STORIES BY ENGLISH AUTHORS: FRANCE
Part 3 out of 3
us was so full of a solemn quiet, that I was not surprised to hear La
Trape mutter a short prayer. For my part, assured that something more
than chance had brought me hither, I dismounted, and spoke
encouragement to the hound; but it only leaped upon me. Then I walked
round the enclosure, and presently remarked, close to the hedge, three
small patches where the grass was slightly trodden down. Another glance
told me much, for I saw that at these places the hedge, about three
feet from the ground, bore traces of the axe. Choosing the nearest
spot, I stooped, until my eyes were level with the hole thus made, and
discovered that I was looking through a funnel skilfully cut in the
wall of box. At my end the opening was rather larger than a man's face;
at the other end about as large as the palm of the hand. The funnel
rose gradually, so that I took the further extremity of it to be about
seven feet from the ground, and here it disclosed a feather dangling on
a spray. From the light falling strongly on this, I judged it to be not
in the hedge, but a pace or two from it on the hither side of another
fence of box. On examining the remaining loopholes I discovered that
they bore upon the same feather.
My own mind was at once made up, but I bade my valet go through the
same investigation, and then asked him whether he had ever seen an
ambush of this kind laid for game. He replied at once that the shot
would pass over the tallest stag; and, fortified by this, I mounted
without saying more, and we retraced our steps. The hound presently
slipped away, and without further adventure we reached Fontainebleau a
little after sunset.
I expected to be received by the king with coldness and displeasure,
but it chanced that a catarrh had kept him within doors all day, and,
unable to hunt or to visit his new flame, he had been at leisure in
this palace without a court to consider the imprudence he was
committing. He received me, therefore, with the hearty laugh of a
school-boy detected in a petty fault; and as I hastened to relate to
him some of the things which M. de Boisrose had said of the Baron de
Rosny, I soon had the gratification of perceiving that my presence was
not taken amiss. His Majesty gave orders that bedding should be
furnished for my pavilion, and that his household should wait on me,
and himself sent me from his table a couple of chickens and a fine
melon, bidding me at the same time to come to him when I had supped.
I did so, and found him alone in his closet, awaiting me with
impatience, for he had already divined that I had not made this journey
merely to reproach him. Before informing him, however, of my
suspicions, I craved leave to ask him one or two questions, and, in
particular, whether he had been in the habit of going to Malesherbes
"Daily," he admitted, with a grimace. "What more, grand master?"
"By what road, sire?"
"I have commonly hunted in the morning and visited Malesherbes at
midday. I have returned as a rule by the bridle-path, which crosses the
Rock of the Serpents."
"Patience, sir, one moment," I said. "Does that path run anywhere
through a plantation of box?"
"To be sure," he answered, without hesitation. "About half a mile on
this side of the rock it skirts Madame Catherine's maze."
Thereon I told the king without reserve all that had happened. He
listened with the air of apparent carelessness which he always assumed
when the many plots against his life were under discussion; but at the
end he embraced me again and again with tears in his eyes.
"France is beholden to you," he said. "I have never had, nor shall
have, such another servant as you, Rosny! The three ruffians at the
inn," he continued, "are the tools, of course, and the hound has been
in the habit of accompanying them to the spot. Yesterday, I remember, I
walked by that place with the bridle on my arm."
"By a special providence, sire," I said, gravely.
"It is true," he answered, crossing himself, a thing I had never yet
known him to do in private. "But now, who is the craftsman who has
contrived this pretty plot? Tell me that, grand master."
On this point, however, though I had my suspicions, I begged leave to
be excused speaking until I had slept upon it. "Heaven forbid," I said,
"that I should expose any man to your Majesty's resentment without
cause. The wrath of kings is the forerunner of death."
"I have not heard," the king answered, drily, "that the Duke of
Bouillon has called in a leech yet."
Before retiring I learned that his Majesty had with him a score of
light horse, whom La Varenne had requisitioned from Melun, and that
some of these had each day awaited him at Malesherbes, and returned
with him. Further, that Henry had been in the habit of wearing, when
riding back in the evening, a purple cloak over his hunting-suit; a
fact well known, I felt sure, to the assassins, who, unseen and in
perfect safety, could fire at the exact moment when the cloak obscured
the feather, and could then make their escape, secured by the stout
wall of box, from immediate pursuit.
I was aroused in the morning by La Varenne coming to my bedside and
bidding me hasten to the king. I did so, and found his Majesty already
in his boots and walking on the terrace with Coquet, his master of the
household, Vitry, La Varenne, and a gentleman unknown to me. On seeing
me he dismissed them, and, while I was still a great way off, called
out, chiding me for my laziness; then taking me by the hand in the most
obliging manner, he made me walk up and down with him, while he told me
what further thoughts he had of this affair; and, hiding nothing from
me, even as he bade me speak to him whatever I thought without reserve,
he required to know whether I suspected that the Entragues family were
cognizant of this.
"I cannot say, sire," I answered, prudently.
"But you suspect?"
"In your Majesty's cause I suspect all," I replied.
He sighed, and seeing that my eyes wandered to the group of gentlemen
who had betaken themselves to the terrace steps, and were thence
watching us, he asked me if I would answer for them. "For Vitry, who
sleeps at my feet when I lie alone? For Coquet?"
"For three of them I will, sire," I answered, firmly. "The fourth I do
"He is M. Louis d'Entragues."
"Ah! the count of Auvergne's half-brother?" I muttered. "And lately
returned from service in Savoy? I do not know him, your Majesty. I will
"And to-day?" the king asked, with impatience.
Thereupon I begged him to act as he had done each day since his arrival
at Fontainebleau--to hunt in the morning, to take his midday meal at
Malesherbes, to talk to all as if he had no suspicion; only on his
return to take any road save that which passed the Rock of the
The king turning to rejoin the others, I found that their attention was
no longer directed to us, but to a singular figure which had made its
appearance on the skirts of the group, and was seemingly prevented from
joining it outright only by the evident merriment with which three of
the four courtiers regarded it. The fourth, M. d'Entragues, did not
seem to be equally diverted with the stranger's quaint appearance, nor
did I fail to notice, being at the moment quick to perceive the
slightest point in his conduct, that, while the others were nudging one
another, his countenance, darkened by an Italian sun, gloomed on the
new-comer with an aspect of angry discomfiture. On his side, M. de
Boisrose--for he it was, the aged fashion of his dress more conspicuous
than ever--stood eyeing the group in mingled pride and resentment,
until, aware of his Majesty's approach, and seeing me in intimate
converse with him, he joyfully stepped forward, a look of relief taking
place of all others on his countenance.
"Ha, well met!" quoth the king in my ear. "It is your friend of
yesterday. Now we will have some sport."
Accordingly, the old soldier approaching with many low bows, the king
spoke to him graciously, and bade him say what he sought. It happened
then as I had expected. Boisrose, after telling the king his name,
turned to me and humbly begged that I would explain his complaint,
which I consented to do, and did as follows:
"This, sire," I said, gravely, "is an old and brave soldier, who
formerly served your Majesty to good purpose in Normandy; but he has
been cheated out of the recompense which he there earned by the
trickery and chicanery of one of your Majesty's counsellors, the Baron
I could not continue, for the courtiers, on hearing this from my mouth,
and on discovering that the stranger's odd appearance was but a prelude
to the real diversion, could not restrain their mirth. The king,
concealing his own amusement, turned to them with an angry air, and
bade them be silent; and the Gascon, encouraged by this, and by the
bold manner in which I had stated his grievance, scowled at them
"He alleges, sire," I continued, with the same gravity, "that the Baron
de Rosny, after promising him the government of Fecamp, bestowed it on
another, being bribed to do so, and has besides been guilty of many
base acts which make him unworthy of your Majesty's confidence. That, I
think, is your complaint, M. de Boisrose?" I concluded, turning to the
soldier, whom my deep seriousness so misled that he took up the story,
and, pouring out his wrongs, did not fail to threaten to trounce me, or
to add that I was a villain!
He might have said more, but at this the courtiers, perceiving that the
king broke into a smile, lost all control over themselves, and, giving
vent suddenly to loud peals of laughter, clasped one another by the
shoulders, and reeled to and fro in an ecstasy of enjoyment. This led
the king to give way also, and he laughed heartily, clapping me again
and again on the back; so that, in fine, there were only two serious
persons present--the poor Boisrose, who took all for lunatics, and
myself, who began to think that perhaps the jest had been carried far
My master presently saw this, and, collecting himself, turned to the
"Your complaint is one," he said, "which should not be lightly made. Do
you know the Baron de Rosny?"
Boisrose, by this time vastly mystified, said he did not.
"Then," said the king, "I will give you an opportunity of becoming
acquainted with him. I shall refer your complaint to him, and he will
decide upon it. More," he continued, raising his hand for silence as
Boisrose, starting forward, would have appealed to him, "I will
introduce you to him now. This is the Baron de Rosny."
The old soldier glared at me for a moment with starting eyeballs, and a
dreadful despair seemed to settle on his face. He threw himself on his
knees before the king.
"Then, sire," said he, in a heartrending voice, "am I ruined! My six
children must starve, and my young wife die by the roadside!"
"That," answered the king, gravely, "must be for the Baron de Rosny to
decide. I leave you to your audience."
He made a sign to the others, and, followed by them, walked slowly
along the terrace; the while Boisrose, who had risen to his feet, stood
looking after him like one demented, shaking, and muttering that it was
a cruel jest, and that he had bled for the king, and the king made
sport of him.
Presently I touched him on the arm.
"Come, have you nothing to say to me, M. de Boisrose?" I asked,
quietly. "You are a brave soldier, and have done France service; why
then need you fear? The Baron de Rosny is one man, the king's minister
is another. It is the latter who speaks to you now. The office of
lieutenant-general of the ordnance in Normandy is empty. It is worth
twelve thousand livres by the year. I appoint you to it."
He answered that I mocked him, and that he was going mad, so that it
was long before I could persuade him that I was in earnest. When I at
last succeeded, his gratitude knew no bounds, and he thanked me again
and again with the tears running down his face.
"What I have done for you," I said, modestly, "is the reward of your
bravery. I ask only that you will not another time think that they who
rule kingdoms are as those gay popinjays yonder."
In a transport of delight he reiterated his offers of service, and,
feeling sure that I had now gained him completely, I asked him on a
sudden where he had seen Louis d'Entragues before. In two words the
truth came out. He had observed him on the previous day in conference
at the forest inn with the three bullies whom I had remarked there. I
was not surprised at this; D'Entragues's near kinship to the Count of
Auvergne, and the mingled feelings with which I knew that the family
regarded Henry, preparing me to expect treachery in that quarter.
Moreover, the nature of the ambush was proof that its author resided in
the neighbourhood and was intimately acquainted with the forest. I
should have carried this information at once to my master, but I
learned that he had already started, and thus baffled, and believing
that his affection for Mademoiselle d'Entragues, if not for her sister,
would lead him to act with undue leniency, I conceived and arranged a
plan of my own.
About noon, therefore, I set out as if for a ride, attended by La Trape
only, but at some distance from the palace we were joined by Boisrose,
whom I had bidden to be at that point well armed and mounted. Thus
reinforced, for the Gascon was still strong, and in courage a Grillon,
I proceeded to Malesherbes by a circuitous route which brought me
within sight of the gates about the middle of the afternoon. I then
halted under cover of the trees, and waited until I saw the king,
attended by several ladies and gentlemen, and followed by eight
troopers, issue from the chateau. His Majesty was walking, his horse
being led behind him; and seeing this I rode out and approached the
party as if I had that moment arrived to meet the king.
It would not ill become me on this occasion to make some reflections on
the hollowness of court life, which has seldom been better exemplified
than in the scene before me. The sun was low, but its warm beams,
falling aslant on the gaily dressed group at the gates and on the
flowered terraces and gray walls behind them, seemed to present a
picture at once peaceful and joyous. Yet I knew that treachery and
death were lurking in the midst, and it was only by an effort that, as
I rode up, I could make answer to the thousand obliging things with
which I was greeted, and of which not the least polite were said by M.
d'Entragues and his son. I took pains to observe Mademoiselle Susette,
a beautiful girl not out of her teens, but noways comparable, as it
seemed to me, in expression and vivacity, with her famous sister. She
was walking beside the king, her hands full of flowers, and her face
flushed with excitement and timidity, and I came quickly to the
conclusion that she knew nothing of what was intended by her family,
who, having made the one sister the means of gratifying their avarice,
were now baiting the trap of their revenge with the other.
Henry parted from her at length, and mounted his horse amid a ripple of
laughter and compliments, D'Entragues holding the stirrup and his son
the cloak. I observed that the latter, as I had expected, was prepared
to accompany us, which rendered my plan more feasible. Our road lay for
a league in the direction of the Rock of the Serpents, the track which
passed the latter presently diverging from it. For some distance we
rode along in easy talk, but, on approaching the point of separation,
the king looked at me with a whimsical air, as though he would lay on
me the burden of finding an excuse for avoiding the shorter way home. I
had foreseen this, and looked round to ascertain the position of our
company. I found that La Varenne and D'Entragues were close behind us,
while the troopers, with La Trape and Boisrose, were a hundred paces
farther to the rear, and Vitry and Coquet had dropped out of sight.
This being so, I suddenly reined in my horse so as to back it into that
of D'Entragues, and then wheeled round on the latter, taking care to be
between him and the king.
"M. Louis d'Entragues," I said, dropping the mask and addressing him
with all the scorn and detestation which I felt, and which he deserved,
"your plot is discovered! If you would save your life confess to his
Majesty here and now all you know, and throw yourself on his mercy!"
I confess that I had failed to take into account the pitch to which his
nerves would be strung at such a time, and had expected to produce a
greater effect than followed my words. His hand went indeed to his
breast, but it was hard to say which was the more discomposed, La
Varenne or he. And the manner in which, with scorn and defiance, he
flung back my accusation in my teeth, lacked neither vigour nor the
semblance of innocence. While Henry was puzzled, La Varenne was
appalled. I saw that I had gone too far, or not far enough, and at once
calling into my face and form all the sternness in my power, I bade the
traitor remain where he was, then turning to his Majesty I craved leave
to speak to him apart.
He hesitated, looking from me to D'Entragues with an air of displeasure
which embraced us both, but in the end, without permitting M. Louis to
speak, he complied, and, going aside with me, bade me, with coldness,
As soon, however, as I had repeated to him Boisrose's words, his face
underwent a change, for he, too, had remarked the discomfiture which
the latter's appearance had caused D'Entragues in the morning.
"Ha! the villain!" he said. "I do not now think you precipitate. Arrest
him at once, but do him no harm!"
"If he resist, sire?" I asked.
"He will not," the king answered. "And in no case harm him! You
I bowed, having my own thoughts on the subject, and the king, without
looking again at D'Entragues, rode quickly away. M. Louis tried to
follow, and cried loudly after him, but I thrust my horse in the way,
and bade him consider himself a prisoner; at the same time requesting
La Varenne, with Vitry and Coquet, who had come up and were looking on
like men thunderstruck, to take four of the guards and follow the king.
"Then, sir, what do you intend to do with me?" D'Entragues asked, the
air of fierceness with which he looked from me to the six men who
remained barely disguising his apprehensions.
"That depends, M. Louis," I replied, recurring to my usual tone of
politeness, "on your answers to three questions."
He shrugged his shoulders. "Ask them," he said, curtly.
"Do you deny that you have laid an ambush for the king on the road
which passes the Rock of the Serpents?"
"Or that you were yesterday at an inn near here in converse with three
"Do you deny that there is such an ambush laid?"
"Absolutely," he repeated, with scorn. "It is an old wives' story. I
would stake my life on it."
"Enough," I answered, slowly. "You have been your own judge. The
evening grows cold, and as you are my prisoner I must have a care of
you. Kindly put on this cloak and precede me, M. d'Entragues. We return
to Fontainebleau by the Rock of the Serpents."
His eyes meeting mine, it seemed to me that for a second he held his
breath and hesitated, while a cold shadow fell and dwelt upon his
sallow face. But the stern, gloomy countenances of La Trape and
Boisrose, who had ridden up to his rein, and were awaiting his answer
with their swords drawn, determined him. With a loud laugh he took the
cloak. "It is new, I hope?" he said, lightly, as he threw it over his
It was not, and I apologised, adding, however, that no one but the king
had worn it. On this he settled it about him; and having heard me
strictly charge the two guards who followed with their arquebuses
ready, to fire on him should he try to escape, he turned his horse's
head into the path and rode slowly along it, while we followed a few
paces behind in double file.
The sun had set, and such light as remained fell cold and gray between
the trees. The crackling of a stick under a horse's hoof, or the ring
of a spur against a scabbard, were the only sounds which broke the
stillness of the wood as we proceeded. We had gone some little way when
M. Louis halted, and, turning in his saddle, called to me.
"M. de Rosny," he said,--the light had so far failed that I could
scarcely see his face,--"I have a meeting with the Viscount de Caylus
on Saturday about a little matter of a lady's glove. Should anything
prevent my appearance--"
"I will see that a proper explanation is given," I answered, bowing.
"Or if M. d'Entragues will permit me," eagerly exclaimed the Gascon,
who was riding by my side, "M. de Boisrose of St. Palais, gently born,
through before unknown to him, I will appear in his place and make the
Viscount de Caylus swallow the glove."
"You will?" said M. Louis, with politeness. "You are a gentleman. I am
obliged to you."
He waved his hand with a gesture which I afterward well remembered,
and, giving his horse the rein, went forward along the path at a brisk
walk. We followed, and I had just remarked that a plant of box was
beginning here and there to take the place of the usual undergrowth,
when a sheet of flame seemed to leap out through the dusk to meet him,
and, his horse rearing wildly, he fell headlong from the saddle without
word or cry. My men would have sprung forward before the noise of the
report had died away, and might possibly have overtaken one or more of
the assassins; but I restrained them. When La Trape dismounted and
raised the fallen man, the latter was dead.
Such were the circumstances, now for the first time made public, which
attended the discovery of this, the least known, yet one of the most
dangerous, of the many plots which were directed against the life of my
master. The course which I adopted may be blamed by some, but it is
enough for me that after the lapse of years it is approved by my
conscience and by the course of events. For it was ever the misfortune
of that great king to treat those with leniency whom no indulgence
could win; and I bear with me to this day the bitter assurance that,
had the fate which overtook Louis d'Entragues embraced the whole of
that family, the blow which ten years later cut short Henry's career
would never have been struck.
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