THE SUITORS OF YVONNE
Being a Portion of the Memoirs of the Sieur Gaston de Luynes
By Rafael Sabatini
I. OF HOW A BOY DRANK TOO MUCH WINE, AND WHAT CAME OF IT
II. THE FRUIT OF INDISCRETION
III. THE FIGHT IN THE HORSE-MARKET
IV. FAIR RESCUERS
V. MAZARIN, THE MATCH-MAKER
VI. OF HOW ANDREA BECAME LOVE-SICK
VII. THE CHATEAU DR CANAPLES
VIII. THE FORESHADOW OF DISASTER
IX. OF HOW A WHIP PROVED A BETTER ARGUMENT THAN A TONGUE
X. THE CONSCIENCE OF MALPERTUIS
XI. OF A WOMAN'S OBSTINACY
XII. THE RESCUE
XIII. THE HAND OF YVONNE
XIV. OF WHAT BEFELL AT REAUX
XV. OF MY RESURRECTION
XVI. THE WAY OF WOMAN
XVII. FATHER AND SON
XVIII. OF HOW I LEFT CANAPLES
XIX. OF MY RETURN TO PARIS
XX. OF HOW THE CHEVALIER DE CANAPLES BECAME A FRONDEUR
XXI. OF THE BARGAIN THAT ST. AUBAN DROVE WITH MY LORD CARDINAL
XXII. OF MY SECOND JOURNEY TO CANAPLES
XXIII. OF HOW ST. AUBAN CAME TO BLOIS
XXIV. OF THE PASSING OF ST. AUBAN
CHAPTER I. OF HOW A BOY DRANK TOO MUCH WINE, AND WHAT CAME OF IT
Andrea de Mancini sprawled, ingloriously drunk, upon the floor. His legs were thrust under the table, and his head rested against the chair from which he had slipped; his long black hair was tossed and dishevelled; his handsome, boyish face flushed and garbed in the vacant expression of idiocy.
"I beg a thousand pardons, M. de Luynes," quoth he in the thick, monotonous voice of a man whose brain but ill controls his tongue,—"I beg a thousand pardons for the unseemly poverty of our repast. 'T is no fault of mine. My Lord Cardinal keeps a most unworthy table for me. Faugh! Uncle Giulio is a Hebrew—if not by birth, by instinct. He carries his purse-strings in a knot which it would break his heart to unfasten. But there! some day my Lord Cardinal will go to heaven—to the lap of Abraham. I shall be rich then, vastly rich, and I shall bid you to a banquet worthy of your most noble blood. The Cardinal's health—perdition have him for the niggardliest rogue unhung!"
I pushed back my chair and rose. The conversation was taking a turn that was too unhealthy to be pursued within the walls of the Palais Mazarin, where there existed, albeit the law books made no reference to it, the heinous crime of lese-Eminence—a crime for which more men had been broken than it pleases me to dwell on.
"Your table, Master Andrea, needs no apology," I answered carelessly. "Your wine, for instance, is beyond praise."
"Ah, yes! The wine! But, ciel! Monsieur," he ejaculated, for a moment opening wide his heavy eyelids, "do you believe 't was Mazarin provided it? Pooh! 'T was a present made me by M. de la Motte, who seeks my interest with my Lord Cardinal to obtain for him an appointment in his Eminence's household, and thus thinks to earn my good will. He's a pestilent creature, this la Motte," he added, with a hiccough,—"a pestilent creature; but, Sangdieu! his wine is good, and I'll speak to my uncle. Help me up, De Luynes. Help me up, I say; I would drink the health of this provider of wines."
I hurried forward, but he had struggled up unaided, and stood swaying with one hand on the table and the other on the back of his chair. In vain did I remonstrate with him that already he had drunk overmuch.
"'T is a lie!" he shouted. "May not a gentleman sit upon the floor from choice?"
To emphasise his protestation he imprudently withdrew his hand from the chair and struck at the air with his open palm. That gesture cost him his balance. He staggered, toppled backward, and clutched madly at the tablecloth as he fell, dragging glasses, bottles, dishes, tapers, and a score of other things besides, with a deafening crash on to the floor.
Then, as I stood aghast and alarmed, wondering who might have overheard the thunder of his fall, the fool sat up amidst the ruins, and filled the room with his shrieks of drunken laughter.
"Silence, boy!" I thundered, springing towards him. "Silence! or we shall have the whole house about our ears."
And truly were my fears well grounded, for, before I could assist him to rise, I heard the door behind me open. Apprehensively I turned, and sickened to see that that which I had dreaded most was come to pass. A tall, imposing figure in scarlet robes stood erect and scowling on the threshold, and behind him his valet, Bernouin, bearing a lighted taper.
Mancini's laugh faded into a tremulous cackle, then died out, and with gaping mouth and glassy eyes he sat there staring at his uncle.
Thus we stayed in silence while a man might count mayhap a dozen; then the Cardinal's voice rang harsh and full of anger.
"'T is thus that you fulfil your trust, M. de Luynes!" he said.
"Your Eminence—" I began, scarce knowing what I should say, when he cut me short.
"I will deal with you presently and elsewhere." He stepped up to Andrea, and surveyed him for a moment in disgust. "Get up, sir!" he commanded. "Get up!"
The lad sought to obey him with an alacrity that merited a kinder fate. Had he been in less haste perchance he had been more successful. As it was, he had got no farther than his knees when his right leg slid from under him, and he fell prone among the shattered tableware, mumbling curses and apologies in a breath.
Mazarin stood gazing at him with an eye that was eloquent in scorn, then bending down he spoke quickly to him in Italian. What he said I know not, being ignorant of their mother tongue; but from the fierceness of his utterance I'll wager my soul 't was nothing sweet to listen to. When he had done with him, he turned to his valet.
"Bernouin," said he, "summon M. de Mancini's servant and assist him to get my nephew to bed. M. de Luynes, be good enough to take Bernouin's taper and light me back to my apartments."
Unsavoury as was the task, I had no choice but to obey, and to stalk on in front of him, candle in hand, like an acolyte at Notre Dame, and in my heart the profound conviction that I was about to have a bad quarter of an hour with his Eminence. Nor was I wrong; for no sooner had we reached his cabinet and the door had been closed than he turned upon me the full measure of his wrath.
"You miserable fool!" he snarled. "Did you think to trifle with the trust which in a misguided moment I placed in you? Think you that, when a week ago I saved you from starvation to clothe and feed you and give you a lieutenancy in my guards, I should endure so foul an abuse as this? Think you that I entrusted M. de Mancini's training in arms to you so that you might lead him into the dissolute habits which have dragged you down to what you are—to what you were before I rescued you—to what you will be to-morrow when I shall have again abandoned you?"
"Hear me, your Eminence!" I cried indignantly. "'T is no fault of mine. Some fool hath sent M. de Mancini a basket of wine and—"
"And you showed him how to abuse it," he broke in harshly. "You have taught the boy to become a sot; in time, were he to remain under your guidance, I make no doubt but that he would become a gamester and a duellist as well. I was mad, perchance, to give him into your care; but I have the good fortune to be still in time, before the mischief has sunk farther, to withdraw him from it, and to cast you back into the kennel from which I picked you."
"Your Eminence does not mean—"
"As God lives I do!" he cried. "You shall quit the Palais Royal this very night, M. de Luynes, and if ever I find you unbidden within half a mile of it, I will do that which out of a misguided sense of compassion I do not do now—I will have you flung into an oubliette of the Bastille, where better men than you have rotted before to-day. Per Dio! do you think that I am to be fooled by such a thing as you?"
"Does your Eminence dismiss me?" I cried aghast, and scarce crediting that such was indeed the extreme measure upon which he had determined.
"Have I not been plain enough?" he answered with a snarl.
I realised to the full my unenviable position, and with the realisation of it there overcame me the recklessness of him who has played his last stake at the tables and lost. That recklessness it was that caused me to shrug my shoulders with a laugh. I was a soldier of fortune—or should I say a soldier of misfortune?—as rich in vice as I was poor in virtue; a man who lived by the steel and parried the blows that came as best he might, or parried them not at all—but never quailed.
"As your Eminence pleases," I answered coolly, "albeit methinks that for one who has shed his blood for France as freely as I have done, a little clemency were not unfitting."
He raised his eyebrows, and his lips curled in a malicious sneer.
"You come of a family, M. de Luynes," he said slowly, "that is famed for having shed the blood of others for France more freely than its own. You are, I believe, the nephew of Albert de Luynes. Do you forget the Marshal d'Ancre?"
I felt the blood of anger hot in my face as I made haste to answer him:
"There are many of us, Monseigneur, who have cause to blush for the families they spring from—more cause, mayhap, than hath Gaston de Luynes."
In my words perchance there was no offensive meaning, but in my tone and in the look which I bent upon the Cardinal there was that which told him that I alluded to his own obscure and dubious origin. He grew livid, and for a moment methought he would have struck me: had he done so, then, indeed, the history of Europe would have been other than it is to-day! He restrained himself, however, and drawing himself to the full height of his majestic figure he extended his arm towards the door.
"Go," he said, in a voice that passion rendered hoarse. "Go, Monsieur. Go quickly, while my clemency endures. Go before I summon the guard and deal with you as your temerity deserves."
I bowed—not without a taint of mockery, for I cared little what might follow; then, with head erect and the firm tread of defiance, I stalked out of his apartment, along the corridor, down the great staircase, across the courtyard, past the guard,—which, ignorant of my disgrace, saluted me,—and out into the street.
Then at last my head sank forward on my breast, and deep in thought I wended my way home, oblivious of all around me, even the chill bite of the February wind.
In my mind I reviewed my wasted life, with the fleeting pleasures and the enduring sorrows that it had brought me—or that I had drawn from it. The Cardinal said no more than truth when he spoke of having saved me from starvation. A week ago that was indeed what he had done. He had taken pity on Gaston de Luynes, the nephew of that famous Albert de Luynes who had been Constable of France in the early days of the late king's reign; he had made me lieutenant of his guards and maitre d'armes to his nephews Andrea and Paolo de Mancini because he knew that a better blade than mine could not be found in France, and because he thought it well to have such swords as mine about him.
A little week ago life had been replete with fresh promises, the gates of the road to fame (and perchance fortune) had been opened to me anew, and now—before I had fairly passed that gate I had been thrust rudely back, and it had been slammed in my face because it pleased a fool to become a sot whilst in my company.
There is a subtle poetry in the contemplation of ruin. With ruin itself, howbeit, there comes a prosaic dispelling of all idle dreams—a hard, a grim, a vile reality.
Ruin! 'T is an ugly word. A fitting one to carve upon the tombstone of a reckless, godless, dissolute life such as mine had been.
Back, Gaston de Luynes! back, to the kennel whence the Cardinal's hand did for a moment pluck you; back, from the morning of hope to the night of despair; back, to choose between starvation and the earning of a pauper's fee as a master of fence!
CHAPTER II. THE FRUIT OF INDISCRETION
Despite the dejection to which I had become a prey, I slept no less soundly that night than was my wont, and indeed it was not until late next morning when someone knocked at my door that I awakened.
I sat up in bed, and my first thought as I looked round the handsome room—which I had rented a week ago upon receiving the lieutenancy in the Cardinal's guards—was for the position that I had lost and of the need that there would be ere long to seek a lodging more humble and better suited to my straitened circumstances. It was not without regret that such a thought came to me, for my tastes had never been modest, and the house was a fine one, situated in the Rue St. Antoine at a hundred paces or so from the Jesuit convent.
I had no time, however, to indulge the sorry mood that threatened to beset me, for the knocking at my chamber door continued, until at length I answered it with a command to enter.
It was my servant Michelot, a grizzled veteran of huge frame and strength, who had fought beside me at Rocroi, and who had thereafter become so enamoured of my person—for some trivial service he swore I had rendered him—that he had attached himself to me and my luckless fortunes.
He came to inform me that M. de Mancini was below and craved immediate speech with me. He had scarce done speaking, however, when Andrea himself, having doubtless grown tired of waiting, appeared in the doorway. He wore a sickly look, the result of his last night's debauch; but, more than that, there was stamped upon his face a look of latent passion which made me think at first that he was come to upbraid me.
"Ah, still abed, Luynes?" was his greeting as he came forward.
His cloak was wet and his boots splashed, which told me both that he had come afoot and that it rained.
"There are no duties that bid me rise," I answered sourly.
He frowned at that, then, divesting himself of his cloak, he gave it to Michelot, who, at a sign from me, withdrew. No sooner was the door closed than the boy's whole manner changed. The simmering passion of which I had detected signs welled up and seemed to choke him as he poured forth the story that he had come to tell.
"I have been insulted," he gasped. "Grossly insulted by a vile creature of Monsieur d'Orleans's household. An hour ago in the ante-chamber at the Palais Royal I was spoken of in my hearing as the besotted nephew of the Italian adventurer."
I sat up in bed tingling with excitement at the developments which already I saw arising from his last night's imprudence.
"Calmly, Andrea," I begged of him, "tell me calmly."
"Mortdieu! How can I be calm? Ough! The thought of it chokes me. I was a fool last night—a sot. For that, perchance, men have some right to censure me. But, Sangdieu! that a ruffler of the stamp of Eugene de Canaples should speak of it—should call me the nephew of an Italian adventurer, should draw down upon me the cynical smile of a crowd of courtly apes—pah! I am sick at the memory of it!"
"Did you answer him?"
"Pardieu! I should be worthy of the title he bestowed upon me had I not done so. Oh, I answered him—not in words. I threw my hat in his face."
"That was a passing eloquent reply!"
"So eloquent that it left him speechless with amazement. He thought to bully with impunity, and see me slink into hiding like a whipped dog, terrified by his blustering tongue and dangerous reputation. But there!" he broke off, "a meeting has been arranged for four o'clock at St. Germain."
"A meeting!" I exclaimed.
"What else? Do you think the affront left any alternative?"
"Yes, yes, I know," he interrupted, tossing his head. "I am going to be killed. Verville has sworn that there shall be one less of the Italian brood. That is why I have come to you, Luynes—to ask you to be my second. I don't deserve it, perhaps. In my folly last night I did you an ill turn. I unwittingly caused you to be stripped of your commission. But if I were on my death-bed now, and begged a favour of you, you would not refuse it. And what difference is there 'twixt me and one who is on his death-bed? Am I not about to die?"
"Peste! I hope not," I made answer with more lightness than I felt. "But I'll stand by you with all my heart, Andrea."
"And you'll avenge me?" he cried savagely, his Southern blood a-boiling. "You'll not let him leave the ground alive?"
"Not unless my opponent commits the indiscretion of killing me first. Who seconds M. de Canaples?"
"The Marquis de St. Auban and M. de Montmedy."
"And who is the third in our party?"
"I have none. I thought that perhaps you had a friend."
"I! A friend?" I laughed bitterly. "Pshaw, Andrea! beggars have no friends. But stay; find Stanislas de Gouville. There is no better blade in Paris. If he will join us in this frolic, and you can hold off Canaples until either St. Auban or Montmedy is disposed of, we may yet leave the three of them on the field of battle. Courage, Andrea! Dum spiramus, speramus."
My words seemed to cheer him, and when presently he left me to seek out the redoubtable Gouville, the poor lad's face was brighter by far than when he had entered my room.
Down in my heart, however, I was less hopeful than I had led him to believe, and as I dressed after he had gone, 't was not without some uneasiness that I turned the matter over in my mind. I had, during the short period of our association, grown fond of Andrea de Mancini. Indeed the wonted sweetness of the lad's temper, and the gentleness of his disposition, were such as to breed affection in all who came in contact with him. In a way, too, methought he had grown fond of me, and I had known so few friends in life,—truth to tell I fear me that I had few of the qualities that engender friendship,—that I was naturally prone to appreciate a gift that from its rareness became doubly valuable.
Hence was it that I trembled for the boy. He had shown aptitude with the foils, and derived great profit from my tuition, yet he was too raw by far to be pitted against so cunning a swordsman as Canaples.
I had but finished dressing when a coach rumbled down the street and halted by my door. Naturally I supposed that someone came to visit Coupri, the apothecary,—to whom belonged this house in which I had my lodging,—and did not give the matter a second thought until Michelot rushed in, with eyes wide open, to announce that his Eminence, Cardinal Mazarin, commanded my presence in the adjoining room.
Amazed and deeply marvelling what so extraordinary a visit might portend, I hastened to wait upon his Eminence.
I found him standing by the window, and received from him a greeting that was passing curt and cavalier.
"Has M. de Mancini been here?" he inquired peremptorily, disregarding the chair I offered him.
"He has but left me, Monseigneur."
"Then you know, sir, of the harvest which he has already reaped from the indiscretion into which you led him last night?"
"If Monseigneur alludes to the affront put upon M. de Mancini touching his last night's indiscretion, by a bully of the Court, I am informed of it."
"Pish, Monsieur! I do not follow your fine distinctions—possibly this is due to my imperfect knowledge of the language of France, possibly to your own imperfect acquaintance with the language of truth."
"Faugh!" he cried, half scornfully, half peevishly. "I came not here to talk of you, but of my nephew. Why did he visit you?"
"To do me the honour of asking me to second him at St. Germain this evening."
"And so you think that this duel is to be fought?—that my nephew is to be murdered?"
"We will endeavour to prevent his being—as your Eminence daintily puts it—murdered. But for the rest, the duel, methinks, cannot be avoided."
"Cannot!" he blazed. "Do you say cannot, M. de Luynes? Mark me well, sir: I will use no dissimulation with you. My position in France is already a sufficiently difficult one. Already we are threatened with a second Fronde. It needs but such events as these to bring my family into prominence and make it the butt for the ridicule that malcontents but wait an opportunity to slur it with. This affair of Andrea's will lend itself to a score or so of lampoons and pasquinades, all of which will cast an injurious reflection upon my person and position. That, Monsieur, is, methinks, sufficient evil to suffer at your hands. The late Cardinal would have had you broken on the wheel for less. I have gone no farther than to dismiss you from my service—a clemency for which you should be grateful. But I shall not suffer that, in addition to the harm already done, Andrea shall be murdered by Canaples."
"I shall do my best to render him assistance."
"You still misapprehend me. This duel, sir, must not take place."
I shrugged my shoulders.
"How does your Eminence propose to frustrate it? Will you arrest Canaples?"
"Upon what plea, Monsieur? Think you I am anxious to have the whole of Paris howling in my ears?"
"Then possibly it is your good purpose to enforce the late king's edict against duelling, and send your guards to St. Germain to arrest the men before they engage?"
"Benone!" he sneered. "And what will Paris say if I now enforce a law that for ten years has been disregarded? That I feared for my nephew's skin and took this means of saving him. A pretty story to have on Paris's lips, would it not be?"
"Indeed, Monseigneur, you are right, but I doubt me the duel will needs be fought."
"Have I not already said that it shall not be fought?"
Again I shrugged my shoulders. Mazarin grew tiresome with his repetitions.
"How can it be avoided, your Eminence?"
"Ah, Monsieur, that is your affair."
"Assuredly. 'T was through your evil agency he was dragged into this business, and through your agency he must be extricated from it."
"Your Eminence jests!"
"Undoubtedly,—'t is a jesting matter," he answered with terrible irony. "Oh, I jest! Per Dio! yes. But I'll carry my jest so far as to have you hanged if this duel be fought—aye, whether my nephew suffers hurt or not. Now, sir, you know what fate awaits you; fight it—turn it aside—I have shown you the way. The door, M. de Luynes."
CHAPTER III. THE FIGHT IN THE HORSE-MARKET
I let him go without a word. There was that in his voice, in his eye, and in the gesture wherewith he bade me hold the door for him, that cleared my mind of any doubts touching the irrevocable character of his determination. To plead was never an accomplishment of mine; to argue, I saw, would be to waste the Cardinal's time to no purpose.
And so I let him go,—and my curse with him,—and from my window I watched his coach drive away in the drizzling rain, scattering the crowd of awe-stricken loiterers who had collected at the rumour of his presence.
With a fervent prayer that his patron saint, the devil, might see fit to overset his coach and break his neck before he reached the Palace, I turned from the window, and called Michelot.
He was quick to answer my summons, bringing me the frugal measure of bread and wine wherewith it was my custom to break my fast. Then, whilst I munched my crust, I strode to and fro in the little chamber and exercised my wits to their utmost for a solution to the puzzle his Eminence had set me.
One solution there was, and an easy one—flight. But I had promised Andrea de Mancini that I would stand beside him at St. Germain; there was a slender chance of saving him if I went, whilst, if I stayed away, there would be nothing left for his Eminence to do but to offer up prayers for the rest of his nephew's soul.
Another idea I had, but it was desperate—and yet, so persistently did my thoughts revert to it that in the end I determined to accept it.
I drank a cup of Armagnac, cheered myself with an oath or two, and again I called Michelot. When he came, I asked him if he were acquainted with M. de Canaples, to which he replied that he was, having seen the gentleman in my company.
"Then," I said, "you will repair to M. de Canaples's lodging in the Rue des Gesvres, and ascertain discreetly whether he be at home. If he is, you will watch the house until he comes forth, then follow him, and bring me word thereafter where he is to be found. Should he be already abroad before you reach the Rue des Gesvres, endeavour to ascertain whither he has gone, and return forthwith. But be discreet, Michelot. You understand?"
He assured me that he did, and left me to nurse my unpleasant thoughts for half an hour, returning at the end of that time with the information that M. de Canaples was seated at dinner in the "Auberge du Soleil."
Naught could have been more attuned to my purpose, and straightway I drew on my boots, girt on my sword, and taking my hat and cloak, I sallied out into the rain, and wended my way at a sharp pace towards the Rue St. Honore.
One o'clock was striking as I crossed the threshold of the "Soleil" and flung my dripping cloak to the first servant I chanced upon.
I glanced round the well-filled room, and at one of the tables I espied my quarry in company with St. Auban and Montmedy—the very gentlemen who were to fight beside him that evening—and one Vilmorin, as arrant a coxcomb and poltroon as could be found in France. With my beaver cocked at the back of my head, and a general bearing that for aggressiveness would be hard to surpass, I strode up to their table, and stood for a moment surveying them with an insolent stare that made them pause in their conversation. They raised their noble heads and bestowed upon me a look of haughty and disdainful wonder,—such a look as one might bestow upon a misbehaving lackey,—all save Vilmorin, who, with a coward's keen nose for danger, turned slightly pale and fidgeted in his chair. I was well known to all of them, but my attitude forbade all greeting.
"Has M. de Luynes lost anything?" St. Auban inquired icily.
"His wits, mayhap," quoth Canaples with a contemptuous shrug.
He was a tall, powerfully built man, this Canaples, with a swart, cruel face that was nevertheless not ill-favoured, and a profusion of black hair.
"There is a temerity in M. de Canaples's rejoinder that I had not looked for," I said banteringly.
Canaples's brow was puckered in a frown.
"Ha! And why not, Monsieur?"
"Why not? Because it is not to be expected that one who fastens quarrels upon schoolboys would evince the courage to beard Gaston de Luynes."
"Monsieur!" the four of them cried in chorus, so loudly that the hum of voices in the tavern became hushed, and all eyes were turned in our direction.
"M. de Canaples," I said calmly, "permit me to say that I can find no more fitting expression for the contempt I hold you in than this."
As I spoke I seized a corner of the tablecloth, and with a sudden tug I swept it, with all it held, on to the floor.
Dame! what a scene there was! In an instant the four of them were on their feet,—as were half the occupants of the room, besides,—whilst poor Vilmorin, who stood trembling like a maid who for the first time hears words of love, raised his quavering voice to cry soothingly, "Messieurs, Messieurs!"
Canaples was livid with passion, but otherwise the calmest in that room, saving perhaps myself. With a gesture he restrained Montmedy and St. Auban.
"I shall be happy to give Master de Luynes all the proof of my courage that he may desire, and more, I warrant, than he will relish."
"Bravely answered!" I cried, with an approving nod and a beaming smile. "Be good enough to lead the way to a convenient spot."
"I have other business at the moment," he answered calmly. "Let us say to-morrow at—"
"Faugh!" I broke in scornfully. "I knew it! Confess, Monsieur, that you dare not light me now lest you should be unable to keep your appointments for this evening."
"Mille diables!" exclaimed St. Auban, "this insolence passes all bounds."
"Each man in his turn if you please, gentlemen," I replied. "My present affair is with M. de Canaples."
There was a hot answer burning on St. Auban's lips, but Canaples was beforehand with him.
"Par la mort Dieu!" he cried; "you go too far, sir, with your 'dare' and 'dare not.' Is a broken gamester, a penniless adventurer, to tell Eugene de Canaples what he dares? Come, sir; since you are eager for the taste of steel, follow me, and say your prayers as you go."
With that we left the inn, amidst a prodigious hubbub, and made our way to the horse-market behind the Hotel Vendome. It was not to be expected, albeit the place we had chosen was usually deserted at such an hour, that after the fracas at the "Soleil" our meeting would go unattended. When we faced each other—Canaples and I—there were at least some twenty persons present, who came, despite the rain, to watch what they thought was like to prove a pretty fight. Men of position were they for the most part, gentlemen of the Court with here and there a soldier, and from the manner in which they eyed me methought they favoured me but little.
Our preparations were brief. The absence of seconds disposed of all formalities, the rain made us impatient to be done, and in virtue of it Canaples pompously announced that he would not risk a cold by stripping. With interest did I grimly answer that he need fear no cold when I had done with him. Then casting aside my cloak, I drew, and, professing myself also disposed to retain my doublet, we forthwith engaged.
He was no mean swordsman, this Canaples. Indeed, his reputation was already widespread, and in the first shock of our meeting blades I felt that rumour had been just for once. But I was strangely dispossessed of any doubts touching the outcome; this being due perchance to a vain confidence in my own skill, perchance to the spirit of contemptuous raillery wherewith I had from the outset treated the affair, and which had so taken root in my heart that even when we engaged I still, almost unwittingly, persisted in it.
In my face and attitude there was the reflection of this bantering, flippant mood; it was to be read in the mocking disdain of my glance, in the scornful curl of my lip, and even in the turn of my wrist as I put aside my opponent's passes. All this, Canaples must have noted, and it was not without effect upon his nerves. Moreover, there is in steel a subtle magnetism which is the index of one's antagonist; and from the moment that our blades slithered one against the other I make no doubt but that Canaples grew aware of the confident, almost exultant mood in which I met him, and which told him that I was his master. Add to this the fact that whilst Canaples's nerves were unstrung by passion mine were held in check by a mind as calm and cool as though our swords were baited, and consider with what advantages I took my ground.
He led the attack fiercely and furiously, as if I were a boy whose guard was to be borne down by sheer weight of blows. I contented myself with tapping his blade aside, and when at length, after essaying every trick in his catalogue, he fell back baffled, I laughed a low laugh of derision that drove him pale with fury.
Again he came at me, almost before I was prepared for him, and his point, parried with a downward stroke and narrowly averted, scratched my thigh, but did more damage to my breeches than my skin, in exchange I touched him playfully on the shoulder, and the sting of it drove him back a second time. He was breathing hard by then, and would fain have paused awhile for breath, but I saw no reason to be merciful.
"Now, sir," I cried, saluting him as though our combat were but on the point of starting—"to me! Guard yourself!"
Again our swords clashed, and my blows now fell as swift on his blade as his had done awhile ago on mine. So hard did I press him that he was forced to give way before me. Back I drove him pace by pace, his wrist growing weaker at each parry, each parry growing wider, and the perspiration streaming down his ashen face. Panting he went, in that backward flight before my onslaught, defending himself as best he could, never thinking of a riposte—beaten already. Back, and yet back he went, until he reached the railings and could back no farther, and so broken was his spirit then that a groan escaped him. I answered with a laugh—my mood was lusty and cruel—and thrust at him. Then, eluding his guard, I thrust again, beneath it, and took him fairly in the middle of his doublet.
He staggered, dropped his rapier, and caught at the railings, where for a moment he hung swaying and gasping. Then his head fell forward, his grip relaxed, and swooning he sank down into a heap.
A dozen sprang to his aid, foremost amongst them being St. Auban and Montmedy, whilst I drew back, suddenly realising my own spent condition, to which the heat of the combat had hitherto rendered me insensible. I mastered myself as best I might, and, dissembling my hard breathing, I wiped my blade with a kerchief, an act which looked so calm and callous that it drew from the crowd—for a crowd it had become by then—an angry growl. 'T is thus with the vulgar; they are ever ready to sympathise with the vanquished without ever pausing to ask themselves if his chastisement may not be merited.
In answer to the growl I tossed my head, and sheathing my sword I flung the bloodstained kerchief into their very midst. The audacity of the gesture left them breathless, and they growled no more, but stared.
Then that outrageous fop, Vilmorin, who had been bending over Canaples, started up and coming towards me with a face that was whiter than that of the prostrate man, he proved himself so utterly bereft of wit by terror that for once he had the temerity to usurp the words and actions of a brave man.
"You have murdered him!" he cried in a strident voice, and thrusting his clenched fist within an inch of my face. "Do you hear me, you knave? You have murdered him!"
Now, as may be well conceived, I was in no mood to endure such words from any man, so was but natural that for answer I caught the dainty Vicomte a buffet that knocked him into the arms of the nearest bystander, and brought him to his senses.
"Fool," I snarled at him, "must I make another example before you believe that Gaston de Luynes wears a sword?"
"In the name of Heaven—" he began, putting forth his hands in a beseeching gesture; but what more he said was drowned by the roar of anger that burst from the onlookers, and it was like to have gone ill with me had not St. Auban come to my aid at that most critical juncture.
"Messieurs!" he cried, thrusting himself before me, and raising his hand to crave silence, "hear me. I, a friend of M. de Canaples, tell you that you wrong M. de Luynes. 'T was a fair fight—how the quarrel arose is no concern of yours."
Despite his words they still snarled and growled like the misbegotten curs they were. But St. Auban was famous for the regal supper parties he gave, to which all were eager to be bidden, and amidst that crowd, as I have said, there were a score or so of gentlemen of the Court, who—with scant regard for the right or wrong of the case and every regard to conciliate this giver of suppers—came to range themselves beside and around us, and thus protected me from the murderous designs of that rabble.
Seeing how the gentlemen took my part, and deeming—in their blessed ignorance—that what gentlemen did must be perforce well done, they grew calm in the twinkling of an eye. Thereupon St. Auban, turning to me, counselled me in a whisper to be gone, whilst the tide of opinion flowed in my favour. Intent to act upon this good advice, I took a step towards the little knot that had collected round Canaples, and with natural curiosity inquired into the nature of his hurt.
'T was Montmedy who answered me, scowling as he did so:
"He may die of it, Monsieur. If he does not, his recovery will be at least slow and difficult."
I had been wise had I held my peace and gone; but, like a fool, I must needs give utterance to what was in my mind.
"Ah! At least there will be no duel at St. Germain this evening."
Scarce had the words fallen from my lips when I saw in the faces of Montmedy and St. Auban and half a dozen others the evidence of their rashness.
"So!" cried St. Auban in a voice that shook with rage. "That was your object, eh? That you had fallen low, Master de Luynes, I knew, but I dreamt not that in your fall you had come so low as this."
"Pardieu! I dare more, Monsieur; I dare tell you—you, Gaston de Luynes, spy and bravo of the Cardinal—that your object shall be defeated. That, as God lives, this duel shall still be fought—by me instead of Canaples."
"And I tell you, sir, that as God lives it shall not," I answered with a vehemence not a whit less than his own. "To you and to what other fools may think to follow in your footsteps, I say this: that not to-night nor to-morrow nor the next day shall that duel be fought. Cowards and poltroons you are, who seek to murder a beardless boy who has injured none of you! But, by my soul! every man who sends a challenge to that boy will I at once seek out and deal with as I have dealt with Eugene de Canaples. Let those who are eager to try another world make the attempt. Adieu, Messieurs!"
And with a flourish of my sodden beaver, I turned and left them before they had recovered from the vehemence of my words.
CHAPTER IV. FAIR RESCUERS
Like the calm of the heavens when pregnant with thunder was the calm of that crowd. And as brief it was; for scarce had I taken a dozen steps when my ears were assailed by a rumble of angry voices and a rush of feet. One glance over my shoulder, one second's hesitation whether I should stay and beard them, then the thought of Andrea de Mancini and of what would befall him did this canaille vent its wrath upon me decided my course and sent me hotfoot down the Rue Monarque. Howling and bellowing that rabble followed in my wake, stumbling over one another in their indecent haste to reach me.
But I was fleet of foot, and behind me there was that that would lend wings to the most deliberate, so that when I turned into the open space before the Hotel Vendome I had set a good fifty yards betwixt myself and the foremost of my hunters.
A coach was passing at that moment. I shouted, and the knave who drove glanced at me, then up the Rue Monarque at my pursuers, whereupon, shaking his head, he would have left me to my fate. But I was of another mind. I dashed towards the vehicle, and as it passed me I caught at the window, which luckily was open, and drawing up my legs I hung there despite the shower of mud which the revolving wheels deposited upon me.
From the bowels of the coach I was greeted by a woman's scream; a pale face, and a profusion of fair hair flashed before my eyes.
"Fear not, Madame," I shouted. "I am no assassin, but rather one who stands in imminent peril of assassination, and who craves your protection."
More I would have said, but at that juncture the lash of the coachman's whip curled itself about my shoulders, and stung me vilely.
"Get down, you rascal," he bellowed; "get down or I'll draw rein!"
To obey him would have been madness. The crowd surged behind with hoots and yells, and had I let go I must perforce have fallen into their hands. So, instead of getting down as he inconsiderately counselled, I drew myself farther up by a mighty effort, and thrust half my body into the coach, whereupon the fair lady screamed again, and the whip caressed my legs. But within the coach sat another woman, dark of hair and exquisite of face, who eyed my advent with a disdainful glance. Her proud countenance bore the stamp of courage, and to her it was that I directed my appeal.
"Madame, permit me, I pray, to seek shelter in your carriage, and suffer me to journey a little way with you. Quick, Madame! Your coachman is drawing rein, and I shall of a certainty be murdered under your very nose unless you bid him change his mind. To be murdered in itself is a trifling matter, I avow, but it is not nice to behold, and I would not, for all the world, offend your eyes with the spectacle of it."
I had judged her rightly, and my tone of flippant recklessness won me her sympathy and aid. Quickly thrusting her head through the other window:
"Drive on, Louis," she commanded. "Faster!" Then turning to me, "You may bring your legs into the coach if you choose, sir," she said.
"Your words, Madame, are the sweetest music I have heard for months," I answered drily, as I obeyed her. Then leaning out of the carriage again I waved my hat gallantly to the mob which—now realising the futility of further pursuit—had suddenly come to a halt.
"Au plaisir de vous revoir, Messieurs," I shouted. "Come to me one by one, and I'll keep the devil busy finding lodgings for you."
They answered me with a yell, and I sat down content, and laughed.
"You are not a coward, Monsieur," said the dark lady.
"I have been accounted many unsavoury things, Madame, but my bitterest enemies never dubbed me that."
"Why, then, did you run away?"
"Why? Ma foi! because in the excessive humility of my soul I recognised myself unfit to die."
She bit her lip and her tiny foot beat impatiently upon the floor.
"You are trifling with me, Monsieur. Where do you wish to alight?"
"Pray let that give you no concern; I can assure you that I am in no haste."
"You become impertinent, sir," she cried angrily. "Answer me, where are you going?"
"Where am I going? Oh, ah—to the Palais Royal."
Her eyes opened very wide at that, and wandered over me with a look that was passing eloquent. Indeed, I was a sorry spectacle for any woman's eyes—particularly a pretty one's. Splashed from head to foot with mud, my doublet saturated and my beaver dripping, with the feather hanging limp and broken, whilst there was a rent in my breeches that had been made by Canaples's sword, I take it that I had not the air of a courtier, and that when I said that I went to the Palais Royal she might have justly held me to be the adventurous lover of some kitchen wench. But unto the Palais Royal go others besides courtiers and lovers—spies of the Cardinal, for instance, and in her sudden coldness and the next question that fell from her beauteous lips I read that she had guessed me one of these.
"Why did the mob pursue you, Monsieur?"
There was in her voice and gesture when she asked a question the imperiousness of one accustomed to command replies. This pretty queenliness it was that drove me to answer—as I had done before—in a bantering strain.
"Why did the mob pursue me? Hum! Why does the mob pursue great men? Because it loves their company."
Her matchless eyes flashed an angry glance, and the faint smile on my lips must have tried her temper sorely.
"What did you do to deserve this affection?"
"A mere nothing—I killed a man," I answered coolly. "Or, at least, I left him started on the road to—Paradise."
The little flaxen-haired doll uttered a cry of horror, and covered her face with her small white hands. My inquisitor, however, sat rigid and unaffected. My answer had confirmed her suspicions.
"Why did you kill him?"
"Ma foi!" I replied, encouraging her thoughts, "because he sought to kill me."
"Ah! And why did he seek to kill you?"
"Because I disturbed him at dinner."
"Have a care how you trifle, sir!" she retorted, her eyes kindling again.
"Upon my honour, 't was no more than that. I pulled the cloth from the table whilst he ate. He was a quick-tempered gentleman, and my playfulness offended him. That is all."
Doubt appeared in her eyes, and it may have entered her mind that perchance her judgment had been over-hasty.
"Do you mean, sir, that you provoked a duel?"
"Alas, Madame! It had become necessary. You see, M. de Canaples—"
"Who?" Her voice rang sharp as the crack of a pistol.
"Eh? M. de Canaples."
"Was it he whom you killed?"
From her tone, and the eager, strained expression of her face, it was not difficult to read that some mighty interest of hers was involved in my reply. It needed not the low moan that burst from her companion to tell me so.
"As I have said, Madame, it is possible that he is not dead—nay, even that he will not die. For the rest, since you ask the question, my opponent was, indeed, M. de Canaples—Eugene de Canaples."
Her face went deadly white, and she sank back in her seat as if every nerve in her body had of a sudden been bereft of power, whilst she of the fair hair burst into tears.
A pretty position was this for me!—luckily it endured not. The girl roused herself from her momentary weakness, and, seizing the cord, she tugged it violently. The coach drew up.
"Alight, sir," she hissed—"go! I wish to Heaven that I had left you to the vengeance of the people."
Not so did I; nevertheless, as I alighted: "I am sorry, Madame, that you did not," I answered. "Adieu!"
The coach moved away, and I was left standing at the corner of the Rue St. Honore and the Rue des Bons Enfants, in the sorriest frame of mind conceivable. The lady in the coach had saved my life, and for that I was more grateful perchance than my life was worth. Out of gratitude sprang a regret for the pain that I had undoubtedly caused her, and the sorrow which it might have been my fate to cast over her life.
Still, regret, albeit an admirable sentiment, was one whose existence was usually brief in my bosom. Dame! Had I been a man of regrets I might have spent the remainder of my days weeping over my past life. But the gods, who had given me a character calculated to lead a man into misfortune, had given me a stout heart wherewith to fight that misfortune, and an armour of recklessness against which remorse, regrets, aye, and conscience itself, rained blows in vain.
And so it befell that presently I laughed myself out of the puerile humour that was besetting me, and, finding myself chilled by inaction in my wet clothes, I set off for the Palais Royal at a pace that was first cousin to a run.
Ten minutes later I stood in the presence of the most feared and hated man in France.
"Cospetto!" cried Mazarin as I entered his cabinet. "Have you swum the Seine in your clothes?"
"No, your Eminence, but I have been serving you in the rain for the past hour."
He smiled that peculiar smile of his that rendered hateful his otherwise not ill-favoured countenance. It was a smile of the lips in which the eyes had no part.
"Yes," he said slowly, "I have heard of your achievements."
"You have heard?" I ejaculated, amazed by the powers which this man wielded.
"Yes, I have heard. You are a brave man, M. de Luynes."
"Pshaw, your Eminence!" I deprecated; "the poor are always brave. They have naught to lose but their life, and that is not so sweet to them that they lay much store by it. Howbeit, Monseigneur, your wishes have been carried out. There will be no duel at St. Germain this evening."
"Will there not? Hum! I am not so confident. You are a brave man, M. de Luynes, but you lack that great auxiliary of valour—discretion. What need to fling into the teeth of those fine gentlemen the reason you had for spitting Canaples, eh? You have provoked a dozen enemies for Andrea where only one existed."
"I will answer for all of them," I retorted boastfully.
"Fine words, M. de Luynes; but to support them how many men will you have to kill? Pah! What if some fine morning there comes one who, despite your vaunted swordsmanship, proves your master? What will become of that fool, my nephew, eh?"
And his uncanny smile again beamed on me. "Andrea is now packing his valise. In an hour he will have left Paris secretly. He goes—but what does it signify where he goes? He is compelled by your indiscretion to withdraw from Court. Had you kept a close tongue in your foolish head—but there! you did not, and so by a thoughtless word you undid all that you had done so well. You may go, M. de Luynes. I have no further need of you—and thank Heaven that you leave the Palais Royal free to go whither your fancy takes you, and not to journey to the Bastille or to Vincennes. I am merciful, M. de Luynes—as merciful as you are brave; more merciful than you are prudent. One word of warning, M. de Luynes: do not let me learn that you are in my nephew's company, if you would not make me regret my clemency and repair the error of it by having you hanged. And now, adieu!"
I stood aghast. Was I indeed dismissed? Albeit naught had been said, I had not doubted, since my interview with him that morning, that did I succeed in saving Andrea my rank in his guards—and thereby a means of livelihood—would be restored to me. And now matters were no better than they had been before. He dismissed me with the assurance that he was merciful. As God lives, it would have been as merciful to have hanged me!
He met my astonished look with an eye that seemed to ask me why I lingered. Then reading mayhap what was passing in my thoughts, he raised a little silver whistle to his lips and blew softly upon it.
"Bernouin," said he to his valet, who entered in answer to the summons, "reconduct M. de Luynes."
I remember drawing down upon my bedraggled person the curious gaze of the numerous clients who thronged the Cardinal's ante-chamber, as I followed Bernouin to the door which opened on to the corridor, and which he held for me. And thus, for the second time within twenty-four hours, did I leave the Palais Royal to wend my way home to the Rue St. Antoine with grim despondency in my heart.
I found Michelot on the point of setting out in search of me, with a note which had been brought to my lodging half an hour ago, and which its bearer had said was urgent. I took the letter, and bidding Michelot prepare me fresh raiment that I might exchange for my wet clothes, I broke the seal and read:
"A thousand thanks, dear friend, for the service you have rendered me and of which his Eminence, my uncle, has informed me. I fear that you have made many enemies for yourself through an action which will likely go unrewarded, and that Paris is therefore as little suited at present to your health as it is to mine. I am setting out for Blois on a mission of exceeding delicacy wherein your advice and guidance would be of infinite value to me. I shall remain at Choisy until to-morrow morning, and should there be no ties to hold you in Paris, and you be minded to bear me company, join me there at the Hotel du Connetable where I shall lie to-night. Your grateful and devoted
So! There was one at least who desired my company! I had not thought it. "If there be no ties to hold you in Paris," he wrote. Dame! A change of air would suit me vastly. I was resolved—a fig for the Cardinal's threat to hang me if I were found in his nephew's company!
"My suit of buff, Michelot," I shouted, springing to my feet, "and my leather jerkin."
He gazed at me in surprise.
"Is Monsieur going a journey?"
I answered him that I was, and as I spoke I began to divest myself of the clothes I wore. "Pack my suit of pearl grey in the valise, with what changes of linen I possess; then call Master Coupri that I may settle with him. It may be some time before we return."
In less than half an hour I was ready for the journey, spurred and booted, with my rapier at my side, and in the pocket of my haut-de-chausses a purse containing some fifty pistoles—best part of which I had won from Vilmorin at lansquenet some nights before, and which moderate sum represented all the moneys that I possessed.
Our horses were ready, my pistols holstered, and my valise strapped to Michelot's saddle. Despite the desperate outlook of my fortunes, of which I had made him fully cognisant, he insisted upon clinging to me, reminding me that at Rocroi I had saved his life and that he would leave me only when I bade him go.
As four o'clock was striking at Notre Dame we crossed the Pont Neuf, and going by the Quai des Augustins and the Rue de la Harpe, we quitted Paris by the St. Michel Gate and took the road to Choisy. The rain had ceased, but the air was keen and cold, and the wind cut like a sword-edge.
CHAPTER V. MAZARIN, THE MATCH-MAKER
Twixt Paris and Choisy there lies but a distance of some two leagues, which, given a fair horse, one may cover with ease in little more than half an hour. So that as the twilight was deepening into night we drew rein before the hostelry of the Connetable, in the only square the little township boasts, and from the landlord I had that obsequious reception which is ever accorded to him who travels with a body-servant.
I found Andrea installed in a fair-sized and comfortable apartment, to the original decoration of which he added not a little by bestowing his boots in the centre of the floor, his hat, sword, and baldrick on the table, his cloak on one chair, and his doublet on another. He himself sat toasting his feet before the blazing logs, which cast a warm, reddish glow upon his sable hair and dainty shirt of cambric.
He sprang up as I entered, and came towards me with a look of pleasure on his handsome, high-bred face, that did me good to see.
"So, you have come, De Luynes," he cried, putting forth his hand. "I did not dare to hope that you would."
"No," I answered. "Truly it was not to be expected that I could be easily lured from Paris just as my fortunes are nearing a high tide, and his Eminence proposing to make me a Marshal of France and create me Duke. As you say, you had scant grounds for hoping that my love for you would suffice to make me renounce all these fine things for the mere sake of accompanying you on your jaunt to Blois."
He laughed, then fell to thanking me for having rid him of Canaples. I cut him short at last, and in answer to his questions told him what had passed 'twixt his Eminence and me that afternoon. Then as the waiter entered to spread our supper, the conversation assumed a less delicate character, until we were again alone with the table and its steaming viands between us.
"You have not told me yet, Andrea, what takes you to Blois," quoth I then.
"You shall learn. Little do you dream how closely interwoven are our morning adventures with this journey of mine. To begin with, I go to Blois to pay my devoirs to the lady whom his Eminence has selected for my future wife."
"You were then right in describing this as a mission of great delicacy."
"More than you think—I have never seen the lady."
"Never seen her? And you go a-wooing a woman you have never seen?"
"It is so. I have never seen her; but his Eminence has, and 't is he who arranges the affair. Ah, the Cardinal is the greatest match-maker in France! My cousin Anna Martinozzi is destined for the Prince de Conti, my sisters Olympia and Marianne he also hopes to marry to princes of the blood, whilst I dare wager that he has thoughts of seating either Maria or Hortensia upon the throne of France as the wife of Louis XIV., as soon as his Majesty shall have reached a marriageable age. You may laugh, De Luynes, nevertheless all this may come to pass, for my uncle has great ambitions for his family, and it is even possible that should that poor, wandering youth, Charles II. of England, ever return to the throne of his fathers he may also become my brother-in-law. I am likely to become well connected, De Luynes, so make a friend of me whilst I am humble. So much for Mazarin's nieces. His nephews are too young for alliances just yet, saving myself; and for me his Eminence has chosen one of the greatest heiresses in France—Yvonne St. Albaret de Canaples."
"Whom?" I shouted.
"Curious, is it not? She is the sister of the man whom I quarrelled with this morning, and whom you fought with this afternoon. Now you will understand my uncle's reasons for so strenuously desiring to prevent the duel at St. Germain. It appears that the old Chevalier de Canaples is as eager as the Cardinal to see his daughter wed to me, for his Eminence has promised to create me Duke for a wedding gift. 'T will cost him little, and 't will please these Canaples mightily. Naturally, had Eugene de Canaples and I crossed swords, matters would have been rendered difficult."
"When did you learn all this?" I inquired.
"To-day, after the duel, and when it was known what St. Auban and Montmedy had threatened me with. My uncle thought it well that I should withdraw from Paris. He sent for me and told me what I have told you, adding that I had best seize the opportunity, whilst my presence at Court was undesirable, to repair to Blois and get my wooing done. I in part agreed with him. The lady is very rich, and I am told that she is beautiful. I shall see her, and if she pleases me, I'll woo her. If not, I'll return to Paris."
"But her brother will oppose you."
"Her brother? Pooh! If he doesn't die of the sword-thrust you gave him, which I am told is in the region of the lung and passing dangerous, he will at least be abed for a couple of months to come."
"But I, mon cher Andre? What role do you reserve for me, that you have desired me to go with you?"
"The role of Mentor if you will. Methought you would prove a merry comrade to help one o'er a tedious journey, and knowing that there was little to hold you to Paris, and probably sound reasons why you should desire to quit it, meseemed that perhaps you would consent to bear me company. Who knows, my knight errant, what adventures may await you and what fortunes? If the heiress displeases me, it may be that she will please you—or mayhap there is another heiress at Blois who will fall enamoured of those fierce moustachios."
I laughed with him at the improbability of such things befalling. I carried in my bosom too large a heart, and one that was the property of every wench I met—for just so long as I chanced to be in her company.
It was no more than in harmony with this habit of mine, that when, next morning in the common-room of the Connetable, I espied Jeanneton, the landlord's daughter, and remarked that she was winsome and shapely, with a complexion that would not have dishonoured a rose-petal, I permitted myself to pinch her dainty cheek. She slapped mine in return, and in this pleasant manner we became acquainted.
"Sweet Jeanneton," quoth I with a laugh, "that was mightily ill-done! I did but pinch your cheek as one may pinch a sweet-smelling bud, so that the perfume of it may cling to one's fingers."
"And I, sir," was the pert rejoinder, "did but slap yours as one may slap a misbehaving urchin's; so that he may learn better manners."
Nevertheless she was pleased with my courtly speech, and perchance also with my moustachios, for a smile took the place of the frown wherewith she had at first confronted me. Now, if I had uttered glib pleasantries in answer to her frowns, how many more did not her smiles wring from me! I discoursed to her in the very courtliest fashion of cows and pullets and such other matters as interesting to her as they were mysterious to me. I questioned her in a breath touching her father's pigs and the swain she loved best in that little township, to all of which she answered me with a charming wit, which would greatly divert you did I but recall her words sufficiently to set them down. In five minutes we had become the best friends in the world, which was attested by the protecting arm that I slipped around her waist, as I asked her whether she loved that village swain of hers better than she loved me, and refused to believe her when she answered that she did.
Outside two men were talking, one calling for a farrier, and when informed that the only one in the village was absent and not likely to return till noon, demanding relays of horses. The other—probably the hostler—answered him that the Connetable was not a post-house and that no horses were to be had there. Then a woman's voice, sweet yet commanding, rose above theirs.
"Very well, Guilbert," it said. "We will await this farrier's return."
"Let me go, Monsieur!" cried Jeanneton. "Some one comes."
Now for myself I cared little who might come, but methought that it was likely to do poor Jeanneton's fair name no benefit, if the arm of Gaston de Luynes were seen about her waist. And so I obeyed her, but not quickly enough; for already a shadow lay athwart the threshold, and in the doorway stood a woman, whose eye took in the situation before we had altered it sufficiently to avert suspicion. To my amazement I beheld the lady of the coach—she who had saved me from the mob in Place Vendome, and touching whose identity I could have hazarded a shrewd guess.
In her eyes also I saw the light of recognition which swiftly changed to one of scorn. Then they passed from me to the vanishing Jeanneton, and methought that she was about to call her back. She paused, however, and, turning to the lackey who followed at her heels.
"Guilbert," she said, "be good enough to call the landlord, and bid him provide me with an apartment for the time that we may be forced to spend here."
But at this juncture the host himself came hurrying forward with many bows and endless rubbing of hands, which argued untold deference. He regretted that the hostelry of the Connetable, being but a poor inn, seldom honoured as it was at that moment, possessed but one suite of private apartments, and that was now occupied by a most noble gentleman. The lady tapped her foot, and as at that moment her companion (who was none other than the fair-haired doll I had seen with her on the previous day) entered the room, she turned to speak with her, whilst I moved away towards the window.
"Will this gentleman," she inquired, "lend me one of his rooms, think you?"
"Helas, Mademoiselle, he has but two, a bedroom and an ante-chamber, and he is still abed."
"Oh!" she cried in pretty anger, "this is insufferable! 'T is your fault, Guilbert, you fool. Am I, then, to spend the day here in the common-room?"
"No, no, Mademoiselle," exclaimed the host in his most soothing accents. "Only for an hour, or less, perhaps, until this very noble lord is risen, when assuredly—for he is young and very gallant—he will resign one or both of his rooms to you."
More was said between them, but my attention was suddenly drawn elsewhere. Michelot burst into the room, disaster written on his face.
"Monsieur," he cried, in great alarm, "the Marquis de St. Auban is riding down the street with the Vicomte de Vilmorin and another gentleman."
I rapped out an oath at the news; they had got scent of Andrea's whereabouts, and were after him like sleuth-hounds on a trail.
"Remain here, Michelot," I answered in a low voice. "Tell them that M. de Mancini is not here, that the only occupant of the inn is your master, a gentleman from Normandy, or Picardy, or where you will. See that they do not guess our presence—the landlord fortunately is ignorant of M. de Mancini's name."
There was a clatter of horses' hoofs without, and I was barely in time to escape by the door leading to the staircase, when St. Auban's heavy voice rang out, calling the landlord.
"I am in search of a gentleman named Andrea de Mancini," he said. "I am told that he has journeyed hither, and that he is here at present. Am I rightly informed?"
I determined to remain where I was, and hear that conversation to the end.
"There is a gentleman here," answered the host, "but I am ignorant of his name. I will inquire."
"You may spare yourself the trouble," Michelot interposed. "That is not the gentleman's name. I am his servant."
There was a moment's pause, then came Vilmorin's shrill voice.
"You lie, knave! M. de Mancini is here. You are M. de Luynes's lackey, and where the one is, there shall we find the other."
"M. de Luynes?" came a voice unknown to me. "That is Mancini's sword-blade of a friend, is it not? Well, why does he hide himself? Where is he? Where is your master, rascal?"
"I am here, Messieurs," I answered, throwing wide the door, and appearing, grim and arrogant, upon the threshold.
Mort de ma vie! Had they beheld the Devil, St. Auban and Vilmorin could not have looked less pleased than they did when their eyes lighted upon me, standing there surveying them with a sardonic grin.
St. Auban muttered an oath, Vilmorin stifled a cry, whilst he who had so loudly called to know where I hid myself—a frail little fellow, in the uniform of the gardes du corps—now stood silent and abashed.
The two women, who had withdrawn into a dark and retired corner of the apartment, stood gazing with interest upon this pretty scene.
"Well, gentlemen?" I asked in a tone of persiflage, as I took a step towards them. "Have you naught to say to me, now that I have answered your imperious summons? What! All dumb?"
"Our affair is not with you," said St. Auban, curtly.
"Pardon! Why, then, did you inquire where I was?"
"Messieurs," exclaimed Vilmorin, whose face assumed the pallor usual to it in moments of peril, "meseems we have been misinformed, and that M. de Mancini is not here. Let us seek elsewhere."
"Most excellent advice, gentlemen," I commented,—"seek elsewhere."
"Monsieur," cried the little officer, turning purple, "it occurs to me that you are mocking us."
"Mocking you! Mocking you? Mocking a gentleman who has been tied to so huge a sword as yours. Surely—surely, sir, you do not think—"
"I'll not endure it," he broke in. "You shall answer to me for this."
"Have a care, sir," I cried in alarm as he rushed forward. "Have a care, sir, lest you trip over your sword."
He halted, drew himself up, and, with a magnificent gesture: "I am Armand de Malpertuis, lieutenant of his Majesty's guards," he announced, "and I shall be grateful if you will do me the honour of taking a turn with me, outside."
"I am flattered beyond measure, M. Malappris—"
"Mal-per-tuis," he corrected furiously.
"Malpertuis," I echoed. "I am honoured beyond words, but I do not wish to take a turn."
"Mille diables, sir! Don't you understand? We must fight."
"Must we, indeed? Again I am honoured; but, Monsieur, I don't fight sparrows."
"Gentlemen! Gentlemen!" cried St. Auban, thrusting himself between us. "Malpertuis, have the goodness to wait until one affair is concluded before you create a second one. Now, M. de Luynes, will you tell me whether M. de Mancini is here or not?"
"What if he should be?"
"You will be wise to withdraw—we shall be three to two."
"Three to two! Surely, Marquis, your reckoning is at fault. You cannot count the Vicomte there as one; his knees are knocking together; at best he is but a woman in man's clothes. As for your other friend, unless his height misleads me, he is but a boy. Therefore, Monsieur, you see that the advantage is with us. We are two men opposed to a man, a woman, and a child, so that—"
"In Heaven's name, sir," cried St. Auban, again interposing himself betwixt me and the bellicose Malpertuis, "will you cease this foolishness? A word with you in private, M. de Luynes."
I permitted him to take me by the sleeve, and lead me aside, wondering the while what curb it was that he was setting upon his temper, and what wily motives he might have for adopting so conciliatory a tone.
With many generations to come, the name of Cesar de St. Auban must perforce be familiar as that of one of the greatest roysterers and most courtly libertines of the early days of Louis XIV., as well as that of a rabid anti-cardinalist and frondeur, and one of the earliest of that new cabal of nobility known as the petits-maitres, whose leader the Prince de Conde was destined to become a few years later. He was a man of about my own age, that is to say, between thirty-two and thirty-three, and of my own frame, tall, spare, and active. On his florid, debonnair countenance was stamped his character of bon-viveur. In dress he was courtly in the extreme. His doublet and haut-de-chausses were of wine-coloured velvet, richly laced, and he still affected the hanging sleeves of a fast-disappearing fashion. Valuable lace filled the tops of his black boots, a valuable jewel glistened here and there upon his person, and one must needs have pronounced him a fop but for the strength and resoluteness of his bearing, and the long rapier that hung from his gold-embroidered baldrick. Such in brief is a portrait of the man who now confronted me, his fine blue eyes fixed upon my face, wherein methinks he read but little, search though he might.
"M. de Luynes," he murmured at last, "you appear to find entertainment in making enemies, and you do it wantonly."
"Have you brought me aside to instruct me in the art of making friends?"
"Possibly, M. de Luynes; and without intending an offence, permit me to remark that you need them."
"Mayhap. But I do not seek them."
"I have it in my heart to wish that you did; for I, M. de Luynes, seek to make a friend of you. Nay, do not smile in that unbelieving fashion. I have long esteemed you for those very qualities of dauntlessness and defiance which have brought you so rich a crop of hatred. If you doubt my words, perhaps you will recall my attitude towards you in the horse-market yesterday, and let that speak. Without wishing to remind you of a service done, I may yet mention that I stood betwixt you and the mob that sought to avenge my friend Canaples. He was my friend; you stood there, as indeed you have always stood, in the attitude of a foe. You wounded Canaples, maltreated Vilmorin, defied me; and yet but for my intervention, mille diables sir, you had been torn to pieces."
"All this I grant is very true, Monsieur," I made reply, with deep suspicion in my soul. "Yet, pardon me, if I confess that to me it proves no more than that you acted as a generous enemy. Pardon my bluntness also—but what profit do you look to make from gaining my friendship?"
"You are frank, Monsieur," he said, colouring slightly, "I will be none the less so. I am a frondeur, an anti-cardinalist. In a word, I am a gentleman and a Frenchman. An interloping foreigner, miserly, mean-souled, and Jesuitical, springs up, wins himself into the graces of a foolish, impetuous, wilful queen, and climbs the ladder which she holds for him to the highest position in France. I allude to Mazarin; this Cardinal who is not a priest; this minister of France who is not a Frenchman; this belittler of nobles who is not a gentleman."
"Mort Dieu, Monsieur—"
"One moment, M. de Luynes. This adventurer, not content with the millions which his avaricious talons have dragged from the people for his own benefit, seeks, by means of illustrious alliances, to enrich a pack of beggarly nieces and nephews that he has rescued from the squalor of their Sicilian homes to bring hither. His nieces, the Mancinis and Martinozzis, he is marrying to Dukes and Princes. 'T is not nice to witness, but 't is the affair of the men who wed them. In seeking, however, to marry his nephew Andrea to one of the greatest heiresses in France, he goes too far. Yvonne de Canaples is for some noble countryman of her own—there are many suitors to her hand—and for no nephew of Giulio Mazarini. Her brother Eugene, himself, thinks thus, and therein, M. de Luynes, you have the real motive of the quarrel which he provoked with Andrea, and which, had you not interfered, could have had but one ending."
"Why do you tell me all this, Monsieur?" I inquired coldly, betraying none of the amazement his last words gave birth to.
"So that you may know the true position of affairs, and, knowing it, see the course which the name you bear must bid you follow. Because Canaples failed am I here to-day. I had not counted upon meeting you, but since I have met you, I have set the truth before you, confident that you will now withdraw from an affair to which no real interest can bind you, leaving matters to pursue their course."
He eyed me, methought, almost anxiously from under his brows, as he awaited my reply. It was briefer than he looked for.
"You have wasted time, Monsieur."
"How? You persist?"
"Yes. I persist. Yet for the Cardinal I care nothing. Mazarin has dismissed me from his service unjustly and unpaid. He has forbidden me his nephew's company. In fact, did he know of my presence here with M. de Mancini, he would probably carry out his threat to hang me."
"Ciel!" cried St. Auban, "you are mad, if that be so. France is divided into two parties, cardinalists and anti-cardinalists. You, sir, without belonging to either, stand alone, an enemy to both. Your attitude is preposterous!"
"Nay, sir, not alone. There is Andrea de Mancini. The boy is my only friend in a world of enemies. I am growing fond of him, Monsieur, and I will stand by him, while my arm can wield a sword, in all that may advance his fortunes and his happiness. That, Monsieur, is my last word."
"Do not forget, M. de Luynes," he said—his suaveness all departed of a sudden, and his tone full of menace and acidity—"do not forget that when a wall may not be scaled it may be broken through."
"Aye, Monsieur, but many of those who break through stand in danger of being crushed by the falling stones," I answered, entering into the spirit of his allegory.
"There are many ways of striking," he said.
"And many ways of being struck," I retorted with a sneer.
Our words grew sinister, our eyes waxed fiery, and more might have followed had not the door leading to the staircase opened at that moment to admit Andrea himself. He came, elegant in dress and figure, with a smile upon his handsome young face, whose noble features gave the lie to St. Auban's assertion that he had been drawn from a squalid Sicilian home. Such faces are not bred in squalor.
In utter ignorance of the cabal against him, he greeted St. Auban—who was well known to him—with a graceful bow, and also Vilmorin, who stood in the doorway with Malpertuis, and who at the sight of Mancini grew visibly ill at ease. In coming to Choisy, the Vicomte had clearly expected to do no more than second St. Auban in the duel which he thought to see forced upon Andrea. He now realised that if a fight there was, he might, by my presence, be forced into it. Malpertuis looked fierce and tugged at his moustachios, whilst his companions returned Andrea's salutation—St. Auban gravely, and Vilmorin hesitatingly.
"Ha, Gaston," said the boy, advancing towards me, "our host tells me that two ladies who have been shipwrecked here wish to do me the honour of occupying my apartments for an hour or so. Ha, there they are," he added, as the two girls came suddenly forward. Then bowing—"Mesdames, I am enchanted to set the poor room at your disposal for as long as it may please you to honour it."
As the ladies—of whose presence St. Auban had been unaware—appeared before us, I shot a glance at the Marquis, and, from the start he gave upon beholding them, I saw that things were as I had suspected.
Before they could reply to Andrea, St. Auban suddenly advanced:
"Mesdemoiselles," quoth he, "forgive me if in this miserable light I did not earlier discover your presence and offer you my services. I do so now, with the hope that you will honour me by making use of them."
"Merci, M. de St. Auban," replied the dark-haired one—whom I guessed to be none other than Yvonne de Canaples herself—"but, since this gentleman so gallantly cedes his apartments to us, all our needs are satisfied. It would be churlish to refuse that which is so graciously proffered."
Her tone was cold in the extreme, as also was the inclination of her head wherewith she favoured the Marquis. In arrant contrast were the pretty words of thanks she addressed to Andrea, who stood by, blushing like a girl, and a damnable scowl did this contrast draw from St. Auban, a scowl that lasted until, escorted by the landlord, the two ladies had withdrawn.
There was an awkward pause when they were gone, and methought from the look on St. Auban's face that he was about to provoke a fight after all. Not so, however, for, after staring at us like a clown whilst one might tell a dozen, he turned and strode to the door, calling for his horse and those of his companions.
"Au revoir, M. de Luynes," he said significantly as he got into the saddle.
"Au revoir, M. de Luynes," said also Malpertuis, coming close up to me. "We shall meet again, believe me."
"Pray God that we may not, if you would die in your bed," I answered mockingly. "Adieu!"
CHAPTER VI. OF HOW ANDREA BECAME LOVE-SICK
With what fictions I could call to mind I put off Andrea's questions touching the peculiar fashion of St. Auban's leave-taking. Tell him the truth and expose to him the situation whereof he was himself the unconscious centre I dared not, lest his high-spirited impetuosity should cause him to take into his own hands the reins of the affair, and thus drive himself into irreparable disaster.
Andrea himself showed scant concern, however, and was luckily content with my hurriedly invented explanations; his thoughts had suddenly found occupation in another and a gentler theme than the ill-humour of men, and presently his tongue betrayed them when he drew the conversation to the ladies to whom he had resigned his apartments.
"Pardieu! Gaston," he burst out, "she is a lovely maid—saw you ever a bonnier?"
"Indeed she is very beautiful," I answered, laughing to myself at the thought of how little he dreamt that it was of Yvonne St. Albaret de Canaples that he spoke, and not minded for the while to enlighten him.
"If she be as kind and gentle as she is beautiful, Gaston, well—Uncle Giulio's plans are likely to suffer shipwreck. I shall not leave Choisy until I have spoken to her; in fact, I shall not leave until she leaves."
"Nevertheless, we shall still be able to set out, as we had projected, after dining, for in an hour, or two at most, they will proceed on their journey."
He was silent for some moments, then:
"To the devil with the Cardinal's plans!" quoth he, banging his fist on the table. "I shall not go to Blois."
"Pooh! Why not?"
"Why not?" He halted for a moment, then in a meandering tone—"You have read perchance in story-books," he said, "of love being born from the first meeting of two pairs of eyes, as a spark is born of flint and steel, and you may have laughed at the conceit, as I have laughed at it. But laugh no more, Gaston; for I who stand before you am one who has experienced this thing which poets tell of, and which hitherto I have held in ridicule. I will not go to Blois because—because—enfin, because I intend to go where she goes."
"Then, mon cher, you will go to Blois. You will go to Blois, if not as a dutiful nephew, resigned to obey his reverend uncle's wishes, at least because fate forces you to follow a pair of eyes that have—hum, what was it you said they did?"
"Do you say that she is going to Blois? How do you know?"
"Eh? How do I know? Oh, I heard her servant speaking with the hostler."
"So much the better, then; for thus if his Eminence gets news of my whereabouts, the news will not awaken his ever-ready suspicions. Ciel! How beautiful she is! Noted you her eyes, her skin, and what hair, mon Dieu! Like threads of gold!"
"Like threads of gold?" I echoed. "You are dreaming, boy. Oh, St. Gris! I understand; you are speaking of the fair-haired chit that was with her."
He eyed me in amazement.
"'T is you whose thoughts are wandering to that lanky, nose-in-the-air Madame who accompanied her."
I began a laugh that I broke off suddenly as I realised that it was not Yvonne after all who had imprisoned his wits. The Cardinal's plans were, indeed, likely to miscarry if he persisted thus.
"But 't was the nose-in-the-air Madame, as you call her, with whom you spoke!"
"Aye, but it was the golden-haired lady that held my gaze. Pshaw! Who would mention them in a breath?"
"Who, indeed?" said I, but with a different meaning.
Thereafter, seeing him listless, I suggested a turn in the village to stretch our limbs before dining. But he would have none of it, and when I pressed the point with sound reasoning touching the benefits which health may cull from exercise, he grew petulant as a wayward child. She might descend whilst he was absent. Indeed, she might require some slight service that lay, perchance, in his power to render her. What an opportunity would he not lose were he abroad? She might even depart before we returned; and than that no greater calamity could just then befall him. No, he would not stir a foot from the inn. A fig for exercise! to the devil with health! who sought an appetite? Not he. He wished for no appetite—could contrive no base and vulgar appetite for food, whilst his soul, he swore, was being consumed by the overwhelming, all-effacing appetite to behold her.
Such meandering fools are most of us at nineteen, when the heart is young—a flawless mirror ready to hold the image of the first fair maid that looks into it through our eyes, and as ready—Heaven knows!—to relinquish it when the substance is withdrawn.
But I, who was not nineteen, and the mirror of whose heart—to pursue my metaphor—was dulled, warped, and cracked with much ill-usage, grew sick of the boy's enthusiasm and the monotony of a conversation which I could divert into no other channel from that upon which it had been started by a little slip of a girl with hair of gold and sapphire eyes—I use Andrea's words. And so I rose, and bidding him take root in the tavern, if so it pleased his fancy, I left him there.
Wrapped in my cloak, for the air was raw and damp, I strode aimlessly along, revolving in my mind what had befallen at the Connetable that morning, and speculating upon the issue that this quaint affair might have. In matters of love, or rather, of matrimony—which is not quite the same thing—opposition is common enough. But the opposers are usually members of either of the interested families. Now the families—that is to say, the heads of the families—being agreed and even anxious to bring about the union of Yvonne de Canaples and Andrea de Mancini, it was something new to have a cabal of persons who, from motives of principle—as St. Auban had it—should oppose the alliance so relentlessly as to even resort to violence if no other means occurred to them. It seemed vastly probable that Andrea would be disposed of by a knife in the back, and more than probable that a like fate would be reserved for me, since I had constituted myself his guardian angel. For my own part, however, I had a pronounced distaste to ending my days in so unostentatious a fashion. I had also a notion that I should prove an exceedingly difficult person to assassinate, and that those who sought to slip a knife into me would find my hide peculiarly tough, and my hand peculiarly ready to return the compliment.
So deeply did I sink into ponderings of this character that it was not until two hours afterwards that I again found myself drawing near the Connetable.
I reached the inn to find by the door a coach, and by that coach Andrea; he stood bareheaded, despite the cold, conversing, with all outward semblances of profound respect, with those within it.
So engrossed was he and so ecstatic, that my approach was unheeded, and when presently I noted that the coach was Mademoiselle de Canaples's, I ceased to wonder at the boy's unconsciousness of what took place around him.
Clearly the farrier had been found at last, and the horse shod afresh during my absence. Loath to interrupt so pretty a scene, I waited, aloof, until these adieux should be concluded, and whilst I waited there came to me from the carriage a sweet, musical voice that was not Yvonne's.
"May we not learn at least, Monsieur, the name of the gentleman to whose courtesy we are indebted for having spent the past two hours without discomfort?"
"My name, Mademoiselle, is Andrea de Mancini, that of the humblest of your servants, and one to whom your thanks are a more than lavish payment for the trivial service he may have been fortunate enough to render you."
Dame! What glibness doth a tongue acquire at Court!
"M. Andrea de Mancini?" came Yvonne's voice in answer. "Surely a relative of the Lord Cardinal?"
"His nephew, Mademoiselle."
"Ah! My father, sir, is a great admirer of your uncle."
From the half-caressing tone, as much as from the very words she uttered, I inferred that she was in ignorance of the compact into which his Eminence had entered with her father—a bargain whereof she was herself a part.
"I am rejoiced, indeed, Mademoiselle," replied Andrea with a bow, as though the compliment had been paid to him. "Am I indiscreet in asking the name of Monsieur your father?"
"Indiscreet! Nay, Monsieur. You have a right to learn the name of those who are under an obligation to you. My father is the Chevalier de Canaples, of whom it is possible that you may have heard. I am Yvonne de Canaples, of whom it is unlikely that you should have heard, and this is my sister Genevieve, whom a like obscurity envelops."
The boy's lips moved, but no sound came from them, whilst his cheeks went white and red by turns. His courtliness of a moment ago had vanished, and he stood sheepish and gauche as a clown. At length he so far mastered himself as to bow and make a sign to the coachman, who thereupon gathered up his reins.
"You are going presumably to Blois?" he stammered with a nervous laugh, as if the journey were a humorous proceeding.
"Yes, Monsieur," answered Genevieve, "we are going home."
"Why, then, it is possible that we shall meet again. I, too, am travelling in that direction. A bientot, Mesdemoiselles!"
The whip cracked, the coach began to move, and the creaking of its wheels drowned, so far as I was concerned, the female voices that answered his farewell. The coachman roused his horses into an amble; the amble became a trot, and the vehicle vanished round a corner. Some few idlers stopped to gaze stupidly after it, but not half so stupidly as did my poor Andrea, standing bareheaded where the coach had left him.
I drew near, and laid my hand on his shoulder; at the touch he started like one awakened suddenly, and looked up.
"Ah—you are returned, Gaston."
"To find that you have made a discovery, and are overwhelmed by your error."
"Yes—that of falling in love with the wrong one. Helas, it is but one of those ironical jests wherewith Fate amuses herself at every step of our lives. Had you fallen in love with Yvonne—and it passes my understanding why you did not—everything would have gone smoothly with your wooing. Unfortunately, you have a preference for fair hair—"
"Have done," he interrupted peevishly. "What does it signify? To the devil with Mazarin's plans!"
"So you said this morning."
"Yes, when I did not even dream her name was Canaples."
"Nevertheless, she is the wrong Canaples."
"For my uncle—but, mille diables! sir, 't is I who am to wed, and I shall wed as my heart bids me."
"Hum! And Mazarin?"
"Faugh!" he answered, with an expressive shrug.
"Well, since you are resolved, let us dine."
"I have no appetite."
"Let us dine notwithstanding. Eat you must if you would live; and unless you live—think of it!—you'll never reach Blois."
"Gaston, you are laughing at me! I do not wish to eat."
I surveyed him gravely, with my arms akimbo.
"Can love so expand the heart of man that it fills even his stomach? Well, well, if you will not eat, at least have the grace to bear me company at table. Come, Andrea," and I took his arm, "let us ascend to that chamber which she has but just quitted. Who can tell but that we shall find there some token of her recent presence? If nothing more, at least the air will be pervaded by the perfume she affected, and since you scorn the humble food of man, you can dine on that."
He smiled despite himself as I drew him towards the staircase.
"Scoffer!" quoth he. "Your callous soul knows naught of love."
"Whereas you have had three hours' experience. Pardieu! You shall instruct me in the gentle art."
Alas, for those perfumes upon which I had proposed that he should feast himself. If any the beautiful Genevieve had left behind her, they had been smothered in the vulgar yet appetising odour of the steaming ragout that occupied the table.
I prevailed at length upon the love-lorn boy to take some food, but I could lead him to talk of naught save Genevieve de Canaples. Presently he took to chiding me for the deliberateness wherewith I ate, and betrayed thereby his impatience to be in the saddle and after her. I argued that whilst she saw him not she might think of him. But the argument, though sound, availed me little, and in the end I was forced—for all that I am a man accustomed to please myself—to hurriedly end my repast, and pronounce myself ready to start.
As Andrea had with him some store of baggage—since his sojourn at Blois was likely to be of some duration—he travelled in a coach. Into this coach, then, we climbed—he and I. His valet, Silvio, occupied the seat beside the coachman, whilst my stalwart Michelot rode behind leading my horse by the bridle. In this fashion we set out, and ere long the silence of my thoughtful companion, the monotonous rumbling of the vehicle, and, most important of all factors, the good dinner that I had consumed, bred in me a torpor that soon became a sleep.
From a dream that, bound hand and foot, I was being dragged by St. Auban and Malpertuis before the Cardinal, I awakened with a start to find that we were clattering already through the streets of Etrechy; so that whilst I had slept we had covered some six leagues. Twilight had already set in, and Andrea lay back idly in the carriage, holding a book which it was growing too dark to read, and between the leaves of which he had slipped his forefinger to mark the place where he had paused.
His eyes met mine as I looked round, and he smiled. "I should not have thought, Gaston," he said, "that a man with so seared a conscience could have slept thus soundly."
"I have not slept soundly," I grumbled, recalling my dream.
"Pardieu! you have slept long, at least."
"Out of self-protection; so that I might not hear the name of Genevieve de Canaples. 'T is a sweet name, but you render it monotonous."
He laughed good-humouredly.
"Have you never loved, Gaston?"
"Ah—but I mean did you never conceive a great passion?"
"But never such a one as mine!"
"Assuredly not; for the world has never seen its fellow. Be good enough to pull the cord, you Cupid incarnate. I wish to alight."
"You wish to alight! Why?"
"Because I am sick of love. I am going to ride awhile with Michelot whilst you dream of her coral lips, her sapphire eyes, and what other gems constitute her wondrous personality."
Two minutes later I was in the saddle riding with Michelot in the wake of the carriage. As I have already sought to indicate in these pages, Michelot was as much my friend as my servant. It was therefore no more than natural that I should communicate to him my fears touching what might come of the machinations of St. Auban, Vilmorin, and even, perchance, of that little firebrand, Malpertuis.
Night fell while we talked, and at last the lights of Etampes, where we proposed to lie, peeped at us from a distance, and food and warmth.
It was eight o'clock when we reached the town, and a few moments later we rattled into the courtyard of the Hotel de l'Epee.
Andrea was out of temper to learn that Mesdemoiselles de Canaples had reached the place two hours earlier, taken fresh horses, and proceeded on their journey, intending to reach Monnerville that night. He was even mad enough to propose that we should follow their example, but my sober arguments prevailed, and at Etampes we stayed till morning.
Andrea withdrew early. But I, having chanced upon a certain M. de la Vrilliere, a courtier of Vilmorin's stamp, with whom I had some slight acquaintance, and his purse being heavier than his wits, I spent a passing profitable evening in his company. This pretty gentleman hailed my advent with a delight that amazed me, and suggested that we should throw a main together to kill time. The dice were found, and so clumsily did he use them that in half an hour, playing for beggarly crowns, he had lost twenty pistoles. Next he lost his temper, and with an oath pitched the cubes into the fire, swearing that they were toys for children and that I must grant him his revanche with cards. The cards were furnished us, and with a fortune that varied little we played lansquenet until long past midnight. The fire died out in the grate, and the air grew chill, until at last, with a violent sneeze, La Vrilliere protested that he would play no more.