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       A Gentleman of France: Being the Memoirs of Gaston de Bonne Sieur de Marsac, p.1

           Stanley John Weyman
A Gentleman of France: Being the Memoirs of Gaston de Bonne Sieur de Marsac

  Produced by An Anonymous Volunteer



  By Stanley Weyman

  Transcriber's Note:

  In this Etext, text in italics has been written in capital letters.

  Many French words in the text have accents, etc. which have beenomitted.





  The death of the Prince of Conde, which occurred in the spring of 1588,by depriving me of my only patron, reduced me to such straits that thewinter of that year, which saw the King of Navarre come to spend hisChristmas at St. Jean d'Angely, saw also the nadir of my fortunes. I didnot know at this time--I may confess it to-day without shame--wither toturn for a gold crown or a new scabbard, and neither had nor discernedany hope of employment. The peace lately patched up at Blois between theKing of France and the League persuaded many of the Huguenots that theirfinal ruin was at hand; but it could not fill their exhausted treasuryor enable them to put fresh troops into the field.

  The death of the Prince had left the King of Navarre without a rivalin the affections of the Huguenots; the Vicomte de Turenne, whoseturbulent; ambition already began to make itself felt, and M. deChatillon, ranking next to him. It was my ill-fortune, however, to beequally unknown to all three leaders, and as the month of December whichsaw me thus miserably straitened saw me reach the age of forty, which Iregard, differing in that from many, as the grand climacteric of aman's life, it will be believed that I had need of all the courage whichreligion and a campaigner's life could supply.

  I had been compelled some time before to sell all my horses except theblack Sardinian with the white spot on its forehead; and I now foundmyself obliged to part also with my valet de chambre and groom, whom Idismissed on the same day, paying them their wages with the last linksof gold chain left to me. It was not without grief and dismay that I sawmyself thus stripped of the appurtenances of a man of birth, and drivento groom my own horse under cover of night. But this was not the worst.My dress, which suffered inevitably from this menial employment, beganin no long time to bear witness to the change in my circumstances; sothat on the day of the King of Navarre's entrance into St. Jean I darednot face the crowd, always quick to remark the poverty of those abovethem, but was fain to keep within doors and wear out my patience in thegarret of the cutler's house in the Rue de la Coutellerie, which was allthe lodging I could now afford.

  Pardieu, 'tis a strange world! Strange that time seems to me; morestrange compared with this. My reflections on that day, I remember, wereof the most melancholy. Look at it how I would, I could not but see thatmy life's spring was over. The crows' feet were gathering about my eyes,and my moustachios, which seemed with each day of ill-fortune to standout more fiercely in proportion as my face grew leaner, were alreadygrey. I was out at elbows, with empty pockets, and a sword which peeredthrough the sheath. The meanest ruffler who, with broken feather andtarnished lace, swaggered at the heels of Turenne, was scarcely to bedistinguished from me. I had still, it is true, a rock and a few barrenacres in Brittany, the last remains of the family property; but thesmall small sums which the peasants could afford to pay were sentannually to Paris, to my mother, who had no other dower. And this Iwould not touch, being minded to die a gentleman, even if I could notlive in that estate.

  Small as were my expectations of success, since I had no one at theking's side to push my business, nor any friend at Court, I neverthelessdid all I could, in the only way that occurred to me. I drew up apetition, and lying in wait one day for M. Forget, the King of Navarre'ssecretary, placed it in his hand, begging him to lay it before thatprince. He took it, and promised to do so, smoothly, and with as muchlip-civility as I had a right to expect. But the careless manner inwhich he doubled up and thrust away the paper on which I had spent somuch labour, no less than the covert sneer of his valet, who ran afterme to get the customary present--and ran, as I still blush to remember,in vain--warned me to refrain from hope.

  In this, however, having little save hope left, I failed so signallyas to spend the next day and the day after in a fever of alternateconfidence and despair, the cold fit following the hot with perfectregularity. At length, on the morning of the third day--I remember itlacked but three of Christmas--I heard a step on the stairs. My landlordliving in his shop, and the two intervening floors being empty, I had nodoubt the message was for me, and went outside the door to receive it,my first glance at the messenger confirming me in my highest hopes,as well as in all I had ever heard of the generosity of the King ofNavarre. For by chance I knew the youth to be one of the royal pages; asaucy fellow who had a day or two before cried 'Old Clothes' after me inthe street. I was very far from resenting this now, however, nor didhe appear to recall it; so that I drew the happiest augury as to thecontents of the note he bore from the politeness with which he presentedit to me.

  I would not, however, run the risk of a mistake, and before holding outmy hand, I asked him directly and with formality if it was for me.

  He answered, with the utmost respect, that it was for the Sieur deMarsac, and for me if I were he.

  'There is an answer, perhaps?' I said, seeing that he lingered.

  'The King of Navarre, sir,' he replied, with a low bow, 'will receiveyour answer in person, I believe.' And with that, replacing the hatwhich he had doffed out of respect to me, he turned and went down thestairs.

  Returning to my room, and locking the door, I hastily opened themissive, which was sealed with a large seal, and wore every appearanceof importance. I found its contents to exceed all my expectations. TheKing of Navarre desired me to wait on him at noon on the following day,and the letter concluded with such expressions of kindness and goodwillas left me in no doubt of the Prince's intentions. I read it, I confess,with emotions of joy and gratitude which would better have become ayounger man, and then cheerfully sat down to spend the rest of theday in making such improvements in my dress as seemed possible. With athankful heart I concluded that I had now escaped from poverty, at anyrate from such poverty as is disgraceful to a gentleman; and consoledmyself for the meanness of the appearance I must make at Court with thereflection t
hat a day or two would mend both habit and fortune.

  Accordingly, it was with a stout heart that I left my lodgings a fewminutes before noon next morning, and walked towards the castle. It wassome time since I had made so public an appearance in the streets, whichthe visit of the King of Navarre's Court; had filled with an unusualcrowd, and I could not help fancying as I passed that some of theloiterers eyed me with a covert smile; and, indeed, I was shabby enough.But finding that a frown more than sufficed to restore the gravity ofthese gentry, I set down the appearance to my own self-consciousness,and, stroking my moustachios, strode along boldly until I saw before me,and coming to meet me, the same page who had delivered the note.

  He stopped in front of me with an air of consequence, and making me alow bow--whereat I saw the bystanders stare, for he was as gay a youngspark as maid-of-honour could desire--he begged me to hasten, as theking awaited me in his closet.

  'He has asked for you twice, sir,' he continued importantly, the featherof his cap almost sweeping the ground.

  'I think,' I answered, quickening my steps, 'that the king's letter saysnoon, young sir. If I am late on such an occasion, he has indeed causeto complain of me.'

  'Tut, tut!' he rejoined waving his hand with a dandified 'It is nomatter. One man may steal a horse when another may not look over thewall, you know.'

  A man may be gray-haired, he may be sad-complexioned, and yet he mayretain some of the freshness of youth. On receiving this indication of afavour exceeding all expectation, I remember I felt the blood rise tomy face, and experienced the most lively gratitude. I wondered who hadspoken in my behalf, who had befriended me; and concluding at last thatmy part in the affair at Brouage had come to the king's ears, though Icould not conceive through whom, I passed through the castle gates withan air of confidence and elation which was not unnatural, I think, underthe circumstances. Thence, following my guide, I mounted the ramp andentered the courtyard.

  A number of grooms and valets were lounging here, some leading horsesto and fro, others exchanging jokes with the wenches who leaned fromthe windows, while their fellows again stamped up and down to keeptheir feet warm, or played ball against the wall in imitation of theirmasters. Such knaves are ever more insolent than their betters; butI remarked that they made way for me with respect, and with risingspirits, yet a little irony, I reminded myself as I mounted the stairsof the words, 'whom the king delighteth to honour!'

  Reaching the head of the flight, where was a soldier on guard, the pageopened the door of the antechamber, and standing aside bade me enter. Idid so, and heard the door close behind me.

  For a moment I stood still, bashful and confused. It seemed to me thatthere were a hundred people in the room, and that half the eyes whichmet mine were women's, Though I was not altogether a stranger to suchstate as the Prince of Conde had maintained, this crowded anteroomfilled me with surprise, and even with a degree of awe, of which I wasthe next moment ashamed. True, the flutter of silk and gleam of jewelssurpassed anything I had then seen, for my fortunes had never led meto the king's Court; but an instant's reflection reminded me that myfathers had held their own in such scenes, and with a bow regulatedrather by this thought than by the shabbiness of my dress, I advancedamid a sudden silence.

  'M. de Marsac!' the page announced, in a tone which sounded a littleodd in my ears; so much so, that I turned quickly to look at him. He wasgone, however, and when I turned again the eyes which met mine werefull of smiles. A young girl who stood near me tittered. Put out ofcountenance by this, I looked round in embarrassment to find someone towhom I might apply.

  The room was long and narrow, panelled in chestnut, with a row ofwindows on the one hand, and two fireplaces, now heaped with glowinglogs, on the other. Between the fireplaces stood a rack of arms. Roundthe nearer hearth lounged a group of pages, the exact counterparts ofthe young blade who had brought me hither; and talking with these wereas many young gentlewomen. Two great hounds lay basking in the heat,and coiled between them, with her head on the back of the larger, was afigure so strange that at another time I should have doubted my eyes. Itwore the fool's motley and cap and bells, but a second glance showed methe features were a woman's. A torrent of black hair flowed loose abouther neck, her eyes shone with wild merriment, and her face, keen, thin,and hectic, glared at me from the dog's back. Beyond her, round thefarther fireplace, clustered more than a score of gallants and ladies,of whom one presently advanced to me.

  'Sir,' he said politely--and I wished I could match his bow--'you wishedto see--?'

  'The King of Navarre,' I answered, doing my best.

  He turned to the group behind him, and said, in a peculiarly even,placid tone, 'He wishes to see the King of Navarre.' Then in solemnsilence he bowed to me again and went back to his fellows.

  Upon the instant, and before I could make up my mind how to take this, asecond tripped forward, and saluting me, said, 'M. de Marsac, I think?'

  'At your service, sir,' I rejoined. In my eagerness to escape the gazeof all those eyes, and the tittering which was audible behind me, I tooka step forward to be in readiness to follow him. But he gave no sign.'M. de Marsac to see the King of Navarre' was all he said, speaking asthe other had close to those behind. And with that he too wheeled roundand went back to the fire.

  I stared, a first faint suspicion of the truth aroused in my mind.Before I could act upon it, however--in such a situation it was noeasy task to decide how to act--a third advanced with the same measuredsteps. 'By appointment I think, sir?' he said, bowing lower than theothers.

  'Yes,' I replied sharply, beginning to grow warm, 'by appointment atnoon.'

  'M. de Marsac,' he announced in a sing-song tone to those behind him,'to see the King of Navarre by appointment at noon.' And with a secondbow--while I grew scarlet with mortification he too wheeled gravelyround and returned to the fireplace.

  I saw another preparing to advance, but he came too late. Whether myface of anger and bewilderment was too much for them, or some amongthem lacked patience to see the end, a sudden uncontrollable shout oflaughter, in which all the room joined, cut short the farce. God knowsit hurt me: I winced, I looked this way and that, hoping here or thereto find sympathy and help. But it seemed to me that the place rangwith gibes, that every panel framed, however I turned myself, a cruel,sneering face. One behind me cried 'Old Clothes,' and when I turnedthe other hearth whispered the taunt. It added a thousandfold to myembarrassment that there was in all a certain orderliness, so that whileno one moved, and none, while I looked at them, raised their voices, Iseemed the more singled out, and placed as a butt in the midst.

  One face amid the pyramid of countenances which hid the fartherfireplace so burned itself into my recollection in that miserablemoment, that I never thereafter forgot it; a small, delicate woman'sface, belonging to a young girl who stood boldly in front of hercompanions. It was a face full of pride, and, as I saw it then, ofscorn--scorn that scarcely deigned to laugh; while the girl's gracefulfigure, slight and maidenly, yet perfectly proportioned, seemed instinctwith the same feeling of contemptuous amusement.

  The play, which seemed long enough to me, might have lasted longer,seeing that no one there had pity on me, had I not, in my desperation,espied a door at the farther end of the room, and concluded, seeing noother, that it was the door of the king's bedchamber. The mortificationI was suffering was so great that I did not hesitate, but advanced withboldness towards it. On the instant there was a lull in the laughterround me, and half a dozen voices called on me to stop.

  'I have come to see the king,' I answered, turning on them fiercely, forI was by this time in no mood for browbeating, 'and I will see him!'

  'He is out hunting,' cried all with one accord; and they signedimperiously to me to go back the way I had come.

  But having the king's appointment safe in my pouch, I thought I had goodreason to disbelieve them; and taking advantage of their surprise--forthey had not expected so bold a step on my part--I was at the doorbefore they could pr
event me. I heard Mathurine, the fool, who hadsprung to her feet, cry 'Pardieu! he will take the Kingdom of Heavenby force!' and those were the last words I heard; for, as I lifted thelatch--there was no one on guard there--a sudden swift silence fell uponthe room behind me.

  I pushed the door gently open and went in. There were two men sittingin one of the windows, who turned and looked angrily towards me. For therest the room was empty. The king's walking-shoes lay by his chair, andbeside them the boot-hooks and jack. A dog before the fire got up slowlyand growled, and one of the men, rising from the trunk on which hehad been sitting, came towards me and asked me, with every sign ofirritation, what I wanted there, and who had given me leave to enter.

  I was beginning to explain, with some diffidence the stillness ofthe room sobering me--that I wished to see the king, when he who hadadvanced took me up sharply with, 'The king? the king? He is not here,man. He is hunting at St. Valery. Did they not tell you so outside?'

  I thought I recognised the speaker, than whom I have seldom seen a manmore grave and thoughtful for his years, which were something less thanmine, more striking in presence, or more soberly dressed. And beingdesirous to evade his question, I asked him if I had not the honour toaddress M. du Plessis Mornay; for that wise and courtly statesman, now apillar of Henry's counsels, it was.

  'The same, sir,' he replied, abruptly, and without taking his eyes fromme. 'I am Mornay. What of that?'

  'I am M. de Marsac,' I explained. And there I stopped, supposing that,as he was in the king's confidence, this would make my errand clear tohim.

  But I was disappointed. 'Well, sir?' he said, and waited impatiently.

  So cold a reception, following such treatment as I had suffered outside,would have sufficed to have dashed my spirits utterly had I not feltthe king's letter in my pocket. Being pretty confident, however, that asingle glance at this would alter M. du Mornay's bearing for the better,I hastened, looking on it as a kind of talisman, to draw it out andpresent it to him.

  He took it, and looked at it, and opened it, but with so cold andimmovable an aspect as made my heart sink more than all that had gonebefore. 'What is amiss?' I cried, unable to keep silence. ''Tis from theking, sir.'

  'A king in motley!' he answered, his lip curling.

  The sense of his words did not at once strike home to me, and Imurmured, in great disorder, that the king had sent for me.

  'The king knows nothing of it,' was his blunt answer, bluntly given. Andhe thrust the paper back into my hands. 'It is a trick,' he continued,speaking with the same abruptness, 'for which you have doubtlessto thank some of those idle young rascals without. You had sent anapplication to the king, I suppose? Just so. No doubt they got hold ofit, and this is the result. They ought to be whipped.'

  It was not possible for me to doubt any longer that what he said wastrue. I saw in a moment all my hopes vanish, all my plans flung to thewinds; and in the first shock of the discovery I could neither findvoice to answer him nor strength to withdraw. In a kind of vision Iseemed to see my own lean, haggard face looking at me as in a glass,and, reading despair in my eyes, could have pitied myself.

  My disorder was so great that M. du Mornay observed it. Looking moreclosely at me, he two or three times muttered my name, and at last said,'M. de Marsac? Ha! I remember. You were in the affair of Brouage, wereyou not?'

  I nodded my head in token of assent, being unable at the moment tospeak, and so shaken that perforce I leaned against the wall, my headsunk on my breast. The memory of my age, my forty years, and my poverty,pressed hard upon me, filling me with despair and bitterness. I couldhave wept, but no tears came.

  M. du Mornay, averting his eyes from me, took two or three short,impatient turns up and down the chamber when he addressed me again histone was full of respect, mingled with such petulance as one brave manmight feel, seeing another so hard pressed. 'M. de Marsac,' he said,'you have my sympathy. It is a shame that men who have served thecause should be reduced to such straits. Were it, possible for me, toincrease my own train at present, I should consider it an honour to haveyou with me. But I am hard put to it myself, and so are we all, and theKing of Navarre not least among us. He has lived for a month upon a woodwhich M. de Rosny has cut down. I will mention your name to him, but Ishould be cruel rather than kind were I not to warn you that nothing cancome of it.'

  With that he offered me his hand, and, cheered as much by this markof consideration as by the kindness of his expressions, I rallied myspirits. True, I wanted comfort more substantial, but it was not to behad. I thanked him therefore as becomingly as I could, and seeing therewas no help for it, took my leave of him, and slowly and sorrowfullywithdrew from the room.

  Alas! to escape I had to face the outside world, for which his kindwords were an ill preparation. I had to run the gauntlet of theantechamber. The moment I appeared, or rather the moment the door closedbehind me, I was hailed with a shout of derision. While one cried,'Way! way for the gentleman who has seen the king!' another hailed meuproariously as Governor of Guyenne, and a third requested a commissionin my regiment.

  I heard these taunts with a heart full almost to bursting. It seemed tome an unworthy thing that, merely by reason of my poverty, I should bederided by youths who had still all their battles before them; but tostop or reproach them would only, as I well knew, make matters worse,and, moreover, I was so sore stricken that I had little spirit lefteven to speak. Accordingly, I made my way through them with what speed Imight, my head bent, and my countenance heavy with shame and depression.In this way--I wonder there were not among them some generous enoughto pity me--I had nearly gained the door, and was beginning to breathe,when I found my path stopped by that particular young lady of the Courtwhom I have described above. Something had for the moment diverted herattention from me, and it required a word from her companions to appriseher of my near neighbourhood. She turned then, as one taken by surprise,and finding me so close to her that my feet all but touched her gown,she stepped quickly aside, and with a glance as cruel as her act, drewher skirts away from contact with me.

  The insult stung me, I know not why, more than all the gibes whichwere being flung at me from every side, and moved by a sudden impulse Istopped, and in the bitterness of my heart spoke to her. 'Mademoiselle,'I said, bowing low--for, as I have stated, she was small, and morelike a fairy than a woman, though her face expressed both pride andself-will--'Mademoiselle,' I said sternly, 'such as I am, I have foughtfor France! Some day you may learn that there are viler things in theworld--and have to bear them--than a poor gentleman!'

  The words were scarcely out of my mouth before I repented of them, forMathurine, the fool, who was at my elbow, was quick to turn them intoridicule. Raising her hands above our heads, as in act to bless us,she cried out that Monsieur, having gained so rich an office, desireda bride to grace it; and this, bringing down upon us a coarse shoutof laughter and some coarser gibes, I saw the young girl's face flushhotly.

  The next moment a voice in the crowd cried roughly 'Out upon his weddingsuit!' and with that a sweetmeat struck me in the face. Another andanother followed, covering me with flour and comfits. This was the laststraw. For a moment, forgetting where I was, I turned upon them, redand furious, every hair in my moustachios bristling. The next, the fullsense of my impotence and of the folly of resentment prevailed with me,and, dropping my head upon my breast, I rushed from the room.

  I believe that the younger among them followed me, and that the cry of'Old Clothes!' pursued me even to the door of my lodgings in the Rue dela Coutellerie. But in the misery of the moment, and my strong desireto be within doors and alone, I barely noticed this, and am not certainwhether it was so or not.

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