From the Memoirs of a Minister of France
Part 4 out of 5
he said; "let that trembling mouse go. And do you hear what our
good friend Sully has brought you? I'll be bound--"
"How your Majesty talks!" the Queen answered, pettishly. "As if
a few paltry coins could make up for my jar! I'll be bound, for
my part, that this idle wench was romping and playing with--"
"Come, come; you have made her cry enough!" the King
interrupted--and, indeed, the girl was sobbing so passionately
that a man could not listen without pain. "Let her go, I say,
and do you attend to Sully. You have forgotten that it is New
"A jar of majolica," the Queen cried, Utterly disregarding him,
"worth your body and soul, you little slut!"
"Pooh! pooh!" the King said.
"Do you think that I brought it from Florence, all the way in my
"Nightcap," the King muttered. "There, there, sweetheart," he
continued, aloud, "let the girl go!"
"Of course! She is a girl," the Queen cried, with a sneer.
"That is enough for you!"
"Well, madam, she is not the only one in the room," I ventured.
"Oh, of course?, you are the King's echo!"
"Run away, little one," Henry said, winking to me to be silent.
"And consider yourself lucky," the Queen cried, venomously. "You
ought to be whipped; and if I had you in my country, I would have
you whipped for all your airs! San Giacomo, if you cross me, I
will see to it!"
This was a parting thrust; for the girl, catching at the King's
permission, had turned and was hurrying in a passion of tears to
the door. Still, the Queen had not done. Mademoiselle had
broken a jar; and there were other misdemeanours which her
Majesty continued to expound. But in the end I had my say, and
presented the medals, which were accepted by the King with his
usual kindness, and by the Queen, when her feelings had found
expression, with sufficient complaisance. Both were good enough
to compliment me on my entertainment; but observing that the
Queen quickly buried herself again in her pillows and was
inclined to be peevish, I cut short my attendance on the plea of
fatigue, and left them at liberty to receive the very numerous
company who on this day pay their court.
Of these, the greater number came on afterwards, to wait on me;
so that for some hours the large hall at the Arsenal was thronged
with my friends, or those who called themselves by that name.
But towards noon the stream began to fail; and when I sat down to
dinner at that hour, I had reason to suppose that I should be
left at peace. I had not more than begun my meal, however, when
I was called from table by a messenger from the Queen.
"What is it?" I said, when I had gone to him. Had he come from
the King, I could have understood it more easily.
"Her Majesty desires to know, your excellency, whether you have
seen anything of Mademoiselle D'Oyley."
"Yes, M. le Duc."
"No, certainly not. How should I?" I replied.
"And she is not here?" the man persisted.
"No!" I answered, angrily. "God bless the Queen, I know nothing
of her. I am sitting at meat, and--"
The man interrupted me with protestations of regret, and,
hastening to express himself thoroughly satisfied, retired with a
crestfallen air. I wondered what the message meant, and what had
come over the Queen, and whither the girl had gone. But as I
made it a rule throughout my term of office to avoid, as far as
possible, all participation in bed-chamber intrigues, I wasted
little time on the matter, but returning to my dinner, took up
the conversation where I had left it. Before I rose, however, La
Trape came to me and again interrupted me. He announced that a
messenger from his Majesty was waiting in the hall.
I went out, thinking it very probable that Henry had sent me a
present; though it was his more usual custom on this day to
honour me with a visit, and declare his generous intentions by
word of mouth, when we had both retired to my library and the
door was closed. Still, on one or two occasions he had sent me a
horse from his stables, a brace of Indian fowl, a melon or the
like, as a foretaste; and this I supposed to be the errand on
which the man had come.
His first words disabused me. "May it please your excellency,"
he said, very civilly, "the King desires to be remembered to you
as usual, and would ]earn whether you know anything of
"Of whom?" I cried, astonished.
"Of Mademoiselle D'Oyley, her Majesty's maid of honour."
"Not I, i'faith!" I said, drily. "I am no squire of dames, to
say nothing of maids!"
"But his Majesty--"
"If he has sent that message," I replied, "has yet something to
learn--that I do not interest myself in maids of honour or such
The man smiled. "I do not think," he began, "that it was his
"Sent the message?" I said. "No, but the Queen, I suppose."
On this he gave me to understand, in the sly, secretive manner
such men affect, that it was so. I asked him then what all this
ferment was about. "Has Mademoiselle D'Oyley disappeared?" I
"Yes, your excellency. She was with the Queen at eight o'clock.
At noon her Majesty desired her services, and she was not to be
"What?" I exclaimed. "A maid of honour is missing for three
hours in the morning, and there is all this travelling! Why, in
my young days, three nights might have--"
But discerning that he was little more than a youth, and could
not; restrain a smile, I broke off discreetly, and contented
myself with asking if there was reason to suppose that there was
more than appeared in the girl's absence.
"Her Majesty thinks so," he answered.
"Well, in any case, I know nothing about it," I replied. "I am
not hiding her. You may tell his Majesty that, with my service.
Or I will write it."
He answered me, eagerly, that that was not necessary, and that
the King had desired merely a word from me; and with that and
many other expressions of regret, he went away and left me at
leisure to go to the riding-school, where at this time of the
year it was my wont to see the young men practise those manly
arts, which, so far as I can judge, are at a lower ebb in these
modern days of quips and quodlibets than in the stirring times of
my youth. Then, thank God, it was held more necessary for a page
to know his seven points of horsemanship than how to tie a
ribbon, or prank a gown, or read a primer.
But the first day of this year was destined to be a day of
vexation. I had scarcely entered the school, when M. de Varennes
was announced. Instead of going to meet him I bade them bring
him to me, and, on seeing him, bade him welcome to the sports.
"Though," I said, politely overlooking his past history and his
origin, "we did better in our times; yet the young fellows should
"Very true," he answered, suavely. "And I wish I could stay with
you. But it was not for pleasure I came. The King sent me. He
desires to know--"
"What?" I said.
"If you know anything of Mademoiselle D'Oyley. Between
ourselves, M. le Duc--"
I looked at him in amazement. "Why," I said, "what on earth has
the girl done now?"
"Disappeared," he answered.
"But she had done that before."
"Yes," he said, "and the King had your message. But--"
"But what?" I said sternly.
"He thought that you might wish to supplement it for his private
"To supplement it?"
"Yes. The truth is," Varennes continued, looking at me
doubtfully, "the King has information which leads him to suppose
that she may be here."
"She may be anywhere," I answered in a tone that closed his
mouth, "but she is not here. And you may tell the King so from
Though he had begun life as a cook, few could be more arrogant
than Varennes on occasion; but he possessed the valuable knack of
knowing with whom he could presume, and never attempted to impose
on me. Apologising with the easy grace of a man who had risen in
life by pleasing, he sat with me awhile, recalling old days and
feats, and then left, giving me to understand that I might depend
on him to disabuse the King's mind.
As a fact, Henry visited me that evening without raising the
subject; nor had I any reason to complain of his generosity,
albeit he took care to exact from the Superintendent of the
Finances more than he gave his servant, and for one gift to Peter
got two Pauls satisfied. To obtain the money he needed in the
most commodious manner, I spent the greater part of two days in
accounts, and had not yet settled the warrants to my liking, when
La Trape coming in with candles on the second evening disturbed
my secretaries. The men yawned discreetly; and reflecting that
we had had a long day I dismissed them, and stayed myself only
for the purpose of securing one or two papers of a private
nature. Then I bade La Trape light me to my closet.
Instead, he stood and craved leave to speak to me. "About what,
sirrah?" I said.
"I have received an offer, your excellency," he answered with a
"What! To leave my service?" I exclaimed, in surprise.
"No, your excellency," he answered. "To do a service for
another--M. Pimentel. The Portuguese gentleman stopped me in the
street to-day, and offered me fifty crowns."
"To do what?" I asked.
"To tell him where the young lady with Madame lies; and lend him
the key of the garden gate to-night."
I stared at the fellow. "The young lady with Madame?" I said.
He returned my look with a stupidity which I knew was assumed.
"Yes, your excellency. The young lady who came this morning," he
Then I knew that I had been betrayed, and had given my enemies
such a handle as they would not be slow to seize; and I stood in
the middle of the room in the utmost grief and consternation. At
last, "Stay here," I said to the man, as soon as I could speak.
"no not move from the spot where you stand until I come back!"
It was my almost invariable custom to be announced when I visited
my wife's closet; but I had no mind now for such formalities, and
swiftly passing two or three scared servants on the stairs, I
made straight for her room, tapped and entered. Abrupt as were
my movements, however, someone had contrived to warn her; for
though two of her women sat working on stools near her, I heard a
hasty foot flying, and caught the last flutter of a skirt as it
disappeared through a second door. My wife rose from her seat,
and looked at me guiltily.
"Madame," I said, "send these women away. Now," I continued when
they had gone, "who was that with you?" She looked away dumbly.
"You do well not to try to deceive me, Madame," I continued
severely. "It was Mademoiselle D'Oyley."
She muttered, not daring to meet my eye, that it was.
"Who has absented herself from the Queen's service," I answered
bitterly, "and chosen to hide herself here of all places!
Madame," I continued, with a severity which the sense of my false
position amply justified, "are you aware that you have made me
dishonour myself? That you have made me lie; not once, but three
times? That you have made me deceive my master?"
She cried out at that, being frightened, that "she had meant no
harm; that the girl coming to her in great grief and trouble--"
"Because the Queen had scolded her for breaking a china jar!" I
"No, Monsieur; her trouble was of quite another kind," my wife
answered with more spirit than I had expected.
"Pshaw! "I exclaimed.
"It is plain that you do not yet understand the case," Madame
persisted, facing me with trembling hardihood. "Mademoiselle
D'Oyley has been persecuted for some time by the suit of a man
for whom I know you, Monsieur, have no respect: a man whom no
Frenchwoman of family should be forced to marry."
"Who is it?" I said curtly.
"Ah! And the Queen?"
"Has made his suit her own. Doubtless her Majesty," Madame de
Sully continued with grimness, "who plays with him so much, is
under obligations to him, and has her reasons. The King, too, is
on his side, so that Mademoiselle--"
"Who has another lover, I suppose?" I said harshly.
My wife looked at me in trepidation. "It may be so, Monsieur,"
she said hesitating
"It is so, Madame; and you know it," I answered in the same tone.
"M. Vallon is the man."
"Oh!" she exclaimed with a gesture of alarm. "You know!"
"I know, Madame," I replied, with vigour, "that to please this
love-sick girl you have placed me in a position of the utmost
difficulty; that you have jeopardised the confidence which my
master, whom I have never willingly deceived, places in me; and
that out of all this I see only one way of escape, and that is by
a full and frank confession, which you must make to the Queen."
"Oh, Monsieur," she said faintly.
"The girl, of course, must be immediately given up."
My wife began to sob at that, as women will; but I had too keen a
sense of the difficulties into which she had plunged me by her
deceit, to pity her over much. And, doubtless, I should have
continued in the resolution I had formed, and which appeared to
hold out the only hope of avoiding the malice of those enemies
whom every man in power possesses--and none can afford to
despise--if La Trape's words, when he betrayed the secret to me,
had not recurred to my mind and suggested other reflections.
Doubtless, Mademoiselle had been watched into my house, and my
ill-wishers would take the earliest opportunity of bringing the
lie home to me. My wife's confession, under such circumstances,
would have but a simple air, and believed by some would be
ridiculed by more. It might, and probably would, save my credit
with the King; but it would not exalt me in others' eyes, or
increase my reputation as a manager. If there were any other
way--and so reflecting, I thought of La Trape and his story.
Still I was half way to the door when I paused, and turned. My
wife was still weeping. "It is no good crying over spilled milk,
Madame," I said severely. "If the girl were not a fool, she
would have gone to the Ursulines. The abbess has a stiff neck,
and is as big a simpleton to boot as you are. It is only a step,
too, from here to the Ursulines, if she had had the sense to go
My wife lifted her head, and looked at me eagerly; but I avoided
her gaze and went out without more, and downstairs to my study,
where I found La Trape awaiting me. "Go to Madame la Duchesse,"
I said to him. "When you have done what she needs, come to me in
He obeyed, and after an interval of about half an hour, during
which I had time to mature my plan, presented himself again
before me. "Pimentel had a notion that the young lady was here
then?" I said carelessly.
"Yes, your excellency."
"Some of his people fancied that they saw her enter, perhaps?"
"Yes, your excellency."
"They were mistaken, of course?"
"Of course," he answered, dutifully.
"Or she may have come to the door and gone again?" I suggested.
"Possibly, your excellency."
"Gone on without being seen, I mean?"
"If she went in the direction of the Rue St. Marcel," he answered
stolidly, "she would not be seen."
The convent of the Ursulines is in the Rue St. Marcel. I knew,
therefore, that Madame had had the sense to act on my hint; and
after reflecting a moment I continued, "So Pimentel wished to
know where she was lodged?"
"That, and to have the key, your excellency."
"Yes, your excellency."
"Well, you are at liberty to accept the offer," I answered
carelessly. "It will not clash with my service." And then, as
he stood staring in astonishment, striving to read the riddle, I
continued, "By the way, are the rooms in the little Garden
Pavilion aired? They may be needed next week; see that one of
the women sleeps there to-night; a woman you can depend on."
He said no more, but I saw that he understood; and bidding him be
careful in following my instructions, I dismissed him. The line
I had determined to take was attended by many uncertainties,
however; and more than once I repented that I had not followed my
first; instinct, and avowed the truth. A hundred things might
fall out to frustrate my scheme and place me in a false position;
from which--since the confidence of his sovereign is the breath
of a minister, and as easily destroyed as a woman's reputation--
I might find it impossible to extricate myself with credit.
I slept, therefore, but ill that night; and in conjunctures
apparently more serious have felt less trepidation. But
experience has long ago taught me that trifles, not great events,
unseat the statesman, and that of all intrigues those which
revolve round a woman are the most dangerous. I rose early,
therefore, and repaired to Court before my usual hour, it being
the essence of my plan to attack, instead of waiting to be
attacked. Doubtless my early appearance was taken to corroborate
the rumour that I had made a false step, and was in difficulties;
for scarcely had I crossed the threshold of the ante-chamber
before the attitude of the courtiers caught my attention. Some
who twenty-four hours earlier would have been only too glad to
meet my eye and obtain a word of recognition, appeared to be
absorbed in conversation. Others, less transparent or better
inclined to me, greeted me with unnatural effusion. One who bore
a grudge against me, but had never before dared to do more than
grin, now scowled openly; while a second, perhaps the most
foolish of all, came to me with advice, drew me with insistency
into a niche near the door, and adjured me to be cautious.
"You are too bold," he said; "and that way your enemies find
their opening. Do not go to the King now. He is incensed
against you. But we all know that he loves you; wait, therefore,
my friend, until he has had his day's hunting--he is just now
booting himself and see him when he has ridden off his
"And when my friends, my dear Marquis, have had time to poison
his mind against me? No, no," I answered, wondering much whether
he were as simple as he looked.
"But the Queen is with him now," he persisted, seizing the lappel
of my coat to stay me, "and she will be sure to put in a word
"Therefore," I answered drily, "I had better see his Majesty
before the one word becomes two."
"Be persuaded," he entreated me. "See him now, and nothing but
ill will come of it."
"Nothing but ill for some," I retorted, looking so keenly at him
that his visage fell. And with that he let me go, and with a
smile I passed through the door. The rumour had not yet gained
such substance that the crowd had lost all respect for me; it
rolled back, and I passed through it towards the end of the
chamber, where the King was stooping to draw on one of his boots.
The Queen stood not far from him, gazing into the fire with an
air of ill-temper which the circle, serious and silent, seemed to
reflect, I looked everywhere for the Portuguese, but he was not
to be seen.
For a moment the King affected to be unaware of my presence, and
even turned his shoulder to me; but I observed that he reddened,
and fidgeted nervously with the boot which he was drawing on.
Nothing daunted, therefore, I waited until he perforce discovered
me, and was obliged to greet me. "You are early this morning,"
he said, at last, with a grudging air.
"For the best of reasons, sire," I answered hardily. "I am ill
placed at home, and come to you for justice."
"What is it?" he said churlishly and unwillingly.
I was about to answer, when the Queen interposed with a sneer.
"I think that I can tell you, sire," she said. "M. de Sully is
old enough to know the adage, 'Bite before you are bitten.'"
"Madame," I said, respectfully but with firmness. "I know this
only, that my house was last night the scene of a gross outrage;
and by all I can learn it was perpetrated by one who is under
your Majesty's protection."
"His name?" she said, with a haughty gesture.
The Queen began to smile. "What was this gross outrage?" she
"In the course of last night he broke into my house with a gang
of wretches, and bore off one of the inmates."
The Queen's smile grew broader; the King began to grin. Some of
the circle, watching them closely, ventured to smile also.
"Come, my friend," Henry said, almost with good humour, "this is
all very well. But this inmate of yours--was a very recent one."
"Was, in fact, I suppose, the rebellious little wench of whom you
knew nothing yesterday!" the Queen cried harshly, and with an
air of open triumph. "There can be no stealing of stolen goods,
sir; and if M. Pimentel, who had at least as much right as you to
the girl--and more, for I am her guardian--has carried her off,
you have small ground to complain,"
"But, Madame," I said, with an air of bewilderment, "I really do
not--it must be my fault, but I do not understand."
Two or three sniggered, seeing me apparently checkmated and at
the end of my resources. And the King laughed out with kindly
malice. "Come, Grand Master," he said, "I think that you do.
However, if Pimentel has carried off the damsel, there, it seems
to me, is an end of the matter."
"But, sire," I answered, looking sternly round the grinning
circle, "am I mad, or is there some mystery here? I assured your
Majesty yesterday that Mademoiselle D'Oyley was not in my house.
I say the same to-day. She is not; your officers may search
every room and closet. And for the woman whom M. Pimentel has
carried off, she is no more Mademoiselle D'Oyley than I am; she
is one of my wife's waiting-maids. If you doubt me," I
continued, "you have only to send and ask. Ask the Portuguese
The King stared at me. "Nonsense!" he said, sharply. "If
Pimentel has carried off anyone, it must be Mademoiselle
"But it is not, sire," I answered with persistence. "He has
broken into my house, and abducted my servant. For Mademoiselle,
she is not there to be stolen."
"Let some one go for Pimentel," the King said curtly.
But the Portuguese, as it happened, was at the door even then,
and being called, had no alternative but to come forward. His
face and mien as he entered and reluctantly showed himself were
more than enough to dissipate any doubts which the courtiers had
hitherto entertained; the former being as gloomy and downcast as
the latter was timid and cringing. It is true he made some
attempt at first, and for a time, to face the matter out;
stammering and stuttering, and looking piteously to the Queen for
help. But he could not long delay the crisis, nor deny that the
person he had so cunningly abducted was one of my waiting-women;
and the moment that this confession was made his case was at an
end, the statement being received with so universal a peal of
laughter, the King leading, as at one and the same time
discomfited him, and must have persuaded any indifferent listener
that all, from the first, had been in the secret.
After that he would have spent himself in vain, had he contended
that Mademoiselle D'Oyley was at my house; and so clear was this
that he made no second attempt to do so, but at once admitting
that his people had made a mistake, he proffered me a handsome
apology, and desired the King to speak to me in his behalf.
This I, on my side, was pleased to take in good part; and having
let him off easily with a mild rebuke, turned from him to the
Queen, and informed her with much respect that I had learned at
length where Mademoiselle D'Oyley had taken refuge.
"Where, sir?" she asked, eyeing me suspiciously and with no
"At the Ursulines, Madame," I answered,
She winced, for she had already quarrelled with the abbess
without advantage. And there for the moment the matter ended.
At a later period I took care to confess all to the King, and he
did not fail to laugh heartily at the clever manner in which I
had outwitted Pimentel. But this was not until the Portuguese
had left the country and gone to Italy, the affair between him
and Mademoiselle D'Oyley (which resolved itself into a contest
between the Queen and the Ursulines) having come to a close under
circumstances which it may be my duty to relate in another place.
X. FARMING THE TAXES.
In the summer of the year 1608, determining to take up my abode,
when not in Paris, at Villebon, where I had lately enlarged my
property, I went thither from Rouen with my wife, to superintend
the building and mark out certain plantations which I projected.
As the heat that month was great, and the dust of the train
annoying, I made each stage in the evening and on horseback,
leaving my wife to proceed at her leisure. In this way I was
able, by taking rough paths, to do in two or three hours a
distance which her coaches had scarcely covered in the day; but
on the third evening, intending to make a short cut by a ford on
the Vaucouleurs, I found, to my chagrin, the advantage on the
other side, the ford, when I reached it at sunset, proving
impracticable. As there was every prospect, however, that the
water would fall within a few hours, I determined not to retrace
my steps; but to wait where I was until morning, and complete my
journey to Houdan in the early hours.
There was a poor inn near the ford, a mere hovel of wood on a
brick foundation, yet with two storeys. I made my way to this
with Maignan and La Trape, who formed, with two grooms, my only
attendance; but on coming near the house, and looking about with
a curious eye, I remarked something which fixed my attention,
and, for the moment, brought me to a halt. This was the
spectacle of three horses, of fair quality, feeding in a field of
growing corn, which was the only enclosure near the inn. They
were trampling and spoiling more than they ate; and, supposing
that they had strayed into the place, and the house showing no
signs of life, I bade my grooms fetch them out. The sun was
about setting, and I stood a moment watching the long shadows of
the men as they plodded through the corn, and the attitudes of
the horses as, with heads raised, they looked doubtfully at the
Suddenly a man came round the corner of the house, and seeing us,
and what my men were doing, began to gesticulate violently, but
without sound. The grooms saw him too, and stood; and he ran up
to my stirrup, his face flushed and sullen.
"Do you want to see us all ruined?" he muttered. And he begged
me to call my men out of the corn.
"You are more likely to be ruined that way," I answered, looking
down at him. "Why, man, is it the custom in your country to turn
horses into the half-ripe corn?"
He shook his fist stealthily. "God forbid!" he said. "But the
devil is within doors, and we must do his bidding."
"Ah!" I replied, my curiosity aroused "I should like to see
The boor shaded his eyes, and looked at me sulkily from under his
matted and tangled hair. "You are not of his company?" he said
"I hope not," I answered, smiling at his simplicity. "But your
corn is your own. I will call the men out." On which I made a
sign to them to return. "Now," I said, as I walked my horse
slowly towards the house, while he tramped along beside me, "who
"M. Gringuet," he said, with another stealthy gesture.
"Ah!" I said, "I am afraid that I am no wiser."
"Oh! And those are his horses?" He nodded.
"Still, I do not see why they are in the corn?"
"I have no hay."
"But there is grass."
"Ay," the inn-keeper answered bitterly.
"And he said that I might eat it. It was not good enough for his
horses. They must have hay or corn; and if I had none, so much
the worse for me."
Full of indignation, I made in my mind a note of M. Gringuet's
name; but at the moment I said no more, and we proceeded to the
house, the exterior of which, though meagre, and even miserable,
gave me an impression of neatness. From the inside, however, a
hoarse, continuous noise was issuing, which resolved itself as we
crossed the threshold into a man's voice. The speaker was out of
sight, in an upper room to which a ladder gave access, but his
oaths, complaints, and imprecations almost shook the house. A
middle-aged woman, scantily dressed, was busy on the hearth; but
perhaps that which, next to the perpetual scolding that was going
on above, most took my attention was a great lump of salt that
stood on the table at the woman's elbow, and seemed to be
evidence of greater luxury--for the GABELLE had not at that time
been reduced--than I could easily associate with the place.
The roaring and blustering continuing upstairs, I stood a moment
in sheer astonishment. "Is that M. Gringuet?" I said at last.
The inn-keeper nodded sullenly, while his wife stared at me.
"But what; is the matter with him?" I said.
"The gout. But for that he would have been gone these two days
to collect at Le Mesnil."
"Ah!" I answered, beginning to understand. "And the salt is for
a bath for his feet, is it?"
The woman nodded.
"Well," I said, as Maignan came in with my saddlebags and laid
them on the floor, "he will swear still louder when he gets the
bill, I should think."
"Bill?" the housewife answered bitterly, looking up again from
her pots. "A tax-gatherer's bill? Go to the dead man and ask
for the price of his coffin; or to the babe for a nurse-fee! You
will get paid as soon. A tax-gatherer's bill? Be thankful if he
does not take the dish with the sop!"
She spoke plainly; yet I found a clearer proof of the slavery in
which the man held them in the perfect indifference with which
they regarded my arrival--though a guest with two servants must
have been a rarity in such a place--and the listless way in which
they set about attending to my wants. Keenly remembering that
not long before this my enemies had striven to prejudice me in
the King's eyes by alleging that, though I filled his coffers, I
was grinding the poor into the dust--and even, by my exactions,
provoking a rebellion I was in no mood to look with an indulgent
eye on those who furnished such calumnies with a show of reason.
But it has never been my wont to act hastily; and while I stood
in the middle of the kitchen, debating whether I should order the
servants to fling the fellow out, and bid him appear before me at
Villebon, or should instead have him brought up there and then,
the man's coarse voice, which had never ceased to growl and snarl
above us, rose on a sudden still louder. Something fell on the
floor over our heads and rolled across it; and immediately a
young girl, barefoot and short-skirted, scrambled hurriedly and
blindly down the ladder and landed among us.
She was sobbing, and a little blood was flowing from a cut in her
lip; and she trembled all over. At sight of the blood and her
tears the woman seemed to be transported. Snatching up a
saucepan, she sprang towards the ladder with a gesture of rage,
and in a moment would have ascended if her husband had not
followed and dragged her back. The girl also, as soon as she
could speak, added her entreaties to his, while Maignan and La
Trape looked sharply at me, as if they expected a signal.
All this while, the bully above continued his maledictions.
"Send that slut back to me!" he roared. "Do you think that I am
going to be left alone in this hole? Send her back, or--" and he
added half-a-dozen oaths of a kind to make an honest man's blood
boil. In the midst of this, however, and while the woman was
still contending with her husband, he suddenly stopped and
shrieked in anguish, crying out for the salt-bath.
But the woman, whom her husband had only half-pacified, shook her
fist at the ceiling with a laugh of defiance. "Shriek; ay, you
may shriek, you wretch!" she cried. "You must be waited on by
my girl, must you--no older face will do for you--and you beat
her? Your horses must eat corn, must they, while we eat grass?
And we buy salt for you, and wheaten bread for you, and are
beggars for you! For you, you thieving wretch, who tax the poor
and let the rich go free; who--"
"Silence, woman!" her husband cried, cutting her short, with a
pale face. "Hush, hush; he will hear you!"
But the woman was too far gone in rage to obey. "What! and is
it not true?" she answered, her eyes glittering. "Will he not
to-morrow go to Le Mesnil and squeeze the poor? Ay, and will not
Lescauts the corn-dealer, and Philippon the silk-merchant, come
to him with bribes, and go free? And de Fonvelle and de Curtin--
they with a DE, forsooth!--plead their nobility, and grease his
hands, and go free? Ay, and--"
"Silence, woman!" the man said again, looking apprehensively at
me, and from me to my attendants, who were grinning broadly.
"You do not know that this gentleman is not--"
"A tax-gatherer?" I said, smiling. "No. But how long has your
friend upstairs been here?"
"Two days, Monsieur," she answered, wiping the perspiration from
her brow, and speaking more quietly. "He is talking of sending
on a deputy to Le Mesnil; but Heaven send he may recover, and go
from here himself!"
"Well," I answered, "at any rate, we have had enough of this
noise. My servant shall go up and tell him that there is a
gentleman here who cannot put up with a disturbance. Maignan," I
continued, "see the man, and tell him that the inn is not his
private house, and that he must groan more softly; but do not
mention my name. And let him have his brine bath, or there will
be no peace for anyone."
Maignan and La Trape, who knew me, and had counted on a very
different order, stared at me, wondering at my easiness and
complaisance; for there is a species of tyranny, unassociated
with rank, that even the coarsest view with indignation. But the
woman's statement, which, despite its wildness and her
excitement, I saw no reason to doubt, had suggested to me a
scheme of punishment more refined; and which might, at one and
the same time, be of profit to the King's treasury and a lesson
to Gringuet. To carry it through I had to submit to some
inconvenience, and particularly to a night passed under the same
roof with the rogue; but as the news that a traveller of
consequence was come had the effect, aided by a few sharp words
from Maignan, of lowering his tone, and forcing him to keep
within bounds, I was able to endure this and overlook the
occasional outbursts of spleen which his disease and pampered
temper still drew from him.
His two men, who had been absent on an errand at the time of my
arrival, presently returned, and were doubtless surprised to find
a second company in possession. They tried my attendants with a
number of questions, but without success; while I, by listening
while I had my supper, learned more of their master's habits and
intentions than they supposed. They suspected nothing, and at
day-break we left them; and, the water having duly fallen in the
night, we crossed the river without mishap, and for a league
pursued our proper road. Then I halted, and despatching the two
grooms to Houdan with a letter for my wife, I took, myself, the
road to Le Mesnil, which lies about three leagues to the west.
At a little inn, a league short of Le Mesnil, I stopped, and
instructing my two attendants in the parts they were to play,
prepared, with the help of the seals, which never left Maignan's
custody, the papers necessary to enable me to enact the role of
Gringuet's deputy. Though I had been two or three times to
Villebon, I had never been within two leagues of Le Mesnil, and
had no reason to suppose that I should be recognised; but to
lessen the probability of this I put on a plain suit belonging to
Maignan, with a black-hilted sword, and no ornaments. I
furthermore waited to enter the town until evening, so that my
presence, being reported, might be taken for granted before I was
In a larger place my scheme must have miscarried, but in this
little town on the hill, looking over the plain of vineyards and
cornfields, with inn, market-house, and church in the square, and
on the fourth side the open battlements, whence the towers of
Chartres could be seen on a clear day, I looked to have to do
only with small men, and saw no reason why it should fail.
Accordingly, riding up to the inn about sunset, I called, with an
air, for the landlord. There were half-a-dozen loungers seated
in a row on a bench before the door, and one of these went in to
fetch him. When the host came out, with his apron twisted round
his waist, I asked him if he had a room.
"Yes," he said, shading his eyes to look at me, "I have."
"Very well," I answered pompously, considering that I had just
such an audience as I desired--by which I mean one that, without
being too critical, would spread the news. "I am M. Gringuet's
deputy, and I am here with authority to collect and remit,
receive and give receipts for, his Majesty's taxes, tolls, and
dues, now, or to be, due and owing. Therefore, my friend, I will
trouble you to show me to my room.
I thought that this announcement would impress him as much as I
desired; but, to my surprise, he only stared at me. "Eh!" he
exclaimed at last, in a faltering tone, "M. Gringuet's deputy?"
"Yes," I said, dismounting somewhat impatiently; "he is ill with
the gout and cannot come."
"And you--are his deputy?"
"I have said so."
Still he did not move to do my bidding, but continued to rub his
bald head and stare at me as if I fascinated him. "Well, I am--I
mean--I think we are full," he stammered at last, with his eyes
I replied, with some impatience, that he had just said that he
had a room; adding, that if I was not in it and comfortably
settled before five minutes were up I would know the reason. I
thought that this would settle the matter, whatever maggot had
got into the man's head; and, in a way, it did so, for he begged
my pardon hastily, and made way for me to enter, calling, at the
same time, to a lad who was standing by, to attend to the horses.
But when we were inside the door, instead of showing me through
the kitchen to my room, he muttered something, and hurried away;
leaving me to wonder what was amiss with him, and why the
loungers outside, who had listened with all their ears to our
conversation, had come in after us as far as they dared, and were
regarding us with an odd mixture of suspicion and amusement.
The landlord remained long away, and seemed, from sounds that
came to my ears, to be talking with someone in a distant room.
At length, however, he returned, bearing a candle and followed by
a serving-man. I asked him roughly why he had been so long, and
began to rate him; but he took the words out of my mouth by his
humility, and going before me through the kitchen--where his wife
and two or three maids who were about the fire stopped to look at
us, with the basting spoons in their hands--he opened a door
which led again into the outer air.
"It is across the yard," he said apologetically, as he went
before, and opening a second door, stood aside for us to enter.
"But it is a good room, and, if you please, a fire shall be
lighted. The shutters are closed," he continued, as we passed
him, Maignan and "La Trape carrying my baggage, "but they shall
be opened. Hallo! Pierre! Pierre, there! Open these shut--"
On the word his voice rose--and broke; and in a moment the door,
through which we had all passed unsuspecting, fell to with a
crash behind us. Before we could move we heard the bars drop
across it. A little before, La Trape had taken a candle from
someone's hand to light me the better; and therefore we were not
in darkness. But the light this gave only served to impress on
us what the falling bars and the rising sound of voices outside
had already told us--that we were outwitted! We were prisoners.
The room in which we stood, looking foolishly at one another, was
a great barn-like chamber, with small windows high in the
unplaistered walls. A long board set on trestles, and two or
three stools placed round it--on the occasion, perhaps, of some
recent festivity--had for a moment deceived us, and played the
In the first shock of the discovery, hearing the bars drop home,
we stood gaping, and wondering what it meant. Then Maignan, with
an oath, sprang to the door and tried it--fruitlessly.
I joined him more at my leisure, and raising my voice, asked
angrily what this folly meant. "Open the door there! Do you
hear, landlord?" I cried.
No one moved, though Maignan continued to rattle the door
"Do you hear?" I repeated, between anger and amazement at the
fix in which we had placed ourselves. "Open!"
But, although the murmur of voices outside the door grew louder,
no one answered, and I had time to take in the full absurdity of
the position; to measure the height; of the windows with my eye
and plumb the dark shadows under the rafters, where the feebler
rays of our candle lost themselves; to appreciate, in a word, the
extent of our predicament. Maignan was furious, La Trape
vicious, while my own equanimity scarcely supported me against
the thought that we should probably be where we were until the
arrival of my people, whom I had directed my wife to send to Le
Mesnil at noon next day. Their coming would free us, indeed, but
at the cost of ridicule and laughter. Never was man worse
Wincing at the thought, I bade Maignan be silent; and, drumming
on the door myself, I called for the landlord. Someone who had
been giving directions in a tone of great, consequence ceased
speaking, and came close to the door. After listening a moment,
he struck it with his hand.
"Silence, rogues!" he cried. "Do you hear? Silence there,
unless you want your ears nailed to the post."
"Fool!" I answered. "Open the door instantly! Are you all mad
here, that you shut up the King's servants in this way?"
"The King's servants!" be cried, jeering at us. "Where are
"Here!" I answered, swallowing my rage as well as I might. "I
am M. Gringuet's deputy, and if you do not this instant--"
"M. Gringuet's deputy! Ho! ho!" he said. "Why, you fool, M.
Gringuet's deputy arrived two hours before you. You must get up
a little earlier another time. They are poor tricksters who are
too late for the fair. And now be silent, and it may save you a
stripe or two to-morrow."
There are situations in which even the greatest find it hard to
maintain their dignity, and this was one. I looked at Maignan
and La Trape, and they at me, and by the light of the lanthorn
which the latter held I saw that they were smiling, doubtless at
the dilemma in which we had innocently placed ourselves. But I
found nothing to laugh at in the position; since the people
outside might at any moment leave us where we were to fast until
morning; and, after a moment's reflection, I called out to know
who the speaker on the other side was.
"I am M. de Fonvelle," he answered.
"Well, M. de Fonvelle," I replied, "I advise you to have a care
what you do. I am M. Gringuet's deputy. The other man is an
"He has no papers," I cried.
"Oh, yes, he has!" he answered, mocking me. "M. Curtin has seen
them, my fine fellow, and he is not one to pay money without
At this several laughed, and a quavering voice chimed in with
"Oh, yes, he has papers! I have seen them. Still, in a case--"
"There!" M. Fonvelle cried, drowning the other's words. "Now
are you satisfied--you in there?"
But M. Curtin had not done. "He has papers," he piped again in
his thin voice.
"Still, M. de Fonvelle, it is well to be cautious, and--"
"Tut, tut! it is all right."
"He has papers, but he has no authority!" I shouted.
"He has seals," Fonvelle answered. "It is all right."
"It is all wrong!" I retorted. "Wrong, I say! Go to your man,
and you will find him gone--gone with your money, M. Curtin."
Two or three laughed, but I heard the sound of feet hurrying
away, and I guessed that Curtin had retired to satisfy himself.
Nevertheless, the moment which followed was an anxious one,
since, if my random shot missed, I knew that I should find myself
in a worse position than before. But judging--from the fact that
the deputy had not confronted us himself--that he was an
impostor, to whom Gringuet's illness had suggested the scheme on
which I had myself hit, I hoped for the best; and, to be sure, in
a moment an outcry arose in the house and quickly spread. Of
those at the door, some cried to their fellows to hearken, while
others hastened off to see. Yet still a little time elapsed,
during which I burned with impatience; and then the crowd came
trampling back, all wrangling and speaking at once.
At the door the chattering ceased, and, a hand being laid on the
bar, in a moment the door was thrown open, and I walked out with
what dignity I might. Outside, the scene which met my eyes might
have been, under other circumstances, diverting. Before me stood
the landlord of the inn, bowing with a light in each hand, as if
the more he bent his backbone the more he must propitiate me;
while a fat, middle-aged man at his elbow, whom I took to be
Fonvelle, smiled feebly at me with a chapfallen expression. A
little aside, Curtin, a shrivelled old fellow, was wringing his
hands over his loss; and behind and round these, peeping over
their shoulders and staring under their arms, clustered a curious
crowd of busybodies, who, between amusement at the joke and awe
of the great men, had much ado to control their merriment.
The host began to mutter apologies, but I cut him short. "I will
talk to you to-morrow!" I said, in a voice which made him shake
in his shoes. "Now give me supper, lights, and a room--and
hurry. For you, M. Fonvelle, you are an ass! And for the
gentleman there, who has filled the rogue's purse, he will do
well another time to pay the King his dues!"
With that I left the two--Fonvelle purple with indignation, and
Curtin with eyes and mouth agape and tears stayed--and followed
my host to his best room, Maignan and La Trape attending me with
very grim faces. Here the landlord would have repeated his
apologies, but my thoughts beginning to revert to the purpose
which had brought me hither, I affected to be offended, that, by
keeping all at a distance, I might the more easily preserve my
I succeeded so well that, though half the town, through which the
news of my adventure had spread, as fire spreads in tinder, were
assembled outside the inn until a late hour, no one was admitted
to see me; and when I made my appearance next morning in the
market-place and took my seat, with my two attendants, at a table
by the corn-measures, this reserve had so far impressed the
people that the smiles which greeted me scarcely exceeded those
which commonly welcome a tax-collector. Some had paid, and,
foreseeing the necessity of paying again, found little that was
diverting in the jest. Others thought it no laughing matter to
pay once; and a few had come as ill out of the adventure as I
had. Under these circumstances, we quickly settled to work, no
one entertaining the slightest suspicion; and La Trape, who could
accommodate himself to anything, playing the part of clerk, I was
presently receiving money and hearing excuses; the minute
acquaintance with the routine of the finances, which I had made
it my business to acquire, rendering the work easy to me.
We had not been long engaged, however, when Fonvelle put in an
appearance, and elbowing the peasants aside, begged to speak with
me apart. I rose and stepped back with him two or three paces;
on which he winked at me in a very knowing fashion, "I am M. de
Fonvelle," he said. And he winked again.
"Ah!" I said.
"My name is not in your list."
"I find it there," I replied, raising a hand to my ear.
"Tut, tut! you do not understand," he muttered. "Has not
Gringuet told you?"
"What?" I said, pretending to be a little deaf.
I shook my head.
"Has not Gringuet told you?" he repeated, reddening with anger;
and this time speaking, on compulsion, so loudly that the
peasants could hear him.
I answered him in the same tone. "Yes," I said roundly. "He has
told me; of course, that every year you give him two hundred
livres to omit your name."
He glanced behind him with an oath. "Man, are you mad?" he
gasped, his jaw falling. "They will hear you."
"Yes," I said loudly, "I mean them to hear me."
I do not know what he thought of this--perhaps that I was mad--
but he staggered back from me, and looked wildly round. Finding
everyone laughing, he looked again at me, but still failed to
understand; on which, with another oath, he turned on his heel,
and forcing his way through the grinning crowd, was out of sight
in a moment.
I was about to return to my seat, when a pursy, pale-faced man,
with small eyes and a heavy jowl, whom I had before noticed,
pushed his way through the line, and came to me. Though his
neighbours were all laughing he was sober, and in a moment I
"I am very deaf," he said in a whisper. "My name, Monsieur, is
Philippon. I am a--"
I made a sign to him that I could not hear.
"I am the silk merchant," he continued pretty audibly, but with a
suspicious glance behind him. "Probably you have--"
Again I signed to him that I could not hear.
"You have heard of me?"
"From M. Gringuet?" I said very loudly.
"Yes," he answered in a similar tone; for, aware that deaf
persons cannot hear their own voices and are seldom able to judge
how loudly they are speaking, I had led him to this. "And I
suppose that you will do as he did?"
"How?" I asked. "In what way?"
He touched his pocket with a stealthy gesture, unseen by the
people behind him.
Again I made a sign as if I could not hear.
"Take the usual little gift?" he said, finding himself compelled
"I cannot hear a word," I bellowed. By this time the crowd were
shaking with laughter.
"Accept the usual gift?" he said, his fat, pale face perspiring,
and his little pig's eyes regarding me balefully.
"And let you pay one quarter?" I said.
"Yes," he answered.
But this, and the simplicity with which he said it, drew so loud
a roar of laughter from the crowd as penetrated even to his
dulled senses. Turning abruptly, as if a bee had stung him, he
found the place convulsed with merriment; and perceiving, in an
instant, that I had played upon him, though he could not
understand how or why, he glared about him a moment, muttered
something which I could not catch, and staggered away with the
gait of a drunken man.
After this, it was useless to suppose that I could amuse myself
with others. The crowd, which had never dreamed of such a tax-
collector, and could scarcely believe either eyes or ears,
hesitated to come forward even to pay; and I was considering what
I should do next, when a commotion in one corner of the square
drew my eyes to that quarter. I looked and saw at first only
Curtin. Then, the crowd dividing and making way for him, I
perceived that he had the real Gringuet with him--Gringuet, who
rode through the market with an air of grim majesty, with one
foot in a huge slipper and eyes glaring with ill-temper.
Doubtless Curtin, going to him on the chance of hearing something
of the rogue who had cheated him, had apprised the tax-collector
of the whole matter; for on seeing me in my chair of state, he
merely grinned in a vicious way, and cried to the nearest not to
let me escape. "We have lost one rogue, but we will hang the
other," he said. And while the townsfolk stood dumbfounded round
us, he slipped with a groan from his horse, and bade his two
servants seize me.
"And do you," he called to the host, "see that you help, my man!
You have harboured him, and you shall pay for it if he escapes."
With that he hopped a step nearer; and then, not dreaming of
resistance, sank with another groan--for his foot was immensely
swollen by the journey--into the chair from which I had risen.
A glance showed me that, if I would not be drawn into an unseemly
brawl, I must act; and meeting Maignan's eager eye fixed upon my
face, I nodded. In a second he seized the unsuspecting Gringuet
by the neck, snatched him up from the chair, and flung him half-
a-dozen paces away. "Lie there," he cried, "you insolent rascal!
Who told you to sit before your betters?"
The violence of the action, and Maignan's heat, were such that
the nearest drew back affrighted; and even Gringuet's servants
recoiled, while the market people gasped with astonishment. But
I knew that the respite would last a moment only, and I stood
forward. "Arrest that man," I said, pointing to the collector,
who was grovelling on the ground, nursing his foot and shrieking
foul threats at us.
In a second my two men stood over him. "In the King's name," La
Trape cried; "let no man interfere."
"Raise him up," I continued, "and set him before me; and Curtin
also, and Fonvelle, and Philippon; and Lescaut, the corn-dealer,
if he is here."
I spoke boldly, but I felt some misgiving. So mighty, however,
is the habit of command, that the crowd, far from resisting,
thrust forward the men I named. Still, I could not count on this
obedience, and it was with pleasure that I saw at this moment, as
I looked over the heads of the crowd, a body of horsemen entering
the square. They halted an instant, looking at the unusual
concourse; while the townsfolk, interrupted in the middle of the
drama, knew not which way to stare. Then Boisrueil, seeing me,
and that I was holding some sort of court, spurred his horse
through the press, and saluted me.
"Let half-a-dozen of your varlets dismount and guard these men,"
I said; "and do you, you rogue," I continued, addressing
Gringuet, "answer me, and tell me the truth. How much does each
of these knaves give you to cheat the King, and your master?
Curtin first. How much does he give you?"
"My lord," he answered, pale and shaking, yet with a mutinous
gleam in his eyes, "I have a right to know first before whom I
"Enough," I thundered, "that it is before one who has the right
to question you! answer me, villain, and be quick. What is the
sum of Curtin's bribe?"
He stood white and mute.
Still he stood silent, glaring with the devil in his eyes; while
the other men whimpered and protested their innocence, and the
crowd stared as if they could never see enough.
"I take no bribes," he muttered.
"Not a denier."
"Liar!" I exclaimed. "Liar, who devour widows' houses and poor
men's corn! Who grind the weak and say it is the King; and let
the rich go free. Answer me, and answer the truth. How much do
these men give you?"
"Nothing," he said defiantly.
"Very well," I answered; "then I will have the list. It is in
"I have no list," he said, beginning to tremble.
"It is in your shoe," I repeated, pointing to his gouty foot.
"Maignan, off with his shoe, and look in it."
Disregarding his shrieks of pain, they tore it off and looked in
it. There was no list.
"Off with his stocking," I said roundly.
"It is there."
He flung himself down at that, cursing and protesting by turns.
But I remembered the trampled corn, and the girl's bleeding face,
and I was inexorable. The stocking was drawn off, not too
tender]y, and turned inside out. Still no list was found.
"He has it," I persisted. "We have tried the shoe and we have
tried the stocking, now we must try the foot. Fetch a stirrup-
leather, and do you hold him, and let one of the grooms give him
a dozen on that foot."
But at that he gave way; he flung himself on his knees, screaming
"The list!" I said,
"I have no list! I have none!" he wailed.
"Then give it me out of your head. Curtin, how much?"
He glanced at the man I named, and shivered, and for a moment was
silent. But one of the grooms approaching with the stirrup-
leather, he found his voice. "Forty crowns," he muttered.
I made him confess also the sums which he had received from
Lescaut and Philippon, and then the names of seven others who had
been in the habit of bribing him. Satisfied that he had so far
told the truth, I bade him put on his stocking and shoe. "And
now," I said to Boisrueil, when this was done, "take him to the
whipping-post there, and tie him up; and see that each man of the
eleven gives him a stripe for every crown with which he has
bribed him--and good ones, or I will have them tied up in his
place. Do you hear, you rascals?" I continued to the trembling
culprits. "Off, and do your duty, or I will have your backs
But the wretch, as cowardly as he had been cruel, flung himself
down and crawled, sobbing and crying, to my feet. I had no
mercy, however. "Take him away," I said, "It is such men as
these give kings a bad name. Take him away, and see you flay him
He sprang up then, forgetting his gout, and made a frantic
attempt to escape. But in a moment he was overcome, hauled away,
and tied up; and though I did not wait to see the sentence
carried out, but entered the inn, the shrill screams he uttered
under the punishment reached me, even there, and satisfied me
that Fonvelle and his fellows were not; holding their hands.
It is a sad reflection, however, that for one such sinner brought
to justice ten, who commit the same crimes, go free, and
flourishing on iniquity, bring the King's service, and his
officers, into evil repute.
XI. THE CAT AND THE KING.
It was in the spring of the year 1609 that at the King's instance
I had a suite of apartments fitted up for him at the Arsenal,
that he might visit me, whenever it pleased him, without putting
my family to inconvenience; in another place will be found an
account of the six thousand crowns a year which he was so
obliging as to allow me for this purpose. He honoured me by
using these rooms, which consisted of a hall, a chamber, a
wardrobe, and a closet, two or three times in the course of that
year, availing himself of my attendants and cook; and the free
opportunities of consulting me on the Great Undertaking, which
this plan afforded, led me to hope that notwithstanding the envy
of my detractors, he would continue to adopt it. That he did not
do so, nor ever visited me after the close of that year, was due
not so much to the lamentable event, soon to be related, which
within a few months deprived France of her greatest sovereign, as
to a strange matter that attended his last stay with me. I have
since had cause to think that this did not receive at the time as
much attention as it deserved; and have even imagined that had I
groped a little deeper into the mystery I might have found a clue
to the future as well as the past, and averted one more, and the
last, danger from my beloved master. But Providence would not
have it so; a slight indisposition under which I was suffering at
the time rendered me less able, both in mind and body; the result
being that Henry, who was always averse to the publication of
these ominous episodes, and held that being known they bred the
like in mischievous minds, had his way, the case ending in no
more than the punishment of a careless rascal.
On the occasion of this last visit--the third, I think, that he
paid me--the King, who had been staying at Chantilly, came to me
from Lusarche, where he lay the intervening night. My coaches
went to meet him at the gates a little before noon, but he did
not immediately arrive, and being at leisure and having assured
myself that the dinner of twelve covers, which he had directed to
be ready, was in course of preparation, I went with my wife to
inspect his rooms and satisfy myself that everything was in
They were in charge of La Trape, a man of address and
intelligence, whom I have had cause to mention more than once in
the course of these memoirs. He met me at the door and conducted
us through the rooms with an air of satisfaction; nor could I
find the slightest fault, until my wife, looking about her with a
woman's eye for minute things, paused by the bed in the chamber,
and directed my attention to something on the floor.
She stooped over it. "What is this?" she asked. "Has something
"Upset here?" I said, looking also. There was a little pool of
white liquid on the floor beside the bed.
La Trape uttered an exclamation of annoyance, and explained that
he had not seen it before; that it had not been there five
minutes earlier; and that he did not know how it came to be there
"What is it?" I said, looking about for some pitcher that might;
have overflowed; but finding none. "Is it milk?"
"I don't know, your excellency," he answered. "But it shall be
removed at once."
"See that it is," I said. "Are the boughs in the fire-place
fresh?" For the weather was still warm and we had not lit a
"Yes, your excellency; quite fresh."
"Well, see to that, and remove it," I said, pointing to the mess.
"It looks ill."
And with that the matter passed from my mind; the more completely
as I heard at that moment the sound of the King's approach, and
went into the court-yard to receive him. He brought with him
Roquelaure, de Vic, Erard the engineer, and some others, but none
whom he did not know that I should be glad to receive. He dined
well, and after dinner amused himself with seeing the young men
ride at the ring, and even rode a course himself with his usual
skill; that being, if I remember rightly, the last occasion on
which I ever saw him take a lance. Before supper he walked for a
time in the hall, with Sillery, for whom he had sent; and after
supper, pronouncing himself tired, he dismissed all, and retired
with me to his chamber. Here we had some talk on a subject that
I greatly dreaded--I mean his infatuation for Madame de Conde;
but about eleven o'clock he yawned, and, after thanking me for a
reception which he said was quite to his mind, he bade me go to
I was half way to the door when he called me back. "Why, Grand
Master," he said, pointing to the little table by the head of the
bed on which his night drinks stood, "you might be going to drown
me. Do you expect me to drink all these in the night?"
"I think that there is only your posset, sire," I said, "and the
lemon-water which you generally drink."
"And two or three other things?"
"Perhaps they have given your majesty some of the Arbois wine
that you were good enough to--"
"Tut-tut!" he said, lifting the cover of one of the cups. "This
is not wine. It may be a milk-posset."
"Yes, sire; very likely," I said drowsily.
"But it is not!" he answered, when he had smelled it. "It is
plain milk! Come, my friend," he continued, looking drolly at
me, "have you turned leech, or I babe is arms that you put such
strong liquors before me? However, to show you that I have some
childish tastes left, and am not so depraved as you have been
trying to make me out for the last hour--I will drink your health
in it. It would serve you right if I made you pledge me in the
The cup was at his lips when I sprang forward and, heedless of
ceremony, caught his arm. "Pardon, sire!" I cried, in sudden
agitation. "If that is milk, I gave no order that it should be
placed here; and I know nothing of its origin. I beg that you
will not drink it, until I have made some inquiry."
"They have all been tasted?" he asked, still holding the cup in
his hand with the lid raised, but looking at it gravely.
"They should have been!" I answered. "But La Trape, whom I made
answerable for that, is outside. I will go and question him. If
you will wait, sire, a moment--"
"No," Henry said. "Have him here."
I gave the order to the pages who were waiting outside, and in a
moment La Trape appeared, looking startled and uncomfortable.
Naturally, his first glance was given to the King, who had taken
his seat on the edge of the bed, but still held the cup in his
hand. After asking the King's permission, I said, "What drinks
did you place on the table, here, sirrah?"
He looked more uncomfortable at this, but he answered boldly
enough that he had served a posset, some lemon water, and some
"But orders were given only for the lemon-water and the posset,"
"True, your excellency," he answered. "But when I went to the
pantry hatch, to see the under-butler carry up the tray, I found
that the milk was on the tray; and I supposed that you had given
"Possibly Madame de Sully," the King said, looking at me, "gave
the order to add it?"
"She would not presume to do so, sire," I answered, sternly.
"Nor do I in the least understand the matter. But at one thing
we can easily arrive. You tasted all of these, man?"
La Trape said he had.
"You drank a quantity, a substantial quantity of each--according
to the orders given to you? I persisted.
"Yes, your excellency."
But I caught a guilty look in his eyes, and in a gust of rage I
cried out that he lied. "The truth!" I thundered, in a terrible
voice. "The truth, you villain; you did not taste all?"
"I did, your excellency; as God is above, I did!" he answered.
But he had grown pale, and he looked at the King in a terrified
Yet I did not believe him, and I was about to give him the lie
again, when the King intervened. "Quite so," he said to La Trape
with a smile. "You drank, my good fellow, of the posset and the
lemon water, and you tasted the milk, but you did not drink of
it. Is not that the whole truth?"
"Yes, sire," he whimpered, breaking down. "But I--I gave some to
"And the cat is no worse?"
"There, Grand Master," the King said, turning to me, "that is the
truth, I think. What do you say to it?"
"That the rest is simple," I answered, grimly. "He did not drink
it before; but he will drink it now, sire."
The King, sitting on the bed, laughed and looked at La Trape; as
if his good-nature almost led him to interpose. But after a
moment's hesitation he thought better of it, and handed me the
cup. "Very well," he said; "he is your man. Have your way with
him. After all, he should have drunk it."
"He shall drink it now, or be broken on the wheel!" I said. "Do
you hear, you?" I continued, turning to him in a white heat of
rage at the thought of his negligence, and the price it might
have cost me. "Take it, and beware that you do not drop or spill
it. For I swear that that shall not save you!"
He took the cup with a pale face, and hands that shook so much
that he needed both to support the vessel. He hesitated, too, so
long that, had I not possessed the best of reasons for believing
in his fidelity, I should have suspected him of more than
negligence. The shadow of his tall figure seemed to waver on the
tapestry behind him; and with a little imagination I might have
thought that the lights in the room had sunk. The soft
whispering of the pages outside could be heard, and a stifled
laugh; but inside there was not a sound. He carried the cup to
his lips; then he lowered it again.
I took a step forward.
He recoiled a pace, his face ghastly. "Patience, excellency," he
said, hoarsely. "I shall drink it. But I want to speak first."
"Speak!" the King answered.
"If there is death in it, I take God to witness that I know
nothing, and knew nothing! There is some witch's work here it is
not the first time that I have come across this devil's milk to-
day! But I take God to witness I know nothing! Now it is here I
will drink it, and--"
He did not finish the sentence, but drawing a deep breath raised
the cup to his lips. I saw the apple in his throat rise and fall
with the effort he made to swallow, but he drank so slowly that
it seemed to me that he would never drain the cap. Nor did he,
for when he had swallowed, as far as I could judge from the
tilting of the cup, about half of the milk, Henry rose suddenly
and, seizing it, took it from him with his own hand.
"That will do," the King said. "Do you feel ill?"
La Trape drew a trembling hand across his brow, on which the
sweat stood in beads; but instead of answering he remained
silent, gazing fixedly before him. We waited and watched, and at
length, when I should think three minutes had elapsed, he changed
his position for one of greater ease, and I saw his face relax.
The unnatural pallor faded, and the open lips closed. A minute
later he spoke. "I feel nothing, sire," he said.
The King looked at me drolly. "Then take five minutes more," he
said. "Go, and stare at Judith there, cutting off the head of
Holofernes"--for that was the story of the tapestry--"and come
when I call you."
La Trape went to the other end of the chamber. "Well," the King
said, inviting me by a sign to sit down beside him, "is it a
comedy or a tragedy, my friend? Or, tell me, what was it he
meant when he said that about the other milk?"
I explained, the matter seeming so trivial now that I came to
tell it--though it; had doubtless contributed much to La Trape's
fright--that I had to apologize.
"Still it is odd,"the King said. "These drinks were not here, at
that time, of course?"
"No, sire; they have been brought up within the hour."
"Well, your butler must explain it." And with that he raised his
voice and called La Trape back; who came, looking red and
"Not dead yet?" the King said.
"Then begone. Or, stay!" Henry continued. "Throw the rest of
this stuff into the fire-place. It may be harmless, but I have
no mind to drink it by mistake."
La Trape emptied the cup among the green boughs that filled the
hearth, and hastened to withdraw. It seemed to be too late to
make further inquiries that night; so after listening to two or
three explanations which the King hazarded, but which had all too
fanciful an air in my eyes, I took my leave and retired.
Whether, however, the scene had raised too violent a commotion in
my mind, or I was already sickening for the illness I have
mentioned, I found it impossible to sleep; and spent the greater
part of the night in a fever of fears and forebodings. The
responsibility which the King's presence cast upon me lay so
heavily upon my waking mind that I could not lie; and long before
the King's usual hour of rising I was at his door inquiring how
he did. No one knew, for the page whose turn it was to sleep at
his feet had not come out; but while I stood questioning, the
King's voice was heard, bidding me enter. I went in, and found
him sitting up with a haggard face, which told me, before he
spoke, that he had slept little better than I had. The shutters
were thrown wide open, and the cold morning light poured into the
room with an effect rather sombre than bright; the huge figures
on the tapestry looming huger from a drab and melancholy
background, and the chamber presenting all those features of
disorder that in a sleeping-room lie hid at night, only to show
themselves in a more vivid shape in the morning.
The King sent his page out, and bade me sit by him. "I have had
a bad night," he said, with a shudder. "Grand Master, I doubt
that astrologer was right, and I shall never see Germany, nor
carry out my designs."
Seeing the state in which he was, I could think of nothing better
than to rally him, and even laugh at him. "You think so now,
sire," I said. "It is the cold hour. By and by, when you have
broken your fast, you will think differently."
"But, it may be, less correctly," he answered; and as he sat
looking before him with gloomy eyes, he heaved a deep sigh. "My
friend," he said, mournfully, "I want to live, and I am going to
"Of what?" I asked, gaily.
"I do not know; but I dreamed last night that a house fell on me
in the Rue de la Ferronerie, and I cannot help thinking that I
shall die in that way."
"Very well," I said. "It is well to know that."
He asked me peevishly what I meant.
"Only," I explained, "that, in that case, as your Majesty need
never pass through that street, you have it in your hands to live
"Perhaps it may not happen there--in that very street," he
"And perhaps it may not happen yet," I rejoined. And then, more
seriously, "Come, sire," I continued, "why this sudden weakness?
I have known you face death a hundred times."
"But not after such a dream as I had last night," he said, with a
grimace--yet I could see that he was already comforted. "I
thought that I was passing along that street in my coach, and on
a sudden, between St. Innocent's church and the notary's--there
is a notary's there?"
"Yes, sire," I said, somewhat surprised.
"I heard a great roar, and something struck me down, and I found
myself pinned to the ground, in darkness, with my mouth full of
dust, and an immense beam on my chest. I lay for a time in
agony, fighting for breath, and then my brain seemed to burst in
my head, and I awoke."
"I have had such a dream, sire," I said, drily.
"No," I said, "not last night."
He saw what I meant, and laughed; and being by this time quite
himself, left that and passed to discussing the strange affair of
La Trape and the milk. "Have you found, as yet, who was good
enough to supply it?" he asked.
"No, sire," I answered. "But I will see La Trape, and as soon as
I have learned anything, your majesty shall know it."
"I suppose he is not far off now," he suggested. "Send for him.
Ten to one he will have made inquiries, and it will amuse us."
I went to the door and, opening it a trifle, bade the page who
waited send La Trape. He passed on the message to a crowd of
sleepy attendants, and quickly, but not before I had gone back to
the King's bedside, La Trape entered.
Having my eyes turned the other way, I did not at once remark
anything. But the King did; and his look of astonishment, no
less than the exclamation which accompanied it, arrested my
attention. "St. Gris, man!" he cried. "What is the matter?
La Trape, who had stopped just within the door, made an effort to
do so, but no sound passed his lips; while his pallor and the
fixed glare of his eyes filled me with the worst apprehensions.
It was impossible to look at him and not share his fright, and I
stepped forward and cried out to him to speak. "Answer the King,
man," I said. "What is it?"
He made an effort, and with a ghastly grimace, "The cat is dead!"
For a moment we were all silent. Then I looked at the King, and
he at me, with gloomy meaning in our eyes. He was the first to
speak. "The cat to whom you gave the milk?" he said.
"Yes, sire," La Trape answered, in a voice that seemed to come
from his heart.
"But still, courage!" the King cried. "Courage, man! A dose
that would kill a cat may not kill a man. Do you feel ill?"
"Oh, yes, sire," La Trape moaned.
"What do you feel?"
"I have a trembling in all my limbs, and ah--ah, my God, I am a
dead man! I have a burning here--a pain like hot coals in my
vitals!" And, leaning against the wall, the unfortunate man
clasped his arms round his body and bent himself up and down in a
paroxysm of suffering.
"A doctor! a doctor!" Henry cried, thrusting one leg out of bed.
"Send for Du Laurens!" Then, as I went to the door to do so, "Can
you be sick, man?" he asked. "Try!"
"No, no; it is impossible!"
"But try, try! when did this cat die?"
"It is outside," La Trape groaned. He could say no more.
I had opened the door by this time, and found the attendants,
whom the man's cries had alarmed, in a cluster round it.
Silencing them sternly, I bade one go for M. Du Laurens, the
King's physician, while another brought me the cat that was dead.
The page who had spent the night in the King's chamber, fetched
it. I told him to bring it in, and ordering the others to let
the doctor pass when he arrived, I closed the door upon their
curiosity, and went back to the King. He had left his bed and
was standing near La Trape, endeavouring to hearten him; now
telling him to tickle his throat with a feather, and now watching
his sufferings in silence, with a face of gloom and despondency
that sufficiently betrayed his reflections. At sight of the
page, however, carrying the dead cat, he turned briskly, and we
both examined the beast which, already rigid, with staring eyes
and uncovered teeth, was not a sight to cheer anyone, much less
the stricken man. La Trape, however, seemed to be scarcely aware
of its presence. He had sunk upon a chest which stood against
the wall, and, with his body strangely twisted, was muttering
prayers, while he rocked himself to and fro unceasingly.
"It's stiff," the King said in a low voice. "It has been dead
"Since midnight," I muttered.
"Pardon, sire," the page, who was holding the cat, said; "I saw
it after midnight. It was alive then."
"You saw it!" I exclaimed. "How? Where?"
"Here, your excellency," the boy answered, quailing a little.
"What? In this room?"
"Yes, excellency. I heard a noise about--I think about two
o'clock--and his Majesty breathing very heavily, It was a noise
like a cat spitting. It frightened me, and I rose from my pallet
and went round the bed. I was just in time to see the cat jump
"From the bed?"
"Yes, your excellency. From his Majesty's chest, I think."
"And you are sure that it was this cat?"
"Yes, sire; for as soon as it was on the floor it began to writhe
and roll and bite itself, with all its fur on end, like a mad
cat. Then it flew to the door and tried to get out, and again
began to spit furiously. I thought that it would awaken the
King, and I let it out."
"And then the King did awake?"
"He was just awaking, your excellency."
"Well, sire," I said, smiling, "this accounts, I think, for your
dream of the house that fell, and the beam that lay on your
It would have been difficult to say whether at this the King
looked more foolish or more relieved. Whichever the sentiment he
entertained, however, it was quickly cut short by a lamentable
cry that drove the blood from our cheeks. La Trape was in
another paroxysm. "Oh, the poor man!" Henry cried.
"I suppose that the cat came in unseen," I said; "with him last
night, and then stayed in the room?"
"And was seized with a paroxysm here?"
"Such as he has now!" Henry answered; for La Trape had fallen to
the floor. "Such as he has now!" he repeated, his eyes flaming,
his face pale. "Oh, my friend, this is too much. Those who do
these things are devils, not men. Where is Du Laurens? Where is
the doctor? He will perish before our eyes."
"Patience, sire," I said. "He will come."
"But in the meantime the man dies."
"No, no," I said, going to La Trape, and touching his hand.
"Yet, he is very cold." And turning, I sent the page to hasten
the doctor. Then I begged the King to allow me to have the man
conveyed into another room. "His sufferings distress you, sire,
and you do him no good," I said.
"No, he shall not go!" he answered. "Ventre Saint Gris! man, he
is dying for me! He is dying in my place. He shall die here."
Still ill satisfied, I was about to press him farther, when La
Trape raised his voice, and feebly asked for me. A page who had
taken the other's place was supporting his head, and two or three
of my gentlemen, who had come in unbidden, were looking on with
scared faces. I went to the poor fellow's side, and asked what I
could do for him.
"I am dying!" he muttered, turning up his eyes. "The doctor!
I feared that he was passing, but I bade him have courage. "In a
moment he will be here," I said; while the King in distraction
sent messenger on messenger.
"He will come too late," the sinking man answered. "Excellency?"
"Yes, my good fellow," I said, stooping that I might hear him the
"I took ten pistoles yesterday from a man to get him a scullion's
place; and there is none vacant."
"It is forgiven," I said, to soothe him.
"And your excellency's favourite hound, Diane," he gasped. "She
had three puppies, not two. I sold the other."
"Well, it is forgiven, my friend. It is forgiven. Be easy," I
"Ah, I have been a villain," he groaned. "I have lived loosely.
Only last night I kissed the butler's wench, and--"
"Be easy, be easy," I said. "Here is the doctor. He will save
And I made way for M. Du Laurens, who, having saluted the King,
knelt down by the sick man, and felt his pulse; while we all
stood round, looking down on the two with grave faces. It seemed
to me that the man's eyes were growing dim, and I had little
hope. The King was the first to break the silence. "You have
hope?" he said. "You can save him?"
"Pardon, sire, a moment," the physician answered, rising from his
knees. "Where is the cat?"
Someone brought it, and M. Du Laurens, after looking at it, said
curtly, "It has been poisoned."
La Trape uttered a groan of despair. "At what hour did it take
the milk?" the physician asked.
"A little before ten last evening," I said, seeing that La Trape
was too far gone for speech.
"Ah! And the man?"
"An hour later."
Du Laurens shook his head, and was preparing to lay down the cat,
which he had taken in his hands, when some appearance led him to
examine it again and more closely. "Why what is this?" he
exclaimed, in a tone of surprise, as he took the body to the
window. "There is a large swelling under its chin."
No one answered.
"Give me a pair of scissors," he continued; and then, after a
minute, when they had been handed to him and he had removed the
fur, "Ha!" he said gravely, "this is not so simple as I thought.
The cat has been poisoned, but by a prick with some sharp
The King uttered an exclamation of incredulity. "But it drank
the milk," he said. "Some milk that--"
"Pardon, sire," Du Laurens answered positively. "A draught of
milk, however drugged, does not produce an external swelling with
a small blue puncture in the middle."
"What does?" the King asked, with something like a sneer.
"Ah, that is the question," the physician answered. "A ring,
perhaps, with a poison-chamber and hollow dart."
"But there is no question of that here," I said. "Let us be
clear. Do you say that the cat did not die of the milk?"
"I see no proof that it did," he answered. "And many things to
show that it died of poison administered by puncture."
"But then," I answered, in no little confusion of thought, "what
of La Trape?"
He turned, and with him all eyes, to the unfortunate equerry, who
still lay seemingly moribund, with his head propped on some
cushions. M. Du Laurens advanced to him and again felt his
pulse, an operation which appeared to bring a slight tinge of
colour to the fading cheeks. "How much milk did he drink?" the
physician asked after a pause.
"More than half a pint," I answered.
"And what besides?"
"A quantity of the King's posset, and a little lemonade."
"And for supper? What did you have?" the leech continued,
addressing himself to his patient.
"I had some wine," he answered feebly. "And a little Frontignac
with the butler; and some honey-mead that the gipsy-wench gave
"The butler's girl, of whom I spoke."
M. Du Laurens rose slowly to his feet, and, to my amazement,
dealt the prostrate man a hearty kick; bidding him at the same
time to rise. "Get up, fool! Get up," he continued harshly, yet
with a ring of triumph in his voice, "all you have got is the
colic, and it is no more than you deserve. Get up, I say, and
beg his Majesty's pardon!"
"But," the King remonstrated in a tone of anger, "the man is
"He is no more dying than you are, sire," the other answered.
"Or, if he is, it is of fright. There, he can stand as well as
you or I!"
And to be sure, as he spoke, La Trape scrambled to his feet, and
with a mien between shame and doubt stood staring at us, the very
picture of a simpleton. It was no wonder that his jaw fell and
his impudent face burned; for the room shook with such a roar of
laughter, at first low, and then as the King joined in it,
swelling louder and louder, as few of us had ever heard, Though I
was not a little mortified by the way in which we had deceived
ourselves, I could not help joining in the laugh; particularly as
the more closely we reviewed the scene in which we had taken
part, the more absurd seemed the jest. It was long before
silence could be obtained; but at length Henry, quite exhausted
by the violence of his mirth held up his hand. I seized the
"Why, you rascal!" I said, addressing La Trape, who did not know
which way to look, "where are the ten crowns of which you
defrauded the scullion?"
"To be sure," the King said, going off into another roar. "And
the third puppy?"
"Yes," I said, "you scoundrel; and the third puppy?"
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