"Only in the way of business, monsieur, and for the good of the Cause!"
"What do you call the Cause?"
"The filling of my pocket, monsieur."
He was a thorough rascal, but not a hypocrite, and so far was a better man than those he served. He marched to battle under the banner of Pillot, and gathered in the spoils openly. He had a stout heart, too, and did not whine when the luck was against him, as he had shown at La Boule d'Or. Altogether, I could not help feeling a sort of liking for the rogue.
The chamber to which the innkeeper showed me after supper was small, dark, and low in the ceiling, but, as I have mentioned, the inn itself was a poor place. I looked to the fastenings of the door; they were very slight, and completely useless as a protection.
"Take no notice, monsieur," whispered Pillot, rapidly. "The boor has given me a sleeping place downstairs, but presently I shall return here quietly, and then—ah well, we shall see."
Then he wished me good-night loudly, and followed the landlord downstairs, while I, blowing out the light, lay fully dressed on the bed, and with my weapons close at hand. In spite of Pillot's warning I fell asleep, but it was still dark when I wakened with a curious feeling that something was happening. Being unable to see, I lay still and listened intently.
Creak! Creak! The sound was very low, but I recognised that some one was opening the door from the outside. Another creak, and then silence. Very quietly I reached for my sword and prepared to spring from the bed. Presently, as if satisfied that the sound had not disturbed me, my uninvited guest pushed the door ajar and slipped into the room. I could not perceive him, yet I knew he was creeping closer to my side.
"Pouf!" I thought to myself, "there will be an unwelcome surprise for you in a moment, my friend."
Suddenly the silence was broken by a loud and terrified cry, followed by a harsh laugh. Then there was a rush of feet towards the door, and, jumping to the ground, I groped for the tinder-box and procured a light. Running to the landing and holding up the candle, I was just in time to behold a most comical sight. One of the villagers was running down the stairs as fast as his legs would carry him, and screaming with fright, while Pillot clung firmly to his back.
"Help! help!" shouted the fellow; "help! the Evil One has got me," and very soon every one in the house was running to discover the cause of the tumult. At the bottom of the stairs the two passed from sight, but the screams continued, and presently we heard a smash as if a door had been burst open.
"What is it?" cried one of the trembling servants.
"It was Pierre Angin who called," said another, "I would swear to his voice."
The innkeeper turned to me appealingly, and willing to give them a further fright I said, "It is simple enough. This fellow came to rob, perhaps to kill me. I heard him in my room. For the rest I do not think he will turn thief again in a hurry."
In the midst of the hubbub, Pillot came towards us, rubbing his eyes sleepily, and asking in a cross voice what the mischief was, and why a man could not be allowed to sleep without all that clatter. So well did he act that, but for my glimpse of him on the stairs, I should not have guessed he was the author of the trick.
"If monsieur will lend me the candle," said he, "we will make a search," and he gravely led the way downstairs.
"This is the way," cried the innkeeper, "see here!" and, perspiring with excitement, he pointed to the door which led into the stable yard. In his desperate efforts to escape, the fellow had burst it open at a blow.
No one in the inn went to sleep again that night. Pillot returned to my room, and told with evident enjoyment all about his trick. He was lying in wait when the man first entered, and, as the fellow crouched to the ground, had sprung lightly on his back.
"He thought the Evil One had him, monsieur, to a certainty, and yelled loud enough to waken the dead. I do believe that till his dying day Pierre Angin will be an honest man!"
As soon as it was light the innkeeper, still looking white and scared, prepared some breakfast, and afterwards ordered our animals to be brought to the door. From the joyful way he pocketed the coin I gave him, it was evident he had not counted on payment, which perhaps explained the surliness of his manners. Might was right in those dark days of the Fronde, and the folk of the strong hand cared little for justice. Pillot, I am sure, thought me crazy, to pay this simple boor in money, when a cut with a whip would, in his opinion, have done just as well.
The weather remained beautifully fine, and, until near the capital, our ride was very pleasant. During the last part of the journey, however, my cheerfulness was dashed by the universal signs of desolation and decay. The ground lay bare and unfilled, the fat beeves and sturdy oxen had vanished, to be replaced here and there by a lean scraggy beast or two, all skin and bone; the yards were destitute of ricks, the hovels were deserted or inhabited by diseased and half-starved scarecrows; erstwhile honest villagers, rendered desperate by hunger, prowled in the woods to pounce on any unwary traveller whom chance should deliver into their hands.
Pillot saw to his pistols and I loosened my sword, since it was probable we should have occasion for both. One ragged, unkempt fellow did take a shot at us from behind a tree, but, missing his aim, he dashed into the thick wood and was lost to sight.
"Parbleu! these peasants need not talk of the wickedness of Paris!" exclaimed my companion, "when a peaceful citizen cannot travel in safety on the king's highway."
"Starving men rarely distinguish between right and wrong, and these people have been turned into wild beasts. Robbed and beaten as they are, I don't wonder that they rise against those who oppress them!"
"Ah!" cried Pillot with a grin, "it is all the doing of the wicked Cardinal, and these poor people perhaps recognise monsieur as his friend."
"I wonder you are not afraid to ride with me," said I, laughing at his impudence.
After this trifling adventure we rode warily, keeping a sharp look-out for any further ambush, but perhaps our display of weapons frightened the robbers, as no one interfered with us again until we arrived at the gate of St. Denis just before it closed for the night. Here I parted with Pillot, who had to make his report to my cousin Henri.
"Till our next merry meeting, monsieur!" cried he heartily. "By that time I hope we shall both be on the same side. Mazarin is gone for good, and you cannot do better than join us—we play the winning game."
The rascal bowed low and rode off, while I turned towards the city.
A Scheme that Went Amiss
Paris seemed much as usual. The streets were filled with noisy bands of turbulent people, but there were fewer cries of "Down with Mazarin!" the mob contenting itself with cheering for Conde and De Retz, though several times I heard the Prince's name uttered with every sign of anger and disapproval.
Fortunately my former rooms were still vacant, so, having stabled my horse at the inn two doors below, I took possession, and soon had the satisfaction of sitting down to an ample supper.
"Monsieur has been long away," remarked the landlord on coming to remove the things.
"I have been in the country for the benefit of my health," I replied carelessly. "Affairs have changed since I was here last."
"Ah, yes! The Cardinal has fled, and Conde will be master now. The stupid Fronde is done with, monsieur, and we are all brothers together."
"And the Queen?" I asked curiously, "does she approve of all these changes?"
"She is delighted, monsieur. There will be no rough places or crooked paths for her any more; the prince is so powerful that no one dares to attack her," and the honest fellow departed, smiling with pleasure at the prospect of peace.
Early the next morning I walked across to the Palais Royal, wondering what was best to be done, when, to my lively joy, I found that Belloc still held a command there. I gave my name to the officer on duty, and was immediately admitted to the old soldier's quarters. He was sitting in his room, looking harassed and worn, which rather surprised me, because as a rule nothing troubled him. He greeted me kindly, and as we sat chatting I thought he was trying to make up his mind on some knotty point.
"Were you in the city last night?" he asked presently.
"Yes! The people are wild with delight at the idea of seeing Conde."
Casting an anxious glance round the room, he said in a low voice, "Come nearer, Albert, I am going to reveal a secret. First of all, the Prince is still in prison, and if all goes well this evening he will stay there. You are a brave lad, and honest, and I think you can help me."
"I will do my best," said I, flushing with pleasure at his praise.
"The adventure is dangerous, and it worries me, not for myself but for others. If it succeeds, the Cardinal will be stronger than ever; if it fails——" and he finished with a shrug of his shoulders.
"You may count on me."
"Yes, I am sure of it. Well, this is what we intend to do. At present the Queen has few friends in Paris, but the country will fight for the King. Now, the plan is to smuggle them out of the city, when they will join the Cardinal, and take up arms for the freedom of the throne. Without Conde, the rest will be able to accomplish nothing."
"A good plan," said I, "and the sooner it is carried out the better."
"If all goes well, to-morrow morning will find us far away from Paris. Everything is ready, but I cannot trust the Queen's coachman. He is an honest fellow enough, but timid, and likely to lose his head at the first sign of danger. Do you think you can drive the coach safely?"
"Let me choose my horses!"
"You can have the pick of the royal stables. But, mind you, Albert, this is no child's play. If the mob gets wind of the affair there will be a terrible struggle. I shall not think the worse of you if you decide to leave the business alone."
"I will undertake it, old friend, but you must supply me with a coachman's dress."
"That can be obtained easily; there are plenty for sale in the city, and I will send a trusty fellow to buy one which will fit you."
He left the room, hinting it would be better that I should not show myself, and leaving me in a high state of excitement to ponder over the coming venture. It was a risky one, but I was young and hot-headed, and did not fully realise the danger.
The old soldier returned about noon, bringing my fresh clothes with him, and I put them on. Then he browned my face and hands with some colouring matter, and I was transformed into a very fair specimen of a coachman.
"Parbleu!" cried he, rubbing his hands, "you will do famously. Now I will take you to the stables; choose your horses; have them ready, and bring them round to Mazarin's private entrance at six o'clock precisely. You have your pistols? Right. I don't know about your sword, but perhaps it will be useful. I will have it placed on the seat of the coach. First of all, though, you must have something to eat, and I will serve you myself; it is doubtful which of the servants can be trusted."
During the meal he repeated his instructions, and it was plain that the terrible responsibility had made him extremely anxious.
"Mind," said he, as we rose at length to leave the room, "from this moment your life is no longer your own. You must sacrifice it, if need be, for the Queen."
"I am willing to do that, monsieur, though I hope there will be no occasion."
Passing along the corridor, and descending a flight of steps, we reached a part of the palace which I had not visited before, and were met by M. Corveau, who was really in command of the stables, though most of the fees went to a much more distinguished person.
M. Belloc introduced us to each other, and with a last whispered word of advice returned to his duties. I accompanied my new acquaintance to the stables, and after some delay chose two animals for the work in hand.
"You evidently know something of horseflesh," said Corveau, smiling, "but these are rather difficult to drive; they are too spirited."
"They will make it the more awkward for any one who happens to get in their way."
"True; but are you strong enough in the wrists to hold them?"
"I believe I can manage it."
"Well," he said, "I wish you good luck," but his tone clearly showed that he did not expect it.
However, it was useless being alarmed; so, putting a bold face on the matter, I made friends with the horses, fed and watered them myself, and spent all the afternoon with them. A quarter before six I had them put to, and, mounting the box, drove the carriage—a private one borrowed for the occasion—slowly round to the appointed place. It still wanted a few minutes to six when the bells of the city churches clanged forth in thunderous peals, and, though ignorant of the cause, I felt somewhat alarmed.
"That will be awkward for our plan," I muttered. "There is a tumult of some sort going on, and the streets will be crowded. So much the worse for us."
Five minutes passed, but no one had opened the door of the Palace; another five minutes slipped away and the animals were growing restless, when suddenly Belloc himself appeared. One glance at his face was sufficient to tell me that something had gone amiss.
"Get your weapons," he cried, "send the horses back to the stables, and come inside."
As soon as I had joined him, he fastened the door, and led the way upstairs.
"What has happened?" I asked, feeling strangely bewildered.
"Treachery," said he sternly; "we have been betrayed. Orleans has seized the gates, and the streets are filled with a shouting mob. Change your dress quickly, we shall need every sword."
"But the mob will not dare——"
"Peste! the mob will dare anything! De Retz has called the people to arms, and presently they will attack the Palace. Paris will swim in blood before morning."
"But De Retz will prevent the canaille from going too far."
"Bah! you speak like a boy! Once they are roused, De Retz can no more hold them back than he can fondle a starving tigress without being bitten. Make haste and come to me."
By the time I had cleansed the stain from my hands and face, and resumed my ordinary apparel, every one in the Palace was aware of the terrible danger. Trembling servants went about with white faces; high-born cavaliers lined the corridors leading to the royal apartments; officers silently posted their men; everything was made ready for a fierce struggle.
"No surrender!" was the cry from every fighting man. "Let us die where we stand."
Gradually the noise and tumult outside came nearer; we could hear the tramp of marching feet and the savage shouts of the populace clamouring to see the King. Choosing the post of danger, M. Belloc had stationed himself with a few trusty soldiers near the main entrance, where I joined him. The veteran was fuming with impatience; he only awaited an order from the Palace to sally forth upon the advancing multitude.
"The King!" roared the excited mob; "where is the King? show us the King!" and our leader glanced at me as if to say, "I told you the plot had been betrayed."
Meanwhile the Queen and her attendants, working hard, had restored the Palace to its usual appearance; Louis was in bed, sleeping soundly, and all traces of the intended flight had been removed.
Presently a note was brought from the Queen to Belloc, who, reading it hastily, told the messenger to inform her Majesty that her commands should be obeyed; then turning to us, he added that no one was to fire a shot until he himself gave the signal.
"Her Majesty," he explained, "hopes no blood will be shed, but that the mob having discovered its mistake will disperse quietly."
"A fig for the mob!" said a grim-looking trooper to a comrade; "let our leader give the word and we will soon clear the courtyard."
"Here comes an officer," said another; "he is wearing the Orleans colours. What does he want?"
"Bah!" cried a third trooper, who spoke with a strange accent, "this isn't the way to quell a riot. My old master lost his head through not knowing how to deal with rebels. The block for the leaders and a whipping for the others would soon teach them their manners."
The words and the accent made me look at the speaker more closely. He was a young fellow with fair hair and blue eyes like D'Arcy, but he was built more stoutly and looked stronger altogether. His name, I learned afterwards, was John Humphreys, and he was the son of an English gentleman who had lost his estates through fighting for his King, Charles I. At the moment, however, I could not think much of this young exile, my attention being engrossed by the Orleanist officer, who rode across the courtyard towards us.
"Raoul!" I exclaimed to myself, and drew back into the shadow, not caring that he should notice me. He did not seem very happy, and approached our leader as if thoroughly ashamed of his errand.
"I am Captain of the Guard to the Duke of Orleans," he explained, "and am desired by the Duke to seek an audience with her Majesty the Queen-Mother."
"Are those your followers?" asked Belloc scornfully, pointing to the howling mob outside.
Raoul returned no answer, but bit his lip deeply, while the other continued, "It is no fault of mine, M. Raoul Beauchamp, that you gain admittance to the Palace. But for the Queen's orders I would gladly send you back to your friends who make war so bravely—on a woman and a boy."
"Your speech is a trifle unjust, M. Belloc," said Raoul; "I am a soldier, and cannot question the commands of my chief. As to my own feelings—well that is another matter," and with a studied bow he passed into the building.
Meanwhile the mob was increasing in numbers and violence every moment, and, as the soldiers had received orders not to fire, the courtyard was soon filled with excited people who howled, and danced, and shouted for the King to be produced. Two or three times I glanced anxiously at Belloc, wondering how much longer his patience would last.
"Open the doors," cried the foremost rioters; "we will enter and see for ourselves where the King is."
"The King is in bed!" cried M. Belloc angrily.
"Ah! at St. Germain!" shouted a fellow dressed like a street hawker, but whose voice I recognised, "We are betrayed!"
It was very stupid to interfere, but I could not resist the chance.
"Ha! ha! friend Peleton, then for once you are on the wrong side!" I laughed. "Generally it is you who do the betraying."
The fellow rushed at me savagely, but the young Englishman drove him back, saying, "Down, dog! Keep with your kind! You are not wanted with honest men."
"Peace!" cried M. Belloc angrily, for he saw, what I did not, that the crowd was gradually working itself into a fit of passion.
Fortunately, just then the door was opened, and Raoul, coming outside, was immediately recognised as the messenger of the Duke of Orleans.
"The King!" they yelled; "Where is he?" "Have you seen him?" "Speak or we will pull the place down."
Raoul stood on the topmost step, and raised his hand for silence. His face was pale, but he looked very handsome, and was evidently not in the least afraid.
"You have been deceived," he said. "The King is within the Palace. I have seen him; he is sound asleep. Go away quietly, or you will waken him."
They would probably have taken his advice but for Peleton, who cried lustily, "We are betrayed! How can we tell what is true, unless we see for ourselves."
"Yes, yes," shouted the mob; "that is the best way; we will see the King with our own eyes!"
Again Raoul raised his hand and spoke, telling them the King was asleep; they would not be satisfied, but demanded loudly that they should be admitted to the Palace. The situation was growing critical; we stood, as it were, upon a mine, which a spark might explode at any moment. M. Belloc's face was pale but determined; his brows were knitted; he gazed at the mob with angry scorn.
"Give us the word, sir," said the young Englishman, "and we will scatter them like chaff!"
This, I knew well, was mere reckless bravery; we were but a handful compared with the multitude, and would quickly have been lost in the human sea. Still, I liked the speaker none the less for his daring, and more than one trooper grimly growled approval.
Raoul was white now, and the perspiration stood in beads on his forehead. At first I did not understand why he should be afraid, but his hurried words to our leader made the reason plain.
"Unless something is done quickly," he exclaimed, "there will be a frightful tragedy. I will write a note to the Duke, and you shall send it by a private way. He is the only man who can induce these people to disperse."
"He, or De Retz," said Belloc with a sneer.
I had never seen the old warrior so angry. He was playing a part for which he had no liking. It was not in his nature to stand quietly by while his sovereign was insulted; his fingers strayed nervously towards the hilt of his sword; he would have leaped for joy had his Queen sent him permission to charge headlong at the rabble. But he realised, as we did, that the safety of the Royal Family depended more on tact than on brute courage, and he had just agreed to Raoul's proposal when a note was handed him from the Palace.
"Parbleu!" he exclaimed savagely, having mastered its contents, "this goes against the grain, but the Queen's commands must be obeyed. Here is an order, monsieur, to admit a part of the canaille into the Palace! Perhaps, monsieur, you will select the sturdiest of your ruffians for the honour."
Raoul did not resent the insult, though his face burned like fire, but facing the angry people he spoke to them boldly.
"Citizens," cried he, in a clear ringing voice, "I have a message for you from Her Majesty. I have told you the King is in bed and asleep, but you are not satisfied. That you may be quite sure, the Queen-Mother desires that a deputation shall visit the royal apartments. Will you be content with the report of your own friends?"
"Yes, yes," shouted the mob; "let us see the King!"
"One word more," continued Raoul sternly, when the hubbub had subsided. "I am, as you are aware, for the Duke of Orleans, and he, mind you, is loyal to the crown."
"So are we! Vive le roi!"
"And I will run my sword through the first man who insults the Queen-Mother by word or look."
I was proud of Raoul at that moment, and Belloc gripped his hand, saying heartily, "Forgive my rough words, Beauchamp; you are made of the right stuff after all!"
Directly the door was opened the mob pressed forward, and I called mockingly to Peleton to come inside the Palace, but that worthy, having finished his work, slunk away.
To relieve the pressure other doors were opened, and soon we had a motley throng of carters, hawkers, and shopkeepers, waiting to be led to the King's room. At a sign from Belloc I accompanied them, and for the first time Raoul perceived me. He dared not speak just then, but his face showed how completely he detested his errand.
After a short delay the procession was marshalled into something like order, and I must say, in justice to our uninvited visitors, that, now their point was gained, no one could grumble with their behaviour. They walked softly, and spoke in whispers, and as we approached the royal apartments every man bared his head. The soldiers were out of sight, and the Queen-Mother was attended only by the ladies of her household. The Lady Anne's face betrayed no sign of fear. From her manner one would have thought she was receiving a deputation from the crowned heads of Europe.
The King, as Raoul had declared, was in bed, and sleeping so soundly that the tumult and confusion failed to awaken him. Very softly the men stole past on tip-toe, and, as they gazed at the handsome boy, more than one grimy unkempt fellow murmured, "God bless him!"
All danger was at an end, the raging tigers who had stormed in the courtyard were changed into lambs, and the only cry to reach the soldiers on guard at the gates was, "Vive le roi!" As soon as the last man had departed, the doors of the Palace were securely fastened, and then M. Belloc despatched me by a private way to discover what was happening in the city. In order to avoid undue attention I threw a plain cloak over my gaudy apparel, but there was no danger. A few hired agitators endeavoured to stir up the tumult afresh, but the men who had beheld the sleeping King would not give them hearing.
"The Duke has been deceived," shouted one burly ruffian. "I have been to the Palace and seen the King asleep. The Queen does not wish to leave Paris, I tell you!"
In this, of course, he was wrong, but his words had effect, and the mob at that point breaking up dispersed to their homes. For two hours I roamed about, and then, finding the streets rapidly clearing, returned to the Palais Royal with the assurance that, for the time at least, De Retz and his friends had failed.
"Had I my way," exclaimed Belloc wrathfully, "both De Retz and Orleans should find lodgings in the Bastille. However, we have done our best, and must wait events. This night's work means that Conde must be set at liberty. A plague on it!"
"Then we may bid a long adieu to the Cardinal!"
"Don't be so sure of that, my boy. Mazarin may have a fall or two, but he generally wins at the finish. And now, go to my room and rest; we will have a further talk in the morning."
I have a Narrow Escape.
At breakfast, M. Belloc, who had not retired during the night, informed me that he had already received the Queen's commands, and was on the point of setting out for Havre, where the Cardinal was expected to be found.
"At present," he continued, "we must play a waiting game. Our time will come when the new allies begin quarrelling, and that will not be long."
"Do I go with you?" I asked.
"No. It is possible you may be of some use to us in Paris, and I have told Le Tellier where to find you. I have also given your name to the Queen, and informed her she may rely on your services. It may be that I shall return shortly; if so, you will hear from me. Meanwhile, keep eyes and ears well open, and be ready to obey any order from Le Tellier or the Queen."
As soon as my friend had started—and he was in a desperate hurry—I returned to my rooms, feeling rather lonely and disappointed. On the table was a brief note from Raoul, announcing that he had gone to Havre, and could not tell when he would be in Paris again.
"Peste!" I exclaimed moodily, "one might as well be at Vancey as here. How shall I pass the time? It seems that, after all, I have brought my produce to a bad market."
I had stayed at home several days doing nothing, when one evening my landlord, bustling into the room, exclaimed, "Is it possible monsieur does not know that the city is en fete in honour of the prince's arrival? All the world has gone to witness the sights, and the prince is expected in an hour's time!"
I had no desire to swell the welcome to Conde, but to sit moping alone was dreary work; so, buckling on my sword, I sallied out. Always at one extreme or the other, the Parisians had prepared a magnificent reception for their latest favourite. Lanterns were hung from the windows of the houses, bonfires blazed, bands of nobles in gorgeous dresses lined the streets, splendid carriages with richly-caparisoned horses were drawn up, ready to take part in the procession, while the people were cheering in their thousands for Conde.
"Ma foi!" exclaimed a strong voice, which sounded somewhat familiar, "one would imagine this Conde to be a king!" and looking round, I recognised the Englishman who belonged to the Queen's Guards.
"Be careful," said I, warningly. "It is unwise to abuse Conde here."
"For to-day!" replied he, laughing. "To-morrow it may be different. Pardon me, monsieur, but I do not understand your people. They are too much like quicksilver; one is never sure where to catch them. Just now they welcome Conde as a hero, but who can say what they will do in a week?"
"Monsieur makes the mistake of most strangers; he judges the country by Paris, which is wrong," I remarked.
"Perhaps so. Paris is almost the only place with which I am acquainted. But are you, too, waiting to cheer Conde? If not, let us slip away from the crowd; the noise is becoming a nuisance."
He was such a pleasant fellow that I gladly joined him, and we strolled back together to the Palais Royal. His name, as I have mentioned, was John Humphreys, and, although still a young man, he had already been through numerous adventures. In the great English Civil War he had fought at his father's side for King Charles. Then, being left alone and penniless by the death of his father in the Low Countries, he had journeyed to Paris and taken service in the Queen's Guards. There were numerous English exiles in Paris at that time, but most of them, I think, were in the pay of Conde.
Raoul had not returned, so that I was glad of the Englishman's company, and, indeed, we very soon became good friends. He was never tired of talking about his country and of his hope one day to live there again. Sometimes I accompanied him to his quarters at the Palais Royal, where he introduced me to a few of his comrades, but more often we strolled about the city.
For once in a while Paris was actually quiet. The people went peacefully to their daily work; the lowest classes retired to their dens, and one could take a morning walk without meeting a howling mob. Every one repeated the same tale. Mazarin would never return; Conde was master, and the stupid Fronde was at an end.
Madame Coutance had returned to Paris with her niece, and occasionally I spent an hour at her house, where she treated me with much kindness; only she would insist that I was a silly fellow not to abandon a lost cause.
For a time it really seemed that Conde's triumph was assured, but soon I began to hear whispers that all was not right in the Palais Royal. Bits of gossip picked up by the Englishman, and a word or two from Le Tellier, made me imagine that Conde's position was less safe than he imagined.
Sitting alone one evening by the open window of my room, I noticed, approaching the house, a handsomely-dressed gallant, holding in his hand a naked sword on which were some fresh blood-stains. He, glanced up at me, smiling, and I, recognising Raoul, ran hastily to meet him.
"Why, it is as dangerous to visit you as a deposed favourite!" he cried merrily.
"You come in such gorgeous plumage. Many a man in the Rue des Catonnes would cheerfully risk his life for the value of your gold braid. But," glancing at the blood on his sword, "you have discovered that!"
"Yes, there is a poor wretch farther down nursing his arm and grumbling frightfully at his own clumsiness; but I threw him a pistole or two to buy some ointment. So you have not followed the Cardinal?"
"No! I am waiting here till his return," and we went upstairs together, Raoul laughing heartily at what he called my impudence.
He did not refer to our last meeting at the Palais Royal, but chatted gaily about his sudden visit to Havre, though, of course, without revealing to me the secrets of his party.
"Well," I remarked presently, "now that the wretched squabble is over, what have you gained by it?"
"Over?" he cried in astonishment; "come to the Pont Neuf and see for yourself what is going on. The cards have been shuffled again, and we are playing the game with different partners. Conde has gone too far, and Dame Anne will have none of him. He claims every office in the State for his friends, and three-fourths of the country for himself. Unless he is put down, as Mazarin says, there will be nothing left but to carry him to Rheims."
"Then you have broken with the prince?"
"Our party holds the scales at present; neither side can do anything without us."
"What of De Retz?"
"That is the most comical part of all; he is hand in glove with the Queen, and has become Conde's bitterest enemy. At least that was the situation this morning. To-morrow perhaps will furnish a fresh move."
"One has to blush for being a Frenchman! I shall go to Marshal Turenne; he is the only honest man in the country."
"Another broken reed, my friend! If rumour speaks truly, he has made a bargain with Conde, and will support him even in open rebellion. By the way, do not wander about the city too much at night."
"Why?" I asked, looking at him in surprise.
"Because you have made two bitter enemies—Maubranne and Peleton. They have both joined De Retz, and Peleton will work you all the mischief he can. He is a dangerous man."
"A fig for Peleton! He is a coward."
"A coward can often strike a sure blow in the dark."
We were in the streets by this time, and, passing with difficulty through the crowds of people, I was strongly reminded of the evening when I accompanied the now exiled minister to the house of the astrologer.
The riff-raff of the city were out in large numbers; the hawkers were crying their literary wares; the Black Mantles had gathered in knots to guard their property; while the young bloods swaggered along, laughing and joking, but toying with their swords as if longing for a chance to use them. On the previous occasion the rabble had roared themselves hoarse with cries against Mazarin and the Queen-Mother; now they shouted with equal vigour against Conde and his friends.
"The Abbe is still alive," remarked Raoul, as we pushed a way through the crowd.
"Is this his doing?"
"Every bit of it, and your cousin Henri makes an able lieutenant. De Retz is a dangerous enemy; all the blackguards in the city are under his thumb. You will find that he will drive the prince out of Paris before he has finished."
"What are they doing to that fellow yonder? Why, it is Joli, and they are making him cry 'Down with Conde!'"
Raoul burst out laughing. "Joli is Conde's henchman!" he exclaimed, "and a week ago he had the mob at his call. To-morrow as likely as not the idiots will be bawling for Mazarin."
"The nobles have set them a good example. There goes Joli. I did not think he could run so fast. But these fellows are becoming too daring. See, they have stopped a carriage at the corner of the street, and are threatening the occupants."
"More of Conde's friends," said Raoul lightly. "Fortunately, Joli has put the crowd in good humour, and there will be no mischief done unless those inside are obstinate."
"Listen. There is one woman not easily frightened!" and above the turmoil caused by the canaille rose a defiant "Vive le Prince!"
"Imbecile!" cried Raoul angrily, "they will tear her in pieces!"
"She has plenty of pluck, whoever she is!" I replied.
The next instant we had drawn our swords; for the woman in the carriage who had so proudly defied the ruffians of Paris was Madame Coutance, and by her side, pale yet undismayed, sat Marie.
The elder lady, marvellously handsome in her excitement, stood up in full view of the crowd. Her cheeks were flushed; her large black eyes flashed with surprising brilliancy; her lips were firm and compressed; and she gazed at the mob in scornful disdain. At first the people laughed good-naturedly, telling her that if she would cry "Down with Conde!" they would let her carriage pass. Then some of the fiercer ones pressing closer, used threats, but Madame Coutance, either reckless from excitement or not understanding the danger, only smiled.
Raoul and I had reached the fringe of the now angry crowd, when, turning round at a touch on my shoulder, I perceived my English friend.
"What is it?" he asked. "Another revolution?"
"The people are trying to force a woman to cry 'Down with Conde.'"
"There's her answer," said he, as in a clear ringing voice Madame Coutance cried aloud, "Pah! You are not good enough for Conde to wipe his boots on!"
There was no disguising the bitterness of the insult. The aristocrat flung it at them, flung it fight in their faces, and laughed as she saw it strike home. A howl of rage greeted the taunt, and, listening to the wild, fierce yell—so different from the noisy bravado of a few minutes before, I shuddered; there was something so stern and purposeful about it.
For fully a minute each man stood in his place, nursing the insult he had received; then, as if by one common impulse, the whole body sprang at the carriage. The uproar waxed furious; the narrow street became a pandemonium; in their savage eagerness the people struggled and fought without order or method.
The occupants of the houses on both sides, joining in the fray, showered missiles on the excited mob; the horses, maddened by the din, kicked and plunged; men shouted and women screamed; while Marie's aunt stood laughing defiantly at the monster her words had conjured up. She had thrown one arm around her niece as if to protect her, and confronted the mob with flashing eyes and scornful brow.
At the first sign of danger we had drawn our swords; now, flinging ourselves headlong into the press, we struck out fiercely to right and left, trying to force a passage to the carriage. Raoul cut and thrust in gallant style, and all the time he shouted with the full power of his lungs, "Orleans! Orleans! To me, friends of Orleans." I, taking my cue, yelled for Conde; the Englishman shouted, "Way for the Queen's Guards," while the mob endeavoured to drown our appeals by the ugly menace of "Death to the Nobles!"
There was scant leisure in which to look at the ladies, but Madame Coutance did not once alter her position, nor try to hide the sneering smile on her face.
Meanwhile our lusty shouts had brought assistance. Several Black Mantles, fearful lest the riot should spread, fought with us; a couple of gentlemen, responding to the cry of "Conde!" had dashed in behind me, and presently from the street corner came a shout of "Beauchamp! Beauchamp!"
"Bravo, D'Arcy!" cried Raoul in answer, and we continued the fight with greater zest. After all, the nobles of France were not quite dead to honour; their lives were still at the service of their friends.
Taking the shortest cut through the crowd, John Humphreys and I had reached the carriage door, and now stood with our backs to it, striving desperately to keep the ruffians off; Raoul, aided by several Black Mantles, was working round to the other side.
At first we fought with a certain amount of skill and method, only endeavouring to parry our opponents' strokes, but presently the struggle became grim and deadly. Then the fading daylight rapidly gave place to darkness, which was hardly lessened by the lanterns swung from the windows or by the fitful glow of the glaring pitch in the falot at the corner of the street. The figures of the combatants, now momentarily lost in the black shadows, again springing forward into full relief, were horribly grotesque.
Like ourselves, the people of the gutters were growing desperate, holding their own lives of no account, if only they could seize their prey. Yelling and screaming, they struck out wildly with the oddest of odd weapons, and sprang at us, gnashing their teeth like wild beasts.
[Transcriber's note: illustration missing from book]
Of the Black Mantles who supported us, two went down quickly and were trampled on; Raoul was bleeding in the face, and I had received a nasty cut across the head; but Armand d'Arcy and his friends were breaking through the crowd, while the cries of "Orleans!" and "Conde" redoubled.
Suddenly in the midst of it, my sword snapped against a pike-head, and in another instant I should have been killed but for Madame Coutance, who, with the heavy end of the coachman's whip, struck my assailant across the forehead, felling him like a log.
Taken by surprise, I turned to glance at my deliverer, when a brawny fellow with fiery red hair, whose weapon had been wrenched from him in the fray, leaped at my throat. By the flame of a lackey's torch I saw he was as ugly a rascal as one would find in Paris. He had a huge mouth, with yellow, wolf-like teeth; his face was scarred in a dozen places; the bridge of his nose had at one time been broken, while the veins of his neck stood out like cords, A pair of tattered breeches and the remnant of a shirt constituted his fighting costume.
Missing my neck, he caught me round the body just under the arm-pits, but leaving my arms free. For a second or two I was held as in a vice; I thought my ribs would crack under the pressure, and struggled wildly for breath. The main fight went on around us unheeded, as we swayed to and fro, now lurching against the broken carriage, now pushed under the heels of the kicking horses, or stumbling beneath the weapons of the other combatants.
I could no longer distinguish anything clearly, and the shouting sounded in my ears like the thunderous roaring of the ocean. Blood was running from my nostrils; the pain in my chest might have been caused by red-hot knives; it was almost impossible to breathe. The fellow was slowly crushing me, and I was helpless. I should have cried aloud in agony, but could make only a faint gurgling noise. Closer and closer pressed the iron grip; my eyes burned like fire, while my breath came in short, stifling gasps. Still I stood firmly on the ground with my feet wide apart, and, strong as my assailant was, he had not beaten me completely.
If only I could get a breath of air into my lungs! It was my one chance and the last; but the brawny ruffian, guessing how nearly gone I was, hugged me ever the more tightly, till it seemed that the unequal strife could not last another second. Whether the final result was brought about by my last desperate effort, or was due to chance, I could not tell, but suddenly both of us, locked as we were in each other's arms, fell. I was underneath, but, strangely enough, the pressure relaxed, and my assailant uttered a deep groan.
Presently the heavy weight lying across my body was removed; I began to breathe, and to wonder what had happened. Very slowly I opened my eyes and gazed in astonishment at the altered scene.
The street was in possession of the Queen's Guards, at whose approach the rioters, acting on instructions from their leaders, had fled, carrying their wounded comrades with them. In the middle of the roadway stood a group of young gallants—all of whom had borne a part in the fray, and several Black Mantles, attending to a slightly injured man! Raoul and Armand d'Arcy were wiping the blood from my face, while the Englishman was forcing some liquid between my teeth.
"How do you feel?" he asked. "Can you stand?"
"Yes, there is nothing much wrong; only I have had a bear's hug, which was by no means pleasant. What has become of my opponent?"
"His friends carried him off. He was insensible; one of the frightened horses kicked him. He was a savage customer."
"You had a narrow escape, my boy," said Raoul, smiling cheerfully; "you were black in the face when we removed the fellow. Now, lean on me, you must pay your respects to the ladies."
"Salute the hero!" laughed D'Arcy. "Bring flowers and wreathe a garland for his brow. Let the conqueror be crowned on the tented field."
"Be still, D'Arcy," said Raoul, "your tongue runs like a woman's," and he conducted me to Marie and her aunt, who, between them, made a pretty speech in my honour. They wished me to enter the carriage, which, though badly damaged, remained fit for use; but to this I would not agree, preferring to walk beside it.
While the coachman put his harness straight, and quietened his frightened horses, the ladies spoke a few kind words to the wounded Black Mantle who had fought for them so bravely. Fortunately he had not been seriously hurt, and was able, with the assistance of his friends, to walk home.
Suddenly young D'Arcy, who could never remain long in a serious humour, requested us to wait a few minutes, and without staying for answer darted off to his friends, who immediately dispersed.
"What mischief is the young madcap bent on now?" I asked, wonderingly.
"Armand has a brilliant idea," Raoul replied, laughing, "be patient and you will see."
Now that the excitement had cooled, I looked round for the Englishman, but he had vanished, for which, when D'Arcy's hare-brained scheme became plain, I was not altogether sorry.
I again Encounter Maubranne.
The Queen's Guards had disappeared; the coachman was mounting to his seat when Armand and his friends returned, flourishing lighted torches, and singing a ridiculous song about the Abbe de Retz.
"A torchlight procession in honour of the bravery of the ladies!" exclaimed D'Arcy with a merry laugh. "Form your ranks, gentlemen; we will teach the impudent little Abbe to keep his place!"
Holding torches in their left hands and naked swords in their right, the youthful gallants fell in; some in front, others to the rear of the carriage, while Raoul and I, unable to oppose this ludicrous whim, walked on either side. Marie, who did not favour D'Arcy's pleasantry, sat so far back that her face could not be observed, but her aunt entered into the fun, and laughed merrily when the torchbearers, catching some luckless wight, forced him to bow humbly before the carriage and to cry, "Vivent les Dames!"
The glare of the torches, the trampling of feet, the songs and laughter of the escort, brought the people out in crowds, which compelled us to proceed at a slow pace. Here and there we heard a growl of "Down with Conde!" but for the most part the worthy citizens enjoyed the spectacle and cheered heartily.
In the Rue Michel we were brought to a halt, and it appeared as if a second and more serious blood-letting would occur. The narrow street was already crowded, and a carriage, preceded by half-a-dozen lackeys bearing torches, came towards us. Casting a furtive glance at Raoul, I discovered him looking anxiously at me; it was obvious to us both that one party must turn back, but, unfortunately for any peaceful intentions we might have had, young D'Arcy who led the van, showed no sign of yielding.
"Make room there!" he shouted imperiously, as if he were Conde himself, and the people, cowed by our display of strength, parted to right and left, leaving a clear passage.
This gave us a clearer view of the other carriage, and I noticed with dismay that it must belong to some important personage. Behind rode a number of cavaliers richly dressed, and what was more to the purpose, well armed. Suddenly a mocking cry from Armand informed us who it was that paraded the streets thus numerously attended.
"Bring your torches nearer, gentlemen, that we may observe the red hat of our little friend the better!" he exclaimed.
A burst of mocking laughter greeted this speech, as every one knew how De Retz had been tricked by Mazarin, and how furious he was at having failed to obtain a Cardinal's hat. Even the bystanders, most of whom were the Abbe's friends, joined in the laugh, for your true Parisian loves nothing so much as ridicule.
"Poor little man," cried one of the gallants, with assumed sympathy, "it is difficult for him to hit on the exact shade to suit his beauty best!"
Now, as De Retz was one of the ugliest men in France, this pleasantry was not likely to be well received, and I ran to the front with the idea of preserving peace. At the same time the Abbe, followed by my cousin, left the carriage, and the cavaliers pressed up from behind. Instead of retreating, Armand stood his ground firmly, and continued waving his lighted torch in the face of the Abbe, crying, "Make way for His Eminence! The Cardinal wishes to visit the ladies his mob tried to murder!"
"Eh? What's that? Ladies? Murder? What do you mean?" cried the Abbe, affecting not to notice the ridicule.
"Permit me to give your gentlemen the word," interposed Henri, "and these popinjays shall soon be cleared from your path."
"The popinjays will take some time to clear!" remarked Armand laughing. "I am not acquainted with any law which gives a private citizen, even though he be a prospective cardinal, sole right to the streets of Paris."
Now my cousin Henri was not noted for his lamb-like temper, so, without waiting for the Abbe's commands, he drew his sword and rushed at D'Arcy, crying, "On guard!"
Another instant and the Rue Michel would have become the scene of fierce combat, but, unseen by us, a stranger quietly pushed his way through the crowd, and placed himself without the least hesitation between the combatants. I gazed at him with interest. He was a tall, finely-built man, with a long, flowing beard, and the most resolute face I had yet beheld in Paris. His eyes were bright, shrewd, and piercing, his chin was square and firm, every line of his features betokened power and the habit of command. Looking at him one was tempted to exclaim, "Here at least is a man!"
He wore the long robe of a councillor, and carried no weapon, but he would have been a daring man who attacked him. The danger in which he stood troubled him not at all; he did not seem even to be aware of it.
"Put up your swords, gentlemen," he said quietly, and as if quite sure that no one would question his right to command. Then, turning to De Retz he added in the same cool tones, "Monsieur l'Abbe, I am surprised you have not sufficient influence to prevent a breach of the peace! It ill becomes a dignitary of the Church to be taking part in a street brawl."
I can hardly imagine that De Retz was awed by the speaker—perhaps he had private reasons for avoiding a quarrel with this strong, purposeful man: at least he showed no offence at the rebuke, and not only requested Henri to sheathe his sword, but actually offered a half apology for the quarrel, which really was none of his seeking.
"One must always yield to the ladies!" he exclaimed gallantly, and, with a courteous bow to the stranger, ordered his coach to be turned back.
"Who is he?" I asked Raoul, as the peacemaker, after scolding D'Arcy for his rudeness, and bidding him be less hasty in future, withdrew.
"Matthew Mole, the first President, and the only honest public man in France," replied Raoul bitterly, as he resumed his place in the procession.
The torch-bearers were not yet weary of their mischief, but the encounter with De Retz rendered them less demonstrative, and the remainder of the journey passed without incident. On arriving at the Rue Crillon, in order to keep up the character of the play, Armand marshalled his comrades in two lines, forming a kind of triumphal passage for Marie and her aunt.
As soon as the ladies entered their house the escort dispersed, some going one way, some another, Raoul and I walked away together, and D'Arcy, still bubbling over with fun, accompanied us.
"A nice evening's amusement," laughed the young scamp; "but what was it all about? Ma foi, Beauchamp, I shall have to look after you more carefully in the future, or you will be getting into further scrapes!"
"Take care yourself," I suggested, "or De Retz will lay you by the heels. He won't be in a hurry to forgive this night's work."
"Oh! the Abbe is a man of sense; he will laugh at the joke to-morrow, and accept his defeat gracefully. What a firebrand your cousin is! Did you notice his eyes flash? I thought he meant to make mincemeat of me! It is a pity you are always against him; he will take quite a dislike to you."
"Peleton and Maubranne are more to be feared than Henri," said Raoul. "Each of them has several scores to settle with our friend."
"And with you and D'Arcy!"
"Yes, but we possess powerful patrons; you have none. If Peleton stabbed either of us in the back he would have to answer to the Duke of Orleans, but who is there to champion your quarrel? Come with us to the Luxembourg, and let us introduce you to the Duke. There is no dishonour in taking fresh service now that Mazarin has fled."
"Still I intend to stand by the Cardinal!"
"Bravo!" cried Armand; "never desert your colours! I wish, though, that you belonged to our side."
"You will come over to us yet," I said. "A week ago you were hand in glove with De Retz; now you are Conde's friends. Next week——"
"That is too far off to consider," laughed Armand. "Next week? Why there are several days before that time arrives! Your mind flies too fast, my boy. I have yet to hear what led to such a hubbub this evening!"
"A mere trifle," remarked Raoul; "Madame Coutance behaved foolishly. The Abbe's mob ordered her to cry 'Down with Conde!' and she told them they weren't fit to be his doormat."
"She has plenty of pluck!"
"It is a pity she hasn't a little more common-sense. To-night she might have set all Paris by the ears through her want of thought. Mazarin was right in declaring she is like a child playing with fire."
"By the way," asked Raoul, "who was the soldier fighting for us? By his uniform he should be one of the Queen's Guards."
"He does belong to them. He is an Englishman named Humphreys, and a right good fellow."
"A fine swordsman! It was wonderful how he cleared a space; the people were afraid to be anywhere near him."
"I must introduce him at the first opportunity. You are sure to like him."
"Not as an opponent," laughed Raoul; "and he doesn't seem likely to be anything else at present. Well, we turn off here; I shall see you at the end of the week."
"Meanwhile keep your eyes open!" D'Arcy advised, as they proceeded towards the Luxembourg, while I, crossing the Pont Neuf, turned down by the Quai.
I had at the time a great deal to think of. Being young and strong, I cared little for the threatened danger, but my stock of money was running low, and I foresaw that, unless something unexpected happened, I should be stranded before long for want of funds.
Thus far, I thought bitterly, my search for fortune had not met with much success. Twice I had been within an ace of death, and my body still bore the marks of several wounds. Mazarin, to whose service I was pledged, had been banished, and I could find another patron only among his enemies. Completely wrapped up in these thoughts, I wandered along the dirty quay, and turning mechanically in the proper direction, reached the Rue des Catonnes.
The next day I increased my stock of ready money by the sale of my horse, which enabled me to carry on again for a time, and I hoped that before the supply was exhausted a fresh turn of fortune's wheel would relieve my difficulties. Raoul, of course, would have lent me his purse freely, but that I did not wish.
During the evening my English friend came across from the Palais Royal for a chat about the adventure of the previous night. Like Raoul, he blamed Madame Coutance for her stupid behaviour, speaking his mind freely, and not stopping to choose his words.
"Did you return with your comrades?" I asked.
"Yes, and a lucky thing too, or I should have got into worse trouble. As it was, our captain reproved me severely for engaging in a street brawl. Upon my word I think my brain must be softening."
"What is the matter?"
"Matter?" he cried, banging his fist on the table. "Why, it takes a man all his time to find out where he stands in this topsy-turvy city. Just tell me what this commotion is about, will you? It may be easy enough for a Frenchman to understand, but for me—it makes my head swim."
He listened attentively while I explained the situation, asking a question here and there, and turning the answers over in his mind.
"Oh," he observed at the end, "the affair is simple enough after all. The Queen has only to clap Orleans, Conde, and De Retz into the Bastille, and the trick is done. If their friends grumbled, why they could go too, and fight out their quarrels in prison. What is the use of being a Queen if you don't rule?"
"Your plan is excellent, but it would bring about civil war, and we don't want that."
"But you have it now!" he objected quickly. "What else was the visit of the mob to the Palace the other night? And this Conde—he issues his orders like a king, though according to you he is only a subject. I would have no such subjects in my country."
"The trouble must be over soon. The King will be proclaimed of age on his fourteenth birthday, and all parties will rally round him."
"A good thing for the country!" said he, rising. "Well, I must get back; I am on guard to-night."
It was dreary work sitting in my room alone, so, putting on my hat, I strolled into the streets, and finally found myself at the house in the Rue Crillon. Madame Coutance was at home, and she received me with high good-humour, calling me one of her knights-errant, and declaring I had helped to save her life, which was really true.
It was interesting to observe how differently the two ladies regarded the same circumstance. The elder one could talk only of the romantic parts; the challenge of the mob, the defiance, the fight, the arrival of the soldiers, the torchlight procession, the humbling of De Retz. Marie, on the contrary, cared little for these things; all her anxiety was for the people who had been injured.
"The more I see of these troubles, the more hateful they become," she said. "They have divided families, and parted friends; they have starved the poor and desolated the country, and no good has resulted from them."
"The country requires a strong man like Conde to hold the reins," remarked her aunt.
"Or a learned priest like De Retz," I put in slily, and was met at once by strong expressions of dissent; Marie, in particular, declaring she would rather hear of the recall of Mazarin, which I ventured to prophesy would be the outcome of these petty squabbles.
The girl seemed rather sad, and I was not surprised when she said, "I wish we were back at Aunay, away from the turmoil. There is no peace in this continual whirl of excitement. I am always thinking some evil is going to happen."
"Nonsense," exclaimed her aunt. "How can there be any danger now that Conde has returned to his rightful place? De Retz will never dare to harm the prince's friends," a naive remark, which much amused me.
It was late when I left the house, and the street was nearly deserted. Standing a moment on the step, I suddenly became aware of an ill-dressed fellow evidently watching me from the shelter of a door-way nearly opposite.
"A spy!" I concluded, "and a very clumsy one, too. I wonder if he has been set to dog me?"
I crossed the road carelessly, when the fellow, no doubt hoping he had not been noticed, slipped off, and, on my following a short distance, he darted into a narrow street and disappeared. Puzzled by this strange behaviour, I hid in the shadow of a wall, and kept a patient watch for over an hour, but he did not return.
"Chut!" I exclaimed at last, "Raoul has shaken my nerves with his warning of Peleton and Maubranne. Most likely the man did not know me from Adam." I endeavoured to dismiss the incident from my mind, yet I could think of little else during the walk home, and even the next day the memory of it clung to me. It seemed absurd to suppose that any one would spy on my actions, but in those days nothing was too absurd to be true.
"Well," I thought, "it can soon be tested. I will visit the Rue Crillon again to-night, and keep a sharp look-out."
The streets as usual were extremely noisy; the citizens were out in crowds, and several slight scuffles occurred between the friends of Conde and De Retz. Taking no notice of these squabbles, I proceeded briskly to the Rue Crillon, and there found my man in his hiding-place. He was carefully watching the house opposite, but as soon as I appeared within sight he vanished.
"Oh, oh," said I to myself, with a chuckle, "it is Madame Coutance you are watching, is it? Well, my friend, you will find that two can play at that game!" and, discovering a quiet corner, I stood flattened against the wall with my face muffled.
Two hours passed, but the man did not re-appear, and, when midnight arrived without any incident, I left the Rue Crillon, which was now almost deserted.
In a side street a number of people were cheering loudly for Conde, and farther on I met half a dozen cavaliers evidently returning from some meeting. One was Baron Maubranne. Willing to keep out of mischief, I drew aside to let him pass, hoping he would not recognise me. He passed on singing lustily, but a second man stared insolently into my face. Keeping my temper, though my fingers itched to chastise the fellow, I went on my way, thinking the danger past; but in this I was wrong.
To reach the Pont Neuf it was necessary to traverse a narrow dingy court, and here my life and my story nearly came to an end together.
Still thinking of the mysterious spy in the Rue Crillon, and not at all of Maubranne's friends, I proceeded slowly, paying little heed to my route. Happily for me the court was very quiet; the inmates had retired to rest, and nothing broke the stillness of the night.
Suddenly I stopped, with my hand on my sword, and listened intently. From behind came the swift patter of footsteps, and turning round I perceived dimly the figure of a man gliding along in the shadow of the wall. Before I could get my sword free he sprang at me, and, in endeavouring to avoid the blow, I fell heavily. With a jeering laugh the assassin flourished his sword, and, as I caught sight of his face, all hope vanished, for the man was Peleton. Looking down at me, he gripped his weapon more firmly, and prepared to strike home.
"You are a clever lad," said he tauntingly, "but all the skill in the world won't save you now. I intend to pay off my old debts."
The fall had half stunned me, but the sound of his voice and the gleam of steel brought back my senses. I was struggling to regain my feet, when I heard a hoarse shout, and the next instant Peleton's weapon went flying into the air. A second man had run up hurriedly, and was gripping my assailant's arm.
"Fool!" cried he, "can't you wait? Don't you know the Abbe has need of him? A plague on your stupid temper; it will ruin everything. Put up your sword, M. de Lalande," for by now I was standing on guard, "our friend here has made a trifling mistake, that is all."
It was difficult to refrain from laughing at the man's coolness. He spoke as if a sword thrust was a matter hardly to be considered; but I thanked him, nevertheless, for having saved my life.
"Not at all, not at all!" he replied. "There is nothing to be thankful for. I only grudged my friend the pleasure of paying his score before my own account was settled."
By this time I had recognised Maubranne, who, for some reason best known to himself, had interfered to prevent my being killed. Now he rejoined Peleton, who meanwhile had groped about in the darkness and recovered his sword, and the two worthies departed together, leaving me in a state of considerable amazement.
I Fall into a Trap.
For a short while I remained trying to understand clearly what had happened, but it was all so strange that I could make nothing of it. There was, of course, no mystery in Peleton's attempt on my life, but what was I to think of Maubranne's rescue?
The baron had distinctly stated I had no reason to thank him, I was only enjoying a respite, and that for the oddest of reasons—the Abbe had need of me! What could be made of so astounding a remark as that? De Retz was no friend to me, while almost every act of mine had been opposed to his interests. Without having the least suspicion as to the actual truth, I felt that the Abbe's plans boded me no good. I was like a person groping in the darkness, and expecting every moment to fall into a deep pit.
"Can't you wait?" Maubranne had asked.
For what was Peleton to wait? And how could it affect me? Why should the fellow's temper spoil everything? From Maubranne's words it appeared that the success of their scheme, whatever it was, depended on me. Yet from the very beginning I had fought them tooth and nail.
"This business will drive me crazy," I muttered, "it is worse than the muddle at La Boule d'Or. Both these blackguards would gladly give me a few inches of steel, and yet, having me wholly in their power, they do me no injury. It is evident that I, in some manner, am to further the interests of their party. Am I to be offered a bribe?"
This was making myself out to be a person of some consequence, but I could think of nothing else. However, it was useless to stand there all night, so, keeping a keen look-out for fresh danger, I hurried from the court and made straight for the Pont Neuf. A few night-birds were abroad, but I passed on swiftly, keeping well within the shadow of the walls.
As it chanced, the night's adventures were not finished even yet. Turning into the Rue des Carolines, I was almost at home, when a man, slipping from the shadow of a doorway, swung a lantern in my face. Peleton's cowardly attack had put me on my guard, and in less than a second my sword was at the fellow's throat.
He was either very stupid or very brave.
"M. de Lalande?" said he quietly, and, thrusting a folded paper into my hand, vanished.
I ran a few yards hoping to catch him, but he was soon swallowed up in the darkness, and there was nothing for it but to return. In my room I opened the packet with nervous haste. The letter, or rather note, consisted of only a few words, and had no signature. I gazed at the writing curiously, it was cramped, partly illegible, and in a man's hand. By supplying a letter here and there I managed to piece together the strange message.
"When the net is spread openly, only a foolish bird will be ensnared. A wise one will fly away. An old story relates how a swallow once found safety in the tents of an army."
Nothing more! I read it through again and again till I had learned every word by heart. Who wrote it? I knew not. I counted no friends among the enemy, and danger was hardly likely to come from Raoul's party. Peleton's attempt to murder me was merely the outcome of personal spite, and had nothing to do with this fresh adventure. Yet, on one point, the message was clear. Some peril threatened me, and my best chance of safety lay in flight. But why? I sat down to thresh the matter out.
Including my cousin, I had three enemies. Henri disliked me, because I had, to a certain extent, spoiled his plans; yet I did not, for an instant, imagine that he sought my life—that was out of all reason. There remained Maubranne and Peleton, either of whom would kill me without scruple, but that very night the baron had interfered to save my life! Once more I was forced back on the mystery attached to his words. What was it the Abbe proposed to do with me? Buzz! buzz! buzz! The question hummed in my head till I was nearly wild. It went with me to bed, it kept me awake half the night, and was the first thing I was conscious of in the morning.
Directly after breakfast, I hurried to the Luxembourg to take counsel with Raoul. He was on duty, but young D'Arcy, observing my agitation, volunteered to relieve him.
"What is it?" asked my comrade anxiously. "Has anything happened? Here, come into this room where we shall not be interrupted."
Without delay I plunged into the story, telling him first of the mysterious spy in the Rue Crillon, the encounter with Peleton, and Maubranne's strange action and words.
"Well, my friend," said he, "you have an adventure on hand now that ought to keep your time fairly occupied! I don't understand it in the least, but it is plain you have become an important person. There is one thing I would like to know, but don't answer if you would rather not. Are you in Mazarin's secrets?"
"I have heard nothing of the Cardinal since my visit to Aunay."
"Then that notion falls to the ground. I thought De Retz might imagine you could give him some useful information. And yet, I don't know. People say he is already in the Queen's confidence."
"Well," I remarked, "if the first chapter is exciting, what do you think of the second?" and I showed him the warning note, which he read with a strangely puzzled air.
"Where did this come from?" he asked, and I informed him, adding that the messenger was a total stranger whom I should be unable to recognise.
"Still," said he, "it shows there is some one in the Abbe's confidence who wishes you well. I wonder if it can be Madame de Chevreuse? She is concerned with most of his plans."
"I have not met her since the night of the ball and besides, this is a man's writing."
"That can be accounted for easily; she employs several secretaries."
I shook my head, saying Madame de Chevreuse was not likely to interest herself in my welfare.
After walking about the room for a time, Raoul stopped and exclaimed, "Suppose we are looking at the matter from the wrong side? How can you be certain this note comes from a friend? It may be a trick to lure you away from Paris!"
"If so, it will fail. I will not leave the city for an hour, even were Turenne to offer me the command of a regiment."
"Why not accept service with the Duke? You would be in a much safer position."
"No. I will see this thing through alone. I will not budge a foot for all the fighting priests in the country."
"Don't be over venturesome. De Retz is a crafty foe and is playing just now for high stakes. If rumour speaks true, he is going to try a fall with Conde himself. Now I must set Armand at liberty, but I will come to your rooms at the first opportunity. Meanwhile, if you require help, a note will bring me instantly."
I returned home still in a state of bewilderment. The mystery was as dark as ever, and, cudgel my brains as I would, I could throw no light on it.
That same evening I laid the case before John Humphreys, but naturally he was unable to offer any explanation.
"Show me an enemy," said he, "and I will stand up against him, but I am a poor hand at fighting shadows. However, it is plain enough that some one has marked you down, and you will have to walk warily."
That, indeed, was the only advice any one could offer. The thing which troubled me most at this time was the presence of the spy in the Rue Crillon. The ladies apparently had not noticed him, so I said nothing to them, but continued to keep a strict watch on the mysterious stranger who night after night prowled about near their house. What he expected to gain was difficult to imagine, as he neither followed Madame Coutance abroad nor attempted to molest her. At first I thought him a clumsy fellow, but twice when I tried to catch him he vanished cleverly down the narrow streets.
One evening, while strolling carelessly along the Rue Pierre, I met my cousin Henri. He was wearing a long mantle with a hood, and appeared in a great hurry. To my surprise, however, he stopped and exclaimed quite cordially, "Ah, cousin, you are a stranger! I have not seen you for a long time. I was sorry to hear of Peleton's mad prank. Were you hurt?"
"No," said I, rather shortly.
"You are a lucky fellow, Albert. For a lad from the country, you have done well. Peste! You have made quite a splash in the world, and I am proud of my cousin."
"You do me great honour," said I, with a mocking bow.
"Not more than you deserve. By the way, is it true that you have joined Conde's party?"
"Because you were with his mob when Madame Coutance behaved so stupidly."
"I did my best to save a woman from being torn to pieces—nothing more."
"It was very gallant of you," and then, as an afterthought, "so you still fancy there is a chance of Mazarin's return?"
"There may be, or not. I only know that I am pledged to assist him, and that the De Lalandes have been taught to keep their word."
"Quite right!" returned Henri, gaily. "Well, adieu, my faithful cousin! Your constancy is touching, and I hope it may bring you good fortune, but of that I am doubtful," and, with a careless laugh, he hurried on.
"Planning some fresh mischief!" I muttered, and dismissed the incident from my mind.
Nearly a week had now passed since the receipt of the mysterious note, and nothing of consequence had happened. Every day I went into the streets without disguise or attempt at concealment, and no one paid any attention to my doings.
About this time the city was considerably agitated, and filled with all sorts of conflicting rumours. Among other things it was hinted that Mazarin, having re-entered France, was marching at the head of a foreign army on Paris, with the avowed object of razing it to the ground.
De Retz, laughing in his sleeve, went about attended by a numerous and well-armed retinue to protect him from being murdered; Conde followed his example, and the petits maitres swaggered more than ever, especially when they met the friends of De Retz; at the Hotel Vendome, the Duke of Beaufort stayed in bed, having, according to rumour, been poisoned; while Gaston of Orleans was popularly supposed to have joined four separate plots in one day, and betrayed them all to the Queen before night. Thus far, however, nothing serious had resulted from these wonderful doings, and I was chiefly concerned with my own private affairs.
"It seems to me," I said to Raoul one night, as we walked together toward the Rue Crillon, "that we have been making a mountain out of a mole-hill. More than a week has passed now since the warning, and I am none the worse."
"Yet the spy still keeps watch?"
"He was there last night, but I could not get near him. Perhaps you may have better luck."
The man was in his usual place, and I pointed him out to Raoul, whispering, "That is he. Are you acquainted with him?"
"No. He belongs to the class that either De Retz or Conde can buy by the dozen. Don't look that way. Let us cross the road. I will slip through this alley and enter the street at the other end; then we shall have him between us."
Unfortunately for our purpose the fellow was particularly wide-awake, and as Raoul appeared at the corner he moved away. Following cautiously, we kept him in sight for a good distance, but finally he disappeared in a maze of alleys.
"Peste!" exclaimed my comrade, discontentedly, "he is an artful rascal. If we could catch him he might be able to tell us all we want to learn. There must be some reason for his actions. Is he always alone?"
"We must set a trap for him."
"Let me try once more by myself. I dislike the idea of being beaten by a spy."
"As you will; and if you fail, I will borrow some troopers from the Luxembourg and lay him by the heels. At all events the fellow will know who pays him."
The next night I set off for the Rue Crillon, and, after spending an hour or two with Marie and her aunt, went back into the street. My man, as usual, was in full view, and it appeared to me, rather overdid his part, as if he was anxious to attract my attention.
However, there was not much leisure for reflection, and I walked quickly and boldly towards him, when he immediately made off. Angry at being baulked so often, and determined to discover his business, I followed sharply, and nearly caught him at the bottom of the narrow street running at right angles to the Rue Crillon. A stupid charcoal-burner lost me my advantage here, but perceiving which way the spy went I hurried on in the same direction.
For half an hour I patiently tracked my quarry, through a network of narrow streets and alleys crossing and re-crossing each other like an Eastern puzzle. By this time I was hopelessly astray, never having been in that quarter, which was one of the worst in the city. Under other circumstances I should have feared to trust myself in those horrible courts, but now I did not even remember the danger.
Presently the spy himself seemed doubtful as to which turning to take. He stood a moment in apparent hesitation, but, finding me close on his heels, darted as if at random up a narrow entrance. It was a cul-de-sac containing perhaps half a dozen houses, and I chuckled inwardly on finding how completely he had trapped himself. I could not have desired a better place for my purpose. The court was very quiet; the houses were old and dilapidated, and the inmates had either gone to bed or had not returned from their nightly wanderings. We two had a clear stage to ourselves.
The man was a regular coward after all. He looked this way and that with frightened eyes, ran on a few paces as if hoping to find a way out, came back, and finally made a dash to get past me.
"Oh, ho, not so fast, my good fellow!" I cried, barring his path. "Where are you going in such a hurry?"
"I have lost my way, monsieur," he answered in a whining voice.
"How strange! So have I! We may as well keep each other company. Don't look like that, I am not going to hurt you."
"I feared monsieur meant to kill me," he whimpered.
"Bah! I only want a little information, which will be well paid for. Are you willing to earn ten crowns?"
"Ten crowns, monsieur? Certainly."
"Then tell me what you do in the Rue Crillon and who pays you? Answer these questions and here are the ten crowns."
"And if not, monsieur?" said he, still whining like a beggar.
"If not it will be the worse for you. Quick, make your choice, I cannot stay here for ever."
It was the rascal's turn now to laugh, as some one, throwing a heavy mantle over my head, tripped me up violently.
"His sword, quick! Take it away! Tie his arms firmly; he is a mad bull for fighting. Now his pistols, Francois, you fat pig! Softly monsieur! Tap him on the head if he struggles. Are you ready, Pierre? What a time! are your fingers in knots? Now, monsieur, your choice—will you come quietly or must we use force?"
I lay on the ground half dazed and only partly understanding the fellow's meaning, so, to awaken my interest he repeated his questions, pressing one of my own pistols to my head.
"Take that thing away," I said, "and help me to my feet. You have the upper hand at present."
Laughing mischievously, he withdrew the weapon, and his companions, pushing me upright, half led, half dragged me into one of the dilapidated houses. We ascended a flight of stairs, went along a narrow passage, and so into a room which had been prepared for my reception.
At least, that was the conclusion I arrived at when two of the men having gone out, the third said, "Monsieur, there is a bed of straw in the corner, the door is bolted, the window barred, and I am going to keep watch inside all night, while Pierre and Francois relieve each other outside the door."
I could not see the speaker, as the room was in darkness, but his voice sounded familiar, and I tried, but in vain, to remember where I had heard it before. However, this did not matter, so I lay down on the straw, and wondered what the adventure meant.
Who were my gaolers, and what did they intend to do with me? Presently Maubranne's words flashed into my mind, and set me thinking that this might be a move in the plot at which the mysterious note hinted. Just how De Retz could make use of me I had not the faintest notion, but he was a clever schemer, and had, presumably, laid his plans carefully. However, as no amount of speculation on this head would improve matters, I began to reflect on the best way of escape. My arms were tightly bound, the door was well secured, the window barred, and a gaoler, wide-awake and armed, sat between me and it. Altogether the prospect was far from cheering.
"Sleep will perhaps bring counsel," I muttered, and, turning on my side, I dozed off into a light, restless slumber.
With the coming of day I was able to make an inspection of my new abode. The room was small, dirty, out of repair, and destitute of furniture. In the corner opposite to mine was another heap of straw, and on it sat the man whom long ago I had gagged and bound in the chamber at La Boule d'Or, and who afterwards was my companion from Aunay to Paris. Perceiving that I recognised him, the rascal showed his teeth in a broad grin, and exclaimed, "The wheel has turned, monsieur! It seems that we have changed parts."
"And you are uppermost this time," I answered, striving to speak good-humouredly, for it is a bad plan to quarrel with one's gaoler.
Rising and taking a turn round the room, Pillot stood still at my side.
"Listen to me, monsieur," said he. "Some months ago I lost the game to you and you acted like a lad of honour. When your own life was in danger you remembered me, and I am still grateful. Now let me give you a friendly warning. Of course, you are planning to get away. Abandon the idea, as you cannot escape alive. There is an armed man beneath the window, while Pierre or Francois will knock you on the head without the least hesitation. We all have our orders."
"Merci! It is just as well to know what one has to expect. Do the orders include starving your prisoner?"
"Here comes Francois in reply to the question; but you must pass your word not to take advantage if I unbind you."
After a moment's reflection I gave the required promise, upon which Pillot untied my arms, and then, opening the door, admitted Francois, who carried the food.
"Here is breakfast, monsieur," said the dwarf, making an elaborate bow. "It is not as good as the supper we enjoyed together in the village inn, but Francois has not had much experience in the character of host. Later on he will doubtless acquit himself better."
Under Watch and Ward.
As soon as breakfast ended my arms were bound again, and Francois took his departure, leaving me with Pillot, who could not conceal his amusement at my plight.
"Pardon me, monsieur," said he laughing, "it is comical! You expected to trap Francois, and behold, you are caught yourself!"
I tried to look at the rascal sternly, but the humour of the thing tickled me so, that I joined in the laugh myself. Truly I had gone out for wool, and should return shorn!
"Tell me," said I presently, "am I forbidden to ask questions?"
"Why, no! Indeed it would be impossible to stop monsieur, unless a gag were placed in his mouth," and thinking, probably, of the incident at La Boule d'Or, he showed his teeth in a broad grin.
"A truce to your mummery," I cried; "will you answer my questions?"
"I do not remember that monsieur has asked any?"
"Well, here is one. How long am I to be kept in this den?"
"It is impossible to say precisely, but monsieur will not continue to occupy this apartment for more than a day or two."
"A day or two?" I thought my ears must have played me false. Noticing my surprise, he added, "Monsieur will have done his part by that time."
"What will happen then?"
"Ah!" said he, shrugging his shoulders and raising his eyes, "who can tell? We are all in the hands of Providence."
"True, my friend, but I am also in the hands of De Retz, which is hardly as pleasant. It seems that I have suddenly become a person of some consequence!"
"Sufficiently important to have made many enemies, monsieur!"
"De Retz among them?"
"Chut! no; he would be pleased to call you his friend. I was thinking of personal enemies like M. Peleton and the Baron Maubranne. The Abbe and M. de Lalande will only use you for the good of the Cause; but I distrust the others."
"The good of the Cause? You speak in riddles, my friend!"
"It is necessary, monsieur; as it is, I have spoken too much."
"But you will answer one other question? Why did that wretched Francois prowl about the Rue Crillon?"
Pillot burst into a peal of such merry laughter that I thought he would be choked, and it was long before he could reply.
"Pardon me, monsieur," he exclaimed at length, "but really the joke was excellent. Francois acted the spy only when you were about; and simply to attract your attention. He was the bait, and you—pardon the expression—were the fish, though I, for one, did not expect to see you landed so easily."
Pillot's explanation made the affair a trifle plainer, and showed how foolishly I had acted. Instead of being a stupid dolt, this Francois was really a clever fellow, who had tricked me admirably. My cheeks burned as I saw what a dupe I had been. As a matter of fact, he could have slipped away at any moment, instead of which he had purposely lured me on. His hesitation at the corner of the cul-de-sac, his apparent attempt to dash past me, his whining answers, all had their purpose, and, while I reckoned myself master of the situation, Pillot and the third man were creeping out of their hiding-places. Truly, I had myself been a stupid dolt!
Still there was one point which puzzled me, and I asked Pillot why the fellow waited so long before playing his trick.
"Francois obeys orders," he replied. "It would not have suited our purpose to have shut you up before last night."
This sounded mysterious, but Pillot would not enlighten me further, and alone I could make nothing of it. Except on one point, the dwarf talked freely enough, and was a very agreeable gaoler. A true child of Paris, he knew the city well, and having been mixed up in all sorts of adventures, was able to relate numerous startling stories. The time passed pleasantly enough till about eleven o'clock, when he went away, and his place was taken by the man called Pierre.
At first I was rather glad of the change, imagining this fellow might be more simple, as indeed he was; so simple, in fact, that he knew nothing. He was a short man with a massive head, thick neck, broad shoulders, and limbs like those of a gladiator. He sniffed contemptuously at the pistols which Pillot had left, but handled a huge iron-shod club lovingly, and on being spoken to, grunted like a pig. Sitting on the straw, he laid the club beside him, and, having cleared a space, produced a dice-box and dice, with which he played left hand against right.
After watching this monotonous game for half-an-hour, and finding Pierre absolutely deaf to my questions, I turned my face to the wall and tried to think. Pillot's conversation had explained many things, but unfortunately it threw no light on the reason for my imprisonment. He had not denied that De Retz was the man behind the curtain, but what was it the Abbe wished me to do?
The more I puzzled the more mysterious the affair looked. I invented a thousand reasons, all more or less fantastic and absurd, till my mind grew wearied with thinking. Meanwhile, Pierre sat on his heap of straw calmly playing his ridiculous game, calling out the numbers as the dice fell, but keenly alive to the slightest sound.
Thus miserably the afternoon wore away; the room grew dark; Pierre packed up his dice, and, walking to the barred window, peered into the darkness. I wondered whether Raoul or John Humphreys had called at my rooms, and if so, what they would think of my sudden disappearance.
Presently, I heard the sound of approaching footsteps; the door was unfastened, and Pillot entered with a couple of candles stuck in broken bottles, which only served to make the place more dreary than before. Then Francois followed with some supper, and after he and Pierre had departed, my gaoler did the honours of the table—or rather the floor—like a generous host bent on pleasing his guest to the utmost.
He was rather excited, and talked so freely that I hoped to worm some information out of him, but the rascal guarded his tongue well, only letting fall a hint that we might take a long journey on the following night. Still I gathered from his air of mystery, and the importance he displayed, that the plot—whatever its nature—was rapidly ripening.
"Now, monsieur," he observed, when we had finished supper, "I shall leave you to the care of Francois. Remember my warning, and do not attempt to escape, because it is useless. If all goes well we shall be able to provide you with better accommodation in a day or two. Meanwhile, you have only to enjoy yourself, and to thank the kind friends who are keeping you out of mischief."
Having finished this pretty speech he took his departure, the door was fastened, and Francois began his watch for the night. Afraid, perhaps, of falling asleep, he stalked up and down the room, stopping occasionally beside my bed to hope that monsieur found himself well. Francois was more polished than Pierre, and certainly replied to my questions. Only, whatever I asked, he answered, "I am truly sorry, monsieur, but I do not know."
The fellow might have been a talking bird that had been taught to repeat but one sentence. As a last effort I offered him a heavy bribe for his information, but he was too honest to betray his trust, or, which was just as probable, he had no wares of any marketable value.
I slept that night by fits and starts, but whether asleep or awake my mind was filled with omens of evil. What was happening in the outside world? Again and again I asked the question without finding any answer.
Spurred on by my fears, I began to dream of escape, but the adventure was so absolutely impossible that I had to abandon the idea. My arms were tightly bound; Francois walked up and down, ever watchful and alert, carrying his half pike; outside the door lay Pierre with his huge club, while Pillot was within call; and I had a suspicion that he was not the least capable of my gaolers. No, it was evident that I must wait till a more favourable opportunity presented itself.
I watched the earliest streaks of light streaming through the barred window, and, though it was summer time, I shivered with cold. The dawn broadened, became morning; a few wandering sunbeams that had lost their way came peeping through the bars and cheered me, though their stay was brief. Later, sounds of life arose outside; I heard Pierre's deep tones, followed by Pillot's milder ones, and presently the door was opened.
Now, had my arms been free at this moment I would have made a dash for liberty, in spite of Pierre's club and Pillot's pistols, but, in the circumstances, it was madness to think of such a venture; so I lay still. Francois by now was almost too sleepy to walk straight, and Pillot, bright, fresh, alert as a bird, entered on the duties of gaoler.
The prisoner who feeds with his keeper is not likely to starve, and I certainly cannot accuse my captors of being niggardly in the matter of food. On this particular morning Pillot was too agitated to eat; twice he jumped up and walked to the window; indeed, but for my exertions, the breakfast would have been removed untasted. As it chanced, my appetite remained good, and, in view of the possible journey, I ate for both.
Only once during the day did Pillot leave the room, and then his place was taken by Pierre, who, in less than three minutes, was deep in his usual game of throwing the dice, left hand against right. To do the villain justice, however, he did not neglect his duty. His eyes were upon me frequently, while at the slightest stir, he turned quick as lightning, one hand grasping his ponderous club.
Toward the middle of the afternoon Pillot returned, and kept me company for the remainder of the day. He was deeply excited, and as the evening approached began to bubble over. He would break off in the middle of a sentence, and, running to the window, listen intently, holding up his hand meanwhile for silence. Francois, too, who came in once or twice, seemed equally agitated, but Pierre, I have no doubt, was calmly playing, interested chiefly in the result of his game. Perhaps he did not understand why the others were so anxious, or why they spoke to each other in low whispers!
As for me, I soon became as deeply interested as Pillot. Why did he listen at the window? Did he expect to hear some pre-arranged signal, or the rattle of the carriage which was to bear me away?
Once I nearly tricked him into betraying the secret. He had dispatched Francois on some errand, and was pacing the room restlessly, when I said at a venture, and in a careless tone, "So the grand coup is to be made to-night?"
"This very evening, monsieur!" and he rubbed his hands briskly.
"It will cause an immense sensation?"
"A sensation? Corbleu! There will be——" He checked himself, looked at me slily, and finished by saying, "Ah, yes, monsieur, perhaps so." Then he returned to the window to listen; so my attempt to catch him by surprise had failed.
Another hour passed, Francois had returned, and the two stood talking rapidly but in such low tones that I could not catch a word. To judge by their gestures, Francois was the bearer of fresh news, but whether good or evil I could not determine. It was, however, evidently of considerable significance, and such as to astonish the dwarf.
This secrecy and show of excitement played on my nerves. I became restless and irritable, and chafed more and more at my confinement. Whatever was about to happen, I wished it was over and done with.
The evening wore on, it became dusk, in an hour or two night would fall; but still, as far as I was concerned, there was no change. The two men maintained their position at the window; but they no longer talked; it seemed as if they could only wait. The silence became painful; there was not a sound in the half darkened room; I wondered if my gaolers had forgotten how to breathe. I rustled the straw: they turned swiftly, and Pillot shook his head as if to reprove the action, but he did not speak.