Part 1 out of 5
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FROM THE MEMOIRS OF A MINISTER OF FRANCE
I.--THE CLOCKMAKER OF POISSY
II.--THE TENNIS BALLS
III.--TWO MAYORS OF BOTTITORT
V.--THE LOST CIPHER
VI.--THE MAN OF MONCEAUX
VII.--THE GOVERNOR OF GUERET
VIII.--THE OPEN SHUTTER
IX.--THE MAID OF HONOUR
X.--FARMING THE TAXES
XI.--THE CAT AND THE KING
I. THE CLOCKMAKER OF POISSY.
Foreseeing that some who do not love me will be swift to allege
that in the preparation of these memoirs I have set down only
such things as redound to my credit, and have suppressed the many
experiences not so propitious which fall to the lot of the most
sagacious while in power, I take this opportunity of refuting
that calumny. For the truth stands so far the other way that my
respect for the King's person has led me to omit many things
creditable to me; and some, it may be, that place me in a higher
light than any I have set down. And not only that: but I
propose in this very place to narrate the curious details of an
adventure wherein I showed to less advantage than usual; and on
which I should, were I moved by the petty feelings imputed to me
by malice, be absolutely silent.
One day, about a fortnight after the quarrel between the King and
the Duchess of Beaufort, which I have described, and which arose,
it will be remembered, out of my refusal to pay the christening
expenses of her second son on the scale of a child of France, I
was sitting in my lodgings at St. Germains when Maignan announced
that M. de Perrot desired to see me. Knowing Perrot to be one of
the most notorious beggars about the court, with an insatiable
maw of his own and an endless train of nephews and nieces, I was
at first for being employed; but, reflecting that in the crisis
in the King's affairs which I saw approaching--and which must, if
he pursued his expressed intention of marrying the Duchess, be
fraught with infinite danger to the State and himself--the least
help might be of the greatest moment, I bade them admit him;
privately determining to throw the odium of any refusal upon the
overweening influence of Madame de Sourdis, the Duchess's aunt.
Accordingly I met him with civility, and was not surprised when,
with his second speech, he brought out the word FAVOUR. But I
was surprised--for, as I have said, I knew him to be the best
practised beggar in the world--to note in his manner some
indications of embarrassment and nervousness; which, when I did
not immediately assent, increased to a sensible extent.
"It is a very small thing, M. de Rosny," he said, breathing hard.
On that hint I declared my willingness to serve him. "But," I
added, shrugging my shoulders and speaking in a confidential
tone, "no one knows the Court better than you do, M. de Perrot.
You are in all our secrets, and you must be aware that at
present--I say nothing of the Duchess, she is a good woman, and
devoted to his Majesty--but there are others--"
"I know," he answered, with a flash of malevolence that did not
escape me. "But this is a private favour, M. de Rosny. It is
nothing that Madame de Sourdis can desire, either for herself or
That aroused my curiosity. Only the week before, Madame de
Sourdis had obtained a Hat for her son, and the post of assistant
Deputy Comptroller of Buildings for her Groom of the Chambers.
For her niece the Duchess she meditated obtaining nothing less
than a crown. I was at pains, therefore, to think of any office,
post, or pension that could be beyond the pale of her desires;
and in a fit of gaiety I bade M. de Perrot speak out and explain
"It is a small thing," he said, with ill-disguised nervousness.
"The King hunts to-morrow."
"Yes," I said.
"And very commonly he rides back in your company, M. le Marquis."
"Sometimes," I said; "or with M. d'Epernon. Or, if he is in a
mood for scandal, with M. la Varenne or Vitry."
"But with you, if you wish it, and care to contrive it so," he
persisted, with a cunning look.
I shrugged my shoulders. "Well?" I said, wondering more and
more what he would be at.
"I have a house on the farther side of Poissy," he continued.
"And I should take it as a favour, M. de Rosny, if you could
induce the King to dismount there to-morrow and take a cup of
"That is a very small thing," I said bluntly, wondering much why
he had made so great a parade of the matter, and still more why
he seemed so ill at ease. "Yet, after such a prelude, if any but
a friend of your tried loyalty asked it, I might expect to find
Spanish liquorice in the cup."
"That is out of the question, in my case," he answered with a
slight assumption of offence, which he immediately dropped. "And
you say it is a small thing; it is the more easily granted, M. de
"But the King goes and comes at his pleasure," I replied warily.
"Of course, he might-take it into his head to descend at your
house. There would be nothing surprising in such a visit. I
think that he has paid you one before, M. de Perrot?"
He assented eagerly.
"And he may do so," I said, smiling, "to-morrow. But then,
again, he may not. The chase may lead him another way; or he may
be late in returning; or--in fine, a hundred things may happen."
I had no mind to go farther than that; and I supposed that it
would satisfy him, and that he would thank me and take his leave.
To my surprise, however, he stood his ground, and even pressed me
more than was polite; while his countenance, when I again eluded
him, assumed an expression of chagrin and vexation so much in
excess of the occasion as to awaken fresh doubts in my mind. But
these only the more confirmed me in my resolution to commit
myself no farther, especially as he was not a man I loved or
could trust; and in the end he had to retire with such comfort as
I had already given him.
In itself, and on the surface, the thing seemed to be a trifle,
unworthy of the serious consideration of any man. But in so far
as it touched the King's person and movements, I was inclined to
view it in another light; and this the more, as I still had fresh
in my memory the remarkable manner in which Father Cotton, the
Jesuit, had given me a warning by a word about a boxwood fire.
After a moment's thought, therefore, I summoned Boisrueil, one of
my gentlemen, who had an acknowledged talent for collecting
gossip; and I told him in a casual way that M. de Perrot had been
"He has not been at Court for a week," he remarked.
"Indeed?" I said.
"He applied for the post of Assistant Deputy Comptroller of
Buildings for his nephew, and took offence when it was given to
Madame de Sourdis' Groom of the Chambers."
"Ha!" I said; "a dangerous malcontent."
Boisrueil smiled. "He has lived a week out of the sunshine of
his Majesty's countenance, your excellency. After that, all
things are possible."
This was my own estimate of the man, whom I took to be one of
those smug, pliant self-seekers whom Courts and peace breed up.
I could imagine no danger that could threaten the King from such
a quarter; while curiosity inclined me to grant his request. As
it happened, the deer the next day took us in the direction of
Poissy, and the King, who was always itching to discuss with me
the question of his projected marriage, and as constantly, since
our long talk in the garden at Rennes, avoiding the subject when
with me, bade me ride home with him. On coming within half a
mile of Perrot's I let fall his name, and in a very natural way
suggested that the King should alight there for a few minutes.
It was one of the things Henry delighted to do, for, endowed with
the easiest manners, and able in a moment to exchange the
formality of the Louvre for the freedom of the camp, he could
give to such cheap favours their full value. He consented on the
instant, therefore; and turning our horses into a by-road, we
sauntered down it with no greater attendance than a couple of
The sun was near setting, and its rays, which still gilded the
tree-tops, left the wood below pensive and melancholy. The house
stood in a solitary place on the edge of the forest, half a mile
from Poissy; and these two things had their effect on my mind. I
began to wish that we had brought with us half a troop of horse,
or at least two or three gentlemen; and, startled by the thought
of the unknown chances to which, out of mere idle curiosity, I
was exposing the King, I would gladly have turned back. But
without explanation I could not do so; and while I hesitated
Henry cried out gaily that we were there.
A short avenue of limes led from the forest road to the door. I
looked curiously before us as we rode under the trees, in some
fear lest M. de Perrot's preparations should discover my
complicity, and apprise the King that he was expected. But so
far was this from being the case that no one appeared; the house
rose still and silent in the mellow light of sunset, and, for all
that we could see, might have been the fabled palace of
"'He is Jean de Nivelle's dog; he runs away when you call him,'"
the King quoted. "Get down, Rosny. We have reached the palace
of the Sleeping Princess. It remains only to sound the horn,
I was in the act of dismounting, with my back to him, when his
words came to this sudden stop. I turned to learn what caused
it, and saw standing in the aperture of the wicket, which had
been silently opened, a girl, little more than a child, of the
most striking beauty. Surprise shone in her eyes, and shyness
and alarm had brought the colour to her cheeks; while the level
rays of the sun, which forced her to screen her eyes with one
small hand, clothed her figure in a robe of lucent glory. I
heard the King whistle low. Before I could speak he had flung
himself from his horse and, throwing the reins to one of the
pages, was bowing before her.
"We were about to sound the horn, Mademoiselle," he said,
"The horn, Monsieur?" she exclaimed, opening her eyes in wonder,
and staring at him with the prettiest face of astonishment.
"Yes, Mademoiselle; to awaken the sleeping princess," he
rejoined. "But I see that she is already awake."
Through the innocence of her eyes flashed a sudden gleam of
archness. "Monsieur flatters himself," she said, with a smile
that just revealed the whiteness of her teeth.
It was such an answer as delighted the King; who loved, above all
things, a combination of wit and beauty, and never for any long
time wore the chains of a woman who did not unite sense to more
showy attractions. From the effect which the grace and freshness
of the girl had on me, I could judge in a degree of the
impression made on him; his next words showed not only its depth,
but that he was determined to enjoy the adventure to the full.
He presented me to her as M. de Sage, and inquiring
affectionately after Perrot, learned in a trice that she was his
niece, not long from a convent at Loches; finally, begging to be
allowed to rest awhile, he dropped a gallant hint that a cup of
wine from her hands would be acceptable.
All this, and her innocent doubt what she ought to do, thus
brought face to face with two strange cavaliers, threw the girl
into such a state of blushing confusion as redoubled her charms.
It appeared that her uncle had been summoned unexpectedly to
Marly, and had taken his son with him; and that the household had
seized the occasion to go to a village FETE at Acheres. Only an
old servant remained in the house; who presently appeared and
took her orders. I saw from the man's start of consternation
that he knew the King; but a glance from Henry's eyes bidding me
keep up the illusion, I followed the fellow and charged him not
to betray the King's incognito. When I returned, I found that
Mademoiselle had conducted her visitor to a grassy terrace which
ran along the south side of the house, and was screened from the
forest by an alley of apple trees, and from the east wind by a
hedge of yew. Here, where the last rays of the sun threw sinuous
shadows on the turf, and Paris seemed a million miles away, they
were walking up and down, the sound of their laughter breaking
the woodland silence. Mademoiselle had a fan, with which and an
air of convent coquetry she occasionally shaded her eyes. The
King carried his hat in his hand. It was such an adventure as he
loved, with all his heart; and I stood a little way off, smiling,
and thinking grimly of M. de Perrot.
On a sudden, hearing a step behind me, I turned, and saw a young
man in a riding-dress come quickly through an opening in the yew
hedge. As I turned, he stopped; his jaw fell, and he stood
rooted to the ground, gazing at the two on the terrace, while his
face, which a moment before had worn an air of pleased
expectancy, grew on a sudden dark with passion, and put on such a
look as made me move towards him. Before I reached him, However,
M. de Perrot himself appeared at his side. The young man flashed
round on him. "MON DIEU, sir!" he cried, in a voice choked with
anger; "I see it all now! I understand why I was carried away to
Marly! I--but it shall not be! I swear it shall not!"
Between him and me--for, needless to say, I, too, understood all
--M. de Perrot was awkwardly placed. But he showed the presence
of mind of the old courtier. "Silence, sir!" He exclaimed
imperatively. "Do you not see M. de Rosny? Go to him at once
and pay your respects to him, and request him to honour you with
his protection. Or--I see that you are overcome by the honour
which the King does us. Go, first, and change your dress. Go,
The lad retired sullenly, and M. de Perrot, free to deal with me
alone, approached me, smiling assiduously, and trying hard to
hide some consciousness and a little shame under a mask of
cordiality. "A thousand pardons, M. de Rosny," he cried with
effusion, "for an absence quite unpardonable. But I so little
expected to see his Majesty after what you said, and--"
"Are in no hurry to interrupt him now you are here," I replied
bluntly, determined that, whoever he deceived, he should not
flatter himself he deceived me. "Pooh, man! I am not a fool," I
"What is this?" he cried, with a desperate attempt to keep up
the farce. "I don't understand you!"
"No, the shoe is on the other foot--I understand you," I replied
drily. "Chut, man!" I continued, "you don't make a cats-paw of
me. I see the game. You are for sitting in Madame de Sourdis'
seat, and giving your son a Hat, and your groom a
Comptrollership, and your niece a--"
"Hush, hush, M. de Rosny," he muttered, turning white and red,
and wiping his brow with his kerchief. "MON DIEU! your words
"If overheard, make things very unpleasant for M. de Perrot," I
"And M. de Rosny?"
I shrugged my shoulders contemptuously. "Tush, man!" I said.
"Do you think that I sit in no safer seat than that?"
"Ah! But when Madame de Beaufort is Queen?" he said slily.
"If she ever is," I replied, affecting greater confidence than I
at that time felt.
"Well, to be sure," he said slowly, "if she ever is." And he
looked towards the King and his companion, who were still
chatting gaily. Then he stole a crafty glance at me. "Do you
wish her to be?" he muttered.
"Queen?" I said, "God forbid!"
"It would be a disgrace to France?" he whispered; and he laid
his hand on my arm, and looked eagerly into my face.
"Yes," I said.
"A blot on his fame?"
"A--a slur on a score of noble families?"
I could not deny it.
"Then--is it not worth while to avoid all that?" he murmured,
his face pale, and his small eyes glued to mine. "Is it not
worth a little--sacrifice, M. de Rosny?"
"And risk?" I said. "Possibly."
While the words were still on my lips, something stirred close to
us, behind the yew hedge beside which we were standing. Perrot
darted in a moment to the opening, and I after him. We were just
in time to catch a glimpse of a figure disappearing round the
corner of the house. "Well," I said grimly, "what about being
M. de Perrot wiped his face. "Thank Heaven!" he said, "it was
only my son. Now let me explain to you--"
But our hasty movement had caught the King's eye, and he came
towards us, covering himself as he approached. I had now an
opportunity of learning whether the girl was, in fact, as
innocent as she seemed, and as every particular of our reception
had declared her; and I watched her closely when Perrot's mode of
address betrayed the King's identity. Suffice it that the vivid
blush which on the instant suffused her face, and the lively
emotion which almost overcame her, left me in no doubt. With a
charming air of bashfulness, and just so much timid awkwardness
as rendered her doubly bewitching, she tried to kneel and kiss
the King's hand. He would not permit this, however, but saluted
"It seems that you were right, sire," she murmured, curtseying in
a pretty confusion, "The princess was not awake."
Henry laughed gaily. "Come now; tell me frankly, Mademoiselle,"
he said. "For whom did you take me?"
"Not for the King, sire," she answered, with a gleam of
roguishness. "You told me that the King was a good man, whose
benevolent impulses were constantly checked--"
"By M. de Rosny, his Minister."
The outburst of laughter which greeted this apprised her that she
was again at fault; and Henry, who liked nothing better than such
mystifications, introducing me by my proper name, we diverted
ourselves for some minutes with her alarm and excuses. After
that it was time to take leave, if we would sup at home and the
King would not be missed; and accordingly, but not without some
further badinage, in which Mademoiselle de Brut displayed wit
equal to her beauty, and an agreeable refinement not always found
with either, we departed.
It should be clearly understood at this point, that,
notwithstanding all I have set down, I was fully determined (in
accordance with a rule I have constantly followed, and would
enjoin on all who do not desire to find themselves one day
saddled with an ugly name) to have no part in the affair; and
this though the advantage of altering the King's intentions
towards Madame de Beaufort was never more vividly present to my
mind. As we rode, indeed, he put several questions concerning
the Baron, and his family, and connections; and, falling into a
reverie, and smiling a good deal at his thoughts, left me in no
doubt as to the impression made upon him. But being engaged at
the time with the Spanish treaty, and resolved, as I have said,
to steer a course uninfluenced by such intrigues, I did not let
my mind dwell upon the matter; nor gave it, indeed, a second
thought until the next afternoon, when, sitting at an open window
of my lodging, I heard a voice in the street ask where the
Duchess de Beaufort had her apartment.
The voice struck a chord in my memory, and I looked out. The man
who had put the question, and who was now being directed on his
way--by Maignan, my equerry, as it chanced had his back to me,
and I could see only that he was young, shabbily dressed, and
with the air of a workman carried a small frail of tools on his
shoulder. But presently, in the act of thanking Maignan, he
turned so that I saw his face, and with that it flashed upon me
in a moment who he was.
Accustomed to follow a train of thought quickly, and to act; on
its conclusion with energy, I had Maignan called and furnished
with his instructions before the man had gone twenty paces; and
within the minute I had the satisfaction of seeing the two return
together. As they passed under the window I heard my servant
explaining with the utmost naturalness that he had misunderstood
the stranger, and that this was Madame de Beaufort's; after which
scarce a minute elapsed before the door of my room opened, and he
appeared ushering in young Perrot!
Or so it seemed to me; and the start of surprise and
consternation which escaped the stranger when he first saw me
confirmed me in the impression. But a moment later I doubted; so
natural was the posture into which the man fell, and so stupid
the look of inquiry which he turned first on me and then on
Maignan. As he stood before me, shifting his feet and staring
about him in vacant wonder, I began to think that I had made a
mistake; and, clearly, either I had done so or this young man was
possessed of talents and a power of controlling his features
beyond the ordinary. He unslung his tools, and saluting me
abjectly waited in silence. After a moment's thought, I asked
him peremptorily what was his errand with the Duchess de
"To show her a watch, your excellency," he stammered, his mouth
open, his eyes staring. I could detect no flaw in his acting.
"What are you, then?" I said.
"A clockmaker, my lord."
"Has Madame sent for you?"
"No, my lord," he stuttered, trembling.
"Do you want to sell her the watch?"
He muttered that he did; and that he meant no harm by it.
"Show it to me, then," I said curtly.
He grew red at that, and seemed for an instant not to understand.
But on my repeating the order he thrust his hand into his breast,
and producing a parcel began to unfasten it. This he did so
slowly that I was soon for thinking that there was no watch in
it; but in the end he found one and handed it to me.
"You did not make this," I said, opening it.
"No, my lord," he answered; "it is German, and old."
I saw that it was of excellent workmanship, and I was about to
hand it back to him, almost persuaded that I had made a mistake,
when in a second my doubts were solved. Engraved on the thick
end of the egg, and partly erased by wear, was a dog's head,
which I knew to be the crest of the Perrots.
"So," I said, preparing to return it to him, "you are a
"Yes, your excellency," he muttered. And I thought that I caught
the sound of a sigh of relief.
I gave the watch to Maignan to hand to him. "Very well," I said.
"I have need of one. The clock in the next room--a gift from his
Majesty--is out of order, and at a standstill. You can go and
attend to it; and see that you do so skilfully. And do you,
Maignan," I continued with meaning, "go with him. When he has
made the clock go, let him go; and not before, or you answer for
it. You understand, sirrah?"
Maignan saluted obsequiously, and in a moment hurried young
Perrot from the room; leaving me to congratulate myself on the
strange and fortuitous circumstance that had thrown him in my
way, and enabled me to guard against a RENCONTRE that might have
had the most embarassing consequences.
It required no great sagacity to foresee the, next move; and I
was not surprised when, about an hour later, I heard a clatter of
hoofs outside, and a voice inquiring hurriedly for the Marquis de
Rosny. One of my people announced M. de Perrot, and I bade them
admit him. In a twinkling he came up, pale with heat, and
covered with dust, his eyes almost starting from his head and his
cheeks trembling with agitation. Almost before the door was
shut, he cried out that we were undone.
I was willing to divert myself with him for a time, and I
pretended to know nothing. "What?" I said, rising. "Has the
King met with an accident?"
"Worse! worse!" he cried, waving his hat with a gesture of
despair. "My son--you saw my son yesterday?"
"Yes," I said.
"He overheard us!"
"Not us," I said drily. "You. But what then, M. de Perrot? You
are master in your own house."
"But he is not in my house," he wailed. "He has gone! Fled!
Decamped! I had words with him this morning, you understand."
"About your niece?"
M. de Perrot's face took a delicate shade of red, and he nodded;
he could not speak. He seemed for an instant in danger of some
kind of fit. Then he found his voice again. "The fool prated of
love! Of love!" he said with such a look--like that of a dying
fowl--that I could have laughed aloud. "And when I bade him
remember his duty he threatened me. He, that unnatural boy,
threatened to betray me, to ruin me, to go to Madame de Beaufort
and tell her all--all, you understand. And I doing so much, and
making such sacrifices for him!"
"Yes," I said, "I see that. And what did you do?"
"I broke my cane on his back," M. de Perrot answered with
unction, "and locked him in his room. But what is the use? The
boy has no natural feelings!"
"He got out through the window?"
Perrot nodded; and being at leisure, now that he had explained
his woes, to feel their full depth, shed actual tears of rage and
terror; now moaning that Madame would never forgive him, and that
if he escaped the Bastille he would lose all his employments and
be the laughing-stock of the Court; and now striving to show that
his peril was mine, and that it was to my interest to help him.
I allowed him to go on in this strain for some time, and then,
having sufficiently diverted myself with his forebodings, I bade
him in an altered voice to take courage. "For I think I know," I
said, "where your son is."
"At Madame's?" he groaned.
"No; here," I said.
"MON DIEU! Where?" he cried. And he sprang up, startled out of
"Here; in my lodging," I answered.
"My son is here?" he said.
"In the next room," I replied, smiling indulgently at his
astonishment, which was only less amusing than his terror. "I
have but to touch this bell, and Maignan will bring him to you."
Full of wonder and admiration, he implored me to ring and have
him brought immediately; since until he had set eyes on him he
could not feel safe. Accordingly I rang my hand-bell, and
Maignan opened the door. "The clockmaker," I said nodding.
He looked at me stupidly. "The clock-maker, your excellency?"
"Yes; bring him in," I said.
"But--he has gone!" he exclaimed.
"Gone?" I cried, scarcely able to believe my ears. "Gone,
sirrah! and I told you to detain him!"
"Until he had mended the clock, my lord," Maignan stammered,
quite out of countenance. "But he set it going half-an-hour ago;
and I let him go, according to your order."
It is in the face of such CONTRETEMPS as these that the low-bred
man betrays himself. Yet such was my chagrin on this occasion,
and so sudden the shock, that it was all I could do to maintain
my SANGFROID, and, dismissing Maignan with a look, be content to
punish M. de Perrot with a sneer. "I did not know that your son
was a tradesman," I said. He wrung his hands. "He has low
tastes," he cried. "He always had. He has amused himself that
way, And now by this time he is with Madame de Beaufort and we
"Not we," I answered curtly; "speak for yourself, M. de Perrot."
But though, having no mind to appear in his eyes dependent on
Madame's favour or caprice, I thus checked his familiarity, I am
free to confess that my calmness was partly assumed; and that,
though I knew my position to be unassailable--based as it was on
solid services rendered to the King, my master, and on the
familiar affection with which he honoured me through so many
years--I could not view the prospect of a fresh collision with
Madame without some misgiving. Having gained the mastery in the
two quarrels we had had, I was the less inclined to excite her to
fresh intrigues; and as unwilling to give the King reason to
think that we could not live at peace. Accordingly, after a
moment's consideration, I told Perrot that, rather than he should
suffer, I would go to Madame de Beaufort myself, and give such
explanations as would place another complexion on the matter.
He overwhelmed me with thanks, and, besides, to show his
gratitude--for he was still on thorns, picturing her wrath and
resentment he insisted on accompanying me to the Cloitre de St.
Germain, where Madame had her apartment. By the way, he asked me
what I should say to her.
"Whatever will get you out of the scrape," I answered curtly.
"Then anything!" he cried with fervour. "Anything, my dear
friend. Oh, that unnatural boy!"
"I suppose that the girl is as big a fool?" I said.
"Bigger! bigger!" he answered. "I don't know where she learned
"She prated of love, too, then?"
"To be sure," he groaned, "and without a sou of DOT!"
"Well, well," I said, "here we are. I will do what I can."
Fortunately the King was not there, and Madame would receive me.
I thought, indeed, that her doors flew open with suspicious
speed, and that way was made for me more easily than usual; and I
soon found that I was not wrong in the inference I drew from
these facts. For when I entered her chamber that remarkable
woman, who, whatever her enemies may say, combined with her
beauty a very uncommon degree of sense and discretion, met me
with a low courtesy and a smile of derision. "So," she said, "M.
de Rosny, not satisfied with furnishing me with evidence, gives
"How, Madame?" I said; though I well understood.
"By his presence here," she answered. "An hour ago," she
continued, "the King was with me. I had not then the slightest
ground to expect this honour, or I am sure that his Majesty would
have stayed to share it. But I have since seen reason to expect
it, and you observe that I am not unprepared."
She spoke with a sparkling eye, and an expression of the most
lively resentment; so that, had M. de Perrot been in my place I
think that he would have shed more tears. I was myself somewhat
dashed, though I knew the prudence that governed her in her most
impetuous sallies; still, to avoid the risk of hearing things
which we might both afterwards wish unsaid, I came to the point.
"I fear that I have timed my visit ill, Madame," I said. "You
have some complaint against me."
"Only that you are like the others," she answered with a fine
contempt. "You profess one thing and do another."
"As for example?"
"For example!" she replied, with a scornful laugh. "How many
times have you told me that you left women, and intrigues in
which women had part, on one side?"
"And now I find you--you and that Perrot, that creature!--
intriguing against me; intriguing with some country chit to--"
"Madame!" I said, cutting her short with a show of temper,
"where did you get this?"
"Do you deny it?" she cried, looking so beautiful in her anger
that I thought I had never seen her to such advantage. "Do you
deny that you took the King there?"
"No. Certainly I took the King there."
"To Perrot's? You admit it?"
"Certainly," I said, "for a purpose."
"A purpose!" she cried with withering scorn. "Was it not that
the King might see that girl?"
"Yes," I replied patiently, "it was."
She stared at me. "And you can tell me that to my face!" she
"I see no reason why I should not, Madame," I replied easily--"I
cannot conceive why you should object to the union--and many why
you should desire to see two people happy. Otherwise, if I had
had any idea, even the slightest, that the matter was obnoxious
to you, I would not have engaged in it."
"But--what was your purpose then?" she muttered, in a different
"To obtain the King's good word with M. de Perrot to permit the
marriage of his son with his niece; who is, unfortunately,
without a portion."
Madame uttered a low exclamation, and her eyes wandering from me,
she took up--as if her thoughts strayed also--a small ornament;
from the table beside her. "Ah!" she said, looking at it
closely. "But Perrot's son did he know of this?"
"No," I answered, smiling. "But I have heard that women can love
as well as men, Madame. And sometimes ingenuously."
I heard her draw a sigh of relief, and I knew that if I had not
persuaded her I had accomplished much. I was not surprised when,
laying down the ornament with which she had been toying, she
turned on me one of those rare smiles to which the King could
refuse nothing; and wherein wit, tenderness, and gaiety were so
happily blended that no conceivable beauty of feature, uninspired
by sensibility, could vie with them. "Good friend, I have
sinned," she said. "But I am a woman, and I love. Pardon me.
As for your PROTEGEE, from this moment she is mine also. I will
speak to the King this evening; and if he does not at once,"
Madame continued, with a gleam of archness that showed me that
she was not yet free from suspicion, "issue his commands to M. de
Perrot, I shall know what to think; and his Majesty will
I thanked her profusely, and in fitting terms. Then, after a
word or two about some assignments for the expenses of her
household, in settling which there had been delay--a matter
wherein, also, I contrived to do her pleasure and the King's
service no wrong--I very willingly took my leave, and, calling my
people, started homewards on foot. I had not gone twenty paces,
however, before M. de Perrot, whose impatience had chained him to
the spot, crossed the street and joined himself to me. "My dear
friend," he cried, embracing me fervently, "is all well?"
"Yes," I said.
"She is appeased?"
He heaved a deep sigh of relief, and, almost crying in his joy,
began to thank me, with all the extravagance of phrase and
gesture to which men of his mean spirit are prone. Through all I
heard him silently, and with secret amusement, knowing that the
end was not yet. At length he asked me what explanation I had
"The only explanation possible," I answered bluntly. "I had to
combat Madame's jealousy. I did it in the only way in which it
could be done: by stating that your niece loved your son, and by
imploring her good word on their behalf."
He sprang a pace from me with a cry of rage and astonishment.
"You did that?" he screamed.
"Softly, softly, M. de Perrot," I said, in a voice which brought
him somewhat to his senses. "Certainly I did. You bade me say
whatever was necessary, and I did so. No more. If you wish,
however," I added grimly, "to explain to Madame that--"
But with a wail of lamentation he rushed from me, and in a moment
was lost in the darkness; leaving me to smile at this odd
termination of an intrigue that, but for a lad's adroitness,
might have altered the fortunes not of M. de Perrot only but of
the King my master and of France.
II. THE TENNIS BALLS.
A few weeks before the death of the Duchess of Beaufort, on
Easter Eve, 1599, made so great a change in the relations of all
at Court that "Sourdis mourning" came to be a phrase for grief,
genuine because interested, an affair that might have had a
serious issue began, imperceptibly at the time, in the veriest
One day, while the King was still absent from Paris, I had a mind
to play tennis, and for that purpose summoned La Trape, who had
the charge of my balls, and sometimes, in the absence of better
company, played with me. Of late the balls he bought had given
me small satisfaction, and I bade him bring me the bag, that I
might choose the best. He did so, and I had not handled half-a-
dozen before I found one, and later three others, so much more
neatly sewn than the rest, and in all points so superior, that
even an untrained eye could not fail to detect the difference.
"Look, man!" I said, holding out one of these for his
inspection. "These are balls; the rest are rubbish. Cannot you
see the difference? Where did you buy these? At Constant's?"
He muttered, "No, my lord," and looked confused.
This roused my curiosity. "Where, then?" I said sharply.
"Of a man who was at the gate yesterday."
"Oh!" I said. "Selling tennis balls?"
"Yes, my lord."
"Some rogue of a marker," I exclaimed, "from whom you bought
filched goods! Who was it, man?"
"I don't know his name," La Trape answered. "He was a Spaniard."
"Who wanted to have an audience of your excellency."
"Ho!" I said drily. "Now I understand. Bring me your book.
Or, tell me, what have you charged me for these balls?"
"Two francs," he muttered reluctantly.
"And never gave a sou, I'll swear!" I retorted. "You took the
poor devil's balls, and left him at the gate! Ay, it is rogues
like you get me a bad name!" I continued, affecting more anger
than I felt--for, in truth, I was rather pleased with my
quickness in discovering the cheat. "You steal and I bear the
blame, and pay to boot! Off with you and find the fellow, and
bring him to me, or it will be the worse for you!"
Glad to escape so easily, La Trape ran to the gate; but he failed
to find his friend, and two or three days elapsed before I
thought again of the matter, such petty rogueries being ingrained
in a great man's VALETAILLE, and being no more to be removed than
the hairs from a man's arm. At the end of that time La Trape
came to me, bringing the Spaniard; who had appeared again at the
gate. The stranger proved to be a small, slight man, pale and
yet brown, with quick-glancing eyes. His dress was decent, but
very poor, with more than one rent neatly darned. He made me a
profound reverence, and stood waiting, with his cap in his hand,
to be addressed; but, with all his humility, I did not fail to
detect an easiness of deportment and a propriety that did not
seem absolutely strange since he was a Spaniard, but which struck
me, nevertheless, as requiring some explanation. I asked him,
civilly, who he was. He answered that his name was Diego.
"You speak French?"
"I am of Guipuzcoa, my lord," he answered, "where we sometimes
speak three tongues."
"That is true," I said. "And it is your trade to make tennis
"No, my lord; to use them," he answered with a certain dignity.
"You are a player, then?"
"If it please your excellency."
"Where have you played?"
"At Madrid, where I was the keeper of the Duke of Segovia's
court; and at Toledo, where I frequently had the honour of
playing against M. de Montserrat."
"You are a good player?"
"If your excellency," he answered impulsively, "will give me an
"Softly, softly," I said, somewhat taken aback by his
earnestness. "Granted that you are a player, you seem to have
played to small purpose.. Why are you here, my friend, and not in
He drew up his sleeves, and showed me that his wrists were deeply
I shrugged my shoulders. "You have been in the hands of the Holy
Brotherhood?" I said.
"No, my lord," he answered bitterly. "Of the Holy Inquisition."
"You are a Protestant?"
On that I fell to considering him with more attention, but at the
same time with some distrust; reflecting that he was a Spaniard,
and recalling the numberless plots against his Majesty of which
that nation had been guilty. Still, if his tale were true he
deserved support; with a view therefore to testing this I
questioned him farther, and learned that he had for a long time
disguised his opinions, until, opening them in an easy moment to
a fellow servant, he found himself upon the first occasion of
quarrel betrayed to the Fathers. After suffering much, and
giving himself up for lost in their dungeons, he made his escape
in a manner sufficiently remarkable, if I might believe his
story. In the prison with him lay a Moor, for whose exchange
against a Christian taken by the Sallee pirates an order came
down. It arrived in the evening; the Moor was to be removed in
the morning. An hour after the arrival of the news, however, and
when the two had just been locked up for the night, the Moor,
overcome with excess of joy, suddenly expired. At first the
Spaniard was for giving the alarm; but, being an ingenious
fellow, in a few minutes he summoned all his wits together and
made a plan. Contriving to blacken his face and hands with
charcoal he changed clothes with the corpse, and muffling himself
up after the fashion of the Moors in a cold climate he succeeded
in the early morning in passing out in his place. Those who had
charge of him had no reason to expect an escape, and once on the
road he had little difficulty in getting away, and eventually
reached France after a succession of narrow chances.
All this the man told me so simply that I knew not which to
admire more, the daring of his device--since for a white man to
pass for a brown is beyond the common scope of such disguises--or
his present modesty in relating it. However, neither of these
things seemed to my mind a good reason for disbelief. As to the
one, I considered that an impostor would have put forward
something more simple; and as to the other, I have all my life
long observed that those who have had strange experiences tell
them in a very ordinary way. Besides, I had fresh in my mind the
diverting escape of the Duke of Nemours from Lyons, which I have
elsewhere related. On the other hand, and despite all these
things, the story might be false; so with a view to testing one
part of it, at least, I bade him come and play with me that
"My lord," he said bluntly, "I had rather not. For if I defeat
your excellency, I may defeat also your good intentions. And if
I permit you to win, I shall seem to be an impostor."
Somewhat surprised by his forethought, I reassured him on this
point; and his game, which proved to be one of remarkable
strength and finesse, and fairly on an equality, as it seemed to
me, with that of the best French players, persuaded me that at
any rate the first part of his tale was true. Accordingly I made
him a present, and, in addition, bade Maignan pay him a small
allowance for a while. For this he showed his gratitude by
attaching himself to my household; and as it was the fashion at
that time to keep tennis masters of this class, I found it
occasionally amusing to pit him against other well-known players.
In the course of a few weeks he gained me great credit; and
though I am not so foolish as to attach importance to such
trifles, but, on the contrary, think an old soldier who stood
fast at Coutras, or even a clerk who has served the King
honestly--if such a prodigy there be--more deserving than these
professors, still I do not err on the other side; but count him a
fool who, because he has solid cause to value himself, disdains
the ECLAT which the attachment of such persons gives him in the
The man went by the name of Diego the Spaniard, and his story,
which gradually became known, together with the excellence of his
play, made him so much the fashion that more than one tried to
detach him from my service. The King heard of him, and would
have played with him, but the sudden death of Madame de Beaufort,
which occurred soon afterwards, threw the Court into mourning;
and for a while, in pursuing the negotiations for the King's
divorce, and in conducting a correspondence of the most delicate
character with the Queen, I lost sight of my player--insomuch,
that I scarcely knew whether he still formed part of my suite or
My attention was presently recalled to him, however, in a rather
remarkable manner. One morning Don Antonio d'Evora, Secretary to
the Spanish Embassy, and a brother of that d'Evora who commanded
the Spanish Foot at Paris in '94, called on me at the Arsenal, to
which I had just removed, and desired to see me. I bade them
admit him; but as my secretaries were at the time at work with
me, I left them and received him in the garden--supposing that
he wished to speak to me, about the affair of Saluces, and
preferring, like the King my master, to talk of matters of State
in the open air.
However, I was mistaken. Don Antonio said nothing about Savoy,
but after the usual preliminaries, which a Spaniard never omits,
plunged into a long harangue upon the comity which, now that
peace reigned, should exist between the two nations. For some
time I waited patiently to learn what he would be at; but he
seemed to be lost in his own eloquence, and at last I took him
"All this is very well, M. d'Evora," I said. "I quite agree with
you that the times are changed, that amity is not the same thing
as war, and that a grain of sand in the eye is unpleasant," for
he had said all of these things. "But I fail, being a plain man
and no diplomatist, to see what you want me to do."
"It is the smallest matter," he said, waving his hand gracefully.
"And yet," I retorted, "you seem to find a difficulty in coming
"As you do at the grain of sand in the eye," he answered wittily.
"After all, however, in what you say, M. de Rosny, there is some
truth. I feel that I am, on delicate ground; but I am sure that
you will pardon me. You have in your suite a certain Diego."
"It may be so," I said, masking my surprise, and affecting
I shrugged my shoulders. "The man is known," I said.
"It is not impossible."
"And a subject of the King, my master. A man," Don Antonio
continued, with increasing stiffness, "in fine, M. de Rosny, who,
after committing various offences, murdered his comrade in
prison, and, escaping in his clothes, took refuge in this
I shrugged my shoulders again.
"I have no knowledge of that," I said coldly.
"No, or I am sure that you would not harbour the fellow," the
secretary answered. "Now that you do know it, however, I take it
for granted that you will dismiss him? If you held any but the
great place you do hold, M. de Rosny, it would be different; but
all the world see who follow you, and this man's presence stains
you, and is an offence to my master."
"Softly, softly, M. d'Evora," I said, with a little warmth. "You
go too fast. Let me tell you first, that, for my honour, I take
care of it myself; and, secondly, for your master, I do not allow
even my own to meddle with my household."
"But, my lord," he said pompously, "the King of Spain--"
"Is the King of Spain," I answered, cutting him short without
much ceremony. "But in the Arsenal of Paris, which, for the
present, is my house, I am king. And I brook no usurpers, M.
He assented to that with a constrained smile.
"Then I can say no more," he answered. "I have warned you that
the man is a rogue. If you will still entertain him, I wash my
hands of it. But I fear the consequences, M. de Rosny, and,
frankly, it lessens my opinion of your sagacity."
Thereat I bowed in my turn, and after the exchange of some
civilities he took his leave. Considering his application after
he was gone, I confess that I found nothing surprising in it; and
had it come from a man whom I held in greater respect I might
have complied with it in an indirect fashion. But though it
might have led me under some circumstances to discard Diego,
naturally, since it confirmed his story in some points, and
proved besides that he was not a persona grata at the Spanish
Embassy, it did not lead me to value him less. And as within the
week he was so fortunate as to defeat La Varenne's champion in a
great match at the Louvre, and won also a match, at M. de
Montpensier's which put fifty crowns into my pocket, I thought
less and less of d'Evora's remonstrance; until the king's return
put it quite out of my head. The entanglement with Mademoiselle
d'Entragues, which was destined to be the most fatal of all
Henry's attachments, was then in the forming; and the king
plunged into every kind of amusement with fresh zest. The very
day after his return he matched his marker, a rogue, but an
excellent player, against my man; and laid me twenty crowns on
the event, the match to be played on the following Saturday after
a dinner which M. de Lude was giving in honour of the lady.
On the Thursday, however, who should come in to me, while I was
sitting alone after supper, but Maignan: who, closing the door
and dismissing the page who waited there, told me with a very
long face and an air of vast importance that he had discovered
"Something?" I said, being inclined at the moment to be merry.
"What? A plot to reduce your perquisites, you rascal?"
"No, my lord," he answered stoutly. "But to tap your
"Indeed," I said pleasantly, not believing a word of it. "And
who is to hang?"
"The Spaniard," he answered in a low voice.
That sobered me, by putting the matter in a new light; and I sat
a moment looking at him and reviewing Diego's story, which
assumed on the instant an aspect so uncommon and almost
incredible that I wondered how I had ever allowed it to pass.
But when I proceeded from this to the substance of Maignan's
charge I found an IMPASSE in this direction also, and I smiled.
"So it is Diego, is it?" I said. "You think that he is a spy?"
"Then, tell me," I asked, "what opportunity has he of learning
more than all the world knows? He has not been in my apartments
since I engaged him. He has seen none of my papers. The
youngest footboy could tell all he has learned."
"True, my lord," Maignan answered slowly; "but--"
"I saw him this evening, talking with a Priest in the Rue Petits
Pois; and he calls himself a Protestant."
"Ah! You are sure that the man was a priest?"
"I know him."
"One of the chaplains at the Spanish Embassy."
It was natural that after this I should take a more serious view
of the matter; and I did so. But my former difficulty still
remained, for, assuming this to be a cunning plot, and d'Evora's
application to me a ruse to throw me off my guard, I could not
see where their advantage lay; since the Spaniard's occupation
was not of a nature to give him the entry to my confidence or the
chance of ransacking my papers. I questioned Maignan further,
therefore, but without result. He had seen the two together in a
secret kind of way, viewing them himself from the window of a
house where he had an assignation. He had not been near enough
to hear what they said, but he was sure that no quarrel took
place between them, and equally certain that it was no chance
meeting that brought them together.
Infected by his assurance, I could still see no issue; and no
object in such an intrigue. And in the end I contented myself
with bidding him watch the Spaniard closely, and report to me the
following evening; adding that he might confide the matter to La
Trape, who was a supple fellow, and of the two the easier
Accordingly, next evening Maignan again appeared, this time with
a face even longer; so that at first I supposed him to have
discovered a plot worse than Chastel's; but it turned out that he
had discovered nothing. The Spaniard had spent the morning in
lounging and the afternoon in practice at the Louvre, and from
first to last had conducted himself in the most innocent manner
possible. On this I rallied Maignan on his mare's nest, and was
inclined to dismiss the matter as such; still, before doing so, I
thought I would see La Trape, and dismissing Maignan I sent for
When he was come, "Well," I said, "have you anything to say?"
"One little thing only, your excellency," he answered slyly, "and
of no importance."
"But you did not tell it to Maignan?"
"No, my Lord," he replied, his face relaxing in a cunning smile.
"Once to-day I saw Diego where he should not have been."
"In the King's dressing-room at the tennis-court."
"You saw him there?"
"I saw him coming out," he answered.
It may be imagined how I felt on hearing this; for although I
might have thought nothing of the matter before my suspicions
were aroused--since any man might visit such a place out of
curiosity--now, my mind being disturbed, I was quick to conceive
the worst, and saw with horror my beloved master already
destroyed through my carelessness. I questioned La Trape in a
fury, but could learn nothing more. He had seen the man slip
out, and that was all.
"But did you not go in yourself?" I said, restraining my
impatience with difficulty.
"Afterwards? Yes, my lord."
"And made no discovery?"
He shook his head.
"Was anything prepared for his Majesty?"
"There was sherbet; and some water."
"You tried them?"
La Trape grinned. "No, my lord," he said. "But I gave some to
"No, my lord."
"You sacrilegious rascal!" I cried, amused in spite of my
anxiety. "And he was none the worse?"
"No, my lord."
Not satisfied yet, I continued to press him, but with so little
success that I still found myself unable to decide whether the
Spaniard had wandered in innocently or to explore his ground. In
the end, therefore, I made up my mind to see things for myself;
and early next morning, at an hour when I was not likely to be
observed, I went out by a back door, and with my face muffled and
no other attendance than Maignan and La Trape, went to the
tennis-court and examined the dressing-room.
This was a small closet on the first floor, of a size to hold two
or three persons, and with a casement through which the King, if
he wished to be private, might watch the game. Its sole
furniture consisted of a little table with a mirror, a seat for
his Majesty, and a couple of stools, so that it offered small
scope for investigation. True, the stale sherbet and the water
were still there, the carafes standing on the table beside an
empty comfit box, and a few toilet necessaries; and it will be
believed that I lost no time in examining them. But I made no
discovery, and when I had passed my eye over everything else that
the room contained, and noticed nothing that seemed in the
slightest degree suspicious, I found myself completely at a loss.
I went to the window, and for a moment looked idly into the
But neither did any light come thence, and I had turned again and
was about to leave, when my eye alighted on a certain thing and I
"What is that?" I said. It was a thin case, book-shaped, of
Genoa velvet, somewhat worn.
"Plaister," Maignan, who was waiting at the door, answered. "His
Majesty's hand is not well yet, and as your excellency knows,
"Silence, fool!" I cried. and I stood rooted to the spot,
overwhelmed by the conviction that I held the clue to the
mystery, and so shaken by the horror which that conviction
naturally brought with it that I could not move a finger. A
design so fiendish and monstrous as that which I suspected might
rouse the dullest sensibilities, in a case where it threatened
the meanest; but being aimed in this at the King, my master, from
whom I had received so many benefits, and on whose life the well-
being of all depended, it goaded me to the warmest resentment. I
looked round the tennis-court--which, empty, shadowy and silent,
seemed a fit place for such horrors--with rage and repulsion;
apprehending in a moment of sad presage all the accursed strokes
of an enemy whom nothing could propitiate, and who, sooner or
later, must set all my care at nought, and take from France her
But, it will be said, I had no proof, only a conjecture; and this
is true, but of it hereafter. Suffice it that, as soon as I had
swallowed my indignation, I took all the precautions affection
could suggest or duty enjoin, omitting nothing; and then,
confiding the matter to no one the two men who were with me
excepted--I prepared to observe the issue with gloomy
The match was to take place at three in the afternoon. A little
after that hour, I arrived at the tennis-court, attended by La
Font and other gentlemen, and M. l'Huillier, the councillor, who
had dined with me. L'Huillier's business had detained me
somewhat, and the men had begun; but as I had anticipated this, I
had begged my good friend De Vic to have an eye to my interests.
The King, who was in the gallery, had with him M. de Montpensier,
the Comte de Lude, Vitry, Varennes, and the Florentine
Ambassador, with Sancy and some others. Mademoiselle d'Entragues
and two ladies had taken possession of his closet, and from the
casement were pouring forth a perpetual fire of badinage and BONS
MOTS. The tennis-court, in a word, presented as different an
aspect as possible from that which it had worn in the morning.
The sharp crack of the ball, as it bounded from side to side, was
almost lost in the crisp laughter and babel of voices; which as I
entered rose into a perfect uproar, Mademoiselle having just
flung a whole lapful of roses across the court in return for some
witticism. These falling short of the gallery had lighted on the
head of the astonished Diego, causing a temporary cessation of
play, during which I took my seat.
Madame de Lude's saucy eye picked me out in a moment. "Oh, the
grave man!" she cried. "Crown him, too, with roses."
"As they crowned the skull at the feast, madame?" I answered,
saluting her gallantly.
"No, but as the man whom the King delighteth to honour," she
answered, making a face at me. "Ha! ha! I am not afraid! I am
not afraid! I am not afraid!"
There was a good deal of laughter at this. "What shall I do to
her, M. de Rosny?" Mademoiselle cried out, coming to my rescue.
"If you will have the goodness to kiss her, mademoiselle," I
answered, "I will consider it an advance, and as one of the
council of the King's finances, my credit should be good for the
"Thank you!" the King cried, nimbly cutting me short. "But as
my finances seem to be the security, faith, I will see to the
repayment myself! Let them start again; but I am afraid that my
twenty crowns are yours, Grand Master; your man is in fine play."
I looked into the court. Diego, lithe and sinewy, with his
cropped black hair, high colour, and quick shallow eyes, bounded
here and there, swift and active as a panther. Seeing him thus,
with his heart in his returns, I could not but doubt; more, as
the game proceeded, amid the laughter and jests and witty sallies
of the courtiers, I felt the doubt grow; the riddle became each
minute more abstruse, the man more mysterious. But that was of
no moment now.
A little after four o'clock the match ended in my favour; on
which the King, tired of inaction, sprang up, and declaring that
he would try Diego's strength himself, entered the court. I
followed, with Vitry and others, and several strokes which had
been made were tested and discussed. Presently, the King going
to talk with Mademoiselle at her window, I remarked the Spaniard
and Maignan, with the King's marker, and one or two others
waiting at the further door. Almost at the same moment I
observed a sudden movement among them, and voices raised higher
than was decent, and I called out sharply to know what it was.
"An accident, my lord," one of the men answered respectfully.
"It is nothing," another muttered. "Maignan was playing tricks,
your excellency, and cut Diego's hand a little; that is all."
"Cut his hand now!" I exclaimed angrily "And the King about to
play with him. Let me see it!"
Diego sulkily held up his hand, and I saw a cut, ugly but of no
"Pooh!" I said; "it is nothing. Get some plaister. Here, you,"
I continued wrathfully, turning to Maignan, "since you have done
the mischief, booby, you must repair it. Get some plaister, do
you hear? He cannot play in that state."
Diego muttered something, and Maignan that he had not got any;
but before I could answer that he must get some, La Trape thrust
his may to the front, and producing a small piece from his
pocket, proceeded with a droll air of extreme carefulness to
treat the hand. The other knaves fell into the joke, and the
Spaniard had no option but to submit; though his scowling face
showed that he bore Maignan no good-will, and that but for my
presence he might not have been so complaisant. La Trape was
bringing his surgery to an end by demanding a fee, in the most
comical manner possible, when the King returned to our part of
the court. "What is it?" he said. "Is anything the matter?"
"No, sire," I said. "My man has cut his hand a little, but it is
"Can he play?" Henry asked with his accustomed good-nature.
"Oh, yes, sire," I answered. "I have bound it up with a strip of
plaister from the case in your Majesty's closet."
"He has not lost blood?"
And he had not. But it was small wonder that the King asked;
small wonder, for the man's face had changed in the last ten
seconds to a strange leaden colour; a terror like that of a wild
beast that sees itself trapped had leapt into his eyes. He shot
a furtive glance round him, and I saw him slide his hand behind
him. But I was prepared for that, and as the King moved off a
space I slipped to the man's side, as if to give him some
directions about his game.
"Listen," I said, in a voice heard only by him; "take the
dressing off your hand, and I have you broken on the wheel. You
understand? Now play."
Assuring myself that he did understand, and that Maignan and La
Trape were at hand if he should attempt anything, I went back to
my place, and sitting down by De Vic began to watch that strange
game; while Mademoiselle's laughter and Madame de Lude's gibes
floated across the court, and mingled with the eager applause and
more dexterous criticisms of the courtiers. The light was
beginning to sink, and for this reason, perhaps, no one perceived
the Spaniard's pallor; but De Vic, after a rally or two, remarked
that he was not playing his full strength.
"Wise man!" he added.
"Yes," I said. "Who plays well against kings plays ill."
De Vic laughed. "How he sweats!" he said, "and he never turned
a hair when he played Colet. I suppose he is nervous."
"Probably," I said.
And so they chattered and laughed--chattered and laughed, seeing
an ordinary game between the King and a marker; while I, for whom
the court had grown sombre as a dungeon, saw a villain struggling
in his own toils, livid with the fear of death, and tortured by
horrible apprehensions. Use and habit were still so powerful
with the man that he played on mechanically with his hands, but
his eyes every now and then sought mine with the look of the
trapped beast; and on these occasions I could see his lips move
in prayer or cursing. The sweat poured down his face as he moved
to and fro, and I, fancied that his features were beginning to
twitch. Presently--I have said that the light was failing, so
that it was not in my imagination only that the court was sombre
--the King held his ball. "My friend, your man is not well," he
said, turning to me.
"It is nothing, sire; the honour you do him makes him nervous," I
answered. "Play up, sirrah," I continued; "you make too good a
Mademoiselle d'Entragues clapped her hands and laughed at the
hit; and I saw Diego glare at her with an indescribable look, in
which hatred and despair and a horror of reproach were so nicely
mingled with something as exceptional as his position, that the
whole baffled words. Doubtless the gibes and laughter he heard,
the trifling that went on round him, the very game in which he
was engaged, and from which he dared not draw back, seemed in his
eyes the most appalling mockery; but ignorant who were in the
secret, unable to guess how his diabolical plot had been
discovered, uncertain even whether the whole were not a concerted
piece, he went on playing his part mechanically; with starting
eyes and labouring chest, and lips that, twitching and working,
lost colour each minute. At length he missed a stroke, and
staggering leaned against the wall, his-face livid and ghastly.
The King took the alarm at that, and cried out that something was
wrong. Those who were sitting rose. I nodded to Maignan to go
to the man.
"It is a fit," I said. "He is subject to them, and doubtless the
excitement--but I am sorry that it has spoiled your Majesty's
"It has not," Henry answered kindly. "The light is gone. But
have him looked to, will you, my friend? If La Riviere were here
he might do something for him."
While he spoke, the servants had gathered round the man, but with
the timidity which characterises that class in such emergencies,
they would not touch him. As I crossed the court, and they made
way for me, the Spaniard, who was still standing, though in a
strange and distorted fashion, turned his bloodshot eyes on me.
"A priest!" he muttered, framing the words with difficulty, "a
I directed Maignan to fetch one. "And do you," I continued to
the other servants, "take him into a room somewhere."
They obeyed, reluctantly. As they carried him out, the King,
content with my statement, was giving his hand to Mademoiselle to
descend the stairs; and neither he nor any, save the two men in
my confidence, had the slightest suspicion that aught was the
matter beyond a natural illness. But I shuddered when I
considered how narrow had been the King's escape, how trifling
the circumstance which had led to suspicion, how fortuitous the
inspiration by which I had chanced on discovery. The delay of a
single day, the occurrence of the slightest mishap, might have
been fatal not to him only but to the best interests of France;
which his death at a time when he was still childless must have
plunged into the most melancholy of wars.
Of the wretched Spaniard I need say little more. Caught in his
own snare, he was no sooner withdrawn from the court than he fell
into violent convulsions, which held him until midnight when he
died with symptoms and under circumstances so nearly resembling
those which had attended the death of Madame de Beaufort at
Easter, that I have several times dwelt on the strange
coincidence, and striven to find the connecting link. But I
never hit on it; and the King's death, and that unexplained
tendency to imitate great crimes under which the vulgar labour,
prevailed with me to keep the matter secret. Nay, as I believed
that d'Evora had played the part of an unconscious tool, and as a
hint pressed home sufficed to procure the withdrawal of the
chaplain whom Maignan had named, I did not think it necessary to
disclose the matter even to the King my master.
III. TWO MAYORS OF BOTTITORT.
Believing that I have now set down all those particulars of the
treaty with Epernon and the consequent pacification of Brittany
in the year 1598 which it will be of advantage to the public to
know, that it may the better distinguish in the future those who
have selfishly impoverished the State from those who, in its
behalf, have incurred obloquy and high looks, I proceed next to
the events which followed the King's return to Paris.
But, first, and by way of sampling the diverting episodes that
will occur from time to time in the most laborious existence, and
for the moment reduce the minister to the level of the man, I am
tempted to narrate an adventure that befell me on my return,
between Rennes and Vitre; when the King having preceded me at
speed under the pretext of urgency, but really that he might
avoid the prolix addresses that awaited him in every town, I
found myself no more minded to suffer. Having sacrificed my
ease, therefore, in two of the more important places, and come
within as many stages of Vitre, I determined also on a holiday.
Accordingly, directing my baggage and the numerous escort and
suite that attended me to the full tale of four-score horses--to
keep the high road, I struck myself into a byway, intending to
seek hospitality for the night at a house of M. de Laval's; and
on the second evening to render myself with a good grace to the
eulogia and tedious mercies of the Vitre townsfolk.
I kept with me only La Font and two servants. The day was fine,
and the air brisk; the country open, affording many distant
prospects which the sun rendered cheerful. We rode for some
time, therefore, with the gaiety of schoolboys released from
their tasks, and dining at noon in the lee of one of the great
boulders that there dot the plain, took pleasure in applying to
the life of courts every evil epithet that came to mind. For a
little time afterwards we rode as cheerfully; but about three in
the afternoon the sky became overcast, and almost at the same
moment we discovered that we had strayed from the track. The
country in that district resembles the more western parts of
Brittany, in consisting of huge tracts of bog and moorland strewn
with rocks and covered with gorse; which present a cheerful
aspect in sunshine, but are savage and barren to a degree when
viewed through sheets of rain or under a sombre sky.
The position, therefore, was not without its discomforts. I had
taken care to choose a servant who was familiar with the country,
but his knowledge seemed now at fault. However, under his
direction we retraced our steps, but still without regaining the
road; and as a small rain presently began to fall and the day to
decline, the landscape which in the morning had flaunted a wild
and rugged beauty, changed to a brown and dreary waste set here
and there with ghost-like stones. Once astray on this, we found
our path beset with sloughs and morasses; among which we saw
every prospect of passing the night, when La Font espied at a
little distance a wind-swept wood that, clothing a low shoulder
of the moor, promised at least a change and shelter. We made
towards it, and discovered not only all that we had expected to
see, but a path and a guide.
The latter was as much surprised to see us as we to see her, for
when we came upon her she was sitting on the bank beside the path
weeping bitterly. On hearing us, however, she sprang up and
discovered the form of a young girl, bare-foot and bareheaded,
wearing only a short ragged frock of homespun. Nevertheless, her
face was neither stupid nor uncomely; and though, at the first
alarm, supposing us to be either robbers or hobgoblins--of which
last the people of that country are peculiarly fearful--she made
as if she would escape across the moor, she stopped as soon as
she heard my voice. I asked her gently where we were.
At first she did not understand, but the servant who had played
the guide so ill, speaking to her in the PATOIS of the country,
she answered that we were near St. Brieuc, a hamlet not far from
Bottitort, and considerably off our road. Asked how far it was
to Bottitort, she answered--between two and three leagues, and an
We could ride the distance in a couple of hours, and there
remained almost as much daylight. But the horses were tired, so,
resigning myself to the prospect of some discomfort, I asked her
if there was an inn at St. Brieuc.
"A poor place for your honours," she answered, staring at us in
innocent wonder, the forgotten tears not dry on her cheeks.
"Never mind; take us to it," I answered.
She turned at the word and tripped on before us. I bade the
servant ask her, as we went, why she had been crying, and learned
through him that she had been to her uncle's two leagues away to
borrow money for her mother; that the uncle would not lend it,
and that now they would be turned out of their house; that her
father was lately dead, and that her mother kept the inn, and
owed the money for meal and cider.
"At least, she says that she does not owe it," the man corrected
himself, "for her father paid as usual at Corpus Christi; but
after his death M. Grabot said that he had not paid, and--"
"M. Grabot?" I said. "Who is he?"
"The Mayor of Bottitort."
"And how much is owing?" I asked.
"Nothing, she says."
"But how much does he say?"
Doubtless some will view my conduct on this occasion with
surprise; and wonder why I troubled myself with inquiries so
minute upon a matter so mean. But these do not consider that
ministers are the King's eyes; and that in a State no class is so
unimportant that it can be safely overlooked. Moreover, as the
settlement of the finances was one of the objects of my stay in
those parts--and I seldom had the opportunity of checking the
statements made to me by the farmers and lessees of the taxes,
the receivers, gatherers, and, in a word, all the corrupt class
that imparts such views of a province as suit its interests--I
was glad to learn anything that threw light on the real condition
of the country: the more, as I had to receive at Vitre a
deputation of the notables and officials of the district.
Accordingly, I continued to put questions to her until, crossing
a ridge, we came at last within sight of the inn, a lonely house
of stone, standing in the hollow of the moor and sheltered on one
side by a few gnarled trees that took off in a degree from the
bleakness of its aspect. The house was of one story only, with a
window on either side of the door, and no other appeared in
sight; but a little smoke rising from the chimney seemed to
promise a better reception than the desolate landscape and the
girl's scanty dress had led us to expect.
As we drew nearer, however, a thing happened so remarkable as to
draw our attention in a moment from all these points, and bring
us, gaping, to a standstill. The shutters of the two windows
were suddenly closed before our eyes with a clap that came
sharply on the wind. Then, in a twinkling, one window flew open
again and a man, seemingly naked, bounded from it, fled with
inconceivable rapidity across the front of the house and vanished
through the other window, which opened to receive him. He had
scarcely gained that shelter before a coal-black figure followed
him, leaping out of the one window and in at the other with the
same astonishing swiftness--a swiftness which was so great that
before any of us could utter more than an exclamation, the two
figures appeared again round the corner of the house, in the same
order, but this time with so small an interval that the fugitive
barely saved himself through the window. Once more, while we
stared in stupefaction, they flashed out and in; and this time it
seemed to me that as they vanished the black spectre seized its
When I say that all this time the two figures uttered no sound,
that there was no other living being in sight, and that on every
side of the solitary house the moor, growing each minute more
eerie as the day waned, spread to the horizon, the more
superstitious among us may be pardoned if they gave way to their
fears. La Font was the first to speak.
"MON DIEU!" he cried--while the girl moaned in terror, the
Breton crossed himself, and La Trape looked uncomfortable--"the
place is bewitched!"
"Nonsense!" I said. "Who is in the house, girl?"
"Only my mother," she wailed. "Oh, my poor mother!"
I silenced her, scolding them all for fools, and her first; and
La Font, recovering himself, did the same. But this was the year
of that strange appearance of the spectre horseman at
Fontainebleau of which so much has been said; and my servants,
when we had approached the house a little nearer, and it still
remained silent and, as it were, dead to the eye, would go no
farther, but stood in sheer terror and permitted me to go on
alone with La Font. I confess that the loneliness of the house,
and the dreary waste that surrounded it (which seemed to exclude
the idea of trickery) were not without their effect on my
spirits; and that as I dismounted and approached the door, I felt
a kind of chill not remarkable under the circumstances.
But the courage of the gentleman differs from that of the vulgar
in that he fears yet goes; and I lifted the latch, and entered
boldly. The scene which met my eyes inside was sufficiently
commonplace to reassure me. At the farther end of a long bare
room, draughty, half-lighted, and having an earthen floor, yet
possessing that air of homeliness which a wood fire never fails
to impart, sat a single traveller; who had drawn his small table
under the open chimney, and there, with his feet almost in the
fire, was partaking of a poor meal of black bread and onions. He
was a tall, spare man, with sloping shoulders and a long sour
face, of which, as I entered, he gave me the full benefit.
I looked round the room, but look as I might I could see no one
else, nor anything that explained what we had witnessed and I
accosted the man civilly, wishing him good evening. He made an
answer, but indistinctly, and, this done, went on with his meal
like one who viewed our arrival with little pleasure; while I,
puzzled and astonished by the ordinary look of things and the
stillness of the house, affected to warm my feet at the logs. At
length, espying no signs of disturbance anywhere, I asked him if
he was alone.
"I was, sir," he answered gravely.
I was going on to tell him, though reluctantly, what we had seen
outside, and to question him upon it, when on a sudden, before I
could speak again, he leaned towards me and accosted me with
startling abruptness. "Sir," he said, "I should like to have
your opinion of Louis Eleven."
I stared at him in the most perfect astonishment; and was for a
moment so completely taken aback that I mechanically repeated his
words. For answer, he did so also.
"The Eleventh Louis?" I said.
"Yes," he rejoined, turning his pale visage full upon me. "What
is your opinion of him, sir? He was a man?"
"Well," I said, shrugging my shoulders, "I take that for
granted." I began to think that the traveller was demented.
"And a king?"
"Yes, I suppose so," I answered contemptuously. "I never heard
He leaned towards me, and spoke with the most eager
impressiveness. "A man--and a king!" he said. "Yet neither a
manly king, nor a kingly man! You take me?"
"Yes," I said impatiently. "I see what you mean.
"Neither a kingly man, nor a manly king!" he repeated with
solemn gusto. "You take me clearly, I think?"
I had no stomach for further fooleries, and I was about to answer
him with some sharpness--though I could not for the life of me
tell whether he was mad or an eccentric when a harsh voice
shrieked in my ear, "Bob!" and in a twinkling a red figure
appeared bounding and whirling in the middle of the kitchen; now
springing into the air until its head touched the rafters, now
eddying round and round the floor in the giddiest gyrations. At
the first glance, startled by the voice in my ear, I recoiled;
but a second disclosing what it was, and the secret of our alarm
outside, I masked my movement; and when the man brought his
performance to a sudden stop, and falling on one knee in an
attitude of exaggerated respect held out his cap, I was ready for
"Why, you knave," I said, "you should be whipped, not rewarded.
Who gave you leave to play pranks on travellers?"
He looked at me with a droll smile on his round merry face, which
at its gravest was a thing to laugh at. "Let him whip who is
scared," he said, with roguish impudence. "Or if there is to be
whipping, my lord, whip Louis XI."
Thus reminded, I turned to the solemn traveller; but my eyes had
no sooner met his than he twisted his visage into so wry a smile
--if smile it could be called--that wherever there was a horse
collar he must have won the prize. To hide my amusement, I asked
them what they were. "Mountebanks?" I said curtly.
"Your lordship has pricked the garter offhand," the merry man
answered cheerfully. "You see before you the renowned Pierre
Paladin VOILA!--and Philibert Le Grand! of the Breton fairs,
"But why this foolery--here?" I said.
"We took you for another, monsieur," he answered.
"Whom you intended to frighten?"
"Precisely, your grace."
"Well, you are nice rogues," I said, looking at him.
"So is he," he answered, undaunted.
I left the matter there for a moment, while I summoned La Font
and the servants; whose rage, when, entering a-tiptoe and with
some misgiving, they discovered how they had been deceived, and
by whom, was scarcely to be restrained even by my presence.
However, aided by Philibert's comicalities, I presently secured a
truce, and the two strollers vacating in my honour the table by
the fire--though they had not the slightest notion who I was we
were soon on terms. I had taken the precaution to bring a meal
with me, and while La Trape and his companion unpacked it, and I
dried my riding boots, I asked the players who it was they had
meant to frighten.
They were not very willing to tell me, but at length confessed,
to my astonishment, that it was M. Grabot.
"Grabot--Grabot!" I said, striving to recollect where I had
heard the name. "The Mayor of Bottitort?"
The solemn man made an atrocious grimace. Then, "Yes, monsieur,
the Mayor of Bottitort," he said frankly. "A year ago he put
Philibert in the stocks for a riddle; that is his affair. And
the woman of this house has more than once befriended me, and he
is for turning her out for a debt she does not owe; and that is
my affair. However, your lordship's arrival has saved him for
"You expected him here this evening, then?"
"He is coming," he answered, with more than his usual gloom. "He
passed this way this morning, and announced that on his return he
should spend the night here. We found the goodwife all of a
tremble when we arrived. He is a hard man, monsieur," the
mountebank continued bitterly. "She cried after him that she
hoped that God would change his heart, but he only answered that
even if St. Brieuc changed his body--you know the legend,
monseigneur, doubtless--he should be here."
"And here he is," the other, who had been looking out of one of
the windows, cried. "I see his lanthorn coming down the hill.
And by St. Brieuc, I have it! I have it," the droll continued,
suddenly spinning round in a wild dance of triumph on the floor,
and then as suddenly stopping and falling into an attitude before
us. "Monsieur, if you will help us, I have the richest jest ever
played. Pierre, listen. You, gentlemen all, listen! We will
pretend that he is changed. He is a pompous man; he thinks the
Mayor of Bottitort equal to the Saint Pere. Well, Pierre shall
be M. Grabot, Mayor of Bottitort. You, monsieur, that we may
give him enough of mayors, shall be the Mayor of Gol, and I will
be the Mayor of St. Just. This gentleman shall swear to us, so
shall the servants. For him, he does not exist. Oh, we will
punish him finely."
"But," I said, astounded by the very audacity of the rogue's
proposition, "you do not flatter yourself that you will deceive
"We shall, monsieur, if you will help," he answered confidently.
"I will be warrant for it we shall."
The thing had little of dignity in it, and I wonder now that I
complied; but I have always shared with the King, my master, a
taste for drolleries of the kind suggested; while nothing that I
had as yet heard of this Grabot was of a nature to induce me to
spare him. Seeing that La Font was tickled with the idea, and
that the servants were a-grin, and the more eager to trick others
as they had just been tricked themselves, I was tempted to
After this, the preparations took not a minute. Philibert
covered his fool's clothes with a cloak, and their table was
drawn nearer to the fire, so as, with mine, to take up the whole
hearth. La Trape fell into an attitude behind me; and the
Breton, adopting a refinement suggested at the last moment, was
sent out to intercept Grabot before he entered, and tell him that
the inn was full, and that he had better pass on.
The knave did his business so well that Grabot, being just such a
man as the stroller had described to us, the altercation on the
threshold was of itself the most amusing thing in the world.
"Who?" we heard a loud, coarse voice exclaim. "Who d'ye say are
"The Mayor of Bottitort."
"The Mayor of Bottitort and the Mayors of Gol and St. Just," the
servant repeated as if he noticed nothing amiss.
"That is a lie!" the new comer replied, with a snort of triumph,
"and an impudent one. But you have got the wrong sow by the ear
"Why, man," a third voice, somewhat nasal and rustical, struck
in, "don't you know the Mayor of Bottitort?"
"I should," my Breton answered bluntly, and making, as we
guessed, a stand before them. "For I am his servant, and he is
this moment at his meat."
"The Mayor of Bottitort?"
"And you are his servant?"
"I have thought so for some time," the Breton answered
The Mayor fairly roared in his indignation. "You--his servant!
The Mayor of Bottitort's?" he cried in a voice of thunder.
"I'll tell you what you are; you are a liar!--a liar, man, that
is what you are! Why, you fool, I am the Mayor of Bottitort
myself. Now, do you see how you have wasted yourself? Out of my
way! Jehan, follow me in. I shall look into this. There is
some knavery here, but if Simon Grabot cannot get to the bottom
of it the Mayor of Bottitort will. Follow me, I say. My servant
indeed? Come, come!"
And, still grumbling, he flung open the door, which the Breton
had left ajar, and stalked in upon us, fuming and blowing out his
cheeks for all the world like a bantam cock with its feathers
erect. He was a short, pursy man; with a short nose, a wide
face, and small eyes. But had he been Caesar and Alexander
rolled into one, he could not have crossed the threshold with a
more tremendous assumption of dignity. Once inside, he stood and
glared at us, somewhat taken aback, I think, for the moment by
our numbers; but recovering himself almost immediately, he
strutted towards us, and, without uncovering or saluting us, he
asked in a deep voice who was responsible for the man outside.
"I am, the graver mountebank answered, looking at the stranger
with a sober air of surprise. "He is my servant."
"Ah!" the Mayor exclaimed, with a withering glance. "And who,
may I ask, are you?"
"You may ask, certainly," the player answered drily. "But until
you take off your hat I shall not answer."
The Mayor gasped at this rebuff, and turned, if it were possible,
a shade redder; but he uncovered.
"Now I do not mind telling you," Pierre continued, with a mild
dignity admirably assumed, "that I am Simon Grabot, and have the
honour to be Mayor of Bottitort."
"Yes, monsieur, I; though perhaps unworthy."
I looked to see an explosion, but the Mayor was too far gone.
"Why, you swindling impostor," he said, with something that was
almost admiration in his tone. "You are the very prince of
cheats! The king of cozeners! But for all that, let me tell
you, you have chosen the wrong ROLE this time. For I--I, sir, am
the Mayor of Bottitort, the very man whose name you have taken!"
Pierre stared at him in composed silence, which his comrade was
the first to break. "Is he mad?" he said in a low voice.
The grave man shook his head.
The Mayor heard and saw; and getting no other answer, began to
tremble between passion and a natural, though ill-defined,
misgiving, which the silent gaze of so large a party--for we all
looked at him compassionately--was well calculated to produce.
"Mad?" he cried. "No, but some one is, Sir," he continued,
turning to La Font with a gesture in which appeal and impatience
were curiously blended, "Do you know this man?"
"M. Grabot? Certainly," he answered, without blushing. "And
have these ten years."
"And you say that he is M. Grabot?" the poor Mayor retorted, his
jaw falling ludicrously.
"Certainly. Who should he be?"
The Mayor looked round him, sudden beads of sweat on his brow.
"MON DIEU!" be cried. "You are all in it. Here, you, do you
know this person?"
La Trape, to whom he addressed himself, shrugged his shoulders.
"I should," he said. "The Mayor is pretty well known about