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A Gentleman of France by Stanley Weyman

Part 3 out of 9

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'I won't,' I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER X.

THE FIGHT ON THE STAIRS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

'What is it? Who is there?'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER XI.

THE MAN AT THE DOOR.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER XII.

MAXIMILIAN DE BETHUNE, BARON DE ROSNY.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'From Blois, perhaps?'

I nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scarcely understanding what he meant, I repeated my name.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Was he a Norman?' I asked,

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

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

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

CHAPTER XIII.

AT ROSNY.

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

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

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

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

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

'Perfectly,' he answered.

'And solved all your doubts?'

'I have no doubts.'

'You are a Huguenot?'

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

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

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

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

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

M. de Rosny shook his head, still smiling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'How?' she asked curtly.

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

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

I shrugged my shoulders.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Hope?'

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER XIV.

M. DE RAMBOUILLET.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Many,' I answered.

'Do they trouble you?'

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

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

'Ugh!' I muttered.

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