A Gentleman of France by Stanley J. Weyman
Chapter XXXVI. 'Vive le Roi!'
He took his leave with those words. But his departure, which I should have hailed a few minutes before with joy, as a relief from embarrassment and humiliation, found me indifferent. The statement to which he had solemnly pledged himself in regard to the King of Navarre, that I could expect no further help from him, had prostrated me; dashing my hopes and spirits so completely that I remained rooted to the spot long after his step had ceased to sound on the stairs. If what he said was true, in the gloom which darkened alike my room and my prospects I could descry no glimmer of light. I knew His Majesty's weakness and vacillation too well to repose any confidence in him; if the King of Navarre also abandoned me, I was indeed without hope, as without resource.
I had stood some time with my mind painfully employed upon this problem, which my knowledge of M. de Turenne's strict honour in private matters did not allow me to dismiss lightly, when I heard another step on the stairs, and in a moment M. la Varenne opened the door. Finding me in the dark he muttered an apology for the remissness of the servants; which I accepted, seeing nothing else for it, in good part.
'We have been at sixes-and-sevens all day, and you have been forgotten,' he continued. 'But you will have no reason to complain now. I am ordered to conduct you to His Majesty without delay.'
'To St. Cloud?' I exclaimed, greatly astonished.
'No, the king of France is here,' he answered.
'To be sure. Why not?'
I expressed my wonder at his Majesty's rapid recovery.
'Pooh!' he answered roughly. 'He is as well as he ever was. I will leave you my light. Be good enough to descend as soon as you are ready, for it is ill work keeping kings waiting. Oh! and I had forgotten one thing,' he continued, returning when he had already reached the door. 'My orders are to see that you do not hold converse with anyone until you have seen the king, M. de Marsac. You will kindly remember this if we are kept waiting in the antechamber.'
'Am I to be transported to--other custody?' I asked, my mind full of apprehension.
He shrugged his shoulders. 'Possibly,' he replied. 'I do not know.'
Of course there was nothing for it but to murmur that I was at the king's disposition; after which La Varenne retired, leaving me to put the best face on the matter I could. Naturally I augured anything but well of an interview weighted with such a condition; and this contributed still further to depress my spirits, already lowered by the long solitude in which I had passed the day. Fearing nothing, however, so much as suspense, I hastened to do what I could to repair my costume, and then descended to the foot of the stairs, where I found my custodian awaiting me with a couple of servants, of whom one bore a link.
We went out side by side, and having barely a hundred yards to go, seemed in a moment to be passing through the gate of the Castle. I noticed that the entrance was very strongly guarded, but an instant's reflection served to remind me that this was not surprising after what had happened at St. Cloud. I remarked to M. la Varenne as we crossed the courtyard that I supposed Paris had surrendered; but he replied in the negative so curtly, and with so little consideration, that I forebore to ask any other questions; and the Chateau being small, we found ourselves almost at once in a long, narrow corridor, which appeared to serve as the antechamber.
It was brilliantly lighted and crowded from end to end, and almost from wall to wall, with a mob of courtiers; whose silence, no less than their keen and anxious looks, took me by surprise. Here and there two or three, who had seized upon the embrasure of a window, talked together in a low tone; or a couple, who thought themselves sufficiently important to pace the narrow passage between the waiting lines, conversed in whispers as they walked. But even these were swift to take alarm, and continually looked askance; while the general company stood at gaze, starting and looking up eagerly whenever the door swung open or a newcomer was announced. The strange silence which prevailed reminded me of nothing so much as of the Court at Blois on the night of the Duke of Mercoeur's desertion; but that stillness had brooded over empty chambers, this gave a peculiar air of strangeness to a room thronged in every part.
M. la Varenne, who was received by those about the door with silent politeness, drew me into the recess of a window; whence I was able to remark, among other things, that the Huguenots present almost outnumbered the king's immediate following. Still, among those who were walking up and down, I noticed M. de Rambouillet, to whom at another time I should have hastened to pay my respects; with Marshal d'Aumont, Sancy, and Humieres. Nor had I more than noted the presence of these before the door of the chamber opened and added to their number Marshal Biron, who came out leaning on the arm of Crillon. The sight of these old enemies in combination was sufficient of itself to apprise me that some serious crisis was at hand; particularly as their progress through the crowd was watched, I observed, by a hundred curious and attentive eyes.
They disappeared at last through the outer door, and the assemblage turned as with one accord to see who came next. But nearly half an hour elapsed before the Chamber door, which all watched so studiously, again opened. This time it was to give passage to my late visitor, Turenne, who came out smiling, and leaning, to my great surprise, on the arm of M. de Rosny.
As the two walked down the room, greeting here and there an obsequious friend, and followed in their progress by all eyes, I felt my heart sink indeed; both at sight of Turenne's good- humour, and of the company in which I found him. Aware that in proportion as he was pleased I was like to meet with displeasure, I still might have had hope left had I had Rosny left. Losing him, however--and I could not doubt, seeing him as I saw him, that I had lost him--and counting the King of Navarre as gone already, I felt such a failure of courage as I had never known before. I told myself with shame that I was not made for Courts, or for such scenes as these; and recalling with new and keen mortification the poor figure I had cut in the King of Navarre's antechamber at St. Jean, I experienced so strange a gush of pity for my mistress that nothing could exceed the tenderness I felt for her. I had won her under false colours, I was not worthy of her. I felt that my mere presence in her company in such a place as this, and among these people, must cover her with shame and humiliation.
To my great relief, since I knew my face was on fire, neither of the two, as they walked down the passage, looked my way or seemed conscious of my neighbourhood. At the door they stood a moment talking earnestly, and it seemed as if M. de Rosny would have accompanied the Vicomte farther. The latter would not suffer it, however, but took his leave there; and this with so many polite gestures that my last hope based on M. de Rosny vanished.
Nevertheless, that gentleman was not so wholly changed that on his turning to re-traverse the room I did not see a smile flicker for an instant on his features as the two lines of bowing courtiers opened before him. The next moment his look fell on me, and though his face scarcely altered, he stopped opposite me.
'M. de Marsac is waiting to see His Majesty?' he asked aloud, speaking to M. la Varenne.
My companion remaining silent, I bowed.
'In five minutes,' M. de Rosny replied quietly, yet with a distant air, which made me doubt whether I had not dreamed all I remembered of this man. 'Ah! M. de Paul, what can I do for you?' he continued. And he bent his head to listen to the application which a gentleman who stood next me poured into his ear. 'I will see,' I heard him answer. 'In any case you shall know to-morrow.'
'But you will be my friend?' M. Paul urged, detaining him by the sleeve.
'I will put only one before you,' he answered.
My neighbour seemed to shrink into himself with disappointment. 'Who is it?' he murmured piteously.
'The king and his service, my friend,' M. de Rosny replied drily. And with that he walked away. But half a dozen times at least; before he reached the upper end of the room I saw the scene repeated.
I looked on at all this in the utmost astonishment, unable to guess or conceive what had happened to give M. de Rosny so much importance. For it did not; escape me that the few words he had stopped to speak to me had invested me with interest in the eyes of all who stood near. They gave me more room and a wider breathing-space, and looking at me askance, muttered my name in whispers. In my uncertainty, however, what this portended I drew no comfort from it; and before I had found time to weigh it thoroughly the door through which Turenne and Rosny had entered opened again. The pages and gentlemen who stood about it hastened to range themselves on either side. An usher carrying a white wand came rapidly down the room, here and there requesting the courtiers to stand back where the passage was narrow. Then a loud voice without cried, 'The King, gentlemen! the King!' and one in every two of us stood a-tiptoe to see him enter.
But there came in only Henry of Navarre, wearing a violet cloak and cap.
I turned to La Varenne and with my head full of confusion, muttered impatiently, 'But the king, man! Where is the king?'
He grinned at me, with his hand before his mouth. 'Hush!' he whispered. ''Twas a jest we played on you! His late Majesty died at daybreak this morning. This is the king.'
'This! the King of Navarre?' I cried; so loudly that some round us called 'Silence!'
'No, the King of France, fool!' he replied. 'Your sword must be sharper than your wits, or I have been told some lies!'
I let the gibe pass and the jest, for my heart was beating so fast and painfully that I could scarcely preserve my outward composure. There was a mist before my eyes, and a darkness which set the lights at defiance. It was in vain I tried to think what this might mean--to me. I could not put two thoughts together, and while I still questioned what reception I might expect, and who in this new state of things were my friends, the king stopped before me.
'Ha, M. de Marsac!' he cried cheerfully, signing to those who stood before me to give place. 'You are the gentleman who rode so fast to warn me the other morning. I have spoken to M. de Turenne about you, and he is willing to overlook the complaint he had against you. For the rest, go to my closet, my friend. Go! Rosny knows my will respecting you.'
I had sense enough left to kneel and kiss his hand; but it was in silence, which he knew how to interpret. He had moved on and was speaking to another before I recovered the use of my tongue, or the wits which his gracious words had scattered. When I did so, and got on my feet again I found myself the centre of so much observation and the object of so many congratulations that I was glad to act upon the hint which La Varenne gave me, and hurry away to the closet.
Here, though I had now an inkling of what I had to expect, I found myself received with a kindness which bade fair to overwhelm me. Only M. de Rosny was in the room, and he took me by both hands in a manner which told me without a word that the Rosny of old days was back, and that; for the embarrassment I had caused him of late I was more than forgiven. When I tried to thank him for the good offices which I knew he had done me with the king he would have none of it; reminding me with a smile that he had eaten of my cheese when the choice lay between that and Lisieux.
'And besides, my friend,' he continued, his eyes twinkling, 'You have made me richer by five hundred crowns.'
'How so?' I asked, wondering more and more.
'I wagered that sum with Turenne that he could not bribe you,' he answered, smiling. 'And see,' he continued, selecting from some on the table the same parchment I had seen before, 'here is the bribe. Take it; it is yours. I have given a score to-day, but none with the same pleasure. Let me be the first to congratulate the Lieutenant-Governor of the Armagnac.'
For a while I could not believe that he was in earnest; which pleased him mightily, I remember. When I was brought at last to see that the king had meant this for me from the first, and had merely lent the patent to Turenne that the latter might make trial of me, my pleasure and gratification were such that I could no more express them then than I can now describe them. For they knew no bounds. I stood before Rosny silent and confused, with long-forgotten tears welling up to my eyes, and one regret only in my heart--that my dear mother had not lived to see the fond illusions with which I had so often amused her turned to sober fact. Not then, but afterwards, I remarked that the salary of my office amounted to the exact sum which I had been in the habit of naming to her; and I learned that Rosny had himself fixed it on information given him by Mademoiselle de la Vire.
As my transports grew more moderate, and I found voice to thank my benefactor, he had still an answer. 'Do not deceive yourself, my friend,' he said gravely, 'or think this an idle reward. My master is King of France, but he is a king without a kingdom, and a captain without money. To-day, to gain his rights, he has parted with half his powers. Before he win all back there will be blows--blows, my friend. And to that end I have bought your sword.'
I told him that if no other left its scabbard for the king, mine should be drawn.
'I believe you,' he answered kindly, laying his hand on my shoulder. 'Not by reason of your words--Heaven knows I have heard vows enough to-day!--but because I have proved you. And now,' he continued, speaking in an altered tone and looking at me with a queer smile, 'now I suppose you are perfectly satisfied? You have nothing more to wish for, my friend?'
I looked aside in a guilty fashion, not daring to prefer on the top of all his kindness a further petition. Moreover, His Majesty might have other views; or on this point Turenne might have proved obstinate. In a word, there was nothing in what had happened, or on M. de Rosny's communication, to inform me whether the wish of my heart was to be gratified or not.
But I should have known that great man better than to suppose that he was one to promise without performing, or to wound a friend when he could not salve the hurt. After enjoying my confusion for a time he burst into a great shout of laughter, and taking me familiarly by the shoulders, turned me towards the door. 'There, go!' he said. 'Go up the passage. You will find a door on the right, and a door on the left. You will know which to open.'
Forbidding me to utter a syllable, he put me out. In the passage, where I fain would have stood awhile to collect my thoughts, I was affrighted by sounds which warned me that the king was returning that way. Fearing to be surprised by him in such a state of perturbation, I hurried to the end of the passage, where I discovered, as I had been told, two doors.
They were both closed, and there was nothing about either of them to direct my choice. But M. de Rosny was correct in supposing that I had not forgotten the advice he had offered me on the day when he gave me so fine a surprise in his own house--'When you want a good wife, M. de Marsac, turn to the right!' I remembered the words, and without a moment's hesitation--for the king and his suite were already entering the passage--I knocked boldly, and scarcely waiting for an invitation, went in.
Fanchette was by the door, but stood aside with a grim smile, which I was at liberty to accept as a welcome or not. Mademoiselle, who had been seated on the farther side of the table, rose as I entered, and we stood looking at one another. Doubtless she waited for me to speak first; while I on my side was so greatly taken aback by the change wrought in her by the Court dress she was wearing and the air of dignity with which she wore it, that I stood gasping. I turned coward after all that had passed between us. This was not the girl I had wooed in the greenwood by St. Gaultier; nor the pale-faced woman I had lifted to the saddle a score of times in the journey Paris-wards. The sense of unworthiness which I had experienced a few minutes before in the crowded antechamber returned in full force in presence of her grace and beauty, and once more I stood tongue- tied before her, as I had stood in the lodgings at Blois. All the later time, all that had passed between us was forgotten.
She, for her part, looked at me wondering at my silence. Her face, which had grown rosy red at my entrance, turned pale again. Her eyes grew large with alarm; she began to beat her foot on the floor in a manner I knew. 'Is anything the matter, sir?' she muttered at last.
'On the contrary, mademoiselle,' I answered hoarsely, looking every way, and grasping at the first thing I could think of, 'I am just from M. de Rosny.'
'He has made me Lieutenant-Governor of the Armagnac.'
She curtseyed to me in a wonderful fashion. 'It pleases me to congratulate you, sir,' she said, in a voice between laughing and crying. 'It is not more than equal to your deserts.'
I tried to thank her becomingly, feeling at the same time more foolish than I had ever felt in my life; for I knew that this was neither what I had come to tell nor she to hear. Yet I could not muster up courage nor find words to go farther, and stood by the table in a state of miserable discomposure.
'Is that all, sir?' she said at last, losing patience.
Certainly it was now or never, and I knew it. I made the effort. 'No, mademoiselle,' I said in a low voice. 'Far from it. But I do not see here the lady to whom I came to address myself, and whom I have seen a hundred times in far other garb than yours, wet and weary and dishevelled, in danger and in flight. Her I have served and loved; and for her I have lived. I have had no thought for months that has not been hers, nor care save for her. I and all that I have by the king's bounty are hers, and I came to lay them at her feet. But I do not see her here.'
'No, sir?' she answered in a whisper, with her face averted.
With a sudden brightness and quickness which set my heart beating she turned, and looked at me. 'Indeed!' she said. 'I am sorry for that. It is a pity your love should be given elsewhere, M. de Marsac--since it is the king's will that you should marry me.'
'Ah, mademoiselle!' I cried, kneeling before her--for she had come round the table and stood beside me--'But you?'
'It is my will too, sir,' she answered, smiling through her tears.
* * *
On the following day Mademoiselle de la Vire became my wife; the king's retreat from Paris, which was rendered necessary by the desertion of many who were ill-affected to the Huguenots, compelling the instant performance of the marriage, if we would have it read by M. d'Amours. This haste notwithstanding, I was enabled by the kindness of M. d'Agen to make such an appearance, in respect both of servants and equipment, as became rather my future prospects than my past distresses. It is true that His Majesty, out of a desire to do nothing which might offend Turenne, did not honour us with his presence; but Madame Catherine attended on his behalf, and herself gave me my bride. M. de Sully and M. Crillon, with the Marquis de Rambouillet and his nephew, and my distant connection, the Duke de Rohan, who first acknowledged me on that day, were among those who earned my gratitude by attending me upon the occasion.
The marriage of M. Francois d'Agen with the widow of my old rival and opponent did not take place until something more than a year later, a delay which was less displeasing to me than to the bridegroom, inasmuch as it left madame at liberty to bear my wife company during my absence on the campaign of Arques and Ivry. In the latter battle, which added vastly to the renown of M. de Rosny, who captured the enemy's standard with his own hand, I had the misfortune to be wounded in the second of the two charges led by the king; and being attacked by two foot soldiers, as I lay entangled I must inevitably have perished but for the aid afforded me by Simon Fleix, who flew to the rescue with the courage of a veteran. His action was observed by the king, who begged him from me, and attaching him to his own person in the capacity of clerk, started him so fairly on the road to fortune that he has since risen beyond hope or expectation.
The means by which Henry won for a time the support of Turenne (and incidentally procured his consent to my marriage) are now too notorious to require explanation. Nevertheless, it was not until the Vicomte's union a year later with Mademoiselle de la Marck, who brought him the Duchy of Bouillon, that I thoroughly understood the matter; or the kindness peculiar to the king, my master, which impelled that great monarch, in the arrangement of affairs so vast, to remember the interests of the least of his servants.