Arthur Conan Doyle
Part 4 out of 8
message, to gain his way through. But how could Amos Green, a foreigner
and a civilian, hope to pass? It was impossible, clearly impossible.
And yet, somehow, in spite of the impossibility, he still clung to a
vague hope that a man so full of energy and resource might find some way
out of the difficulty.
And then the thought of escape occurred to his mind. Might he not even
now be in time, perhaps, to carry his own message? Who were these men
who had seized him? They had said nothing to give him a hint as to
whose tools they were. Monsieur and the dauphin occurred to his mind.
Probably one or the other. He had only recognised one of them, old
Major Despard, a man who frequented the low wine-shops of Versailles,
and whose sword was ever at the disposal of the longest purse.
And where were these people taking him to? It might be to his death.
But if they wished to do away with him, why should they have brought him
back to consciousness? and why this carriage and drive? Full of
curiosity, he peered out of the windows.
A horseman was riding close up on either side; but there was glass in
front of the carriage, and through this he could gain some idea as to
his whereabouts. The clouds had cleared now, and the moon was shining
brightly, bathing the whole wide landscape in its shimmering light.
To the right lay the open country, broad plains with clumps of woodland,
and the towers of castles pricking out from above the groves. A heavy
bell was ringing in some monastery, and its dull booming came and went
with the breeze. On the left, but far away, lay the glimmer of Paris.
They were leaving it rapidly behind. Whatever his destination, it was
neither the capital nor Versailles. Then he began to count the chances
of escape. His sword had been removed, and his pistols were still in the
holsters beside his unfortunate horse. He was unarmed, then, even if he
could free himself, and his captors were at least a dozen in number.
There were three on ahead, riding abreast along the white, moonlit road.
Then there was one on each side, and he should judge by the clatter of
hoofs that there could not be fewer than half a dozen behind. That would
make exactly twelve, including the coachman, too many, surely, for an
unarmed man to hope to baffle. At the thought of the coachman he had
glanced through the glass front at the broad back of the man, and he had
suddenly, in the glimmer of the carriage lamp, observed something which
struck him with horror.
The man was evidently desperately wounded. It was strange indeed that
he could still sit there and flick his whip with so terrible an injury.
In the back of his great red coat, just under the left shoulder-blade,
was a gash in the cloth, where some weapon had passed, and all round was
a wide patch of dark scarlet which told its own tale. Nor was this all.
As he raised his whip, the moonlight shone upon his hand, and De Catinat
saw with a shudder that it also was splashed and clogged with blood.
The guardsman craned his neck to catch a glimpse of the man's face; but
his broad-brimmed hat was drawn low, and the high collar of his
driving-coat was raised, so that his features were in the shadow.
This silent man in front of him, with the horrible marks upon his
person, sent a chill to De Catinat's valiant heart, and he muttered over
one of Marot's Huguenot psalms; for who but the foul fiend himself would
drive a coach with those crimsoned hands and with a sword driven through
And now they had come to a spot where the main road ran onwards, but a
smaller side track wound away down the steep slope of a hill, and so in
the direction of the Seine. The advance-guard had kept to the main
road, and the two horsemen on either side were trotting in the same
direction, when, to De Catinat's amazement, the carriage suddenly
swerved to one side, and in an instant plunged down the steep incline,
the two stout horses galloping at their topmost speed, the coachman
standing up and lashing furiously at them, and the clumsy old vehicle
bounding along in a way which threw him backwards and forwards from one
seat to the other. Behind him he could hear a shout of consternation
from the escort, and then the rush of galloping hoofs. Away they flew,
the roadside poplars dancing past at either window, the horses
thundering along with their stomachs to the earth, and that demon driver
still waving those horrible red hands in the moonlight and screaming out
to the maddened steeds. Sometimes the carriage jolted one way,
sometimes another, swaying furiously, and running on two side wheels as
though it must every instant go over. And yet, fast as they went, their
pursuers went faster still. The rattle of their hoofs was at their very
backs, and suddenly at one of the windows there came into view the red,
distended nostrils of a horse. Slowly it drew forward, the muzzle, the
eye, the ears, the mane, coming into sight as the rider still gained
upon them, and then above them the fierce face of Despard and the gleam
of a brass pistol barrel.
"At the horse, Despard, at the horse!" cried an authoritative voice from
The pistol flashed, and the coach lurched over as one of the horses gave
a convulsive spring. But the driver still shrieked and lashed with his
whip, while the carriage bounded onwards.
But now the road turned a sudden curve, and there, right in front of
them, not a hundred paces away, was the Seine, running cold and still in
the moonshine. The bank on either side of the highway ran straight down
without any break to the water's edge. There was no sign of a bridge,
and a black shadow in the centre of the stream showed where the
ferry-boat was returning after conveying some belated travellers across.
The driver never hesitated, but gathering up the reins, he urged the
frightened creatures into the river. They hesitated, however, when they
first felt the cold water about their hocks, and even as they did so one
of them, with a low moan, fell over upon her side. Despard's bullet had
found its mark. Like a flash the coachman hurled himself from the box
and plunged into the stream; but the pursuing horsemen were all round
him before this, and half-a-dozen hands had seized him ere he could
reach deep water, and had dragged him to the bank. His broad hat had
been struck off in the struggle, and De Catinat saw his face in the
moonshine. Great heavens! It was Amos Green.
THE DUNGEON OF PORTILLAC.
The desperadoes were as much astonished as was De Catinat when they
found that they had recaptured in this extraordinary manner the
messenger whom they had given up for lost. A volley of oaths and
exclamations broke from them, as, on tearing off the huge red coat of
the coachman, they disclosed the sombre dress of the young American.
"A thousand thunders!" cried one. "And this is the man whom that
devil's brat Latour would make out to be dead!"
"And how came he here?"
"And where is Etienne Arnaud?"
"He has stabbed Etienne. See the great cut in the coat!"
"Ay; and see the colour of his hand! He has stabbed him, and taken his
coat and hat."
"What! while we were all within stone's cast!"
"Ay; there is no other way out of it."
"By my soul!" cried old Despard, "I had never much love for old Etienne,
but I have emptied a cup of wine with him before now, and I shall see
that he has justice. Let us cast these reins round the fellow's neck
and hang him upon this tree."
Several pairs of hands were already unbuckling the harness of the dead
horse, when De Vivonne pushed his way into the little group, and with a
few curt words checked their intended violence.
"It is as much as your lives are worth to touch him," said he.
"But he has slain Etienne Arnaud."
"That score may be settled afterwards. To-night he is the king's
messenger. Is the other all safe?"
"Yes, he is here."
"Tie this man, and put him in beside him. Unbuckle the traces of the
dead horse. So! Now, De Carnac, put your own into the harness.
You can mount the box and drive, for we have not very far to go."
The changes were rapidly made; Amos Green was thrust in beside De
Catinat, and the carriage was soon toiling up the steep incline which it
had come down so precipitately. The American had said not a word since
his capture, and had remained absolutely stolid, with his hands crossed
over his chest whilst his fate was under discussion. Now that he was
alone once more with his comrade, however, he frowned and muttered like
a man who feels that fortune has used him badly.
"Those infernal horses!" he grumbled. "Why, an American horse would
have taken to the water like a duck. Many a time have I swum my old
stallion Sagamore across the Hudson. Once over the river, we should
have had a clear lead to Paris."
"My dear friend," cried De Catinat, laying his manacled hands upon those
of his comrade, "can you forgive me for speaking as I did upon the way
"Tut, man! I never gave it a thought."
"You were right a thousand times, and I was, as you said, a fool--a
blind, obstinate fool. How nobly you have stood by me! But how came
you there? Never in my life have I been so astonished as when I saw
Amos Green chuckled to himself. "I thought that maybe it would be a
surprise to you if you knew who was driving you," said he. "When I was
thrown from my horse I lay quiet, partly because I wanted to get a grip
of my breath, and partly because it seemed to me to be more healthy to
lie than to stand with all those swords clinking in my ears. Then they
all got round you, and I rolled into the ditch, crept along it, got on
the cross-road in the shadow of the trees, and was beside the carriage
before ever they knew that I was gone. I saw in a flash that there was
only one way by which I could be of use to you. The coachman was
leaning round with his head turned to see what was going on behind him.
I out with my knife, sprang up on the front wheel, and stopped his
"What! without a sound!"
"I have not lived among the Indians for nothing."
"I pulled him down into the ditch, and I got into his coat and his hat.
I did not scalp him."
"Scalp him? Great heavens! Such things are only done among savages."
"Ah! I thought that maybe it was not the custom of the country. I am
glad now that I did not do it. I had hardly got the reins before they
were all back and bundled you into the coach. I was not afraid of their
seeing me, but I was scared lest I should not know which road to take,
and so set them on the trail. But they made it easy to me by sending
some of their riders in front, so I did well until I saw that by-track
and made a run for it. We'd have got away, too, if that rogue hadn't
shot the horse, and if the beasts had faced the water."
The guardsman again pressed his comrade's hands. "You have been as true
to me as hilt to blade," said he. "It was a bold thought and a bold
"And what now?" asked the American.
"I do not know who these men are, and I do not know whither they are
"To their villages, likely, to burn us."
De Catinat laughed in spite of his anxiety. "You will have it that we
are back in America again," said he. "They don't do things in that way
"They seem free enough with hanging in France. I tell you, I felt like
a smoked-out 'coon when that trace was round my neck."
"I fancy that they are taking us to some place where they can shut us up
until this business blows over."
"Well, they'll need to be smart about it."
"Else maybe they won't find us when they want us."
"What do you mean?"
For answer, the American, with a twist and a wriggle, drew his two hands
apart, and held them in front of his comrade's face.
"Bless you, it is the first thing they teach the papooses in an Indian
wigwam. I've got out of a Huron's thongs of raw hide before now, and it
ain't very likely that a stiff stirrup leather will hold me. Put your
hands out." With a few dexterous twists he loosened De Catinat's bonds,
until he also was able to slip his hands free. "Now for your feet, if
you'll put them up. They'll find that we are easier to catch than to
But at that moment the carriage began to slow down, and the clank of the
hoofs of the riders in front of them died suddenly away. Peeping
through the windows, the prisoners saw a huge dark building stretching
in front of them, so high and so broad that the night shrouded it in
upon every side. A great archway hung above them, and the lamps shone
on the rude wooden gate, studded with ponderous clamps and nails. In
the upper part of the door was a small square iron grating, and through
this they could catch a glimpse of the gleam of a lantern and of a
bearded face which looked out at them. De Vivonne, standing in his
stirrups, craned his neck up towards the grating, so that the two men
most interested could hear little of the conversation which followed.
They saw only that the horseman held a gold ring up in the air, and that
the face above, which had begun by shaking and frowning, was now nodding
and smiling. An instant later the head disappeared, the door swung open
upon screaming hinges, and the carriage drove on into the courtyard
beyond, leaving the escort, with the exception of De Vivonne, outside.
As the horses pulled up, a knot of rough fellows clustered round, and
the two prisoners were dragged roughly out. In the light of the torches
which flared around them they could see that they were hemmed in by high
turreted walls upon every side. A bulky man with a bearded face, the
same whom they had seen at the grating, was standing in the centre of
the group of armed men issuing his orders.
"To the upper dungeon, Simon!" he cried. "And see that they have two
bundles of straw and a loaf of bread until we learn our master's will."
"I know not who your master may be," said De Catinat, "but I would ask
you by what warrant he dares to stop two messengers of the king while
travelling in his service?"
"By St. Denis, if my master play the king a trick, it will be but tie
and tie," the stout man answered, with a grin. "But no more talk!
Away with them, Simon, and you answer to me for their safe-keeping."
It was in vain that De Catinat raved and threatened, invoking the most
terrible menaces upon all who were concerned in detaining him. Two
stout knaves thrusting him from behind and one dragging in front forced
him through a narrow gate and along a stone-flagged passage, a small man
in black buckram with a bunch of keys in one hand and a swinging lantern
in the other leading the way. Their ankles had been so tied that they
could but take steps of a foot in length. Shuffling along, they made
their way down three successive corridors and through three doors, each
of which was locked and barred behind them. Then they ascended a
winding stone stair, hollowed out in the centre by the feet of
generations of prisoners and of jailers, and finally they were thrust
into a small square dungeon, and two trusses of straw were thrown in
after them. An instant later a heavy key turned in the lock, and they
were left to their own meditations.
Very grim and dark those meditations were in the case of De Catinat.
A stroke of good luck had made him at court, and now this other of ill
fortune had destroyed him. It would be in vain that he should plead his
own powerlessness. He knew his royal master well. He was a man who was
munificent when his orders were obeyed, and inexorable when they
miscarried. No excuse availed with him. An unlucky man was as
abhorrent to him as a negligent one. In this great crisis the king had
trusted him with an all-important message, and that message had not been
delivered. What could save him now from disgrace and from ruin?
He cared nothing for the dim dungeon in which he found himself, nor for
the uncertain fate which hung over his head, but his heart turned to
lead when he thought of his blasted career, and of the triumph of those
whose jealousy had been aroused by his rapid promotion. There were his
people in Paris, too--his sweet Adele, his old uncle, who had been as
good as a father to him. What protector would they have in their
troubles now that he had lost the power that might have shielded them?
How long would it be before they were exposed once more to the
brutalities of Dalbert and his dragoons? He clenched his teeth at the
thought, and threw himself down with a groan upon the litter of straw
dimly visible in the faint light which streamed through the single
But his energetic comrade had yielded to no feeling of despondency.
The instant that the clang of the prison door had assured him that he
was safe from interruption he had slipped off the bonds which held him
and had felt all round the walls and flooring to see what manner of
place this might be. His search had ended in the discovery of a small
fireplace at one corner, and of two great clumsy billets of wood, which
seemed to have been left there to serve as pillows for the prisoners.
Having satisfied himself that the chimney was so small that it was
utterly impossible to pass even his head up it, he drew the two blocks
of wood over to the window, and was able, by placing one above the other
and standing on tiptoe on the highest, to reach the bars which guarded
it. Drawing himself up, and fixing one toe in an inequality of the
wall, he managed to look out on to the courtyard which they had just
quitted. The carriage and De Vivonne were passing out through the gate
as he looked, and he heard a moment later the slam of the heavy door and
the clatter of hoofs from the troop of horsemen outside. The seneschal
and his retainers had disappeared; the torches, too, were gone, and,
save for the measured tread of a pair of sentinels in the yard twenty
feet beneath him, all was silent throughout the great castle.
And a very great castle it was. Even as he hung there with straining
hands his eyes were running in admiration and amazement over the huge
wall in front of him, with its fringe of turrets and pinnacles and
battlements all lying so still and cold in the moonlight. Strange
thoughts will slip into a man's head at the most unlikely moments. He
remembered suddenly a bright summer day over the water when first he had
come down from Albany, and how his father had met him on the wharf by
the Hudson, and had taken him through the water-gate to see Peter
Stuyvesant's house, as a sign of how great this city was which had
passed from the Dutch to the English. Why, Peter Stuyvesant's house and
Peter Stuyvesant's Bowery villa put together would not make one wing of
this huge pile, which was itself a mere dog-kennel beside the mighty
palace at Versailles. He would that his father were here now; and
then, on second thoughts, he would not, for it came back to him that he
was a prisoner in a far land, and that his sight-seeing was being done
through the bars of a dungeon window.
The window was large enough to pass his body through if it were not for
those bars. He shook them and hung his weight upon them, but they were
as thick as his thumb and firmly welded. Then, getting some strong hold
for his other foot, he supported himself by one hand while he picked
with his knife at the setting of the iron. It was cement, as smooth as
glass and as hard as marble. His knife turned when he tried to loosen
it. But there was still the stone. It was sandstone, not so very hard.
If he could cut grooves in it, he might be able to draw out bars,
cement, and all. He sprang down to the floor again, and was thinking
how he should best set to work, when a groan drew his attention to his
"You seem sick, friend," said he.
"Sick in mind," moaned the other. "Oh, the cursed fool that I have
been! It maddens me!"
"Something on your mind?" said Amos Green, sitting down upon his billets
of wood. "What was it, then?"
The guardsman made a movement of impatience. "What was it? How can you
ask me, when you know as well as I do the wretched failure of my
mission. It was the king's wish that the archbishop should marry them.
The king's wish is the law. It must be the archbishop or none.
He should have been at the palace by now. Ah, my God! I can see the
king's cabinet, I can see him waiting, I can see madame waiting, I can
hear them speak of the unhappy De Catinat--" He buried his face in his
hands once more.
"I see all that," said the American stolidly, "and I see something
"I see the archbishop tying them up together."
"The archbishop! You are raving."
"Maybe. But I see him."
"He could not be at the palace."
"On the contrary, he reached the palace about half an hour ago."
De Catinat sprang to his feet. "At the palace!" he screamed. "Then who
gave him the message?"
"I did," said Amos Green.
A NIGHT OF SURPRISES.
If the American had expected to surprise or delight his companion by
this curt announcement he was woefully disappointed, for De Catinat
approached him with a face which was full of sympathy and trouble, and
laid his hand caressingly upon his shoulder.
"My dear friend," said he, "I have been selfish and thoughtless. I have
made too much of my own little troubles and too little of what you have
gone through for me. That fall from your horse has shaken you more than
you think. Lie down upon this straw, and see if a little sleep may
"I tell you that the bishop is there!" cried Amos Green impatiently.
"Quite so. There is water in this jug, and if I dip my scarf into it
and tie it round your brow--"
"Man alive! Don't you hear me! The bishop is there."
"He is, he is," said De Catinat soothingly. "He is most certainly
there. I trust that you have no pain?"
The American waved in the air with his knotted fists. "You think that I
am crazed," he cried, "and, by the eternal, you are enough to make me
so! When I say that I sent the bishop, I mean that I saw to the job.
You remember when I stepped back to your friend the major?"
It was the soldier's turn to grow excited now. "Well?" he cried,
gripping the other's arm.
"Well, when we send a scout into the woods, if the matter is worth it,
we send a second one at another hour, and so one or other comes back
with his hair on. That's the Iroquois fashion, and a good fashion too."
"My God! I believe that you have saved me!"
"You needn't grip on to my arm like a fish-eagle on a trout! I went
back to the major, then, and I asked him when he was in Paris to pass by
the archbishop's door."
"I showed him this lump of chalk. 'If we've been there,' said I,
'you'll see a great cross on the left side of the door-post. If there's
no cross, then pull the latch and ask the bishop if he'll come up to the
palace as quick as his horses can bring him.' The major started an hour
after us; he would be in Paris by half-past ten; the bishop would be in
his carriage by eleven, and he would reach Versailles half an hour ago,
that is to say, about half-past twelve. By the Lord, I think I've
driven him off his head!"
It was no wonder that the young woodsman was alarmed at the effect of
his own announcement. His slow and steady nature was incapable of the
quick, violent variations of the fiery Frenchman. De Catinat, who had
thrown off his bonds before he had lain down, spun round the cell now,
waving his arms and his legs, with his shadow capering up the wall
behind him, all distorted in the moonlight. Finally he threw himself
into his comrade's arms with a torrent of thanks and ejaculations and
praises and promises, patting him with his hands and hugging him to his
"Oh, if I could but do something for you!" he exclaimed. "If I could do
something for you!"
"You can, then. Lie down on that straw and go to sleep."
"And to think that I sneered at you! I! Oh, you have had your
"For the Lord's sake, lie down and go to sleep!" By persuasions and a
little pushing he got his delighted companion on to his couch again, and
heaped the straw over him to serve as a blanket. De Catinat was wearied
out by the excitements of the day, and this last great reaction seemed
to have absorbed all his remaining strength. His lids drooped heavily
over his eyes, his head sank deeper into the soft straw, and his last
remembrance was that the tireless American was seated cross-legged in
the moonlight, working furiously with his long knife upon one of the
billets of wood.
So weary was the young guardsman that it was long past noon, and the sun
was shining out of a cloudless blue sky, before he awoke. For a moment,
enveloped as he was in straw, and with the rude arch of the dungeon
meeting in four rough-hewn groinings above his head, he stared about him
in bewilderment. Then in an instant the doings of the day before, his
mission, the ambuscade, his imprisonment, all flashed back to him, and
he sprang to his feet. His comrade, who had been dozing in the corner,
jumped up also at the first movement, with his hand on his knife, and a
sinister glance directed towards the door.
"Oh, it's you, is it?" said he, "I thought it was the man."
"Has some one been in, then?"
"Yes; they brought those two loaves and a jug of water, just about dawn,
when I was settling down for a rest."
"And did he say anything?"
"No; it was the little black one."
"Simon, they called him."
"The same. He laid the things down and was gone. I thought that maybe
if he came again we might get him to stop."
"Maybe if we got these stirrup leathers round his ankles he would not
get them off quite as easy as we have done."
"And what then?"
"Well, he would tell us where we are, and what is to be done with us."
"Pshaw! what does it matter since our mission is done?"
"It may not matter to you--there's no accounting for tastes--but it
matters a good deal to me. I'm not used to sitting in a hole, like a
bear in a trap, waiting for what other folks choose to do with me.
It's new to me. I found Paris a pretty close sort of place, but it's a
prairie compared to this. It don't suit a man of my habits, and I am
going to come out of it."
"There's no help but patience, my friend."
"I don't know that. I'd get more help out of a bar and a few pegs."
He opened his coat, and took out a short piece of rusted iron, and three
small thick pieces of wood, sharpened at one end.
"Where did you get those, then?"
"These are my night's work. The bar is the top one of the grate. I had
a job to loosen it, but there it is. The pegs I whittled out of that
"And what are they for?"
"Well, you see, peg number one goes in here, where I have picked a hole
between the stones. Then I've made this other log into a mallet, and
with two cracks there it is firm fixed, so that you can put your weight
on it. Now these two go in the same way into the holes above here.
So! Now, you see, you can stand up there and look out of that window
without asking too much of your toe joint. Try it."
De Catinat sprang up and looked eagerly out between the bars.
"I do not know the place," said he, shaking his head.
"It may be any one of thirty castles which lie upon the south side of
Paris, and within six or seven leagues of it. Which can it be? And who
has any interest in treating us so? I would that I could see a coat of
arms, which might help us. Ah! there is one yonder in the centre of the
mullion of the window. But I can scarce read it at the distance.
I warrant that your eyes are better than mine, Amos, and that you can
read what is on yonder escutcheon."
"On the stone slab in the centre window."
"Yes, I see it plain enough. It looks to me like three turkey-buzzards
sitting on a barrel of molasses."
"Three allurions in chief over a tower proper, maybe. Those are the
arms of the Provence De Hautevilles. But it cannot be that. They have
no chateau within a hundred leagues. No, I cannot tell where we are."
He was dropping back to the floor, and put his weight upon the bar.
To his amazement, it came away in his hand.
"Look, Amos, look!" he cried.
"Ah, you've found it out! Well, I did that during the night."
"And how? With your knife?"
"No; I could make no way with my knife; but when I got the bar out of
the grate, I managed faster. I'll put this one back now, or some of
those folks down below may notice that we have got it loose."
"Are they all loose?"
"Only the one at present, but we'll get the other two out during the
night. You can take that bar out and work with it, while I use my own
picker at the other. You see, the stone is soft, and by grinding it you
soon make a groove along which you can slip the bar. It will be mighty
queer if we can't clear a road for ourselves before morning."
"Well, but even if we could get out into the courtyard, where could we
turn to then?"
"One thing at a time, friend. You might as well stick at the Kennebec
because you could not see how you would cross the Penobscot. Anyway,
there is more air in the yard than in here, and when the window is clear
we shall soon plan out the rest."
The two comrades did not dare to do any work during the day, for fear
they should be surprised by the jailer, or observed from without.
No one came near them, but they ate their loaves and drank their water
with the appetite of men who had often known what it was to be without
even such simple food as that. The instant that night fell they were
both up upon the pegs, grinding away at the hard stone and tugging at
the bars. It was a rainy night, and there was a sharp thunder-storm,
but they could see very well, while the shadow of the arched window
prevented their being seen. Before midnight they had loosened one bar,
and the other was just beginning to give, when some slight noise made
them turn their heads, and there was their jailer standing, open-mouthed
in the middle of the cell, staring up at them.
It was De Catinat who observed him first, and he sprang down at him in
an instant with his bar; but at his movement the man rushed for the
door, and drew it after him just as the American's tool whizzed past his
ear and down the passage. As the door slammed, the two comrades looked
at each other. The guardsman shrugged his shoulders and the other
"It is scarce worth while to go on," said De Catinat.
"We may as well be doing that as anything else. If my picker had been
an inch lower I'd have had him. Well, maybe he'll get a stroke, or
break his neck down those stairs. I've nothing to work with now, but a
few rubs with your bar will finish the job. Ah, dear! You are right,
and we are fairly treed!"
A great bell had begun to ring in the chateau, and there was a loud buzz
of voices and a clatter of feet upon the stones. Hoarse orders were
shouted, and there was the sound of turning keys. All this coming
suddenly in the midst of the stillness of the night showed only too
certainly that the alarm had been given. Amos Green threw himself down
in the straw, with his hands in his pockets, and De Catinat leaned
sulkily against the wall, waiting for whatever might come to him.
Five minutes passed, however, and yet another five minutes, without
anyone appearing. The hubbub in the courtyard continued, but there was
no sound in the corridor which led to their cell.
"Well, I'll have that bar out, after all," said the American at last,
rising and stepping over to the window. "Anyhow, we'll see what all
this caterwauling is about." He climbed up on his pegs as he spoke, and
"Come up!" he cried excitedly to his comrade. "They've got some other
game going on here, and they are all a deal too busy to bother their
heads about us."
De Catinat clambered up beside him, and the two stood staring down into
the courtyard. A brazier had been lit at each corner, and the place was
thronged with men, many of whom carried torches. The yellow glare
played fitfully over the grim gray walls, flickering up sometimes until
the highest turrets shone golden against the black sky, and then, as the
wind caught them, dying away until they scarce threw a glow upon the
cheek of their bearer. The main gate was open, and a carriage, which
had apparently just driven in, was standing at a small door immediately
in front of their window. The wheels and sides were brown with mud, and
the two horses were reeking and heavy-headed, as though their journey
had been both swift and long. A man wearing a plumed hat and enveloped
in a riding-coat had stepped from the carriage, and then, turning round,
had dragged a second person out after him. There was a scuffle, a cry,
a push, and the two figures had vanished through the door. As it
closed, the carriage drove away, the torches and braziers were
extinguished, the main gate was closed once more, and all was as quiet
as before this sudden interruption.
"Well!" gasped De Catinat. "Is this another king's messenger they've
"There will be lodgings for two more here in a short time," said Amos
Green. "If they only leave us alone, this cell won't hold us long."
"I wonder where that jailer has gone?"
"He may go where he likes, as long as he keeps away from here. Give me
your bar again. This thing is giving. It won't take us long to have it
out." He set to work furiously, trying to deepen the groove in the
stone, through which he hoped to drag the staple. Suddenly he ceased,
and strained his ears.
"By thunder!" said he, "there's some one working on the other side."
They both stood listening. There were the thud of hammers, the rasping
of a saw, and the clatter of wood from the other side of the wall.
"What can they be doing?"
"I can't think."
"Can you see them?"
"They are too near the wall."
"I think I can manage," said De Catinat. "I am slighter than you." He
pushed his head and neck and half of one shoulder through the gap
between the bars, and there he remained until his friend thought that
perhaps he had stuck, and pulled at his legs to extricate him.
He writhed back, however, without any difficulty.
"They are building something," he whispered.
"Yes; there are four of them, with a lantern."
"What can they be building, then?"
"It's a shed, I think. I can see four sockets in the ground, and they
are fixing four uprights into them."
"Well, we can't get away as long as there are four men just under our
"But we may as well finish our work, for all that." The gentle
scrapings of his iron were drowned amid the noise which swelled ever
louder from without. The bar loosened at the end, and he drew it slowly
towards him. At that instant, however, just as he was disengaging it, a
round head appeared between him and the moonlight, a head with a great
shock of tangled hair and a woollen cap upon the top of it.
So astonished was Amos Green at the sudden apparition that he let go his
grip upon the bar, which, falling outwards, toppled over the edge of the
"You great fool!" shrieked a voice from below, "are your fingers ever to
be thumbs, then, that you should fumble your tools so? A thousand
thunders of heaven! You have broken my shoulder."
"What is it, then?" cried the other. "My faith, Pierre, if your fingers
went as fast as your tongue, you would be the first joiner in France."
"What is it, you ape! You have dropped your tool upon me."
"I! I have dropped nothing."
"Idiot! Would you have me believe that iron falls from the sky? I say
that you have struck me, you foolish, clumsy-fingered lout."
"I have not struck you yet," cried the other, "but, by the Virgin, if I
have more of this I will come down the ladder to you!"
"Silence, you good-for-naughts!" said a third voice sternly. "If the
work be not done by daybreak, there will be a heavy reckoning for
And again the steady hammering and sawing went forward. The head still
passed and repassed, its owner walking apparently upon some platform
which they had constructed beneath their window, but never giving a
glance or a thought to the black square opening beside him. It was
early morning, and the first cold light was beginning to steal over the
courtyard, before the work was at last finished and the workmen had
left. Then at last the prisoners dared to climb up and to see what it
was which had been constructed during the night. It gave them a catch
of the breath as they looked at it. It was a scaffold.
There it lay, the ill-omened platform of dark greasy boards newly
fastened together, but evidently used often before for the same purpose.
It was buttressed up against their wall, and extended a clear twenty
feet out, with a broad wooden stair leading down from the further side.
In the centre stood a headsman's block, all haggled at the top, and
smeared with rust-coloured stains.
"I think it is time that we left," said Amos Green.
"Our work is all in vain, Amos," said De Catinat sadly.
"Whatever our fate may be--and this looks ill enough--we can but submit
to it like brave men."
"Tut, man; the window is clear! Let us make a rush for it."
"It is useless. I can see a line of armed men along the further side
of the yard."
"A line! At this hour!"
"Yes; and here come more. See, at the centre gate! Now what in the
name of heaven is this?"
As he spoke the door which faced them opened and a singular procession
filed out. First came two dozen footmen, walking in pairs, all carrying
halberds, and clad in the same maroon-coloured liveries. After them a
huge bearded man, with his tunic off, and the sleeves of his coarse
shirt rolled up over his elbows, strode along with a great axe over his
left shoulder. Behind him, a priest with an open missal pattered forth
prayers, and in his shadow was a woman, clad in black, her neck bared,
and a black shawl cast over her head and drooping in front of her bowed
face. Within grip of her walked a tall, thin, fierce-faced man, with
harsh red features, and a great jutting nose. He wore a flat velvet cap
with a single eagle feather fastened into it by a diamond clasp, which
gleamed in the morning light. But bright as was his gem, his dark eyes
were brighter still, and sparkled from under his bushy brows with a mad
brilliancy which bore with it something of menace and of terror.
His limbs jerked as he walked, his features twisted, and he carried
himself like a man who strives hard to hold himself in when his whole
soul is aflame with exultation. Behind him again twelve more
maroon-clad retainers brought up the rear of this singular procession.
The woman had faltered at the foot of the scaffold, but the man behind
her had thrust her forward with such force that she stumbled over the
lower step, and would have fallen had she not clutched at the arm of the
priest. At the top of the ladder her eyes met the dreadful block, and
she burst into a scream, and shrunk backwards. But again the man thrust
her on, and two of the followers caught her by either wrist and dragged
"Oh, Maurice! Maurice!" she screamed. "I am not fit to die!
Oh, forgive me, Maurice, as you hope for forgiveness yourself! Maurice!
Maurice!" She strove to get towards him, to clutch at his wrist, at his
sleeve, but he stood with his hand on his sword, gazing at her with a
face which was all wreathed and contorted with merriment. At the sight
of that dreadful mocking face the prayers froze upon her lips. As well
pray for mercy to the dropping stone or to the rushing stream. She
turned away, and threw back the mantle which had shrouded her features.
"Ah, sire!" she cried. "Sire! If you could see me now!"
And at the cry and at the sight of that fair pale face, De Catinat,
looking down from the window, was stricken as though by a dagger; for
there, standing beside the headsman's block, was she who had been the
most powerful, as well as the wittiest and the fairest, of the women of
France--none other than Francoise de Montespan, so lately the favourite
of the king.
IN THE KING'S CABINET.
On the night upon which such strange chances had befallen his
messengers, the king sat alone in his cabinet. Over his head a perfumed
lamp, held up by four little flying Cupids of crystal, who dangled by
golden chains from the painted ceiling, cast a brilliant light upon the
chamber, which was flashed back twenty-fold by the mirrors upon the
wall. The ebony and silver furniture, the dainty carpet of La
Savonniere, the silks of Tours, the tapestries of the Gobelins, the
gold-work and the delicate chinaware of Sevres--the best of all that
France could produce was centred between these four walls. Nothing had
ever passed through that door which was not a masterpiece of its kind.
And amid all this brilliance the master of it sat, his chin resting upon
his hands, his elbows upon the table, with eyes which stared vacantly at
the wall, a moody and a solemn man.
But though his dark eyes were fixed upon the wall, they saw nothing of
it. They looked rather down the long vista of his own life, away to
those early years when what we dream and what we do shade so mistily
into one another. Was it a dream or was it a fact, those two men who
used to stoop over his baby crib, the one with the dark coat and the
star upon his breast, whom he had been taught to call father, and the
other one with the long red gown and the little twinkling eyes?
Even now, after more than forty years, that wicked, astute, powerful
face flashed up, and he saw once more old Richelieu, the great
unanointed king of France. And then the other cardinal, the long lean
one who had taken his pocket-money, and had grudged him his food, and
had dressed him in old clothes. How well he could recall the day when
Mazarin had rouged himself for the last time, and how the court had
danced with joy at the news that he was no more! And his mother, too,
how beautiful she was, and how masterful! Could he not remember how
bravely she had borne herself during that war in which the power of the
great nobles had been broken, and how she had at last lain down to die,
imploring the priests not to stain her cap-strings with their holy oils!
And then he thought of what he had done himself, how he had shorn down
his great subjects until, instead of being like a tree among saplings,
he had been alone, far above all others, with his shadow covering the
whole land. Then there were his wars and his laws and his treaties.
Under his care France had overflowed her frontiers both on the north and
on the east, and yet had been so welded together internally that she had
but one voice, with which she spoke through him. And then there was
that line of beautiful faces which wavered up in front of him. There
was Olympe de Mancini, whose Italian eyes had first taught him that
there is a power which can rule over a king; her sister, too, Marie de
Mancini; his wife, with her dark little sun-browned face; Henrietta of
England, whose death had first shown him the horrors which lie in life;
La Valliere, Montespan, Fontanges. Some were dead; some were in
convents. Some who had been wicked and beautiful were now only wicked.
And what had been the outcome of all this troubled, striving life of
his? He was already at the outer verge of his middle years; he had lost
his taste for the pleasures of his youth; gout and vertigo were ever at
his foot and at his head to remind him that between them lay a kingdom
which he could not hope to govern. And after all these years he had not
won a single true friend, not one, in his family, in his court, in his
country, save only this woman whom he was to wed that night. And she,
how patient she was, how good, how lofty! With her he might hope to
wipe off by the true glory of his remaining years all the sin and the
folly of the past. Would that the archbishop might come, that he might
feel that she was indeed his, that he held her with hooks of steel which
would bind them as long as life should last!
There came a tap at the door. He sprang up eagerly, thinking that the
ecclesiastic might have arrived. It was, however, only his personal
attendant, to say that Louvois would crave an interview. Close at his
heels came the minister himself, high-nosed and heavy-chinned.
Two leather bags were dangling from his hand.
"Sire," said he, when Bontems had retired, "I trust that I do not
intrude upon you."
"No, no, Louvois. My thoughts were in truth beginning to be very
indifferent company, and I am glad to be rid of them."
"Your Majesty's thoughts can never, I am sure, be anything but
pleasant," said the courtier. "But I have brought you here something
which I trust may make them even more so."
"Ah! What is that?"
"When so many of our young nobles went into Germany and Hungary, you
were pleased in your wisdom to say that you would like well to see what
reports they sent home to their friends; also what news was sent out
from the court to them."
"I have them here--all that the courier has brought in, and all that are
gathered to go out, each in its own bag. The wax has been softened in
spirit, the fastenings have been steamed, and they are now open."
The king took out a handful of the letters and glanced at the addresses.
"I should indeed like to read the hearts of these people," said he.
"Thus only can I tell the true thoughts of those who bow and simper
before my face. I suppose," with a sudden flash of suspicion from his
eyes, "that you have not yourself looked into these?"
"Oh, sire, I had rather die!"
"You swear it?"
"As I hope for salvation!"
"Hum! There is one among these which I see is from your own son."
Louvois changed colour, and stammered as he looked at the envelope.
"Your Majesty will find that he is as loyal out of your presence as in
it, else he is no son of mine," said he.
"Then we shall begin with his. Ha! it is but ten lines long. 'Dearest
Achille, how I long for you to come back! The court is as dull as a
cloister now that you are gone. My ridiculous father still struts about
like a turkey-cock, as if all his medals and crosses could cover the
fact that he is but a head lackey, with no more real power than I have.
He wheedles a good deal out of the king, but what he does with it I
cannot imagine, for little comes my way. I still owe those ten thousand
livres to the man in the Rue Orfevre. Unless I have some luck at
lansquenet, I shall have to come out soon and join you.' Hem! I did
you an injustice, Louvois. I see that you have _not_ looked over these
The minister had sat with a face which was the colour of beetroot, and
eyes which projected from his head, while this epistle was being read.
It was with relief that he came to the end of it, for at least there was
nothing which compromised him seriously with the king; but every nerve
in his great body tingled with rage as he thought of the way in which
his young scape-grace had alluded to him. "The viper!" he cried.
"Oh, the foul snake in the grass! I will make him curse the day that he
"Tut, tut, Louvois!" said the king. "You are a man who has seen much of
life, and you should be a philosopher. Hot-headed youth says ever more
than it means. Think no more of the matter. But what have we here?
A letter from my dearest girl to her husband, the Prince de Conti.
I would pick her writing out of a thousand. Ah, dear soul, she little
thought that my eyes would see her artless prattle! Why should I read
it, since I already know every thought of her innocent heart?" He
unfolded the sheet of pink scented paper with a fond smile upon his
face, but it faded away as his eyes glanced down the page, and he Sprang
to his feet with a snarl of anger, his hand over his heart and his eyes
still glued to the paper. "Minx!" he cried, in a choking voice.
"Impertinent, heartless minx! Louvois, you know what I have done for the
princess. You know she has been the apple of my eye. What have I ever
grudged her? What have I ever denied her?"
"You have been goodness itself, sire," said Louvois, whose own wounds
smarted less now that he saw his master writhing.
"Hear what she says of me: 'Old Father Grumpy is much as usual, save
that he gives a little at the knees. You remember how we used to laugh
at his airs and graces! Well, he has given up all that, and though he
still struts about on great high heels, like a Landes peasant on his
stilts, he has no brightness at all in his clothes. Of course, all the
court follow his example, so you can imagine what a nightmare place this
is. Then this woman still keeps in favour, and her frocks are as dismal
as Grumpy's coats; so when you come back we shall go into the country
together, and you shall dress in red velvet, and I shall wear blue silk,
and we shall have a little coloured court of our own in spite of my
Louis sank his face in his hands.
"You hear how she speaks of me, Louvois."
"It is infamous, sire; infamous!"
"She calls me names--_me_, Louvois!"
"And my knees! one would think that I was an old man!"
"Scandalous. But, sire, I would beg to say that it is a case in which
your Majesty's philosophy may well soften your anger. Youth is ever
hot-headed, and says more than it means. Think no more of the matter."
"You speak like a fool, Louvois. The child that I have loved turns upon
me, and you ask me to think no more of it. Ah, it is one more lesson
that a king can trust least of all those who have his own blood in their
veins. What writing is this? It is the good Cardinal de Bouillon.
One may not have faith in one's own kin, but this sainted man loves me,
not only because I have placed him where he is, but because it is his
nature to look up to and love those whom God has placed above him.
I will read you his letter, Louvois, to show you that there is still
such a thing as loyalty and gratitude in France. 'My dear Prince de la
Roche-sur-Yon.' Ah, it is to him he writes. 'I promised when you left
that I would let you know from time to time how things were going at
court, as you consulted me about bringing your daughter up from Anjou,
in the hope that she might catch the king's fancy.' What! What!
Louvois! What villainy is this? 'The sultan goes from bad to worse.
The Fontanges was at least the prettiest woman in France, though between
ourselves there was just a shade too much of the red in her hair--an
excellent colour in a cardinal's gown, my dear duke, but nothing
brighter than chestnut is permissible in a lady. The Montespan, too,
was a fine woman in her day, but fancy his picking up now with a widow
who is older than himself, a woman, too, who does not even try to make
herself attractive, but kneels at her _prie-dieu_ or works at her
tapestry from morning to night. They say that December and May make a
bad match, but my own opinion is that two Novembers make an even worse
one.' Louvois! Louvois! I can read no more! Have you a _lettre de
"There is one here, sire."
"For the Bastille?"
"No; for Vincennes."
"That will do very well. Fill it up, Louvois! Put this villain's name
in it! Let him be arrested to-night, and taken there in his own
caleche. The shameless, ungrateful, foul-mouthed villain! Why did you
bring me these letters, Louvois? Oh, why did you yield to my foolish
whim? My God, is there no truth, or honour, or loyalty in the world?"
He stamped his feet, and shook his clenched hands in the air in the
frenzy of his anger and disappointment.
"Shall I, then, put back the others?" asked Louvois eagerly. He had
been on thorns since the king had begun to read them, not knowing what
disclosures might come next.
"Put them back, but keep the bag."
"Ah! I had forgot the other one. Perhaps if I have hypocrites around
me, I have at least some honest subjects at a distance. Let us take one
haphazard. Who is this from? Ah! it is from the Duc de la
Rochefoucauld. He has ever seemed to be a modest and dutiful young man.
What has he to say? The Danube--Belgrade--the grand vizier--Ah!"
He gave a cry as if he had been stabbed.
"What, then, sire?" The minister had taken a step forward, for he was
frightened by the expression upon the king's face.
"Take them away, Louvois! Take them away!" he cried, pushing the pile
of papers away from him. "I would that I had never seen them! I will
look at them no more! He gibes even at my courage, I who was in the
trenches when he was in his cradle! 'This war would not suit the king,'
he says. 'For there are battles, and none of the nice little safe
sieges which are so dear to him.' By God, he shall pay to me with his
head for that jest! Ay, Louvois, it will be a dear gibe to him.
But take them away. I have seen as much as I can bear."
The minister was thrusting them back into the bag when suddenly his eye
caught the bold, clear writing of Madame de Maintenon upon one of the
letters. Some demon whispered to him that here was a weapon which had
been placed in his hands, with which he might strike one whose very name
filled him with jealousy and hatred. Had she been guilty of some
indiscretion in this note, then he might even now, at this last hour,
turn the king's heart against her. He was an astute man, and in an
instant he had seen his chance and grasped it.
"Ha!" said he, "it was hardly necessary to open this one."
"Which, Louvois? Whose is it?"
The minister pushed forward the letter, and Louis started as his eyes
fell upon it.
"Madame's writing!" he gasped.
"Yes; it is to her nephew in Germany."
Louis took it in his hand. Then, with a sudden motion, he threw it down
among the others, and then yet again his hand stole towards it.
His face was gray and haggard, and beads of moisture had broken out upon
his brow. If this too were to prove to be as the others! He was shaken
to the soul at the very thought. Twice he tried to pluck it out, and
twice his trembling fingers fumbled with the paper. Then he tossed it
over to Louvois. "Read it to me," said he.
The minister opened the letter out and flattened it upon the table, with
a malicious light dancing in his eyes, which might have cost him his
position had the king but read it aright.
"'My dear nephew,'" he read, "'what you ask me in your last is
absolutely impossible. I have never abused the king's favour so far as
to ask for any profit for myself, and I should be equally sorry to
solicit any advance for my relatives. No one would rejoice more than I
to see you rise to be major in your regiment, but your valour and your
loyalty must be the cause, and you must not hope to do it through any
word of mine. To serve such a man as the king is its own reward, and I
am sure that whether you remain a cornet or rise to some higher rank,
you will be equally zealous in his cause. He is surrounded, unhappily,
by many base parasites. Some of these are mere fools, like Lauzun;
others are knaves, like the late Fouquet; and some seem to be both fools
and knaves, like Louvois, the minister of war.'" Here the reader choked
with rage, and sat gurgling and drumming his fingers upon the table.
"Go on, Louvois, go on," said Louis, smiling up at the ceiling.
"'These are the clouds which surround the sun, my dear nephew; but the
sun is, believe me, shining brightly behind them. For years I have
known that noble nature as few others can know it, and I can tell you
that his virtues are his own, but that if ever his glory is for an
instant dimmed over, it is because his kindness of heart has allowed him
to be swayed by those who are about him. We hope soon to see you back
at Versailles, staggering under the weight of your laurels. Meanwhile
accept my love and every wish for your speedy promotion, although it
cannot be obtained in the way which you suggest.'"
"Ah," cried the king, his love shining in his eyes, "how could I for an
instant doubt her! And yet I had been so shaken by the others!
Francoise is as true as steel. Was it not a beautiful letter, Louvois?"
"Madame is a very clever woman," said the minister evasively.
"And such a reader of hearts! Has she not seen my character aright?"
"At least she has not read mine, sire."
There was a tap at the door, and Bontems peeped in. "The archbishop has
"Very well, Bontems. Ask madame to be so good as to step this way.
And order the witnesses to assemble in the ante-room."
As the valet hastened away, Louis turned to his minister: "I wish you to
be one of the witnesses, Louvois."
"To what, sire?"
"To my marriage."
The minister started. "What, sire! Already?"
"Now, Louvois; within five minutes."
"Very good, sire." The unhappy courtier strove hard to assume a more
festive manner; but the night had been full of vexation to him, and to
be condemned to assist in making this woman the king's wife was the most
bitter drop of all.
"Put these letters away, Louvois. The last one has made up for all the
rest. But these rascals shall smart for it, all the same. By-the-way,
there is that young nephew to whom madame wrote. Gerard d'Aubigny is
his name, is it not?"
"Make him out a colonel's commission, and give him the next vacancy,
"A colonel, sire! Why, he is not yet twenty."
"Ay, Louvois. Pray, am I the chief of the army, or are you? Take care,
Louvois! I have warned you once before. I tell you, man, that if I
choose to promote one of my jack-boots to be the head of a brigade, you
shall not hesitate to make out the papers. Now go into the ante-room,
and wait with the other witnesses until you are wanted."
There had meanwhile been busy goings-on in the small room where the red
lamp burned in front of the Virgin. Francoise de Maintenon stood in the
centre, a little flush of excitement on her cheeks, and an unwonted
light in her placid gray eyes. She was clad in a dress of shining white
brocade, trimmed and slashed with silver serge, and fringed at the
throat and arms with costly point lace. Three women, grouped around
her, rose and stooped and swayed, putting a touch here and a touch
there, gathering in, looping up, and altering until all was to their
"There!" said the head dressmaker, giving a final pat to a rosette of
gray silk; "I think that will do, your Majes--that is to say, madame."
The lady smiled at the adroit slip of the courtier dressmaker.
"My tastes lean little towards dress," said she, "yet I would fain look
as he would wish me to look."
"Ah, it is easy to dress madame. Madame has a figure. Madame has a
carriage. What costume would not look well with such a neck and waist
and arm to set it off? But, ah, madame, what are we to do when we have
to make the figure as well as the dress? There was the Princess
Charlotte Elizabeth. It was but yesterday that we cut her gown. She
was short, madame, but thick. Oh, it is incredible how thick she was!
She uses more cloth than madame, though she is two hand-breadths
shorter. Ah, I am sure that the good God never meant people to be as
thick as that. But then, of course, she is Bavarian and not French."
But madame was paying little heed to the gossip of the dressmaker.
Her eyes were fixed upon the statue in the corner, and her lips were
moving in prayer--prayer that she might be worthy of this great destiny
which had come so suddenly upon her, a poor governess; that she might
walk straight among the pitfalls which surrounded her upon every side;
that this night's work might bring a blessing upon France and upon the
man whom she loved. There came a discreet tap at the door to break in
upon her prayer.
"It is Bontems, madame," said Mademoiselle Nanon. "He says that the
king is ready."
"Then we shall not keep him waiting. Come, mademoiselle, and may God
shed His blessing upon what we are about to do!"
The little party assembled in the king's ante-room, and started from
there to the private chapel. In front walked the portly bishop, clad in
a green vestment, puffed out with the importance of the function, his
missal in his hand, and his fingers between the pages at the service
_de matrimoniis_. Beside him strode his almoner, and two little
servitors of the court in crimson cassocks bearing lighted torches.
The king and Madame de Maintenon walked side by side, she quiet and
composed, with gentle bearing and downcast eyes, he with a flush on his
dark cheeks, and a nervous, furtive look in his eyes, like a man who
knows that he is in the midst of one of the great crises of his life.
Behind them, in solemn silence, followed a little group of chosen
witnesses, the lean, silent Pere la Chaise, Louvois, scowling heavily at
the bride, the Marquis de Charmarante, Bontems, and Mademoiselle Nanon.
The torches shed a strong yellow light upon this small band as they
advanced slowly through the corridors and _salons_ which led to the
chapel, and they threw a garish glare upon the painted walls and
ceilings, flashing back from gold-work and from mirror, but leaving long
trailing shadows in the corners. The king glanced nervously at these
black recesses, and at the portraits of his ancestors and relations
which lined the walls. As he passed that of his late queen, Maria
Theresa, he started and gasped with horror.
"My God!" he whispered; "she frowned and spat at me!"
Madame laid her cool hand upon his wrist. "It is nothing, sire," she
murmured, in her soothing voice. "It was but the light flickering over
Her words had their usual effect upon him. The startled look died away
from his eyes, and taking her hand in his he walked resolutely forwards.
A minute later they were before the altar, and the words were being read
which should bind them forever together. As they turned away again, her
new ring blazing upon her finger, there was a buzz of congratulation
around her. The king only said nothing, but he looked at her, and she
had no wish that he should say more. She was still calm and pale, but
the blood throbbed in her temples. "You are Queen of France now," it
seemed to be humming--"queen, queen, queen!"
But a sudden shadow had fallen across her, and a low voice was in her
ear. "Remember your promise to the Church," it whispered. She started,
and turned to see the pale, eager face of the Jesuit beside her.
"Your hand has turned cold, Francoise," said Louis. "Let us go,
dearest. We have been too long in this dismal church."
THE TWO FRANCOISES.
Madame de Montespan had retired to rest, easy in her mind, after
receiving the message from her brother. She knew Louis as few others
knew him, and she was well aware of that obstinacy in trifles which was
one of his characteristics. If he had said that he would be married by
the archbishop, then the archbishop it must be; to-night, at least,
there should be no marriage. To-morrow was a new day, and if it did not
shake the king's plans, then indeed she must have lost her wit as well
as her beauty.
She dressed herself with care in the morning, putting on her powder, her
little touch of rouge, her one patch near the dimple of her cheek, her
loose robe of violet velvet, and her casconet of pearls with all the
solicitude of a warrior, who is bracing on his arms for a life and death
contest. No news had come to her of the great event of the previous
night, although the court already rang with it, for her haughtiness and
her bitter tongue had left her without a friend or intimate. She rose,
therefore, in the best of spirits, with her mind set on the one question
as to how best she could gain an audience with the king.
She was still in her boudoir putting the last touches to her toilet when
her page announced to her that the king was waiting in her _salon_.
Madame de Montespan could hardly believe in such good fortune. She had
racked her brain all morning as to how she should win her way to him,
and here he was waiting for her. With a last glance at the mirror, she
hastened to meet him.
He was standing with his back turned, looking up at one of Snyders's
paintings, when she entered; but as she closed the door, he turned and
took two steps towards her. She had run forward with a pretty little
cry of joy, her white arms outstretched, and love shining on her face;
but he put out his hand, gently and yet with decision, with a gesture
which checked her approach. Her hands dropped to her side, her lip
trembled, and she stood looking at him with her grief and her fears all
speaking loudly from her eyes. There was a look upon his features which
she had never seen before, and already something was whispering at the
back of her soul that to-day at least his spirit was stronger than her
"You are angry with me again," she cried.
He had come with every intention of beginning the interview by telling
her bluntly of his marriage; but now, as he looked upon her beauty and
her love, he felt that it would have been less brutal to strike her down
at his feet. Let some one else tell her, then. She would know soon
enough. Besides, there would be less chance then of a scene, which was
a thing abhorrent to his soul. His task was, in any case, quite
difficult enough. All this ran swiftly through his mind, and she as
swiftly read it off in the brown eyes which gazed at her.
"You have something you came to say, and now you have not the heart to
say it. God bless the kindly heart which checks the cruel tongue."
"No, no, madame," said Louis; "I would not be cruel. I cannot forget
that my life has been brightened and my court made brilliant during all
these years by your wit and your beauty. But times change, madame, and
I owe a duty to the world which overrides my own personal inclinations.
For every reason I think that it is best that we should arrange in the
way which we discussed the other day, and that you should withdraw
yourself from the court."
"Withdraw, sire! For how long?"
"It must be a permanent withdrawal, madame."
She stood with clenched hands and a pale face staring at him.
"I need not say that I shall make your retirement a happy one as far as
in me lies. Your allowance shall be fixed by yourself; a palace shall
be erected for you in whatever part of France you may prefer, provided
that it is twenty miles from Paris. An estate also--"
"Oh, sire, how can you think that such things as these would compensate
me for the loss of your love?" Her heart had turned to lead within her
breast. Had he spoken hotly and angrily she might have hoped to turn
him as she had done before; but this gentle and yet firm bearing was new
to him, and she felt that all her arts were vain against it. His
coolness enraged her, and yet she strove to choke down her passion and
to preserve the humble attitude which was least natural to her haughty
and vehement spirit; but soon the effort became too much for her.
"Madame," said he, "I have thought well over this matter, and it must be
as I say. There is no other way at all. Since we must part, the
parting had best be short and sharp. Believe me, it is no pleasant
matter for me either. I have ordered your brother to have his carriage
at the postern at nine o'clock, for I thought that perhaps you would
wish to retire after nightfall."
"To hide my shame from a laughing court! It was thoughtful of you,
sire. And yet, perhaps, this too was a duty, since we hear so much of
duties nowadays, for who was it but you--"
"I know, madame, I know. I confess it. I have wronged you deeply.
Believe me that every atonement which is in my power shall be made.
Nay, do not look so angrily at me, I beg. Let our last sight of each
other be one which may leave a pleasant memory behind it."
"A pleasant memory!" All the gentleness and humility had fallen from
her now, and her voice had the hard ring of contempt and of anger.
"A pleasant memory! It may well be pleasant to you, who are released
from the woman whom you ruined, who can turn now to another without any
pale face to be seen within the _salons_ of your court to remind you of
your perfidy. But to me, pining in some lonely country house, spurned
by my husband, despised by my family, the scorn and jest of France, far
from all which gave a charm to life, far from the man for whose love I
have sacrificed everything--this will be a very pleasant memory to me,
you may be sure!"
The king's eyes had caught the angry gleam which shot from hers, and yet
he strove hard to set a curb upon his temper. When such a matter had to
be discussed between the proudest man and the haughtiest woman in all
France, one or the other must yield a point. He felt that it was for
him to do so, and yet it did not come kindly to his imperious nature.
"There is nothing to be gained, madame," said he, "by using words which
are neither seemly for your tongue nor for my ears. You will do me the
justice to confess that where I might command I am now entreating, and
that instead of ordering you as my subject, I am persuading you as my
"Oh, you show too much consideration, sire! Our relations of twenty
years or so can scarce suffice to explain such forbearance from you.
I should indeed be grateful that you have not set your archers of the
guard upon me, or marched me from the palace between a file of your
musketeers. Sire, how can I thank you for this forbearance?"
She curtsied low, with her face set in a mocking smile.
"Your words are bitter, madame."
"My heart is bitter, sire."
"Nay, Francoise, be reasonable, I implore you. We have both left our
"The allusion to my years comes gratefully from your lips."
"Ah, you distort my words. Then I shall say no more. You may not see
me again, madame. Is there no question which you would wish to ask me
before I go?"
"Good God!" she cried; "is this a man? Has it a heart? Are these the
lips which have told me so often that he loved me? Are these the eyes
which have looked so fondly into mine? Can you then thrust away a woman
whose life has been yours as you put away the St. Germain palace when a
more showy one was ready for you? And this is the end of all those
vows, those sweet whispers, those persuasions, those promises--This!"
"Nay, madame, this is painful to both of us."
"Pain! Where is the pain in your face? I see anger in it because I
have dared to speak truth; I see joy in it because you feel that your
vile task is done. But where is the pain? Ah, when I am gone all will
be so easy to you--will it not? You can go back then to your
"Yes, yes, you cannot frighten me! What do I care for all that you can
do! But I know all. Do not think that I am blind. And so you would
even have married her! You, the descendant of St. Louis, and she the
Scarron widow, the poor drudge whom in charity I took into my household!
Ah, how your courtiers will smile! how the little poets will scribble!
how the wits will whisper! You do not hear of these things, of course,
but they are a little painful for your friends."
"My patience can bear no more," cried the king furiously. "I leave you,
madame, and forever."
But her fury had swept all fear and discretion from her mind.
She stepped between the door and him, her face flushed, her eyes
blazing, her face thrust a little forward, one small white satin slipper
tapping upon the carpet.
"You are in haste, sire! She is waiting for you, doubtless."
"Let me pass, madame."
"But it was a disappointment last night, was it not, my poor sire?
Ah, and for the governess, what a blow! Great heaven, what a blow!
No archbishop! No marriage! All the pretty plan gone wrong! Was it
Louis gazed at the beautiful furious face in bewilderment, and it
flashed across his mind that perhaps her grief had turned her brain.
What else could be the meaning of this wild talk of the archbishop and
the disappointment? It would be unworthy of him to speak harshly to one
who was so afflicted. He must soothe her, and, above all, he must get
away from her.
"You have had the keeping of a good many of my family jewels," said he.
"I beg that you will still retain them as a small sign of my regard."
He had hoped to please her and to calm her, but in an instant she was
over at her treasure-cupboard hurling double handfuls of precious stones
down at his feet. They clinked and rattled, the little pellets of red
and yellow and green, rolling, glinting over the floor and rapping up
against the oak panels at the base of the walls.
"They will do for the governess if the archbishop comes at last," she
He was more convinced than ever that she had lost her wits. A thought
struck him by which he might appeal to all that was softer and more
gentle in her nature. He stepped swiftly to the door, pushed it half
open, and gave a whispered order. A youth with long golden hair waving
down over his black velvet doublet entered the room. It was her
youngest son, the Count of Toulouse.
"I thought that you would wish to bid him farewell," said Louis.
She stood staring as though unable to realise the significance of his
words. Then it was borne suddenly in upon her that her children as well
as her lover were to be taken from her, that this other woman should see
them and speak with them and win their love while she was far away.
All that was evil and bitter in the woman flashed suddenly up in her,
until for the instant she was what the king had thought her. If her son
was not for her, then he should be for none. A jewelled knife lay among
her treasures, ready to her hand. She caught it up and rushed at the
cowering lad. Louis screamed and ran forward to stop her; but another
had been swifter than he. A woman had darted through the open door, and
had caught the upraised wrist. There was a moment's struggle, two
queenly figures swayed and strained, and the knife dropped between their
feet. The frightened Louis caught it up, and seizing his little son by
the wrist, he rushed from the apartment. Francoise de Montespan
staggered back against the ottoman to find herself confronted by the
steady eyes and set face of that other Francoise, the woman whose
presence fell like a shadow at every turn of her life.
"I have saved you, madame, from doing that which you would have been the
first to bewail."
"Saved me! It is you who have driven me to this!"
The fallen favourite leaned against the high back of the ottoman, her
hands resting behind her upon the curve of the velvet. Her lids were
half closed on her flashing eyes, and her lips just parted to show a
gleam of her white teeth. Here was the true Francoise de Montespan, a
feline creature crouching for a spring, very far from that humble and
soft-spoken Francoise who had won the king back by her gentle words.
Madame de Maintenon's hand had been cut in the struggle, and the blood
was dripping down from the end of her fingers, but neither woman had
time to spare a thought upon that. Her firm gray eyes were fixed upon
her former rival as one fixes them upon some weak and treacherous
creature who may be dominated by a stronger will.
"Yes, it is you who have driven me to this--you, whom I picked up when
you were hard pressed for a crust of bread or a cup of sour wine.
What had you? You had nothing--nothing except a name which was a
laughing-stock. And what did I give you? I gave you everything.
You know that I gave you everything. Money, position, the entrance to
the court. You had them all from me. And now you mock me!"
"Madame, I do not mock you. I pity you from the bottom of my heart."
"Pity? Ha! ha! A Mortemart is pitied by the widow Scarron!
Your pity may go where your gratitude is, and where your character is.
We shall be troubled with it no longer then."
"Your words do not pain me."
"I can believe that you are not sensitive."
"Not when my conscience is at ease."
"Ah! it has not troubled you, then?"
"Not upon this point, madame."
"My God! How terrible must those other points have been!"
"I have never had an evil thought towards you."
"None towards me? Oh, woman, woman!"
"What have I done, then? The king came to my room to see the children
taught. He stayed. He talked. He asked my opinion on this and that.
Could I be silent? or could I say other than what I thought?"
"You turned him against me!"
"I should be proud indeed if I thought that I had turned him to virtue."
"The word comes well from your lips."
"I would that I heard it upon yours."
"And so, by your own confession, you stole the king's love from me, most
virtuous of widows!"
"I had all gratitude and kindly thought for you. You have, as you have
so often reminded me, been my benefactress. It was not necessary for
you to say it, for I had never for an instant forgotten it. Yet if the
king has asked me what I thought, I will not deny to you that I have
said that sin is sin, and that he would be a worthier man if he shook
off the guilty bonds which held him."
"Or exchanged them for others."
"For those of duty."
"Pah! Your hypocrisy sickens me! If you pretend to be a nun, why are
you not where the nuns are? You would have the best of two worlds--
would you not?--have all that the court can give, and yet ape the
manners of the cloister. But you need not do it with me! I know you as
your inmost heart knows you. I was honest, and what I did, I did before
the world. You, behind your priests and your directors and your
_prie-dieus_ and your missals--do you think that you deceive me, as you
Her antagonist's gray eyes sparkled for the first time, and she took a
quick step forward, with one white hand half lifted in rebuke.
"You may speak as you will of me," said she. "To me it is no more than
the foolish paroquet that chatters in your ante-room. But do not touch
upon things which are sacred. Ah, if you would but raise your own
thoughts to such things--if you would but turn them inwards, and see,
before it is too late, how vile and foul is this life which you have
led! What might you not have done? His soul was in your hands like
clay for the potter. If you had raised him up, if you had led him on
the higher path, if you had brought out all that was noble and good
within him, how your name would have been loved and blessed, from the
chateau to the cottage! But no; you dragged him down; you wasted his
youth; you drew him from his wife; you marred his manhood. A crime in
one so high begets a thousand others in those who look to him for an
example; and all, all are upon your soul. Take heed, madame, for God's
sake take heed ere it be too late! For all your beauty, there can be
for you, as for me, a few short years of life. Then, when that brown
hair is white, when that white cheek is sunken, when that bright eye is
dimmed--ah, then God pity the sin-stained soul of Francoise de
Her rival had sunk her head for the moment before the solemn words and
the beautiful eyes. For an instant she stood silent, cowed for the
first time in all her life; but then the mocking, defiant spirit came
back to her, and she glanced up with a curling lip.
"I am already provided with a spiritual director, thank you," said she.
"Oh, madame, you must not think to throw dust in my eyes! I know you,
and know you well!"
"On the contrary, you seem to know less than I had expected. If you
know me so well, pray what am I?"
All her rival's bitterness and hatred rang in the tones of her answer.
"You are," said she, "the governess of my children, and the secret
mistress of the king."
"You are mistaken," answered Madame de Maintenon serenely. "I am the
governess of your children, and I am the king's wife."
THE MAN IN THE CALECHE.
Often had De Montespan feigned a faint in the days when she wished to
disarm the anger of the king. So she had drawn his arms round her, and
won the pity which is the twin sister of love. But now she knew what it
was to have the senses struck out of her by a word. She could not doubt
the truth of what she heard. There was that in her rival's face, in her
steady eye, in her quiet voice, which carried absolute conviction with
it. She stood stunned for an instant, panting, her outstretched hands
feeling at the air, her defiant eyes dulling and glazing. Then, with a
short sharp cry, the wail of one who has fought hard and yet knows that
she can fight no more, her proud head drooped, and she fell forward
senseless at the feet of her rival. Madame de Maintenon stooped and
raised her up in her strong white arms. There was true grief and pity
in her eyes as she looked down at the snow-pale face which lay against
her bosom, all the bitterness and pride gone out of it, and nothing left
save the tear which sparkled under the dark lashes, and the petulant
droop of the lip, like that of a child which had wept itself to sleep.
She laid her on the ottoman and placed a silken cushion under her head.
Then she gathered together and put back into the open cupboard all the
jewels which were scattered about the carpet. Having locked it, and
placed the key on the table where its owner's eye would readily fall
upon it, she struck a gong, which summoned the little black page.
"Your mistress is indisposed," said she. "Go and bring her maids to
her." And so, having done all that lay with her to do, she turned away
from the great silent room, where, amid the velvet and the gilding, her
beautiful rival lay like a crushed flower, helpless and hopeless.
Helpless enough, for what could she do? and hopeless too, for how could
fortune aid her? The instant that her senses had come back to her she
had sent away her waiting women, and lay with clasped hands and a drawn
face planning out her own weary future. She must go; that was certain.
Not merely because it was the king's order, but because only misery and
mockery remained for her now in the palace where she had reigned
supreme. It was true that she had held her position against the queen
before, but all her hatred could not blind her to the fact that her
rival was a very different woman to poor meek little Maria Theresa.
No; her spirit was broken at last. She must accept defeat, and she must
She rose from the couch, feeling that she had aged ten years in an hour.
There was much to be done, and little time in which to do it. She had
cast down her jewels when the king had spoken as though they would atone
for the loss of his love; but now that the love was gone there was no
reason why the jewels should be lost too. If she had ceased to be the
most powerful, she might still be the richest woman in France. There
was her pension, of course. That would be a munificent one, for Louis
was always generous. And then there was all the spoil which she had
collected during these long years--the jewels the pearls, the gold, the
vases, the pictures, the crucifixes, the watches, the trinkets--together
they represented many millions of livres. With her own hands she packed
away the more precious and portable of them, while she arranged with her
brother for the safe-keeping of the others. All day she was at work in
a mood of feverish energy, doing anything and everything which might
distract her thoughts from her own defeat and her rival's victory.
By evening all was ready, and she had arranged that her property should
be sent after her to Petit Bourg, to which castle she intended to
It wanted half an hour of the time fixed for her departure, when a young
cavalier, whose face was strange to her, was ushered into the room.
He came with a message from her brother.
"Monsieur de Vivonne regrets, madame, that the rumour of your departure
has got abroad among the court."
"What do I care for that, monsieur?" she retorted, with all her old
"He says, madame, that the courtiers may assemble at the west gate to
see you go; that Madame de Neuilly will be there, and the Duchesse de
Chambord, and Mademoiselle de Rohan, and--"
The lady shrank with horror at the thought of such an ordeal. To drive
away from the palace, where she had been more than queen, under the
scornful eyes and bitter gibes of so many personal enemies! After all
the humiliations of the day, that would be the crowning cup of sorrow.
Her nerve was broken. She could not face it.
"Tell my brother, monsieur, that I should be much obliged if he would
make fresh arrangements, by which my departure might be private."
"He bade me say that he had done so, madame."
"Ah! at what hour then?"
"Now. As soon as possible."
"I am ready. At the west gate then?"
"No; at the east. The carriage waits."
"And where is my brother?"
"We are to pick him up at the park gate."
"And why that?"
"Because he is watched; and were he seen beside the carriage, all would
"Very good. Then, monsieur, if you will take my cloak and this casket
we may start at once."
They made their way by a circuitous route through the less-used
corridors, she hurrying on like a guilty creature, a hood drawn over her
face, and her heart in a flutter at every stray footfall. But fortune
stood her friend. She met no one, and soon found herself at the eastern
postern gate. A couple of phlegmatic Swiss guardsmen leaned upon their
muskets upon either side, and the lamp above shone upon the carriage
which awaited her. The door was open, and a tall cavalier swathed in a
black cloak handed her into it. He then took the seat opposite to her,
slammed the door, and the caleche rattled away down the main drive.
It had not surprised her that this man should join her inside the coach,
for it was usual to have a guard there, and he was doubtless taking the
place which her brother would afterwards occupy. That was all natural
enough. But when ten minutes passed by, and he had neither moved nor
spoken, she peered at him through the gloom with some curiosity. In the
glance which she had of him, as he handed her in, she had seen that he
was dressed like a gentleman, and there was that in his bow and wave as
he did it which told her experienced senses that he was a man of courtly
manners. But courtiers, as she had known them, were gallant and
garrulous, and this man was so very quiet and still. Again she strained
her eyes through the gloom. His hat was pulled down and his cloak was
still drawn across his mouth, but from out of the shadow she seemed to
get a glimpse of two eyes which peered at her even as she did at him.
At last the silence impressed her with a vague uneasiness. It was time
to bring it to an end.
"Surely, monsieur, we have passed the park gate where we were to pick up
Her companion neither answered nor moved. She thought that perhaps the
rumble of the heavy caleche had drowned her voice.
"I say, monsieur," she repeated, leaning forwards, "that we have passed
the place where we were to meet Monsieur de Vivonne."
He took no notice.
"Monsieur," she cried, "I again remark that we have passed the gates."
There was no answer.
A thrill ran through her nerves. Who or what could he be, this silent
man? Then suddenly it struck her that he might be dumb.
"Perhaps monsieur is afflicted," she said. "Perhaps monsieur cannot
speak. If that be the cause of your silence, will you raise your hand,
and I shall understand." He sat rigid and silent.
Then a sudden mad fear came upon her, shut up in the dark with this
dreadful voiceless thing. She screamed in her terror, and strove to
pull down the window and open the door. But a grip of steel closed
suddenly round her wrist and forced her back into her seat. And yet the
man's body had not moved, and there was no sound save the lurching and
rasping of the carriage and the clatter of the flying horses. They were
already out on the country roads far beyond Versailles. It was darker
than before, heavy clouds had banked over the heavens, and the rumbling
of thunder was heard low down on the horizon.
The lady lay back panting upon the leather cushions of the carriage.
She was a brave woman, and yet this sudden strange horror coming upon
her at the moment when she was weakest had shaken her to the soul.
She crouched in the corner, staring across with eyes which were dilated
with terror at the figure on the other side. If he would but say
something! Any revelation, any menace, was better than this silence.
It was so dark now that she could hardly see his vague outline, and
every instant, as the storm gathered, it became still darker. The wind
was blowing in little short angry puffs, and still there was that
far-off rattle and rumble. Again the strain of the silence was
unbearable. She must break it at any cost.
"Sir," said she, "there is some mistake here. I do not know by what
right you prevent me from pulling down the window and giving my
directions to the coachman."
He said nothing.
"I repeat, sir, that there is some mistake. This is the carriage of my
brother, Monsieur de Vivonne, and he is not a man who will allow his
sister to be treated uncourteously."
A few heavy drops of rain splashed against one window. The clouds were
lower and denser. She had quite lost sight of that motionless figure,
but it was all the more terrible to her now that it was unseen.
She screamed with sheer terror, but her scream availed no more than her
"Sir," she cried, clutching forward with her hands and grasping his
sleeve, "you frighten me. You terrify me. I have never harmed you.
Why should you wish to hurt an unfortunate woman? Oh, speak to me; for
God's sake, speak!"
Still the patter of rain upon the window, and no other sound save her
own sharp breathing.
"Perhaps you do not know who I am!" she continued, endeavouring to
assume her usual tone of command, and talking now to an absolute and
impenetrable darkness. "You may learn when it is too late that you have
chosen the wrong person for this pleasantry. I am the Marquise de
Montespan, and I am not one who forgets a slight. If you know anything
of the court, you must know that my word has some weight with the king.
You may carry me away in this carriage, but I am not a person who can
disappear without speedy inquiry, and speedy vengeance if I have been
wronged. If you would--Oh, Jesus! Have mercy!"
A livid flash of lightning had burst from the heart of the cloud, and,
for an instant, the whole country-side and the interior of the caleche
were as light as day. The man's face was within a hand's breadth of her
own, his mouth wide open, his eyes mere shining slits, convulsed with
silent merriment. Every detail flashed out clear in that vivid light--
his red quivering tongue, the lighter pink beneath it, the broad white
teeth, the short brown beard cut into a peak and bristling forward.
But it was not the sudden flash, it was not the laughing, cruel face,
which shot an ice-cold shudder through Francoise de Montespan. It was
that, of all men upon earth, this was he whom she most dreaded, and whom
she had least thought to see.
"Maurice!" she screamed. "Maurice! it is you!"
"Yes, little wifie, it is I. We are restored to each other's arms, you
see, after this interval."
"Oh, Maurice, how you have frightened me! How could you be so cruel?
Why would you not speak to me?"
"Because it was so sweet to sit in silence and to think that I really
had you to myself after all these years, with none to come between.
Ah, little wifie, I have often longed for this hour."
"I have wronged you, Maurice; I have wronged you! Forgive me!"
"We do not forgive in our family, my darling Francoise. Is it not like
old days to find ourselves driving together? And in this carriage, too.
It is the very one which bore us back from the cathedral where you made
your vows so prettily. I sat as I sit now, and you sat there, and I
took your hand like this, and I pressed it, and--"
"Oh, villain, you have twisted my wrist! You have broken my arm!"
"Oh, surely not, my little wifie! And then you remember that, as you
told me how truly you would love me, I leaned forward to your lips,
"Oh, help! Brute, you have cut my mouth! You have struck me with your
"Struck you! Now who would have thought that spring day when we planned
out our future, that this also was in the future waiting for me and you?
And this! and this!"
He struck savagely at her face in the darkness. She threw herself down,
her head pressed against the cushions. With the strength and fury of a
maniac he showered his blows above her, thudding upon the leather or
crashing upon the woodwork, heedless of his own splintered hands.
"So I have silenced you," said he at last. "I have stopped your words
with my kisses before now. But the world goes on, Francoise, and times
change, and women grow false, and men grow stern."
"You may kill me if you will," she moaned.
"I will," he said simply.
Still the carriage flew along, jolting and staggering in the
deeply-rutted country roads. The storm had passed, but the growl of the
thunder and the far-off glint of a lightning-flash were to be heard and
seen on the other side of the heavens. The moon shone out with its
clear cold light, silvering the broad, hedgeless, poplar-fringed plains,
and shining through the window of the carriage upon the crouching figure
and her terrible companion. He leaned back now, his arms folded upon
his chest, his eyes gloating upon the abject misery of the woman who had
"Where are you taking me?" she asked at last.
"To Portillac, my little wifie."
"And why there? What would you do to me?"
"I would silence that little lying tongue forever. It shall deceive no
"You would murder me?"
"If you call it that."
"You have a stone for a heart."
"My other was given to a woman."
"Oh, my sins are indeed punished."
"Rest assured that they will be."
"Can I do nothing to atone?"
"I will see that you atone."
"You have a sword by your side, Maurice. Why do you not kill me, then,
if you are so bitter against me? Why do you not pass it through my
"Rest assured that I would have done so had I not an excellent reason."
"I will tell you. At Portillac I have the right of the high justice,
the middle, and the low. I am seigneur there, and can try, condemn, and
execute. It is my lawful privilege. This pitiful king will not even
know how to avenge you, for the right is mine, and he cannot gainsay it
without making an enemy of every seigneur in France."
He opened his mouth again and laughed at his own device, while she,
shivering in every limb, turned away from his cruel face and glowing
eyes, and buried her face in her hands. Once more she prayed God to
forgive her for her poor sinful life. So they whirled through the night
behind the clattering horses, the husband and the wife, saying nothing,
but with hatred and fear raging in their hearts, until a brazier fire
shone down upon them from the angle of a keep, and the shadow of the
huge pile loomed vaguely up in front of them in the darkness. It was
the Castle of Portillac.
THE SCAFFOLD OF PORTILLAC.
And thus it was that Amory de Catinat and Amos Green saw from their
dungeon window the midnight carriage which discharged its prisoner
before their eyes. Hence, too, came that ominous planking and that
strange procession in the early morning. And thus it also happened that
they found themselves looking down upon Francoise de Montespan as she
was led to her death, and that they heard that last piteous cry for aid
at the instant when the heavy hand of the ruffian with the axe fell upon
her shoulder, and she was forced down upon her knees beside the block.
She shrank screaming from the dreadful, red-stained, greasy billet of
wood, but the butcher heaved up his weapon, and the seigneur had taken a
step forward with hand outstretched to seize the long auburn hair and to
drag the dainty head down with it when suddenly he was struck motionless
with astonishment, and stood with his foot advanced and his hand still
out, his mouth half open, and his eyes fixed in front of him.
And, indeed, what he had seen was enough to fill any man with amazement.
Out of the small square window which faced him a man had suddenly shot
head-foremost, pitching on to his outstretched hands and then bounding
to his feet. Within a foot of his heels came the head of a second one,
who fell more heavily than the first, and yet recovered himself as
quickly. The one wore the blue coat with silver facings of the king's
guard; the second had the dark coat and clean-shaven face of a man of
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