We can imagine who the young and pretty woman was.
Tapin took the letter, looked at it, then, taking off his apron, left the charge of the hotel to one of his servants, and went off to Dubois.
"Oh," exclaimed the latter, "let us see; a letter!"
He unsealed it skillfully by aid of steam, and, on reading it, seemed pleased.
"Good! excellent! Let them alone to go their own way; we hold the reins, and can stop them when we like." Then, turning to Tapin, he gave him the letter, which he had resealed. "Here," said he, "deliver the letter."
"When?" asked Tapin.
Tapin stepped toward the door.
"No, stop," said Dubois; "to-morrow morning will be soon enough."
"Now," said Tapin, "may I make an observation?"
"As monseigneur's agent, I gain three crowns a day."
"Well, is not that enough, you scoundrel?"
"It was enough as agent. I do not complain, but it is not enough as wine-merchant. Oh, the horrid trade!"
"Drink and amuse yourself."
"Since I have sold wine I hate it."
"Because you see how it is made; but drink champagne, muscat, anything: Bourguignon pays. Apropos, he has had a real attack; so your lie was only an affair of chronology."
"Yes, fear has caused it; you want to inherit his goods?"
"No, no; the trade is not amusing."
"Well, I will add three crowns a day to your pay while you are there, and I will give the shop to your eldest daughter. Bring me such letters often, and you shall be welcome."
Tapin returned to the hotel, but waited for the morning to deliver the letter.
At six o'clock, hearing Gaston moving, he entered, and gave him the note.
This was what it contained:
"MY FRIEND—I think of your advice, and that perhaps you were right at last, I fear. A carriage has just arrived—Madame Desroches orders departure—I tried to resist—they shut me up in my room; fortunately, a peasant passed by to water his horse; I have given him two louis, and he promised to take you this note. I hear the last preparations—in two hours we leave for Paris.
"On my arrival, I will send you my address, if I have to jump out of the window and bring it.
"Be assured, the woman who loves you will remain worthy of herself and you."
"Ah, Helene!" cried Gaston; "I was not deceived. Eight o'clock, but she must have arrived. Why was not this letter brought to me at once?"
"You were asleep, monsieur. I waited your awaking."
There was no reply to be made. Gaston thought he would go and watch at the barrier, as Helene might not have arrived. He dressed quickly, and set out, after saying to Tapin:
"If Captain La Jonquiere comes here, say I shall be back at nine."
* * * * *
While Gaston waits uselessly for Helene, let us look back.
We saw the regent receive Madame Desroches' letter and send a reply. Indeed, it was necessary to remove Helene from the attempts of this M. de Livry.
But who could he be? Dubois alone could tell. So when Dubois appeared—
"Dubois," said the regent, "who is M. de Livry, of Nantes?"
"Livry—Livry," said he. "Stay!"
"Who knows such a name? Send for M. d'Hozier."
"But, monseigneur, I do not study genealogies. I am an unworthy plebeian."
"A truce to this folly."
"Diable! it seems monseigneur is in earnest about these Livrys. Are you going to give the order to one of them? because, in that case, I will try and find a noble origin."
"Go to the devil, and send me Noce."
Dubois smiled, and went out.
Noce quickly appeared. He was a man about forty, distinguished-looking, tall, handsome, cold and witty, one of the regent's most faithful and favorite friends.
"Monseigneur sent for me."
"Ah, Noce, good-day."
"Can I serve your royal highness in anything?"
"Yes; lend me your house in the Faubourg St. Antoine, but empty, and carefully arranged. I will put my own people in it."
"Is it to be for—?"
"For a prude, Noce."
"The houses in the faubourg have a bad name, monseigneur."
"The person for whom I require it does not know that; remember, absolute silence, Noce, and give me the keys."
"A quarter of an hour, monseigneur, and you shall have them."
"Adieu, Noce, your hand; no spying, no curiosity, I beg."
"Monseigneur, I am going to hunt, and shall only return at your pleasure."
"Thanks; adieu till to-morrow."
The regent sat down and wrote to Madame Desroches, sending a carriage with an order to bring Helene, after reading her the letter without showing it to her.
The letter was as follows:
"MY DAUGHTER—On reflection, I wish to have you near me. Therefore follow Madame Desroches without loss of time. On your arrival at Paris, you shall hear from me. Your affectionate father."
Helene resisted, prayed, wept, but was forced to obey. She profited by a moment of solitude to write to Gaston, as we have seen. Then she left this dwelling which had become dear to her, for there she had found her father and received her lover.
As to Gaston, he waited vainly at the barrier, till, giving up all hope, he returned to the hotel. As he crossed the garden of the Tuileries, eight o'clock struck.
At that moment Dubois entered the regent's bedchamber with a portfolio under his arm, and a triumphant smile on his face.
THE ARTIST AND THE POLITICIAN.
"Ah! it is you, Dubois," exclaimed the regent, as his minister entered.
"Yes, monseigneur," said Dubois, taking out some papers. "Well, what do you say to our Bretons now?"
"What papers are those?" asked the regent, who, in spite of the preceding day's conversation, or perhaps because of it, felt a secret sympathy with De Chanlay.
"Oh, nothing at all, first a little report of what passed yesterday evening between M. de Chanlay and his excellency the Duc d'Olivares."
"You listened, then?" said the regent.
"Pardieu, monseigneur, what did you expect that I should do?"
"And you heard?"
"All. What do you think of his Catholic majesty's pretensions?"
"I think that perhaps they use his name without his consent."
"And Cardinal Alberoni? Tudieu! monseigneur, how nicely they manage Europe: the pretender in England; Prussia, Sweden, and Russia tearing Holland to pieces; the empire recovering Sicily and Naples; the grand duchy of Tuscany for Philip the Fifth's son; Sardinia for the king of Savoy; Commanchio for the pope; France for Spain; really, this plan is somewhat grand, to emanate from the brain of a bell-ringer."
"All smoke! these prospects," said the duke; "mere dreams."
"And the Breton league, is that all smoke?"
"I am forced to own that that really exists."
"And the dagger of our conspirator; is that a dream?"
"No; it even appeared to me likely to be vigorously handled."
"Peste! monseigneur, you complained in the other plot that you found none but rose-water conspirators. Well, this time I hope you are better pleased. These fellows strike hard."
"Do you know," said the regent, thoughtfully, "that the Chevalier de Chanlay is of an energetic and vigorous nature."
"Ah, the next thing will be, you will conceive a great admiration for this fellow. I know, monseigneur, that you are capable of it."
"How is it that a prince always finds such natures among his enemies, and not among friends?"
"Because, monseigneur, hatred is a passion, and devotion often only a weakness; but if you will descend from the height of philosophy and deign to a simple act, namely, to give me two signatures—"
"What signatures?" asked the regent.
"First, there is a captain to be made a major."
"Captain la Jonquiere?"
"Oh, no; as to him, we'll hang him when we have done with him; but meanwhile, we must treat him with care."
"Who, then, is this captain?"
"A brave officer whom monseigneur eight days, or rather eight nights ago, met in a house in the Rue St. Honore."
"What do you mean?"
"Ah, I see I must aid your memory a little, monseigneur, since you have such a bad one."
"Speak, one can never get at the truth with you."
"In two words, eight nights ago you went out disguised as a musketeer through the little door in the Rue Richelieu, accompanied by Noce and Simiane."
"It is true; what passed in the Rue St. Honore?"
"Do you wish to know, monseigneur?"
"I can refuse you nothing."
"You supped at the house—that house, monseigneur."
"Still with Noce and Simiane?"
"No, monseigneur, tete-a-tete. Noce and Simiane supped too, but separately. You supped, then, and were at table, when a brave officer, who probably mistook the door, knocked so obstinately at yours, that you became impatient, and handled the unfortunate who disturbed you somewhat roughly, but he, who, it seems, was not of an enduring nature, took out his sword, whereupon you, monseigneur, who never look twice before committing a folly, drew your rapier and tried your skill with the officer."
"And the result?" asked the regent.
"Was, that you got a scratch on the shoulder, in return for which you bestowed on your adversary a sword-thrust in the breast."
"But it was not dangerous?" asked the regent, anxiously.
"No; fortunately the blade glided along the ribs."
"So much the better."
"But that is not all."
"It appears that you owed the officer a special grudge."
"I had never seen him."
"Princes strike from a distance."
"What do you mean?"
"This officer had been a captain for eight years, when, on your highness's coming into power, he was dismissed."
"Then I suppose he deserved it."
"Ah, monseigneur, you would make us out as infallible as the pope!"
"He must have committed some cowardly act."
"He is one of the bravest officers in the service."
"Some infamous act then?"
"He is the most honest fellow breathing."
"Then this is an injustice to be repaired."
"Exactly; and that is why I prepared this major's brevet."
"Give it to me, Dubois, you have some good in you sometimes."
A diabolical smile passed over Dubois's face as he drew from his portfolio a second paper.
The regent watched him uneasily.
"What is that paper?" asked he.
"Monseigneur, you have repaired an act of injustice, now do an act of justice."
"The order to arrest the Chevalier Gaston de Chanlay, and place him in the Bastille," cried the regent. "Ah! I see now why you bribed me with a good action; but stay, this requires reflection."
"Do you think I propose to you an abuse of power, monseigneur?" asked Dubois, laughing.
"No, but yet—"
"Monseigneur," continued Dubois, "when we have in our hands the government of a kingdom, the thing most necessary is, to govern."
"But it seems to me that I am the master."
"To reward, yes; but on condition of punishing—the balance of justice is destroyed, monseigneur, if an eternal and blind mercy weighs down one of the scales. To act as you always wish, and often do, is not good, but weak. What is the reward of virtue, if you do not punish vice?"
"Then," said the regent, the more impatiently that he felt he was defending a bad though generous cause, "if you wished me to be severe, you should not have brought about an interview between me and this young man; you should not have given me the opportunity of appreciating his worth, but have allowed me to suppose him a common conspirator."
"Yes; and now, because he presented himself to your highness under a romantic guise, your artistic imagination runs away with you. Diable! monseigneur, there is a time for everything; so chemistry with Hubert, engraving with Audran, music with Lafare, make love with the whole world—but politics with me."
"Mon Dieu!" said the regent, "is it worth while to defend a life, watched, tortured, calumniated as mine is?"
"But it is not your life you are defending, monseigneur; consider, among all these calumnies which pursue you, and against which Heaven knows you should be steeled by this time; your most bitter enemies have never accused you of cowardice—as to your life, at Steinkirk, at Nerwinden, and at Lerida, you proved at what rate you valued it. Pardieu! if you were merely a private gentleman, a minister, or a prince of the blood, and you were assassinated, a man's heart would cease to beat, and that would be all; but wrongly or rightly, you coveted a place among the powerful ones of the world; for that end you broke the will of Louis the Fourteenth, you drove the bastards from the throne whereon they had already placed their feet, you made yourself regent of France—that is to say, the keystone of the arch of the world. If you die, it is not a man who falls, it is the pillar which supports the European edifice which gives way; thus our four last years of watchfulness and struggles would be lost, and everything around would be shaken. Look at England; the Chevalier de Saint George will renew the mad enterprises of the pretender; look at Holland—-Russia, Sweden, and Prussia would hunt her to the death; look at Austria—her two-headed eagle seizes Venice and Milan, as an indemnification for the loss of Spain; cast your eyes on France—no longer France, but Philip the Fifth's vassal; look, finally, at Louis the Fifteenth, the last descendant of the greatest monarch that ever gave light to the world, and the child whom by watchfulness and care we have saved from the fate of his father, his mother, and his uncles, to place him safe and sound on the throne of his ancestors; this child falls back again into the hands of those whom an adulterous law boldly calls to succeed him; thus, on all sides, murder, desolation, ruin, civil and foreign wars. And why? because it pleases Monsieur Philippe d'Orleans to think himself still major of the king's troops, or commandant of the army in Spain, and to forget that he ceased to be so from the moment he became regent of France."
"You will have it, then," said the duke.
"Stay, monseigneur," said Dubois, "it shall not be said that in an affair of this importance you gave way to my importunity. I have said what I had to say, now I leave you—do as you please. I leave you the paper; I am going to give some orders, and in a quarter of an hour I will return to fetch it."
And Dubois saluted the regent and went out.
Left alone, the regent became thoughtful—this whole affair, so somber and so tenacious of life, this remains of the former conspiracy, filled the duke's mind with gloomy thoughts; he had braved death in battle, had laughed at abductions meditated by the Spaniards and by Louis the Fourteenth's bastards; but this time a secret horror oppressed him; he felt an involuntary admiration for the young man whose poniard was raised against him; sometimes he hated him, at others he excused—he almost loved him. Dubois, cowering down over this conspiracy like an infernal ape over some dying prey, and piercing with his ravenous claws to its very heart, seemed to him to possess a sublime intelligence and power; he felt that he, ordinarily so courageous, should have defended his life feebly in this instance, and his eyes involuntarily sought the paper.
"Yes," murmured he, "Dubois is right, my life is no longer my own; yesterday, my mother also told me the same thing. Who knows what might happen if I were to fall? The same as happened at the death of my ancestor Henry the Fourth, perchance. After having reconquered his kingdom step by step, he was about—thanks to ten years of peace, economy, and prosperity—to add Alsace, Lorraine, and perhaps Flanders, to France, while the Duke of Savoy, his son-in-law, descending the Alps, should cut out for himself a kingdom in the Milanais, and with the leavings of that kingdom enrich the kingdom of Venice and strengthen the dukes of Modena, Florence, and Mantua; everything was ready for the immense result, prepared during the whole life of a king who was at once a legislator and a soldier; then the 13th of May arrived; a carriage with the royal livery passed the Rue de la Feronniere, and the clock of Les Innocents struck three. In a moment all was destroyed; past prosperity, hopes of the future; it needed a whole century, a minister called Richelieu and a king called Louis the Fourteenth, to cicatrize the wound made in France by Ravaillac's knife. Yes, Dubois was right," cried the duke, "and I must abandon this young man to human justice; besides, it is not I who condemn him; the judges are there to decide; and," added he, with animation, "have I not still the power to pardon."
And quieted by the thought of this royal prerogative, which he exercised in the name of Louis XV., he signed the paper, and left the room to finish dressing.
Ten minutes after the door opened softly, Dubois carefully looked in, saw that the room was empty, approached the table near which the prince had been seated, looked rapidly at the order, smiled on seeing the signature, and folding it in four, placed it in his pocket, and left the room with an air of great satisfaction.
BLOOD REVEALS ITSELF.
When Gaston returned from the Barriere de la Conference, and left his room, he found La Jonquiere installed by the fireplace, and discussing a bottle of wine which he had just uncorked.
"Well, chevalier," said he, as Gaston entered, "how do you like my room? it is convenient, is it not? Sit down and taste this wine; it rivals the best Rosseau. Do you drink Rosseau? No, they do not drink wine in Bretagne; they drink cider or beer, I believe. I never could get anything worth drinking there, except brandy."
Gaston did not reply, for he was so occupied that he had not even heard what La Jonquiere said. He threw himself in an easy chair, with his hand in his pocket, holding Helene's first letter.
"Where is she?" he asked himself; "this immense, unbounded Paris may keep her from me forever. Oh! the difficulty is too great for a man without power or experience!"
"Apropos," said La Jonquiere, who had followed the young man's ideas easily, "there is a letter for you."
"From Bretagne?" asked the chevalier, trembling.
"No; from Paris. A beautiful writing—evidently a woman's."
"Where is it?" cried Gaston.
"Ask our host. When I came in he held it in his hands."
"Give it to me," cried Gaston, rushing into the common room.
"What does monsieur want?" asked Tapin, with his usual politeness.
"The letter you received for me."
"Pardon, monsieur; I forgot it."
And he gave Gaston the letter.
"Poor imbecile!" said the false La Jonquiere, "and these idiots think of conspiring. It is like D'Harmental; they think they can attend to love and politics at the same time. Triple fools; if they were to go at once to La Fillon's for the former, the latter would not be so likely to bring them to the Place de Greve."
Gaston returned joyously, reading and re-reading Helene's letter. "Rue de Faubourg St. Antoine; a white house behind trees—poplars, I think. I could not see the number, but it is the thirty-first or thirty-second house on the left side, after passing a chateau with towers, resembling a prison."
"Oh," cried Gaston, "I can find that; it is the Bastille."
Dubois overheard these words.
"Parbleu; I will take care you shall find it, if I lead you there myself."
Gaston looked at his watch, and finding that it wanted two hours of the time appointed for his rendezvous in the Rue du Bac, took up his hat and was going out.
"What! are you going away?" asked Dubois.
"I am obliged to do so."
"And our appointment for eleven o'clock?"
"It is not yet nine."
"You do not want me?"
"No, thank you."
"If you are preparing an abduction, for instance, I am an adept, and might assist you."
"Thank you," said Gaston, reddening involuntarily, "but I am not."
Dubois whistled an air, to show that he took the answer for what it was worth.
"Shall I find you here on my return?" asked Gaston.
"I do not know; perhaps I also have to reassure some pretty creature who is interested in me; but, at any rate, at the appointed hour you will find your yesterday's guide with the same carriage and the same coachman."
Gaston took a hasty leave. At the corner of the cemetery of the Innocents he took a carriage, and was driven to the Rue St. Antoine. At the twentieth house he alighted, ordering the driver to follow him; then he proceeded to examine the left side of the street. He soon found himself facing a high wall, over which he saw the tops of some tall poplars; this house, he felt sure, was the one where Helene was.
But here his difficulties were but commencing. There was no opening in the wall, neither bell nor knocker at the door; those who came with couriers galloping before them to strike with their silver-headed canes could dispense with a knocker. Gaston was afraid to strike with a stone, for fear of being denied admittance, he therefore ordered the coachman to stop, and going up a narrow lane by one side of the house, he imitated the cry of the screech-owl—a signal preconcerted.
Helene started. She recognized the cry, and it seemed to her as though she were again in the Augustine convent at Clissons, with the chevalier's boat under her windows. She ran to the window; Gaston was there.
Helene and he exchanged a glance; then, re-entering the room, she rang a bell, which Madame Desroches had given her, so violently that two servants and Madame Desroches herself all entered at once.
"Go and open the door," said Helene, imperiously. "There is some one at the door whom I expect."
"Stop," said Madame Desroches to the valet, who was going to obey; "I will go myself."
"Useless, madame. I know who it is, and I have already told you that it is a person whom I expect."
"But mademoiselle ought not to receive this person," replied the duenna, trying to stand her ground.
"I am no longer at the convent, madame, and I am not yet in prison," replied Helene; "and I shall receive whom I please."
"But, at least, I may know who this is?"
"I see no objection. It is the same person whom I received at Rambouillet."
"M. de Livry?"
"I have positive orders not to allow this young man to see you."
"And I order you to admit him instantly."
"Mademoiselle, you disobey your father," said Madame Desroches, half angrily, half respectfully.
"My father does not see through your eyes, madame."
"Yet, who is master of your fate?"
"I alone," cried Helene, unwilling to allow any domination.
"Mademoiselle, I swear to you that your father—"
"Will approve, if he be my father."
These words, given with all the pride of an empress, cowed Madame Desroches, and she had recourse to silence.
"Well," said Helene, "I ordered that the door should be opened; does no one obey when I command?"
No one stirred; they waited for the orders of Madame Desroches.
Helene smiled scornfully, and made such an imperious gesture that Madame Desroches moved from the door, and made way for her; Helene then, slowly and with dignity, descended the staircase herself, followed by Madame Desroches, who was petrified to find such a will in a young girl just out of a convent.
"She is a queen," said the waiting-maid to Madame Desroches; "I know I should have gone to open the door, if she had not done so herself."
"Alas!" said the duenna, "they are all alike in that family."
"Do you know the family, then?" asked the servant, astonished.
Madame Desroches saw that she had said too much.
"Yes," said she; "I formerly knew the marquis, her father."
Meanwhile Helene had descended the staircase, crossed the court, and opened the door; on the step stood Gaston.
"Come, my friend," said Helene.
Gaston followed her, the door closed behind them, and they entered a room on the ground-floor.
"You called me, and I am here, Helene," said the young man; "what do you fear, what dangers threaten you?"
"Look around you," said Helene, "and judge."
The room in which they were was a charming boudoir, adjoining the dining-room, with which it communicated not only by folding doors, but also by an opening almost concealed by rare and peculiar flowers. The boudoir was hung with blue satin; over the doors were pictures by Claude Audran, representing the history of Venus in four tableaux, while the panels formed other episodes of the same history, all most graceful in outline and voluptuous in expression. This was the house which Noce, in the innocence of his heart, had designated as fit for a prude.
"Gaston," said Helene, "I wonder whether I should really mistrust this man, who calls himself my father. My fears are more aroused here than at Rambouillet."
After examining the boudoir, Gaston and Helene passed into the dining-room, and then into the garden, which was ornamented with marble statues of the same subjects as the pictures. As they returned, they passed Madame Desroches, who had not lost sight of them, and who, raising her hands in a despairing manner, exclaimed:
"Oh, mon Dieu! what would monseigneur think of this?"
These words kindled the smoldering fire in Gaston's breast.
"Monseigneur!" cried he; "you heard, Helene—monseigneur! We are then, as I feared, in the house of one of those great men who purchase pleasure at the expense of honor. Helene, do not allow yourself to be deceived. At Rambouillet I foresaw danger; here I see it."
"Mon Dieu," said Helene, "but if, by aid of his valets, this man should retain me here by force."
"Do not fear, Helene; am not I here?"
"Oh!" said Helene, "and must I renounce the sweet idea of finding a father, a preceptor, a friend."
"And at what a moment, when you are about to be left alone in the world," said Gaston, unconsciously betraying a part of his secret.
"What were you saying, Gaston? What is the meaning of these words?"
"Nothing—nothing," replied the young man; "some meaningless words which escaped me, and to which you must not attach any consequence."
"Gaston, you are hiding some dreadful secret from me, since you speak of abandoning me at the moment I lose a father."
"Helene, I will never abandon you except with life."
"Ah," cried the young girl, "your life is in danger, and it is thus that you fear to abandon me. Gaston, you betray yourself; you are no longer the Gaston of former days. You met me to-day with a constrained joy; losing me yesterday did not cause you intense sorrow: there are more important prospects in your mind than in your heart. There is something in you—pride, or ambition, more powerful than your love. You turn pale, Gaston; your silence breaks my heart."
"Nothing—nothing, Helene, I assure you. Is it surprising that I am troubled to find you here, alone and defenseless, and not know how to protect you; for doubtless this is a man of power. In Bretagne I should have had friends and two hundred peasants to defend me; here I have no one."
"Is that all, Gaston?"
"That is, it seems to me, more than enough."
"No, Gaston, for we will leave this house instantly."
Gaston turned pale; Helene lowered her eyes, and placing her hand in that of her lover—
"Before these people who watch us," said she; "before the eyes of this woman, we will go away together."
Gaston's eyes lighted up with joy; but somber thoughts quickly clouded them again. Helene watched this changing expression.
"Am I not your wife, Gaston?" said she; "is not my honor yours? Let us go."
"But where to place you?" said Gaston.
"Gaston," replied Helene, "I know nothing, I can do nothing; I am ignorant of Paris—of the world; I only know myself and you; well, you have opened my eyes; I distrust all except your fidelity and love."
Gaston was in despair. Six months previous, and he would have paid with his life the generous devotion of the courageous girl.
"Helene, reflect," said Gaston; "if we were mistaken, and this man be really your father!"
"Gaston, do you forget that you first taught me to distrust him?"
"Oh, yes, Helene, let us go," cried Gaston.
"Where are we to go?" asked Helene; "but you need not reply—if you know, it is sufficient."
"Helene," said Gaston, "I will not insult you by swearing to respect your honor; the offer which you have made to-day I have long hesitated to make—rich, happy, sure for the present of fortune and happiness, I would have placed all at your feet, trusting to God for the future; but at this moment I must tell you, that you were not mistaken; from day to day, from this day to the next, there is a chance of a terrible event. I must tell you now, Helene, what I can offer you. If I succeed, a high and powerful position; but if I fail, flight, exile, it may be poverty. Do you love me enough, Helene, or rather do you love your honor enough, to brave all this and follow me?"
"I am ready, Gaston; tell me to follow you, and I do so."
"Well, Helene, your confidence shall not be displaced, believe me; I will take you to a person who will protect you, if necessary, and who, in my absence, will replace the father you thought to find, but whom you have, on the contrary, lost a second time."
"Who is this person, Gaston? This is not distrust," added Helene, with a charming smile, "but curiosity."
"Some one who can refuse me nothing, Helene, whose days are dependent on mine, and who will think I demand small payment when I exact your peace and security."
"Still mysterious, Gaston: really, you frighten me."
"This secret is the last, Helene; from this moment my whole life will be open to you."
"I thank you, Gaston."
"And now I am at your orders, Helene."
"Let us go then."
Helene took the chevalier's arm, and crossed the drawing-room, where sat Madame Desroches, pale with anger, and scrawling a letter, whose destination we can guess.
"Mon Dieu! mademoiselle, where are you going? what are you doing?"
"I am going away from a house where my honor is threatened."
"What!" cried the old lady, springing to her feet, "you are going away with your lover."
"You are mistaken, madame," replied Helene, in an accent of dignity, "it is with my husband."
Madame Desroches, terrified, let her hands fall by her side, powerless.
"You shall not go, mademoiselle, even if I am forced to use violence."
"Try, madame," said Helene, in the queenly tone which seemed natural to her.
"Hola, Picard, Coutourier, Blanchet."
The servants appeared.
"The first who stops me I kill," said Gaston quietly, as he drew his sword.
"What a will," cried Madame Desroches; "ah, Mesdemoiselles de Chartres and de Valois, I recognize you there."
The two young people heard this exclamation, but did not understand it.
"We are going, madame," said Helene; "do not forget to repeat, word by word, what I told you."
And, hanging on Gaston's arm, flushed with pleasure and pride, brave as an ancient Amazon, the young girl ordered that the door should be opened for her; the Swiss did not dare to resist. Gaston took Helene by the hand, summoned the carriage in which he had come, and seeing that he was to be followed, he stepped toward the assailants, and said in a loud voice:
"Two steps further, and I tell this history aloud, and place myself and mademoiselle under the safeguard of the public honor."
Madame Desroches believed that Gaston knew the mystery, and would declare it: she therefore thought best to retire quickly, followed by the servants.
The intelligent driver started at a gallop.
WHAT PASSED IN THE RUE DU BAC WHILE WAITING FOR GASTON.
"What, monseigneur, you here!" cried Dubois, entering the room of the house in the Rue du Bac, and finding the regent seated in the same place as on the previous day.
"Yes; is there anything wonderful in that? Have I not an appointment at noon with the chevalier?"
"But I thought the order you signed would have put an end to these conferences."
"You were mistaken, Dubois; I wish to have another interview with this young man. I shall make one more effort to induce him to renounce his plans."
"And if he should do so?"
"Then all will be at an end—there will be no conspiracy—there will have been no conspirators. I cannot punish intentions."
"With any other I should not allow this; but with him I say, as you please."
"You think he will remain firm?"
"Oh! I am quite easy. But when he has decidedly refused, when you are quite convinced that he persists in his intention of assassinating you, then you will give him over to me, will you not?"
"Yes, but not here."
"Why not here?"'
"Better to arrest him at his hotel."
"There, at the Muids d'Amour, with Tapin and D'Argenson's people—impossible, monsieur. Bourguignon's affair is still in everybody's mouth in that quarter. I am not sure that they even quite believe in the attack of apoplexy, since Tapin now gives strict measure. It will be much better to arrest him as he leaves here, monseigneur; the house is quiet; four men could easily do it, and they are already here. I will move them, as you insist on seeing him; and, instead of arresting him as he enters, it must be done as he leaves. At the door a carriage shall be ready to take him to the Bastille; so that even the coachman who brings him here shall not know what has become of him. No one but Monsieur de Launay shall know; and I will answer for his discretion."
"Do as you please."
"That is my usual custom."
"Rascal that you are!"
"But I think monseigneur reaps the benefit of the rascality."
"Oh, I know you are always right."
"But the others?"
"The Bretons, Pontcalec, Du Couedic, Talhouet, and Montlouis?"
"Oh, the unfortunates; you know their names."
"And how do you think I have passed my time at the hotel Muids d'Amour?"
"They will know of their accomplice's arrest."
"Having no letter from Paris, they will fear that something is wrong."
"Bah! Is not Captain la Jonquiere there to reassure them?"
"True; but they must know the writing?"
"Not bad, monseigneur, you are improving; but you take useless precautions, as Racine says. At this moment, probably, they are arrested."
"And who dispatched the order?"
"I. Pardieu! I am not your minister for nothing. Besides, you signed it."
"I! Are you mad?"
"Assuredly, these men are not less guilty than the chevalier; and in authorizing me to arrest one, you authorized me to arrest all."
"And when did the bearer of this order leave?"
Dubois took out his watch.
"Just three hours ago. Thus, it was a poetical license when I said they were all arrested; they will not be till to-morrow morning."
"Bretagne will be aroused, Dubois."
"Bah! I have taken measures."
"The Breton tribunals will not condemn their compatriots."
"That case is foreseen."
"And, if they should be condemned, none will be found to execute them. It will be a second edition of the affair at Chalais. Remember, it was at Nantes that that took place, Dubois. I tell you, Bretons are unaccommodating."
"This is a point to settle with the commissioners, of whom this is a list. I will send three or four executioners from Paris—men accustomed to noble deeds—who have preserved the traditions of the Cardinal de Richelieu."
"Good God!" cried the regent; "bloodshed under my reign—I do not like it. As to Count Horn, he was a thief, and Duchaffour a wretch; but I am tender, Dubois."
"No, monseigneur, you are not tender; you are uncertain and weak; I told you so when you were my scholar—I tell you so again, now that you are my master. When you were christened, your godmothers, the fairies, gave you every gift of nature—strength, beauty, courage, and mind: only one—whom they did not invite because she was old, and they probably foresaw your aversion to old women—arrived the last, and gave you weakness—that spoiled all."
"And who told you this pretty tale? Perrault or St. Simon?"
"The princess palatine, your mother."
The regent laughed.
"And whom shall we choose for the commission?" asked he.
"Oh, monseigneur, people of mind and resolution, be sure; not provincials; not very sensitive to family scenes; men old in the dust of tribunals, whom the Breton men will not frighten with their fierce eyes, nor the Breton women seduce with their beautiful languid ones."
The regent made no reply.
"After all," continued Dubois, "these people may not be as guilty as we suppose. What they have plotted let us recapitulate. Bah! mere trifles. To bring back the Spaniards into France, what is that? To call Philip the Fifth king, the renouncer of his country; to break all the laws of the State—these good Bretons."
"Dubois, I know the national law as well as you."
"Then, monseigneur, if you speak truly, you have only to approve the nomination of the commissioners I have chosen."
"How many are there?"
Dubois gave in the list.
"Ah, you were right—a happy choice; but who is to preside over this amiable assembly?"
"Take care; you must have an honest man at the head of these ravagers."
"I have one."
"Who is it?"
"Ma foi! I think if you would let him come out of Blois he would not refuse you even the heads of his accomplices."
"Let him stop at Blois. Who is to preside?"
"The ambassador from Holland, from the great king. Dubois, I do not generally compliment you, but this time you have done wonders."
"You understand, monseigneur: he knows that these people wish to make a republic; and he, who is brought up to know none but sultans, and who has a horror of Holland through the horror of Louis XIV. for republics, has accepted with a good grace. We shall have Argram for prosecutor. Cayet shall be our secretary. We go to work quickly and well, monseigneur, for time presses."
"But shall we at least have quiet afterward?"
"I believe so. We may sleep all day and all night; that is to say, when we have finished the war in Spain."
"Oh!" cried the regent, "why did I strive for the regency? I should laugh to see M. de Maine freeing himself with his Jesuits and his Spaniards! Madame de Maintenon and her politics, with Villeroy and Villars, would drive away the spleen; and Hubert says it is good to laugh once a day."
"Apropos of Madame de Maintenon," replied Dubois; "you know, monseigneur, that she is very ill, and that she cannot live a fortnight."
"Since the imprisonment of Madame de Maine and the exile of her husband, she says that decidedly Louis XIV. is dead, and that she goes weeping to rejoin him."
"Which does not trouble you, eh?"
"Oh! I confess that I hate her cordially; it was she who made the king open his eyes so wide when I asked for the red hat at your marriage; and, corbleu! it was not an easy thing to arrange, monseigneur, as you know. If you had not been there to redress my wrongs, she would have spoiled my career. If I could but have crammed her M. de Maine into this Bretagne affair; but it was impossible—the poor man is half dead with fear, so that he says to every one he meets, 'Do you know there has been a conspiracy against the government of the king and against the person of the regent? it is a disgrace to France. Ah! if all men were only like me!'"
"No one would conspire—that is certain," said the regent.
"He has disowned his wife," added Dubois, laughing.
"And she has disowned her husband," said the regent, laughing also.
"I should not advise you to imprison them together—they would fight."
"Therefore I have placed one at Doulens, and the other at Dijon."
"From whence they bite by post."
"Let us put all that aside, Dubois."
"Ah, monseigneur! you have, I see, sworn the loss of the blood of Louis XIV.; you are a true executioner."
This audacious joke proved how sure Dubois felt of his ascendency over the prince.
The regent signed the order naming the tribunal, and Dubois went out to prepare for Gaston's arrest.
Gaston, on his return to the Muids d'Amour, found the same carriage and the same guide awaiting him that had before conducted him to the Rue du Bac. Gaston, who did not wish Helene to alight, asked if he could continue his route in the hired carriage in which he had just arrived; the man replied that he saw no objection, and mounted on the box by the driver, to whom he told the address.
During the drive, Gaston, instead of displaying the courage which Helene had expected, was sad, and yet gave no explanation of his sadness. As they entered the Rue du Bac, Helene, in despair at finding so little force of character in him on whom she leaned for protection, said: "Gaston, you frighten me."
"Helene, you shall see before long if I am acting for your good or not."
The carriage stopped.
"Helene, there is one in this house who will stand in the place of a father to you. Let me go first, and I announce you."
"Ah!" cried Helene, trembling, she knew not why; "and you are going to leave me here alone?"
"You have nothing to fear, Helene; besides, in a few minutes I will return and fetch you."
The young girl held out her hand, which Gaston pressed to his lips; the door opened; the carriage drove into the courtyard, where Gaston felt that Helene ran no danger; the man who had come to the hotel to fetch him opened the carriage door; Gaston again pressed Helene's hand, alighted, ascended the steps, and entered the corridor, when his guide left him as before.
Gaston, knowing that Helene waited his return, at once tapped at the door of the room.
"Enter," said the voice of the false Spaniard.
Gaston knew the voice, entered, and with a calm face approached the Duc d'Olivares.
"You are punctual, monsieur," said the latter; "we named noon, and it is now striking."
"I am pressed for time, monseigneur; my undertaking weighs on me; I fear to feel remorse. That astonishes and alarms you, does it not, monseigneur? But reassure yourself; the remorse of a man such as I am troubles no one but himself."
"In truth, monsieur," cried the regent, with a feeling of joy he could not quite conceal, "I think you are drawing back."
"Not so, monseigneur; since fate chose me to strike the prince, I have gone steadily forward, and shall do so till my mission is accomplished."
"Monsieur, I thought I detected some hesitation in your words; and words are of weight in certain mouths, and under certain circumstances."
"Monsieur, in Bretagne we speak as we feel, but we also do as we promise."
"Then you are resolved?"
"More than ever."
"Because, you see," replied the regent, "there is still time—the evil is not yet done."
"The evil, you call it, monseigneur," said Gaston; "what shall I call it then?"
"It is thus that I meant it," replied the regent; "the evil is for you, since you feel remorse."
"It is not generous, monseigneur, to dwell on a confidence which I should not have made to any person of less merit than yourself."
"And it is because I appreciate your worth, monsieur, that I tell you there is yet time to draw back; that I ask if you have reflected—if you repent having mixed yourself with all these—" the duke hesitated—"these audacious enterprises. Fear nothing from me—I will protect you, even if you desert us; I have seen you but once, but I think I judge of you as you deserve—men of worth are so rare that the regrets will be for us."
"Such kindness overwhelms me, monseigneur," said Gaston, who, in spite of his courage, felt some indecision. "My prince, I do not hesitate; but my reflections are those of a duelist, who goes to the ground determined to kill his enemy, yet deploring the necessity which forces him to rob a man of life. But here the interest is so great, so superior to the weaknesses of our nature, that I will be true to my friendship if not my sympathies, and will conduct myself so that you shall esteem in me even the momentary weakness which for a second held back my arm."
"Well," said the regent, "how shall you proceed?"
"I shall wait till I meet him face to face, and then I shall not use an arquebuse, as Paltrot did, nor a pistol, as Vitry did. I shall say, 'Monseigneur, you are the curse of France—I sacrifice you to her salvation;' and I shall stab him with my poniard."
"As Ravaillac did," said the duke, with a serenity which made Gaston shudder; "it is well."
Gaston did not reply.
"This plan appears to me the most secure, and I approve of it; but I must ask you one other question: suppose you should be taken and interrogated?"
"Your excellency knows what men do in such cases—they die, but do not answer; and since you have quoted Ravaillac, I think, if my memory serves me, that was what he did—and yet Ravaillac was not a gentleman."
Gaston's pride did not displease the regent, who had a young heart and a chivalric mind; besides, accustomed to worn-out and time-serving courtiers, Gaston's vigorous and simple nature was a novelty to him; and we know how the regent loved a novelty.
"I may then reckon," said he, "that you are immovable?"
Gaston looked surprised that the duke should repeat this question.
"Yes," said the regent; "I see you are decided."
"Absolutely, and wait your last instructions."
"How? my instructions?"
"Certainly; I have placed myself body and soul at your disposal."
The duke rose.
"Well," said he, "you must go out by that door, and cross the garden which surrounds the house. In a carriage which awaits you at the bottom you will find my secretary, who will give you a pass for an audience with the regent; besides that, you will have the warranty of my word."
"That is all I have to ask on that point, monseigneur."
"Have you anything else to say?"
"Yes; before I take leave of you, whom I may never see again in this world, I have a boon to ask."
"Speak, monsieur, I listen."
"Monsieur," said Gaston, "do not wonder if I hesitate a moment, for this is no personal favor and no ordinary service—Gaston de Chanlay needs but a dagger, and here it is; but in sacrificing his body he would not lose his soul; mine, monseigneur, belongs first to God and then to a young girl whom I love to idolatry—sad love, is it not, which has bloomed so near a tomb? To abandon this pure and tender girl would be to tempt God in a most rash manner, for I see that sometimes he tries us cruelly, and lets even his angels suffer. I love, then, an adorable woman, whom my affection has supported and protected against infamous schemes; when I am dead or banished, what will become of her? Our heads fall, monseigneur; they are those of simple gentlemen; but you are a powerful adversary, and supported by a powerful king; you can conquer evil fortune. I wish to place in your hands the treasure of my soul. You will bestow on her all the protection which, as an accomplice, as an associate, you owe to me."
"Monsieur, I promise you," replied the regent, deeply moved.
"That is not all, monseigneur; misfortune may overtake me, and find me not able to bestow my person upon her; I would yet leave her my name. If I die she has no fortune, for she is an orphan. On leaving Nantes I made a will wherein I left her everything I possessed. Monseigneur, if I die, let her be a widow—is it possible?"
"Who opposes it?"
"No one; but I may be arrested to-morrow, this evening, on putting my foot outside this house."
The regent started at this strange presentiment.
"Suppose I am taken to the Bastille; could you obtain for me permission to marry her before my execution?"
"I am sure of it."
"You will use every means to obtain this favor for me? Swear it to me, monseigneur, that I may bless your name, and that, even under torture, nothing may escape but a thanksgiving when I think of you."
"On my honor, monsieur, I promise you that this young girl shall be sacred to me; she shall inherit in my heart all the affection which I involuntarily feel for you."
"Monseigneur, one word more."
"Speak, monsieur; I listen with the deepest sympathy."
"This young girl knows nothing of my project; she does not know what has brought me to Paris, nor the catastrophe which threatens us, for I have not had the courage to tell her. You will tell it to her, monseigneur—prepare her for the event. I shall never see her again, but to become her husband. If I were to see her again at the moment of striking the blow which separates me from her, my hand might tremble, and this must not be."
"On my word of honor, monsieur," said the regent, softened beyond all expression, "I repeat, not only shall this young girl be sacred to me, but I will do all you wish for her—she shall reap the fruits of the respect and affection with which you have inspired me."
"Now," said Gaston, "I am strong."
"And where is this young girl?"
"Below, in the carriage which brought me. Let me retire, monseigneur, and only tell me where she will be placed."
"Here, monsieur; this house, which is not inhabited, and which is very suitable for a young girl, shall be hers."
"Monseigneur, your hand."
The regent held out his hand, but hearing a little dry cough, he understood that Dubois was becoming impatient, and he indicated to Gaston that the audience was over.
"Once more, monseigneur, watch over this young girl; she is beautiful, amiable and proud—one of those noble natures which we meet but seldom. Adieu, monseigneur, I go to find your secretary."
"And must I tell her that you are about to take a man's life?" asked the regent, making one more effort to restrain Gaston.
"Yes, monseigneur," said the chevalier; "but you will add that I do it to save France."
"Go then, monsieur," said the duke, opening a door which led into the garden, "and follow the directions I have given you."
"Wish me good fortune, monseigneur."
"The madman," thought the regent; "does he wish me to pray for success to his dagger's thrust? Ma foi, no!"
Gaston went out, the gravel, half-covered with snow, creaked under his feet—the regent watched him for some time from the window of the corridor—then, when he had lost sight of him—
"Well," said he, "each one must go his own way. Poor fellow!"
And he returned to the room, where he found Dubois, who had entered by another door, and was waiting for him.
Dubois's face wore an expression of malicious satisfaction which did not escape the regent, who watched him some time in silence, as if trying to discover what was passing through the brain of this second Mephistopheles.
Dubois was the first to speak.
"Well, monseigneur, you are rid of him at last, I hope."
"Yes," replied the duke; "but in a manner which greatly displeases me—I do not like playing a part in your comedies, as you know."
"Possibly; but you might, perhaps, do wisely in giving me a part in yours."
"They would be more successful, and the denouements would be better."
"I do not understand—explain yourself, and quickly, for I have some one waiting whom I must receive."
"Oh! certainly, monseigneur, receive them, and we will continue our conversation later—the denouement of this comedy has already taken place, and cannot be changed."
And with these words, Dubois bowed with the mock respect which he generally assumed whenever, in the eternal game they played against each other, he held the best cards.
Nothing made the regent so uneasy as this simulated respect; he held him back—
"What is there now?" asked he; "what have you discovered?"
"That you are a skillful dissimulator, peste!"
"That astonishes you?"
"No, it troubles me; a few steps further, and you will do wonders in this art—you will have no further need of me; you will have to send me away to educate your son, whom, it must be confessed, requires a master like myself."
"Certainly, monseigneur; it is not now, however, a question of your son, but of your daughter."
"Of which daughter?"
"Ah! true; there are so many. First, the Abbess of Chelles, then Madame de Berry, then Mademoiselle de Valois; then the others, too young for the world, and therefore for me, to speak of; then, lastly, the charming Bretagne flower, the wild blossom which was to be kept away from Dubois's poisoning breath, for fear it should wither under it."
"Do you dare to say I was wrong?"
"Not so, monseigneur: you have done wonders; not wishing to have anything to do with the infamous Dubois, for which I commend you, you—the archbishop of Cambray being dead—have taken in his place the good, the worthy, the pure Noce, and have borrowed his house."
"Ah!" said the regent, "you know that?"
"And what a house! Pure as its master—yes, monseigneur, you are full of prudence and wisdom. Let us conceal the corruptions of the world from this innocent child, let us remove from her everything that can destroy her primitive naivete; this is why we choose this dwelling for her—a moral sanctuary, where the priestesses of virtue, and doubtless always under pretext of their ingenuousness, take the most ingenuous but least permitted of positions."
"Noce told me that all was proper."
"Do you know the house, monseigneur?"
"Do I look at such things?"
"Ah! no; your sight is not good, I remember."
"For furniture your daughter will have strange couches, magic sofas; and as to books, ah! that is the climax. Noce's books are good for the instruction and formation of youth; they would do well to go with the breviary of Bussy-Rabutin, of which I presented you a copy on your twelfth birthday."
"Yes; serpent that you are."
"In short, the most austere prudery prevails over the dwelling. I had chosen it for the education of the son; but monseigneur, who looks at things differently, chose it for the daughter."
"Ah, ca! Dubois," said the regent, "you weary me."
"I am just at the end, monseigneur. No doubt your daughter was well pleased with the residence; for, like all of your blood, she is very intelligent."
The regent shuddered, and guessed that some disagreeable news was hidden under the long preamble and mocking smile of Dubois.
"However, monseigneur, see what the spirit of contradiction will do; she was not content with the dwelling you chose for her, and she is moving."
"What do you mean?"
"I am wrong—she has moved."
"My daughter gone!" cried the regent.
"Exactly," said Dubois.
"Through the door. Oh, she is not one of those young ladies who go through the windows, or by night—oh, she is of your blood, monseigneur; if I had ever doubted it, I should be convinced now."
"And Madame Desroches?"
"She is at the Palais Royal, I have just left her; she came to announce it to your highness."
"Could she not prevent it?"
"She should have made the servants close the doors: they did not know that she was my daughter, and had no reason to obey her."
"Madame Desroches was afraid of mademoiselle's anger, but the servants were afraid of the sword."
"Of the sword! are you drunk, Dubois?"
"Oh, I am very likely to get drunk on chicory water! No, monseigneur; if I am drunk, it is with admiration of your highness's perspicacity when you try to conduct an affair all alone."
"But what sword do you mean?"
"The sword which Mademoiselle Helene disposes of, and which belongs to a charming young man—"
"Who loves her!"
"Dubois! you will drive me mad."
"And who followed her from Nantes to Rambouillet with infinite gallantry."
"Monsieur de Livry?"
"Ah! you know his name; then I am telling you nothing new, monseigneur."
"Dubois, I am overwhelmed."
"Not without sufficient cause, monseigneur; but see what is the result of your managing your own affairs, while you have at the same time to look after those of France."
"But where is she?"
"Ah! where indeed—how should I know?"
"Dubois, you have told me of her flight—I look to you to discover her retreat. Dubois, my dear Dubois, for God's sake find my daughter!"
"Ah! monseigneur, you are exactly like the father in Moliere, and I am like Scapin—'My good Scapin, my dear Scapin, find me my daughter.' Monseigneur, I am sorry for it, but Geroute could say no more; however, we will look for your daughter, and rescue her from the ravisher."
"Well, find her, Dubois, and ask for what you please when you have done so."
"Ah, that is something like speaking."
The regent had thrown himself back in an armchair, and leaned his head upon his hands. Dubois left him to his grief, congratulating himself that this affection would double his empire over the duke. All at once, while Dubois was watching him with a malicious smile, some one tapped at the door.
"Who is there?" asked Dubois.
"Monseigneur," said an usher's voice at the door, "there is in the carriage which brought the chevalier a young woman who wishes to know if he is coming down soon."
Dubois made a bound toward the door, but he was too late; the regent, to whom the usher's words had recalled the solemn promise he had made to Gaston, rose at once.
"Where are you going, monseigneur?" asked Dubois.
"To receive this young girl."
"That is my affair, not yours—you forget that you abandoned this conspiracy to me."
"I gave up the chevalier to you, but I promised him to be a father to this girl whom he loves. I have pledged my word, and I will keep it; since through me she loses her lover, I must at least console her."
"I undertake it," said Dubois, trying to hide his paleness and agitation under one of his own peculiar smiles.
"Hold your tongue and remain here," said the regent.
"Let me at least speak to her, monseigneur."
"I will speak to her myself—this is no affair of yours; I have taken it upon myself, have given my word as a gentleman. Silence, and remain here."
Dubois ground his teeth; but when the regent spoke in this tone, he knew he must obey: he leaned against the chimney-piece and waited.
Soon the rustling of a silk dress was heard.
"Yes, madame," said the usher, "this way."
"Here she is," said the duke, "remember one thing, Dubois: this young girl is in no way responsible for her lover's fault; consequently, understand me, she must be treated with the greatest respect;" then, turning to the door, "Enter," said he; the door was hastily opened, the young girl made a step toward the regent, who started back thunderstruck.
"My daughter!" murmured he, endeavoring to regain his self-command, while Helene, after looking round for Gaston, stopped and curtseyed.
Dubois's face would not be easy to depict.
"Pardon me, monseigneur," said Helene, "perhaps I am mistaken. I am seeking a friend who left me below, who was to come back to me; but, as he delayed so long, I came to seek for him. I was brought here, but perhaps the usher made a mistake."
"No, mademoiselle," said the duke, "M. de Chanlay has just left me, and I expected you."
As the regent spoke, the young girl became abstracted, and seemed as though taxing her memory; then, in answer to her own thoughts, she cried—
"Mon Dieu! how strange."
"What is the matter?" asked the regent.
"Yes: that it is."
"Explain!" said the duke, "I do not understand you."
"Ah! monsieur," said Helene, trembling, "it is strange how your voice resembles that of another person."
"Of your acquaintance?" asked the regent.
"Of a person in whose presence I have been but once, but whose accents live in my heart."
"And who was this person?" asked the regent, while Dubois shrugged his shoulders at this half recognition.
"He called himself my father," replied Helene.
"I congratulate myself upon this chance, mademoiselle," said the regent, "for this similarity in my voice to that of a person who is dear to you may give greater weight to my words. You know that Monsieur de Chanlay has chosen me for your protector?"
"He told me he would bring me to some one who would protect me from the danger—"
"What danger?" asked the regent.
Helene looked round her, and her glance rested uneasily on Dubois, and there was no mistaking her expression. Dubois's face inspired her with as much distrust as the regent's did with confidence.
"Monseigneur," said Dubois (who did not fail to notice this expression), in an undertone to the regent, "I think I am de trop here, and had better retire; you do not want me, do you?"
"No; but I shall presently; do not go away."——"I will be at your orders."
This conversation was too low for Helene to hear; besides, she had stepped back, and continued watching the doors, in the hope of seeing Gaston return.
It was a consolation to Dubois to know she would be disappointed.
When Dubois was gone, they breathed more freely.
"Seat yourself, mademoiselle," said the duke; "I have much to tell you."
"Monsieur, one thing before all. Is the Chevalier Gaston de Chanlay in any danger?"
"We will speak of him directly, but first of yourself; he brought you to me as a protector. Now, tell me against whom I am to protect you?"
"All that has happened to me for some days is so strange, that I do not know whom to fear or whom to trust. If Gaston were there—"
"Yes, I understand; if he authorized you to tell me, you would keep nothing back. But if I can prove to you that I know nearly all concerning you?"
"Yes, I; are you not called Helene de Chaverny? Were you not brought up in the Augustine convent between Nantes and Clisson? Did you not one day receive an order to leave the convent from a mysterious protector who watches over you? Did you not travel with one of the sisters, to whom you gave a hundred louis for her trouble? At Rambouillet, did not a person called Madame Desroches await you? Did she not announce to you a visit from your father? The same evening, did not some one arrive who loved you, and who thought you loved him?"
"Yes, yes, monsieur, it is all true," said Helene, astonished that a stranger should thus know the details of her history.
"Then the next day," continued the regent, "did not Monsieur de Chanlay, who followed you under the name of De Livry, pay you a visit, which was vainly opposed by Madame Desroches?"
"You are right, monsieur, and I see that Gaston has told you all."
"Then came the order to leave for Paris. You would have opposed it, but were forced to obey. You were taken to a house in the Faubourg St. Antoine; but there your captivity became insupportable."
"You are mistaken, monsieur; it was not the captivity, but the prison."
"I do not understand you."
"Did not Gaston tell you of his fears, which I laughed at at first, but shared afterward?"
"No, tell me what did you fear?"
"But if he did not tell you, how shall I?"
"Is there anything one cannot tell to a friend?"
"Did he not tell you that this man whom I at first believed to be my father—?"
"Yes; I swear it, monsieur. Hearing his voice, feeling my hand pressed by his, I had at first no doubt, and it almost needed evidence to bring fear instead of the filial love with which he at first inspired me."
"I do not understand you, mademoiselle; how could you fear a man who—to judge by what you tell me—had so much affection for you?"
"You do not understand, monsieur; as you say, under a frivolous pretext, I was removed from Rambouillet to Paris, shut in a house in the Faubourg Saint Antoine, which spoke more clearly to my eyes than Gaston's fears had done. Then I thought myself lost—and that this feigned tenderness of a father concealed the wiles of a seducer. I had no friend but Gaston—I wrote to him—he came."
"Then," said the regent, filled with joy, "when you left that house it was to escape those wiles, not to follow your lover?"
"Oh, monsieur, if I had believed in that father whom I had seen but once, and then surrounded by mysteries, I swear to you that nothing would have led me from the path of duty."
"Oh, dear child!" cried the duke, with an accent which made Helene start.
"Then Gaston spoke to me of a person who could refuse him nothing—who would watch over me and be a father to me. He brought me here, saying he would return to me. I waited in vain for more than an hour, and at length, fearing some accident had happened to him, I asked for you." The regent's brow became clouded.
"Thus," said he, "it was Gaston's influence that turned you from your duty—his fears aroused yours?"
"Yes; he suspected the mystery which encircled me, and feared that it concealed some fatal project."
"But he must have given you some proof to persuade you."
"What proof was needed in that abominable house? Would a father have placed his daughter in such a habitation?"
"Yes, yes," murmured the regent, "he was wrong; but confess that without the chevalier's suggestions, you, in the innocence of your soul, would have had no suspicion."
"No," said Helene, "but happily Gaston watched over me."
"Do you then believe that all Gaston said to you was true?" asked the regent.
"We easily side with those we love, monsieur."
"And you love the chevalier?"
"Yes; for the last two years, monsieur."
"But how could he see you in the convent?"
"By night, with the aid of a boat."
"And did he see you often?"
"Then you love him?"
"But how could you dispose of your heart, knowing that you were not your own mistress?"
"For sixteen years I had heard nothing of my family; how could I suppose that all at once it would reveal itself, or rather, that an odious maneuver should take me from my quiet retreat to my ruin?"
"Then you still think that that man lied, when he called himself your father?"
"I scarcely know what to think, and my mind becomes bewildered in contemplating this strange reality, which seems so like a dream."
"But you should not consult your mind here, Helene," said the regent; "you should consult your heart. When you were with this man, did not your heart speak to you?"
"Oh!" said Helene, "while he was there I was convinced, for I have never felt emotion such as I felt then."
"Yes," replied the regent, bitterly; "but when he was gone, this emotion disappeared, driven away by stronger influence. It is very simple, this man was only your father; Gaston was your lover."
"Monsieur," said Helene, drawing back, "you speak strangely."
"Pardon me," replied the regent, in a sweet voice; "I see that I allowed myself to be carried away by my interest. But what surprises me more than all, mademoiselle," continued he, "is that, being beloved as you are by Gaston, you could not induce him to abandon his projects."
"His projects, monsieur! what do you mean?"
"What! you do not know the object of his visit to Paris?"
"I do not, monsieur. When I told him, with tears in my eyes, that I was forced to leave Clisson, he said he must also leave Nantes. When I told him that I was coming to Paris, he answered, with a cry of joy, that he was about to set out for the same place."
"Then," cried the regent, his heart freed from an enormous load, "you are not his accomplice?"
"His accomplice!" cried Helene, alarmed; "ah, mon Dieu! what does this mean?"
"Nothing," said the regent, "nothing."
"Oh, yes, monsieur; you have used a word which explains all. I wondered what made so great a change in Gaston. Why, for the last year, whenever I spoke of our future, his brow became dark. Why, with so sad a smile, he said to me, 'Helene, no one is sure of the morrow.' Why he fell into such reveries, as though some misfortune threatened him. That misfortune you have shown me, monsieur. Gaston saw none but malcontents there—Montlouis, Pontcalec. Ah! Gaston is conspiring—that is why he came to Paris."
"Then you knew nothing of this conspiracy?"
"Alas, monsieur! I am but a woman, and, doubtless, Gaston did not think me worthy to share such a secret."
"So much the better," cried the regent; "and now, my child, listen to the voice of a friend, of a man who might be your father. Let the chevalier go on the path he has chosen, since you have still the power to go no further."
"Who? I, monsieur!" cried Helene; "I abandon him at a moment when you yourself tell me that a danger threatens him that I had not known! Oh, no, no, monsieur! We two are alone in the world, we have but each other: Gaston has no parents, I have none either; or if I have, they have been separated from me for sixteen years, and are accustomed to my absence. We may, then, lose ourselves together without costing any one a tear—oh, I deceived you, monsieur, and whatever crime he has committed, or may commit, I am his accomplice."
"Ah!" murmured the regent, in a choking voice, "my last hope fails me; she loves him."
Helene turned, with astonishment, toward the stranger who took so lively an interest in her sorrow. The regent composed himself.
"But," continued he, "did you not almost renounce him? Did you not tell him, the day you separated, that you could not dispose of your heart and person?"
"Yes, I told him so," replied the young girl, with exaltation, "because at that time I believed him happy, because I did not know that his liberty, perhaps his life, were compromised; then, my heart would have suffered, but my conscience would have remained tranquil; it was a grief to bear, not a remorse to combat; but since I know him threatened—unhappy—I feel that his life is mine."
"But you exaggerate your love for him," replied the regent, determined to ascertain his daughter's feelings. "This love would yield to absence."
"It would yield to nothing, monsieur; in the isolation in which my parents left me, this love has become my only hope, my happiness, my life. Ah! monsieur, if you have any influence with him—and you must have, since he confides to you the secrets which he keeps from me—in Heaven's name, induce him to renounce these projects, of which you speak; tell him what I dare not tell him myself, that I love him beyond all expression; tell him that his fate shall be mine; that if he be exiled, I exile myself; if he be imprisoned, I will be so too; and that if he dies, I die. Tell him that, monsieur; and add—add that you saw, by my tears and by my despair, that I spoke the truth."
"Unhappy child!" murmured the regent.
Indeed, Helene's situation was a pitiable one. By the paleness of her cheeks, it was evident that she suffered cruelly; while she spoke, her tears flowed ceaselessly, and it was easy to see that every word came from her heart, and that what she had said she would do.
"Well," said the regent, "I promise you that I will do all I can to save the chevalier."
Helene was about to throw herself at the duke's feet, so humbled was this proud spirit by the thought of Gaston's danger; but the regent received her in his arms. Helene trembled through her whole frame—there was something in the contact with this man which filled her with hope and joy. She remained leaning on his arm, and made no effort to raise herself.
"Mademoiselle," said the regent, watching her with an expression which would certainty have betrayed him if Helene had raised her eyes to his face, "Mademoiselle, the most pressing affair first—I have told you that Gaston is in danger, but not in immediate danger; let us then first think of yourself, whose position is both false and precarious. You are intrusted to my care, and I must, before all else, acquit myself worthily of this charge. Do you trust me, mademoiselle?"
"Oh, yes; Gaston brought me to you."
"Always Gaston," sighed the regent, in an undertone; then to Helene he said:
"You will reside in this house, which is unknown, and here you will be free. Your society will consist of excellent books, and my presence will not be wanting, if it be agreeable to you."
Helene made a movement as if to speak.
"Besides," continued the duke, "it will give you an opportunity to speak of the chevalier."
Helene blushed, and the regent continued:
"The church of the neighboring convent will be open to you, and should you have the slightest fear, such as you have already experienced, the convent itself might shelter you—the superior is a friend of mine."
"Ah, monsieur," said Helene, "you quite reassure me; I accept the house you offer me—and your great kindness to Gaston and myself will ever render your presence agreeable to me."
The regent bowed.
"Then, mademoiselle," said he, "consider yourself at home here; I think there is a sleeping-room adjoining this room—the arrangement of the ground-floor is commodious, and this evening I will send you two nuns from the convent, whom, doubtless, you would prefer to servants, to wait on you."
"Ah, yes, monsieur."
"Then," continued the regent, with hesitation, "then you have almost renounced your—father?"
"Ah, monsieur, do you not understand that it is for fear he should not be my father."
"However," replied the regent, "nothing proves it; that house alone is certainly an argument against him but he might not have known it."
"Oh," said Helene, "that is almost impossible."
"However, if he took any further steps, if he should discover your retreat and claim you, or at least ask to see you?"
"Monsieur, we would inform Gaston, and learn his opinion."
"It is well," said the regent, with a smile; and he held out his hand to Helene, and then moved toward the door.
"Monsieur," said Helene, in a scarcely audible voice.
"Do you wish for anything?" asked the duke, returning.
"Can I see him?"
The words seemed to die away on her lips as she pronounced them.
"Yes," said the duke, "but is it not better for your sake to do so as little as possible?" Helene lowered her eyes.
"Besides," said the duke, "he has gone on a journey, and may not be back for some days."
"And shall I see him on his return?"
"I swear it to you."
Ten minutes after, two nuns and a lay sister entered and installed themselves in the house.
When the regent quitted his daughter, he asked for Dubois, but he was told that, after waiting half an hour, Dubois had returned to the Palais Royal.
The duke, on entering the abbe's room, found him at work with his secretaries; a portfolio full of papers was on the table.
"I beg a thousand pardons," said Dubois, on seeing the duke, "but as you delayed, and your conference was likely to be prolonged greatly, I took the liberty of transgressing your orders, and returning here."
"You did rightly; but I want to speak to you."
"Yes, to you."
"To me alone?"
"In that case, will monseigneur go into my cabinet, or into your own room?"
"Let us go into your cabinet."
The abbe made a respectful bow and opened the door—the regent passed in first, and Dubois followed when he had replaced the portfolio under his arm. These papers had probably been got together in expectation of this visit.
When they were in the cabinet, the duke looked round him.
"The place is safe?" asked he.
"Pardieu, each door is double, and the walls are two feet thick."
The regent sat down and fell into a deep reverie.
"I am waiting, monseigneur," said Dubois, in a few minutes.
"Abbe," said the regent, in a quick decided tone, as of a man determined to be answered, "is the chevalier in the Bastille?"
"Monseigneur," replied Dubois, "he must have been there about half an hour."
"Then write to M. de Launay. I desire that he be set free at once."
Dubois did not seem surprised; he made no reply, but he placed the portfolio on the table, opened it, took out some papers, and began to look over them quietly.
"Did you hear me?" asked the regent, after a moment's silence.
"I did, monseigneur."
"Write yourself, monseigneur," said Dubois.
"Because nothing shall induce this hand to sign your highness's ruin," said Dubois.
"More words," said the regent, impatiently.
"Not words, but facts, monseigneur. Is M. de Chanlay a conspirator, or is he not?"
"Yes, certainly! but my daughter loves him."
"A fine reason for setting him at liberty."
"It may not be a reason to you, abbe, but to me it is, and a most sacred one. He shall leave the Bastille at once."
"Go and fetch him, then; I do not prevent you."
"And did you know this secret?"
"That M. de Livry and the chevalier were the same?"
"Yes, I knew it. What, then?"
"You wished to deceive me."
"I wished to save you from the sentimentality in which you are lost at this moment. The regent of France—already too much occupied by whims and pleasures—must make things worse by adding passion to the list. And what a passion! Paternal love, dangerous love—an ordinary love may be satisfied, and then dies away—but a father's tenderness is insatiable, and above all, intolerable. It will cause your highness to commit faults which I shall prevent, for the simple reason that I am happy enough not to be a father; a thing on which I congratulate myself daily, when I see the misfortunes and stupidity of those who are."
"And what matters a head more or less?" cried the regent. "This De Chanlay will not kill me, when he knows it was I who liberated him."
"No; neither will he die from a few days in the Bastille; and there he must stay."
"And I tell you he shall leave it to-day."
"He must, for his own honor," said Dubois, as though the regent had not spoken; "for if he were to leave the Bastille to-day, as you wish, he would appear to his accomplices, who are now in the prison at Nantes, and whom I suppose you do not wish to liberate also, as a traitor and spy who has been pardoned for the information he has given."
The regent reflected.
"You are all alike," pursued Dubois, "you kings and reigning princes; a reason stupid enough, like all reasons of honor, such as I have just given, closes your mouth; but you will never understand true and important reasons of state. What does it matter to me or to France that Mademoiselle Helene de Chaverny, natural daughter of the regent, should weep for her lover, Monsieur Gaston de Chanlay? Ten thousand wives, ten thousand mothers, ten thousand daughters, may weep in one year for their sons, their husbands, their fathers, killed in your highness's service by the Spaniard who threaten you, who takes your gentleness for weakness, and who becomes emboldened by impunity. We know the plot; let us do it justice. M. de Chanlay—chief or agent of this plot, coming to Paris to assassinate you—do not deny it, no doubt he told you so himself—is the lover of your daughter; so much the worse—it is a misfortune which falls upon you, but may have fallen upon you before, and will again. I knew it all. I knew that he was beloved; I knew that he was called De Chanlay, and not De Livry; yes, I dissimulated, but it was to punish him exemplarily with his accomplices, because, it must be understood that the regent's head is not one of those targets which any one may aim at through excitement or ennui, and go away unpunished if they fail."
"Dubois, Dubois, I shall never sacrifice my daughter's life to save my own, and I should kill her in executing the chevalier; therefore no prison, no dungeon; let us spare the shadow of torture to him whom we cannot treat with entire justice; let us pardon completely; no half pardon, any more than half justice."
"Ah, yes; pardon, pardon; there it is at last; are you not tired of that word, monseigneur; are you not weary of harping eternally on one string?"
"This time, at least, it is a different thing, for it is not generosity. I call Heaven to witness that I should like to punish this man, who is more beloved as a lover than I as a father; and who takes from me my last and only daughter; but, in spite of myself, I stop, I can go no farther; Chanlay shall be set free."
"Chanlay shall be set free; yes, monseigneur; mon Dieu! who opposes it? Only it must be later, some days hence. What harm shall we do him? Diable! he will not die of a week in the Bastille; you shall have your son-in-law; be at peace; but do act so that our poor little government shall not be too much ridiculed. Remember that at this moment the affairs of the others are being looked into, and somewhat roughly too. Well, these others have also mistresses, wives, mothers. Do you busy yourself with them? No, you are not so mad. Think, then, of the ridicule if it were known that your daughter loved the man who was to stab you; the bastards would laugh for a month; it is enough to revive La Maintenon, who is dying, and make her live a year longer. Have patience, monseigneur; let the chevalier eat chicken and drink wine with De Launay. Pardieu! Richelieu does very well there; he is loved by another of your daughters, which did not prevent you from putting him in the Bastille."
"But," said the regent, "when he is in the Bastille, what will you do with him?"
"Oh, he only serves this little apprenticeship to make him your son-in-law. But, seriously, monseigneur, do you think of raising him to that honor?"
"Oh, mon Dieu! at this moment I think of nothing, Dubois, but that I do not want to make my poor Helene unhappy; and yet I really think that giving him to her as a husband is somewhat derogatory, though the De Chanlays are a good family."
"Do you know them, monseigneur? Parbleu! it only wanted that."
"I heard the name long ago, but I cannot remember on what occasion; we shall see; but, meanwhile, whatever you may say, one thing I have decided—he must not appear as a traitor; and remember, I will not have him maltreated."
"In that case he is well off with M. de Launay. But you do not know the Bastille, monseigneur. If you had ever tried it, you would not want a country house. Under the late king it was a prison—oh, yes, I grant that, but under the gentle reign of Philippe d'Orleans, it is a house of pleasure. Besides, at this moment, there is an excellent company there. There are fetes, balls, vocal concerts; they drink champagne to the health of the Duc de Maine and the king of Spain. It is you who pay, but they wish aloud that you may die, and your race become extinct. Pardieu! Monsieur de Chanlay will find some acquaintances there, and be as comfortable as a fish in the water. Ah, pity him, monseigneur, for he is much to be pitied, poor fellow!"
"Yes, yes," cried the duke, delighted; "and after the revelations in Bretagne we shall see."
"The revelations in Bretagne. Ah, pardieu! monseigneur, I shall be anxious to know what you will learn that the chevalier did not tell you. Do you not know enough yet, monseigneur? Peste! if it were me, I should know too much."
"But it is not you, abbe."
"Alas, unfortunately not, monseigneur, for if I were the Duc d'Orleans and regent, I would make myself cardinal. But do not let us speak of that, it will come in time, I hope; besides, I have found a way of managing the affair which troubles you."
"I distrust you, abbe. I warn you."
"Stay, monseigneur; you only love the chevalier because your daughter does?"
"But if the chevalier repaid her fidelity by ingratitude. Mon Dieu! the young woman is proud, monseigneur; she herself would give him up. That would be well played, I think."
"The chevalier cease to love Helene! impossible; she is an angel."
"Many angels have gone through that, monseigneur; besides, the Bastille does and undoes many things, and one soon becomes corrupted there, especially in the society he will find there."
"Well, we shall see, but not a step without my consent."
"Fear nothing, monseigneur. Will you now examine the papers from Nantes?"
"Yes, but first send me Madame Desroches."
Dubois rang and gave the regent's orders.
Ten minutes after Madame Desroches entered timidly; but instead of the storm she had expected, she received a smile and a hundred louis.
"I do not understand it," thought she; "after all, the young girl cannot be his daughter."
Our readers must now permit us to look backward, for we have (in following the principal persons of our history) neglected some others in Bretagne, who deserve some notice; besides, if we do not represent them as taking an active part in this tale, history is ready with her inflexible voice to contradict us; we must, therefore, for the present, submit to the exigencies of history.
Bretagne had, from the first, taken an active part in the movement of the legitimated bastards; this province, which had given pledges of fidelity to monarchical principles, and pushed them to exaggeration, if not to madness, since it preferred the adulterous offspring of a king to the interests of a kingdom, and since its love became a crime by calling in aid of the pretensions of those whom it recognized as its princes, enemies against whom Louis XIV. for sixty years, and France for two centuries had waged a war of extermination.
We have seen the list of the principal names which constituted this revolt; the regent had wittily said that it contained the head and tail; but he was mistaken—it was the head and body. The head was the council of the legitimated princes, the king of Spain, and his imbecile agent, the prince of Cellamare; the body was formed by those brave and clever men who were now in the Bastille; but the tail was now agitating in Bretagne among a people unaccustomed to the ways of a court, and it was a tail armed with stings like those of a scorpion, and which was the most to be feared.
The Bretagne chiefs, then, renewed the Chevalier de Rohan, under Louis XIV.; we say the Chevalier de Rohan, because to every conspiracy must be given the name of a chief.
Along with the prince, who was a conceited and commonplace man, and even before him, were two men, stronger than he; one in thought and the other in execution. These two men were Letreaumont, a Norman gentleman, and Affinius Vanden-Enden, a Dutch philosopher; Letreaumont wanted money, he was the arm; Affinius wanted a republic, he was the soul. This republic, moreover, he wanted inclosed in Louis XIV.'s kingdom, still further to annoy the great king—who hated republicans even at a distance—who had persecuted and destroyed the Pensioner of Holland, John de Witt, more cruel in this than the Prince of Orange, who, in declaring himself De Witt's enemy, revenged personal injuries, while Louis XIV. had received nothing but friendship and devotion from this great man.
Now Affinius wanted a republic in Normandy, and got the Chevalier de Rohan named Protector; the Bretons wished to revenge themselves for certain injuries their province had received under the regency, and they decreed it a republic, with the power of choosing a protector, even were he a Spaniard; but Monsieur de Maine had a good chance.
This is what passed in Bretagne.
The Bretons lent an ear to the first overtures of the Spaniards; they had no more cause for discontent than other provinces, but to them it seemed a capital opportunity for war, and they had no other aim. Richelieu had ruled them severely; they thought to emancipate themselves under Dubois, and they began by objecting to the administrators sent by the regent; a revolution always commences by a riot.
Montesquieu was appointed viceroy to hold assemblies, to hear the people's complaints, and to collect their money. The people complained plentifully, but would not pay, because they did not like the steward; this appeared a bad reason to Montesquieu, who was a man of the old regime.
"You cannot offer these complaints to his majesty," said he, "without appearing to rebel: pay first, and complain afterward; the king will listen to your sorrows, but not to your antipathies to a man honored by his choice."
Monsieur de Montaran, of whom the Bretons complained, gave no offense; but, in being intendant of the province, any other would have been as much disliked, and they persisted in their refusal to pay.
"Monsieur le Marechal," said their deputies, "your language might suit a general treating with a conquered place, but cannot be accepted by free and privileged men. We are neither enemies nor soldiers—we are citizens and masters at home. In compensation of a service which we ask, namely—that Monsieur de Montaran, whom we dislike, should be removed, we will pay the tax demanded; but if the court takes to itself the highest prize, we will keep our money, and bear as we best can the treasurer who displeases us."
Monsieur de Montesquieu, with a contemptuous smile, turned on his heel—the deputies did the same, and both retired with their original dignity.
But the marshal was willing to wait; he behaved himself as an able diplomatist, and thought that private reunions would set all right; but the Breton nobles were proud—indignant at their treatment, they appeared no more at the marshal's reception; and he, from contempt, changed to angry and foolish resolves. This was what the Spaniards had expected. Montesquieu, corresponding with the authorities at Nantes, Quimper, Vannes, and Rennes, wrote that he had to deal with rebels and mutineers, but that ten thousand of his soldiers should teach the Bretons politeness.
The states were held again; from the nobility to the people in Bretagne is but a step; a spark lights the whole; the citizens declared to M. de Montesquieu that if he had ten thousand men, Bretagne had a hundred thousand, who would teach his soldiers, with stones, forks and muskets, that they had better mind their own business, and that only.
The marshal assured himself of the truth of this assertion, and was quiet, leaving things as they were for a while; the nobility then made a formal and moderate complaint; but Dubois and the council of the regency treated it as a hostile manifesto, and used it as an instrument.
Montaran, Montesquieu, Pontcalec and Talhouet were the men really fighting among themselves. Pontcalec, a man of mind and power, joined the malcontents and encouraged the growth of the struggle.
There was no drawing back; the court, however, only saw the revolt, and did not suspect the Spanish affair. The Bretons, who were secretly undermining the regency, cried aloud, "No impost, no Montaran," to draw away suspicion from their anti-patriotic plots—but the event turned out against them. The regent—a skillful politician—guessed the plot without perceiving it; he thought that this local veil hid some other phantom, and he tore off the veil. He withdrew Montaran, and then the conspirators were unmasked; all the others were content and quiet, they alone remained in arms.
Then Pontcalec and his friends formed the plot we are acquainted with, and used violent means to attain their ends.
Spain was watching; Alberoni, beaten by Dubois in the affair of Cellamare, waited his revenge, and all the treasures prepared for the plot of Paris were now sent to Bretagne; but it was late—he did not believe it, and his agents deceived him; he thought it was possible to recommence the war, but then France made war on Spain. He thought it possible to kill the regent; but he, and not Chanlay, should do what no one would then recommend to the most cruel enemy of France. Alberoni reckoned on the arrival of a Spanish vessel full of arms and money, and this ship did not arrive; he waited for news of Chanlay; it was La Jonquiere who wrote—and what a La Jonquiere!
One evening Pontcalec and his friends had met in a little room near the old castle; their countenances were sad and irresolute—Du Couedic announced that he had received a note recommending them to take flight.
"I have a similar one to show you," said Montlouis; "it was slid under my glass at table, and my wife, who expected nothing, was frightened."
"I neither expect nor fear anything," said Talhouet; "the province is calm, the news from Paris is good; every day the regent liberates some one of those imprisoned for the Spanish affair."
"And I, gentlemen," said Pontcalec, "must tell you of a strange communication I have received to-day. Show me your note, Du Couedic, and you yours, Montlouis; perhaps it is the same writing, and is a snare for us."
"I do not think so, for if they wish us to leave this, it is to escape some danger; we have nothing to fear for our reputation, for that is not at stake. The affairs of Bretagne are known to the world: your brother, Talhouet, and your cousin have fled to Spain: Solduc, Rohan, Sanbilly the counselor, have all disappeared, yet their flight was supposed to be natural, and from some simple cause of discontent. I confess, if the advice be repeated, I shall fly."
"We have nothing to fear, my friends," said Pontcalec, "our affairs were never more prosperous. See, the court has no suspicion, or we should have been molested already. La Jonquiere wrote yesterday; he announces that De Chanlay is starting for La Muette, where the regent lives as a private gentleman, without guards, without fear."——"Yet you are uneasy," said Du Couedic.
"I confess it, but not for the reason you suppose."
"What is it, then?"
"A personal matter."
"Of your own!"
"Yes, and I could not confide it to more devoted friends, or any who know me better. If ever I were molested—if ever I had the alternative of remaining or of flying to escape a danger, I should remain; do you know why?"
"I am afraid."
"You, Pontcalec?—afraid! What do you mean by these words, after those you have just uttered?"
"Mon Dieu! yes, my friend; the ocean is our safeguard; we could find safety on board one of those vessels which cruise on the Loire from Paimboeuf to Saint Nazaire; but what is safety to you is certain death to me."
"I do not understand you," said Talhouet.
"You alarm me," said Montlouis.
"Listen, then, my friends," said Pontcalec.
And he began, in the midst of the most scrupulous attention, the following recital, for they knew that if Pontcalec were afraid there must be a good cause.
THE SORCERESS OF SAVERNAY.
"I was ten years old, and I lived at Pontcalec, in the midst of woods, when one day my uncle Crysogon, my father, and I, resolved to have a rabbit hunt in a warren at five or six miles distance, found, seated on the heath, a woman reading. So few of our peasants could read that we were surprised. We stopped and looked at her—I see her now, as though it were yesterday, though it is nearly twenty years ago. She wore the dark costume of our Breton women, with the usual white head-dress, and she was seated on a large tuft of broom in blossom, which she had been cutting.
"My father was mounted on a beautiful bay horse, with a gold-colored mane, my uncle on a gray horse, young and ardent, and I rode one of those little white ponies, which to strength and activity unite the docility of a sheep.
"The woman looked up from her book at the group before her, and seeing me firm in my stirrups near my father, who seemed proud of me, she rose all at once, and approaching me, said—
"'What a pity!'
"'What do you mean?' asked my father.
"'It means that I do not like that white pony,' replied the woman.
"'And why not?'
"'Because he will bring misfortune to your child, Sire de Pontcalec.'
"We Bretons are superstitious, you know; so that even my father, who, you know, Montlouis, was an enlightened as well as a brave man, stopped, in spite of my uncle Crysogon, who urged us to proceed, and trembling at the idea of danger to me, he added—
"'Yet the pony is gentle, my good woman, and Clement rides well for his age. I have often ridden the little animal in the park, and its paces are perfect.'
"'I do not know anything of that, Marquis de Guer,' replied the woman, 'but the little white horse will injure your son Clement, I tell you.'
"'And how can you know this?'
"'I see it,' replied she, in a strange voice.
"'When?' asked my father.
"My father turned pale, and I was afraid; but my uncle Crysogon, who had been in the Dutch wars, and had become somewhat hardened by combating the Huguenots, laughed till he nearly fell from his horse.