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A Gentleman of France by Stanley Weyman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER V.

THE ROAD TO BLOIS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fanchette turned and asked me abruptly if that were Poitiers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'The Duke, sir.'

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

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

'I have heard nothing,' I answered impatiently.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER VI.

MY MOTHER'S LODGING.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'To Rosny,' was the answer.

'And Rosny?'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Then take me to him!'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Which floor?' I asked my guide.

'The fourth,' he answered quietly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He nodded.

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

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

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

CHAPTER VII.

SIMON FLEIX.

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

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

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

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

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

'Was that it?' she murmured doubtfully.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Still, madame.'

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

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

'Twelve thousand livres a year, I think?'

'The same, madame.'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He nodded without speaking.

I asked him if he had known her long.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Yes,' I replied.

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

'None,' I said quietly.

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

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

'And you have never questioned it?'

'Never.'

'Nor thought much about it?'

'Not a great deal,' I answered.

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

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

'I am a clerk,' he answered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'To what priest?'

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

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

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

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

Simon Fleix nodded,

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

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

CHAPTER VIII.

AN EMPTY ROOM.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Near the wall, to be sure.'

'Under a window?'

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

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

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

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

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

'Yes, yes, gentleman if you like!'

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

'He had watched me out, of course.'

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

'And then she went with him?'

The student nodded.

'Readily? Of her own free-will?'

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

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

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

But he shook his head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'This visit, madame?' I stammered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'I dropped it,' she answered sullenly.

'Why?' I said.

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

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

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

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

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

'One word, madame. Did--'

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

CHAPTER IX.

THE HOUSE IN THE RUELLE D'ARCY.

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

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

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

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

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

'You have been--'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheered afresh by this thought, I determined to walk to the end

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