AN ENEMY TO THE KING
From the recently discovered memoirs of the Sieur de la Tournoire
By Robert Neilson Stephens
Author of "The Continental Dragoon," "The Road to Paris," "Philip Winwood," etc.
I. TWO ENCOUNTERS BY NIGHT II. LOVE-MAKING AT SHORT ACQUAINTANCE III. THE STRANGE REQUEST OF MLLE. D'ARENCY IV. HOW LA TOURNOIRE WAS ENLIGHTENED IN THE DARK V. HOW LA TOURNOIRE ESCAPED FROM PARIS VI. HOW HE FLED SOUTHWARD VII. HOW HE ANNOYED MONSIEUR DE LA CHATRE VIII. A SWEET LADY IN DISTRESS IX. THE FOUR RASCALS X. A DISAPPEARANCE XI. HOW THE HERO GAVE HIS WORD AND KEPT IT XII. AT THE CHATEAU OF MAURY XIII. HOW DE BERQUIN INVITED DEATH XIV. "GOD GRANT I DO NOT FIND YOU FALSE" XV. TO CLOCHONNE, AFTER MADEMOISELLE! XVI. BEHIND THE CURTAINS XVII. SWORD AND DAGGER XVIII. THE RIDE TOWARDS GUIENNE
AN ENEMY TO THE KING
TWO ENCOUNTERS BY NIGHT
Hitherto I have written with the sword, after the fashion of greater men, and requiring no secretary. I now take up the quill to set forth, correctly, certain incidents which, having been noised about, stand in danger of being inaccurately reported by some imitator of Brantome and De l'Estoile. If all the world is to know of this matter, let it know thereof rightly.
It was early in January, in the year 1578, that I first set out for Paris. My mother had died when I was twelve years old, and my father had followed her a year later. It was his last wish that I, his only child, should remain at the chateau, in Anjou, continuing my studies until the end of my twenty-first year. He had chosen that I should learn manners as best I could at home, not as page in some great household or as gentleman in the retinue of some high personage. "A De Launay shall have no master but God and the King," he said. Reverently I had fulfilled his injunctions, holding my young impulses in leash. I passed the time in sword practice with our old steward, Michel, who had followed my father in the wars under Coligny, in hunting in our little patch of woods, reading the Latin authors in the flowery garden of the chateau, or in my favorite chamber,—that one at the top of the new tower which had been built in the reign of Henri II. to replace the original black tower from which the earliest De Launay of note got the title of Sieur de la Tournoire. All this while I was holding in curb my impatient desires. So almost resistless are the forces that impel the young heart, that there must have been a hard struggle within me had I had to wait even a month longer for the birthday which finally set me free to go what ways I chose. I rose early on that cold but sunlit January day, mad with eagerness to be off and away into the great world that at last lay open to me. Poor old Michel was sad that I had decided to go alone. But the only servant whom I would have taken with me was the only one to whom I would entrust the house of my fathers in my absence,—old Michel himself. I thought the others too rustic. My few tenants would have made awkward lackeys in peace, sorry soldiers in war.
Michel had my portmanteau fastened on my horse, which had been brought out into the courtyard, and then he stood by me while I took my last breakfast in La Tournoire; and, in my haste to be off, I would have eaten little had he not pressed much upon me, reminding me how many leagues I would have to ride before meeting a good inn on the Paris road. He was sad, poor old Michel, at my going, and yet he partook of some of my own eagerness. At last I had forced down my unwilling throat food enough to satisfy even old Michel's solicitude. He girded on me the finest of the swords that my father had left, placed over my violet velvet doublet the new cloak I had bought for the occasion, handed me my new hat with its showy plumes, and stood aside for me to pass out. In the pocket of my red breeches was a purse holding enough golden crowns to ease my path for some time to come. I cast one last look around the old hall and, trying to check the rapidity of my breath, and the rising of the lump in my throat, strode out to the court-yard, breathed the fresh air with a new ecstasy, mounted the steaming horse, gave Michel my hand for a moment, and, purposely avoiding meeting his eyes, spoke a last kind word to the old man. After acknowledging the farewells of the other servants, who stood in line trying to look joyous, I started my horse with a little jerk of the rein, and was borne swiftly through the porte, over the bridge, and out into the world. Behind me was the home of my fathers and my childhood; before me was Paris. It was a fine, bracing winter morning, and I was twenty-one. A good horse was under me, a sword was at my side, there was money in my pocket. Will I ever feel again as I did that morning?
Some have stupidly wondered why, being a Huguenot born and bred, I did not, when free to leave La Tournoire, go at once to offer my sword to Henri of Navarre or to some other leader of our party. This is easily answered. If I was a Huguenot, I was also a man of twenty-one; and the latter much more than the former. Paris was the centre of the world. There was the court, there were the adventures to be had, there must one go to see the whole of life; there would I meet men and make conquests of women. There awaited me the pleasures of which I had known only by report, there the advancement, the triumphs in personal quarrels; and, above all else, the great love affair of my dreams. Who that is a man and twenty-one has not such dreams? And who that is a man and seventy would have been without them? Youth and folly go together, each sweetening the other. The greatest fool, I think, is he who would have gone through life entirely without folly. What then mattered religion to me? Or what mattered the rivalry of parties, except as they might serve my own personal ambitions and desires? Youth was ebullient in me. The longing to penetrate the unknown made inaction intolerable to me. I must rush into the whirlpool; I must be in the very midst of things; I longed for gaiety, for mystery, for contest; I must sing, drink, fight, make love. It is true that there would have been some outlet for my energies in camp life, but no gratification for my finer tastes, no luxury, no such pleasures as Paris afforded,—little diversity, no elating sense of being at the core of events, no opportunities for love-making. In Paris were the pretty women. The last circumstance alone would have decided me.
I had reached twenty-one without having been deeply in love. I had, of course, had transient periods of inclination towards more than one of the demoiselles in the neighborhood of La Tournoire; but these demoiselles had rapidly become insipid to me. As I grew older, I found it less easy to be attracted by young ladies whom I had known from childhood up. I had none the less the desire to be in love; but the woman whom I should love must be new to me, a mystery, something to fathom and yet unfathomable. She must be a world, inexhaustible, always retaining the charm of the partly unknown. I had high aspirations. No pretty maid, however low in station, was unworthy a kiss and some flattery; but the real affaire d'amour of my life must have no elements but magnificent ones. She must be some great lady of the court, and our passion must be attended by circumstances of mystery, danger, everything to complicate it and raise it to an epic height. Such was the amour I had determined to find in Paris. Remember, you who read this, that I am disclosing the inmost dreams of a man of twenty-one. Such dreams are appropriate to that age; it is only when they are associated with middle age that they become ridiculous; and when thoughts of amatory conquest are found in common with gray hairs, they are loathsome. If I seem to have given my mind largely up to fancies of love, consider that I was then at the age when such fancies rather adorn than deface. Indeed, a young man without thoughts of love is as much an anomaly as is an older man who gives himself up to them.
I looked back once at La Tournoire, when I reached the top of the hill that would, in another minute, shut it from my view. I saw old Michel standing at the porte. I waved my hand to him, and turned to proceed on my way. Soon the lump in my throat melted away, the moisture left my eyes, and only the future concerned me. Every object that came into sight, every tree along the roadside, now interested me. I passed several travellers, some of whom seemed to envy me my indifference to the cold weather, my look of joyous content.
About noon I overtook, just where the road left a wood and turned to cross a bridge, a small cavalcade consisting of an erect, handsome gentleman of middle age, and several armed lackeys. The gentleman wore a black velvet doublet, and his attire, from his snowy ruff to his black boots, was in the best condition. He had a frank, manly countenance that invited address. At the turn of the road he saw me, and, taking me in at a glance, he fell behind his lackeys that I might come up to him. He greeted me courteously, and after he had spoken of the weather and the promise of the sky, he mentioned, incidentally, that he was going to Paris. I told him my own destination, and we came to talking of the court. I perceived, from his remarks, that he was well acquainted there. There was some talk of the quarrels between the King's favorites and those of his brother, the Duke of Anjou; of the latter's sulkiness over his treatment at the hands of the King; of the probabilities for and against Anjou's leaving Paris and putting himself at the head of the malcontent and Huguenot parties; of the friendship between Anjou and his sister Marguerite, who remained at the Court of France while her husband, Henri of Navarre, held his mimic Huguenot court in Bearn. Presently, the name of the Duke of Guise came up.
Now we Huguenots held, and still hold, Henri de Guise to have been a chief instigator of the event of St. Bartholomew's Night, in 1572. Always I had in my mind the picture of Coligny, under whom my father had fought, lying dead in his own courtyard, in the Rue de Bethizy, his murder done under the direction of that same Henri, his body thrown from his window into the court at Henri's orders, and there spurned by Henri's foot. I had heard, too, of this illustrious duke's open continuance of his amour with Marguerite, queen of our leader, Henri of Navarre. When I spoke of him to the gentleman at whose side I rode, I put no restraint on my tongue.
"The Duke of Guise!" I said. "All that I ever wish to say of him can be very quickly spoken. If, as you Catholics believe, God has an earthly representative in the Pope, then I think the devil has one in Henri de Guise."
The gentleman was quiet for a moment, and looked very sober. Then he said gravely:
"All men have their faults, monsieur. The difference between men is that some have no virtues to compensate for their vices."
"If Henri de Guise has any virtues," I replied, "he wears a mask over them; and he conceals them more effectually than he hides his predilection for assassination, his amours, and his design to rule France through the Holy League of which he is the real head."
The gentleman turned very red, and darted at me a glance of anger. Then restraining himself, he answered in a very low tone:
"Monsieur, the subject can be discussed by us in only one way, or not at all. You are young, and it would be too pitiful for you to be cut off before you have even seen Paris. Doubtless, you are impatient to arrive there. It would be well, then, if you rode on a little faster. It is my intention to proceed at a much slower pace than will be agreeable to you."
And he reined in his horse.
I reined in mine likewise. I was boiling with wrath at his superior tone, and his consideration for my youth, but I imitated his coolness as well as I could.
"Monsieur," said I, "whether or not I ever see Paris is not a matter to concern you. I cannot allow you to consider my youth. You wish to be obliging; then consider that nothing in the world would be a greater favor to me than an opportunity to maintain with my sword my opinion of Henri de Guise."
The man smiled gently, and replied without passion:
"Then, as we certainly are not going to fight, let my refusal be, not on account of your youth, but on account of my necessity of reaching Paris without accident."
His horse stood still. His lackeys also had stopped their horses, which stood pawing and snorting at a respectful distance. It was an awkward moment for me. I could not stand there trying to persuade a perfectly serene man to fight. So with an abrupt pull of the rein I started my horse, mechanically applied the spur, and galloped off. A few minutes later I was out of sight of this singularly self-controlled gentleman, who resented my description of the Duke of Guise. I was annoyed for some time to think that he had had the better of the occurrence; and I gave myself up for an hour to the unprofitable occupation of mentally reenacting the scene in a manner more creditable to myself.
"I may meet him in Paris some day," I said to myself, "and find an occasion to right myself in his estimation. He shall not let my youth intercede for me again."
Then I wished that I had learned his name, that I might, on reaching Paris, have found out more about him. Having in his suite no gentlemen, but several lackeys, he was, doubtless, not himself an important personage, but a follower of one. Not wishing to meet him again until circumstances should have changed, I passed the next inn to which I came, guessing that he would stop there. He must have done so, for he did not come up with me that day, or at any time during my journey.
It was at sunset on a clear, cold evening that, without further adventure, I rode into Paris through the Porte St. Michel, and stared, as I proceeded along the Rue de la Harpe, at the crowds of people hurrying in either direction in each of the narrow, crooked streets, each person so absorbed in his own errand, and so used to the throng and the noise, that he paid no heed to the animation that so interested and stirred me. The rays of the setting sun lighted up the towers of the colleges and abbeys at my right, while those at my left stood black against the purple and yellow sky. I rode on and on, not wishing to stop at an inn until I should have seen more of the panorama that so charmed me. At last I reached the left bank of the Seine, and saw before me the little Isle of the City, the sunlit towers of Notre Dame rising above the wilderness of turrets and spires surrounding them. I crossed the Pont St. Michel, stopping for a moment to look westward towards the Tour de Nesle, and then eastward to the Tournelle, thus covering, in two glances, the river bank of the University through which I had just come. Emerging from the bridge, I followed the Rue de la Barillerie across the Isle of the City, finding everywhere the same bustle, the same coming and going of citizens, priests, students, and beggars, all alert, yet not to be surprised by any spectacle that might arise before them. Reaching the right arm of the Seine, I stopped again, this time on the Pont-au-Change, and embraced, in a sweeping look from left to right, the river bank of the town, the Paris of the court and the palaces, of the markets and of trade, the Paris in which I hoped to find a splendid future, the Paris into which, after taking this comprehensive view from the towers of the Louvre and the Tour de Bois away leftward, to the Tour de Billy away right ward, I urged my horse with a jubilant heart. It was a quite dark Paris by the time I plunged into it. The Rue St. Denis, along which I rode, was beginning to be lighted here and there by stray rays from windows. The still narrower streets, that ran, like crooked corridors in a great chateau, from the large thoroughfare, seemed to be altogether dark.
But, dark as the city had become, I had determined to explore some of it that night, so charming was its novelty, so inviting to me were its countless streets, leading to who knows what? I stopped at a large inn in the Rue St. Denis, saw my tired horse well cared for by an hostler, who seemed amazed at my rustic solicitude for details, had my portmanteau deposited in a clean, white-washed chamber, overlooking the street, ate a supper such as only a Paris innkeeper can serve and a ravenous youth from the country can devour, and went forth afoot, after curfew, into the now entirely dark and no longer crowded street, to find what might befall me.
It had grown colder at nightfall, and I had to draw my cloak closely around me. A wind had come up, too, and the few people whom I met were walking with head thrust forward, the better to resist the breeze when it should oppose them. Some were attended by armed servants bearing lanterns. The sign-boards, that hung from the projecting stories of the tall houses, swung as the wind swayed, and there was a continual sound of creaking. Clouds had risen, and the moon was obscured much of the time, so that when I looked down some of the narrower streets I could not see whether they ended within a short distance, turned out of sight, or continued far in the same direction. Being accustomed to the country roads, the squares of smaller towns, and the wide avenues of the little park at La Tournoire, I was at first surprised at the narrowness of the streets. Across one of them lay a drunken man, peacefully snoring. His head touched the house on one side of the street, and his feet pressed the wall on the opposite side. It surprised me to find so many of the streets no wider than this. But there was more breathing room wherever two streets crossed and where several of them opened into some great place. The crookedness and curvature of the streets constantly tempted me to seek what might be beyond, around the corner, or the bend; and whenever I sought, I found still other corners or bends hiding the unknown, and luring me to investigate.
I had started westward from the inn, intending to proceed towards the Louvre. But presently, having turned aside from one irregular street into another, I did not know what was the direction in which I went. The only noises that I heard were those caused by the wind, excepting when now and then came suddenly a burst of loud talk, mingled mirth and jangling, as quickly shut off, when the door of some cabaret opened and closed. When I heard footsteps on the uneven pebble pavement of the street, and saw approaching me out of the gloom some cloaked pedestrian, I mechanically gripped the handle of my sword, and kept a wary eye on the stranger,—knowing that in passing each other we must almost touch elbows. His own suspicious and cautious demeanor and motions reflected mine.
At night, in the narrow streets of a great town, there exists in every footfall heard, every human figure seen emerging from the darkness, the possibility of an encounter, an adventure, something unexpected. So, to the night roamer, every human sound or sight has an unwonted interest.
As I followed the turning of one of the narrowest streets, the darkness, some distance ahead of me, was suddenly cleft by a stream of light from a window that was quickly opened in the second story of a tall house on the right-hand side of the way. Then the window was darkened by the form of a man coming from the chamber within. At his appearance into view I stood still. Resting for a moment on his knees on the window-ledge, he lowered first one leg, then the other, then his body, and presently he was hanging by his hands over the street. Then the face of a woman appeared in the window, and as the man remained there, suspended, he looked up at her inquiringly.
"It is well," she said, in a low tone; "but be quick. We are just in time." And she stood ready to close the window as soon as he should be out of the way.
"Good night, adorable," he replied, and dropped to the street. The lady immediately closed the window, not even waiting to see how the man had alighted.
Had she waited to see that, she would have seen him, in lurching over to prevent his sword from striking the ground, lose his balance on a detached paving-stone, and fall heavily on his right arm.
"Peste!" he hissed, as he slowly scrambled to his feet. "I have broken my arm!"
With his right arm hanging stiff by his side, and clutching its elbow with his left hand, as if in great pain, he hastened away from the spot, not having noticed me. I followed him.
After a second turn, the street crossed another. In the middle of the open space at the junction, there stood a cross, as could be seen by the moonlight that now came through an interval in the procession of wind-driven clouds.
Just as the man with the hurt arm, who was slender, and had a dandified walk, entered this open space, a gust of wind came into it with him; and there came, also, from the other street, a robust gentleman of medium height, holding his head high and walking briskly. Caught by the gust of wind, my gentleman from the second story window ran precipitantly into the other. The robust man was not sent backward an inch. He took the shock of meeting with the firmness of an unyielding wall, so that the slender gentleman rebounded. Each man uttered a brief oath, and grasped his sword, the slender one forgetting the condition of his arm.
"Oh, it is you," said the robust man, in a virile voice, of which the tone was now purposely offensive. "The wind blows fragile articles into one's face to-night."
"It blows gentlemen into muck-heaps," responded the other, quickly.
The hearty gentleman gave a loud laugh, meant to aggravate the other's anger, and then said:
"We do not need seconds, M. de Quelus," putting into his utterance of the other's name a world of insult.
"Come on, then, M. Bussy d'Amboise," replied the other, pronouncing the name only that he might, in return, hiss out the final syllable as if it were the word for something filthy.
Both whipped out their swords, M. de Quelus now seemingly unconscious of the pain in his arm.
I looked on from the shadow in which I had stopped, not having followed De Quelus into the little open space. My interest in the encounter was naturally the greater for having learned the names of the antagonists. At La Tournoire I had heard enough of the court to know that the Marquis de Quelus was the chief of the King's effeminate chamberlains, whom he called his minions, and that Bussy d'Amboise was the most redoubtable of the rufflers attached to the King's discontented brother, the Duke of Anjou; and that between the dainty gentlemen of the King and the bullying swordsmen of the Duke, there was continual feud.
Bussy d'Amboise, disdaining even to remove his cloak, of which he quickly gathered the end under his left arm, made two steps and a thrust at De Quelus. The latter made what parade he could for a moment, so that Bussy stepped back to try a feint. De Quelus, trying to raise his sword a trifle higher, uttered an ejaculation of pain, and then dropped the point. Bussy had already begun the motion of a lunge, which it was too late to arrest, even if he had discovered that the other's arm was injured and had disdained to profit by such an advantage. De Quelus would have been pierced through had not I leaped forward with drawn sword and, by a quick thrust, happened to strike Bussy's blade and make it diverge from its course.
De Quelus jumped back on his side, as Bussy did on his. Both regarded me with astonishment.
"Oh, ho, an ambush!" cried Bussy. "Then come on, all of you, messieurs of the daubed face and painted beard! I shall not even call my servants, who wait at the next corner."
And he made a lunge at me, which I diverted by a parry made on instinct, not having had time to bring my mind to the direction of matters. Bussy then stood back on guard.
"You lie," said De Quelus, vainly trying to find sufficient strength in his arm to lift his sword. "I was alone. My servants are as near as yours, yet I have not called. As for this gentleman, I never saw him before."
"That is true," I said, keeping up my guard, while Bussy stood with his back to the cross, his brows knit in his effort to make out my features.
"Oh, very well," said Bussy. "I do not recognize him, but he is evidently a gentleman in search of a quarrel, and I am disposed to be accommodating."
He attacked me again, and I surprised myself, vastly, by being able to resist the onslaughts of this, the most formidable swordsman at the court of France. But I dared not hope for final victory. It did not even occur to me as possible that I might survive this fight. The best for which I hoped was that I might not be among the easiest victims of this famous sword.
"Monsieur," said De Quelus, while Bussy and I kept it up, with offence on his part, defence on mine, "I am sorry that I cannot intervene to save your life. My arm has been hurt in a fall, and I cannot even hold up my sword."
"I know that," I replied. "That is why I interfered."
"The devil!" cried Bussy. "Much as I detest you, M. de Quelus, you know I would not have attacked you had I known that. But this gentleman, at least, has nothing the matter with his arm."
And he came for me again.
Nothing the matter with my arm! Actually a compliment upon my sword-handling from the most invincible fighter, whether in formal duel or sudden quarrel, in France! I liked the generosity which impelled him to acknowledge me a worthy antagonist, as much as I resented his overbearing insolence; and I began to think there was a chance for me.
For the first time, I now assumed the offensive, and with such suddenness that Bussy fell back, out of sheer surprise. He had forgotten about the cross that stood in the centre of the place, and, in leaping backward, he struck this cross heavily with his sword wrist. His glove did not save him from being jarred and bruised; and, for a moment, he relaxed his firm grasp of his sword, and before he could renew his clutch I could have destroyed his guard and ended the matter; but I dropped my point instead.
Bussy looked at me in amazement, and then dropped his.
"Absurd, monsieur! You might very fairly have used your advantage. Now you have spoiled everything. We can't go on fighting, for I would not give you another such opening, nor would I kill a man who gives me my life."
"As you will, monsieur," said I. "I am glad not to be killed, for what is the use of having fought Bussy d'Amboise if one may not live to boast of it?"
He seemed pleased in his self-esteem, and sheathed his sword. "I am destined not to fight to-night," he answered. "One adversary turns out to have a damaged arm, which would make it a disgrace to kill him, and the other puts me under obligation for my life. But, M. de Quelus, your arm will recover."
"I hope so, if for only one reason," replied Quelus.
Bussy d'Amboise then bowed to me, and strode on his way. He was joined at the next crossing of streets by four lackeys, who had been waiting in shadow. All had swords and pistols, and one bore a lantern, which had been concealed beneath his cloak.
De Quelus, having looked after him with an angry frown, now turned to me, and spoke with affability:
"Monsieur, had you not observed the condition of my arm, I should have resented your aid. But as it is, I owe you my life no less than he owes you his, and it may be that I can do more than merely acknowledge the obligation."
I saw here the opportunity for which a man might wait months, and I was not such a fool as to lose it through pride.
"Monsieur," I said, "I am Ernanton de Launay, Sieur de la Tournoire. I arrived in Paris to-day, from Anjou, with the desire of enlisting in the French Guards."
De Quelus smiled. "You desire very little for a gentleman, and one who can handle a sword so well."
"I know that, but I do not bring any letters, and I am not one who could expect the favor of a court appointment. I am a Huguenot."
"A Huguenot?" said De Quelus. "And yet you come to Paris?"
"I prefer to serve the King of France. He is at present on good terms with the Huguenots, is he not?"
"Yes,—at least, he is not at war with them. Well, gentlemen like you are not to be wasted, even though Huguenots. Attach yourself to Duret's company of the guards for the present, and who knows when you may win a vacant captaincy? I will bring you to the attention of the King. Can you be, to-morrow at eleven o'clock, at the principal gate of the Louvre?"
"Very well. I will speak to Captain Duret, also, about you."
He looked at my active figure, neither tall nor short, neither broad nor too thin, observed the length of my arm, and remembered that I had made so respectable a showing with the sword against Bussy, I could see that he was thinking, "It is well to have in one's debt as many such strong and honest young gentlemen as can be had. Even a Huguenot may be useful in these days."
Then, when so many leaders contended, every man was desirous of gaining partisans. At court, wise people were scrupulous to repay obligations, in the hope of securing future benefit. I divined De Quelus's motives, but was none the less willing to profit by them as to the possible vacant captaincy.
"Then I thank you, monsieur, and will keep the appointment," I said.
"You are alone," said De Quelus. "One does not know when one may have one's throat cut for a sou, after dark in the streets of Paris. Will you accept the escort of two of my servants? They are waiting for me in the next street. One does not, you know, let one's servants wait too near windows out of which one expects to drop," he added with a smile.
"I thank you, monsieur, but I have already fared so well alone to-night, that I should fear to change my fortune by taking attendants."
"Then good night, monsieur. No, thank you. I can sheathe my own sword. My arm has lost its numbness. Parbleu, I should like to meet Bussy d'Amboise now."
And he strode away, leaving me standing by the cross.
I hesitated between returning to the inn, and resuming my exploration of the streets. I decided to go back, lest I be shut out for the night.
I had made my way some distance, in the labyrinth of streets, when, on reaching another junction of ways, I heard steps at some distance to the left. Looking in that direction, I saw approaching a little procession headed by two men servants, one of whom carried a lantern. I stepped back into the street from which I had just emerged, that I might remain unseen, until it should pass. Peering around the street corner, I saw that behind the two servants came a lady, whose form indicated youth and elegance, and who leaned on the arm of a stout woman, doubtless a servant. Behind these two came another pair of lackeys.
The lady wore a mask, and although heavily cloaked, shivered in the January wind, and walked as rapidly as she could. The four men had swords and pistols, and were sturdy fellows, able to afford her good protection.
The two men in advance passed without seeing me, stepping easily over a pool of muddy water that had collected in a depression in the street, and had not yet had time to freeze.
When the lady reached this pool, she stopped at its brink and looked down at it, with a little motion of consternation.
"I cannot step across this lake," she said, in a voice that was low-pitched, rich, and full of charm to the ear. "We must skirt its borders."
And she turned to walk a short distance up the street in which I stood.
"Not so, madame," I said, stepping forth and bowing. "The lake is a long one, and you would have to go far out of your way. I will convey you across in a moment, if you will allow me." And I held out my arms, indicating my willingness to lift her across the pool.
The two servants in the rear now hastened up, ready to attack me, and those ahead turned and came back, their hands on their weapons.
The lady looked at me through the eye-holes of her mask. Her lips and chin being visible, she could not conceal a quizzical smile that came at my offer.
"Why not?" she said, motioning her servants back.
I caught her up in my arms and lifted her over the puddle. She slid from my grasp with a slight laugh.
I sought some pretext to prolong this meeting. "When I came out to-night," I said, "I dared not hope for such happiness as this."
"Nor did the astrologer predict anything of the kind to me," she replied. From this I knew the cause of her being in the street so late,—a secret visit to some fortune-teller. Then she called to the stout woman, who was looking for a place to step over the pool. "Come, Isa, in the name of Heaven. You know that if the guard is changed—"
She stopped, but she had already betrayed herself. She meant the guard of the palace, doubtless; and that her secret entrance, so long after the closing of the gates, depended for its ease on the presence of some officer with whom she had an understanding. She must be one of the ladies attached to the royal household, and her nocturnal excursion, from the Louvre, was evidently clandestine.
Isa now joined her mistress, and the latter, with a mere, "I thank you, monsieur," turned and hastened on her way. Soon the footsteps of her attendants died out of hearing.
I had not even seen her face, save the white, curved chin and the delicate mouth. I had only beheld her lithe figure, felt its heaving as I carried her, had my cold cheek warmed for a moment by her breath, heard her provoking laugh and her voice, rich with vitality. Yet her charm had caught me and remained with me. I could not, nor did I try to throw it off. I was possessed by a craving to see her again, to know more of her. Already I made this unknown the heroine of my prospective love affair. I could soon find her, after gaining the entree of the court; and I could identify her by her voice as well as by her probable recognition of me. Heaving a deep sigh, I left the place of our meeting and found my way back to the inn. Thanks to the presence of some late drinkers, I got in without much pounding on the door; and in my little white-washed chamber I dreamt of soft eyes that glowed through the holes of a lady's mask.
LOVE-MAKING AT SHORT ACQUAINTANCE
The next morning was bright, and not too cold. At eleven I approached the great gate of the Louvre, wearing the bold demeanor of a man determined not to be abashed, even by the presence of royalty. Yet within me there was some slight trepidation lest I should, on first setting foot within the precincts of a palace, betray my rustic bringing up.
Others were being admitted at the gate, and some were coming out, both the King's council and the reception having been over for some time. A page, who had been waiting just inside the court, came out as I approached, and asked me if I were M. de Launay. Astonished, that he should have so easily picked me out, I replied that I was. He then said that he had come to conduct me to Monsieur the Marquis de Quelus, and I followed him into the great courtyard of the Louvre.
Before me was the imposing facade of the palace. Around me was an animated scene of well-dressed gentlemen coming and going, meeting one another forming little groups for a moment's interchange of news or inquiries, and as quickly breaking up. There were soldiers on guard, officers on duty and off, courtiers in brilliant doublets, dazzling ruffs, rich hose; gentlemen with gay plumes, costly cloaks, jewelled sword-hilts. There were pages, strutting about with messages; lackeys, belonging only to the greatest nobles or royal favorites. Everybody, whether gentleman, soldier, household officer, priest, page, or valet, went with an air of great consequence, with head high in air, every step, expression, and attitude proclaiming a sense of vast superiority to the rest of the world. It was as if people attached to the court were an elevated race of beings; or as if the court were Olympus, and these were gods and the servitors of gods, who, very properly, regarded mortals with disdain. Each man, too, maintained not only this lofty air as befitting one of the court, but also an aspect of individual preciousness as towards his fellow divinities. There was, in many a face or bearing, an expressed resentment, in advance, of any affront that might be offered. The soldiers swaggered, the gentlemen showed self-esteem in every motion. Nevertheless, there was much good nature and courtesy in the salutations, fragments of conversation, and exchanges of gossip. Leaving the sunlit courtyard behind, the page showed me up a fine stairway, where some gentlemen tarried in little parties, while others ascended or descended. We passed through large galleries, the same animation continuing everywhere. I had no time, as we passed, to examine the superb hangings and fanciful decorations of the galleries in detail. The clothes of the courtiers, the brilliant display of velvet, silk, furs, and the finest linen, of every known hue, made a continually changing, moving panorama of color.
We approached, at last, a group extraordinarily radiant in attire. It was composed of very young men, some of whom had hardly yet acquired the beard required by the universal fashion. Even at a distance I could see that their cheeks were painted, could note their affectation of feminine attitudes, could smell the perfumes with which they had deluged their bodies. These were some of the favorites of the King, and more of the imitators of the favorites. No wonder that Bussy d'Amboise and the sturdy gentlemen of the King's ungainly brother, Anjou, had a manly detestation for these bedaubed effeminates, and sought opportunities to extirpate them with the sword. Yet these dainty youths, one of whom was De Quelus, who now came forward to meet me, were not cowards.
The young Marquis wore a slashed doublet of brown velvet and gold. His silken hose were of a lighter tint of brown. His ruff was so enormous that he had to keep the point of his beard thrust forward at an elevation.
"I shall present you when the King passes," he said to me. "I have already spoken a word to Captain Duret, to whom you will report to-morrow. He will make a veteran of you in a quarter of an hour. The King, by the way, knows of your family. He knows every family in France, for that matter. I spoke of you to him at his rising this morning. He said that your father was a Huguenot, and I told him that you also were Protestant. You know enough of things in France to be aware that your Protestantism stands a little in your way at court, just now; but things may change before there is a vacant captaincy in the Guards."
People who have thought it bad enough that I should have gone to Paris, instead of to the court of Henri of Navarre, have been astonished, beyond expression, at my having desired to serve in the King's infantry, which, in the event of another civil war, might be arrayed against the army of our faith. But it must be borne in mind that I had this desire at a time when none knew how the different armies might be placed towards one another in the civil war, which everybody admitted must, at some time or other, occur. I was one of the many who believed that the Duke of Guise, using the newly formed Holy League as his instrument, would aim for the throne of France; that King Henri III. would be forced, in self-defence, to make an alliance with the Huguenot leaders; and that, therefore, I, in fulfilling my ambition to be of this King's own soldiers, with quarters in or near Paris in time of peace, would, at the outbreak of civil war, find myself in line with the armies of our faith, opposed to the common enemy, the great Catholic Guise faction. Of the various predictions as to the future of France, I chose this one, perhaps because it was the only one which permitted me to follow out my wishes without outraging my sense of duty.
Before I could answer De Quelus, a voice said, "The King!" At the end of the gallery, where two halberdiers and two ushers stood, a pair of curtains had quickly parted, and out came a slender young man all velvet, silk, gold, and jewels; with the legs and the walk of a woman; with face painted like a courtesan's; a very slight beard on his chin, and a weak growth of hair on his upper lip; with a look half brazen, half shamefaced; with eyes half wistful, half malicious; his pear-shaped face expressing some love of the beautiful, some wit, some cynicism, much personal vanity, vicious inclinations and practices, restlessness, the torture of secret self-reproach, a vague distress, a longing to escape somewhere and be at peace.
He wore ear-rings, a necklace, bracelets, and a small jewelled velvet cap; but he was without his famous basket of little dogs. This was Henri III., and he was going to pray in one of the churches.
As he came down the gallery, he noticed De Quelus, from afar, and then glanced at me. When he was before us, De Quelus made obeisance and presented me. Before I could finish my bow, the King said:
"Ah, it was your sword that helped to preserve my chamberlain from the ambush laid for him?" (From which it appeared that De Quelus had given his own account of the previous night's occurrence.) "And you wish to enlist in my regiment of French Guards? My faith, I have done well in reestablishing that corps, if such brave young gentlemen are induced to enter it. I'll wager you hope to earn a commission soon."
I could only reply: "Such a hope is beyond my deserts, sire."
It was indeed beyond them, for I had seen no military service; but it was not beyond them for any other reason.
"Nothing is beyond the deserts of one whose sword is always loyal," said the King, with intended significance, and passed on; his gentlemen falling in behind him. De Quelus gave me directions as to my reporting, on the morrow, to Captain Duret, and added, "Rely on me for any favor or privilege that you may wish, and for access to the palace. You have only to send me word." He then joined the following of the King.
I seemed now at liberty to remain in the Louvre as long as I might choose, having once entered it. I thought I would look about, knowing that if at any time I should be about to trespass on forbidden ground, there would be guards to hinder me. I went first to a window overlooking the court. I had no sooner turned my eyes down upon the splendid and animated scene below, then I felt a touch on my elbow. Looking around, I saw a familiar face,—that of M. de Rilly, another Anjou gentleman, whom I had known before his coming to court. He was now one of the King's equerries.
He was a sprightly man of about thirty, with none of the effeminacy that marked so many of the officers of the King's household. Though not of my religion, he made me heartily welcome, and undertook, at once, to initiate me into the mysteries of the court. He was a loquacious, open-minded man, who did not fear to express his thoughts, even in the shadow of royalty itself.
Hearing some clatter in the direction whither the King had gone, I looked after him. A short, compact young gentleman, plainly, but richly dressed, slightly stooping, with a rather surly face, and an envious eye, was coming towards the King. He wore riding-boots and a cloak, and behind him came a troop of young men similarly attired. The foremost of them was Bussy d'Amboise, expressing defiance in every line of his bold, square countenance.
"Ah," said De Rilly, "there is the Duke of Anjou, who has been riding in the faubourg."
I took a second look at the surly gentleman. At this moment he exchanged glances with his brother, the King. The look of each was eloquent. The King's said, "I hate you for being a disloyal brother and a fractious subject; for conspiring to take away part of my kingdom; and who knows but that you are secretly aiming at my throne and my life?" The younger brother's look conveyed this much: "I hate you for your suspicions of me; for your not obtaining for me in your court the respect due the son and brother of a king; for encouraging your favorites to ridicule me. If I am driven to rebel against you, it is your own fault."
The King received the Duke's perfunctory salutation indifferently, and passed on. Anjou and his men turned into a gallery leading to his own apartments.
"I see that everybody is following the King," I said.
"Yes, but not I," replied De Rilly. "I find it no more amusing to pray when the King does than at any other time. I came here, this morning, to catch a glimpse of one of the Queen's ladies, but her Majesty has a cold, and my lady is in attendance."
"Which of the Queens has a cold?"
"Queen Louise, the King's wife. It is true, one may well ask which, when there is mention of the Queen nowadays. The Queen of France is a small factor when compared with the King's mother, Queen Catherine, or even with his sister, the Queen of Navarre, whose name is on everyone's tongue, on account of her love affairs, and of her suspected plots."
"Some think she plots with the Duke of Guise, who cannot wait to rule France until Catherine's sons are both dead,—but Catherine will make him wait. Others believe that she plots with her Huguenot husband, the King of Navarre, to join him; and that the King keeps her here virtually a prisoner, lest her departure might be taken as a concession to the Huguenots; and, lastly and chiefly, they aver that she plots with her brother Anjou, to help him to join the Huguenots and malcontents as their leader."
"This is very interesting, M. de Rilly; but, pardon me, is it safe to say these things openly at court? I am fresh from the country, and anxious not to blunder."
"It is safe for me, because I am nobody at all, and, moreover, I say whatever is in my thoughts, and am looked upon as a rattlebrain, and not taken seriously. But it would not be safe for some. There comes the Queen of Navarre now. She and her ladies have been walking in their garden."
A number of ladies were entering the gallery from a side stairway. Marguerite de Valois, who ought to have been with her husband, the King of Navarre, at his little court at Nerac, remained instead at the court of France, to be its greatest ornament. She was, alas, its greatest scandal, also. But I admired her none the less for that, as she stood there, erect among her women, full of color and grace. Vast possibilities of mischief seemed buried in the depths of the big and brilliant eyes which gave so much life to the small, round face.
While she stood still for one of her maids to detach from her ruff a dead leaf that had dropped there during her walk, Bussy d'Amboise returned from Anjou's apartment. He walked up to her with a conquering air, bowed, and said something that made her laugh. Then he looked around and saw me. He spoke to her again, in a low tone, and she cast her fine eyes in my direction. She directed her ladies to fall back out of hearing, and again conferred with Bussy. At the end of this he left her, and strode over to me.
"Monsieur," he said, "the Queen of Navarre would like to know your name. I do not remember to have heard it last night."
I told him my name, and he took me by the arm, led me to Marguerite, and presented me, somewhat to my confusion, so rapidly was the thing done.
"You are a newcomer at court?" she said.
"I arrived in Paris only yesterday."
"And have taken service with—whom?"
"In the French Guards."
"We shall doubtless hear more of your skill with the sword," said Marguerite.
"I knew not I had any," I replied, "until I found out that I could stand up for a minute against the sword I met last night. Now I am glad to know that I possess skill, that I may hold it ever at the service of your Majesty as well as of the King."
This speech seemed to be exactly what Marguerite had desired of me, for she smiled and said, "I shall not forget you, M. de la Tournoire," before she turned away.
Bussy followed her, and I returned to De Rilly.
"Why should they pay any attention to me?" I said to him.
"No newcomer is too insignificant to be sought as an ally where there are so many parties," he replied, indifferently. "Those two are with Anjou, who may have use for as many adherents as he can get one of these days. They say he is always meditating rebellion with the Huguenots or the Politiques, or both, and I don't blame a prince who is so shabbily treated at court."
"But what could a mere guardsman do, without friends or influence? Besides, my military duties—"
"Will leave you plenty of time to get into other troubles, if you find them amusing. How do you intend to pass the rest of the day?"
"I have no plans. I should like to see more of the Louvre on my first visit; and, to tell the truth, I had hoped to find out more about a certain lady who belongs to the court."
"What do you know of her?"
"Only that she has a beautiful figure and a pretty mouth and chin. She wore a mask, but I should recognize her voice if I heard it again."
"I wish you better luck than I have had to-day."
Marguerite and her damsels had turned down a corridor leading to her apartments. Bussy d'Amboise was disappearing down the stairs. There came, from another direction, the lively chatter of women's voices, and there appeared, at the head of the stairs up which Marguerite had come, another group of ladies, all young and radiant but one. The exception was a stout, self-possessed looking woman of middle age, dressed rather sedately in dark satin. She had regular features, calm black eyes, an unruffled expression, and an air of authority without arrogance.
"Queen Catherine and some of her Flying Squadron," said De Rilly, in answer to my look of inquiry. "She has been taking the air after the King's council. Her own council is a more serious matter, and lasts all the time."
"Queen Catherine?" I exclaimed, incredulously, half refusing to see, in that placid matron, the ceaseless plotter, the woman accused of poisoning and all manner of bloodshed, whom the name represented.
"Catherine de Medici," said De Rilly, evidently finding it a pleasure to instruct a newcomer as to the personages and mysteries of the court. "She who preserves the royal power in France at this moment."
"She does not look as I have imagined her," I said.
"One would not suppose," said De Rilly, "that behind that serene countenance goes on the mental activity necessary to keep the throne in possession of her favorite son, who spends fortunes on his minions, taxes his subjects to the utmost, and disgusts them with his eccentric piety and peculiar vices."
"Dare one say such things in the very palace of that King?"
"Why not say what every one knows? It is what people say in hidden places that is dangerous."
"I wonder what is passing in the Queen-mother's mind at this moment," I said, as Catherine turned into the corridor leading to Anjou's apartments.
In the light of subsequent events, I can now give a better answer to that query than De Rilly, himself, could have given then. Catherine had to use her wits to check the deep designs of Henri, Duke of Guise, who was biding his time to claim the throne as the descendant of Charlemagne, and was as beloved of the populace as Henri III. was odious to it. Thanks to the rebellion of Huguenots and malcontents, Guise had been kept too busy in the field to prosecute his political designs. As head of the Catholic party, and heir to his father's great military reputation, he could not, consistently, avoid the duties assigned him by the crown. That these duties might not cease, Catherine found it to her interest that rebellion should continue indefinitely. The Huguenot party, in its turn, was kept by the Guise or Catholic party from assaults on the crown. In fine, while both great factions were occupied with each other, neither could threaten the King. This discord, on which she relied to keep her unpopular son safe on his throne, was fomented by her in secret ways. She shifted from side to side, as circumstances required. The parties must be maintained, in order that discontent might vent itself in factional contest, and not against the King. The King must belong to neither party, in order not to be of the party that might be ultimately defeated; yet he must belong to both parties, in order to be of the party that might ultimately triumph. To the maintainance of this impossible situation was the genius of Catherine de Medici successfully devoted for many years of universal discontent and bloodshed.
Now the Duke of Guise had found a way to turn these circumstances to account. Since the King of France could not hold down the Huguenots, the Holy Catholic League, composed of Catholics of every class throughout the most of France, would undertake the task. He foresaw that he, as leader of the League, would earn from the Catholics a gratitude that would make him the most powerful man in the kingdom. Catherine, too, saw this. To neutralize this move, she caused the King to endorse the League and appoint himself its head. The Huguenots must not take this as a step against them; on the contrary, they must be led to regard it as a shrewd measure to restrain the League. The King's first official edicts, after assuming the leadership of the League, seemed to warrant this view. So the King, in a final struggle against the Guise elements, might still rely on the aid of the Huguenots. But the King still remained outside of the League, although nominally its chief. Catherine saw that it was not to be deluded from its real purpose. The only thing to do was to conciliate the Duke of Guise into waiting. There was little likelihood of either of her sons attaining middle age. The Duke of Guise, a splendid specimen of physical manhood, would doubtless outlive them; he might be induced to wait for their deaths. The rightful successor to the throne would then be Henri of Navarre, head of the Bourbon family. But he was a Huguenot; therefore Catherine affected to the Duke of Guise a great desire that he should succeed her sons. The existing peace allowed the Duke of Guise the leisure in which to be dangerous; so every means to keep him quiet was taken.
Some of these things De Rilly told me, as we stood in the embrasure of a window in the gallery, while Catherine visited her son, Anjou,—whose discontent at court complicated the situation, for he might, at any time, leave Paris and lead the Huguenots and malcontents in a rebellion which would further discredit her family with the people, demonstrate anew the King's incompetence, and give the League an opportunity.
"And does the Duke of Guise allow himself to be cajoled?" I asked De Rilly.
"Who knows? He is a cautious man, anxious to make no false step. They say he would be willing to wait for the death of the King, but that he is ever being urged to immediate action by De Noyard."
"One of Guise's followers; an obscure gentleman of very great virtue, who has recently become Guise's most valued counsellor. He keeps Guise on his guard against Catherine's wiles, they say, and discourages Guise's amour with her daughter, Marguerite, which Catherine has an interest in maintaining. Nobody is more de trop to Catherine just at present, I hear, than this same Philippe de Noyard. Ah! there he is now,—in the courtyard, the tallest of the gentlemen who have just dismounted, and are coming in this direction, with the Duke of Guise."
I looked out of the window, and at once recognized the Duke of Guise by the great height of his slender but strong figure, the splendid bearing, the fine oval face, with its small mustache, slight fringe of beard, and its scar, and the truly manly and magnificent manner, of which report had told us. He wore a doublet of cloth of silver, a black cloak of velvet, and a black hat with the Lorraine cross on its front. The tallest man in his following—Philippe de Noyard, of whom De Rilly had just been speaking—was the gentleman whom I had met on the road to Paris, and who had refused to fight me after resenting my opinion of the Duke of Guise.
He must have arrived in Paris close behind me.
I was watching Guise and his gentlemen as they crossed the court to enter the palace, when suddenly I heard behind me the voice that had lingered in my ears all the previous night. I turned hastily around, and saw a group of Catherine's ladies, who stood around a fireplace, not having followed the Queen-mother to Anjou's apartments.
"Who is the lady leaning against the tapestry?" I quickly asked De Rilly.
"The one with the indolent attitude, and the mocking smile?"
"Yes, the very beautiful one, with the big gray eyes. By heaven, her eyes rival those of Marguerite, herself!"
"That is Mlle. d'Arency, a new recruit to Catherine's Flying Squadron."
Her face more than carried out the promise given by her chin and mouth. It expressed to the eye all that the voice expressed to the ear.
She had not seen me yet. I had almost made up my mind to go boldly over to her, when the Duke of Guise and his gentlemen entered the gallery. At the same instant, Catherine reappeared on the arm of the Duke of Anjou. The latter resigned her to the Duke of Guise, and went back to his apartment, whereupon Catherine and Guise started for the further end of the gallery, as if for private conversation. His manner was courteous, but cold; hers calm and amiable.
"Ah, see!" whispered De Rilly to me. "What did I tell you?"
Catherine had cast a glance towards Guise's gentlemen. De Noyard, grave and reserved, stood a little apart from the others. For an instant, a look of profound displeasure, a deeply sinister look, interrupted the composure of Catherine's features.
"You see that M. de Noyard does not have the effect on the Queen-mother that a rose in her path would have," remarked De Rilly.
He did not notice what followed. But I observed it, although not till long afterward did I see its significance. It was a mere exchange of glances, and little did I read in it the secret which was destined to have so vast an effect on my own life, to give my whole career its course. It was no more than this: Catherine turned her glance, quickly, from De Noyard to Mlle. d'Arency, who had already been observing her. Mlle. d'Arency gave, in reply, an almost imperceptible smile of understanding; then Catherine and Guise passed on.
Two looks, enduring not a moment; yet, had I known what was behind them, my life would assuredly have run an entirely different course.
The gentlemen of the Duke of Guise now joined Catherine's ladies at the fireplace. For a time, Mlle. d'Arency was thus lost to my sight; then the group opened, and I saw her resting her great eyes, smilingly, on the face of De Noyard, who was talking to her in a low tone, his gaze fixed upon her with an expression of wistful adoration.
"The devil!" I muttered. "That man loves her."
"My faith!" said De Rilly, "one would think he was treading on your toes in doing so; yet you do not even know her."
"She is the woman I have chosen to be in love with, nevertheless," I said.
It seemed as if the Duke of Guise had come to the Louvre solely for a word with the Queen-mother, for now he took his departure, followed by his suite, while Catherine went to her own apartments. As De Noyard passed out, he saw me. His face showed that he recognized me, and that he wondered what I was doing in the palace. There was nothing of offence in his look, only a slight curiosity.
De Rilly now expressed an intention of going out to take the air, but I preferred to stay where I was; for Mile. d'Arency had remained in the gallery, with some other of Catherine's ladies. So the loquacious equerry went without me.
I formed a bold resolution. Quelling the trepidation that came with it, I strode quickly over to Mlle. d'Arency, who still stood against the tapestry as if she had been a figure in it but had come to life and stepped out into the apartment.
Her large eyes fell on me, and opened slightly wider, showing at once recognition and a not unpleasant surprise. I bowed very low, partly to conceal the flush that I felt mounting to my face.
"Pardon me, Mile. d'Arency," I said, in a voice as steady as I could make it. Then I looked at her and saw her features assuming an expression of such coldness and astonishment that for some time neither my tongue nor my mind could continue the speech, nor could I move a step in retreat. All the while she kept her eyes upon me.
I drew a deep breath at last, and said in desperation:
"Doubtless I ought not to address you, being unknown to you, but if you will permit me, I will go and bring M. de Rilly, who will present me."
Her face softened somewhat, and she looked amused. "You seem quite able to present yourself," she said.
I was immensely relieved at this melting of the ice, just when I was beginning to feel that I was becoming a spectacle.
"I am Ernanton de Launay, Sieur de la Tournoire," I said, and to fill up the embarrassing pause that followed, I added, "and, being a Huguenot, I am a nobody in Paris,—in fact, a mere volunteer in the French Guards."
"Well, Monsieur Guardsman, what do you wish to say to me?"
She was now in quite a pleasant, quizzical mood.
"I trust you do not expect me to say it in one word," I answered; and then I lowered my voice, "or in a single interview."
"It does not matter how many interviews it requires, if it is interesting," she answered nonchalantly.
"Alas!" I said. "I fear it is a story which many others have told you."
"An old story may seem new, when it comes from new lips."
"And when it is new to the lips that tell it, as mine is. Actually, I have never before made a confession of love."
"Am I to understand that you are about to make one now?"
"Have I not already made it?" I said.
We now stood quite apart from all others in the gallery, unnoticed by them; and our voices had fallen almost to a whisper.
She smiled, as if refusing to take my words seriously.
"If you have waited so long before making any confession of love whatever," she said, "you have certainly made up for the delay by the speed which you use in making your first."
"On the contrary, I have had my confession ready for a long time, as my love has existed for a long time. I waited only to meet its object,—the woman of whom I had formed the ideal in my mind."
She looked as if about to burst into a laugh; but she changed her mind, and regarded me with a look of inquiry, as if she would read my heart. The smile was still on her lips, yet she spoke gravely when she said:
"Monsieur, I cannot make you out. If you are as sincere as you are original,—but I must go to the Queen-mother now. To-morrow afternoon, I shall walk in the gardens of the Tuileries, if the weather is clear."
"But one moment, I beg! M. de Noyard,—he is in love with you, is he not?"
Her face again took on its mocking look. "I have not asked him," she said lightly. Then she regarded me with a new and peculiar expression, as if some daring idea had come into her mind, some project which had to be meditated upon before it might be safely breathed.
"You look at me strangely, mademoiselle."
"Oh, I merely wonder at your curiosity in regard to M. de Noyard."
"My curiosity is not in regard to his feelings, but in regard to yours."
"Monsieur," she said, with a very captivating air of reproach, "have I not told you that I shall walk in the gardens of the Tuileries to-morrow afternoon?"
And she glided away, leaving behind her the most delighted and conceited young man, at that moment, in France.
THE STRANGE REQUEST OF MLLE. D'ARENCY
I was disappointed in the interview that I had with Mlle. d'Arency in the gardens of the Tuileries, the next day. I saw her for only a few minutes, and then within sight of other of Catherine's ladies. Although I lost nothing of the ground I had taken, neither did I gain anything further. Afterward, at court receptions and fetes, and, sometimes, in the palace galleries, when she was off duty, I contrived to meet her. She neither gave me opportunities nor avoided me. All the progress that I made was in the measure of my infatuation for her. When I begged for a meeting at which we might not be surrounded by half the court, she smiled, and found some reason to prevent any such interview in the near future. So, if I had carried things very far at our first meeting in the Louvre, I now paid for my exceptional fortune by my inability to carry them a step further.
Thus matters went for several days, during which the assertion of De Rilly was proven true,—that my duties as a member of the French Guards would leave me some time for pleasure. Thanks to De Quelus, and to his enemy, Bussy d'Amboise, I made acquaintances both in the King's following and in that of the King's brother, the Duke of Anjou. De Rilly made me known to many who belonged to neither camp, and were none the worse for that. Our company lodged in the Faubourg St. Honore, but I led the life of a gentleman of pleasure, when off duty, and, as such, I had a private lodging within the town, near the Louvre, more pretentious than the whitewashed chamber in the Rue St. Denis. I drank often in cabarets, became something of a swaggerer, and something of a fop,—though never descending to the womanishness of the King's minions,—and did not allow my great love affair, which I never mentioned save in terms of mystery, to hinder me from the enjoyment of lesser amours of transient duration. At this time everybody was talking of the feud between the King's favorites and the followers of the Duke of Anjou. The King's minions openly ridiculed Anjou for his ungainliness, which was all the greater for his look of settled discontent and resentment. His faithful and pugnacious Bussy retaliated by having his pages dress like the King's minions,—with doublets of cloth of gold, stiff ruffs, and great plumes,—and so attend him at the Twelfth Day fetes. The minions, in their turn, sought revenge on Bussy by attacking him, on the following night, while he was returning from the Louvre to his lodgings. He eluded them, and the next morning he accused M. de Grammont of having led the ambuscade. De Quelus then proposed that all the King's gentlemen should meet all those of the Duke in a grand encounter to the death. The Duke's followers gladly accepted the challenge. Three hundred men on each side would have fought, had not the King resolutely forbidden the duel. De Quelus, that night, led a number of gentlemen in an attack on Bussy's lodgings. Bussy and his followers made a stout resistance, the tumult becoming so great that the Marechal de Montmorency called out the Scotch Guard to clear the street in front of Bussy's house; and it was time. Several gentlemen and servants were lying in their blood; and some of these died of their wounds.
It was openly known, about the court, that the Duke of Anjou held the King to be privy to these attacks on Bussy, and was frightfully enraged thereby; and that the King, in constant fear of the Duke's departure to join the Huguenots,—which event would show the King's inability to prevent sedition even in the royal family, and would give the Guise party another pretext to complain of his incompetence,—would forcibly obstruct the Duke's going.
It was this state of affairs that made Catherine de Medici again take up her abode in the Louvre, that she might be on the ground in the event of a family outbreak, which was little less probable to occur at night than in the daytime. She had lately lived part of the time in her new palace of the Tuileries, and part of the time in her Hotel des Filles Repenties, holding her council in either of these places, and going to the Louvre daily for the signature of the King to the documents of her own fabrication. At this time, Mlle. d'Arency was one of the ladies of the Queen-mother's bedchamber, and so slept in the Louvre. What should I be but such a fool as, when off duty, to pass certain hours of the night in gazing up at the window of my lady's chamber, as if I were a lover in an Italian novel! Again I must beg you to remember that I was only twenty-one, and full of the most fantastic ideas. I had undertaken an epic love affair, and I would omit none of the picturesque details that example warranted.
Going, one evening in February, to take up my post opposite the Louvre, I suddenly encountered a gentleman attended by two valets with torches. I recognized him as De Noyard, who had twice or thrice seen me about the palaces, but had never spoken to me. I was therefore surprised when, on this occasion, he stopped and said to me, in a low and polite tone:
"Monsieur, I have seen you, once or twice, talking with M. Bussy d'Amboise, and I believe that, if you are not one of his intimates, you, at least, wish him no harm."
"You are right, monsieur," I said, quite mystified.
"I am no friend of his," continued M. de Noyard, in his cold, dispassionate tone, "but he is a brave man, who fights openly, and, so far, he is to be commended. I believe he will soon return from the Tuileries, where he has been exercising one of the horses of the Duke of Anjou. I have just come from there myself. On the way, I espied, without seeming to see them, a number of the gentlemen of the King waiting behind the pillars of the house with a colonnade, near the Porte St. Honore."
"One can guess what that means."
"So I thought. As for me, I have more important matters in view than interfering with the quarrels of young hot-heads; but I think that there is yet time for Bussy d'Amboise to be warned, before he starts to return from the Tuileries."
"M. de Noyard, I thank you," I said, with a bow of genuine respect, and in a moment I was hastening along the Rue St. Honore.
I understood, of course, the real reasons why De Noyard himself had not gone back to warn Bussy. Firstly, those in ambush would probably have noticed his turning back, suspected his purpose, and taken means to defeat it. Secondly, he was a man from whom Bussy would have accepted neither warning nor assistance; yet he was not pleased that any brave man should be taken by surprise, and he gave me credit for a similar feeling. I could not but like him, despite my hidden suspicion that there was something between Mlle. d'Arency and him.
I approached the house with the colonnade, feigning carelessness, as if I were returning to my military quarters in the faubourg. The Porte St. Honore was still open, although the time set for its closing was past.
Suddenly a mounted figure appeared in the gateway, which, notwithstanding the dusk, I knew, by the way the rider sat his horse, to be that of Bussy. I was too late to warn him; I could only give my aid.
Three figures rushed out from beneath the supported upper story of the house, and made for Bussy with drawn swords. With a loud oath he reined back his horse on its haunches, and drew his own weapon, with which he swept aside the two points presented at him from the left. One of the three assailants had planted himself in front of the horse, to catch its bridle, but saw himself now threatened by Bussy's sword, which moved with the swiftness of lightning. This man thereupon fell back, but stood ready to obstruct the forward movement of the horse, while one of the other two ran around to Bussy's right, so that the rider might be attacked, simultaneously on both sides.
This much I had time to see before drawing my sword and running up to attack the man on the horseman's left, whom I suddenly recognized as De Quelus. At the same instant I had a vague impression of a fourth swordsman rushing out from the colonnade, and, before I could attain my object, I felt a heavy blow at the base of my skull, which seemed almost to separate my head from my neck, and I fell forward, into darkness and oblivion.
I suppose that the man, running to intercept me, had found a thrust less practicable than a blow with the hilt of a dagger.
When I again knew that I was alive, I turned over and sat up. Several men—bourgeois, vagabonds, menials, and such—were standing around, looking down at me and talking of the affray. I looked for Bussy and De Quelus, but did not see either. At a little distance away was another group, and people walked from that group to mine, and vice versa.
"Where is M. Bussy?" I asked.
"Oho, this one is all right!" cried one, who might have been a clerk or a student; "he asks questions. You wish to know about Bussy, eh? You ought to have seen him gallop from the field without a scratch, while his enemies pulled themselves together and took to their heels."
"What is that, over there?" I inquired, rising to my feet, and discovering that I was not badly hurt.
"A dead man who was as much alive as any of us before he ran to help M. Bussy. It is always the outside man who gets the worst of it, merely for trying to be useful. There come the soldiers of the watch, after the fight is over."
I walked over to the other group and knelt by the body on the ground. It was that of a gentleman whom I had sometimes seen in Bussy's company. He was indeed dead. The blood was already thickening about the hole that a sword had made in his doublet.
The next day the whole court was talking of the wrath of the Duke of Anjou at this assault upon his first gentleman-in-waiting. I was ashamed of having profited by the influence of De Quelus, who, I found, had not recognized me on the previous evening. Anjou's rage continued deep. He showed it by absenting himself from the wedding of Saint-Luc, one of De Quelus's companions in the King's favor and in the attack on Bussy. Catherine, knowing how the King's authority was weakened by the squabbles between him and his brother, took the Duke out to Vincennes for a walk in the park and a dinner at the chateau, that his temper might cool. She persuaded him to show a conciliatory spirit and attend the marriage ball to be held that night in the great hall of the Louvre. This was more than she could persuade Marguerite to do, who accompanied mother and son to Vincennes, sharing the feelings of the Duke for three reasons,—her love for him, her hatred for her brother, the King, and her friendship for Bussy d'Amboise. It would have been well had the Duke been, like his sister, proof against his mother's persuasion. For, when he arrived at the ball, he was received by the King's gentlemen with derisive looks, and one of them, smiling insolently in the Duke's piggish, pockmarked face, said, "Doubtless you have come so late because the night is most favorable to your appearance."
Suppose yourself in the Duke's place, and imagine his resentment. He turned white and left the ball. Catherine must have had to use her utmost powers to keep peace in the royal family the next day.
On the second morning after the ball, I heard, from De Rilly, that the King had put his brother under arrest, and kept him guarded in the Duke's own apartment, lest he should leave Paris and lead the rebellion which the King had to fear, not only on its own account, but because of the further disrepute into which it would bring him with his people. The King, doubtless, soon saw, or was made to see, that this conduct towards his brother—who had many supporters in France and was then affianced to Queen Elizabeth of England—would earn only condemnation; for, on the day after the arrest, he caused the court to assemble in Catherine's apartments, and there De Quelus went ironically through the form of an apology to the Duke, and a reconciliation with Bussy. The exaggerated embrace which Bussy gave De Quelus made everybody laugh, and showed that this peace-making was not to be taken seriously. Soon after it, Bussy d'Amboise and several of his followers left Paris.
The next thing I saw, which had bearing on the difference between the King and Monsieur his brother, was the procession of penitents in which Monsieur accompanied the King through the streets, after the hollow reconciliation. I could scarcely convince myself that the sanctimonious-looking person, in coarse penitential robe, heading the procession through the mire and over the stones of Paris, from shrine to shrine, was the dainty King whom I had beheld in sumptuous raiment in the gallery of the Louvre. The Duke of Anjou, who wore ordinary attire, seemed to take to this mummery like a bear, ready to growl at any moment. His demeanor was all that the King's gentlemen could have needed as a subject for their quips and jokes.
Two evenings after this, I was drinking in the public room of an inn, near my lodgings in the town, when a young gentleman named Malerain, who, though not a Scot, was yet one of the Scotch bodyguard, sat down at my table to share a bottle with me.
"More amusement at the palace," he said to me. "To think that, any one of these nights, I may be compelled to use force against the person of the King's brother, and that some day he may be King! I wonder if he will then bear malice?"
"What is the new trouble at the Louvre?" I asked.
"It is only the old trouble. Monsieur has been muttering again, I suppose, and this, with the fact that Bussy d'Amboise keeps so quiet outside of Paris, has led the King to fear that Monsieur has planned to escape to the country. At least, it has been ordered that every member of the Duke's household, who does not have to attend at his retiring, must leave the palace at night; and Messieurs de l'Archant, De Losses, and the other captains, have received orders from the King that, if Monsieur attempts to go out after dark, he must be stopped. Suppose it becomes my duty to stop him? That will be pleasant, will it not? To make it worse, I am devoted to a certain damsel who is devoted to Queen Marguerite, who is devoted to Monsieur, her brother. And here I am inviting misfortune, too, by drinking wine on the first Friday in Lent. I ought to have followed the example of the King, who has been doing penance all day in the chapel of the Hotel de Bourbon."
"Let us hope that the King will be rewarded for his penance by the submission of Monsieur. I, for one, hope that if Monsieur attempts to get away, he will run across some Scotchman of the Guard who will not scruple to impede a prince of France. For if he should lead a Huguenot army against the King, I, as one of the Guards, might be called on to oppose my fellow-Protestants."
"Oh, the Duke does not wish to join the Huguenots. All he desires is to go to the Netherlands, where a throne awaits him if he will do a little fighting for it."
"I fear he would rather revenge himself on the King for what he has had to endure at court."
Presently Malerain left to go on duty at the Louvre, and soon I followed, to take up my station in sight of the window where Mlle. d'Arency slept. The night, which had set in, was very dark, and gusts of cold wind came up from the Seine. The place where, in my infatuation and affectation, I kept my lover's watch, was quite deserted. The Louvre loomed up gigantic before me, the lights gleaming feebly in a few of its many windows, serving less to relieve its sombre aspect than to suggest unknown, and, perhaps, sinister doings within.
I laugh at myself now for having maintained those vigils by night beneath a court lady's window; but you will presently see that, but for this boyish folly, my body would have been sleeping in its grave these many years past, and I should have never come to my greatest happiness.
Suddenly my attention was attracted to another window than that on which I had fixed my gaze. This other window appertained to the apartments of the King's sister, Queen Marguerite, and what caused me to transfer my attention to it was the noise of its being opened. Then a head was thrust out of it,—the small and graceful head of Marguerite herself. She looked down at the moat beneath, and in either direction, and apparently saw no one, I being quite in shadow; then she drew her head in.
Immediately a rope was let down into the moat, whose dry bed was about five times a tall man's length below the window, which was on the second story. Out of the window came a man of rather squat figure, who let himself boldly and easily down the rope. As soon as he had reached the bed of the moat, he was followed out of the window and down the rope by a second man, who came bunglingly, as if in great trepidation. This person, in his haste, let go the rope before he was quite down, but landed on his feet. Then a third figure came out from the chamber and down the cable, whereupon Marguerite's head again appeared in the opening, and I could see the heads of two waiting-women behind her. But the Queen of Navarre manifestly had no intention of following the three men. These now clambered up the side of the moat, and the one who had been first down turned and waved her a silent adieu, which she returned with a graceful gesture of her partly bare arm. The three men then rapidly plunged into one of the abutting streets and were gone. All this time I stood inactive and unobserved.
Marguerite remained at the window to cast another look around. Suddenly, from out the darkness at the base of the Louvre, as if risen from the very earth at the bottom of the moat, sprang the figure of a man, who started toward the guard-house as if his life depended on his speed. Marguerite drew her head in at once with a movement of great alarm. An instant later the rope was drawn up and the window closed.
Two conjectures came into my head, one after the other, each in a flash. The one was that Marguerite had availed herself of the fraternal quarrel that occupied the King's attention to plan an escape to her husband, King Henri of Navarre, and that these three men had gone from a consultation in her apartments to further the project. The other conjecture was that they were but some of Monsieur's followers who had transgressed the new rule, requiring their departure from the palace at nightfall, and had taken this means of leaving to avoid discovery. If the former conjecture embodied the truth, my sympathies were with the plot; for it little pleased me that the wife of our Huguenot leader should remain at the French court, a constant subject of scandalous gossip. If the second guess was correct, I was glad of an opportunity to avert, even slight, trouble from the wilful but charming head of Marguerite. In either case, I might serve a beautiful woman, a queen, the wife of a Huguenot king. Certainly, if that man, paid spy or accidental interloper, should reach the guard-house with information that three men had left the Louvre by stealth, the three men might be overtaken and imprisoned, and great annoyance brought to Marguerite. All this occupied my mind but an instant. Before the man had taken ten steps, I was after him.
He heard me coming, looked around, saw my hand already upon my sword-hilt, and shouted, "The guard! Help!" I saw that, to avoid a disclosure, I must silence him speedily; yet I dared not kill him, for he might be somebody whose dead body found so near the palace would lead to endless investigations, and in the end involve Marguerite, for suppose that the King had set him to watch her? Therefore I called to him, "Stop and face me, or I will split you as we run!"
The man turned at once, as if already feeling my sword-point entering his back. Seeing that I had not even drawn that weapon, he, himself, drew a dagger and raised it to strike. But I was too quick and too long of arm for him. With my gloved fist I gave him a straight blow on the side of the chin, and he dropped like a felled tree, at the very moat's edge, over which I rolled him that he might recover in safety from the effects of the shock.
I knew that, when he should awake, he would not dare inform the guard, for the three men would then be far away, and he would have no evidence to support his story. He would only put himself in danger of having fabricated a false accusation against the King's sister.
I deemed it best to go from the vicinity of the Louvre at once, and I did so, with a last wistful look at the windows behind which Mlle. d'Arency might or might not be reposing. I did not reappear there until the next morning. The first person I then met was Malerain, who was coming from the church of St. Germain l'Auxerrois, where he had been making up for previous neglect of devotions.
"Well," I said, as I stood before him, and twisted my up-shooting mustaches, in unconscious imitation of him, "I trust you found your quarter on duty last night an easy one. You must thank me for saving you some labor."
"What do you mean?" he asked, with a look of sudden interest.
"Nothing, only that you might have been called on to give chase to some flying bird or other, if I had not knocked down a rascal who was running to inform the guard."
"And you saw the bird fly?" he said, with increasing astonishment.
"From an opening in that great cage," I replied, looking towards the Louvre.
"Then I, for myself, am glad you knocked down the said rascal who would have made falcons of us to bring the bird down. But be more cautious. Suppose what you did should reach the ears of the King?"
"Why should the King concern himself?"
"Monsieur, is it possible that you don't know that the bird that flew from the Louvre last night was the Duke of Anjou?"
It was now my turn to stare in astonishment.
"But," I said, "what use for him to leave the palace? There would be the gates of Paris to pass."
"There is more than one way to cross the fortifications of Paris, especially when one has such an ally as Bussy d'Amboise, free, to arrange matters. Monsieur is at this moment certainly on his way to some stronghold of his own. The King is mad with rage. Queen Marguerite is looking innocent and astonished, but I'll wager she had a hand in this evasion. My friend, I am under obligations to you!"
"Why, since Queen Marguerite undoubtedly rejoices at her favorite brother's escape, and you helped to make it good, she owes you gratitude. So do all her maids, who, naturally, share in her feelings and benefit by her joy. Now, that gratitude extends of course to your friends, of whom I am one. Therefore a good turn is due me from one of those maids in particular, and for that I am obliged to you!"
I laughed at this fantastic extension of a debt of gratitude. "Doubtless," I said; "but since neither Marguerite nor the maid knows anything about my share in the matter, I don't see how you are going to collect the debt."
Malerain said nothing, but there was already that in his mind which, absurd as it might seem at that time, was to save me when death should rise threateningly about me on every side. It is a world in which much comes from little.
I was somewhat agitated at realizing that I had been the means of aiding an escape which might result in opposing the troops of the King to those of certain Huguenot leaders; but this thought was suddenly driven from my mind by a sight which caused me to leave Malerain abruptly, and make for one of the streets that led from the Louvre to the midst of the town.
It was Mlle. d'Arency, mounted on a plumed horse, with tassellated trappings, which was led by a young equerry who wore Catherine's colors, and followed by two mounted lackeys in similar livery. Beside her rode the stout, elderly woman who usually attended her. Mlle. d'Arency wore a mask of black velvet, but that could not conceal her identity from eyes to which every line of her pretty head, every motion of her graceful person, had become familiar in actual contemplation and in dreams. Her cloak and gown were, alike, of embroidered velvet of the color of red wine, as was the velvet toque which sat perched on her dark brown hair.