A gentleman of france b.., p.22
A Gentleman of France: Being the Memoirs of Gaston de Bonne Sieur de Marsac, p.22Stanley John Weyman
CHAPTER XXII. 'LA FEMME DISPOSE.'
The moment the equerry's foot touched the uppermost stair I advancedupon him. 'Where is your mistress, man?' I said. 'Where is Mademoisellede la Vire? Be quick, tell me what you have done with her.'
His face fell amazingly. 'Where is she?' he answered, faltering betweensurprise and alarm at my sudden onslaught. 'Here, she should be. I lefther here not an hour ago. Mon Dieu! Is she not here now?'
His alarm increased mine tenfold. 'No!' I retorted, 'she is not! She isgone! And you--what business had you, in the fiend's name, to leave herhere, alone and unprotected? Tell me that!'
He leaned against the balustrade, making no attempt to defend himself,and seemed, in his sudden terror, anything but the bold, alert fellowwho had ascended the stairs two minutes before. 'I was a fool,' hegroaned. 'I saw your man Simon here; and Fanchette, who is as good as aman, was with her mistress. And I went to stable the horses. I thoughtno evil. And now--My God!' he added, suddenly straightening himself,while his face grew hard and grim, 'I am undone! My master will neverforgive me!'
'Did you come straight here?' I said, considering that, after all, hewas no more in fault than I had been on a former occasion.
'We went first to M. de Rosny's lodging,' he answered, 'where we foundyour message telling us to come here. We came on without dismounting.'
'Mademoiselle may have gone back, and be there,' I said. 'It ispossible. Do you stay here and keep a good look-out, and I will go andsee. Let one of your men come with me.'
He uttered a brief assent; being a man as ready to take as to giveorders, and thankful now for any suggestion which held out a hope ofmademoiselle's safety. Followed by the servant he selected, I ran downthe stairs, and in a moment was hurrying along the Rue St. Denys. Theday was waning. The narrow streets and alleys were already dark, but theair of excitement which I had noticed in the morning still marked thetownsfolk, of whom a great number were strolling abroad, or standingin doorways talking to their gossips. Feverishly anxious as I was, Iremarked the gloom which dwelt on all faces; but as I set it down tothe king's approaching departure, and besides was intent on seeing thatthose we sought did not by any chance pass us in the crowd, I thoughtlittle of it. Five minutes' walking brought us to M. de Rosny's lodging.There I knocked at the door; impatiently, I confess, and with littlehope of success. But, to my surprise, barely an instant elapsed beforethe door opened, and I saw before me Simon Fleix!
Discovering who it was, he cowered back, with a terrified face, andretreated to the wall with his arm raised.
'You scoundrel!' I exclaimed, restraining myself with difficulty. 'Tellme this moment where Mademoiselle de la Vire is! Or, by Heaven, I shallforget what my mother owed to you, and do you a mischief!'
For an instant he glared at me viciously, with all his teeth exposed, asthough he meant to refuse--and more. Then he thought better of it, and,raising his hand, pointed sulkily upwards.
'Go before me and knock at the door,' I said, tapping the hilt of mydagger with meaning.
Cowed by my manner, he obeyed, and led the way to the room in which M.de Rambouillet had surprised us on a former occasion. Here he stoppedat the door and knocked gently; on which a sharp voice inside bade usenter. I raised the latch and did so, closing the door behind me.
Mademoiselle, still wearing her riding-coat, sat in a chair before thehearth, on which a newly kindled fire sputtered and smoked. She had herback to me, and did not turn on my entrance, but continued to toy inan absent manner with the strings of the mask which lay in her lap.Fanchette stood bolt upright behind her, with her elbows squared andher hands clasped; in such an attitude that I guessed the maid hadbeen expressing her strong dissatisfaction with this latest whim of hermistress, and particularly with mademoiselle's imprudence in wantonlyexposing herself, with so inadequate a guard as Simon, in a place whereshe had already suffered so much. I was confirmed in this notion onseeing the woman's harsh countenance clear at sight of me; though thechurlish nod, which was all the greeting she bestowed on me, seemed tobetoken anything but favour or good-will. She touched her mistress onthe shoulder, however, and said, 'M. de Marsac is here.'
Mademoiselle turned her head and looked at me languidly, withoutstirring in her chair or removing the foot she, was warming. 'Goodevening,' she said.
The greeting seemed so brief and so commonplace, ignoring, as it did,both the pains and anxiety to which she had just put me and the greatpurpose for which we were here--to say nothing of that ambiguous partingwhich she must surely remember as well as I--that the words I hadprepared died on my lips, and I looked at her in honest confusion. Allher small face was pale except her lips. Her brow was dark, her eyeswere hard as well as weary. And not words only failed me as I looked ather, but anger; having mounted the stairs hot foot to chide, I felt on asudden--despite my new cloak and scabbard, my appointment, and the sameI had made at Court--the same consciousness of age; and shabbiness andpoverty which had possessed me in her presence from the beginning. Imuttered, 'Good evening, mademoiselle,' and that was all I could say--Iwho had frightened the burly Maignan a few minutes before!
Seeing, I have no doubt, the effect she produced on me, she maintainedfor some time an embarrassing silence. At length she said, frigidly,'Perhaps M. de Marsac will sit, Fanchette. Place a chair for him. Iam afraid, however, that after his successes at Court he may find ourreception somewhat cold. But we are only from the country,' she added,looking at me askance, with a gleam of anger in her eyes.
I thanked her huskily, saying that I would not sit, as I could not stay.'Simon Fleix,' I continued, finding my voice with difficulty, 'has, I amafraid, caused you some trouble by bringing you to this house instead oftelling you that I had made preparation for you at my lodgings.'
'It was not Simon Fleix's fault,' she replied curtly. 'I prefer theserooms. They are more convenient.'
'They are, perhaps, more convenient,' I rejoined humbly, 'But I haveto think of safety, mademoiselle, as you know. At my house I have acompetent guard, and can answer for your being unmolested.'
'You can send your guard here,' she said with a royal air.
'Is it not enough that I have said that I prefer these rooms?' shereplied sharply, dropping her mask on her lap and looking round at me inundisguised displeasure. 'Are you deaf, sir? Let me tell you, I am inno mood for argument. I am tired with riding. I prefer these rooms, andthat is enough!'
Nothing could exceed the determination with which she said these words,unless it were the malicious pleasure in thwarting my wishes which madeitself seen through the veil of assumed indifference. I felt myselfbrought up with a vengeance, and in a manner the most provoking thatcould be conceived. But opposition so childish, so utterly wanton,by exciting my indignation, had presently the effect of banishing thepeculiar bashfulness I felt in her presence, and recalling me to myduty.
'Mademoiselle,' I said firmly, looking at her with a fixed countenance,'pardon me if I speak plainly. This is no time for playing with straws.The men from whom you escaped once are as determined and more desperatenow. By this time they probably know of your arrival. Do, then, as Iask, I pray and beseech you. Or this time I may lack the power, thoughnever the will, to save you.'
Wholly ignoring my appeal, she looked into my face--for by this time Ihad advanced to her side--with a whimsical smile. 'You are really muchimproved in manner since I last saw you,' she said.
'Mademoiselle!' I replied, baffled and repelled. 'What do you mean?'
'What I say,' she answered, flippantly. 'But it was to be expected.'
'For shame!' I cried, provoked almost beyond bearing by her ill-timedraillery, 'will you never be serious until you have ruined us andyourself? I tell you this house is not safe for you! It is not safe forme! I cannot bring my men to it, for there is not room for them. If youhave any spark of consideration, of gratitude, therefore--'
'Gratitude!' she exclaimed, swinging her mask slowly to and fro by aribbon, while she lo
'But, mademoiselle--' I said in a low tone. And there I stopped. I darednot proceed.
'Well, sir,' she answered, looking up at she after a moment's silence,and ceasing on a sudden to play with her toy, 'what is it?'
'You spoke of favours,' I continued, with an effort. 'I never receivedbut one from a lady. That was at Rosny, and from your hand.'
'From my hand?' she answered, with an air of cold surprise.
'It was so, mademoiselle.'
'You have fallen into some strange mistake, sir,' she replied, rousingherself, and looking at me indifferently 'I never gave you a favour.'
I bowed low. 'If you say you did not, mademoiselle, that is enough,' Ianswered.
'Nay, but do not let me do you an injustice, M. de Marsac,' sherejoined, speaking more quickly and in an altered tone. 'If you can showme the favour I gave you, I shall, of course, be convinced. Seeingis believing, you know,' she added, with a light nervous laugh, and agesture of something like shyness.
If I had not sufficiently regretted my carelessness, and loss of the bowat the time, I did so now. I looked at her in silence, and saw her face,that had for a moment shown signs of feeling, almost of shame, growslowly hard again.
'Well, sir?' she said impatiently. 'The proof is easy.'
'It was taken from me; I believe, by M. de Rosny,' I answered lamely,wondering what ill-luck had led her to put the question and press it tothis point.
'It was taken from you!' she exclaimed, rising and confronting me withthe utmost suddenness, while her eyes flashed, and her little handcrumpled the mask beyond future usefulness. 'It was taken from you,sir!' she repeated, her voice and her whole frame trembling withanger and disdain. 'Then I thank you, I prefer my version. Yours isimpossible. For let me tell you, when Mademoiselle de la Vire doesconfer a favour, it will be on a man with the power and the wit--and theconstancy, to keep it, even from M. de Rosny!'
Her scorn hurt, though it did not anger me. I felt it to be in a measuredeserved, and raged against myself rather than against her. But awarethrough all of the supreme importance of placing her in safety, Isubjected my immediate feelings to the exigencies of the moment andstooped to an argument which would, I thought, have weight thoughprivate pleading failed.
'Putting myself aside, mademoiselle,' I said, with more formality than Ihad yet used, 'there is one consideration which must weigh with you. Theking--'
'The king!' she cried, interrupting me violently, her face hot withpassion and her whole person instinct with stubborn self-will. 'I shallnot see the king!'
'You will not see the king?' I repeated in amazement.
'No, I will not!' she answered, in a whirl of anger, scorn, andimpetuosity. 'There! I will not! I have been made a toy and a tool longenough, M. de Marsac,' she continued, 'and I will serve others' ends nomore. I have made up my mind. Do not talk to me; you will do no good,sir. I would to Heaven,' she added bitterly, 'I had stayed at Chize andnever seen this place!'
'But, mademoiselle,' I said, 'you have not thought--'
'Thought!' she exclaimed, shutting her small white teeth so viciouslyI all but recoiled. 'I have thought enough. I am sick of thought. I amgoing to act now. I will be a puppet no longer. You may take me to thecastle by force if you will; but you cannot make me speak.'
I looked at her in the utmost dismay, and astonishment; being unable atfirst to believe that a woman who had gone through so much, had run somany risks, and ridden so many miles for a purpose, would, when allwas done and the hour come, decline to carry out her plan. I couldnot believe it, I say, at first; and I tried arguments, and entreatieswithout stint, thinking that she only asked to be entreated or coaxed.
But I found prayers and even threats breath wasted upon her; and beyondthese I would not go. I know I have been blamed by some and ridiculed byothers for not pushing the matter farther; but those who have stood faceto face with a woman of spirit--a woman whose very frailty and weaknessfought for her--will better understand the difficulties with which I hadto contend and the manner in which conviction was at last borne in onmy mind. I had never before confronted stubbornness of this kind. Asmademoiselle said again and again, I might force her to Court, but Icould not make her speak.
When I had tried every means of persuasion, and still found no way ofovercoming her resolution the while Fanchette looked on with a face ofwood, neither aiding me nor taking part against me--I lost, I confess,in the chagrin of the moment that sense of duty which had hithertoanimated me; and though my relation to mademoiselle should have made meas careful as ever of her safety, even in her own despite, I left herat last in anger and went out without saying another word about removingher--a thing which was still in my power. I believe a very briefreflection would have recalled me to myself and my duty; but theopportunity was not given me, for I had scarcely reached the head of thestairs before Fanchette came after me, and called to me in a whisper tostop.
She held a taper in her hand, and this she raised to my face, smiling atthe disorder which she doubtless read there. 'Do you say that this houseis not safe?' she asked abruptly, lowering the light as she spoke.
'You have tried a house in Blois before?' I replied with the samebluntness. 'You should know as well as I, woman.'
'She must be taken from here, then,' she answered, nodding her head,cunningly. 'I can persuade her. Do you send for your people, and be herein half an hour. It may take me that time to wheedle her. But I shall doit.'
'Then listen,' I said eagerly, seizing the opportunity and her sleeveand drawing her farther from the door. 'If you can persuade her to that,you can persuade to all I wish. Listen, my friend,' I continued, sinkingmy voice still lower. 'If she will see the king for only ten minutes,and tell him what she knows, I will give you--'
'What?' the woman asked suddenly and harshly, drawing at the same timeher sleeve from my hand.
'Fifty crowns,' I replied, naming in my desperation a sum which wouldseem a fortune to a person in her position. 'Fifty crowns down, themoment the interview is over.'
'And for that you would have me sell her!' the woman cried with a rudeintensity of passion which struck me like a blow. 'For shame! Forshame, man! You persuaded her to leave her home and her friends, and thecountry where she was known; and now you would have me sell her! Shameon you! Go!' she added scornfully. 'Go this instant and get your men.The king, say you? The king! I tell you I would not have her finger acheto save all your kings!'
She flounced away with that, and I retired crestfallen; wondering muchat the fidelity which Providence, doubtless for the well-being of thegentle, possibly for the good of all, has implanted in the humble.Finding Simon, to whom I had scarce patience to speak, waiting on thestairs below, I despatched him to Maignan, to bid him come to me withhis men. Meanwhile I watched the house myself until their arrival,and then, going up, found that Fanchette had been as good as her word.Mademoiselle, with a sullen mien, and a red spot on either cheek,consented to descend, and, preceded by a couple of links, which Maignanhad thoughtfully provided, was escorted safely to my lodgings; where Ibestowed her in the rooms below my own, which I had designed for her.
At the door she turned and bowed to me, her face on fire.
'So far, sir, you have got your way,' she said, breathing quickly. 'Donot flatter yourself, however, that you will get it farther--even bybribing my woman!'
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