V. The Lost Cipher.




I might spend many hours in describing the impression which this great Sovereign made upon my mind; but if the part which she took in the conversation I have detailed does not sufficiently exhibit those qualities of will and intellect which made her the worthy compeer of the King my master, I should labour in vain. Moreover, my stay in her neighbourhood, though Raleigh and Griffin showed me every civility, was short. An hour after taking leave of her, on the 15th of August, 1601, I sailed from Dover, and crossing to Calais without mishap anticipated with pleasure the King's satisfaction when he should hear the result of my mission, and learn from my mouth the just and friendly sentiments which Queen Elizabeth entertained towards him.

Unfortunately I was not able to impart these on the instant. During my absence a trifling matter had carried the King to Dieppe, whence his anxiety on the queen's account, who was shortly to be brought to bed, led him to take the road to Paris. He sent word to me to follow him, but necessarily some days elapsed before we met; an opportunity of which his enemies and mine were quick to take advantage, and that so insidiously and with so much success as to imperil not my reputation only but his happiness.

The time at their disposal was increased by the fact; that when I reached the Arsenal I found the Louvre vacant, the queen, who lay at Fontainebleau, having summoned the King thither. Ferret, his secretary, however, awaited me with a letter, in which Henry, after expressing his desire to see we, bade me nevertheless stay in Paris a day to transact some business. "Then," he continued, "come to me, my friend, and we will discuss the matter of which you know. In the meantime send me your papers by Ferret, who will give you a receipt for them."

Suspecting no danger in a course which was usual enough, I hastened to comply. Summoning Maignan, who, whenever I travelled, carried my portfolio, I unlocked it, and emptying the papers in a mass on the table, handed them in detail to Ferret. Presently, to my astonishment, I found that one, and this the most important, was missing. I went over the papers again, and again, and yet again. Still it was not to be found.

It will be remembered that whenever I travelled on a mission of importance I wrote my despatches in one of three modes, according as they were of little, great, or the first importance; in ordinary characters that is, in a cipher to which the council possessed the key, or in a cipher to which only the King and I held keys. This last, as it was seldom used, was rarely changed; but it was my duty, on my return from each mission, immediately to remit my key to the King, who deposited it in a safe place until another occasion for its use arose.

It was this key which was missing. I had been accustomed to carry it in the portfolio with the other papers; but in a sealed envelope which I broke and again sealed with my own signet whenever I had occasion to use the cipher. I had last seen the envelope at Calais, when I handed the portfolio to Maignan before beginning my journey to Paris; the portfolio had not since been opened, yet the sealed packet was missing.

More than a little uneasy, I recalled Maignan, who had withdrawn after delivering up his charge, "You rascal!" I said with some heat. "Has this been out of your custody?"

"The bag?" he answered, looking at it. Then his face changed. "You have cut your finger, my lord," he said.

I had cut it slightly in unbuckling the portfolio, and a drop or two of blood had fallen on the papers. But his reference to it at this moment, when my mind was full of my loss, angered me, and even awoke my suspicions. "Silence!" I said, "and answer me. Have you let this bag out of your possession?" This time he replied straightforwardly that he had not.

"Nor unlocked it?"

"I have no key, your excellency."

That was true; and as I had at bottom the utmost confidence in his fidelity, I pursued the inquiry no farther in that direction, but made a third search among the papers. This also failing to bring the packet to light, and Ferret being in haste to be gone, I was obliged for the moment to put up with the loss, and draw what comfort I could from the reflection that, no despatch in the missing cipher was extant. Whoever had stolen it, therefore, another could be substituted for it and no one the worse. Still I was unwilling that the King should hear of the mischance from a stranger, and be led to think me careless; and I bade Ferret be silent about it unless Henry missed the packet, which might not happen before my arrival.

When the secretary, who readily assented, had given me his receipt and was gone, I questioned Maignan afresh and more closely, but with no result. He had not seen me place the packet in the portfolio at Calais, and that I had done so I could vouch only my own memory, which I knew to be fallible. In the meantime, though the mischance annoyed me, I attached no great importance to it; but anticipating that a word of explanation would satisfy the King, and a new cipher dispose of other difficulties, I dismissed the matter from my mind.

Twenty-four hours later, however, I was rudely awakened. A courier arrived from Henry, and surprising me in the midst of my last preparations at the Arsenal, handed me an order to attend his Majesty; an order couched in the most absolute and peremptory terms, and lacking all those friendly expressions which the King never failed to use when he wrote to me. A missive so brief and so formal--and so needless, for I was on the point of starting-- had not reached me for years; and coming at this moment when I had no reason to expect a reverse of fortune, it had all the effect of a thunder-bolt in a clear sky. I stood stunned, the words which I was dictating to my secretary dying on my lips. For I knew the King too well, and had experienced his kindness too lately to attribute the harshness of the order to chance or forgetfulness; and assured in a moment that I stood face to face with a grave crisis, I found myself hard put to it to hide my feelings from those about me.

Nevertheless, I did so with all effort; and, sending for the courier asked him with an assumption of carelessness what was the latest news at Court. His answer, in a measure, calmed my fears, though it could not remove them. He reported that the queen had been taken ill or so the rumour went.

"Suddenly?" I said.

"This morning," he answered.

"The King was with her?"

"Yes, your excellency."

"Had he left her long when he sent this letter?"

"It came from her chamber, your excellency."

"But--did you understand that her Majesty was in danger?" I urged.

As to that, however, the man could not say anything; and I was left to nurse my conjectures during the long ride to Fontainebleau, where we arrived in the cool of the evening, the last stage through the forest awakening memories of past pleasure that combated in vain the disorder and apprehension which held my spirits. Dismounting in the dusk at the door of my apartments, I found a fresh surprise awaiting me in the shape of M. de Concini, the Italian; who advancing to meet me before my foot was out of the stirrup, announced that he came from the King, who desired my instant attendance in the queen's closet.

Knowing Concini to be one of those whose influence with her Majesty had more than once tempted the King to the most violent measures against her--from which I had with difficulty dissuaded him--I augured the worst from the choice of such a messenger; and wounded alike in my pride and the affection in which I held the King, could scarcely find words in which to ask him if the queen was ill.

"Indisposed, my lord," he replied carelessly. And he began to whistle.

I told him that I would remove my boots and brush off the dust, and in five minutes be at his service.

"Pardon me," he said, "my orders are strict; and they are to request you to attend his Majesty immediately. He expected you an hour ago."

I was thunderstruck at this--at the message, and at the man's manner; and for a moment I could scarcely restrain my indignation. Fortunately the habit of self-control came to my aid in time, and I reflected that an altercation with such a person could only lower my dignity. I contented myself, therefore, with signifying my assent by a nod, and without more ado followed him towards the queen's apartments.

In the ante-chamber were several persons, who as I passed saluted me with an air of shyness and incertitude which was enough of itself to put me on my guard. Concini attended me to the door of the chamber; there he fell back, and Mademoiselle Galigai, who was in waiting, announced me. I entered, assuming a serene countenance, and found the King and queen together, no other person being present. The queen was lying at length on a couch, while Henry, seated on a stool at her feet, seemed to be engaged in soothing and reassuring her. On my entrance, he broke off and rose to his feet.

"Here he is at last," he said, barely looking at me. "Now, if you will, dear heart ask him your questions. I have had no communication with him, as you know, for I have been with you since morning."

The queen, whose face was flushed with fever, made a fretful movement but did not answer.

"Do you wish me to ask him?" Henry said with admirable patience.

"If you think it is worth while," she muttered, turning sullenly and eyeing me from the middle of her pillows with disdain and ill-temper.

"I will, then," he answered, and he turned to me. "M. de Rosny," he said in a formal tone, which even without the unaccustomed monsieur cut me to the heart, "be good enough to tell the queen how the key to my secret cipher, which I entrusted to you, has come to be in Madame de Verneuil's possession."

I looked at him in the profoundest astonishment, and for a moment remained silent, trying to collect my thoughts under this unexpected blow. The queen saw my hesitation and laughed spitefully. "I am afraid, sire," she said, "that you have overrated this gentleman's ingenuity, though doubtless it has been much exercised in your service."

Henry's face grew red with vexation. "Speak, man!" he cried. "How came she by it?"

"Madame de Verneuil?" I said.

The queen laughed again. "Had you not better take him out first, sir," she said scornfully, "and tell him what to say?"

"'Fore God, madame," the King cried passionately, "you try me too far! Have I not told you a hundred times, and sworn to you, that I did not give Madame de Verneuil this key?"

"If you did not give her that," the queen muttered sullenly, picking at the silken coverlet which lay on her feet, "you have given her all else. You cannot deny it."

Henry let a gesture of despair escape him. "Are we to go back to that?" he said. Then turning to me, "Tell her," he said between his teeth; "and tell me. Ventre Saint Gris--are you dumb, man?"

Discerning nothing for it at the moment save to bow before this storm, which had arisen so suddenly, and from a quarter the least expected, I hastened to comply. I had not proceeded far with my story, however--which fell short, of course, of explaining how the key came to be in Madame de Verneuil's hands--before I saw that it won no credence with the queen, but rather confirmed her in her belief that the King had given to another what he had denied to her. And more; I saw that in proportion as the tale failed to convince her, it excited the King's wrath and disappointment. He several times cut me short with expressions of the utmost impatience, and at last, when I came to a lame conclusion--since I could explain nothing except that the key was gone--he could restrain himself no longer. In a tone in which he had never addressed me before, he asked me why I had not, on the instant, communicated the loss to him; and when I would have defended myself by adducing the reason I have given above, overwhelmed me with abuse and reproaches, which, as they were uttered in the queen's presence, and would be repeated, I knew, to the Concinis and Galigais of her suite, who had no occasion to love me, carried a double sting.

Nevertheless, for a time, and until he had somewhat worn himself out, I let Henry proceed. Then, taking advantage of the first pause, I interposed. Reminding him that he had never had cause to accuse me of carelessness before, I recalled the twenty-two years during which I had served him faithfully, and the enmities I had incurred for his sake; and having by these means placed the discussion on a more equal footing, I descended again to particulars, and asked respectfully if I might know on whose authority Madame de Verneuil was said to have the cipher.

"On her own!" the queen cried hysterically. "Don't try to deceive me,--for it will be in vain. I know she has it; and if the King did not give it to her, who did?"

"That is the question, madam," I said.

"It is one easily answered," she retorted. "If you do not know, ask her."

"But, perhaps, madam, she will not answer," I ventured.

"Then command her to answer in the King's name!" the queen replied, her cheeks burning with fever. "And if she will not, then has the King no prisons--no fetters smooth enough for those dainty ankles?"

This was a home question, and Henry, who never showed to less advantage than when he stood between two women, cast a sheepish glance at me. Unfortunately the queen caught the look, which was not intended for her; and on the instant it awoke all her former suspicions. Supposing that she had discovered our collusion, she flung herself back with a cry of rage, and bursting into a passion of tears, gave way to frantic reproaches, wailing and throwing herself about with a violence which could not but injure one in her condition.

The King stared at her for a moment in sheer dismay. Then his chagrin turned to anger; which, as he dared not vent it on her, took my direction. He pointed impetuously to the door. "Begone, sir!" he said in a passion, and with the utmost harshness. "You have done mischief enough here. God grant that we see the end of it! Go--go!" he continued, quite beside himself with fury. "Send Galigai here, and do you go to your lodging until you hear from me!"

Overwhelmed and almost stupefied by the catastrophe, I found my way out I hardly knew how, and sending in the woman, made my escape from the ante-chamber. But hasten as I might, my disorder, patent to a hundred curious eyes, betrayed me; and, if it did not disclose as much as I feared or the inquisitive desired, told more than any had looked to learn. Within an hour it was known at Nemours that his Majesty had dismissed me with high words--some said with a blow; and half a dozen couriers were on the road to Paris with the news.

In my place some might have given up all for lost; but in addition to a sense of rectitude, and the consciousness of desert, I had to support me an intimate knowledge of the King's temper; which, though I had never suffered from it to this extent before, I knew to be on occasion as hot as his anger was short lived, and his disposition generous. I had hopes, therefore-- although I saw dull faces enough among my suite, and some pale ones--that the King's repentance would overtake his anger, and its consequences outstrip any that might flow from his wrath. But though I was not altogether at fault in this, I failed to take in to account one thing--I mean Henry's anxiety on the queen's account, her condition, and his desire to have an heir; which so affected the issue, that instead of fulfilling my expectations the event left me more despondent than before. The King wrote, indeed, and within the hour, and his letter was in form an apology. But it was so lacking in graciousness; so stiff, though it began "My good friend Rosny," and so insincere, though it referred to my past services, that when I had read it I stood awhile gazing at it, afraid to turn lest De Vic and Varennes, who had brought it, should read my disappointment in my face.

For I could not hide from myself that the gist of the letter lay, not in the expressions of regret which opened it, but in the complaint which closed it; wherein the King sullenly excused his outbreak on the ground of the magnitude of the interests which my carelessness had endangered and the opening to harass the queen which I had heedlessly given. "This cipher," he said, "has long been a whim with my wife, from whom, for good reasons well known to you and connected with the Grand Duke's Court, I have thought fit to withhold it. Now nothing will persuade her that I have not granted to another what I refused her. I tremble, my friend, lest you be found to have done more ill to France in a moment of carelessness than all your services have done good."

It was not difficult to find a threat underlying these words, nor to discern that if the queen's fancy remained unshaken, and ill came of it, the King would hardly forgive me. Recognising this, and that I was face to face with a crisis from which I could not escape but by the use of my utmost powers, I assumed a serious and thoughtful air; and without affecting to disguise the fact that the King was displeased with me, dismissed the envoys with a few civil speeches, in which I did not fail to speak of his Majesty in terms that even malevolence could not twist to my disadvantage.

When they were gone, doubtless to tell Henry how I had taken it, I sat down to supper with La Font, Boisrueil, and two or three gentlemen of my suite; and, without appearing too cheerful, contrived to eat with my usual appetite. Afterwards I withdrew in the ordinary course to my chamber, and being now at liberty to look the situation in the face, found it as serious as I had feared. The falling man has few friends; he must act quickly if he would retain any. I was not slow in deciding that my sole chance of an honourable escape lay in discovering--and that within a few hours--who stole the cipher and conveyed it to Madame de Verneuil; and in placing before the queen such evidence of this as must convince her.

By way of beginning, I summoned Maignan and put him through a severe examination. Later, I sent for the rest of my household-- such, I mean, as had accompanied me--and ranging them against the walls of my chamber, took a flambeau in my hand and went the round of them, questioning each, and marking his air and aspect as he answered. But with no result; so that after following some clues to no purpose, and suspecting several persons who cleared themselves on the spot, I became assured that the chain must be taken up at the other end, and the first link found among Madame de Verneuil's following.

By this time it was nearly midnight, and my people were dropping with fatigue. Nevertheless, a sense of the desperate nature of the case animating them, they formed themselves voluntarily into a kind of council, all feeling their probity attacked; in which various modes of forcing the secret from those who held it were proposed--Maignan's suggestions being especially violent. Doubting, however, whether Madame had more than one confidante, I secretly made up my mind to a course which none dared to suggest; and then dismissing all to bed, kept only Maignan to lie in my chamber, that if any points occurred to me in the night I might question him on them.

At four o'clock I called him, and bade him go out quietly and saddle two horses. This done, I slipped out myself without arousing anyone, and mounting at the stables, took the Orleans road through the forest. My plan was to strike at the head, and surprising Madame de Verneuil while the event; still hung uncertain, to wrest the secret from her by trick or threat. The enterprise was desperate, for I knew the stubbornness and arrogance of the woman, and the inveterate enmity which she entertained towards me, more particularly since the King's marriage. But in a dangerous case any remedy is welcome.

I reached Malesherbes, where Madame was residing with her parents, a little before seven o'clock, and riding without disguise to the chateau demanded to see her. She was not yet risen, and the servants, whom my appearance threw into the utmost confusion, objected this to me; but I knew that the excuse was no real one, and answered roughly that I came from the King, and must see her. This opened all doors, and in a moment I found myself in her chamber. She was sitting up in bed, clothed in an elegant nightrail, and seemed in no wise surprised to see me. On the contrary, she greeted me with a smile and a taunting word; and omitted nothing that might evince her disdain or hurt my dignity. She let me advance without offering me a chair; and when, after saluting her, I looked about for one, I found that all the seats except one very low stool had been removed from the room.

This was so like her that it did not astonish me, and I baffled her malice by leaning against the wall. "This is no ordinary honour--from M. de Rosny!" she said, flouting me with her eyes.

"I come on no ordinary mission, madame," I said as gravely as I could.

"Mercy!" she exclaimed in a mocking tone. "I should have put on new ribbons, I suppose!"

"From the King, madame," I continued, not allowing myself to he moved, "to inquire how you obtained possession of his cipher."

She laughed loudly. "Good, simple King," she said, "to ask what he knows already!"

"He does not know, madame," I answered severely.

"What?" she cried, in affected surprise. "When he gave it to me himself!"

"He did not, madame."

"He did, sir!" she retorted, firing up. "Or if he did not, prove it--prove it! And, by the way," she continued, lowering her voice again, and reverting to her former tone of spiteful badinage, "how is the dear queen? I heard that she was indisposed yesterday, and kept the King in attendance all day. So unfortunate, you know, just at this time." And her eyes twinkled with malicious amusement.

"Madame,"I said, "may I speak plainly to you?"

"I never heard that you could speak otherwise," she answered quickly. "Even his friends never called M. de Rosny a wit; but only a plain, rough man who served our royal turn well enough in rough times; but is now growing--"

"Madame!"

"A trifle exigeant and superfluous."

After that, I saw that it was war to the knife between us; and I asked her in very plain terms If she were not afraid of the queen's enmity, that she dared thus to flaunt the King's favours before her.

"No more than I am afraid of yours," she answered hardily.

"But if the King is disappointed in his hopes?"

"You may suffer; very probably will," she answered, slowly and smiling, "not I. Besides, sir--my child was born dead. He bore that very well."

"Yet, believe me, madame, you run some risk."

"In keeping what the King has given me?" she answered, raising her eyebrows.

"No! In keeping what the King has not given you!" I answered sternly. "Whereas, what do you gain?"

"Well," she replied, raising herself in the bed, while her eyes sparkled and her colour rose, "if you like, I will tell you. This pleasure, for one thing--the pleasure of seeing you there, awkward, booted, stained, and standing, waiting my will. That-- which perhaps you call a petty thing--I gain first of all. Then I gain your ruin, M. de Rosny; I plant a sting in that woman's breast; and for his Majesty, he has made his bed and may lie on it."

"Have a care, madame!" I cried, bursting with indignation at a speech so shameless and disloyal. "You are playing a dangerous game, I warn you!"

"And what game have you played?" she replied, transported on a sudden with equal passion. "Who was it tore up the promise of marriage which the King gave me? Who was it prevented me being Queen of France? Who was it hurried on the match with this tradeswoman, so that the King found himself wedded, before he knew it? Who was it--but enough; enough!" she cried, interrupting herself with a gesture full of rage. "You have ruined me, you and your queen between you, and I will ruin you!"

"On the contrary, madame," I answered, collecting myself for a last effort, and speaking with all the severity which a just indignation inspired, "I have not ruined you. But if you do not tell me that which I am here to learn--I will!"

She laughed out loud. "Oh, you simpleton!" she said. "And you call yourself a statesman! Do you not see that if I do not tell it, you are disgraced yourself and powerless, and can do me no harm? Tell it you? When I have you all on the hip--you, the King, the queen! Not for a million crowns, M. de Rosny!"

"And that is your answer, madame?" I said, choking with rage. It had been long since any had dared so to beard me.

"Yes," she replied stoutly; "it is! Or, stay; you shall not go empty-handed." And thrusting her arm under the pillow she drew out, after a moment's search, a small packet, which she held out towards me. "Take it!" she said, with a taunting laugh. "It has served my turn. What the King gave me, I give you."

Seeing that it was the missing key to the cipher, I swallowed my rage and took it; and being assured by this time that I could effect nothing by staying longer, but should only expose myself to fresh insults, I turned on my heel, with rudeness equal to her own, and, without taking leave of her, flung the door open and went out. I heard her throw herself back with a shrill laugh of triumph. But as, the moment the door fell to behind me, my thoughts began to cast about for another way of escape--this failing--I took little heed of her, and less of the derisive looks to which the household, quickly taking the cue, treated me as I passed. I flung myself into the saddle and galloped off, followed by Maignan, who presently, to my surprise, blurted out a clumsy word of congratulation.

I turned on him in amazement, and, swearing at him, asked him what he meant.

"You have got it," he said timidly, pointing to the packet which I mechanically held in my hand.

"And to what purpose?" I cried, glad of this opportunity of unloading some of my wrath. "I want, not the paper, but the secret, fool! You may have the paper for yourself if you will tell me how Madame got it."

Nevertheless, his words led me to look at the packet. I opened it, and, having satisfied myself that it contained the original and not a copy, was putting it up again when my eyes fell on a small spot of blood which marked one corner of the cover. It was not larger than a grain of corn, but it awoke, first, a vague association and then a memory, which as I rode grew stronger and more definite, until, on a sudden, discovery flashed upon me--and the truth. I remembered where I had seen spots of blood before --on the papers I had handed to Ferret and remembered, too, where that blood had come from. I looked at the cut now, and, finding it nearly healed, sprang in my saddle. Of a certainty this paper had gone through my hands that day! It had been among the others; therefore it must have been passed to Ferret inside another when I first opened the bag! The rogue, getting it and seeing his opportunity, and that I did not suspect, had doubtless secreted it, probably while I was attending to my hand.

I had not suspected him before, because I had ticked off the earlier papers as I handed them to him; and had searched only among the rest and in the bag for the missing one. Now I wondered that I had not done so, and seen the truth from the beginning; and in my impatience I found the leagues through the forest, though the sun was not yet high and the trees sheltered us, the longest I had ridden in my life. When the roofs of the chateau at length appeared before us, I could scarcely keep my pace within bounds. Reflecting how Madame de Verneuil had over- reached herself, and how, by indulging in that last stroke of arrogance, she had placed the secret in my hands, I had much ado to refrain from going to the King booted and unwashed as I was; and though I had not eaten since the previous evening. However, the habit of propriety, which no man may lightly neglect, came to my aid. I made my toilet, and, having broken my fast standing, hastened to the Court. On the way I learned that the King was in the queen's garden, and, directing my steps thither, found him walking with my colleagues, Villeroy and Sillery, in the little avenue which leads to the garden of the Conciergerie. A number of the courtiers were standing on the low terrace watching them, while a second group lounged about the queen's staircase. Full of the news which I had for the King, I crossed the terrace; taking no particular heed of anyone, but greeting such as came in my way in my usual fashion. At the edge of the terrace I paused a moment before descending the three steps; and at the same moment, as it happened, Henry looked up, and our eyes met. On the instant he averted his gaze, and, turning on his heel in a marked way, retired slowly to the farther end of the walk.

The action was so deliberate that I could not doubt he meant to slight me; and I paused where I was, divided between grief and indignation, a mark for all those glances and whispered gibes in which courtiers indulge on such occasions. The slight was not rendered less serious by the fact that the King was walking with my two colleagues; so that I alone seemed to be out of his confidence, as one soon to be out of his councils also.

I perceived all this, and was not blind to the sneering smiles which were exchanged behind my back; but I affected to see nothing, and to be absorbed in sudden thought. In a minute or two the King turned and came back towards me; and again, as if he could not restrain his curiosity, looked up so that our eyes met. This time I thought that he would beckon me to him, satisfied with the lengths to which he had already carried his displeasure. But he turned again, with a light laugh.

At this a courtier, one of Sillery's creatures, who had presumed on the occasion so far as to come to my elbow, thought that he might safely amuse himself with me. "I am afraid that the King grows older, M. de Rosny," he said, smirking at his companions. "His sight seems to be failing."

"It should not be neglected then," I said grimly. "I will tell him presently what you say."

He fell back, looking foolish at that, at the very moment that Henry, having taken another turn, dismissed Villeroy, who, wiser than the puppy at my elbow, greeted me with particular civility as he passed. Freed from him, Henry stood a moment hesitating. He told me afterwards that he had not turned from me a yard before his heart smote him; and that but for a mischievous curiosity to see how I should take it, he would not have carried the matter so far. Be that as it may--and I do not doubt this, any more than I ever doubted the reality of the affection in which he held me--on a sudden he raised his hand and beckoned to me.

I went down to him gravely, and not hurriedly. He looked at me with some signs of confusion in his face. "You are late this morning," he said.

"I have been on your Majesty's business," I answered.

"I do not doubt that," he replied querulously, his eyes wandering. "I am not--I am troubled this morning." And after a fashion he had when he was not at his ease, he ground his heel into the soil and looked down at the mark. "The queen is not well. Sillery has seen her, and will tell you so."

M. de Sillery, whose constant opposition to me at the council- board I have elsewhere described, began to affirm it. I let him go on for a little time, and then interrupted him brusquely. "I think it was you," I said, "who nominated Ferret to be one of the King's clerks."

"Ferret?" he exclaimed, reddening at my tone, while the King, who knew me well, pricked up his ears.

"Yes," I said; "Ferret."

"And if so?" Sillery asked, haughtily. "What do you mean?"

"Only this," I said. "That if his Majesty will summon him to the queen's closet, without warning or delay, and ask him in her presence how much Madame de Verneuil gave him for the King's cipher, her Majesty, I think, will learn something which she wishes to know."

"What?" the King cried. "You have discovered it? But he gave you a receipt for the papers he took."

"For the papers he took with my knowledge--yes, sire."

"The rogue!" Sillery exclaimed viciously. "I will go and fetch him."

"Not so--with your Majesty's leave," I said, interposing quickly. "M. de Sillery may say too much or too little. Let a lackey take a message, bidding him go to the queen's closet, and he will suspect nothing."

The King assented, and bade me go and give the order. When I returned, he asked me anxiously if I felt sure that the man would confess.

"Yes, if you pretend to know all, sire," I answered. "He will think that Madame has betrayed him."

"Very well," Henry said. "Then let us go."

But I declined to be present; partly on the ground that if I were there the queen might suspect me of inspiring the man, and partly because I thought that the rogue would entertain a more confident hope of pardon, and be more likely to confess, if he saw the King alone. I contrived to keep Sillery also; and Henry giving the word, as he mounted the steps, that he should be back presently, the whole Court remained in a state of suspense, aware that something was in progress but in doubt what, and unable to decide whether I were again in favour or now on my trial.

Sillery remained talking to me, principally on English matters, until the dinner hour; which came and went, neglected by all. At length, when the curiosity of the mass of courtiers, who did not dare to interrupt us, had been raised by delay to an almost intolerable pitch, the King returned, with signs of disorder in his bearing; and, crossing the terrace in half a dozen strides, drew me hastily, along with Sillery, into the grove of white mulberry trees. There we were no sooner hidden in part, though not completely, than he threw his arms about me and embraced me with the warmest expressions. "Ah, my friend," he said, putting me from him at last, "what shall I say to you?"

"The queen is satisfied, sire?"

"Perfectly; and desires to be commended to you."

"He confessed, then?"

Henry nodded, with a look in his face that I did not understand. "Yes," he said, "fully. It was as you thought, my friend. God have mercy upon him!"

I started. "What?" I said. "Has he--"

The King nodded, and could not repress a shudder. "Yes," he said; "but not, thank Heaven, until he had left the closet. He had something about him."

Sillery began anxiously to clear himself; but the King, with his usual good nature, stopped him, and bade us all go and dine, saying that we must be famished. He ended by directing me to be back in an hour, since his own appetite was spoiled. "And bring with you all your patience," he added, "for I have a hundred questions to ask you. We will walk towards Avon, and I will show you the surprise which I am preparing for the queen."

Alas, I would I could say that all ended there. But the rancour of which Madame de Verneuil had given token in her interview with me was rather aggravated than lessened by the failure of her plot and the death of her tool. It proved to be impenetrable by all the kindnesses which the King lavished upon her; neither the legitimation of the child which she soon afterwards bore, nor the clemency which the King--against the advice of his wisest ministers extended to her brother Auvergne, availing to expel it from her breast. How far she or that ill-omened family were privy to the accursed crime which, nine years later, palsied France on the threshold of undreamed-of glories, I will not take on myself to say; for suspicion is not proof. But history, of which my beloved master must ever form so great a part, will lay the blame where it should rest.



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