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A Gentleman of France by Stanley Weyman

Part 5 out of 9

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a little why he looked at me so, and why he seemed to resent my
return to hopefulness and courage. I might have followed this
train of thought further with advantage, since I possessed a clue
to his state of mind; but at that moment a summons at the door
called him away to it, and he presently ushered in M. d'Agen,
who, saluting me with punctilious politeness, had not said fifty
words before he introduced the subject of his toe--no longer,
however, in a hostile spirit, but as the happy medium which had
led him to recognise the worth and sterling qualities--so he was
pleased to say--of his preserver.

I was delighted to find him in this frame of mind, and told him
frankly that the friendship with which his kinsman, M. de
Rambouillet, honoured me would prevent me giving him satisfaction
save in the last resort. He replied that the service I had done
him was such as to render this immaterial, unless I had myself
cause of offence; which I was forward to deny.

We were paying one another compliments after this fashion, while
I regarded him with the interest which the middle-aged bestow on
the young and gallant in whom they see their own youth and hopes
mirrored, when the door was again opened, and after a moment's
pause admitted, equally, I think, to the disgust of M. Francois,
and myself, the form of Father Antoine.

Seldom have two men more diverse stood, I believe, in a room
together; seldom has any greater contrast been presented to a
man's eyes than that opened to mine on this occasion. On the one
side the gay young spark, with his short cloak, his fine suit; of
black-and-silver, his trim limbs and jewelled hilt and chased
comfit-box; on the other, the tall, stooping monk, lean-jawed and
bright-eyed, whose gown hung about him in coarse, ungainly folds.
And M. Francois' sentiment on first seeing the other was
certainly dislike. Is spite of this, however, he bestowed a
greeting on the new-comer which evidenced a secret awe, and in
other ways showed so plain a desire to please, that I felt my
fears of the priest return in force. I reflected that the
talents which in such a garb could win the respect of M. Francois
d'Agen--a brilliant star among the younger courtiers, and one of
a class much given to thinking scorn of their fathers' roughness
--must be both great and formidable; and, so considering, I
received the monk with a distant courtesy which I had once little
thought to extend to him. I put aside for the moment the private
grudge I bore him with so much justice, and remembered only the
burden which lay on me in my contest with him.

I conjectured without difficulty that he chose to come at this
time, when M. Francois was with me, out of a cunning regard to
his own safety; and I was not surprised when M. Francois,
beginning to make his adieux, Father Antoine begged him to wait
below, adding that he had something of importance to communicate.
He advanced his request in terms of politeness bordering on
humility; but I could clearly see that, in assenting to it, M.
d'Agen bowed to a will stronger than his own, and would, had he
dared to follow his own bent, have given a very different answer.
As it was he retired--nominally to give an order to his lackey--
with a species of impatient self-restraint which it was not
difficult to construe.

Left alone with me, and assured that we had no listeners, the
monk was not slow in coming to the point.

'You have thought over what I told you last night?' he said
brusquely, dropping in a moment the suave manner which he had
maintained in M. Francois's presence.

I replied coldly that I had.

'And you understand the position?' he continued quickly, looking
at me from under his brows as he stood before me, with one
clenched fist on the table. 'Or shall I tell you more? Shall I
tell you how poor and despised you were some weeks ago, M. de
Marsac--you who now go in velvet, and have three men at your
back? Or whose gold it is has brought you here, and made you,
this? Chut! Do not let us trifle. You are here as the secret
agent of the King of Navarre. It is my business to learn your
plans and his intentions, and I propose to do so.'

'Well?' I said.

'I am prepared to buy them,' he answered; and his eyes sparkled
as he spoke, with a greed which set me yet more on my guard.

'For whom?' I asked. Having made up my mind that I must use the
same weapons as my adversary, I reflected that to express
indignation, such as might become a young man new to the world,
could, help me not a whit. 'For whom?' I repeated, seeing that
he hesitated.

'That is my business,' he replied slowly.

'You want to know too much and tell too little,' I retorted,
yawning.

'And you are playing with me,' he cried, looking at me suddenly,
with so piercing a gaze and so dark a countenance that I checked
a shudder with difficulty. 'So much the worse for you, so much
the worse for you!' he continued fiercely. 'I am here to buy
the information you hold, but if you will not sell, there is
another way. At an hour's notice I can ruin your plans, and send
you to a dungeon! You are like a fish caught in a net not yet
drawn. It thrusts its nose this way and that, and touches the
mesh, but is slow to take the alarm until the net is drawn--and
then it is too late. So it is with you, and so it is,' he added,
falling into the ecstatic mood which marked him at times, and
left me in doubt whether he were all knave or in part enthusiast,
'with all those who set themselves against St. Peter and his
Church!'

'I have heard you say much the same of the King of France,' I
said derisively.

'You trust in him?' he retorted, his eyes gleaming. 'You have
been up there, and seen his crowded chamber, and counted his
forty-five gentlemen and his grey-coated Swiss? I tell you the
splendour you saw was a dream, and will vanish as a dream. The
man's strength and his glory shall go from him, and that soon.
Have you no eyes to see that he is beside the question? There
are but two powers in France--the Holy Union, which still
prevails, and the accursed Huguenot; and between them is the
battle.'

'Now you are telling me more,' I said.

He grew sober in a moment, looking at me with a vicious anger
hard to describe.

'Tut tut,' he said, showing his yellow teeth, 'the dead tell no
tales. And for Henry of Valois, he so loves a monk that you
might better accuse his mistress. But for you, I have only to
cry "Ho! a Huguenot and a spy!" and though he loved you more
than he loved Quelus or Maugiron, he dare not stretch out a
finger to save you!'

I knew that he spoke the truth, and with difficulty maintained
the air of indifference with which I had entered on the
interview.

'But what if I leave Blois?' I ventured, merely to see what he
would say.

He laughed. 'You cannot,' he answered. 'The net is round you,
M. de Marsac, and there are those at every gate who know you and
have their instructions. I can destroy you, but I would fain
have your information, and for that I will pay you five hundred
crowns and let you go.'

'To fall into the hands of the King of Navarre?'

'He will disown you, in any case,' he answered eagerly. 'He had
that in his mind, my friend, when he selected an agent so
obscure. He will disown you. Ah, mon Dieu! had I been an hour
quicker I had caught Rosny--Rosny himself!'

'There is one thing lacking still,' I replied. 'How am I to be
sure that, when I have told you what I know, you will pay me the
money or let me go?'

'I will swear to it!' he answered earnestly, deceived into
thinking I was about to surrender. 'I will give you my oath, M.
de Marsac!'

'I would as soon have your shoe-lace!' I exclaimed, the
indignation I could not entirely repress finding vent in that
phrase. 'A Churchman's vow is worth a candle--or a candle and a
half, is it?' I continued ironically. 'I must have some
security a great deal more substantial than that, father.'

'What?' he asked, looking at me gloomily.

Seeing an opening, I cudgelled my brains to think of any
condition which, being fulfilled, might turn the table on him and
place him in my power. But his position was so strong, or my
wits so weak, that nothing occurred to me at the time, and I sat
looking at, him, my mind gradually passing from the possibility
of escape to the actual danger in which I stood, and which
encompassed also Simon Fleix, and, in a degree, doubtless, M. de
Rambouillet. In four or five days, too, Mademoiselle de la Vire
would arrive. I wondered if I could send any warning to her; and
then, again, I doubted the wisdom of interfering with M. de
Rosny's plans, the more as Maignan, who had gone to fetch
mademoiselle, was of a kind to disregard any orders save his
master's.

'Well!' said the monk, impatiently recalling me to myself, 'what
security do you want?'

'I am not quite sure at this moment,' I made answer slowly. 'I
am in a difficult position. I must have some time to consider.'

'And to rid yourself of me, if it be possible,' he said with
irony. 'I quite understand. But I warn you that you are
watched; and that wherever you go and whatever you do, eyes which
are mine are upon you.'

'I, too, understand,' I said coolly.

He stood awhile uncertain, regarding me with mingled doubt and
malevolence, tortured on the one hand by fear of losing the prize
if he granted delay, on the other of failing as utterly if he
exerted his power and did not succeed in subduing my resolution.
I watched him, too, and gauging his eagerness and the value of
the stake for which he was striving by the strength of his
emotions, drew small comfort from the sight. More than once it
had occurred to me, and now it occurred to me again, to extricate
myself by a blow. But a natural reluctance to strike an unarmed
man, however vile and knavish, and the belief that he had not
trusted himself in my power without taking the fullest
precautions, withheld me. When he grudgingly, and with many dark
threats, proposed to wait three days--and not an hour more--for
my answer, I accepted; for I saw no other alternative open. And
on these terms, but not without some short discussion, we parted,
and I heard his stealthy footstep go sneaking down the stairs.

CHAPTER XIX.

MEN CALL IT CHANCE.

If I were telling more than the truth, or had it in my mind to
embellish my adventures, I could, doubtless, by the exercise of a
little ingenuity make it appear that I owed my escape from Father
Antoine's meshes to my own craft; and tell, in fine, as pretty a
story of plots and counterplots as M. de Brantome has ever woven.
Having no desire, however, to magnify myself and, at this time of
day, scarcely any reason, I am fain to confess that the reverse
was the case; and that while no man ever did less to free himself
than I did, my adversary retained his grasp to the end, and had
surely, but for a strange interposition, effected my ruin. How
relief came, and from what quarter, I might defy the most
ingenious person, after reading my memoirs to this point, to say;
and this not so much by reason of any subtle device, as because
the hand of Providence was for once directly manifest.

The three days of grace which the priest had granted I passed in
anxious but futile search for some means of escape, every plan I
conceived dying stillborn, and not the least of my miseries lying
in the fact that I could discern no better course than still to
sit and think, and seemed doomed to perpetual inaction. M. de
Rambouillet being a strict Catholic, though in all other respects
a patriotic man, I knew better than to have recourse to him; and
the priest's influence over M. d'Agen I had myself witnessed.
For similar reasons I rejected the idea of applying to the king;
and this exhausting the list of those on whom I had any claim, I
found myself thrown on my own resources, which seemed limited--my
wits failing me at this pinch--to my sword and Simon Fleix.

Assured that I must break out of Blois if I would save not myself
only, but others more precious because entrusted to my charge, I
thought it no disgrace to appeal to Simon; describing in a lively
fashion the danger which threatened us, and inciting the lad by
every argument which I thought likely to have weight with him to
devise some way of escape.

Now is the time, my friend,' I said, 'to show your wits, and
prove that M. de Rosny, who said you had a cunning above the
ordinary, was right. If your brain can ever save your head, now
is the time! For I tell you plainly, if you cannot find some way
to outmanoeuvre this villain before to-morrow, I am spent. You
can judge for yourself what chance you will have of going free.'

I paused at that, waiting for him to make some suggestion. To my
chagrin he remained silent, leaning his head on his hand, and
studying the table with his eyes in a sullen fashion; so that I
began to regret the condescension I had evinced in letting him be
seated, and found it necessary to remind him that he had taken
service with me, and must do my bidding.

'Well,' he said morosely, and without looking up, 'I am ready to
do it. But I do not like priests, and this one least of all. I
know him, and I will not meddle with him.'

'You will not meddle with him?' I cried, almost beside myself
with dismay.

'No, I won't,' he replied, retaining his listless attitude. 'I
know him, and I am afraid of him. I am no match for him.'

'Then M. de Rosny was wrong, was he?' I said, giving way to my
anger.

'If it please you,' he answered pertly.

This was too much for me. My riding-switch lay handy, and I
snatched it up. Before he knew what I would be at, I fell upon
him, and gave him such a sound wholesome drubbing as speedily
brought him to his senses. When he cried for mercy--which he did
not for a good space, being still possessed by the peevish devil
which had ridden him ever since his departure from Rosny--I put
it to him again whether M. de Rosny was not right. When he at
last admitted this, but not till then, I threw the whip away and
let him go, but did not cease to reproach him as he deserved.

'Did you think,' I said, 'that I was going to be ruined because
you would not use your lazy brains? That I was going to sit
still, and let you sulk, while mademoiselle walked blindfold into
the toils? Not at all, my friend!'

'Mademoiselle!' he exclaimed, looking at me with a, sudden
change of countenance, end ceasing to rub himself and scowl, as
he had been doing. 'She is not here, and is in no danger.'

'She will be here to-morrow, or the next day,' I said.

You did not tell me that!' he replied, his eyes glittering.
'Does Father Antoine know it?'

'He will know it the moment she enters the town,' I answered.

Noting the change which the introduction of mademoiselle's name
into the affair had wrought in him, I felt something like
humiliation. But at the moment I had no choice; it was my
business to use such instruments as came to my hand, and not,
mademoiselle's safety being at stake, to pick and choose too
nicely. In a few minutes our positions were reversed. The lad
had grown as hot as I cold, as keenly excited as I critical.
When he presently came to a stand in front of me, I saw a strange
likeness between his face and the priest's; nor was I astonished
when he presently made just such a proposal as I should have
expected from Father Antoine himself.

'There is only one thing for it,' he muttered, trembling all
over. 'He must be got rid of!'

'Fine talking!' I said, contemptuously. 'If he were a soldier
he might be brought to it. But he is a priest, my friend, and
does not fight.'

'Fight? Who wants him to fight?' the lad answered, his face
dark, his hands moving restlessly. 'It is the easier done. A
blow in the back, and he will trouble us no more.'

'Who is to strike it?' I asked drily.

Simon trembled and hesitated; but presently, heaving a deep sigh,
he said, 'I will.'

'It might not be difficult,' I muttered, thinking it over.

'It would be easy,' he answered under his breath. His eyes
shone, his lips were white, and his long dark hair hung wet over
his forehead.

I reflected, and the longer I did so the more feasible seemed the
suggestion. A single word, and I might sweep from my path the
man whose existence threatened mine; who would not meet me
fairly, but, working against me darkly and treacherously,
deserved no better treatment at my hands than that which a
detected spy receives. He had wronged my mother; he would fain
destroy my friends!

And, doubtless, I shall be blamed by some and ridiculed by more
for indulging in scruples at such a time. But I have all my life
long been prejudiced against that form of underhand violence
which I have heard old men contend came into fashion in our
country in modern times, and which certainly seems to be alien
from the French character. Without judging others too harshly,
or saying that the poniard is never excusable--for then might
some wrongs done to women and the helpless go without remedy--I
have set my face against its use as unworthy of a soldier. At
the time, moreover, of which I am now writing the extent to which
our enemies had lately resorted to it tended to fix this feeling
with peculiar firmness in my mind; and, but for the very
desperate dilemma in which I stood at the moment--and not I
alone--I do not think that I should have entertained Simon's
proposal for a minute.

As it was, I presently answered him in a way which left him in no
doubt of my sentiments. 'Simon, my friend,' I said--and I
remember I was a little moved--'you have something still to
learn, both as a soldier and a Huguenot. Neither the one nor the
other strikes at the back.'

'But if he will not fight?' the lad retorted rebelliously.
'What then?'

It was so clear that our adversary gained an unfair advantage in
this way that I could not answer the question. I let it pass,
therefore, and merely repeating my former injunction, bade Simon
think out another way.

He promised reluctantly to do so, and, after spending some
moments in thought, went out to learn whether the house was being
watched.

When he returned, his countenance wore so new an expression that
I saw at once that something had happened. He did not meet my
eye, however, and did not explain, but made as if he would go out
again, with something of confusion in his manner. Before finally
disappearing, however, he seemed to change his mind once more;
for, marching up to me where I stood eyeing him with the utmost
astonishment, he stopped before me, and suddenly drawing out his
hand, thrust something into mine.

'What is it, man?' I said mechanically.

'Look!' he answered rudely, breaking silence for the first time.
'You should know. Why ask me? What have I to do with it?'

I looked then, and saw that he had given me a knot of velvet
precisely similar is shape, size, and material to that well-
remembered one which had aided me so opportunely in my search for
mademoiselle. This differed from that a little in colour, but in
nothing else, the fashion of the bow being the same, and one
lappet hearing the initials 'C. d. l. V.,' while the other had
the words, 'A moi.' I gazed at it in wonder. 'But, Simon,' I
said, 'what does it mean? Where did you get it?'

'Where should I get it?' he answered jealously. Then, seeming
to recollect himself, he changed his tone. 'A woman gave it to
me in the street,' he said.

I asked him what woman.

'How should I know?' he answered, his eyes gleaming with anger.
'It was a woman in a mask.'

'Was it Fanchette?' I said sternly.

'It might have been. I do not know,' he responded.

I concluded at first that mademoiselle and her escort had arrived
in the outskirts of the city, and that Maignan had justified his
reputation for discretion by sending in to learn from me whether
the way was clear before he entered. In this notion I was partly
confirmed and partly shaken by the accompanying message; which
Simon, from whom every scrap of information had to be dragged as
blood from a stone, presently delivered.

'You are to meet the sender half an hour after sunset to-morrow
evening,' he said, 'on the Parvis at the north-east corner of the
cathedral.'

'To-morrow evening?'

'Yes, when else?' the lad answered ungraciously. 'I said to-
morrow evening.'

I thought this strange. I could understand why Maignan should
prefer to keep his charge outside the walls until he heard from
me, but not why he should postpone a meeting so long. The
message, too, seemed unnecessarily meagre, and I began to think
Simon was still withholding something.

'Was that all?' I asked him.

'Yes, all,' he answered, 'except--'

'Except what?' I said sternly.

'Except that the woman showed me the gold token Mademoiselle de
la Vire used to carry,' he answered reluctantly, 'and said, if
you wanted further assurance that would satisfy you.'

'Did you see the coin?' I cried eagerly.

'To be sure,' he answered.

'Then, mon dieu!' I retorted, 'either you are deceiving me, or
the woman you saw deceived you. For mademoiselle has not got the
token! I have it here, in my possession! Now, do you still say
yon saw it, man?'

'I saw one like it,' he answered, trembling, his face damp.
'That I will swear. And the woman told me what I have told you.
And no more.'

'Then it is clear,' I answered, 'that mademoiselle has nothing to
do with this, and is doubtless many a league away. This is one
of M. de Bruhl's tricks. Fresnoy gave him the token he stole
from me. And I told him the story of the velvet knot myself.
This is a trap; and had I fallen into it, and gone to the Parvis
to-morrow evening, I had never kept another assignation, my lad.'

Simon looked thoughtful. Presently he said, with a crestfallen
air, 'You were to go alone. The woman said that.'

Though I knew well why he had suppressed this item, I forbore to
blame him. 'What was the woman like?' I said.

'She had very much of Franchette's figure,' he answered. He
could not go beyond that. Blinded by the idea that the woman was
mademoiselle's attendant, and no one else, he had taken little
heed of her, and could not even say for certain that she was not
a man in woman's clothes.

I thought the matter over and discussed it with him; and was
heartily minded to punish M. de Bruhl, if I could discover a way
of turning his treacherous plot against himself. But the lack of
any precise knowledge of his plans prevented me stirring in the
matter; the more as I felt no certainty that I should be master
of my actions when the time came.

Strange to say the discovery of this movement on the part of
Bruhl, who had sedulously kept himself in the background since
the scene in the king's presence, far from increasing my
anxieties, had the effect of administering a fillip to my
spirits; which the cold and unyielding pressure of the Jacobin
had reduced to a low point. Here was something I could
understand, resist, and guard against. The feeling that I had
once more to do with a man of like aims and passions with myself
quickly restored me to the use of my faculties; as I have heard
that a swordsman opposed to the powers of evil regains his vigour
on finding himself engaged with a mortal foe. Though I knew that
the hours of grace were fast running to a close, and that on the
morrow the priest would call for an answer, I experienced that
evening an, unreasonable lightness and cheerfulness. I retired
to rest with confidence, and slept is comfort, supported in part,
perhaps, by the assurance that in that room where my mother died
her persecutor could have no power to harm me.

Upon Simon Fleix, on the other hand, the discovery that Bruhl was
moving, and that consequently peril threatened us from a new
quarter, had a different effect. He fell into a state of extreme
excitement, and spent the evening and a great part of the night
in walking restlessly up and down the room, wrestling with the
fears and anxieties which beset us, and now talking fast to
himself, now biting his nails in an agony of impatience. In vain
I adjured him not to meet troubles halfway; or, pointing to the
pallet which he occupied at the foot of my couch, bade him, if he
could not devise a way of escape, at least to let the matter rest
until morning. He had no power to obey, but, tortured by the
vivid anticipations which it was his nature to entertain, he
continued to ramble to and fro in a fever of the nerves, and had
no sooner lain down than be was up again. Remembering, however,
how well he had borne himself on the night of mademoiselle's
escape from Blois, I refrained from calling him a coward; and
contented myself instead with the reflection that nothing sits
worse on a fighting-man than too much knowledge--except, perhaps,
a lively imagination.

I thought it possible that mademoiselle might arrive next day
before Father Antoine called to receive his answer. In this
event I hoped to have the support of Maignan's experience. But
the party did not arrive. I had to rely on myself and my own
resources, and, this being so, determined to refuse the priest's
offer, but in all other things to be guided by circumstances.

About noon he came, attended, as was his practice, by two
friends, whom he left outside. He looked paler and more shadowy
than before, I thought, his hands thinner, and his cheeks more
transparent. I could draw no good augury, however, from these,
signs of frailty, for the brightness of his eyes and the unusual
elation of his manner told plainly of a spirit assured of the
mastery. He entered the room with an air of confidence, and
addressed me in a tone of patronage which left me in no doubt of
his intentions; the frankness with which he now laid bare his
plans going far to prove that already he considered me no better
than his tool.

I did not at once undeceive him, but allowed him to proceed, and
even to bring out the five hundred crowns which he had promised
me, and the sight of which he doubtless supposed would clench the
matter.

Seeing this he became still less reticent, and spoke so largely
that I presently felt myself impelled to ask him if he would
answer a question.

'That is as may be, M. de Marsac,' he answered lightly. 'You may
ask it.'

'You hint at great schemes which you have in hand, father,' I
said. 'You speak of France and Spain and Navarre, and kings and
Leagues and cardinals! You talk of secret strings, and would
have me believe that if I comply with your wishes I shall find
you as powerful a patron as M. de Rosny. But--one moment, if you
please,' I continued hastily, seeing that he was about to
interrupt me with such eager assurances as I had already heard;
'tell me this. With so many irons in the fire, why did you
interfere with one old gentlewoman--for the sake of a few
crowns?"

'I will tell you even that,' he answered, his face flushing at my
tone. 'Have you ever heard of an elephant? Yes. Well, it has a
trunk, you know, with which it can either drag an oak from the
earth or lift a groat from the ground. It is so with me. But
again you ask,' he continued with an airy grimace, 'why I wanted
a few crowns. Enough that I did. There are going to be two
things in the world, and two only, M. de Marsac: brains and
money. The former I have, and had: the latter I needed--and
took.'

'Money and brains?' I said, looking at him thoughtfully.

'Yes,' he answered, his eyes sparkling, his thin nostrils
beginning to dilate. 'Give me these two, and I will rule
France!'

'You will rule France?' I exclaimed, amazed beyond measure by
his audacity. 'You, man?'

'Yes, I,' he answered, with abominable coolness. 'I, priest,
monk, Churchman, clerk. You look surprised, but mark you, sir,
there is a change going on. Our time is coming, and yours is
going. What hampers our lord the king and shuts him up in Blois,
while rebellions stalk through France? Lack of men? No; but
lack of money. Who can get the money for him--you the soldier,
or I the clerk? A thousand times, I! Therefore, my time is
coming, and before you die you will see a priest rule France.'

'God forbid it should be you,' I answered scornfully.

'As you please,' he answered, shrugging his shoulders, and
assuming in a breath a mask of humility which sat as ill on his
monstrous conceit as ever nun's veil on a trooper. 'Yet it may
even be I; by the favour of the Holy Catholic Church, whose
humble minister I am.'

I sprang up with a great oath at that, having no stomach for more
of the strange transformations, in which this man delighted, and
whereof the last had ever the air of being the most hateful.
'You villain!' I cried, twisting my moustaches, a habit I have
when enraged. 'And so you would make me a stepping-stone to your
greatness. You would bribe me--a soldier and a gentleman. Go,
before I do you a mischief. That is all I have to say to you.
Go! You have your answer. I will tell you nothing--not a jot or
a tittle. Begone from my room!'

He fell back a step in his surprise, and stood against the table
biting his nails and scowling at me, fear and chagrin contending
with half a dozen devils for the possession of his face. 'So you
have been deceiving me,' he said slowly, and at last.

'I have let you deceive yourself' I answered, looking at him with
scorn, but with little of the fear with which he had for a while
inspired me. 'Begone, and do your worst.'

'You know what you are doing,' he said. 'I have that will hang
you, M. de Marsac--or worse.'

'Go!' I cried.

'You have thought of your friends,' he continued mockingly.

'Go!' I said.

'Of Mademoiselle de la Vire, if by any chance she fall into my
hands? It will not be hanging for her. You remember the two
Foucauds?'--and he laughed.

The vile threat, which I knew he had used to my mother, so worked
upon me that I strode forward unable to control myself longer.
In another moment I had certainly taken him by the throat and
squeezed the life out of his miserable carcase, had not
Providence in its goodness intervened to save me. The door, on
which he had already laid his hand in terror, opened suddenly.
It admitted Simon, who, closing it; behind him, stood looking
from one to the other of us in nervous doubt; divided between
that respect for the priest which a training at the Sorbonne had
instilled into him, and the rage which despair arouses in the
weakest.

His presence, while it checked me in my purpose, seemed to give
Father Antoine courage, for the priest stood his ground, and even
turned to me a second time, his face dark with spite and
disappointment. 'Good,' he said hoarsely. 'Destroy yourself if
you will! I advise you to bar your door, for in an hour the
guards will be here to fetch you to the question.'

Simon cried out at the threat, so that I turned and looked at the
lad. His knees were shaking, his hair stood on end.

The priest saw his terror and his own opportunity. 'Ay, in an
hour,' he continued slowly, looking at him with cruel eyes. 'In
an hour, lad! You must be fond of pain to court it, and out of
humour with life to throw it away. Or stay,' he continued
abruptly, after considering Simon's narrowly for a moment, and
doubtless deducing from it a last hope, 'I will be merciful. I
will give you one more chance.'

'And yourself?' I said with a sneer.

'As you please,' he answered, declining to be diverted from the
trembling lad, whom his gaze seemed to fascinate. 'I will give
you until half an hour after sunset this evening to reconsider
the matter. If you make up your minds to accept my terms, meet
me then. I leave to-night for Paris, and I will give you until
the last moment. But,' he continued grimly, 'if you do not meet
me, or, meeting me, remain obstinate--God do so to me, and more
also, if you see the sun rise thrice.'

Some impulse, I know not what, seeing that I had no thought of
accepting his terms or meeting him, led me to ask briefly,
'Where?'

'On the Parvis of the Cathedral,' he answered after a moment's
calculation. 'At the north-east corner, half an hour after
sunset. It is a quiet spot.'

Simon uttered a stifled exclamation. And then for a moment there
was silence in the room, while the lad breathed hard and
irregularly, and I stood rooted to the spot, looking so long and
so strangely at the priest that Father Antoine laid his hand
again on the door and glanced uneasily behind him. Nor was he
content until he had hit on, as he fancied, the cause of my
strange regard.

'Ha!' he said, his thin lip curling in conceit at his
astuteness, 'I understand you think to kill me to-night? Let me
tell you, this house is watched. If you leave here to meet me
with any companion--unless it be M. d'Agen, whom I can trust, I
shall be warned, and be gone before you reach the rendezvous.
And gone, mind you,' he added, with a grim smile, 'to sign your
death-warrant.'

He went out with that, closing the door behind him; and we heard
his step go softly down the staircase. I gazed at Simon, and he
at me, with all the astonishment and awe which it was natural we
should feel in presence of so remarkable a coincidence.

For by a marvel the priest had named the same spot and the same
time as the sender of the velvet knot!

'He will go,' Simon said, his face flushed and his voice
trembling, 'and they will go.'

'And in the dark they will not know him,' I muttered. 'He is
about my height. They will take him for me!'

'And kill him!' Simon cried hysterically. 'They will kill him!
He goes to his death, monsieur. It is the finger of God.'

CHAPTER XX.

THE KING'S FACE.

It seemed so necessary to bring home the crime to Bruhl should
the priest really perish in the trap laid for me, that I came
near to falling into one of those mistakes to which men of action
are prone. For my first impulse was to follow the priest to the
Parvis, closely enough, if possible, to detect the assassins in
the act, and with sufficient force, if I could muster it, to
arrest them. The credit of dissuading me from this course lies
with Simon, who pointed out its dangers in so convincing a manner
that I was brought with little difficulty to relinquish it.

Instead, acting on his advice, I sent him to M. d'Agen's lodging,
to beg that young gentleman to call upon me before evening.
After searching the lodging and other places in vain, Simon found
M. d'Agen in the tennis-court at the Castle, and, inventing a
crafty excuse, brought him to my lodging a full hour before the
time.

My visitor was naturally surprised to find that I had nothing
particular to say to him. I dared not tell him what occupied my
thoughts, and for the rest invention failed me. But his gaiety
and those pretty affectations on which he spent an infinity of
pains, for the purpose, apparently, of hiding the sterling worth
of a character deficient neither in courage nor backbone, were
united to much good nature. Believing at last that I had sent
for him in a fit of the vapours, he devoted himself to amusing me
and abusing Bruhl--a very favourite pastime with him. And in
this way he made out a call of two hours.

I had not long to wait for proof of Simon's wisdom in taking this
precaution. We thought it prudent to keep within doors after our
guest's departure, and so passed the night in ignorance whether
anything had happened or not. But about seven next morning one
of the Marquis's servants, despatched by M. d'Agen, burst in upon
us with the news--which was no news from the moment his hurried
footstep sounded on the stairs that Father Antoine had been set
upon and killed the previous evening!

I heard this confirmation of my hopes with grave thankfulness;
Simon with so much emotion that when the messenger was gone he
sat down on a stool and began to sob and tremble as if he had
lost his mother, instead of a mortal foe. I took advantage of
the occasion to read him a sermon on the end of crooked courses;
nor could I myself recall without a shudder the man's last words
to me; or the lawless and evil designs in which he had rejoiced,
while standing on the very brink of the pit which was to swallow
up both him and them in everlasting darkness.

Naturally, the uppermost feeling in my mind was relief. I was
free once more. In all probability the priest had kept his
knowledge to himself, and without him his agents would be
powerless. Simon, it is true, heard that the town was much
excited by the event; and that many attributed it to the
Huguenots. But we did not suffer ourselves to be depressed by
this, nor had I any foreboding until the sound of a second
hurried footstep mounting the stairs reached our ears.

I knew the step in a moment for M. d'Agen's, and something
ominous in its ring brought me to my feet before he opened the
door. Significant as was his first hasty look round the room, he
recovered at sight of me all his habitual SANG-FROID. He saluted
me, and spoke coolly, though rapidly. But he panted, and I
noticed in a moment that he had lost his lisp.

'I am happy in finding you,' he said, closing the door carefully
behind him, 'for I am the bearer of ill news, and there is not a
moment to be lost. The king has signed an order for your instant
consignment to prison, M. de Marsac, and, once there, it is
difficult to say what may not happen.'

'My consignment?' I exclaimed. I may be pardoned if the news
for a moment found me unprepared.

'Yes,' he replied quickly. 'The king has signed it at the
instance of Marshal Retz.'

'But for what?' I cried in amazement.

'The murder of Father Antoine. You will pardon me,' he continued
urgently, 'but this is no time for words. The Provost-Marshal is
even now on his way to arrest you. Your only hope is to evade
him, and gain an audience of the king. I have persuaded my uncle
to go with you, and he is waiting at his lodgings. There is not
a moment to be lost, however, if you would reach the king's
presence before you are arrested.'

'But I am innocent!' I cried.

'I know it,' M. d'Agen answered, 'and can prove it. But if you
cannot get speech of the king innocence will avail you nothing.
You have powerful enemies. Come without more ado, M. de Marsac,
I pray,' he added.

His manner, even more than his words, impressed me with a sense
of urgency; and postponing for a time my own judgment, I
hurriedly thanked him for his friendly offices. Snatching up my
sword, which lay on a chair, I buckled it on; for Simon's fingers
trembled so violently he could give me no help. This done I
nodded to M. d'Agen to go first, and followed him from the room,
Simon attending us of his own motion. It would be then about
eleven o'clock in the forenoon.

My companion ran down the stairs without ceremony, and so quickly
it was all I could do to keep up with him. At the outer door he
signed me to stand, and darting himself into the street, he
looked anxiously in the direction of the Rue St. Denys.
Fortunately the coast was still clear, and he beckoned to me to
follow him. I did so and starting to walk in the opposite
direction as fast as we could, in less than a minute we had put a
corner between us and the house.

Our hopes of escaping unseen, however, were promptly dashed. The
house, I have said, stood in a quiet by-street, which was bounded
on the farther side by a garden-wall buttressed at intervals. We
had scarcely gone a dozen paces from my door when a man slipped
from the shelter of one of these buttresses, and after a single
glance at us, set off to run towards the Rue St. Denys.

M. d'Agen looked back and nodded. 'There goes the news,' he
said. 'They will try to cut us off, but I think we have the
start of them.'

I made no reply, feeling that I had resigned myself entirely into
his hands. But as we passed through the Rue de Valois, in part
of which a market was held at this hour, attracting a
considerable concourse of peasants and others, I fancied I
detected signs of unusual bustle and excitement. It seemed
unlikely that news of the priest's murder should affect so many
people and to such a degree, and I asked M. d'Agen what it meant.

'There is a rumour abroad,' he answered, without slackening
speed, 'that the king intends to move south to Tours at once.'

I muttered my surprise and satisfaction. 'He will come to terms
with the Huguenots then?' I said.

'It looks like it,' M. d'Agen rejoined. 'Retz's party are in an
ill-humour on that account, and will wreak it on you if they get
a chance. On guard!' he added abruptly. 'Here are two of
them!'

As he spoke we emerged from the crowd, and I saw, half a dozen
paces in front; of us, and coming to meet us, a couple of Court
gallants, attended by as many servants. They espied us at the
same moment, and came across the street, which was tolerably wide
at that part, with the evident intention of stopping us.
Simultaneously, however, we crossed to take their side, and so
met them face to face in the middle of the way.

'M. d'Agen,' the foremost exclaimed, speaking in a haughty tone,
and with a dark side glance at me, 'I am sorry to see you in such
company! Doubtless you are not aware that this gentleman is the
subject of an order which has even now been issued to the
Provost-Marshal.'

'And if so, sir? What of that?' my companion lisped in his
silkiest tone.

'What of that?' the other cried, frowning, and pushing slightly
forward.

'Precisely,' M. d'Agen repeated, laying his hand on his hilt and
declining to give back. 'I am not aware that his Majesty has
appointed you Provost-Marshal, or that you have any warrant, M.
Villequier, empowering you to stop gentlemen in the public
streets.'

M. Villequier reddened with anger. 'You are young, M. d'Agen,'
he said, his voice quivering, 'or I would make you pay dearly for
that!'

'My friend is not young,' M. d'Agen retorted, bowing. 'He is a
gentleman of birth, M. Villequier; by repute, as I learned
yesterday, one of the best swordsmen in France, and no Gascon.
If you feel inclined to arrest him, do so, I pray. And I will
have the honour of engaging your son.'

As we had all by this time our hands on our swords, there needed
but a blow to bring about one of those street brawls which were
more common then than now. A number of market-people, drawn to
the spot by our raised voices, had gathered round, and were
waiting eagerly to see what would happen. But Villeqier, as my
companion perhaps knew, was a Gascon in heart as well as by
birth, and seeing our determined aspects, thought better of it.
Shrugging his shoulders with an affectation of disdain which
imposed on no one, he signalled to his servants to go on, and
himself stood aside.

'I thank you for your polite offer,' he said with an evil smile,
'and will remember it. But as you say, sir, I am not the
Provost-Marshal.'

Paying little heed to his words, we bowed, passed him, and
hurried on. But the peril was not over. Not only had the
RENCONTRE cost us some precious minutes, but the Gascon, after
letting us proceed a little way, followed us. And word being
passed by his servants, as we supposed, that one of us was the
murderer of Father Antoine, the rumour spread through the crowd
like wildfire, and in a few moments we found ourselves attended
by a troop of CANAILLE who, hanging on our skirts, caused Simon
Fleix no little apprehension. Notwithstanding the contempt which
M. d'Agen, whose bearing throughout was admirable, expressed for
them, we might have found it necessary to turn and teach them a
lesson had we not reached M. de Rambouillet's in the nick of
time; where we found the door surrounded by half a dozen armed
servants, at sight of whom our persecutors fell back with the
cowardice which is usually found in that class.

If I had been tempted of late to think M. de Rambouillet fickle,
I had no reason to complain now; whether his attitude was due to
M. d'Agen's representations, or to the reflection that without me
the plans he had at heart must miscarry. I found him waiting
within, attended by three gentlemen, all cloaked and ready for
the road; while the air of purpose, which sat on his brow
indicated that he thought the crisis no common one. Not a moment
was lost, even in explanations. Waving me to the door again, and
exchanging a few sentences with his nephew, he gave the word to
start, and we issued from the house in a body. Doubtless the
fact that those who sought to ruin me were his political enemies
had some weight with him; for I saw his face harden as his eyes
met those of M. de Villequier, who passed slowly before the door
as we came out. The Gascon, however, was not the man to
interfere with so large a party, and dropped back; while M. de
Rambouillet, after exchanging a cold salute with him, led the way
towards the Castle at a round pace. His nephew and I walked one
on either side of him, and the others, to the number of ten or
eleven, pressed on behind in a compact body, our cortege
presenting so determined a front that the crowd, which had
remained hanging about the door, fled every way. Even some
peaceable folk who found themselves in our road took the
precaution of slipping into doorways, or stood aside to give us
the full width of the street.

I remarked--and I think it increased my anxiety--that our leader
was dressed with more than usual care and richness, but, unlike
his attendants, wore no arms. He took occasion, as we hurried
along, to give me a word of advice. 'M. de Marsac,' he said,
looking at me suddenly, 'my nephew has given me to understand
that you place yourself entirely in my hands.'

I replied that I asked for no better fortune, and, whatever the
event, thanked him from the bottom of my heart.

'Be pleased then to keep silence until I bid you speak,' he
replied sharply, for he was one of those whom a sudden stress
sours and exacerbates. 'And, above all, no violence without my
orders. We are about to fight a battle, and a critical one, but
it must be won with our heads. If we can we will keep you out of
the Provost-Marshal's hands.'

And if not? I remembered the threats Father Antoine had used,
and in a moment I lost sight of the street with all its light and
life and movement. I felt no longer the wholesome stinging of
the wind. I tasted instead a fetid air, and saw round me a
narrow cell and masked figures, and in particular a swarthy man
is a leather apron leaning over a brazier, from which came lurid
flames. And I was bound. I experienced that utter helplessness
which is the last test of courage. The man came forward, and
then--then, thank God! the vision passed away. An exclamation
to which M. d'Agen gave vent, brought me back to the present, and
to the blessed knowledge that the fight was not yet over.

We were within a score of paces, I found, of the Castle gates;
but so were also a second party, who had just debouched from a
side-street, and now hurried on, pace for pace, with us, with the
evident intention of forestalling us, The race ended in both
companies reaching the entrance at the same time, with the
consequence of some jostling taking place amongst the servants.
This must have led to blows but for the strenuous commands which
M. de Rambouillet had laid upon his followers. I found myself in
a moment confronted by a row of scowling faces, while a dozen
threatening hands were stretched out towards me, and as many
voices, among which I recognised Fresnoy's, cried out
tumultuously, 'That is he! That is the one!'

An elderly man in a quaint dress stepped forward, a paper in his
hand, and, backed as he was by half a dozen halberdiers, would in
a moment have laid hands on me if M. de Rambouillet had not
intervened with a negligent air of authority, which sat on him
the more gracefully as he held nothing but a riding-switch in his
hands. 'Tut, tut! What is this?' he said lightly. 'I am not
wont to have my people interfered with, M. Provost, without my
leave. You know me, I suppose?'

'Perfectly, M. le Marquis,' the man answered with dogged respect;
'but this is by the king's special command.'

'Very good,' my patron answered, quietly eyeing the faces behind
the Provost-Marshal, as if he were making a note of them; which
caused some of the gentlemen manifest uneasiness. 'That is soon
seen, for we are even now about to seek speech with his Majesty.'

'Not this gentleman,' the Provost-Marshal answered firmly,
raising his hand again. 'I cannot let him pass.'

'Yes, this gentleman too, by your leave,' the Marquis retorted,
lightly putting the hand aside with his cane.

'Sir,' said the other, retreating a step, and speaking with some
heat, 'this is no jest with all respect. I hold the king's own
order, and it may not be resisted.'

The nobleman tapped his silver comfit-box and smiled. 'I shall
be the last to resist it--if you have it,' he said languidly.

'You may read it for yourself,' the Provost-Marshal answered, his
patience exhausted.

M. de Rambouillet took the parchment with the ends of his
fingers, glanced at it, and gave it back. 'As I thought,' he
said, 'a manifest forgery.'

'A forgery!' cried the other, crimson with indignation. 'And I
had it from the hands of the king's own secretary!' At this
those behind murmured, some 'shame,' and some one thing and some
another--all with an air so threatening that the Marquis's
gentlemen closed up behind him, and M. d'Agen laughed rudely.

But M. de Rambouillet remained unmoved. 'You may have had it
from whom you please, sir,' he said. 'It is a forgery, and I
shall resist its execution. If you choose to await me here, I
will give you my word to render this gentleman to you within an
hour, should the order hold good. If you will not wait, I shall
command my servants to clear the way, and if ill happen, then the
responsibility will lie with you.'

He spoke in so resolute a manner it was not difficult to see that
something more was at stake than the arrest of a single man.
This was so; the real issue was whether the king, with whose
instability it was difficult to cope, should fall back into the
hands of his old advisers or not. My arrest was a move in the
game intended as a counterblast to the victory which M. de
Rambouillet had gained when he persuaded the king to move to
Tours; a city in the neighbourhood of the Huguenots, and a place
of arms whence union with them would be easy.

The Provost-Marshal could, no doubt, make a shrewd guess at these
things. He knew that the order he had would be held valid or not
according as one party or the other gained the mastery; and,
seeing M. de Rambouillet's resolute demeanour, he gave way.
Rudely interrupted more than once by his attendants, among whom
were some of Bruhl's men, he muttered an ungracious assent to our
proposal; on which, and without a moment's delay, the Marquis
took me by the arm and hurried me across the courtyard.

And so far, well. My heart began to rise. But, for the Marquis,
as we mounted the staircase the anxiety he had dissembled while
we faced the Provost-Marshal, broke out in angry mutterings; from
which I gathered that the crisis was yet to come. I was not
surprised, therefore, when an usher rose on our appearance in the
antechamber, and, quickly crossing the floor, interposed between
us and the door of the chamber, informing the Marquis with a low
obeisance that his Majesty was engaged.

'He will see me,' M. de Rambouillet cried, looking haughtily
round on the sneering pages and lounging courtiers, who grew
civil under his eye.

'I have particular orders, sir, to admit so one,' the man
answered.

'Tut, tut, they do not apply to me,' my companion retorted,
nothing daunted. 'I know the business on which the king is
engaged, and I am here to assist him.' And raising his hand he
thrust the startled official aside, and hardily pushed the doors
of the chamber open.

The king, surrounded by half a dozen persons, was in the act of
putting on his riding-boots. On hearing us, he turned his head
with a startled air, and dropped in his confusion one of the
ivory cylinders he was using; while his aspect, and that of the
persons who stood round him, reminded me irresistibly of a party
of schoolboys detected in a fault.

He recovered himself, it is true, almost immediately; and turning
his back to us? continued to talk to the persons round him on
such trifling subjects as commonly engaged him. He carried on
this conversation in a very free way, studiously ignoring our
presence; but it was plain he remained aware of it, and even that
he was uneasy under the cold and severe gaze which the Marquis,
who seemed in nowise affrighted by his reception, bent upon him.

I, for my part, had no longer any confidence. Nay, I came near
to regretting that I had persevered in an attempt so useless.
The warrant which awaited me at the gates seemed less formidable
than his Majesty's growing displeasure; which I saw I was
incurring by remaining where I was. It needed not the insolent
glance of Marshal Retz, who lounged smiling by the king's hand,
or the laughter of a couple of pages who stood at the head of the
chamber, to deprive me of my last hope; while some things which
might have cheered me--the uneasiness of some about the king, and
the disquietude which underlay Marshal Retz's manner--escaped my
notice altogether.

What I did see clearly was that the king's embarrassment was fast
changing to anger. The paint which reddened his cheeks prevented
tiny alteration in his colour being visible, but his frown and
the nervous manner in which he kept taking off and putting on his
jewelled cap betrayed him. At length, signing to one of his
companions to follow, he moved a little aside to a window,
whence, after a few moments, the gentleman came to us.

'M. de Rambouillet,' he said, speaking coldly and formally, 'his
Majesty is displeased by this gentleman's presence, and requires
him to withdraw forthwith.'

'His Majesty's word is law,' my patron answered, bowing low, and
speaking in a clear voice audible throughout; the chamber, 'but
the matter which brings this gentleman here is of the utmost
importance, and touches his Majesty's person.'

M. de Retz laughed jeeringly. The other courtiers looked grave.
The king shrugged his shoulders with a peevish gesture, but after
a moment's hesitation, during which he looked first at Retz and
then at M. de Rambouillet, he signed to the Marquis to approach.

'Why have you brought him here?' he muttered sharply, looking
askance at me. 'He should have been bestowed according to my
orders.'

'He has information for your Majesty's private ear,' Rambouillet
answered. And he looked so meaningly at the king that Henry, I
think, remembered on a sudden his compact with Rosny, and my part
in it; for he started with the air of a man suddenly awakened.
'To prevent that information reaching you, sire,' my patron
continued, 'his enemies have practised on your Majesty's well-
known sense of justice.'

'Oh, but stay, stay!' the king cried, hitching forward the
scanty cloak he wore, which barely came down to his waist. 'The
man has killed a priest! He has killed a priest, man!'

He repeated with confidence, as if he had now got hold of the
right argument.

That is not so, sire, craving your Majesty's pardon, M. de
Rambouillet; replied with the utmost coolness.

'Tut! Tut! The evidence is clear,' the king said peevishly.

'As to that, sire,' my companion rejoined, 'if it is of the
murder of Father Antoine he is accused, I say boldly that there
is none.'

'Then there you are mistaken!' the king answered. 'I heard it
with my own ears this morning.'

'Will you deign, sire, to tell me its nature?' M. de Rambouillet
persisted.

But on that Marshal Retz thought it necessary to intervene.
'Need we turn his Majesty's chamber into a court of justice?' he
said smoothly. Hitherto he had not spoken; trusting, perhaps, to
the impression he had already made upon the king.

M. de Rambouillet took no notice of him.

'But Bruhl,' said the king, 'you see, Bruhl says--'

'Bruhl!' my companion replied, with so much contempt that Henry
started. 'Surely your Majesty has not taken his word against
this gentleman, of all people?'

Thus reminded, a second time, of the interests entrusted to me,
and of the advantage which Bruhl would gain by my disappearance,
the king looked first confused, and then angry. He vented his
passion in one or two profane oaths, with the childish addition
that we were all a set of traitors, and that he had no one whom
he could trust. But my companion had touched the right chord at
last; for when the king grew more composed, he waved aside
Marshal Retz's protestations, and sullenly bade Rambouillet say
what he had to say.

'The monk was killed, sire, about sunset,' he answered. 'Now my
nephew, M. d'Agen, is without, and will tell your Majesty that he
was with this gentleman at his lodgings from about an hour before
sunset last evening until a full hour after. Consequently, M. de
Marsac can hardly be the assassin, and M. le Marechal must look
elsewhere if he wants vengeance.'

'Justice, sir, not vengeance.' Marshal Retz said with a dark
glance. His keen Italian face hid his trouble well, but a little
pulse of passion beating in his olive cheek betrayed the secret
to those who knew him. He had a harder part to play than his
opponent; for while Rambouillet's hands were clean, Retz knew
himself a traitor, and liable at any moment to discovery and
punishment.

'Let M. d'Agen be called,' Henry said curtly.

'And if your Majesty pleases,' Retz added, 'M. de Bruhl also, If
you really intend, sire, that is, to reopen a matter which I
thought had been settled.'

The king nodded obstinately, his face furrowed with ill-temper.
He kept his shifty eyes, which seldom met those of the person he
addressed, on the floor; and this accentuated the awkward
stooping carriage which was natural to him. There were seven or
eight dogs of exceeding smallness in the room, and while we
waited for the persons who had been summoned, he kicked, now one
and now another of the baskets which held them, as if he found in
this some vent for his ill-humour.

The witnesses presently appeared, followed by several persons,
among whom were the Dukes of Nevers and Mercoeur, who came to
ride out with the king, and M. de Crillon; so that the chamber
grew passably full. The two dukes nodded formally to the
Marquis, as they passed him, but entered into a muttered
conversation with Retz, who appeared to be urging them to press
his cause. They seemed to decline, however, shrugging their
short cloaks as if the matter were too insignificant. Crillon on
his part cried audibly, and with an oath, to know what the matter
was; and being informed, asked whether all this fuss was being
made about a damned shaveling monk.

Henry, whose tenderness for the cowl was well known, darted an
angry glance at him, but contented himself with saying sharply to
M. d'Agen, 'Now, sir, what do you know about the matter?'

'One moment, sire,' M. Rambouillet cried, interposing before
Francois could answer. 'Craving your Majesty's pardon, you have
heard M. de Bruhl's account. May I, as a favour to myself, beg
you, sire, to permit us also to hear it?'

'What?' Marshal Retz exclaimed angrily, 'are we to be the
judges, then, or his Majesty? Arnidieu!' he continued hotly,
'what, in the fiend's name, have we to do with it? I protest
'fore Heaven--'

'Ay, sir, and what do you protest?' my champion retorted,
turning to him with stern disdain.

'Silence!' cried the king who had listened almost bewildered.
'Silence! By God, gentlemen,' he continued, his eye travelling
round the circle with a sparkle of royal anger in it not unworthy
of his crown, 'you forget yourselves. I will have none of this
quarrelling in my presence or out of it. I lost Quelus and
Maugiron that way, and loss enough, and I will have none of it, I
say! M. de Bruhl,' he added, standing erect, and looking for the
moment, with all his paint and frippery, a king, 'M. de Bruhl,
repeat your story.'

The feelings with which I listened to this controversy may be
imagined. Devoured in turn by hope and fear as now one side and
now the other seemed likely to prevail, I confronted at one
moment the gloom of the dungeon, and at another tasted the air of
freedom, which had never seemed so sweet before. Strong as these
feelings were, however, they gave way to curiosity at this point;
when I heard Bruhl called, and saw him come forward at the king's
command. Knowing this man to be himself guilty, I marvelled with
what face he would present himself before all those eyes, and
from what depths of impudence he could draw supplies in such an
emergency.

I need not have troubled myself, however, for he was fully equal
to the occasion. His high colour and piercing black eyes met the
gaze of friend and foe alike without flinching. Dressed well and
elegantly, he wore his raven hair curled in the mode, and looked
alike gay, handsome, and imperturbable. If there was a suspicion
of coarseness about his bulkier figure, as he stood beside M.
d'Agen, who was the courtier perfect and point devise, it went to
the scale of sincerity, seeing that men naturally associate truth
with strength.

'I know no more than this, sire,' he said easily; 'that,
happening to cross the Parvis at the moment of the murder, I
heard Father Antoine scream. He uttered four words only, in the
tone of a man in mortal peril. They were'--and here the speaker
looked for an instant at me--'Ha! Marsac! A moi!'

'Indeed!' M. de Rambouillet said, after looking to the king for
permission. 'And that was all? You saw nothing?'

Bruhl shook his head. 'It was too dark,' he said.

'And heard no more?'

'No.'

'Do I understand, then,' the Marquis continued slowly, 'that M.
de Marsac is arrested because the priest--God rest his soul!--
cried to him for help?'

'For help?' M. de Retz exclaimed fiercely.

'For help?' said the king, surprised. And at that the most;
ludicrous change fell upon the faces of all. The king looked
puzzled, the Duke of Nevers smiled, the Duke of Mercoeur laughed
aloud. Crillon cried boisterously, 'Good hit!' and the
majority, who wished no better than to divine the winning party,
grinned broadly, whether they would or no.

To Marshal Retz, however, and Bruhl, that which to everyone else
seemed an amusing retort had a totally different aspect; while
the former turned yellow with chagrin and came near to choking,
the latter looked as chapfallen and startled as if his guilt; had
been that moment brought home to him. Assured by the tone of the
monk's voice--which must, indeed, have thundered in his ears--
that my name was uttered in denunciation by one who thought me
his assailant, he had chosen to tell the truth without reflecting
that words, so plain to him, might; bear a different construction
when repeated.

'Certainly the words seem ambiguous,' Henry muttered.

'But it was Marsac killed him,' Retz cried in a rage.

'It is for some evidence of that we are waiting,' my champion
answered suavely.

The Marshal looked helplessly at Nevers and Mercoeur, who
commonly took part with him; but apparently those noblemen had
not been primed for this occasion. They merely shook their heads
and smiled. In the momentary silence which followed, while all
looked curiously at Bruhl, who could not conceal his
mortification, M. d'Agen stepped forward.

'If your Majesty will permit me,' he said, a malicious simper
crossing his handsome face--I had often remarked his extreme
dislike for Bruhl without understanding it--'I think I can
furnish some evidence more to the point than that; to which M. de
Bruhl has with so much fairness restricted himself.' He then
went on to state that he had had the honour of being in my
company at the time of the murder; and he added, besides, so many
details as to exculpate me to the satisfaction of any candid
person.

The king nodded. 'That settles the matter,' he said, with a sigh
of relief. 'You think so, Mercoeur, do you not? Precisely.
Villequier, see that the order respecting M. de Marsac is
cancelled.'

M. de Retz could not control his wrath on hearing this direction
given. 'At this rate,' he cried recklessly, 'we shall have few
priests left here! We have got a bad name at Blois, as it is!'

For a moment all in the circle held their breath, while the
king's eyes flashed fire at this daring allusion to the murder of
the Duke de Guise, and his brother the Cardinal. But it was
Henry's misfortune to be ever indulgent in the wrong place, and
severe when severity was either unjust or impolitic. He
recovered himself with an effort, and revenged himself only by
omitting to invite the Marshal, who was now trembling in his
shoes, to join his riding-party.

The circle broke up amid some excitement. I stood on one side
with M. d'Agen, while the king and his immediate following passed
out, and, greatly embarrassed as I was by the civil
congratulating of many who would have seen me hang with equal
goodwill, I was sharp enough to see that something was brewing
between Bruhl and Marshal Retz, who stood back conversing in low
tones. I was not surprised, therefore, when the former made his
way towards me through the press which filled the antechamber,
and with a lowering brow requested a word with me.

'Certainly,' I said, watching him narrowly, for I knew him to be
both treacherous and a bully. 'Speak on, sir.'

'You have balked me once and again,' he rejoined, in a voice
which shook a little, as did the fingers with which he stroked
his waxed moustache. 'There is no need of words between us. I,
with one sword besides, will to-morrow at noon keep the bridge at
Chaverny, a league from here. It is an open country. Possibly
your pleasure may lead you to ride that way with a friend?'

'You may depend upon me, sir,' I answered, bowing low, and
feeling thankful that the matter was at length to be brought to a
fair and open arbitration. 'I will be there--and in person. For
my deputy last night,' I added, searching his face with a
steadfast eye, 'seems to have been somewhat unlucky.'

CHAPTER XXI.

TWO WOMEN.

Out of compliment, and to show my gratitude, I attended M. de
Rambouillet home to his lodging, and found him as much pleased
with himself, and consequently with me, as I was with him. For
the time, indeed, I came near to loving him; and, certainly, he
was a man of high and patriotic feeling, and of skill and conduct
to match. But he lacked that touch of nature and that power of
sympathising with others which gave to such men as M. de Rosny
and the king, my master, their peculiar charm; though after what
I have related of him in the last chapter it does not lie in my
mouth to speak ill of him. And, indeed, he was a good man.

When I at last reached my lodging, I found a surprise awaiting me
in the shape of a note which had just arrived no one knew how.
If the manner of its delivery was mysterious, however, its
contents were brief and sufficiently explicit; for it; ran thus:
'SIR, BY MEETING ME THREE HOURS AFTER NOON IN THE SQUARE BEFORE
THE HOUSE OF THE LITTLE SISTERS YOU WILL DO A SERVICE AT ONCE TO
YOURSELF AND TO THE UNDERSIGNED, MARIE DE BRUHL.'

That was all, written in a feminine character, yet it was enough
to perplex me. Simon, who had manifested the liveliest joy at my
escape, would have had me treat it as I had treated the
invitation to the Parvis of the Cathedral; ignore it altogether I
mean. But I was of a different mind, and this for three reasons,
among others: that the request was straightforward, the time
early, and the place sufficiently public to be an unlikely
theatre for violence, though well fitted for an interview to
which the world at large was not invited. Then, too, the square
lay little more than a bowshot from my lodging, though on the
farther side of the Rue St. Denys.

Besides, I could conceive many grounds which Madame de Bruhl
might have for seeing me; of which some touched me nearly. I
disregarded Simon's warnings, therefore, and repaired at the time
appointed to the place--a clean, paved square a little off the
Rue St. Denys, and entered from the latter by a narrow passage.
It was a spot pleasantly convenient for meditation, but
overlooked on one side by the House of the Little Sisters; in
which, as I guessed afterwards, madame must have awaited me, for
the square when I entered it was empty, yet in a moment, though
no one came in from the street, she stood beside me. She wore a
mask and long cloak. The beautiful hair and perfect complexion,
which had filled me with so much admiration at our first meeting
in her house, were hidden, but I saw enough of her figure and
carriage to be sure that it was Madame de Bruhl and no other.

She began by addressing me in a tone of bitterness, for which I
was not altogether unprepared.

'Well, sir,' she exclaimed, her voice trembling with anger, 'you
are satisfied, I hope, with your work?'

I expected this and had my answer ready. 'I am not aware,
Madame,' I said, 'that I have cause to reproach myself. But,
however that may be, I trust you have summoned me for some better
purpose than to chide me for another's fault; though it was my
voice which brought it to light.'

'Why did you shame me publicly?' she retorted, thrusting her
handkerchief to her lips and withdrawing it again with a
passionate gesture.

'Madame,' I answered patiently--I was full of pity for her,
'consider for a moment the wrong your husband did me and how
small and inadequate was the thing I did to him in return.'

'To him!' she ejaculated so fiercely that I started. 'It was to
me--to me you did it! What had I done that you should expose me
to the ridicule of those who know no pity, and the anger of one
as merciless? What had I done, sir?'

I shook my head sorrowfully. 'So far, madame,' I answered, 'I
allow I owe you reparation, and I will make it should it ever be
in my power. Nay, I will say more,' I continued, for the tone in
which she spoke had wrung my heart. 'In one point I strained the
case against your husband. To the best of my belief he abducted
the lady who was in my charge, not for the love of her, but for
political reasons, and as the agent of another.'

She gasped. 'What?' she cried. 'Say that again!'

As I complied she tore off her mask and gazed into my face with
straining eyes and parted lips. I saw then how much she was
changed, even in these few days--how pale and worn were her
cheeks, how dark the circles round her eyes. 'Will you swear to
it?' she said at last, speaking with uncontrollable eagerness,
while she laid a hand which shook with excitement on my arm.
Will you swear to it, sir?'

'It is true,' I answered steadfastly. I might have added that
after the event her husband had so treated mademoiselle as to
lead her to fear the worst. But I refrained, feeling that it was
no part of my duty to come between husband and wife.

She clasped her hands, and for a moment looked passionately
upwards, as though she were giving thanks to Heaven; while the
flesh of health and loveliness which I had so much admired
returned, and illumined her face in a wonderful manner. She
seemed, in truth and for the moment, transformed. Her blue eyes
filled with tears, her lips moved; nor have I ever seen anything
bear so near a resemblance to those pictures of the Virgin Mary
which Romans worship as madame did then.

The change, however, was as evanescent as it was admirable. In
an instant she seemed to collapse. She struck her hands to her
face and moaned, and I saw tears, which she vainly strove to
restrain, dropping through her fingers. 'Too late!' she
murmured, in a tone of anguish which wrung my heart. 'Alas, you
robbed me of one man, you give me back another. I know him now
for what he is. If he did not love her then, he does now. It is
too late!'

She seemed so much overcome that I assisted her to reach a bench
which stood against the wall a few paces away; nor, I confess,
was it without difficulty and much self-reproach that I limited
myself to those prudent offices only which her state and my duty
required. To console her on the subject of her husband was
impossible; to ignore him, and so to console her, a task which
neither my discretion nor my sense of honour, though sorely
tried, permitted me to undertake.

She presently recovered and, putting on her mask again, said
hurriedly that she had still a word to say to me. 'You have
treated me honestly,' she continued, 'and, though I have no cause
to do anything but hate you, I say in return, look to yourself!
You escaped last night--I know all, for it was my velvet knot--
which I had made thinking to send it to you to procure this
meeting--that he used as a lure. But he is not yet at the end of
his resources. Look to yourself, therefore.'

I thought of the appointment I had made with him for the morrow,
but I confined myself to thanking her, merely saying, as I bowed
over the hand she resigned to me in token of farewell, 'Madame, I
am grateful. I am obliged to you both for your warning and your
forgiveness.'

'Bending her head coldly she drew away her hand. At that moment,
as I lifted my eyes, I saw something which for an instant rooted
me to the spot with astonishment. In the entrance of the passage
which led to the Rue St. Denys two people were standing, watching
us. The one was Simon Fleix, and the other, a masked woman, a
trifle below the middle height, and clad in a riding-coat, was
Mademoiselle de la Vire!

I knew her in a moment. But the relief I experienced on seeing
her safe and in Blois was not unmixed with annoyance that Simon
Fleix should have been so imprudent as to parade her
unnecessarily in the street. I felt something of confusion also
on my own account; for I could not tell how long she and her
escort had been watching me. And these two feelings were
augmented when, after turning to pay a final salute to Madame de
Bruhl, I looked again towards the passage and discovered that
mademoiselle and her squire were gone.

Impatient as I was, I would not seem to leave madame rudely or
without feeling, after the consideration she had shown me in her
own sorrow; and accordingly I waited uncovered until she
disappeared within the 'Little Sisters.' Then I started eagerly
towards my lodging, thinking I might yet overtake mademoiselle
before she entered. I was destined to meet, however, with
another though very pertinent hindrance. As I passed from the
Rue St. Denys into the quiet of my street I heard a voice calling
my name, and, looking back, saw M. de Rambouillet's equerry, a
man deep in his confidence, running after me. He brought a
message from his master, which he begged me to consider of the
first importance.

'The Marquis would not trust it to writing, sir,' he continued,
drawing me aside into a corner where we were conveniently
retired, 'but he made me learn it by heart. "Tell M. de Marsac,"
said he, "that that which he was left in Blois to do must be done
quickly, or not at all. There is something afoot in the other
camp, I am not sure what. But now is the time to knock in the
nail. I know his zeal, and I depend upon him."'

An hour before I should have listened to this message with
serious doubts and misgivings. Now, acquainted with
mademoiselle's arrival, I returned M. de Rambouillet an answer in
the same strain, and parting civilly from Bertram, who was a man
I much esteemed, I hastened on to my lodgings, exulting in the
thought that the hour and the woman were come at last, and that
before the dawn of another day I might hope, all being well, to
accomplish with honour to myself and advantage to others the
commission which M. de Rosny had entrusted to me.

I must not deny that, mingled with this, was some excitement at
the prospect of seeing mademoiselle again. I strove to conjure
up before me as I mounted the stairs the exact expression of her
face as I had last seen it bending from the window at Rosny; to
the end that I might have some guide for my future conduct, and
might be less likely to fall into the snare of a young girl's
coquetry. But I could come now, as then, to no satisfactory or
safe conclusion, and only felt anew the vexation I had
experienced on losing the velvet knot, which she had given me on
that occasion.

I knocked at the door of the rooms which I had reserved for her,
and which were on the floor below my own; but I got no answer.
Supposing that Simon had taken her upstairs, I mounted quickly,
not doubting I should find her there. Judge of my surprise and
dismay when I found that room also empty, save for the lackey
whom M. de Rambouillet had lent me!

'Where are they?' I asked the man, speaking sharply, and
standing with my hand on the door.

'The lady and her woman, sir?' he answered, coming forward.

'Yes, yes!' I cried impatiently, a sudden fear at my heart.

She went out immediately after her arrival with Simon Fleix, sir,
and has not yet returned,' he answered.

The words were scarcely out of his mouth before I heard several
persons enter the passage below and begin to ascend the stairs.
I did not; doubt that mademoiselle and the lad had come home
another way and, been somehow detained; and I turned with a sigh
of relief to receive them. But when the persons whose steps I
had heard appeared, they proved to be only M. de Rosny's equerry,
stout, burly, and bright-eyed as ever, and two armed servants.

CHAPTER XXII.

'LA FEMME DISPOSE.'

The moment the equerry's foot touched the uppermost stair I
advanced upon him. 'Where is your mistress, man?' I said.
'Where is Mademoiselle de la Vire? Be quick, tell me what you
have done with her.'

His face fell amazingly. 'Where is she?' he answered, faltering
between surprise and alarm at my sudden onslaught. 'Here, she
should be. I left her here not an hour ago. Mon Dieu! Is she
not here now?'

His alarm increased mine tenfold. 'No!' I retorted, 'she is
not! She is gone! And you--what business had you, in the fiend's
name, to leave her here, alone and unprotected? Tell me that!'

He leaned against the balustrade, making no attempt to defend
himself, and seemed, in his sudden terror, anything but the bold,
alert fellow who had ascended the stairs two minutes before. 'I
was a fool,' he groaned. 'I saw your man Simon here; and
Fanchette, who is as good as a man, was with her mistress. And I
went to stable the horses. I thought no evil. And now--My God!'
he added, suddenly straightening himself, while his face. grew
hard and grim, 'I am undone! My master will never forgive me!'

'Did you come straight here?' I said, considering that, after
all, he was no more in fault than I had been on a former
occasion.

'We went first to M. de Rosny's lodging,' he answered, 'where we
found your message telling us to come here. We came on without
dismounting.'

'Mademoiselle may have gone back, and be there,' I said. 'It is
possible. Do you stay here and keep a good look-out, and I will
go and see. Let one of your men come with me.'

He uttered a brief assent; being a man as ready to take as to
give orders, and thankful now for any suggestion which held out a
hope of mademoiselle's safety. Followed by the servant he
selected, I ran down the stairs, and in a moment was hurrying
along the Rue St. Denys. The day was waning. The narrow streets
and alleys were already dark, but the air of excitement which I
had noticed in the morning still marked the townsfolk, of whom a
great number were strolling abroad, or standing in doorways
talking to their gossips. Feverishly anxious as I was, I
remarked the gloom which dwelt on all faces; but as I set it
down. to the king's approaching departure, and besides was
intent on seeing that those we sought did not by any chance pass
us in the crowd, I thought little of it. Five minutes' walking
brought us to M. de Rosny's lodging. There I knocked at the
door; impatiently, I confess, and with little hope of success.
But, to my surprise, barely an instant elapsed before the door
opened, and I saw before me Simon Fleix!

Discovering who it was, he cowered back, with a terrified face,
and retreated to the wall with his arm raised.

'You scoundrel!' I exclaimed, restraining myself with
difficulty. 'Tell me this moment where Mademoiselle de la Vire
is! Or, by Heaven, I shall forget what my mother owed to you,
and do you a mischief!'

For an instant he glared at me viciously, with all his teeth
exposed, as though he meant to refuse--and more. Then he thought
better of it, and, raising his hand, pointed sulkily upwards.

'Go before me and knock at the door,' I said, tapping the hilt of
my dagger with meaning.

Cowed by my manner, he obeyed, and led the way to the room in
which M. de Rambouillet had surprised us on a former occasion.
Here he stopped at the door and knocked gently; on which a sharp
voice inside bade us enter. I raised the latch and did so,
closing the door behind me.

Mademoiselle, still wearing her riding-coat, sat in a chair
before the hearth, on which a newly kindled fire sputtered and
smoked. She had her back to me, and did not turn on my entrance,
but continued to toy in an absent manner with the strings of the
mask which lay in her lap. Fanchette stood bolt upright behind
her, with her elbows squared and her hands clasped; in such an
attitude that I guessed the maid had been expressing her strong
dissatisfaction with this latest whim of her mistress, and
particularly with mademoiselle's imprudence in wantonly exposing
herself, with so inadequate a guard as Simon, in a place where
she had already suffered so much. I was confirmed in this notion
on seeing the woman's harsh countenance clear at sight of me;
though the churlish nod, which was all the greeting she bestowed
on me, seemed to betoken anything but favour or good-will. She
touched her mistress on the shoulder, however, and said, 'M. de
Marsac is here.'

Mademoiselle turned her head and looked at me languidly, without
stirring in her chair or removing the foot she, was warming.
'Good evening,' she said.

The greeting seemed so brief and so commonplace, ignoring, as it
did, both the pains and anxiety to which she had just put me and
the great purpose for which we were here--to say nothing of that
ambiguous parting which she must surely remember as well as I--
that the words I had prepared died on my lips, and I looked at
her in honest confusion. All her small face was pale except her
lips. Her brow was dark, her eyes were hard as well as weary.
And not words only failed me as I looked at her, but anger;
having mounted the stairs hot foot to chide, I felt on a sudden
--despite my new cloak and scabbard, my appointment, and the
same I had made at Court--the same consciousness of age; and
shabbiness and poverty which had possessed me in her presence
from the beginning. I muttered, 'Good evening, mademoiselle,'
and that was all I could say--I who had frightened the burly
Maignan a few minutes before!

Seeing, I have no doubt, the effect she produced on me, she
maintained for some time an embarrassing silence. At length she
said, frigidly, 'Perhaps M. de Marsac will sit, Fanchette. Place
a chair for him. I am afraid, however, that after his successes
at Court he may find our reception somewhat cold. But we are
only from the country,' she added, looking at me askance, with a
gleam of anger in her eyes.

I thanked her huskily, saying that I would not sit, as I could
not stay. 'Simon Fleix,' I continued, finding my voice with
difficulty, 'has, I am afraid, caused you some trouble by
bringing you to this house instead of telling you that I had made
preparation for you at my lodgings.'

'It was not Simon Fleix's fault,' she replied curtly. 'I prefer
these rooms. They are more convenient.'

'They are, perhaps, more convenient,' I rejoined humbly, 'But I
have to think of safety, mademoiselle, as you know. At my house
I have a competent guard, and can answer for your being
unmolested.'

'You can send your guard here,' she said with a royal air.

'But, mademoiselle--'

'Is it not enough that I have said that I prefer these rooms?'
she replied sharply, dropping her mask on her lap and looking
round at me in undisguised displeasure. 'Are you deaf, sir? Let
me tell you, I am in no mood for argument. I am tired with
riding. I prefer these rooms, and that is enough!'

Nothing could exceed the determination with which she said these
words, unless it were the malicious pleasure in thwarting my
wishes which made itself seen through the veil of assumed
indifference. I felt myself brought up with a vengeance, and in
a manner the most provoking that could be conceived. But
opposition so childish, so utterly wanton, by exciting my
indignation, had presently the effect of banishing the peculiar
bashfulness I felt in her presence, and recalling me to my duty.

'Mademoiselle,' I said firmly, looking at her with a fixed
countenance, 'pardon me if I speak plainly. This is no time for
playing with straws. The men from whom you escaped once are as
determined and more desperate now. By this time they probably
know of your arrival. Do, then, as I ask, I pray and beseech
you. Or this time I may lack the power, though never the will,
to save you.'

Wholly ignoring my appeal, she looked into my face--for by this
time I had advanced to her side--with a whimsical smile. 'You
are really much improved in manner since I last saw you,' she
said.

'Mademoiselle!' I replied, baffled and repelled. 'What do you
mean?'

'What I say,' she answered, flippantly. 'But it was to be
expected.'

'For shame!' I cried, provoked almost beyond bearing by her ill-
timed raillery, 'will you never be serious until you have ruined
us and yourself? I tell you this house is not safe for you! It
is not safe for me! I cannot bring my men to it, for there is
not room for them. If you have any spark of consideration, of
gratitude, therefore--'

'Gratitude!' she exclaimed, swinging her mask slowly to and fro
by a ribbon, while she looked up at me as though my excitement
amused her. 'Gratitude--'tis a very pretty phrase, and means
much; but it is for those who serve us faithfully, M. de Marsac,
and not for others. You receive so many favours, I am told, and
are so successful at Court, that I should not be justified in
monopolising your services.'

'But, mademoiselle--' I said in a low tone. And there I stopped.
I dared not proceed.

'Well, sir,' she answered, looking up at she after a moment's
silence, and ceasing on a sudden to play with her toy, 'what is
it?'

'You spoke of favours,' I continued, with an effort. 'I never
received but one from a lady. That was at Rosny, and from your
hand.'

'From my hand?' she answered, with an air of cold surprise.

'It was so, mademoiselle.'

'You have fallen into some strange mistake, sir,' she replied,
rousing herself, and looking at me indifferently 'I never gave
you a favour.'

I bowed low. 'If you say you did not, mademoiselle, that is
enough,' I answered.

'Nay, but do not let me do you an injustice, M. de Marsac,' she
rejoined, speaking more quickly and in an altered tone. 'If you
can show me the favour I gave you, I shall, of course, be
convinced. Seeing is believing, you know,' she added, with a
light nervous laugh, and a gesture of something like shyness.

If I had not sufficiently regretted my carelessness, and loss of
the bow at the time, I did so now. I looked at her in silence,
and saw her face, that had for a moment shown signs of feeling,
almost of shame, grow slowly hard again.

'Well, sir?' she said impatiently. 'The proof is easy.'

'It was taken from me; I believe, by M. de Rosny,' I answered
lamely, wondering what ill-luck had led her to put the question
and press it to this point.

'It was taken from you!' she exclaimed, rising and confronting
me with the utmost suddenness, while her eyes flashed, and her
little hand crumpled the mask beyond future usefulness. 'It was
taken from you, sir!' she repeated, her voice and her whole
frame trembling with anger and disdain. 'Then I thank you, I
prefer my version. Yours is impossible. For let me tell you,
when Mademoiselle de la Vire does confer a favour, it will be on
a man with the power and the wit--and the constancy, to keep it,
even from M. de Rosny!'

Her scorn hurt, though it did not anger me. I felt it to be in a
measure deserved, and raged against myself rather than against
her. But aware through all of the supreme importance of placing
her in safety, I subjected my immediate feelings to the
exigencies of the moment and stooped to an argument which would,
I thought, have weight though private pleading failed.

'Putting myself aside, mademoiselle,' I said, with more formality
than I had yet used, 'there is one consideration which must weigh
with you. The king--'

'The king!' she cried, interrupting me violently, her face hot
with passion and her whole person instinct with stubborn self-
will. 'I shall not see the king!'

'You will not see the king?' I repeated in amazement.

'No, I will not!' she answered, in a whirl of anger, scorn, and
impetuosity. 'There! I will not! I have been made a toy and a
tool long enough, M. de Marsac,' she continued, 'and I will serve
others' ends no more. I have made up my mind. Do not talk to
me; you will do no good, sir. I would to Heaven,' she added
bitterly, 'I had stayed at Chize and never seen this place!'

'But, mademoiselle,' I said, 'you have not thought--'

'Thought!' she exclaimed, shutting her small white teeth so
viciously I all but recoiled. 'I have thought enough. I am sick
of thought. I am going to act now. I will be a puppet no
longer. You may take me to the castle by force if you will; but
you cannot make me speak.'

I looked at her in the utmost dismay, and astonishment; being
unable at first to believe that a woman who had gone through so
much, had run so many risks, and ridden so many miles for a
purpose, would, when all was done and the hour come, decline to
carry out her plan. I could not believe it, I say, at first; and
I tried arguments, and entreaties without stint, thinking that
she only asked to be entreated or coaxed.

But I found prayers and even threats breath wasted upon her; and
beyond these I would not go. I know I have been blamed by some
and ridiculed by others for not pushing the matter farther; but
those who have stood face to face with a woman of spirit--a woman
whose very frailty and weakness fought for her--will better
understand the difficulties with which I had to contend and the
manner in which conviction was at last borne in on my mind. I
had never before confronted stubbornness of this kind. As
mademoiselle said again and again, I might force her to Court,
but I could not make her speak.

When I had tried every means of persuasion, and still found no
way of overcoming her resolution the while Fanchette looked on
with a face of wood, neither aiding me nor taking part against
me--I lost, I confess, in the chagrin of the moment that sense of
duty which had hitherto animated me; and though my relation to
mademoiselle should have made me as careful as ever of her
safety, even in her own despite, I left her at last in anger and
went out without saying another word about removing her--a thing
which was still in my power. I believe a very brief reflection
would have recalled me to myself and my duty; but the opportunity
was not given me, for I had scarcely reached the head of the
stairs before Fanchette came after me, and called to me in a
whisper to stop.

She held a taper in her hand, and this she raised to my face,
smiling at the disorder which she doubtless read there. 'Do you
say that this house is not safe?' she asked abruptly, lowering
the light as she spoke.

'You have tried a house in Blois before?' I replied with the
same bluntness. 'You should know as well as I, woman.'

'She must be taken from here, then,' she answered, nodding her
head, cunningly. 'I can persuade her. Do you send for your
people, and be here in half an hour. It may take me that time to
wheedle her. But I shall do it.'

'Then listen,' I said eagerly, seizing the opportunity and her
sleeve and drawing her farther from the door. 'If you can
persuade her to that, you can persuade to all I wish. Listen, my
friend,' I continued, sinking my voice still lower. 'If she will
see the king for only ten minutes, and tell him what she knows, I
will give you--'

'What?' the woman asked suddenly and harshly, drawing at the
same time her sleeve from my hand.

'Fifty crowns,' I replied, naming in my desperation a sum which
would seem a fortune to a person in her position. 'Fifty crowns
down, the moment the interview is over.'

'And for that you would have me sell her!' the woman cried with
a rude intensity of passion which struck me like a blow. 'For
shame! For shame, man! You persuaded her to leave her home and
her friends, and the country where she was known; and now you
would have me sell her! Shame on you! Go!' she added
scornfully. 'Go this instant and get your men. The king, say
you? The king! I tell you I would not have her finger ache to
save all your kings!'

She flounced away with that, and I retired crestfallen; wondering
much at the fidelity which Providence, doubtless for the well-
being of the gentle, possibly for the good of all, has implanted
in the humble. Finding Simon, to whom I had scarce patience to
speak, waiting on the stairs below, I despatched him to Maignan,
to bid him come to me with his men. Meanwhile I watched the
house myself until their arrival, and then, going up, found that
Fanchette had been as good as her word. Mademoiselle, with a
sullen mien, and a red spot on either cheek, consented to
descend, and, preceded by a couple of links, which Maignan had
thoughtfully provided, was escorted safely to my lodgings; where
I bestowed her in the rooms below my own, which I had designed
for her.

At the door she turned and bowed to me, her face on fire.

'So far, sir, you have got your way,' she said, breathing
quickly. 'Do not flatter yourself, however, that you will get it
farther--even by bribing my woman!'

CHAPTER XXIII.

THE LAST VALOIS.

I stood for a few moments on the stairs, wondering what I should
do in an emergency to which the Marquis's message of the
afternoon attached so pressing a character. Had it not been for
that I might have waited until morning, and felt tolerably
certain of finding mademoiselle in a more reasonable mood then.

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