Part 5 out of 5
THE "BRAVI" AT BLAGNAC
I was glad to be in the open once more - glad of the movement, as I
rode at the head of my brave company along the bank of the Garonne
and in the shade of the golden, autumn-tinted trees.
I was in a measure angry with myself that I had driven such a bargain
with Roxalanne, in a measure angry with her that she had forced me
to it by her obstinacy. A fine gentleman I, on my soul, to have
dubbed Chatellerault a cheat for having done no worse than I had now
brought myself to do! Yet, was it so? No, I assured myself, it was
not. A thousand times no! What I had done I had done as much to
win Roxalanne to me as to win her from her own unreasonableness. In
the days to come she should thank me for my harshness, for that which
now she perhaps accounted my unfairness.
Then, again, would I ask myself, was I very sure of this? And so the
two questions were flung the one against the other; my conscience
divided itself into two parties, and they waged a war that filled me
with a depressing uncertainty.
In the end shame was overthrown, and I flung back my head with a
snort of assurance. I was doing no wrong. On the contrary, I was
doing right - both by myself and by Roxalanne. What matter that I
was really cheating her? What matter that I had said I would not
leave Lavedan until I had her promise, whilst in reality I had
hurled my threat at Saint-Eustache that I would meet him at Toulouse,
and passed my word to the Vicomtesse that I would succour her
I gave no thought to the hidden threat with which Saint-Eustache
had retorted that from Lavedan to Toulouse was a distance of some
twenty leagues. Had he been a man of sterner purposes I might have
been uneasy and on my guard. But Saint-Eustache pshaw!
It is ill to underestimate an enemy, be he never so contemptible,
and for my disdain of the Chevalier I might have paid dearly had
not Fortune - which of late had been practising singular jests upon
me after seemingly abandoning me, returned to my aid at the last
It was Saint-Eustache's purpose that I should never reach Toulouse
alive, for in all the world I was the one man he feared, the one
man who would encompass his undoing and destruction by a word. And
so he had resolved and disposed that I should be removed, and to
accomplish this he had left a line of bravi along the road I was to
He had counted upon my lying the night in one of the intervening
towns, for the journey was over-long to be accomplished at a
stretch, and wherever I might chance to lie, there I should have to
reckon with his assassins. The nearer Toulouse - although I knew
not this - the thicker grew my danger. Into the very thick of it
I rode; in the very thick of it I lay, and all that came of it was
that I obtained possession of one more and overwhelming piece of
evidence against my murderous Chevalier. But I outrun my story.
It had been my purpose to change horses at Grenade, and so push on
and reach Toulouse that very night or in the early hours of the
following morning. At Grenade, however, there were no horses to be
obtained, at least not more than three, and so, leaving the greater
portion of my company behind, I set out, escorted only by Gilles
and Antoine. Night had fallen long before we reached Lespinasse,
and with it came foul weather. The wind rose from the west, grew
to the violence of a hurricane, and brought with it such a deluge
of cold, cutting rain as never had it been my ill-chance to ride
through. From Lespinasse to Fenouillet the road dips frequently,
and wherever this occurred it seemed to us that we were riding in
a torrent, our horses fetlock-deep in mud.
Antoine complained in groans; Gilles growled openly, and went the
length of begging me, as we rode through the ill-paved, flooded
streets of Fenouillet, to go no farther. But I was adamant in my
resolve. Soaked to the skin, my clothes hanging sodden about me,
and chilled to the marrow though I was, I set my chattering teeth,
and swore that we should not sleep until we reached Toulouse.
"My God," he groaned, "and we but halfway!"
"Forward!" was all I answered; and so as midnight chimed we left
Fenouillet behind us, and dashed on into the open country and the
full fury of the tempest.
My servants came after me upon their stumbling horses, whining and
cursing by turns, and forgetting in their misery the respect that
they were accustomed to pay me. I think now that it was a providence
that guided me. Had I halted at Fenouillet, as they would have had
me do, it is odds that this chronicle would never have been penned,
for likely enough I had had my throat cut as I slept. A providence
was it also that brought my horse down within a half-mile of Blagnac,
and so badly did it founder that it might not be ridden farther.
The beasts my men bestrode were in little better condition, and so,
with infinite chagrin, I was forced to acknowledge defeat and to
determine that at Blagnac we should lie for the remainder of the
night. After all, it mattered little. A couple of hours' riding
in the morning would bring us to Toulouse, and we would start
I bade Gilles dismount - he had been the louder in his complainings
--and follow us afoot, bringing my horse to the Auberge de l'Etoile
at Blagnac, where he would await him. Then I mounted his jaded
beast, and, accompanied by Antoine - the last of my retainers - I
rode into Blagnac, and pulled up at the sign of the "Star."
With my whip I smote the door, and I had need to smite hard if I
would be heard above the wind that shrieked and howled under the
eaves of that narrow street. Yet it almost seemed as if some one
were expected, for scarce had my knocking ceased when the door
was opened, and the landlord stood there, shading a taper with
his hand. For a moment I saw the glow of its light on his rosy,
white-bearded face, then a gust of wind extinguished it.
"Diable!" he swore, "an ugly night for travelling"; adding as an
afterthought, "You ride late, monsieur."
"You are a man of supreme discernment, Monsieur l'Hote," said I
testily, as I pushed him aside and stepped into the passage. "Will
you keep me in the rain till daylight whilst you perpend how late
I ride? Is your ostler abed? See to those beasts yourself, then.
Afterwards get me food - for me and for my man and beds for both
"I have but one room, monsieur," he answered respectfully. "You
shall have that, and your servant shall sleep in the hayloft."
"My servant sleeps in my room, if you have but one. Set a mattress
on the floor for him. Is this a night to leave a dog to sleep in
a hayloft? I have another servant following. He will be here in a
few minutes. You must find room for him also - in the passage
outside my door, if no other accommodation be possible."
"But, monsieur -" he began in a tone of protest, which I set down
to the way a landlord has of making difficulties that he shall be
the better paid for such lodging as he finds us.
"See to it," I ordered peremptorily. "You shall be well paid. Now
go tend those horses."
On the wall of the passage fell a warm, reddish glow from the common
room, which argued a fire, and this was too alluring to admit of my
remaining longer in discussion with him. I strode forward, therefore.
The Auberge de l'Etoile was not an imposing hostelry, nor one at
which from choice I had made a halt. This common room stank most
vilely of oil, of burning tallow - from the smoky tapers - and of I
know not what other noisome unsavourinesses.
As I entered, I was greeted by a resonant snore from a man seated
in a corner by the fire. His head had fallen back, displaying the
brown, sinewy neck, and he slept - or seemed to sleep - with mouth
wide open. Full length on the hearth and in the red glare of the
burning logs lay what at first glance I took to be a heap of rags,
but which closer scrutiny showed me to be another man, seemingly
I flung my sodden castor on the table; I dropped my drenched cloak
on the ground, and stepped with heavy tread and a noisy rattle of
spurs across the floor. Yet my ragged gentleman slept on. I
touched him lightly with my whip.
"Hold, mon bonhomme!" I cried to him. Still he did not move, whereat
I lost patience and caught him a kick full in the side, so choicely
aimed that first it doubled him up, then brought him into a sitting
posture, with the snarl of a cross-grained dog that has been rudely
From out of an evil, dirty countenance a pair of gloomy, bloodshot
eyes scowled threateningly upon me. The man on the chair awoke at
the same instant, and sat forward.
"Eh bien?" said I to my friend on the hearth: "Will you stir
"For whom?" he growled. "Is not the Etoile as much for me as for
you, whoever you may be?"
"We have paid our lodging, pardieu!" swore he of the chair.
"My masters," said I grimly, "if you have not eyes to see my sodden
condition, and if you therefore have not the grace to move that I
may approach the fire; I'll see to it that you spend the night not
only a l'Etoile, but a la belle etoile." With which pleasantry,
and a touch of the foot, I moved my friend aside. My tone was not
nice, nor do I generally have the air of promising more than I can
They were growling together in a corner when Antoine came to draw
off my doublet and my boots. They were still growling when Gilles
joined us presently, although at his coming they paused to take his
measure with their eyes. For Gilles was something of a giant, and
men were wont to turn their heads - aye, and women too - to admire
his fine proportions. We supped - so vilely that I have not the
heart to tell you what we ate - and, having supped, I bade my host
light me to my chamber. As for my men, I had determined that they
should spend the night in the common room, where there was a fire,
and where - notwithstanding the company of those two ruffians, into
whose presence I had not troubled to inquire - they would doubtless
be better than elsewhere in that poor hostelry.
In gathering up my cloak and doublet and other effects to bear them
off to the kitchen, the host would have possessed himself also of
my sword. But with a laugh I took it from him, remarking that it
required no drying.
As we mounted the stairs, I heard something above me that sounded
like the creaking of a door. The host heard it also, for he stood
suddenly still, his glance very questioning.
"What was that?" said he.
"The wind, I should say," I answered idly; and my answer seemed to
reassure him, for with a "Ah, yes - the wind," he went on.
Now, for all that I am far from being a man of tremors or unwarranted
fears, to tell the truth the hostelry of the "Star" was beginning to
fret my nerves. I could scarce have told you why had you asked me,
as I sat upon the bed after mine host had left me, and turned my
thoughts to it. It was none of the trivial incidents that had marked
my coming; but it was, I think, the combination of them all. First
there was the host's desire to separate me from my men by suggesting
that they should sleep in the hayloft. Clearly unnecessary, when he
was not averse to turning his common room into a dormitory. There
was his very evident relief when, after announcing that I would have
them sleep one in my room and one in the passage by my door, I
consented to their spending the night below; there was the presence
of those two very ill-looking cut-throats; there was the attempt to
carry off my sword; and, lastly, there was that creaking door and
the host's note of alarm.
What was that?
I stood up suddenly. Had my fancy, dwelling upon that very incident,
tricked me into believing that a door had creaked again? I listened,
but a silence followed, broken only by a drone of voices ascending
from the common room. As I had assured the host upon the stairs,
so I now assured myself that it was the wind, the signboard of the
inn, perhaps, swaying in the storm.
And then, when I had almost dismissed my doubts, and was about to
divest myself of my remaining clothes, I saw something at which I
thanked Heaven that I had not allowed the landlord to carry off my
rapier. My eyes were on the door, and, as I gazed, I beheld the
slow raising of the latch. It was no delusion; my wits were keen
and my eyes sharp; there was no fear to make me see things that
were not. Softly I stepped to the bed-rail where I had hung my
sword by the baldrick, and as softly I unsheathed it. The door
was pushed open, and I caught the advance of a stealthy step. A
naked foot shot past the edge of the door into my room, and for a
second I thought of pinning it to the ground with my rapier; then
came a leg, then a half-dressed body surmounted by a face - the
face of Rodenard!
At sight of it, amazement and a hundred suspicions crossed my mind.
How, in God's name, came he here, and for what purpose did he steal
so into my chamber?
But my suspicions perished even as they were begotten. There was
so momentous, so alarmingly warning a look on his face as he
whispered the one word "Monseigneur!" that clearly if danger there
was to me it was not from him.
"What the devil--" I began.
But at the sound of my voice the alarm grew in his eyes.
"Sh!" he whispered, his finger on his lips. "Be silent, monseigneur,
for Heaven's sake!"
Very softly he closed the door; softly, yet painfully, he hobbled
forward to my side.
"There is a plot to murder you, monseigneur," he whispered.
"What! Here at Blagnac?"
He nodded fearfully.
"Bah!" I laughed. "You rave, man. Who was to know that I was to
come this way? And who is there to plot against my life?"
"Monsieur de Saint-Eustache." he answered.
"And for the rest, as to expecting you here, they did not, but they
were prepared against the remote chance of your coming. From what
I have gathered, there is not a hostelry betwixt this and Lavedan
at which the Chevalier has not left his cutthroats with the promise
of enormous reward to the men who shall kill you."
I caught my breath at that. My doubts vanished.
"Tell me what you know," said I. "Be brief."
Thereupon this faithful dog, whom I had so sorely beaten but four
nights ago, told me how, upon finding himself able to walk once
more, he had gone to seek me out, that he might implore me to
forgive him and not cast him off altogether, after a lifetime
spent in the service of my father and of myself.
He had discovered from Monsieur de Castelroux that I was gone to
Lavedan, and he determined to follow me thither. He had no horse
and little money, and so he had set out afoot that very day, and
dragged himself as far as Blagnac, where, however, his strength had
given out, and he was forced to halt. A providence it seemed that
this had so befallen. For here at the Etoile he had that evening
overheard Saint-Eustache in conversation with those two bravi below
stairs. It would seem from what he had said that at every hostelry
from Grenade to Toulouse - at which it was conceivable that I might
spend the night - the Chevalier had made a similar provision.
At Blagnac, if I got so far without halting, I must arrive very
late, and therefore the Chevalier had bidden his men await me until
daylight. He did not believe, however, that I should travel so far,
for he had seen to it that I should find no horses at the posthouses.
But it was just possible that I might, nevertheless, push on, and
Saint-Eustache would let no possibility be overlooked. Here at
Blagnac the landlord, Rodenard informed me, was also in
Saint-Eustache's pay. Their intention was to stab me as I slept.
"Monseigneur," he ended, "knowing what danger awaited you along the
road, I have sat up all night, praying God and His saints that you
might come this far, and that thus I might warn you. Had I been
less bruised and sore, I had got myself a horse and ridden out to
meet you; as it was, I could but hope and pray that you would reach
Blagnac, and that--"
I gathered him into my arms at that, but my embrace drew a groan
from him, for the poor, faithful knave was very sore.
"My poor Ganymede!" I murmured, and I was more truly moved to
sympathy, I think, than ever I had been in all my selfish life.
Hearing his sobriquet, a look of hope gleamed suddenly in his eye.
"You will take me back, monseigneur?" he pleaded. "You will take
me back, will you not? I swear that I will never let my tongue--"
"Sh, my good Ganymede. Not only will I take you back, but I shall
strive to make amends for my brutality. Come, my friend, you shall
have twenty golden Louis to buy unguents for your poor shoulders."
"Monseigneur is very good," he murmured, whereupon I would have
embraced him again but that he shivered and drew back.
"No, no, monseigneur," he whispered fearfully. "It is a great
honour, but it - it pains me to be touched."
"Then take the will for the deed. And now for these gentlemen below
stairs." I rose and moved to the door.
"Order Gilles to beat their brains out," was Ganymede's merciful
I shook my head. "We might be detained for doing murder. We have
no proof yet of their intentions - I think - " An idea flashed
suddenly across my mind. "Go back to your room, Ganymede," I bade
him. "Lock yourself in, and do not stir until I call you. I do
not wish their suspicions aroused."
I opened the door, and as Ganymede obediently slipped past me and
vanished down the passage "Monsieur l'Hote," I called. "Ho, there,
"Monsieur," answered the landlord.
"Monseigneur," replied Gilles; and there came a stir below.
"Is aught amiss?" the landlord questioned, a note of concern in his
"Amiss?" I echoed peevishly, mincing my words as I uttered them.
"Pardi! Must I be put to it to undress myself, whilst those two
lazy dogs of mine are snoring beneath me? Come up this instant,
Gilles. And," I added as an afterthought, "you had best sleep here
in my room."
"At once, monseigneur," answered he, but I caught the faintest
tinge of surprise in his accents, for never yet had it fallen to
the lot of sturdy, clumsy Gilles to assist me at my toilet.
The landlord muttered something, and I heard Gilles whispering his
reply. Then the stairs creaked under his heavy tread.
In my room I told him in half a dozen words what was afoot. For
answer, he swore a great oath that the landlord had mulled a stoup
of wine for him, which he never doubted now was drugged. I bade
him go below and fetch the wine, telling the landlord that I, too
had a fancy for it.
"But what of Antoine?" he asked. "They will drug him."
"Let them. We can manage this affair, you and I, without his help.
If they did not drug him, they might haply stab him. So that in
being drugged lies his safety."
As I bade him so he did, and presently he returned with a great
steaming measure. This I emptied into a ewer, then returned it to
him that he might take it back to the host with my thanks and our
appreciation. Thus should we give them confidence that the way
was clear and smooth for them.
Thereafter there befell precisely that which already you will be
expecting, and nothing that you cannot guess. It was perhaps at
the end of an hour's silent waiting that one of them came. We had
left the door unbarred so that his entrance was unhampered. But
scarce was he within when out of the dark, on either side of him,
rose Gilles and I. Before he had realized it, he was lifted off
his feet and deposited upon the bed without a cry; the only sound
being the tinkle of the knife that dropped from his suddenly
On the bed, with Gilles's great knee in his stomach, and Gilles's
hands at his throat, he was assured in unequivocal terms that at
his slightest outcry we would make an end of him. I kindled a
light. We trussed him hand and foot with the bedclothes, and then,
whilst he lay impotent and silent in his terror, I proceeded to
discuss the situation with him.
I pointed out that we knew that what he had done he had done at
Saint-Eustache's instigation, therefore the true guilt was
Saint-Eustache's and upon him alone the punishment should fall.
But ere this could come to pass, he himself must add his testimony
to ours - mine and Rodenard's. If he would come to Toulouse and
do that make a full confession of how he had been set to do this
murdering - the Chevalier de Saint-Eustache, who was the real
culprit, should be the only one to suffer the penalty of the law.
If he would not do that, why, then, he must stand the consequences
himself - and the consequences would be the hangman. But in either
case he was coming to Toulouse in the morning.
It goes without saying that he was reasonable. I never for a moment
held his judgment in doubt; there is no loyalty about a cut-throat,
and it is not the way of his calling to take unnecessary risk.
We had just settled the matter in a mutually agreeable manner when
the door opened again, and his confederate - rendered uneasy, no
doubt, by his long absence - came to see what could be occasioning
this unconscionable delay in the slitting of the throats of a pair
of sleeping men.
Beholding us there in friendly conclave, and no doubt considering
that under the circumstances his intrusion was nothing short of an
impertinence, that polite gentleman uttered a cry - which I should
like to think was an apology for having disturbed us and turned to
go with most indecorous precipitancy.
But Gilles took him by the nape of his dirty neck and haled him back
into the room. In less time than it takes me to tell of it, he lay
beside his colleague, and was being asked whether he did not think
that he might also come to take the same view of the situation.
Overjoyed that we intended no worse by him, he swore by every saint
in the calendar that he would do our will, that he had reluctantly
undertaken the Chevalier's business, that he was no cut-throat, but
a poor man with a wife and children to provide for.
And that, in short, was how it came to pass that the Chevalier de
Saint-Eustache himself, by disposing for my destruction, disposed
only for his own. With these two witnesses, and Rodenard to swear
how Saint-Eustache had bribed them to cut my throat, with myself
and Gilles to swear how the attempt had been made and frustrated,
I could now go to His Majesty with a very full confidence, not only
of having the Chevalier's accusations, against whomsoever they
might be, discredited, but also of sending the Chevalier himself
to the gallows he had so richly earned.
LOUIS THE JUST
"For me," said the King, "these depositions were not necessary.
Your word, my dear Marcel, would have sufficed. For the courts,
however, perhaps it is well that you have had them taken;
moreover, they form a valuable corroboration of the treason which
you lay to the charge of Monsieur de Saint-Eustache."
We were standing - at least, La Fosse and I were standing, Louis
XIII sat - in a room, of the Palace of Toulouse, where I had had
the honour of being brought before His Majesty. La Fosse was
there, because it would seem that the King had grown fond of him,
and could not be without him since his coming to Toulouse.
His Majesty was, as usual, so dull and weary - not even roused by
the approaching trial of Montmorency, which was the main business
that had brought him South that even the company of this vapid,
shallow, but irrepressibly good-humoured La Fosse, with his
everlasting mythology, proved a thing desirable.
"I will see," said Louis, "that your friend the Chevalier is placed
under arrest at once, and as much for his attempt upon your life
as for the unstable quality of his political opinions, the law shall
deal with him - conclusively." He sighed. "It always pains me to
proceed to extremes against a man of his stamp. To deprive a fool
of his head seems a work of supererogation."
I inclined my head, and smiled at his pleasantry. Louis the just
rarely permitted himself to jest, and when he did his humour was
as like unto humour as water is like unto wine. Still, when a
monarch jests, if you are wise, if you have a favour to sue, or a
position at Court to seek or to maintain, you smile, for all that
the ineptitude of his witless wit be rather provocative of sorrow.
"Nature needs meddling with at times," hazarded La Fosse, from
behind His Majesty's chair. "This Saint-Eustache is a sort of
Pandora's box, which it is well to close ere--"
"Go to the devil," said the King shortly. "We are not jesting.
We have to do justice."
"Ah! Justice," murmured La Fosse; "I have seen pictures of the
lady. She covers her eyes with a bandage, but is less discreet
where the other beauties of her figure are in question."
His Majesty blushed. He was above all things a chaste-minded man,
modest as a nun. To the immodesty rampant about him he was in the
habit of closing his eyes and his ears, until the flagrancy or the
noise of it grew to proportions to which he might remain neither
blind nor deaf.
"Monsieur de la Fosse," said he in an austere voice, "you weary me,
and when people weary me I send them away - which is one of the
reasons why I am usually so much alone. I beg that you will glance
at that hunting-book, so that when I have done with Monsieur de
Bardelys you may give me your impressions of it."
La Fosse fell back, obedient but unabashed, and, moving to a table
by the window, he opened the book Louis had pointed out.
"Now, Marcel, while that buffoon prepares to inform me that the
book has been inspired by Diana herself, tell me what else you have
"Naught else, Sire."
"How naught? What of this Vicomte de Lavedan."
"Surely Your Majesty is satisfied that there is no charge - no
heedful charge against him?"
"Aye, but there is a charge - a very heedful one. And so far you
have afforded me no proofs of his innocence to warrant my sanctioning
"I had thought, Sire, that it would be unnecessary to advance proofs
of his innocence until there were proofs of his guilt to be refuted.
It is unusual, Your Majesty, to apprehend a gentleman so that he may
show cause why he did not deserve such apprehension. The more usual
course is to arrest him because there are proofs of his guilt to be
preferred against him."
Louis combed his beard pensively, and his melancholy eyes grew
"A nice point, Marcel," said he, and he yawned. "A nice point. You
should have been a lawyer." Then, with an abrupt change of manner,
"Do you give me your word of honour that he is innocent?" he asked
"If Your Majesty's judges offer proof of his guilt, I give you my
word that I will tear that proof to pieces."
"That is not an answer. Do you swear his innocence?"
"Do I know what he carries in his conscience?" quoth I still fencing
with the question. "How can I give my word in such a matter? Ah,
Sire, it is not for nothing that they call you Louis the Just," I
pursued, adopting cajolery and presenting him with his own favourite
phrase. "You will never allow a man against whom there is no shred
of evidence to be confined in prison."
"Is there not?" he questioned. Yet his tone grew gentler. History,
he had promised himself, should know him as Louis the Just, and he
would do naught that might jeopardize his claim to that proud title.
"There is the evidence of this Saint-Eustache!"
"Would Your Majesty hang a dog upon the word of that double traitor?"
"Hum! You are a great advocate, Marcel. You avoid answering
questions; you turn questions aside by counter-questions." He
seemed to be talking more to himself than tome. "You are a much
better advocate than the Vicomte's wife, for instance. She
answers questions and has a temper - Ciel! what a temper!"
"You have seen the Vicomtesse?" I exclaimed, and I grew cold with
apprehension, knowing as I did the licence of that woman's tongue.
"Seen her?" he echoed whimsically. "I have seen her, heard her,
well-nigh felt her. The air of this room is still disturbed as a
consequence of her presence. She was here an hour ago."
"And it seemed," lisped La Fosse, turning from his hunting-book,
"as if the three daughters of Acheron had quitted the domain of
Pluto to take embodiment in a single woman."
"I would not have seen her," the King resumed as though La Fosse
had not spoken, "but she would not be denied. I heard her voice
blaspheming in the antechamber when I refused to receive her; there
was a commotion at my door; it was dashed open, and the Swiss who
held it was hurled into my room here as though he had been a
mannikin. Dieu! Since I have reigned in France I have not been
the centre of so much commotion. She is a strong woman, Marcel
the saints defend you hereafter, when she shall come to be your
mother-in-law. In all France, I'll swear, her tongue is the only
stouter thing than her arm. But she's a fool."
"What did she say, Sire?" I asked in my anxiety.
"Say? She swore - Ciel! how she did swear! Not a saint in the
calendar would she let rest in peace; she dragged them all by turns
from their chapter-rolls to bear witness to the truth of what she
"That her husband was the foulest traitor out of hell. But that
he was a fool with no wit of his own to make him accountable for
what he did, and that out of folly he had gone astray. Upon those
grounds she besought me to forgive him and let him go. When I
told her that he must stand his trial, and that I could offer her
but little hope of his acquittal, she told me things about myself,
which in my conceit, and thanks to you flatterers who have
surrounded me, I had never dreamed.
"She told me I was ugly, sour-faced, and malformed; that I was
priest-ridden and a fool; unlike my brother, who, she assured me,
is a mirror of chivalry and manly perfections. She promised me
that Heaven should never receive my soul, though I told my beads
from now till Doomsday, and she prophesied for me a welcome among
the damned when my time comes. What more she might have foretold
I cannot say. She wearied me at last, for all her novelty, and I
dismissed her - that is to say," he amended, "I ordered four
musketeers to carry her out. God pity you, Marcel, when you become
her daughter's husband!"
But I had no heart to enter into his jocularity. This woman
with her ungovernable passion and her rash tongue had destroyed
"I see no likelihood of being her daughter's husband," I answered
The King looked up, and laughed. "Down on your knees, then," said
he, "and render thanks to Heaven."
But I shook my head very soberly. "To Your Majesty it is a
pleasing comedy," said I, "but to me, helas! it is nearer far to
"Come, Marcel," said he, "may I not laugh a little? One grows so
sad with being King of France! Tell me what vexes you."
"Mademoiselle de Lavedan has promised that she will marry me only
when I have saved her father from the scaffold. I came to do it,
very full of hope, Sire. But his wife has forestalled me and,
seemingly, doomed him irrevocably."
His glance fell; his countenance resumed its habitual gloom. Then
he looked up again, and in the melancholy depths of his eyes I saw
a gleam of something that was very like affection.
"You know that I love you, Marcel," he said gently. "Were you my
own son I could not love you more. You are a profligate, dissolute
knave, and your scandals have rung in my ears more than once; yet
you are different from these other fools, and at least you have
never wearied me. To have done that is to have done something.
I would not lose you, Marcel; as lose you I shall if you marry this
rose of Languedoc, for I take it that she is too sweet a flower to
let wither in the stale atmosphere of Courts. This man, this
Vicomte de Lavedan, has earned his death. Why should I not let him
die, since if he dies you will not wed?"
"Do you ask me why, Sire?" said I. "Because they call you Louis the
Just, and because no king was ever more deserving of the title."
He winced; he pursed his lips, and shot a glance at La Fosse, who
was deep in the mysteries of his volume. Then he drew towards him
a sheet of paper, and, taking a quill, he sat toying with it.
"Because they call me the Just, I must let justice take its course,"
he answered presently.
"But," I objected, with a sudden hope, "the course of justice cannot
lead to the headsman in the case of the Vicomte de Lavedan."
"Why not?" And his solemn eyes met mine across the table.
"Because he took no active part in the revolt. If he was a traitor,
he was no more than a traitor at heart, and until a man commits a
crime in deed he is not amenable to the law's rigour. His wife has
made his defection clear; but it were unfair to punish him in the
same measure as you punish those who bore arms against you, Sire."
"Ah!" he pondered. "Well? What more?"
"Is that not enough, Sire?" I cried. My heart beat quickly, and my
pulses throbbed with the suspense of that portentous moment.
He bent his head, dipped his pen and began to write.
"What punishment would you have me mete out to him?" he asked as he
wrote. "Come, Marcel, deal fairly with me, and deal fairly with him
--for as you deal with him, so shall I deal with you through him."
I felt myself paling in my excitement. "There is banishment, Sire
--it is usual in cases of treason that are not sufficiently flagrant
to be punished by death."
"Yes!" He wrote busily. "Banishment for how long, Marcel? For his
"Nay, Sire. That were too long."
"For my lifetime, then?"
"Again that were too long."
He raised his eyes and smiled. "Ah! You turn prophet? Well, for
how long, then? Come, man."
"I should think five years--"
"Five years be it. Say no more."
He wrote on for a few moments; then he raised the sandbox and
sprinkled the document.
"Tiens!" he cried, as he dusted it and held it out to me. "There
is my warrant for the disposal of Monsieur le Vicomte Leon de
Lavedan. He is to go into banishment for five years, but his
estates shall suffer no sequestration, and at the end of that
period he may return and enjoy them - we hope with better loyalty
than in the past. Get them to execute that warrant at once, and
see that the Vicomte starts to-day under escort for Spain. It will
also be your warrant to Mademoiselle de Lavedan, and will afford
proof to her that your mission has been successful."
"Sire!" I cried. And in my gratitude I could say no more, but I
sank on my knee before him and raised his hand to my lips.
"There," said he in a fatherly voice. "Go now, and be happy."
As I rose, he suddenly put up his hand.
"Ma foi, I had all but forgotten, so much has Monsieur de Lavedan's
fate preoccupied us." He picked up another paper from his table,
and tossed it to me. It was my note of hand to Chatellerault for
my Picardy estates.
"Chatellerault died this morning," the King pursued. "He had been
asking to see you, but when he was told that you had left Toulouse,
he dictated a long confession of his misdeeds, which he sent to me
together with this note of yours. He could not, he wrote, permit
his heirs to enjoy your estates; he had not won them; he had really
forfeited his own stakes, since he had broken the rules of play.
He has left me to deliver judgment in the matter of his own lands
passing into your possession. What do you say to it, Marcel?"
It was almost with reluctance that I took up that scrap of paper.
It had been so fine and heroic a thing to have cast my wealth to
the winds of heaven for love's sake, that on my soul I was loath
to see myself master of more than Beaugency. Then a compromise
"The wager, Sire," said I, "is one that I take shame in having
entered upon; that shame made me eager to pay it, although fully
conscious that I had not lost. But even now, I cannot, in any case,
accept the forfeit Chatellerault was willing to suffer. Shall we
--shall we forget that the wager was ever laid?"
"The decision does you honour. It was what I had hoped from you.
Go now, Marcel. I doubt me you are eager. When your love-sickness
wanes a little we shall hope to see you at Court again."
I sighed. "Helas, Sire, that would be never."
"So you said once before, monsieur. It is a foolish spirit upon
which to enter into matrimony; yet - like many follies - a fine
one. Adieu, Marcel!"
I had kissed his hands; I had poured forth my thanks; I had reached
the door already, and he was in the act of turning to La Fosse,
when it came into my head to glance at the warrant he had given me.
He noticed this and my sudden halt.
"Is aught amiss?" he asked.
"You-you have omitted something, Sire," I ventured, and I returned
to the table. "I am already so grateful that I hesitate to ask an
additional favour. Yet it is but troubling you to add a few strokes
of the pen, and it will not materially affect the sentence itself."
He glanced at me, and his brows drew together as he sought to guess
"Well, man, what is it?" he demanded impatiently.
"It has occurred to me that this poor Vicomte, in a strange land,
alone, among strange faces, missing the loved ones that for so many
years he has seen daily by his side, will be pitiably lonely."
The King's glance was lifted suddenly to my face. "Must I then
banish his family as well?"
"All of it will not be necessary, Your Majesty."
For once his eyes lost their melancholy, and as hearty a burst of
laughter as ever I heard from that poor, weary gentleman he vented
"Ciel! what a jester you are! Ah, but I shall miss you!" he cried,
as, seizing the pen, he added the word I craved of him.
"Are you content at last?" he asked, returning the paper to me.
I glanced at it. The warrant now stipulated that Madame la
Vicomtesse de Lavedan should bear her husband company in his exile.
"Sire, you are too good!" I murmured.
"Tell the officer to whom you entrust the execution of this warrant
that he will find the lady in the guardroom below, where she is
being detained, pending my pleasure. Did she but know that it was
your pleasure she has been waiting upon, I should tremble for your
future when the five years expire."
Mademoiselle held the royal warrant of her father's banishment in
her hand. She was pale, and her greeting of me had been timid. I
stood before her, and by the door stood Rodenard, whom I had bidden
As I had approached Lavedan that day, I had been taken with a great,
an overwhelming shame at the bargain I had driven. I had pondered,
and it had come to me that she had been right to suggest that in
matters of love what is not freely given it is not worth while to
take. And out of my shame and that conclusion had sprung a new
resolve. So that nothing might weaken it, and lest, after all, the
sight of Roxalanne should bring me so to desire her that I might be
tempted to override my purpose, I had deemed it well to have the
restraint of a witness at our last interview. To this end had I
bidden Ganymede follow me into the very salon.
She read the document to the very end, then her glance was raised
timidly again to mine, and from me it shifted to Ganymede, stiff
at his post by the door.
"This was the best that you could do, monsieur?" she asked at last.
"The very best, mademoiselle," I answered calmly. "I do not wish
to magnify my service, but it was that or the scaffold. Madame your
mother had, unfortunately, seen the King before me, and she had
prejudiced your father's case by admitting him to be a traitor.
There was a moment when in view of that I was almost led to despair.
I am glad, however, mademoiselle, that I was so fortunate as to
persuade the King to just so much clemency."
"And for five years, then, I shall not see my parents." She sighed,
and her distress was very touching.
"That need not be. Though they may not come to France, it still
remains possible for you to visit them in Spain."
"True," she mused; "that will be something - will it not?"
"Assuredly something; under the circumstances, much."
She sighed again, and for a moment there was silence.
"Will you not sit, monsieur?" said she at last. She was very quiet
to-day, this little maid - very quiet and very wondrously subdued.
"There is scarce the need," I answered softly; whereupon her eyes
were raised to ask a hundred questions. "You are satisfied with
my efforts, mademoiselle?" I inquired.
"Yes, I am satisfied, monsieur."
That was the end, I told myself, and involuntarily I also sighed.
Still, I made no shift to go.
"You are satisfied that I - that I have fulfilled what I promised?"
Her eyes were again cast down, and she took a step in the direction
of the window.
"But yes. Your promise was to save my father from the scaffold.
You have done so, and I make no doubt you have done as much to
reduce the term of his banishment as lay within your power. Yes,
monsieur, I am satisfied that your promise has been well fulfilled."
Heigho! The resolve that I had formed in coming whispered it in
my ear that nothing remained but to withdraw and go my way. Yet
not for all that resolve - not for a hundred such resolves - could
I have gone thus. One kindly word, one kindly glance at least
would I take to comfort me. I would tell her in plain words of my
purpose, and she should see that there was still some good, some
sense of honour in me, and thus should esteem me after I was gone.
"Ganymede." said I.
"Bid the men mount."
At that she turned, wonder opening her eyes very wide, and her
glance travelled from me to Rodenard with its unspoken question.
But even as she looked at him he bowed and, turning to do my bidding,
left the room. We heard his steps pass with a jingle of spurs
across the hall and out into the courtyard. We heard his raucous
voice utter a word of command, and there was a stamping of hoofs,
a cramping of harness, and all the bustle of preparation.
"Why have you ordered your men to mount?" she asked at last.
"Because my business here is ended, and we are going."
"Going?" said she. Her eyes were lowered now, but a frown
suggested their expression to me. "Going whither?"
"Hence," I answered. "That for the moment is all that signifies."
I paused to swallow something that hindered a clear utterance.
Then, "Adieu!" said I, and I abruptly put forth my hand.
Her glance met mine fearlessly, if puzzled.
"Do you mean, monsieur, that you are leaving Lavedan - thus?"
"So that I leave, what signifies the manner of my going?"
"But" - the trouble grew in her eyes; her cheeks seemed to wax paler
than they had been - "but I thought that - that we made a bargain."
"'Sh! mademoiselle, I implore you," I cried. "I take shame at the
memory of it. Almost as much shame as I take at the memory of that
other bargain which first brought me to Lavedan. The shame of the
former one I have wiped out - although, perchance, you think it not.
I am wiping out the shame of the latter one. It was unworthy in me,
mademoiselle, but I loved you so dearly that it seemed to me that
no matter how I came by you, I should rest content if I but won you.
I have since seen the error if it, the injustice of it. I will not
take what is not freely given. And so, farewell."
"I see, I see," she murmured, and ignored the hand that I held out.
"I am very glad of it, monsieur."
I withdrew my hand sharply. I took up my hat from the chair on
which I had cast it. She might have spared me that, I thought.
She need not have professed joy. At least she might have taken my
hand and parted in kindness.
"Adieu, mademoiselle!" I said again, as stiffly as might be, and I
turned towards the door.
"Monsieur!" she called after me. I halted.
She stood demurely, with eyes downcast and hands folded. "I shall
be so lonely here."
I stood still. I seemed to stiffen. My heart gave a mad throb of
hope, then seemed to stop. What did she mean? I faced her fully
once more, and, I doubt not, I was very pale. Yet lest vanity
should befool me, I dared not act upon suspicions. And so "True,
mademoiselle," said I. "You will be lonely. I regret it."
As silence followed, I turned again to the door, and my hopes sank
with each step in that direction.
Her voice arrested me upon the very threshold.
"What shall a poor girl do with this great estate upon her hands?
It will go to ruin without a man to govern it."
"You must not attempt the task. You must employ an intendant."
I caught something that sounded oddly like a sob. Could it be?
Dieu! could it be, after all? Yet I would not presume. I half
turned again, but her voice detained me. It came petulantly now.
"Monsieur de Bardelys, you have kept your promise nobly. Will you
ask no payment?"
"No, mademoiselle," I answered very softly; "I can take no payment."
Her eyes were lifted for a second. Their blue depths seemed dim.
Then they fell again.
"Oh, why will you not help me?" she burst out, to add more softly:
"I shall never be happy without you!"
"You mean?" I gasped, retracing a step, and flinging my hat in a
"That I love you, Marcel - that I want you!"
"And you can forgive - you can forgive?" I cried, as I caught her.
Her answer was a laugh that bespoke her scorn of everything - of
everything save us two, of everything save our love. That and the
pout of her red lips was her answer. And if the temptation of
those lips - But there! I grow indiscreet.
Still holding her, I raised my voice.
"Ganymede!" I called.
"Monseigneur?" came his answer through the open window.
"Bid those knaves dismount and unsaddle."