"Go straight in, M. de Lalande. His Eminence expects you at seven, and the clock has given warning."
The last stroke had not sounded as I entered the room.
The Cardinal had been at work for hours. He sat at a table covered with documents, and, still perusing one of them, exclaimed in his silky, purring voice, "You are punctual, M. de Lalande!"
"Yes, my lord."
"I feared," said he slowly, and rustling the paper, "that last night's festivities might have fatigued you."
He turned and looked at me so as to enjoy my surprise, but, managing with an effort to preserve my composure, I remarked that I left the Luxembourg early.
"Very sensible," he murmured. "And may I ask how you found your charming friend, Madame de Chevreuse?"
"Madame de Chevreuse is no friend of mine," I stammered awkwardly. "I met her for the first time last night, when she mistook me for my cousin."
"That likeness must be very embarrassing. It would be unfortunate if the public executioner should make a similar mistake! But let us not dwell on these things; tell me about the latest plot of Madame Coutance."
I ignored the first part of this speech, though it sounded odd, and laughed at the last, but Mazarin checked me.
"You do not take Madame Coutance seriously?" said he. "You are wrong, she is a very troublesome woman. She is like a child playing with tinder, and may make a blaze at any moment without knowing it. The safety of the State demands that such persons should be deprived of the power to work mischief."
"She did not tell me her plans," I said. "She was aware that I had the honour of serving you."
"Well, these matters are of trifling interest," he replied briskly, "since one has enemies no longer. Really your post is a sinecure. I have no more important business for you than to carry this letter to our old acquaintance, Martin, the astrologer, and to bring back an answer. Perhaps it will be as well to travel on foot; you will attract less attention."
Handing me a sealed note, which I placed in my pocket, he signified that the interview was at an end, and I left the room.
It was fortunate that the Cardinal had given me a simple task, for my brain was in a whirl. The man was a marvel, he seemed aware of everything one did and said, and perhaps everything one thought. His spies were all over the city, and, whether from fear or greed, they served him well.
I thought of Madame Coutance, and the peril in which she stood. Thus far he had spared her, but at any moment a secret order might go forth, and the lady would be spirited away beyond the reach of friends. It was possible, too, that Marie would share her aunt's fate, though I did not believe the girl had much to do with the plots against Mazarin.
Who could have informed him of my visit to the Luxembourg? He had evidently heard all about it, and perhaps suspected me of playing him false. If so, he was at fault. Rightly or wrongly, I believed him to be the only man who could govern France till the king came of age, and, though feeling little love for him, I resolved to do everything in my power to defeat his enemies.
A strong, hearty voice put dreams to flight, and, looking up, I saw Roland Belloc, who was laughing pleasantly.
"Dreaming, my boy, and at this time in the morning?" said he. "Have you breakfasted? If not, come with me."
"Many thanks," I replied, "but I have no time. I am on the Cardinal's business, and——"
"Enough," said my old friend; "when the Cardinal has business on hand, breakfast must wait. Many a time it has been afternoon before I have found leisure for bite or sup. By the way, you are growing in favour, my boy, let me tell you. If you were only a few years older you would obtain a high post. Only your youth is against you, and every day makes that obstacle less."
"It does!" I replied, laughing. "I hope you will enjoy your breakfast; I am going to seek an appetite for mine."
"Don't miss the breakfast when you have found the appetite," said he merrily; "I have known that happen before now," and the jovial, though rugged, old soldier marched off to his quarters.
Making sure that the note was safe, I descended the staircase, crossed the courtyard, passed the sentries, who by this time were beginning to recognise me, and started on my journey.
Paris was waking up when I left the Palais Royal, but only a few people were stirring in the streets, and I pursued my way without hindrance, musing over the Cardinal's pleasantries and Roland Belloc's information.
"Faith," I muttered to myself, "Mazarin has a strange method of showing his favour."
Was I Mistaken?
At the corner of the narrow street opposite the astrologer's house I stopped suddenly, and hid in the shelter of a doorway. Two men, wearing cloaks so arranged that their faces could not be seen, stood before the door, waiting for admission. One, a short man, was a stranger to me, but at the other I looked my hardest.
It is not an easy matter to distinguish a person whose features are hidden, but if height, build, and general carriage counted for anything, then the tall man was no other than my cousin Henri. Presently, after a whispered conversation with some one inside, they entered the house, and the door was shut.
Now, although Mazarin kept his own counsel, I had learned that the house of the good Martin was a kind of spider's web, and that the silly flies entangled in its meshes were for the most part members of the Fronde. The house was visited by persons of both sexes and of all ranks, from the members of the Royal family downwards. They went there for all sorts of purposes. Some required rare medicines, others charms to ward off or drive away disease; one desired to learn the date of his death, another the success or failure of his plans, which the astrologer was supposed to tell by the stars or by means of crystal globes.
And the learned Martin, while plying his strange trade, discovered all their secrets, their hopes and fears, their ambitions, their loves and hates; and in due time the information reached that famous room in the Palais Royal, where the wily Italian sat, spinning the fate of men and nations alike.
It was no rare event therefore for strangers to be observed at the astrologer's house, and in an ordinary way I should have taken no further notice of the incident. But if one of the visitors was really my cousin, there must be something strange happening. He had no faith in the stars, and would certainly not bother his head about the future as depicted in glass balls.
Besides—and this made the mystery deeper—he must know that Martin was the Cardinal's friend, or rather dependant; and it seemed strange that so clever a man as my cousin should trust himself in an enemy's power. My head began to swim again as I tried to reason the matter out. Was it Henri after all? It was possible I had been mistaken, and in any case the note must be delivered, so, crossing the road, I knocked boldly at the door.
After some delay the window above my head was opened, and a man glancing out asked my business.
"To see your master, and that sharply," I replied.
Saying he would admit me immediately, the fellow disappeared, and presently I heard him stumbling along the passage. He spent a long time undoing the bolts and bars, but at last the door was opened wide.
"Enter, monsieur," said the fellow, "you will be welcome, though my master is not dressed to receive visitors. He has passed the night in reading the heavens, and is fatigued."
"That is strange! I thought he already had callers this morning."
Gazing at me in profound astonishment, the man exclaimed, "Visitors here, monsieur? Impossible! You are the first to call."
"I must have been mistaken, then," said I, with assumed calmness, but really more perplexed than ever. Unless my eyes had deceived me, the man was not speaking truly—but why? Surely his master was at liberty to receive anyone who chose to visit him!
Then another idea struck me. If Henri was one of the two men who had entered the house, were we likely to meet? and if so, what would happen? I had done his cause much harm, and had besides made him a laughing-stock for the wits of Paris. Martin was no fighting man, and the odds against me would be at least two to one. It seemed as if I had stumbled again by accident into a hornet's nest.
While I brooded over these things the man fumbled with the door, taking so long to replace the bars that I called on him sharply to make more haste.
"I am ready, monsieur; this way," and he led me along the well-known passage, up the crazy staircase, and so to the corridor, where on my recent visit a soldier had kept guard.
Opening the door of the room in which I had first met Mazarin, the man requested me to step inside and wait a moment or two whilst his master dressed. The apartment appeared empty, but I kept my hand on my sword, and was careful to peer behind the curtain. Rather, perhaps, to my surprise no one was there; so I returned to the middle of the room and stood by the table. In truth I felt very uneasy, and wished myself safely in the street.
Five anxious minutes passed before the astrologer entered. He was attired in dressing-gown, skull-cap, and slippers, and by his face one would judge that he really had been keeping vigil all night.
"I regret to have kept you waiting," he said, with an air of apology, "but your visit is somewhat early."
"Yet it seems I am not the first to need your services this morning."
"How?" exclaimed he. "You are mistaken. No one but yourself has been here since yesterday."
"Well, I was certainly under the impression that two men entered this house, as I approached it. But it is no concern of mine, except that their presence might interfere with my errand. Be kind enough to read this note, and to give me a written reply for the Cardinal."
Breaking the seal, he read the missive, and sitting down, rapidly covered a sheet of paper with small, cramped, but legible writing, while I stood on guard and alert, half expecting a sudden attack from some unknown enemies.
However, nothing unusual happened. The astrologer finished his letter, sealed it, and handed it to me, saying earnestly, "Take care of this, as it is of more consequence than you may imagine. Further, it is necessary that His Eminence should receive it without delay."
"Peste!" answered I laughing; "as my breakfast still waits for me in the Rue des Catonnes I am not likely to waste much time on the road," and, bidding him adieu, I followed the servant, who had remained in the corridor, downstairs.
"Monsieur has discovered his error?" said the fellow, questioningly, as he conducted me along the narrow passage.
"Yes, the men must have gone into the next house. However, it does not matter one way or another. I only feared to be kept waiting."
It was pleasant to be in the open air again, and I drew a deep breath. The janitor barred the door, and I crossed the road in a state of bewilderment. That two men had entered the house I felt positive, and the more so from the odd behaviour of Martin and his servant. Who were they? What did they want? Why had Martin lied about the matter? These questions, and others like them, kept my brain busily employed, but to no purpose. I could supply no satisfactory answers, and every passing moment left me more perplexed.
It struck me once that Martin was playing the Cardinal false, but this seemed absurd, and yet——
"No, no," I muttered, "he would not dare. Still, there is something going on with which Mazarin should be made acquainted."
I did not relish the idea of playing the spy, but I was breaking no confidence, and, after all, it was necessary to protect one's own friends. My plan was soon formed. I walked along the narrow street, waited five minutes at the farther end, and returned cautiously to a dingy cabaret, from which a good view of the house could be obtained.
"Now," thought I, "unless my wits are wool-gathering, I am about to behold a miracle. I am going to see two men leave a place which they did not enter. Surely this Martin is something more than an astrologer?"
For nearly an hour I remained with my eyes fixed on the door, which, however, remained closed, and I began to feel a trifle discouraged. What if I had discovered a mare's nest? The important letter was still in my pocket, and Mazarin would be none too pleased at the delay. Perhaps it would be best to abandon the enterprise and to return at once.
I had almost resolved on this plan when two men strolled past the inn. Filled with amazement, I rose quickly, and went into the street. The door of the astrologer's house was shut; in truth it had not been opened, yet here were my mysterious strangers several yards in front of me! Rubbing my eyes, I wondered if I had made a second blunder! But that was impossible, and the idea not worth considering. While I stood thus, dazed and half-stupefied by the strangeness of the affair, the men had walked half-way along the street.
Paris was now fully awake, the shops were open, people were hurrying to their daily tasks, and the number of persons abroad made it difficult to keep sight of my quarry. Several times the men stopped, and glanced behind, as if afraid of being followed, but they did not notice me, and, after a long roundabout journey, we all reached the Rue St. Dominique.
Here the strangers, evidently concluding that caution was no longer necessary, pushed back their hats and drew their cloaks from their faces. It was as I had suspected from the first—the tall man was my cousin Henri, but his companion was unknown to me. Taking a good look, in order to describe him to Mazarin, I found him to be a short, dark man, with an ugly face, but beautiful white teeth. His eyes were beady and restless, he was bandy-legged, and walked with a peculiarly awkward gait.
Half-way along the street the two stopped outside a handsome building, conversed earnestly together for several minutes, and then, ascending the steps, disappeared.
"Pouf!" I exclaimed. "What can that little bandy-legged fellow be doing at the Hotel de Chevreuse? I wager he and my cousin are brewing some fresh mischief."
As no good could possibly come from further waiting, I turned away, and hurried back to the Palais Royal, eager to inform Mazarin of my discovery, and to get my breakfast. Roland Belloc met me in the courtyard, and held up a warning finger.
"You are in disgrace, my friend," said he, gravely; "the Cardinal has been waiting for you a long time. He has sent out repeatedly in the last hour to ask if you had returned."
"He will forgive the delay—I have discovered something of importance."
Dressed in his ceremonial robes, the Cardinal sat at the table, with an ominous frown on his face.
"The letter!" he cried impatiently, directly on my entrance. "Where is Martin's list? By my faith, M. de Lalande, you do well to keep Her Majesty waiting a whole hour!" and he took the paper from my hand somewhat ungraciously.
The letter apparently contained good news, and the Cardinal, smiling almost joyously, rose to leave the room.
"One moment, my Lord," I observed, "I have something to tell you which may be important."
"It must stay till after the audience; I cannot keep the Queen waiting longer. I shall return in an hour or two. Meanwhile Bernouin will see that you obtain some breakfast," and he summoned his secretary.
"M. de Lalande has not breakfasted," said he. "I leave him in your charge. Meanwhile I can see no one. Do you understand?"
Bernouin, a man of few words, responded by a low bow.
After partaking of a hearty breakfast, I lay down upon a couch, and, being thoroughly tired, fell fast asleep, not waking again till towards the middle of the afternoon, when Bernouin came to say the Cardinal awaited me.
Jumping up, I followed the secretary, not wishing to receive a further reproof from the minister. Pausing at the door, Bernouin gave a discreet tap, which was answered by Mazarin.
"M. de Lalande," announced the secretary, and at a sign from the Cardinal withdrew.
Mazarin was writing, but, laying down his pen, he motioned me to a seat opposite him.
"You have breakfasted, have you not?" he asked.
"Yes, my Lord, thank you," I replied.
He smiled affably, and was plainly in good humour—the result perhaps of his morning's work. Suddenly this mood changed, the frown came back to his face, and he exclaimed sternly, "I had almost forgotten. Why were you so long on your errand this morning?"
"That is what I wished to speak of, your Eminence, but I am confident you will agree that I acted rightly."
"I dislike putting the cart before the horse," said he; "the verdict should follow the evidence. It will be better for you to relate the story first."
Picking up his pen again, he sat twisting it between his fingers, but looking me straight in the face, and listening intently to every word. He did not once attempt to interrupt, but preserved his patience until the end.
"Chut! my dear Martin," said he, when I had finished, just as if the astrologer were present; "we were mistaken. This young provincial has eyes in his head after all. M. de Lalande, not a word, not a syllable of this to any one. Should you babble, the Bastille is not so full but that it can accommodate another tenant. Now, let us go through the story again. As you rightly observe, it is most interesting, quite like a romance. These men were in the house; of that you are sure?"
"Very good. And our friend Martin denied having seen them?"
"He declared I was his first visitor this morning."
"You did not press the point?"
"Not at all, my Lord. I considered it better to admit my mistake, and to allow the subject to drop."
"In that you did well. You are really learning fast, and I shall find you of service yet. Now let us proceed. You saw the two men again, but they did not come out of Martin's house. Are you certain about that?"
"I did not once remove my eyes from the door, and it was closed the whole time."
"Then you cannot account for the reappearance of these visitors?"
I shook my head.
"If my explanation is correct, it throws a light on several queer things," said Mazarin smiling. "However, that part of the business can stand over, I am not in a hurry at present. Now as to these cloaked gentlemen! Did you recognise them?"
"Only my cousin Henri."
"Ah, he is a clever fellow, a trifle too clever perhaps. Now describe his companion to me again."
"A little man, your Eminence, dark and ugly. An ill-made, awkward, bow-legged fellow, looking the more ungainly because of his handsome apparel."
"The description is not a flattering one!" laughed the Cardinal. "This ugly little man of yours is no less a person than Jean Paul de Gondi, Abbe de Retz, Coadjutor of Paris, Archbishop of Corinth, a future Cardinal—so it is rumoured—and the man who is to fill Mazarin's office when that unworthy minister has lost his head."
Dipping his pen in the ink, he wrote an order and handed it to me.
"For M. Belloc," he said. "In a few hours we shall discover what your information is worth, but, whatever the result, you have done your part well."
Rising from the chair, I bowed and left the room, rather puffed up by the Cardinal's praise; but disappointed at not having learned the nature of the secret which I had unearthed.
Was it possible that Martin had been playing a double game? It appeared very much like it, and, according to all accounts, De Retz paid his servants in good money, while those who served the Cardinal were generally rewarded by empty promises.
Finding Belloc, I handed him the paper, at which he glanced quickly, and exclaimed, "More work, my boy, and to be done at once. The Cardinal's orders are all marked 'Immediate,'" and he went off with a good-humoured laugh.
As there was nothing more to detain me at the Palace I returned to my rooms in the Rue des Catonnes, and, having made myself ready, sat down by the casement to watch for Raoul. The street was very still and peaceful that evening, and, while waiting for my friend, my thoughts roamed over the incidents of the day. As to my own discovery, it did not engage my attention long. I had done my duty in warning Mazarin, and for the rest he must look to himself.
One point, however, caused me a considerable amount of anxiety. The Cardinal had spoken of Madame Coutance, and in no pleasant way. I knew very little of the lady, but, as I have said, it vexed me that her niece's safety should be to some extent in the hands of such a hare-brained conspirator.
"She will be doing an extra foolish thing some day," I said to myself, half asleep and half awake, "and the Cardinal will clap both her and Marie into the Bastille. I must warn Raoul; he may have some influence over her."
"Over whom?" exclaimed a merry voice, and, opening my eyes, I beheld Raoul himself standing close to me.
"A good thing for you that the truce still holds," cried he gaily, "or I could easily have deprived Mazarin of a supporter."
He laughed again quite merrily, and I laughed too; the idea of Raoul raising a hand against me seemed so ridiculous.
"Sit down a minute," I said, "while I explain. The affair is not a secret," and I repeated Mazarin't remarks to him.
"You are right, Albert," he exclaimed gravely; "this is a serious matter, but unfortunately I can do nothing. Madame Coutance grows more reckless every day, and at present is using all her influence to assist De Retz. To-morrow perhaps she will join Conde's party, for any side opposed to Mazarin is good enough for her."
"Does Marie side with her aunt?"
"She cannot help herself, though she has no liking for intrigue. But come, let us take a turn in the city; it will blow the cobwebs out of our brains."
We had reached the Pont Neuf when a gaily dressed gallant, calling to Raoul, caused us to stop.
"Armand!" exclaimed my comrade in surprise. "I understood you had gone to the Louvre!"
"Are you not ashamed to be caught plotting with a Mazarin?"
"Ah! I forgot that you knew M. de Lalande!"
"Oh, yes," said I, "this gentleman and I are warm friends. He shows me to my inn, comes to my rooms, and invites me to go with him on his parties of pleasure."
Laughing lightheartedly, young D'Arcy took my arm.
"You rascal!" he cried, "it is fortunate we are at peace, or I should have to run you through for the honour of the Fronde. You made us the laughing-stock of Paris."
I inquired if he had released the prisoner at the inn, on which he gave us such a comical account of the dwarf's unhappy plight that we could not keep from laughing aloud.
"Who was he?" asked Raoul.
"Pillot the dwarf, the trusty henchman of De Retz."
"That is awkward for you," said Raoul turning to me. "Pillot is a cunning rogue, and is now hand in glove with your cousin. Really, Albert, you must take care of yourself, you have raised up a host of enemies already."
"And the Italian cannot save you!" remarked D'Arcy, with a superior air; "his own downfall is at hand. Alas, my poor friend, I pity you."
We were still laughing at him when he suddenly exclaimed, "Ah, here is Lautrec. Tell me, is he not a show picture? I feel almost tempted to change sides, if only to deck myself out so gorgeously."
The Cardinal takes an Evening Walk.
D'Arcy's acquaintance was one of the petits maitres, as Conde's followers were called, and it was easy to see that he prided himself immensely on his fine clothes. He was dressed in a coat of dark blue cloth covered with fine lace; his mantle was scarlet, and his silk stockings, ornamented with lace, were of the same colour. He wore a black hat turned up a la catalane, and adorned by an enormous black feather, and his gloves were of a soft, gray buckskin. His scabbard was picked out with various designs, and jewels shone in the hilt of the sword.
"Lautrec, my friend, come here!" cried D'Arcy. "Ma foi! what an interesting group! Raoul and I for the Duke; Lautrec for Conde, and M. de Lalande for Mazarin. We only want a friend of De Retz to complete the party!"
"What?" cried Lautrec, looking at me with a broad smile, "the hero of Scarron's poem? The youngster from the country who tricked De Retz? M. de Lalande, I am delighted to meet you!"
"We will go to Perret's, and Lautrec shall sing us the famous song which Scarron wrote on our attempt to abduct the Cardinal," cried D'Arcy.
"But," said I in surprise, "it is not possible that the affair is openly talked about?"
"Why not? It is of the past. Who cares for yesterday's thunderstorm, especially when it did no damage? We are all brothers now."
"But is it safe to introduce a Mazarin at Perret's?" asked Raoul.
"Have no fear," exclaimed Lautrec, "your young friend will be welcome; only we shall not tell him our secrets!" and he glanced roguishly at D'Arcy.
It seemed rather odd to be on terms of friendship with Mazarin's enemies, but this was only one of the strange features of this strange period. No one appeared able to remain serious long; a fight was followed by a banquet, and your opponent of the morning supped with you at night.
Lautrec was correct in saying that no one would molest me at Perret's, which was a large meeting-room, where we found a score of men, all young or at least not more than on the threshold of middle age, and all richly dressed, though none so extravagantly as the petit maitre.
"Messieurs," cried my new acquaintance, "we have brought you an illustrious visitor. Behold the youth whom Scarron has immortalised! A Mazarin, but a prince of good fellows!" and he clapped me on the back.
Had I been one of them they could not have received me in a more friendly manner, and in a very short time I was completely at my ease.
"Let us have the song, Lautrec," said D'Arcy, "our friend has not heard it."
"Yes, yes, the song!" cried the others, laughing, and Lautrec stood up to sing the famous song composed by the Abbe Scarron.
The author had been made acquainted with the principal facts, but my wonder at this soon gave place to amusement. Mazarin, De Retz, Henri, myself, and even poor Pillot, were covered with ridicule, and at each verse the merriment of the audience increased.
It appeared that my cousin, in order to explain his absence from the expedition, had given out that his leg was injured by a fall, and when Lautrec reached that part the whole company screamed with delight.
"Again Lautrec! Let us have the verse again! Oh the poor cousin Henri! What a terrible misfortune!" they cried.
As for me, I lay back in my chair, with the tears running down my cheeks, and Lautrec, beginning the verse again, the others took it up, roaring at the tops of their voices, a lament for my cousin's injury.
In the very midst of the confusion Henri himself opened the door, and stood in amazement, staring at the mad scene. Lautrec spied him immediately, and crying, "Ah, here is our dear cousin!" hobbled over to him on one leg, nursing the other and singing with all his might. D'Arcy, Raoul and the rest followed, and forming a ring danced round him like a pack of madmen. I could not help laughing at their antics, and, to my surprise, Henri, instead of being angry, joined heartily in the fun.
"Ah," he cried presently, spying me, "there is the rogue who caused all the mischief. I' faith, Albert, I did myself an ill turn in advising you to come to Paris. Well, it is done with now, but I warn you not to cross our path a second time."
He spoke in a jesting tone, and laughed loudly, but the look in his eyes told more than his words, and I guessed that for all his play my cousin would show me but scant mercy. Still, he was pleasant enough, and I passed a very agreeable hour in his company.
Presently Raoul, who was on night duty at the Luxembourg, was obliged to leave, and I, bidding my new acquaintances adieu, accompanied him.
"It is a pity you are not coming in," said he, half in jest, half in earnest, as we stopped at the gates; "we could have such pleasant times together."
"With young D'Arcy for a third!" I laughed. "No, no, Raoul; it looks tempting, but it wouldn't answer. I am not much in love with Mazarin, but France is safer with him than with your friends. Good-night. There is Peleton coming this way, and Maubranne with him."
"And neither of them is your particular friend. Shall I see you to-morrow evening if the truce lasts as long?"
"That depends on the Cardinal. If he doesn't require me I will be on the Pont Neuf at six, but don't stay after that time," and I walked off quickly, leaving Raoul to enter the courtyard of the palace a little before Peleton and the baron.
The next day Mazarin was invisible to every one except his secretary, but in the afternoon a note bearing his seal was brought to me in my room. Opening it hastily, I read the contents with a feeling of disappointment, as they did away altogether with any chance of a pleasant evening with Raoul.
"You will attend me, well armed and cloaked, at seven o'clock this evening."
"What is in the wind now?" I muttered. "It seems that we have to go outside the Palace at all events. Perhaps the adventure has something to do with my discovery at Martin's house. I pity the astrologer if he has made an enemy of Mazarin."
Serving the Cardinal had at least taught me the value of being punctual, and at seven o'clock precisely I presented myself at the door of his apartment. The Cardinal was dressed like a simple citizen, but over his black mantle he had thrown a long gray cloak, with a portion of which he could muffle his face. His first words filled me with surprise, and, for the moment, with alarm also.
"So your cousin did not appear angry last night at the trick you played him?" he remarked in his broken French; "but you must be careful, I hear he is not over well pleased."
"It seems to me that your Eminence hears everything," I replied bluntly, as soon as my feeling of surprise would allow me to speak.
Putting on his hat, he said with a smile, "To-night, thanks to you, I am going to hear something interesting. Evidently you were born under a lucky star, and I was fortunate in securing your services. Take care of yourself, my friend, for according to the stars our fortunes are bound up together."
It surprised me that so clever a man should believe that the stars had any influence over our lives, but I did not speak my thoughts, though likely enough he knew them, for he could read one's mind like a printed book.
"Come," said he at length; "this way; it is not necessary to advise every one that the Cardinal is about to walk in the city."
Raising the tapestry, he passed into a small corridor, where the faithful Bernouin awaited him.
"Has Belloc made all his arrangements?" asked Mazarin.
"Yes, your Eminence; everything is as you ordered."
"That is well. You will stay up till our return. I am not likely to require more help, but—in case of accidents—here is a signed order for Ferre to turn out the Guards. Do not use it, however, unless it is absolutely necessary."
The secretary bowed, and Mazarin conducted me by a private staircase, the very existence of which was known only to a few people, to the courtyard of the Palace.
"You do not ask where we are going," said he, as we walked along.
"It is not my business, your Eminence," I answered, but I could not help reflecting that Mazarin did not know himself. If the groups of citizens had guessed who my companion was, it is likely that his evening walk would have come to a sudden end.
Now, I have heard Mazarin called a coward who would faint at the sight of blood, but those who said these things spoke without knowledge. Being a man of peace, he disliked bloodshed, but many a boasting gallant would have held back from dangers which the Cardinal faced without hesitation.
On this eventful night he strolled quietly along, brushing shoulders with men who would gladly have slain him, and displaying no sign of nervousness. At the corner of the Pont Neuf he actually stopped to listen to the conversation of some citizens who were holding a kind of open-air parliament, and settling the affairs of the kingdom to their liking.
One fellow especially, dressed like a prosperous shopkeeper, was exceedingly loud in describing his plan to do away with the troubles, and I must admit that the first part of his remedy—the hanging of Mazarin—met with the hearty approval of the crowd.
"A beggarly foreigner!" said one.
"A miserable Italian priest!"
"A grasping, covetous miser!"
"He fancies that the French people were made for the purpose of keeping his nieces like princesses!"
"Well, that is settled!" interrupted the first speaker. "Then, after hanging Mazarin, I would put the Queen in a convent—she has done the country enough mischief."
"That's a grand idea," exclaimed one of the group. "How can a woman rule a country? And, besides, Anne of Austria is only a foreigner!"
I marvelled that Mazarin continued to listen to such stuff, especially as he was risking his life, but he seemed in no hurry to depart, and, indeed, craned his neck forward quite eagerly.
"Next," continued the orator, "we shall require a new regent until the little King is able to take the reins into his own hands."
"True," interrupted one of his listeners, "and who better than the Duke of Orleans?"
"Pouf! Gaston is no use! He blows hot and cold with the same breath. He would send the Queen to a convent, and alter his mind while they were unlocking the gates. No, my friends, we need a man with a strong arm and a stout heart; a leader whom the soldiers love; a general whom the Spaniards fear; a prince of the blood who would make France great, powerful, glorious; the hero of Locroi and Lens, the finest soldier in the world, the great Conde."
The orator finished amidst an outburst of cheering, which was renewed again and again, till hundreds of people were shouting for Conde.
"It is certain," said the Cardinal, turning to me, "that you bring me luck. I will chance another turn of the wheel. Go to that man and tell him the Duc de La Rochefoucauld says he has done splendidly, but that he must not bear so hard on Gaston. Mind that you watch his face closely. I will stay for you yonder in the shadow of the buttress."
Why the Cardinal gave me this strange order I could not guess, but it was none of my business, so, taking the orator aside, I delivered the message word for word. The man's eyes sparkled with joy; he begged me to thank the Duke, and to add that he would remember the hint concerning Gaston of Orleans. More hopelessly perplexed than ever, I returned to Mazarin, and related what had passed, on which he smiled with a satisfied air, and hurried me away.
"A clever rogue whose master should not begrudge him his wages!" he said with a quiet chuckle, "though he has made one grave mistake to-night. But what extraordinary luck! Surely my star must be in the ascendant! Ah, Martin, my friend, one need not necessarily be an astrologer to foretell the future."
From this speech I gathered two pieces of information. First, that we were on our way to the astrologer's, and second that our visit was in some way mixed up with the knowledge I had already obtained. The scene on the Pont Neuf I did not understand. The Black Mantle who had stirred up the people on behalf of Conde could be no friend to Mazarin, yet the Cardinal had sent me to him with a most astounding message. Then again, every one knew that La Rochefoucauld was Conde's righthand man, but he was supposed to be far away from Paris.
Ah! That gave me a clue, and I looked at Mazarin in amazed wonder. How clever he was! From a hint here and a word there he had discovered that a huge plot was on foot. I did not know the truth till later, but it may as well be set down here.
The Cardinal's enemies found they could accomplish nothing without Conde, but that prince and his brother were in prison. After a great deal of talk it was decided that La Rochefoucauld should visit Paris and stir up the people to demand Conde's release. The Black Mantle on the bridge was no ordinary citizen, but an agent paid by the prince's friends, and Mazarin by his mock message had gone right to the heart of the secret.
This successful stroke had put him in the best of humours, and from time to time he laughed quietly to himself as if enjoying some rich joke. Everywhere the crowd was cheering for Conde, and threatening to hang Mazarin, but my companion proceeded calmly on his journey.
"Through the Rue Croquin," said he presently; "it may be quieter in that direction, and I wish to think."
Unfortunately, about half-way along the street a mob of people, among whom were several Black Mantles, had gathered round a man who offered for sale copies of a song he was singing. He was a sturdy knave with a deep voice, and he sang so lustily that it was impossible to avoid hearing every word.
These songs poured continually from the printing-presses of the Frondeurs, who thought, and perhaps rightly, that an ink-bottle could work more harm than a cannon. Many were witty and laughable, but this one was merely a string of vulgar abuse of the Queen-Mother.
"Peste," said I, losing my temper, "these hawkers are becoming too impudent."
"A Mazarin!" cried the man next to me. "Down with the Mazarin!"
"A fig for Mazarin! He is a man and can defend himself, but Anne of Austria is not only a Queen but a woman. I say shame on the Frenchmen who will let a woman be insulted."
"Monsieur is right," exclaimed one of the Black Mantles quickly; "though I bear no good-will to Anne of Austria."
The speaker who had thus interfered possessed a certain amount of influence; the crowd, instead of rushing forward, remained still; the mutterings died away, and some one, seizing the hawker's papers, trampled them in the mud, and shouted, "Down with Mazarin! Live the Queen!"
Others responded, and, pleased with the new cry, ran off yelling lustily, "Down with Mazarin! Live the Queen!" while the miserable singer, a victim to the fickleness of popular favour, slunk away, muttering beneath his breath.
I do not know how the Cardinal felt at being mixed up in such an adventure, but he behaved like a man of spirit, and stood close at my side throughout the whole affair.
"Ma foi!" said he, as we moved on again, "you are not an over-prudent companion. Suppose one of those fellows had plucked at my cloak? I fancy both the Cardinal and his servant would have received but short shrift."
"We should have died for the Queen, my Lord!"
Mazarin shrugged his shoulders and answered drily, "I prefer my friends to live. It is my enemies who should get themselves killed. But listen!" and from a distance came a tremendous roar of "Down with Mazarin! Live the Queen!"
"It is strange," muttered the Cardinal, "how these people will cheer for every one but me, yet I have done them more good than all the others put together. But come, unless the stars play me false, these same folk shall raise my name as high as the rest."
"Till the wind blows from a fresh quarter," I muttered, watching the hawker; and, indeed, it seemed to me that Mazarin, though a shrewd man, was striving for an empty honour.
However, there was little leisure for thinking just then; we walked on rapidly, turning to the right at the end of the Rue Croquin, and made our way through several side streets which were nearly deserted. After a long roundabout journey we approached the neighbourhood where Martin lived, when suddenly an officer whom I recognised as Roland Belloc stepped out from a hiding place.
"Have you posted your soldiers?" asked Mazarin quietly.
"Every avenue is guarded. No one can enter or leave the street unchallenged."
"The men are well out of sight?"
"It would take your Eminence a long time to discover them!" replied the veteran warrior smiling.
"That is well. People who saw them might be curious. There is nothing fresh going on yonder?" and he waved his hand in the direction of Martin's house.
"No, except that we arrived just in time to see Pillot going away."
"Did you secure him?"
"No, my Lord; I had no orders to detain him."
"Chut!" exclaimed Mazarin testily, "you should have acted without orders. By the way, did you know that La Rochefoucauld is in Paris? The game grows very exciting," and he laughed softly at Belloc's astonishment.
"We must strike at once," said the old soldier.
"On the contrary, we will wait till the blow will do the most mischief. That is why I shall spare the good Martin—for a time. Now I am going to pay my visit. There is not much chance of danger, but if the unexpected happens, why, in that case, a Cardinal's life is worth more than that of an astrologer. Eh? my trusty Belloc?"
"Perhaps it will be as well for me to accompany you," said the soldier. "M. de Lalande, here, is a trusty fellow, but after all he is only a boy, and if——"
"The danger, if there be any, will come from the outside," interrupted the Cardinal. "Let your men keep strict watch, and we will take care of ourselves. Come;" and while Belloc slipped into a doorway, we turned the corner and crossed to that side of the street on which the astrologer's house stood.
Using his private signal Mazarin knocked boldly at the door; the window above us opened, and the servant, finding who his master's visitors were, hurried to let us in. The bolts were hastily shot back, the bars lowered, and then the door was thrown open by the obsequious porter, who stood bowing almost to the ground. Several lanterns suspended along the wall shed a dim light through the passage, and a second man, bearing another lantern, hastily came forward to conduct us.
I could not help thinking as we stepped inside, how completely the astrologer held Mazarin in his power!
The Plot is Discovered.
"Is your master at home?" asked the Cardinal.
"He is, my Lord," replied the man with a low bow; "but he is unwell, and has retired to rest."
"Ah, my poor Martin, what a misfortune! but lead the way; he will doubtless make an effort to receive an old friend like myself."
While one servant made the door fast, the other went forward with the lantern, and we followed; the Cardinal, a trifle uneasy, glancing keenly from side to side, as if half expecting to meet with some lurking enemy. Everything, however, seemed as usual. The lower part of the house was empty save for a woman cooking some savoury dish, and she took not the slightest notice of us.
The fellow with the lantern opened the door of the astrologer's room, and, lighting several wax candles, requested us to be seated while he informed his master of our presence.
As soon as he had gone, Mazarin ordered me to explore the part screened by the curtains, which I did, sword in hand.
"These conspirators are so crafty," he murmured, "that they make one cautious even in the house of a friend like the worthy Martin."
"The room is empty, your Eminence."
"Ah," said he with a sigh of relief, "then we can look forward with an untroubled mind to meeting our kind host," and, laying aside his hat and cloak, he sat down.
In a short time the astrologer entered the room. He had put on dressing-gown and slippers, and was wearing his black skull-cap. His face, always pale, had become white, there was a constant twitching at the corners of his mouth, and the gray eyes I had thought so calm and powerful, fell beneath the keen gaze of the Cardinal. In spite of his treachery, I pitied the man, and almost found it in my heart to wish I had not observed my cousin and his companion enter the house.
Mazarin, fondling his beard, smiled pleasantly, and begged his host in such soft cooing tones to be seated, that Martin threw off the half-alarmed expression his face had worn.
"So you have been ill, my friend? Per Baccho! One can see it in your face. Ah, now I can breathe more freely and laugh at my fears."
I was standing between the table and the door, but in such a position as to be able to watch the old man's face.
"Fears, my lord?" he murmured questioningly.
"Yes, yes, I was foolish enough to doubt your—vigilance."
He purposely made a long pause between the last two words, during which Martin sat like a man waiting to be hanged; then he recovered himself and actually smiled.
"Something has happened without my knowledge," said he briskly.
"Without your knowledge, truly, my dear Martin, or you would have sent me word. As it is, I have to inform you that Paris has had a distinguished visitor."
Martin went deathly pale again and murmured, "Surely it cannot be——"
"Oh, no," interrupted Mazarin, smiling, "the Prince still occupies his prison at Havre. But La Rochefoucauld is here to represent him. If you go into the city you will hear the people crying for the release of Conde. They are not aware how comfortable he is. But you will not go!"
"Why not, my lord?"
"Because I have need of you. We must put our heads together, and unravel the mysteries of this plot. The matter is serious; all my enemies seem to be in league. Come now, do you fancy De Retz has been bought?"
I really felt sorry for the poor wretch with whom the Cardinal thus played as a cat plays with a mouse.
"De Retz?" he stammered. "I should think it very likely; the others could accomplish nothing without him, because he controls the mob."
"It is very unfortunate. You are aware he wishes to become a Cardinal, and now he will lose his chance. The red hat would have suited him well, but I must give it to Riviere, the bosom friend of Orleans. But perhaps even the Duke has been gained? What do you think, my dear Martin?" and the purring cat suddenly became a hissing serpent.
The unhappy astrologer bent his head.
"They must have secured him," he gasped like a man choking. "They would not dare to move without his support."
"And the king of the markets?" asked Mazarin, who thus scornfully referred to the Duke of Beaufort.
"He has powerful friends. His help would be valuable if there really is a conspiracy."
Leaning back in his chair, Mazarin stroked his beard thoughtfully. Presently he began to purr, a sure sign that he had regained his composure.
"This union (which he pronounced onion) of parties is very touching," said he, "yet in the interests of His Majesty it must be broken up," and he looked so fixedly at Martin that the latter was compelled to meet his gaze.
"How say you?" he continued, "would that little monkey of a priest rise to the bait of a Cardinal's hat?"
"It is probable, my Lord! That is, if the hat were a real one," at which Mazarin laughed loudly.
"Per Baccho!" exclaimed he, "we would not attempt to deceive so skilful a plotter. Then that is settled! A cardinal's hat for De Retz, and you shall make him our offer. But he must accept quickly; in twenty-four hours it will be too late. I am sorry to drag you from your sick bed, but the King's interests are above all."
"Come," thought I, "it promises to turn out not so badly. Mazarin must be a good fellow in the main, to let the astrologer off so lightly."
Martin, too, shared my satisfaction, especially when the Cardinal rose as if to depart. But the play-acting was not yet finished. I was moving towards the door when Mazarin suddenly sat down again.
"I had almost forgotten," said he softly, "and yet it is very important. I am about to set you a difficult task, my friend! no one else could do it, but then you are so wonderfully clever. Sit down and write a list of all those likely to have joined in this plot—men and women—the powerful and the insignificant; do not leave out one. And if you can make a guess what each has promised the other, put that in also. It will be interesting to see if our guesses are alike."
Still Martin did not break down, but his voice was very unsteady as he replied, "You over-rate my powers, my Lord, it would be impossible to do as you wish."
"You may have some papers which will help you," said Mazarin quietly. "Look them over, my friend, I can wait."
At that the wretched man's courage forsook him, and, realising that his treachery was discovered, he flung himself at Mazarin's feet, crying, "Pardon me, Monseigneur, and you shall be told everything, but I have not the papers."
"Who has them?"
"Madame Coutance! She promised to obtain the signature of the King's uncle."
"That woman mixes herself up in everything," exclaimed Mazarin, irritably, "and does more harm by her folly than De Retz can manage by his scheming. She must be kept quiet for a month or two. De Lalande, ask M. Belloc to station a carriage, six troopers, and a spare horse at the corner of the Rue Crillon, and to remain there till he receives fresh orders."
I bowed, and leaving the room, hurried downstairs, where one of the men undid the fastenings of the door.
"Do not replace the bar till my return," I said, "I shall be away a short time only."
Belloc, who was watching from his hiding-place, perceived me immediately, and crossed the street.
"What is it?" he asked anxiously. "Has anything gone wrong?"
"No," said I, and delivered Mazarin's message.
"Rue Crillon?" he exclaimed. "That is where Madame Coutance lives."
"She is mixed up in the plot which Mazarin has discovered. I am sorry for her niece."
"Mazarin will do the maid no harm," exclaimed the old soldier. "I have always found his bark worse than his bite. Are you sure that he is quite safe yonder?"
"Everything appears as usual."
"Still, in case you are sent on another message, it will be as well that the Cardinal has some protection," and he gave a private signal which quickly brought two soldiers to our side.
"You are under the orders of M. de Lalande," he exclaimed, and, leaving me to return to the house, hurried off.
"Affairs go well," said the Cardinal briskly, as I entered the room, "and the credit is yours, M. de Lalande. But for your sharp eyes I might have failed to get on the track of this conspiracy against the King. There is one thing more for you to do. Take this note to Madame Coutance in the Rue Crillon. It is a request by our dear Martin that she will give up the papers relating to the plot. You will pass them to M. Belloc with orders to bring them here at once."
"Suppose the lady refuses to surrender them, my Lord?"
"You will search her room, while this lettre de cachet will secure her a lodging in the Bastille. If, on the other hand, she has the good sense to yield quietly, you will simply escort her to her chateau. The carriage will be in readiness."
I told him of the soldiers stationed in the corridor, and once more left the house. The night was growing late, and the streets, in spite of the falots filled with burning pitch, and the dingy lamps suspended by chains passing from one side of the road to the other, were almost in darkness.
But Paris was wide awake and unduly excited. Swarms of people of the lowest class, unkempt, ragged, and frowsy, but all armed in some fashion, were prowling around intent on mischief, and cheering for De Retz. Bands of Black Mantles, grave and preoccupied as became owners of property, guarded the shops, in dread equally of the canaille and the nobles.
These last swaggered about showing off their finery, singing noisily, and occasionally compelling the passers-by to cheer for Conde. Now and again a coach, preceded by lackeys bearing flambeaux, would roll by, conveying ladies of distinction to or from some brilliant assembly.
At the corner of the Rue Crillon I looked for M. Belloc, but some time passed before he appeared, and then I could see nothing of a carriage.
"In the yard of the 'Plume of Feathers,'" said he, in answer to my question; "it would attract too much attention standing here. Paris is in a turmoil to-night. I do not like the signs. The people are restless without knowing why, though there is some talk of Conde's returning."
"The Cardinal has first to unlock the door," I replied, at which the old warrior smiled grimly, thinking such a proceeding on Mazarin's part very unlikely.
"Why is the carriage required?" he asked.
"To convey Madame Coutance either to the Bastille or to her own place at Aunay. It is a troublesome business," and I explained just what my orders were.
"Better get it over at once," he suggested, "it will be none the pleasanter for delay;" so, putting a bold face on the matter, I walked to the door of the house, and inquired for Madame Coutance.
"She is not at home, monsieur," replied the porter. "Both the ladies went out early this evening with Madame de Chevreuse."
I put several further questions, but the porter was either a very stupid man or a very faithful servant—he knew nothing, and I had to retire baffled.
"They will return soon," said my companion, when I rejoined him, "unless madame has received a hint of her danger."
"That is hardly probable! Even Mazarin had no suspicion until an hour ago. But he will begin to wonder if anything has gone wrong."
At the end of half an hour a carriage drew up before the door, and Marie and her aunt descended. They stood for a moment on the top of the steps, and then, as the vehicle passed on, entered the house.
Leaving our post of observation, we crossed the road, and the servant, showing us into an ante-room, went to announce my name.
"Get it over quickly," whispered M. Belloc, as the man returned. "Most likely there will be a few tears, but you must not mind those."
I did not feel particularly happy as I followed the servant along the corridor. The errand was far from my liking, and I would rather have stormed a breach; but, as I ate Mazarin's bread, it was my duty to obey his orders.
The ladies were seated in a small but luxuriously appointed room, and Madame Coutance welcomed me with embarrassing warmth.
"The hour is somewhat late," she said, "but I expect the Cardinal keeps your time fully occupied. You do not favour us with much of your company."
"I am very unwilling to be here now," I blurted out, not knowing what else to say. "The fact is, I have come on an unwelcome errand," and, producing Martin's note, added, "that will explain the object of my visit."
I scarcely dared glance at Marie, who remained very still while her aunt was reading.
M. Belloc had warned me to expect a few tears, but, instead of weeping, Madame Coutance launched into an angry speech against Mazarin, whom she called a wicked and infamous man, and concluded by a blunt refusal to surrender any papers whatever.
"But," I suggested feebly, being overwhelmed by her torrent of words, "you have no choice in the matter, madame. Unless you give me this list of your own free will, my orders are to lodge you in the Bastille, and to search your rooms."
"And if my aunt yields the papers?" asked Marie, who, I fancy, was rather alarmed at the mention of the Bastille.
"In that case, mademoiselle, the affair ends with a trip to Aunay. A carriage is outside, and in ten minutes we leave for one place or the other."
"Come, ma chere," said the girl soothingly, "you must submit. Life in the Bastille cannot be nearly as pleasant as at Aunay."
Madame Coutance opened a desk which stood in a corner of the tiny room, and drew out a roll of paper.
"There is what your master wants!" she exclaimed angrily, "but let him take care; it will be our turn soon."
"Do you accompany us to Aunay?" asked Marie.
"Yes, with an escort of troopers; for all the world as if you were two desperate prisoners. I am really sorry, but perhaps you will object less to me than to some rough soldier."
"Indeed we shall," she replied. "When do we start?"
"As soon as madame is ready," I answered. "The Cardinal likes not delay."
"In an hour then, though I do not care for travelling by night."
"The carriage is roomy and comfortable; there is no danger, and perhaps you will be able to sleep on the journey."
Bowing to the ladies, I rejoined Belloc, who was waiting impatiently in the ante-room.
"Well?" he exclaimed.
"It is all right. Here is the paper, and we leave for Aunay in an hour. I am not looking forward with any pleasure to the journey, I can assure you!"
"You are obeying orders," said he, taking the paper. "Now I must return to the Cardinal; and, by the by, take care of yourself! The troopers will be sufficient protection against robbers, but, should you meet with any of Conde's friends, you may have to fight."
"I hope not, at least until the ladies are safely disposed of."
Wishing me good-bye, he walked away at a rapid pace, while I, glad of the chance to divert my thoughts, paid a visit to the inn. The troopers, who were in charge of a grizzled sergeant, had dismounted, and were amusing themselves in a small room looking into the courtyard. The sergeant saluted, listened respectfully to my order, and accompanied me to inspect the carriage and horses.
"Are we going far, monsieur?"
"Two or three days' journey. I hope you can depend on your men? The ride may not be altogether a holiday jaunt."
"I chose them myself, monsieur. They would as soon fight as eat, and have all been in many a rough scrimmage."
"They may be in another before long!" said I, remembering M. Belloc's words; and then, bidding him have all in readiness, I returned to the house, wishing that Mazarin had entrusted this particular commission to any but myself.
Yet, after all, the Cardinal had acted very generously. There was really no great hardship in being sent to one's country seat, and I suspected that Marie would rather enjoy the change. As to her aunt, she would find it irksome, being a woman who could not live without excitement of some sort.
Presently the carriage rumbled to the door, and jumping up, I hurried into the hall, nearly falling over the servants, who were carrying rugs and shawls and various packages to the main entrance. When the parcels were stowed away, I stepped forward to assist the ladies into the coach, but Madame Coutance, who was still very sulky, haughtily declined my proffered help. However, I saw them safely in, had the leathern coverings let down to exclude the night air, posted the troopers in front of the carriage, mounted the spare horse—a splendid animal by the way—and gave the word for the gate St. Denis.
It was fortunate that the ladies had prevented an earlier start. Although late, numerous citizens were still abroad, and their curiosity made them troublesome. Twice the troopers were compelled to clear a way for the coach by force, and, had the streets been more crowded, we should never have reached the gate.
"Down with Mazarin! To the lamp-post with the Mazarins!" yelled the people, but at sight of the grim sergeant and his stalwart troopers their courage oozed away. These night-birds were mostly followers of De Retz, but occasionally we met with a swaggering young noble or two wearing the colours of the great Conde.
At the gate we were stopped by the officer on duty, who refused to let us pass, quoting an order from the Duke of Orleans to prevent all persons from leaving the city. Even after inspecting my papers, which were signed by the Queen, he hesitated, declaring the Duke's commands were strict.
"As you please," said I, "only remember that Gaston of Orleans is not King yet, and you will be guilty of the crime of high treason. Unless the gates are opened within five minutes, I shall return to the Palais Royal."
The officer was a brave man, and had he served any other master would doubtless have stood his ground, but no one could depend on Gaston. As likely as not, if any trouble arose, the Duke would throw over his own servant, and expose him to the vengeance of Mazarin.
"Come," I said, when half the time had passed, "which is it to be? Will you take your orders from the Queen or from the Duke?"
At the last minute, though still grumbling, he permitted us to continue the journey, and the coach passed outside the city walls. For several miles we rode forward slowly, till the dawn of another day began to appear in the sky; then we quickened the pace, as I was anxious to get as far away from Paris as possible. It was scarcely likely that any one would attempt a rescue, but so many foolish things were done in those days that I did not feel at all secure.
The road along which we travelled was lonely and deserted, the country looked very desolate, and even after the sun had risen there were few people to be observed abroad. At that time I did not know what I afterwards learned, that our route lay through a district which had been swept bare again and again by the horrors of war.
I Meet with an Exciting Adventure.
About nine o'clock we came to a country inn where I decided to halt, and the troopers, well pleased at the prospect of refreshment, proceeded to stable the horses, while the hostess showed madame and her niece into the best room of the house. The arrival of such a large party caused some consternation, but the host and his servants bustled about cheerfully, and the soldiers were soon sitting down to a rough but abundant meal.
Having seen them satisfactorily settled, I was debating whether to intrude myself on the ladies or not, when the innkeeper informed me that they desired to see me. Accordingly, after speaking a word to the sergeant, I went upstairs, and entered the room where they sat at table.
Madame Coutance, who shortly before had sulked like a spoiled child, had now regained her good humour, and received me with smiles.
"Come, Sir Gaoler, it is not polite to keep your guests waiting," she exclaimed, and I excused myself on the ground of being uncertain whether my presence would be agreeable.
"Certainly! we require you as a taster. The Duke of Beaufort was allowed one at Vincennes, and you would not count him of more consequence than two ladies?"
"I' faith!" I exclaimed, glancing at the viands, "if I am to play that part, there will be little for those who come after me. The night's ride has given me a wolf's appetite!"
"In that case," said Marie laughing, "we will be our own tasters. Sit down, Albert, and let us begin."
For some reason best known to herself, or perhaps for no reason at all, Madame Coutance had become reconciled to the situation. I was received into favour again. We laughed and joked merrily, and resumed the journey in the best of good humour. The leathern coverings were fastened back, and I rode beside the open carriage more as an attendant cavalier than as the officer of an escort. This was far more agreeable to me, though I found it rather awkward to answer some of the questions which madame asked concerning the Cardinal.
"It is a pity the plot was discovered," she said; "in a day or two at the outside Mazarin would have been lost."
"Conde is still in prison," I remarked meaningly.
"He will soon be free. The people are rising, and Mazarin will not dare to keep him in captivity. Ah, my friend, the tables will be turned then!"
"I wish these useless squabbles were at an end," said Marie.
"Have patience, child," exclaimed her aunt, "all will come right in time," and, turning to me, she added, "how long am I expected to remain at Aunay?"
"The Cardinal mentioned a month or two."
"Good faith!" she exclaimed with a toss of her head, "the Cardinal will be over the borders before then!"
"It may be so," I admitted, not anxious to dispute the point.
We were still several miles from Aunay, when the sergeant, who rode with two men in the rear, trotted forward briskly, and reining up my horse, I waited for the soldier to speak.
"Are we likely to be pursued, monsieur?" asked he.
"It is just possible. Why?"
"Because there are a score of horsemen on our track. Pierre, who has keen sight, declares they are cavaliers, young bloods most likely, from Paris."
In a few minutes they came within sight, and, as they approached more closely, I recognised that Pierre's description was correct. They certainly were not ordinary soldiers, and the only doubt remaining was whether they were friends or foes.
The grizzled sergeant decided the question for me.
"Frondeurs, monsieur," he announced with the utmost coolness.
"Then they intend to rescue our prisoners. Can we throw them off?"
"We can try, monsieur, but they will probably overtake us in ten minutes."
"Then we must fight, though the odds are terribly against us."
"As monsieur pleases; we have only to obey orders," and without another word he recalled the soldiers who were in advance.
"What is it?" cried Madame Coutance, excitedly, as I returned to the carriage, "what has happened?"
"Nothing as yet," I answered smiling; "but some of your party have followed us from Paris. For what purpose I leave you to guess."
She clapped her hands and laughed like a child; it just suited her to be the central figure in any kind of adventure.
"A rescue!" she cried. "Marie, do you hear? Our brave cavaliers think we are being dragged to prison, and have come to rescue us. Ah, the fine fellows! How vexed Mazarin will be! Perhaps he imagined I had no friends!"
"Their folly can only do harm, madame," I replied.
"Chut! what absurdity! It is a rich joke, and Scarron shall make a song about it. How they will laugh when I explain that we are going to Aunay and not to prison!"
During this conversation Marie, had remained silent, but now in a low voice she asked, "Are there many, Albert?"
"A score, perhaps," I replied; "but do not be alarmed. As your aunt says, they will probably regard the venture as a rich joke. Now I must go to my men," and I ordered the coachman to drive on rapidly.
The six troopers rode three abreast behind the coach, which rattled along swiftly, while the sergeant and I followed. Each instant brought our pursuers nearer, and it soon became evident that they were able to ride us down.
"Pardon, monsieur," said the sergeant, "but if there is to be a fight we had better get it over. At present we are only spoiling our horses."
"True," I replied, and called on the troopers to halt.
The cavaliers were advancing at a gallop. Foremost of the throng rode my cousin Henri and Baron Maubranne, while close in their rear pressed Peleton, and half a dozen horsemen with whose features I was unacquainted. Behind these again came several men whom I had met at Perret's—Armand d'Arcy, Lautrec, and finally, Raoul.
The sword trembled in my hand, and my heart sank on recognising Raoul. How could I fight against the staunch comrade who had always been dearer to me than a brother? It was impossible. For the sake of our friendship I must endeavour to avert a struggle.
The Frondeurs, I gladly believe, would have listened to reason but for Peleton and Baron Maubranne, who, with raised swords, rushed at me, yelling "Down with the Mazarin!"
In self-defence I was compelled to parry their blows, and Peleton, lunging rather wildly, received the point of my sword in his chest. At this the cavaliers, headed by Maubranne, charged us in a body, but my troopers withstood the shock manfully, and the baron rolled to the ground.
At the first clash of swords all thoughts of peace took wing; the intoxication of the fight got into our blood, and made us reckless. Spurring into the throng, I called on my men, who attacked with such zest that the cavaliers began to give way.
Henri, however, quickly rallied them; the fight was renewed with increased fury, and the air was filled with the clatter of steel and the shouts of the combatants.
The old sergeant had not praised his men without cause. They were seasoned soldiers, hard and tough as iron, and without the least sense of fear. Fighting was their trade, and they were masters of the craft.
As for myself, I could ride, and handle a sword, but this was my first experience of a fight. I forgot the lessons in sword-play my father had taught me, and struck out wildly, hitting right and left. I saw D'Arcy's smiling face go down before me, felt Lautrec's sword pierce my arm, and then came directly in front of Raoul.
As it chanced I was able to stay my hand at the very moment of striking, but Raoul, poor lad, had not the same good fortune, and, just as I lowered my weapon, his sword passed through my body. I am an old man now, but I can still see the look of horror on his face, and hear his cry of anguish. I remember smiling at him feebly and trying to speak; then the fading daylight vanished, and with the darkness came unconsciousness.
The next thing I can remember was Raoul asking some one if I should die. Not being able to see him I stretched out my hand, and he, bending over me, spoke my name softly.
"My men?" I whispered faintly.
"They are all living! Do you know who I am?"
"If you do not go away, M. Beauchamp, you will kill my patient."
This was said in a voice soft and sweet as a child's, and I concluded the speaker was a doctor. Raoul made some reply, but I could not understand his words, and gradually my sense of hearing failed altogether. For weeks I lay hovering between life and death, and when at length I was able to look about me and realise something of what went on, I was painfully weak and helpless.
Thrice every day there came into my room a tall, grave, white-bearded man, who sometimes smiled kindly, but more often shook his head in a sorrowful manner. And always, throughout the day and night, there sat by my bedside a grief-stricken youth who tended me with the utmost care. This youth, so sad and melancholy, was Raoul, but Raoul so altered as to be scarcely recognisable. For hours he would sit motionless as a statue, then, rising gently, he would give me the medicine according to the doctor's orders, or smooth the tumbled pillow which I was helpless to re-arrange for myself.
One morning, waking after a long sleep, I felt considerably better. My comrade sat as usual beside the bed, but, wearied by the night watch, his head had sunk on his breast, and he had fallen asleep. I half turned to look at him more closely, but at the first movement he started up wide awake.
"Raoul!" I whispered.
"It is all right, old friend; I shall get on now."
Grasping my hand, which lay outside the coverlet, he pressed it gently, and, kneeling down, gave thanks to God for this first step in my recovery.
"Amen to that," said I. "And now, my dear Raoul, tell me the news. Remember that I am ignorant of everything."
"First let me hear you say that you forgive me."
"Forgive you, old comrade? Peste! there is nothing to forgive. Is it your fault that I am the less skilful hand with the sword?"
"That is nonsense," he replied slowly. "You could have killed me, but you refused to strike."
"Friendship stayed my arm in time."
"But not mine!"
"Then after all I am the more skilful swordsman!"
"I nearly killed you," he said, and his lip quivered.
"But not quite. Let us forget all about it."
From that morning I began to regain strength, and could soon converse with Raoul without fatigue. From him I learned that the safety of the troopers was due to Marie, who, leaving the carriage, and running to the scene of the fight, had called upon the Frondeurs to sheathe their swords.
"Two of your men were wounded, though not seriously," said Raoul; "young D'Arcy received a nasty cut; Maubranne was picked up insensible, and Peleton will not forget you for some time."
"But for him and Maubranne, there need not have been a fight."
"They have a spite against you, and will make mischief if they can."
"Never mind them. What became of the escort?"
"The wounded men were taken to the inn; the others returned to Paris. Madame Coutance insisted on your being brought to Aunay, and here you have remained ever since."
"Then really," I said, when Raoul gave me this information, "you have all done your best to fulfil Mazarin's orders!"
"It was a mistake. We believed the ladies were to be imprisoned at Reuil, and, besides, it was possible that Madame Coutance had possession of a valuable document."
"You should have searched the Palais Royal for that," I remarked with a laugh.
"You have spoiled our scheme for a time. Your cousin did the Fronde an ill turn when he advised you to go to Paris; you have proved a thorn in our side from the very first day."
I asked after D'Arcy, and found that he had returned with his friends to the capital, where new and startling plots were being hatched.
"Without a doubt we shall crush the Cardinal this time," exclaimed my comrade, whose good spirits revived with my increasing strength. "He will miss his trusty henchman, and there is really no one of importance on his side."
"Then De Retz has not received his red hat?"
"No! Mazarin played him a fine trick over that, and set all Paris laughing for weeks. The little abbe is desperately angry, and intends taking ample vengeance."
"How Marie's aunt must wish she were back in the Rue Crillon!"
"She has vowed not to leave Aunay till you have recovered. The doctor declares you owe your life to her and Marie, who nursed you during the first fortnight. By the way, your doublet was spoiled; so I sent for another; you shall put it on in the morning."
"To go downstairs?'
"If you can persuade the doctor to grant you permission. And now try to sleep, or you will be ill again."
The doctor appeared rather reluctant next morning to give his consent, but I begged so hard that at last he yielded, and Raoul helped me to dress. Then, leaning on the arm of my comrade, and partly supported by the medical man, I made my way to the drawing-room, where the ladies gave me a hearty welcome. The disagreeable part I had played in carrying out Mazarin's orders was forgotten; Madame Coutance could talk only about the fight, and her niece about my wounds.
"Between you all," I said, "you have saved my life."
"Next to God you have the doctor and Raoul to thank," remarked Marie.
"Raoul certainly," exclaimed her aunt laughing. "But for his sword-cut in the first place we could not have nursed you at all."
"It was, indeed, very kind of you," I replied, ignoring the first part of her speech, "especially as I am in the pay of the hated Mazarin."
"That is nothing, absolutely nothing. We are winning, and can afford to be generous. The Cardinal stands on the edge of a mine which will shortly explode. De Retz and your cousin Henri have made things certain this time; there will be no more mistakes."
There was something in her speech and manner which made me wonder why she was so bitter against the Cardinal. My recent adventures had taught me valuable lessons, and I knew that many of those who talked so loudly of liberty and justice had their own private schemes to advance at the expense of the public welfare; and I was half-inclined to think that Marie's aunt was a Frondeuse of this description. However, she was very kind to me, and I still look back on those early days of my recovery with a certain amount of pleasure.
From the date of my leaving home I had lived at high pressure, in a maze of intrigue and strife. My wits, such as they were, had ever been employed; my life had been in danger a score of times. The calm which followed this incessant scheming and fighting was delicious, and I did not feel very sorry that Raoul had given me a dig with his sword.
Though sorely needed by his patron, he refused to leave Aunay as long as I was in the slightest danger; the ladies treated me like a brother, while the doctor spared neither time nor trouble to bring about the restoration of my health. It was new to me to be thus petted, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Madame would not hear of my going home.
"That would be a fine thing indeed!" she exclaimed banteringly. "I mean to claim the credit of your recovery. But as soon as your strength returns you shall write, and I will provide a messenger to deliver your letter."
"My mother will be anxious," I said. "No doubt Belloc has told her something of what has happened."
"Make yourself easy on that head," exclaimed Raoul. "I thought of that, and sent D'Arcy to caution him. He will only mention that you have met with a slight accident."
This was very thoughtful as well as kind of my comrade, and I thanked him heartily.
Three weeks after my first coming downstairs, he took his departure for the capital. His patron had already sent him several urgent messages, and now that the doctor had pronounced me out of danger he felt it his duty to go.
"We are nearing the end," said he; "and the Duke has need of all his friends. Mazarin may make a desperate effort, but I prophesy that by the time you are well he will be dead or banished."
"In either case Paris will be no place for me, and I shall return to the farm."
"Not at all," he answered earnestly. "I shall speak to the Duke, and he will take you into his service."
Unwilling to vex him, I let the subject drop, though not having the slightest intention of joining the Cardinal's enemies. So I hobbled into the courtyard to witness his departure, and echoed his farewell, "Till we meet again," as he passed through the gateway.
At first I missed him a great deal, but each succeeding day increased my strength; I was able to walk alone, and altogether felt very comfortable. Either by myself or accompanied by the ladies I took the air on the terrace, or, wandering through the charming grounds, strolled by the margin of the silvery stream skirting the chateau.
The bitter strife of clashing interests, the tumult and horrors of the capital, did not extend to this peaceful spot; it might have been the heart of another country. The peasants were courteous and respectful, toiling patiently like oxen in yoke. As yet they had not learned their power, and the noble was still a master to be obeyed without murmur or complaint. Much to her aunt's annoyance, Marie went among them, smiling pleasantly, speaking kind words, bearing help to the distressed, soothing the sick, and treating them all, in fact, like human beings. At Aunay she was really happy, and her face wore an expression of content which one never saw in Paris.
"I could wish to live in the country always," she remarked once, "it is so peaceful after noisy, brawling Paris."
So the days glided by till there came to us in the chateau strange echoes of the outside world. The wildest rumours were repeated by the gentry of the neighbouring estates. One day we heard Conde was marching on Paris with ten thousand soldiers; the next that he had been poisoned in his cell at Havre. Some asserted that Mazarin, having made peace with De Retz, had triumphed over all his enemies, others that Orleans had hanged the Cardinal out of hand.
These tales agitated Madame Coutance, and I knew she longed to be back in the midst of the storm. While I remained at Aunay this was impossible, but, in spite of her desire, she would not let me depart.
"You will become a vegetable at Vancey," she said, "and I want to push your fortunes. Mazarin must soon be beaten, and you shall join the great prince. I have influence with him, and will use it."
Thanking her warmly, I pointed out that, having pledged my word to Mazarin, I could not accept the prince's favours.
"Bah!" she exclaimed, "no one can help a fallen favourite!"
"Then there is the Queen-Mother; I cannot range myself among her enemies."
"You are very simple," said madame smiling. "Anne of Austria has no enemies; we all bow to her and the little King. Conde is her chief friend," and with that she went away, leaving me to think over the matter.
Pillot to the Rescue.
Every day now the rumour of Mazarin's defeat grew louder, but, knowing the man well, I doubted if all France could disturb his position. And though I felt little personal liking for the Cardinal, it seemed to me that the country was safer in his hands than it would be in the hands of those opposed to him.
De Retz, a noisy brawler, stirred up the mob in his own interests; Gaston of Orleans, unstable as water, was a mere shuttle-cock tossed to and fro by any strong man who chose to make use of him; Conde, though a brave and skilful general, already grasped more power than a subject should possess. Between them they had turned Paris into a hot-bed of rebellion and discontent.
I was musing over these things one evening when a horseman came at walking pace into the courtyard of the chateau. The animal appeared tired out, and the man himself was covered with dust and dirt.
"A special messenger from Paris," I muttered, and, going forward, recognised Pillot, whom I had treated so scurvily at the inn.
The little man displayed no malice, but his eyes twinkled as he slipped from the back of his exhausted horse.
"You have ridden fast," I remarked, and, calling a servant, ordered him to give the animal a good feed and a rub down.
"Thanks, monsieur, he deserves it. A plague on these troublesome journeys. Why do people live outside Paris, I wonder?"
Laughing at the question, I inquired if he had come to see me.
"No, monsieur; this is an unexpected pleasure," and he showed his teeth in a broad grin. "I have brought a letter certainly, but this time there can be no mistake, as it is for a lady."
"If it is for Madame Coutance, you had better come to the house."
Madame had just returned from riding with Marie, but she at once received the messenger, and then sent him to obtain some much-needed refreshment. Breaking the seal, she read the letter hurriedly, with flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes.
"It is from Henri!" she exclaimed, excitedly, "and contains startling news. The old fox is beaten at last! De Retz has declared for Conde, who will soon take the reins into his own hands."
"Is Gaston left out in the cold?"
"Pouf! Henri doesn't even mention him; he is only a puppet."
"But he has a strong party!"
"Young scatter-brains like Raoul Beauchamp and Armand d'Arcy! Nice boys, but nothing more. Marie, we must go to the court to congratulate the Queen on her freedom."
"Or rather on her change of masters!" laughed the girl.
Later in the evening I went to find Pillot. Having eaten and drunk well, Henri's messenger was in a good temper, and willing to inform me of the most recent events.
"It is time to make a fresh move, monsieur," he said mockingly. "With so many brave Frenchmen to lead us we have no need of a beggarly foreigner. The first step was to join our forces, which made us so strong that Mazarin fled. By now, no doubt, Conde is out of prison."
"Then you are all friends together! How long will that last?"
"How long, monsieur? What a question!"
"Till you come to divide the spoils, I suppose?"
Pillot's eyes twinkled, and he answered roguishly, "Monsieur has learned the ways of the world. It is true thieves often quarrel over their booty, but on the other hand they do not share it with their victim's friends."
"What does that mean?"
"Simply that Paris at present is not a suitable place for a Mazarin. While dogs are growling over a bone, they are apt to snap at a passer-by."
"One should wait till they have turned to fighting among themselves," I remarked.
"If one has the patience, monsieur!"
"Oh, the quarrel soon begins. In less than a month's time you will be flying at each other's throats, and Mazarin will return with more power than ever."
"You are mistaken there, monsieur. Whatever else happens, we have finished with the Italian. Were he to set foot in Paris again, the people would tear him limb from limb."
"I suppose De Retz pays you well for your services?"
"I have little to do with the Abbe now," he said. "I am in the service of monsieur's cousin, and a man could have no better master."
That night when the household had retired to rest, I sat at my bedroom window looking out over the park. It was a beautiful scene; everything was hushed and still, and the quiet earth lay bathed in silvery moonlight. Pillot's talk had set me thinking. My wound had completely healed, and I felt strong enough to take a further part in the struggle. The situation was, however, puzzling. Mazarin's downfall had left me without a patron, and I could not join his enemies, most of whom, utterly and heartlessly selfish, cared for nothing but their own welfare. Their senseless squabbles were dragging France through the mire, and I longed to see my country strong and powerful.
From the dwarf's remarks I gathered that Conde intended going to Paris as the Queen's friend, but this could be nothing more than play-acting of the flimsiest character. It was as if a housebreaker took it upon himself to protect the building he had just robbed.
Reflecting calmly on these matters, I saw my duty plain. The Lady Anne was the natural guardian of the young King, and she required the aid of every honest Frenchman till her son became of an age to rule for himself. Reasoning thus, I resolved to set out straightway for Paris, and, having made up my mind, I closed the window and went to bed.
As soon as Madame Coutance heard of my intention she urged me to stay longer, but the look of relief in her eyes showed she was really pleased at my resolve. The country wearied her; she was eager to return to the old life, and after my departure there would be no necessity for her to remain at Aunay.
"We must make the most of Albert to-day, ma chere," she exclaimed brightly. "The house will be positively gloomy without him."
"When do you start?" asked Marie.
"To-morrow at day-break. I am strong enough now to use a sword, and the Queen-Mother has not too many friends around her."
Marie sighed. "I am tired of a contest in which selfishness plays so large a part," she remarked.
"Yet it is distinctly droll," observed her aunt. "For example, here is Albert, anxious to serve the Queen, while his cousin does his best for De Retz. On the other hand I wish to help the prince, while our friend Raoul takes orders from the King's uncle. Oh, it is a charming play!"
"Meanwhile the people die of starvation!" said Marie.
"That is unfortunate, certainly. But what would you? There must always be some to suffer."
"It is the people now; it will be the turn of the nobles later. The peasants won't always stand being ground down and starved," I said.
"Chut! my dear Albert, you talk like a carter. What have the people to do with us beyond cultivating our land? You should join De Retz, who intends doing so much for the canaille in the future."
"The very distant future," I said drily, and she laughed.
Personally she cared no more for the people than for the oxen on her estate, and said so openly.
During the afternoon I went for a turn in the park with Marie, when, strolling as far as the rivulet, we sat for a while on its bank. It was good to drink in the calm beauty of this scene, so utterly different from any Paris could offer; and the memory of it returned to me long afterwards, when, faint with hunger, and weary with fighting, I lay amid the dead and dying on a stricken battle-field. In the lengthening shadows we returned to the house, little dreaming what strange events would happen before we next wandered together in the park at Aunay.
It was not a cheerful evening, though madame laughed and said many smart things, in her brilliant way, to raise our spirits. At length she rose to retire to her own room.
"I will not say 'good-bye,'" she exclaimed saucily, "as we are certain to meet again. If you act on my advice it will be in the palace of Conde. The prince loves a lad of mettle."
"Albert must consult his own honour," said Marie.
"And ruin his prospects for an empty whim! Don't listen to her, Albert, and above all things, don't let Mazarin drag you down. Keep constantly in your mind that he has had his day, and will never return to power. Last of all, remember you are always welcome in the Rue Crillon, whether fortune treat you well or ill."
When they had gone I sent for Pillot, who was still in the house. Food and rest had performed wonders for the little man, who looked as jaunty and self-possessed as ever.
"Has your horse recovered?" I asked.
"I am starting for the capital at day-break. If you care to ride with me, I shall be glad of your company."
"Monsieur honours me!" said he, making a bow.
"Then tell the servants to prepare you an early breakfast, and join me in the courtyard at seven."
"I shall be there, monsieur," and the rascal tripped off smiling, while I, taking a candle, went to bed, hoping to obtain a good night's rest.
It was a glorious morning when we left Aunay, and Etienne, an old retainer on the estate, came to the gate to wish us God-speed.
"Give my respects to your mistress and to Mademoiselle de Brione," I said as we rode away.
The air was fresh and cool; dew-drops gemmed the earth's green carpet, and hung like pendants of brilliants from the leaves of the trees; hundreds of songsters poured forth delicious hymns of praise to the opening day; the rising sun tinted the distant peaks with purple and gold; the whole earth seemed like fairy-land.
Shaking his handsome mane, my horse, of his own accord, broke into a canter, while I, almost involuntarily, trolled forth a well-known hunting song.
Pillot, who rode at my side, was a merry companion, full of quips, and jests, and odd conceits, which lightened the tedium of the journey. The fellow was undoubtedly a rogue of the first water, but he possessed many amiable traits, and had a fine sense of humour.
Not being in a particular hurry, and still feeling the effects of my recent illness, I resolved to stay for the night at Aviers, a village about thirty miles from Aunay. The inn was dirty, the accommodation meagre, and the landlord a surly boor, who behaved as if we had done him a grievous injury by stopping at his house. After providing a feed for the horses, his resources appeared to be exhausted, and, but for Pillot, I should doubtless have gone to bed without supper. He, however, had a keen appetite, and meant to satisfy it.
"Stay here, monsieur," said he, cheerfully; "if there is anything eatable in the place we will soon have it on the table. Peste! things are coming to a fine pass when a gentleman cannot be served with food at an inn!"
He skipped away, and I heard him storming at our host in a high-pitched voice, threatening all manner of penalties unless supper was immediately forthcoming. Precisely what arguments he used I cannot say, but presently he returned in triumph with the surly innkeeper, carrying bread, butter, cheese, poached eggs, and a bottle of wine.
"There is a fowl cooking on the spit," said he, "but I thought that, meanwhile, monsieur would not object to begin with this."
He was right, I made no objections whatever, and, having finished the first course, was equally ready to proceed with the second. The fowl was done to a turn, and when at length the innkeeper came to clear away, he looked aghast at the wreck of his provisions.
"An excellent supper, Pillot!" I exclaimed contentedly. "I have no doubt that my cousin finds your services valuable."
"We all have our gifts," he replied laughing, "and the wise folk are those who know how to make use of them. But a word in your ear, monsieur. To-night it will be as well to sleep lightly. These villagers are hangdog looking fellows, and if they fancy we are worth plundering, why——" and he finished with a most comical shrug of the shoulders.
"It is a queer world, Pillot," I remarked. "Here at Aviers you do your best to keep me from harm; in Paris most likely you will be doing all in your power to kill me."