Infomotions, Inc.A Gentleman of France / Weyman, Stanley John, 1855-1928



Author: Weyman, Stanley John, 1855-1928
Title: A Gentleman of France
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): rosny; marsac; bruhl; simon fleix; mademoiselle; simon
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Identifier: etext1939
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A Gentleman of France

by Stanley Weyman

October, 1999  [Etext #1939]


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Note:

In this Etext, text in italics has been written in capital
letters.

Many French words in the text have accents, etc. which have been
omitted.





A GENTLEMAN OF FRANCE

BEING THE MEMOIRS OF GASTON DE BONNE SIEUR DE MARSAC

by  STANLEY WEYMAN




CONTENTS.

CHAPTER I.        THE SPORT OF FOOLS
CHAPTER II.       THE KING OF NAVARRE
CHAPTER III.      BOOT AND SADDLE
CHAPTER IV.       MADEMOISELLE DE LA VIRE
CHAPTER V.        THE ROAD TO BLOIS
CHAPTER VI.       MY MOTHER'S LODGING
CHAPTER VII.      SIMON FLEIX
CHAPTER VIII.     AN EMPTY ROOM
CHAPTER IX.       THE HOUSE IN THE RUELLE D'ARCY
CHAPTER X.        THE FIGHT ON THE STAIRS
CHAPTER XI.       THE MAN AT THE DOOR
CHAPTER XII.      MAXIMILIAN DE BETHUNE, BARON DE ROSNY
CHAPTER XIII.     AT ROSNY
CHAPTER XIV.      M. DE RAMBOUILLET
CHAPTER XV.       VILAIN HERODES
CHAPTER XVI.      IN THE KING'S CHAMBER
CHAPTER XVII.     THE JACOBIN MONK
CHAPTER XVIII.    THE OFFER OF THE LEAGUE
CHAPTER XIX.      MEN CALL IT CHANCE
CHAPTER XX.       THE KING'S FACE
CHAPTER XXI.      TWO WOMEN
CHAPTER XXII.     'LA FEMME DISPOSE'
CHAPTER XXIII.    THE LAST VALOIS
CHAPTER XXIV.     A ROYAL PERIL
CHAPTER XXV.      TERMS OF SURRENDER
CHAPTER XXVI.     MEDITATIONS
CHAPTER XXVII.    TO ME, MY FRIENDS!
CHAPTER XXVIII.   THE CASTLE ON THE HILL
CHAPTER XXIX.     PESTILENCE AND FAMINE
CHAPTER XXX.      STRICKEN
CHAPTER XXXI.     UNDER THE GREENWOOD
CHAPTER XXXII.    A TAVERN BRAWL
CHAPTER XXXIII.   AT MEUDON
CHAPTER XXXIV.    ''TIS AN ILL WIND'
CHAPTER XXXV.     'LE ROI EST MORT'
CHAPTER XXXVI.    'VIVE LE ROI!'




A GENTLEMAN OF FRANCE.




CHAPTER I.

THE SPORT OF FOOLS.

The death of the Prince of Conde, which occurred in the spring of
1588, by depriving me of my only patron, reduced me to such
straits that the winter of that year, which saw the King of
Navarre come to spend his Christmas at St. Jean d'Angely, saw
also the nadir of my fortunes.  I did not know at this time--I
may confess it to-day without shame--wither to turn for a gold
crown or a new scabbard, and neither had nor discerned any hope
of employment.  The peace lately patched up at Blois between the
King of France and the League persuaded many of the Huguenots
that their final ruin was at hand; but it could not fill their
exhausted treasury or enable them to put fresh troops into the
field.

The death of the Prince had left the King of Navarre without a
rival in the affections of the Huguenots; the Vicomte de Turenne,
whose turbulent; ambition already began to make itself felt, and
M. de Chatillon, ranking next to him.  It was my ill-fortune,
however, to be equally unknown to all three leaders, and as the
month of December which saw me thus miserably straitened saw me
reach the age of forty, which I regard, differing in that from
many, as the grand climacteric of a man's life, it will be
believed that I had need of all the courage which religion and a
campaigner's life could supply.

I had been compelled some time before to sell all my horses
except the black Sardinian with the white spot on its forehead;
and I now found myself obliged to part also with my valet de
chambre and groom, whom I dismissed on the same day, paying them
their wages with the last links of gold chain left to me.  It was
not without grief and dismay that I saw myself thus stripped of
the appurtenances of a man of birth, and driven to groom my own
horse under cover of night.  But this was not the worst.  My
dress, which suffered inevitably from this menial employment,
began in no long time to bear witness to the change in my
circumstances; so that on the day of the King of Navarre's
entrance into St. Jean I dared not face the crowd, always quick
to remark the poverty of those above them, but was fain to keep
within doors and wear out my patience in the garret of the
cutler's house in the Rue de la Coutellerie, which was all the
lodging I could now afford.

Pardieu, 'tis a strange world!  Strange that time seems to me;
more strange compared with this.  My reflections on that day, I
remember, were of the most melancholy.  Look at it how I would, I
could not but see that my life's spring was over.  The crows'
feet were gathering about my eyes, and my moustachios, which
seemed with each day of ill-fortune to stand out more fiercely
in proportion as my face grew leaner, were already grey.  I was
out at elbows, with empty pockets, and a sword which peered
through the sheath.  The meanest ruffler who, with broken feather
and tarnished lace, swaggered at the heels of Turenne, was
scarcely to be distinguished from me.  I had still, it is true, a
rock and a few barren acres in Brittany, the last remains of the
family property; but the small small sums which the peasants
could afford to pay were sent annually to Paris, to my mother,
who had no other dower.  And this I would not touch, being minded
to die a gentleman, even if I could not live in that estate.

Small as were my expectations of success, since I had no one at
the king's side to push my business, nor any friend at Court, I
nevertheless did all I could, in the only way that occurred to
me.  I drew up a petition, and lying in wait one day for M.
Forget, the King of Navarre's secretary, placed it in his hand,
begging him to lay it before that prince.  He took it, and
promised to do so, smoothly, and with as much lip-civility as I
had a right to expect.  But the careless manner in which he
doubled up and thrust away the paper on which I had spent so much
labour, no less than the covert sneer of his valet, who ran after
me to get the customary present--and ran, as I still blush to
remember, in vain--warned me to refrain from hope.

In this, however, having little save hope left, I failed so
signally as to spend the next day and the day after in a fever of
alternate confidence and despair, the cold fit following the hot
with perfect regularity.  At length, on the morning of the third
day--I remember it lacked but three of Christmas--I heard a step
on the stairs.  My landlord living in his shop, and the two
intervening floors being empty, I had no doubt the message was
for me, and went outside the door to receive it, my first glance
at the messenger confirming me in my highest hopes, as well as in
all I had ever heard of the generosity of the King of Navarre.
For by chance I knew the youth to be one of the royal pages; a
saucy fellow who had a day or two before cried 'Old Clothes'
after me in the street.  I was very far from resenting this now,
however, nor did he appear to recall it; so that I drew the
happiest augury as to the contents of the note he bore from the
politeness with which he presented it to me.

I would not, however, run the risk of a mistake, and before
holding out my hand, I asked him directly and with formality if
it was for me.

He answered, with the utmost respect, that it was for the Sieur
de Marsac, and for me if I were he.

'There is an answer, perhaps?'  I said, seeing that he lingered.

'The King of Navarre, sir,' he replied, with a low bow, 'will
receive your answer in person, I believe.'  And with that,
replacing the hat which he had doffed out of respect to me, he
turned and went down the stairs.

Returning to my room, and locking the door, I hastily opened the
missive, which was sealed with a large seal, and wore every
appearance of importance.  I found its contents to exceed all my
expectations.  The King of Navarre desired me to wait on him at
noon on the following day, and the letter concluded with such
expressions of kindness and goodwill as left me in no doubt of
the Prince's intentions.  I read it, I confess, with emotions of
joy and gratitude which would better have become a younger man,
and then cheerfully sat down to spend the rest of the day in
making such improvements in my dress as seemed possible.  With a
thankful heart I concluded that I had now escaped from poverty,
at any rate from such poverty as is disgraceful to a gentleman;
and consoled myself for the meanness of the appearance I must
make at Court with the reflection that a day or two would mend
both habit and fortune.

Accordingly, it was with a stout heart that I left my lodgings a
few minutes before noon next morning, and walked towards the
castle.  It was some time since I had made so public an
appearance in the streets, which the visit of the King of
Navarre's Court; had filled with an unusual crowd, and I could
not help fancying as I passed that some of the loiterers eyed me
with a covert smile; and, indeed, I was shabby enough.  But
finding that a frown more than sufficed to restore the gravity of
these gentry, I set down the appearance to my own self-
consciousness, and, stroking my moustachios, strode along boldly
until I saw before me, and coming to meet me, the same page who
had delivered the note.

He stopped in front of me with an air of consequence, and making
me a low bow--whereat I saw the bystanders stare, for he was as
gay a young spark as maid-of-honour could desire--he begged me to
hasten, as the king awaited me in his closet.

'He has asked for you twice, sir,' he continued importantly, the
feather of his cap almost sweeping the ground.

'I think,' I answered, quickening my steps, 'that the king's
letter says noon, young sir.  If I am late on such an occasion,
he has indeed cause to complain of me.'

'Tut, tut!'  he rejoined waving his hand with a dandified 'It is
no matter.  One man may steal a horse when another may not look
over the wall, you know.'

A man may be gray-haired, he may be sad-complexioned, and yet he
may retain some of the freshness of youth.  On receiving this
indication of a favour exceeding all expectation, I remember I
felt the blood rise to my face, and experienced the most lively
gratitude.  I wondered who had spoken in my behalf, who had
befriended me; and concluding at last that my part in the affair
at Brouage had come to the king's ears, though I could not
conceive through whom, I passed through the castle gates with an
air of confidence and elation which was not unnatural, I think,
under the circumstances.  Thence, following my guide, I mounted
the ramp and entered the courtyard.

A number of grooms and valets were lounging here, some leading
horses to and fro, others exchanging jokes with the wenches who
leaned from the windows, while their fellows again stamped up and
down to keep their feet warm, or played ball against the wall in
imitation of their masters.  Such knaves are ever more insolent
than their betters; but I remarked that they made way for me with
respect, and with rising spirits, yet a little irony, I reminded
myself as I mounted the stairs of the words, 'whom the king
delighteth to honour!'

Reaching the head of the flight, where was a soldier on guard,
the page opened the door of the antechamber, and standing aside
bade me enter.  I did so, and heard the door close behind me.

For a moment I stood still, bashful and confused.  It seemed to
me that there were a hundred people in the room, and that half
the eyes which met mine were women's, Though I was not altogether
a stranger to such state as the Prince of Conde had maintained,
this crowded anteroom filled me with surprise, and even with a
degree of awe, of which I was the next moment ashamed.  True, the
flutter of silk and gleam of jewels surpassed anything I had then
seen, for my fortunes had never led me to the king's Court; but
an instant's reflection reminded me that my fathers had held
their own in such scenes, and with a bow regulated rather by this
thought than by the shabbiness of my dress, I advanced amid a
sudden silence.

'M. de Marsac!'  the page announced, in a tone which sounded a
little odd in my ears; so much so, that I turned quickly to look
at him.  He was gone, however, and when I turned again the eyes
which met mine were full of smiles.  A young girl who stood near
me tittered.  Put out of countenance by this, I looked round in
embarrassment to find someone to whom I might apply.

The room was long and narrow, panelled in chestnut, with a row of
windows on the one hand, and two fireplaces, now heaped with
glowing logs, on the other.  Between the fireplaces stood a rack
of arms.  Round the nearer hearth lounged a group of pages, the
exact counterparts of the young blade who had brought me hither;
and talking with these were as many young gentlewomen.  Two great
hounds lay basking in the heat, and coiled between them, with her
head on the back of the larger, was a figure so strange that at
another time I should have doubted my eyes.  It wore the fool's
motley and cap and bells, but a second glance showed me the
features were a woman's.  A torrent of black hair flowed loose
about her neck, her eyes shone with wild merriment, and her face,
keen, thin, and hectic, glared at me from the dog's back.  Beyond
her, round the farther fireplace, clustered more than a score of
gallants and ladies, of whom one presently advanced to me.

'Sir,' he said politely--and I wished I could match his bow--'you
wished to see--?'

'The King of Navarre,' I answered, doing my best.

He turned to the group behind him, and said, in a peculiarly
even, placid tone, 'He wishes to see the King of Navarre.'  Then
in solemn silence he bowed to me again and went back to his
fellows.

Upon the instant, and before I could make up my mind how to take
this, a second tripped forward, and saluting me, said, 'M. de
Marsac, I think?'

'At your service, sir,' I rejoined.  In my eagerness to escape
the gaze of all those eyes, and the tittering which was audible
behind me, I took a step forward to be in readiness to follow
him.  But he gave no sign.  'M. de Marsac to see the King of
Navarre' was all he said, speaking as the other had close to
those behind.  And with that he too wheeled round and went back.
to the fire.

I stared, a first faint suspicion of the truth aroused in my
mind.  Before I could act upon it, however--in such a situation
it was no easy task to decide how to act--a third advanced with
the same measured steps.  'By appointment I think, sir?'  he
said, bowing lower than the others.

'Yes,' I replied sharply, beginning to grow warm, 'by appointment
at noon.'

'M. de Marsac,' he announced in a sing-song tone to those behind
him, 'to see the King of Navarre by appointment at noon.'  And
with a second bow--while I grew scarlet with mortification he too
wheeled gravely round and returned to the fireplace.

I saw another preparing to advance, but he came too late.
Whether my face of anger and bewilderment was too much for them,
or some among them lacked patience to see the end, a sudden
uncontrollable shout of laughter, in which all the room joined,
cut short the farce.  God knows it hurt me:  I winced, I looked
this way and that, hoping here or there to find sympathy and
help.  But it seemed to me that the place rang with gibes, that
every panel framed, however I turned myself, a cruel, sneering
face.  One behind me cried 'Old Clothes,' and when I turned the
other hearth whispered the taunt.  It added a thousandfold to my
embarrassment that there was in all a certain orderliness, so
that while no one moved, and none, while I looked at them, raised
their voices, I seemed the more singled out, and placed as a butt
in the midst.

One face amid the pyramid of countenances which hid the farther
fireplace so burned itself into my recollection in that miserable
moment, that I never thereafter forgot it; a small, delicate
woman's face, belonging to a young girl who stood boldly in front
of her companions.  It was a face full of pride, and, as I saw it
then, of scorn--scorn that scarcely deigned to laugh; while the
girl's graceful figure, slight and maidenly, yet perfectly
proportioned, seemed instinct with the same feeling of
contemptuous amusement.

The play, which seemed long enough to me, might have lasted
longer, seeing that no one there had pity on me, had I not, in my
desperation, espied a door at the farther end of the room, and
concluded, seeing no other, that it was the door of the king's
bedchamber.  The mortification I was suffering was so great that
I did not hesitate, but advanced with boldness towards it.  On
the instant there was a lull in the laughter round me, and half a
dozen voices called on me to stop.

'I have come to see the king,' I answered, turning on them
fiercely, for I was by this time in no mood for browbeating, 'and
I will see him!'

'He is out hunting,' cried all with one accord; and they signed
imperiously to me to go back the way I had come.

But having the king's appointment safe in my pouch, I thought I
had good reason to disbelieve them; and taking advantage of their
surprise--for they had not expected so bold a step on my part--I
was at the door before they could prevent me.  I heard Mathurine,
the fool, who had sprung to her feet, cry 'Pardieu!  he will take
the Kingdom of Heaven by force!'  and those were the last words I
heard; for, as I lifted the latch--there was no one on guard
there--a sudden swift silence fell upon the room behind me.

I pushed the door gently open and went in.  There were two men
sitting in one of the windows, who turned and looked angrily
towards me.  For the rest the room was empty.  The king's
walking-shoes lay by his chair, and beside them the boot-hooks
and jack.  A dog before the fire got up slowly and growled, and
one of the men, rising from the trunk on which he had been
sitting, came towards me and asked me, with every sign of
irritation, what I wanted there, and who had given me leave to
enter.

I was beginning to explain, with some diffidence the stillness of
the room sobering me--that I wished to see the king, when he who
had advanced took me up sharply with, 'The king?  the king?  He
is not here, man.  He is hunting at St. Valery.  Did they not
tell you so outside?'

I thought I recognised the speaker, than whom I have seldom seen
a man more grave and thoughtful for his years, which were
something less than mine, more striking in presence, or more
soberly dressed.  And being desirous to evade his question, I
asked him if I had not the honour to address M. du Plessis
Mornay; for that wise and courtly statesman, now a pillar of
Henry's counsels, it was.

'The same, sir,' he replied, abruptly, and without taking his
eyes from me.  'I am Mornay.  What of that?'

'I am M. de Marsac,' I explained.  And there I stopped, supposing
that, as he was in the king's confidence, this would make my
errand clear to him.

But I was disappointed.  'Well, sir?'  he said, and waited
impatiently.

So cold a reception, following such treatment as I had suffered
outside, would have sufficed to have dashed my spirits utterly
had I not felt the king's letter in my pocket.  Being pretty
confident, however, that a single glance at this would alter M.
du Mornay's bearing for the better, I hastened, looking on it as
a kind of talisman, to draw it out and present it to him.

He took it, and looked at it, and opened it, but with so cold and
immovable an aspect as made my heart sink more than all that had
gone before.  'What is amiss?'  I cried, unable to keep silence.
''Tis from the king, sir.'

'A king in motley!'  he answered, his lip curling.

The sense of his words did not at once strike home to me, and I
murmured, in great disorder, that the king had sent for me.

'The king knows nothing of it,' was his blunt answer, bluntly
given.  And he thrust the paper back into my hands.  'It is a
trick,' he continued, speaking with the same abruptness, 'for
which you have doubtless to thank some of those idle young
rascals without.  You had sent an application to the king, I
suppose?  Just so.  No doubt they got hold of it, and this is the
result.  They ought to be whipped.'

It was not possible for me to doubt any longer that what he said
was true.  I saw in a moment all my hopes vanish, all my plans
flung to the winds; and in the first shock of the discovery I
could neither find voice to answer him nor strength to withdraw.
In a kind of vision I seemed to see my own lean, haggard face
looking at me as in a glass, and, reading despair in my eyes,
could have pitied myself.

My disorder was so great that M. du Mornay observed it.  Looking
more closely at me, he two or three times muttered my name, and
at last said, 'M. de Marsac?  Ha!  I remember.  You were in the
affair of Brouage, were you not?'

I nodded my head in token of assent, being unable at the moment
to speak, and so shaken that perforce I leaned against the wall,
my head sunk on my breast.  The memory of my age, my forty years,
and my poverty, pressed hard upon me, filling me with despair and
bitterness.  I could have wept, but no tears came.

M. du Mornay, averting his eyes from me, took two or three short,
impatient turns up and down the chamber.  When he addressed me
again his tone was full of respect, mingled with such petulance
as one brave man might feel, seeing another so hard pressed.  'M.
de Marsac,' he said, 'you have my sympathy.  It is a shame that
men who have served the cause should be reduced to such.
straits.  Were it, possible for me, to increase my own train at
present, I should consider it an honour to have you with me.  But
I am hard put to it myself, and so are we all, and the King of
Navarre not least among us.  He has lived for a month upon a wood
which M. de Rosny has cut down.  I will mention your name to him,
but I should be cruel rather than kind were I not to warn you
that nothing can come of it.'

With that he offered me his hand, and, cheered as much by this
mark of consideration as by the kindness of his expressions, I
rallied my spirits.  True, I wanted comfort more substantial, but
it was not to be had.  I thanked him therefore as becomingly as I
could, and seeing there was no help for it, took my leave of him,
and slowly and sorrowfully withdrew from the room.

Alas!  to escape I had to face the outside world, for which his
kind words were an ill preparation.  I had to run the gauntlet of
the antechamber.  The moment I appeared, or rather the moment the
door closed behind me, I was hailed with a shout of derision.
While one cried, 'Way!  way for the gentleman who has seen the
king!'  another hailed me uproariously as Governor of Guyenne,
and a third requested a commission in my regiment.

I heard these taunts with a heart full almost to bursting.  It
seemed to me an unworthy thing that, merely by reason of my
poverty, I should be derided by youths who had still all their
battles before them; but to stop or reproach them would only, as
I well knew, make matters worse, and, moreover, I was so sore
stricken that I had little spirit left even to speak.
Accordingly, I made my way through them with what speed I might,
my head bent, and my countenance heavy with shame and depression.
In this way--I wonder there were not among them some generous
enough to pity me--I had nearly gained the door, and was
beginning to breathe, when I found my path stopped by that
particular young lady of the Court whom I have described above.
Something had for the moment diverted her attention from me, and
it required a word from her companions to apprise her of my near
neighbourhood.  She turned then, as one taken by surprise, and
finding me so close to her that my feet all but touched her gown,
she stepped quickly aside, and with a glance as cruel as her act,
drew her skirts away from contact with me.

The insult stung me, I know not why, more than all the gibes
which were being flung at me from every side, and moved by a
sudden impulse I stopped, and in the bitterness of my heart spoke
to her.  'Mademoiselle,' I said, bowing low--for, as I have
stated, she was small, and more like a fairy than a woman, though
her face expressed both pride and self-will--'Mademoiselle,' I
said sternly, 'such as I am, I have fought for France!  Some day
you may learn that there are viler things in the world--and have
to bear them--than a poor gentleman!'

The words were scarcely out of my mouth before I repented of
them, for Mathurine, the fool, who was at my elbow, was quick to
turn them into ridicule.  Raising her hands above our heads, as
in act to bless us, she cried out that Monsieur, having gained so
rich an office, desired a bride to grace it; and this, bringing
down upon us a coarse shout of laughter and some coarser gibes, I
saw the young girl's face flush hotly.

The next moment a voice in the crowd cried roughly 'Out upon his
wedding suit!'  and with that a sweetmeat struck me in the face.
Another and another followed, covering me with flour and comfits.
This was the last straw.  For a moment, forgetting where I was, I
turned upon them, red and furious, every hair in my moustachios
bristling.  The next, the full sense of my impotence and of the
folly of resentment prevailed with me, and, dropping my head upon
my breast, I rushed from the room.

I believe that the younger among them followed me, and that the
cry of 'Old Clothes!'  pursued me even to the door of my lodgings
in the Rue de la Coutellerie.  But in the misery of the moment,
and my strong desire to be within doors and alone, I barely
noticed this, and am not certain whether it was so or not.



CHAPTER II.

THE KING OF NAVARRE.

I have already referred to the danger with which the alliance
between Henry the Third and the League menaced us, an alliance
whereof the news, it was said, had blanched the King of Navarre's
moustache in a single night.  Notwithstanding this, the Court had
never shown itself more frolicsome or more free from care than at
the time of which I am speaking; even the lack of money seemed
for the moment forgotten.  One amusement followed another, and
though, without doubt, something was doing under the surface for
the wiser of his foes held our prince in particular dread when he
seemed most deeply sunk in pleasure--to the outward eye St. Jean
d'Angely appeared to be given over to enjoyment from one end to
the other.

The stir and bustle of the Court reached me even in my garret,
and contributed to make that Christmas, which fell on a Sunday, a
trial almost beyond sufferance.  All day long the rattle of
hoofs on the pavement, and the laughter of riders bent on
diversion, came up to me, making the hard stool seem harder, the
bare walls more bare, and increasing a hundredfold the solitary
gloom in which I sat.  For as sunshine deepens the shadows which
fall athwart it, and no silence is like that which follows the
explosion of a mine, so sadness and poverty are never more
intolerable than when hope and wealth rub elbows with them.

True, the great sermon which M. d'Amours preached in the market-
house on the morning of Christmas-day cheered me, as it cheered
all the more sober spirits.  I was present myself, sitting in an
obscure corner of the building, and heard the famous prediction,
which was so soon to be fulfilled.  'Sire,' said the preacher,
turning to the King of Navarre, and referring, with the boldness
that ever characterised that great man and noble Christian, to
the attempt, then being made to exclude the prince from the
succession--'Sire, what God at your birth gave you man cannot
take away.  A little while, a little patience, and you shall
cause us to preach beyond the Loire!  With you for our Joshua we
shall cross the Jordan, and in the Promised Land the Church shall
be set up.'

Words so brave, and so well adapted to encourage the Huguenots in
the crisis through which their affairs were then passing, charmed
all hearers; save indeed, those--and they were few--who, being
devoted to the Vicomte de Turenne, disliked, though they could
not controvert, this public acknowledgment of the King of
Navarre, as the Huguenot leader.  The pleasure of those present
was evinced in a hundred ways, and to such an extent that even I
returned to my chamber soothed and exalted, and found, in
dreaming of the speedy triumph of the cause, some compensation
for my own ill-fortune.

As the day wore on, however, and the evening brought no change,
but presented to me the same dreary prospect with which morning
had made me familiar, I confess without shame that my heart sank
once more, particularly as I saw that I should be forced in a day
or two to sell either my remaining horse or some part of my
equipment as essential; a step which I could not contemplate
without feelings of the utmost despair.  In this state of mind I
was adding up by the light of a solitary candle the few coins I
had left, when I heard footsteps ascending the stairs.  I made
them out to be the steps of two persons, and was still lost in
conjectures who they might be, when a hand knocked gently at my
door.

Fearing another trick, I did not at once open, the more so there
was something stealthy and insinuating in the knock.  Thereupon
my visitors held a whispered consultation; then they knocked
again.  I asked loudly who was there, but to this they did not
choose to give any answer, while I, on my part, determined not to
open until they did.  The door was strong, and I smiled grimly at
the thought that this time they would have their trouble for
their pains.

To my surprise, however, they did not desist, and go away, as I
expected, but continued to knock at intervals and whisper much
between times.  More than once they called me softly by name and
bade me open, but as they steadily refrained from saying who they
were, I sat still.  Occasionally I heard them laugh, but under
their breath as it were; and persuaded by this that they were
bent on a frolic, I might have persisted in my silence until
midnight, which was not more than two hours off, had not a slight
sound, as of a rat gnawing behind the wainscot, drawn my
attention to the door.  Raising my candle and shading my eyes I
espied something small and bright protruding beneath it, and
sprang up, thinking they were about to prise it in.  To my
surprise, however, I could discover, on taking the candle to the
threshold, nothing more threatening than a couple of gold livres,
which had been thrust through the crevice between the door and
the floor.

My astonishment may be conceived.  I stood for full a minute
staring at the coins, the candle in my hand.  Then, reflecting
that the young sparks at the Court would be very unlikely to
spend such a sum on a jest, I hesitated no longer, but putting
down the candle, drew the bolt of the door, purposing to confer
with my visitors outside.  In this, however, I was disappointed,
for the moment the door was open they pushed forcibly past me
and, entering the room pell-mell, bade me by signs to close the
door again.

I did so suspiciously, and without averting my eyes from my
visitors.  Great were my embarrassment and confusion, therefore,
when, the door being shut, they dropped their cloaks one after
the other, and I saw before me M. du Mornay and the well-known
figure of the King of Navarre.

They seemed so much diverted, looking at one another and
laughing, that for a moment I thought some chance resemblance
deceived me, and that here were my jokers again.  Hence while a
man might count ten I stood staring; and the king was the first
to speak.  'We have made no mistake, Du Mornay, have we?'  he
said, casting a laughing glance at me.

'No, sire,' Du Mornay answered.  'This is the Sieur de Marsac,
the gentleman whom I mentioned to you.'

I hastened, confused, wondering, and with a hundred apologies, to
pay my respects to the king.  He speedily cut me short, however,
saying, with an air of much kindness, 'Of Marsac, in Brittany, I
think, sir?'

'The same, sire,'

'Then you are of the family of Bonne?'

'I am the last survivor of that family, sire,' I answered
respectfully.

'It has played its part,' he rejoined.  and therewith he took his
seat on my stool with an easy grace which charmed me.  'Your
motto is "BONNE FOI," is it not?  And Marsac, if I remember
rightly, is not far from Rennes, on the Vilaine?'

I answered that it was, adding, with a full heart, that it
grieved me to be compelled to receive so great a prince in so
poor a lodging.

'Well, I confess,' Du Mornay struck in, looking carelessly round
him, 'you have a queer taste, M. de Marsac, in the arrangement of
your furniture.  You--'

'Mornay!'  the king cried sharply.

'Sire?'

'Chut!  your elbow is in the candle.  Beware of it!'

But I well understood him.  If my heart had been full before, it
overflowed now.  Poverty is not so shameful as the shifts to
which it drives men.  I had been compelled some days before, in
order to make as good a show as possible--since it is the
undoubted duty of a gentleman to hide his nakedness from
impertinent eyes, and especially from the eyes of the canaille,
who are wont to judge from externals--to remove such of my
furniture and equipage as remained to that side of the room,
which was visible from without when the door was open.  This left
the farther side of the room vacant and bare.  To anyone within
doors the artifice was, of course, apparent, and I am bound to
say that M. de Mornay's words brought the blood to my brow.

I rejoiced, however a moment later that he had uttered them; for
without them I might never have known, or known so early, the
kindness of heart and singular quickness of apprehension which
ever distinguished the king, my master.  So, in my heart, I began
to call him from that hour.

The King of Navarre was at this time thirty-five years old, his
hair brown, his complexion ruddy, his moustache, on one side at
least, beginning to turn grey.  His features, which Nature had
cast in a harsh and imperious mould, were relieved by a constant
sparkle and animation such as I have never seen in any other man,
but in him became ever more conspicuous in gloomy and perilous
times.  Inured to danger from his earliest youth, he had come to
enjoy it as others a festival, hailing its advent with a reckless
gaiety which astonished even brave men, and led others to think
him the least prudent of mankind.  Yet such he was not:  nay, he
was the opposite of this.  Never did Marshal of France make more
careful dispositions for a battle--albeit once in it he bore
himself like any captain of horse--nor ever did Du Mornay himself
sit down to a conference with a more accurate knowledge of
affairs.  His prodigious wit and the affability of his manners,
while they endeared him to his servants, again and again blinded
his adversaries; who, thinking that so much brilliance could
arise only from a shallow nature, found when it was too late that
they had been outwitted by him whom they contemptuously styled
the Prince of Bearn, a man a hundredfold more astute than
themselves, and master alike of pen and sword.

Much of this, which all the world now knows, I learned
afterwards.  At the moment I could think of little save the
king's kindness; to which he added by insisting that I should sit
on the bed while we talked.  'You wonder, M. de Marsac,' he said,
'what brings me here, and why I have come to you instead of
sending for you?  Still more, perhaps, why I have come to you at
night and with such precautions?  I will tell you.  But first,
that my coming may not fill you with false hopes, let me say
frankly, that though I may relieve your present necessities,
whether you fall into the plan I am going to mention, or not, I
cannot take you into my service; wherein, indeed, every post is
doubly filled.  Du Mornay mentioned your name to me, but in
fairness to others I had to answer that I could do nothing.'

I am bound to confess that this strange exordium dashed hopes
which had already risen to a high pitch.  Recovering myself as
quickly as possible, however, I murmured that the honour of a
visit from the King of Navarre was sufficient happiness for me.

'Nay, but that honour I must take from you ' he replied, smiling;
'though I see that you would make an excellent courtier--far
better than Du Mornay here, who never in his life made so pretty
a speech.  For I must lay my commands on you to keep this visit a
secret, M. de Marsac.  Should but the slightest whisper of it get
abroad, your usefulness, as far as I am concerned, would be gone,
and gone for good!'

So remarkable a statement filled me with wonder I could scarcely
disguise.  It was with difficulty I found words to assure the
king that his commands should be faithfully obeyed.

'Of that I am sure,' he answered with the utmost kindness.
'Where I not, and sure, too, from what I am told of your
gallantry when my cousin took Brouage, that you are a man of
deeds rather than words, I should not be here with the
proposition I am going to lay before you.  It is this.  I can
give you no hope of public employment, M. de Marsac, but I can
offer you an adventure if adventures be to your taste--as
dangerous and as thankless as any Amadis ever undertook.'

'As thankless, sire?'  I stammered, doubting if I had heard
aright, the expression was so strange.

'As thankless,' he answered, his keen eyes seeming to read my
soul.  'I am frank with you, you see, sir,' he continued,
carelessly.  'I can suggest this adventure--it is for the good of
the State--I can do no more.  The King of Navarre cannot appear
in it, nor can he protect you.  Succeed or fail in it, you stead
alone.  The only promise I make is, that if it ever be safe for
me to acknowledge the act, I will reward the doer.'

He paused, and for a few moments I stared at him in sheer
amazement.  What did he mean?  Were he and the other real
figures, or was I dreaming?

'Do you understand?'  he asked at length, with a touch of
impatience.

'Yes, sire, I think I do,' I murmured, very certain in truth and
reality that I did not.

'What do you say, then--yes or no?'  he rejoined.  'Will you
undertake the adventure, or would you hear more before you make
up your mind?'

I hesitated.  Had I been a younger man by ten years I should
doubtless have cried assent there and then, having been all my
life ready enough to embark on such enterprises as offered a
chance of distinction.  But something in the strangeness of the
king's preface, although I had it in my heart to die for him,
gave me check, and I answered, with an air of great humility,
'You will think me but a poor courtier now, sire, yet he is a
fool who jumps into a ditch without measuring the depth.  I would
fain, if I may say it without disrespect, hear all that you can
tell me.'

'Then I fear,' he answered quickly, 'if you would have more light
on the matter, my friend, you must get another candle.'

I started, he spoke so abruptly; but perceiving that the candle
had indeed burned down to the socket, I rose, with many
apologies, and fetched another from the cupboard.  It did not
occur to me at the moment, though it did later, that the king had
purposely sought this opportunity of consulting with his
companion.  I merely remarked, when I returned to my place on the
bed, that they were sitting a little nearer one another, and that
the king eyed me before he spoke--though he still swung one foot
carelessly in the air with close attention.

'I speak to you, of course, sir,' he presently went on, 'in
confidence, believing you to be an honourable as well as a brave
man.  That which I wish you to do is briefly, and in a word, to
carry off a lady.  Nay,' he added quickly, with a laughing
grimace, 'have no fear!  She is no sweetheart of mine, nor should
I go to my grave friend here did I need assistance of that kind.
Henry of Bourbon, I pray God, will always be able to free his own
lady-love.  This is a State affair, and a matter of quite another
character, though we cannot at present entrust you with the
meaning of it.'

I bowed in silence, feeling somewhat chilled and perplexed, as
who would not, having such an invitation before him?  I had
anticipated an affair with men only--a secret assault or a petard
expedition.  But seeing the bareness of my room, and the honour
the king was doing me, I felt I had no choice, and I answered,
'That being the case, sire, I am wholly at your service.'

'That is well,' he, answered briskly, though methought he looked
at Du Mornay reproachfully, as doubting his commendation of me.
'But will you say the same,' he continued, removing his eyes to
me, and speaking slowly, as though he would try me, 'when I tell
you that the lady to be carried off is the ward of the Vicomte de
Turenne, whose arm is well-nigh as long as my own, and who would
fain make it longer; who never travels, as he told me yesterday,
with less than fifty gentlemen, and has a thousand arquebusiers
in his pay?  Is the adventure still to your liking, M. de Marsac,
now that you know that?'

'It is more to my liking, sire,' I answered stoutly.

'Understand this too,' he rejoined.  'It is essential that this
lady, who is at present confined in the Vicomte's house at Chize,
should be released; but it is equally essential that there should
be no breach between the Vicomte and myself.  Therefore the
affair must be the work of an independent man, who has never been
in my service, nor in any way connected with me.  If captured,
you pay the penalty without recourse to me.'

'I fully understand, sire,' I answered.

'Ventre Saint Gris!'  he cried, breaking into a low laugh.  I
swear the man is more afraid of the lady than he is of the
Vicomte!  That is not the way of most of our Court.'

Du Mornay, who had been sitting nursing his knee in silence,
pursed up his lips, though it was easy to see that he was well
content with the king's approbation.  He now intervened.  'With
your permission, sire,' he said, 'I will let this gentleman know
the details.'

'Do, my friend,' the king answered.  'And be short, for if we are
here much longer I shall be missed, and in a twinkling the Court
will have found me a new mistress.'

He spoke in jest and with a laugh, but I saw Du Mornay start at
the words, as though they were little to his liking; and I
learned afterwards that the Court was really much exercised at
this time with the question who would be the next favourite, the
king's passion for the Countess de la Guiche being evidently on
the wane, and that which he presently evinced for Madame de
Guercheville being as yet a matter of conjecture.

Du Mornay took no overt notice of the king's words, however, but
proceeded to give me my directions.  'Chize, which you know by
name,' he said, 'is six leagues from here.  Mademoiselle de la
Vire is confined in the north-west room, on the first-floor,
overlooking the park.  More I cannot tell you, except that her
woman's name is Fanchette, and that she is to be trusted.  The
house is well guarded, and you will need four or five men, There
are plenty of cut-throats to be hired, only see, M. de Marsac,
that they are such as you can manage, and that Mademoiselle takes
no hurt among them.  Have horses in waiting, and the moment; you
have released the lady ride north with her as fast as her
strength will permit.  Indeed, you must not spare her, if Turenne
be on your heels.  You should be across the Loire in sixty hours
after leaving Chize.'

'Across the Loire?'  I exclaimed in astonishment.

'Yes, sir, across the Loire,' he replied, with some sternness.
'Your task, be good enough to understand, is to convoy
Mademoiselle de la Vire with all speed to Blois.  There,
attracting as little notice as may be, you will inquire for the
Baron de Rosny at the Bleeding Heart, in the Rue de St. Denys.
He will take charge of the lady, or direct you how to dispose of
her, and your task will then be accomplished.  You follow me?'

'Perfectly,' I answered, speaking in my turn with some dryness.
'But Mademoiselle I understand is young.  What if she will not
accompany me, a stranger, entering her room at night, and by the
window?'

'That has been thought of' was the answer.  He turned to the King
of Navarre, who, after a moment's search, produced a small object
from his pouch.  This he gave to his companion, and the latter
transferred it to me.  I took it with curiosity.  It was the half
of a gold carolus, the broken edge of the coin being rough and
jagged.  'Show that to Mademoiselle, my friend,' Du Mornay
continued, 'and she will accompany you.  She has the other half.'

'But be careful,' Henry added eagerly, 'to make no mention, even
to her, of the King of Navarre.  You mark me, M. de Marsac!  If
you have at any time occasion to speak of me, you may have the
honour of calling me YOUR FRIEND, and referring to me always in
the same manner.'

This he said with so gracious an air that I was charmed, and
thought myself happy indeed to be addressed in this wise by a
prince whose name was already so glorious.  Nor was my
satisfaction diminished when his companion drew out a bag
containing, as he told me, three hundred crowns in gold, and
placed it in my hands, bidding me defray therefrom the cost of
the journey.  'Be careful, however,' he added earnestly, 'to
avoid, in hiring your men, any appearance of wealth, lest the
adventure seem to be suggested by some outside person; instead of
being dictated by the desperate state of your own fortunes.
Promise rather than give, so far as that will avail.  And for
what you must give, let each livre seem to be the last in your
pouch.'

Henry nodded assent.  'Excellent advice!'  he muttered, rising
and drawing on his cloak, 'such as you ever give me, Mornay, and
I as seldom take--more's the pity!  But, after all, of little
avail without this.'  He lifted my sword from the table as he
spoke, and weighed it in his hand.  'A pretty tool,' he
continued, turning suddenly and looking me very closely in the
face.  'A very pretty tool.  Were I in your place, M. de Marsac,
I would see that it hung loose in the scabbard.  Ay, and more,
man, use it!'  he added, sinking his voice and sticking out his
chin, while his grey eyes, looking ever closer into mine, seemed
to grow cold and hard as steel.  'Use it to the last, for if you
fall into Turenne's hands, God help you!  I cannot!'

'If I am taken, sire,' I answered, trembling, but not with fear,
'my fate be on my own head.'

I saw the king's eyes soften, at that, and his face change so
swiftly that I scarce knew him for the same man.  He let the
weapon drop with a clash on the table.  'Ventre Saint Gris!'  he
exclaimed with a strange thrill of yearning in his tone.  'I
swear by God, I would I were in your shoes, sir.  To strike a
blow or two with no care what came of it.  To take the road with
a good horse and a good sword, and see what fortune would send.
To be rid of all this statecraft and protocolling, and never to
issue another declaration in this world, but just to be for once
a Gentleman of France, with all to win and nothing to lose save
the love of my lady!  Ah!  Mornay, would it not be sweet to leave
all this fret and fume, and ride away to the green woods by
Coarraze?'

'Certainly, if you prefer them to the Louvre, sire,' Du Mornay
answered drily; while I stood, silent and amazed, before this
strange man, who could so suddenly change from grave to gay, and
one moment spoke so sagely, and the next like any wild lad in his
teens.  'Certainly,' he answered, 'if that be your choice, sire;
and if you think that even there the Duke of Guise will leave you
in peace.  Turenne, I am sure, will be glad to hear of your
decision.  Doubtless he will be elected Protector of the
Churches.  Nay, sire, for shame!'  Du Mornay continued almost
with sternness.  'Would you leave France, which at odd times I
have heard you say you loved, to shift for herself?  Would you
deprive her of the only man who does love her for her own sake?'

'Well, well, but she is such a fickle sweetheart, my friend,' the
king answered, laughing, the side glance of his eye on me.
'Never was one so coy or so hard to clip!  And, besides, has not
the Pope divorced us?'

'The Pope!  A fig for the Pope!'  Du Mornay rejoined with
impatient heat.  'What has he to do with France?  An impertinent
meddler, and an Italian to boot!  I would he and all the brood of
them were sunk a hundred fathoms deep in the sea.  But, meantime,
I would send him a text to digest.'

'EXEMPLUM?'  said the king.

'Whom God has joined together let no man put asunder.'

'Amen!  quoth Henry softly.  'And France is a fair and comely
bride.'

After that he kept such a silence, falling as it seemed to me
into a brown study, that he went away without so much as bidding
me farewell, or being conscious, as far as I could tell, of my
presence.  Du Mornay exchanged a few words with me, to assure
himself that I understood what I had to do, and then, with many
kind expressions, which I did not fail to treasure up and con
over in the times that were coming, hastened downstairs after
his master.

My joy when I found myself alone may be conceived.  Yet was it no
ecstasy, but a sober exhilaration; such as stirred my pulses
indeed, and bade me once more face the world with a firm eye and
an assured brow, but was far from holding out before me a
troubadour's palace or any dazzling prospect.  The longer I dwelt
on the interview, the more clearly I saw the truth.  As the
glamour which Henry's presence and singular kindness had cast
over me began to lose some of its power, I recognised more and
more surely why he had come to me.  It was not out of any special
favour for one whom he knew by report only, if at all by name;
but because he had need of a man poor, and therefore reckless,
middle-aged (of which comes discretion), obscure--therefore a
safe instrument; to crown all, a gentleman, seeing that both a
secret and a women were in question.

Withal I wondered too.  Looking from the bag of money on the
table to the broken coin in my hand, I scarcely knew which to
admire more:  the confidence which entrusted the one to a man
broken and beggared, or the courage of the gentlewoman who should
accompany me on the faith of the other.



CHAPTER III.

BOOT AND SADDLE.

As was natural, I meditated deeply and far into the night on the
difficulties of the task, entrusted to me.  I saw that it fell
into two parts:  the release of the lady, and her safe conduct to
Blois, a distance of sixty leagues.  The release I thought it
probable I could effect single-handed, or with one companion
only; but in the troubled condition of the country at this time,
more particularly on both sides of the Loire, I scarcely saw how
I could ensure a lady's safety on the road northwards unless I
had with me at least five swords.

To get these together at a few hours' notice promised to be no
easy task; although the presence of the Court of Navarre had
filled St. Jean with a crowd of adventurers.  Yet the king's
command was urgent, and at some sacrifice, even at some risk,
must be obeyed.  Pressed by these considerations, I could think
of no better man to begin with than Fresnoy.

His character was bad, and he had long forfeited such claim as he
had ever possessed--I believe it was a misty one, on the distaff
side--to gentility.  But the same cause which had rendered me
destitute I mean the death of the prince of Conde--had stripped
him to the last rag; and this, perhaps, inclining me to serve
him, I was the more quick to see his merits.  I knew him already
for a hardy, reckless man, very capable of striking a shrewd
blow.  I gave him credit for being trusty, as long as his duty
jumped with his interest.

Accordingly, as soon as it was light, having fed and groomed the
Cid, which was always the first employment of my day, I set out
in search of Fresnoy, and was presently lucky enough to find him
taking his morning draught outside the 'Three Pigeons,' a little
inn not far from the north gate.  It was more than a fortnight
since I had set eyes on him, and the lapse of time had worked so
great a change for the worse in him that, forgetting my own
shabbiness, I looked at him askance, as doubting the wisdom of
enlisting one who bore so plainly the marks of poverty and
dissipation.  His great face--he was a large man--had suffered
recent ill-usage, and was swollen and discoloured, one eye being
as good as closed.  He was unshaven, his hair was ill-kempt, his
doublet unfastened at the throat, and torn and stained besides.
Despite the cold--for the morning was sharp and frosty, though
free from wind--there were half a dozen packmen drinking and
squabbling before the inn, while the beasts they drove quenched
their thirst at the trough.  But these men seemed with one accord
to leave him in possession of the bench at which he sat; nor did
I wonder much at this when I saw the morose and savage glance
which he shot at me as I approached.  Whether he read my first
impressions in my face, or for some other reason felt distaste
for my company, I could not determine.  But, undeterred by his
behaviour, I sat down beside him and called for wine.

He nodded sulkily in answer to my greeting, and cast a half-
shamed, half-angry look at me out of the corners of his eyes.
'You need not look at me as though I were a dog,' he muttered
presently.  'You are not so very spruce yourself, my friend.  But
I suppose you have grown proud since you got that fat appointment
at Court!'  And he laughed out loud, so that I confess I was in
two minds whether I should not force the jest down his ugly
throat.

However I restrained myself, though my cheeks burned.  'You have
heard about it, then,' I said, striving to speak indifferently.

'Who has not?'  he said, laughing with his lips, though his eyes
were far from merry.  'The Sieur de Marsac's appointment!  Ha!
ha!  Why, man--'

'Enough of it now!'  I exclaimed.  And I dare say I writhed on my
seat.  'As far as I am concerned the jest is a stale one, sir,
and does not amuse me.'

'But it amuses me,' he rejoined with a grin.

'Let it be, nevertheless,' I said; and I think he read a warning
in my eyes.  'I have come to speak to you upon another matter.'

He did not refuse to listen, but threw one leg over the other,
and looking up at the inn-sign began to whistle in a rude,
offensive manner.  Still, having an object in view, I controlled
myself and continued.  'It is this, my friend:  money is not very
plentiful at present with either of us.'

Before I could say any more he turned on me savagely, and with a
loud oath thrust his bloated face, flushed with passion, close to
mine.  'Now look here, M. de Marsac!'  he cried violently, 'once
for all, it is no good!  I have not got the money, and I cannot
pay it.  I said a fortnight ago, when you lent it, that you
should have it this week.  Well,' slapping his hand on the bench,
I have not got it, and it is no good beginning upon me.  You
cannot have it, and that is flat!'

'Damn the money!'  I cried.

'What?'  he exclaimed, scarcely believing his ears.

'Let the money be!'  I repeated fiercely.  'Do you hear?  I have
not come about it, I am here to offer you work--good, well-paid
work--if you will enlist with me and play me fair, Fresnoy.'

'Play fair!'  he cried with an oath.

'There, there,' I said, 'I am willing to let bygones be bygones
if you are.  The point is, that I have an adventure on hand, and,
wanting help, can pay you for it.'

He looked at me cunningly, His eye travelling over each rent and
darn in my doublet.  'I will help you fast enough,' he said at
last.  'But I should like to see the money first.'

'You shall,' I answered.

'Then I am with you, my friend.  Count on me till death!'  he
cried, rising and laying his hand in mine with a boisterous
frankness which did not deceive me into trusting him far.  'And
now, whose is the affair, and what is it?'

'The affair is mine,' I said coldly.  'It is to carry off a
lady.'

He whistled and looked me over again, an impudent leer in his
eyes.  'A lady?'  he exclaimed.  'Umph!  I could understand a
young spark going in for such--but that's your affair.  Who is
it?'

'That is my affair, too,' I answered coolly, disgusted by the
man's venality and meanness, and fully persuaded that I must
trust him no farther than the length of my sword.  'All I want
you to do, M. Fresnoy,' I continued stiffly, 'is to place
yourself at my disposal and under my orders for ten days.  I will
find you a horse and pay you--the enterprise is a hazardous one,
and I take that into account--two gold crowns a day, and ten more
if we succeed in reaching a place of safety.'

'Such a place as--'

'Never mind that,' I replied.  'The question is, do you accept?'

He looked down sullenly, and I could see he was greatly angered
by my determination to keep the matter to myself.  'Am I to know
no more than that?'  he asked, digging the point of his scabbard
again and again into the ground.

'No more,' I answered firmly.  'I am bent on a desperate attempt
to mend my fortunes before they fall as low as yours; and that is
as much as I mean to tell living man.  If you are loth to risk
your life with your eyes shut, say so, and I will go to someone
else.'

But he was not in a position, as I well knew, to refuse such an
offer, and presently he accepted it with a fresh semblance of
heartiness.  I told him I should want four troopers to escort us,
and these he offered to procure, saying that he knew just the
knaves to suit me.  I bade him hire two only, however, being too
wise, to put myself altogether in his hands; and then, having
given him money to buy himself a horse--I made it a term that the
men should bring their own--and named a rendezvous for the first
hour after noon, I parted from him and went rather sadly away.

For I began to see that the king had not underrated the dangers
of an enterprise on which none but desperate men and such as were
down in the world could be expected to embark.  Seeing this, and
also a thing which followed clearly from it--that I should have
as much to fear from my own company as from the enemy--I looked
forward with little hope to a journey during every day and every
hour of which I must bear a growing weight of fear and
responsibility.

It was too late to turn back, however, and I went about my
preparations, if with little cheerfulness, at least with
steadfast purpose.  I had my sword ground and my pistols put in
order by the cutler over whom I lodged, and who performed this
last office for me with the same goodwill which had
characterised, all his dealings with me.  I sought out and hired
a couple of stout fellows whom I believed to be indifferently
honest, but who possessed the advantage of having horses; and
besides bought two led horses myself for mademoiselle and her
woman.  Such other equipments as were absolutely necessary I
purchased, reducing my stock of money in this way to two hundred
and ten crowns.  How to dispose of this sum so that it might be
safe and yet at my command was a question which greatly exercised
me.  In the end I had recourse to my friend the cutler, who
suggested hiding a hundred crowns of it in my cap, and deftly
contrived a place for the purpose.  This, the cap being lined
with steel, was a matter of no great difficulty.  A second
hundred I sewed up in the stuffing of my saddle, placing the
remainder in my pouch for present necessities.

A small rain was falling in the streets when, a little after
noon, I started with my two knaves behind me and made for the
north gate.  So many were moving this way and the other that we
passed unnoticed, and might have done so had we numbered six
swords instead of three.  When we reached the rendezvous, a mile
beyond the gate, we found Fresnoy already there, taking shelter
in the lee of a big holly-tree.  He had four horsemen with him,
and on our appearance rode forward to meet us, crying heartily,
'Welcome, M. le Capitaine!'

'Welcome, certainly,' I answered, pulling the Cid up sharply, and
holding off from him.  'But who are these, M. Fresnoy?'  and I
pointed with my riding-cane to his four companions.

He tried to pass the matter off with a laugh.  'Oh!  these?'  he
said.  'That is soon explained.  The Evangelists would not be
divided, so I brought them all--Matthew Mark, Luke, and John--
thinking it likely you might fail to secure your men.  And I will
warrant them for four as gallant boys as you will ever find
behind you!'

They were certainly four as arrant ruffians as I had ever seen
before me, and I saw I must not hesitate.  'Two or none, M.
Fresnoy,' I said firmly.  'I gave you a commission for two, and
two I will take--Matthew and Mark, or Luke and John, as you
please.'

''Tis a pity to break the party,' said he, scowling.

'If that be all,' I retorted, 'one of my men is called John.  And
we will dub the other Luke, if that will mend the matter.'

'The Prince of Conde,' he muttered sullenly, 'employed these
men.'

'The Prince of Conde employed some queer people sometimes, M.
Fresnoy,' I answered, looking him straight between the eyes, 'as
we all must.  A truce to this, if you please.  We will take
Matthew and Mark.  The other two be good enough to dismiss.'

He seemed to waver for a moment, as if he had a mind to disobey,
but in the end, thinking better of it, he bade the men return;
and as I complimented each of them with a piece of silver, they
went off, after some swearing, in tolerably good humour.  Thereon
Fresnoy was for taking the road at once, but having no mind to be
followed, I gave the word to wait until the two were out of
sight.

I think, as we sat our horses in the rain, the holly-bush not
being large enough to shelter us all, we were as sorry a band as
ever set out to rescue a lady; nor was it without pain that I
looked round and saw myself reduced to command such people.
There was scarcely one whole unpatched garment among us, and
three of my squires had but a spur apiece.  To make up for this
deficiency we mustered two black eyes, Fresnoy's included, and a
broken nose.  Matthew's nag lacked a tail, and, more remarkable
still, its rider, as I presently discovered, was stone-deaf;
while Mark's sword was innocent of a scabbard, and his bridle was
plain rope.  One thing, indeed, I observed with pleasure.  The
two men who had come with me looked askance at the two who had
come with Fresnoy, and these returned the stare with interest.
On this division and on the length of my sword I based all my
hopes of safety and of something more.  On it I was about to
stake, not my own life only--which was no great thing, seeing
what my prospects were--but the life and honour of a woman,
young, helpless, and as yet unknown to me.

Weighed down as I was by these considerations, I had to bear the
additional burden of hiding my fears and suspicions under a
cheerful demeanour.  I made a short speech to my following, who
one and all responded by swearing to stand by me to the death.  I
then gave the word, and we started, Fresnoy and I leading the
way, Luke and John with the led horses following, and the other
two bringing up the rear.

The rain continuing to fall and the country in this part being
dreary and monotonous, even in fair weather, I felt my spirits
sink still lower as the day advanced.  The responsibility I was
going to incur assumed more serious proportions each time I
scanned my following; while Fresnoy, plying me with perpetual
questions respecting my plans, was as uneasy a companion as my
worst enemy could have wished me.

'Come!'  he grumbled presently, when we had covered four leagues
or so, 'you have not told me yet, sieur, where we stay to-night.
You are travelling so slowly that--'

'I am saving the horses,' I answered shortly.  'We shall do a
long day to-morrow.'

'Yours looks fit for a week of days,' he sneered, with an evil
look at my Sardinian, which was, indeed, in better case than its
master.  'It is sleek enough, any way!'

'It is as good as it looks,' I answered, a little nettled by his
tone.

'There is a better here,' he responded.

'I don't see it,' I said.  I had already eyed the nags all round,
and assured myself that, ugly and blemished as they were, they
were up to their work.  But I had discerned no special merit
among them.  I looked them over again now, and came to the same
conclusion--that, except the led horses, which I had chosen with
some care, there was nothing among them to vie with the Cid,
either in speed or looks.  I told Fresnoy so.

'Would you like to try?'  he said tauntingly.

I laughed, adding, 'If you think I am going to tire our horses by
racing them, with such work as we have before us, you are
mistaken, Fresnoy.  I am not a boy, you know.'

'There need be no question of racing,' he answered more quietly.
'You have only to get on that rat-tailed bay of Matthew's to feel
its paces and say I am right.'

I looked at the bay, a bald-faced, fiddle-headed horse, and saw
that, with no signs of breeding, it was still a big-boned animal
with good shoulders and powerful hips.  I thought it possible
Fresnoy might be right, and if so, and the bay's manners were
tolerable, it might do for mademoiselle better than the horse I
had chosen.  At any rate, if we had a fast horse among us, it was
well to know the fact, so bidding Matthew change with me, and be
careful of the Cid, I mounted the bay, and soon discovered that
its paces were easy and promised speed, while its manners seemed
as good as even a timid rider could desire.

Our road at the time lay across a flat desolate heath, dotted
here and there with, thorn-bushes; the track being broken and
stony, extended more than a score of yards in width, through
travellers straying to this side and that to escape the worst
places.  Fresnoy and I, in making the change, had fallen slightly
behind the other three, and were riding abreast of Matthew on the
Cid.

'Well,' he said, 'was I not right?'

'In part,' I answered.  'The horse is better than its looks.'

'Like many others,' he rejoined, a spark of resentment in his
tone--'men as well as horses, M. de Marsac.  But What do you say?
Shall we canter on a little and overtake the others?'

Thinking it well to do so, I assented readily, and we started
together.  We had ridden, however, no more than a hundred yards,
and I was only beginning to extend the bay, when Fresnoy,
slightly drawing rein, turned in his saddle and looked back.  The
next moment he cried, 'Hallo!  what is this?  Those fellows are
not following us, are they?'

I turned sharply to look.  At that moment, without falter or
warning, the bay horse went down under me as if shot dead,
throwing me half a dozen yards over its head; and that so
suddenly that I had no time to raise my arms, but, falling
heavily on my head and shoulder, lost consciousness.

I have had many falls, but no other to vie with that in utter
unexpectedness.  When I recovered my senses I found myself
leaning, giddy and sick, against the bole of an old thorn-tree.
Fresnoy and Matthew supported me on either side, and asked me how
I found myself; while the other three men, their forms black
against the stormy evening sky, sat their horses a few paces in
front of me.  I was too much dazed at first to see more, and this
only in a mechanical fashion; but gradually, my brain grew
clearer, and I advanced from wondering who the strangers round me
were to recognising them, and finally to remembering what had
happened to me.

'Is the horse hurt?'  I muttered as soon as I could speak.

'Not a whit,' Fresnoy answered, chuckling, or I was much
mistaken.  'I am afraid you came off the worse of the two,
captain.'

He exchanged a look with the men on horseback as he spoke, and in
a dull fashion I fancied I saw them smile.  One even laughed, and
another turned in his saddle as if to hide his face.  I had a
vague general sense that there was some joke on foot in which I
had no part.  But I was too much shaken at the moment to be
curious, and gratefully accepted the offer of one, of the men to
fetch me a little water.  While he was away the rest stood round
me, the same look of ill-concealed drollery on their faces.
Fresnoy alone talked, speaking volubly of the accident, pouring
out expressions of sympathy and cursing the road, the horse, and
the wintry light until the water came; when, much refreshed by
the draught, I managed to climb to the Cid's saddle and plod
slowly onwards with them.

'A bad beginning,' Fresnoy said presently, stealing a sly glance
at me as we jogged along side by side, Chize half a league before
us, and darkness not far off.

By this time, however, I was myself again, save for a little
humming is the head, and, shrugging my shoulders, I told him so.
'All's well that ends well,' I added.  'Not that it was a
pleasant fall, or that I wish to have such another.'

'No, I should think not,' he answered.  His face was turned from
me, but I fancied I heard him snigger.

Something, which may have been a vague suspicion, led me a moment
later to put my hand into my pouch.  Then I understood.  I
understood too well.  The sharp surprise of the discovery was
such that involuntarily I drove my spurs into the Cid, and the
horse sprang forward.

'What is the matter?'  Fresnoy asked.

'The matter?'  I echoed, my hand still at my belt, feeling
--feeling hopelessly.

'Yes, what is it?'  he asked, a brazen smile on his rascally
face.

I looked at him, my brow as red as fire.  'Oh!  nothing
--nothing,' I said.  'Let us trot on.'

In truth I had discovered that, taking advantage of my
helplessness, the scoundrels had robbed me, while I lay
insensible, of every gold crown in my purse!  Nor was this all,
or the worst, for I saw at once that in doing so they had
effected something which was a thousandfold more ominous and
formidable--established against me that secret understanding
which it was my especial aim to prevent, and on the absence of
which I had been counting.  Nay, I saw that for my very life I
had only my friend the cutler and my own prudence to thank,
seeing that these rogues would certainly have murdered me without
scruple had they succeeded in finding the bulk of my money.
Baffled in this, while still persuaded that I had other
resources, they had stopped short of that villany--or this memoir
had never been written.  They had kindly permitted me to live
until a more favourable opportunity of enriching themselves at my
expense should put them in possession of my last crown!

Though I was sufficiently master of myself to refrain from
complaints which I felt must be useless, and from menaces which
it has never been my habit to utter unless I had also the power
to put them into execution, it must not be imagined that I did
not, as I rode on by Fresnoy's side, feel my position acutely or
see how absurd a figure I cut in my dual character of leader and
dupe.  Indeed, the reflection that, being in this perilous
position, I was about to stake another's safety as well as my
own, made me feel the need of a few minutes' thought so urgent
that I determined to gain them, even at the risk of leaving my
men at liberty to plot further mischief.  Coming almost
immediately afterwards within sight, of the turrets of the
Chateau of Chize, I told Fresnoy that we should lie the night at
the village; and bade him take the men on and secure quarters at
the inn.  Attacked instantly by suspicion and curiosity, he
demurred stoutly to leaving me, and might have persisted in his
refusal had I not pulled up, and clearly shown him that I would
have my own way in this case or come to an open breach.  He
shrank, as I expected, from the latter alternative, and, bidding
me a sullen adieu, trotted on with his troop.  I waited until
they were out of sight, and then, turning the Cid's head, crossed
a small brook which divided the road from the chase, and choosing
a ride which seemed to pierce the wood in the direction of the
Chateau, proceeded down it, keeping a sharp look-out on either
hand.

It was then, my thoughts turning to the lady who was now so near,
and who, noble, rich, and a stranger, seemed, as I approached
her, not the least formidable of the embarrassments before me--it
was then that I made a discovery which sent a cold shiver through
my frame, and in a moment swept all memory of my paltry ten
crowns from my head.  Ten crowns!  Alas!  I had lost that which
was worth all my crowns put together--the broken coin which the
King of Navarre had entrusted to me, and which formed my sole
credential, my only means of persuading Mademoiselle de la Vire
that I came from him.  I had put it in my pouch, and of course,
though the loss of it only came home to my mind now, it had
disappeared with the rest.

I drew rein and sat for some time motionless, the image of
despair.  The wind which stirred the naked boughs overhead, and
whirled the dead leaves in volleys past my feet, and died away at
last among the whispering bracken, met nowhere with wretchedness
greater, I believe, than was mine at that moment.



CHAPTER IV.

MADEMOISELLE DE LA VIRE.

My first desperate impulse on discovering the magnitude of my
loss was to ride after the knaves and demand the token at the
sword's point.  The certainty, however, of finding them united,
and the difficulty of saying which of the five possessed what I
wanted, led me to reject this plan as I grew cooler; and since I
did not dream, even in this dilemma, of abandoning the expedition
the only alternative seemed to be to act as if I still had the
broken coin, and essay what a frank explanation might effect when
the time came.

After some wretched, very wretched, moments of debate, I resolved
to adopt this course; and, for the present, thinking I might gain
some knowledge of the surroundings while the light lasted, I
pushed cautiously forward through the trees and came in less than
five minutes within sight of a corner of the chateau, which I
found to be a modern building of the time of Henry II., raised,
like the houses of that time, for pleasure rather than defence,
and decorated with many handsome casements and tourelles.
Despite this, it wore, as I saw it, a grey and desolate air, due
in part to the loneliness of the situation and the lateness of
the hour; and in part, I think, to the smallness of the household
maintained, for no one was visible on the terrace or at the
windows.  The rain dripped from the trees, which on two sides
pressed so closely on the house as almost to darken the rooms,
and everything I saw encouraged me to hope that mademoiselle's
wishes would second my entreaties, and incline her to lend a
ready ear to my story.

The appearance of the house, indeed, was a strong inducement to
me to proceed, for it was impossible to believe that a young
lady, a kinswoman of the gay and vivacious Turenne, and already
introduced to the pleasures of the Court, would elect of her own
free will to spend the winter in so dreary a solitude.

Taking advantage of the last moments of daylight, I rode
cautiously round the house, and, keeping in the shadow of the
trees, had no difficulty in discovering at the north-east corner
the balcony of which I had been told.  It was semi-circular in
shape, with a stone balustrade, and hung some fifteen feet above
a terraced walk which ran below it, and was separated from the
chase by a low sunk fence.

I was surprised to observe that, notwithstanding the rain and the
coldness of the evening, the window which gave upon this balcony
was open.  Nor was this all.  Luck was in store for me at last.
I had not gazed at the window more than a minute, calculating its
height and other particulars, when, to my great joy, a female
figure, closely hooded, stepped out and stood looking up at the
sky.  I was too far off to be able to discern by that uncertain
light whether this was Mademoiselle de la Vire or her woman; but
the attitude was so clearly one of dejection and despondency,
that I felt sure it was either one or the other.  Determined not
to let the opportunity slip, I dismounted hastily and, leaving
the Cid loose, advanced on foot until I stood within half-a-dozen
paces of the window.

At that point the watcher became aware of me.  She started back,
but did not withdraw.  Still peering down at me, she called
softly to some one inside the chamber, and immediately a second
figure, taller and stouter, appeared.  I had already doffed my
cap, and I now, in a low voice, begged to know if I had the
honour of speaking to Mademoiselle de la Vire.  In the growing
darkness it was impossible to distinguish faces.

'Hush!'  the stouter figure muttered in a tone of warning. 'Speak
lower.  Who are you, and what do you here?'

'I am here,' I answered respectfully, 'commissioned by a friend
of the lady I have named, to convey her to a place of safety.'

'Mon dieu!'  was the sharp answer.  'Now?  It is impossible.'

'No,' I murmured, 'not now, but to-night.  The moon rises at
half-past two.  My horses need rest and food.  At three I will be
below this window with the means of escape, if mademoiselle
choose to use them.'

I felt that they were staring at me through the dusk, as though
they would read my breast.  'Your name, sir?'  the shorter figure
murmured at last, after a pause which was full of suspense and
excitement.

'I do not think my name of much import at present, Mademoiselle,'
I answered, reluctant to proclaim myself a stranger.  'When--'

'Your name, your name, sir!'  she repeated imperiously, and I
heard her little heel rap upon the stone floor of the balcony.

'Gaston de Marsac,' I answered unwillingly.

They both started, and cried out together.  'Impossible!'  the
last speaker exclaimed, amazement and anger in her tone, 'This is
a jest, sir.  This--'

What more she would have said I was left to guess, for at that
moment her attendant I had no doubt now which was mademoiselle
and which Fanchette--suddenly laid her hand on her mistress's
mouth and pointed to the room behind them.  A second's suspense,
and with a wanting gesture the two turned and disappeared through
the window.

I lost no time in regaining the shelter of the trees; and
concluding, though I was far from satisfied with the interview,
that I could do nothing more now, but might rather, by loitering
in the neighbourhood, awaken suspicion, I remounted and made for
the highway and the village, where I found my men in noisy
occupation of the inn, a poor place, with unglazed windows, and a
fire in the middle of the earthen floor.  My first care wets to
stable the Cid in a shed at the back, where I provided for its
wants as far as I could with the aid of a half-naked boy, who
seemed to be in hiding there.

This done, I returned to the front of the house, having pretty
well made up my mind how I would set about the task before me.
As I passed one of the windows, which was partially closed by a
rude curtain made of old sacks, I stopped to look in.  Fresnoy
and his four rascals were seated on blocks of wood round the
hearth, talking loudly and fiercely, and ruffling it as if the
fire and the room were their own.  A pedlar, seated on his goods
in one corner, was eyeing them with evident fear and suspicion;
in another corner two children had taken refuge under a donkey,
which some fowls had chosen as a roosting-pole.  The innkeeper, a
sturdy fellow, with a great club in his fist, sat moodily at the
foot of a ladder which led to the loft above, while a slatternly
woman, who was going to and fro getting supper, seemed in equal
terror of her guests and her good man.

Confirmed by what I saw, and assured that the villains were ripe
for any mischief, and, if not checked, would speedily be beyond
my control, I noisily flung the door open and entered.  Fresnoy
looked up with a sneer as I did so, and one of the men laughed.
The others became silent; but no one moved or greeted me.
Without a moment's hesitation I stepped to the nearest fellow
and, with a sturdy kick, sent his log from under him.  'Rise, you
rascal, when I enter!'  I cried, giving vent to the anger I had
long felt.  'And you, too!'  and with a second kick I sent his
neighbour's stool flying also, and administered a couple of cuts
with my riding-cane across the man's shoulders.  'Have you no
manners, sirrah?  Across with you, and leave this side to your
betters.'

The two rose, snarling and feeling for their weapons, and for a
moment stood facing me, looking now at me and now askance at
Fresnoy.  But as he gave no sign, and their comrades only
laughed, the men's courage failed them at the pinch, and with a
very poor grace they sneaked over to the other side of the fire
and sat there, scowling.

I seated myself beside their leader.  'This gentleman and I will
eat here,' I cried to the man at the foot of the ladder.  'Bid
your wife lay for us, and of the best you have; and do you give
those knaves their provender where the smell of their greasy
jackets will not come between us and our victuals.'

The man came forward, glad enough, as I saw, to discover any one
in authority, and very civilly began to draw wine and place a
board for us, while his wife filled our platters from the black
pot which hung over the fire.  Fresnoy's face meanwhile wore the
amused smile of one who comprehended my motives, but felt
sufficiently sure of his position and influence with his
followers to be indifferent to my proceedings.  I presently
showed him, however, that I had not yet done with him.  Our table
was laid in obedience to my orders at such a distance from the
men that they could not overhear our talk, and by-and-by I leant
over to him.

'M. Fresnoy,' I said, 'you are in danger of forgetting one thing,
I fancy, which it behoves you to remember.'

'What?'  he muttered, scarcely deigning to look up at me.

'That you have to do with Gaston de Marsac,' I answered quietly.
'I am making, as I told you this morning, a last attempt to
recruit my fortunes, and I will let no man--no man, do you
understand, M. Fresnoy?--thwart me and go harmless.'

'Who wishes to thwart you?'  he asked impudently.

'You,' I answered unmoved, helping myself, as I spoke, from the
roll of black bread which lay beside me.  'You robbed me this
afternoon; I passed it over.  You encouraged those men to be
insolent; I passed it over.  But let me tell you this.  If you
fail me to-night, on the honour of a gentleman, M. Fresnoy, I
will run you through as I would spit a lark.'

'Will you?  But two can play at that game,' he cried, rising
nimbly from his stool.  'Still better six!  Don't you think, M.
de Marsac, you had better have waited--?'

'I think you had better hear one word more,' I answered coolly,
keeping my seat, 'before you appeal to your fellows there.'

'Well,' he said, still standing, 'what is it?'

'Nay,' I replied, after once more pointing to his stool in vain,
'if you prefer to take my orders standing, well and good.'

'Your orders?'  he shrieked, growing suddenly excited.

'Yes, my orders!'  I retorted, rising as suddenly to my feet and
hitching forward my sword.  'My orders, sir,' I repeated
fiercely, 'or, if you dispute my right to command as well as to
pay this party, let us decide the question here and now--you and
I, foot to foot, M. Fresnoy.'

The quarrel flashed up so suddenly, though I had been preparing
it all along, that no one moved.  The woman indeed, fell back to
her children, but the rest looked on open-mouthed.  Had they
stirred, or had a moment's hurly-burly heated his blood, I doubt
not Fresnoy would have taken up my challenge, for he did not lack
hardihood.  But as it was, face to face with me in the silence,
his courage failed him.  He paused, glowering at me uncertainly,
and did not speak.

'Well,' I said, 'don't you think that if I pay I ought to give
orders, sir?'

'Who wishes to oppose your orders?'  he muttered, drinking off a
bumper, and sitting down with an air of impudent bravado, assumed
to hide his discomfiture.

'If you don't, no one else does,' I answered.  So that is
settled.  Landlord, some more wine.'

He was very sulky with me for a while, fingering his glass in
silence and scowling at the table.  He had enough gentility to
feel the humiliation to which he had exposed himself, and a
sufficiency of wit to understand that that moment's hesitation
had cost him the allegiance of his fellow-ruffians.  I hastened,
therefore, to set him at his ease by explaining my plans for the
night, and presently succeeded beyond my hopes; for when he heard
who the lady was whom I proposed to carry off, and that she was
lying that evening at the Chateau de Chize, his surprise swept
away the last trace of resentment.  He stared at me, as at a
maniac.

'Mon Dieu!'  he exclaimed.  'Do you know what you are doing,
Sieur?'

'I think so,' I answered.

'Do you know to whom the chateau belongs?'

'To the Vicomte de Turenne.'

'And that Mademoiselle de la Vire is his relation?'

'Yes,' I said.

'Mon Dieu!'  he exclaimed again.  And he looked at me open-
mouthed.

'What is the matter?'  I asked, though I had an uneasy
consciousness that I knew--that I knew very well.

'Man, he will crush you as I crush this hat!'  he answered in
great excitement.  'As easily.  Who do you think will protect you
from him in a private quarrel of this kind?  Navarre?  France?
our good man?  Not one of them.  You had better steal the king's
crown jewels--he is weak; or Guise's last plot--he is generous at
times, or Navarre's last sweetheart--he is as easy as an old
shoe.  You had better have to do with all these together, I tell
you, than touch Turenne's ewe-lambs, unless your aim be to be
broken on the wheel!  Mon Dieu, yes!'

'I am much obliged to you for your advice,' I said stiffly, 'but
the die is cast.  My mind is made up.  On the other hand, if you
are afraid, M. Fresnoy--'

'I am afraid; very much afraid,' he answered frankly.

'Still your name need not be brought into the matter,' I replied,
'I will take the responsibility.  I will let them know my name
here at the inn, where, doubtless, inquiries will be made.'

'To be sure, that is something,' he answered.  thoughtfully.
'Well, it is an ugly business, but I am in for it.  You want me
to go with you a little after two, do you?  and the others to be
in the saddle at three?  Is that it?'

I assented, pleased to find him so far acquiescent; and in this
way, talking the details over more than once, we settled our
course, arranging to fly by way of Poitiers and Tours.  Of course
I did not tell him why I selected Blois as our refuge, nor what
was my purpose there; though he pressed me more than once on the
point, and grew thoughtful and somewhat gloomy when I continually
evaded it.  A little after eight we retired to the loft to sleep;
our men remaining below round the fire and snoring so merrily as
almost to shake the crazy old building.  The host was charged to
sit up and call us as soon as the moon rose, but, as it turned
out, I might as well have taken this office on myself, for
between excitement and distrust I slept little, and was wide
awake when I heard his step on the ladder and knew it was time to
rise.

I was up in a moment, and Fresnoy was little behind me; so that,
losing no time in talk, we were mounted and on the road, each
with a spare horse at his knee, before the moon was well above
the trees.  Once in the Chase we found it necessary to proceed on
foot, but, the distance being short, we presently emerged without
misadventure and stood opposite to the chateau, the upper part of
which shone cold and white in the moon's rays.

There was something so solemn in the aspect of the place, the
night being fine and the sky without a cloud, that I stood for a
minute awed and impressed, the sense of the responsibility I was
here to accept strong upon me.  In that short space of time all
the dangers before me, as well the common risks of the road as
the vengeance of Turenne and the turbulence of my own men,
presented themselves to my mind, and made a last appeal to me to
turn back from an enterprise so foolhardy.  The blood in a man's
veins runs low and slow at that hour, and mine was chilled by
lack of sleep and the wintry air.  It needed the remembrance of
my solitary condition, of my past spent in straits and failure,
of the grey hairs which swept my cheek, of the sword which I had
long used honourably, if with little profit to myself; it needed
the thought of all these things to restore me to courage and
myself.

I judged at a later period that my companion was affected in
somewhat the same way; for, as I stooped to press home the pegs
which I had brought to tether the horses, he laid his hand on my
arm.  Glancing up to see what he wanted, I was struck by the wild
look in his face (which the moonlight invested with a peculiar
mottled pallor), and particularly in his eyes, which glittered
like a madman's.  He tried to speak, but seemed to find a
difficulty in doing so; and I had to question him roughly before
he found his tongue.  When he did speak, it was only to implore
me in an odd, excited manner to give up the expedition and
return.

'What, now?'  I said, surprised.  'Now we are here, Fresnoy?'

'Ay, give it up!'  he cried, shaking me almost fiercely by the
arm.  'Give it up, man!  It will end badly, I tell you!  In God's
name, give it up, and go home before worse comes of it.'

'Whatever comes of it,' I answered coldly, shaking his grasp from
my arm, and wondering much at this sudden fit of cowardice, 'I go
on.  You, M. Fresnoy, may do as you please!'

He started and drew back from me; but he did not reply, nor did
he speak again.  When I presently went off to fetch a ladder, of
the position of which I had made a note during the afternoon, he
accompanied me, and followed me back in the same dull silence to
the walk below the balcony.  I had looked more than once and
eagerly at mademoiselle's window without any light or movement in
that quarter rewarding my vigilance; but, undeterred by this,
which might mean either that my plot was known, or that
Mademoiselle de la Vire distrusted me, I set the ladder softly
against the balcony, which was in deep shadow, and paused only to
give Fresnoy his last instructions.  These were simply to stand
on guard at the foot of the ladder and defend it in case of
surprise; so that, whatever happened inside the chateau, my
retreat by the window might not be cut off.

Then I went cautiously up the ladder, and, with my sheathed sword
in my left hand, stepped over the balustrade.  Taking one pace
forward, with fingers outstretched, I felt the leaded panes of
the window and tapped softly.

As softly the casement gave way, and I followed it.  A hand which
I could see but not feel was laid on mine.  All was darkness in
the room, and before me, but the hand guided me two paces
forward, then by a sudden pressure bade me stand.  I heard the
sound of a, curtain being drawn behind me, and the next moment
the cover of a rushlight was removed, and a feeble but sufficient
light filled the chamber.

I comprehended that the drawing of that curtain over the window
had cut off my retreat as effectually as if a door had been
closed behind me.  But distrust and suspicion gave way the next
moment to the natural embarrassment of the man who finds himself
in a false position and knows he can escape from it only by an
awkward explanation.

The room in which I found myself was long, narrow, and low in the
ceiling; and being hung with some dark stuff which swallowed up
the light, terminated funereally at the farther end in the still
deeper gloom of an alcove.  Two or three huge chests, one bearing
the remnants of a meal, stood against the walls.  The middle of
the floor was covered with a strip of coarse matting, on which a
small table, a chair and foot-rest, and a couple of stools had
place, with some smaller articles which lay scattered round a
pair of half-filled saddle-bags.  The slighter and smaller of the
two figures I had seen stood beside the table, wearing a mask and
riding cloak; and by her silent manner of gazing at me, as well
as by a cold, disdainful bearing, which neither her mask nor
cloak could hide, did more to chill and discomfit me than even my
own knowledge that I had lost the pass-key which should have
admitted me to her confidence.

The stouter figure of the afternoon turned out to be a red-
cheeked, sturdy woman of thirty, with bright black eyes and a
manner which lost nothing of its fierce impatience when she came
a little later to address me.  All my ideas of Fanchette were
upset by the appearance of this woman, who, rustic in her speech
and ways, seemed more like a duenna, than the waiting-maid of a
court beauty, and better fitted to guard a wayward damsel than to
aid her in such an escapade as we had in hand.

She stood slightly behind her mistress, her coarse red hand
resting on the back of the chair from which mademoiselle had
apparently risen on my entrance.  For a few seconds, which seemed
minutes to me, we stood gazing at one another in silence,
mademoiselle acknowledging my bow by a slight movement of the
head.  Then, seeing that they waited for me to speak, I did so.

'Mademoiselle de la Vire?'  I murmured doubtfully.

She bent her head again; that was all.

I strove to speak with confidence.  'You will pardon me,
mademoiselle,' I said, 'if I seem to be abrupt, but time is
everything.  The horses are standing within a hundred yards of
the house, and all the preparations for your flight are made.  If
we leave now, we can do so without opposition.  The delay even of
an hour may lead to discovery.'

For answer she laughed behind her mask-laughed coldly and
ironically.  'You go too fast, sir,' she said, her low clear
voice matching the laugh and rousing a feeling almost of anger in
my heart.  'I do not know you; or, rather, I know nothing of you
which should entitle you to interfere in my affairs.  You are too
quick to presume, sir.  You say you come from a friend.  From
whom?'

'From one whom I am proud to call by that title,' I answered with
what patience I might.

'His name!'

I answered firmly that I could not give it.  And I eyed her
steadily as I did so.

This for the moment seemed to baffle and confuse her, but after a
pause she continued:  'Where do you propose to take me, sir?'

'To Blois; to the lodging of a friend of my friend.'

'You speak bravely,' she replied with a faint sneer.  'You have
made some great friends lately it seems!  But you bring me some
letter, no doubt; at least some sign, some token, some warranty,
that you are the person you pretend to be, M. de Marsac?'

'The truth is, Mademoiselle,' I stammered, 'I must explain.  I
should tell you--'

'Nay, sir,' she cried impetuously, 'there is no need of telling.
If you have what I say, show it me!  It is you who lose time.
Let us have no more words!'

I had used very few words, and, God knows, was not in the mind to
use many; but, being in the wrong, I had no answer to make except
the truth, and that humbly.  'I had such a token as you mention,
mademoiselle,' I said, 'no farther back than this afternoon, in
the shape of half a gold coin, entrusted to me by my friend.
But, to my shame I say it, it was stolen from me a few hours
back.'

'Stolen from you!'  she exclaimed.

'Yes, mademoiselle; and for that reason I cannot show it,' I
answered.

'You cannot show it?  And you dare to come to me without it!'
she cried, speaking with a vehemence which fairly startled me,
prepared as I was for reproaches.  You come to me!  You!'  she
continued.  And with that, scarcely stopping to take breath, she
loaded me with abuse; calling me impertinent, a meddler, and a
hundred other things, which I now blush to recall, and displaying
in all a passion which even in her attendant would have surprised
me, but in one so slight and seemingly delicate, overwhelmed and
confounded me.  In fault as I was, I could not understand the
peculiar bitterness she displayed, or the contemptuous force of
her language, and I stared at her in silent wonder until, of her
own accord, she supplied the key to her feelings.  In a fresh
outburst of rage she snatched off her mask, and to my
astonishment I saw before me the young maid of honour whom I had
encountered in the King of Navarre's antechamber, and whom I had
been so unfortunate as to expose to the raillery of Mathurine.

'Who has paid you, sir,' she continued, clenching her small hands
and speaking with tears of anger in her eyes, 'to make me the
laughing-stock of the Court?  It was bad enough when I thought
you the proper agent of those to whom I have a right to look for
aid! It was bad enough when I thought myself forced, through
their inconsiderate choice, to decide between an odious
imprisonment and the ridicule to which your intervention must
expose me!  But that you should have dared, of your own notion,
to follow me, you, the butt of the Court--'

'Mademoiselle!'  I cried.

'A needy, out-at-elbows adventurer!'  she persisted, triumphing
in her cruelty.  'It exceeds all bearing!  It is not to be
suffered! It--'

'Nay, mademoiselle; you SHALL hear me!'  I cried, with a
sternness which at last stopped her.  'Granted I am poor, I am
still a gentleman; yes, mademoiselle,' I continued, firmly, 'a
gentleman, and the last of a family which has spoken with yours
on equal terms.  And I claim to be heard.  I swear that when I
came here to-night I believed you to be a perfect stranger!  I
was unaware that I had ever seen you, unaware that I had ever met
you before,'

'Then why did you come?'  she said viciously.

'I was engaged to come by those whom you have mentioned, and
there, and there only am I in fault.  They entrusted to me a
token which I have lost.  For that I crave your pardon.'

'You have need to,' she answered bitterly, yet with a changed
countenance, or I was mistaken, 'if your story be true, sir.'

'Ay, that you have!'  the woman beside her echoed.

'Hoity toity, indeed!  Here is a fuss about nothing.  You call
yourself a gentleman, and wear such a doublet as--'

'Peace, Fanchette" mademoiselle said imperiously.  And then for a
moment she stood silent, eyeing me intently, her lips trembling
with excitement and two red spots burning in her cheeks.  It was
clear from her dress and other things that she had made up her
mind to fly had the token been forthcoming; and seeing this, and
knowing how unwilling a young girl is to forgo her own way, I
still had some hopes that she might not persevere in her distrust
and refusal.  And so it turned out.

Her manner had changed to one of quiet scorn when she next spoke.
'You defend yourself skilfully, sir,' she said, drumming with her
fingers on the table and eyeing me steadfastly.  'But can you
give me any reason for the person you name making choice of such
a messenger?'

'Yes,' I answered, boldly.  'That he may not be suspected of
conniving at your escape.'

'Oh!'  she cried, with a spark of her former passion.  'Then it
is to be put about that Mademoiselle de la Vire had fled from
Chize with M. de Marsac, is it?  I thought that!'

'Through the assistance of M. de Marsac,' I retorted, correcting
her coldly.  'It is for you, mademoiselle,' I continued, 'to
weigh that disadvantage against the unpleasantness of remaining
here.  It only remains for me to ask you to decide quickly.  Time
presses, and I have stayed here too long already.'

The words had barely passed my lips when they received unwelcome
confirmation in the shape of a distant sound--the noisy closing
of a door, which, clanging through the house at such an hour--I
judged it to be after three o'clock--could scarcely mean
anything but mischief.  This noise was followed immediately, even
while we stood listening with raised fingers, by other sounds--a
muffled cry, and the tramp of heavy footsteps in a distant
passage.  Mademoiselle looked at me, and I at her woman.  'The
door!'  I muttered.  'Is it locked?'

'And bolted!'  Fanchette answered; 'and a great chest set against
it.  Let them ramp; they will do no harm for a bit.'

'Then you have still time, mademoiselle,' I whispered, retreating
a step and laying my hand on the curtain before the window.
Perhaps I affected greater coolness than I felt.  'It is not too
late.  If you choose to remain, well and good.  I cannot help it.
If, on the other hand, you decide to trust yourself to me, I
swear, on the honour of a gentleman, to be worthy of the trust--
to serve you truly and protect you to the last!  I can say no
more.'

She trembled, looking from me to the door, on which some one had
just begun to knock loudly.  That seemed to decide her.  Her lips
apart, her eyes full of excitement, she turned hastily to
Fanchette.

'Ay, go if you like,' the woman answered doggedly, reading the
meaning of her look.  'There cannot be a greater villain than the
one we know of.  But once started, heaven help us, for if he
overtakes us we'll pay dearly for it!'

The girl did not speak herself, but it was enough.  The noise at
the door increased each second, and began to be mingled with
angry appeals to Fanchette to open, and with threats in case she
delayed.  I cut the matter short by snatching up one of the
saddle-bags--the other we left behind--and flung back the curtain
which covered the window.  At the same time the woman dashed out
the light--a timely precaution--and throwing open the casement I
stepped on to the balcony, the others following me closely.

The moon had risen high, and flooding with light the small open
space about the house enabled me to see clearly all round the
foot of the ladder, to my surprise Fresnoy was not at his post,
nor was he to be seen anywhere; but as, at the moment I observed
this, an outcry away to my left, at the rear of the chateau, came
to my ears, and announced that the danger was no longer confined
to the interior of the house, I concluded that he had gone that
way to intercept the attack.  Without more, therefore, I began to
descend as quickly as I could, my sword under one arm and the bag
under the other.

I was half-way down, and mademoiselle was already stepping on to
the ladder to follow, when I heard footsteps below, and saw him
run up, his sword in his hand.

'Quick, Fresnoy!'  I cried.  'To the horses and unfasten them!
quick!'

I slid down the rest of the way, thinking he had gone to do my
bidding.  But my feet were scarcely on the ground when a
tremendous blow in the side sent me staggering three paces from
the ladder.  The attack was so sudden, so unexpected, that but
for the sight of Fresnoy's scowling face, wild with rage, at my
shoulder, and the sound of his fierce breathing as he strove to
release his sword, which had passed through my saddle-bag, I
might never have known who struck the blow, or how narrow had
been my escape.

Fortunately the knowledge did come to me in time, and before he
freed his blade; and it nerved my hand.  To draw my-blade at such
close quarters was impossible, but, dropping the bag which had
saved my life, I dashed my hilt twice in his face with such
violence that he fell backwards and lay on the turf, a dark stain
growing and spreading on his upturned face.

It was scarcely done before the women reached the foot of the
ladder and stood beside me.  'Quick!'  I cried to them, 'or they
will be upon us.'  Seizing mademoiselle's hand, just as half-a-
dozen men came running round the corner of the house, I jumped
with her down the haha, and, urging her to her utmost speed,
dashed across the open ground which lay between us and the belt
of trees.  Once in the shelter of the latter, where our movements
were hidden from view, I had still to free the horses and mount
mademoiselle and her woman, and this in haste.  But my
companions' admirable coolness and presence of mind, and the
objection which our pursuers, who did not know our numbers, felt
to leaving the open ground, enabled us to do all with,
comparative ease.  I sprang on the Cid (it has always been my
habit to teach my horse to stand for me, nor do I know any
accomplishment more serviceable at a pinch), and giving Fresnoy's
grey a cut over the flanks which despatched it ahead, led the way
down the ride by which I had gained the chateau in the afternoon.
I knew it to be level and clear of trees, and the fact that we
chose it might throw our pursuers off the track for a time, by
leading them to think we had taken the south road instead of that
through the village.



CHAPTER V.

THE ROAD TO BLOIS.

We gained the road without let or hindrance, whence a sharp burst
in the moonlight soon brought us to the village.  Through this we
swept on to the inn, almost running over the four evangelists,
whom we found standing at the door ready for the saddle.  I bade
them, in a quick peremptory tone, to get to horse, and was
overjoyed to see them obey without demur or word of Fresnoy.  In
another minute, with a great clatter of hoofs, we sprang clear of
the hamlet, and were well on the road to Melle, with Poitiers
some thirteen leagues before us.  I looked back, and thought I
discerned lights moving in the direction of the chateau; but the
dawn was still two hours off, and the moonlight left me in doubt
whether these were real or the creatures of my own fearful fancy.

I remember, three years before this time, on the occasion of the
famous retreat from Angers--when the Prince of Conde had involved
his army beyond the Loire, and saw himself, in the impossibility
of recrossing the river, compelled to take ship for England,
leaving every one to shift for himself--I well remember on that
occasion riding, alone and pistol in hand, through more than
thirty miles of the enemy's country without drawing rein.  But my
anxieties were then confined to the four shoes of my horse.  The
dangers to which I was exposed at every ford and cross road were
such as are inseparable from a campaign, and breed in generous
hearts only a fierce pleasure, rarely to be otherwise enjoyed.
And though I then rode warily, and where I could not carry
terror, had all to fear myself, there was nothing secret or
underhand in my business.

It was very different now.  During the first few hours of our
flight from Chize I experienced a painful excitement, an alarm, a
feverish anxiety to get forward, which was new to me; which
oppressed my spirits to the very ground; which led me to take
every sound borne to us on the wind for the sound of pursuit,
transforming the clang of a hammer on the anvil into the ring of
swords, and the voices of my own men into those of the pursuers.
It was in vain mademoiselle rode with a free hand, and leaping
such obstacles as lay in our way, gave promise of courage and
endurance beyond my expectations.  I could think of nothing but
the three long day's before us, with twenty-four hours to every
day, and each hour fraught with a hundred chances of disaster and
ruin.

In fact, the longer I considered our position--and as we pounded
along, now splashing through a founderous hollow, now stumbling
as we wound over a stony shoulder, I had ample time to reflect
upon it--the greater seemed the difficulties before us.  The loss
of Fresnoy, while it freed me from some embarrassment, meant also
the loss of a good sword, and we had mustered only too few
before.  The country which lay between us and the Loire, being
the borderland between our party and the League, had been laid
desolate so often as to be abandoned to pillage and disorder of
every kind.  The peasants had flocked into the towns.  Their
places had been taken by bands of robbers and deserters from both
parties, who haunted the ruined villages about Poitiers, and
preyed upon all who dared to pass.  To add to our perils, the
royal army under the Duke of Nevers was reported to be moving
slowly southward, not very far to the left of our road; while a
Huguenot expedition against Niort was also in progress within a
few leagues of us.

With four staunch and trustworthy comrades at my back, I might
have faced even this situation with a smile and a light heart;
but the knowledge that my four knaves might mutiny at any moment,
or, worse still, rid themselves of me and all restraint by a
single treacherous blow such as Fresnoy had aimed at me, filled
me with an ever-present dread; which it taxed my utmost energies
to hide from them, and which I strove in vain to conceal from
mademoiselle's keener vision.

Whether it was this had an effect upon her, giving her a meaner
opinion of me than that which I had for a while hoped she
entertained, or that she began, now it was too late, to regret
her flight and resent my part in it, I scarcely know; but from
daybreak onwards she assumed an attitude of cold suspicion
towards me, which was only less unpleasant than the scornful
distance of her manner when she deigned, which was seldom, to
address me.

Not once did she allow me to forget that I was in her eyes a
needy adventurer, paid by her friends to escort her to a place of
safety, but without any claim to the smallest privilege of
intimacy or equality.  When I would have adjusted her saddle, she
bade her woman come and hold up her skirt, that my hands might
not touch its hem even by accident.  And when I would have
brought wine to her at Melle, where we stayed for twenty
minutes, she called Fanchette to hand it to her.  She rode for
the most part in her mask; and with her woman.  One good effect
only her pride and reserve had; they impressed our men with a
strong sense of her importance, and the danger to which any
interference with her might expose them.

The two men whom Fresnoy had enlisted I directed to ride a score
of paces in advance.  Luke and John I placed in the rear.  In
this manner I thought to keep them somewhat apart.  For myself, I
proposed to ride abreast of mademoiselle, but she made it so
clear that my neighbourhood displeased her that I fell back,
leaving her to ride with Fanchette; and contented myself with
plodding at their heels, and striving to attach the later
evangelists to my interests.

We were so fortunate, despite my fears, as to find the road
nearly deserted--as, alas, was much of the country on either
side--and to meet none but small parties travelling along it; who
were glad enough, seeing the villainous looks of our outriders,
to give us a wide berth, and be quit of us for the fright.  We
skirted Lusignan, shunning the streets, but passing near enough
for me to point out to mademoiselle the site of the famous tower
built, according to tradition, by the fairy Melusina, and rased
thirteen years back by the Leaguers.  She received my information
so frigidly, however, that I offered no more, but fell back
shrugging my shoulders, and rode in silence, until, some two
hours after noon, the city of Poitiers came into sight, lying
within its circle of walls and towers on a low hill in the middle
of a country clothed in summer with rich vineyards, but now brown
and bare and cheerless to the eye.

Fanchette turned and asked me abruptly if that were Poitiers.

I answered that it was, but added that for certain reasons I
proposed not to halt, but to lie at a village a league beyond the
city, where there was a tolerable inn.

'We shall do very well here,' the woman answered rudely.  'Any
way, my lady will go no farther.  She is tired and cold, and wet
besides, and has gone far enough.'

'Still,' I answered, nettled by the woman's familiarity, 'I think
mademoiselle will change her mind when she hears my reasons for
going farther.'

'Mademoiselle does not wish to hear them, sir,' the lady replied
herself, and very sharply.

'Nevertheless, I think you had better hear them,' I persisted,
turning to her respectfully.  'You see, mademoiselle--'

'I see only one thing, sir,' she exclaimed, snatching off her
mask and displaying a countenance beautiful indeed, but flushed
for the moment with anger and impatience, 'that, whatever
betides, I stay at Poitiers to-night.'

'If it would content you to rest an hour?'  I suggested gently.

'It will not content me!'  she rejoined with spirit.  'And let me
tell you, sir,' she went on impetuously, 'once for all, that you
take too much upon yourself.  You are here to escort me, and to
give orders to these ragamuffins, for they are nothing better,
with whom you have thought fit to disgrace our company; but not
to give orders to me or to control my movements.  Confine
yourself for the future, sir, to your duties, if you please.'

'I desire only to obey you,' I answered, suppressing the angry
feelings which rose in my breast, and speaking as coolly as lay
in my power.  'But, as the first of my duties is to provide for
your safety, I am determined to omit nothing which can conduce to
that end.  You have not considered that, if a party in pursuit of
us reaches Poitiers to-night, search will be made for us in the
city, and we shall be taken.  If, on the other hand, we are known
to have passed through, the hunt may go no farther; certainly
will go no farther to-night.  Therefore we must not,
mademoiselle,' I added firmly, 'lie in Poitiers to-night.'

'Sir,' she exclaimed, looking at me, her face crimson with wonder
and indignation, 'do you dare to--?'

'I dare do my duty, mademoiselle,' I answered, plucking up a
spirit, though my heart was sore.  'I am a man old enough to be
your father, and with little to lose, or I had not been here.  I
care nothing what you think or what you say of me, provided I can
do what I have undertaken to do and place you safely in the hands
of your friends.  But enough, mademoiselle, we are at the gate.
If you will permit me, I will ride through the streets beside
you.  We shall so attract less attention.'

Without waiting for a permission which she was very unlikely to
give, I pushed my horse forward, and took my place beside her,
signing to Fanchette to fall back.  The maid obeyed, speechless
with indignation; while mademoiselle flashed a scathing glance at
me and looked round in helpless anger, as though it was in her
mind to appeal against me even to the passers-by.  But she
thought better of it, and contenting herself with muttering the
word 'Impertinent' put on her mask with fingers which trembled, I
fancy, not a little.

A small rain was falling and the afternoon was well advanced when
we entered the town, but I noticed that, notwithstanding this,
the streets presented a busy and animated appearance, being full
of knots of people engaged in earnest talk.  A bell was tolling
somewhere, and near the cathedral a crowd of no little size was
standing, listening to a man who seemed to be rending a placard
or manifesto attached to the wall.  In another place a soldier,
wearing the crimson colours of the League, but splashed and
stained as with recent travel, was holding forth to a breathless
circle who seemed to hang upon his lips.  A neighbouring corner
sheltered a handful of priests who whispered together with gloomy
faces.  Many stared at us as we passed, and some would have
spoken; but I rode steadily on, inviting no converse.
Nevertheless at the north gate I got a rare fright; for, though
it wanted a full half-hour of sunset, the porter was in the act
of closing it.  Seeing us, he waited grumbling until we came up,
and then muttered, in answer to my remonstrance, something about
queer times and wilful people having their way.  I took little
notice of what he said, however, being anxious only to get
through the gate and leave as few traces of our passage as might
be.

As soon as we were outside the town I fell back, permitting
Fanchette to take my place.  For another league, a long and
dreary one, we plodded on in silence, horses and men alike jaded
and sullen, and the women scarcely able to keep their saddles for
fatigue.  At last, much to my relief, seeing that I began to fear
I had taxed mademoiselle's strength too far, the long low
buildings of the inn at which I proposed to stay came in sight,
at the crossing of the road and river.  The place looked blank
and cheerless, for the dusk was thickening; but as we trailed one
by one into the courtyard a stream of firelight burst on us from
doors and windows, and a dozen sounds of life and comfort greeted
our ears.

Noticing that mademoiselle was benumbed and cramped with long
sitting, I would have helped her to dismount; but she fiercely
rejected my aid, and I had to content myself with requesting the
landlord to assign the best accommodation he had to the lady and
her attendant, and secure as much privacy for them as possible.
The man assented very civilly and said all should be done; but I
noticed that his eyes wandered while I talked, and that he seemed
to have something on his mind.  When he returned, after disposing
of them, it came out.

'Did you ever happen to see him, sir?'  he asked with a sigh; yet
was there a smug air of pleasure mingled with his melancholy.

'See whom?'  I answered, staring at him, for neither of us had
mentioned any one.

'The Duke, sir.'

I stared again between wonder and suspicion.  'The Duke of Nevers
is not in this part, is he?'  I said slowly.  'I heard he was on
the Brittany border, away to the westward.'

'Mon Dieu!'  my host exclaimed, raising his hands in
astonishment. 'You have not heard, sir?'

'I have heard nothing,' I answered impatiently.

'You have not heard, sir, that the most puissant and illustrious
lord the Duke of Guise is dead?'

'M. de Guise dead?  It is not true!'  I cried astonished.

He nodded, however, several times with an air of great
importance, and seemed as if he would have gone on to give me
some particulars.  But, remembering, as I fancied, that he spoke
in the hearing of half-a-dozen guests who sat about the great
fire behind me, and had both eyes and ears open, he contented
himself with shifting his towel to his other arm and adding only,
'Yes, sir, dead as any nail.  The news came through here
yesterday, and made a pretty stir.  It happened at Blois the day
but one before Christmas, if all be true.'

I was thunderstruck.  This was news which might change the face
of France.  'How did it happen?'  I asked.

My host covered his mouth with his hand and coughed, and, privily
twitching my sleeve, gave me to understand with some
shamefacedness that he could not say more in public.  I was about
to make some excuse to retire with him, when a harsh voice,
addressed apparently to me, caused me to turn sharply.  I found
at my elbow a tall thin-faced monk in the habit of the Jacobin
order.  He had risen from his seat beside the fire, and seemed to
be labouring under great excitement.

'Who asked how it happened?'  he cried, rolling his eyes in a
kind of frenzy, while still observant, or I was much mistaken, of
his listeners.  Is there a man in France to whom the tale has not
been told?  Is there?'

'I will answer for one,' I replied, regarding him with little
favour.  'I have heard nothing.'

'Then you shall!  Listen!'  he exclaimed, raising his right hand
and brandishing it as though he denounced a person then present.
'Hear my accusation, made in the name of Mother Church and the
saints against the arch hypocrite, the perjurer and assassin
sitting in high places!  He shall be Anathema Maranatha, for he
has shed the blood of the holy and the pure, the chosen of
Heaven!  He shall go down to the pit, and that soon.  The blood
that he has shed shall be required of him, and that before he is
one year older.'

'Tut-tut.  All that sounds very fine, good father,' I said,
waxing impatient, and a little scornful; for I saw that he was
one of those wandering and often crazy monks in whom the League
found their most useful emissaries.  'But I should profit more by
your gentle words, if I knew whom you were cursing.'

'The man of blood!'  he cried; 'through whom the last but not the
least of God's saints and martyrs entered into glory on the
Friday before Christmas.'

Moved by such profanity, and judging him, notwithstanding the
extravagance of his words and gestures, to be less mad than he
seemed, and at least as much knave as fool, I bade him sternly
have done with his cursing, and proceed to his story if he had
one.

He glowered at me for a moment, as though he were minded to
launch his spiritual weapons at my head; but as I returned his
glare with an unmoved eye--and my four rascals, who were as
impatient as myself to learn the news, and had scarce more
reverence for a shaven crown, began to murmur--he thought better
of it, and cooling as suddenly as he had flamed up, lost no more
time in satisfying our curiosity.

It would ill become me, however, to set down the extravagant and
often blasphemous harangue in which, styling M. de Guise the
martyr of God, he told the story now so familiar--the story of
that dark wintry morning at Blois, when the king's messenger,
knocking early at the duke's door, bade him hurry, for the king
wanted him.  The story is trite enough now.  When I heard it
first in the inn on the Clain, it was all new and all marvellous.

The monk, too, telling the story as if he had seen the events
with his own eyes, omitted nothing which might impress his
hearers.  He told us how the duke received warning after warning,
and answered in the very antechamber, 'He dare not!'  How his
blood, mysteriously advised of coming dissolution, grew chill,
and his eye, wounded at Chateau Thierry, began to run, so that he
had to send for the handkerchief he had forgotten to bring.  He
told us, even, how the duke drew his assassins up and down the
chamber, how he cried for mercy, and how he died at last at the
foot of the king's bed, and how the king, who had never dared to
face him living, came and spurned him dead!

There were pale faces round the fire when he ceased, and bent
brows and lips hard pressed together.  Then he stood and cursed
the King of France--cursing him openly by the name of Henry of
Valois, a thing I had never looked to hear in France--though no
one said 'Amen,' and all glanced over their shoulders, and our
host pattered from the room as if he had seen a ghost, it seemed
to be no man's duty to gainsay him.

For myself, I was full of thoughts which it would have been
unsafe to utter in that company or so near the Loire.  I looked
back sixteen years.  Who but Henry of Guise had spurned the
corpse of Coligny?  And who but Henry of Valois had backed him in
the act?  Who but Henry of Guise had drenched Paris with blood,
and who but Henry of Valois had ridden by his side?  One 23rd of
the month--a day never to be erased from France's annals--had
purchased for him a term of greatness.  A second 23rd saw him,
pay the price--saw his ashes cast secretly and by night no man
knows where!

Moved by such thoughts, and observing that the priest was going
the round of the company collecting money for masses for the
duke's soul, to which object I could neither give with a good
conscience nor refuse without exciting suspicion, I slipped out;
and finding a man of decent appearance talking with the landlord
in a small room beside the kitchen, I called for a flask of the
best wine, and by means of that introduction obtained my supper
in their company.

The stranger was a Norman horsedealer, returning home, after
disposing of his string.  He seemed to be in a large way of
business, and being of a bluff, independent spirit, as many of
those Norman townsmen are, was inclined at first to treat me with
more familiarity than respect; the fact of my nag, for which he
would have chaffered, excelling my coat in quality, leading him
to set me down as a steward or intendant.  The pursuit of his
trade, however, had brought him into connection with all classes
of men and he quickly perceived his mistake; and as he knew the
provinces between the Seine and Loire to perfection, and made it
part of his business to foresee the chances of peace and war, I
obtained a great amount of information from him, and indeed
conceived no little liking for him.  He believed that the
assassination of M. de Guise would alienate so much of France
from the king that his majesty would have little left save the
towns on the Loire, and some other places lying within easy reach
of his court at Blois.

'But,' I said,'things seem quiet now.  Here, for instance.'

'It is the calm before the storm,' he answered.  'There is a monk
in there.  Have you heard him?'

I nodded.

'He is only one among a hundred--a thousand,' the horsedealer
continued, looking at me and nodding with meaning.  He was a
brown-haired man with shrewd grey eyes, such as many Normans
have.  'They will get their way too, you will see,' he went on.
'Well, horses will go up, so I have no cause to grumble; but, if
I were on my way to Blois with women or gear of that kind, I
should not choose this time for picking posies on the road.  I
should see the inside of the gates as soon as possible.'

I thought there was much in what he said; and when he went on to
maintain that the king would find himself between the hammer and
the anvil--between the League holding all the north and the
Huguenots holding all the south--and must needs in time come to
terms with the latter seeing that the former would rest content
with nothing short of his deposition, I began to agree with him
that we should shortly see great changes and very stirring times.

'Still if they depose the king,' I said, 'the King of Navarre
must succeed him.  He is the heir of France.'

'Bah!'  my companion replied somewhat contemptuously.  'The
League will see to that.  He goes with the other.'

'Then the kings are in one cry, and you are right,' I said with
conviction.  'They must unite.'

'So they will.  It is only a question of time,' he said.

In the morning, having only one man with him, and, as I guessed,
a considerable sum of money, he volunteered to join our party as
far as Blois.  I assented gladly, and he did so, this addition to
our numbers ridding me at once of the greater part of my fears.
I did not expect any opposition on the part of mademoiselle, who
would gain in consequence as well as in safety.  Nor did she
offer any.  She was content, I think, to welcome any addition to
our party which would save her from the necessity of riding in
the company of my old cloak.



CHAPTER VI.

MY MOTHER'S LODGING.

Travelling by way of Chatelherault and Tours, we reached the
neighbourhood of Blois a little after noon on the third day
without misadventure or any intimation of pursuit.  The Norman
proved himself a cheerful companion on the road, as I already
knew him to be a man of sense and shrewdness while his presence
rendered the task of keeping my men in order an easy one.  I
began to consider the adventure as practically achieved; and
regarding Mademoiselle de la Vire as already in effect
transferred to the care of M. de Rosny, I ventured to turn my
thoughts to the development of my own plans and the choice of a
haven in which I might rest secure from the vengeance of M. de
Turenne.

For the moment I had evaded his pursuit, and, assisted by the
confusion caused everywhere by the death of Guise had succeeded
in thwarting his plans and affronting his authority with seeming
ease.  But I knew too much of his power and had heard too many
instances of his fierce temper and resolute will to presume on
short impunity or to expect the future with anything but
diffidence and dismay.

The exclamations of my companions on coming within sight of Blois
aroused me from these reflections.  I joined them, and fully
shared their emotion as I gazed on the stately towers which had
witnessed so many royal festivities, and, alas!  one royal
tragedy; which had sheltered Louis the Well-beloved and Francis
the Great, and rung with the laughter of Diana of Poitiers and
the second Henry.  The play of fancy wreathed the sombre building
with a hundred memories grave and gay.  But, though the rich
plain of the Loire still swelled upward as of old in gentle
homage at the feet of the gallant town, the shadow of crime
seemed to darken all, and dim even the glories of the royal
standard which hung idly in the air.

We had heard so many reports of the fear and suspicion which
reigned in the city and of the strict supervision which was
exercised over all who entered--the king dreading a repetition of
the day of the Barricades--that we halted at a little inn a mile
short of the gate and broke up our company.  I parted from my
Norman friend with mutual expressions of esteem, and from my own
men, whom I had paid off in the morning, complimenting each of
them with a handsome present, with a feeling of relief equally
sincere.  I hoped--but the hope was not fated to be gratified
--that I might never see the knaves again.

It wanted less than an hour of sunset when I rode up to the gate,
a few paces in front of mademoiselle and her woman; as if I had
really been the intendant for whom the horse-dealer had mistaken
me.  We found the guardhouse lined with soldiers, who scanned us
very narrowly as we approached, and whose stern features and
ordered weapons showed that they were not there for mere effect.
The fact, however, that we came from Tours, a city still in the
king's hands, served to allay suspicion, and we passed without
accident.

Once in the streets, and riding in single file between the
houses, to the windows of which the townsfolk seemed to be
attracted by the slightest commotion, so full of terror was the
air, I experienced a moment of huge relief.  This was Blois--
Blois at last.  We were within a few score yards of the Bleeding
Heart.  In a few minutes I should receive a quittance, and be
free to think only of myself.

Nor was my pleasure much lessened by the fact that I was so soon
to part from Mademoiselle de la Vire.  Frankly, I was far from
liking her.  Exposure to the air of a court had spoiled, it
seemed to me, whatever graces of disposition the young lady had
ever possessed.  She still maintained, and had maintained
throughout the journey, the cold and suspicious attitude assumed
at starting; nor had she ever expressed the least solicitude on
my behalf, or the slightest sense that we were incurring danger
in her service.  She had not scrupled constantly to prefer her
whims to the common advantage, and even safety; while her sense
of self-importance had come to be so great, that she seemed to
hold herself exempt from the duty of thanking any human creature.
I could not deny that she was beautiful--indeed, I often thought,
when watching her, of the day when I had seen her in the King of
Navarre's antechamber in all the glory of her charms.  But I felt
none the less that I could turn my back on her--leaving her in
safety--without regret; and be thankful that her path would never
again cross mine.

With such thoughts in my breast I turned the corner of the Rue de
St. Denys and came at once upon the Bleeding Heart, a small but
decent-looking hostelry situate near the end of the street and
opposite a church.  A bluff grey-haired man, who was standing in
the doorway, came forward as we halted, and looking curiously at
mademoiselle asked what I lacked; adding civilly that the house
was full and they had no sleeping room, the late events having
drawn a great assemblage to Blois.

'I want only an address,' I answered, leaning from the saddle and
speaking in a low voice that I might not be overheard by the
passers-by.  'The Baron de Rosny is in Blois, is he not?'

The man started at the name of the Huguenot leader, and looked
round him nervously.  But, seeing that no one was very near us,
he answered:  'He was, sir; but he left town a week ago and more.
'There have been strange doings here, and M. de Rosny thought
that the climate suited him ill.'

He said this with so much meaning, as well as concern that he
should not be overheard, that, though I was taken aback and
bitterly disappointed, I succeeded in restraining all
exclamations and even show of feeling.  After a pause of dismay,
I asked whither M. de Rosny had gone.

'To Rosny,' was the answer.

'And Rosny?'

'Is beyond Chartres, pretty well all the way to Mantes,' the man
answered, stroking my horse's neck.  'Say thirty leagues.'

I turned my horse, and hurriedly communicated what he said to
mademoiselle, who was waiting a few paces away.  Unwelcome to me,
the news was still less welcome to her.  Her chagrin and
indignation knew no bounds.  For a moment words failed her, but
her flashing eyes said more than her tongue as she cried to me:
'Well, sir, and what now?  Is this the end of your fine promises?
Where is your Rosny, if all be not a lying invention of your
own?'

Feeling that she had some excuse I suppressed my choler, and
humbly repeating that Rosny was at his house, two days farther
on, and that I could see nothing for it but to go to him, I asked
the landlord where we could find a lodging for the night.

'Indeed, sir, that is more than I can say,' he answered, looking
curiously at us, and thinking, I doubt not, that with my shabby
cloak and fine horse, and mademoiselle's mask and spattered
riding-coat, we were an odd couple.  'There is not an inn which
is not full to the garrets--nay, and the stables; and, what is
more, people are chary of taking strangers in.  These are strange
times.  They say,' be continued in a lower tone, 'that the old
queen is dying up there, and will not last the night.'

I nodded.  'We must go somewhere' I said.

'I would help you if I could,' he answered, shrugging his
shoulders.  'But there it is!  Blois is full from the tiles to
the cellars.'

My horse shivered under me, and mademoiselle, whose patience was
gone, cried harshly to me to do something.  'We cannot spend the
night in the streets,' she said fiercely.

I saw that she was worn out and scarcely mistress of herself.
The light was falling, and with it some rain.  The reek of the
kennels and the close air from the houses seemed to stifle us.
The bell at the church behind us was jangling out vespers.  A few
people, attracted by the sight of our horses standing before the
inn, had gathered round and were watching us.

Something I saw must be done, and done quickly.  In despair, and
seeing no other resort, I broached a proposal of which I had not
hitherto even dreamed.  'Mademoiselle,' I said bluntly, 'I must
take you to my mother's.'

'To your mother's, sir?'  she cried, rousing herself.  Her voice
rang with haughty surprise.

'Yes,' I replied brusquely; 'since, as you say, we cannot spend
the night in the streets, and I do not know where else I can
dispose of you.  From the last advices I had I believe her to
have followed the court hither.  My friend,' I continued, turning
to the landlord, 'do you know by name a Madame de Bonne, who
should be in Blois?'

'A Madame de Bonne!'  he muttered, reflecting.  'I have heard the
name lately.  Wait a moment.'  Disappearing into the house, he
returned almost immediately, followed by a lanky pale-faced youth
wearing a tattered black soutane.  'Yes,' he said nodding, 'there
is a worthy lady of that name lodging in the next street, I am
told.  As it happens, this young man lives in the same house, and
will guide you, if you like.'

I assented, and, thanking him for his information, turned my
horse and requested the youth to lead the way.  We had scarcely
passed the corner of the street, however, and entered one
somewhat more narrow and less frequented, when mademoiselle, who
was riding behind me, stopped and called to me.  I drew rein,
and, turning, asked what it was.

'I am not coming,' she said, her voice trembling slightly, but
whether with alarm or anger I could not determine.  'I know
nothing of you, and I--I demand to be taken to M. de Rosny.'

'If you cry that name aloud in the streets of Blois,
mademoiselle,' I retorted, 'you are like enough to be taken
whither you will not care to go!  As for M. de Rosny, I have told
you that he is not here.  He has gone to his seat at Mantes.'

'Then take me to him!'

'At this hour of the night?'  I said drily.  'It is two days'
journey from here.'

'Then I will go to an inn,' she replied sullenly.

'You have heard that there is no room in the inns ' I rejoined
with what patience I could.  'And to go from inn to inn at this
hour might lead us into trouble.  I can assure you that I am as
much taken aback by M. de Rosny's absence as you are.  For the
present, we are close to my mother's lodging, and--'

'I know nothing of your mother!'  she exclaimed passionately, her
voice raised.  'You have enticed me hither by false pretences,
sir, and I will endure it no longer.  I will--'

'What you will do, I do not know then, mademoiselle,' I replied,
quite at my wits' end; for what with the rain and the darkness,
the unknown streets--in which our tarrying might at any moment
collect a crowd--and this stubborn girl's opposition, I knew not
whither to turn.  'For my part I can suggest nothing else.  It
does not become me to speak of my mother,' I continued, 'or I
might say that even Mademoiselle de la Vire need not be ashamed
to accept the hospitality of Madame de Bonne.  Nor are my
mother's circumstances,' I added proudly, 'though narrow, so mean
as to deprive her of the privileges of her birth.'

My last words appeared to make some impression upon my companion.
She turned and spoke to her woman, who replied in a low voice,
tossing her head the while and glaring at me in speechless
indignation.  Had there been anything else for it, they would
doubtless have flouted my offer still; but apparently Fanchette
could suggest nothing, and presently mademoiselle, with a sullen
air, bade me lead on.

Taking this for permission, the lanky youth in the black soutane,
who had remained at my bridle throughout the discussion, now
listening and now staring, nodded and resumed his way; and I
followed.  After proceeding a little more than fifty yards he
stopped before a mean-looking doorway, flanked by grated windows,
and fronted by a lofty wall which I took to be the back of some
nobleman's garden.  The street at this point was unlighted, and
little better than an alley; nor was the appearance of the house,
which was narrow and ill-looking, though lofty, calculated, as
far as I could make it out is the darkness, to allay
mademoiselle's suspicions.  Knowing, however, that people of
position are often obliged in towns to lodge in poor houses, I
thought nothing of this, and only strove to get mademoiselle
dismounted as quickly as possible.  The lad groped about and
found two rings beside the door, and to these I tied up the
horses.  Then, bidding him lead the way, and begging mademoiselle
to follow, I plunged into the darkness of the passage and felt my
way to the foot of the staircase, which was entirely unlighted,
and smelled close and unpleasant.

'Which floor?'  I asked my guide.

'The fourth,' he answered quietly.

'Morbleu!'  I muttered, as I began to ascend, my hand on the
wall. 'What is the meaning of this?'

For I was perplexed.  The revenues of Marsac, though small,
should have kept; my mother, whom I had last seen in Paris before
the Nemours edict, in tolerable comfort--such modest comfort, at
any rate, as could scarcely be looked for in such a house as
this--obscure, ill-tended, unlighted.  To my perplexity was
added, before I reached the top of the stairs, disquietude--
disquietude on her account as well as on mademoiselle's.  I felt
that something was wrong, and would have given much to recall the
invitation I had pressed on the latter.

What the young lady thought herself I could pretty well guess, as
I listened to her hurried breathing at my shoulder.  With every
step I expected her to refuse to go farther.  But, having once
made up her mind, she followed me stubbornly, though the darkness
was such that involuntarily I loosened my dagger, and prepared to
defend myself should this turn out to be a trap.

We reached the top, however, without accident.  Our guide knocked
softly at a door and immediately opened it without waiting for an
answer.  A feeble light shone out on the stair-head, and bending
my head, for the lintel was low, I stepped into the room.

I advanced two paces and stood looking about me in angry
bewilderment.  The bareness of extreme poverty marked everything
on which my eyes rested.  A cracked earthenware lamp smoked and
sputtered on a stool in the middle of the rotting floor.  An old
black cloak nailed to the wall, and flapping to and fro in the
draught like some dead gallowsbird, hung in front of the unglazed
window.  A jar in a corner caught the drippings from a hole in
the roof.  An iron pot and a second stool--the latter casting a
long shadow across the floor--stood beside the handful of wood
ashes, which smouldered on the hearth.  And that was all the
furniture I saw, except a bed which filled the farther end of the
long narrow room, and was curtained off so as to form a kind of
miserable alcove.

A glance sufficed to show me all this, and that the room was
empty, or apparently empty.  Yet I looked again and again,
stupefied.  At last finding my voice, I turned to the young man
who had brought us hither, and with a fierce oath demanded of him
what he meant.

He shrank back behind the open door, and yet; answered with a
kind of sullen surprise that I had asked for Madame de Bonne's,
and this was it.

'Madame de Bonne's!'  I muttered.  'This Madame de Bonne's!'

He nodded.

'Of course it is!  And you know it!'  mademoiselle hissed in my
ear, her voice, as she interposed, hoarse with passion.  'Don't
think that you can deceive us any longer.  We know all!  This,'
she continued, looking round, her cheeks scarlet, her eyes ablaze
with scorn, 'is your mother's, is it!  Your mother who has
followed the court hither--whose means are narrow, but not so
small as to deprive her of the privileges of her rank!  This is
your mother's hospitality, is it?  You are a cheat, sir!  and a
detected cheat!  Let us begone!  Let me go, sir, I say!'

Twice I had tried to stop the current of her words; but in vain.
Now with anger which surpassed hers a hundredfold--for who, being
a man, would hear himself misnamed before his mother?--I
succeeded, 'Silence, mademoiselle!'  I cried, my grasp on her
wrist.  'Silence, I say!  This is my mother!'

And running forward to the bed, I fell on my knees beside it.  A
feeble hand had half withdrawn the curtain, and through the gap
my mother's stricken face looked out, a great fear stamped upon
it.



CHAPTER VII.

SIMON FLEIX.

For some minutes I forgot mademoiselle in paying those assiduous
attentions to my mother which her state and my duty demanded; and
which I offered the more anxiously that I recognised, with a
sinking heart, the changes which age and illness had made in her
since my last visit.  The shock of mademoiselle's words had
thrown her into a syncope, from which she did not recover for
some time; and then rather through the assistance of our strange
guide, who seemed well aware what to do, than through my efforts.
Anxious as I was to learn what had reduced her to such straits
and such a place, this was not the time to satisfy my curiosity,
and I prepared myself instead for the task of effacing the
painful impression which mademoiselle's words had made on her
mind.

On first coming to herself she did not remember them, but,
content to find me by her side--for there is something so
alchemic in a mother's love that I doubt not my presence changed
her garret to a palace--she spent herself in feeble caresses and
broken words.  Presently, however, her eye falling on
mademoiselle and her maid, who remained standing by the hearth,
looking darkly at us from time to time, she recalled, first the
shock which had prostrated her, and then its cause, and raising
herself on her elbow, looked about her wildly.  'Gaston!'  she
cried, clutching my hand with her thin fingers, 'what was it I
heard?  It was of you someone spoke--a woman!  She called you--or
did I dream it?--a cheat!  You!'

'Madame, madame,' I said, striving to speak carelessly, though
the sight; of her grey hair, straggling and dishevelled, moved me
strangely, 'was it; likely?  Would anyone dare to use such
expressions of me is your presence?  You must indeed have dreamed
it!'

The words, however, returning more and more vividly to her mind,
she looked at me very pitifully, and in great agitation laid her
arm on my neck, as though she would shelter me with the puny
strength which just enabled her to rise in bed.  'But someone,'
she muttered, her eyes on the strangers, 'said it, Gaston?  I
heard it.  What did it mean?'

'What you heard, madame,' I answered, with an attempt at gaiety,
though the tears stood in my eyes, 'was, doubtless, mademoiselle
here scolding our guide from Tours, who demanded three times the
proper POURBOIRE.  The impudent rascal deserved all that was said
to him, I assure you.'

'Was that it?'  she murmured doubtfully.

'That must have been what you heard, madame,' I answered, as if I
felt no doubt.

She fell back with a sigh of relief, and a little colour came
into her wan face.  But her eyes still dwelt curiously, and with
apprehension, on mademoiselle, who stood looking sullenly into
the fire; and seeing this my heart misgave me sorely that I had
done a foolish thing in bringing the girl there.  I foresaw a
hundred questions which would be asked, and a hundred
complications which must ensue, and felt already the blush of
shame mounting to my cheek.

'Who is that?'  my mother asked softly.  'I am ill.  She must
excuse me.'  She pointed with her fragile finger to my
companions.

I rose, and still keeping her hand in mine, turned so as to face
the hearth.  'This, madame,' I answered formally, 'is
Mademoiselle--, but her name I will commit to you later, and in
private.  Suffice it to say that she is a lady of rank, who has
been committed to my charge by a high personage.'

'A high personage?'  my mother repeated gently, glancing at me
with a smile of gratification.

'One of the highest,' I said, 'Such a charge being a great honour
to me, I felt that I could not better execute it madame, since we
must lie in Blois one night, than by requesting your hospitality
on her behalf.'

I dared mademoiselle as I spoke--I dared her with my eye to
contradict or interrupt me.  For answer, she looked at me once,
inclining her head a little, and gazing at us from under her long
eyelashes.  Then she turned back to the fire, and her foot
resumed its angry tapping on the floor.

'I regret that I cannot receive her better,' my mother answered
feebly.  'I have had losses of late.  I--but I will speak of that
at another time.  Mademoiselle doubtless knows,' she continued
with dignity, 'you and your position in the south too well to
think ill of the momentary straits to which she finds me
reduced.'

I saw mademoiselle start, and I writhed under the glance of
covert scorn, of amazed indignation, which she shot at me.  But
my mother gently patting my hand, I answered patiently,
'Mademoiselle will think only what is kind, madame--of that I am
assured.  And lodgings are scarce to-night in Blois.'

'But tell me of yourself, Gaston,' my mother cried eagerly; and I
had not the heart, with her touch on my hand, her eyes on my
face, to tear myself away, much as I dreaded what was coming, and
longed to end the scene.  'Tell me of yourself.  You are still in
favour with the king of -- I will not name him here?'

'Still, madame,' I answered, looking steadily at mademoiselle,
though my face burned.

'You are still--he consults you, Gaston?'

'Still, madame.'

My mother heaved a happy sigh, and sank lower in the bed.  'And
your employments?'  she murmured, her voice trembling with
gratification.  'They have not been reduced?  You still retain
them, Gaston?'

'Still, madame,' I answered, the perspiration standing on my
brow, my shame almost more than I could bear.

'Twelve thousand livres a year, I think?'

'The same, madame.'

'And your establishment?  How many do you keep now?  Your valet,
of course?  And lackeys--how many at present?'  She glanced, with
an eye of pride, while she waited for my answer, first at the two
silent figures by the fire, then at the poverty-stricken room; as
if the sight of its bareness heightened for her the joy of my
prosperity.

She had no suspicion of my trouble, my misery, or that the last
question almost filled the cup too full.  Hitherto all had been
easy, but this seemed to choke me.  I stammered and lost my
voice.  Mademoiselle, her head bowed, was gazing into the fire.
Fanchette was staring at me, her black eyes round as saucers, her
mouth half-open.  'Well, madame,' I muttered at length, 'to tell
you the truth, at present, you must understand, I have been
forced to--'

'What, Gaston?'  Madame de Bonne half rose in bed. Her voice was
sharp with disappointment and apprehension; the grasp of her
fingers on my hand grew closer.

I could not resist that appeal.  I flung away the last rag of
shame.  'To reduce my establishment somewhat,' I answered,
looking a miserable defiance at mademoiselle's averted figure.
She had called me a liar and a cheat--here in the room!  I must
stand before her a liar and a cheat confessed.  'I keep but three
lackeys now, madame.'

Still it is creditable,' my mother muttered thoughtfully, her
eyes shining.  'Your dress, however, Gaston--only my eyes are
weak--seems to me--'

'Tut, tut!  It is but a disguise,' I answered quickly.

'I might have known that,' she rejoined, sinking back with a
smile and a sigh of content.  'But when I first saw you I was
almost afraid that something had happened to you.  And I have
been uneasy lately,' she went on, releasing my hand, and
beginning to play with the coverlet, as though the remembrance
troubled her.  'There was a man here a while ago--a friend of
Simon Fleix there--who had been south to Pau and Nerac, and he
said there was no M. de Marsac about the Court.'

'He probably knew less of the Court than the wine-tavern,' I
answered with a ghastly smile.

'That was just what I told him,' my mother responded quickly and
eagerly.  'I warrant you I sent him away ill-satisfied.'

'Of course,' I said; 'there will always be people of that kind.
But now, if you will permit me, madame, I will make such
arrangements for mademoiselle as are necessary.'

Begging her accordingly to lie down and compose herself--for even
so short a conversation, following on the excitement of our
arrival, had exhausted her to a painful degree--I took the youth,
who had just returned from stabling our horses, a little aside,
and learning that he lodged in a smaller chamber on the farther
side of the landing, secured it for the use of mademoiselle and
her woman.  In spite of a certain excitability which marked him
at times, he seemed to be a quick, ready fellow, and he willingly
undertook to go out, late as it was, and procure some provisions
and a few other things which were sadly needed, as well for my
mother's comfort as for our own.  I directed Fanchette to aid him
in the preparation of the other chamber, and thus for a while I
was left alone with mademoiselle.  She had taken one of the
stools, and sat cowering over the fire, the hood of her cloak
drawn about her head; in such a manner that even when she looked
at me, which she did from time to time, I saw little more than
her eyes, bright with contemptuous anger.

'So, sir,' she presently began, speaking in a low voice, and
turning slightly towards me, 'you practise lying even here?'

I felt so strongly the futility of denial or explanation that I
shrugged my shoulders and remained silent under the sneer.  Two
more days--two more days would take us to Rosny, and my task
would be done, and Mademoiselle and I would part for good and
all.  What would it matter then what she thought of me?  What did
it matter now?

For the first time in our intercourse my silence seemed to
disconcert and displease her.  'Have you nothing to say for
yourself?'  she muttered sharply, crushing a fragment of charcoal
under her foot, and stooping to peer at the ashes.  'Have you not
another lie in your quiver, M. de Marsac?'  De Marsac!'  And she
repeated the title, with a scornful laugh, as if she put no faith
in my claim to it.

But I would answer nothing--nothing; and we remained silent until
Fanchette, coming in to say that the chamber was ready, held the
light for her mistress to pass out.  I told the woman to come
back and fetch mademoiselle's supper, and then, being left alone
with my mother, who had fallen asleep, with a smile on her thin,
worn face, I began to wonder what had happened to reduce her to
such dire poverty.

I feared to agitate her by referring to it; but later in the
evening, when her curtains were drawn and Simon Fleix and I were
left together, eyeing one another across the embers like dogs of
different breeds--with a certain strangeness and suspicion--my
thoughts recurred to the question; and determining first to learn
something about my companion, whose pale, eager face and
tattered, black dress gave him a certain individuality, I asked
him whether he had come from Paris with Madame de Bonne.

He nodded without speaking.

I asked him if he had known her long.

'Twelve months,' he answered.  'I lodged on the fifth, madame on
the second, floor of the same house in Paris.'

I leaned forward and plucked the hem of his black robe.  'What is
this?'  I said, with a little contempt.  'You are not a priest,
man.'

'No,' he answered, fingering the stuff himself, and gazing at me
in a curious, vacant fashion.  'I am a student of the Sorbonne.'

I drew off from him with a muttered oath, wondering--while I
looked at him with suspicious eyes--how he came to be here, and
particularly how he came to be in attendance on my mother, who
had been educated from childhood in the Religion, and had
professed it in private all her life.  I could think of no one
who, in old days, would have been less welcome in her house than
a Sorbonnist, and began to fancy that here should lie the secret
of her miserable condition.

'You don't like, the Sorbonne?'  he said, reading my thoughts;
which were, indeed, plain enough.

'No more than I love the devil!'  I said bluntly.

He leaned forward and, stretching out a thin, nervous hand, laid
it on my knee.  'What if they are right, though?'  he muttered,
his voice hoarse.  'What if they are right, M. de Marsac?'

'Who right?'  I asked roughly, drawing back afresh.

'The Sorbonne.'  he repeated, his face red with excitement, his
eyes peering uncannily into mine.  'Don't you see,' he continued,
pinching my knee in his earnestness, and thrusting his face
nearer and nearer to mine, 'it all turns on that?  It all turns
on that--salvation or damnation!  Are they right?  Are you right?
You say yes to this, no to that, you white-coats; and you say it
lightly, but are you right?  Are you right?  Mon Dieu!'  he
continued, drawing back abruptly and clawing the air with
impatience, 'I have read, read, read!  I have listened to
sermons, theses, disputations, and I know nothing.  I know no
more than when I began.'

He sprang up and began to pace the floor, while I gazed at him
with a feeling of pity.  A very learned person once told me that
the troubles of these times bred four kinds of men, who were much
to be compassionated:  fanatics on the one side or the other, who
lost sight of all else in the intensity of their faith; men who,
like Simon Fleix, sought desperately after something to believe,
and found it not; and lastly, scoffers, who, believing in
nothing, looked on all religion as a mockery.

He presently stopped walking--in his utmost excitement I remarked
that he never forgot my mother, but trod more lightly when he
drew near the alcove--and spoke again.  'You are a Huguenot?'  he
said.

'Yes,' I replied.

'So is she,' he rejoined, pointing towards the bed.  'But do you
feel no doubts?'

'None,' I said quietly.

'Nor does she.'  he answered again, stopping opposite me.  You
made up your mind--how?'

'I was born in the Religion,' I said.

'And you have never questioned it?'

'Never.'

'Nor thought much about it?'

'Not a great deal,' I answered.

'Saint Gris!'  he exclaimed in a low tone.  'And do you never
think of hell-fire--of the worm which dieth not, and the fire
which shall not be quenched?  Do you never think of that, M. de
Marsac?'

'No, my friend, never!'  I answered, rising impatiently; for at
that hour, and in that silent, gloomy room I found his
conversation dispiriting.  'I believe what I was taught to
believe, and I strive to hurt no one but the enemy.  I think
little; and if I were you I would think less.  I would do
something, man--fight, play, work, anything but think!  I leave
that to clerks.'

'I am a clerk,' he answered.

'A poor one, it seems,' I retorted, with a little scorn in my
tone.  'Leave it, man.  Work!  Fight!  Do something!'

'Fight?'  he said, as if the idea were a novel one.  'Fight?  But
there, I might be killed; and then hell-fire, you see!'

'Zounds, man!'  I cried, out of patience with a folly which, to
tell the truth, the lamp burning low, and the rain pattering on
the roof, made the skin of my back feel cold and creepy.  'Enough
of this!  Keep your doubts and your fire to yourself!  And answer
me,' I continued, sternly.  'How came Madame de Bonne so poor?
How did she come down to this place?'

He sat down on his stool, the excitement dying quickly out of his
face.  'She gave away all her money,' he said slowly and
reluctantly.  It may be imagined that this answer surprised me.
'Gave it away?'  I exclaimed.  'To whom?  And when?'

He moved uneasily on his seat and avoided my eye, his altered
manner filling me with suspicions which the insight I had just
obtained into his character did not altogether preclude.  At last
he said, 'I had nothing to do with it, if you mean that; nothing.
On the contrary, I have done all I could to make it up to her.  I
followed her here.  I swear that is so, M. de Marsac.'

'You have not told me yet to whom she gave it,' I said sternly.

'She gave it,' he muttered, 'to a priest.'

'To what priest?'

'I do not know his name.  He is a Jacobin.'

'And why?'  I asked, gazing incredulously at the student.  'Why
did she give it to him?  Come, come!  have a care.  Let me have
none of your Sorbonne inventions!'

He hesitated a moment, looking at me timidly, and then seemed to
make up his mind to tell me.  'He found out--it was when we lived
in Paris, you understand, last June--that she was a Huguenot.  It
was about the time they burned the Foucards, and he frightened
her with that, and made her pay him money, a little at first, and
then more and more, to keep her secret.  When the king came to
Blois she followed his Majesty, thinking to be safer here; but
the priest came too, and got more money, and more, until he left
her--this.'

'This!'  I said.  And I set my teeth together.

Simon Fleix nodded,

I looked round the wretched garret to which my mother had been
reduced, and pictured the days and hours of fear and suspense
through which she had lived; through which she must have lived,
with that caitiff's threat hanging over her grey head!  I
thought of her birth and her humiliation; of her frail form and
patient, undying love for me; and solemnly, and before heaven, I
swore that night to punish the man.  My anger was too great for
words, and for tears I was too old.  I asked Simon Fleix no more
questions, save when the priest might be looked for again--which
he could not tell me--and whether he would know him again--to
which he answered, 'Yes.'  But, wrapping myself in my cloak, I
lay down by the fire and pondered long and sadly.

So, while I had been pinching there, my mother had been starving
here.  She had deceived me, and I her.  The lamp flickered,
throwing uncertain shadows as the draught tossed the strange
window-curtain to and fro.  The leakage from the roof fell drop
by drop, and now and again the wind shook the crazy building, as
though it would lift it up bodily and carry it away.



CHAPTER VIII.

AN EMPTY ROOM.

Desiring to start as early as possible, that we might reach Rosny
on the second evening, I roused Simon Fleix before it was light,
and learning from him where the horses were stabled, went out to
attend to them; preferring to do this myself, that I might have
an opportunity of seeking out a tailor, and providing myself with
clothes better suited to my rank than those to which I had been
reduced of late.  I found that I still had ninety crowns left of
the sum which the King of Navarre had given me, and twelve of
these I laid out on a doublet of black cloth with russet points
and ribands, a dark cloak lined with the same sober colour, and a
new cap and feather.  The tradesman would fain have provided me
with a new scabbard also, seeing my old one was worn-out at the
heel; but this I declined, having a fancy to go with my point
bare until I should have punished the scoundrel who had made my
mother's failing days a misery to her; a business which, the King
of Navarre's once done, I promised myself to pursue with energy
and at all costs.

The choice of my clothes, and a few alterations which it was
necessary to make in them, detained me some time, so that it was
later than I could have wished when I turned my face towards the
house again, bent on getting my party to horse as speedily as
possible.  The morning, I remember, was bright, frosty, and cold;
the kennels were dry, the streets comparatively clean.  Here and
there a ray of early sunshine, darting between the overhanging
eaves, gave promise of glorious travelling-weather.  But the
faces, I remarked in my walk, did not reflect the surrounding
cheerfulness.  Moody looks met me everywhere and on every side;
and while courier after courier galloped by me bound for the
castle, the townsfolk stood aloof is doorways listless and
inactive, or, gathering in groups in corners, talked what I took
to be treason under the breath.  The queen-mother still lived,
but Orleans had revolted, and Sens and Mans, Chartres and Melun.
Rouen was said to be wavering, Lyons in arms, while Paris had
deposed her king, and cursed him daily from a hundred altars.  In
fine, the great rebellion which followed the death of Guise, and
lasted so many years, was already in progress; so that on this
first day of the new year the king's writ scarce ran farther than
he could see, peering anxiously out from the towers above my
head.

Reaching the house, I climbed the long staircase hastily, abusing
its darkness and foulness, and planning as I went how my mother
might most easily and quickly be moved to a better lodging.
Gaining the top of the last flight, I saw that mademoiselle's
door on the left of the landing was open, and concluding from
this that she was up, and ready to start, I entered my mother's
room with a brisk step and spirits reinforced by the crisp
morning air.

But on the threshold I stopped, and stood silent and amazed.  At
first I thought the room was empty.  Then, at a second glance, I
saw the student.  He was on his knees beside the bed in the
alcove, from which the curtain had been partially dragged away.
The curtain before the window had been torn down also, and the
cold light of day, pouring in on the unsightly bareness of the
room, struck a chill to my heart.  A stool lay overturned by the
fire, and above it a grey cat, which I had not hitherto noticed,
crouched on a beam and eyed me with stealthy fierceness.
Mademoiselle was not to be seen, nor was Fanchette, and Simon
Fleix did not hear me.  He was doing something at the bed--for my
mother it seemed.

'What is it, man?'  I cried softly, advancing on tiptoe to the
bedside.  'Where are the others?'

The student looked round and saw me.  His face was pale and
gloomy.  His eyes burned, and yet there were tears in them, and
on his cheeks.  He did not speak, but the chilliness, the
bareness, the emptiness of the room spoke for him, and my heart
sank.

I took him by the shoulders.  'Find your tongue, man!'  I said
angrily.  'Where are they?'

He rose from his knees and stood staring at me.  'They are gone!'
he said stupidly.

'Gone?'  I exclaimed.  'Impossible!  When?  Whither?'

'Half an hour ago.  Whither--I do not know.'

Confounded and amazed, I glared at him between fear and rage.
'You do not know?'  I cried.  'They are gone, and you do not
know?'

He turned suddenly on me and gripped my arm.  'No, I do not know!
I do not know!'  he cried, with a complete change of manner and
in a tone of fierce excitement.  'Only, may the fiend go with
them!  But I do know this.  I know this, M. de Marsac, with whom
they went, these friends of yours!  A fop came, a dolt, a fine
spark, and gave them fine words and fine speeches and a gold
token, and, hey presto!  they went, and forgot you!'

'What!'  I cried, beginning to understand, and snatching fiercely
at the one clue in his speech.  'A gold token?  They have been
decoyed away then!  There is no time to be lost.  I must follow.'

'No, for that is not all!'  he replied, interrupting me sternly,
while his grasp on my arm grew tighter and his eyes flashed as
they looked into mine.  'You have not heard all.  They have gone
with one who called you an impostor, and a thief, and a beggar,
and that to your mother's face--and killed her!  Killed her as
surely as if he had taken a sword to her, M. de Marsac!  Will
you, after that, leave her for them?'

He spoke plainly.  And yet, God forgive me, it was some time
before I understood him:  before I took in the meaning of his
words, or could transfer my thoughts from the absent to my mother
lying on the bed before me.  When I did do so, and turned to her,
and saw her still face and thin hair straggling over the coarse
pillow, then, indeed, the sight overcame me.  I thought no more
of others--for I thought her dead; and with a great and bitter
cry I fell on my knees beside her and hid my face.  What, after
all, was this headstrong girl to me?  What were even kings and
king's commissions to me beside her--beside the one human being
who loved me still, the one being of my blood and name left, the
one ever-patient, ever-constant heart which for years had beaten
only for me?  For a while, for a few moments, I was worthy of
her; for I forgot all others.

Simon Fleix roused me at last from my stupor, making me
understand that she was not dead, but in a deep swoon, the result
of the shock she had undergone.  A leech, for whom he had
despatched a neighbour, came in as I rose, and taking my place,
presently restored her to consciousness.  But her extreme
feebleness warned me not to hope for more than a temporary
recovery; nor had I sat by her long before I discerned that this
last blow, following on so many fears and privations, had reached
a vital part, and that she was even now dying.

She lay for a while with her hand in mine and her eyes closed,
but about noon, the student, contriving to give her some broth,
she revived, and, recognising me, lay for more than an hour
gazing at me with unspeakable content and satisfaction.  At the
end of that time, and when I thought she was past speaking, she
signed to me to bend over her, and whispered something, which at
first I could not catch.  Presently I made it out to be, 'She is
gone--The girl you brought?'

Much troubled, I answered yes, begging her not to think about the
matter.  I need not have feared, however, for when she spoke
again she did so without emotion, and rather as one seeing
clearly something before her.

'When you find her, Gaston,' she murmured, 'do not be angry with
her.  It was not her fault.  She--he deceived her.  See!'

I followed the direction rather of her eyes than her hand, and
found beneath the pillow a length of gold chain.  'She left
that?'  I murmured, a strange tumult of emotions in my breast.

'She laid it there,' my mother whispered.  'And she would have
stopped him saying what he did'--a shudder ran through my
mother's frame at the remembrance of the man's words, though her
eyes still gazed into mine with faith and confidence--'she would
have stopped him, but she could not, Gaston.  And then he hurried
her away.'

'He showed her a token, madame, did he not?'  I could not for my
life repress the question, so much seemed to turn on the point.

'A bit of gold,' my mother whispered, smiling faintly.  'Now let
me sleep.'  And, clinging always to my hand, she closed her eyes.

The student came back soon afterwards with some comforts for
which I had despatched him, and we sat by her until the evening
fell, and far into the night.  It was a relief to me to learn
from the leech that she had been ailing for some time, and that
in any case the end must have come soon.  She suffered no pain
and felt no fears, but meeting my eyes whenever she opened her
own, or came out of the drowsiness which possessed her, thanked
God, I think, and was content.  As for me, I remember that room
became, for the time, the world.  Its stillness swallowed up all
the tumults which filled the cities of France, and its one
interest the coming and going of a feeble breath--eclipsed the
ambitions and hopes of a lifetime.

Before it grew light Simon Fleix stole out to attend to the
horses.  When he returned he came to me and whispered in my ear
that he had something to tell me; and my mother lying in a quiet
sleep at the time, I disengaged my hand, and, rising softly, went
with him to the hearth.

Instead of speaking, he held his fist before me and suddenly
unclosed the fingers.  'Do you know it?'  he said, glancing at me
abruptly.

I took what he held, and looking at it, nodded.  It was a knot of
velvet of a peculiar dark red colour, and had formed, as I knew
the moment I set eyes on it, part of the fastening of
mademoiselle's mask.  'Where did you find it?'  I muttered,
supposing that he had picked it up on the stairs.

'Look at it!'  he answered impatiently.  'You have not looked.'

I turned it over, and then saw something which had escaped me at
first--that the wider part of the velvet was disfigured by a
fantastic stitching, done very roughly and rudely with a thread
of white silk.  The stitches formed letters, the letters words.
With a start I read, 'A MOI!'  and saw in a corner, in smaller
stitches, the initials 'C. d. l. V.'

I looked eagerly at the student.  'Where did you find this?'  I
said.

'I picked it up in the street,' he answered quietly, 'not three
hundred paces from here.'

I thought a moment.  'In the gutter, or near the wall?'  I asked.

'Near the wall, to be sure.'

'Under a window?'

'Precisely,' he said.  'You may be easy; I am not a fool.  I
marked the place, M. de Marsac, and shall not forget it.'

Even the sorrow and solicitude I felt on my mother's behalf--
feelings which had seemed a minute before to secure me against
all other cares or anxieties whatever--were not proof against
this discovery.  For I found myself placed in a strait so cruel I
must suffer either way.  On the one hand, I could not leave my
mother; I were a heartless ingrate to do that.  On the other, I
could not, without grievous pain, stand still and inactive while
Mademoiselle de la Vire, whom I had sworn to protect, and who was
now suffering through my laches and mischance, appealed to me for
help.  For I could not doubt that this was what the bow of velvet
meant; still less that it was intended for me, since few save
myself would be likely to recognise it, and she would naturally
expect me to make some attempt at pursuit.

And I could not think little of the sign.  Remembering
mademoiselle's proud and fearless spirit, and the light in which
she had always regarded me, I augured the worst from it.  I felt
assured that no imaginary danger and no emergency save the last
would have induced her to stoop so low; and this consideration,
taken with the fear I felt that she had fallen into the hands of
Fresnoy, whom I believed to be the person who had robbed me of
the gold coin, filled me with a horrible doubt which way my duty
lay.  I was pulled, as it were, both ways.  I felt my honour
engaged both to go and to stay, and while my hand went to my
hilt, and my feet trembled to be gone, my eyes sought my mother,
and my ears listened for her gentle breathing.

Perplexed and distracted, I looked at the student, and he at me.
'You saw the man who took her away,' I muttered.  Hitherto, in my
absorption on my mother's account, I had put few questions, and
let the matter pass as though it moved me little and concerned me
less.  'What was he like?  Was he a big, bloated man, Simon, with
his head bandaged, or perhaps a wound on his face?'

'The gentleman who went away with mademoiselle, do you mean?'  he
asked.

'Yes, yes, gentleman if you like!'

'Not at all,' the student answered.  'He was a tall young
gallant, very gaily dressed, dark-haired, and with a rich
complexion, I heard him tell her that he came from a friend of
hers too high to be named in public or in Blois.  He added that
he brought a token from him; and when mademoiselle mentioned you
--she had just entered madame's room with her woman when he
appeared--'

'He had watched me out, of course.'

'Just so.  Well, when she mentioned you, he swore you were an
adventurer, and a beggarly impostor, and what not, and bade her
say whether she thought it likely that her friend would have
entrusted such a mission to such a man.'

'And then she went with him?'

The student nodded.

'Readily?  Of her own free-will?'

'Certainly,' he answered.  'It seemed so to me.  She tried to
prevent him speaking before your mother, but that was all.'

On the impulse of the moment I took a step towards the door;
recollecting my position, I turned back with a groan.  Almost
beside myself, and longing for any vent for my feelings, I caught
the lad by the shoulder, where he stood on the hearth, and shook
him to and fro.

'Tell me, man, what am I to do?'  I said between my teeth.
'Speak!  think!  invent something!'

But he shook his head.

I let him go with a muttered oath, and sat down on a stool by the
bed and took my head between my hands.  At that very moment,
however, relief came--came from an unexpected quarter.  The door
opened and the leech entered.  He was a skilful man, and, though
much employed about the Court, a Huguenot--a fact which had
emboldened Simon Fleix to apply to him through the landlord of
the 'Bleeding Heart,' the secret rendezvous of the Religion in
Blois.  When he had made his examination he was for leaving,
being a grave and silent man, and full of business, but at the
door I stopped him.

'Well, sir?'  I said in a low tone, my hand on his cloak.

'She has rallied, and may live three days,' he answered quietly.
'Four, it may be, and as many more as God wills.'

Pressing two crowns into his hand, I begged him to call daily,
which he promised to do; and then he went.  My mother was still
dozing peacefully, and I turned to Simon Fleix, my doubts
resolved and my mind made up.

'Listen,' I said, 'and answer me shortly.  We cannot both leave;
that is certain.  Yet I must go, and at once, to the place where
you found the velvet knot.  Do you describe the spot exactly, so
that I may find it, and make no mistake.'

He nodded, and after a moment's reflection answered,

'You know the Rue St. Denys, M. de Marsac?  Well, go down it,
keeping the "Bleeding Heart" on your left.  Take the second
turning on the same side after passing the inn.  The third house
from the corner, on the left again, consists of a gateway leading
to the Hospital of the Holy Cross.  Above the gateway are two
windows in the lower story, and above them two more.  The knot
lay below the first window you come to.  Do you understand?'

'Perfectly,' I said.  'It is something to be a clerk, Simon.'

He looked at me thoughtfully, but added nothing; and I was busy
tightening my sword-hilt, and disposing my cloak about the lower
part of my face.  When I had arranged this to my satisfaction, I
took out and counted over the sum of thirty-five crowns, which I
gave to him, impressing on him the necessity of staying beside my
mother should I not return; for though I proposed to reconnoitre
only, and learn if possible whether mademoiselle was still in
Blois, the future was uncertain, and whereas I was known to my
enemies, they were strangers to me.

Having enjoined this duty upon him, I bade my mother a silent
farewell, and, leaving the room, went slowly down the stairs, the
picture of her worn and patient face going with me, and seeming,
I remember, to hallow the purpose I had in my mind.

The clocks were striking the hour before noon as I stepped from
the doorway, and, standing a moment in the lane, looked this way
and that for any sign of espionage.  I could detect none,
however.  The lane was deserted; and feeling assured that any
attempt to mislead my opponents, who probably knew Blois better
than I did, must fail, I made none, but deliberately took my way
towards the 'Bleeding Heart,' in the Rue St. Denys.  The streets
presented the same appearance of gloomy suspense which I had
noticed on the previous day.  The same groups stood about in the
same corners, the same suspicious glances met me in common with
all other strangers who showed themselves; the same listless
inaction characterised the townsfolk, the same anxious hurry
those who came and went with news.  I saw that even here, under
the walls of the palace, the bonds of law and order were strained
almost to bursting, and judged that if there ever was a time in
France when right counted for little, and the strong hand for
much, it was this.  Such a state of things was not unfavourable
to my present design, and caring little for suspicious looks, I
went resolutely on my way.

I had no difficulty in finding the gateway of which Simon had
spoken, or in identifying the window beneath which he had picked
up the velvet knot.  An alley opening almost opposite, I took
advantage of this to examine the house at my leisure, and
remarked at once, that whereas the lower window was guarded only
by strong shutters, now open, that in the story above was heavily
barred.  Naturally I concentrated my attention on the latter.
The house, an old building of stone, seemed sufficiently
reputable, nor could I discern anything about it which would have
aroused my distrust had the knot been found elsewhere.  It bore
the arms of a religious brotherhood, and had probably at one time
formed the principal entrance to the hospital, which still stood
behind it, but it had now come, as I judged, to be used as a
dwelling of the better class.  Whether the two floors were
separately inhabited or not I failed to decide.

After watching it for some time without seeing anyone pass in or
out, or anything occurring to enlighten me one way or the other,
I resolved to venture in, the street being quiet and the house
giving no sign of being strongly garrisoned.  The entrance lay
under the archway, through a door on the right side.  I judged
from what I saw that the porter was probably absent, busying
himself with his gossips in matters of State.

And this proved to be the case, for when I had made the passage
of the street with success, and slipped quietly in through the
half-open door, I found only his staff and charcoal-pan there to
represent him.  A single look satisfied me on that point;
forthwith, without hesitation, I turned to the stairs and began
to mount, assured that if I would effect anything single-handed I
must trust to audacity and surprise rather than to caution or
forethought.

The staircase was poorly lighted by loopholes looking towards the
rear, but it was clean and well-kept.  Silence, broken only by
the sound of my footsteps, prevailed throughout the house, and
all seemed so regular and decent and orderly that the higher I
rose the lower fell my hopes of success.  Still, I held
resolutely on until I reached the second floor and stood before a
closed door.  The moment had come to put all to the touch.  I
listened for a few seconds but hearing nothing, cautiously lifted
the latch.  Somewhat to my surprise the door yielded to my hand,
and I entered.

A high settle stood inside, interrupting my view of the room,
which seemed to be spacious and full of rich stuffs and
furniture, but low in the roof, and somewhat dimly lighted by two
windows rather wide than high.  The warm glow of a fire shone on
the woodwork of the ceiling, and as I softly closed the door a
log on the hearth gave way, with a crackling of sparks, which
pleasantly broke the luxurious silence.  The next moment a low,
sweet voice asked, 'Alphonse, is that you?'

I walked round the settle and came face to face with a beautiful
woman reclining on a couch.  On hearing the door open she had
raised herself on her elbow.  Now, seeing a stranger before her,
she sprang up with a low cry, and stood gazing at me, her face
expressing both astonishment and anger.  She was of middling
height, her features regular though somewhat childlike, her
complexion singularly fair.  A profusion of golden hair hung in
disorder about her neck, and matched the deep blue of her eyes,
wherein it seemed to me, there lurked more spirit and fire than
the general cast of her features led one to expect.

After a moment's silence, during which she scanned me from head
to foot with great haughtiness--and I her with curiosity and
wonder--she spoke.  'Sir!'  she said slowly, 'to what am I to
attribute this--visit?'

For the moment I was so taken aback by her appearance and
extraordinary beauty, as well as by the absence of any sign of
those I sought, that I could not gather my thoughts to reply, but
stood looking vaguely at her.  I had expected, when I entered the
room, something so different from this!

'Well, sir?'  she said again, speaking sharply, and tapping her
foot on the floor.

'This visit, madame?'  I stammered.

'Call it intrusion, sir, if you please!'  she cried imperiously.
'Only explain it, or begone.'

'I crave leave to do both, madame,' I answered, collecting myself
by an effort.  'I ascended these stairs and opened your door in
error--that is the simple fact--hoping to find a friend of mine
here.  I was mistaken, it seems, and it only remains for me to
withdraw, offering at the same time the humblest apologies,' And
as I spoke I bowed low and prepared to retire.

'One moment, sir!'  she said quickly, and in an altered tone.
'You are, perhaps, a friend of M. de Bruhl--of my husband.  In
that case, if you desire to leave any message I will--I shall be
glad to deliver it.'

She looked so charming that, despite the tumult of my feelings, I
could not but regard her with admiration.  'Alas!  madame, I
cannot plead that excuse,' I answered.  'I regret that I have not
the honour of his acquaintance.'

She eyed me with some surprise.  'Yet still, sir,' she answered,
smiling a little, and toying with a gold brooch which clasped her
habit, 'you must have had some ground, some reason, for supposing
you would find a friend here?'

'True, madame,' I answered, 'but I was mistaken.'

I saw her colour suddenly.  With a smile and a faint twinkle of
the eye she said, 'It is not possible, sir, I suppose--you have
not come here, I mean, out of any reason connected with a--a knot
of velvet, for instance?'

I started, and involuntarily advanced a step towards her.  'A
knot of velvet!'  I exclaimed, with emotion.  'Mon Dieu!  Then I
was not mistaken!  I have come to the right house, and you--you
know something of this!  Madame,' I continued impulsively, 'that
knot of velvet?  Tell me what it means, I implore you!'

She seemed alarmed by my violence, retreating a step or two, and
looking at me haughtily, yet with a kind of shame-facedness.
'Believe me, it means nothing,' she said hurriedly.  'I beg you
to understand that, sir.  It was a foolish jest.'

'A jest?'  I said.  'It fell from this window.'

'It was a jest, sir,' she answered stubbornly.  But I could see
that, with all her pride, she was alarmed; her face was troubled,
and there were tears in her eyes.  And this rendered me under the
circumstances only the more persistent.

'I have the velvet here, madame,' I said.  'You must tell me more
about it.'

She looked at me with a weightier impulse of anger than she had
yet exhibited.  'I do not think you know to whom you are
speaking,' she said, breathing fast.  'Leave the room, sir, and
at once!  I have told you it was a jest.  If you are a gentleman
you will believe me, and go.'  And she pointed to the door.

But I held my ground, with an obstinate determination to pierce
the mystery.  'I am a gentleman, madame,' I said, 'and yet I must
know more.  Until I know more I cannot go.'

'Oh, this is insufferable!'  she cried, looking round as if for a
way of escape; but I was between her and the only door.  'This is
unbearable!  The knot was never intended for you, sir.  And what
is more, if M. de Bruhl comes and finds you here, you will repent
it bitterly.'

I saw that she was at least as much concerned on her own account
as on mine, and thought myself justified under the circumstances
in taking advantage of her fears.  I deliberately laid my cap on
the table which stood beside me.  'I will go madame,' I said,
looking at her fixedly, 'when I know all that you know about this
knot I hold, and not before.  If you are unwilling to tell me, I
must wait for M. de Bruhl, and ask him.'

She cried out 'Insolent!'  and looked at me as if in her rage and
dismay she would gladly have killed me; being, I could see, a
passionate woman.  But I held my ground, and after a moment she
spoke.  'What do you want to know?'  she said, frowning darkly.

'This knot--how did it come to lie in the street below your
window?  I want to know that first.'

'I dropped it,' she answered sullenly.

'Why?'  I said.

'Because--' And then she stopped and looked at me, and then again
looked down, her face crimson.  'Because, if you must know,' she
continued hurriedly, tracing a pattern on the table with her
finger, 'I saw it bore the words "A MOI." I have been married
only two months, and I thought my husband might find it--and
bring it to me.  It was a silly fancy.'

'But where did you get it?'  I asked, and I stared at her in
growing wonder and perplexity.  For the more questions I put, the
further, it seemed to me, I strayed from my object.

'I picked it up in the Ruelle d'Arcy,' she answered, tapping her
foot on the floor resentfully.  'It was the silly thing put it
into my head to--to do what I did.  And now, have you any more
questions, sir?'

'One only,' I said, seeing it all clearly enough.  'Will you tell
me, please, exactly where you found it?'

'I have told you.  In the Ruelle d'Arcy, ten paces from the Rue
de Valois.  Now, sir, will you go?'

'One word, madame.  Did--'

But she cried, 'Go, sir, go!  go!'  so violently, that after
making one more attempt to express my thanks, I thought it better
to obey her.  I had learned all she knew; I had solved the
puzzle.  But, solving it, I found myself no nearer to the end I
had in view, no nearer to mademoiselle.  I closed the door with a
silent bow, and began to descend the stairs, my mind full of
anxious doubts and calculations.  The velvet knot was the only
clue I possessed, but was I right; in placing any dependence on
it?  I knew now that, wherever it had originally lain, it had
been removed once.  If once, why not twice?  why not three times?



CHAPTER IX.

THE HOUSE IN THE RUELLE D'ARCY.

I had not gone down half a dozen steps before I heard a man enter
the staircase from the street, and begin to ascend.  It struck me
at once that this might be M. de Bruhl; and I realised that I had
not left madame's apartment a moment too soon.  The last thing I
desired, having so much on my hands, was to embroil myself with a
stranger, and accordingly I quickened my pace, hoping to meet him
so near the foot of the stairs as to leave him in doubt whether I
had been visiting the upper or lower part of the house.  The
staircase was dark, however, and being familiar with it, he had
the advantage over me.  He came leaping up two steps at a time,
and turning the angle abruptly, surprised me before I was clear
of the upper flight.

On seeing me, he stopped short and stared; thinking at first, I
fancy, that he ought to recognise me.  When he did not, he stood
back a pace.  'Umph!'  he said.  'Have you been--have you any
message for me, sir?'

'No,' I said, 'I have not.'

He frowned.  'I am M. de Bruhl,' he said.

'Indeed?'  I muttered, not knowing what else to say.

'You have been--'

'Up your stairs, sir?  Yes.  In error,' I answered bluntly.

He gave a kind of grunt at that, and stood aside, incredulous and
dissatisfied, yet uncertain how to proceed.  I met his black
looks with a steady countenance, and passed by him, becoming
aware, however, as I went on down the stairs that he had turned
and was looking after me.  He was a tall, handsome man, dark, and
somewhat ruddy of complexion, and was dressed in the extreme of
Court fashion, in a suit of myrtle-green trimmed with sable.  He
carried also a cloak lined with the same on his arm.  Beyond
looking back when I reached the street, to see that he did not
follow me, I thought no more of him.  But we were to meet again,
and often.  Nay, had I then known all that was to be known I
would have gone back and--But of that in another place.

The Rue de Valois, to which a tradesman, who was peering
cautiously out of his shop, directed me, proved to be one of the
main streets of the city, narrow and dirty, and darkened by
overhanging eaves and signboards, but full of noise and bustle.
One end of it opened on the PARVIS of the Cathedral; the other
and quieter end appeared to abut on the west gate of the town.
Feeling the importance of avoiding notice in the neighbourhood of
the house I sought, I strolled into the open space in front of
the Cathedral, and accosting two men who stood talking there,
learned that the Ruelle d'Arcy was the third lane on the right of
the Rue de Valois, and some little distance along it.  Armed with
this information I left them, and with my head bent down, and my
cloak drawn about the lower part of my face, as if I felt the
east wind, I proceeded down the street until I reached the
opening of the lane.  Without looking up I turned briskly into
it.

When I had gone ten paces past the turning, however, I stopped
and, gazing about me, began to take in my surroundings as fast as
I could.  The lane, which seemed little frequented, was eight or
nine feet wide, unpaved, and full of ruts.  The high blank wall
of a garden rose on one side of it, on the other the still higher
wall of a house; and both were completely devoid of windows, a
feature which I recognised with the utmost dismay.  For it
completely upset all my calculations.  In vain I measured with my
eye the ten paces I had come; in vain I looked up, looked this
way and that.  I was nonplussed.  No window opened on the lane at
that point, nor, indeed, throughout its length.  For it was
bounded to the end, as far as I could see, by dead-walls as of
gardens.

Recognising, with a sinking heart, what this meant, I saw in a
moment that all the hopes I had raised on Simon Fleix's discovery
were baseless.  Mademoiselle had dropped the velvet bow, no
doubt, but not from a window.  It was still a clue, but one so
slight and vague as to be virtually useless, proving only that
she was in trouble and in need of help; perhaps that she had
passed through this lane on her way from one place of confinement
to another.

Thoroughly baffled and dispirited, I leant for awhile against the
wall, brooding over the ill-luck which seemed to attend me in
this, as in so many previous adventures.  Nor was the low voice
of conscience, suggesting that such failures arose from
mismanagement rather than from ill-luck, slow to make itself
heard.  I reflected that if I had not allowed myself to be robbed
of the gold token, mademoiselle would have trusted me; that if I
had not brought her to so poor an abode as my mother's, she would
not have been cajoled into following a stranger; finally, that if
I had remained with her, and sent Simon to attend to the horses
in my place, no stranger would have gained access to her.

But it has never been my way to accept defeat at the first offer,
and though I felt these self-reproaches to be well deserved, a
moment's reflection persuaded me that in the singular and
especial providence which had brought the velvet knot safe to my
hands I ought to find encouragement.  Had Madame de Bruhl not
picked it up it would have continued to lie in this by-path,
through which neither I nor Simon Fleix would have been likely to
pass.  Again, had madame not dropped it in her turn, we should
have sought in vain for any, even the slightest, clue to
Mademoiselle de la Vire's fate or position.

Cheered afresh by this thought, I determined to walk to the end
of the lane; and forthwith did so, looking sharply about me as I
went, but meeting no one.  The bare upper branches of a tree rose
here and there above the walls, which were pierced at intervals
by low, strong doors.  These doors I carefully examined, but
without making any discovery; all were securely fastened, and
many seemed to have been rarely opened.  Emerging at last and
without result on the inner side of the city ramparts, I turned,
and moodily retraced my steps through the lane, proceeding more
slowly as I drew near to the Rue de Valois.  This time, being a
little farther from the street, I made a discovery.

The corner house, which had its front on the Rue Valois,
presented, as I have said, a dead, windowless wall to the lane;
but from my present standpoint I could see the upper part of the
back of this house--that part of the back, I mean, which rose
above the lower garden-wall that abutted on it--and in this there
were several windows.  The whole of two and a part of a third
were within the range of my eyes; and suddenly in one of these I
discovered something which made my heart beat high with hope and
expectation.  The window in question was heavily grated; that
which I saw was tied to one of the bars.  It was a small knot of
some white stuff--linen apparently--and it seemed a trifle to the
eye; but it was looped, as far as I could see from a distance,
after the same fashion as the scrap of velvet I had in my pouch.

The conclusion was obvious, at the same time that it inspired me
with the liveliest admiration of mademoiselle's wit and
resources.  She was confined in that room; the odds were that she
was behind those bars.  A bow dropped thence would fall, the wind
being favourable, into the lane, not ten, but twenty paces from
the street.  I ought to have been prepared for a slight
inaccuracy in a woman's estimate of distance.

It may be imagined with what eagerness I now scanned the house,
with what minuteness I sought for a weak place.  The longer I
looked, however, the less comfort I derived from my inspection.
I saw before me a gloomy stronghold of brick, four-square, and
built in the old Italian manner, with battlements at the top, and
a small machicolation, little more than a string-course, above
each story; this serving at once to lessen the monotony of the
dead-walls, and to add to the frowning weight of the upper part.
The windows were few and small, and the house looked damp and
mouldy; lichens clotted the bricks, and moss filled the string-
courses.  A low door opening from the lane into the garden
naturally attracted my attention; but it proved to be of abnormal
strength, and bolted both at the top and bottom.

Assured that nothing could be done on that side, and being
unwilling to remain longer in the neighbourhood, lest I should
attract attention, I returned to the street, and twice walked
past the front of the house, seeing all I could with as little
appearance of seeing anything as I could compass.  The front
retreated somewhat from the line of the street, and was flanked
on the farther side by stables.  Only one chimney smoked, and
that sparely.  Three steps led up to imposing double doors, which
stood half open, and afforded a glimpse of a spacious hall and a
state staircase.  Two men, apparently servants, lounged on the
steps, eating chestnuts, and jesting with one another; and above
the door were three shields blazoned in colours.  I saw with
satisfaction, as I passed the second time, that the middle coat
was that of Turenne impaling one which I could not read--which
thoroughly satisfied me that the bow of velvet had not lied; so
that, without more ado, I turned homewards, formulating my plans
as I went.

I found all as I had left it; and my mother still lying in a
half-conscious state, I was spared the pain of making excuses for
past absence, or explaining that which I designed.  I
communicated the plan I had formed to Simon Fleix, who saw no
difficulty in procuring a respectable person to stay with Madame
de Bonne.  But for some time he would come no farther into the
business.  He listened, his mouth open and his eyes glittering,
to my plan until I came to his share in it; and then he fell into
a violent fit of trembling.

'You want me to fight, monsieur,' he cried reproachfully, shaking
all over like one in the palsy.  'You said so the other night.
You want to get me killed!  That's it.'

'Nonsense!'  I answered sharply.  'I want you to hold the
horses!'

He looked at me wildly, with a kind of resentment in his face,
and yet as if he were fascinated.

'You will drag me into it!'  he persisted.  'You will!'

'I won't,' I said.

'You will!  You will!  And the end I know.  I shall have no
chance. I am a clerk, and not bred to fighting.  You want to be
the death of me!'  he cried excitedly.

'I don't want you to fight,' I answered with some contempt.  'I
would rather that you kept out of it for my mother's sake.  I
only want you to stay in the lane and hold the horses.  You will
run little more risk than you do sitting by the hearth here.'

And in the end I persuaded him to do what I wished; though still,
whenever he thought of what was in front of him, he fell a-
trembling again, and many times during the afternoon got up and
walked to and fro between the window and the hearth, his face
working and his hands clenched like those of a man in a fever.  I
put this down at first to sheer chicken-heartedness, and thought
it augured ill for my enterprise; but presently remarking that he
made no attempt to draw back, and that though the sweat stood on
his brow he set about such preparations as were necessary
--remembering also how long and kindly, and without pay or
guerdon, he had served my mother, I began to see that here was
something phenomenal; a man strange and beyond the ordinary, of
whom it was impossible to predicate what he would do when he came
to be tried.

For myself, I passed the afternoon in a state almost of apathy.
I thought it my duty to make this attempt to free mademoiselle,
and to make it at once, since it was impossible to say what harm
might come of delay, were she in such hands as Fresnoy's; but I
had so little hope of success that I regarded the enterprise as
desperate.  The certain loss of my mother, however, and the low
ebb of my fortunes, with the ever-present sense of failure,
contributed to render me indifferent to risks; and even when we
were on our way, through by-streets known to Simon, to the
farther end of the Ruelle d'Arcy, and the red and frosty sunset
shone in our faces, and gilded for a moment the dull eaves and
grey towers above us, I felt no softening.  Whatever the end,
there was but one in the world whom I should regret, or who would
regret me; and she hung, herself, on the verge of eternity.

So that I was able to give Simon Fleix his last directions with
as much coolness as I ever felt in my life.  I stationed him with
the three horses in the lane--which seemed as quiet and little
frequented as in the morning--near the end of it, and about a
hundred paces or more from the house.

'Turn their heads towards the ramparts,' I said, wheeling them
round myself, 'and then they will be ready to start.  They are
all quiet enough.  You can let the Cid loose.  And now listen to
me, Simon,' I continued.  'Wait here until you see me return, or
until you see you are going to be attacked.  In the first case,
stay for me, of course; in the second, save yourself as you
please.  Lastly, if neither event occurs before half-past five--
you will hear the convent-bell yonder ring at the half-hour--
begone, and take the horses; they are yours, And one word more,'
I added hurriedly.  'If you can only get away with one horse,
Simon, take the Cid.  It is worth more than most men, and will
not fail you at a pinch.'

As I turned away, I gave him one look to see if he understood.
It was not without hesitation that after that look I left him.
The lad's face was flushed, he was breathing hard, his eyes
seemed to be almost starting from his head.  He sat his horse
shaking in every limb, and had all the air of a man in a fit.  I
expected him to call me back; but he did not, and reflecting that
I must trust him, or give up the attempt, I went up the lane with
my sword under my arm, and my cloak loose on my shoulders.  I met
a man driving a donkey laden with faggots.  I saw no one else.
It was already dusk between the walls, though light enough in the
open country; but that was in my favour, my only regret; being
that as the town gates closed shortly after half-past five, I
could not defer my attempt until a still later hour.

Pausing in the shadow of the house while a man might count ten, I
impressed on my memory the position of the particular window
which bore the knot; then I passed quickly into the street, which
was still full of movement, and for a second, feeling myself safe
from observation in the crowd, I stood looking at the front of
the house.  The door was shut.  My heart sank when I saw this,
for I had looked to find it still open.

The feeling, however, that I could not wait, though time might
present more than one opportunity, spurred me on.  What I could
do I must do now, at once.  The sense that this was so being
heavy upon me, I saw nothing for it but to use the knocker and
gain admission, by fraud if I could, and if not, by force.
Accordingly I stepped briskly across the kennel, and made for the
entrance.

When I was within two paces of the steps, however, someone
abruptly threw the door open and stepped out.  The man did not
notice me, and I stood quickly aside, hoping that at the last
minute my chance had come.  Two men, who had apparently attended
this first person downstairs, stood respectfully behind him,
holding lights.  He paused a moment on the steps to adjust his
cloak, and with more than a little surprise I recognised my
acquaintance of the morning, M. de Bruhl.

I had scarcely time to identify him before he walked down the
steps swinging his cane, brushed carelessly past me, and was
gone.  The two men looked after him awhile, shading their lights
from the wind, and one saying something, the other laughed
coarsely.  The next moment they threw the door to and went, as I
saw by the passage of their light, into the room on the left of
the hall.

Now was my time.  I could have hoped for, prayed for, expected no
better fortune than this.  The door had rebounded slightly from
the jamb, and stood open an inch or more.  In a second I pushed
it from me gently, slid into the hall, and closed it behind me.

The door of the room on the left was wide open, and the light
which shone through the doorway--otherwise the hall was dark--as
well as the voices of the two men I had seen, warned me to be
careful.  I stood, scarcely daring to breathe, and looked about
me.  There was no matting on the floor, no fire on the hearth.
The hall felt cold, damp, and uninhabited.  The state staircase
rose in front of me, and presently bifurcating, formed a gallery
round the place.  I looked up, and up, and far above me, in the
dim heights of the second floor, I espied a faint light--perhaps,
the reflection of a light.

A movement in the room on my left warned me that I had no time to
lose, if I meant to act.  At any minute one of the men might come
out and discover me.  With the utmost care I started on my
journey.  I stole across the stone floor of the hall easily and
quietly enough, but I found the real difficulty begin when I came
to the stairs.  They were of wood, and creaked and groaned under
me to such an extent that, with each step I trod, I expected the
men to take the alarm.  Fortunately all went well until I passed
the first corner--I chose, of course, the left-hand flight--then
a board jumped under my foot with a crack which sounded in the
empty hall, and to my excited ears, as loud as a pistol-shot. I
was in two minds whether I should not on the instant make a rush
for it, but happily I stood still.  One of the men came out and
listened, and I heard the other ask, with an oath, what it was.
I leant against the wall, holding my breath.

'Only that wench in one of her tantrums!'  the man who had come
out answered, applying an epithet to her which I will not set
down, but which I carried to his account in the event of our
coming face to face presently.  'She is quiet now.  She may
hammer and hammer, but--'

The rest I lost, as he passed through the doorway and went back
to his place by the fire.  But in one way his words were of
advantage to me.  I concluded that I need not be so very cautious
now, seeing that they would set down anything they heard to the
same cause; and I sped on more quickly, I had just gained the
second floor landing when a loud noise below--the opening of the
street door and the heavy tread of feet in the hall--brought me
to a temporary standstill.  I looked cautiously over the
balustrade, and saw two men go across to the room on the left.
One of them spoke as he entered, chiding the other knaves, I
fancied, for leaving the door unbarred; and the tone, though not
the words, echoing sullenly up the staircase, struck a familiar
chord in my memory.  The voice was Fresnoy's!



CHAPTER X.

THE FIGHT ON THE STAIRS.

The certainty, which this sound gave me, that I was in the right
house, and that it held also the villain to whom I owed all my
misfortunes--for who but Fresnoy could have furnished the broken
coin which had deceived mademoiselle?--had a singularly
inspiriting effect upon me.  I felt every muscle in my body grow
on the instant; hard as steel, my eyes more keen, my ears
sharper--all my senses more apt and vigorous.  I stole off like a
cat from the balustrade, over which I had been looking, and
without a second's delay began the search for mademoiselle's
room; reflecting that though the garrison now amounted to four, I
had no need to despair.  If I could release the prisoners without
noise--which would be easy were the key in the lock--we might
hope to pass through the hall by a tour de force of one kind or
another.  And a church-clock at this moment striking Five, and
reminding me that we had only half an hour in which to do all and
reach the horses, I was the more inclined to risk something.

The light which I had seen from below hung in a flat-bottomed
lantern just beyond the head of the stairs, and outside the
entrance to one of two passages which appeared to lead to the
back part of the house.  Suspecting that M. de Bruhl's business
had lain with mademoiselle, I guessed that the light had been
placed for his convenience.  With this clue and the position of
the window to guide me, I fixed on a door on the right of this
passage, and scarcely four paces from the head of the stairs.
Before I made any sign, however, I knelt down and ascertained
that there was a light in the room, and also that the key was not
in the lock.

So far satisfied, I scratched on the door with my finger-nails,
at first softly, then with greater force, and presently I heard
someone in the room rise.  I felt sure that the person whoever it
was had taken the alarm and was listening, and putting my lips to
the keyhole I whispered mademoiselle's name.

A footstep crossed the room sharply, and I heard muttering just
within the door.  I thought I detected two voices.  But I was
impatient, and, getting no answer, whispered in the same manner
as before, 'Mademoiselle de la Vire, are you there?'

Still no answer.  The muttering, too, had stopped, and all was
still--in the room, and in the silent house.  I tried again.  'It
is I, Gaston de Marsac,' I said.  'Do you hear?  I am come to
release you.'  I spoke as loudly as I dared, but most of the
sound seemed to come back on me and wander in suspicious
murmurings down the staircase.

This time, however, an exclamation of surprise rewarded me, and a
voice, which I recognised at once as mademoiselle's, answered
softly:

'What is it?  Who is there?'

'Gaston de Marsac,' I answered.  'Do you need my help?'

The very brevity of her reply; the joyful sob which accompanied
it, and which I detected even through the door; the wild cry of
thankfulness--almost an oath--of her companion--all.  these
assured me at once that I was welcome--welcome as I had never
been before--and, so assuring me, braced me to the height of any
occasion which might befall.

'Can you open the door?  I muttered.  All the time I was on my
knees, my attention divided between the inside of the room and
the stray sounds which now and then came up to me from the hall
below.  'Have you the key?'

'No; we are locked in,' mademoiselle answered.

I expected this.  'If the door is bolted inside,' I whispered,
'unfasten it, if you please!'

They answered that it was not, so bidding them stand back a
little from it, I rose and set my shoulder against it.  I hoped
to be able to burst it in with only one crash, which by itself, a
single sound, might not alarm the men downstairs.  But my weight
made no impression upon the lock, and the opposite wall being too
far distant to allow me to get any purchase for my feet, I
presently desisted.  The closeness of the door to the jambs
warned me that an attempt to prise it open would be equally
futile; and for a moment I stood gazing in perplexity at the
solid planks, which bid fair to baffle me to the end.

The position was, indeed, one of great difficulty, nor can I now
think of any way out of it better or other than that which I
adopted.  Against the wall near the head of the stairs I had
noticed, as I came up, a stout wooden stool.  I stole out and
fetched this, and setting it against the opposite wall,
endeavoured in this way to get sufficient purchase for my feet.
The lock still held; but, as I threw my whole weight on the door,
the panel against which I leaned gave way and broke inwards with
a loud, crashing sound, which echoed through the empty house, and
might almost have been beard in the street outside.

It reached the ears, at any rate, of the men sitting below, and I
heard them troop noisily out and stand in the hall, now talking
loudly, and now listening.  A minute of breathless suspense
followed--it seemed a long minute; and then, to my relief, they
tramped back again, and I was free to return to my task.  Another
thrust, directed a little lower, would, I hoped, do the business;
but to make this the more certain I knelt down and secured the
stool firmly against the wall.  As I rose after settling it,
something else, without sound or warning, rose also, taking me
completely by surprise--a man's head above the top stair, which,
as it happened, faced me.  His eyes met mine, and I knew I was
discovered.

He turned and bundled downstairs again with a scared face, going
so quickly that I could not have caught him if I would, or had
had the wit to try.  Of silence there was so longer need.  In a
few seconds the alarm would be raised.  I had small time for
thought.  Laying myself bodily against the door, I heaved and
pressed with all my strength; but whether I was careless in my
haste, or the cause was other, the lock did not give.  Instead
the stool slipped, and I fell with a crash on the floor at the
very moment the alarm reached the men below.

I remember that the crash of my unlucky fall seemed to release
all the prisoned noises of the house.  A faint scream within the
room was but a prelude, lost the next moment in the roar of
dismay, the clatter of weapons, and volley of oaths and cries and
curses which, rolling up from below, echoed hollowly about me, as
the startled knaves rushed to their weapons, and charged across
the flags and up the staircase.  I had space for one desperate
effort.  Picking myself up, I seized the stool by two of its legs
and dashed it twice against the door, driving in the panel I had
before splintered.  But that was all.  The lock held, and I had
no time for a third blow.  The men were already halfway up the
stairs.  In a breath almost they would be upon me.  I flung down
the useless stool and snatched up my sword, which lay unsheathed
beside me.  So far the matter had gone against us, but it was
time for a change of weapons now, and the end was not yet.  I
sprang to the head of the stairs and stood there, my arm by my
side and my point resting on the floor, in such an attitude of
preparedness as I could compass at the moment.

For I had not been in the house all this time, as may well be
supposed, without deciding what I would do in case of surprise,
and exactly where I could best stand on the defensive.  The flat
bottom of the lamp which hung outside the passage threw a deep
shadow on the spot immediately below it, while the light fell
brightly on the steps beyond.  Standing in the shadow I could
reach the edge of the stairs with my point, and swing the blade
freely, without fear of the balustrade; and here I posted myself
with a certain grim satisfaction as Fresnoy, with his three
comrades behind him, came bounding up the last flight.

They were four to one, but I laughed to see how, not abruptly,
but shamefacedly and by degrees, they came to a stand halfway up
the flight, and looked at me, measuring the steps and the
advantage which the light shining in their eyes gave me.
Fresnoy's ugly face was rendered uglier by a great strip of
plaister which marked the place where the hilt of my sword had
struck him in our last encounter at Chize; and this and the
hatred he bore to me gave a peculiar malevolence to his look.
The deaf man Matthew, whose savage stolidity had more than once
excited my anger on our journey, came next to him, the two
strangers whom I had seen in the hall bringing up the rear.  Of
the four, these last seemed the most anxious to come to blows,
and had Fresnoy not barred the way with his hand we should have
crossed swords without parley.

'Halt, will you!'  he cried, with an oath, thrusting one of them
back.  And then to me he said, 'So, so, my friend!  It is you, is
it?'

I looked at him in silence, with a scorn which knew no bounds,
and did not so much as honour him by raising my sword, though I
watched him heedfully.

'What are you doing here?  he continued, with an attempt at
bluster.

Still I would not answer him, or move, but stood looking down at
him.  After a moment of this, he grew restive, his temper being
churlish and impatient at the best.  Besides, I think he retained
just so much of a gentleman's feelings as enabled him to
understand my contempt and smart under it.  He moved a step
upward, his brow dark with passion.

'You beggarly son of a scarecrow!'  he broke out on a sudden,
adding a string of foul imprecations, 'will you speak, or are you
going to wait to be spitted where you stand?  If we once begin,
my bantam, we shall not stop until we have done your business!
If you have anything to say, say it, and--' But I omit the rest
of his speech, which was foul beyond the ordinary.

Still I did not move or speak, but looked at him unwavering,
though it pained me to think the women heard.  He made a last
attempt.'   Come, old friend,' he said, swallowing his anger
again, or pretending to do so, and speaking with a vile bonhomie
which I knew to be treacherous, 'if we come to blows we shall
give you no quarter.  But one chance you shall have, for the sake
of old days when we followed Conde.  Go!  Take the chance, and
go.  We will let you pass, and that broken door shall be the
worst of it.  That is more,' he added with a curse, 'than I would
do for any other man in your place, M. de Marsac.'

A sudden movement and a low exclamation in the room behind me
showed that his words were heard there; and these sounds being
followed immediately by a noise as of riving wood, mingled with
the quick breathing of someone hard at work, I judged that the
women were striving with the door--enlarging the opening it might
be.  I dared not look round, however, to see what progress they
made, nor did I answer Fresnoy, save by the same silent contempt,
but stood watching the men before me with the eye of a fencer
about to engage.  And I know nothing more keen, more vigilant,
more steadfast than that.

It was well I did, for without signal or warning the group
wavered a moment, as though retreating, and the next instant
precipitated itself upon me.  Fortunately, only two could engage
me at once, and Fresnoy, I noticed, was not of the two who dashed
forward up the steps.  One of the strangers forced himself to the
front, and, taking the lead, pressed me briskly, Matthew
seconding him in appearance, while really watching for an
opportunity of running in and stabbing me at close quarters, a
manoeuvre I was not slow to detect.

That first bout lasted half a minute only.  A fierce exultant joy
ran through me as the steel rang and grated, and I found that I
had not mistaken the strength of wrist or position.  The men were
mine.  They hampered one another on the stairs, and fought in
fetters, being unable to advance or retreat, to lunge with
freedom, or give back without fear.  I apprehended greater danger
from Matthew than from my actual opponent, and presently,
watching my opportunity, disarmed the latter by a strong parade,
and sweeping Matthew's sword aside by the same movement, slashed
him across the forehead; then, drawing back a step, gave my first
opponent the point.  He fell in a heap on the floor, as good as
dead, and Matthew, dropping his sword, staggered backwards and
downwards into Fresnoy's arms.

'Bonne Foi!  France et Bonne Foi!'  It seemed to me that I bad
not spoken, that I had plied steel in grimmest silence; and yet
the cry still rang and echoed in the roof as I lowered my point,
and stood looking grimly down at them.  Fresnoy's face was
disfigured with rage and chagrin.  They were now but two to one,
for Matthew, though his wound was slight, was disabled by the
blood which ran down into his eyes and blinded him.  'France et
Bonne Foi!'

'Bonne Foi and good sword!'  cried a voice behind me.  And
looking swiftly round, I saw mademoiselle's face thrust through
the hole in the door.  Her eyes sparkled with a fierce light, her
lips were red beyond the ordinary, and her hair, loosened and
thrown into disorder by her exertions, fell in thick masses about
her white cheeks, and gave her the aspect of a war-witch, such as
they tell of in my country of Brittany.  'Good sword!'  she cried
again, and clapped her hands.

'But better board, mademoiselle!'  I answered gaily.  Like most
of the men of my province, I am commonly melancholic, but I have
the habit of growing witty at such times as these.  'Now, M.
Fresnoy,' I continued, 'I am waiting your convenience.  Must I
put on my cloak to keep myself warm?'

He answered by a curse, and stood looking at me irresolutely.
'If you will come down,' he said.

'Send your man away and I will come,' I answered briskly.  'There
is space on the landing, and a moderate light.  But I must be
quick.  Mademoiselle and I are due elsewhere, and we are late
already.'

Still he hesitated.  Still he looked at the man lying at his feet
--who had stretched himself out and passed, quietly enough, a
minute before--and stood dubious, the most pitiable picture of
cowardice and malice--he being ordinarily a stout man--I ever
saw.  I called him poltroon and white-feather, and was
considering whether I had not better go down to him, seeing that
our time must be up, and Simon would be quitting his post, when a
cry behind me caused me to turn, and I saw that mademoiselle was
no longer looking through the opening in the door.

Alarmed on her behalf, as I reflected that there might be other
doors to the room, and the men have other accomplices in the
house, I sprang to the door to see, but had basely time to send a
single glance round-the interior--which showed me only that the
room was still occupied--before Fresnoy, taking advantage of my
movement and of my back being turned, dashed up the stairs, with
his comrade at his heels, and succeeded in pinning me into the
narrow passage where I stood.

I had scarcely time, indeed, to turn and put myself on guard
before he thrust at me.  Nor was that all.  The superiority in
position no longer lay with me.  I found myself fighting between
walls close to the opening in the door, through which the light
fell athwart my eyes, baffling and perplexing me.  Fresnoy was
not slow to see the aid this gave him, and pressed me hard and
desperately; so that we played for a full minute at close
quarters, thrusting and parrying, neither of us having room to
use the edge, or time to utter word or prayer.

At this game we were so evenly matched that for a time the end
was hard to tell.  Presently, however, there came a change.  My
opponent's habit of wild living suited ill with a prolonged bout,
and as his strength and breath failed and he began to give ground
I discerned I had only to wear him out to have him at my mercy.
He felt this himself, and even by that light I saw the sweat
spring in great drops to his forehead, saw the terror grow in his
eyes.  Already I was counting him a dead man and the victory
mine, when something hashed behind his blade, and his comrade's
poniard, whizzing past his shoulder, struck me fairly on the
chin, staggering me and hurling me back dizzy and half-stunned,
uncertain what had happened to me.

Sped an inch lower it, would have done its work and finished
mine.  Even as it was, my hand going up as I reeled back gave
Fresnoy an opening, of which he was not slow to avail himself.
He sprang forward, lunging at me furiously, and would have run me
through there and then, and ended the matter, bad not his foot,
as he advanced, caught in the stool, which still lay against the
wall.  He stumbled, his point missed my hip by a hair's breadth,
and he himself fell all his length on the floor, his rapier
breaking off short at the hilt.

His one remaining backer stayed to cast a look at him, and that
was all.  The man fled, and I chased him as far as the head of
the stairs; where I left him, assured by the speed and agility he
displayed in clearing flight after flight that I had nothing to
fear from him.  Fresnoy lay, apparently stunned, and completely
at my mercy.  I stood an instant looking down at him, in two
minds whether I should not run him through.  But the memory of
old days, when he had played his part in more honourable fashion
and shown a coarse good-fellowship in the field, held my hand;
and flinging a curse at him, I turned in anxious haste to the
door, the centre of all this bloodshed and commotion.  The light
still shone through the breach in the panel, but for some
minutes--since Fresnoy's rush up the stairs, indeed--I had heard
no sound from this quarter.  Now, looking in with apprehensions
which grew with the continuing silence, I learned the reason.
The room was empty!

Such a disappointment in the moment of triumph was hard to bear.
I saw myself, after all done and won, on the point of being again
outwitted, distanced, it might be fooled.  In frantic haste and
excitement I snatched up the stool beside me, and, dashing it
twice against the lock, forced it at last to yield.  The door
swung open, and I rushed into the room, which, abandoned by those
who had so lately occupied it, presented nothing to detain me.  I
cast a single glance round, saw that it was squalid, low-roofed,
unfurnished, a mere prison; then swiftly crossing the floor, I
made for a door at the farther end, which my eye had marked from
the first.  A candle stood flaring and guttering on a stool, and
as I passed I took it up.

Somewhat to my surprise the door yielded to my touch.  In
trembling haste--for what might not befall the women while I
fumbled with doors or wandered in passages?--I flung it wide, and
passing through it, found myself at the head of a narrow, mean
staircase, leading, doubtless, to the servants' offices.  At
this, and seeing no hindrance before me, I took heart of grace,
reflecting that mademoiselle might have escaped from the house
this way.  Though it would now be too late to quit the city, I
might still overtake her, and all end well.  Accordingly I
hurried down the stairs, shading my candle as I went from a cold
draught of air which met me, and grew stronger as I descended;
until reaching the bottom at last, I came abruptly upon an open
door, and an old, wrinkled, shrivelled woman.

The hag screamed at sight of me, and crouched down on the floor;
and doubtless, with my drawn sword, and the blood dripping from
my chin and staining all the front of my doublet, I looked fierce
and uncanny enough.  But I felt it was no time for sensibility--I
was panting to be away--and I demanded of her sternly where they
were.  She seemed to have lost her voice--through fear, perhaps
--and for answer only stared at me stupidly; but on my handling
my weapon with some readiness she so far recovered her senses as
to utter two loud screams, one after the other, and point to the
door beside her.  I doubted her; and yet I thought in her terror
she must be telling the truth, the more as I saw no other door.
In any case I must risk it, so, setting the candle down on the
step beside her, I passed out.

For a moment the darkness was so intense that I felt my way with
my sword before me, in absolute ignorance where I was or on what
my foot might next rest.  I was at the mercy of anyone who
chanced to be lying in wait for me; and I shivered as the cold
damp wind struck my cheek and stirred my hair.  But by-and-by,
when I had taken two or three steps, my eyes grew accustomed to
the gloom, and I made, out the naked boughs of trees between
myself and the sky, and guessed that I was in a garden.  My left
hand, touching a shrub, confirmed me in this belief, and in
another moment I distinguished something like the outline of a
path stretching away before me.  Following it rapidly--as rapidly
as I dared--I came to a corner, as it seemed to me, turned it
blindly, and stopped short, peeping into a curtain of solid
blackness which barred my path, and overhead mingled confusedly
with the dark shapes of trees.  But this, too, after a brief
hesitation, I made out to be a wall.  Advancing to it with
outstretched hands, I felt the woodwork of a door, and, groping
about, lit presently on a loop of cord.  I pulled at this, the
door yielded, and I went out.

I found myself in a narrow, dark lane, and looking up and down
discovered, what I might have guessed before, that it, was the
Ruelle d'Arcy.  But mademoiselle?  Fanchette?  Simon?  Where were
they?  No one was to be seen, Tormented by doubts, I lifted up my
voice and called on them in turn; first on mademoiselle, then on
Simon Fleix.  In vain; I got no answer.  High up above me I saw,
as I stood back a little, lights moving in the house I had left;
and the suspicion that, after all, the enemy had foiled me grew
upon me.  Somehow they had decoyed mademoiselle to another part
of the house, and then the old woman had misled me!

I turned fiercely to the door, which I had left ajar, resolved to
re-enter by the way I had come, and have an explanation whether
or no.  To my surprise--for I had not moved six paces from the
door nor heard the slightest sound--I found it not; only closed
but bolted--bolted both at top and bottom, as I discovered on
trying it.

I fell on that to kicking it furiously, desperately; partly in a
tempest of rage and chagrin, partly in the hope that I might
frighten the old woman, if it was she who had closed it, into
opening it again.  In vain, of course; and presently I saw this
and desisted, and, still in a whirl of haste and excitement, set
off running towards the place where I had left Simon Fleix and
the horses.  It was fully six o'clock as I judged; but some faint
hope that I might find him there with mademoiselle and her woman
still lingered in my mind.  I reached the end of the lane, I ran
to the very foot; of the ramparts, I looked right and left.  In
vain.  The place was dark, silent, deserted.

I called 'Simon!  Simon!  Simon Fleix!'  but my only answer was
the soughing of the wind in the eaves, and the slow tones of the
convent-bell striking Six.



CHAPTER XI.

THE MAN AT THE DOOR.

There are some things, not shameful in themselves, which it
shames one to remember, and among these I count the succeeding
hurry and perturbation of that night:  the vain search, without
hope or clue, to which passion impelled me, and the stubborn
persistence with which I rushed frantically from place to place
long after the soberness of reason would have had me desist.
There was not, it seems to me, looking back now, one street or
alley, lane or court, in Blois which I did not visit again and
again in my frantic wanderings; not a beggar skulking on foot
that night whom I did not hunt down and question; not a wretched
woman sleeping in arch or doorway whom I did not see and
scrutinise.  I returned to my mother's lodging again and again,
always fruitlessly.  I rushed to the stables and rushed away
again, or stood and listened in the dark, empty stalls, wondering
what had happened, and torturing myself with suggestions of this
or that.  And everywhere, not only at the North-gate, where I
interrogated the porters and found that no party resembling that
which I sought had passed out, but on the PARVIS of the
Cathedral, where a guard was drawn up, and in the common streets,
where I burst in on one group and another with my queries, I ran
the risk of suspicion and arrest, and all that might follow
thereon.

It was strange indeed that I escaped arrest.  The wound in my
chin still bled at intervals, staining my doublet; and as I was
without my cloak, which I had left in the house in the Rue
Valois, I had nothing to cover my disordered dress.  I was
keenly, fiercely anxious.  Stray passers meeting me in the glare
of a torch, or seeing me hurry by the great braziers which burned
where four streets met, looked askance at me and gave me the
wall; while men in authority cried to me to stay and answer their
questions.  I ran from the one and the other with the same savage
impatience, disregarding everything in the feverish anxiety which
spurred me on and impelled me to a hundred imprudences, such as
at my age I should have blushed to commit.  Much of this feeling
was due, no doubt, to the glimpse I had had of mademoiselle, and
the fiery words she had spoken; more, I fancy, to chagrin and
anger at the manner in which the cup of success had been dashed
at the last moment from my lips.

For four hours I wandered through the streets, now hot with
purpose, now seeking aimlessly.  It was ten o'clock when at
length I gave up the search, and, worn out both in body and mind,
climbed the stairs at my mother's lodgings and entered her room.
An old woman sat by the fire, crooning softly to herself, while
she stirred something in a black pot.  My mother lay in the same
heavy, deep sleep in which I had left her.  I sat down opposite
the nurse (who cried out at my appearance) and asked her dully
for some food.  When I had eaten it, sitting in a kind of stupor
the while, the result partly of my late exertions, and partly of
the silence which prevailed round me, I bade the woman call me if
any change took place; and then going heavily across to the
garret Simon had occupied, I lay down on his pallet, and fell
into a sound, dreamless sleep.

The next day and the next night I spent beside my mother,
watching the life ebb fast away, and thinking with grave sorrow
of her past and my future.  It pained me beyond measure to see
her die thus, in a garret, without proper attendance or any but
bare comforts; the existence which had once been bright and
prosperous ending in penury and gloom, such as my mother's love
and hope and self-sacrifice little deserved.  Her state grieved
me sharply on my own account too, seeing that I had formed none
of those familiar relations which men of my age have commonly
formed, and which console them for the loss of parents and
forbears; Nature so ordering it, as I have taken note, that men
look forward rather than backward, and find in the ties they form
with the future full compensation for the parting strands behind
them.  I was alone, poverty-stricken, and in middle life, seeing
nothing before me except danger and hardship, and these
unrelieved by hope or affection.  This last adventure, too,
despite all my efforts, had sunk me deeper in the mire; by
increasing my enemies and alienating from me some to whom I might
have turned at the worst.  In one other respect also it had added
to my troubles not a little; for the image of mademoiselle
wandering alone and unguarded through the streets, or vainly
calling on me for help, persisted in thrusting itself on my
imagination when I least wanted it, and came even between my
mother's patient face and me.

I was sitting beside Madame de Bonne a little after sunset on the
second day, the woman who attended her being absent on an errand,
when I remarked that the lamp, which had been recently lit, and
stood on a stool in the middle of the room, was burning low and
needed snuffing.  I went to it softly, and while stooping over
it, trying to improve the light, heard a slow, heavy step
ascending the stairs.  The house was quiet, and the sound
attracted my full attention.  I raised myself and stood
listening, hoping that this might be the doctor, who had not been
that day.

The footsteps passed the landing below, but at the first stair of
the next flight the person, whoever it was, stumbled, and made a
considerable noise.  At that, or it might be a moment later, the
step still ascending, I heard a sudden rustling behind me, and,
turning quickly with a start, saw my mother sitting up in bed.
Her eyes were open, and she seemed fully conscious; which she had
not been for days, nor indeed since the last conversation I have
recorded.  But her face, though it was now sensible, was pinched
and white, and so drawn with mortal fear that I believed her
dying, and sprang to her, unable to construe otherwise the
pitiful look in her straining eyes.

'Madame,' I said, hastily passing my arm round her, and speaking
with as much encouragement as I could infuse into my voice, 'take
comfort.  I am here.  Your son.'

'Hush!'  she muttered in answer, laying her feeble hand on my
wrist and continuing to look, not at me, but at the door.
'Listen, Gaston!  Don't you hear?  There it is again.  Again!'

For a moment I thought her mind still wandered, and I shivered,
having no fondness for hearing such things.  Then I saw she was
listening intently to the sound which had attracted my notice.
The step had reached the landing by this time.  The visitor,
whoever it was, paused there a moment, being in darkness, and
uncertain, perhaps, of the position of the door; but in a little
while I heard him move forward again, my mother's fragile form,
clasped as it was in my embrace, quivering with each step he
took, as though his weight stirred the house.  He tapped at the
door.

I had thought, while I listened and wondered, of more than one
whom this might be:  the leech, Simon Fleix, Madame Bruhl,
Fresnoy even.  But as the tap came, and I felt my mother tremble
in my arms, enlightenment came with it, and I pondered no more, I
knew as well as if she hail spoken and told me.  There could be
only one man whose presence had such power to terrify her, only
one whose mere step, sounding through the veil, could drag her
back to consciousness and fear!  And that was the man who had
beggared her, who had traded so long on her terrors.

I moved a little, intending to cross the floor softly, that when
he opened the door he might find me face to face with him; but
she detected the movement, and, love giving her strength, she
clung to my wrist so fiercely that I had not the heart, knowing
how slender was her hold on life and how near the brink she
stood, to break from her.  I constrained myself to stand still,
though every muscle grew tense as a drawn bowstring, and I felt
the strong rage rising in my throat and choking me as I waited
for him to enter.

A log on the hearth gave way with a dull sound startling in the
silence.  The man tapped again, and getting no answer, for
neither of us spoke, pushed the door slowly open, uttering before
he showed himself the words, 'Dieu vous benisse!'  in a voice so
low and smooth I shuddered at the sound.  The next moment he came
in and saw me, and, starting, stood at gaze, his head thrust
slightly forward, his shoulders bent, his hand still on the
latch, amazement and frowning spite in turn distorting his lean
face.  He had looked to find a weak, defenceless woman, whom he
could torture and rob at his will; he saw instead a strong man
armed, whose righteous anger he must have been blind indeed had
he failed to read.

Strangest thing of all, we had met before!  I knew him at once--
he me.  He was the same Jacobin monk whom I had seen at the inn
on the Claine, and who had told me the news of Guise's death!

I uttered an exclamation of surprise on making this discovery,
and my mother, freed suddenly, as it seemed, from the spell of
fear, which had given her unnatural strength, sank back on the
bed.  Her grasp relaxed, and her breath came and went with so
loud a rattle that I removed my gaze from him, and bent over her,
full of concern and solicitude.  Our eyes met.  She tried to
speak, and at last gasped, 'Not now, Gaston!  Let him--let him--'

Her lips framed the word 'go,' but she could not give it sound.
I understood, however, and in impotent wrath I waved my hand to
him to begone.  When I looked up he had already obeyed me.  He
had seized the first opportunity to escape.  The door was closed,
the lamp burned steadily, and we were alone.

I gave her a little Armagnac, which stood beside the bed for such
an occasion, and she revived, and presently opened her eyes.  But
I saw at once a great change in her.  The look of fear had passed
altogether from her face, and one of sorrow, yet content, had
taken its place.  She laid her hand in mine, and looked up at me,
being too weak, as I thought, to speak.  But by-and-by, when the
strong spirit had done its work, she signed to me to lower my
head to her mouth.

'The King of Navarre,' she murmured-you are sure, Gaston--he will
retain you is your--employments?'

Her pleading eyes were so close to mine, I felt no scruples such
as some might have felt, seeing her so near death; but I
answered firmly and cheerfully, 'Madame, I am assured of it.
There is no prince in Europe so trustworthy or so good to his
servants.'

She sighed with infinite content, and blessed him in a feeble
whisper.  'And if you live,' she went on, 'you will rebuild the
old house, Gaston.  The walls are sound yet.  And the oak in the
hall was not burned.  There is a chest of linen at Gil's, and a
chest with your father's gold lace--but that is pledged,' she
added dreamily.  'I forgot.'

'Madame,' I answered solemnly, 'it shall be done--it shall be
done as you wish, if the power lie with me.'

She lay for some time after that murmuring prayers, her head
supported on my shoulder.  I longed impatiently for the nurse to
return, that I might despatch her for the leech; not that I
thought anything could be done, but for my own comfort and
greater satisfaction afterwards, and that my mother might not die
without some fitting attendance.  The house remained quiet,
however, with that impressive quietness which sobers the heart at
such times, and I could not do this.  And about six o'clock my
mother opened her eyes again.

'This is not Marsac,' she murmured abruptly, her eyes roving from
the ceiling to the wall at the foot of the bed.

No, Madame,' I answered, leaning over her, 'you are in Blois.
But I am here--Gaston, your son.'

She looked at me, a faint smile of pleasure stealing over her
pinched face.  'Twelve thousand livres a year,' she whispered,
rather to herself than to me, 'and an establishment, reduced a
little, yet creditable, very creditable.'  For a moment she
seemed to be dying in my arms, but again opened her eyes quickly
and looked me in the face.  'Gaston?'  she said, suddenly and
strangely.  'Who said Gaston?  He is with the King--I have
blessed him; and his days shall be long in the land!'  Then,
raising herself in my arms with a last effort of strength, she
cried loudly, 'Way there!  Way for my son, the Sieur de Marsac!'

They were her last words.  When I laid her down on the bed a
moment later, she was dead, and I was alone.

Madame de Bonne, my mother, was seventy at the time of her death,
having survived my father eighteen years.  She was Marie de Loche
de Loheac, third daughter of Raoul, Sieur de Loheac, on the
Vilaine, and by her great-grandmother, a daughter of Jean de
Laval, was descended from the ducal family of Rohan, a
relationship which in after-times, and under greatly altered
circumstances, Henry Duke of Rohan condescended to acknowledge,
honouring me with his friendship on more occasions than one.  Her
death, which I have here recorded, took place on the fourth of
January, the Queen-Mother of France, Catherine de Medicis, dying
a little after noon on the following day.

In Blois, as in every other town, even Paris itself, the
Huguenots possessed at this time a powerful organisation; and
with the aid of the surgeon, who showed me much respect in my
bereavement, and exercised in my behalf all the influence which
skilful and honest; men of his craft invariably possess, I was
able to arrange for my mother's burial in a private ground about
a league beyond the walls and near the village of Chaverny.  At
the time of her death I had only thirty crowns in gold remaining,
Simon Fleix, to whose fate I could obtain no clue, having carried
off thirty-five with the horses.  The whole of this residue,
however, with the exception of a handsome gratuity to the nurse
and a trifle spent on my clothes, I expended on the funeral,
desiring that no stain should rest on my mother's birth or my
affection.  Accordingly, though the ceremony was of necessity
private, and indeed secret, and the mourners were few, it lacked
nothing, I think, of the decency and propriety which my mother
loved; and which she preferred, I have often heard her say, to
the vulgar show that is equally at the command of the noble and
the farmer of taxes.

Until she was laid in her quiet resting-place I stood in constant
fear of some interruption on the part either of Bruhl, whose
connection with Fresnoy and the abduction I did not doubt, or of
the Jacobin monk.  But none came; and nothing happening to
enlighten me as to the fate of Mademoiselle de la Vire, I saw my
duty clear before me.  I disposed of the furniture of my mother's
room, and indeed of everything which was saleable, and raised in
this way enough money to buy myself a new cloak--without which I
could not travel in the wintry weather--and to hire a horse.
Sorry as the animal was, the dealer required security, and I had
none to offer.  It was only at the last moment, I bethought me of
the fragment of gold chain which mademoiselle had left behind
her, and which, as well as my mother's rings and vinaigrette, I
had kept back from the sale.  This I was forced to lodge with
him.  Having thus, with some pain and more humiliation, provided
means for the journey, I lost not an hour in beginning it.  On
the eighth of January I set oat for Rosny, to carry the news of
my ill-success and of mademoiselle's position whither I had
looked a week before to carry herself.



CHAPTER XII.

MAXIMILIAN DE BETHUNE, BARON DE ROSNY.

I looked to make the journey to Rosny in two days.  But the
heaviness of the roads and the sorry condition of my hackney
hindered me so greatly that I lay the second night at Dreux, and,
hearing the way was still worse between that place and my
destination, began to think that I should be fortunate if I
reached Rosny by the following noon.  The country in this part
seemed devoted to the League, the feeling increasing in violence
as I approached the Seine.  I heard nothing save abuse of the
King of France and praise of the Guise princes, and had much ado,
keeping a still tongue and riding modestly, to pass without
molestation or inquiry.

Drawing near to Rosny, on the third morning, through a low marshy
country covered with woods and alive with game of all kinds, I
began to occupy myself with thoughts of the reception I was
likely to encounter; which, I conjectured, would be none of the
most pleasant.  The daring and vigour of the Baron de Rosny, who
had at this time the reputation of being in all parts of France
at once, and the familiar terms on which he was known to live
with the King of Navarre, gave me small reason to hope that he
would listen with indulgence to such a tale as I had to tell.
The nearer I came to the hour of telling it, indeed, the more
improbable seemed some of its parts, and the more glaring my own
carelessness in losing the token, and in letting mademoiselle out
of my sight in such a place as Blois.  I saw this so clearly now,
and more clearly as the morning advanced, that I do not know that
I ever anticipated anything with more fear than this explanation;
which it yet seemed my duty to offer with all reasonable speed.
The morning was warm, I remember; cloudy, yet not dark; the air
near at hand full of moisture and very clear, with a circle of
mist rising some way off, and filling the woods with blue
distances.  The road was deep and foundrous, and as I was obliged
to leave it from time to time in order to pass the worst places,
I presently began to fear that I had strayed into a by-road.
After advancing some distance, in doubt whether I should
persevere or turn back, I was glad to see before me a small house
placed at the junction of several woodland paths.  From the bush
which hung over the door, and a water-trough which stood beside
it, I judged the place to be an inn; and determining to get my
horse fed before I went farther, I rode up to the door and rapped
on it with my riding-switch.

The position of the house was so remote that I was surprised to
see three or four heads thrust immediately out of a window.  For
a moment I thought I should have done better to have passed by;
but the landlord coming out very civilly, and leading the way to
a shed beside the house, I reflected that I had little to lose,
and followed him.  I found, as I expected, four horses tied up in
the shed, the bits hanging round their necks and their girths
loosed; while my surprise was not lessened by the arrival, before
I had fastened up my own horse, of a sixth rider, who, seeing us
by the shed, rode up to us, and saluted me as he dismounted.

He was a tall, strong man in the prime of youth, wearing a plain,
almost mean suit of dust-coloured leather, and carrying no
weapons except a hunting-knife, which hung in a sheath at his
girdle.  He rode a powerful silver-roan horse, and was splashed
to the top of his high untanned boots, as if he had come by the
worst of paths, if by any.

He cast a shrewd glance at the landlord as he led his horse into
the shed; and I judged from his brown complexion and quick eyes
that he had seen much weather and lived an out-of-door life.

He watched me somewhat curiously while I mixed the fodder for my
horse; and when I went into the house and sat down in the first
room I came to, to eat a little bread-and-cheese which I had in
my pouch, he joined me almost immediately.  Apparently he could
not stomach my poor fare, however, for after watching me for a
time in silence, switching his boot with his whip the while, he
called the landlord, and asked him, in a masterful way, what
fresh meat he had, and particularly if he had any lean collops,
or a fowl.

The fellow answered that there was nothing.  His honour could
have some Lisieux cheese, he added, or some stewed lentils.

'His honour does not want cheese,' the stranger answered
peevishly, 'nor lentil porridge.  And what is this I smell, my
friend?'  he continued, beginning suddenly to sniff with vigour.
'I swear I smell cooking.'

'It is the hind-quarter of a buck, which is cooking for the four
gentlemen of the Robe; with a collop or two to follow,' the
landlord explained; and humbly excused himself on the ground that
the gentlemen had strictly engaged it for their own eating.

'What?  A whole quarter!  AND a collop or two to follow!'  the
stranger retorted, smacking his lips.  'Who are they?'

'Two advocates and their clerks from the Parliament of Paris.
They have been viewing a boundary near here, and are returning
this afternoon,' the landlord answered.

'No reason why they should cause a famine!'  ejaculated the
stranger with energy.  'Go to them and say a gentleman, who has
ridden far, and fasted since seven this morning, requests
permission to sit at their table.  A quarter of venison and a
collop or two among four!'  he continued, in a tone of extreme
disgust, 'It is intolerable!  And advocates!  Why, at that rate,
the King of France should eat a whole buck, and rise hungry!
Don't you agree with me, sir?'  he continued, turning on me and
putting the question abruptly.

He was so comically and yet so seriously angry, and looked so
closely at me as he spoke, that I hastened to say I agreed with
him perfectly.

'Yet you eat cheese, sir!'  he retorted irritably.

I saw that, not withstanding the simplicity of his dress, he was
a gentleman, and so, forbearing to take offence, I told him
plainly that my purse being light I travelled rather as I could
than as I would.

'Is it so?'  he answered hastily.  'Had I known that, I would
have joined you in the cheese!  After all, I would rather fast
with a gentleman, than feast with a churl.  But it is too late
now.  Seeing you mix the fodder, I thought your pockets were
full.'

'The nag is tired, and has done its best,' I answered.

He looked at me curiously, and as though he would say more.
But the landlord returning at that moment, he turned to him
instead.

'Well!'  he said briskly.  'Is it all right?'

'I am sorry, your honour,' the man answered, reluctantly, and
with a very downcast air, 'but the gentlemen beg to be excused.'

'Zounds!'  cried my companion roundly.  'They do, do they?'

'They say they have no more, sir,' the landlord continued,
faltering, 'than enough for themselves and a little dog they have
with them.'

A shout of laughter which issued at that moment from the other
room seemed to show that the quartette were making merry over my
companion's request.  I saw his cheek redden, and looked for an
explosion of anger on his part; but instead he stood a moment in
thought in the middle of the floor, and then, much to the
innkeeper's relief, pushed a stool towards me, and called for a
bottle of the best wine.  He pleasantly begged leave to eat a
little of my cheese, which he said looked better than the
Lisieux, and, filling my glass with wine, fell to as merrily as
if he had never heard of the party in the other room.

I was more than a little surprised, I remember; for I had taken
him to be a passionate man, and not one to sit down under an
affront.  Still I said nothing, and we conversed very well
together.  I noticed, however, that he stopped speaking more than
once, as though to listen; but conceiving that he was merely
reverting to the party in the other room, who grew each moment
more uproarious, I said nothing, and was completely taken by
surprise when he rose on a sudden, and, going to the open window,
leaned out, shading his eyes with his hand.

'What is it?'  I said, preparing to follow him.

He answered by a quiet chuckle.  'You shall see,' he added the
next instant.

I rose, and going to the window looked out over his shoulder.
Three men were approaching the inn on horseback.  The first, a
great burly, dark-complexioned man with fierce black eyes and a
feathered cap, had pistols in his holsters and a short sword by
his side.  The other two, with the air of servants, were stout
fellows, wearing green doublets and leather breeches.  All three
rode good horses, while a footman led two hounds after them in a
leash.  On seeing us they cantered forward, the leader waving his
bonnet.

'Halt, there!'  cried my companion, lifting up his voice when
they were within a stone's throw of us.  'Maignan!'

'My lord?'  answered he of the feather, pulling up on the
instant.

'You will find six horses in the shed there,' the stranger cried
in a voice of command.  'Turn out the four to the left as you go
in.  Give each a cut, and send it about its business!'

The man wheeled his horse before the words were well uttered, and
crying obsequiously 'that it was done,' flung his reins to one of
the other riders and disappeared in the shed, as if the order
given him were the most commonplace one in the world.

The party in the other room, however, by whom all could be heard,
were not slow to take the alarm.  They broke into a shout of
remonstrance, and one of their number, leaping from the window,
asked with a very fierce air what the devil we meant.  The others
thrust out their faces, swollen and flushed with the wine they
had drunk, and with many oaths backed up his question.  Not
feeling myself called upon to interfere, I prepared to see
something diverting.

My companion, whose coolness surprised me, had all the air of
being as little concerned as myself.  He even persisted for a
time in ignoring the angry lawyer, and, turning a deaf ear to all
the threats and abuse with which the others assailed him,
continued to look calmly at the prospect.  Seeing this, and that
nothing could move him, the man who had jumped through the
window, and who seemed the most enterprising of the party, left
us at last and ran towards the stalls.  The aspect of the two
serving-men, however, who rode up grinning, and made as if they
would ride him down, determined him to return; which he did, pale
with fury, as the last of the four horses clattered out, and
after a puzzled look round trotted off at its leisure into the
forest.

On this, the man grew more violent, as I have remarked frightened
men do; so that at last the stranger condescended to notice him.

'My good sir,' he said coolly, looking at him through the window
as if he had not seen him before, 'you annoy me.  What is the
matter?'

The fellow retorted with a vast amount of bluster, asking what
the devil we meant by turning out his horses.

'Only to give you and the gentlemen with you a little exercise,'
my companion answered, with grim humour, and in a severe tone
strange in one so young--'than which nothing is more wholesome
after a full meal.  That, and a lesson in good manners.
Maignan,' he continued, raising his voice, 'if this person has
anything more to say, answer him.  He is nearer your degree than
mine.'

And leaving the man to slink away like a whipped dog--for the
mean are ever the first to cringe--my friend turned from the
window.  Meeting my eyes as he went back to his seat, he laughed.
'Well,' he said, 'what do you think?'

'That the ass in the lion's skin is very well till it meets the
lion,' I answered.

He laughed again, and seemed pleased, as I doubt not he was.
'Pooh, pooh!'  he said.  'It passed the time, and I think I am
quits with my gentlemen now.  But I must be riding.  Possibly our
roads may lie for a while in the same direction, sir?'  And he
looked at me irresolutely.

I answered cautiously that I was going to the town of Rosny.

'You are not from Paris?'  he continued, still looking at me.

'No,' I answered.  'I am from the south.'

'From Blois, perhaps?'

I nodded.

'Ah!'  he said, making no comment, which somewhat surprised me,
all men at this time desiring news, and looking to Blois for it.
'I am riding towards Rosny also.  Let us be going.'

But I noticed that as we got to horse, the man he called Maignan
holding his stirrup with much formality, he turned and looked at
me more than once with an expression in his eye which I could not
interpret; so that, being in an enemy's country, where curiosity
was a thing to be deprecated, I began to feel somewhat uneasy.
However, as he presently gave way to a fit of laughter, and
seemed to be digesting his late diversion at the inn, I thought
no more of it, finding him excellent company and a man of
surprising information.

Notwithstanding this my spirits began to flag as I approached
Rosny; and as on such occasions nothing is more trying than the
well-meant rallying of a companion ignorant of our trouble, I
felt rather relief than regret when he drew rein at four cross-
roads a mile or so short of the town, and, announcing that here
our paths separated, took a civil leave of me, and went his way
with his servants.

I dismounted at an inn at the extremity of the town, and,
stopping only to arrange my dress and drink a cup of wine, asked
the way to the Chateau, which was situate, I learned, no more
than a third of a mile away.  I went thither on foot by way of an
avenue of trees leading up to a drawbridge and gateway.  The
former was down, but the gates were closed, and all the
formalities of a fortress in time of war were observed on my
admission, though the garrison appeared to consist only of two or
three serving-men and as many foresters.  I had leisure after
sending in my name to observe that the house was old and partly
ruinous, but of great strength, covered in places with ivy, and
closely surrounded by woods.  A staid-looking page came presently
to me, and led me up a narrow staircase to a parlour lighted by
two windows, looking, one into the courtyard, the other towards
the town.  There a tall man was waiting to receive me, who rose
on my entrance and came forward.  Judge of my surprise when I
recognised my acquaintance of the afternoon!  'M. de Rosny?'  I
exclaimed, standing still and looking at him in confusion.

'The same, sir,' he answered, with a quiet smile.  'You come from
the King of Navarre, I believe?  and on an errand to me.  You may
speak openly.  The king has no secrets from me.'

There was something in the gravity of his demeanour as he waited
for me to speak:  which strongly impressed me; notwithstanding
that he was ten years younger than myself, and I had seen him so
lately in a lighter mood.  I felt that his reputation had not
belied him--that here was a great man; and reflecting with
despair on the inadequacy of the tale I had to tell him, I paused
to consider in what terms I should begin.  He soon put an end to
this, however.  'Come, sir,' he said with impatience.  'I have
told you that you may speak out.  You should have been here four
days ago, as I take it.  Now you are here, where is the lady?'

'Mademoiselle de la Vire?'  I stammered, rather to gain time than
with any other object.

'Tut, tut!'  he rejoined, frowning.  'Is there any other lady in
the question?  Come, sir, speak out.  Where have you left her?
This is no affair of gallantry,' he continued, the harshness of
his demeanour disagreeably surprising me, 'that you need beat
about the bush.  The king entrusted to you a lady, who, I have no
hesitation in telling you now, was in possession of certain State
secrets.  It is known that she escaped safely from Chize and
arrived safely at Blois.  Where is she?'

'I would to Heaven I knew, sir!'  I exclaimed in despair, feeling
the painfulness of my position increased a hundred fold by his
manner.  'I wish to God I did.'

'What is this?'  he cried in a raised voice.  'You do not know
where she is?  You jest, M. de Marsac.'

'It were a sorry jest,' I answered, summoning up a rueful smile.
And on that, plunging desperately into the story which I have
here set down, I narrated the difficulties under which I had
raised my escort, the manner in which I came to be robbed of the
gold token, how mademoiselle was trepanned, the lucky chance by
which I found her again, and the final disappointment.  He
listened, but listened throughout with no word of sympathy--
rather with impatience, which grew at last into derisive
incredulity.  When I had done he asked me bluntly what I called
myself.

Scarcely understanding what he meant, I repeated my name.

He answered, rudely and flatly, that it was impossible.  I do not
believe it, sir!'  he repeated, his brow dark.  'You are not the
man.  You bring neither the lady nor the token, nor anything else
by which I can test your story.  Nay, sir, do not scowl at me,'
he continued sharply.  'I am the mouthpiece of the King of
Navarre, to whom this matter is of the highest importance.  I
cannot believe that the man whom he would choose would act so.
This house you prate of in Blois, for instance, and the room with
the two doors?  What were you doing while mademoiselle was being
removed?'

'I was engaged with the men of the house,' I answered, striving
to swallow the anger which all but choked me.  'I did what I
could.  Had the door given way, all would have been well.'

He looked at me darkly.  'That is fine talking!'  he said with a
sneer.  Then he dropped his eyes and seemed for a time to fall
into a brown study, while I stood before him, confounded by this
new view of the case, furious, yet not knowing how to vent my
fury, cut to the heart by his insults, yet without hope or
prospect of redress.

'Come' he said harshly, after two or three minutes of gloomy
reflection on his part and burning humiliation on mine, 'is there
anyone here who can identify you, or in any other way confirm
your story, sir?  Until I know how the matter stands I can do
nothing.'

I shook my head in sullen shame.  I might protest against his
brutality and this judgment of me, but to what purpose while he
sheltered himself behind his master?

'Stay!'  he said presently, with an abrupt gesture of
remembrance. 'I had nearly forgotten.  I have some here who have
been lately at the King of Navarre's Court at St. Jean d'Angely.
If you still maintain that you are the M. de Marsac to whom this
commission was entrusted, you will doubtless have no objection to
seeing them?'

On this I felt myself placed in a most cruel dilemma.  if I
refused to submit my case to the proposed ordeal, I stood an
impostor confessed.  If I consented to see these strangers, it
was probable they would not recognise me, and possible that they
might deny me in terms calculated to make my position even worse,
if that might be.  I hesitated but, Rosny standing inexorable
before me awaiting an answer, I finally consented.

'Good!'  he said curtly.  'This way, if you please.  They are
here.  The latch is tricky.  Nay, sir, it is my house.'

Obeying the stern motion of his hand, I passed before him into
the next room, feeling myself more humiliated than I can tell by
this reference to strangers.  For a moment I could see no one.
The day was waning, the room I entered was long and narrow, and
illuminated only by a glowing fire.  Besides I was myself,
perhaps, in some embarrassment.  I believed that my conductor had
made a mistake, or that his guests had departed, and I turned
towards him to ask for an explanation.  He merely pointed
onwards, however, and I advanced; whereupon a young and handsome
lady, who had been seated in the shadow of the great fireplace,
rose suddenly, as if startled, and stood looking at me, the glow
of the burning wood falling on one side of her face and turning
her hair to gold.

'Well!'  M. de Rosny said, in a voice which sounded a little odd
in my ears.  'You do not know madame, I think?'

I saw that she was a complete stranger to me, and bowed to her
without speaking.  The lady saluted me in turn ceremoniously and
in silence.

'Is there no one else here who should know you?'  M. de Rosny
continued, in a tone almost of persiflage, and with the same
change in his voice which had struck me before; but now it was
more marked.  'If not, M. de Marsac, I am afraid--But first look
round, look round, sir; I would not judge any man hastily.'

He laid his hand on my shoulder as he finished in a manner so
familiar and so utterly at variance with his former bearing that
I doubted if I heard or felt aright.  Yet I looked mechanically
at the lady, and seeing that her eyes glistened in the firelight,
and that she gazed at me very kindly, I wondered still more;
falling, indeed, into a very confusion of amazement.  This was
not lessened but augmented a hundredfold when, turning in
obedience to the pressure of de Rosny's hand, I saw beside me, as
if she had risen from the floor, another lady--no other than
Mademoiselle de la Vire herself!  She had that moment stepped out
of the shadow of the great fireplace, which had hitherto hidden
her, and stood before me curtseying prettily, with the same look
on her face and in her eyes which madame's wore.

'Mademoiselle!'  I muttered, unable to take my eyes from her.

'Mais oui, monsieur, mademoiselle,' she answered, curtseying
lower, with the air of a child rather than a woman.

'Here?'  I stammered, my mouth open, my eyes staring.

'Here, sir--thanks to the valour of a brave man,' she answered,
speaking in a voice so low I scarcely heard her.  And then,
dropping her eyes, she stepped back into the shadow, as if either
she had said too much already, or doubted her composure were she
to say more.  She was so radiantly dressed, she looked in the
firelight more like a fairy than a woman, being of small and
delicate proportions; and she seemed in my eyes so different a
person, particularly in respect of the softened expression of
her features, from the Mademoiselle de la Vire whom I had known
and seen plunged in sloughs and bent to the saddle with fatigue,
that I doubted still if I had seen aright, and was as far from
enlightenment as before.

It was M. de Rosny himself who relieved me from the embarrassment
I was suffering. He embraced me in the most kind and obliging
manner, and this more than once; begging me to pardon the
deception he had practised upon me, and to which he had been
impelled partly by the odd nature of our introduction at the inn,
and partly by his desire to enhance the joyful surprise he had in
store for me.  'Come,' he said presently, drawing me to the
window, 'let me show you some more of your old friends.'

I looked out, and saw below me in the courtyard my three horses
drawn up in a row, the Cid being bestridden by Simon Fleix, who,
seeing me, waved a triumphant greeting.  A groom stood at the
head of each horse, and on either side was a man with a torch.
My companion laughed gleefully.  'It was Maignan's arrangement,'
he said.  'He has a quaint taste in such things.'

After greeting Simon Fleix a hundred times, I turned back into
the room, and, my heart overflowing with gratitude and wonder, I
begged M. de Rosny to acquaint me with the details of
mademoiselle's escape.

'It was the most simple thing in the world,' he said, taking me
by the hand and leading me back to the hearth.  'While you were
engaged with the rascals, the old woman who daily brought
mademoiselle's food grew alarmed at the uproar, and came into the
room to learn what it was.  Mademoiselle, unable to help you, and
uncertain of your success, thought the opportunity too good to be
lost.  She forced the old woman to show her and her maid the way
out through the garden.  This done, they ran down a lane, as I
understand, and came immediately upon the lad with the horses,
who recognised them and helped them to mount.  They waited some
minutes for you, and then rode off.'

'But I inquired at the gate,' I said.

'At which gate?'  inquired M. de Rosny, smiling.

'The North-gate, of course,' I answered.

'Just so,' he rejoined with a nod.  'But they went out through
the West-gate and made a circuit.  He is a strange lad, that of
yours below there.  He has a head on his shoulder, M. de Marsac.
Well, two leagues outside the town they halted, scarcely knowing
how to proceed.  By good fortune, however, a horse-dealer of my
acquaintance was at the inn.  He knew Mademoiselle de la Vire,
and, hearing whither she was bound, brought her hither without
let or hindrance.'

'Was he a Norman?'  I asked,

M. de Rosny nodded, smiling at me shrewdly.  'Yes,' he said, 'he
told me much about you.  And now let me introduce you to my wife,
Madame de Rosny.'

He led me up to the lady who had risen at my entrance, and who
now welcomed me as kindly as she had before looked on me, paying
me many pleasant compliments.  I gazed at her with interest,
having heard much of her beauty and of the strange manner in
which M. de Rosny, being enamoured of two young ladies, and
chancing upon both while lodging in different apartments at an
inn, had decided which he should visit and make his wife.  He
appeared to read what was in my mind, for as I bowed before her,
thanking her for the obliging things which she had uttered, and
which for ever bound me to her service, he gaily pinched her ear,
and said, 'When you want a good wife, M. de Marsac, be sure you
turn to the right.'

He spoke in jest, and having his own case only in his mind.  But
I, looking mechanically in the direction he indicated, saw
mademoiselle standing a pace or two to my right in the shadow of
the great chimney-piece.  I know not whether she frowned more or
blushed more; but this for certain, that she answered my look
with one of sharp displeasure, and, turning her back on me, swept
quickly from the room, with no trace in her bearing of that late
tenderness and gratitude which I had remarked.



CHAPTER XIII.

AT ROSNY.

The morning brought only fresh proofs of the kindness which M. de
Rosny had conceived for me.  Awaking early I found on a stool
beside my clothes, a purse of gold containing a hundred crowns;
and a youth presently entering to ask me if I lacked anything, I
had at first some difficulty in recognising Simon Fleix, so
sprucely was the lad dressed, in a mode resembling Maignan's.  I
looked at the student more than once before I addressed him by
his name; and was as much surprised by the strange change I
observed in him for it was not confined to his clothes--as by
anything which had happened since I entered the house.  I rubbed
my eyes, and asked him what he had done with his soutane.
'Burned it, M. de Marsac,' he answered briefly.

I saw that he had burned much, metaphorically speaking, besides
his soutane.  He was less pale, less lank, less wobegone than
formerly, and went more briskly.  He had lost the air of crack-
brained disorder which had distinguished him, and was smart,
sedate, and stooped less.  Only the odd sparkle remained in his
eyes, and bore witness to the same nervous, eager spirit within.

'What are you going to do, then, Simon?'  I asked, noting these
changes curiously.

'I am a soldier,' he answered, 'and follow M. de Marsac.'

I laughed.  'You have chosen a poor service, I am afraid,' I
said, beginning to rise; 'and one, too, Simon, in which it is
possible you may be killed.  I thought that would not suit you,'
I continued, to see what he would say.  But he answered nothing,
and I looked at him in great surprise.  'You have made up your
mind, then, at last?'  I said.

'Perfectly,' he answered.

'And solved all your doubts?'

'I have no doubts.'

'You are a Huguenot?'

'That is the only true and pure religion,' he replied gravely.
And with apparent sincerity and devotion he repeated Beza's
Confession of Faith.

This filled me with profound astonishment, but I said no more at
the time, though I had my doubts.  I waited until I was alone
with M. de Rosny, and then I unbosomed myself on the matter;
expressing my surprise at the suddenness of the conversion, and
at such a man, as I had found the student to be, stating his
views so firmly and steadfastly, and with so little excitement.
Observing that M. de Rosny smiled but answered nothing, I
explained myself farther.

'I am surprised,' I said, 'because I have always heard it
maintained that clerkly men, becoming lost in the mazes of
theology, seldom find any sure footing; that not one in a hundred
returns to his old faith, or finds grace to accept a new one.  I
am speaking only of such, of course, as I believe this lad to be
--eager, excitable brains, learning much, and without judgment to
digest what they learn.'

'Of such I also believe it to be true,' M. de Rosny answered,
still smiling.  'But even on them a little influence, applied at
the right moment, has much effect, M. de Marsac.'

'I allow that,' I said.  'But my mother, of whom I have spoken to
you, saw much of this youth.  His fidelity to her was beyond
praise.  Yet her faith, though grounded on a rock, had no weight
with him.'

M. de Rosny shook his head, still smiling.

'It is not our mothers who convert us,' he said.

'What!'  I cried, my eyes opened.  'Do you mean--do you mean that
Mademoiselle has done this?'

'I fancy so,' he answered, nodding.  'I think my lady cast her
spell over him by the way.  The lad left Blois with her, if what
you say be true, without faith in the world.  He came to my hands
two days later the stoutest of Huguenots.  It is not hard to read
this riddle.'

'Such, conversions are seldom lasting,' I said.

He looked at me queerly; and, the smile still hovering about his
lips, answered "Tush, man!  Why so serious?  Theodore Beza
himself could not look dryer.  The lad is in earnest, and there
is no harm done.'

And, Heaven knows, I was in no mood to suspect harm; nor inclined
just then to look at the dark side of things.  It may be
conceived how delightful it was to me to be received as an equal
and honoured guest by a man, even then famous, and now so grown
in reputation as to overshadow all Frenchmen save his master; how
pleasant to enjoy the comforts and amiabilities of home, from
which I had been long estranged; to pour my mother's story into
Madame's ears and find comfort in her sympathy; to feel myself,
in fine, once more a gentleman with an acknowledged place in the
world.  Our days we spent in hunting, or excursions of some kind,
our evenings in long conversations, which impressed me with an
ever-growing respect for my lord's powers.

For there seemed to be no end either to his knowledge of France,
or to the plans for its development, which even then filled his
brain, and have since turned wildernesses into fruitful lands,
and squalid towns into great cities.  Grave and formal, he could
yet unbend; the most sagacious of counsellors, he was a soldier
also, and loved the seclusion in which we lived the more that it
was not devoid of danger; the neighbouring towns being devoted to
the League, and the general disorder alone making it possible for
him to lie unsuspected in his own house.

One thing only rendered my ease and comfort imperfect, and that
was the attitude which Mademoiselle de la Vire assumed towards
me.  Of her gratitude in the first blush of the thing I felt no
doubt, for not only had she thanked me very prettily, though with
reserve, on the evening of my arrival, but the warmth of M. de
Rosny's kindness left me no choice, save to believe that she had
given him an exaggerated idea of my merits and services.  I asked
no more than this.  Such good offices left me nothing to expect
or desire; my age and ill-fortune placing me at so great a
disadvantage that, far from dreaming of friendship or intimacy
with her, I did not even assume the equality in our daily
intercourse to which my birth, taken by itself, entitled me.
Knowing that I must appear in her eyes old, poor, and ill-
dressed, and satisfied, with having asserted my conduct and
honour, I was careful not to trespass on her gratitude; and while
forward in such courtesies as could not weary her, I avoided with
equal care every appearance of pursuing her, or inflicting my
company upon her.  I addressed her formally and upon formal
topics only, such, I mean, as we shared with the rest of our
company; and I reminded myself often that though we now met in
the same house and at the same table, she was still the
Mademoiselle de la Vire who had borne herself so loftily in the
King of Navarre's ante-chamber.  This I did, not out of pique or
wounded pride, which I no more, God knows, harboured against her
than against a bird; but that I might not in my new prosperity
forget the light in which such a woman, young, spoiled, and
beautiful, must still regard me.

Keeping to this inoffensive posture, I was the more hurt when I
found her gratitude fade with the hour.  After the first two
days, during which I remarked that she was very silent, seldom
speaking to me or looking at me, she resumed much of her old air
of disdain.  For that I cared little; but she presently went
farther, and began to rake up the incidents which had happened at
St. Jean d'Angely, and in which I had taken part.  She
continually adverted to my poverty while there, to the odd figure
I had cut, and the many jests her friends had made at my expense.
She seemed to take a pleasure positively savage in these, gibing
at me sometimes so bitterly as to shame and pain me, and bring
the colour to Madame de Rosny's cheeks.

To the time we had spent together, on the other hand, she never
or rarely referred.  One afternoon, however, a week after my
arrival at Rosny, I found her sitting alone in the parlour.  I
had not known she was there, and I was for withdrawing at once
with a bow and a muttered apology.  But she stopped me with an
angry gesture.  'I do not bite,' she said, rising from her stool
and meeting my eyes, a red spot in each cheek.  'Why do you look
at me like that?  Do you know, M. de Marsac, that I have no
patience with you.'  And she stamped her foot on the floor.

'But, mademoiselle,' I stammered humbly, wondering what in the
world she meant, 'what have I done?'

'Done?'  she repeated angrily.  'Done?  It is not what you have
done, it is what you are.  I have no patience with you.  Why are
you so dull, sir?  Why are you so dowdy?  Why do you go about
with your doublet awry, and your hair lank?  Why do you speak to
Maignan as if he were a gentleman?  Why do you look always solemn
and polite, and as if all the world were a preche?  Why?  Why?
Why, I say?'

She stopped from sheer lack of breath, leaving me as much
astonished as ever in my life.  She looked so beautiful in her
fury and fierceness too, that I could only stare at her and
wonder dumbly what it all meant.

'Well!'  she cried impatiently, after bearing this as long as she
could, 'have you not a word to say for yourself?  Have you no
tongue?  Have you no will of your own at all, M. de Marsac?'

'But, mademoiselle,' I began, trying to explain.

'Chut!'  she exclaimed, cutting me short before I could get
farther, as the way of women is.  And then she added, in a
changed tone, and very abruptly, 'You have a velvet knot of mine,
sir.  Give it me.'

'It is in my room,' I answered, astonished beyond measure at this
sudden change of subject, and equally sudden demand.

'Then fetch it, sir, if you please,' she replied, her eyes
flashing afresh.  'Fetch it.  Fetch it, I say!  It has served its
turn, and I prefer to have it.  Who knows but that some day you
may be showing it for a love-knot?'

'Mademoiselle!'  I cried, hotly.  And I think that for the moment
I was as angry as she was.

'Still, I prefer to have it,' she answered sullenly, casting down
her eyes.

I was so much enraged, I went without a word and fetched it, and,
bringing it to her where she stood, in the same place, put it
into her hands.  When she saw it some recollection, I fancy, of
the day when she had traced the cry for help on it, came to her
in her anger; for she took it from me with all her bearing
altered.  She trembled, and held it for a moment in her hands, as
if she did not know what to do with it.  She was thinking,
doubtless, of the house in Blois and the peril she had run there;
and, being for my part quite willing that she should think and
feel how badly she had acted, I stood looking at her, sparing her
no whit of my glance.

'The gold chain you left on my mother's pillow,' I said coldly,
seeing she continued silent, 'I cannot return to you at once, for
I have pledged it.  But I will do so as soon as I can.'

'You have pledged it?'  she muttered, with her eyes averted.

'Yes, mademoiselle, to procure a horse to bring me here,' I
replied drily.  'However, it, shall be redeemed.  In return,
there is something I too would ask.'

'What?'  she murmured, recovering herself with all effort, and
looking at me with something of her old pride and defiance.

'The broken coin you have,' I said.  'The token, I mean.  It is
of no use to you, for your enemies hold the other half.  It might
be of service to me.'

'How?'  she asked curtly.

'Because some day I may find its fellow, mademoiselle,'

'And then?" she cried.  She looked at me, her lips parted, her
eyes flashing.  'What then, when you have found its fellow, M. de
Marsac?'

I shrugged my shoulders.

'Bah!'  she exclaimed, clenching her little hand, and stamping
her foot on the floor in a passion I could not understand.  'That
is you!  That is M. de Marsac all over.  You say nothing, and men
think nothing of you.  You go with your hat in your hand, and
they tread on you.  They speak, and you are silent!  Why, if I
could use a sword as you can, I would keep silence before no man,
nor let any man save the King of France cock his hat in my
presence!  But you!  There!  go, leave me.  Here is your coin.
Take it and go.  Send me that lad of yours to keep me awake.  At
any rate he has brains, he is young, he is a man, he has a soul,
he can feel--if he were anything but a clerk.'

She waved me off in such a wind of passion as might have amused
me in another, but in her smacked so strongly of ingratitude as
to pain me not a little.  I went, however, and sent Simon to her;
though I liked the errand very ill, and no better when I saw the
lad's face light up at the mention of her name.  But apparently
she had not recovered her temper when he reached her, for he
fared no better than I had done; coming away presently with the
air of a whipped dog, as I saw from the yew-tree walk where I was
strolling.

Still, after that she made it a habit to talk to him more and
more; and, Monsieur and Madame de Rosny being much taken up with
one another, there was no one to check her fancy or speak a word
of advice.  Knowing her pride, I had no fears for her; but it
grieved me to think that the lad's head should be turned.  A
dozen times I made up my mind to speak to her on his behalf; but
for one thing it was not my business, and for another I soon
discovered that she was aware of my displeasure, and valued it
not a jot.  For venturing one morning, when she was in a pleasant
humour, to hint that she treated those beneath her too inhumanly,
and with an unkindness as little becoming noble blood as
familiarity, she asked me scornfully if I did not think she
treated Simon Fleix well enough.  To which I had nothing to
answer.

I might here remark on the system of secret intelligence by means
of which M. de Rosny, even in this remote place, received news of
all that was passing in France.  But it is common fame.  There
was no coming or going of messengers, which would quickly have
aroused suspicion in the neighbouring town, nor was it possible
even for me to say exactly by what channels news came.  But come
it did, and at all hours of the day.  In this way we heard of the
danger of La Ganache and of the effort contemplated by the King
of Navarre for its relief.  M. de Rosny not only communicated
these matters to me without reserve, but engaged my affections by
farther proofs of confidence such as might well have flattered a
man of greater importance.

I have said that, as a rule, there was no coming or going of
messengers.  But one evening, returning from the chase with one
of the keepers, who had prayed my assistance in hunting down a
crippled doe, I was surprised to find a strange horse, which had
evidently been ridden hard and far, standing smoking in the yard.
Inquiring whose it was, I learned that a man believed by the
grooms to be from Blois had just arrived and was closeted with
the baron.  An event so far out of the ordinary course of things
naturally aroused my wonder; but desiring to avoid any appearance
of curiosity, which, if indulged, is apt to become the most
vulgar of vices, I refrained from entering the house, and
repaired instead to the yew-walk.  I had scarcely, however,
heated my blood, a little chilled with riding, before the page
came to me to fetch me to his master.

I found M. de Rosny striding up and down his room, his manner so
disordered and his face disfigured by so much grief and horror
that I started on seeing him.  My heart sinking in a moment, I
did not need to look at Madame, who sat weeping silently in a
chair, to assure myself that something dreadful had happened.
The light was failing, and a lamp had been brought into the room.
M. de Rosny pointed abruptly to a small piece of paper which lay
on the table beside it, and, obeying his gesture, I took this up
and read its contents, which consisted of less than a score of
words.

'He is ill and like to die,' the message ran, 'twenty leagues
south of La Ganache.  Come at all costs.  P. M.

'Who?'  I said stupidly--stupidly, for already I began to
understand.  Who is ill and like to die?'

M. de Rosny turned to me, and I saw that the tears were trickling
unbidden down his cheeks.  'There is but one HE for me,' he
cried.  'May God spare that one!  May He spare him to France,
which needs him, to the Church, which hangs on him, and to me,
who love him!  Let him not fall in the hour of fruition.  O Lord,
let him not fall!'  And he sank on to a stool, and remained in
that posture with his face in his hands, his broad shoulders
shaken with grief.

'Come, sir,' I said, after a pause sacred to sorrow and dismay;
'let me remind you that while there is life there is hope.'

'Hope?'

'Yes, M. de Rosny, hope,' I replied more cheerfully.  'He has
work to do.  He is elected, called, and chosen; the Joshua of his
people, as M. d'Amours rightly called him.  God will not take him
yet.  You shall see him and be embraced by him, as has happened a
hundred times.  Remember, sir, the King of Navarre is strong,
hardy, and young, and no doubt in good hands.'

'Mornay's,' M. de Rosny cried, looking up with contempt in his
eye.

Yet from that moment he rallied, spurred, I think, by the thought
that the King of Navarre's recovery depended under God on M. de
Mornay; whom he was ever inclined to regard as his rival.  He
began to make instant preparations for departure from Rosny, and
bade me do so also, telling me, somewhat curtly and without
explanation, that he had need of me.  The danger of so speedy a
return to the South, where the full weight of the Vicomte de
Turenne's vengeance awaited me, occurred to me strongly; and I
ventured, though with a little shame, to mention it.  But M. de
Rosny, after gazing at me a moment in apparent doubt, put the
objection aside with a degree of peevishness unusual in him, and
continued to press on his arrangements as earnestly as though
they did not include separation from a wife equally loving and
beloved.

Having few things to look to myself, I was at leisure, when the
hour of departure came, to observe both the courage with which
Madame de Rosny supported her sorrow, 'for the sake of France,'
and the unwonted tenderness which Mademoiselle de la Vire, lifted
for once above herself, lavished on her.  I seemed to stand--
happily in one light, and yet the feeling was fraught with pain--
outside their familiar relations; yet, having made my adieux as
short and formal as possible, that I might not encroach on other
and more sacred ones, I found at the last moment something in
waiting for me.  I was surprised as I rode under the gateway a
little ahead of the others, by something small and light falling
on the saddle-bow before me.  Catching it before it could slide
to the ground, I saw, with infinite astonishment, that I held in
my hand a tiny velvet bow.

To look up at the window of the parlour, which I have said was
over the archway, was my first impulse.  I did so, and met
mademoiselle's eyes for a second, and a second only.  The next
moment she was gone.  M. de Rosny clattered through the gate at
my heels, the servants behind him.   And we were on the road.



CHAPTER XIV.

M. DE RAMBOUILLET.

For a while we were but a melancholy party.  The incident I have
last related which seemed to admit of more explanations than one
--left me in a state of the greatest perplexity; and this
prevailed with me for a time, and was only dissipated at length
by my seeing my own face, as it were, in a glass.  For, chancing
presently to look behind me, I observed that Simon Fleix was
riding, notwithstanding his fine hat and feather and his new
sword, in a posture and with an air of dejection difficult to
exaggerate; whereon the reflection that master and man had the
same object in their minds--nay, the thought that possibly he
bore in his bosom a like token to that which lay warm in mine--
occurring to me, I roused myself as from some degrading dream,
and, shaking up the Cid, cantered forward to join Rosny, who, in
no cheerful mood himself, was riding steadily forward, wrapped to
his eyes in his cloak.

The news of the King of Navarre's illness had fallen on him,
indeed, in the midst of his sanguine scheming with the force of a
thunderbolt.  He saw himself in danger of losing at once the
master he loved and the brilliant future to which he looked
forward; and amid the imminent crash of his hopes and the
destruction of the system in which he lived, he had scarcely time
to regret the wife he was leaving at Rosny or the quiet from
which he was so suddenly called.  His heart was in the South, at
La Ganache, by Henry's couch.  His main idea was to get there
quickly at all risks.  The name of the King of Navarre's
physician was constantly on his lips.  'Dortoman is a good man.
If anyone call save him, Dortoman will,' was his perpetual cry.
And whenever he met anyone who had the least appearance of
bearing news, he would have me stop and interrogate him, and by
no means let the traveller go until he had given us the last
rumour from Blois--the channel through which all the news from
the South reached us.

An incident which occurred at the inn that evening cheered him
somewhat; the most powerful minds being prone, I have observed,
to snatch at omens in times of uncertainty.  An elderly man, of
strange appearance, and dressed in an affected and bizarre
fashion, was seated at table when we arrived.  Though I entered
first in my assumed capacity of leader of the party, he let me
pass before him without comment, but rose and solemnly saluted M.
de Rosny, albeit the latter walked behind me and was much more
plainly dressed.  Rosny returned his greeting and would have
passed on; but the stranger, interposing with a still lower bow,
invited him to take his seat, which was near the fire and
sheltered from the draught, at the same time making as if he
would himself remove to another place.

'Nay,' said my companion, surprised by such an excess of
courtesy, 'I do not see why I should take your place, sir.'

'Not mine only,' the old man rejoined, looking at him with a
particularity and speaking with an emphasis which attracted our
attention, 'but those of many others, who I can assure you will
very shortly yield them up to you, whether they will or not.'

M. de Rosny shrugged his shoulders and passed on, affecting to
suppose the old man wandered.  But privately he thought much of
his words, and more when he learned that he was an astrologer
from Paris, who had the name, at any rate in this country, of
having studied under Nostradamus.  And whether he drew fresh
hopes from this, or turned his attention more particularly as we
approached Blois to present matters, certainly he grew more
cheerful, and began again to discuss the future, as though
assured of his master's recovery.

'You have never been to the King's Court?'  he said presently,
following up, as I judged, a train of thought in his own mind.
'At Blois, I mean.'

'No; nor do I feel anxious to visit it,' I answered.  'To tell
you the truth, M. le Baron,' I continued with some warmth, 'the
sooner me are beyond Blois, the better I shall be pleased.  I
think we run some risk there, and, besides, I do not fancy a
shambles.  I do not think I could see the king without thinking
of the Bartholomew, nor his chamber without thinking of Guise.'

'Tut, tut!'  he said, 'you have killed a man before now.'

'Many,' I answered.

'Do they trouble you?'

'No, but they were killed in fair fight,' I replied, 'That makes
a difference.'

'To you,' he said drily.  'But you are not the King of France,
you see.  Should you ever come across him,' he continued,
flicking his horse's ears, a faint smile on his lips, 'I will
give you a hint.  Talk to him of the battles at Jarnac and
Moncontour, and praise your Conde's father!  As Conde lost the
fight and, he won it, the compliment comes home to him.  The more
hopelessly a man has lost his powers, my friend, the more fondly
he regards them, and the more highly he prizes the victories he
call no longer gain.'

'Ugh!'  I muttered.

'Of the two parties at Court,' Rosny continued, calmly
overlooking my ill-humour, 'trust D'Aumont and Biron and the
French clique.  They are true to France at any rate.  But
whomsoever you see consort with the two Retzs--the King of
Spain's jackals as men name them--avoid him for a Spaniard and a
traitor.'

'But the Retzs are Italians,' I objected peevishly.

'The same thing,' he answered curtly.  'They cry, "Vive le Roi!"
but privately they are for the League, or for Spain, or for
whatever may most hurt us; who are better Frenchmen than
themselves, and whose leader will some day, if God spare his
life, be King of France.'

'Well, the less I have to do with the one or the other of them,
save at the sword's point, the better I shall be pleased,' I
rejoined.

On that he looked at me with a queer smile; as was his way when
he had more in his mind than appeared.  And this, and something
special in the tone of his conversation, as well, perhaps, as my
own doubts about my future and his intentions regarding me, gave
me an uneasy feeling; which lasted through the day, and left me
only when more immediate peril presently rose to threaten us.

It happened in this way.  We had reached the outskirts of Blois,
and were just approaching the gate, hoping to pass through it
without attracting attention, when two travellers rode slowly out
of a lane, the mouth of which we were passing.  They eyed us
closely as they reined in to let us go by; and M. de Rosny, who
was riding with his horse's head at my stirrup, whispered me to
press on.  Before I could comply, however, the strangers cantered
by us, and turning in the saddle when abreast of us looked us in
the face.  A moment later one of them cried loudly, 'It is he!'
and both pulled their horses across the road, and waited for us
to come up.

Aware that if M. de Rosny were discovered he would be happy if he
escaped with imprisonment, the king being too jealous of his
Catholic reputation to venture to protect a Huguenot, however
illustrious, I saw that the situation was desperate; for, though
we were five to two, the neighbourhood of the city--the gate
being scarcely a bow-shot off--rendered flight or resistance
equally hopeless.  I could think of nothing for it save to put a
bold face on the matter, and, M. de Rosny doing the same, we
advanced in the most innocent way possible.

'Halt, there!'  cried one of the strangers sharply.  'And let me
tell you, sir, you are known.'

'What if I am?'  I answered impatiently, still pressing on.  'Are
you highwaymen, that you stop the way?'

The speaker on the other side looked at me keenly, but in a
moment retorted, 'Enough trifling, sir!  Who YOU are I do not
know.  But the person riding at your rein is M. de Rosny.  Him I
do know, and I warn him to stop.'

I thought the game was lost, but to my surprise my companion
answered at once and almost in the same words I had used.  'Well,
sir, and what of that?'  he said.

'What of that?'  the stranger exclaimed, spurring his horse so as
still to bar the way.  'Why, only this, that you must be a madman
to show yourself on this side of the Loire.'

'It is long since I have seen the other,' was my companion's
unmoved answer.

'You are M. de Rosny? You do not deny it?'  the man cried in
astonishment.

'Certainly I do not deny it,' M. de Rosny answered bluntly.  'And
more, the day has been, sir,' he continued with sudden fire,
'when few at his Majesty's Court would have dared to chop words
with Solomon de Bethune, much less to stop him on the highway
within a mile of the palace.  But times are changed with me, sir,
and it would seem with others also, if true men rallying to his
Majesty in his need are to be challenged by every passer on the
road.'

'What!  Are you Solomon de Bethune?'  the man cried
incredulously. Incredulously, but his countenance fell, and his
voice was full of chagrin and disappointment,

'Who else, sir?'  M. de Rosny replied haughtily.  'I am, and, as
far as I know, I have as much right on this side of the Loire as
any other man.'

'A thousand pardons.'

'If you are not satisfied--'

'Nay, M. de Rosny, I am perfectly satisfied.'

The stranger repented this with a very crestfallen air, adding,
'A thousand pardons'; and fell to making other apologies, doffing
his hat with great respect.  'I took you, if you will pardon me
saying so, for your Huguenot brother, M. Maximilian,' he
explained.  'The saying goes that he is at Rosny.'

'I can answer for that being false,' M. de Rosny answered
peremptorily, 'for I have just come from there, and I will answer
for it he is not within ten leagues of the place.  And now, sir,
as we desire to enter before the gates shut, perhaps you will
excuse us.'  With which he bowed, and I bowed, and they bowed,
and we separated.  They gave us the road, which M. de Rosny took
with a great air, and we trotted to the gate, and passed through
it without misadventure.

The first street we entered was a wide one, and my companion took
advantage of this to ride up abreast of me.  'That is the kind of
adventure our little prince is fond of,' he muttered.  'But for
my part, M. de Marsac, the sweat is running down my forehead.  I
have played the trick more than once before, for my brother and I
are as like as two peas.  And yet it would have gone ill with us
if the fool had been one of his friends.'

'All's well that ends well,' I answered in a low voice, thinking
it an ill time for compliments.  As it was, the remark was
unfortunate, for M. de Rosny was still in the act of reining back
when Maignan called out to us to say we were being followed.

I looked behind, but could see nothing except gloom and rain and
overhanging eaves and a few figures cowering in doorways.  The
servants, however, continued to maintain that it was so, and we
held, without actually stopping, a council of war.  If detected,
we were caught in a trap, without hope of escape; and for the
moment I am sure M. do Rosny regretted that he had chosen this
route by Blois--that he had thrust himself, in his haste and his
desire to take with him the latest news, into a snare so patent.
The castle--huge, dark, and grim--loomed before us at the end of
the street in which we were, and, chilled as I was myself by the
sight, I could imagine how much more appalling it must appear to
him, the chosen counsellor of his master, and the steadfast
opponent of all which it represented.

Our consultation came to nothing, for no better course suggested
itself than to go as we had intended to the lodging commonly used
by my companion.  We did so, looking behind us often, and saying
more than once that Maignan must be mistaken.  As soon as we had
dismounted, however, and gone in, he showed us from the window a
man loitering near; and this confirmation of our alarm sending us
to our expedients again, while Maignan remained watching in a
room without a light, I suggested that I might pass myself off,
though ten years older, for my companion.

'Alas!'  he said, drumming with his fingers on the table 'there
are too many here who know me to make that possible.  I thank you
all the same.'

'Could you escape on foot? Or pass the wall anywhere, or slip
through the gates early?'  I suggested.

'They might tell us at the Bleeding Heart,' he answered.  But I
doubt it.  I was a fool, sir, to put my neck into Mendoza's
halter, and that is a fact.  But here is Maignan.  What is it,
man?'  he continued eagerly.

'The watcher is gone, my lord,' the equerry answered.

'And has left no one?'

'No one that I can see.'

We both went into the next room and looked from the windows.  The
man was certainly not where we had seen him before.  But the rain
was falling heavily, the eaves were dripping, the street was a
dark cavern with only here and there a spark of light, and the
fellow might be lurking elsewhere.  Maignan, being questioned,
however, believed he had gone off of set purpose.

'Which may be read half a dozen ways,' I remarked.

'At any rate, we are fasting,' M. de Rosny answered.  Give me a
full man in a fight.  Let us sit down and eat.  It is no good
jumping in the dark, or meeting troubles half way.'

We were not through our meal, however, Simon Fleix waiting on us
with a pale face, when Maignan came in again from the dark room.
'My lord,' he said quietly, 'three men have appeared.  Two of
them remain twenty paces away.  The third has come to the door.'
As he spoke we heard a cautious summons below, Maignan was for
going down, but his master bade him stand.  Let the woman of the
house go,' he said.

I remarked and long remembered M. de Rosny's SANG-FROID on this
occasion.  His pistols he had already laid on a chair beside him
throwing his cloak over them; and now, while we waited, listening
in breathless silence, I saw him hand a large slice of bread-and-
meat to his equerry, who, standing behind his chair, began eating
it with the same coolness.  Simon Fleix, on the other hand, stood
gazing at the door, trembling in every limb, and with so much of
excitement and surprise in his attitude that I took the
precaution of bidding him, in a low voice, do nothing without
orders.  At the same moment it occurred to me to extinguish two
of the four candles which had been lighted; and I did so, M. de
Rosny nodding assent, just as the muttered conversation which was
being carried on below ceased, and a man's tread sounded on the
stairs.

It was followed immediately by a knock on the outside of our
door.  Obeying my companion's look, I cried, 'Enter!'

A slender man of middle height, booted and wrapped up, with his
face almost entirely hidden by a fold of his cloak, came in
quickly, and closing the door behind him, advanced towards the
table.  'Which is M. de Rosny?'  he said.

Rosny had carefully turned his face from the light, but at the
sound of the other's voice he sprang up with a cry of relief.  He
was about to speak, when the newcomer, raising his hand
peremptorily, continued, 'No names, I beg.  Yours, I suppose, is
known here.  Mine is not, nor do I desire it should be.  I want
speech of you, that is all.'

'I am greatly honoured,' M. de Rosny replied, gazing at him
eagerly.  'Yet, who told you I was here?'

'I saw you pass under a lamp in the street,' the stranger
answered.  'I knew your horse first, and you afterwards, and bade
a groom follow you.  Believe me,' he added, with a gesture of the
hand, 'you have nothing to fear from me.'

'I accept the assurance in the spirit in which it is offered,' my
companion answered with a graceful bow, 'and think myself
fortunate in being recognised'--he paused a moment and then
continued--'by a Frenchman and a man of honour.'

The stranger shrugged his shoulders.  'Your pardon, then,' he
said, 'if I seem abrupt.  My time is short.  I want to do the
best with it I can.  Will you favour me?'

I was for withdrawing, but M. de Rosny ordered Maignan to place
lights in the next room, and, apologising to me very graciously,
retired thither with the stranger, leaving me relieved indeed by
these peaceful appearances, but full of wonder and conjectures
who this might be, and what the visit portended.  At one moment I
was inclined to identify the stranger with M. de Rosny's brother;
at another with the English ambassador; and then, again, a wild
idea that he might be M. de Bruhl occurred to me.  The two
remained together about a quarter of an hour and then came out,
the stranger leading the way, and saluting me politely as he
passed through the room.  At the door he turned to say, 'At nine
o'clock, then?'

'At nine o'clock,' M. de Rosny replied, holding the door open.
'You will excuse me if I do not descend, Marquis?'

'Yes, go back, my friend,' the stranger answered.  And, lighted
by Maignan, whose face on such occasions could assume the most
stolid air in the world, he disappeared down the stairs, and I
heard him go out.

M. de Rosny turned to me, his eyes sparkling with joy, his face
and mien full of animation.  'The King of Navarre is better,' he
said.  'He is said to be out of danger.  What do you think of
that, my friend?'

'That is the best news I have heard for many a day,' I answered.
And I hastened to add, that France and the Religion had reason to
thank God for His mercy.

'Amen to that,' my patron replied reverently.  'But that is not
all--that is not all.'  And he began to walk up and down the room
humming the 118th Psalm a little above his breath--

  La voici l'heureuse journee
  Que Dieu a faite a plein desir;
  Par nous soit joie demenee,
  Et prenons en elle plaisir.

He continued, indeed, to walk up and down the floor so long, and
with so joyful a countenance and demeanour, that I ventured, at
last to remind him of my presence, which he had clearly
forgotten.  'Ha!  to be sure,' he said, stopping short and
looking at me with the utmost good-humour.  'What time is it?
Seven.  Then until nine o'clock, my friend, I crave your
indulgence.  In fine, until that time I must keep counsel.  Come,
I am hungry still.  Let us sit down, and this time I hope we may
not be interrupted.  Simon, set us on a fresh bottle.  Ha!  ha!
VIVENT LE ROI ET LE ROI DE NAVARRE!'  And again he fell to
humming the same psalm--

  O Dieu eternel, je te prie,
  Je te prie, ton roi maintiens:
  O Dieu, je te prie et reprie,
  Sauve ton roi et l'entretiens!

doing so with a light in his eyes and a joyous emphasis, which
impressed me the more in a man ordinarily so calm and self-
contained.  I saw that something had occurred to gratify him
beyond measure, and, believing his statement that this was not
the good news from La Ganache only, I waited with the utmost
interest and anxiety for the hour of nine, which had no sooner
struck than our former visitor appeared with the same air of
mystery and disguise which had attended him before.

M. de Rosny, who had risen on hearing his step and had taken up
his cloak, paused with it half on and half off, to cry anxiously,
'All is well, is it not?'

'Perfectly,' the stranger replied, with a nod.

'And my friend?'

Yes, on condition that you answer for his discretion and
fidelity.'  And the stranger glanced involuntarily at me who
stood uncertain whether to hold my ground or retire.

'Good,' M. de Rosny cried.  Then he turned to me with a mingled
air of dignity and kindness, and continued:  'This is the
gentleman.  M. de Marsac, I am honoured with permission to
present you to the Marquis de Rambouillet, whose interest and
protection I beg you to deserve, for he is a true Frenchman and a
patriot whom I respect.'

M. de Rambouillet saluted me politely.  'Of a Brittany family, I
think?'  he said.

I assented; and he replied with something complimentary.  But
afterwards he continued to look at me in silence with a keenness
and curiosity I did not understand.  At last, when M. de Rosny's
impatience had reached a high pitch, the marquis seemed impelled
to add something.  'You quite understand M. de Rosny?'  he said.
'Without saying anything disparaging of M. de Marsac, who is, no
doubt, a man of honour'--and he bowed to me very low--'this is a
delicate matter, and you will introduce no one into it, I am
sure, whom you cannot trust as yourself.'

'Precisely,' M. de Rosny replied, speaking drily, yet with a
grand air which fully matched his companion's.  'I am prepared to
trust this gentleman not only with my life but with my honour.'

'Nothing more remains to be said then,' the marquis rejoined,
bowing to me again.  'I am glad to have been the occasion of a
declaration so flattering to you, sir.'

I returned his salute in silence, and obeying M. de Rosny's
muttered direction put on, my cloak and sword.  M. de Rosny took
up his pistols.

'You will have no need of those,' the Marquis said with a high
glance.

'Where we are going, no,' my companion answered, calmly
continuing to dispose them about him.  'But the streets are dark
and not too safe.'

M. de Rambouillet laughed.  'That is the worst of you Huguenots,'
he said.  'You never know when to lay suspicion aside.'

A hundred retorts sprang to my lips.  I thought of the
Bartholomew, of the French fury of Antwerp, of half a dozen
things which make my blood boil to this day.  But M. de Rosny's
answer was the finest of all.  'That is true, I am afraid,' he
said quietly.  'On the other hand, you Catholics--take the late
M. de Guise for instance--have the habit of erring on the other
side, I think, and sometimes trust too far.'

The marquis, without making any answer to this home-thrust, led
the way out, and we followed, being joined at the door of the
house by a couple of armed lackeys, who fell in behind us.  We
went on foot.  The night was dark, and the prospect out of doors
was not cheering.  The streets were wet and dirty, and
notwithstanding all our care we fell continually into pitfalls or
over unseen obstacles.  Crossing the PARVIS of the cathedral,
which I remembered, we plunged in silence into an obscure street
near the river, and so narrow that the decrepit houses shut out
almost all view of the sky.  The gloom of our surroundings, no
less than my ignorance of the errand on which we were bound,
filled me with anxiety and foreboding.  My companions keeping
strict silence, however, and taking every precaution to avoid
being recognised, I had no choice but to do likewise.

I could think, and no more.  I felt myself borne along by an
irresistible current, whither and for what purpose I could not
tell; an experience to an extent strange at my age the influence
of the night and the weather.  Twice we stood aside to let a
party of roisterers go by, and the excessive care M. de
Rambouillet evinced on these occasions to avoid recognition did
not tend to reassure me or make me think more lightly of the
unknown business on which I was bound.

Reaching at last an open space, our leader bade us in a low voice
be careful and follow him closely.  We did so and crossed in this
way and in single file a narrow plank or wooden bridge; but
whether water ran below or a dry ditch only, I could not
determine.  My mind was taken up at the moment with the discovery
which I had just made, that the dark building, looming huge and
black before us with a single light twinkling here and there at
great heights, was the Castle of Blois.



CHAPTER XV.

VILAIN HERODES.

All the distaste and misliking I had expressed earlier in the day
for the Court of Blois recurred with fresh force in the darkness
and gloom; and though, booted and travel-stained as we were, I
did not conceive it likely that we should be obtruded on the
circle about the king, I felt none the less an oppressive desire
to be through with our adventure, and away from the ill-omened
precincts in which I found myself.  The darkness prevented me
seeing the faces of my companions; but on M. de Rosny, who was
not quite free himself, I think, from the influences of the time
and place, twitching my sleeve to enforce vigilance, I noted that
the lackeys had ceased to follow us, and that we three were
beginning to ascend a rough staircase cut in the rock.  I
gathered, though the darkness limited my view behind as well as
in front to a few twinkling lights, that we were mounting the
scarp from the moat; to the side wall of the castle; and I was
not surprised when the marquis muttered to us to stop, and
knocked softly on the wood of a door.

M. de Rosny might have spared the touch he had laid on my sleeve,
for by this time I was fully and painfully sensible of the
critical position in which we stood, and was very little likely
to commit an indiscretion.  I trusted he had not done so already!
No doubt--it flashed across me while we waited--he had taken care
to safeguard himself.  But how often, I reflected, had all
safeguards been set aside and all precautions eluded by those to
whom he was committing himself!  Guise had thought himself secure
in this very building, which we were about to enter.  Coligny had
received the most absolute of safe-conducts from those to whom we
were apparently bound.  The end in either case had been the same
--the confidence of the one proving of no more avail than the
wisdom of the other.  What if the King of France thought to make
his peace with his Catholic subjects--offended by the murder of
Guise--by a second murder of one as obnoxious to them as he was
precious to their arch-enemy in the South?  Rosny was sagacious
indeed; but then I reflected with sudden misgiving that he was
young, ambitious, and bold.

The opening of the door interrupted without putting an end to
this train of apprehension.  A faint light shone out; so feebly
as to illumine little more than the stairs at our feet.  The
marquis entered at once, M. de Rosny followed, I brought up the
rear; and the door was closed by a man who stood behind it.  We
found ourselves crowded together at the foot of a very narrow
staircase, which the doorkeeper--a stolid pikeman in a grey
uniform, with a small lanthorn swinging from the crosspiece of
his halberd--signed to us to ascend.  I said a word to him, but
he only stared in answer, and M. de Rambouillet, looking back and
seeing what I was about, called to me that it was useless, as the
man was a Swiss and spoke no French.

This did not tend to reassure me; any more than did the chill
roughness of the wall which my hand touched as I groped upwards,
or the smell of bats which invaded my nostrils and suggested that
the staircase was little used and belonged to a part of the
castle fitted for dark and secret doings.

We stumbled in the blackness up the steps, passing one door and
then a second before M. de Rambouillet whispered to us to stand,
and knocked gently at a third.

The secrecy, the darkness, and above all the strange arrangements
made to receive us, filled me with the wildest conjectures.  But
when the door opened and we passed one by one into a bare,
unfurnished, draughty gallery, immediately, as I judged, under
the tiles, the reality agreed with no one of my anticipations.
The place was a mere garret, without a hearth, without a single
stool.  Three windows, of which one was roughly glazed, while the
others were filled with oiled paper, were set in one wall; the
others displaying the stones and mortar without disguise or
ornament.  Beside the door through which we had entered stood a
silent figure in the grey uniform I had seen below, his lanthorn
on the floor at his feet.  A second door at the farther end of
the gallery, which was full twenty paces long, was guarded in
like manner.  A couple of lanthorns stood in the middle of the
floor, and that was all.

Inside the door, M. de Rambouillet with his finger on his lip
stopped us, and we stood a little group of three a pace in front
of the sentry, and with the empty room before us.  I looked at M.
de Rosny, but he was looking at Rambouillet.  The marquis had his
back towards me, the sentry was gazing into vacancy; so that
baffled in my attempt to learn anything from the looks of the
other actors in the scene, I fell back on my ears.  The rain
dripped outside and the moaning wind rattled the casements; but
mingled with these melancholy sounds--which gained force, as such
things always do, from the circumstances in which we were placed
and our own silence--I fancied I caught the distant hum of voices
and music and laughter.  And that, I know not why, brought M. de
Guise again to my mind.

The story of his death, as I had heard it from that accursed monk
in the inn on the Claine, rose up in all its freshness, with all
its details.  I started when M. de Rambouillet coughed.  I
shivered when Rosny shifted his feet.  The silence grew
oppressive.  Only the stolid men in grey seemed unmoved,
unexpectant; so that I remember wondering whether it was their
nightly duty to keep guard over an empty garret, the floor strewn
with scraps of mortar and ends of tiles.

The interruption, when it came at last, came suddenly.  The
sentry at the farther end of the gallery started and fell back a
pace.  Instantly the door beside him opened and a man came in,
and closing it quickly behind him, advanced up the room with an
air of dignity, which even his strange appearance and attire
could not wholly destroy.

He was of good stature and bearing, about forty years old as I
judged, his wear a dress of violet velvet with black points cut
in the extreme of the fashion.  He carried a sword but no ruff,
and had a cup and ball of ivory--a strange toy much in vogue
among the idle--suspended from his wrist by a ribbon.  He was
lean and somewhat narrow, but so far I found little fault with
him.  It was only when my eye reached his face, and saw it rouged
like a woman's and surmounted by a little turban, that a feeling
of scarcely understood disgust seized me, and I said to myself,
'This is the stuff of which kings' minions are made!'

To my surprise, however, M. de Rambouillet went to meet him with
the utmost respect, sweeping the dirty floor with his bonnet, and
bowing to the very ground.  The newcomer acknowledged his salute
with negligent kindness.  Remarking pleasantly 'You have brought
a friend, I think?'  he looked towards us with a smile.

'Yes, sire, he is here,' the marquis answered, stepping aside a
little.  And with the word I understood that this was no minion,
but the king himself:  Henry, the Third of the name, and the last
of the great House of Valois, which had ruled France by the grace
of God for two centuries and a half!  I stared at him, and stared
at him, scarcely believing what I saw.  For the first time in my
life I was in the presence of the king!

Meanwhile M. de Rosny, to whom he was, of course, no marvel, had
gone forward and knelt on one knee.  The king raised him
graciously, and with an action which, viewed apart from his
woman's face and silly turban, seemed royal and fitting.  'This
is good of you, Rosny,' he said.  'But it is only what I expected
of you.'

'Sire,' my companion answered, 'your Majesty has no more devoted
servant than myself, unless it be the king my master.'

'By my faith,' Henry answered with energy--'and if I am not a
good churchman, whatever those rascally Parisians say, I am
nothing--by my faith, I think I believe you!'

'If your Majesty would believe me in that and in some other
things also,' M. de Rosny answered, 'it would be very well for
France.'  Though he spoke courteously, he threw so much weight
and independence into his words that I thought of the old
proverb, 'A good master, a bold servant.'

'Well, that is what we are here to see,' the king replied.  'But
one tells me one thing,' he went on fretfully, 'and one another,
and which am I to believe?'

'I know nothing of others, sire,' Rosny answered with the same
spirit.  'But my master has every claim to be believed.  His
interest in the royalty of France is second only to your
Majesty's.  He is also a king and a kinsman, and it erks him to
see rebels beard you, as has happened of late.'

'Ay, but the chief of them?'  Henry exclaimed, giving way to
sudden excitement and stamping furiously on the floor.  'He will
trouble me no more.  Has my brother heard of THAT?  Tell me, sir,
has that news reached him?'

'He has heard it, sire.'

'And he approved?  He approved, of course?'

'Beyond doubt the man was a traitor,' M. de Rosny answered
delicately.  'His life was forfeit, sire.  Who can question it?'

'And he has paid the forfeit,' the king rejoined, looking down at
the floor and immediately falling into a moodiness as sudden as
his excitement.  His lips moved.  He muttered something
inaudible, and began to play absently with his cup and ball, his
mind occupied apparently with a gloomy retrospect.  'M. de Guise,
M. de Guise,' he murmured at last, with a sneer and an accent of
hate which told of old humiliations long remembered.  'Well, damn
him, he is dead now.  He is dead.  But being dead he yet troubles
us.  Is not that the verse, father?  Ha!'  with a start, 'I was
forgetting.  But that is the worst wrong he has done me,' he
continued, looking up and growing excited again.  'He has cut me
off from Mother Church.  There is hardly a priest comes near me
now, and presently they will excommunicate me.  And, as I hope
for salvation, the Church has no more faithful son than me.'

I believe he was on the point, forgetting M. de Rosny's presence
there and his errand, of giving way to unmanly tears, when M. de
Rambouillet, as if by accident, let the heel of his scabbard fall
heavily on the floor.  The king started, and passing his hand
once or twice across his brow, seemed to recover himself.
'Well,' he said, 'no doubt we shall find a way out of our
difficulties.'

'If your Majesty,' Rosny answered respectfully, 'would accept the
aid my master proffers, I venture to think that they would vanish
the quicker.'

'You think so,' Henry rejoined.  'Well, give me your shoulder.
Let us walk a little.'  And, signing to Rambouillet to leave him,
he began to walk up and down with M. de Rosny, talking familiarly
with him in an undertone.

Only such scraps of the conversation as fell from them when they
turned at my end of the gallery now reached me.  Patching these
together, however, I managed to understand somewhat.  At one turn
I heard the king say, 'But then Turenne offers--' At the next,
'Trust him?  Well, I do not know why I should not.  He promises
--' Then 'A Republic, Rosny?  That his plan?  Pooh!  he dare not.
He could not.  France is a kingdom by the ordinance of God in my
family.'

I gathered from these and other chance words, which I have since
forgotten, that M. de Rosny was pressing the king to accept the
help of the King of Navarre, and warning him against the
insidious offers of the Vicomte de Turenne.  The mention of a
Republic, however, seemed to excite his Majesty's wrath rather
against Rosny for presuming to refer to such a thing than against
Turenne, to whom he refused to credit it.  He paused near my end
of the promenade.

'Prove it!'  he said angrily.  'But can you prove it?  Can you
prove it?  Mind you, I will take no hearsay evidence, sir.  Now,
there is Turenne's agent here--you did not know, I dare say, that
he had an agent here?'

'You refer, sire, to M. de Bruhl,' Rosny answered, without
hesitation.  'I know him, sire.'

'I think you are the devil,' Henry answered, looking curiously at
him.  'You seem to know most things.  But mind you, my friend, he
speaks me fairly, and I will not take this on hearsay even from
your master.  Though,' he added after pausing a moment, 'I love
him.'

'And he, your Majesty.  He desires only to prove it.'

'Yes, I know, I know,' the king answered fretfully.  'I believes
he does.  I believe he does wish me well.  But there will be a
devil of an outcry among my people.  And Turenne gives fair words
too.  And I do not know,' he continued, fidgeting with his cup
and ball, 'that it might not suit me better to agree with him,
you see.'

I saw M. de Rosny draw himself up.  'Dare I speak openly to you,
sire,' he said, with less respect and more energy than he had
hitherto used.  'As I should to my master?'

'Ay, say what you like,' Henry answered.  But he spoke sullenly,
and it seemed to me that he looked less pleasantly at his
companion.

'Then I will venture to utter what is in your Majesty's mind,' my
patron answered steadfastly.  'You fear, sire, lest, having
accepted my master's offer and conquered your enemies, you should
not be easily rid of him.'

Henry looked relieved.  'Do you call that diplomacy?'  he said
with a smile.  'However, what if it be so?  What do you say to
it?  Methinks I have heard an idle tale about a horse which would
hunt a stag; and for the purpose set a man upon its back.'

'This I say, sire, first,' Rosny answered very earnestly.  'That
the King of Navarre is popular only with one-third of the
kingdom, and is only powerful when united with you.  Secondly,
sire, it is his interest to support the royal power, to which he
is heir.  And, thirdly, it must be more to your Majesty's honour
to accept help from a near kinsman than from an ordinary subject,
and one who, I still maintain, sire, has no good designs in his
mind.'

'The proof' Henry said sharply.  'Give me that!'

'I can give it in a week from this day.'

'It must be no idle tale, mind you,' the king continued
suspiciously.

'You shall have Turenne's designs, sire, from one who had them
from his own mouth.'

The king looked startled, but after a pause turned and resumed
his walk.  'Well,' he said, 'if you do that, I on my part--'

The rest I lost, for the two passing to the farther end of the
gallery, came to a standstill there, balking my curiosity and
Rambouillet's also.  The marquis, indeed, began to betray his
impatience, and the great clock immediately over our heads
presently striking the half-hour after ten, he started and made
as if he would have approached the king.  He checked the impulse,
however, but still continued to fidget uneasily, losing his
reserve by-and-by so far as to whisper to me that his Majesty
would be missed.

I had been, up to this point, a silent and inactive spectator of
a scene which appealed to my keenest interests and aroused my
most ardent curiosity.  Surprise following surprise, I had begun
to doubt my own identity; so little had I expected to find myself
first in the presence of the Most Christian King--and that under
circumstances as strange and bizarre as could well be imagined--
and then an authorised witness at a negotiation upon which the
future of all the great land of France stretching for so many
hundred leagues on every side of us, depended.  I say I could
scarcely believe in my own identity; or that I was the same
Gaston de Marsac who had slunk, shabby and out-at-elbows, about
St. Jean d'Angely.  I tasted the first sweetness of secret
power, which men say is the sweetest of all and the last
relinquished; and, the hum of distant voices and laughter still
reaching me at intervals, I began to understand why we had been
admitted with, so much precaution, and to comprehend the
gratification of M. de Rosny when the promise of this interview
first presented to him the hope of effecting so much for his
master and for France.

Now I was to be drawn into the whirlpool itself.  I was still
travelling back over the different stages of the adventure which
had brought me to this point, when I was rudely awakened by M. de
Rosny calling my name in a raised voice.  Seeing, somewhat late,
that he was beckoning to me to approach, I went forward in a
confused and hasty fashion; kneeling before the king as I had
seen him kneel, and then rising to give ear to his Majesty's
commands.  Albeit, having expected nothing less than to be called
upon, I was not in the clearest mood to receive them.  Nor was my
bearing such as I could have wished it to be.

M. de Rosny tells me that you desire a commission at Court, sir,'
the king said quickly.

'I, sire?'  I stammered, scarcely able to believe my ears.  I was
so completely taken aback that I could say no more, and I stopped
there with my mouth open.

'There are few things I can deny M. de Rosny,' Henry continued,
speaking very rapidly, 'and I am told that you are a gentleman of
birth and ability.  Out of kindness to him, therefore, I grant
you a commission to raise twenty men for my service.
Rambouillet,' he continued, raising his voice slightly, 'you will
introduce this gentleman to me publicly to-morrow, that; I may
carry into effect my intention on his behalf.  You may go now,
sir.  No thanks.  And M. de Rosny,' he added, turning to my
companion and speaking with energy, 'have a care for my sake that
you are not recognised as you go.  Rambouillet must contrive
something to enable you to leave without peril.  I should be
desolated if anything happened to you, my friend, for I could not
protect you.  I give you my word if Mendoza or Retz found you in
Blois I could not save you from them unless you recanted.'

'I will not trouble either your Majesty or my conscience,' M. de
Rosny replied, bowing low, 'if my wits can help me.'

'Well, the saints keep you,' the king answered piously, going
towards the door by which he had entered; 'for your master and I
have both need of you.  Rambouillet, take care of him as you love
me.  And come early in the morning to my closet and tell me how
it has fared with him.'

We all stood bowing while he withdrew, and only turned to retire
when the door closed behind him.  Burning with indignation and
chagrin as I was at finding myself disposed of in the way I have
described, and pitchforked, whether I would or no, into a service
I neither fancied nor desired, I still managed for the present to
restrain myself; and, permitting my companions to precede me,
followed in silence, listening sullenly to their jubilations.
The marquis seemed scarcely less pleased than M. de Rosny; and as
the latter evinced a strong desire to lessen any jealousy the
former might feel, and a generous inclination to attribute to him
a full share of the credit gained, I remained the only person
dissatisfied with the evening's events.  We retired from the
chateau with the same precautions which had marked our entrance,
and parting with M. de Rambouillet at the door of our lodging--
not without many protestations of esteem on his part and of
gratitude on that of M. de Rosny--mounted to the first-floor in
single file and in silence, which I was determined not to be the
first to break.

Doubtless M. de Rosny knew my thoughts, for, speedily dismissing
Maignan and Simon, who were in waiting, he turned to me without
preface.  'Come, my friend,' he said, laying his hand on my
shoulder and looking me in the face in a way which all but
disarmed me at once, 'do not let us misunderstand one another.
You think you have cause to be angry with me.  I cannot suffer
that, for the King of Navarre had never greater need of your
services than now.'

'You have played me an unworthy trick, sir,'I answered, thinking
he would cozen me with fair speeches.

'Tut, tut!'  he replied.  'You do not understand.'

'I understand well enough,' I answered, with bitterness, 'that,
having done the King of Navarre's work, he would now be rid of
me.'

'Have I not told you,' M. de Rosny replied, betraying for the
first time some irritation, 'that he has greater need of your
services than ever?  Come, man, be reasonable, or, better still,
listen to me.'  And turning from me, he began to walk up and down
the room, his hands behind him.  "the King of France--I want to
make it as clear to you as possible--' he said, 'cannot make head
against the League without help, and, willy-nilly, must look for
it to the Huguenots whom he has so long persecuted.  The King of
Navarre, their acknowledged leader, has offered that help; and
so, to spite my master, and prevent a combination so happy for
France, has M. de Turenne, who would fain raise the faction he
commands to eminence, and knows well how to make his profit out
of the dissensions of his country.  Are you clear so far, sir?'

I assented.  I was becoming absorbed in spite of myself.

'Very well,' he resumed.  'This evening--never did anything fall
out more happily than Rambouillet's meeting with me--he is a good
man!--I have brought the king to this:  that if proof of the
selfish nature of Turenne's designs be laid before him he will
hesitate no longer.  That proof exists.  A fortnight ago it was
here; but it is not here now.'

'That is unlucky!'  I exclaimed.  I was so much interested in his
story, as well as flattered by the confidence he was placing in
me, that my ill-humour vanished.  I went and stood with my
shoulder against the mantelpiece, and he, passing to and fro
between me and the light, continued his tale.

'A word about this proof,' he said.  'It came into the King of
Navarre's hands before its full value was known to us, for that
only accrued to it on M. de Guise's death.  A month ago it--this
piece of evidence I mean--was at Chize.  A fortnight or so ago it
was here in Blois.  It is now, 'M. de Marsac,' he continued,
facing me suddenly as he came opposite me, 'in my house at
Rosny.'

I started.  'You mean Mademoiselle de la Vire?'  I cried.

'I mean Mademoiselle de la Vire!'  he answered, 'who, some month
or two ago, overheard M. de Turenne's plans, and contrived to
communicate with the King of Navarre.  Before the latter could
arrange a private interview, however, M. de Turenne got wind of
her dangerous knowledge, and swept her off to Chize.  The rest
you know, M. de Marsac, if any man knows it.'

'But what will you do?'  I asked.  'She is at Rosny.'

'Maignan, whom I trust implicitly, as far as his lights go, will
start to fetch her to-morrow.  At the same hour I start
southwards.  You, M. de Marsac, will remain here as my agent, to
watch over my interests, to receive Mademoiselle on her arrival,
to secure for her a secret interview with the king, to guard her
while she remains here.  Do you understand?'

Did I understand?  I could not find words in which to thank him.
My remorse and gratitude, my sense of the wrong I had done him,
and of the honour he was doing me, were such that I stood mute
before him as I had stood before the king.  'You accept, then?'
he said, smiling.  'You do not deem the adventure beneath you, my
friend?'

'I deserve your confidence so little, sir,' I answered, stricken
to the ground, 'that I beg you to speak, while I listen.  By
attending exactly to your instructions I may prove worthy of the
trust reposed in me.  And only so.'

He embraced me again and again, with a, kindness which moved me
almost to tears.  'You are a man after my own heart,' he said,
'and if God wills I will make your fortune.  Now listen, my
friend.  To-morrow at Court, as a stranger and a man introduced
by Rambouillet, you will be the cynosure of all eyes.  Bear
yourself bravely.  Pay court to the women, but attach yourself to
no one in particular.  Keep aloof from Retz and the Spanish
faction, but beware especially of Bruhl.  He alone will have your
secret, and may suspect your design.  Mademoiselle should be here
in a week; while she is with you, and until she has seen the
king, trust no one, suspect everyone, fear all things.  Consider
the battle won only when the king says, "I am satisfied."'

Much more he told me, which served its purpose and has been
forgotten.  Finally he honoured me by bidding me share his pallet
with him, that we might talk without restraint, and that if
anything occurred to him in the night he might communicate it to
me.

'But will not Bruhl denounce me as a Huguenot?'  I asked him.

'He will not dare to do so,' M. de Rosny answered, 'both as a
Huguenot himself, and as his master's representative; and,
further, because it would displease the king.  No, but whatever
secret harm one man can do another, that you have to fear.
Maignan, when he returns with mademoiselle, will leave two men
with you; until they come I should borrow a couple of stout
fellows from Rambouillet.  Do not go out alone after dark, and
beware of doorways, especially your own.'

A little later, when I thought him asleep, I heard him chuckle;
and rising on my elbow I asked him what it was.  'Oh, it is your
affair,' he answered, still laughing silently, so that I felt the
mattress shake under him.  'I don't envy you one part of your
task, my friend.'

'What is that?'  I said suspiciously.

'Mademoiselle,' he answered, stifling with difficulty a burst of
laughter.  And after that he would not say another word, bad,
good, or indifferent, though I felt the bed shake more than once,
and knew that he was digesting his pleasantry.



CHAPTER XVI.

IN THE KING'S CHAMBER.

M. de Rosny had risen from my side and started on his journey
when I opened my eyes in the morning, and awoke to the memory of
the task which had been so strangely imposed upon me; and which
might, according as the events of the next fortnight shaped
themselves, raise me to high position or put an end to my career.
He had not forgotten to leave a souvenir behind him, for I found
beside my pillow a handsome silver-mounted pistol, bearing the
letter 'R.' and a coronet; nor had I more than discovered this
instance of his kindness before Simon Fleix came in to tell me
that M. de Rosny had left two hundred crowns in his hands for me.

'Any message with it?'  I asked the lad.

'Only that; he had taken a keepsake in exchange,' Simon answered,
opening the window as he spoke.

In some wonder I began to search, but I could not discover that
anything was missing until I came to put on my doublet, when I
found that the knot of ribbon which mademoiselle had flung to me
at my departure from Rosny was gone from the inside of the
breast, where I had pinned it for safety with a long thorn.  The
discovery that M. de Rosny had taken this was displeasing to me
on more than one account.  In the first place, whether
mademoiselle had merely wished to plague me (as was most
probable) or not, I was loth to lose it, my day for ladies'
favours being past and gone; in the second, I misdoubted the
motive which had led him to purloin it, and tormented myself with
thinking of the different constructions he might put upon it, and
the disparaging view of my trust worthiness which it might lead
him to take.  I blamed myself much for my carelessness in leaving
it where a chance eye might rest upon it; and more when,
questioning Simon further, I learned that M. de Rosny had added,
while mounting at the door, 'Tell your master, safe bind, safe
find; and a careless lover makes a loose mistress.'

I felt my cheek burn in a manner unbecoming my years while Simon
with some touch of malice repeated this; and I made a vow on the
spot, which I kept until I was tempted to break it, to have no
more to do with such trifles.  Meanwhile, I had to make the best
of it; and brisking up, and bidding Simon, who seemed depressed
by the baron's departure, brisk up also, I set about my
preparations for making such a figure at Court as became me:
procuring a black velvet suit, and a cap and feather to match;
item, a jewelled clasp to secure the feather; with a yard or two
of lace and two changes of fine linen.

Simon had grown sleek at Rosny, and losing something of the
wildness which had marked him, presented in the dress M. de Rosny
had given him a very creditable appearance; being also, I fancy,
the only equerry in Blois who could write.  A groom I engaged on
the recommendation of M. de Rambouillet's master of the horse;
and I gave out also that I required a couple of valets.  It
needed only an hour under the barber's hands and a set of new
trappings for the Cid to enable me to make a fair show, such as
might be taken to indicate a man of ten or twelve thousand livres
a year.

In this way I expended a hundred and fifteen crowns.  reflecting
that this was a large sum, and that I must keep some money for
play, I was glad to learn that in the crowded state of the city
even men with high rank were putting up with poor lodging; I
determined, therefore, to combine economy with a scheme which I
had in my head by taking the rooms in which my mother died, with
one room below them.  This I did, hiring such furniture as I
needed, which was not a great deal.  To Simon Fleix, whose
assistance in these matters was invaluable, I passed on much of
M. de Rosny's advice, bidding him ruffle it with the best in his
station, and inciting him to labour for my advancement by
promising to make his fortune whenever my own should be assured.
I hoped, indeed, to derive no little advantage from the quickness
of wit; which had attracted M. de Rosny's attention; although I
did not fail to take into account at the same time that the lad
was wayward and fitful, prone at one time to depression, and at
another to giddiness, and equally uncertain in either mood.

M. de Rambouillet being unable to attend the LEVEE, had appointed
me to wait upon him at six in the evening; at which hour I
presented myself at his lodgings, attended by Simon Fleix.  I
found him in the midst of half a dozen gentlemen whose habit it
was to attend him upon all public occasions; and these gallants,
greeting me with the same curious and suspicious glances which I
have seen hounds bestow on a strange dog introduced into their
kennel, I was speedily made to feel that it is one thing to have
business at Court, and another to be well received there.

M. de Rambouillet, somewhat to my surprise, did nothing to remove
this impression.  On all ordinary occasions a man of stiff and
haughty bearing, and thoroughly disliking, though he could not
prevent, the intrusion of a third party into a transaction which
promised an infinity of credit, he received me so coldly and with
so much reserve as for the moment to dash my spirits and throw me
back on myself.

During the journey to the castle, however, which we performed on
foot, attended by half a dozen armed servants bearing torches, I
had time to recall M. de Rosny's advice, and to bethink me of the
intimacy which that great man had permitted me; with so much
effect in the way of heartening me, that as we crossed the
courtyard of the castle I advanced myself, not without some
murmuring on the part of others, to Rambouillet's elbow,
considering that as I was attached to him by the king's command,
this was my proper place.  I had no desire to quarrel, however,
and persisted for some time in disregarding the nudges and
muttered words which were exchanged round me, and even the
efforts which were made as we mounted the stairs to oust me from
my position.  But a young gentleman, who showed himself very
forward in these attempts, presently stumbling against me, I
found it necessary to look at him.

'Sir,' he said, in a small and lisping voice, 'you trod on my
toe.'

Though I had not done so, I begged his pardon very politely.  But
as his only acknowledgment of this courtesy consisted in an
attempt to get his knee in front of mine--we were mounting very
slowly, the stairs being cumbered with a multitude of servants,
who stood on either hand--I did tread on his toe, with a force
and directness which made him cry out.

'What is the matter?'  Rambouillet asked, looking back hastily.

'Nothing, M. le Marquis,' I answered, pressing on steadfastly.

'Sir,' my young friend said again, in the same lisping voice,
'you trod on my toe.'

'I believe I did, sir,' I answered.

'You have not yet apologised,' he murmured gently in my ear.

'Nay, there you are wrong,' I rejoined bluntly, 'for it is always
my habit to apologise first and tread afterwards.'

He smiled as at a pleasant joke; and I am bound to say that his
bearing was so admirable that if he had been my son I could have
hugged him.  'Good!'  he answered.  'No doubt your sword is as
sharp as your wits, sir.  I see,' he continued, glancing naively
at my old scabbard--he was himself the very gem of a courtier, a
slender youth with a pink-and-white complexion, a dark line for a
moustache, and a pearl-drop in his ear--'it is longing to be out.
Perhaps you will take a turn in the tennis-court to-morrow?'

'With pleasure, sir,' I answered, 'if you have a father, or your
elder brother is grown up.'

What answer he would have made to this gibe I do not know, for at
that moment we reached the door of the ante-chamber; and this
being narrow, and a sentry in the grey uniform of the Swiss Guard
compelling all to enter in single file, my young friend was
forced to fall back, leaving me free to enter alone, and admire
at my leisure a scene at once brilliant and sombre.

The Court being in mourning for the Queen-mother, black
predominated in the dresses of those present, and set off very
finely the gleaming jewels and gemmed sword-hilts which were worn
by the more important personages.  The room was spacious and
lofty, hung with arras, and lit by candles burning in silver
sconces; it rang as we entered with the shrill screaming of a
parrot, which was being teased by a group occupying the farther
of the two hearths.  Near them play was going on at one table,
and primero at a second.  In a corner were three or four ladies,
in a circle about a red-faced, plebeian-looking man, who was
playing at forfeits with one of their number; while the middle of
the room seemed dominated by a middle-sized man with a peculiarly
inflamed and passionate countenance, who, seated on a table, was
inveighing against someone or something in the most violent
terms, his language being interlarded with all kinds of strange
and forcible oaths.  Two or three gentlemen, who had the air of
being his followers, stood about him, listening between
submission and embarrassment; while beside the nearer fireplace,
but at some distance from him, lounged a nobleman, very richly
dressed, and wearing on his breast the Cross of the Holy Ghost;
who seemed to be the object of his invective, but affecting to
ignore it was engaged in conversation with a companion.  A
bystander muttering that Crillon had been drinking, I discovered
with immense surprise that the declaimer on the table was that
famous soldier; and I was still looking at him in wonder--for I
had been accustomed all my life to associate courage with
modesty--when, the door of the chamber suddenly opening, a
general movement in that direction took place.  Crillon,
disregarding all precedency, sprang from his table and hurried
first to the threshold.  The Baron de Biron, on the other hand--
for the gentleman by the fire was no other--waited, in apparent
ignorance of the slight which was being put upon him, until M. de
Rambouillet came up; then he went forward with him.  Keeping
close to my patron's elbow, I entered the chamber immediately
behind him.

Crillon had already seized upon the king, and, when we entered,
was stating his grievance is a voice not much lower than that
which he had used outside.  M. de Biron, seeing this, parted from
the marquis, and, going aside with his former companion, sat
down on a trunk against the wall; while Rambouillet, followed by
myself and three or four gentlemen of his train, advanced to the
king, who was standing near the alcove.  His Majesty seeing him,
and thankful, I think, for the excuse, waved Crillon off.  'Tut,
tut!  You told me all that this morning,' he said good-naturedly.
'And here is Rambouillet, who has, I hope, something fresh to
tell.  Let him speak to me.  Sanctus!  Don't look at me as if you
would run me through, man.  Go and quarrel with someone of your
own size.'

Crillon at this retired grumbling, and Henry, who had just risen
from primero with the Duke of Nevers, nodded to Rambouillet.
'Well, my friend, anything fresh?'  he cried.  He was more at his
ease and looked more cheerful than at our former interview; yet
still care and suspicion lurked about his peevish mouth, and in
the hollows under his gloomy eyes.  'A new guest, a new face, or
a new game--which have you brought?'

'In a sense, sire, a new face,' the marquis answered, bowing, and
standing somewhat aside that I might have place.

'Well, I cannot say much for the pretty baggage,' quoth the king
quickly.  And amid a general titter he extended his hand to me.
'I'll be sworn, though,' he continued, as I rose from my knee,
'that you want something, my friend?'

'Nay, sire,' I answered, holding up my head boldly--for Crillon's
behaviour had been a further lesson to me--'I have, by your
leave, the advantage.  For your Majesty has supplied me with a
new jest.  I see many new faces round me, and I have need only of
a new game.  If your Majesty would be pleased to grant me--'

'There!  Said I not so?'  cried the king, raising his hand with a
laugh.  'He does want something.  But he seems not undeserving.
What does he pray, Rambouillet?'

'A small command,' M. de Rambouillet answered, readily playing
his part.  'And your Majesty would oblige me if you could grant
the Sieur de Marsac's petition.  I will answer for it he is a man
of experience.'

'Chut!  A small command?'  Henry ejaculated, sitting down
suddenly in apparent ill-humour.  'It is what everyone wants--
when they do not want big ones.  Still, I suppose,' he continued,
taking up a comfit-box, which lay beside him, and opening it, 'if
you do not get what you want for him you will sulk like the rest,
my friend.'

'Your Majesty has never had cause to complain of me,' quoth the
Marquis, forgetting his role, or too proud to play it.

'Tut, tut, tut, tut!  Take it, and trouble me no more,' the king
rejoined.  'Will pay for twenty men do for him?  Very well then.
There, M. de Marsac,' he continued, nodding at me and yawning,
'your request is granted.  You will find some other pretty
baggages over there.  Go to them.  And now, Rambouillet,' he went
on, resuming his spirits as he turned to matters of more
importance, 'here is a new sweetmeat Zamet has sent me.  I have
made Zizi sick with it.  Will you try it?  It is flavoured with
white mulberries.'

Thus dismissed, I fell back; and stood for a moment, at a loss
whither to turn, in the absence of either friends or
acquaintances.  His Majesty, it is true, had bidden me go to
certain pretty baggages, meaning, apparently, five ladies who
were seated at the farther end of the room, diverting themselves
with as many cavaliers; but the compactness of this party, the
beauty of the ladies, and the merry peals of laughter which
proceeded from them, telling of a wit and vivacity beyond the
ordinary, sapped the resolution which had borne me well hitherto.
I felt that to attack such a phalanx, even with a king's good
will, was beyond the daring of a Crillon, and I looked round to
see whether I could not amuse myself in some more modest fashion.

The material was not lacking.  Crillon, still mouthing out his
anger, strode up and down in front of the trunk on which M. de
Biron was seated; but the latter was, or affected to be, asleep.
'Crillon is for ever going into rages now,' a courtier beside me
whispered.

'Yes,' his fellow answered, with a shrug of the shoulder; 'it is
a pity there is no one to tame him.  But he has such a long
reach, morbleu!'

'It is not that so much as the fellow's fury,' the first speaker
rejoined under his breath.  'He fights like a mad thing; fencing
is no use against him.'

The other nodded.  For a moment the wild idea of winning renown
by taming M. de Crillon occurred to me as I stood alone in the
middle of the floor; but it had not more than passed through my
brain when I felt my elbow touched, and turned to find the young
gentleman whom I had encountered on the stairs standing by my
side.

'Sir,' he lisped, in the same small voice, 'I think you trod on
my toe a while ago?'

I stared at him, wondering what he meant by this absurd
repetition.  'Well, sir,' I answered drily, 'and if I did?'

'Perhaps,' he said, stroking his chin with his jewelled fingers,
'pending our meeting to-morrow, you would allow me to consider it
as a kind of introduction?'

'If it please you,' I answered, bowing stiffly, and wondering
what he would be at.

'Thank you,' he answered.  'It does please me, under the
circumstances; for there is a lady here who desires a word with
you.  I took up her challenge.  Will you follow me?'

He bowed, and turned in his languid fashion.  I, turning too,
saw, with secret dismay, that the five ladies, referred to above,
were all now gazing at me, as expecting my approach; and this
with such sportive glances as told only too certainly of some
plot already in progress or some trick to be presently played me.
Yet I could not see that I had any choice save to obey, and,
following my leader with as much dignity as I could compass, I
presently found myself bowing before the lady who sat nearest,
and who seemed to be the leader of these nymphs.

'Nay, sir,' she said, eyeing me curiously, yet with a merry face,
'I do not need you; I do not look so high!'

Turning in confusion to the next, I was surprised to see before
me the lady whose lodging I had invaded in my search for
Mademoiselle de la Vire--she, I mean, who, having picked up the
velvet; knot, had dropped it so providentially where Simon Fleix
found it.  She looked at me blushing and laughing, and the young
gentleman, who had done her errand, presenting me by name, she
asked me, while the others listened, whether I had found my
mistress.

Before I could answer, the lady to whom I had first addressed
myself interposed.  'Stop, sir!'  she cried.  What is this--a
tale, a jest, a game, or a forfeit?'

'An adventure, madam,' I answered, bowing low.

'Of gallantry, I'll be bound,' she exclaimed.  'Fie, Madame de
Bruhl, and you but six months married!'

Madame de Bruhl protested, laughing, that she had no more to do
with it than Mercury.  'At the worst,' she said, 'I carried the
POULETS!  But I can assure you, duchess, this gentleman should be
able to tell us a very fine story, if he would.'

The duchess and all the other ladies clapping their hands at
this, and crying out that the story must and should be told, I
found myself in a prodigious quandary; and one wherein my wits
derived as little assistance as possible from the bright eyes and
saucy looks which environed me.  Moreover, the commotion
attracting other listeners, I found my position, while I tried to
extricate myself, growing each moment worse, so that I began to
fear that as I had little imagination I should perforce have to
tell the truth.  The mere thought of this threw me into a cold
perspiration, lest I should let slip something of consequence,
and prove myself unworthy of the trust which M. de Rosny had
reposed in me.

At the moment when, despairing of extricating myself, I was
stooping over Madame de Bruhl begging her to assist me, I heard,
amid the babel of laughter and raillery which surrounded me--
certain of the courtiers having already formed hands in a circle
and sworn I should not depart without satisfying the ladies--a
voice which struck a chord in my memory.  I turned to see who the
speaker was, and encountered no other than M. de Bruhl himself;
who, with a flushed and angry face, was listening to the
explanation which a friend was pouring into his ear.  Standing at
the moment with my knee on Madame de Bruhl's stool, and
remembering very well the meeting on the stairs, I conceived in a
flash that the man was jealous; but whether he had yet heard my
name, or had any clew to link me with the person who had rescued
Mademoiselle de la Vire from his clutches, I could not tell.
Nevertheless his presence led my thoughts into a new channel.
The determination to punish him began to take form in my mind,
and very quickly I regained my composure.  Still I was for giving
him one chance.  Accordingly I stooped once more to Madame de
Bruhl's ear, and begged her to spare me the embarrassment of
telling my tale.  But then, finding her pitiless, as I expected,
and the rest of the company growing more and more insistent, I
hardened my heart to go through with the fantastic notion which
had occurred to me.

Indicating by a gesture that I was prepared to obey, and the
duchess crying for a hearing, this was presently obtained, the
sudden silence adding the king himself to my audience.  'What is
it?'  he asked, coming up effusively, with a lap-dog in his arms.
'A new scandal, eh?'

'No, sire, a new tale-teller,' the duchess answered pertly.  'If
your Majesty will sit, we shall hear him the sooner.'

He pinched her ear and sat down in the chair which a page
presented.  'What!  is it Rambouillet's GRISON again?'  he said
with some surprise.  'Well, fire away, man.  But who brought you
forward as a Rabelais?'

There was a general cry of 'Madame de Bruhl!'  whereat that lady
shook her fair hair, about her face, and cried out for someone to
bring her a mask.

'Ha, I see!'  said the king drily, looking pointedly at M. de
Bruhl, who was as black as thunder.  'But go on, man.'

The king's advent, by affording me a brief respite, had enabled
me to collect my thoughts, and, disregarding the ribald
interruptions, which at first were frequent, I began as follows:
'I am no Rabelais, sire,' I said, 'but droll things happen to the
most unlikely.  Once upon a time it was the fortune of a certain
swain, whom I will call Dromio, to arrive in a town not a hundred
miles from Blois, having in his company a nymph of great beauty,
who had been entrusted to his care by her parents.  He had not
more than lodged her in his apartments, however, before she was
decoyed away by a trick, and borne off against her will by a
young gallant, who had seen her and been smitten by her charms.
Dromio, returning, and finding his mistress gone, gave way to the
most poignant grief.  He ran up and down the city, seeking her in
every place, and filling all places with his lamentations; but
for a time in vain, until chance led him to a certain street,
where, in an almost incredible manner, he found a clew to her by
discovering underfoot a knot of velvet, bearing Phyllida's name
wrought on it in delicate needlework, with the words, "A moi!"'

'Sanctus!'  cried the king, amid a general murmur of surprise,
'that is well devised!  Proceed, sir.  Go on like that, and we
will make your twenty men twenty-five.'

'Dromio,' I continued, 'at sight of this trifle experienced the
most diverse emotions, for while he possessed in it a clew to his
mistress's fate, he had still to use it so as to discover the
place whither she had been hurried.  It occurred to him at last
to begin his search with the house before which the knot had
lain.  Ascending accordingly to the second-floor, he found there
a fair lady reclining on a couch, who started up in affright at
his appearance.  He hastened to reassure her, and to explain the
purpose of his coming, and learned after a conversation with
which I will not trouble your Majesty, though it was sufficiently
diverting, that the lady had found the velvet knot in another
part of the town, and had herself dropped it again in front of
her own house.'

'Pourquoi?'  the king asked, interrupting me.

'The swain, sire,' I answered, 'was too much taken up with his
own troubles to bear that in mind, even if he learned it.  But
this delicacy did not save him from misconception, for as he
descended from the lady's apartment he met her husband on the
stairs.'

'Good!'  the king exclaimed, rubbing his hands in glee.  'The
husband!'  And under cover of the gibe and the courtly laugh
which followed it M. de Bruhl's start of surprise passed
unnoticed save by me.

'The husband,' I resumed, 'seeing a stranger descending his
staircase, was for stopping him and learning the reason of his
presence; But Dromio, whose mind was with Phyllida, refused to
stop, and, evading his questions, hurried to the part of the town
where the lady had told him she found the velvet knot.  Here,
sire, at the corner of a lane running between garden-walls, he
found a great house, barred and gloomy, and well adapted to the
abductor's purpose.  Moreover, scanning it on every side, he
presently discovered, tied about the bars of an upper window, a
knot of white linen, the very counterpart of that velvet one
which he bore in his breast.  Thus he knew that the nymph was
imprisoned in that room!'

'I will make it twenty-five, as I am a good Churchman!'  his
Majesty exclaimed, dropping the little dog he was nursing into
the duchess's lap, and taking out his comfit-box.  'Rambouillet,'
he added languidly, 'your friend is a treasure!'

I bowed my acknowledgments, and took occasion as I did so to step
a pace aside, so as to command a view of Madame de Bruhl, as well
as her husband.  Hitherto madame, willing to be accounted a part
in so pretty a romance, and ready enough also, unless I was
mistaken, to cause her husband a little mild jealousy, had
listened to the story with a certain sly demureness.  But this I
foresaw would not last long; and I felt something like
compunction as the moment for striking the blow approached.  But
I had now no choice.  'The best is yet to come, sire,' I went on,
'as I think you will acknowledge in a moment.  Dromio, though he
had discovered his mistress, was still in the depths of despair.
He wandered round and round the house, seeking ingress and
finding none, until at length, sunset approaching, and darkness
redoubling his fears for the nymph, fortune took pity on him.  As
he stood in front of the house he saw the abductor come out,
lighted by two servants.  Judge of his surprise, sire,' I
continued, looking round and speaking slowly, to give full effect
to my words, 'when he recognised in him no other than the husband
of the lady who, by picking up and again dropping the velvet
knot, had contributed so much to the success of his search!'

'Ha!  these husbands!'  cried the king.  And slapping his knee in
an ecstasy at his own acuteness, he laughed in his seat till he
rolled again.  'These husbands!  Did I not say so?'

The whole Court gave way to like applause, and clapped.  their
hands as well, so that few save those who stood nearest took
notice of Madame de Bruhl's faint cry, and still fewer understood
why she rose up suddenly from her stool and stood gazing at her
husband with burning cheeks and clenched hands.  She took no heed
of me, much less of the laughing crowd round her, but looked only
at him with her soul in her eyes.  He, after uttering one hoarse
curse, seemed to have no thought for any but me.  To have the
knowledge that his own wife had baulked him brought home to him
in this mocking fashion, to find how little a thing had tripped
him that day, to learn how blindly he had played into the hands
of fate, above all to be exposed at once to his wife's resentment
and the ridicule of the Court--for he could not be sure that I
should not the next moment disclose his name--all so wrought on
him that for a moment I thought he would strike me in the
presence.

His rage, indeed, did what I had not meant to do.  For the king,
catching sight of his face, and remembering that Madame de Bruhl
had elicited the story, screamed suddenly, 'Haro!'  and pointed
ruthlessly at him with his finger.  After that I had no need to
speak, the story leaping from eye to eye, and every eye settling
on Bruhl, who sought in vain to compose his features.  Madame,
who surpassed him, as women commonly do surpass men, in self-
control, was the, first to recover herself, and sitting down as
quickly as she had risen, confronted alike her husband and her
rivals with a pale smile.

For a moment curiosity and excitement kept all breathless, the
eye alone busy.  Then the king laughed mischievously.  'Come, M.
de Bruhl,' he cried, 'perhaps you will finish the tale for us?'
And he threw himself back in his chair, a sneer on his lips.

'Or why not Madame de Bruhl?'  said the duchess, with her head on
one side and her eyes glittering over her fan.  'Madame would, I
am sure, tell it so well.'

But madame only shook her head, smiling always that forced smile.
For Bruhl himself, glaring from face to face like a bull about to
charge, I have never seen a man more out of countenance, or more
completely brought to bay.  His discomposure, exposed as he was
to the ridicule of all present, was such that the presence in
which he stood scarcely hindered him from some violent attack;
and his eyes, which had wandered from me at the king's word,
presently returning to me again, he so far forgot himself as to
raise his hand furiously, uttering at the same time a savage
oath.

The king cried out angrily, 'Have a care, sir!'  But Bruhl only
heeded this so far as to thrust aside those who stood round him
and push his way hurriedly through the circle.

'Arnidieu!'  cried the king, when he was gone.  'This is fine
conduct!  I have half a mind to send after him and have him put
where his hot blood would cool a little.  Or--'

He stopped abruptly, his eyes resting on me.  The relative
positions of Bruhl and myself as the agents of Rosny and Turenne
occurred to him for the first time, I think, and suggested the
idea, perhaps, that I had laid a trap for him, and that he had
fallen into it.  At any rate his face grew darker and darker, and
at last, 'A nice kettle of fish this is you have prepared for us,
sir!'  he muttered, gazing at me gloomily.

The sudden change in his humour took even courtiers by surprise.
Faces a moment before broad with smiles grew long again.  The
less important personages looked uncomfortably at one another,
and with one accord frowned on me.  'If your Majesty would please
to hear the end of the story at another time?'  I suggested
humbly, beginning to wish with all my heart that I had never said
a word.

'Chut!'  he answered, rising, his face still betraying his
perturbation, 'Well, be it so.  For the present you may go, sir.
Duchess, give me Zizi, and come to my closet.  I want you to see
my puppies.  Retz, my good friend, do you come too.  I have
something to say to you.  Gentlemen, you need not wait.  It is
likely I shall be late.'

And, with the utmost abruptness, he broke up the circle.



CHAPTER XVII.

THE JACOBIN MONK.

Had I needed any reminder of the uncertainty of Court favour, or
an instance whence I might learn the lesson of modesty, and so
stand in less danger of presuming on my new and precarious
prosperity, I had it in this episode, and in the demeanour of the
company round me.  On the circle breaking up in confusion, I
found myself the centre of general regard, but regard of so
dubious a character, the persons who would have been the first to
compliment me had the king retired earlier, standing farthest
aloof now, that I felt myself rather insulted than honoured by
it.  One or two, indeed, of the more cautious spirits did
approach me; but it was with the air of men providing against a
danger particularly remote, their half-hearted speeches serving
only to fix them in my memory as belonging to a class, especially
abhorrent to me--the class, I mean, of those who would run at
once with the hare and the hounds.

I was rejoiced to find that on one person, and that the one whose
disposition towards me was, next to the king's, of first
importance, this episode had produced a different impression,
Feeling, as I made for the door, a touch on my arm, I turned to
find M. de Rambouillet at my elbow, regarding me with a glance of
mingled esteem and amusement; in fine, with a very different look
from that which had been my welcome earlier in the evening.  I
was driven to suppose that he was too great a man, or too sure of
his favour with the king, to be swayed by the petty motives which
actuated the Court generally, for he laid his hand familiarly on
my shoulder, and walked on beside me.

'Well my friend,' he said,' you have distinguished yourself
finely!  I do not know that I ever remember a pretty woman making
more stir in one evening.  But if you are wise you will not go
home alone to-night.'

'I have my sword, M. le Marquis,' I answered, somewhat proudly.
'Which will avail you little against a knife in the back!'  he
retorted drily.  'What attendance have you?'

'My equerry, Simon Fleix, is on the stairs.'

'Good, so far, but not enough,' he replied, as we reached the
head of the staircase.  'You had better come home with me now,
and two or three of my fellows shall go on to your lodging with
you.  Do you know, my friend,' he continued, looking at me
keenly, 'you are either a very clever or a very foolish man?'

I made answer modestly.  'Neither the one, I fear, nor the other,
I hope sir,' I said.

'Well, you have done a very pertinent thing,' he replied, 'for
good or evil.  You have let the enemy know what he has to expect,
and he is not one, I warn you, to be despised.  But whether you
have been very wise or very foolish in declaring open war remains
to be seen.'

'A week will show,' I answered.

He turned and looked at me.  'You take it coolly,' he said.

'I have been knocking about the world for forty years, marquis,'
I rejoined.

He muttered something about Rosny having a good eye, and then
stopped to adjust his cloak.  We were by this time in the street.
Making me go hand in hand with him, he requested the other
gentlemen to draw their swords; and the servants being likewise
armed and numbering half a score or more, with pikes and torches,
we made up a very formidable party, and caused, I think, more
alarm as we passed through the streets to Rambouillet's lodging
than we had any reason to feel.  Not that we had it all to
ourselves, for the attendance at Court that evening being large,
and the circle breaking up as I have described more abruptly than
usual, the vicinity of the castle was in a ferment, and the
streets leading from it were alive with the lights and laughter
of parties similar to our own.

At the door of the marquis's lodging I prepared to take leave of
him with many expressions of gratitude, but he would have me
enter and sit down with him to a light refection, which it was
his habit to take before retiring.  Two of his gentlemen sat down
with us, and a valet, who was in his confidence, waiting on us,
we made very merry over the scene in the presence.  I learned
that M. de Bruhl was far from popular at Court; but being known
to possess some kind of hold over the king, and enjoying besides
a great reputation for recklessness and skill with the sword, he
had played a high part for a length of time, and attached to
himself, especially since the death of Guise, a considerable
number of followers.

'The truth is,' one of the marquis's gentlemen, who was a little
heated with wine, observed, 'there is nothing at this moment
which a bold and unscrupulous man may not win in France!'

'Nor a bold and Christian gentleman for France!'  replied M. de
Rambouillet with, some asperity.  'By the way,' he continued,
turning abruptly to the servant, 'where is M. Francois?'

The valet answered that he had not returned with us from the
castle.  The Marquis expressed himself annoyed at this, and I
gathered, firstly, that the missing man was his near kinsman,
and, secondly, that he was also the young spark who had been so
forward to quarrel with me earlier in the evening.  Determining
to refer the matter, should it become pressing, to Rambouillet
for adjustment, I took leave of him, and attended by two of his
servants, whom he kindly transferred to my service for the
present, I started towards my lodging a little before midnight.

The moon had risen while we were at supper, and its light, which
whitened the gables on one side of the street, diffused a glimmer
below sufficient to enable us to avoid the kennel.  Seeing this,
I bade the men put out our torch.  Frost had set in, and a keen
wind was blowing, so that we were glad to hurry on at a good
pace; and the streets being quite deserted at this late hour, or
haunted only by those who had come to dread the town marshal, we
met no one and saw no lights.  I fell to thinking, for my part,
of the evening I had spent searching Blois for Mademoiselle, and
of the difference between then and now.  Nor did I fail while on
this track to retrace it still farther to the evening of our
arrival at my mother's; whence, as a source, such kindly and
gentle thoughts welled up in my mind as were natural, and the
unfailing affection of that gracious woman required.  These,
taking the place for the moment of the anxious calculations and
stern purposes which had of late engrossed me, were only ousted
by something which, happening under my eyes, brought me violently
and abruptly to myself.

This was the sudden appearance of three men, who issued one by
one from an alley a score of yards in front of us, and after
pausing a second to look back the way they had come, flitted on
in single file along the street, disappearing, as far as the
darkness permitted me to judge, round a second corner.  I by no
means liked their appearance, and, as a scream and the clash of
arms rang out next moment from the direction in which they had
gone, I cried lustily to Simon Fleix to follow, and ran on,
believing from the rascals' movements that they were after no
good, but that rather some honest man was like to be sore beset.

On reaching the lane down which they had plunged, however, I
paused a moment, considering not so much its black-ness, which
was intense, the eaves nearly meeting overhead, as the small
chance I had of distinguishing between attackers and attacked.
But Simon and the men overtaking me, and the sounds of a sharp
tussle still continuing, I decided to venture, and plunged into
the alley, my left arm well advanced, with the skirt of my cloak
thrown over it, and my sword drawn back.  I shouted as I ran,
thinking that the knaves might desist on hearing me; and this was
what happened, for as I arrived on the scene of action--the
farther end of the alley--two men took to their heels, while of
two who remained, one lay at length in the kennel, and another
rose slowly from his knees.

'You are just in time, sir,' the latter said, breathing hard, but
speaking with a preciseness which sounded familiar.  'I am
obliged to you, sir, whoever you are.  The villains had got me
down, and in a few minutes more would have made my mother
childless.  By the way, you have no light, have you?'  he
continued, lisping like a woman.

One of M. de Rambouillet's men, who had by this time come up,
cried out that it was Monsieur Francois.

'Yes, blockhead!'  the young gentleman answered with the utmost
coolness.  'But I asked for a light, not for my name.

'I trust you are not hurt, sir?'  I said, putting up my sword.

'Scratched only,' he answered, betraying no surprise on learning
who it was had come up so opportunely; as he no doubt did learn
from my voice, for he continued with a bow, a slight price to pay
for the knowledge that M. de Marsac is as forward on the field as
on the stairs.'

I bowed my acknowledgments.

'This fellow,' I said, 'is he much hurt?'

'Tut, tut!  I thought I had saved the marshal all trouble, M.
Francois replied.  'Is he not dead, Gil?'

The poor wretch made answer for himself, crying out piteously,
and in a choking voice, for a priest to shrive him.  At that
moment Simon Fleix returned with our torch, which he had lighted
at the nearest cross-streets, where there was a brazier, and we
saw by this light that the man was coughing up blood, and might
live perhaps half an hour.

'Mordieu!  That comes of thrusting too high!'  M. Francois
muttered, regretfully.  An inch lower, and there would have been
none of this trouble!  I suppose somebody must fetch one.  Gil,'
he continued, 'run, man, to the sacristy in the Rue St. Denys,
and get a Father.  Or--stay!  Help to lift him under the lee of
the wall there.  The wind cuts like a knife here.'

The street being on the slope of the hill, the lower part of the
house nearest us stood a few feet from the ground, on wooden
piles, and the space underneath it, being enclosed at the back
and sides, was used as a cart-house.  The servants moved the
dying man into this rude shelter, and I accompanied them, being
unwilling to leave the young gentleman alone.  Not wishing,
however, to seem to interfere, I walked to the farther end, and
sat down on the shaft of a cart, whence I idly admired the
strange aspect of the group I had left, as the glare of the torch
brought now one and now another into prominence, and sometimes
shone on M. Francois' jewelled fingers toying with his tiny
moustache, and sometimes on the writhing features of the man at
his feet.

On a sudden, and before Gil had started on his errand, I saw
there was a priest among them.  I had not seen him enter, nor had
I any idea whence he came.  My first impression was only that
here was a priest, and that he was looking at me--not at the man
craving his assistance on the floor, or at those who stood round
him, but at me, who sat away in the shadow beyond the ring of
light!

This was surprising; but a second glance explained it, for then I
saw that he was the Jacobin monk who had haunted my mother's
dying hours.  And, amazed as much at this strange RENCONTRE as at
the man's boldness, I sprang up and strode forwards, forgetting,
in an impulse of righteous anger, the office he came to do.  And
this the more as his face, still turned to me, seemed instinct to
my eyes with triumphant malice.  As I moved towards him, however,
with a fierce exclamation on my lips, he suddenly dropped his
eyes and knelt.  Immediately M. Francois cried 'Hush!'  and the
men turned to me with scandalised faces.  I fell back.  Yet even
then, whispering on his knees by the dying man, the knave was
thinking, I felt sure, of me, glorying at once in his immunity
and the power it gave him to tantalise me without fear.

I determined, whatever the result, to intercept him when all was
over; and on the man dying a few minutes later, I walked
resolutely to the open side of the shed, thinking it likely he
might try to slip away as mysteriously as he had come.  He stood
a moment speaking to M. Francois, however, and then, accompanied
by him, advanced boldly to meet me, a lean smile on his face.

'Father Antoine,' M. d'Agen said politely,' tells me that he
knows you, M. de Marsac, and desires to speak to you, MAL-A-
PROPOS as is the occasion.'

'And I to him,' I  answered, trembling with rage, and only
restraining by an effort the impulse which would have had me dash
my hand in the priest's pale, smirking face.  'I have waited long
for this moment,' I continued, eyeing him steadily, as M.
Francois withdrew out of hearing, 'and had you tried to avoid me,
I would have dragged you back, though all your tribe were here to
protect you.'

His presence so maddened me that I scarcely knew what I said.  I
felt my breath come quickly, I felt the blood surge to my head,
and it was with difficulty I restrained myself when he answered
with well-affected sanctity, 'Like mother, like son, I fear, sir.
Huguenots both.'

I choked with rage.  What!'  I said, 'you dare to threaten me as
you threatened my mother?  Fool!  know that only to-day for the
purpose of discovering and punishing you I took the rooms in
which my mother died.'

'I know it,' he answered quietly.  And then in a second, as by
magic, he altered his demeanour completely, raising his head and
looking me in the face.  'That, and so much besides, I know,' he
continued, giving me, to my astonishment, frown for frown, 'that
if you will listen to me for a moment, M. de Marsac, and listen
quietly, I will convince you that the folly is not on my side.'

Amazed at his new manner, in which there was none of the madness
that had marked him at our first meeting, but a strange air of
authority, unlike anything I had associated with him before, I
signed to him to proceed.

'You think that I am in your power?'  he said, smiling.

'I think,' I retorted swiftly, 'that, escaping me now, you will
have at your heels henceforth a worse enemy than even your own
sins.'

'Just so,' he answered, nodding.  'Well, I am going to show you
that the reverse is the case; and that you are as completely in
my hands, to spare or to break, as this straw.  In the first
place, you are here in Blois, a Huguenot!'

'Chut!'  I exclaimed contemptuously, affecting a confidence I was
far from feeling.  'A little while back that might have availed
you.  But we are in Blois, not Paris.  It is not far to the
Loire, and you have to deal with a man now, not with a woman.  It
is you who have cause to tremble, not I.'

'You think to be protected,' he answered with a sour smile, 'even
on this side of the Loire, I see.  But one word to the Pope's
Legate, or to the Duke of Nevers, and you would see the inside of
a dungeon, if not worse.  For the king--'

'King or no king!'  I answered, interrupting him with more
assurance than I felt, seeing that I remembered only too well
Henry's remark that Rosny must not look to him for protection, 'I
fear you not a whit!  And that reminds me.  I have heard you talk
treason--rank, black treason, priest, as ever sent man to rope,
and I will give you up.  By heaven I will!'  I cried, my rage
increasing, as I discerned, more and more clearly, the dangerous
hold he had over me.  'You have threatened me!  One word, and I
will send you to the gallows!'

'Sh!'  he answered, indicating M. Francois by, a gesture of the
hand.  'For your own sake, not mine.  This is fine talking, but
you have not yet heard all I know.  Would you like to hear how
you have spent the last month?  Two days after Christmas, M. de
Marsac, you left Chize with a young lady--I can give you her
name, if you please.  Four days afterwards you reached Blois, and
took her to your mother's lodging.  Next morning she left you for
M. de Bruhl.  Two days later you tracked her to a house in the
Ruelle d'Arcy, and freed her, but lost her in the moment of
victory.  Then you stayed in Blois until your mother's death,
going a day or two later to M. de Rosny's house by Mantes, where
mademoiselle still is.  Yesterday you arrived in Blois with M. de
Rosny ; you went to his lodging; you--'

'Proceed, I muttered, leaning forward.  Under cover of my cloak I
drew my dagger half-way from its sheath.  'Proceed, sir, I pray,'
I repeated with dry lips.

'You slept there,' he continued, holding his ground, but
shuddering slightly, either from cold or because he perceived my
movement and read my design in my eyes.

'This morning you remained here in attendance on M. de
Rambouillet.'

For the moment I breathed freely again, perceiving that though he
knew much, the one thing on which M. de Rosny's design turned had
escaped him.  The secret interview with the king, which
compromised alike Henry himself and M. de Rambouillet, had
apparently passed unnoticed and unsuspected.  With a sigh of
intense relief I slid back the dagger, which I had fully made up
my mind to use had he known all, and drew my cloak round me with
a shrug of feigned indifference.  I sweated to think what he did
know, but our interview with the king having escaped him, I
breathed again.

'Well, sir,' I said curtly, 'I have listened.  And now, what is
the purpose of all this?'

'My purpose?'  he answered, his eyes glittering.  'To show you
that you are in my power.  You are the agent of M. de Rosny.  I,
the agent, however humble, of the Holy Catholic League.  Of your
movements I know all.  What do you know of mine?'

'Knowledge,' I made grim answer, 'is not everything, sir priest.'

'It is more than it was,' he said, smiling his thin-lipped smile.
'It is going to be more than it is.  And I know much--about you,
M. de Marsac.'

'You know too much!'  I retorted, feeling his covert threats
close round me like the folds of some great serpent.  'But you
are imprudent, I think.  Will you tell me what is to prevent me
striking you through where you stand, and ridding myself at a
blow of so much knowledge?'

'The presence of three men, M. de Marsac,' he answered lightly,
waving his hand towards M. Francois and the others, 'every one of
whom would give you up to justice.  You forget that you are north
of the Loire, and that priests are not to be massacred here with
impunity, as in your lawless south-country.  However, enough.
The night is cold, and M. d'Agen grows suspicious as well as
impatient.  We have, perhaps, spoken too long already.  Permit me
--he bowed and drew back a step--'to resume this discussion to-
morrow.'

Despite his politeness and the hollow civility with which he thus
sought; to close the interview, the light of triumph which shone
in his eyes, as the glare of the torch fell athwart them, no less
than the assured tone of his voice, told me clearly that he knew
his power.  He seemed, indeed, transformed:  no longer a
slinking, peaceful clerk, preying on a woman's fears, but a bold
and crafty schemer, skilled and unscrupulous, possessed of hidden
knowledge and hidden resources; the personification of evil
intellect.  For a moment, knowing all I knew, and particularly
the responsibilities which lay before me, and the interests
committed to my hands, I quailed, confessing myself unequal to
him.  I forgot the righteous vengeance I owed him; I cried out
helplessly against the ill-fortune which had brought him across
my path.  I saw myself enmeshed and fettered beyond hope of
escape, and by an effort only controlled the despair I felt.

'To-morrow?'  I muttered hoarsely.  'At what time?'

He shook his head with a cunning smile.  'A thousand thanks, but
I will settle that myself!'  he answered.  'Au revoir!'  and
uttering a word of leave-taking to M. Francois d'Agen, he blessed
the two servants, and went out into the night.



CHAPTER XVIII.

THE OFFER OF THE LEAGUE.

When the last sound of his footsteps died away, I awoke as from
an evil dream, and becoming conscious of the presence of M.
Francois and the servants, recollected mechanically that I owed
the former an apology for my discourtesy in keeping him standing
in the cold.  I began to offer it; but my distress and confusion
of mind were such that in the middle of a set phrase I broke off,
and stood looking fixedly at him, my trouble so plain that he
asked me civilly if anything ailed me.

'No,' I answered, turning from him impatiently; 'nothing,
nothing, sir.  Or tell me,' I continued, with an abrupt change of
mind, 'who is that; who has just left us?'

'Father Antoine, do you mean?'

'Ay, Father Antoine, Father Judas, call him what you like,' I
rejoined bitterly.

'Then if you leave the choice to me,' M. Francois answered with
grave politeness, 'I would rather call him something more
pleasant, M. de Marsac--James or John, let us say.  For there is
little said here which does not come back to him.  If walls have
ears, the walls of Blois are in his pay.  But I thought you knew
him,' he continued.  'He is secretary, confidant, chaplain, what
you will, to Cardinal Retz, and one of those whom--in your ear--
greater men court and more powerful men lean on.  If I had to
choose between them, I would rather cross M. de Crillon.'

'I am obliged to you,' I muttered, checked as much by his manner
as his words.

'Not at all,' he answered more lightly.  'Any information I have
is at your disposal.'

However, I saw the imprudence of venturing farther, and hastened
to take leave of him, persuading him to allow one of M. de
Rambouillet's servants to accompany him home.  He said that he
should call on me in the morning; and forcing myself to answer
him in a suitable manner, I saw him depart one way, and myself,
accompanied by Simon Fleix, went off another.  My feet were
frozen with long standing--I think the corpse we left was scarce
colder--but my head was hot with feverish doubts and fears.  The
moon had sunk and the streets were dark.  Our torch had burned
out, and we had no light.  But where my followers saw only
blackness and vacancy, I saw an evil smile and a lean visage
fraught with menace and exultation.

For the more closely I directed my mind to the position in which
I stood, the graver it seemed.  Pitted against Bruhl alone, amid
strange surroundings and in an atmosphere of Court intrigue, I
had thought my task sufficiently difficult and the disadvantages
under which I laboured sufficiently serious before this
interview.  Conscious of a certain rustiness and a distaste for
finesse, with resources so inferior to Bruhl's that even M. de
Rosny's liberality had not done much to make up the difference, I
had accepted the post offered me rather readily than sanguinely;
with joy, seeing that it held out the hope of high reward, but
with no certain expectation of success.  Still, matched with a
man of violent and headstrong character, I had seen no reason to
despair; nor any why I might not arrange the secret meeting
between the king and mademoiselle with safety, and conduct to its
end an intrigue simple and unsuspected, and requiring for its
execution rather courage and caution than address or experience.

Now, however, I found that Bruhl was not my only or my most
dangerous antagonist.  Another was in the field--or, to speak
more correctly, was waiting outside the arena, ready to snatch
the prize when we should have disabled one another, From a dream
of Bruhl and myself as engaged in a competition for the king's
favour, wherein neither could expose the other nor appeal even in
the last resort to the joint-enemies of his Majesty and
ourselves, I awoke to a very different state of things; I awoke
to find those enemies the masters of the situation, possessed of
the clue to our plans, and permitting them only as long as they
seemed to threaten no serious peril to themselves.

No discovery could be more mortifying or more fraught with
terror.  The perspiration stood on my brow as I recalled the
warning which M. de Rosny had uttered against Cardinal Retz, or
noted down the various points of knowledge which were in Father
Antoine's possession.  He knew every event of the last month,
with one exception, and could tell, I verily believed, how many
crowns I had in my pouch.  Conceding this, and the secret sources
of information he must possess, what hope had I of keeping my
future movements from him?  Mademoiselle's arrival would be known
to him before she had well passed the gates; nor was it likely,
or even possible, that I should again succeed in reaching the
king's presence untraced and unsuspected.  In fine, I saw myself,
equally with Bruhl, a puppet in this man's hands, my goings out
and my comings in watched and reported to him, his mercy the only
bar between myself and destruction.  At any moment I might be
arrested as a Huguenot, the enterprise in which I was engaged
ruined, and Mademoiselle de la Vire exposed to the violence of
Bruhl or the equally dangerous intrigues of the League.

Under these circumstances I fancied sleep impossible; but habit
and weariness are strong persuaders, and when I reached my
lodging I slept long and soundly, as became a man who had looked
danger in the face more than once.  The morning light too brought
an accession both of courage and hope.  I reflected on the misery
of my condition at St. Jean d'Angely, without friends or
resources, and driven to herd with such a man as Fresnoy.  And
telling myself that the gold crowns which M. de Rosny had
lavished upon me were not for nothing, nor the more precious
friendship with which he had honoured me a gift that called for
no return, I rose with new spirit and a countenance which threw
Simon Fleix who had seen me lie down the picture of despair--
into the utmost astonishment.

'You have had good dreams,' he said, eyeing me jealously and with
a disturbed air.

'I had a very evil one last night,' I answered lightly, wondering
a little why he looked at me so, and why he seemed to resent my
return to hopefulness and courage.  I might have followed this
train of thought further with advantage, since I possessed a clue
to his state of mind; but at that moment a summons at the door
called him away to it, and he presently ushered in M. d'Agen,
who, saluting me with punctilious politeness, had not said fifty
words before he introduced the subject of his toe--no longer,
however, in a hostile spirit, but as the happy medium which had
led him to recognise the worth and sterling qualities--so he was
pleased to say--of his preserver.

I was delighted to find him in this frame of mind, and told him
frankly that the friendship with which his kinsman, M. de
Rambouillet, honoured me would prevent me giving him satisfaction
save in the last resort.  He replied that the service I had done
him was such as to render this immaterial, unless I had myself
cause of offence; which I was forward to deny.

We were paying one another compliments after this fashion, while
I regarded him with the interest which the middle-aged bestow on
the young and gallant in whom they see their own youth and hopes
mirrored, when the door was again opened, and after a moment's
pause admitted, equally, I think, to the disgust of M. Francois,
and myself, the form of Father Antoine.

Seldom have two men more diverse stood, I believe, in a room
together; seldom has any greater contrast been presented to a
man's eyes than that opened to mine on this occasion.  On the one
side the gay young spark, with his short cloak, his fine suit; of
black-and-silver, his trim limbs and jewelled hilt and chased
comfit-box; on the other, the tall, stooping monk, lean-jawed and
bright-eyed, whose gown hung about him in coarse, ungainly folds.
And M. Francois' sentiment on first seeing the other was
certainly dislike.  Is spite of this, however, he bestowed a
greeting on the new-comer which evidenced a secret awe, and in
other ways showed so plain a desire to please, that I felt my
fears of the priest return in force.  I reflected that the
talents which in such a garb could win the respect of M. Francois
d'Agen--a brilliant star among the younger courtiers, and one of
a class much given to thinking scorn of their fathers' roughness
--must be both great and formidable; and, so considering, I
received the monk with a distant courtesy which I had once little
thought to extend to him.  I put aside for the moment the private
grudge I bore him with so much justice, and remembered only the
burden which lay on me in my contest with him.

I conjectured without difficulty that he chose to come at this
time, when M. Francois was with me, out of a cunning regard to
his own safety; and I was not surprised when M. Francois,
beginning to make his adieux, Father Antoine begged him to wait
below, adding that he had something of importance to communicate.
He advanced his request in terms of politeness bordering on
humility; but I could clearly see that, in assenting to it, M.
d'Agen bowed to a will stronger than his own, and would, had he
dared to follow his own bent, have given a very different answer.
As it was he retired--nominally to give an order to his lackey--
with a species of impatient self-restraint which it was not
difficult to construe.

Left alone with me, and assured that we had no listeners, the
monk was not slow in coming to the point.

'You have thought over what I told you last night?'  he said
brusquely, dropping in a moment the suave manner which he had
maintained in M. Francois's presence.

I replied coldly that I had.

'And you understand the position?'  he continued quickly, looking
at me from under his brows as he stood before me, with one
clenched fist on the table.  'Or shall I tell you more?  Shall I
tell you how poor and despised you were some weeks ago, M. de
Marsac--you who now go in velvet, and have three men at your
back?  Or whose gold it is has brought you here, and made you,
this?  Chut!  Do not let us trifle.  You are here as the secret
agent of the King of Navarre.  It is my business to learn your
plans and his intentions, and I propose to do so.'

'Well?'  I said.

'I am prepared to buy them,' he answered; and his eyes sparkled
as he spoke, with a greed which set me yet more on my guard.

'For whom?'  I asked.  Having made up my mind that I must use the
same weapons as my adversary, I reflected that to express
indignation, such as might become a young man new to the world,
could, help me not a whit.  'For whom?'  I repeated, seeing that
he hesitated.

'That is my business,' he replied slowly.

'You want to know too much and tell too little,' I retorted,
yawning.

'And you are playing with me,' he cried, looking at me suddenly,
with so piercing a gaze and so dark a countenance that I checked
a shudder with difficulty.  'So much the worse for you, so much
the worse for you!'  he continued fiercely.  'I am here to buy
the information you hold, but if you will not sell, there is
another way.  At an hour's notice I can ruin your plans, and send
you to a dungeon!  You are like a fish caught in a net not yet
drawn.  It thrusts its nose this way and that, and touches the
mesh, but is slow to take the alarm until the net is drawn--and
then it is too late.  So it is with you, and so it is,' he added,
falling into the ecstatic mood which marked him at times, and
left me in doubt whether he were all knave or in part enthusiast,
'with all those who set themselves against St. Peter and his
Church!'

'I have heard you say much the same of the King of France,' I
said derisively.

'You trust in him?'  he retorted, his eyes gleaming.  'You have
been up there, and seen his crowded chamber, and counted his
forty-five gentlemen and his grey-coated Swiss?  I tell you the
splendour you saw was a dream, and will vanish as a dream.  The
man's strength and his glory shall go from him, and that soon.
Have you no eyes to see that he is beside the question?  There
are but two powers in France--the Holy Union, which still
prevails, and the accursed Huguenot; and between them is the
battle.'

'Now you are telling me more,' I said.

He grew sober in a moment, looking at me with a vicious anger
hard to describe.

'Tut tut,' he said, showing his yellow teeth, 'the dead tell no
tales.  And for Henry of Valois, he so loves a monk that you
might better accuse his mistress.  But for you, I have only to
cry "Ho!  a Huguenot and a spy!"  and though he loved you more
than he loved Quelus or Maugiron, he dare not stretch out a
finger to save you!'

I knew that he spoke the truth, and with difficulty maintained
the air of indifference with which I had entered on the
interview.

'But what if I leave Blois?'  I ventured, merely to see what he
would say.

He laughed.  'You cannot,' he answered.  'The net is round you,
M. de Marsac, and there are those at every gate who know you and
have their instructions.  I can destroy you, but I would fain
have your information, and for that I will pay you five hundred
crowns and let you go.'

'To fall into the hands of the King of Navarre?'

'He will disown you, in any case,' he answered eagerly.  'He had
that in his mind, my friend, when he selected an agent so
obscure.  He will disown you.  Ah, mon Dieu!  had I been an hour
quicker I had caught Rosny--Rosny himself!'

'There is one thing lacking still,' I replied.  'How am I to be
sure that, when I have told you what I know, you will pay me the
money or let me go?'

'I will swear to it!'  he answered earnestly, deceived into
thinking I was about to surrender.  'I will give you my oath, M.
de Marsac!'

'I would as soon have your shoe-lace!'  I exclaimed, the
indignation I could not entirely repress finding vent in that
phrase.  'A Churchman's vow is worth a candle--or a candle and a
half, is it?'  I continued ironically.  'I must have some
security a great deal more substantial than that, father.'

'What?'  he asked, looking at me gloomily.

Seeing an opening, I cudgelled my brains to think of any
condition which, being fulfilled, might turn the table on him and
place him in my power.  But his position was so strong, or my
wits so weak, that nothing occurred to me at the time, and I sat
looking at, him, my mind gradually passing from the possibility
of escape to the actual danger in which I stood, and which
encompassed also Simon Fleix, and, in a degree, doubtless, M. de
Rambouillet.  In four or five days, too, Mademoiselle de la Vire
would arrive.  I wondered if I could send any warning to her; and
then, again, I doubted the wisdom of interfering with M. de
Rosny's plans, the more as Maignan, who had gone to fetch
mademoiselle, was of a kind to disregard any orders save his
master's.

'Well!'  said the monk, impatiently recalling me to myself, 'what
security do you want?'

'I am not quite sure at this moment,' I made answer slowly.  'I
am in a difficult position.  I must have some time to consider.'

'And to rid yourself of me, if it be possible,' he said with
irony.  'I quite understand.  But I warn you that you are
watched; and that wherever you go and whatever you do, eyes which
are mine are upon you.'

'I, too, understand,' I said coolly.

He stood awhile uncertain, regarding me with mingled doubt and
malevolence, tortured on the one hand by fear of losing the prize
if he granted delay, on the other of failing as utterly if he
exerted his power and did not succeed in subduing my resolution.
I watched him, too, and gauging his eagerness and the value of
the stake for which he was striving by the strength of his
emotions, drew small comfort from the sight.  More than once it
had occurred to me, and now it occurred to me again, to extricate
myself by a blow.  But a natural reluctance to strike an unarmed
man, however vile and knavish, and the belief that he had not
trusted himself in my power without taking the fullest
precautions, withheld me.  When he grudgingly, and with many dark
threats, proposed to wait three days--and not an hour more--for
my answer, I accepted; for I saw no other alternative open.  And
on these terms, but not without some short discussion, we parted,
and I heard his stealthy footstep go sneaking down the stairs.



CHAPTER XIX.

MEN CALL IT CHANCE.

If I were telling more than the truth, or had it in my mind to
embellish my adventures, I could, doubtless, by the exercise of a
little ingenuity make it appear that I owed my escape from Father
Antoine's meshes to my own craft; and tell, in fine, as pretty a
story of plots and counterplots as M. de Brantome has ever woven.
Having no desire, however, to magnify myself and, at this time of
day, scarcely any reason, I am fain to confess that the reverse
was the case; and that while no man ever did less to free himself
than I did, my adversary retained his grasp to the end, and had
surely, but for a strange interposition, effected my ruin.  How
relief came, and from what quarter, I might defy the most
ingenious person, after reading my memoirs to this point, to say;
and this not so much by reason of any subtle device, as because
the hand of Providence was for once directly manifest.

The three days of grace which the priest had granted I passed in
anxious but futile search for some means of escape, every plan I
conceived dying stillborn, and not the least of my miseries lying
in the fact that I could discern no better course than still to
sit and think, and seemed doomed to perpetual inaction.  M. de
Rambouillet being a strict Catholic, though in all other respects
a patriotic man, I knew better than to have recourse to him; and
the priest's influence over M. d'Agen I had myself witnessed.
For similar reasons I rejected the idea of applying to the king;
and this exhausting the list of those on whom I had any claim, I
found myself thrown on my own resources, which seemed limited--my
wits failing me at this pinch--to my sword and Simon Fleix.

Assured that I must break out of Blois if I would save not myself
only, but others more precious because entrusted to my charge, I
thought it no disgrace to appeal to Simon; describing in a lively
fashion the danger which threatened us, and inciting the lad by
every argument which I thought likely to have weight with him to
devise some way of escape.

Now is the time, my friend,' I said, 'to show your wits, and
prove that M. de Rosny, who said you had a cunning above the
ordinary, was right.  If your brain can ever save your head, now
is the time!  For I tell you plainly, if you cannot find some way
to outmanoeuvre this villain before to-morrow, I am spent.  You
can judge for yourself what chance you will have of going free.'

I paused at that, waiting for him to make some suggestion.  To my
chagrin he remained silent, leaning his head on his hand, and
studying the table with his eyes in a sullen fashion; so that I
began to regret the condescension I had evinced in letting him be
seated, and found it necessary to remind him that he had taken
service with me, and must do my bidding.

'Well,' he said morosely, and without looking up, 'I am ready to
do it.  But I do not like priests, and this one least of all.  I
know him, and I will not meddle with him.'

'You will not meddle with him?'  I cried, almost beside myself
with dismay.

'No, I won't,' he replied, retaining his listless attitude.  'I
know him, and I am afraid of him.  I am no match for him.'

'Then M. de Rosny was wrong, was he?'  I said, giving way to my
anger.

'If it please you,' he answered pertly.

This was too much for me.  My riding-switch lay handy, and I
snatched it up.  Before he knew what I would be at, I fell upon
him, and gave him such a sound wholesome drubbing as speedily
brought him to his senses.  When he cried for mercy--which he did
not for a good space, being still possessed by the peevish devil
which had ridden him ever since his departure from Rosny--I put
it to him again whether M. de Rosny was not right.  When he at
last admitted this, but not till then, I threw the whip away and
let him go, but did not cease to reproach him as he deserved.

'Did you think,' I said, 'that I was going to be ruined because
you would not use your lazy brains?  That I was going to sit
still, and let you sulk, while mademoiselle walked blindfold into
the toils?  Not at all, my friend!'

'Mademoiselle!'  he exclaimed, looking at me with a, sudden
change of countenance, end ceasing to rub himself and scowl, as
he had been doing.  'She is not here, and is in no danger.'

'She will be here to-morrow, or the next day,' I said.

You did not tell me that!'  he replied, his eyes glittering.
'Does Father Antoine know it?'

'He will know it the moment she enters the town,' I answered.

Noting the change which the introduction of mademoiselle's name
into the affair had wrought in him, I felt something like
humiliation.  But at the moment I had no choice; it was my
business to use such instruments as came to my hand, and not,
mademoiselle's safety being at stake, to pick and choose too
nicely.  In a few minutes our positions were reversed.  The lad
had grown as hot as I cold, as keenly excited as I critical.
When he presently came to a stand in front of me, I saw a strange
likeness between his face and the priest's; nor was I astonished
when he presently made just such a proposal as I should have
expected from Father Antoine himself.

'There is only one thing for it,' he muttered, trembling all
over.  'He must be got rid of!'

'Fine talking!'  I said, contemptuously.  'If he were a soldier
he might be brought to it.  But he is a priest, my friend, and
does not fight.'

'Fight?  Who wants him to fight?'  the lad answered, his face
dark, his hands moving restlessly.  'It is the easier done.  A
blow in the back, and he will trouble us no more.'

'Who is to strike it?'  I asked drily.

Simon trembled and hesitated; but presently, heaving a deep sigh,
he said, 'I will.'

'It might not be difficult,' I muttered, thinking it over.

'It would be easy,' he answered under his breath.  His eyes
shone, his lips were white, and his long dark hair hung wet over
his forehead.

I reflected, and the longer I did so the more feasible seemed the
suggestion.  A single word, and I might sweep from my path the
man whose existence threatened mine; who would not meet me
fairly, but, working against me darkly and treacherously,
deserved no better treatment at my hands than that which a
detected spy receives.  He had wronged my mother; he would fain
destroy my friends!

And, doubtless, I shall be blamed by some and ridiculed by more
for indulging in scruples at such a time.  But I have all my life
long been prejudiced against that form of underhand violence
which I have heard old men contend came into fashion in our
country in modern times, and which certainly seems to be alien
from the French character.  Without judging others too harshly,
or saying that the poniard is never excusable--for then might
some wrongs done to women and the helpless go without remedy--I
have set my face against its use as unworthy of a soldier.  At
the time, moreover, of which I am now writing the extent to which
our enemies had lately resorted to it tended to fix this feeling
with peculiar firmness in my mind; and, but for the very
desperate dilemma in which I stood at the moment--and not I
alone--I do not think that I should have entertained Simon's
proposal for a minute.

As it was, I presently answered him in a way which left him in no
doubt of my sentiments.  'Simon, my friend,' I said--and I
remember I was a little moved--'you have something still to
learn, both as a soldier and a Huguenot.  Neither the one nor the
other strikes at the back.'

'But if he will not fight?'  the lad retorted rebelliously.
'What then?'

It was so clear that our adversary gained an unfair advantage in
this way that I could not answer the question.  I let it pass,
therefore, and merely repeating my former injunction, bade Simon
think out another way.

He promised reluctantly to do so, and, after spending some
moments in thought, went out to learn whether the house was being
watched.

When he returned, his countenance wore so new an expression that
I saw at once that something had happened.  He did not meet my
eye, however, and did not explain, but made as if he would go out
again, with something of confusion in his manner.  Before finally
disappearing, however, he seemed to change his mind once more;
for, marching up to me where I stood eyeing him with the utmost
astonishment, he stopped before me, and suddenly drawing out his
hand, thrust something into mine.

'What is it, man?'  I said mechanically.

'Look!'  he answered rudely, breaking silence for the first time.
'You should know.  Why ask me?  What have I to do with it?'

I looked then, and saw that he had given me a knot of velvet
precisely similar is shape, size, and material to that well-
remembered one which had aided me so opportunely in my search for
mademoiselle.  This differed from that a little in colour, but in
nothing else, the fashion of the bow being the same, and one
lappet hearing the initials 'C. d. l. V.,' while the other had
the words, 'A moi.'  I gazed at it in wonder.  'But, Simon,' I
said, 'what does it mean?  Where did you get it?'

'Where should I get it?'  he answered jealously.  Then, seeming
to recollect himself, he changed his tone.  'A woman gave it to
me in the street,' he said.

I asked him what woman.

'How should I know?'  he answered, his eyes gleaming with anger.
'It was a woman in a mask.'

'Was it Fanchette?'  I said sternly.

'It might have been.  I do not know,' he responded.

I concluded at first that mademoiselle and her escort had arrived
in the outskirts of the city, and that Maignan had justified his
reputation for discretion by sending in to learn from me whether
the way was clear before he entered.  In this notion I was partly
confirmed and partly shaken by the accompanying message; which
Simon, from whom every scrap of information had to be dragged as
blood from a stone, presently delivered.

'You are to meet the sender half an hour after sunset to-morrow
evening,' he said, 'on the Parvis at the north-east corner of the
cathedral.'

'To-morrow evening?'

'Yes, when else?'  the lad answered ungraciously.  'I said to-
morrow evening.'

I thought this strange.  I could understand why Maignan should
prefer to keep his charge outside the walls until he heard from
me, but not why he should postpone a meeting so long.  The
message, too, seemed unnecessarily meagre, and I began to think
Simon was still withholding something.

'Was that all?'  I asked him.

'Yes, all,' he answered, 'except--'

'Except what?'  I said sternly.

'Except that the woman showed me the gold token Mademoiselle de
la Vire used to carry,' he answered reluctantly, 'and said, if
you wanted further assurance that would satisfy you.'

'Did you see the coin?'  I cried eagerly.

'To be sure,' he answered.

'Then, mon dieu!'  I retorted, 'either you are deceiving me, or
the woman you saw deceived you.  For mademoiselle has not got the
token!  I have it here, in my possession!  Now, do you still say
yon saw it, man?'

'I saw one like it,' he answered, trembling, his face damp.
'That I will swear.  And the woman told me what I have told you.
And no more.'

'Then it is clear,' I answered, 'that mademoiselle has nothing to
do with this, and is doubtless many a league away.  This is one
of M. de Bruhl's tricks.  Fresnoy gave him the token he stole
from me.  And I told him the story of the velvet knot myself.
This is a trap; and had I fallen into it, and gone to the Parvis
to-morrow evening, I had never kept another assignation, my lad.'

Simon looked thoughtful.  Presently he said, with a crestfallen
air, 'You were to go alone.  The woman said that.'

Though I knew well why he had suppressed this item, I forbore to
blame him.  'What was the woman like?'  I said.

'She had very much of Franchette's figure,' he answered.  He
could not go beyond that.  Blinded by the idea that the woman was
mademoiselle's attendant, and no one else, he had taken little
heed of her, and could not even say for certain that she was not
a man in woman's clothes.

I thought the matter over and discussed it with him; and was
heartily minded to punish M. de Bruhl, if I could discover a way
of turning his treacherous plot against himself.  But the lack of
any precise knowledge of his plans prevented me stirring in the
matter; the more as I felt no certainty that I should be master
of my actions when the time came.

Strange to say the discovery of this movement on the part of
Bruhl, who had sedulously kept himself in the background since
the scene in the king's presence, far from increasing my
anxieties, had the effect of administering a fillip to my
spirits; which the cold and unyielding pressure of the Jacobin
had reduced to a low point.  Here was something I could
understand, resist, and guard against.  The feeling that I had
once more to do with a man of like aims and passions with myself
quickly restored me to the use of my faculties; as I have heard
that a swordsman opposed to the powers of evil regains his vigour
on finding himself engaged with a mortal foe.  Though I knew that
the hours of grace were fast running to a close, and that on the
morrow the priest would call for an answer, I experienced that
evening an, unreasonable lightness and cheerfulness.  I retired
to rest with confidence, and slept is comfort, supported in part,
perhaps, by the assurance that in that room where my mother died
her persecutor could have no power to harm me.

Upon Simon Fleix, on the other hand, the discovery that Bruhl was
moving, and that consequently peril threatened us from a new
quarter, had a different effect.  He fell into a state of extreme
excitement, and spent the evening and a great part of the night
in walking restlessly up and down the room, wrestling with the
fears and anxieties which beset us, and now talking fast to
himself, now biting his nails in an agony of impatience.  In vain
I adjured him not to meet troubles halfway; or, pointing to the
pallet which he occupied at the foot of my couch, bade him, if he
could not devise a way of escape, at least to let the matter rest
until morning.  He had no power to obey, but, tortured by the
vivid anticipations which it was his nature to entertain, he
continued to ramble to and fro in a fever of the nerves, and had
no sooner lain down than be was up again.  Remembering, however,
how well he had borne himself on the night of mademoiselle's
escape from Blois, I refrained from calling him a coward; and
contented myself instead with the reflection that nothing sits
worse on a fighting-man than too much knowledge--except, perhaps,
a lively imagination.

I thought it possible that mademoiselle might arrive next day
before Father Antoine called to receive his answer.  In this
event I hoped to have the support of Maignan's experience.  But
the party did not arrive.  I had to rely on myself and my own
resources, and, this being so, determined to refuse the priest's
offer, but in all other things to be guided by circumstances.

About noon he came, attended, as was his practice, by two
friends, whom he left outside.  He looked paler and more shadowy
than before, I thought, his hands thinner, and his cheeks more
transparent.  I could draw no good augury, however, from these,
signs of frailty, for the brightness of his eyes and the unusual
elation of his manner told plainly of a spirit assured of the
mastery.  He entered the room with an air of confidence, and
addressed me in a tone of patronage which left me in no doubt of
his intentions; the frankness with which he now laid bare his
plans going far to prove that already he considered me no better
than his tool.

I did not at once undeceive him, but allowed him to proceed, and
even to bring out the five hundred crowns which he had promised
me, and the sight of which he doubtless supposed would clench the
matter.

Seeing this he became still less reticent, and spoke so largely
that I presently felt myself impelled to ask him if he would
answer a question.

'That is as may be, M. de Marsac,' he answered lightly.  'You may
ask it.'

'You hint at great schemes which you have in hand, father,' I
said.  'You speak of France and Spain and Navarre, and kings and
Leagues and cardinals!  You talk of secret strings, and would
have me believe that if I comply with your wishes I shall find
you as powerful a patron as M. de Rosny.  But--one moment, if you
please,' I continued hastily, seeing that he was about to
interrupt me with such eager assurances as I had already heard;
'tell me this.  With so many irons in the fire, why did you
interfere with one old gentlewoman--for the sake of a few
crowns?"

'I will tell you even that,' he answered, his face flushing at my
tone.  'Have you ever heard of an elephant?  Yes.  Well, it has a
trunk, you know, with which it can either drag an oak from the
earth or lift a groat from the ground.  It is so with me.  But
again you ask,' he continued with an airy grimace, 'why I wanted
a few crowns.  Enough that I did.  There are going to be two
things in the world, and two only, M. de Marsac:  brains and
money.  The former I have, and had:  the latter I needed--and
took.'

'Money and brains?'  I said, looking at him thoughtfully.

'Yes,' he answered, his eyes sparkling, his thin nostrils
beginning to dilate.  'Give me these two, and I will rule
France!'

'You will rule France?'  I exclaimed, amazed beyond measure by
his audacity.  'You, man?'

'Yes, I,' he answered, with abominable coolness.  'I, priest,
monk, Churchman, clerk.  You look surprised, but mark you, sir,
there is a change going on.  Our time is coming, and yours is
going.  What hampers our lord the king and shuts him up in Blois,
while rebellions stalk through France?  Lack of men?  No; but
lack of money.  Who can get the money for him--you the soldier,
or I the clerk?  A thousand times, I!  Therefore, my time is
coming, and before you die you will see a priest rule France.'

'God forbid it should be you,' I answered scornfully.

'As you please,' he answered, shrugging his shoulders, and
assuming in a breath a mask of humility which sat as ill on his
monstrous conceit as ever nun's veil on a trooper.  'Yet it may
even be I; by the favour of the Holy Catholic Church, whose
humble minister I am.'

I sprang up with a great oath at that, having no stomach for more
of the strange transformations, in which this man delighted, and
whereof the last had ever the air of being the most hateful.
'You villain!'  I cried, twisting my moustaches, a habit I have
when enraged.  'And so you would make me a stepping-stone to your
greatness.  You would bribe me--a soldier and a gentleman.  Go,
before I do you a mischief.  That is all I have to say to you.
Go!  You have your answer.  I will tell you nothing--not a jot or
a tittle.  Begone from my room!'

He fell back a step in his surprise, and stood against the table
biting his nails and scowling at me, fear and chagrin contending
with half a dozen devils for the possession of his face.  'So you
have been deceiving me,' he said slowly, and at last.

'I have let you deceive yourself' I answered, looking at him with
scorn, but with little of the fear with which he had for a while
inspired me.  'Begone, and do your worst.'

'You know what you are doing,' he said.  'I have that will hang
you, M. de Marsac--or worse.'

'Go!'  I cried.

'You have thought of your friends,' he continued mockingly.

'Go!'  I said.

'Of Mademoiselle de la Vire, if by any chance she fall into my
hands?  It will not be hanging for her.  You remember the two
Foucauds?'--and he laughed.

The vile threat, which I knew he had used to my mother, so worked
upon me that I strode forward unable to control myself longer.
In another moment I had certainly taken him by the throat and
squeezed the life out of his miserable carcase, had not
Providence in its goodness intervened to save me.  The door, on
which he had already laid his hand in terror, opened suddenly.
It admitted Simon, who, closing it; behind him, stood looking
from one to the other of us in nervous doubt; divided between
that respect for the priest which a training at the Sorbonne had
instilled into him, and the rage which despair arouses in the
weakest.

His presence, while it checked me in my purpose, seemed to give
Father Antoine courage, for the priest stood his ground, and even
turned to me a second time, his face dark with spite and
disappointment.  'Good,' he said hoarsely.  'Destroy yourself if
you will!  I advise you to bar your door, for in an hour the
guards will be here to fetch you to the question.'

Simon cried out at the threat, so that I turned and looked at the
lad.  His knees were shaking, his hair stood on end.

The priest saw his terror and his own opportunity.  'Ay, in an
hour,' he continued slowly, looking at him with cruel eyes.  'In
an hour, lad!  You must be fond of pain to court it, and out of
humour with life to throw it away.  Or stay,' he continued
abruptly, after considering Simon's narrowly for a moment, and
doubtless deducing from it a last hope, 'I will be merciful.  I
will give you one more chance.'

'And yourself?'  I said with a sneer.

'As you please,' he answered, declining to be diverted from the
trembling lad, whom his gaze seemed to fascinate.  'I will give
you until half an hour after sunset this evening to reconsider
the matter.  If you make up your minds to accept my terms, meet
me then.  I leave to-night for Paris, and I will give you until
the last moment.  But,' he continued grimly, 'if you do not meet
me, or, meeting me, remain obstinate--God do so to me, and more
also, if you see the sun rise thrice.'

Some impulse, I know not what, seeing that I had no thought of
accepting his terms or meeting him, led me to ask briefly,
'Where?'

'On the Parvis of the Cathedral,' he answered after a moment's
calculation.  'At the north-east corner, half an hour after
sunset.  It is a quiet spot.'

Simon uttered a stifled exclamation.  And then for a moment there
was silence in the room, while the lad breathed hard and
irregularly, and I stood rooted to the spot, looking so long and
so strangely at the priest that Father Antoine laid his hand
again on the door and glanced uneasily behind him.  Nor was he
content until he had hit on, as he fancied, the cause of my
strange regard.

'Ha!'  he said, his thin lip curling in conceit at his
astuteness, 'I understand you think to kill me to-night?  Let me
tell you, this house is watched.  If you leave here to meet me
with any companion--unless it be M. d'Agen, whom I can trust, I
shall be warned, and be gone before you reach the rendezvous.
And gone, mind you,' he added, with a grim smile, 'to sign your
death-warrant.'

He went out with that, closing the door behind him; and we heard
his step go softly down the staircase.  I gazed at Simon, and he
at me, with all the astonishment and awe which it was natural we
should feel in presence of so remarkable a coincidence.

For by a marvel the priest had named the same spot and the same
time as the sender of the velvet knot!

'He will go,' Simon said, his face flushed and his voice
trembling, 'and they will go.'

'And in the dark they will not know him,' I muttered.  'He is
about my height.  They will take him for me!'

'And kill him!'  Simon cried hysterically.  'They will kill him!
He goes to his death, monsieur.  It is the finger of God.'



CHAPTER XX.

THE KING'S FACE.

It seemed so necessary to bring home the crime to Bruhl should
the priest really perish in the trap laid for me, that I came
near to falling into one of those mistakes to which men of action
are prone.  For my first impulse was to follow the priest to the
Parvis, closely enough, if possible, to detect the assassins in
the act, and with sufficient force, if I could muster it, to
arrest them.  The credit of dissuading me from this course lies
with Simon, who pointed out its dangers in so convincing a manner
that I was brought with little difficulty to relinquish it.

Instead, acting on his advice, I sent him to M. d'Agen's lodging,
to beg that young gentleman to call upon me before evening.
After searching the lodging and other places in vain, Simon found
M. d'Agen in the tennis-court at the Castle, and, inventing a
crafty excuse, brought him to my lodging a full hour before the
time.

My visitor was naturally surprised to find that I had nothing
particular to say to him.  I dared not tell him what occupied my
thoughts, and for the rest invention failed me.  But his gaiety
and those pretty affectations on which he spent an infinity of
pains, for the purpose, apparently, of hiding the sterling worth
of a character deficient neither in courage nor backbone, were
united to much good nature.  Believing at last that I had sent
for him in a fit of the vapours, he devoted himself to amusing me
and abusing Bruhl--a very favourite pastime with him.  And in
this way he made out a call of two hours.

I had not long to wait for proof of Simon's wisdom in taking this
precaution.  We thought it prudent to keep within doors after our
guest's departure, and so passed the night in ignorance whether
anything had happened or not.  But about seven next morning one
of the Marquis's servants, despatched by M. d'Agen, burst in upon
us with the news--which was no news from the moment his hurried
footstep sounded on the stairs that Father Antoine had been set
upon and killed the previous evening!

I heard this confirmation of my hopes with grave thankfulness;
Simon with so much emotion that when the messenger was gone he
sat down on a stool and began to sob and tremble as if he had
lost his mother, instead of a mortal foe.  I took advantage of
the occasion to read him a sermon on the end of crooked courses;
nor could I myself recall without a shudder the man's last words
to me; or the lawless and evil designs in which he had rejoiced,
while standing on the very brink of the pit which was to swallow
up both him and them in everlasting darkness.

Naturally, the uppermost feeling in my mind was relief.  I was
free once more.  In all probability the priest had kept his
knowledge to himself, and without him his agents would be
powerless.  Simon, it is true, heard that the town was much
excited by the event; and that many attributed it to the
Huguenots.  But we did not suffer ourselves to be depressed by
this, nor had I any foreboding until the sound of a second
hurried footstep mounting the stairs reached our ears.

I knew the step in a moment for M. d'Agen's, and something
ominous in its ring brought me to my feet before he opened the
door.  Significant as was his first hasty look round the room, he
recovered at sight of me all his habitual SANG-FROID.  He saluted
me, and spoke coolly, though rapidly.  But he panted, and I
noticed in a moment that he had lost his lisp.

'I am happy in finding you,' he said, closing the door carefully
behind him, 'for I am the bearer of ill news, and there is not a
moment to be lost.  The king has signed an order for your instant
consignment to prison, M. de Marsac, and, once there, it is
difficult to say what may not happen.'

'My consignment?'  I exclaimed.  I may be pardoned if the news
for a moment found me unprepared.

'Yes,' he replied quickly.  'The king has signed it at the
instance of Marshal Retz.'

'But for what?'  I cried in amazement.

'The murder of Father Antoine.  You will pardon me,' he continued
urgently, 'but this is no time for words.  The Provost-Marshal is
even now on his way to arrest you.  Your only hope is to evade
him, and gain an audience of the king.  I have persuaded my uncle
to go with you, and he is waiting at his lodgings.  There is not
a moment to be lost, however, if you would reach the king's
presence before you are arrested.'

'But I am innocent!'  I cried.

'I know it,' M. d'Agen answered, 'and can prove it.  But if you
cannot get speech of the king innocence will avail you nothing.
You have powerful enemies.  Come without more ado, M. de Marsac,
I pray,' he added.

His manner, even more than his words, impressed me with a sense
of urgency; and postponing for a time my own judgment, I
hurriedly thanked him for his friendly offices.  Snatching up my
sword, which lay on a chair, I buckled it on; for Simon's fingers
trembled so violently he could give me no help.  This done I
nodded to M. d'Agen to go first, and followed him from the room,
Simon attending us of his own motion.  It would be then about
eleven o'clock in the forenoon.

My companion ran down the stairs without ceremony, and so quickly
it was all I could do to keep up with him.  At the outer door he
signed me to stand, and darting himself into the street, he
looked anxiously in the direction of the Rue St. Denys.
Fortunately the coast was still clear, and he beckoned to me to
follow him.  I did so and starting to walk in the opposite
direction as fast as we could, in less than a minute we had put a
corner between us and the house.

Our hopes of escaping unseen, however, were promptly dashed.  The
house, I have said, stood in a quiet by-street, which was bounded
on the farther side by a garden-wall buttressed at intervals.  We
had scarcely gone a dozen paces from my door when a man slipped
from the shelter of one of these buttresses, and after a single
glance at us, set off to run towards the Rue St. Denys.

M. d'Agen looked back and nodded.  'There goes the news,' he
said.  'They will try to cut us off, but I think we have the
start of them.'

I made no reply, feeling that I had resigned myself entirely into
his hands.  But as we passed through the Rue de Valois, in part
of which a market was held at this hour, attracting a
considerable concourse of peasants and others, I fancied I
detected signs of unusual bustle and excitement.  It seemed
unlikely that news of the priest's murder should affect so many
people and to such a degree, and I asked M. d'Agen what it meant.

'There is a rumour abroad,' he answered, without slackening
speed, 'that the king intends to move south to Tours at once.'

I muttered my surprise and satisfaction.  'He will come to terms
with the Huguenots then?'  I said.

'It looks like it,' M. d'Agen rejoined.  'Retz's party are in an
ill-humour on that account, and will wreak it on you if they get
a chance.  On guard!'  he added abruptly.  'Here are two of
them!'

As he spoke we emerged from the crowd, and I saw, half a dozen
paces in front; of us, and coming to meet us, a couple of Court
gallants, attended by as many servants.  They espied us at the
same moment, and came across the street, which was tolerably wide
at that part, with the evident intention of stopping us.
Simultaneously, however, we crossed to take their side, and so
met them face to face in the middle of the way.

'M. d'Agen,' the foremost exclaimed, speaking in a haughty tone,
and with a dark side glance at me, 'I am sorry to see you in such
company!  Doubtless you are not aware that this gentleman is the
subject of an order which has even now been issued to the
Provost-Marshal.'

'And if so, sir?  What of that?'  my companion lisped in his
silkiest tone.

'What of that?'  the other cried, frowning, and pushing slightly
forward.

'Precisely,' M. d'Agen repeated, laying his hand on his hilt and
declining to give back.  'I am not aware that his Majesty has
appointed you Provost-Marshal, or that you have any warrant, M.
Villequier, empowering you to stop gentlemen in the public
streets.'

M. Villequier reddened with anger.  'You are young, M. d'Agen,'
he said, his voice quivering, 'or I would make you pay dearly for
that!'

'My friend is not young,' M. d'Agen retorted, bowing.  'He is a
gentleman of birth, M. Villequier; by repute, as I learned
yesterday, one of the best swordsmen in France, and no Gascon.
If you feel inclined to arrest him, do so, I pray.  And I will
have the honour of engaging your son.'

As we had all by this time our hands on our swords, there needed
but a blow to bring about one of those street brawls which were
more common then than now.  A number of market-people, drawn to
the spot by our raised voices, had gathered round, and were
waiting eagerly to see what would happen.  But Villeqier, as my
companion perhaps knew, was a Gascon in heart as well as by
birth, and seeing our determined aspects, thought better of it.
Shrugging his shoulders with an affectation of disdain which
imposed on no one, he signalled to his servants to go on, and
himself stood aside.

'I thank you for your polite offer,' he said with an evil smile,
'and will remember it.  But as you say, sir, I am not the
Provost-Marshal.'

Paying little heed to his words, we bowed, passed him, and
hurried on.  But the peril was not over.  Not only had the
RENCONTRE cost us some precious minutes, but the Gascon, after
letting us proceed a little way, followed us.  And word being
passed by his servants, as we supposed, that one of us was the
murderer of Father Antoine, the rumour spread through the crowd
like wildfire, and in a few moments we found ourselves attended
by a troop of CANAILLE who, hanging on our skirts, caused Simon
Fleix no little apprehension.  Notwithstanding the contempt which
M. d'Agen, whose bearing throughout was admirable, expressed for
them, we might have found it necessary to turn and teach them a
lesson had we not reached M. de Rambouillet's in the nick of
time; where we found the door surrounded by half a dozen armed
servants, at sight of whom our persecutors fell back with the
cowardice which is usually found in that class.

If I had been tempted of late to think M. de Rambouillet fickle,
I had no reason to complain now; whether his attitude was due to
M. d'Agen's representations, or to the reflection that without me
the plans he had at heart must miscarry.  I found him waiting
within, attended by three gentlemen, all cloaked and ready for
the road; while the air of purpose, which sat on his brow
indicated that he thought the crisis no common one.  Not a moment
was lost, even in explanations.  Waving me to the door again, and
exchanging a few sentences with his nephew, he gave the word to
start, and we issued from the house in a body.  Doubtless the
fact that those who sought to ruin me were his political enemies
had some weight with him; for I saw his face harden as his eyes
met those of M. de Villequier, who passed slowly before the door
as we came out.  The Gascon, however, was not the man to
interfere with so large a party, and dropped back; while M. de
Rambouillet, after exchanging a cold salute with him, led the way
towards the Castle at a round pace.  His nephew and I walked one
on either side of him, and the others, to the number of ten or
eleven, pressed on behind in a compact body, our cortege
presenting so determined a front that the crowd, which had
remained hanging about the door, fled every way.  Even some
peaceable folk who found themselves in our road took the
precaution of slipping into doorways, or stood aside to give us
the full width of the street.

I remarked--and I think it increased my anxiety--that our leader
was dressed with more than usual care and richness, but, unlike
his attendants, wore no arms.  He took occasion, as we hurried
along, to give me a word of advice.  'M. de Marsac,' he said,
looking at me suddenly, 'my nephew has given me to understand
that you place yourself entirely in my hands.'

I replied that I asked for no better fortune, and, whatever the
event, thanked him from the bottom of my heart.

'Be pleased then to keep silence until I bid you speak,' he
replied sharply, for he was one of those whom a sudden stress
sours and exacerbates.  'And, above all, no violence without my
orders.  We are about to fight a battle, and a critical one, but
it must be won with our heads.  If we can we will keep you out of
the Provost-Marshal's hands.'

And if not?  I remembered the threats Father Antoine had used,
and in a moment I lost sight of the street with all its light and
life and movement.  I felt no longer the wholesome stinging of
the wind.  I tasted instead a fetid air, and saw round me a
narrow cell and masked figures, and in particular a swarthy man
is a leather apron leaning over a brazier, from which came lurid
flames.  And I was bound.  I experienced that utter helplessness
which is the last test of courage.  The man came forward, and
then--then, thank God!  the vision passed away.  An exclamation
to which M. d'Agen gave vent, brought me back to the present, and
to the blessed knowledge that the fight was not yet over.

We were within a score of paces, I found, of the Castle gates;
but so were also a second party, who had just debouched from a
side-street, and now hurried on, pace for pace, with us, with the
evident intention of forestalling us, The race ended in both
companies reaching the entrance at the same time, with the
consequence of some jostling taking place amongst the servants.
This must have led to blows but for the strenuous commands which
M. de Rambouillet had laid upon his followers.  I found myself in
a moment confronted by a row of scowling faces, while a dozen
threatening hands were stretched out towards me, and as many
voices, among which I recognised Fresnoy's, cried out
tumultuously, 'That is he!  That is the one!'

An elderly man in a quaint dress stepped forward, a paper in his
hand, and, backed as he was by half a dozen halberdiers, would in
a moment have laid hands on me if M. de Rambouillet had not
intervened with a negligent air of authority, which sat on him
the more gracefully as he held nothing but a riding-switch in his
hands.  'Tut, tut!  What is this?'  he said lightly.  'I am not
wont to have my people interfered with, M. Provost, without my
leave.  You know me, I suppose?'

'Perfectly, M. le Marquis,' the man answered with dogged respect;
'but this is by the king's special command.'

'Very good,' my patron answered, quietly eyeing the faces behind
the Provost-Marshal, as if he were making a note of them; which
caused some of the gentlemen manifest uneasiness.  'That is soon
seen, for we are even now about to seek speech with his Majesty.'

'Not this gentleman,' the Provost-Marshal answered firmly,
raising his hand again.  'I cannot let him pass.'

'Yes, this gentleman too, by your leave,' the Marquis retorted,
lightly putting the hand aside with his cane.

'Sir,' said the other, retreating a step, and speaking with some
heat, 'this is no jest with all respect.  I hold the king's own
order, and it may not be resisted.'

The nobleman tapped his silver comfit-box and smiled.  'I shall
be the last to resist it--if you have it,' he said languidly.

'You may read it for yourself,' the Provost-Marshal answered, his
patience exhausted.

M. de Rambouillet took the parchment with the ends of his
fingers, glanced at it, and gave it back.  'As I thought,' he
said, 'a manifest forgery.'

'A forgery!'  cried the other, crimson with indignation.  'And I
had it from the hands of the king's own secretary!'  At this
those behind murmured, some 'shame,' and some one thing and some
another--all with an air so threatening that the Marquis's
gentlemen closed up behind him, and M. d'Agen laughed rudely.

But M. de Rambouillet remained unmoved.  'You may have had it
from whom you please, sir,' he said.  'It is a forgery, and I
shall resist its execution.  If you choose to await me here, I
will give you my word to render this gentleman to you within an
hour, should the order hold good.  If you will not wait, I shall
command my servants to clear the way, and if ill happen, then the
responsibility will lie with you.'

He spoke in so resolute a manner it was not difficult to see that
something more was at stake than the arrest of a single man.
This was so; the real issue was whether the king, with whose
instability it was difficult to cope, should fall back into the
hands of his old advisers or not.  My arrest was a move in the
game intended as a counterblast to the victory which M. de
Rambouillet had gained when he persuaded the king to move to
Tours; a city in the neighbourhood of the Huguenots, and a place
of arms whence union with them would be easy.

The Provost-Marshal could, no doubt, make a shrewd guess at these
things.  He knew that the order he had would be held valid or not
according as one party or the other gained the mastery; and,
seeing M. de Rambouillet's resolute demeanour, he gave way.
Rudely interrupted more than once by his attendants, among whom
were some of Bruhl's men, he muttered an ungracious assent to our
proposal; on which, and without a moment's delay, the Marquis
took me by the arm and hurried me across the courtyard.

And so far, well.  My heart began to rise.  But, for the Marquis,
as we mounted the staircase the anxiety he had dissembled while
we faced the Provost-Marshal, broke out in angry mutterings; from
which I gathered that the crisis was yet to come.  I was not
surprised, therefore, when an usher rose on our appearance in the
antechamber, and, quickly crossing the floor, interposed between
us and the door of the chamber, informing the Marquis with a low
obeisance that his Majesty was engaged.

'He will see me,' M. de Rambouillet cried, looking haughtily
round on the sneering pages and lounging courtiers, who grew
civil under his eye.

'I have particular orders, sir, to admit so one,' the man
answered.

'Tut, tut, they do not apply to me,' my companion retorted,
nothing daunted.  'I know the business on which the king is
engaged, and I am here to assist him.'  And raising his hand he
thrust the startled official aside, and hardily pushed the doors
of the chamber open.

The king, surrounded by half a dozen persons, was in the act of
putting on his riding-boots.  On hearing us, he turned his head
with a startled air, and dropped in his confusion one of the
ivory cylinders he was using; while his aspect, and that of the
persons who stood round him, reminded me irresistibly of a party
of schoolboys detected in a fault.

He recovered himself, it is true, almost immediately; and turning
his back to us?  continued to talk to the persons round him on
such trifling subjects as commonly engaged him.  He carried on
this conversation in a very free way, studiously ignoring our
presence; but it was plain he remained aware of it, and even that
he was uneasy under the cold and severe gaze which the Marquis,
who seemed in nowise affrighted by his reception, bent upon him.

I, for my part, had no longer any confidence.  Nay, I came near
to regretting that I had persevered in an attempt so useless.
The warrant which awaited me at the gates seemed less formidable
than his Majesty's growing displeasure; which I saw I was
incurring by remaining where I was.  It needed not the insolent
glance of Marshal Retz, who lounged smiling by the king's hand,
or the laughter of a couple of pages who stood at the head of the
chamber, to deprive me of my last hope; while some things which
might have cheered me--the uneasiness of some about the king, and
the disquietude which underlay Marshal Retz's manner--escaped my
notice altogether.

What I did see clearly was that the king's embarrassment was fast
changing to anger.  The paint which reddened his cheeks prevented
tiny alteration in his colour being visible, but his frown and
the nervous manner in which he kept taking off and putting on his
jewelled cap betrayed him.  At length, signing to one of his
companions to follow, he moved a little aside to a window,
whence, after a few moments, the gentleman came to us.

'M. de Rambouillet,' he said, speaking coldly and formally, 'his
Majesty is displeased by this gentleman's presence, and requires
him to withdraw forthwith.'

'His Majesty's word is law,' my patron answered, bowing low, and
speaking in a clear voice audible throughout; the chamber, 'but
the matter which brings this gentleman here is of the utmost
importance, and touches his Majesty's person.'

M. de Retz laughed jeeringly.  The other courtiers looked grave.
The king shrugged his shoulders with a peevish gesture, but after
a moment's hesitation, during which he looked first at Retz and
then at M. de Rambouillet, he signed to the Marquis to approach.

'Why have you brought him here?'  he muttered sharply, looking
askance at me.  'He should have been bestowed according to my
orders.'

'He has information for your Majesty's private ear,' Rambouillet
answered.  And he looked so meaningly at the king that Henry, I
think, remembered on a sudden his compact with Rosny, and my part
in it; for he started with the air of a man suddenly awakened.
'To prevent that information reaching you, sire,' my patron
continued, 'his enemies have practised on your Majesty's well-
known sense of justice.'

'Oh, but stay, stay!'  the king cried, hitching forward the
scanty cloak he wore, which barely came down to his waist.  'The
man has killed a priest!  He has killed a priest, man!'

He repeated with confidence, as if he had now got hold of the
right argument.

That is not so, sire, craving your Majesty's pardon, M. de
Rambouillet; replied with the utmost coolness.

'Tut!  Tut!  The evidence is clear,' the king said peevishly.

'As to that, sire,' my companion rejoined, 'if it is of the
murder of Father Antoine he is accused, I say boldly that there
is none.'

'Then there you are mistaken!'  the king answered.  'I heard it
with my own ears this morning.'

'Will you deign, sire, to tell me its nature?'  M. de Rambouillet
persisted.

But on that Marshal Retz thought it necessary to intervene.
'Need we turn his Majesty's chamber into a court of justice?'  he
said smoothly.  Hitherto he had not spoken; trusting, perhaps, to
the impression he had already made upon the king.

M. de Rambouillet took no notice of him.

'But Bruhl,' said the king, 'you see, Bruhl says--'

'Bruhl!'  my companion replied, with so much contempt that Henry
started.  'Surely your Majesty has not taken his word against
this gentleman, of all people?'

Thus reminded, a second time, of the interests entrusted to me,
and of the advantage which Bruhl would gain by my disappearance,
the king looked first confused, and then angry.  He vented his
passion in one or two profane oaths, with the childish addition
that we were all a set of traitors, and that he had no one whom
he could trust.  But my companion had touched the right chord at
last; for when the king grew more composed, he waved aside
Marshal Retz's protestations, and sullenly bade Rambouillet say
what he had to say.

'The monk was killed, sire, about sunset,' he answered.  'Now my
nephew, M. d'Agen, is without, and will tell your Majesty that he
was with this gentleman at his lodgings from about an hour before
sunset last evening until a full hour after.  Consequently, M. de
Marsac can hardly be the assassin, and M. le Marechal must look
elsewhere if he wants vengeance.'

'Justice, sir, not vengeance.'  Marshal Retz said with a dark
glance.  His keen Italian face hid his trouble well, but a little
pulse of passion beating in his olive cheek betrayed the secret
to those who knew him.  He had a harder part to play than his
opponent; for while Rambouillet's hands were clean, Retz knew
himself a traitor, and liable at any moment to discovery and
punishment.

'Let M. d'Agen be called,' Henry said curtly.

'And if your Majesty pleases,' Retz added, 'M. de Bruhl also, If
you really intend, sire, that is, to reopen a matter which I
thought had been settled.'

The king nodded obstinately, his face furrowed with ill-temper.
He kept his shifty eyes, which seldom met those of the person he
addressed, on the floor; and this accentuated the awkward
stooping carriage which was natural to him.  There were seven or
eight dogs of exceeding smallness in the room, and while we
waited for the persons who had been summoned, he kicked, now one
and now another of the baskets which held them, as if he found in
this some vent for his ill-humour.

The witnesses presently appeared, followed by several persons,
among whom were the Dukes of Nevers and Mercoeur, who came to
ride out with the king, and M. de Crillon; so that the chamber
grew passably full.  The two dukes nodded formally to the
Marquis, as they passed him, but entered into a muttered
conversation with Retz, who appeared to be urging them to press
his cause.  They seemed to decline, however, shrugging their
short cloaks as if the matter were too insignificant.  Crillon on
his part cried audibly, and with an oath, to know what the matter
was; and being informed, asked whether all this fuss was being
made about a damned shaveling monk.

Henry, whose tenderness for the cowl was well known, darted an
angry glance at him, but contented himself with saying sharply to
M. d'Agen, 'Now, sir, what do you know about the matter?'

'One moment, sire,' M. Rambouillet cried, interposing before
Francois could answer.  'Craving your Majesty's pardon, you have
heard M. de Bruhl's account.  May I, as a favour to myself, beg
you, sire, to permit us also to hear it?'

'What?'  Marshal Retz exclaimed angrily, 'are we to be the
judges, then, or his Majesty?  Arnidieu!'  he continued hotly,
'what, in the fiend's name, have we to do with it?  I protest
'fore Heaven--'

'Ay, sir, and what do you protest?'  my champion retorted,
turning to him with stern disdain.

'Silence!'  cried the king who had listened almost bewildered.
'Silence!  By God, gentlemen,' he continued, his eye travelling
round the circle with a sparkle of royal anger in it not unworthy
of his crown, 'you forget yourselves.  I will have none of this
quarrelling in my presence or out of it.  I lost Quelus and
Maugiron that way, and loss enough, and I will have none of it, I
say!  M. de Bruhl,' he added, standing erect, and looking for the
moment, with all his paint and frippery, a king, 'M. de Bruhl,
repeat your story.'

The feelings with which I listened to this controversy may be
imagined.  Devoured in turn by hope and fear as now one side and
now the other seemed likely to prevail, I confronted at one
moment the gloom of the dungeon, and at another tasted the air of
freedom, which had never seemed so sweet before.  Strong as these
feelings were, however, they gave way to curiosity at this point;
when I heard Bruhl called, and saw him come forward at the king's
command.  Knowing this man to be himself guilty, I marvelled with
what face he would present himself before all those eyes, and
from what depths of impudence he could draw supplies in such an
emergency.

I need not have troubled myself, however, for he was fully equal
to the occasion.  His high colour and piercing black eyes met the
gaze of friend and foe alike without flinching.  Dressed well and
elegantly, he wore his raven hair curled in the mode, and looked
alike gay, handsome, and imperturbable.  If there was a suspicion
of coarseness about his bulkier figure, as he stood beside M.
d'Agen, who was the courtier perfect and point devise, it went to
the scale of sincerity, seeing that men naturally associate truth
with strength.

'I know no more than this, sire,' he said easily; 'that,
happening to cross the Parvis at the moment of the murder, I
heard Father Antoine scream.  He uttered four words only, in the
tone of a man in mortal peril.  They were'--and here the speaker
looked for an instant at me--'Ha!  Marsac!  A moi!'

'Indeed!'  M. de Rambouillet said, after looking to the king for
permission.  'And that was all?  You saw nothing?'

Bruhl shook his head.  'It was too dark,' he said.

'And heard no more?'

'No.'

'Do I understand, then,' the Marquis continued slowly, 'that M.
de Marsac is arrested because the priest--God rest his soul!--
cried to him for help?'

'For help?'  M. de Retz exclaimed fiercely.

'For help?'  said the king, surprised.  And at that the most;
ludicrous change fell upon the faces of all.  The king looked
puzzled, the Duke of Nevers smiled, the Duke of Mercoeur laughed
aloud.  Crillon cried boisterously, 'Good hit!'  and the
majority, who wished no better than to divine the winning party,
grinned broadly, whether they would or no.

To Marshal Retz, however, and Bruhl, that which to everyone else
seemed an amusing retort had a totally different aspect; while
the former turned yellow with chagrin and came near to choking,
the latter looked as chapfallen and startled as if his guilt; had
been that moment brought home to him.  Assured by the tone of the
monk's voice--which must, indeed, have thundered in his ears--
that my name was uttered in denunciation by one who thought me
his assailant, he had chosen to tell the truth without reflecting
that words, so plain to him, might; bear a different construction
when repeated.

'Certainly the words seem ambiguous,' Henry muttered.

'But it was Marsac killed him,' Retz cried in a rage.

'It is for some evidence of that we are waiting,' my champion
answered suavely.

The Marshal looked helplessly at Nevers and Mercoeur, who
commonly took part with him; but apparently those noblemen had
not been primed for this occasion.  They merely shook their heads
and smiled.  In the momentary silence which followed, while all
looked curiously at Bruhl, who could not conceal his
mortification, M. d'Agen stepped forward.

'If your Majesty will permit me,' he said, a malicious simper
crossing his handsome face--I had often remarked his extreme
dislike for Bruhl without understanding it--'I think I can
furnish some evidence more to the point than that; to which M. de
Bruhl has with so much fairness restricted himself.'  He then
went on to state that he had had the honour of being in my
company at the time of the murder; and he added, besides, so many
details as to exculpate me to the satisfaction of any candid
person.

The king nodded.  'That settles the matter,' he said, with a sigh
of relief.  'You think so, Mercoeur, do you not?  Precisely.
Villequier, see that the order respecting M. de Marsac is
cancelled.'

M. de Retz could not control his wrath on hearing this direction
given.  'At this rate,' he cried recklessly, 'we shall have few
priests left here!  We have got a bad name at Blois, as it is!'

For a moment all in the circle held their breath, while the
king's eyes flashed fire at this daring allusion to the murder of
the Duke de Guise, and his brother the Cardinal.  But it was
Henry's misfortune to be ever indulgent in the wrong place, and
severe when severity was either unjust or impolitic.  He
recovered himself with an effort, and revenged himself only by
omitting to invite the Marshal, who was now trembling in his
shoes, to join his riding-party.

The circle broke up amid some excitement.  I stood on one side
with M. d'Agen, while the king and his immediate following passed
out, and, greatly embarrassed as I was by the civil
congratulating of many who would have seen me hang with equal
goodwill, I was sharp enough to see that something was brewing
between Bruhl and Marshal Retz, who stood back conversing in low
tones.  I was not surprised, therefore, when the former made his
way towards me through the press which filled the antechamber,
and with a lowering brow requested a word with me.

'Certainly,' I said, watching him narrowly, for I knew him to be
both treacherous and a bully.  'Speak on, sir.'

'You have balked me once and again,' he rejoined, in a voice
which shook a little, as did the fingers with which he stroked
his waxed moustache.  'There is no need of words between us.  I,
with one sword besides, will to-morrow at noon keep the bridge at
Chaverny, a league from here.  It is an open country.  Possibly
your pleasure may lead you to ride that way with a friend?'

'You may depend upon me, sir,' I answered, bowing low, and
feeling thankful that the matter was at length to be brought to a
fair and open arbitration.  'I will be there--and in person.  For
my deputy last night,' I added, searching his face with a
steadfast eye, 'seems to have been somewhat unlucky.'



CHAPTER XXI.

TWO WOMEN.

Out of compliment, and to show my gratitude, I attended M. de
Rambouillet home to his lodging, and found him as much pleased
with himself, and consequently with me, as I was with him.  For
the time, indeed, I came near to loving him; and, certainly, he
was a man of high and patriotic feeling, and of skill and conduct
to match.  But he lacked that touch of nature and that power of
sympathising with others which gave to such men as M. de Rosny
and the king, my master, their peculiar charm; though after what
I have related of him in the last chapter it does not lie in my
mouth to speak ill of him.  And, indeed, he was a good man.

When I at last reached my lodging, I found a surprise awaiting me
in the shape of a note which had just arrived no one knew how.
If the manner of its delivery was mysterious, however, its
contents were brief and sufficiently explicit; for it; ran thus:
'SIR, BY MEETING ME THREE HOURS AFTER NOON IN THE SQUARE BEFORE
THE HOUSE OF THE LITTLE SISTERS YOU WILL DO A SERVICE AT ONCE TO
YOURSELF AND TO THE UNDERSIGNED, MARIE DE BRUHL.'

That was all, written in a feminine character, yet it was enough
to perplex me.  Simon, who had manifested the liveliest joy at my
escape, would have had me treat it as I had treated the
invitation to the Parvis of the Cathedral; ignore it altogether I
mean.  But I was of a different mind, and this for three reasons,
among others:  that the request was straightforward, the time
early, and the place sufficiently public to be an unlikely
theatre for violence, though well fitted for an interview to
which the world at large was not invited.  Then, too, the square
lay little more than a bowshot from my lodging, though on the
farther side of the Rue St. Denys.

Besides, I could conceive many grounds which Madame de Bruhl
might have for seeing me; of which some touched me nearly.  I
disregarded Simon's warnings, therefore, and repaired at the time
appointed to the place--a clean, paved square a little off the
Rue St. Denys, and entered from the latter by a narrow passage.
It was a spot pleasantly convenient for meditation, but
overlooked on one side by the House of the Little Sisters; in
which, as I guessed afterwards, madame must have awaited me, for
the square when I entered it was empty, yet in a moment, though
no one came in from the street, she stood beside me.  She wore a
mask and long cloak.  The beautiful hair and perfect complexion,
which had filled me with so much admiration at our first meeting
in her house, were hidden, but I saw enough of her figure and
carriage to be sure that it was Madame de Bruhl and no other.

She began by addressing me in a tone of bitterness, for which I
was not altogether unprepared.

'Well, sir,' she exclaimed, her voice trembling with anger, 'you
are satisfied, I hope, with your work?'

I expected this and had my answer ready.  'I am not aware,
Madame,' I said, 'that I have cause to reproach myself.  But,
however that may be, I trust you have summoned me for some better
purpose than to chide me for another's fault; though it was my
voice which brought it to light.'

'Why did you shame me publicly?'  she retorted, thrusting her
handkerchief to her lips and withdrawing it again with a
passionate gesture.

'Madame,' I answered patiently--I was full of pity for her,
'consider for a moment the wrong your husband did me and how
small and inadequate was the thing I did to him in return.'

'To him!'  she ejaculated so fiercely that I started.  'It was to
me--to me you did it!  What had I done that you should expose me
to the ridicule of those who know no pity, and the anger of one
as merciless?  What had I done, sir?'

I shook my head sorrowfully.  'So far, madame,' I answered, 'I
allow I owe you reparation, and I will make it should it ever be
in my power.  Nay, I will say more,' I continued, for the tone in
which she spoke had wrung my heart.  'In one point I strained the
case against your husband.  To the best of my belief he abducted
the lady who was in my charge, not for the love of her, but for
political reasons, and as the agent of another.'

She gasped.  'What?'  she cried.  'Say that again!'

As I complied she tore off her mask and gazed into my face with
straining eyes and parted lips.  I saw then how much she was
changed, even in these few days--how pale and worn were her
cheeks, how dark the circles round her eyes.  'Will you swear to
it?'  she said at last, speaking with uncontrollable eagerness,
while she laid a hand which shook with excitement on my arm.
Will you swear to it, sir?'

'It is true,' I answered steadfastly.  I might have added that
after the event her husband had so treated mademoiselle as to
lead her to fear the worst.  But I refrained, feeling that it was
no part of my duty to come between husband and wife.

She clasped her hands, and for a moment looked passionately
upwards, as though she were giving thanks to Heaven; while the
flesh of health and loveliness which I had so much admired
returned, and illumined her face in a wonderful manner.  She
seemed, in truth and for the moment, transformed.  Her blue eyes
filled with tears, her lips moved; nor have I ever seen anything
bear so near a resemblance to those pictures of the Virgin Mary
which Romans worship as madame did then.

The change, however, was as evanescent as it was admirable.  In
an instant she seemed to collapse.  She struck her hands to her
face and moaned, and I saw tears, which she vainly strove to
restrain, dropping through her fingers.  'Too late!'  she
murmured, in a tone of anguish which wrung my heart.  'Alas, you
robbed me of one man, you give me back another.  I know him now
for what he is.  If he did not love her then, he does now.  It is
too late!'

She seemed so much overcome that I assisted her to reach a bench
which stood against the wall a few paces away; nor, I confess,
was it without difficulty and much self-reproach that I limited
myself to those prudent offices only which her state and my duty
required.  To console her on the subject of her husband was
impossible; to ignore him, and so to console her, a task which
neither my discretion nor my sense of honour, though sorely
tried, permitted me to undertake.

She presently recovered and, putting on her mask again, said
hurriedly that she had still a word to say to me.  'You have
treated me honestly,' she continued, 'and, though I have no cause
to do anything but hate you, I say in return, look to yourself!
You escaped last night--I know all, for it was my velvet knot--
which I had made thinking to send it to you to procure this
meeting--that he used as a lure.  But he is not yet at the end of
his resources.  Look to yourself, therefore.'

I thought of the appointment I had made with him for the morrow,
but I confined myself to thanking her, merely saying, as I bowed
over the hand she resigned to me in token of farewell, 'Madame, I
am grateful.  I am obliged to you both for your warning and your
forgiveness.'

'Bending her head coldly she drew away her hand.  At that moment,
as I lifted my eyes, I saw something which for an instant rooted
me to the spot with astonishment.  In the entrance of the passage
which led to the Rue St. Denys two people were standing, watching
us.  The one was Simon Fleix, and the other, a masked woman, a
trifle below the middle height, and clad in a riding-coat, was
Mademoiselle de la Vire!

I knew her in a moment.  But the relief I experienced on seeing
her safe and in Blois was not unmixed with annoyance that Simon
Fleix should have been so imprudent as to parade her
unnecessarily in the street.  I felt something of confusion also
on my own account; for I could not tell how long she and her
escort had been watching me.  And these two feelings were
augmented when, after turning to pay a final salute to Madame de
Bruhl, I looked again towards the passage and discovered that
mademoiselle and her squire were gone.

Impatient as I was, I would not seem to leave madame rudely or
without feeling, after the consideration she had shown me in her
own sorrow; and accordingly I waited uncovered until she
disappeared within the 'Little Sisters.'  Then I started eagerly
towards my lodging, thinking I might yet overtake mademoiselle
before she entered.  I was destined to meet, however, with
another though very pertinent hindrance.  As I passed from the
Rue St. Denys into the quiet of my street I heard a voice calling
my name, and, looking back, saw M. de Rambouillet's equerry, a
man deep in his confidence, running after me.  He brought a
message from his master, which he begged me to consider of the
first importance.

'The Marquis would not trust it to writing, sir,' he continued,
drawing me aside into a corner where we were conveniently
retired, 'but he made me learn it by heart.  "Tell M. de Marsac,"
said he, "that that which he was left in Blois to do must be done
quickly, or not at all.  There is something afoot in the other
camp, I am not sure what.  But now is the time to knock in the
nail.  I know his zeal, and I depend upon him."'

An hour before I should have listened to this message with
serious doubts and misgivings.  Now, acquainted with
mademoiselle's arrival, I returned M. de Rambouillet an answer in
the same strain, and parting civilly from Bertram, who was a man
I much esteemed, I hastened on to my lodgings, exulting in the
thought that the hour and the woman were come at last, and that
before the dawn of another day I might hope, all being well, to
accomplish with honour to myself and advantage to others the
commission which M. de Rosny had entrusted to me.

I must not deny that, mingled with this, was some excitement at
the prospect of seeing mademoiselle again.  I strove to conjure
up before me as I mounted the stairs the exact expression of her
face as I had last seen it bending from the window at Rosny; to
the end that I might have some guide for my future conduct, and
might be less likely to fall into the snare of a young girl's
coquetry.  But I could come now, as then, to no satisfactory or
safe conclusion, and only felt anew the vexation I had
experienced on losing the velvet knot, which she had given me on
that occasion.

I knocked at the door of the rooms which I had reserved for her,
and which were on the floor below my own; but I got no answer.
Supposing that Simon had taken her upstairs, I mounted quickly,
not doubting I should find her there.  Judge of my surprise and
dismay when I found that room also empty, save for the lackey
whom M. de Rambouillet had lent me!

'Where are they?'  I asked the man, speaking sharply, and
standing with my hand on the door.

'The lady and her woman, sir?'  he answered, coming forward.

'Yes, yes!'  I cried impatiently, a sudden fear at my heart.

She went out immediately after her arrival with Simon Fleix, sir,
and has not yet returned,' he answered.

The words were scarcely out of his mouth before I heard several
persons enter the passage below and begin to ascend the stairs.
I did not; doubt that mademoiselle and the lad had come home
another way and, been somehow detained; and I turned with a sigh
of relief to receive them.  But when the persons whose steps I
had heard appeared, they proved to be only M. de Rosny's equerry,
stout, burly, and bright-eyed as ever, and two armed servants.



CHAPTER XXII.

'LA FEMME DISPOSE.'

The moment the equerry's foot touched the uppermost stair I
advanced upon him.  'Where is your mistress, man?'  I said.
'Where is Mademoiselle de la Vire?  Be quick, tell me what you
have done with her.'

His face fell amazingly.  'Where is she?'  he answered, faltering
between surprise and alarm at my sudden onslaught.  'Here, she
should be.  I left her here not an hour ago.  Mon Dieu!  Is she
not here now?'

His alarm increased mine tenfold.  'No!'  I retorted, 'she is
not! She is gone!  And you--what business had you, in the fiend's
name, to leave her here, alone and unprotected?  Tell me that!'

He leaned against the balustrade, making no attempt to defend
himself, and seemed, in his sudden terror, anything but the bold,
alert fellow who had ascended the stairs two minutes before.  'I
was a fool,' he groaned.  'I saw your man Simon here; and
Fanchette, who is as good as a man, was with her mistress.  And I
went to stable the horses.  I thought no evil.  And now--My God!'
he added, suddenly straightening himself, while his face.  grew
hard and grim, 'I am undone!  My master will never forgive me!'

'Did you come straight here?'  I said, considering that, after
all, he was no more in fault than I had been on a former
occasion.

'We went first to M. de Rosny's lodging,' he answered, 'where we
found your message telling us to come here.  We came on without
dismounting.'

'Mademoiselle may have gone back, and be there,' I said.  'It is
possible.  Do you stay here and keep a good look-out, and I will
go and see.  Let one of your men come with me.'

He uttered a brief assent; being a man as ready to take as to
give orders, and thankful now for any suggestion which held out a
hope of mademoiselle's safety.  Followed by the servant he
selected, I ran down the stairs, and in a moment was hurrying
along the Rue St. Denys.  The day was waning.  The narrow streets
and alleys were already dark, but the air of excitement which I
had noticed in the morning still marked the townsfolk, of whom a
great number were strolling abroad, or standing in doorways
talking to their gossips.  Feverishly anxious as I was, I
remarked the gloom which dwelt on all faces; but as I set it
down.  to the king's approaching departure, and besides was
intent on seeing that those we sought did not by any chance pass
us in the crowd, I thought little of it.  Five minutes' walking
brought us to M. de Rosny's lodging.  There I knocked at the
door; impatiently, I confess, and with little hope of success.
But, to my surprise, barely an instant elapsed before the door
opened, and I saw before me Simon Fleix!

Discovering who it was, he cowered back, with a terrified face,
and retreated to the wall with his arm raised.

'You scoundrel!'  I exclaimed, restraining myself with
difficulty. 'Tell me this moment where Mademoiselle de la Vire
is!  Or, by Heaven, I shall forget what my mother owed to you,
and do you a mischief!'

For an instant he glared at me viciously, with all his teeth
exposed, as though he meant to refuse--and more.  Then he thought
better of it, and, raising his hand, pointed sulkily upwards.

'Go before me and knock at the door,' I said, tapping the hilt of
my dagger with meaning.

Cowed by my manner, he obeyed, and led the way to the room in
which M. de Rambouillet had surprised us on a former occasion.
Here he stopped at the door and knocked gently; on which a sharp
voice inside bade us enter.  I raised the latch and did so,
closing the door behind me.

Mademoiselle, still wearing her riding-coat, sat in a chair
before the hearth, on which a newly kindled fire sputtered and
smoked.  She had her back to me, and did not turn on my entrance,
but continued to toy in an absent manner with the strings of the
mask which lay in her lap.  Fanchette stood bolt upright behind
her, with her elbows squared and her hands clasped; in such an
attitude that I guessed the maid had been expressing her strong
dissatisfaction with this latest whim of her mistress, and
particularly with mademoiselle's imprudence in wantonly exposing
herself, with so inadequate a guard as Simon, in a place where
she had already suffered so much.  I was confirmed in this notion
on seeing the woman's harsh countenance clear at sight of me;
though the churlish nod, which was all the greeting she bestowed
on me, seemed to betoken anything but favour or good-will.  She
touched her mistress on the shoulder, however, and said, 'M. de
Marsac is here.'

Mademoiselle turned her head and looked at me languidly, without
stirring in her chair or removing the foot she, was warming.
'Good evening,' she said.

The greeting seemed so brief and so commonplace, ignoring, as it
did, both the pains and anxiety to which she had just put me and
the great purpose for which we were here--to say nothing of that
ambiguous parting which she must surely remember as well as I--
that the words I had prepared died on my lips, and I looked at
her in honest confusion.  All her small face was pale except her
lips.  Her brow was dark, her eyes were hard as well as weary.
And not words only failed me as I looked at her, but anger;
having mounted the stairs hot foot to chide, I felt on a sudden
--despite my new cloak and scabbard, my appointment, and the
same I had made at Court--the same consciousness of age; and
shabbiness and poverty which had possessed me in her presence
from the beginning.  I muttered, 'Good evening, mademoiselle,'
and that was all I could say--I who had frightened the burly
Maignan a few minutes before!

Seeing, I have no doubt, the effect she produced on me, she
maintained for some time an embarrassing silence.  At length she
said, frigidly, 'Perhaps M. de Marsac will sit, Fanchette.  Place
a chair for him.  I am afraid, however, that after his successes
at Court he may find our reception somewhat cold.  But we are
only from the country,' she added, looking at me askance, with a
gleam of anger in her eyes.

I thanked her huskily, saying that I would not sit, as I could
not stay.  'Simon Fleix,' I continued, finding my voice with
difficulty, 'has, I am afraid, caused you some trouble by
bringing you to this house instead of telling you that I had made
preparation for you at my lodgings.'

'It was not Simon Fleix's fault,' she replied curtly.  'I prefer
these rooms.  They are more convenient.'

'They are, perhaps, more convenient,' I rejoined humbly, 'But I
have to think of safety, mademoiselle, as you know.  At my house
I have a competent guard, and can answer for your being
unmolested.'

'You can send your guard here,' she said with a royal air.

'But, mademoiselle--'

'Is it not enough that I have said that I prefer these rooms?'
she replied sharply, dropping her mask on her lap and looking
round at me in undisguised displeasure.  'Are you deaf, sir?  Let
me tell you, I am in no mood for argument.  I am tired with
riding.  I prefer these rooms, and that is enough!'

Nothing could exceed the determination with which she said these
words, unless it were the malicious pleasure in thwarting my
wishes which made itself seen through the veil of assumed
indifference.  I felt myself brought up with a vengeance, and in
a manner the most provoking that could be conceived.  But
opposition so childish, so utterly wanton, by exciting my
indignation, had presently the effect of banishing the peculiar
bashfulness I felt in her presence, and recalling me to my duty.

'Mademoiselle,' I said firmly, looking at her with a fixed
countenance, 'pardon me if I speak plainly.  This is no time for
playing with straws.  The men from whom you escaped once are as
determined and more desperate now.  By this time they probably
know of your arrival.  Do, then, as I ask, I pray and beseech
you.  Or this time I may lack the power, though never the will,
to save you.'

Wholly ignoring my appeal, she looked into my face--for by this
time I had advanced to her side--with a whimsical smile.  'You
are really much improved in manner since I last saw you,' she
said.

'Mademoiselle!'  I replied, baffled and repelled.  'What do you
mean?'

'What I say,' she answered, flippantly.  'But it was to be
expected.'

'For shame!'  I cried, provoked almost beyond bearing by her ill-
timed raillery, 'will you never be serious until you have ruined
us and yourself?  I tell you this house is not safe for you!  It
is not safe for me!  I cannot bring my men to it, for there is
not room for them.  If you have any spark of consideration, of
gratitude, therefore--'

'Gratitude!'  she exclaimed, swinging her mask slowly to and fro
by a ribbon, while she looked up at me as though my excitement
amused her.  'Gratitude--'tis a very pretty phrase, and means
much; but it is for those who serve us faithfully, M. de Marsac,
and not for others.  You receive so many favours, I am told, and
are so successful at Court, that I should not be justified in
monopolising your services.'

'But, mademoiselle--' I said in a low tone.  And there I stopped.
I dared not proceed.

'Well, sir,' she answered, looking up at she after a moment's
silence, and ceasing on a sudden to play with her toy, 'what is
it?'

'You spoke of favours,' I continued, with an effort.  'I never
received but one from a lady.  That was at Rosny, and from your
hand.'

'From my hand?'  she answered, with an air of cold surprise.

'It was so, mademoiselle.'

'You have fallen into some strange mistake, sir,' she replied,
rousing herself, and looking at me indifferently 'I never gave
you a favour.'

I bowed low.  'If you say you did not, mademoiselle, that is
enough,' I answered.

'Nay, but do not let me do you an injustice, M. de Marsac,' she
rejoined, speaking more quickly and in an altered tone.  'If you
can show me the favour I gave you, I shall, of course, be
convinced.  Seeing is believing, you know,' she added, with a
light nervous laugh, and a gesture of something like shyness.

If I had not sufficiently regretted my carelessness, and loss of
the bow at the time, I did so now.  I looked at her in silence,
and saw her face, that had for a moment shown signs of feeling,
almost of shame, grow slowly hard again.

'Well, sir?'  she said impatiently.  'The proof is easy.'

'It was taken from me; I believe, by M. de Rosny,' I answered
lamely, wondering what ill-luck had led her to put the question
and press it to this point.

'It was taken from you!'  she exclaimed, rising and confronting
me with the utmost suddenness, while her eyes flashed, and her
little hand crumpled the mask beyond future usefulness.  'It was
taken from you, sir!'  she repeated, her voice and her whole
frame trembling with anger and disdain.  'Then I thank you, I
prefer my version.  Yours is impossible.  For let me tell you,
when Mademoiselle de la Vire does confer a favour, it will be on
a man with the power and the wit--and the constancy, to keep it,
even from M. de Rosny!'

Her scorn hurt, though it did not anger me.  I felt it to be in a
measure deserved, and raged against myself rather than against
her.  But aware through all of the supreme importance of placing
her in safety, I subjected my immediate feelings to the
exigencies of the moment and stooped to an argument which would,
I thought, have weight though private pleading failed.

'Putting myself aside, mademoiselle,' I said, with more formality
than I had yet used, 'there is one consideration which must weigh
with you.  The king--'

'The king!'  she cried, interrupting me violently, her face hot
with passion and her whole person instinct with stubborn self-
will.  'I shall not see the king!'

'You will not see the king?'  I repeated in amazement.

'No, I will not!'  she answered, in a whirl of anger, scorn, and
impetuosity.  'There!  I will not!  I have been made a toy and a
tool long enough, M. de Marsac,' she continued, 'and I will serve
others' ends no more.  I have made up my mind.  Do not talk to
me; you will do no good, sir.  I would to Heaven,' she added
bitterly, 'I had stayed at Chize and never seen this place!'

'But, mademoiselle,' I said, 'you have not thought--'

'Thought!'  she exclaimed, shutting her small white teeth so
viciously I all but recoiled.  'I have thought enough.  I am sick
of thought.  I am going to act now.  I will be a puppet no
longer.  You may take me to the castle by force if you will; but
you cannot make me speak.'

I looked at her in the utmost dismay, and astonishment; being
unable at first to believe that a woman who had gone through so
much, had run so many risks, and ridden so many miles for a
purpose, would, when all was done and the hour come, decline to
carry out her plan.  I could not believe it, I say, at first; and
I tried arguments, and entreaties without stint, thinking that
she only asked to be entreated or coaxed.

But I found prayers and even threats breath wasted upon her; and
beyond these I would not go.  I know I have been blamed by some
and ridiculed by others for not pushing the matter farther; but
those who have stood face to face with a woman of spirit--a woman
whose very frailty and weakness fought for her--will better
understand the difficulties with which I had to contend and the
manner in which conviction was at last borne in on my mind.  I
had never before confronted stubbornness of this kind.  As
mademoiselle said again and again, I might force her to Court,
but I could not make her speak.

When I had tried every means of persuasion, and still found no
way of overcoming her resolution the while Fanchette looked on
with a face of wood, neither aiding me nor taking part against
me--I lost, I confess, in the chagrin of the moment that sense of
duty which had hitherto animated me; and though my relation to
mademoiselle should have made me as careful as ever of her
safety, even in her own despite, I left her at last in anger and
went out without saying another word about removing her--a thing
which was still in my power.  I believe a very brief reflection
would have recalled me to myself and my duty; but the opportunity
was not given me, for I had scarcely reached the head of the
stairs before Fanchette came after me, and called to me in a
whisper to stop.

She held a taper in her hand, and this she raised to my face,
smiling at the disorder which she doubtless read there.  'Do you
say that this house is not safe?'  she asked abruptly, lowering
the light as she spoke.

'You have tried a house in Blois before?'  I replied with the
same bluntness.  'You should know as well as I, woman.'

'She must be taken from here, then,' she answered, nodding her
head, cunningly.  'I can persuade her.  Do you send for your
people, and be here in half an hour.  It may take me that time to
wheedle her.  But I shall do it.'

'Then listen,' I said eagerly, seizing the opportunity and her
sleeve and drawing her farther from the door.  'If you can
persuade her to that, you can persuade to all I wish.  Listen, my
friend,' I continued, sinking my voice still lower.  'If she will
see the king for only ten minutes, and tell him what she knows, I
will give you--'

'What?'  the woman asked suddenly and harshly, drawing at the
same time her sleeve from my hand.

'Fifty crowns,' I replied, naming in my desperation a sum which
would seem a fortune to a person in her position.  'Fifty crowns
down, the moment the interview is over.'

'And for that you would have me sell her!'  the woman cried with
a rude intensity of passion which struck me like a blow.  'For
shame!  For shame, man!  You persuaded her to leave her home and
her friends, and the country where she was known; and now you
would have me sell her!  Shame on you!  Go!'  she added
scornfully. 'Go this instant and get your men.  The king, say
you?  The king!  I tell you I would not have her finger ache to
save all your kings!'

She flounced away with that, and I retired crestfallen; wondering
much at the fidelity which Providence, doubtless for the well-
being of the gentle, possibly for the good of all, has implanted
in the humble.  Finding Simon, to whom I had scarce patience to
speak, waiting on the stairs below, I despatched him to Maignan,
to bid him come to me with his men.  Meanwhile I watched the
house myself until their arrival, and then, going up, found that
Fanchette had been as good as her word.  Mademoiselle, with a
sullen mien, and a red spot on either cheek, consented to
descend, and, preceded by a couple of links, which Maignan had
thoughtfully provided, was escorted safely to my lodgings; where
I bestowed her in the rooms below my own, which I had designed
for her.

At the door she turned and bowed to me, her face on fire.

'So far, sir, you have got your way,' she said, breathing
quickly.  'Do not flatter yourself, however, that you will get it
farther--even by bribing my woman!'



CHAPTER XXIII.

THE LAST VALOIS.

I stood for a few moments on the stairs, wondering what I should
do in an emergency to which the Marquis's message of the
afternoon attached so pressing a character.  Had it not been for
that I might have waited until morning, and felt tolerably
certain of finding mademoiselle in a more reasonable mood then.
But as it was I dared not wait.  I dared not risk the delay, and
I came quickly to the conclusion that the only course open to me
was to go at once to M. de Rambouillet and tell him frankly how
the matter stood.

Maignan had posted one of his men at the open doorway leading
into the street, and fixed his own quarters on the landing at the
top, whence he could overlook an intruder without being seen
himself.  Satisfied with the arrangement, I left Rambouillet's
man to reinforce him, and took with me Simon Fleix, of whose
conduct in regard to mademoiselle I entertained the gravest
doubts.

The night, I found on reaching the street, was cold, the sky
where it was visible between the eaves being bright with stars.
A sharp wind was blowing, too, compelling us to wrap our cloaks
round us and hurry on at a pace which agreed well with the
excitement of my thoughts.  Assured that had mademoiselle been
complaisant I might have seen my mission accomplished within the
hour, it was impossible I should not feel impatient with one who,
to gratify a whim, played with the secrets of a kingdom as if
they were counters, and risked in passing ill-humour the results
of weeks of preparation.  And I was impatient, and with her.  But
my resentment fell so far short of the occasion that I wondered
uneasily at my own easiness, and felt more annoyed with myself
for failing to be properly annoyed with her, than inclined to lay
the blame where it was due.  It was in vain I told myself
contemptuously that she was a woman and that women were not
accountable.  I felt that the real secret and motive of my
indulgence lay, not in this, but in the suspicion, which her
reference to the favour given me on my departure from Rosny had
converted almost into a certainty, that I was myself the cause of
her sudden ill-humour.

I might have followed this train of thought farther, and to very
pertinent conclusions.  But on reaching M. de Rambouillet's
lodging I was diverted from it by the abnormally quiet aspect of
the house, on the steps of which half a dozen servants might
commonly be seen lounging.  Now the doors were closed, no lights
shone through the windows, and the hall sounded empty and
desolate when I knocked.  Not a lackey hurried to receive me even
then; but the slipshod tread of the old porter, as he came with a
lantern to open, alone broke the silence.  I waited eagerly
wondering what all this could mean; and when the man at last
opened, and, recognising my face, begged my pardon if he had kept
me waiting I asked him impatiently what was the matter.

'And where is the Marquis?'  I added, stepping inside to be out
of the wind, and loosening my cloak.

'Have you not heard, sir?'  the man asked, holding up his lantern
to my face.  He was an old, wizened, lean fellow.  'It is a
break-up, sir, I am afraid, this time.'

'A break-up?'  I rejoined, peevishly.  'Speak out, man!  What is
the matter?  I hate mysteries.'

You have not heard the news, sir?  That the Duke of Mercoeur and
Marshal Retz, with all their people, left Blois this afternoon?'

'No?'  I answered, somewhat startled.  'Whither are they gone?'

'To Paris, it is said, sir,--to join the League.'

'But do you mean that they have deserted the king?'  I asked.

'For certain, sir!'  he answered.

'Not the Duke of Mercoeur?'  I exclaimed.  'Why, man, he is the
king's brother-in-law.  He owes everything to him.'

'Well, he is gone, sir,' the old man answered positively.  'The
news was brought to M. le Marquis about four o'clock, or a little
after.  He got his people together, and started after them to try
and persuade them to return.  Or, so it is said.'

As quickly as I could, I reviewed the situation in my mind.  If
this strange news were true, and men like Mercoeur, who had every
reason to stand by the king, as well as men like Retz, who had
long been suspected of disaffection, were abandoning the Court,
the danger must be coming close indeed.  The king must feel his
throne already tottering, and be eager to grasp at any means of
supporting it.  Under such circumstances it seemed to be my
paramount duty to reach him; to gain his ear if possible, and at
all risks; that I and not Bruhl, Navarre not Turenne, might
profit by the first impulse of self-preservation.

Bidding the porter shut his door and keep close, I hurried to the
Castle, and was presently more than confirmed in my resolution.
For to my surprise I found the Court in much the same state as M.
de Rambouillet's house.  There were double guards indeed at the
gates, who let me pass after scrutinising me narrowly; but the
courtyard, which should have been at this hour ablaze with
torches and crowded with lackeys and grooms, was a dark
wilderness, in which half a dozen links trembled mournfully.
Passing through the doors I found things within in the same
state:  the hall ill lit and desolate; the staircase manned only
by a few whispering groups, who scanned me as I passed; the ante-
chambers almost empty, or occupied by the grey uniforms of the
Switzer guards.  Where I had looked, to see courtiers assembling
to meet their sovereign and assure him of their fidelity, I found
only gloomy faces, watchful eyes, and mouths ominously closed.
An air of constraint and foreboding rested on all.  A single
footstep sounded hollowly.  The long corridors, which had so
lately rung with laughter and the rattle of dice, seemed already
devoted to the silence, and desolation which awaited them when
the Court should depart.  Where any spoke I caught the name of
Guise; and I could have fancied that his mighty shadow lay upon
the place and cursed it.

Entering the chamber, I found matters little better there.  His
Majesty was not present, nor were any of the Court ladies; but
half a dozen gentlemen, among whom I recognised Revol, one of the
King's secretaries, stood near the alcove.  They looked up on my
entrance, as though expecting news, and then, seeing who it was,
looked away again impatiently.  The Duke of Nevers was walking
moodily to and fro before one of the windows, his hands clasped
behind his back:  while Biron and Crillon, reconciled by the
common peril, talked loudly on the hearth.  I hesitated a moment,
uncertain how to proceed, for I was not yet; so old at Court as
to feel at home there.  But, at last making up my mind, I walked
boldly up to Crillon and requested his good offices to procure me
an immediate audience of the king.

'An audience?  Do you mean you want to see him alone?'  he said,
raising his eyebrows and looking whimsically at Biron.

'That is my petition, M. de Crillon,' I answered firmly, though
my heart sank.  'I am here on M. de Rambouillet's business, and I
need to see his Majesty forthwith,'

'Well, that is straightforward,' he replied, clapping me on the
shoulder.  'And you shall see him.  In coming to Crillon you have
come to the right man.  Revol,' he continued, turning to the
secretary, 'this gentleman bears a message from M. de Rambouillet
to the king.  Take him to the closet without delay, my friend,
and announce him.  I will be answerable for him.'

But the secretary shrugged his shoulders up to his ears.  'It is
quite impossible, M. de Crillon,' he said gravely.  'Quite
impossible at present.'

'Impossible!  Chut!  I do not know the word,' Crillon retorted
rudely.  'Come, take him at once, and blame me if ill comes of
it.  Do you hear?'

'But his Majesty--'

'Well?'

'Is at his devotions,' the secretary said stiffly.

'His Majesty's devotions be hanged!'  Crillon rejoined--so loudly
that there was a general titter, and M. de Nevers laughed grimly.
'Do you hear?'  the Avennais continued, his face growing redder
and his voice higher, 'or must I pull your ears, my friend?  Take
this gentleman to the closet, I say, and if his Majesty be angry,
tell him it was by my order.  I tell you he comes from
Rambouillet.'

I do not know whether it was the threat, or the mention of M. de
Rambouillet's name, which convinced the secretary.  But at any
rate, after a moment's hesitation, he acquiesced.

He nodded sullenly to me to follow him, and led the way to a
curtain which masked the door of the closet.  I followed him
across the chamber, after muttering a hasty word of
acknowledgment to Crillon; and I had as nearly as possible
reached the door when the bustle of some one entering the chamber
caught my ear.  I had just time to turn and see that this was
Bruhl, just time to intercept the dark look of chagrin and
surprise which he fixed on me, and then Revol, holding up the
curtain, signed to me to enter.

I expected to pass at once into the presence of the king, and had
my reverence ready.  Instead, I found myself to my surprise in a
small chamber, or rather passage, curtained at both ends, and
occupied by a couple of guardsmen--members, doubtless, of the
Band of the Forty-Five who rose at my entrance and looked at me
dubiously.  Their guard-room, dimly illumined by a lamp of red
glass, seemed to me, in spite of its curtains and velvet bench,
and the thick tapestry which kept out every breath of wholesome
air, the most sombre I could imagine.  And the most ill-omened.
But I had no time to make any long observation; for Revol,
passing me brusquely, raised the curtain at the other end, and,
with his finger on his lip, bade me by signs to enter.

I did so as silently, the heavy scent of perfumes striking me in
the face as I raised a second curtain, and stopped short a pace
beyond it; partly in reverence--because kings love their subjects
best at a distance--and partly in surprise.  For the room, or
rather that portion of it in which I stood, was in darkness; only
the farther end being illumined by a cold pale flood of
moonlight, which, passing through a high, straight window, lay in
a silvery sheet on the floor.  For an instant I thought I was
alone; then I saw, resting against this window, with a hand on
either mullion, a tall figure, having something strange about the
head.  This peculiarity presently resolved itself into the turban
in which I had once before seen his Majesty.  The king--for he it
was--was talking to himself.  He had not heard me enter, and
having his back to me remained unconscious of my presence.

I paused in doubt, afraid to advance, anxious to withdraw; yet
uncertain whether I could move again unheard.  At this moment
while I stood hesitating, he raised his voice, and his words,
reaching my ears, riveted my attention, so strange and eerie were
both they and his tone.  'They say there is ill-luck in
thirteen,' he muttered.  'Thirteen Valois and last!'  He paused
to laugh a wicked, mirthless laugh.  'Ay,--Thirteenth!  And it is
thirteen years since I entered Paris, a crowned King!  There were
Quelus and Maugiron and St. Megrin and I--and he, I remember.
Ah, those days, those nights!  I would sell my soul to live them
again; had I not sold it long ago in the living them once!  We
were young then, and rich, and I was king; and Quelus was an
Apollo!  He died calling on me to save him.  And Maugiron died,
blaspheming God and the saints.  And St. Megrin, he had thirty-
four wounds.  And he--he is dead too, curse him!  They are all
dead, all dead, and it is all over!  My God!  it is all over, it
is all over, it is all over!'

He repeated the last four words more than a dozen times, rocking
himself to and fro by his hold on the mullions.  I trembled as I
listened, partly through fear on my own account should I be
discovered, and partly by reason of the horror of despair and
remorse--no, not remorse, regret--which spoke in his monotonous
voice.  I guessed that some impulse had led him to draw the
curtain from the window and shade the lamp; and that then, as he
looked down on the moonlit country, the contrast between it and
the vicious, heated atmosphere, heavy with intrigue and worse, in
which he had spent his strength, had forced itself upon his mind.
For he presently went on.

'France!  There it lies!  And what will they do with it?  Will
they cut it up into pieces, as it was before old Louis XI?  Will
Mercoeur--curse him!  be the most Christian Duke of Brittany?
And Mayenne, by the grace of God, Prince of Paris and the Upper
Seine?  Or will the little Prince of Bearn beat them, and be
Henry IV., King of France and Navarre, Protector of the Churches?
Curse him too!  He is thirty-six.  He is my age.  But he is young
and strong, and has all before him.  While I--I--oh, my God, have
mercy on me!  Have mercy on me, O God in Heaven!'

With the last word he fell on his knees on the step before the
window, and burst into such an agony of unmanly tears and
sobbings as I had never dreamed of or imagined, and least of all
in the King of France.  Hardly knowing whether to be more ashamed
or terrified, I turned at all risks, and stealthily lifting the
curtain, crept out with infinite care; and happily with so much
good fortune as to escape detection.  There was space enough
between the two curtains to admit my body and no more; and here I
stood a short while to collect my thoughts.  Then, striking my
scabbard against the wall, as though by accident, and coughing
loudly at the same moment, I twitched the curtain aside with some
violence and re-entered, thinking that by these means I had given
him warning enough.

But I had not reckoned on the darkness in which the room lay, or
the excitable state in which I had left him.  He heard me,
indeed, but being able to see only a tall, indistinct figure
approaching him, he took fright, and falling back against the
moonlit window, as though he saw a ghost, thrust out his hand,
gasping at the same time two words, which sounded to me like 'Ha!
Guise!'

The next instant, discerning that I fell on my knee where I
stood, and came no nearer, he recovered himself.  with an effort,
which his breathing made very apparent, he asked in an unsteady
voice who it was.

'One of your Majesty's most faithful servants,' I answered,
remaining on my knee, and affecting to see nothing.

Keeping his face towards me, he sidled to the lamp and strove to
withdraw the shade.  But his fingers trembled so violently that
it was some time before he succeeded, and set free the cheerful
beams, which, suddenly filling the room with radiance, disclosed
to my wondering eyes, instead of darkness and the cold gleam of
the moon, a profusion of riches, of red stuffs and gemmed trifles
and gilded arms crowded together in reckless disorder.  A monkey
chained in one corner began to gibber and mow at me.  A cloak of
strange cut, stretched on a wooden stand, deceived me for an
instant into thinking that there was a third person present;
while the table, heaped with dolls and powder-puff's, dog-collars
and sweet-meats, a mask, a woman's slipper, a pair of pistols,
some potions, a scourge, and an immense quantity of like litter,
had as melancholy an appearance in my eyes as the king himself,
whose disorder the light disclosed without mercy.  His turban was
awry, and betrayed the premature baldness of his scalp.  The
paint on his cheeks was cracked and stained, and had soiled the
gloves he wore.  He looked fifty years old; and in his excitement
he had tugged his sword to the front, whence it refused to be
thrust back.

'Who sent you here?'  he asked, when he had so far recovered his
senses as to recognise me, which he did with great surprise.

'I am here, sire,' I answered evasively, 'to place myself at your
Majesty's service.'

'Such loyalty is rare,' he answered, with a bitter sneer.  'But
stand up, sir.  I suppose I must be thankful for small mercies,
and, losing a Mercoeur, be glad to receive a Marsac.'

'By your leave, sire,' I rejoined hardily, 'the exchange is not
so adverse.  Your Majesty may make another duke when you will.
But honest men are not so easily come by.'

'So!  so!'  he answered, looking at me with a fierce light in his
eyes.  'You remind me in season, I may still make and unmake!  I
am still King of France?  That is so sirrah, is it not?'

'God forbid that it should be otherwise!'  I answered earnestly.
'It is to lay before your Majesty certain means by which you may
give fuller effect to your wishes that I am here.  The King of
Navarre desires only, sire--'

'Tut, tut!'  he exclaimed impatiently, and with some displeasure,
'I know his will better than you, man.  But you see,' he
continued cunningly, forgetting my inferior position as quickly
as he had remembered it, 'Turenne promises well, too.  And
Turenne--it is true he may play the Lorrainer.  But if I trust
Henry of Navarre, and he prove false to me--'

He did not complete the sentence, but strode to and fro a time or
two, his mind, which had a natural inclination towards crooked
courses, bent on some scheme by which he might play off the one
party against the other.  Apparently he was not very successful
in finding one, however; or else the ill-luck with which he had
supported the League against the Huguenots recurred to his mind.
For he presently stopped, with a sigh, and came back to the
point.

'If I knew that Turenne were lying,' be muttered, 'then indeed--.
But Rosny promised evidence, and he has sent me none.'

'It is at hand, sire,' I answered, my heart beginning to beat,
'Your Majesty will remember that M. de Rosny honoured me with the
task of introducing it to you.'

'To be sure,' he replied, awaking as from a dream, and looking
and speaking eagerly.  Matters to-day have driven everything out
of my head.  Where is your witness, man?  Convince me, and we
will act promptly.  We will give them Jarnac and Moncontour over
again.  Is he outside?'

'It is a woman, sire,' I made answer, dashed somewhat by his
sudden and feverish alacrity.

'A woman, eh?  You have her here?'

'No, sire,' I replied, wondering what he would say to my next
piece of information.  'She is in Blois, she has arrived, but the
truth is--I humbly crave your Majesty's indulgence--she refuses
to come or speak.  I cannot well bring her here by force, and I
have sought you, sire, for the purpose of taking your commands in
the matter.'

He stared at me in the utmost astonishment.

'Is she young?'  he asked after a long pause.

'Yes, sire,' I answered.  'She is maid of honour to the Princess
of Navarre, and a ward also of the Vicomte de Turenne.'

'Gad!  then she is worth hearing, the little rebel!'  he replied.
'A ward Of Turenne's is she?  Ho!  ho!  And now she will not
speak?  My cousin of Navarre now would know how to bring her to
her senses, but I have eschewed these vanities.  I might send and
have her brought, it is true; but a very little thing would cause
a barricade to-night.'

'And besides, sire,' I ventured to add, 'she is known to
Turenne's people here, who have once stolen her away.  Were she
brought to your Majesty with any degree of openness, they would
learn it, and know that the game was lost.'

'Which would not suit me,' he answered, nodding and looking at me
gloomily.  'They might anticipate our Jarnac; and until we have
settled matters with one or the other our person is not too
secure.  You must go and fetch her.  She is at your lodging.  She
must be brought, man.'

'I will do what you command, sire,' I answered.  'But I am
greatly afraid that she will not come.'

He lost his temper at that.  'Then why, in the devil's name, have
you troubled me with the matter?'  he cried savagely.  'God
knows--I don't--why Rosny employed such a man and such a woman.
He might have seen from the cut of your cloak, sir, which is full
six months behind the fashion, that you could not manage a woman!
Was ever such damnable folly heard of in this world?  But it is
Navarre's loss, not mine.  It is his loss.  And I hope to Heaven
it may be yours too!'  he added fiercely.

There was so much in what he said that I bent before the storm,
and accepted with humility blame which was as natural on his part
as it was undeserved on mine.  Indeed I could not wonder at his
Majesty's anger; nor should I have wondered at it in a greater
man.  I knew that but for reasons, on which I did not wish to
dwell, I should have shared it to the full, and spoken quite as
strongly of the caprice which ruined hopes and lives for a whim.

The king continued for some time to say to me all the hard things
he could think of.  Wearied at last by my patience, he paused,
and cried angrily.  'Well, have you nothing; to say for yourself?
Can you suggest nothing?'

'I dare not mention to your Majesty,' I said humbly, 'what seems
to me to be the only alternative.'

'You mean that I should go to the wench!'  he answered--for he
did not lack quickness.  '"SE NON VA EL OTERO A MAHOMA, VAYA
MAHOMA AL OTERO," as Mendoza says.  But the saucy quean, to force
me to go to her!  Did my wife guess--but there, I will go.  By
God I will go!'  he added abruptly and fiercely.  'I will live to
ruin Retz yet!  Where is your lodging?'

I told him, wondering much at this flash of the old spirit, which
twenty years before had won him a reputation his later life did
nothing to sustain.

'Do you know,' he asked, speaking with sustained energy and
clearness, 'the door by which M. de Rosny entered to talk with
me?  Can you find it in the dark?'

'Yes, sire,' I answered, my heart beating high.

'Then be in waiting there two hours before midnight,' he replied.
'Be well armed, but alone.  I shall know how to make the girl
speak.  I can trust you, I suppose?'  he added suddenly, stepping
nearer to me and looking fixedly into my eyes.

'I will answer for your Majesty's life with my own,' I replied,
sinking on one knee.

'I believe you, sir,' he answered gravely, giving me his hand to
kiss, and then turning away.  'So be it.  Now leave me.  You have
been here too long already.  Not a word to any one as you value
your life.'

I made fitting answer and was leaving him; but when I had my head
already on the curtain, he called me back.  'In Heaven's name get
a new cloak!'  he said peevishly, eyeing me all over with his
face puckered up.  'Get a new cloak, man, the first thing in the
morning.  It is worse seen from the side than the front.  It
would ruin the cleverest courtier of them all!'



CHAPTER XXIV.

A ROYAL PERIL.

The elation with which I had heard the king announce his
resolution quickly diminished on cooler reflection.  It stood in
particular at a very low ebb as I waited, an hour later, at the
little north postern of the Castle, and, cowering within the
shelter of the arch to escape the wind, debated whether his
Majesty's energy would sustain him to the point of action, or
whether he might not, in one of those fits of treacherous
vacillation which had again and again marred his plans, send
those to keep the appointment who would give a final account of
me.  The longer I considered his character the more dubious I
grew.  The loneliness of the situation, the darkness, the black
front, unbroken by any glimmer of light, which the Castle
presented on this side, and the unusual and gloomy stillness
which lay upon the town, all contributed to increase my
uneasiness.  It was with apprehension as well as relief that I
caught at last the sound of footsteps on the stone staircase,
and, standing a little to one side, saw a streak of light appear
at the foot of the door.

On the latter being partially opened a voice cried my name.  I
advanced with caution and showed myself.  A brief conversation
ensued between two or three persons who stood within; but in the
end, a masked figure, which I had no difficulty in identifying as
the king, stepped briskly out.

'You are armed?'  he said, pausing a second opposite me.

I put back my cloak and showed him, by the light which streamed
from the doorway, that I carried pistols as well as a sword.

'Good!'  he answered briefly; 'then let us go.  Do you walk on my
left hand, my friend.  It is a dark night, is it not?'

'Very dark, sire,' I said.

He made no answer to this, and we started, proceeding with
caution until we had crossed the narrow bridge, and then with
greater freedom and at a better pace.  The slenderness of the
attendance at Court that evening, and the cold wind, which swept
even the narrowest streets and drove roisterers indoors, rendered
it unlikely that we should be stopped or molested by any except
professed thieves; and for these I was prepared.  The king showed
no inclination to talk; and keeping silence myself out of
respect, I had time to calculate the chances and to consider
whether his Majesty would succeed where I had failed.

This calculation, which was not inconsistent with the keenest
watchfulness on my part whenever we turned a corner or passed the
mouth of an alley, was brought to an end by our safe arrival at
the house.  Briefly apologising to the king for the meanness and
darkness of the staircase, I begged leave to precede him, and
rapidly mounted until I met Maignan.  Whispering to him that all
was well, I did not wait to hear his answer, but, bidding him be
on the watch, I led the king on with as much deference as was
possible until we stood.  at the door of mademoiselle's
apartment, which I have elsewhere stated to consist of an outer
and inner room.  The door was opened by Simon Fleix, and him I
promptly sent out.  Then, standing aside and uncovering, I begged
the king to enter.

He did so, still wearing his hat and mask, and I followed and
secured the door.  A lamp hanging from the ceiling diffused an
imperfect light through the room, which was smaller but more
comfortable in appearance than that which I rented overhead.  I
observed that Fanchette, whose harsh countenance looked more
forbidding than usual, occupied a stool which she had set in a
strange fashion against the Inner door; but I thought no more of
this at the moment, my attention passing quickly to mademoiselle,
who sat crouching before the fire, enveloped in a large outdoor
cloak, as if she felt the cold.  Her back was towards us, and she
was, or pretended to be, still ignorant of our presence.  With a
muttered word I pointed her out to the king, and went towards her
with him.

'Mademoiselle, I said in a low voice, 'Mademoiselle de la Vire!
I have the honour--'

She would not turn, and I stopped.  Clearly she heard, but she
betrayed that she did so only by drawing her cloak more closely
round her.  Primed by my respect for the king, I touched her
lightly on tile shoulder.  'Mademoiselle!'  I said impatiently,
'you are not aware of it, but--'

She shook herself free from my hand with so rude a gesture that I
broke off, and stood gazing foolishly at her.  The king smiled,
and nodding to me to step back a pace, took the task on himself.
'Mademoiselle,' he said with dignity, 'I am not accustomed--'

His voice had a magical effect.  Before he could add another word
she sprang up as if she had been struck, and faced us, a cry of
alarm on her lips.  Simultaneously we both cried out too, for it
was not mademoiselle at all.  The woman who confronted us, her
hand on her mask, her eyes glittering through the slits, was of a
taller and fuller figure.  We stared at her.  Then a lock of
bright golden hair which had escaped from the hood of her cloak
gave us the clue.  'Madame!'  the king cried.

'Madame de Bruhl!'  I echoed, my astonishment greater than his.

Seeing herself known, she began with trembling fingers to undo
the fastenings of her mask; but the king, who had hitherto
displayed a trustfulness I had not expected in him, had taken
alarm at sight of her, as at a thing unlooked for, and of which I
had not warned him.  'How is this?'  he said harshly, drawing
back a pace from her and regarding me with anger and distrust.
'Is this some pretty arrangement of yours, sir?  Am I an intruder
at an assignation, or is this a trap with M. de Bruhl in the
background?  Answer, sirrah!'  he continued, working himself
rapidly into a passion.  'Which am I to understand is the case?'

'Neither, sire,' I answered with as much dignity as I could
assume, utterly surprised and mystified as I was by Madame's
presence.  'Your Majesty wrongs Madame de Bruhl as much by the
one suspicion as you injure me by the other.  I am equally in the
dark with you, sire, and as little expected to see madame here.'

'I came, sire,' she said proudly, addressing herself to the king,
and ignoring me, 'out of no love to M. de Marsac, but as any
person bearing a message to him might come.  Nor can you, sire,'
she added with spirit, 'feel half as much surprise at seeing me
here, as I at seeing your Majesty.'

'I can believe that,' the king answered drily.  'I would you had
not seen me.'

'The King of France is seen only when he chooses,' she replied,
curtseying to the ground.

'Good,' he answered.  'Let it be so, and you will oblige the King
of France, madame.  But enough,' he continued, turning from her
to me; 'since this is not the lady I came to see, M. de Marsac,
where is she?'

'In the inner room, sire, I opine,' I said, advancing to
Fanchette with more misgiving at heart than my manner evinced.
'Your mistress is here, is she not?'  I continued, addressing the
woman sharply.

'Ay, and will not come out,' she rejoined, sturdily keeping her
place.

'Nonsense!'  I said.  'Tell her--'

'You may tell her what you please,' she replied, refusing to
budge an inch.  'She can hear.'

'But, woman!'  I cried impatiently, 'you do not understand.  I
MUST speak with her.  I must speak with her at once!  On business
of the highest importance.'

'As you please,' she said rudely, still keeping her seat.  'I
have told you you can speak.'

Perhaps I felt as foolish on this occasion as ever in my life;
and surely never was man placed in a more ridiculous position.
After overcoming numberless obstacles, and escaping as many
perils, I had brought the king here, a feat beyond my highest
hopes--only to be baffled and defeated by a waiting-woman!  I
stood irresolute; witless and confused; while the king waited
half angry and half amused, and madame kept her place by the
entrance, to which she had retreated.

I was delivered from my dilemma by the curiosity which is,
providentially perhaps, a part of woman's character, and which
led mademoiselle to interfere herself.  Keenly on the watch
inside, she had heard part of what passed between us, and been
rendered inquisitive by the sound of a strange man's voice, and
by the deference which she could discern I paid to the visitor.
At this moment, she cried out, accordingly, to know who was
there; and Fanchette, seeming to take this as a command, rose and
dragged her stool aside, saying peevishly and without any
increase of respect, 'There, I told you she could hear.'

'Who is it?'  mademoiselle asked again, in a raised voice.

I was about to answer when the king signed to me to stand back,
and, advancing himself, knocked gently on the door.  'Open, I
pray you, mademoiselle,' he said courteously.

'Who is there?'  she cried again, her voice trembling.

'It is I, the king,' he answered softly; but in that tone of
majesty which belongs not to the man, but to the descendant, and
seems to be the outcome of centuries of command.

She uttered an exclamation and slowly, and with seeming
reluctance, turned the key in the lock.  It grated, and the door
opened.  I caught a glimpse for an instant of her pale face and
bright eyes, and then his Majesty, removing his hat, passed in
and closed the door; and I withdrew to the farther end of the
room, where madame continued to stand by the entrance.

I entertained a suspicion, I remember, and not unnaturally, that
she had come to my lodging as her husband's spy; but her first
words when I joined her dispelled this.  'Quick!'  she said with
an imperious gesture.  'Hear me and let me go!  I have waited
long enough for you, and suffered enough through you.  As for
that, woman in there, she is mad, and her servant too!  Now,
listen to me.  You spoke to me honestly to-day, and I have come
to repay you.  You have an appointment with my husband to-morrow
at Chaverny.  Is it not so?'  she added impatiently.

I replied that it was so.

'You are to go with one friend,' she went on, tearing the glove
she had taken off, to strips in her excitement, 'He is to meet
you with one also?'

'Yes,' I assented reluctantly, 'at the bridge, madame.'

'Then do not go,' she rejoined emphatically.  'Shame on me that I
should betray my husband; but it were worse to send an innocent
man to his death.  He will meet you with one sword only,
according to his challenge, but there will be those under the
bridge who will make certain work.  There, I have betrayed him
now!'  she continued bitterly.  'It is done.  Let me go!'

'Nay, but, madame,' I said, feeling more concerned for her, on
whom from the first moment of meeting her I had brought nothing
but misfortune, than surprised by this new treachery on his part,
'will you not run some risk in returning to him?  Is there
nothing I can do for you--no step I can take for your
protection?'

'None!'  she said repellently and almost rudely, 'except to speed
my going.'

'But you will not pass through the streets alone?'

She laughed so bitterly my heart ached for her.  'The unhappy are
always safe,' she said.

Remembering how short a time it was since I had surprised her in
the first happiness of wedded love, I felt for her all the pity
it was natural I should feel.  But the responsibility under which
his Majesty's presence and the charge of mademoiselle laid me
forbade me to indulge in the luxury of evincing my gratitude.
Gladly would I have escorted her back to her home--even if I
could not make that home again what it had been, or restore her
husband to the pinnacle from which I had dashed him--but I dared
not do this.  I was forced to content myself with less, and was
about to offer to send one of my men with her, when a hurried
knocking at the outer door arrested the words on my lips.

Signing to her to stand still, I listened.  The knocking was
repeated, and grew each moment more urgent.  There was a little
grille, strongly wired, in the upper part of the door, and this I
was about to open in order to learn what was amiss, when Simon's
voice reached me from the farther side imploring me to open the
door quickly.  Doubting the lad's prudence, yet afraid to refuse
lest I should lose some warning he had to give, I paused a
second, and then undid the fastenings.  The moment the door gave
way he fell in bodily, crying out to me to bar it behind him.  I
caught a glimpse through the gap of a glare as of torches, and
saw by this light half a dozen flushed faces in the act of rising
above the edge of the landing.  The men who owned them raised a
shout of triumph at sight of me, and, clearing the upper steps at
a bound, made a rush for the door.  But in vain.  We had just
time to close it and drop the two stout bars.  In a moment, in a
second, the fierce outcry fell to a dull roar; and safe for the
time, we had leisure to look in one another's faces and learn the
different aspects of alarm.  Madame was white to the lips, while
Simon's eyes seemed starting from his head, and he shook in every
limb with terror.

At first, on my asking him what it meant, he could not speak.
But that would not do, and I was in the act of seizing him by the
collar to force an answer from him when the inner door opened,
and the king came out, his face wearing an air of so much
cheerfulness as proved both his satisfaction with mademoiselle's
story and his ignorance of all we were about.  In a word he had
not yet taken the least alarm; but seeing Simon in my hands, and
madame leaning against the wall by the door like one deprived of
life, he stood and cried out in surprise to know what it was.

'I fear we are besieged, sire,' I answered desperately, feeling
my anxieties increased a hundredfold by his appearance--'but by
whom I cannot say.  This lad knows, however,' I continued, giving
Simon, a vicious shake, 'and he shall speak.  Now, trembler,' I
said to him, 'tell your tale?'

'The Provost-Marshal!'  he stammered, terrified afresh by the
king's presence:  for Henry had removed his mask.  'I was on
guard below.  I had come up a few steps to be out of the cold,
when I heard them enter.  There are a round score of them.'

I cried out a great oath, asking him why he had not gone up and
warned Maignan, who with his men was now cut off from us in the
rooms above.  'You fool!'  I continued, almost beside myself with
rage, 'if you had not come to this door they would have mounted
to my rooms and beset them!  What is this folly about the
Provost-Marshal?'

'He is there,' Simon answered, cowering away from me, his face
working.

I thought he was lying, and had merely fancied this in his
fright.  But the assailants at this moment began to hail blows on
the door, calling on us to open, and using such volleys of
threats as penetrated even the thickness of the oak; driving the
blood from the women's cheeks, and arresting the king's step in a
manner which did not escape me.  Among their cries I could
plainly distinguish the words, 'In the king's name!'  which bore
out Simon's statement.

At the moment I drew comfort from this; for if we had merely to
deal with the law we had that on our side which was above it.
And I speedily made up my mind what to do.  'I think the lad
speaks the truth, sire,' I said coolly.  'This is only your
Majesty's Provost-Marshal.  The worst to be feared, therefore, is
that he may learn your presence here before you would have it
known.  It should not be a matter of great difficulty, however,
to bind him to silence, and if you will please to mask, I will
open the grille and speak with him.'

The king, who had taken his stand in the middle of the room, and
seemed dazed and confused by the suddenness of the alarm and the
uproar, assented with a brief word.  Accordingly I was preparing
to open the grille when Madame de Bruhl seized my arm, and
forcibly pushed me back from it.

'What would you do?'  she cried, her face full of terror.  'Do
you not hear?  He is there.'

'Who is there?'  I said, startled more by her manner than her
words.

'Who?'  she answered; 'who should be there?  My husband!  I hear
his voice, I tell you!  He has tracked me here!  He has found me,
and will kill me!'

'God forbid!'  I said, doubting if she had really heard his
voice. To make sure, I asked Simon if he had seen him; and my
heart sank when I heard from him too that Bruhl was of the party.
For the first time I became fully sensible of the danger which
threatened us.  For the first time, looking round the ill-lit
room on the women's terrified faces, and the king's masked figure
instinct with ill-repressed nervousness, I recognised how
hopelessly we were enmeshed.  Fortune had served Bruhl so well
that, whether he knew it or not, he had us all trapped--alike the
king whom he desired to compromise, and his wife whom he hated,
mademoiselle who had once escaped him, and me who had twice
thwarted him.  It was little to be wondered at if my courage sank
as I looked from one to another, and listened to the ominous
creaking of the door, as the stout panels complained under the
blows rained upon them. For my first duty, and that which took
the PAS of all others, was to the king--to save him harmless.
How, then, was I to be answerable for mademoiselle, how protect
Madame de Bruhl?--how, in a word, redeem all those pledges in
which my honour was concerned?

It was the thought of the Provost-Marshal which at this moment
rallied my failing spirits.  I remembered that until the mystery
of his presence here in alliance with Bruhl was explained there
was no need to despair; and turning briskly to the king I begged
him to favour me by standing with the women in a corner which was
not visible from the door.  He complied mechanically, and in a
manner which I did not like; but lacking time to weigh trifles, I
turned to the grille and opened it without more ado.

The appearance of my face at the trap was greeted with a savage
cry of recognition, which subsided as quickly into silence.  It
was followed by a momentary pushing to and fro among the crowd
outside, which in its turn ended in the Provost-Marshal coming to
the front.  'In the king's name!'  he said fussily.

'What is it?'  I replied, eyeing rather the flushed, eager faces
which scowled over his shoulders than himself.  The light of two
links, borne by some of the party, shone ruddily on the heads of
the halberds, and, flaring up from time to time, filled all the
place with wavering, smoky light.  'What do you want?'  I
continued, 'rousing my lodging at this time of night?'

'I hold a warrant for your arrest,' he replied bluntly.
'Resistance will be vain.  If you do not surrender I shall send
for a ram to break in the door.'

'Where is your order?'  I said sharply.  'The one you held this
morning was cancelled by the king himself.'

'Suspended only,' he answered.  'Suspended only.  It was given
out to me again this evening for instant execution.  And I am
here in pursuance of it, and call on you to surrender.'

'Who delivered it to you?'  I retorted.

'M. de Villequier,' he answered readily.  'And here it is.  Now,
come, sir,' he continued, 'you are only making matters worse.
Open to us.'

'Before I do so,' I said drily, 'I should like to know what part
in the pageant my friend M. de Bruhl, whom I see on the stairs
yonder, proposes to play.  And there is my old friend Fresnoy,' I
added.  'And I see one or two others whom I know, M. Provost.
Before I surrender I must know among other things what M. de
Bruhl's business is here.'

'It is the business of every loyal man to execute the king's
warrant,' the Provost answered evasively.  'It is yours to
surrender, and mine to lodge you in the Castle.  'But I am loth
to have a disturbance.  I will give you until that torch goes
out, if you like, to make up your mind.  At the end of that time,
if you do not surrender, I shall batter down the door.'

'You will give the torch fair play?'  I said, noting its
condition.

He assented; and thanking him sternly for this indulgence, I
closed the grille.



CHAPTER XXV.

TERMS OF SURRENDER.

I still had my hand on the trap when a touch on the shoulder
caused me to turn, and in a moment apprised me of the imminence
of a new peril; a peril of such a kind that, summoning all my
resolution, I could scarcely hope to cope with it.  Henry was at
my elbow.  He had taken of his mask, and a single glance at his
countenance warned me that that had happened of which I had
already felt some fear.  The glitter of intense excitement shone
in his eyes.  His face, darkly-flushed and wet with sweat,
betrayed overmastering emotion, while his teeth, tight clenched
in the effort to restrain the fit of trembling which possessed
him, showed between his lips like those of a corpse.  The novelty
of the danger which menaced him, the absence of his gentlemen,
and of all the familiar faces and surroundings without which he
never moved, the hour, the mean house, and his isolation among
strangers, had proved too much for nerves long weakened by his
course of living, and for a courage, proved indeed in the field,
but unequal to a sudden stress.  Though he still strove to
preserve his dignity, it was alarmingly plain to my eyes that he
was on the point of losing, if he had not already lost, all self-
command.

'Open!'  he muttered between his teeth, pointing impatiently to
the trap with the hand with which he had already touched me.
'Open, I say, sir!'

I stared at him, startled and confounded.  'But your Majesty,' I
ventured to stammer, 'forgets that I have not yet--'

'Open, I say!'  he repeated passionately.  'Do you hear me, sir?
I desire that this door be opened.'  His lean hand shook as with
the palsy, so that the gems on it twinkled in the light and
rattled as he spoke.

I looked helplessly from him to the women and back again, seeing
in a flash all.  the dangers which might follow from the
discovery of his presence there--dangers which I had not before
formulated to myself, but which seemed in a moment to range
themselves with the utmost clearness before my eyes.  At the same
time I saw what seemed to me to be a way of escape; and
emboldened by the one and the other, I kept my hand on the trap
and strove to parley with him.

'Nay, but, sire,' I said hurriedly, yet still with as much
deference as I could command, 'I beg you to permit me first to
repeat what I have seen.  M. de Bruhl is without, and I counted
six men whom I believe to be his following.  They are ruffians
ripe for any crime; and I implore your Majesty rather to submit
to a short imprisonment--'

I paused struck dumb on that word, confounded by the passion
which lightened in the king's face.  My ill-chosen expression had
indeed applied the spark to his wrath.  Predisposed to suspicion
by a hundred treacheries, he forgot the perils outside in the one
idea which on the instant possessed his mind; that I would
confine his person, and had brought him hither for no other
purpose.  He glared round him with eyes full of rage and fear,
and his trembling lips breathed rather than spoke the word
'Imprison?'

Unluckily, a trifling occurrence added at this moment to his
disorder, and converted it into frenzy.  Someone outside fell
heavily against the door; this, causing madame to utter a low
shriek, seemed to shatter the last remnant of the king's self-
control.  Stamping his foot on the floor, he cried to me with the
utmost wildness to open the door--by which I had hitherto kept my
place.

But, wrongly or rightly, I was still determined to put off
opening it; and I raised my hands with the intention of making a
last appeal to him.  He misread the gesture, and retreating a
step, with the greatest suddenness whipped out his sword, and in
a moment had the point at my breast, and his wrist drawn back to
thrust.

It has always been my belief that he would not have dealt the
blow, but that the mere touch of the hilt, awaking the courage
which he undoubtedly possessed, and which did not desert him in
his last moments, would have recalled him to himself.  But the
opportunity was not given him, for while the blade yet quivered,
and I stood motionless, controlling myself by an effort, my knee
half bent and my eyes on his, Mademoiselle de la Vire sprang
forward at his back, and with a loud scream clutched his elbow.
The king, surprised, and ignorant who held him, flung up his
point wildly, and striking the lamp above his head with his
blade, shattered it in an instant, bringing down the pottery with
a crash and reducing the room to darkness; while the screams of
the women, and the knowledge that we had a madman among us,
peopled, the blackness with a hundred horrors.

Fearing above all for mademoiselle, I made my way as soon as I
could recover my wits to the embers of the fire, and regardless
of the king's sword, which I had a vague idea was darting about
in the darkness, I searched for and found a half-burnt stick,
which I blew into a blaze.  With this, still keeping my back to
the room, I contrived to light a taper that I had noticed
standing by the hearth; and then, and then only, I turned to see
what I had to confront.

Mademoiselle de la Vire stood in a corner, half-fierce, half-
terrified, and wholly flushed.  She had her hand wrapped up in a
'kerchief already stained with blood; and from this I gathered
that the king in his frenzy had wounded her slightly.  Standing
before her mistress, with her hair bristling, like a wild-cat's
fur, and her arms akimbo, was Fanchette, her harsh face and
square form instinct with fury and defiance.  Madame de Bruhl and
Simon cowered against the wall not far from them; and in a chair,
into which he had apparently just thrown himself, sat the king,
huddled up and collapsed, the point of his sword trailing on the
ground beside him, and his nerveless hand scarce retaining force
to grip the pommel.

In a moment I made up my mind what to do, and going to him in
silence, I laid my pistols, sword, and dagger on a stool by his
side.  Then I knelt.

'The door, sire,' I said, 'is there.  It is for your Majesty to
open it when you please.  Here, too, sire, are my weapons.  I am
your prisoner, the Provost-Marshal is outside, and you can at a
word deliver me to him.  Only one thing I beg, sire,' I continued
earnestly, 'that your Majesty will treat; as a delusion the idea
that I meditated for a moment disrespect or violence to your
person.'

He looked at me dully, his face pale, his eyes fish-like.
'Sanctus, man!'  he muttered, 'why did you raise your hand?'

'Only to implore your Majesty to pause a moment,' I answered,
watching the intelligence return slowly to his face.  'If you
will deign to listen I can explain in half a dozen words, sire.
M. de Bruhl's men are six or seven, the Provost has eight or
nine; but the former are the wilder blades, and if M. de Bruhl
find your Majesty in my lodging, and infer his own defeat, he
will be capable of any desperate stroke.  Your person would
hardly be safe in his company through the streets.  And there is
another consideration,' I went on, observing with joy that the
king listened, and was gradually regaining his composure.  'That
is, the secrecy you desired to preserve, sire, until this matter
should be well advanced.  M. de Rosny laid the strictest
injunctions on me in that respect, fearing an EMEUTE in Blois
should your Majesty's plans become known.'

'You speak fairly,' the king answered with returning energy,
though he avoided looking at the women.  'Bruhl is likely enough
to raise one.  But how am I to get out, sir?'  he continued,
querulously.  'I cannot remain here.  I shall be missed, man!  I
am not a hedge-captain, neither sought nor wanted!'

'If your Majesty would trust me?'  I said slowly and with
hesitation.

'Trust you!'  he retorted peevishly, holding up his hands and
gazing intently at his nails, of the shape and whiteness of which
he was prouder than any woman.  'Have I not trusted you? If I had
not trusted you, should I have been here?  But that you were a
Huguenot--God forgive me for saying it!--I would have seen you in
hell before I would have come here with you!'

I confess to having heard this testimony to the Religion with a
pride which made me forget for a moment the immediate
circumstances--the peril in which we stood, the gloomy room
darkly lighted by a single candle, the scared faces in the
background, even the king's huddled figure, in which dejection
and pride struggled for expression.  For a moment only; then I
hastened to reply, saying that I doubted not I could still
extricate his Majesty without discovery.

'In Heaven's name do it, then!'  he answered sharply.  'Do what
you like, man!  Only get me back into the castle, and it shall
not be a Huguenot will entice me out again.  I am over old for
these adventures!'

A fresh attack on the door taking place as he said this induced
me to lose no time in explaining my plan, which he was good
enough to approve, after again upbraiding me for bringing him
into such a dilemma.  Fearing lest the door should give way
prematurely, notwithstanding the bars I had provided for it, and
goaded on by Madame de Bruhl's face, which evinced the utmost
terror, I took the candle and attended his Majesty into the inner
room; where I placed my pistols beside him, but silently resumed
my sword and dagger.  I then returned for the women, and
indicating by signs that they were to enter, held the door open
for them.

Mademoiselle, whose bandaged hand I could not regard without
emotion, though the king's presence and the respect I owed him
forbade me to utter so much as a word, advanced readily until she
reached the doorway abreast of me.  There, however, looking back,
and seeing Madame de Bruhl following her, she stopped short, and
darting a haughty glance at me, muttered, 'And--that lady?  Are
we to be shut up together, sir?'

'Mademoiselle,' I answered quickly in the low tone she had used
herself, 'have I ever asked anything dishonourable of you?'

She seemed by a slight movement of the head to answer in the
negative.

'Nor do I now,' I replied with earnestness.  'I entrust to your
care a lady who has risked great peril for US; and the rest I
leave to you.'

She looked me very keenly in the face for a second, and then,
without answering, she passed on, Madame and Fanchette following
her in that order.  I closed the door and turned to Simon; who by
my direction had blown the embers of the fire into a blaze so as
to partially illumine the room, in which only he and I now
remained.  The lad seemed afraid to meet my eye, and owing to the
scene at which he had just assisted, or to the onslaught on the
door, which grew each moment more furious, betrayed greater
restlessness than I had lately observed in him.  I did not doubt
his fidelity, however, or his devotion to mademoiselle; and the
orders I had to give him were simple enough.

'This is what you have got to do,' I said, my hand already on the
bars.  'The moment I am outside secure this door.  After that,
open to no one except Maignan.  When he applies, let him in with
caution, and bid him, as he loves M. de Rosny, take his men as
soon as the coast is clear, and guard the King of France to the
castle.  Charge him to be brave and wary, for his life will
answer for the king's.'

Twice I repeated this; then fearing lest the Provost-Marshal
should make good his word and apply a ram to the door, I opened
the trap.  A dozen angry voices hailed my appearance, and this
with so much violence and impatience that it was some time before
I could get a hearing; the knaves threatening me if I would not
instantly open, and persisting that I should do so without more
words.  Their leader at length quieted them, but it was plain
that his patience too was worn out.  'Do you surrender or do you
not?'  he said.  'I am not going to stay out of my bed all night
for you!'

'I warn you,' I answered, 'that the order you have there has been
cancelled by the king!'

'That is not my business,' he rejoined hardily.

'No, but it will be when the king sends for you to-morrow
morning,' I retorted; at which he looked somewhat moved.
'However, I will surrender to you on two conditions,' I
continued, keenly observing the coarse faces of his following.
'First, that you let me keep my arms until we reach the gate-
house, I giving you my parole to come with you quietly.  That is
number one.'

'Well,' the Provost-Marshal said more civilly, 'I have no
objection to that.'

'Secondly, that you do not allow your men to break into my
lodgings.  I will come out quietly, and so an end.  Your order
does not direct you to sack my goods.'

'Tut, tut!'  he replied; 'I want, you to come out.  I do not want
to go in.'

'Then draw your men back to the stairs,' I said.  'And if you
keep terms with me, I will uphold you to-morrow, For your orders
will certainly bring you into trouble.  M. de Retz, who procured
it this morning, is away, you know.  M. de Villequier may be gone
to-morrow.  But depend upon it, M. de Rambouillet will be here!'

The remark was well timed and to the point.  It startled the man
as much as I had hoped it would.  Without raising any objection
he ordered his men to fall back and guard the stairs; and I on my
side began to undo the fastenings of the door.

The matter was not to be so easily concluded, however; for
Bruhl's rascals, in obedience, no doubt, to a sign given by their
leader, who stood with Fresnoy on the upper flight of stairs,
refused to withdraw; and even hustled the Provost-Marshal's men
when the latter would have obeyed the order.  The officer,
already heated by delay, replied by laying about him with his
staff, and in a twinkling there seemed to be every prospect of a
very pretty MELEE, the end of which it was impossible to foresee.

Reflecting, however, that if Bruhl's men routed their opponents
our position might be made worse rather than better, I did not
act on my first impulse, which was to see the matter out where I
was.  Instead, I seized the opportunity to let myself out, while
Simon fastened the door behind me.  The Provost-Marshal was
engaged at the moment in a wordy dispute with Fresnoy; whose
villainous countenance, scarred by the wound which I had given
him at Chize, and flushed with passion, looked its worst by the
light of the single torch which remained.  In one respect the
villain had profited by his present patronage, for he was decked
out in a style of tawdry magnificence.  But I have always
remarked this about dress, that while a shabby exterior does not
entirely obscure a gentleman, the extreme of fashion is powerless
to gild a knave.

Seeing me on a sudden at the Provost's elbow, he recoiled with a
change of countenance so ludicrous that that officer was himself
startled, and only held his ground on my saluting him civilly and
declaring myself his prisoner I added a warning that he should
look to the torch which remained; seeing that if it failed we
were both like to have our throats cut in the confusion.

He took the hint promptly, and calling the link-man to his side
prepared to descend, bidding Fresnoy and his men, who remained
clumped at the head of the stairs, make way for us without ado.
They seemed much inclined, however, to dispute our passage, and
replying to his invectives with rough taunts, displayed so
hostile a demeanour that the Provost, between regard for his own
importance and respect for Bruhl, appeared for a moment at a loss
what to do; and seemed rather relieved than annoyed when I begged
leave to say a word to M. de Bruhl.

'If you can bring his men to reason,' he replied testily, 'speak
your fill to him!'

Stepping to the foot of the upper flight, on which Bruhl retained
his position, I saluted him formally.  He returned my greeting
with a surly, watchful look only, and drawing his cloak more
tightly round him affected to gaze down at me with disdain; which
ill concealed, however, both the triumph he felt and the hopes of
vengeance he entertained.  I was especially anxious to learn
whether he had tracked his wife hither, or was merely here in
pursuance of his general schemes against me, and to this end.  I
asked him with as much irony as I could compass to what I was to
attribute his presence.  'I am afraid I cannot stay to offer you
hospitality,' I continued; 'but for that you have only your
friend M. Villequier to thank!'

'I am greatly obliged to you,' he answered with a devilish smile,
'but do not let that affect you.  When you are gone I propose to
help myself, my friend, to whatever takes my taste.'

'Do you?'  I retorted coolly--not that I was unaffected by the
threat and the villainous hint which underlay the words, but
that, fully expecting them, I was ready with my answer.  'We will
see about that.'  And therewith I raised my fingers to my lips,
and, whistling shrilly, cried 'Maignan!  Maignan!'  in a clear
voice.

I had no need to cry the name a third time, for before the
Provost-Marshal could do more than start at this unexpected
action, the landing above us rang under a heavy tread, and the
man I called, descending the stairs swiftly, appeared on a sudden
within arm's length of M. de Bruhl; who, turning with an oath,
saw him, and involuntarily recoiled.  At all times Maignan's
hardy and confident bearing was of a kind to impress the strong;
but on this occasion there was an added dash of recklessness in
his manner which was not without its effect on the spectators.
As he stood there smiling darkly over Bruhl's head, while his
hand toyed carelessly with his dagger, and the torch shone
ruddily on his burly figure, he was so clearly an antagonist in a
thousand that, had I sought through Blois, I might not have found
his fellow for strength and SANG-FROID.  He let his black eyes
rove from one to the other, but took heed of me only, saluting me
with effusion and a touch of the Gascon which was in place here,
if ever.

I knew how M. de Rosny dealt with him, and followed the pattern
as far as I could.  'Maignan!'  I said curtly, 'I have taken a
lodging for to-night elsewhere.  Then I am gone you will call out
your men and watch this door.  If anyone tries to force an
entrance you will do your duty.'

'You may consider it done,' he replied.

'Even if the person be M. de Bruhl here,' I continued.

'Precisely.'

'You will remain on guard,' I went on, 'until to-morrow morning
if M. de Bruhl remains here; but whenever he leaves you will take
your orders from the persons inside, and follow them implicitly.'

'Your Excellency's mind may be easy,' he answered, handling his
dagger.

Dismissing him with a nod, I turned with a smile to M. de Bruhl,
and saw that between rage at this unexpected check and chagrin at
the insult put upon him, his discomfiture was as complete as I
could wish.  As for Fresnoy, if he had seriously intended to
dispute our passage, he was no longer in the mood for the
attempt.  Yet I did not let his master off without one more
prick.  'That being settled, M. de Bruhl,' I said pleasantly, 'I
may bid you good evening.  You will doubtless honour me at
Chaverny tomorrow.  But we will first let Maignan look under the
bridge!'



CHAPTER XXVI.

MEDITATIONS.

Either the small respect I had paid M. de Bruhl, or the words I
had let fall respecting the possible disappearance of M.
Villequier, had had so admirable an effect on the Provost-
Marshal's mind that from the moment of leaving my lodgings he
treated me with the utmost civility; permitting me even to retain
my sword, and assigning me a sleeping-place for the night in his
own apartments at the gate-house.

Late as it was, I could not allow so much politeness to pass
unacknowledged.  I begged leave, therefore, to distribute a small
gratuity among his attendants, and requested him to do me the
honour of drinking a bottle of wine with me.  This being speedily
procured, at such an expense as is usual in these places, where
prisoners pay, according as they are rich or poor, in purse or
person, kept; us sitting for an hour, and finally sent us to our
pallets perfectly satisfied with one another.

The events of the day, however, and particularly one matter, on
which I have not dwelt at length, proved as effectual to prevent
my sleeping as if I had been placed in the dampest cell below the
castle.  So much had been crowded into a time so short that it
seemed as if I had had until now no opportunity of considering
whither I was being hurried, or what fortune awaited me at the
end of this turmoil.  From the first appearance of M. d'Agen in
the morning, with the startling news that the Provost-Marshal was
seeking me, to my final surrender and encounter with Bruhl on the
stairs, the chain of events had run out so swiftly that I had
scarcely had time at any particular period to consider how I
stood, or the full import of the latest check or victory.  Now
that I had leisure I lived the day over again, and, recalling its
dangers and disappointments, felt thankful that all had ended so
fairly.

I had the most perfect confidence in Maignan, and did not doubt
that Bruhl would soon weary, if he had not already wearied, of a
profitless siege.  In an hour at most--and it was not yet
midnight--the king would be free to go home; and with that would
end, as far as he was concerned, the mission with which M. de
Rosny had honoured me.  The task of communicating his Majesty's
decision to the King of Navarre would doubtless be entrusted to
M. de Rambouillet, or some person of similar position and
influence; and in the same hands would rest the honour and
responsibility of the treaty which, as we all know now, gave
after a brief interval and some bloodshed, and one great
providence, a lasting peace to France.  But it must ever be--and
I recognised this that night with a bounding heart, which told of
some store of youth yet unexhausted--a matter of lasting pride to
me that I, whose career but now seemed closed in failure, had
proved the means of conferring so especial a benefit on my
country and religion.

Remembering, however, the King of Navarre's warning that I must
not look to him for reward, I felt greatly doubtful in what
direction the scene would next open to me; my main dependence
being upon M. de Rosny's promise that he would make my fortune
his own care.  Tired of the Court at Blois, and the atmosphere of
intrigue and treachery which pervaded it, and with which I hoped
I had now done, I was still at a loss to see how I could recross
the Loire in face of the Vicomte de Turenne's enmity.  I might
have troubled myself much more with speculating upon this point
had I not found--in close connection with it--other and more
engrossing food for thought in the capricious behaviour of
Mademoiselle de la Vire.

To that behaviour it seemed to me that I now held the clue.  I
suspected with as much surprise as pleasure that only one
construction could be placed upon it--a construction which had
strongly occurred to me on catching sight of her face when she
intervened between me and the king.

Tracing the matter back to the moment of our meeting in the
antechamber at St. Jean d'Angely, I remembered the jest which
Mathurine had uttered at our joint expense.  Doubtless it had
dwelt in mademoiselle's mind, and exciting her animosity against
me had prepared her to treat me with contumely when, contrary to
all probability, we met again, and she found herself placed in a
manner in my hands.  It had inspired her harsh words and harsher
looks on our journey northwards, and contributed with her
native pride to the low opinion I had formed of her when I
contrasted her with my honoured mother.

But I began to think it possible that the jest had worked in
another way as well, by keeping me before her mind and impressing
upon her the idea--after my re-appearance at Chize more
particularly--that our fates were in some way linked.  Assuming
this, it was not hard to understand her manner at Rosny when,
apprised that I was no impostor, and regretting her former
treatment of me, she still recoiled from the feelings which she
began to recognise in her own breast.  From that time, and with
this clue, I had no difficulty in tracing her motives, always
supposing that this suspicion, upon which I dwelt with feelings
of wonder and delight, were well founded.

Middle-aged and grizzled, with the best of my life behind me I
had never dared to think of her in this way before.  Poor and
comparatively obscure, I had never raised my eyes to the wide
possessions said to be hers.  Even now I felt myself dazzled and
bewildered by the prospect so suddenly unveiled.  I could
scarcely, without vertigo, recall her as I had last seen her,
with her hand wounded in my defence; nor, without emotions
painful in their intensity, fancy myself restored to the youth of
which I had taken leave, and to the rosy hopes and plannings
which visit most men once only, and then in early years.
Hitherto I had deemed such things the lot of others.

Daylight found me--and no wonder--still diverting myself with
these charming speculations; which had for me, be it remembered,
all the force of novelty.  The sun chanced to rise that morning
in a clear sky, and brilliantly for the time of year; and words
fail me when I look back, and try to describe how delicately this
single fact enhanced my pleasure!  I sunned myself in the beams,
which penetrated my barred window; and tasting the early
freshness with a keen and insatiable appetite, I experienced to
the full that peculiar aspiration after goodness which Providence
allows such moments to awaken in us in youth; but rarely when
time and the camp have blunted the sensibilities.

I had not yet arrived at the stage at which difficulties have to
be reckoned up, and the chief drawback to the tumult of joy I
felt took the shape of regret that my mother no longer lived to
feel the emotions proper to the time, and to share in the
prosperity which she had so often and so fondly imagined.
Nevertheless, I felt myself drawn closer to her.  I recalled with
the most tender feelings, and at greater leisure than had before
been the case, her last days and words, and particularly the
appeal she had uttered on mademoiselle's behalf.  And I vowed, if
it were possible, to pay a visit to her grave before leaving the
neighbourhood, that I might there devote a few moments to the
thought of the affection which had consecrated all women in my
eyes.

I was presently interrupted in these reflections by a
circumstance which proved in the end diverting enough, though far
from reassuring at the first blush.  It began in a dismal
rattling of chains in the passage below and on the stairs outside
my room; which were paved, like the rest of the building, with
stone.  I waited with impatience and some uneasiness to see what
would come of this; and my surprise may be imagined when, the
door being unlocked, gave entrance to a man in whom I recognised
on the instant deaf Mathew--the villain whom I had last seen with
Fresnoy in the house in the Rue Valois.  Amazed at seeing him
here, I sprang to my feet in fear of some treachery, and for a
moment apprehended that the Provost-Marshal had basely given me
over to Bruhl's custody.  But a second glance informing me that
the man was in irons--hence the noise I had heard--I sat down
again to see what would happen.

It then appeared, that he merely brought me my breakfast, and was
a prisoner in less fortunate circumstances than myself; but as he
pretended not to recognise me, and placed the things before me in
obdurate silence, and I had no power to make him hear, I failed
to learn how he came to be in durance.  The Provost-Marshal,
however, came presently to visit me, and brought me in token that
the good-fellowship of the evening still existed a pouch of the
Queen's herb; which I accepted for politeness' sake rather than
from any virtue I found in it.  And from him I learned how the
rascal came to be in his charge.

It appeared that Fresnoy, having no mind to be hampered with a
wounded man, had deposited him on the night of our MELEE at the
door of a hospital attached to a religious house in that part of
the town.  The fathers had opened to him, but before taking him
in put, according to their custom, certain questions.  Matthew
had been primed with the right answers to these questions, which
were commonly a form; but, unhappily for him, the Superior by
chance or mistake began with the wrong one.

'You are not a Huguenot, my son?'  he said.

'In God's name, I am!'  Matthew replied with simplicity,
believing he was asked if he was a Catholic.

'What?'  the scandalised Prior ejaculated, crossing himself in
doubt, 'are you not a true son of the Church?'

'Never!'  quoth our deaf friend--thinking all went well.

'A heretic!'  cried the monk.

'Amen to that!'  replied Matthew innocently; never doubting but
that he was asked the third question, which was, commonly,
whether he needed aid.

Naturally after this there was a very pretty commotion, and
Matthew, vainly protesting that he was deaf, was hurried off to
the Provost-Marshal's custody.  Asked how he communicated with
him, the Provost answered that he could not, but that his little
godchild, a girl only eight years old, had taken a strange fancy
to the rogue, and was never so happy as when talking to him by
means of signs, of which she had invented a great number.  I
thought this strange at the time, but I had proof before the
morning was out that it was true enough, and that the two were
seldom apart, the little child governing this grim cut-throat
with unquestioned authority.

After the Provost was gone I heard the man's fetters clanking
again.  This time he entered to remove my cup and plate, and
surprised me by speaking to me.  Maintaining his former
sullenness, and scarcely looking at me, he said abruptly:  'You
are going out again?'

I nodded assent.

'Do you remember a bald-faced bay horse that fell with you?'  he
muttered, keeping his dogged glance on the floor.

I nodded again.

'I want to sell the horse,' he said.  'There is not such another
in Blois, no, nor in Paris!  Touch it on the near hip with the
whip and it will go down as if shot.  At other times a child
might ride it.  It is in a stable, the third from the Three
Pigeons, in the Ruelle Amancy.  Fresnoy does not know where it
is.  He sent to ask yesterday, but I would not tell him.'

Some spark of human feeling which appeared in his lowering,
brutal visage as he spoke of the horse led me to desire further
information.  Fortunately the little girl appeared at that moment
at the door in search of her play-fellow; and through her I
learned that the man's motive for seeking to sell the horse was
fear lest the dealer in whose charge it stood should dispose of
it to repay himself for its keep, and he, Matthew, lose it
without return.

Still I did not understand why he applied to me, but I was well
pleased when I learned the truth.  Base as the knave was, he had
an affection for the bay, which had been his only property for
six years.  Having this in his mind, he had conceived the idea
that I should treat it well, and should not, because he was in
prison and powerless, cheat him of the price.

In the end I agreed to buy the horse for ten crowns, paying as
well what was due at the stable.  I had it in my head to do
something also for the man, being moved to this partly by an idea
that there was good in him, and partly by the confidence he had
seen fit to place in me, which seemed to deserve some return.
But a noise below stairs diverted my attention.  I heard myself
named, and for the moment forgot the matter.



CHAPTER XXVII.

TO ME, MY FRIENDS!

I was impatient to learn who had come, and what was their errand
with me; and being still in that state of exaltation in which we
seem to hear and see more than at other times, I remarked a
peculiar lagging in the ascending footsteps, and a lack of
buoyancy, which was quick to communicate itself to my mind.  A
vague dread fell upon me as I stood listening.  Before the door
opened I had already conceived a score of disasters.  I wondered
that I had not inquired earlier concerning the king's safety, and
in fine I experienced in a moment that complete reaction of the
spirits which is too frequently consequent upon an excessive flow
of gaiety.

I was prepared, therefore, for heavy looks, but not for the
persons who wore them nor the strange bearing the latter
displayed on entering.  My visitors proved to be M. d'Agen and
Simon Fleix.  And so far well.  But the former, instead of coming
forward to greet me with the punctilious politeness which always
characterised him, and which I had thought to be proof against
every kind of surprise and peril, met me with downcast eyes and a
countenance so gloomy as to augment my fears a hundredfold; since
it suggested all those vague and formidable pains which M. de
Rambouillet had hinted might await me in a prison.  I thought
nothing more probable than the entrance after them of a gaoler
laden with gyves and handcuffs; and saluting M. Francois with a
face which, do what I would, fashioned itself upon his, I had
scarce composure sufficient to place the poor accommodation of my
room at his disposal.

He thanked me; but he did it with so much gloom and so little
naturalness that I grew more impatient with each laboured
syllable.  Simon Fleix had slunk to the window and turned his
back on us.  Neither seemed to have anything to say.  But a state
of suspense was one which I could least endure to suffer; and
impatient of the constraint which my friend's manner was fast
imparting to mine, I asked him at once and abruptly if his uncle
had returned.

'He rode in about midnight,' he answered, tracing a pattern on
the floor with the point of his riding-switch.

I felt some surprise on hearing this, since d'Agen was still
dressed and armed for the road, and was without all those
prettinesses which commonly marked his attire.  But as he
volunteered no further information, and did not even refer to the
place in which he found me, or question me as to the adventures
which had lodged me there, I let it pass, and asked him if his
party had overtaken the deserters.

'Yes,' he answered, 'with no result.'

'And the king?'

'M. de Rambouillet is with him now,' he rejoined, still bending
over his tracing.

This answer relieved the worst of my anxieties, but the manner of
the speaker was so distrait and so much at variance with the
studied INSOUCIANCE which he usually, affected, that I only grew
more alarmed.  I glanced at Simon Fleix, but he kept his face
averted, and I could gather nothing from it; though I observed
that he, too, was dressed for the road, and wore his arms.  I
listened, but I could hear no sounds which indicated that the
Provost-Marshal was approaching.  Then on a sudden I thought of
Mademoiselle de la Vire.  Could it be that Maignan had proved
unequal to his task?

I started impetuously from my stool under the influence of the
emotion which this thought naturally aroused, and seized M.
d'Agen by the arm.  'What has happened?'  I exclaimed.  'Is it
Bruhl?  Did he break into my lodgings last night?  What!'  I
continued, staggering back as I read the confirmation of my fears
in his face.  'He did?'

M. d'Agen, who had risen also, pressed my hand with convulsive
energy.  Gazing into my face, he held me a moment thus embraced,
His manner a strange mixture of fierceness and emotion.  'Alas,
yes,' he answered, 'he did, and took away those whom he found
there!  Those whom he found there, you understand!  But M. de
Rambouillet is on his way here, and in a few minutes you will be
free.  We will follow together.  If we overtake them--well.  If
not, it will be time to talk.'

He broke off, and I stood looking at him, stunned by the blow,
yet in the midst of my own horror and surprise retaining sense
enough to wonder at the gloom on his brow and the passion which
trembled in his words.  What had this to do with him?  'But
Bruhl?'  I said at last, recovering myself with an effort--'how
did he gain access to the room?  I left it guarded.'

'By a ruse, while Maignan and his men were away,' was the answer.
'Only this lad of yours was there.  Bruhl's men overpowered him.'

'Which way has Bruhl gone?'  I muttered, my throat dry, my heart
beating wildly.

He shook his head.  'All we know is that he passed through the
south gate with eleven horsemen, two women, and six led horses,
at daybreak this morning,' he answered.  'Maignan came to my
uncle with the news, and M. de Rambouillet went at once, early as
it was, to the king to procure your release.  He should be here
now.'

I looked at the barred window, the most horrible fears at my
heart; from it to Simon Fleix, who stood beside it, his attitude
expressing the utmost dejection.  I went towards him.  'You
hound!'  I said in a low voice, 'how did it happen?'

To my surprise he fell in a moment on his knees, and raised his
arm as though to ward off a blow.  'They imitated Maignan's
voice,' he muttered hoarsely.  'We opened.'

'And you dare to come here and tell me!'  I cried, scarcely
restraining my passion.  'You, to whom I entrusted her.  You,
whom I thought devoted to her.  You have destroyed her, man!'

He rose as suddenly as he had cowered down.  His thin, nervous
face underwent a startling change; growing on a sudden hard and
rigid, while his eyes began to glitter with excitement.  'I--I
have destroyed her?  Ay, mon dieu!  I HAVE,' he cried, speaking
to my face, and no longer flinching or avoiding my eye.  'You may
kill me, if you like.  You do not know all.  It was I who stole
the favour she gave you from your doublet, and then said M. de
Rosny had taken it!  It was I who told her you had given it away!
It was I who brought her to the Little Sisters', that she might
see you with Madame de Bruhl!  It was I who did all, and
destroyed her!  Now you know!  Do with me what you like!'

He opened his arms as though to receive a blow, while I stood
before him astounded beyond measure by a disclosure so
unexpected; full of righteous wrath and indignation, and yet
uncertain what I ought to do.  'Did you also let Bruhl into the
room on purpose?'  I cried at last.

'I?'  he exclaimed, with a sudden flash of rage in his eyes.  'I
would have died first!'

I do not know how I might have taken this confession; but at the
moment there was a trampling of horses outside, and before I
could answer him I heard M. de Rambouillet speaking in haughty
tones, at the door below.  The Provost-Marshal was with him, but
his lower notes were lost in the ring of bridles and the stamping
of impatient hoofs.  I looked towards the door of my room, which
stood ajar, and presently the two entered, the Marquis listening
with an air of contemptuous indifference to the apologies which
the other, who attended at his elbow, was pouring forth.  M. de
Rambouillet's face reflected none of the gloom and despondency
which M. d'Agen's exhibited in so marked a degree.  He seemed, on
the contrary, full of gaiety and good-humour, and, coming forward
and seeing me, embraced me with the utmost kindness and
condescension.

'Ha!  my friend,' he said cheerfully, 'so I find you here after
all!  But never fear.  I am this moment from the king with an
order for your release.  His Majesty has told me all, making me
thereby your lasting friend and debtor.  As for this gentleman,'
he continued, turning with a cold smile to the Provost-Marshal,
who seemed to be trembling in his boots, 'he may expect an
immediate order also.  M. de Villequier has wisely gone a-
hunting, and will not be back for a day or two.'

Racked as I was by suspense and anxiety, I could not assail him
with immediate petitions.  It behoved me first to thank him for
his prompt intervention, and this in terms as warm as I could
invent.  Nor could I in justice fail to commend the Provost; to
him, representing the officer's conduct to me, and lauding his
ability.  All this, though my heart was sick with thought and
fear and disappointment, and every minute seemed an age.

'Well, well,' the Marquis said with stately good-nature, 'We will
lay the blame on Villequier then.  He is an old fox, however, and
ten to one he will go scot-free.  It is not the first time he has
played this trick.  But I have not yet come to the end of my
commission,' he continued pleasantly.  'His Majesty sends you
this, M. de Marsac, and bade me say that he had loaded it for
you.'

He drew from under his cloak as he spoke the pistol which I had
left with the king, and which happened to be the same M. de Rosny
had given me.  I took it, marvelling impatiently at the careful
manner in which he handled it; but in a moment I understood for I
found it loaded to the muzzle with gold-pieces, of which two or
three fell and rolled upon the floor.  Much moved by this
substantial mark of the king's gratitude, I was nevertheless for
pocketing them in haste; but the Marquis, to satisfy a little
curiosity on his part, would have me count them, and brought the
tale to a little over two thousand livres, without counting a
ring set with precious stones which I found among them.  This
handsome present diverted my thoughts from Simon Fleix, but could
not relieve the anxiety I felt on mademoiselle's account.  The
thought of her position so tortured me that M. de Rambouillet
began to perceive my state of mind, and hastened to assure me
that before going to the Court he had already issued orders
calculated to assist me.

'You desire to follow this lady, I understand?'  he said.  'What
with the king who is enraged beyond the ordinary by this outrage,
and Francois there, who seemed beside himself when be heard the
news, I have not got any very clear idea of the position.'

'She was entrusted to me by--by one, sir, well known to you,' I
answered hoarsely.  'My honour is engaged to him and to her.  If
I follow on my feet and alone, I must follow.  If I cannot save
her, I can at least punish the villains who have wronged her.'

'But the man's wife is with them,' he said in some wonder.

'That goes for nothing,' I answered.

He saw the strong emotion under which I laboured, and which
scarcely suffered me to answer him with patience; and he looked
at me curiously, but not unkindly.  'The sooner you are off, the
better then,' he said, nodding.  'I gathered as much.  The man
Maignan will have his fellows at the south gate an hour before
noon, I understand.  Francois has two lackeys, and he is wild to
go.  With yourself and the lad there you will muster nine swords.
I will lend you two.  I can spare no more, for we may have an
EMEUTE at any moment.  You will take the road, therefore, eleven
in all, and should overtake them some time to-night if your
horses are in condition.'

I thanked him warmly, without regarding his kindly statement that
my conduct on the previous day had laid him under lasting
obligations to me.  We went down together, and he transferred two
of his fellows to me there and then, bidding them change their
horses for fresh ones and meet me at the south gate.  He sent
also a man to my stable--Simon Fleix having disappeared in the
confusion--for the Cid, and was in the act of inquiring whether I
needed anything else, when a woman slipped through the knot of
horsemen who surrounded us as we stood in the doorway of the
house, and, throwing herself upon me, grasped me by the arm.  It
was Fanchette.  Her harsh features were distorted with grief, her
cheeks were mottled with the violent weeping in which such
persons vent their sorrow.  Her hair hung in long wisps on her
neck.  Her dress was torn and draggled, and there was a great
bruise over her eye.  She had the air of one frantic with despair
and misery.

She caught me by the cloak, and shook me so that I staggered.  'I
have found you at last!'  she cried joyfully.  'You will take me
with you!  You will take me to her!'

Though her words tried my composure, and my heart went out to
her, I strove to answer her according to the sense of the matter.
'It is impossible, I said sternly.  'This is a man s errand.  We
shall have to ride day and night, my good woman.'

'But I will ride day and night too!'  she replied passionately,
flinging the hair from her eyes, and looking wildly from me to M.
Rambouillet.  'What would I not do for her?  I am as strong as a
man, and stronger.  Take me, take me, I say, and when I meet that
villain I will tear him limb for limb!'

I shuddered, listening to her; but remembering that, being
country bred, she was really as strong as she said, and that
likely enough some advantage might accrue to us from her perfect
fidelity and devotion to her mistress, I gave a reluctant
consent.  I sent one of M. de Rambouillet's men to the stable
where the deaf man's bay was standing, bidding him pay whatever
was due to the dealer, and bring the horse to the south gate; my
intention being to mount one of my men on it, and furnish the
woman with a less tricky steed.

The briskness of these and the like preparations, which even for
one of my age and in my state of anxiety were not devoid, of
pleasure, prevented my thoughts dwelling on the future.  Content
to have M. Francois' assistance without following up too keenly
the train of ideas which his readiness suggested, I was satisfied
also to make use of Simon without calling him to instant account
for his treachery.  The bustle of the streets, which the
confirmation of the king's speedy departure had filled with
surly, murmuring crowds, tended still further to keep my fears at
bay; while the contrast between my present circumstances, as I
rode through them well-appointed and well-attended, with the
Marquis by my side, and the poor appearance I had exhibited on my
first arrival in Blois, could not fail to inspire me with hope
that I might surmount this danger, also, and in the event find
Mademoiselle safe and uninjured.  I took leave of M. de
Rambouillet with many expressions of esteem on both sides, and a
few minutes before eleven reached the rendezvous outside the
south gate.

M. d'Agen and Maignan advanced to meet me, the former still
presenting an exterior so stern and grave that I wondered to see
him, and could scarcely believe he was the same gay spark whose
elegant affectations had more than once caused me to smile.  He
saluted me in silence; Maignan with a sheepish air, which ill-
concealed the savage temper defeat had roused in him.  Counting
my men, I found we mustered ten only, but the equerry explained
that he had despatched a rider ahead to make inquiries and leave
word for us at convenient points; to the end that we might follow
the trail with as few delays as possible.  Highly commending
Maignan for his forethought in this, I gave the word to start,
and crossing the river by the St. Gervais Bridge, we took the
road for Selles at a smart trot.

The weather had changed much in the last twenty-four hours.  The
sun shone brightly, with a warm west wind, and the country
already showed signs of the early spring which marked that year.
If, the first hurry of departure over, I had now leisure to feel
the gnawing of anxiety and the tortures inflicted by an
imagination which, far outstripping us, rode with those whom we
pursued and shared their perils, I found two sources of comfort
still open to me.  No man who has seen service can look on a
little band of well-appointed horsemen without pleasure.  I
reviewed the stalwart forms and stern faces which moved beside me
and comparing their decent order and sound equipments with the
scurvy foulness of the men who had ridden north with me, thanked
God, and, ceased to wonder at the indignation which Matthew and
his fellows had aroused in mademoiselle's mind.  My other source
of satisfaction, the regular beat of hoofs and ring of bridles
continually augmented.  Every step took us farther from Blois--
farther from the close town and reeking streets and the Court;
which, if it no longer seemed to me a shambles, befouled by one
great deed of blood--experience had removed that impression--
retained an appearance infinitely mean and miserable in my eyes.
I hated and loathed its intrigues and its jealousies, the folly
which trifled in a closet while rebellion mastered France, and
the pettiness which recognised no wisdom save that of balancing
party and party.  I thanked God that my work there was done, and
could have welcomed any other occasion that forced me to turn my
back on it, and sent me at large over the pure heaths, through
the woods, and under the wide heaven, speckled with moving
clouds.

But such springs of comfort soon ran dry.  M. d'Agen's gloomy
rage and the fiery gleam in Maignan's eye would have reminded me,
had I been in any danger of forgetting the errand on which we
were bound, and the need, exceeding all other needs, which
compelled us to lose no moment that might be used.  Those whom we
followed had five hours' start.  The thought of what might;
happen in those five hours to the two helpless women whom I had
sworn to protect burned itself into my mind; so that to refrain
from putting spurs to my horse and riding recklessly forward
taxed at times all my self-control.  The horses seemed to crawl.
The men rising and falling listlessly in their saddles maddened
me.  Though I could not hope to come upon any trace of our quarry
for many hours, perhaps for days, I scanned the long, flat heaths
unceasingly, searched every marshy bottom before we descended
into it, and panted for the moment when the next low ridge should
expose to our view a fresh track of wood and waste.  The rosy
visions of the past night, and those fancies in particular which
had made the dawn memorable, recurred to me, as his deeds in the
body (so men say) to a hopeless drowning wretch.  I grew to think
of nothing but Bruhl and revenge.  Even the absurd care with
which Simon avoided the neighbourhood of Fanchette, riding
anywhere so long as he might ride at a distance from the angry
woman's tongue and hand--which provoked many a laugh from the
men, and came to be the joke of the company--failed to draw a
smile from me.

We passed through Contres, four leagues from Blois, an hour after
noon, and three hours later crossed the Cher at Selles, where we
stayed awhile to bait our horses.  Here we had news of the party
before us, and henceforth had little doubt that Bruhl was making
for the Limousin; a district in which he might rest secure under
the protection of Turenne, and safely defy alike the King of
France and the King of Navarre.  The greater the necessity, it
was plain, for speed; but the roads in that neighbourhood, and
forward as far as Valancy, proved heavy and, foundrous, and it
was all we could do to reach Levroux with jaded horses three
hours after sunset.  The probability that Bruhl would lie at
Chateauroux, five leagues farther on--for I could not conceive
that under the circumstances he would spare the women--would have
led me to push forward had it been possible; but the darkness and
the difficulty of finding a guide who would venture deterred me
from the hopeless attempt, and we stayed the night where we were.

Here we first heard of the plague; which was said to be ravaging
Chateauroux and all the country farther south.  The landlord of
the inn would have regaled us with many stories of it, and
particularly of the swiftness with which men and even cattle
succumbed to its attacks.  But we had other things to think of,
and between anxiety and weariness had clean forgotten the matter
when we rose next morning.

We started shortly after daybreak, and for three leagues pressed
on at tolerable speed.  Then, for no reason stated, our guide
gave us the slip as we passed through a wood, and was seen no
more.  We lost the road, and had to retrace our steps.  We
strayed into a slough, and extracted ourselves with difficulty.
The man who was riding the bay I had purchased forgot the secret
which I had imparted to him, and got an ugly fall.  In fine,
after all these mishaps it wanted little of noon, and less to
exhaust our patience, when at length we came in sight of
Chateauroux.

Before entering the town we had still an adventure; for we came
at a turn in the road on a scene as surprising as it was at first
inexplicable.  A little north of the town, in a coppice of box
facing the south and west, we happed suddenly on a rude
encampment, consisting of a dozen huts and booths, set back from
the road and formed, some of branches of evergreen trees laid.
clumsily together, and some of sacking stretched over poles.  A
number of men and women of decent appearance lay on the short
grass before the booths, idly sunning themselves; or moved about,
cooking and tending fires, while a score of children raced to and
fro with noisy shouts and laughter.  The appearance of our party
on the scene caused an instant panic.  The women and children
fled screaming into the wood, spreading the sound of breaking
branches farther and farther as they retreated; while the men, a
miserable pale-faced set, drew together, and seeming half-
inclined to fly also, regarded us with glances of fear and
suspicion.

Remarking that their appearance and dress were not those of
vagrants, while the booths seemed to indicate little skill or
experience in the builders, I bade my companions halt, and
advanced alone.

'What is the meaning of this, my men?'  I said, addressing the
first group I reached.  'You seem to have come a-Maying before
the time.  Whence are you?'

'From Chateauroux,' the foremost answered sullenly.  His dress,
now I saw him nearer, seemed to be that of a respectable
townsman.

'Why?'  I replied.  'Have you no homes?'

'Ay, we have homes,' he answered with the same brevity.

'Then why, in God's name, are you here?'  I retorted, marking the
gloomy air and downcast faces of the group.  'Have you been
harried?'

'Ay, harried by the Plague!'  he answered bitterly.  'Do you mean
to say you have not heard?  In Chateauroux there is one man dead
in three.  Take my advice, sir--you are a brave company--turn,
and go home again.'

'Is it as bad as that?'  I exclaimed.  I had forgotten the
landlord's gossip, and the explanation struck me with the force
of surprise.

'Ay, is it!  Do you see the blue haze?'  he continued, pointing
with a sudden gesture to the lower ground before us, over which a
light pall of summery vapour hung still and motionless.  'Do you
see it?  Well, under that there is death!  You may find food in
Chateauroux, and stalls for your horses, and a man to take money;
for there are still men there.  But cross the Indre, and you will
see sights worse than a battle-field a week old!  You will find
no living soul in house or stable or church, but corpses plenty.
The land is cursed!  cursed for heresy, some say!  Half are dead,
and half are fled to the woods!  And if you do not die of the
plague, you will starve.'

'God forbid!'  I muttered, thinking with a shudder of those
before us.  This led me to ask him if a party resembling ours in
number, and including two women, had passed that way.  He
answered, Yes, after sunset the evening before; that their horses
were stumbling with fatigue and the men swearing in pure
weariness.  He believed that they had not entered the town, but
had made a rude encampment half a mile beyond it; and had again
broken this up, and ridden southwards two or three hours before
our arrival.

'Then we may overtake them to-day?'  I said.

'By your leave, sir,' he answered, with grave meaning.  'I think
you are more likely to meet them.'

Shrugging my shoulders, I thanked him shortly and left him; the
full importance of preventing my men hearing what I had heard--
lest the panic which possessed these townspeople should seize on
them also--being already in my mind.  Nevertheless the thought
came too late, for on turning my horse I found one of the
foremost, a long, solemn-faced man, had already found his way to
Maignan's stirrup; where he was dilating so eloquently upon the
enemy which awaited us southwards that the countenances of half
the troopers were as long as his own, and I saw nothing for it
but to interrupt his oration by a smart application of my switch
to his shoulders.  Having thus stopped him, and rated him back to
his fellows, I gave the word to march.  The men obeyed
mechanically, we swung into a canter, and for a moment the danger
was over.

But I knew that it would recur again and again.  Stealthily
marking the faces round me, and listening to the whispered talk
which went on, I saw the terror spread from one to another.
Voices which earlier in the day had been raised in song and
jest grew silent.  Great reckless fellows of Maignan's following,
who had an oath and a blow for all comers, and to whom the
deepest ford seemed to be child's play, rode with drooping heads
and knitted brows; or scanned with ill-concealed anxiety the
strange haze before us, through which the roofs of the town, and
here and there a low hill or line of poplars, rose to plainer
view.  Maignan himself, the stoutest of the stout, looked grave,
and had lost his swaggering air.  Only three persons preserved
their SANG-FROID entire.  Of these, M. d'Agen rode as if he had
heard nothing, and Simon Fleix as if he feared nothing; while
Fanchette, gazing eagerly forward, saw, it was plain, only one
object in the mist, and that was her Mistress's face.

'We found the gates of the town open, and this, which proved to
be the herald of stranger sights, daunted the hearts of my men
more than the most hostile reception.  As we entered, our horses'
hoofs, clattering loudly on the pavement, awoke a hundred echoes
in the empty houses to right and left.  The main street, flooded
with sunshine, which made its desolation seem a hundred times
more formidable, stretched away before us, bare and empty; or
haunted only by a few slinking dogs, and prowling wretches, who
fled, affrighted at the unaccustomed sounds, or stood and eyed us
listlessly as me passed.  A bell tolled; in the distance we heard
the wailing of women.  The silent ways, the black cross which
marked every second door, the frightful faces which once or twice
looked out from upper windows and blasted our sight, infected my
men with terror so profound and so ungovernable that at last
discipline was forgotten; and one shoving his horse before
another in narrow places, there was a scuffle to be first.  One,
and then a second, began to trot.  The trot grew into a shuffling
canter.  The gates of the inn lay open, nay seemed to invite us
to enter; but no one turned or halted.  Moved by a single impulse
we pushed breathlessly on and on, until the open country was
reached, and we who had entered the streets in silent awe, swept
out and over the bridge as if the fiend were at our heels.

That I shared in this flight causes me no shame even now, for my
men were at the time ungovernable, as the best-trained troops are
when seized by such panics; and, moreover, I could have done no
good by remaining in the town, where the strength of the
contagion was probably greater and the inn larder like to be as
bare, as the hillside.  Few towns are without a hostelry outside
the gates for the convenience of knights of the road or those who
would avoid the dues, and Chateauroux proved no exception to this
rule.  A short half-mile from the walls we drew rein before a
second encampment raised about a wayside house.  It scarcely
needed the sound of music mingled with brawling voices to inform
us that the wilder spirits of the town had taken refuge here, and
were seeking to drown in riot and debauchery, as I have seen
happen in a besieged place, the remembrance of the enemy which
stalked abroad in the sunshine.  Our sudden appearance, while it
put a stop to the mimicry of mirth, brought out a score of men
and women in every stage of drunkenness and dishevelment, of whom
some, with hiccoughs and loose gestures, cried to us to join
them, while others swore horridly at being recalled to the
present, which, with the future, they were endeavouring to
forget.

I cursed them in return for a pack of craven wretches, and
threatening to ride down those who obstructed us, ordered my men
forward; halting eventually a quarter of a mile farther on, where
a wood of groundling oaks which still wore last year's leaves
afforded fair shelter.  Afraid to leave my men myself, lest some
should stray to the inn and others desert altogether, I requested
M. d'Agen to return thither with Maignan and Simon, and bring us
what forage and food we required.  This he did with perfect
success, though not until after a scuffle, in which Maignan
showed himself a match for a hundred.  We watered the horses at a
neighbouring brook, and assigning two hours to rest and
refreshment--a great part of which M. d'Agen and I spent walking
up and down in moody silence, each immersed in his own thoughts--
we presently took the road again with renewed spirits.

But a panic is not easily shaken off, nor is any fear so
difficult to combat and defeat as the fear of the invisible.  The
terrors which food and drink had for a time thrust out presently
returned with sevenfold force.  Men looked uneasily in one
another's faces, and from them to the haze which veiled all
distant objects.  They muttered of the heat, which was sudden,
strange, and abnormal at that time of the year.  And by-and-by
they had other things to speak of.  We met a man, who ran beside
us and begged of us, crying out in a dreadful voice that his wife
and four children lay unburied in the house.  A little farther
on, beside a well, the corpse of a woman with a child at her
breast lay poisoning the water; she had crawled to it to appease
her thirst, and died of the draught.  Last of all, in, a beech-
wood near Lotier we came upon a lady living in her coach, with
one or two panic-stricken women for her only attendants.  Her
husband was in Paris, she told me; half her servants were dead,
the rest had fled.  Still she retained in a remarkable degree
both courage and courtesy, and accepting with fortitude my
reasons and excuses for perforce leaving her in such a plight,
gave me a clear account of Bruhl and his party, who had passed
her some, hours before.  The picture of this lady gazing after us
with perfect good-breeding, as we rode away at speed, followed by
the lamentations of her women, remains with me to this day;
filling my mind at once with admiration and melancholy.  For, as
I learned later, she fell ill of the plague where we left her in
the beech-wood, and died in a night with both her servants.

The intelligence we had from her inspired us to push forward,
sparing neither spur nor horseflesh, in the hope that we might
overtake Bruhl before night should expose his captives to fresh
hardships and dangers.  But the pitch to which the dismal sights
and sounds I have mentioned, and a hundred like them, had raised
the fears of my following did much to balk my endeavours.  For a
while, indeed, under the influence of momentary excitement, they
spurred their horses to the gallop, as if their minds were made
up to face the worst; but presently they checked them despite all
my efforts, and, lagging slowly and more slowly, seemed to lose
all spirit and energy.  The desolation which met our eyes on
every side, no less than the death-like stillness which
prevailed, even the birds, as it seemed to us, being silent,
chilled the most reckless to the heart.  Maignan's face lost its
colour, his voice its ring.  As for the rest, starting at a sound
and wincing if a leather galled them, they glanced backwards
twice for once they looked forwards, and held themselves ready to
take to their heels and be gone at the least alarm.

Noting these signs, and doubting if I could trust even Maignan, I
thought it prudent to change my place, and falling to the rear,
rode there with a grim face and a pistol ready to my hand.  It
was not the least of my annoyances that M. d'Agen appeared to be
ignorant of any cause for apprehension save such as lay before
us, and riding on in the same gloomy fit which had possessed him
from the moment of starting, neither sought my opinion nor gave
his own, but seemed to have undergone so complete and mysterious
a change that I could think of one thing only that could have
power to effect so marvellous a transformation.  I felt his
presence a trial rather than a help, and reviewing the course of
our short friendship, which a day or two before had been so great
a delight to me--as the friendship of a young man commonly is to
one growing old--I puzzled myself with much wondering whether
there could be rivalry between us.

Sunset, which was welcome to my company, since it removed the
haze, which they regarded with superstitious dread, found us
still plodding through a country of low ridges and shallow
valleys, both clothed in oak-woods.  Its short brightness died
away, and with it my last hope of surprising Bruhl before I
slept.  Darkness fell upon us as we wended our way slowly down a
steep hillside where the path was so narrow and difficult as to
permit only one to descend at a time.  A stream of some size, if
we might judge from the noise it made, poured through the ravine
below us, and presently, at the point where we believed the
crossing to be, we espied a solitary light shining in the
blackness.  To proceed farther was impossible, for the ground
grew more and more precipitous; and, seeing this, I bade Maignan
dismount, and leaving us where we were, go for a guide to the
house from which the light issued.

He obeyed, and plunging into the night, which in that pit;
between the hills was of an inky darkness, presently returned
with a peasant and a lanthorn.  I was about to bid the man guide
us to the ford, or to some level ground where we could picket the
horses, when Maignan gleefully cried out that he had news.  I
asked what news.

'Speak up, MANANT!'  he said, holding up his lanthorn so that the
light fell on the man's haggard face and unkempt hair.  'Tell his
Excellency what you have told me, or I will skin you alive,
little man!'

'Your other party came to the ford an hour before sunset,' the
peasant answered, staring dully at us.  'I saw them coming, and
hid myself.  They quarrelled by the ford.  Some were for
crossing, and some not.'

'They had ladies with them?'  M. d'Agen said suddenly.

'Ay, two, your Excellency,' the clown answered, 'riding like men.
In the end they did not cross for fear of the plague, but turned
up the river, and rode westwards towards St. Gaultier.'

'St. Gaultier!'  I said, 'Where is that?  Where does the road to
it go to besides?'

But the peasant's knowledge was confined to his own
neighbourhood.  He knew no world beyond St. Gaultier, and could
not answer my question.  I was about to bid him show us the way
down, when Maignan cried out that he knew more.

'What?'  I asked.

'Arnidieu!  he heard them say where they were going to spend the
night!'

'Ha!'  I cried.  'Where?'

'In an old ruined castle two leagues from this, and between here
and St. Gaultier,' the equerry answered, forgetting in his
triumph both plague and panic.  'What do you say to that, your
Excellency?  It is so, sirrah, is it not?'  he continued, turning
to the peasant.  'Speak, Master Jacques, or I will roast you
before a slow fire!'

But I did not wait to hear the answer.  Leaping to the ground, I
took the Cid's rein on my arm, and cried impatiently to the man
to lead us down.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

THE CASTLE ON THE HILL.

The certainty that Bruhl and his captives were not far off, and
the likelihood that we might be engaged within the hour, expelled
from the minds of even the most timorous among us the vapourish
fears which had before haunted them.  In the hurried scramble
which presently landed us on the bank of the stream, men who had
ridden for hours in sulky silence found their voices, and from
cursing their horses' blunders soon advanced to swearing and
singing after the fashion of their kind.  This change, by
relieving me of a great fear, left me at leisure to consider our
position, and estimate more clearly than I might have done the
advantages of hastening, or postponing, an attack.  We numbered
eleven; the enemy, to the best of my belief, twelve.  Of this
slight superiority I should have reeked little in the daytime;
nor, perhaps, counting Maignan as two, have allowed that it
existed.  But the result of a night attack is more difficult to
forecast; and I had also to take into account the perils to which
the two ladies would be exposed, between the darkness and tumult,
in the event of the issue remaining for a time in doubt.

These considerations, and particularly the last, weighed so
powerfully with me, that before I reached the bottom of the gorge
I had decided to postpone the attack until morning.  The answers
to some questions which I put to the inhabitant of the house by
the ford as soon as I reached level ground only confirmed me in
this resolution.  The road Bruhl had taken ran for a distance by
the riverside, and along the bottom of the gorge; and, difficult
by day, was reported to be impracticable for horses by night.
The castle he had mentioned lay full two leagues away, and on the
farther edge of a tract of rough woodland.  Finally, I doubted
whether, in the absence of any other reason for delay, I could
have marched my men, weary as they were, to the place before
daybreak.

When I came to announce this decision, however, and to inquire
what accommodation the peasant could afford us, I found myself in
trouble.  Fanchette, mademoiselle's woman, suddenly confronted
me, her face scarlet with rage.  Thrusting herself forward into
the circle of light cast by the lanthorn, she assailed me with a
virulence and fierceness which said more for her devotion to her
mistress than her respect for me.  Her wild gesticulations, her
threats, and the appeals which she made now to me, and now to the
men who stood in a circle round us, their faces in shadow,
discomfited as much as they surprised me.

'What!'  she cried violently, 'you call yourself a gentleman, and
lie here and let my mistress be murdered, or worse, within a
league of you!  Two leagues?  A groat for your two leagues!  I
would walk them barefoot, if that would shame you.  And you, you
call yourselves men, and suffer it!  It is God's truth you are a
set of cravens and sluggards.  Give me as many women, and I
would--'

'Peace, woman!'  Maignan said in his deep voice.  'You had your
way and came with us, and you will obey orders as well as
another!  Be off, and see to the victuals before worse happen to
you!'

'Ay, see to the victuals!'  she retorted.  'See to the victuals,
forsooth!  That is all you think of--to lie warm and eat your
fill!  A set of dastardly, drinking, droning guzzlers you are!
You are!'  she retorted, her voice rising to a shriek.  'May the
plague take you!'

'Silence!'  Maignan growled fiercely, 'or have a care to
yourself! For a copper-piece I would send you to cool your heels
in the water below--for that last word!  Begone, do you hear,' he
continued, seizing her by the shoulder and thrusting her towards
the house, 'or worse may happen to you.  We are rough customers,
as you will find if you do not lock up your tongue!'

I heard her go wailing into the darkness; and Heaven knows it was
not without compunction I forced myself to remain inactive in the
face of a devotion which seemed so much greater than mine.  The
men fell away one by one to look to their horses and choose
sleeping-quarters for the night; and presently M. d'Agen and I
were left alone standing beside the lanthorn, which the man had
hung on a bush before his door.  The brawling of the water as it
poured between the banks, a score of paces from us, and the black
darkness which hid everything beyond the little ring of light in
which we stood--so that for all we could see we were in a pit--
had the air of isolating us from all the world.

I looked at the young man, who had not once lisped that day; and
I plainly read in his attitude his disapproval of my caution.
Though he declined to meet my eye, he stood with his arms folded
and his head thrown back, making no attempt to disguise the scorn
and ill-temper which his face expressed.  Hurt by the woman's
taunts, and possibly shaken in my opinion, I grew restive under
his silence, and unwisely gave way to my feelings.

'You do not appear to approve of my decision, M. d'Agen?'  I
said.

'It is yours to command, sir,' he answered proudly.

There are truisms which have more power to annoy than the veriest
reproaches.  I should have borne in mind the suspense and anxiety
he was suffering, and which had so changed him that I scarcely
knew him for the gay young spark on whose toe I had trodden.  I
should have remembered that he was young and I old, and that it
behoved me to be patient.  But on my side also there was anxiety,
and responsibility as well; and, above all, a rankling soreness,
to which I refrain from giving the name of jealousy, though it
came as near to that feeling as the difference in our ages and
personal advantages (whereof the balance was all on his side)
would permit.  This, no doubt, it was which impelled me to
continue the argument.

'You would go on?'  I said persistently.

'It is idle to say what I would do,' he answered with a flash of
anger.

'I asked for your opinion, sir,' I rejoined stiffly.

'To what purpose?'  he retorted, stroking his small moustache
haughtily, 'We look at the thing from opposite points.  You, are
going about your business, which appears to be the rescuing of
ladies who are--may I venture to say it?  so unfortunate as to
entrust themselves to your charge.  I, M. de Marsac, am more
deeply interested.  More deeply interested,' he repeated lamely.
'I--in a word, I am prepared, sir, to do what others only talk
of--and if I cannot follow otherwise, would follow on my feet!'

'Whom?'  I asked curtly, stung by this repetition of my own
words.

He laughed harshly and bitterly.  'Why explain?  or why quarrel?'

he replied cynically.  'God knows, if I could afford to quarrel
with you, I should have done so fifty hours ago.  But I need your
help; and, needing it, I am prepared to do that which must seem
to a person of your calm passions and perfect judgment alike
futile and incredible--pay the full price for it.'

'The full price for it!'  I muttered, understanding nothing,
except that I did not understand.

'Ay, the full price for it!'  he repeated.  And as he spoke he
looked at me with an expression of rage so fierce that I recoiled
a step.  That seemed to restore him in some degree to himself,
for without giving me an opportunity of answering he turned
hastily from me, and, striding away, was in a moment lost in the
darkness.

He left me amazed beyond measure.  I stood repeating his phrase
about 'the full price' a hundred times over, but still found it
and his passion inexplicable.  To cut the matter short, I could
come to no other conclusion than that he desired to insult me,
and aware of my poverty and the equivocal position in which I
stood towards mademoiselle, chose his words accordingly.  This
seemed a thing unworthy of one of whom I had before thought
highly; but calmer reflection enabling me to see something of
youthful bombast in the tirade he had delivered, I smiled a
little sadly, and determined to think no more of the matter for
the present, but to persist firmly in that which seemed to me to
be the right course.

Having settled this, I was about to enter the house, when Maignan
stopped me, telling me that the plague had killed five people in
it, letting only the man we had seen; who had, indeed, been
seized, but recovered.  This ghastly news had scared my company
to such a degree that they had gone as far from the house as the
level ground permitted, and there lighted a fire, round which
they were going to pass the night.  Fanchette had taken up her
quarters in the stable, and the equerry announced that he had
kept a shed full of sweet, hay for M. d'Agen and myself.  I
assented to this arrangement, and after supping off soup and
black bread, which was all we could procure, bade the peasant
rouse us two hours before sunrise; and so, being too weary and
old in service to remain awake thinking, I fell asleep, and
slept; soundly till a little after four.

My first business on rising was to see that the men before
mounting made a meal, for it is ill work fighting empty.  I went
round also and saw that all had their arms, and that such as
carried pistols had them loaded and primed.  Francois did not put
in an appearance until this work was done, and then showed a very
pale and gloomy countenance.  I took no heed of him, however, and
with the first streak of daylight we started in single file and
at a snail's pace up the valley, the peasant, whom I placed in
Maignan's charge, going before to guide us, and M. d'Agen and I
riding in the rear.  By the time the sun rose and warmed our
chilled and shivering frames we were over the worst of the
ground, and were able to advance at some speed along a track cut
through a dense forest of oak-trees.

Though we had now risen out of the valley, the close-set trunks
and the undergrowth round them prevented our seeing in any
direction.  For a mile or more we rode on blindly, and presently
started on finding ourselves on the brow of a hill, looking down
into a valley, the nearer end of which was clothed in woods,
while the farther widened into green sloping pastures.  From the
midst of these a hill or mount rose sharply up, until it ended in
walls of grey stone scarce to be distinguished at that distance
from the native rock on which they stood.

'See!'  cried our guide.  'There is the castle!'

Bidding the men dismount in haste, that the chance of our being
seen by the enemy--which was not great--might be farther
lessened, I began to inspect the position at leisure; my first
feeling while doing so being one of thankfulness that I had not
attempted a night attack, which must inevitably have miscarried,
possibly with loss to ourselves, and certainly with the result of
informing the enemy of our presence.  The castle, of which we had
a tolerable view, was long and narrow in shape, consisting of two
towers connected by walls, The nearer tower, through which lay
the entrance, was roofless, and in every way seemed to be more
ruinous than the inner one, which appeared to be perfect in both
its stories.  This defect notwithstanding, the place was so
strong that my heart sank lower the longer I looked; and a glance
at Maignan's face assured me that his experience was also at
fault.  For M. d'Agen, I clearly saw, when I turned to him, that
he had never until this moment realised what we had to expect,
but, regarding our pursuit in the light of a hunting-party, had
looked to see it end in like easy fashion.  His blank, surprised
face, as he stood eyeing the stout grey walls, said as much as
this.

'Arnidieu!'  Maignan muttered, 'give me ten men, and I would hold
it against a hundred!'

'Tut, man, There is more than one way to Rome!'  I answered
oracularly, though I was far from feeling as confident as I
seemed.  'Come, let us descend and view this nut a little
nearer.'

We began to trail downwards in silence, and as the path let us
for a while, out of sight of the castle, we were able to proceed
with less caution.  We had nearly reached without adventure the
father skirts of the wood, between which and the ruin lay an
interval of open ground, when we came suddenly, at the edge of a
little clearing, on an old hag; who was so intent; upon tying up
faggots that she did not see us until Maignan's hand was on her
shoulder.  When she did, she screamed out, and escaping from him
with an activity wonderful in a woman of her age, ran with great
swiftness to the side of an old man who lay at the foot of a tree
half a bowshot off; and whom we had not before seen.  Snatching
up an axe, she put herself in a posture of defence before him
with gestures and in a manner as touching in the eyes of some
among us as they were ludicrous in those of others; who cried to
Maignan that he had met his match at last, with other gibes of
the kind that pass current in camps.

I called to him to let her be, and went forward myself to the old
man, who lay on a rude bed of leaves, and seemed unable to rise.
Appealing to me with a face of agony not to hurt his wife, he
bade her again and again lay down her axe; but she would not do
this until I had assured her that we meant him no harm, and that
my men should molest neither the one nor the other.

'We only want to know this,' I said, speaking slowly, in fear
lest my language should be little more intelligible to them than
their PATOIS to me.   'There are a dozen horsemen in the old
castle there, are there not?'

The man stilled his wife, who continued to chatter and mow at us,
and answered eagerly that there were; adding, with a trembling
oath, that the robbers had beaten him, robbed him of his small
store of meal, and when he would have protested, thrown him out,
breaking his leg.

'Then how came you here?'  I said.

'She brought me on her back,' he answered feebly.

Doubtless there were men in my train who would have done all that
these others had done; but hearing the simple story told, they
stamped and swore great oaths of indignation; and one, the
roughest of the party, took out some black bread and gave it to
the woman, whom under other circumstances he would not have
hesitated to rob.  Maignan, who knew all arts appertaining to
war, examined the man's leg and made a kind of cradle for it,
while I questioned the woman.

'They are there still?'  I said.  'I saw their horses tethered
under the walls.'

'Yes, God requite them!'  she answered, trembling violently.

'Tell me about the castle, my good woman,' I said.  'How many
roads into it are there?'

'Only one.'

'Through the nearer tower?'

She said yes, and finding that she understood me, and was less
dull of intellect than her wretched appearance led me to expect,
I put a series of questions to her which it would be tedious to
detail.  Suffice it that I learned that it was impossible to
enter or leave the ruin except through the nearer tower; that a
rickety temporary gate barred the entrance, and that from this
tower, which was a mere shell of four walls, a narrow square-
headed doorway without a door led into the court, beyond which
rose the habitable tower of two stories.

'Do you know if they intend to stay there?'  I asked

'Oh, ay, they bade me bring them faggots for their fire this
morning, and I should have a handful of my own meal back,' she
answered bitterly; and fell thereon into a passion of impotent
rage, shaking both her clenched hands in the direction of the
castle, and screaming frenzied maledictions in her cracked and
quavering voice.

I pondered awhile over what she had said; liking very little the
thought of that narrow square-headed doorway through which we
must pass before we could effect anything.  And the gate, too,
troubled me.  It might not be a strong one, but we had neither
powder, nor guns, nor any siege implements, and could not pull
down stone walls with our naked hands.  By seizing the horses we
could indeed cut off Bruhl's retreat; but he might still escape
in the night; and in any case our pains would only increase the
women's hardships while adding fuel to his rage.  We must have
some other plan.

The sun was high by this time; the edge of the wood scarcely a
hundred paces from us.  By advancing a few yards through the
trees I could see the horses feeding peacefully at the foot of
the sunny slope, and even follow with my eyes the faint track
which zigzagged up the hill to the closed gate.  No one appeared
--doubtless they were sleeping off the fatigue of the journey--
and I drew no inspiration thence; but as I turned to consult
Maignan my eye lit on the faggots, and I saw in a flash that here
was a chance of putting into practice a stratagem as old as the
hills, yet ever fresh, and not seldom successful.

It was no time for over-refinement.  My knaves were beginning to
stray forward out of curiosity, and at any moment one of our
horses, scenting those of the enemy, might neigh and give the
alarm.  Hastily calling M. d'Agen and Maignan to me, I laid my
plan before them, and satisfied myself that it had their
approval; the fact that I had reserved a special part for the
former serving to thaw the reserve which had succeeded to his
outbreak of the night before.  After some debate Maignan
persuaded me that the old woman had not sufficient nerve to play
the part I proposed for her, and named Fanchette; who being
called into council, did not belie the opinion we had formed of
her courage.  In a few moments our preparations were complete:  I
had donned the old charcoal-burner's outer rags, Fanchette had
assumed those of the woman, while M. d'Agen, who was for a time
at a loss, and betrayed less taste for this part of the plan than
for any other, ended by putting on the jerkin and hose of the man
who had served us as guide.

When all was ready I commended the troop to Maignan's discretion,
charging him in the event of anything happening to us to continue
the most persistent efforts for mademoiselle's release, and on no
account to abandon her.  Having received his promise to this
effect, and being satisfied that he would keep it, we took up
each of us a great faggot, which being borne on the head and
shoulders served to hide the features very effectually; and thus
disguised we boldly left the shelter of the trees.  Fanchette and
I went first, tottering in a most natural fashion under the
weight of our burdens, while M. d'Agen followed a hundred yards
behind.  I had given Maignan orders to make a dash for the gate
the moment he saw the last named start to run.

The perfect stillness of the valley, the clearness of the air,
and the absence of any sign of life in the castle before us--
which might have been that of the Sleeping Princess, so fairy-
like it looked against the sky--with the suspense and excitement
in our own breasts, which these peculiarities seemed to increase
a hundred-fold, made the time that followed one of the strangest
in my experience.  It was nearly ten o'clock, and the warm
sunshine flooding everything about us rendered the ascent, laden
as we were, laborious in the extreme.  The crisp, short turf,
which had scarcely got its spring growth, was slippery and
treacherous.  We dared not hasten, for we knew not what eyes were
upon us, and we dared as little after we had gone half-way--lay
our faggots down, lest the action should disclose too much of our
features.

When we had reached a point within a hundred paces of the gate,
which still remained obstinately closed, we stood to breathe
ourselves, and balancing my bundle on my head, I turned to make
sure that all was right behind us.  I found that M. d'Agen,
intent on keeping his distance, had chosen the same moment for
rest, and was sitting in a very natural manner on his faggot,
mopping his face with the sleeve of his jerkin.  I scanned the
brown leafless wood, in which we had left Maignan and our men;
but I could detect no glitter among the trees nor any appearance
likely to betray us.  Satisfied on these points, I muttered a few
words of encouragement to Fanchette, whose face was streaming
with perspiration; and together we turned and addressed ourselves
to our task, fatigue--for we had had no practice in carrying
burdens on the head--enabling us to counterfeit the decrepitude
of age almost to the life.

The same silence prevailing as we drew nearer inspired me with
not a few doubts and misgivings.  Even the bleat of a sheep would
have been welcome in the midst of a stillness which seemed
ominous.  But no sheep bleated, no voice hailed us.  The gate,
ill-hung and full of fissures, remained closed.  Step by step we
staggered up to it, and at length reached it.  Afraid to speak
lest my accent should betray me, I struck the forepart of my
faggot against it and waited:  doubting whether our whole
stratagem had not been perceived from the beginning, and a
pistol-shot might not be the retort.

Nothing of the kind happened, however.  The sound of the blow,
which echoed dully through the building, died away, and the old
silence resumed its sway.  We knocked again, but fully two
minutes elapsed before a grumbling voice, as of a man aroused
from sleep, was heard drawing near, and footsteps came slowly and
heavily to the gate.  Probably the fellow inspected us through a
loophole, for he paused a moment, and my heart sank; but the
next, seeing nothing suspicious, he unbarred the gate with a
querulous oath, and, pushing it open, bade us enter and be quick
about it.

I stumbled forward into the cool, dark shadow, and the woman
followed me, while the man, stepping out with a yawn, stood in
the entrance, stretching himself in the sunshine.  The roofless
tower, which smelled dank and unwholesome, was empty, or cumbered
only with rubbish and heaps of stones; but looking through the
inner door I saw in the courtyard a smouldering fire and half a
dozen men in the act of rousing themselves from sleep.  I stood a
second balancing my faggot, as if in doubt where to lay it down;
and then assuring myself by a swift glance that the man who had
let us in still had his back towards us, I dropped it across the
inner doorway, Fanchette, as she had been instructed, plumped
hers upon it, and at the same moment I sprang to the door, and
taking the man there by surprise, dealt him a violent blow
between the shoulders, which sent him headlong down the slope.

A cry behind me, followed by an oath of alarm, told me that the
action was observed and that now was the pinch.  In a second I
was back at the faggots, and drawing a pistol from under my
blouse was in time to meet the rush of the nearest man, who,
comprehending all, sprang up, and made for me, with his sheathed
sword.  I shot him in the chest as he cleared the faggots--which,
standing nearly as high as a man's waist, formed a tolerable
obstacle--and he pitched forward at my feet.

This balked his companions, who drew back; but unfortunately it
was necessary for me to stoop to get my sword, which was hidden
in the faggot I had carried.  The foremost of the rascals took
advantage of this.  Rushing at me with a long knife, he failed to
stab me--for I caught his wrist--but he succeeded in bringing me
to the ground.  I thought I was undone.  I looked to have the
others swarm over upon us; and so it would doubtless have
happened had not Fanchette, with rare courage, dealt the first
who followed a lusty blow on the body with a great stick she
snatched up.  The man collapsed on the faggots, and this hampered
the rest.  The check was enough.  It enabled M. d'Agen to come
up, who, dashing in through the gate, shot down the first he saw
before him, and running at the doorway with his sword with
incredible fury and the courage which I had always known him to
possess, cleared it in a twinkling.  The man with whom I was
engaged on the ground, seeing what had happened, wrested himself
free with the strength of despair, and dashing through the outer
door, narrowly escaped being ridden down by my followers as they
swept up to the gate at a gallop, and dismounted amid a whirlwind
of cries.

In a moment they thronged in on us pell-mell, and as soon as I
could lay my hand on my sword I led them through the doorway with
a cheer, hoping to be able to enter the farther tower with the
enemy.  But the latter had taken the alarm too early and too
thoroughly.  The court was empty.  We were barely in time to see
the last man dart up a flight of outside stairs, which led to the
first story, and disappear, closing a heavy door behind him.  I
rushed to the foot of the steps and would have ascended also,
hoping against hope to find the door unsecured; but a shot which
was fired through a loop hole and narrowly missed my head, and
another which brought down one of my men, made me pause.
Discerning all the advantage to be on Bruhl's side, since he
could shoot us down from his cover, I cried a retreat; the issue
of the matter leaving us masters of the entrance-tower, while
they retained the inner and stronger tower, the narrow court
between the two being neutral ground unsafe for either party.

Two of their men had fled outwards and were gone, and two lay
dead; while the loss on our side was confined to the man who was
shot, and Fanchette, who had received a blow on the head in the
MELEE, and was found, when we retreated, lying sick and dazed
against the wall.

It surprised me much, when I came to think upon it, that I had
seen nothing of Bruhl, though the skirmish had lasted two or
three minutes from the first outcry, and been attended by an
abundance of noise.  Of Fresnoy, too, I now remembered that I had
caught a glimpse only.  These two facts seemed so strange that I
was beginning to augur the worst, though I scarcely know why,
when my spirits were marvellously raised and my fears relieved by
a thing which Maignan, who was the first to notice it, pointed
out to me.  This was the appearance at an upper window of a white
'kerchief, which was waved several times towards us.  The window
was little more than an arrow-slit, and so narrow and high
besides that it was impossible to see who gave the signal; but my
experience of mademoiselle's coolness and resource left me in no
doubt on the point.  With high hopes and a lighter heart than I
had worn for some time I bestirred myself to take every
precaution, and began by bidding Maignan select two men and ride
round the hill, to make sure that the enemy had no way of retreat
open to him.



CHAPTER XXIX.

PESTILENCE AND FAMINE.

While Maignan was away about this business I despatched two men
to catch our horses, which were running loose in the valley, and
to remove those of Bruhl's party to a safe distance from the
castle.  I also blocked up the lower part of the door leading
into the courtyard, and named four men to remain under arms
beside it, that we might not be taken by surprise; an event of
which I had the less fear, however, since the enemy were now
reduced to eight swords, and could only escape, as we could only
enter, through this doorway.  I was still busied with these
arrangements when M. d'Agen joined me, and I broke off to
compliment him on his courage, acknowledging in particular the
service he had done me personally.  The heat of the conflict had
melted the young man's reserve, and flushed his face with pride;
but as he listened to me he gradually froze again, and when I
ended he regarded me with the same cold hostility.

'I am obliged to you,' he said, bowing.  'But may I ask what
next, M. de Marsac?'

'We have no choice,' I answered.  'We can only starve them out.'

'But the ladies?'  he said, starting slightly.  'What of them?'

'They will suffer less than the men,' I replied.  'Trust me, the
latter will not bear starving long.'

He seemed surprised, but I explained that with our small numbers
we could not hope to storm the tower, and might think ourselves
fortunate that we now had the enemy cooped up where he could not
escape, and must eventually surrender.

'Ay, but in the meantime how will you ensure the women against
violence?'  he asked, with an air which showed he was far from
satisfied.

'I will see to that when Maignan comes back,' I answered pretty
confidently.

The equerry appeared in a moment with the assurance that egress
from the farther side of the tower was impossible.  I bade him
nevertheless keep a horseman moving round the hill, that we might
have intelligence of any attempt.  The order was scarcely given
when a man--one of those I had left on guard at the door of the
courtyard--came to tell me that Fresnoy desired to speak with me
on behalf of M. de Bruhl.

'Where is he?'  I asked.

'At the inner door with a flag of truce,' was the answer.

'Tell him, then,' I said, without offering to move, 'that I will
communicate with no one except his leader, M. de Bruhl.  And add
this, my friend,' I continued.  'Say it aloud that if the ladies
whom he has in charge are injured by so much as a hair, I will
hang every man within these walls, from M. de Bruhl to the
youngest lackey.'  And I added a solemn oath to that effect.

The man nodded, and went on his errand, while I and M. d'Agen,
with Maignan, remained standing outside the gate, looking idly
over the valley and the brown woods through which we had ridden
in the early morning.  My eyes rested chiefly on the latter,
Maignan's as it proved on the former.  Doubtless we all had our
own thoughts.  Certainly I had, and for a while, in my
satisfaction at the result of the attack and the manner in which
we had Bruhl confined, I did not remark the gravity which was
gradually overspreading the equerry's countenance.  When I did I
took the alarm, and asked him sharply what was the matter.  'I
don't like that, your Excellency,' he answered, pointing into the
valley.

I looked anxiously, and looked, and saw nothing.

'What?'  I said in astonishment.

'The blue mist,' he muttered, with a shiver.  'I have been
watching it this half-hour, your Excellency.  It is rising fast.'

I cried out on him for a maudlin fool, and M. d'Agen swore
impatiently; but for all that, and despite the contempt I strove
to exhibit, I felt a sudden chill at my heart as I recognised in
the valley below the same blue haze which had attended us through
yesterday's ride, and left us only at nightfall.  Involuntarily
we both fell to watching it as it rose slowly and more slowly,
first enveloping the lower woods, and then spreading itself
abroad in the sunshine.  It is hard to witness a bold man's
terror and remain unaffected by it; and I confess I trembled.
Here, in the moment of our seeming success, was something which I
had not taken into account, something against which I could not
guard either myself or others!

'See!'  Maignan whispered hoarsely, pointing again with his
linger.  'It is the Angel of Death, your Excellency!  Where he
kills by ones and twos, he is invisible.  But when he slays by
hundreds and by thousands, men see the shadow of his wings!'

'Chut, fool!'  I retorted with, anger, which was secretly
proportioned to the impression his weird saying made on me.  'You
have been in battles!  Did you ever see him there?  or at a sack?
A truce to this folly,' I continued.  'And do you go and inquire
what food we have with us.  It may be necessary to send for
some.'

I watched him go doggedly off, and knowing the stout nature of
the man and his devotion to his master, I had no fear that he
would fail us; but there were others, almost as necessary to us,
in whom I could not place the same confidence.  And these had
also taken the alarm.  When I turned I found groups of pale-faced
men, standing by twos and threes at my back; who, pointing and
muttering and telling one another what Maignan had told us,
looked where we had looked.  As one spoke and another listened, I
saw the old panic revive in their eyes.  Men who an hour or two
before had crossed the court under fire with the utmost
resolution, and dared instant death without a thought, grew pale,
and looking from this side of the valley to that; with faltering
eyes, seemed to be seeking, like hunted animals, a place of
refuge.  Fear, once aroused, hung is the air.  Men talked in
whispers of the abnormal heat, and, gazing at the cloudless sky,
fled from the sunshine to the shadow; or, looking over the
expanse of woods, longed to be under cover and away from this
lofty eyrie, which to their morbid eyes seemed a target for all
the shafts of death.

'I was not slow to perceive the peril with which these fears and
apprehensions, which rapidly became general, threatened my plans.
I strove to keep the men employed, and to occupy their thoughts
as far as possible with the enemy and his proceedings; but I soon
found that even here a danger lurked; for Maignan, coming to me
by-and-by with a grave face, told me that one of Bruhl's men had
ventured out, and was parleying with the guard on our side of the
court.  I went at once and broke the matter off, threatening to
shoot the fellow if he was not under cover before I counted ten.
But the scared, sultry faces he left behind him told me that the
mischief was done, and I could think of no better remedy for it
than to give M. d'Agen a hint, and station him at the outer gate
with his pistols ready.

The question of provisions, too, threatened to become a serious
one; I dared not leave to procure them myself, nor could I trust
any of my men with the mission.  In fact the besiegers were
rapidly becoming the besieged.  Intent on the rising haze and
their own terrors, they forgot all else.  Vigilance and caution
were thrown to the winds.  The stillness of the valley, its
isolation, the distant woods that encircled us and hung quivering
in the heated air, all added to the panic.  Despite all my
efforts and threats, the men gradually left their posts, and
getting together in little parties at the gate, worked themselves
up to such a pitch of dread that by two hours after noon they
were fit for any folly; and at the mere cry of 'plague!'  would
have rushed to their horses and ridden in every direction.

It was plain that I could depend for useful service on myself and
three others only--of whom, to his credit be it said, Simon Fleix
was one.  Seeing this, I was immensely relieved when I presently
heard that Fresnoy was again seeking to speak with me.  I was no
longer, it will be believed, for standing on formalities; but
glad to waive in silence the punctilio on which I had before
insisted, and anxious to afford him no opportunity of marking the
slackness which prevailed among my men, I hastened to meet him at
the door of the courtyard where Maignan had detained him.

I might have spared my pains, however.  I had no more than
saluted him and exchanged the merest preliminaries before I saw
that he was in a state of panic far exceeding that of my
following.  His coarse face, which had never been prepossessing,
was mottled and bedabbled with sweat; his bloodshot eyes, when
they met mine, wore the fierce yet terrified expression of an
animal caught in a trap.  Though his first word was an oath,
sworn for the purpose of raising his courage, the bully's bluster
was gone.  He spoke in a low voice, and his hands shook; and for
a penny-piece I saw he would have bolted past me and taken his
chance in open flight.

I judged from his first words, uttered, as I have said, with an
oath, that he was aware of his state.  'M. de Marsac,' he said,
whining like a cur, 'you know me, to be a man of courage.'

I needed nothing after this to assure me that he meditated
something of the basest; and I took care how I answered him.  'I
have known you stiff enough upon occasions,' I replied drily.
'And then, again, I have known you not so stiff, M. Fresnoy.'

'Only when you were in question,' he muttered with another oath.
'But flesh and blood cannot stand this.  You could not yourself.
Between him and them I am fairly worn out.  Give me good terms--
good terms, you understand, M. de Marsac?'  he whispered eagerly,
sinking his voice still lower, 'and you shall have all you want.'

'Your lives, and liberty to go where you please,' I answered
coldly.  'The two ladies to be first given up to me uninjured.
Those are the terms.'

'But for me?'  he said anxiously.

'For you?  The same as the others,' I retorted.  'Or I will make
a distinction for old acquaintance sake, M. Fresnoy; and if the
ladies have aught to complain of, I will hang you first.'

He tried to bluster and hold out for a sum of money, or at least
for his horse to be given up to him.  But I had made up my mind
to reward my followers with a present of a horse apiece; and I
was besides well aware that this was only an afterthought on his
part, and that he had fully decided to yield.  I stood fast,
therefore.  The result justified my firmness, for he presently
agreed to surrender on those terms.

'Ay, but M. de Bruhl?'  I said, desiring to learn clearly whether
he had authority to treat for all.  'What of him?'

He looked at me impatiently.  'Come and see!'  he said, with an
ugly sneer.

'No, no, my friend,' I answered, shaking my head warily.  'That
is not according to rule.  You are the surrendering party, and it
is for you to trust us.  Bring out the ladies, that I may have
speech with them, and then I will draw off my men.'

'Nom de Dieu!'  he cried hoarsely, with so much fear and rage in
his face that I recoiled from him.  'That is just what I cannot
do.'

'You cannot?'  I rejoined with a sudden thrill of horror.  'Why
not?  why not, man?'  And in the excitement of the moment,
conceiving the idea that the worst had happened to the women, I
pushed him back with so much fury that he laid his hand on his
sword.

'Confound you!'  he stuttered, 'stand back!  It is not that, I
tell you!  Mademoiselle is safe and sound, and madame, if she had
her senses, would be sound too.  It is not our fault if she is
not. But I have not got the key of the rooms.  It is in Bruhl's
pocket, I tell you!'

'Oh!'  I made answer drily.  'And Bruhl?'

'Hush, man,' Fresnoy replied, wiping the perspiration from his
brow, and bringing his pallid, ugly face, near to mine, 'he has
got the plague!'

I stared at him for a moment in silence; which he was the first
to break.  'Hush!'  he muttered again, laying a trembling hand on
my arm, 'if the men knew it--and not seeing him they are beginning
to suspect it--they would rise on us.  The devil himself could
not keep them here.  Between him and them I am on a razor's edge.
Madame is with him, and the door is locked.  Mademoiselle is in a
room upstairs, and the door is locked.  And he has the keys.
What can I do?  What can I do, man?'  he cried, his voice hoarse
with terror and dismay.

'Get the keys,' I said instinctively.

'What?'  From him?'  he muttered, with an irrepressible shudder,
which shook his bloated cheeks.  'God forbid I should see him!
It takes stout men infallibly.  I should be dead by night!  By
God, I should!'  he continued, whining.  'Now you are not stout,
M. de Marsac.  If you will come with me I will draw off the men
from that part; and you may go in and get the key from him.'

His terror, which surpassed all feeling, and satisfied me without
doubt that he was in earnest, was so intense that it could not
fail to infect me.  I felt my face, as I looked into his, grow to
the same hue.  I trembled as he did and grew sick.  For if there
is a word which blanches the soldier's cheek and tries his heart
more than another, it is the name of the disease which travels in
the hot noonday, and, tainting the strongest as he rides in his
pride, leaves him in a few hours a poor mass of corruption.  The
stoutest and the most reckless fear it; nor could I, more than
another, boast myself indifferent to it, or think of its presence
without shrinking.  But the respect in which a man of birth holds
himself saves him from the unreasoning fear which masters the
vulgar; and in a moment I recovered myself, and made up my mind
what it behoved me to do.

'Wait awhile,' I said sternly, 'and I will come with you.'

He waited accordingly, though with manifest impatience, while I
sent for M. d'Agen, and communicated to him what I was about to
do.  I did not think it necessary to enter into details, or to
mention Bruhl's state, for some of the men were well in hearing.
I observed that the young gentleman received my directions with a
gloomy and dissatisfied air.  But I had become by this time so
used to his moods, and found myself so much mistaken in his
character, that I scarcely gave the matter a second thought.  I
crossed the court with Fresnoy, and in a moment had mounted the
outside staircase and passed through the heavy doorway.

The moment I entered, I was forced to do Fresnoy the justice of
admitting that he had not come to me before he was obliged.  The
three men who were on guard inside tossed down their weapons at
sight of me, while a fourth, who was posted at a neighbouring
window, hailed me with a cry of relief.  From the moment I
crossed the threshold the defence was practically at an end.  I
might, had I chosen or found it consistent with honour, have
called in my following and secured the entrance.  Without
pausing, however, I passed on to the foot of a gloomy stone
staircase winding up between walls of rough masonry; and here
Fresnoy stood on one side and stopped.  He pointed upwards with a
pale face and muttered,'The door on the left.'

Leaving him there watching me as I went upwards, I mounted slowly
to the landing, and by the light of an arrow-slit which dimly lit
the ruinous place found the door he had described, and tried it
with my hand.  It was locked, but I heard someone moan in the
room, and a step crossed the floor, as if he or another came to
the door and listened.  I knocked, hearing my heart beat in the
silence.  At last a voice quite strange to me cried, 'Who is it?'

'A friend,' I muttered, striving to dull my voice that they might
not hear me below.

'A friend!'  the bitter answer came.  'Go!  You have made a
mistake!  We have no friends.'

'It is I, M. de Marsac,' I rejoined, knocking more imperatively.
'I would see M. de Bruhl.  I must see him.'

The person inside, at whose identity I could now make a guess,
uttered a low exclamation, and still seemed to hesitate.  But on
my repeating my demand I heard a rusty bolt withdrawn, and Madame
de Bruhl, opening the door a few inches, showed her face in the
gap.  'What do you want?'  she murmured jealously.

Prepared as I was to see her, I was shocked by the change in her
appearance, a change which even that imperfect light failed to
hide.  Her blue eyes had grown larger and harder, and there were
dark marks under them.  Her face, once so brilliant, was grey and
pinched; her hair had lost its golden lustre.  'What do you
want?'  she  repeated, eyeing me fiercely.

'To see him,' I answered.

'You know?'  she muttered.  'You know that he--'

I nodded.

And you still want to come in?  My God!  Swear you will not hurt
him?'

'Heaven forbid!'  I said; and on that she held the door open that
I might enter.  But I was not half-way across the room before she
had passed me, and was again between me and the wretched
makeshift pallet.  Nay, when I stood and looked down at him, as
he moaned and rolled in senseless agony, with livid face and
distorted features (which the cold grey light of that miserable
room rendered doubly appalling), she hung over him and fenced him
from me:  so that looking on him and her, and remembering how he
had treated her, and why he came to be in this place, I felt
unmanly tears rise to my eyes.  The room was still a prison, a
prison with broken mortar covering the floor and loopholes for
windows; but the captive was held by other chains than those of
force.  When she might have gone free, her woman's love surviving
all that he had done to kill it, chained her to his side with
fetters which old wrongs and present danger were powerless to
break.

It was impossible that I could view a scene so strange without
feelings of admiration as well as pity; or without forgetting for
a while, in my respect for Madame de Bruhl's devotion, the risk
which had seemed so great to me on the stairs.  I had come simply
for a purpose of my own, and with no thought of aiding him who
lay here.  But so great, as I have noticed on other occasions, is
the power of a noble example, that, before I knew it, I found
myself wondering what I could do to help this man, and how I
could relieve madame, in the discharge of offices which her
husband had as little right to expect at her hands as at mine.
At the mere sound of the word Plague I knew she would be deserted
in this wilderness by all, or nearly all; a reflection which
suggested to me that I should first remove mademoiselle to a
distance, and then consider what help I could afford here.

I was about to tell her the purpose with which I had come when a
paroxysm more than ordinarily violent, and induced perhaps by the
excitement of my presence--though he seemed beside himself--
seized him, and threatened to tax her powers to the utmost.  I
could not look on and see her spend herself in vain; and almost
before I knew what I was doing I had laid my hands on him and
after a brief struggle thrust him back exhausted on the couch.

She looked at me so strangely after that that in the half-light
which the loopholes afforded I tried in vain to read her meaning.
'Why did you come?'  she cried at length, breathing quickly.
'You, of all men?  Why did you come?  He was no friend of yours,
Heaven knows!'

'No, madame, nor I of his,' I answered bitterly,
with a sudden revulsion of feeling.

'Then why are you here?'  she retorted.

'I could not send one of my men,' I answered.  'And I want the
key of the room above.'

At the mention of that the room above--she flinched as if I had
struck her, and looked as strangely at Bruhl as she had before
looked at me.  No doubt the reference to Mademoiselle de la Vire
recalled to her mind her husband's wild passion for the girl,
which for the moment she had forgotten.  Nevertheless she did not
speak, though her face turned very pale.  She stooped over the
couch, such as it was, and searching his clothes, presently stood
up, and held out the key to me.  'Take it, and let her out,' she
said with a forced smile.  'Take it up yourself, and do it.  You
have done so much for her it is right that you should do this.'

I took the key, thanking her with more haste than thought, and
turned towards the door, intending to go straight up to the floor
above and release mademoiselle.  My hand was already on the door,
which madame, I found, had left ajar in the excitement of my
entrance, when I heard her step behind me.  The next instant she
touched me on the shoulder.  'You fool!'  she exclaimed, her eyes
flashing, 'would you kill her?'  Would you go from him to her,
and take the plague to her?  God forgive me, it was in my mind to
send you.  And men are such puppets you would have gone!'

I trembled with horror, as much at my stupidity as at her craft.
For she was right:  in another moment I should have gone, and
comprehension and remorse would have come too late.  As it was,
in my longing at once to reproach her for her wickedness and to
thank her for her timely repentance, I found no words; but I
turned away in silence and went out with a full heart.



CHAPTER XXX.

STRICKEN.

Outside the door, standing in the dimness of the landing, I found
M. d'Agen.  At any other time I should have been the first to ask
him why he had left the post which I had assigned to him.  But at
the moment I was off my balance, and his presence suggested
nothing more than that here was the very person who could best
execute my wishes.  I held out the key to him at arms length, and
bade him release Mademoiselle de la Vire, who was in the room
above, and escort her out of the castle.  'Do not let her linger
here,' I continued urgently.  'Take her to the place where we
found the wood-cutters.  You need fear no resistance.'

'But Bruhl?'  he said, as he took the key mechanically from me.

'He is out of the question,' I answered in a low voice.  'We have
done with him.  He has the plague.'

He uttered a sharp exclamation.  'What of madame, then?'  he
muttered.

'She is with him,' I said.

He cried out suddenly at that, sucking in his breath, as I have
known men do in pain.  And but that I drew back he would have
laid his hand on my sleeve.  'With him?'  he stammered.  'How is
that?'

'Why, man, where else should she be?'  I answered, forgetting
that the sight of those two together had at first surprised me
also, as well as moved me.  'Or who else should be with him?  He
is her husband.'

He stared at me for a moment at that, and then he turned slowly
away and began to go up; while I looked after him, gradually
thinking out the clue to his conduct.  Could it be that it was
not mademoiselle attracted him, but Madame de Bruhl?

And with that hint I understood it all.  I saw in a moment; the
conclusion to which he had come on hearing of the presence of
madame in my room.  In my room at night!  The change had dated
from that time; instead of a careless, light-spirited youth he
had become in a moment a morose and restive churl, as difficult
to manage as an unbroken colt.  Quite clearly I saw now the
meaning of the change; why he had shrunk from me, and why all
intercourse between us had been so difficult; and so constrained.

I laughed to think how he had deceived himself, and how nearly I
had come to deceiving myself also.  And what more I might have
thought I do not know, for my meditations were cut short at this
point by a loud outcry below, which, beginning in one or two
sharp cries of alarm and warning, culminated quickly in a roar of
anger and dismay.

Fancying I recognised Maignan's voice, I ran down the stairs,
seeking a loophole whence I could command the scene; but finding
none, and becoming more and more alarmed, I descended to the
court, which I found, to my great surprise, as empty and silent
as an old battle-field.  Neither on the enemy's side nor on ours
was a single man to be seen.  With growing dismay I sprang across
the court and darted through the outer tower, only to find that
and the gateway equally unguarded.  Nor was it until I had passed
through the latter, and stood on the brow of the slope, which we
had had to clamber with so much toil, that I learned what was
amiss.

Far below me a string of men, bounding and running at speed,
streamed down the hill towards the horses.  Some were shouting,
some running silently, with their elbows at their sides and their
scabbards leaping against their calves.  The horses stood
tethered in a ring near the edge of the wood, and by some
oversight had been left unguarded.  The foremost runner I made
out to be Fresnoy; but a number of his men were close upon him,
and then after an interval came Maignan, waving his blade and
emitting frantic threats with every stride.  Comprehending at
once that Fresnoy and his following, rendered desperate by panic
and the prospective loss of their horses, had taken advantage of
my absence and given Maignan the slip, I saw I could do nothing
save watch the result of the struggle.

This was not long delayed.  Maignan's threats, which seemed to me
mere waste of breath, were not without effect on those he
followed.  There is nothing which demoralises men like flight.
Troopers who have stood charge after charge while victory was
possible will fly like sheep, and like sheep allow themselves to
he butchered, when they have once turned the back.  So it was
here.  Many of Fresnoy's men were stout fellows, but having
started to run they had no stomach for fighting.  Their fears
caused Maignan to appear near, while the horses seemed distant;
and one after another they turned aside and made like rabbits for
the wood.  Only Fresnoy, who had taken care to have the start of
all, kept on, and, reaching the horses, cut the rope which
tethered the nearest, and vaulted nimbly on its back.  Safely
seated there, he tried to frighten the others into breaking
loose; but not succeeding at the first attempt, and seeing
Maignan, breathing vengeance, coming up with him, he started his
horse, a bright bay, and rode off laughing along the edge of the
wood.

Fully content with the result--for our carelessness might have
cost us very dearly--I was about to turn away when I saw that
Maignan had mounted and was preparing to follow.  I stayed
accordingly to see the end, and from my elevated position enjoyed
a first-rate view of the race which ensued.  Both were heavy
weights, and at first Maignan gained no ground.  But when a
couple of hundred yards had been covered Fresnoy had the ill-luck
to blunder into some heavy ground, and this enabling his pursuer,
who had time to avoid it, to get within two-score paces of him,
the race became as exciting as I could wish.  Slowly and surely
Maignan, who had chosen the Cid, reduced the distance between
them to a score of paces--to fifteen--to ten.  Then Fresnoy,
becoming alarmed, began to look over his shoulder and ride in
earnest.  He had no whip, and I saw him raise his sheathed sword,
and strike his beast on the flank.  It sprang forward, and
appeared for a few strides to be holding its own.  Again he
repeated the blow but this time with a different result.  While
his hand was still in the air, his horse stumbled, as it seemed
to me, made a desperate effort to recover itself, fell headlong
and rolled over and over.

Something in the fashion of the fall, which reminded me of the
mishap I had suffered on the way to Chize led me to look more
particularly at the horse as it rose trembling to its feet, and
stood with drooping head.  Sure enough, a careful glance enabled
me, even at that distance, to identify it as Matthew's bay--the
trick-horse.  Shading my eyes, and gazing on the scene with
increased interest, I saw Maignan, who had dismounted, stoop over
something on the ground, and again after an interval stand
upright.

But Fresnoy did not rise.  Nor was it without awe that, guessing
what had happened to him, I remembered how he had used this very
horse to befool me; how heartlessly he had abandoned Matthew, its
owner; and by what marvellous haps--which men call chances--
Providence had brought it to this place, and put it in his heart
to choose it out of a score which stood ready to his hand!

I was right.  The man's neck was broken.  He was quite dead.
Maignan passed the word to one, and he to another, and so it
reached me on the hill.  It did not fail to awaken memories both
grave and wholesome.  I thought of St. Jean d'Angely, of Chize,
of the house in the Ruelle d'Arcy; then in the midst of these
reflections I heard voices, and turned to find mademoiselle, with
M. d'Agen behind me.

Her hand was still bandaged, and her dress, which she had not
changed since leaving Blois, was torn and stained with mud.  Her
hair was in disorder; she walked with a limp.  Fatigue and
apprehension had stolen the colour from her cheeks, and in a word
she looked, when I turned, so wan and miserable that for a moment
I feared the plague had seized her.

The instant, however, that she caught sight of me a wave of
colour invaded, not her cheeks only, but her brow and neck.  From
her hair to the collar of her gown she was all crimson.  For a
second she stood gazing at me, and then, as I saluted her, she
sprang forward.  Had I not stepped back she would have taken my
hands.

My heart so overflowed with joy at this sight, that in the
certainty her blush gave me I was fain to toy with my happiness.
All jealousy of M. d'Agen was forgotten; only I thought it well
not to alarm her by telling her what I knew of the Bruhls.
'Mademoiselle,' I said earnestly, bowing, but retreating from
her, 'I thank God for your escape.  One of your enemies lies
helpless here, and another is dead yonder.'

'It is not of my enemies I am thinking,' she answered quickly,
'but of God, of whom you rightly remind me; and then of my
friends.'

'Nevertheless,' I answered as quickly, 'I beg you will not stay
to thank them now, but go down to the wood with M. d'Agen, who
will do all that may be possible to make you comfortable.'

'And you, sir?'  she said, with a charming air of confusion.

'I must stay here,' I answered, 'for a while.'

'Why?'  she asked with a slight frown.

I did not know how to tell her, and I began lamely.  'Someone
must stop with madame,' I said without thought.

'Madame?'  she exclaimed.  'Does she require assistance?  I will
stop.'

'God forbid!'  I cried.

I do not know how she understood the words, but her face, which
had been full of softness, grew hard.  She moved quickly towards
me; but, mindful of the danger I carried about me, I drew farther
back.  'No nearer, mademoiselle,' I murmured, 'if you please.'

She looked puzzled, and finally angry, turning away with a
sarcastic bow.  'So be it, then, sir,' she said proudly, 'if you
desire it.  M. d'Agen, if you are not afraid of me, will you lead
me down?'

I stood and watched them go down the hill, comforting myself with
the reflection that to-morrow, or the next day, or within a few
days at most, all would be well.  Scanning her figure as she
moved, I fancied that she went with less spirit as the space
increased between us.  And I pleased myself with the notion.  A
few days, a few hours, I thought, and all would be well.  The
sunset which blazed in the west was no more than a faint
reflection of the glow which for a few minutes pervaded my mind,
long accustomed to cold prospects and the chill of neglect.

A term was put to these pleasant imaginings by the arrival of
Maignan; who, panting from the ascent of the hill, informed me
with a shamefaced air that the tale of horses was complete, but
that four of our men were missing, and had doubtless gone off
with the fugitives.  These proved to be M. d'Agen's two lackeys
and the two varlets M. de Rambouillet had lent us.  There
remained besides Simon Fleix only Maignan's three men from Rosny;
but the state in which our affairs now stood enabled us to make
light of this.  I informed the equerry--who visibly paled at the
news--that M. de Bruhl lay ill of the plague, and like to die;
and I bade him form a camp in the wood below, and, sending for
food to the house where we had slept the night before, make
mademoiselle as comfortable as circumstances permitted.

He listened with surprise, and when I had done asked with concern
what I intended to do myself.

'Someone must remain with Madam de Bruhl,' I answered.  'I have
already been to the bedside to procure the key of mademoiselle's
room, and I run no farther risk.  All I ask is that you will
remain in the neighbourhood, and furnish us with supplies should
it be necessary.'

He looked at me with emotion, which, strongly in conflict with
his fears as it was, touched me not a little.  'But morbleu!  M.
de Marsac,' he said, 'you will take the plague and die.'

'If God wills,' I answered, very lugubriously I confess, for pale
looks in one commonly so fearless could not but depress me.  'But
if not, I shall escape.  Any way, my friend,' I continued, 'I owe
you a quittance.  Simon Fleix has an inkhorn and paper.  Bid him
bring them to this stone and leave them, and I will write that
Maignan, the equerry of the Baron de Rosny, served me to the end
as a brave soldier and an honest friend.  'What, MON AMI?'  I
continued, for I saw that he was overcome by this, which was,
indeed, a happy thought of mine.  'Why not?  It is true, and will
acquit you with the Baron.  Do it, and go.  Advise M. d'Agen, and
be to him what you have been to me.'

He swore two or three great oaths, such as men of his kind use to
hide an excess of feeling, and after some further remonstrance
went away to carry out my orders; leaving me to stand on the brow
in a strange kind of solitude, and watch horses and men withdraw
to the wood, until the whole valley seemed left to me and
stillness and the grey evening.  For a time I stood in thought.
Then reminding myself, for a fillip to my spirits, that I had
been far more alone when I walked the streets of St. Jean
friendless and threadbare (than I was now), I turned, and
swinging my scabbard against my boots for company, stumbled
through the dark, silent courtyard, and mounted as cheerfully as
I could to madame's room.

To detail all that passed during the next five days would be
tedious and in indifferent taste, seeing that I am writing this
memoir for the perusal of men of honour; for though I consider
the offices which the whole can perform for the sick to be worthy
of the attention of every man, however well born, who proposes to
see service, they seem to be more honourable in the doing than
the telling.  One episode, however, which marked those days
filled me then, as it does now, with the most lively pleasure;
and that was the unexpected devotion displayed by Simon Fleix,
who, coming to me, refused to leave, and showed himself at this
pinch to be possessed of such sterling qualities that I freely
forgave him the deceit he had formerly practised on me.  The fits
of moody silence into which he still fell at times and an
occasional irascibility seemed to show that he had not altogether
conquered his insane fancy; but the mere fact that; he had come
to me in a situation of hazard, and voluntarily removed himself
from mademoiselle's neighbourhood, gave me good hope for the
future.

M. de Bruhl died early on the morning of the second day, and
Simon and I buried him at noon.  He was a man of courage and
address, lacking only principles.  In spite of madame's grief and
prostration, which were as great as though she had lost the best
husband in the world, we removed before night to a separate camp
in the woods; and left with the utmost relief the grey ruin on
the hill, in which, it seemed to me, we had lived an age.  In our
new bivouac, where, game being abundant, and the weather warm, we
lacked no comfort, except the society of our friends, we remained
four days longer.  On the fifth morning we met the others of our
company by appointment on the north road, and commenced the
return journey.

Thankful that we had escaped contagion, we nevertheless still
proposed to observe for a time such precautions in regard to the
others as seemed necessary; riding in the rear and having no
communication with them, though they showed by signs the pleasure
they felt at seeing us.  From the frequency with which
mademoiselle turned and looked behind her, I judged she had
overcome her pique at my strange conduct; which the others should
by this time have explained to her.  Content, therefore, with the
present, and full of confidence in the future, I rode along in a
rare state of satisfaction; at one moment planning what I would
do, and at another reviewing what I had done.

The brightness and softness of the day, and the beauty of the
woods, which in some places, I remember, were bursting into leaf,
contributed much to establish me in this frame of mind.  The
hateful mist, which had so greatly depressed us, had disappeared;
leaving the face of the country visible in all the brilliance of
early spring.  The men who rode before us, cheered by the happy
omen, laughed and talked as they rode, or tried the paces of
their horses, where the trees grew sparsely; and their jests and
laughter coming pleasantly to our ears as we followed, warmed
even madame's sad face to a semblance of happiness.

I was riding along in this state of contentment when a feeling of
fatigue, which the distance we had come did not seem to justify,
led me to spur the Cid into a brisker pace.  The sensation of
lassitude still continued, however, and indeed grew worse; so
that I wondered idly whether I had over-eaten myself at my last
meal.  Then the thing passed for awhile from my mind, which the
descent of a steep hill sufficiently occupied.

But a few minutes later, happening to turn in the saddle, I
experienced a strange and sudden dizziness; so excessive as to
force me to grasp the cantle, and cling to it, while trees and
hills appeared to dance round me.  A quick, hot pain in the side
followed, almost before I recovered the power of thought; and
this increased so rapidly, and was from the first so definite,
that, with a dreadful apprehension already formed in my mind, I
thrust my hand inside my clothes, and found that swelling which
is the most sure and deadly symptom of the plague.

The horror of that moment--in which I saw all those things on the
possession of which I had just been congratulating myself, pass
hopelessly from me, leaving me in dreadful gloom--I will not
attempt to describe in this place.  Let it suffice that the world
lost in a moment its joyousness, the sunshine its warmth.  The
greenness and beauty round me, which an instant before had filled
me with pleasure, seemed on a sudden no more than a grim and
cruel jest at my expense, and I an atom perishing unmarked and
unnoticed.  Yes, an atom, a mote; the bitterness of that feeling
I well remember.  Then, in no long time--being a soldier--I
recovered my coolness, and, retaining the power to think, decided
what it behoved me to do.



CHAPTER XXXI.

UNDER THE GREENWOOD.

To escape from my companions on some pretext, which should enable
me to ensure their safety without arousing their fears, was the
one thought which possessed me on the subsidence of my first
alarm.  Probably it answered to that instinct in animals which
bids them get away alone when wounded or attacked by disease; and
with me it had the fuller play as the pain prevailed rather by
paroxysms, than in permanence, and, coming and going, allowed
intervals of ease, in which I was able to think clearly and
consecutively, and even to sit firmly in the saddle.

The moment one of these intervals enabled me to control myself, I
used it to think where I might go without danger to others; and
at once and naturally my thoughts turned to the last place we had
passed; which happened to be the house in the gorge where we had
received news of Bruhl's divergence from the road.  The man who
lived there alone had had the plague; therefore he did not fear
it.  The place itself was solitary, and I could reach it, riding
slowly, in half an hour.  On the instant and without more delay I
determined on this course.  I would return, and, committing
myself to the fellow's good offices, bid him deny me to others,
and especially to my friends--should they seek me.

Aware that I bad no time to lose if I would put this plan into
execution before the pains returned to sap my courage, I drew
bridle at once, and muttered some excuse to madame; if I remember
rightly, that I had dropped my gauntlet.  Whatever the pretext--
and my dread was great lest she should observe any strangeness in
my manner--it passed with her; by reason, chiefly, I think, of
the grief which monopolised her.  She let me go, and before
anyone else could mark or miss me I was a hundred yards away on
the back-track, and already sheltered from observation by a turn
in the road.

The excitement of my evasion supported me for a while after
leaving her; and then for another while, a paroxysm of pain
deprived me of the power of thought.  But when this last was
over, leaving me weak and shaken, yet clear in my mind, the most
miserable sadness and depression that can be conceived came upon
me; and, accompanying me through the wood, filled its avenues
(which doubtless were fair enough to others' eyes) with the
blackness of despair.  I saw but the charnel-house, and that
everywhere.  It was not only that the horrors of the first
discovery returned upon me and almost unmanned me; nor only that
regrets and memories, pictures of the past and plans for the
future, crowded thick upon my mind, so that I could have wept at
the thought of all ending here.  But in my weakness
mademoiselle's face shone where the wood was darkest, and,
tempting and provoking me to return--were it only to tell her
that, grim and dull as I seemed, I loved her--tried me with a
subtle temptation almost beyond my strength to resist.  All that
was mean in me rose in arms, all that was selfish clamoured to
know why I must die in the ditch while others rode in the
sunshine; why I must go to the pit, while others loved and lived!

And so hard was I pressed that I think I should have given way
had the ride been longer or my horse less smooth and nimble.  But
in the midst of my misery, which bodily pain was beginning to
augment to such a degree that I could scarcely see, and had to
ride gripping the saddle with both hands, I reached the mill.  My
horse stopped of its own accord.  The man we had seen before came
out.  I had I just strength left to tell him what was the matter,
and what I wanted and then a fresh attack came on, with sickness,
and overcome by vertigo I fell to the ground.

I have but an indistinct idea what happened after that; until I
found myself inside the house, clinging to the man's arm.  He
pointed to a box-bed in one corner of the room (which was, or
seemed to my sick eyes, gloomy and darksome in the extreme), and
would have had me lie down in it.  But something inside me
revolted against the bed, and despite the force he used, I broke
away, and threw myself on a heap of straw which I saw in another
corner.

'Is not the, bed good enough for you?'  he grumbled.

I strove to tell him it was not that.

'It should be good enough to die on,' he continued brutally.
'There's five have died on that bed, I'd have you know!  My wife
one, and my son another, and my daughter another; and then my son
again, and a daughter again.  Five!  Ay, five in that bed!'

Brooding in the gloom of the chimney-corner, where he was busied
about a black pot, he continued to mutter and glance at me
askance; but after a while I swooned away with pain.

When I opened my eyes again the room was darker.  The man still
sat where I had last seen him, but a noise, the same, perhaps,
which had roused me, drew him as I looked to the unglazed window.
A voice outside, the tones of which I seemed to know, inquired if
he had seen me; and so carried away was I by the excitement of
the moment that I rose on my elbow to hear the answer.  But the
man was staunch.  I heard him deny all knowledge of me, and
presently the sound of retreating hoofs and the echo of voices
dying in the distance assured me I was left.

Then, at that instant, a doubt of the man on whose compassion I
had thrown myself entered my mind.  Plague-stricken, hopeless as
I was, it chilled me to the very heart; staying in a moment the
feeble tears I was about to shed, and curing even the vertigo,
which forced me to clutch at the straw on which I lay.  Whether
the thought arose from a sickly sense of my own impotence, or was
based on the fellow's morose air and the stealthy glances he
continued to cast at me, I am as unable to say as I am to decide
whether it was well-founded, or the fruit of my own fancy.
Possibly the gloom of the room and the man's surly words inclined
me to suspicion; possibly his secret thoughts portrayed
themselves in his hang-dog visage.  Afterwards it appeared that
he had stripped me, while I lay, of everything of value; but he
may have done this in the belief that I should die.

All I know is that I knew nothing certain, because the fear died
almost as soon as it was born.  The man had scarcely seated
himself again, or I conceived the thought, when a second alarm
outside caused him to spring to his feet.  Scowling and muttering
as he went, he hurried to the window.  But before he reached it
the door was dashed violently open, and Simon Fleix stood in the
entrance.

There came in with him so blessed a rush of light and life as in
a moment dispelled the horror of the room, and stripped me at one
and the same time of fear and manhood.  For whether I would or
no, at sight of the familiar face, which I had fled so lately, I
burst into tears; and, stretching out my hands to him, as a
frightened child might have done, called on him by name.  I
suppose the plague was by this time so plainly written on my face
that all who looked might read; for he stood at gaze, staring at
me, and was still so standing when a hand put him aside and a
slighter, smaller figure, pale-faced and hooded, stood for a
moment between me and the sunshine.  It was mademoiselle!

That, I thank God, restored me to myself, or I had been for ever
shamed.  I cried to them with all the voice I had left to take
her away; and calling out frantically again and again that I had
the plague and she would die, I bade the man close the door.
Nay, regaining something of strength in my fear for her, I rose
up, half-dressed as I was, and would have fled into some corner
to avoid her, still calling out to them to take her away, to take
her away--if a fresh paroxysm had not seized me, so that I fell
blind and helpless where I was.

For a time after that I knew nothing; until someone held water to
my lips, and I drank greedily, and presently awoke to the fact
that the entrance was dark with faces and figures all gazing at
me as I lay.  But I could not see her; and I had sense enough to
know and be thankful that she was no longer among them.  I would
fain have bidden Maignan to begone too, for I read the
consternation in his face.  But I could not muster strength or
voice for the purpose, and when I turned my head to see who held
me--ah me!  it comes back to me still in dreams--it was
mademoiselle's hair that swept my forehead and her hand that
ministered to me; while tears she did not try to hide or wipe
away fell on my hot cheek.  I could have pushed her away even
then, for she was slight and small; but the pains came upon me,
and with a sob choking my voice I lost all knowledge.

I am told that I lay for more than a month between life and
death, now burning with fever and now in the cold fit; and that
but for the tendance which never failed nor faltered, nor could
have been outdone had my malady been the least infectious in the
world.  I must have died a hundred times, as hundreds round me
did die week by week in that year.  From the first they took me
out of the house (where I think I should have perished quickly,
so impregnated was it with the plague poison) and laid me under a
screen of boughs in the forest, with a vast quantity of cloaks
and horse-cloths cunningly disposed to windward.  Here I ran some
risk from cold and exposure and the fall of heavy dews; but, on
the other hand, had all the airs of heaven to clear away the
humours and expel the fever from my brain.

Hence it was that when the first feeble beginnings of
consciousness awoke in me again, they and the light stole in on
me through green leaves, and overhanging boughs, and the
freshness and verdure of the spring woods.  The sunshine which
reached my watery eyes was softened by its passage through great
trees, which grew and expanded as I gazed up into them, until
each became a verdant world, with all a world's diversity of
life.  Grown tired of this, I had still long avenues of shade,
carpeted with flowers, to peer into; or a little wooded bottom
--where the ground fell away on one side--that blazed and burned
with redthorn.  Ay, and hence it was that the first sounds I
heard, when the fever left me at last, and I knew morning from
evening, and man from woman, were the songs of birds calling to
their mates.

Mademoiselle and Madame de Bruhl, with Fanchette and Simon Fleix,
lay all this time in such shelter as could be raised for them
where I lay; M. Francois and three stout fellows, whom Maignan
left to guard us living in a hut within hail.  Maignan himself,
after seeing out a week of my illness, had perforce returned to
his master, and no news had since been received from him.  Thanks
to the timely move into the woods, no other of the party fell
ill, and by the time I was able to stand and speak the ravages of
the disease had so greatly decreased that fear was at an end.

I should waste words were I to try to describe how the peace and
quietude of the life we led in the forest during the time of my
recovery sank into my heart; which had known, save by my mother's
bedside, little of such joys.  To awake in the morning to sweet
sounds and scents, to eat with reviving appetite and feel the
slow growth of strength, to lie all day in shade or sunshine as
it pleased me, and hear women's voices and tinkling laughter, to
have no thought of the world and no knowledge of it, so that we
might have been, for anything we saw, in another sphere--these
things might have sufficed for happiness without that which added
to each and every one of them a sweeter and deeper and more
lasting joy.  Of which next.

I had not begun to take notice long before I saw that M. Francois
and madame had come to an understanding; such an one, at least,
as permitted him to do all for her comfort and entertainment
without committing her to more than was becoming at such, a
season.  Naturally this left mademoiselle much in my company; a
circumstance which would have ripened into passion the affection
I before entertained for her, had not gratitude and a nearer
observance of her merits already elevated my regard into the most
ardent worship that even the youngest lover ever felt for his
mistress.

In proportion, however, as I and my love grew stronger, and
mademoiselle's presence grew more necessary to my happiness--so
that were she away but an hour I fell a-moping--she began to draw
off from me, and absenting herself more and more on long walks in
the woods, by-and-by reduced me to such a pitch, of misery as bid
fair to complete what the fever had left undone,

If this had happened in the world I think it likely that I should
have suffered in silence.  But here, under the greenwood, in
common enjoyment of God's air and earth, we seemed more nearly
equal.  She was scarce better dressed, than a sutler's wife;
while recollections of her wealth and station, though they
assailed me nightly, lost much of their point in presence of her
youth and of that fair and patient gentleness which forest life
and the duties of a nurse had fostered.

So it happened that one day, when she had been absent longer than
usual, I took my courage in my hand and went to meet her as far
as the stream which ran through the bottom by the redthorn.
Here, at a place where there were three stepping-stones, I waited
for her; first taking away the stepping-stones, that she might
have to pause, and, being at a loss, might be glad to see me.

She came presently, tripping through an alley in the low wood,
with her eyes on the ground, and her whole carriage full of a
sweet pensiveness which it did me good to see.  I turned my back
on the stream before she saw me, and made a pretence of being
taken up with something in another direction.  Doubtless she
espied me soon, and before she came very near; but she made no
sign until she reached the brink, and found the stepping-stones
were gone.

Then, whether she suspected me or not, she called out to me, not
once, but several times.  For, partly to tantalise her, as lovers
will, and partly because it charmed me to hear her use my name, I
would not turn at once.

When I did, and discovered her standing with one small foot
dallying with the water, I cried out with well-affected concern;
and in a great hurry ran towards her, paying no attention to her
chiding or the pettish haughtiness with which she spoke to me.

'The stepping-stones are all on your side,' she said imperiously.

'Who has moved them?'

I looked about without answering, and at last pretended to find
them; while she stood watching me, tapping the ground with one
foot the while.  Despite her impatience, the stone which was
nearest to her I took care to bring last--that she might not
cross without my assistance.  But after all she stepped over so
lightly and quickly that the hand she placed in mine seemed
scarcely to rest there a second.  Yet when she was over I managed
to retain it; nor did she resist, though her cheek, which had
been red before, turned crimson and her eyes fell, and bound to
me by the link of her little hand, she stood beside me with her
whole figure drooping.

'Mademoiselle,' I said gravely, summoning all my resolution to my
aid, 'do you know of what that stream with its stepping-stones
reminds me?'

She shook her head but did not answer.

'Of the stream which has flowed between us from the day when I
first saw you at St. Jean,' said in a low voice.  'It has flowed
between us, and it still does--separating us.'

'What stream?'  she murmured, with her eyes cast down, and her
foot playing with the moss.  'You speak in riddles, sir.'

'You understand this one only too well, mademoiselle, 'I
answered.  'Are you not young and gay and beautiful, while I am
old, or almost old, and dull and grave?  You are rich and well-
thought-of at Court, and I a soldier of fortune, not too
successful.  What did you think of me when you first saw me at
St. Jean?  What when I came to Rosny?  That, mademoiselle,' I
continued with fervour, 'is the stream which flows between us and
separates us; and I know of but one stepping-stone that can
bridge it.'

She looked aside, toying with a piece of thorn-blossom she had
picked.  It was not redder than her cheeks.

'That one stepping-stone,' I said, after waiting vainly for any
word or sign from her, 'is Love.  Many weeks ago, mademoiselle,
when I had little cause to like you, I loved you; I loved you
whether I would or not, and without thought or hope of return.  I
should have been mad had I spoken to you then.  Mad, and worse
than mad.  But now, now that I owe you my life, now that I have
drunk from your hand in fever, and, awaking early and late, have
found you by my pillow--now that, seeing you come in and out in
the midst of fear and hardship, I have learned to regard you as a
woman kind and gentle as my mother--now that I love you, so that
to be with you is joy, and away from you grief, is it presumption
in me now, mademoiselle, to think that that stream may be
bridged?'

I stopped, out of breath, and saw that she was trembling.  But
she spoke presently.  'You said one stepping-stone?'  she
murmured.

'Yes,' I answered hoarsely, trying in vain to look at her face,
which she kept averted from me.

'There should be two,' she said, almost in a whisper.  'Your
love, sir, and--and mine.  You have said much of the one, and
nothing of the other.  In that you are wrong, for I am proud
still.  And I would not cross the stream you speak of for any
love of yours!'

'Ah!'  I cried in sharpest pain.

'But,' she continued, looking up at me on a sudden with eyes that
told me all, 'because I love you I am willing to cross it--to
cross it once for ever, and to live beyond it all my life--if I
may live my life with you.'

I fell on my knee and kissed her hand again and again in a
rapture of joy and gratitude.  By-and-by she pulled it from me.
'If you will, sir,' she said, 'you may kiss my lips.  If you do
not, no man ever will.'

After that, as may be guessed, we walked every day in the forest,
making longer and longer excursions as my strength came back to
me, and the nearer parts grew familiar.  From early dawn, when I
brought my love a posy of flowers, to late evening, when
Fanchette hurried her from me, our days were passed in a long
round of delight; being filled full of all beautiful things--
love, and sunshine, and rippling streams, and green banks, on
which we sat together under scented limes, telling one another
all we had ever thought, and especially all we had ever thought
of one another.  Sometimes--when the light was low in the
evening--we spoke of my mother; and once--but that was in the
sunshine, when the bees were humming and my blood had begun to
run strongly in my veins--I spoke of my great and distant
kinsman, Rohan.  But mademoiselle would hear nothing of him,
murmuring again and again in my ear, 'I have crossed, my love, I
have crossed.'

Truly the sands of that hour-glass were of gold.  But in time
they ran out.  First M. Francois, spurred by the restlessness of
youth, and convinced that madame would for a while yield no
further, left us, and went back to the world.  Then news came of
great events that could not fail to move us.  The King of France
and the King of Navarre had met at Tours, and embracing in the
sight of an immense multitude, had repulsed the League with
slaughter in the suburb of St. Symphorien.  Fast on this followed
the tidings of their march northwards with an overwhelming army
of fifty-thousand men of both religions, bent, rumour had it, on
the signal punishment of Paris.

I grew--shame that I should say it--to think more and more of
these things; until mademoiselle, reading the signs, told me one
day that we must go.  'Though never again,' she added with a
sigh, 'shall we be so happy.'

'Then why go?'  I asked foolishly.

'Because you are a man,' she answered with a wise smile, 'as I
would have you be, and you need something besides love.  To-
morrow we will go.'

'Whither?'  I said in amazement.

'To the camp before Paris,' she answered.  'We will go back in
the light of day--seeing that we have done nothing of which to
be ashamed--and throw ourselves on the justice of the King of
Navarre.  You shall place me with Madame Catherine, who will not
refuse to protect me; and so,  sweet, you will have only yourself
to think of.  Come, sir,' she continued, laying her little hand
in mine, and looking into my eyes, 'you are not afraid?'

'I am more afraid than ever I used to be,' I said trembling.

'So I would have it,' she whispered, hiding her face on my
shoulder.  'Nevertheless we will go.'

And go we did.  The audacity of such a return in the face of
Turenne, who was doubtless in the King of Navarre's suite, almost
took my breath away; nevertheless, I saw that it possessed one
advantage which no other course promised--that, I mean, of
setting us right in the eyes of the world, and enabling me to
meet in a straightforward manner such as maligned us.  After some
consideration I gave my assent, merely conditioning that until we
reached the Court we should ride masked, and shun as far as
possible encounters by the road.



CHAPTER XXXII.

A TAVERN BRAWL.

On the following day, accordingly, we started.  But the news of
the two kings' successes, and particularly the certainty which
these had bred in many minds that nothing short of a miracle
could save Paris, had moved so many gentlemen to take the road
that we found the inns crowded beyond example, and were
frequently forced into meetings which made the task of concealing
our identity more difficult and hazardous than I had expected.
Sometimes shelter was not to be obtained on any terms, and then
we had to lie in the fields or in any convenient shed.  Moreover,
the passage of the army had swept the country so bare both of
food and forage, that these commanded astonishing prices; and a
long day's ride more than once brought us to our destination
without securing for us the ample meal we had earned, and
required.

Under these circumstances, it was with joy little short of
transport that I recognised the marvellous change which had come
over my mistress.  Bearing all without a murmur, or a frown, or
so much as one complaining word, she acted on numberless
occasions so as to convince me that she spoke truly--albeit I
scarcely dared to believe it--when she said that she had but one
trouble in the world, and that was the prospect of our coming
separation.

For my part, and despite some gloomy moments, when fear of the
future overcame me, I rode in Paradise riding by my mistress.  It
was her presence which glorified alike the first freshness of the
morning, when we started with all the day before us, and the
coolness of the late evening, when we rode hand-in-hand.  Nor
could I believe without an effort that I was the same Gaston de
Marsac who she had once spurned and disdained.  God knows I was
thankful for her love.  A thousand times, thinking of my grey
hairs, I asked her if she did not repent; and a thousand times
she answered No, with so much happiness in her eyes that I was
fain to thank God again and believe her.

Notwithstanding the inconvenience of the practice, we made it a
rule to wear our masks whenever we appeared in public; and this
rule me kept more strictly as we approached Paris.  It exposed us
to some comment and more curiosity, but led to no serious trouble
until we reached Etampes, twelve leagues from the capital; where
we found the principal inn so noisy and crowded, and so much
disturbed by the constant coming and going of couriers, that it
required no experience to predicate the neighbourhood of the
army.  The great courtyard seemed to be choked with a confused
mass of men and horses, through which we made our way with
difficulty.  The windows of the house were all open, and offered
us a view of tables surrounded by men eating and drinking
hastily, as the manner of travellers is.  The gateway and the
steps of the house were lined with troopers and servants and
sturdy rogues; who scanned all who passed in or out, and not
unfrequently followed them with ribald jests and nicknames.
Songs and oaths, brawling and laughter, with the neighing of
horses and the huzzas of the beggars, who shouted whenever a
fresh party arrived, rose above all, and increased the reluctance
with which I assisted madame and mademoiselle to dismount.

Simon was no match for such an occasion as this; but the stalwart
aspect of the three men whom Maignan had left with me commanded
respect, and attended by two of these I made a way for the
ladies--not without some opposition and a few oaths--to enter the
house.  The landlord, whom we found crushed into a corner inside,
and entirely overborne by the crowd which had invaded his
dwelling, assured me that he had not the smallest garret he could
place at my disposal; but I presently succeeded in finding a
small room at the top, which I purchased from the four men who
had taken possession of it.  As it was impossible to get anything
to eat there, I left a man on guard, and myself descended with
madame and mademoiselle to the eating-room, a large chamber set
with long boards, and filled with a rough and noisy crew.  Under
a running fire of observations we entered, and found with
difficulty three seats in an inner corner of the room.

I ran my eye over the company, and noticed among them, besides a
dozen travelling parties like our own, specimens of all those
classes which are to be found in the rear of an army.  There were
some officers and more horse-dealers; half a dozen forage-agents
and a few priests; with a large sprinkling of adventurers,
braves, and led-captains, and here and there two or three whose
dress and the deference paid to them by their neighbours seemed
to indicate a higher rank.  Conspicuous among these last were a
party of four who occupied a small table by the door.  An attempt
had been made to secure some degree of privacy for them by
interposing a settle between them and the room; and their
attendants, who seemed to be numerous, did what they could to add
to this by filling the gap with their persons.  One of the four,
a man of handsome dress and bearing, who sat in the place of
honour, was masked, as we were.  The gentleman at his right hand
I could not see.  The others, whom I could see, were strangers to
me.

Some time elapsed before our people succeeded in procuring us any
food, and during the interval we were exposed to an amount of
comment on the part of those round us which I found very little
to my liking.  There were not half a dozen women present, and
this and our masks rendered my companions unpleasantly
conspicuous.  Aware, however, of the importance of avoiding an
altercation which might possibly detain us, and would be certain
to add to our notoriety, I remained quiet; and presently the
entrance of a tall, dark-complexioned man, who carried himself
with a peculiar swagger, and seemed to be famous for something or
other, diverted the attention of the company from us.

The new-comer was somewhat of Maignan's figure.  He wore a back
and breast over a green doublet, and had an orange feather in his
cap and an orange-lined cloak on his shoulder.  On entering he
stood a moment in the doorway, letting his bold black eyes rove
round the room, the while he talked in a loud braggart fashion to
his companions.  There was a lack of breeding in the man's air,
and something offensive in his look; which I noticed produced
wherever it rested a momentary silence and constraint.  When he
moved farther into the room I saw that he wore a very long sword,
the point of which trailed a foot behind him.

He chose out for his first attentions the party of four whom I
have mentioned; going up to them and accosting them with a
ruffling air, directed especially to the gentleman in the mask.
The latter lifted his head haughtily on finding himself addressed
by a stranger, but did not offer to answer.  Someone else did,
however, for a sudden bellow like that of an enraged bull
proceeded from behind the settle.  The words were lost in noise,
the unseen speaker's anger seeming so overpowering that he could
not articulate; but the tone and voice, which were in some way
familiar to me, proved enough for the bully, who, covering his
retreat with a profound bow, backed out rapidly, muttering what
was doubtless an apology.  Cocking his hat more fiercely to make
up for this repulse, he next proceeded to patrol the room,
scowling from side to side as he went, with the evident intention
of picking a quarrel with someone less formidable.

By ill-chance his eye lit, as he turned, on our masks.  He said
something to his companions; and encouraged, no doubt, by the
position of our seats at the board, which led him to think us
people of small consequence, he came to a stop opposite us.

'What!  more dukes here?'  he cried scoffingly.  'Hallo, you
sir!' he continued to me, 'will you not unmask and drink a glass
with me?'

I thanked him civilly, but declined.

His insolent eyes were busy, while I spoke, with madame's fair
hair and handsome figure, which her mask failed to hide.
'Perhaps the ladies will have better taste, sir,' he said rudely.
'Will they not honour us with a sight of their pretty faces?'

Knowing the importance of keeping my temper I put constraint on
myself, and answered, still with civility, that they were greatly
fatigued and were about to retire.

'Zounds!'  he cried, 'that is not to be borne.  If we are to lose
them so soon, the more reason we should enjoy their BEAUX YEUX
while we can.  A short life and a merry one, sir.  This is not a
nunnery, nor, I dare swear, are your fair friends nuns.'

Though I longed to chastise him for this insult, I feigned
deafness, and went on with my meal as if I had not heard him; and
the table being between us prevented him going beyond words.
After he had uttered one or two coarse jests of a similar
character, which cost us less as we were masked, and our emotions
could only be guessed, the crowd about us, seeing I took the
thing quietly, began to applaud him; but more as it seemed to me
out of fear than love.  In this opinion I was presently confirmed
on hearing from Simon who whispered the information in my ear as
he handed a dish--that the fellow was an Italian captain in the
king's pay, famous for his skill with the sword and the many
duels in which he had displayed it.

Mademoiselle, though she did not know this, bore with his
insolence with a patience which astonished me; while madame
appeared unconscious of it.  Nevertheless, I was glad when he
retired and left us in peace.  I seized the moment of his absence
to escort the ladies through the room and upstairs to their
apartment, the door of which I saw locked and secured.  That done
I breathed more freely; and feeling thankful that I had been able
to keep my temper, took the episode to be at an end.

But in this I was mistaken, as I found when I returned to the
room in which we had supped, my intention being to go through it
to the stables.  I had not taken two paces across the floor
before I found my road blocked by the Italian, and read alike in
his eyes and in the faces of the company--of whom many hastened
to climb the tables to see what passed--that the meeting was
premeditated.  The man's face was flushed with wine; proud of his
many victories, he eyed me with a boastful contempt my patience
had perhaps given him the right to feel.

'Ha!  well met, sir,' he said, sweeping the floor with his cap in
an exaggeration of respect, 'now, perhaps, your high-mightiness
will condescend to unmask?  The table is no longer between us,
nor are your fair friends here to protect their CHER AMI!'

'If I still refuse, sir,' I said civilly, wavering between anger
and prudence, and hoping still to avoid a quarrel which might
endanger us all, 'be good enough to attribute it to private
motives, and to no desire to disoblige you.'

'No, I do not think you wish to disoblige me,' he answered,
laughing scornfully--and a dozen voices echoed the gibe.  'But
for your private motives, the devil take them!  Is that plain
enough, sir?'

'It is plain enough to show me that you are an ill-bred man!'  I
answered, choler getting the better of me.  'Let me pass, sir.'

'Unmask!'  he retorted, moving so as still to detain me, 'or
shall I call in the grooms to perform the office for you?'

Seeing at last that all my attempts to evade the man only fed his
vanity, and encouraged him to further excesses, and that the
motley crowd, who filled the room and already formed a circle
round us, had made up their minds to see sport, I would no longer
balk them; I could no longer do it, indeed, with honour.  I
looked round, therefore, for someone whom I might enlist as my
second, but I saw no one with whom I had the least acquaintance.
The room was lined from table to ceiling with mocking faces and
scornful eyes all turned to me.

My opponent saw the look, and misread it; being much accustomed,
I imagine, to a one-sided battle.  He laughed contemptuously.
'No, my friend, there is no way out of it,' he said.  'Let me see
your pretty face, or fight.'

'So be it,' I said quietly.  'If I have no other choice, I will
fight.'

'In your mask?'  he cried incredulously.

'Yes,' I said sternly, feeling every nerve tingle with long-
suppressed rage.  'I will fight as I am.  Off with your back and
breast, if you are a man.  And I will so deal with you that if
you see to-morrow's sun you shall need a mask for the rest of
your days!'

'Ho!  ho!'  he answered, scowling at me in surprise, 'you sing in
a different key now.  But I will put a term to it.  There is
space enough between these tables, if you can use your weapon;
and much more than you will need to-morrow.'

'To-morrow will show,' I retorted.

Without more ado he unfastened the buckles of his breast-piece,
and relieving himself of it, stepped back a pace.  Those of the
bystanders who occupied the part of the room he indicated--a
space bounded by four tables, and not unfit for the purpose,
though somewhat confined--hastened to get out of it, and seize
instead upon neighbouring posts of 'vantage.  The man's
reputation was such, and his fame so great, that on all sides I
heard naught but wagers offered against me at odds; but this
circumstance, which might have flurried a younger man and numbed
his arm, served only to set me on making the most of such
openings as the fellow's presumption and certainty of success
would be sure to afford.

The news of the challenge running through the house had brought
together by this time so many people as to fill the room from end
to end, and even to obscure the light, which was beginning to
wane.  At the last moment, when we were on the point of engaging,
a slight commotion marked the admission to the front of three or
four persons, whose consequence or attendants gained them this
advantage.  I believed them to be the party of four I have
mentioned, but at the time I could not be certain.

In the few seconds of waiting while this went forward I examined
our relative positions with the fullest intention of killing the
man--whose glittering eyes and fierce smile filled me with a
loathing which was very nearly hatred--if I could.  The line of
windows lay to my right and his left.  The evening light fell
across us, whitening the row of faces on my left, but leaving
those on my right in shadow.  It occurred to me on the instant
that my mask was actually an advantage, seeing that it protected
my sight from the side-light, and enabled me to watch his eyes
and point with more concentration.

'You will be the twenty-third man I have killed!'  he said
boastfully, as we crossed swords and stood an instant on guard.

'Take care!'  I answered.  'You have twenty-three against you!'

A swift lunge was his only answer.  I parried it, and thrust, and
we fell to work.  We had not exchanged half a dozen blows,
however, before I saw that I should need all the advantage which
my mask and greater caution gave me.  I had met my match, and it
might be something more; but that for a time it was impossible to
tell.  He had the longer weapon, and I the longer reach.  He
preferred the point, after the new Italian fashion, and I the
blade.  He was somewhat flushed with wine, while my arm had
scarcely recovered the strength of which illness had deprived me.

On the other hand, excited at the first by the cries of his
backers, he played rather wildly; while I held myself prepared,
and keeping up a strong guard, waited cautiously for any opening
or mistake on his part.

The crowd round us, which had hailed our first passes with noisy
cries of derision and triumph, fell silent after a while,
surprised and taken aback by their champion's failure to spit me
at the first onslaught.  My reluctance to engage had led them to
predict a short fight and an easy victory.

Convinced of the contrary, they began to watch each stroke with
bated breath; or now and again, muttering the name of Jarnac,
broke into brief exclamations as a blow more savage than usual
drew sparks from our blades, and made the rafters ring with the
harsh grinding of steel on steel.

The surprise of the crowd, however, was a small thing compared
with that of my adversary.  Impatience, disgust, rage and doubt
chased one another in turn across his flushed features.
Apprised that he had to do with a swordsman, he put forth all
his power.  With spite in his eyes he laboured blow on blow, he
tried one form of attack after another, he found me equal, if
barely equal, to all.  And then at last there came a change.  The
perspiration gathered on his brow, the silence disconcerted him;
he felt his strength failing under the strain, and suddenly, I
think, the possibility of defeat and death, unthought of before,
burst upon him.  I heard him groan, and for a moment he fenced
wildly.  Then he again recovered himself.  But now I read terror
in his eyes, and knew that the moment of retribution was at hand.
With his back to the table, and my point threatening his breast,
he knew at last what those others had felt!

He would fain have stopped to breathe, but I would not let him
though my blows also were growing feeble, and my guard weaker;
for I knew that if I gave him time to recover himself he would
have recourse to other tricks, and might out-manoeuvre me in the
end.  As it was, my black unchanging mask, which always
confronted him, which hid all emotions and veiled even fatigue,
had grown to be full of terror to him--full of blank, passionless
menace.  He could not tell how I fared, or what I thought, or how
my strength stood.  Superstitious dread was on him, and
threatened, to overpower him.  Ignorant who I was or whence I
came, he feared and doubted, grappling with monstrous suspicions,
which the fading light encouraged.  His face broke out in
blotches, his breath came and went in gasps, his eyes began to
protrude.  Once or twice they quitted mine for a part of a second
to steal a despairing glance at the rows of onlookers that ran to
right and left of us.  But he read no pity there.

At last the end came--more suddenly than I had looked for it, but
I think he was unnerved.  His hand lost its grip of the hilt, and
a parry which I dealt a little more briskly than usual sent the
weapon flying among the crowd, as much to my astonishment as to
that of the spectators.  A volley of oaths and exclamations
hailed the event; and for a moment I stood at gaze, eyeing him
watchfully.  He shrank back; then he made for a moment as if he
would fling himself upon me dagger in hand.  But seeing my point
steady, he recoiled a second time, his face distorted with rage
and fear.

'Go!'  I said sternly.  'Begone!  Follow your sword!  But spare
the next man you conquer.'

He stared at me, fingering his dagger as if he did not
understand, or as if in the bitterness of his shame at being so
defeated even life were unwelcome.  I was about to repeat my
words when a heavy hand fell on my shoulder.

'Fool!'  a harsh growling voice muttered in my ear.  'Do you want
him to serve you as Achon served Matas?  This is the way to deal
with him.'

And before I knew who spoke or what to expect a man vaulted over
the table beside me.  Seizing the Italian by the neck and waist,
he flung him bodily--without paying the least regard to his
dagger--into the crowd.  'There!'  the new-comer cried,
stretching his arms as if the effort had relieved him, 'so much
for him!  And do you breathe yourself.  Breathe yourself, my
friend,' he continued with a vain-glorious air of generosity.
'When you are rested and ready, you and I will have a bout.  Mon
dieu!  what a thing it is to see a man!  And by my faith you are
a man!'

'But, sir,' I said, staring at him in the utmost bewilderment,
'we have no quarrel.'

'Quarrel?'  he cried in his loud, ringing voice.  'Heaven forbid!
Why should we?  I love a man, however, and when I see one I say
to him, "I am Crillon!  Fight me!"  But I see you are not yet
rested.  Patience!  There is no hurry.  Berthon de Crillon is
proud to wait your convenience.  In the meantime, gentlemen,' he
continued, turning with a grand air to the spectators, who viewed
this sudden BOULEVERSEMENT with unbounded surprise, 'let us do
what we can.  Take the word from me, and cry all, "VIVE LE ROI,
ET VIVE L'INCONNU!"'

Like people awaking from a dream--so great was their astonishment
the company complied and with the utmost heartiness.  When the
shout died away, someone cried in turn, 'Vive Crillon!'  and this
was honoured with a fervour which brought the tears to the eyes
of that remarkable man, in whom bombast was so strangely combined
with the firmest and most reckless courage.  He bowed again and
again, turning himself about in the small space between the
tables, while his face shone with pleasure and enthusiasm.
Meanwhile I viewed him with perplexity.  I comprehended that it
was his voice I had heard behind the settle; but I had neither
the desire to fight him nor so great a reserve of strength after
my illness as to be able to enter on a fresh contest with
equanimity.  When he turned to me, therefore, and again asked,
'Well, sir, are you ready?'  I could think of no better answer
than that I had already made to him, 'But, sir, I have no quarrel
with you.'

'Tut, tut!'  he answered querulously, 'if that is all, let us
engage.'

'That is not all, however,' I said, resolutely putting up my
sword.  'I have not only no quarrel with M. de Crillon, but I
received at his hands when I last saw him a considerable
service.'

'Then now is the time to return it,' he answered.  briskly, and
as if that settled the matter.

I could not refrain from laughing.  'Nay, but I have still an
excuse,' I said.  'I am barely recovered from an illness, and am
weak.  Even so, I should be loth to decline a combat with some;
but a better man than I may give the wall to M. de Crillon and
suffer no disgrace.'

'Oh, if you put it that way--enough said,' he answered in a tone
of disappointment.  'And, to be sure, the light is almost gone.
That is a comfort.  But you will not refuse to drink a cup of
wine with me?  Your voice I remember, though I cannot say who you
are or what service I did you.  For the future, however, count on
me.  I love a man who is brave as well as modest, and know no
better friend than a stout swordsman.'

I was answering him in fitting terms--while the fickle crowd,
which a few minutes earlier had been ready to tear me, viewed us
from a distance with respectful homage--when the masked gentleman
who had before been in his company drew near and saluted me with
much stateliness.

'I congratulate you, sir,' he said, in the easy tone of a great
man condescending.  'You use the sword as few use it, and fight
with your head as well as your hands.  Should you need a friend
or employment, you will honour me by remembering that you are
known to the Vicomte de Turenne.'

I bowed low to hide the start which the mention of his name
caused me.  For had I tried, ay, and possessed to aid me all the
wit of M. de Brantome, I could have imagined nothing more
fantastic than this meeting; or more entertaining than that I,
masked, should talk with the Vicomte de Turenne masked, and hear
in place of reproaches and threats of vengeance a civil offer of
protection.  Scarcely knowing whether I should laugh or tremble,
or which should occupy me more, the diverting thing that had
happened or the peril we had barely escaped, I made shift to
answer him, craving his indulgence if I still preserved my
incognito.  Even while I spoke a fresh fear assailed me:  lest M.
de Crillon, recognising my voice or figure, should cry my name on
the spot, and explode in a moment the mine on which we stood.

This rendered me extremely impatient to be gone.  But M. le
Vicomte had still something to say, and I could not withdraw
myself without rudeness.

'You are travelling north like everyone else?'  he said, gazing
at me curiously.  'May I ask whether you are for Meudon, where
the King of Navarre lies, or for the Court at St. Cloud?'

I muttered, moving restlessly under his keen eyes, that I was for
Meudon.

'Then, if you care to travel with a larger company,' he rejoined,
bowing with negligent courtesy, 'pray command me.  I am for
Meudon also, and shall leave here three hours before noon.'

Fortunately he took my assent to his gracious invitation for
granted, and turned away before I had well begun to thank him.
From Crillon I found it more difficult to escape.  He appeared to
have conceived a great fancy for me, and felt also, I imagine,
some curiosity as to my identity.  But I did even this at last,
and, evading the obsequious offers which were made me on all
sides, escaped to the stables, where I sought out the Cid's
stall, and lying down in the straw beside him, began to review
the past, and plan the future.  Under cover of the darkness sleep
soon came to me; my last waking thoughts being divided between
thankfulness for my escape and a steady purpose to reach Meudon
before the Vicomte, so that I might make good my tale in his
absence.  For that seemed to be my only chance of evading the
dangers I had chosen to encounter.



CHAPTER XXXIII.

AT MEUDON.

Making so early a start from Etampes that the inn, which had
continued in an uproar till long after midnight, lay sunk in
sleep when we rode out of the yard, we reached Meudon about noon
next day.  I should be tedious were I to detail what thoughts my
mistress and I had during that day's journey--the last, it might
be, which we should take together; or what assurances we gave one
another, or how often we, repented the impatience which had
impelled us to put all to the touch.  Madame, with kindly
forethought, detached herself from us, and rode the greater part
of the distance with Fanchette; but the opportunities she gave us
went for little; for, to be plain, the separation we dreaded
seemed to overshadow us already.  We uttered few words, through
those few were to the purpose, but riding hand-in-hand, with full
hearts, and eyes which seldom quitted one another, looked forward
to Meudon and its perils with such gloomy forebodings as our love
and my precarious position suggested.

Long before we reached the town, or could see more of it than the
Chateau, over which the Lilies of France and the broad white
banner of the Bourbons floated in company, we found ourselves
swept into the whirlpool which surrounds an army.  Crowds stood
at all the cross-roads, wagons and sumpter-mules encumbered the
bridges; each moment a horseman passed us at a gallop, or a troop
of disorderly rogues, soldiers only in name, reeled, shouting and
singing, along the road.  Here and there, for a warning to the
latter sort, a man, dangled on a rude gallows; under which
sportsmen returning from the chase and ladies who had been for an
airing rode laughing on their way.

Amid the multitude entering the town we passed unnoticed.  A
little way within the walls we halted to inquire where the
Princess of Navarre had her lodging.  Hearing that she occupied a
house in the town, while her brother had his quarters in the
Chateau, and the King of France at St. Cloud, I stayed my party
in a by-road, a hundred paces farther on, and, springing from the
Cid, went to my mistress's knee.

'Mademoiselle,' I said formally, and so loudly that all my men
might hear, 'the time is come.  I dare not go farther with you.
I beg you, therefore, to bear me witness that as I took you so I
have brought you back, and both with your good-will.  I beg that
you will give me this quittance, for it may serve me.'

She bowed her head and laid her ungloved hand on mine, which I
had placed on, the pommel of her saddle.  'Sir,' she answered in
a broken voice, 'I will not give you this quittance, nor any
quittance from me while I live.'  With that she took off her mask
before them all, and I saw the tears running down her white face.
'May God protect you, M. de Marsac,' she continued, stooping
until her face almost touched mine, 'and bring you to the thing
you desire.  If not, sir, and you pay too dearly for what you
have done for me, I will live a maiden all my days.  And, if I do
not, these men may shame me!'

My heart was too full for words, but I took the glove she held
out to me, and kissed her hand with my knee bent.  Then I waved--
for I could not speak--to madame to proceed; and with Simon Fleix
and Maignan's men to guard them they went on their way.
Mademoiselle's white face looked back to me until a bend in the
road hid them, and I saw them no more.

I turned when all were gone, and going heavily to where my Sard
stood with his head drooping, I climbed to the saddle, and rode
at a foot-pace towards the Chateau.  The way was short and easy,
for the next turning showed me the open gateway and a crowd about
it.  A vast number of people were entering and leaving, while
others rested in the shade of the wall, and a dozen grooms led
horses up and down.  The sunshine fell hotly on the road and the
courtyard, and flashed back by the cuirasses of the men on guard,
seized the eye and dazzled it with gleams of infinite brightness.
I was advancing alone, gazing at all this with a species of dull
indifference which masked for the moment the suspense I felt at
heart, when a man, coming on foot along the street, crossed
quickly to me and looked me in the face.

I returned his look, and seeing he was a stranger to me, was for
passing on without pausing.  But he wheeled beside me and uttered
my name in a low voice.

I checked the Cid and looked down at him.  'Yes,' I said
mechanically, 'I am M. de Marsac.  But I do not know you.'

'Nevertheless I have been watching for you for three days,' he
replied.  'M. de Rosny received your message.  This is for you.'

He handed me a scrap of paper.  'From whom?'  I asked.

'Maignan,' he answered briefly.  And with that, and a stealthy
look round, he left me, and went the way he had been going
before.

I tore open the note, and knowing that Maignan could not write,
was not surprised to find that it lacked any signature.  The
brevity of its contents vied with the curtness of its bearer.
'In Heaven's name go back and wait,' it ran.  'Your enemy is
here, and those who wish you well are powerless.'

A warning so explicit, and delivered under such circumstances,
might have been expected to make me pause even then.  But I read
the message with the same dull indifference, the same dogged
resolve with which the sight of the crowded gateway before me had
inspired me.  I had not come so far and baffled Turenne by an
hour to fail in my purpose at the last; nor given such pledges to
another to prove false to myself.  Moreover, the distant rattle
of musketry, which went to show that a skirmish was taking place
on the farther side of the Castle, seemed an invitation to me to
proceed; for now, if ever, my sword might earn protection and a
pardon.  Only in regard to M. de Rosny, from whom I had no doubt
that the message came, I resolved to act with prudence; neither
making any appeal to him in public nor mentioning his name to
others in private.

The Cid had borne me by this time into the middle of the throng
about the gateway, who, wondering to see a stranger of my
appearance arrive without attendants, eyed me with a mixture of
civility and forwardness.  I recognised more than one man whom I
had seen about the Court at St. Jean d'Angely six months before;
but so great is the disguising power of handsome clothes and
equipments that none of these knew me.  I beckoned to the
nearest, and asked him if the King of Navarre was in the Chateau.

'He has gone to see the King of France at St. Cloud,' the man
answered, with something of wonder that anyone should be ignorant
of so important a fact.  'He is expected here in an hour.'

I thanked him, and calculating that I should still have time and
to spare before the arrival of M. de Turenne, I dismounted, and
taking the rein over my arm, began to walk up and down in the
shade of the wall.  Meanwhile the loiterers increased in numbers
as the minutes passed.  Men of better standing rode up, and,
leaving their horses in charge of their lackeys, went into the
Chateau.  Officers in shining corslets, or with boots and
scabbards dulled with dust, arrived and clattered in through the
gates.  A messenger galloped up with letters, and was instantly
surrounded by a curious throng of questioners; who left him only
to gather about the next comers, a knot of townsfolk, whose
downcast visages and glances of apprehension seemed to betoken no
pleasant or easy mission.

Watching many of these enter and disappear, while only the
humbler sort remained to swell the crowd at the gate, I began to
experience the discomfort and impatience which are the lot of the
man who finds himself placed in a false position.  I foresaw with
clearness the injury I was about to do my cause by presenting
myself to the king among the common herd; and yet I had no choice
save to do this, for I dared not run the risk of entering, lest I
should be required to give my name, and fail to see the King of
Navarre at all.

As it was I came very near to being foiled in this way; for I
presently recognised, and was recognised in turn, by a gentleman
who rode up to the gates and, throwing his reins to a groom,
dismounted with an air of immense gravity.  This was M. Forget,
the king's secretary, and the person to whom I had on a former
occasion presented a petition.  He looked at me with eyes of
profound astonishment, and saluting me stiffly from a distance,
seemed in two minds whether he should pass in or speak to me.  On
second thoughts, however, he came towards me, and again saluted
me with a peculiarly dry and austere aspect.

'I believe, sir, I am speaking to M. de Marsac?'  he said in a
low voice, but not impolitely.

I replied in the affirmative.

'And that, I conclude, is your horse?'  he continued, raising his
cane, and pointing to the Cid, which I had fastened to a hook in
the wall.

I replied again in the affirmative.

'Then take a word of advice,' he answered, screwing up his
features, and speaking in a dry sort of way.  'Get upon its back
without an instant's delay, and put as many leagues between
yourself and Meudon as horse and man may.'

'I am obliged to you,' I said, though I was greatly startled by
his words.  'And what if I do not take your advice?'

He shrugged his shoulders.  'In that case look to yourself!'  he
retorted.  'But you will look in vain!'

He turned on his heel, as he spoke, and in a moment was gone.  I
watched him enter the Chateau, and in the uncertainty which
possessed me whether he was not gone--after salving his
conscience by giving me warning--to order my instant arrest, I
felt, and I doubt not I looked, as ill at ease for the time being
as the group of trembling townsfolk who stood near me.
Reflecting that he should know his master's mind, I recalled with
depressing clearness the repeated warnings the King of Navarre
had given me that I must not look to him for reward or
protection.  I bethought me that I was here against his express
orders:  presuming on those very services which he had given me
notice he should repudiate.  I remembered that Rosny had always
been in the same tale.  And in fine I began to see that
mademoiselle and I had together decided on a step which I should
never have presumed to take on my own motion.

I had barely arrived at this conclusion when the trampling of
hoofs and a sudden closing in of the crowd round the gate
announced the King of Navarre's approach.  With a sick heart I
drew nearer, feeling that the crisis was at hand; and in a moment
he came in sight, riding beside an elderly man, plainly dressed
and mounted, with whom he was carrying on an earnest
conversation.  A train of nobles and gentlemen, whose martial air
and equipments made up for the absence of the gewgaws and
glitter, to which my eyes had become accustomed at Blois,
followed close on his heels.  Henry himself wore a suit of white
velvet, frayed in places and soiled by his armour; but his quick
eye and eager, almost fierce, countenance could not fail to win
and keep the attention of the least observant.  He kept glancing
from side to side as he came on; and that with so cheerful an air
and a carriage so full at once of dignity and good-humour that no
one could look on him and fail to see that here was a leader and
a prince of men, temperate in victory and unsurpassed in defeat.

The crowd raising a cry of 'VIVE NAVARRE!'  as he drew near, he
bowed, with a sparkle in his eye.  But when a few by the gate
cried 'VIVENT LES ROIS!'  he held up his hand for silence, and
said in a loud, clear voice, 'Not that, my friends.  There is but
one king in France.  Let us say instead, "Vive le Roi!"'

The spokesman of the little group of townsfolk, who, I learned,
were from Arcueil, and had come to complain of the excessive
number of troops quartered upon them, took advantage of the pause
to approach him.  Henry received the old man with a kindly look,
and bent from his saddle to hear what he had to say.  While they
were talking I pressed forward, the emotion I felt on my own
account heightened by my recognition of the man who rode by the
King of Navarre--who was no other than M. de la Noue.  No
Huguenot worthy of the name could look on the veteran who had
done and suffered more for the cause than any living man without
catching something of his stern enthusiasm; and the sight, while
it shamed me, who a moment before had been inclined to prefer my
safety to the assistance I owed my country, gave me courage to
step to the king's rein, so that I heard his last words to the
men of Arcueil.

'Patience, my friends,' he said kindly.  'The burden is heavy,
but the journey is a short one.  The Seine is ours; the circle is
complete.  In a week Paris must surrender.  The king, my cousin,
will enter, and you will be rid of us.  For France's sake one
week, my friends.'

The men fell back with low obeisances, charmed by his good-
nature, and Henry, looking up, saw me before him.  In the instant
his jaw fell.  His brow, suddenly contracting above eyes, which
flashed with surprise and displeasure, altered in a moment the
whole aspect of his face; which grew dark and stern as night.
His first impulse was to pass by me; but seeing that I held my
ground, he hesitated, so completely chagrined by my appearance
that he did not know how to act, or in what way to deal with me.
I seized the occasion, and bending my knee with as much respect
as I had ever used to the King of France, begged to bring myself
to his notice, and to crave his protection and favour.

'This is no time to trouble me, sir,' he retorted, eyeing me with
an angry side-glance.  'I do not know you.  You are unknown to
me, sir.  You must go to M. de Rosny.'

'It would be useless sire,' I answered, in desperate persistence.

'Then I can do nothing for you,' he rejoined peevishly.  'Stand
on one side, sir.'

But I was desperate.  I knew that I had risked all on the event,
and must establish my footing before M. de Turenne's return, or
run the risk of certain recognition and vengeance.  I cried out,
caring nothing who heard, that I was M. de Marsac, that I had
come back to meet whatever my enemies could allege against me.

'VENTRE SAINT GRIS!'  Henry exclaimed, starting in his saddle
with well-feigned surprise.  'Are you that man?'

'I am, sire,' I answered.

'Then you must be mad!'  he retorted, appealing to those behind
him.  'Stark, staring mad to show your face here!  'VENTRE SAINT
GRIS!  Are we to have all the ravishers and plunderers in the
country come to us?'

'I am neither the one nor the other!'  I answered, looking with
indignation from him to the gaping train behind him.

'That you will have to settle with M. de Turenne!'  he retorted,
frowning down at me with his whole face turned gloomy and fierce.
'I know you well, sir, now.  Complaint has been made that you
abducted a lady from his Castle of Chize some time back.'

'The lady, sire, is now in charge of the Princess of Navarre.'

'She is?'  he exclaimed, quite taken aback.

'And if she has aught of complaint against me,' I continued with
pride,' I will submit to whatever punishment you order or M. de
Turenne demands.  But if she has no complaint to make, and vows
that she accompanied me of her own free-will and accord, and has
suffered neither wrong nor displeasure at my hands, then, sire, I
claim that this is a private matter between myself and M. de
Turenne.'

'Even so I think you will have your hands full,' he answered
grimly.  At the same time he stopped by a gesture those who would
have cried out upon me, and looked at me himself with an altered
countenance.  'Do I understand that you assert that the lady went
of her own accord?'  he asked.

'She went and has returned, sire,' I answered.

'Strange!'  he ejaculated.  'Have you married her?'

'No, sire,' I answered.  'I desire leave to do so.'

'Mon dieu!  she is M. de Turenne's ward,' he rejoined, almost
dumbfounded by my audacity.

'I do not despair of obtaining his assent, sire,' I said
patiently.

'SAINT GRIS!  the man is mad!'  he cried, wheeling his horse and
facing his train with a gesture of the utmost wonder.  'It is the
strangest story I ever heard.'

'But somewhat more to the gentleman's credit than the lady's!'
one said with a smirk and a smile.

'A lie!'  I cried, springing forward on the instant with a
boldness which astonished myself.  'She is as pure as your
Highness's sister!  I swear it.  That man lies in his teeth, and
I will maintain it.'

'Sir!'  the King of Navarre cried, turning on me with the utmost
sternness, 'you forget yourself in my presence!  Silence, and
beware another time how you let your tongue run on those above
you.  You have enough trouble, let me tell you, on your hands
already.'

'Yet the man lies!'  I answered doggedly, remembering Crillon and
his ways.  'And if he will do me the honour of stepping aside
with me, I will convince him of it!'

'VENTRE SAINT GRIS!'  Henry replied, frowning, and dwelling on
each syllable of his favourite oath.  'Will you be silent, sir,
and let me think?  Or must I order your instant arrest?'

'Surely that at least, sire,' a suave voice interjected.  And
with that a gentleman pressed forward from the rest, and gaining
a place, of 'vantage by the King's side, shot at me a look of
extreme malevolence.  'My lord of Turenne will expect no less at
your Highness's hands,' he continued warmly.  'I beg you will
give the order on the spot, and hold this person to answer for
his misdeeds.  M. de Turenne returns to-day.  He should be here
now.  I say again, sire, he will expect no less than this.'

The king, gazing at me with gloomy eyes, tugged at his
moustaches.  Someone had motioned the common herd to stand back
out of hearing; at the same time the suite had moved up out of
curiosity and formed a half-circle; in the midst of which I stood
fronting the king, who had La Noue and the last speaker on either
hand.  Perplexity and annoyance struggled for the mastery in his
face as he looked darkly down at me, his teeth showing through
his beard.  Profoundly angered by my appearance, which he had
taken at first to be the prelude to disclosures which must detach
Turenne at a time when union was all-important, he had now ceased
to fear for himself; and perhaps saw something in the attitude I
adopted which appealed to his nature and sympathies.

'If the girl is really back,' he said at last, 'M. d'Aremburg, I
do-not see any reason why I should interfere.  At present, at any
rate.'

'I think, sire, M. de Turenne will see reason,' the gentleman
answered drily.

The king coloured. 'M. de Turenne,' he began,

'Has made many sacrifices at your request, sire,' the other said
with meaning.  'And buried some wrongs, or fancied wrongs, in
connection with this very matter.  This person has outraged him
in the grossest manner, and in M. le Vicomte's name I ask, nay I
press upon you, that he be instantly arrested, and held to answer
for it.'

'I am ready to answer for it now!'  I retorted, looking from face
to face for sympathy, and finding none save in M. de la Noue's,
who appeared to regard me with grave approbation.  'To the
Vicomte de Turenne, or the person he may appoint to represent
him.'

'Enough!'  Henry said, raising his hand and speaking in the tone
of authority he knew so well how to adopt.  'For you, M.
d'Aremburg, I thank you.  Turenne is happy in his friend.  But;
this gentleman came to me of his own free will and I do not think
it consistent with my honour to detain him without warning given.
I grant him an hour to remove himself from my neighbourhood.  If
he be found after that time has elapsed,' he continued solemnly,
'his fate be on his own head.  Gentlemen, we are late already.
Let us on.'

I looked at him as he pronounced this sentence, and strove to
find words in which to make a final appeal to him.  But no words
came; and when he bade me stand aside, I did so mechanically,
remaining with my head bared to the sunshine while the troop rode
by.  Some looked back at me with curiosity, as at a man of whom
they had heard a tale, and some with a jeer on their lips; a few
with dark looks of menace.  When they were all gone, and the
servants who followed them had disappeared also, and I was left
to the inquisitive glances of the rabble who stood gaping after
the sight, I turned and went to the Cid, and loosed the horse
with a feeling of bitter disappointment.

The plan which mademoiselle had proposed and I had adopted in the
forest by St. Gaultier--when it seemed to us that our long
absence and the great events of which we heard must have changed
the world and opened a path for our return--had failed utterly.
Things were as they had been; the strong were still strong, and
friendship under bond to fear.  Plainly we should have shewn
ourselves wiser had we taken the lowlier course, and, obeying the
warnings given us, waited the King of Navarre's pleasure or the
tardy recollection of Rosny.  I had not then stood, as I now
stood, in instant jeopardy, nor felt the keen pangs of a
separation which bade fair to be lasting.  She was safe, and that
was much; but I, after long service and brief happiness, must go
out again alone, with only memories to comfort me.

It was Simon Fleix's voice which awakened me from this unworthy
lethargy--as selfish as it was useless--and, recalling me to
myself, reminded me that precious time was passing while I stood
inactive.  To get at me he had forced his way through the curious
crowd, and his face was flushed.  He plucked me by the sleeve,
regarding the varlets round him with a mixture of anger and fear.

'Nom de Dieu!  do they take you for a rope-dancer?'  he muttered
in my ear.  'Mount, sir, and come.  There is not a moment to be
lost.'

'You left her at Madame Catherine's?'  I said.

'To be sure,' he answered impatiently.  'Trouble not about her.
Save yourself, M. de Marsac.  That is the thing to be done now.'

I mounted mechanically, and felt my courage return as the horse
moved under me.  I trotted through the crowd, and without thought
took the road by which we had come.  When we had ridden a hundred
yards, however, I pulled up 'An hour is a short start,' I said
sullenly.  'Whither?'

'To St. Cloud,' he answered promptly.  'The protection of the
King of France may avail for a day or two.  After that, there
will still be the League, if Paris have not fallen.'

I saw there was nothing else for it, and assented, and we set
off.  The distance which separates Meudon from St. Cloud we might
have ridden under the hour, but the direct road runs across the
Scholars' Meadow, a wide plain north of Meudon.  This lay exposed
to the enemy's fire, and was, besides, the scene of hourly
conflicts between the horse of both parties, so that to cross it
without an adequate force was impossible.  Driven to make a
circuit, we took longer to reach our destination, yet did so
without mishap; finding the little town, when we came in sight of
it, given up to all the bustle and commotion which properly
belong to the Court and camp.

It was, indeed, as full as it could be, for the surrender of
Paris being momentarily expected, St. Cloud had become the
rendezvous as well of the few who had long followed a principle
as of the many who wait upon success.  The streets, crowded in,
every part, shone with glancing colours, with steel and velvet,
the garb of fashion and the plumes of war.  Long lines of flags
obscured the eaves and broke the sunshine, while, above all, the
bells of half a dozen churches rang merry answer to the distant
crash of guns.  Everywhere on flag and arch and streamer I read
the motto, 'Vive le Roi!'--words written, God knew then, and we
know now, in what a mockery of doom!



CHAPTER XXXIV.

''TIS AN ILL WIND.'

We had made our way slowly and with much jostling as far as the
principal street, finding the press increase as we advanced, when
I heard, as I turned a corner, my name called, and, looking up,
saw at a window the face of which I was in search.  After that
half a minute sufficed to bring M. d'Agen flying to my side, when
nothing, as I had expected, would do but I must dismount; where I
was and share his lodging.  He made no secret of his joy and
surprise at sight of me, but pausing only to tell Simon where the
stable was, haled me through the crowd and up his stairs with a
fervour and heartiness which brought the tears to my eyes, and
served to impress the company whom I found above with a more than
sufficient sense of my importance.

Seeing him again in the highest feather and in the full
employment of all those little arts and graces which served as a
foil to his real worth, I took it as a great honour that he laid
them aside for the nonce; and introduced me to the seat of honour
and made me known to his companions with a boyish directness and
a simple thought for my comfort which infinitely pleased me.  He
bade his landlord, without a moment's delay, bring wine and meat
and everything which could refresh a traveller, and was himself
up and down a hundred times in a minute, calling to his servants
for this or that, or railing at them for their failure to bring
me a score of things I did not need.  I hastened to make my
excuses to the company for interrupting them in the midst of
their talk; and these they were kind enough to accept in good
part.  At the same time, reading clearly in M. d'Agen's excited
face and shining eyes that he longed to be alone with me, they
took the hint, and presently left us together.

'Well,' he said, coming back from the door, to which he had
conducted them, 'what have you to tell me, my friend?  She is not
with you?'

'She is with Mademoiselle de la Vire at Meudon,' I answered,
smiling.  'And for the rest, she is well and in better spirits.'

'She sent me some message?  he asked.

I shook my head.  'She did not know I should see you,' I
answered.

'But she--she has spoken of me lately?'  he continued, his face
falling.

'I do not think she has named your name for a fortnight,' I
answered, laughing.  'There's for you!  Why, man,' I continued,
adopting a different tone, and laying my hand on his shoulder in
a manner which reassured him at least; as much as my words, 'are
you so young a lover as to be ignorant that a woman says least of
that of which she thinks most?  Pluck up, courage!  Unless I am
mistaken, you have little to be afraid of except the past.  Only
have patience.'

'You think so?'  he said gratefully.

I assured him that I had no doubt of it; and on that he fell into
a reverie, and I to watching him.  Alas for the littleness of our
natures!  He had received me with open arms, yet at sight of the
happiness which took possession of his handsome face I gave way
to the pettiest feeling which can harbour in a man's breast.  I
looked at him with eyes of envy, bitterly comparing my lot with
that which fate had reserved for him.  He had fortune, good
looks, and success on his side, great relations, and high hopes;
I stood in instant jeopardy, my future dark, and every path which
presented itself so hazardous that I knew not which to adopt.  He
was young, and I past my prime; he in favour, and I a fugitive.

To such reflections he put an end in a way which made me blush
for my churlishness.  For, suddenly awaking out, of his pleasant
dream, he asked me about myself and my fortunes, inquiring
eagerly how I came to be in St. Cloud, and listening to the story
of my adventures with a generous anxiety which endeared him to me
more and more.  When I had done--and by that time Simon had
joined us, and was waiting at the lower end of the room--he
pronounced that I must see the king.

'There is nothing else for it,' he said.

'I have come to see him,' I answered.

'Mon dieu, yes!'  he continued, rising from his seat and looking
at me with a face of concern.  'No one else can help you.'

I nodded.

'Turenne has four thousand men here.  You can do nothing against
so many?'

'Nothing,' I said.  'The question is, will the king protect me?'

'It is he or no one,' M. d'Agen answered warmly.  'You cannot see
him to-night:  he has a Council.  To-morrow at daybreak you may.
You must lie here to-night, and I will set my fellows to watch,
and I think you will be safe.  I will away now and see if my
uncle will help.  Can you think of anyone else who would speak
for you?'

I considered, and was about to answer in the negative, when
Simon, who had listened with a scared face, suggested M. de
Crillon.

'Yes, if he would,' M. d'Agen exclaimed, looking at the lad with
approbation.  'He has weight with the king.'

'I think he might,' I replied slowly.  'I had a curious encounter
with him last night.  And with that I told M. d'Agen of the duel
I fought at the inn.

'Good!'  he said, his eyes sparkling.  'I wish I had been there
to see.  At any rate we will try him.  Crillon fears no one, not
even the king.'

So it was settled.  For that night I was to keep close in my
friend's lodging, showing not even my nose at the window.

When he had gone on his errand, and I found myself alone in the
room, I am fain to confess that I fell very low in my spirits.
M. d'Agen's travelling equipment lay about the apartment, but
failed to give any but an untidy air to its roomy bareness.  The
light was beginning to wane, the sun was gone.  Outside, the
ringing of bells and the distant muttering of guns, with the
tumult of sounds which rose from the crowded street, seemed to
tell of joyous life and freedom, and all the hopes and ambitions
from which I was cut off.

Having no other employment, I watched the street, and keeping
myself well retired from the window saw knots of gay riders pass
this way and that through the crowd, their corslets shining and
their voices high.  Monks and ladies, a cardinal and an
ambassador, passed under my eyes--these and an endless procession
of townsmen and beggars, soldiers and courtiers, Gascons, Normans
and Picards.  Never had I seen such a sight or so many people
gathered together.  It seemed as if half Paris had come out to
make submission, so that while my gorge rose against my own
imprisonment, the sight gradually diverted my mind from my
private distresses, by bidding me find compensation for them in
the speedy and glorious triumph of the cause.

Even when the light failed the pageant did not cease, but,
torches and lanthorns springing into life, turned night into day.
From every side came sounds of revelry or strife.  The crowd
continued to perambulate the streets until a late hour, with
cries of 'VIVE LE ROI!'  and 'VIVE NAVARRE!'  while now and again
the passage of a great noble with his suite called forth a fresh
outburst of enthusiasm.  Nothing seemed more certain, more
inevitable, more clearly predestinated than that twenty-four
hours must see the fall of Paris.

Yet Paris did not fall.

When M. d'Agen returned a little before midnight, he found me
still sitting in the dark looking from the window.  I heard him
call roughly for lights, and apprised by the sound of his voice
that something was wrong, I rose to meet him.  He stood silent
awhile, twirling his small moustaches, and then broke into a
passionate tirade, from which I was not slow to gather that M. de
Rambouillet declined to serve me.

'Well,' I said, feeling for the young man's distress and
embarrassment, 'perhaps he is right.'

'He says that word respecting you came this evening,' my friend
answered, his cheeks red with shame, 'and that to countenance you
after that would only be to court certain humiliation.  I did not
let him off too easily, I assure you,' M. d'Agen continued,
turning away to evade my gaze; 'but I got no satisfaction.  He
said you had his good-will, and that to help you he would risk
something, but that to do so under these circumstances would be
only to injure himself.'

'There is still Crillon,' I said, with as much cheerfulness as I
could assume.  'Pray Heaven he be there early!  Did M. de
Rambouillet say anything else?'

'That your only chance was to fly as quickly and secretly as
possible.'

'He thought; my situation desperate, then?'

My friend nodded; and scarcely less depressed on my account than
ashamed on his own, evinced so much feeling that it was all I
could do to comfort him; which I succeeded in doing only when I
diverted the conversation to Madame de Bruhl.  We passed the
short night together, sharing the same room and the same bed,
and talking more than we slept--of madame and mademoiselle, the
castle on the hill, and the camp in the woods, of all old days in
fine, but little of the future.  Soon after dawn Simon, who lay
on a pallet across the threshold, roused me from a fitful sleep
into which I had just fallen, and a few minutes later I stood up
dressed and armed, ready to try the last chance left to me.

M. d'Agen had dressed stage for stage with me, and I had kept
silence.  But when he took up his cap, and showed clearly that he
had it in his mind to go with me, I withstood him.  'No, I said,
'you can do me little good, and may do yourself much harm.'

'You shall not go without one friend,' he cried fiercely.

'Tut, tut!'  I said.  'I shall have Simon.'

But Simon, when I turned to speak to him, was gone.  Few men are
at their bravest in the early hours of the day, and it did not
surprise me that the lad's courage had failed him.  The defection
only strengthened, however, the resolution I had formed that I
would not injure M. d'Agen; though it was some time before I
could persuade him that I was in earnest, and would go alone or
not at all.  In the end he had to content himself with lending me
his back and breast, which I gladly put on, thinking it likely
enough that I might be set upon before I reached the castle.  And
then, the time being about seven, I parted from him with many
embraces and kindly words, and went into the street with my sword
under my cloak.

The town, late in rising after its orgy, lay very still and
quiet.  The morning was grey and warm, with a cloudy sky.  The
flags, which had made so gay, a show yesterday, hung close to the
poles, or flapped idly and fell dead again.  I walked slowly
along beneath them, keeping a sharp look-out on every side; but
there were few persons moving in the streets, and I reached the
Castle gates without misadventure.  Here was something of life;
a bustle of officers and soldiers passing in and out, of
courtiers whose office made their presence necessary, of beggars
who had flocked hither in the night for company.  In the middle
of these I recognised on a sudden and with great surprise Simon
Fleix walking my horse up and down.  On seeing me he handed it to
a boy, and came up to speak to me with a red face, muttering that
four legs were better than two.  I did not say much to him, my
heart being full and my thoughts occupied with the presence
chamber and what I should say there; but I nodded kindly to him,
and he fell in behind me as the sentries challenged me.  I
answered them that I sought M. de Crillon, and so getting by,
fell into the rear of a party of three who seemed bent on the
same errand as myself.

One of these was a Jacobin monk, whose black and white robes, by
reminding me of Father Antoine, sent a chill to my heart.  The
second, whose eye I avoided, I knew to be M. la Guesle, the
king's Solicitor-General.  The third was a stranger to me.
Enabled by M. la Guesle's presence to pass the main guards
without challenge, the party proceeded through a maze of passages
and corridors, conversing together in a low tone; while I,
keeping in their train with my face cunningly muffled, got as far
by this means as the ante-chamber, which I found almost empty.
Here I inquired of the usher for M. de Crillon, and learned with
the utmost consternation that he was not present.

This blow, which almost stunned me, opened my eyes to the
precarious nature of my position, which only the early hour and
small attendance rendered possible for a moment.  At any minute I
might be recognised and questioned, or my name be required; while
the guarded doors of the chamber shut me off as effectually from
the king's face and grace as though I were in Paris, or a hundred
leagues away.  Endeavouring to the best of my power to conceal
the chagrin and alarm which possessed me as this conviction took
hold of me, I walked to the window; and to hide my face more
completely and at the same time gain a moment to collect my
thoughts, affected to be engaged in looking through it.

Nothing which passed in the room, however, escaped me.  I marked
everything and everyone, though all my thought was how I might
get to the king.  The barber came out of the chamber with a
silver basin, and stood a moment, and went in again with an air
of vast importance.  The guards yawned, and an officer entered,
looked round, and retired.  M. la Guesle, who had gone in to the
presence, came out again and stood near me talking with the
Jacobin, whose pale nervous face and hasty movements reminded me
somehow of Simon Fleix.  The monk held a letter or petition in
his hand, and appeared to be getting it by heart, for his lips
moved continually.  The light which fell on his face from the,
window showed it to be of a peculiar sweaty pallor, and distorted
besides.  But supposing him to be devoted, like many of his kind,
to an unwholesome life, I thought nothing of this; though I liked
him little, and would have shifted my place but for the
convenience of his neighbourhood.

Presently, while I was cudgelling my brains, a person came out
and spoke to La Guesle; who called in his turn to the monk, and
started hastily towards the door.  The Jacobin followed.  The
third person who had entered in their company had his attention
directed elsewhere at the moment; and though La Guesle called to
him, took no heed.  On the instant I grasped the situation.
Taking my courage in my hands, I crossed the floor behind the
monk; who, hearing me, or feeling his robe come in contact with
me, presently started and looked round suspiciously, his face
wearing a scowl so black and ugly that I almost recoiled from
him, dreaming for a moment that I saw before me the very spirit
of Father Antoine.  But as the man said nothing, and the next
instant averted his gaze, I hardened my heart and pushed on
behind him, and passing the usher, found myself as by magic in
the presence which had seemed a while ago as unattainable by my
wits as it was necessary to my safety.

It was not this success alone, however, which caused my heart to
beat more hopefully.  The king was speaking as I entered, and the
gay tones of his voice seemed to promise a favourable reception.
His Majesty sat half-dressed on a stool at the farther end of the
apartment, surrounded by five or six noblemen, while as many
attendants, among whom I hastened to mingle, waited near the
door.

La Guesle made as if he would advance, and then, seeing the
king's attention was not on him, held back.  But in a moment the
king saw him and called to him.  'Ha, Guesle!'  he said with
good-temper, 'is it you?  Is your friend with you?'

The Solicitor went forward with the monk at his elbow, and I had
leisure to remark the favourable change which had taken place in
the king, who spoke more strongly and seemed in better health
than of old.  His face looked less cadaverous under the paint,
his form a trifle less emaciated.  That which struck me more than
anything, however, was the improvement in his spirits.  His eyes
sparkled from time to time, and he laughed continually, so that I
could scarcely believe that he was the same man whom I had seen
overwhelmed with despair and tortured by his conscience.

Letting his attention slip from La Guesle, he began to bandy
words with the nobleman who stood nearest to him; looking up at
him with a roguish eye, and making bets on the fall of Paris.

'Morbleu!'  I heard him cry gaily, 'I would give a thousand
pounds to see the 'Montpensier this morning!  She may keep her
third crown for herself.  Or, PESTE!  we might put her in a
convent. That would be a fine vengeance!'

'The veil for the tonsure,' the nobleman said with a smirk.

'Ay.  Why not?  She would have made a monk of me,' the king
rejoined smartly.  'She must be ready to hang herself with her
garters this morning, if she is not dead of spite already.  Or,
stay, I had forgotten her golden scissors.  Let her open a vein
with them.  Well, what does your friend want, La Guesle?'

I did not hear the answer, but it was apparently satisfactory,
for in a minute all except the Jacobin fell back, leaving the
monk standing before the king; who, stretching out his hand, took
from him a letter.  The Jacobin, trembling visibly, seemed
scarcely able to support the honour done him, and the king,
seeing this, said in a voice audible to all, 'Stand up, man.  You
are welcome.  I love a cowl as some love a lady's hood.  And now,
what is this?'

He read a part of the letter and rose.  As he did so the monk
leaned forward as though to receive the paper back again, and
then so swiftly, so suddenly, with so unexpected a movement that
no one stirred until all was over, struck the king in the body
with a knife!  As the blade flashed and was hidden, and His
Majesty with a deep sob fell back on the stool, then, and not
till then, I knew that I had missed a providential chance of
earning pardon and protection.  For had I only marked the Jacobin
as we passed the door together, and read his evil face aright, a
word, one word, had done for me more than the pleading of a score
of Crillons!

Too late a dozen sprang forward to the king's assistance; but
before they reached him he had himself drawn the knife from the
wound and struck the assassin with it on the head.  While some,
with cries of grief, ran to support Henry, from whose body the
blood was already flowing fast, others seized and struck down the
wretched monk.  As they gathered round him I saw him raise
himself for a moment on his knees and look upward; the blood
which ran down his face, no less than the mingled triumph and
horror of his features, impressed the sight on my recollection.
The next instant three swords were plunged into his breast, and
his writhing body, plucked up from the floor amid a transport of
curses, was forced headlong through the casement and flung down
to make sport for the grooms and scullions who stood below.

A scene of indescribable confusion followed, some crying that the
king was dead, while others called for a doctor, and some by name
for Dortoman.  I expected to see the doors closed and all within
secured, that if the man had confederates they might be taken.
But there was no one to give the order.  Instead, many who had
neither the ENTREE nor any business in the chamber forced their
way in, and by their cries and pressure rendered the hub-bub and
tumult a hundred times worse.  In the midst of this, while I
stood stunned and dumbfounded, my own risks and concerns
forgotten, I felt my sleeve furiously plucked, and, looking
round, found Simon at my elbow.  The lad's face was crimson, his
eyes seemed, starting from his head.

'Come,' he muttered, seizing my arm.  'Come!'  And without
further ceremony or explanation he dragged me towards the door,
while his face and manner evinced as much heat and impatience as
if he had been himself the assassin.  'Come, there is not a
moment to be lost,' he panted, continuing his exertions without
the least intermission.

'Whither?'  I said, in amazement, as I reluctantly permitted him
to force me along the passage and through the gaping crowd on the
stairs.  'Whither, man?'

'Mount and ride!'  was the answer he hissed in my ear.  'Ride for
your life to the King of Navarre--to the King of France it may
be!  Ride as you have never ridden before, and tell him the news,
and bid him look to himself!  Be the first, and, Heaven helping
us, Turenne may do his worst!'

I felt every nerve in my body tingle as I awoke to his meaning.
Without a word I left his arm, and flung myself into the crowd
which filled the lower passage to suffocation.  As I struggled
fiercely with them Simon aided me by crying 'A doctor!  a doctor!
make way there!'  and this induced many to give place to me under
the idea that I was an accredited messenger.  Eventually I
succeeded in forcing my way through and reaching the courtyard;
being, as it turned out, the first person to issue from the
Chateau.  A dozen people sprang towards me with anxious eyes and
questions on their lips; but I ran past them and, catching the
Cid, which was fortunately at hand, by the rein, bounded into the
saddle.

As I turned the horse to the gate I heard Simon cry after me.
'The Scholars' Meadow!  Go that way!'  and then I heard no more.
I was out of the yard and galloping bare-headed down the pitched
street, while women snatched their infants up and ran aside, and
men came startled to the doors, crying that the League was upon
us.  As the good horse flung up his head and bounded forward,
hurling the gravel behind him with hoofs which slid and clattered
on the pavement, as the wind began to whistle by me, and I seized
the reins in a shorter grip, I felt my heart bound with
exultation.  I experienced such a blessed relief and elation as
the prisoner long fettered and confined feels when restored to
the air of heaven.

Down one street and through a narrow lane we thundered, until a
broken gateway stopped with fascines--through which the Cid
blundered and stumbled--brought us at a bound into the Scholars'
Meadow just as the tardy sun broke through the clouds and flooded
the low, wide plain with brightness.  Half a league in front of
us the towers of Meudon rose to view on a hill.  In the distance,
to the left, lay the walls of Paris, and nearer, on the same
side, a dozen forts and batteries; while here and there, in that
quarter, a shining clump of spears or a dense mass of infantry
betrayed the enemy's presence.

I heeded none of these things, however, nor anything except the
towers of Meudon, setting the Cid's head straight for these and
riding on at the top of his speed.  Swiftly ditch and dyke came
into view before us and flashed away beneath us.  Men lying in
pits rose up and aimed at us; or ran with cries to intercept us.
A cannon-shot fired from the fort by Issy tore up the earth to
one side; a knot of lancers sped from the shelter of an earthwork
in the same quarter, and raced us for half a mile, with frantic
shouts and threats of vengeance.  But all such efforts were
vanity.  The Cid, fired by this sudden call upon his speed, and
feeling himself loosed--rarest of events--to do his best, shook
the foam from his bit, and opening his blood-red nostrils to the
wind, crouched lower and lower; until his long neck, stretched
out before him, seemed, as the sward swept by, like the point of
an arrow speeding resistless to its aim.

God knows, as the air rushed by me and the sun shone in my face,
I cried aloud like a boy, and though I sat still and stirred
neither hand nor foot, lest I should break the good Sard's
stride, I prayed wildly that the horse which I had groomed with
my own hands and fed with my last crown might hold on unfaltering
to the end.  For I dreamed that the fate of a nation rode in my
saddle; and mindful alike of Simon's words, 'Bid him look to
himself,' and of my own notion that the League would not be so
foolish as to remove one enemy to exalt another, I thought
nothing more likely than that, with all my fury, I should arrive
too late, and find the King of Navarre as I had left the King of
France.

In this strenuous haste I covered a mile as a mile has seldom
been covered before; and I was growing under the influence of the
breeze which whipped my temples somewhat more cool and hopeful,
when I saw on a sudden right before me, and between me and
Meudon, a handful of men engaged in a MELEE.  There were red and
white jackets in it--leaguers and Huguenots--and the red coats
seemed to be having the worst of it.  Still, while I watched,
they came off in order, and unfortunately in such a way and at
such a speed that I saw they must meet me face to face whether I
tried to avoid the encounter or not.  I had barely time to take
in the danger and its nearness, and discern beyond both parties
the main-guard of the Huguenots, enlivened by a score of pennons,
when the Leaguers were upon me.

I suppose they knew that no friend would ride for Meudon at that
pace, for they dashed at me six abreast with a shout of triumph;
and before I could count a score we met.  The Cid was still
running strongly, and I had not thought to stay him, so that I
had no time to use my pistols.  My sword I had out, but the sun
dazzled me and the men wore corslets, and I made but poor play
with it; though I struck out savagely, as we crashed together, in
my rage at this sudden crossing of my hopes when all seemed done
and gained.  The Cid faced them bravely--I heard the distant
huzza of the Huguenots--and I put aside one point which
threatened my throat.  But the sun was in my eyes and something
struck me on the head.  Another second, and a blow in the breast
forced me fairly from the saddle.  Gripping furiously at the air
I went down, stunned and dizzy, my last thought as I struck the
ground being of mademoiselle, and the little brook with the
stepping-stones.



CHAPTER XXXV.

'LE ROI EST MORT!'

It was M. d'Agen's breastpiece saved my life by warding off the
point of the varlet's sword, so that the worst injury I got was
the loss of my breath for five minutes, with a swimming in the
head and a kind of syncope.  These being past, I found myself on
my back on the ground, with a man's knee on my breast and a dozen
horsemen standing round me.  The sky reeled dizzily before my
eyes and the men's figures loomed gigantic; yet I had sense
enough to know what had happened to me, and that matters might
well be worse.

Resigning myself to the prospect of captivity, I prepared to ask
for quarter; which I did not doubt I should receive, since they
had taken me in an open skirmish, and honestly, and in the
daylight.  But the man whose knee already incommoded me
sufficiently, seeing me about to speak, squeezed me on a sudden
so fiercely, bidding me at the same time in a gruff whisper be
silent, that I thought I could not do better than obey.

Accordingly I lay still, and as in a dream, for my brain was
still clouded, heard someone say, 'Dead!  Is he?  I hoped we had
come in time.  Well, he deserved a better fate.  Who is he,
Rosny?'

'Do you know him, Maignan?'  said a voice which sounded strangely
familiar.

The man who knelt; upon me answered, 'No, my lord.  He is a
stranger to me.  He has the look of a Norman.'

'Like enough!'  replied a high-pitched voice I had not heard
before.  'For he rode a good horse.  Give me a hundred like it,
and a hundred men to ride as straight, and I would not envy the
King of France.'

'Much less his poor cousin of Navarre,' the first speaker
rejoined in a laughing tone, 'without a whole shirt to his back
or a doublet that is decently new.  Come, Turenne, acknowledge
that you are not so badly off after all!'

At that word the cloud which had darkened my faculties swept on a
sudden aside.  I saw that the men into whose hands I had fallen
wore white favours, their leader a white plume; and comprehended
without more that the King of Navarre had come to my rescue, and
beaten off the Leaguers who had dismounted me.  At the same
moment the remembrance of all that had gone before, and
especially of the scene I had witnessed in the king's chamber,
rushed upon my mind with such overwhelming force that I fell into
a fury of impatience at the thought of the time I had wasted; and
rising up suddenly I threw off Maignan with all my force, crying
out that I was alive--that I was alive, and had news.

The equerry did his best to restrain me, cursing me under his
breath for a fool, and almost; squeezing the life out of me.  But
in vain, for the King of Navarre, riding nearer, saw me
struggling.  'Hallo!  hallo!  'tis a strange dead man,' he cried,
interposing.  'What is the meaning of this?  Let him go!  Do you
hear, sirrah?  Let him go!'

The equerry obeyed and stood back sullenly, and I staggered to my
feet, and looked round with eyes which still swam and watered.
On the instant a cry of recognition greeted me, with a hundred
exclamations of astonishment.  While I heard my name uttered on
every side in a dozen different tones, I remarked that M. de
Rosny, upon whom my eyes first fell, alone stood silent,
regarding me with a face of sorrowful surprise.

'By heavens, sir, I knew nothing of this!'  I heard the King of
Navarre declare, addressing himself to the Vicomte de Turenne.
'The man is here by no connivance of mine.  Interrogate him
yourself, if you will.  Or I will.  Speak, sir,' he continued,
turning to me with his countenance hard and forbidding.  'You
heard me yesterday, what I promised you?  Why, in God's name, are
you here to-day?'

I tried to answer, but Maignan had so handled me that I had not
breath enough, and stood panting.

'Your Highness's clemency in this matter,' M. de Turenne said,
with a sneer, 'has been so great he trusted to its continuance.
And doubtless he thought to find you alone.  I fear I am in the
way.'

I knew him by his figure and his grand air, which in any other
company would have marked him for master; and forgetting the
impatience which a moment before had consumed me--doubtless I was
still light-headed--I answered him.  'Yet I had once the promise
of your lordship's protection,' I gasped.

'My protection, sir?'  he exclaimed, his eyes gleaming angrily.

'Even so,' I answered.  'At the inn at Etampes, where M. de
Crillon would have fought me.'

He was visibly taken aback.  'Are you that man?'  he cried.

'I am.  But I am not here to prate of myself,' I replied.  And
with that--the remembrance of my neglected errand flashing on me
again--I staggered to the King of Navarre's side, and, falling on
my knees, seized his stirrup.  'Sire, I bring you news!  great
news!  dreadful news!'  I cried, clinging to it.  'His Majesty
was but a quarter of an hour ago stabbed in the body in his
chamber by a villain monk.  And is dying, or, it may be, dead.'

'Dead?  The King!'  Turenne cried with an oath.  'Impossible!'

Vaguely I heard others crying, some this, some that, as surprise
and consternation, or anger, or incredulity moved them.  But I
did not answer them, for Henry, remaining silent, held me
spellbound and awed by the, marvellous change which I saw fall on
his face.  His eyes became on a sudden suffused with blood, and
seemed to retreat under his heavy brows; his cheeks turned of a
brick-red colour; his half-open lips showed his teeth gleaming
through his beard; while his great nose, which seemed to curve
and curve until it well-nigh met his chin, gave to his mobile
countenance an aspect as strange as it was terrifying.  Withal he
uttered for a time no word, though I saw his hand, grip the
riding-whip he held in a convulsive grasp, as though his thought
were ''Tis mine!  Mine!  Wrest it away who dares!'

'Bethink you, sir,' he said at last, fixing his piercing eyes on
me, and speaking in a harsh, low tone, like the growling of a
great dog, 'this is no jesting-time.  Nor will you save your skin
by a ruse.  Tell me, on your peril, is this a trick?'

'Heaven forbid, sire!'  I answered with passion.  'I was in the
chamber, and saw it; with my own eyes.  I mounted on the instant,
and rode hither by the shortest route to warn your Highness to
look to yourself.  Monks are many, and the Holy Union is not apt
to stop half-way.'

I saw he believed me, for his face relaxed.  His breath seemed to
come and go again, and for the tenth part of a second his eyes
sought M. de Rosny's.  Then he looked at me again.

'I thank you, sir, he said, bowing gravely and courteously, 'for
your care for me--not for your tidings, which are of the
sorriest.  God grant my good cousin and king may be hurt only.
Now tell us exactly--for these gentlemen are equally interested
with myself--had a surgeon seen him?'

I replied in the negative, but added that the wound was in the
groin, and bled much,

'You said a few minutes ago, "dying or already dead!"' the King
of Navarre rejoined.  'Why?'

'His Majesty's face was sunken,' I stammered.

He nodded.  'You may be mistaken,' he said.  'I pray that you
are.  But here comes Mornay.  He may know more.'

In a moment I was abandoned, even by M. de Turenne, so great was
the anxiety which possessed all to learn the truth.  Maignan
alone, under pretence of adjusting a stirrup, remained beside me,
and entreated me in a low voice to begone.  'Take this horse, M.
de Marsac, if you will,' he urged, 'and ride back the way you
came.  You have done what you came to do.  Go back, and be
thankful.'

'Chut!'  I said, 'there is no danger.'

'You will see,' he replied darkly, 'if you stay here.  Come,
come, take my advice and the horse,' he persisted, 'and begone!
Believe me, it will be for the best.'

I laughed outright at his earnestness and his face of perplexity.
'I see you have M. de Rosny's orders to get rid of me,' I said.
'But I am not going, my friend.  He must find some other way out
of his embarrassment, for here I stay.'

'Well, your blood be on your own head,' Maignan retorted,
swinging himself into the saddle with a gloomy face.  'I have
done my best to save you!'

'And your master!'  I answered, laughing.

For flight was the last thing I had in my mind.  I had ridden
this ride with a clear perception that the one thing I needed was
a footing at Court.  By the special kindness of Providence I had
now gained this; and I was not the man to resign it because it
proved to be scanty and perilous.  It was something that I had
spoken to the great Vicomte face to face and not been consumed,
that I had given him look for look and still survived, that I had
put in practice Crillon's lessons and come to no harm.

Nor was this all.  I had never in the worst times blamed the King
of Navarre for his denial of me, I had been foolish, indeed,
seeing that it was in the bargain, had I done so; nor had I ever
doubted his good-will or his readiness to reward me should
occasion arise.  Now, I flattered myself, I had given him that
which he needed, and had hitherto lacked--an excuse, I mean, for
interference in my behalf.

Whether I was right or wrong in this notion I was soon to learn,
for at this moment Henry's cavalcade, which had left me a hundred
paces behind, came to a stop, and while some of the number waved
to me to come on, one spurred back to summon me to the king.  I
hastened to obey the order as fast as I could, but I saw on
approaching that though all was at a standstill till I came up,
neither the King of Navarre nor M. de Turenne was thinking
principally of me.  Every face, from Henry's to that of his least
important courtier, wore an air of grave preoccupation; which I
had no difficulty in ascribing to the doubt present in every
mind, and outweighing every interest, whether the King of France
was dead, or dying, or merely wounded.

'Quick, sir!'  Henry said with impatience, as soon as I came
within hearing.  'Do not detain me with your affairs longer than
is necessary.  M. de Turenne presses me to carry into effect the
order I gave yesterday.  But as you have placed yourself in
jeopardy on my account I feel that; something is due to you.  You
will be good enough, therefore, to present yourself at once at M.
la Varenne's lodging, and give me your parole to remain there
without stirring abroad until your affair is concluded.'

Aware that I owed this respite, which at once secured my present
safety and promised well for the future, to the great event that,
even in M. de Turenne's mind, had overshadowed all others, I
bowed in silence.  Henry, however, was not content with this.
'Come, sir,' he said sharply, and with every appearance of anger,
'do you agree to that?'

I replied humbly that I thanked him for his clemency.

'There is no need of thanks,' he replied coldly.  'What I have
done is without prejudice to M. de Turenne's complaint.  He must
have justice.'

I bowed again, and in a moment the troop were gone at a gallop
towards Meudon, whence, as I afterwards learned, the King of
Navarre, attended by a select body of five-and-twenty horsemen,
wearing private arms, rode on at full speed to St. Cloud to
present himself at his Majesty's bedside.  A groom who had caught
the Cid, which had escaped into the town with no other injury
than a slight wound in the shoulder, by-and-by met me with the
horse; and in this way I was enabled to render myself with some
decency at Varenne's lodging, a small house at the foot of the
hill, not far from the Castle-gate.

Here I found myself under no greater constraint than that which
my own parole laid upon me; and my room having the conveniency of
a window looking upon the public street, I was enabled from hour
to hour to comprehend and enter into the various alarms and
surprises which made that day remarkable.  The manifold reports
which flew from mouth to mouth on the occasion, as well as the
overmastering excitement which seized all, are so well
remembered, however, that I forbear to dwell upon them, though
they served to distract my mind from my own position.  Suffice it
that at one moment we heard that His Majesty was dead, at another
that the wound was skin deep, and again that we might expect him
at Meudon before sunset.  The rumour that the Duchess de
Montpensier had taken poison was no sooner believed than we were
asked to listen to the guns of Paris firing FEUX DE JOIE in
honour of the King's death.

The streets were so closely packed with persons telling and
hearing these tales that I seemed from my window to be looking on
a fair.  Nor was all my amusement withoutdoors; for a number of
the gentlemen of the Court, hearing that I had been at St. Cloud
in the morning, and in the very chamber, a thing which made me
for the moment the most desirable companion in the world,
remembered on a sudden that they had a slight acquaintance with
me, and honoured me by calling upon me and sitting a great part
of the day with me.  From which circumstance I confess I derived
as much hope as they diversion; knowing that courtiers are the
best weather-prophets in the world, who hate nothing so much as
to be discovered in the company of those on whom the sun does not
shine.

The return of the King of Navarre, which happened about the
middle of the afternoon, while it dissipated the fears of some
and dashed the hopes of others, put an end to this state of
uncertainty by confirming, to the surprise of many, that His
Majesty was in no danger.  We learned with varying emotions that
the first appearances, which had deceived, not myself only, but
experienced leeches, had been themselves belied by subsequent
conditions; and that, in a word, Paris had as much to fear, and
loyal men as much to hope, as before this wicked and audacious
attempt.

I had no more than stomached this surprising information, which
was less welcome to me, I confess, than it should have been, when
the arrival of M. d'Agen, who greeted me with the affection which
he never failed to show me, distracted my thoughts for a time.
Immediately on learning where I was and, the strange adventures
which had befallen me he had ridden off; stopping only once, when
he had nearly reached me, for the purpose of waiting on Madame de
Bruhl.  I asked him how she had received him.

'Like herself,' he replied with an ingenuous blush.  'More kindly
than I had a right to expect, if not as warmly as I had the
courage to hope.'

'That will come with time,' I said, laughing.  'And Mademoiselle
de la Vire?'

'I did not see her,' he answered, 'but I heard she was well.  And
a hundred fathoms deeper in love,' he added, eyeing me roguishly,
'than when I saw her last.'

It was my turn to colour now, and I did so, feeling all the
pleasure and delight such, a statement was calculated to afford
me.  Picturing mademoiselle as I had seen her last, leaning from
her horse with love written so plainly on her weeping face that
all who ran might read, I sank into so delicious a reverie that
M. la Varenne, entering suddenly, surprised us both before
another word passed on either side.

His look and tone were as abrupt as it was in his nature, which
was soft and compliant, to make them.  'M. de Marsac,' he said,
'I am sorry to put any constraint upon you, but I am directed to
forbid you to your friends.  And I must request this gentleman to
withdraw.'

'But all day my friends have come in and out,' I said with
surprise.  'Is this a new order?'

'A written order, which reached me no farther back than two
minutes ago, 'he answered plainly.  'I am also directed to remove
you to a room at the back of the house, that you may not overlook
the street.'

'But my parole was taken,' I cried, with a natural feeling of
indignation.

He shrugged his shoulders.  'I am sorry to say that I have
nothing to do with that,' he answered.  'I can only obey orders.
I must ask this gentleman, therefore, to withdraw.'

Of course M. d'Agen had no option but to leave me; which he did,
I could see, notwithstanding his easy and confident expressions,
with a good deal of mistrust and apprehension.  When he was gone,
La Varenne lost no time in carrying out the remainder of his
orders.  As a consequence I found myself confined to a small and
gloomy apartment which looked, at a distance of three paces, upon
the smooth face of the rock on which the Castle stood.  This
change, from a window which commanded all the life of the town,
and intercepted every breath of popular fancy, to a closet
whither no sounds penetrated, and where the very transition from
noon to evening scarcely made itself known, could not fail to
depress my spirits sensibly; the more as I took it to be
significant of a change in my fortunes fully as grave.
Reflecting that I must now appear to the King of Navarre in the
light of a bearer of false tidings, I associated the order to
confine me more closely with his return from St. Cloud; and
comprehending that M. de Turenne was once more at liberty to
attend to my affairs, I began to look about me with forebodings
which were none the less painful because the parole I had given
debarred me from any attempt to escape.

Sleep and habit enabled me, nevertheless, to pass the night in
comfort.  Very early in the morning a great firing of guns, which
made itself heard even in my quarters, led me to suppose that
Paris had surrendered; but the servant who brought me my
breakfast; declined in a surly fashion to give me any
information.  In the end, I spent the whole day alone, my
thoughts divided between my mistress and my own prospects, which
seemed to grow more and more gloomy as the hours succeeded one
another.  No one came near me, no step broke the silence of the
house; and for a while I thought my guardians had forgotten even
that I needed food.  This omission, it is true, was made good
about sunset, but still M. la Varenne did not appear, the servant
seemed to be dumb, and I heard no sounds in the house.

I had finished my meal an hour or more, and the room was growing
dark, when the silence was at last broken by quick steps passing
along the entrance.  They paused, and seemed to hesitate at the
foot of the stairs, but the next moment they came on again, and
stopped at my door.  I rose from my seat on hearing the key
turned in the lock, and my astonishment may be conceived when I
saw no other than M. de Turenne enter, and close the door behind
him.

He saluted me in a haughty manner as he advanced to the table,
raising his cap for an instant and then replacing it.  This done
he stood looking at me, and I at him, in a silence which on my
side was the result of pure astonishment; on his, of contempt and
a kind of wonder.  The evening light, which was fast failing,
lent a sombre whiteness to his face, causing it to stand out from
the shadows behind him in a way which was not without its
influence on me.

'Well!'  he said at, last, speaking slowly and with unimaginable
insolence, 'I am here to look at you!'

I felt my anger rise, and gave him back look for look.  'At your
will,' I said, shrugging my shoulders.

'And to solve a question,' he continued in the same tone.  'To
learn whether the man who was mad enough to insult and defy me
was the old penniless dullard some called him, or the dare-devil
others painted him.'

'You are satisfied now?'  I said.

He eyed me for a moment closely; then with sudden heat he cried,
'Curse me if I am!  Nor whether I have to do with a man very deep
or very shallow, a fool or a knave!'

'You may say what you please to a prisoner,' I retorted coldly.

'Turenne commonly does--to whom he pleases!'  he answered.  The
next moment he made me start by saying, as he drew out a comfit-
box and opened it, 'I am just from the little fool you have
bewitched.  If she were in my power I would have her whipped and
put on bread and water till she came to her senses.  As she is
not, I must take another way.  Have you any idea, may I ask,' he
continued in his cynical tone, 'what is going to become of you,
M. de Marsac?'

I replied, my heart inexpressibly lightened by what he had said
of mademoiselle, that I placed the fullest confidence in the
justice of the King of Navarre.

He repeated the name in a tone, I did not understand.

'Yes, sir, the King of Navarre,' I answered firmly.

'Well, I daresay you have good reason to do so,' he rejoined with
a sneer.  'Unless I am mistaken he knew a little more of this
affair than he acknowledges.'

'Indeed?  The King of Navarre?'  I said, staring stolidly at him.

'Yes, indeed, indeed, the King of Navarre!'  he retorted,
mimicking me, with a nearer approach to anger than I had yet
witnessed in him.  'But let him be a moment, sirrah!'  he
continued, 'and do you listen to me.  Or first look at that.
Seeing is believing.'

He drew out as he spoke a paper, or, to speak more correctly, a
parchment, which he thrust with a kind of savage scorn into my
hand.  Repressing for the moment the surprise I felt, I took it
to the window, and reading it with difficulty, found it to be a
royal patent drawn, as far as I could judge, in due form, and
appointing some person unknown--for the name was left blank--to
the post of Lieutenant-Governor of the Armagnac, with a salary of
twelve thousand livres a year!

'Well, sir?'  he said impatiently.

'Well?'  I answered mechanically.  For my brain reeled; the
exhibition of such a paper in such a way raised extraordinary
thoughts in my mind.

'Can you read it?'  he asked.

'Certainly,' I answered, telling myself that he would fain play a
trick on me.

'Very well,' he replied, 'then listen.  I am going to condescend;
to make you an offer, M. de Marsac.  I will procure you your
freedom, and fill up the blank, which you see there, with your
name--upon one condition.'

I stared at him with all the astonishment it was natural for me
to feel in the face, of such a proposition.  'You will confer
this office on me?'  I muttered incredulously.

'The king having placed it at my disposal,' he answered, 'I will.
But first let me remind you,' he went on proudly, 'that the
affair has another side.  On the one hand I offer you such
employment, M. de Marsac, as should satisfy your highest
ambition.  On the other, I warn you that my power to avenge
myself is no less to-day than it was yesterday; and that if I
condescend to buy you, it is because that course commends itself
to me for reasons, not because it is the only one open.'

I bowed.  'The condition, M. le Vicomte?'  I said huskily,
beginning to understand him.

'That you give up all claim and suit to the hand of my
kinswoman,' he answered lightly.  'That is all.  It is a simple
and easy condition.'

I looked at him in renewed astonishment, in wonder, in
stupefaction; asking myself a hundred questions.  Why did he
stoop to bargain, who could command?  Why did he condescend to
treat, who held me at his mercy?  Why did he gravely discuss my
aspirations, to whom they must seem the rankest presumption?
Why?--but I could not follow it.  I stood looking at him in
silence; in perplexity as great as if he had offered me the Crown
of France; in amazement and doubt and suspicion that knew no
bounds.

'Well!'  he said at last, misreading the emotion which appeared
in my face.  'You consent, sir?'

'Never!'  I answered firmly.

He started.  'I think I cannot have heard you aright,' he said,
speaking slowly and almost courteously.  'I offer you a great
place and my patronage, M. de Marsac.  Do I understand that you
prefer a prison and my enmity?'

'On those conditions,' I answered.

'Think, think!'  he said harshly.

'I have thought,' I answered.

'Ay, but have you thought where you are?'  he retorted.  'Have
you thought how many obstacles lie between you and this little
fool?  How many persons you must win over, how many friends you
must gain?  Have you thought what it will be to have me against
you in this, or which of us is more likely to win in the end?'

'I have thought,' I rejoined.

But my voice shook, my lips were dry.  The room had grown dark.
The rock outside, intercepting the light, gave it already the
air of a dungeon.  Though I did not dream of yielding to him,
though I even felt that in this interview he had descended to my
level, and I had had the better of him, I felt my heart sink.
For I remembered how men immured in prisons drag out their lives
always petitioning, always forgotten; how wearily the days go,
that to free men are bright with hope and ambition.  And I saw in
a flash what it would be to remain here, or in some such place;
never to cross horse again, or breathe the free air of Heaven,
never to hear the clink of sword against stirrup, or the rich
tones of M. d'Agen's voice calling for his friend!

I expected M. de Turenne to go when I had made my answer, or else
to fall into such a rage as opposition is apt to cause in those
who seldom encounter it.  To my surprise, however, he restrained
himself.  'Come,' he said, with patience which fairly astonished
me, and so much the more as chagrin was clearly marked in his
voice, 'I know where you put your trust.  You think the King of
Navarre will protect you.  Well, I pledge you the honour of
Turenne that he will not; that the King of Navarre will do
nothing to save you.  Now, what do you say?'

'As I said before,' I answered doggedly.

He took up the parchment from the table with a grim laugh.  'So
much the worse for you then!'  he said, shrugging his shoulders.
'So much the worse for you!  I took you for a rogue!  It seems
you are a fool!'



CHAPTER XXXVI.

'VIVE LE ROI!'

He took his leave with those words.  But his departure, which I
should have hailed a few minutes before with joy, as a relief
from embarrassment and humiliation, found me indifferent.  The
statement to which he had solemnly pledged himself in regard to
the King of Navarre, that I could expect no further help from
him, had prostrated me; dashing my hopes and spirits so
completely that I remained rooted to the spot long after his step
had ceased to sound on the stairs.  If what he said was true, in
the gloom which darkened alike my room and my prospects I could
descry no glimmer of light.  I knew His Majesty's weakness and
vacillation too well to repose any confidence in him; if the King
of Navarre also abandoned me, I was indeed without hope, as
without resource.

I had stood some time with my mind painfully employed upon this
problem, which my knowledge of M. de Turenne's strict honour in
private matters did not allow me to dismiss lightly, when I heard
another step on the stairs, and in a moment M. la Varenne opened
the door.  Finding me in the dark he muttered an apology for the
remissness of the servants; which I accepted, seeing nothing else
for it, in good part.

'We have been at sixes-and-sevens all day, and you have been
forgotten,' he continued.  'But you will have no reason to
complain now.  I am ordered to conduct you to His Majesty without
delay.'

'To St. Cloud?'  I exclaimed, greatly astonished.

'No, the king of France is here,' he answered.

'At Meudon?'

'To be sure.  Why not?'

I expressed my wonder at his Majesty's rapid recovery.

'Pooh!'  he answered roughly.  'He is as well as he ever was.  I
will leave you my light.  Be good enough to descend as soon as
you are ready, for it is ill work keeping kings waiting.  Oh!
and I had forgotten one thing,' he continued, returning when he
had already reached the door.  'My orders are to see that you do
not hold converse with anyone until you have seen the king, M. de
Marsac.  You will kindly remember this if we are kept waiting in
the antechamber.'

'Am I to be transported to--other custody?'  I asked, my mind
full of apprehension.

He shrugged his shoulders.  'Possibly,' he replied.  'I do not
know.'

Of course there was nothing for it but to murmur that I was at
the king's disposition; after which La Varenne retired, leaving
me to put the best face on the matter I could.  Naturally I
augured anything but well of an interview weighted with such a
condition; and this contributed still further to depress my
spirits, already lowered by the long solitude in which I had
passed the day.  Fearing nothing, however, so much as suspense, I
hastened to do what I could to repair my costume, and then
descended to the foot of the stairs, where I found my custodian
awaiting me with a couple of servants, of whom one bore a link.

We went out side by side, and having barely a hundred yards to
go, seemed in a moment to be passing through the gate of the
Castle.  I noticed that the entrance was very strongly guarded,
but an instant's reflection served to remind me that this was not
surprising after what had happened at St. Cloud.  I remarked to
M. la Varenne as we crossed the courtyard that I supposed Paris
had surrendered; but he replied in the negative so curtly, and
with so little consideration, that I forebore to ask any other
questions; and the Chateau being small, we found ourselves almost
at once in a long, narrow corridor, which appeared to serve as
the antechamber.

It was brilliantly lighted and crowded from end to end, and
almost from wall to wall, with a mob of courtiers; whose silence,
no less than their keen and anxious looks, took me by surprise.
Here and there two or three, who had seized upon the embrasure of
a window, talked together in a low tone; or a couple, who thought
themselves sufficiently important to pace the narrow passage
between the waiting lines, conversed in whispers as they walked.
But even these were swift to take alarm, and continually looked
askance; while the general company stood at gaze, starting and
looking up eagerly whenever the door swung open or a newcomer was
announced.  The strange silence which prevailed reminded me of
nothing so much as of the Court at Blois on the night of the Duke
of Mercoeur's desertion; but that stillness had brooded over
empty chambers, this gave a peculiar air of strangeness to a room
thronged in every part.

M. la Varenne, who was received by those about the door with
silent politeness, drew me into the recess of a window; whence I
was able to remark, among other things, that the Huguenots
present almost outnumbered the king's immediate following.
Still, among those who were walking up and down, I noticed M. de
Rambouillet, to whom at another time I should have hastened to
pay my respects; with Marshal d'Aumont, Sancy, and Humieres.  Nor
had I more than noted the presence of these before the door of
the chamber opened and added to their number Marshal Biron, who
came out leaning on the arm of Crillon.  The sight of these old
enemies in combination was sufficient of itself to apprise me
that some serious crisis was at hand; particularly as their
progress through the crowd was watched, I observed, by a hundred
curious and attentive eyes.

They disappeared at last through the outer door, and the
assemblage turned as with one accord to see who came next.  But
nearly half an hour elapsed before the Chamber door, which all
watched so studiously, again opened.  This time it was to give
passage to my late visitor, Turenne, who came out smiling, and
leaning, to my great surprise, on the arm of M. de Rosny.

As the two walked down the room, greeting here and there an
obsequious friend, and followed in their progress by all eyes, I
felt my heart sink indeed; both at sight of Turenne's good-
humour, and of the company in which I found him.  Aware that in
proportion as he was pleased I was like to meet with displeasure,
I still might have had hope left had I had Rosny left.  Losing
him, however--and I could not doubt, seeing him as I saw him,
that I had lost him--and counting the King of Navarre as gone
already, I felt such a failure of courage as I had never known
before.  I told myself with shame that I was not made for Courts,
or for such scenes as these; and recalling with new and keen
mortification the poor figure I had cut in the King of Navarre's
antechamber at St. Jean, I experienced so strange a gush of pity
for my mistress that nothing could exceed the tenderness I felt
for her.  I had won her under false colours, I was not worthy of
her.  I felt that my mere presence in her company in such a place
as this, and among these people, must cover her with shame and
humiliation.

To my great relief, since I knew my face was on fire, neither of
the two, as they walked down the passage, looked my way or seemed
conscious of my neighbourhood.  At the door they stood a moment
talking earnestly, and it seemed as if M. de Rosny would have
accompanied the Vicomte farther.  The latter would not suffer it,
however, but took his leave there; and this with so many polite
gestures that my last hope based on M. de Rosny vanished.

Nevertheless, that gentleman was not so wholly changed that on
his turning to re-traverse the room I did not see a smile flicker
for an instant on his features as the two lines of bowing
courtiers opened before him.  The next moment his look fell on
me, and though his face scarcely altered, he stopped opposite me.

'M. de Marsac is waiting to see His Majesty?'  he asked aloud,
speaking to M. la Varenne.

My companion remaining silent, I bowed.

'In five minutes,' M. de Rosny replied quietly, yet with a
distant air, which made me doubt whether I had not dreamed all I
remembered of this man.  'Ah!  M. de Paul, what can I do for
you?'  he continued.  And he bent his head to listen to the
application which a gentleman who stood next me poured into his
ear.  'I will see,' I heard him answer.  'In any case you shall
know to-morrow.'

'But you will be my friend?'  M. Paul urged, detaining him by the
sleeve.

'I will put only one before you,' he answered.

My neighbour seemed to shrink into himself with disappointment.
'Who is it?'  he murmured piteously.

'The king and his service, my friend,' M. de Rosny replied drily.
And with that he walked away.  But half a dozen times at least;
before he reached the upper end of the room I saw the scene
repeated.

I looked on at all this in the utmost astonishment, unable to
guess or conceive what had happened to give M. de Rosny so much
importance.  For it did not; escape me that the few words he had
stopped to speak to me had invested me with interest in the eyes
of all who stood near.  They gave me more room and a wider
breathing-space, and looking at me askance, muttered my name in
whispers.  In my uncertainty, however, what this portended I drew
no comfort from it; and before I had found time to weigh it
thoroughly the door through which Turenne and Rosny had entered
opened again.  The pages and gentlemen who stood about it
hastened to range themselves on either side.  An usher carrying a
white wand came rapidly down the room, here and there requesting
the courtiers to stand back where the passage was narrow.  Then a
loud voice without cried, 'The King, gentlemen!  the King!'  and
one in every two of us stood a-tiptoe to see him enter.

But there came in only Henry of Navarre, wearing a violet cloak
and cap.

I turned to La Varenne and with my head full of confusion,
muttered impatiently, 'But the king, man!  Where is the king?'

He grinned at me, with his hand before his mouth.  'Hush!'  he
whispered.  ''Twas a jest we played on you!  His late Majesty
died at daybreak this morning.  This is the king.'

'This!  the King of Navarre?'  I cried; so loudly that some round
us called 'Silence!'

'No, the King of France, fool!'  he replied.  'Your sword must be
sharper than your wits, or I have been told some lies!'

I let the gibe pass and the jest, for my heart was beating so
fast and painfully that I could scarcely preserve my outward
composure.  There was a mist before my eyes, and a darkness which
set the lights at defiance.  It was in vain I tried to think what
this might mean--to me.  I could not put two thoughts together,
and while I still questioned what reception I might expect, and
who in this new state of things were my friends, the king stopped
before me.

'Ha, M. de Marsac!'  he cried cheerfully, signing to those who
stood before me to give place.  'You are the gentleman who rode
so fast to warn me the other morning.  I have spoken to M. de
Turenne about you, and he is willing to overlook the complaint he
had against you.  For the rest, go to my closet, my friend.  Go!
Rosny knows my will respecting you.'

I had sense enough left to kneel and kiss his hand; but it was in
silence, which he knew how to interpret.  He had moved on and was
speaking to another before I recovered the use of my tongue, or
the wits which his gracious words had scattered.  When I did so,
and got on my feet again I found myself the centre of so much
observation and the object of so many congratulations that I was
glad to act upon the hint which La Varenne gave me, and hurry
away to the closet.

Here, though I had now an inkling of what I had to expect, I
found myself received with a kindness which bade fair to
overwhelm me.  Only M. de Rosny was in the room, and he took me
by both hands in a manner which told me without a word that the
Rosny of old days was back, and that; for the embarrassment I had
caused him of late I was more than forgiven.  When I tried to
thank him for the good offices which I knew he had done me with
the king he would have none of it; reminding me with a smile that
he had eaten of my cheese when the choice lay between that and
Lisieux.

'And besides, my friend,' he continued, his eyes twinkling, 'You
have made me richer by five hundred crowns.'

'How so?'  I asked, wondering more and more.

'I wagered that sum with Turenne that he could not bribe you,'
he answered, smiling.  'And see,' he continued, selecting from
some on the table the same parchment I had seen before, 'here is
the bribe.  Take it; it is yours.  I have given a score to-day,
but none with the same pleasure.  Let me be the first to
congratulate the Lieutenant-Governor of the Armagnac.'

For a while I could not believe that he was in earnest; which
pleased him mightily, I remember.  When I was brought at last to
see that the king had meant this for me from the first, and had
merely lent the patent to Turenne that the latter might make
trial of me, my pleasure and gratification were such that I could
no more express them then than I can now describe them.  For they
knew no bounds.  I stood before Rosny silent and confused, with
long-forgotten tears welling up to my eyes, and one regret only
in my heart--that my dear mother had not lived to see the fond
illusions with which I had so often amused her turned to sober
fact.  Not then, but afterwards, I remarked that the salary of my
office amounted to the exact sum which I had been in the habit of
naming to her; and I learned that Rosny had himself fixed it on
information given him by Mademoiselle de la Vire.

As my transports grew more moderate, and I found voice to thank
my benefactor, he had still an answer.  'Do not deceive yourself,
my friend,' he said gravely, 'or think this an idle reward.  My
master is King of France, but he is a king without a kingdom, and
a captain without money.  To-day, to gain his rights, he has
parted with half his powers.  Before he win all back there will
be blows--blows, my friend.  And to that end I have bought your
sword.'

I told him that if no other left its scabbard for the king, mine
should be drawn.

'I believe you,' he answered kindly, laying his hand on my
shoulder.  'Not by reason of your words--Heaven knows I have
heard vows enough to-day!--but because I have proved you.  And
now,' he continued, speaking in an altered tone and looking at me
with a queer smile, 'now I suppose you are perfectly satisfied?
You have nothing more to wish for, my friend?'

I looked aside in a guilty fashion, not daring to prefer on the
top of all his kindness a further petition.  Moreover, His
Majesty might have other views; or on this point Turenne might
have proved obstinate.  In a word, there was nothing in what had
happened, or on M. de Rosny's communication, to inform me whether
the wish of my heart was to be gratified or not.

But I should have known that great man better than to suppose
that he was one to promise without performing, or to wound a
friend when he could not salve the hurt.  After enjoying my
confusion for a time he burst into a great shout of laughter,
and taking me familiarly by the shoulders, turned me towards the
door.  'There, go!'  he said.  'Go up the passage.  You will find
a door on the right, and a door on the left.  You will know which
to open.'

Forbidding me to utter a syllable, he put me out.  In the
passage, where I fain would have stood awhile to collect my
thoughts, I was affrighted by sounds which warned me that the
king was returning that way.  Fearing to be surprised by him in
such a state of perturbation, I hurried to the end of the
passage, where I discovered, as I had been told, two doors.

They were both closed, and there was nothing about either of them
to direct my choice.  But M. de Rosny was correct in supposing
that I had not forgotten the advice he had offered me on the day
when he gave me so fine a surprise in his own house--'When you
want a good wife, M. de Marsac, turn to the right!'  I remembered
the words, and without a moment's hesitation--for the king and
his suite were already entering the passage--I knocked boldly,
and scarcely waiting for an invitation, went in.

Fanchette was by the door, but stood aside with a grim smile,
which I was at liberty to accept as a welcome or not.
Mademoiselle, who had been seated on the farther side of the
table, rose as I entered, and we stood looking at one another.
Doubtless she waited for me to speak first; while I on my side
was so greatly taken aback by the change wrought in her by the
Court dress she was wearing and the air of dignity with which she
wore it, that I stood gasping.  I turned coward after all that
had passed between us.  This was not the girl I had wooed in the
greenwood by St. Gaultier; nor the pale-faced woman I had lifted
to the saddle a score of times in the journey Paris-wards.  The
sense of unworthiness which I had experienced a few minutes
before in the crowded antechamber returned in full force in
presence of her grace and beauty, and once more I stood tongue-
tied before her, as I had stood in the lodgings at Blois.  All
the later time, all that had passed between us was forgotten.

She, for her part, looked at me wondering at my silence.  Her
face, which had grown rosy red at my entrance, turned pale again.
Her eyes grew large with alarm; she began to beat her foot on the
floor in a manner I knew.  'Is anything the matter, sir?'  she
muttered at last.

'On the contrary, mademoiselle,' I answered hoarsely, looking
every way, and grasping at the first thing I could think of, 'I
am just from M. de Rosny.'

'And he?'

'He has made me Lieutenant-Governor of the Armagnac.'

She curtseyed to me in a wonderful fashion.  'It pleases me to
congratulate you, sir,' she said, in a voice between laughing and
crying.  'It is not more than equal to your deserts.'

I tried to thank her becomingly, feeling at the same time more
foolish than I had ever felt in my life; for I knew that this was
neither what I had come to tell nor she to hear.  Yet I could not
muster up courage nor find words to go farther, and stood by the
table in a state of miserable discomposure.

'Is that all, sir?'  she said at last, losing patience.

Certainly it was now or never, and I knew it.  I made the effort.
'No, mademoiselle,' I said in a low voice.  'Far from it.  But I
do not see here the lady to whom I came to address myself, and
whom I have seen a hundred times in far other garb than yours,
wet and weary and dishevelled, in danger and in flight.  Her I
have served and loved; and for her I have lived.  I have had no
thought for months that has not been hers, nor care save for her.
I and all that I have by the king's bounty are hers, and I came
to lay them at her feet.  But I do not see her here.'

'No, sir?'  she answered in a whisper, with her face averted.

'No, mademoiselle.'

With a sudden brightness and quickness which set my heart beating
she turned, and looked at me.  'Indeed!'  she said.  'I am sorry
for that.  It is a pity your love should be given elsewhere, M.
de Marsac--since it is the king's will that you should marry me.'

'Ah, mademoiselle!'  I cried, kneeling before her--for she had
come round the table and stood beside me--'But you?'

'It is my will too, sir,' she answered, smiling through her
tears.

*    *    *

On the following day Mademoiselle de la Vire became my wife; the
king's retreat from Paris, which was rendered necessary by the
desertion of many who were ill-affected to the Huguenots,
compelling the instant performance of the marriage, if we would
have it read by M. d'Amours.  This haste notwithstanding, I was
enabled by the kindness of M. d'Agen to make such an appearance,
in respect both of servants and equipment, as became rather my
future prospects than my past distresses.  It is true that His
Majesty, out of a desire to do nothing which might offend
Turenne, did not honour us with his presence; but Madame
Catherine attended on his behalf, and herself gave me my bride.
M. de Sully and M. Crillon, with the Marquis de Rambouillet and
his nephew, and my distant connection, the Duke de Rohan, who
first acknowledged me on that day, were among those who earned my
gratitude by attending me upon the occasion.

The marriage of M. Francois d'Agen with the widow of my old rival
and opponent did not take place until something more than a year
later, a delay which was less displeasing to me than to the
bridegroom, inasmuch as it left madame at liberty to bear my wife
company during my absence on the campaign of Arques and Ivry.  In
the latter battle, which added vastly to the renown of M. de
Rosny, who captured the enemy's standard with his own hand, I had
the misfortune to be wounded in the second of the two charges led
by the king; and being attacked by two foot soldiers, as I lay
entangled I must inevitably have perished but for the aid
afforded me by Simon Fleix, who flew to the rescue with the
courage of a veteran.  His action was observed by the king, who
begged him from me, and attaching him to his own person in the
capacity of clerk, started him so fairly on the road to fortune
that he has since risen beyond hope or expectation.

The means by which Henry won for a time the support of Turenne
(and incidentally procured his consent to my marriage) are now
too notorious to require explanation.  Nevertheless, it was not
until the Vicomte's union a year later with Mademoiselle de la
Marck, who brought him the Duchy of Bouillon, that I thoroughly
understood the matter; or the kindness peculiar to the king, my
master, which impelled that great monarch, in the arrangement of
affairs so vast, to remember the interests of the least of his
servants.





End of The Project Gutenberg Etext of A Gentleman of France, by Weyman


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