Part 1 out of 5
BARDELYS THE MAGNIFICENT
Being on Account of the Strange Wooing pursued by
the Sieur Marcel de Saint-Pol; Marquis of Bardelys,
and of the things that in the course of it befell him
in Languedoc, in the year of the Rebellion
BY RAFAEL SABATINI
I. THE WAGER
II. THE KING'S WISHES
III. RENT: DE LESPERON
IV. A MAID IN THE MOONLIGHT
V. THE VICOMTE DE LAVEDAN
VI. IN CONVALESCENCE
VII. THE HOSTILITY OF SAINT-EUSTACHE
VIII. THE PORTRAIT
IX. A NIGHT ALARM
X. THE RISEN DEAD
XI. THE KING'S COMMISSIONER
XII. THE TRIBUNAL OF TOULOUSE
XIII. THE ELEVENTH HOUR
XV. MONSIEUR DE CHATELLERAULT IS ANGRY
XVII. THE BABBLING OF GANYMEDE
XVIII. SAINT-EUSTACHE IS OBSTINATE
XIX. THE FLINT AND THE STEEL
XX. THE "BRAVI" AT BLAGNAC
XXI. LOUIS THE JUST
XXII. WE UNSADDLE
BARDELYS THE MAGNIFICENT
Speak of the Devil," whispered La Fosse in my ear, and, moved by the
words and by the significance of his glance, I turned in my chair.
The door had opened, and under the lintel stood the thick-set figure
of the Comte de Chatellerault. Before him a lacquey in my
escutcheoned livery of red-and-gold was receiving, with back
obsequiously bent, his hat and cloak.
A sudden hush fell upon the assembly where a moment ago this very
man had been the subject of our talk, and silenced were the wits
that but an instant since had been making free with his name and
turning the Languedoc courtship - from which he was newly returned
with the shame of defeat - into a subject for heartless mockery and
jest. Surprise was in the air for we had heard that Chatellerault
was crushed by his ill-fortune in the lists of Cupid, and we had not
looked to see him joining so soon a board at which - or so at least
I boasted - mirth presided.
And so for a little space the Count stood pausing on my threshold,
whilst we craned our necks to contemplate him as though he had been
an object for inquisitive inspection. Then a smothered laugh from
the brainless La Fosse seemed to break the spell. I frowned. It
was a climax of discourtesy whose impression I must at all costs
I leapt to my feet, with a suddenness that sent my chair gliding a
full half-yard along the glimmering parquet of the floor, and in two
strides I had reached the Count and put forth my hand to bid him
welcome. He took it with a leisureliness that argued sorrow. He
advanced into the full blaze of the candlelight, and fetched a dismal
sigh from the depths of his portly bulk.
"You are surprised to see me, Monsieur le Marquis," said he, and
his tone seemed to convey an apology for his coming - for his very
Now Nature had made my Lord of Chatellerault as proud and arrogant
as Lucifer - some resemblance to which illustrious personage his
downtrodden retainers were said to detect in the lineaments of his
swarthy face. Environment had added to that store of insolence
wherewith Nature had equipped him, and the King's favour - in which
he was my rival - had gone yet further to mould the peacock
attributes of his vain soul. So that this wondrous humble tone of
his gave me pause; for to me it seemed that not even a courtship
gone awry could account for it in such a man.
"I had not thought to find so many here," said he. And his next
words contained the cause of his dejected air. "The King, Monsieur
de Bardelys, has refused to see me; and when the sun is gone, we
lesser bodies of the courtly firmament must needs turn for light
and comfort to the moon." And he made me a sweeping bow.
"Meaning that I rule the night?" quoth I, and laughed. "The figure
is more playful than exact, for whilst the moon is cold and
cheerless, me you shall find ever warm and cordial. I could have
wished, Monsieur de Chatellerault, that your gracing my board were
due to a circumstance less untoward than His Majesty's displeasure."
"It is not for nothing that they call you the Magnificent," he
answered, with a fresh bow, insensible to the sting in the tail
of my honeyed words.
I laughed, and, setting compliments to rest with that, I led him
to the table.
"Ganymede, a place here for Monsieur le Comte. Gilles, Antoine,
see to Monsieur de Chatellerault. Basile, wine for Monsieur le
Comte. Bestir there!"
In a moment he was become the centre of a very turmoil of attention.
My lacqueys flitted about him buzzing and insistent as bees about
a rose. Would Monsieur taste of this capon a la casserole, or of
this truffled peacock? Would a slice of this juicy ham a l'anglaise
tempt Monsieur le Comte, or would he give himself the pain of
trying this turkey aux olives? Here was a salad whose secret
Monsieur le Marquis's cook had learnt in Italy, and here a
vol-au-vent that was invented by Quelon himself.
Basile urged his wines upon him, accompanied by a page who bore a
silver tray laden with beakers and Wagons. Would Monsieur le Comte
take white Armagnac or red Anjou? This was a Burgundy of which
Monsieur le Marquis thought highly, and this a delicate Lombardy
wine that His Majesty had oft commended. Or perhaps Monsieur de
Chatellerault would prefer to taste the last vintage of Bardelys?
And so they plagued him and bewildered him until his choice was
made; and even then a couple of them held themselves in readiness
behind his chair to forestall his slightest want. Indeed, had he
been the very King himself, no greater honour could we have shown
him at the Hotel de Bardelys.
But the restraint that his coming had brought with it hung still
upon the company, for Chatellerault was little loved, and his
presence there was much as that of the skull at an Egyptian banquet.
For of all these fair-weather friends that sat about my table -
amongst whom there were few that had not felt his power - I feared
there might be scarcely one would have the grace to dissemble his
contempt of the fallen favourite. That he was fallen, as much his
words as what already we had known, had told us.
Yet in my house I would strive that he should have no foretaste of
that coldness that to-morrow all Paris would be showing him, and
to this end I played the host with all the graciousness that role
may bear, and overwhelmed him with my cordiality, whilst to thaw
all iciness from the bearing of my other guests, I set the wines to
flow more freely still. My dignity would permit no less of me,
else would it have seemed that I rejoiced in a rival's downfall and
took satisfaction from the circumstance that his disfavour with the
King was like to result in my own further exaltation.
My efforts were not wasted. Slowly the mellowing influence of the
grape pronounced itself. To this influence I added that of such
wit as Heaven has graced me with, and by a word here and another
there I set myself to lash their mood back into the joviality out
of which his coming had for the moment driven it.
And so, presently, Good-Humour spread her mantle over us anew, and
quip and jest and laughter decked our speech, until the noise of
our merry-making drifting out through the open windows must have
been borne upon the breeze of that August night down the rue
Saint-Dominique, across the rue de l'Enfer, to the very ears perhaps
of those within the Luxembourg, telling them that Bardelys and his
friends kept another of those revels which were become a byword in
Paris, and had contributed not a little to the sobriquet of
"Magnificent" which men gave me.
But, later, as the toasts grew wild and were pledged less for the
sake of the toasted than for that of the wine itself, wits grew
more barbed and less restrained by caution; recklessness hung a
moment, like a bird of prey, above us, then swooped abruptly down
in the words of that fool La Fosse.
"Messieurs," he lisped, with that fatuousness he affected, and with
his eye fixed coldly upon Chatellerault, "I have a toast for you."
He rose carefully to his feet - he had arrived at that condition in
which to move with care is of the first importance. He shifted his
eye from the Count to his glass, which stood half empty. He signed
to a lacquey to fill it. "To the brim, gentlemen," he commanded.
Then, in the silence that ensued, he attempted to stand with one
foot on the ground and one on his chair; but encountering
difficulties of balance, he remained upright - safer if less
"Messieurs, I give you the most peerless, the most beautiful, the
most difficult and cold lady in all France. I drink to those her
thousand graces, of which Fame has told us, and to that greatest
and most vexing charm of all - her cold indifference to man. I
pledge you, too, the swain whose good fortune it maybe to play
Endymion to this Diana.
"It will need," pursued La Fosse, who dealt much in mythology and
classic lore - "it will need an Adonis in beauty, a Mars in valour,
an Apollo in song, and a very Eros in love to accomplish it. And I
fear me," he hiccoughed, "that it will go unaccomplished, since the
one man in all France on whom we have based our hopes has failed.
Gentlemen, to your feet! I give you the matchless Roxalanne de
Such amusement as I felt was tempered by apprehension. I shot a
swift glance at Chatellerault to mark how he took this pleasantry
and this pledging of the lady whom the King had sent him to woo, but
whom he had failed to win. He had risen with the others at La
Fosse's bidding, either unsuspicious or else deeming suspicion too
flimsy a thing by which to steer conduct. Yet at the mention of her
name a scowl darkened his ponderous countenance. He set down his
glass with such sudden force that its slender stem was snapped and
a red stream of wine streaked the white tablecloth and spread around
a silver flowerbowl. The sight of that stain recalled him to himself
and to the manners he had allowed himself for a moment to forget.
"Bardelys, a thousand apologies for my clumsiness," he muttered.
"Spilt wine," I laughed, "is a good omen."
And for once I accepted that belief, since but for the shedding of
that wine and its sudden effect upon him, it is likely we had
witnessed a shedding of blood. Thus, was the ill-timed pleasantry
of my feather-brained La Fosse tided over in comparative safety.
But the topic being raised was not so easily abandoned. Mademoiselle
de Lavedan grew to be openly discussed, and even the Count's
courtship of her came to be hinted at, at first vaguely, then
pointedly, with a lack of delicacy for which I can but blame the
wine with which these gentlemen had made a salad of their senses.
In growing alarm I watched the Count. But he showed no further sign
of irritation. He sat and listened as though no jot concerned.
There were moments when he even smiled at some lively sally, and at
last he went so far as to join in that merry combat of wits, and
defend himself from their attacks, which were made with a good-humour
that but thinly veiled the dislike he was held in and the
satisfaction that was culled from his late discomfiture.
For a while I hung back and took no share in the banter that was
toward. But in the end - lured perhaps by the spirit in which I
have shown that Chatellerault accepted it, and lulled by the wine
which in common with my guests I may have abused - I came to utter
words but for which this story never had been written.
"Chatellerault," I laughed, "abandon these defensive subterfuges;
confess that you are but uttering excuses, and acknowledge that you
have conducted this affair with a clumsiness unpardonable in one
equipped with your advantages of courtly rearing."
A flush overspread his face, the first sign of anger since he had
spilled his wine.
"Your successes, Bardelys, render you vain, and of vanity is
presumption born," he replied contemptuously.
"See!" I cried, appealing to the company. "Observe how he seeks to
evade replying! Nay, but you shall confess your clumsiness."
"A clumsiness," murmured La Fosse drowsily, "as signal as that
which attended Pan's wooing of the Queen of Lydia."
"I have no clumsiness to confess," he answered hotly, raising his
voice. "It is a fine thing to sit here in Paris, among the languid,
dull, and nerveless beauties of the Court, whose favours are easily
won because they look on dalliance as the best pastime offered
them, and are eager for such opportunities of it as you fleering
coxcombs will afford them. But this Mademoiselle de Lavedan is
of a vastly different mettle. She is a woman; not a doll. She is
flesh and blood; not sawdust, powder, and vermilion. She has a
heart and a will; not a spirit corrupted by vanity and licence."
La Fosse burst into a laugh.
"Hark! O, hark!" he cried, "to the apostle of the chaste!"
"Saint Gris!" exclaimed another. "This good Chatellerault has
lost both heart and head to her."
Chatellerault glanced at the speaker with an eye in which anger
"You have said it," I agreed. "He has fallen her victim, and so
his vanity translates her into a compound of perfections. Does
such a woman as you have described exist, Comte? Bah! In a
lover's mind, perhaps, or in the pages of some crack-brained
poet's fancies; but nowhere else in this dull world of ours."
He made a gesture of impatience.
"You have been clumsy, Chatellerault," I insisted.
"You have lacked address. The woman does not live that is not to
be won by any man who sets his mind to do it, if only he be of her
station and have the means to maintain her in it or raise her to
a better. A woman's love, sir, is a tree whose root is vanity.
Your attentions flatter her, and predispose her to capitulate.
Then, if you but wisely choose your time to deliver the attack, and
do so with the necessary adroitness - nor is overmuch demanded -
the battle is won with ease, and she surrenders. Believe me,
Chatellerault, I am a younger man than you by full five years, yet
in experience I am a generation older, and I talk of what I know."
He sneered heavily. "If to have begun your career of dalliance at
the age of eighteen with an amour that resulted in a scandal be
your title to experience, I agree," said he. "But for the rest,
Bardelys, for all your fine talk of conquering women, believe me
when I tell you that in all your life you have never met a woman,
for I deny the claim of these Court creatures to that title. If
you would know a woman, go to Lavedan, Monsieur le Marquis. If you
would have your army of amorous wiles suffer a defeat at last, go
employ it against the citadel of Roxalanne de Lavedan's heart. If
you would be humbled in your pride, betake yourself to Lavedan."
"A challenge!" roared a dozen voices. "A challenge, Bardelys!"
"Mais voyons," I deprecated, with a laugh, "would you have me
journey into Languedoc and play at wooing this embodiment of all
the marvels of womanhood for the sake of making good my argument?
Of your charity, gentlemen, insist no further."
"The never-failing excuse of the boaster," sneered Chatellerault,
"when desired to make good his boast."
"Monsieur conceives that I have made a boast?" quoth I, keeping
"Your words suggested one - else I do not know the meaning of words.
They suggested that where I have failed you could succeed, if you
had a mind to try. I have challenged you, Bardelys. I challenge
you again. Go about this wooing as you will; dazzle the lady with
your wealth and your magnificence, with your servants, your horses,
your equipages; and all the splendours you can command; yet I make
bold to say that not a year of your scented attentions and most
insidious wiles will bear you fruit. Are you sufficiently
"But this is rank frenzy!" I protested. "Why should I undertake
"To prove me wrong," he taunted me. "To prove me clumsy. Come,
Bardelys, what of your spirit?"
"I confess I would do much to afford you the proof you ask. But to
take a wife! Pardi! That is much indeed!"
"Bah!" he sneered. "You do well to draw back You are wise to
avoid discomfiture. This lady is not for you. When she is won,
it will be by some bold and gallant gentleman, and by no mincing
squire of dames, no courtly coxcomb, no fop of the Luxembourg, be
his experiences of dalliance never so vast."
"Po' Cap de Dieu!" growled Cazalet, who was a Gascon captain in
the Guards, and who swore strange, southern oaths. "Up, Bardelys!
Afoot! Prove your boldness and your gallantry, or be forever
shamed; a squire of dames, a courtly coxcomb, a fop of the
Luxembourg! Mordemondieu! I have given a man a bellyful of steel
for the half of those titles!"
"I heeded him little, and as little the other noisy babblers, who
now on their feet - those that could stand - were spurring me
excitedly to accept the challenge, until from being one of the
baiters it seemed that of a sudden the tables were turned and I
was become the baited. I sat in thought, revolving the business
in my mind, and frankly liking it but little. Doubts of the issue,
were I to undertake it, I had none.
My views of the other sex were neither more nor less than my words
to the Count had been calculated to convey. It may be - I know now
that it was that the women I had known fitted Chatellerault's
description, and were not over-difficult to win. Hence, such
successes as I had had with them in such comedies of love as I had
been engaged upon had given me a false impression. But such at
least was not my opinion that night. I was satisfied that
Chatellerault talked wildly, and that no such woman lived as he
depicted. Cynical and soured you may account me. Such I know I
was accounted in Paris; a man satiated with all that wealth and
youth and the King's favour could give him; stripped of illusions,
of faith and of zest, the very magnificence - so envied - of my
existence affording me more disgust than satisfaction. Since
already I had gauged its shallows.
Is it strange, therefore, that in this challenge flung at me with
such insistence, a business that at first I disliked grew presently
to beckon me with its novelty and its promise of new sensations?
"Is your spirit dead, Monsieur de Bardelys?" Chatellerault was
gibing, when my silence had endured some moments. "Is the cock that
lately crowed so lustily now dumb? Look you, Monsieur le Marquis,
you are accounted here a reckless gamester. Will a wager induce
you to this undertaking?"
I leapt to my feet at that. His derision cut me like a whip. If
what I did was the act of a braggart, yet it almost seems I could
do no less to bolster up my former boasting - or what into boasting
they had translated.
"You'll lay a wager, will you, Chatellerault?" I cried, giving him
back defiance for defiance. A breathless silence fell. "Then have
it so. Listen, gentlemen, that you may be witnesses. I do here
pledge my castle of Bardelys, and my estates in Picardy, with every
stick and stone and blade of grass that stands upon them, that I
shall woo and win Roxalanne de Lavedan to be the Marquise of
Bardelys. Does the stake satisfy you, Monsieur le Comte? You may
set all you have against it," I added coarsely, "and yet, I swear,
the odds will be heavily in your favour."
I remember it was Mironsac who first found his tongue, and sought
even at that late hour to set restraint upon us and to bring
judgment to our aid.
"Messieurs, messieurs!" he besought us. "In Heaven's name, bethink
you what you do. Bardelys, your wager is a madness. Monsieur de
Chatellerault, you'll not accept it. You'll--"
"Be silent," I rebuked him, with some asperity. "What has Monsieur
de Chatellerault to say?"
He was staring at the tablecloth and the stain of the wine that he
had spilled when first Mademoiselle de Lavedan's name was mentioned.
His head had been bent so that his long black hair had tumbled
forward and partly veiled his face. At my question he suddenly
looked up. The ghost of a smile hung on his sensuous lips, for all
that excitement had paled his countenance beyond its habit.
"Monsieur le Marquis." said he rising, "I take your wager, and I
pledge my lands in Normandy against yours of Bardelys. Should you
lose, they will no longer call you the Magnificent; should I lose
--I shall be a beggar. It is a momentous wager, Bardelys, and
spells ruin for one of us."
"A madness!" groaned Mironsac.
"Mordieux!" swore Cazalet. Whilst La Fosse, who had been the
original cause of all this trouble, vented his excitement in a
gibber of imbecile laughter.
"How long do you give me, Chatellerault?" I asked, as quietly as
"What time shall you require?"
"I should prefer that you name the limit," I answered.
He pondered a moment. Then "Will three months suffice you?" he
"If it is not done in three months, I will pay," said I.
And then Chatellerault did what after all was, I suppose, the only
thing that a gentleman might do under the circumstances. He rose
to his feet, and, bidding the company charge their glasses, he gave
them a parting toast.
"Messieurs, drink with me to Monsieur le Marquis de Bardelys's safe
journey into Languedoc, and to the prospering of his undertaking."
In answer, a great shout went up from throats that suspense had
lately held in leash. Men leapt on to their chairs, and, holding
their glasses on high, they acclaimed me as thunderously as though
I had been the hero of some noble exploit, instead of the main
figure in a somewhat questionable wager.
"Bardelys!" was the shout with which the house reechoed. "Bardelys!
Bardelys the Magnificent! Vive Bardelys!"
THE KING'S WISHES
It was daybreak ere the last of them had left me, for a dozen or so
had lingered to play lansquenet after the others had departed. With
those that remained my wager had soon faded into insignificance, as
their minds became engrossed in the fluctuations of their own
I did not play myself; I was not in the mood, and for one night, at
least, of sufficient weight already I thought the game upon which I
I was out on the balcony as the first lines of dawn were scoring the
east, and in a moody, thoughtful condition I had riveted my eyes
upon the palace of the Luxembourg, which loomed a black pile against
the lightening sky, when Mironsac came out to join me. A gentle,
lovable lad was Mironsac, not twenty years of age, and with the face
and manners of a woman. That he was attached to me I knew.
"Monsieur le Marquis," said he softly, "I am desolated at this wager
into which they have forced you."
"Forced me?" I echoed. "No, no; they did not force me. And yet,"
I reflected, with a sigh, "perhaps they did."
"I have been thinking, monsieur, that if the King were to hear of
it the evil might be mended."
"But the King must not hear of it, Armand," I answered quickly.
"Even if he did, matters would be no better - much worse, possibly."
"But, monsieur, this thing done in the heat of wine--"
"Is none the less done, Armand," I concluded. "And I for one do
not wish it undone."
"But have you no thought for the lady?" he cried.
I laughed at him. "Were I still eighteen, boy, the thought might
trouble me. Had I my illusions, I might imagine that my wife must
be some woman of whom I should be enamoured. As it is, I have grown
to the age of twenty-eight unwed. Marriage becomes desirable. I
must think of an heir to all the wealth of Bardelys. And so I go
to Languedoc. If the lady be but half the saint that fool
Chatellerault has painted her, so much the better for my children;
if not, so much the worse. There is the dawn, Mironsac, and it is
time we were abed. Let us drive these plaguy gamesters home."
When the last of them had staggered down my steps, and I had bidden
a drowsy lacquey extinguish the candles, I called Ganymede to light
me to bed and aid me to undress. His true name was Rodenard; but
my friend La Fosse, of mythological fancy, had named him Ganymede,
after the cup-bearer of the gods, and the name had clung to him.
He was a man of some forty years of age, born into my father's
service, and since become my intendant, factotum, majordomo, and
generalissimo of my regiment of servants and my establishments both
in Paris and at Bardelys.
We had been to the wars together ere I had cut my wisdom teeth, and
thus had he come to love me. There was nothing this invaluable
servant could not do. At baiting or shoeing a horse, at healing a
wound, at roasting a capon, or at mending a doublet, he was alike
a master, besides possessing a score of other accomplishments that
do not now occur to me, which in his campaigning he had acquired.
Of late the easy life in Paris had made him incline to corpulency,
and his face was of a pale, unhealthy fullness.
To-night, as he assisted me to undress, it wore an expression of
"Monseigneur is going into Languedoc?" he inquired sorrowfully.
He always called me his "seigneur," as did the other of my servants
born at Bardelys.
"Knave, you have been listening," said I.
"But, monseigneur," he explained, "when Monsieur le Comte de
Chatellerault laid his wager--"
"And have I not told you, Ganymede, that when you chance to be among
my friends you should hear nothing but the words addressed to you,
see nothing but the glasses that need replenishing? But, there! We
are going into Languedoc. What of it?"
"They say that war may break out at any moment," he groaned; "that
Monsieur le Duc de Montmorency is receiving reenforcements from
Spain, and that he intends to uphold the standard of Monsieur and
the rights of the province against the encroachments of His
Eminence the Cardinal."
"So! We are becoming politicians, eh, Ganymede? And how shall
all this concern us? Had you listened more attentively, you had
learnt that we go to Languedoc to seek a wife, and not to concern
ourselves with Cardinals and Dukes. Now let me sleep ere the sun
On the morrow I attended the levee, and I applied to His Majesty
for leave to absent myself. But upon hearing that it was into
Languedoc I went, he frowned inquiry. Trouble enough was his
brother already making in that province. I explained that I went
to seek a wife, and deeming all subterfuge dangerous, since it might
only serve to provoke him when later he came to learn the lady's
name, I told him - withholding yet all mention of the wager - that
I fostered the hope of making Mademoiselle de Lavedan my marquise.
Deeper came the line between his brows at that, and blacker grew
the scowl. He was not wont to bestow on me such looks as I now
met in his weary eyes, for Louis XIII had much affection for me.
"You know this lady?" he demanded sharply.
"Only by name, Your Majesty."
At that his brows went up in astonishment.
"Only by name? And you would wed her? But, Marcel, my friend, you
are a rich man one of the richest in France. You cannot be a
"Sire," I answered, "Fame sings loudly the praises of this lady,
her beauty and her virtue - praises that lead me to opine she would
make me an excellent chatelaine. I am come to an age when it is
well to wed; indeed, Your Majesty has often told me so. And it
seems to me that all France does not hold a lady more desirable.
Heaven send she will agree to my suit!"
In that tired way of his that was so pathetic: "Do you love me a
little, Marcel?" he asked.
"Sire," I exclaimed, wondering whither all this was leading us,
"need I protest it?"
"No," he answered dryly; "you can prove it. Prove it by
abandoning this Languedoc quest. I have motives - sound motives,
motives of political import. I desire another wedding for
Mademoiselle de Lavedan. I wish it so, Bardelys, and I look to
For a moment temptation had me by the throat. Here was an
unlooked-for chance to shake from me a business which reflection
was already rendering odious. I had but to call together my
friends of yesternight, and with them the Comte de Chatellerault,
and inform them that by the King was I forbidden to go awooing
Roxalanne de Lavedan. So should my wager be dissolved. And then
in a flash I saw how they would sneer one and all, and how they
would think that I had caught avidly at this opportunity of
freeing myself from an undertaking into which a boastful mood had
lured me. The fear of that swept aside my momentary hesitation.
"Sire," I answered, bending my head contritely, "I am desolated
that my inclinations should run counter to your wishes, but to your
wonted kindness and clemency I must look for forgiveness if these
same inclinations drive me so relentlessly that I may not now
He caught me viciously by the arm and looked sharply into my
"You defy me, Bardelys?" he asked, in a voice of anger.
"God forbid, Sire!" I answered quickly. "I do but pursue my
He took a turn in silence, like a man who is mastering himself
before he will speak. Many an eye, I knew, was upon us, and not
a few may have been marvelling whether already Bardelys were about
to share the fate that yesterday had overtaken his rival
Chatellerault. At last he halted at my side again.
"Marcel," said he, but though he used that name his voice was harsh,
"go home and ponder what I have said. If you value my favour, if
you desire my love, you will abandon this journey and the suit you
contemplate. If, on the other hand, you persist in going - you
need not return. The Court of France has no room for gentlemen who
are but lip-servers, no place for courtiers who disobey their King."
That was his last word. He waited for no reply, but swung round
on his heel, and an instant later I beheld him deep in conversation
with the Duke of Saint-Simon. Of such a quality is the love of
princes - vain, capricious, and wilful. Indulge it ever and at any
cost, else you forfeit it.
I turned away with a sigh, for in spite of all his weaknesses and
meannesses I loved this cardinal-ridden king, and would have died
for him had the need occurred, as well he knew. But in this matter
--well, I accounted my honour involved, and there was now no
turning back save by the payment of my wager and the acknowledgment
RENE DE LESPERON
That very day I set out. For since the King was opposed to the
affair, and knowing the drastic measures by which he was wont to
enforce what he desired, I realized that did I linger he might
find a way definitely to prevent my going.
I travelled in a coach, attended by two lacqueys and a score of
men-at-arms in my own livery, all commanded by Ganymede. My
intendant himself came in another coach with my wardrobe and
travelling necessaries. We were a fine and almost regal cortege
as we passed down the rue de l'Enfer and quitted Paris by the
Orleans gate, taking the road south. So fine a cortege, indeed,
that it entered my mind. His Majesty would come to hear of it,
and, knowing my destination, send after me to bring me back. To
evade such a possibility, I ordered a divergence to be made, and
we struck east and into Touraine. At Pont-le-Duc, near Tours,
I had a cousin in the Vicomte d'Amaral, and at his chateau I
arrived on the third day after quitting Paris.
Since that was the last place where they would seek me, if to seek
me they were inclined, I elected to remain my cousin's guest for
fifteen days. And whilst I was there we had news of trouble in
the South and of a rising in Languedoc under the Duc de Montmorency.
Thus was it that when I came to take my leave of Amaral, he,
knowing that Languedoc was my destination, sought ardently to keep
me with him until we should learn that peace and order were
restored in the province. But I held the trouble lightly, and
insisted upon going.
Resolutely, then, if by slow stages, we pursued our journey, and
came at last to Montauban. There we lay a night at the Auberge de
Navarre, intending to push on to Lavedan upon the morrow. My
father had been on more than friendly terms with the Vicomte de
Lavedan, and upon this I built my hopes of a cordial welcome and
an invitation to delay for a few days the journey to Toulouse,
upon which I should represent myself as bound.
Thus, then, stood my plans. And they remained unaltered for all
that upon the morrow there were wild rumours in the air of Montauban.
There were tellings of a battle fought the day before at
Castelnaudary, of the defeat of Monsieur's partisans, of the utter
rout of Gonzalo de Cordova's Spanish tatterdemalions, and of the
capture of Montmorency, who was sorely wounded - some said with
twenty and some with thirty wounds - and little like to live.
Sorrow and discontent stalked abroad in Languedoc that day, for
they believed that it was against the Cardinal, who sought to strip
them of so many privileges, that Gaston d'Orleans had set up his
That those rumours of battle and defeat were true we had ample
proof some few hours later, when a company of dragoons in buff and
steel rode into the courtyard of the Auberge de Navarre, headed by
a young spark of an officer, who confirmed the rumour and set the
number of Montmorency's wounds at seventeen. He was lying, the
officer told us, at Castelnaudary, and his duchess was hastening
to him from Beziers. Poor woman! She was destined to nurse him
back to life and vigour only that he might take his trial at
Toulouse and pay with his head the price of his rebellion.
Ganymede who, through the luxurious habits of his more recent years
had - for all his fine swagger - developed a marked distaste for
warfare and excitement, besought me to take thought for my safety
and to lie quietly at Montauban until the province should be more
"The place is a hotbed of rebellion," he urged. "If these Chouans
but learn that we are from Paris and of the King's party, we shall
have our throats slit, as I live. There is not a peasant in all
this countryside indeed, scarce a man of any sort but is a red-hot
Orleanist, anti-Cardinalist, and friend of the Devil. Bethink you,
monseigneur, to push on at the present is to court murder."
"Why, then, we will court murder," said I coldly. "Give the word
I asked him at the moment of setting out did he know the road to
Lavedan, to which the lying poltroon made answer that he did. In
his youth he may have known it, and the countryside may have
undergone since then such changes as bewildered him. Or it may be
that fear dulled his wits, and lured him into taking what may have
seemed the safer rather than the likelier road. But this I know,
that as night was falling my carriage halted with a lurch, and as
I put forth my head I was confronted by my trembling intendant, his
great fat face gleaming whitely in the gloom above the lawn collar
on his doublet.
"Why do we halt, Ganymede?" quoth I.
"Monseigneur," he faltered, his trembling increasing as he spoke,
and his eyes meeting mine in a look of pitiful contrition, "I fear
we are lost."
"Lost?" I echoed. "Of what do you talk? Am I to sleep in the coach?"
"Alas, monseigneur, I have done my best--"
"Why, then, God keep us from your worst," I snapped. "Open me this
I stepped down and looked about me, and, by my faith, a more desolate
spot to lose us in my henchman could not have contrived had he been
at pains to do so. A bleak, barren landscape - such as I could
hardly have credited was to be found in all that fair province -
unfolded itself, looking now more bleak, perhaps, by virtue of the
dim evening mist that hovered over it. Yonder, to the right, a dull
russet patch of sky marked the west, and then in front of us I made
out the hazy outline of the Pyrenees. At sight of them, I swung
round and gripped my henchman by the shoulder.
"A fine trusty servant thou!" I cried. "Boaster! Had you told us
that age and fat living had so stunted your wits as to have
extinguished memory, I had taken a guide at Montauban to show us
the way. Yet, here, with the sun and the Pyrenees to guide you,
even had you no other knowledge, you lose yourself!"
"Monseigneur," he whimpered, "I was choosing my way by the sun and
the mountains, and it was thus that I came to this impasse. For
you may see, yourself, that the road ends here abruptly."
"Ganymede," said I slowly, "when we return to Paris - if you do
not die of fright 'twixt this and then - I'll find a place for you
in the kitchens. God send you may make a better scullion than a
follower!" Then, vaulting over the wall, "Attend me, some
half-dozen of you," I commanded, and stepped out briskly towards
As the weather-beaten old door creaked upon its rusty hinges, we
were greeted by a groan from within, and with it the soft rustle
of straw that is being moved. Surprised, I halted, and waited
whilst one of my men kindled a light in the lanthorn that he
By its rays we beheld a pitiable sight in a corner of that building.
A man, quite young and of a tall and vigorous frame, lay stretched
upon the straw. He was fully dressed even to his great riding-boots,
and from the loose manner in which his back-and-breast hung now upon
him, it would seem as if he had been making shift to divest himself
of his armour, but had lacked the strength to complete the task.
Beside him lay a feathered headpiece and a sword attached to a
richly broidered baldrick. All about him the straw was clotted with
brown, viscous patches of blood. The doublet which had been of
sky-blue velvet was all sodden and stained, and inspection showed
us that he had been wounded in the right side, between the straps
of his breastplate.
As we stood about him now, a silent, pitying group, appearing
fantastic, perhaps, by the dim light of that single lanthorn, he
attempted to raise his head, and then with a groan he dropped it
back upon the straw that pillowed it. From out of a face white, as
in death, and drawn with haggard lines of pain, a pair of great
lustrous blue eyes were turned upon us, abject and pitiful as the
gaze of a dumb beast that is stricken mortally.
It needed no acuteness to apprehend that we had before us one of
yesterday's defeated warriors; one who had spent his last strength
in creeping hither to get his dying done in peace. Lest our
presence should add fear to the agony already upon him, I knelt
beside him in the blood-smeared straw, and, raising his head, I
pillowed it upon my arm.
"Have no fear," said I reassuringly. "We are friends. Do you
The faint smile that played for a second on his lips and lighted
his countenance would have told me that he understood, even had I
not caught his words, faint as a sigh "Merci, monsieur." He
nestled his head into the crook of my arm. "Water - for the love of
God!" he gasped, to add in a groan, "Je me meurs, monsieur."
Assisted by a couple of knaves, Ganymede went about attending to
the rebel at once. Handling him as carefully as might be, to avoid
giving him unnecessary pain they removed his back-and-breast, which
was flung with a clatter into one of the corners of the barn. Then,
whilst one of them gently drew off his boots, Rodenard, with the
lanthorn close beside him, cut away the fellow's doublet, and laid
bare the oozing sword-wound that gaped in his mangled side. He
whispered an order to Gilles, who went swiftly off to the coach in
quest of something that he had asked for; then he sat on his heels
and waited, his hand upon the man's pulse, his eyes on his face.
I stooped until my lips were on a level with my intendant's ear.
"How is it with him?" I inquired.
"Dying," whispered Rodenard in answer. "He has lost too much blood,
and he is probably bleeding inwardly as well. There is no hope of
his life, but he may linger thus some little while, sinking gradually,
and we can at least mitigate the suffering of his last moments."
When presently the men returned with the things that Ganymede had
asked for, he mixed some pungent liquid with water, and, whilst a
servant held the bowl, he carefully sponged the rebel's wound. This
and a cordial that he had given him to drink seemed to revive him
and to afford him ease. His breathing was no longer marked by any
rasping sound, and his eyes seemed to burn more intelligently.
"I am dying - is it not so?" he asked, and Ganymede bowed his head
in silence. The poor fellow sighed. "Raise me," he begged, and
when this service had been done him, his eyes wandered round until
they found me. Then "Monsieur," he said, "will you do me a last
"Assuredly, my poor friend," I answered, going down on my knees
"You - you were not for the Duke?" he inquired, eyeing me more
"No, monsieur. But do not let that disturb you; I have no interest
in this rising and I have taken no side. I am from Paris, on a
journey of - of pleasure. My name is Bardelys - Marcel de Bardelys."
"Bardelys the Magnificent?" he questioned, and I could not repress
"I am that overrated man."
"But then you are for the King!" And a note of disappointment crept
into his voice. Before I could make him any answer, he had resumed.
"No matter; Marcel de Bardelys is a gentleman, and party signifies
little when a man is dying. I am Rene de Lesperon, of Lesperon in
Gascony," he pursued. "Will you send word to my sister afterwards?"
I bowed my head without speaking.
"She is the only relative I have, monsieur. But - and his tone grew
wistful - "there is one other to whom I would have you bear a
message." He raised his hand by a painful effort to the level of
his breast. Strength failed him, and he sank back. "I cannot,
monsieur," he said in a tone of pathetic apology. "See; there is
a chain about my neck with a locket. Take it from me. Take it now,
monsieur. There are some papers also, monsieur. Take all. I want
to see them safely in your keeping."
I did his bidding, and from the breast of his doublet I drew some
loose letters and a locket which held the miniature of a woman's
"I want you to deliver all to her, monsieur."
"It shall be done," I answered, deeply moved.
"Hold it - hold it up," he begged, his voice weakening. "Let me
behold the face."
Long his eyes rested on the likeness I held before him. At last,
as one in a dream--
"Well-beloved," he sighed. "Bien aimee!" And down his grey,
haggard cheeks the tears came slowly. "Forgive this weakness,
monsieur," he whispered brokenly. "We were to have been wed in
a month, had I lived." He ended with a sob, and when next he
spoke it was more labouredly, as though that sob had robbed him of
the half of what vitality remained. "Tell her, monsieur, that my
dying thoughts were of her. Tell - tell her - I--"
"Her name?" I cried, fearing he would sink before I learned it.
"Tell me her name."
He looked at me with eyes that were growing glassy and vacant. Then
he seemed to brace himself and to rally for a second.
"Her name?" he mused, in a far-off manner. "She is - Ma-de-moiselle
His head rolled on the suddenly relaxed neck. He collapsed into
"Is he dead?" I asked.
Rodenard nodded in silence.
A MAID IN THE MOONLIGHT
I do not know whether it was the influence of that thing lying in
a corner of the barn under the cloak that Rodenard had flung over
it, or whether other influences of destiny were at work to impel me
to rise at the end of a half-hour and announce my determination to
set out on horseback and find myself quarters more congenial.
"To-morrow," I instructed Ganymede, as I stood ready to mount, "you
will retrace your steps with the others, and, finding the road to
Lavedan, you will follow me to the chateau."
"But you cannot hope to reach it to-night, monseigneur, through a
country that is unknown to you," he protested.
"I do not hope to reach it to-night. I will ride south until I come
upon some hamlet that will afford me shelter and, in the morning,
I left him with that, and set out at a brisk trot. Night had now
fallen, but the sky was clear, and a crescent moon came opportunely
if feebly to dispel the gloom.
I quitted the field, and went back until I gained a crossroad, where,
turning to the right, I set my face to the Pyrenees, and rode briskly
amain. That I had chosen wisely was proved when some twenty minutes
later. I clattered into the hamlet of Mirepoix, and drew up before
an inn flaunting the sign of a peacock - as if in irony of its
humbleness, for it was no better than a wayside tavern. Neither
stable-boy nor ostler was here, and the unclean, overgrown urchin
to whom I entrusted my horse could not say whether indeed Pere Abdon
the landlord would be able to find me a room to sleep in. I
thirsted, however; and so I determined to alight, if it were only to
drink a can of wine and obtain information of my whereabouts.
As I was entering the hostelry there was a clatter of hoofs in the
street, and four dragoons headed by a sergeant rode up and halted at
the door of the Paon. They seemed to have ridden hard and some
distance, for their horses were jaded almost to the last point of
Within, I called the host, and having obtained a flagon of the best
vintage - Heaven fortify those that must be content with his worst!
--I passed on to make inquiries touching my whereabouts and the way
to Lavedan. This I learnt was but some three or four miles distant.
About the other table - there were but two within the room - stood
the dragoons in a whispered consultation, of which it had been well
had I taken heed, for it concerned me more closely than I could have
"He answers the description," said the sergeant, and though I heard
the words I took no thought that it was of me they spoke.
"Padrieu," swore one of his companions, "I'll wager it is our man."
And then, just as I was noticing that Master Abdon, who had also
overheard the conversation, was eyeing me curiously, the sergeant
stepped up to me, and--
"What is your name, monsieur?" quoth he.
I vouchsafed him a stare of surprise before asking in my turn "How
may that concern you?"
"Your pardon, my master, but we are on the King's business."
I remembered then that he had said I answered some description.
With that it flashed through my mind that they had been sent after
me by His Majesty to enforce my obedience to his wishes and to
hinder me from reaching Lavedan. At once came the dominant desire
to conceal my identity that I might go unhindered. The first
name that occurred to me was that of the poor wretch I had left
in the barn half an hour ago, and so--
"I am," said I, "Monsieur de Lesperon, at your service."
Too late I saw the mistake that I had made. I own it was a blunder
that no man of ordinary intelligence should have permitted himself
to have committed. Remembering the unrest of the province, I
should rather have concluded that their business was more like to
be in that connection.
"He is bold, at least," cried one of the troopers, with a burst of
laughter. Then came the sergeant's voice, cold and formal, "In the
King's name, Monsieur de Lesperon, I arrest you."
He had whipped out his sword, and the point was within an inch of
my breast. But his arm, I observed, was stretched to its fullest
extent, which forbade his making a sudden thrust. To hamper him in
the lunge there was the table between us.
So, my mind working quickly in this desperate situation, and
realizing how dire and urgent the need to attempt an escape, I
leapt suddenly back to find myself in the arms of his followers.
But in moving I had caught up by one of its legs the stool on which
I had been sitting. As I raised it, I eluded the pinioning grip
of the troopers. I twisted in their grasp, and brought the stool
down upon the head of one of them with a force that drove him to
his knees. Up went that three-legged stool again, to descend like
a thunderbolt upon the head of another. That freed me. The
sergeant was coming up behind, but another flourish of my improvised
battle-axe sent the two remaining soldiers apart to look to their
swords. Ere they could draw, I had darted like a hare between them
and out into the street. The sergeant, cursing them with horrid
volubility, followed closely upon my heels.
Leaping as far into the roadway as I could, I turned to meet the
fellow's onslaught. Using the stool as a buckler, I caught his
thrust upon it. So violently was it delivered that the point
buried itself in the wood and the blade snapped, leaving him a
hilt and a stump of steel. I wasted no time in thought. Charging
him wildly, I knocked him over just as the two unhurt dragoons
came stumbling out of the tavern.
I gained my horse and vaulted into the saddle. Tearing the reins
from the urchin that held them, and driving my spurs into the beast's
flanks, I went careering down the street at a gallop, gripping
tightly with my knees, whilst the stirrups, which I had had no time
to step into, flew wildly about my legs.
A pistol cracked behind me; then another, and a sharp, stinging pain
in the shoulder warned me that I was hit. But I took no heed of it
then. The wound could not be serious, else I had already been out
of the saddle, and it would be time enough to look to it when I had
outdistanced my pursuers. I say my pursuers, for already there
were hoofbeats behind me, and I knew that those gentlemen had taken
to their horses. But, as you may recall, I had on their arrival
noted the jaded condition of their cattle, whilst I bestrode a
horse that was comparatively fresh, so that pursuit had but small
terrors for me. Nevertheless, they held out longer, and gave me
more to do than I had imagined would be the case. For nigh upon a
half-hour I rode, before I could be said to have got clear of them,
and then for aught I knew they were still following, resolved to
hound me down by the aid of such information as they might cull
upon their way.
I was come by then to the Garonne. I drew rein beside the swiftly
flowing stream, winding itself like a flood of glittering silver
between the black shadows of its banks. A little while I sat there
listening, and surveying the stately, turreted chateau that loomed,
a grey, noble pile, beyond the water. I speculated what demesne
this might be, and I realized that it was probably Lavedan.
I pondered what I had best do, and in the end I took the resolve to
swim the river and knock at the gates. If it were indeed Lavedan,
I had but to announce myself, and to one of my name surely its
hospitalities would be spread. If it were some other household,
even then the name of Marcel de Bardelys should suffice to ensure
me a welcome.
By spurring and coaxing, I lured my steed into the river. There is
a proverb having it that though you may lead a horse to the water
you cannot make him drink. It would have now applied to my case,
for although I had brought mine to the water I could not make him
swim; or, at least, I could not make him breast the rush of the
stream. Vainly did I urge him and try to hold him; he plunged
frantically, snorted, coughed, and struggled gamely, but the current
was bearing us swiftly away, and his efforts brought us no nearer
to the opposite shore. At last I slipped from his back, and set
myself to swim beside him, leading him by the bridle. But even
thus he proved unequal to the task of resisting the current, so that
in the end I let him go, and swam ashore alone, hoping that he would
land farther down, and that I might then recapture him. When,
however, I had reached the opposite bank, and stood under the shadow
of the chateau, I discovered that the cowardly beast had turned back,
and, having scrambled out, was now trotting away along the path by
which we had come. Having no mind to go after him, I resigned myself
to the loss, and turned my attention to the mansion now before me.
Some two hundred yards from the river it raised its great square
bulk against the background of black, star-flecked sky. From the
facade before me down to the spot where I stood by the water, came
a flight of half a dozen terraces, each balustraded in white marble,
ending in square, flat-topped pillars of Florentine design. What
moon there was revealed the quaint architecture of that stately
edifice and glittered upon the mullioned windows. But within nothing
stirred; no yellow glimmer came to clash with the white purity of
the moonlight; no sound of man or beast broke the stillness of the
night, for all that the hour was early. The air of the place was
as that of some gigantic sepulchre. A little daunted by this
all-enveloping stillness, I skirted the terraces and approached
the house on the eastern side. Here I found an old-world drawbridge
--now naturally in disuse - spanning a ditch fed from the main
river for the erstwhile purposes of a moat. I crossed the bridge,
and entered an imposing courtyard. Within this quadrangle the same
silence dwelt, and there was the same obscurity in the windows that
overlooked it. I paused, at a loss how to proceed, and I leaned
against a buttress of the portcullis, what time I considered.
I was weak from fasting, worn with hard riding, and faint from the
wound in my shoulder, which had been the cause at least of my
losing some blood. In addition to all this, I was shivering with
the cold of my wet garments, and generally I must have looked as
little like that Bardelys they called the Magnificent as you might
well conceive. How, then, if I were to knock, should I prevail in
persuading these people - whoever they might be - of my identity?
Infinitely more had I the air of some fugitive rebel, and it was
more than probable that I should be kept in durance to be handed
over to my friends the dragoons, if later they came to ride that
way. I was separated from those who knew me, and as things now
stood - unless this were, indeed, Lavedan - it might be days before
they found me again.
I was beginning to deplore my folly at having cut myself adrift
from my followers in the first place, and having embroiled myself
with the soldiers in the second; I was beginning to contemplate the
wisdom of seeking some outhouse of this mansion wherein to lie
until morning, when of a sudden a broad shaft of light, coming from
one of the windows on the first floor, fell athwart the courtyard.
Instinctively I crouched back into the shadow of my friendly
buttress, and looked up.
That sudden shaft of light resulted from the withdrawal of the
curtains that masked a window. At this window, which opened outward
on to a balcony; I now beheld - and to me it was as the vision of
Beatrice may have been to Dante - the white figure of a woman. The
moonlight bathed her, as in her white robe she leaned upon the
parapet gazing upward into the empyrean. A sweet, delicate face
I saw, not endowed, perhaps, with that exquisite balance and
proportion of feature wherein they tell us beauty lies, but blessed
with a wondrously dainty beauty all its own; a beauty, perhaps, as
much of expression as of form; for in that gentle countenance was
mirrored every tender grace of girlhood, all that is fresh and pure
I held my breath, I think, as I stood in ravished contemplation of
that white vision. If this were Lavedan, and that the cold Roxalanne
who had sent my bold Chatellerault back to Paris empty-handed then
were my task a very welcome one.
How little it had weighed with me that I was come to Languedoc to
woo a woman bearing the name of Roxalanne de Lavedan I have already
shown. But here in this same Languedoc I beheld to-night a woman
whom it seemed I might have loved, for not in ten years - not,
indeed, in all my life - had any face so wrought upon me and called
to my nature with so strong a voice.
I gazed at that child, and I thought of the women that I had known
--the bold, bedizened beauties of a Court said to be the first in
Europe. And then it came to me that this was no demoiselle of
Lavedan, no demoiselle at all in fact, for the noblesse of France
owned no such faces. Candour and purity were not to be looked for
in the high-bred countenances of our great families; they were
sometimes found in the faces of the children of their retainers.
Yes; I had it now. This child was the daughter of some custodian
of the demesne before me.
Suddenly, as she stood there in the moonlight, a song, sung at
half-voice, floated down on the calm air. It was a ditty of old
Provence, a melody I knew and loved, and if aught had been wanting
to heighten the enchantment that already ravished me, that soft
melodious voice had done it. Singing still, she turned and reentered
the room, leaving wide the windows, so that faintly, as from a
distance, her voice still reached me after she was gone from sight.
It was in that hour that it came to me to cast myself upon this fair
creature's mercy. Surely one so sweet and saintly to behold would
take compassion on an unfortunate! Haply my wound and all the rest
that I had that night endured made me dull-witted and warped my
With what strength I still possessed I went to work to scale her
balcony. The task was easy even for one in my spent condition. The
wall was thick with ivy, and, moreover, a window beneath afforded
some support, for by standing on the heavy coping I could with my
fingers touch the sill of the balcony above. Thus I hoisted myself,
and presently I threw an arm over the parapet. Already I was astride
of that same Parapet before she became aware of my presence.
The song died suddenly on her lips, and her eyes, blue as
forget-me-nots, were wide now with the fear that the sight of me
occasioned. Another second and there had been an outcry that would
have brought the house about our ears, when, stepping to the
threshold of the room, "Mademoiselle," I entreated, "for the love of
God, be silent! I mean you no harm. I am a fugitive. I am pursued."
This was no considered speech. There had been no preparing of words;
I had uttered them mechanically almost - perhaps by inspiration, for
they were surely the best calculated to enlist this lady's sympathy.
And so far as went the words themselves, they were rigorously true.
With eyes wide open still, she confronted me, and I now observed that
she was not so tall as from below I had imagined. She was, in fact,
of a short stature rather, but of proportions so exquisite that she
conveyed an impression of some height. In her hand she held a taper
by whose light she had been surveying herself in her mirror at the
moment of my advent. Her unbound hair of brown fell like a mantle
about her shoulders, and this fact it was drew me to notice that she
was in her night-rail, and that this room to which I had penetrated
was her chamber.
"Who are you?" she asked breathlessly, as though in such a pass my
identity were a thing that signified.
I had almost answered her, as I had answered the troopers at Mirepoix,
that I was Lesperon. Then, bethinking me that there was no need for
such equivocation here, I was on the point of giving her my name.
But noting my hesitation, and misconstruing it, she forestalled me.
"I understand, monsieur," said she more composedly. "And you need
have no fear. You are among friends."
Her eyes had travelled over my sodden clothes, the haggard pallor of
my face, and the blood that stained my doublet from the shoulder
downward. From all this she had drawn her conclusions that I was a
hunted rebel. She drew me into the room, and, closing the window,
she dragged the heavy curtain across it, thereby giving me a proof
of confidence that smote me hard - impostor that I was.
"I crave your pardon, mademoiselle, for having startled you by the
rude manner of my coming," said I, and never in my life had I felt
less at ease than then. "But I was exhausted and desperate. I am
wounded, I have ridden hard, and I swam the river."
The latter piece of information was vastly unnecessary, seeing that
the water from my clothes was forming a pool about my feet. "I saw
you from below; mademoiselle, and surely, I thought, so sweet a lady
would have pity on an unfortunate." She observed that my eyes were
upon her, and in an act of instinctive maidenliness she bore her hand
to her throat to draw the draperies together and screen the beauties
of her neck from my unwarranted glance, as though her daily gown did
not reveal as much and more of them.
That act, however, served to arouse me to a sense of my position.
What did I there? It was a profanity - a defiling, I swore; from
which you'll see, that Bardelys was grown of a sudden very nice.
"Monsieur," she was saying, "you are exhausted."
"But that I rode hard," I laughed, "it is likely they had taken me
to Toulouse, were I might have lost my head before my friends could
have found and claimed me. I hope you'll see it is too comely a
head to be so lightly parted with."
"For that," said she, half seriously, half whimsically, "the ugliest
head would be too comely."
I laughed softly, amusedly; then of a sudden, without warning, a
faintness took me, and I was forced to brace myself against the
wall, breathing heavily the while. At that she gave a little cry
"Monsieur, I beseech you to be seated. I will summon my father,
and we will find a bed for you. You must not retain those clothes."
"Angel of goodness!" I muttered gratefully, and being still half
dazed, I brought some of my Court tricks into that chamber by
taking her hand and carrying it towards my lips. But ere I had
imprinted the intended kiss upon her fingers - and by some miracle
they were not withdrawn - my eyes encountered hers again. I paused
as one may pause who contemplates a sacrilege. For a moment she
held my glance with hers; then I fell abashed, and released her hand.
The innocence peeping out of that child's eyes it was that had in
that moment daunted me, and made me tremble to think of being found
there, and of the vile thing it would be to have her name coupled
with mine. That thought lent me strength. I cast my weariness from
me as though it were a garment, and, straightening myself, I stepped
of a sudden to the window. Without a word, I made shift to draw back
the curtain when her hand, falling on my sodden sleeve, arrested me.
"What will you do, monsieur?" she cried in alarm. "You may be seen."
My mind was now possessed by the thing I should have thought of
before. I climbed to her balcony, and my one resolve was to get me
thence as quickly as might be.
"I had not the right to enter here," I muttered. "I--" I stopped
short; to explain would only be to sully, and so, "Good-night!
Adieu!" I ended brusquely.
"But, monsieur--" she began.
"Let me go," I commanded almost roughly, as I shook my arm free of
"Bethink you that you are exhausted. If you go forth now, monsieur,
you will assuredly be taken. You must not go."
I laughed softly, and with some bitterness, too, for I was angry
"Hush, child," I said. "Better so, if it is to be."
And with that I drew aside the curtains and pushed the leaves of the
window apart. She remained standing in the room, watching me, her
face pale, and hex eyes pained and puzzled.
One last glance I gave her as I bestrode the rail of her balcony.
Then I lowered myself as I had ascended. I was hanging by my hands,
seeking with my foot for the coping of the window beneath me, when,
suddenly, there came a buzzing in my ears. I had a fleeting vision
of a white figure leaning on the balcony above me; then a veil seemed
drawn over my eyes; there came a sense of falling; a rush as of a
tempestuous wind; then - nothing.
THE VICOMTE DE LAVEDAN
When next I awakened, it was to find myself abed in an elegant
apartment, spacious and sunlit, that was utterly strange to me.
For some seconds I was content to lie and take no count of my
whereabouts. My eyes travelled idly over the handsome furnishings
of that choicely appointed chamber, and rested at last upon the
lean, crooked figure of a man whose back was towards me and who
was busy with some phials at a table not far distant. Then
recollection awakened also in me, and I set my wits to work to
grapple with my surroundings. I looked through the open window,
but from my position on the bed no more was visible than the blue
sky and a faint haze of distant hills.
I taxed my memory, and the events of yesternight recurred to me.
I remembered the girl, the balcony, and my flight ending in my
giddiness and my fall. Had they brought me into that same chateau,
or - Or what? No other possibility came to suggest itself, and,
seeing scant need to tax my brains with speculation, since there
was one there of whom I might ask the question--
"Hola, my master!" I called to him, and as I did so I essayed to
move. The act wrung a sharp cry of pain from me. My left shoulder
was numb and sore, but in my right foot that sudden movement had
roused a sharper pang.
At my cry that little wizened old man swung suddenly round. He had
the face of a bird of prey, yellow as a louis d'or with a great
hooked nose, and a pair of beady black eyes that observed me solemnly.
The mouth alone was the redeeming feature in a countenance that had
otherwise been evil; it was instinct with good-humour. But I had
small leisure to observe him then, for simultaneously with his
turning there had been another movement at my bedside, which drew
my eyes elsewhere. A gentleman, richly dressed, and of an imposing
height, approached me.
"You are awake, monsieur?" he said in a half interrogative tone.
"Will you do me the favour to tell me where I am, monsieur?" quoth I.
"You do not know? You are at Lavedan. I am the Vicomte de Lavedan
--at your service."
Although it was no more than I might have expected, yet a dull wonder
filled me, to which presently I gave expression by asking stupidly--
"At Lavedan? But how came I hither?"
"How you came is more than I can tell," he laughed. "But I'll swear
the King's dragoons were not far behind you. We found you in the
courtyard last night; in a swoon of exhaustion, wounded in the
shoulder, and with a sprained foot. It was my daughter who gave the
alarm and called us to your assistance. You were lying under her
widow." Then, seeing the growing wonder in my eyes and misconstruing
it into alarm: "Nay, have no fear, monsieur," he cried. "You were
very well advised in coming to us. You have fallen among friends.
We are Orleanists too, - at Lavedan, for all that I was not in the
fight at Castelnaudary. That was no fault of mine. His Grace's
messenger reached me overlate, and for all that I set out with a
company of my men, I put back when I had reached Lautrec upon hearing
that already a decisive battle had been fought and that our side had
suffered a crushing defeat." He uttered a weary sigh.
"God help us, monsieur! Monseigneur de Richelieu is likely to have
his way with us. But let that be for the present. You are here,
and you are safe. As yet no suspicion rests on Lavedan. I was, as
I have said, too late for the fight, and so I came quietly back to
save my skin, that I might serve the Cause in whatever other way
might offer still. In sheltering you I am serving Gaston d'Orleans,
and, that I may continue so to do, I pray that suspicion may continue
to ignore me. If they were to learn of it at Toulouse or of how
with money and in other ways I have helped this rebellion - I make
no doubt that my head would be the forfeit I should be asked to pay."
I was aghast at the freedom of treasonable speech with which this
very debonnaire gentleman ventured to address an utter stranger.
"But tell me, Monsieur de Lesperon," resumed my host, "how is it
I started in fresh astonishment.
"How - how do you know that I am Lesperon?" I asked.
"Ma foi!" he laughed, "do you imagine I had spoken so unreservedly
to a man of whom I knew nothing? Think better of me, monsieur, I
beseech you. I found these letters in your pocket last night, and
their superscription gave me your identity. Your name is well known
to me," he added. "My friend Monsieur de Marsac has often spoken
of you and of your devotion to the Cause, and it affords me no
little satisfaction to be of some service to one whom by repute
I have already learned to esteem."
I lay back on my pillows, and I groaned. Here was a predicament!
Mistaking me for that miserable rebel I had succoured at Mirepoix,
and whose letters I bore upon me that I might restore them to some
one whose name he had failed to give me at the last moment, the
Vicomte de Lavedan had poured the damning story of his treason into
What if I were now to enlighten him? What if I were to tell him
that I was not Lesperon - no rebel at all, in fact - but Marcel de
Bardelys, the King's favourite? That he would account me a spy I
hardly thought; but assuredly he would see that my life must be a
danger to his own; he must fear betrayal from me; and to protect
himself he would be justified in taking extreme measures. Rebels
were not addicted to an excess of niceness in their methods, and it
was more likely that I should rise no more from the luxurious bed
on which his hospitality had laid me. But even if I had exaggerated
matters, and the Vicomte were not quite so bloodthirsty as was usual
with his order, even if he chose to accept my promise that I would
forget what he had said, he must nevertheless - in view of his
indiscretion - demand my instant withdrawal from Lavedan. And what,
then, of my wager with Chatellerault?
Then, in thinking of my wager, I came to think of Roxalanne herself
--that dainty, sweet-faced child into whose chamber I had penetrated
on the previous night. And would you believe it that I - the
satiated, cynical, unbelieving Bardelys - experienced dismay at the
very thought of leaving Lavedan for no other reason than because it
involved seeing no more of that provincial damsel?
My unwillingness to be driven from her presence determined me to
stay. I had come to Lavedan as Lesperon, a fugitive rebel. In that
character I had all but announced myself last night to Mademoiselle.
In that character I had been welcomed by her father. In that
character, then, I must remain, that I might be near her, that I
might woo and win her, and thus - though this, I swear, had now
become a minor consideration with me - make good my boast and win
the wager that must otherwise involve my ruin.
As I lay back with closed eyes and gave myself over to pondering
the situation, I took a pleasure oddly sweet in the prospect of
urging my suit under such circumstances. Chatellerault had given
me a free hand. I was to go about the wooing of Mademoiselle de
Lavedan as I chose. But he had cast it at me in defiance that not
with all my magnificence, not with all my retinue and all my state
to dazzle her, should I succeed in melting the coldest heart in
And now, behold! I had cast from me all these outward
embellishments; I came without pomp, denuded of every emblem of
wealth, of every sign of power; as a poor fugitive gentleman, I
came, hunted, proscribed, and penniless - for Lesperon's estate
would assuredly suffer sequestration. To win her thus would, by
my faith, be an exploit I might take pride in, a worthy achievement
And so I left things as they were, and since I offered no denial
to the identity that was thrust upon me, as Lesperon I continued to
be known to the Vicomte and to his family.
Presently he called the old man to my bedside and I heard them
talking of my condition.
"You think, then, Anatole," he said in the end, "that in three or
four days Monsieur de Lesperon may be able to rise?"
"I am assured of it," replied the old servant.
Whereupon, turning to me, "Be therefore of good courage, monsieur,"
said Lavedan, "for your hurt is none so grievous after all."
I was muttering my thanks and my assurances that I was in excellent
spirits, when we were suddenly disturbed by a rumbling noise as of
"Mort Dieu!" swore the Vicomte, a look of alarm coming into his
face. With a bent head, he stood in a listening attitude.
"What is it?" I inquired.
"Horsemen - on the drawbridge," he answered shortly. "A troop, by
And then, in confirmation of these words, followed a stamping and
rattle of hoofs on the flags of the courtyard below. The old servant
stood wringing his hands in helpless terror, and wailing, "Monsieur,
But the Vicomte crossed rapidly to the window and looked out. Then
he laughed with intense relief; and in a wondering voice "They are
not troopers," he announced. "They have more the air of a company
of servants in private livery; and there is a carriage - pardieu,
At once the memory of Rodenard and my followers occurred to me, and
I thanked Heaven that I was abed where he might not see me, and that
thus he would probably be sent forth empty-handed with the news that
his master was neither arrived nor expected.
But in that surmise I went too fast. Ganymede was of a tenacious
mettle, and of this he now afforded proof. Upon learning that
naught was known of the Marquis de Bardelys at Lavedan, my faithful
henchman announced his intention to remain there and await me, since
that was, he assured the Vicomte, my destination.
"My first impulse," said Lavedan, when later he came to tell me of
it, "was incontinently to order his departure. But upon considering
the matter and remembering how high in power and in the King's
favour stands that monstrous libertine Bardelys, I deemed it wiser
to afford shelter to this outrageous retinue. His steward - a
flabby, insolent creature - says that Bardelys left them last night
near Mirepoix, to ride hither, bidding them follow to-day. Curious
that we should have no news of him! That he should have fallen
into the Garonne and drowned himself were too great a good fortune
to be hoped for."
The bitterness with which he spoke of me afforded me ample cause
for congratulation that I had resolved to accept the role of Lesperon.
Yet, remembering that my father and he had been good friends, his
manner left me nonplussed. What cause could he have for this
animosity to the son? Could it be merely my position at Court that
made me seem in his rebel eyes a natural enemy?
"You are acquainted with this Bardelys?" I inquired, by way of
"I knew his father," he answered gruffly. "An honest, upright
"And the son," I inquired timidly, "has he none of these virtues?"
"I know not what virtues he may have; his vices are known to all
the world. He is a libertine, a gambler, a rake, a spendthrift.
They say he is one of the King's favourites, and that his monstrous
extravagances have earned for him the title of 'Magnificent'."
He uttered a short laugh. "A fit servant for such a master as
Louis the Just!"
"Monsieur le Vicomte," said I, warming in my own defence, "I swear
you do him injustice. He is extravagant, but then he is rich; he
is a libertine, but then he is young, and he has been reared among
libertines; he is a gamester, but punctiliously honourable at play.
Believe me, monsieur, I have some acquaintance with Marcel de
Bardelys, and his vices are hardly so black as is generally believed;
whilst in his favour I think the same may be said that you have just
said of his father - he is an honest, upright gentleman."
"And that disgraceful affair with the Duchesse de Bourgogne?"
inquired Lavedan, with the air of a man setting an unanswerable
"Mon Dieu!" I cried, "will the world never forget that indiscretion?
An indiscretion of youth, no doubt much exaggerated outside Court
The Vicomte eyed me in some astonishment for a moment.
"Monsieur de Lesperon," he said at length, "you appear to hold this
Bardelys in high esteem. He has a staunch supporter in you and a
stout advocate. Yet me you cannot convince." And he shook his head
solemnly. "Even if I did not hold him to be such a man as I have
pronounced him, but were to account him a paragon of all the virtues,
his coming hither remains an act that I must resent."
"But why, Monsieur le Vicomte?"
"Because I know the errand that brings him to Lavedan. He comes
to woo my daughter."
Had he flung a bomb into my bed he could not more effectively
have startled me.
"It astonishes you, eh?" he laughed bitterly. "But I can assure
you that it is so. A month ago I was visited by the Comte de
Chatellerault - another of His Majesty's fine favourites. He came
unbidden; offered no reason for his coming, save that he was making
a tour of the province for his amusement. His acquaintance with
me was of the slightest, and I had no desire that it should
increase; yet here he installed himself with a couple of servants,
and bade fair to take a long stay.
"I was surprised, but on the morrow I had an explanation. A courier,
arriving from an old friend of mine at Court, bore me a letter with
the information that Monsieur de Chatellerault was come to Lavedan
at the King's instigation to sue for my daughter's hand in marriage.
The reasons were not far to seek. The King, who loves him, would
enrich him; the easiest way is by a wealthy alliance, and Roxalanne
is accounted an heiress. In addition to that, my own power in the
province is known, whilst my defection from the Cardinalist party
is feared. What better link wherewith to attach me again to the
fortunes of the Crown - for Crown and Mitre have grown to be
synonymous in this topsy-turvy France - than to wed my daughter to
one of the King's favourites?
"But for that timely warning, God knows what mischief had been
wrought. As it was, Monsieur de Chatellerault had but seen my
daughter upon two occasions. On the very day that I received the
tidings I speak of, I sent her to Auch to the care of some relatives
of her mother's. Chatellerault remained a week. Then, growing
restive, he asked when my daughter would return. 'When you depart,
monsieur,' I answered him, and, being pressed for reasons, I dealt
so frankly with him that within twenty-four hours he was on his way
back to Paris."
The Vicomte paused and took a turn in the apartment, whilst I
pondered his words, which were bringing me a curious revelation.
Presently he resumed.
"And now, Chatellerault having failed in his purpose, the King
chooses a more dangerous person for the gratifying of his desires.
He sends the Marquis, Marcel de Bardelys to Lavedan on the same
business. No doubt he attributes Chatellerault's failure to
clumsiness, and he has decided this time to choose a man famed for
courtly address and gifted with such arts of dalliance that he
cannot fail but enmesh my daughter in them. It is a great compliment
that he pays us in sending hither the handsomest and most
accomplished gentleman of all his Court - so fame has it - yet it is
a compliment of whose flattery I am not sensible. Bardelys goes
hence as empty-handed as went Chatellerault. Let him but show his
face, and my daughter journeys to Auch again. Am I not well advised,
Monsieur de Lesperon?"
"Why, yes," I answered slowly, after the manner of one who
deliberates, "if you are persuaded that your conclusions touching
Bardelys are correct."
"I am more than persuaded. What other business could bring him to
It was a question that I did not attempt to answer. Haply he did
not expect me to answer it. He left me free to ponder another
issue of this same business of which my mind was become very full.
Chatellerault had not dealt fairly with me. Often, since I had
left Paris, had I marvelled that he came to be so rash as to risk
his fortune upon a matter that turned upon a woman's whim. That I
possessed undeniable advantages of person, of birth, and of wealth,
Chatellerault could not have disregarded. Yet these, and the
possibility that they might suffice to engage this lady's affections,
he appeared to have set at naught when he plunged into that rash
He must have realized that because he had failed was no reason to
presume that I must also fail. There was no consequence in such an
argument, and often, as I have said, had I marvelled during the past
days at the readiness with which Chatellerault had flung down the
gage. Now I held the explanation of it. He counted upon the Vicomte
de Lavedan to reason precisely as he was reasoning, and he was
confident that no opportunities would be afforded me of so much as
seeing this beautiful and cold Roxalanne.
It was a wily trap he had set me, worthy only of a trickster.
Fate, however, had taken a hand in the game, and the cards were
redealt since I had left Paris. The germs of the wager permitted
me to choose any line of action that I considered desirable; but
Destiny, it seemed, had chosen for me, and set me in a line that
should at least suffice to overcome the parental resistance - that
breastwork upon which Chatellerault had so confidently depended.
As the rebel Rene de Lesperon I was sheltered at Lavedan and made
welcome by my fellow-rebel the Vicomte, who already seemed much
taken with me, and who had esteemed me before seeing me from the
much that Monsieur de Marsac - whoever he might be - had told him of
me. As Rene de Lesperon I must remain, and turn to best account my
sojourn, praying God meanwhile that this same Monsieur de Marsac
might be pleased to refrain from visiting Lavedan whilst I was there.
Of the week that followed my coming to Lavedan I find some difficulty
in writing. It was for me a time very crowded with events - events
that appeared to be moulding my character anew and making of me a
person different, indeed, from that Marcel de Bardelys whom in Paris
they called the Magnificent. Yet these events, although significant
in their total, were of so vague and slight a nature in their detail,
that when I come to write of them I find really little that I may
Rodenard and his companions remained for two days at the chateau,
and to me his sojourn there was a source of perpetual anxiety, for
I knew not how far the fool might see fit to prolong it. It was
well for me that this anxiety of mine was shared by Monsieur de
Lavedan, who disliked at such a time the presence of men attached
to one who was so notoriously of the King's party. He came at last
to consult me as to what measures might be taken to remove them,
and I - nothing loath to conspire with him to so desirable end -
bade him suggest to Rodenard that perhaps evil had befallen Monsieur
de Bardelys, and that, instead of wasting his time at Lavedan, he
were better advised to be searching the province for his master.
This counsel the Vicomte adopted, and with such excellent results
that that very day - within the hour, in fact - Ganymede, aroused
to a sense of his proper duty, set out in quest of me, not a little
disturbed in mind - for with all his shortcomings the rascal loved
me very faithfully.
That was on the third day of my sojourn at Lavedan. On the morrow
I rose, my foot being sufficiently recovered to permit it. I felt
a little weak from loss of blood, but Anatole - who, for all his
evil countenance, was a kindly and gentle - servant was confident
that a few days - a week at most - would see me completely restored.
Of leaving Lavedan I said nothing. But the Vicomte, who was one
of the most generous and noble hearted men that it has ever been my
good fortune to meet, forestalled any mention of my departure by
urging that I should remain at the chateau until my recovery were
completed, and, for that matter, as long thereafter as should suit
"At Lavedan you will be safe, my friend," he assured me; "for, as I
have told you, we are under no suspicion. Let me urge you to remain
until the King shall have desisted from further persecuting us."
And when I protested and spoke of trespassing, he waived the point
with a brusqueness that amounted almost to anger.
"Believe, monsieur, that I am pleased and honoured at serving one
who has so stoutly served the Cause and sacrificed so much to it."
At that, being not altogether dead to shame, I winced, and told
myself that my behaviour was unworthy, and that I was practising a
detestable deception. Yet some indulgence I may justly claim in
consideration of how far I was victim of circumstance. Did I tell
him that I was Bardelys, I was convinced that I should never leave
the chateau alive. Very noble-hearted was the Vicomte, and no man
have I known more averse to bloodthirstiness, but he had told me
much during the days that I had lain abed, and many lives would be
jeopardized did I proclaim what I had learned from him. Hence I
argued that any disclosure of my identity must perforce drive him
to extreme measures for the sake of the friends he had unwittingly
On the day after Rodenard's departure I dined with the family, and
met again Mademoiselle de Lavedan, whom I had not seen since the
balcony adventure of some nights ago. The Vicomtesse was also
present, a lady of very austere and noble appearance - lean as a
pike and with a most formidable nose - but, as I was soon to
discover, with a mind inclining overmuch to scandal and the
high-seasoned talk of the Courts in which her girlhood had been
From her lips I heard that day the old, scandalous story of
Monseigneur de Richelieu's early passion for Anne of Austria. With
much unction did she tell us how the Queen had lured His Eminence
to dress himself in the motley of a jester that she might make a
mock of him in the eyes of the courtiers she had concealed behind
the arras of her chamber.
This anecdote she gave us with much wealth of discreditable detail
and scant regard for either her daughter's presence or for the
blushes that suffused the poor child's cheeks. In every way she was
a pattern of the class of women amongst whom my youth had been spent,
a class which had done so much towards shattering my faith and
lowering my estimate of her sex. Lavedan had married her and brought
her into Languedoc, and here she spent her years lamenting the scenes
of her youth, and prone, it would seem, to make them matter for
conversation whenever a newcomer chanced to present himself at the
Looking from her to her daughter, I thanked Heaven that Roxalanne
was no reproduction of the mother. She had inherited as little of
her character as of her appearance. Both in feature and in soul
Mademoiselle de Lavedan was a copy of that noble, gallant gentleman,
One other was present at that meal, of whom I shall have more to
say hereafter. This was a young man of good presence, save, perhaps,
a too obtrusive foppishness, whom Monsieur de Lavedan presented to
me as a distant kinsman of theirs, one Chevalier de Saint-Eustache.
He was very tall - of fully my own height - and of an excellent
shape, although extremely young. But his head if anything was too
small for his body, and his good-natured mouth was of a weakness
that was confirmed by the significance of his chin, whilst his eyes
were too closely set to augur frankness.
He was a pleasant fellow, seemingly of that negative pleasantness
that lies in inoffensiveness, but otherwise dull and of an untutored
mind - rustic, as might be expected in one the greater part of whose
life had been spent in his native province, and of a rusticity
rendered all the more flagrant by the very efforts he exerted to
It was after madame had related that unsavoury anecdote touching
the Cardinal that he turned to ask me whether I was well acquainted
with the Court. I was near to committing the egregious blunder of
laughing in his face, but, recollecting myself betimes, I answered
vaguely that I had some knowledge of it, whereupon he all but caused
me to bound from my chair by asking me had I ever met the Magnificent
"I - I am acquainted with him," I answered warily. "Why do you ask?"
"I was reminded of him by the fact that his servants have been here
for two days. You were expecting the Marquis himself, were you not,
Monsieur le Vicomte?"
Lavedan raised his head suddenly, after the manner of a man who has
received an affront.
"I was not, Chevalier," he answered, with emphasis. "His intendant,
an insolent knave of the name of Rodenard, informed me that this
Bardelys projected visiting me. He has not come, and I devoutly
hope that he may not come. Trouble enough had I to rid myself of
his servants, and but for Monsieur de Lesperon's well-conceived
suggestion they might still be here."
"You have never met him, monsieur?" inquired the Chevalier.
"Never," replied our host in such a way that any but a fool must
have understood that he desired nothing less than such a meeting.
"A delightful fellow," murmured Saint-Eustache - "a brilliant,
"You - you are acquainted with him?" I asked.
"Acquainted?" echoed that boastful liar. "We were as brothers."
"How you interest me! And why have you never told us?" quoth madame,
her eyes turned enviously upon the young man - as enviously as were
Lavedan's turned in disgust. "It is a thousand pities that Monsieur
de Bardelys has altered his plans and is no longer coming to us.
To meet such a man is to breathe again the air of the grand monde.
You remember, Monsieur de Lesperon, that affair with the Duchess de
Bourgogne?" And she smiled wickedly in my direction.
"I have some recollection of it," I answered coldly. "But I think
that rumour exaggerates. When tongues wag, a little rivulet is
often described as a mountain torrent."
"You would not say so did you but know what I know," she informed
me roguishly. "Often, I confess, rumour may swell the importance
of such an affaire, but in this case I do not think that rumour
does it justice."
I made a deprecatory gesture, and I would have had the subject
changed, but ere I could make an effort to that end, the fool
Saint-Eustache was babbling again.
"You remember the duel that was fought in consequence, Monsieur de
"Yes," I assented wearily.
"And in which a poor young fellow lost his life," growled the
Vicomte. "It was practically a murder."
"Nay, monsieur," I cried, with a sudden heat that set them staring
at me; "there you do him wrong. Monsieur de Bardelys was opposed
to the best blade in France. The man's reputation as a swordsman
was of such a quality that for a twelvemonth he had been living upon
it, doing all manner of unseemly things immune from punishment by
the fear in which he was universally held. His behaviour in the
unfortunate affair we are discussing was of a particularly shameful
character. Oh, I know the details, messieurs, I can sure you. He
thought to impose his reputation upon Bardelys as he had imposed it
upon a hundred others, but Bardelys was over-tough for his teeth.
He sent that notorious young gentleman a challenge, and on the
following morning he left him dead in the horsemarket behind the
Hotel Vendome. But far from a murder, monsieur, it was an act of
justice, and the most richly earned punishment with which ever man
"Even if so," cried the Vicomte in some surprise, "why all this heat
to defend a brawler?"
"A brawler?" I repeated after him. "Oh, no. That is a charge his
worst enemies cannot make against Bardelys. He is no brawler. The
duel in question was his first affair of the kind, and it has been
his last, for unto him has clung the reputation that had belonged
until then to La Vertoile, and there is none in France bold enough
to send a challenge to him." And, seeing what surprise I was
provoking, I thought it well to involve another with me in his
defence. So, turning to the Chevalier, "I am sure," said I, "that
Monsieur de Saint-Eustache will confirm my words."
Thereupon, his vanity being all aroused, the Chevalier set himself
to paraphrase all that I had said with a heat that cast mine into
a miserable insignificance.
"At least," laughed the Vicomte at length, "he lacks not for
champions. For my own part, I am content to pray Heaven that he
come not to Lavedan, as he intended."
"Mais voyons, Gaston," the Vicomtesse protested, "why harbour
prejudice? Wait at least until you have seen him, that you may
judge him for yourself."
"Already have I judged him; I pray that I may never see him."
"They tell me he is a very handsome man," said she, appealing to me
for confirmation. Lavedan shot her a sudden glance of alarm, at
which I could have laughed. Hitherto his sole concern had been his
daughter, but it suddenly occurred to him that perhaps not even her
years might set the Vicomtesse in safety from imprudences with this
devourer of hearts, should he still chance to come that way.
"Madame," I answered, "he is accounted not ill-favored." And with
a deprecatory smile I added, "I am said somewhat to resemble him."
"Say you so?" she exclaimed, raising her eyebrows, and looking at
me more closely than hitherto. And then it seemed to me that into
her face crept a shade of disappointment. If this Bardelys were not
more beautiful than I, then he was not nearly so beautiful a man as
she had imagined. She turned to Saint-Eustache.
"It is indeed so, Chevalier?" she inquired. "Do you note the
"Vanitas, vanitate," murmured the youth, who had some scraps of
Latin and a taste for airing them. "I can see no likeness - no
trace of one. Monsieur de Lesperon is well enough, I should say.
But Bardelys!" He cast his eyes to the ceiling. "There is but one
Bardelys in France."
"Enfin," I laughed," you are no doubt well qualified to judge,
Chevalier. I had flattered myself that some likeness did exist, but
probably you have seen the Marquis more frequently than have I, and
probably you know him better. Nevertheless, should he come his way,
I will ask you to look at us side by side and be the judge of the
"Should I happen to be here," he said, with a sudden constraint not
difficult to understand, "I shall be happy to act as arbiter."
"Should you happen to be here?" I echoed questioningly. "But surely,
should you hear that Monsieur de Bardelys is about to arrive, you
will postpone any departure you may be on the point of making, so
that you may renew this great friendship that you tell us you do the
Marquis the honour of entertaining for him?"
The Chevalier eyed me with the air of a man looking down from a
great height upon another. The Vicomte smiled quietly to himself as
he combed his fair beard with his forefinger in a meditative fashion,
whilst even Roxalanne - who had sat silently listening to a
conversation that she was at times mercifully spared from following
too minutely - flashed me a humorous glance. To the Vicomtesse alone
who in common with women of her type was of a singular obtuseness -
was the situation without significance.
Saint-Eustache, to defend himself against my delicate imputation,
and to show how well acquainted he was with Bardelys, plunged at
once into a thousand details of that gentleman's magnificence. He
described his suppers, his retinue, his equipages, his houses, his
chateaux, his favour with the King, his successes with the fair sex,