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A Gentleman of France by Stanley Weyman

Part 4 out of 9

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

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

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

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

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

It happened in this way. We had reached the outskirts of Blois,
and were just approaching the gate, hoping to pass through it
without attracting attention, when two travellers rode slowly out
of a lane, the mouth of which we were passing. They eyed us
closely as they reined in to let us go by; and M. de Rosny, who
was riding with his horse's head at my stirrup, whispered me to
press on. Before I could comply, however, the strangers cantered
by us, and turning in the saddle when abreast of us looked us in
the face. A moment later one of them cried loudly, 'It is he!'
and both pulled their horses across the road, and waited for us
to come up.

Aware that if M. de Rosny were discovered he would be happy if he
escaped with imprisonment, the king being too jealous of his
Catholic reputation to venture to protect a Huguenot, however
illustrious, I saw that the situation was desperate; for, though
we were five to two, the neighbourhood of the city--the gate
being scarcely a bow-shot off--rendered flight or resistance
equally hopeless. I could think of nothing for it save to put a
bold face on the matter, and, M. de Rosny doing the same, we
advanced in the most innocent way possible.

'Halt, there!' cried one of the strangers sharply. 'And let me
tell you, sir, you are known.'

'What if I am?' I answered impatiently, still pressing on. 'Are
you highwaymen, that you stop the way?'

The speaker on the other side looked at me keenly, but in a
moment retorted, 'Enough trifling, sir! Who YOU are I do not
know. But the person riding at your rein is M. de Rosny. Him I
do know, and I warn him to stop.'

I thought the game was lost, but to my surprise my companion
answered at once and almost in the same words I had used. 'Well,
sir, and what of that?' he said.

'What of that?' the stranger exclaimed, spurring his horse so as
still to bar the way. 'Why, only this, that you must be a madman
to show yourself on this side of the Loire.'

'It is long since I have seen the other,' was my companion's
unmoved answer.

'You are M. de Rosny? You do not deny it?' the man cried in
astonishment.

'Certainly I do not deny it,' M. de Rosny answered bluntly. 'And
more, the day has been, sir,' he continued with sudden fire,
'when few at his Majesty's Court would have dared to chop words
with Solomon de Bethune, much less to stop him on the highway
within a mile of the palace. But times are changed with me, sir,
and it would seem with others also, if true men rallying to his
Majesty in his need are to be challenged by every passer on the
road.'

'What! Are you Solomon de Bethune?' the man cried
incredulously. Incredulously, but his countenance fell, and his
voice was full of chagrin and disappointment,

'Who else, sir?' M. de Rosny replied haughtily. 'I am, and, as
far as I know, I have as much right on this side of the Loire as
any other man.'

'A thousand pardons.'

'If you are not satisfied--'

'Nay, M. de Rosny, I am perfectly satisfied.'

The stranger repented this with a very crestfallen air, adding,
'A thousand pardons'; and fell to making other apologies, doffing
his hat with great respect. 'I took you, if you will pardon me
saying so, for your Huguenot brother, M. Maximilian,' he
explained. 'The saying goes that he is at Rosny.'

'I can answer for that being false,' M. de Rosny answered
peremptorily, 'for I have just come from there, and I will answer
for it he is not within ten leagues of the place. And now, sir,
as we desire to enter before the gates shut, perhaps you will
excuse us.' With which he bowed, and I bowed, and they bowed,
and we separated. They gave us the road, which M. de Rosny took
with a great air, and we trotted to the gate, and passed through
it without misadventure.

The first street we entered was a wide one, and my companion took
advantage of this to ride up abreast of me. 'That is the kind of
adventure our little prince is fond of,' he muttered. 'But for
my part, M. de Marsac, the sweat is running down my forehead. I
have played the trick more than once before, for my brother and I
are as like as two peas. And yet it would have gone ill with us
if the fool had been one of his friends.'

'All's well that ends well,' I answered in a low voice, thinking
it an ill time for compliments. As it was, the remark was
unfortunate, for M. de Rosny was still in the act of reining back
when Maignan called out to us to say we were being followed.

I looked behind, but could see nothing except gloom and rain and
overhanging eaves and a few figures cowering in doorways. The
servants, however, continued to maintain that it was so, and we
held, without actually stopping, a council of war. If detected,
we were caught in a trap, without hope of escape; and for the
moment I am sure M. do Rosny regretted that he had chosen this
route by Blois--that he had thrust himself, in his haste and his
desire to take with him the latest news, into a snare so patent.
The castle--huge, dark, and grim--loomed before us at the end of
the street in which we were, and, chilled as I was myself by the
sight, I could imagine how much more appalling it must appear to
him, the chosen counsellor of his master, and the steadfast
opponent of all which it represented.

Our consultation came to nothing, for no better course suggested
itself than to go as we had intended to the lodging commonly used
by my companion. We did so, looking behind us often, and saying
more than once that Maignan must be mistaken. As soon as we had
dismounted, however, and gone in, he showed us from the window a
man loitering near; and this confirmation of our alarm sending us
to our expedients again, while Maignan remained watching in a
room without a light, I suggested that I might pass myself off,
though ten years older, for my companion.

'Alas!' he said, drumming with his fingers on the table 'there
are too many here who know me to make that possible. I thank you
all the same.'

'Could you escape on foot? Or pass the wall anywhere, or slip
through the gates early?' I suggested.

'They might tell us at the Bleeding Heart,' he answered. But I
doubt it. I was a fool, sir, to put my neck into Mendoza's
halter, and that is a fact. But here is Maignan. What is it,
man?' he continued eagerly.

'The watcher is gone, my lord,' the equerry answered.

'And has left no one?'

'No one that I can see.'

We both went into the next room and looked from the windows. The
man was certainly not where we had seen him before. But the rain
was falling heavily, the eaves were dripping, the street was a
dark cavern with only here and there a spark of light, and the
fellow might be lurking elsewhere. Maignan, being questioned,
however, believed he had gone off of set purpose.

'Which may be read half a dozen ways,' I remarked.

'At any rate, we are fasting,' M. de Rosny answered. Give me a
full man in a fight. Let us sit down and eat. It is no good
jumping in the dark, or meeting troubles half way.'

We were not through our meal, however, Simon Fleix waiting on us
with a pale face, when Maignan came in again from the dark room.
'My lord,' he said quietly, 'three men have appeared. Two of
them remain twenty paces away. The third has come to the door.'
As he spoke we heard a cautious summons below, Maignan was for
going down, but his master bade him stand. Let the woman of the
house go,' he said.

I remarked and long remembered M. de Rosny's SANG-FROID on this
occasion. His pistols he had already laid on a chair beside him
throwing his cloak over them; and now, while we waited, listening
in breathless silence, I saw him hand a large slice of bread-and-
meat to his equerry, who, standing behind his chair, began eating
it with the same coolness. Simon Fleix, on the other hand, stood
gazing at the door, trembling in every limb, and with so much of
excitement and surprise in his attitude that I took the
precaution of bidding him, in a low voice, do nothing without
orders. At the same moment it occurred to me to extinguish two
of the four candles which had been lighted; and I did so, M. de
Rosny nodding assent, just as the muttered conversation which was
being carried on below ceased, and a man's tread sounded on the
stairs.

It was followed immediately by a knock on the outside of our
door. Obeying my companion's look, I cried, 'Enter!'

A slender man of middle height, booted and wrapped up, with his
face almost entirely hidden by a fold of his cloak, came in
quickly, and closing the door behind him, advanced towards the
table. 'Which is M. de Rosny?' he said.

Rosny had carefully turned his face from the light, but at the
sound of the other's voice he sprang up with a cry of relief. He
was about to speak, when the newcomer, raising his hand
peremptorily, continued, 'No names, I beg. Yours, I suppose, is
known here. Mine is not, nor do I desire it should be. I want
speech of you, that is all.'

'I am greatly honoured,' M. de Rosny replied, gazing at him
eagerly. 'Yet, who told you I was here?'

'I saw you pass under a lamp in the street,' the stranger
answered. 'I knew your horse first, and you afterwards, and bade
a groom follow you. Believe me,' he added, with a gesture of the
hand, 'you have nothing to fear from me.'

'I accept the assurance in the spirit in which it is offered,' my
companion answered with a graceful bow, 'and think myself
fortunate in being recognised'--he paused a moment and then
continued--'by a Frenchman and a man of honour.'

The stranger shrugged his shoulders. 'Your pardon, then,' he
said, 'if I seem abrupt. My time is short. I want to do the
best with it I can. Will you favour me?'

I was for withdrawing, but M. de Rosny ordered Maignan to place
lights in the next room, and, apologising to me very graciously,
retired thither with the stranger, leaving me relieved indeed by
these peaceful appearances, but full of wonder and conjectures
who this might be, and what the visit portended. At one moment I
was inclined to identify the stranger with M. de Rosny's brother;
at another with the English ambassador; and then, again, a wild
idea that he might be M. de Bruhl occurred to me. The two
remained together about a quarter of an hour and then came out,
the stranger leading the way, and saluting me politely as he
passed through the room. At the door he turned to say, 'At nine
o'clock, then?'

'At nine o'clock,' M. de Rosny replied, holding the door open.
'You will excuse me if I do not descend, Marquis?'

'Yes, go back, my friend,' the stranger answered. And, lighted
by Maignan, whose face on such occasions could assume the most
stolid air in the world, he disappeared down the stairs, and I
heard him go out.

M. de Rosny turned to me, his eyes sparkling with joy, his face
and mien full of animation. 'The King of Navarre is better,' he
said. 'He is said to be out of danger. What do you think of
that, my friend?'

'That is the best news I have heard for many a day,' I answered.
And I hastened to add, that France and the Religion had reason to
thank God for His mercy.

'Amen to that,' my patron replied reverently. 'But that is not
all--that is not all.' And he began to walk up and down the room
humming the 118th Psalm a little above his breath--

La voici l'heureuse journee
Que Dieu a faite a plein desir;
Par nous soit joie demenee,
Et prenons en elle plaisir.

He continued, indeed, to walk up and down the floor so long, and
with so joyful a countenance and demeanour, that I ventured, at
last to remind him of my presence, which he had clearly
forgotten. 'Ha! to be sure,' he said, stopping short and
looking at me with the utmost good-humour. 'What time is it?
Seven. Then until nine o'clock, my friend, I crave your
indulgence. In fine, until that time I must keep counsel. Come,
I am hungry still. Let us sit down, and this time I hope we may
not be interrupted. Simon, set us on a fresh bottle. Ha! ha!
VIVENT LE ROI ET LE ROI DE NAVARRE!' And again he fell to
humming the same psalm--

O Dieu eternel, je te prie,
Je te prie, ton roi maintiens:
O Dieu, je te prie et reprie,
Sauve ton roi et l'entretiens!

doing so with a light in his eyes and a joyous emphasis, which
impressed me the more in a man ordinarily so calm and self-
contained. I saw that something had occurred to gratify him
beyond measure, and, believing his statement that this was not
the good news from La Ganache only, I waited with the utmost
interest and anxiety for the hour of nine, which had no sooner
struck than our former visitor appeared with the same air of
mystery and disguise which had attended him before.

M. de Rosny, who had risen on hearing his step and had taken up
his cloak, paused with it half on and half off, to cry anxiously,
'All is well, is it not?'

'Perfectly,' the stranger replied, with a nod.

'And my friend?'

Yes, on condition that you answer for his discretion and
fidelity.' And the stranger glanced involuntarily at me who
stood uncertain whether to hold my ground or retire.

'Good,' M. de Rosny cried. Then he turned to me with a mingled
air of dignity and kindness, and continued: 'This is the
gentleman. M. de Marsac, I am honoured with permission to
present you to the Marquis de Rambouillet, whose interest and
protection I beg you to deserve, for he is a true Frenchman and a
patriot whom I respect.'

M. de Rambouillet saluted me politely. 'Of a Brittany family, I
think?' he said.

I assented; and he replied with something complimentary. But
afterwards he continued to look at me in silence with a keenness
and curiosity I did not understand. At last, when M. de Rosny's
impatience had reached a high pitch, the marquis seemed impelled
to add something. 'You quite understand M. de Rosny?' he said.
'Without saying anything disparaging of M. de Marsac, who is, no
doubt, a man of honour'--and he bowed to me very low--'this is a
delicate matter, and you will introduce no one into it, I am
sure, whom you cannot trust as yourself.'

'Precisely,' M. de Rosny replied, speaking drily, yet with a
grand air which fully matched his companion's. 'I am prepared to
trust this gentleman not only with my life but with my honour.'

'Nothing more remains to be said then,' the marquis rejoined,
bowing to me again. 'I am glad to have been the occasion of a
declaration so flattering to you, sir.'

I returned his salute in silence, and obeying M. de Rosny's
muttered direction put on, my cloak and sword. M. de Rosny took
up his pistols.

'You will have no need of those,' the Marquis said with a high
glance.

'Where we are going, no,' my companion answered, calmly
continuing to dispose them about him. 'But the streets are dark
and not too safe.'

M. de Rambouillet laughed. 'That is the worst of you Huguenots,'
he said. 'You never know when to lay suspicion aside.'

A hundred retorts sprang to my lips. I thought of the
Bartholomew, of the French fury of Antwerp, of half a dozen
things which make my blood boil to this day. But M. de Rosny's
answer was the finest of all. 'That is true, I am afraid,' he
said quietly. 'On the other hand, you Catholics--take the late
M. de Guise for instance--have the habit of erring on the other
side, I think, and sometimes trust too far.'

The marquis, without making any answer to this home-thrust, led
the way out, and we followed, being joined at the door of the
house by a couple of armed lackeys, who fell in behind us. We
went on foot. The night was dark, and the prospect out of doors
was not cheering. The streets were wet and dirty, and
notwithstanding all our care we fell continually into pitfalls or
over unseen obstacles. Crossing the PARVIS of the cathedral,
which I remembered, we plunged in silence into an obscure street
near the river, and so narrow that the decrepit houses shut out
almost all view of the sky. The gloom of our surroundings, no
less than my ignorance of the errand on which we were bound,
filled me with anxiety and foreboding. My companions keeping
strict silence, however, and taking every precaution to avoid
being recognised, I had no choice but to do likewise.

I could think, and no more. I felt myself borne along by an
irresistible current, whither and for what purpose I could not
tell; an experience to an extent strange at my age the influence
of the night and the weather. Twice we stood aside to let a
party of roisterers go by, and the excessive care M. de
Rambouillet evinced on these occasions to avoid recognition did
not tend to reassure me or make me think more lightly of the
unknown business on which I was bound.

Reaching at last an open space, our leader bade us in a low voice
be careful and follow him closely. We did so and crossed in this
way and in single file a narrow plank or wooden bridge; but
whether water ran below or a dry ditch only, I could not
determine. My mind was taken up at the moment with the discovery
which I had just made, that the dark building, looming huge and
black before us with a single light twinkling here and there at
great heights, was the Castle of Blois.

CHAPTER XV.

VILAIN HERODES.

All the distaste and misliking I had expressed earlier in the day
for the Court of Blois recurred with fresh force in the darkness
and gloom; and though, booted and travel-stained as we were, I
did not conceive it likely that we should be obtruded on the
circle about the king, I felt none the less an oppressive desire
to be through with our adventure, and away from the ill-omened
precincts in which I found myself. The darkness prevented me
seeing the faces of my companions; but on M. de Rosny, who was
not quite free himself, I think, from the influences of the time
and place, twitching my sleeve to enforce vigilance, I noted that
the lackeys had ceased to follow us, and that we three were
beginning to ascend a rough staircase cut in the rock. I
gathered, though the darkness limited my view behind as well as
in front to a few twinkling lights, that we were mounting the
scarp from the moat; to the side wall of the castle; and I was
not surprised when the marquis muttered to us to stop, and
knocked softly on the wood of a door.

M. de Rosny might have spared the touch he had laid on my sleeve,
for by this time I was fully and painfully sensible of the
critical position in which we stood, and was very little likely
to commit an indiscretion. I trusted he had not done so already!
No doubt--it flashed across me while we waited--he had taken care
to safeguard himself. But how often, I reflected, had all
safeguards been set aside and all precautions eluded by those to
whom he was committing himself! Guise had thought himself secure
in this very building, which we were about to enter. Coligny had
received the most absolute of safe-conducts from those to whom we
were apparently bound. The end in either case had been the same
--the confidence of the one proving of no more avail than the
wisdom of the other. What if the King of France thought to make
his peace with his Catholic subjects--offended by the murder of
Guise--by a second murder of one as obnoxious to them as he was
precious to their arch-enemy in the South? Rosny was sagacious
indeed; but then I reflected with sudden misgiving that he was
young, ambitious, and bold.

The opening of the door interrupted without putting an end to
this train of apprehension. A faint light shone out; so feebly
as to illumine little more than the stairs at our feet. The
marquis entered at once, M. de Rosny followed, I brought up the
rear; and the door was closed by a man who stood behind it. We
found ourselves crowded together at the foot of a very narrow
staircase, which the doorkeeper--a stolid pikeman in a grey
uniform, with a small lanthorn swinging from the crosspiece of
his halberd--signed to us to ascend. I said a word to him, but
he only stared in answer, and M. de Rambouillet, looking back and
seeing what I was about, called to me that it was useless, as the
man was a Swiss and spoke no French.

This did not tend to reassure me; any more than did the chill
roughness of the wall which my hand touched as I groped upwards,
or the smell of bats which invaded my nostrils and suggested that
the staircase was little used and belonged to a part of the
castle fitted for dark and secret doings.

We stumbled in the blackness up the steps, passing one door and
then a second before M. de Rambouillet whispered to us to stand,
and knocked gently at a third.

The secrecy, the darkness, and above all the strange arrangements
made to receive us, filled me with the wildest conjectures. But
when the door opened and we passed one by one into a bare,
unfurnished, draughty gallery, immediately, as I judged, under
the tiles, the reality agreed with no one of my anticipations.
The place was a mere garret, without a hearth, without a single
stool. Three windows, of which one was roughly glazed, while the
others were filled with oiled paper, were set in one wall; the
others displaying the stones and mortar without disguise or
ornament. Beside the door through which we had entered stood a
silent figure in the grey uniform I had seen below, his lanthorn
on the floor at his feet. A second door at the farther end of
the gallery, which was full twenty paces long, was guarded in
like manner. A couple of lanthorns stood in the middle of the
floor, and that was all.

Inside the door, M. de Rambouillet with his finger on his lip
stopped us, and we stood a little group of three a pace in front
of the sentry, and with the empty room before us. I looked at M.
de Rosny, but he was looking at Rambouillet. The marquis had his
back towards me, the sentry was gazing into vacancy; so that
baffled in my attempt to learn anything from the looks of the
other actors in the scene, I fell back on my ears. The rain
dripped outside and the moaning wind rattled the casements; but
mingled with these melancholy sounds--which gained force, as such
things always do, from the circumstances in which we were placed
and our own silence--I fancied I caught the distant hum of voices
and music and laughter. And that, I know not why, brought M. de
Guise again to my mind.

The story of his death, as I had heard it from that accursed monk
in the inn on the Claine, rose up in all its freshness, with all
its details. I started when M. de Rambouillet coughed. I
shivered when Rosny shifted his feet. The silence grew
oppressive. Only the stolid men in grey seemed unmoved,
unexpectant; so that I remember wondering whether it was their
nightly duty to keep guard over an empty garret, the floor strewn
with scraps of mortar and ends of tiles.

The interruption, when it came at last, came suddenly. The
sentry at the farther end of the gallery started and fell back a
pace. Instantly the door beside him opened and a man came in,
and closing it quickly behind him, advanced up the room with an
air of dignity, which even his strange appearance and attire
could not wholly destroy.

He was of good stature and bearing, about forty years old as I
judged, his wear a dress of violet velvet with black points cut
in the extreme of the fashion. He carried a sword but no ruff,
and had a cup and ball of ivory--a strange toy much in vogue
among the idle--suspended from his wrist by a ribbon. He was
lean and somewhat narrow, but so far I found little fault with
him. It was only when my eye reached his face, and saw it rouged
like a woman's and surmounted by a little turban, that a feeling
of scarcely understood disgust seized me, and I said to myself,
'This is the stuff of which kings' minions are made!'

To my surprise, however, M. de Rambouillet went to meet him with
the utmost respect, sweeping the dirty floor with his bonnet, and
bowing to the very ground. The newcomer acknowledged his salute
with negligent kindness. Remarking pleasantly 'You have brought
a friend, I think?' he looked towards us with a smile.

'Yes, sire, he is here,' the marquis answered, stepping aside a
little. And with the word I understood that this was no minion,
but the king himself: Henry, the Third of the name, and the last
of the great House of Valois, which had ruled France by the grace
of God for two centuries and a half! I stared at him, and stared
at him, scarcely believing what I saw. For the first time in my
life I was in the presence of the king!

Meanwhile M. de Rosny, to whom he was, of course, no marvel, had
gone forward and knelt on one knee. The king raised him
graciously, and with an action which, viewed apart from his
woman's face and silly turban, seemed royal and fitting. 'This
is good of you, Rosny,' he said. 'But it is only what I expected
of you.'

'Sire,' my companion answered, 'your Majesty has no more devoted
servant than myself, unless it be the king my master.'

'By my faith,' Henry answered with energy--'and if I am not a
good churchman, whatever those rascally Parisians say, I am
nothing--by my faith, I think I believe you!'

'If your Majesty would believe me in that and in some other
things also,' M. de Rosny answered, 'it would be very well for
France.' Though he spoke courteously, he threw so much weight
and independence into his words that I thought of the old
proverb, 'A good master, a bold servant.'

'Well, that is what we are here to see,' the king replied. 'But
one tells me one thing,' he went on fretfully, 'and one another,
and which am I to believe?'

'I know nothing of others, sire,' Rosny answered with the same
spirit. 'But my master has every claim to be believed. His
interest in the royalty of France is second only to your
Majesty's. He is also a king and a kinsman, and it erks him to
see rebels beard you, as has happened of late.'

'Ay, but the chief of them?' Henry exclaimed, giving way to
sudden excitement and stamping furiously on the floor. 'He will
trouble me no more. Has my brother heard of THAT? Tell me, sir,
has that news reached him?'

'He has heard it, sire.'

'And he approved? He approved, of course?'

'Beyond doubt the man was a traitor,' M. de Rosny answered
delicately. 'His life was forfeit, sire. Who can question it?'

'And he has paid the forfeit,' the king rejoined, looking down at
the floor and immediately falling into a moodiness as sudden as
his excitement. His lips moved. He muttered something
inaudible, and began to play absently with his cup and ball, his
mind occupied apparently with a gloomy retrospect. 'M. de Guise,
M. de Guise,' he murmured at last, with a sneer and an accent of
hate which told of old humiliations long remembered. 'Well, damn
him, he is dead now. He is dead. But being dead he yet troubles
us. Is not that the verse, father? Ha!' with a start, 'I was
forgetting. But that is the worst wrong he has done me,' he
continued, looking up and growing excited again. 'He has cut me
off from Mother Church. There is hardly a priest comes near me
now, and presently they will excommunicate me. And, as I hope
for salvation, the Church has no more faithful son than me.'

I believe he was on the point, forgetting M. de Rosny's presence
there and his errand, of giving way to unmanly tears, when M. de
Rambouillet, as if by accident, let the heel of his scabbard fall
heavily on the floor. The king started, and passing his hand
once or twice across his brow, seemed to recover himself.
'Well,' he said, 'no doubt we shall find a way out of our
difficulties.'

'If your Majesty,' Rosny answered respectfully, 'would accept the
aid my master proffers, I venture to think that they would vanish
the quicker.'

'You think so,' Henry rejoined. 'Well, give me your shoulder.
Let us walk a little.' And, signing to Rambouillet to leave him,
he began to walk up and down with M. de Rosny, talking familiarly
with him in an undertone.

Only such scraps of the conversation as fell from them when they
turned at my end of the gallery now reached me. Patching these
together, however, I managed to understand somewhat. At one turn
I heard the king say, 'But then Turenne offers--' At the next,
'Trust him? Well, I do not know why I should not. He promises
--' Then 'A Republic, Rosny? That his plan? Pooh! he dare not.
He could not. France is a kingdom by the ordinance of God in my
family.'

I gathered from these and other chance words, which I have since
forgotten, that M. de Rosny was pressing the king to accept the
help of the King of Navarre, and warning him against the
insidious offers of the Vicomte de Turenne. The mention of a
Republic, however, seemed to excite his Majesty's wrath rather
against Rosny for presuming to refer to such a thing than against
Turenne, to whom he refused to credit it. He paused near my end
of the promenade.

'Prove it!' he said angrily. 'But can you prove it? Can you
prove it? Mind you, I will take no hearsay evidence, sir. Now,
there is Turenne's agent here--you did not know, I dare say, that
he had an agent here?'

'You refer, sire, to M. de Bruhl,' Rosny answered, without
hesitation. 'I know him, sire.'

'I think you are the devil,' Henry answered, looking curiously at
him. 'You seem to know most things. But mind you, my friend, he
speaks me fairly, and I will not take this on hearsay even from
your master. Though,' he added after pausing a moment, 'I love
him.'

'And he, your Majesty. He desires only to prove it.'

'Yes, I know, I know,' the king answered fretfully. 'I believes
he does. I believe he does wish me well. But there will be a
devil of an outcry among my people. And Turenne gives fair words
too. And I do not know,' he continued, fidgeting with his cup
and ball, 'that it might not suit me better to agree with him,
you see.'

I saw M. de Rosny draw himself up. 'Dare I speak openly to you,
sire,' he said, with less respect and more energy than he had
hitherto used. 'As I should to my master?'

'Ay, say what you like,' Henry answered. But he spoke sullenly,
and it seemed to me that he looked less pleasantly at his
companion.

'Then I will venture to utter what is in your Majesty's mind,' my
patron answered steadfastly. 'You fear, sire, lest, having
accepted my master's offer and conquered your enemies, you should
not be easily rid of him.'

Henry looked relieved. 'Do you call that diplomacy?' he said
with a smile. 'However, what if it be so? What do you say to
it? Methinks I have heard an idle tale about a horse which would
hunt a stag; and for the purpose set a man upon its back.'

'This I say, sire, first,' Rosny answered very earnestly. 'That
the King of Navarre is popular only with one-third of the
kingdom, and is only powerful when united with you. Secondly,
sire, it is his interest to support the royal power, to which he
is heir. And, thirdly, it must be more to your Majesty's honour
to accept help from a near kinsman than from an ordinary subject,
and one who, I still maintain, sire, has no good designs in his
mind.'

'The proof' Henry said sharply. 'Give me that!'

'I can give it in a week from this day.'

'It must be no idle tale, mind you,' the king continued
suspiciously.

'You shall have Turenne's designs, sire, from one who had them
from his own mouth.'

The king looked startled, but after a pause turned and resumed
his walk. 'Well,' he said, 'if you do that, I on my part--'

The rest I lost, for the two passing to the farther end of the
gallery, came to a standstill there, balking my curiosity and
Rambouillet's also. The marquis, indeed, began to betray his
impatience, and the great clock immediately over our heads
presently striking the half-hour after ten, he started and made
as if he would have approached the king. He checked the impulse,
however, but still continued to fidget uneasily, losing his
reserve by-and-by so far as to whisper to me that his Majesty
would be missed.

I had been, up to this point, a silent and inactive spectator of
a scene which appealed to my keenest interests and aroused my
most ardent curiosity. Surprise following surprise, I had begun
to doubt my own identity; so little had I expected to find myself
first in the presence of the Most Christian King--and that under
circumstances as strange and bizarre as could well be imagined--
and then an authorised witness at a negotiation upon which the
future of all the great land of France stretching for so many
hundred leagues on every side of us, depended. I say I could
scarcely believe in my own identity; or that I was the same
Gaston de Marsac who had slunk, shabby and out-at-elbows, about
St. Jean d'Angely. I tasted the first sweetness of secret
power, which men say is the sweetest of all and the last
relinquished; and, the hum of distant voices and laughter still
reaching me at intervals, I began to understand why we had been
admitted with, so much precaution, and to comprehend the
gratification of M. de Rosny when the promise of this interview
first presented to him the hope of effecting so much for his
master and for France.

Now I was to be drawn into the whirlpool itself. I was still
travelling back over the different stages of the adventure which
had brought me to this point, when I was rudely awakened by M. de
Rosny calling my name in a raised voice. Seeing, somewhat late,
that he was beckoning to me to approach, I went forward in a
confused and hasty fashion; kneeling before the king as I had
seen him kneel, and then rising to give ear to his Majesty's
commands. Albeit, having expected nothing less than to be called
upon, I was not in the clearest mood to receive them. Nor was my
bearing such as I could have wished it to be.

M. de Rosny tells me that you desire a commission at Court, sir,'
the king said quickly.

'I, sire?' I stammered, scarcely able to believe my ears. I was
so completely taken aback that I could say no more, and I stopped
there with my mouth open.

'There are few things I can deny M. de Rosny,' Henry continued,
speaking very rapidly, 'and I am told that you are a gentleman of
birth and ability. Out of kindness to him, therefore, I grant
you a commission to raise twenty men for my service.
Rambouillet,' he continued, raising his voice slightly, 'you will
introduce this gentleman to me publicly to-morrow, that; I may
carry into effect my intention on his behalf. You may go now,
sir. No thanks. And M. de Rosny,' he added, turning to my
companion and speaking with energy, 'have a care for my sake that
you are not recognised as you go. Rambouillet must contrive
something to enable you to leave without peril. I should be
desolated if anything happened to you, my friend, for I could not
protect you. I give you my word if Mendoza or Retz found you in
Blois I could not save you from them unless you recanted.'

'I will not trouble either your Majesty or my conscience,' M. de
Rosny replied, bowing low, 'if my wits can help me.'

'Well, the saints keep you,' the king answered piously, going
towards the door by which he had entered; 'for your master and I
have both need of you. Rambouillet, take care of him as you love
me. And come early in the morning to my closet and tell me how
it has fared with him.'

We all stood bowing while he withdrew, and only turned to retire
when the door closed behind him. Burning with indignation and
chagrin as I was at finding myself disposed of in the way I have
described, and pitchforked, whether I would or no, into a service
I neither fancied nor desired, I still managed for the present to
restrain myself; and, permitting my companions to precede me,
followed in silence, listening sullenly to their jubilations.
The marquis seemed scarcely less pleased than M. de Rosny; and as
the latter evinced a strong desire to lessen any jealousy the
former might feel, and a generous inclination to attribute to him
a full share of the credit gained, I remained the only person
dissatisfied with the evening's events. We retired from the
chateau with the same precautions which had marked our entrance,
and parting with M. de Rambouillet at the door of our lodging--
not without many protestations of esteem on his part and of
gratitude on that of M. de Rosny--mounted to the first-floor in
single file and in silence, which I was determined not to be the
first to break.

Doubtless M. de Rosny knew my thoughts, for, speedily dismissing
Maignan and Simon, who were in waiting, he turned to me without
preface. 'Come, my friend,' he said, laying his hand on my
shoulder and looking me in the face in a way which all but
disarmed me at once, 'do not let us misunderstand one another.
You think you have cause to be angry with me. I cannot suffer
that, for the King of Navarre had never greater need of your
services than now.'

'You have played me an unworthy trick, sir,'I answered, thinking
he would cozen me with fair speeches.

'Tut, tut!' he replied. 'You do not understand.'

'I understand well enough,' I answered, with bitterness, 'that,
having done the King of Navarre's work, he would now be rid of
me.'

'Have I not told you,' M. de Rosny replied, betraying for the
first time some irritation, 'that he has greater need of your
services than ever? Come, man, be reasonable, or, better still,
listen to me.' And turning from me, he began to walk up and down
the room, his hands behind him. "the King of France--I want to
make it as clear to you as possible--' he said, 'cannot make head
against the League without help, and, willy-nilly, must look for
it to the Huguenots whom he has so long persecuted. The King of
Navarre, their acknowledged leader, has offered that help; and
so, to spite my master, and prevent a combination so happy for
France, has M. de Turenne, who would fain raise the faction he
commands to eminence, and knows well how to make his profit out
of the dissensions of his country. Are you clear so far, sir?'

I assented. I was becoming absorbed in spite of myself.

'Very well,' he resumed. 'This evening--never did anything fall
out more happily than Rambouillet's meeting with me--he is a good
man!--I have brought the king to this: that if proof of the
selfish nature of Turenne's designs be laid before him he will
hesitate no longer. That proof exists. A fortnight ago it was
here; but it is not here now.'

'That is unlucky!' I exclaimed. I was so much interested in his
story, as well as flattered by the confidence he was placing in
me, that my ill-humour vanished. I went and stood with my
shoulder against the mantelpiece, and he, passing to and fro
between me and the light, continued his tale.

'A word about this proof,' he said. 'It came into the King of
Navarre's hands before its full value was known to us, for that
only accrued to it on M. de Guise's death. A month ago it--this
piece of evidence I mean--was at Chize. A fortnight or so ago it
was here in Blois. It is now, 'M. de Marsac,' he continued,
facing me suddenly as he came opposite me, 'in my house at
Rosny.'

I started. 'You mean Mademoiselle de la Vire?' I cried.

'I mean Mademoiselle de la Vire!' he answered, 'who, some month
or two ago, overheard M. de Turenne's plans, and contrived to
communicate with the King of Navarre. Before the latter could
arrange a private interview, however, M. de Turenne got wind of
her dangerous knowledge, and swept her off to Chize. The rest
you know, M. de Marsac, if any man knows it.'

'But what will you do?' I asked. 'She is at Rosny.'

'Maignan, whom I trust implicitly, as far as his lights go, will
start to fetch her to-morrow. At the same hour I start
southwards. You, M. de Marsac, will remain here as my agent, to
watch over my interests, to receive Mademoiselle on her arrival,
to secure for her a secret interview with the king, to guard her
while she remains here. Do you understand?'

Did I understand? I could not find words in which to thank him.
My remorse and gratitude, my sense of the wrong I had done him,
and of the honour he was doing me, were such that I stood mute
before him as I had stood before the king. 'You accept, then?'
he said, smiling. 'You do not deem the adventure beneath you, my
friend?'

'I deserve your confidence so little, sir,' I answered, stricken
to the ground, 'that I beg you to speak, while I listen. By
attending exactly to your instructions I may prove worthy of the
trust reposed in me. And only so.'

He embraced me again and again, with a, kindness which moved me
almost to tears. 'You are a man after my own heart,' he said,
'and if God wills I will make your fortune. Now listen, my
friend. To-morrow at Court, as a stranger and a man introduced
by Rambouillet, you will be the cynosure of all eyes. Bear
yourself bravely. Pay court to the women, but attach yourself to
no one in particular. Keep aloof from Retz and the Spanish
faction, but beware especially of Bruhl. He alone will have your
secret, and may suspect your design. Mademoiselle should be here
in a week; while she is with you, and until she has seen the
king, trust no one, suspect everyone, fear all things. Consider
the battle won only when the king says, "I am satisfied."'

Much more he told me, which served its purpose and has been
forgotten. Finally he honoured me by bidding me share his pallet
with him, that we might talk without restraint, and that if
anything occurred to him in the night he might communicate it to
me.

'But will not Bruhl denounce me as a Huguenot?' I asked him.

'He will not dare to do so,' M. de Rosny answered, 'both as a
Huguenot himself, and as his master's representative; and,
further, because it would displease the king. No, but whatever
secret harm one man can do another, that you have to fear.
Maignan, when he returns with mademoiselle, will leave two men
with you; until they come I should borrow a couple of stout
fellows from Rambouillet. Do not go out alone after dark, and
beware of doorways, especially your own.'

A little later, when I thought him asleep, I heard him chuckle;
and rising on my elbow I asked him what it was. 'Oh, it is your
affair,' he answered, still laughing silently, so that I felt the
mattress shake under him. 'I don't envy you one part of your
task, my friend.'

'What is that?' I said suspiciously.

'Mademoiselle,' he answered, stifling with difficulty a burst of
laughter. And after that he would not say another word, bad,
good, or indifferent, though I felt the bed shake more than once,
and knew that he was digesting his pleasantry.

CHAPTER XVI.

IN THE KING'S CHAMBER.

M. de Rosny had risen from my side and started on his journey
when I opened my eyes in the morning, and awoke to the memory of
the task which had been so strangely imposed upon me; and which
might, according as the events of the next fortnight shaped
themselves, raise me to high position or put an end to my career.
He had not forgotten to leave a souvenir behind him, for I found
beside my pillow a handsome silver-mounted pistol, bearing the
letter 'R.' and a coronet; nor had I more than discovered this
instance of his kindness before Simon Fleix came in to tell me
that M. de Rosny had left two hundred crowns in his hands for me.

'Any message with it?' I asked the lad.

'Only that; he had taken a keepsake in exchange,' Simon answered,
opening the window as he spoke.

In some wonder I began to search, but I could not discover that
anything was missing until I came to put on my doublet, when I
found that the knot of ribbon which mademoiselle had flung to me
at my departure from Rosny was gone from the inside of the
breast, where I had pinned it for safety with a long thorn. The
discovery that M. de Rosny had taken this was displeasing to me
on more than one account. In the first place, whether
mademoiselle had merely wished to plague me (as was most
probable) or not, I was loth to lose it, my day for ladies'
favours being past and gone; in the second, I misdoubted the
motive which had led him to purloin it, and tormented myself with
thinking of the different constructions he might put upon it, and
the disparaging view of my trust worthiness which it might lead
him to take. I blamed myself much for my carelessness in leaving
it where a chance eye might rest upon it; and more when,
questioning Simon further, I learned that M. de Rosny had added,
while mounting at the door, 'Tell your master, safe bind, safe
find; and a careless lover makes a loose mistress.'

I felt my cheek burn in a manner unbecoming my years while Simon
with some touch of malice repeated this; and I made a vow on the
spot, which I kept until I was tempted to break it, to have no
more to do with such trifles. Meanwhile, I had to make the best
of it; and brisking up, and bidding Simon, who seemed depressed
by the baron's departure, brisk up also, I set about my
preparations for making such a figure at Court as became me:
procuring a black velvet suit, and a cap and feather to match;
item, a jewelled clasp to secure the feather; with a yard or two
of lace and two changes of fine linen.

Simon had grown sleek at Rosny, and losing something of the
wildness which had marked him, presented in the dress M. de Rosny
had given him a very creditable appearance; being also, I fancy,
the only equerry in Blois who could write. A groom I engaged on
the recommendation of M. de Rambouillet's master of the horse;
and I gave out also that I required a couple of valets. It
needed only an hour under the barber's hands and a set of new
trappings for the Cid to enable me to make a fair show, such as
might be taken to indicate a man of ten or twelve thousand livres
a year.

In this way I expended a hundred and fifteen crowns. reflecting
that this was a large sum, and that I must keep some money for
play, I was glad to learn that in the crowded state of the city
even men with high rank were putting up with poor lodging; I
determined, therefore, to combine economy with a scheme which I
had in my head by taking the rooms in which my mother died, with
one room below them. This I did, hiring such furniture as I
needed, which was not a great deal. To Simon Fleix, whose
assistance in these matters was invaluable, I passed on much of
M. de Rosny's advice, bidding him ruffle it with the best in his
station, and inciting him to labour for my advancement by
promising to make his fortune whenever my own should be assured.
I hoped, indeed, to derive no little advantage from the quickness
of wit; which had attracted M. de Rosny's attention; although I
did not fail to take into account at the same time that the lad
was wayward and fitful, prone at one time to depression, and at
another to giddiness, and equally uncertain in either mood.

M. de Rambouillet being unable to attend the LEVEE, had appointed
me to wait upon him at six in the evening; at which hour I
presented myself at his lodgings, attended by Simon Fleix. I
found him in the midst of half a dozen gentlemen whose habit it
was to attend him upon all public occasions; and these gallants,
greeting me with the same curious and suspicious glances which I
have seen hounds bestow on a strange dog introduced into their
kennel, I was speedily made to feel that it is one thing to have
business at Court, and another to be well received there.

M. de Rambouillet, somewhat to my surprise, did nothing to remove
this impression. On all ordinary occasions a man of stiff and
haughty bearing, and thoroughly disliking, though he could not
prevent, the intrusion of a third party into a transaction which
promised an infinity of credit, he received me so coldly and with
so much reserve as for the moment to dash my spirits and throw me
back on myself.

During the journey to the castle, however, which we performed on
foot, attended by half a dozen armed servants bearing torches, I
had time to recall M. de Rosny's advice, and to bethink me of the
intimacy which that great man had permitted me; with so much
effect in the way of heartening me, that as we crossed the
courtyard of the castle I advanced myself, not without some
murmuring on the part of others, to Rambouillet's elbow,
considering that as I was attached to him by the king's command,
this was my proper place. I had no desire to quarrel, however,
and persisted for some time in disregarding the nudges and
muttered words which were exchanged round me, and even the
efforts which were made as we mounted the stairs to oust me from
my position. But a young gentleman, who showed himself very
forward in these attempts, presently stumbling against me, I
found it necessary to look at him.

'Sir,' he said, in a small and lisping voice, 'you trod on my
toe.'

Though I had not done so, I begged his pardon very politely. But
as his only acknowledgment of this courtesy consisted in an
attempt to get his knee in front of mine--we were mounting very
slowly, the stairs being cumbered with a multitude of servants,
who stood on either hand--I did tread on his toe, with a force
and directness which made him cry out.

'What is the matter?' Rambouillet asked, looking back hastily.

'Nothing, M. le Marquis,' I answered, pressing on steadfastly.

'Sir,' my young friend said again, in the same lisping voice,
'you trod on my toe.'

'I believe I did, sir,' I answered.

'You have not yet apologised,' he murmured gently in my ear.

'Nay, there you are wrong,' I rejoined bluntly, 'for it is always
my habit to apologise first and tread afterwards.'

He smiled as at a pleasant joke; and I am bound to say that his
bearing was so admirable that if he had been my son I could have
hugged him. 'Good!' he answered. 'No doubt your sword is as
sharp as your wits, sir. I see,' he continued, glancing naively
at my old scabbard--he was himself the very gem of a courtier, a
slender youth with a pink-and-white complexion, a dark line for a
moustache, and a pearl-drop in his ear--'it is longing to be out.
Perhaps you will take a turn in the tennis-court to-morrow?'

'With pleasure, sir,' I answered, 'if you have a father, or your
elder brother is grown up.'

What answer he would have made to this gibe I do not know, for at
that moment we reached the door of the ante-chamber; and this
being narrow, and a sentry in the grey uniform of the Swiss Guard
compelling all to enter in single file, my young friend was
forced to fall back, leaving me free to enter alone, and admire
at my leisure a scene at once brilliant and sombre.

The Court being in mourning for the Queen-mother, black
predominated in the dresses of those present, and set off very
finely the gleaming jewels and gemmed sword-hilts which were worn
by the more important personages. The room was spacious and
lofty, hung with arras, and lit by candles burning in silver
sconces; it rang as we entered with the shrill screaming of a
parrot, which was being teased by a group occupying the farther
of the two hearths. Near them play was going on at one table,
and primero at a second. In a corner were three or four ladies,
in a circle about a red-faced, plebeian-looking man, who was
playing at forfeits with one of their number; while the middle of
the room seemed dominated by a middle-sized man with a peculiarly
inflamed and passionate countenance, who, seated on a table, was
inveighing against someone or something in the most violent
terms, his language being interlarded with all kinds of strange
and forcible oaths. Two or three gentlemen, who had the air of
being his followers, stood about him, listening between
submission and embarrassment; while beside the nearer fireplace,
but at some distance from him, lounged a nobleman, very richly
dressed, and wearing on his breast the Cross of the Holy Ghost;
who seemed to be the object of his invective, but affecting to
ignore it was engaged in conversation with a companion. A
bystander muttering that Crillon had been drinking, I discovered
with immense surprise that the declaimer on the table was that
famous soldier; and I was still looking at him in wonder--for I
had been accustomed all my life to associate courage with
modesty--when, the door of the chamber suddenly opening, a
general movement in that direction took place. Crillon,
disregarding all precedency, sprang from his table and hurried
first to the threshold. The Baron de Biron, on the other hand--
for the gentleman by the fire was no other--waited, in apparent
ignorance of the slight which was being put upon him, until M. de
Rambouillet came up; then he went forward with him. Keeping
close to my patron's elbow, I entered the chamber immediately
behind him.

Crillon had already seized upon the king, and, when we entered,
was stating his grievance is a voice not much lower than that
which he had used outside. M. de Biron, seeing this, parted from
the marquis, and, going aside with his former companion, sat
down on a trunk against the wall; while Rambouillet, followed by
myself and three or four gentlemen of his train, advanced to the
king, who was standing near the alcove. His Majesty seeing him,
and thankful, I think, for the excuse, waved Crillon off. 'Tut,
tut! You told me all that this morning,' he said good-naturedly.
'And here is Rambouillet, who has, I hope, something fresh to
tell. Let him speak to me. Sanctus! Don't look at me as if you
would run me through, man. Go and quarrel with someone of your
own size.'

Crillon at this retired grumbling, and Henry, who had just risen
from primero with the Duke of Nevers, nodded to Rambouillet.
'Well, my friend, anything fresh?' he cried. He was more at his
ease and looked more cheerful than at our former interview; yet
still care and suspicion lurked about his peevish mouth, and in
the hollows under his gloomy eyes. 'A new guest, a new face, or
a new game--which have you brought?'

'In a sense, sire, a new face,' the marquis answered, bowing, and
standing somewhat aside that I might have place.

'Well, I cannot say much for the pretty baggage,' quoth the king
quickly. And amid a general titter he extended his hand to me.
'I'll be sworn, though,' he continued, as I rose from my knee,
'that you want something, my friend?'

'Nay, sire,' I answered, holding up my head boldly--for Crillon's
behaviour had been a further lesson to me--'I have, by your
leave, the advantage. For your Majesty has supplied me with a
new jest. I see many new faces round me, and I have need only of
a new game. If your Majesty would be pleased to grant me--'

'There! Said I not so?' cried the king, raising his hand with a
laugh. 'He does want something. But he seems not undeserving.
What does he pray, Rambouillet?'

'A small command,' M. de Rambouillet answered, readily playing
his part. 'And your Majesty would oblige me if you could grant
the Sieur de Marsac's petition. I will answer for it he is a man
of experience.'

'Chut! A small command?' Henry ejaculated, sitting down
suddenly in apparent ill-humour. 'It is what everyone wants--
when they do not want big ones. Still, I suppose,' he continued,
taking up a comfit-box, which lay beside him, and opening it, 'if
you do not get what you want for him you will sulk like the rest,
my friend.'

'Your Majesty has never had cause to complain of me,' quoth the
Marquis, forgetting his role, or too proud to play it.

'Tut, tut, tut, tut! Take it, and trouble me no more,' the king
rejoined. 'Will pay for twenty men do for him? Very well then.
There, M. de Marsac,' he continued, nodding at me and yawning,
'your request is granted. You will find some other pretty
baggages over there. Go to them. And now, Rambouillet,' he went
on, resuming his spirits as he turned to matters of more
importance, 'here is a new sweetmeat Zamet has sent me. I have
made Zizi sick with it. Will you try it? It is flavoured with
white mulberries.'

Thus dismissed, I fell back; and stood for a moment, at a loss
whither to turn, in the absence of either friends or
acquaintances. His Majesty, it is true, had bidden me go to
certain pretty baggages, meaning, apparently, five ladies who
were seated at the farther end of the room, diverting themselves
with as many cavaliers; but the compactness of this party, the
beauty of the ladies, and the merry peals of laughter which
proceeded from them, telling of a wit and vivacity beyond the
ordinary, sapped the resolution which had borne me well hitherto.
I felt that to attack such a phalanx, even with a king's good
will, was beyond the daring of a Crillon, and I looked round to
see whether I could not amuse myself in some more modest fashion.

The material was not lacking. Crillon, still mouthing out his
anger, strode up and down in front of the trunk on which M. de
Biron was seated; but the latter was, or affected to be, asleep.
'Crillon is for ever going into rages now,' a courtier beside me
whispered.

'Yes,' his fellow answered, with a shrug of the shoulder; 'it is
a pity there is no one to tame him. But he has such a long
reach, morbleu!'

'It is not that so much as the fellow's fury,' the first speaker
rejoined under his breath. 'He fights like a mad thing; fencing
is no use against him.'

The other nodded. For a moment the wild idea of winning renown
by taming M. de Crillon occurred to me as I stood alone in the
middle of the floor; but it had not more than passed through my
brain when I felt my elbow touched, and turned to find the young
gentleman whom I had encountered on the stairs standing by my
side.

'Sir,' he lisped, in the same small voice, 'I think you trod on
my toe a while ago?'

I stared at him, wondering what he meant by this absurd
repetition. 'Well, sir,' I answered drily, 'and if I did?'

'Perhaps,' he said, stroking his chin with his jewelled fingers,
'pending our meeting to-morrow, you would allow me to consider it
as a kind of introduction?'

'If it please you,' I answered, bowing stiffly, and wondering
what he would be at.

'Thank you,' he answered. 'It does please me, under the
circumstances; for there is a lady here who desires a word with
you. I took up her challenge. Will you follow me?'

He bowed, and turned in his languid fashion. I, turning too,
saw, with secret dismay, that the five ladies, referred to above,
were all now gazing at me, as expecting my approach; and this
with such sportive glances as told only too certainly of some
plot already in progress or some trick to be presently played me.
Yet I could not see that I had any choice save to obey, and,
following my leader with as much dignity as I could compass, I
presently found myself bowing before the lady who sat nearest,
and who seemed to be the leader of these nymphs.

'Nay, sir,' she said, eyeing me curiously, yet with a merry face,
'I do not need you; I do not look so high!'

Turning in confusion to the next, I was surprised to see before
me the lady whose lodging I had invaded in my search for
Mademoiselle de la Vire--she, I mean, who, having picked up the
velvet; knot, had dropped it so providentially where Simon Fleix
found it. She looked at me blushing and laughing, and the young
gentleman, who had done her errand, presenting me by name, she
asked me, while the others listened, whether I had found my
mistress.

Before I could answer, the lady to whom I had first addressed
myself interposed. 'Stop, sir!' she cried. What is this--a
tale, a jest, a game, or a forfeit?'

'An adventure, madam,' I answered, bowing low.

'Of gallantry, I'll be bound,' she exclaimed. 'Fie, Madame de
Bruhl, and you but six months married!'

Madame de Bruhl protested, laughing, that she had no more to do
with it than Mercury. 'At the worst,' she said, 'I carried the
POULETS! But I can assure you, duchess, this gentleman should be
able to tell us a very fine story, if he would.'

The duchess and all the other ladies clapping their hands at
this, and crying out that the story must and should be told, I
found myself in a prodigious quandary; and one wherein my wits
derived as little assistance as possible from the bright eyes and
saucy looks which environed me. Moreover, the commotion
attracting other listeners, I found my position, while I tried to
extricate myself, growing each moment worse, so that I began to
fear that as I had little imagination I should perforce have to
tell the truth. The mere thought of this threw me into a cold
perspiration, lest I should let slip something of consequence,
and prove myself unworthy of the trust which M. de Rosny had
reposed in me.

At the moment when, despairing of extricating myself, I was
stooping over Madame de Bruhl begging her to assist me, I heard,
amid the babel of laughter and raillery which surrounded me--
certain of the courtiers having already formed hands in a circle
and sworn I should not depart without satisfying the ladies--a
voice which struck a chord in my memory. I turned to see who the
speaker was, and encountered no other than M. de Bruhl himself;
who, with a flushed and angry face, was listening to the
explanation which a friend was pouring into his ear. Standing at
the moment with my knee on Madame de Bruhl's stool, and
remembering very well the meeting on the stairs, I conceived in a
flash that the man was jealous; but whether he had yet heard my
name, or had any clew to link me with the person who had rescued
Mademoiselle de la Vire from his clutches, I could not tell.
Nevertheless his presence led my thoughts into a new channel.
The determination to punish him began to take form in my mind,
and very quickly I regained my composure. Still I was for giving
him one chance. Accordingly I stooped once more to Madame de
Bruhl's ear, and begged her to spare me the embarrassment of
telling my tale. But then, finding her pitiless, as I expected,
and the rest of the company growing more and more insistent, I
hardened my heart to go through with the fantastic notion which
had occurred to me.

Indicating by a gesture that I was prepared to obey, and the
duchess crying for a hearing, this was presently obtained, the
sudden silence adding the king himself to my audience. 'What is
it?' he asked, coming up effusively, with a lap-dog in his arms.
'A new scandal, eh?'

'No, sire, a new tale-teller,' the duchess answered pertly. 'If
your Majesty will sit, we shall hear him the sooner.'

He pinched her ear and sat down in the chair which a page
presented. 'What! is it Rambouillet's GRISON again?' he said
with some surprise. 'Well, fire away, man. But who brought you
forward as a Rabelais?'

There was a general cry of 'Madame de Bruhl!' whereat that lady
shook her fair hair, about her face, and cried out for someone to
bring her a mask.

'Ha, I see!' said the king drily, looking pointedly at M. de
Bruhl, who was as black as thunder. 'But go on, man.'

The king's advent, by affording me a brief respite, had enabled
me to collect my thoughts, and, disregarding the ribald
interruptions, which at first were frequent, I began as follows:
'I am no Rabelais, sire,' I said, 'but droll things happen to the
most unlikely. Once upon a time it was the fortune of a certain
swain, whom I will call Dromio, to arrive in a town not a hundred
miles from Blois, having in his company a nymph of great beauty,
who had been entrusted to his care by her parents. He had not
more than lodged her in his apartments, however, before she was
decoyed away by a trick, and borne off against her will by a
young gallant, who had seen her and been smitten by her charms.
Dromio, returning, and finding his mistress gone, gave way to the
most poignant grief. He ran up and down the city, seeking her in
every place, and filling all places with his lamentations; but
for a time in vain, until chance led him to a certain street,
where, in an almost incredible manner, he found a clew to her by
discovering underfoot a knot of velvet, bearing Phyllida's name
wrought on it in delicate needlework, with the words, "A moi!"'

'Sanctus!' cried the king, amid a general murmur of surprise,
'that is well devised! Proceed, sir. Go on like that, and we
will make your twenty men twenty-five.'

'Dromio,' I continued, 'at sight of this trifle experienced the
most diverse emotions, for while he possessed in it a clew to his
mistress's fate, he had still to use it so as to discover the
place whither she had been hurried. It occurred to him at last
to begin his search with the house before which the knot had
lain. Ascending accordingly to the second-floor, he found there
a fair lady reclining on a couch, who started up in affright at
his appearance. He hastened to reassure her, and to explain the
purpose of his coming, and learned after a conversation with
which I will not trouble your Majesty, though it was sufficiently
diverting, that the lady had found the velvet knot in another
part of the town, and had herself dropped it again in front of
her own house.'

'Pourquoi?' the king asked, interrupting me.

'The swain, sire,' I answered, 'was too much taken up with his
own troubles to bear that in mind, even if he learned it. But
this delicacy did not save him from misconception, for as he
descended from the lady's apartment he met her husband on the
stairs.'

'Good!' the king exclaimed, rubbing his hands in glee. 'The
husband!' And under cover of the gibe and the courtly laugh
which followed it M. de Bruhl's start of surprise passed
unnoticed save by me.

'The husband,' I resumed, 'seeing a stranger descending his
staircase, was for stopping him and learning the reason of his
presence; But Dromio, whose mind was with Phyllida, refused to
stop, and, evading his questions, hurried to the part of the town
where the lady had told him she found the velvet knot. Here,
sire, at the corner of a lane running between garden-walls, he
found a great house, barred and gloomy, and well adapted to the
abductor's purpose. Moreover, scanning it on every side, he
presently discovered, tied about the bars of an upper window, a
knot of white linen, the very counterpart of that velvet one
which he bore in his breast. Thus he knew that the nymph was
imprisoned in that room!'

'I will make it twenty-five, as I am a good Churchman!' his
Majesty exclaimed, dropping the little dog he was nursing into
the duchess's lap, and taking out his comfit-box. 'Rambouillet,'
he added languidly, 'your friend is a treasure!'

I bowed my acknowledgments, and took occasion as I did so to step
a pace aside, so as to command a view of Madame de Bruhl, as well
as her husband. Hitherto madame, willing to be accounted a part
in so pretty a romance, and ready enough also, unless I was
mistaken, to cause her husband a little mild jealousy, had
listened to the story with a certain sly demureness. But this I
foresaw would not last long; and I felt something like
compunction as the moment for striking the blow approached. But
I had now no choice. 'The best is yet to come, sire,' I went on,
'as I think you will acknowledge in a moment. Dromio, though he
had discovered his mistress, was still in the depths of despair.
He wandered round and round the house, seeking ingress and
finding none, until at length, sunset approaching, and darkness
redoubling his fears for the nymph, fortune took pity on him. As
he stood in front of the house he saw the abductor come out,
lighted by two servants. Judge of his surprise, sire,' I
continued, looking round and speaking slowly, to give full effect
to my words, 'when he recognised in him no other than the husband
of the lady who, by picking up and again dropping the velvet
knot, had contributed so much to the success of his search!'

'Ha! these husbands!' cried the king. And slapping his knee in
an ecstasy at his own acuteness, he laughed in his seat till he
rolled again. 'These husbands! Did I not say so?'

The whole Court gave way to like applause, and clapped. their
hands as well, so that few save those who stood nearest took
notice of Madame de Bruhl's faint cry, and still fewer understood
why she rose up suddenly from her stool and stood gazing at her
husband with burning cheeks and clenched hands. She took no heed
of me, much less of the laughing crowd round her, but looked only
at him with her soul in her eyes. He, after uttering one hoarse
curse, seemed to have no thought for any but me. To have the
knowledge that his own wife had baulked him brought home to him
in this mocking fashion, to find how little a thing had tripped
him that day, to learn how blindly he had played into the hands
of fate, above all to be exposed at once to his wife's resentment
and the ridicule of the Court--for he could not be sure that I
should not the next moment disclose his name--all so wrought on
him that for a moment I thought he would strike me in the
presence.

His rage, indeed, did what I had not meant to do. For the king,
catching sight of his face, and remembering that Madame de Bruhl
had elicited the story, screamed suddenly, 'Haro!' and pointed
ruthlessly at him with his finger. After that I had no need to
speak, the story leaping from eye to eye, and every eye settling
on Bruhl, who sought in vain to compose his features. Madame,
who surpassed him, as women commonly do surpass men, in self-
control, was the, first to recover herself, and sitting down as
quickly as she had risen, confronted alike her husband and her
rivals with a pale smile.

For a moment curiosity and excitement kept all breathless, the
eye alone busy. Then the king laughed mischievously. 'Come, M.
de Bruhl,' he cried, 'perhaps you will finish the tale for us?'
And he threw himself back in his chair, a sneer on his lips.

'Or why not Madame de Bruhl?' said the duchess, with her head on
one side and her eyes glittering over her fan. 'Madame would, I
am sure, tell it so well.'

But madame only shook her head, smiling always that forced smile.
For Bruhl himself, glaring from face to face like a bull about to
charge, I have never seen a man more out of countenance, or more
completely brought to bay. His discomposure, exposed as he was
to the ridicule of all present, was such that the presence in
which he stood scarcely hindered him from some violent attack;
and his eyes, which had wandered from me at the king's word,
presently returning to me again, he so far forgot himself as to
raise his hand furiously, uttering at the same time a savage
oath.

The king cried out angrily, 'Have a care, sir!' But Bruhl only
heeded this so far as to thrust aside those who stood round him
and push his way hurriedly through the circle.

'Arnidieu!' cried the king, when he was gone. 'This is fine
conduct! I have half a mind to send after him and have him put
where his hot blood would cool a little. Or--'

He stopped abruptly, his eyes resting on me. The relative
positions of Bruhl and myself as the agents of Rosny and Turenne
occurred to him for the first time, I think, and suggested the
idea, perhaps, that I had laid a trap for him, and that he had
fallen into it. At any rate his face grew darker and darker, and
at last, 'A nice kettle of fish this is you have prepared for us,
sir!' he muttered, gazing at me gloomily.

The sudden change in his humour took even courtiers by surprise.
Faces a moment before broad with smiles grew long again. The
less important personages looked uncomfortably at one another,
and with one accord frowned on me. 'If your Majesty would please
to hear the end of the story at another time?' I suggested
humbly, beginning to wish with all my heart that I had never said
a word.

'Chut!' he answered, rising, his face still betraying his
perturbation, 'Well, be it so. For the present you may go, sir.
Duchess, give me Zizi, and come to my closet. I want you to see
my puppies. Retz, my good friend, do you come too. I have
something to say to you. Gentlemen, you need not wait. It is
likely I shall be late.'

And, with the utmost abruptness, he broke up the circle.

CHAPTER XVII.

THE JACOBIN MONK.

Had I needed any reminder of the uncertainty of Court favour, or
an instance whence I might learn the lesson of modesty, and so
stand in less danger of presuming on my new and precarious
prosperity, I had it in this episode, and in the demeanour of the
company round me. On the circle breaking up in confusion, I
found myself the centre of general regard, but regard of so
dubious a character, the persons who would have been the first to
compliment me had the king retired earlier, standing farthest
aloof now, that I felt myself rather insulted than honoured by
it. One or two, indeed, of the more cautious spirits did
approach me; but it was with the air of men providing against a
danger particularly remote, their half-hearted speeches serving
only to fix them in my memory as belonging to a class, especially
abhorrent to me--the class, I mean, of those who would run at
once with the hare and the hounds.

I was rejoiced to find that on one person, and that the one whose
disposition towards me was, next to the king's, of first
importance, this episode had produced a different impression,
Feeling, as I made for the door, a touch on my arm, I turned to
find M. de Rambouillet at my elbow, regarding me with a glance of
mingled esteem and amusement; in fine, with a very different look
from that which had been my welcome earlier in the evening. I
was driven to suppose that he was too great a man, or too sure of
his favour with the king, to be swayed by the petty motives which
actuated the Court generally, for he laid his hand familiarly on
my shoulder, and walked on beside me.

'Well my friend,' he said,' you have distinguished yourself
finely! I do not know that I ever remember a pretty woman making
more stir in one evening. But if you are wise you will not go
home alone to-night.'

'I have my sword, M. le Marquis,' I answered, somewhat proudly.
'Which will avail you little against a knife in the back!' he
retorted drily. 'What attendance have you?'

'My equerry, Simon Fleix, is on the stairs.'

'Good, so far, but not enough,' he replied, as we reached the
head of the staircase. 'You had better come home with me now,
and two or three of my fellows shall go on to your lodging with
you. Do you know, my friend,' he continued, looking at me
keenly, 'you are either a very clever or a very foolish man?'

I made answer modestly. 'Neither the one, I fear, nor the other,
I hope sir,' I said.

'Well, you have done a very pertinent thing,' he replied, 'for
good or evil. You have let the enemy know what he has to expect,
and he is not one, I warn you, to be despised. But whether you
have been very wise or very foolish in declaring open war remains
to be seen.'

'A week will show,' I answered.

He turned and looked at me. 'You take it coolly,' he said.

'I have been knocking about the world for forty years, marquis,'
I rejoined.

He muttered something about Rosny having a good eye, and then
stopped to adjust his cloak. We were by this time in the street.
Making me go hand in hand with him, he requested the other
gentlemen to draw their swords; and the servants being likewise
armed and numbering half a score or more, with pikes and torches,
we made up a very formidable party, and caused, I think, more
alarm as we passed through the streets to Rambouillet's lodging
than we had any reason to feel. Not that we had it all to
ourselves, for the attendance at Court that evening being large,
and the circle breaking up as I have described more abruptly than
usual, the vicinity of the castle was in a ferment, and the
streets leading from it were alive with the lights and laughter
of parties similar to our own.

At the door of the marquis's lodging I prepared to take leave of
him with many expressions of gratitude, but he would have me
enter and sit down with him to a light refection, which it was
his habit to take before retiring. Two of his gentlemen sat down
with us, and a valet, who was in his confidence, waiting on us,
we made very merry over the scene in the presence. I learned
that M. de Bruhl was far from popular at Court; but being known
to possess some kind of hold over the king, and enjoying besides
a great reputation for recklessness and skill with the sword, he
had played a high part for a length of time, and attached to
himself, especially since the death of Guise, a considerable
number of followers.

'The truth is,' one of the marquis's gentlemen, who was a little
heated with wine, observed, 'there is nothing at this moment
which a bold and unscrupulous man may not win in France!'

'Nor a bold and Christian gentleman for France!' replied M. de
Rambouillet with, some asperity. 'By the way,' he continued,
turning abruptly to the servant, 'where is M. Francois?'

The valet answered that he had not returned with us from the
castle. The Marquis expressed himself annoyed at this, and I
gathered, firstly, that the missing man was his near kinsman,
and, secondly, that he was also the young spark who had been so
forward to quarrel with me earlier in the evening. Determining
to refer the matter, should it become pressing, to Rambouillet
for adjustment, I took leave of him, and attended by two of his
servants, whom he kindly transferred to my service for the
present, I started towards my lodging a little before midnight.

The moon had risen while we were at supper, and its light, which
whitened the gables on one side of the street, diffused a glimmer
below sufficient to enable us to avoid the kennel. Seeing this,
I bade the men put out our torch. Frost had set in, and a keen
wind was blowing, so that we were glad to hurry on at a good
pace; and the streets being quite deserted at this late hour, or
haunted only by those who had come to dread the town marshal, we
met no one and saw no lights. I fell to thinking, for my part,
of the evening I had spent searching Blois for Mademoiselle, and
of the difference between then and now. Nor did I fail while on
this track to retrace it still farther to the evening of our
arrival at my mother's; whence, as a source, such kindly and
gentle thoughts welled up in my mind as were natural, and the
unfailing affection of that gracious woman required. These,
taking the place for the moment of the anxious calculations and
stern purposes which had of late engrossed me, were only ousted
by something which, happening under my eyes, brought me violently
and abruptly to myself.

This was the sudden appearance of three men, who issued one by
one from an alley a score of yards in front of us, and after
pausing a second to look back the way they had come, flitted on
in single file along the street, disappearing, as far as the
darkness permitted me to judge, round a second corner. I by no
means liked their appearance, and, as a scream and the clash of
arms rang out next moment from the direction in which they had
gone, I cried lustily to Simon Fleix to follow, and ran on,
believing from the rascals' movements that they were after no
good, but that rather some honest man was like to be sore beset.

On reaching the lane down which they had plunged, however, I
paused a moment, considering not so much its black-ness, which
was intense, the eaves nearly meeting overhead, as the small
chance I had of distinguishing between attackers and attacked.
But Simon and the men overtaking me, and the sounds of a sharp
tussle still continuing, I decided to venture, and plunged into
the alley, my left arm well advanced, with the skirt of my cloak
thrown over it, and my sword drawn back. I shouted as I ran,
thinking that the knaves might desist on hearing me; and this was
what happened, for as I arrived on the scene of action--the
farther end of the alley--two men took to their heels, while of
two who remained, one lay at length in the kennel, and another
rose slowly from his knees.

'You are just in time, sir,' the latter said, breathing hard, but
speaking with a preciseness which sounded familiar. 'I am
obliged to you, sir, whoever you are. The villains had got me
down, and in a few minutes more would have made my mother
childless. By the way, you have no light, have you?' he
continued, lisping like a woman.

One of M. de Rambouillet's men, who had by this time come up,
cried out that it was Monsieur Francois.

'Yes, blockhead!' the young gentleman answered with the utmost
coolness. 'But I asked for a light, not for my name.

'I trust you are not hurt, sir?' I said, putting up my sword.

'Scratched only,' he answered, betraying no surprise on learning
who it was had come up so opportunely; as he no doubt did learn
from my voice, for he continued with a bow, a slight price to pay
for the knowledge that M. de Marsac is as forward on the field as
on the stairs.'

I bowed my acknowledgments.

'This fellow,' I said, 'is he much hurt?'

'Tut, tut! I thought I had saved the marshal all trouble, M.
Francois replied. 'Is he not dead, Gil?'

The poor wretch made answer for himself, crying out piteously,
and in a choking voice, for a priest to shrive him. At that
moment Simon Fleix returned with our torch, which he had lighted
at the nearest cross-streets, where there was a brazier, and we
saw by this light that the man was coughing up blood, and might
live perhaps half an hour.

'Mordieu! That comes of thrusting too high!' M. Francois
muttered, regretfully. An inch lower, and there would have been
none of this trouble! I suppose somebody must fetch one. Gil,'
he continued, 'run, man, to the sacristy in the Rue St. Denys,
and get a Father. Or--stay! Help to lift him under the lee of
the wall there. The wind cuts like a knife here.'

The street being on the slope of the hill, the lower part of the
house nearest us stood a few feet from the ground, on wooden
piles, and the space underneath it, being enclosed at the back
and sides, was used as a cart-house. The servants moved the
dying man into this rude shelter, and I accompanied them, being
unwilling to leave the young gentleman alone. Not wishing,
however, to seem to interfere, I walked to the farther end, and
sat down on the shaft of a cart, whence I idly admired the
strange aspect of the group I had left, as the glare of the torch
brought now one and now another into prominence, and sometimes
shone on M. Francois' jewelled fingers toying with his tiny
moustache, and sometimes on the writhing features of the man at
his feet.

On a sudden, and before Gil had started on his errand, I saw
there was a priest among them. I had not seen him enter, nor had
I any idea whence he came. My first impression was only that
here was a priest, and that he was looking at me--not at the man
craving his assistance on the floor, or at those who stood round
him, but at me, who sat away in the shadow beyond the ring of
light!

This was surprising; but a second glance explained it, for then I
saw that he was the Jacobin monk who had haunted my mother's
dying hours. And, amazed as much at this strange RENCONTRE as at
the man's boldness, I sprang up and strode forwards, forgetting,
in an impulse of righteous anger, the office he came to do. And
this the more as his face, still turned to me, seemed instinct to
my eyes with triumphant malice. As I moved towards him, however,
with a fierce exclamation on my lips, he suddenly dropped his
eyes and knelt. Immediately M. Francois cried 'Hush!' and the
men turned to me with scandalised faces. I fell back. Yet even
then, whispering on his knees by the dying man, the knave was
thinking, I felt sure, of me, glorying at once in his immunity
and the power it gave him to tantalise me without fear.

I determined, whatever the result, to intercept him when all was
over; and on the man dying a few minutes later, I walked
resolutely to the open side of the shed, thinking it likely he
might try to slip away as mysteriously as he had come. He stood
a moment speaking to M. Francois, however, and then, accompanied
by him, advanced boldly to meet me, a lean smile on his face.

'Father Antoine,' M. d'Agen said politely,' tells me that he
knows you, M. de Marsac, and desires to speak to you, MAL-A-
PROPOS as is the occasion.'

'And I to him,' I answered, trembling with rage, and only
restraining by an effort the impulse which would have had me dash
my hand in the priest's pale, smirking face. 'I have waited long
for this moment,' I continued, eyeing him steadily, as M.
Francois withdrew out of hearing, 'and had you tried to avoid me,
I would have dragged you back, though all your tribe were here to
protect you.'

His presence so maddened me that I scarcely knew what I said. I
felt my breath come quickly, I felt the blood surge to my head,
and it was with difficulty I restrained myself when he answered
with well-affected sanctity, 'Like mother, like son, I fear, sir.
Huguenots both.'

I choked with rage. What!' I said, 'you dare to threaten me as
you threatened my mother? Fool! know that only to-day for the
purpose of discovering and punishing you I took the rooms in
which my mother died.'

'I know it,' he answered quietly. And then in a second, as by
magic, he altered his demeanour completely, raising his head and
looking me in the face. 'That, and so much besides, I know,' he
continued, giving me, to my astonishment, frown for frown, 'that
if you will listen to me for a moment, M. de Marsac, and listen
quietly, I will convince you that the folly is not on my side.'

Amazed at his new manner, in which there was none of the madness
that had marked him at our first meeting, but a strange air of
authority, unlike anything I had associated with him before, I
signed to him to proceed.

'You think that I am in your power?' he said, smiling.

'I think,' I retorted swiftly, 'that, escaping me now, you will
have at your heels henceforth a worse enemy than even your own
sins.'

'Just so,' he answered, nodding. 'Well, I am going to show you
that the reverse is the case; and that you are as completely in
my hands, to spare or to break, as this straw. In the first
place, you are here in Blois, a Huguenot!'

'Chut!' I exclaimed contemptuously, affecting a confidence I was
far from feeling. 'A little while back that might have availed
you. But we are in Blois, not Paris. It is not far to the
Loire, and you have to deal with a man now, not with a woman. It
is you who have cause to tremble, not I.'

'You think to be protected,' he answered with a sour smile, 'even
on this side of the Loire, I see. But one word to the Pope's
Legate, or to the Duke of Nevers, and you would see the inside of
a dungeon, if not worse. For the king--'

'King or no king!' I answered, interrupting him with more
assurance than I felt, seeing that I remembered only too well
Henry's remark that Rosny must not look to him for protection, 'I
fear you not a whit! And that reminds me. I have heard you talk
treason--rank, black treason, priest, as ever sent man to rope,
and I will give you up. By heaven I will!' I cried, my rage
increasing, as I discerned, more and more clearly, the dangerous
hold he had over me. 'You have threatened me! One word, and I
will send you to the gallows!'

'Sh!' he answered, indicating M. Francois by, a gesture of the
hand. 'For your own sake, not mine. This is fine talking, but
you have not yet heard all I know. Would you like to hear how
you have spent the last month? Two days after Christmas, M. de
Marsac, you left Chize with a young lady--I can give you her
name, if you please. Four days afterwards you reached Blois, and
took her to your mother's lodging. Next morning she left you for
M. de Bruhl. Two days later you tracked her to a house in the
Ruelle d'Arcy, and freed her, but lost her in the moment of
victory. Then you stayed in Blois until your mother's death,
going a day or two later to M. de Rosny's house by Mantes, where
mademoiselle still is. Yesterday you arrived in Blois with M. de
Rosny ; you went to his lodging; you--'

'Proceed, I muttered, leaning forward. Under cover of my cloak I
drew my dagger half-way from its sheath. 'Proceed, sir, I pray,'
I repeated with dry lips.

'You slept there,' he continued, holding his ground, but
shuddering slightly, either from cold or because he perceived my
movement and read my design in my eyes.

'This morning you remained here in attendance on M. de
Rambouillet.'

For the moment I breathed freely again, perceiving that though he
knew much, the one thing on which M. de Rosny's design turned had
escaped him. The secret interview with the king, which
compromised alike Henry himself and M. de Rambouillet, had
apparently passed unnoticed and unsuspected. With a sigh of
intense relief I slid back the dagger, which I had fully made up
my mind to use had he known all, and drew my cloak round me with
a shrug of feigned indifference. I sweated to think what he did
know, but our interview with the king having escaped him, I
breathed again.

'Well, sir,' I said curtly, 'I have listened. And now, what is
the purpose of all this?'

'My purpose?' he answered, his eyes glittering. 'To show you
that you are in my power. You are the agent of M. de Rosny. I,
the agent, however humble, of the Holy Catholic League. Of your
movements I know all. What do you know of mine?'

'Knowledge,' I made grim answer, 'is not everything, sir priest.'

'It is more than it was,' he said, smiling his thin-lipped smile.
'It is going to be more than it is. And I know much--about you,
M. de Marsac.'

'You know too much!' I retorted, feeling his covert threats
close round me like the folds of some great serpent. 'But you
are imprudent, I think. Will you tell me what is to prevent me
striking you through where you stand, and ridding myself at a
blow of so much knowledge?'

'The presence of three men, M. de Marsac,' he answered lightly,
waving his hand towards M. Francois and the others, 'every one of
whom would give you up to justice. You forget that you are north
of the Loire, and that priests are not to be massacred here with
impunity, as in your lawless south-country. However, enough.
The night is cold, and M. d'Agen grows suspicious as well as
impatient. We have, perhaps, spoken too long already. Permit me
--he bowed and drew back a step--'to resume this discussion to-
morrow.'

Despite his politeness and the hollow civility with which he thus
sought; to close the interview, the light of triumph which shone
in his eyes, as the glare of the torch fell athwart them, no less
than the assured tone of his voice, told me clearly that he knew
his power. He seemed, indeed, transformed: no longer a
slinking, peaceful clerk, preying on a woman's fears, but a bold
and crafty schemer, skilled and unscrupulous, possessed of hidden
knowledge and hidden resources; the personification of evil
intellect. For a moment, knowing all I knew, and particularly
the responsibilities which lay before me, and the interests
committed to my hands, I quailed, confessing myself unequal to
him. I forgot the righteous vengeance I owed him; I cried out
helplessly against the ill-fortune which had brought him across
my path. I saw myself enmeshed and fettered beyond hope of
escape, and by an effort only controlled the despair I felt.

'To-morrow?' I muttered hoarsely. 'At what time?'

He shook his head with a cunning smile. 'A thousand thanks, but
I will settle that myself!' he answered. 'Au revoir!' and
uttering a word of leave-taking to M. Francois d'Agen, he blessed
the two servants, and went out into the night.

CHAPTER XVIII.

THE OFFER OF THE LEAGUE.

When the last sound of his footsteps died away, I awoke as from
an evil dream, and becoming conscious of the presence of M.
Francois and the servants, recollected mechanically that I owed
the former an apology for my discourtesy in keeping him standing
in the cold. I began to offer it; but my distress and confusion
of mind were such that in the middle of a set phrase I broke off,
and stood looking fixedly at him, my trouble so plain that he
asked me civilly if anything ailed me.

'No,' I answered, turning from him impatiently; 'nothing,
nothing, sir. Or tell me,' I continued, with an abrupt change of
mind, 'who is that; who has just left us?'

'Father Antoine, do you mean?'

'Ay, Father Antoine, Father Judas, call him what you like,' I
rejoined bitterly.

'Then if you leave the choice to me,' M. Francois answered with
grave politeness, 'I would rather call him something more
pleasant, M. de Marsac--James or John, let us say. For there is
little said here which does not come back to him. If walls have
ears, the walls of Blois are in his pay. But I thought you knew
him,' he continued. 'He is secretary, confidant, chaplain, what
you will, to Cardinal Retz, and one of those whom--in your ear--
greater men court and more powerful men lean on. If I had to
choose between them, I would rather cross M. de Crillon.'

'I am obliged to you,' I muttered, checked as much by his manner
as his words.

'Not at all,' he answered more lightly. 'Any information I have
is at your disposal.'

However, I saw the imprudence of venturing farther, and hastened
to take leave of him, persuading him to allow one of M. de
Rambouillet's servants to accompany him home. He said that he
should call on me in the morning; and forcing myself to answer
him in a suitable manner, I saw him depart one way, and myself,
accompanied by Simon Fleix, went off another. My feet were
frozen with long standing--I think the corpse we left was scarce
colder--but my head was hot with feverish doubts and fears. The
moon had sunk and the streets were dark. Our torch had burned
out, and we had no light. But where my followers saw only
blackness and vacancy, I saw an evil smile and a lean visage
fraught with menace and exultation.

For the more closely I directed my mind to the position in which
I stood, the graver it seemed. Pitted against Bruhl alone, amid
strange surroundings and in an atmosphere of Court intrigue, I
had thought my task sufficiently difficult and the disadvantages
under which I laboured sufficiently serious before this
interview. Conscious of a certain rustiness and a distaste for
finesse, with resources so inferior to Bruhl's that even M. de
Rosny's liberality had not done much to make up the difference, I
had accepted the post offered me rather readily than sanguinely;
with joy, seeing that it held out the hope of high reward, but
with no certain expectation of success. Still, matched with a
man of violent and headstrong character, I had seen no reason to
despair; nor any why I might not arrange the secret meeting
between the king and mademoiselle with safety, and conduct to its
end an intrigue simple and unsuspected, and requiring for its
execution rather courage and caution than address or experience.

Now, however, I found that Bruhl was not my only or my most
dangerous antagonist. Another was in the field--or, to speak
more correctly, was waiting outside the arena, ready to snatch
the prize when we should have disabled one another, From a dream
of Bruhl and myself as engaged in a competition for the king's
favour, wherein neither could expose the other nor appeal even in
the last resort to the joint-enemies of his Majesty and
ourselves, I awoke to a very different state of things; I awoke
to find those enemies the masters of the situation, possessed of
the clue to our plans, and permitting them only as long as they
seemed to threaten no serious peril to themselves.

No discovery could be more mortifying or more fraught with
terror. The perspiration stood on my brow as I recalled the
warning which M. de Rosny had uttered against Cardinal Retz, or
noted down the various points of knowledge which were in Father
Antoine's possession. He knew every event of the last month,
with one exception, and could tell, I verily believed, how many
crowns I had in my pouch. Conceding this, and the secret sources
of information he must possess, what hope had I of keeping my
future movements from him? Mademoiselle's arrival would be known
to him before she had well passed the gates; nor was it likely,
or even possible, that I should again succeed in reaching the
king's presence untraced and unsuspected. In fine, I saw myself,
equally with Bruhl, a puppet in this man's hands, my goings out
and my comings in watched and reported to him, his mercy the only
bar between myself and destruction. At any moment I might be
arrested as a Huguenot, the enterprise in which I was engaged
ruined, and Mademoiselle de la Vire exposed to the violence of
Bruhl or the equally dangerous intrigues of the League.

Under these circumstances I fancied sleep impossible; but habit
and weariness are strong persuaders, and when I reached my
lodging I slept long and soundly, as became a man who had looked
danger in the face more than once. The morning light too brought
an accession both of courage and hope. I reflected on the misery
of my condition at St. Jean d'Angely, without friends or
resources, and driven to herd with such a man as Fresnoy. And
telling myself that the gold crowns which M. de Rosny had
lavished upon me were not for nothing, nor the more precious
friendship with which he had honoured me a gift that called for
no return, I rose with new spirit and a countenance which threw
Simon Fleix who had seen me lie down the picture of despair--
into the utmost astonishment.

'You have had good dreams,' he said, eyeing me jealously and with
a disturbed air.

'I had a very evil one last night,' I answered lightly, wondering

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