From the Memoirs of a Minister of France
Part 5 out of 5
"Ay, and the gipsy girl?" the King continued. "The butler's
wench, what of her? And of your evil living? Begone, begone,
rascal!" he continued, falling into a fresh paroxysm, "or you
will kill US in earnest. Would nothing else do for you but to
die in my chamber? Begone!"
I took this as a hint to clear the room, not only of La Trape
himself but of all; and presently only I and Du Laurens remained
with the King. It then appeared that there was still a mystery,
and one which it behoved us to clear up; inasmuch as Du Laurens
took the cat's death very seriously, insisting that it had died
of poison administered in a most sinister fashion, and one that
could not fail to recall to our minds the Borgian popes. It
needed no more than this to direct my suspicions to the
Florentines who swarmed about the Queen, and against whom the
King had let drop so many threats. But the indisposition which
excitement had for a time kept at bay began to return upon me;
and I was presently glad to drop the subject; and retire to my
own apartments, leaving the King to dress.
Consequently, I was not with him when the strange discovery which
followed was made. In the ordinary course of dressing, one of
the servants going to the fire-place to throw away a piece of
waste linen, thought that he heard a rat stir among the boughs.
He moved them, and in a moment a small snake crawled out, hissing
and darting out its tongue. It was killed, and then it at once
occurred to the King that he had the secret of the cat's death.
He came to me hot-foot with the news, and found me with Du
Laurens who was in the act of ordering me to bed.
I confess that I heard the story almost with apathy, so ill was
I. Not so the physician. After examining the snake, which by
the King's orders had been brought for my inspection, he
pronounced that it was not of French origin. "It has escaped
from some snake-charmer," he said.
The King seemed to be incredulous.
"I assure you that I speak the truth, sire," Du Laurens
"But how then did it come in my room?"
"That is what I should like to know, sire," the physician
answered severely; "and yet I think that I can guess. It was put
there, I fancy, by the person who sent up the milk to your
"Why do you say so?" Henry asked
"Because, sire, all snakes are inordinately fond of milk."
"Ah!" the King said slowly, with a change of countenance and a
shudder which he could not repress; "and there was milk on the
floor in the morning."
"Yes, sire; on the floor, and beside the head of your bed."
But at this stage I was attacked by a fit of illness so severe
that I had to break in on the discussion, and beg the King to
withdraw. The sickness increased on me during the day, and by
noon I was prostrate, neither taking interest in anything, nor
allowing others, who began to fear for my life, to divert their
attention. After twenty-four hours I began to mend, but still
several days elapsed before I was able to devote myself to
business; and then I found that, the master-mind being absent,
and the King, as always, lukewarm in the pursuit, nothing had
been done to detect and punish the criminal.
I could not rest easy, however, with so abominable a suspicion
attaching to my house; and as soon as I could bend my mind to the
matter I began an inquiry. At the first stage, however, I came
to an IMPASSE; the butler, who had been long in my service,
cleared himself without difficulty, but a few questions
discovered the fact that a person who had been in his department
on the evening in question was now to seek, having indeed
disappeared from that time. This was the gipsy-girl, whom La
Trape had mentioned, and whose presence in my household seemed to
need the more elucidation the farther I pushed the inquiry. In
the end I had the butler punished, but though my agents sought
the girl through Paris, and even traced her to Meaux, she was
The affair, at the King's instance, was not made public;
nevertheless, it gave him so strong a distaste for the Arsenal
that he did not again visit me, nor use the rooms I had prepared.
That later, when the first impression wore off, he would have
done so, is probable; but, alas, within a few months the malice
of his enemies prevailed over my utmost precautions, and robbed
me of the best of masters; strangely enough, as all the world now
knows, at the corner of that very Rue de la Feronnerie which he
had seen in his dream.
XII. AT FONTAINEBLEAU.
The passion which Henry still felt for Madame de Conde, and which
her flight from the country was far from assuaging, had a great
share in putting him upon the immediate execution of the designs
we had so long prepared. Looking to find in the stir and bustle
of a German campaign that relief of mind which the Court could no
longer afford him, he discovered in the unhoped-for wealth of his
treasury an additional incitement; and now waited only for the
opening of spring and the Queen's coronation to remove the last
obstacles that kept him from the field.
Nevertheless, relying on my assurances that all things were
ready, and persuaded that the more easy he showed himself the
less prepared would he find the enemy, he made no change in his
habits; but in March, 1610, went, as usual, to Fontainebleau,
where he diverted himself with hunting. It was during this visit
that the Court credited him with seeing--I think, on the Friday
before the Feast of the Virgin--the Great Huntsman; and even went
so far as to specify the part of the forest in which he came upon
it, and the form--that of a gigantic black horseman, surrounded
by hounds--which it assumed The spectre had not been seen since
the year 1598; nevertheless, the story spread widely, those who
whispered it citing in its support not only the remarkable
agitation into which the Queen fell publicly on the evening of
that day, but also some strange particulars that attended the
King's return from the forest; and, being taken up and repeated,
and confirmed, as many thought, by the unhappy sequence of his
death, the fable found a little later almost universal credence,
so that it may now be found even in books.
As it happened, however, I was that day at Fontainebleau, and
hunted with the King; and, favoured both by chance and the
confidence with which my master never failed to honour me, am
able not only to refute this story, but to narrate the actual
facts from which it took its rise. And though there are some, I
know, who boast that they had the tale from the King's own mouth,
I undertake to prove either that they are romancers who seek to
add an inch to their stature, or dull fellows who placed their
own interpretation on the hasty words he vouchsafed such
As a fact, the King, on that day wishing to discuss with me the
preparations for the Queen's entry, bade me keep close to him,
since he had more inclination for my company than the chase. But
the crowd that attended him was so large, the day being fine and
warm--and comprised, besides, so many ladies, whose badinage and
gaiety he could never forego--that I found him insensibly drawn
from me. Far from being displeased, I was glad to see him forget
the moodiness which had of late oppressed him; and beyond keeping
within sight of him, gave up, for the time, all thought of
affairs, and found in the beauty of the spectacle sufficient
compensation. The bright dresses and waving feathers of the
party showed to the greatest advantage, as the long cavalcade
wound through the heather and rocks of the valley below the
Apremonts; and whether I looked to front or rear--on the
huntsmen, with their great horns, or the hounds straining in the
leashes--I was equally charmed with a sight at once joyous and
gallant, and one to which the calls of duty had of late made me a
On a sudden a quarry was started, and the company, galloping off
pell-mell, with a merry burst of music, were in a moment
dispersed, some taking this track, and others that, through the
rocks and DEBRIS that make that part of the forest difficult.
Singling out the King, I kept as near him as possible until the
chase led us into the Apremont coverts, where, the trees growing
thickly, and the rides cut through them being intricate, I lost
him for a while. Again, however, I caught sight of him flying
down a ride bordered by dark-green box-trees, against which his
white hunting coat showed vividly; but now he was alone, and
riding in a direction which each moment carried him farther from
the line of the chase, and entangled him more deeply in the
Supposing that he had made a bad cast and was in error, I dashed
the spurs into my horse, and galloped after him; then, finding
that he still held his own, and that I did not overtake him, but
that, on the contrary, he was riding at the top of his speed, I
called to him. "You are in error, sire, I think!" I cried.
"The hounds are the other way!"
He heard, for he raised his hand, and, without turning his head,
made me a sign; but whether of assent or denial, I could not
tell. And he still held on his course. Then, for a moment, I
fancied that his horse had got the better of him, and was running
away; but no sooner had the thought occurred to me than I saw
that he was spurring it, and exciting it to its utmost speed, so
that we reached the end of that ride, and rushed through another
and still another, always making, I did not fail to note, for the
most retired part of the forest,
We had proceeded in this way about a mile, and the sound of the
hunt had quite died away behind us, and I was beginning to chafe,
as well as marvel, at conduct so singular, when at last I saw
that he was slackening his pace. My horse, which was on the
point of failing, began, in turn, to overhaul his, while I looked
out with sharpened curiosity for the object of pursuit. I could
see nothing, however, and no one; and had just satisfied myself
that this was one of the droll freaks in which he would sometimes
indulge, and that in a second or two he would turn and laugh at
my discomfiture, when, on a sudden, with a final pull at the
reins, he did turn, and showed me a face flushed with passion and
I was so taken aback that I cried out. "MON DIEU! sire," I
said. "What is it? What is the matter?"
"Matter enough!" he cried, with an oath. And on that, halting
his horse, he looked at me as if he would read my heart. "VENTRE
DE SAINT GRIS!" he said, in a voice that made me tremble, "if I
were sure that there was no mistake, I would--I would never see
your face again!"
I uttered an exclamation.
"Have you not deceived me?" quoth he.
"Oh, sire, I am weary of these suspicions!" I answered,
affecting an indifference I did not feel. "If your Majesty does
But he cut me short. "Answer me!" he said harshly, his mouth
working in his beard and his eyes gleaming with excitement.
"Have you not deceived me?"
"No, sire!" I said.
"Yet you have told me day by day that Madame de Conde remained in
"And you still say so?"
"Most certainly!" I answered firmly, beginning to think that his
passion had turned his brain. "I had despatches to that effect
"Of what date?"
"Three days gone. The courier travelled night and day."
"They may be true, and still she may be here to-day?" he said,
staring at me.
"But, man, I have just seen her!" he cried impatiently.
"Madame de Conde?"
"Yes, Madame de Conde, or I am a madman!" Henry answered,
speaking a little more moderately. "I saw her gallop out of the
patch of rocks at the end of the Dormoir--where the trees begin.
She did not heed the line of the hounds, but turned straight down
the boxwood ride; and, after that, led as I followed. Did you
not see her?"
"No, sire," I said, inexpressibly alarmed--I could take it for
nothing but fantasy--"I saw no one."
"And I saw her as clearly as I see you," he answered. "She wore
the yellow ostrich-feather she wore last year, and rode her
favourite chestnut horse with a white stocking. But I could have
sworn to her by her figure alone; and she waved her hand to me."
"But, sire, out of the many ladies riding to-day--"
"There is no lady wearing a yellow feather," he answered
passionately. "And the horse! And I knew her, man! Besides,
she waved to me! And, for the others--why should they turn from
the hunt and take to the woods?"
I could not answer this, but I looked at him in fear; for, as it
was impossible that the Princess de Conde could be here, I saw no
alternative but to think him smitten with madness. The
extravagance of the passion which he had entertained for her, and
the wrath into which the news of her flight with her young
husband had thrown him, to say nothing of the depression under
which he had since suffered, rendered the idea not so unlikely as
it now seems. At any rate, I was driven for a moment to
entertain it; and gazed at him in silence, a prey to the most
We stood in a narrow ride, bordered by evergreens, with which
that part of the forest is planted; and but for the songs of the
birds the stillness would have been absolute. On a sudden the
King removed his eyes from me, and, walking his horse a pace or
two along the ride, uttered a cry of joy.
He pointed to the ground. "We are right!" he said. "There are
her tracks! Come! We will overtake her yet!"
I looked, and saw the fresh prints of a horse's shoes, and felt a
great weight roll off my mind, for at least he had seen someone.
I no longer hesitated to fall in with his humour, but, riding
after him, kept at his elbow until he reached the end of the
ride. Here, a vista opening right and left, and the ground being
hard and free from tracks, we stood at a loss; until the King,
whose eyesight was always of the keenest, uttered an exclamation,
and started from me at a gallop.
I followed more slowly, and saw him dismount and pick up a glove,
which, even at that distance, he had discerned lying in the
middle of one of the paths. He cried, with a flushed face, that
it was Madame de Conde's; and added: "It has her perfume--her
perfume, which no one else uses!"
I confess that this so staggered me that I knew not what to
think; but, between sorrow at seeing my master so infatuated and
bewilderment at a riddle that grew each moment more perplexing, I
sat gaping at Henry like a man without counsel. However, at the
moment, he needed none, but, getting to his saddle as quickly as
he could, he began again to follow the tracks of the horse's
feet, which here were visible, the path running through a beech
wood. The branches were still bare, and the shining trunks stood
up like pillars, the ground about them being soft. We followed
the prints through this wood for a mile and a half or more, and
then, with a cry, the King darted from me, and, in an instant,
was racing through the wood at break-neck speed.
I had a glimpse of a woman flying far ahead of us; and now hidden
from us by the trunks and now disclosed; and could even see
enough to determine that she wore a yellow feather drooping from
her hat, and was in figure not unlike the Princess. But that was
all; for, once started, the inequalities of the ground drew my
eyes from the flying form, and, losing it, I could not again
recover it. On the contrary, it was all I could do to keep up
with the King; and of the speed at which the woman was riding,
could best judge by the fact that in less than five minutes he,
too, pulled-up with a gesture of despair, and waited for me to
come abreast of him.
"You saw her?" he said, his face grim, and with something of
suspicion lurking in it.
"Yes, sire," I answered, "I saw a woman, and a woman with a
yellow feather; but whether it was the Princess--"
"It was!" he said. "If not, why should she flee from us?"
To that, again, I had not a word to say, and for a moment we rode
in silence. Observing, however, that this last turn had brought
us far on the way home, I called the King's attention to this;
but he had sunk into a fit of gloomy abstraction, and rode along
with his eyes on the ground. We proceeded thus until the slender
path we followed brought up into the great road that leads
through the forest to the kennels and the new canal.
Here I asked him if he would not return to the chase, as the day
was still young.
"Mon Dieu, no!" he answered passionately. "I have other work to
do. Hark ye, M. le Duc, do you still think that she is in
"I swear that she was there three days ago, sire!"
"And you are not deceiving me? If it be so, God forgive you, for
I shall not!"
"It is no trick of mine, sire," I answered firmly.
"Trick?" he cried, with a flash of his eyes. "A trick, you say?
No, VENTRE DE SAINT GRIS! there is no man in France dare trick
I did not contradict him, the rather as we were now close to the
kennels, and I was anxious to allay his excitement; that it might
not be detected by the keen eyes that lay in wait for us, and so
add to the gossip to which his early return must give rise. I
hoped that at that hour he might enter unperceived, by way of the
kennels and the little staircase; but in this I was disappointed,
the beauty of the day having tempted a number of ladies, and
others who had not hunted, to the terrace by the canal; whence,
walking up and down, their fans and petticoats fluttering in the
sunshine, and their laughter and chatter filling the air, they
were able to watch our approach at their leisure.
Unfortunately, Henry had no longer the patience and self-control
needful for such a RENCONTRE. He dismounted with a dark and
peevish air, and, heedless of the staring, bowing throng, strode
up the steps. Two or three, who stood high in favour, put
themselves forward to catch a smile or a word, but he vouchsafed
neither. He walked through them with a sour air, and entered the
chateau with a precipitation that left all tongues wagging.
To add to the misfortune, something--I forget what--detained me a
moment, and that cost us dear. Before I could cross the terrace,
Concini, the Italian, came up, and, saluting me, said that the
Queen desired to speak to me.
"The Queen?" I said, doubtfully, foreseeing trouble.
"She is waiting at the gate of the farther court," he answered
politely, his keen black eyes reverting, with eager curiosity, to
the door by which the King had disappeared.
I could not refuse, and went to her. "The King has returned
early, M. le Duc?" she said.
"Yes, madame," I answered. "He had a fancy to discuss affairs
to-day, and we lost the hounds."
"I had the honour, Madame."
"You do not seem to have agreed very well?" she said, smiling.
"Madame," I answered bluntly, "his Majesty has no more faithful
servant; but we do not always agree."
She raised her hand, and, with a slight gesture, bade her ladies
stand back, while her face lost its expression of good-temper,
and grew sharp and dark. "Was it about the Conde?" she said, in
a low, grating voice. "No, madame," I answered; "it was about
certain provisions. The King's ear had been grossly abused, and
his Majesty led to believe--"
"Faugh!" she cried, with a wave of contempt, "that is an old
story! I am sick of it. Is she still at Brussels?"
"Then see that she stops there!" her Majesty retorted, with a
And with that she dismissed me, and went into the chateau. I
proposed to rejoin the King; but, to my chagrin, I found, when I
reached the closet, that he had already sent for Varennes, and
was shut up with him. I went back to my rooms therefore, and,
after changing my hunting suit and transacting some necessary
business, sat down to dinner with Nicholas, the King's secretary,
a man fond of the table, whom I often entertained. He kept me in
talk until the afternoon was well advanced, and we were still at
table when Maignan appeared and told me that the King had sent
"I will go," I said, rising.
"He is with the Queen, your Excellency," he continued.
This somewhat surprised me, but I thought no evil; and, finding
one of the Queen's Italian pages at the door waiting to conduct
me, I followed him across the court that lay between my lodgings
and her apartments. Two or three of the King's gentlemen were in
the anteroom when I arrived, and Varennes, who was standing by
one of the fire-places toying with a hound, made me a face of
dismay; he could not speak, owing to the company.
Still this, in a degree, prepared me for the scene in the
chamber, where I found the Queen storming up and down the room,
while the King, still in his hunting dress, sat on a low chair by
the fire, apparently drying his boots. Mademoiselle Galigai, the
Queen's waiting-woman, stood in the background; but more than
this I had not time to observe, for, before I had reached the
middle of the floor, the Queen turned on me, and began to abuse
me with a vehemence which fairly shocked me.
"And you!" she cried, "who speak so slow, and look so solemn,
and all the time do his dirty work, like the meanest cook he has
ennobled! It is well you are here! ENFIN, you are found out--
you and your provisions! Your provisions, of which you talked in
"MON DIEU!" the King groaned; "give me patience!"
"He has given me patience these ten years, sire!" she retorted
passionately. "Patience to see myself flouted by your
favourites, insulted and displaced, and set aside! But this is
too much! It was enough that you made yourself the laughing-
stock of France once with this madame! I will not have it again
--no: though twenty of your counsellors frown at me!"
"Your Majesty seems displeased," I said. "But as I am quite in
"Liar!" she cried, giving way to her fury. "When you were with
her this morning! When you saw her! When you stooped to--"
"Madame!" he King said sternly, "if you forget yourself, be good
enough to remember that you are speaking to French gentlemen, not
to traders of Florence!"
She sneered. "You think to wound me by that!" she cried,
breathing quickly. "But I have my grandfather's blood in me,
sire; and no King of France--"
"One King of France will presently make your uncle of that blood
sing small!" the King answered viciously. "So much for that;
and for the rest, sweetheart, softly, softly!"
"Oh!" she cried, "I will go: I will not stay to be outraged by
that woman's presence!"
I had now an inkling what was the matter; and discerning that the
quarrel was a more serious matter than their every-day
bickerings, and threatened to go to lengths that might end in
disaster, I ignored the insult her Majesty had flung at me, and
entreated her to be calm. "if I understand aright, madame," I
said, "you have some grievance against his Majesty. Of that I
know nothing. But I also understand that you allege something
against me; and it is to speak to that, I presume, that I am
summoned. If you will deign to put the matter into words--"
"Words!" she cried. "You have words enough! But get out of
this, Master Grave-Airs, if you can! Did you, or did you not,
tell me this morning that the Princess of Conde was in Brussels?"
"I did, madame."
"Although half an hour before you had seen her, you had talked
with her, you had been with her in the forest?"
"But I had not, madame!"
"What?" she cried, staring at me, surprised doubtless that I
manifested no confusion. "Do you say that you did not see her?"
"I did not."
"Nor the King?"
"The King, Madame, cannot have seen her this morning," I said,
"because he is here and she is in Brussels."
"You persist in that?"
"Certainly!" I said. "Besides, madame," I continued, "I have no
doubt that the King has given you his word--"
"His word is good for everyone but his wife!" she answered
bitterly. "And for yours, M. le Duc, I will show you what it is
worth. Mademoiselle, call--"
"Nay, madame!" I said, interrupting her with spirit, "if you are
going to call your household to contradict me--"
"But I am not!" she cried in a voice of triumph that, for the
moment, disconcerted me. "Mademoiselle, send to M. de
Bassompierre's lodgings, and bid him come to me!"
The King whistled softly, while I, who knew Bassompierre to be
devoted to him, and to be, in spite of the levity to which his
endless gallantries bore witness, a man of sense and judgment,
prepared myself for a serious struggle; judging that we were in
the meshes of an intrigue, wherein it was impossible to say
whether the Queen figured as actor or dupe. The passion she
evinced as she walked to and fro with clenched hands, or turned
now and again to dart a fiery glance at the Cordovan curtain that
hid the door, was so natural to her character that I found myself
leaning to the latter supposition. Still, in grave doubt what
part Bassompierre was to play, I looked for his coming as
anxiously as anyone. And probably the King shared this feeling;
but he affected indifference, and continued to sit over the fire
with an air of mingled scorn and peevishness.
At length Bassompierre entered, and, seeing the King, advanced
with an open brow that persuaded me, at least, of his innocence.
Attacked on the instant, however, by the Queen, and taken by
surprise, as it were, between two fires--though the King kept
silence, and merely shrugged his shoulders--his countenance fell.
He was at that time one of the handsomest gallants about the
Court, thirty years old, and the darling of women; but at this
his APLOMB failed him, and with it my heart sank also.
"Answer, sir! answer!" the Queen cried. "And without
subterfuge! Who was it, sir, whom you saw come from the forest
"In one word!"
"If your Majesty will--"
"I will permit you to answer," the Queen exclaimed.
"I saw his Majesty return," he faltered--"and M. de Sully."
"Before them! before them!"
"I may have been mistaken."
"Pooh, man!" the Queen cried with biting contempt. "You have
told it to half-a-dozen. Discretion comes a little late."
"Well, if you will, madame," he said, striving to assert himself,
but cutting a poor figure, "I fancied that I saw Madame de Conde
"Come out of the wood ten minutes before the King?"
"It may have been twenty," he muttered.
But the Queen cared no more for him. She turned, looking superb
in her wrath, to the King. "Now, sir!" she said. "Am I to bear
"Sweet!" the King said, governing his temper in a way that
surprised me, "hear reason, and you shall have it in a word. How
near was Bassompierre to the lady he saw?"
"I was not within fifty paces of her!" the favourite cried
"But others saw her!" the Queen rejoined sharply. "Madame
Paleotti, who was with the gentleman, saw her also, and knew
"At a distance of fifty paces?" the King said drily. "I don't
attach much weight to that." And then, rising, with a slight
yawn. "Madame," he continued, with the air of command which he
knew so well how to assume, "for the present, I am tired! If
Madame de Conde is here, it will not be difficult to get further
evidence of her presence. If she is at Brussels, that fact, too,
you can ascertain. Do the one or the other, as you please; but,
for to-day, I beg that you will excuse me."
"And that," the Queen cried shrilly--"that is to be--"
"All, madame!" the King said sternly. "Moreover, let me have no
prating outside this room. Grand-Master, I will trouble you."
And with these words, uttered in a voice and with an air that
silenced even the angry woman before us, he signed to me to
follow him, and went from the room; the first glance of his eye
stilling the crowded ante-chamber, as if the shadow of death
passed with him. I followed him to his closet; but, until he
reached it, had no inkling of what was in his thoughts. Then he
turned to me.
"Where is she?" he said sharply.
I stared at him a moment. "Pardon, said. "Do you think that it
was Madame de Conde?"
"She is in Brussels."
"I tell you I saw her this morning!" he answered. "Go, learn
all you can! Find her! Find her! If she has returned, I will--
God knows what I will do!" he cried, in a voice shamefully
broken. "Go; and send Varennes to me. I shall sup alone: let no
I would have remonstrated with him, but he was in no mood to bear
it; and, sad at heart, I withdrew, feeling the perplexity, which
the situation caused me, a less heavy burden than the pain with
which I viewed the change that had of late come over my master;
converting him from the gayest and most DEBONAIRE of men into
this morose and solitary dreamer. Here, had I felt any
temptation to moralise on the tyranny of passion, was the
occasion; but, as the farther I left the closet behind me the
more instant became the crisis, the present soon reasserted its
power. Reflecting that Henry, in this state of uncertainty, was
capable of the wildest acts, and that not less was to be feared
from his imprudence than from the Queen's resentment, I cudgelled
my brains to explain the RENCONTRE of the morning; but as the
courier, whom I questioned, confirmed the report of my agents,
and asseverated most confidently that he had left Madame in
Brussels, I was flung back on the alternative of an accidental
resemblance. This, however, which stood for a time as the most
probable solution, scarcely accounted for the woman's peculiar
conduct, and quite fell to the ground when La Trape, making
cautious inquiries, ascertained that no lady hunting that day had
worn a yellow feather. Again, therefore, I found myself at a
loss; and the dejection of the King and the Queen's ill-temper
giving rise to the wildest surmises, and threatening each hour to
supply the gossips of the Court with a startling scandal, the
issue of which no one could foresee, I went so far as to take
into my confidence MM. Epernon and Montbazon; but with no result.
Such being my state of mind, and such the suspense I suffered
during two days, it may be imagined that M. Bassompierre was not
more happy. Despairing of the King's favour unless he could
clear up the matter, and by the event justify his indiscretion,
he became for those two days the wonder, and almost the terror,
of the Court. Ignorant of what he wanted, the courtiers found
only insolence in his mysterious questions, and something
prodigious in an activity which carried him in one day to Paris
and back, and on the following to every place in the vicinity
where news of the fleeting beauty might by any possibility be
gained; so that he far outstripped my agents, who were on the
same quest. But though I had no mean opinion of his abilities, I
hoped little from these exertions, and was proportionately
pleased when, on the third day, he came to me with a radiant face
and invited me to attend the Queen that evening.
"The King will be there," he said, "and I shall surprise you.
But I will not tell you more. Come! and I promise to satisfy
And that was all he would say; so that, finding my questions
useless, and the man almost frantic with joy, I had to be content
with it; and at the Queen's hour that evening presented myself in
her gallery, which proved to be unusually full.
Making my way towards her in some doubt of my reception, I found
my worst fears confirmed. She greeted me with a sneering face,
and was preparing, I was sure, to put some slight upon me--a
matter wherein she could always count on the applause of her
Italian servants--when the entrance of the King took her by
surprise. He advanced up the gallery with a listless air, and,
after saluting her, stood by one of the fireplaces talking to
Epernon and La Force. The crowd was pretty dense by this time,
and the hum of talk filled the room when, on a sudden, a voice,
which I recognised as Bassompierre's, was lifted above it.
"Very well!" be cried gaily, "then I appeal to her Majesty. She
shall decide, mademoiselle! No, no; I am not satisfied with your
The King looked that way with a frown, but the Queen took the
outburst in good part. "What is it, M. de Bassompierre?" she
said. "What am I to decide?"
"To-day, in the forest, I found a ring, madame," he answered,
coming forward." I told Mademoiselle de la Force of my
discovery, and she now claims the ring."
"I once had a ring like it," cried mademoiselle, blushing and
"A sapphire ring?" Bassompierre answered, holding his hand
"With three stones?"
"Precisely, mademoiselle!" he answered, bowing. "But the stones
in this ring are not sapphires, nor are there three of them."
There was a great laugh at this, and the Queen said, very
wittily, that as neither of the claimants could prove a right to
the ring it must revert to the judge.
"In one moment your Majesty shall at least see it," he answered.
"But, first, has anyone lost a ring? Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! Lost,
in the forest, within the last three days, a ring!"
Two or three, falling in with his humour, set up absurd claims to
it; but none could describe the ring, and in the end he handed it
to the Queen. As he did so his eyes met mine and challenged my
attention. I was prepared, therefore, for the cry of surprise
which broke from the Queen.
"Why, this is Caterina's!" she cried. "Where is the child?"
Someone pushed forward Mademoiselle Paleotti, sister-in-law to
Madame Paleotti, the Queen's first chamberwoman. She was barely
out of her teens, and, ordinarily, was a pretty girl; but the
moment I saw her dead-white face, framed in a circle of
fluttering fans and pitiless, sparkling eyes, I discerned tragedy
in the farce; and that M. de Bassompierre was acting in a drama
to which only he and one other held the key. The contrast
between the girl's blanched face and the beauty and glitter in
the midst of which she stood struck others, so that, before
another word was said, I caught the gasp of surprise that passed
through the room; nor was I the only one who drew nearer.
"Why, girl," the Queen said, "this is the ring I gave you on my
birthday! When did you lose it? And why have you made a secret
Mademoiselle stood speechless; but madame her sister-in-law
answered for her. "Doubtless she was afraid that your Majesty
would think her careless," she answered.
"I did not ask you!" the Queen rejoined.
She spoke harshly and suspiciously, looking from the ring to the
trembling girl. The silence was such that the chatter of the
pages in the anteroom could be heard. Still Mademoiselle stood
dumb and confounded.
"Well, what is the mystery?" the Queen said, looking round with
a little wonder. "What is the matter? It IS the ring. Why do
you not own it?"
"Perhaps mademoiselle is wondering where are the other things she
left with it!" Bassompierre said in a silky tone. "The things
she left at Parlot the verderer's, when she dropped the ring.
But she may free her mind; I have them here."
"What do you mean?" the Queen said. "What things, monsieur?
What has the girl been doing?"
"Only what many have done before her," Bassompierre answered,
bowing to his unfortunate victim, who seemed to be paralysed by
terror: "masquerading in other people's clothes. I propose,
madame, that, for punishment, you order her to dress in them,
that we may see what her taste is."
"I do not understand?" the Queen said.
"Your Majesty will, if Mademoiselle Paleotti will consent to
At that the girl uttered a cry, and looked round the circle as if
for a way of escape; but a Court is a cruel place, in which the
ugly or helpless find scant pity. A dozen voices begged the
Queen to insist; and, amid laughter and loud jests, Bassompierre
hastened to the door, and returned with an armful of women's
gear, surmounted by a wig and a feathered hat.
"If the Queen will command mademoiselle to retire and put these
on," he said, "I will undertake to show her something that will
"Go!" said the Queen.
But the girl had flung herself on her knees before her, and,
clinging to her skirts, burst, into a flood of tears and prayers;
while her sister-in-law stepped forward as if to second her, and
cried out, in great excitement, that her Majesty would not be so
cruel as to--
"Hoity, toity!" said the Queen, cutting her short, very grimly.
"What is all this? I tell the girl to put on a masquerade--
which it seems that she has been keeping at some cottage--and you
talk as if I were cutting off her head! It seems to me that she
escapes very lightly! Go! go! and see, you, that you are
arrayed in five minutes, or I will deal with you!"
"Perhaps Mademoiselle de la Force will go with her, and see that
nothing is omitted," Bassompierre said with malice.
The laughter and applause with which this proposal was received
took me by surprise; but later I learned that the two young women
were rivals. "Yes, yes," the Queen said. "Go, mademoiselle, and
see that she does not keep us waiting."
Knowing what I did, I had by this time a fair idea of the
discovery which Bassompierre had made; but the mass of courtiers
and ladies round me, who had not this advantage, knew not what to
expect--nor, especially, what part M. Bassompierre had in the
business--but made most diverting suggestions, the majority
favouring the opinion that Mademoiselle Paleotti had repulsed
him, and that this was his way of avenging himself. A few of the
ladies even taxed him with this, and tried, by random reproaches,
to put him at least on his defence; but, merrily refusing to be
inveigled, he made to all the same answer that when Mademoiselle
Paleotti returned they would see. This served only to whet a
curiosity already keen, insomuch that the door was watched by as
many eyes as if a miracle had been promised; and even MM. Epernon
and Vendome, leaving the King's side, pressed into the crowd that
they might see the better. I took the opportunity of going to
him, and, meeting his eyes as I did so, read in them a look of
pain and distress. As I advanced he drew back a pace, and signed
to me to stand before him.
I had scarcely done so when the door opened and Mademoiselle
Paleotti, pale, and supported on one side by her rival, appeared
at it; but so wondrously transformed by a wig, hat, and redingote
that I scarcely knew her. At first, as she stood, looking with
shamed eyes at the staring crowd, the impression made was simply
one of bewilderment, so complete was the disguise. But
Bassompierre did not long suffer her to stand so. Advancing to
her side, his hat under his arm, he offered his hand.
"Mademoiselle," he said, "will you oblige me by walking as far as
the end of the gallery with me?"
She complied involuntarily, being almost unable to stand alone.
But the two had not proceeded half-way down the gallery before a
low murmur began to be heard, that, growing quickly louder,
culminated in an astonished cry of "Madame de Conde! Madame de
M. Bassompierre dropped her hand with a low bow, and turned to
the Queen. "Madame," he said, "this, I find, is the lady whom I
saw on the Terrace when Madame Paleotti was so good as to invite
me to walk on the Bois-le-Roi road. For the rest, your Majesty
may draw your conclusions."
It was easy to see that the Queen had already drawn them; but,
for the moment, the unfortunate girl was saved from her wrath.
With a low cry, Mademoiselle Paleotti did that which she would
have done a little before, had she been wise, and swooned on the
I turned to look at the King, and found him gone. He had
withdrawn unseen in the first confusion of the surprise; nor did
I dare at once to interrupt him, or intrude on the strange
mixture of regret and relief, wrath and longing, that probably
possessed him in the silence of his closet. It was enough for me
that the Italians' plot had failed, and that the danger of a
rupture between the King and Queen, which these miscreants
desired, and I had felt to be so great and imminent, was, for
this time, overpast.
The Paleottis were punished, being sent home in disgrace, and a
penury, which, doubtless, they felt more keenly. But, alas, the
King could not banish with them all who hated him and France; nor
could I, with every precaution, and by the unsparing use of all
the faculties that, during a score of years, had been at the
service of my master, preserve him for his country and the world.
Before two months had run he perished by a mean hand, leaving the
world the poorer by the greatest and most illustrious sovereign
that ever ruled a nation. And men who loved neither France nor
him entered into his labours, whose end also I have seen.
Back to Full Books