Chapter XX. The King's Face.
 

It seemed so necessary to bring home the crime to Bruhl should the priest really perish in the trap laid for me, that I came near to falling into one of those mistakes to which men of action are prone. For my first impulse was to follow the priest to the Parvis, closely enough, if possible, to detect the assassins in the act, and with sufficient force, if I could muster it, to arrest them. The credit of dissuading me from this course lies with Simon, who pointed out its dangers in so convincing a manner that I was brought with little difficulty to relinquish it.

Instead, acting on his advice, I sent him to M. d'Agen's lodging, to beg that young gentleman to call upon me before evening. After searching the lodging and other places in vain, Simon found M. d'Agen in the tennis-court at the Castle, and, inventing a crafty excuse, brought him to my lodging a full hour before the time.

My visitor was naturally surprised to find that I had nothing particular to say to him. I dared not tell him what occupied my thoughts, and for the rest invention failed me. But his gaiety and those pretty affectations on which he spent an infinity of pains, for the purpose, apparently, of hiding the sterling worth of a character deficient neither in courage nor backbone, were united to much good nature. Believing at last that I had sent for him in a fit of the vapours, he devoted himself to amusing me and abusing Bruhl--a very favourite pastime with him. And in this way he made out a call of two hours.

I had not long to wait for proof of Simon's wisdom in taking this precaution. We thought it prudent to keep within doors after our guest's departure, and so passed the night in ignorance whether anything had happened or not. But about seven next morning one of the Marquis's servants, despatched by M. d'Agen, burst in upon us with the news--which was no news from the moment his hurried footstep sounded on the stairs that Father Antoine had been set upon and killed the previous evening!

I heard this confirmation of my hopes with grave thankfulness; Simon with so much emotion that when the messenger was gone he sat down on a stool and began to sob and tremble as if he had lost his mother, instead of a mortal foe. I took advantage of the occasion to read him a sermon on the end of crooked courses; nor could I myself recall without a shudder the man's last words to me; or the lawless and evil designs in which he had rejoiced, while standing on the very brink of the pit which was to swallow up both him and them in everlasting darkness.

Naturally, the uppermost feeling in my mind was relief. I was free once more. In all probability the priest had kept his knowledge to himself, and without him his agents would be powerless. Simon, it is true, heard that the town was much excited by the event; and that many attributed it to the Huguenots. But we did not suffer ourselves to be depressed by this, nor had I any foreboding until the sound of a second hurried footstep mounting the stairs reached our ears.

I knew the step in a moment for M. d'Agen's, and something ominous in its ring brought me to my feet before he opened the door. Significant as was his first hasty look round the room, he recovered at sight of me all his habitual sang-froid. He saluted me, and spoke coolly, though rapidly. But he panted, and I noticed in a moment that he had lost his lisp.

'I am happy in finding you,' he said, closing the door carefully behind him, 'for I am the bearer of ill news, and there is not a moment to be lost. The king has signed an order for your instant consignment to prison, M. de Marsac, and, once there, it is difficult to say what may not happen.'

'My consignment?' I exclaimed. I may be pardoned if the news for a moment found me unprepared.

'Yes,' he replied quickly. 'The king has signed it at the instance of Marshal Retz.'

'But for what?' I cried in amazement.

'The murder of Father Antoine. You will pardon me,' he continued urgently, 'but this is no time for words. The Provost-Marshal is even now on his way to arrest you. Your only hope is to evade him, and gain an audience of the king. I have persuaded my uncle to go with you, and he is waiting at his lodgings. There is not a moment to be lost, however, if you would reach the king's presence before you are arrested.'

'But I am innocent!' I cried.

'I know it,' M. d'Agen answered, 'and can prove it. But if you cannot get speech of the king innocence will avail you nothing. You have powerful enemies. Come without more ado, M. de Marsac, I pray,' he added.

His manner, even more than his words, impressed me with a sense of urgency; and postponing for a time my own judgment, I hurriedly thanked him for his friendly offices. Snatching up my sword, which lay on a chair, I buckled it on; for Simon's fingers trembled so violently he could give me no help. This done I nodded to M. d'Agen to go first, and followed him from the room, Simon attending us of his own motion. It would be then about eleven o'clock in the forenoon.

My companion ran down the stairs without ceremony, and so quickly it was all I could do to keep up with him. At the outer door he signed me to stand, and darting himself into the street, he looked anxiously in the direction of the Rue St. Denys. Fortunately the coast was still clear, and he beckoned to me to follow him. I did so and starting to walk in the opposite direction as fast as we could, in less than a minute we had put a corner between us and the house.

Our hopes of escaping unseen, however, were promptly dashed. The house, I have said, stood in a quiet by-street, which was bounded on the farther side by a garden-wall buttressed at intervals. We had scarcely gone a dozen paces from my door when a man slipped from the shelter of one of these buttresses, and after a single glance at us, set off to run towards the Rue St. Denys.

M. d'Agen looked back and nodded. 'There goes the news,' he said. 'They will try to cut us off, but I think we have the start of them.'

I made no reply, feeling that I had resigned myself entirely into his hands. But as we passed through the Rue de Valois, in part of which a market was held at this hour, attracting a considerable concourse of peasants and others, I fancied I detected signs of unusual bustle and excitement. It seemed unlikely that news of the priest's murder should affect so many people and to such a degree, and I asked M. d'Agen what it meant.

'There is a rumour abroad,' he answered, without slackening speed, 'that the king intends to move south to Tours at once.'

I muttered my surprise and satisfaction. 'He will come to terms with the Huguenots then?' I said.

'It looks like it,' M. d'Agen rejoined. 'Retz's party are in an ill-humour on that account, and will wreak it on you if they get a chance. On guard!' he added abruptly. 'Here are two of them!'

As he spoke we emerged from the crowd, and I saw, half a dozen paces in front; of us, and coming to meet us, a couple of Court gallants, attended by as many servants. They espied us at the same moment, and came across the street, which was tolerably wide at that part, with the evident intention of stopping us. Simultaneously, however, we crossed to take their side, and so met them face to face in the middle of the way.

'M. d'Agen,' the foremost exclaimed, speaking in a haughty tone, and with a dark side glance at me, 'I am sorry to see you in such company! Doubtless you are not aware that this gentleman is the subject of an order which has even now been issued to the Provost-Marshal.'

'And if so, sir? What of that?' my companion lisped in his silkiest tone.

'What of that?' the other cried, frowning, and pushing slightly forward.

'Precisely,' M. d'Agen repeated, laying his hand on his hilt and declining to give back. 'I am not aware that his Majesty has appointed you Provost-Marshal, or that you have any warrant, M. Villequier, empowering you to stop gentlemen in the public streets.'

M. Villequier reddened with anger. 'You are young, M. d'Agen,' he said, his voice quivering, 'or I would make you pay dearly for that!'

'My friend is not young,' M. d'Agen retorted, bowing. 'He is a gentleman of birth, M. Villequier; by repute, as I learned yesterday, one of the best swordsmen in France, and no Gascon. If you feel inclined to arrest him, do so, I pray. And I will have the honour of engaging your son.'

As we had all by this time our hands on our swords, there needed but a blow to bring about one of those street brawls which were more common then than now. A number of market-people, drawn to the spot by our raised voices, had gathered round, and were waiting eagerly to see what would happen. But Villeqier, as my companion perhaps knew, was a Gascon in heart as well as by birth, and seeing our determined aspects, thought better of it. Shrugging his shoulders with an affectation of disdain which imposed on no one, he signalled to his servants to go on, and himself stood aside.

'I thank you for your polite offer,' he said with an evil smile, 'and will remember it. But as you say, sir, I am not the Provost-Marshal.'

Paying little heed to his words, we bowed, passed him, and hurried on. But the peril was not over. Not only had the rencontre cost us some precious minutes, but the Gascon, after letting us proceed a little way, followed us. And word being passed by his servants, as we supposed, that one of us was the murderer of Father Antoine, the rumour spread through the crowd like wildfire, and in a few moments we found ourselves attended by a troop of Canaille who, hanging on our skirts, caused Simon Fleix no little apprehension. Notwithstanding the contempt which M. d'Agen, whose bearing throughout was admirable, expressed for them, we might have found it necessary to turn and teach them a lesson had we not reached M. de Rambouillet's in the nick of time; where we found the door surrounded by half a dozen armed servants, at sight of whom our persecutors fell back with the cowardice which is usually found in that class.

If I had been tempted of late to think M. de Rambouillet fickle, I had no reason to complain now; whether his attitude was due to M. d'Agen's representations, or to the reflection that without me the plans he had at heart must miscarry. I found him waiting within, attended by three gentlemen, all cloaked and ready for the road; while the air of purpose, which sat on his brow indicated that he thought the crisis no common one. Not a moment was lost, even in explanations. Waving me to the door again, and exchanging a few sentences with his nephew, he gave the word to start, and we issued from the house in a body. Doubtless the fact that those who sought to ruin me were his political enemies had some weight with him; for I saw his face harden as his eyes met those of M. de Villequier, who passed slowly before the door as we came out. The Gascon, however, was not the man to interfere with so large a party, and dropped back; while M. de Rambouillet, after exchanging a cold salute with him, led the way towards the Castle at a round pace. His nephew and I walked one on either side of him, and the others, to the number of ten or eleven, pressed on behind in a compact body, our cortege presenting so determined a front that the crowd, which had remained hanging about the door, fled every way. Even some peaceable folk who found themselves in our road took the precaution of slipping into doorways, or stood aside to give us the full width of the street.

I remarked--and I think it increased my anxiety--that our leader was dressed with more than usual care and richness, but, unlike his attendants, wore no arms. He took occasion, as we hurried along, to give me a word of advice. 'M. de Marsac,' he said, looking at me suddenly, 'my nephew has given me to understand that you place yourself entirely in my hands.'

I replied that I asked for no better fortune, and, whatever the event, thanked him from the bottom of my heart.

'Be pleased then to keep silence until I bid you speak,' he replied sharply, for he was one of those whom a sudden stress sours and exacerbates. 'And, above all, no violence without my orders. We are about to fight a battle, and a critical one, but it must be won with our heads. If we can we will keep you out of the Provost-Marshal's hands.'

And if not? I remembered the threats Father Antoine had used, and in a moment I lost sight of the street with all its light and life and movement. I felt no longer the wholesome stinging of the wind. I tasted instead a fetid air, and saw round me a narrow cell and masked figures, and in particular a swarthy man is a leather apron leaning over a brazier, from which came lurid flames. And I was bound. I experienced that utter helplessness which is the last test of courage. The man came forward, and then--then, thank God! the vision passed away. An exclamation to which M. d'Agen gave vent, brought me back to the present, and to the blessed knowledge that the fight was not yet over.

We were within a score of paces, I found, of the Castle gates; but so were also a second party, who had just debouched from a side-street, and now hurried on, pace for pace, with us, with the evident intention of forestalling us, The race ended in both companies reaching the entrance at the same time, with the consequence of some jostling taking place amongst the servants. This must have led to blows but for the strenuous commands which M. de Rambouillet had laid upon his followers. I found myself in a moment confronted by a row of scowling faces, while a dozen threatening hands were stretched out towards me, and as many voices, among which I recognised Fresnoy's, cried out tumultuously, 'That is he! That is the one!'

An elderly man in a quaint dress stepped forward, a paper in his hand, and, backed as he was by half a dozen halberdiers, would in a moment have laid hands on me if M. de Rambouillet had not intervened with a negligent air of authority, which sat on him the more gracefully as he held nothing but a riding-switch in his hands. 'Tut, tut! What is this?' he said lightly. 'I am not wont to have my people interfered with, M. Provost, without my leave. You know me, I suppose?'

'Perfectly, M. le Marquis,' the man answered with dogged respect; 'but this is by the king's special command.'

'Very good,' my patron answered, quietly eyeing the faces behind the Provost-Marshal, as if he were making a note of them; which caused some of the gentlemen manifest uneasiness. 'That is soon seen, for we are even now about to seek speech with his Majesty.'

'Not this gentleman,' the Provost-Marshal answered firmly, raising his hand again. 'I cannot let him pass.'

'Yes, this gentleman too, by your leave,' the Marquis retorted, lightly putting the hand aside with his cane.

'Sir,' said the other, retreating a step, and speaking with some heat, 'this is no jest with all respect. I hold the king's own order, and it may not be resisted.'

The nobleman tapped his silver comfit-box and smiled. 'I shall be the last to resist it--if you have it,' he said languidly.

'You may read it for yourself,' the Provost-Marshal answered, his patience exhausted.

M. de Rambouillet took the parchment with the ends of his fingers, glanced at it, and gave it back. 'As I thought,' he said, 'a manifest forgery.'

'A forgery!' cried the other, crimson with indignation. 'And I had it from the hands of the king's own secretary!' At this those behind murmured, some 'shame,' and some one thing and some another--all with an air so threatening that the Marquis's gentlemen closed up behind him, and M. d'Agen laughed rudely.

But M. de Rambouillet remained unmoved. 'You may have had it from whom you please, sir,' he said. 'It is a forgery, and I shall resist its execution. If you choose to await me here, I will give you my word to render this gentleman to you within an hour, should the order hold good. If you will not wait, I shall command my servants to clear the way, and if ill happen, then the responsibility will lie with you.'

He spoke in so resolute a manner it was not difficult to see that something more was at stake than the arrest of a single man. This was so; the real issue was whether the king, with whose instability it was difficult to cope, should fall back into the hands of his old advisers or not. My arrest was a move in the game intended as a counterblast to the victory which M. de Rambouillet had gained when he persuaded the king to move to Tours; a city in the neighbourhood of the Huguenots, and a place of arms whence union with them would be easy.

The Provost-Marshal could, no doubt, make a shrewd guess at these things. He knew that the order he had would be held valid or not according as one party or the other gained the mastery; and, seeing M. de Rambouillet's resolute demeanour, he gave way. Rudely interrupted more than once by his attendants, among whom were some of Bruhl's men, he muttered an ungracious assent to our proposal; on which, and without a moment's delay, the Marquis took me by the arm and hurried me across the courtyard.

And so far, well. My heart began to rise. But, for the Marquis, as we mounted the staircase the anxiety he had dissembled while we faced the Provost-Marshal, broke out in angry mutterings; from which I gathered that the crisis was yet to come. I was not surprised, therefore, when an usher rose on our appearance in the antechamber, and, quickly crossing the floor, interposed between us and the door of the chamber, informing the Marquis with a low obeisance that his Majesty was engaged.

'He will see me,' M. de Rambouillet cried, looking haughtily round on the sneering pages and lounging courtiers, who grew civil under his eye.

'I have particular orders, sir, to admit so one,' the man answered.

'Tut, tut, they do not apply to me,' my companion retorted, nothing daunted. 'I know the business on which the king is engaged, and I am here to assist him.' And raising his hand he thrust the startled official aside, and hardily pushed the doors of the chamber open.

The king, surrounded by half a dozen persons, was in the act of putting on his riding-boots. On hearing us, he turned his head with a startled air, and dropped in his confusion one of the ivory cylinders he was using; while his aspect, and that of the persons who stood round him, reminded me irresistibly of a party of schoolboys detected in a fault.

He recovered himself, it is true, almost immediately; and turning his back to us? continued to talk to the persons round him on such trifling subjects as commonly engaged him. He carried on this conversation in a very free way, studiously ignoring our presence; but it was plain he remained aware of it, and even that he was uneasy under the cold and severe gaze which the Marquis, who seemed in nowise affrighted by his reception, bent upon him.

I, for my part, had no longer any confidence. Nay, I came near to regretting that I had persevered in an attempt so useless. The warrant which awaited me at the gates seemed less formidable than his Majesty's growing displeasure; which I saw I was incurring by remaining where I was. It needed not the insolent glance of Marshal Retz, who lounged smiling by the king's hand, or the laughter of a couple of pages who stood at the head of the chamber, to deprive me of my last hope; while some things which might have cheered me--the uneasiness of some about the king, and the disquietude which underlay Marshal Retz's manner--escaped my notice altogether.

What I did see clearly was that the king's embarrassment was fast changing to anger. The paint which reddened his cheeks prevented tiny alteration in his colour being visible, but his frown and the nervous manner in which he kept taking off and putting on his jewelled cap betrayed him. At length, signing to one of his companions to follow, he moved a little aside to a window, whence, after a few moments, the gentleman came to us.

'M. de Rambouillet,' he said, speaking coldly and formally, 'his Majesty is displeased by this gentleman's presence, and requires him to withdraw forthwith.'

'His Majesty's word is law,' my patron answered, bowing low, and speaking in a clear voice audible throughout; the chamber, 'but the matter which brings this gentleman here is of the utmost importance, and touches his Majesty's person.'

M. de Retz laughed jeeringly. The other courtiers looked grave. The king shrugged his shoulders with a peevish gesture, but after a moment's hesitation, during which he looked first at Retz and then at M. de Rambouillet, he signed to the Marquis to approach.

'Why have you brought him here?' he muttered sharply, looking askance at me. 'He should have been bestowed according to my orders.'

'He has information for your Majesty's private ear,' Rambouillet answered. And he looked so meaningly at the king that Henry, I think, remembered on a sudden his compact with Rosny, and my part in it; for he started with the air of a man suddenly awakened. 'To prevent that information reaching you, sire,' my patron continued, 'his enemies have practised on your Majesty's well- known sense of justice.'

'Oh, but stay, stay!' the king cried, hitching forward the scanty cloak he wore, which barely came down to his waist. 'The man has killed a priest! He has killed a priest, man!'

He repeated with confidence, as if he had now got hold of the right argument.

That is not so, sire, craving your Majesty's pardon, M. de Rambouillet; replied with the utmost coolness.

'Tut! Tut! The evidence is clear,' the king said peevishly.

'As to that, sire,' my companion rejoined, 'if it is of the murder of Father Antoine he is accused, I say boldly that there is none.'

'Then there you are mistaken!' the king answered. 'I heard it with my own ears this morning.'

'Will you deign, sire, to tell me its nature?' M. de Rambouillet persisted.

But on that Marshal Retz thought it necessary to intervene. 'Need we turn his Majesty's chamber into a court of justice?' he said smoothly. Hitherto he had not spoken; trusting, perhaps, to the impression he had already made upon the king.

M. de Rambouillet took no notice of him.

'But Bruhl,' said the king, 'you see, Bruhl says--'

'Bruhl!' my companion replied, with so much contempt that Henry started. 'Surely your Majesty has not taken his word against this gentleman, of all people?'

Thus reminded, a second time, of the interests entrusted to me, and of the advantage which Bruhl would gain by my disappearance, the king looked first confused, and then angry. He vented his passion in one or two profane oaths, with the childish addition that we were all a set of traitors, and that he had no one whom he could trust. But my companion had touched the right chord at last; for when the king grew more composed, he waved aside Marshal Retz's protestations, and sullenly bade Rambouillet say what he had to say.

'The monk was killed, sire, about sunset,' he answered. 'Now my nephew, M. d'Agen, is without, and will tell your Majesty that he was with this gentleman at his lodgings from about an hour before sunset last evening until a full hour after. Consequently, M. de Marsac can hardly be the assassin, and M. le Marechal must look elsewhere if he wants vengeance.'

'Justice, sir, not vengeance.' Marshal Retz said with a dark glance. His keen Italian face hid his trouble well, but a little pulse of passion beating in his olive cheek betrayed the secret to those who knew him. He had a harder part to play than his opponent; for while Rambouillet's hands were clean, Retz knew himself a traitor, and liable at any moment to discovery and punishment.

'Let M. d'Agen be called,' Henry said curtly.

'And if your Majesty pleases,' Retz added, 'M. de Bruhl also, If you really intend, sire, that is, to reopen a matter which I thought had been settled.'

The king nodded obstinately, his face furrowed with ill-temper. He kept his shifty eyes, which seldom met those of the person he addressed, on the floor; and this accentuated the awkward stooping carriage which was natural to him. There were seven or eight dogs of exceeding smallness in the room, and while we waited for the persons who had been summoned, he kicked, now one and now another of the baskets which held them, as if he found in this some vent for his ill-humour.

The witnesses presently appeared, followed by several persons, among whom were the Dukes of Nevers and Mercoeur, who came to ride out with the king, and M. de Crillon; so that the chamber grew passably full. The two dukes nodded formally to the Marquis, as they passed him, but entered into a muttered conversation with Retz, who appeared to be urging them to press his cause. They seemed to decline, however, shrugging their short cloaks as if the matter were too insignificant. Crillon on his part cried audibly, and with an oath, to know what the matter was; and being informed, asked whether all this fuss was being made about a damned shaveling monk.

Henry, whose tenderness for the cowl was well known, darted an angry glance at him, but contented himself with saying sharply to M. d'Agen, 'Now, sir, what do you know about the matter?'

'One moment, sire,' M. Rambouillet cried, interposing before Francois could answer. 'Craving your Majesty's pardon, you have heard M. de Bruhl's account. May I, as a favour to myself, beg you, sire, to permit us also to hear it?'

'What?' Marshal Retz exclaimed angrily, 'are we to be the judges, then, or his Majesty? Arnidieu!' he continued hotly, 'what, in the fiend's name, have we to do with it? I protest 'fore Heaven--'

'Ay, sir, and what do you protest?' my champion retorted, turning to him with stern disdain.

'Silence!' cried the king who had listened almost bewildered. 'Silence! By God, gentlemen,' he continued, his eye travelling round the circle with a sparkle of royal anger in it not unworthy of his crown, 'you forget yourselves. I will have none of this quarrelling in my presence or out of it. I lost Quelus and Maugiron that way, and loss enough, and I will have none of it, I say! M. de Bruhl,' he added, standing erect, and looking for the moment, with all his paint and frippery, a king, 'M. de Bruhl, repeat your story.'

The feelings with which I listened to this controversy may be imagined. Devoured in turn by hope and fear as now one side and now the other seemed likely to prevail, I confronted at one moment the gloom of the dungeon, and at another tasted the air of freedom, which had never seemed so sweet before. Strong as these feelings were, however, they gave way to curiosity at this point; when I heard Bruhl called, and saw him come forward at the king's command. Knowing this man to be himself guilty, I marvelled with what face he would present himself before all those eyes, and from what depths of impudence he could draw supplies in such an emergency.

I need not have troubled myself, however, for he was fully equal to the occasion. His high colour and piercing black eyes met the gaze of friend and foe alike without flinching. Dressed well and elegantly, he wore his raven hair curled in the mode, and looked alike gay, handsome, and imperturbable. If there was a suspicion of coarseness about his bulkier figure, as he stood beside M. d'Agen, who was the courtier perfect and point devise, it went to the scale of sincerity, seeing that men naturally associate truth with strength.

'I know no more than this, sire,' he said easily; 'that, happening to cross the Parvis at the moment of the murder, I heard Father Antoine scream. He uttered four words only, in the tone of a man in mortal peril. They were'--and here the speaker looked for an instant at me--'Ha! Marsac! A moi!'

'Indeed!' M. de Rambouillet said, after looking to the king for permission. 'And that was all? You saw nothing?'

Bruhl shook his head. 'It was too dark,' he said.

'And heard no more?'

'No.'

'Do I understand, then,' the Marquis continued slowly, 'that M. de Marsac is arrested because the priest--God rest his soul!-- cried to him for help?'

'For help?' M. de Retz exclaimed fiercely.

'For help?' said the king, surprised. And at that the most; ludicrous change fell upon the faces of all. The king looked puzzled, the Duke of Nevers smiled, the Duke of Mercoeur laughed aloud. Crillon cried boisterously, 'Good hit!' and the majority, who wished no better than to divine the winning party, grinned broadly, whether they would or no.

To Marshal Retz, however, and Bruhl, that which to everyone else seemed an amusing retort had a totally different aspect; while the former turned yellow with chagrin and came near to choking, the latter looked as chapfallen and startled as if his guilt; had been that moment brought home to him. Assured by the tone of the monk's voice--which must, indeed, have thundered in his ears-- that my name was uttered in denunciation by one who thought me his assailant, he had chosen to tell the truth without reflecting that words, so plain to him, might; bear a different construction when repeated.

'Certainly the words seem ambiguous,' Henry muttered.

'But it was Marsac killed him,' Retz cried in a rage.

'It is for some evidence of that we are waiting,' my champion answered suavely.

The Marshal looked helplessly at Nevers and Mercoeur, who commonly took part with him; but apparently those noblemen had not been primed for this occasion. They merely shook their heads and smiled. In the momentary silence which followed, while all looked curiously at Bruhl, who could not conceal his mortification, M. d'Agen stepped forward.

'If your Majesty will permit me,' he said, a malicious simper crossing his handsome face--I had often remarked his extreme dislike for Bruhl without understanding it--'I think I can furnish some evidence more to the point than that; to which M. de Bruhl has with so much fairness restricted himself.' He then went on to state that he had had the honour of being in my company at the time of the murder; and he added, besides, so many details as to exculpate me to the satisfaction of any candid person.

The king nodded. 'That settles the matter,' he said, with a sigh of relief. 'You think so, Mercoeur, do you not? Precisely. Villequier, see that the order respecting M. de Marsac is cancelled.'

M. de Retz could not control his wrath on hearing this direction given. 'At this rate,' he cried recklessly, 'we shall have few priests left here! We have got a bad name at Blois, as it is!'

For a moment all in the circle held their breath, while the king's eyes flashed fire at this daring allusion to the murder of the Duke de Guise, and his brother the Cardinal. But it was Henry's misfortune to be ever indulgent in the wrong place, and severe when severity was either unjust or impolitic. He recovered himself with an effort, and revenged himself only by omitting to invite the Marshal, who was now trembling in his shoes, to join his riding-party.

The circle broke up amid some excitement. I stood on one side with M. d'Agen, while the king and his immediate following passed out, and, greatly embarrassed as I was by the civil congratulating of many who would have seen me hang with equal goodwill, I was sharp enough to see that something was brewing between Bruhl and Marshal Retz, who stood back conversing in low tones. I was not surprised, therefore, when the former made his way towards me through the press which filled the antechamber, and with a lowering brow requested a word with me.

'Certainly,' I said, watching him narrowly, for I knew him to be both treacherous and a bully. 'Speak on, sir.'

'You have balked me once and again,' he rejoined, in a voice which shook a little, as did the fingers with which he stroked his waxed moustache. 'There is no need of words between us. I, with one sword besides, will to-morrow at noon keep the bridge at Chaverny, a league from here. It is an open country. Possibly your pleasure may lead you to ride that way with a friend?'

'You may depend upon me, sir,' I answered, bowing low, and feeling thankful that the matter was at length to be brought to a fair and open arbitration. 'I will be there--and in person. For my deputy last night,' I added, searching his face with a steadfast eye, 'seems to have been somewhat unlucky.'