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The Regent's Daughter
by Alexandre Dumas (Pere)
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As he began to write, Mademoiselle de Launay made a signal that she had something to send him; it was a letter. Gaston read:

"Our friend—for you are our friend, and now we have no secrets from you—tell Dumesnil of the famous hope I conceived after the word that Herment said to me."

Gaston's heart beat. Might not he also find in this letter some ground for hope? Had they not said that his fate could not be separated from the others? It is true that those who had said so did not know of his conspiracy. He read on:

"An hour ago the doctor came, accompanied by Maison-Rouge; from the latter's manner I drew the most favorable augury; however, when I asked to speak in private, or, at least, to whisper to the doctor, he made some difficulties, which I removed with a smile. 'At least,' said he, 'no one must know that I am out of hearing. I should lose my place if it were known how weak I am.' This tone of love and interest combined seemed to me so grotesque that I laughingly promised him what he asked; you see how I keep my promise. He went to a distance, and Herment approached. Then commenced a dialogue, wherein the gestures meant one thing while the voice declared another. 'You have good friends,' said Herment; 'friends in good places, who are greatly interested for you.' I naturally thought of Madame de Maine. 'Ah, monsieur,' I cried, 'have you anything for me?' 'Hush,' said Herment. Judge how my heart beat."

Gaston felt his own beating vigorously.

"'And what have you to give me?' 'Oh, nothing myself: but you will have the object agreed upon.' 'But what is the object? Speak!' 'The beds in the Bastille are known to be bad, and particularly badly covered, and I am commissioned to offer you—' 'What?' 'A coverlet.' I burst out laughing; the devotion of my friends was shown in preventing my catching cold. 'My dear Monsieur Herment,' said I, 'in my present position it would be better if my friends were to occupy themselves less about my feet and more about my head.' 'It is a female friend,' said he. 'Who is it?' 'Mademoiselle de Charolais,' said Herment, lowering his voice, so that I could scarcely hear him. Then he withdrew. I, my dear chevalier, am now waiting for Mademoiselle de Charolais's coverlet. Tell this to Dumesnil; it will make him laugh."

Gaston sighed. The gayety of those around him weighed heavily on his heart. It was a new torture which they had invented, in forbidding him to confide his fate to any one; it seemed to him that he should have found consolation in the tears of his two neighbors. He had not the courage to read the letter to Dumesnil, so he passed it on to him, and a moment after heard shouts of laughter.

At this moment Gaston was saying adieu to Helene.

After passing a part of the night in writing, he slept; at five-and-twenty one must sleep, even if it be just before death.

In the morning Gaston's breakfast was brought at the usual hour, but he remarked that it was more recherche than usual; he smiled at this attention, and as he was finishing, the governor entered.

Gaston with a rapid glance interrogated his expression, which was calm and courteous as ever. Was he also ignorant of the sentence, or was he wearing a mask?

"Monsieur," said he, "will you take the trouble to descend to the council-chamber?"

Gaston rose. He seemed to hear a buzzing in his ears, for to a man condemned to death every injunction which he does not understand is a torture.

"May I know the reason, monsieur?" asked Gaston, in so calm a tone that it was impossible to detect his real emotion.

"To receive a visit," replied the governor. "Yesterday, after the interrogatory, did you not ask the lieutenant of police to be allowed to see some one?"

Gaston started.

"And is it that person?" asked he.

"Yes, monsieur."

Gaston had asked for two persons; the governor only announced one; which one was it? He had not the courage to ask, and silently followed the governor.

De Launay led Gaston to the council-chamber; on entering, he cast an eager glance around, but the room was empty.

"Remain here, monsieur; the person whom you expect is coming," said the governor, who bowed and went out.

Gaston ran to the window, which was barred, and looked out—there was a sentinel before it.

The door opened, and Gaston, turning round, faced the Duc d'Olivares.

"Ah, monsieur," cried he, "how good of you to come at the request of a poor prisoner."

"It was a duty," replied the duke, "besides, I had to thank you."

"Me!" said Gaston, astonished; "what have I done to merit your excellency's thanks?"

"You have been interrogated, taken to the torture-chamber, given to understand that you might save yourself by naming your accomplices, and yet you kept silence."

"I made an engagement and kept it: that does not deserve any thanks, monseigneur."

"And now, monsieur, tell me if I can serve you in anything."

"First, tell me about yourself; have you been molested, monseigneur?"

"Not at all: and if all the Bretons are as discreet as you, I doubt not that my name will never be mentioned in these unfortunate debates."

"Oh, I will answer for them as for myself, monseigneur; but can you answer for La Jonquiere?"

"La Jonquiere!" repeated the duke.

"Yes. Do you not know that he is arrested?"

"Yes; I heard something of it."

"Well, I ask you, monseigneur, what you think of him?"

"I can tell you nothing, except that he has my confidence."

"If so, he must be worthy of it, monseigneur. That is all I wished to know."

"Then come to the request you had to make."

"Have you seen the young girl I brought to your house?"

"Mademoiselle Helene de Chaverny? Yes."

"Well, monsieur, I had not time to tell you then, but I tell you now, that I have loved her for a year. The dream of that year has been to consecrate my life to her happiness. I say the dream, monseigneur; for, on awaking, I saw that all hope of happiness was denied me; and yet, to give this young girl a name, a position, a fortune, at the moment of my arrest, she was about to become my wife."

"Without the knowledge of her parents or the consent of her family?" cried the duke.

"She had neither, monseigneur; and was probably about to be sold to some nobleman when she left the person who had been set to watch her."

"But who informed you that Mademoiselle Helene de Chaverny was to be the victim of a shameful bargain?"

"What she herself told me of a pretended father, who concealed himself; of diamonds which had been offered to her. Then, do you know where I found her, monseigneur? In one of those houses destined to the pleasures of our roues. She! an angel of innocence and purity. In short, monseigneur, this young girl fled with me, in spite of the cries of her duenna, in broad daylight, and in the face of the servants who surrounded her. She stayed two hours alone with me; and, though she is as pure as on the day when she received her mother's first kiss, she is not the less compromised. I wish this projected marriage to take place."

"In your situation, monsieur?"

"A still greater reason."

"But perhaps you may deceive yourself as to the punishment reserved for you!"

"It is probably the same which, under similar circumstances, was inflicted on the Count de Chalais, the Marquis de Cinq-Mars, and the Chevalier Louis de Rohan."

"Then you are prepared even for death, monsieur?"

"I prepared for it from the day I joined the conspiracy: the conspirator's only excuse is, that, while robbing others of their lives, he risks his own."

"And what will this young girl gain by the marriage?"

"Monseigneur, though not rich, I have some fortune; she is poor; I have a name, and she has none. I would leave her my name and fortune; and with that intention I have already petitioned the king that my goods may not be confiscated, nor my name declared infamous. Were it known for what reason I ask this, it would doubtless be granted; if I die without making her my wife, she will be supposed to be my mistress, and will be dishonored, lost, and there will be no future for her. If, on the contrary, by your protection, or that of your friends (and that protection I earnestly implore), we are united, no one can reproach her—the blood which flows for a political offense does not disgrace a family—no shame will fall on my widow; and if she cannot be happy, she will at least be independent and respected. This is the favor which I have to ask, monseigneur; is it in your power to obtain it for me?"

The duke went to the door and struck three blows: Maison-Rouge appeared.

"Ask M. de Launay, from me," said the duke, "whether the young girl who is at the door in my carriage may come in? Her visit, as he knows, is authorized. You will have the kindness to conduct her here."

"What! monseigneur; Helene is here—at the door?"

"Were you not promised that she should come?"

"Yes; but seeing you alone, I lost all hope."

"I wished to see you first, thinking that you might have many things to say which you would not wish her to hear; for I know all."

"You know all! What do you mean?"

"I know that you were taken to the arsenal yesterday!"

"Monseigneur!"

"I know that you found D'Argenson there, and that he read your sentence."

"Mon Dieu!"

"I know that you are condemned to death, and that you were bound not to speak of it to any one."

"Oh, monseigneur, silence! One word of this would kill Helene."

"Be easy, monsieur; but let us see; is there no way of avoiding this execution?"

"Days would be necessary to prepare and execute a plan of escape, and I scarcely have hours."

"I do not speak of escape; I ask if you have no excuse to give for your crime?"

"My crime!" cried Gaston, astonished to hear his accomplice use such a word.

"Yes," replied the duke: "you know that men stigmatize murder with this name under all circumstances; but posterity often judges differently, and sometimes calls it a grand deed."

"I have no excuse to give, monseigneur, except that I believe the death of the regent to be necessary to the salvation of France."

"Yes," replied the duke, smiling; "but you will see that that is scarcely the excuse to offer to Philippe d'Orleans. I wanted something personal. Political enemy of the regent's as I am, I know that he is not considered a bad man. Men say that he is merciful, and that there have been no executions during his reign."

"You forget Count Horn."

"He was an assassin."

"And what am I?"

"There is this difference: Count Horn murdered in order to rob."

"I neither can nor will ask anything of the regent," said Gaston.

"Not you, personally, I know; but your friends. If they had a plausible pretense to offer, perhaps the prince himself might pardon you."

"I have none, monseigneur."

"It is impossible, monsieur—permit me to say so. A resolution such as you have taken must proceed from a sentiment of some kind—either of hatred or vengeance. And stay; I remember you told La Jonquiere, who repeated it to me, that there was a family feud: tell me the cause."

"It is useless, monseigneur, to tire you with that; it would not interest you."

"Never mind, tell it me."

"Well, the regent killed my brother."

"The regent killed your brother! how so? it is—impossible, Monsieur de Gaston," said the Duc d'Olivares.

"Yes, killed; if from the effect we go to the cause."

"Explain yourself; how could the regent do this?"

"My brother, who, being fifteen years of age when my father died, three months before my birth, stood to me in the place of that father, and of mother, who died when I was still in the cradle—my brother loved a young girl who was brought up in a convent by the orders of the prince."

"Do you know in what convent?"

"No: I only know that it was at Paris."

The duke murmured some words which Gaston could not hear.

"My brother, a relation of the abbess, had seen this young girl and asked her hand in marriage. The prince's consent to this union had been asked, and he made a pretense of granting it, when this young girl, seduced by her so-called protector, suddenly disappeared. For three months my brother hoped to find her, but all his searches were vain; he found no trace of her, and in despair he sought death in the battle of Ramillies."

"And what was the name of this girl!"

"No one ever knew, monseigneur; to speak her name was to dishonor it."

"It was doubtless she," murmured the duke, "it was Helene's mother; and your brother was called—?" added he aloud.

"Olivier de Chanlay, monseigneur."

"Olivier de Chanlay!" repeated the duke, in a low voice. "I knew the name of De Chanlay was not strange to me." Then, aloud, "Continue, monsieur; I listen to you."

"You do not know what a family hatred is in a province like ours. I had lavished upon my brother all the love which would have fallen to the share of my father and mother, and now I suddenly found myself alone in the world. I grew up in isolation of heart, and in the hope of revenge; I grew up among people who were constantly repeating, 'It was the Duc d'Orleans who killed your brother.' Then the duke became regent, the Breton league was therefore organized. I was one of the first to join it. You know the rest. You see that there is nothing in all this which has any interest for your excellency."

"You mistake, monsieur; unfortunately, the regent has to reproach himself with many such faults."

"You see, therefore," said Gaston, "that my destiny must be accomplished, and that I can ask nothing of this man."

"You are right, monsieur; whatever is done must be done without you."

At this moment the door opened and Maison-Rouge appeared.

"Well, monsieur?" asked the duke.

"The governor has an order from the lieutenant of police to admit Mademoiselle Helene de Chaverny; shall I bring her here?"

"Monseigneur," said Gaston, looking at the duke with an air of entreaty.

"Yes, monsieur," said he, "I understand—grief and love do not need witnesses—I will come back to fetch Mademoiselle Helene."

"The permission is for half an hour," said Maison-Rouge.

"Then at the end of that time I will return," said the duke, and bowing to Gaston, he went out.

An instant after the door opened again, and Helene appeared, trembling, and questioning Maison-Rouge, but he retired without replying.

Helene looked round and saw Gaston, and for a few minutes all their sorrows were forgotten in a close and passionate embrace. "And now—" cried Helene, her face bathed in tears.

"Well! and now?" asked Gaston.

"Alas! to see you here—in prison," murmured Helene, with an air of terror, "here, where I dare not speak freely, where we may be watched—overheard."

"Do not complain, Helene, for this is an exception in our favor; a prisoner is never allowed to press one who is dear to him to his heart; the visitor generally stands against that wall, the prisoner against this, a soldier is placed between, and the conversation must be fixed beforehand."

"To whom do we owe this favor?"

"Doubtless to the regent; for yesterday, when I asked permission of Monsieur d'Argenson, he said that it was beyond his power to grant, and that he must refer it to the regent."

"But now that I see you again, Gaston, tell me all that has passed in this age of tears and suffering. Ah! tell me; but my presentiments did not deceive me; you were conspiring—do not deny it—I know it."

"Yes; Helene, you know that we Bretons are constant both in our loves and our hatreds. A league was organized in Bretagne, in which all our nobles took part—could I act differently from my brothers? I ask you, Helene, could I, or ought I to have done so? Would you not have despised me, if, when you had seen all Bretagne under arms, I alone had been inactive—a whip in my hand while others held the sword?"

"Oh! yes; you are right; but why did you not remain in Bretagne with the others?"

"The others are arrested also, Helene."

"Then you have been denounced—betrayed."

"Probably—but sit down, Helene; now that we are alone, let me look at you, and tell you that you are beautiful, that I love you. How have you been in my absence—has the duke—"

"Oh! if you only knew how good he is to me; every evening he comes to see me, and his care and attention—"

"And," said Gaston, who thought of the suggestion of the false La Jonquiere, "nothing suspicious in those attentions?"

"What do you mean, Gaston?"

"That the duke is still young, and that, as I told you just now, you are beautiful."

"Oh, Heaven! no! Gaston; this time there is not a shadow of doubt; and when he was there near me—as near as you are now—there were moments when it seemed as if I had found my father."

"Poor child!"

"Yes, by a strange chance, for which I cannot account, there is a resemblance between the duke's voice and that of the man who came to see me at Rambouillet—it struck me at once."

"You think so?" said Gaston, in an abstracted tone.

"What are you thinking of, Gaston?" asked Helene; "you seem scarcely to hear what I am saying to you."

"Helene, every word you speak goes to the inmost depth of my heart."

"You are uneasy, I understand. To conspire is to stake your life; but be easy, Gaston—I have told the duke that if you die I shall die too."

Gaston started.

"You are an angel," said he.

"Oh, my God!" cried poor Helene, "how horrible to know that the man I love runs a danger—all the more terrible for being uncertain; to feel that I am powerless to aid him, and that I can only shed tears when I would give my life to save him."

Gaston's face lit up with a flush of joy; it was the first time that he had ever heard such words from the lips of his beloved; and under the influence of an idea which had been occupying him for some minutes—

"Yes, dearest," said he, taking her hand, "you can do much for me."

"What can I do?"

"You can become my wife."

Helene started.

"I your wife, Gaston?" cried she.

"Yes, Helene; this plan, formed in our liberty, may be executed in captivity. Helene, my wife before God and man, in this world and the next, for time and for eternity. You can do this for me, Helene, and am I not right in saying that you can do much?"

"Gaston," said she, looking at him fixedly, "you are hiding something from me."

It was Gaston's turn to start now.

"I!" said he, "what should I conceal from you?"

"You told me you saw M. d'Argenson yesterday?"

"Well, what then?"

"Well, Gaston," said Helene, turning pale, "you are condemned."

Gaston took a sudden resolution.

"Yes," said he, "I am condemned to exile; and, egotist as I am, I would bind you to me by indissoluble ties before I leave France."

"Is that the truth, Gaston?"

"Yes; have you the courage to be my wife, Helene? to be exiled with me?"

"Can you ask it, Gaston?" said she, her eyes lighted with enthusiasm, "exile—I thank thee, my God—I, who would have accepted an eternal prison with you, and have thought myself blessed—I may accompany, follow you? Oh, this condemnation is, indeed, a joy after what we feared! Gaston, Gaston, at length we shall be happy."

"Yes, Helene," said Gaston, with an effort.

"Picture my happiness," cried Helene; "to me France is the country where you are; your love is the only country I desire. I know I shall have to teach you to forget Bretagne, your friends, and your dreams of the future; but I will love you, so that it will be easy for you to forget them."

Gaston could do nothing but cover her hands with kisses.

"Is the place of your exile fixed?" said she; "tell me, when do you go? shall we go together?"

"My Helene," replied Gaston, "it is impossible; we must be separated for a time. I shall be taken to the frontier of France—I do not as yet know, which—and set free. Once out of the kingdom, you shall rejoin me."

"Oh, better than that, Gaston—better than that. By means of the duke I will discover the place of your exile, and instead of joining you there, I will be there to meet you. As you step from the carriage which brings you, you shall find me waiting to soften the pain of your adieux to France; and then, death alone is irretrievable; later, the king may pardon you; later still, and the action punished to-day may be looked upon as a deed to be rewarded. Then we will return; then nothing need keep us from Bretagne, the cradle of our love, the paradise of our memories. Oh!" continued she, in an accent of mingled love and impatience, "tell me, Gaston, that you share my hopes, that you are content, that you are happy."

"Yes, Helene, I now am happy, indeed; for now—and only now—I know by what an angel I am beloved. Yes, dearest, one hour of such love as yours, and then death would be better than a whole life with the love of any other."

"Well!" exclaimed Helene, her whole mind and soul earnestly fixed on the new future which was opening before her, "what will they do? Will they let me see you again before your departure? When and how shall we meet next? Shall you receive my letters? Can you reply to them? What hour to-morrow may I come?"

"They have almost promised me that our marriage shall take place this evening or to-morrow morning."

"What! here in a prison," said Helene, shuddering involuntarily.

"Wherever it may be, Helene, it will bind us together for the rest of our lives."

"But suppose they do not keep their promise to you; suppose they make you set out before I have seen you?"

"Alas!" said Gaston, with a bursting heart, "that is possible, Helene, and it is that I dread."

"Oh, mon Dieu! do you think your departure is so near?"

"You know, Helene, that prisoners are not their own masters; they may be removed at any moment."

"Oh, let them come—let them come; the sooner you are free, the sooner we shall be reunited. It is not necessary that I should be your wife, in order to follow and join you. Do I not know my Gaston's honor, and from this day I look upon him as my husband before God. Oh, go proudly, Gaston, for while these thick and gloomy walls surround you I tremble for your life. Go, and in a week we shall be reunited; reunited, with no separation to threaten us, no one to act as a spy on us—reunited forever."

The door opened.

"Great Heaven, already!" said Helene.

"Madame," said the lieutenant, "the time has elapsed."

"Helene," said Gaston, seizing the young girl's hand, with a nervous trembling which he could not master.

"What is it?" cried she, watching him with terror. "Good Heaven! you are as pale as marble."

"It is nothing," said he, forcing himself to be calm; "indeed, it is nothing," and he kissed her hand.

"Till to-morrow, Gaston."

"To-morrow—yes."

The duke appeared at the door; Gaston ran to him.

"Monseigneur," said he, "do all in your power to obtain permission for her to become my wife; but if that be impossible, swear to me that she shall be your daughter."

The duke pressed Gaston's hand; he was so affected that he could not speak.

Helene approached. Gaston was silent, fearing she might overhear.

He held out his hand to Helene, who presented her forehead to him, while silent tears rolled down her cheeks; Gaston closed his eyes, that the sight of her tears might not call up his own.

At length they must part. They exchanged one last lingering glance, and the duke pressed Gaston's hand.

How strange was this sympathy between two men, one of whom had come so far for the sole purpose of killing the other.

The door closed, and Gaston sank down on a seat, utterly broken and exhausted.

In ten minutes the governor entered; he came to conduct Gaston back to his own room.

Gaston followed him silently, and when asked if there was anything he wanted, he mournfully shook his head.

At night Mademoiselle de Launay signaled that she had something to communicate.

Gaston opened the window, and received a letter inclosing another.

The first was for himself.

He read:

"DEAR NEIGHBOR—The coverlid was not so contemptible as I supposed; it contained a paper on which was written the word already spoken by Herment—'Hope!' It also inclosed this letter for M. de Richelieu; send it to Dumesnil, who will pass it to the duke.

"Your servant,

"DE LAUNAY."

"Alas!" thought Gaston, "they will miss me when I am gone," and he called Dumesnil, to whom he passed the letter.



CHAPTER XXXI.

STATE AFFAIRS AND FAMILY AFFAIRS.

On leaving the Bastille, the duke took Helene home, promising to come and see her as usual in the evening; a promise which Helene would have estimated all the more highly if she had known that his highness had a bal masque at Monceaux.

On re-entering the Palais Royal the duke asked for Dubois, and was told he was in his study, working. The duke entered without allowing himself to be announced. Dubois was so busy that he did not hear the duke, who advanced and looked over his shoulder, to see what was occupying him so intently.

He was writing down names, with notes by the side of each.

"What are you doing there, abbe?" asked the regent.

"Ah! monseigneur, it is you; pardon; I did not hear you."

"I asked what you were doing?"

"Signing the burial tickets for our Breton friends."

"But their fate is not yet decided, and the sentence of the commission—"

"I know it," said Dubois.

"Is it given, then?"

"No, but I dictated it before they went."

"Do you know that your conduct is odious?"

"Truly, monseigneur, you are insupportable. Manage your family affairs, and leave state affairs to me."

"Family affairs!"

"Ah! as to those, I hope you are satisfied with me, or you would indeed be difficult to please. You recommend to me M. de Chanlay, and on your recommendation I make it a rose-water Bastille to him; sumptuous repasts, a charming governor. I let him pierce holes in your floors, and spoil your walls, all which will cost us a great deal to repair. Since his entrance, it is quite a fete. Dumesnil talks all day through his chimney, Mademoiselle de Launay fishes with a line through her window, Pompadour drinks champagne. There is nothing to be said to all this: these are your family affairs; but in Bretagne you have nothing to see, and I forbid you to look, monseigneur, unless you have a few more unknown daughters there, which is possible."

"Dubois! scoundrel!"

"Ah! you think when you have said 'Dubois,' and added 'scoundrel' to my name, you have done everything. Well, scoundrel as much as you please; meanwhile, but for the scoundrel you would have been assassinated."

"Well, what then?"

"What then! Hear the statesman! Well, then, I should be hanged, perhaps, which is a consideration; then Madame de Maintenon would be regent of France! What a joke! What then, indeed! To think that a philosophic prince should utter such naivetes! Oh, Marcus Aurelius! was it not he who said, 'Populos esse demum felices si reges philosophi forent, aut philosophi reges?' Here is a sample."

Dubois still wrote on.

"Dubois! you do not know this young man."

"What young man?"

"The chevalier."

"Really! you shall present him to me when he is your son-in-law."

"That will be to-morrow, Dubois."

The abbe looked round in astonishment, and looking at the regent, with his little eyes as wide open as possible—

"Ah, monseigneur, are you mad?" he said.

"No, but he is an honorable man, and you know that they are rare."

"Honorable man! Ah, you have a strange idea of honor."

"Yes; I believe that we differ in our ideas of it."

"What has this honorable man done! Has he poisoned the dagger with which he meant to assassinate you? for then he would be more than an honorable man, he would be a saint. We have already St. Jacques Clement, St. Ravaillac; St. Gaston is wanting in the calendar. Quick, quick, monseigneur! you who will not ask the pope to give a cardinal's hat to your minister, ask him to canonize your assassin; and for the first time in your life you would be logical."

"Dubois, I tell you there are few capable of doing what this young man has done."

"Peste! that is lucky; if there were ten in France I should certainly resign."

"I do not speak of what he wished to do, but of what he has done."

"Well, what has he done? I should like to be edified."

"First, he kept his oath to D'Argenson."

"I doubt it not, he is faithful to his word; and but for me would have kept his word also with Pontcalec, Talhouet, etc."

"Yes, but one was more difficult than the other. He had sworn not to mention his sentence to any one, and he did not speak of it to his mistress."

"Nor to you?"

"He spoke of it to me, because I told him that I knew it. He forbade me to ask anything of the regent, desiring, he said, but one favor."

"And that one?"

"To marry Helene, in order to leave her a fortune and a name."

"Good; he wants to leave your daughter a fortune and a name; he is polite, at least."

"Do you forget that this is a secret from him?"

"Who knows?"

"Dubois, I do not know in what your hands were steeped the day you were born, but I know that you sully everything you touch."

"Except conspirators, monseigneur, for it seems to me that there, on the contrary, I purify. Look at those of Cellamare, how all that affair was cleared out; Dubois here, Dubois there, I hope the apothecary has properly purged France from Spain. Well, it shall be the same with Olivares as with Cellamare. There is now only Bretagne congested; a good dose, and all will be right."

"Dubois, you would joke with the Gospel."

"Pardieu! I began by that."

The regent rose.

"Come, monseigneur, I was wrong; I forgot you were fasting; let us hear the end of this story."

"The end is that I promised to ask this favor from the regent, and that the regent will grant it."

"The regent will commit a folly."

"No, he will only repair a fault."

"Ah, now you find you have a reparation to make to M. de Chanlay."

"Not to him, but to his brother."

"Still better. What have you done to his brother?"

"I took from him the woman he loved."

"Who?"——"Helene's mother."

"Well, that time you were wrong; for if you had let her alone we should not have had all this tiresome affair on our hands."

"But we have it, and must now get out of it as well as possible."

"Just what I am working at: and when is the marriage to take place?"

"To-morrow."

"In the chapel of the Palais Royal? You shall dress in the costume of a knight of the order; you shall extend both hands over your son-in-law's head—one more than he meant to have held over you—it will be very affecting."

"No, abbe, it shall not be thus; they shall be married in the Bastille, and I shall be in the chapel where they cannot see me."

"Well, monseigneur, I should like to be with you. I should like to see the ceremony; I believe these kind of things are very touching."

"No, you would be in the way, and your ugly face would betray my incognito."

"Your handsome face is still more easy to recognize, monseigneur," said Dubois, bowing; "there are portraits of Henry the Fourth and Louis the Fourteenth in the Bastille."

"You flatter me."

"Are you going away, monseigneur?"

"Yes, I have an appointment with De Launay."

"The governor of the Bastille?"

"Yes."

"Go, monseigneur, go."

"Shall I see you to-night at Morceaux?"

"Perhaps."

"Have you a disguise?"

"I have La Jonquiere's dress."

"Oh! that is only fit for the Rue du Bac."

"Monseigneur forgets the Bastille, where it has had some success."

"Well, adieu, abbe."

"Adieu, monseigneur."

When Dubois was left alone he appeared to take some sudden resolution. He rang the bell, and a servant entered.

"M. de Launay is coming to the regent, watch him, and bring him here afterward."

The servant retired without a reply, and Dubois resumed his work.

Half an hour afterward the door opened, and the servant announced De Launay. Dubois gave him a note.

"Read that," said he; "I give you written instructions, that there may be no pretext for neglecting them."

"Ah, monseigneur," said De Launay, "you would ruin me.".

"How so?"

"To-morrow when it becomes known."

"Who will tell it? will you?"

"No, but monseigneur—"

"Will be enchanted; I answer for him."

"A governor of the Bastille!"

"Do you care to retain the title?"

"Certainly."

"Then do as I tell you."

"'Tis hard, however, to close one's eyes and ears."

"My dear De Launay, go and pay a visit to Dumesnil's chimney and Pompadour's ceiling."

"Is it possible? You tell me of things I was not at all aware of."

"A proof that I know better than you what goes on in the Bastille; and if I were to speak of some things you do know, you would be still more surprised."

"What could you tell me?"

"That a week ago one of the officers of the Bastille, and an important one too, received fifty thousand francs to let two women pass with—"

"Monsieur, they were—"

"I know who they were, what they went for, and what they did. They were Mademoiselle de Valois and Mademoiselle de Charolais; they went to see the Duc de Richelieu, and they eat bon-bons till midnight in the Tour du Coin, where they intend to pay another visit to-morrow, as they have already announced to M. de Richelieu."

De Launay turned pale.

"Well," continued Dubois, "do you think if I told these kind of things to the regent, who is, as you know, greedy of scandal, that a certain M. de Launay would be long governor of the Bastille? But I shall not say a word, for we must help each other."

"I am at your orders, monsieur."

"Then I shall find everything ready?"

"I promise you; but not a word to monseigneur."

"That is right, M. de Launay. Adieu!"

"Good," said Dubois, when he was gone; "and now, monseigneur, when you want to marry your daughter to-morrow there shall be only one thing missing—your son-in-law."

* * * * *

As Gaston passed on the letter to Dumesnil he heard steps in the corridor, and, hastily signing to the chevalier not to speak, he put out the light and began to undress. The governor entered. As it was not his custom to visit his prisoners at this hour, Gaston saw him with alarm, and he noticed that as M. de Launay placed his lamp on the table his hand trembled. The turnkeys withdrew, but the prisoner saw two soldiers at the door.

"Chevalier," said the governor, "you told me to treat you as a man—learn that you were condemned yesterday."

"And you have come to tell me," said Gaston, who always gained courage in the face of danger, "that the hour of my execution is arrived."

"No, monsieur, but it approaches."

"When will it be?"

"May I tell you the truth, chevalier?"

"I shall be most grateful to you."

"To-morrow, at break of day."

"Where?"

"In the yard of the Bastille."

"Thank you; I had hoped, however, that before I died I might have been the husband of the young girl who was here yesterday."

"Did M. d'Argenson promise you this?"

"No, but he promised to ask the king."

"The king may have refused."

"Does he never grant such favors?"

"'Tis rare, monsieur, but not without a precedent."

"I am a Christian," said Gaston; "I hope I shall be allowed a confessor."

"He is here."

"May I see him?"

"Directly; at present he is with your accomplice!"

"My accomplice! who?"

"La Jonquiere, who will be executed with you."

"And I had suspected him!" said Gaston.

"Chevalier, you are young to die," said the governor.

"Death does not count years: God bids it strike and it obeys."

"But if one can avert the blow, it is almost a crime not to do so."

"What do you mean? I do not understand."

"I told you that M. d'Argenson gave hopes."

"Enough, monsieur, I have nothing to confess."

At this moment the major knocked at the door and exchanged some words with the governor.

"Monsieur," said the latter, "Captain la Jonquiere wishes to see you once more."

"And you refuse it?" said Gaston, with a slight ironical smile.

"On the contrary, I grant it, in the hope that he will be more reasonable than you, and that he wishes to consult you as to making confessions."

"If that be his intention, tell him I refuse to come."

"I know nothing of it, monsieur; perhaps he only wishes once again to see his companion in misfortune."

"In that case, monsieur, I consent."

"Follow me, then."

They found the captain lying on the bed with his clothes in rags.

"I thought the almoner of the Bastille was with you?" said M. de Launay.

"He was, but I sent him away."

"Why so?"

"Because I do not like Jesuits; do you think, morbleu, that I cannot die properly without a priest?"

"To die properly, monsieur, is not to die bravely, but as a Christian."

"If I had wanted a sermon, I would have kept the priest, but I wanted M. de Chanlay."

"He is here, monsieur; I refuse nothing to those who have nothing to hope."

"Ah! chevalier, are you there?" said La Jonquiere, turning round; "you are welcome."

"Explain," said Gaston; "I see with sorrow that you refuse the consolations of religion."

"You also! if you say another word, I declare I will turn Huguenot."

"Pardon, captain, but I thought it my duty to advise you to do what I shall do myself."

"I bear you no ill-will, chevalier; if I were a minister, I would proclaim religious liberty. Now, M. de Launay," continued he, "you understand that as the chevalier and I are about to undertake a long tete-a-tete journey, we have some things to talk over together first."

"I will retire. Chevalier, you have an hour to remain here."

"Thank you, monsieur," said Gaston.

"Well?" said the captain, when they were alone.

"Well," said Gaston, "you were right."

"Yes; but I am exactly like the man who went round Jerusalem crying out 'Woe!' for seven days, and the eighth day a stone thrown from the walls struck him and killed him."

"Yes, I know that we are to die together."

"Which annoys you a little; does it not?"

"Very much, for I had reason to cling to life."

"Every one has."

"But I above all."

"Then I only know one way."

"Make revelations! never."

"No, but fly with me."

"How! fly with you?"

"Yes, I escape."

"But do you know that our execution is fixed for to-morrow?"

"Therefore I decamp to-night."

"Escape, do you say?"

"Certainly."

"How? where?"

"Open the window."

"Well."

"Shake the middle bar."

"Great God!"

"Does it resist?"

"No, it yields!"

"Very good, it has given me trouble enough, Heaven knows."

"It seems like a dream."

"Do you remember asking me if I did not make holes in anything, like all the others?"

"Yes, but you replied—"

"That I would tell you another time; was the answer a good one?"

"Excellent; but how to descend?"

"Help me."

"In what?"

"To search my paillasse."

"A ladder of cord!"

"Exactly."

"But how did you get it?"

"I received it with a file in a lark pie the day of my arrival."

"Certainly, you are decidedly a great man."

"I know it; besides that, I am a good man—for I might escape alone."

"And you have thought of me."

"I asked for you, saying that I wished to say adieu to you. I knew I should entice them to do some act of stupidity."

"Let us make haste, captain."

"On the contrary, let us act slowly and prudently; we have an hour before us."

"And the sentinels?"

"Bah! it is dark."

"But the moat, which is full of water?"

"It is frozen."

"But the wall?"

"When we are there, will be time enough to think about that."

"Must we fasten the ladder?"

"I want to try if it be solid; I have an affection for my spine, such as it is, and do not want to break my neck to save it from another fate."

"You are the first captain of the day, La Jonquiere."

"Bah! I have made plenty of others," said La Jonquiere, tying the last knot in the ladder.

"Is it finished?" asked Gaston.

"Yes."

"Shall I pass first?"

"As you like."

"I like it so."

"Go, then."

"Is it high?"

"Fifteen to eighteen feet."

"A trifle."

"Yes, for you who are young, but it is a different affair for me; be prudent, I beg."

"Do not be afraid."

Gaston went first, slowly and prudently, followed by La Jonquiere, who laughed in his sleeve, and grumbled every time he hurt his fingers, or when the wind shook the cords.

"A nice affair for the successor of Richelieu and Mazarin," he growled to himself. "It is true I am not yet a cardinal; that saves me."

Gaston touched the water, or rather ice, of the fosse; a moment after, La Jonquiere was by his side.

"Now follow me," said the latter. On the other side of the moat a ladder awaited them.

"You have accomplices then?"

"Parbleu! do you think the lark pate came by itself?"

"Who says one cannot escape from the Bastille?" said Gaston joyously.

"My young friend," said Dubois, stopping on the third step, "take my advice; don't get in there again without me; you might not be as fortunate the second time as the first."

They continued to mount the wall, on the platform of which a sentinel walked, but instead of opposing them, he held his hand to La Jonquiere to assist him, and in three minutes they were on the platform, had drawn up the ladder, and placed it on the other side of the wall.

The descent was as safely managed, and they found themselves on another frozen moat.

"Now," said the captain, "we must take away the ladder, that we may not compromise the poor devil who helped us."

"We are then free?"

"Nearly so," said La Jonquiere.

Gaston, strengthened by this news, took up the ladder on his shoulder.

"Peste, chevalier! the late Hercules was nothing to you, I think."

"Bah!" said Gaston, "at this moment I could carry the Bastille itself."

They went on in silence to a lane in the Faubourg St. Antoine; the streets were deserted.

"Now, my dear chevalier," said La Jonquiere, "do me the favor to follow me to the corner of the Faubourg."

"I would follow you to—"

"Not so far, if you please; for safety's sake we will each go our own way."

"What carriage is that?"

"Mine."

"How! yours?"——"Yes."

"Peste! my dear captain: four horses! you travel like a prince!"

"Three horses; one is for you."

"How! you consent?"

"Pardieu! that is not all."

"What?"

"You have no money?"

"It was taken away."

"Here are fifty louis."

"But, captain—"

"Come, it is Spanish money; take it."

Gaston took the purse, while a postilion unharnessed a horse and led it to him.

"Now," said Dubois, "where are you going?"

"To Bretagne, to rejoin my companions."

"You are mad, my dear fellow; they are all condemned and may be executed in two or three days."

"You are right," said Gaston.

"Go to Flanders," said La Jonquiere, "it is a pleasant country; in fifteen or eighteen hours you can reach the frontier."

"Yes," said Gaston gloomily; "thank you, I know where I shall go."

"Well, good luck to you," said Dubois, getting into his carriage.

"The same to you," said Gaston.

They grasped each other's hands, and then each went his own way.



CHAPTER XXXII.

SHOWING THAT WE MUST NOT ALWAYS JUDGE OTHERS BY OURSELVES, ABOVE ALL IF WE ARE CALLED DUBOIS.

The regent, as usual, passed the evening with Helene. He had not missed for four or five days, and the hours he passed with her were his happy hours, but this time he found her very much shaken by her visit to her lover in the Bastille.

"Come," said the regent, "take courage, Helene; to-morrow you shall be his wife."

"To-morrow is distant," replied she.

"Helene, believe in my word, which has never failed you. I tell you that to-morrow shall dawn happily for you and for him."

Helene sighed deeply.

A servant entered and spoke to the regent.

"What is it?" asked Helene, who was alarmed at the slightest thing.

"Nothing, my child," said the duke; "it is only my secretary, who wishes to see me on some pressing business."

"Shall I leave you?"

"Yes; do me that favor for an instant."

Helene withdrew into her room.

At the same time the door opened and Dubois entered, out of breath.

"Where do you come from in such a state?"

"Parbleu! from the Bastille."

"And our prisoner?"

"Well."

"Is everything arranged for the marriage."

"Yes, everything but the hour, which you did not name."

"Let us say eight in the morning."

"At eight in the morning," said Dubois, calculating.

"Yes, what are you calculating?"

"I am thinking where he will be."

"Who?"

"The prisoner."

"What! the prisoner!"

"Yes; at eight o'clock he will be forty leagues from Paris!"

"From Paris!"

"Yes; if he continues to go at the pace at which I saw him set out."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, monseigneur, that there will be one thing only wanting at the marriage; the husband."

"Gaston?"

"Has escaped from the Bastille half-an-hour ago."

"You lie, abbe; people do not escape from the Bastille."

"I beg your pardon, monseigneur; people escape from any place when they are condemned to death."

"He escaped, knowing that to-morrow he was to wed her whom he loved?"

"Listen, monseigneur, life is a charming thing, and we all cling to it; then your son-in-law has a charming head which he wishes to keep on his shoulders—what more natural?"

"And where is he?"

"Perhaps I may be able to tell you to-morrow evening; at present, all I know is that he is at some distance, and that I will answer for it he will not return."

The regent became deeply thoughtful.

"Really, monseigneur, your naivete causes me perpetual astonishment; you must be strangely ignorant of the human heart if you suppose that a man condemned to death would remain in prison when he had a chance of escape."

"Oh! Monsieur de Chanlay!" cried the regent.

"Eh, mon Dieu! this chevalier has acted as the commonest workman would have done, and quite right too."

"Dubois! and my daughter?"

"Well, your daughter, monseigneur?"

"It will kill her," said the regent.

"Oh no, monseigneur, not at all; when she finds out what he is, she will be consoled, and you can marry her to some small German or Italian prince—to the Duke of Modena, for instance, whom Mademoiselle de Valois will not have."

"Dubois! and I meant to pardon him."

"He has done it for himself, monseigneur, thinking it safer, and ma foi! I should have done the same."

"Oh you; you are not noble, you had not taken an oath."

"You mistake, monseigneur; I had taken an oath, to prevent your highness from committing a folly, and I have succeeded."

"Well, well, let us speak of it no more, not a word of this before Helene—I will undertake to tell her."

"And I, to get back your son-in-law."

"No, no, he has escaped, let him profit by it."

As the regent spoke these words a noise was heard in the neighboring room, and a servant entering, hurriedly announced—

"Monsieur Gaston de Chanlay."

Dubois turned pale as death, and his face assumed an expression of threatening anger. The regent rose in a transport of joy, which brought a bright color into his face—there was as much pleasure in this face, rendered sublime by confidence, as there was compressed fury in Dubois's sharp and malignant countenance.



"Let him enter," said the regent.

"At least, give me time to go," said Dubois.

"Ah! yes, he would recognize you."

Dubois retired with a growling noise, like a hyena disturbed in its feast, or in its lair; he entered the next room. There he sat down by a table on which was every material for writing, and this seemed to suggest some new and terrible idea, for his face suddenly lighted up.

He rang.

"Send for the portfolio which is in my carriage," said he to the servant who appeared.

This order being executed at once, Dubois seized some papers, wrote on them some words with an expression of sinister joy, then, having ordered his carriage, drove to the Palais Royal.

Meanwhile the chevalier was led to the regent, and walked straight up to him.

"How! you here, monsieur!" said the duke, trying to look surprised.

"Yes, monseigneur, a miracle has been worked in my favor by La Jonquiere; he had prepared all for flight, he asked for me under pretense of consulting me as to confessions; then, when we were alone, he told me all and we escaped together and in safety."

"And instead of flying, monsieur, gaining the frontier, and placing yourself in safety, you are here at the peril of your life."

"Monseigneur," said Gaston, blushing, "I must confess that for a moment liberty seemed to me the most precious and the sweetest thing the world could afford. The first breath of air I drew seemed to intoxicate me, but I soon reflected."

"On one thing, monsieur?"

"On two, monseigneur."

"You thought of Helene, whom you were abandoning."

"And of my companions, whom I left under the ax."

"And then you decided?"

"That I was bound to their cause till our projects were accomplished."

"Our projects!"

"Yes, are they not yours as well as mine?"

"Listen, monsieur," said the regent; "I believe that man must keep within the limits of his strength. There are things which God seems to forbid him to execute; there are warnings which tell him to renounce certain projects. I believe that it is sacrilege to despise these warnings, to remain deaf to this voice; our projects have miscarried, monsieur, let us think no more of them."

"On the contrary, monseigneur," said Gaston, sadly shaking his head, "let us think of them more than ever."

"But you are furious, monsieur," said the regent, "to persist in an undertaking which has now become so difficult that it is almost madness."

"I think, monseigneur, of our friends arrested, tried, condemned; M. d'Argenson told me so; of our friends who are destined to the scaffold, and who can be saved only by the death of the regent; of our friends who would say, if I were to leave France, that I purchased my safety by their ruin, and that the gates of the Bastille were opened by my revelations."

"Then, monsieur, to this point of honor you sacrifice everything, even Helene?"

"Monseigneur, if they be still alive I must save them."

"But if they be dead?"

"Then it is another thing," replied Gaston; "then I must revenge them."

"Really, monsieur," said the duke, "this seems to me a somewhat exaggerated idea of heroism. It seems to me that you have, in your own person, already paid your share. Believe me, take the word of a man who is a good judge in affairs of honor; you are absolved in the eyes of the whole world, my dear Brutus."

"I am not in my own, monseigneur."

"Then you persist?"

"More than ever; the regent must die, and," added he in a hollow voice, "die he shall."

"But do you not first wish to see Mademoiselle de Chaverny?" asked the regent.

"Yes, monseigneur, but first I must have your promise to aid me in my project. Remember, monseigneur; there is not an instant to lose; my companions are condemned, as I was. Tell me at once, before I see Helene, that you will not abandon me. Let me make a new engagement with you—I am a man; I love, and therefore I am weak. I shall have to struggle against her tears and against my own weakness; monseigneur, I will only see Helene under the condition that you will enable me to see the regent."

"And if I refuse that condition?"

"Then, monseigneur, I will not see Helene; I am dead to her; it is useless to renew hope in her which she must lose again, it is enough that she must weep for me once."

"And you would still persist?"

"Yes, but with less chance."

"Then what would you do?"

"Wait for the regent wherever he goes, and strike him whenever I can find him."

"Think once more," said the duke.

"By the honor of my name," replied Gaston, "I once more implore your aid, or I declare that I will find means to dispense with it."

"Well, monsieur, go and see Helene, and you shall have my answer on your return."

"Where?"

"In that room."

"And the answer shall be according to my desire?"

"Yes."

Gaston went into Helene's room; she was kneeling before a crucifix, praying that her lover might be restored to her. At the noise which Gaston made in opening the door she turned round.

Believing that God had worked a miracle, and uttering a cry, she held out her arms toward the chevalier, but without the strength to raise herself.

"Oh, mon Dieu! is it himself? is it his shade?"

"It is myself, Helene," said the young man, darting toward her, and grasping her hands.

"But how? a prisoner this morning—free, this evening?"

"I escaped, Helene."

"And then you thought of me, you ran to me, you would not fly without me. Oh! I recognize my Gaston there. Well—I am ready, take me where you will—I am yours—I am—"

"Helene," said Gaston, "you are not the bride of an ordinary man; if I had been only like all other men you would not have loved me."

"Oh, no!"

"Well, Helene, to superior souls superior duties are allotted, and consequently greater trials; before I can be yours I have to accomplish the mission on which I came to Paris; we have both a fatal destiny to fulfill. Our life or death hangs on a single event which must be accomplished to-night."

"What do you mean?" cried the young girl.

"Listen, Helene," replied Gaston, "if in four hours, that is to say, by daybreak, you have no news of me, do not expect me, believe that all that has passed between us is but a dream—and, if you can obtain permission to do so, come again and see me in the Bastille."

Helene trembled, Gaston took her back to her prie-Dieu, where she knelt.

Then, kissing her on the forehead as a brother might have done—"Pray on, Helene;" said he, "for in praying for me you pray also for Bretagne and for France." Then he rushed out of the room.

"Alas! alas!" murmured Helene, "save him, my God! and what care I for the rest of the world."

Gaston was met by a servant who gave him a note, telling him the duke was gone.

The note was as follows:

"There is a bal masque to-night at Monceaux; the regent will be there. He generally retires toward one o'clock in the morning into a favorite conservatory, which is situated at the end of the gilded gallery. No one enters there ordinarily but himself, because this habit of his is known and respected. The regent will be dressed in a black velvet domino, on the left arm of which is embroidered a golden bee. He hides this sign in a fold when he wishes to remain incognito. The card I inclose is an ambassador's ticket. With this you will be admitted, not only to the ball, but to this conservatory, where you will appear to seek a private interview. Use it for your encounter with the regent. My carriage is below, in which you will find my own domino. The coachman is at your orders."

On reading this note, which, as it were, brought him face to face with the man he meant to assassinate, a cold perspiration passed over Gaston's forehead, and he was obliged for a moment to lean against a chair for support; but suddenly, as if taking a violent resolution, he darted down the staircase, jumped into the carriage, and cried—

"To Monceaux!"

Scarcely had he quitted the room, when a secret door in the woodwork opened, and the duke entered. He went to Helene's door, who uttered a cry of delight at seeing him.

"Well," said the regent sadly, "are you content, Helene?"

"Oh! it is you, monseigneur?"

"You see, my child, that my predictions are fulfilled—believe me when I say, 'Hope.'"

"Ah! monseigneur, are you then an angel come down to earth to stand to me in the place of the father whom I have lost?"

"Alas," said the regent, smiling. "I am not an angel, my dear Helene; but such as I am, I will indeed be to you a father, and a tender one."

Saying this, the regent took Helene's hand, and was about to kiss it respectfully, but she raised her head and presented her forehead to him.

"I see that you love him truly," said he.

"Monseigneur, I bless you."

"May your blessing bring me happiness," said the regent, then, going down to his carriage—

"To the Palais Royal," said he, "but remember you have only a quarter of an hour to drive to Monceaux."

The horses flew along the road.

As the carriage entered under the peristyle, a courier on horseback was setting out.

Dubois, having seen him start, closed the window and went back to his apartments.



CHAPTER XXXIII.

MONCEAUX.

Meanwhile Gaston went toward Monceaux.

He had found the duke's domino and mask in the carriage. The mask was of black velvet—the domino of violet satin. He put them both on, and suddenly remembered that he was without arms.

He thought, however, he should easily procure some weapon at Monceaux. As he approached, he found it was not a weapon that he needed, but courage. There passed in his mind a terrible contest. Pride and humanity struggled against each other, and, from time to time, he represented to himself his friends in prison, condemned to a cruel and infamous death.

As the carriage entered the courtyard of Monceaux, he murmured, "Already!"

However, the carriage stopped, the door was opened, he must alight. The prince's private carriage and coachman had been recognized, and all the servants overwhelmed him with attentions.

Gaston did not remark it—a kind of mist passed before his eyes—he presented his card.

It was the custom then for both men and women to be masked: but it was more frequently the women than the men who went to these reunions unmasked. At this period women spoke not only freely, but well, and the mask hid neither folly nor inferiority of rank, for the women of that day were all witty, and if they were handsome, they were soon titled: witness, the Duchesse de Chateauroux and the Comtesse Dubarry.

Gaston knew no one, but he felt instinctively that he was among the most select society of the day. Among the men were Novilles, Brancas, Broglie, St. Simon, and Biron. The women might be more mixed, but certainly not less spirituelles, nor less elegant.

No one knew how to organize a fete like the regent. The luxury of good taste, the profusion of flowers, the lights, the princes and ambassadors, the charming and beautiful women who surrounded him, all had their effect on Gaston, who now recognized in the regent, not only a king, but a king at once powerful, gay, amiable, beloved, and above all, popular and national.

Gaston's heart beat when, seeking among these heads the one for which his blows were destined, he saw a black domino.

Without the mask which hid his face and concealed from all eyes its changing expression, he would not have taken four steps through the rooms without some one pointing him out as an assassin.

Gaston could not conceal from himself that there was something cowardly in coming to a prince, his host, to change those brilliant lights into funeral torches, to stain those dazzling tapestries with blood, to arouse the cry of terror amid the joyous tumult of a fete—and at this thought his courage failed him, and he stepped toward the door.

"I will kill him outside," said he, "but not here."

Then he remembered the duke's directions, his card would open to him the isolated conservatory, and he murmured—

"He foresaw that I should be a coward."

He approached a sort of gallery containing buffets where the guests came for refreshment. He went also, not that he was hungry or thirsty, but because he was unarmed. He chose a long, sharp and pointed knife, and put it under his domino, where he was sure no one could see it.

"The likeness to Ravaillac will be complete," said he.

At this moment, as Gaston turned, he heard a well-known voice say—

"You hesitate?"

Gaston opened his domino and showed the duke the knife which it concealed.

"I see the knife glisten, but I also see the hand tremble."

"Yes, monseigneur, it is true," said Gaston; "I hesitated, I trembled, I felt inclined to fly—but thank God you are here."

"And your ferocious courage?" said the duke in a mocking voice.

"It is not that I have lost it."

"What has become of it then?"

"Monseigneur, I am under his roof."

"Yes; but in the conservatory you are not."

"Could you not show him to me first, that I might accustom myself to his presence, that I may be inspired by the hatred I bear him, for I do not know how to find him in this crowd?"

"Just now he was near you."

Gaston shuddered.

"Near me?" said he.

"As near as I am," replied the duke, gravely.

"I will go to the conservatory, monseigneur."

"Go then."

"Yet a moment, monseigneur, that I may recover myself."

"Very well, you know the conservatory is beyond that gallery; stay, the doors are closed."

"Did you not say that with this card the servants would open them to me?"

"Yes; but it would be better to open them yourself—a servant might wait for your exit. If you are thus agitated before you strike the blow, what will it be afterward? Then the regent probably will not fall without defending himself—without a cry; they will all run to him, you will be arrested, and adieu your hope of the future. Think of Helene, who waits for you."

It is impossible to describe what was passing in Gaston's heart during this speech. The duke, however, watched its effect upon his countenance.

"Well," said Gaston, "what shall I do? advise me."

"When you are at the door of the conservatory, the one which opens on to the gallery turning to the left—do you know?"

"Yes."

"Under the lock you will find a carved button—push it, and the door will open, unless it be fastened within. But the regent, who has no suspicion, will not take this precaution. I have been there twenty times for a private audience. If he be not there, wait for him. You will know him, if there, by the black domino and the golden bee."

"Yes, yes; I know," said Gaston; not knowing, however, what he said.

"I do not reckon much on you this evening," replied the duke.

"Ah! monseigneur, the moment approaches which will change my past life into a doubtful future, perhaps of shame, at least of remorse."

"Remorse!" replied the duke. "When we perform an action which we believe to be just, and commanded by conscience, we do not feel remorse. Do you doubt the sanctity of your cause?"

"No, monseigneur, but it is easy for you to speak thus. You have the idea—I, the execution. You are the head, but I am the arm. Believe me, monseigneur," continued he in a hollow voice, and choking with emotion, "it is a terrible thing to kill a man who is before you defenseless—smiling on his murderer. I thought myself courageous and strong; but it must be thus with every conspirator who undertakes what I have done. In a moment of excitement, of pride, of enthusiasm, or of hatred, we take a fatal vow; then there is a vast extent of time between us and our victim; but the oath taken, the fever is calmed, the enthusiasm cools, the hatred diminishes. Every day brings us nearer the end to which we are tending, and then we shudder when we feel what a crime we have undertaken. And yet inexorable time flows on; and at every hour which strikes, we see our victim take another step, until at length the interval between us disappears, and we stand face to face. Believe me, monseigneur, the bravest tremble—for murder is always murder. Then we see that we are not the ministers of our consciences, but the slaves of our oaths. We set out with head erect, saying 'I am the chosen one:' we arrive with head bowed down, saying, 'I am accursed.'"

"There is yet time, monsieur."

"No, no; you well know, monseigneur, that fate urges me onward. I shall accomplish my task, terrible though it be. My heart will shudder, but my hand will still be firm. Yes, I tell you, were it not for my friends, whose lives hang on the blow I am about to strike, were there no Helene, whom I should cover with mourning, if not with blood, oh, I would prefer the scaffold, even the scaffold, with all its shame, for that does not punish, it absolves."

"Come," said the duke, "I see that though you tremble, you will act."

"Do not doubt it, monseigneur; pray for me, for in half an hour all will be over."

The duke gave an involuntary start; however, approving Gaston's determination, he once more mixed with the crowd.

Gaston found an open window with a balcony. He stepped out for a moment to cool the fever in his veins, but it was in vain; the flame which consumed him was not to be extinguished thus.

He heard one o'clock strike.

"Now," he murmured, "the time is come, and I cannot draw back. My God, to thee I recommend my soul—Helene, adieu!"

Then, slowly but firmly, he went to the door, and pressing the button, it opened noiselessly before him.

A mist came before his eyes. He seemed in a new world. The music sounded like a distant and charming melody. Around him breathed the sweetly perfumed flowers, and alabaster lamps half hidden in luxuriant foliage shed a delicious twilight over the scene, while through the interlacing leaves of tropical plants could just be seen the leafless gloomy trees beyond, and the snow covering the earth as with a winding sheet. Even the temperature was changed, and a sudden shiver passed through his veins. The contrast of all this verdure, these magnificent and blossoming orange trees—these magnolias, splendid with the waxy blooms, with the gilded salons he had left, bewildered him. It seemed difficult to connect the thought of murder with this fair-smiling and enchanted scene. The soft gravel yielded to his tread, and plashing fountains murmured forth a plaintive and monotonous harmony.

Gaston was almost afraid to look for a human form. At length he glanced round.

Nothing! he went on.

At length, beneath a broad-leaved palm, surrounded by blooming rhododendrons, he saw the black phantom seated on a bank of moss, his back turned toward the side from whence he was approaching.

The blood rushed to Gaston's cheeks, his hand trembled, and he vainly sought for some support.

The domino did not move.

Gaston involuntarily drew back. All at once he forced his rebellious limbs to move on, and his trembling fingers to grasp the knife they had almost abandoned, and he stepped toward the regent, stifling a sob which was about to escape him.

At this moment the figure moved, and Gaston saw the golden bee, which seemed like a burning gem before his eyes.

The domino turned toward Gaston, and as he did so, the young man's arm grew rigid, the foam rose to his lips, his teeth chattered, for a vague suspicion entered his breast.

Suddenly he uttered a piercing cry. The domino had risen, and was unmasked—his face was that of the Duc d'Olivares.

Gaston, thunderstruck, remained livid and mute. The regent and the duke were one and the same. The regent retained his calm majestic attitude; looked at the hand which held the knife, and the knife fell. Then, looking at his intended murderer with a smile at once sweet and sad, Gaston fell down before him like a tree cut by the ax.

Not a word had been spoken; nothing was heard but Gaston's broken sobs, and the water of the fountains plashing monotonously as it fell.



CHAPTER XXXIV.

THE PARDON.

"Rise, monsieur," said the regent.

"No, monseigneur," cried Gaston, bowing his forehead to the ground, "oh, no, it is at your feet that I should die."

"Die! Gaston! you see that you are pardoned."

"Oh, monseigneur, punish me, in Heaven's name; for you must indeed despise me if you pardon me."

"But have you not guessed?" asked the regent.

"What?"

"The reason why I pardon you."

Gaston cast a retrospective glance upon the past, his sad and solitary youth, his brother's despairing death, his love for Helene, those days that seemed so long away from her, those nights that passed so quickly beneath the convent window, his journey to Paris, the duke's kindness to the young girl, and last, this unexpected clemency; but in all this he beheld nothing, he divined nothing.

"Thank Helene," said the duke, who saw that Gaston vainly sought the cause of what had happened; "thank Helene, for it is she who saves your life."

"Helene! monseigneur."

"I cannot punish my daughter's affianced husband."

"Helene, your daughter! oh, monseigneur, and I would have killed you!"

"Yes, remember what you said just now. We set out the chosen one, we return the murderer. And sometimes you see more than a murderer—a parricide—for I am almost your father," said the duke, holding out his hand to Gaston.

"Monseigneur, have mercy on me."

"You have a noble heart, Gaston."

"And you, monseigneur, are a noble prince. Henceforth, I am yours body and soul. Every drop of my blood for one tear of Helene's, for one wish of your highness's."

"Thanks, Gaston," said the duke, smiling, "I will repay your devotion by your happiness."

"I, happy, through your highness! Ah! monseigneur, God revenges himself in permitting you to return me so much good for the evil I intended you."

The regent smiled at this effusion of simple joy, when the door opened and gave entrance to a green domino.

"Captain la Jonquiere!" cried Gaston.

"Dubois!" murmured the duke, frowning.

"Monseigneur," said Gaston, hiding his face in his hands, pale with affright; "monseigneur, I am lost. It is no longer I who must be saved. I forgot my honor, I forgot my friends."

"Your friends, monsieur?" said the duke, coldly. "I thought you no longer made common cause with such men."

"Monseigneur, you said I had a noble heart; believe me when I say that Pontcalec, Montlouis, Du Couedic, and Talhouet have hearts as noble as my own."

"Noble!" repeated the duke, contemptuously.

"Yes, monseigneur, I repeat what I said."

"And do you know what they would have done, my poor child? you, who were their blind tool, the arm that they placed at the end of their thoughts. These noble hearts would have delivered their country to the stranger, they would have erased the name of France from the list of sovereign nations. Nobles, they were bound to set an example of courage and loyalty—they have given that of perfidy and cowardice; well, you do not reply—you lower your eyes; if it be your poniard you seek, it is at your feet; take it up, there is yet time."

"Monsieur," said Gaston, clasping his hands, "I renounce my ideas of assassination, I detest them, and I ask your pardon for having entertained them; but if you will not save my friends, I beg of you at least to let me perish with them. If I live when they die, my honor dies with them; think of it, monseigneur, the honor of the name your daughter is to bear."

The regent bent his head as he replied:

"It is impossible, monsieur; they have betrayed France; and they must die."

"Then I die with them!" said Gaston, "for I also have betrayed France, and, moreover, would have murdered your highness."

The regent looked at Dubois; the glance they exchanged did not escape Gaston. He understood that he had dealt with a false La Jonquiere as well as a false Duc d'Olivares.

"No," said Dubois, addressing Gaston, "you shall not die for that, monsieur; but you must understand that there are crimes which the regent has neither the power nor the right to pardon."

"But he pardoned me!" exclaimed Gaston.——"You are Helene's husband," said the duke.

"You mistake, monseigneur; I am not; and I shall never be; and as such a sacrifice involves the death of him who makes it, I shall die, monseigneur."

"Bah!" said Dubois, "no one dies of love nowadays; it was very well in the time of M. d'Urfe and Mademoiselle de Scuderi."

"Perhaps you are right, monsieur; but in all times men die by the dagger;" and Gaston stopped and picked up the knife with an expression which was not to be mistaken. Dubois did not move.

The regent made a step.

"Throw down that weapon, monsieur," said he, with hauteur.

Gaston placed the point against his breast.

"Throw it down, I say," repeated the regent.

"The life of my friends, monseigneur," said Gaston.

The regent turned again to Dubois, who smiled a sardonic smile.

"'Tis well," said the regent, "they shall live."

"Ah! monsieur," said Gaston, seizing the duke's hand, and trying to raise it to his lips, "you are the image of God on earth."

"Monseigneur, you commit an irreparable fault," said Dubois.

"What!" cried Gaston, astonished, "you are then—"

"The Abbe Dubois, at your service," said the false La Jonquiere, bowing.

"Oh! monseigneur, listen only to your own heart—I implore."

"Monseigneur, sign nothing," said Dubois.

"Sign! monseigneur, sign!" repeated Gaston, "you promised they should live; and I know your promise is sacred."

"Dubois, I shall sign," said the duke.

"Has your highness decided?"

"I have given my word."

"Very well; as you please."

"At once, monseigneur, at once; I know not why, but I am alarmed in spite of myself; monseigneur, their pardon, I implore you."

"Eh! monsieur," said Dubois, "since his highness has promised, what signify five minutes more or less?"

The regent looked uneasily at Dubois.

"Yes, you are right," said he, "this very moment; your portfolio, abbe, and quick, the young man is impatient."

Dubois bowed assent, called a servant, got his portfolio, and presented to the regent a sheet of paper, who wrote an order on it and signed it.

"Now a courier."

"Oh, no! monseigneur, it is useless."

"Why so?"

"A courier would never go quickly enough. I will go myself, if your highness will permit me; every moment I gain will save those unhappy men an age of torture."

Dubois frowned.

"Yes! yes! you are right," said the regent, "go yourself;" and he added in a low voice, "and do not let the order leave your hands."

"But, monseigneur," said Dubois, "you are more impatient than the young man himself; you forget that if he goes thus there is some one in Paris who will think he is dead."

These words struck Gaston, and recalled to him Helene, whom he had left, expecting him from one moment to another, in the fear of some great event, and who would never forgive him should he leave Paris without seeing her. In an instant his resolution was taken; he kissed the duke's hand, took the order, and was going, when the regent said—

"Not a word to Helene of what I told you; the only recompense I ask of you is to leave me the pleasure of telling her she is my child."

"Your highness shall be obeyed," said Gaston, moved to tears, and again bowing, he hastily went out.

"This way," said Dubois; "really, you look as if you had assassinated some one, and you will be arrested; cross this grove, at the end is a path which will lead you to the street."

"Oh, thank you; you understand that delay—"

"Might be fatal. That is why," added he to himself, "I have shown you the longest way—go."

When Gaston had disappeared, Dubois returned to the regent.

"What is the matter, monseigneur?" asked he; "you seem uneasy."

"I am."

"And why?"

"You made no resistance to my performing a good action—this frightened me." Dubois smiled.

"Dubois," said the duke, "you are plotting something."

"No, monseigneur, it is all arranged."

"What have you done?"

"Monseigneur, I know you."

"Well."

"I knew what would happen. That you would never be satisfied till you had signed the pardon of all these fellows."

"Go on."

"Well, I also have sent a courier."

"You!"

"Yes, I; have I not the right to send couriers?"

"Yes; but, in Heaven's name, tell me what order your courier carried."

"An order for their execution."

"And he is gone?"

Dubois took out his watch.

"Two hours ago," said he.

"Wretch!"

"Ah, monseigneur! always big words. Every man to his trade, save M. de Chanlay, if you like; he is your son-in-law; as for me, I save you."

"Yes; but I know De Chanlay. He will arrive before the courier."

"No, monseigneur."

"Two hours are nothing to a man like him; he will soon have made them up."

"Were my courier only two hours in advance," said Dubois, "De Chanlay might overtake him, but he will be three."

"How so?"

"Because the worthy young man is in love; and if I reckon an hour for taking leave of your daughter, I am sure it is not too much."

"Serpent! I understand the meaning of what you said just now."

"He was in an excess of enthusiasm—he might have forgotten his love. You know my principle, monseigneur: distrust first impulses, they are always good."

"It is an infamous principle."

"Monseigneur, either one is a diplomatist or one is not."

"Well," said the regent, stepping toward the door, "I shall go and warn him."

"Monseigneur," said Dubois, stopping the duke with an accent of extreme resolution, and taking a paper out of his portfolio, already prepared, "if you do so, have the kindness in that case to accept my resignation at once. Joke, if you will, but, as Horace said, 'est modus in rebus.' He was a great as well as a courteous man. Come, come, monseigneur, a truce to politics for this evening—go back to the ball, and to-morrow evening all will be settled—France will be rid of four of her worst enemies, and you will retain a son-in-law whom I greatly prefer to M. de Riom, I assure you."

And with these words they returned to the ballroom, Dubois joyous and triumphant, the duke sad and thoughtful, but convinced that his minister was right.



CHAPTER XXXV.

THE LAST INTERVIEW.

Gaston left the conservatory, his heart bounding with joy. The enormous weight which had oppressed him since the commencement of the conspiracy, and which Helene's love had scarcely been able to alleviate, now seemed to disappear as at the touch of an angel.

To dreams of vengeance, dreams both terrible and bloody, succeeded visions of love and glory. Helene was not only a charming and a loving woman, she was also a princess of the blood royal—one of those divinities whose tenderness men would purchase with their hearts' blood, if they did not, being after all weak as mortals, give this inestimable tenderness away.

And Gaston felt revive within his breast the slumbering instinct of ambition. What a brilliant fortune was his—one to be envied by such men as Richelieu and Lauzun. No Louis XIV., imposing, as on Lauzun, exile or the abandonment of his mistress—no irritated father combating the pretensions of a simple gentleman—but, on the contrary, a powerful friend, greedy of love, longing to prove his affection for his pure and noble daughter. A holy emulation between the daughter and the son-in-law to make themselves more worthy of so just a prince, so mild a conqueror.

In a quarter of an hour Gaston had gained the Rue du Bac.

The door opened before him—a cry was heard—Helene, at the window watching for his return, had recognized the carriage, and ran joyously to meet him.

"Saved!" cried Gaston, seeing her; "saved! my friends, I—you—all—saved!"

"Oh, God!" cried Helene, turning pale, "you have killed him, then?"

"No, no; thank God! Oh! Helene, what a heart, what a man is this regent! Oh, love him well, Helene; you will love him, will you not?"

"Explain yourself, Gaston."

"Come, and let us speak of ourselves; I have but a few moments to give you, Helene; but the duke will tell you all."

"One thing before all," said Helene, "what is your fate?"

"The brightest in the world, Helene—your husband, rich and honored. Helene, I am wild with joy."

"And you remain with me at last?"

"No, I leave you, Helene."

"Oh, heavens!"

"But to return."

"Another separation!"

"Three days at the most—three days only. I go to bring blessings on your name, on mine, on that of our protector, our friend."

"Where are you going?"

"To Nantes!"

"To Nantes!"

"Yes. This order is the pardon of Pontcalec, Montlouis, and Talhouet and Du Couedic. They are condemned to death, and they will owe me their lives. Oh, do not keep me here, Helene; think of what you suffered just now, when you were watching for me."

"And, consequently, what I am to suffer again."

"No, my Helene; for this time there is no fear, no obstacle: this time you are sure of my return."

"Gaston, shall I never see you, but at rare intervals and for a few minutes? Ah! Gaston, I have so much need of happiness."

"You shall be happy, Helene, be assured."

"My heart sinks."

"Ah! when you know all!"

"But tell me at once."

"Helene, the only thing wanting to my happiness is the permission to fall at your feet and tell you all—but I have promised—nay more, I have sworn."

"Always some secret!"

"This, at least, is a joyful one."

"Oh, Gaston, Gaston, I tremble."

"Look at me, Helene; can you fear when you see the joy that sparkles in my eyes?"

"Why do you not take me with you, Gaston?"

"Helene!"

"I beg of you to let us go together."

"Impossible."

"Why?"

"Because, first, I must be at Nantes in twenty hours."

"I will follow you, even should I die with fatigue."

"Then, because you are no longer your own mistress; you have here a protector, to whom you owe respect and obedience."

"The duke?"

"Yes; the duke. Oh, when you know what he has done for me—for us."

"Let us leave a letter for him, and he will forgive us."

"No, no; he will say we are ungrateful; and he would be right. No, Helene; while I go to Bretagne, swift as a saving angel, you shall remain here and hasten the preparations for our marriage. And when I return I shall at once demand my wife; at your feet I shall bless you for the happiness and the honor you bestow on me."

"You leave me, Gaston?" cried Helene, in a voice of distress.

"Oh, not thus, Helene, not thus; I cannot leave you so. Oh, no—be joyous, Helene; smile on me; say to me—in giving me your hand—that hand so pure and faithful—'Go, Gaston—go—for it is your duty.'"

"Yes, my friend," said Helene, "perhaps I ought to speak thus, but I have not the strength. Oh! Gaston, forgive me."

"Oh, Helene, when I am so joyful."

"Gaston, it is beyond my power; remember that you take with you the half of my life."

Gaston heard the clock strike three and started.

"Adieu, Helene," said he.

"Adieu," murmured she.

Once more he pressed her hand and raised it to his lips, then dashed down the staircase toward the door.

But he heard Helene's sobs.

Rapidly he remounted the staircase and ran to her. She was standing at the door of the room he had just left. Gaston clasped her in his arms, and she hung weeping upon his neck.

"Oh, mon Dieu!" cried she, "you leave me again, Gaston; listen to what I say, we shall never meet more."

"My poor Helene," cried the young man, "you are mad."

"Despair has made me so."

And her tears ran down her cheeks.

All at once she seemed to make a violent effort, and pressing her lips on those of her lover, she clasped him tightly to her breast, then quickly repulsing him—

"Now go, Gaston," said she, "now I can die."

Gaston replied by passionate caresses. The clock struck the half hour.

"Another half hour to make up."

"Adieu, adieu, Gaston; you are right, you should already be away."

"Adieu for a time."

"Adieu, Gaston."

And Helene returned to the pavilion. Gaston procured a horse, saddled, mounted, and left Paris by the same gate by which he had entered some days previously.



CHAPTER XXXVI.

NANTES.

The commission named by Dubois was to be permanent. Invested with unlimited powers, which in certain cases means that the decision is settled beforehand, they besieged the earth, supported by strong detachments of troops.

Since the arrest of the four gentlemen, Nantes, terrified at first, had risen in their favor. The whole of Bretagne awaited a revolt, but in the meanwhile was quiet.

However, the trial was approaching. On the eve of the public audience, Pontcalec held a serious conversation with his friends.

"Let us consider," said he, "whether in word or deed we have committed any imprudence."

"No," said the other three.

"Has any one of you imparted our projects to his wife, his brother, a friend? Have you, Montlouis?"

"No, on my honor."

"You, Talhouet?"

"No."

"You, Couedic?"

"No."

"Then they have neither proof nor accusation against us. No one has surprised us, no one wishes us harm."

"But," said Montlouis, "meanwhile we shall be tried."

"On what grounds?"

"Oh, secret information," said Talhouet, smiling.

"Very secret," said Du Couedic, "since they do not breathe a word."

"Ah, one fine night they will force us to escape, that they may not be obliged to liberate us some fine day."

"I do not believe it," said Montlouis, who had always been the most desponding, perhaps because he had the most at stake, having a young wife and two children who adored him. "I do not believe it. I have seen Dubois in England. I have talked with him; his face is like a ferret's, licking his lips when thirsty. Dubois is thirsty, and we are taken. Dubois's thirst will be slaked by our blood."

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