From the Memoirs of a Minister of France
Part 3 out of 5
We looked about, somewhat startled, and Boisrueil, with presence
of mind, ran into the darkness to see if he could detect the
person addressed; but though he thought that he saw the skirt of
a flying cloak disappear in the gloom, he was not sure; and I,
having no mind to be mixed up with the ambassador, called him
back. I asked Vilain to whom he had called, but the young man,
turning sullen, would answer nothing except that he knew naught
of the paper. I thought it best, therefore, to conduct him at
once to my lodgings, whither it will be believed that I returned
with a lighter heart than I had gone out. It was, indeed, a
How to punish the traitor was another matter, for I could
scarcely do so adequately without betraying my negligence. I
determined to sleep on this, however, and, for the night,
directed him to be locked into a chamber in the south-west
turret, with a Swiss to guard the door; my intention being to
interrogate him farther on the morrow. However, Henry sent for
me so early that I was forced to postpone my examination; and,
being detained by him until evening, I thought it best to tell
him, before I left, what had happened.
He heard the story with a look of incredulity, which, little by
little, gave way to a broad smile. "Well," he said, "Grand
Master, never chide me again! I have heard that Homer sometimes
nods; but if I were to tell this to Sillery or Villeroy, they
would not believe me."
"They would believe anything that your Majesty told them," I
said. "But you will not tell them this?"
"No," he said kindly, "I will not; and there is my hand on it.
For the matter of that, if it had happened to them, they would
not have told me."
"And perhaps been the wiser for that," I said.
"Don't believe it," he answered. "But now, what of this young
Vilain? You have him safe?"
"The girl is one degree worse; she betrays both sides to save her
"Still, I promised--"
"Oh, she must go," Henry said. "I quite understand. But for
him--we had better have no scandal. Keep him until to-morrow,
and I will see his father, and have him sent out of the country."
"And he will go scot free," I said, bluntly, "when a rope and the
"Yes, my friend," Henry answered with a dry smile; "but that
should have been done last night. As it is, he is your guest and
we must give an account of him. But first drain him dry.
Frighten him, as you please, and get all out of him; then I wish
them joy of him. Faugh! and he a young man! I would not be his
father for two such crowns as mine!"
As I returned to my lodgings I thought over these words; and I
fell to wondering by what stages Vilain had sunk so low.
Occasionally admitted to my table, he had always borne himself
with a modesty and discretion that had not failed to prepossess
me; indeed, the longer I considered the King's saying, the
greater was the surprise I felt at this DENOUEMENT; which left me
in doubt whether my dullness exceeded my negligence or the young
man's parts surpassed his wickedness.
A few questions, I thought, might resolve this; but having been
detained by the King until supper-time, I postponed the interview
until I rose. Then bidding them bring in the prisoner, I assumed
my harshest aspect and prepared to blast him by discovering all
his vileness to his face.
But when I had waited a little, only Maignan came in, with an air
of consternation that brought me to my feet. "Why, man, what is
it?" I cried.
"The prisoner," he faltered. "If your excellency pleases--"
"I do not please!" I said sternly, believing that I knew what
had happened. "Is he dead?"
"No, your excellency; but, he has escaped."
"Escaped? From that room?"
"Then, PAR DIEU!" I replied, "the man who was on guard shall
suffer in his place! Escaped? How could he escape except by
treachery? Where was the guard?"
"He was there, excellency. And he says that no one passed him."
"Yet the man is gone?"
"The room is empty."
"But the window--the window, fool, is fifty feet from the
ground!" I said. "And not so much footing outside as would hold
Maignan shrugged his shoulders, and in a rage I bade him follow
me, and went myself to view the place; to which a number of my
people had already flocked with lights, so that I found some
difficulty in mounting the staircase. A very brief inspection,
however, sufficed to confirm my first impression that Vilain
could have escaped by the door only; for the window, though it
lacked bars and boasted a tiny balcony, hung over fifty feet of
sheer depth, so that evasion that way seemed in the absence of
ladder or rope purely impossible. This being clear, I ordered
the Swiss to be seized; and as he could give no explanation of
the escape, and still persisted that he was as much in the dark
as anyone, I declared that I would make an example of him, and
hang him unless the prisoner was recaptured within three days.
I did not really propose to do this, but in my irritation I spoke
so roundly that my people believed me; even Boisrueil, who
presently came to intercede for the culprit, who, it seemed, was
a favourite. "As for Vilain," he continued; "you can catch him
whenever you please."
"Then catch him before the end of three days," I answered
obstinately, "and the man lives."
The truth was that Vilain's escape placed me in a position of
some discomfort; for though, on the one hand, I had no particular
desire to get him again into my hands, seeing that the King could
effect as much by a word to his father as I had proposed to do
while I held him safe; on the other hand, the evasion placed me
very peculiarly in regard to the King himself, who was inclined
to think me ill or suddenly grown careless. Some of the facts,
too, were leaking out, and provoking smiles among the more
knowing, and a hint here and there; the result of all being that,
unable to pursue the matter farther in Vilain's case, I hardened
my heart and persisted that the Swiss should pay the penalty.
This obstinacy on my part had an unforeseen issue. On the
evening of the second day, a little before supper-time, my wife
came to me, and announced that a young lady had waited on her
with a tale so remarkable that she craved leave to bring her to
me that I might hear it.
"What is it?" I said impatiently.
"It is about M. Vilain," my wife answered, her face still wearing
all the marks of lively astonishment.
"Ha!" I exclaimed. "I will see her then. But it is not that
"No," my wife answered. "It is another."
"One of your maids?"
"No, a stranger."
"Well, bring her," I said shortly.
She went, and quickly returned with a young lady, whose face and
modest bearing were known to me, though I could not, at the
moment, recall her name. This was the less remarkable as I am
not prone to look much in maids' faces, leaving that to younger
men; and Mademoiselle de Figeac's, though beautiful, was
disfigured on this occasion by the marked distress under which
she was labouring. Accustomed as I was to the visits of persons
of all classes and characters who came to me daily with
petitions, I should have been disposed to cut her short, but for
my wife's intimation that her errand had to do with the matter
which annoyed me. This, as well as a trifle of curiosity--from
which none are quite free--inclined me to be patient; and I asked
her what she would have with me.
"Justice, M. le Duc," she answered simply. "I have heard that
you are seeking M. de Vilain, and that one of your people is
lying under sentence for complicity in his escape."
"That is true, mademoiselle," I said. "If you can tell me--"
"I can tell you how he escaped, and by whose aid," she answered.
It is my custom to betray no astonishment, even when I am
astonished. "Do so," I said.
"He escaped through the window," she answered firmly, "by my
"Your brother's?" I exclaimed, amazed at her audacity. "I do
not remember him."
"He is only thirteen years old."
I could hide my astonishment no longer. "You must be mad, girl!"
I said, "mad! You do not know what you are saying! The window
of the room in which Vilain was confined is fifty feet from the
ground, and you say that your brother, a boy of thirteen,
contrived his escape?"
"Yes, M. de Sully," she answered. "And the man who is about to
suffer is innocent."
"How was it done, then?" I asked, not knowing what to think of
"My brother was flying a kite that day," she answered. "He had
been doing so for a week or more, and everyone was accustomed to
seeing him here. After sunset, the wind being favourable, he
came under M. de Vilain's window, and, when it was nearly dark,
and the servants and household were at supper, he guided the kite
against the balcony outside the window."
"But a man cannot descend by a kite-string!"
"My brother had a knotted rope, which M. de Vilain drew up," she
answered simply; "and afterwards, when he had descended,
I looked at her in profound amazement.
"Your brother acted on instructions?" I said at last.
"On mine," she answered.
"You avow that?"
"I am here to do so," she replied, her face white and red by
turns, but her eyes continuing to meet mine.
"This is a very serious matter," I said. "Are you aware,
mademoiselle, why M. Vilain was arrested, and of what he is
"Perfectly," she answered; "and that he is innocent. More!" she
continued, clasping her hands, and looking at me bravely, "I am
willing both to tell you where he is, and to bring him, if you
please, into your presence."
I stared at her. "You will bring him here?" I said.
"Within five minutes," she answered, "if you will first hear me."
"What are you to him?" I said.
She blushed vividly. "I shall be his wife or no one's," she
said; and she looked a moment at my wife.
"Well, say what you have to say!" I cried roughly.
"This paper, which it is alleged that he stole--it was not found
on him; but in the hollow of a tree."
"Within three paces of him! And what was he doing there?"
"He came to meet me," she answered, her voice trembling slightly.
"He could have told you so, but he would not shame me."
"This is true?" I said, eyeing her closely.
"I swear it!" she answered, clasping her hands. And then, with
a sudden flash of rage, "Will the other woman swear to her tale?"
"Ha!" I said, "what other woman?"
"The woman who sent you to that place," she answered. "He would
not tell me her name, or I would go to her now and wring the
truth from her. But he confessed to me that he had let a woman
into the secret of our meeting; and this is her work."
I stood a moment pondering, with my eyes on the girl's excited
face, and my thoughts, following this new clue through the maze
of recent events; wherein I could not fail to see that it led to
a very different conclusion from that at which I had arrived. If
Vilain had been foolish enough to wind up his love-passages with
Mademoiselle de Mars by confiding to her his passion for the
Figeac, and even the place and time at which the latter was so
imprudent as to meet him, I could fancy the deserted mistress
laying this plot; and first placing the packet where we found it,
and then punishing her lover by laying the theft at his door.
True, he might be guilty; and it might be only confession and
betrayal on which jealousy had thrust her. But the longer I
considered the whole of the circumstances, as well as the young
man's character, and the lengths to which I knew a woman's
passion would carry her, the more probable seemed the explanation
I had just received.
Nevertheless, I did not at once express my opinion; but veiling
the chagrin I naturally felt at the simple part I had been led to
play--in the event I now thought probable--I sharply ordered
Mademoiselle de Figeac to retire into the next room; and then I
requested my wife to fetch her maid.
Mademoiselle de Mars had been three days in solitary confinement,
and might be taken to have repented of her rash accusation were
it baseless. I counted somewhat on this; and more on the effect
of so sudden a summons to my presence. But at first sight it
seemed that I did so without cause. Instead of the agitation
which she had displayed when brought before me to confess, she
now showed herself quiet and even sullen; nor did the gleam of
passion, which I thought that I discerned smouldering in her dark
eyes, seem to promise either weakness or repentance. However, I
had too often observed the power of the unknown over a guilty
conscience to despair of eliciting the truth.
"I want to ask you two or three questions," I said civilly.
"First, was M. de Vilain with you when you placed the paper in
the hollow of the tree? Or were you alone?"
I saw her eyelids quiver as with sudden fear, and her voice shook
as she stammered, "When I placed the paper?"
"Yes," I said, "when you placed the paper. I have reason to know
that you did it. I wish to learn whether he was present, or you
did it merely under his orders?"
She looked at me, her face a shade paler, and I do not doubt that
her mind was on the rack to divine how much I knew, and how far
she might deny and how far confess. My tone seemed to encourage
frankness, however, and in a moment she said, "I placed it under
"Yes," I said drily, my last doubt resolved by the admission;
"but that being so, why did Vilain go to the spot?"
She grew still a shade paler, but in a moment she answered, "To
meet the agent."
"Then why did you place the paper in the tree?"
She saw the difficulty in which she had placed herself, and for
an instant she stared at me with the look of a wild animal caught
in a trap. Then, "In case the agent was late," she muttered.
"But since Vilain had to go to the spot, why did he not deposit
the paper in the tree himself? Why did he send you to the place
beforehand? Why did--" and then I broke off and cried harshly,
"Shall I tell you why? Shall I tell you why, you false jade?"
She cowered away from me at the words, and stood terror-stricken,
gazing at me like one fascinated. But she did not answer,
"Because," I cried, "your story is a tissue of lies! Because it
was you, and you only, who stole this paper! Because--Down on
your knees! down on your knees!" I thundered, "and confess!
Confess, or I will have you whipped at the cart's tail, like the
false witness you are!"
She threw herself down shrieking, and caught my wife by the
skirts, and in a breath had said all I wanted; and more than
enough to show me that I had suspected Vilain without cause, and
both played the simpleton myself and harried my household to
So far good. I could arrange matters with Vilain, and probably
avoid publicity. But what was now to be done with her?
In the case of a man I should have thought no punishment too
severe, and the utmost rigour of the law too tender for such
perfidy; but as she was a woman, and young, and under my wife's
protection, I hesitated. Finally, the Duchess interceding, I
leaned to the side of that mercy which the girl had not shown to
her lover; and thought her sufficiently punished, at the moment
by the presence of Mademoiselle de Figeac whom I called into the
room to witness her humiliation, and in the future by dismissal
from my household. As this imported banishment to her father's
country-house, where her mother, a shrewd old Bearnaise, saved
pence and counted lentils into the soup, and saw company once a
quarter, I had perhaps reason to be content with her
For the rest I sent for M. de Vilain, and by finding him
employment in the finances, and interceding for him with the old
Vicomte de Figeac, confirmed him in the attachment he had begun
to feel for me before this unlucky event; nor do I doubt that I
should have been able in time to advance him to a post worthy of
the talents I discerned in him. But, alas, the deplorable crime,
which so soon deprived me at one blow of my master and of power,
put an end to this, among other and greater schemes.
VII. THE GOVERNOR OF GUERET.
Without attaching to dreams greater importance than a prudent man
will always be willing to assign to the unknown and
unintelligible, I have been in the habit of reflecting on them;
and have observed with some curiosity that in these later years
of my life, during which France has enjoyed peace and comparative
prosperity, my dreams have most often reproduced the stormy rides
and bivouacs of my youth, with all the rough and bloody
accompaniments which our day knows only by repute. Considering
these visions, and comparing my sleeping apathy with my daylight
reflections, I have been led to wonder at the power of habit;
which alone makes it possible for a man who has seen a dozen
stricken fields, and viewed, scarcely with emotion, the slaughter
of a hundred prisoners, to turn pale at the sight of a coach
accident, and walk a mile rather than see a rogue hang.
I am impelled to this train of thought by an adventure that
befell me in the summer of this year 1605; and which, as it
seemed to me in the happening to be rather an evil dream of old
times than a waking episode of these, may afford the reader some
diversion, besides relieving the necessary tedium of the thousand
particulars of finance that render the five farms a study of the
My appointment to represent the King at the Assembly of
Chatelherault had carried me in the month of July into Poitou.
Being there, and desirous of learning for myself whether the
arrest of Auvergne had pacified his country to the extent
described by the King's agents, I determined to take advantage of
a vacation of the assembly and venture as far in that direction
as Gueret; though Henry, fearing lest the malcontents should make
an attempt on my person in revenge for the death of Biron, had
strictly charged me not to approach within twenty leagues of the
I had with me for escort at Chatelherault a hundred horse; but,
these seeming to be either too many or too few for the purpose, I
took with me only ten picked men with Colet their captain, five
servants heavily armed, and of my gentlemen Boisrueil and La
Font. Parabere, to whom I opened my mind, consented to be my
companion. I gave out that I was going to spend three days at
Preuilly, to examine an estate there which I thought of buying,
that I might have a residence in my government; and, having
amused the curious with this statement, I got away at daybreak,
and by an hour before noon was at Touron, where I stayed for
dinner. That night we lay at a village, and the next day dined
at St. Marcel. The second afternoon we reached Crozant.
Here I began to observe those signs of neglect and disorder
which, at the close of the war, had been common in all parts of
France, but in the more favoured districts had been erased by a
decade of peace. Briars and thorns choked the roads, which ran
through morasses, between fields which the husbandman had
resigned to tares and undergrowth. Ruined hamlets were common,
and everywhere wolves and foxes and all kinds of game abounded.
But that which roused my ire to the hottest was the state of the
bridges, which in this country, where the fords are in winter
impassable, had been allowed to fall into utter decay. On all
sides I found the peasants oppressed, disheartened, and primed
with tales of the King's severity, which those who had just cause
to dread him had instilled into them. Bands of robbers committed
daily excesses, and, in a word, no one thing was wanting to give
the lie to the rose-coloured reports with which Bareilles, the
Governor of Gueret, had amused the Council.
I confess that, at sight and thought of these things--of this
country so devoured, the King's authority so contemned, all evils
laid at his door, all his profits diverted--my anger burned
within me, and I said more to Parabere than was perhaps prudent,
telling him, in particular, what I designed against Bareilles, of
whose double-dealing I needed no further proof; by what means I
proposed to lull his suspicions for the moment, since we must lie
at Gueret, and how I would afterwards, on the first occasion,
have him seized and punished.
I forgot, while I avowed these things, that one weakness of
Parabere's character which rendered him unable to believe evil of
anyone. Even of Bareilles, though the two were the merest
acquaintances, he could only think indulgently, because,
forsooth, he too was a Protestant. He began to defend him
therefore, and, seeing how the ground lay, after a time I let the
Still I did not think that he bad been serious in his plea, and
that which happened on the following morning took me completely
by surprise. We had left Crozant an hour, and I was considering
whether, the road being bad, we should even now reach Gueret
before night, when Parabere, who had made some excuse to ride
forward, returned, to me with signs of embarrassment in his
"My friend," he said, "here is a message from Bareilles."
"How?" I exclaimed. "A message? For whom?"
"For you," he said; "the man is here."
"But how did Bareilles know that I was coming?" I asked.
Parabere's confusion furnished me with the answer before he
spoke. "Do not be angry, my friend," he said. "I wanted to do
Bareilles a good turn. I saw that you were enraged with him, and
I thought that I could not help him better than by suggesting to
him to come and meet you in a proper spirit, and make the
explanations which I am sure that he has it in his power to make.
Yesterday morning, therefore, I sent to him."
"And he is here?" I said drily.
Parabere admitted with a blush that he was not. His messenger
had found Bareilles on the point of starting against a band of
plunderers who had ravaged the country for a twelvemonth. He had
sent me the most; civil messages therefore--but he had not come.
"However, he will be at Gueret to-morrow," Parabere added
"Will he?" I said.
"I will answer for it," he answered. "In the meantime, he has
done what he can for our comfort."
"How?" I said,
"He bids us not to attempt the last three leagues to Gueret to-
night; the road is too bad. But to stay at Saury, where there is
a good inn, and to-morrow morning he will meet us there."
"If the brigands have not proved too much for him," I said.
"Yes," Parabere answered, with a simplicity almost supernatural.
"To be sure."
After this, it was no use to say anything to him, though his
officiousness would have justified the keenest reproaches. I
swallowed my resentment, therefore, and we went on amicably
enough, though the valley of the Creuse, in its upper and wilder
part, through which our road now wound, offered no objects of a
kind to soften my anger against the governor. I saw enough of
ruins, of blocked defiles, and overgrown roads; but of returning
prosperity and growing crops, and the King's peace, I saw no
sign--not so much as one dead robber.
About noon we alighted to eat a little at a wretched tavern by
one of the innumerable fords. A solitary traveller who was here
before us, and for a time kept aloof, wearing a grand and
mysterious manner with a shabby coat, presently moved; edging
himself up to me where I sat a little apart, eating with Parabere
and my gentlemen.
"Sir," he said, on a sudden and without preface, "I see that you
are the leader of this party."
As I was more plainly dressed than Parabere, and had been giving
no orders, I wondered how he knew; but I answered, without any
remark, "Well, sir; and what of that?"
"You are in great danger," he replied.
"I?" I said.
"Yes, sir; you!" he answered.
"You know me?"
He shrugged his shoulders. "Not I," he said, "but those who
speak by me. Enough that you are in danger."
"From what?" I asked sceptically; while my companions stared,
and the troopers and servants, who were just within hearing,
"A one-eyed woman and a one-eyed house," he answered darkly.
Then, before I could frame a question, he turned from me as
abruptly as he had come, and, mounting a sorry mare that stood
near, stumbled away through the ford.
It required little wit to see that the man was an astrologer, and
one whose predictions, if they had not profited his clients more
than himself, had been ominous indeed. I was inclined,
therefore, to make sport of him, knowing that the pretenders to
that art are to the true men as ten to one. But his words, and
particularly the fact that he had asked for nothing, had
impressed my followers differently; so that they talked of
nothing else while we ate, and could still be heard discussing
him in the saddle. The wildness of the road and the gloomy
aspect of the valley had doubtless some effect on their minds;
which a thunderstorm that shortly afterwards overtook us and
drenched us to the skin did not tend to lighten. I was glad to
see the roofs of Saury before us; though, on a nearer approach,
we found all the houses except the inn ruined and tenantless; and
even, that scorched and scarred, with the great gate that had
once closed its courtyard prostrate in the road before it.
However, in view of the country we had come through, and the
general desolation, we were thankful to find things no worse.
The village stood at the entrance to a gorge, with the Creuse--
here a fast-rushing stream--running at the back of the inn. The
latter was of good size, stone-built and tiled, and, at first,
seemed to be empty; but the servants presently unearthed a man
and then a boy. Fires were lit, and the horses stabled; and a
second room with a chimney being found, Parabere and I, with
Colet and my gentlemen, took possession of it, leaving the
kitchen to my following.
I had had my boots removed, and was drying my clothes and
expecting supper, when Boisrueil, who was beside me, uttered an
exclamation of amazement.
"What is it?" I said.
He did not answer, and I followed his eyes. A woman had just
entered the room with a bundle of sticks. She had one eye!
I confess that, for an instant, this staggered me; but a moment's
thought reminded me that the astrologer had come from this inn to
us, and I smiled at the credulity which would have built on a
coincidence that was no coincidence. When the woman had retired
again, therefore, I rallied Boisrueil on his timidity; but,
though he admitted the correctness of my reasoning, I saw that he
was not entirely convinced. He started whenever a shutter
flapped, or the draughts, which searched the grim old building
through and through, threatened to extinguish our lights. He
hung cloaks over the windows to obviate the latter inconvenience
he said--and was continually going out and coming back with
gloomy looks. Parabere joined me in rallying him, which we did
without mercy; but when I had occasion, after a while, to pass
through the outer room I found that he was not alone in his
fears. The troopers sat moodily listening, or muttered together;
while the cup passed round in silence. When I bade a man go on
an errand to the stable, four went; and when I dropped a word to
the woman who was attending to her pot, a dozen heads were
stretched out to catch the answer.
Such a feeling--to which, in this instance, the murmur of the
stream and the steady downpour of rain doubtless added something
--is so contagious that I was not surprised to find Colet and La
Font sinking under it. Only Parabere, in fact, rose quite
superior to the notion, laughed at their fears, and drank to
their better spirits; and, making the best of the situation, as
became an old soldier, presently engaged me in tales of the war--
fought again the siege of Laon, and buried men whose bodies bad
lain for ten years under the oaks at Fontaine Francoise.
Talk of this kind, which we still maintained after we had
despatched our supper, was sufficiently engrossing to erase
Boisrueil's fancies entirely from my mind. They were recalled by
his sudden entrance, with Colet at his elbow, the faces of both
full of importance. I saw that they had something to say, and
asked what it was.
"We have been examining the back gate, M. le Marquis," Colet
"It is barricaded, and cannot be opened," he answered.
"Well," I said again, "there is nothing wonderful in that.
Anyone can see that there has been rough work here. The front
gate was stormed, I suppose, and the back one left standing."
"But if is so barricaded that it is not possible to open it," he
objected. "And the men have an idea--"
"Well?" I said, seeing that he hesitated.
"That this is a one-eyed house."
Parabere laughed loudly. "Of course it is!" he said. "That
strolling rogue saw the gate as well as the woman, and made his
profit of them."
"Pardon, sir!" Boisrueil answered bluntly, "That is just what he
did not do!"
"Well," I said, silencing him by a gesture, "is that all?"
"No," he replied; "I have tasted the men's wine."
"And it is drugged?"
"No," he said. "On the contrary, it is a great deal too good for
the price--or the house. And you ordered a litre apiece. Some
have had two, and not asked twice for it!"
"Ho, ho!" I said, staring at him. "Are you sure of that?"
"Quite!" he said.
I was genuinely startled at last; but Parabere still made light
of it. "What!" he said. "Are we a pack of nervous women, or
one poor traveller in a solitary inn, that we see shadows and
shake at them?"
"The inn is solitary enough," Boisrueil grumbled.
"But we are twenty swords!" Parabere retorted, opening his eyes
wide. "Why, I have ridden all day in an enemy's country with
"And been beaten with more at Craon."
"But, man alive, that was in a battle, and by an army!"
"Well, and there may be a battle and an army here," Boisrueil
I was inclined to laugh at this as extravagance; but seeing that
La Font and Colet sided with Boisrueil, I remembered that the
latter was no coward though a great gossip; and I thought better
of it. Accordingly, resolving to look into the thing myself, I
bade La Font fetch a couple of lanthorns, and, when he had done
so, went out with him and Boisrueil as if I had a mind to go
round the horses before I retired. Parabere declined to
accompany me on the ground that he would not be at the pains of
it; and Colet I left in the kitchen to keep an eye on the man and
There was no moon, rain was still falling, and the yard, crowded
with steaming, shivering horses, was dreary enough where the
lanthorns displayed it; but, accustomed to such a sight, I made,
without regarding it, for the gate, which a moment's examination
showed to be barricaded, as they had described, with great beams
and stones. In this there was nothing beyond the ordinary, one
entrance to a house being in troublous times better than two; but
Boisrueil, bidding me kneel and look lower, I found, when I did
so, that the soil under the beams--which did not touch the ground
by some inches--was wet, and I began to understand. When he
asked me at what hour rain had begun to fall, I answered two in
the afternoon, and drew at once the inference at which he aimed--
that the beams had been put there, and the gate barricaded, at
some later hour.
"We reached here at six," he said; "it was done some time between
two and six, my lord; therefore to-day. To-day," he repeated in
a low voice; "and by a dozen men at least, Fewer could not move
"And the object?"
"To prevent our escape."
"But who are they?" I said, looking at him.
"The woman knows," he answered. "We must ask her, my lord."
I assented; and we went back into the house, where it would not
have surprised me if we had found the wretches flown and the nest
empty. But Colet had done his work too well. They were both
there, and, in a moment, at a signal from Boisrueil, were secured
and pinioned. Parabere, hearing the scuffle, came out and would
have remonstrated, but I silenced him with a sharp word; and,
despatching La Font with a couple of discreet men to keep watch
in the court that we might not be surprised, I bade one of the
servants throw some fir-cones on the fire. These, blazing up,
filled the squalid room in a moment with a glare of light, which
revealed alike the livid faces of the two prisoners and the
excited looks and dark countenances of my escort.
I bade them put the woman forward first, and addressed her
sternly, telling her that I knew all, and that she would do well
to confess; inasmuch as if she made a clean breast of the matter,
I would grant her her life, and if she did not, she would be the
first to die, since I would hang her were a single shot fired
against the house.
The promise found her unmoved, but the threat, uttered in a tone
which showed that I was in earnest, proved more effectual. With
an ugly look, under which my men shrank as if her eye had power
to scorch them, the hag said that she would confess, and, with
impotent rage, admitted the truth of Boisrueil's surmises. The
rearward gate had been barricaded that afternoon by the Great
Band, who had had notice of our coming, and intended to attack us
at midnight. I asked her how many they mustered.
"A hundred," she answered sullenly.
"Very well," I said. "And, supposing that we do not wait for
them, how shall we escape? By the road to Gueret?"
"Fifty lie in ambush on it."
"By the road by which we came?"
"The other fifty lie there."
"Across the river?"
"There is no ford."
"Then in the village? If we seize some other building?"
"The village is watched, and this house," she answered, with a
sparkle of joy in her eye.
At that the position began to assume so serious an aspect that I
turned to Parabere to take his advice. We numbered twenty in
all, and were well armed; but five to one are large odds, and we
had little ammunition, while, for all we knew, the house might be
fired with ease from the outside. The roads north and south
being occupied, and the river enclosing us on the west, there
remained only one direction in which escape seemed possible; but,
as we knew nothing of the country, and the brigands everything,
the desperate idea of plunging into it blindly, at night, and
with pursuers at our heels, was dismissed as soon as formed.
Parabere interrupted these calculations by drawing me aside into
the room in which we had supped, where, after rallying me on the
whimsical notion of the Grand Master of the Ordnance and Governor
of the Bastile being besieged in a paltry inn, he confessed that
he had been wrong, and that the adventure was likely to prove
serious. "Ten to one this is the very band that Bareilles is
pursuing," he said.
"Very likely," I answered bluntly; "but the question is how are
we to evade them. Are we to fight or fly?"
"Well, for lighting," he replied coolly; "the front gate lies in
the road, there are no shutters to half the windows, the door is
crazy, and there is a thatched pent-house against one wall."
"And no help-nearer than Gueret."
"Three leagues," he assented. "And from that we are cut off.
Fifty men in the gorge might hold it against five hundred.
Better man the courtyard here than that, tether the horses in the
gateway, and fight it out." "Perhaps so," I said; and we looked
at one another, hearing through the open door the men muttering
and whispering in the kitchen, and above their voices the dull
murmur of the stream, which seemed of a piece with the bleak
night outside, the ruined hamlet, and the danger that lurked
round us. Bitterly repenting the hardihood that had led me to
expose myself to such risks in breach of the King's commandment,
I found it difficult to direct my mind to the immediate question.
So many reflections connected with my mission at Chatelherault
and other affairs of state would intrude that I seemed to be
occupied rather with the results of my death at this juncture,
and particularly the injury which it must inflict on the King's
service, than with the question how I could escape.
However, Parabere soon recalled me to the point. "It is now ten
o'clock," he said in a placid tone; "we have two hours."
"Yes," I answered; then, as if my mind had all the time been
running in an under-current to the desired goal, I continued,
"And we must make the most of them. We must remove the
barricade, in the dark and quietly, from the rear to the front
gate. Do you see? Then the moment they sound the attack in
front we must slip out at the back, make a dash for the road, and
through the gorge to Gueret."
"Good," Parabere assented, with the utmost coolness. "Why not?
Let us do it."
We went in, and in a moment the orders were given, and, the men
being charged to be silent and to make as little noise as
possible over the work, we had every hope of accomplishing it
undetected. To go out into the road and raise and replace the
shattered gate would have been too bold a step. We contented
ourselves, therefore, with removing four great baulks of timber
from the one gate to the other, and placing them across the gap
in such a manner that, being supported by large stones, they
formed a pretty high barrier. To these, at Boisrueil's
suggestion, were added three doors which we forced from their
hinges in the house, and behind the whole, to cover our retreat
the better, we tethered six sumpter horses in two lines.
It remained only to unbar the rear gate and see that it opened
easily. This being done, as we had done all the rest, stealthily
and in darkness, and by men who dared not speak above a whisper,
I gave the word to hang the male prisoner and gag and bind the
woman. Colet undertook these duties, and with a grim humour of
his own hung the rascally host on the threshold where the
brigands must run against him when they entered. Then I directed
every man to saddle and bridle his nag and stand by it, and so we
waited with what patience we might for the DENOUEMENT.
It seemed very long in coming, yet when it did, what with the
restless movements of the horses and the melancholy murmur of the
stream, it well-nigh took us by surprise. It was Boisrueil who
touched my sleeve and made me aware of a low trampling on the
road outside, a sound that had scarcely become clearly audible
before it ceased. I judged that the moment was come, and passed
the word in a whisper to open the gates. Unfortunately, they
creaked, and I feared for a moment that I had been premature; but
before they were more than ajar a harsh whistle startled the
silence, a flare blazed up on the road, and a voice cried to
On the instant the ground shook under the assailants' rush, but
the barricade, which doubtless took the rogues by surprise,
brought them to a sudden stop, and gave us time to file out. The
heavy rain which was failing served to cover our movements almost
as well as the baggage horses which we had posted for the
purpose; while we ran the less risk, inasmuch as the flare they
had kindled lit up the upper part of the house but left the
courtyard in perfect darkness.
Naturally, once outside, we did not linger to see what happened,
but, filing in a line and like ghosts up the bank of the stream,
were glad to hit on the road a hundred and fifty paces away,
where it entered the gorge. Here, where it was as dark as pitch,
we whipped our horses into a canter and made a good pace for half
a league, then, drawing rein, let our horses trot until the
league was out. By that time we were through the gorge, and I
gave the word to pull up, that we might listen and learn whether
we were pursued. Before the order had quite brought us to a
standstill, however, two figures on a sudden rose out of the
darkness before us and barred the way. I was riding in the front
rank, abreast of Parabere and La Font, and I had just time to lay
my hand on a pistol when one of the figures spoke.
"Well, M. le Capitaine, what luck?" he cried, advancing, and
drawing rein to turn with us.
I saw his mistake, and, raising my hand to check those behind,
muttered in my beard that all had gone well.
"You got the man?"
"Yes," I said, peering at him through the darkness.
"Good!" he answered. "Then now for Bareilles, supper, and a
full purse; and afterwards, for me, the quietest corner of
France! The King will make a fine outcry, and I do not trust one
In a flash Parabere had him by the throat, and dragged him in a
grip of iron on to the withers of his horse. Still he managed to
utter a cry, and the other rascal, taking the alarm, whipped his
horse round, and in a second got a start of twenty paces. Colet,
a light man and well mounted, was after him in a trice, and we
heard them go ding-dong, ding-dong, through the darkness for a
mile or more as it seemed to us. Then a sharp scream came
faintly down the wind.
"Good!" Parabere said cheerfully. "Let us be jogging." He had
tied his prisoner neck and knees over the saddle before him.
"You heard what he said?" I muttered, as we moved on.
"Perfectly," he answered in the same tone.
"And you think?"
"I think, Grand Master," he replied drily, "that the sooner you
are out of La Marche and Bareilles' government the longer you are
likely to live."
I was quite of that opinion myself, having drawn the same
inferences from the words the prisoner had uttered. But for the
moment I had no alternative save to go on, and put a bold face on
the matter; and accordingly I led the way forward at as fast a
pace as the darkness and the jaded state of our horses permitted.
Colet presently joined us, and half an hour later a bunch of
lights which appeared on the side of a hill in front proclaimed
that we were nearing Gueret. From this point half a league
across a rushy bottom and through a ford brought us to the gate,
which opened before we summoned it. I had taken care to call to
the van one of my men who knew the town; and he guided us
quickly, no one challenging us, through a number of foul, narrow
streets and under dark archways, among which a stranger must have
gone astray. We reached at last a good-sized square, on one side
of which--though the rest of the town lay buried in darkness--a
large building, which I judged to be Bareilles' residence,
exposed a dozen lighted windows to the street. Two or three
figures lounged half-seen on the wide stone steps which led up to
the entrance, and the rattle of dice, with a murmur of voices,
came from the windows. Without a moment's hesitation I
dismounted at the foot of the steps, and, bidding La Font and
Boisrueil attend me, with three of the servants, I directed Colet
to withdraw with the rest and the horses to the farther end of
Dreading nothing so much as that I might lose the advantage of
surprise, I put aside two of the men on the steps who would have
questioned me, and strode boldly across the stone landing at the
head of the flight. Here I found two doors facing me, and
foresaw the possibility of error; but I was relieved from the
burden of choosing by the sudden appearance at one of them of
Bareilles himself. The place was lit only by an oil lamp, and,
for a reason best known to himself, he did not look directly at
me, but stood with his head half-turned as he said,
"Well, Martin, is it done?"
I heard the dicers hold their hands to catch the answer, and in
the silence a bottle in some unsteady hand clinked against a
glass. Through the half-open door behind him it was possible to
see a long table, laid and glittering with steel and plate; and
all seemed to wait.
Parabere broke the spell. "We are late!" he said in a ringing
voice, which startled the governor as if it had been the voice of
doom. "But we could not have found you better prepared, it
seems. Do you always sup as late as this?"
For a moment the villain could not speak, but leaned against the
doorpost, with his cheeks gone white and his jaw fallen, the most
pitiable spectacle to be conceived. I affected to see nothing,
however, but went by him easily, and into the room, drawing off
my gauntlets as entered. The dicers, from their seats beside a
table on the hearth, gazed at me, turned to stone. I took up a
glass, filled it, and drank it off. "Now I am better!" I said.
"But this is not the warmest of welcomes, M. de Bareilles."
He muttered something, looking fearfully from one to another of
us; and, his hand shaking, filled a glass and pledged me. The
wine gave him courage and impudence: he began to speak; and
though his hurried sentences and excited manner must have
betrayed him to the least suspicious, we pretended to see
nothing, but rather to congratulate ourselves on his late hours
and timely preparations. And certainly nothing could have seemed
more cheerful in comparison with the squalid inn and miry road
from which we came than this smiling feast; if death had not
seemed to my eyes to lurk behind it.
"I thought it likely that you would lie at Saury," he said, with
a ghastly smile.
"And yet made this preparation for us?" I answered politely, yet
letting a little of my real mind be seen. "Well, as a fact, M.
Bareilles, save for one thing we should have lain there."
"And that thing?" he asked, his tongue almost failing him as he
put the question.
"The fact that you have a villain in your company," I answered.
"What?" he stammered.
"A villain, M. le Capitaine Martin," I continued sternly. "You
sent him out this morning against the Great Band; instead, he
took it upon him to lay a plot for me, from which I have only
"Yes, M. de Bareilles, Martin!" I answered roundly, fixing him
with my eyes; while Parabere went quietly to the door, and stood
by it. "If I am not mistaken, I hear him at this moment
dismounting below. Let us understand one another therefore, I
propose to sup with you, but I shall not sit down until he
It would be useless for me to attempt to paint the mixture of
horror, perplexity, and shame which distorted Bareilles'
countenance as I spoke these words. While Parabere's attitude
and my demeanour gave him clearly to understand that we suspected
the truth, if we did not know it, our coolness and the very
nature of my demand imposed upon his fears and led him to believe
that we had a regiment at our call. He knew, too, that that
which might be done in a ruined hamlet might not be done in the
square at Gueret; and his knees trembled under him. He muttered
that he did not understand; that we must be mistaken. What
evidence had we?
"The best!" I answered grimly. "If you wish to hear it, I will
send for it; but witnesses have sometimes loose tongues,
Bareilles, and he may not stop at the Capitaine Martin."
He started and glared at me. From me his eyes passed to
Parabere; then he shuddered, and looked down at the table. As he
leaned against it, I heard the glasses tinkling softly. At last
he muttered that the man must have a trial.
I shrugged my shoulders, and would have answered that that was
his business; but at the moment a heavy step rang on the stone
steps, the door was flung hastily open, and a dark-complexioned
man came in with his hat on. The stranger was splashed to the
chin, and his face wore an expression of savage annoyance; but
this gave place the instant he saw us to one of intense surprise,
while the words he had had on his lips died away, and he stood
nonplussed. I turned to M. de Bareilles.
"Who is this?" I said harshly.
"One of my lieutenants," he answered in a stifled tone.
"M. le Capitaine Martin?"
"The same," he answered.
"Very well," I replied. "You have heard my terms."
He stood clutching the table, and in the bright light of the
candles that burned on it his face was horrible. Still he
managed to speak. "M. le Capitaine, call four men," he muttered.
"Monsieur?" the Captain answered.
"Call four men--four of your men," Bareilles repeated with an
The Captain turned and went downstairs in amazement, returning
immediately after with four troopers at his heels.
Bareilles' face was ghastly. "Take M. le Capitaine's sword," he
said to them.
The Captain's jaw fell, and, stepping back a pace, he looked from
one to another. But all were silent; he found every eye upon
him, and, doubtful and taken by surprise, he unbuckled his sword
and flung it with an oath upon the floor.
"To the garden with him!" Bareilles continued, hoarsely.
"Quick! Take him! I will send you your orders."
They laid hands on the man mechanically, and, unnerved by the
suddenness of the affair, the silence, and the presence of so
many strangers,--ignorant, too, what was doing or what was meant,
he went unresisting. They marched him out heavily; the door
closed behind them; we stood waiting. The glittering table, the
lights, the arrested dicers, all the trivial preparations for a
carouse that at another time must have given a cheerful aspect to
the room, produced instead the most sombre impression. I waited,
but, seeing that Bareilles did not move, I struck the table with
my gauntlet. "The order!" I said, sharply; "the order!"
He slunk to a table in a corner where there was ink, and scrawled
it. I took it from his hand, and, giving it to Boisrueil, "Take
it," I said, "and the three men on the landing, and see the order
carried out. When it is over, come and tell me."
He took the order and disappeared, La Font after him. I remained
in the room with Parabere, Bareilles, and the dicers. The
minutes passed slowly, no one speaking; Bareilles standing with
his head sunk on his breast, and a look of utter despair on his
countenance. At length Boisrueil and La Font returned. The
"Very well," I said. "Then let us sup, gentlemen. Come, M. de
Bareilles, your place is at the head of the table. Parabere, sit
here. Gentlemen, I have not the honour of knowing you, but here
And we supped; but not all with the same appetite. Bareilles,
silent, despairing, a prey to the bitterest remorse, sat low in
his chair, and, if I read his face aright, had no thought but of
vengeance. But, assured that by forcing him to that which must
for ever render him odious--and particularly among his inferiors
--I had sapped his authority at the root, I took care only that
he should not leave us. I directed Colet to unsaddle and bivouac
in the garden, and myself lay all night with Parabere and
Bareilles in the room in which we had supped, Boisrueil and La
Font taking turns to keep the door.
To have betrayed too much haste to be gone might have proved as
dangerous as a long delay; and our horses needed rest. But an
hour before noon next day I gave the order and we mounted in the
square, in the presence of a mixed mob of soldiers and townsfolk,
whom it needed but a spark to kindle. I took care that that
spark should be wanting, however; and to that end I compelled
Bareilles to mount and ride with us as far as Saury. Here, where
I found the inn burned and the woman murdered, I should have done
no more than justice had I hung him as well; and I think that he
half expected it. But reflecting that he had a score of
relations in Poitou who might give trouble, and, besides that,
his position called for some degree of consideration, I parted
with him gravely, and hastened to put as many leagues between us
as possible. That night we slept at Crozant, and the next at St.
It was chiefly in consequence of the observations I made during
this journey that Henry, in the following October, marched into
the Limousin with a considerable force and received the
submission of the governors. The details of that expedition, in
the course of which he put to death ten or twelve of the more
disorderly, will be found in another place. It remains for me
only to add here that Bareilles was not of them. He escaped a
fate he richly deserved by flying betimes with Bassignac to
Sedan. Of his ultimate fate I know nothing; but a week after my
return to the Arsenal, a man called on me who turned out to be
the astrologer. I gave him fifty crowns.
VIII. THE OPEN SHUTTER.
Few are ignorant of that weakness of the vulgar which leads them
to admire in the great not so much the qualities which deserve
admiration as those which, in the eyes of the better-informed,
are defects; so that the amours of Caesar, the clock-making of
Charles, and the jests of Coligny are more in the mouths of men
than their statesmanship or valour. For one thing commendable,
two that are diverting are told; and for one man who in these
days recalls the thousand great and wise deeds of the late King a
thousand remember his occasional freaks, the duel he would have
fought, or his habit of visiting the streets of Paris by night
and in disguise. That this last has been much exaggerated, I can
myself bear witness; for though Varenne or Coquet, the Master of
the Household, were his usual companions on these occasions, he
seldom failed to confess to me after the event, and more than
once I accompanied him.
If I remember rightly, it was in April or May of this year, 1606,
and consequently a few days after his return from Sedan, that he
surprised me one night as I sat at supper, and, requesting me to
dismiss my servants, let me know that he was in a flighty mood;
and that nothing would content him but to play the Caliph in my
company. I was not too willing, for I did not fail to recognise
the risk to which these expeditions exposed his person; but, in
the end, I consented, making only the condition that Maignan
should follow us at a distance. This he conceded, and I sent for
two plain suits, and we dressed in my closet. The King,
delighted with the frolic, was in his wildest mood. He uttered
an infinity of jests, and cut a thousand absurd antics; and,
rallying me on my gravity, soon came near to making me repent of
the easiness which had led me to fall in with his humour.
However, it was too late to retreat, and in a moment we were
standing in the street. It would not have surprised me if he had
celebrated his freedom by some noisy extravagance there; but he
refrained, and contented himself--while Maignan locked the
postern behind us--with cocking his hat and lugging forward his
sword, and assuming an air of whimsical recklessness, as if an
adventure were to be instantly expected.
But the moon had not yet risen, the night was dark, and for some
time we met with nothing more diverting than a stumble over a
dead dog, a word with a forward wench, or a narrow escape from
one of those liquid douches that render the streets perilous for
common folk and do not spare the greatest. Naturally, I began to
tire, and wished myself with all my heart back at the Arsenal;
but Henry, whose spirits a spice of danger never failed to raise,
found a hundred things to be merry over, and some of which he
made a great tale of afterwards. He would go on; and presently,
in the Rue de ]a Pourpointerie, which we entered as the clocks
struck the hour before midnight, his persistence was rewarded.
By that time the moon had risen; but, naturally, few were abroad
so late, and such as were to be seen belonged to a class among
whom even Henry did not care to seek adventures. Our
astonishment was great therefore when, half-way down the street--
a street of tall, mean houses neither better nor much worse than
others in that quarter--we saw, standing in the moonlight at an
open door, a boy about seven years old.
The King saw him first, and, pressing my arm, stood still. On
the instant the child, who had probably seen us before we saw
him, advanced into the road to us. "Messieurs," he said,
standing up boldly before us and looking at us without fear, "my
father is ill, and I cannot close the shutter."
The boy's manner, full of self-possession, and his tone,
remarkable at his age, took us so completely by surprise--to say
nothing of the late hour and the deserted street, which gave
these things their full effect--that for a moment neither of us
answered. Then the King spoke. "Indeed, M. l'Empereur," he said
gravely; "and where is the shutter?"
The boy pointed to an open shutter at the top of the house behind
"Ah!" Henry said. "And you wish us to close it?"
"If you please, messieurs."
"We do please," Henry replied, saluting him with mock reverence.
"You may consider the shutter closed. Lead on, Monsieur; we
For the first time the boy looked doubtful; but he turned without
saying anything, and passing through the doorway, was in an
instant lost in the pitchy darkness of the entry. I laid my hand
on the King's arm, and tried to induce him not to follow; fearing
much that this might be some new thieves' trap, leading nowhither
save to the POIRE D'ANGOISSE and the poniard. But the attempt
was hopeless from the first; he broke from me and entered, and I
We groped for the balustrade and found it, and began to ascend,
guided by the boy's voice; who kept a little before us, saying
continually, "This way, messieurs; this way!" His words had so
much the sound of a signal, and the staircase was so dark and
ill-smelling, that, expecting every moment to be seized or to
have a knife in my back, I found it almost interminable. At
last, however, a gleam of light appeared above us, the boy opened
a door, and we found ourselves standing on a mean, narrow
landing, the walls of which had once been whitewashed. The child
signed to us to enter, and we followed him into a bare attic,
where our heads nearly touched the ceiling.
"Messieurs, the air is keen," he said in a curiously formal tone.
"Will you please to close the shutter?"
The King, amused and full of wonder, looked round. The room
contained little besides a table, a stool, and a lamp standing in
a basin on the floor; but an alcove, curtained with black, dingy
hangings, broke one wall. "Your father lies there?" Henry said,
pointing to it.
"He feels the cold?"
"Yes, monsieur. Will you please to close the shutter?"
I went to it, and, leaning out, managed, with a little
difficulty, to comply. Meanwhile, the King, gazing curiously at
the curtains, gradually approached the alcove. He hesitated
long, he told me afterwards, before he touched the hangings; but
at length, feeling sure that there was something more in the
business than appeared, he did so. Drawing one gently aside, as
I turned from the window, he peered in; and saw just what he had
been led to expect--a huddled form covered with dingy bed-clothes
and a grey head lying on a ragged, yellow pillow. The man's face
was turned to the wall; but, as the light fell on him, he sighed
and, with a shiver, began to move. The King dropped the curtain.
The adventure had not turned out as well as he had hoped; and,
with a whimsical look at me, he laid a crown on the table, said a
kind word to the boy, and we went out. In a moment we were in
It was my turn now to rally him, and I did so without mercy;
asking if he knew of any other beauteous damsel who wanted her
shutter closed, and whether this was the usual end of his
adventures. He took the jest in good part, laughing fully as
loudly at himself as I laughed; and in this way we had gone a
hundred paces or so very merrily, when, on a sudden, he stopped.
"What is it, sire?" I asked.
"Hola!" he said, "The boy was clean."
"Yes; hands, face, clothes. All clean."
"How could he be? His father in bed, no one even to close the
shutter. How could he be clean?"
"But, if he was, sire?"
For answer Henry seized me by the arm, turned me round without a
word, and in a moment was hurrying me back to the house. I
thought that he was going thither again, and followed
reluctantly; but twenty paces short of the door he crossed the
street, and drew me into a doorway. "Can you see the shutter?"
he said. "Yes? Then watch it, my friend."
I had no option but to resign myself, and I nodded. A moist and
chilly wind, which blew through the street and penetrating our
cloaks made us shiver, did not tend to increase my enthusiasm;
but the King was proof even against this, as well as against the
kennel smells and the tedium of waiting, and presently his
persistence was rewarded. The shutter swung slowly open, the
noise made by its collision with the wall coming clearly to our
ears. A minute later the boy appeared in the doorway, and stood
looking up and down.
"Well," the King whispered in my ear, "what do you make of that,
I muttered that it must be a beggar's trick.
"They would not earn a crown in a month," he answered. There
must be something more than that at the bottom of it."
Beginning to share his curiosity, I was about to propose that we
should sally out and see if the boy would repeat his overture to
us, when I caught the sound of footsteps coming along the street.
"Is it Maignan?" the King whispered, looking out cautiously.
"No, sire," I said. "He is in yonder doorway."
Before Henry could answer, the appearance of two strangers coming
along the roadway confirmed my statement. They paused opposite
the boy, and he advanced to them. Too far off to hear precisely
what passed, we were near enough to be sure that the dialogue was
in the main the same as that in which we had taken part. The men
were cloaked, too, as were we, and presently they went in, as we
had gone in. All, in fact, happened as it had happened to us,
and after the necessary interval we saw and heard the shutter
"Well," the King said, "what do you make of that?"
"The shutter is the catch-word, sire."
"Ay, but what is going on up there?" he asked. And he rubbed
I had no explanation to give, however, and shook my head; and we
stood awhile, watching silently. At the end of five minutes the
two men came out again and walked off the way they had come, but
more briskly. Henry moreover, whose observation was all his life
most acute, remarked that whatever they had been doing they
carried away lighter hearts than they had brought. And I thought
Indeed, I was beginning to take my full share of interest in the
adventure; and in place of wondering, as before, at Henry's
persistence, found it more natural to admire the keenness which
he had displayed in scenting a mystery. I was not surprised,
therefore, when he gripped my arm to gain my attention, and, a
the window fell slowly open again, drew me quickly into the
street, and hurried me across it and through the doorway of the
"Up!" he muttered in my ear. "Quickly and quietly, man! If
there are to be other visitors, we will play the spy. But
softly, softly; here is the boy!"
We stood aside against the wall, scarcely daring to breathe; and
the child, guiding himself by the handrail, passed us in the dark
without suspicion, and pattered on down the staircase. We
remained as we were until we heard him cross the threshold, and
then we crept up; not to the uppermost landing, where the light,
when the door was opened, must betray us, but to that immediately
below it. There we took our stand in the angle of the stairs and
waited, the King, between amusement at the absurdity of our
position and anxiety lest we should betray ourselves, going off
now and again into stifled laughter, from which he vainly strove
to restrain himself by pinching me.
I was not in so gay a mood myself, however, the responsibility of
his safety lying heavy upon me; while the possibility that the
adventure might prove no less tragical in the sequel than it now
appeared comical, did not fail to present itself to my eyes in
the darkest colours. When we had watched, therefore, five
minutes more--which seemed to me an hour--I began to lose faith;
and I was on the point of undertaking to persuade Henry to
withdraw, when the voices of men speaking at the door below
reached us, and told me that it was too late. The next moment
their steps crossed the threshold, and they began to ascend, the
boy saying continually, "This way, messieurs, this way!" and
preceding them as he had preceded us. We heard them approach,
breathing heavily, and but for the balustrade, by which I felt
sure that they would guide themselves, and which stood some feet
from our corner, I should have been in a panic lest they should
blunder against us. But they passed safely, and a moment later
the boy opened the door of the room above. We heard them go in,
and without a second's hesitation we crept up after them,
following them so closely that the door was scarcely shut before
we were at it. We heard, therefore, what passed from the first:
the child's request that they would close the shutter, their
hasty compliance, and the silence, strange and pregnant, which
followed, and which was broken at last by a solemn voice. "We
have closed one shutter," it said, "but the shutter of God's
mercy Is never closed."
"Amen," a second person answered in a tone so distant and muffled
that it needed no great wit to guess whence it came, or that the
speaker was behind the curtains of the alcove. "Who are you?"
"The cure of St. Marceau," the first speaker replied.
"And whom do you bring to me?"
"What has he done?"
"He will tell you."
"I am listening."
There was a pause on this, a long pause; which was broken at
length by a third speaker, in a tone half sullen, half miserable.
"I have robbed my master," he said.
"Of how much?"
"I lost it at play."
"And you are sorry."
"I must be sorry," the man panted with sudden fierceness, "or
hang!" Hidden though he was from us, there was a tremor in his
voice that told a tale of pallid cheeks and shaking knees,and a
terror fast rising to madness.
"He makes up his accounts to-morrow?"
Someone in the room groaned; it should have been the culprit, but
unless I was mistaken the sound came through the curtains. A
long pause followed. Then, "And if I help you," the muffled
voice resumed, "will you swear to lead an honest life?"
But the answer may be guessed. I need not repeat the assurances,
the protestations and vows of repentance, the cries and tears of
gratitude which ensue; and to which the poor wretch, stripped of
his sullen indifference, completely abandoned himself. Suffice
it that we presently heard the clinking of coins, a word or two
of solemn advice from the cure, and a man's painful sobbing; then
the King touched my arm, and we crept down the stairs. I was for
stopping on the landing where we had hidden ourselves before; but
Henry drew me on to the foot of the stairs and into the street.
He turned towards home, and for some time did not speak. At
length he asked me what I thought of it.
"In what way, sire?"
"Do you not think," he said in a voice of much emotion, "that if
we could do what he does, and save a man instead of hanging him,
it would be better?"
"For the man, sire, doubtless," I answered drily; "but for the
State it might not be so well. If mercy became the rule and
justice the exception--there would be fewer bodies at Montfaucon
and more in the streets at daylight. I feel much greater doubt
on another point."
Shaking off the moodiness that had for a moment overcome him,
Henry asked with vivacity what that was.
"Who he is, and what is his motive?"
"Why?" the King replied in some surprise--he was ever of so kind
a nature that an appeal to his feelings displaced his judgment.
"What should he be but what he seems?"
"Well, sire, I grant that he may be M. de Joyeuse, who has spent
his life in passing in and out of monasteries, and has performed
so many tricks of the kind that I could believe anything of him.
But if it be not he--"
"It was not his voice," Henry said, positively.
"Then there is something here," I answered, "still unexplained.
Consider the oddity of the conception, sire, the secrecy of the
performance, the hour, the mode, all the surrounding
circumstances! I can imagine a man currying favour with the
basest and most dangerous class by such means. I can imagine a
conspiracy recruited by such means. I can imagine this
shibboleth of the shutter grown to a watchword as deadly as the
'TUEZ!' of '72. I can imagine all that, but I cannot imagine a
man acting thus out of pure benevolence."
"No?" Henry said, thoughtfully. "Well, I think that I agree
with you." and far from being displeased with my warmth (as is
the manner of some sovereigns when their best friends differ from
them), he came over to my opinion so completely as to halt and
express his intention of returning and probing the matter to the
bottom. Midnight had gone, however; it would take some little
time to retrace our steps; and with some difficulty I succeeded
in dissuading him, promising instead to make inquiries on the
morrow, and having learned who lived in the house, to turn the
whole affair into a report, which should be submitted to him.
This amused and satisfied him, and, expressing himself well
content with the evening's diversion--though we had done nothing
unworthy either of a King or a Minister--he parted from me at the
Arsenal, and went home with his suite.
It did not occur to me at the time that I had promised to do
anything difficult; but the news which my agents brought me next
day--that the uppermost floor of the house in the Rue
Pourpointerie was empty--put another face upon the matter. The
landlord declared that he knew nothing of the tenant, who had
rented the rooms, ready furnished, by the week; and as I had not
seen the man's face, there remained only two sources whence I
could get the information I needed--the child, and the cure of
I did not know where to look for the former, however; and I had
to depend on the cure. But here I carne to an obstacle I might
easily have foreseen. I found him, though an honest man,
obdurate in upholding his priest's privileges; to all my
inquiries he replied that the matter touched the confessional,
and was within his vows; and that he neither could, nor dared--to
please anyone, or for any cause, however plausible--divulge the
slightest detail of the affair. I had him summoned to the
arsenal, and questioned him myself, and closely; but of all
armour that of the Roman priesthood is the most difficult to
penetrate, and I quickly gave up the attempt.
Baffled in the only direction in which I could hope for success,
I had to confess my defeat to the King, whose curiosity was only
piqued the more by the rebuff. He adjured me not to let the
matter drop, and, suggesting a number of persons among whom I
might possibly find the unknown, proposed also some theories. Of
these, one that the benevolent was a disguised lady, who
contrived in this way to give the rein at once to gallantry and
charity, pleased him most; while I favoured that which had first
occurred to me on the night of our sally, and held the unknown to
be a clever rascal, who, to serve his ends, political or
criminal, was corrupting the commonalty, and drawing people into
Things remained in this state some weeks, and, growing no wiser,
I was beginning to think less of the affair--which, of itself,
and apart from a whimsical interest which the King took in it,
was unimportant--when one day, stopping in the Quartier du Marais
to view the works at the new Place Royale, I saw the boy. He was
in charge of a decent-looking servant, whose hand he was holding,
and the two were gazing at a horse that, alarmed by the heaps of
stone and mortar, was rearing and trying to unseat its rider.
The child did not see me, and I bade Maignan follow him home, and
learn where he lived and who he was.
In an hour my equerry returned with the information I desired.
The child was the only son of Fauchet, one of the Receivers-
General of the Revenue; a man who kept great state in the largest
of the old-fashioned houses in the Rue de Bethisy, where he, had
lately entertained the King. I could not imagine anyone less
likely to be concerned in treasonable practices; and, certain
that I had made no mistake in the boy, I was driven for a while
to believe that some servant had, perverted the child to this
use. Presently, however, second thoughts, and the position of
the father, taken, perhaps, with suspicions that I had for a long
time entertained of Fauchet--in common with most of his kind--
suggested an explanation, hitherto unconsidered. It was not an
explanation very probable at first sight, nor one that would have
commended itself to those who divide all men by hard and fast
rules and assort them like sheep. But I had seen too much of the
world to fall into this mistake, and it satisfied me. I began by
weighing it carefully; I procured evidence, I had Fauchet
watched; and, at length, one evening in August, I went to the
The King was dicing with Fernandez, the Portuguese banker; but I
ventured to interrupt the game and draw him aside. He might not
have taken this well, but that my first word caught his
"Sire," I said, "the shutter is open."
He understood in a moment. "St. Gris!" He exclaimed with
animation. "Where? At the same house?"
"No, sire; in the Rue Cloitre Notre Dame."
"You have got him, then?"
"I know who he is, and why he is doing this."
"Why?" the King cried eagerly.
"Well, I was going to ask for your Majesty's company to the
place," I answered smiling. "I will undertake that you shall be
amused at least as well as here, and at a cheaper rate."
He shrugged his shoulders. "That may very well be," he said with
a grimace. "That rogue Pimentel has stripped me of two thousand
crowns since supper. He is plucking Bassompierre now.
Remembering that only that morning I had had to stop some
necessary works through lack of means, I could scarcely restrain
my indignation. But it was not the time to speak, and I
contented myself with repeating my request. Ashamed of himself,
he consented with a good grace, and bidding me go to his:
closet, followed a few minutes later. He found me cloaked to the
eyes, and with a soutane and priest's hat; on my arm. "Are those
for me?" he said.
"Who am I, then?"
"The cure of St. Germain."
He made a wry face. "Come, Grand Master," he said; "he died
yesterday. Is not the jest rather grim?"
"In a good cause," I said equably.
He flashed a roguish look at me. "Ah!" he said, "I thought that
that was a wicked rule which only we Romanists avowed. But,
there; don't be angry. I am ready."
Coquet, the Master of the Household, let us out by one of the
river gates, and we went by the new bridge and the Pont St.
Michel. By the way I taught the King the role I wished him to
play, but without explaining the mystery; the opportune
appearance of one of my agents who was watching the end of the
street bringing Henry's remonstrances to a close.
"It is still open?" I said.
"Yes, your excellency."
"Then come, sire," I said, "I see the boy yonder. Let us ascend,
and I will undertake that before you reach the street again you
shall be not only a wiser but a richer sovereign."
"St. Gris!" he answered with alacrity. Why did you not say that
before, and I should have asked no questions. On, on, in God's
name, and the devil take Pimentel!"
I restrained the caustic jest that rose to my lips, and we
proceeded in silence down the street. The boy, whom I had espied
loitering in a doorway a little way ahead, as if the great bell
above us which had just tolled eleven had drawn him out, peered
at us a moment askance; and then, coming forward, accosted us.
But I need not detail the particulars of a conversation which was
almost word for word the same as that which had passed in the Rue
de la Pourpointerie; suffice it that he made the same request
with the same frank audacity, and that, granting it, we were in a
moment following hint up a similar staircase.
"This way, messieurs, this way!" he said; as he had on that
other night, while we groped our way upwards in the dark. He
opened a door, and a light shone out; and we entered a room that
seemed, with its bare walls and rafters, its scanty stool and
table and lamp, the very counterpart of that other room. In one
wall appeared the dingy curtains of an alcove, closely drawn; and
the shutter stood open, until, at the child's request, expressed
in the same words, I went to it and closed it.
We were both so well muffled up and disguised, and the light of
the lamp shining upwards so completely distorted the features,
that I had no fear of recognition, unless the King's voice
betrayed him. But when he spoke, breaking the oppressive silence
of the room, his tone was as strange and hollow as I could wish.
"The shutter is closed," be said; "but the shutter of God's mercy
is never closed!"
Still, knowing that this was the crucial moment, and that we
should be detected now if at all, I found it; an age before the
voice behind the curtains answered "Amen!" and yet another age
before the hidden speaker continued "Who are you?"
"The cure of St. Germain," Henry responded.
The man behind the curtains gasped, and they were for a moment
violently agitated, as if a hand seized them and let them go
again. But I had reckoned that the unknown, after a pause of
horror, would suppose that he had heard amiss and continue his
usual catechism. And so it proved. In a voice that shook a
little, he asked, "Whom do you bring to me?"
"A sinner," the King answered.
"What has he done?"
"He will tell you."
"I am listening," the unknown said.
The light in the basin flared up a little, casting dark shadows
on the ceiling, and at the same moment the shutter, which I had
failed to fasten securely, fell open with a grinding sound. One
of the curtains swayed a little in the breeze, "I have robbed my
master," I said, slowly.
"Of how much?"
"A hundred and twenty thousand crowns."
The bed shook until the boards creaked under it; but this time no
hand grasped the curtains. Instead, a strained voice--thick and
coarse, yet differing from that muffled tone which we had heard
before--asked, "Who are you?"
I waited. The King, who understood nothing but had listened to
my answers with eager attention, and marked no less closely the
agitation which they caused in the unknown, leant forward to
listen. But the bed creaked no more; the curtain hung still;
even the voice, which at last issued from the curtains, was no
more like the ordinary accents of a man than are those which he
utters in the paroxysms of epilepsy. "Are you--sorry?" the
unknown muttered--involuntarily, I think; hoping against hope;
not daring to depart from a formula which had become second
nature. But I could fancy him clawing, as he spoke, at his
France, however, had suffered too long at the hands of that race
of men, and I had been too lately vilified by them to feel much
pity; and for answer I lifted a voice that to the quailing wretch
must have been the voice of doom. "Sorry?" I said grimly. "I
must be--or hang! For to-morrow the King examines his books, and
the next day I--hang!"
The King's hand was on mine, to stop me before the last word was
out; but his touch came too late. As it rang through the room
one of the curtains before us was twitched aside, and a face
glared out, so ghastly and drawn and horror-stricken, that few
would have known it for that of the wealthy fermier, who had
grown sleek and fat on the King's revenues. I do not know
whether he knew us, or whether, on the contrary, he found this
accusation, so precise, so accurate, coming from an unknown
source, still more terrible than if he had known us; but on the
instant he fell forward in a swoon.
"St. Gris!" Henry cried, looking on the body with a shudder,
"you have killed him, Grand Master! It was true, was it?"
"Yes, sire," I answered. "But he is not dead, I think." And
going to the window I whistled for Maignan, who in a minute came
to us. He was not very willing to touch the man, but I bade him
lay him on the bed and loosen his clothes and throw water on his
face; and presently M. Fauchet began to recover.
I stepped a little aside that he might not see me, and
accordingly the first person on whom his eyes lighted was the
King, who had laid aside his hat and cloak, and taken the
terrified and weeping child on his lap. M. Fauchet stared at him
awhile before he recognised him; but at last the trembling man
knew him, and tottering to his feet, threw himself on his knees,
looking years older than when I had last seen him in the street.
"Sire," he said faintly, "I will make restitution."
Henry looked at him gravely, and nodded. "It is well," he said.
"You are fortunate, M. Fauchet; for had this come to my ears in
any other way I could not have spared you. You will render your
accounts and papers to M. de Sully to-morrow, and according as
you are frank with him you will be treated."
Fauchet thanked him with abject tears, and the King rose and
prepared to leave. But at the door a thought struck him, and he
turned. "How long have you done this?" he said, indicating the
room by a gesture, and speaking in a gentler tone.
"Three years, sire," the wretched man answered.
"And how much have you distributed?"
"Fifteen hundred crowns, sire."
The King cast an indescribable look at me, wherein amusement,
scorn, and astonishment were all blended. "St. Gris! man!" he
said, shrugging his shoulders and drawing in his breath sharply,
"you think God is as easily duped as the King! I wish I could
He did not speak again until we were half-way back to the Louvre;
when he opened his mouth to announce his intention of rewarding
me with a tithe of the money recovered. It was duly paid to me,
and I bought with it part of the outlying lands of Villebon--
those, I mean, which extend towards Chartres. The rest of the
money, notwithstanding all my efforts, was wasted here and there,
Pimentel winning thirty crowns of the King that year. But the
discovery led to others of a similar character, and eventually
set me on the track of a greater offender, M. l'Argentier, whom I
brought to justice a few months later.
IX. THE MAID OF HONOUR.
In accordance with my custom I gave an entertainment on the last
day of this year to the King and Queen; who came to the Arsenal
with a numerous train, and found the diversions I had provided so
much to their taste that they did not leave until I was half dead
with fatigue, and like to be killed with complaisance. Though
this was not the most splendid entertainment I gave that year, it
had the good fortune to please; and in a different and less
agreeable fashion is recalled to my memory by a peculiar chain of
events, whereof the first link came under my eyes during its
I have mentioned in an earlier part of these memoirs, a
Portuguese adventurer who, about this time, gained large sums
from the Court at play, and more than once compelled the King to
have recourse to me. I had the worst opinion of this man, and
did not scruple to express it on several occasions; and this the
more, as his presumption fell little short of his knavery, while
he treated those whom he robbed with as much arrogance as if to
play with him were an honour. Holding this view of him, I was
far from pleased when I discovered that the King had brought him
to my house; but the feeling, though sufficiently strong, sank to
nothing beside the indignation and disgust which I experienced
when, the company having fallen to cards after supper, I found
that the Queen had sat down with him to primero.
It did not lessen my annoyance, that I had, after my usual
fashion, furnished the Queen with a purse for her sport; and in
this way found myself reduced to stand by and see my good money
pass into the clutches of this knave. Under the circumstances,
and in my own house, I could do nothing; nevertheless, the table
at which they sat possessed so strong a fascination for me that I
several times caught myself staring at it more closely than was
polite; and as to disgust at the unseemliness of such
companionship was added vexation at my own loss, I might have
gone farther towards betraying my feelings if a casual glance
aside had not disclosed to me the fact that I did not stand alone
in my dissatisfaction; but that, frivolous as the majority of the
courtiers were, there was one at least among those present who
viewed this particular game with distaste.
This person stood near the door, and fancying himself secured
from observation, either by his position or his insignificance,
was glowering on the pair in a manner that at another time must
have cost him a rebuke. As it was, I found something friendly,
as well as curious, in his fixed frown; and ignorant of his name,
though I knew him by sight, wondered both who he was and what was
the cause of his preoccupation.
On the one point I had no difficulty in satisfying myself.
Boisrueil, who presently passed, told me that his name was
Vallon; that he belonged to a poor but old family in the
Cotentin, and that he had been only three months at court.
"Making his fortune, I suppose?" I said grimly. "He games?"
"No, your excellency."
"Is in debt?"
"Not to my knowledge."
"To whom does he pay his court, then?"
"To the King."
"And the Queen?"
"Not particularly--as far as I know, at least. But if you wish
to know more, M. le Duc," Boisrueil continued, "I will--"
"No, no," I said peevishly. The Queen had just handed her last
rouleau across the table, and was still playing. "Go, man, about
your business; I don't want to spend the evening gossiping with
He went, and I dismissed the young fellow from my mind; only to
find him five minutes later at my elbow. To youth and good looks
he added a modest bearing that did not fail to enhance them and
commend him to me; the majority of the young sparks of the day
being wiser than their fathers. But I confess that I was not
prepared for the stammering embarrassment with which he addressed
me--nor, indeed, to be addressed by him at all.
"M. de Sully," he said, in a tone of emotion, "I beg you to
pardon me. I am in great trouble, and I think that perhaps,
stranger as I am, you may condescend to do me a service."
So many men appeal to a minister with some such formula on their
lips, and at times with a calculated timidity, that at the first
blush of his request I was inclined to bid him come to me at the
proper time; and to remove to another part of the room. But
curiosity, playing the part of his advocate, found so much that
was candid in his manner that I hesitated. "What is it?" I said
"A very slight, if a very unusual, one," he muttered. "M. le
Duc, I only want you to--"
"To?" for he stopped and seemed unable to go on.
"To supplement the present you have given to the Queen with
this," he blurted out, his face pale with emotion; and he
stealthily held out to me a green silk purse, through the meshes
of which I saw the glint of gold. "M. de Sully," he continued,
observing my hasty movement, "do not be offended! I know that
you have done all that hospitality required. But I see that the
Queen has already lost your gift, and that--"
She is playing on credit?"
He said it simply, and as he spoke, he again pressed on me the
purse. I took and weighed it, and calculated at a guess that it
held fifty crowns. The sum astonished me. "Why, man," I said,
"you are not mad enough to be in love with her Majesty?"
"No!" he cried, vehemently, yet with a gleam of humour in his
eye. "I swear that it is not so. If you will do me this favour
It was a mad impulse that took me, but I nodded, and resolving to
make good the money out of my own pocket should the case, when
all was clear, seem to demand it, I went straight from him, and,
crossing the floor, laid the purse near her Majesty's hand, with
a polite word of regret that fortune had used her so ill, and a
hope that this might be the means of recruiting her forces.
It would not have surprised me had she shown some signs of
consciousness, and perhaps betrayed that she recognised the
purse. But she contented herself with thanking me prettily, and
almost before I had done speaking had her slender fingers among
the coins. Turning, I found that Vallon had disappeared; so that
all came to a sudden stop; and with the one and the other, I
retired completely puzzled, and less able than before to make
even a guess at the secret of the young man's generosity.
However, the King summoning me to him, there, for the time, was
an end of the matter: and between fatigue and the duties of my
position, I did not give a second thought to it that evening.
Next morning, too, I was taken up with the gifts which it was my
privilege as Master of the Mint to present to the King on New
Year's Day, and which consisted this year of medals of gold,
silver, and copper, bearing inscriptions of my own composition,
together with small bags of new coins for the King, the Queen,
and their attendants.
These I always made it a point to offer before the King rose; nor
was this year an exception, for I found his Majesty still in bed,
the Queen occupying a couch in the same chamber. But whereas it
generally fell to me to arouse them from sleep, and be the first
to offer those compliments which befitted the day, I found them
on this occasion fully roused, the King lazily toying with his
watch, the Queen talking fast and angrily, and at the edge of the
carpet beside her bed Mademoiselle D'Oyley in deep disgrace. The
Queen, indeed, was so taken up with scolding her that she had
forgotten what day it was; and even after my entrance, continued
to rate the poor girl so fiercely that I thought her present
violence little less unseemly than her condescension of the night
Perhaps some trace of this feeling appeared in my countenance;
for, presently, the King, who seldom failed to read my thoughts,
tried to check her in a good-natured fashion. "Come, my dear,"
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