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    III. Two Mayors of Bottitort

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    Chapter 3
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    Believing that I have now set down all those particulars of the treaty with Epernon and the consequent pacification of Brittany in the year 1598 which it will be of advantage to the public to know, that it may the better distinguish in the future those who have selfishly impoverished the State from those who, in its behalf, have incurred obloquy and high looks, I proceed next to the events which followed the King's return to Paris.

    But, first, and by way of sampling the diverting episodes that will occur from time to time in the most laborious existence, and for the moment reduce the minister to the level of the man, I am tempted to narrate an adventure that befell me on my return, between Rennes and Vitre; when the King having preceded me at speed under the pretext of urgency, but really that he might avoid the prolix addresses that awaited him in every town, I found myself no more minded to suffer. Having sacrificed my ease, therefore, in two of the more important places, and come within as many stages of Vitre, I determined also on a holiday. Accordingly, directing my baggage and the numerous escort and suite that attended me to the full tale of four-score horses--to keep the high road, I struck myself into a byway, intending to seek hospitality for the night at a house of M. de Laval's; and on the second evening to render myself with a good grace to the eulogia and tedious mercies of the Vitre townsfolk.

    I kept with me only La Font and two servants. The day was fine, and the air brisk; the country open, affording many distant prospects which the sun rendered cheerful. We rode for some time, therefore, with the gaiety of schoolboys released from their tasks, and dining at noon in the lee of one of the great boulders that there dot the plain, took pleasure in applying to the life of courts every evil epithet that came to mind. For a little time afterwards we rode as cheerfully; but about three in the afternoon the sky became overcast, and almost at the same moment we discovered that we had strayed from the track. The country in that district resembles the more western parts of Brittany, in consisting of huge tracts of bog and moorland strewn with rocks and covered with gorse; which present a cheerful aspect in sunshine, but are savage and barren to a degree when viewed through sheets of rain or under a sombre sky.

    The position, therefore, was not without its discomforts. I had taken care to choose a servant who was familiar with the country, but his knowledge seemed now at fault. However, under his direction we retraced our steps, but still without regaining the road; and as a small rain presently began to fall and the day to decline, the landscape which in the morning had flaunted a wild and rugged beauty, changed to a brown and dreary waste set here and there with ghost-like stones. Once astray on this, we found our path beset with sloughs and morasses; among which we saw every prospect of passing the night, when La Font espied at a little distance a wind-swept wood that, clothing a low shoulder of the moor, promised at least a change and shelter. We made towards it, and discovered not only all that we had expected to see, but a path and a guide.

    The latter was as much surprised to see us as we to see her, for when we came upon her she was sitting on the bank beside the path weeping bitterly. On hearing us, however, she sprang up and discovered the form of a young girl, bare-foot and bareheaded, wearing only a short ragged frock of homespun. Nevertheless, her face was neither stupid nor uncomely; and though, at the first alarm, supposing us to be either robbers or hobgoblins--of which last the people of that country are peculiarly fearful--she made as if she would escape across the moor, she stopped as soon as she heard my voice. I asked her gently where we were.

    At first she did not understand, but the servant who had played the guide so ill, speaking to her in the patois of the country, she answered that we were near St. Brieuc, a hamlet not far from Bottitort, and considerably off our road. Asked how far it was to Bottitort, she answered--between two and three leagues, and an indifferent road.

    We could ride the distance in a couple of hours, and there remained almost as much daylight. But the horses were tired, so, resigning myself to the prospect of some discomfort, I asked her if there was an inn at St. Brieuc.

    "A poor place for your honours," she answered, staring at us in innocent wonder, the forgotten tears not dry on her cheeks.

    "Never mind; take us to it," I answered.

    She turned at the word and tripped on before us. I bade the servant ask her, as we went, why she had been crying, and learned through him that she had been to her uncle's two leagues away to borrow money for her mother; that the uncle would not lend it, and that now they would be turned out of their house; that her father was lately dead, and that her mother kept the inn, and owed the money for meal and cider.

    "At least, she says that she does not owe it," the man corrected himself, "for her father paid as usual at Corpus Christi; but after his death M. Grabot said that he had not paid, and--"

    "M. Grabot?" I said. "Who is he?"

    "The Mayor of Bottitort."

    "The creditor?"

    "Yes."

    "And how much is owing?" I asked.

    "Nothing, she says."

    "But how much does he say?"

    "Twenty crowns."

    Doubtless some will view my conduct on this occasion with surprise; and wonder why I troubled myself with inquiries so minute upon a matter so mean. But these do not consider that ministers are the King's eyes; and that in a State no class is so unimportant that it can be safely overlooked. Moreover, as the settlement of the finances was one of the objects of my stay in those parts--and I seldom had the opportunity of checking the statements made to me by the farmers and lessees of the taxes, the receivers, gatherers, and, in a word, all the corrupt class that imparts such views of a province as suit its interests--I was glad to learn anything that threw light on the real condition of the country: the more, as I had to receive at Vitre a deputation of the notables and officials of the district.

    Accordingly, I continued to put questions to her until, crossing a ridge, we came at last within sight of the inn, a lonely house of stone, standing in the hollow of the moor and sheltered on one side by a few gnarled trees that took off in a degree from the bleakness of its aspect. The house was of one story only, with a window on either side of the door, and no other appeared in sight; but a little smoke rising from the chimney seemed to promise a better reception than the desolate landscape and the girl's scanty dress had led us to expect.

    As we drew nearer, however, a thing happened so remarkable as to draw our attention in a moment from all these points, and bring us, gaping, to a standstill. The shutters of the two windows were suddenly closed before our eyes with a clap that came sharply on the wind. Then, in a twinkling, one window flew open again and a man, seemingly naked, bounded from it, fled with inconceivable rapidity across the front of the house and vanished through the other window, which opened to receive him. He had scarcely gained that shelter before a coal-black figure followed him, leaping out of the one window and in at the other with the same astonishing swiftness--a swiftness which was so great that before any of us could utter more than an exclamation, the two figures appeared again round the corner of the house, in the same order, but this time with so small an interval that the fugitive barely saved himself through the window. Once more, while we stared in stupefaction, they flashed out and in; and this time it seemed to me that as they vanished the black spectre seized its victim.

    When I say that all this time the two figures uttered no sound, that there was no other living being in sight, and that on every side of the solitary house the moor, growing each minute more eerie as the day waned, spread to the horizon, the more superstitious among us may be pardoned if they gave way to their fears. La Font was the first to speak.

    "Mon Dieu!" he cried--while the girl moaned in terror, the Breton crossed himself, and La Trape looked uncomfortable--"the place is bewitched!"

    "Nonsense!" I said. "Who is in the house, girl?"

    "Only my mother," she wailed. "Oh, my poor mother!"

    I silenced her, scolding them all for fools, and her first; and La Font, recovering himself, did the same. But this was the year of that strange appearance of the spectre horseman at Fontainebleau of which so much has been said; and my servants, when we had approached the house a little nearer, and it still remained silent and, as it were, dead to the eye, would go no farther, but stood in sheer terror and permitted me to go on alone with La Font. I confess that the loneliness of the house, and the dreary waste that surrounded it (which seemed to exclude the idea of trickery) were not without their effect on my spirits; and that as I dismounted and approached the door, I felt a kind of chill not remarkable under the circumstances.

    But the courage of the gentleman differs from that of the vulgar in that he fears yet goes; and I lifted the latch, and entered boldly. The scene which met my eyes inside was sufficiently commonplace to reassure me. At the farther end of a long bare room, draughty, half-lighted, and having an earthen floor, yet possessing that air of homeliness which a wood fire never fails to impart, sat a single traveller; who had drawn his small table under the open chimney, and there, with his feet almost in the fire, was partaking of a poor meal of black bread and onions. He was a tall, spare man, with sloping shoulders and a long sour face, of which, as I entered, he gave me the full benefit.

    I looked round the room, but look as I might I could see no one else, nor anything that explained what we had witnessed and I accosted the man civilly, wishing him good evening. He made an answer, but indistinctly, and, this done, went on with his meal like one who viewed our arrival with little pleasure; while I, puzzled and astonished by the ordinary look of things and the stillness of the house, affected to warm my feet at the logs. At length, espying no signs of disturbance anywhere, I asked him if he was alone.

    "I was, sir," he answered gravely.

    I was going on to tell him, though reluctantly, what we had seen outside, and to question him upon it, when on a sudden, before I could speak again, he leaned towards me and accosted me with startling abruptness. "Sir," he said, "I should like to have your opinion of Louis Eleven."

    I stared at him in the most perfect astonishment; and was for a moment so completely taken aback that I mechanically repeated his words. For answer, he did so also.

    "The Eleventh Louis?" I said.

    "Yes," he rejoined, turning his pale visage full upon me. "What is your opinion of him, sir? He was a man?"

    "Well," I said, shrugging my shoulders, "I take that for granted." I began to think that the traveller was demented.

    "And a king?"

    "Yes, I suppose so," I answered contemptuously. "I never heard it doubted."

    He leaned towards me, and spoke with the most eager impressiveness. "A man--and a king!" he said. "Yet neither a manly king, nor a kingly man! You take me?"

    "Yes," I said impatiently. "I see what you mean.

    "Neither a kingly man, nor a manly king!" he repeated with solemn gusto. "You take me clearly, I think?"

    I had no stomach for further fooleries, and I was about to answer him with some sharpness--though I could not for the life of me tell whether he was mad or an eccentric when a harsh voice shrieked in my ear, "Bob!" and in a twinkling a red figure appeared bounding and whirling in the middle of the kitchen; now springing into the air until its head touched the rafters, now eddying round and round the floor in the giddiest gyrations. At the first glance, startled by the voice in my ear, I recoiled; but a second disclosing what it was, and the secret of our alarm outside, I masked my movement; and when the man brought his performance to a sudden stop, and falling on one knee in an attitude of exaggerated respect held out his cap, I was ready for him.

    "Why, you knave," I said, "you should be whipped, not rewarded. Who gave you leave to play pranks on travellers?"

    He looked at me with a droll smile on his round merry face, which at its gravest was a thing to laugh at. "Let him whip who is scared," he said, with roguish impudence. "Or if there is to be whipping, my lord, whip Louis XI."

    Thus reminded, I turned to the solemn traveller; but my eyes had no sooner met his than he twisted his visage into so wry a smile --if smile it could be called--that wherever there was a horse collar he must have won the prize. To hide my amusement, I asked them what they were. "Mountebanks?" I said curtly.

    "Your lordship has pricked the garter offhand," the merry man answered cheerfully. "You see before you the renowned Pierre Paladin voila!--and Philibert Le Grand! of the Breton fairs, monsieur."

    "But why this foolery--here?" I said.

    "We took you for another, monsieur," he answered.

    "Whom you intended to frighten?"

    "Precisely, your grace."

    "Well, you are nice rogues," I said, looking at him.

    "So is he," he answered, undaunted.

    I left the matter there for a moment, while I summoned La Font and the servants; whose rage, when, entering a-tiptoe and with some misgiving, they discovered how they had been deceived, and by whom, was scarcely to be restrained even by my presence. However, aided by Philibert's comicalities, I presently secured a truce, and the two strollers vacating in my honour the table by the fire--though they had not the slightest notion who I was we were soon on terms. I had taken the precaution to bring a meal with me, and while La Trape and his companion unpacked it, and I dried my riding boots, I asked the players who it was they had meant to frighten.

    They were not very willing to tell me, but at length confessed, to my astonishment, that it was M. Grabot.

    "Grabot--Grabot!" I said, striving to recollect where I had heard the name. "The Mayor of Bottitort?"

    The solemn man made an atrocious grimace. Then, "Yes, monsieur, the Mayor of Bottitort," he said frankly. "A year ago he put Philibert in the stocks for a riddle; that is his affair. And the woman of this house has more than once befriended me, and he is for turning her out for a debt she does not owe; and that is my affair. However, your lordship's arrival has saved him for this time."

    "You expected him here this evening, then?"

    "He is coming," he answered, with more than his usual gloom. "He passed this way this morning, and announced that on his return he should spend the night here. We found the goodwife all of a tremble when we arrived. He is a hard man, monsieur," the mountebank continued bitterly. "She cried after him that she hoped that God would change his heart, but he only answered that even if St. Brieuc changed his body--you know the legend, monseigneur, doubtless--he should be here."

    "And here he is," the other, who had been looking out of one of the windows, cried. "I see his lanthorn coming down the hill. And by St. Brieuc, I have it! I have it," the droll continued, suddenly spinning round in a wild dance of triumph on the floor, and then as suddenly stopping and falling into an attitude before us. "Monsieur, if you will help us, I have the richest jest ever played. Pierre, listen. You, gentlemen all, listen! We will pretend that he is changed. He is a pompous man; he thinks the Mayor of Bottitort equal to the Saint Pere. Well, Pierre shall be M. Grabot, Mayor of Bottitort. You, monsieur, that we may give him enough of mayors, shall be the Mayor of Gol, and I will be the Mayor of St. Just. This gentleman shall swear to us, so shall the servants. For him, he does not exist. Oh, we will punish him finely."

    "But," I said, astounded by the very audacity of the rogue's proposition, "you do not flatter yourself that you will deceive him?"

    "We shall, monsieur, if you will help," he answered confidently. "I will be warrant for it we shall."

    The thing had little of dignity in it, and I wonder now that I complied; but I have always shared with the King, my master, a taste for drolleries of the kind suggested; while nothing that I had as yet heard of this Grabot was of a nature to induce me to spare him. Seeing that La Font was tickled with the idea, and that the servants were a-grin, and the more eager to trick others as they had just been tricked themselves, I was tempted to consent.

    After this, the preparations took not a minute. Philibert covered his fool's clothes with a cloak, and their table was drawn nearer to the fire, so as, with mine, to take up the whole hearth. La Trape fell into an attitude behind me; and the Breton, adopting a refinement suggested at the last moment, was sent out to intercept Grabot before he entered, and tell him that the inn was full, and that he had better pass on.

    The knave did his business so well that Grabot, being just such a man as the stroller had described to us, the altercation on the threshold was of itself the most amusing thing in the world. "Who?" we heard a loud, coarse voice exclaim. "Who d'ye say are here, man?"

    "The Mayor of Bottitort."

    "Mille diables!"

    "The Mayor of Bottitort and the Mayors of Gol and St. Just," the servant repeated as if he noticed nothing amiss.

    "That is a lie!" the new comer replied, with a snort of triumph, "and an impudent one. But you have got the wrong sow by the ear this time."

    "Why, man," a third voice, somewhat nasal and rustical, struck in, "don't you know the Mayor of Bottitort?"

    "I should," my Breton answered bluntly, and making, as we guessed, a stand before them. "For I am his servant, and he is this moment at his meat."

    "The Mayor of Bottitort?"

    "Yes."

    "M. Grabot?"

    "Yes."

    "And you are his servant?"

    "I have thought so for some time," the Breton answered contemptuously.

    The Mayor fairly roared in his indignation. "You--his servant! The Mayor of Bottitort's?" he cried in a voice of thunder. "I'll tell you what you are; you are a liar!--a liar, man, that is what you are! Why, you fool, I am the Mayor of Bottitort myself. Now, do you see how you have wasted yourself? Out of my way! Jehan, follow me in. I shall look into this. There is some knavery here, but if Simon Grabot cannot get to the bottom of it the Mayor of Bottitort will. Follow me, I say. My servant indeed? Come, come!"

    And, still grumbling, he flung open the door, which the Breton had left ajar, and stalked in upon us, fuming and blowing out his cheeks for all the world like a bantam cock with its feathers erect. He was a short, pursy man; with a short nose, a wide face, and small eyes. But had he been Caesar and Alexander rolled into one, he could not have crossed the threshold with a more tremendous assumption of dignity. Once inside, he stood and glared at us, somewhat taken aback, I think, for the moment by our numbers; but recovering himself almost immediately, he strutted towards us, and, without uncovering or saluting us, he asked in a deep voice who was responsible for the man outside.

    "I am, the graver mountebank answered, looking at the stranger with a sober air of surprise. "He is my servant."

    "Ah!" the Mayor exclaimed, with a withering glance. "And who, may I ask, are you?"

    "You may ask, certainly," the player answered drily. "But until you take off your hat I shall not answer."

    The Mayor gasped at this rebuff, and turned, if it were possible, a shade redder; but he uncovered.

    "Now I do not mind telling you," Pierre continued, with a mild dignity admirably assumed, "that I am Simon Grabot, and have the honour to be Mayor of Bottitort."

    "You!"

    "Yes, monsieur, I; though perhaps unworthy."

    I looked to see an explosion, but the Mayor was too far gone. "Why, you swindling impostor," he said, with something that was almost admiration in his tone. "You are the very prince of cheats! The king of cozeners! But for all that, let me tell you, you have chosen the wrong role this time. For I--I, sir, am the Mayor of Bottitort, the very man whose name you have taken!"

    Pierre stared at him in composed silence, which his comrade was the first to break. "Is he mad?" he said in a low voice.

    The grave man shook his head.

    The Mayor heard and saw; and getting no other answer, began to tremble between passion and a natural, though ill-defined, misgiving, which the silent gaze of so large a party--for we all looked at him compassionately--was well calculated to produce. "Mad?" he cried. "No, but some one is, Sir," he continued, turning to La Font with a gesture in which appeal and impatience were curiously blended, "Do you know this man?"

    "M. Grabot? Certainly," he answered, without blushing. "And have these ten years."

    "And you say that he is M. Grabot?" the poor Mayor retorted, his jaw falling ludicrously.

    "Certainly. Who should he be?"

    The Mayor looked round him, sudden beads of sweat on his brow. "Mon Dieu!" be cried. "You are all in it. Here, you, do you know this person?"

    La Trape, to whom he addressed himself, shrugged his shoulders. "I should," he said. "The Mayor is pretty well known about here."

    "The Mayor?"

    "Ay."

    "But I am the Mayor--I," Grabot answered eagerly, tapping himself on the breast in the most absurd manner. "Don't you know me, my friend?"

    "I never saw you before, to my knowledge," the rascal answered contemptuously; "and I know this country pretty well. I should think that you have been crossing St. Brieuc's brook, and forgotten to say your--"

    "Hush!" the stout player interposed with some sharpness. " Let him alone. Le bon Dieu knows that such a thing may happen to the best of us."

    The Mayor clapped his hand to his head. "Sir," he said almost humbly, addressing the last speaker, "I seem to know your voice. Your name, if you please?"

    "Fracasse," he answered pleasantly. "I am Mayor of Gol."

    "You--Fracasse, Mayor of Gol?" Grabot exclaimed between rage and terror. "But Fracasse is a tall man. I know him as well as I know my brother."

    The pseudo-Fracasse smiled, but did not contradict him.

    The Mayor wiped the moisture from his brow. He had all the characteristics of an obstinate man; but if there is one thing which I have found in a long career more true than another, it is that no one can resist the statements of his fellows. So much, I verily believe, is this the case, that if ten men maintain black to be white, the eleventh will presently be brought into their opinion. Besides, the Mayor had a currish side. He looked piteously from one to another of us, his cheeks seemed to grow in a moment pale and flabby, and he was on the point of whimpering, when at the last moment he bethought him of his servant, and turned to him in a spurt of sudden thankfulness. "Why, Jehan, man, I had forgotten you," he said. "Are these men mad, or am I?"

    But Jehan, a simple rustic, was in a state of ludicrous bewilderment. "Dol, master, I don't know," he stuttered, rubbing his head.

    "But I am myself," the Mayor cried, in a most ridiculous tone of remonstrance.

    "Dol, and I don't know," the man whimpered. "I do believe that there is a change in you. I never saw you look the like before. And I never said any pater either. Holy saints!" the poor fool continued piteously, "I wish I were at home. And there, for all I know, my wife has got another man."

    He began to blubber at this; which to us was the most ludicrous thought, so that it was all we could do to restrain our laughter. But the Mayor saw things in another light. Shaken by our steady persistence in our story, and astounded by our want of respect, the defection of his follower utterly cowed him. After staring wildly about him for a moment, he fairly turned tail, and sat down on an old box by the door, where with his hands on his knees, he looked out before him with such an expression of chap- fallen bewilderment as nearly discovered our plot by throwing us into fits of laughter.

    Still he was not persuaded; for, from time to time, he roused himself, and lifting his head cast suspicious glances at our party. But the two strollers, who were now in their element, played their parts with so much craft and delicacy, and with such an infinity of humour besides, that everything he overheard plunged him deeper in the slough. They knew something of local affairs, and called one another Mayor very naturally; and mentioning their wives, let drop other scraps of information that, catching his ear, made the wretched man every now and then sit up as if a wasp had stung him. One story in particular which the false Mayor told--and which, it appeared, was to the knowledge of all the country round the real Mayor's stock anecdote--had an absurd effect upon him. He straightened himself, listened as if his life depended upon it, and when he heard the well-known ending, uttered, doubtless, in something of his old tone, he collapsed into himself like a man who had no longer faith in anything.

    Presently, however, an effort of common-sense would again disperse the fog. He would raise his head, his eye grow bright, something of his old pugnacity would come back to him. He would appear--this more than once--to be on the point of rising to challenge us. But these occasions were as skilfully met as they were easily detected; and as the rogues had invariably some stroke in reserve that in a twinkling flung him back into his old state of dazed bewilderment, while it well-nigh killed us with stifled mirth, they only gave ever new point to the jest.

    This, to be brief, was carried on until I retired; and probably the two strollers would have kept it up longer if the ludicrous doubt whether he was himself, which they had lodged in the Mayor's mind, had not at last spurred him to action. An hour before midnight, feeling it rankle intolerably, I suppose, he sprang up on a sudden, dragged the door open, darted out with the air of a madman, and in a moment was lost in the darkness of the moor.

    When I rose in the morning, therefore, I found him gone, the strollers looking glum, and the good-wife and her girl between tears and reproaches. I could not but feel, on my part, that I had somewhat stooped in the night's diversion; but before I had time to reflect much on that an unexpected trait in the strollers' conduct reconciled me to this odd experience. They proposed to leave when I did; but a little before the start they came to me, and set before me very ingenuously that the woman of the house might suffer through our jest; if I would help her therefore, they would subscribe two crowns so that she might have a substantial sum to offer on account of her debt. As I took this to be the greater part of their capital, and judged for other reasons that the offer was genuine, I received it in the best part, and found their good-nature no less pleasant than their foolery. I handed over three crowns for our share, and on that we parted; they set out with their bundles strapped to their backs, and I waited somewhat impatiently for La Trape and the Breton to bring round the horses.

    Before these appeared, however, La Font, who was at the door, cried out that the two players were coming hack; and going to the window I saw with astonishment a whole troop, some mounted and some on foot, hurrying down the hill after them. For a moment I felt some alarm, supposing it to be a scheme of Epernon's to seize my person; and I cursed the imprudence which had led me to expose myself in this solitary place. But a second glance showing me that the Mayor of Bottitort was among the foremost, I repented almost as seriously of the unlucky trifling that had landed me in this foolish plight.

    I even debated whether I should mount and, if it were possible, get clear before they arrived; but the rueful faces of the two players as they appeared breathless in the doorway, and the liking I had taken for the rascals, decided me to stand my ground "What is it?" I said.

    "The Mayor, monsieur," Philibert answered, while Pierre pursed up his lips with gloomy gravity. "I fear it will not stop at the stocks this time," the rogue continued with a grimace.

    His comrade muttered something about a rod and a fool's back; but M. Grabot's entrance cut his witticism short. The Mayor, between shame and rage, and the gratification of his revenge, was almost bursting, and the moment he caught sight of us opened fire. "All, M. de Gol; we have them all!" he cried exultingly. "Now they shall smart for it! Depend upon it, it is some deep-laid scheme of that party. I have said so."

    But the Mayor of Gol, a stout, big, placid man, looked at us doubtfully. "Well," he said, "I know these two; they are strolling mountebanks, honest knaves enough but always in some mischief."

    "What, strolling clowns?" M. Grabot rejoined, his face falling.

    "Ay, and you may depend upon it it is some joke of theirs," his friend answered, his eyes twinkling. "I begin to think that you would have done better if you had waited a little before bringing M. le Comte into the matter."

    "Ah, but there are these two," M. Grabot cried, as he recovered from the momentary panic into which the other's words had thrown him. "Depend upon it they are the chief movers. What else but treason could they mean by asserting that one of them was Mayor of Bottitort? By denying my title? By setting up other officers than those to whom his Gracious Majesty has delegated his authority?"

    "Umph!" his brother Mayor said, "I don't know these gentlemen."

    "No!" his companion cried in triumph. "But I intend to know them; and to know a good deal about them. Guard the window there," he continued fussily. "Where is my clerk? Is M. de Laval coming?"

    Two or three cried obsequiously that he had crossed the hill; and would arrive immediately.

    Hearing this, and thinking it more becoming not to enter into an altercation, I kept my seat and the scornful silence I had hitherto maintained. The two Mayors had brought with them a posse of busybodies--huissiers, constables, tip-staves, and the like; and these all gaped upon us as if they saw before them the most notable traitors of the age. The women of the house wept in a corner, and the strollers shrugged their shoulders and strove to appear at their ease. But the only person who felt the indifference which they assumed was La Font; who, obnoxious to none of the annoyances which I foresaw, could hardly restrain his mirth at the denouement which he anticipated.

    Meanwhile the Mayor, foreseeing a very different issue, stood blowing out his cheeks and fixing us with his little eyes with an expression of dignity that would have pleased me vastly if I had been free to enjoy it. But the reflection that Laval's presence, which would cut the knot of our difficulties, would also place me at the mercy of his wit, did not enable me to contemplate it with entire indifference.

    By-and-by we heard him dismount, and a moment later he came in with a gentleman and two or three armed servants. He did not at once see me, but as the crowd made way for him he addressed himself sharply to M. Grabot. "Well, have you got them?" he said.

    "Certainly, M. le Comte."

    "Oh! very well. Now for the particulars, then. You must state your charge quickly, for I have to be in Vitre to-day."

    "He alleged that he had been appointed Mayor of Bottitort," Grabot answered pompously.

    "Umph! I don't know?" M. de Laval muttered, looking round with a frown of discontent. "I hope that you have not brought me hither on a fool's errand. Which one?"

    "That one," the Mayor said, pointing to the solemn man, whose gravity and depression were now something preternatural.

    "Oh!" M. de Laval grumbled. "But that is not all, I suppose. What of the others?"

    M. Grabot pointed to me. "That one," he said--

    He got no farther; for M. de Laval, springing forward, seized my hand and saluted me warmly. "Why, your excellency," he cried, in a tone of boundless surprise, "what are you doing in this galere! All last evening I waited for you, at my house, and now--"

    "Here I am," I answered jocularly, "in charge it seems, M. le Comte!"

    "Mon Dieu!" he cried. "I don't understand it!"

    I shrugged my shoulders. "Don't ask me," I said. "Perhaps your friend the Mayor call tell you."

    "But, Monsieur, I do not understand," the Mayor answered piteously, his mouth agape with horror, his fat cheeks turning in a moment all colours. "This gentleman, whom you seem to know, Monsieur le Comte--"

    "Is the Marquis de Rosny, President of the Council, blockhead!" Laval cried irately. "You madman! you idiot!" he continued, as light broke in upon him, and he saw that it was indeed on a fool's errand that he had been roused so early. "Is this your conspiracy? Have you dared to bring me here--"

    But I thought that it was time to interfere. "The truth is," I said, "that M. Grabot here is not so much to blame. He was the victim of a trick which these rascals played on him; and in an idle moment I let it go on. That is the whole secret. However, I forgive him for his officiousness since it brings us together, and I shall now have the pleasure of your company to Vitre."

    Laval assented heartily to this, and I did not think fit to tell him more, nor did he inquire; the Mayor's stupidity passing current for all. For M. Grabot himself, I think that I never saw a man more completely confounded. He stood staring with his mouth open; and, as much deserted as the statesman who has fallen from office, had not the least credit even with his own sycophants, who to a man deserted him and flocked about the Mayor of Gol. Though I had no reason to pity him, and, indeed, thought him well punished, I took the opportunity of saying a word to him before I mounted; which, though it was only a hint that he should deal gently with the woman of the house, was received with servility equal to the arrogance he had before displayed; and I doubt not it had all the effect I desired. For the strollers, I did not forget them, but bade them hasten to Vitre, where I would see a performance. They did so, and hitting the fancy of Zamet, who chanced to be still there, and who thought that he saw profit in them, they came on his invitation to Paris, where they took the Court by storm. So that an episode trifling in itself, and such as on my part requires some apology, had for them consequences of no little importance.
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