Part 4 out of 4
drop of moisture, sliding down the great chimney, pattered among
them. The main door stood open, as if the house had no longer
anything to guard. The only living thing to be seen was a hound
which roamed about restlessly, now gazing at the empty hearth now
lying down with pricked cars and watchful eyes. Some leaves,
which had been blown in by the wind, rustled in a corner.
I went out moodily into the garden and wandered down one path and
up another, looking at the dripping woods, and remembering
things, until I came to the stone seat. On it, against the wall,
trickling with raindrops, and with a dead leaf half filling its
narrow neck, stood the pitcher of food. I thought how much had
happened since Mademoiselle took her hand from it and the
sergeant's lanthorn disclosed it to me; and, sighing grimly, I
went in again through the parlour door.
A woman was on her knees, on the hearth kindling the belated
fire. She had her back to me, and I stood a moment looking at
her doubtfully, wondering how she would bear herself and what she
would say to me. Then she turned, and I started back, crying out
her name in horror--for it was Madame! Madame de Cocheforet!
She was plainly dressed, and her childish face was wan and
piteous with weeping; but either the night had worn out her
passion and drained her tears, or some great exigency had given
her temporary calmness, for she was perfectly composed. She
shivered as her eyes met mine, and she blinked as if a bright
light had been suddenly thrust before her; but that was all, and
she turned again to her task without speaking.
'Madame! Madame!" I cried in a frenzy of distress. 'What is
'The servants would not do it,' she answered in a low but steady
voice. 'You are still our guest, Monsieur.'
'But I cannot suffer it!' I cried. 'Madame de Cocheforet, I
She raised her hand with a strange patient expression in her
'Hush! please,' she said. 'Hush! you trouble me.'
The fire blazed up as she spoke, and she rose slowly from it, and
with a lingering look at it went out, leaving me to stand and
stare and listen in the middle of the floor. Presently I heard
her coming back along the passage, and she entered bearing a tray
with wine and meat and bread. She set it down on the table, and
with the same wan face, trembling always on the verge of tears,
she began to lay out the things. The glasses clinked fitfully
against the plates as she handled them; the knives jarred with
one another. And I stood by, trembling myself; and endured this
strange kind of penance.
She signed to me at last to sit down; and she went herself, and
stood in the garden doorway with her back to me. I obeyed. I
sat down. But though I had eaten nothing since the afternoon of
the day before, I could not swallow. I fumbled with my knife,
and drank; and grew hot and angry at this farce; and then looked
through the window at the dripping bushes, and the rain and the
distant sundial--and grew cold again.
Suddenly she turned round and came to my side. 'You do not eat,'
I threw down my knife, and sprang up in a frenzy of passion.
'MON DIEU! Madame,' I cried, 'do you think that I have NO
And then in a moment I knew what I had done, what a folly I had
committed. For in a moment she was on her knees on the floor,
clasping my knees, pressing her wet cheeks to my rough clothes,
crying to me for mercy--for life! life! his life! Oh, it was
horrible! It was horrible to hear her gasping voice, to see her
fair hair falling over my mud-stained boots, to mark her slender
little form convulsed with sobs, to feel that it was a woman, a
gentlewoman, who thus abased herself at my feet!
'Oh, Madame! Madame!' I cried in my pain, 'I beg you to rise.
Rise, or I must go!'
'His life! only his life!' she moaned passionately. 'What had
he done to you--that you should hunt him down? what have we done
to you that you should slay us? Oh! have mercy! Have mercy!
Let him go, and we will pray for you, I and my sister will pray
for you, every morning and night of our lives.'
I was in terror lest someone should come and see her lying there,
and I stooped and tried to raise her. But she only sank the
lower, until her tender little hands touched the rowels of my
spurs. I dared not move, At last I took a sudden resolution.
'Listen, then, Madame!' I said almost sternly, 'if you will not
rise. You forget everything, both how I stand, and how small my
power is! You forget that if I were to release your husband to-
day he would be seized within the hour by those who are still in
the village and who are watching every road--who have not ceased
to suspect my movements and my intentions. You forget, I say my
She cut me short on that word. She sprang to her feet and faced
me. One moment more and I should have said something to the
purpose. But at that word she stood before me, white,
breathless, dishevelled, struggling for speech.
'Oh, yes, yes!' she panted eagerly. 'I know--I know!' And she
thrust her hand into her bosom and plucked something out and gave
it to me--forced it upon me. 'I know--I know!' she said again.
'Take it, and God reward you, Monsieur! God reward you! We give
it freely--freely and thankfully!'
I stood and looked at her and it; and slowly I froze. She had
given me the packet--the packet I had restored to Mademoiselle--
the parcel of jewels. I weighed it in my hands, and my heart
grew hard again, for I knew that this was Mademoiselle's doing;
that it was she who, mistrusting the effect of Madame's tears and
prayers, had armed her with this last weapon--this dirty bribe.
I flung it down on the table among the plates.
'Madame!' I cried ruthlessly, all my pity changed to anger, 'you
mistake me altogether! I have heard hard words enough in the
last twenty-four hours, and I know what you think of me! But you
have yet to learn that I have never done one thing. I have never
turned traitor to the hand that employed me, nor sold my own
side! When I do so for a treasure ten times the worth of that,
may my hand rot off!'
She sank on a seat with a moan of despair; and precisely at that
moment M. de Cocheforet opened the door and came in. Over his
shoulder I had a glimpse of Mademoiselle's proud face, a little
whiter than of yore, with dark marks under the eyes, but like
Satan's for coldness.
'What is this?' he said, frowning, as his eyes lighted on
'It is--that we start at eleven o'clock, Monsieur,' I answered,
bowing curtly. And I went out by the other door.
. . . . .
That I might not be present at their parting I remained in the
garden until the hour I had appointed was well past; and then,
without entering the house, I went to the stable entrance. Here
I found all in readiness, the two troopers whose company I had
requisitioned as far as Auch, already in the saddle, my own two
knaves waiting with my sorrel and M. de Cocheforet's chestnut.
Another horse was being led up and down by Louis, and, alas! my
heart moved at the sight, for it bore a lady's saddle. We were
to have company then. Was it Madame who meant to come with us,
or Mademoiselle? And how far? To Auch?
I suppose that they had set some kind of a watch on me, for as I
walked up M. de Cocheforet and his sister came out of the house;
he with a pale face and bright eyes, and a twitching visible in
his cheek--though he still affected a jaunty bearing; she wearing
a black mask.
'Mademoiselle accompanies us?' I said formally.
'With your permission, Monsieur,' he answered with bitter
politeness. But I saw that he was choking with emotion; he had
just parted from his wife, and I turned away.
When we were all mounted he looked at me.
'Perhaps--as you have my parole, you will permit me to ride
alone?' he said with a little hesitation. 'And--'
'Without me!' I rejoined keenly. 'Assuredly, so far as is
Accordingly I directed the troopers to ride before him, keeping
out of earshot, while my two men followed him at a little
distance with their carbines on their knees. Last of all, I rode
myself with my eyes open and a pistol loose in my holster. M. de
Cocheforet muttered a sneer at so many precautions and the
mountain made of his request; but I had not done so much and come
so far, I had not faced scorn and insults to be cheated of my
prize at last; and aware that until we were beyond Auch there
must be hourly and pressing danger of a rescue, I was determined
that he who should wrest my prisoner from me should pay dearly
for it. Only pride, and, perhaps, in a degree also, appetite for
a fight, had prevented me borrowing ten troopers instead of two.
As was wont I looked with a lingering eye and many memories at
the little bridge, the narrow woodland path, the first roofs of
the village; all now familiar, all seen for the last time. Up
the brook a party of soldiers were dragging for the captain's
body. A furlong farther on, a cottage, burned by some
carelessness in the night, lay a heap of black ashes. Louis ran
beside us weeping; the last brown leaves fluttered down in
showers. And between my eyes and all, the slow steady rain fell
and fell. And so I left Cocheforet.
Louis went with us to a point a mile beyond the village, and
there stood and saw us go, cursing me furiously as I passed.
Looking back when we had ridden on, I still saw him standing, and
after a moment's hesitation I rode back to him.
'Listen, fool!' I said, cutting him short in the midst of his
mowing and snarling, 'and give this message to your mistress.
Tell her from me that it will be with her husband as it was with
M. de Regnier, when he fell into the hands of his enemy--no
better and no worse.'
'You want to kill her, too, I suppose?' he answered glowering at
'No, fool, I want to save her,' I retorted wrathfully. 'Tell her
that, just that and no more, and you will see the result.'
'I shall not,' he said sullenly. 'A message from you indeed!'
And he spat on the ground.
'Then on your head be it,' I answered solemnly, And I turned my
horse's head and galloped fast after the others. But I felt sure
that he would report what I had said, if it were only out of
curiosity; and it would be strange if Madame, a gentlewoman of
the south, bred among old family traditions, did not understand
And so we began our journey; sadly, under dripping trees and a
leaden sky. The country we had to traverse was the same I had
trodden on the last day of my march southwards, but the passage
of a month had changed the face of everything. Green dells,
where springs welling out of the chalk had once made of the leafy
bottom a fairies' home, strewn with delicate ferns and hung with
mosses, were now swamps into which our horses sank to the
fetlock. Sunny brews, whence I had viewed the champaign and
traced my forward path, had become bare, wind-swept ridges. The
beech woods that had glowed with ruddy light were naked now; mere
black trunks and rigid arms pointing to heaven. An earthy smell
filled the air; a hundred paces away a wall of mist closed the
view. We plodded on sadly up hill and down hill, now fording
brooks, already stained with flood-water, now crossing barren
heaths. But up hill or down hill, whatever the outlook, I was
never permitted to forget that I was the jailor, the ogre, the
villain; that I, riding behind in my loneliness, was the blight
on all--the death-spot. True, I was behind the others--I escaped
their eyes. But there was not a line of Mademoiselle's figure
that did not speak scorn to me; not a turn of head that did not
seem to say, 'Oh, God, that such a thing should breathe.'
I had only speech with her once during the day, and that was on
the last ridge before we went down into the valley to climb up
again to Auch. The rain had ceased; the sun, near its setting,
shone faintly; for a few moments we stood on the brow and looked
southwards while we breathed the horses. The mist lay like a
pall on the country we had traversed; but beyond and above it,
gleaming pearl-like in the level rays, the line of the mountains
stood up like a land of enchantment, soft, radiant, wonderful!--
or like one of those castles on the Hill of Glass of which the
old romances tell us. I forgot for an instant how we were
placed, and I cried to my neighbour that it was the fairest
pageant I had ever seen.
She--it was Mademoiselle, and she had taken off her mask--cast
one look at me in answer; only one, but it conveyed disgust and
loathing so unspeakable that scorn beside them would have been a
gift. I reined in my horse as if she had struck me, and felt
myself go first hot and then cold under her eyes. Then she
looked another way.
But I did not forget the lesson; and after that I avoided her
more sedulously than before. We lay that night at Auch, and I
gave M. de Cocheforet the utmost liberty, even permitting him to
go out and return at his will. In the morning, believing that on
the farther side of Auch we ran little risk of attack, I
dismissed the two dragoons, and an hour after sunrise we set out
again. The day was dry and cold, the weather more promising. I
proposed to go by way of Lectoure, crossing the Garonne at Agen;
and I thought that, with roads continually improving as we moved
northwards, we should be able to make good progress before night.
My two men rode first, I came last by myself.
Our way lay down the valley of the Gers, under poplars and by
long rows of willows, and presently the sun came out and warmed
us. Unfortunately the rain of the day before had swollen the
brooks which crossed our path, and we more than once had a
difficulty in fording them. Noon found us little more than half
way to Lectoure, and I was growing each minute more impatient
when our road, which had for a little while left the river bank,
dropped down to it again, and I saw before us another crossing,
half ford half slough. My men tried it gingerly and gave back
and tried it again in another place; and finally, just as
Mademoiselle and her brother came up to them, floundered through
and sprang slantwise up the farther bank.
The delay had been long enough to bring me, with no good will of
my own, close upon the Cocheforets. Mademoiselle's horse made a
little business of the place, and in the result we entered the
water almost together; and I crossed close on her heels. The
bank on either side was steep; while crossing we could see
neither before nor behind. But at the moment I thought nothing
of this nor of her delay; and I was following her quite at my
leisure and picking my way, when the sudden report of a carbine,
a second report, and a yell of alarm in front thrilled me
On the instant, while the sound was still in my ears, I saw it
all. Like a hot iron piercing my brain the truth flashed into my
mind. We were attacked! We were attacked, and I was here
helpless in this pit, this trap! The loss of a second while I
fumbled here, Mademoiselle's horse barring the way, might be
There was but one way. I turned my horse straight at the steep
bank, and he breasted it. One moment he hung as if he must fall
back. Then, with a snort of terror and a desperate bound, he
topped it, and gained the level, trembling and snorting.
Seventy paces away on the road lay one of my men. He had fallen,
horse and man, and lay still. Near him, with his back against a
bank, stood his fellow, on foot, pressed by four horsemen, and
shouting. As my eye lighted on the scene he let fly with a
carbine, and dropped one. I clutched a pistol from my holster
and seized my horse by the head. I might save the man yet, I
shouted to him to encourage him, and was driving in my spurs to
second my voice, when a sudden vicious blow, swift and
unexpected, struck the pistol from my hand.
I made a snatch at it as it fell, but missed it, and before I
could recover myself, Mademoiselle thrust her horse furiously
against mine, and with her riding-whip lashed the sorrel across
the ears. As the horse reared up madly, I had a glimpse of her
eyes flashing hate through her mask; of her hand again uplifted;
the next moment, I was down in the road, ingloriously unhorsed,
the sorrel was galloping away, and her horse, scared in its turn,
was plunging unmanageably a score of paces from me.
But for that I think that she would have trampled on me. As it
was, I was free to rise, and draw, and in a twinkling was running
towards the fighters. All had happened in a few seconds. My man
was still defending himself, the smoke of the carbine had
scarcely risen. I sprang across a fallen tree that intervened,
and at the same moment two of the men detached themselves and
rode to meet me. One, whom I took to be the leader, was masked.
He came furiously at me to ride me down, but I leaped aside
nimbly, and, evading him, rushed at the other, and scaring his
horse, so that he dropped his point, cut him across the shoulder,
before he could guard himself. He plunged away, cursing and
trying to hold in his horse, and I turned to meet the masked man.
'You villain!' he cried, riding at me again. This time he
manoeuvred his horse so skilfully that I was hard put to it to
prevent him knocking me down; while I could not with all my
efforts reach him to hurt him. 'Surrender, will you?' he cried,
I wounded him slightly in the knee for answer; before I could do
more his companion came back, and the two set upon me, slashing
at my head so furiously and towering above me with so great an
advantage that it was all I could do to guard it. I was soon
glad to fall back against the bank. In this sort of conflict my
rapier would have been of little use, but fortunately I had armed
myself before I left Paris with a cut-and-thrust sword for the
road; and though my mastery of the weapon was not on a par with
my rapier play, I was able to fend off their cuts, and by an
occasional prick keep the horses at a distance. Still, they
swore and cut at me; and it was trying work. A little delay
might enable the other man to come to their help, or
Mademoiselle, for all I knew, might shoot me with my own pistol.
I was unfeignedly glad when a lucky parade sent the masked man's
sword flying across the road. On that he pushed his horse
recklessly at me, spurring it without mercy; but the animal,
which I had several times touched, reared up instead, and threw
him at the very moment that I wounded his companion a second time
in the arm, and made him give back.
The scene was now changed. The man in the mask staggered to his
feet, and felt stupidly for a pistol. But he could not find one,
and he was in no state to use it if he had. He reeled helplessly
to the bank and leaned against it. The man I had wounded was in
scarcely better condition. He retreated before me, but in a
moment, losing courage, let drop his sword, and, wheeling round,
cantered off, clinging to his pommel. There remained only the
fellow engaged with my man, and I turned to see how they were
getting on. They were standing to take breath, so I ran towards
them; but on seeing me coming, this rascal, too, whipped round
his horse and disappeared in the wood, and left us victors.
The first thing I did--and I remember it to this day with
pleasure--was to plunge my hand into my pocket, take out half of
all the money I had in the world, and press it on the man who had
fought for me so stoutly. In my joy I could have kissed him! It
was not only that I had escaped defeat by the skin of my teeth--
and his good sword; but I knew, and felt, and thrilled with the
knowledge, that the fight had, in a sense, redeemed my character.
He was wounded in two places, and I had a scratch or two, and had
lost my horse; and my other poor fellow was dead as a herring.
But, speaking for myself, I would have spent half the blood in my
body to purchase the feeling with which I turned back to speak to
M. de Cocheforet and his sister. Mademoiselle had dismounted,
and with her face averted and her mask pushed on one side, was
openly weeping. Her brother, who had faithfully kept his place
by the ford from the beginning of the fight to the end, met me
with raised eyebrows and a peculiar smile.
'Acknowledge my virtue,' he said airily. 'I am here, M. de
Berault; which is more than can be said of the two gentlemen who
have just ridden off.'
'Yes,' I answered with a touch of bitterness. 'I wish that they
had not shot my poor man before they went.'
He shrugged his shoulders.
'They were my friends,' he said. 'You must not expect me to
blame them. But that is not all, M. de Berault.'
'No,' I said, wiping my sword. 'There is this gentleman in the
mask.' And I turned to go towards him.
'M. de Berault!' Cocheforet called after me, his tone strained
I stood. 'Pardon?' I said, turning,
'That gentleman?' he said, hesitating and looking at me
doubtfully. 'Have you considered what will happen to him if you
give him up to the authorities?'
'Who is he?' I asked sharply.
'That is rather a delicate question,' he answered frowning.
'Not for me,' I replied brutally, 'since he is in my power. If
he will take off his mask I shall know better what I intend to do
The stranger had lost his hat in his fall, and his fair hair,
stained with dust, hung in curls on his shoulders. He was a tall
man, of a slender, handsome presence, and, though his dress was
plain and almost rough, I espied a splendid jewel on his hand,
and fancied that I detected other signs of high quality. He
still lay against the bank in a half-swooning condition, and
seemed unconscious of my scrutiny.
'Should I know him if he unmasked?' I said suddenly, a new idea
in my head.
'You would,' M. de Cocheforet answered.
'It would be bad for everyone.'
'Ho! ho!' I replied softly, looking hard first at my old
prisoner, and then at my new one. 'Then--what do you wish me to
'Leave him here!' M. de Cocheforet answered, his face flushed,
the pulse in his cheek beating.
I had known him for a man of perfect honour before, and trusted
him. But this evident earnest anxiety on behalf of his friend
touched me not a little. Besides, I knew that I was treading on
slippery ground: that it behoved me to be careful.
'I will do it,' I said after a moment's reflection. 'He will
play me no tricks, I suppose? A letter of--'
'MON DIEU, no! He will understand,' Cocheforet answered eagerly.
'You will not repent it. Let us be going.'
'Well, but my horse?' I said, somewhat taken aback by this
extreme haste. 'How am I to--'
'We shall overtake it,' he assured me. 'It will have kept the
road. Lectoure is no more than a league from here, and we can
give orders there to have these two fetched and buried.'
I had nothing to gain by demurring, and so, after another word or
two, it was arranged. We picked up what we had dropped, M. de
Cocheforet helped his sister to mount, and within five minutes we
were gone. Casting a glance back from the skirts of the wood I
fancied that I saw the masked man straighten himself and turn to
look after us, but the leaves were beginning to intervene, the
distance may have cheated me. And yet I was not indisposed to
think the unknown a trifle more observant, and a little less
seriously hurt, than he seemed.
AT THE FINGER-POST
Through all, it will have been noticed, Mademoiselle had not
spoken to me, nor said one word, good or bad. She had played her
part grimly, had taken defeat in silence if with tears, had tried
neither prayer nor defence nor apology. And the fact that the
fight was now over, and the scene left behind, made no difference
in her conduct. She kept her face studiously turned from me, and
affected to ignore my presence. I caught my horse feeding by the
roadside, a furlong forward, and mounted and fell into place
behind the two, as in the morning. And just as we had plodded on
then in silence we plodded on now; almost as if nothing had
happened; while I wondered at the unfathomable ways of women, and
marvelled that she could take part in such an incident and remain
Yet, though she strove to hide it, it had made a change in her.
Though her mask served her well it could not entirely hide her
emotions; and by-and-by I marked that her head drooped, that she
rode listlessly, that the lines of her figure were altered. I
noticed that she had flung away, or furtively dropped, her
riding-whip; and I began to understand that, far from the fight
having set me in my former place, to the old hatred of me were
now added shame and vexation on her own account; shame that she
had so lowered herself, even to save her brother, vexation that
defeat had been her only reward.
Of this I saw a sign at Lectoure, where the inn had but one
common room and we must all dine in company. I secured for them
a table by the fire, and leaving them standing by it, retired
myself to a smaller one near the door. There were no other
guests; which made the separation between us more marked. M. de
Cocheforet seemed to feel this. He shrugged his shoulders and
looked across the room at me with a smile half sad half comical.
But Mademoiselle was implacable. She had taken off her mask, and
her face was like stone. Once, only once during the meal, I saw
a change come over her. She coloured, I suppose at her thoughts,
until her face flamed from brow to chin. I watched the blush
spread and spread; and then she slowly and proudly turned her
shoulder to me and looked through the window at the shabby
I suppose that she and her brother had both built on this
attempt, which must have been arranged at Auch. For when we went
on in the afternoon, I marked a change in them. They rode like
people resigned to the worst. The grey realities of the
position, the dreary future began to hang like a mist before
their eyes, began to tinge the landscape with sadness, robbed
even the sunset of its colours. With each hour Monsieur's
spirits flagged and his speech became less frequent; until
presently when the light was nearly gone and the dusk was round
us the brother and sister rode hand in hand, silent, gloomy, one
at least of them weeping. The cold shadow of the Cardinal, of
Paris, of the scaffold fell on them, and chilled them. As the
mountains which they had known all their lives sank and faded
behind us, and we entered on the wide, low valley of the Garonne,
their hopes sank and faded also--sank to the dead level of
despair. Surrounded by guards, a mark for curious glances, with
pride for a companion, M. de Cocheforet could have borne himself
bravely; doubtless would bear himself bravely still when the end
came. But almost alone, moving forward through the grey evening
to a prison, with so many measured days before him, and nothing
to exhilarate or anger--in this condition it was little wonder if
he felt, and betrayed that he felt, the blood run slow in his
veins; if he thought more of the weeping wife and ruined home
which he had left behind him than of the cause in which he had
But God knows, they had no monopoly of gloom. I felt almost as
sad myself. Long before sunset the flush of triumph, the heat of
battle, which had warmed my heart at noon, were gone, giving
place to a chill dissatisfaction, a nausea, a despondency such as
I have known follow a long night at the tables. Hitherto there
had been difficulties to be overcome, risks to be run, doubts
about the end. Now the end was certain and very near; so near
that it filled all the prospect. One hour of triumph I might
have, and would have, and I hugged the thought of it as a gambler
hugs his last stake, planning the place and time and mode, and
trying to occupy myself wholly with it. But the price? Alas!
that too would intrude itself, and more frequently as the evening
waned; so that as I marked this or that thing by the road, which
I could recall passing on my journey south with thoughts so
different, with plans that now seemed so very, very old, I asked
myself grimly if this were really I; if this were Gil de Berault,
known at Zaton's, PREMIER JOUEUR, or some Don Quichotte from
Castille, tilting at windmills and taking barbers' bowls for
We reached Agen very late that evening, after groping our way
through a by-road near the river, set with holes and willow-
stools and frog-spawn--a place no better than a slough; so that
after it the great fires and lights at the Blue Maid seemed like
a glimpse of a new world, and in a twinkling put something of
life and spirits into two at least of us. There was queer talk
round the hearth here, of doings in Paris, of a stir against the
Cardinal with the Queen-mother at bottom, and of grounded
expectations that something might this time come of it. But the
landlord pooh-poohed the idea; and I more than agreed with him.
Even M. de Cocheforet, who was at first inclined to build on it,
gave up hope when he heard that it came only by way of Montauban;
whence--since its reduction the year before--all sort of CANARDS
against the Cardinal were always on the wing.
'They kill him about once a month,' our host said with a grin.
'Sometimes it is MONSIEUR is to prove a match for him, sometimes
CESAR MONSIEUR--the Duke of Vendome, you understand--and
sometimes the Queen-mother. But since M. de Chalais and the
Marshal made a mess of it and paid forfeit, I pin my faith to his
Eminence--that is his new title, they tell me.'
'Things are quiet round here?' I asked.
'Perfectly. Since the Languedoc business came to an end, all
goes well,' he answered.
Mademoiselle had retired on our arrival, so that her brother and
I were for an hour or two this evening thrown together. I left
him at liberty to separate himself from me if he pleased, but he
did not use the opportunity. A kind of comradeship, rendered
piquant by our peculiar relations, had begun to spring up between
us. He seemed to take an odd pleasure in my company, more than
once rallied me on my post of jailor, would ask humorously if he
might do this or that; and once even inquired what I should do if
he broke his parole.
'Or take it this way,' he continued flippantly, 'Suppose I had
struck you in the back this evening in that cursed swamp by the
river, M. de Berault? What then! PARDIEU, I am astonished at
myself that I did not do it. I could have been in Montauban
within twenty-four hours, and found fifty hiding-places and no
one the wiser.'
'Except your sister,' I said quietly.
He made a wry face. 'Yes,' he said, 'I am afraid that I must
have stabbed her too, to preserve my self-respect. You are
right.' And he fell into a reverie which held him for a few
minutes. Then I found him looking at me with a kind of frank
perplexity that invited question.
'What is it?' I said.
'You have fought a great many duels?'
'Yes,' I said.
'Did you ever strike a foul blow in one?'
'Never,' I answered. 'Why do you ask?'
'Well, because I--wanted to confirm an impression. To be frank,
M. de Berault, I seem to see in you two men.
'Yes, two men. One, the man who captured me; the other, the man
who let my friend go free to-day.'
'It surprised you that I let him go? That was prudence, M. de
Cocheforet,' I replied. 'I am an old gambler. I know when the
stakes are too high for me. The man who caught a lion in his
wolf-pit had no great catch.'
'No, that is true,' he answered smiling, 'And yet--I find two men
in your skin.'
'I daresay that there are two in most men's skins,' I answered
with a sigh. 'But not always together. Sometimes one is there,
and sometimes the other.'
'How does the one like taking up the other's work?' he asked
I shrugged my shoulders. 'That is as may be,' I said. 'You do
not take an estate without the debts.'
He did not answer for a moment, and I fancied that his thoughts
had reverted to his own case. But on a sudden he looked at me
again. 'Will you answer a question, M. de Berault?' he said
'Perhaps,' I replied.
'Then tell me--it is a tale I am sure worth the telling. What
was it that, in a very evil hour for me, sent you in search of
'My Lord Cardinal,' I answered
'I did not ask who,' he replied drily. 'I asked, what. You had
no grudge against me?'
'No knowledge of me?'
'Then what on earth induced you to do it? Heavens! man,' he
continued bluntly, and speaking with greater freedom than he had
before used, 'Nature never intended you for a tipstaff. What was
I rose. It was very late, and the room was empty, the fire low.
'I will tell you--to-morrow,' I said. 'I shall have something to
say to you then, of which that will be part.'
He looked at me in great astonishment, and with a little
suspicion. But I called for a light, and by going at once to
bed, cut short his questions. In the morning we did not meet
until it was time to start.
Those who know the south road to Agen, and how the vineyards rise
in terraces north of the town, one level of red earth above
another, green in summer, but in late autumn bare and stony, may
remember a particular place where the road, two leagues from the
town, runs up a steep hill. At the top of the hill four roads
meet; and there, plain to be seen against the sky, is a finger-
post indicating which way leads to Bordeaux, and which to old
tiled Montauban, and which to Perigueux.
This hill had impressed me greatly on my journey south; perhaps
because I had enjoyed from it my first extended view of the
Garonne Valley, and had there felt myself on the verge of the
south country where my mission lay. It had taken root in my
memory, so that I had come to look upon its bare rounded head,
with the guide-post and the four roads, as the first outpost of
Paris, as the first sign of return to the old life.
Now for two days I had been looking forward to seeing it again,
That long stretch of road would do admirably for something I had
in my mind. That sign-post, with the roads pointing north,
south, east, and west--could there be a better place for meetings
We came to the bottom of the ascent about an hour before noon, M.
de Cocheforet, Mademoiselle, and I. We had reversed the order of
yesterday, and I rode ahead; they came after at their leisure.
Now, at the foot of the hill I stopped, and letting Mademoiselle
pass on, detained M. de Cocheforet by a gesture.
'Pardon me, one moment,' I said. 'I want to ask a favour.'
He looked at me somewhat fretfully; with a gleam of wildness in
his eyes that betrayed how the iron was, little by little, eating
into his heart. He had started after breakfast as gaily as a
bridegroom, but gradually he had sunk below himself; and now he
had much ado to curb his impatience.
'Of me?' he said bitterly. 'What is it?'
'I wish to have a few words with Mademoiselle--alone,' I said.
'Alone?' he exclaimed in astonishment,
'Yes,' I replied, without blenching, though his face grew dark.
'For the matter of that, you can be within call all the time, if
you please. But I have a reason for wishing to ride a little way
'To tell her something?'
'Then you can tell it to me,' he retorted suspiciously.
'Mademoiselle, I will answer for it, has no desire to--'
'See me or speak to me? No,' I said. 'I can understand that.
Yet I want to speak to her.'
'Very well, you can speak in my presence,' he answered rudely.
'If that be all, let us ride on and join her.' And he made a
movement as if to do so.
'That will not do, M. de Cocheforet,' I said firmly, stopping him
with my hand. 'Let me beg you to be more complaisant. It is a
small thing I ask, a very small thing; but I swear to you that if
Mademoiselle does not grant it, she will repent it all her life.'
He looked at me, his face growing darker and darker.
'Fine words,' he said, with a sneer. 'Yet I fancy I understand
them.' And then with a passionate oath he broke out. 'But I
will not have it! I have not been blind, M. de Berault, and I
understand. But I will not have it. I will have no such Judas
bargain made. PARDIEU! do you think I could suffer it and show
my face again?'
'I don't know what you mean,' I said, restraining myself with
difficulty. I could have struck the fool.
'But I know what you mean,' he replied, in a tone of suppressed
rage. 'You would have her sell herself; sell herself to you to
save me. And you would have me stand by and see the thing done.
No, sir, never; never, though I go to the wheel. I will die a
gentleman, if I have lived a fool.'
'I think that you will do the one as certainly as you have done
the other,' I retorted in my exasperation. And yet I admired
'Oh, I am not quite a fool!' he cried, scowling at me. 'I have
used my eyes.'
'Then be good enough to favour me with your ears!' I answered
drily. 'For just a moment. And listen when I say that no such
bargain has ever crossed my mind. You were kind enough to think
well of me last night, M. de Cocheforet. Why should the mention
of Mademoiselle in a moment change your opinion? I wish simply
to speak to her. I have nothing to ask from her, nothing to
expect from her, either favour or anything else. What I say she
will doubtless tell you. CIEL man! what harm can I do to her,
in the road in your sight?'
He looked at me sullenly, his face still flushed, his eyes
'What do you want to say to her?' he asked jealously. He was
quite unlike himself. His airy nonchalance, his careless gaiety
'You know what I do not want to say to her, M. de Cocheforet,' I
answered. 'That should be enough.'
He glowered at me a moment, still ill content. Then, without a
word, be made me a gesture to go to her.
She had halted a score of paces away; wondering, doubtless, what
was on foot. I rode towards her. She wore her mask, so that I
missed the expression of her face as I approached; but the manner
in which she turned her horse's head uncompromisingly towards her
brother and looked past me was full of meaning. I felt the
ground suddenly cut from under me. I saluted her, trembling.
'Mademoiselle,' I said, 'will you grant me the privilege of your
company for a few minutes as we ride?'
'To what purpose?' she answered; surely, in the coldest voice in
which a woman ever spoke to a man.
'That I may explain to you a great many things you do not
understand,' I murmured.
'I prefer to be in the dark,' she replied. And her manner was
more cruel than her words.
'But, Mademoiselle,' I pleaded--I would not be discouraged--'you
told me one day, not so long ago, that you would never judge me
'Facts judge you, not I,' she answered icily. 'I am not
sufficiently on a level with you to be able to judge you--I thank
I shivered though the sun was on me, and the hollow where we
stood was warm.
'Still, once before you thought the same,' I exclaimed after a
pause, 'and afterwards you found that you had been wrong. It may
be so again, Mademoiselle.'
'Impossible,' she said.
That stung me.
'No,' I cried. 'It is not impossible. It is you who are
impossible. It is you who are heartless, Mademoiselle. I have
done much in the last three days to make things lighter for you,
much to make things more easy; now I ask you to do something in
return which can cost you nothing.'
'Nothing?' she answered slowly--and she looked at me; and her
eyes and her voice cut me as if they had been knives. 'Nothing?
Do you think, Monsieur, it costs me nothing to lose my self-
respect, as I do with every word I speak to you? Do you think it
costs me nothing to be here when I feel every look you cast upon
me an insult, every breath I take in your presence a
contamination? Nothing, Monsieur?' she continued with bitter
irony. 'Nay, something! But something which I could not hope to
make clear to you.'
I sat for a moment confounded, quivering with pain. It had been
one thing to feel that she hated and scorned me, to know that the
trust and confidence which she had begun to place in me were
transformed to loathing. It was another to listen to her hard,
pitiless words, to change colour under the lash of her gibing
tongue. For a moment I could not find voice to answer her. Then
I pointed to M. de Cocheforet.
'Do you love him?' I said hoarsely, roughly. The gibing tone
had passed from her voice to mine.
She did not answer.
'Because if you do you will let me tell my tale. Say no, but
once more, Mademoiselle--I am only human--and I go. And you will
repent it all your life.'
I had done better had I taken that tone from the beginning. She
winced, her head dropped, she seemed to grow smaller. All in a
moment, as it were, her pride collapsed.
'I will hear you,' she murmured.
'Then we will ride on, if you please,' I said keeping the
advantage I had gained. 'You need not fear. Your brother will
I caught hold of her rein and turned her horse, and she suffered
it without demur; and in a moment we were pacing side by side,
with the long straight road before us. At the end where it
topped the hill, I could see the finger-post, two faint black
lines against the sky. When we reached that--involuntarily I
checked my horse and made it move more slowly.
'Well, sir?' she said impatiently. And her figure shook as with
'It is a tale I desire to tell you, Mademoiselle,' I answered.
'Perhaps I may seem to begin a long way off, but before I end I
promise to interest you. Two months ago there was living in
Paris a man--perhaps a bad man--at any rate, by common report a
hard man; a man with a peculiar reputation.'
She turned on me suddenly, her eyes gleaming through her mask.
'Oh, Monsieur, spare me this!' she said, quietly scornful. 'I
will take it for granted.'
'Very well,' I replied steadfastly. 'Good or bad, he one day, in
defiance of the Cardinal's edict against duelling, fought with a
young Englishman behind St Jacques' Church. The Englishman had
influence, the person of whom I speak had none, and an
indifferent name; he was arrested, thrown into the Chatelet, cast
for death, left for days to face death. At last an offer was
made to him. If he would seek out and deliver up another man, an
outlaw with a price upon his head, he should himself go free.'
I paused and drew a deep breath. Then I continued, looking not
at her, but into the distance, and speaking slowly.
'Mademoiselle, it seems easy now to say what course he should
have chosen. It seems hard now to find excuses for him. But
there was one thing which I plead for him. The task he was asked
to undertake was a dangerous one. He risked, he knew that he
must risk, and the event proved him to be right, his life against
the life of this unknown man. And one thing more; time was
before him. The outlaw might be taken by another, might be
killed, might die, might--But there, Mademoiselle, we know what
answer this person made. He took the baser course, and on his
honour, on his parole, with money supplied to him, he went free;
free on the condition that he delivered up this other man.'
I paused again, but I did not dare to look at her; and after a
moment of silence I resumed.
'Some portion of the second half of the story you know,
Mademoiselle; but not all. Suffice it that this man came down to
a remote village, and there at risk, but, Heaven knows, basely
enough, found his way into his victim's home. Once there,
however, his heart began to fail him. Had he found the house
garrisoned by men, he might have pressed to his end with little
remorse. But he found there only two helpless loyal women; and I
say again that from the first hour of his entrance he sickened at
the work which he had in hand, the work which ill-fortune had
laid upon him. Still he pursued it. He had given his word; and
if there was one tradition of his race which this man had never
broken, it was that of fidelity to his side--to the man who paid
him. But he pursued it with only half his mind, in great misery,
if you will believe me; sometimes in agonies of shame.
Gradually, however, almost against his will, the drama worked
itself out before him, until he needed only one thing.
I looked at Mademoiselle, trembling. But her head was averted:
I could gather nothing from the outlines of her form; and I went
'Do not misunderstand me,' I said in a lower voice. 'Do not
misunderstand what I am going to say next. This is no love-
story; and can have no ending such as romancers love to set to
their tales. But I am bound to mention, Mademoiselle, that this
man who had lived almost all his life about inns and eating-
houses and at the gaming-tables met here for the first time for
years a good woman, and learned by the light of her loyalty and
devotion to see what his life had been, and what was the real
nature of the work he was doing. I think--nay, I know,' I
continued, 'that it added a hundredfold to his misery that when
he learned at last the secret he had come to surprise, he learned
it from her lips, and in such a way that, had he felt no shame,
Hell could have been no place for him. But in one thing I hope
she misjudged him. She thought, and had reason to think, that
the moment he knew her secret he went out, not even closing the
door, and used it. But the truth was that while her words were
still in his ears news came to him that others had the secret;
and had he not gone out on the instant and done what he did, and
forestalled them, M. de Cocheforet would have been taken, but by
Mademoiselle broke her long silence so suddenly that her horse
'Would to Heaven he had!' she wailed.
'Been taken by others?' I exclaimed, startled out of my false
'Oh, yes, yes!' she answered with a passionate gesture. 'Why
did you not tell me? Why did you not confess to me, sir, even at
the last moment? But, no more! No more!' she continued in a
piteous voice; and she tried to urge her horse forward. 'I have
heard enough. You are racking my heart, M. de Berault. Some day
I will ask God to give me strength to forgive you.'
'But you have not heard me out,' I said.
'I will hear no more,' she answered in a voice she vainly strove
to render steady. 'To what end? Can I say more than I have
said? Or did you think that I could forgive you now--with him
behind us going to his death? Oh, no, no!' she continued.
'Leave me! I implore you to leave me, sir. I am not well.'
She drooped over her horse's neck as she spoke, and began to weep
so passionately that the tears ran down her cheeks under her
mask, and fell and sparkled like dew on the mane; while her sobs
shook her so that I thought she must fall. I stretched out my
hand instinctively to give her help, but she shrank from me.
'No!' she gasped, between her sobs. 'Do not touch me. There is
too much between us.'
'Yet there must be one thing more between us,' I answered firmly.
'You must listen to me a little longer whether you will or no,
Mademoiselle: for the love you bear to your brother. There is
one course still open to me by which I may redeem my honour; and
it has been in my mind for some time back to take that course.
'To-day, I am thankful to say, I can take it cheerfully, if not
without regret; with a steadfast heart, if no light one.
Mademoiselle,' I continued earnestly, feeling none of the
triumph, none of the vanity, none of the elation I had foreseen,
but only simple joy in the joy I could give her, 'I thank God
that it IS still in my power to undo what I have done: that it
is still in my power to go back to him who sent me, and telling
him that I have changed my mind, and will bear my own burdens, to
pay the penalty.'
We were within a hundred paces of the top and the finger-post.
She cried out wildly that she did not understand. 'What is it
you--you--have just said?' she murmured. 'I cannot hear.' And
she began to fumble with the ribbon of her mask.
'Only this, Mademoiselle,' I answered gently. 'I give your
brother back his word, his parole. From this moment he is free
to go whither he pleases. Here, where we stand, four roads meet.
That to the right goes to Montauban, where you have doubtless
friends, and can lie hid for a time. Or that to the left leads
to Bordeaux, where you can take ship if you please. And in a
word, Mademoiselle,' I continued, ending a little feebly, 'I hope
that your troubles are now over.'
She turned her face to me--we had both come to a standstill--and
plucked at the fastenings of her mask. But her trembling fingers
had knotted the string, and in a moment she dropped her hand with
a cry of despair. 'But you? You?' she wailed in a voice so
changed that I should not have known it for hers. 'What will you
do? I do not understand, Monsieur.'
'There is a third road,' I answered. 'It leads to Paris. That
is my road, Mademoiselle. We part here.'
'But why?' she cried wildly.
'Because from to-day I would fain begin to be honourable,' I
answered in a low voice. 'Because I dare not be generous at
another's cost. I must go back whence I came.'
'To the Chatelet?' she muttered.
'Yes, Mademoiselle, to the Chatelet.'
She tried feverishly to raise her mask with her hand.
'I am not well,' she stammered. 'I cannot breathe.'
And she began to sway so violently in her saddle that I sprang
down, and, running round her horse's head, was just in time to
catch her as she fell. She was not quite unconscious then, for
as I supported her, she cried out,--
'Do not touch me! Do not touch me! You kill me with shame!'
But as she spoke she clung to me; and I made no mistake. Those
words made me happy. I carried her to the bank, my heart on
fire, and laid her against it just as M. de Cocheforet rode up.
He sprang from his horse, his eyes blazing, 'What is this?' he
cried. 'What have you been saying to her, man?'
'She will tell you,' I answered drily, my composure returning
under his eye. 'Amongst other things, that you are free. From
this moment, M. de Cocheforet, I give you back your parole, and I
take my own honour. Farewell.'
He cried out something as I mounted, but I did not stay to heed
or answer. I dashed the spurs into my horse, and rode away past
the cross-roads, past the finger-post; away with the level upland
stretching before me, dry, bare, almost treeless; and behind me,
all I loved. Once, when I had gone a hundred yards, I looked
back and saw him standing upright against the sky, staring after
me across her body. And again a minute later I looked back.
This time saw only the slender wooden cross, and below it a dark
ST MARTIN'S EVE
It was late evening on the twenty-ninth of November when I rode
into Paris through the Orleans gate. The wind was in the north-
east, and a great cloud of vapour hung in the eye of an angry
sunset. The air seemed to be heavy with smoke, the kennels
reeked, my gorge rose at the city's smell; and with all my heart
I envied the man who had gone out of it by the same gate nearly
two months before, with his face to the south and the prospect of
riding day after day and league after league across heath and
moor and pasture. At least he had had some weeks of life before
him, and freedom and the open air, and hope and uncertainty;
while I came back under doom, and in the pall of smoke that hung
over the huddle of innumerable roofs saw a gloomy shadowing of my
For make no mistake. A man in middle life does not strip himself
of the worldly habit with which experience has clothed him, does
not run counter to all the hard saws and instances by which he
has governed his course so long, without shiverings and doubts
and horrible misgivings, and struggles of heart. At least a
dozen times between the Loire and Paris I asked myself what
honour was, and what good it could do me when I lay rotting and
forgotten; if I were not a fool following a Jack o' Lanthorn; and
whether, of all the men in the world, the relentless man to whom
I was returning would not be the first to gibe at my folly?
However, shame kept me straight; shame and the memory of
Mademoiselle's looks and words. I dared not be false to her
again; I could not, after speaking so loftily, fall so low, And
therefore--though not without many a secret struggle and quaking
--I came, on the last evening but one of November, to the Orleans
gate, and rode slowly and sadly through the streets by the
Luxembourg on my way to the Pont au Change.
The struggle had sapped my last strength, however; and with the
first whiff of the gutters, the first rush of barefooted gamins
under my horse's hoofs, the first babel of street cries--the
first breath, in a word, of Paris--there came a new temptation;
to go for one last night to Zaton's, to see the tables again and
the faces of surprise, to be for an hour or two the old Berault.
That would be no breach of honour, for in any case I could not
reach the Cardinal before to-morrow. And it could do no harm.
It could make no change in anything. It would not have been a
thing worth struggling about, indeed; only--only I had in my
inmost heart a suspicion that the stoutest resolutions might lose
their force in that atmosphere; and that there even such a
talisman as the memory of a woman's looks and words might lose
Still, I think that I should have succumbed in the end if I had
not received at the corner of the Luxembourg a shock which
sobered me effectually. As I passed the gates, a coach, followed
by two outriders, swept out of the Palace courtyard; it was going
at a great pace, and I reined my jaded horse on one side to give
it room. By chance as it whirled by me, one of the leather
curtains flapped back, and I saw for a second by the waning
light--the nearer wheels were no more than two feet from my boot
--a face inside.
A face and no more, and that only for a second. But it froze me.
It was Richelieu's, the Cardinal's; but not as I had been wont to
see it--keen, cold, acute, with intellect and indomitable will in
every feature. This face was contorted with the rage of
impatience, was grim with the fever of haste, and the fear of
death. The eyes burned under the pale brow, the moustache
bristled, the teeth showed through the beard; I could fancy the
man crying 'Faster! Faster!' and gnawing his nails in the
impotence of passion; and I shrank back as if I had been struck.
The next moment the outriders splashed me, the coach was a
hundred paces ahead, and I was left chilled and wondering,
foreseeing the worst, and no longer in any mood for Zaton's.
Such a revelation of such a man was enough to appal me, for a
moment conscience cried out that he must have heard that
Cocheforet had escaped him, and through me. But I dismissed the
idea as soon as formed. In the vast meshes of the Cardinal's
schemes Cocheforet could be only a small fish; and to account for
the face in the coach I needed a cataclysm, a catastrophe, a
misfortune as far above ordinary mishaps as this man's intellect
rose above the common run of minds.
It was almost dark when I crossed the bridges, and crept
despondently to the Rue Savonnerie. After stabling my horse I
took my bag and holsters, and climbing the stairs to my old
landlord's--I remember that the place had grown, as it seemed to
me, strangely mean and small and ill-smelling in my absence--I
knocked at the door. It was promptly opened by the little tailor
himself, who threw up his arms and opened his eyes at sight of
'By Saint Genevieve!' he said, 'if it is not M. de Berault?'
'It is,' I said. It touched me a little, after my lonely
journey, to find him so glad to see me; though I had never done
him a greater benefit than sometimes to unbend with him and
borrow his money. 'You look surprised, little man!' I
continued, as he made way for me to enter. 'I'll be sworn that
you have been pawning my goods and letting my room, you knave!'
'Never, your Excellency!' he answered. 'On the contrary, I have
been expecting you.'
'How?' I said. 'To-day?'
'To-day or to-morrow,' he answered, following me in and closing
the door. 'The first thing I said when I heard the news this
morning was--now we shall have M. de Berault back again. Your
Excellency will pardon the children,' he continued, bobbing round
me, as I took the old seat on the three-legged stool before the
hearth. 'The night is cold and there is no fire in your room.'
While he ran to and fro with my cloak and bags, little Gil, to
whom I had stood at St Sulpice's, borrowing ten crowns the same
day, I remember, came shyly to play with my sword hilt.
'So you expected me back when you heard the news, Frison, did
you?' I said, taking the lad on my knee.
'To be sure, your Excellency,' he answered, peeping into the
black pot before he lifted it to the hook.
'Very good. Then now let us hear what the news is,' I said
'Of the Cardinal, M. de Berault.'
'Ah! And what?'
He looked at me, holding the heavy pot suspended in his hands.
'You have not heard?' he exclaimed in astonishment.
'Not a tittle. Tell it me, my good fellow.'
'You have not heard that his Eminence is disgraced?'
I stared at him. 'Not a word,' I said.
He set down the pot.
'Then your Excellency must have made a very long journey indeed,'
he said with conviction. 'For it has been in the air a week or
more, and I thought that it had brought you back. A week? A
month, I dare say. They whisper that it is the old Queen's
doing. At any rate, it is certain that they have cancelled his
commissions and displaced his officers. There are rumours of
immediate peace with Spain. Everywhere his enemies are lifting
up their heads; and I hear that he has relays of horses set all
the way to the coast that he may fly at any moment. For what I
know he may be gone already.'
'But, man--' I said, surprised out of my composure. 'The King!
You forget the King. Let the Cardinal once pipe to him and he
will dance. And they will dance too!' I added grimly.
'Yes,' Frison answered eagerly. 'True, your Excellency, but the
King will not see him. Three times to-day, as I am told, the
Cardinal has driven to the Luxembourg and stood like any common
man in the ante-chamber, so that I hear it was pitiful to see
him. But his Majesty would not admit him. And when he went away
the last time I am told that his face was like death! Well, he
was a great man, and we may be worse ruled, M. de Berault, saving
your presence. If the nobles did not like him, he was good to
the traders and the bourgeoisie, and equal to all.'
'Silence, man! Silence, and let me think,' I said, much excited.
And while he bustled to and fro, getting my supper, and the
firelight played about the snug, sorry little room, and the child
toyed with his plaything, I fell to digesting this great news,
and pondering how I stood now and what I ought to do. At first
sight, I know, it seemed to me that I had nothing to do but to
sit still. In a few hours the man who had taken my bond would be
powerless, and I should be free; in a few hours I might smile at
him. To all appearance the dice had fallen well for me. I had
done a great thing, run a great risk, won a woman's love; and,
after all, I was not to pay the penalty.
But a word which fell from Frison as he fluttered round me,
pouring out the broth and cutting the bread, dropped into my mind
and spoiled my satisfaction.
'Yes, your Excellency,' he said, confirming something he had
stated before and which I had missed, 'and I am told that the
last time he came into the gallery there was not a man of all the
scores who had been at his levee last Monday would speak to him.
They fell off like rats--just like rats--until he was left
standing alone. And I have seen him!'--Frison lifted up his eyes
and his hands and drew in his breath--'Ah! I have seen the King
look shabby beside him! And his eye! I would not like to meet
'Pish!' I growled. 'Someone has fooled you. Men are wiser than
'So? Well, your Excellency understands,' he answered meekly.
'But--there are no cats on a cold hearth.'
I told him again that he was a fool. But for all that, and my
reasoning, I felt uncomfortable. This was a great man, if ever a
great man lived, and they were all leaving him; and I--well, I
had no cause to love him. But I had taken his money, I had
accepted his commission, and I had betrayed him. These three
things being so, if he fell before I could--with the best will in
the world--set myself right with him, so much the better for me.
That was my gain--the fortune of war, the turn of the dice. But
if I lay hid, and took time for my ally, and being here while he
still stood, though tottering, waited until he fell, what of my
honour then? What of the grand words I had said to Mademoiselle
at Agen? I should be like the recreant in the old romance, who,
lying in the ditch while the battle raged, came out afterwards
and boasted of his courage.
And yet the flesh was weak. A day, twenty-four hours, two days,
might make the difference between life and death, love and death;
and I wavered. But at last I settled what I would do. At noon
the next day, the time at which I should have presented myself if
I had not heard this news, at that time I would still present
myself. Not earlier; I owed myself the chance. Not later; that
was due to him.
Having so settled it, I thought to rest in peace. But with the
first light I was awake, and it was all I could do to keep myself
quiet until I heard Frison stirring. I called to him then to
know if there was any news, and lay waiting and listening while
he went down to the street to learn. It seemed an endless time
before he came back; an age, when he came back, before he spoke.
'Well, he has not set off?' I asked at last, unable to control
Of course he had not; and at nine o'clock I sent Frison out
again; and at ten and eleven--always with the same result. I was
like a man waiting and looking and, above all, listening for a
reprieve; and as sick as any craven. But when he came back, at
eleven, I gave up hope and dressed myself carefully. I suppose I
had an odd look then, however, for Frison stopped me at the door,
and asked me, with evident alarm, where I was going.
I put the little man aside gently.
'To the tables,' I said, 'to make a big throw, my friend.'
It was a fine morning, sunny, keen, pleasant, when I went out
into the street; but I scarcely noticed it. All my thoughts were
where I was going, so that it seemed but a step from my threshold
to the Hotel Richelieu; I was no sooner gone from the one than I
found myself at the other. Now, as on a memorable evening when I
had crossed the street in a drizzling rain, and looked that way
with foreboding, there were two or three guards, in the
Cardinal's livery, loitering in front of the great gates. Coming
nearer, I found the opposite pavement under the Louvre thronged
with people, not moving about their business, but standing all
silent, all looking across furtively, all with the air of persons
who wished to be thought passing by. Their silence and their
keen looks had in some way an air of menace. Looking back after
I had turned in towards the gates, I found them devouring me with
And certainly they had little else to look at. In the courtyard,
where, some mornings, when the Court was in Paris, I had seen a
score of coaches waiting and thrice as many servants, were now
emptiness and sunshine and stillness. The officer on guard,
twirling his moustachios, looked at me in wonder as I passed him;
the lackeys lounging in the portico, and all too much taken up
with whispering to make a pretence of being of service, grinned
at my appearance. But that which happened when I had mounted the
stairs and came to the door of the ante-chamber outdid all. The
man on guard would have opened the door, but when I went to
enter, a major-domo who was standing by, muttering with two or
three of his kind, hastened forward and stopped me.
'Your business, Monsieur, if you please?' he said inquisitively;
while I wondered why he and the others looked at me so strangely.
'I am M. de Berault,' I answered sharply. 'I have the entree.'
He bowed politely enough.
'Yes, M. de Berault, I have the honour to know your face,' he
said. 'But--pardon me. Have you business with his Eminence?'
'I have the common business,' I answered sharply. 'By which many
of us live, sirrah! To wait on him.'
'But--by appointment, Monsieur?'
'No,' I said, astonished. 'It is the usual hour. For the matter
of that, however, I have business with him.'
The man still looked at me for a moment in seeming embarrassment.
Then he stood aside and signed to the door-keeper to open the
door. I passed in, uncovering; with an assured face and
steadfast mien, ready to meet all eyes. In a moment, on the
threshold, the mystery was explained.
The room was empty.
ST MARTIN'S SUMMER
Yes, at the great Cardinal's levee I was the only client! I
stared round the room, a long, narrow gallery, through which it
was his custom to walk every morning, after receiving his more
important visitors. I stared, I say, from side to side, in a
state of stupefaction. The seats against either wall were empty,
the recesses of the windows empty too. The hat sculptured and
painted here and there, the staring R, the blazoned arms looked
down on a vacant floor. Only on a little stool by the farther
door, sat a quiet-faced man in black, who read, or pretended to
read, in a little book, and never looked up. One of those men,
blind, deaf, secretive, who fatten in the shadow of the great.
Suddenly, while I stood confounded and full of shamed thought--
for I had seen the ante-chamber of Richelieu's old hotel so
crowded that he could not walk through it--this man closed his
book, rose and came noiselessly towards me.
'M. de Berault?' he said.
'Yes,' I answered.
'His Eminence awaits you. Be good enough to follow me.'
I did so, in a deeper stupor than before. For how could the
Cardinal know that I was here? How could he have known when he
gave the order? But I had short time to think of these things,
or others. We passed through two rooms, in one of which some
secretaries were writing, we stopped at a third door. Over all
brooded a silence which could be felt. The usher knocked,
opened, and, with his finger on his lip, pushed aside a curtain
and signed to me to enter. I did so and found myself behind a
'Is that M. de Berault?' asked a thin, high-pitched voice.
'Yes, Monseigneur,' I answered trembling.
'Then come, my friend, and talk to me.'
I went round the screen, and I know not how it was, the watching
crowd outside, the vacant ante-chamber in which I had stood, the
stillness and silence all seemed to be concentrated here, and to
give to the man I saw before me a dignity which he had never
possessed for me when the world passed through his doors, and the
proudest fawned on him for a smile. He sat in a great chair on
the farther side of the hearth, a little red skull-cap on his
head, his fine hands lying still in his lap. The collar of lawn
which fell over his cape was quite plain, but the skirts of his
red robe were covered with rich lace, and the order of the Holy
Ghost, a white dove on a gold cross, shone on his breast. Among
the multitudinous papers on the great table near him I saw a
sword and pistols; and some tapestry that covered a little table
behind him failed to hide a pair of spurred riding-boots. But as
I advanced he looked towards me with the utmost composure; with a
face mild and almost benign, in which I strove in vain to read
the traces of last night's passion. So that it flashed across me
that if this man really stood (and afterwards I knew that he did)
on the thin razor-edge between life and death, between the
supreme of earthly power, lord of France and arbiter of Europe,
and the nothingness of the clod, he justified his fame. He gave
weaker natures no room for triumph.
The thought was no sooner entertained than it was gone.
'And so you are back at last, M. de Berault,' he said gently. 'I
have been expecting to see you since nine this morning.'
'Your Eminence knew, then--' I muttered.
'That you returned to Paris by the Orleans gate last evening
alone?' he answered, fitting together the ends of his fingers,
and looking at me over them with inscrutable eyes. 'Yes, I knew
all that last night. And now, of your business. You have been
faithful and diligent, I am sure. Where is he?'
I stared at him and was dumb. In some way the strange things I
had seen since I had left my lodgings, the surprises I had found
awaiting me here, had driven my own fortunes, my own peril, out
of my head--until this moment. Now, at this question, all
returned with a rush, and I remembered where I stood. My heart
heaved suddenly in my breast. I strove for a savour of the old
hardihood, but for the moment I could not find a word.
'Well,' he said lightly, a faint smile lifting his moustache.
'You do not speak. You left Auch with him on the twenty-fourth,
M. de Berault. So much I know. And you reached Paris without
him last night. He has not given you the slip?'
'No, Monseigneur,' I muttered.
'Ha! that is good,' he answered, sinking back again in his
chair. 'For the moment--but I knew that I could depend on you.
And now where is he? What have you done with him? He knows
much, and the sooner I know it the better. Are your people
bringing him, M. de Berault?'
'No, Monseigneur,' I stammered, with dry lips. His very good-
humour, his benignity, appalled me. I knew how terrible would be
the change, how fearful his rage, when I should tell him the
truth. And yet that I, Gil de Berault, should tremble before any
man! With that thought I spurred myself, as it were, to the
task. 'No, your Eminence,' I said, with the energy of despair.
'I have not brought him, because I have set him free.'
'Because you have--WHAT?' he exclaimed. He leaned forward as he
spoke, his hands on the arm of the chair; and his eyes growing
each instant smaller, seemed to read my soul.
'Because I have let him go,' I repeated.
'And why?' he said, in a voice like the rasping of a file.
'Because I took him unfairly,' I answered.
'Because, Monseigneur, I am a gentleman, and this task should
have been given to one who was not. I took him, if you must
know,' I continued impatiently--the fence once crossed I was
growing bolder--'by dogging a woman's steps and winning her
confidence and betraying it. And whatever I have done ill in my
life--of which you were good enough to throw something in my
teeth when I was last here--I have never done that, and I will
'And so you set him free?'
'After you had brought him to Auch?'
'And, in point of fact, saved him from falling into the hands of
the Commandant at Auch?'
'Yes,' I answered desperately to all.
'Then, what of the trust I placed in you, sirrah?' he rejoined,
in a terrible voice; and stooping still farther forward he probed
me with his eyes. 'You who prate of trust and confidence, who
received your life on parole, and but for your promise to me
would have been carrion this month past, answer me that? What of
the trust I placed in you?'
'The answer is simple,' I said, shrugging my shoulders with a
touch of my old self. 'I am here to pay the penalty.'
'And do you think that I do not know why?' he retorted, striking
one hand on the arm of his chair with a force that startled me.
'Because you have heard, sir, that my power is gone! Because you
have heard that I, who was yesterday the King's right hand, am
to-day dried up, withered and paralysed! Because you have heard
--but have a care! have a care!' he continued with
extraordinary vehemence, and in a voice like a dog's snarl. 'You
and those others! Have a care, I say, or you may find yourselves
'As Heaven shall judge me,' I answered solemnly, 'that is not
true. Until I reached Paris last night I knew nothing of this
report. I came here with a single mind, to redeem my honour by
placing again in your Eminence's hands that which you gave me on
trust, and here I do place it.'
For a moment he remained in the same attitude, staring at me
fixedly. Then his face relaxed somewhat.
'Be good enough to ring that bell,' he said.
It stood on a table near me. I rang it, and a velvet-footed man
in black came in, and gliding up to the Cardinal, placed a paper
in his hand. The Cardinal looked at it; while the man stood with
his head obsequiously bent, and my heart beat furiously.
'Very good,' his Eminence said, after a pause which seemed to me
to be endless, 'Let the doors be thrown open.'
The man bowed low, and retired behind the screen. I heard a
little bell ring somewhere in the silence, and in a moment the
Cardinal stood up.
'Follow me!' he said, with a strange flash of his keen eyes.
Astonished, I stood aside while he passed to the screen; then I
followed him. Outside the first door, which stood open, we found
eight or nine persons--pages, a monk, the major-domo, and several
guards waiting like mutes. These signed to me to precede them
and fell in behind us, and in that order we passed through the
first room and the second, where the clerks stood with bent heads
to receive us. The last door, the door of the ante-chamber, flew
open as we approached, voices cried, 'Room! Room for his
Eminence!' we passed through two lines of bowing lackeys, and
entered--an empty chamber.
The ushers did not know how to look at one another; the lackeys
trembled in their shoes. But the Cardinal walked on, apparently
unmoved, until he had passed slowly half the length of the
chamber. Then he turned himself about, looking first to one side
and then to the other, with a low laugh of derision.
'Father,' he said in his thin voice, 'what does the Psalmist say?
"I am become like a pelican in the wilderness and like an owl
that is in the desert!"'
The monk mumbled assent.
'And later in the same psalm, is it not written, "They shall
perish, but thou shalt endure?"'
'It is so,' the father answered. 'Amen.'
'Doubtless though, that refers to another life,' the Cardinal
said, with his slow wintry smile. 'In the meantime we will go
back to our books, and serve God and the King in small things if
not in great. Come, father, this is no longer a place for us.
VANITAS VANITATUM OMNIA VANITAS! We will retire.'
And as solemnly as we had come we marched back through the first
and second and third doors until we stood again in the silence of
the Cardinal's chamber--he and I and the velvet-footed man in
black. For a while Richelieu seemed to forget me. He stood
brooding on the hearth, his eyes on a small fire, which burned
there though the weather was warm. Once I heard him laugh, and
twice he uttered in a tone of bitter mockery the words,--
'Fools! Fools! Fools!'
At last he looked up, saw me, and started.
'Ah!' he said, 'I had forgotten you. Well, you are fortunate,
M. de Berault. Yesterday I had a hundred clients; to-day I have
only one, and I cannot afford to hang him. But for your liberty
that is another matter.'
I would have said something, pleaded something; but he turned
abruptly to the table, and sitting down wrote a few lines on a
piece of paper. Then he rang his bell, while I stood waiting and
The man in black came from behind the screen.
'Take this letter and that gentleman to the upper guard-room,'
the Cardinal said sharply. 'I can hear no more,' he continued,
frowning and raising his hand to forbid interruption. 'The
matter is ended, M. de Berault. Be thankful.'
In a moment I was outside the door, my head in a whirl, my heart
divided between gratitude and resentment. I would fain have
stood to consider my position; but I had no time. Obeying a
gesture, I followed my guide along several passages, and
everywhere found the same silence, the same monastic stillness.
At length, while I was dolefully considering whether the Bastille
or the Chatelet would be my fate, he stopped at a door, thrust
the letter into my hands, and lifting the latch, signed to me to
I went in in amazement, and stopped in confusion. Before me,
alone, just risen from a chair, with her face one moment pale,
the next crimson with blushes, stood Mademoiselle de Cocheforet.
I cried out her name.
'M. de Berault,' she said, trembling. 'You did not expect to see
'I expected to see no one so little, Mademoiselle,' I answered,
striving to recover my composure.
'Yet you might have thought that we should not utterly desert
you,' she replied, with a reproachful humility which went to my
heart. 'We should have been base indeed, if we had not made some
attempt to save you. I thank Heaven, M. de Berault, that it has
so far succeeded that that strange man has promised me your life.
You have seen him?' she continued eagerly and in another tone,
while her eyes grew on a sudden large with fear.
'Yes, Mademoiselle,' I said. 'I have seen him, and it is true,
He has given me my life.'
'And sent me into imprisonment.'
'For how long?' she whispered.
'I do not know,' I answered. 'I fear during the King's
'I may have done more harm than good,' she murmured, looking at
me piteously. 'But I did it for the best. I told him all, and
perhaps I did harm.'
But to hear her accuse herself thus, when she had made this long
and lonely journey to save me, when she had forced herself into
her enemy's presence, and had, as I was sure she had, abased
herself for me, was more than I could bear.
'Hush, Mademoiselle, hush!' I said, almost roughly. 'You hurt
me. You have made me happy; and yet I wish that you were not
here, where, I fear, you have few friends, but back at
Cocheforet. You have done more for me than I expected, and a
hundred times more than I deserved. But it must end here. I was
a ruined man before this happened, before I ever saw you. I am
no worse now, but I am still that; and I would not have your name
pinned to mine on Paris lips. Therefore, good-bye. God forbid I
should say more to you, or let you stay where foul tongues would
soon malign you.'
She looked at me in a kind of wonder; then, with a growing
'It is too late,' she said gently.
'Too late?' I exclaimed. 'How, Mademoiselle?'
'Because--do you remember, M. de Berault, what you told me of
your love-story under the guide-post by Agen? That it could have
no happy ending? For the same reason I was not ashamed to tell
mine to the Cardinal. By this time it is common property.'
I looked at her as she stood facing me. Her eyes shone under the
lashes that almost hid them. Her figure drooped, and yet a smile
trembled on her lips.
'What did you tell him, Mademoiselle?' I whispered, my breath
'That I loved,' she answered boldly, raising her clear eyes to
mine. 'And therefore that I was not ashamed to beg--even on my
I fell on mine, and caught her hand before the last word passed
her lips. For the moment I forgot King and Cardinal, prison and
the future, all; all except that this woman, so pure and so
beautiful, so far above me in all things, loved me. For the
moment, I say. Then I remembered myself. I stood up, and stood
back from her in a sudden revulsion of feeling.
'You do not know me!' I cried, 'You do not know what I have
'That is what I do know,' she answered, looking at me with a
'Ah! but you do not!' I cried. 'And besides, there is this
--this between us.' And I picked up the Cardinal's letter. It
had fallen on the floor. She turned a shade paler. Then she
'Open it! open it! It is not sealed nor closed.'
I obeyed mechanically, dreading with a horrible dread what I
might see. Even when I had it open I looked at the finely
scrawled characters with eyes askance. But at last I made it
out. And it ran thus:--
'THE KING'S PLEASURE IS THAT M. GIL DE BERAULT, HAVING MIXED
HIMSELF UP IN AFFAIRS OF STATE, RETIRE FORTHWITH TO THE DEMESNE
OF COCHEFORET, AND CONFINE HIMSELF WITHIN ITS LIMITS UNTIL THE
KING'S PLEASURE BE FURTHER KNOWN.
'THE CARDINAL DE RICHELIEU.'
We were married next day, and a fortnight later were at
Cocheforet, in the brown woods under the southern mountains;
while the great Cardinal, once more triumphant over his enemies,
saw with cold, smiling eyes the world pass through his chamber.
The flood tide of his prosperity lasted thirteen years from that
time, and ceased only with his death. For the world had learned
its lesson; to this hour they call that day, which saw me stand
alone for all his friends, 'The Day of Dupes.'