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A Gentleman of France by Stanley Weyman

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In this Etext, text in italics has been written in capital
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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--'

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