THE HELMET OF NAVARRE.
THE HELMET OF NAVARRE
BY BERTHA RUNKLE
THE HELMET OF
ILLUSTRATIONS BY ANDRE CASTAIGNE
THE CENTURY CO.
NEW YORK 1901
TO MY MOTHER
Press where ye see my white plume shine amidst the ranks of war, And be your oriflamme to-day the Helmet of Navarre.
LORD MACAULAY'S "IVRY."
CHAPTER PAGE I A FLASH OF LIGHTNING . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 II AT THE AMOUR DE DIEU . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9 III M. LE DUC IS WELL GUARDED. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 IV THE THREE MEN IN THE WINDOW. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27 V RAPIERS AND A VOW. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37 VI A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51 VII A DIVIDED DUTY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 62 VIII CHARLES-ANDRE-ETIENNE-MARIE. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 74 IX THE HONOUR OF ST. QUENTIN. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85 X LUCAS AND "LE GAUCHER" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 96 XI VIGO . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 107 XII THE COMTE DE MAR . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 120 XIII MADEMOISELLE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 134 XIV IN THE ORATORY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 153 XV MY LORD MAYENNE. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 167 XVI MAYENNE'S WARD . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 186 XVII "I'LL WIN MY LADY!". . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 203 XVIII TO THE BASTILLE. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 222 XIX TO THE HOTEL DE LORRAINE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 241 XX "ON GUARD, MONSIEUR" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 251 XXI A CHANCE ENCOUNTER . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 266 XXII THE SIGNET OF THE KING . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 278 XXIII THE CHEVALIER OF THE TOURNELLES. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 296 XXIV THE FLORENTINES. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 319 XXV A DOUBLE MASQUERADE. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 336 XXVI WITHIN THE SPIDER'S WEB. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 362 XXVII THE COUNTERSIGN. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 379 XXVIII ST. DENIS—AND NAVARRE!. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 402 XXIX THE TWO DUKES. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 423 XXX MY YOUNG LORD SETTLES SCORES WITH TWO FOES AT ONCE . . . . 440 XXXI "THE VERY PATTERN OF A KING" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 461
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
PAGE THE FLORENTINES IN THE HOTEL DE MAYENNE. . . . . . . . Frontispiece "WITH A CRY MONSIEUR SPRANG TOWARD ME" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 87 "IN A FLASH HE WAS OUT OF THEIR GRASP, FLYING DOWN THE ALLEY". . . 117 "I DO NOT FORGIVE HIS DESPATCHING ME HIS HORSE-BOY". . . . . . . . 149 MLLE. DE MONTLUC AND FELIX BROUX IN THE ORATORY. . . . . . . . . . 169 "SORRY TO DISTURB MONSIEUR, BUT THE HORSES MUST BE FED". . . . . . 205 "HE WAS DEPOSITED IN THE BIG BLACK COACH". . . . . . . . . . . . . 237 "WE CLIMBED OUT INTO A SILK-MERCER'S SHOP" . . . . . . . . . . . . 261 AT THE "BONNE FEMME" . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 313 "IT DESOLATES ME TO HEAR OF HER EXTREMITY" . . . . . . . . . . . . 397 ON THE WAY TO ST. DENIS. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 411 THE MEETING. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 467
THE HELMET OF NAVARRE
THE HELMET OF NAVARRE.
A flash of lightning.
At the stair-foot the landlord stopped me. "Here, lad, take a candle. The stairs are dark, and, since I like your looks, I would not have you break your neck."
"And give the house a bad name," I said.
"No fear of that; my house has a good name. There is no fairer inn in all Paris. And your chamber is a good chamber, though you will have larger, doubtless, when you are Minister of Finance."
This raised a laugh among the tavern idlers, for I had been bragging a bit of my prospects. I retorted:
"When I am, Maitre Jacques, look out for a rise in your taxes."
The laugh was turned on mine host, and I retired with the honours of that encounter. And though the stairs were the steepest I ever climbed, I had the breath and the spirit to whistle all the way up. What mattered it that already I ached in every bone, that the stair was long and my bed but a heap of straw in the garret of a mean inn in a poor quarter? I was in Paris, the city of my dreams!
I am a Broux of St. Quentin. The great world has never heard of the Broux? No matter; they have existed these hundreds of years, Masters of the Forest, and faithful servants of the dukes of St. Quentin. The great world has heard of the St. Quentins? I warrant you! As loudly as it has of Sully and Villeroi, Tremouille and Biron. That is enough for the Broux.
I was brought up to worship the saints and M. le Duc, and I loved and revered them alike, by faith, for M. le Duc, at court, seemed as far away from us as the saints in heaven. But the year after King Henry III was murdered, Monsieur came to live on his estate, to make high and low love him for himself.
In that bloody time, when the King of Navarre and the two Leagues were tearing our poor France asunder, M. le Duc found himself between the devil and the deep sea. He was no friend to the League; for years he had stood between the king, his master, and the machinations of the Guises. On the other hand, he was no friend to the Huguenots. "To seat a heretic on the throne of France were to deny God," he said. Therefore he came home to St. Quentin, where he abode in quiet for some three years, to the great wonderment of all the world.
Had he been a cautious man, a man who looked a long way ahead, his compeers would have understood readily enough that he was waiting to see how the cat would jump, taking no part in the quarrel lest he should mix with the losing side. But this theory jibed so ill with Monsieur's character that not even his worst detractor could accept it. For he was known to all as a hotspur—a man who acted quickly and seldom counted the cost. Therefore his present conduct was a riddle, nor could any of the emissaries from King or League, who came from time to time to enlist his aid and went away without it, read the answer. The puzzle was too deep for them. Yet it was only this: to Monsieur, honour was more than a pretty word. If he could not find his cause honest, he would not draw his sword, though all the curs in the land called him coward.
Thus he stayed alone in the chateau for a long, irksome three years. Monsieur was not of a reflective mind, content to stand aside and watch while other men fought out great issues. It was a weary procession of days to him. His only son, a lad a few years older than I, shared none of his father's scruples and refused point-blank to follow him into exile. He remained in Paris, where they knew how to be gay in spite of sieges. Therefore I, the Forester's son, whom Monsieur took for a page, had a chance to come closer to my lord and be more to him than a mere servant, and I loved him as the dogs did. Aye, and admired him for a fortitude almost more than human, in that he could hold himself passive here in farthest Picardie, whilst in Normandie and Ile de France battles raged and towns fell and captains won glory.
At length, in the opening of the year 1593, M. le Duc began to have a frequent visitor, a gentleman in no wise remarkable save for that he was accorded long interviews with Monsieur. After these visits my lord was always in great spirits, putting on frisky airs, like a stallion when he is led out of the stable. I looked for something to happen, and it was no surprise to me when M. le Duc announced one day, quite without warning, that he was done with St. Quentin and would be off in the morning for Mantes. I was in the seventh heaven of joy when he added that he should take me with him. I knew the King of Navarre was at Mantes—at last we were going to make history! There was no bound to my golden dreams, no limit to my future.
But my house of cards suffered a rude tumble, and by no hand but my father's. He came to Monsieur, and, presuming on an old servitor's privilege, begged him to leave me at home.
"I have lost two sons in Monsieur's service," he said: "Jean, hunting in this forest, and Blaise, in the fray at Blois. I have never grudged them to Monsieur. But Felix is all I have left."
Thus it came about that I was left behind, hidden in the hay-loft, when my duke rode away. I could not watch his going.
Though the days passed drearily, yet they passed. Time does pass, at length, even when one is young. It was July. The King of Navarre had moved up to St. Denis, in his siege of Paris, but most folk thought he would never win the city, the hotbed of the League. Of M. le Duc we heard no word till, one night, a chance traveller, putting up at the inn in the village, told a startling tale. The Duke of St. Quentin, though known to have been at Mantes and strongly suspected of espousing Navarre's cause, had ridden calmly into Paris and opened his hotel! It was madness—madness sheer and stark. Thus far his religion had saved him, yet any day he might fall under the swords of the Leaguers.
My father came, after hearing this tale, to where I was lying on the grass, the warm summer night, thinking hard thoughts of him for keeping me at home and spoiling my chances in life. He gave me straightway the whole of the story. Long before it was over I had sprung to my feet.
"Do you still wish to join M. le Duc?" he said.
"Father!" was all I could gasp.
"Then you shall go," he answered. That was not bad for an old man who had lost two sons for Monsieur!
I set out in the morning, light of baggage, purse, and heart. I can tell naught of the journey, for I heeded only that at the end of it lay Paris. I reached the city one day at sundown, and entered without a passport at the St. Denis gate, the warders being hardly so strict as Mayenne supposed. I was dusty, foot-sore, and hungry, in no guise to present myself before Monsieur; wherefore I went no farther that night than the inn of the Amour de Dieu, in the Rue des Coupejarrets.
Far below my garret window lay the street—a trench between the high houses. Scarce eight feet off loomed the dark wall of the house opposite. To me, fresh from the wide woods of St. Quentin, it seemed the desire of Paris folk to outhuddle in closeness the rabbits in a warren. So ingenious were they at contriving to waste no inch of open space that the houses, standing at the base but a scant street's width apart, ever jutted out farther at each story till they looked to be fairly toppling together. I could see into the windows up and down the way; see the people move about within; hear opposite neighbours call to each other. But across from my aery were no lights and no people, for that house was shuttered tight from attic to cellar, its dark front as expressionless as a blind face. I marvelled how it came to stand empty in that teeming quarter.
Too tired, however, to wonder long, I blew out the candle, and was asleep before I could shut my eyes.
* * * * *
Crash! Crash! Crash!
I sprang out of bed in a panic, thinking Henry of Navarre was bombarding Paris. Then, being fully roused, I perceived that the noise was thunder.
From the window I peered into floods of rain. The peals died away. Suddenly came a terrific lightning-flash, and I cried out in astonishment. For the shutter opposite was open, and I had a vivid vision of three men in the window.
Then all was dark again, and the thunder shook the roof.
I stood straining my eyes into the night, waiting for the next flash. When it came it showed me the window barred as before. Flash followed flash; I winked the rain from my eyes and peered in vain. The shutter remained closed as if it had never been opened. Sleep rolled over me in a great wave as I groped my way back to bed.
At the Amour de Dieu.
When I woke in the morning, the sun was shining broadly into the room, glinting in the little pools of water on the floor. I stared at them, sleepy-eyed, till recollection came to me of the thunder-storm and the open shutter and the three men. I jumped up and ran to the window. The shutters opposite were closed; the house just as I had seen it first, save for the long streaks of wet down the wall. The street below was one vast puddle. At all events, the storm was no dream, as I half believed the vision to be.
I dressed speedily and went down-stairs. The inn-room was deserted save for Maitre Jacques, who, with heat, demanded of me whether I took myself for a prince, that I lay in bed till all decent folk had been hours about their business, and then expected breakfast. However, he brought me a meal, and I made no complaint that it was a poor one.
"You have strange neighbours in the house opposite," said I.
He started, and the thin wine he was setting before me splashed over on the table.
"Why, they who close their shutters when other folks would keep them open, and open them when others keep them shut," I said airily. "Last night I saw three men in the window opposite mine."
"Aha, my lad, your head is not used to our Paris wines. That is how you came to see visions."
"Nonsense," I cried, nettled. "Your wine is too well watered for that, let me tell you, Maitre Jacques."
"Then you dreamed it," he said huffily. "The proof is that no one has lived in that house these twenty years."
Now, I had plenty to trouble about without troubling my head over night-hawks, but I was vexed with him for putting me off. So, with a fine conceit of my own shrewdness, I said:
"If it was only a dream, how came you to spill the wine?"
He gave me a keen glance, and then, with a look round to see that no one was by, leaned across the table, up to me.
"You are sharp as a gimlet," said he. "I see I may as well tell you first as last. Marry, an you will have it, the place is haunted."
"Holy Virgin!" I cried, crossing myself.
"Aye. Twenty years ago, in the great massacre—you know naught of that: you were not born, I take it, and, besides, are a country boy. But I was here, and I know. A man dared not stir out of doors that dark day. The gutters ran blood."
"And that house—what happened in that house?"
"Why, it was the house of a Huguenot gentleman, M. de Bethune," he answered, bringing out the name hesitatingly in a low voice. "They were all put to the sword—the whole household. It was Guise's work. The Duc de Guise sat on his white horse, in this very street here, while it was going on. Parbleu! that was a day."
"Mon dieu! yes."
"Well, that is an old story now," he resumed in a different tone. "One-and-twenty years ago, that was. Such things don't happen now. But the people, they have not forgotten; they will not go near that house. No one will live there."
"And have others seen as well as I?"
"So they say. But I'll not let it be talked of on my premises. Folk might get to think them too near the haunted house. 'Tis another matter with you, though, since you have had the vision."
"There were three men," I said, "young men, in sombre dress—"
"M. de Bethune and his cousins. What further? Did you hear shrieks?"
"There was naught further," I said, shuddering. "I saw them for the space of a lightning-flash, plain as I see you. The next minute the shutters were closed again."
"'Tis a marvel," he answered gravely. "But I know what has disturbed them in their graves, the heretics! It is that they have lost their leader."
I stared at him blankly, and he added:
"Their Henry of Navarre."
"But he is not lost. There has been no battle."
"Lost to them," said Maitre Jacques, "when he turns Catholic."
"Oh!" I cried.
"Oh!" he mocked. "You come from the country; you don't know these things."
"But the King of Navarre is too stiff-necked a heretic!"
"Bah! Time bends the stiffest neck. Tell me this: for what do the learned doctors sit in council at Mantes?"
"Oh," said I, bewildered, "you tell me news, Maitre Jacques."
"If Henry of Navarre be not a Catholic before the month is out, spit me on my own jack," he answered, eying me rather keenly as he added:
"It should be welcome news to you."
Welcome was it; it made plain the reason Monsieur's change of base. Yet it was my duty to be discreet.
"I am glad to hear of any heretic coming to the faith," I said.
"Pshaw!" he cried. "To the devil with pretences! 'Tis an open secret that your patron has gone over to Navarre."
"I know naught of it."
"Well, pardieu! my Lord Mayenne does, then. If when he came to Paris M. de St. Quentin counted that the League would not know his parleyings, he was a fool."
"His parleyings?" I echoed feebly.
"Aye, the boy in the street knows he has been with Navarre. For, mark you, all France has been wondering these many months where St. Quentin was coming out. His movements do not go unnoted like a yokel's. But, i' faith, he is not dull; he understands that well enough. Nay, 'tis my belief he came into the city in pure effrontery to show them how much he dared. He is a bold blade, your duke. And, mon dieu! it had its effect. For the Leaguers have been so agape with astonishment ever since that they have not raised a finger against him."
"Yet you do not think him safe?"
"Safe, say you? Safe! Pardieu! if you walked into a cage of lions, and they did not in the first instant eat you, would you therefore feel safe? He was stark mad to come to Paris. There is no man the League hates more, now they know they have lost him, and no man they can afford so ill to spare to King Henry. A great Catholic noble, he would be meat and drink to the Bearnais. He was mad to come here."
"And yet nothing has happened to him."
"Verily, fortune favours the brave. No, nothing has happened—yet. But I tell you true, Felix, I had rather be the poor innkeeper of the Amour de Dieu than stand in M. de St. Quentin's shoes."
"I was talking with the men here last night," I said. "There was not one but had a good word for Monsieur."
"Aye, so they have. They like his pluck. And if the League kills him it is quite on the cards that the people will rise up and make the town lively. But that will not profit M. de St. Quentin if he is dead."
I would not be dampened, though, by an old croaker.
"Nay, maitre, if the people are with him, the League will not dare—"
"There you fool yourself, my springald. If there is one thing which the nobles of the League neither know nor care about it is what the people think. They sit wrangling over their French League and their Spanish League, their kings and their princesses, and what this lord does and that lord threatens, and they give no heed at all to us—us, the people. But they will find out their mistake. Some day they will be taught that the nobles are not all of France. There will come a reckoning when more blood will flow in Paris than ever flowed on St. Bartholomew's day. They think we are chained down, do they? Pardieu! there will come a day!"
I scarcely knew the man; his face was flushed, his eyes sparkling as if they saw more than the common room and mean street. But as I stared the glow faded, and he said in a lower tone:
"At least, it will happen unless Henry of Navarre comes to save us from it. He is a good fellow, this Navarre."
"They say he can never enter Paris."
"They say lies. Let him but leave his heresies behind him and he can enter Paris to-morrow."
"Mayenne does not think so."
"No; but Mayenne knows little of what goes on. He does not keep an inn in the Rue Coupejarrets."
He stated the fact so gravely that I had to laugh.
"Laugh if you like; but I tell you, Felix Broux, my lord's council-chamber is not the only place where they make kings. We do it, too, we of the Rue Coupejarrets."
"Well," said I, "I leave you, then, to make kings. I must be off to my duke. What's the scot, maitre?"
He dropped the politician, and was all innkeeper in a second.
"A crown!" I cried in indignation. "Do you think I am made of crowns? Remember, I am not yet Minister of Finance."
"No, but soon will be," he grinned. "Besides, what I ask is little enough, God knows. Do you think food is cheap in a siege?"
"Then I pray Navarre may come soon and end it."
"Amen to that," said old Jacques, quite gravely. "If he comes a Catholic it cannot be too soon."
I counted out my pennies with a last grumble.
"They ought to call this the Rue Coupebourses."
He laughed; he could afford to, with my silver jingling in his pouch. He embraced me tenderly at parting, and hoped to see me again at his inn. I smiled to myself; I had not come to Paris—I—to stay in the Rue Coupejarrets!
M. le Duc is well guarded.
I stepped out briskly from the inn, pausing now and again to inquire my way to the Hotel St. Quentin, which stood, I knew, in the Quartier Marais, where all the grand folk lived. Once I had found the broad, straight Rue St. Denis, all I need do was to follow it over the hill down to the river-bank; my eyes were free, therefore, to stare at all the strange sights of the great city—markets and shops and churches and prisons. But most of all did I gape at the crowds in the streets. I had scarce realized there were so many people in the world as passed me that summer morning in the Town of Paris. Bewilderingly busy and gay the place appeared to my country eyes, though in truth at that time Paris was at its very worst, the spirit being well-nigh crushed out of it by the sieges and the iron rule of the Sixteen.
I knew little enough of politics, and yet I was not so dull as not to see that great events must happen soon. A crisis had come. I looked at the people I passed who were going about their business so tranquilly. Every one of them must be either Mayenne's man, or Navarre's. Before a week was out these peaceable citizens might be using pikes for tools and exchanging bullets for good mornings. Whatever happened, here was I in Paris in the thick of it! My feet fairly danced under me; I could not reach the hotel soon enough. Half was I glad of Monsieur's danger, for it gave me chance to show what stuff I was made of. Live for him, die for him—whatever fate could offer I was ready for.
The hotel, when at length I arrived before it, was no disappointment. Here one did not wait till midday to see the sun; the street was of decent width, and the houses held themselves back with reserve, like the proud gentlemen who inhabited them. Nor did one here regret his possession of a nose, as he was forced to do in the Rue Coupejarrets.
Of all the mansions in the place, the Hotel St. Quentin was, in my opinion, the most imposing; carved and ornamented and stately, with gardens at the side. But there was about it none of that stir and liveliness one expects to see about the houses of the great. No visitors passed in or out, and the big iron gates were shut, as if none were looked for. Of a truth, the persons who visited Monsieur these days preferred to slip in by the postern after nightfall, as if there had never been a time when they were proud to be seen in his hall.
Beyond the grilles a sentry, in the green and scarlet of Monsieur's men-at-arms, stood on guard, and I called out to him boldly.
He turned at once; then looked as if the sight of me scarce repaid him.
"I wish to enter, if you please," I said. "I am come to see M. le Duc."
"You?" he ejaculated, his eye wandering over my attire, which, none of the newest, showed signs of my journey.
"Yes, I," I answered in some resentment. "I am one of his men."
He looked me up and down with a grin.
"Oh, one of his men! Well, my man, you must know M. le Duc is not receiving to-day."
"I am Felix Broux," I told him.
"You may be Felix anybody for all it avails; you cannot see Monsieur."
"Then I will see Vigo." Vigo was Monsieur's Master of Horse, the staunchest man in France. This sentry was nobody, just a common fellow picked up since Monsieur left St. Quentin, but Vigo had been at his side these twenty years.
"Vigo, say you! Vigo does not see street boys."
"I am no street boy," I cried angrily. "I know Vigo well. You shall smart for flouting me, when I have Monsieur's ear."
"Aye, when you have! Be off with you, rascal. I have no time to bother with you."
"Imbecile!" I sputtered. But he had turned his back on me and resumed his pacing up and down the court.
"Oh, very well for you, monsieur," I cried out loudly, hoping he could hear me. "But you will laugh t'other side of your mouth by and by. I'll pay you off."
It was maddening to be halted like this at the door of my goal; it made a fool of me. But while I debated whether to set up an outcry that would bring forward some officer with more sense than the surly sentry, or whether to seek some other entrance, I became aware of a sudden bustle in the courtyard, a narrow slice of which I could see through the gateway. A page dashed across; then a pair of flunkeys passed. There was some noise of voices and, finally, of hoofs and wheels. Half a dozen men-at-arms ran to the gates and swung them open, taking their stand on each side. Clearly, M. le Duc was about to drive out.
A little knot of people had quickly collected—sprung from between the stones of the pavement, it would seem—to see Monsieur emerge.
"He is a bold man," I heard one say, and a woman answer, "Aye, and a handsome," ere the heavy coach rolled out of the arch.
I pushed myself in close to the guardsmen, my heart thumping in my throat now that the moment had come when I should see my Monsieur. At the sight of his face I sprang bodily up on the coach-step, crying, all my soul in my voice, "Oh, Monsieur! M. le Duc!"
Monsieur looked at me coldly, blankly, without a hint of recognition. The next instant the young gentleman beside him sprang up-and struck me a blow that hurled me off the step. I fell where the ponderous wheels would have ended me had not a guardsman, quick and kind, pulled me out of the way. Some one shouted, "Assassin!"
"I am no assassin," I cried; "I only sought to speak with Monsieur."
"He deserves a hiding, the young cur," growled my foe, the sentry. "He's been pestering me this half-hour to let him in. He was one of Monsieur's men, he said. Monsieur would see him. Well, we have seen how Monsieur treats him!"
"Faith, no," said another. "We have only seen how our young gentleman treats him. Of course he is too proud and dainty to let a common man so much as look at him."
They all laughed; the young gentleman seemed no favourite.
"Parbleu! that was why I drew him from the wheels, because he knocked him there," said my preserver. "I don't believe there's harm in the boy. What meant you, lad?"
"I meant no harm," I said, and turned sullenly off up the street. This, then, was what I had come to Paris for—to be denied entrance to the house, thrown under the coach-wheels, and threatened with a drubbing from the lackeys!
For three years my only thought had been to serve Monsieur. From waking in the morning to sleep at night, my whole life was Monsieur's. Never was duty more cheerfully paid. Never did acolyte more throw his soul into his service than I into mine. Never did lover hate to be parted from his mistress more than I from Monsieur. The journey to Paris had been a journey to Paradise. And now, this!
Monsieur had looked me in the face and not smiled; had heard me beseech him and not answered—not lifted a finger to save me from being mangled under his very eyes. St. Quentin and Paris were two very different places, it appeared. At St. Quentin Monsieur had been pleased to take me into the chateau and treat me to more intimacy than he accorded to the high-born lads, his other pages. So much the easier, then, to cast me off when he had tired of me. My heart seethed with rage and bitterness against Monsieur, against the sentry, and, more than all, against the young Comte de Mar, who had flung me under the wheels.
I had never before seen the Comte de Mar, that spoiled only son of M. le Duc's, who was too fine for the country, too gay to share his father's exile. Maybe I was jealous of the love his father bore him, which he so little repaid. I had never thought to like him, St. Quentin though he were; and now that I saw him I hated him. His handsome face looked ugly enough to me as he struck me that blow.
I went along the Paris streets blindly, the din of my own thoughts louder than all the noises of the city. But I could not remain in this trance forever, and at length I woke to two unpleasant facts: first, I had no idea where I was, and, second, I should be no better off if I knew.
Never, while there remained in me the spirit of a man, would I go back to Monsieur; never would I serve the Comte de Mar. And it was equally obvious that never, so long as my father retained the spirit that was his, could I return to St. Quentin with the account of my morning's achievements. It was just here that, looking at the business with my father's eyes, I began to have a suspicion that I had behaved like an insolent young fool. But I was still too angry to acknowledge it.
Remained, then, but one course—to stay in Paris, and keep from starvation as best I might.
My thrifty father had not seen fit to furnish me any money to throw away in the follies of the town. He had calculated closely what I should need to take me to Monsieur, with a little margin for accidents; so that, after paying Maitre Jacques, I had hardly two pieces to jingle together.
For three years I had browsed my fill in the duke's library; I could write a decent letter both in my own tongue and in Italian, thanks to Father Francesco, Monsieur's Florentine confessor, and handle a sword none so badly, thanks to Monsieur; and I felt that it should not be hard to pick up a livelihood. But how to start about it I had no notion, and finally I made up my mind to go and consult him whom I now called my one friend in Paris, Jacques the innkeeper.
'Twas easier said than done. I had strayed out of the friendly Rue St. Denis into a network of dark and narrow ways that might have been laid out by a wily old stag with the dogs hot on him, so did they twist and turn and double on themselves. I could make my way only at a snail's pace, asking new guidance at every corner. Noon was long past when at length I came on laggard feet around the corner by the Amour de Dieu.
Yet was it not fatigue that weighted my feet, but pride. Though I had resolved to seek out Maitre Jacques, still 'twas a hateful thing to enter as suppliant where I had been the patron. I had paid for my breakfast like a lord, but I should have to beg for my dinner. I had bragged of Monsieur's fondness, and I should have to tell how I had been flung under the coach-wheels. My pace slackened to a stop. I could not bring myself to enter the door. I tried to think how to better my story, so to tell it that it should redound to my credit. But my invention stuck in my pate.
As I stood striving to summon up a jaunty demeanour, I found myself gazing straight at the shuttered house, and of a sudden my thoughts shifted back to my vision.
Those murdered Huguenots, dead and gone ere I was born, had appeared to me as plain as the men I passed in the street. Though I had beheld them but the space of a lightning-flash, I could call up their faces like those of my comrades. One, the nearest me, was small, pale, with pinched, sharp face, somewhat rat-like. The second man was conspicuously big and burly, black-haired and-bearded. The third and youngest—all three were young—stood with his hand on Blackbeard's shoulder. He, too, was tall, but slenderly built, with clear-cut visage and fair hair gleaming in the glare. One moment I saw them, every feature plain; the next they had vanished like a dream.
It was an unholy thing, no doubt, yet it held me with a shuddery fascination. Was it indeed a portent, this rising of heretics from their unblessed graves? And why had it been shown to me, true son of the Church? Had any one else ever seen what I had seen? Maitre Jacques had hinted at further terrors, and said no one dared enter the place. Well, grant me but the opportunity, and I would dare.
Thus was hatched in my brain the notion of forcing an entrance into that banned house. I was an idle boy, foot-loose and free to do whatever mad mischief presented itself. Here was the house just across the street.
Neglected as it was, it remained the most pretentious edifice in the row, being large and flaunting a half-defaced coat of arms over the door. Such a house might well boast two entrances. I hoped it did, for there was no use in trying to batter down this door with the eye of the Rue Coupejarrets upon me. I turned along the side street, and after exploring several muck-heaped alleys found one that led me into a small square court bounded on three sides by a tall house with shuttered windows.
Fortune was favouring me. But how to gain entrance? The two doors were both firmly fastened. The windows on the ground floor were small, high, and iron-shuttered. Above, one or two shutters swung half open, but I could not climb the smooth wall. Yet I did not despair; I was not without experience of shutters. I selected one closed not quite tight, leaving a crack for my knife-blade. I found the hook inside, got my dagger under it, and at length drove it up. The shutter creaked shrilly open.
A few good blows knocked in the casement. I followed.
I found myself in a small room bare of everything but dust. From this, once a porter's room, I fancied, I passed out into a hallway dimly lighted from the open window behind me. The hall was large, paved with black and white marbles; at the end a stately stairway mounted into mysterious gloom.
My heart jumped into my mouth and I cringed back in terror, a choked cry rasping my throat. For, as I crossed the hall, peering into the dimness, I descried, stationed on the lowest stair with upraised bludgeon, a man.
For a second I stood in helpless startlement, voiceless, motionless, waiting for him to brain me. Then my half-uttered scream changed to a quavering laugh, as my eyes, becoming used to the gloom, discovered my bogy to be but a figure carved in wood, holding aloft a long since quenched flambeau.
I blushed with shame, yet I cannot say that now I felt no fear. I thought of the panic-stricken women, the doomed men, who had fled at the sword's point up these very stairs. The silence seemed to shriek at me, and I half thought I saw fear-maddened eyes peering out from the shadowed corners. Yet for all that—nay, because of that—I would not give up the adventure. I went back into the little room and carefully closed the shutter, lest some other meddler should spy my misdeed. Then I set my feet on the stair.
If the half-light before had been full of eery terror, it was naught to the blackness now. My hand on the rail was damp. Yet I mounted steadily.
Up one flight I climbed, groped in the hot dark for the foot of the next flight, and went on. Suddenly, above, I heard a noise. I came to an instant halt. All was as still as the tomb. I listened; not a breath broke the silence. It never occurred to me to imagine a rat in this house of the dead, and the noise shook me. With a sick feeling about my heart I went on again.
On the next floor it was lighter. Faint outlines of doors and passages were visible. I could not stand the gloom a moment longer; I strode into the nearest doorway and across the room to where a gleam of brightness outlined the window. My shaking fingers found the hook of the shutter and flung it wide, letting in a burst of honest sunshine. I leaned out into the free air, and saw below me the Rue Coupejarrets and the sign of the Amour de Dieu.
The next instant a cloth fell over my face and was twisted tight; strong arms pulled me back, and a deep voice commanded:
"Close the shutter."
Some one pushed past me and shut it with a clang.
"Devil take you! You'll rouse the quarter," cried my captor, fiercely, yet not loud. "Go join monsieur." With that he picked me up in his arms and walked across the room.
The capture had been so quick I had no time for outcry. I fought my best with him, half strangled as I was by the cloth. I might as well have struggled against the grip of the Maiden. The man carried me the length of the house, it seemed; flung me down upon the floor, and banged a door on me.
The three men in the window
I tore the cloth from my head and sprang up. I was in pitch-darkness. I dashed against the door to no avail. Feeling the walls, I discovered myself to be in a small, empty closet. With all my force I flung myself once more upon the door. It stood firm.
"Dame! but I have got into a pickle," I thought.
They were no ghosts, at all events. Scared as I was, I rejoiced at that. I could cope with men, but who can cope with the devil? These might be villains—doubtless were, skulking in this deserted house,—yet with readiness and pluck I could escape them.
It was as hot as a furnace in my prison, and as still as the grave. The men, who seemed by their footsteps to be several, had gone cautiously down the stairs after caging me. Evidently I had given them a fine fright, clattering through the house as I had, and even now they were looking for my accomplices.
It seemed hours before the faintest sound broke the stillness. If ever you want to squeeze away a man's cheerfulness like water from a rag, shut him up alone in the dark and silence. He will thank you to take him out into the daylight and hang him. In token whereof, my heart welcomed like brothers the men returning.
They came into the room, and I thought they were three in number. I heard the door shut, and then steps approached my closet.
"Have a care now, monsieur; he may be armed," spoke the rough voice of a man without breeding.
"Doubtless he carries a culverin up his sleeve," sneered the deep tones of my captor.
Some one else laughed, and rejoined, in a clear, quick voice:
"Natheless, he may have a knife. I will open the door, and do you look out for him, Gervais."
I had a knife and had it in my hand, ready to charge for freedom. But the door opened slowly, and Gervais looked out for me—to the effect that my knife went one way and I another before I could wink. I reeled against the wall and stayed there, cursing myself for a fool that I had not trusted to fair words instead of to my dagger.
"Well done, my brave Gervais!" cried he of the vivid voice—a tall fair-haired youth, whom I had seen before. So had I seen the stalwart blackbeard, Gervais. The third man was older, a common-looking fellow whose face was new to me. All three were in their shirts on account of the heat; all were plain, even shabby, in their dress. But the two young men wore swords at their sides.
The half-opened shutters, overhanging the court, let plenty of light into the room. It had two straw beds on the floor and a few old chairs and stools, and a table covered with dishes and broken food and wine-bottles. More bottles, riding-boots, whips and spurs, two or three hats and saddle-bags, and various odds and ends of dress littered the floor and the chairs. Everything was of mean quality except the bearing of the two young men. A gentleman is a gentleman even in the Rue Coupejarrets—all the more, maybe, in the Rue Coupejarrets. These two were gently born.
The low man, with scared face, held off from me. He whose name was Gervais confronted me with an angry scowl. Yeux-gris alone—for so I dubbed the third, from his gray eyes, well open under dark brows—Yeux-gris looked no whit alarmed or angered; the only emotion to be read in his face was a gay interest as the blackavised Gervais put me questions.
"How came you here? What are you about?"
"No harm, messieurs," I made haste to protest, ruing my stupidity with that dagger. "I climbed in at a window for sport. I thought the house was deserted."
He clutched my shoulder till I could have screamed for pain.
"The truth, now. If you value your life you will tell the truth."
"Monsieur, it is the truth. I came in idle mischief; that was the whole of it. I had no notion of breaking in upon you or any one. They said the house was haunted."
"Who said that?"
"Maitre Jacques, at the Amour de Dieu."
He stared at me in surprise.
"What had you been asking about this house?"
Yeux-gris, lounging against the table, struck in:
"I can tell you that myself. He told Jacques he saw us in the window last night. Did you not?"
"Aye, monsieur. The thunder woke me, and when I looked out I saw you plain as day. But Maitre Jacques said it was a vision."
"I flattered myself I saw you first and got that shutter closed very neatly," said Yeux-gris. "Dame! I am not so clever as I thought. So old Jacques called us ghosts, did he?"
"Yes, monsieur. He told me this house belonged to M. de Bethune, who was a Huguenot and killed in the massacre."
Yeux-gris burst into joyous laughter.
"He said my house belonged to the Bethunes! Well played, Jacques! You owe that gallant lie to me, Gervais, and the pains I took to make him think us Navarre's men. He is heart and soul for Henri Quatre. Did he say, perchance, that in this very courtyard Coligny fell?"
"No," said I, seeing that I had been fooled and had had all my terrors for naught, and feeling much chagrined thereat. "How was I to know it was a lie? I know naught about Paris. I came up but yesterday from St. Quentin."
"St. Quentin!" came a cry from the henchman. With a fierce "Be quiet, fool!" Gervais turned to me and demanded my name.
"Who sent you here?"
"Monsieur, no one."
Again he gripped me by the shoulder, gripped till the tears stood in my eyes.
"No one, monsieur; I swear it."
"You will not speak! I'll make you, by Heaven."
He seized my thumb and wrist to bend one back on the other, torture with strength such as his. Yeux-gris sprang off the table.
"Let alone, Gervais! The boy's honest."
"He is a spy."
"He is a fool of a country boy. A spy in hobnailed shoes, forsooth! No spy ever behaved as he has. I said when you first seized him he was no spy. I say it again, now I have heard his story. He saw us by chance, and Maitre Jacques's bogy story spurred him on instead of keeping him off. You are a fool, my cousin."
"Pardieu! it is you who are the fool," growled Gervais. "You will bring us to the rope with your cursed easy ways. If he is a spy it means the whole crew are down upon us."
"What of that?"
"Pardieu! is it nothing?"
Yeux-gris returned with a touch of haughtiness:
"It is nothing. A gentleman may live in his own house."
Gervais looked as if he remembered something. He said much less boisterously:
"And do you want Monsieur here?"
Yeux-gris flushed red.
"No," he cried. "But you may be easy. He will not trouble himself to come."
Gervais regarded him silently an instant, as if he thought of several things he did not say. What he did say was: "You are a pair of fools, you and the boy. Whatever he came for, he has spied on us now. He shall not live to carry the tale of us."
"Then you have me to kill as well!"
Gervais turned on him snarling. Yeux-gris laid a hand on his sword-hilt.
"I will not have an innocent lad hurt. I was not bred a ruffian," he cried hotly. They glared at each other. Then Yeux-gris, with a sudden exclamation, "Ah, bah, Gervais!" broke into laughter.
Now, this merriment was a heart-warming thing to hear. For Gervais was taking the situation with a seriousness that was as terrifying as it was stupid. When I looked into his dogged eyes I could not but think the end of me might be near. But Yeux-gris's laugh said the very notion was ridiculous; I was innocent of all harmful intent, and they were gentlemen, not cutthroats.
"Messieurs," I said, "I swear by the blessed saints I am what I told you. I am no spy, and no one sent me here. Who you are, or what you do, I know no more than a babe unborn. I belong to no party and am no man's man. As for why you choose to live in this empty house, it is not my concern and I care no whit about it. Let me go, messieurs, and I will swear to keep silence about what I have seen."
"I am for letting him go," said Yeux-gris.
Gervais looked doubtful, the most encouraging attitude toward me he had yet assumed. He answered:
"If he had not said the name—"
"Stuff!" interrupted Yeux-gris. "It is a coincidence, no more. If he were what you think, it is the very last name he would have said."
This was Greek to me; I had mentioned no names but Maitre Jacques's and my own. And he was their friend.
"Messieurs," I said, "if it is my name that does not please you, why, I can say for it that if it is not very high-sounding, at least it is an honest one and has ever been held so down where we live."
"And that is at St. Quentin," said Yeux-gris.
"Yes, monsieur. My father, Anton Broux, is Master of the Forest to the Duke of St. Quentin."
He started, and Gervais cried out:
"Voila! who is the fool now?"
My nerves, which had grown tranquil since Yeux-gris came to my rescue, quivered anew. The common man started at the very word St. Quentin, and the masters started when I named the duke. Was it he whom they had spoken of as Monsieur? Who and what were they? There was more in this than I had thought at first. It was no longer a mere question of my liberty. I was all eyes and ears for whatever information I could gather.
Yeux-gris spoke to me, for the first time gravely:
"This is not a time when folks take pleasure-trips to Paris. What brought you?"
"I used to be Monsieur's page down at St. Quentin," I answered, deeming the straight truth best. "When we learned that he was in Paris, my father sent me up to him. I reached the city last night, and lay at the Amour de Dieu. This morning I went to the duke's hotel, but the guard would not let me in. Then, when Monsieur drove out I tried to get speech with him, but he would have none of me."
The bitterness I felt over my rebuff must have been in my voice and face, for Gervais spoke abruptly:
"And do you hate him for that?"
"Nay," said I, churlishly enough. "It is his to do as he chooses. But I hate the Comte de Mar for striking me a foul blow."
"The Comte de Mar!" exclaimed Yeux-gris.
"He has no son."
"But he has, monsieur. The Comte de—"
"He is dead," said Yeux-gris.
"Why, we knew naught—" I was beginning, when Gervais broke in:
"You say the fellow's honest, when he tells such tales as this! He saw the Comte de Mar—!"
"I thought it must be he," I protested. "A young man who sat by Monsieur's side, elegant and proud-looking, with an aquiline face—"
"That is Lucas, that is his secretary," declared Yeux-gris, as who should say, "That is his scullion."
Gervais looked at him oddly a moment, then shrugged his shoulders and demanded of me:
"I came away angry."
"And walked all the way here to risk your life in a haunted house? Pardieu! too plain a lie."
"Oh, I would have done the like; we none of us fear ghosts in the daytime," said Yeux-gris.
"You may believe him; I am no such fool. He has been caught in two lies; first the Bethunes, then the Comte de Mar. He is a clumsy spy; they might have found a better one. Not but what that touch about ill-treatment at Monsieur's hand was well thought of. That was Monsieur's suggestion, I warrant, for the boy has talked like a dolt else."
"I am no liar," I cried hotly. "Ask Jacques whether he did not tell me about the Bethunes. It is his lie, not mine. I did not know the Comte de Mar was dead, and this Lucas of yours is handsome enough for a count. I came here, as I told you, in curiosity concerning Maitre Jacques's story. I had no idea of seeing you or any living man. It is the truth, monsieur."
"I believe you," Yeux-gris answered. "You have an honest face. You came into my house uninvited. Well, I forgive it, and invite you to stay. You shall be my valet."
"He shall be nobody's valet," Gervais cried.
The gray eyes flashed, but their owner rejoined lightly:
"You have a man; surely I should have one, too. And I understand the services of M. Felix are not engaged."
"Mille tonnerres! you would take this spy—this sneak—"
"As I would take M. de Paris, if I chose," responded Yeux-gris, with a cold hauteur that smacked more of a court than of this shabby room. He added lightly again:
"You think him a spy, I do not. But in any case, he must not blab of us. Therefore he stays here and brushes my clothes. Marry, they need it."
Easily, with grace, he had disposed of the matter. But I said:
"Monsieur, I shall do nothing of the kind."
"What!" he cried, as if the clothes-brush itself had risen in rebellion, "what! you will not."
"No," said I.
"And why not?" he demanded, plainly thinking me demented.
"Because I know you are against the Duke of St. Quentin."
Whatever they had thought me, neither expected that speech.
"I am no spy or sneak," said I. "It is true I came here by chance; it is true Monsieur turned me off this morning. But I was born on his land and I am no traitor. I will not be valet or henchman for either of you, if I die for it."
I was like to die for it. For Gervais whipped out his sword and sprang for me. I thought I saw Yeux-gris's out, too, when Gervais struck me over the head with his sword-hilt. The rest was darkness.
Rapiers and a vow.
I came to my senses slowly, to hear loud, angry voices. As I opened my eyes and stirred, the room reeled from me and all was blank again. Awhile after, I grew aware of a clashing of steel. I lay wondering thickly what it was and why it had to be going on while my head ached so, till at length it dawned on my dull brain that swords were crossing. I opened my eyes again, then.
They were fighting each other, Yeux-gris and Gervais. The latter was almost trampling on me, Yeux-gris had pressed him so close to the wall. Then he forced his way out, and they drove each other round in a circle till the room seemed to spin once more.
I crawled out of the way and watched them, bewildered, absorbed. I had more reason to thrill over the contest than the mere excellence of it,—which was great,—since I was the cause of the duel, and my very life, belike, hung on its issue.
They were both admirable swordsmen, yet it was clear from the first where the palm lay. Anything nimbler, lighter, easier than the sword-play of Yeux-gris I never hope to see in this imperfect world. The heavier adversary was hot, angry, breathing hard. A smile hovered over Yeux-gris's lips; already a red disk on Gervais's shirt showed where his cousin's sword had been and would soon go again, and deeper. I had forgotten my bruise in my interest and delight, when, of a sudden, one whom we all had ignored took a hand in the game. Gervais's lackey started forward and knocked up Yeux-gris's arm. His sword flew wide, and Gervais slashed his arm from wrist to elbow.
With a smothered cry, Yeux-gris caught at his wound. Gervais, ablaze with rage, sprang past him on his creature. The man gaped with amazement; then, for there was no time for parley, leaped for the door. It was locked. He turned, and with a look of deathly terror fell on his knees, crouched up against the door-post. Gervais lunged. His blade passed clean through the man's shoulders and pinned him to the door. His head fell heavily forward.
"Have you killed him?" cried Yeux-gris.
"By my faith! I meant to," came the answer. Gervais was bending over the man. With an abrupt laugh he called out: "Killed him, pardieu! He has come off cheap."
He raised the fellow's limp head, and we saw that the sword had passed just over his shoulder, piercing the linen, not the flesh. He had swooned from sheer terror, being in truth not so much as scratched.
Gervais turned to his cousin.
"I never meant that foul trick. It was no thought of mine. I would have turned the blade if I could. I will kill Pontou now, if you say the word."
"Nay," answered the other, faintly; "help me."
The blood was pouring from his arm; he was half swooning. Gervais and I ran to him and, between us, bathed the cut, bandaged it with strips torn from a shirt, and made a sling of a scarf. The wound was long, but not deep, and when we had poured some wine down his throat he was himself again.
"You will not bear me malice for that poltroon's work, Etienne?" Gervais asked, more humbly than I ever thought to hear him speak. "That was a foul cut, but it was no fault of mine. I am no blackguard; I fight fair. I will kill the knave, if you like."
"You are ungrateful, Gervais; he saved you when you needed saving," Yeux-gris laughed. "Faith! let him live. I forgive him. You will pay me for my hurt by yielding me Felix."
Gervais looked at me. While we had worked side by side over Yeux-gris he seemed to have forgotten that he was my enemy. But now all the old suspicion and dislike came into his face again. However, he answered:
"Aye, you would have been the victor had it not been for Pontou. You shall do what you like with your boy. I promise you that."
"Now that is well said, Gervais," returned Yeux-gris, rising, and picking up his sword, which he sheathed. "That is very well said. For if you did not feel like promising it, why, I should have to begin over again with my left hand."
"Oh, I give you the boy," Gervais repeated rather sullenly, turning away to pour himself some wine.
I could not but wonder at Yeux-gris, at his gaiety and his steadfastness. He had hardly looked grave through the whole affair; he had fought with a smile on his lips and had taken a cruel wound with a laugh. Withal, he had been the constant champion of my innocence, even to drawing his sword on his cousin for me. Now, with his bloody arm in its sling, he was as debonair and careless as ever. I had been stupid enough to imagine the big Gervais the leader of the two, and I found myself mistaken. I dropped on my knee and kissed my saviour's hand in all gratitude.
"Aha," said Yeux-gris, "what think you now of being my valet?"
Verily, I was hard pushed.
"Monsieur," I said, "I owe you much more than I can ever pay. If you were any man's enemy but my duke's, I would serve you on my knees. But I was born on the duke's land and I cannot be disloyal. You may kill me yourself, if you like."
"No," he answered gravely, "that is not my metier."
"Make me that offer, and I accept."
Yeux-gris turned to him with that little hauteur he assumed occasionally.
"You are helpless, my cousin. You have passed your word."
"Aye. I leave him to you."
His sullen eyes told me it was no new-born tenderness for me that prompted his surrender. Nor had I, truth to tell, any great faith in the sacredness of his word. Yet I believed he would let me be. For it was borne in upon me that, despite his passion and temper, he had no wish to quarrel with Yeux-gris. Whether at bottom he loved him or in some way dreaded him, I could not tell; but of this my fear-sharpened wits were sure: he had no desire to press an open breach. He was honestly ashamed of his henchman's low deed; yet even before that his judgment had disliked the quarrel. Else why had he struck me with the hilt of the sword?
"I leave him to you," he repeated. "Do as you choose. If you deem his life a precious thing, cherish it. When did you learn a taste for insolence, Etienne? Time was when you were touchy on that score."
"Time never was when I did not love courage."
"Oh, it is courage!" With a sneer he turned away.
"Gervais," said Yeux-gris, "have the kindness to unlock the door."
Gervais wheeled around, his face an angry question.
Yeux-gris answered it with cold politeness:
"That Felix Broux may pass out."
"By Heaven, he shall not!"
"You gave your word you would leave him to me. Did you lie?"
"I do leave him to you!" Gervais thundered. "I would slit his impudent throat; but since you love him, you may have him to eat out of your plate and sleep in your bosom. I will put up with it. But go out of that door till the thing is done, sang dieu! he shall not!"
"If he goes straight to the duke, what then? He will say he found us living in my house. What harm? We are no felons. Let him say it."
"And put Lucas on his guard?" returned Gervais. He was angry, yet he spoke with evident attempt at restraint. "Put Lucas on the trail? He is wary as a cat. Let him get wind of us here, and he will never let us catch him."
"Well," said Yeux-gris, reluctantly, "it is true. And though I will not have the boy harmed, he shall stay here. I will not put a spoke in the wheel. We will take no risks till Lucas is shent. The boy shall be held prisoner. And afterward—"
"I will come myself and let him out," said Gervais, and laughed.
I glanced at my protector, not liking to think of that moment, whenever it might be, "afterward." He went up to Gervais.
"My cousin, are we friends or foes? For, faith! you treat me strangely like a foe."
"We are friends."
"I am your friend, since it is in your cause that I am here. I have stood at your shoulder like a brother—you cannot deny it."
"No," Gervais answered; "you stood my friend,—my one friend in that house,—as I was yours. I stood at your shoulder in the Montluc affair—you cannot deny that. I have been your ally, your servant, your messenger to mademoiselle, your envoy to Mayenne. I have done all in my power to win you your lady."
A shadow fell over Yeux-gris's open face.
"That task needs a greater power than yours, my Gervais."
He regarded Gervais with a rueful smile, his thoughts of a sudden as far away from me as if I had never set foot in the Rue Coupejarrets. He shook his head, sighing, and said, with a hand on Gervais's shoulder: "It's beyond you, cousin."
Gervais brought him back to the point.
"Well, I've done what I could for you. But you don't help me when you let loose a spy to warn Lucas."
"He shall not go. You know well, cousin, you will be no gladder than I when that knave is dead. But I will not have Felix Broux suffer because he dared speak for the Duke of St. Quentin."
"As you choose, then. I will not touch a hair of his head if you keep him from Lucas."
Once more he turned away across the room. My bewilderment was so great that the words came out of themselves:
"Messieurs, is it Lucas you mean to kill?"
Yeux-gris looked at me, not instantly replying. I cried again to him:
"Monsieur, is it Lucas or the duke?"
Then Yeux-gris, despite a gesture from Gervais, who would have told me nothing I might ask, exclaimed:
He said it in such honest surprise and with such a steady glance that the heavy fear that had hung on me dropped from me like a dead-weight, and suddenly I turned quite dizzy and fell into the nearest chair.
A dash of water in the face made me look up, to see Yeux-gris standing wet-handed by me.
"Mon dieu!" he cried, "you were as white as the wall. Do you love so much this Lucas who struck you?"
"No," I said, rising; "I thought you meant to kill the duke."
"Did you take us for Leaguers?"
He spoke as if actually he felt it important to set himself right in my eyes.
"Well, we are none. We are no politicians, but private gentlemen with a grudge to pay. I care not what the parties do. Whether we have the Princess Isabelle or Henry the Huguenot, 'tis all one to me; I am not putting either on the throne. So if you have got it into your head that we are plotting for the League, why, get it out again."
"But you are enemies to the Duke of St. Quentin?"
He answered me slowly:
"We do not love him. But we do not plot his death. He goes his way unharmed by us. We are gentlemen, not bravos."
"Lucas is my cousin's enemy, and, being a great man's man, skulks behind the bars of the Hotel st. Quentin and will not face my cousin's sword. So to reach him takes a little plotting. Do you believe me?"
I looked into his gray eyes, that had flashed so hotly in my defence, and I could not but believe him.
"Yes, monsieur," I said.
He regarded me curiously.
"The duke's life seems much to you."
"Why, monsieur, I am a Broux."
"And could not be disloyal to save your life?"
"My life! Monsieur, the Broux would not seek to save their souls if M. le Duc preferred them damned."
I expected he would rebuke me for the outburst, but he did not; he merely said:
"Oh, Lucas!" I said. "I know nothing of him. He is new with the duke since my time. I do not owe him anything, save a grudge for that blow this morning. Mon dieu, monsieur, I am thankful to you for befriending me. Dying for Monsieur is all in a day's work; we expect to do that. But, my faith, if I had died just now, it would have been for Lucas."
At this moment a long groan came from the end of the room. We turned; the lackey was waking from his swoon, under the ministration of Gervais. He opened his eyes; their glance was dull till they fell upon his master. And then at once they looked venomous.
Gervais kicked him into fuller consciousness.
"Get up, hound. It is time to meet Martin."
The wretch scrambled shakily to his feet, and stood clutching the door-jamb and eying Gervais, terror writ large on his chalky countenance. Yet there was more than terror in his face; there was the look you see in the eyes of a trapped animal that watches its chance to bite. Yeux-gris cried out:
"You dare not send that man, Gervais."
"Because the moment he is clear of the house he will betray you. Look at his face."
"He shall swear on the cross!"
"Aye. But you cannot trust the oath of such as he."
"What would you? We must send."
"As you will. But you are mad if you send him."
Gervais pondered a moment, his slower wits taking in the situation. Then he seized the man by the collar, fairly flung him across the room into the closet, and bolted the door upon him.
"I will settle with him later. But you are right. We cannot send him."
Yeux-gris burst into laughter.
"My faith! we could not have more trouble if we were heads of the League than this little duel of yours is giving us. Why, what if we are seen? I will go."
"No; that will not do."
"Eh, bien, then, what will you propose?"
But it was some one else who proposed. I said to Yeux-gris:
"Monsieur, if all your purpose is against Lucas and no other, I am your man. I will go."
"What, my stubborn-neck, you?"
"Why, monsieur, I owe you a great debt. While I thought you meant ill to M. le Duc, I could not serve you. But this Lucas is another pair of sleeves. I owe him no allegiance. Moreover, he nearly killed me this morning. Therefore I am quite at your disposal."
"Now, I wonder if you are lying," said Gervais.
"I do not think he is lying," Yeux-gris said. "I trow, Gervais, we have got our messenger."
"You tell me to beware of Pontou because he hates me, and then would have me trust this fellow?" Gervais demanded with some acumen.
I said: "Monsieur, you do not seem to understand how I come to make this offer."
"To get out of the house with a whole skin."
I had a joy in daring him, being sure of Yeux-gris.
"Monsieur," I said, "I should be glad to leave this house with my skin whole or broken, so long as I left on my own feet. But you have mentioned the very reason why I shall not betray you. I do not love you and I do not love Lucas. Therefore, if you and M. Lucas are to fight, I ask nothing better than to help the quarrel on."
He stared at me with an air more of bewilderment than aught else, but Yeux-gris's ready laughter rang out.
"Bravo, Felix! I am proud of you. That is an idea worthy of Caesar! You would set your enemies to exterminate each other. And I asked you to be my valet!"
"Which do you wish to see slain?" demanded the black Gervais.
I answered quite truthfully:
"Monsieur, I shall be pleased either way."
I know not how he relished the answer, for Yeux-gris cried out at once:
"Bravo, Felix, you are a paragon! I have not wit enough to know whether you are as simple as sunshine or as deep as a well, but I love you."
"Monsieur," I answered, as I think, very neatly, "if I am a well, truth lies at the bottom."
"Well, Gervais?" demanded Yeux-gris.
Gervais bent his lowering brows on his cousin.
"Do you say, trust him?"
"Aye, I would trust him. For never yet did villain turn honest, nor honest man false, in one short hour. When he was asked to serve against the duke he showed his stuff. He was no traitor; he was no coward; he was no liar. I think he is not those now."
Gervais was still doubtful.
"It is a risk. If he betrays—"
"What is life without risks?" cried Yeux-gris. "I thought you too good a gambler, Gervais, to falter before a risk."
"Well," Gervais consented, "I leave it to you. Do as you like."
Yeux-gris said at once to me:
"This Lucas, as I told you, is too cowardly to meet my cousin in open fight. Since he got the challenge he has never stuck his nose out of doors without two or three of the duke's guard about him. Therefore we have the right to get at him as we can. We have paid a man in the house to tell of his movements. He is to fare out secretly at night on a mission for M. le Duc, with one comrade only. M. Gervais and I will interrupt that little journey."
"Very good, monsieur. And I?"
"You will meet our spy and learn the hour of the expedition. Last night, when he told us of the plan, it had not been decided."
"Then he will be the other man I saw in the window? I shall know him."
"You have sharp eyes and a sharp brain, youngster. But he will not know you. Therefore you can say you come from the shuttered house in the Rue Coupejarrets. You will meet him in the little alley to the north of the Hotel St. Quentin. Do you know your way to the hotel? Well, then, you are to go down the passageway between the house and M. de Portreuse's garden—you cannot mistake it, for on two sides of the house is the street, on the third the garden, and on the fourth the alleyway. Half-way down the alley is an arch with a small door. In that arch our man, Louis Martin, will meet you. Do you understand?"
I repeated the directions.
"You have learned your lesson. You will ask him the hour—only that."
"And you will take oath not to betray us," commanded Gervais.
I took out the cross that hung on my rosary. I was ready to swear. Gervais prompted:
"I swear to go and come straight, and speak no word to any but Martin."
With all solemnity I swore it on my cross.
"That oath will be kept," said Yeux-gris. He held out a sudden hand for the cross, which I gave him, wondering.
"I swear that we mean no harm whatsoever to the Duke of St. Quentin." He kissed the cross and flung the chain back over my neck.
At last I saw the door unlocked. Yeux-gris even returned to me my knife.
"Au revoir, messieurs."
Gervais, sullen to the last, vouchsafed no answer, but Yeux-gris called out cheerily, "Au revoir."
A matter of life and death.
Nothing in life can be so sweet as freedom after captivity, safety after danger. When I gained the open street once more and breathed the open air, no one molesting or troubling me, I could have sung with joy. I fairly hugged myself for my cleverness in getting out of my plight. As for the combat I was furthering, my only doubt about that was lest the skulking Lucas should not prove good sword enough to give trouble to M. Gervais. It was very far from my wish that he should come out of the attempt unscathed.
But as I went along and had more time to ponder the matter, other doubts forced themselves into my reluctant mind. Put it as I pleased, the affair smacked too much of secrecy to be quite savoury. It was curious, to say the least, that an honest encounter should require so much plotting. Also, Lucas, coward and rascal though he might be, was Monsieur's man, doing Monsieur's errand, and for me to mix myself up in a plot against him was scarcely in keeping with my vaunted loyalty to the house of St. Quentin. My friend Gervais's quarrel might be just; his manner of procedure, even, might be just, and yet I have no right to take part in it.
And yet Monsieur had signified plainly enough that he was no longer my patron. For my birth's sake I might never work against him, but I was free to do whatever else I chose. Monsieur himself had made it necessary for me to take another master, and assuredly I owed something to Yeux-gris. I had reason to feel confidence in his honour; surely I might reckon that he would not be in the affair unless it were honest. Lucas was like enough a scoundrel of whom Monsieur would be well rid. And lastly and finally and above all, I was sworn, so there was no use worrying about it. I had taken oath, and could not draw back.
I hurried along to the rendezvous, only pausing one moment at the street-corner to buy sausages hot from the brazier, which I crammed into my mouth as I ran. But after all was there no need of haste; the little arch, when I panted up to it, was all deserted.
No better place for a tryst could have been found in the heart of busy Paris. Only the one door opened into the alley; M. de Portreuse's high garden wall, forming the other side of the passage, was unbroken by a gate, and no curious eyes from the house could look into the deep arch and see the narrow nail-studded door at the back where I awaited the rat-faced Martin.
I stood there long, first on one foot and then on the other, fearful every moment lest some one of Monsieur's true men should come along to demand my business. No one appeared, either foe or friend, for so long that I began to think Yeux-gris had tricked me and sent me here on a fool's errand, when, all at once, a low voice said close to my ear:
"What seek you here?"
I jumped on finding at my side a little, pale, sharp-faced man—the man of the vision. He had slipped through the door so suddenly and quietly that I was once more tempted to take him for a ghost. He eyed me for a bare second; then his eyes dropped before mine.
"I am come to learn the hour," said I.
"Did you not hear the chimes ring five?"
"Oh, no need for disguise. I am come from the two in the Rue Coupejarrets. They bade me ask the hour."
He favoured me with another of his shifty glances.
"What hour meant they?"
I said bluntly, in a louder tone:
"The hour when M. Lucas sets out on his secret mission."
"Hush!" he cried. "Hush! Don't say names aloud—his or the other's."
"Well," I said crossly, "you have kept me waiting already more time than I care to lose. How much longer before you will tell me what I came to know?"
He looked at me sharply for another brief instant before his eyes slunk away from mine.
"You should have a password."
"They gave me none. They told me to say I came from the shuttered house in the Rue Coupejarrets, and that would be enough."
"How came you into this business?"
"By a back window."
He gave me another suspicious glance, but making nothing by it, he rejoined:
"Eh bien, I trust you. I will tell you."
He clutched my arm and drew me to the back of the arch, where the afternoon shadows were already gathered.
"What have you for me?" he demanded.
"Nothing. What should I have?"
"He promised me ten pistoles to-day. He did not give them to you?"
"I tell you, no."
"You are a thief! You have them!"
He stepped forward menacingly; so did I. He then fell back as abruptly.
"Nay, it was a jest; I know you are honest. But he promised me ten pistoles."
"He did not give them to me," I said. "Perhaps he was not so convinced of my honesty. He will doubtless pay you afterward."
"Afterward!" he retorted in a high key. "By our Lady, he shall pay me afterward! The gutters will run gold then, will they? Pardieu! I will see that a good stream flows my way. But one cannot play to-day with to-morrow's coin. He said I should have ten pistoles when I let him know the hour."
"I cannot mend that. It lies between you and him. I have not seen or heard of any money."
Martin edged up close to the door of retreat and waxed defiant.
"Then all I have to say is, he may go whistle for his news."
Now, had I but thought of it, here was an easy road out of a bad business. If Martin would not tell the hour of rendezvous, Lucas was saved, Monsieur's interests not endangered, yet at the same time I was not forsworn. But touch pitch and be defiled. You cannot go hand and glove with villains and remain an honest man. I returned directly:
"As you choose. But M. Gervais carries a long sword."
He started at that and made no instant reply, seeming to be balancing considerations. Then he gave his decision.
"I will tell you. But your M. Gervais is wrong if he thinks I can be slighted and robbed of my dues. I know enough to make trouble for him, and I know where to take my knowledge. He will not find it easy to shut my mouth afterward, except with good broad gold pieces."
"Enfin, are you telling me the hour?" I said impatiently. I was ill at ease; my only wish was to get the errand done and be gone.
He laid a hand on my shoulder and made me bend to him, and even then spoke so low I could scarce catch the words.
"They have fixed positively on to-night. They will leave by this door and take the route I described last night to M. Gervais. They will start as soon as the streets are quiet, sometime between ten and eleven. They must allow an hour to reach the gate, and the man goes off at twelve. In all likelihood they will not set out before a quarter of eleven; M. le Duc does not care to be recognized."
So they planned to kill Lucas at Monsieur's side? Yeux-gris had not dared to tell me that. But he had looked me straight in the face and sworn on the cross no harm was meant to M. le Duc. Natheless, the thing looked ugly. My heart leaped up at the next words:
"Also Vigo will go."
"Not so loud! You will have the guard on us! Yes, he is to go. At first Monsieur did not tell even him, he desired to keep this visit to the king so secret. But this morning he took Vigo into his confidence, and nothing would serve the man but to go. He watches over Monsieur like a hen over a chick."
"Then it will be three to three," I said. I thought of Gervais, Yeux-gris, and Pontou, for of course I would take no part in it.
"Three to two; Lucas will not fight."
Lucas must be a poltroon, indeed!
"But Vigo and Monsieur—" I began.
"Aye, they are quick enough with their swords. Your side must be quicker, that's all. If you are sudden enough you can easily kill the duke before he can draw."
Talk of words like thunderbolts! All the thunder of heaven could not have whelmed me like those words. Yeux-gris and his oaths! It was the duke, after all!
I could not speak. I looked I know not how. But it was dusky in the arch.
"It sounds simple," he went on. "But, three of you as you are, you will have trouble with Vigo. That is all. I have told you all. I must get back before I am missed. Good luck to the enterprise."
Still I stood like a block of wood.
"Tell M. Gervais to remember me," he said, and opening the door, passed in. I heard him lock and bolt it after him, and his footsteps hurrying down the passageway.
Then I came to myself and sprang to the door and beat upon it furiously. But if he heard he was afraid to respond. After a futile moment that seemed an hour I rushed out of the arch and around to the great gate.
The grilles were closed as before, but the sentry's face, luckily, was strange to me.
"Open! open!" I shouted, breathless. "I must see M. le Duc!"
"Who are you?" he demanded, staring.
"My name is Broux. I have news for M. le Duc. Let me in. It is a matter of life and death."
"Why, I suppose, then, I must let you in," that good fellow answered, drawing back the bolts. "But you must wait here till—"
The gate was open. I took base advantage of him by sliding under his arm and shooting across the court up the steps to the house. The door stood open, and a couple of lackeys lounged on a bench in the hall.
"M. le Duc!" I cried. "I must see him."
They jumped up, the picture of bewilderment.
"Who are you? How came you here?" cried the quicker-tongued of the two.
"The sentry opened for me. Where am I to find M. le Duc? I must see him! I have news!"
"M. le Duc sees no one to-day," the second lackey announced pompously.
"But I must see him, I tell you," I repeated. I had completely lost what little head I ever had; it seemed to me that if I could not see M. le Duc on the instant I should find him weltering in his gore. "I must see him," I cried, parrot-like. "It is a matter of life and death."
"From whom do you come?"
"That's my affair. Enough that I come with news of the highest moment. You will be sorry if I you do not get me quickly to M. le Duc."
They looked at each other, somewhat impressed.
"I will go for M. Constant," said the one who had spoken first.
Constant was Master of the Household; M. le Duc had inherited him with the estate and kept him in his place for old time's sake. He was old, fussy, and self-important, and withal no friend to me.
"I had rather you fetched Vigo," I said.
"Oh, Vigo will not come. He is with Monsieur. If I bring M. Constant, it is the best I can do for you."
I had recovered myself sufficiently by this time to remember the nature of lackeys, and gave the messenger the last silver piece I had in the world. He regarded it contemptuously, but pocketed it and departed in leisurely fashion up the stairs.
The other was not too grand to cross-examine me.
"What sort of news have you? Do you come from the king?" he asked in a lowered voice.
"From M. de Valere?"
"Then who the devil are you?"
"Felix Broux of St. Quentin."
"Ah, St. Quentin," he said, as if he found that rather tame. "You bring news from there?"
"No, I do not. Think you I shall tell you? This news is for Monsieur."
"It won't reach Monsieur unless you learn politeness toward the gentlemen of his household," he retorted.
We were getting into a lively quarrel when Constant appeared on the stairway—Constant and the lackey who had fetched him, and two more lackeys, and a page, all of whom had somehow scented that something was in the wind. They came flocking about us as I said:
"Ah, M. Constant! You know me, Felix Broux of St. Quentin. I must see M. le Duc."
Constant's face of surprise at me changed to one of malice. Down at St. Quentin he had suffered much from us pages, as a slow, peevish old dotard must. I had played many a prank on him, but I had not thought he would revenge himself at such time as this. He looked at me with a spiteful grin, and said to the men:
"He lies. I do not know him. I never saw him."
"Never saw me, Felix Broux!" I cried, completely taken aback.
"No," maintained Constant. "You are an impostor."
"Impostor! Nonsense!" I cried out. "Constant, you know me as well as you know yourself. I say I must see the duke; his life is in danger!"
Constant was paying off old scores with interest.
"An impostor," he yelled shrilly, "or else a madman—or an assassin."
"That is the truth," said some one, laying a heavy hand on my shoulder.
I turned; two men of the guard had come up, my friend of just now and my foe of the morning. It was the latter who held me and said:
"This is the very rascal who sprang on Monsieur's coach-step in the morning. M. Lucas threw him off, else he might have stabbed Monsieur. We were fools enough to let him go free. But this time he shall not get off so easy."
"I am innocent of all thought of harm," I cried. "I am M. le Duc's loyal servant. I meant no harm this morning, and I mean none now. I am here to save Monsieur's life."
"He is here to kill Monsieur; he is an assassin!" screamed Constant. "Flog him, men; he will own the truth then!"
"I am no assassin!" I shouted, struggling in their grasp. "Let me go, villains, let me go! I tell you, Monsieur's life is at stake—Monsieur's very life, I tell you!"
They paid me no heed. Not one of them—save hat lying knave Constant—knew me as other than the shabby fellow who had acted suspiciously in the morning. They were dragging me to the door in spite of my shouts and struggles, when suddenly a ringing voice spoke from above:
"What is this rumpus? Who talks of Monsieur's life?"
The guards halted dead, and I cried out joyfully:
"Yes, I am Vigo," the big man answered, striding down the stairs. "Who are you?"
I wanted to shout, "Felix Broux, Monsieur's page," but a sort of nightmare dread came over me lest Vigo, too, should disclaim me, and my voice stuck in my throat.
"Whoever you are, you will be taught not to make a racket in M. le Duc's hall. By the saints! it's the boy Felix."
At the friendliness in his voice the guards dropped their hands from me.
"M. Vigo," I said, "I have news for Monsieur of the gravest moment. I am come on a matter of life and death. And I am stopped in the hall by lackeys."
He looked at me sternly.
"This is not one of your fooleries, Felix?"
"No, M. Vigo."
"Come with me."
A divided duty.
That was Vigo's way. The toughest snarl untangled at his touch. He had more sense and fewer airs than any other, he saw at once that I was in earnest; and Constant's voluble protests were as so much wind. The title does not make the man. Though Constant was Master of the Household and Vigo only Equery, yet Vigo ruled every corner of the establishment and every man in it, save only Monsieur, who ruled him.
He said no word to me as we climbed the broad stair; neither reproved me for the fracas nor questioned me about my coming. He would not pry into Monsieur's business; and, save as I concerned Monsieur, he had no interest in me whatsoever. He led the way straight into an antechamber, where a page sprang up to bar our passage.
"No one may enter, M. Vigo, not even you. M. le Duc has ordered it. Why, Felix! You in Paris!"
"I enter," said Vigo; and, sweeping Marcel aside, he knocked loudly.
"I came last night," I found time to say under my breath to my old comrade before the door was opened.
The handsome secretary whom I had taken for the count stood in the doorway looking askance at us. He knew me at once and wondered.
"You cannot enter, Vigo. M. le Duc is occupied."
He made to shut the door, but Vigo's foot was over the sill.
"Natheless, I must enter," he answered unabashed and pushed his way into the room.
"Then you must answer for it," returned the secretary, with a scowl that sat ill on his delicate face.
"You shall answer for it if it turns out a mare's nest," said Vigo, in a low, meaning voice to me. But I hardly heard him. I passed him and Lucas, and flew down the long room to Monsieur.
M. le Duc was seated before a table heaped with papers. He had been watching the scene at the door in surprise and anger. He looked at me with a sharp frown, while the deer-hound at his feet rose on its haunches growling.
"Roland!" I said. The dog sprang up and came to me.
"Felix Broux!" Monsieur exclaimed, with his quick, warm smile—a smile no man in France could match for radiance.
I had no thought of kneeling, of making obeisance, of waiting permission to speak.
"Monsieur," I cried, half choked, "there is a plot—a vile plot to murder you!"
"Where? At St. Quentin?"
"No, Monsieur. Here in Paris. In the streets to-night, when you go to the king."
Monsieur sprang to his feet, his hand on his sword. Lucas turned white. Vigo swore. Monsieur cried:
"How, in God's name, know you that?"
"You have been betrayed, Monsieur. Your plan is known. You leave the house to-night, near a quarter of eleven, to go in secret to the king. You leave by the little door in the alley—"
"Diable!" breathed Vigo.
"They set on you on your way—three of them—to run you through before you can draw."
"But, ventre bleu! Monsieur is not alone."
"No; he walks between you and M. Lucas."
Not one of them spoke. They stared at me as if I were something uncanny. I, a raw country boy, disclosing a perfect knowledge of their most intimate plans!
"How know you this?" Monsieur demanded of me. But he was not looking at me. His keen glance went first to Lucas, then to Vigo, the two men who had shared his confidence. The secretary cried out:
"You cannot think, Monsieur, that I betrayed you?"
Vigo said nothing. His steady eyes never left Monsieur's face.
"No," answered Monsieur to Lucas, "I cannot think it." And to Vigo he said: "I shall accuse you when I accuse myself. But—none knew this thing save our three selves." And his gaze went back to Lucas.
"It is not likely to be he," I said, impelled to be just to him though I did not like him, "for they meant to kill him as well."
Lucas started, then instantly recovered himself.
"A comprehensive plot, Monsieur," he said, with a smile.
"Then who was it?" cried Monsieur to me. "You know. Speak."
"There is a spy in the house—an eavesdropper," I said, and then paused.
"Aye?" said Monsieur. "Who?"
Now the answer to this was easy, yet I flinched before it; for I knew well enough what Monsieur would do. He feared no man, and waited on no man's advice. And if he was a good lover, he was a good hater. He would not inform the governor, and await the tardy course of justice, that would probably accomplish—nothing. Nor would he consider the troubled times and the danger of his position, and ignore the affair, as many would have deemed best. He would not stop to think what the Sixteen might have to say to it. No; he would call out his guards and slay the plotters in the Rue Coupejarrets like the wolves they were. It was right he should, but—I owed my life to Yeux-gris.
"His name, man, his name!" Monsieur was crying.
"Monsieur," I returned, flushing hot, "Monsieur—"
"Do you know his name?"
"Yes, Monsieur, I know his name, but—"
Monsieur looked at me in surprise and frowning, impatience. Quickly Lucas struck in:
"Monsieur, I have grave doubts of the boy's honesty."
"Doubts!" cried Monsieur, with a sudden laugh. "It is not a case for doubts. The boy states facts."
He seated himself in his chair, his face growing stern again. The little action seemed to make him no longer merely my questioner, but my judge.
"Now, Felix Broux, let us get to the bottom of this."
"Monsieur," I began, struggling to put the case clearly, "I learned of the plot by accident. I did not guess for a long time it was you who were the victim. When I found out that, I came straight here to you. Monsieur, there are four men in the plot, and one of them has stood my friend."
"And my assassin!"
"He is a black-hearted villain!" I acknowledged. "For he swore no harm was meant to you. He swore it was only a private grudge against M. Lucas. But when one of them let out the truth I came straight to you."
"That is likely true," said Vigo, "for he was ready to kill the men who barred his way."
"You were in a plot to kill my secretary!"
"Ah, Monsieur!" I cried.
I curled with shame.
"M. Lucas had struck me," I muttered; "I thought the fight was fair enough. And they threatened my life."
Monsieur's contemptuous eyes shrivelled me as flame shrivels a leaf.
"You—a Broux of St. Quentin!"
Lucas, who had watched me close all the while, as they all three did, said now:
"I believe he is a cheat, Monsieur. There is no plot. He has learned of your plan through the eavesdropper he speaks of and thinks to make credit out of a trumped-up tale of murder."
"No," answered Monsieur. "You may think that, Lucas, for he is a stranger to you. But I know him. He was a fool sometimes, but he was never dishonest. You used to be fond of me, Felix. What has happened to make you consort with my enemies?"
"Ah, Monsieur, I love you. I have always loved you," I cried. "I am not lying now, nor cheating you. There is a plot. I learned it and came straight to you, though I was under oath not to betray them."
"Then, in Heaven's name, Felix," burst out Vigo, "which side are you on?"
Monsieur began to laugh.
"That is what I should like to know. For, by St. Quentin, I can make nothing of it."
"Monsieur," insisted Lucas, "whatever he was once, I believe him a trickster now."
Monsieur bent his keen eyes on me.
"No; he is plainly in earnest. Therefore with patience I look to get some sense out of this snarl of a story. Something is there we have not yet fathomed."
"Will Monsieur let me speak?"
"I have done naught but urge you to do so for some time past," he answered dryly.
"Monsieur, you know my father would not let me leave St. Quentin with you, three months back. But at length he said I should come, and I reached Paris last night and, since it was late, lodged at an inn. This morning I came to your gate, but the guard would not let me enter. I was so mad to see you, Monsieur, that when you drove out I sprang up on your coach-step—"
"Ah," said Monsieur, a new light breaking in upon him, "that was you, Felix? I did not know you; I was thinking of other matters. And Lucas took you for a miscreant. Now I am sorry."
If I had been a noble he could not have spoken franker apology. But at once he was stern again. "And because my secretary took you in all good faith for a possible assassin and struck you to save me, you turn traitor and take part in a plot to set on him and kill him! I had believed that of some hired lackey, not of a Broux."
"Monsieur, I was wrong—a thousand times wrong. I knew that as soon as I had sworn. And when I found it was you they meant, I came to you, oath or no oath."
"There spoke the Broux!" cried Monsieur with his brilliant smile. "Now you are Felix. Who are my would-be murderers?"
We had come round in a circle to the place where we had stuck before, and here we stuck again.
"Monsieur, I would tell you all before you could count ten—tell you their names, their whereabouts, everything—were it not for one man who stood my friend."
The duke's eyes flashed.
"You call him that—my assassin!"
"He is an assassin," I was forced to answer; "even Monsieur's assassin—and a perjurer. But—but, Monsieur, he saved my life from the other, at the risk of his own. How can I pay him back by betraying him?"
"According to your own account, he betrayed you."
"Aye, he lied to me," I said brokenly. "Yet Monsieur, if it were your own case and one had saved your life, were he the scum of the gutter, would you send him to his death?"
"To whom do you owe your first duty?"
"Monsieur, to you."
But I could not do it. Though I knew Yeux-gris for a villain, yet he had saved my life.
"Monsieur, I cannot."
The duke cried out:
"This to me!"
There was a silence. I stood with hanging head, the picture of a shame-faced knave. Shame so filled me that I could not look up to meet Monsieur's sentence. But when I had remembered the good hater in Monsieur, I should have remembered, too, the good lover. Monsieur had been fond of me at St. Quentin. As I waited for the lightning to strike, he said with utmost gentleness:
"Felix, let me understand you. In what manner did this man save your life?"
Now that was like my lord. Though a hot man, he loved fairness and ever strove to do the just thing, and his patience was the finer that it was not his nature. His leniency fired me with a sudden hope.
"Monsieur, there are four of them in the plot. But one cannot be as vile as the others, since he saved my life. Monsieur, if I tell you, will you let that one go?"
"I shall do as I see fit," he answered, all the duke. "Felix, will you speak?"
"If Monsieur will promise to let him go—"
"Insolence, sirrah! I do not bargain with my servants."
His words were like whips. I flinched before his proud anger, and for the second time stood with hanging head awaiting his sentence. And again he did what I could not guess. He cried out:
"Felix, you are blind, besotted, mad. You know not what you do. I am in constant danger. The city is filled with my enemies. The Leagues hate me and are ever plotting mischief against me. Every day their mistrust and hatred grow. I did a bold thing in coming to Paris, but I had a great end to serve—to pave a way into the capital for the Catholic king and bring the land to peace. For that, I live in hourly jeopardy, and risk my life to-night on foot in the streets. If I am killed, more than my life is lost. The Church may lose the king, and this dear France of ours be harried to a desert in the civil wars!"
I had braced myself to bear Monsieur's anger, but this unlooked-for appeal pierced me through and through. All the love and loyalty in me—and I had much, though it may not have seemed so—rose in answer to Monsieur's call. I fell on my knees before him, choked with sobs.
Monsieur's hand lay on my head as he said quietly:
"Now, Felix, speak."
I answered huskily:
"Would Monsieur have me turn Judas?"
"Judas betrayed his master."
It was my last stand. My last redoubt had fallen. I raised my head to tell him all.
Maybe it was the tears in my eyes, but as I lifted them to M. le Duc, I saw—not him, but Yeux-gris—Yeux-gris looking at me with warm good will, as he had looked when he was saving me from Gervais. I saw him, I say, plain before my eyes. The next instant there was nothing but Monsieur's face of rising impatience.
I rose to my feet, and said:
"Kill me, Monsieur; I cannot tell."
"Nom de dieu!" he shouted, springing up.
I shut my eyes and waited. Had he slain me then and there it were no more than my deserts.
"Monsieur," said Vigo, immovably, "shall I go for the boot?"
I opened my eyes then. Monsieur stood quite still, his brow knotted, his hands clenched as if to keep them off me.
"Monsieur," I said, "send for the boot, the thumbscrew, whatever you please. I deserve it, and I will bear it. Monsieur, it is not that I will not tell. It is something stronger than I. I cannot."
He burst into an angry laugh.
"Say you are possessed of a devil, and I will believe it. My faith! though you are a low-born lad and I Duke of St. Quentin, I seem to be getting the worst of it."
"There is the boot, Monsieur."
Monsieur laughed again, no less angrily.
"That does not help me, my good Vigo. I cannot torture a Broux."
"There Monsieur is wrong. The lad has been disloyal and insolent, if he is a Broux."
"Granted, Vigo," said M. le Duc. But he did not add, "Fetch the boot."
Vigo went on with steady persistence. "He has not been loyal to Monsieur and his interests in refusing to tell what he knows. And if he goes counter to Monsieur's interests he is a traitor, Broux or no Broux. He has no claim to be treated as other than an enemy. These are serious times. Monsieur does not well to play with his dangers. The boy must tell what he knows. Am I to go for the boot, Monsieur?"
M. le Duc was silent for a moment, while the hot flush that had sprung to his face died away. Then he answered Vigo:
"Nevertheless, it is owing to Felix that I shall not walk out to meet my death to-night."
The secretary had stood silent for a long time, fingering nervously the papers on the table. I had forgotten his presence, when now he stepped forward and said:
"If I might be permitted a suggestion, Monsieur—"
Monsieur silenced him with a sharp gesture.
"Felix Broux," he said to me, "you have been following a bad plan. No man can run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. You are either my loyal servant or my enemy, one thing or the other. Now I am loath to hurt you. You have seen how I am loath to hurt you. I give you one more chance to be honest. Go and think it over. If in half an hour you have decided that you are my true man, well and good. If not, by St. Quentin, we will see what a flogging can do!"
Unpleased, but unprotesting, Vigo led me out into the anteroom. Those men who judged by the outside of things and, knowing Vigo's iron ways, said that he ruled Monsieur, were wrong.
The big equery gave me over to the charge of Marcel and returned to the inner room. Hardly had the door closed behind him when the page burst out:
"What is it? What is the coil? What have you done, Felix?"
Now you can guess I was too sick-hearted for chatter. I had defied and disobeyed my liege lord; I could never hope for pardon or any man's respect. They threatened me with flogging; well, let them flog. They could not make my back any sorer than my conscience was. For I had not the satisfaction in my trouble of thinking that I had done right. Monsieur's danger should have been my first consideration. What was Yeux-gris, perjured scoundrel, in comparison with M. le Duc? And yet I knew that at the end of the half-hour I should not tell; at the end of the flogging I should not tell. I had warned Monsieur; that I would have done had it been the breaking of a thousand oaths. But give up Yeux-gris? Not if they tore me limb from limb!
"What is it all about?" cried Marcel, again. "You look as glum as a Jesuit in Lent. What is the matter with you, Felix?"
"I have cooked my goose," I said gloomily.
"What have you done?"
"Nothing that I can speak about. But I am out of Monsieur's books."
"What was old Vigo after when he took you in to Monsieur? I never saw anything so bold. When Monsieur says he is not to be disturbed he means it."
I had nothing to tell him, and was silent.
"What is it? Can't you tell an old chum?"
"No; it is Monsieur's private business."
"Well, you are grumpy!" he cried out pettishly. "You must be out of grace." He seemed to decide that nothing was to be made out of me just now on this tack, and with unabated persistence tried another.
"Is it true, Felix, what one of the men said just now, that you tried to speak with Monsieur this morning when he drove out?"