I remembered these boastful words and laughed, when, a night or two afterwards, Pillot burst into my room and wakened me rather brusquely.
"Get up, monsieur," said he, "Conde has sent to announce his arrival."
"Conde," I growled sleepily. "Where? What do you mean? What is all the noise outside?"
"The town has gone mad with fright—that is all. Monsieur must be quick in dressing."
In a few minutes I was dressed and out of the house. Pillot was right—the town certainly had gone mad. The street was packed with people surging this way and that, pushing, struggling, and asking questions. There were hundreds of rumours in the air: Conde had crept into Gien, and had hanged Mazarin in his own room. The Queen-Mother was a prisoner with her two sons, and all her Guards had died fighting. I had hardly witnessed such a tumult even in Paris. Couriers and lackeys, coachmen and grooms; soldiers, citizens, peasants, and ladies of the Court, were all grouped together, making the oddest spectacle. No one really knew what had happened, though a hundred people were willing to tell.
I would have gone straight to the Cardinal's quarters, but such a course was out of the question; so, following Pillot, I found myself on a piece of high ground to the left of the town.
"Ah!" said I, drawing a deep breath, "now it is plain what has occurred. You are right, Pillot, that is a message from Conde, sure enough!"
The night was dark, but far away in the distance the gloom was lit up by numerous tongues of fire that extended for miles. Now one died away, but the next minute a fresh one shot skyward, and in places several merged together in one broad flame.
"Conde is amusing himself and providing us with a fine spectacle," said Pillot. "It seems to me that the prince has lost neither his cunning nor his boldness. Turenne is a good soldier, but it looks as if Conde were a better."
"Turenne is not over there. Conde has fallen on General Hocquincourt, and things will be serious for the Marshal."
"And for the Cardinal," laughed Pillot, who never saw any good in Mazarin; "he must run, monsieur, and fast, too."
"So must we—he will need help. Come, let us find him."
This, however, was not a simple matter, and we were nearly an hour in forcing a way to Mazarin's rooms. They were empty, and the frightened servants had no idea where their master was. Some asserted he had gone to reassure the Queen; others that he had galloped off to the battlefield, at which Pillot laughed unkindly.
Turning back I encountered Humphreys, who, with a dozen troopers, was clearing a passage through the crowd. In answer to my question he said that Mazarin had ridden toward the river, where he himself was going; so, bidding Pillot stay behind, I joined company with the Englishman.
"Well," said I, as we rode along, "Gien is not such a humdrum place after all!"
"Faith! this Conde has played a clever game. A courier has brought word that Hocquincourt's army has vanished, while Turenne has only about four thousand men with which to oppose fourteen thousand. And look at this rabble! Out of the way there, or we will ride you down!"
"Have you had orders to join Turenne?"
"No," he answered, with a touch of scorn. "My duty is to escort the carriages, which are all on the other side of the river. The Queen has sent for them, so that her ladies can escape if Turenne gets beaten—which he will. Ah! there is Mazarin with the King. Look how the boy manages his horse! He should make a fine cavalry leader in time."
Leaving Humphreys, I turned aside to the edge of the plain, where the boy king and Mazarin were surrounded by a group of gentlemen. Louis was flushed and excited, but he showed no fear, and, indeed, I heard that he begged hard for permission to gallop to the scene of conflict. At frequent intervals Mazarin despatched a gentleman on some errand. His face was pale, and he looked anxious, which was not to be wondered at, since the safety of the Court depended on so slender a thread.
Presently, catching sight of me, he said, "De Lalande, come here. I see you have a good horse. Do not spare it, but ride top speed to Marshal Turenne, and inquire if he has any message for His Majesty."
"Yes, my Lord!" I answered, and saluting, rode off quickly.
The confusion was worse here than in the town. Crowds of ladies, attended by their servants, waited anxiously for the carriages; boxes and bales lay strewn around, and directly a carriage appeared the whole mob rushed at it, fighting like the canaille of Paris. Once past the bridge, however, it was possible to increase the pace, and at Briare I began to make inquiries as to where the Marshal was most likely to be found.
"On the plain between this and Blenau," said an officer who had received orders to stop at Briare with a few troops. "Do you bring any fresh news from Gien?"
"None, except that the place is upside down with fear. Conde has managed to startle the Court."
"He would do more than that if we were under any general but Turenne, and even he will have need of all his skill."
Far away in the distance the houses were still burning, and now and again a fresh sheet of flame would leap skyward. Here and there I met with riderless horses, and men bringing in wounded comrades. They all told the same story. Conde had fallen upon Hocquincourt, and simply swept his army away. His quarters were in ruins, many of his infantry were killed, and his cavalry had become a mere rabble.
"Everything depends on Turenne," said a wounded officer whom I knew slightly. "If he can hold his ground, all may yet be well, but the odds are terribly against him."
At length I reached the plain where the Marshal had drawn up his troops, and, though quite unversed in real soldiering, I could see that he had chosen a position of great strength. Beyond the plain were a marsh and a wood—one on the left, the other on the right—with a narrow causeway over which the enemy must pass, between them. The wood was filled with infantry, while a battery of artillery was stationed so as to command the causeway.
Noticing a group of officers at the entrance to the plain, I rode over and asked where I should have the most chance of finding Marshal Turenne.
"With the cavalry, monsieur," one of them answered courteously, and glancing at my green scarf, added, "Do you come from Gien?"
"Yes, with a message from the Cardinal."
"Ah," said another, "I suppose this business has frightened the Court? Conde has made a good start, but he will meet his equal now."
"The Marshal is overweighted," remarked a third man, gloomily. "His Majesty can trust us to die here, but I doubt if we can stop the prince from breaking through. He has four men to our one."
This did not sound very cheerful, and before long I heard that several officers of the highest rank were just as doubtful of success. However, my business lay with the Marshal himself, so I advanced to the causeway, and found that he was at the farther end with two or three squadrons of cavalry. He was talking earnestly with a group of officers, so I waited till he had finished, and then, with a salute, gave him the Cardinal's message.
At first he appeared angry, but gradually a smile stole over his face, and he exclaimed, "Corbleu! His Eminence is a very glutton for information. I have just sent the Marquis of Pertui with a despatch to His Majesty, and there is nothing fresh to add. A battle is not fought in five minutes!"
I bowed low, and presently he added kindly, "You can stay here: in an hour or so I may have some information to send back."
Saluting him in answer, I backed my horse to the rear of the group, when some one cried, "De Lalande!" and glancing round I observed Raoul, with his troopers stationed close at hand.
"What are you doing here?" he asked gaily, as I went over to him. "I understood you were guarding Mazarin!"
"I have brought a message for the Marshal, and am to wait for an answer."
"You will see some hot work presently. Ah, there is Bordel! He brings fresh news of the prince, I warrant."
An officer, followed by an escort of troopers, had just galloped in from the country behind Blenau. His horse was covered with foam, and he himself was bleeding from a wound, but he jumped lightly to the ground, saluted, and began talking earnestly to the Marshal. We could not hear what was said, but his information was evidently serious, for Turenne immediately sent off several of his staff.
"Conde is approaching!" exclaimed Raoul, and even while he was speaking an officer galloped over with orders from Turenne for the squadron to hold itself in readiness.
I had met with numerous adventures in my short career, but had never witnessed a real battle, and I was on fire with excitement. Raoul desired me to return to the rear, saying there was no need to expose myself to danger, but I shook my head and resolved to stay with him.
With a few of his staff the Marshal advanced beyond the end of the causeway, but presently came riding back, and every man knew instinctively that Conde was quickly approaching. Presently we caught a glimpse of his cavalry, and at sight of the serried ranks of horsemen, most of our hearts, I think, began to droop. It seemed to me that, by one swift rush across the causeway, they would have us completely at their mercy.
As if of the same opinion Turenne ordered us to retire, and we fell back slowly, while the hostile cavalry halted to gather strength for the spring. Then came the order to increase the pace, and our men sullenly obeyed. They did not like retreating, even to escape from death. Raoul looked puzzled, and from time to time I noticed him glance back over his shoulder.
Suddenly a whisper of "Here they come!" ran through the ranks; our pace grew faster, and soon we were flying like timid hares before a pack of dogs.
Conde's cavalry made a splendid show. Squadron after squadron, fifteen or twenty in number, advanced with pennons flying and banners waving in the breeze. The sun shone on the steel-tipped lances, and the bared swords flashed like a forest of steel. Nearer and nearer thundered the horses: their hoofs rang hard on the causeway, and I expected every moment to hear the roar of our artillery. But every gun was dumb; not one opened its mouth, and not a single musket shot came from the shelter of the thick wood.
What did it all mean? I did not know; in the excitement, did not even guess; it was enough that Turenne with his handful of troopers was flying before Conde's host. Still we maintained our order, and though riding fast rode together, every man preserving his proper place and distance. Suddenly there came an order from the Marshal, and like a flash we turned with our horses' heads facing the exulting enemy.
"Charge!" shouted a voice, and without break or pause we thundered back, waving our swords and yelling, "Vive le Roi!"
It seemed a mad thing to do, but Turenne was with us, and Turenne was worth an army. Conde's troopers tried to gather themselves against the shock, but, confident of victory, they were riding in loose order, and we gave them no time to close their ranks. Crash! We went into them like a thunderbolt, and the bravest rebel there could not stand against the furious onslaught.
Turenne fought like an ordinary trooper, and as for Raoul, he outshone himself. I tried hard to keep up with him, but he outpaced me and every horseman in his squadron.
"Vive le Roi!" he shouted, and "Vive le Roi!" answered back his toiling troopers.
Once I lost sight of him in the press and feared he had gone down, but the next instant I heard his battle-cry again, and there he was, amidst a throng of foes on the very edge of the causeway. Another order from Turenne brought us to a halt, and we cheered frantically as the broken rebels crowded together in their efforts to escape.
Suddenly Turenne's plan was made clear. A noise of thunder broke on our ears; the air was filled with smoke and flame, the struggling horsemen were bowled over by the great iron balls from the battery. The causeway had become a lane of death; men and horses fell to the ground; the confusion grew terrible; Conde's splendid cavalry was a mere rabble, struggling and fighting to get clear of the awful passage. Those who succeeded in breaking through galloped off swiftly, but, when the gunners ceased their work of destruction, the lane was carpeted with the bodies of the dying and dead.
"Now, young sir," exclaimed Turenne, turning to me, "you may return and tell the Cardinal there is nothing to fear. The prince is thoroughly beaten and can attempt no more to-day. His Majesty can sleep in peace at Gien."
I would gladly have stayed longer, for Raoul was being carried off by some of his troopers, and I feared he was badly wounded. However, in the army one has to obey; so, gathering up my reins, I galloped back towards Gien, spreading the news of the victory on the way. In the town itself the crowds of frightened people thronged around me, pressing so closely that I could barely proceed at a walking pace.
"The news, monsieur?" they cried. "What of the battle? Has Conde won? Tell us what the prince is doing!"
Again and again I repeated that the prince was defeated, but they seemed not to understand, or understanding, not to believe. By slow degrees I reached Mazarin's apartments, and the Cardinal, agitated and almost trembling, advanced quickly to meet me.
"The news?" said he. "Is it good or ill?"
"Good, your Eminence," I answered, and at that he bade me accompany him into the presence of the boy-king and the Queen-Mother, to whom I repeated Turenne's message. Then they asked about the fight, and I, to the best of my ability, gave them a description of the battle.
"My son," said the Queen-Mother gravely, "you must be very grateful to Marshal Turenne. He has placed the crown a second time on your head."
As soon as I was dismissed from the royal presence I sought Pillot, and told him we must ride at once to Blenau to look for Raoul.
"M. Beauchamp wounded, monsieur? Is he hurt very much?"
"That is what I want to find out."
We were silent on the journey; I was greatly troubled about Raoul, and the dwarf did not care to disturb my thoughts. We met some of the wounded being taken to Gien and Briare; others were at Blenau, and amongst these we found Raoul.
"M. Beauchamp?" said the surgeon to whom I spoke. "Yes, he is here, waiting to have his wounds dressed; he is a lucky fellow; there is nothing serious; he will return to Gien to-morrow. In less than a month he will be in the saddle again. You can see him if you wish."
Raoul's eyes flashed with pleasure at my approach. He was very pale from loss of blood, but was able to talk, and spoke hopefully of returning to duty in a few days. He did not tell me, however, what I afterwards learned from others, that the Marshal had paid him a visit and had spoken in the highest terms of his bravery.
As soon as his wounds were dressed and he was made comfortable I returned to Gien, in order to be at hand in case the Cardinal needed my services.
The King Visits Raoul.
I shall not soon forget the day the Court left Gien. Mazarin had kept me fully employed until a late hour on the previous evening, and directly after breakfast I went to spend a last five minutes with Raoul. Turenne had given orders that he should be well lodged, and the King's own surgeons had attended to dress his wounds. The news of his gallant exploit had quickly spread abroad, and numerous luxuries had been forwarded to the sick room from the royal table.
Happily his hurts were not serious, a gash across his sword-arm being the worst, but he could dress himself with the assistance of Pillot, whom I had sent to wait on him, though he had to let the right sleeve of his tunic hang empty. Pillot had finished dressing him when I entered, and Raoul exclaimed with a laugh, "I shall be sorry when you go, Albert; I shall lose an admirable valet."
"We move at once," I answered, "but Pillot will remain here till you can manage without his assistance. Is it not so, Pillot?"
"Certainly, monsieur, if M. Beauchamp permits."
"Why," exclaimed Raoul, smiling, "as to that I should be very pleased, but how will M. de Lalande manage?"
"Look after himself," said I. "The change will do me good; I have been growing lazy of late. Listen! What a hubbub in the street! Some one is coming up the stairs. Run to the door, Pillot, and see who our visitor is."
The dwarf had just crossed the room when there was a knock at the door, and an officer high in the royal household entered.
"M. Beauchamp," said he, glancing round with a smile, "I congratulate you on your good fortune. His most gracious Majesty is below, with Marshal Turenne, who has sung your praises so loudly that, before leaving Gien, His Majesty insisted on coming to visit you."
Never in all my life had I felt such a thrill of joy as at these words. The King was coming to visit Raoul! My heart beat fast at the sound of footsteps on the stairs, and I bubbled over with happy excitement as the famous soldier and the royal boy made their appearance.
"M. Beauchamp," exclaimed the Marshal, "His Majesty has heard of your brave deeds, and has done you the honour of paying you a visit before he leaves Gien."
Raoul bowed respectfully, speaking just the words required, and acting, in short, as a French gentleman should, who is honoured by his monarch's approval.
[Transcriber's note: illustration missing from book]
I watched the young King closely. He was a handsome lad, and, though not forgetting his regal dignity, he spoke from his heart with all a high-spirited boy's emotion.
"Monsieur," said he, "to the soldier honoured by the greatest general in Europe, a king's gift can have little value. Yet keep this in remembrance of this day, and if ever the need should arise for your monarch's favour, it shall prove a sure passport."
As he spoke he took a star set with brilliants from his own breast, and fastened it on Raoul's.
Bowing low, my comrade spoke his thanks like a gallant knight, and then the royal boy, flushing with pleasure at his own kindly act, and bidding Raoul recover his strength soon, took his departure, accompanied by the Marshal.
"Well done, Raoul!" I cried, "now your fortune is assured. That star will carry you to the very highest position in the days to come. I wish Humphreys had been here to share our pleasure."
"What is it?" cried a cheery voice from the door. "Do you know the King is in the street?"
"Yes," said I, pointing to the star on Raoul's breast, "he has been here, and that is what he has left behind."
"Hurrah!" cried the Englishman. "Bravo, Raoul! You deserve your luck if any one does."
"I owe the honour to Marshal Turenne's considerate kindness."
"And to something else! The Marshal doesn't escort young Louis round giving brilliants to every one who was in the battle! I suppose you have heard we are moving again? Conde has left his army and gone to Paris. I really believe the war will not last much longer."
"I hope not," said I heartily; "if it does, the country will be ruined completely."
"Conde and his friends are to blame for that. But I must be off now; I am baggage-minder-in-chief to the Court."
"It must be a terrible responsibility having to look after the ladies' dresses," laughed Raoul.
"Don't be in too great a hurry to take the field," advised Humphreys, as we wished him good-bye. "That is a nasty gash on the sword-arm, and will require some time to heal. Does Pillot stay behind? Ah! I congratulate you, Beauchamp; he is a capital nurse. See that M. Beauchamp is quite well before he leaves, Pillot."
"Monsieur will find that I shall do my best," exclaimed the little man, and then with a last farewell to Raoul, Humphreys and I took our departure.
Nothing of any consequence occurred during the next fortnight. The Court removed to St. Germain, and the army to Palisseau, but, beyond a skirmish or two, there was no fighting. As usual, however, there were plenty of rumours, and every man had a different story to relate of what was going on. As to Mazarin, he spent his days, and nights too, in writing and reading innumerable notes, and in interviewing mysterious people.
One evening, having for a wonder no duties to perform, I strolled over to the palace for a chat with Humphreys.
"Have you heard the latest news?" he asked, and, as I shook my head, added laughingly, "it is not a rumour but a fact. Turenne has doubled back on Etampes, and has shut up the bulk of the rebels there. It will be a grand stroke if he captures the town."
"Is Conde there?"
"I think not. Most accounts state that he is still in Paris. A lucky thing you took the ladies away; the city, according to some of the Queen's friends who have just crept out, is in a frightful state. The people are up in arms, and the mob is burning and plundering on all sides."
"What is the Duke of Orleans doing?"
"Making up his mind and altering it again; he has no leisure for anything else. Mazarin seems to have been busy lately."
"Spoiling paper! there will be soon none left in the kingdom. While Turenne is fighting, the Cardinal is driving bargains."
"Ah!" exclaimed my comrade scornfully, "the truth is, it is every man for himself and the country can go to the dogs."
About a week after this conversation with Humphreys, M. Belloc ordered me to be at the Cardinal's room at four o'clock the next morning.
"Have your horse ready, and in good trim, as I believe you have a long journey."
"Not as far as Bruhl, I hope?"
"No," said he with a smile; "I think none of us will need to return to Bruhl in a hurry, though it is difficult to prophesy. However, see to your horse, and then get off to bed. The Cardinal will expect you at the very second."
By this time I was well aware of Mazarin's crotchets, and took care to present myself at the proper time. His secretary opened the door, and admitted me into his master's room. Whether Mazarin ever went to bed at this period of his life I cannot say, but he always gave me the impression that he could live without sleep. There he was at four o'clock, in dressing gown and slippers, writing with no sign of weariness whatever.
"Is your horse saddled, M. de Lalande?" he asked, without stopping or taking his eyes from the paper.
"Yes, your Eminence."
"Very good. Here is a little document; put it away safely. It is for Marshal Turenne, and it must be given to him this evening. He is at Etampes, or rather in the neighbourhood. Do not lose the missive, though it is less important than some you have carried."
"Do I return at once, your Eminence?"
"That will depend on Marshal Turenne. You will place yourself under his orders. And now, a prosperous ride to you."
M. Belloc, who had placed my horse in care of a soldier, was waiting outside. He evidently knew the nature of my errand, and, as I mounted, wished me a quick and pleasant journey.
"The country is fairly clear," he said, "and there is not much chance of meeting with an enemy. Still, it will be as well to keep your eyes open."
"I will," said I, thinking of my journey to Bruhl, and of the smooth-spoken Captain Courcy.
There was, however, little cause for alarm, the only soldiers I encountered being King's troops. At Limours, where I intended to stop for an hour or two, the inns were filled with them, and I found some difficulty in getting my horse stabled. The inn at which I at length stopped was the Golden Fleece, and even there every room was occupied.
"I am grieved," exclaimed the innkeeper, a portly man with rubicund face, "but monsieur can have a table for his refreshment, and he will not find the guests objectionable."
Opening a door, he ushered me into an apartment where three men sat. Two of them were evidently in company; the third, rather to my astonishment, was Pillot, who, glancing up at my entrance, rose to greet me.
"You have left Gien then?" I said. "Where is M. Beauchamp?"
"In the camp before Etampes, monsieur. He has recovered from his wounds, and has returned to his squadron. I offered to stay with him a while longer, but he preferred that I should join you."
"When did you leave him?"
"This morning, monsieur."
As there was no need to take Pillot with me, I ordered him to remain at the inn until my return, which would probably be the next day.
"Very well, monsieur," said he pleasantly.
As soon as my horse was sufficiently rested I resumed my journey, telling Pillot he might expect me at any hour of the day or night. I was sorry Raoul had left Gien, though pleased at the prospect of seeing him at Etampes, and, but for the strangeness attending our meeting, I should have entirely passed over the episode of this otherwise uneventful ride.
Marshal Turenne was inspecting the position of a battery when I found him, but he instantly opened and read the Cardinal's note.
"Hum!" said he, knitting his brows, "this is a serious matter, and requires thought. You will remain in the camp until I am ready to furnish his Eminence with an answer. You have friends among my gentlemen?"
"M. Beauchamp is my chief friend, general."
"Ah! I remember you now. I saw you at Blenau and again at Gien. Well, you cannot do better than spend an hour or two with M. Beauchamp," and he directed one of his attendants to conduct me to Raoul's tent.
"Albert!" exclaimed my comrade, jumping up in surprise. "How came you here? Ah! I forgot! You are on the Cardinal's business?"
"Yes, but I met Pillot at Limours, and he told me you had rejoined your squadron. I hope you did not leave Gien too soon?"
"No, I am quite strong again, and I could not lie there doing nothing."
Now, I do not pretend to explain his behaviour at that time, or the mystery which followed; my readers must judge for themselves after I have stated the facts. That something had altered my old comrade very much was plain. He had lost his high spirits, and replied to my sallies with only a half-hearted smile. When I rallied him on this gloomy fit he dismissed the subject hastily, leading me to talk of John Humphreys and what the Court was doing at St. Germain.
I had been with him an hour or a little more when an officer brought word that Marshal Turenne desired to see M. Beauchamp immediately.
"Stay where you are, Albert, and make yourself comfortable," he exclaimed. "It is an order for some piece of special service perhaps; the Marshal is always planning a fresh surprise."
Left alone, I began wondering more than ever at the remarkable change which had come over him. He was as keen as ever to perform his duties, but the quick, bright smile, the joyous laugh, the old boyish merriment had vanished.
"He is weak from his wounds," I thought; "he should have stayed longer at Gien, and let Pillot nurse him. Perhaps he will throw off this gloomy air as he gets stronger."
At the end of half-an-hour he returned, and I concluded by his manner that the Marshal had entrusted him with some important business.
"Another expedition," I said, springing up. "Take care, Raoul, the pitcher may go to the well once too often."
"It matters little, dear friend, but at present there is no need for alarm. Do you know what was in that packet from the Cardinal? Conde has won over the Duke of Lorraine, who is marching on Paris with a large army. Turenne intends to break up his camp and attack the Duke."
"That will be awkward; we shall be placed between two fires."
"Trust to Turenne; he understands his business. A few troops will stay here for a day or two. Meanwhile, we march light; we shall strike our blow at Lorraine, and then the rest of our army will rejoin us."
"Leaving Conde's troops to slip out of Etampes!"
"So much the better; they will be compelled to fight in the open."
"Are you riding with the Marshal?"
"In front of him. He has selected my squadron to scour the country in advance. It will be a change from camp life. Now, I must go; we shall meet again soon."
"I hope so!"
"It is certain," he answered calmly, "the stars have foretold it."
I looked at him in surprise, and said, "You were not used to put your faith in the stars, Raoul!"
"No," he answered, dreamily, "but I have learned much of late. Do you remember the open space before the Porte St. Antoine? It is there we shall meet. I hear the roar of cannon, the rattle of muskets, the hoof-beats of horses, the fierce shouts of struggling men. I see—— Ah well, dear friend, it is not long to wait!"
I tried to detain him, to make him speak more plainly, but he would say nothing further, and, leaving the tent, we walked in silence to the lines farthest from Etampes. Raoul's horsemen were already there, and presently Turenne himself, attended by two officers, rode up. In a few stirring words he addressed the troopers, bidding them justify his choice, and speaking in high terms of their young leader. Then he gave Raoul his final instructions, and my friend pressed my hand in a last grasp.
"Au revoir!" said he quietly. "Remember the Porte St. Antoine!"
I stood for a while watching the weird scene as the troopers filed off silently, and in perfect order. Raoul, who had placed himself at their head, was soon out of sight, but I could not banish his strange words from my mind.
"Remember the Porte St. Antoine!" What did he mean? Why had he mentioned that particular spot as the scene of our meeting? What was the strange vision at which he had hinted? Alas! I understood later, but even to this day the manner of his foreknowledge remains a mystery.
"Is that M. de Lalande?"
Starting from my dream, I found it was Marshal Turenne who addressed me, and saluting, I answered his question.
"Come to me at daybreak," he said; "I wish to send a letter by you to Cardinal Mazarin," and he galloped off, the two officers following.
Returning to Raoul's tent—for the troopers had left every thing standing—I lay down, and tried, though unsuccessfully, to sleep. My comrade's mysterious speech haunted me; I could make nothing of it, and it was with a feeling of relief that I saw the day open. Having groomed and fed my horse, I went to the Marshal's tent. The famous soldier had the note written, but he made me stay while his servant prepared a simple breakfast, to which we both sat down. Then, sending a man for my horse, he wished me a safe journey, and I rode from the camp as the troops began to stir.
Pillot was waiting for me at Etampes, and I questioned him closely concerning Raoul.
"It is true that M. Beauchamp has changed much," said he; "I noticed it at Gien."
"Was there any reason for it?"
"Ah, monsieur, it is hard to tell. For a week after you left Gien, M. Beauchamp was bright and cheerful as usual, and planning great things for you and himself. Then, one evening, on going to his room, I found him lying down, fully dressed. He seemed to be asleep."
"Seemed to be?" I interrupted crossly, "could you not make sure?"
"He did not hear me, monsieur, and he did not answer when I spoke, but his eyes were open and bright. Presently, as I stood in a corner of the room, he began talking as if to some person. Then suddenly he sprang up, his face was white, and his eyes stared as if they had seen something dreadful, and he trembled all over. I called his name, and he glanced round in a frightened way as if surprised to find himself in a room."
"Did he make any remark?"
"He said he had been dreaming, and made me take him into the street to clear the cobwebs from his brain. I think the same dream came again afterwards, but he would not speak of it, though once I heard him mutter to himself, 'It was the Porte St. Antoine!'"
"The Porte St. Antoine?" I cried, more astonished than ever; "that is where he declared I should meet him next!"
"There are many strange things for which we cannot account, monsieur!" exclaimed Pillot—a remark which, though true enough, gave me small comfort.
The little man did his best to cheer me, but it was a dreary ride notwithstanding, and he must have been glad when towards evening we reached St. Germain. Having given Mazarin the Marshal's note, and finding the time at my own disposal, I went to seek Humphreys.
"Well, my friend, so you have returned," exclaimed the jovial Englishman. "You look tired and troubled. Is anything wrong?"
"I have seen Raoul."
"That should not have depressed you! So he is back with the army? I thought he would not stay quiet long."
"It is on Raoul's account I am uneasy," I replied, and without more ado, described the change that had come over him, and repeated his mysterious words.
"A bagatelle!" declared Humphreys, "a mere trifle! He has been moping, and has got queer fancies into his head; sick people often do. Think no more of it, that is my advice; in a week he will be laughing at his dreams. The jingle of spurs and the blare of trumpets will soon drive away those notions."
"I am not so certain of that, my friend. Besides, he is not suffering from his wound now; he has recovered his strength."
"Of body, I grant you; and when his mind becomes clearer, these whimseys will vanish like ghosts at cock-crow."
The Englishman seemed so sure, and spoke so confidently, that while in his company I felt half inclined to smile at my childish ideas; but later, in the solitude of my own room, they did not appear so childish. The notion that Raoul was in some danger had disturbed my brain, and several times during the night I awoke with a start, fancying I heard him call my name.
"Remember the Porte St. Antoine."
It was, perhaps, fortunate that about this time Mazarin kept me very busy. Events moved quickly; the situation changed every day; no one knew at one hour what would happen the next. The Cardinal remained with the Court, but I spent most of my time on horseback, galloping with hastily written letters from one leader to another.
One day I was sent to Villeneuve St. Georges, where Turenne, having made a daring march, had just arrived. The Marshal was in a position of extreme danger. Lorraine was in front of him with a large army; Conde's troops were approaching swiftly from Etampes. There was an even greater peril, of which, however, I had no idea, till the famous soldier had read Mazarin's note.
"Here is news," said he, speaking to an officer of high rank; "Conde has left Paris and has joined his troops. We must settle this affair soon, or the prince will be too quick for us."
He possessed the highest respect for Conde as a soldier, and the prince on his part regarded Turenne as the only enemy to be feared. These two were, in fact, the most celebrated generals in Europe, and it was a thousand pities for France that their swords were not pointed against a common enemy.
"Let us see what the Cardinal offers," he continued, proceeding to read Mazarin's note. "Hum! Lorraine won't accept those terms, unless I back them up by a show of bayonets. Yet he must be got rid of! We can't fight both him and Conde at the same time."
Presently turning to me he said, "Ride back to St. Germain, De Lalande, and inform the Cardinal that I will send a messenger within twenty-four hours. By then Lorraine will be in full retreat or His Majesty will be minus an army."
Before leaving the camp I endeavoured to find Raoul, but without success. Several officers informed me that he was rarely with the main body, his troopers being chiefly used for scouting purposes. This was disappointing; so, as there was clearly no chance of meeting him, I returned to St. Germain and delivered my message.
How he managed it I cannot explain—some people hinted that Mazarin's craft had most to do with it—but Turenne was as good as his word, and the next evening an officer from his army galloped into St. Germain with the information that, without striking a blow, Lorraine had broken up his camp and was retreating to Flanders. Mazarin rubbed his hands at the news, and purred softly, as he usually did when well pleased.
"We are getting on, gentlemen!" said he. "Before long His Majesty will be in his capital again."
In this the Cardinal was mistaken, but every day still further improved our position. The Court removed to St. Denis; Conde, who had posted his troops on the bank of the Seine, near St. Cloud, was being pressed day and night by Turenne, and was at length forced to retreat in the direction of Charenton.
As soon as this became known in St. Denis the utmost excitement prevailed, and every one began asking what the people of Paris would do. Unless the gates of the city were opened the prince must either win a brilliant victory or be crushed. On this point Mazarin spoke very sensibly.
"Everything depends on the result of the first stroke," said he. "The Duke of Orleans is in command of the town. He will blow hot and cold after his manner: Conde will ask for shelter, and Gaston will hesitate. There lies our chance. If we can catch and beat the prince meanwhile, all will go well; Gaston ever leans to the strongest side."
Turenne, who had come to consult with the Cardinal, smiled grimly.
"Take His Majesty to Charonne," he advised, "and bid him write a letter with his own hand to the Council, forbidding the gates to be opened. It may do good: it cannot do harm."
"And meanwhile?" asked Mazarin.
"My cavaliers are hot on the prince's track. I have ordered La Ferte to cross the river with his artillery, and Conde must either surrender or accept battle at St. Antoine."
"Remember the Porte St. Antoine!" The words sounded in my ears so clearly that it almost seemed as if I heard Raoul speaking.
"The Court will be in no danger," Turenne continued, "but I shall require every man who can use a sword or fire a musket. Have you ever seen a wild boar at bay? That is how Conde fights. I shall beat him, but the pack will be badly mauled. Gentlemen, who will ride with Turenne, and die with Turenne, if needs be, for the honour of France?"
There were a dozen of us, all belonging to Mazarin's body-guard, at the lower end of the room, and instantly every sword leaped from its scabbard and flashed in the air.
"I! I! I!" we shouted like a number of enthusiastic boys, and the famous general laughed genially.
No one, I fear, waited for the Cardinal's consent, and when, a few minutes later, Turenne mounted his horse, fifty headstrong cavaliers fell in joyously behind him.
"For the King! gentlemen," cried he. "For the King!" we echoed loyally, and the royal boy, with flushed cheeks and gleaming eyes, came in person to bid us farewell.
"I thank you, gentlemen, all," said he, and there was a curious catch in his voice. "I would I were riding in your ranks, but while the King has such loyal servants France need fear no rebels. I wish you success, gentlemen, you and your gallant leader."
At this, waving our plumed hats high, we cheered again and swept forward with a rush. From the Faubourg St. Denis came the sounds of musketry, of wild battle shouts, and cries of triumph and despair.
"Forward!" cried Turenne. "Forward!"
Riding with loose reins we spurred hard to the scene of conflict, just in time to see the backs of Conde's rearguard. The gallant fellows had fought stubbornly, contesting every foot of ground, and sacrificing themselves in order to delay our advance. Now, however, they were in retreat, and Turenne, leaving his victorious infantry to re-form, collected his horsemen and pressed on in pursuit.
Among the foremost rode my old comrade, and my heart beat fast at sight of him. His head was bare, his long fair curls fell about his shoulders, his cheeks were flushed, his eyes fiercely bright. I had never seen him in such a state of intense excitement. As I joined him he greeted me with a forced smile, but there was no time for speech. Side by side we dashed through the streets into the Faubourg St. Martin. Here several squadrons of Conde's cavalry barred our way, but Raoul halted not.
"For the King!" he cried, waving his sword. "For the King!" as we leaped at the horsemen, while our comrades, answering with a lusty shout, galloped madly behind us.
Crash! We were in the midst of the throng, cutting, thrusting, parrying, pressing the rebels back slowly. They fought well, as became Frenchmen, but we were too many, and at last they broke.
"Forward!" cried Raoul, who was still in front, but Turenne called us back.
"Softly, softly," exclaimed our leader; "a few hundred horsemen cannot defeat an army in position. We must go slowly for a while. The enemy are entrenched behind barricades in the Faubourg St. Antoine."
Raoul looked at me meaningly, and I became unnerved by the odd coincidence. Was it chance or fate?
"Together till the end," he whispered. "Do not grieve for me, dear friend, it is written in the stars, and I am content."
I tried to reply, but my lips were dumb; I could only press his hand in silence.
Like a wise general Conde was meanwhile seizing and strengthening every defensible post. His men pierced the houses for musketry, raised new obstacles everywhere, heightened the barricades, and dragged the big guns into the open space. Every moment's delay on our part rendered the position more formidable, and we listened anxiously for the tramp, tramp, of our brave infantry.
"Can't we take the place at a rush?" asked one man impetuously, and Raoul looked at him with a smile.
"You do not know the Faubourg St. Antoine," said he; "I do. I was here when Lorraine's troops put up the barricades. Even with our infantry we shall be too weak to force a passage."
"Bah!" cried a listener impatiently, "there are three broad streets leading to the gate, and we can have our choice of them. Then Conde will be cornered."
"Every house is a fortress," said Raoul, "and a dozen narrow streets lead into each avenue. Turenne will attack when the infantry arrives, but with any other general I should call it madness to move without La Ferte's artillery."
My comrade's reputation for reckless bravery was so well established that his words produced some impression, though it was tantalising to wait there while the enemy worked with all their might to render the Faubourg impregnable. Presently, a thundering cheer announced the arrival of our infantry, and we looked anxiously at Turenne to discover if he would risk the hazard of the die. A very rash general would have flung us at the barricades without a thought; a weak one would have hesitated too long; what would Turenne do?
Sitting his horse calmly at the head of his troops, he summoned his principal officers around him, and explained his intentions. We could only guess at his words, but very soon the group broke up, the officers galloped to their stations, commands were issued: first one section, then another of the troops moved slowly forward, and we became aware that Turenne had resolved to attack without waiting for his artillery.
It has been mentioned that three principal streets led to the open space before the gate, and along these avenues of death we fought our way in three divisions. Raoul and I accompanied Turenne in the centre. Foot by foot, almost inch by inch, we advanced beneath a hail of bullets. Men fell fast, but the survivors struggled on undauntedly. From every window sped the leaden messengers into our midst; from behind each barricade flashed a flame of fire.
"The houses must be cleared!" exclaimed the general. "Let the musketeers clear them one by one!" and he ordered us to seek shelter, though he himself continued in the open, coolly directing the operations.
With fierce cries the musketeers swarmed into the buildings, and at the point of the bayonet drove the enemy from room to room, slaying all those who refused to surrender. I had thought the fight on the plain of Blenau terrible, but it was child's play to this. Stoutly and gallantly the rebels fought, but one by one the houses fell into our hands; the barricades were torn down, and again the signal sounded for the cavalry to advance.
Alas! Already many of the gay gentlemen who had ridden so joyously through St. Martin had fallen; but there was no time to mourn their loss. Turenne was in front, and the folds of the King's banner, shot-torn and blackened, were fluttering in the breeze. In after years our gracious monarch's colours were borne in many a hot encounter, but never, I think, in a more desperate fray than the struggle at St. Antoine, between—shame on those who made it possible—Frenchmen and Frenchmen.
No war is good to look upon in cold blood, when the lust of battle has died away, but a cruel fight between men of the same blood and race is abominable. Yet, on that day, I question if it made any of us more gentle to know that our enemies were Frenchmen.
"Forward!" cried our chief, and with a rush we swept the street from end to end, crying, "Vive le Roi!" as if victory were already won.
Then, suddenly, the roar of the guns greeted us, and, under cover of the smoke, Conde leaped into our midst at the head of his household troops. From the first I have maintained that the prince did France a foul wrong in setting himself against his rightful monarch, but it cannot be denied that he was a splendid soldier. With his war-cry ringing high and clear above the tumult he came at us; the fight grew terrible; our infantry, unable to avoid the horses, fell back in confusion, leaving a scattered handful of cavaliers to continue the contest alone. Seeing his advantage, the prince flung every available horseman at us, and, though fighting desperately, we were driven back by force of numbers.
Again and again we returned to the charge, and many gallant feats of arms were performed, but victory appeared hopeless, and we listened anxiously for the sound of La Ferte's cannon. Thus far, at least, Raoul's judgment had proved correct. Ill news came both from right and left. Our men, suffering fearfully from the hidden musketry fire, made headway only at a wasteful expense of life. More than one high officer had fallen at the barricades, and Conde, who seemed to be in several places at once, beat back each fresh assault.
Everywhere our soldiers were growing dispirited, and even talked of waiting for help; but Turenne, who had an iron will, would not hear of defeat. Rising in his stirrups, and looking steadily at his band of cavaliers, he cried cheerfully, "One more charge, gentlemen!"
"For the King!" answered Raoul, waving his stained sword above his head, and we all echoed the cry lustily.
Turenne gave the word, and once again we swept like a hurricane through the street. The rebels awaited the onset, but the shock was too great. Back they went, steadily at first, then swiftly, and at last in headlong flight. Conde, brave as a lion—to my thinking no braver man took part in the fight—endeavoured in vain to rally them; only his staunchest leaders stayed at his side. Raoul, a horse's length in front of us, galloped forward, and struck furiously at the rebel chief. The blow partly missed, but the sword drew blood.
"For the King!" shouted my comrade.
"Down with Mazarin!" responded our opponents defiantly, and surrounding Conde forced him against his will to retire.
Meanwhile our musketeers, swarming into the houses, maintained an incessant and destructive fire, The rebels in their turn lost heart, and even their leader's matchless courage could hardly keep them at their posts. A cheer on the right announced our success in that quarter, and presently arose an answering cry from the left. The three divisions had fought their way to the open space, and unless the Parisians unbolted the gate the rebel army was doomed. Paris was at their backs, we were in front, and they could not break through us.
A band of their leaders held the last barricade with heroic courage. Separated from all their friends, they were in desperate plight; yet they blenched not. One after another they fell grievously wounded, and some among them bore the highest names in France. It was a pitiful sight, yet they refused to surrender, though Turenne, I am certain, would gladly have spared them. Presently Conde, who had meanwhile been endeavouring to stem the tide of battle elsewhere, observed their plight, and, collecting a band of devoted adherents, made a gallant attempt at rescue.
Raoul, evidently thinking this a fine opportunity to seize the prince, spurred into the open; I raced after him quickly, others followed, and crying, "Down with Conde!" charged in a body at the princely rebel.
While some of his friends rescued the survivors at the barricade, the others rode in our direction. With a ringing cheer we sprang at them, struck out furiously right and left, spurred our horses into the throng, pierced it in every direction, till finally it fell apart. Disdaining meaner foes, Raoul rode at the prince, engaging him in deadly combat. He still wore the King's gift on his breast, and fought as if he were the monarch's sole champion. Whether he was Conde's equal in swordsmanship I cannot say, but he kept the prince well employed.
Suddenly, as they fought, the roar of La Ferte's guns broke out, and we had the enemy at our mercy. Conde, as if recognising this, began to withdraw, and Raoul was pressing on more vigorously when a rebel horseman, spurring toward the gate, cut him down. I saw the tragedy distinctly, but could do no more than utter a warning cry, which, alas, my comrade did not hear.
How the Parisians by opening the gate and letting the rebels through robbed us of victory, the world knows, but at the moment I cared little. All my hopes and fears were centred in Raoul, and, heedless of the dropping bullets, I rode across to the spot where he lay. He was in terrible pain, stricken I feared unto death, but his wonderful courage remained unbroken, and he did not even murmur when, with the assistance of some trusty comrades, I carried him to one of the empty houses.
The fight was over now; Conde's troops had escaped into the city; the sullen roar of the guns died away; men thought only of succouring the wounded who dotted the ground in large numbers. A kindly surgeon, hearing of Raoul's plight, hurried to the room where we had placed him, but at the first glance he shook his head sorrowfully, and I knew there was no hope.
"An hour, or two at the most," he whispered to me. "The best physician in France could do no more than ease his pain."
He did what he could and went his way, for there were many who needed his services; the soldiers, too, had departed, and I alone remained to watch my friend die. Very still, and with closed eyes he lay, but his breathing was laboured, and from time to time a hoarse rattle sounded in his throat. Presently his eyes opened, and he looked at me with a faint smile. Then pointing to the King's star, he whispered, "For Marie," and I, not trusting myself to speak, bowed my head.
"True friend," said he softly, "ever loyal! Do not grieve, Albert; it must be for the best. I am happy, quite happy. Let me clasp your hand. Ah, heaven was good in giving me such a friend!"
His voice became more and more broken; the last sentence I could understand only by following closely the movements of his lips. What could I say? I could not bid him hope; we both knew he was dying, and that, in fact, his very moments were numbered. So I sat there in the gathering gloom, holding his hand, and at intervals wiping the perspiration from his forehead.
He spoke again, but now his mind wandered, and his thoughts drifted back to the happy days of our youth. He recalled past events, smiling or frowning as they pleased or angered him in the days gone by. Then for a time he lay still, but suddenly, as if coming to his senses, he looked up straight into my face.
"Good-bye," he murmured. "Tell Marie. The open space—the guns and the hoof-beats. Strange, strange!"
And that was the end of it! Raoul was dead! How I mourned for him none can ever know: it is not seemly to lay bare the inmost secrets of our hearts to the gaze of curious eyes.
Raoul was dead, and on the very threshold of life.
We took him to St. Denis with many another gallant cavalier who had ridden out joyously to the fight with the cry of "For the King!" on his lips. The monks buried him in a plot of consecrated ground without the monastery walls, and Turenne, who recognised his worth, attended the funeral. Stalwart John Humphreys, who had been chosen to guard the young King, was there also. He had loved the dead man dearly, and though he could say nothing to lessen my bitter grief, yet somehow his presence comforted me.
The next day I despatched Pillot with the star and a letter to Aunay, paid a farewell visit to Raoul's grave, and before the sun had gained his full power was riding sword in hand at Turenne's side. For in warfare action alone must be the solace for one's private griefs.
Of my life during the next few months there is little to tell, beyond the ordinary perils of a soldier's career. I carried the green scarf of Mazarin into several desperate battles, and stained my sword at the taking of more than one hostile town. I marched and fought, was wounded and got well again, was complimented by Turenne and rewarded by the Queen-Regent. In fine, I figured as a successful soldier as far as my youth permitted.
Fortune favoured me, as the jade often does those who care nothing for her frowns or smiles, and in the affair at Brie Comte Robert, when the Court was once more in danger, I distinguished myself sufficiently to be thanked by our youthful monarch in person.
But the praises and rewards showered upon me were not honestly earned, for my deeds were due to recklessness rather than to true bravery. Day and night I was ready to take my life in my hands, and I lived in a whirl of excitement. I made no new friends, though many dashing spirits offered me comradeship. My heart was still sore for the loss of Raoul, and except for Pillot and the sturdy Englishman, John Humphreys, I went my way alone.
While at Pontoise I saw much of Humphreys, who, in his bluff hearty way, did a good deal to cheer me. He talked freely of Raoul, and I liked to listen to his praises of my dead friend. However, the fortune of war was soon to cut me adrift from him. Things were going very badly for us just at that time, and Turenne could barely hold his own. The Duke of Lorraine had returned to help Conde, and the Spanish general, Fuensaldana, was hurrying with a strong army to the Duke's side.
"The Cardinal has played a clever game," remarked Pillot, one evening, "but he has lost now. I heard it whispered this afternoon that he is likely to take another journey."
"The Queen will not desert him," said I.
"She cannot help herself, monsieur. Even her strongest friends are clamouring for the Cardinal's dismissal."
The next day I found that Pillot was right, and it was from Humphreys I heard it.
"The matter has been all arranged," said he. "The King is to be asked to dismiss Mazarin, and he will agree. When that is done, it is thought the princes will lay down their arms."
"And if not?"
"The fighting will continue, I suppose. But even Turenne will not be able to defeat Conde and Lorraine and the Spaniards. They are too many for him."
"He will do his best."
"I grant you that, but even Turenne cannot accomplish impossibilities."
This was almost the last chat I had with Humphreys for several months. Things turned out as he had prophesied. Mazarin quitted the Court, and I accompanied him on the journey to Sedan. For a beaten man he was very cheerful, and I felt sure that, even then, he was reckoning on a triumphant return.
"This travelling is troublesome, De Lalande," said he, pleasantly, "but I have no doubt we shall find rest after a while."
Now, although I served him faithfully and to the best of my ability, the Cardinal was no favourite of mine, yet I found it impossible not to admire him. My old idea of the huge spider returned to me in stronger force. He was always spinning, and with patience almost incredible. Now a thread was broken, now several; sometimes it seemed as if the web were entirely destroyed; yet still he persevered, never disheartened, never discouraged, never once, as far as I could judge, losing hope.
Couriers from the Court followed us on every stage, bringing countless letters and messages, and Mazarin was always ready to send back instructions or advice. He would write a despatch at two in the morning as cheerfully as at ten, and the worst tidings found him cool and collected. Even Pillot began to admire the man, though the poor fellow was in despair at being taken farther and farther away from his beloved Paris. He did not grumble, save in a comical manner, but his long absence from the capital was undoubtedly a sore trial to him.
One evening—we were entering Soissons, if my memory serves me—a messenger galloped up in hot haste, and delivered a letter to the Cardinal, who was, at the moment, on horseback. He read it through, and turning to the courier, said calmly, "Tell the Marshal there is no need for alarm; I will find a plan."
During the remainder of the journey he rode in deep thought, but on reaching the house where he was to stay for the night, he said, with a smile, "De Lalande, I have yet another piece of work for you. Come to me in the morning as soon as you have breakfasted."
I saluted, and, turning away, ordered Pillot to see that the horses were ready early, as we might have a long journey the next day.
"Perhaps it is to Paris, monsieur," he suggested, his eyes sparkling. "I wonder if we could find our way to the inn in the Rue de Roi? I fear not. It is so long since we were there. The citizens will take me for a peasant!"
"Hardly that!" I answered laughing. "But why do you think we may go to Paris?"
"I do not know," said he comically, "perhaps because I hoped it might be so."
Poor Pillot was fated to be disappointed, as I discovered in the morning. Mazarin had apparently been up for hours when I entered his room. His table was littered with papers and letters, one of which was addressed to the Duke of Lorraine.
"De Lalande," said he without ceremony, "how would you like to be captured by the Spaniards?"
"Captured by the Spaniards, my Lord?"
"Why, yes," said he, "it does not sound pleasant, but I fear that is what will happen to you. This letter is addressed to the Duke of Lorraine, but it is really meant to fall into the hands of the Spanish general."
"I understand, my Lord," I replied, though not with any degree of truth.
"Hardly, De Lalande," said he lightly, "but I will make it clear to you. Marshal Turenne has too many foes, and if we can induce Fuensaldana to retreat, it will be a point in our favour. Should this letter fall into his hands he will decide to go, but the affair requires caution. That is why I have selected you. The Spaniards are near Compiegne, and I want you to be taken prisoner as soon as possible."
"I will do my best, my Lord, though it is a queer errand," I replied as I took my leave.
"Parbleu! this Cardinal is a cunning fox," exclaimed Pillot, when I informed him of the kind of adventure in which we were engaged. "The Spaniards will think Lorraine is making friends with the Court; they will take fright and decamp. Truly this Mazarin is a shrewd rascal. But," he added more soberly, "the affair will be awkward for monsieur."
"Why, yes; it will not be altogether pleasant," I replied, "but the Spaniards will soon release me."
Mounting our horses, we rode off, and by early evening had reached the neighbourhood of the Spanish camp.
"Monsieur will soon have his wish," whispered Pillot, as we proceeded through a small hamlet. "See, the road yonder is blocked by a body of horsemen. Does monsieur intend to show fight?"
"Why, no; yet I must not be caught too easily, or I shall arouse suspicion. Let us ride on carelessly, and turn when it is just too late."
"Monsieur may get a bullet," suggested Pillot, but I told him I must chance that, though he was, on no account, to risk his own life.
Accordingly we proceeded along the road toward the Spanish outpost, when suddenly a gruff voice roared some words in a foreign tongue. I have often laughed since at the remembrance of Pillot's face at this time. The fellow was a born actor and might have made a fortune on the stage. Now, his eyes rolled in fright, he was the very picture of misery, and he cried in trembling accents, "Fly, monsieur, fly, or we are dead men! Oh, good people, I pray you, do not hurt us. I will give you five pistoles—ten even——"
"Be still!" I exclaimed roughly, "what a coward you are!"
Again the gruff voice sounded, and just as I turned my horse's head, a dozen men, or more, came rushing up, while some one shouted in bad French, "Halt, or we fire!"
Pillot gave a scream of fright and jumped down, while I galloped off. The ride was not a long one, however, for my horse had scarcely got into his stride when a bullet struck him and he rolled over, pinning my leg to the ground. In an instant the soldiers were around me, and Pillot was crying fearfully, "Do not kill him, good people. He is a high officer and a friend of the King's. He is on an errand for His Majesty now. Oh, I will give you five, ten pistoles, and——"
"Cease that noise and answer my questions," exclaimed some one in French. "Who is your master, and where is he going?"
I did not hear Pillot's reply. My leg had been released, but the pain caused me to faint, and several days passed before I was able to understand what had happened. Then I found myself in a bed in a small chamber, with Pillot waiting upon me. He would not talk much at first, but after a time he recounted in high glee how the soldiers had discovered Mazarin's note, and how the Spanish general had almost immediately broken up the camp and withdrawn the greater part of his troops.
"And where are we now?" I asked.
"In Compiegne, monsieur. The surgeon says you will not be fit for the field for months, but in a fortnight or so I am going to take you in a carriage to Paris," and his face beamed with delight.
"I wonder if the Cardinal knows what happened?"
"Yes, monsieur. I sent him word by a trusty courier. Monsieur should be made a nobleman."
I did not wish that, but I was gratified when, on the very day before setting out for Paris, a special courier brought me this note, written by the Cardinal himself:
"Well done, De Lalande! Get well soon. Your services will not be forgotten."
My leg was still painful, and I could not use it at all, but Pillot had hired a roomy carriage, and fitted it up with soft cushions. Indeed, his thoughtfulness was remarkable, and he treated me with as much care as if I had been a child. We did the journey by easy stages, and I at length found myself back in my old rooms.
The surgeon whom Pillot now called in gave me small hope of a speedy recovery, and as a matter of fact I did not leave the house till the beginning of the new year. Before that time, however, many changes occurred. Conde marched south with his troops and the Court returned to Paris. This was a pleasant change, as John Humphreys was once more at the Louvre, and hardly a day passed without his spending an hour or so with me.
Naturally, he brought all the news; so that I could easily follow the course of events. Day by day the Royal power increased; the people were becoming fond of their youthful monarch, and Turenne was more than holding his own against the rebels.
"Faith!" exclaimed Humphreys, one evening towards the close of the year, "it looks as if that Cardinal of yours were going to win, after all. He is back in France with an army, and is hurrying to meet the Marshal!"
"He will be in Paris before long," said I laughing, "and then we shall see a sight."
Every day now brought news of some fresh success, and much of the glory fell to the share of Mazarin. People began to talk of him as a great general, and to compare him, as a soldier, with Conde and Turenne. This was, of course, very absurd, but the talk increased the Cardinal's popularity.
At the beginning of the new year, 1653, my leg was so much stronger that I was able to go out, and every day I walked a little distance in the streets, accompanied by Pillot. I could not ride as yet, but even that I was able to manage by the time Mazarin returned to Paris.
Yes, the great struggle was over, and, as I had foreseen in the beginning, the Frondeurs had been smitten hip and thigh. Conde, overshadowed by the genius of Turenne, was a fugitive; Gaston of Orleans, who ever blew hot and cold in one breath, had left the capital in disgrace; the parliament men had been brought to their knees; and that sturdy rogue, De Retz, having lost all his power, was openly arrested and imprisoned at Vincennes.
But the crowning triumph was the return, on 2nd February, of my early patron to the city which had hounded him out with hoots and jeers and savage threats of death. The streets were gaily decorated, and the citizens, apparently all of one mind, held high holiday in favour of the recalled exile.
I listened in vain for the ribald songs, the biting jests, the terrible threats and vows of vengeance; in their stead I heard praises of the Queen-Mother; openly expressed admiration of the youthful monarch, who has, since then, advanced his country to the highest pinnacle of fame; and words of good-will towards the wily Italian, who, whatever his defects, had toiled hard and successfully for France.
"The people are like dolls that jump when the showman pulls the strings," remarked Pillot, as we made our way through the throng.
But if the common people bawled themselves hoarse in welcoming the man they had more than once threatened to murder, the higher classes tripped each other up in their eagerness to render him homage. Louis himself rode in state six miles from the city to greet him, and the proudest nobles in the land were glad to appear in the Cardinal's train. The Royal Guard was mounted at the gate in his honour, and thousands welcomed, with joyful shouts, the Italian priest who had returned to govern their country as a master.
The Black Mantles and the clergy, the cadets of illustrious houses, the inferior nobles, and those who had raised themselves within an ace of princely rank, nay, even princes of the blood royal, bent the knee to this man against whom all France had pitted itself in vain! The triumph, indeed, was such as falls to the lot of few men, and it must be said that Mazarin bore his honours well. Many enemies who had insulted or injured him were in his power, but he took no vengeance, bidding them live at peace and devote their talents to the advancement of their country.
For my own part I had no cause to complain. On the very day after his arrival he sent for me to attend him in his apartments at the Louvre.
"Well, De Lalande," said he smiling, "so we are back in our old quarters! Have you recovered from your accident?"
"Yes, my Lord, I thank you."
"You are not looking well; you must go away for a change! Let me see, did we not have a talk once about a place called Vancey?"
"That was my father's estate, my Lord."
"Ah, and then it passed into the hands of Baron Maubranne? Your father, if I remember rightly, offended Cardinal Richelieu? Strange, that the father should anger one cardinal and the son gain the goodwill of another! Now, listen to me, De Lalande. Go home and rest, and tell your parents that the title-deeds of Vancey are following you."
"My Lord!" I gasped.
"There are those who call Mazarin a niggard," said he, still smiling, "but there will be at least one to hold him a good paymaster. You have done your share, De Lalande, and now I will do mine. There, go now; you must be anxious to see your parents. Some day I may need your services again."
* * * * *
I suppose that the story of my adventures really ends with my dismissal from the Cardinal's room, but there are a few matters on which my readers may like a little further information.
I need not dwell on my reception at home; of my father's pride, of my mother's unfeigned joy as she kissed and embraced me; nor is it necessary to add that the Cardinal was as good as his word, and that Vancey has long since been once again in the possession of the De Lalandes. I may, however, say a word or two about those whose acquaintance I made during that stirring period of my life.
Lautrec, of the gorgeous attire, followed the fortunes of Conde and was slain outside Bordeaux. Young Armand d'Arcy clung to the weak Gaston of Orleans and left Paris with the disgraced Duke. He was one of the first to congratulate me on my success, though he would never bow the knee to Mazarin. John Humphreys fought his way to a high rank in the Queen's Guards, and might have gained even further honours, but, in 1660, he returned to England with King Charles, and had his rich estates restored to him.
My old friend, Roland Belloc, had deservedly gained the King's favour, and spent several happy years as the youthful monarch's personal attendant, instructing him in the art of horsemanship and in the use of a soldier's weapons. Afterwards he retired on an ample pension to his country seat, and frequently paid a visit to Vancey, where he was always sure of a cordial welcome.
The unlucky Peleton never left the Bastille. Harassed by his own difficulties, Conde had forgotten his prisoner, who remained in his cell until released by a merciful death.
As for Pillot, I tried hard to induce him to stay at Vancey, but he could not tear himself from his beloved Paris; so I set aside for him a sum of money on which he was able to live in comfort.
Only one other matter remains to be told, and my readers will readily guess what it is. As soon as the troubles were at an end, I posted down to Aunay, where I was received by the ladies with every mark of pleasure. The old friendship was renewed, and in course of time Marie de Brione accompanied me to Vancey as my wife. Madame Coutance rarely visited Paris again, but spent the rest of her life quietly either on her own estate or with her niece at Vancey.