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    A Perilous Amour

    by Stanley J Weyman
    • Rate it:
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    AN EPISODE ADAPTED FROM THE MEMOIRS OF MAXIMILIAN DE BETHUNE, DUKE OF
    SULLY

    Such in brief were the reasons which would have led me, had I followed
    the promptings of my own sagacity, to oppose the return of the Jesuits.
    It remains for me only to add that these arguments lost all their weight
    when set in the balance against the safety of my beloved master. To this
    plea the king himself for once condescended, and found those who were
    most strenuous to dissuade him the least able to refute it; since the
    more a man abhorred the Jesuits, the more ready he was to allow that
    the king's life could not be safe from their practices while the edict
    against them remained in force. The support which I gave to the king on
    this occasion exposed me to the utmost odium of my co-religionists, and
    was in later times ill-requited by the order. But a remarkable incident
    that occurred while the matter was still under debate, and which I now
    for the first time make public, proved beyond question the wisdom of my
    conduct.

    Fontainebleau being at this time in the hands of the builders, the
    king had gone to spend his Easter at Chantilly, whither Mademoiselle
    d'Entragues had also repaired. During his absence from Paris I was
    seated one morning in my library at the Arsenal, when I was informed
    that Father Cotton, the same who at Metz had presented a petition from
    the Jesuits, and who was now in Paris pursuing that business under
    a safe-conduct, craved leave to pay his respects to me. I was not
    surprised, for I had been a little before this of some service to him.
    The pages of the court, while loitering outside the Louvre, had raised
    a tumult in the streets, and grievously insulted the father by shouting
    after him, "Old Wool! Old Cotton!" in imitation of the Paris street
    cry. For this the king, at my instigation, had caused them to be soundly
    whipped, and I supposed that the Jesuit now desired to thank me for
    advice--given, in truth, rather out of regard to discipline than to him.
    So I bade them admit him.

    His first words, uttered before my secretaries could retire, indicated
    that this was indeed his errand; and for a few moments I listened to
    such statements from him and made such answers myself as became our
    several positions. Then, as he did not go, I began to conceive the
    notion that he had come with a further purpose; and his manner, which
    seemed on this occasion to lack ease, though he was well gifted with
    skill and address, confirmed the notion. I waited, therefore, with
    patience, and presently he named his Majesty with many expressions
    of devotion to his person. "I trust," said he, "that the air of
    Fontainebleau agrees with him, M. de Rosny?"

    "You mean, good father, of Chantilly?" I answered.

    "Ah, to be sure!" he rejoined, hastily. "He is, of course, at
    Chantilly."

    After that he rose to depart, but was delayed by the raptures into which
    he fell at sight of the fire, which, the weather being cold for the time
    of year, I had caused to be lit. "It burns so brightly," said he, "that
    it must be of boxwood, M. de Rosny."

    "Of boxwood?" I exclaimed, in surprise.

    "Ay, is it not of boxwood?" quoth he, looking at me with much
    simplicity.

    "Certainly not!" I made answer, rather peevishly. "Who ever heard of
    people burning boxwood in Paris, father?"

    He apologised for his ignorance--which was indeed matter of wonder--on
    the ground of his southern birth, and took his departure, leaving me
    in much doubt as to the real purport of his visit. I was indeed more
    troubled by the uncertainty I felt than another less conversant with
    the methods of the Jesuits might have been, for I knew that it was their
    habit to let drop a word where they dared not speak plainly, and I felt
    myself put on my mettle to interpret the father's hint. My perplexities
    were increased by the belief that he would not have intervened in any
    matter of small moment, and by the conviction, which grew upon me apace,
    that while I stood idle before the hearth my dearest interests and those
    of France were at stake.

    "Michel," I said at last, addressing the _doyen_ of my secretaries, who
    chanced to be a Provencal, "have you ever seen a boxwood fire?"

    He replied respectfully, but with some show of surprise, that he had
    not, adding that that wood was rendered so valuable to the turner by its
    hardness that few people would be extravagant enough to use it for fuel.
    I assented, and felt the more certain that the Jesuit's remark contained
    a hidden meaning. The only other clue I had consisted in the apparent
    mistake the father had made as to the king's residence, and this might
    have been dropped from him in pure inadvertence. Yet I was inclined
    to think it intentional, and construed it as implying that the matter
    concerned the king personally. Which the more alarmed me.

    I passed the day in great anxiety, but toward evening, acting on a
    sudden inspiration, I sent La Trape, my valet, a trusty fellow who
    had saved my life at Cahors, to the Three Pigeons, a large inn in the
    suburbs, at which such travellers from North to South as did not wish to
    enter the city were accustomed to change horses and sometimes to sleep.
    Acquitting himself of the commission I had given him with his usual
    adroitness, he quickly returned with the news that a traveller of rank
    had passed through three days before, having sent in advance to order
    relays there and at Essonnes. La Trape reported that the gentleman had
    remained in his coach, and that none of the inn servants had seen his
    face.

    "And he had companions?" I said. My mind had not failed already to
    conceive a natural suspicion.

    "Only one, your Grace. The rest were servants."

    "And that one?"

    "A man in the yard fancied that he recognised M. de la Varenne."

    "Ah!" I said no more. My agitation was indeed such that, before giving
    reins to it, I bade La Trape withdraw. I could scarcely believe that,
    perfectly acquainted as the king was with the plots which Spain and the
    Catholics were daily weaving for his life, and possessing such unavowed
    but powerful enemies among the great lords as Tremouille and Bouillon,
    to say nothing of Mademoiselle d'Entragues's half-brother, the Count of
    Auvergne--I could hardly believe that with this knowledge his Majesty
    had been so foolhardy as to travel without guards or attendance to
    Fontainebleau. And yet I now felt an absolute certainty that this
    was the case. The presence of La Varenne also, the confidant of his
    intrigues, informed me of the cause of this wild journey, convincing me
    that his Majesty had given way to the sole weakness of his nature, and
    was bent on one of those adventures of gallantry which had been more
    becoming in the Prince of Bearn than in the king of France. Neither
    was I at a loss to guess the object of his pursuit. It had been lately
    whispered in the court that the king had seen and fallen in love with
    his mistress's younger sister, Susette d'Entragues, whose home at
    Malesherbes lay but three leagues from Fontainebleau, on the edge of the
    forest. This placed the king's imprudence in a stronger light, for he
    had scarcely in France a more dangerous enemy than her brother Auvergne;
    nor had the immense sums which he had settled on the elder sister
    satisfied the mean avarice or conciliated the brutish hostility of her
    father.

    Apprised of all this, I saw that Father Cotton had desired to
    communicate it to me. But his motive I found it less easy to divine. It
    might have been a wish to balk this new passion through my interference,
    and at the same time to expose me to the risk of his Majesty's anger.
    Or it might simply have been a desire to avert danger from the king's
    person. At any rate, constant to my rule of ever preferring my master's
    interest to his favour, I sent for Maignan, my equerry, and bade him
    have an equipage ready at dawn.

    Accordingly at that hour next morning, attended only by La Trape, with
    a groom, a page, and four Swiss, I started, giving out that I was bound
    for Sully to inspect that demesne, which had formerly been the property
    of my family, and of which the refusal had just been offered to me.
    Under cover of this destination I was enabled to reach La Ferte Alais
    unsuspected. There, pretending that the motion of the coach fatigued me,
    I mounted the led horse, without which I never travelled, and bidding La
    Trape accompany me, gave orders to the others to follow at their leisure
    to Pethiviers, where I proposed to stay the night.

    La Ferte Alais, on the borders of the forest, is some five leagues
    westward of Fontainebleau, and as far north of Malesherbes, with which
    last it is connected by a highroad. Having disclosed my intentions to La
    Trape, however, I presently left this road and struck into a path which
    promised to conduct us in the right direction. But the denseness of
    the undergrowth, and the huge piles of gray rocks which lie everywhere
    strewn about the forest, made it difficult to keep for any time in a
    straight line. After being two hours in the saddle we concluded that we
    had lost our way, and were confirmed in this on reaching a clearing,
    and seeing before us a small inn, which La Trape recognised as standing
    about a league and a half on the forest side of Malesherbes.

    We still had ample time to reach Fontainebleau by nightfall, but before
    proceeding it was absolutely necessary that our horses should have rest.
    Dismounting, therefore, I bade La Trape see the sorrel well baited.
    Observing that the inn was a poor place, and no one coming to wait upon
    me, I entered it of my own motion, and found myself at once in a large
    room better furnished with company than accommodation. Three men, who
    had the appearance of such reckless swaggering blades as are generally
    to be found drinking in the inns on the outskirts of Paris, and who come
    not unfrequently to their ends at Montfaucon, were tippling and playing
    cards at a table near the door. They looked up sullenly at my entrance,
    but refrained from saluting me, which, as I was plainly dressed and much
    stained by travel, was in some degree pardonable. By the fire, partaking
    of a coarse meal, was a fourth man of so singular an appearance that I
    must needs describe him. He was of great height and extreme leanness.
    His face matched his form, for it was long and thin, terminating in a
    small peaked beard which, like his hair and mustachios, was as white as
    snow. With all this, his eyes glowed with much of the fire of youth, and
    his brown complexion and sinewy hands seemed still to indicate robust
    health. He was dressed in garments which had once been fashionable, but
    now bore marks of long and rough usage, and I remarked that the point of
    his sword, which, as he sat, trailed on the stones behind him, had worn
    its way through the scabbard. Notwithstanding these signs of poverty, he
    saluted me with the ease and politeness of a gentleman, and bade me with
    much courtesy to share his table and the fire. Accordingly I drew up,
    and called for a bottle of the best wine, being minded to divert myself
    with him.

    I was little prepared, however, for the turn his conversation took, and
    the furious tirade into which he presently broke, the object of which
    proved to be no other than myself! I do not know that I have ever cut so
    whimsical a figure as while hearing my name loaded with reproaches;
    but, being certain that he did not know me, I waited patiently, and soon
    learned both who he was, and the grievance which he was on his way to
    lay before the king. His name was Boisrose, and he had been the leader
    in that gallant capture of Fecamp, which took place while I was
    in Normandy as the king's representative. His grievance was that,
    notwithstanding promises in my letters, he had been deprived of the
    government of the place.

    "He leads the king by the ear!" he declaimed loudly, in an accent which
    marked him for a Gascon. "That villain of a De Rosny! But I will show
    him up! I will trounce him!" With that he drew the hilt of his long
    rapier to the front with a gesture so truculent that the three bullies,
    who had stopped to laugh at him, resumed their game in disorder.

    Notwithstanding his hatred for me, I was pleased to meet with a man of
    so singular a temper, whom I also knew to be truly courageous; and I was
    willing to amuse myself further with him. "But," I said, modestly, "I
    have had some affairs with M. de Rosny, and I have never found him cheat
    me."

    "Do not deceive yourself!" he roared, slapping the table. "He is a
    rascal!"

    "Yet," I ventured to reply, "I have heard that in many respects he is
    not a bad minister."

    "He is a villain!" he repeated, so loudly as to drown what I would have
    added. "Do not tell me otherwise. But rest assured! be happy, sir! I
    will make the king see him in his true colours! Rest content, sir! I
    will trounce him! He has to do with Armand de Boisrose!"

    Seeing that he was not open to argument,--for, indeed, being opposed,
    he grew exceedingly warm,--I asked him by what channel he intended to
    approach the king, and learned that here he felt a difficulty, since he
    had neither a friend at court nor money to buy one. Being assured that
    he was an honest fellow, and knowing that the narrative of our rencontre
    and its sequel would vastly amuse his Majesty, who loved a jest of this
    kind, I advised Boisrose to go boldly to the king, which, thanking me as
    profusely as he had before reproached me, he agreed to do. With that I
    rose to depart.

    At the last moment it occurred to me to try upon him the shibboleth
    which in Father Cotton's mouth had so mystified me.

    "This fire burns brightly," I said, kicking the logs together with my
    riding-boot. "It must be of boxwood."

    "Of what, sir?" quoth he, politely.

    "Of boxwood, to be sure," I replied, in a louder tone.

    "My certes!" he exclaimed. "They do not burn boxwood in this country.
    Those are larch trimmings--neither more nor less!"

    While he wondered at my ignorance, I was pleased to discover his, and
    so far I had lost my pains. But it did not escape me that the three
    gamesters had ceased to play and were listening intently to our
    conversation. Moreover, as I moved to the door, they followed me with
    their eyes; and when I turned, after riding a hundred yards, I found
    that they had come to the door and were still gazing after us.

    This prevented me at once remarking that a hound which had which had
    been lying before the fire had accompanied us, and was now running in
    front, now gambolling round us, as the manner of dogs is. When, however,
    after riding about two thirds of a league, we came to a place where
    the roads forked, I had occasion particularly to notice the hound, for,
    choosing one of the paths, it stood in the mouth of it, wagging its
    tail, and inviting us to take that road; and this so pertinaciously
    that, though the directions we had received at the inn would have led
    us to prefer the other, we determined to follow the dog as the more
    trustworthy guide.

    We had proceeded about four hundred paces when La Trape pointed out that
    the path was growing more narrow and showed few signs of being used. So
    certain did it seem--though the dog still ran confidently ahead--that
    we were again astray, that I was about to draw rein and return, when I
    discovered with some emotion that the undergrowth on the right of the
    path had assumed the character of a thick hedge of box. Though less
    prone than most men to put faith in omens, I accepted this as one,
    and, notwithstanding that it wanted but an hour of sunset, I rode on
    steadily, remarking that, with each turn in the woodland path, the scrub
    on my left also gave place to the sturdy tree which had been in my
    mind all day. Finally we found ourselves passing through an alley of
    box,--which, no long time before, had been clipped and dressed,--until a
    final turn brought me into a cul-de-sac, a kind of arbor, carpeted
    with grass, and so thickly set about as to afford no exit save by the
    entrance. Here the dog placidly stood and wagged its tail, looking up at
    us.

    I must confess that this termination of the adventure seemed so
    surprising, and the evening light shining on the walls of green round us
    was so full of a solemn quiet, that I was not surprised to hear La Trape
    mutter a short prayer. For my part, assured that something more than
    chance had brought me hither, I dismounted, and spoke encouragement
    to the hound; but it only leaped upon me. Then I walked round the
    enclosure, and presently remarked, close to the hedge, three small
    patches where the grass was slightly trodden down. Another glance told
    me much, for I saw that at these places the hedge, about three feet
    from the ground, bore traces of the axe. Choosing the nearest spot,
    I stooped, until my eyes were level with the hole thus made, and
    discovered that I was looking through a funnel skilfully cut in the wall
    of box. At my end the opening was rather larger than a man's face; at
    the other end about as large as the palm of the hand. The funnel rose
    gradually, so that I took the further extremity of it to be about seven
    feet from the ground, and here it disclosed a feather dangling on a
    spray. From the light falling strongly on this, I judged it to be not in
    the hedge, but a pace or two from it on the hither side of another fence
    of box. On examining the remaining loopholes I discovered that they bore
    upon the same feather.

    My own mind was at once made up, but I bade my valet go through the same
    investigation, and then asked him whether he had ever seen an ambush
    of this kind laid for game. He replied at once that the shot would pass
    over the tallest stag; and, fortified by this, I mounted without saying
    more, and we retraced our steps. The hound presently slipped away,
    and without further adventure we reached Fontainebleau a little after
    sunset.

    I expected to be received by the king with coldness and displeasure, but
    it chanced that a catarrh had kept him within doors all day, and, unable
    to hunt or to visit his new flame, he had been at leisure in this
    palace without a court to consider the imprudence he was committing. He
    received me, therefore, with the hearty laugh of a school-boy detected
    in a petty fault; and as I hastened to relate to him some of the things
    which M. de Boisrose had said of the Baron de Rosny, I soon had the
    gratification of perceiving that my presence was not taken amiss. His
    Majesty gave orders that bedding should be furnished for my pavilion,
    and that his household should wait on me, and himself sent me from his
    table a couple of chickens and a fine melon, bidding me at the same time
    to come to him when I had supped.

    I did so, and found him alone in his closet, awaiting me with
    impatience, for he had already divined that I had not made this journey
    merely to reproach him. Before informing him, however, of my suspicions,
    I craved leave to ask him one or two questions, and, in particular,
    whether he had been in the habit of going to Malesherbes daily.

    "Daily," he admitted, with a grimace. "What more, grand master?"

    "By what road, sire?"

    "I have commonly hunted in the morning and visited Malesherbes at
    midday. I have returned as a rule by the bridle-path, which crosses the
    Rock of the Serpents."

    "Patience, sir, one moment," I said. "Does that path run anywhere
    through a plantation of box?"

    "To be sure," he answered, without hesitation. "About half a mile on
    this side of the rock it skirts Madame Catherine's maze."

    Thereon I told the king without reserve all that had happened. He
    listened with the air of apparent carelessness which he always assumed
    when the many plots against his life were under discussion; but at the
    end he embraced me again and again with tears in his eyes.

    "France is beholden to you," he said. "I have never had, nor shall have,
    such another servant as you, Rosny! The three ruffians at the inn,"
    he continued, "are the tools, of course, and the hound has been in the
    habit of accompanying them to the spot. Yesterday, I remember, I walked
    by that place with the bridle on my arm."

    "By a special providence, sire," I said, gravely.

    "It is true," he answered, crossing himself, a thing I had never yet
    known him to do in private. "But now, who is the craftsman who has
    contrived this pretty plot? Tell me that, grand master."

    On this point, however, though I had my suspicions, I begged leave to
    be excused speaking until I had slept upon it. "Heaven forbid," I said,
    "that I should expose any man to your Majesty's resentment without
    cause. The wrath of kings is the forerunner of death."

    "I have not heard," the king answered, drily, "that the Duke of Bouillon
    has called in a leech yet."

    Before retiring I learned that his Majesty had with him a score of light
    horse, whom La Varenne had requisitioned from Melun, and that some of
    these had each day awaited him at Malesherbes, and returned with him.
    Further, that Henry had been in the habit of wearing, when riding back
    in the evening, a purple cloak over his hunting-suit; a fact well known,
    I felt sure, to the assassins, who, unseen and in perfect safety, could
    fire at the exact moment when the cloak obscured the feather, and could
    then make their escape, secured by the stout wall of box, from immediate
    pursuit.

    I was aroused in the morning by La Varenne coming to my bedside and
    bidding me hasten to the king. I did so, and found his Majesty already
    in his boots and walking on the terrace with Coquet, his master of the
    household, Vitry, La Varenne, and a gentleman unknown to me. On seeing
    me he dismissed them, and, while I was still a great way off, called
    out, chiding me for my laziness; then taking me by the hand in the most
    obliging manner, he made me walk up and down with him, while he told me
    what further thoughts he had of this affair; and, hiding nothing from
    me, even as he bade me speak to him whatever I thought without reserve,
    he required to know whether I suspected that the Entragues family were
    cognizant of this.

    "I cannot say, sire," I answered, prudently.

    "But you suspect?"

    "In your Majesty's cause I suspect all," I replied.

    He sighed, and seeing that my eyes wandered to the group of gentlemen
    who had betaken themselves to the terrace steps, and were thence
    watching us, he asked me if I would answer for them. "For Vitry, who
    sleeps at my feet when I lie alone? For Coquet?"

    "For three of them I will, sire," I answered, firmly. "The fourth I do
    not know."

    "He is M. Louis d'Entragues."

    "Ah! the count of Auvergne's half-brother?" I muttered. "And lately
    returned from service in Savoy? I do not know him, your Majesty. I will
    answer to-morrow."

    "And to-day?" the king asked, with impatience.

    Thereupon I begged him to act as he had done each day since his arrival
    at Fontainebleau--to hunt in the morning, to take his midday meal at
    Malesherbes, to talk to all as if he had no suspicion; only on his
    return to take any road save that which passed the Rock of the Serpents.

    The king turning to rejoin the others, I found that their attention was
    no longer directed to us, but to a singular figure which had made its
    appearance on the skirts of the group, and was seemingly prevented from
    joining it outright only by the evident merriment with which three of
    the four courtiers regarded it. The fourth, M. d'Entragues, did not seem
    to be equally diverted with the stranger's quaint appearance, nor did
    I fail to notice, being at the moment quick to perceive the slightest
    point in his conduct, that, while the others were nudging one another,
    his countenance, darkened by an Italian sun, gloomed on the new-comer
    with an aspect of angry discomfiture. On his side, M. de Boisrose--for
    he it was, the aged fashion of his dress more conspicuous than
    ever--stood eyeing the group in mingled pride and resentment, until,
    aware of his Majesty's approach, and seeing me in intimate converse with
    him, he joyfully stepped forward, a look of relief taking place of all
    others on his countenance.

    "Ha, well met!" quoth the king in my ear. "It is your friend of
    yesterday. Now we will have some sport."

    Accordingly, the old soldier approaching with many low bows, the king
    spoke to him graciously, and bade him say what he sought. It happened
    then as I had expected. Boisrose, after telling the king his name,
    turned to me and humbly begged that I would explain his complaint, which
    I consented to do, and did as follows:

    "This, sire," I said, gravely, "is an old and brave soldier, who
    formerly served your Majesty to good purpose in Normandy; but he has
    been cheated out of the recompense which he there earned by the trickery
    and chicanery of one of your Majesty's counsellors, the Baron de Rosny."

    I could not continue, for the courtiers, on hearing this from my mouth,
    and on discovering that the stranger's odd appearance was but a prelude
    to the real diversion, could not restrain their mirth. The king,
    concealing his own amusement, turned to them with an angry air, and
    bade them be silent; and the Gascon, encouraged by this, and by the bold
    manner in which I had stated his grievance, scowled at them gloriously.

    "He alleges, sire," I continued, with the same gravity, "that the Baron
    de Rosny, after promising him the government of Fecamp, bestowed it on
    another, being bribed to do so, and has besides been guilty of many
    base acts which make him unworthy of your Majesty's confidence. That, I
    think, is your complaint, M. de Boisrose?" I concluded, turning to the
    soldier, whom my deep seriousness so misled that he took up the story,
    and, pouring out his wrongs, did not fail to threaten to trounce me, or
    to add that I was a villain!

    He might have said more, but at this the courtiers, perceiving that the
    king broke into a smile, lost all control over themselves, and, giving
    vent suddenly to loud peals of laughter, clasped one another by the
    shoulders, and reeled to and fro in an ecstasy of enjoyment. This led
    the king to give way also, and he laughed heartily, clapping me again
    and again on the back; so that, in fine, there were only two serious
    persons present--the poor Boisrose, who took all for lunatics, and
    myself, who began to think that perhaps the jest had been carried far
    enough.

    My master presently saw this, and, collecting himself, turned to the
    amazed Gascon.

    "Your complaint is one," he said, "which should not be lightly made. Do
    you know the Baron de Rosny?"

    Boisrose, by this time vastly mystified, said he did not.

    "Then," said the king, "I will give you an opportunity of becoming
    acquainted with him. I shall refer your complaint to him, and he will
    decide upon it. More," he continued, raising his hand for silence
    as Boisrose, starting forward, would have appealed to him, "I will
    introduce you to him now. This is the Baron de Rosny."

    The old soldier glared at me for a moment with starting eyeballs, and a
    dreadful despair seemed to settle on his face. He threw himself on his
    knees before the king.

    "Then, sire," said he, in a heartrending voice, "am I ruined! My six
    children must starve, and my young wife die by the roadside!"

    "That," answered the king, gravely, "must be for the Baron de Rosny to
    decide. I leave you to your audience."

    He made a sign to the others, and, followed by them, walked slowly
    along the terrace; the while Boisrose, who had risen to his feet, stood
    looking after him like one demented, shaking, and muttering that it was
    a cruel jest, and that he had bled for the king, and the king made sport
    of him.

    Presently I touched him on the arm.

    "Come, have you nothing to say to me, M. de Boisrose?" I asked, quietly.
    "You are a brave soldier, and have done France service; why then need
    you fear? The Baron de Rosny is one man, the king's minister is another.
    It is the latter who speaks to you now. The office of lieutenant-general
    of the ordnance in Normandy is empty. It is worth twelve thousand livres
    by the year. I appoint you to it."

    He answered that I mocked him, and that he was going mad, so that it was
    long before I could persuade him that I was in earnest. When I at last
    succeeded, his gratitude knew no bounds, and he thanked me again and
    again with the tears running down his face.

    "What I have done for you," I said, modestly, "is the reward of your
    bravery. I ask only that you will not another time think that they who
    rule kingdoms are as those gay popinjays yonder."

    In a transport of delight he reiterated his offers of service, and,
    feeling sure that I had now gained him completely, I asked him on a
    sudden where he had seen Louis d'Entragues before. In two words the
    truth came out. He had observed him on the previous day in conference at
    the forest inn with the three bullies whom I had remarked there. I
    was not surprised at this; D'Entragues's near kinship to the Count of
    Auvergne, and the mingled feelings with which I knew that the family
    regarded Henry, preparing me to expect treachery in that quarter.
    Moreover, the nature of the ambush was proof that its author resided
    in the neighbourhood and was intimately acquainted with the forest. I
    should have carried this information at once to my master, but I learned
    that he had already started, and thus baffled, and believing that his
    affection for Mademoiselle d'Entragues, if not for her sister, would
    lead him to act with undue leniency, I conceived and arranged a plan of
    my own.

    About noon, therefore, I set out as if for a ride, attended by La Trape
    only, but at some distance from the palace we were joined by Boisrose,
    whom I had bidden to be at that point well armed and mounted. Thus
    reinforced, for the Gascon was still strong, and in courage a Grillon,
    I proceeded to Malesherbes by a circuitous route which brought me within
    sight of the gates about the middle of the afternoon. I then halted
    under cover of the trees, and waited until I saw the king, attended by
    several ladies and gentlemen, and followed by eight troopers, issue from
    the chateau. His Majesty was walking, his horse being led behind him;
    and seeing this I rode out and approached the party as if I had that
    moment arrived to meet the king.

    It would not ill become me on this occasion to make some reflections on
    the hollowness of court life, which has seldom been better exemplified
    than in the scene before me. The sun was low, but its warm beams,
    falling aslant on the gaily dressed group at the gates and on the
    flowered terraces and gray walls behind them, seemed to present a
    picture at once peaceful and joyous. Yet I knew that treachery and death
    were lurking in the midst, and it was only by an effort that, as I rode
    up, I could make answer to the thousand obliging things with which I was
    greeted, and of which not the least polite were said by M. d'Entragues
    and his son. I took pains to observe Mademoiselle Susette, a beautiful
    girl not out of her teens, but noways comparable, as it seemed to me, in
    expression and vivacity, with her famous sister. She was walking
    beside the king, her hands full of flowers, and her face flushed with
    excitement and timidity, and I came quickly to the conclusion that she
    knew nothing of what was intended by her family, who, having made the
    one sister the means of gratifying their avarice, were now baiting the
    trap of their revenge with the other.

    Henry parted from her at length, and mounted his horse amid a ripple of
    laughter and compliments, D'Entragues holding the stirrup and his son
    the cloak. I observed that the latter, as I had expected, was prepared
    to accompany us, which rendered my plan more feasible. Our road lay for
    a league in the direction of the Rock of the Serpents, the track which
    passed the latter presently diverging from it. For some distance we rode
    along in easy talk, but, on approaching the point of separation, the
    king looked at me with a whimsical air, as though he would lay on me
    the burden of finding an excuse for avoiding the shorter way home. I
    had foreseen this, and looked round to ascertain the position of our
    company. I found that La Varenne and D'Entragues were close behind us,
    while the troopers, with La Trape and Boisrose, were a hundred paces
    farther to the rear, and Vitry and Coquet had dropped out of sight. This
    being so, I suddenly reined in my horse so as to back it into that of
    D'Entragues, and then wheeled round on the latter, taking care to be
    between him and the king.

    "M. Louis d'Entragues," I said, dropping the mask and addressing him
    with all the scorn and detestation which I felt, and which he deserved,
    "your plot is discovered! If you would save your life confess to his
    Majesty here and now all you know, and throw yourself on his mercy!"

    I confess that I had failed to take into account the pitch to which his
    nerves would be strung at such a time, and had expected to produce
    a greater effect than followed my words. His hand went indeed to his
    breast, but it was hard to say which was the more discomposed, La
    Varenne or he. And the manner in which, with scorn and defiance, he
    flung back my accusation in my teeth, lacked neither vigour nor
    the semblance of innocence. While Henry was puzzled, La Varenne was
    appalled. I saw that I had gone too far, or not far enough, and at once
    calling into my face and form all the sternness in my power, I bade the
    traitor remain where he was, then turning to his Majesty I craved leave
    to speak to him apart.

    He hesitated, looking from me to D'Entragues with an air of displeasure
    which embraced us both, but in the end, without permitting M. Louis to
    speak, he complied, and, going aside with me, bade me, with coldness,
    speak out.

    As soon, however, as I had repeated to him Boisrose's words, his face
    underwent a change, for he, too, had remarked the discomfiture which the
    latter's appearance had caused D'Entragues in the morning.

    "Ha! the villain!" he said. "I do not now think you precipitate. Arrest
    him at once, but do him no harm!"

    "If he resist, sire?" I asked.

    "He will not," the king answered. "And in no case harm him! You
    understand me?"

    I bowed, having my own thoughts on the subject, and the king, without
    looking again at D'Entragues, rode quickly away. M. Louis tried to
    follow, and cried loudly after him, but I thrust my horse in the way,
    and bade him consider himself a prisoner; at the same time requesting La
    Varenne, with Vitry and Coquet, who had come up and were looking on like
    men thunderstruck, to take four of the guards and follow the king.

    "Then, sir, what do you intend to do with me?" D'Entragues asked,
    the air of fierceness with which he looked from me to the six men who
    remained barely disguising his apprehensions.

    "That depends, M. Louis," I replied, recurring to my usual tone of
    politeness, "on your answers to three questions."

    He shrugged his shoulders. "Ask them," he said, curtly.

    "Do you deny that you have laid an ambush for the king on the road which
    passes the Rock of the Serpents?"

    "Absolutely."

    "Or that you were yesterday at an inn near here in converse with three
    men?"

    "Absolutely."

    "Do you deny that there is such an ambush laid?"

    "Absolutely," he repeated, with scorn. "It is an old wives' story. I
    would stake my life on it."

    "Enough," I answered, slowly. "You have been your own judge. The evening
    grows cold, and as you are my prisoner I must have a care of you.
    Kindly put on this cloak and precede me, M. d'Entragues. We return to
    Fontainebleau by the Rock of the Serpents."

    His eyes meeting mine, it seemed to me that for a second he held his
    breath and hesitated, while a cold shadow fell and dwelt upon his sallow
    face. But the stern, gloomy countenances of La Trape and Boisrose,
    who had ridden up to his rein, and were awaiting his answer with their
    swords drawn, determined him. With a loud laugh he took the cloak. "It
    is new, I hope?" he said, lightly, as he threw it over his shoulders.

    It was not, and I apologised, adding, however, that no one but the
    king had worn it. On this he settled it about him; and having heard me
    strictly charge the two guards who followed with their arquebuses ready,
    to fire on him should he try to escape, he turned his horse's head into
    the path and rode slowly along it, while we followed a few paces behind
    in double file.

    The sun had set, and such light as remained fell cold and gray between
    the trees. The crackling of a stick under a horse's hoof, or the ring
    of a spur against a scabbard, were the only sounds which broke the
    stillness of the wood as we proceeded. We had gone some little way when
    M. Louis halted, and, turning in his saddle, called to me.

    "M. de Rosny," he said,--the light had so far failed that I could
    scarcely see his face,--"I have a meeting with the Viscount de Caylus
    on Saturday about a little matter of a lady's glove. Should anything
    prevent my appearance--"

    "I will see that a proper explanation is given," I answered, bowing.

    "Or if M. d'Entragues will permit me," eagerly exclaimed the Gascon,
    who was riding by my side, "M. de Boisrose of St. Palais, gently born,
    through before unknown to him, I will appear in his place and make the
    Viscount de Caylus swallow the glove."

    "You will?" said M. Louis, with politeness. "You are a gentleman. I am
    obliged to you."

    He waved his hand with a gesture which I afterward well remembered, and,
    giving his horse the rein, went forward along the path at a brisk walk.
    We followed, and I had just remarked that a plant of box was beginning
    here and there to take the place of the usual undergrowth, when a sheet
    of flame seemed to leap out through the dusk to meet him, and, his horse
    rearing wildly, he fell headlong from the saddle without word or cry.
    My men would have sprung forward before the noise of the report had died
    away, and might possibly have overtaken one or more of the assassins;
    but I restrained them. When La Trape dismounted and raised the fallen
    man, the latter was dead.

    Such were the circumstances, now for the first time made public, which
    attended the discovery of this, the least known, yet one of the most
    dangerous, of the many plots which were directed against the life of
    my master. The course which I adopted may be blamed by some, but it
    is enough for me that after the lapse of years it is approved by my
    conscience and by the course of events. For it was ever the misfortune
    of that great king to treat those with leniency whom no indulgence could
    win; and I bear with me to this day the bitter assurance that, had the
    fate which overtook Louis d'Entragues embraced the whole of that family,
    the blow which ten years later cut short Henry's career would never have
    been struck.

    THE END.
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