Foreseeing that some who do not love me will be swift to allege that in the preparation of these memoirs I have set down only such things as redound to my credit, and have suppressed the many experiences not so propitious which fall to the lot of the most sagacious while in power, I take this opportunity of refuting that calumny. For the truth stands so far the other way that my respect for the King's person has led me to omit many things creditable to me; and some, it may be, that place me in a higher light than any I have set down. And not only that: but I propose in this very place to narrate the curious details of an adventure wherein I showed to less advantage than usual; and on which I should, were I moved by the petty feelings imputed to me by malice, be absolutely silent.
One day, about a fortnight after the quarrel between the King and the Duchess of Beaufort, which I have described, and which arose, it will be remembered, out of my refusal to pay the christening expenses of her second son on the scale of a child of France, I was sitting in my lodgings at St. Germains when Maignan announced that M. de Perrot desired to see me. Knowing Perrot to be one of the most notorious beggars about the court, with an insatiable maw of his own and an endless train of nephews and nieces, I was at first for being employed; but, reflecting that in the crisis in the King's affairs which I saw approaching--and which must, if he pursued his expressed intention of marrying the Duchess, be fraught with infinite danger to the State and himself--the least help might be of the greatest moment, I bade them admit him; privately determining to throw the odium of any refusal upon the overweening influence of Madame de Sourdis, the Duchess's aunt.
Accordingly I met him with civility, and was not surprised when, with his second speech, he brought out the word favour
. But I was surprised--for, as I have said, I knew him to be the best practised beggar in the world--to note in his manner some indications of embarrassment and nervousness; which, when I did not immediately assent, increased to a sensible extent.
"It is a very small thing, M. de Rosny," he said, breathing hard.
On that hint I declared my willingness to serve him. "But," I added, shrugging my shoulders and speaking in a confidential tone, "no one knows the Court better than you do, M. de Perrot. You are in all our secrets, and you must be aware that at present--I say nothing of the Duchess, she is a good woman, and devoted to his Majesty--but there are others--"
"I know," he answered, with a flash of malevolence that did not escape me. "But this is a private favour, M. de Rosny. It is nothing that Madame de Sourdis can desire, either for herself or for others."
That aroused my curiosity. Only the week before, Madame de Sourdis had obtained a Hat for her son, and the post of assistant Deputy Comptroller of Buildings for her Groom of the Chambers. For her niece the Duchess she meditated obtaining nothing less than a crown. I was at pains, therefore, to think of any office, post, or pension that could be beyond the pale of her desires; and in a fit of gaiety I bade M. de Perrot speak out and explain his riddle.
"It is a small thing," he said, with ill-disguised nervousness. "The King hunts to-morrow."
"Yes," I said.
"And very commonly he rides back in your company, M. le Marquis."
"Sometimes," I said; "or with M. d'Epernon. Or, if he is in a mood for scandal, with M. la Varenne or Vitry."
"But with you, if you wish it, and care to contrive it so," he persisted, with a cunning look.
I shrugged my shoulders. "Well?" I said, wondering more and more what he would be at.
"I have a house on the farther side of Poissy," he continued. "And I should take it as a favour, M. de Rosny, if you could induce the King to dismount there to-morrow and take a cup of wine."
"That is a very small thing," I said bluntly, wondering much why he had made so great a parade of the matter, and still more why he seemed so ill at ease. "Yet, after such a prelude, if any but a friend of your tried loyalty asked it, I might expect to find Spanish liquorice in the cup."
"That is out of the question, in my case," he answered with a slight assumption of offence, which he immediately dropped. "And you say it is a small thing; it is the more easily granted, M. de Rosny."
"But the King goes and comes at his pleasure," I replied warily. "Of course, he might-take it into his head to descend at your house. There would be nothing surprising in such a visit. I think that he has paid you one before, M. de Perrot?"
He assented eagerly.
"And he may do so," I said, smiling, "to-morrow. But then, again, he may not. The chase may lead him another way; or he may be late in returning; or--in fine, a hundred things may happen."
I had no mind to go farther than that; and I supposed that it would satisfy him, and that he would thank me and take his leave. To my surprise, however, he stood his ground, and even pressed me more than was polite; while his countenance, when I again eluded him, assumed an expression of chagrin and vexation so much in excess of the occasion as to awaken fresh doubts in my mind. But these only the more confirmed me in my resolution to commit myself no farther, especially as he was not a man I loved or could trust; and in the end he had to retire with such comfort as I had already given him.
In itself, and on the surface, the thing seemed to be a trifle, unworthy of the serious consideration of any man. But in so far as it touched the King's person and movements, I was inclined to view it in another light; and this the more, as I still had fresh in my memory the remarkable manner in which Father Cotton, the Jesuit, had given me a warning by a word about a boxwood fire. After a moment's thought, therefore, I summoned Boisrueil, one of my gentlemen, who had an acknowledged talent for collecting gossip; and I told him in a casual way that M. de Perrot had been with me.
"He has not been at Court for a week," he remarked.
"Indeed?" I said.
"He applied for the post of Assistant Deputy Comptroller of Buildings for his nephew, and took offence when it was given to Madame de Sourdis' Groom of the Chambers."
"Ha!" I said; "a dangerous malcontent."
Boisrueil smiled. "He has lived a week out of the sunshine of his Majesty's countenance, your excellency. After that, all things are possible."
This was my own estimate of the man, whom I took to be one of those smug, pliant self-seekers whom Courts and peace breed up. I could imagine no danger that could threaten the King from such a quarter; while curiosity inclined me to grant his request. As it happened, the deer the next day took us in the direction of Poissy, and the King, who was always itching to discuss with me the question of his projected marriage, and as constantly, since our long talk in the garden at Rennes, avoiding the subject when with me, bade me ride home with him. On coming within half a mile of Perrot's I let fall his name, and in a very natural way suggested that the King should alight there for a few minutes.
It was one of the things Henry delighted to do, for, endowed with the easiest manners, and able in a moment to exchange the formality of the Louvre for the freedom of the camp, he could give to such cheap
favours their full value. He consented on the instant, therefore; and turning our horses into a by-road, we sauntered down it with no greater attendance than a couple of pages.
The sun was near setting, and its rays, which still gilded the tree-tops, left the wood below pensive and melancholy. The house stood in a solitary place on the edge of the forest, half a mile from Poissy; and these two things had their effect on my mind. I began to wish that we had brought with us half a troop of horse, or at least two or three gentlemen; and, startled by the thought of the unknown chances to which, out of mere idle curiosity, I was exposing the King, I would gladly have turned back. But without explanation I could not do so; and while I hesitated Henry cried out gaily that we were there.
A short avenue of limes led from the forest road to the door. I looked curiously before us as we rode under the trees, in some fear lest M. de Perrot's preparations should discover my complicity, and apprise the King that he was expected. But so far was this from being the case that no one appeared; the house rose still and silent in the mellow light of sunset, and, for all that we could see, might have been the fabled palace of enchantment.
"'He is Jean de Nivelle's dog; he runs away when you call him,'" the King quoted. "Get down, Rosny. We have reached the palace of the Sleeping Princess. It remains only to sound the horn, and--"
I was in the act of dismounting, with my back to him, when his words came to this sudden stop. I turned to learn what caused it, and saw standing in the aperture of the wicket, which had been silently opened, a girl, little more than a child, of the most striking beauty. Surprise shone in her eyes, and shyness and alarm had brought the colour to her cheeks; while the level rays of the sun, which forced her to screen her eyes with one small hand, clothed her figure in a robe of lucent glory. I heard the King whistle low. Before I could speak he had flung himself from his horse and, throwing the reins to one of the pages, was bowing before her.
"We were about to sound the horn, Mademoiselle," he said, smiling.
"The horn, Monsieur?" she exclaimed, opening her eyes in wonder, and staring at him with the prettiest face of astonishment.
"Yes, Mademoiselle; to awaken the sleeping princess," he rejoined. "But I see that she is already awake."
Through the innocence of her eyes flashed a sudden gleam of archness. "Monsieur flatters himself," she said, with a smile that just revealed the whiteness of her teeth.
It was such an answer as delighted the King; who loved, above all things, a combination of wit and beauty, and never for any long time wore the chains of a woman who did not unite sense to more showy attractions. From the effect which the grace and freshness of the girl had on me, I could judge in a degree of the impression made on him; his next words showed not only its depth, but that he was determined to enjoy the adventure to the full. He presented me to her as M. de Sage, and inquiring affectionately after Perrot, learned in a trice that she was his niece, not long from a convent at Loches; finally, begging to be allowed to rest awhile, he dropped a gallant hint that a cup of wine from her hands would be acceptable.
All this, and her innocent doubt what she ought to do, thus brought face to face with two strange cavaliers, threw the girl into such a state of blushing confusion as redoubled her charms. It appeared that her uncle had been summoned unexpectedly to Marly, and had taken his son with him; and that the household had seized the occasion to go to a village fete
at Acheres. Only an old servant remained in the house; who presently appeared and took her orders. I saw from the man's start of consternation that he knew the King; but a glance from Henry's eyes bidding me keep up the illusion, I followed the fellow and charged him not to betray the King's incognito. When I returned, I found that Mademoiselle had conducted her visitor to a grassy terrace which ran along the south side of the house, and was screened from the forest by an alley of apple trees, and from the east wind by a hedge of yew. Here, where the last rays of the sun threw sinuous shadows on the turf, and Paris seemed a million miles away, they were walking up and down, the sound of their laughter breaking the woodland silence. Mademoiselle had a fan, with which and an air of convent coquetry she occasionally shaded her eyes. The King carried his hat in his hand. It was such an adventure as he loved, with all his heart; and I stood a little way off, smiling, and thinking grimly of M. de Perrot.
On a sudden, hearing a step behind me, I turned, and saw a young man in a riding-dress come quickly through an opening in the yew hedge. As I turned, he stopped; his jaw fell, and he stood rooted to the ground, gazing at the two on the terrace, while his face, which a moment before had worn an air of pleased expectancy, grew on a sudden dark with passion, and put on such a look as made me move towards him. Before I reached him, However, M. de Perrot himself appeared at his side. The young man flashed round on him. "Mon Dieu
, sir!" he cried, in a voice choked with anger; "I see it all now! I understand why I was carried away to Marly! I--but it shall not be! I swear it shall not!"
Between him and me--for, needless to say, I, too, understood all --M. de Perrot was awkwardly placed. But he showed the presence of mind of the old courtier. "Silence, sir!" He exclaimed imperatively. "Do you not see M. de Rosny? Go to him at once and pay your respects to him, and request him to honour you with his protection. Or--I see that you are overcome by the honour which the King does us. Go, first, and change your dress. Go, boy!"
The lad retired sullenly, and M. de Perrot, free to deal with me alone, approached me, smiling assiduously, and trying hard to hide some consciousness and a little shame under a mask of cordiality. "A thousand pardons, M. de Rosny," he cried with effusion, "for an absence quite unpardonable. But I so little expected to see his Majesty after what you said, and--"
"Are in no hurry to interrupt him now you are here," I replied bluntly, determined that, whoever he deceived, he should not flatter himself he deceived me. "Pooh, man! I am not a fool," I continued.
"What is this?" he cried, with a desperate attempt to keep up the farce. "I don't understand you!"
"No, the shoe is on the other foot--I understand you," I replied drily. "Chut, man!" I continued, "you don't make a cats-paw of me. I see the game. You are for sitting in Madame de Sourdis' seat, and giving your son a Hat, and your groom a Comptrollership, and your niece a--"
"Hush, hush, M. de Rosny," he muttered, turning white and red, and wiping his brow with his kerchief. "Mon Dieu
! your words might--"
"If overheard, make things very unpleasant for M. de Perrot," I said.
"And M. de Rosny?"
I shrugged my shoulders contemptuously. "Tush, man!" I said. "Do you think that I sit in no safer seat than that?"
"Ah! But when Madame de Beaufort is Queen?" he said slily.
"If she ever is," I replied, affecting greater confidence than I at that time felt.
"Well, to be sure," he said slowly, "if she ever is." And he looked towards the King and his companion, who were still chatting gaily. Then he stole a crafty glance at me. "Do you wish her to be?" he muttered.
"Queen?" I said, "God forbid!"
"It would be a disgrace to France?" he whispered; and he laid his hand on my arm, and looked eagerly into my face.
"Yes," I said.
"A blot on his fame?"
"A--a slur on a score of noble families?"
I could not deny it.
"Then--is it not worth while to avoid all that?" he murmured, his face pale, and his small eyes glued to mine. "Is it not worth a little--sacrifice, M. de Rosny?"
"And risk?" I said. "Possibly."
While the words were still on my lips, something stirred close to us, behind the yew hedge beside which we were standing. Perrot darted in a moment to the opening, and I after him. We were just in time to catch a glimpse of a figure disappearing round the corner of the house. "Well," I said grimly, "what about being overheard now?"
M. de Perrot wiped his face. "Thank Heaven!" he said, "it was only my son. Now let me explain to you--"
But our hasty movement had caught the King's eye, and he came towards us, covering himself as he approached. I had now an opportunity of learning whether the girl was, in fact, as innocent as she seemed, and as every particular of our reception had declared her; and I watched her closely when Perrot's mode of address betrayed the King's identity. Suffice it that the vivid blush which on the instant suffused her face, and the lively emotion which almost overcame her, left me in no doubt. With a charming air of bashfulness, and just so much timid awkwardness as rendered her doubly bewitching, she tried to kneel and kiss the King's hand. He would not permit this, however, but saluted her cheek.
"It seems that you were right, sire," she murmured, curtseying in a pretty confusion, "The princess was not awake."
Henry laughed gaily. "Come now; tell me frankly, Mademoiselle," he said. "For whom did you take me?"
"Not for the King, sire," she answered, with a gleam of roguishness. "You told me that the King was a good man, whose benevolent impulses were constantly checked--"
"By M. de Rosny, his Minister."
The outburst of laughter which greeted this apprised her that she was again at fault; and Henry, who liked nothing better than such mystifications, introducing me by my proper name, we diverted ourselves for some minutes with her alarm and excuses. After that it was time to take leave, if we would sup at home and the King would not be missed; and accordingly, but not without some further badinage, in which Mademoiselle de Brut displayed wit equal to her beauty, and an agreeable refinement not always found with either, we departed.
It should be clearly understood at this point, that, notwithstanding all I have set down, I was fully determined (in accordance with a rule I have constantly followed, and would enjoin on all who do not desire to find themselves one day saddled with an ugly name) to have no part in the affair; and this though the advantage of altering the King's intentions towards Madame de Beaufort was never more vividly present to my mind. As we rode, indeed, he put several questions concerning the Baron, and his family, and connections; and, falling into a reverie, and smiling a good deal at his thoughts, left me in no doubt as to the impression made upon him. But being engaged at the time with the Spanish treaty, and resolved, as I have said, to steer a course uninfluenced by such intrigues, I did not let my mind dwell upon the matter; nor gave it, indeed, a second thought until the next afternoon, when, sitting at an open window of my lodging, I heard a voice in the street ask where the Duchess de Beaufort had her apartment.
The voice struck a chord in my memory, and I looked out. The man who had put the question, and who was now being directed on his way--by Maignan, my equerry, as it chanced had his back to me, and I could see only that he was young, shabbily dressed, and with the air of a workman carried a small frail of tools on his shoulder. But presently, in the act of thanking Maignan, he turned so that I saw his face, and with that it flashed upon me in a moment who he was.
Accustomed to follow a train of thought quickly, and to act; on its conclusion with energy, I had Maignan called and furnished with his instructions before the man had gone twenty paces; and within the minute I had the satisfaction of seeing the two return together. As they passed under the window I heard my servant explaining with the utmost naturalness that he had misunderstood the stranger, and that this was Madame de Beaufort's; after which scarce a minute elapsed before the door of my room opened, and he appeared ushering in young Perrot!
Or so it seemed to me; and the start of surprise and consternation which escaped the stranger when he first saw me confirmed me in the impression. But a moment later I doubted; so natural was the posture into which the man fell, and so stupid the look of inquiry which he turned first on me and then on Maignan. As he stood before me, shifting his feet and staring about him in vacant wonder, I began to think that I had made a mistake; and, clearly, either I had done so or this young man was possessed of talents and a power of controlling his features beyond the ordinary. He unslung his tools, and saluting me abjectly waited in silence. After a moment's thought, I asked him peremptorily what was his errand with the Duchess de Beaufort.
"To show her a watch, your excellency," he stammered, his mouth open, his eyes staring. I could detect no flaw in his acting.
"What are you, then?" I said.
"A clockmaker, my lord."
"Has Madame sent for you?"
"No, my lord," he stuttered, trembling.
"Do you want to sell her the watch?"
He muttered that he did; and that he meant no harm by it.
"Show it to me, then," I said curtly.
He grew red at that, and seemed for an instant not to understand. But on my repeating the order he thrust his hand into his breast, and producing a parcel began to unfasten it. This he did so slowly that I was soon for thinking that there was no watch in it; but in the end he found one and handed it to me.
"You did not make this," I said, opening it.
"No, my lord," he answered; "it is German, and old."
I saw that it was of excellent workmanship, and I was about to hand it back to him, almost persuaded that I had made a mistake, when in a second my doubts were solved. Engraved on the thick end of the egg, and partly erased by wear, was a dog's head, which I knew to be the crest of the Perrots.
"So," I said, preparing to return it to him, "you are a clockmaker?"
"Yes, your excellency," he muttered. And I thought that I caught the sound of a sigh of relief.
I gave the watch to Maignan to hand to him. "Very well," I said. "I have need of one. The clock in the next room--a gift from his Majesty--is out of order, and at a standstill. You can go and attend to it; and see that you do so skilfully. And do you, Maignan," I continued with meaning, "go with him. When he has made the clock go, let him go; and not before, or you answer for it. You understand, sirrah?"
Maignan saluted obsequiously, and in a moment hurried young Perrot from the room; leaving me to congratulate myself on the strange and fortuitous circumstance that had thrown him in my way, and enabled me to guard against a rencontre
that might have had the most embarassing consequences.
It required no great sagacity to foresee the, next move; and I was not surprised when, about an hour later, I heard a clatter of hoofs outside, and a voice inquiring hurriedly for the Marquis de Rosny. One of my people announced M. de Perrot, and I bade them admit him. In a twinkling he came up, pale with heat, and covered with dust, his eyes almost starting from his head and his cheeks trembling with agitation. Almost before the door was shut, he cried out that we were undone.
I was willing to divert myself with him for a time, and I pretended to know nothing. "What?" I said, rising. "Has the King met with an accident?"
"Worse! worse!" he cried, waving his hat with a gesture of despair. "My son--you saw my son yesterday?"
"Yes," I said.
"He overheard us!"
"Not us," I said drily. "You. But what then, M. de Perrot? You are master in your own house."
"But he is not in my house," he wailed. "He has gone! Fled! Decamped! I had words with him this morning, you understand."
"About your niece?"
M. de Perrot's face took a delicate shade of red, and he nodded; he could not speak. He seemed for an instant in danger of some kind of fit. Then he found his voice again. "The fool prated of love! Of love!" he said with such a look--like that of a dying fowl--that I could have laughed aloud. "And when I bade him remember his duty he threatened me. He, that unnatural boy, threatened to betray me, to ruin me, to go to Madame de Beaufort and tell her all--all, you understand. And I doing so much, and making such sacrifices for him!"
"Yes," I said, "I see that. And what did you do?"
"I broke my cane on his back," M. de Perrot answered with unction, "and locked him in his room. But what is the use? The boy has no natural feelings!"
"He got out through the window?"
Perrot nodded; and being at leisure, now that he had explained his woes, to feel their full depth, shed actual tears of rage and terror; now moaning that Madame would never forgive him, and that if he escaped the Bastille he would lose all his employments and be the laughing-stock of the Court; and now striving to show that his peril was mine, and that it was to my interest to help him.
I allowed him to go on in this strain for some time, and then, having sufficiently diverted myself with his forebodings, I bade him in an altered voice to take courage. "For I think I know," I said, "where your son is."
"At Madame's?" he groaned.
"No; here," I said.
! Where?" he cried. And he sprang up, startled out of his lamentations.
"Here; in my lodging," I answered.
"My son is here?" he said.
"In the next room," I replied, smiling indulgently at his astonishment, which was only less amusing than his terror. "I have but to touch this bell, and Maignan will bring him to you."
Full of wonder and admiration, he implored me to ring and have him brought immediately; since until he had set eyes on him he could not feel safe. Accordingly I rang my hand-bell, and Maignan opened the door. "The clockmaker," I said nodding.
He looked at me stupidly. "The clock-maker, your excellency?"
"Yes; bring him in," I said.
"But--he has gone!" he exclaimed.
"Gone?" I cried, scarcely able to believe my ears. "Gone, sirrah! and I told you to detain him!"
"Until he had mended the clock, my lord," Maignan stammered, quite out of countenance. "But he set it going half-an-hour ago; and I let him go, according to your order."
It is in the face of such contretemps
as these that the low-bred man betrays himself. Yet such was my chagrin on this occasion, and so sudden the shock, that it was all I could do to maintain my sangfroid
, and, dismissing Maignan with a look, be content to punish M. de Perrot with a sneer. "I did not know that your son was a tradesman," I said. He wrung his hands. "He has low tastes," he cried. "He always had. He has amused himself that way, And now by this time he is with Madame de Beaufort and we are undone!"
"Not we," I answered curtly; "speak for yourself, M. de Perrot."
But though, having no mind to appear in his eyes dependent on Madame's favour or caprice, I thus checked his familiarity, I am free to confess that my calmness was partly assumed; and that, though I knew my position to be unassailable--based as it was on solid services rendered to the King, my master, and on the familiar affection with which he honoured me through so many years--I could not view the prospect of a fresh collision with Madame without some misgiving. Having gained the mastery in the two quarrels we had had, I was the less inclined to excite her to fresh intrigues; and as unwilling to give the King reason to think that we could not live at peace. Accordingly, after a moment's consideration, I told Perrot that, rather than he should suffer, I would go to Madame de Beaufort myself, and give such explanations as would place another complexion on the matter.
He overwhelmed me with thanks, and, besides, to show his gratitude--for he was still on thorns, picturing her wrath and resentment he insisted on accompanying me to the Cloitre de St. Germain, where Madame had her apartment. By the way, he asked me what I should say to her.
"Whatever will get you out of the scrape," I answered curtly.
"Then anything!" he cried with fervour. "Anything, my dear friend. Oh, that unnatural boy!"
"I suppose that the girl is as big a fool?" I said.
"Bigger! bigger!" he answered. "I don't know where she learned such things!"
"She prated of love, too, then?"
"To be sure," he groaned, "and without a sou of dot
"Well, well," I said, "here we are. I will do what I can."
Fortunately the King was not there, and Madame would receive me. I thought, indeed, that her doors flew open with suspicious speed, and that way was made for me more easily than usual; and I soon found that I was not wrong in the inference I drew from these facts. For when I entered her chamber that remarkable woman, who, whatever her enemies may say, combined with her beauty a very uncommon degree of sense and discretion, met me with a low courtesy and a smile of derision. "So," she said, "M. de Rosny, not satisfied with furnishing me with evidence, gives me proof."
"How, Madame?" I said; though I well understood.
"By his presence here," she answered. "An hour ago," she continued, "the King was with me. I had not then the slightest ground to expect this honour, or I am sure that his Majesty would have stayed to share it. But I have since seen reason to expect it, and you observe that I am not unprepared."
She spoke with a sparkling eye, and an expression of the most lively resentment; so that, had M. de Perrot been in my place I think that he would have shed more tears. I was myself somewhat dashed, though I knew the prudence that governed her in her most impetuous sallies; still, to avoid the risk of hearing things which we might both afterwards wish unsaid, I came to the point. "I fear that I have timed my visit ill, Madame," I said. "You have some complaint against me."
"Only that you are like the others," she answered with a fine contempt. "You profess one thing and do another."
"As for example?"
"For example!" she replied, with a scornful laugh. "How many times have you told me that you left women, and intrigues in which women had part, on one side?"
"And now I find you--you and that Perrot, that creature!-- intriguing against me; intriguing with some country chit to--"
"Madame!" I said, cutting her short with a show of temper, "where did you get this?"
"Do you deny it?" she cried, looking so beautiful in her anger that I thought I had never seen her to such advantage. "Do you deny that you took the King there?"
"No. Certainly I took the King there."
"To Perrot's? You admit it?"
"Certainly," I said, "for a purpose."
"A purpose!" she cried with withering scorn. "Was it not that the King might see that girl?"
"Yes," I replied patiently, "it was."
She stared at me. "And you can tell me that to my face!" she said.
"I see no reason why I should not, Madame," I replied easily--"I cannot conceive why you should object to the union--and many why you should desire to see two people happy. Otherwise, if I had had any idea, even the slightest, that the matter was obnoxious to you, I would not have engaged in it."
"But--what was your purpose then?" she muttered, in a different tone.
"To obtain the King's good word with M. de Perrot to permit the marriage of his son with his niece; who is, unfortunately, without a portion."
Madame uttered a low exclamation, and her eyes wandering from me, she took up--as if her thoughts strayed also--a small ornament; from the table beside her. "Ah!" she said, looking at it closely. "But Perrot's son did he know of this?"
"No," I answered, smiling. "But I have heard that women can love as well as men, Madame. And sometimes ingenuously."
I heard her draw a sigh of relief, and I knew that if I had not persuaded her I had accomplished much. I was not surprised when, laying down the ornament with which she had been toying, she turned on me one of those rare smiles to which the King could refuse nothing; and wherein wit, tenderness, and gaiety were so happily blended that no conceivable beauty of feature, uninspired by sensibility, could vie with them. "Good friend, I have sinned," she said. "But I am a woman, and I love. Pardon me. As for your protegee
, from this moment she is mine also. I will speak to the King this evening; and if he does not at once," Madame continued, with a gleam of archness that showed me that she was not yet free from suspicion, "issue his commands to M. de Perrot, I shall know what to think; and his Majesty will suffer!"
I thanked her profusely, and in fitting terms. Then, after a word or two about some assignments for the expenses of her household, in settling which there had been delay--a matter wherein, also, I contrived to do her pleasure and the King's service no wrong--I very willingly took my leave, and, calling my people, started homewards on foot. I had not gone twenty paces, however, before M. de Perrot, whose impatience had chained him to the spot, crossed the street and joined himself to me. "My dear friend," he cried, embracing me fervently, "is all well?"
"Yes," I said.
"She is appeased?"
He heaved a deep sigh of relief, and, almost crying in his joy, began to thank me, with all the extravagance of phrase and gesture to which men of his mean spirit are prone. Through all I heard him silently, and with secret amusement, knowing that the end was not yet. At length he asked me what explanation I had given.
"The only explanation possible," I answered bluntly. "I had to combat Madame's jealousy. I did it in the only way in which it could be done: by stating that your niece loved your son, and by imploring her good word on their behalf."
He sprang a pace from me with a cry of rage and astonishment. "You did that?" he screamed.
"Softly, softly, M. de Perrot," I said, in a voice which brought him somewhat to his senses. "Certainly I did. You bade me say whatever was necessary, and I did so. No more. If you wish, however," I added grimly, "to explain to Madame that--"
But with a wail of lamentation he rushed from me, and in a moment was lost in the darkness; leaving me to smile at this odd termination of an intrigue that, but for a lad's adroitness, might have altered the fortunes not of M. de Perrot only but of the King my master and of France.