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A Gentleman of France by Stanley Weyman

Part 9 out of 9

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came out leaning on the arm of Crillon. The sight of these old
enemies in combination was sufficient of itself to apprise me
that some serious crisis was at hand; particularly as their
progress through the crowd was watched, I observed, by a hundred
curious and attentive eyes.

They disappeared at last through the outer door, and the
assemblage turned as with one accord to see who came next. But
nearly half an hour elapsed before the Chamber door, which all
watched so studiously, again opened. This time it was to give
passage to my late visitor, Turenne, who came out smiling, and
leaning, to my great surprise, on the arm of M. de Rosny.

As the two walked down the room, greeting here and there an
obsequious friend, and followed in their progress by all eyes, I
felt my heart sink indeed; both at sight of Turenne's good-
humour, and of the company in which I found him. Aware that in
proportion as he was pleased I was like to meet with displeasure,
I still might have had hope left had I had Rosny left. Losing
him, however--and I could not doubt, seeing him as I saw him,
that I had lost him--and counting the King of Navarre as gone
already, I felt such a failure of courage as I had never known
before. I told myself with shame that I was not made for Courts,
or for such scenes as these; and recalling with new and keen
mortification the poor figure I had cut in the King of Navarre's
antechamber at St. Jean, I experienced so strange a gush of pity
for my mistress that nothing could exceed the tenderness I felt
for her. I had won her under false colours, I was not worthy of
her. I felt that my mere presence in her company in such a place
as this, and among these people, must cover her with shame and
humiliation.

To my great relief, since I knew my face was on fire, neither of
the two, as they walked down the passage, looked my way or seemed
conscious of my neighbourhood. At the door they stood a moment
talking earnestly, and it seemed as if M. de Rosny would have
accompanied the Vicomte farther. The latter would not suffer it,
however, but took his leave there; and this with so many polite
gestures that my last hope based on M. de Rosny vanished.

Nevertheless, that gentleman was not so wholly changed that on
his turning to re-traverse the room I did not see a smile flicker
for an instant on his features as the two lines of bowing
courtiers opened before him. The next moment his look fell on
me, and though his face scarcely altered, he stopped opposite me.

'M. de Marsac is waiting to see His Majesty?' he asked aloud,
speaking to M. la Varenne.

My companion remaining silent, I bowed.

'In five minutes,' M. de Rosny replied quietly, yet with a
distant air, which made me doubt whether I had not dreamed all I
remembered of this man. 'Ah! M. de Paul, what can I do for
you?' he continued. And he bent his head to listen to the
application which a gentleman who stood next me poured into his
ear. 'I will see,' I heard him answer. 'In any case you shall
know to-morrow.'

'But you will be my friend?' M. Paul urged, detaining him by the
sleeve.

'I will put only one before you,' he answered.

My neighbour seemed to shrink into himself with disappointment.
'Who is it?' he murmured piteously.

'The king and his service, my friend,' M. de Rosny replied drily.
And with that he walked away. But half a dozen times at least;
before he reached the upper end of the room I saw the scene
repeated.

I looked on at all this in the utmost astonishment, unable to
guess or conceive what had happened to give M. de Rosny so much
importance. For it did not; escape me that the few words he had
stopped to speak to me had invested me with interest in the eyes
of all who stood near. They gave me more room and a wider
breathing-space, and looking at me askance, muttered my name in
whispers. In my uncertainty, however, what this portended I drew
no comfort from it; and before I had found time to weigh it
thoroughly the door through which Turenne and Rosny had entered
opened again. The pages and gentlemen who stood about it
hastened to range themselves on either side. An usher carrying a
white wand came rapidly down the room, here and there requesting
the courtiers to stand back where the passage was narrow. Then a
loud voice without cried, 'The King, gentlemen! the King!' and
one in every two of us stood a-tiptoe to see him enter.

But there came in only Henry of Navarre, wearing a violet cloak
and cap.

I turned to La Varenne and with my head full of confusion,
muttered impatiently, 'But the king, man! Where is the king?'

He grinned at me, with his hand before his mouth. 'Hush!' he
whispered. ''Twas a jest we played on you! His late Majesty
died at daybreak this morning. This is the king.'

'This! the King of Navarre?' I cried; so loudly that some round
us called 'Silence!'

'No, the King of France, fool!' he replied. 'Your sword must be
sharper than your wits, or I have been told some lies!'

I let the gibe pass and the jest, for my heart was beating so
fast and painfully that I could scarcely preserve my outward
composure. There was a mist before my eyes, and a darkness which
set the lights at defiance. It was in vain I tried to think what
this might mean--to me. I could not put two thoughts together,
and while I still questioned what reception I might expect, and
who in this new state of things were my friends, the king stopped
before me.

'Ha, M. de Marsac!' he cried cheerfully, signing to those who
stood before me to give place. 'You are the gentleman who rode
so fast to warn me the other morning. I have spoken to M. de
Turenne about you, and he is willing to overlook the complaint he
had against you. For the rest, go to my closet, my friend. Go!
Rosny knows my will respecting you.'

I had sense enough left to kneel and kiss his hand; but it was in
silence, which he knew how to interpret. He had moved on and was
speaking to another before I recovered the use of my tongue, or
the wits which his gracious words had scattered. When I did so,
and got on my feet again I found myself the centre of so much
observation and the object of so many congratulations that I was
glad to act upon the hint which La Varenne gave me, and hurry
away to the closet.

Here, though I had now an inkling of what I had to expect, I
found myself received with a kindness which bade fair to
overwhelm me. Only M. de Rosny was in the room, and he took me
by both hands in a manner which told me without a word that the
Rosny of old days was back, and that; for the embarrassment I had
caused him of late I was more than forgiven. When I tried to
thank him for the good offices which I knew he had done me with
the king he would have none of it; reminding me with a smile that
he had eaten of my cheese when the choice lay between that and
Lisieux.

'And besides, my friend,' he continued, his eyes twinkling, 'You
have made me richer by five hundred crowns.'

'How so?' I asked, wondering more and more.

'I wagered that sum with Turenne that he could not bribe you,'
he answered, smiling. 'And see,' he continued, selecting from
some on the table the same parchment I had seen before, 'here is
the bribe. Take it; it is yours. I have given a score to-day,
but none with the same pleasure. Let me be the first to
congratulate the Lieutenant-Governor of the Armagnac.'

For a while I could not believe that he was in earnest; which
pleased him mightily, I remember. When I was brought at last to
see that the king had meant this for me from the first, and had
merely lent the patent to Turenne that the latter might make
trial of me, my pleasure and gratification were such that I could
no more express them then than I can now describe them. For they
knew no bounds. I stood before Rosny silent and confused, with
long-forgotten tears welling up to my eyes, and one regret only
in my heart--that my dear mother had not lived to see the fond
illusions with which I had so often amused her turned to sober
fact. Not then, but afterwards, I remarked that the salary of my
office amounted to the exact sum which I had been in the habit of
naming to her; and I learned that Rosny had himself fixed it on
information given him by Mademoiselle de la Vire.

As my transports grew more moderate, and I found voice to thank
my benefactor, he had still an answer. 'Do not deceive yourself,
my friend,' he said gravely, 'or think this an idle reward. My
master is King of France, but he is a king without a kingdom, and
a captain without money. To-day, to gain his rights, he has
parted with half his powers. Before he win all back there will
be blows--blows, my friend. And to that end I have bought your
sword.'

I told him that if no other left its scabbard for the king, mine
should be drawn.

'I believe you,' he answered kindly, laying his hand on my
shoulder. 'Not by reason of your words--Heaven knows I have
heard vows enough to-day!--but because I have proved you. And
now,' he continued, speaking in an altered tone and looking at me
with a queer smile, 'now I suppose you are perfectly satisfied?
You have nothing more to wish for, my friend?'

I looked aside in a guilty fashion, not daring to prefer on the
top of all his kindness a further petition. Moreover, His
Majesty might have other views; or on this point Turenne might
have proved obstinate. In a word, there was nothing in what had
happened, or on M. de Rosny's communication, to inform me whether
the wish of my heart was to be gratified or not.

But I should have known that great man better than to suppose
that he was one to promise without performing, or to wound a
friend when he could not salve the hurt. After enjoying my
confusion for a time he burst into a great shout of laughter,
and taking me familiarly by the shoulders, turned me towards the
door. 'There, go!' he said. 'Go up the passage. You will find
a door on the right, and a door on the left. You will know which
to open.'

Forbidding me to utter a syllable, he put me out. In the
passage, where I fain would have stood awhile to collect my
thoughts, I was affrighted by sounds which warned me that the
king was returning that way. Fearing to be surprised by him in
such a state of perturbation, I hurried to the end of the
passage, where I discovered, as I had been told, two doors.

They were both closed, and there was nothing about either of them
to direct my choice. But M. de Rosny was correct in supposing
that I had not forgotten the advice he had offered me on the day
when he gave me so fine a surprise in his own house--'When you
want a good wife, M. de Marsac, turn to the right!' I remembered
the words, and without a moment's hesitation--for the king and
his suite were already entering the passage--I knocked boldly,
and scarcely waiting for an invitation, went in.

Fanchette was by the door, but stood aside with a grim smile,
which I was at liberty to accept as a welcome or not.
Mademoiselle, who had been seated on the farther side of the
table, rose as I entered, and we stood looking at one another.
Doubtless she waited for me to speak first; while I on my side
was so greatly taken aback by the change wrought in her by the
Court dress she was wearing and the air of dignity with which she
wore it, that I stood gasping. I turned coward after all that
had passed between us. This was not the girl I had wooed in the
greenwood by St. Gaultier; nor the pale-faced woman I had lifted
to the saddle a score of times in the journey Paris-wards. The
sense of unworthiness which I had experienced a few minutes
before in the crowded antechamber returned in full force in
presence of her grace and beauty, and once more I stood tongue-
tied before her, as I had stood in the lodgings at Blois. All
the later time, all that had passed between us was forgotten.

She, for her part, looked at me wondering at my silence. Her
face, which had grown rosy red at my entrance, turned pale again.
Her eyes grew large with alarm; she began to beat her foot on the
floor in a manner I knew. 'Is anything the matter, sir?' she
muttered at last.

'On the contrary, mademoiselle,' I answered hoarsely, looking
every way, and grasping at the first thing I could think of, 'I
am just from M. de Rosny.'

'And he?'

'He has made me Lieutenant-Governor of the Armagnac.'

She curtseyed to me in a wonderful fashion. 'It pleases me to
congratulate you, sir,' she said, in a voice between laughing and
crying. 'It is not more than equal to your deserts.'

I tried to thank her becomingly, feeling at the same time more
foolish than I had ever felt in my life; for I knew that this was
neither what I had come to tell nor she to hear. Yet I could not
muster up courage nor find words to go farther, and stood by the
table in a state of miserable discomposure.

'Is that all, sir?' she said at last, losing patience.

Certainly it was now or never, and I knew it. I made the effort.
'No, mademoiselle,' I said in a low voice. 'Far from it. But I
do not see here the lady to whom I came to address myself, and
whom I have seen a hundred times in far other garb than yours,
wet and weary and dishevelled, in danger and in flight. Her I
have served and loved; and for her I have lived. I have had no
thought for months that has not been hers, nor care save for her.
I and all that I have by the king's bounty are hers, and I came
to lay them at her feet. But I do not see her here.'

'No, sir?' she answered in a whisper, with her face averted.

'No, mademoiselle.'

With a sudden brightness and quickness which set my heart beating
she turned, and looked at me. 'Indeed!' she said. 'I am sorry
for that. It is a pity your love should be given elsewhere, M.
de Marsac--since it is the king's will that you should marry me.'

'Ah, mademoiselle!' I cried, kneeling before her--for she had
come round the table and stood beside me--'But you?'

'It is my will too, sir,' she answered, smiling through her
tears.

* * *

On the following day Mademoiselle de la Vire became my wife; the
king's retreat from Paris, which was rendered necessary by the
desertion of many who were ill-affected to the Huguenots,
compelling the instant performance of the marriage, if we would
have it read by M. d'Amours. This haste notwithstanding, I was
enabled by the kindness of M. d'Agen to make such an appearance,
in respect both of servants and equipment, as became rather my
future prospects than my past distresses. It is true that His
Majesty, out of a desire to do nothing which might offend
Turenne, did not honour us with his presence; but Madame
Catherine attended on his behalf, and herself gave me my bride.
M. de Sully and M. Crillon, with the Marquis de Rambouillet and
his nephew, and my distant connection, the Duke de Rohan, who
first acknowledged me on that day, were among those who earned my
gratitude by attending me upon the occasion.

The marriage of M. Francois d'Agen with the widow of my old rival
and opponent did not take place until something more than a year
later, a delay which was less displeasing to me than to the
bridegroom, inasmuch as it left madame at liberty to bear my wife
company during my absence on the campaign of Arques and Ivry. In
the latter battle, which added vastly to the renown of M. de
Rosny, who captured the enemy's standard with his own hand, I had
the misfortune to be wounded in the second of the two charges led
by the king; and being attacked by two foot soldiers, as I lay
entangled I must inevitably have perished but for the aid
afforded me by Simon Fleix, who flew to the rescue with the
courage of a veteran. His action was observed by the king, who
begged him from me, and attaching him to his own person in the
capacity of clerk, started him so fairly on the road to fortune
that he has since risen beyond hope or expectation.

The means by which Henry won for a time the support of Turenne
(and incidentally procured his consent to my marriage) are now
too notorious to require explanation. Nevertheless, it was not
until the Vicomte's union a year later with Mademoiselle de la
Marck, who brought him the Duchy of Bouillon, that I thoroughly
understood the matter; or the kindness peculiar to the king, my
master, which impelled that great monarch, in the arrangement of
affairs so vast, to remember the interests of the least of his
servants.

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