"A truce to this mummery," I said sternly. "What new trick is this? Do you imagine I am to be trapped a second time? My cousin is dead and buried; the Abbe himself told me."
Pillot gazed at me in blank despair. His face was white, his lips twitched nervously, his words came with a sob.
"It is false, monsieur, false. I deceived the Abbe as I deceived all for my master's sake. I spread about the story of his death; I tricked De Retz because he could not be trusted. To save his own life he would have thrown your cousin to the wolves. It is each for himself, nowadays, monsieur. I wormed out their plots: they could not deceive Pillot. De Retz is a clever schemer, but the biggest rogues make mistakes. He believed my tale, and so did Conde. Only one man besides myself and M. de Lalande knew the truth, and I was obliged to trust him. As to your cousin I have guarded him against all comers; I have nursed him day and night; I have tricked the soldiers, but now the end is come. Prince and priest are welcome to the secret now."
"But what do you wish me to do?" I asked suspiciously.
"To soothe your cousin's last moments, monsieur; to close his eyes in death. He calls for you always."
If Pillot was playing a part, he was indeed a superb actor. Yet still I hesitated, so intense was the distrust with which in these days each regarded his neighbour.
"Do you doubt me, monsieur?" he asked. "Do I plead for the dying in vain? This is no trick. Why should I deceive you? We have been on opposite sides, but we have played the game fairly. I have even gone out of my way to serve you. It was I who sent the note warning you against our own trap."
"And saved my life after I had blundered into it!"
The dwarf watched my face as if his own life depended on my decision.
"Pillot," I said at length, "I will trust you. But, if you deceive me, so surely as you stand there I will run you through with my sword."
"Monsieur is welcome in any case," he answered, "if only he will come at once."
The Death of Henri.
Many a time I had left the house in the Rue des Catonnes with a very doubtful chance of returning, but I had rarely gone out with such a pressing sense of danger as now. Pillot's sudden appearance, his strange story, and the memory of former deceptions wrought on my nerves, and I almost wished Raoul or John Humphreys was with me.
The rioters, too, now that the soldiers had departed, returned to the street in a very quarrelsome humour. They stood in groups talking angrily; and one brawny ruffian, yelling "Death to the Nobles!" struck at me with a pike. Happily my sword was free and I pinked his arm; still it would have gone hard with me but for Pillot, who procured us a passage by the use of some jargon well-known to these night-birds.
"Be cautious, monsieur," he said, "the mob is growing dangerous. The riot has not spread far, but to-morrow——!"
"Will the city rise?"
"Nothing can stop it, monsieur. These people are like wild animals. You can excite them to a certain pitch, but beyond that——"
"What is the grievance now?" I asked, and Pillot shrugged his shoulders.
"There are many things, monsieur, but at present the chief is hunger. The inhabitants of these quarters are half starved, and they want to know why. They will put the question very loudly in a day or two."
"Will they rise against the throne?"
"It all depends. A whim or a word will do it. Some one will cry 'Down with Conde!' and there is your revolution ready-made. The man who is starving does not stop to reason. The cry may be 'Down with the Nobles!'—no one knows as yet, and no one cares."
Presently I asked why he had ventured abroad on the day when the King was declared of age.
"My master was better then," he said, "and desired to learn how affairs were shaping. We heard a rumour that Conde would not be present; so I went to find out. It was a risky thing, and the sight of you frightened me."
"It need not have done; I wish my cousin no harm."
"True, monsieur, but we were not aware of that."
"Where have you hidden your master?"
"In an outhouse at La Boule d'Or. We dared not take him to the inn; he would have been discovered. I was afraid the other evening when you came with M. Beauchamp."
"Then you saw us?"
"I watched you enter, monsieur—and go away," and the rascal could not help chuckling.
Through dirty courts and fetid alleys where the sun never shone, my guide led the way, bringing me at last to the familiar Rue de Roi. My distrust had vanished by now, and I followed him unhesitatingly. Crossing the road and walking rapidly through a private passage, we reached the back of the inn. The yard was in partial darkness, but I made out an old building which communicated by a covered way with the hostelry. Lighting a candle, Pillot entered this passage and stood listening intently. No sound could be heard; all was silent as the grave.
"Too late!" he exclaimed sadly, and, heedless of me, sprang up the stairs two at a time, the flame of the candle flickering violently. I heard him turn the handle of the door, and, running up quickly, passed in with him.
The evening shadows were relieved only by the glimmer of the candle, but I gave no more than a passing glance at the wretched room. Somehow I had felt convinced almost from the first that Pillot was telling the truth, and now the proof was before me.
The dwarf, who had placed the candle on the table, was bending over a figure close by. It was my cousin, wrapped in an old dressing-gown and seated in a deep arm-chair. He looked wasted and white, his mouth was drawn at the corners, his eyes burned deep in their sockets with a red glow, I could almost see through the thin white hands that lay loosely on his lap.
Pillot, as I have mentioned, bent over him, and called softly, "Monsieur, monsieur, your cousin has come; I have fetched your cousin."
"Henri!" I cried—for the dying man apparently took no notice—"I am your cousin, your cousin Albert. Do you not wish to speak to me?"
There was a faint gleam of recognition in his eyes, and it appeared as if he were trying to brace himself; then he extended one hand, and said quietly, "Albert!"
I urged him to let me send for a skilful surgeon, but he shook his head impatiently, saying, "No, no, he could do nothing. Pillot has been my doctor and nurse. Good little man!"
One could perceive that he was dying, and I would not disturb him further, though the dwarf wished to carry him to his bed.
Presently he looked at me with a faint smile whispering, "The elder branch will lead again. It is well; you are a better De Lalande than I. At one time I hoped we might have been friends, but you had chosen your part."
"We can be friends yet."
"No, no; it is too late. What I have done I have done; but there is one matter pressing on my mind. Will you forgive me for—for——"
"The plot?" I put in cheerfully. "Of course, I forgive you freely; it was all in the game."
"You did not believe I meant to kill you?"
"Not for an instant," I answered honestly.
He lay back in his chair, and a gratified smile flickered across his face.
"Maubranne did not tell me," he said feebly. "He knew I would not—not consent. I only intended to keep you shut up for a few weeks. What have you done with Peleton?"
"He is in the Bastille! He informed Conde of all that he knew."
"Pah! I warned the Abbe against him, but he refused to listen. Tell Raoul not to worry about me. I should have recovered but for the soldiers. Pillot had to move me. It was horrible, but the end is near now. Ask the Abbe to bury me in Paris."
He stopped exhausted; his eyes closed; his head fell forward, and I thought that life was gone. Pillot stood near me choking back his sobs. I had not given him credit for such feeling.
"Oh, monsieur," he whispered, "your cousin was good to me; I would have given my life freely to save his!"
"Hush! He is speaking again!"
Very low and faint were the words, but we heard him say, "Pillot, are you there? Good little man, I will not forget. Fetch my cousin, Pillot. Quick, do you hear? Ah, monsieur le prince, you are too late! It is a pity!" and he laughed derisively.
There was silence for a time, and then I whispered softly, "Henri!" but he made no answer.
The feeble light played on his face, half hiding, half revealing the ghastliness of it; and we, without speech or movement, stood watching him, till the candle sputtering out left us in darkness. Pillot would have fetched another from the inn, but he feared to stir lest the sound should disturb the dying man. How long we remained thus I cannot tell, but shortly before morning broke there came a strange, convulsive rattle from the huddled figure in the chair, and we knew that Henri de Lalande had passed from the power of man.
"May his soul rest in peace!" said Pillot simply.
"Amen," I replied, and, moving softly, closed the dead man's eyes.
I was scarcely more than a lad then, and Henri's melancholy death in this wretched room made a deep impression on me. It was a sad ending to what might have been a brilliant career. The early dawn, creeping into the room, cast fantastic shadows everywhere, and the light falling on my cousin's face imparted to it a strange appearance of life. I could almost have thought he was smiling at me.
"I have lost a good master," said Pillot. "You and he were not the best of friends, monsieur, but there are many worse men in Paris than the one who has just died."
"I am sure of it," said I somewhat absently, for my thoughts had turned to the previous night's rioting.
"The King is dead; live the King!" What a world of meaning lies in those simple words! I was really sorry for my cousin's death, but there was no leisure to indulge in grief; the living were in need of my assistance.
Paris was up in arms! The mob had already broken loose, and, unless the ruffians were quickly checked, no one could foretell how the tumult might end. As yet only a house or two had been plundered, but within twenty-four hours Paris might be reduced to ashes. I thought of Marie and her aunt, and determined by some means to get them from the city. It seemed pitiful to leave my cousin lying dead there, but I could do him no good, and Pillot would carry his message to De Retz.
"Pillot," I exclaimed, "I must leave you to attend to your master's burial. The Abbe will not refuse his last request. I would stay, but it is necessary for me to attend the ladies in the Rue Crillon. If the mob rises there may be danger."
"You are right, monsieur! Paris is no place for them at present. Take them out of it as quickly as possible. As to your cousin, I will see that he has proper burial; I will go to De Retz at once."
"What will you do afterwards? You will not care to serve the Abbe again?"
"Ah, no! I would wring his neck with pleasure, monsieur!"
"I do not wish that. Come, let me make you an offer. I am not rich like my cousin, but if you will take service with me, I will arrange that you are properly paid."
"After all that has passed? Monsieur is exceedingly trustful."
"Because I am aware how loyal you have been to M. de Lalande."
"Very well, monsieur; let it be so. You will find that I shall serve you faithfully."
"I am sure of that. Now listen. As soon as my cousin is buried, start for Aunay—you know the road. If you do not find me there I shall have gone to join the Cardinal and you can follow. Here is some money; you will need it before we meet again."
As soon as these matters were arranged we went out, and Pillot carefully secured the door. The morning had broken cold and gray, a drizzling rain fell, the streets were deserted; the night-owls, wearied by their exertions, had returned to their roosts.
"There is still time to see Raoul," I muttered; so, bidding Pillot go straight to the Abbe, I turned off in the direction of the Luxembourg.
At the Palace the change from the stillness of the city was startling. The gates were closed and guarded; soldiers, fully equipped, stood at their posts; the courtyard was filled with nobles in a state of excitement. Happily for my purpose Raoul observed me and came to the gate.
"What has alarmed you so down here?" I inquired. "Is the Duke afraid of a siege?"
"Have you not heard the news? Come inside where we can talk. It has all happened just as we reckoned it would. Conde has thrown off the mask and broken with the Court. It is rumoured that Spain has offered him a body of troops, and that he intends to tempt fortune in a Civil War. The Queen is firm and does not mean to let him back out; it is do or die for him now."
"All the better; we shall be able to distinguish friends from enemies. It will be an awful thing, but once Conde is well beaten the country will stand a chance of peace. The Duke of Orleans will join forces with the Queen?"
"I cannot say," answered Raoul shamefacedly; "he is pulled this way and that, by both parties. Most probably he will wait to find how things go."
"Then he is a coward as well as a traitor! Faugh! I wonder you have patience to stay with him! I can understand a loyalist and even a rebel, but a weather-cock like the Duke is beyond me. Why does he not come boldly into the open? This twisting and turning will do him no good. One would imagine he was a hunted hare."
"There is no need to ask what you will do?"
"Not a bit, I shall join the royal army and serve as a trooper, if no better berth offers. Thank goodness the field is clear now, and we shall know where we stand. But first I must get Marie and her aunt out of the city. Paris will not be safe for them when the mob rises, as it is sure to do. But I have some further news; my cousin is dead."
"I thought you said he died weeks ago."
"Pillot spread that rumour about, but there can be no mistake now, as I have just come from his deathbed," and, while my friend listened attentively, I related the strange story of the past night.
"Poor fellow!" exclaimed Raoul; "we were never very friendly, but I am sorry for him. He would have made a name for himself in time. He must have had some good points for Pillot to stick to him so closely. The little man will be lost without his master."
"He has taken service with me."
"I have no doubt he will serve you well. Shall you go to the Rue Crillon at once?"
"Yes, and endeavour to induce Madame Coutance to leave before the danger becomes pressing. Well, I must be off, and I wish you were coming with me."
"I shall follow you," he said resolutely, "and fight for the Crown, with or without the consent of the Duke."
"Bravo, old friend!" I cried impetuously. "Conde against De Retz or Orleans I can understand; but Conde against the Throne is another matter. The point of every honest man's sword should be turned against a traitor! Why not come now?"
"Because the Duke may yet take the field for the Queen! He must make up his mind in a few days at the most."
He walked with me to the gate, and after a brief farewell I set out towards the city. Thus far nothing unusual had occurred, but there were numerous signs of a coming storm. Most of the shops remained closed, door and windows were barricaded, sober Black Mantles, armed from head to foot, stood in groups talking of the situation. The denizens of the courts still rested, but some, more energetic than their neighbours, made furtive excursions into the main streets. They slunk along with pike and club, as if even now half doubtful of their own strength, though here and there a self-appointed leader shouted for death to the nobles. But the time was not yet. The appetite of the canaille was not sufficiently whetted; later they would be ready for the feast.
Walking quickly to the Rue Crillon, I found the ladies breakfasting, and was glad to join them, as I had eaten nothing for many hours. They were not aware of the previous night's riot, and Madame Coutance laughed at the idea of leaving the city.
"There is no danger," she declared, "and, besides, I have business in Paris."
"But your friends are gone," I urged. "You have heard that Conde has turned traitor?"
She flushed angrily, and answered in her masterful way, "I know the prince has taken up arms to secure his rights."
"In any case he is not here to protect you from the fury of the mob."
"Bah!" said she scornfully, "a pack of cowards! Any one—a woman even—could send them flying with a riding-whip!"
Argument was thrown away on her, but I did my best, even exaggerating the danger, and begging her to depart if only for the sake of her niece. However, she remained obstinate; not, I think, out of mere bravado, but because she misjudged the strength of the rising. Standing at the window, she pointed to the quiet street, saying triumphantly, "Where is the danger, M. de Lalande? The Rue Crillon looks to me as peaceful as the park at Aunay. Besides, the citizens are in favour of the prince, and they will not injure us."
Shrugging my shoulders impatiently, I made no reply; she must bear the consequence of her folly. Even Marie seemed to think lightly of the peril, though she thanked me prettily for my thoughtfulness. At last, annoyed by my failure, I bade them farewell, and returning to the Luxembourg despatched a soldier in search of Raoul, who looked surprised at seeing me again.
"The woman is an imbecile," he exclaimed angrily, "but we must save her in spite of herself, if it is at all possible. Are you aware that the gates are guarded, and that no one is allowed to pass without a permit? The Duke has just issued the order."
"In that case I may as well abandon the idea of getting them through, unless you can obtain a permit for us."
"I will try, if you will wait here a few minutes," and off he went to the palace.
"Another plot, De Lalande?" cried a laughing voice at my elbow, and, turning my head, I perceived Armand d'Arcy, who had just come up.
"Only an attempt to get Madame Coutance and her niece out of the city. I am afraid there will be mischief in a day or two."
"Sooner than that, my friend! The pikes are being sharpened and the canaille will be all armed by nightfall. I suppose you have heard the news of Conde?"
"That he has shown his true colours? Yes! it is the best thing that could have happened. Of course you are for the Crown and against Conde?"
"I am for the Duke of Orleans," said he.
"What, against the King?"
"Against the world, if it comes to that! I chose him as my patron and must stand by him, though I hope he will not assist Conde."
"If he does you will be a rebel."
"All right," cried he, with his merry laugh, "there will be small novelty in that. Ah! here comes Beauchamp, looking as solemn as an owl. Can you not manage to screw out a smile, Raoul? A glimpse of yourself in a glass just now would frighten you to death. Look a bit lively, there is plenty of time for being miserable."
"Brule has arrived with his report," said Raoul, "and things are even worse than we expected; the barricades will be up to-night. Here, Albert, take care of this," and he gave me an order signed by the Duke: "Allow bearer and two friends to pass the gate of St. Denis without question or delay."
"Thanks," said I, slipping it into my pocket, "it may mean all the difference between life and death, though whether Madame Coutance will leave is more than I can tell. And now, good-bye, for the second time; I am going to my rooms for a few minutes, and after that to the Rue Crillon."
"Avoid the short cuts," D'Arcy advised; "or you may get into trouble, and if you are invited to cry 'Down with the King!' shout with all your might. Better to use your breath unpleasantly than to lose it altogether."
"It is as likely to be 'Down with Conde!' as anything else," I answered laughing, "and in that case you will hear my voice at the Luxembourg."
"By the way," said Raoul, "have you seen John Humphreys?"
"No, I must spare five minutes for him. It is only a hop, skip, and jump from my place to the Palais Royal," and, with their good wishes ringing in my ears, I set off for the Rue des Catonnes.
The Mob Rises.
"Ah! it is monsieur!" and my landlord came from his room, where he had evidently been watching for me. "A note from the Palais Royal, monsieur! The messenger has called three times; it is of importance."
"From the Palais Royal? Let me see it. Ah! what a nuisance. Well, I must attend to it; meanwhile, get me a coarse blue woollen overall and a workman's cap. My finery and plumed hat are likely to cause trouble."
"They shall be at once obtained, monsieur," said he without a trace of surprise.
"Good!" and I turned back, glancing again at the paper as I walked.
"Come to me at once. Le Tellier." That was all! What was in the wind now? The under-minister had kept me waiting long enough, and sought my service just when I required leisure for other matters. If Le Tellier's business did not fit in with my own it must wait, as I had resolved on saving Marie and her aunt at all costs.
Inside the gates John Humphreys met me. He was in good humour, and delighted that Conde had at last thrown down the gauntlet.
"It is a straight fight now," said he; "the sort of thing I understand. It is rumoured that the Queen will leave Paris, and the guards will escort her. Have you a berth in the King's household yet?"
"No, I am still unattached, but Le Tellier has just sent for me; so there is no knowing what may happen. By the way, I have seen my cousin," and I related briefly the story of his illness and death.
"Bravo, Pillot!" exclaimed Humphreys when I had finished; "he's a plucky rascal, and loyal, too. What will become of him now that his master is dead?"
"He has agreed to take service with me. But I must go; Le Tellier has been waiting for some time," and I proceeded quickly to the under-minister's apartment.
"At last, M. de Lalande," rather irritably. "I began to wonder if you had left Paris! Are you still willing to do the King a service?"
"I shall be delighted, monsieur."
"Humph!" said he, making a wry face, "I am not so sure of that. I intend to send you on a dangerous errand. You will need a keen eye, sharp brain, and, as likely as not, a strong arm. My last messenger was waylaid and nearly killed, and you may fare even worse."
"The prospect is not over pleasant," I answered laughing, "but I may have better luck."
"I hope you will," said he doubtfully, "but it is a risky venture. You know that Cardinal Mazarin is at Bruhl, near Cologne? Well, it is necessary to take him an important paper."
"There seems small risk in that!"
"There you are wrong. It is well understood that letters pass to and fro, and his enemies are on the watch. It may be they will learn your secret before you get outside the gates. Their spies are everywhere; even, I may say, in the Palace itself. Now, will you undertake the commission?"
"Certainly, but I cannot travel on foot."
"There are horses in France, I suppose."
"One cannot buy them without money, which so far, has never been plentiful with me."
"Oh," said he, "I will attend to that. The King cannot afford to be niggardly in this matter, eh?" and without even making a wry face he gave me a liberal supply of money.
"Now," he continued, when I had replaced my purse, "this is a serious affair, and the Court will depend not only on your courage but on your skill. Mazarin must receive that letter, and no one else must see it. Do you understand?"
"You will leave Paris to-night; trust no one, and remember that every man you meet on the road may be a spy in Conde's pay."
"Then the chief danger is to be expected from the prince?"
"From every one," he exclaimed sharply. "King's friends. Queen's friends, Frondeurs and petits maitres are all to be suspected until that letter is placed in Mazarin's own hands."
Being a very tiny packet it was hidden without much difficulty, and, after listening to Le Tellier's cautions all over again, I left the apartment. Humphreys was waiting in the courtyard, but, staying only to whisper, "Secret service," I hurried on to my own rooms.
"Monsieur will find his things on the bed," said the landlord; "they are rather shabby, but they will attract less notice than new ones."
I asked if the town was quiet, and with a shrug, of his shoulders he said, "As yet, but there will be mischief presently. Monsieur is wise to put on an overall if he wishes to walk abroad."
"I am going to look on, nothing more. Now bring me something to eat, and I will pay your bill."
"I am obliged," said he as coolly as if it were an everyday incident, though I am sure he must have felt surprised at such an unexpected stroke of luck. I know I was astonished at my own ability to pay him.
"Monsieur will return?" said he questioningly, when at last I was ready to depart.
"I trust so. Keep the rooms for me."
He took the money, opened the door, and bowed low as I went out. He had always treated me well, and I was glad to have the means of settling my debt to him.
A considerable change had taken place in the streets since the morning, and there were numerous signs of the threatening storm. The Black Mantles had disappeared, having shut themselves up in their barricaded houses. Brawny men, half-naked and unwashed, patrolled the roadway, mostly in two and threes, but here and there in larger groups. Every one had a weapon, pike or club, axe or chopper, while a certain proportion carried horse-pistols, or blunderbusses.
I pushed on quickly through the crowd to the Rue Crillon, feeling more alarmed at every step, as the promenaders were rapidly getting ripe for mischief. Thus far I believe they had no settled purpose beyond general plunder, but no one could tell what might happen at any moment. I ought really to have gone on with Le Tellier's note, but I could not make up my mind to abandon the ladies. Most of their friends had followed Conde, Raoul could not leave the Luxembourg, and they were practically alone in Paris.
When I reached the Rue Crillon it was nearly empty, and I managed to pass unobserved into my friends' house. Marie and her aunt were sitting in an upstairs room that faced the street. Madame Coutance was looking out with an expression of scorn, but the girl's face was pale and apprehensive. At first they failed to recognise me in my workman's disguise, but after a second or two the elder lady exclaimed, "Why surely it is M. de Lalande, our cavalier, the knight-errant who goes about rescuing distressed dames. But why this mummery, my trusty knight? What does it mean?"
"That I intend doing my utmost to save your life, madame. Come, before the mob begins to work mischief. Raoul has procured me a permit which will pass us through the gates."
"You have grown wondrous timid of a sudden," she laughed. "I can perceive no sign of danger. There are a few people in the street, but they are quiet enough."
"They are swarming from their dens in all quarters of the town, madame, and they are as likely as not to come here."
"But why should they?" she inquired, and I could only reply by asking why they should not.
"They cannot wish to injure us," exclaimed Marie; "we have done them no harm!" a remark which showed how little the girl understood the passions of an angry mob.
For ten minutes or more I stood there begging Madame Coutance to escape, and all the while the number of people in the street steadily increased. They had done no mischief as yet, but passed their time in an aimless sort of promenade, shouting, singing, and mocking at any well-dressed passer-by. Once the whole crowd for some reason swept into the adjoining street, and for a brief period the Rue Crillon was left empty.
"Your bogey has vanished, Albert," cried Madame Coutance in triumph; "I told you there was no danger."
"I trust madame will prove the surer prophet, but I am still doubtful."
"Here they come again!" cried Marie. "What a horrid din! What are they doing, Albert?"
"Singing, but I cannot distinguish the words. They are growing more restless now. I should like to see D'Artagnan ride up with his troopers; he would soon clear the road. But I expect there is sufficient work for him in other parts."
For a while we stood, half hidden by the heavy curtains, watching the antics of the crowd, and wondering what would happen next. The people moved to and fro like caged animals, walking a few steps and turning back or crossing repeatedly from one side of the road to the other. A body of soldiers would have dispersed them easily, as they had neither purpose nor leader.
Presently they began to cluster more thickly at a spot some twenty yards below our house, and then I saw a big ragged fellow holding aloft a red flag, while another was pointing to it, and talking violently. I could not hear what he said, but every now and then the crowd shouted approval of his words.
"The fellow is hatching trouble," I muttered to myself, and, almost unconsciously, I felt for Le Tellier's note.
"They will attack the Palais Royal," said Madame Coutance. "They are angry because the prince has been driven away. I am sorry for the Queen, but they will not hurt her, if she promises to recall him."
"Be still!" I exclaimed with more freedom than politeness, "and listen. Now, can you understand?"
It had come at last. Chance or fate had given the mob a cry, which was all they needed. They were bent on plunder and violence, and any excuse was good enough. Low, deep, and stern, like the early rumblings of a volcano, the cry sounded; then the volume swelled, became clearer and more piercing, till at last in one stupendous roar it shook the place.
"Down with Conde! Down with Conde!"
Marie shivered and gave a gasp of terror, but her aunt still smiled scornfully; she was really an amazing woman.
"What imbeciles!" she exclaimed; "they do not know who is their best friend."
"Nor care," said I, "they intend being their own friends this evening. Stay there a moment while I see to things downstairs."
"Do not venture into the street, Albert," cried Marie, "you will be killed," and I promised to take no risks.
Collecting the servants, who were half dead through fright, I set them to work barricading the lower part of the house, and as soon as they had done all that was possible, I ran again up the stairs to the room which the ladies still occupied. By now the street was packed, and more than one dwelling house had been broken open. Out went costly furniture to be smashed into fragments by the howling rioters, and, "Down with Conde! Death to the friends of Conde!" echoed and re-echoed on all sides.
The mob moved nearer, and attacked the house on the opposite side of the street. Crash went the door, and the people rushed in with cries of triumph. We saw them appear in a room on a level with our own; the window was flung open, and a beautiful statue was hurled on to the pavement below. Down came rich hangings, costly pictures and gilded mirrors; the small articles only were stolen, the others were hacked and chopped and trampled to pieces underfoot.
"Madame," said I firmly, "you must delay no longer. For your niece's sake, if not for your own, you must attempt to escape."
A loud howl added force to my advice, and a dozen stalwart hands banged at our frail barricade. It could not resist long, and what chance would there be for us, when the rioters had swept it away?
"Down with the house! Burn it! Burn it! Have them out! Friends of Conde to the death! Room there for Pierre's club! Bravo, Pierre!"
"Madame," I cried passionately, "listen to reason. Do you want this innocent girl killed before your eyes? These wild beasts will have no mercy."
"It is too late," she answered calmly, "and we both come from a race that knows how to die."
"It is not too late; there is still a chance. Get some clothes from the servants, and disguise yourselves; we can slip out at the back."
Even then I believe she would have stood her ground, but for Marie's evident terror. The poor girl could not conceal her dismay, and her eyes distended in fright as the hungry roar of the mob leaped from the street. Those in front hacked at the barrier: those behind urged on their fellows with deep-mouthed baying.
"In! In! Set it on fire! Death to Conde's friends!" they roared.
"Go!" said I sternly, pushing Madame Coutance out of the room, "and I pray that this poor girl's death is not laid to your account."
The terrified servants had already fled, but madame found some garments, in which the two dressed. I waited for them on the stairs, and my blood ran cold at the yells of the ravenous pack below. Crash! Crash! The barrier was yielding! A few more stout blows and they would be upon us. A second, aye, even half a second might mean the difference to us between life and death.
"Quick! Quick!" I cried, as the ladies in their borrowed dresses ran from the room. "The barricade will fall at any moment!"
Half dragging, half supporting Marie, Madame Coutance and I ran swiftly along the landing, as, with the noise of a river in flood, the crowd burst into the hall.
"Down with Conde!"
The shout was appalling, and even Marie's aunt, for all her bravado, shrank at it. The sound of the savage voices urged us on, through the servants' quarters, down a narrow staircase, into the kitchen, and so to the yard beyond. The door was already wide open, and we pushed through to a side street. Just in time! A portion of the mob had swept round to the back of the house, and almost directly we found ourselves in the midst of the crowd, fighting, pushing, struggling, with all our might to force a way through.
Marie, poor girl, clung to me nervously in an almost fainting state, but her aunt walked boldly with head erect and her eyes flashing like stars. In spite of the terrible danger I could hardly repress a smile at sight of this high-born dame in her servant's dress, compelled to struggle with the canaille like a woman of the markets. To make matters worse, we were forced to cry aloud, "Down with Conde!" which I did lustily, but madame made many wry faces, and, but for her niece, would have refused outright. It was quite painful enough for her to hear others insulting the great hero.
Twice we were swung back to the door of the house, which was now completely wrecked; then, still surrounded by the mob, we were tossed, like floating straws, clear of the street. Since that night I have taken part in more than one fierce battle, but have never experienced the same feeling of horror as during that eventful struggle in the Rue Crillon.
The danger was not yet over; we had still some distance to walk, and every few yards we met groups of rioters hurrying to the work of destruction. Some cried, "Down with the Queen!" or "Down with the Parliament!" but most of them yelled "Down with Conde!" because for the moment that was the popular cry.
Just at first we walked rather briskly, but very soon Marie's pace became slower, she hung with greater weight on my arm, and I feared every moment she would faint; It was evident that unless she got better we should not reach St. Denis that night.
We were in a fairly quiet street when Madame Coutance suddenly exclaimed, "Let us rest a few minutes in this doorway. Marie, look up, child; there is nothing to fear now; we are safe here."
For answer, the girl, whose nerves were completely overwrought, shuddered and sobbed.
"Take me away," she cried, "oh, take me away. Back to Aunay; anywhere out of this horrible place."
"That is what we are going to do," I said soothingly. "I have a special permit which will pass us through the gate of St. Denis. But you must be strong and brave, or we shall not get there."
"I will try," she moaned, "I will try; but oh, it is horrible."
"Hush!" exclaimed her aunt sharply, "listen."
I had been too much occupied with Marie to pay attention to anything else, but now I distinctly heard the sound of voices on the other side of the door.
"Poor child," a woman was saying softly, "she is half dead with fright. Let her come in, I say."
"But the rioters?" exclaimed a second person.
"Pouf! The street is clear enough. Take down the bar, Jules." Then we heard a sound as of a heavy bar being removed.
The door opened ever so slightly and a woman cried, "Quick, come in, before you are seen. Where is the poor girl? Cheer up, my little one, no one shall harm you here. Now, Jules, put up the bar again! Ah! that is right. This way, monsieur," and she led us all into a tiny room, poorly furnished, but neat and clean.
She was a comely woman of middle age, rather short, with bright keen eyes, and pleasant face: her husband, Jules, was a ruddy-cheeked man, bald on the top of his head, but with a ring of stiff white hair which stood up like a fence.
"It is really very generous of you to risk so much for strangers," I began, but the woman would not let me finish.
"One cannot let a child die for want of a helping hand," said she briskly, "and as for these brigands, I would cut off all their heads at a blow. Ah, it is easy to see that you do not belong to the canaille."
I have had little experience of the sea, but as we sat in that room I think we must have felt like sailors who, after a stormy voyage, have glided into a peaceful harbour.
Both Jules and his wife were very attentive, especially to Marie, who was getting much calmer; they gave us food and drink, and offered to hide us in the house as long as we cared to stay.
"It is growing late," said they, "and you cannot go abroad to-night. To-morrow——"
"The danger will be just as great," interrupted Madame Coutance. "We thank you for your kind offer, but, believe me, it will be better for us to depart now. Monsieur has a pass, and once outside the city we shall be safe."
"And to-morrow," said Marie, "it may be too late. Besides, you may get into trouble for hiding us, and then I should never forgive myself."
As far as my plans were concerned it was better to start at once, but I took no part in the discussion one way or the other, though feeling extremely pleased when Madame Coutance decided that we should sleep outside Paris.
The kindness of our good Samaritans, and the relief from the tumult, had done Marie so much good that she was ready to face the danger again, so, at the end of an hour, we prepared to start. I offered Jules a sum of money, but neither he nor his wife would take it, and we could only thank them, and hope they would not suffer for having afforded us a temporary refuge.
The Ladies Leave Paris.
We could still hear the hoarse shouts of the people, but the streets in the direction of St. Denis were quiet, and the darkness prevented us from being observed. As Marie had recovered her strength we walked quickly, and finally arrived at the gate, where the Duke of Orleans had stationed a double guard. The officer on duty regarded us with suspicion, but I showed him the order, which he dared not disobey.
"You may pass, monsieur," said he with mocking politeness, "it is not for me to disapprove of the Duke's friends."
The fellow's words roused my anger, and my face burned, but time was too precious for me to quarrel with him. We had saved our lives, it is true, but our plight was still miserable enough.
"We must find somewhere to sleep," said Madame Coutance, "and in the morning we can hire a carriage. Marie is too tired to walk farther."
This was the best plan, but I knew nothing of St. Denis, and it was only after a weary search that I secured accommodation for them in a small inn. The place was dirty, and the landlord ugly enough to frighten one, but Marie and her aunt behaved very bravely, making no complaint. They retired to their room at once, while I kept guard outside the door with loaded pistols and naked sword.
The next morning I learned the lesson that it is not always well to judge by appearances. Touched by the ladies' distress, the innkeeper did all he could to help me, and, through his assistance, I succeeded in hiring a wretched cart to carry us a stage on our journey.
"I am sorry it is such a poor affair," said the man, "but there is not a carriage in the place. It is strange how many people have left Paris during the last few days. One would think the plague had broken out."
"The plague would have been less harmful," said I, remembering the scene in the Rue Crillon.
In view of Le Tellier's note all this delay was extremely awkward, but there was no help for it; I could not leave Marie and her aunt stranded at St. Denis.
Madame Coutance laughed merrily at sight of the clumsy vehicle, and she joked on my taste in choosing such an elegant equipage. However, we made the inside fairly comfortable with rugs and cushions, and, having paid the inn-keeper, I assisted the ladies to their seats and clambered in after them. The driver, a stolid, thick-headed fellow, cracked his whip, and we started off at a brisk trot, which, however, the horses did not keep up long.
Hitherto there had been no opportunity to speak of my cousin's death, but now I informed my companions of what had happened. Both were deeply grieved at the news, Madame Coutance especially showing more feeling than I should have expected.
"Did he die of his wound?" she asked.
"In a measure; but chiefly from the hardships endured through hiding from Conde."
"The prince would have forgiven him!"
"On conditions; and Henri would have refused them. My cousin was not the best of men, but he was loyal to his friends."
"You are right," exclaimed Madame Coutance warmly; "in many ways Henri de Lalande was a gallant gentleman. And now, what are you going to do?"
"As soon as you reach Aunay I shall join the King's friends."
"Ah!" she exclaimed with a smile, "I know you are against the prince, but I wish you success for yourself, and if you fall, well, the battlefield is a fit resting-place for a gentleman of France."
"I shall pray for you, Albert," whispered Marie, "that you may come safely through every danger. I hate all this fighting and bloodshed, and wish the country could be at peace."
"It will be soon," I answered, and then for a while we journeyed in silence.
About four o'clock in the afternoon we reached a large village, and the driver pulled up at the principal inn. This was the end of his stage, and though we offered him a handsome sum of money he refused to go a yard farther. He declared that his horses required rest, which was true enough, and that his master had ordered him to return to St. Denis in the morning.
"We must make the best of it," exclaimed Madame Coutance; "I daresay we can obtain some sort of accommodation for the night."
Our reception was far from encouraging, but when the innkeeper discovered that we were not penniless, his manner changed. The ladies were shown into the best room, a chamber was made ready for them, and the servants received orders to prepare a good meal. All this was extremely pleasant, but there was a greater slice of luck to follow. As soon as I had explained the situation he offered to solve our difficulty. A carriage? Certainly, he had the very thing, and a team of beautiful horses as well. Of course it would be expensive, but then, no doubt, monsieur would be willing to pay for the privilege.
Finally it was agreed that we should start at dawn, and I went to sleep that night with a feeling of relief. It was barely light when we sat down to breakfast, and the ladies shivered on going into the cold air, but the carriage was comfortable, and, when the leathern coverings were drawn down, warm.
"Decidedly an improvement on the open cart," exclaimed Madame Coutance, as she leaned back against the cushions. "We ought to reach Aunay before nightfall."
I earnestly hoped we should, as I was becoming uneasy concerning Le Tellier's note. However, as nothing could be done until the ladies were placed in safety, I endeavoured to dismiss the subject from my mind, and to appear as pleasant as possible. There is no need to linger over the details of the journey. We stopped two or three times for food and rest, and at one place to change the horses, but we met with no adventure of any kind, and arrived at the chateau about three o'clock, quite two hours sooner than I had dared to hope.
"Home again," said Marie softly, as we entered the hall, "and I hope it will be long before we leave it."
"Not until the prince rides triumphantly into Paris!" exclaimed her aunt. "Why do you smile, M. de Lalande? The prince has already beaten Mazarin, and he will make short work of the rest."
"Very likely, madame," I said, not wishing to be drawn into an argument, but, remembering the note in my pocket, I greatly doubted if the Cardinal were as completely overcome as his enemies believed.
It was a difficult matter to get away from Aunay that evening. The ladies declared I was tired, and begged me to stay until the next day, but this, though they were not aware of it, was out of the question. Finding at last that I was resolved to depart, Madame Coutance insisted on my wearing a plumed hat which had belonged to her husband, and told me to choose the best saddle-horse in her stables.
"True," said she, with a charming smile, "you are an enemy to the prince, but I do not forget that you are also one of my best friends."
[Transcriber's note: illustration missing from book]
The scene of my departure from the chateau is still very vivid in my memory. It was evening, and the sky flushed red with the glories of the setting sun. From afar came the tinkling of bells, the lowing of kine, and the chatter of the serving-men. The ladies stood on the terrace overlooking the fine park, and as I rode off they waved their hands in farewell, and wished me God-speed on the journey.
I was half sorry to plunge again into the strife, but the beautiful evening and the brisk ride soon restored my spirits. I wished Pillot had been with me, not alone for the sake of his company, but for his help also. However, I was young and strong, and having a certain amount of confidence in myself rode on cheerily enough.
On the third evening after leaving the chateau I arrived at Rheims, passing into the town just before the closing of the gates. The streets were filled with people who wore an air of excitement as if something was going forward. A number of soldiers loitered about in groups, but whether they were the King's friends or Conde's I could not determine, as they wore no distinguishing colours.
Riding slowly down one of the less frequented streets, I discovered an inn which had every appearance of being clean and comfortable.
"This is the place to suit me," I said half aloud, and was proceeding to dismount, when I caught sight of a man staring hard in my direction from the window of the opposite house, and while I was talking to the ostler the stranger had run down and clapped me on the back in the heartiest manner. He looked rather like a soldier of fortune who had fallen on evil times. His finery was distinctly faded, but he carried a good sword, and seemed capable of using it. His face was tanned by exposure to the weather, both cheeks bore the marks of sword-cuts, and there was a scar on his forehead just above the left eye. Altogether he appeared a far from desirable acquaintance.
"Henri, my boy," he cried, giving me another tremendous thwack, "how came you here? Ah, you are a sly rascal! Plotting more mischief, eh? Well, well, you are safe for me, though I am for the King."
The speaker rattled on at such a rate that I could scarcely manage to put in, "Pardon me, monsieur, but you have made a mistake."
"A mistake?" he exclaimed. "Peste! I must be growing old. My eyesight is failing. Aren't you Henri de Lalande? You are very much like him. Ah, no, I perceive now you are younger. He is an old friend, but we see little of each other. I am in the King's service and he is a Frondeur. But in private life, you know, eh?" and he gave me a vigorous dig in the ribs, following it up by saying, "Perhaps monsieur is a relative?"
I cannot say what my answer would have been, but just then I received another shock. A few yards farther along, standing well back against the wall, was a little man, evidently endeavouring to attract my attention. Directly his attempt succeeded he placed a finger on his closed lips, held it there a second or two, and vanished.
It was Pillot, and in my amazement I almost spoke the name aloud. How did he get there? What mystery was afoot now?
Presently the stranger, who had been trying to account for the new expression in my face, exclaimed, "Monsieur then is not a relative?"
"A relative," I answered vaguely, for the unexpected appearance of Pillot had put the soldier's remarks out of my head altogether; "I wish you would not pester me with your questions. I am tired and hungry, and do not understand what you mean."
"I am sorry, monsieur," he said humbly; "I have few friends, and seeing one of them, as I fancied, was carried away. Well, there, let it pass. Time was when Captain Courcy could ruffle it with the best."
He really seemed so downhearted that I was ashamed of my brusque behaviour, and exclaimed, "It is I who should ask pardon, monsieur, but indeed, I am badly in want of food and rest: I have ridden far. Later, perhaps, we shall meet again, when I am in better condition for talking."
"It may be so, monsieur," and, saluting me with a courtly bow, he turned and re-crossed the street, while I entered the inn and was ushered into a private room.
"A good supper, landlord," I said, "the best you have in the house, and while it is being prepared I will see to my horse."
"The servants will attend to the animal, monsieur," he answered; but it has always been a fancy of mine that every rider should see that his horse is made comfortable.
By the time I returned supper was ready, and I sat down to an ample meal, which reminded me strangely of the one I had eaten in La Boule d'Or on the night of my arrival in Paris. At that time, my purse was nearly empty; now it was full almost to bursting—a welcome difference.
After supper I leaned back in my chair, musing over the strange event that had occurred outside. But for one thing I should soon have banished all thoughts of Captain Courcy from my mind. He was, I imagined, a gentleman who, either through ill-luck or his own folly, had come to grief in the world, and was at present reduced to borrowing money from his acquaintances.
But if this were so, why had Pillot acted in such a strange manner? Why, indeed, was he in Rheims at all? I had ordered him to proceed to Aunay, which it was certain he had not done. I was still turning these things over in my mind when the door was pushed open softly, and Pillot himself entered. He glanced round the room cautiously, and finding me alone closed the door behind him.
"Monsieur is in danger," said he quietly, and without wasting any time in greeting; "his errand is known, and Conde's friends are tracking him."
I gave a start of surprise, and thought instantly of the man who had accosted me outside the inn; but Pillot, not allowing me time to speak, continued, "You were unlucky in choosing this street, monsieur. Captain Courcy with two others have ridden straight from Paris expecting to overtake you on the road. They were unaware that you had gone to Aunay, disguised in a blue over-all and a workman's cap."
"If Mazarin ever returns to power, Pillot, I will ask him to put you at the head of police. How did you discover that secret?"
"It was whispered to me just after the funeral of monsieur's cousin. Monsieur will be pleased to hear that the Abbe himself performed the last rites."
"He could do little less, considering what my cousin had done for him. But now, about this other business! Has Captain Courcy recognised me?"
"Yes, and he is at present informing his friends of the discovery. But I had better begin at the beginning. After you had received the note—oh, it is well known, monsieur!—this Courcy and two others of his stamp were sent in pursuit. Concluding that you had gone straight to Bruhl, they rode day and night, changing horses on the road, through Rheims and almost as far as Mezieres. Naturally they were unsuccessful, and, not knowing what else to do, they returned here."
"And you followed them?"
"As far as Rheims, but no farther. Knowing you had gone to Aunay, I felt confident you could not be in front of us."
I sat drumming idly on the table, and wondering what was best to be done. The most simple plan was to give Pillot the note, but then I had faithfully promised Le Tellier that it should not go out of my possession. I was in a hobble. This Courcy was evidently an old campaigner, equally ready with his brain or sword. It would be hard to outwit him, and I guessed that he was more than my match in a fight.
Suddenly Pillot astonished me by asking where I had hidden the note. Perhaps it was foolish to trust one who had worked so hard for my enemies, but somehow I felt no fear that he would play me false. He had plotted willingly against Mazarin, but on the other hand he did not love Conde, and was hardly likely to assist him. Remembering these things, I answered without hesitation, "In my doublet."
"A poor hiding-place, monsieur," said he; "one always looks there first. Stay here a few minutes and I will show you a trick."
With that he stole out of the room, and closed the door, leaving me in a state of wondering excitement. He could certainly show me a trick now if he pleased, and an ugly one too, by returning with Captain Courcy. I confess that the idea did cross my mind, but I would not heed it, and in less than half-an-hour the dwarf returned alone.
"Now, monsieur," said he, "take off one of your riding-boots. Quick, we may be interrupted. Is it a large packet?"
"No," I answered, giving him the boot, "it is nothing more than a slip of paper."
With a sharp instrument he made a tiny slit at the back of the boot on the inside, just large enough to allow of the paper being inserted, and then with some shoemaker's implements sewed the edges together so neatly that one could hardly detect the joinings.
"There, monsieur," he exclaimed chuckling; "I doubt if Captain Courcy will be clever enough to discover that. Now, listen to me, monsieur. Your only plan is boldness. It is known you are in Rheims, and without a doubt the gates will be watched, while the captain will keep an eye on this inn."
"Well?" I exclaimed rather impatiently.
"Go into the common room, and show yourself as if you had nothing to fear. Do not hurry in the morning, but about ten o'clock ride out of the town. The others will follow, but they are not likely to attempt anything till nightfall. By keeping along the highroad to Mezieres, you will reach a village called Verdu. By that time, your horse will be tired, and you must ask the innkeeper if he knows of a horse for sale. Should he request you to go to the stables, invite your friends to accompany you."
"Why, yes," exclaimed Pillot, "by then you will probably have three friends."
"Oh," said I, beginning to understand, "go on."
"The animal will not be worth buying, and you will return to your room. Since monsieur cannot leave Verdu without a horse, he may as well sit up late; there will be agreeable company."
"Now I am puzzled again."
Pillot laughed. "It is a child's trick, monsieur. When it is getting very late a man from the village will arrive with a fresh horse. After some delay you will go out and instruct him to call in the morning."
"Yes," said I, still wondering.
"Monsieur will go out, but he will not return, and when his friends hurry to the stable they will find only two horses which cannot run a mile. Now I must slip away without being seen, and I trust you will remember not to start before ten o'clock."
After waiting a few minutes in order to let him get clear, I strolled into the common room, and sat a while talking with the people on the state of the country. Rather to my surprise very few of them spoke in favour of Conde, the majority exclaiming against him as a traitor, and saying he ought to be executed.
"He is a fine general, though," remarked the inn-keeper; "I fought under him at Rocroi."
"He has brought the Spaniards into the country," cried a stout-looking fellow, hotly, "and I will never forgive that. What say you, monsieur?"
"Why, I am of your opinion. The Frenchman who bargains with Spaniards to shoot down his own countrymen, is not deserving of much pity."
"Bravo, monsieur! Well said! I would have helped him fight Mazarin or any of these squabblers in Paris, but to raise arms against the King is a different matter. Perhaps monsieur belongs to the royal army?"
"You are not far from the mark," said I laughing; "you evidently have sharp eyes, my friend."
I looked about for Courcy, half expecting he would enter, but there was no sign of him, so at last I went to the chamber which had been prepared for me.
Captain Courcy Outwitted.
After securing the door I loaded my pistol, undressed, and stepped into bed, quite intending to remain awake all night. However, my eyes were heavy, I was tired out, and in spite of danger I soon fell asleep, not to waken again till a servant, hammering at the door, inquired if I was nearly ready for breakfast. Jumping up hastily, I took a glance round the room, and found to my relief that nothing had been disturbed.
"Pillot was right," I muttered, "the rascals are waiting till I am beyond the town. I wish Captain Courcy had introduced his two friends."
After making my toilet I went to the stables, where my horse, quite recovered from his fatigue, was looking in fine condition. Then, returning to the inn, I ate a substantial breakfast, and, obeying Pillot's injunctions, made no attempt to start till ten o'clock. How shrewdly the little man had judged my enemies' plans was made plain almost at the instant of my passing through the gate.
"I trust monsieur is better," exclaimed a voice in my ear, and there was Captain Courcy mounted on a powerful horse close by my side.
And here I must stop to mention that the old soldier performed his part very cleverly. He exhibited such surprise at seeing me, that, but for Pillot's warning, I should have believed we met by accident. As it was, he found me on my guard.
"I owe you an apology, captain," said I pleasantly; "I fear that last night you must have considered me very ill-mannered."
"No, no, the fault was mine. You were tired and I worried you thoughtlessly. Ah, now I see you are not my old friend, De Lalande."
"Yet I am a De Lalande," I laughed, telling him what he already knew; "Henri de Lalande was my cousin. He is dead now, poor fellow; you will not see him again."
"Dead?" he exclaimed in a tone of surprise; "Henri dead? No; it is impossible."
"Yet it is true! I was with him when he died."
It was vastly entertaining to watch the old rogue's antics as he expressed his astonishment, though knowing as well as I that my cousin was dead and buried, but I kept a grave face.
"Well, well," said he, "I shall miss him sorely. We were excellent friends, though there were twenty years between us. Do you know—— But there, I am wasting your time and my own. I have an errand in Mezieres. I suppose you are not riding in that direction?"
"As it happens it is precisely where I am going."
"How odd," he cried. "Why, if you do not object we can travel together. The roads are not over safe, and in case of danger one can help the other."
"A good plan, captain, though these highway robbers are not much to be feared! I always keep my sword sharp and my pistols loaded."
"And I warrant you can use both at a pinch. Henri, now, was a famous swordsman. Poor fellow; he would not leave that wretched Abbe, though I often begged him to come over to our side."
The easy, natural way in which the fellow foisted himself on me as a travelling-companion was really wonderful. There was no sign of any plan or arrangement; we were, it seemed, chance travellers proceeding to the same place, and having a subject to discuss which interested us both.
As for me, I endeavoured not to betray my suspicion, but you may be sure I did not sleep on the journey. Courcy himself, especially if he caught me at a disadvantage, was more than my match, while his two companions might appear at any moment. So I rode warily, keeping the captain on my left and taking care that he did not lag behind. Fortunately, perhaps, there were numerous people on the highroad, and once we overtook a body of troops wearing the King's colours. Their officer stopped and questioned us, but our answers being satisfactory he allowed us to proceed.
"Conde evidently has few friends in these parts," remarked the captain.
"And fewer still the farther we go, which is a lucky thing for us. I suppose your regiment is at Mezieres?"
"Why, no," he answered carelessly, and lowering his voice, he added, "the truth is I am despatched on a special service. I cannot very well say more but——"
"No, no, keep your secret," I interrupted hastily; "it is enough for me that you are on the King's side," at which the rascal smiled pleasantly, thinking how easy it would be to pluck such a simple goose.
About four o'clock we approached the village of Verdu, when, oddly enough, my horse began to show signs of distress, and I was compelled to slacken pace. The captain expressed his sorrow, and would not hear of riding on alone.
"No," said he, "it is not my custom to leave a comrade in the lurch. We will push on together, and perhaps in the village you may be able to purchase or hire another animal which will carry you as far as Mezieres. Besides, the night bids fair to be stormy, and we may as well lie snug at the inn."
For some time I had noticed the sky was becoming overcast; dark clouds were hurrying up, and, as we dismounted, the storm burst.
"Corbleu!" cried the captain, "only just in time! The inn will be full to-night," and as he spoke two other horsemen dashed up to obtain shelter.
The innkeeper bade us welcome, the servants led away our horses, and we all entered the house together. The last two comers sat at a distance from us, as if not wishing for company, but I did not for an instant doubt that they were the crafty captain's missing friends.
"Landlord," exclaimed one of them, "my friend and I will stay here to-night; so put your two best rooms in order."
"There are but two, monsieur," replied the innkeeper.
"We require only two, stupid, but see to it that the linen is clean and wholesome."
"Wait a moment, monsieur," cried the captain gaily, "this gentleman and I intend to stay here while the storm lasts, and we shall require one of these same rooms."
"Oh," said I, "pray leave me out of the question; I can sleep here in my cloak," but the captain blustered loudly, vowing that I should do nothing of the kind, and at last it was decided that he and I should share one of the rooms between us.
This point being finally settled, after much wrangling, we sat down to our meal, and the two strangers gradually became more friendly. It appeared they were on their way to Vouziers, but, foreseeing the storm, had turned back to seek shelter.
Thus far I had seen nothing of Pillot, but, remembering his advice, I asked the innkeeper if he had a horse for sale or hire, explaining that I wished to leave early in the morning for Mezieres.
"I have none of my own, monsieur; horses are scarce in these parts since the troubles began; but there is one in the stables which belongs to a poor traveller who might sell it."
"Is it a good one?"
"Monsieur can judge for himself, but I do not think monsieur will care to ride it."
"Captain," said I, "will you come with me? You know more about a horse than I."
"Certainly," he exclaimed, jumping up. "Bring a lantern, landlord; we will go at once."
There were five horses in the stables—those of the captain and the two strangers, my own which was in a state of prostration, and a thin long-legged beast whose body was composed of skin and ribs.
On seeing this uncouth animal, the captain said with a laugh, "Ma foi, M. de Lalande, you would make a pretty picture riding into Mezieres on this brute. Peste! Let us return to the fire."
I asked where the owner was, and the innkeeper replied, "Somewhere in the village, monsieur, endeavouring to sell his goods."
"Is it not possible to obtain a decent animal anywhere?" I inquired.
"I will do my best," he answered, holding up the lantern to guide our steps as Courcy and I returned to the inn.
"It is a nuisance," exclaimed the captain, warming his hands at the fire, "but I fear you will have to stay here over to-morrow. If my business were not so urgent——"
"Oh, the landlord may find an animal by the morning, especially as I am prepared to pay a good price."
"Monsieur makes a thrust there," remarked one of the strangers; "one can do most things with a full purse. After all, it will only be a delay of a few hours or so."
We sat a long time listening to the storm, which, after a lull, had broken out with redoubled fury, and once or twice I detected a stealthy exchange of glances between Captain Courcy and the two travellers. Thus far their plans had worked out beautifully; I was, to all appearance, entirely in their power, and it would be easy for them during the night to abstract the note. The one point in my favour was that they believed I knew nothing of the plot, and I took pains not to undeceive them. I laughed at the captain's jokes, and applauded his stories, though half expecting every moment to hear him say, "And now, M. de Lalande, I will trouble you for that slip of paper."
However, the evening wore on, the storm stopped, the servants fastened the doors and went to bed, leaving their master to attend to us. And all the while, whether laughing or talking, I was listening anxiously for Pillot's signal. At last there came a tremendous knocking at the outside door, and we heard the innkeeper stump along the passage.
"A late guest," laughed Courcy; "he will find but scant accommodation. Oh, after all, it is only one of the villagers. What does he want, I wonder?"
"Monsieur!" exclaimed the innkeeper, putting his head into the room; "it is a man who has a horse for sale."
"I hope it isn't brother to the one in the stable!" exclaimed Captain Courcy with a laugh. "However, we may as well look at it, De Lalande, and then we will go to bed."
He was rising from his comfortable seat, when the landlord said, "The horse is not here; the man has only just heard in the village that monsieur required one."
"Still, he may bring it round soon enough in the morning! At what time do you intend to start, captain?"
"Not a moment later than six."
"Well, I will ask him," and without the least appearance of hurry, though my heart was thumping like a big hammer, I left the room.
This was the one critical moment. Would Courcy scent mischief and follow? I purposely left the door ajar so that they might listen to the conversation while they could see my hat and cloak in the room.
"Now, my man," I began brusquely, "about this horse? Can you bring it here by five o'clock in the morning?"
"If it suits me, there will be no haggling over the price, but unless the animal is thoroughly sound you will have your trouble for nothing."
"Monsieur will be satisfied, I know. It is as good a horse as one would wish to meet with."
"Well, we shall see. Be here at five o'clock sharp, or even a little earlier."
"Yes, monsieur," then the door slammed, and I was on the outside of the inn with Pillot.
"This way, monsieur, quick. Here is the captain's horse for you; I can manage the others. Here, Alphonse," and I saw a man at the animals' heads, "help me to mount, and then vanish. Unless you talk no one will suspect you. Ready, monsieur? Away then. Ah, they have discovered part of the trick and are running to the stables. Ho, ho! Captain Courcy! Captain Courcy!"
There was a shout from the inn; then a pistol shot, and my late companions ran this way and that in confusion.
"Not a moment later than six, captain," I cried. "Shall I carry a message to your friends in Mezieres?" and then, with a triumphant laugh, we clattered off in the darkness.
"We have scored the trick and the game," said Pillot, "though I thought we were beaten when the captain talked of coming out. However, they cannot catch us now, before reaching Mezieres, and beyond that they will not venture."
Nothing more was said for a long time; we rode hard side by side, Pillot leading the third horse. It was still dark and a high wind had sprung up, but the rain had ceased. Occasionally we stopped to listen, but there was no sound of galloping hoofs in the rear, and, indeed, we hardly expected that the captain and his friends would follow very far. Pillot reckoned the distance from Verdu to Mezieres at thirty miles, and with several hours' start it seemed ridiculous to think of pursuit. Presently we slackened pace, and I asked Pillot if he was sure of the road.
"I think so; I have been making inquiries. By the way, monsieur must be very cold without a hat."
"It is not pleasant; but better lose a hat than a head!" I replied with a laugh.
Pillot proved a good guide, and Mezieres was still half asleep when we rode into the town and pulled up at the principal inn.
"We can give ourselves two hours' rest," said the dwarf, "and then, in case of accidents, we had better proceed. After breakfast, monsieur can provide himself with a fresh hat and cloak."
"I will send for them, which will save time. We must leave nothing to chance, Pillot. I am much mistaken if this Captain Courcy is the man to confess himself beaten."
"He is beaten this time, confession or no confession," answered the dwarf, with a shrug of his shoulders. "Still, it is always well not to be too confident."
While we waited for breakfast he proceeded to give a brief account of his doings. Before leaving the inn at Rheims he had slipped into my horse's feed a powder, which, after a few hours' exercise, would produce a temporary weakness. Then, directly the gates were open, he had started for Verdu on the sorry beast which the innkeeper had showed me. On the plea of being a poor man he had obtained permission to sleep in an outhouse, and then his only difficulty was to discover some one who would help him in bringing out the horses. All this he related in high glee, laughing merrily at the idea of having tricked the gallant captain.
I inquired if he was sure the others were in the plot, to which he replied, "Perfectly, monsieur; they are both in Conde's pay, but just at present they will not have much to show for their wages!" and he laughed again.
"Thanks to you," I said warmly. "But for your cleverness, I should have fallen into the pit."
As soon as the horses were rested and I had provided myself with a new hat and cloak, we made a fresh start, riding fast till Mezieres was at least a dozen miles in our rear.
I do not propose to linger over the remainder of the journey; if the account were a tithe as tedious as the actual ride I should lose all my readers. As far as Captain Courcy and his friends were concerned the paper was safe; they were not in the least likely to catch us, and if they did, Mazarin had as many friends as foes in that part of the country. Our chief danger now came from the highwaymen who prowled about the roads, and twice we were attacked by these worthies, who, however, upon finding us well-armed and resolute to defend ourselves, quickly moved off.
It was, I think, on the fifth morning from leaving Mezieres that we rode into Bruhl, and being directed to the Cardinal's residence, encountered Roland Belloc, who at first did not recognise me.
"Have you quite forgotten me?" said I.
"De Lalande? Is it possible? I understood you were still in Paris."
"I was there until a few days ago. But where is the Cardinal? I have a letter for him, and as soon as it is delivered I want to go to bed."
"You shall see him at once, follow me."
"Put the horses up somewhere, Pillot," I said, and throwing the reins to him, followed Belloc.
Several French gentlemen wearing Mazarin's colours lounged about; the courtyard was filled with soldiers, and sentries were stationed at the entrance. As for the Cardinal himself he looked very little like a beaten man.
"M. de Lalande," he purred in his silkiest tones, as Belloc showed me into the room. "You have been a long time doing my errand!"
"A sword-thrust in the side kept me in bed some weeks," I replied, "and on my return to the city I found that your Eminence was no longer there."
"Paris had grown unhealthy," said he smiling, "so I sought the purer air of the country. You, I believe, preferred the quiet seclusion of the Bastille."
"The choice was none of mine, my Lord."
"No? And so you have come to share my fortunes again?"
"I have brought your Eminence a letter from Le Tellier," and I handed him the document, which I had previously taken from its hiding-place.
Opening the note, he read the communication quickly, and, turning to me with a smile, exclaimed: "De Lalande, I certainly must keep you by my side! Positively, you always bring me good-luck. I am deeply in your debt, but my secretary shall settle our account. You must don the green scarf and join my body-guard."
This was a great honour, and I thanked him warmly, but he interrupted me with a laugh, saying, "It is well, in these troublous times, to have a skilful sword to rely on, and I have proved the worth of yours. You will find your comrades brave youths and all anxious to distinguish themselves. Pardieu! Conde has made a huge blunder and played into my hands nicely. Request M. Belloc to find you quarters—and now I must deal immediately with my correspondence."
Thus it was that I came to take service again with Mazarin, and to wear the green scarf in many a hot encounter.
Sturdy old Belloc was delighted to have me under his charge, and, as there was no room at Mazarin's residence, he arranged that I should stay at the inn where Pillot had stationed the horses.
"And now," he said, "get some breakfast and go straight to bed. I will come over during the evening for a chat. I am curious to learn how you fared in Paris."
"The story will surprise you, but I am too tired to tell it now."
"Yes," said he, kindly, "you evidently need a long rest."
It was strange to get into bed without feeling any cause for alarm. From sheer force of habit I placed my weapons handy, but there was no barricading of the door, or listening for the sound of stealthy footsteps, and almost before my head touched the pillow I was fast asleep. Pillot, whose powers of endurance were marvellous, wakened me early in the evening, and when M. Belloc paid his promised visit, all traces of my recent fatigue had vanished.
The old soldier displayed intense interest in my story, especially to those parts relating to the plot against Conde and my cousin's death.
"I am sorry for Henri," he said, "he was a bit of a rascal, but a brave fellow for all that, and he stood by the Abbe from the beginning. However, things have altered now, and before six months have passed Mazarin will be in Paris again. Conde will make a stiff fight, but we are bound to win, and if you live your fortune is made."
"Unless Mazarin suffers from a lapse of memory," I remarked. "So far his payments have been made mostly in promises, which do little towards keeping a full purse."
At this M. Belloc laughed, but he assured me that when the day of reckoning came I should have no cause to complain.
I Miss a Grand Opportunity.
For several weeks now I stayed idly at Bruhl, having nothing to do beyond an occasional turn of duty, which was really more a matter of form than of aught else.
Underneath the peaceful surface there were, to shrewd observers, signs of a stirring agitation. Couriers came and went by night and day; noblemen of high rank made mysterious visits, stayed a few hours, and then disappeared; a rumour arose that the Cardinal had actually been recalled to Court. It was even said that the order was contained in the letter I had carried from Paris, but on that point I was still in ignorance. By degrees, however, it became plain that the Cardinal had resolved to return and I learned from Belloc that Marshal Hocquincourt was busy raising an army to conduct him across France.
No one was more pleased to receive this news than Pillot, who could not live happily without excitement. He uttered no complaint, but I knew he was longing to be back in his loved Paris, from which he had never before been so long absent. To Pillot the walls of the capital bounded the one oasis in a desert world.
One evening, early in December, Belloc ordered me to be ready for a start the next morning. The die was cast; Mazarin had made up his mind, and I was to form one of the advance-guard in the journey to Sedan.
"Bravo!" cried Pillot, joyfully; "it is time we moved, monsieur. I am beginning to forget what Paris is like."
During the evening he was in a state of excitement, polishing my weapons and setting them in order, running to the stables to attend to the animals, and packing food for consumption on the march. As for sleeping, I am nearly sure that he did not close his eyes all night.
The advance-guard formed a goodly cavalcade. Most of my comrades were either sons of noblemen, or at least cadets of some distinguished house. They were well-mounted and richly dressed, and all wore the green scarf of Mazarin. Like Pillot, they were delighted at the idea of returning to Paris again, and gave no thought to the fact that many of them would never reach the city walls.
M. Belloc remained with the Cardinal, but I had made several new friends, and the journey, though full of peril, was pleasant enough. We youngsters laughed and joked, formed plans for the future, defeated Conde many times over—in imagination—and, I think, each of us secretly felt sure of becoming a Marshal of France. The older ones shook their heads, foretelling a long and difficult campaign, but we paid scant heed to their melancholy prophecies.
Pillot, who travelled with the attendants, made me an object of envy to my comrades. Never was there such a capital servant or one so full of contrivances. Once, through some stupid mistake, we were compelled to halt for the night on a dreary, barren waste. It was bitterly cold, being almost mid-winter; we had no tents, and indeed no other shelter than our cloaks.
The young nobles stamped about in high dudgeon, bidding their attendants light fires and bring food, though there was no wood to be seen, and the last of the provisions had been eaten in the morning. The poor lackeys raced about here and there endeavouring to accomplish what was quite out of the question, but the exercise at least kept them warm. I did not call Pillot, and, indeed, two minutes after the order to halt he had vanished. I thought it odd, but made no remark, and dismounting like the others walked about briskly to restore the circulation in my numbed limbs.
Presently some one nudged my elbow, and a voice whispered softly, "Let monsieur choose three of his friends and follow me."
Rather astonished, I sought out three of my comrades and we followed the dwarf, who led us perhaps two hundred yards, and stopped at a sheltered gully.
"Those who come first get the best seats," said he, and going down on his knees fumbled about for a time, till at last we broke into an exclamation of delight.
"A fire!" cried one.
"Pillot, you are a genius!" said I, and the other two declared he ought to be made a nobleman.
How he managed it was a mystery, but there was the fire blazing cheerfully, and in another moment a fowl spitted on a pike was roasting in the flames. We overwhelmed Pillot with thanks, and what he considered more to the purpose—gave him a share of the bird. It was rather tough and very stringy, but when one is hungry these defects pass as trifles.
Before long our fire attracted general attention, and as many as could crowded around it. Then, not wishing to be selfish, we vacated our seats in favour of others, and, wrapped in our mantles, lay down in the shelter of the hollow. This was our worst hardship, and at length we reached Sedan, where Mazarin, who arrived the next day, took up his abode with Marshal Fabert.
In the early part of the year 1652, we moved once more, and, crossing the frontier, re-entered France in triumph. Every day now added to our strength. We were joined by Marshal Hocquincourt, who commanded 5000 soldiers, each wearing the green scarf of the Cardinal. Here and there a number of officers rode up decorated with the same colours; town after town opened its gates at the first summons, and Mazarin might well have imagined that his period of exile was over.
"Well, Pillot," said I one evening, "what do you think of all this?"
"It is a fresh act in a comedy, monsieur, in which the next is not yet written."
"Not even thought out, perhaps."
"There is no thinking, monsieur, or the play would become a tragedy. As to your Mazarin, he may be flying for his life again to-morrow."
"I hardly think so; he has the young King on his side now."
"Well, well, monsieur, it matters little as long as we enter Paris. After all that is the chief thing."
I did not answer him, but my mind turned to the frightful misery of the district through which we were passing. The country lay unfilled for miles; the woods swarmed with robbers; the peasants were dying of starvation; the towns were filled with people who had neither work nor food. Everything except fighting was at a standstill: trade was dead, manufactures had ceased, and no one cared to sow the seed when others would eat the crops.
A young officer in Hocquincourt's army informed us that affairs were equally bad in Paris. Rendered desperate by hunger, the citizens were up in arms, and no one's life was safe for a day. By a stroke of good fortune the Queen-Mother had escaped from the city, and was now with the young King at Poitiers. Of Raoul I could learn nothing, but the Duke of Orleans was still see-sawing; now helping Conde, and again endeavouring to make terms with the King. In these circumstances I half expected to find my old comrade at Poitiers, where it was almost certain John Humphreys would be.
Meanwhile we marched peacefully through the country, and the friends of Conde, if the rebel prince possessed any friends in these parts, remained very quiet, and most of the people cheered Mazarin as loudly as they had before hooted him. At Poitiers itself we had a magnificent reception. We marched along with drums beating and banners flying; the road was lined with throngs of excited people cheering madly for the army of the Cardinal, and presently a loud cry announced the coming of the King.
Thunders of applause arose on all sides, and people screamed themselves hoarse shouting, "Vive le Roi!" "Vive Mazarin!"
I caught a glimpse of the boy king and his young brother as they joined the Cardinal, and rode with him to the town, where the Queen waited at a window to see him pass. It must have been a proud moment for the man who had once been ignominiously expelled from France.
As soon as the procession broke up, I instructed Pillot where to stable the horses, and went about seeking Raoul and John Humphreys. The town was filled with soldiers and officers of the Court, while thousands of the troops were quartered in the neighbouring villages. I met several old friends, but not Raoul, when suddenly I heard a hearty, "How are you, De Lalande?" and there was the smiling face of an officer of the Queen's Guards.
"John Humphreys!" I exclaimed, and then grasping the meaning of his new uniform, "you have received a commission? Splendid! I knew from the first it must come. Presently, my dear fellow, you must tell me all about it, but first, do you know anything of Raoul Beauchamp? Is he still at the Luxembourg, or has he joined the King?"
"Turenne has given him a commission in the royal army, and he is quartered in one of the villages near. If you are not on duty we will visit him."
"With all my heart! I have nothing in particular to do before the morning."
"Very well; it is not far; we can walk easily."
The district round Poitiers had the appearance of a huge camp, and the white scarves of the King mingled with the green ones of the Cardinal. We moved with some difficulty, until, at last, getting clear of the crowd, we reached the road, or rather cart-track leading to the village.
"There he is!" cried Humphreys presently. "Just returned, I warrant, from visiting his troopers; he looks after them well," and, glancing ahead, I observed my old comrade about to enter the village inn.
"Raoul!" I shouted, "Raoul!" and at the sound he turned back to meet us.
"I told you that De Lalande would come to no harm!" exclaimed Humphreys with a laugh.
"He was as anxious as I, Albert," said Raoul. "We discovered that you had escorted the ladies to Aunay, but after that no one could guess what had become of you. Naturally, we expected to find you with the army."
"Instead of which I was at Bruhl with the Cardinal. I concluded Humphreys would guess what the secret service was."
"Come to my room," said Raoul; "we must hear your story."
As there could be no harm in mentioning the matter now, I related what had passed, and they were much amused by Pillot's trick at Verdu.
"But you must keep out of Courcy's way for a time," said Raoul. "I know him well, and he is a tremendous fire-eater. I expect he has joined Conde in the field by now."
"Where is D'Arcy?"
"At the Luxembourg, and thoroughly miserable. He hates the idea of supporting Conde against the King, but imagines he ought not to desert the Duke of Orleans. Most of his comrades came with me, but he would not. 'I am for Orleans,' he said, 'no matter whom he is against.' Of course, he is right in a way."
"Not at all," declared Humphreys. "Conde is a rebel, and has assisted the enemies of his own country. Every man should regard him as a traitor."
"Well," said Raoul frankly, "it was his trafficking with the Spaniards that decided me to fight against him. I am for France, whoever rules the country."
"I am for the King," said Humphreys. "My father taught me to say, 'For God and the King!' as soon as I could talk. That was my earliest lesson."
"And yet your people cut off their king's head!"
"A set of sour knaves," he cried, "but the finest fighting men in the world! You should have seen them at Naseby with their leader, Cromwell! Old Noll we call him; he rules the country now, while Prince Charles, the rightful king, is here in exile."
"When our own troubles are settled we will set your prince on his throne," laughed Raoul. "Mazarin will provide him with an army, and Albert and I will obtain commissions in it. Then we shall see your country for ourselves."
"Ah," exclaimed Humphreys, "you do not understand the English any more than I understand your Parisians. If Prince Charles crossed the water now with a French army, he would never be king; his own friends would fight against him. He must wait awhile till his people have recovered their senses, then they will beg him to return."
"By the way," said I, "you have not told me yet how you won your commission."
"A lucky accident; a mere trifle; what you call a bagatelle."
"Have you not heard?" inquired Raoul. "I must relate the story myself, as our friend here is as modest as brave. The affair occurred at Montrond, and the whole camp talked of it."
"Things were very dull just then," interrupted Humphreys.
"We were besieging the town," continued Raoul, "and one night the enemy made a sortie. It took us by surprise; our outposts were rushed, a dozen officers fell, and the troops were panic-stricken. General Pallnau was with the Court, and the next in command lost his head. As it chanced our friend was staying with me that night, and he stopped the rout."
"No, no," said the Englishman, with a smile; "he is making too much of it altogether."
"He saved the army at least. My quarters happened to be on a hill. Conde's troops were pouring towards it; half our men had scattered, and the others were wavering, when Humphreys sprang to the front, calling us to rally. A few of us ran up, and only just in time. The enemy, perceiving we held the key to the position, swarmed to the attack. We, knowing how much depended on every minute's delay, stood our ground. Once we rolled them back, but they came again. Our men fell fast, but Humphreys was a host in himself, and through him we held on till the runaways had time to re-form. Every one declared he had saved the army, and he received his commission on the field."
"And the credit was as much Raoul's as mine," said Humphreys, "but things go like that in this world. I suppose, now that Mazarin's troops have reinforced us, we shall march south and fight Conde."
"It is possible, though there is a whisper that we are to move on Angers. I wish we three could keep together."
"It would be splendid," said Raoul, "but we must make the most of our opportunities," which, as long as the army remained in the neighbourhood of Poitiers, we did.
Very soon, however, we advanced on Angers, and having captured that town removed to Saumur. Here we were joined by Marshal Turenne, and being too weak to reduce the important town of Orleans proceeded to Gien. Raoul was quartered with his regiment some miles away, but Humphreys and I were both stationed in the town. I was spending an hour with him one evening when Pillot, in a tremendous hurry, came with a message that M. Belloc wished to see me immediately.
"It must be something important, monsieur," said the dwarf, "as M. Belloc ordered me to saddle the horses."
I found my old friend in a state of great agitation, and without giving me time to speak he asked, "Do you know where Conde is?"
"In Guienne, monsieur."
"So we all thought, but it is a mistake. He is hurrying to take command of the army of the Loire. A courier has just arrived with the information, and we are despatching parties to capture him, dead or alive. He is travelling with six companions, and will endeavour to reach Chatillon. If he can be caught, we shall finish the war in a week. You are well acquainted with the prince?"
"Take half a dozen troopers; ride to the bridge at Chatillon, and let no one pass till I send permission."
"Very good, monsieur," and within ten minutes I was tearing along at the head of my men as fast as my horse could gallop.
It was still fairly light when we arrived at the spot, and, leaving two of the troopers on the bank to look after the horses, I ambushed the others, and took up my own position so that no one could pass without being challenged. Soon the light faded, the air grew chill, a gray mist rose from the river. The men crouched silently in their hiding places; the only sounds were the melancholy lapping of the water, and the mournful cry of an occasional night-bird. M. Belloc's commission was certainly an honour, but this watching was dreary work, and I thought with regret of my cosy quarters.
It must have been an hour past midnight when Pillot, who had kept me company, whispered softly, "Listen, monsieur! Do you hear the beat of hoofs? I should say there are a couple of horsemen coming this way."
"Or more. No, there is only one."
"The others have stopped."
"Perhaps there was only one in the first instance. He is drawing nearer now. Listen, he has reached the bridge. Stand well behind me, so that he cannot observe you."
The horseman had approached at a trot; now he slowed down to a walking pace, and advanced carelessly, humming a tune as if there was no such thing as danger in the world.
With a loud "Qui Vive?" I sprang from my hiding-place and clutched his horse's bridle.
"An officer of the King," he replied coolly, and the white scarf on his arm showed up in the darkness. "I have come from the Marshal to ask for your report. I can testify at least that you keep an excellent watch."
The man's voice sounded familiar, but concluding we had met at the Court, I was in all innocence about to answer when Pillot, touching me lightly, whispered "Captain Courcy!"
In a flash I remembered, but it was too late. The captain's sharp ears had caught the words; with a violent wrench he twisted my arm from the bridle, and turning his horse's head dashed back at headlong speed.
"Stop him!" I yelled, "stop him!" but the rascal knocked over two of my men like rabbits, and disappeared along the bank of the river.
"Conde is not far off," said Pillot; "he feared a trap and sent the captain on in advance."
"Mount, and ride after them. Take a man with you, keep on their track and pick up all the King's friends you meet. Say it is the order of Marshal Turenne. Two of you fellows get your horses and cross to the other side of the river. Keep your eyes open and spread the news that Conde is hiding in the neighbourhood. There is a fortune for the man who captures him."
The troopers mounted and galloped off; Pillot had already disappeared, and I was left with one man to attend to my wounded troopers. Fortunately they were not seriously hurt, though of little more use that night. As it chanced, however, nothing further occurred, and when Belloc sent to relieve us, I rode back feeling that I had missed a grand opportunity. My troopers accomplished nothing, but Pillot, who did not return for several hours, brought the certain news that Conde, accompanied by several gentlemen, had crossed the river.
"Never mind," said M. Belloc kindly, "you did your best, and no one can do more. Besides, even if you had caught this Captain Courcy, the prince would have escaped," which was quite true, though the reflection did not make my feelings any the more friendly towards the daring captain.
"Vive le Roi!"
The day after Conde's narrow escape I received a visit from Raoul. He was as lively as ever, and in high spirits at the prospects of fresh work. My connection with Mazarin prevented me from sharing in many of the minor engagements, but Raoul missed nothing. His courage was a proverb among Turenne's gentlemen, while the soldiers followed without question on the most dangerous enterprise if Raoul Beauchamp led the way.
"What is going on now?" I inquired.
"A general advance, I believe; at least we have received orders to move; the Marshal does not like to sit still."
I laughed at that, for Turenne was a general who allowed neither his own troops nor the enemy any rest. Ambush and surprise, hot attack and feigned retreat, he employed them all, keeping every one busy. Raoul had not heard of Conde's movements, and when I told him, he exclaimed, "We can keep our eyes open now, Albert; there will be little time for sleeping when the prince takes command of his army. A good thing for us that Turenne is on our side. Most likely that accounts for our advance. Don't you envy us?"
"Well, I should not object if the Green Scarves were sent to the front."
"You will have your chance," said he laughing, and wishing me farewell, departed to join his men.
The town was a scene of unusual activity that day. Soldiers were moving about in all directions. Here a column of infantry trudged along; there a squadron of horse passed at the trot; occasionally a gaily-dressed gentleman with a white or green scarf on his arm flew by, bound on some errand of importance. Once I met Humphreys, who, much to his disgust, had received orders to remain behind with a number of the Queen's Guards.
"There will be stirring business soon," said he. "Turenne is moving, and I hear that Conde has arrived from the south on purpose to oppose him. It will be a battle of giants, and here are we tied up in this wretched hole doing nothing. We shan't even see the fight, much less take part in it."
"Why, you are becoming a regular fire-eater! Have you not had enough fighting?"
"I only object to all the work being done by others. I would rather take my own share. What are you supposed to be doing?"
"Nothing, and for once in a way it is a very pleasant occupation. Have you met Raoul?"
"No, and I expect he is a dozen miles off by now. He is in luck; his squadron acts as a kind of bodyguard to the Marshal. I had no idea that Beauchamp was such a daring fellow."
"He is like the rest, anxious to make a name for himself. Ah, here comes Pillot to warn me that it is my turn for duty."
Gien was still crowded with numbers of the Queen's troops, gentlemen of the King, and Mazarin's bodyguard, in addition to the hosts of servants and attendants on the Court. Hundreds watched Turenne's advance, and almost every one seemed to imagine that the Marshal had little to do but march peacefully to Paris.
From the gossip among Mazarin's gentlemen next morning I gathered that Turenne had halted at a place called Briare, while Hocquincourt, our second general, had advanced to Blenau.
"The Marshal is preparing his plans," exclaimed one of our fellows complacently, "and if Conde's army stays to fight it will be soundly beaten. I prophesy that within a month we shall be inside Paris."