A Gentleman of France by Stanley J. Weyman
Chapter XIII. At Rosny.
The morning brought only fresh proofs of the kindness which M. de Rosny had conceived for me. Awaking early I found on a stool beside my clothes, a purse of gold containing a hundred crowns; and a youth presently entering to ask me if I lacked anything, I had at first some difficulty in recognising Simon Fleix, so sprucely was the lad dressed, in a mode resembling Maignan's. I looked at the student more than once before I addressed him by his name; and was as much surprised by the strange change I observed in him for it was not confined to his clothes--as by anything which had happened since I entered the house. I rubbed my eyes, and asked him what he had done with his soutane. 'Burned it, M. de Marsac,' he answered briefly.
I saw that he had burned much, metaphorically speaking, besides his soutane. He was less pale, less lank, less wobegone than formerly, and went more briskly. He had lost the air of crack- brained disorder which had distinguished him, and was smart, sedate, and stooped less. Only the odd sparkle remained in his eyes, and bore witness to the same nervous, eager spirit within.
'What are you going to do, then, Simon?' I asked, noting these changes curiously.
'I am a soldier,' he answered, 'and follow M. de Marsac.'
I laughed. 'You have chosen a poor service, I am afraid,' I said, beginning to rise; 'and one, too, Simon, in which it is possible you may be killed. I thought that would not suit you,' I continued, to see what he would say. But he answered nothing, and I looked at him in great surprise. 'You have made up your mind, then, at last?' I said.
'Perfectly,' he answered.
'And solved all your doubts?'
'I have no doubts.'
'You are a Huguenot?'
'That is the only true and pure religion,' he replied gravely. And with apparent sincerity and devotion he repeated Beza's Confession of Faith.
This filled me with profound astonishment, but I said no more at the time, though I had my doubts. I waited until I was alone with M. de Rosny, and then I unbosomed myself on the matter; expressing my surprise at the suddenness of the conversion, and at such a man, as I had found the student to be, stating his views so firmly and steadfastly, and with so little excitement. Observing that M. de Rosny smiled but answered nothing, I explained myself farther.
'I am surprised,' I said, 'because I have always heard it maintained that clerkly men, becoming lost in the mazes of theology, seldom find any sure footing; that not one in a hundred returns to his old faith, or finds grace to accept a new one. I am speaking only of such, of course, as I believe this lad to be --eager, excitable brains, learning much, and without judgment to digest what they learn.'
'Of such I also believe it to be true,' M. de Rosny answered, still smiling. 'But even on them a little influence, applied at the right moment, has much effect, M. de Marsac.'
'I allow that,' I said. 'But my mother, of whom I have spoken to you, saw much of this youth. His fidelity to her was beyond praise. Yet her faith, though grounded on a rock, had no weight with him.'
M. de Rosny shook his head, still smiling.
'It is not our mothers who convert us,' he said.
'What!' I cried, my eyes opened. 'Do you mean--do you mean that Mademoiselle has done this?'
'I fancy so,' he answered, nodding. 'I think my lady cast her spell over him by the way. The lad left Blois with her, if what you say be true, without faith in the world. He came to my hands two days later the stoutest of Huguenots. It is not hard to read this riddle.'
'Such, conversions are seldom lasting,' I said.
He looked at me queerly; and, the smile still hovering about his lips, answered "Tush, man! Why so serious? Theodore Beza himself could not look dryer. The lad is in earnest, and there is no harm done.'
And, Heaven knows, I was in no mood to suspect harm; nor inclined just then to look at the dark side of things. It may be conceived how delightful it was to me to be received as an equal and honoured guest by a man, even then famous, and now so grown in reputation as to overshadow all Frenchmen save his master; how pleasant to enjoy the comforts and amiabilities of home, from which I had been long estranged; to pour my mother's story into Madame's ears and find comfort in her sympathy; to feel myself, in fine, once more a gentleman with an acknowledged place in the world. Our days we spent in hunting, or excursions of some kind, our evenings in long conversations, which impressed me with an ever-growing respect for my lord's powers.
For there seemed to be no end either to his knowledge of France, or to the plans for its development, which even then filled his brain, and have since turned wildernesses into fruitful lands, and squalid towns into great cities. Grave and formal, he could yet unbend; the most sagacious of counsellors, he was a soldier also, and loved the seclusion in which we lived the more that it was not devoid of danger; the neighbouring towns being devoted to the League, and the general disorder alone making it possible for him to lie unsuspected in his own house.
One thing only rendered my ease and comfort imperfect, and that was the attitude which Mademoiselle de la Vire assumed towards me. Of her gratitude in the first blush of the thing I felt no doubt, for not only had she thanked me very prettily, though with reserve, on the evening of my arrival, but the warmth of M. de Rosny's kindness left me no choice, save to believe that she had given him an exaggerated idea of my merits and services. I asked no more than this. Such good offices left me nothing to expect or desire; my age and ill-fortune placing me at so great a disadvantage that, far from dreaming of friendship or intimacy with her, I did not even assume the equality in our daily intercourse to which my birth, taken by itself, entitled me. Knowing that I must appear in her eyes old, poor, and ill- dressed, and satisfied, with having asserted my conduct and honour, I was careful not to trespass on her gratitude; and while forward in such courtesies as could not weary her, I avoided with equal care every appearance of pursuing her, or inflicting my company upon her. I addressed her formally and upon formal topics only, such, I mean, as we shared with the rest of our company; and I reminded myself often that though we now met in the same house and at the same table, she was still the Mademoiselle de la Vire who had borne herself so loftily in the King of Navarre's ante-chamber. This I did, not out of pique or wounded pride, which I no more, God knows, harboured against her than against a bird; but that I might not in my new prosperity forget the light in which such a woman, young, spoiled, and beautiful, must still regard me.
Keeping to this inoffensive posture, I was the more hurt when I found her gratitude fade with the hour. After the first two days, during which I remarked that she was very silent, seldom speaking to me or looking at me, she resumed much of her old air of disdain. For that I cared little; but she presently went farther, and began to rake up the incidents which had happened at St. Jean d'Angely, and in which I had taken part. She continually adverted to my poverty while there, to the odd figure I had cut, and the many jests her friends had made at my expense. She seemed to take a pleasure positively savage in these, gibing at me sometimes so bitterly as to shame and pain me, and bring the colour to Madame de Rosny's cheeks.
To the time we had spent together, on the other hand, she never or rarely referred. One afternoon, however, a week after my arrival at Rosny, I found her sitting alone in the parlour. I had not known she was there, and I was for withdrawing at once with a bow and a muttered apology. But she stopped me with an angry gesture. 'I do not bite,' she said, rising from her stool and meeting my eyes, a red spot in each cheek. 'Why do you look at me like that? Do you know, M. de Marsac, that I have no patience with you.' And she stamped her foot on the floor.
'But, mademoiselle,' I stammered humbly, wondering what in the world she meant, 'what have I done?'
'Done?' she repeated angrily. 'Done? It is not what you have done, it is what you are. I have no patience with you. Why are you so dull, sir? Why are you so dowdy? Why do you go about with your doublet awry, and your hair lank? Why do you speak to Maignan as if he were a gentleman? Why do you look always solemn and polite, and as if all the world were a preche? Why? Why? Why, I say?'
She stopped from sheer lack of breath, leaving me as much astonished as ever in my life. She looked so beautiful in her fury and fierceness too, that I could only stare at her and wonder dumbly what it all meant.
'Well!' she cried impatiently, after bearing this as long as she could, 'have you not a word to say for yourself? Have you no tongue? Have you no will of your own at all, M. de Marsac?'
'But, mademoiselle,' I began, trying to explain.
'Chut!' she exclaimed, cutting me short before I could get farther, as the way of women is. And then she added, in a changed tone, and very abruptly, 'You have a velvet knot of mine, sir. Give it me.'
'It is in my room,' I answered, astonished beyond measure at this sudden change of subject, and equally sudden demand.
'Then fetch it, sir, if you please,' she replied, her eyes flashing afresh. 'Fetch it. Fetch it, I say! It has served its turn, and I prefer to have it. Who knows but that some day you may be showing it for a love-knot?'
'Mademoiselle!' I cried, hotly. And I think that for the moment I was as angry as she was.
'Still, I prefer to have it,' she answered sullenly, casting down her eyes.
I was so much enraged, I went without a word and fetched it, and, bringing it to her where she stood, in the same place, put it into her hands. When she saw it some recollection, I fancy, of the day when she had traced the cry for help on it, came to her in her anger; for she took it from me with all her bearing altered. She trembled, and held it for a moment in her hands, as if she did not know what to do with it. She was thinking, doubtless, of the house in Blois and the peril she had run there; and, being for my part quite willing that she should think and feel how badly she had acted, I stood looking at her, sparing her no whit of my glance.
'The gold chain you left on my mother's pillow,' I said coldly, seeing she continued silent, 'I cannot return to you at once, for I have pledged it. But I will do so as soon as I can.'
'You have pledged it?' she muttered, with her eyes averted.
'Yes, mademoiselle, to procure a horse to bring me here,' I replied drily. 'However, it, shall be redeemed. In return, there is something I too would ask.'
'What?' she murmured, recovering herself with all effort, and looking at me with something of her old pride and defiance.
'The broken coin you have,' I said. 'The token, I mean. It is of no use to you, for your enemies hold the other half. It might be of service to me.'
'How?' she asked curtly.
'Because some day I may find its fellow, mademoiselle,'
'And then?" she cried. She looked at me, her lips parted, her eyes flashing. 'What then, when you have found its fellow, M. de Marsac?'
I shrugged my shoulders.
'Bah!' she exclaimed, clenching her little hand, and stamping her foot on the floor in a passion I could not understand. 'That is you! That is M. de Marsac all over. You say nothing, and men think nothing of you. You go with your hat in your hand, and they tread on you. They speak, and you are silent! Why, if I could use a sword as you can, I would keep silence before no man, nor let any man save the King of France cock his hat in my presence! But you! There! go, leave me. Here is your coin. Take it and go. Send me that lad of yours to keep me awake. At any rate he has brains, he is young, he is a man, he has a soul, he can feel--if he were anything but a clerk.'
She waved me off in such a wind of passion as might have amused me in another, but in her smacked so strongly of ingratitude as to pain me not a little. I went, however, and sent Simon to her; though I liked the errand very ill, and no better when I saw the lad's face light up at the mention of her name. But apparently she had not recovered her temper when he reached her, for he fared no better than I had done; coming away presently with the air of a whipped dog, as I saw from the yew-tree walk where I was strolling.
Still, after that she made it a habit to talk to him more and more; and, Monsieur and Madame de Rosny being much taken up with one another, there was no one to check her fancy or speak a word of advice. Knowing her pride, I had no fears for her; but it grieved me to think that the lad's head should be turned. A dozen times I made up my mind to speak to her on his behalf; but for one thing it was not my business, and for another I soon discovered that she was aware of my displeasure, and valued it not a jot. For venturing one morning, when she was in a pleasant humour, to hint that she treated those beneath her too inhumanly, and with an unkindness as little becoming noble blood as familiarity, she asked me scornfully if I did not think she treated Simon Fleix well enough. To which I had nothing to answer.
I might here remark on the system of secret intelligence by means of which M. de Rosny, even in this remote place, received news of all that was passing in France. But it is common fame. There was no coming or going of messengers, which would quickly have aroused suspicion in the neighbouring town, nor was it possible even for me to say exactly by what channels news came. But come it did, and at all hours of the day. In this way we heard of the danger of La Ganache and of the effort contemplated by the King of Navarre for its relief. M. de Rosny not only communicated these matters to me without reserve, but engaged my affections by farther proofs of confidence such as might well have flattered a man of greater importance.
I have said that, as a rule, there was no coming or going of messengers. But one evening, returning from the chase with one of the keepers, who had prayed my assistance in hunting down a crippled doe, I was surprised to find a strange horse, which had evidently been ridden hard and far, standing smoking in the yard. Inquiring whose it was, I learned that a man believed by the grooms to be from Blois had just arrived and was closeted with the baron. An event so far out of the ordinary course of things naturally aroused my wonder; but desiring to avoid any appearance of curiosity, which, if indulged, is apt to become the most vulgar of vices, I refrained from entering the house, and repaired instead to the yew-walk. I had scarcely, however, heated my blood, a little chilled with riding, before the page came to me to fetch me to his master.
I found M. de Rosny striding up and down his room, his manner so disordered and his face disfigured by so much grief and horror that I started on seeing him. My heart sinking in a moment, I did not need to look at Madame, who sat weeping silently in a chair, to assure myself that something dreadful had happened. The light was failing, and a lamp had been brought into the room. M. de Rosny pointed abruptly to a small piece of paper which lay on the table beside it, and, obeying his gesture, I took this up and read its contents, which consisted of less than a score of words.
'He is ill and like to die,' the message ran, 'twenty leagues south of La Ganache. Come at all costs. P. M.
'Who?' I said stupidly--stupidly, for already I began to understand. Who is ill and like to die?'
M. de Rosny turned to me, and I saw that the tears were trickling unbidden down his cheeks. 'There is but one he for me,' he cried. 'May God spare that one! May He spare him to France, which needs him, to the Church, which hangs on him, and to me, who love him! Let him not fall in the hour of fruition. O Lord, let him not fall!' And he sank on to a stool, and remained in that posture with his face in his hands, his broad shoulders shaken with grief.
'Come, sir,' I said, after a pause sacred to sorrow and dismay; 'let me remind you that while there is life there is hope.'
'Yes, M. de Rosny, hope,' I replied more cheerfully. 'He has work to do. He is elected, called, and chosen; the Joshua of his people, as M. d'Amours rightly called him. God will not take him yet. You shall see him and be embraced by him, as has happened a hundred times. Remember, sir, the King of Navarre is strong, hardy, and young, and no doubt in good hands.'
'Mornay's,' M. de Rosny cried, looking up with contempt in his eye.
Yet from that moment he rallied, spurred, I think, by the thought that the King of Navarre's recovery depended under God on M. de Mornay; whom he was ever inclined to regard as his rival. He began to make instant preparations for departure from Rosny, and bade me do so also, telling me, somewhat curtly and without explanation, that he had need of me. The danger of so speedy a return to the South, where the full weight of the Vicomte de Turenne's vengeance awaited me, occurred to me strongly; and I ventured, though with a little shame, to mention it. But M. de Rosny, after gazing at me a moment in apparent doubt, put the objection aside with a degree of peevishness unusual in him, and continued to press on his arrangements as earnestly as though they did not include separation from a wife equally loving and beloved.
Having few things to look to myself, I was at leisure, when the hour of departure came, to observe both the courage with which Madame de Rosny supported her sorrow, 'for the sake of France,' and the unwonted tenderness which Mademoiselle de la Vire, lifted for once above herself, lavished on her. I seemed to stand-- happily in one light, and yet the feeling was fraught with pain-- outside their familiar relations; yet, having made my adieux as short and formal as possible, that I might not encroach on other and more sacred ones, I found at the last moment something in waiting for me. I was surprised as I rode under the gateway a little ahead of the others, by something small and light falling on the saddle-bow before me. Catching it before it could slide to the ground, I saw, with infinite astonishment, that I held in my hand a tiny velvet bow.
To look up at the window of the parlour, which I have said was over the archway, was my first impulse. I did so, and met mademoiselle's eyes for a second, and a second only. The next moment she was gone. M. de Rosny clattered through the gate at my heels, the servants behind him. And we were on the road.