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A Gentleman of France by Stanley Weyman

Part 8 out of 9

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The latter lifted his head haughtily on finding himself addressed
by a stranger, but did not offer to answer. Someone else did,
however, for a sudden bellow like that of an enraged bull
proceeded from behind the settle. The words were lost in noise,
the unseen speaker's anger seeming so overpowering that he could
not articulate; but the tone and voice, which were in some way
familiar to me, proved enough for the bully, who, covering his
retreat with a profound bow, backed out rapidly, muttering what
was doubtless an apology. Cocking his hat more fiercely to make
up for this repulse, he next proceeded to patrol the room,
scowling from side to side as he went, with the evident intention
of picking a quarrel with someone less formidable.

By ill-chance his eye lit, as he turned, on our masks. He said
something to his companions; and encouraged, no doubt, by the
position of our seats at the board, which led him to think us
people of small consequence, he came to a stop opposite us.

'What! more dukes here?' he cried scoffingly. 'Hallo, you
sir!' he continued to me, 'will you not unmask and drink a glass
with me?'

I thanked him civilly, but declined.

His insolent eyes were busy, while I spoke, with madame's fair
hair and handsome figure, which her mask failed to hide.
'Perhaps the ladies will have better taste, sir,' he said rudely.
'Will they not honour us with a sight of their pretty faces?'

Knowing the importance of keeping my temper I put constraint on
myself, and answered, still with civility, that they were greatly
fatigued and were about to retire.

'Zounds!' he cried, 'that is not to be borne. If we are to lose
them so soon, the more reason we should enjoy their BEAUX YEUX
while we can. A short life and a merry one, sir. This is not a
nunnery, nor, I dare swear, are your fair friends nuns.'

Though I longed to chastise him for this insult, I feigned
deafness, and went on with my meal as if I had not heard him; and
the table being between us prevented him going beyond words.
After he had uttered one or two coarse jests of a similar
character, which cost us less as we were masked, and our emotions
could only be guessed, the crowd about us, seeing I took the
thing quietly, began to applaud him; but more as it seemed to me
out of fear than love. In this opinion I was presently confirmed
on hearing from Simon who whispered the information in my ear as
he handed a dish--that the fellow was an Italian captain in the
king's pay, famous for his skill with the sword and the many
duels in which he had displayed it.

Mademoiselle, though she did not know this, bore with his
insolence with a patience which astonished me; while madame
appeared unconscious of it. Nevertheless, I was glad when he
retired and left us in peace. I seized the moment of his absence
to escort the ladies through the room and upstairs to their
apartment, the door of which I saw locked and secured. That done
I breathed more freely; and feeling thankful that I had been able
to keep my temper, took the episode to be at an end.

But in this I was mistaken, as I found when I returned to the
room in which we had supped, my intention being to go through it
to the stables. I had not taken two paces across the floor
before I found my road blocked by the Italian, and read alike in
his eyes and in the faces of the company--of whom many hastened
to climb the tables to see what passed--that the meeting was
premeditated. The man's face was flushed with wine; proud of his
many victories, he eyed me with a boastful contempt my patience
had perhaps given him the right to feel.

'Ha! well met, sir,' he said, sweeping the floor with his cap in
an exaggeration of respect, 'now, perhaps, your high-mightiness
will condescend to unmask? The table is no longer between us,
nor are your fair friends here to protect their CHER AMI!'

'If I still refuse, sir,' I said civilly, wavering between anger
and prudence, and hoping still to avoid a quarrel which might
endanger us all, 'be good enough to attribute it to private
motives, and to no desire to disoblige you.'

'No, I do not think you wish to disoblige me,' he answered,
laughing scornfully--and a dozen voices echoed the gibe. 'But
for your private motives, the devil take them! Is that plain
enough, sir?'

'It is plain enough to show me that you are an ill-bred man!' I
answered, choler getting the better of me. 'Let me pass, sir.'

'Unmask!' he retorted, moving so as still to detain me, 'or
shall I call in the grooms to perform the office for you?'

Seeing at last that all my attempts to evade the man only fed his
vanity, and encouraged him to further excesses, and that the
motley crowd, who filled the room and already formed a circle
round us, had made up their minds to see sport, I would no longer
balk them; I could no longer do it, indeed, with honour. I
looked round, therefore, for someone whom I might enlist as my
second, but I saw no one with whom I had the least acquaintance.
The room was lined from table to ceiling with mocking faces and
scornful eyes all turned to me.

My opponent saw the look, and misread it; being much accustomed,
I imagine, to a one-sided battle. He laughed contemptuously.
'No, my friend, there is no way out of it,' he said. 'Let me see
your pretty face, or fight.'

'So be it,' I said quietly. 'If I have no other choice, I will
fight.'

'In your mask?' he cried incredulously.

'Yes,' I said sternly, feeling every nerve tingle with long-
suppressed rage. 'I will fight as I am. Off with your back and
breast, if you are a man. And I will so deal with you that if
you see to-morrow's sun you shall need a mask for the rest of
your days!'

'Ho! ho!' he answered, scowling at me in surprise, 'you sing in
a different key now. But I will put a term to it. There is
space enough between these tables, if you can use your weapon;
and much more than you will need to-morrow.'

'To-morrow will show,' I retorted.

Without more ado he unfastened the buckles of his breast-piece,
and relieving himself of it, stepped back a pace. Those of the
bystanders who occupied the part of the room he indicated--a
space bounded by four tables, and not unfit for the purpose,
though somewhat confined--hastened to get out of it, and seize
instead upon neighbouring posts of 'vantage. The man's
reputation was such, and his fame so great, that on all sides I
heard naught but wagers offered against me at odds; but this
circumstance, which might have flurried a younger man and numbed
his arm, served only to set me on making the most of such
openings as the fellow's presumption and certainty of success
would be sure to afford.

The news of the challenge running through the house had brought
together by this time so many people as to fill the room from end
to end, and even to obscure the light, which was beginning to
wane. At the last moment, when we were on the point of engaging,
a slight commotion marked the admission to the front of three or
four persons, whose consequence or attendants gained them this
advantage. I believed them to be the party of four I have
mentioned, but at the time I could not be certain.

In the few seconds of waiting while this went forward I examined
our relative positions with the fullest intention of killing the
man--whose glittering eyes and fierce smile filled me with a
loathing which was very nearly hatred--if I could. The line of
windows lay to my right and his left. The evening light fell
across us, whitening the row of faces on my left, but leaving
those on my right in shadow. It occurred to me on the instant
that my mask was actually an advantage, seeing that it protected
my sight from the side-light, and enabled me to watch his eyes
and point with more concentration.

'You will be the twenty-third man I have killed!' he said
boastfully, as we crossed swords and stood an instant on guard.

'Take care!' I answered. 'You have twenty-three against you!'

A swift lunge was his only answer. I parried it, and thrust, and
we fell to work. We had not exchanged half a dozen blows,
however, before I saw that I should need all the advantage which
my mask and greater caution gave me. I had met my match, and it
might be something more; but that for a time it was impossible to
tell. He had the longer weapon, and I the longer reach. He
preferred the point, after the new Italian fashion, and I the
blade. He was somewhat flushed with wine, while my arm had
scarcely recovered the strength of which illness had deprived me.

On the other hand, excited at the first by the cries of his
backers, he played rather wildly; while I held myself prepared,
and keeping up a strong guard, waited cautiously for any opening
or mistake on his part.

The crowd round us, which had hailed our first passes with noisy
cries of derision and triumph, fell silent after a while,
surprised and taken aback by their champion's failure to spit me
at the first onslaught. My reluctance to engage had led them to
predict a short fight and an easy victory.

Convinced of the contrary, they began to watch each stroke with
bated breath; or now and again, muttering the name of Jarnac,
broke into brief exclamations as a blow more savage than usual
drew sparks from our blades, and made the rafters ring with the
harsh grinding of steel on steel.

The surprise of the crowd, however, was a small thing compared
with that of my adversary. Impatience, disgust, rage and doubt
chased one another in turn across his flushed features.
Apprised that he had to do with a swordsman, he put forth all
his power. With spite in his eyes he laboured blow on blow, he
tried one form of attack after another, he found me equal, if
barely equal, to all. And then at last there came a change. The
perspiration gathered on his brow, the silence disconcerted him;
he felt his strength failing under the strain, and suddenly, I
think, the possibility of defeat and death, unthought of before,
burst upon him. I heard him groan, and for a moment he fenced
wildly. Then he again recovered himself. But now I read terror
in his eyes, and knew that the moment of retribution was at hand.
With his back to the table, and my point threatening his breast,
he knew at last what those others had felt!

He would fain have stopped to breathe, but I would not let him
though my blows also were growing feeble, and my guard weaker;
for I knew that if I gave him time to recover himself he would
have recourse to other tricks, and might out-manoeuvre me in the
end. As it was, my black unchanging mask, which always
confronted him, which hid all emotions and veiled even fatigue,
had grown to be full of terror to him--full of blank, passionless
menace. He could not tell how I fared, or what I thought, or how
my strength stood. Superstitious dread was on him, and
threatened, to overpower him. Ignorant who I was or whence I
came, he feared and doubted, grappling with monstrous suspicions,
which the fading light encouraged. His face broke out in
blotches, his breath came and went in gasps, his eyes began to
protrude. Once or twice they quitted mine for a part of a second
to steal a despairing glance at the rows of onlookers that ran to
right and left of us. But he read no pity there.

At last the end came--more suddenly than I had looked for it, but
I think he was unnerved. His hand lost its grip of the hilt, and
a parry which I dealt a little more briskly than usual sent the
weapon flying among the crowd, as much to my astonishment as to
that of the spectators. A volley of oaths and exclamations
hailed the event; and for a moment I stood at gaze, eyeing him
watchfully. He shrank back; then he made for a moment as if he
would fling himself upon me dagger in hand. But seeing my point
steady, he recoiled a second time, his face distorted with rage
and fear.

'Go!' I said sternly. 'Begone! Follow your sword! But spare
the next man you conquer.'

He stared at me, fingering his dagger as if he did not
understand, or as if in the bitterness of his shame at being so
defeated even life were unwelcome. I was about to repeat my
words when a heavy hand fell on my shoulder.

'Fool!' a harsh growling voice muttered in my ear. 'Do you want
him to serve you as Achon served Matas? This is the way to deal
with him.'

And before I knew who spoke or what to expect a man vaulted over
the table beside me. Seizing the Italian by the neck and waist,
he flung him bodily--without paying the least regard to his
dagger--into the crowd. 'There!' the new-comer cried,
stretching his arms as if the effort had relieved him, 'so much
for him! And do you breathe yourself. Breathe yourself, my
friend,' he continued with a vain-glorious air of generosity.
'When you are rested and ready, you and I will have a bout. Mon
dieu! what a thing it is to see a man! And by my faith you are
a man!'

'But, sir,' I said, staring at him in the utmost bewilderment,
'we have no quarrel.'

'Quarrel?' he cried in his loud, ringing voice. 'Heaven forbid!
Why should we? I love a man, however, and when I see one I say
to him, "I am Crillon! Fight me!" But I see you are not yet
rested. Patience! There is no hurry. Berthon de Crillon is
proud to wait your convenience. In the meantime, gentlemen,' he
continued, turning with a grand air to the spectators, who viewed
this sudden BOULEVERSEMENT with unbounded surprise, 'let us do
what we can. Take the word from me, and cry all, "VIVE LE ROI,
ET VIVE L'INCONNU!"'

Like people awaking from a dream--so great was their astonishment
the company complied and with the utmost heartiness. When the
shout died away, someone cried in turn, 'Vive Crillon!' and this
was honoured with a fervour which brought the tears to the eyes
of that remarkable man, in whom bombast was so strangely combined
with the firmest and most reckless courage. He bowed again and
again, turning himself about in the small space between the
tables, while his face shone with pleasure and enthusiasm.
Meanwhile I viewed him with perplexity. I comprehended that it
was his voice I had heard behind the settle; but I had neither
the desire to fight him nor so great a reserve of strength after
my illness as to be able to enter on a fresh contest with
equanimity. When he turned to me, therefore, and again asked,
'Well, sir, are you ready?' I could think of no better answer
than that I had already made to him, 'But, sir, I have no quarrel
with you.'

'Tut, tut!' he answered querulously, 'if that is all, let us
engage.'

'That is not all, however,' I said, resolutely putting up my
sword. 'I have not only no quarrel with M. de Crillon, but I
received at his hands when I last saw him a considerable
service.'

'Then now is the time to return it,' he answered. briskly, and
as if that settled the matter.

I could not refrain from laughing. 'Nay, but I have still an
excuse,' I said. 'I am barely recovered from an illness, and am
weak. Even so, I should be loth to decline a combat with some;
but a better man than I may give the wall to M. de Crillon and
suffer no disgrace.'

'Oh, if you put it that way--enough said,' he answered in a tone
of disappointment. 'And, to be sure, the light is almost gone.
That is a comfort. But you will not refuse to drink a cup of
wine with me? Your voice I remember, though I cannot say who you
are or what service I did you. For the future, however, count on
me. I love a man who is brave as well as modest, and know no
better friend than a stout swordsman.'

I was answering him in fitting terms--while the fickle crowd,
which a few minutes earlier had been ready to tear me, viewed us
from a distance with respectful homage--when the masked gentleman
who had before been in his company drew near and saluted me with
much stateliness.

'I congratulate you, sir,' he said, in the easy tone of a great
man condescending. 'You use the sword as few use it, and fight
with your head as well as your hands. Should you need a friend
or employment, you will honour me by remembering that you are
known to the Vicomte de Turenne.'

I bowed low to hide the start which the mention of his name
caused me. For had I tried, ay, and possessed to aid me all the
wit of M. de Brantome, I could have imagined nothing more
fantastic than this meeting; or more entertaining than that I,
masked, should talk with the Vicomte de Turenne masked, and hear
in place of reproaches and threats of vengeance a civil offer of
protection. Scarcely knowing whether I should laugh or tremble,
or which should occupy me more, the diverting thing that had
happened or the peril we had barely escaped, I made shift to
answer him, craving his indulgence if I still preserved my
incognito. Even while I spoke a fresh fear assailed me: lest M.
de Crillon, recognising my voice or figure, should cry my name on
the spot, and explode in a moment the mine on which we stood.

This rendered me extremely impatient to be gone. But M. le
Vicomte had still something to say, and I could not withdraw
myself without rudeness.

'You are travelling north like everyone else?' he said, gazing
at me curiously. 'May I ask whether you are for Meudon, where
the King of Navarre lies, or for the Court at St. Cloud?'

I muttered, moving restlessly under his keen eyes, that I was for
Meudon.

'Then, if you care to travel with a larger company,' he rejoined,
bowing with negligent courtesy, 'pray command me. I am for
Meudon also, and shall leave here three hours before noon.'

Fortunately he took my assent to his gracious invitation for
granted, and turned away before I had well begun to thank him.
From Crillon I found it more difficult to escape. He appeared to
have conceived a great fancy for me, and felt also, I imagine,
some curiosity as to my identity. But I did even this at last,
and, evading the obsequious offers which were made me on all
sides, escaped to the stables, where I sought out the Cid's
stall, and lying down in the straw beside him, began to review
the past, and plan the future. Under cover of the darkness sleep
soon came to me; my last waking thoughts being divided between
thankfulness for my escape and a steady purpose to reach Meudon
before the Vicomte, so that I might make good my tale in his
absence. For that seemed to be my only chance of evading the
dangers I had chosen to encounter.

CHAPTER XXXIII.

AT MEUDON.

Making so early a start from Etampes that the inn, which had
continued in an uproar till long after midnight, lay sunk in
sleep when we rode out of the yard, we reached Meudon about noon
next day. I should be tedious were I to detail what thoughts my
mistress and I had during that day's journey--the last, it might
be, which we should take together; or what assurances we gave one
another, or how often we, repented the impatience which had
impelled us to put all to the touch. Madame, with kindly
forethought, detached herself from us, and rode the greater part
of the distance with Fanchette; but the opportunities she gave us
went for little; for, to be plain, the separation we dreaded
seemed to overshadow us already. We uttered few words, through
those few were to the purpose, but riding hand-in-hand, with full
hearts, and eyes which seldom quitted one another, looked forward
to Meudon and its perils with such gloomy forebodings as our love
and my precarious position suggested.

Long before we reached the town, or could see more of it than the
Chateau, over which the Lilies of France and the broad white
banner of the Bourbons floated in company, we found ourselves
swept into the whirlpool which surrounds an army. Crowds stood
at all the cross-roads, wagons and sumpter-mules encumbered the
bridges; each moment a horseman passed us at a gallop, or a troop
of disorderly rogues, soldiers only in name, reeled, shouting and
singing, along the road. Here and there, for a warning to the
latter sort, a man, dangled on a rude gallows; under which
sportsmen returning from the chase and ladies who had been for an
airing rode laughing on their way.

Amid the multitude entering the town we passed unnoticed. A
little way within the walls we halted to inquire where the
Princess of Navarre had her lodging. Hearing that she occupied a
house in the town, while her brother had his quarters in the
Chateau, and the King of France at St. Cloud, I stayed my party
in a by-road, a hundred paces farther on, and, springing from the
Cid, went to my mistress's knee.

'Mademoiselle,' I said formally, and so loudly that all my men
might hear, 'the time is come. I dare not go farther with you.
I beg you, therefore, to bear me witness that as I took you so I
have brought you back, and both with your good-will. I beg that
you will give me this quittance, for it may serve me.'

She bowed her head and laid her ungloved hand on mine, which I
had placed on, the pommel of her saddle. 'Sir,' she answered in
a broken voice, 'I will not give you this quittance, nor any
quittance from me while I live.' With that she took off her mask
before them all, and I saw the tears running down her white face.
'May God protect you, M. de Marsac,' she continued, stooping
until her face almost touched mine, 'and bring you to the thing
you desire. If not, sir, and you pay too dearly for what you
have done for me, I will live a maiden all my days. And, if I do
not, these men may shame me!'

My heart was too full for words, but I took the glove she held
out to me, and kissed her hand with my knee bent. Then I waved--
for I could not speak--to madame to proceed; and with Simon Fleix
and Maignan's men to guard them they went on their way.
Mademoiselle's white face looked back to me until a bend in the
road hid them, and I saw them no more.

I turned when all were gone, and going heavily to where my Sard
stood with his head drooping, I climbed to the saddle, and rode
at a foot-pace towards the Chateau. The way was short and easy,
for the next turning showed me the open gateway and a crowd about
it. A vast number of people were entering and leaving, while
others rested in the shade of the wall, and a dozen grooms led
horses up and down. The sunshine fell hotly on the road and the
courtyard, and flashed back by the cuirasses of the men on guard,
seized the eye and dazzled it with gleams of infinite brightness.
I was advancing alone, gazing at all this with a species of dull
indifference which masked for the moment the suspense I felt at
heart, when a man, coming on foot along the street, crossed
quickly to me and looked me in the face.

I returned his look, and seeing he was a stranger to me, was for
passing on without pausing. But he wheeled beside me and uttered
my name in a low voice.

I checked the Cid and looked down at him. 'Yes,' I said
mechanically, 'I am M. de Marsac. But I do not know you.'

'Nevertheless I have been watching for you for three days,' he
replied. 'M. de Rosny received your message. This is for you.'

He handed me a scrap of paper. 'From whom?' I asked.

'Maignan,' he answered briefly. And with that, and a stealthy
look round, he left me, and went the way he had been going
before.

I tore open the note, and knowing that Maignan could not write,
was not surprised to find that it lacked any signature. The
brevity of its contents vied with the curtness of its bearer.
'In Heaven's name go back and wait,' it ran. 'Your enemy is
here, and those who wish you well are powerless.'

A warning so explicit, and delivered under such circumstances,
might have been expected to make me pause even then. But I read
the message with the same dull indifference, the same dogged
resolve with which the sight of the crowded gateway before me had
inspired me. I had not come so far and baffled Turenne by an
hour to fail in my purpose at the last; nor given such pledges to
another to prove false to myself. Moreover, the distant rattle
of musketry, which went to show that a skirmish was taking place
on the farther side of the Castle, seemed an invitation to me to
proceed; for now, if ever, my sword might earn protection and a
pardon. Only in regard to M. de Rosny, from whom I had no doubt
that the message came, I resolved to act with prudence; neither
making any appeal to him in public nor mentioning his name to
others in private.

The Cid had borne me by this time into the middle of the throng
about the gateway, who, wondering to see a stranger of my
appearance arrive without attendants, eyed me with a mixture of
civility and forwardness. I recognised more than one man whom I
had seen about the Court at St. Jean d'Angely six months before;
but so great is the disguising power of handsome clothes and
equipments that none of these knew me. I beckoned to the
nearest, and asked him if the King of Navarre was in the Chateau.

'He has gone to see the King of France at St. Cloud,' the man
answered, with something of wonder that anyone should be ignorant
of so important a fact. 'He is expected here in an hour.'

I thanked him, and calculating that I should still have time and
to spare before the arrival of M. de Turenne, I dismounted, and
taking the rein over my arm, began to walk up and down in the
shade of the wall. Meanwhile the loiterers increased in numbers
as the minutes passed. Men of better standing rode up, and,
leaving their horses in charge of their lackeys, went into the
Chateau. Officers in shining corslets, or with boots and
scabbards dulled with dust, arrived and clattered in through the
gates. A messenger galloped up with letters, and was instantly
surrounded by a curious throng of questioners; who left him only
to gather about the next comers, a knot of townsfolk, whose
downcast visages and glances of apprehension seemed to betoken no
pleasant or easy mission.

Watching many of these enter and disappear, while only the
humbler sort remained to swell the crowd at the gate, I began to
experience the discomfort and impatience which are the lot of the
man who finds himself placed in a false position. I foresaw with
clearness the injury I was about to do my cause by presenting
myself to the king among the common herd; and yet I had no choice
save to do this, for I dared not run the risk of entering, lest I
should be required to give my name, and fail to see the King of
Navarre at all.

As it was I came very near to being foiled in this way; for I
presently recognised, and was recognised in turn, by a gentleman
who rode up to the gates and, throwing his reins to a groom,
dismounted with an air of immense gravity. This was M. Forget,
the king's secretary, and the person to whom I had on a former
occasion presented a petition. He looked at me with eyes of
profound astonishment, and saluting me stiffly from a distance,
seemed in two minds whether he should pass in or speak to me. On
second thoughts, however, he came towards me, and again saluted
me with a peculiarly dry and austere aspect.

'I believe, sir, I am speaking to M. de Marsac?' he said in a
low voice, but not impolitely.

I replied in the affirmative.

'And that, I conclude, is your horse?' he continued, raising his
cane, and pointing to the Cid, which I had fastened to a hook in
the wall.

I replied again in the affirmative.

'Then take a word of advice,' he answered, screwing up his
features, and speaking in a dry sort of way. 'Get upon its back
without an instant's delay, and put as many leagues between
yourself and Meudon as horse and man may.'

'I am obliged to you,' I said, though I was greatly startled by
his words. 'And what if I do not take your advice?'

He shrugged his shoulders. 'In that case look to yourself!' he
retorted. 'But you will look in vain!'

He turned on his heel, as he spoke, and in a moment was gone. I
watched him enter the Chateau, and in the uncertainty which
possessed me whether he was not gone--after salving his
conscience by giving me warning--to order my instant arrest, I
felt, and I doubt not I looked, as ill at ease for the time being
as the group of trembling townsfolk who stood near me.
Reflecting that he should know his master's mind, I recalled with
depressing clearness the repeated warnings the King of Navarre
had given me that I must not look to him for reward or
protection. I bethought me that I was here against his express
orders: presuming on those very services which he had given me
notice he should repudiate. I remembered that Rosny had always
been in the same tale. And in fine I began to see that
mademoiselle and I had together decided on a step which I should
never have presumed to take on my own motion.

I had barely arrived at this conclusion when the trampling of
hoofs and a sudden closing in of the crowd round the gate
announced the King of Navarre's approach. With a sick heart I
drew nearer, feeling that the crisis was at hand; and in a moment
he came in sight, riding beside an elderly man, plainly dressed
and mounted, with whom he was carrying on an earnest
conversation. A train of nobles and gentlemen, whose martial air
and equipments made up for the absence of the gewgaws and
glitter, to which my eyes had become accustomed at Blois,
followed close on his heels. Henry himself wore a suit of white
velvet, frayed in places and soiled by his armour; but his quick
eye and eager, almost fierce, countenance could not fail to win
and keep the attention of the least observant. He kept glancing
from side to side as he came on; and that with so cheerful an air
and a carriage so full at once of dignity and good-humour that no
one could look on him and fail to see that here was a leader and
a prince of men, temperate in victory and unsurpassed in defeat.

The crowd raising a cry of 'VIVE NAVARRE!' as he drew near, he
bowed, with a sparkle in his eye. But when a few by the gate
cried 'VIVENT LES ROIS!' he held up his hand for silence, and
said in a loud, clear voice, 'Not that, my friends. There is but
one king in France. Let us say instead, "Vive le Roi!"'

The spokesman of the little group of townsfolk, who, I learned,
were from Arcueil, and had come to complain of the excessive
number of troops quartered upon them, took advantage of the pause
to approach him. Henry received the old man with a kindly look,
and bent from his saddle to hear what he had to say. While they
were talking I pressed forward, the emotion I felt on my own
account heightened by my recognition of the man who rode by the
King of Navarre--who was no other than M. de la Noue. No
Huguenot worthy of the name could look on the veteran who had
done and suffered more for the cause than any living man without
catching something of his stern enthusiasm; and the sight, while
it shamed me, who a moment before had been inclined to prefer my
safety to the assistance I owed my country, gave me courage to
step to the king's rein, so that I heard his last words to the
men of Arcueil.

'Patience, my friends,' he said kindly. 'The burden is heavy,
but the journey is a short one. The Seine is ours; the circle is
complete. In a week Paris must surrender. The king, my cousin,
will enter, and you will be rid of us. For France's sake one
week, my friends.'

The men fell back with low obeisances, charmed by his good-
nature, and Henry, looking up, saw me before him. In the instant
his jaw fell. His brow, suddenly contracting above eyes, which
flashed with surprise and displeasure, altered in a moment the
whole aspect of his face; which grew dark and stern as night.
His first impulse was to pass by me; but seeing that I held my
ground, he hesitated, so completely chagrined by my appearance
that he did not know how to act, or in what way to deal with me.
I seized the occasion, and bending my knee with as much respect
as I had ever used to the King of France, begged to bring myself
to his notice, and to crave his protection and favour.

'This is no time to trouble me, sir,' he retorted, eyeing me with
an angry side-glance. 'I do not know you. You are unknown to
me, sir. You must go to M. de Rosny.'

'It would be useless sire,' I answered, in desperate persistence.

'Then I can do nothing for you,' he rejoined peevishly. 'Stand
on one side, sir.'

But I was desperate. I knew that I had risked all on the event,
and must establish my footing before M. de Turenne's return, or
run the risk of certain recognition and vengeance. I cried out,
caring nothing who heard, that I was M. de Marsac, that I had
come back to meet whatever my enemies could allege against me.

'VENTRE SAINT GRIS!' Henry exclaimed, starting in his saddle
with well-feigned surprise. 'Are you that man?'

'I am, sire,' I answered.

'Then you must be mad!' he retorted, appealing to those behind
him. 'Stark, staring mad to show your face here! 'VENTRE SAINT
GRIS! Are we to have all the ravishers and plunderers in the
country come to us?'

'I am neither the one nor the other!' I answered, looking with
indignation from him to the gaping train behind him.

'That you will have to settle with M. de Turenne!' he retorted,
frowning down at me with his whole face turned gloomy and fierce.
'I know you well, sir, now. Complaint has been made that you
abducted a lady from his Castle of Chize some time back.'

'The lady, sire, is now in charge of the Princess of Navarre.'

'She is?' he exclaimed, quite taken aback.

'And if she has aught of complaint against me,' I continued with
pride,' I will submit to whatever punishment you order or M. de
Turenne demands. But if she has no complaint to make, and vows
that she accompanied me of her own free-will and accord, and has
suffered neither wrong nor displeasure at my hands, then, sire, I
claim that this is a private matter between myself and M. de
Turenne.'

'Even so I think you will have your hands full,' he answered
grimly. At the same time he stopped by a gesture those who would
have cried out upon me, and looked at me himself with an altered
countenance. 'Do I understand that you assert that the lady went
of her own accord?' he asked.

'She went and has returned, sire,' I answered.

'Strange!' he ejaculated. 'Have you married her?'

'No, sire,' I answered. 'I desire leave to do so.'

'Mon dieu! she is M. de Turenne's ward,' he rejoined, almost
dumbfounded by my audacity.

'I do not despair of obtaining his assent, sire,' I said
patiently.

'SAINT GRIS! the man is mad!' he cried, wheeling his horse and
facing his train with a gesture of the utmost wonder. 'It is the
strangest story I ever heard.'

'But somewhat more to the gentleman's credit than the lady's!'
one said with a smirk and a smile.

'A lie!' I cried, springing forward on the instant with a
boldness which astonished myself. 'She is as pure as your
Highness's sister! I swear it. That man lies in his teeth, and
I will maintain it.'

'Sir!' the King of Navarre cried, turning on me with the utmost
sternness, 'you forget yourself in my presence! Silence, and
beware another time how you let your tongue run on those above
you. You have enough trouble, let me tell you, on your hands
already.'

'Yet the man lies!' I answered doggedly, remembering Crillon and
his ways. 'And if he will do me the honour of stepping aside
with me, I will convince him of it!'

'VENTRE SAINT GRIS!' Henry replied, frowning, and dwelling on
each syllable of his favourite oath. 'Will you be silent, sir,
and let me think? Or must I order your instant arrest?'

'Surely that at least, sire,' a suave voice interjected. And
with that a gentleman pressed forward from the rest, and gaining
a place, of 'vantage by the King's side, shot at me a look of
extreme malevolence. 'My lord of Turenne will expect no less at
your Highness's hands,' he continued warmly. 'I beg you will
give the order on the spot, and hold this person to answer for
his misdeeds. M. de Turenne returns to-day. He should be here
now. I say again, sire, he will expect no less than this.'

The king, gazing at me with gloomy eyes, tugged at his
moustaches. Someone had motioned the common herd to stand back
out of hearing; at the same time the suite had moved up out of
curiosity and formed a half-circle; in the midst of which I stood
fronting the king, who had La Noue and the last speaker on either
hand. Perplexity and annoyance struggled for the mastery in his
face as he looked darkly down at me, his teeth showing through
his beard. Profoundly angered by my appearance, which he had
taken at first to be the prelude to disclosures which must detach
Turenne at a time when union was all-important, he had now ceased
to fear for himself; and perhaps saw something in the attitude I
adopted which appealed to his nature and sympathies.

'If the girl is really back,' he said at last, 'M. d'Aremburg, I
do-not see any reason why I should interfere. At present, at any
rate.'

'I think, sire, M. de Turenne will see reason,' the gentleman
answered drily.

The king coloured. 'M. de Turenne,' he began,

'Has made many sacrifices at your request, sire,' the other said
with meaning. 'And buried some wrongs, or fancied wrongs, in
connection with this very matter. This person has outraged him
in the grossest manner, and in M. le Vicomte's name I ask, nay I
press upon you, that he be instantly arrested, and held to answer
for it.'

'I am ready to answer for it now!' I retorted, looking from face
to face for sympathy, and finding none save in M. de la Noue's,
who appeared to regard me with grave approbation. 'To the
Vicomte de Turenne, or the person he may appoint to represent
him.'

'Enough!' Henry said, raising his hand and speaking in the tone
of authority he knew so well how to adopt. 'For you, M.
d'Aremburg, I thank you. Turenne is happy in his friend. But;
this gentleman came to me of his own free will and I do not think
it consistent with my honour to detain him without warning given.
I grant him an hour to remove himself from my neighbourhood. If
he be found after that time has elapsed,' he continued solemnly,
'his fate be on his own head. Gentlemen, we are late already.
Let us on.'

I looked at him as he pronounced this sentence, and strove to
find words in which to make a final appeal to him. But no words
came; and when he bade me stand aside, I did so mechanically,
remaining with my head bared to the sunshine while the troop rode
by. Some looked back at me with curiosity, as at a man of whom
they had heard a tale, and some with a jeer on their lips; a few
with dark looks of menace. When they were all gone, and the
servants who followed them had disappeared also, and I was left
to the inquisitive glances of the rabble who stood gaping after
the sight, I turned and went to the Cid, and loosed the horse
with a feeling of bitter disappointment.

The plan which mademoiselle had proposed and I had adopted in the
forest by St. Gaultier--when it seemed to us that our long
absence and the great events of which we heard must have changed
the world and opened a path for our return--had failed utterly.
Things were as they had been; the strong were still strong, and
friendship under bond to fear. Plainly we should have shewn
ourselves wiser had we taken the lowlier course, and, obeying the
warnings given us, waited the King of Navarre's pleasure or the
tardy recollection of Rosny. I had not then stood, as I now
stood, in instant jeopardy, nor felt the keen pangs of a
separation which bade fair to be lasting. She was safe, and that
was much; but I, after long service and brief happiness, must go
out again alone, with only memories to comfort me.

It was Simon Fleix's voice which awakened me from this unworthy
lethargy--as selfish as it was useless--and, recalling me to
myself, reminded me that precious time was passing while I stood
inactive. To get at me he had forced his way through the curious
crowd, and his face was flushed. He plucked me by the sleeve,
regarding the varlets round him with a mixture of anger and fear.

'Nom de Dieu! do they take you for a rope-dancer?' he muttered
in my ear. 'Mount, sir, and come. There is not a moment to be
lost.'

'You left her at Madame Catherine's?' I said.

'To be sure,' he answered impatiently. 'Trouble not about her.
Save yourself, M. de Marsac. That is the thing to be done now.'

I mounted mechanically, and felt my courage return as the horse
moved under me. I trotted through the crowd, and without thought
took the road by which we had come. When we had ridden a hundred
yards, however, I pulled up 'An hour is a short start,' I said
sullenly. 'Whither?'

'To St. Cloud,' he answered promptly. 'The protection of the
King of France may avail for a day or two. After that, there
will still be the League, if Paris have not fallen.'

I saw there was nothing else for it, and assented, and we set
off. The distance which separates Meudon from St. Cloud we might
have ridden under the hour, but the direct road runs across the
Scholars' Meadow, a wide plain north of Meudon. This lay exposed
to the enemy's fire, and was, besides, the scene of hourly
conflicts between the horse of both parties, so that to cross it
without an adequate force was impossible. Driven to make a
circuit, we took longer to reach our destination, yet did so
without mishap; finding the little town, when we came in sight of
it, given up to all the bustle and commotion which properly
belong to the Court and camp.

It was, indeed, as full as it could be, for the surrender of
Paris being momentarily expected, St. Cloud had become the
rendezvous as well of the few who had long followed a principle
as of the many who wait upon success. The streets, crowded in,
every part, shone with glancing colours, with steel and velvet,
the garb of fashion and the plumes of war. Long lines of flags
obscured the eaves and broke the sunshine, while, above all, the
bells of half a dozen churches rang merry answer to the distant
crash of guns. Everywhere on flag and arch and streamer I read
the motto, 'Vive le Roi!'--words written, God knew then, and we
know now, in what a mockery of doom!

CHAPTER XXXIV.

''TIS AN ILL WIND.'

We had made our way slowly and with much jostling as far as the
principal street, finding the press increase as we advanced, when
I heard, as I turned a corner, my name called, and, looking up,
saw at a window the face of which I was in search. After that
half a minute sufficed to bring M. d'Agen flying to my side, when
nothing, as I had expected, would do but I must dismount; where I
was and share his lodging. He made no secret of his joy and
surprise at sight of me, but pausing only to tell Simon where the
stable was, haled me through the crowd and up his stairs with a
fervour and heartiness which brought the tears to my eyes, and
served to impress the company whom I found above with a more than
sufficient sense of my importance.

Seeing him again in the highest feather and in the full
employment of all those little arts and graces which served as a
foil to his real worth, I took it as a great honour that he laid
them aside for the nonce; and introduced me to the seat of honour
and made me known to his companions with a boyish directness and
a simple thought for my comfort which infinitely pleased me. He
bade his landlord, without a moment's delay, bring wine and meat
and everything which could refresh a traveller, and was himself
up and down a hundred times in a minute, calling to his servants
for this or that, or railing at them for their failure to bring
me a score of things I did not need. I hastened to make my
excuses to the company for interrupting them in the midst of
their talk; and these they were kind enough to accept in good
part. At the same time, reading clearly in M. d'Agen's excited
face and shining eyes that he longed to be alone with me, they
took the hint, and presently left us together.

'Well,' he said, coming back from the door, to which he had
conducted them, 'what have you to tell me, my friend? She is not
with you?'

'She is with Mademoiselle de la Vire at Meudon,' I answered,
smiling. 'And for the rest, she is well and in better spirits.'

'She sent me some message? he asked.

I shook my head. 'She did not know I should see you,' I
answered.

'But she--she has spoken of me lately?' he continued, his face
falling.

'I do not think she has named your name for a fortnight,' I
answered, laughing. 'There's for you! Why, man,' I continued,
adopting a different tone, and laying my hand on his shoulder in
a manner which reassured him at least; as much as my words, 'are
you so young a lover as to be ignorant that a woman says least of
that of which she thinks most? Pluck up, courage! Unless I am
mistaken, you have little to be afraid of except the past. Only
have patience.'

'You think so?' he said gratefully.

I assured him that I had no doubt of it; and on that he fell into
a reverie, and I to watching him. Alas for the littleness of our
natures! He had received me with open arms, yet at sight of the
happiness which took possession of his handsome face I gave way
to the pettiest feeling which can harbour in a man's breast. I
looked at him with eyes of envy, bitterly comparing my lot with
that which fate had reserved for him. He had fortune, good
looks, and success on his side, great relations, and high hopes;
I stood in instant jeopardy, my future dark, and every path which
presented itself so hazardous that I knew not which to adopt. He
was young, and I past my prime; he in favour, and I a fugitive.

To such reflections he put an end in a way which made me blush
for my churlishness. For, suddenly awaking out, of his pleasant
dream, he asked me about myself and my fortunes, inquiring
eagerly how I came to be in St. Cloud, and listening to the story
of my adventures with a generous anxiety which endeared him to me
more and more. When I had done--and by that time Simon had
joined us, and was waiting at the lower end of the room--he
pronounced that I must see the king.

'There is nothing else for it,' he said.

'I have come to see him,' I answered.

'Mon dieu, yes!' he continued, rising from his seat and looking
at me with a face of concern. 'No one else can help you.'

I nodded.

'Turenne has four thousand men here. You can do nothing against
so many?'

'Nothing,' I said. 'The question is, will the king protect me?'

'It is he or no one,' M. d'Agen answered warmly. 'You cannot see
him to-night: he has a Council. To-morrow at daybreak you may.
You must lie here to-night, and I will set my fellows to watch,
and I think you will be safe. I will away now and see if my
uncle will help. Can you think of anyone else who would speak
for you?'

I considered, and was about to answer in the negative, when
Simon, who had listened with a scared face, suggested M. de
Crillon.

'Yes, if he would,' M. d'Agen exclaimed, looking at the lad with
approbation. 'He has weight with the king.'

'I think he might,' I replied slowly. 'I had a curious encounter
with him last night. And with that I told M. d'Agen of the duel
I fought at the inn.

'Good!' he said, his eyes sparkling. 'I wish I had been there
to see. At any rate we will try him. Crillon fears no one, not
even the king.'

So it was settled. For that night I was to keep close in my
friend's lodging, showing not even my nose at the window.

When he had gone on his errand, and I found myself alone in the
room, I am fain to confess that I fell very low in my spirits.
M. d'Agen's travelling equipment lay about the apartment, but
failed to give any but an untidy air to its roomy bareness. The
light was beginning to wane, the sun was gone. Outside, the
ringing of bells and the distant muttering of guns, with the
tumult of sounds which rose from the crowded street, seemed to
tell of joyous life and freedom, and all the hopes and ambitions
from which I was cut off.

Having no other employment, I watched the street, and keeping
myself well retired from the window saw knots of gay riders pass
this way and that through the crowd, their corslets shining and
their voices high. Monks and ladies, a cardinal and an
ambassador, passed under my eyes--these and an endless procession
of townsmen and beggars, soldiers and courtiers, Gascons, Normans
and Picards. Never had I seen such a sight or so many people
gathered together. It seemed as if half Paris had come out to
make submission, so that while my gorge rose against my own
imprisonment, the sight gradually diverted my mind from my
private distresses, by bidding me find compensation for them in
the speedy and glorious triumph of the cause.

Even when the light failed the pageant did not cease, but,
torches and lanthorns springing into life, turned night into day.
From every side came sounds of revelry or strife. The crowd
continued to perambulate the streets until a late hour, with
cries of 'VIVE LE ROI!' and 'VIVE NAVARRE!' while now and again
the passage of a great noble with his suite called forth a fresh
outburst of enthusiasm. Nothing seemed more certain, more
inevitable, more clearly predestinated than that twenty-four
hours must see the fall of Paris.

Yet Paris did not fall.

When M. d'Agen returned a little before midnight, he found me
still sitting in the dark looking from the window. I heard him
call roughly for lights, and apprised by the sound of his voice
that something was wrong, I rose to meet him. He stood silent
awhile, twirling his small moustaches, and then broke into a
passionate tirade, from which I was not slow to gather that M. de
Rambouillet declined to serve me.

'Well,' I said, feeling for the young man's distress and
embarrassment, 'perhaps he is right.'

'He says that word respecting you came this evening,' my friend
answered, his cheeks red with shame, 'and that to countenance you
after that would only be to court certain humiliation. I did not
let him off too easily, I assure you,' M. d'Agen continued,
turning away to evade my gaze; 'but I got no satisfaction. He
said you had his good-will, and that to help you he would risk
something, but that to do so under these circumstances would be
only to injure himself.'

'There is still Crillon,' I said, with as much cheerfulness as I
could assume. 'Pray Heaven he be there early! Did M. de
Rambouillet say anything else?'

'That your only chance was to fly as quickly and secretly as
possible.'

'He thought; my situation desperate, then?'

My friend nodded; and scarcely less depressed on my account than
ashamed on his own, evinced so much feeling that it was all I
could do to comfort him; which I succeeded in doing only when I
diverted the conversation to Madame de Bruhl. We passed the
short night together, sharing the same room and the same bed,
and talking more than we slept--of madame and mademoiselle, the
castle on the hill, and the camp in the woods, of all old days in
fine, but little of the future. Soon after dawn Simon, who lay
on a pallet across the threshold, roused me from a fitful sleep
into which I had just fallen, and a few minutes later I stood up
dressed and armed, ready to try the last chance left to me.

M. d'Agen had dressed stage for stage with me, and I had kept
silence. But when he took up his cap, and showed clearly that he
had it in his mind to go with me, I withstood him. 'No, I said,
'you can do me little good, and may do yourself much harm.'

'You shall not go without one friend,' he cried fiercely.

'Tut, tut!' I said. 'I shall have Simon.'

But Simon, when I turned to speak to him, was gone. Few men are
at their bravest in the early hours of the day, and it did not
surprise me that the lad's courage had failed him. The defection
only strengthened, however, the resolution I had formed that I
would not injure M. d'Agen; though it was some time before I
could persuade him that I was in earnest, and would go alone or
not at all. In the end he had to content himself with lending me
his back and breast, which I gladly put on, thinking it likely
enough that I might be set upon before I reached the castle. And
then, the time being about seven, I parted from him with many
embraces and kindly words, and went into the street with my sword
under my cloak.

The town, late in rising after its orgy, lay very still and
quiet. The morning was grey and warm, with a cloudy sky. The
flags, which had made so gay, a show yesterday, hung close to the
poles, or flapped idly and fell dead again. I walked slowly
along beneath them, keeping a sharp look-out on every side; but
there were few persons moving in the streets, and I reached the
Castle gates without misadventure. Here was something of life;
a bustle of officers and soldiers passing in and out, of
courtiers whose office made their presence necessary, of beggars
who had flocked hither in the night for company. In the middle
of these I recognised on a sudden and with great surprise Simon
Fleix walking my horse up and down. On seeing me he handed it to
a boy, and came up to speak to me with a red face, muttering that
four legs were better than two. I did not say much to him, my
heart being full and my thoughts occupied with the presence
chamber and what I should say there; but I nodded kindly to him,
and he fell in behind me as the sentries challenged me. I
answered them that I sought M. de Crillon, and so getting by,
fell into the rear of a party of three who seemed bent on the
same errand as myself.

One of these was a Jacobin monk, whose black and white robes, by
reminding me of Father Antoine, sent a chill to my heart. The
second, whose eye I avoided, I knew to be M. la Guesle, the
king's Solicitor-General. The third was a stranger to me.
Enabled by M. la Guesle's presence to pass the main guards
without challenge, the party proceeded through a maze of passages
and corridors, conversing together in a low tone; while I,
keeping in their train with my face cunningly muffled, got as far
by this means as the ante-chamber, which I found almost empty.
Here I inquired of the usher for M. de Crillon, and learned with
the utmost consternation that he was not present.

This blow, which almost stunned me, opened my eyes to the
precarious nature of my position, which only the early hour and
small attendance rendered possible for a moment. At any minute I
might be recognised and questioned, or my name be required; while
the guarded doors of the chamber shut me off as effectually from
the king's face and grace as though I were in Paris, or a hundred
leagues away. Endeavouring to the best of my power to conceal
the chagrin and alarm which possessed me as this conviction took
hold of me, I walked to the window; and to hide my face more
completely and at the same time gain a moment to collect my
thoughts, affected to be engaged in looking through it.

Nothing which passed in the room, however, escaped me. I marked
everything and everyone, though all my thought was how I might
get to the king. The barber came out of the chamber with a
silver basin, and stood a moment, and went in again with an air
of vast importance. The guards yawned, and an officer entered,
looked round, and retired. M. la Guesle, who had gone in to the
presence, came out again and stood near me talking with the
Jacobin, whose pale nervous face and hasty movements reminded me
somehow of Simon Fleix. The monk held a letter or petition in
his hand, and appeared to be getting it by heart, for his lips
moved continually. The light which fell on his face from the,
window showed it to be of a peculiar sweaty pallor, and distorted
besides. But supposing him to be devoted, like many of his kind,
to an unwholesome life, I thought nothing of this; though I liked
him little, and would have shifted my place but for the
convenience of his neighbourhood.

Presently, while I was cudgelling my brains, a person came out
and spoke to La Guesle; who called in his turn to the monk, and
started hastily towards the door. The Jacobin followed. The
third person who had entered in their company had his attention
directed elsewhere at the moment; and though La Guesle called to
him, took no heed. On the instant I grasped the situation.
Taking my courage in my hands, I crossed the floor behind the
monk; who, hearing me, or feeling his robe come in contact with
me, presently started and looked round suspiciously, his face
wearing a scowl so black and ugly that I almost recoiled from
him, dreaming for a moment that I saw before me the very spirit
of Father Antoine. But as the man said nothing, and the next
instant averted his gaze, I hardened my heart and pushed on
behind him, and passing the usher, found myself as by magic in
the presence which had seemed a while ago as unattainable by my
wits as it was necessary to my safety.

It was not this success alone, however, which caused my heart to
beat more hopefully. The king was speaking as I entered, and the
gay tones of his voice seemed to promise a favourable reception.
His Majesty sat half-dressed on a stool at the farther end of the
apartment, surrounded by five or six noblemen, while as many
attendants, among whom I hastened to mingle, waited near the
door.

La Guesle made as if he would advance, and then, seeing the
king's attention was not on him, held back. But in a moment the
king saw him and called to him. 'Ha, Guesle!' he said with
good-temper, 'is it you? Is your friend with you?'

The Solicitor went forward with the monk at his elbow, and I had
leisure to remark the favourable change which had taken place in
the king, who spoke more strongly and seemed in better health
than of old. His face looked less cadaverous under the paint,
his form a trifle less emaciated. That which struck me more than
anything, however, was the improvement in his spirits. His eyes
sparkled from time to time, and he laughed continually, so that I
could scarcely believe that he was the same man whom I had seen
overwhelmed with despair and tortured by his conscience.

Letting his attention slip from La Guesle, he began to bandy
words with the nobleman who stood nearest to him; looking up at
him with a roguish eye, and making bets on the fall of Paris.

'Morbleu!' I heard him cry gaily, 'I would give a thousand
pounds to see the 'Montpensier this morning! She may keep her
third crown for herself. Or, PESTE! we might put her in a
convent. That would be a fine vengeance!'

'The veil for the tonsure,' the nobleman said with a smirk.

'Ay. Why not? She would have made a monk of me,' the king
rejoined smartly. 'She must be ready to hang herself with her
garters this morning, if she is not dead of spite already. Or,
stay, I had forgotten her golden scissors. Let her open a vein
with them. Well, what does your friend want, La Guesle?'

I did not hear the answer, but it was apparently satisfactory,
for in a minute all except the Jacobin fell back, leaving the
monk standing before the king; who, stretching out his hand, took
from him a letter. The Jacobin, trembling visibly, seemed
scarcely able to support the honour done him, and the king,
seeing this, said in a voice audible to all, 'Stand up, man. You
are welcome. I love a cowl as some love a lady's hood. And now,
what is this?'

He read a part of the letter and rose. As he did so the monk
leaned forward as though to receive the paper back again, and
then so swiftly, so suddenly, with so unexpected a movement that
no one stirred until all was over, struck the king in the body
with a knife! As the blade flashed and was hidden, and His
Majesty with a deep sob fell back on the stool, then, and not
till then, I knew that I had missed a providential chance of
earning pardon and protection. For had I only marked the Jacobin
as we passed the door together, and read his evil face aright, a
word, one word, had done for me more than the pleading of a score
of Crillons!

Too late a dozen sprang forward to the king's assistance; but
before they reached him he had himself drawn the knife from the
wound and struck the assassin with it on the head. While some,
with cries of grief, ran to support Henry, from whose body the
blood was already flowing fast, others seized and struck down the
wretched monk. As they gathered round him I saw him raise
himself for a moment on his knees and look upward; the blood
which ran down his face, no less than the mingled triumph and
horror of his features, impressed the sight on my recollection.
The next instant three swords were plunged into his breast, and
his writhing body, plucked up from the floor amid a transport of
curses, was forced headlong through the casement and flung down
to make sport for the grooms and scullions who stood below.

A scene of indescribable confusion followed, some crying that the
king was dead, while others called for a doctor, and some by name
for Dortoman. I expected to see the doors closed and all within
secured, that if the man had confederates they might be taken.
But there was no one to give the order. Instead, many who had
neither the ENTREE nor any business in the chamber forced their
way in, and by their cries and pressure rendered the hub-bub and
tumult a hundred times worse. In the midst of this, while I
stood stunned and dumbfounded, my own risks and concerns
forgotten, I felt my sleeve furiously plucked, and, looking
round, found Simon at my elbow. The lad's face was crimson, his
eyes seemed, starting from his head.

'Come,' he muttered, seizing my arm. 'Come!' And without
further ceremony or explanation he dragged me towards the door,
while his face and manner evinced as much heat and impatience as
if he had been himself the assassin. 'Come, there is not a
moment to be lost,' he panted, continuing his exertions without
the least intermission.

'Whither?' I said, in amazement, as I reluctantly permitted him
to force me along the passage and through the gaping crowd on the
stairs. 'Whither, man?'

'Mount and ride!' was the answer he hissed in my ear. 'Ride for
your life to the King of Navarre--to the King of France it may
be! Ride as you have never ridden before, and tell him the news,
and bid him look to himself! Be the first, and, Heaven helping
us, Turenne may do his worst!'

I felt every nerve in my body tingle as I awoke to his meaning.
Without a word I left his arm, and flung myself into the crowd
which filled the lower passage to suffocation. As I struggled
fiercely with them Simon aided me by crying 'A doctor! a doctor!
make way there!' and this induced many to give place to me under
the idea that I was an accredited messenger. Eventually I
succeeded in forcing my way through and reaching the courtyard;
being, as it turned out, the first person to issue from the
Chateau. A dozen people sprang towards me with anxious eyes and
questions on their lips; but I ran past them and, catching the
Cid, which was fortunately at hand, by the rein, bounded into the
saddle.

As I turned the horse to the gate I heard Simon cry after me.
'The Scholars' Meadow! Go that way!' and then I heard no more.
I was out of the yard and galloping bare-headed down the pitched
street, while women snatched their infants up and ran aside, and
men came startled to the doors, crying that the League was upon
us. As the good horse flung up his head and bounded forward,
hurling the gravel behind him with hoofs which slid and clattered
on the pavement, as the wind began to whistle by me, and I seized
the reins in a shorter grip, I felt my heart bound with
exultation. I experienced such a blessed relief and elation as
the prisoner long fettered and confined feels when restored to
the air of heaven.

Down one street and through a narrow lane we thundered, until a
broken gateway stopped with fascines--through which the Cid
blundered and stumbled--brought us at a bound into the Scholars'
Meadow just as the tardy sun broke through the clouds and flooded
the low, wide plain with brightness. Half a league in front of
us the towers of Meudon rose to view on a hill. In the distance,
to the left, lay the walls of Paris, and nearer, on the same
side, a dozen forts and batteries; while here and there, in that
quarter, a shining clump of spears or a dense mass of infantry
betrayed the enemy's presence.

I heeded none of these things, however, nor anything except the
towers of Meudon, setting the Cid's head straight for these and
riding on at the top of his speed. Swiftly ditch and dyke came
into view before us and flashed away beneath us. Men lying in
pits rose up and aimed at us; or ran with cries to intercept us.
A cannon-shot fired from the fort by Issy tore up the earth to
one side; a knot of lancers sped from the shelter of an earthwork
in the same quarter, and raced us for half a mile, with frantic
shouts and threats of vengeance. But all such efforts were
vanity. The Cid, fired by this sudden call upon his speed, and
feeling himself loosed--rarest of events--to do his best, shook
the foam from his bit, and opening his blood-red nostrils to the
wind, crouched lower and lower; until his long neck, stretched
out before him, seemed, as the sward swept by, like the point of
an arrow speeding resistless to its aim.

God knows, as the air rushed by me and the sun shone in my face,
I cried aloud like a boy, and though I sat still and stirred
neither hand nor foot, lest I should break the good Sard's
stride, I prayed wildly that the horse which I had groomed with
my own hands and fed with my last crown might hold on unfaltering
to the end. For I dreamed that the fate of a nation rode in my
saddle; and mindful alike of Simon's words, 'Bid him look to
himself,' and of my own notion that the League would not be so
foolish as to remove one enemy to exalt another, I thought
nothing more likely than that, with all my fury, I should arrive
too late, and find the King of Navarre as I had left the King of
France.

In this strenuous haste I covered a mile as a mile has seldom
been covered before; and I was growing under the influence of the
breeze which whipped my temples somewhat more cool and hopeful,
when I saw on a sudden right before me, and between me and
Meudon, a handful of men engaged in a MELEE. There were red and
white jackets in it--leaguers and Huguenots--and the red coats
seemed to be having the worst of it. Still, while I watched,
they came off in order, and unfortunately in such a way and at
such a speed that I saw they must meet me face to face whether I
tried to avoid the encounter or not. I had barely time to take
in the danger and its nearness, and discern beyond both parties
the main-guard of the Huguenots, enlivened by a score of pennons,
when the Leaguers were upon me.

I suppose they knew that no friend would ride for Meudon at that
pace, for they dashed at me six abreast with a shout of triumph;
and before I could count a score we met. The Cid was still
running strongly, and I had not thought to stay him, so that I
had no time to use my pistols. My sword I had out, but the sun
dazzled me and the men wore corslets, and I made but poor play
with it; though I struck out savagely, as we crashed together, in
my rage at this sudden crossing of my hopes when all seemed done
and gained. The Cid faced them bravely--I heard the distant
huzza of the Huguenots--and I put aside one point which
threatened my throat. But the sun was in my eyes and something
struck me on the head. Another second, and a blow in the breast
forced me fairly from the saddle. Gripping furiously at the air
I went down, stunned and dizzy, my last thought as I struck the
ground being of mademoiselle, and the little brook with the
stepping-stones.

CHAPTER XXXV.

'LE ROI EST MORT!'

It was M. d'Agen's breastpiece saved my life by warding off the
point of the varlet's sword, so that the worst injury I got was
the loss of my breath for five minutes, with a swimming in the
head and a kind of syncope. These being past, I found myself on
my back on the ground, with a man's knee on my breast and a dozen
horsemen standing round me. The sky reeled dizzily before my
eyes and the men's figures loomed gigantic; yet I had sense
enough to know what had happened to me, and that matters might
well be worse.

Resigning myself to the prospect of captivity, I prepared to ask
for quarter; which I did not doubt I should receive, since they
had taken me in an open skirmish, and honestly, and in the
daylight. But the man whose knee already incommoded me
sufficiently, seeing me about to speak, squeezed me on a sudden
so fiercely, bidding me at the same time in a gruff whisper be
silent, that I thought I could not do better than obey.

Accordingly I lay still, and as in a dream, for my brain was
still clouded, heard someone say, 'Dead! Is he? I hoped we had
come in time. Well, he deserved a better fate. Who is he,
Rosny?'

'Do you know him, Maignan?' said a voice which sounded strangely
familiar.

The man who knelt; upon me answered, 'No, my lord. He is a
stranger to me. He has the look of a Norman.'

'Like enough!' replied a high-pitched voice I had not heard
before. 'For he rode a good horse. Give me a hundred like it,
and a hundred men to ride as straight, and I would not envy the
King of France.'

'Much less his poor cousin of Navarre,' the first speaker
rejoined in a laughing tone, 'without a whole shirt to his back
or a doublet that is decently new. Come, Turenne, acknowledge
that you are not so badly off after all!'

At that word the cloud which had darkened my faculties swept on a
sudden aside. I saw that the men into whose hands I had fallen
wore white favours, their leader a white plume; and comprehended
without more that the King of Navarre had come to my rescue, and
beaten off the Leaguers who had dismounted me. At the same
moment the remembrance of all that had gone before, and
especially of the scene I had witnessed in the king's chamber,
rushed upon my mind with such overwhelming force that I fell into
a fury of impatience at the thought of the time I had wasted; and
rising up suddenly I threw off Maignan with all my force, crying
out that I was alive--that I was alive, and had news.

The equerry did his best to restrain me, cursing me under his
breath for a fool, and almost; squeezing the life out of me. But
in vain, for the King of Navarre, riding nearer, saw me
struggling. 'Hallo! hallo! 'tis a strange dead man,' he cried,
interposing. 'What is the meaning of this? Let him go! Do you
hear, sirrah? Let him go!'

The equerry obeyed and stood back sullenly, and I staggered to my
feet, and looked round with eyes which still swam and watered.
On the instant a cry of recognition greeted me, with a hundred
exclamations of astonishment. While I heard my name uttered on
every side in a dozen different tones, I remarked that M. de
Rosny, upon whom my eyes first fell, alone stood silent,
regarding me with a face of sorrowful surprise.

'By heavens, sir, I knew nothing of this!' I heard the King of
Navarre declare, addressing himself to the Vicomte de Turenne.
'The man is here by no connivance of mine. Interrogate him
yourself, if you will. Or I will. Speak, sir,' he continued,
turning to me with his countenance hard and forbidding. 'You
heard me yesterday, what I promised you? Why, in God's name, are
you here to-day?'

I tried to answer, but Maignan had so handled me that I had not
breath enough, and stood panting.

'Your Highness's clemency in this matter,' M. de Turenne said,
with a sneer, 'has been so great he trusted to its continuance.
And doubtless he thought to find you alone. I fear I am in the
way.'

I knew him by his figure and his grand air, which in any other
company would have marked him for master; and forgetting the
impatience which a moment before had consumed me--doubtless I was
still light-headed--I answered him. 'Yet I had once the promise
of your lordship's protection,' I gasped.

'My protection, sir?' he exclaimed, his eyes gleaming angrily.

'Even so,' I answered. 'At the inn at Etampes, where M. de
Crillon would have fought me.'

He was visibly taken aback. 'Are you that man?' he cried.

'I am. But I am not here to prate of myself,' I replied. And
with that--the remembrance of my neglected errand flashing on me
again--I staggered to the King of Navarre's side, and, falling on
my knees, seized his stirrup. 'Sire, I bring you news! great
news! dreadful news!' I cried, clinging to it. 'His Majesty
was but a quarter of an hour ago stabbed in the body in his
chamber by a villain monk. And is dying, or, it may be, dead.'

'Dead? The King!' Turenne cried with an oath. 'Impossible!'

Vaguely I heard others crying, some this, some that, as surprise
and consternation, or anger, or incredulity moved them. But I
did not answer them, for Henry, remaining silent, held me
spellbound and awed by the, marvellous change which I saw fall on
his face. His eyes became on a sudden suffused with blood, and
seemed to retreat under his heavy brows; his cheeks turned of a
brick-red colour; his half-open lips showed his teeth gleaming
through his beard; while his great nose, which seemed to curve
and curve until it well-nigh met his chin, gave to his mobile
countenance an aspect as strange as it was terrifying. Withal he
uttered for a time no word, though I saw his hand, grip the
riding-whip he held in a convulsive grasp, as though his thought
were ''Tis mine! Mine! Wrest it away who dares!'

'Bethink you, sir,' he said at last, fixing his piercing eyes on
me, and speaking in a harsh, low tone, like the growling of a
great dog, 'this is no jesting-time. Nor will you save your skin
by a ruse. Tell me, on your peril, is this a trick?'

'Heaven forbid, sire!' I answered with passion. 'I was in the
chamber, and saw it; with my own eyes. I mounted on the instant,
and rode hither by the shortest route to warn your Highness to
look to yourself. Monks are many, and the Holy Union is not apt
to stop half-way.'

I saw he believed me, for his face relaxed. His breath seemed to
come and go again, and for the tenth part of a second his eyes
sought M. de Rosny's. Then he looked at me again.

'I thank you, sir, he said, bowing gravely and courteously, 'for
your care for me--not for your tidings, which are of the
sorriest. God grant my good cousin and king may be hurt only.
Now tell us exactly--for these gentlemen are equally interested
with myself--had a surgeon seen him?'

I replied in the negative, but added that the wound was in the
groin, and bled much,

'You said a few minutes ago, "dying or already dead!"' the King
of Navarre rejoined. 'Why?'

'His Majesty's face was sunken,' I stammered.

He nodded. 'You may be mistaken,' he said. 'I pray that you
are. But here comes Mornay. He may know more.'

In a moment I was abandoned, even by M. de Turenne, so great was
the anxiety which possessed all to learn the truth. Maignan
alone, under pretence of adjusting a stirrup, remained beside me,
and entreated me in a low voice to begone. 'Take this horse, M.
de Marsac, if you will,' he urged, 'and ride back the way you
came. You have done what you came to do. Go back, and be
thankful.'

'Chut!' I said, 'there is no danger.'

'You will see,' he replied darkly, 'if you stay here. Come,
come, take my advice and the horse,' he persisted, 'and begone!
Believe me, it will be for the best.'

I laughed outright at his earnestness and his face of perplexity.
'I see you have M. de Rosny's orders to get rid of me,' I said.
'But I am not going, my friend. He must find some other way out
of his embarrassment, for here I stay.'

'Well, your blood be on your own head,' Maignan retorted,
swinging himself into the saddle with a gloomy face. 'I have
done my best to save you!'

'And your master!' I answered, laughing.

For flight was the last thing I had in my mind. I had ridden
this ride with a clear perception that the one thing I needed was
a footing at Court. By the special kindness of Providence I had
now gained this; and I was not the man to resign it because it
proved to be scanty and perilous. It was something that I had
spoken to the great Vicomte face to face and not been consumed,
that I had given him look for look and still survived, that I had
put in practice Crillon's lessons and come to no harm.

Nor was this all. I had never in the worst times blamed the King
of Navarre for his denial of me, I had been foolish, indeed,
seeing that it was in the bargain, had I done so; nor had I ever
doubted his good-will or his readiness to reward me should
occasion arise. Now, I flattered myself, I had given him that
which he needed, and had hitherto lacked--an excuse, I mean, for
interference in my behalf.

Whether I was right or wrong in this notion I was soon to learn,
for at this moment Henry's cavalcade, which had left me a hundred
paces behind, came to a stop, and while some of the number waved
to me to come on, one spurred back to summon me to the king. I
hastened to obey the order as fast as I could, but I saw on
approaching that though all was at a standstill till I came up,
neither the King of Navarre nor M. de Turenne was thinking
principally of me. Every face, from Henry's to that of his least
important courtier, wore an air of grave preoccupation; which I
had no difficulty in ascribing to the doubt present in every
mind, and outweighing every interest, whether the King of France
was dead, or dying, or merely wounded.

'Quick, sir!' Henry said with impatience, as soon as I came
within hearing. 'Do not detain me with your affairs longer than
is necessary. M. de Turenne presses me to carry into effect the
order I gave yesterday. But as you have placed yourself in
jeopardy on my account I feel that; something is due to you. You
will be good enough, therefore, to present yourself at once at M.
la Varenne's lodging, and give me your parole to remain there
without stirring abroad until your affair is concluded.'

Aware that I owed this respite, which at once secured my present
safety and promised well for the future, to the great event that,
even in M. de Turenne's mind, had overshadowed all others, I
bowed in silence. Henry, however, was not content with this.
'Come, sir,' he said sharply, and with every appearance of anger,
'do you agree to that?'

I replied humbly that I thanked him for his clemency.

'There is no need of thanks,' he replied coldly. 'What I have
done is without prejudice to M. de Turenne's complaint. He must
have justice.'

I bowed again, and in a moment the troop were gone at a gallop
towards Meudon, whence, as I afterwards learned, the King of
Navarre, attended by a select body of five-and-twenty horsemen,
wearing private arms, rode on at full speed to St. Cloud to
present himself at his Majesty's bedside. A groom who had caught
the Cid, which had escaped into the town with no other injury
than a slight wound in the shoulder, by-and-by met me with the
horse; and in this way I was enabled to render myself with some
decency at Varenne's lodging, a small house at the foot of the
hill, not far from the Castle-gate.

Here I found myself under no greater constraint than that which
my own parole laid upon me; and my room having the conveniency of
a window looking upon the public street, I was enabled from hour
to hour to comprehend and enter into the various alarms and
surprises which made that day remarkable. The manifold reports
which flew from mouth to mouth on the occasion, as well as the
overmastering excitement which seized all, are so well
remembered, however, that I forbear to dwell upon them, though
they served to distract my mind from my own position. Suffice it
that at one moment we heard that His Majesty was dead, at another
that the wound was skin deep, and again that we might expect him
at Meudon before sunset. The rumour that the Duchess de
Montpensier had taken poison was no sooner believed than we were
asked to listen to the guns of Paris firing FEUX DE JOIE in
honour of the King's death.

The streets were so closely packed with persons telling and
hearing these tales that I seemed from my window to be looking on
a fair. Nor was all my amusement withoutdoors; for a number of
the gentlemen of the Court, hearing that I had been at St. Cloud
in the morning, and in the very chamber, a thing which made me
for the moment the most desirable companion in the world,
remembered on a sudden that they had a slight acquaintance with
me, and honoured me by calling upon me and sitting a great part
of the day with me. From which circumstance I confess I derived
as much hope as they diversion; knowing that courtiers are the
best weather-prophets in the world, who hate nothing so much as
to be discovered in the company of those on whom the sun does not
shine.

The return of the King of Navarre, which happened about the
middle of the afternoon, while it dissipated the fears of some
and dashed the hopes of others, put an end to this state of
uncertainty by confirming, to the surprise of many, that His
Majesty was in no danger. We learned with varying emotions that
the first appearances, which had deceived, not myself only, but
experienced leeches, had been themselves belied by subsequent
conditions; and that, in a word, Paris had as much to fear, and
loyal men as much to hope, as before this wicked and audacious
attempt.

I had no more than stomached this surprising information, which
was less welcome to me, I confess, than it should have been, when
the arrival of M. d'Agen, who greeted me with the affection which
he never failed to show me, distracted my thoughts for a time.
Immediately on learning where I was and, the strange adventures
which had befallen me he had ridden off; stopping only once, when
he had nearly reached me, for the purpose of waiting on Madame de
Bruhl. I asked him how she had received him.

'Like herself,' he replied with an ingenuous blush. 'More kindly
than I had a right to expect, if not as warmly as I had the
courage to hope.'

'That will come with time,' I said, laughing. 'And Mademoiselle
de la Vire?'

'I did not see her,' he answered, 'but I heard she was well. And
a hundred fathoms deeper in love,' he added, eyeing me roguishly,
'than when I saw her last.'

It was my turn to colour now, and I did so, feeling all the
pleasure and delight such, a statement was calculated to afford
me. Picturing mademoiselle as I had seen her last, leaning from
her horse with love written so plainly on her weeping face that
all who ran might read, I sank into so delicious a reverie that
M. la Varenne, entering suddenly, surprised us both before
another word passed on either side.

His look and tone were as abrupt as it was in his nature, which
was soft and compliant, to make them. 'M. de Marsac,' he said,
'I am sorry to put any constraint upon you, but I am directed to
forbid you to your friends. And I must request this gentleman to
withdraw.'

'But all day my friends have come in and out,' I said with
surprise. 'Is this a new order?'

'A written order, which reached me no farther back than two
minutes ago, 'he answered plainly. 'I am also directed to remove
you to a room at the back of the house, that you may not overlook
the street.'

'But my parole was taken,' I cried, with a natural feeling of
indignation.

He shrugged his shoulders. 'I am sorry to say that I have
nothing to do with that,' he answered. 'I can only obey orders.
I must ask this gentleman, therefore, to withdraw.'

Of course M. d'Agen had no option but to leave me; which he did,
I could see, notwithstanding his easy and confident expressions,
with a good deal of mistrust and apprehension. When he was gone,
La Varenne lost no time in carrying out the remainder of his
orders. As a consequence I found myself confined to a small and
gloomy apartment which looked, at a distance of three paces, upon
the smooth face of the rock on which the Castle stood. This
change, from a window which commanded all the life of the town,
and intercepted every breath of popular fancy, to a closet
whither no sounds penetrated, and where the very transition from
noon to evening scarcely made itself known, could not fail to
depress my spirits sensibly; the more as I took it to be
significant of a change in my fortunes fully as grave.
Reflecting that I must now appear to the King of Navarre in the
light of a bearer of false tidings, I associated the order to
confine me more closely with his return from St. Cloud; and
comprehending that M. de Turenne was once more at liberty to
attend to my affairs, I began to look about me with forebodings
which were none the less painful because the parole I had given
debarred me from any attempt to escape.

Sleep and habit enabled me, nevertheless, to pass the night in
comfort. Very early in the morning a great firing of guns, which
made itself heard even in my quarters, led me to suppose that
Paris had surrendered; but the servant who brought me my
breakfast; declined in a surly fashion to give me any
information. In the end, I spent the whole day alone, my
thoughts divided between my mistress and my own prospects, which
seemed to grow more and more gloomy as the hours succeeded one
another. No one came near me, no step broke the silence of the
house; and for a while I thought my guardians had forgotten even
that I needed food. This omission, it is true, was made good
about sunset, but still M. la Varenne did not appear, the servant
seemed to be dumb, and I heard no sounds in the house.

I had finished my meal an hour or more, and the room was growing
dark, when the silence was at last broken by quick steps passing
along the entrance. They paused, and seemed to hesitate at the
foot of the stairs, but the next moment they came on again, and
stopped at my door. I rose from my seat on hearing the key
turned in the lock, and my astonishment may be conceived when I
saw no other than M. de Turenne enter, and close the door behind
him.

He saluted me in a haughty manner as he advanced to the table,
raising his cap for an instant and then replacing it. This done
he stood looking at me, and I at him, in a silence which on my
side was the result of pure astonishment; on his, of contempt and
a kind of wonder. The evening light, which was fast failing,
lent a sombre whiteness to his face, causing it to stand out from
the shadows behind him in a way which was not without its
influence on me.

'Well!' he said at, last, speaking slowly and with unimaginable
insolence, 'I am here to look at you!'

I felt my anger rise, and gave him back look for look. 'At your
will,' I said, shrugging my shoulders.

'And to solve a question,' he continued in the same tone. 'To
learn whether the man who was mad enough to insult and defy me
was the old penniless dullard some called him, or the dare-devil
others painted him.'

'You are satisfied now?' I said.

He eyed me for a moment closely; then with sudden heat he cried,
'Curse me if I am! Nor whether I have to do with a man very deep
or very shallow, a fool or a knave!'

'You may say what you please to a prisoner,' I retorted coldly.

'Turenne commonly does--to whom he pleases!' he answered. The
next moment he made me start by saying, as he drew out a comfit-
box and opened it, 'I am just from the little fool you have
bewitched. If she were in my power I would have her whipped and
put on bread and water till she came to her senses. As she is
not, I must take another way. Have you any idea, may I ask,' he
continued in his cynical tone, 'what is going to become of you,
M. de Marsac?'

I replied, my heart inexpressibly lightened by what he had said
of mademoiselle, that I placed the fullest confidence in the
justice of the King of Navarre.

He repeated the name in a tone, I did not understand.

'Yes, sir, the King of Navarre,' I answered firmly.

'Well, I daresay you have good reason to do so,' he rejoined with
a sneer. 'Unless I am mistaken he knew a little more of this
affair than he acknowledges.'

'Indeed? The King of Navarre?' I said, staring stolidly at him.

'Yes, indeed, indeed, the King of Navarre!' he retorted,
mimicking me, with a nearer approach to anger than I had yet
witnessed in him. 'But let him be a moment, sirrah!' he
continued, 'and do you listen to me. Or first look at that.
Seeing is believing.'

He drew out as he spoke a paper, or, to speak more correctly, a
parchment, which he thrust with a kind of savage scorn into my
hand. Repressing for the moment the surprise I felt, I took it
to the window, and reading it with difficulty, found it to be a
royal patent drawn, as far as I could judge, in due form, and
appointing some person unknown--for the name was left blank--to
the post of Lieutenant-Governor of the Armagnac, with a salary of
twelve thousand livres a year!

'Well, sir?' he said impatiently.

'Well?' I answered mechanically. For my brain reeled; the
exhibition of such a paper in such a way raised extraordinary
thoughts in my mind.

'Can you read it?' he asked.

'Certainly,' I answered, telling myself that he would fain play a
trick on me.

'Very well,' he replied, 'then listen. I am going to condescend;
to make you an offer, M. de Marsac. I will procure you your
freedom, and fill up the blank, which you see there, with your
name--upon one condition.'

I stared at him with all the astonishment it was natural for me
to feel in the face, of such a proposition. 'You will confer
this office on me?' I muttered incredulously.

'The king having placed it at my disposal,' he answered, 'I will.
But first let me remind you,' he went on proudly, 'that the
affair has another side. On the one hand I offer you such
employment, M. de Marsac, as should satisfy your highest
ambition. On the other, I warn you that my power to avenge
myself is no less to-day than it was yesterday; and that if I
condescend to buy you, it is because that course commends itself
to me for reasons, not because it is the only one open.'

I bowed. 'The condition, M. le Vicomte?' I said huskily,
beginning to understand him.

'That you give up all claim and suit to the hand of my
kinswoman,' he answered lightly. 'That is all. It is a simple
and easy condition.'

I looked at him in renewed astonishment, in wonder, in
stupefaction; asking myself a hundred questions. Why did he
stoop to bargain, who could command? Why did he condescend to
treat, who held me at his mercy? Why did he gravely discuss my
aspirations, to whom they must seem the rankest presumption?
Why?--but I could not follow it. I stood looking at him in
silence; in perplexity as great as if he had offered me the Crown
of France; in amazement and doubt and suspicion that knew no
bounds.

'Well!' he said at last, misreading the emotion which appeared
in my face. 'You consent, sir?'

'Never!' I answered firmly.

He started. 'I think I cannot have heard you aright,' he said,
speaking slowly and almost courteously. 'I offer you a great
place and my patronage, M. de Marsac. Do I understand that you
prefer a prison and my enmity?'

'On those conditions,' I answered.

'Think, think!' he said harshly.

'I have thought,' I answered.

'Ay, but have you thought where you are?' he retorted. 'Have
you thought how many obstacles lie between you and this little
fool? How many persons you must win over, how many friends you
must gain? Have you thought what it will be to have me against
you in this, or which of us is more likely to win in the end?'

'I have thought,' I rejoined.

But my voice shook, my lips were dry. The room had grown dark.
The rock outside, intercepting the light, gave it already the
air of a dungeon. Though I did not dream of yielding to him,
though I even felt that in this interview he had descended to my
level, and I had had the better of him, I felt my heart sink.
For I remembered how men immured in prisons drag out their lives
always petitioning, always forgotten; how wearily the days go,
that to free men are bright with hope and ambition. And I saw in
a flash what it would be to remain here, or in some such place;
never to cross horse again, or breathe the free air of Heaven,
never to hear the clink of sword against stirrup, or the rich
tones of M. d'Agen's voice calling for his friend!

I expected M. de Turenne to go when I had made my answer, or else
to fall into such a rage as opposition is apt to cause in those
who seldom encounter it. To my surprise, however, he restrained
himself. 'Come,' he said, with patience which fairly astonished
me, and so much the more as chagrin was clearly marked in his
voice, 'I know where you put your trust. You think the King of
Navarre will protect you. Well, I pledge you the honour of
Turenne that he will not; that the King of Navarre will do
nothing to save you. Now, what do you say?'

'As I said before,' I answered doggedly.

He took up the parchment from the table with a grim laugh. 'So
much the worse for you then!' he said, shrugging his shoulders.
'So much the worse for you! I took you for a rogue! It seems
you are a fool!'

CHAPTER XXXVI.

'VIVE LE ROI!'

He took his leave with those words. But his departure, which I
should have hailed a few minutes before with joy, as a relief
from embarrassment and humiliation, found me indifferent. The
statement to which he had solemnly pledged himself in regard to
the King of Navarre, that I could expect no further help from
him, had prostrated me; dashing my hopes and spirits so
completely that I remained rooted to the spot long after his step
had ceased to sound on the stairs. If what he said was true, in
the gloom which darkened alike my room and my prospects I could
descry no glimmer of light. I knew His Majesty's weakness and
vacillation too well to repose any confidence in him; if the King
of Navarre also abandoned me, I was indeed without hope, as
without resource.

I had stood some time with my mind painfully employed upon this
problem, which my knowledge of M. de Turenne's strict honour in
private matters did not allow me to dismiss lightly, when I heard
another step on the stairs, and in a moment M. la Varenne opened
the door. Finding me in the dark he muttered an apology for the
remissness of the servants; which I accepted, seeing nothing else
for it, in good part.

'We have been at sixes-and-sevens all day, and you have been
forgotten,' he continued. 'But you will have no reason to
complain now. I am ordered to conduct you to His Majesty without
delay.'

'To St. Cloud?' I exclaimed, greatly astonished.

'No, the king of France is here,' he answered.

'At Meudon?'

'To be sure. Why not?'

I expressed my wonder at his Majesty's rapid recovery.

'Pooh!' he answered roughly. 'He is as well as he ever was. I
will leave you my light. Be good enough to descend as soon as
you are ready, for it is ill work keeping kings waiting. Oh!
and I had forgotten one thing,' he continued, returning when he
had already reached the door. 'My orders are to see that you do
not hold converse with anyone until you have seen the king, M. de
Marsac. You will kindly remember this if we are kept waiting in
the antechamber.'

'Am I to be transported to--other custody?' I asked, my mind
full of apprehension.

He shrugged his shoulders. 'Possibly,' he replied. 'I do not
know.'

Of course there was nothing for it but to murmur that I was at
the king's disposition; after which La Varenne retired, leaving
me to put the best face on the matter I could. Naturally I
augured anything but well of an interview weighted with such a
condition; and this contributed still further to depress my
spirits, already lowered by the long solitude in which I had
passed the day. Fearing nothing, however, so much as suspense, I
hastened to do what I could to repair my costume, and then
descended to the foot of the stairs, where I found my custodian
awaiting me with a couple of servants, of whom one bore a link.

We went out side by side, and having barely a hundred yards to
go, seemed in a moment to be passing through the gate of the
Castle. I noticed that the entrance was very strongly guarded,
but an instant's reflection served to remind me that this was not
surprising after what had happened at St. Cloud. I remarked to
M. la Varenne as we crossed the courtyard that I supposed Paris
had surrendered; but he replied in the negative so curtly, and
with so little consideration, that I forebore to ask any other
questions; and the Chateau being small, we found ourselves almost
at once in a long, narrow corridor, which appeared to serve as
the antechamber.

It was brilliantly lighted and crowded from end to end, and
almost from wall to wall, with a mob of courtiers; whose silence,
no less than their keen and anxious looks, took me by surprise.
Here and there two or three, who had seized upon the embrasure of
a window, talked together in a low tone; or a couple, who thought
themselves sufficiently important to pace the narrow passage
between the waiting lines, conversed in whispers as they walked.
But even these were swift to take alarm, and continually looked
askance; while the general company stood at gaze, starting and
looking up eagerly whenever the door swung open or a newcomer was
announced. The strange silence which prevailed reminded me of
nothing so much as of the Court at Blois on the night of the Duke
of Mercoeur's desertion; but that stillness had brooded over
empty chambers, this gave a peculiar air of strangeness to a room
thronged in every part.

M. la Varenne, who was received by those about the door with
silent politeness, drew me into the recess of a window; whence I
was able to remark, among other things, that the Huguenots
present almost outnumbered the king's immediate following.
Still, among those who were walking up and down, I noticed M. de
Rambouillet, to whom at another time I should have hastened to
pay my respects; with Marshal d'Aumont, Sancy, and Humieres. Nor
had I more than noted the presence of these before the door of
the chamber opened and added to their number Marshal Biron, who

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