Part 3 out of 5
betraying himself he would not save me, but only join me on the
journey to the scaffold.
"Besides, gentlemen," I pursued, "my case is far from hopeless. I
have every confidence that, as matters stand, by putting forth my
hand at the right moment, by announcing my identity at the proper
season, I can, if I am so inclined, save my neck from the headsman."
"If you are so inclined?" they both cried, their looks charged with
"Let that be," I answered; "it does not at present concern us. What
I desire you to understand, Monsieur de Lesperon, is that if I go
to Toulouse alone, when the time comes to proclaim myself, and it is
found that I am not Rene de Lesperon, of Lesperon in Gascony, they
will assume that you are dead, and there will be no count against me.
"But if you come with me, and thereby afford proof that you are
alive, my impersonation of you may cause me trouble. They may opine
that I have been an abettor of treason, that I have attempted to
circumvent the ends of justice, and that I may have impersonated you
in order to render possible your escape. For that, you may rest
assured, they will punish me.
"You will see, therefore, that my own safety rests on your passing
quietly out of France and leaving the belief behind you that you are
dead - a belief that will quickly spread once I shall have cast off
your identity. You apprehend me?"
"Vaguely, monsieur; and perhaps you are right. What do you say,
"Say?" cried the fiery Marsac. "I am weighed down with shame, my
poor Rene, for having so misjudged you."
More he would have said in the same strain, but Lesperon cut him
short and bade him attend to the issue now before him. They
discussed it at some length, but always under the cloud in which
my mysteriousness enveloped it, and, in the end, encouraged by my
renewed assurances that I could best save myself if Lesperon were
not taken with me, the Gascon consented to my proposals.
Marsac was on his way to Spain. His sister, he told us, awaited
him at Carcassonne. Lesperon should set out with him at once, and
in forty-eight hours they would be beyond the reach of the King's
"I have a favour to ask of you, Monsieur de Marsac," said I, rising;
for our business was at an end. "It is that if you should have an
opportunity of communicating with Mademoiselle de Lavedan, you will
let her know that I am not - not the Lesperon that is betrothed to
"I will inform her of it, monsieur," he answered readily; and then,
of a sudden, a look of understanding and of infinite pity came into
his eyes. "My God!" he cried.
"What is it, monsieur?" I asked, staggered by that sudden outcry.
"Do not ask me, monsieur, do not ask me. I had forgotten for the
moment, in the excitement of all these revelations. But--" He
He seemed to ponder a moment, then looking at me again with that
same compassionate glance, "You had better know," said he. "And
yet - it is a difficult thing to tell you. I understand now much
that I had not dreamt of. You - you have no suspicion of how you
came to be arrested?"
"For my alleged participation in the late rebellion?"
"Yes, yes. But who gave the information of your whereabouts? Who
told the Keeper of the Seals where you were to be found?"
"Oh, that?" I answered easily. "Why, I never doubted it. It was
the coxcomb Saint-Eustache. I whipped him--"
I stopped short. There was something in Marsac's black face,
something in his glance, that forced the unspoken truth upon my mind.
"Mother in heaven!" I cried. "Do you mean that it was Mademoiselle
He bowed his head in silence. Did she hate me, then, so much as
that? Would nothing less than my death appease her, and had I
utterly crushed the love that for a little while she had borne me,
that she could bring herself to hand me over to the headsman?
God! What a stab was that! It turned me sick with grief - aye, and
with some rage not against her, oh, not against her; against the
fates that had brought such things to pass.
I controlled myself while their eyes were yet upon me. I went to
the door and held it open for them, and they, perceiving something
of my disorder, were courteous enough to omit the protracted
leave-takings that under other auspices there might have been.
Marsac paused a moment on the threshold as if he would have offered
me some word of comfort. Then, perceiving, perhaps, how banal must
be all comfort that was of words alone, and how it might but increase
the anger of the wound it was meant to balm, he sighed a simple
"Adieu, monsieur!" and went his way.
When they were gone, I returned to the table, and, sitting down,
I buried my head in my arms, and there I lay, a prey to the most
poignant grief that in all my easy, fortunate life I had ever known.
That she should have done this thing! That the woman I loved, the
pure, sweet, innocent girl that I had wooed so ardently in my
unworthiness at Lavedan, should have stooped to such an act of
betrayal! To what had I not reduced her, since such things
Then, out of my despair grew comfort, slowly at first, and more
vigorously anon. The sudden shock of the news had robbed me of some
of my wit, and had warped my reasoning. Later, as the pain of the
blow grew duller, I came to reflect that what she had done was but
a proof - an overwhelming proof - of how deeply she had cared. Such
hatred as this can be but born of a great love; reaction is ever to
be measured by the action that occasions it, and a great revulsion
can only come of a great affection. Had she been indifferent to me,
or had she but entertained for me a passing liking, she would not
have suffered so.
And so I came to realize how cruel must have been the pang that had
driven her to this. But she had loved me; aye, and she loved me
still, for all that she thought she hated, and for all that she had
acted as if she hated. But even if I were wrong - even if she did
hate me - what a fresh revulsion would not be hers when anon she
learnt that - whatever my sins - I had not played lightly with her
love; that I was not, as she had imagined, the betrothed of another
The thought fired me like wine. I was no longer listless - no longer
indifferent as to whether I lived or died. I must live. I must
enlighten the Keeper of the Seals and the judges at Toulouse
concerning my identity. Why, indeed, had I ever wavered? Bardelys
the Magnificent must come to life again, and then-- What then?
As suddenly as I had been exalted was I cast down. There was a
rumour abroad that Bardelys was dead. In the wake of that rumour
I shrewdly guessed that the report of the wager that had brought him
into Languedoc would not be slow to follow. What then? Would she
love me any the better? Would she hate me any the less? If now she
was wounded by the belief that I had made sport of her love, would
not that same belief be with her again when she came to know the
Aye, the tangle was a grievous one. Yet I took heart. My old
resolve returned to me, and I saw the need for urgency - in that
alone could lie now my redemption in her eyes. My wager must be
paid before I again repaired to her, for all that it should leave
me poor indeed. In the mean while, I prayed God that she might not
hear of it ere I returned to tell her.
THE KING'S COMMISSIONER
For that most amiable of Gascon cadets, Monsieur de Castelroux, I
have naught but the highest praise. In his every dealing with me
he revealed himself so very gallant, generous, and high-minded a
gentleman that it was little short of a pleasure to be his prisoner.
He made no inquiries touching the nature of my interview with those
two gentlemen at the Hotel de la Couronne, and when at the moment
of leaving I requested him to deliver a packet to the taller of
those same two he did so without comment or question. That packet
contained the portrait of Mademoiselle de Marsac, but on the inner
wrapper was a note requesting Lesperon not to open it until he
should be in Spain.
Neither Marsac nor Lesperon did I see again before we resumed our
journey to Toulouse.
At the moment of setting out a curious incident occurred.
Castelroux's company of dragoons had ridden into the courtyard as
we were mounting. They lined up under their lieutenant's command,
to allow us to pass; but as we reached the porte-cochere we were
delayed for a moment by a travelling-carriage, entering for relays,
and coming, apparently, from Toulouse. Castelroux and I backed our
horses until we were in the midst of the dragoons, and so we stood
while the vehicle passed in. As it went by, one of the leather
curtains was drawn back, and my heart was quickened by the sight of
a pale girl face, with eyes of blue, and brown curls lying upon the
slender neck. Her glance lighted on me, swordless and in the midst
of that company of troopers, and I bowed low upon the withers of
my horse, doffing my hat in distant salutation.
The curtain dropped again, and eclipsed the face of the woman that
had betrayed me. With my mind full of wild surmisings as to what
emotions might have awakened in her upon beholding me, I rode away
in silence at Monsieur de Castelroux's side. Had she experienced
any remorse? Any shame? Whether or not such feelings had been
aroused at sight of me, it certainly would not be long ere she
experienced them, for at the Hotel de la Couronne were those who
would enlighten her.
The contemplation of the remorseful grief that might anon beset her
when she came to ponder the truth of matters, and, with that truth,
those things that at Lavedan I had uttered, filled me presently
with regret and pity. I grew impatient to reach Toulouse and tell
the judges of the mistake that there had been. My name could not
be unknown to them, and the very mention of it, I thought, should
suffice to give them pause and lead them to make inquiries before
sending me to the scaffold. Yet I was not without uneasiness, for
the summariness with which Castelroux had informed me they were in
the habit of dealing with those accused of high treason occasioned
me some apprehensive pangs.
This apprehension led me to converse with my captor touching those
trials, seeking to gather from him who were the judges. I learnt
then that besides the ordinary Tribunal, a Commissioner had been
dispatched by His Majesty, and was hourly expected to arrive at
Toulouse. It would be his mission to supervise and direct the
inquiries that were taking place. It was said, he added, that the
King himself was on his way thither, to be present at the trial of
Monsieur le Duc de Montmorency. But he was travelling by easy
stages, and was not yet expected for some days. My heart, which
had leapt at the news, as suddenly sank again with the consideration
that I should probably be disposed of before the King's arrival.
It would behoove me, therefore, to look elsewhere for help and for
some one to swear to my identity.
"Do you know the name of this King's Commissioner?" I asked.
"It is a certain Comte de Chatellerault, a gentleman man said to
stand very high in His Majesty's favour."
"Chatellerault!" I cried in wondering joy.
"You know him?"
"Most excellently!" I laughed. "We are very intimately acquainted."
"Why, then, monsieur, I augur you this gentleman's friendship, and
that it may pilot you through your trouble. Although--" Being
mercifully minded, he stopped short.
But I laughed easily. "Indeed, my dear Captain, I think it will,"
said I; "although friendship in this world is a thing of which the
unfortunate know little."
But I rejoiced too soon, as you shall hear.
We rode diligently on, our way lying along the fertile banks of the
Garonne, now yellow with the rustling corn. Towards evening we made
our last halt at Fenouillet, whence a couple of hours' riding should
bring us to Toulouse.
At the post-house we overtook a carriage that seemingly had halted
for relays, but upon which I scarce bestowed a glance as I alighted.
Whilst Castelroux went to arrange for fresh horses, I strode into
the common room, and there for some moments I stood discussing the
viands with our host. When at last I had resolved that a cold pasty
and a bottle of Armagnac would satisfy our wants, I looked about me
to take survey of those in the room. One group in a remote corner
suddenly riveted my attention to such a degree that I remained deaf
to the voice of Castelroux, who had just entered, and who stood now
beside me. In the centre of this group was the Comte de Chatellerault
himself, a thick-set, sombre figure, dressed with that funereal
magnificence he affected.
But it was not the sight of him that filled me with amazement. For
that, Castelroux's information had prepared me, and I well understood
in what capacity he was there. My surprise sprang rather from the
fact that amongst the half-dozen gentlemen about him - and evidently
in attendance - I beheld the Chevalier de Saint-Eustache. Now,
knowing as I did, the Chevalier's treasonable leanings, there was
ample cause for my astonishment at finding him in such company.
Apparently, too, he was on very intimate terms with the Count, for
in raising my glance I had caught him in the act of leaning over to
whisper familiarly in Chatellerault's ear.
Their eyes - indeed, for that matter the eyes of the entire company
--were turned in my direction.
Perhaps it was not a surprising thing that Chatellerault should gaze
upon me in that curious fashion, for was it not probable that he
had heard that I was dead? Besides, the fact that I was without a
sword, and that at my side stood a King's officer, afforded evidence
enough of my condition, and well might Chatellerault stare at
beholding me so manifestly a prisoner.
Even as I watched him, he appeared to start at something that
Saint-Eustache was saying, and a curious change spread over his face.
Its whilom expression had been rather one of dismay; for, having
believed me dead, he no doubt accounted his wager won, whereas seeing
me alive had destroyed that pleasant conviction. But now it took on
a look of relief and of something that suggested malicious cunning.
"That," said Castelroux in my ear, "is the King's commissioner.
Did I not know it? I never waited to answer him, but, striding across
the room, I held out my hand over the table - to Chatellerault.
"My dear Comte," I cried, "you are most choicely met."
I would have added more, but there was something in his attitude
that silenced me. He had turned half from me, and stood now, hand
on hip, his great head thrown back and tilted towards his shoulder,
his expression one of freezing and disdainful wonder.
Now, if his attitude filled me with astonishment and apprehension,
consider how these feelings were heightened by his words.
"Monsieur de Lesperon, I can but express amazement at your effrontery.
If we have been acquainted in the past, do you think that is a
sufficient reason for me to take your hand now that you have placed
yourself in a position which renders it impossible for His Majesty's
loyal servants to know you?"
I fell back a pace, my mind scarce grasping yet the depths of this
"This to me, Chatellerault?" I gasped.
"To you?" he blazed, stirred to a sudden passion. "What else did
you expect, Monsieur de Lesperon?"
I had it in me to give him the lie, to denounce him then for a low,
swindling trickster. I understood all at once the meaning of this
wondrous make-believe. From Saint-Eustache he had gathered the
mistake there was, and for his wager's sake he would let the error
prevail, and hurry me to the scaffold. What else might I have
expected from the man that had lured me into such a wager - a wager
which the knowledge he possessed had made him certain of winning?
Would he who had cheated at the dealing of the cards neglect an
opportunity to cheat again during the progress of the game?
As I have said, I had it in my mind to cry out that he lied - that
I was not Lesperon; that he knew I was Bardelys. But the futility
of such an outcry came to me simultaneously with the thought of it.
And, I fear me, I stood before him and his satellites - the mocking
Saint-Eustache amongst them - a very foolish figure.
"There is no more to be said," I murmured at last.
"But there is!" he retorted. "There is much more to be said. You
shall render yet an account of your treason, and I am afraid, my
poor rebel, that your comely head will part company with your shapely
body. You and I will meet at Toulouse. What more is to be said
will be said in the Tribunal there."
A chill encompassed me. I was doomed, it seemed. This man, ruling
the province pending the King's arrival, would see to it that none
came forward to recognize me. He would expedite the comedy of my
trial, and close it with the tragedy of my execution. My professions
of a mistake of identity - if I wasted breath upon them would be
treated with disdain and disregarded utterly. God! What a position
had I got myself into, and what a vein of comedy ran through it -
grim, tragic comedy, if you will, yet comedy to all faith. The very
woman whom I had wagered to wed had betrayed me into the hands of
the very man with whom I laid my wager.
But there was more in it than that. As I had told Mironsac that
night in Paris, when the thing had been initiated, it was a duel
that was being fought betwixt Chatellerault and me - a duel for
supremacy in the King's good graces. We were rivals, and he desired
my removal from the Court. To this end had he lured me into a
bargain that should result in my financial ruin, thereby compelling
me to withdraw from the costly life of the Luxembourg, and leaving
him supreme, the sole and uncontested recipient of our master's
favour. Now into his hand Fate had thrust a stouter weapon and a
deadlier: a weapon which not only should make him master of the
wealth that I had pledged, but one whereby he might remove me for
all time, a thousandfold more effectively than the mere encompassing
of my ruin would have done.
I was doomed. I realized it fully and very bitterly.
I was to go out of the ways of men unnoticed and unmourned; as a
rebel, under the obscure name of another and bearing another's sins
upon my shoulders, I was to pass almost unheeded to the gallows.
Bardelys the Magnificent - the Marquis Marcel Saint-Pol de Bardelys,
whose splendour had been a byword in France - was to go out like a
The thought filled me with the awful frenzy that so often goes with
impotency, such a frenzy as the damned in hell may know. I forgot
in that hour my precept that under no conditions should a gentleman
give way to anger. In a blind access of fury I flung myself across
the table and caught that villainous cheat by the throat, before
any there could put out a hand to stop me.
He was a heavy man, if a short one, and the strength of his thick-set
frame was a thing abnormal. Yet at that moment such nervous power
did I gather from my rage, that I swung him from his feet as though
he had been the puniest weakling. I dragged him down on to the
table, and there I ground his face with a most excellent good-will
"You liar, you cheat, you thief!" I snarled like any cross-grained
mongrel. "The King shall hear of this, you knave! By God, he shall!"
They dragged me from him at last - those lapdogs that attended him
--and with much rough handling they sent me sprawling among the
sawdust on the floor. It is more than likely that but for
Castelroux's intervention they had made short work of me there and
But with a bunch of Mordieus, Sangdieus, and Po' Cap de Dieus, the
little Gascon flung himself before my prostrate figure, and bade
them in the King's name, and at their peril, to stand back.
Chatellerault, sorely shaken, his face purple, and with blood
streaming from his nostrils, had sunk into a chair. He rose now,
and his first words were incoherent, raging gasps.
"What is your name, sir?" he bellowed at last, addressing the
"Amedee de Mironsac de Castelroux, of Chateau Rouge in Gascony,"
answered my captor, with a grand manner and a flourish, and added,
"What authority have you to allow your prisoners this degree of
"I do not need authority, monsieur," replied the Gascon.
"Do you not?" blazed the Count. "We shall see. Wait until I am in
Toulouse, my malapert friend."
Castelroux drew himself up, straight as a rapier, his face slightly
flushed and his glance angry, yet he had the presence of mind to
restrain himself, partly at least.
"I have my orders from the Keeper of the Seals, to effect the
apprehension of Monsieur de Lesperon; and to deliver him up, alive
or dead, at Toulouse. So that I do this, the manner of it is my
own affair, and who presumes to criticize my methods censoriously
impugns my honour and affronts me. And who affronts me, monsieur,
be he whosoever he may be, renders me satisfaction. I beg that you
will bear that circumstance in mind."
His moustaches bristled as he spoke, and altogether his air was very
fierce and truculent. For a moment I trembled for him. But the
Count evidently thought better of it than to provoke a quarrel,
particularly one in which he would be manifestly in the wrong,
King's Commissioner though he might be. There was an exchange of
questionable compliments betwixt the officer and the Count,
whereafter, to avoid further unpleasantness, Castelroux conducted
me to a private room, where we took our meal in gloomy silence.
It was not until an hour later, when we were again in the saddle
and upon the last stage of our journey, that I offered Castelroux
an explanation of my seemingly mad attack upon Chatellerault.
"You have done a very rash and unwise thing, monsieur," he had
commented regretfully, and it was in answer to this that I poured
out the whole story. I had determined upon this course while we
were supping, for Castelroux was now my only hope, and as we rode
beneath the stars of that September night I made known to him my
I told him that Chatellerault knew me, and I informed him that a
wager lay between us - withholding the particulars of its nature
--which had brought me into Languedoc and into the position wherein
he had found and arrested me. At first he hesitated to believe me,
but when at last I had convinced him by the vehemence of my
assurances as much as by the assurances themselves, he expressed
such opinions of the Comte de Chatellerault as made my heart go out
"You see, my dear Castelroux, that you are now my last hope," I said.
"A forlorn one, my poor gentleman!" he groaned.
"Nay, that need not be. My intendant Rodenard and some twenty of
my servants should be somewhere betwixt this and Paris. Let them
be sought for monsieur, and let us pray God that they be still in
Languedoc and may be found in time."
"It shall be done, monsieur, I promise you," he answered me solemnly.
"But I implore you not to hope too much from it. Chatellerault has
it in his power to act promptly, and you may depend that he will
waste no time after what has passed."
"Still, we may have two or three days, and in those days you must
do what you can, my friend."
"You may depend upon me," he promised.
"And meanwhile, Castelroux," said I, "you will say no word of this
to any one."
That assurance also he gave me, and presently the lights of our
destination gleamed out to greet us.
That night I lay in a dank and gloomy cell of the prison of Toulouse,
with never a hope to bear company during those dark, wakeful hours.
A dull rage was in my soul as I thought of my position, for it had
not needed Castelroux's recommendation to restrain me from building
false hopes upon his chances of finding Rodenard and my followers in
time to save me. Some little ray of consolation I culled, perhaps,
from my thoughts of Roxalanne. Out of the gloom of my cell my fancy
fashioned her sweet girl face and stamped it with a look of gentle
pity, of infinite sorrow for me and for the hand she had had in
bringing me to this.
That she loved me I was assured, and I swore that if I lived I would
win her yet, in spite of every obstacle that I myself had raised for
THE TRIBUNAL OF TOULOUSE
I had hoped to lie some days in prison before being brought to
trial, and that during those days Castelroux might have succeeded
in discovering those who could witness to my identity. Conceive,
therefore, something of my dismay when on the morrow I was summoned
an hour before noon to go present myself to my judges.
From the prison to the Palace I was taken in chains like any thief
--for the law demanded this indignity to be borne by one charged
with the crimes they imputed to me. The distance was but short, yet
I found it over-long, which is not wonderful considering that the
people stopped to line up as I went by and to cast upon me a shower
of opprobrious derision - for Toulouse was a very faithful and loyal
city. It was within some two hundred yards of the Palace steps that
I suddenly beheld a face in the crowd, at the sight of which I stood
still in my amazement. This earned me a stab in the back from the
butt-end of the pike of one of my guards.
"What ails you now?" quoth the man irritably. "Forward, Monsieur
I moved on, scarce remarking the fellow's roughness; my eyes were
still upon that face - the white, piteous face of Roxalanne. I
smiled reassurance and encouragement, but even as I smiled the
horror in her countenance seemed to increase. Then, as I passed on,
she vanished from my sight, and I was left to conjecture the motives
that had occasioned her return to Toulouse. Had the message that
Marsac would yesterday have conveyed to her caused her to retrace
her steps that she might be near me in my extremity; or had some
weightier reason influenced her return? Did she hope to undo some
of the evil she had done? Alas, poor child! If such were her hopes,
I sorely feared me they would prove very idle.
Of my trial I should say but little did not the exigencies of my
story render it necessary to say much. Even now, across the gap
of years, my gorge rises at the mockery which, in the King's name,
those gentlemen made of justice. I can allow for the troubled
conditions of the times, and I can realize how in cases of civil
disturbances and rebellion it may be expedient to deal summarily
with traitors, yet not all the allowances that I can think of
would suffice to condone the methods of that tribunal.
The trial was conducted in private by the Keeper of the Seals - a
lean, wizened individual, with an air as musty and dry as that of
the parchments among which he had spent his days. He was supported
by six judges, and on his right sat the King's Commissioner,
Monsieur de Chatellerault - the bruised condition of whose
countenance still advertised the fact that we had met but yesterday.
Upon being asked my name and place of abode, I created some
commotion by answering boldly "I am the Sieur Marcel de Saint-Pol,
Marquis of Bardelys, of Bardelys in Picardy."
The President - that is to say, the Keeper of the Seals - turned
inquiringly to Chatellerault. The Count, however, did no more than
smile and point to something written on a paper that lay spread
upon the table. The President nodded.
"Monsieur Rene de Lesperon," said he, "the Court may perhaps not
be able to discriminate whether this statement of yours is a
deliberate attempt to misguide or frustrate the ends of justice, or
whether, either in consequence of your wounds or as a visitation of
God for your treason, you are the victim of a deplorable
hallucination. But the Court wishes you to understand that it is
satisfied of your identity. The papers found upon your person at
the time of your arrest, besides other evidence in our power,
remove all possibility of doubt in that connection. Therefore, in
your own interests, we implore you to abandon these false statements,
if so be that you are master of your wits. Your only hope of saving
your head must lie in your truthfully answering our questions, and
even then, Monsieur de Lesperon, the hope that we hold out to you
is so slight as to be no hope at all."
There was a pause, during which the other judges nodded their heads
in sage approval of their President's words. For myself, I kept
silent, perceiving how little it could avail me to continue to
protest, and awaited his next question.
"You were arrested, monsieur, at the Chateau de Lavedan two nights
ago by a company of dragoons under the command of Captain de
Castelroux. Is that so?"
"It is so, monsieur."
"And at the time of your arrest, upon being apprehended as Rene de
Lesperon, you offered no repudiation of the identity; on the
contrary, when Monsieur de Castelroux called for Monsieur de
Lesperon, you stepped forward and acknowledged that you were he."
"Pardon, monsieur. What I acknowledged was that I was known by
The President chuckled evilly, and his satellites smiled in polite
reflection of his mood.
"This acute differentiating is peculiar, Monsieur de Lesperon, to
persons of unsound mental condition," said he. "I am afraid that
it will serve little purpose. A man is generally known by his
name, is he not?" I did not answer him. "Shall we call Monsieur
de Castelroux to confirm what I have said?"
"It is not necessary. Since you allow that I may have said I was
known by the name, but refuse to recognize the distinction between
that and a statement that 'Lesperon' is my name, it would serve
no purpose to summon the Captain."
The President nodded, and with that the point was dismissed, and
he proceeded as calmly as though there never had been any question
of my identity.
"You are charged, Monsieur de Lesperon, with high treason in its
most virulent and malignant form. You are accused of having borne
arms against His Majesty. Have you anything to say?"
"I have to say that it is false, monsieur; that His Majesty has no
more faithful or loving subject than am I."
The President shrugged his shoulders, and a shade of annoyance
crossed his face.
"If you are come here for no other purpose than to deny the
statements that I make, I am afraid that we are but wasting time,"
he cried testily. "If you desire it, I can summon Monsieur de
Castelroux to swear that at the time of your arrest and upon being
charged with the crime you made no repudiation of that charge."
"Naturally not, monsieur," I cried, somewhat heated by this
seemingly studied ignoring of important facts, "because I realized
that it was Monsieur de Castelroux's mission to arrest and not to
judge me. Monsieur de Castelroux was an officer, not a Tribunal,
and to have denied this or that to him would have been so much
waste of breath."
"Ah! Very nimble; very nimble, in truth, Monsieur de Lesperon,
but scarcely convincing. We will proceed. You are charged with
having taken part in several of the skirmishes against the armies
of Marshals de Schomberg and La Force, and finally, with having
been in close attendance upon Monsieur de Montmorency at the battle
of Castelnaudary. What have you to say?"
"That it is utterly untrue."
"Yet your name, monsieur, is on a list found among the papers in
the captured baggage of Monsieur le Duc de Montmorency."
"No, monsieur," I denied stoutly, "it is not."
The President smote the table a blow that scattered a flight of
"Par la mort Dieu!" he roared, with a most indecent exhibition of
temper in one so placed. "I have had enough of your contradictions.
You forget, monsieur, your position--"
"At least," I broke in harshly, "no less than you forget yours."
The Keeper of the Seals gasped for breath at that, and his fellow
judges murmured angrily amongst themselves. Chatellerault maintained
his sardonic smile, but permitted himself to utter no word.
"I would, gentlemen," I cried, addressing them all, "that His
Majesty were here to see how you conduct your trials and defile his
Courts. As for you, Monsieur le President, you violate the sanctity
of your office in giving way to anger; it is a thing unpardonable
in a judge. I have told you in plain terms, gentlemen, that I am
not this Rene de Lesperon with whose crimes you charge me. Yet, in
spite of my denials, ignoring them, or setting them down either to
a futile attempt at defence or to an hallucination of which you
suppose me the victim, you proceed to lay those crimes to my charge,
and when I deny your charges you speak of proofs that can only
apply to another.
"How shall the name of Lesperon having been found among the Duke
of Montmorency's papers convict me of treason, since I tell you that
I am not Lesperon? Had you the slightest, the remotest sense of
your high duty, messieurs, you would ask me rather to explain how,
if what I state be true, I come to be confounded with Lesperon and
arrested in his place. Then, messieurs, you might seek to test
the accuracy of what statements I may make; but to proceed as you
are proceeding is not to judge but to murder. Justice is represented
as a virtuous woman with bandaged eyes, holding impartial scales;
in your hands, gentlemen, by my soul, she is become a very harlot
clutching a veil."
Chatellerault's cynical smile grew broader as my speech proceeded
and stirred up the rancour in the hearts of those august gentlemen.
The Keeper of the Seals went white and red by turns, and when I
paused there was an impressive silence that lasted for some moments.
At last the President leant over to confer in a whisper with
Chatellerault. Then, in a voice forcedly calm - like the calm of
Nature when thunder is brewing - he asked me, "Who do you insist
that you are, monsieur?"
"Once already have I told you, and I venture to think that mine is
a name not easily forgotten. I am the Sieur Marcel de Saint-Pol,
Marquis of Bardelys, of Bardelys in Picardy."
A cunning grin parted his thin lips.
"Have you any witnesses to identify you?"
"Hundreds, monsieur!" I answered eagerly, seeing salvation already
within my grasp.
"Name some of them."
"I will name one - one whose word you will not dare to doubt."
"His Majesty the King. I am told that he is on his way to Toulouse,
and I but ask, messieurs, that you await his arrival before going
further with my trial."
"Is there no other witness of whom you can think, monsieur? Some
witness that might be produced more readily. For if you can,
indeed, establish the identity you claim, why should you languish
in prison for some weeks?"
His voice was soft and oily. The anger had all departed out of it,
which I - like a fool - imagined to be due to my mention of the King.
"My friends, Monsieur le Garde des Sceaux, are all either in Paris
or in His Majesty's train, and so not likely to be here before him.
There is my intendant, Rodenard, and there are my servants - some
twenty of them - who may perhaps be still in Languedoc, and for
whom I would entreat you to seek. Them you might succeed in
finding within a few days if they have not yet determined to return
to Paris in the belief that I am dead."
He stroked his chin meditatively, his eyes raised to the sunlit
dome of glass overhead.
"Ah-h!" he gasped. It was a long-drawn sigh of regret, of conclusion,
or of weary impatience. "There is no one in Toulouse who will swear
to your identity monsieur?" he asked.
"I am afraid there is not," I replied. "I know of no one."
As I uttered those words the President's countenance changed as
abruptly as if he had flung off a mask. From soft and cat-like
that he had been during the past few moments, he grew of a sudden
savage as a tiger. He leapt to his feet, his face crimson, his
eyes seeming to blaze, and the words he spoke came now in a hot,
confused, and almost incoherent torrent.
"Miserable!" he roared, "out of your own mouth have you convicted
yourself. And to think that you should have stood there and wasted
the time of this Court - His Majesty's time - with your damnable
falsehoods! What purpose did you think to serve by delaying your
doom? Did you imagine that haply, whilst we sent to Paris for your
witnesses, the King might grow weary of justice, and in some fit
of clemency announce a general pardon? Such things have been known,
and it may be that in your cunning you played for such a gain based
upon such a hope. But justice, fool, is not to be cozened. Had
you, indeed, been Bardelys, you had seen that here in this court
sits a gentleman who is very intimate with him. He is there,
monsieur; that is Monsieur le Comte de Chatellerault, of whom
perhaps you may have heard. Yet, when I ask you whether in Toulouse
there is any one who can bear witness to your identity, you answer
me that you know of no one. I will waste no more time with you, I
He flung himself back into his chair like a man exhausted, and
mopped his brow with a great kerchief which he had drawn from his
robes. His fellow judges laid their heads together, and with smiles
and nods, winks and leers, they discussed and admired the miraculous
subtlety and acumen of this Solomon. Chatellerault sat, calmly
smiling, in solemn mockery.
For a spell I was too thunderstruck to speak, aghast at this
catastrophe. Like a fool, indeed, I had tumbled into the pit that
had been dug for me by Chatellerault for I never doubted that it
was of his contriving. At last, "My masters," said I, "these
conclusions may appear to you most plausible, but, believe me, they
are fallacious. I am perfectly acquainted with Monsieur de
Chatellerault, and he with me, and if he were to speak the truth
and play the man and the gentleman for once, he would tell you that
I am, indeed, Bardelys. But Monsieur le Comte has ends of his own
to serve in sending me to my doom. It is in a sense through his
agency that I am at present in this position, and that I have been
confounded with Lesperon. What, then, could it have availed me to
have made appeal to him? And yet, Monsieur le President, he was
born a gentleman, and he may still retain some notion of honour.
Ask him, sir - ask him point-blank, whether I am or not Marcel de
The firmness of my tones created some impression upon those feeble
minds. Indeed, the President went so far as to turn an interrogative
glance upon the Count. But Chatellerault, supremely master of the
situation, shrugged his shoulders, and smiled a pitying,
"Must I really answer such a question, Monsieur le President?" he
inquired in a voice and with a manner that clearly implied how low
would be his estimate of the President's intelligence if he were,
indeed, constrained to do so.
"But no, Monsieur le Comte," replied the President with sudden haste,
and in scornful rejection of the idea. "There is no necessity that
you should answer."
"But the question, Monsieur le President!" I thundered, my hand
outstretched towards Chatellerault. "Ask him - if you have any
sense of your duty - ask him am I not Marcel de Bardelys."
"Silence!" blazed the President back at me. "You shall not fool us
any longer, you nimble-witted liar!"
My head drooped. This coward had, indeed, shattered my last hope.
"Some day, monsieur," I said very quietly, "I promise you that your
behaviour and these gratuitous insults shall cost you your position.
Pray God they do not cost you also your head!"
My words they treated as one might treat the threats of a child.
That I should have had the temerity to utter them did but serve
finally to decide my doom, if, indeed, anything had been wanting.
With many epithets of opprobrium, such as are applied to malefactors
of the lowest degree, they passed sentence of death upon me, and
with drooping spirits, giving myself up for lost and assured that
I should be led to the block before many hours were sped, I
permitted them to reconduct me through the streets of Toulouse to
I could entertain you at length upon my sensations as I walked
between my guards, a man on the threshold of eternity, with hundreds
of men and women gaping at me - men and women who would live for
years to gape upon many another wretch in my position. The sun
shone with a brilliance that to such eyes as mine was a very mockery.
Thus would it shine on through centuries, and light many another
unfortunate to the scaffold. The very sky seemed pitiless in the
intensity of its cobalt. Unfeeling I deemed the note that everywhere
was struck by man and Nature, so discordant was it with my gloomy
outlook. If you would have food for reflection upon the evanescent
quality of life, upon the nothingness of man, upon the empty,
heartless egoism implicit in human nature, get yourselves sentenced
to death, and then look around you. With such a force was all this
borne in upon me, and with such sufficiency, that after the first
pang was spent I went near to rejoicing that things were as they
were, and that I was to die, haply before sunset. It was become
such a world as did not seem worth a man's while to live in: a world
of vainness, of hollowness, of meanness, of nothing but illusions.
The knowledge that I was about to die, that I was about to quit all
this, seemed to have torn some veil from my eyes, and to have
permitted me to recognize the worthless quality of what I left.
Well may it be that such are but the thoughts of a man's dying
moments, whispered into his soul by a merciful God to predispose him
for the wrench and agony of his passing.
I had been a half-hour in my cell when the door was opened to admit
Castelroux, whom I had not seen since the night before. He came
to condole with me in my extremity, and yet to bid me not utterly
"It is too late to-day to carry out the sentence," said he, "and as
to-morrow will be Sunday, you will have until the day after. By
then much may betide, monsieur. My agents are everywhere scouring
the province for your servants, and let us pray Heaven that they
may succeed in their search."
"It is a forlorn hope, Monsieur de Castelroux," I sighed, "and I
will pin no faith to it lest I suffer a disappointment that will
embitter my last moments, and perhaps rob me of some of the
fortitude I shall have need of."
He answered me, nevertheless, with words of encouragement. No
effort was being spared, and if Rodenard and my men were still in
Languedoc then was every likelihood that they would be brought to
Toulouse in time. Then he added that that, however, was not the
sole object of his visit. A lady had obtained permission of the
Keeper of the Seals to visit me, and she was waiting to be admitted.
"A lady?" I exclaimed, and the thought of Roxalanne flitted through
my mind. "Mademoiselle de Lavedan?" I inquired.
He nodded. "Yes," said he; then added, "She seems in sore
I besought him to admit her forthwith, and presently she came.
Castelroux closed the door as he withdrew, and we were left alone
together. As she put aside her cloak, and disclosed to me the pallor
of her face and the disfiguring red about her gentle eyes, telling
of tears and sleeplessness, all my own trouble seemed to vanish in
the contemplation of her affliction.
We stood a moment confronting each other with no word spoken. Then,
dropping her glance, and advancing a step, in a faltering,
hesitating manner "Monsieur, monsieur," she murmured in a suffocating
In a bound I was beside her, and I had gathered her in my arms, her
little brown head against my shoulder.
"Roxalanne!" I whispered as soothingly as I might - "Roxalanne!"
But she struggled to be free of my embrace.
"Let me go, monsieur," she pleaded, a curious shrinking in her very
voice. "Do not touch me, monsieur. You do not know - you do not
For answer, I enfolded her more tightly still.
"But I do know, little one," I whispered; "and I even understand."
At that, her struggles ceased upon the instant, and she seemed to
lie limp and helpless in my arms.
"You know, monsieur," she questioned me - "you know that I betrayed
"Yes," I answered simply.
"And you can forgive me? I am sending you to your death and you
have no reproaches for me! Oh, monsieur, it will kill me!"
"Hush, child!" I whispered. "What reproaches can I have for you?
I know the motives that impelled you."
"Not altogether, monsieur; you cannot know them. I loved you,
monsieur. I do love you, monsieur. Oh! this is not a time to
consider words. If I am bold and unmaidenly, I - I--"
"Neither bold nor unmaidenly, but - oh, the sweetest damsel in all
France, my Roxalanne!" I broke in, coming to her aid. "Mine was a
leprous, sinful soul, child, when I came into Languedoc. I had no
faith in any human good, and I looked as little for an honest man
or a virtuous woman as one looks for honey in a nettle. I was
soured, and my life had hardly been such a life as it was meet to
bring into contact with your own. Then, among the roses at Lavedan,
in your dear company, Roxalanne, it seemed that some of the good,
some of the sweetness, some of the purity about you were infused
anew into my heart. I became young again, and I seemed oddly
cleansed. In that hour of my rejuvenation I loved you, Roxalanne."
Her face had been raised to mine as I spoke. There came now a
flutter of the eyelids, a curious smile about the lips. Then her
head drooped again and was laid against my breast; a sigh escaped
her, and she began to weep softly.
"Nay, Roxalanne, do not fret. Come, child, it is not your way to
"I have betrayed you!" she moaned. "I am sending you to your
"I understand, I understand," I answered, smoothing her brown
"Not quite, monsieur. I loved you so, monsieur, that you can have
no thought of how I suffered that morning when Mademoiselle de
Marsac came to Lavedan.
"At first it was but the pain of thinking that - that I was about to
lose you; that you were to go out of my life, and that I should see
you no more - you whom I had enshrined so in my heart.
"I called myself a little fool that morning for having dreamed that
you had come to care for me; my vanity I thought had deluded me
into imagining that your manner towards me had a tenderness that
spoke of affection. I was bitter with myself, and I suffered oh,
so much! Then later, when I was in the rose garden, you came to me.
"You remember how you seized me, and how by your manner you showed
me that it was not vanity alone had misled me. You had fooled me,
I thought; even in that hour I imagined you were fooling me; you
made light of me; and my sufferings were naught to you so that I
might give you some amusement to pass the leisure and monotony of
your sojourn with us."
"Roxalanne - my poor Roxalanne!" I whispered.
"Then my bitterness and sorrow all turned to anger against you.
You had broken my heart, and I thought that you had done it
wantonly. For that I burned to punish you. Ah! and not only that,
perhaps. I think, too, that some jealousy drove me on. You had
wooed and slighted me, yet you had made me love you, and if you
were not for me I swore you should be for no other. And so, while
my madness endured, I quitted Lavedan, and telling my father that
I was going to Auch, to his sister's house, I came to Toulouse and
betrayed you to the Keeper of the Seals.
"Scarce was the thing done than I beheld the horror of it, and I
hated myself. In my despair, I abandoned all idea of pursuing the
journey to Auch, but turned and made my way back in haste, hoping
that I might still come to warn you. But at Grenade I met you
already in charge of the soldiers. At Grenade, too I learnt the
truth - that you were not Lesperon. Can you not guess something of
my anguish then? Already loathing my act, and beside myself for
having betrayed you, think into what despair I was plunged by
Monsieur de Marsac's intimation.
"Then I understood that for reasons of your own you had concealed
your identity. You were not perhaps, betrothed; indeed, I remembered
then how, solemnly you had sworn that you were not; and so I
bethought me that your vows to me may have been sincere and such as
a maid might honourably listen to."
"They were, Roxalanne! they were!" I cried.
But she continued "That you had Mademoiselle de Marsac's portrait
was something that I could not explain; but then I hear that you
had also Lesperon's papers upon you; so that you may have become
possessed of the one with the others. And now, monsieur--"
She ceased, and there against my breast she lay weeping and weeping
in her bitter passion of regret, until it seemed to me she would
never regain her self-control.
"It has been all my fault, Roxalanne," said I, "and if I am to pay
the price they are exacting, it will be none too high. I embarked
upon a dastardly business; which brought me to Languedoc under
false colours. I wish, indeed, that I had told you when first the
impulse to tell you came upon me. Afterwards it grew impossible."
"Tell me now," she begged. "Tell me who you are."
Sorely was I tempted to respond. Almost was I on the point of
doing so, when suddenly the thought of how she might shrink from me,
of how, even then, she might come to think that I had but simulated
love for her for infamous purposes of gain, restrained and silenced
me. During the few hours of life that might be left me I would at
least be lord and master of her heart. When I was dead - for I had
little hope of Castelroux's efforts - it would matter less, and
perhaps because I was dead she would be merciful.
"I cannot, Roxalanne. Not even now. It is too vile! If - if they
carry out the sentence on Monday, I shall leave a letter for you,
telling you everything."
She shuddered, and a sob escaped her. From my identity her mind
fled back to the more important matter of my fate.
"They will not carry it out, monsieur! Oh, they till not! Say that
you can defend yourself, that you are not the man they believe you
"We are in God's hands, child. It may be that I shall save myself
yet. If I do, I shall come straight to you, and you shall know all
that there is to know. But, remember, child" - and raising her
face in my hands, I looked down into the blue of her tearful eyes -
"remember, little one, that in one thing I have been true and
honourable, and influenced by nothing but my heart - in my wooing
of you. I love you, Roxalanne, with all my soul, and if I should
die you are the only thing in all this world that I experience a
regret at leaving."
"I do believe it; I do, indeed. Nothing can ever alter my belief
again. Will you not, then, tell me who you are, and what is this
thing, which you call dishonourable, that brought you into Languedoc?"
A moment again I pondered. Then I shook my head.
"Wait, child," said I; and she, obedient to my wishes, asked no more.
It was the second time that I neglected a favourable opportunity of
making that confession, and as I had regretted having allowed the
first occasion to pass unprofited, so was I, and still more
poignantly, to regret this second silence.
A little while she stayed with me yet, and I sought to instil some
measure of comfort into her soul. I spoke of the hopes that I
based upon Castelroux's finding friends to recognize me - hopes
that were passing slender. And she, poor child, sought also to
cheer me and give me courage.
"If only the King were here!" she sighed. "I would go to him, and
on my knees I would plead for your enlargement. But they say he is
no nearer than Lyons; and I could not hope to get there and back by
Monday. I will go to the Keeper of the Seals again, monsieur, and
I will beg him to be merciful, and at least to delay the sentence."
I did not discourage her; I did not speak of the futility of such
a step. But I begged her to remain in Toulouse until Monday, that
she might visit me again before the end, if the end were to become
Then Castelroux came to reconduct her, and we parted. But she left
me a great consolation, a great strengthening comfort. If I were
destined, indeed, to walk to the scaffold, it seemed that I could
do it with a better grace and a gladder courage now.
THE ELEVENTH HOUR
Castelroux visited me upon the following morning, but he brought no
news that might be accounted encouraging. None of his messengers
were yet returned, nor had any sent word that they were upon the
trail of my followers. My heart sank a little, and such hope as I
still fostered was fast perishing. Indeed, so imminent did my doom
appear and so unavoidable, that later in the day I asked for pen
and paper that I might make an attempt at setting my earthly affairs
to rights. Yet when the writing materials were brought me, I wrote
not. I sat instead with the feathered end of my quill between my
teeth, and thus pondered the matter of the disposal of my Picardy
Coldly I weighed the wording of the wager and the events that had
transpired, and I came at length to the conclusion that Chatellerault
could not be held to have the least claim upon my lands. That he
had cheated at the very outset, as I have earlier shown, was of less
account than that he had been instrumental in violently hindering me.
I took at last the resolve to indite a full memoir of the transaction,
and to request Castelroux to see that it was delivered to the King
himself. Thus not only would justice be done, but I should - though
tardily - be even with the Count. No doubt he relied upon his power
to make a thorough search for such papers as I might leave, and to
destroy everything that might afford indication of my true identity.
But he had not counted upon the good feeling that had sprung up
betwixt the little Gascon captain and me, nor yet upon my having
contrived to convince the latter that I was, indeed, Bardelys, and
he little dreamt of such a step as I was about to take to ensure his
Resolved at last, I was commencing to write when my attention was
arrested by an unusual sound. It was at first no more than a
murmuring noise, as of at sea breaking upon its shore. Gradually
it grew its volume and assumed the shape of human voices raised in
lusty clamour. Then, above the din of the populace, a gun boomed
out, then another, and another.
I sprang up at that, and, wondering what might be toward, I crossed
to my barred window and stood there listening. I overlooked the
courtyard of the jail, and I could see some commotion below, in
sympathy, as it were, with the greater commotion without.
Presently, as the populace drew nearer, it seemed to me that the
shouting was of acclamation. Next I caught a blare of trumpets,
and, lastly, I was able to distinguish above the noise, which had
now grown to monstrous proportions, the clattering hoofs of some
cavalcade that was riding past the prison doors.
It was borne in upon me that some great personage was arriving in
Toulouse, and my first thought was of the King. At the idea of such
a possibility my brain whirled and I grew dizzy with hope. The
next moment I recalled that but last night Roxalanne had told me
that he was no nearer than Lyons, and so I put the thought from me,
and the hope with it, for, travelling in that leisurely, indolent
fashion that was characteristic of his every action, it would be a
miracle if His Majesty should reach Toulouse before the week was
out, and this but Sunday.
The populace passed on, then seemed to halt, and at last the shouts
died down on the noontide air. I went back to my writing, and to
wait until from my jailer, when next he should chance to appear, I
might learn the meaning of that uproar.
An hour perhaps went by, and I had made some progress with my memoir,
when my door was opened and the cheery voice of Castelroux greeted
me from the threshold.
"Monsieur, I have brought a friend to see you."
I turned in my chair, and one glance at the gentle, comely face and
the fair hair of the young man standing beside Castelroux was enough
to bring me of a sudden to my feet.
"Mironsac!" I shouted, and sprang towards him with hands outstretched.
But though my joy was great and my surprise profound, greater still
was the bewilderment that in Mironsac's face I saw depicted.
"Monsieur de Bardelys!" he exclaimed, and a hundred questions were
contained in his astonished eyes.
"Po' Cap de Dieu!" growled his cousin, "I was well advised, it seems,
to have brought you."
"But," Mironsac asked his cousin, as he took my hands in his own,
"why did you not tell me, Amedee, that it was to Monsieur le Marquis
de Bardelys that you were conducting me?"
"Would you have had me spoil so pleasant a surprise?" his cousin
"Armand," said I, "never was a man more welcome than are you. You
are but come in time to save my life."
And then, in answer to his questions, I told him briefly of all that
had befallen me since that night in Paris when the wager had been
laid, and of how, through the cunning silence of Chatellerault, I
was now upon the very threshold of the scaffold. His wrath burst
forth at that, and what he said of the Count did me good to hear.
At last I stemmed his invective.
"Let that be for the present, Mironsac," I laughed. "You are here,
and you can thwart all Chatellerault's designs by witnessing to my
identity before the Keeper of the Seals."
And then of a sudden a doubt closed like a cold hand upon my brain.
I turned to Castelroux.
"Mon Dieu!" I cried. "What if they were to deny me a fresh trial?"
"Deny it you!" he laughed. "They will not be asked to grant you
"There will be no need," added Mironsac. "I have but to tell the
"But, my friend," I exclaimed impatiently, "I am to die in the
"And the King shall be told to-day - now, at once. I will go to
I stared askance a moment; then the thought of the uproar that I
had heard recurring to me, "Has the King arrived already?" I
"Naturally, monsieur. How else do I come to be here? I am in His
At that I grew again impatient. I thought of Roxalanne and of how
she must be suffering, and I bethought me that every moment Mironsac
now remained in my cell was another moment of torture for that poor
child. So I urged him to be gone at once and carry news of my
confinement to His Majesty. He obeyed me, and I was left alone once
more, to pace up and down in my narrow cell, a prey to an excitement
such as I should have thought I had outlived.
At the end of a half-hour Castelroux returned alone.
"Well?" I cried the moment the door opened, and without giving him
so much as time to enter. "What news?"
"Mironsac tells me that His Majesty is more overwrought than he has
ever seen him. You are to come to the Palace at once. I have an
order here from the King."
We went in a coach, and with all privacy, for he informed me that
His Majesty desired the affair to be kept secret, having ends of his
own to serve thereby.
I was left to wait some moments in an ante-chamber, whilst
Castelroux announced me to the King; then I was ushered into a small
apartment, furnished very sumptuously in crimson and gold, and
evidently set apart for His Majesty's studies or devotions. As I
entered, Louis's back was towards me. He was standing - a tall,
spare figure in black - leaning against the frame of a window, his
head supported on his raised left arm and his eyes intent upon the
He remained so until Castelroux had withdrawn and the door had closed
again; then, turning suddenly, he confronted me, his back to the
light, so that his face was in a shadow that heightened its gloom and
"Voila, Monsieur de Bardelys!" was his greeting, and unfriendly.
"See the pass to which your disobedience of my commands has brought
"I would submit, Sire," I answered, "that I have been brought to it
by the incompetence of Your Majesty's judges and the ill-will of
others whom Your Majesty honours with too great a confidence, rather
than by this same disobedience of mine."
"The one and the other, perhaps," he said more softly. "Though,
after all, they appear to have had a very keen nose for a traitor.
Come, Bardelys, confess yourself that."
"I? A traitor?"
He shrugged his shoulders, and laughed without any conspicuous mirth.
"Is not a traitor one who runs counter to the wishes; of his King?
And are you not, therefore, a traitor, whether they call you Lesperon
or Bardelys? But there," he ended more softly still, and flinging
himself into a chair as he spoke, "I have been so wearied since you
left me, Marcel. They have the best intentions in the world, these
dullards, and some of them love me even; but they are tiresome all.
Even Chatellerault, when he has a fancy for a jest - as in your case
perpetrates it with the grace of a bear, the sprightliness of an
"Jest?" said I.
"You find it no jest, Marcel? Pardieu, who shall blame you? He
would be a man of unhealthy humour that could relish such a
pleasantry as that of being sentenced to death. But tell me of it.
The whole story, Marcel. I have not heard a story worth the
listening to since - since you left us."
"Would it please you, Sire, to send for the Comte de Chatellerault
ere I begin?" I asked.
"Chatellerault? No, no." He shook his head whimsically.
"Chatellerault has had his laugh already, and, like the ill-mannered
dog he is, he has kept it to himself. I think, Marcel, that it is
our turn now. I have purposely sent Chatellerault away that he may
gain no notion of the catastrophic jest we are preparing him in
The words set me in the very best of humours, and to that it may be
due that presently, as I warmed to my narrative, I lent it a vigour
that drew His Majesty out of his wonted apathy and listlessness. He
leaned forward when I told him of my encounter with the dragoons at
Mirepoix, and how first I had committed the false step of representing
myself to be Lesperon.
Encouraged by his interest, I proceeded, and I told my story with as
much piquancy as I was master of, repressing only those slight matters
which might reflect upon Monsieur de Lavedan's loyalty, but otherwise
dealing frankly with His Majesty, even down to the genuineness of
the feelings I entertained for Roxalanne. Often he laughed, more
often still he nodded approvingly, in understanding and sympathy,
whilst now and then he purred his applause. But towards the end,
when I came to the matter of the Tribunal of Toulouse, of how my
trial was conducted, and of the part played in it by Chatellerault,
his face grew set and hard.
"It is true - all this that you tell me?" he cried harshly.
"As true as the Gospels. If you deem an oath necessary, Sire, I
swear by my honour that I have uttered nothing that is false, and
that, in connection with Monsieur de Chatellerault, even as I have
suppressed nothing, so also have I exaggerated nothing."
"The dastard!" he snapped. "But we will avenge you, Marcel. Never
Then the trend of his thoughts being changed, he smiled wearily.
"By my faith, you may thank God every night of your worthless life
that I came so opportunely to Toulouse, and so may that fair child
whose beauty you have limned with such a lover's ardour. Nay, never
redden, Marcel. What? At your age, and with such a heavy score
of affaires to your credit, has it been left for a simple Languedoc
maiden to call a blush to your callous cheek? Ma foi, they say
truly that love is a great regenerator, a great rejuvenator!"
I made him no answer other than a sigh, for his words set me thinking,
and with thought came a tempering of the gay humour that had pervaded
me. Remarking this, and misreading it, he laughed outright.
"There, Marcel, never fear. We will not be rigorous. You have won
both the maid and the wager, and, by the Mass, you shall enjoy both."
"Helas, Sire," I sighed again, "when the lady comes to know of the
"Waste no time in telling her, Marcel, and cast yourself upon her
mercy. Nay, go not with so gloomy a face, my friend. When woman
loves, she can be very merciful; leastways, they tell me so."
Then, his thoughts shifting ground once more, he grew stern again.
"But first we have Chatellerault to deal with. What shall we do with
"It is for Your Majesty to decide."
"For me?" he cried, his voice resuming the harshness that was never
far from it. "I have a fancy for having gentlemen about me. Think
you I will set eyes again upon that dastard? I am already resolved
concerning him, but it entered my mind that it might please you to
be the instrument of the law for me."
"Aye, and why not? They say you can play a very deadly sword upon
necessity. This is an occasion that demands an exception from our
edict. You have my sanction to send the Comte de Chatellerault a
challenge. And see that you kill him, Bardelys!" he continued
viciously. "For, by the Mass, if you don't, I will! If he escapes
your sword, or if he survives such hurt as you may do him, the
headsman shall have him. Mordieu! is it for nothing that I am
called Louis the Just?"
I stood in thought for a moment. Then--
"If I do this thing, Sire," I ventured, "the world will say of me
that I did so to escape the payment I had incurred."
"Fool, you have not incurred it. When a man cheats, does he not
forfeit all his rights?"
"That is very true. But the world--"
"Peste!" he snapped impatiently, "you are beginning to weary me,
Marcel - and all the world does that so excellently that it needs not
your collaboration. Go your ways, man, and do as you elect. But
take my sanction to slay this fellow Chatellerault, and I shall be
the better pleased if you avail yourself of it. He is lodged at the
Auberge Royale, where probably you will find him at present. Now,
go. I have more justice to dispense in this rebellious province."
I paused a moment.
"Shall I not resume my duties near Your Majesty?"
He pondered a moment, then he smiled in his weary way.
"It would please me to have you, for these creatures are so dismally
dull, all of them. Je m'ennuie tellement, Marcel!" he sighed.
"Ough! But, no, my friend, I do not doubt you would be as dull as
any of them at present. A man in love is the weariest and most
futile thing in all this weary, futile world. What shall I do with
your body what time your soul is at Lavedan? I doubt me you are in
haste to get you there. So go, Marcel. Get you wed, and live out
your amorous intoxication; marriage is the best antidote. When that
is done, return to me."
"That will be never, Sire," I answered slyly.
"Say you so, Master Cupid Bardelys?" And he combed his beard
reflectively. "Be not too sure. There have been other passions -
aye, as great as yours - yet have they staled. But you waste my
time. Go, Marcel; you are excused your duties by me for as long as
your own affairs shall hold you elsewhere - for as long as you
please. We are here upon a gloomy business - as you know. There
are my cousin Montmorency and the others to be dealt with, and we
are holding no levees, countenancing no revels. But come to me
when you will, and I will see you. Adieu!"
I murmured my thanks, and very deep and sincere were they. Then,
having kissed his hand, I left him.
Louis XIII is a man who lacks not maligners. Of how history may
come to speak of him it is not mine to hazard. But this I can say,
that I, at least, did never find him other than a just and kindly
master, an upright gentleman, capricious at times and wilful, as
must inevitably be the case with such spoilt children of fortune as
are princes, but of lofty ideals and high principles. It was his
worst fault that he was always tired, and through that everlasting
weariness he came to entrust the determining of most affairs to
His Eminence. Hence has it resulted that the censure for many
questionable acts of his reign, which were the work of my Lord
Cardinal, has recoiled upon my august master's head.
But to me, with all the faults that may be assigned him, he was ever
Louis the Just, and wherever his name be mentioned in my hearing, I
bare my head.
I turned it over in my mind, after I had left the King's presence,
whether or not I should visit with my own hands upon Chatellerault
the punishment he had so fully earned. That I would have gone about
the task rejoicing you may readily imagine; but there was that
accursed wager, and - to restrain me - the thought of how such an
action might be construed into an evasion of its consequences.
Better a thousand times that His Majesty should order his arrest and
deal with him for his attempted perversion of justice to the service
of his own vile ends. The charge of having abused his trust as
King's commissioner to the extent of seeking to do murder through
the channels of the Tribunal was one that could not fail to have
fatal results for him - as, indeed, the King had sworn.
That was the position of affairs as it concerned Chatellerault, the
world, and me. But the position must also be considered as it
concerned Roxalanne, and deeply, indeed, did I so consider it. Much
pondering brought me again to the conclusion that until I had made
the only atonement in my power, the only atonement that would leave
me with clean hands, I must not again approach her.
Whether Chatellerault had cheated or not could not affect the
question as it concerned Mademoiselle and me. If I paid the wager
--whether in honour bound to do so or not - I might then go to her,
impoverished, it is true, but at least with no suspicion attaching
to my suit of any ulterior object other than that of winning
I could then make confession, and surely the fact that I had paid
where clearly there was no longer any need to pay must earn me
forgiveness and afford proof of the sincerity of my passion.
Upon such a course, then, did I decide, and, with this end in view,
I took my way towards the Auberge Royale, where His Majesty had told
me that the Count was lodged. It was my purpose to show myself
fully aware of the treacherous and unworthy part he had played at
the very inception of the affair, and that if I chose to consider
the wager lost it was that I might the more honestly win the lady.
Upon inquiring at the hostelry for Monsieur de Chatellerault I was
informed by the servant I addressed that he was within, but that
at the moment he had a visitor. I replied that I would wait, and
demanded a private room, since I desired to avoid meeting any Court
acquaintances who might chance into the auberge before I had seen
My apparel at the moment may not have been all that could have been
desired, but when a gentleman's rearing has taken place amid an
army of servitors to minister to his every wish, he is likely to
have acquired an air that is wont to win him obedience. With all
celerity was I ushered into a small chamber, opening on the one side
upon the common room, and being divided on the other by the thinnest
of wooden partitions from the adjoining apartment.
Here, the landlord having left me, I disposed myself to wait, and
here I did a thing I would not have believed myself capable of doing,
a thing I cannot think of without blushing to this very day. In
short, I played the eavesdropper - I, Marcel Saint-Pol de Bardelys.
Yet, if you who read and are nice-minded, shudder at this confession,
or, worse still, shrug your shoulders in contempt, with the
reflection that such former conduct of mine as I have avowed had
already partly disposed you against surprise at this I do but ask
that you measure my sin by my temptation, and think honestly whether
in my position you might not yourselves have fallen. Aye - be you
never so noble and high-principled - I make bold to say that you had
done no less, for the voice that penetrated to my ears was that of
Roxalanne de Lavedan.
"I sought an audience with the King," she was saying, "but I could
not gain his presence. They told me that he was holding no levees,
and that he refused to see any one not introduced by one of those
having the private entree."
"And so," answered the voice of Chatellerault, in tones that were
perfectly colourless, "you come to me that I may present you
to his Majesty?"
"You have guessed it, Monsieur le Comte. You are the only gentleman
of His Majesty's suite, with whom I can claim acquaintance - however
slight - and, moreover, it is well known how high you stand in his
royal favour. I was told that they that have a boon to crave can
find no better sponsor."
"Had you gone to the King, mademoiselle," said he, "had you gained
audience, he would have directed you to make your appeal to me. I am
his Commissioner in Languedoc, and the prisoners attainted with high
treason are my property."
"Why then, monsieur," she cried in an eager voice, that set my pulses
throbbing, "you'll not deny me the boon I crave? You'll not deny me
There was a short laugh from Chatellerault, and I could hear the
deliberate fall of his feet as he paced the chamber.
"Mademoiselle, mademoiselle, you must not overrate my powers. You
must not forget that I am the slave of Justice. You may be asking
more than is in my power to grant. What can you advance to show
that I should be justified in proceeding as you wish?"
"Helas, monsieur, I can advance nothing but my prayers and the
assurance that a hideous mistake is being made."
"What is your interest in this Monsieur de Lesperon?"
"He is not Monsieur de Lesperon," she cried.
"But, since you cannot tell me who he is, you must be content that
we speak of him at least as Lesperon," said he, and I could imagine
the evil grin with which he would accompany the words.
The better that you may appreciate that which followed, let me here
impart to you the suspicions which were already sinking into my mind,
to be changed later into absolute convictions touching the course
the Count intended to pursue concerning me. The sudden arrival of
the King had thrown him into some measure of panic, and no longer
daring to carry out his plans concerning me, it was his object, I
made no doubt, to set me at liberty that very evening. Ere he did
so, however, and presuming upon my ignorance of His Majesty's
presence in Toulouse, Chatellerault would of a certainty have bound
me down by solemn promise - making that promise the price of my
liberty and my life - to breathe no word of my captivity and trial.
No doubt, his cunning brain would have advanced me plausible and
convincing reasons so to engage myself.
He had not calculated upon Castelroux, nor that the King should
already have heard of my detention. Now that Roxalanne came to
entreat him to do that which already he saw himself forced to do,
he turned his attention to the profit that he might derive from her
interestedness on my behalf. I could guess also something of the
jealous rage that must fill him at this signal proof of my success
with her, and already I anticipated, I think, the bargain that he
"Tell me, then," he was repeating, "what is your interest in this
There was a silence. I could imagine her gentle face clouded with
the trouble that sprang from devising an' answer to that question;
I could picture her innocent eyes cast down, her delicate cheeks
pinked by some measure of shame, as at last, in a low, stifled
voice, the four words broke from her "I love him, monsieur."
Ah, Dieu! To hear her confess it so! If yesternight it had stirred
me to the very depths of my poor, sinful soul to have her say so
much to me, how infinitely more did it not affect me to overhear
this frank avowal of it to another! And to think that she was
undergoing all this to the end that she might save me!
From Chatellerault there came an impatient snort in answer, and his
feet again smote the floor as he resumed the pacing that for
a moment he had suspended. Then followed a pause, a long silence,
broken only by the Count's restless walking to and fro. At last
"Why are you silent, monsieur?" she asked in a trembling voice.
"Helas, mademoiselle, I can do nothing. I had feared that it might
be thus with you; and, if I put the question, it was in the hope
that I was wrong."
"But he, monsieur?" she exclaimed in anguish. "What of him?"
"Believe me, mademoiselle, if it lay in my power I would save him
were he never so guilty, if only that I might spare you sorrow."
He spoke with tender regret, foul hypocrite that he was!
"Oh, no, no!" she cried, and her voice was of horror and despair.
"You do not mean that - " She stopped short; and then, after a
pause, it was the Count who finished the sentence for her.
"I mean, mademoiselle, that this Lesperon must die!"
You will marvel that I let her suffer so, that I did not break down
the partition with my hands and strike that supple gentleman dead at
her feet in atonement for the anguish he was causing her. But I had
a mind to see how far he would drive this game he was engaged upon.
Again there was a spell of silence, and at last, when Mademoiselle
spoke, I was amazed at the calm voice in which she addressed him,
marvelling at the strength and courage of one so frail and childlike
"Is your determination, indeed, irrevocable, monsieur? If you have
any pity, will you not at least let me bear my prayers and my tears
to the King?"
"It would avail you nothing. As I have said, the Languedoc rebels
are in my hands." He paused as if to let those words sink well into
her understanding; then, "If I were to set him at liberty,
mademoiselle, if I were to spirit him out of prison in the night,
bribing his jailers to keep silent and binding him by oath to quit
France at once and never to betray me, I should be, myself, guilty
of high treason. Thus alone could the thing be done, and you will
see, mademoiselle, that by doing it I should be endangering my neck."
There was an ineffable undercurrent of meaning in his words - an
intangible suggestion that he might be bribed to do all this to
which he so vaguely alluded.
"I understand, monsieur," she answered, choking - "I understand that
it would be too much to ask of you."
"It would be much, mademoiselle," he returned quickly, and his voice
was now subdued and invested with an odd quiver. "But nothing that
your lips might ask of me and that it might lie in the power of
mortal man to do, would be too much!"
"You mean?" she cried, a catch in her breath. Had she guessed - as
I, without sight of her face, had guessed - what was to follow? My
gorge was rising fast. I clenched my hands, and by an effort I
restrained myself to learn that I had guessed aright.
"Some two months ago," he said, "I journeyed to Lavedan, as you may
remember. I saw you, mademoiselle - for a brief while only, it is
true - and ever since I have seen nothing else but you." His voice
went a shade lower, and passion throbbed in his words.
She, too, perceived it, for the grating of a chair informed me that
she had risen.
"Not now, monsieur - not now!" she exclaimed. "This is not the
season. I beg of you think of my desolation."
"I do, mademoiselle, and I respect your grief, and, with all my
heart, believe me, I share it. Yet this is the season, and if you
have this man's interests at heart, you will hear me to the end."
Through all the imperiousness of his tone an odd note of respect -
real or assumed - was sounding.
"If you suffer, mademoiselle, believe me that I suffer also, and if
I make you suffer more by what I say, I beg that you will think how
what you have said, how the very motive of your presence here, has
made me suffer. Do you know, mademoiselle, what it is to be torn
by jealousy? Can you imagine it? If you can, you can imagine also
something of the torture I endured when you confessed to me that you
loved this Lesperon, when you interceded for his life. Mademoiselle,
I love you - with all my heart and soul I love you. I have loved
you, I think, since the first moment of our meeting at Lavedan, and
to win you there is no risk that I would not take, no danger that I
would not brave."
"Monsieur, I implore you - "
"Hear me out, mademoiselle!" he cried. Then in quieter voice he
proceeded: "At present you love this Monsieur de Lesperon--"
"I shall always love him! Always, monsieur!"
"Wait, wait, wait!" he exclaimed, annoyed by her interruption. "If
he were to live, and you were to wed him and be daily in his company,
I make no doubt your love might endure. But if he were to die, or
if he were to pass into banishment and you were to see him no more,
you would mourn him for a little while, and then - Helas! it is the
way of men and women - time would heal first your sorrow, then your
"Never, monsieur - oh, never!"
"I am older, child, than you are. I know. At present you are
anxious to save his life anxious because you love him, and also
because you betrayed him, and you would not have his death upon
your conscience." He paused a moment; then raising his voice,
"Mademoiselle," said he, "I offer you your lover's life."
"Monsieur, monsieur!" cried the poor child, "I knew you were good!
"A moment! Do not misapprehend me. I do not say that I give it
--I offer it."
"But the difference?"
"That if you would have it, mademoiselle, you must buy it. I have
said that for you I would brave all dangers. To save your lover, I
brave the scaffold. If I am betrayed, or if the story transpire, my
head will assuredly fall in the place of Lesperon's. This I will
risk, mademoiselle -I will do it gladly - if you will promise to
become my wife when it is done."
There was a moan from Roxalanne, then silence; then - "Oh, monsieur,
you are pitiless! What bargain is this that you offer me?"
"A fair one, surely," said that son of hell - "a very fair one. The
risk of my life against your hand in marriage."
"If you - if you truly loved me as you say, monsieur," she reasoned,
"you would serve me without asking guerdon."
"In any other thing I would. But is it fair to ask a man who is
racked by love of you to place another in your arms, and that at the
risk of his own life? Ah, mademoiselle, I am but a man, and I am
subject to human weaknesses. If you will consent, this Lesperon
shall go free, but you must see him no more; and I will carry my
consideration so far as to give you six months in which to overcome
your sorrow, ere I present myself to you again to urge my suit."
"And if I refuse, monsieur?"
"To the value which I set upon my life you must add my very human
jealousy. From such a combination what can you hope for?"
"You mean, in short, that he must die?"
"To-morrow," was that infernal cheat's laconic answer.
They were silent a little while, then she fell a-sobbing.
"Be pitiful, monsieur! Have mercy if you, indeed, love me. Oh, he
must not die! I cannot, I dare not, let him die! Save him, monsieur,
and I will pray for you every night of my life; I will pray for you
to our Holy Mother as I am now praying to you for him."
Lived there the man to resist that innocent, devout appeal? Lived
there one who in answer to such gentle words of love and grief could
obtrude his own coarse passions? It seems there did, for all he
answered was "You know the price, child."
"And God pity me! I must pay it. I must, for if he dies I shall
have his blood upon my conscience!" Then she checked her grief, and
her voice grew almost stern in the restraint she set upon herself.
"If I give you my promise to wed you hereafter - say in six months'
time - what proof will you afford me that he who is detained under
the name of Lesperon shall go free?"
I caught the sound of something very like a gasp from the Count.
"Remain in Toulouse until to-morrow, and to-night ere he departs he
shall come to take his leave of you. Are you content?"
"Be it so, monsieur," she answered.
Then at last I leapt to my feet. I could endure no more. You may
marvel that I had had the heart to endure so much, and to have so
let her suffer that I might satisfy myself how far this scoundrel
Chatellerault would drive his trickster's bargain.
A more impetuous man would have beaten down the partition, or shouted
to her through it the consolation that Chatellerault's bargain was no
bargain at all, since I was already at large. And that is where a
more impetuous man would have acted upon instinct more wisely than did
I upon reason. Instead, I opened the door, and, crossing the common
room, I flung myself down a passage that I thought must lead to the
chamber in which they were closeted. But in this I was at fault, and
ere I had come upon a waiter and been redirected some precious moments
were lost. He led me back through the common room to a door opening
upon another corridor. He pushed it wide, and I came suddenly face
to face with Chatellerault, still flushed from his recent contest.
"You here!" he gasped, his jaw falling, and his cheeks turning pale,
as well they might; for all that he could not dream I had overheard
"We will go back, if you please, Monsieur le Comte." said I.
"Back where?" he asked stupidly.
"Back to Mademoiselle. Back to the room you have just quitted."
And none too gently I pushed him into the corridor again, and so,
in the gloom, I missed the expression of his face.
"She is not there," said he.
I laughed shortly.
"Nevertheless, we will go back," I insisted.
And so I had my way, and we gained the room where his infamous
traffic had been held. Yet for once he spoke the truth. She was
no longer there.
"Where is she?" I demanded angrily.
"Gone," he answered; and when I protested that I had not met her,
"You would not have a lady go by way of the public room, would you?"
he demanded insolently. "She left by the side door into the
"That being so, Monsieur le Comte," said I quietly, "I will have a
little talk with you before going after her." And I carefully closed
MONSIEUR DE CHATELLERAULT IS ANGRY
Within the room Chatellerault and I faced each other in silence.
And how vastly changed were the circumstances since our last meeting!
The disorder that had stamped itself upon his countenance when first
he had beheld me still prevailed. There was a lowering, sullen look
in his eyes and a certain displacement of their symmetry which was
peculiar to them when troubled.
Although a cunning plotter and a scheming intriguer in his own
interests, Chatellerault, as I have said before, was not by nature
a quick man. His wits worked slowly, and he needed leisure to
consider a situation and his actions therein ere he was in a
position to engage with it.
"Monsieur le Comte," quoth I ironically, "I make you my compliments
upon your astuteness and the depth of your schemes, and my
condolences upon the little accident owing to which I am here, and
in consequence of which your pretty plans are likely to miscarry.
He threw back his great head like a horse that feels the curb, and
his smouldering eyes looked up at me balefully. Then his sensuous
lips parted in scorn.
"How much do you know?" he demanded with sullen contempt.
"I have been in that room for the half of an hour," I answered,
rapping the partition with my knuckles.
"The dividing wall, as you will observe, is thin, and I heard
everything that passed between you and Mademoiselle de Lavedan."
"So that Bardelys, known as the Magnificent; Bardelys the mirror
of chivalry; Bardelys the arbiter elegantiarum of the Court of
France, is no better, it seems, than a vulgar spy."
If he sought by that word to anger me, he failed.
"Lord Count," I answered him very quietly, "you are of an age to
know that the truth alone has power to wound. I was in that room
by accident, and when the first words of your conversation reached
me I had not been human had I not remained and strained my ears to
catch every syllable you uttered. For the rest, let me ask you,
my dear Chatellerault, since when have you become so nice that you
dare cast it at a man that he has been eavesdropping?"
"You are obscure, monsieur. What is it that you suggest?"
"I am signifying that when a man stands unmasked for a cheat, a
liar, and a thief, his own character should give him concern enough
to restrain him from strictures upon that of another."
A red flush showed through the tan of his skin, then faded and left
him livid - a very evil sight, as God lives. He flung his
heavily-feathered hat upon the table, and carried his hand to his
"God's blood!" he cried. "You shall answer me for this."
I shook my head and smiled; but I made no sign of drawing.
"Monsieur, we must talk a while. I think that you had better."
He raised his sullen eyes to mine. Perhaps the earnest
impressiveness of my tones prevailed. Be that as it may, his
half-drawn sword was thrust back with a click, and "What have you
to say?" he asked.
"Be seated." I motioned him to a chair by the table and when he had
taken it I sat down opposite to him. Taking up a quill, I dipped it
in the ink-horn that stood by, and drew towards me a sheet of paper.
"When you lured me into the wager touching Mademoiselle de Lavedan,"
said I calmly, "you did so, counting upon certain circumstances, of
which you alone had knowledge, that should render impossible the
urging of my suit. That, Monsieur le Comte, was undeniably the
action of a cheat. Was it not?"
"Damnation!" he roared, and would have risen, but, my hand upon his
arm, I restrained him and pressed him back into his chair.
"By a sequence of fortuitous circumstances," I pursued, "it became
possible for me to circumvent the obstacle upon which you had based
your calculations. Those same circumstances led later to my being
arrested in error and in place of another man. You discovered how
I had contravened the influence upon which you counted; you trembled
to see how the unexpected had befriended me, and you began to fear
for your wager.
"What did you do? Seeing me arraigned before you in your quality
as King's Commissioner, you pretended to no knowledge of me; you
became blind to my being any but Lesperon the rebel, and you
sentenced me to death in his place, so that being thus definitely
removed I should be unable to carry out my undertaking, and my
lands should consequently pass into your possession. That, monsieur,
was at once the act of a thief and a murderer. Wait, monsieur;
restrain yourself until I shall have done. To-day again fortune
comes to my rescue. Again you see me slipping from your grasp, and
you are in despair. Then, in the eleventh hour, Mademoiselle de
Lavedan comes to you to plead for my life. By that act she gives
you the most ample proof that your wager is lost. What would a
gentleman, a man of honour, have done under these circumstances?
What did you do? You seized that last chance; you turned it to the
best account; you made this poor girl buy something from you; you
made her sell herself to you for nothing - pretending that your
nothing was a something of great value. What term shall we apply
to that? To say that you cheated again seems hardly adequate."
"By God, Bardelys!"
"Wait!" I thundered, looking him straight between the eyes, so that
again he sank back cowed. Then resuming the calm with which hitherto
I had addressed him, "Your cupidity," said I, "your greed for the
estates of Bardelys, and your jealousy and thirst to see me
impoverished and so ousted from my position at Court, to leave you
supreme in His Majesty's favour, have put you to strange shifts for
a gentleman, Chatellerault. Yet, wait."
And, dipping my pen in the ink-horn, I began to write. I was
conscious of his eyes upon me, and I could imagine his surmisings
and bewildered speculations as my pen scratched rapidly across the
paper. In a few moments it was done, and I tossed the pen aside.
I took up the sandbox.
"When a man cheats, Monsieur le Comte, and is detected, he is
invariably adjudged the loser of his stakes. On that count alone
everything that you have is now mine by rights." Again I had to
quell an interruption. "But if we wave that point, and proceed
upon the supposition that you have dealt fairly and honourably with
me, why, then, monsieur, you have still sufficient evidence - the
word of Mademoiselle, herself, in fact - that I have won my wager.
And so, if we take this, the most lenient view of the case" - I
paused to sprinkle the sand over my writing - "your estates are
still lost to you, and pass to be my property."
"Do they, by God?" he roared, unable longer to restrain himself,
and leaping to his feet. "You have done, have you not? You have
said all that you can call to mind? You have flung insults and
epithets at me enough to earn the cutting of a dozen throats. You
have dubbed me cheat and thief" - he choked in his passion - "until
you have had your fill - is it not so? Now, listen to me, Master
Bardelys, master spy, master buffoon, master masquerader! What