A Gentleman of France

第143章 'LE ROI EST MORT!'(2)

'Heaven forbid,sire!'I answered with passion.'I was in the chamber,and saw it;with my own eyes.I mounted on the instant,and rode hither by the shortest route to warn your Highness to look to yourself.Monks are many,and the Holy Union is not apt to stop half-way.'

I saw he believed me,for his face relaxed.His breath seemed to come and go again,and for the tenth part of a second his eyes sought M.de Rosny's.Then he looked at me again.

'I thank you,sir,he said,bowing gravely and courteously,'for your care for me--not for your tidings,which are of the sorriest.God grant my good cousin and king may be hurt only.

Now tell us exactly--for these gentlemen are equally interested with myself--had a surgeon seen him?'

I replied in the negative,but added that the wound was in the groin,and bled much,'You said a few minutes ago,"dying or already dead!"'the King of Navarre rejoined.'Why?'

'His Majesty's face was sunken,'I stammered.

He nodded.'You may be mistaken,'he said.'I pray that you are.But here comes Mornay.He may know more.'

In a moment I was abandoned,even by M.de Turenne,so great was the anxiety which possessed all to learn the truth.Maignan alone,under pretence of adjusting a stirrup,remained beside me,and entreated me in a low voice to begone.'Take this horse,M.

de Marsac,if you will,'he urged,'and ride back the way you came.You have done what you came to do.Go back,and be thankful.'

'Chut!'I said,'there is no danger.'

'You will see,'he replied darkly,'if you stay here.Come,come,take my advice and the horse,'he persisted,'and begone!

Believe me,it will be for the best.'

I laughed outright at his earnestness and his face of perplexity.

'I see you have M.de Rosny's orders to get rid of me,'I said.

'But I am not going,my friend.He must find some other way out of his embarrassment,for here I stay.'

'Well,your blood be on your own head,'Maignan retorted,swinging himself into the saddle with a gloomy face.'I have done my best to save you!'

'And your master!'I answered,laughing.

For flight was the last thing I had in my mind.I had ridden this ride with a clear perception that the one thing I needed was a footing at Court.By the special kindness of Providence I had now gained this;and I was not the man to resign it because it proved to be scanty and perilous.It was something that I had spoken to the great Vicomte face to face and not been consumed,that I had given him look for look and still survived,that I had put in practice Crillon's lessons and come to no harm.

Nor was this all.I had never in the worst times blamed the King of Navarre for his denial of me,I had been foolish,indeed,seeing that it was in the bargain,had I done so;nor had I ever doubted his good-will or his readiness to reward me should occasion arise.Now,I flattered myself,I had given him that which he needed,and had hitherto lacked--an excuse,I mean,for interference in my behalf.

Whether I was right or wrong in this notion I was soon to learn,for at this moment Henry's cavalcade,which had left me a hundred paces behind,came to a stop,and while some of the number waved to me to come on,one spurred back to summon me to the king.Ihastened to obey the order as fast as I could,but I saw on approaching that though all was at a standstill till I came up,neither the King of Navarre nor M.de Turenne was thinking principally of me.Every face,from Henry's to that of his least important courtier,wore an air of grave preoccupation;which Ihad no difficulty in ascribing to the doubt present in every mind,and outweighing every interest,whether the King of France was dead,or dying,or merely wounded.

'Quick,sir!'Henry said with impatience,as soon as I came within hearing.'Do not detain me with your affairs longer than is necessary.M.de Turenne presses me to carry into effect the order I gave yesterday.But as you have placed yourself in jeopardy on my account I feel that;something is due to you.You will be good enough,therefore,to present yourself at once at M.

la Varenne's lodging,and give me your parole to remain there without stirring abroad until your affair is concluded.'

Aware that I owed this respite,which at once secured my present safety and promised well for the future,to the great event that,even in M.de Turenne's mind,had overshadowed all others,Ibowed in silence.Henry,however,was not content with this.

'Come,sir,'he said sharply,and with every appearance of anger,'do you agree to that?'

I replied humbly that I thanked him for his clemency.

'There is no need of thanks,'he replied coldly.'What I have done is without prejudice to M.de Turenne's complaint.He must have justice.'

I bowed again,and in a moment the troop were gone at a gallop towards Meudon,whence,as I afterwards learned,the King of Navarre,attended by a select body of five-and-twenty horsemen,wearing private arms,rode on at full speed to St.Cloud to present himself at his Majesty's bedside.A groom who had caught the Cid,which had escaped into the town with no other injury than a slight wound in the shoulder,by-and-by met me with the horse;and in this way I was enabled to render myself with some decency at Varenne's lodging,a small house at the foot of the hill,not far from the Castle-gate.

Stanley John Weyman