang up on a sudden, dragged the door
open, darted out with the air of a madman, and in a moment was lost in
the darkness of the moor.

When I rose in the morning, therefore, I found him gone, the strollers
looking glum, and the good-wife and her girl between tears and
reproaches.  I could not but feel, on my part, that I had somewhat
stooped in the night's diversion; but before I had time to reflect much
on that an unexpected trait in the strollers' conduct reconciled me to
this odd experience.  They proposed to leave when I did; but a little
before the start they came to me, and set before me very ingenuously
that the woman of the house might suffer through our jest; if I would
help her therefore, they would subscribe two crowns so that she might
have a substantial sum to offer on account of her debt.  As I took this
to be the greater part of their capital, and judged for other reasons
that the offer was genuine, I received it in the best part, and found
their good-nature no less pleasant than their foolery.  I handed over
three crowns for our share, and on that we parted; they set out with
their bundles strapped to their backs, and I waited somewhat
impatiently for La Trape and the Breton to bring round the horses.

Before these appeared, however, La Font, who was at the door, cried out
that the two players were coming hack; and going to the window I saw
with astonishment a whole troop, some mounted and some on foot,
hurrying down the hill after them.  For a moment I felt some alarm,
supposing it to be a scheme of Epernon's to seize my person; and I
cursed the imprudence which had led me to expose myself in this
solitary place.  But a second glance showing me that the Mayor of
Bottitort was among the foremost, I repented almost as seriously of the
unlucky trifling that had landed me in this foolish plight.

I even debated whether I should mount and, if it were possible, get
clear before they arrived; but the rueful faces of the two players as
they appeared breathless in the doorway, and the liking I had taken for
the rascals, decided me to stand my ground "What is it?"  I said.

"The Mayor, monsieur," Philibert answered, while Pierre pursed up his
lips with gloomy gravity.  "I fear it will not stop at the stocks this
time," the rogue continued with a grimace.

His comrade muttered something about a rod and a fool's back; but M.
Grabot's entrance cut his witticism short.  The Mayor, between shame
and rage, and the gratification of his revenge, was almost bursting,
and the moment he caught sight of us opened fire. "All, M. de Gol; we
have them all!"  he cried exultingly.  "Now they shall smart for it!
Depend upon it, it is some deep-laid scheme of that party.  I have said
so."

But the Mayor of Gol, a stout, big, placid man, looked at us
doubtfully.  "Well," he said, "I know these two; they are strolling
mountebanks, honest knaves enough but always in some mischief."

"What, strolling clowns?"  M. Grabot rejoined, his face falling.

"Ay, and you may depend upon it it is some joke of theirs," his friend
answered, his eyes twinkling.  "I begin to think that you would have
done better if you had waited a little before bringing M. le Comte into
the matter."

"Ah, but there are these two," M. Grabot cried, as he recovered from
the momentary panic into which the other's words had thrown him.
"Depend upon it they are the chief movers.  What else but treason could
they mean by asserting that one of them was Mayor of Bottitort?  By
denying my title?  By setting up other officers than those to whom his
Gracious Majesty has delegated his authority?"

"Umph!"  his brother Mayor said, "I don't know these gentlemen."

"No!"  his companion cried in triumph.  "But I intend to know them; and
to know a good deal about them.  Guard the window there," he continued
fussily.  "Where is my clerk?  Is M. de Laval coming?"

Two or three cried obsequiously that he had crossed the hill; and would
arrive immediately.

Hearing this, and thinking it more becoming not to enter into an
altercation, I kept my seat and the scornful silence I had hitherto
maintained.  The two Mayors had brought with them a posse of
busybodies--huissiers, constables, tip-staves, and the like; and these
all gaped upon us as if they saw before them the most notable traitors
of the age.  The women of the house wept in a corner, and the strollers
shrugged their shoulders and strove to appear at their ease.  But the
only person who felt the indifference which they assumed was La Font;
who, obnoxious to none of the annoyances which I foresaw, could hardly
restrain his mirth at the DENOUEMENT which he anticipated.

Meanwhile the Mayor, foreseeing a very different issue, stood blowing
out his cheeks and fixing us with his little eyes with an expression of
dignity that would have pleased me vastly if I had been free to enjoy
it.  But the reflection that Laval's presence, which would cut the knot
of our difficulties, would also place me at the mercy of his wit, did
not enable me to contemplate it with entire indifference.

By-and-by we heard him dismount, and a moment later he came in with a
gentleman and two or three armed servants.  He did not at once see me,
but as the crowd made way for him he addressed himself sharply to M.
Grabot.  "Well, have you got them?"  he said.

"Certainly, M. le Comte."

"Oh!  very well.  Now for the particulars, then.  You must state your
charge quickly, for I have to be in Vitre to-day."

"He alleged that he had been appointed Mayor of Bottitort," Grabot
answered pompously.

"Umph!  I don't know?"  M. de Laval muttered, looking round with a
frown of discontent.  "I hope that you have not brought me hither on a
fool's errand.  Which one?"

"That one," the Mayor said, pointing to the solemn man, whose gravity
and depression were now something preternatural.

"Oh!"  M. de Laval grumbled.  "But that is not all, I suppose. What of
the others?"

M. Grabot pointed to me.  "That one," he said--

He got no farther; for M. de Laval, springing forward, seized my hand
and saluted me warmly.  "Why, your excellency," he cried, in a tone of
boundless surprise, "what are you doing in this GALERE! All last
evening I waited for you, at my house, and now--"

"Here I am," I answered jocularly, "in charge it seems, M. le Comte!"

"MON DIEU!"  he cried.  "I don't understand it!"

I shrugged my shoulders.  "Don't ask me," I said.  "Perhaps your friend
the Mayor call tell you."

"But, Monsieur, I do not understand," the Mayor answered piteously, his
mouth agape with horror, his fat cheeks turning in a moment all
colours.  "This gentleman, whom you seem to know, Monsieur le Comte--"

"Is the Marquis de Rosny, President of the Council, blockhead!" Laval
cried irately.  "You madman!  you idiot!"  he continued, as light broke
in upon him, and he saw that it was indeed on a fool's errand that he
had been roused so early.  "Is this your conspiracy?  Have you dared to
bring me here--"

But I thought that it was time to interfere.  "The truth is," I said,
"that M. Grabot here is not so much to blame.  He was the victim of a
trick which these rascals played on him; and in an idle moment I let it
go on.  That is the whole secret.  However, I forgive him for his
officiousness since it brings us together, and I shall now have the
pleasure of your company to Vitre."

Laval assented heartily to this, and I did not think fit to tell him
more, nor did he inquire; the Mayor's stupidity passing current for
all.  For M. Grabot himself, I think that I never saw a man more
completely confounded.  He stood staring with his mouth open; and, as
much deserted as the statesman who has fallen from office, had not the
least credit even with his own sycophants, who to a man deserted him
and flocked about the Mayor of Gol.  Though I had no reason to pity
him, and, indeed, thought him well punished, I took the opportunity of
saying a word to him before I mounted; which, though it was only a hint
that he should deal gently with the woman of the house, was received
with servility equal to the arrogance he had before displayed; and I
doubt not it had all the effect I desired.  For the strollers, I did
not forget them, but bade them hasten to Vitre, where I would see a
performance.  They did so, and hitting the fancy of Zamet, who chanced
to be still there, and who thought that he saw profit in them, they
came on his invitation to Paris, where they took the Court by storm.
So that an episode trifling in itself, and such as on my part requires
some apology, had for them consequences of no little importance.



IV.

LA TOUSSAINT.


Towards the autumn of 1601, when the affair of M. de Biron, which was
so soon to fill the mouths of the vulgar, was already much in the minds
of those whom the King honoured with his confidence, I was one day
leaving the hall at the Arsenal, after giving audience to such as
wished to see me, when Maignan came after me and detained me; reporting
that a gentleman who had attended early, but had later gone into the
garden, was still in waiting. While Maignan was still speaking the
stranger himself came up, with some show of haste but none of
embarrassment; and, in answer to my salutation and inquiry what I could
do for him, handed me a letter.  He had the air of a man not twenty,
his dress was a trifle rustic; but his strong and handsome figure set
off a face that would have been pleasing but for a something fierce in
the aspect of his eyes.  Assured that I did not know him, I broke the
seal of his letter and found that it was from my old flame Madame de
Bray, who, as Mademoiselle de St. Mesmin, had come so near to being my
wife; as will be remembered by those who have read the early part of
these memoirs.

The young man proved to be her brother, whom she commended to my good
offices, the impoverishment of the family being so great that she could
compass no more regular method of introducing him to the world, though
the house of St. Mesmin is truly respectable and, like my own, allied
to several of the first consequence. Madame de Bray recalled our old
TENDRESSE to my mind, and conjured me so movingly by it--and by the
regard which her family had always entertained for me--that I could not
dismiss the application with the hundred others of like tenor that at
that time came to me with each year.  That I might do nothing in the
dark, however, I invited the young fellow to walk with me in the
garden, and divined, even before he spoke, from the absence of timidity
in his manner, that he was something out of the common. "So you have
come to Paris to make your fortune?"  I said.

"Yes, sir," he answered.

"And what are the tools with which you propose to do it?"  I continued,
between jest and earnest.

"That letter, sir," he answered simply; "and, failing that, two horses,
two suits of clothes, and two hundred crowns."

"You think that those will suffice?"  I said, laughing.

"With this, sir," he answered, touching his sword; "and a good courage."

I could not but stand amazed at his coolness; for he spoke to me as
simply as to a brother, and looked about him with as much or as little
curiosity as Guise or Montpensier.  It was evident that he thought a
St. Mesmin equal to any man under the King; and that of all the St.
Mesmins he did not value himself least.

"Well," I said, after considering him, "I do not think that I can help
you much immediately.  I should be glad to know, however, what plans
you have formed for yourself."

"Frankly, sir," he said, "I thought of this as I travelled; and I
decided that fortune can be won by three things--by gold, by steel, and
by love.  The first I have not, and for the last I have a better use.
Only the second is left.  I shall be Crillon."

I looked at him in astonishment; for the assurance of his manner
exceeded that of his words.  But I did not betray the feeling. "Crillon
was one in a million," I said drily.

"So am I," he answered.

I confess that the audacity of this reply silenced me.  I reflected
that the young man who--brought up in the depths of the country, and
without experience, training or fashion--could so speak in the face of
Paris was so far out of the common that I hesitated to dash his hopes
in the contemptuous way which seemed most natural.  I was content to
remind him that Crillon had lived in times of continual war, whereas
now we were at peace; and, bidding him come to me in a week, I hinted
that in Paris his crowns would find more frequent opportunities of
leaving his pockets than his sword its sheath.

He parted from me with this, seeming perfectly satisfied with his
reception; and marched away with the port of a man who expected
adventures at every corner, and was prepared to make the most of them.
Apparently he did not take my hint greatly to heart, however; for when
I next met him, within the week, he was fashionably dressed, his hair
in the mode, and his company as noble as himself.  I made him a sign to
stop, and he came to speak to me.

"How many crowns are left?"  I said jocularly.

"Fifty," he answered, with perfect readiness.

"What!"  I said, pointing to his equipment with something of the
indignation I felt, "has this cost the balance?

"No," he answered.  "On the contrary, I have paid three months' rent in
advance and a month's board at Zaton's; I have added two suits to my
wardrobe, and I have lost fifty crowns on the dice."

"You promise well!"  I said.

He shrugged his shoulders quite in the fashionable manner. "Always
courage!"  he said; and he went on, smiling.

I was walking at the time with M. de Saintonge, and he muttered, with a
sneer, that it was not difficult to see the end, or that within the
year the young braggart would sink to be a gaming-house bully.  I said
nothing, but I confess that I thought otherwise; the lad's disposition
of his money and his provision for the future seeming to me so
remarkable as to set him above ordinary rules.

From this time I began to watch his career with interest, and I was not
surprised when, in less than a month, something fell out that led the
whole court to regard him with a mixture of amusement and expectancy.

One evening, after leaving the King's closet, I happened to pass
through the east gallery at the Louvre, which served at that time as
the outer antechamber, and was the common resort as well of all those
idlers who, with some pretensions to fashion, lacked the ENTREE, as of
many who with greater claims preferred to be at their ease.  My passage
for a moment stilled the babel which prevailed.  But I had no sooner
reached the farther door than the noise broke out again; and this with
so sudden a fury, the tumult being augmented by the crashing fall of a
table, as caused me at the last moment to stand and turn.  A dozen
voices crying simultaneously, "Have a care!"  and "Not here!  not
here!"  and all looking the same way, I was able to detect the three
principals in the FRACAS.  They were no other than M. de St. Mesmin,
Barradas--a low fellow, still remembered, who was already what
Saintonge had prophesied that the former would become--and young St.
Germain, the eldest son of M. de Clan.

I rather guessed than heard the cause of the quarrel, and that St.
Mesmin, putting into words what many had known for years and some made
their advantage of, had accused Barradas of cheating. The latter's fury
was, of course, proportioned to his guilt; an instant challenge while I
looked was his natural answer.  This, as he was a consummate swordsman,
and had long earned his living as much by fear as by fraud, should have
been enough to stay the greediest stomach; but St. Mesmin was not
content.  Treating the knave, the word once passed, as so much dirt, he
transferred his attack to St. Germain, and called on him to return the
money he had won by betting on Barradas.

St. Germain, a young spark as proud and headstrong as St. Mesmin
himself, and possessed of friends equal to his expectations, flung back
a haughty refusal.  He had the advantage in station and popularity; and
by far the larger number of those present sided with him.  I lingered a
moment in curiosity, looking to see the accuser with all his boldness
give way before the almost unanimous expression of disapproval.  But my
former judgment of him had been correctly formed; so far from being
browbeaten or depressed by his position, he repeated the demand with a
stubborn persistence that marvellously reminded me of Crillon; and
continued to reiterate it until all, except St. Germain himself, were
silent.  "You must return my money!"  he kept on saying monotonously.
"You must return my money.  This man cheated, and you won my money.
You must pay or fight."

"With a dead man?"  St. Germain replied, gibing at him.

"No, with me."

"Barradas will spit you!"  The other scoffed.  "Go and order your
coffin, and do not trouble me."

"I shall trouble you.  If you did not know that he cheated, pay; and if
you did know, fight."

"I know?"  St. Germain retorted fiercely.  "You madman!  Do you mean to
say that I knew that he cheated?"

"I mean what I say!"  St. Mesmin returned stolidly.  "You have won my
money.  You must return it.  If you will not return it, you must fight."

I should have heard more, but at that moment the main door opened, and
two or three gentlemen who had been with the King came out.  Not
wishing to be seen watching the brawl, I moved away and descended the
stairs; and Varenne overtaking me a moment later, and entering on the
Biron affair--of which I had just been discussing the latest
developments with the King--I forgot St. Mesmin for the time, and only
recalled him next morning when Saintonge, being announced, came into my
room in a state of great excitement, and almost with his first sentence
brought out his name.

"Barradas has not killed him then?"  I said, reproaching myself in a
degree for my forgetfulness.

"No!  He, Barradas!"  Saintonge answered.

"No?"  I exclaimed.

"Yes!"  he said.  "I tell you, M. le Marquis, he is a devil of a
fellow--a devil of a fellow!  He fought, I am told, just like Crillon;
rushed in on that rascal and fairly beat down his guard, and had him
pinned to the ground before he knew that they had crossed swords!"

"Well," I said, "there is one scoundrel the less.  That is all."

"Ah, but that is not all!"  my visitor replied more seriously. "It
should be, but it is not; and it is for that reason I am come to you.
You know St. Germain?"

"I know that his father and you are--well, that you take opposite
sides," I said smiling.

"That is pretty well known," he answered coldly.  "Anyway, this lad is
to fight St. Germain to-morrow; and now I hear that M. de Clan, St.
Germain's father, is for shutting him up.  Getting a LETTRE DE CACHET
or anything else you please, and away with him."

"What!  St. Germain?"  I said.

"No!"  M. de Saintonge answered, prolonging the sound to the utmost.
"St. Mesmin!"

"Oh," I said, "I see."

"Yes," the Marquis retorted pettishly, "but I don't.  I don't see.  And
I beg to remind you, M. de Rosny, that this lad is my wife's second
cousin through her step-father, and that I shall resent any
interference with him.  I have spent enough and done enough in the
King's service to have my wishes respected in a small matter such as
this; and I shall regard any severity exercised towards my kinsman as a
direct offence to myself. Whereas M. de Clan, who will doubtless be
here in a few minutes, is--"

"But stop," I said, interrupting him, "I heard you speaking of this
young fellow the other day.  You did not tell me then that he was your
kinsman."

"Nevertheless he is; my wife's second cousin," he answered with heat.

"And you wish him to--"

"Be let alone!"  he replied interrupting me in his turn more harshly
than I approved.  "I wish him to be let alone.  If he will fight St.
Germain, and kill or be killed, is that the King's affair that he need
interfere?  I ask for no interference," M. de Saintonge continued
bitterly, "only for fair play and no favour. And for M. de Clan who is
a Republican at heart, and a Bironist, and has never done anything but
thwart the King, for him to come now, and--faugh!  it makes me sick."

"Yes," I said drily; "I see."

"You understand me?"

"Yes," I said, "I think so."

"Very well," he replied haughtily--he had gradually wrought himself
into a passion; "be good enough to bear my request in mind then; and my
services also.  I ask no more, M. de Rosny, than is due to me and to
the King's honour."

And with that, and scarcely an expression of civility, he left me.
Some may wonder, I know, that, having in the Edict of Blois, which
forbade duelling and made it a capital offence, an answer to convince
even his arrogance, I did not use this weapon; but, as a fact, the
edict was not published until the following June, when, partly in
consequence of this affair and at my instance, the King put it forth.

Saintonge could scarcely have cleared the gates before his prediction
was fulfilled.  His enemy arrived hot foot, and entered to me with a
mien so much lowered by anxiety and trouble that I hardly knew him for
the man who had a hundred times rebuffed me, and whom the King's offers
had found consistently obdurate.  All I had ever known of M. de Clan
heightened his present humility and strengthened his appeal; so that I
felt pity for him proportioned not only to his age and necessity, but
to the depth of his fall.  Saintonge had rightly anticipated his
request; the first, he said, with a trace of his old pride, that he had
made to the King in eleven years:  his son, his only son and only
child--the single heir of his name!  He stopped there and looked at me;
his eyes bright, his lips trembling and moving without sound, his hands
fumbling on his knees.

"But," I said, "your son wishes to fight, M. de Clan?"

He nodded.

"And you cannot hinder him?"

He shrugged his shoulders grimly.  "No," he said; "he is a St. Germain."

"Well, that is just my case," I answered.  "You see this young fellow
St. Mesmin was commended to me, and is, in a manner, of my household;
and that is a fatal objection.  I cannot possibly act against him in
the manner you propose.  You must see that; and for my wishes, he
respects them less than your son regards yours."

M. de Clan rose, trembling a little on his legs, and glaring at me out
of his fierce old eyes.  "Very well," he said, "it is as much as I
expected.  Times are changed--and faiths--since the King of Navarre
slept under the same bush with Antoine St. Germain on the night before
Cahors!  I wish you good-day, M. le Marquis."

I need not say that my sympathies were with him, and that I would have
helped him if I could; but in accordance with the maxim which I have
elsewhere explained, that he who places any consideration before the
King's service is not fit to conduct it, I did not see my way to thwart
M. de Saintonge in a matter so small.  And the end justified my
inaction; for the duel, taking place that evening, resulted in nothing
worse than a serious, but not dangerous, wound which St. Mesmin,
fighting with the same fury as in the morning, contrived to inflict on
his opponent.

For some weeks after this I saw little of the young firebrand, though
from time to time he attended my receptions and invariably behaved to
me with a modesty which proved that he placed some bounds to his
presumption.  I heard, moreover, that M. de Saintonge, in
acknowledgment of the triumph over the St. Germains which he had
afforded him, had taken him up; and that the connection between the
families being publicly avowed, the two were much together.

Judge of my surprise, therefore, when one day a little before
Christmas, M. de Saintonge sought me at the Arsenal during the
preparation of the plays and interludes--which were held there that
year--and, drawing me aside into the garden, broke into a furious
tirade against the young fellow.

"But," I said, in immense astonishment, "what is this?  I thought that
he was a young man quite to your mind; and--"

"He is mad!"  he answered.

"Mad?"  I said.

"Yes, mad!"  he repeated, striking the ground violently with his cane.
"Stark mad, M. de Rosny.  He does not know himself!  What do you
think--but it is inconceivable.  He proposes to marry my daughter!
This penniless adventurer honours Mademoiselle de Saintonge by
proposing for her!"

"Pheugh!"  I said.  "That is serious."

"He--he!  I don't think I shall ever get over it!"  he answered.

"He has, of course, seen Mademoiselle?"

M. de Saintonge nodded.

"At your house, doubtless?"

"Of course!"  he replied, with a snap of rage.

"Then I am afraid it is serious," I said.

He stared at me, and for an instant I thought that he was going to
quarrel with me.  Then he asked me why.

I was not sorry to have this opportunity of at once increasing his
uneasiness, and requiting his arrogance.  "Because," I said, "this
young man appears to me to be very much out of the common. Hitherto,
whatever he has said he would do, he has done.  You remember Crillon?
Well, I trace a likeness.  St. Mesmin has much of his headlong temper
and savage determination.  If you will take my advice, you will proceed
with caution."

M. de Saintonge, receiving an answer so little to his mind, was almost
bursting with rage.  "Proceed with caution!"  he cried. "You talk as if
the thing could be entertained, or as if I had cause to fear the
coxcomb!  On the contrary, I intend to teach him a lesson a little
confinement will cool his temper.  You must give me a letter, my
friend, and we will clap him in the Bastille for a month or two."

"Impossible," I said firmly.  "Quite impossible, M. le Marquis."

M. de Saintonge looked at me, frowning.  "How?"  he said arrogantly.
"Have my services earned no better answer than that?"

"You forget," I replied.  "Let me remind you that less than a month ago
you asked me not to interfere with St. Mesmin; and at your instance I
refused to accede to M. de Clan's request that I would confine him.
You were then all for non-interference, M. de Saintonge, and I cannot
blow hot and cold.  Besides, to be plain with you," I continued, "even
if that were not the case, this young fellow is in a manner under my
protection; which renders it impossible for me to move against him.  If
you like, however, I will speak to him."

"Speak to him!"  M. de Saintonge cried.  He was breathless with rage.
He could say no more.  It may be imagined how unpalatable my answer was
to him.

But I was not disposed to endure his presumption and ill-temper beyond
a certain point; and feeling no sympathy with him in a difficulty which
he had brought upon himself by his spitefulness, I answered him
roundly.  "Yes," I said, "I will speak to him, if you please.  But not
otherwise.  I can assure you, I should not do it for everyone."

But M. de Saintonge's chagrin and rage at finding himself thus
rebuffed, in a quarter where his haughty temper had led him to expect
an easy compliance, would not allow him to stoop to my offer.  He flung
away with expressions of the utmost resentment, and even in the hearing
of my servants uttered so many foolish and violent things against me,
that had my discretion been no greater than his I must have taken
notice of them.  As, however, I had other and more important affairs
upon my hands, and it has never been my practice to humour such
hot-heads by placing myself on a level with them, I was content to
leave his punishment to St. Mesmin; assured that in him M. Saintonge
would find an opponent more courageous and not less stubborn than
himself.

The event bore me out, for within a week M. de St. Mesmin's pretensions
to the hand of Mademoiselle de Saintonge shared with the Biron affair
the attention of all Paris.  The young lady, whose reputation and the
care which had been spent on her breeding, no less than her gifts of
person and character, deserved a better fate, attained in a moment a
notoriety far from enviable; rumour's hundred tongues alleging, and
probably with truth--for what father can vie with a gallant in a
maiden's eyes?--that her inclinations were all on the side of the
pretender.  At any rate, St. Mesmin had credit for them; there was talk
of stolen meetings and a bribed waiting-woman; and though such tales
were probably as false as those who gave them currency were fair, they
obtained credence with the thoughtless, and being repeated from one to
another, in time reached her father's ears, and contributed with St.
Mesmin's persecution to render him almost beside himself.

Doubtless with a man of less dogged character, or one more amenable to
reason, the Marquis would have known how to deal; but the success which
had hitherto rewarded St. Mesmin's course of action had confirmed the
young man in his belief that everything was to be won by courage; so
that the more the Marquis blustered and threatened the more persistent
the suitor showed himself. Wherever Mademoiselle's presence was to be
expected, St. Mesmin appeared, dressed in the extreme of the fashion
and wearing either a favour made of her colours or a glove which he
asserted that she had given him.  Throwing himself in her road on every
occasion, he expressed his passion by the most extravagant looks and
gestures; and protected from the shafts of ridicule alike by his
self-esteem and his prowess, did a hundred things that rendered her
conspicuous and must have covered another than himself with
inextinguishable laughter.

In these circumstances M. de Saintonge began to find that the darts
which glanced off his opponent's armour were making him their butt; and
that he, who had valued himself all his life on a stately dignity and a
pride:  almost Spanish, was rapidly becoming the laughing-stock of the
Court.  His rage may be better imagined than described, and doubtless
his daughter did not go unscathed. But the ordinary contemptuous
refusal which would have sent another suitor about his business was of
no avail here; he had no son, while St. Mesmin's recklessness rendered
the boldest unwilling to engage him.  Saintonge found himself therefore
at his wits' end, and in this emergency bethought him again of a LETTRE
DE CACHET.  But the King proved as obdurate as his minister; partly in
accordance with a promise he had made me about a year before that he
would not commonly grant what I had denied, and partly because Biron's
affair had now reached a stage in which Saintonge's aid was no longer
of importance.

Thus repulsed, the Marquis made up his mind to carry his daughter into
the country; but St. Mesmin meeting this with the confident assertion
that he would abduct her within a week, wherever she was confined,
Saintonge, desperate as a baited bull, and trembling with rage--for the
threat was uttered at Zamet's and was repeated everywhere--avowed
equally publicly that since the King would give him no satisfaction he
would take the law into his own hands, and serve this impudent braggart
as Guise served St. Megrin.  As M. le Marquis maintained a considerable
household, including some who would not stick at a trifle, it was
thought likely enough that he would carry out his threat; especially as
the provocation seemed to many to justify it.  St. Mesmin was warned,
therefore; but his reckless character was so well known that odds were
freely given that he would be caught tripping some night--and for the
last time.

At this juncture, however, an unexpected ally, and one whose appearance
increased Saintonge's rage to an intolerable extent, took up St.
Mesmin's quarrel.  This was young St. Germain, who, quitting his
chamber, was to be seen everywhere on his antagonist's arm.  The old
feud between the Saint Germains and Saintonges aggravated the new; and
more than one brawl took place in the streets between the two parties.
St. Germain never moved without four armed servants; he placed others
at his friend's disposal; and wherever he went he loudly proclaimed
what he would do if a hair of St. Mesmin's head were injured.

This seemed to place an effectual check on M. de Saintonge's purpose;
and my surprise was great when, about a week later, the younger St.
Germain burst in upon me one morning, with his face inflamed with anger
and his dress in disorder; and proclaimed, before I could rise or
speak, that St. Mesmin had been murdered.

"How?"  I said, somewhat startled.  "And when?"

"By M. de Saintonge!  Last night!"  he answered furiously.  "But I will
have justice; I will have justice, M. de Rosny, or the King--"

I checked him as sternly as my surprise would let me; and when I had a
little abashed him--which was not easy, for his temper vied in
stubbornness with St. Mesmin's--I learned the particulars. About ten
o'clock on the previous night St. Mesmin had received a note, and, in
spite of the remonstrances of his servants, had gone out alone.  He had
not returned nor been seen since, and his friends feared the worst.

"But on what grounds?"  I said, astonished to find that that was all.

"What!"  St. Germain cried, flaring up again.  "Do you ask on what
grounds?  When M. de Saintonge has told a hundred what he would do to
him!  What he would do--do, I say?  What he has done!"

"Pooh!"  I said.  "It is some assignation, and the rogue is late in
returning."

"An assignation, yes," St. Germain retorted; "but one from which he
will not return."

"Well, if he does not, go to the Chevalier du Guet," I answered, waving
him off.  "Go!  do you hear?  I am busy," I continued. "Do you think
that I am keeper of all the young sparks that bay the moon under the
citizens' windows?  Be off, sir!"

He went reluctantly, muttering vengeance; and I, after rating Maignan
soundly for admitting him, returned to my work, supposing that before
night I should hear of St. Mesmin's safety.  But the matter took
another turn, for while I was at dinner the Captain of the Watch came
to speak to me.  St. Mesmin's cap had been found in a bye-street near
the river, in a place where there were marks of a struggle; and his
friends were furious.  High words had already passed between the two
factions, St. Germain openly accusing Saintonge of the murder; plainly,
unless something were done at once, a bloody fray was imminent.

"What do you think yourself, M. le Marchand?"  I said, when I had heard
him out.

He shrugged his shoulders.  "What can I think, your Excellency?" he
said.  "What else was to be expected?"

"You take it for granted that M. de Saintonge is guilty?"

"The young man is gone," he answered pithily.

In spite of this, I thought the conclusion hasty, and contented myself
with bidding him see St. Germain and charge him to be quiet; promising
that, if necessary, the matter should be investigated and justice done.
I still had good hopes that St. Mesmin's return would clear up the
affair, and the whole turn out to be a freak on his part; but within a
few hours tidings that Saintonge had taken steps to strengthen his
house and was lying at home, refusing to show himself, placed a
different and more serious aspect on the mystery.  Before noon next day
M. de Clan, whose interference surprised me not a little, was with me
to support his son's petition; and at the King's LEVEE next day St.
Germain accused his enemy to the King's face, and caused an angry and
indecent scene in the chamber.

When a man is in trouble foes spring up, as the moisture rises through
the stones before a thaw.  I doubt if M. de Saintonge was not more
completely surprised than any by the stir which ensued, and which was
not confined to the St. Germains' friends, though they headed the
accusers.  All whom he had ever offended, and all who had ever offended
him, clamoured for justice; while St. Mesmin's faults being forgotten
and only his merits remembered, there were few who did not bow to the
general indignation, which the young and gallant, who saw that at any
moment his fate might be theirs, did all in their power to foment.
Finally, the arrival of St. Mesmin the father, who came up almost
broken-hearted, and would have flung himself at the King's feet on the
first opportunity, roused the storm to the wildest pitch; so that, in
the fear lest M. de Biron's friends should attempt something under
cover of it, I saw the King and gave him my advice.  This was to summon
Saintonge, the St. Germains, and old St. Mesmin to his presence and
effect a reconciliation; or, failing that, to refer the matter to the
Parliament.

He agreed with me and chose to receive them next day at the Arsenal.  I
communicated his commands, and at the hour named we met, the King
attended by Roquelaure and myself.  But if I had flattered myself that
the King's presence would secure a degree of moderation and
reasonableness I was soon undeceived; for though M. de St. Mesmin had
only his trembling head and his tears to urge, Clan and his son fell
upon Saintonge with so much violence--to which he responded by a fierce
and resentful sullenness equally dangerous--that I feared that blows
would be struck even before the King's face.  Lest this should happen
and the worst traditions of old days of disorder be renewed, I
interposed and managed at length to procure silence.

"For shame, gentlemen, for shame!"  the King said, gnawing his
moustachios after a fashion he had when in doubt.  "I take Heaven to
witness that I cannot say who is right!  But this brawling does no
good.  The one fact we have is that St. Mesmin has disappeared."

"Yes, sire; and that M. de Saintonge predicted his disappearance," St.
Germain cried, impulsively.  "To the day and almost to the hour."

"I gather, de Saintonge," the King said, turning to him, mildly, "that
you did use some expressions of that kind."

"Yes, sire, and did nothing upon them," he answered resentfully. But he
trembled as he spoke.  He was an older man than his antagonist, and the
latter's violence shook him.

"But does M. de Saintonge deny," St. Germain broke out afresh before
the King could speak, "that my friend had made him a proposal for his
daughter?  and that he rejected it?"

"I deny nothing!"  Saintonge cried, fierce and trembling as a baited
animal.  "For that matter, I would to Heaven he had had her!"  he
continued bitterly.

"Ay, so you say now," the irrepressible St. Germain retorted, "when you
know that he is dead!"

"I do not know that he is dead," Saintonge answered.  "And, for that
matter, if he were alive and here now he should have her.  I am tired;
I have suffered enough."

"What!  Do you tell the King," the young fellow replied incredulously,
"that if St. Mesmin were here you would give him your daughter?"

"I do--I do!"  the other exclaimed passionately.  "To be rid of him,
and you, and all your crew!"

"Tut, tut!"  the King said.  "Whatever betides, I will answer for it,
you shall have protection and justice, M. de Saintonge.  And do you,
young sir, be silent.  Be silent, do you hear!  We have had too much
noise introduced into this already."

He proceeded then to ask certain details, and particularly the hour at
which St. Mesmin had been last seen.  Notwithstanding that these facts
were in the main matters of common agreement, some wrangling took place
over them; which was only brought to an end at last in a manner
sufficiently startling.  The King with his usual thoughtfulness had
bidden St. Mesmin be seated.  On a sudden the old man rose; I heard him
utter a cry of amazement, and following the direction of his eyes I
looked towards the door.  There stood his son!

At an appearance so unexpected a dozen exclamations filled the air; but
to describe the scene which ensued or the various emotions that were
evinced by this or that person, as surprise or interest or affection
moved them, were a task on which I am not inclined to enter.  Suffice
it that the foremost and the loudest in these expressions of admiration
was young St. Germain; and that the King, after glancing from face to
face in puzzled perplexity, began to make a shrewd guess at the truth.

"This is a very timely return, M. de St. Mesmin," he said drily.

"Yes, sire," the young impertinent answered, not a whit abashed.

"Very timely, indeed."

"Yes, sire.  And the more as St. Germain tells me that M. de Saintonge
in his clemency has reconsidered my claims; and has undertaken to use
that influence with Mademoiselle which--"

But on that word M. de Saintonge, comprehending the RUSE by which he
had been overcome, cut him short; crying out in a rage that he would
see him in perdition first.  However, we all immediately took the
Marquis in hand, and made it our business to reconcile him to the
notion; the King even making a special appeal to him, and promising
that St. Mesmin should never want his good offices. Under this
pressure, and confronted by his solemn undertaking, Saintonge at last
and with reluctance gave way.  At the King's instance, he formally gave
his consent to a match which effectually secured St. Mesmin's fortunes,
and was as much above anything the young fellow could reasonably expect
as his audacity and coolness exceeded the common conceit of courtiers.

Many must still remember St. Mesmin; though an attack of the small-pox,
which disfigured him beyond the ordinary, led him to leave Paris soon
after his marriage.  He was concerned, I believe, in the late
ill-advised rising in the Vivarais; and at that time his wife still
lived.  But for some years past I have not heard his name, and only now
recall it as that of one whose adventures, thrust on my attention,
formed an amusing interlude in the more serious cares which now demand
our notice.



V.

THE LOST CIPHER.


I might spend many hours in describing the impression which this great
Sovereign made upon my mind; but if the part which she took in the
conversation I have detailed does not sufficiently exhibit those
qualities of will and intellect which made her the worthy compeer of
the King my master, I should labour in vain. Moreover, my stay in her
neighbourhood, though Raleigh and Griffin showed me every civility, was
short.  An hour after taking leave of her, on the 15th of August, 1601,
I sailed from Dover, and crossing to Calais without mishap anticipated
with pleasure the King's satisfaction when he should hear the result of
my mission, and learn from my mouth the just and friendly sentiments
which Queen Elizabeth entertained towards him.

Unfortunately I was not able to impart these on the instant. During my
absence a trifling matter had carried the King to Dieppe, whence his
anxiety on the queen's account, who was shortly to be brought to bed,
led him to take the road to Paris. He sent word to me to follow him,
but necessarily some days elapsed before we met; an opportunity of
which his enemies and mine were quick to take advantage, and that so
insidiously and with so much success as to imperil not my reputation
only but his happiness.

The time at their disposal was increased by the fact; that when I
reached the Arsenal I found the Louvre vacant, the queen, who lay at
Fontainebleau, having summoned the King thither.  Ferret, his
secretary, however, awaited me with a letter, in which Henry, after
expressing his desire to see we, bade me nevertheless stay in Paris a
day to transact some business.  "Then," he continued, "come to me, my
friend, and we will discuss the matter of which you know.  In the
meantime send me your papers by Ferret, who will give you a receipt for
them."

Suspecting no danger in a course which was usual enough, I hastened to
comply.  Summoning Maignan, who, whenever I travelled, carried my
portfolio, I unlocked it, and emptying the papers in a mass on the
table, handed them in detail to Ferret. Presently, to my astonishment,
I found that one, and this the most important, was missing.  I went
over the papers again, and again, and yet again.  Still it was not to
be found.

It will be remembered that whenever I travelled on a mission of
importance I wrote my despatches in one of three modes, according as
they were of little, great, or the first importance; in ordinary
characters that is, in a cipher to which the council possessed the key,
or in a cipher to which only the King and I held keys.  This last, as
it was seldom used, was rarely changed; but it was my duty, on my
return from each mission, immediately to remit my key to the King, who
deposited it in a safe place until another occasion for its use arose.

It was this key which was missing.  I had been accustomed to carry it
in the portfolio with the other papers; but in a sealed envelope which
I broke and again sealed with my own signet whenever I had occasion to
use the cipher.  I had last seen the envelope at Calais, when I handed
the portfolio to Maignan before beginning my journey to Paris; the
portfolio had not since been opened, yet the sealed packet was missing.

More than a little uneasy, I recalled Maignan, who had withdrawn after
delivering up his charge, "You rascal!"  I said with some heat.  "Has
this been out of your custody?"

"The bag?"  he answered, looking at it.  Then his face changed. "You
have cut your finger, my lord," he said.

I had cut it slightly in unbuckling the portfolio, and a drop or two of
blood had fallen on the papers.  But his reference to it at this
moment, when my mind was full of my loss, angered me, and even awoke my
suspicions.  "Silence!"  I said, "and answer me. Have you let this bag
out of your possession?"  This time he replied straightforwardly that
he had not.

"Nor unlocked it?"

"I have no key, your excellency."

That was true; and as I had at bottom the utmost confidence in his
fidelity, I pursued the inquiry no farther in that direction, but made
a third search among the papers.  This also failing to bring the packet
to light, and Ferret being in haste to be gone, I was obliged for the
moment to put up with the loss, and draw what comfort I could from the
reflection that, no despatch in the missing cipher was extant.  Whoever
had stolen it, therefore, another could be substituted for it and no
one the worse.  Still I was unwilling that the King should hear of the
mischance from a stranger, and be led to think me careless; and I bade
Ferret be silent about it unless Henry missed the packet, which might
not happen before my arrival.

When the secretary, who readily assented, had given me his receipt and
was gone, I questioned Maignan afresh and more closely, but with no
result.  He had not seen me place the packet in the portfolio at
Calais, and that I had done so I could vouch only my own memory, which
I knew to be fallible.  In the meantime, though the mischance annoyed
me, I attached no great importance to it; but anticipating that a word
of explanation would satisfy the King, and a new cipher dispose of
other difficulties, I dismissed the matter from my mind.

Twenty-four hours later, however, I was rudely awakened.  A courier
arrived from Henry, and surprising me in the midst of my last
preparations at the Arsenal, handed me an order to attend his Majesty;
an order couched in the most absolute and peremptory terms, and lacking
all those friendly expressions which the King never failed to use when
he wrote to me.  A missive so brief and so formal--and so needless, for
I was on the point of starting--had not reached me for years; and
coming at this moment when I had no reason to expect a reverse of
fortune, it had all the effect of a thunder-bolt in a clear sky.  I
stood stunned, the words which I was dictating to my secretary dying on
my lips. For I knew the King too well, and had experienced his kindness
too lately to attribute the harshness of the order to chance or
forgetfulness; and assured in a moment that I stood face to face with a
grave crisis, I found myself hard put to it to hide my feelings from
those about me.

Nevertheless, I did so with all effort; and, sending for the courier
asked him with an assumption of carelessness what was the latest news
at Court.  His answer, in a measure, calmed my fears, though it could
not remove them.  He reported that the queen had been taken ill or so
the rumour went.

"Suddenly?"  I said.

"This morning," he answered.

"The King was with her?"

"Yes, your excellency."

"Had he left her long when he sent this letter?"

"It came from her chamber, your excellency."

"But--did you understand that her Majesty was in danger?"  I urged.

As to that, however, the man could not say anything; and I was left to
nurse my conjectures during the long ride to Fontainebleau, where we
arrived in the cool of the evening, the last stage through the forest
awakening memories of past pleasure that combated in vain the disorder
and apprehension which held my spirits.  Dismounting in the dusk at the
door of my apartments, I found a fresh surprise awaiting me in the
shape of M. de Concini, the Italian; who advancing to meet me before my
foot was out of the stirrup, announced that he came from the King, who
desired my instant attendance in the queen's closet.

Knowing Concini to be one of those whose influence with her Majesty had
more than once tempted the King to the most violent measures against
her--from which I had with difficulty dissuaded him--I augured the
worst from the choice of such a messenger; and wounded alike in my
pride and the affection in which I held the King, could scarcely find
words in which to ask him if the queen was ill.

"Indisposed, my lord," he replied carelessly.  And he began to whistle.

I told him that I would remove my boots and brush off the dust, and in
five minutes be at his service.

"Pardon me," he said, "my orders are strict; and they are to request
you to attend his Majesty immediately.  He expected you an hour ago."

I was thunderstruck at this--at the message, and at the man's manner;
and for a moment I could scarcely restrain my indignation.  Fortunately
the habit of self-control came to my aid in time, and I reflected that
an altercation with such a person could only lower my dignity.  I
contented myself, therefore, with signifying my assent by a nod, and
without more ado followed him towards the queen's apartments.

In the ante-chamber were several persons, who as I passed saluted me
with an air of shyness and incertitude which was enough of itself to
put me on my guard.  Concini attended me to the door of the chamber;
there he fell back, and Mademoiselle Galigai, who was in waiting,
announced me.  I entered, assuming a serene countenance, and found the
King and queen together, no other person being present.  The queen was
lying at length on a couch, while Henry, seated on a stool at her feet,
seemed to be engaged in soothing and reassuring her.  On my entrance,
he broke off and rose to his feet.

"Here he is at last," he said, barely looking at me.  "Now, if you
will, dear heart ask him your questions.  I have had no communication
with him, as you know, for I have been with you since morning."

The queen, whose face was flushed with fever, made a fretful movement
but did not answer.

"Do you wish me to ask him?"  Henry said with admirable patience.

"If you think it is worth while," she muttered, turning sullenly and
eyeing me from the middle of her pillows with disdain and ill-temper.

"I will, then," he answered, and he turned to me.  "M. de Rosny," he
said in a formal tone, which even without the unaccustomed monsieur cut
me to the heart, "be good enough to tell the queen how the key to my
secret cipher, which I entrusted to you, has come to be in Madame de
Verneuil's possession."

I looked at him in the profoundest astonishment, and for a moment
remained silent, trying to collect my thoughts under this unexpected
blow.  The queen saw my hesitation and laughed spitefully.  "I am
afraid, sire," she said, "that you have overrated this gentleman's
ingenuity, though doubtless it has been much exercised in your service."

Henry's face grew red with vexation.  "Speak, man!"  he cried. "How
came she by it?"

"Madame de Verneuil?"  I said.

The queen laughed again.  "Had you not better take him out first, sir,"
she said scornfully, "and tell him what to say?"

"'Fore God, madame," the King cried passionately, "you try me too far!
Have I not told you a hundred times, and sworn to you, that I did not
give Madame de Verneuil this key?"

"If you did not give her that," the queen muttered sullenly, picking at
the silken coverlet which lay on her feet, "you have given her all
else.  You cannot deny it."

Henry let a gesture of despair escape him.  "Are we to go back to
that?"  he said.  Then turning to me, "Tell her," he said between his
teeth; "and tell me.  VENTRE SAINT GRIS--are you dumb, man?"

Discerning nothing for it at the moment save to bow before this storm,
which had arisen so suddenly, and from a quarter the least expected, I
hastened to comply.  I had not proceeded far with my story,
however--which fell short, of course, of explaining how the key came to
be in Madame de Verneuil's hands--before I saw that it won no credence
with the queen, but rather confirmed her in her belief that the King
had given to another what he had denied to her.  And more; I saw that
in proportion as the tale failed to convince her, it excited the King's
wrath and disappointment.  He several times cut me short with
expressions of the utmost impatience, and at last, when I came to a
lame conclusion--since I could explain nothing except that the key was
gone--he could restrain himself no longer.  In a tone in which he had
never addressed me before, he asked me why I had not, on the instant,
communicated the loss to him; and when I would have defended myself by
adducing the reason I have given above, overwhelmed me with abuse and
reproaches, which, as they were uttered in the queen's presence, and
would be repeated, I knew, to the Concinis and Galigais of her suite,
who had no occasion to love me, carried a double sting.

Nevertheless, for a time, and until he had somewhat worn himself out, I
let Henry proceed.  Then, taking advantage of the first pause, I
interposed.  Reminding him that he had never had cause to accuse me of
carelessness before, I recalled the twenty-two years during which I had
served him faithfully, and the enmities I had incurred for his sake;
and having by these means placed the discussion on a more equal
footing, I descended again to particulars, and asked respectfully if I
might know on whose authority Madame de Verneuil was said to have the
cipher.

"On her own!"  the queen cried hysterically.  "Don't try to deceive
me,--for it will be in vain.  I know she has it; and if the King did
not give it to her, who did?"

"That is the question, madam," I said.

"It is one easily answered," she retorted.  "If you do not know, ask
her."

"But, perhaps, madam, she will not answer," I ventured.

"Then command her to answer in the King's name!"  the queen replied,
her cheeks burning with fever.  "And if she will not, then has the King
no prisons--no fetters smooth enough for those dainty ankles?"

This was a home question, and Henry, who never showed to less advantage
than when he stood between two women, cast a sheepish glance at me.
Unfortunately the queen caught the look, which was not intended for
her; and on the instant it awoke all her former suspicions.  Supposing
that she had discovered our collusion, she flung herself back with a
cry of rage, and bursting into a passion of tears, gave way to frantic
reproaches, wailing and throwing herself about with a violence which
could not but injure one in her condition.

The King stared at her for a moment in sheer dismay.  Then his chagrin
turned to anger; which, as he dared not vent it on her, took my
direction.  He pointed impetuously to the door.  "Begone, sir!"  he
said in a passion, and with the utmost harshness.  "You have done
mischief enough here.  God grant that we see the end of it!  Go--go!"
he continued, quite beside himself with fury. "Send Galigai here, and
do you go to your lodging until you hear from me!"

Overwhelmed and almost stupefied by the catastrophe, I found my way out
I hardly knew how, and sending in the woman, made my escape from the
ante-chamber.  But hasten as I might, my disorder, patent to a hundred
curious eyes, betrayed me; and, if it did not disclose as much as I
feared or the inquisitive desired, told more than any had looked to
learn.  Within an hour it was known at Nemours that his Majesty had
dismissed me with high words--some said with a blow; and half a dozen
couriers were on the road to Paris with the news.

In my place some might have given up all for lost; but in addition to a
sense of rectitude, and the consciousness of desert, I had to support
me an intimate knowledge of the King's temper; which, though I had
never suffered from it to this extent before, I knew to be on occasion
as hot as his anger was short lived, and his disposition generous.  I
had hopes, therefore--although I saw dull faces enough among my suite,
and some pale ones--that the King's repentance would overtake his
anger, and its consequences outstrip any that might flow from his
wrath. But though I was not altogether at fault in this, I failed to
take in to account one thing--I mean Henry's anxiety on the queen's
account, her condition, and his desire to have an heir; which so
affected the issue, that instead of fulfilling my expectations the
event left me more despondent than before.  The King wrote, indeed, and
within the hour, and his letter was in form an apology.  But it was so
lacking in graciousness; so stiff, though it began "My good friend
Rosny," and so insincere, though it referred to my past services, that
when I had read it I stood awhile gazing at it, afraid to turn lest De
Vic and Varennes, who had brought it, should read my disappointment in
my face.

For I could not hide from myself that the gist of the letter lay, not
in the expressions of regret which opened it, but in the complaint
which closed it; wherein the King sullenly excused his outbreak on the
ground of the magnitude of the interests which my carelessness had
endangered and the opening to harass the queen which I had heedlessly
given.  "This cipher," he said, "has long been a whim with my wife,
from whom, for good reasons well known to you and connected with the
Grand Duke's Court, I have thought fit to withhold it.  Now nothing
will persuade her that I have not granted to another what I refused
her.  I tremble, my friend, lest you be found to have done more ill to
France in a moment of carelessness than all your services have done
good."

It was not difficult to find a threat underlying these words, nor to
discern that if the queen's fancy remained unshaken, and ill came of
it, the King would hardly forgive me.  Recognising this, and that I was
face to face with a crisis from which I could not escape but by the use
of my utmost powers, I assumed a serious and thoughtful air; and
without affecting to disguise the fact that the King was displeased
with me, dismissed the envoys with a few civil speeches, in which I did
not fail to speak of his Majesty in terms that even malevolence could
not twist to my disadvantage.

When they were gone, doubtless to tell Henry how I had taken it, I sat
down to supper with La Font, Boisrueil, and two or three gentlemen of
my suite; and, without appearing too cheerful, contrived to eat with my
usual appetite.  Afterwards I withdrew in the ordinary course to my
chamber, and being now at liberty to look the situation in the face,
found it as serious as I had feared.  The falling man has few friends;
he must act quickly if he would retain any.  I was not slow in deciding
that my sole chance of an honourable escape lay in discovering--and
that within a few hours--who stole the cipher and conveyed it to Madame
de Verneuil; and in placing before the queen such evidence of this as
must convince her.

By way of beginning, I summoned Maignan and put him through a severe
examination.  Later, I sent for the rest of my household--such, I mean,
as had accompanied me--and ranging them against the walls of my
chamber, took a flambeau in my hand and went the round of them,
questioning each, and marking his air and aspect as he answered.  But
with no result; so that after following some clues to no purpose, and
suspecting several persons who cleared themselves on the spot, I became
assured that the chain must be taken up at the other end, and the first
link found among Madame de Verneuil's following.

By this time it was nearly midnight, and my people were dropping with
fatigue.  Nevertheless, a sense of the desperate nature of the case
animating them, they formed themselves voluntarily into a kind of
council, all feeling their probity attacked; in which various modes of
forcing the secret from those who held it were proposed--Maignan's
suggestions being especially violent. Doubting, however, whether Madame
had more than one confidante, I secretly made up my mind to a course
which none dared to suggest; and then dismissing all to bed, kept only
Maignan to lie in my chamber, that if any points occurred to me in the
night I might question him on them.

At four o'clock I called him, and bade him go out quietly and saddle
two horses.  This done, I slipped out myself without arousing anyone,
and mounting at the stables, took the Orleans road through the forest.
My plan was to strike at the head, and surprising Madame de Verneuil
while the event; still hung uncertain, to wrest the secret from her by
trick or threat.  The enterprise was desperate, for I knew the
stubbornness and arrogance of the woman, and the inveterate enmity
which she entertained towards me, more particularly since the King's
marriage.  But in a dangerous case any remedy is welcome.

I reached Malesherbes, where Madame was residing with her parents, a
little before seven o'clock, and riding without disguise to the chateau
demanded to see her.  She was not yet risen, and the servants, whom my
appearance threw into the utmost confusion, objected this to me; but I
knew that the excuse was no real one, and answered roughly that I came
from the King, and must see her.  This opened all doors, and in a
moment I found myself in her chamber.  She was sitting up in bed,
clothed in an elegant nightrail, and seemed in no wise surprised to see
me.  On the contrary, she greeted me with a smile and a taunting word;
and omitted nothing that might evince her disdain or hurt my dignity.
She let me advance without offering me a chair; and when, after
saluting her, I looked about for one, I found that all the seats except
one very low stool had been removed from the room.

This was so like her that it did not astonish me, and I baffled her
malice by leaning against the wall.  "This is no ordinary honour--from
M. de Rosny!"  she said, flouting me with her eyes.

"I come on no ordinary mission, madame," I said as gravely as I could.

"Mercy!"  she exclaimed in a mocking tone.  "I should have put on new
ribbons, I suppose!"

"From the King, madame," I continued, not allowing myself to be moved,
"to inquire how you obtained possession of his cipher."

She laughed loudly.  "Good, simple King," she said, "to ask what he
knows already!"

"He does not know, madame," I answered severely.

"What?"  she cried, in affected surprise.  "When he gave it to me
himself!"

"He did not, madame."

"He did, sir!"  she retorted, firing up.  "Or if he did not, prove
it--prove it!  And, by the way," she continued, lowering her voice
again, and reverting to her former tone of spiteful badinage, "how is
the dear queen?  I heard that she was indisposed yesterday, and kept
the King in attendance all day. So unfortunate, you know, just at this
time."  And her eyes twinkled with malicious amusement.

"Madame," I said, "may I speak plainly to you?"

"I never heard that you could speak otherwise," she answered quickly.
"Even his friends never called M. de Rosny a wit; but only a plain,
rough man who served our royal turn well enough in rough times; but is
now growing--"

"Madame!"

"A trifle exigeant and superfluous."

After that, I saw that it was war to the knife between us; and I asked
her in very plain terms If she were not afraid of the queen's enmity,
that she dared thus to flaunt the King's favours before her.

"No more than I am afraid of yours," she answered hardily.

"But if the King is disappointed in his hopes?"

"You may suffer; very probably will," she answered, slowly and smiling,
"not I.  Besides, sir--my child was born dead.  He bore that very well."

"Yet, believe me, madame, you run some risk."

"In keeping what the King has given me?"  she answered, raising her
eyebrows.

"No!  In keeping what the King has not given you!"  I answered sternly.
"Whereas, what do you gain?"

"Well," she replied, raising herself in the bed, while her eyes
sparkled and her colour rose, "if you like, I will tell you. This
pleasure, for one thing--the pleasure of seeing you there, awkward,
booted, stained, and standing, waiting my will.  That--which perhaps
you call a petty thing--I gain first of all.  Then I gain your ruin, M.
de Rosny; I plant a sting in that woman's breast; and for his Majesty,
he has made his bed and may lie on it."

"Have a care, madame!"  I cried, bursting with indignation at a speech
so shameless and disloyal.  "You are playing a dangerous game, I warn
you!"

"And what game have you played?"  she replied, transported on a sudden
with equal passion.  "Who was it tore up the promise of marriage which
the King gave me?  Who was it prevented me being Queen of France?  Who
was it hurried on the match with this tradeswoman, so that the King
found himself wedded, before he knew it?  Who was it--but enough;
enough!"  she cried, interrupting herself with a gesture full of rage.
"You have ruined me, you and your queen between you, and I will ruin
you!"

"On the contrary, madame," I answered, collecting myself for a last
effort, and speaking with all the severity which a just indignation
inspired, "I have not ruined you.  But if you do not tell me that which
I am here to learn--I will!"

She laughed out loud.  "Oh, you simpleton!"  she said.  "And you call
yourself a statesman!  Do you not see that if I do not tell it, you are
disgraced yourself and powerless, and can do me no harm?  Tell it you?
When I have you all on the hip--you, the King, the queen!  Not for a
million crowns, M. de Rosny!"

"And that is your answer, madame?"  I said, choking with rage. It had
been long since any had dared so to beard me.

"Yes," she replied stoutly; "it is!  Or, stay; you shall not go
empty-handed."  And thrusting her arm under the pillow she drew out,
after a moment's search, a small packet, which she held out towards me.
"Take it!"  she said, with a taunting laugh.  "It has served my turn.
What the King gave me, I give you."

Seeing that it was the missing key to the cipher, I swallowed my rage
and took it; and being assured by this time that I could effect nothing
by staying longer, but should only expose myself to fresh insults, I
turned on my heel, with rudeness equal to her own, and, without taking
leave of her, flung the door open and went out.  I heard her throw
herself back with a shrill laugh of triumph.  But as, the moment the
door fell to behind me, my thoughts began to cast about for another way
of escape--this failing--I took little heed of her, and less of the
derisive looks to which the household, quickly taking the cue, treated
me as I passed.  I flung myself into the saddle and galloped off,
followed by Maignan, who presently, to my surprise, blurted out a
clumsy word of congratulation.

I turned on him in amazement, and, swearing at him, asked him what he
meant.

"You have got it," he said timidly, pointing to the packet which I
mechanically held in my hand.

"And to what purpose?"  I cried, glad of this opportunity of unloading
some of my wrath.  "I want, not the paper, but the secret, fool!  You
may have the paper for yourself if you will tell me how Madame got it."

Nevertheless, his words led me to look at the packet.  I opened it,
and, having satisfied myself that it contained the original and not a
copy, was putting it up again when my eyes fell on a small spot of
blood which marked one corner of the cover.  It was not larger than a
grain of corn, but it awoke, first, a vague association and then a
memory, which as I rode grew stronger and more definite, until, on a
sudden, discovery flashed upon me--and the truth.  I remembered where I
had seen spots of blood before--on the papers I had handed to Ferret
and remembered, too, where that blood had come from.  I looked at the
cut now, and, finding it nearly healed, sprang in my saddle.  Of a
certainty this paper had gone through my hands that day!  It had been
among the others; therefore it must have been passed to Ferret inside
another when I first opened the bag!  The rogue, getting it and seeing
his opportunity, and that I did not suspect, had doubtless secreted it,
probably while I was attending to my hand.

I had not suspected him before, because I had ticked off the earlier
papers as I handed them to him; and had searched only among the rest
and in the bag for the missing one.  Now I wondered that I had not done
so, and seen the truth from the beginning; and in my impatience I found
the leagues through the forest, though the sun was not yet high and the
trees sheltered us, the longest I had ridden in my life.  When the
roofs of the chateau at length appeared before us, I could scarcely
keep my pace within bounds.  Reflecting how Madame de Verneuil had
over-reached herself, and how, by indulging in that last stroke of
arrogance, she had placed the secret in my hands, I had much ado to
refrain from going to the King booted and unwashed as I was; and though
I had not eaten since the previous evening.  However, the habit of
propriety, which no man may lightly neglect, came to my aid.  I made my
toilet, and, having broken my fast standing, hastened to the Court.  On
the way I learned that the King was in the queen's garden, and,
directing my steps thither, found him walking with my colleagues,
Villeroy and Sillery, in the little avenue which leads to the garden of
the Conciergerie.  A number of the courtiers were standing on the low
terrace watching them, while a second group lounged about the queen's
staircase.  Full of the news which I had for the King, I crossed the
terrace; taking no particular heed of anyone, but greeting such as came
in my way in my usual fashion.  At the edge of the terrace I paused a
moment before descending the three steps; and at the same moment, as it
happened, Henry looked up, and our eyes met.  On the instant he averted
his gaze, and, turning on his heel in a marked way, retired slowly to
the farther end of the walk.

The action was so deliberate that I could not doubt he meant to slight
me; and I paused where I was, divided between grief and indignation, a
mark for all those glances and whispered gibes in which courtiers
indulge on such occasions.  The slight was not rendered less serious by
the fact that the King was walking with my two colleagues; so that I
alone seemed to be out of his confidence, as one soon to be out of his
councils also.

I perceived all this, and was not blind to the sneering smiles which
were exchanged behind my back; but I affected to see nothing, and to be
absorbed in sudden thought.  In a minute or two the King turned and
came back towards me; and again, as if he could not restrain his
curiosity, looked up so that our eyes met. This time I thought that he
would beckon me to him, satisfied with the lengths to which he had
already carried his displeasure. But he turned again, with a light
laugh.

At this a courtier, one of Sillery's creatures, who had presumed on the
occasion so far as to come to my elbow, thought that he might safely
amuse himself with me.  "I am afraid that the King grows older, M. de
Rosny," he said, smirking at his companions. "His sight seems to be
failing."

"It should not be neglected then," I said grimly.  "I will tell him
presently what you say."

He fell back, looking foolish at that, at the very moment that Henry,
having taken another turn, dismissed Villeroy, who, wiser than the
puppy at my elbow, greeted me with particular civility as he passed.
Freed from him, Henry stood a moment hesitating. He told me afterwards
that he had not turned from me a yard before his heart smote him; and
that but for a mischievous curiosity to see how I should take it, he
would not have carried the matter so far.  Be that as it may--and I do
not doubt this, any more than I ever doubted the reality of the
affection in which he held me--on a sudden he raised his hand and
beckoned to me.

I went down to him gravely, and not hurriedly.  He looked at me with
some signs of confusion in his face.  "You are late this morning," he
said.

"I have been on your Majesty's business," I answered.

"I do not doubt that," he replied querulously, his eyes wandering.  "I
am not--I am troubled this morning."  And after a fashion he had when
he was not at his ease, he ground his heel into the soil and looked
down at the mark.  "The queen is not well.  Sillery has seen her, and
will tell you so."

M. de Sillery, whose constant opposition to me at the council-board I
have elsewhere described, began to affirm it.  I let him go on for a
little time, and then interrupted him brusquely.  "I think it was you,"
I said, "who nominated Ferret to be one of the King's clerks."

"Ferret?"  he exclaimed, reddening at my tone, while the King, who knew
me well, pricked up his ears.

"Yes," I said; "Ferret."

"And if so?"  Sillery asked, haughtily.  "What do you mean?"

"Only this," I said.  "That if his Majesty will summon him to the
queen's closet, without warning or delay, and ask him in her presence
how much Madame de Verneuil gave him for the King's cipher, her
Majesty, I think, will learn something which she wishes to know."

"What?"  the King cried.  "You have discovered it?  But he gave you a
receipt for the papers he took."

"For the papers he took with my knowledge--yes, sire."

"The rogue!"  Sillery exclaimed viciously.  "I will go and fetch him."

"Not so--with your Majesty's leave," I said, interposing quickly. "M.
de Sillery may say too much or too little.  Let a lackey take a
message, bidding him go to the queen's closet, and he will suspect
nothing."

The King assented, and bade me go and give the order.  When I returned,
he asked me anxiously if I felt sure that the man would confess.

"Yes, if you pretend to know all, sire," I answered.  "He will think
that Madame has betrayed him."

"Very well," Henry said.  "Then let us go."

But I declined to be present; partly on the ground that if I were there
the queen might suspect me of inspiring the man, and partly because I
thought that the rogue would entertain a more confident hope of pardon,
and be more likely to confess, if he saw the King alone.  I contrived
to keep Sillery also; and Henry giving the word, as he mounted the
steps, that he should be back presently, the whole Court remained in a
state of suspense, aware that something was in progress but in doubt
what, and unable to decide whether I were again in favour or now on my
trial.

Sillery remained talking to me, principally on English matters, until
the dinner hour; which came and went, neglected by all.  At length,
when the curiosity of the mass of courtiers, who did not dare to
interrupt us, had been raised by delay to an almost intolerable pitch,
the King returned, with signs of disorder in his bearing; and, crossing
the terrace in half a dozen strides, drew me hastily, along with
Sillery, into the grove of white mulberry trees.  There we were no
sooner hidden in part, though not completely, than he threw his arms
about me and embraced me with the warmest expressions.  "Ah, my
friend," he said, putting me from him at last, "what shall I say to
you?"

"The queen is satisfied, sire?"

"Perfectly; and desires to be commended to you."

"He confessed, then?"

Henry nodded, with a look in his face that I did not understand. "Yes,"
he said, "fully.  It was as you thought, my friend.  God have mercy
upon him!"

I started.  "What?"  I said.  "Has he--"

The King nodded, and could not repress a shudder.  "Yes," he said; "but
not, thank Heaven, until he had left the closet.  He had something
about him."

Sillery began anxiously to clear himself; but the King, with his usual
good nature, stopped him, and bade us all go and dine, saying that we
must be famished.  He ended by directing me to be back in an hour,
since his own appetite was spoiled.  "And bring with you all your
patience," he added, "for I have a hundred questions to ask you.  We
will walk towards Avon, and I will show you the surprise which I am
preparing for the queen."

Alas, I would I could say that all ended there.  But the rancour of
which Madame de Verneuil had given token in her interview with me was
rather aggravated than lessened by the failure of her plot and the
death of her tool.  It proved to be impenetrable by all the kindnesses
which the King lavished upon her; neither the legitimation of the child
which she soon afterwards bore, nor the clemency which the
King--against the advice of his wisest ministers extended to her
brother Auvergne, availing to expel it from her breast.  How far she or
that ill-omened family were privy to the accursed crime which, nine
years later, palsied France on the threshold of undreamed-of glories, I
will not take on myself to say; for suspicion is not proof.  But
history, of which my beloved master must ever form so great a part,
will lay the blame where it should rest.



VI.

THE MAN OF MONCEAUX.


In the month of August of this year the King found some alleviation of
the growing uneasiness which his passion for Madame de Conde occasioned
him in a visit to Monceaux, where he spent two weeks in such diversions
as the place afforded.  He invited me to accompany him, but on my
representing that I could not there--so easily as in my own closet,
where I had all the materials within reach--prepare the report which he
had commanded me to draw up, he directed me to remain in Paris until it
was ready, and then to join him.

This report which he was having written, not only for his own
satisfaction but for the information of his heir, took the form of a
recital of all the causes and events, spread over many years, which had
induced him to take in hand the Great Design; together with a succinct
account of the munitions and treasures which he had prepared to carry
it out.  As it included many things which were unknown beyond the
council, and some which he shared only with me--and as, in particular,
it enumerated the various secret alliances and agreements which he had
made with the princes of North Germany, whom a premature discovery must
place at the Emperor's mercy--it was necessary that I should draw up
the whole with my own hand, and with the utmost care and precaution.
This I did; and that nothing might be wanting to a memorial which I
regarded with justice as the most important of the many State papers
which it had fallen to my lot; to prepare, I spent seven days in
incessant labour upon it.  It was not, therefore, until the third week
in August:  that I was free to travel to Monceaux.

I found my quarters assigned to me in a pavilion called the Garden
House; and, arriving at supper time, sat down with my household with
more haste and less ceremony than was my wont. The same state of things
prevailed, I suppose, in the kitchen; for we had not been seated half
an hour when a great hubbub arose in the house, and the servants
rushing in cried out that a fire had broken out below, and that the
house was in danger of burning.

In such emergencies I take it to be the duty of a man of standing to
bear himself with as much dignity as is consistent with vigour; and
neither to allow himself to be carried away by the outcry and disorder
of the crowd, nor to omit any direction that may avail.  On this
occasion, however, my first thought was given to the memorial I had
prepared for the King; which I remembered had been taken with other
books and papers to a room over the kitchen.  I lost not a moment,
therefore, in sending Maignan for it; nor until I held it safely in my
hand did I feel myself at liberty to think of the house.  When I did, I
found that the alarm exceeded the danger; a few buckets of water
extinguished a beam in the chimney which had caught fire, and in a few
moments we were able to resume the meal with the added vivacity which
such an event gave to the conversation.  It has never been my custom to
encourage too great freedom at my table; but as the company consisted,
with a single exception, of my household, and as this person--a
Monsieur de Vilain, a young gentleman, the cousin of one of my wife's
maids-of-honour--showed himself possessed of modesty as well as wit, I
thought that the time excused a little relaxation.

This was the cause of the misfortune which followed, and bade fair to
place me in a position of as great difficulty as I have ever known;
for, having in my good humour dismissed the servants, I continued to
talk for an hour or more with Vilain and some of my gentlemen; the
result being that I so far forgot myself, when I rose, as to leave the
report where I had laid it on the table. In the passage I met a man
whom the King had sent to inquire about the fire; and thus reminded of
the papers I turned back to the room; greatly vexed with myself for
negligence which in a subordinate I should have severely rebuked, but
never doubting that I should find the packet where I had left it.

To my chagrin the paper was gone.  Still I could not believe that it
had been stolen, and supposing that Maignan or one of my household had
seen it and taken it to my closet, I repaired thither in haste.  I
found Maignan already there, with M. Boisrueil, one of my gentlemen,
who was waiting to ask a favour; but they knew nothing of the report,
and though I sent them down forthwith, with directions to make strict
but quiet inquiry, they returned at the end of half an hour with long
faces and no news.

Then I grew seriously alarmed; and reflecting on the many important
secrets which the memorial contained, whereof a disclosure must spoil
plans so long and sedulously prepared, I found myself brought on a
sudden face to face with disaster.  I could not imagine how the King,
who had again and again urged on me the utmost precaution, would take
such a catastrophe; nor how I should make it known to him.  For a
moment, therefore, while I listened to the tale, I felt the hair rise
on my head and a shiver descend my back; nor was it without an uncommon
effort that I retained my coolness and composure.

Plainly no steps in such a position could be too stringent.  I sent
Maignan with an order to close all the doors and let no one pass out.
Then I made sure that none of the servants had entered the room,
between the time of my rising and return; and this narrowed the tale of
those who could have taken the packet to eleven, that being the number
of persons who had sat down with me.  But having followed the matter so
far, I came face to face with this difficulty:  that all the eleven
were, with one exception, in my service and in various ways pledged to
my interests, so that I could not conceive even the possibility of a
betrayal by them in a matter so important.

I confess, at this, the perspiration rose upon my brow; for the paper
was gone.  Still, there remained one stranger; and though it seemed
scarcely less difficult to suspect him, since he could have no
knowledge of the importance of the document, and could not have
anticipated that I should leave it in his power, I found in that the
only likely solution.  He was one of the Vilains of Pareil by Monceaux,
his father living on the edge of the park, little more than a thousand
yards from the chateau; and I knew no harm of him.  Still, I knew
little; and for that reason was forward to believe that there, rather
than in my own household, lay the key to the enigma.

My suspicions were not lessened when I discovered that he alone of the
party at table had left the house before the doors were closed; and for
a moment I was inclined to have him followed and seized.  But I could
scarcely take a step so decisive without provoking inquiry; and I dared
not at this stage let the King know of my negligence.  I found myself,
therefore, brought up short, in a state of exasperation and doubt
difficult to describe; and the most minute search within the house and
the closest examination of all concerned failing to provide the
slightest clue, I had no alternative but to pass the night in that
condition.

On the morrow a third search seeming still the only resource, and
proving as futile as the others, I ordered La Trape and two or three in
whom I placed the greatest confidence to watch their fellows, and
report anything in their bearing or manner that seemed to be out of the
ordinary course; while I myself went to wait; on the King, and parry
his demand for the memorial as well as I could.  This it was necessary
to do without provoking curiosity; and as the lapse of each minute made
the pursuit of the paper less hopeful and its recovery a thing to pray
for rather than expect, it will be believed that I soon found the
aspect of civility which I was obliged to wear so great a trial of my
patience, that I made an excuse and retired early to my lodging.

Here my wife, who shared my anxiety, met me with a face full of
meaning.  I cried out to know if they had found the paper.

"No," she answered; "but if you will come into your closet I will tell
you what I have learned."

I went in with her, and she told me briefly that the manner of
Mademoiselle de Mars, one of her maids, had struck her as suspicious.
The girl had begun to cry while reading to her; and when questioned had
been able to give no explanation of her trouble.

"She is Vilain's cousin?"  I said.

"Yes, monsieur."

"Bring her to me," I said.  "Bring her to me without the delay of an
instant."

My wife hastened to comply; and whatever had been the girl's state
earlier, before the fright of this hasty summons had upset her, her
agitation when thus confronted with me gave me, before a word was
spoken, the highest hopes that I had here the key to the mystery.  I
judged that it might be necessary to frighten her still more, and I
started by taking a harsh tone with her; but before I had said many
words she obviated the necessity of this by falling at my wife's feet
and protesting that she would tell all.

"Then speak quickly, wench!"  I said.  "You know where the paper is."

"I know who has it!"  she answered, in a voice choked with sobs.

"Who?"

"My cousin, M. de Vilain."

"Ha!  and has taken it to his house?"

But she seemed for a moment unable to answer this; her distress being
such that my wife had to fetch a vial of pungent salts to restore her
before she could say more.  At length she found voice to tell us that
M. de Vilain had taken the paper, and was this evening to hand it to an
agent of the Spanish ambassador.

"But, girl," I said sternly, "how do you know this?"

Then she confessed that the cousin was also the lover, and had before
employed her to disclose what went on in my household, and anything of
value that could be discovered there.  Doubtless the girl, for whom my
wife, in spite of her occasional fits of reserve and temper,
entertained no little liking, enjoyed many opportunities of prying; and
would have continued still to serve him had not this last piece of
villainy, with the stir which it caused in the house and the rigorous
punishment to be expected in the event of discovery, proved too much
for her nerves.  Hence this burst of confession; which once allowed to
flow, ran on almost against her will.  Nor did I let her pause to
consider the full meaning of what she was saying until I had learned
that Vilain was to meet the ambassador's agent an hour after sunset at
the east end of a clump of trees which stood in the park; and being
situate between his, Vilain's, residence and the chateau, formed a
convenient place for such a transaction.

"He will have it about him?"  I said.

She sobbed a moment, but presently confessed.  "Yes; or it will be in
the hollow of the most easterly tree.  He was to leave it there, if the
agent could not keep the appointment."

"Good!"  I said; and then, having assured myself by one or two
questions of that, of which her state of distress and agitation left me
in little doubt--namely, that she was telling the truth--I committed
her to my wife's care; bidding the Duchess lock her up in a safe place
upstairs, and treat her to bread and water until I had taken the steps
necessary to prove the fact, and secure the paper.

After this--but I should be tedious were I to describe the alternations
of hope and fear in which I passed the period of suspense.  Suffice it
that I informed no one, not even Maignan, of what I had discovered, but
allowed those in the secret of the loss still to pursue their efforts;
while I, by again attending the Court, endeavoured at once to mitigate
the King's impatience and persuade the world that all was well.  A
little before the appointed time, however I made a pretext to rise from
supper, and quietly calling out Boisrueil, bade him bring four of the
men, armed, and Maignan and La Trape.  With this small body I made my
way out by a private door, and crossed the park to the place
Mademoiselle had, indicated.

Happily, night had already begun to close in, and the rendezvous was at
the farther side of the clump of trees.  Favoured by these
circumstances, we were able to pass round the thicket--some on one side
and some on the other---without noise or disturbance; and fortunate
enough, having arrived at the place, to discover a man walking uneasily
up and down on the very spot where we expected to find him.  The
evening was so far advanced that it was not possible to be sure that
the man was Vilain; but as all depended on seizing him before he had
any communication with the Spanish agent, I gave the signal, and two of
my men, springing on him from either side, in a moment bore him to the
ground and secured him.

He proved to be Vilain, so that, when he was brought face to face with
me, I was much less surprised than he affected to be.  He played the
part of an ignorant so well, indeed, that, for a moment, I was
staggered by his show of astonishment, and by the earnestness with
which he denounced the outrage; nor could Maignan find anything on him.
But, a moment later, remembering the girl's words, I strode to the
nearest tree, and, groping about it, in a twinkling unearthed the paper
from a little hollow in the trunk that seemed to have been made to
receive it.  I need not say with what relief I found the seals
unbroken; nor with what indignation I turned on the villain thus
convicted of an act of treachery towards the King only less black than
the sin against hospitality of which he had been guilty in my house.
But the discovery I had made seemed enough of itself to overwhelm him;
for, after standing apparently stunned while I spoke, he jerked himself
suddenly out of his captors' hands, and made a desperate attempt to
escape.  Finding this hopeless, and being seized again before he had
gone four paces, he shouted, at the top of his voice:  "Back!  back!
Go back!"

We looked about, somewhat startled, and Boisrueil, with presence of
mind, ran into the darkness to see if he could detect the person
addressed; but though he thought that he saw the skirt of a flying
cloak disappear in the gloom, he was not sure; and I, having no mind to
be mixed up with the ambassador, called him back.  I asked Vilain to
whom he had called, but the young man, turning sullen, would answer
nothing except that he knew naught of the paper.  I thought it best,
therefore, to conduct him at once to my lodgings, whither it will be
believed that I returned with a lighter heart than I had gone out.  It
was, indeed, a providential escape.

How to punish the traitor was another matter, for I could scarcely do
so adequately without betraying my negligence.  I determined to sleep
on this, however, and, for the night, directed him to be locked into a
chamber in the south-west turret, with a Swiss to guard the door; my
intention being to interrogate him farther on the morrow.  However,
Henry sent for me so early that I was forced to postpone my
examination; and, being detained by him until evening, I thought it
best to tell him, before I left, what had happened.

He heard the story with a look of incredulity, which, little by little,
gave way to a broad smile.  "Well," he said, "Grand Master, never chide
me again!  I have heard that Homer sometimes nods; but if I were to
tell this to Sillery or Villeroy, they would not believe me."

"They would believe anything that your Majesty told them," I said.
"But you will not tell them this?"

"No," he said kindly, "I will not; and there is my hand on it. For the
matter of that, if it had happened to them, they would not have told
me."

"And perhaps been the wiser for that," I said.

"Don't believe it," he answered.  "But now, what of this young Vilain?
You have him safe?"

"Yes, sire."

"The girl is one degree worse; she betrays both sides to save her skin."

"Still, I promised--"

"Oh, she must go," Henry said.  "I quite understand.  But for him--we
had better have no scandal.  Keep him until to-morrow, and I will see
his father, and have him sent out of the country."

"And he will go scot free," I said, bluntly, "when a rope and the
nearest tree--"

"Yes, my friend," Henry answered with a dry smile; "but that should
have been done last night.  As it is, he is your guest and we must give
an account of him.  But first drain him dry. Frighten him, as you
please, and get all out of him; then I wish them joy of him.  Faugh!
and he a young man!  I would not be his father for two such crowns as
mine!"

As I returned to my lodgings I thought over these words; and I fell to
wondering by what stages Vilain had sunk so low. Occasionally admitted
to my table, he had always borne himself with a modesty and discretion
that had not failed to prepossess me; indeed, the longer I considered
the King's saying, the greater was the surprise I felt at this
DENOUEMENT; which left me in doubt whether my dullness exceeded my
negligence or the young man's parts surpassed his wickedness.

A few questions, I thought, might resolve this; but having been
detained by the King until supper-time, I postponed the interview until
I rose.  Then bidding them bring in the prisoner, I assumed my harshest
aspect and prepared to blast him by discovering all his vileness to his
face.

But when I had waited a little, only Maignan came in, with an air of
consternation that brought me to my feet.  "Why, man, what is it?"  I
cried.

"The prisoner," he faltered.  "If your excellency pleases--"

"I do not please!"  I said sternly, believing that I knew what had
happened.  "Is he dead?"

"No, your excellency; but, he has escaped."

"Escaped?  From that room?"

Maignan nodded.

"Then, PAR DIEU!"  I replied, "the man who was on guard shall suffer in
his place!  Escaped?  How could he escape except by treachery?  Where
was the guard?"

"He was there, excellency.  And he says that no one passed him."

"Yet the man is gone?"

"The room is empty."

"But the window--the window, fool, is fifty feet from the ground!"  I
said.  "And not so much footing outside as would hold a crow!"

Maignan shrugged his shoulders, and in a rage I bade him follow me, and
went myself to view the place; to which a number of my people had
already flocked with lights, so that I found some difficulty in
mounting the staircase.  A very brief inspection, however, sufficed to
confirm my first impression that Vilain could have escaped by the door
only; for the window, though it lacked bars and boasted a tiny balcony,
hung over fifty feet of sheer depth, so that evasion that way seemed in
the absence of ladder or rope purely impossible.  This being clear, I
ordered the Swiss to be seized; and as he could give no explanation of
the escape, and still persisted that he was as much in the dark as
anyone, I declared that I would make an example of him, and hang him
unless the prisoner was recaptured within three days.

I did not really propose to do this, but in my irritation I spoke so
roundly that my people believed me; even Boisrueil, who presently came
to intercede for the culprit, who, it seemed, was a favourite.  "As for
Vilain," he continued; "you can catch him whenever you please."

"Then catch him before the end of three days," I answered obstinately,
"and the man lives."

The truth was that Vilain's escape placed me in a position of some
discomfort; for though, on the one hand, I had no particular desire to
get him again into my hands, seeing that the King could effect as much
by a word to his father as I had proposed to do while I held him safe;
on the other hand, the evasion placed me very peculiarly in regard to
the King himself, who was inclined to think me ill or suddenly grown
careless.  Some of the facts, too, were leaking out, and provoking
smiles among the more knowing, and a hint here and there; the result of
all being that, unable to pursue the matter farther in Vilain's case, I
hardened my heart and persisted that the Swiss should pay the penalty.

This obstinacy on my part had an unforeseen issue.  On the evening of
the second day, a little before supper-time, my wife came to me, and
announced that a young lady had waited on her with a tale so remarkable
that she craved leave to bring her to me that I might hear it.

"What is it?"  I said impatiently.

"It is about M. Vilain," my wife answered, her face still wearing all
the marks of lively astonishment.

"Ha!"  I exclaimed.  "I will see her then.  But it is not that baggage
who--"

"No," my wife answered.  "It is another."

"One of your maids?"

"No, a stranger."

"Well, bring her," I said shortly.

She went, and quickly returned with a young lady, whose face and modest
bearing were known to me, though I could not, at the moment, recall her
name.  This was the less remarkable as I am not prone to look much in
maids' faces, leaving that to younger men; and Mademoiselle de
Figeac's, though beautiful, was disfigured on this occasion by the
marked distress under which she was labouring.  Accustomed as I was to
the visits of persons of all classes and characters who came to me
daily with petitions, I should have been disposed to cut her short, but
for my wife's intimation that her errand had to do with the matter
which annoyed me.  This, as well as a trifle of curiosity--from which
none are quite free--inclined me to be patient; and I asked her what
she would have with me.

"Justice, M. le Duc," she answered simply.  "I have heard that you are
seeking M. de Vilain, and that one of your people is lying under
sentence for complicity in his escape."

"That is true, mademoiselle," I said.  "If you can tell me--"

"I can tell you how he escaped, and by whose aid," she answered.

It is my custom to betray no astonishment, even when I am astonished.
"Do so," I said.

"He escaped through the window," she answered firmly, "by my brother's
aid."

"Your brother's?"  I exclaimed, amazed at her audacity.  "I do not
remember him."

"He is only thirteen years old."

I could hide my astonishment no longer.  "You must be mad, girl!" I
said, "mad!  You do not know what you are saying!  The window of the
room in which Vilain was confined is fifty feet from the ground, and
you say that your brother, a boy of thirteen, contrived his escape?"

"Yes, M. de Sully," she answered.  "And the man who is about to suffer
is innocent."

"How was it done, then?"  I asked, not knowing what to think of her
persistence.

"My brother was flying a kite that day," she answered.  "He had been
doing so for a week or more, and everyone was accustomed to seeing him
here.  After sunset, the wind being favourable, he came under M. de
Vilain's window, and, when it was nearly dark, and the servants and
household were at supper, he guided the kite against the balcony
outside the window."

"But a man cannot descend by a kite-string!"

"My brother had a knotted rope, which M. de Vilain drew up," she
answered simply; "and afterwards, when he had descended, disengaged."

I looked at her in profound amazement.

"Your brother acted on instructions?"  I said at last.

"On mine," she answered.

"You avow that?"

"I am here to do so," she replied, her face white and red by turns, but
her eyes continuing to meet mine.

"This is a very serious matter," I said.  "Are you aware, mademoiselle,
why M. Vilain was arrested, and of what he is accused?"

"Perfectly," she answered; "and that he is innocent.  More!"  she
continued, clasping her hands, and looking at me bravely, "I am willing
both to tell you where he is, and to bring him, if you please, into
your presence."

I stared at her.  "You will bring him here?"  I said.

"Within five minutes," she answered, "if you will first hear me."

"What are you to him?"  I said.

She blushed vividly.  "I shall be his wife or no one's," she said; and
she looked a moment at my wife.

"Well, say what you have to say!"  I cried roughly.

"This paper, which it is alleged that he stole--it was not found on
him; but in the hollow of a tree."

"Within three paces of him!  And what was he doing there?"

"He came to meet me," she answered, her voice trembling slightly. "He
could have told you so, but he would not shame me."

"This is true?"  I said, eyeing her closely.

"I swear it!"  she answered, clasping her hands.  And then, with a
sudden flash of rage, "Will the other woman swear to her tale?" she
cried.

"Ha!"  I said, "what other woman?"

"The woman who sent you to that place," she answered.  "He would not
tell me her name, or I would go to her now and wring the truth from
her.  But he confessed to me that he had let a woman into the secret of
our meeting; and this is her work."

I stood a moment pondering, with my eyes on the girl's excited face,
and my thoughts, following this new clue through the maze of recent
events; wherein I could not fail to see that it led to a very different
conclusion from that at which I had arrived.  If Vilain had been
foolish enough to wind up his love-passages with Mademoiselle de Mars
by confiding to her his passion for the Figeac, and even the place and
time at which the latter was so imprudent as to meet him, I could fancy
the deserted mistress laying this plot; and first placing the packet
where we found it, and then punishing her lover by laying the theft at
his door. True, he might be guilty; and it might be only confession and
betrayal on which jealousy had thrust her.  But the longer I considered
the whole of the circumstances, as well as the young man's character,
and the lengths to which I knew a woman's passion would carry her, the
more probable seemed the explanation I had just received.

Nevertheless, I did not at once express my opinion; but veiling the
chagrin I naturally felt at the simple part I had been led to play--in
the event I now thought probable--I sharply ordered Mademoiselle de
Figeac to retire into the next room; and then I requested my wife to
fetch her maid.

Mademoiselle de Mars had been three days in solitary confinement, and
might be taken to have repented of her rash accusation were it
baseless.  I counted somewhat on this; and more on the effect of so
sudden a summons to my presence.  But at first sight it seemed that I
did so without cause.  Instead of the agitation which she had displayed
when brought before me to confess, she now showed herself quiet and
even sullen; nor did the gleam of passion, which I thought that I
discerned smouldering in her dark eyes, seem to promise either weakness
or repentance.  However, I had too often observed the power of the
unknown over a guilty conscience to despair of eliciting the truth.

"I want to ask you two or three questions," I said civilly. "First, was
M. de Vilain with you when you placed the paper in the hollow of the
tree?  Or were you alone?"

I saw her eyelids quiver as with sudden fear, and her voice shook as
she stammered, "When I placed the paper?"

"Yes," I said, "when you placed the paper.  I have reason to know that
you did it.  I wish to learn whether he was present, or you did it
merely under his orders?"

She looked at me, her face a shade paler, and I do not doubt that her
mind was on the rack to divine how much I knew, and how far she might
deny and how far confess.  My tone seemed to encourage frankness,
however, and in a moment she said, "I placed it under his directions."

"Yes," I said drily, my last doubt resolved by the admission; "but that
being so, why did Vilain go to the spot?"

She grew still a shade paler, but in a moment she answered, "To meet
the agent."

"Then why did you place the paper in the tree?"

She saw the difficulty in which she had placed herself, and for an
instant she stared at me with the look of a wild animal caught in a
trap.  Then, "In case the agent was late," she muttered.

"But since Vilain had to go to the spot, why did he not deposit the
paper in the tree himself?  Why did he send you to the place
beforehand?  Why did--" and then I broke off and cried harshly, "Shall
I tell you why?  Shall I tell you why, you false jade?"

She cowered away from me at the words, and stood terror-stricken,
gazing at me like one fascinated.  But she did not answer.

"Because," I cried, "your story is a tissue of lies!  Because it was
you, and you only, who stole this paper!  Because--Down on your knees!
down on your knees!"  I thundered, "and confess! Confess, or I will
have you whipped at the cart's tail, like the false witness you are!"

She threw herself down shrieking, and caught my wife by the skirts, and
in a breath had said all I wanted; and more than enough to show me that
I had suspected Vilain without cause, and both played the simpleton
myself and harried my household to distraction.

So far good.  I could arrange matters with Vilain, and probably avoid
publicity.  But what was now to be done with her?

In the case of a man I should have thought no punishment too severe,
and the utmost rigour of the law too tender for such perfidy; but as
she was a woman, and young, and under my wife's protection, I
hesitated.  Finally, the Duchess interceding, I leaned to the side of
that mercy which the girl had not shown to her lover; and thought her
sufficiently punished, at the moment by the presence of Mademoiselle de
Figeac whom I called into the room to witness her humiliation, and in
the future by dismissal from my household.  As this imported banishment
to her father's country-house, where her mother, a shrewd old
Bearnaise, saved pence and counted lentils into the soup, and saw
company once a quarter, I had perhaps reason to be content with her
chastisement.

For the rest I sent for M. de Vilain, and by finding him employment in
the finances, and interceding for him with the old Vicomte de Figeac,
confirmed him in the attachment he had begun to feel for me before this
unlucky event; nor do I doubt that I should have been able in time to
advance him to a post worthy of the talents I discerned in him.  But,
alas, the deplorable crime, which so soon deprived me at one blow of my
master and of power, put an end to this, among other and greater
schemes.



VII.

THE GOVERNOR OF GUERET.


Without attaching to dreams greater importance than a prudent man will
always be willing to assign to the unknown and unintelligible, I have
been in the habit of reflecting on them; and have observed with some
curiosity that in these later years of my life, during which France has
enjoyed peace and comparative prosperity, my dreams have most often
reproduced the stormy rides and bivouacs of my youth, with all the
rough and bloody accompaniments which our day knows only by repute.
Considering these visions, and comparing my sleeping apathy with my
daylight reflections, I have been led to wonder at the power of habit;
which alone makes it possible for a man who has seen a dozen stricken
fields, and viewed, scarcely with emotion, the slaughter of a hundred
prisoners, to turn pale at the sight of a coach accident, and walk a
mile rather than see a rogue hang.

I am impelled to this train of thought by an adventure that befell me
in the summer of this year 1605; and which, as it seemed to me in the
happening to be rather an evil dream of old times than a waking episode
of these, may afford the reader some diversion, besides relieving the
necessary tedium of the thousand particulars of finance that render the
five farms a study of the utmost intricacy.

My appointment to represent the King at the Assembly of Chatelherault
had carried me in the month of July into Poitou. Being there, and
desirous of learning for myself whether the arrest of Auvergne had
pacified his country to the extent described by the King's agents, I
determined to take advantage of a vacation of the assembly and venture
as far in that direction as Gueret; though Henry, fearing lest the
malcontents should make an attempt on my person in revenge for the
death of Biron, had strictly charged me not to approach within twenty
leagues of the Limousin.

I had with me for escort at Chatelherault a hundred horse; but, these
seeming to be either too many or too few for the purpose, I took with
me only ten picked men with Colet their captain, five servants heavily
armed, and of my gentlemen Boisrueil and La Font.  Parabere, to whom I
opened my mind, consented to be my companion.  I gave out that I was
going to spend three days at Preuilly, to examine an estate there which
I thought of buying, that I might have a residence in my government;
and, having amused the curious with this statement, I got away at
daybreak, and by an hour before noon was at Touron, where I stayed for
dinner.  That night we lay at a village, and the next day dined at St.
Marcel.  The second afternoon we reached Crozant.

Here I began to observe those signs of neglect and disorder which, at
the close of the war, had been common in all parts of France, but in
the more favoured districts had been erased by a decade of peace.
Briars and thorns choked the roads, which ran through morasses, between
fields which the husbandman had resigned to tares and undergrowth.
Ruined hamlets were common, and everywhere wolves and foxes and all
kinds of game abounded. But that which roused my ire to the hottest was
the state of the bridges, which in this country, where the fords are in
winter impassable, had been allowed to fall into utter decay.  On all
sides I found the peasants oppressed, disheartened, and primed with
tales of the King's severity, which those who had just cause to dread
him had instilled into them.  Bands of robbers committed daily
excesses, and, in a word, no one thing was wanting to give the lie to
the rose-coloured reports with which Bareilles, the Governor of Gueret,
had amused the Council.

I confess that, at sight and thought of these things--of this country
so devoured, the King's authority so contemned, all evils laid at his
door, all his profits diverted--my anger burned within me, and I said
more to Parabere than was perhaps prudent, telling him, in particular,
what I designed against Bareilles, of whose double-dealing I needed no
further proof; by what means I proposed to lull his suspicions for the
moment, since we must lie at Gueret, and how I would afterwards, on the
first occasion, have him seized and punished.

I forgot, while I avowed these things, that one weakness of Parabere's
character which rendered him unable to believe evil of anyone.  Even of
Bareilles, though the two were the merest acquaintances, he could only
think indulgently, because, forsooth, he too was a Protestant.  He
began to defend him therefore, and, seeing how the ground lay, after a
time I let the matter drop.

Still I did not think that he had been serious in his plea, and that
which happened on the following morning took me completely by surprise.
We had left Crozant an hour, and I was considering whether, the road
being bad, we should even now reach Gueret before night, when Parabere,
who had made some excuse to ride forward, returned, to me with signs of
embarrassment in his manner.

"My friend," he said, "here is a message from Bareilles."

"How?"  I exclaimed.  "A message?  For whom?"

"For you," he said; "the man is here."

"But how did Bareilles know that I was coming?"  I asked.

Parabere's confusion furnished me with the answer before he spoke.  "Do
not be angry, my friend," he said.  "I wanted to do Bareilles a good
turn.  I saw that you were enraged with him, and I thought that I could
not help him better than by suggesting to him to come and meet you in a
proper spirit, and make the explanations which I am sure that he has it
in his power to make. Yesterday morning, therefore, I sent to him."

"And he is here?"  I said drily.

Parabere admitted with a blush that he was not.  His messenger had
found Bareilles on the point of starting against a band of plunderers
who had ravaged the country for a twelvemonth.  He had sent me the
most; civil messages therefore--but he had not come. "However, he will
be at Gueret to-morrow," Parabere added cheerfully.

"Will he?"  I said.

"I will answer for it," he answered.  "In the meantime, he has done
what he can for our comfort."

"How?"  I said,

"He bids us not to attempt the last three leagues to Gueret to-night;
the road is too bad.  But to stay at Saury, where there is a good inn,
and to-morrow morning he will meet us there."

"If the brigands have not proved too much for him," I said.

"Yes," Parabere answered, with a simplicity almost supernatural. "To be
sure."

After this, it was no use to say anything to him, though his
officiousness would have justified the keenest reproaches.  I swallowed
my resentment, therefore, and we went on amicably enough, though the
valley of the Creuse, in its upper and wilder part, through which our
road now wound, offered no objects of a kind to soften my anger against
the governor.  I saw enough of ruins, of blocked defiles, and overgrown
roads; but of returning prosperity and growing crops, and the King's
peace, I saw no sign--not so much as one dead robber.

About noon we alighted to eat a little at a wretched tavern by one of
the innumerable fords.  A solitary traveller who was here before us,
and for a time kept aloof, wearing a grand and mysterious manner with a
shabby coat, presently moved; edging himself up to me where I sat a
little apart, eating with Parabere and my gentlemen.

"Sir," he said, on a sudden and without preface, "I see that you are
the leader of this party."

As I was more plainly dressed than Parabere, and had been giving no
orders, I wondered how he knew; but I answered, without any remark,
"Well, sir; and what of that?"

"You are in great danger," he replied.

"I?"  I said.

"Yes, sir; you!"  he answered.

"You know me?"

He shrugged his shoulders.  "Not I," he said, "but those who speak by
me.  Enough that you are in danger."

"From what?"  I asked sceptically; while my companions stared, and the
troopers and servants, who were just within hearing, listened
open-mouthed.

"A one-eyed woman and a one-eyed house," he answered darkly. Then,
before I could frame a question, he turned from me as abruptly as he
had come, and, mounting a sorry mare that stood near, stumbled away
through the ford.

It required little wit to see that the man was an astrologer, and one
whose predictions, if they had not profited his clients more than
himself, had been ominous indeed.  I was inclined, therefore, to make
sport of him, knowing that the pretenders to that art are to the true
men as ten to one.  But his words, and particularly the fact that he
had asked for nothing, had impressed my followers differently; so that
they talked of nothing else while we ate, and could still be heard
discussing him in the saddle.  The wildness of the road and the gloomy
aspect of the valley had doubtless some effect on their minds; which a
thunderstorm that shortly afterwards overtook us and drenched us to the
skin did not tend to lighten.  I was glad to see the roofs of Saury
before us; though, on a nearer approach, we found all the houses except
the inn ruined and tenantless; and even, that scorched and scarred,
with the great gate that had once closed its courtyard prostrate in the
road before it.

However, in view of the country we had come through, and the general
desolation, we were thankful to find things no worse. The village stood
at the entrance to a gorge, with the Creuse--here a fast-rushing
stream--running at the back of the inn.  The latter was of good size,
stone-built and tiled, and, at first, seemed to be empty; but the
servants presently unearthed a man and then a boy.  Fires were lit, and
the horses stabled; and a second room with a chimney being found,
Parabere and I, with Colet and my gentlemen, took possession of it,
leaving the kitchen to my following.

I had had my boots removed, and was drying my clothes and expecting
supper, when Boisrueil, who was beside me, uttered an exclamation of
amazement.

"What is it?"  I said.

He did not answer, and I followed his eyes.  A woman had just entered
the room with a bundle of sticks.  She had one eye!

I confess that, for an instant, this staggered me; but a moment's
thought reminded me that the astrologer had come from this inn to us,
and I smiled at the credulity which would have built on a coincidence
that was no coincidence.  When the woman had retired again, therefore,
I rallied Boisrueil on his timidity; but, though he admitted the
correctness of my reasoning, I saw that he was not entirely convinced.
He started whenever a shutter flapped, or the draughts, which searched
the grim old building through and through, threatened to extinguish our
lights.  He hung cloaks over the windows to obviate the latter
inconvenience he said--and was continually going out and coming back
with gloomy looks.  Parabere joined me in rallying him, which we did
without mercy; but when I had occasion, after a while, to pass through
the outer room I found that he was not alone in his fears.  The
troopers sat moodily listening, or muttered together; while the cup
passed round in silence.  When I bade a man go on an errand to the
stable, four went; and when I dropped a word to the woman who was
attending to her pot, a dozen heads were stretched out to catch the
answer.

Such a feeling--to which, in this instance, the murmur of the stream
and the steady downpour of rain doubtless added something--is so
contagious that I was not surprised to find Colet and La Font sinking
under it.  Only Parabere, in fact, rose quite superior to the notion,
laughed at their fears, and drank to their better spirits; and, making
the best of the situation, as became an old soldier, presently engaged
me in tales of the war--fought again the siege of Laon, and buried men
whose bodies bad lain for ten years under the oaks at Fontaine
Francoise.

Talk of this kind, which we still maintained after we had despatched
our supper, was sufficiently engrossing to erase Boisrueil's fancies
entirely from my mind.  They were recalled by his sudden entrance, with
Colet at his elbow, the faces of both full of importance.  I saw that
they had something to say, and asked what it was.

"We have been examining the back gate, M. le Marquis," Colet said.

"Well, man?"

"It is barricaded, and cannot be opened," he answered.

"Well," I said again, "there is nothing wonderful in that. Anyone can
see that there has been rough work here.  The front gate was stormed, I
suppose, and the back one left standing."

"But if is so barricaded that it is not possible to open it," he
objected.  "And the men have an idea--"

"Well?"  I said, seeing that he hesitated.

"That this is a one-eyed house."

Parabere laughed loudly.  "Of course it is!"  he said.  "That strolling
rogue saw the gate as well as the woman, and made his profit of them."

"Pardon, sir!"  Boisrueil answered bluntly, "That is just what he did
not do!"

"Well," I said, silencing him by a gesture, "is that all?"

"No," he replied; "I have tasted the men's wine."

"And it is drugged?"

"No," he said.  "On the contrary, it is a great deal too good for the
price--or the house.  And you ordered a litre apiece.  Some have had
two, and not asked twice for it!"

"Ho, ho!"  I said, staring at him.  "Are you sure of that?"

"Quite!"  he said.

I was genuinely startled at last; but Parabere still made light of it.
"What!"  he said.  "Are we a pack of nervous women, or one poor
traveller in a solitary inn, that we see shadows and shake at them?"

"The inn is solitary enough," Boisrueil grumbled.

"But we are twenty swords!"  Parabere retorted, opening his eyes wide.
"Why, I have ridden all day in an enemy's country with less!"

"And been beaten with more at Craon."

"But, man alive, that was in a battle, and by an army!"

"Well, and there may be a battle and an army here," Boisrueil answered
sulkily.

I was inclined to laugh at this as extravagance; but seeing that La
Font and Colet sided with Boisrueil, I remembered that the latter was
no coward though a great gossip; and I thought better of it.
Accordingly, resolving to look into the thing myself, I bade La Font
fetch a couple of lanthorns, and, when he had done so, went out with
him and Boisrueil as if I had a mind to go round the horses before I
retired.  Parabere declined to accompany me on the ground that he would
not be at the pains of it; and Colet I left in the kitchen to keep an
eye on the man and woman.

There was no moon, rain was still falling, and the yard, crowded with
steaming, shivering horses, was dreary enough where the lanthorns
displayed it; but, accustomed to such a sight, I made, without
regarding it, for the gate, which a moment's examination showed to be
barricaded, as they had described, with great beams and stones.  In
this there was nothing beyond the ordinary, one entrance to a house
being in troublous times better than two; but Boisrueil, bidding me
kneel and look lower, I found, when I did so, that the soil under the
beams--which did not touch the ground by some inches--was wet, and I
began to understand.  When he asked me at what hour rain had begun to
fall, I answered two in the afternoon, and drew at once the inference
at which he aimed--that the beams had been put there, and the gate
barricaded, at some later hour.

"We reached here at six," he said; "it was done some time between two
and six, my lord; therefore to-day.  To-day," he repeated in a low
voice; "and by a dozen men at least, Fewer could not move those beams."

"And the object?"

"To prevent our escape."

"But who are they?"  I said, looking at him.

"The woman knows," he answered.  "We must ask her, my lord."

I assented; and we went back into the house, where it would not have
surprised me if we had found the wretches flown and the nest empty.
But Colet had done his work too well.  They were both there, and, in a
moment, at a signal from Boisrueil, were secured and pinioned.
Parabere, hearing the scuffle, came out and would have remonstrated,
but I silenced him with a sharp word; and, despatching La Font with a
couple of discreet men to keep watch in the court that we might not be
surprised, I bade one of the servants throw some fir-cones on the fire.
These, blazing up, filled the squalid room in a moment with a glare of
light, which revealed alike the livid faces of the two prisoners and
the excited looks and dark countenances of my escort.

I bade them put the woman forward first, and addressed her sternly,
telling her that I knew all, and that she would do well to confess;
inasmuch as if she made a clean breast of the matter, I would grant her
her life, and if she did not, she would be the first to die, since I
would hang her were a single shot fired against the house.

The promise found her unmoved, but the threat, uttered in a tone which
showed that I was in earnest, proved more effectual.  With an ugly
look, under which my men shrank as if her eye had power to scorch them,
the hag said that she would confess, and, with impotent rage, admitted
the truth of Boisrueil's surmises.  The rearward gate had been
barricaded that afternoon by the Great Band, who had had notice of our
coming, and intended to attack us at midnight.  I asked her how many
they mustered.

"A hundred," she answered sullenly.

"Very well," I said.  "And, supposing that we do not wait for them, how
shall we escape?  By the road to Gueret?"

"Fifty lie in ambush on it."

"By the road by which we came?"

"The other fifty lie there."

"Across the river?"

"There is no ford."

"Then in the village?  If we seize some other building?"

"The village is watched, and this house," she answered, with a sparkle
of joy in her eye.

At that the position began to assume so serious an aspect that I turned
to Parabere to take his advice.  We numbered twenty in all, and were
well armed; but five to one are large odds, and we had little
ammunition, while, for all we knew, the house might be fired with ease
from the outside.  The roads north and south being occupied, and the
river enclosing us on the west, there remained only one direction in
which escape seemed possible; but, as we knew nothing of the country,
and the brigands everything, the desperate idea of plunging into it
blindly, at night, and with pursuers at our heels, was dismissed as
soon as formed.

Parabere interrupted these calculations by drawing me aside into the
room in which we had supped, where, after rallying me on the whimsical
notion of the Grand Master of the Ordnance and Governor of the Bastile
being besieged in a paltry inn, he confessed that he had been wrong,
and that the adventure was likely to prove serious.  "Ten to one this
is the very band that Bareilles is pursuing," he said.

"Very likely," I answered bluntly; "but the question is how are we to
evade them.  Are we to fight or fly?"

"Well, for lighting," he replied coolly; "the front gate lies in the
road, there are no shutters to half the windows, the door is crazy, and
there is a thatched pent-house against one wall."

"And no help-nearer than Gueret."

"Three leagues," he assented.  "And from that we are cut off. Fifty men
in the gorge might hold it against five hundred. Better man the
courtyard here than that, tether the horses in the gateway, and fight
it out."

"Perhaps so," I said; and we looked at one another, hearing through the
open door the men muttering and whispering in the kitchen, and above
their voices the dull murmur of the stream, which seemed of a piece
with the bleak night outside, the ruined hamlet, and the danger that
lurked round us.  Bitterly repenting the hardihood that had led me to
expose myself to such risks in breach of the King's commandment, I
found it difficult to direct my mind to the immediate question. So many
reflections connected with my mission at Chatelherault and other
affairs of state would intrude that I seemed to be occupied rather with
the results of my death at this juncture, and particularly the injury
which it must inflict on the King's service, than with the question how
I could escape.

However, Parabere soon recalled me to the point.  "It is now ten
o'clock," he said in a placid tone; "we have two hours."

"Yes," I answered; then, as if my mind had all the time been running in
an under-current to the desired goal, I continued, "And we must make
the most of them.  We must remove the barricade, in the dark and
quietly, from the rear to the front gate.  Do you see?  Then the moment
they sound the attack in front we must slip out at the back, make a
dash for the road, and through the gorge to Gueret."

"Good," Parabere assented, with the utmost coolness.  "Why not? Let us
do it."

We went in, and in a moment the orders were given, and, the men being
charged to be silent and to make as little noise as possible over the
work, we had every hope of accomplishing it undetected.  To go out into
the road and raise and replace the shattered gate would have been too
bold a step.  We contented ourselves, therefore, with removing four
great baulks of timber from the one gate to the other, and placing them
across the gap in such a manner that, being supported by large stones,
they formed a pretty high barrier.  To these, at Boisrueil's
suggestion, were added three doors which we forced from their hinges in
the house, and behind the whole, to cover our retreat the better, we
tethered six sumpter horses in two lines.

It remained only to unbar the rear gate and see that it opened easily.
This being done, as we had done all the rest, stealthily and in
darkness, and by men who dared not speak above a whisper, I gave the
word to hang the male prisoner and gag and bind the woman.  Colet
undertook these duties, and with a grim humour of his own hung the
rascally host on the threshold where the brigands must run against him
when they entered.  Then I directed every man to saddle and bridle his
nag and stand by it, and so we waited with what patience we might for
the DENOUEMENT.

It seemed very long in coming, yet when it did, what with the restless
movements of the horses and the melancholy murmur of the stream, it
well-nigh took us by surprise.  It was Boisrueil who touched my sleeve
and made me aware of a low trampling on the road outside, a sound that
had scarcely become clearly audible before it ceased.  I judged that
the moment was come, and passed the word in a whisper to open the
gates.  Unfortunately, they creaked, and I feared for a moment that I
had been premature; but before they were more than ajar a harsh whistle
startled the silence, a flare blazed up on the road, and a voice cried
to charge.

On the instant the ground shook under the assailants' rush, but the
barricade, which doubtless took the rogues by surprise, brought them to
a sudden stop, and gave us time to file out.  The heavy rain which was
failing served to cover our movements almost as well as the baggage
horses which we had posted for the purpose; while we ran the less risk,
inasmuch as the flare they had kindled lit up the upper part of the
house but left the courtyard in perfect darkness.

Naturally, once outside, we did not linger to see what happened, but,
filing in a line and like ghosts up the bank of the stream, were glad
to hit on the road a hundred and fifty paces away, where it entered the
gorge.  Here, where it was as dark as pitch, we whipped our horses into
a canter and made a good pace for half a league, then, drawing rein,
let our horses trot until the league was out.  By that time we were
through the gorge, and I gave the word to pull up, that we might listen
and learn whether we were pursued.  Before the order had quite brought
us to a standstill, however, two figures on a sudden rose out of the
darkness before us and barred the way.  I was riding in the front rank,
abreast of Parabere and La Font, and I had just time to lay my hand on
a pistol when one of the figures spoke.

"Well, M. le Capitaine, what luck?"  he cried, advancing, and drawing
rein to turn with us.

I saw his mistake, and, raising my hand to check those behind, muttered
in my beard that all had gone well.

"You got the man?"

"Yes," I said, peering at him through the darkness.

"Good!"  he answered.  "Then now for Bareilles, supper, and a full
purse; and afterwards, for me, the quietest corner of France!  The King
will make a fine outcry, and I do not trust one gov--"

In a flash Parabere had him by the throat, and dragged him in a grip of
iron on to the withers of his horse.  Still he managed to utter a cry,
and the other rascal, taking the alarm, whipped his horse round, and in
a second got a start of twenty paces.  Colet, a light man and well
mounted, was after him in a trice, and we heard them go ding-dong,
ding-dong, through the darkness for a mile or more as it seemed to us.
Then a sharp scream came faintly down the wind.

"Good!"  Parabere said cheerfully.  "Let us be jogging."  He had tied
his prisoner neck and knees over the saddle before him.

"You heard what he said?"  I muttered, as we moved on.

"Perfectly," he answered in the same tone.

"And you think?"

"I think, Grand Master," he replied drily, "that the sooner you are out
of La Marche and Bareilles' government the longer you are likely to
live."

I was quite of that opinion myself, having drawn the same inferences
from the words the prisoner had uttered.  But for the moment I had no
alternative save to go on, and put a bold face on the matter; and
accordingly I led the way forward at as fast a pace as the darkness and
the jaded state of our horses permitted. Colet presently joined us, and
half an hour later a bunch of lights which appeared on the side of a
hill in front proclaimed that we were nearing Gueret.  From this point
half a league across a rushy bottom and through a ford brought us to
the gate, which opened before we summoned it.  I had taken care to call
to the van one of my men who knew the town; and he guided us quickly,
no one challenging us, through a number of foul, narrow streets and
under dark archways, among which a stranger must have gone astray.  We
reached at last a good-sized square, on one side of which--though the
rest of the town lay buried in darkness--a large building, which I
judged to be Bareilles' residence, exposed a dozen lighted windows to
the street.  Two or three figures lounged half-seen on the wide stone
steps which led up to the entrance, and the rattle of dice, with a
murmur of voices, came from the windows.  Without a moment's hesitation
I dismounted at the foot of the steps, and, bidding La Font and
Boisrueil attend me, with three of the servants, I directed Colet to
withdraw with the rest and the horses to the farther end of the square.

Dreading nothing so much as that I might lose the advantage of
surprise, I put aside two of the men on the steps who would have
questioned me, and strode boldly across the stone landing at the head
of the flight.  Here I found two doors facing me, and foresaw the
possibility of error; but I was relieved from the burden of choosing by
the sudden appearance at one of them of Bareilles himself.  The place
was lit only by an oil lamp, and, for a reason best known to himself,
he did not look directly at me, but stood with his head half-turned as
he said, "Well, Martin, is it done?"

I heard the dicers hold their hands to catch the answer, and in the
silence a bottle in some unsteady hand clinked against a glass.
Through the half-open door behind him it was possible to see a long
table, laid and glittering with steel and plate; and all seemed to wait.

Parabere broke the spell.  "We are late!"  he said in a ringing voice,
which startled the governor as if it had been the voice of doom.  "But
we could not have found you better prepared, it seems.  Do you always
sup as late as this?"

For a moment the villain could not speak, but leaned against the
doorpost, with his cheeks gone white and his jaw fallen, the most
pitiable spectacle to be conceived.  I affected to see nothing,
however, but went by him easily, and into the room, drawing off my
gauntlets as entered.  The dicers, from their seats beside a table on
the hearth, gazed at me, turned to stone.  I took up a glass, filled
it, and drank it off.  "Now I am better!"  I said. "But this is not the
warmest of welcomes, M. de Bareilles."

He muttered something, looking fearfully from one to another of us;
and, his hand shaking, filled a glass and pledged me.  The wine gave
him courage and impudence:  he began to speak; and though his hurried
sentences and excited manner must have betrayed him to the least
suspicious, we pretended to see nothing, but rather to congratulate
ourselves on his late hours and timely preparations.  And certainly
nothing could have seemed more cheerful in comparison with the squalid
inn and miry road from which we came than this smiling feast; if death
had not seemed to my eyes to lurk behind it.

"I thought it likely that you would lie at Saury," he said, with a
ghastly smile.

"And yet made this preparation for us?"  I answered politely, yet
letting a little of my real mind be seen.  "Well, as a fact, M.
Bareilles, save for one thing we should have lain there."

"And that thing?"  he asked, his tongue almost failing him as he put
the question.

"The fact that you have a villain in your company," I answered.

"What?"  he stammered.

"A villain, M. le Capitaine Martin," I continued sternly.  "You sent
him out this morning against the Great Band; instead, he took it upon
him to lay a plot for me, from which I have only narrowly escaped."

"Martin?"

"Yes, M. de Bareilles, Martin!"  I answered roundly, fixing him with my
eyes; while Parabere went quietly to the door, and stood by it.  "If I
am not mistaken, I hear him at this moment dismounting below.  Let us
understand one another therefore, I propose to sup with you, but I
shall not sit down until he hangs."

It would be useless for me to attempt to paint the mixture of horror,
perplexity, and shame which distorted Bareilles' countenance as I spoke
these words.  While Parabere's attitude and my demeanour gave him
clearly to understand that we suspected the truth, if we did not know
it, our coolness and the very nature of my demand imposed upon his
fears and led him to believe that we had a regiment at our call.  He
knew, too, that that which might be done in a ruined hamlet might not
be done in the square at Gueret; and his knees trembled under him.  He
muttered that he did not understand; that we must be mistaken.  What
evidence had we?

"The best!"  I answered grimly.  "If you wish to hear it, I will send
for it; but witnesses have sometimes loose tongues, Bareilles, and he
may not stop at the Capitaine Martin."

He started and glared at me.  From me his eyes passed to Parabere; then
he shuddered, and looked down at the table.  As he leaned against it, I
heard the glasses tinkling softly.  At last he muttered that the man
must have a trial.

I shrugged my shoulders, and would have answered that that was his
business; but at the moment a heavy step rang on the stone steps, the
door was flung hastily open, and a dark-complexioned man came in with
his hat on.  The stranger was splashed to the chin, and his face wore
an expression of savage annoyance; but this gave place the instant he
saw us to one of intense surprise, while the words he had had on his
lips died away, and he stood nonplussed.  I turned to M. de Bareilles.

"Who is this?"  I said harshly.

"One of my lieutenants," he answered in a stifled tone.

"M. le Capitaine Martin?"

"The same," he answered.

"Very well," I replied.  "You have heard my terms."

He stood clutching the table, and in the bright light of the candles
that burned on it his face was horrible.  Still he managed to speak.
"M. le Capitaine, call four men," he muttered.

"Monsieur?"  the Captain answered.

"Call four men--four of your men," Bareilles repeated with an effort.

The Captain turned and went downstairs in amazement, returning
immediately after with four troopers at his heels.

Bareilles' face was ghastly.  "Take M. le Capitaine's sword," he said
to them.

The Captain's jaw fell, and, stepping back a pace, he looked from one
to another.  But all were silent; he found every eye upon him, and,
doubtful and taken by surprise, he unbuckled his sword and flung it
with an oath upon the floor.

"To the garden with him!"  Bareilles continued, hoarsely. "Quick! Take
him!  I will send you your orders."

They laid hands on the man mechanically, and, unnerved by the
suddenness of the affair, the silence, and the presence of so many
strangers,--ignorant, too, what was doing or what was meant, he went
unresisting.  They marched him out heavily; the door closed behind
them; we stood waiting.  The glittering table, the lights, the arrested
dicers, all the trivial preparations for a carouse that at another time
must have given a cheerful aspect to the room, produced instead the
most sombre impression.  I waited, but, seeing that Bareilles did not
move, I struck the table with my gauntlet.  "The order!"  I said,
sharply; "the order!"

He slunk to a table in a corner where there was ink, and scrawled it.
I took it from his hand, and, giving it to Boisrueil, "Take it," I
said, "and the three men on the landing, and see the order carried out.
When it is over, come and tell me."

He took the order and disappeared, La Font after him.  I remained in
the room with Parabere, Bareilles, and the dicers.  The minutes passed
slowly, no one speaking; Bareilles standing with his head sunk on his
breast, and a look of utter despair on his countenance.  At length
Boisrueil and La Font returned.  The former nodded.

"Very well," I said.  "Then let us sup, gentlemen.  Come, M. de
Bareilles, your place is at the head of the table.  Parabere, sit here.
Gentlemen, I have not the honour of knowing you, but here are places."

And we supped; but not all with the same appetite.  Bareilles, silent,
despairing, a prey to the bitterest remorse, sat low in his chair, and,
if I read his face aright, had no thought but of vengeance.  But,
assured that by forcing him to that which must for ever render him
odious--and particularly among his inferiors--I had sapped his
authority at the root, I took care only that he should not leave us.  I
directed Colet to unsaddle and bivouac in the garden, and myself lay
all night with Parabere and Bareilles in the room in which we had
supped, Boisrueil and La Font taking turns to keep the door.

To have betrayed too much haste to be gone might have proved as
dangerous as a long delay; and our horses needed rest.  But an hour
before noon next day I gave the order and we mounted in the square, in
the presence of a mixed mob of soldiers and townsfolk, whom it needed
but a spark to kindle.  I took care that that spark should be wanting,
however; and to that end I compelled Bareilles to mount and ride with
us as far as Saury.  Here, where I found the inn burned and the woman
murdered, I should have done no more than justice had I hung him as
well; and I think that he half expected it.  But reflecting that he had
a score of relations in Poitou who might give trouble, and, besides
that, his position called for some degree of consideration, I parted
with him gravely, and hastened to put as many leagues between us as
possible.  That night we slept at Crozant, and the next at St. Gaultier.

It was chiefly in consequence of the observations I made during this
journey that Henry, in the following October, marched into the Limousin
with a considerable force and received the submission of the governors.
The details of that expedition, in the course of which he put to death
ten or twelve of the more disorderly, will be found in another place.
It remains for me only to add here that Bareilles was not of them.  He
escaped a fate he richly deserved by flying betimes with Bassignac to
Sedan.  Of his ultimate fate I know nothing; but a week after my return
to the Arsenal, a man called on me who turned out to be the astrologer.
I gave him fifty crowns.



VIII.

THE OPEN SHUTTER.


Few are ignorant of that weakness of the vulgar which leads them to
admire in the great not so much the qualities which deserve admiration
as those which, in the eyes of the better-informed, are defects; so
that the amours of Caesar, the clock-making of Charles, and the jests
of Coligny are more in the mouths of men than their statesmanship or
valour.  For one thing commendable, two that are diverting are told;
and for one man who in these days recalls the thousand great and wise
deeds of the late King a thousand remember his occasional freaks, the
duel he would have fought, or his habit of visiting the streets of
Paris by night and in disguise.  That this last has been much
exaggerated, I can myself bear witness; for though Varenne or Coquet,
the Master of the Household, were his usual companions on these
occasions, he seldom failed to confess to me after the event, and more
than once I accompanied him.

If I remember rightly, it was in April or May of this year, 1606, and
consequently a few days after his return from Sedan, that he surprised
me one night as I sat at supper, and, requesting me to dismiss my
servants, let me know that he was in a flighty mood; and that nothing
would content him but to play the Caliph in my company. I was not too
willing, for I did not fail to recognise the risk to which these
expeditions exposed his person; but, in the end, I consented, making
only the condition that Maignan should follow us at a distance.  This
he conceded, and I sent for two plain suits, and we dressed in my
closet.  The King, delighted with the frolic, was in his wildest mood.
He uttered an infinity of jests, and cut a thousand absurd antics; and,
rallying me on my gravity, soon came near to making me repent of the
easiness which had led me to fall in with his humour.

However, it was too late to retreat, and in a moment we were standing
in the street.  It would not have surprised me if he had celebrated his
freedom by some noisy extravagance there; but he refrained, and
contented himself--while Maignan locked the postern behind us--with
cocking his hat and lugging forward his sword, and assuming an air of
whimsical recklessness, as if an adventure were to be instantly
expected.

But the moon had not yet risen, the night was dark, and for some time
we met with nothing more diverting than a stumble over a dead dog, a
word with a forward wench, or a narrow escape from one of those liquid
douches that render the streets perilous for common folk and do not
spare the greatest.  Naturally, I began to tire, and wished myself with
all my heart back at the Arsenal; but Henry, whose spirits a spice of
danger never failed to raise, found a hundred things to be merry over,
and some of which he made a great tale of afterwards.  He would go on;
and presently, in the Rue de la Pourpointerie, which we entered as the
clocks struck the hour before midnight, his persistence was rewarded.

By that time the moon had risen; but, naturally, few were abroad so
late, and such as were to be seen belonged to a class among whom even
Henry did not care to seek adventures.  Our astonishment was great
therefore when, half-way down the street--a street of tall, mean houses
neither better nor much worse than others in that quarter--we saw,
standing in the moonlight at an open door, a boy about seven years old.

The King saw him first, and, pressing my arm, stood still.  On the
instant the child, who had probably seen us before we saw him, advanced
into the road to us.  "Messieurs," he said, standing up boldly before
us and looking at us without fear, "my father is ill, and I cannot
close the shutter."

The boy's manner, full of self-possession, and his tone, remarkable at
his age, took us so completely by surprise--to say nothing of the late
hour and the deserted street, which gave these things their full
effect--that for a moment neither of us answered.  Then the King spoke.
"Indeed, M. l'Empereur," he said gravely; "and where is the shutter?"

The boy pointed to an open shutter at the top of the house behind him.

"Ah!"  Henry said.  "And you wish us to close it?"

"If you please, messieurs."

"We do please," Henry replied, saluting him with mock reverence. "You
may consider the shutter closed.  Lead on, Monsieur; we follow."

For the first time the boy looked doubtful; but he turned without
saying anything, and passing through the doorway, was in an instant
lost in the pitchy darkness of the entry.  I laid my hand on the King's
arm, and tried to induce him not to follow; fearing much that this
might be some new thieves' trap, leading nowhither save to the POIRE
D'ANGOISSE and the poniard.  But the attempt was hopeless from the
first; he broke from me and entered, and I followed him.

We groped for the balustrade and found it, and began to ascend, guided
by the boy's voice; who kept a little before us, saying continually,
"This way, messieurs; this way!"  His words had so much the sound of a
signal, and the staircase was so dark and ill-smelling, that, expecting
every moment to be seized or to have a knife in my back, I found it
almost interminable.  At last, however, a gleam of light appeared above
us, the boy opened a door, and we found ourselves standing on a mean,
narrow landing, the walls of which had once been whitewashed.  The
child signed to us to enter, and we followed him into a bare attic,
where our heads nearly touched the ceiling.

"Messieurs, the air is keen," he said in a curiously formal tone. "Will
you please to close the shutter?"

The King, amused and full of wonder, looked round.  The room contained
little besides a table, a stool, and a lamp standing in a basin on the
floor; but an alcove, curtained with black, dingy hangings, broke one
wall.  "Your father lies there?"  Henry said, pointing to it.

"Yes, monsieur."

"He feels the cold?"

"Yes, monsieur.  Will you please to close the shutter?"

I went to it, and, leaning out, managed, with a little difficulty, to
comply.  Meanwhile, the King, gazing curiously at the curtains,
gradually approached the alcove.  He hesitated long, he told me
afterwards, before he touched the hangings; but at length, feeling sure
that there was something more in the business than appeared, he did so.
Drawing one gently aside, as I turned from the window, he peered in;
and saw just what he had been led to expect--a huddled form covered
with dingy bed-clothes and a grey head lying on a ragged, yellow
pillow.  The man's face was turned to the wall; but, as the light fell
on him, he sighed and, with a shiver, began to move.  The King dropped
the curtain.

The adventure had not turned out as well as he had hoped; and, with a
whimsical look at me, he laid a crown on the table, said a kind word to
the boy, and we went out.  In a moment we were in the street.

It was my turn now to rally him, and I did so without mercy; asking if
he knew of any other beauteous damsel who wanted her shutter closed,
and whether this was the usual end of his adventures.  He took the jest
in good part, laughing fully as loudly at himself as I laughed; and in
this way we had gone a hundred paces or so very merrily, when, on a
sudden, he stopped.

"What is it, sire?"  I asked.

"Hola!"  he said, "The boy was clean."

"Clean?"

"Yes; hands, face, clothes.  All clean."

"Well, sire?"

"How could he be?  His father in bed, no one even to close the shutter.
How could he be clean?"

"But, if he was, sire?"

For answer Henry seized me by the arm, turned me round without a word,
and in a moment was hurrying me back to the house.  I thought that he
was going thither again, and followed reluctantly; but twenty paces
short of the door he crossed the street, and drew me into a doorway.
"Can you see the shutter?" he said.  "Yes?  Then watch it, my friend."

I had no option but to resign myself, and I nodded.  A moist and chilly
wind, which blew through the street and penetrating our cloaks made us
shiver, did not tend to increase my enthusiasm; but the King was proof
even against this, as well as against the kennel smells and the tedium
of waiting, and presently his persistence was rewarded.  The shutter
swung slowly open, the noise made by its collision with the wall coming
clearly to our ears.  A minute later the boy appeared in the doorway,
and stood looking up and down.

"Well," the King whispered in my ear, "what do you make of that, my
friend?"

I muttered that it must be a beggar's trick.

"They would not earn a crown in a month," he answered.  "There must be
something more than that at the bottom of it."

Beginning to share his curiosity, I was about to propose that we should
sally out and see if the boy would repeat his overture to us, when I
caught the sound of footsteps coming along the street. "Is it Maignan?"
the King whispered, looking out cautiously.

"No, sire," I said.  "He is in yonder doorway."

Before Henry could answer, the appearance of two strangers coming along
the roadway confirmed my statement.  They paused opposite the boy, and
he advanced to them.  Too far off to hear precisely what passed, we
were near enough to be sure that the dialogue was in the main the same
as that in which we had taken part.  The men were cloaked, too, as were
we, and presently they went in, as we had gone in.  All, in fact,
happened as it had happened to us, and after the necessary interval we
saw and heard the shutter closed.

"Well," the King said, "what do you make of that?"

"The shutter is the catch-word, sire."

"Ay, but what is going on up there?"  he asked.  And he rubbed his
hands.

I had no explanation to give, however, and shook my head; and we stood
awhile, watching silently.  At the end of five minutes the two men came
out again and walked off the way they had come, but more briskly.
Henry moreover, whose observation was all his life most acute, remarked
that whatever they had been doing they carried away lighter hearts than
they had brought.  And I thought the same.

Indeed, I was beginning to take my full share of interest in the
adventure; and in place of wondering, as before, at Henry's
persistence, found it more natural to admire the keenness which he had
displayed in scenting a mystery.  I was not surprised, therefore, when
he gripped my arm to gain my attention, and, a the window fell slowly
open again, drew me quickly into the street, and hurried me across it
and through the doorway of the house.

"Up!"  he muttered in my ear.  "Quickly and quietly, man!  If there are
to be other visitors, we will play the spy.  But softly, softly; here
is the boy!"

We stood aside against the wall, scarcely daring to breathe; and the
child, guiding himself by the handrail, passed us in the dark without
suspicion, and pattered on down the staircase.  We remained as we were
until we heard him cross the threshold, and then we crept up; not to
the uppermost landing, where the light, when the door was opened, must
betray us, but to that immediately below it.  There we took our stand
in the angle of the stairs and waited, the King, between amusement at
the absurdity of our position and anxiety lest we should betray
ourselves, going off now and again into stifled laughter, from which he
vainly strove to restrain himself by pinching me.

I was not in so gay a mood myself, however, the responsibility of his
safety lying heavy upon me; while the possibility that the adventure
might prove no less tragical in the sequel than it now appeared
comical, did not fail to present itself to my eyes in the darkest
colours.  When we had watched, therefore, five minutes more--which
seemed to me an hour--I began to lose faith; and I was on the point of
undertaking to persuade Henry to withdraw, when the voices of men
speaking at the door below reached us, and told me that it was too
late.  The next moment their steps crossed the threshold, and they
began to ascend, the boy saying continually, "This way, messieurs, this
way!"  and preceding them as he had preceded us.  We heard them
approach, breathing heavily, and but for the balustrade, by which I
felt sure that they would guide themselves, and which stood some feet
from our corner, I should have been in a panic lest they should blunder
against us.  But they passed safely, and a moment later the boy opened
the door of the room above.  We heard them go in, and without a
second's hesitation we crept up after them, following them so closely
that the door was scarcely shut before we were at it.  We heard,
therefore, what passed from the first: the child's request that they
would close the shutter, their hasty compliance, and the silence,
strange and pregnant, which followed, and which was broken at last by a
solemn voice.  "We have closed one shutter," it said, "but the shutter
of God's mercy Is never closed."

"Amen," a second person answered in a tone so distant and muffled that
it needed no great wit to guess whence it came, or that the speaker was
behind the curtains of the alcove.  "Who are you?"

"The cure of St. Marceau," the first speaker replied.

"And whom do you bring to me?"

"A sinner."

"What has he done?"

"He will tell you."

"I am listening."

There was a pause on this, a long pause; which was broken at length by
a third speaker, in a tone half sullen, half miserable. "I have robbed
my master," he said.

"Of how much?"

"Fifty livres."

"Why?"

"I lost it at play."

"And you are sorry."

"I must be sorry," the man panted with sudden fierceness, "or hang!"
Hidden though he was from us, there was a tremor in his voice that told
a tale of pallid cheeks and shaking knees, and a terror fast rising to
madness.

"He makes up his accounts to-morrow?"

"Yes."

Someone in the room groaned; it should have been the culprit, but
unless I was mistaken the sound came through the curtains.  A long
pause followed.  Then, "And if I help you," the muffled voice resumed,
"will you swear to lead an honest life?"

But the answer may be guessed.  I need not repeat the assurances, the
protestations and vows of repentance, the cries and tears of gratitude
which ensue; and to which the poor wretch, stripped of his sullen
indifference, completely abandoned himself.  Suffice it that we
presently heard the clinking of coins, a word or two of solemn advice
from the cure, and a man's painful sobbing; then the King touched my
arm, and we crept down the stairs.  I was for stopping on the landing
where we had hidden ourselves before; but Henry drew me on to the foot
of the stairs and into the street.

He turned towards home, and for some time did not speak.  At length he
asked me what I thought of it.

"In what way, sire?"

"Do you not think," he said in a voice of much emotion, "that if we
could do what he does, and save a man instead of hanging him, it would
be better?"

"For the man, sire, doubtless," I answered drily; "but for the State it
might not be so well.  If mercy became the rule and justice the
exception--there would be fewer bodies at Montfaucon and more in the
streets at daylight.  I feel much greater doubt on another point."

Shaking off the moodiness that had for a moment overcome him, Henry
asked with vivacity what that was.

"Who he is, and what is his motive?"

"Why?"  the King replied in some surprise--he was ever of so kind a
nature that an appeal to his feelings displaced his judgment. "What
should he be but what he seems?"

"Benevolence itself?"

"Yes."

"Well, sire, I grant that he may be M. de Joyeuse, who has spent his
life in passing in and out of monasteries, and has performed so many
tricks of the kind that I could believe anything of him. But if it be
not he--"

"It was not his voice," Henry said, positively.

"Then there is something here," I answered, "still unexplained.
Consider the oddity of the conception, sire, the secrecy of the
performance, the hour, the mode, all the surrounding circumstances!  I
can imagine a man currying favour with the basest and most dangerous
class by such means.  I can imagine a conspiracy recruited by such
means.  I can imagine this shibboleth of the shutter grown to a
watchword as deadly as the 'TUEZ!' of '72.  I can imagine all that, but
I cannot imagine a man acting thus out of pure benevolence."

"No?"  Henry said, thoughtfully.  "Well, I think that I agree with
you."  and far from being displeased with my warmth (as is the manner
of some sovereigns when their best friends differ from them), he came
over to my opinion so completely as to halt and express his intention
of returning and probing the matter to the bottom.  Midnight had gone,
however; it would take some little time to retrace our steps; and with
some difficulty I succeeded in dissuading him, promising instead to
make inquiries on the morrow, and having learned who lived in the
house, to turn the whole affair into a report, which should be
submitted to him.

This amused and satisfied him, and, expressing himself well content
with the evening's diversion--though we had done nothing unworthy
either of a King or a Minister--he parted from me at the Arsenal, and
went home with his suite.

It did not occur to me at the time that I had promised to do anything
difficult; but the news which my agents brought me next day--that the
uppermost floor of the house in the Rue Pourpointerie was empty--put
another face upon the matter.  The landlord declared that he knew
nothing of the tenant, who had rented the rooms, ready furnished, by
the week; and as I had not seen the man's face, there remained only two
sources whence I could get the information I needed--the child, and the
cure of St. Marceau.

I did not know where to look for the former, however; and I had to
depend on the cure.  But here I carne to an obstacle I might easily
have foreseen.  I found him, though an honest man, obdurate in
upholding his priest's privileges; to all my inquiries he replied that
the matter touched the confessional, and was within his vows; and that
he neither could, nor dared--to please anyone, or for any cause,
however plausible--divulge the slightest detail of the affair.  I had
him summoned to the arsenal, and questioned him myself, and closely;
but of all armour that of the Roman priesthood is the most difficult to
penetrate, and I quickly gave up the attempt.

Baffled in the only direction in which I could hope for success, I had
to confess my defeat to the King, whose curiosity was only piqued the
more by the rebuff.  He adjured me not to let the matter drop, and,
suggesting a number of persons among whom I might possibly find the
unknown, proposed also some theories.  Of these, one that the
benevolent was a disguised lady, who contrived in this way to give the
rein at once to gallantry and charity, pleased him most; while I
favoured that which had first occurred to me on the night of our sally,
and held the unknown to be a clever rascal, who, to serve his ends,
political or criminal, was corrupting the commonalty, and drawing
people into his power.

Things remained in this state some weeks, and, growing no wiser, I was
beginning to think less of the affair--which, of itself, and apart from
a whimsical interest which the King took in it, was unimportant--when
one day, stopping in the Quartier du Marais to view the works at the
new Place Royale, I saw the boy.  He was in charge of a decent-looking
servant, whose hand he was holding, and the two were gazing at a horse
that, alarmed by the heaps of stone and mortar, was rearing and trying
to unseat its rider. The child did not see me, and I bade Maignan
follow him home, and learn where he lived and who he was.

In an hour my equerry returned with the information I desired. The
child was the only son of Fauchet, one of the Receivers-General of the
Revenue; a man who kept great state in the largest of the old-fashioned
houses in the Rue de Bethisy, where he, had lately entertained the
King.  I could not imagine anyone less likely to be concerned in
treasonable practices; and, certain that I had made no mistake in the
boy, I was driven for a while to believe that some servant had,
perverted the child to this use.  Presently, however, second thoughts,
and the position of the father, taken, perhaps, with suspicions that I
had for a long time entertained of Fauchet--in common with most of his
kind--suggested an explanation, hitherto unconsidered.  It was not an
explanation very probable at first sight, nor one that would have
commended itself to those who divide all men by hard and fast rules and
assort them like sheep.  But I had seen too much of the world to fall
into this mistake, and it satisfied me.  I began by weighing it
carefully; I procured evidence, I had Fauchet watched; and, at length,
one evening in August, I went to the Louvre.

The King was dicing with Fernandez, the Portuguese banker; but I
ventured to interrupt the game and draw him aside.  He might not have
taken this well, but that my first word caught his attention.

"Sire," I said, "the shutter is open."

He understood in a moment.  "St. Gris!"  He exclaimed with animation.
"Where?  At the same house?"

"No, sire; in the Rue Cloitre Notre Dame."

"You have got him, then?"

"I know who he is, and why he is doing this."

"Why?"  the King cried eagerly.

"Well, I was going to ask for your Majesty's company to the place," I
answered smiling.  "I will undertake that you shall be amused at least
as well as here, and at a cheaper rate."

He shrugged his shoulders.  "That may very well be," he said with a
grimace.  "That rogue Pimentel has stripped me of two thousand crowns
since supper.  He is plucking Bassompierre now."

Remembering that only that morning I had had to stop some necessary
works through lack of means, I could scarcely restrain my indignation.
But it was not the time to speak, and I contented myself with repeating
my request.  Ashamed of himself, he consented with a good grace, and
bidding me go to his: closet, followed a few minutes later.  He found
me cloaked to the eyes, and with a soutane and priest's hat; on my arm.
"Are those for me?"  he said.

"Yes, sire."

"Who am I, then?"

"The cure of St. Germain."

He made a wry face.  "Come, Grand Master," he said; "he died yesterday.
Is not the jest rather grim?"

"In a good cause," I said equably.

He flashed a roguish look at me.  "Ah!"  he said, "I thought that that
was a wicked rule which only we Romanists avowed.  But, there; don't be
angry.  I am ready."

Coquet, the Master of the Household, let us out by one of the river
gates, and we went by the new bridge and the Pont St. Michel.  By the
way I taught the King the role I wished him to play, but without
explaining the mystery; the opportune appearance of one of my agents
who was watching the end of the street bringing Henry's remonstrances
to a close.

"It is still open?"  I said.

"Yes, your excellency."

"Then come, sire," I said, "I see the boy yonder.  Let us ascend, and I
will undertake that before you reach the street again you shall be not
only a wiser but a richer sovereign."

"St. Gris!"  he answered with alacrity.  "Why did you not say that
before, and I should have asked no questions.  On, on, in God's name,
and the devil take Pimentel!"

I restrained the caustic jest that rose to my lips, and we proceeded in
silence down the street.  The boy, whom I had espied loitering in a
doorway a little way ahead, as if the great bell above us which had
just tolled eleven had drawn him out, peered at us a moment askance;
and then, coming forward, accosted us. But I need not detail the
particulars of a conversation which was almost word for word the same
as that which had passed in the Rue de la Pourpointerie; suffice it
that he made the same request with the same frank audacity, and that,
granting it, we were in a moment following hint up a similar staircase.

"This way, messieurs, this way!"  he said; as he had on that other
night, while we groped our way upwards in the dark.  He opened a door,
and a light shone out; and we entered a room that seemed, with its bare
walls and rafters, its scanty stool and table and lamp, the very
counterpart of that other room.  In one wall appeared the dingy
curtains of an alcove, closely drawn; and the shutter stood open,
until, at the child's request, expressed in the same words, I went to
it and closed it.

We were both so well muffled up and disguised, and the light of the
lamp shining upwards so completely distorted the features, that I had
no fear of recognition, unless the King's voice betrayed him.  But when
he spoke, breaking the oppressive silence of the room, his tone was as
strange and hollow as I could wish.

"The shutter is closed," he said; "but the shutter of God's mercy is
never closed!"

Still, knowing that this was the crucial moment, and that we should be
detected now if at all, I found it; an age before the voice behind the
curtains answered "Amen!"  and yet another age before the hidden
speaker continued "Who are you?"

"The cure of St. Germain," Henry responded.

The man behind the curtains gasped, and they were for a moment
violently agitated, as if a hand seized them and let them go again.
But I had reckoned that the unknown, after a pause of horror, would
suppose that he had heard amiss and continue his usual catechism.  And
so it proved.  In a voice that shook a little, he asked, "Whom do you
bring to me?"

"A sinner," the King answered.

"What has he done?"

"He will tell you."

"I am listening," the unknown said.

The light in the basin flared up a little, casting dark shadows on the
ceiling, and at the same moment the shutter, which I had failed to
fasten securely, fell open with a grinding sound.  One of the curtains
swayed a little in the breeze, "I have robbed my master," I said,
slowly.

"Of how much?"

"A hundred and twenty thousand crowns."

The bed shook until the boards creaked under it; but this time no hand
grasped the curtains.  Instead, a strained voice--thick and coarse, yet
differing from that muffled tone which we had heard before--asked, "Who
are you?"

"Jules Fauchet."

I waited.  The King, who understood nothing but had listened to my
answers with eager attention, and marked no less closely the agitation
which they caused in the unknown, leant forward to listen.  But the bed
creaked no more; the curtain hung still; even the voice, which at last
issued from the curtains, was no more like the ordinary accents of a
man than are those which he utters in the paroxysms of epilepsy.  "Are
you--sorry?"  the unknown muttered--involuntarily, I think; hoping
against hope; not daring to depart from a formula which had become
second nature.  But I could fancy him clawing, as he spoke, at his
choking throat.

France, however, had suffered too long at the hands of that race of
men, and I had been too lately vilified by them to feel much pity; and
for answer I lifted a voice that to the quailing wretch must have been
the voice of doom.  "Sorry?"  I said grimly.  "I must be--or hang!  For
to-morrow the King examines his books, and the next day I--hang!"

The King's hand was on mine, to stop me before the last word was out;
but his touch came too late.  As it rang through the room one of the
curtains before us was twitched aside, and a face glared out, so
ghastly and drawn and horror-stricken, that few would have known it for
that of the wealthy fermier, who had grown sleek and fat on the King's
revenues.  I do not know whether he knew us, or whether, on the
contrary, he found this accusation, so precise, so accurate, coming
from an unknown source, still more terrible than if he had known us;
but on the instant he fell forward in a swoon.

"St. Gris!"  Henry cried, looking on the body with a shudder, "you have
killed him, Grand Master!  It was true, was it?"

"Yes, sire," I answered.  "But he is not dead, I think."  And going to
the window I whistled for Maignan, who in a minute came to us.  He was
not very willing to touch the man, but I bade him lay him on the bed
and loosen his clothes and throw water on his face; and presently M.
Fauchet began to recover.

I stepped a little aside that he might not see me, and accordingly the
first person on whom his eyes lighted was the King, who had laid aside
his hat and cloak, and taken the terrified and weeping child on his
lap.  M. Fauchet stared at him awhile before he recognised him; but at
last the trembling man knew him, and tottering to his feet, threw
himself on his knees, looking years older than when I had last seen him
in the street.

"Sire," he said faintly, "I will make restitution."

Henry looked at him gravely, and nodded.  "It is well," he said. "You
are fortunate, M. Fauchet; for had this come to my ears in any other
way I could not have spared you.  You will render your accounts and
papers to M. de Sully to-morrow, and according as you are frank with
him you will be treated."

Fauchet thanked him with abject tears, and the King rose and prepared
to leave.  But at the door a thought struck him, and he turned.  "How
long have you done this?"  he said, indicating the room by a gesture,
and speaking in a gentler tone.

"Three years, sire," the wretched man answered.

"And how much have you distributed?"

"Fifteen hundred crowns, sire."

The King cast an indescribable look at me, wherein amusement, scorn,
and astonishment were all blended.  "St. Gris!  man!"  he said,
shrugging his shoulders and drawing in his breath sharply, "you think
God is as easily duped as the King!  I wish I could think so."

He did not speak again until we were half-way back to the Louvre; when
he opened his mouth to announce his intention of rewarding me with a
tithe of the money recovered.  It was duly paid to me, and I bought
with it part of the outlying lands of Villebon--those, I mean, which
extend towards Chartres.  The rest of the money, notwithstanding all my
efforts, was wasted here and there, Pimentel winning thirty crowns of
the King that year.  But the discovery led to others of a similar
character, and eventually set me on the track of a greater offender, M.
l'Argentier, whom I brought to justice a few months later.



IX.

THE MAID OF HONOUR.


In accordance with my custom I gave an entertainment on the last day of
this year to the King and Queen; who came to the Arsenal with a
numerous train, and found the diversions I had provided so much to
their taste that they did not leave until I was half dead with fatigue,
and like to be killed with complaisance.  Though this was not the most
splendid entertainment I gave that year, it had the good fortune to
please; and in a different and less agreeable fashion is recalled to my
memory by a peculiar chain of events, whereof the first link came under
my eyes during its progress.

I have mentioned in an earlier part of these memoirs, a Portuguese
adventurer who, about this time, gained large sums from the Court at
play, and more than once compelled the King to have recourse to me.  I
had the worst opinion of this man, and did not scruple to express it on
several occasions; and this the more, as his presumption fell little
short of his knavery, while he treated those whom he robbed with as
much arrogance as if to play with him were an honour.  Holding this
view of him, I was far from pleased when I discovered that the King had
brought him to my house; but the feeling, though sufficiently strong,
sank to nothing beside the indignation and disgust which I experienced
when, the company having fallen to cards after supper, I found that the
Queen had sat down with him to primero.

It did not lessen my annoyance, that I had, after my usual fashion,
furnished the Queen with a purse for her sport; and in this way found
myself reduced to stand by and see my good money pass into the clutches
of this knave.  Under the circumstances, and in my own house, I could
do nothing; nevertheless, the table at which they sat possessed so
strong a fascination for me that I several times caught myself staring
at it more closely than was polite; and as to disgust at the
unseemliness of such companionship was added vexation at my own loss, I
might have gone farther towards betraying my feelings if a casual
glance aside had not disclosed to me the fact that I did not stand
alone in my dissatisfaction; but that, frivolous as the majority of the
courtiers were, there was one at least among those present who viewed
this particular game with distaste.

This person stood near the door, and fancying himself secured from
observation, either by his position or his insignificance, was
glowering on the pair in a manner that at another time must have cost
him a rebuke.  As it was, I found something friendly, as well as
curious, in his fixed frown; and ignorant of his name, though I knew
him by sight, wondered both who he was and what was the cause of his
preoccupation.

On the one point I had no difficulty in satisfying myself. Boisrueil,
who presently passed, told me that his name was Vallon; that he
belonged to a poor but old family in the Cotentin, and that he had been
only three months at court.

"Making his fortune, I suppose?"  I said grimly.  "He games?"

"No, your excellency."

"Is in debt?"

"Not to my knowledge."

"To whom does he pay his court, then?"

"To the King."

"And the Queen?"

"Not particularly--as far as I know, at least.  But if you wish to know
more, M. le Duc," Boisrueil continued, "I will--"

"No, no," I said peevishly.  The Queen had just handed her last rouleau
across the table, and was still playing.  "Go, man, about your
business; I don't want to spend the evening gossiping with you."

He went, and I dismissed the young fellow from my mind; only to find
him five minutes later at my elbow.  To youth and good looks he added a
modest bearing that did not fail to enhance them and commend him to me;
the majority of the young sparks of the day being wiser than their
fathers.  But I confess that I was not prepared for the stammering
embarrassment with which he addressed me--nor, indeed, to be addressed
by him at all.

"M. de Sully," he said, in a tone of emotion, "I beg you to pardon me.
I am in great trouble, and I think that perhaps, stranger as I am, you
may condescend to do me a service."

So many men appeal to a minister with some such formula on their lips,
and at times with a calculated timidity, that at the first blush of his
request I was inclined to bid him come to me at the proper time; and to
remove to another part of the room.  But curiosity, playing the part of
his advocate, found so much that was candid in his manner that I
hesitated.  "What is it?"  I said stiffly.

"A very slight, if a very unusual, one," he muttered.  "M. le Duc, I
only want you to--"

"To?"  for he stopped and seemed unable to go on.

"To supplement the present you have given to the Queen with this," he
blurted out, his face pale with emotion; and he stealthily held out to
me a green silk purse, through the meshes of which I saw the glint of
gold.  "M. de Sully," he continued, observing my hasty movement, "do
not be offended!  I know that you have done all that hospitality
required.  But I see that the Queen has already lost your gift, and
that--"

"She is playing on credit?"

"Yes, Monsieur."

He said it simply, and as he spoke, he again pressed on me the purse.
I took and weighed it, and calculated at a guess that it held fifty
crowns.  The sum astonished me.  "Why, man," I said, "you are not mad
enough to be in love with her Majesty?"

"No!"  he cried, vehemently, yet with a gleam of humour in his eye.  "I
swear that it is not so.  If you will do me this favour--"

It was a mad impulse that took me, but I nodded, and resolving to make
good the money out of my own pocket should the case, when all was
clear, seem to demand it, I went straight from him, and, crossing the
floor, laid the purse near her Majesty's hand, with a polite word of
regret that fortune had used her so ill, and a hope that this might be
the means of recruiting her forces.

It would not have surprised me had she shown some signs of
consciousness, and perhaps betrayed that she recognised the purse.  But
she contented herself with thanking me prettily, and almost before I
had done speaking had her slender fingers among the coins.  Turning, I
found that Vallon had disappeared; so that all came to a sudden stop;
and with the one and the other, I retired completely puzzled, and less
able than before to make even a guess at the secret of the young man's
generosity.

However, the King summoning me to him, there, for the time, was an end
of the matter:  and between fatigue and the duties of my position, I
did not give a second thought to it that evening. Next morning, too, I
was taken up with the gifts which it was my privilege as Master of the
Mint to present to the King on New Year's Day, and which consisted this
year of medals of gold, silver, and copper, bearing inscriptions of my
own composition, together with small bags of new coins for the King,
the Queen, and their attendants.

These I always made it a point to offer before the King rose; nor was
this year an exception, for I found his Majesty still in bed, the Queen
occupying a couch in the same chamber.  But whereas it generally fell
to me to arouse them from sleep, and be the first to offer those
compliments which befitted the day, I found them on this occasion fully
roused, the King lazily toying with his watch, the Queen talking fast
and angrily, and at the edge of the carpet beside her bed Mademoiselle
D'Oyley in deep disgrace.  The Queen, indeed, was so taken up with
scolding her that she had forgotten what day it was; and even after my
entrance, continued to rate the poor girl so fiercely that I thought
her present violence little less unseemly than her condescension of the
night before.

Perhaps some trace of this feeling appeared in my countenance; for,
presently, the King, who seldom failed to read my thoughts, tried to
check her in a good-natured fashion.  "Come, my dear," he said; "let
that trembling mouse go.  And do you hear what our good friend Sully
has brought you?  I'll be bound--"

"How your Majesty talks!"  the Queen answered, pettishly.  "As if a few
paltry coins could make up for my jar!  I'll be bound, for my part,
that this idle wench was romping and playing with--"

"Come, come; you have made her cry enough!"  the King interrupted--and,
indeed, the girl was sobbing so passionately that a man could not
listen without pain.  "Let her go, I say, and do you attend to Sully.
You have forgotten that it is New Year's Day--"

"A jar of majolica," the Queen cried, Utterly disregarding him, "worth
your body and soul, you little slut!"

"Pooh!  pooh!"  the King said.

"Do you think that I brought it from Florence, all the way in my own--"

"Nightcap," the King muttered.  "There, there, sweetheart," he
continued, aloud, "let the girl go!"

"Of course!  She is a girl," the Queen cried, with a sneer. "That is
enough for you!"

"Well, madam, she is not the only one in the room," I ventured.

"Oh, of course, you are the King's echo!"

"Run away, little one," Henry said, winking to me to be silent.

"And consider yourself lucky," the Queen cried, venomously.  "You ought
to be whipped; and if I had you in my country, I would have you whipped
for all your airs!  San Giacomo, if you cross me, I will see to it!"

This was a parting thrust; for the girl, catching at the King's
permission, had turned and was hurrying in a passion of tears to the
door.  Still, the Queen had not done.  Mademoiselle had broken a jar;
and there were other misdemeanours which her Majesty continued to
expound.  But in the end I had my say, and presented the medals, which
were accepted by the King with his usual kindness, and by the Queen,
when her feelings had found expression, with sufficient complaisance.
Both were good enough to compliment me on my entertainment; but
observing that the Queen quickly buried herself again in her pillows
and was inclined to be peevish, I cut short my attendance on the plea
of fatigue, and left them at liberty to receive the very numerous
company who on this day pay their court.

Of these, the greater number came on afterwards, to wait on me; so that
for some hours the large hall at the Arsenal was thronged with my
friends, or those who called themselves by that name. But towards noon
the stream began to fail; and when I sat down to dinner at that hour, I
had reason to suppose that I should be left at peace.  I had not more
than begun my meal, however, when I was called from table by a
messenger from the Queen.

"What is it?"  I said, when I had gone to him.  Had he come from the
King, I could have understood it more easily.

"Her Majesty desires to know, your excellency, whether you have seen
anything of Mademoiselle D'Oyley."

"I?"

"Yes, M. le Duc."

"No, certainly not.  How should I?"  I replied.

"And she is not here?"  the man persisted.

"No!"  I answered, angrily.  "God bless the Queen, I know nothing of
her.  I am sitting at meat, and--"

The man interrupted me with protestations of regret, and, hastening to
express himself thoroughly satisfied, retired with a crestfallen air.
I wondered what the message meant, and what had come over the Queen,
and whither the girl had gone.  But as I made it a rule throughout my
term of office to avoid, as far as possible, all participation in
bed-chamber intrigues, I wasted little time on the matter, but
returning to my dinner, took up the conversation where I had left it.
Before I rose, however, La Trape came to me and again interrupted me.
He announced that a messenger from his Majesty was waiting in the hall.

I went out, thinking it very probable that Henry had sent me a present;
though it was his more usual custom on this day to honour me with a
visit, and declare his generous intentions by word of mouth, when we
had both retired to my library and the door was closed.  Still, on one
or two occasions he had sent me a horse from his stables, a brace of
Indian fowl, a melon or the like, as a foretaste; and this I supposed
to be the errand on which the man had come.

His first words disabused me.  "May it please your excellency," he
said, very civilly, "the King desires to be remembered to you as usual,
and would learn whether you know anything of Mademoiselle D'Oyley."

"Of whom?"  I cried, astonished.

"Of Mademoiselle D'Oyley, her Majesty's maid of honour."

"Not I, i'faith!"  I said, drily.  "I am no squire of dames, to say
nothing of maids!"

"But his Majesty--"

"If he has sent that message," I replied, "has yet something to
learn--that I do not interest myself in maids of honour or such
frailties."

The man smiled.  "I do not think," he began, "that it was his Majesty--"

"Sent the message?"  I said.  "No, but the Queen, I suppose."

On this he gave me to understand, in the sly, secretive manner such men
affect, that it was so.  I asked him then what all this ferment was
about.  "Has Mademoiselle D'Oyley disappeared?"  I said, peevishly.

"Yes, your excellency.  She was with the Queen at eight o'clock. At
noon her Majesty desired her services, and she was not to be found."

"What?"  I exclaimed.  "A maid of honour is missing for three hours in
the morning, and there is all this travelling!  Why, in my young days,
three nights might have--"

But discerning that he was little more than a youth, and could not;
restrain a smile, I broke off discreetly, and contented myself with
asking if there was reason to suppose that there was more than appeared
in the girl's absence.

"Her Majesty thinks so," he answered.

"Well, in any case, I know nothing about it," I replied.  "I am not
hiding her.  You may tell his Majesty that, with my service. Or I will
write it."

He answered me, eagerly, that that was not necessary, and that the King
had desired merely a word from me; and with that and many other
expressions of regret, he went away and left me at leisure to go to the
riding-school, where at this time of the year it was my wont to see the
young men practise those manly arts, which, so far as I can judge, are
at a lower ebb in these modern days of quips and quodlibets than in the
stirring times of my youth.  Then, thank God, it was held more
necessary for a page to know his seven points of horsemanship than how
to tie a ribbon, or prank a gown, or read a primer.

But the first day of this year was destined to be a day of vexation.  I
had scarcely entered the school, when M. de Varennes was announced.
Instead of going to meet him I bade them bring him to me, and, on
seeing him, bade him welcome to the sports. "Though," I said, politely
overlooking his past history and his origin, "we did better in our
times; yet the young fellows should be encouraged."

"Very true," he answered, suavely.  "And I wish I could stay with you.
But it was not for pleasure I came.  The King sent me.  He desires to
know--"

"What?"  I said.

"If you know anything of Mademoiselle D'Oyley.  Between ourselves, M.
le Duc--"

I looked at him in amazement.  "Why," I said, "what on earth has the
girl done now?"

"Disappeared," he answered.

"But she had done that before."

"Yes," he said, "and the King had your message. But--"

"But what?"  I said sternly.

"He thought that you might wish to supplement it for his private use."

"To supplement it?"

"Yes.  The truth is," Varennes continued, looking at me doubtfully,
"the King has information which leads him to suppose that she may be
here."

"She may be anywhere," I answered in a tone that closed his mouth, "but
she is not here.  And you may tell the King so from me!"

Though he had begun life as a cook, few could be more arrogant than
Varennes on occasion; but he possessed the valuable knack of knowing
with whom he could presume, and never attempted to impose on me.
Apologising with the easy grace of a man who had risen in life by
pleasing, he sat with me awhile, recalling old days and feats, and then
left, giving me to understand that I might depend on him to disabuse
the King's mind.

As a fact, Henry visited me that evening without raising the subject;
nor had I any reason to complain of his generosity, albeit he took care
to exact from the Superintendent of the Finances more than he gave his
servant, and for one gift to Peter got two Pauls satisfied.  To obtain
the money he needed in the most commodious manner, I spent the greater
part of two days in accounts, and had not yet settled the warrants to
my liking, when La Trape coming in with candles on the second evening
disturbed my secretaries.  The men yawned discreetly; and reflecting
that we had had a long day I dismissed them, and stayed myself only for
the purpose of securing one or two papers of a private nature.  Then I
bade La Trape light me to my closet.

Instead, he stood and craved leave to speak to me.  "About what,
sirrah?"  I said.

"I have received an offer, your excellency," he answered with a crafty
look.

"What!  To leave my service?"  I exclaimed, in surprise.

"No, your excellency," he answered.  "To do a service for another--M.
Pimentel.  The Portuguese gentleman stopped me in the street to-day,
and offered me fifty crowns."

"To do what?"  I asked.

"To tell him where the young lady with Madame lies; and lend him the
key of the garden gate to-night."

I stared at the fellow.  "The young lady with Madame?"  I said.

He returned my look with a stupidity which I knew was assumed. "Yes,
your excellency.  The young lady who came this morning," he said.

Then I knew that I had been betrayed, and had given my enemies such a
handle as they would not be slow to seize; and I stood in the middle of
the room in the utmost grief and consternation.  At last, "Stay here,"
I said to the man, as soon as I could speak. "Do not move from the spot
where you stand until I come back!"

It was my almost invariable custom to be announced when I visited my
wife's closet; but I had no mind now for such formalities, and swiftly
passing two or three scared servants on the stairs, I made straight for
her room, tapped and entered.  Abrupt as were my movements, however,
someone had contrived to warn her; for though two of her women sat
working on stools near her, I heard a hasty foot flying, and caught the
last flutter of a skirt as it disappeared through a second door.  My
wife rose from her seat, and looked at me guiltily.

"Madame," I said, "send these women away.  Now," I continued when they
had gone, "who was that with you?"  She looked away dumbly.

"You do well not to try to deceive me, Madame," I continued severely.
"It was Mademoiselle D'Oyley."

She muttered, not daring to meet my eye, that it was.

"Who has absented herself from the Queen's service," I answered
bitterly, "and chosen to hide herself here of all places! Madame," I
continued, with a severity which the sense of my false position amply
justified, "are you aware that you have made me dishonour myself?  That
you have made me lie; not once, but three times?  That you have made me
deceive my master?"

She cried out at that, being frightened, that "she had meant no harm;
that the girl coming to her in great grief and trouble--"

"Because the Queen had scolded her for breaking a china jar!"  I said,
contemptuously.

"No, Monsieur; her trouble was of quite another kind," my wife answered
with more spirit than I had expected.

"Pshaw!" I exclaimed.

"It is plain that you do not yet understand the case," Madame
persisted, facing me with trembling hardihood.  "Mademoiselle D'Oyley
has been persecuted for some time by the suit of a man for whom I know
you, Monsieur, have no respect:  a man whom no Frenchwoman of family
should be forced to marry."

"Who is it?"  I said curtly.

"M. Pimentel."

"Ah!  And the Queen?"

"Has made his suit her own.  Doubtless her Majesty," Madame de Sully
continued with grimness, "who plays with him so much, is under
obligations to him, and has her reasons.  The King, too, is on his
side, so that Mademoiselle--"

"Who has another lover, I suppose?"  I said harshly.

My wife looked at me in trepidation.  "It may be so, Monsieur," she
said hesitating.

"It is so, Madame; and you know it," I answered in the same tone. "M.
Vallon is the man."

"Oh!"  she exclaimed with a gesture of alarm.  "You know!"

"I know, Madame," I replied, with vigour, "that to please this
love-sick girl you have placed me in a position of the utmost
difficulty; that you have jeopardised the confidence which my master,
whom I have never willingly deceived, places in me; and that out of all
this I see only one way of escape, and that is by a full and frank
confession, which you must make to the Queen."

"Oh, Monsieur," she said faintly.

"The girl, of course, must be immediately given up."

My wife began to sob at that, as women will; but I had too keen a sense
of the difficulties into which she had plunged me by her deceit, to
pity her over much.  And, doubtless, I should have continued in the
resolution I had formed, and which appeared to hold out the only hope
of avoiding the malice of those enemies whom every man in power
possesses--and none can afford to despise--if La Trape's words, when he
betrayed the secret to me, had not recurred to my mind and suggested
other reflections.

Doubtless, Mademoiselle had been watched into my house, and my
ill-wishers would take the earliest opportunity of bringing the lie
home to me.  My wife's confession, under such circumstances, would have
but a simple air, and believed by some would be ridiculed by more.  It
might, and probably would, save my credit with the King; but it would
not exalt me in others' eyes, or increase my reputation as a manager.
If there were any other way--and so reflecting, I thought of La Trape
and his story.

Still I was half way to the door when I paused, and turned.  My wife
was still weeping.  "It is no good crying over spilled milk, Madame," I
said severely.  "If the girl were not a fool, she would have gone to
the Ursulines.  The abbess has a stiff neck, and is as big a simpleton
to boot as you are.  It is only a step, too, from here to the
Ursulines, if she had had the sense to go on."

My wife lifted her head, and looked at me eagerly; but I avoided her
gaze and went out without more, and downstairs to my study, where I
found La Trape awaiting me.  "Go to Madame la Duchesse," I said to him.
"When you have done what she needs, come to me in my closet."

He obeyed, and after an interval of about half an hour, during which I
had time to mature my plan, presented himself again before me.
"Pimentel had a notion that the young lady was here then?"  I said
carelessly.

"Yes, your excellency."

"Some of his people fancied that they saw her enter, perhaps?"

"Yes, your excellency."

"They were mistaken, of course?"

"Of course," he answered, dutifully.

"Or she may have come to the door and gone again?"  I suggested.

"Possibly, your excellency."

"Gone on without being seen, I mean?"

"If she went in the direction of the Rue St. Marcel," he answered
stolidly, "she would not be seen."

The convent of the Ursulines is in the Rue St. Marcel.  I knew,
therefore, that Madame had had the sense to act on my hint; and after
reflecting a moment I continued, "So Pimentel wished to know where she
was lodged?"

"That, and to have the key, your excellency."

"To-night?"

"Yes, your excellency."

"Well, you are at liberty to accept the offer," I answered carelessly.
"It will not clash with my service."  And then, as he stood staring in
astonishment, striving to read the riddle, I continued, "By the way,
are the rooms in the little Garden Pavilion aired?  They may be needed
next week; see that one of the women sleeps there to-night; a woman you
can depend on."

"Ah, Monsieur!"

He said no more, but I saw that he understood; and bidding him be
careful in following my instructions, I dismissed him.  The line I had
determined to take was attended by many uncertainties, however; and
more than once I repented that I had not followed my first; instinct,
and avowed the truth.  A hundred things might fall out to frustrate my
scheme and place me in a false position; from which--since the
confidence of his sovereign is the breath of a minister, and as easily
destroyed as a woman's reputation--I might find it impossible to
extricate myself with credit.

I slept, therefore, but ill that night; and in conjunctures apparently
more serious have felt less trepidation.  But experience has long ago
taught me that trifles, not great events, unseat the statesman, and
that of all intrigues those which revolve round a woman are the most
dangerous.  I rose early, therefore, and repaired to Court before my
usual hour, it being the essence of my plan to attack, instead of
waiting to be attacked.  Doubtless my early appearance was taken to
corroborate the rumour that I had made a false step, and was in
difficulties; for scarcely had I crossed the threshold of the
ante-chamber before the attitude of the courtiers caught my attention.
Some who twenty-four hours earlier would have been only too glad to
meet my eye and obtain a word of recognition, appeared to be absorbed
in conversation.  Others, less transparent or better inclined to me,
greeted me with unnatural effusion.  One who bore a grudge against me,
but had never before dared to do more than grin, now scowled openly;
while a second, perhaps the most foolish of all, came to me with
advice, drew me with insistency into a niche near the door, and adjured
me to be cautious.

"You are too bold," he said; "and that way your enemies find their
opening.  Do not go to the King now.  He is incensed against you.  But
we all know that he loves you; wait, therefore, my friend, until he has
had his day's hunting--he is just now booting himself and see him when
he has ridden off his annoyance."

"And when my friends, my dear Marquis, have had time to poison his mind
against me?  No, no," I answered, wondering much whether he were as
simple as he looked.

"But the Queen is with him now," he persisted, seizing the lappel of my
coat to stay me, "and she will be sure to put in a word against you."

"Therefore," I answered drily, "I had better see his Majesty before the
one word becomes two."

"Be persuaded," he entreated me.  "See him now, and nothing but ill
will come of it."

"Nothing but ill for some," I retorted, looking so keenly at him that
his visage fell.  And with that he let me go, and with a smile I passed
through the door.  The rumour had not yet gained such substance that
the crowd had lost all respect for me; it rolled back, and I passed
through it towards the end of the chamber, where the King was stooping
to draw on one of his boots. The Queen stood not far from him, gazing
into the fire with an air of ill-temper which the circle, serious and
silent, seemed to reflect, I looked everywhere for the Portuguese, but
he was not to be seen.

For a moment the King affected to be unaware of my presence, and even
turned his shoulder to me; but I observed that he reddened, and
fidgeted nervously with the boot which he was drawing on. Nothing
daunted, therefore, I waited until he perforce discovered me, and was
obliged to greet me.  "You are early this morning," he said, at last,
with a grudging air.

"For the best of reasons, sire," I answered hardily.  "I am ill placed
at home, and come to you for justice."

"What is it?"  he said churlishly and unwillingly.

I was about to answer, when the Queen interposed with a sneer. "I think
that I can tell you, sire," she said.  "M. de Sully is old enough to
know the adage, 'Bite before you are bitten.'"

"Madame," I said, respectfully but with firmness.  "I know this only,
that my house was last night the scene of a gross outrage; and by all I
can learn it was perpetrated by one who is under your Majesty's
protection."

"His name?"  she said, with a haughty gesture.

"M. Pimentel."

The Queen began to smile.  "What was this gross outrage?"  she asked
drily.

"In the course of last night he broke into my house with a gang of
wretches, and bore off one of the inmates."

The Queen's smile grew broader; the King began to grin.  Some of the
circle, watching them closely, ventured to smile also. "Come, my
friend," Henry said, almost with good humour, "this is all very well.
But this inmate of yours--was a very recent one."

"Was, in fact, I suppose, the rebellious little wench of whom you knew
nothing yesterday!"  the Queen cried harshly, and with an air of open
triumph.  "There can be no stealing of stolen goods, sir; and if M.
Pimentel, who had at least as much right as you to the girl--and more,
for I am her guardian--has carried her off, you have small ground to
complain."

"But, Madame," I said, with an air of bewilderment, "I really do
not--it must be my fault, but I do not understand."

Two or three sniggered, seeing me apparently checkmated and at the end
of my resources.  And the King laughed out with kindly malice.  "Come,
Grand Master," he said, "I think that you do. However, if Pimentel has
carried off the damsel, there, it seems to me, is an end of the matter."

"But, sire," I answered, looking sternly round the grinning circle, "am
I mad, or is there some mystery here?  I assured your Majesty yesterday
that Mademoiselle D'Oyley was not in my house. I say the same to-day.
She is not; your officers may search every room and closet.  And for
the woman whom M. Pimentel has carried off, she is no more Mademoiselle
D'Oyley than I am; she is one of my wife's waiting-maids.  If you doubt
me," I continued, "you have only to send and ask.  Ask the Portuguese
himself."

The King stared at me.  "Nonsense!"  he said, sharply.  "If Pimentel
has carried off anyone, it must be Mademoiselle D'Oyley."

"But it is not, sire," I answered with persistence.  "He has broken
into my house, and abducted my servant.  For Mademoiselle, she is not
there to be stolen."

"Let some one go for Pimentel," the King said curtly.

But the Portuguese, as it happened, was at the door even then, and
being called, had no alternative but to come forward.  His face and
mien as he entered and reluctantly showed himself were more than enough
to dissipate any doubts which the courtiers had hitherto entertained;
the former being as gloomy and downcast as the latter was timid and
cringing.  It is true he made some attempt at first, and for a time, to
face the matter out; stammering and stuttering, and looking piteously
to the Queen for help.  But he could not long delay the crisis, nor
deny that the person he had so cunningly abducted was one of my
waiting-women; and the moment that this confession was made his case
was at an end, the statement being received with so universal a peal of
laughter, the King leading, as at one and the same time discomfited
him, and must have persuaded any indifferent listener that all, from
the first, had been in the secret.

After that he would have spent himself in vain, had he contended that
Mademoiselle D'Oyley was at my house; and so clear was this that he
made no second attempt to do so, but at once admitting that his people
had made a mistake, he proffered me a handsome apology, and desired the
King to speak to me in his behalf.

This I, on my side, was pleased to take in good part; and having let
him off easily with a mild rebuke, turned from him to the Queen, and
informed her with much respect that I had learned at length where
Mademoiselle D'Oyley had taken refuge.

"Where, sir?"  she asked, eyeing me suspiciously and with no little
disfavour.

"At the Ursulines, Madame," I answered,

She winced, for she had already quarrelled with the abbess without
advantage.  And there for the moment the matter ended. At a later
period I took care to confess all to the King, and he did not fail to
laugh heartily at the clever manner in which I had outwitted Pimentel.
But this was not until the Portuguese had left the country and gone to
Italy, the affair between him and Mademoiselle D'Oyley (which resolved
itself into a contest between the Queen and the Ursulines) having come
to a close under circumstances which it may be my duty to relate in
another place.



X.

FARMING THE TAXES.


In the summer of the year 1608, determining to take up my abode, when
not in Paris, at Villebon, where I had lately enlarged my property, I
went thither from Rouen with my wife, to superintend the building and
mark out certain plantations which I projected. As the heat that month
was great, and the dust of the train annoying, I made each stage in the
evening and on horseback, leaving my wife to proceed at her leisure.
In this way I was able, by taking rough paths, to do in two or three
hours a distance which her coaches had scarcely covered in the day; but
on the third evening, intending to make a short cut by a ford on the
Vaucouleurs, I found, to my chagrin, the advantage on the other side,
the ford, when I reached it at sunset, proving impracticable.  As there
was every prospect, however, that the water would fall within a few
hours, I determined not to retrace my steps; but to wait where I was
until morning, and complete my journey to Houdan in the early hours.

There was a poor inn near the ford, a mere hovel of wood on a brick
foundation, yet with two storeys.  I made my way to this with Maignan
and La Trape, who formed, with two grooms, my only attendance; but on
coming near the house, and looking about with a curious eye, I remarked
something which fixed my attention, and, for the moment, brought me to
a halt.  This was the spectacle of three horses, of fair quality,
feeding in a field of growing corn, which was the only enclosure near
the inn.  They were trampling and spoiling more than they ate; and,
supposing that they had strayed into the place, and the house showing
no signs of life, I bade my grooms fetch them out.  The sun was about
setting, and I stood a moment watching the long shadows of the men as
they plodded through the corn, and the attitudes of the horses as, with
heads raised, they looked doubtfully at the newcomers.

Suddenly a man came round the corner of the house, and seeing us, and
what my men were doing, began to gesticulate violently, but without
sound.  The grooms saw him too, and stood; and he ran up to my stirrup,
his face flushed and sullen.

"Do you want to see us all ruined?"  he muttered.  And he begged me to
call my men out of the corn.

"You are more likely to be ruined that way," I answered, looking down
at him.  "Why, man, is it the custom in your country to turn horses
into the half-ripe corn?"

He shook his fist stealthily.  "God forbid!"  he said.  "But the devil
is within doors, and we must do his bidding."

"Ah!"  I replied, my curiosity aroused "I should like to see him."

The boor shaded his eyes, and looked at me sulkily from under his
matted and tangled hair.  "You are not of his company?"  he said with
suspicion.

"I hope not," I answered, smiling at his simplicity.  "But your corn is
your own.  I will call the men out."  On which I made a sign to them to
return.  "Now," I said, as I walked my horse slowly towards the house,
while he tramped along beside me, "who is within?"

"M. Gringuet," he said, with another stealthy gesture.

"Ah!"  I said, "I am afraid that I am no wiser."

"The tax-gatherer."

"Oh!  And those are his horses?"  He nodded.

"Still, I do not see why they are in the corn?"

"I have no hay."

"But there is grass."

"Ay," the inn-keeper answered bitterly.

"And he said that I might eat it.  It was not good enough for his
horses.  They must have hay or corn; and if I had none, so much the
worse for me."

Full of indignation, I made in my mind a note of M. Gringuet's name;
but at the moment I said no more, and we proceeded to the house, the
exterior of which, though meagre, and even miserable, gave me an
impression of neatness.  From the inside, however, a hoarse, continuous
noise was issuing, which resolved itself as we crossed the threshold
into a man's voice.  The speaker was out of sight, in an upper room to
which a ladder gave access, but his oaths, complaints, and imprecations
almost shook the house.  A middle-aged woman, scantily dressed, was
busy on the hearth; but perhaps that which, next to the perpetual
scolding that was going on above, most took my attention was a great
lump of salt that stood on the table at the woman's elbow, and seemed
to be evidence of greater luxury--for the GABELLE had not at that time
been reduced--than I could easily associate with the place.

The roaring and blustering continuing upstairs, I stood a moment in
sheer astonishment.  "Is that M. Gringuet?"  I said at last.

The inn-keeper nodded sullenly, while his wife stared at me. "But what;
is the matter with him?"  I said.

"The gout.  But for that he would have been gone these two days to
collect at Le Mesnil."

"Ah!"  I answered, beginning to understand.  "And the salt is for a
bath for his feet, is it?"

The woman nodded.

"Well," I said, as Maignan came in with my saddlebags and laid them on
the floor, "he will swear still louder when he gets the bill, I should
think."

"Bill?"  the housewife answered bitterly, looking up again from her
pots.  "A tax-gatherer's bill?  Go to the dead man and ask for the
price of his coffin; or to the babe for a nurse-fee!  You will get paid
as soon.  A tax-gatherer's bill?  Be thankful if he does not take the
dish with the sop!"

She spoke plainly; yet I found a clearer proof of the slavery in which
the man held them in the perfect indifference with which they regarded
my arrival--though a guest with two servants must have been a rarity in
such a place--and the listless way in which they set about attending to
my wants.  Keenly remembering that not long before this my enemies had
striven to prejudice me in the King's eyes by alleging that, though I
filled his coffers, I was grinding the poor into the dust--and even, by
my exactions, provoking a rebellion I was in no mood to look with an
indulgent eye on those who furnished such calumnies with a show of
reason. But it has never been my wont to act hastily; and while I stood
in the middle of the kitchen, debating whether I should order the
servants to fling the fellow out, and bid him appear before me at
Villebon, or should instead have him brought up there and then, the
man's coarse voice, which had never ceased to growl and snarl above us,
rose on a sudden still louder.  Something fell on the floor over our
heads and rolled across it; and immediately a young girl, barefoot and
short-skirted, scrambled hurriedly and blindly down the ladder and
landed among us.

She was sobbing, and a little blood was flowing from a cut in her lip;
and she trembled all over.  At sight of the blood and her tears the
woman seemed to be transported.  Snatching up a saucepan, she sprang
towards the ladder with a gesture of rage, and in a moment would have
ascended if her husband had not followed and dragged her back.  The
girl also, as soon as she could speak, added her entreaties to his,
while Maignan and La Trape looked sharply at me, as if they expected a
signal.

All this while, the bully above continued his maledictions. "Send that
slut back to me!"  he roared.  "Do you think that I am going to be left
alone in this hole?  Send her back, or--" and he added half-a-dozen
oaths of a kind to make an honest man's blood boil.  In the midst of
this, however, and while the woman was still contending with her
husband, he suddenly stopped and shrieked in anguish, crying out for
the salt-bath.

But the woman, whom her husband had only half-pacified, shook her fist
at the ceiling with a laugh of defiance.  "Shriek; ay, you may shriek,
you wretch!"  she cried.  "You must be waited on by my girl, must
you--no older face will do for you--and you beat her?  Your horses must
eat corn, must they, while we eat grass? And we buy salt for you, and
wheaten bread for you, and are beggars for you!  For you, you thieving
wretch, who tax the poor and let the rich go free; who--"

"Silence, woman!"  her husband cried, cutting her short, with a pale
face.  "Hush, hush; he will hear you!"

But the woman was too far gone in rage to obey.  "What!  and is it not
true?"  she answered, her eyes glittering.  "Will he not to-morrow go
to Le Mesnil and squeeze the poor?  Ay, and will not Lescauts the
corn-dealer, and Philippon the silk-merchant, come to him with bribes,
and go free?  And de Fonvelle and de Curtin--they with a DE,
forsooth!--plead their nobility, and grease his hands, and go free?
Ay, and--"

"Silence, woman!"  the man said again, looking apprehensively at me,
and from me to my attendants, who were grinning broadly. "You do not
know that this gentleman is not--"

"A tax-gatherer?"  I said, smiling.  "No.  But how long has your friend
upstairs been here?"

"Two days, Monsieur," she answered, wiping the perspiration from her
brow, and speaking more quietly.  "He is talking of sending on a deputy
to Le Mesnil; but Heaven send he may recover, and go from here himself!"

"Well," I answered, "at any rate, we have had enough of this noise.  My
servant shall go up and tell him that there is a gentleman here who
cannot put up with a disturbance.  Maignan," I continued, "see the man,
and tell him that the inn is not his private house, and that he must
groan more softly; but do not mention my name.  And let him have his
brine bath, or there will be no peace for anyone."

Maignan and La Trape, who knew me, and had counted on a very different
order, stared at me, wondering at my easiness and complaisance; for
there is a species of tyranny, unassociated with rank, that even the
coarsest view with indignation.  But the woman's statement, which,
despite its wildness and her excitement, I saw no reason to doubt, had
suggested to me a scheme of punishment more refined; and which might,
at one and the same time, be of profit to the King's treasury and a
lesson to Gringuet.  To carry it through I had to submit to some
inconvenience, and particularly to a night passed under the same roof
with the rogue; but as the news that a traveller of consequence was
come had the effect, aided by a few sharp words from Maignan, of
lowering his tone, and forcing him to keep within bounds, I was able to
endure this and overlook the occasional outbursts of spleen which his
disease and pampered temper still drew from him.

His two men, who had been absent on an errand at the time of my
arrival, presently returned, and were doubtless surprised to find a
second company in possession.  They tried my attendants with a number
of questions, but without success; while I, by listening while I had my
supper, learned more of their master's habits and intentions than they
supposed.  They suspected nothing, and at day-break we left them; and,
the water having duly fallen in the night, we crossed the river without
mishap, and for a league pursued our proper road.  Then I halted, and
despatching the two grooms to Houdan with a letter for my wife, I took,
myself, the road to Le Mesnil, which lies about three leagues to the
west.

At a little inn, a league short of Le Mesnil, I stopped, and
instructing my two attendants in the parts they were to play, prepared,
with the help of the seals, which never left Maignan's custody, the
papers necessary to enable me to enact the role of Gringuet's deputy.
Though I had been two or three times to Villebon, I had never been
within two leagues of Le Mesnil, and had no reason to suppose that I
should be recognised; but to lessen the probability of this I put on a
plain suit belonging to Maignan, with a black-hilted sword, and no
ornaments.  I furthermore waited to enter the town until evening, so
that my presence, being reported, might be taken for granted before I
was seen.

In a larger place my scheme must have miscarried, but in this little
town on the hill, looking over the plain of vineyards and cornfields,
with inn, market-house, and church in the square, and on the fourth
side the open battlements, whence the towers of Chartres could be seen
on a clear day, I looked to have to do only with small men, and saw no
reason why it should fail.

Accordingly, riding up to the inn about sunset, I called, with an air,
for the landlord.  There were half-a-dozen loungers seated in a row on
a bench before the door, and one of these went in to fetch him.  When
the host came out, with his apron twisted round his waist, I asked him
if he had a room.

"Yes," he said, shading his eyes to look at me, "I have."

"Very well," I answered pompously, considering that I had just such an
audience as I desired--by which I mean one that, without being too
critical, would spread the news.  "I am M. Gringuet's deputy, and I am
here with authority to collect and remit, receive and give receipts
for, his Majesty's taxes, tolls, and dues, now, or to be, due and
owing.  Therefore, my friend, I will trouble you to show me to my room."

I thought that this announcement would impress him as much as I
desired; but, to my surprise, he only stared at me.  "Eh!"  he
exclaimed at last, in a faltering tone, "M. Gringuet's deputy?"

"Yes," I said, dismounting somewhat impatiently; "he is ill with the
gout and cannot come."

"And you--are his deputy?"

"I have said so."

Still he did not move to do my bidding, but continued to rub his bald
head and stare at me as if I fascinated him.  "Well, I am--I mean--I
think we are full," he stammered at last, with his eyes like saucers.

I replied, with some impatience, that he had just said that he had a
room; adding, that if I was not in it and comfortably settled before
five minutes were up I would know the reason.  I thought that this
would settle the matter, whatever maggot had got into the man's head;
and, in a way, it did so, for he begged my pardon hastily, and made way
for me to enter, calling, at the same time, to a lad who was standing
by, to attend to the horses. But when we were inside the door, instead
of showing me through the kitchen to my room, he muttered something,
and hurried away; leaving me to wonder what was amiss with him, and why
the loungers outside, who had listened with all their ears to our
conversation, had come in after us as far as they dared, and were
regarding us with an odd mixture of suspicion and amusement.

The landlord remained long away, and seemed, from sounds that came to
my ears, to be talking with someone in a distant room. At length,
however, he returned, bearing a candle and followed by a serving-man.
I asked him roughly why he had been so long, and began to rate him; but
he took the words out of my mouth by his humility, and going before me
through the kitchen--where his wife and two or three maids who were
about the fire stopped to look at us, with the basting spoons in their
hands--he opened a door which led again into the outer air.

"It is across the yard," he said apologetically, as he went before, and
opening a second door, stood aside for us to enter. "But it is a good
room, and, if you please, a fire shall be lighted.  The shutters are
closed," he continued, as we passed him, Maignan and La Trape carrying
my baggage, "but they shall be opened.  Hallo!  Pierre!  Pierre, there!
Open these shut--"

On the word his voice rose--and broke; and in a moment the door,
through which we had all passed unsuspecting, fell to with a crash
behind us.  Before we could move we heard the bars drop across it.  A
little before, La Trape had taken a candle from someone's hand to light
me the better; and therefore we were not in darkness.  But the light
this gave only served to impress on us what the falling bars and the
rising sound of voices outside had already told us--that we were
outwitted!  We were prisoners.

The room in which we stood, looking foolishly at one another, was a
great barn-like chamber, with small windows high in the unplaistered
walls.  A long board set on trestles, and two or three stools placed
round it--on the occasion, perhaps, of some recent festivity--had for a
moment deceived us, and played the landlord's game.

In the first shock of the discovery, hearing the bars drop home, we
stood gaping, and wondering what it meant.  Then Maignan, with an oath,
sprang to the door and tried it--fruitlessly.

I joined him more at my leisure, and raising my voice, asked angrily
what this folly meant.  "Open the door there!  Do you hear, landlord?"
I cried.

No one moved, though Maignan continued to rattle the door furiously.

"Do you hear?"  I repeated, between anger and amazement at the fix in
which we had placed ourselves.  "Open!"

But, although the murmur of voices outside the door grew louder, no one
answered, and I had time to take in the full absurdity of the position;
to measure the height; of the windows with my eye and plumb the dark
shadows under the rafters, where the feebler rays of our candle lost
themselves; to appreciate, in a word, the extent of our predicament.
Maignan was furious, La Trape vicious, while my own equanimity scarcely
supported me against the thought that we should probably be where we
were until the arrival of my people, whom I had directed my wife to
send to Le Mesnil at noon next day.  Their coming would free us,
indeed, but at the cost of ridicule and laughter.  Never was man worse
placed.

Wincing at the thought, I bade Maignan be silent; and, drumming on the
door myself, I called for the landlord.  Someone who had been giving
directions in a tone of great, consequence ceased speaking, and came
close to the door.  After listening a moment, he struck it with his
hand.

"Silence, rogues!"  he cried.  "Do you hear?  Silence there, unless you
want your ears nailed to the post."

"Fool!"  I answered.  "Open the door instantly!  Are you all mad here,
that you shut up the King's servants in this way?"

"The King's servants!" he cried, jeering at us.  "Where are they?"

"Here!"  I answered, swallowing my rage as well as I might.  "I am M.
Gringuet's deputy, and if you do not this instant--"

"M. Gringuet's deputy!  Ho!  ho!"  he said.  "Why, you fool, M.
Gringuet's deputy arrived two hours before you.  You must get up a
little earlier another time.  They are poor tricksters who are too late
for the fair.  And now be silent, and it may save you a stripe or two
to-morrow."

There are situations in which even the greatest find it hard to
maintain their dignity, and this was one.  I looked at Maignan and La
Trape, and they at me, and by the light of the lanthorn which the
latter held I saw that they were smiling, doubtless at the dilemma in
which we had innocently placed ourselves.  But I found nothing to laugh
at in the position; since the people outside might at any moment leave
us where we were to fast until morning; and, after a moment's
reflection, I called out to know who the speaker on the other side was.

"I am M. de Fonvelle," he answered.

"Well, M. de Fonvelle," I replied, "I advise you to have a care what
you do.  I am M. Gringuet's deputy.  The other man is an impostor."

He laughed.

"He has no papers," I cried.

"Oh, yes, he has!"  he answered, mocking me.  "M. Curtin has seen them,
my fine fellow, and he is not one to pay money without warrant."

At this several laughed, and a quavering voice chimed in with "Oh, yes,
he has papers!  I have seen them.  Still, in a case--"

"There!"  M. Fonvelle cried, drowning the other's words.  "Now are you
satisfied--you in there?"

But M. Curtin had not done.  "He has papers," he piped again in his
thin voice.

"Still, M. de Fonvelle, it is well to be cautious, and--"

"Tut, tut!  it is all right."

"He has papers, but he has no authority!"  I shouted.

"He has seals," Fonvelle answered.  "It is all right."

"It is all wrong!"  I retorted.  "Wrong, I say!  Go to your man, and
you will find him gone--gone with your money, M. Curtin."

Two or three laughed, but I heard the sound of feet hurrying away, and
I guessed that Curtin had retired to satisfy himself. Nevertheless, the
moment which followed was an anxious one, since, if my random shot
missed, I knew that I should find myself in a worse position than
before.  But judging--from the fact that the deputy had not confronted
us himself--that he was an impostor, to whom Gringuet's illness had
suggested the scheme on which I had myself hit, I hoped for the best;
and, to be sure, in a moment an outcry arose in the house and quickly
spread.  Of those at the door, some cried to their fellows to hearken,
while others hastened off to see.  Yet still a little time elapsed,
during which I burned with impatience; and then the crowd came
trampling back, all wrangling and speaking at once.

At the door the chattering ceased, and, a hand being laid on the bar,
in a moment the door was thrown open, and I walked out with what
dignity I might.  Outside, the scene which met my eyes might have been,
under other circumstances, diverting.  Before me stood the landlord of
the inn, bowing with a light in each hand, as if the more he bent his
backbone the more he must propitiate me; while a fat, middle-aged man
at his elbow, whom I took to be Fonvelle, smiled feebly at me with a
chapfallen expression.  A little aside, Curtin, a shrivelled old
fellow, was wringing his hands over his loss; and behind and round
these, peeping over their shoulders and staring under their arms,
clustered a curious crowd of busybodies, who, between amusement at the
joke and awe of the great men, had much ado to control their merriment.

The host began to mutter apologies, but I cut him short.  "I will talk
to you to-morrow!"  I said, in a voice which made him shake in his
shoes.  "Now give me supper, lights, and a room--and hurry.  For you,
M. Fonvelle, you are an ass!  And for the gentleman there, who has
filled the rogue's purse, he will do well another time to pay the King
his dues!"

With that I left the two--Fonvelle purple with indignation, and Curtin
with eyes and mouth agape and tears stayed--and followed my host to his
best room, Maignan and La Trape attending me with very grim faces.
Here the landlord would have repeated his apologies, but my thoughts
beginning to revert to the purpose which had brought me hither, I
affected to be offended, that, by keeping all at a distance, I might
the more easily preserve my character.

I succeeded so well that, though half the town, through which the news
of my adventure had spread, as fire spreads in tinder, were assembled
outside the inn until a late hour, no one was admitted to see me; and
when I made my appearance next morning in the market-place and took my
seat, with my two attendants, at a table by the corn-measures, this
reserve had so far impressed the people that the smiles which greeted
me scarcely exceeded those which commonly welcome a tax-collector.
Some had paid, and, foreseeing the necessity of paying again, found
little that was diverting in the jest.  Others thought it no laughing
matter to pay once; and a few had come as ill out of the adventure as I
had.  Under these circumstances, we quickly settled to work, no one
entertaining the slightest suspicion; and La Trape, who could
accommodate himself to anything, playing the part of clerk, I was
presently receiving money and hearing excuses; the minute acquaintance
with the routine of the finances, which I had made it my business to
acquire, rendering the work easy to me.

We had not been long engaged, however, when Fonvelle put in an
appearance, and elbowing the peasants aside, begged to speak with me
apart.  I rose and stepped back with him two or three paces; on which
he winked at me in a very knowing fashion, "I am M. de Fonvelle," he
said.  And he winked again.

"Ah!"  I said.

"My name is not in your list."

"I find it there," I replied, raising a hand to my ear.

"Tut, tut!  you do not understand," he muttered.  "Has not Gringuet
told you?"

"What?"  I said, pretending to be a little deaf.

"Has not--"

I shook my head.

"Has not Gringuet told you?"  he repeated, reddening with anger; and
this time speaking, on compulsion, so loudly that the peasants could
hear him.

I answered him in the same tone.  "Yes," I said roundly.  "He has told
me; of course, that every year you give him two hundred livres to omit
your name."

He glanced behind him with an oath.  "Man, are you mad?"  he gasped,
his jaw falling.  "They will hear you."

"Yes," I said loudly, "I mean them to hear me."

I do not know what he thought of this--perhaps that I was mad--but he
staggered back from me, and looked wildly round.  Finding everyone
laughing, he looked again at me, but still failed to understand; on
which, with another oath, he turned on his heel, and forcing his way
through the grinning crowd, was out of sight in a moment.

I was about to return to my seat, when a pursy, pale-faced man, with
small eyes and a heavy jowl, whom I had before noticed, pushed his way
through the line, and came to me.  Though his neighbours were all
laughing he was sober, and in a moment I understood why.

"I am very deaf," he said in a whisper.  "My name, Monsieur, is
Philippon.  I am a--"

I made a sign to him that I could not hear.

"I am the silk merchant," he continued pretty audibly, but with a
suspicious glance behind him.  "Probably you have--"

Again I signed to him that I could not hear.

"You have heard of me?"

"From M. Gringuet?"  I said very loudly.

"Yes," he answered in a similar tone; for, aware that deaf persons
cannot hear their own voices and are seldom able to judge how loudly
they are speaking, I had led him to this.  "And I suppose that you will
do as he did?"

"How?"  I asked.  "In what way?"

He touched his pocket with a stealthy gesture, unseen by the people
behind him.

Again I made a sign as if I could not hear.

"Take the usual little gift?"  he said, finding himself compelled to
speak.

"I cannot hear a word," I bellowed.  By this time the crowd were
shaking with laughter.

"Accept the usual gift?"  he said, his fat, pale face perspiring, and
his little pig's eyes regarding me balefully.

"And let you pay one quarter?"  I said.

"Yes," he answered.

But this, and the simplicity with which he said it, drew so loud a roar
of laughter from the crowd as penetrated even to his dulled senses.
Turning abruptly, as if a bee had stung him, he found the place
convulsed with merriment; and perceiving, in an instant, that I had
played upon him, though he could not understand how or why, he glared
about him a moment, muttered something which I could not catch, and
staggered away with the gait of a drunken man.

After this, it was useless to suppose that I could amuse myself with
others.  The crowd, which had never dreamed of such a tax-collector,
and could scarcely believe either eyes or ears, hesitated to come
forward even to pay; and I was considering what I should do next, when
a commotion in one corner of the square drew my eyes to that quarter.
I looked and saw at first only Curtin.  Then, the crowd dividing and
making way for him, I perceived that he had the real Gringuet with
him--Gringuet, who rode through the market with an air of grim majesty,
with one foot in a huge slipper and eyes glaring with ill-temper.

Doubtless Curtin, going to him on the chance of hearing something of
the rogue who had cheated him, had apprised the tax-collector of the
whole matter; for on seeing me in my chair of state, he merely grinned
in a vicious way, and cried to the nearest not to let me escape.  "We
have lost one rogue, but we will hang the other," he said.  And while
the townsfolk stood dumbfounded round us, he slipped with a groan from
his horse, and bade his two servants seize me.

"And do you," he called to the host, "see that you help, my man! You
have harboured him, and you shall pay for it if he escapes."

With that he hopped a step nearer; and then, not dreaming of
resistance, sank with another groan--for his foot was immensely swollen
by the journey--into the chair from which I had risen.

A glance showed me that, if I would not be drawn into an unseemly
brawl, I must act; and meeting Maignan's eager eye fixed upon my face,
I nodded.  In a second he seized the unsuspecting Gringuet by the neck,
snatched him up from the chair, and flung him half-a-dozen paces away.
"Lie there," he cried, "you insolent rascal! Who told you to sit before
your betters?"

The violence of the action, and Maignan's heat, were such that the
nearest drew back affrighted; and even Gringuet's servants recoiled,
while the market people gasped with astonishment.  But I knew that the
respite would last a moment only, and I stood forward.  "Arrest that
man," I said, pointing to the collector, who was grovelling on the
ground, nursing his foot and shrieking foul threats at us.

In a second my two men stood over him.  "In the King's name," La Trape
cried; "let no man interfere."

"Raise him up," I continued, "and set him before me; and Curtin also,
and Fonvelle, and Philippon; and Lescaut, the corn-dealer, if he is
here."

I spoke boldly, but I felt some misgiving.  So mighty, however, is the
habit of command, that the crowd, far from resisting, thrust forward
the men I named.  Still, I could not count on this obedience, and it
was with pleasure that I saw at this moment, as I looked over the heads
of the crowd, a body of horsemen entering the square.  They halted an
instant, looking at the unusual concourse; while the townsfolk,
interrupted in the middle of the drama, knew not which way to stare.
Then Boisrueil, seeing me, and that I was holding some sort of court,
spurred his horse through the press, and saluted me.

"Let half-a-dozen of your varlets dismount and guard these men," I
said; "and do you, you rogue," I continued, addressing Gringuet,
"answer me, and tell me the truth.  How much does each of these knaves
give you to cheat the King, and your master? Curtin first.  How much
does he give you?"

"My lord," he answered, pale and shaking, yet with a mutinous gleam in
his eyes, "I have a right to know first before whom I stand."

"Enough," I thundered, "that it is before one who has the right to
question you!  answer me, villain, and be quick.  What is the sum of
Curtin's bribe?"

He stood white and mute.

"Fonvelle's?"

Still he stood silent, glaring with the devil in his eyes; while the
other men whimpered and protested their innocence, and the crowd stared
as if they could never see enough.

"Philippon's?"

"I take no bribes," he muttered.

"Lescaut's?"

"Not a denier."

"Liar!"  I exclaimed.  "Liar, who devour widows' houses and poor men's
corn!  Who grind the weak and say it is the King; and let the rich go
free.  Answer me, and answer the truth.  How much do these men give
you?"

"Nothing," he said defiantly.

"Very well," I answered; "then I will have the list.  It is in your
shoe."

"I have no list," he said, beginning to tremble.

"It is in your shoe," I repeated, pointing to his gouty foot. "Maignan,
off with his shoe, and look in it."

Disregarding his shrieks of pain, they tore it off and looked in it.
There was no list.

"Off with his stocking," I said roundly.

"It is there."

He flung himself down at that, cursing and protesting by turns. But I
remembered the trampled corn, and the girl's bleeding face, and I was
inexorable.  The stocking was drawn off, not too tenderly, and turned
inside out.  Still no list was found.

"He has it," I persisted.  "We have tried the shoe and we have tried
the stocking, now we must try the foot.  Fetch a stirrup-leather, and
do you hold him, and let one of the grooms give him a dozen on that
foot."

But at that he gave way; he flung himself on his knees, screaming for
mercy.

"The list!"  I said,

"I have no list!  I have none!"  he wailed.

"Then give it me out of your head.  Curtin, how much?"

He glanced at the man I named, and shivered, and for a moment was
silent.  But one of the grooms approaching with the stirrup-leather, he
found his voice.  "Forty crowns," he muttered.

"Fonvelle?"

"The same."

I made him confess also the sums which he had received from Lescaut and
Philippon, and then the names of seven others who had been in the habit
of bribing him.  Satisfied that he had so far told the truth, I bade
him put on his stocking and shoe.  "And now," I said to Boisrueil, when
this was done, "take him to the whipping-post there, and tie him up;
and see that each man of the eleven gives him a stripe for every crown
with which he has bribed him--and good ones, or I will have them tied
up in his place.  Do you hear, you rascals?"  I continued to the
trembling culprits.  "Off, and do your duty, or I will have your backs
bare."

But the wretch, as cowardly as he had been cruel, flung himself down
and crawled, sobbing and crying, to my feet.  I had no mercy, however.
"Take him away," I said, "It is such men as these give kings a bad
name.  Take him away, and see you flay him well."

He sprang up then, forgetting his gout, and made a frantic attempt to
escape.  But in a moment he was overcome, hauled away, and tied up; and
though I did not wait to see the sentence carried out, but entered the
inn, the shrill screams he uttered under the punishment reached me,
even there, and satisfied me that Fonvelle and his fellows were not;
holding their hands.

It is a sad reflection, however, that for one such sinner brought to
justice ten, who commit the same crimes, go free, and flourishing on
iniquity, bring the King's service, and his officers, into evil repute.



XI.

THE CAT AND THE KING.


It was in the spring of the year 1609 that at the King's instance I had
a suite of apartments fitted up for him at the Arsenal, that he might
visit me, whenever it pleased him, without putting my family to
inconvenience; in another place will be found an account of the six
thousand crowns a year which he was so obliging as to allow me for this
purpose.  He honoured me by using these rooms, which consisted of a
hall, a chamber, a wardrobe, and a closet, two or three times in the
course of that year, availing himself of my attendants and cook; and
the free opportunities of consulting me on the Great Undertaking, which
this plan afforded, led me to hope that notwithstanding the envy of my
detractors, he would continue to adopt it.  That he did not do so, nor
ever visited me after the close of that year, was due not so much to
the lamentable event, soon to be related, which within a few months
deprived France of her greatest sovereign, as to a strange matter that
attended his last stay with me.  I have since had cause to think that
this did not receive at the time as much attention as it deserved; and
have even imagined that had I groped a little deeper into the mystery I
might have found a clue to the future as well as the past, and averted
one more, and the last, danger from my beloved master.  But Providence
would not have it so; a slight indisposition under which I was
suffering at the time rendered me less able, both in mind and body; the
result being that Henry, who was always averse to the publication of
these ominous episodes, and held that being known they bred the like in
mischievous minds, had his way, the case ending in no more than the
punishment of a careless rascal.

On the occasion of this last visit--the third, I think, that he paid
me--the King, who had been staying at Chantilly, came to me from
Lusarche, where he lay the intervening night.  My coaches went to meet
him at the gates a little before noon, but he did not immediately
arrive, and being at leisure and having assured myself that the dinner
of twelve covers, which he had directed to be ready, was in course of
preparation, I went with my wife to inspect his rooms and satisfy
myself that everything was in order.

They were in charge of La Trape, a man of address and intelligence,
whom I have had cause to mention more than once in the course of these
memoirs.  He met me at the door and conducted us through the rooms with
an air of satisfaction; nor could I find the slightest fault, until my
wife, looking about her with a woman's eye for minute things, paused by
the bed in the chamber, and directed my attention to something on the
floor.

She stooped over it.  "What is this?"  she asked.  "Has something
been--"

"Upset here?"  I said, looking also.  There was a little pool of white
liquid on the floor beside the bed.

La Trape uttered an exclamation of annoyance, and explained that he had
not seen it before; that it had not been there five minutes earlier;
and that he did not know how it came to be there now.

"What is it?"  I said, looking about for some pitcher that might; have
overflowed; but finding none.  "Is it milk?"

"I don't know, your excellency," he answered.  "But it shall be removed
at once."

"See that it is," I said.  "Are the boughs in the fire-place fresh?"
For the weather was still warm and we had not lit a fire.

"Yes, your excellency; quite fresh."

"Well, see to that, and remove it," I said, pointing to the mess. "It
looks ill."

And with that the matter passed from my mind; the more completely as I
heard at that moment the sound of the King's approach, and went into
the court-yard to receive him.  He brought with him Roquelaure, de Vic,
Erard the engineer, and some others, but none whom he did not know that
I should be glad to receive.  He dined well, and after dinner amused
himself with seeing the young men ride at the ring, and even rode a
course himself with his usual skill; that being, if I remember rightly,
the last occasion on which I ever saw him take a lance.  Before supper
he walked for a time in the hall, with Sillery, for whom he had sent;
and after supper, pronouncing himself tired, he dismissed all, and
retired with me to his chamber.  Here we had some talk on a subject
that I greatly dreaded--I mean his infatuation for Madame de Conde; but
about eleven o'clock he yawned, and, after thanking me for a reception
which he said was quite to his mind, he bade me go to bed.

I was half way to the door when he called me back.  "Why, Grand
Master," he said, pointing to the little table by the head of the bed
on which his night drinks stood, "you might be going to drown me.  Do
you expect me to drink all these in the night?"

"I think that there is only your posset, sire," I said, "and the
lemon-water which you generally drink."

"And two or three other things?"

"Perhaps they have given your majesty some of the Arbois wine that you
were good enough to--"

"Tut-tut!" he said, lifting the cover of one of the cups.  "This is not
wine.  It may be a milk-posset."

"Yes, sire; very likely," I said drowsily.

"But it is not!" he answered, when he had smelled it.  "It is plain
milk!  Come, my friend," he continued, looking drolly at me, "have you
turned leech, or I babe is arms that you put such strong liquors before
me?  However, to show you that I have some childish tastes left, and am
not so depraved as you have been trying to make me out for the last
hour--I will drink your health in it.  It would serve you right if I
made you pledge me in the same liquor!"

The cup was at his lips when I sprang forward and, heedless of
ceremony, caught his arm.  "Pardon, sire!" I cried, in sudden
agitation.  "If that is milk, I gave no order that it should be placed
here; and I know nothing of its origin.  I beg that you will not drink
it, until I have made some inquiry."

"They have all been tasted?"  he asked, still holding the cup in his
hand with the lid raised, but looking at it gravely.

"They should have been!" I answered.  "But La Trape, whom I made
answerable for that, is outside.  I will go and question him.  If you
will wait, sire, a moment--"

"No," Henry said.  "Have him here."

I gave the order to the pages who were waiting outside, and in a moment
La Trape appeared, looking startled and uncomfortable. Naturally, his
first glance was given to the King, who had taken his seat on the edge
of the bed, but still held the cup in his hand.  After asking the
King's permission, I said, "What drinks did you place on the table,
here, sirrah?"

He looked more uncomfortable at this, but he answered boldly enough
that he had served a posset, some lemon water, and some milk.

"But orders were given only for the lemon-water and the posset," I said.

"True, your excellency," he answered.  "But when I went to the pantry
hatch, to see the under-butler carry up the tray, I found that the milk
was on the tray; and I supposed that you had given another order."

"Possibly Madame de Sully," the King said, looking at me, "gave the
order to add it?"

"She would not presume to do so, sire," I answered, sternly. "Nor do I
in the least understand the matter.  But at one thing we can easily
arrive.  You tasted all of these, man?"

La Trape said he had.

"You drank a quantity, a substantial quantity of each--according to the
orders given to you?  I persisted.

"Yes, your excellency."

But I caught a guilty look in his eyes, and in a gust of rage I cried
out that he lied.  "The truth!" I thundered, in a terrible voice.  "The
truth, you villain; you did not taste all?"

"I did, your excellency; as God is above, I did!" he answered. But he
had grown pale, and he looked at the King in a terrified way.

"You did?"

"Yes!"

Yet I did not believe him, and I was about to give him the lie again,
when the King intervened.  "Quite so," he said to La Trape with a
smile.  "You drank, my good fellow, of the posset and the lemon water,
and you tasted the milk, but you did not drink of it.  Is not that the
whole truth?"

"Yes, sire," he whimpered, breaking down.  "But I--I gave some to a
cat."

"And the cat is no worse?"

"No, sire."

"There, Grand Master," the King said, turning to me, "that is the
truth, I think.  What do you say to it?"

"That the rest is simple," I answered, grimly.  "He did not drink it
before; but he will drink it now, sire."

The King, sitting on the bed, laughed and looked at La Trape; as if his
good-nature almost led him to interpose.  But after a moment's
hesitation he thought better of it, and handed me the cup.  "Very
well," he said; "he is your man.  Have your way with him.  After all,
he should have drunk it."

"He shall drink it now, or be broken on the wheel!" I said.  "Do you
hear, you?"  I continued, turning to him in a white heat of rage at the
thought of his negligence, and the price it might have cost me.  "Take
it, and beware that you do not drop or spill it.  For I swear that that
shall not save you!"

He took the cup with a pale face, and hands that shook so much that he
needed both to support the vessel.  He hesitated, too, so long that,
had I not possessed the best of reasons for believing in his fidelity,
I should have suspected him of more than negligence.  The shadow of his
tall figure seemed to waver on the tapestry behind him; and with a
little imagination I might have thought that the lights in the room had
sunk.  The soft whispering of the pages outside could be heard, and a
stifled laugh; but inside there was not a sound.  He carried the cup to
his lips; then he lowered it again.

I took a step forward.

He recoiled a pace, his face ghastly.  "Patience, excellency," he said,
hoarsely.  "I shall drink it.  But I want to speak first."

"Speak!" the King answered.

"If there is death in it, I take God to witness that I know nothing,
and knew nothing!  There is some witch's work here it is not the first
time that I have come across this devil's milk to-day!  But I take God
to witness I know nothing!  Now it is here I will drink it, and--"

He did not finish the sentence, but drawing a deep breath raised the
cup to his lips.  I saw the apple in his throat rise and fall with the
effort he made to swallow, but he drank so slowly that it seemed to me
that he would never drain the cap.  Nor did he, for when he had
swallowed, as far as I could judge from the tilting of the cup, about
half of the milk, Henry rose suddenly and, seizing it, took it from him
with his own hand.

"That will do," the King said.  "Do you feel ill?"

La Trape drew a trembling hand across his brow, on which the sweat
stood in beads; but instead of answering he remained silent, gazing
fixedly before him.  We waited and watched, and at length, when I
should think three minutes had elapsed, he changed his position for one
of greater ease, and I saw his face relax. The unnatural pallor faded,
and the open lips closed.  A minute later he spoke.  "I feel nothing,
sire," he said.

The King looked at me drolly.  "Then take five minutes more," he said.
"Go, and stare at Judith there, cutting off the head of
Holofernes"--for that was the story of the tapestry--"and come when I
call you."

La Trape went to the other end of the chamber.  "Well," the King said,
inviting me by a sign to sit down beside him, "is it a comedy or a
tragedy, my friend?  Or, tell me, what was it he meant when he said
that about the other milk?"

I explained, the matter seeming so trivial now that I came to tell
it--though it; had doubtless contributed much to La Trape's
fright--that I had to apologize.

"Still it is odd," the King said.  "These drinks were not here, at that
time, of course?"

"No, sire; they have been brought up within the hour."

"Well, your butler must explain it."  And with that he raised his voice
and called La Trape back; who came, looking red and sheepish.

"Not dead yet?"  the King said.

"No, sire."

"Nor ill?"

"No, sire."

"Then begone.  Or, stay!" Henry continued.  "Throw the rest of this
stuff into the fire-place.  It may be harmless, but I have no mind to
drink it by mistake."

La Trape emptied the cup among the green boughs that filled the hearth,
and hastened to withdraw.  It seemed to be too late to make further
inquiries that night; so after listening to two or three explanations
which the King hazarded, but which had all too fanciful an air in my
eyes, I took my leave and retired.

Whether, however, the scene had raised too violent a commotion in my
mind, or I was already sickening for the illness I have mentioned, I
found it impossible to sleep; and spent the greater part of the night
in a fever of fears and forebodings.  The responsibility which the
King's presence cast upon me lay so heavily upon my waking mind that I
could not lie; and long before the King's usual hour of rising I was at
his door inquiring how he did.  No one knew, for the page whose turn it
was to sleep at his feet had not come out; but while I stood
questioning, the King's voice was heard, bidding me enter.  I went in,
and found him sitting up with a haggard face, which told me, before he
spoke, that he had slept little better than I had.  The shutters were
thrown wide open, and the cold morning light poured into the room with
an effect rather sombre than bright; the huge figures on the tapestry
looming huger from a drab and melancholy background, and the chamber
presenting all those features of disorder that in a sleeping-room lie
hid at night, only to show themselves in a more vivid shape in the
morning.

The King sent his page out, and bade me sit by him.  "I have had a bad
night," he said, with a shudder.  "Grand Master, I doubt that
astrologer was right, and I shall never see Germany, nor carry out my
designs."

Seeing the state in which he was, I could think of nothing better than
to rally him, and even laugh at him.  "You think so now, sire," I said.
"It is the cold hour.  By and by, when you have broken your fast, you
will think differently."

"But, it may be, less correctly," he answered; and as he sat looking
before him with gloomy eyes, he heaved a deep sigh.  "My friend," he
said, mournfully, "I want to live, and I am going to die."

"Of what?"  I asked, gaily.

"I do not know; but I dreamed last night that a house fell on me in the
Rue de la Ferronerie, and I cannot help thinking that I shall die in
that way."

"Very well," I said.  "It is well to know that."

He asked me peevishly what I meant.

"Only," I explained, "that, in that case, as your Majesty need never
pass through that street, you have it in your hands to live for ever."

"Perhaps it may not happen there--in that very street," he answered.

"And perhaps it may not happen yet," I rejoined.  And then, more
seriously, "Come, sire," I continued, "why this sudden weakness? I have
known you face death a hundred times."

"But not after such a dream as I had last night," he said, with a
grimace--yet I could see that he was already comforted.  "I thought
that I was passing along that street in my coach, and on a sudden,
between St. Innocent's church and the notary's--there is a notary's
there?"

"Yes, sire," I said, somewhat surprised.

"I heard a great roar, and something struck me down, and I found myself
pinned to the ground, in darkness, with my mouth full of dust, and an
immense beam on my chest.  I lay for a time in agony, fighting for
breath, and then my brain seemed to burst in my head, and I awoke."

"I have had such a dream, sire," I said, drily.

"Last night?"

"No," I said, "not last night."

He saw what I meant, and laughed; and being by this time quite himself,
left that and passed to discussing the strange affair of La Trape and
the milk.  "Have you found, as yet, who was good enough to supply it?"
he asked.

"No, sire," I answered.  "But I will see La Trape, and as soon as I
have learned anything, your majesty shall know it."

"I suppose he is not far off now," he suggested.  "Send for him. Ten to
one he will have made inquiries, and it will amuse us."

I went to the door and, opening it a trifle, bade the page who waited
send La Trape.  He passed on the message to a crowd of sleepy
attendants, and quickly, but not before I had gone back to the King's
bedside, La Trape entered.

Having my eyes turned the other way, I did not at once remark anything.
But the King did; and his look of astonishment, no less than the
exclamation which accompanied it, arrested my attention.  "St. Gris,
man!" he cried.  "What is the matter? Speak!"

La Trape, who had stopped just within the door, made an effort to do
so, but no sound passed his lips; while his pallor and the fixed glare
of his eyes filled me with the worst apprehensions. It was impossible
to look at him and not share his fright, and I stepped forward and
cried out to him to speak.  "Answer the King, man," I said.  "What is
it?"

He made an effort, and with a ghastly grimace, "The cat is dead!" he
said.

For a moment we were all silent.  Then I looked at the King, and he at
me, with gloomy meaning in our eyes.  He was the first to speak.  "The
cat to whom you gave the milk?"  he said.

"Yes, sire," La Trape answered, in a voice that seemed to come from his
heart.

"But still, courage!" the King cried.  "Courage, man!  A dose that
would kill a cat may not kill a man.  Do you feel ill?"

"Oh, yes, sire," La Trape moaned.

"What do you feel?"

"I have a trembling in all my limbs, and ah--ah, my God, I am a dead
man!  I have a burning here--a pain like hot coals in my vitals!" And,
leaning against the wall, the unfortunate man clasped his arms round
his body and bent himself up and down in a paroxysm of suffering.

"A doctor!  a doctor!" Henry cried, thrusting one leg out of bed. "Send
for Du Laurens!" Then, as I went to the door to do so, "Can you be
sick, man?"  he asked.  "Try!"

"No, no; it is impossible!"

"But try, try!  when did this cat die?"

"It is outside," La Trape groaned.  He could say no more.

I had opened the door by this time, and found the attendants, whom the
man's cries had alarmed, in a cluster round it. Silencing them sternly,
I bade one go for M. Du Laurens, the King's physician, while another
brought me the cat that was dead.

The page who had spent the night in the King's chamber, fetched it.  I
told him to bring it in, and ordering the others to let the doctor pass
when he arrived, I closed the door upon their curiosity, and went back
to the King.  He had left his bed and was standing near La Trape,
endeavouring to hearten him; now telling him to tickle his throat with
a feather, and now watching his sufferings in silence, with a face of
gloom and despondency that sufficiently betrayed his reflections.  At
sight of the page, however, carrying the dead cat, he turned briskly,
and we both examined the beast which, already rigid, with staring eyes
and uncovered teeth, was not a sight to cheer anyone, much less the
stricken man.  La Trape, however, seemed to be scarcely aware of its
presence.  He had sunk upon a chest which stood against the wall, and,
with his body strangely twisted, was muttering prayers, while he rocked
himself to and fro unceasingly.

"It's stiff," the King said in a low voice.  "It has been dead some
hours."

"Since midnight," I muttered.

"Pardon, sire," the page, who was holding the cat, said; "I saw it
after midnight.  It was alive then."

"You saw it!" I exclaimed.  "How?  Where?"

"Here, your excellency," the boy answered, quailing a little.

"What?  In this room?"

"Yes, excellency.  I heard a noise about--I think about two
o'clock--and his Majesty breathing very heavily, It was a noise like a
cat spitting.  It frightened me, and I rose from my pallet and went
round the bed.  I was just in time to see the cat jump down."

"From the bed?"

"Yes, your excellency.  From his Majesty's chest, I think."

"And you are sure that it was this cat?"

"Yes, sire; for as soon as it was on the floor it began to writhe and
roll and bite itself, with all its fur on end, like a mad cat.  Then it
flew to the door and tried to get out, and again began to spit
furiously.  I thought that it would awaken the King, and I let it out."

"And then the King did awake?"

"He was just awaking, your excellency."

"Well, sire," I said, smiling, "this accounts, I think, for your dream
of the house that fell, and the beam that lay on your chest."

It would have been difficult to say whether at this the King looked
more foolish or more relieved.  Whichever the sentiment he entertained,
however, it was quickly cut short by a lamentable cry that drove the
blood from our cheeks.  La Trape was in another paroxysm.  "Oh, the
poor man!" Henry cried.

"I suppose that the cat came in unseen," I said; "with him last night,
and then stayed in the room?"

"Doubtless."

"And was seized with a paroxysm here?"

"Such as he has now!" Henry answered; for La Trape had fallen to the
floor.  "Such as he has now!" he repeated, his eyes flaming, his face
pale.  "Oh, my friend, this is too much.  Those who do these things are
devils, not men.  Where is Du Laurens?  Where is the doctor?  He will
perish before our eyes."

"Patience, sire," I said.  "He will come."

"But in the meantime the man dies."

"No, no," I said, going to La Trape, and touching his hand. "Yet, he is
very cold."  And turning, I sent the page to hasten the doctor.  Then I
begged the King to allow me to have the man conveyed into another room.
"His sufferings distress you, sire, and you do him no good," I said.

"No, he shall not go!" he answered.  "Ventre Saint Gris!  man, he is
dying for me!  He is dying in my place.  He shall die here."

Still ill satisfied, I was about to press him farther, when La Trape
raised his voice, and feebly asked for me.  A page who had taken the
other's place was supporting his head, and two or three of my
gentlemen, who had come in unbidden, were looking on with scared faces.
I went to the poor fellow's side, and asked what I could do for him.

"I am dying!" he muttered, turning up his eyes.  "The doctor! the
doctor!"

I feared that he was passing, but I bade him have courage.  "In a
moment he will be here," I said; while the King in distraction sent
messenger on messenger.

"He will come too late," the sinking man answered.  "Excellency?"

"Yes, my good fellow," I said, stooping that I might hear him the
better.

"I took ten pistoles yesterday from a man to get him a scullion's
place; and there is none vacant."

"It is forgiven," I said, to soothe him.

"And your excellency's favourite hound, Diane," he gasped.  "She had
three puppies, not two.  I sold the other."

"Well, it is forgiven, my friend.  It is forgiven.  Be easy," I said
kindly.

"Ah, I have been a villain," he groaned.  "I have lived loosely. Only
last night I kissed the butler's wench, and--"

"Be easy, be easy," I said.  "Here is the doctor.  He will save you
yet."

And I made way for M. Du Laurens, who, having saluted the King, knelt
down by the sick man, and felt his pulse; while we all stood round,
looking down on the two with grave faces.  It seemed to me that the
man's eyes were growing dim, and I had little hope.  The King was the
first to break the silence.  "You have hope?"  he said.  "You can save
him?"

"Pardon, sire, a moment," the physician answered, rising from his
knees.  "Where is the cat?"

Someone brought it, and M. Du Laurens, after looking at it, said
curtly, "It has been poisoned."

La Trape uttered a groan of despair.  "At what hour did it take the
milk?"  the physician asked.

"A little before ten last evening," I said, seeing that La Trape was
too far gone for speech.

"Ah!  And the man?"

"An hour later."

Du Laurens shook his head, and was preparing to lay down the cat, which
he had taken in his hands, when some appearance led him to examine it
again and more closely.  "Why what is this?"  he exclaimed, in a tone
of surprise, as he took the body to the window.  "There is a large
swelling under its chin."

No one answered.

"Give me a pair of scissors," he continued; and then, after a minute,
when they had been handed to him and he had removed the fur, "Ha!" he
said gravely, "this is not so simple as I thought. The cat has been
poisoned, but by a prick with some sharp instrument."

The King uttered an exclamation of incredulity.  "But it drank the
milk," he said.  "Some milk that--"

"Pardon, sire," Du Laurens answered positively.  "A draught of milk,
however drugged, does not produce an external swelling with a small
blue puncture in the middle."

"What does?"  the King asked, with something like a sneer.

"Ah, that is the question," the physician answered.  "A ring, perhaps,
with a poison-chamber and hollow dart."

"But there is no question of that here," I said.  "Let us be clear.  Do
you say that the cat did not die of the milk?"

"I see no proof that it did," he answered.  "And many things to show
that it died of poison administered by puncture."

"But then," I answered, in no little confusion of thought, "what of La
Trape?"

He turned, and with him all eyes, to the unfortunate equerry, who still
lay seemingly moribund, with his head propped on some cushions.  M. Du
Laurens advanced to him and again felt his pulse, an operation which
appeared to bring a slight tinge of colour to the fading cheeks.  "How
much milk did he drink?"  the physician asked after a pause.

"More than half a pint," I answered.

"And what besides?"

"A quantity of the King's posset, and a little lemonade."

"And for supper?  What did you have?"  the leech continued, addressing
himself to his patient.

"I had some wine," he answered feebly.  "And a little Frontignac with
the butler; and some honey-mead that the gipsy-wench gave me.

"The gipsy-wench?"

"The butler's girl, of whom I spoke."

M. Du Laurens rose slowly to his feet, and, to my amazement, dealt the
prostrate man a hearty kick; bidding him at the same time to rise.
"Get up, fool!  Get up," he continued harshly, yet with a ring of
triumph in his voice, "all you have got is the colic, and it is no more
than you deserve.  Get up, I say, and beg his Majesty's pardon!"

"But," the King remonstrated in a tone of anger, "the man is dying!"

"He is no more dying than you are, sire," the other answered. "Or, if
he is, it is of fright.  There, he can stand as well as you or I!"

And to be sure, as he spoke, La Trape scrambled to his feet, and with a
mien between shame and doubt stood staring at us, the very picture of a
simpleton.  It was no wonder that his jaw fell and his impudent face
burned; for the room shook with such a roar of laughter, at first low,
and then as the King joined in it, swelling louder and louder, as few
of us had ever heard, Though I was not a little mortified by the way in
which we had deceived ourselves, I could not help joining in the laugh;
particularly as the more closely we reviewed the scene in which we had
taken part, the more absurd seemed the jest.  It was long before
silence could be obtained; but at length Henry, quite exhausted by the
violence of his mirth held up his hand.  I seized the opportunity.

"Why, you rascal!" I said, addressing La Trape, who did not know which
way to look, "where are the ten crowns of which you defrauded the
scullion?"

"To be sure," the King said, going off into another roar.  "And the
third puppy?"

"Yes," I said, "you scoundrel; and the third puppy?"

"Ay, and the gipsy girl?"  the King continued.  "The butler's wench,
what of her?  And of your evil living?  Begone, begone, rascal!" he
continued, falling into a fresh paroxysm, "or you will kill US in
earnest.  Would nothing else do for you but to die in my chamber?
Begone!"

I took this as a hint to clear the room, not only of La Trape himself
but of all; and presently only I and Du Laurens remained with the King.
It then appeared that there was still a mystery, and one which it
behoved us to clear up; inasmuch as Du Laurens took the cat's death
very seriously, insisting that it had died of poison administered in a
most sinister fashion, and one that could not fail to recall to our
minds the Borgian popes.  It needed no more than this to direct my
suspicions to the Florentines who swarmed about the Queen, and against
whom the King had let drop so many threats.  But the indisposition
which excitement had for a time kept at bay began to return upon me;
and I was presently glad to drop the subject; and retire to my own
apartments, leaving the King to dress.

Consequently, I was not with him when the strange discovery which
followed was made.  In the ordinary course of dressing, one of the
servants going to the fire-place to throw away a piece of waste linen,
thought that he heard a rat stir among the boughs. He moved them, and
in a moment a small snake crawled out, hissing and darting out its
tongue.  It was killed, and then it at once occurred to the King that
he had the secret of the cat's death. He came to me hot-foot with the
news, and found me with Du Laurens who was in the act of ordering me to
bed.

I confess that I heard the story almost with apathy, so ill was I.  Not
so the physician.  After examining the snake, which by the King's
orders had been brought for my inspection, he pronounced that it was
not of French origin.  "It has escaped from some snake-charmer," he
said.

The King seemed to be incredulous.

"I assure you that I speak the truth, sire," Du Laurens persisted.

"But how then did it come in my room?"

"That is what I should like to know, sire," the physician answered
severely; "and yet I think that I can guess.  It was put there, I
fancy, by the person who sent up the milk to your chamber."

"Why do you say so?"  Henry asked

"Because, sire, all snakes are inordinately fond of milk."

"Ah!" the King said slowly, with a change of countenance and a shudder
which he could not repress; "and there was milk on the floor in the
morning."

"Yes, sire; on the floor, and beside the head of your bed."

But at this stage I was attacked by a fit of illness so severe that I
had to break in on the discussion, and beg the King to withdraw.  The
sickness increased on me during the day, and by noon I was prostrate,
neither taking interest in anything, nor allowing others, who began to
fear for my life, to divert their attention.  After twenty-four hours I
began to mend, but still several days elapsed before I was able to
devote myself to business; and then I found that, the master-mind being
absent, and the King, as always, lukewarm in the pursuit, nothing had
been done to detect and punish the criminal.

I could not rest easy, however, with so abominable a suspicion
attaching to my house; and as soon as I could bend my mind to the
matter I began an inquiry.  At the first stage, however, I came to an
IMPASSE; the butler, who had been long in my service, cleared himself
without difficulty, but a few questions discovered the fact that a
person who had been in his department on the evening in question was
now to seek, having indeed disappeared from that time.  This was the
gipsy-girl, whom La Trape had mentioned, and whose presence in my
household seemed to need the more elucidation the farther I pushed the
inquiry.  In the end I had the butler punished, but though my agents
sought the girl through Paris, and even traced her to Meaux, she was
never discovered.

The affair, at the King's instance, was not made public; nevertheless,
it gave him so strong a distaste for the Arsenal that he did not again
visit me, nor use the rooms I had prepared. That later, when the first
impression wore off, he would have done so, is probable; but, alas,
within a few months the malice of his enemies prevailed over my utmost
precautions, and robbed me of the best of masters; strangely enough, as
all the world now knows, at the corner of that very Rue de la
Feronnerie which he had seen in his dream.



XII. AT

FONTAINEBLEAU.


The passion which Henry still felt for Madame de Conde, and which her
flight from the country was far from assuaging, had a great share in
putting him upon the immediate execution of the designs we had so long
prepared.  Looking to find in the stir and bustle of a German campaign
that relief of mind which the Court could no longer afford him, he
discovered in the unhoped-for wealth of his treasury an additional
incitement; and now waited only for the opening of spring and the
Queen's coronation to remove the last obstacles that kept him from the
field.

Nevertheless, relying on my assurances that all things were ready, and
persuaded that the more easy he showed himself the less prepared would
he find the enemy, he made no change in his habits; but in March, 1610,
went, as usual, to Fontainebleau, where he diverted himself with
hunting.  It was during this visit that the Court credited him with
seeing--I think, on the Friday before the Feast of the Virgin--the
Great Huntsman; and even went so far as to specify the part of the
forest in which he came upon it, and the form--that of a gigantic black
horseman, surrounded by hounds--which it assumed The spectre had not
been seen since the year 1598; nevertheless, the story spread widely,
those who whispered it citing in its support not only the remarkable
agitation into which the Queen fell publicly on the evening of that
day, but also some strange particulars that attended the King's return
from the forest; and, being taken up and repeated, and confirmed, as
many thought, by the unhappy sequence of his death, the fable found a
little later almost universal credence, so that it may now be found
even in books.

As it happened, however, I was that day at Fontainebleau, and hunted
with the King; and, favoured both by chance and the confidence with
which my master never failed to honour me, am able not only to refute
this story, but to narrate the actual facts from which it took its
rise.  And though there are some, I know, who boast that they had the
tale from the King's own mouth, I undertake to prove either that they
are romancers who seek to add an inch to their stature, or dull fellows
who placed their own interpretation on the hasty words he vouchsafed
such chatterers.

As a fact, the King, on that day wishing to discuss with me the
preparations for the Queen's entry, bade me keep close to him, since he
had more inclination for my company than the chase.  But the crowd that
attended him was so large, the day being fine and warm--and comprised,
besides, so many ladies, whose badinage and gaiety he could never
forego--that I found him insensibly drawn from me.  Far from being
displeased, I was glad to see him forget the moodiness which had of
late oppressed him; and beyond keeping within sight of him, gave up,
for the time, all thought of affairs, and found in the beauty of the
spectacle sufficient compensation.  The bright dresses and waving
feathers of the party showed to the greatest advantage, as the long
cavalcade wound through the heather and rocks of the valley below the
Apremonts; and whether I looked to front or rear--on the huntsmen, with
their great horns, or the hounds straining in the leashes--I was
equally charmed with a sight at once joyous and gallant, and one to
which the calls of duty had of late made me a stranger.

On a sudden a quarry was started, and the company, galloping off
pell-mell, with a merry burst of music, were in a moment dispersed,
some taking this track, and others that, through the rocks and DEBRIS
that make that part of the forest difficult. Singling out the King, I
kept as near him as possible until the chase led us into the Apremont
coverts, where, the trees growing thickly, and the rides cut through
them being intricate, I lost him for a while.  Again, however, I caught
sight of him flying down a ride bordered by dark-green box-trees,
against which his white hunting coat showed vividly; but now he was
alone, and riding in a direction which each moment carried him farther
from the line of the chase, and entangled him more deeply in the forest.

Supposing that he had made a bad cast and was in error, I dashed the
spurs into my horse, and galloped after him; then, finding that he
still held his own, and that I did not overtake him, but that, on the
contrary, he was riding at the top of his speed, I called to him.  "You
are in error, sire, I think!"  I cried. "The hounds are the other way!"

He heard, for he raised his hand, and, without turning his head, made
me a sign; but whether of assent or denial, I could not tell.  And he
still held on his course.  Then, for a moment, I fancied that his horse
had got the better of him, and was running away; but no sooner had the
thought occurred to me than I saw that he was spurring it, and exciting
it to its utmost speed, so that we reached the end of that ride, and
rushed through another and still another, always making, I did not fail
to note, for the most retired part of the forest.

We had proceeded in this way about a mile, and the sound of the hunt
had quite died away behind us, and I was beginning to chafe, as well as
marvel, at conduct so singular, when at last I saw that he was
slackening his pace.  My horse, which was on the point of failing,
began, in turn, to overhaul his, while I looked out with sharpened
curiosity for the object of pursuit.  I could see nothing, however, and
no one; and had just satisfied myself that this was one of the droll
freaks in which he would sometimes indulge, and that in a second or two
he would turn and laugh at my discomfiture, when, on a sudden, with a
final pull at the reins, he did turn, and showed me a face flushed with
passion and chagrin.

I was so taken aback that I cried out.  "MON DIEU!  sire," I said.
"What is it?  What is the matter?"

"Matter enough!"  he cried, with an oath.  And on that, halting his
horse, he looked at me as if he would read my heart.  "VENTRE DE SAINT
GRIS!"  he said, in a voice that made me tremble, "if I were sure that
there was no mistake, I would--I would never see your face again!"

I uttered an exclamation.

"Have you not deceived me?"  quoth he.

"Oh, sire, I am weary of these suspicions!"  I answered, affecting an
indifference I did not feel.  "If your Majesty does not--"

But he cut me short.  "Answer me!"  he said harshly, his mouth working
in his beard and his eyes gleaming with excitement. "Have you not
deceived me?"

"No, sire!"  I said.

"Yet you have told me day by day that Madame de Conde remained in
Brussels?"

"Certainly!"

"And you still say so?"

"Most certainly!"  I answered firmly, beginning to think that his
passion had turned his brain.  "I had despatches to that effect this
morning."

"Of what date?"

"Three days gone.  The courier travelled night and day."

"They may be true, and still she may be here to-day?"  he said, staring
at me.

"Impossible, sire!"

"But, man, I have just seen her!"  he cried impatiently.

"Madame de Conde?"

"Yes, Madame de Conde, or I am a madman!"  Henry answered, speaking a
little more moderately.  "I saw her gallop out of the patch of rocks at
the end of the Dormoir--where the trees begin. She did not heed the
line of the hounds, but turned straight down the boxwood ride; and,
after that, led as I followed.  Did you not see her?"

"No, sire," I said, inexpressibly alarmed--I could take it for nothing
but fantasy--"I saw no one."

"And I saw her as clearly as I see you," he answered.  "She wore the
yellow ostrich-feather she wore last year, and rode her favourite
chestnut horse with a white stocking.  But I could have sworn to her by
her figure alone; and she waved her hand to me."

"But, sire, out of the many ladies riding to-day--"

"There is no lady wearing a yellow feather," he answered passionately.
"And the horse!  And I knew her, man!  Besides, she waved to me!  And,
for the others--why should they turn from the hunt and take to the
woods?"

I could not answer this, but I looked at him in fear; for, as it was
impossible that the Princess de Conde could be here, I saw no
alternative but to think him smitten with madness.  The extravagance of
the passion which he had entertained for her, and the wrath into which
the news of her flight with her young husband had thrown him, to say
nothing of the depression under which he had since suffered, rendered
the idea not so unlikely as it now seems.  At any rate, I was driven
for a moment to entertain it; and gazed at him in silence, a prey to
the most dreadful apprehensions.

We stood in a narrow ride, bordered by evergreens, with which that part
of the forest is planted; and but for the songs of the birds the
stillness would have been absolute.  On a sudden the King removed his
eyes from me, and, walking his horse a pace or two along the ride,
uttered a cry of joy.

He pointed to the ground.  "We are right!"  he said.  "There are her
tracks!  Come!  We will overtake her yet!"

I looked, and saw the fresh prints of a horse's shoes, and felt a great
weight roll off my mind, for at least he had seen someone. I no longer
hesitated to fall in with his humour, but, riding after him, kept at
his elbow until he reached the end of the ride.  Here, a vista opening
right and left, and the ground being hard and free from tracks, we
stood at a loss; until the King, whose eyesight was always of the
keenest, uttered an exclamation, and started from me at a gallop.

I followed more slowly, and saw him dismount and pick up a glove,
which, even at that distance, he had discerned lying in the middle of
one of the paths.  He cried, with a flushed face, that it was Madame de
Conde's; and added:  "It has her perfume--her perfume, which no one
else uses!"

I confess that this so staggered me that I knew not what to think; but,
between sorrow at seeing my master so infatuated and bewilderment at a
riddle that grew each moment more perplexing, I sat gaping at Henry
like a man without counsel.  However, at the moment, he needed none,
but, getting to his saddle as quickly as he could, he began again to
follow the tracks of the horse's feet, which here were visible, the
path running through a beech wood.  The branches were still bare, and
the shining trunks stood up like pillars, the ground about them being
soft.  We followed the prints through this wood for a mile and a half
or more, and then, with a cry, the King darted from me, and, in an
instant, was racing through the wood at break-neck speed.

I had a glimpse of a woman flying far ahead of us; and now hidden from
us by the trunks and now disclosed; and could even see enough to
determine that she wore a yellow feather drooping from her hat, and was
in figure not unlike the Princess.  But that was all; for, once
started, the inequalities of the ground drew my eyes from the flying
form, and, losing it, I could not again recover it.  On the contrary,
it was all I could do to keep up with the King; and of the speed at
which the woman was riding, could best judge by the fact that in less
than five minutes he, too, pulled-up with a gesture of despair, and
waited for me to come abreast of him.

"You saw her?"  he said, his face grim, and with something of suspicion
lurking in it.

"Yes, sire," I answered, "I saw a woman, and a woman with a yellow
feather; but whether it was the Princess--"

"It was!"  he said.  "If not, why should she flee from us?"

To that, again, I had not a word to say, and for a moment we rode in
silence.  Observing, however, that this last turn had brought us far on
the way home, I called the King's attention to this; but he had sunk
into a fit of gloomy abstraction, and rode along with his eyes on the
ground.  We proceeded thus until the slender path we followed brought
up into the great road that leads through the forest to the kennels and
the new canal.

Here I asked him if he would not return to the chase, as the day was
still young.

"Mon Dieu, no!"  he answered passionately.  "I have other work to do.
Hark ye, M. le Duc, do you still think that she is in Brussels?"

"I swear that she was there three days ago, sire!"

"And you are not deceiving me?  If it be so, God forgive you, for I
shall not!"

"It is no trick of mine, sire," I answered firmly.

"Trick?"  he cried, with a flash of his eyes.  "A trick, you say? No,
VENTRE DE SAINT GRIS!  there is no man in France dare trick me so!"

I did not contradict him, the rather as we were now close to the
kennels, and I was anxious to allay his excitement; that it might not
be detected by the keen eyes that lay in wait for us, and so add to the
gossip to which his early return must give rise.  I hoped that at that
hour he might enter unperceived, by way of the kennels and the little
staircase; but in this I was disappointed, the beauty of the day having
tempted a number of ladies, and others who had not hunted, to the
terrace by the canal; whence, walking up and down, their fans and
petticoats fluttering in the sunshine, and their laughter and chatter
filling the air, they were able to watch our approach at their leisure.

Unfortunately, Henry had no longer the patience and self-control
needful for such a RENCONTRE.  He dismounted with a dark and peevish
air, and, heedless of the staring, bowing throng, strode up the steps.
Two or three, who stood high in favour, put themselves forward to catch
a smile or a word, but he vouchsafed neither.  He walked through them
with a sour air, and entered the chateau with a precipitation that left
all tongues wagging.

To add to the misfortune, something--I forget what--detained me a
moment, and that cost us dear.  Before I could cross the terrace,
Concini, the Italian, came up, and, saluting me, said that the Queen
desired to speak to me.

"The Queen?"  I said, doubtfully, foreseeing trouble.

"She is waiting at the gate of the farther court," he answered
politely, his keen black eyes reverting, with eager curiosity, to the
door by which the King had disappeared.

I could not refuse, and went to her.  "The King has returned early, M.
le Duc?"  she said.

"Yes, madame," I answered.  "He had a fancy to discuss affairs to-day,
and we lost the hounds."

"Together?"

"I had the honour, Madame."

"You do not seem to have agreed very well?"  she said, smiling.

"Madame," I answered bluntly, "his Majesty has no more faithful
servant; but we do not always agree."

She raised her hand, and, with a slight gesture, bade her ladies stand
back, while her face lost its expression of good-temper, and grew sharp
and dark.  "Was it about the Conde?"  she said, in a low, grating
voice.  "No, madame," I answered; "it was about certain provisions.
The King's ear had been grossly abused, and his Majesty led to
believe--"

"Faugh!"  she cried, with a wave of contempt, "that is an old story!  I
am sick of it.  Is she still at Brussels?"

"Still, madame."

"Then see that she stops there!"  her Majesty retorted, with a meaning
look.

And with that she dismissed me, and went into the chateau.  I proposed
to rejoin the King; but, to my chagrin, I found, when I reached the
closet, that he had already sent for Varennes, and was shut up with
him.  I went back to my rooms therefore, and, after changing my hunting
suit and transacting some necessary business, sat down to dinner with
Nicholas, the King's secretary, a man fond of the table, whom I often
entertained.  He kept me in talk until the afternoon was well advanced,
and we were still at table when Maignan appeared and told me that the
King had sent for me.

"I will go," I said, rising.

"He is with the Queen, your Excellency," he continued.

This somewhat surprised me, but I thought no evil; and, finding one of
the Queen's Italian pages at the door waiting to conduct me, I followed
him across the court that lay between my lodgings and her apartments.
Two or three of the King's gentlemen were in the anteroom when I
arrived, and Varennes, who was standing by one of the fire-places
toying with a hound, made me a face of dismay; he could not speak,
owing to the company.

Still this, in a degree, prepared me for the scene in the chamber,
where I found the Queen storming up and down the room, while the King,
still in his hunting dress, sat on a low chair by the fire, apparently
drying his boots.  Mademoiselle Galigai, the Queen's waiting-woman,
stood in the background; but more than this I had not time to observe,
for, before I had reached the middle of the floor, the Queen turned on
me, and began to abuse me with a vehemence which fairly shocked me.

"And you!"  she cried, "who speak so slow, and look so solemn, and all
the time do his dirty work, like the meanest cook he has ennobled!  It
is well you are here!  ENFIN, you are found out--you and your
provisions!  Your provisions, of which you talked in the wood!"

"MON DIEU!"  the King groaned; "give me patience!"

"He has given me patience these ten years, sire!"  she retorted
passionately.  "Patience to see myself flouted by your favourites,
insulted and displaced, and set aside!  But this is too much!  It was
enough that you made yourself the laughing-stock of France once with
this madame!  I will not have it again--no:  though twenty of your
counsellors frown at me!"

"Your Majesty seems displeased," I said.  "But as I am quite in the
dark--"

"Liar!"  she cried, giving way to her fury.  "When you were with her
this morning!  When you saw her!  When you stooped to--"

"Madame!" the King said sternly, "if you forget yourself, be good
enough to remember that you are speaking to French gentlemen, not to
traders of Florence!"

She sneered.  "You think to wound me by that!"  she cried, breathing
quickly.  "But I have my grandfather's blood in me, sire; and no King
of France--"

"One King of France will presently make your uncle of that blood sing
small!"  the King answered viciously.  "So much for that; and for the
rest, sweetheart, softly, softly!"

"Oh!"  she cried, "I will go:  I will not stay to be outraged by that
woman's presence!"

I had now an inkling what was the matter; and discerning that the
quarrel was a more serious matter than their every-day bickerings, and
threatened to go to lengths that might end in disaster, I ignored the
insult her Majesty had flung at me, and entreated her to be calm.  "If
I understand aright, madame," I said, "you have some grievance against
his Majesty.  Of that I know nothing.  But I also understand that you
allege something against me; and it is to speak to that, I presume,
that I am summoned.  If you will deign to put the matter into words--"

"Words!"  she cried.  "You have words enough!  But get out of this,
Master Grave-Airs, if you can!  Did you, or did you not, tell me this
morning that the Princess of Conde was in Brussels?"

"I did, madame."

"Although half an hour before you had seen her, you had talked with
her, you had been with her in the forest?"

"But I had not, madame!"

"What?"  she cried, staring at me, surprised doubtless that I
manifested no confusion.  "Do you say that you did not see her?"

"I did not."

"Nor the King?"

"The King, Madame, cannot have seen her this morning," I said, "because
he is here and she is in Brussels."

"You persist in that?"

"Certainly!"  I said.  "Besides, madame," I continued, "I have no doubt
that the King has given you his word--"

"His word is good for everyone but his wife!"  she answered bitterly.
"And for yours, M. le Duc, I will show you what it is worth.
Mademoiselle, call--"

"Nay, madame!"  I said, interrupting her with spirit, "if you are going
to call your household to contradict me--"

"But I am not!"  she cried in a voice of triumph that, for the moment,
disconcerted me.  "Mademoiselle, send to M. de Bassompierre's lodgings,
and bid him come to me!"

The King whistled softly, while I, who knew Bassompierre to be devoted
to him, and to be, in spite of the levity to which his endless
gallantries bore witness, a man of sense and judgment, prepared myself
for a serious struggle; judging that we were in the meshes of an
intrigue, wherein it was impossible to say whether the Queen figured as
actor or dupe.  The passion she evinced as she walked to and fro with
clenched hands, or turned now and again to dart a fiery glance at the
Cordovan curtain that hid the door, was so natural to her character
that I found myself leaning to the latter supposition.  Still, in grave
doubt what part Bassompierre was to play, I looked for his coming as
anxiously as anyone.  And probably the King shared this feeling; but he
affected indifference, and continued to sit over the fire with an air
of mingled scorn and peevishness.

At length Bassompierre entered, and, seeing the King, advanced with an
open brow that persuaded me, at least, of his innocence. Attacked on
the instant, however, by the Queen, and taken by surprise, as it were,
between two fires--though the King kept silence, and merely shrugged
his shoulders--his countenance fell. He was at that time one of the
handsomest gallants about the Court, thirty years old, and the darling
of women; but at this his APLOMB failed him, and with it my heart sank
also.

"Answer, sir!  answer!"  the Queen cried.  "And without subterfuge!
Who was it, sir, whom you saw come from the forest this morning?"

"Madame?"

"In one word!"

"If your Majesty will--"

"I will permit you to answer," the Queen exclaimed.

"I saw his Majesty return," he faltered--"and M. de Sully."

"Before them!  before them!"

"I may have been mistaken."

"Pooh, man!"  the Queen cried with biting contempt.  "You have told it
to half-a-dozen.  Discretion comes a little late."

"Well, if you will, madame," he said, striving to assert himself, but
cutting a poor figure, "I fancied that I saw Madame de Conde--"

"Come out of the wood ten minutes before the King?"

"It may have been twenty," he muttered.

But the Queen cared no more for him.  She turned, looking superb in her
wrath, to the King.  "Now, sir!"  she said.  "Am I to bear this?"

"Sweet!"  the King said, governing his temper in a way that surprised
me, "hear reason, and you shall have it in a word.  How near was
Bassompierre to the lady he saw?"

"I was not within fifty paces of her!"  the favourite cried eagerly.

"But others saw her!"  the Queen rejoined sharply.  "Madame Paleotti,
who was with the gentleman, saw her also, and knew her."

"At a distance of fifty paces?"  the King said drily.  "I don't attach
much weight to that."  And then, rising, with a slight yawn.  "Madame,"
he continued, with the air of command which he knew so well how to
assume, "for the present, I am tired!  If Madame de Conde is here, it
will not be difficult to get further evidence of her presence.  If she
is at Brussels, that fact, too, you can ascertain.  Do the one or the
other, as you please; but, for to-day, I beg that you will excuse me."

"And that," the Queen cried shrilly--"that is to be--"

"All, madame!"  the King said sternly.  "Moreover, let me have no
prating outside this room.  Grand-Master, I will trouble you."

And with these words, uttered in a voice and with an air that silenced
even the angry woman before us, he signed to me to follow him, and went
from the room; the first glance of his eye stilling the crowded
ante-chamber, as if the shadow of death passed with him.  I followed
him to his closet; but, until he reached it, had no inkling of what was
in his thoughts.  Then he turned to me.

"Where is she?"  he said sharply.

I stared at him a moment.  "Pardon, sire?" I said.  "Do you think that
it was Madame de Conde?"

"Why not?"

"She is in Brussels."

"I tell you I saw her this morning!"  he answered.  "Go, learn all you
can!  Find her!  Find her!  If she has returned, I will--God knows what
I will do!"  he cried, in a voice shamefully broken. "Go; and send
Varennes to me.  I shall sup alone:  let no one wait."

I would have remonstrated with him, but he was in no mood to bear it;
and, sad at heart, I withdrew, feeling the perplexity, which the
situation caused me, a less heavy burden than the pain with which I
viewed the change that had of late come over my master; converting him
from the gayest and most DEBONAIRE of men into this morose and solitary
dreamer.  Here, had I felt any temptation to moralise on the tyranny of
passion, was the occasion; but, as the farther I left the closet behind
me the more instant became the crisis, the present soon reasserted its
power.  Reflecting that Henry, in this state of uncertainty, was
capable of the wildest acts, and that not less was to be feared from
his imprudence than from the Queen's resentment, I cudgelled my brains
to explain the RENCONTRE of the morning; but as the courier, whom I
questioned, confirmed the report of my agents, and asseverated most
confidently that he had left Madame in Brussels, I was flung back on
the alternative of an accidental resemblance.  This, however, which
stood for a time as the most probable solution, scarcely accounted for
the woman's peculiar conduct, and quite fell to the ground when La
Trape, making cautious inquiries, ascertained that no lady hunting that
day had worn a yellow feather.  Again, therefore, I found myself at a
loss; and the dejection of the King and the Queen's ill-temper giving
rise to the wildest surmises, and threatening each hour to supply the
gossips of the Court with a startling scandal, the issue of which no
one could foresee, I went so far as to take into my confidence MM.
Epernon and Montbazon; but with no result.

Such being my state of mind, and such the suspense I suffered during
two days, it may be imagined that M. Bassompierre was not more happy.
Despairing of the King's favour unless he could clear up the matter,
and by the event justify his indiscretion, he became for those two days
the wonder, and almost the terror, of the Court.  Ignorant of what he
wanted, the courtiers found only insolence in his mysterious questions,
and something prodigious in an activity which carried him in one day to
Paris and back, and on the following to every place in the vicinity
where news of the fleeting beauty might by any possibility be gained;
so that he far outstripped my agents, who were on the same quest.  But
though I had no mean opinion of his abilities, I hoped little from
these exertions, and was proportionately pleased when, on the third
day, he came to me with a radiant face and invited me to attend the
Queen that evening.

"The King will be there," he said, "and I shall surprise you. But I
will not tell you more.  Come!  and I promise to satisfy you."

And that was all he would say; so that, finding my questions useless,
and the man almost frantic with joy, I had to be content with it; and
at the Queen's hour that evening presented myself in her gallery, which
proved to be unusually full.

Making my way towards her in some doubt of my reception, I found my
worst fears confirmed.  She greeted me with a sneering face, and was
preparing, I was sure, to put some slight upon me--a matter wherein she
could always count on the applause of her Italian servants--when the
entrance of the King took her by surprise.  He advanced up the gallery
with a listless air, and, after saluting her, stood by one of the
fireplaces talking to Epernon and La Force.  The crowd was pretty dense
by this time, and the hum of talk filled the room when, on a sudden, a
voice, which I recognised as Bassompierre's, was lifted above it.

"Very well!" he cried gaily, "then I appeal to her Majesty.  She shall
decide, mademoiselle!  No, no; I am not satisfied with your claim!"

The King looked that way with a frown, but the Queen took the outburst
in good part.  "What is it, M. de Bassompierre?"  she said.  "What am I
to decide?"

"To-day, in the forest, I found a ring, madame," he answered, coming
forward.  "I told Mademoiselle de la Force of my discovery, and she now
claims the ring."

"I once had a ring like it," cried mademoiselle, blushing and laughing.

"A sapphire ring?"  Bassompierre answered, holding his hand aloft.

"Yes."

"With three stones?"

"Yes,"

"Precisely, mademoiselle!"  he answered, bowing.  "But the stones in
this ring are not sapphires, nor are there three of them."

There was a great laugh at this, and the Queen said, very wittily, that
as neither of the claimants could prove a right to the ring it must
revert to the judge.

"In one moment your Majesty shall at least see it," he answered. "But,
first, has anyone lost a ring?  Oyez!  Oyez!  Oyez!  Lost, in the
forest, within the last three days, a ring!"

Two or three, falling in with his humour, set up absurd claims to it;
but none could describe the ring, and in the end he handed it to the
Queen.  As he did so his eyes met mine and challenged my attention.  I
was prepared, therefore, for the cry of surprise which broke from the
Queen.

"Why, this is Caterina's!"  she cried.  "Where is the child?"

Someone pushed forward Mademoiselle Paleotti, sister-in-law to Madame
Paleotti, the Queen's first chamberwoman.  She was barely out of her
teens, and, ordinarily, was a pretty girl; but the moment I saw her
dead-white face, framed in a circle of fluttering fans and pitiless,
sparkling eyes, I discerned tragedy in the farce; and that M. de
Bassompierre was acting in a drama to which only he and one other held
the key.  The contrast between the girl's blanched face and the beauty
and glitter in the midst of which she stood struck others, so that,
before another word was said, I caught the gasp of surprise that passed
through the room; nor was I the only one who drew nearer.

"Why, girl," the Queen said, "this is the ring I gave you on my
birthday!  When did you lose it?  And why have you made a secret of it?"

Mademoiselle stood speechless; but madame her sister-in-law answered
for her.  "Doubtless she was afraid that your Majesty would think her
careless," she answered.

"I did not ask you!"  the Queen rejoined.

She spoke harshly and suspiciously, looking from the ring to the
trembling girl.  The silence was such that the chatter of the pages in
the anteroom could be heard.  Still Mademoiselle stood dumb and
confounded.

"Well, what is the mystery?"  the Queen said, looking round with a
little wonder.  "What is the matter?  It IS the ring.  Why do you not
own it?"

"Perhaps mademoiselle is wondering where are the other things she left
with it!"  Bassompierre said in a silky tone.  "The things she left at
Parlot the verderer's, when she dropped the ring. But she may free her
mind; I have them here."

"What do you mean?"  the Queen said.  "What things, monsieur? What has
the girl been doing?"

"Only what many have done before her," Bassompierre answered, bowing to
his unfortunate victim, who seemed to be paralysed by terror:
"masquerading in other people's clothes.  I propose, madame, that, for
punishment, you order her to dress in them, that we may see what her
taste is."

"I do not understand?"  the Queen said.

"Your Majesty will, if Mademoiselle Paleotti will consent to humour us."

At that the girl uttered a cry, and looked round the circle as if for a
way of escape; but a Court is a cruel place, in which the ugly or
helpless find scant pity.  A dozen voices begged the Queen to insist;
and, amid laughter and loud jests, Bassompierre hastened to the door,
and returned with an armful of women's gear, surmounted by a wig and a
feathered hat.

"If the Queen will command mademoiselle to retire and put these on," he
said, "I will undertake to show her something that will please her."

"Go!"  said the Queen.

But the girl had flung herself on her knees before her, and, clinging
to her skirts, burst, into a flood of tears and prayers; while her
sister-in-law stepped forward as if to second her, and cried out, in
great excitement, that her Majesty would not be so cruel as to--

"Hoity, toity!"  said the Queen, cutting her short, very grimly. "What
is all this?  I tell the girl to put on a masquerade--which it seems
that she has been keeping at some cottage--and you talk as if I were
cutting off her head!  It seems to me that she escapes very lightly!
Go!  go!  and see, you, that you are arrayed in five minutes, or I will
deal with you!"

"Perhaps Mademoiselle de la Force will go with her, and see that
nothing is omitted," Bassompierre said with malice.

The laughter and applause with which this proposal was received took me
by surprise; but later I learned that the two young women were rivals.
"Yes, yes," the Queen said.  "Go, mademoiselle, and see that she does
not keep us waiting."

Knowing what I did, I had by this time a fair idea of the discovery
which Bassompierre had made; but the mass of courtiers and ladies round
me, who had not this advantage, knew not what to expect--nor,
especially, what part M. Bassompierre had in the business--but made
most diverting suggestions, the majority favouring the opinion that
Mademoiselle Paleotti had repulsed him, and that this was his way of
avenging himself.  A few of the ladies even taxed him with this, and
tried, by random reproaches, to put him at least on his defence; but,
merrily refusing to be inveigled, he made to all the same answer that
when Mademoiselle Paleotti returned they would see.  This served only
to whet a curiosity already keen, insomuch that the door was watched by
as many eyes as if a miracle had been promised; and even MM. Epernon
and Vendome, leaving the King's side, pressed into the crowd that they
might see the better.  I took the opportunity of going to him, and,
meeting his eyes as I did so, read in them a look of pain and distress.
As I advanced he drew back a pace, and signed to me to stand before him.

I had scarcely done so when the door opened and Mademoiselle Paleotti,
pale, and supported on one side by her rival, appeared at it; but so
wondrously transformed by a wig, hat, and redingote that I scarcely
knew her.  At first, as she stood, looking with shamed eyes at the
staring crowd, the impression made was simply one of bewilderment, so
complete was the disguise.  But Bassompierre did not long suffer her to
stand so.  Advancing to her side, his hat under his arm, he offered his
hand.

"Mademoiselle," he said, "will you oblige me by walking as far as the
end of the gallery with me?"

She complied involuntarily, being almost unable to stand alone. But the
two had not proceeded half-way down the gallery before a low murmur
began to be heard, that, growing quickly louder, culminated in an
astonished cry of "Madame de Conde!  Madame de Conde!"

M. Bassompierre dropped her hand with a low bow, and turned to the
Queen.  "Madame," he said, "this, I find, is the lady whom I saw on the
Terrace when Madame Paleotti was so good as to invite me to walk on the
Bois-le-Roi road.  For the rest, your Majesty may draw your
conclusions."

It was easy to see that the Queen had already drawn them; but, for the
moment, the unfortunate girl was saved from her wrath. With a low cry,
Mademoiselle Paleotti did that which she would have done a little
before, had she been wise, and swooned on the floor.

I turned to look at the King, and found him gone.  He had withdrawn
unseen in the first confusion of the surprise; nor did I dare at once
to interrupt him, or intrude on the strange mixture of regret and
relief, wrath and longing, that probably possessed him in the silence
of his closet.  It was enough for me that the Italians' plot had
failed, and that the danger of a rupture between the King and Queen,
which these miscreants desired, and I had felt to be so great and
imminent, was, for this time, overpast.

The Paleottis were punished, being sent home in disgrace, and a penury,
which, doubtless, they felt more keenly.  But, alas, the King could not
banish with them all who hated him and France; nor could I, with every
precaution, and by the unsparing use of all the faculties that, during
a score of years, had been at the service of my master, preserve him
for his country and the world. Before two months had run he perished by
a mean hand, leaving the world the poorer by the greatest and most
illustrious sovereign that ever ruled a nation.  And men who loved
neither France nor him entered into his labours, whose end also I have
seen.





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