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