Part 2 out of 5
"But I am the Mayor--I," Grabot answered eagerly, tapping himself
on the breast in the most absurd manner. "Don't you know me, my
"I never saw you before, to my knowledge," the rascal answered
contemptuously; "and I know this country pretty well. I should
think that you have been crossing St. Brieuc's brook, and
forgotten to say your--"
"Hush!" the stout player interposed with some sharpness. " Let
him alone. LE BON DIEU knows that such a thing may happen to the
best of us."
The Mayor clapped his hand to his head. "Sir," he said almost
humbly, addressing the last speaker, "I seem to know your voice.
Your name, if you please?"
"Fracasse," he answered pleasantly. "I am Mayor of Gol."
"You--Fracasse, Mayor of Gol?" Grabot exclaimed between rage and
terror. "But Fracasse is a tall man. I know him as well as I
know my brother."
The pseudo-Fracasse smiled, but did not contradict him.
The Mayor wiped the moisture from his brow. He had all the
characteristics of an obstinate man; but if there is one thing
which I have found in a long career more true than another, it is
that no one can resist the statements of his fellows. So much, I
verily believe, is this the case, that if ten men maintain black
to be white, the eleventh will presently be brought into their
opinion. Besides, the Mayor had a currish side. He looked
piteously from one to another of us, his cheeks seemed to grow in
a moment pale and flabby, and he was on the point of whimpering,
when at the last moment he bethought him of his servant, and
turned to him in a spurt of sudden thankfulness. "Why, Jehan,
man, I had forgotten you," he said. "Are these men mad, or am
But Jehan, a simple rustic, was in a state of ludicrous
bewilderment. "Dol, master, I don't know," he stuttered, rubbing
"But I am myself," the Mayor cried, in a most ridiculous tone of
"Dol, and I don't know," the man whimpered. "I do believe that
there is a change in you. I never saw you look the like before.
And I never said any PATER either. Holy saints!" the poor fool
continued piteously, "I wish I were at home. And there, for all
I know, my wife has got another man."
He began to blubber at this; which to us was the most ludicrous
thought, so that it was all we could do to restrain our laughter.
But the Mayor saw things in another light. Shaken by our steady
persistence in our story, and astounded by our want of respect,
the defection of his follower utterly cowed him. After staring
wildly about him for a moment, he fairly turned tail, and sat
down on an old box by the door, where with his hands on his
knees, he looked out before him with such an expression of chap-
fallen bewilderment as nearly discovered our plot by throwing us
into fits of laughter.
Still he was not persuaded; for, from time to time, he roused
himself, and lifting his head cast suspicious glances at our
party. But the two strollers, who were now in their element,
played their parts with so much craft and delicacy, and with such
an infinity of humour besides, that everything he overheard
plunged him deeper in the slough. They knew something of local
affairs, and called one another Mayor very naturally; and
mentioning their wives, let drop other scraps of information
that, catching his ear, made the wretched man every now and then
sit up as if a wasp had stung him. One story in particular which
the false Mayor told--and which, it appeared, was to the
knowledge of all the country round the real Mayor's stock
anecdote--had an absurd effect upon him. He straightened
himself, listened as if his life depended upon it, and when he
heard the well-known ending, uttered, doubtless, in something of
his old tone, he collapsed into himself like a man who had no
longer faith in anything.
Presently, however, an effort of common-sense would again
disperse the fog. He would raise his head, his eye grow bright,
something of his old pugnacity would come back to him. He would
appear--this more than once--to be on the point of rising to
challenge us. But these occasions were as skilfully met as they
were easily detected; and as the rogues had invariably some
stroke in reserve that in a twinkling flung him back into his old
state of dazed bewilderment, while it well-nigh killed us with
stifled mirth, they only gave ever new point to the jest.
This, to be brief, was carried on until I retired; and probably
the two strollers would have kept it up longer if the ludicrous
doubt whether he was himself, which they had lodged in the
Mayor's mind, had not at last spurred him to action. An hour
before midnight, feeling it rankle intolerably, I suppose, he
sprang up on a sudden, dragged the door open, darted out with the
air of a madman, and in a moment was lost in the darkness of the
When I rose in the morning, therefore, I found him gone, the
strollers looking glum, and the good-wife and her girl between
tears and reproaches. I could not but feel, on my part, that I
had somewhat stooped in the night's diversion; but before I had
time to reflect much on that an unexpected trait in the
strollers' conduct reconciled me to this odd experience. They
proposed to leave when I did; but a little before the start they
came to me, and set before me very ingenuously that the woman of
the house might suffer through our jest; if I would help her
therefore, they would subscribe two crowns so that she might have
a substantial sum to offer on account of her debt. As I took
this to be the greater part of their capital, and judged for
other reasons that the offer was genuine, I received it in the
best part, and found their good-nature no less pleasant than
their foolery. I handed over three crowns for our share, and on
that we parted; they set out with their bundles strapped to their
backs, and I waited somewhat impatiently for La Trape and the
Breton to bring round the horses.
Before these appeared, however, La Font, who was at the door,
cried out that the two players were coming hack; and going to the
window I saw with astonishment a whole troop, some mounted and
some on foot, hurrying down the hill after them. For a moment I
felt some alarm, supposing it to be a scheme of Epernon's to
seize my person; and I cursed the imprudence which had led me to
expose myself in this solitary place. But a second glance
showing me that the Mayor of Bottitort was among the foremost, I
repented almost as seriously of the unlucky trifling that had
landed me in this foolish plight.
I even debated whether I should mount and, if it were possible,
get clear before they arrived; but the rueful faces of the two
players as they appeared breathless in the doorway, and the
liking I had taken for the rascals, decided me to stand my ground
"What is it?" I said.
"The Mayor, monsieur," Philibert answered, while Pierre pursed up
his lips with gloomy gravity. "I fear it will not stop at the
stocks this time," the rogue continued with a grimace.
His comrade muttered something about a rod and a fool's back; but
M. Grabot's entrance cut his witticism short. The Mayor, between
shame and rage, and the gratification of his revenge, was almost
bursting, and the moment he caught sight of us opened fire.
"All, M. de Gol; we have them all!" he cried exultingly. "Now
they shall smart for it! Depend upon it, it is some deep-laid
scheme of that party. I have said so."
But the Mayor of Gol, a stout, big, placid man, looked at us
doubtfully. "Well," he said, "I know these two; they are
strolling mountebanks, honest knaves enough but always in some
"What, strolling clowns?" M. Grabot rejoined, his face falling.
"Ay, and you may depend upon it it is some joke of theirs," his
friend answered, his eyes twinkling. "I begin to think that you
would have done better if you had waited a little before bringing
M. le Comte into the matter."
"Ah, but there are these two," M. Grabot cried, as he recovered
from the momentary panic into which the other's words had thrown
him. "Depend upon it they are the chief movers. What else but
treason could they mean by asserting that one of them was Mayor
of Bottitort? By denying my title? By setting up other officers
than those to whom his Gracious Majesty has delegated his
"Umph!" his brother Mayor said, "I don't know these gentlemen."
"No!" his companion cried in triumph. "But I intend to know
them; and to know a good deal about them. Guard the window
there," he continued fussily. "Where is my clerk? Is M. de
Two or three cried obsequiously that he had crossed the hill; and
would arrive immediately.
Hearing this, and thinking it more becoming not to enter into an
altercation, I kept my seat and the scornful silence I had
hitherto maintained. The two Mayors had brought with them a
posse of busybodies--huissiers, constables, tip-staves, and the
like; and these all gaped upon us as if they saw before them the
most notable traitors of the age. The women of the house wept in
a corner, and the strollers shrugged their shoulders and strove
to appear at their ease. But the only person who felt the
indifference which they assumed was La Font; who, obnoxious to
none of the annoyances which I foresaw, could hardly restrain his
mirth at the DENOUEMENT which he anticipated.
Meanwhile the Mayor, foreseeing a very different issue, stood
blowing out his cheeks and fixing us with his little eyes with an
expression of dignity that would have pleased me vastly if I had
been free to enjoy it. But the reflection that Laval's presence,
which would cut the knot of our difficulties, would also place me
at the mercy of his wit, did not enable me to contemplate it with
By-and-by we heard him dismount, and a moment later he came in
with a gentleman and two or three armed servants. He did not at
once see me, but as the crowd made way for him he addressed
himself sharply to M. Grabot. "Well, have you got them?" he
"Certainly, M. le Comte."
"Oh! very well. Now for the particulars, then. You must state
your charge quickly, for I have to be in Vitre to-day."
"He alleged that he had been appointed Mayor of Bottitort,"
Grabot answered pompously.
"Umph! I don't know?" M. de Laval muttered, looking round with
a frown of discontent. "I hope that you have not brought me
hither on a fool's errand. Which one?"
"That one," the Mayor said, pointing to the solemn man, whose
gravity and depression were now something preternatural.
"Oh!" M. de Laval grumbled. "But that is not all, I suppose.
What of the others?"
M. Grabot pointed to me. "That one," he said--
He got no farther; for M. de Laval, springing forward, seized my
hand and saluted me warmly. "Why, your excellency," he cried, in
a tone of boundless surprise, "what are you doing in this GALERE!
All last evening I waited for you, at my house, and now--"
"Here I am," I answered jocularly, "in charge it seems, M. le
"MON DIEU!" he cried. "I don't understand it!"
I shrugged my shoulders. "Don't ask me," I said. "Perhaps your
friend the Mayor call tell you."
"But, Monsieur, I do not understand," the Mayor answered
piteously, his mouth agape with horror, his fat cheeks turning in
a moment all colours. "This gentleman, whom you seem to know,
Monsieur le Comte--"
"Is the Marquis de Rosny, President of the Council, blockhead!"
Laval cried irately. "You madman! you idiot!" he continued, as
light broke in upon him, and he saw that it was indeed on a
fool's errand that he had been roused so early. "Is this your
conspiracy? Have you dared to bring me here--"
But I thought that it was time to interfere. "The truth is," I
said, "that M. Grabot here is not so much to blame. He was the
victim of a trick which these rascals played on him; and in an
idle moment I let it go on. That is the whole secret. However,
I forgive him for his officiousness since it brings us together,
and I shall now have the pleasure of your company to Vitre."
Laval assented heartily to this, and I did not think fit to tell
him more, nor did he inquire; the Mayor's stupidity passing
current for all. For M. Grabot himself, I think that I never saw
a man more completely confounded. He stood staring with his
mouth open; and, as much deserted as the statesman who has fallen
from office, had not the least credit even with his own
sycophants, who to a man deserted him and flocked about the Mayor
of Gol. Though I had no reason to pity him, and, indeed, thought
him well punished, I took the opportunity of saying a word to him
before I mounted; which, though it was only a hint that he should
deal gently with the woman of the house, was received with
servility equal to the arrogance he had before displayed; and I
doubt not it had all the effect I desired. For the strollers, I
did not forget them, but bade them hasten to Vitre, where I would
see a performance. They did so, and hitting the fancy of Zamet,
who chanced to be still there, and who thought that he saw profit
in them, they came on his invitation to Paris, where they took
the Court by storm. So that an episode trifling in itself, and
such as on my part requires some apology, had for them
consequences of no little importance.
IV. LA TOUSSAINT.
Towards the autumn of 1601, when the affair of M. de Biron, which
was so soon to fill the mouths of the vulgar, was already much in
the minds of those whom the King honoured with his confidence, I
was one day leaving the hall at the Arsenal, after giving
audience to such as wished to see me, when Maignan came after me
and detained me; reporting that a gentleman who had attended
early, but had later gone into the garden, was still in waiting.
While Maignan was still speaking the stranger himself came up,
with some show of haste but none of embarrassment; and, in answer
to my salutation and inquiry what I could do for him, handed me a
letter. He had the air of a man not twenty, his dress was a
trifle rustic; but his strong and handsome figure set off a face
that would have been pleasing but for a something fierce in the
aspect of his eyes. Assured that I did not know him, I broke the
seal of his letter and found that it was from my old flame Madame
de Bray, who, as Mademoiselle de St. Mesmin, had come so near to
being my wife; as will be remembered by those who have read the
early part of these memoirs.
The young man proved to be her brother, whom she commended to my
good offices, the impoverishment of the family being so great
that she could compass no more regular method of introducing him
to the world, though the house of St. Mesmin is truly respectable
and, like my own, allied to several of the first consequence.
Madame de Bray recalled our old TENDRESSE to my mind, and
conjured me so movingly by it--and by the regard which her family
had always entertained for me--that I could not dismiss the
application with the hundred others of like tenor that at that
time came to me with each year. That I might do nothing in the
dark, however, I invited the young fellow to walk with me in the
garden, and divined, even before he spoke, from the absence of
timidity in his manner, that he was something out of the common.
"So you have come to Paris to make your fortune?" I said.
"Yes, sir," he answered.
"And what are the tools with which you propose to do it?" I
continued, between jest and earnest.
"That letter, sir," he answered simply; "and, failing that, two
horses, two suits of clothes, and two hundred crowns."
"You think that those will suffice?" I said, laughing.
"With this, sir," he answered, touching his sword; "and a good
I could not but stand amazed at his coolness; for he spoke to me
as simply as to a brother, and looked about him with as much or
as little curiosity as Guise or Montpensier. It was evident that
he thought a St. Mesmin equal to any man under the King; and that
of all the St. Mesmins he did not value himself least.
"Well," I said, after considering him, "I do not think that I can
help you much immediately. I should be glad to know, however,
what plans you have formed for yourself."
"Frankly, sir," he said, "I thought of this as I travelled; and I
decided that fortune can be won by three things--by gold, by
steel, and by love. The first I have not, and for the last I
have a better use. Only the second is left. I shall be
I looked at him in astonishment; for the assurance of his manner
exceeded that of his words. But I did not betray the feeling.
"Crillon was one in a million," I said drily.
"So am I," he answered.
I confess that the audacity of this reply silenced me. I
reflected that the young man who--brought up in the depths of the
country, and without experience, training or fashion--could so
speak in the face of Paris was so far out of the common that I
hesitated to dash his hopes in the contemptuous way which seemed
most natural. I was content to remind him that Crillon had lived
in times of continual war, whereas now we were at peace; and,
bidding him come to me in a week, I hinted that in Paris his
crowns would find more frequent opportunities of leaving his
pockets than his sword its sheath.
He parted from me with this, seeming perfectly satisfied with his
reception; and marched away with the port of a man who expected
adventures at every corner, and was prepared to make the most of
them. Apparently he did not take my hint greatly to heart,
however; for when I next met him, within the week, he was
fashionably dressed, his hair in the mode, and his company as
noble as himself. I made him a sign to stop, and he came to
speak to me.
"How many crowns are ]eft?" I said jocularly.
"Fifty," he answered, with perfect readiness.
"What!" I said, pointing to his equipment with something of the
indignation I felt, "has this cost the balance?
"No," he answered. "On the contrary, I have paid three months'
rent in advance and a month's board at Zaton's; I have added two
suits to my wardrobe, and I have lost fifty crowns on the dice."
"You promise well!" I said.
He shrugged his shoulders quite in the fashionable manner.
"Always courage!" he said; and he went on, smiling.
I was walking at the time with M. de Saintonge, and be muttered,
with a sneer, that it was not difficult to see the end, or that
within the year the young braggart would sink to be a gaming-
house bully. I said nothing, but I confess that I thought
otherwise; the lad's disposition of his money and his provision
for the future seeming to me so remarkable as to set him above
From this time I began to watch his career with interest, and I
was not surprised when, in less than a month, something fell out
that led the whole court to regard him with a mixture of
amusement and expectancy.
One evening, after leaving the King's closet, I happened to pass
through the east gallery at the Louvre, which served at that time
as the outer antechamber, and was the common resort as well of
all those idlers who, with some pretensions to fashion, lacked
the ENTREE, as of many who with greater claims preferred to be at
their ease. My passage for a moment stilled the babel which
prevailed. But I had no sooner reached the farther door than the
noise broke out again; and this with so sudden a fury, the tumult
being augmented by the crashing fall of a table, as caused me at
the last moment to stand and turn. A dozen voices crying
simultaneously, "Have a care!" and "Not here! not here!" and
all looking the same way, I was able to detect the three
principals in the FRACAS. They were no other than M. de St.
Mesmin, Barradas--a low fellow, still remembered, who was already
what Saintonge had prophesied that the former would become--and
young St. Germain, the eldest son of M. de Clan.
I rather guessed than heard the cause of the quarrel, and that
St. Mesmin, putting into words what many had known for years and
some made their advantage of, had accused Barradas of cheating.
The latter's fury was, of course, proportioned to his guilt; an
instant challenge while I looked was his natural answer. This,
as he was a consummate swordsman, and had long earned his living
as much by fear as by fraud, should have been enough to stay the
greediest stomach; but St. Mesmin was not content. Treating the
knave, the word once passed, as so much dirt, he transferred his
attack to St. Germain, and called on him to return the money he
had won by betting on Barradas.
St. Germain, a young spark as proud and headstrong as St. Mesmin
himself, and possessed of friends equal to his expectations,
flung back a haughty refusal. He had the advantage in station
and popularity; and by far the larger number of those present
sided with him. I lingered a moment in curiosity, looking to see
the accuser with all his boldness give way before the almost
unanimous expression of disapproval. But my former judgment of
him had been correctly formed; so far from being browbeaten or
depressed by his position, he repeated the demand with a stubborn
persistence that marvellously reminded me of Crillon; and
continued to reiterate it until all, except St. Germain himself,
were silent. "You must return my money!" he kept on saying
monotonously. "You must return my money. This man cheated, and
you won my money. You must pay or fight."
"With a dead man?" St. Germain replied, gibing at him.
"No, with me."
"Barradas will spit you!" The other scoffed. "Go and order your
coffin, and do not trouble me."
"I shall trouble you. If you did not know that he cheated, pay;
and if you did know, fight."
"I know?" St. Germain retorted fiercely. "You madman! Do you
mean to say that I knew that he cheated?"
"I mean what I say!" St. Mesmin returned stolidly. "You have
won my money. You must return it. If you will not return it,
you must fight."
I should have heard more, but at that moment the main door
opened, and two or three gentlemen who had been with the King
came out. Not wishing to be seen watching the brawl, I moved
away and descended the stairs; and Varenne overtaking me a moment
later, and entering on the Biron affair--of which I had just been
discussing the latest developments with the King--I forgot St.
Mesmin for the time, and only recalled him next morning when
Saintonge, being announced, came into my room in a state of great
excitement, and almost with his first sentence brought out his
"Barradas has not killed him then?" I said, reproaching myself
in a degree for my forgetfulness.
"No! He, Barradas!" Saintonge answered.
"No?" I exclaimed.
"Yes!" he said. "I tell you, M. le Marquis, he is a devil of a
fellow--a devil of a fellow! He fought, I am told, just like
Crillon; rushed in on that rascal and fairly beat down his guard,
and had him pinned to the ground before he knew that they had
"Well," I said, "there is one scoundrel the less. That is all."
"Ah, but that is not all!" my visitor replied more seriously.
"It should be, but it is not; and it is for that reason I am come
to you. You know St. Germain?"
"I know that his father and you are--well, that you take opposite
sides," I said smiling.
"That is pretty well known," he answered coldly. "Anyway, this
lad is to fight St. Germain to-morrow; and now I hear that M. de
Clan, St. Germain's father, is for shutting him up. Getting a
LETTRE DE CACHET or anything else you please, and away with him."
"What! St. Germain?" I said.
"No!" M. de Saintonge answered, prolonging the sound to the
utmost. "St. Mesmin!"
"Oh," I said, "I see."
"Yes," the Marquis retorted pettishly, "but I don't. I don't
see. And I beg to remind you, M. de Rosny, that this lad is my
wife's second cousin through her step-father, and that I shall
resent any interference with him. I have spent enough and done
enough in the King's service to have my wishes respected in a
small matter such as this; and I shall regard any severity
exercised towards my kinsman as a direct offence to myself.
Whereas M. de Clan, who will doubtless be here in a few minutes,
"But stop," I said, interrupting him, "I heard you speaking of
this young fellow the other day. You did not tell me then that
he was your kinsman."
"Nevertheless he is; my wife's second cousin," he answered with
"And you wish him to--"
"Be let alone!" he replied interrupting me in his turn more
harshly than I approved. "I wish him to be let alone. If he
will fight St. Germain, and kill or be killed, is that the King's
affair that he need interfere? I ask for no interference," M. de
Saintonge continued bitterly, "only for fair play and no favour.
And for M. de Clan who is a Republican at heart, and a Bironist,
and has never done anything but thwart the King, for him to come
now, and--faugh! it makes me sick."
"Yes," I said drily; "I see."
"You understand me?"
"Yes," I said, "I think so."
"Very well," he replied haughtily--he had gradually wrought
himself into a passion; "be good enough to bear my request in
mind then; and my services also. I ask no more, M. de Rosny,
than is due to me and to the King's honour."
And with that, and scarcely an expression of civility, he left
me. Some may wonder, I know, that, having in the Edict of Blois,
which forbade duelling and made it a capital offence, an answer
to convince even his arrogance, I did not use this weapon; but,
as a fact, the edict was not published until the following June,
when, partly in consequence of this affair and at my instance,
the King put it forth.
Saintonge could scarcely have cleared the gates before his
prediction was fulfilled. His enemy arrived hot foot, and
entered to me with a mien so much lowered by anxiety and trouble
that I hardly knew him for the man who had a hundred times
rebuffed me, and whom the King's offers had found consistently
obdurate. All I had ever known of M. de Clan heightened his
present humility and strengthened his appeal; so that I felt pity
for him proportioned not only to his age and necessity, but to
the depth of his fall. Saintonge had rightly anticipated his
request; the first, he said, with a trace of his old pride, that
he had made to the King in eleven years: his son, his only son
and only child--the single heir of his name! He stopped there
and looked at me; his eyes bright, his lips trembling and moving
without sound, his hands fumbling on his knees.
"But," I said, "your son wishes to fight, M. de Clan?"
"And you cannot hinder him?"
He shrugged his shoulders grimly. "No," he said; "he is a St.
"Well, that is just my case," I answered. "You see this young
fellow St. Mesmin was commended to me, and is, in a manner, of my
household; and that is a fatal objection. I cannot possibly act
against him in the manner you propose. You must see that; and
for my wishes, he respects them less than your son regards
M. de Clan rose, trembling a little on his legs, and glaring at
me out of his fierce old eyes. "Very well," he said, "it is as
much as I expected. Times are changed--and faiths--since the
King of Navarre slept under the same bush with Antoine St.
Germain on the night before Cahors! I wish you good-day, M. le
I need not say that my sympathies were with him, and that I would
have helped him if I could; but in accordance with the maxim
which I have elsewhere explained, that he who places any
consideration before the King's service is not fit to conduct it,
I did not see my way to thwart M. de Saintonge in a matter so
small. And the end justified my inaction; for the duel, taking
place that evening, resulted in nothing worse than a serious, but
not dangerous, wound which St. Mesmin, fighting with the same
fury as in the morning, contrived to inflict on his opponent.
For some weeks after this I saw little of the young firebrand,
though from time to time he attended my receptions and invariably
behaved to me with a modesty which proved that he placed some
bounds to his presumption. I heard, moreover, that M. de
Saintonge, in acknowledgment of the triumph over the St. Germains
which he had afforded him, had taken him up; and that the
connection between the families being publicly avowed, the two
were much together.
Judge of my surprise, therefore, when one day a little before
Christmas, M. de Saintonge sought me at the Arsenal during the
preparation of the plays and interludes--which were held there
that year--and, drawing me aside into the garden, broke into a
furious tirade against the young fellow.
"But," I said, in immense astonishment, "what is this? I thought
that he was a young man quite to your mind; and--"
"He is mad!" he answered.
"Mad?" I said.
"Yes, mad!" he repeated, striking the ground violently with his
cane. "Stark mad, M. de Rosny. He does not know himself! What
do you think--but it is inconceivable. He proposes to marry my
daughter! This penniless adventurer honours Mademoiselle de
Saintonge by proposing for her!"
"Pheugh!" I said. "That is serious."
"He--he! I don't think I shall ever get over it!" he answered.
"He has, of course, seen Mademoiselle?"
M. de Saintonge nodded.
"At your house, doubtless?"
"Of course!" he replied, with a snap of rage.
"Then I am afraid it is serious," I said.
He stared at me, and for an instant I thought that he was going
to quarrel with me. Then he asked me why.
I was not sorry to have this opportunity of at once increasing
his uneasiness, and requiting his arrogance. "Because," I said,
"this young man appears to me to be very much out of the common.
Hitherto, whatever he has said he would do, he has done. You
remember Crillon? Well, I trace a likeness. St. Mesmin has much
of his headlong temper and savage determination. If you will
take my advice, you will proceed with caution."
M. de Saintonge, receiving an answer so little to his mind, was
almost bursting with rage. "Proceed with caution!" he cried.
"You talk as if the thing could be entertained, or as if I had
cause to fear the coxcomb! On the contrary, I intend to teach
him a lesson a little confinement will cool his temper. You
must give me a letter, my friend, and we will clap him in the
Bastille for a month or two."
"Impossible," I said firmly. "Quite impossible, M. le Marquis."
M. de Saintonge looked at me, frowning. "How?" he said
arrogantly. "Have my services earned no better answer than
"You forget," I replied. "Let me remind you that less than a
month ago you asked me not to interfere with St. Mesmin; and at
your instance I refused to accede to M. de Clan's request that I
would confine him. You were then all for non-interference, M. de
Saintonge, and I cannot blow hot and cold. Besides, to be plain
with you," I continued, "even if that were not the case, this
young fellow is in a manner under my protection; which renders it
impossible for me to move against him. If you like, however, I
will speak to him."
"Speak to him!" M. de Saintonge cried. He was breathless with
rage. He could say no more. It may be imagined how unpalatable
my answer was to him.
But I was not disposed to endure his presumption and ill-temper
beyond a certain point; and feeling no sympathy with him in a
difficulty which he had brought upon himself by his spitefulness,
I answered him roundly. "Yes," I said," I will speak to him, if
you please. But not otherwise. I can assure you, I should not
do it for everyone."
But M. de Saintonge's chagrin and rage at finding himself thus
rebuffed, in a quarter where his haughty temper had led him to
expect an easy compliance, would not allow him to stoop to my
offer. He flung away with expressions of the utmost resentment,
and even in the hearing of my servants uttered so many foolish
and violent things against me, that had my discretion been no
greater than his I must have taken notice of them. As, however,
I had other and more important affairs upon my hands, and it has
never been my practice to humour such hot-heads by placing myself
on a level with them, I was content to leave his punishment to
St. Mesmin; assured that in him M. Saintonge would find an
opponent more courageous and not less stubborn than himself.
The event bore me out, for within a week M. de St. Mesmin's
pretensions to the hand of Mademoiselle de Saintonge shared with
the Biron affair the attention of all Paris. The young lady,
whose reputation and the care which had been spent on her
breeding, no less than her gifts of person and character,
deserved a better fate, attained in a moment a notoriety far from
enviable; rumour's hundred tongues alleging, and probably with
truth--for what father can vie with a gallant in a maiden's
eyes?--that her inclinations were all on the side of the
pretender. At any rate, St. Mesmin had credit for them; there
was talk of stolen meetings and a bribed waiting-woman; and
though such tales were probably as false as those who gave them
currency were fair, they obtained credence with the thoughtless,
and being repeated from one to another, in time reached her
father's ears, and contributed with St. Mesmin's persecution to
render him almost beside himself.
Doubtless with a man of less dogged character, or one more
amenable to reason, the Marquis would have known how to deal; but
the success which had hitherto rewarded St. Mesmin's course of
action had confirmed the young man in his belief that everything
was to be won by courage; so that the more the Marquis blustered
and threatened the more persistent the suitor showed himself.
Wherever Mademoiselle's presence was to be expected, St. Mesmin
appeared, dressed in the extreme of the fashion and wearing
either a favour made of her colours or a glove which he asserted
that she had given him. Throwing himself in her road on every
occasion, he expressed his passion by the most extravagant looks
and gestures; and protected from the shafts of ridicule alike by
his self-esteem and his prowess, did a hundred things that
rendered her conspicuous and must have covered another than
himself with inextinguishable laughter.
In these circumstances M. de Saintonge began to find that the
darts which glanced off his opponent's armour were making him
their butt; and that he, who had valued himself all his life on a
stately dignity and a pride: almost Spanish, was rapidly
becoming the laughing-stock of the Court. His rage may be better
imagined than described, and doubtless his daughter did not go
unscathed. But the ordinary contemptuous refusal which would have
sent another suitor about his business was of no avail here; he
had no son, while St. Mesmin's recklessness rendered the boldest
unwilling to engage him. Saintonge found himself therefore at
his wits' end, and in this emergency bethought him again of a
LETTRE DE CACHET. But the King proved as obdurate as his
minister; partly in accordance with a promise he had made me
about a year before that he would not commonly grant what I had
denied, and partly because Biron's affair had now reached a stage
in which Saintonge's aid was no longer of importance.
Thus repulsed, the Marquis made up his mind to carry his daughter
into the country; but St. Mesmin meeting this with the confident
assertion that he would abduct her within a week, wherever she
was confined, Saintonge, desperate as a baited bull, and
trembling with rage--for the threat was uttered at Zamet's and
was repeated everywhere--avowed equally publicly that since the
King would give him no satisfaction he would take the law into
his own hands, and serve this impudent braggart as Guise served
St. Megrin. As M. le Marquis maintained a considerable
household, including some who would not stick at a trifle, it was
thought likely enough that he would carry out his threat;
especially as the provocation seemed to many to justify it. St.
Mesmin was warned, therefore; but his reckless character was so
well known that odds were freely given that he would be caught
tripping some night--and for the last time.
At this juncture, however, an unexpected ally, and one whose
appearance increased Saintonge's rage to an intolerable extent,
took up St. Mesmin's quarrel. This was young St. Germain, who,
quitting his chamber, was to be seen everywhere on his
antagonist's arm. The old feud between the Saint Germains and
Saintonges aggravated the new; and more than one brawl took place
in the streets between the two parties. St. Germain never moved
without four armed servants; he placed others at his friend's
disposal; and wherever he went he loudly proclaimed what he would
do if a hair of St. Mesmin's head were injured.
This seemed to place an effectual check on M. de Saintonge's
purpose; and my surprise was great when, about a week later, the
younger St. Germain burst in upon me one morning, with his face
inflamed with anger and his dress in disorder; and proclaimed,
before I could rise or speak, that St. Mesmin had been murdered.
"How?" I said, somewhat startled. "And when?"
"By M. de Saintonge! Last night!" he answered furiously. "But
I will have justice; I will have justice, M. de Rosny, or the
I checked him as sternly as my surprise would let me; and when I
had a little abashed him--which was not easy, for his temper vied
in stubbornness with St. Mesmin's--I learned the particulars.
About ten o'clock on the previous night St. Mesmin had received a
note, and, in spite of the remonstrances of his servants, had
gone out alone. He had not returned nor been seen since, and his
friends feared the worst.
"But on what grounds?" I said, astonished to find that that was
"What!" St. Germain cried, flaring up again. "Do you ask on
what grounds? When M. de Saintonge has told a hundred what he
would do to him! What he would do--do, I say? What he has
"Pooh!" I said. "It is some assignation, and the rogue is late
"An assignation, yes," St. Germain retorted; "but one from which
he will not return."
"Well, if he does not, go to the Chevalier du Guet," I answered,
waving him off. "Go! do you hear? I am busy," I continued.
"Do you think that I am keeper of all the young sparks that bay
the moon under the citizens' windows? Be off, sir!"
He went reluctantly, muttering vengeance; and I, after rating
Maignan soundly for admitting him, returned to my work, supposing
that before night I should hear of St. Mesmin's safety. But the
matter took another turn, for while I was at dinner the Captain
of the Watch came to speak to me. St. Mesmin's cap had been
found in a bye-street near the river, in a place where there were
marks of a struggle; and his friends were furious. High words
had already passed between the two factions, St. Germain openly
accusing Saintonge of the murder; plainly, unless something were
done at once, a bloody fray was imminent.
"What do you think yourself, M. le Marchand?" I said, when I had
heard him out.
He shrugged his shoulders. "What can I think, your Excellency?"
he said. "What else was to be expected?"
"You take it for granted that M. de Saintonge is guilty?"
"The young man is gone," he answered pithily.
In spite of this, I thought the conclusion hasty, and contented
myself with bidding him see St. Germain and charge him to be
quiet; promising that, if necessary, the matter should be
investigated and justice done. I still had good hopes that St.
Mesmin's return would clear up the affair, and the whole turn out
to be a freak on his part; but within a few hours tidings that
Saintonge had taken steps to strengthen his house and was lying
at home, refusing to show himself, placed a different and more
serious aspect on the mystery. Before noon next day M. de Clan,
whose interference surprised me not a little, was with me to
support his son's petition; and at the King's LEVEE next day St.
Germain accused his enemy to the King's face, and caused an angry
and indecent scene in the chamber.
When a man is in trouble foes spring up, as the moisture rises
through the stones before a thaw. I doubt if M. de Saintonge was
not more completely surprised than any by the stir which ensued,
and which was not confined to the St. Germains' friends, though
they headed the accusers. All whom he had ever offended, and all
who had ever offended him, clamoured for justice; while St.
Mesmin's faults being forgotten and only his merits remembered,
there were few who did not bow to the general indignation, which
the young and gallant, who saw that at any moment his fate might
be theirs, did all in their power to foment. Finally, the
arrival of St. Mesmin the father, who came up almost broken-
hearted, and would have flung himself at the King's feet on the
first opportunity, roused the storm to the wildest pitch; so
that, in the fear lest M. de Biron's friends should attempt
something under cover of it, I saw the King and gave him my
advice. This was to summon Saintonge, the St. Germains, and old
St. Mesmin to his presence and effect a reconciliation; or,
failing that, to refer the matter to the Parliament.
He agreed with me and chose to receive them next day at the
Arsenal. I communicated his commands, and at the hour named we
met, the King attended by Roquelaure and myself. But if I had
flattered myself that the King's presence would secure a degree
of moderation and reasonableness I was soon undeceived; for
though M. de St. Mesmin had only his trembling head and his tears
to urge, Clan and his son fell upon Saintonge with so much
violence--to which he responded by a fierce and resentful
sullenness equally dangerous--that I feared that blows would be
struck even before the King's face. Lest this should happen and
the worst traditions of old days of disorder be renewed, I
interposed and managed at length to procure silence.
"For shame, gentlemen, for shame!" the King said, gnawing his
moustachios after a fashion he had when in doubt. "I take Heaven
to witness that I cannot say who is right! But this brawling
does no good. The one fact we have is that St. Mesmin has
"Yes, sire; and that M. de Saintonge predicted his
disappearance," St. Germain cried, impulsively. "To the day and
almost to the hour."
"I gather, de Saintonge," the King said, turning to him, mildly,
"that you did use some expressions of that kind."
"Yes, sire, and did nothing upon them," he answered resentfully.
But he trembled as he spoke. He was an older man than his
antagonist, and the latter's violence shook him.
"But does M. de Saintonge deny," St. Germain broke out afresh
before the King could speak, "that my friend had made him a
proposal for his daughter? and that he rejected it?"
"I deny nothing!" Saintonge cried, fierce and trembling as a
baited animal. "For that matter, I would to Heaven he had had
her!" he continued bitterly.
"Ay, so you say now," the irrepressible St. Germain retorted,
"when you know that be is dead!"
"I do not know that he is dead," Saintonge answered. "And, for
that matter, if he were alive and here now he should have her. I
am tired; I have suffered enough."
"What! Do you tell the King," the young fellow replied
incredulously, "that if St. Mesmin were here you would give him
"I do--I do!" the other exclaimed passionately. "To be rid of
him, and you, and all your crew!"
"Tut, tut!" the King said. "Whatever betides, I will answer for
it, you shall have protection and justice, M. de Saintonge. And
do you, young sir, be silent. Be silent, do you hear! We have
had too much noise introduced into this already."
He proceeded then to ask certain details, and particularly the
hour at which St. Mesmin had been last seen. Notwithstanding
that these facts were in the main matters of common agreement,
some wrangling took place over them; which was only brought to an
end at last in a manner sufficiently startling. The King with
his usual thoughtfulness had bidden St. Mesmin be seated. On a
sudden the old man rose; I heard him utter a cry of amazement,
and following the direction of his eyes I looked towards the
door. There stood his son!
At an appearance so unexpected a dozen exclamations filled the
air; but to describe the scene which ensued or the various
emotions that were evinced by this or that person, as surprise or
interest or affection moved them, were a task on which I am not
inclined to enter. Suffice it that the foremost and the loudest
in these expressions of admiration was young St. Germain; and
that the King, after glancing from face to face in puzzled
perplexity, began to make a shrewd guess at the truth.
"This is a very timely return, M. de St. Mesmin," he said drily.
"Yes, sire," the young impertinent answered, not a whit abashed.
"Very timely, indeed."
"Yes, sire. And the more as St. Germain tells me that M. de
Saintonge in his clemency has reconsidered my claims; and has
undertaken to use that influence with Mademoiselle which--"
But on that word M. de Saintonge, comprehending the RUSE by which
he had been overcome, cut him short; crying out in a rage that he
would see him in perdition first. However, we all immediately
took the Marquis in hand, and made it our business to reconcile
him to the notion; the King even making a special appeal to him,
and promising that St. Mesmin should never want his good offices.
Under this pressure, and confronted by his solemn undertaking,
Saintonge at last and with reluctance gave way. At the King's
instance, he formally gave his consent to a match which
effectually secured St. Mesmin's fortunes, and was as much above
anything the young fellow could reasonably expect as his audacity
and coolness exceeded the common conceit of courtiers.
Many must still remember St. Mesmin; though an attack of the
small-pox, which disfigured him beyond the ordinary, led him to
leave Paris soon after his marriage. He was concerned, I
believe, in the late ill-advised rising in the Vivarais; and at
that time his wife still lived. But for some years past I have
not heard his name, and only now recall it as that of one whose
adventures, thrust on my attention, formed an amusing interlude
in the more serious cares which now demand our notice.
V. THE LOST CIPHER.
I might spend many hours in describing the impression which this
great Sovereign made upon my mind; but if the part which she took
in the conversation I have detailed does not sufficiently exhibit
those qualities of will and intellect which made her the worthy
compeer of the King my master, I should labour in vain.
Moreover, my stay in her neighbourhood, though Raleigh and
Griffin showed me every civility, was short. An hour after
taking leave of her, on the 15th of August, 1601, I sailed from
Dover, and crossing to Calais without mishap anticipated with
pleasure the King's satisfaction when he should hear the result
of my mission, and learn from my mouth the just and friendly
sentiments which Queen Elizabeth entertained towards him.
Unfortunately I was not able to impart these on the instant.
During my absence a trifling matter had carried the King to
Dieppe, whence his anxiety on the queen's account, who was
shortly to be brought to bed, led him to take the road to Paris.
He sent word to me to follow him, but necessarily some days
elapsed before we met; an opportunity of which his enemies and
mine were quick to take advantage, and that so insidiously and
with so much success as to imperil not my reputation only but his
The time at their disposal was increased by the fact; that when I
reached the Arsenal I found the Louvre vacant, the queen, who lay
at Fontainebleau, having summoned the King thither. Ferret, his
secretary, however, awaited me with a letter, in which Henry,
after expressing his desire to see we, bade me nevertheless stay
in Paris a day to transact some business. "Then," he continued,
"come to me, my friend, and we will discuss the matter of which
you know. In the meantime send me your papers by Ferret, who
will give you a receipt for them."
Suspecting no danger in a course which was usual enough, I
hastened to comply. Summoning Maignan, who, whenever I
travelled, carried my portfolio, I unlocked it, and emptying the
papers in a mass on the table, handed them in detail to Ferret.
Presently, to my astonishment, I found that one, and this the
most important, was missing. I went over the papers again, and
again, and yet again. Still it was not to be found.
It will be remembered that whenever I travelled on a mission of
importance I wrote my despatches in one of three modes, according
as they were of little, great, or the first importance; in
ordinary characters that is, in a cipher to which the council
possessed the key, or in a cipher to which only the King and I
held keys. This last, as it was seldom used, was rarely changed;
but it was my duty, on my return from each mission, immediately
to remit my key to the King, who deposited it in a safe place
until another occasion for its use arose.
It was this key which was missing. I had been accustomed to
carry it in the portfolio with the other papers; but in a sealed
envelope which I broke and again sealed with my own signet
whenever I had occasion to use the cipher. I had last seen the
envelope at Calais, when I handed the portfolio to Maignan before
beginning my journey to Paris; the portfolio had not since been
opened, yet the sealed packet was missing.
More than a little uneasy, I recalled Maignan, who had withdrawn
after delivering up his charge, "You rascal!" I said with some
heat. "Has this been out of your custody?"
"The bag?" he answered, looking at it. Then his face changed.
"You have cut your finger, my lord," he said.
I had cut it slightly in unbuckling the portfolio, and a drop or
two of blood had fallen on the papers. But his reference to it
at this moment, when my mind was full of my loss, angered me, and
even awoke my suspicions. "Silence!" I said, "and answer me.
Have you let this bag out of your possession?" This time he
replied straightforwardly that he had not.
"Nor unlocked it?"
"I have no key, your excellency."
That was true; and as I had at bottom the utmost confidence in
his fidelity, I pursued the inquiry no farther in that direction,
but made a third search among the papers. This also failing to
bring the packet to light, and Ferret being in haste to be gone,
I was obliged for the moment to put up with the loss, and draw
what comfort I could from the reflection that, no despatch in the
missing cipher was extant. Whoever had stolen it, therefore,
another could be substituted for it and no one the worse. Still
I was unwilling that the King should hear of the mischance from a
stranger, and be led to think me careless; and I bade Ferret be
silent about it unless Henry missed the packet, which might not
happen before my arrival.
When the secretary, who readily assented, had given me his
receipt and was gone, I questioned Maignan afresh and more
closely, but with no result. He had not seen me place the packet
in the portfolio at Calais, and that I had done so I could vouch
only my own memory, which I knew to be fallible. In the
meantime, though the mischance annoyed me, I attached no great
importance to it; but anticipating that a word of explanation
would satisfy the King, and a new cipher dispose of other
difficulties, I dismissed the matter from my mind.
Twenty-four hours later, however, I was rudely awakened. A
courier arrived from Henry, and surprising me in the midst of my
last preparations at the Arsenal, handed me an order to attend
his Majesty; an order couched in the most absolute and peremptory
terms, and lacking all those friendly expressions which the King
never failed to use when he wrote to me. A missive so brief and
so formal--and so needless, for I was on the point of starting--
had not reached me for years; and coming at this moment when I
had no reason to expect a reverse of fortune, it had all the
effect of a thunder-bolt in a clear sky. I stood stunned, the
words which I was dictating to my secretary dying on my lips.
For I knew the King too well, and had experienced his kindness
too lately to attribute the harshness of the order to chance or
forgetfulness; and assured in a moment that I stood face to face
with a grave crisis, I found myself hard put to it to hide my
feelings from those about me.
Nevertheless, I did so with all effort; and, sending for the
courier asked him with an assumption of carelessness what was the
latest news at Court. His answer, in a measure, calmed my fears,
though it could not remove them. He reported that the queen had
been taken ill or so the rumour went.
"Suddenly?" I said.
"This morning," he answered.
"The King was with her?"
"Yes, your excellency."
"Had he left her long when he sent this letter?"
"It came from her chamber, your excellency."
"But--did you understand that her Majesty was in danger?" I
As to that, however, the man could not say anything; and I was
left to nurse my conjectures during the long ride to
Fontainebleau, where we arrived in the cool of the evening, the
last stage through the forest awakening memories of past pleasure
that combated in vain the disorder and apprehension which held my
spirits. Dismounting in the dusk at the door of my apartments, I
found a fresh surprise awaiting me in the shape of M. de Concini,
the Italian; who advancing to meet me before my foot was out of
the stirrup, announced that he came from the King, who desired my
instant attendance in the queen's closet.
Knowing Concini to be one of those whose influence with her
Majesty had more than once tempted the King to the most violent
measures against her--from which I had with difficulty dissuaded
him--I augured the worst from the choice of such a messenger; and
wounded alike in my pride and the affection in which I held the
King, could scarcely find words in which to ask him if the queen
"Indisposed, my lord," he replied carelessly. And he began to
I told him that I would remove my boots and brush off the dust,
and in five minutes be at his service.
"Pardon me," he said, "my orders are strict; and they are to
request you to attend his Majesty immediately. He expected you
an hour ago."
I was thunderstruck at this--at the message, and at the man's
manner; and for a moment I could scarcely restrain my
indignation. Fortunately the habit of self-control came to my
aid in time, and I reflected that an altercation with such a
person could only lower my dignity. I contented myself,
therefore, with signifying my assent by a nod, and without more
ado followed him towards the queen's apartments.
In the ante-chamber were several persons, who as I passed saluted
me with an air of shyness and incertitude which was enough of
itself to put me on my guard. Concini attended me to the door of
the chamber; there he fell back, and Mademoiselle Galigai, who
was in waiting, announced me. I entered, assuming a serene
countenance, and found the King and queen together, no other
person being present. The queen was lying at length on a couch,
while Henry, seated on a stool at her feet, seemed to be engaged
in soothing and reassuring her. On my entrance, he broke off and
rose to his feet.
"Here he is at last," he said, barely looking at me. "Now, if
you will, dear heart ask him your questions. I have had no
communication with him, as you know, for I have been with you
The queen, whose face was flushed with fever, made a fretful
movement but did not answer.
"Do you wish me to ask him?" Henry said with admirable patience.
"If you think it is worth while," she muttered, turning sullenly
and eyeing me from the middle of her pillows with disdain and
"I will, then," he answered, and he turned to me. "M. de Rosny,"
he said in a formal tone, which even without the unaccustomed
monsieur cut me to the heart, "be good enough to tell the queen
how the key to my secret cipher, which I entrusted to you, has
come to be in Madame de Verneuil's possession."
I looked at him in the profoundest astonishment, and for a moment
remained silent, trying to collect my thoughts under this
unexpected blow. The queen saw my hesitation and laughed
spitefully. "I am afraid, sire," she said, "that you have
overrated this gentleman's ingenuity, though doubtless it has
been much exercised in your service."
Henry's face grew red with vexation. "Speak, man!" he cried.
"How came she by it?"
"Madame de Verneuil?" I said.
The queen laughed again. "Had you not better take him out first,
sir," she said scornfully, "and tell him what to say?"
"'Fore God, madame," the King cried passionately, "you try me too
far! Have I not told you a hundred times, and sworn to you, that
I did not give Madame de Verneuil this key?"
"If you did not give her that," the queen muttered sullenly,
picking at the silken coverlet which lay on her feet, "you have
given her all else. You cannot deny it."
Henry let a gesture of despair escape him. "Are we to go back to
that?" he said. Then turning to me, "Tell her," he said between
his teeth; "and tell me. VENTRE SAINT GRIS--are you dumb, man?"
Discerning nothing for it at the moment save to bow before this
storm, which had arisen so suddenly, and from a quarter the least
expected, I hastened to comply. I had not proceeded far with my
story, however--which fell short, of course, of explaining how
the key came to be in Madame de Verneuil's hands--before I saw
that it won no credence with the queen, but rather confirmed her
in her belief that the King had given to another what he had
denied to her. And more; I saw that in proportion as the tale
failed to convince her, it excited the King's wrath and
disappointment. He several times cut me short with expressions
of the utmost impatience, and at last, when I came to a lame
conclusion--since I could explain nothing except that the key was
gone--he could restrain himself no longer. In a tone in which he
had never addressed me before, he asked me why I had not, on the
instant, communicated the loss to him; and when I would have
defended myself by adducing the reason I have given above,
overwhelmed me with abuse and reproaches, which, as they were
uttered in the queen's presence, and would be repeated, I knew,
to the Concinis and Galigais of her suite, who had no occasion to
love me, carried a double sting.
Nevertheless, for a time, and until he had somewhat worn himself
out, I let Henry proceed. Then, taking advantage of the first
pause, I interposed. Reminding him that he had never had cause
to accuse me of carelessness before, I recalled the twenty-two
years during which I had served him faithfully, and the enmities
I had incurred for his sake; and having by these means placed the
discussion on a more equal footing, I descended again to
particulars, and asked respectfully if I might know on whose
authority Madame de Verneuil was said to have the cipher.
"On her own!" the queen cried hysterically. "Don't try to
deceive me,--for it will be in vain. I know she has it; and if
the King did not give it to her, who did?"
"That is the question, madam," I said.
"It is one easily answered," she retorted. "If you do not know,
"But, perhaps, madam, she will not answer," I ventured.
"Then command her to answer in the King's name!" the queen
replied, her cheeks burning with fever. "And if she will not,
then has the King no prisons--no fetters smooth enough for those
This was a home question, and Henry, who never showed to less
advantage than when he stood between two women, cast a sheepish
glance at me. Unfortunately the queen caught the look, which was
not intended for her; and on the instant it awoke all her former
suspicions. Supposing that she had discovered our collusion, she
flung herself back with a cry of rage, and bursting into a
passion of tears, gave way to frantic reproaches, wailing and
throwing herself about with a violence which could not but injure
one in her condition.
The King stared at her for a moment in sheer dismay. Then his
chagrin turned to anger; which, as he dared not vent it on her,
took my direction. He pointed impetuously to the door. "Begone,
sir!" he said in a passion, and with the utmost harshness. "You
have done mischief enough here. God grant that we see the end of
it! Go--go!" he continued, quite beside himself with fury.
"Send Galigai here, and do you go to your lodging until you hear
Overwhelmed and almost stupefied by the catastrophe, I found my
way out I hardly knew how, and sending in the woman, made my
escape from the ante-chamber. But hasten as I might, my
disorder, patent to a hundred curious eyes, betrayed me; and, if
it did not disclose as much as I feared or the inquisitive
desired, told more than any had looked to learn. Within an hour
it was known at Nemours that his Majesty had dismissed me with
high words--some said with a blow; and half a dozen couriers were
on the road to Paris with the news.
In my place some might have given up all for lost; but in
addition to a sense of rectitude, and the consciousness of
desert, I had to support me an intimate knowledge of the King's
temper; which, though I had never suffered from it to this extent
before, I knew to be on occasion as hot as his anger was short
lived, and his disposition generous. I had hopes, therefore--
although I saw dull faces enough among my suite, and some pale
ones--that the King's repentance would overtake his anger, and
its consequences outstrip any that might flow from his wrath.
But though I was not altogether at fault in this, I failed to
take in to account one thing--I mean Henry's anxiety on the
queen's account, her condition, and his desire to have an heir;
which so affected the issue, that instead of fulfilling my
expectations the event left me more despondent than before. The
King wrote, indeed, and within the hour, and his letter was in
form an apology. But it was so lacking in graciousness; so
stiff, though it began "My good friend Rosny," and so insincere,
though it referred to my past services, that when I had read it I
stood awhile gazing at it, afraid to turn lest De Vic and
Varennes, who had brought it, should read my disappointment in my
For I could not hide from myself that the gist of the letter lay,
not in the expressions of regret which opened it, but in the
complaint which closed it; wherein the King sullenly excused his
outbreak on the ground of the magnitude of the interests which my
carelessness had endangered and the opening to harass the queen
which I had heedlessly given. "This cipher," he said, "has long
been a whim with my wife, from whom, for good reasons well known
to you and connected with the Grand Duke's Court, I have thought
fit to withhold it. Now nothing will persuade her that I have
not granted to another what I refused her. I tremble, my friend,
lest you be found to have done more ill to France in a moment of
carelessness than all your services have done good."
It was not difficult to find a threat underlying these words, nor
to discern that if the queen's fancy remained unshaken, and ill
came of it, the King would hardly forgive me. Recognising this,
and that I was face to face with a crisis from which I could not
escape but by the use of my utmost powers, I assumed a serious
and thoughtful air; and without affecting to disguise the fact
that the King was displeased with me, dismissed the envoys with a
few civil speeches, in which I did not fail to speak of his
Majesty in terms that even malevolence could not twist to my
When they were gone, doubtless to tell Henry how I had taken it,
I sat down to supper with La Font, Boisrueil, and two or three
gentlemen of my suite; and, without appearing too cheerful,
contrived to eat with my usual appetite. Afterwards I withdrew
in the ordinary course to my chamber, and being now at liberty to
look the situation in the face, found it as serious as I had
feared. The falling man has few friends; he must act quickly if
he would retain any. I was not slow in deciding that my sole
chance of an honourable escape lay in discovering--and that
within a few hours--who stole the cipher and conveyed it to
Madame de Verneuil; and in placing before the queen such evidence
of this as must convince her.
By way of beginning, I summoned Maignan and put him through a
severe examination. Later, I sent for the rest of my household--
such, I mean, as had accompanied me--and ranging them against the
walls of my chamber, took a flambeau in my hand and went the
round of them, questioning each, and marking his air and aspect
as he answered. But with no result; so that after following some
clues to no purpose, and suspecting several persons who cleared
themselves on the spot, I became assured that the chain must be
taken up at the other end, and the first link found among Madame
de Verneuil's following.
By this time it was nearly midnight, and my people were dropping
with fatigue. Nevertheless, a sense of the desperate nature of
the case animating them, they formed themselves voluntarily into
a kind of council, all feeling their probity attacked; in which
various modes of forcing the secret from those who held it were
proposed--Maignan's suggestions being especially violent.
Doubting, however, whether Madame had more than one confidante, I
secretly made up my mind to a course which none dared to suggest;
and then dismissing all to bed, kept only Maignan to lie in my
chamber, that if any points occurred to me in the night I might
question him on them.
At four o'clock I called him, and bade him go out quietly and
saddle two horses. This done, I slipped out myself without
arousing anyone, and mounting at the stables, took the Orleans
road through the forest. My plan was to strike at the head, and
surprising Madame de Verneuil while the event; still hung
uncertain, to wrest the secret from her by trick or threat. The
enterprise was desperate, for I knew the stubbornness and
arrogance of the woman, and the inveterate enmity which she
entertained towards me, more particularly since the King's
marriage. But in a dangerous case any remedy is welcome.
I reached Malesherbes, where Madame was residing with her
parents, a little before seven o'clock, and riding without
disguise to the chateau demanded to see her. She was not yet
risen, and the servants, whom my appearance threw into the utmost
confusion, objected this to me; but I knew that the excuse was no
real one, and answered roughly that I came from the King, and
must see her. This opened all doors, and in a moment I found
myself in her chamber. She was sitting up in bed, clothed in an
elegant nightrail, and seemed in no wise surprised to see me. On
the contrary, she greeted me with a smile and a taunting word;
and omitted nothing that might evince her disdain or hurt my
dignity. She let me advance without offering me a chair; and
when, after saluting her, I looked about for one, I found that
all the seats except one very low stool had been removed from the
This was so like her that it did not astonish me, and I baffled
her malice by leaning against the wall. "This is no ordinary
honour--from M. de Rosny!" she said, flouting me with her eyes.
"I come on no ordinary mission, madame," I said as gravely as I
"Mercy!" she exclaimed in a mocking tone. "I should have put on
new ribbons, I suppose!"
"From the King, madame," I continued, not allowing myself to he
moved, "to inquire how you obtained possession of his cipher."
She laughed loudly. "Good, simple King," she said, "to ask what
he knows already!"
"He does not know, madame," I answered severely.
"What?" she cried, in affected surprise. "When he gave it to me
"He did not, madame."
"He did, sir!" she retorted, firing up. "Or if he did not,
prove it--prove it! And, by the way," she continued, lowering
her voice again, and reverting to her former tone of spiteful
badinage, "how is the dear queen? I heard that she was
indisposed yesterday, and kept the King in attendance all day.
So unfortunate, you know, just at this time." And her eyes
twinkled with malicious amusement.
"Madame,"I said, "may I speak plainly to you?"
"I never heard that you could speak otherwise," she answered
quickly. "Even his friends never called M. de Rosny a wit; but
only a plain, rough man who served our royal turn well enough in
rough times; but is now growing--"
"A trifle exigeant and superfluous."
After that, I saw that it was war to the knife between us; and I
asked her in very plain terms If she were not afraid of the
queen's enmity, that she dared thus to flaunt the King's favours
"No more than I am afraid of yours," she answered hardily.
"But if the King is disappointed in his hopes?"
"You may suffer; very probably will," she answered, slowly and
smiling, "not I. Besides, sir--my child was born dead. He bore
that very well."
"Yet, believe me, madame, you run some risk."
"In keeping what the King has given me?" she answered, raising
"No! In keeping what the King has not given you!" I answered
sternly. "Whereas, what do you gain?"
"Well," she replied, raising herself in the bed, while her eyes
sparkled and her colour rose, "if you like, I will tell you.
This pleasure, for one thing--the pleasure of seeing you there,
awkward, booted, stained, and standing, waiting my will. That--
which perhaps you call a petty thing--I gain first of all. Then
I gain your ruin, M. de Rosny; I plant a sting in that woman's
breast; and for his Majesty, he has made his bed and may lie on
"Have a care, madame!" I cried, bursting with indignation at a
speech so shameless and disloyal. "You are playing a dangerous
game, I warn you!"
"And what game have you played?" she replied, transported on a
sudden with equal passion. "Who was it tore up the promise of
marriage which the King gave me? Who was it prevented me being
Queen of France? Who was it hurried on the match with this
tradeswoman, so that the King found himself wedded, before he
knew it? Who was it--but enough; enough!" she cried,
interrupting herself with a gesture full of rage. "You have
ruined me, you and your queen between you, and I will ruin you!"
"On the contrary, madame," I answered, collecting myself for a
last effort, and speaking with all the severity which a just
indignation inspired, "I have not ruined you. But if you do not
tell me that which I am here to learn--I will!"
She laughed out loud. "Oh, you simpleton!" she said. "And you
call yourself a statesman! Do you not see that if I do not tell
it, you are disgraced yourself and powerless, and can do me no
harm? Tell it you? When I have you all on the hip--you, the
King, the queen! Not for a million crowns, M. de Rosny!"
"And that is your answer, madame?" I said, choking with rage.
It had been long since any had dared so to beard me.
"Yes," she replied stoutly; "it is! Or, stay; you shall not go
empty-handed." And thrusting her arm under the pillow she drew
out, after a moment's search, a small packet, which she held out
towards me. "Take it!" she said, with a taunting laugh. "It
has served my turn. What the King gave me, I give you."
Seeing that it was the missing key to the cipher, I swallowed my
rage and took it; and being assured by this time that I could
effect nothing by staying longer, but should only expose myself
to fresh insults, I turned on my heel, with rudeness equal to her
own, and, without taking leave of her, flung the door open and
went out. I heard her throw herself back with a shrill laugh of
triumph. But as, the moment the door fell to behind me, my
thoughts began to cast about for another way of escape--this
failing--I took little heed of her, and less of the derisive
looks to which the household, quickly taking the cue, treated me
as I passed. I flung myself into the saddle and galloped off,
followed by Maignan, who presently, to my surprise, blurted out a
clumsy word of congratulation.
I turned on him in amazement, and, swearing at him, asked him
what he meant.
"You have got it," he said timidly, pointing to the packet which
I mechanically held in my hand.
"And to what purpose?" I cried, glad of this opportunity of
unloading some of my wrath. "I want, not the paper, but the
secret, fool! You may have the paper for yourself if you will
tell me how Madame got it."
Nevertheless, his words led me to look at the packet. I opened
it, and, having satisfied myself that it contained the original
and not a copy, was putting it up again when my eyes fell on a
small spot of blood which marked one corner of the cover. It was
not larger than a grain of corn, but it awoke, first, a vague
association and then a memory, which as I rode grew stronger and
more definite, until, on a sudden, discovery flashed upon me--and
the truth. I remembered where I had seen spots of blood before
--on the papers I had handed to Ferret and remembered, too, where
that blood had come from. I looked at the cut now, and, finding
it nearly healed, sprang in my saddle. Of a certainty this paper
had gone through my hands that day! It had been among the
others; therefore it must have been passed to Ferret inside
another when I first opened the bag! The rogue, getting it and
seeing his opportunity, and that I did not suspect, had doubtless
secreted it, probably while I was attending to my hand.
I had not suspected him before, because I had ticked off the
earlier papers as I handed them to him; and had searched only
among the rest and in the bag for the missing one. Now I
wondered that I had not done so, and seen the truth from the
beginning; and in my impatience I found the leagues through the
forest, though the sun was not yet high and the trees sheltered
us, the longest I had ridden in my life. When the roofs of the
chateau at length appeared before us, I could scarcely keep my
pace within bounds. Reflecting how Madame de Verneuil had over-
reached herself, and how, by indulging in that last stroke of
arrogance, she had placed the secret in my hands, I had much ado
to refrain from going to the King booted and unwashed as I was;
and though I had not eaten since the previous evening. However,
the habit of propriety, which no man may lightly neglect, came to
my aid. I made my toilet, and, having broken my fast standing,
hastened to the Court. On the way I learned that the King was in
the queen's garden, and, directing my steps thither, found him
walking with my colleagues, Villeroy and Sillery, in the little
avenue which leads to the garden of the Conciergerie. A number
of the courtiers were standing on the low terrace watching them,
while a second group lounged about the queen's staircase. Full
of the news which I had for the King, I crossed the terrace;
taking no particular heed of anyone, but greeting such as came in
my way in my usual fashion. At the edge of the terrace I paused
a moment before descending the three steps; and at the same
moment, as it happened, Henry looked up, and our eyes met. On
the instant he averted his gaze, and, turning on his heel in a
marked way, retired slowly to the farther end of the walk.
The action was so deliberate that I could not doubt he meant to
slight me; and I paused where I was, divided between grief and
indignation, a mark for all those glances and whispered gibes in
which courtiers indulge on such occasions. The slight was not
rendered less serious by the fact that the King was walking with
my two colleagues; so that I alone seemed to be out of his
confidence, as one soon to be out of his councils also.
I perceived all this, and was not blind to the sneering smiles
which were exchanged behind my back; but I affected to see
nothing, and to be absorbed in sudden thought. In a minute or
two the King turned and came back towards me; and again, as if he
could not restrain his curiosity, looked up so that our eyes met.
This time I thought that he would beckon me to him, satisfied
with the lengths to which he had already carried his displeasure.
But he turned again, with a light laugh.
At this a courtier, one of Sillery's creatures, who had presumed
on the occasion so far as to come to my elbow, thought that he
might safely amuse himself with me. "I am afraid that the King
grows older, M. de Rosny," he said, smirking at his companions.
"His sight seems to be failing."
"It should not be neglected then," I said grimly. "I will tell
him presently what you say."
He fell back, looking foolish at that, at the very moment that
Henry, having taken another turn, dismissed Villeroy, who, wiser
than the puppy at my elbow, greeted me with particular civility
as he passed. Freed from him, Henry stood a moment hesitating.
He told me afterwards that he had not turned from me a yard
before his heart smote him; and that but for a mischievous
curiosity to see how I should take it, he would not have carried
the matter so far. Be that as it may--and I do not doubt this,
any more than I ever doubted the reality of the affection in
which he held me--on a sudden he raised his hand and beckoned to
I went down to him gravely, and not hurriedly. He looked at me
with some signs of confusion in his face. "You are late this
morning," he said.
"I have been on your Majesty's business," I answered.
"I do not doubt that," he replied querulously, his eyes
wandering. "I am not--I am troubled this morning." And after a
fashion he had when he was not at his ease, he ground his heel
into the soil and looked down at the mark. "The queen is not
well. Sillery has seen her, and will tell you so."
M. de Sillery, whose constant opposition to me at the council-
board I have elsewhere described, began to affirm it. I let him
go on for a little time, and then interrupted him brusquely. "I
think it was you," I said, "who nominated Ferret to be one of the
"Ferret?" he exclaimed, reddening at my tone, while the King,
who knew me well, pricked up his ears.
"Yes," I said; "Ferret."
"And if so?" Sillery asked, haughtily. "What do you mean?"
"Only this," I said. "That if his Majesty will summon him to the
queen's closet, without warning or delay, and ask him in her
presence how much Madame de Verneuil gave him for the King's
cipher, her Majesty, I think, will learn something which she
wishes to know."
"What?" the King cried. "You have discovered it? But he gave
you a receipt for the papers he took."
"For the papers he took with my knowledge--yes, sire."
"The rogue!" Sillery exclaimed viciously. "I will go and fetch
"Not so--with your Majesty's leave," I said, interposing quickly.
"M. de Sillery may say too much or too little. Let a lackey take
a message, bidding him go to the queen's closet, and he will
The King assented, and bade me go and give the order. When I
returned, he asked me anxiously if I felt sure that the man would
"Yes, if you pretend to know all, sire," I answered. "He will
think that Madame has betrayed him."
"Very well," Henry said. "Then let us go."
But I declined to be present; partly on the ground that if I were
there the queen might suspect me of inspiring the man, and partly
because I thought that the rogue would entertain a more confident
hope of pardon, and be more likely to confess, if he saw the King
alone. I contrived to keep Sillery also; and Henry giving the
word, as he mounted the steps, that he should be back presently,
the whole Court remained in a state of suspense, aware that
something was in progress but in doubt what, and unable to decide
whether I were again in favour or now on my trial.
Sillery remained talking to me, principally on English matters,
until the dinner hour; which came and went, neglected by all. At
length, when the curiosity of the mass of courtiers, who did not
dare to interrupt us, had been raised by delay to an almost
intolerable pitch, the King returned, with signs of disorder in
his bearing; and, crossing the terrace in half a dozen strides,
drew me hastily, along with Sillery, into the grove of white
mulberry trees. There we were no sooner hidden in part, though
not completely, than he threw his arms about me and embraced me
with the warmest expressions. "Ah, my friend," he said, putting
me from him at last, "what shall I say to you?"
"The queen is satisfied, sire?"
"Perfectly; and desires to be commended to you."
"He confessed, then?"
Henry nodded, with a look in his face that I did not understand.
"Yes," he said, "fully. It was as you thought, my friend. God
have mercy upon him!"
I started. "What?" I said. "Has he--"
The King nodded, and could not repress a shudder. "Yes," he
said; "but not, thank Heaven, until he had left the closet. He
had something about him."
Sillery began anxiously to clear himself; but the King, with his
usual good nature, stopped him, and bade us all go and dine,
saying that we must be famished. He ended by directing me to be
back in an hour, since his own appetite was spoiled. "And bring
with you all your patience," he added, "for I have a hundred
questions to ask you. We will walk towards Avon, and I will show
you the surprise which I am preparing for the queen."
Alas, I would I could say that all ended there. But the rancour
of which Madame de Verneuil had given token in her interview with
me was rather aggravated than lessened by the failure of her plot
and the death of her tool. It proved to be impenetrable by all
the kindnesses which the King lavished upon her; neither the
legitimation of the child which she soon afterwards bore, nor the
clemency which the King--against the advice of his wisest
ministers extended to her brother Auvergne, availing to expel it
from her breast. How far she or that ill-omened family were
privy to the accursed crime which, nine years later, palsied
France on the threshold of undreamed-of glories, I will not take
on myself to say; for suspicion is not proof. But history, of
which my beloved master must ever form so great a part, will lay
the blame where it should rest.
VI. THE MAN OF MONCEAUX.
In the month of August of this year the King found some
alleviation of the growing uneasiness which his passion for
Madame de Conde occasioned him in a visit to Monceaux, where he
spent two weeks in such diversions as the place afforded. He
invited me to accompany him, but on my representing that I could
not there--so easily as in my own closet, where I had all the
materials within reach--prepare the report which he had commanded
me to draw up, he directed me to remain in Paris until it was
ready, and then to join him.
This report which he was having written, not only for his own
satisfaction but for the information of his heir, took the form
of a recital of all the causes and events, spread over many
years, which had induced him to take in hand the Great Design;
together with a succinct account of the munitions and treasures
which he had prepared to carry it out. As it included many
things which were unknown beyond the council, and some which he
shared only with me--and as, in particular, it enumerated the
various secret alliances and agreements which he had made with
the princes of North Germany, whom a premature discovery must
place at the Emperor's mercy--it was necessary that I should draw
up the whole with my own hand, and with the utmost care and
precaution. This I did; and that nothing might be wanting to a
memorial which I regarded with justice as the most important of
the many State papers which it had fallen to my lot; to prepare,
I spent seven days in incessant labour upon it. It was not,
therefore, until the third week in August: that I was free to
travel to Monceaux.
I found my quarters assigned to me in a pavilion called the
Garden House; and, arriving at supper time, sat down with my
household with more haste and less ceremony than was my wont.
The same state of things prevailed, I suppose, in the kitchen;
for we had not been seated half an hour when a great hubbub arose
in the house, and the servants rushing in cried out that a fire
had broken out below, and that the house was in danger of
In such emergencies I take it to be the duty of a man of standing
to bear himself with as much dignity as is consistent with
vigour; and neither to allow himself to be carried away by the
outcry and disorder of the crowd, nor to omit any direction that
may avail. On this occasion, however, my first thought was given
to the memorial I had prepared for the King; which I remembered
had been taken with other books and papers to a room over the
kitchen. I lost not a moment, therefore, in sending Maignan for
it; nor until I held it safely in my hand did I feel myself at
liberty to think of the house. When I did, I found that the
alarm exceeded the danger; a few buckets of water extinguished a
beam in the chimney which had caught fire, and in a few moments
we were able to resume the meal with the added vivacity which
such an event gave to the conversation. It has never been my
custom to encourage too great freedom at my table; but as the
company consisted, with a single exception, of my household, and
as this person--a Monsieur de Vilain, a young gentleman, the
cousin of one of my wife's maids-of-honour--showed himself
possessed of modesty as well as wit, I thought that the time
excused a little relaxation.
This was the cause of the misfortune which followed, and bade
fair to place me in a position of as great difficulty as I have
ever known; for, having in my good humour dismissed the servants,
I continued to talk for an hour or more with Vilain and some of
my gentlemen; the result being that I so far forgot myself, when
I rose, as to leave the report where I had laid it on the table.
In the passage I met a man whom the King had sent to inquire
about the fire; and thus reminded of the papers I turned back to
the room; greatly vexed with myself for negligence which in a
subordinate I should have severely rebuked, but never doubting
that I should find the packet where I had left it.
To my chagrin the paper was gone. Still I could not believe that
it had been stolen, and supposing that Maignan or one of my
household had seen it and taken it to my closet, I repaired
thither in haste. I found Maignan already there, with M.
Boisrueil, one of my gentlemen, who was waiting to ask a favour;
but they knew nothing of the report, and though I sent them down
forthwith, with directions to make strict but quiet inquiry, they
returned at the end of half an hour with long faces and no news.
Then I grew seriously alarmed; and reflecting on the many
important secrets which the memorial contained, whereof a
disclosure must spoil plans so long and sedulously prepared, I
found myself brought on a sudden face to face with disaster. I
could not imagine how the King, who had again and again urged on
me the utmost precaution, would take such a catastrophe; nor how
I should make it known to him. For a moment, therefore, while I
listened to the tale, I felt the hair rise on my head and a
shiver descend my back; nor was it without an uncommon effort
that I retained my coolness and composure.
Plainly no steps in such a position could be too stringent. I
sent Maignan with an order to close all the doors and let no one
pass out. Then I made sure that none of the servants had entered
the room, between the time of my rising and return; and this
narrowed the tale of those who could have taken the packet to
eleven, that being the number of persons who had sat down with
me. But having followed the matter so far, I came face to face
with this difficulty: that all the eleven were, with one
exception, in my service and in various ways pledged to my
interests, so that I could not conceive even the possibility of a
betrayal by them in a matter so important.
I confess, at this, the perspiration rose upon my brow; for the
paper was gone. Still, there remained one stranger; and though
it seemed scarcely less difficult to suspect him, since he could
have no knowledge of the importance of the document, and could
not have anticipated that I should leave it in his power, I found
in that the only likely solution. He was one of the Vilains of
Pareil by Monceaux, his father living on the edge of the park,
little more than a thousand yards from the chateau; and I knew no
harm of him. Still, I knew little; and for that reason was
forward to believe that there, rather than in my own household,
lay the key to the enigma.
My suspicions were not lessened when I discovered that he alone
of the party at table had left the house before the doors were
closed; and for a moment I was inclined to have him followed and
seized. But I could scarcely take a step so decisive without
provoking inquiry; and I dared not at this stage let the King
know of my negligence. I found myself, therefore, brought up
short, in a state of exasperation and doubt difficult to
describe; and the most minute search within the house and the
closest examination of all concerned failing to provide the
slightest clue, I had no alternative but to pass the night in
On the morrow a third search seeming still the only resource, and
proving as futile as the others, I ordered La Trape and two or
three in whom I placed the greatest confidence to watch their
fellows, and report anything in their bearing or manner that
seemed to be out of the ordinary course; while I myself went to
wait; on the King, and parry his demand for the memorial as well
as I could. This it was necessary to do without provoking
curiosity; and as the lapse of each minute made the pursuit of
the paper less hopeful and its recovery a thing to pray for
rather than expect, it will be believed that I soon found the
aspect of civility which I was obliged to wear so great a trial
of my patience, that I made an excuse and retired early to my
Here my wife, who shared my anxiety, met me with a face full of
meaning. I cried out to know if they had found the paper.
"No," she answered; "but if you will come into your closet I will
tell you what I have learned."
I went in with her, and she told me briefly that the manner of
Mademoiselle de Mars, one of her maids, had struck her as
suspicious. The girl had begun to cry while reading to her; and
when questioned had been able to give no explanation of her
"She is Vilain's cousin?" I said.
"Bring her to me," I said. "Bring her to me without the delay of
My wife hastened to comply; and whatever had been the girl's
state earlier, before the fright of this hasty summons had upset
her, her agitation when thus confronted with me gave me, before a
word was spoken, the highest hopes that I had here the key to the
mystery. I judged that it might be necessary to frighten her
still more, and I started by taking a harsh tone with her; but
before I had said many words she obviated the necessity of this
by falling at my wife's feet and protesting that she would tell
"Then speak quickly, wench!" I said. "You know where the paper
"I know who has it!" she answered, in a voice choked with sobs.
"My cousin, M. de Vilain."
"Ha! and has taken it to his house?"
But she seemed for a moment unable to answer this; her distress
being such that my wife had to fetch a vial of pungent salts to
restore her before she could say more. At length she found voice
to tell us that M. de Vilain had taken the paper, and was this
evening to hand it to an agent of the Spanish ambassador.
"But, girl," I said sternly, "how do you know this?"
Then she confessed that the cousin was also the lover, and had
before employed her to disclose what went on in my household, and
anything of value that could be discovered there. Doubtless the
girl, for whom my wife, in spite of her occasional fits of
reserve and temper, entertained no little liking, enjoyed many
opportunities of prying; and would have continued still to serve
him had not this last piece of villainy, with the stir which it
caused in the house and the rigorous punishment to be expected in
the event of discovery, proved too much for her nerves. Hence
this burst of confession; which once allowed to flow, ran on
almost against her will. Nor did I let her pause to consider the
full meaning of what she was saying until I had learned that
Vilain was to meet the ambassador's agent an hour after sunset at
the east end of a clump of trees which stood in the park; and
being situate between his, Vilain's, residence and the chateau,
formed a convenient place for such a transaction.
"He will have it about him?" I said.
She sobbed a moment, but presently confessed. "Yes; or it will
be in the hollow of the most easterly tree. He was to leave it
there, if the agent could not keep the appointment."
"Good!" I said; and then, having assured myself by one or two
questions of that, of which her state of distress and agitation
left me in little doubt--namely, that she was telling the truth
--I committed her to my wife's care; bidding the Duchess lock her
up in a safe place upstairs, and treat her to bread and water
until I had taken the steps necessary to prove the fact, and
secure the paper.
After this--but I should be tedious were I to describe the
alternations of hope and fear in which I passed the period of
suspense. Suffice it that I informed no one, not even Maignan,
of what I had discovered, but allowed those in the secret of the
loss still to pursue their efforts; while I, by again attending
the Court, endeavoured at once to mitigate the King's impatience
and persuade the world that all was well. A little before the
appointed time, however I made a pretext to rise from supper, and
quietly calling out Boisrueil, bade him bring four of the men,
armed, and Maignan and La Trape. With this small body I made my
way out by a private door, and crossed the park to the place
Mademoiselle had, indicated.
Happily, night had already begun to close in, and the rendezvous
was at the farther side of the clump of trees. Favoured by these
circumstances, we were able to pass round the thicket--some on
one side and some on the other---without noise or disturbance;
and fortunate enough, having arrived at the place, to discover a
man walking uneasily up and down on the very spot where we
expected to find him. The evening was so far advanced that it
was not possible to be sure that the man was Vilain; but as all
depended on seizing him before he had any communication with the
Spanish agent, I gave the signal, and two of my men, springing on
him from either side, in a moment bore him to the ground and
He proved to be Vilain, so that, when he was brought face to face
with me, I was much less surprised than he affected to be. He
played the part of an ignorant so well, indeed, that, for a
moment, I was staggered by his show of astonishment, and by the
earnestness with which he denounced the outrage; nor could
Maignan find anything on him. But, a moment later, remembering
the girl's words, I strode to the nearest tree, and, groping
about it, in a twinkling unearthed the paper from a little hollow
in the trunk that seemed to have been made to receive it. I need
not say with what relief I found the seals unbroken; nor with
what indignation I turned on the villain thus convicted of an act
of treachery towards the King only less black than the sin
against hospitality of which he had been guilty in my house. But
the discovery I had made seemed enough of itself to overwhelm
him; for, after standing apparently stunned while I spoke, he
jerked himself suddenly out of his captors' hands, and made a
desperate attempt to escape. Finding this hopeless, and being
seized again before he had gone four paces, he shouted, at the
top of his voice: "Back! back! Go back!"