Read CHAPTER XII - At Fontainebleau of From the Memoirs of a Minister of France , free online book, by Stanley J. Weyman, on

The passion which Henry still felt for Madame de Conde, and which her flight from the country was far from assuaging, had a great share in putting him upon the immediate execution of the designs we had so long prepared. Looking to find in the stir and bustle of a German campaign that relief of mind which the Court could no longer afford him, he discovered in the unhoped-for wealth of his treasury an additional incitement; and now waited only for the opening of spring and the Queen’s coronation to remove the last obstacles that kept him from the field.

Nevertheless, relying on my assurances that all things were ready, and persuaded that the more easy he showed himself the less prepared would he find the enemy, he made no change in his habits; but in March, 1610, went, as usual, to Fontainebleau, where he diverted himself with hunting. It was during this visit that the Court credited him with seeing I think, on the Friday before the Feast of the Virgin the Great Huntsman; and even went so far as to specify the part of the forest in which he came upon it, and the form that of a gigantic black horseman, surrounded by hounds which it assumed The spectre had not been seen since the year 1598; nevertheless, the story spread widely, those who whispered it citing in its support not only the remarkable agitation into which the Queen fell publicly on the evening of that day, but also some strange particulars that attended the King’s return from the forest; and, being taken up and repeated, and confirmed, as many thought, by the unhappy sequence of his death, the fable found a little later almost universal credence, so that it may now be found even in books.

As it happened, however, I was that day at Fontainebleau, and hunted with the King; and, favoured both by chance and the confidence with which my master never failed to honour me, am able not only to refute this story, but to narrate the actual facts from which it took its rise. And though there are some, I know, who boast that they had the tale from the King’s own mouth, I undertake to prove either that they are romancers who seek to add an inch to their stature, or dull fellows who placed their own interpretation on the hasty words he vouchsafed such chatterers.

As a fact, the King, on that day wishing to discuss with me the preparations for the Queen’s entry, bade me keep close to him, since he had more inclination for my company than the chase. But the crowd that attended him was so large, the day being fine and warm and comprised, besides, so many ladies, whose badinage and gaiety he could never forego that I found him insensibly drawn from me. Far from being displeased, I was glad to see him forget the moodiness which had of late oppressed him; and beyond keeping within sight of him, gave up, for the time, all thought of affairs, and found in the beauty of the spectacle sufficient compensation. The bright dresses and waving feathers of the party showed to the greatest advantage, as the long cavalcade wound through the heather and rocks of the valley below the Apremonts; and whether I looked to front or rear on the huntsmen, with their great horns, or the hounds straining in the leashes I was equally charmed with a sight at once joyous and gallant, and one to which the calls of duty had of late made me a stranger.

On a sudden a quarry was started, and the company, galloping off pell-mell, with a merry burst of music, were in a moment dispersed, some taking this track, and others that, through the rocks and debris that make that part of the forest difficult. Singling out the King, I kept as near him as possible until the chase led us into the Apremont coverts, where, the trees growing thickly, and the rides cut through them being intricate, I lost him for a while. Again, however, I caught sight of him flying down a ride bordered by dark-green box-trees, against which his white hunting coat showed vividly; but now he was alone, and riding in a direction which each moment carried him farther from the line of the chase, and entangled him more deeply in the forest.

Supposing that he had made a bad cast and was in error, I dashed the spurs into my horse, and galloped after him; then, finding that he still held his own, and that I did not overtake him, but that, on the contrary, he was riding at the top of his speed, I called to him. “You are in error, sire, I think!” I cried. “The hounds are the other way!”

He heard, for he raised his hand, and, without turning his head, made me a sign; but whether of assent or denial, I could not tell. And he still held on his course. Then, for a moment, I fancied that his horse had got the better of him, and was running away; but no sooner had the thought occurred to me than I saw that he was spurring it, and exciting it to its utmost speed, so that we reached the end of that ride, and rushed through another and still another, always making, I did not fail to note, for the most retired part of the forest.

We had proceeded in this way about a mile, and the sound of the hunt had quite died away behind us, and I was beginning to chafe, as well as marvel, at conduct so singular, when at last I saw that he was slackening his pace. My horse, which was on the point of failing, began, in turn, to overhaul his, while I looked out with sharpened curiosity for the object of pursuit. I could see nothing, however, and no one; and had just satisfied myself that this was one of the droll freaks in which he would sometimes indulge, and that in a second or two he would turn and laugh at my discomfiture, when, on a sudden, with a final pull at the reins, he did turn, and showed me a face flushed with passion and chagrin.

I was so taken aback that I cried out. “Mon dieu! sire,” I said. “What is it? What is the matter?”

“Matter enough!” he cried, with an oath. And on that, halting his horse, he looked at me as if he would read my heart. “Ventre de Saint Gris!” he said, in a voice that made me tremble, “if I were sure that there was no mistake, I would I would never see your face again!”

I uttered an exclamation.

“Have you not deceived me?” quoth he.

“Oh, sire, I am weary of these suspicions!” I answered, affecting an indifference I did not feel. “If your Majesty does not ”

But he cut me short. “Answer me!” he said harshly, his mouth working in his beard and his eyes gleaming with excitement. “Have you not deceived me?”

“No, sire!” I said.

“Yet you have told me day by day that Madame de Conde remained in Brussels?”


“And you still say so?”

“Most certainly!” I answered firmly, beginning to think that his passion had turned his brain. “I had despatches to that effect this morning.”

“Of what date?”

“Three days gone. The courier travelled night and day.”

“They may be true, and still she may be here to-day?” he said, staring at me.

“Impossible, sire!”

“But, man, I have just seen her!” he cried impatiently.

“Madame de Conde?”

“Yes, Madame de Conde, or I am a madman!” Henry answered, speaking a little more moderately. “I saw her gallop out of the patch of rocks at the end of the Dormoir where the trees begin. She did not heed the line of the hounds, but turned straight down the boxwood ride; and, after that, led as I followed. Did you not see her?”

“No, sire,” I said, inexpressibly alarmed I could take it for nothing but fantasy “I saw no one.”

“And I saw her as clearly as I see you,” he answered. “She wore the yellow ostrich-feather she wore last year, and rode her favourite chestnut horse with a white stocking. But I could have sworn to her by her figure alone; and she waved her hand to me.”

“But, sire, out of the many ladies riding to-day ”

“There is no lady wearing a yellow feather,” he answered passionately. “And the horse! And I knew her, man! Besides, she waved to me! And, for the others why should they turn from the hunt and take to the woods?”

I could not answer this, but I looked at him in fear; for, as it was impossible that the Princess de Conde could be here, I saw no alternative but to think him smitten with madness. The extravagance of the passion which he had entertained for her, and the wrath into which the news of her flight with her young husband had thrown him, to say nothing of the depression under which he had since suffered, rendered the idea not so unlikely as it now seems. At any rate, I was driven for a moment to entertain it; and gazed at him in silence, a prey to the most dreadful apprehensions.

We stood in a narrow ride, bordered by evergreens, with which that part of the forest is planted; and but for the songs of the birds the stillness would have been absolute. On a sudden the King removed his eyes from me, and, walking his horse a pace or two along the ride, uttered a cry of joy.

He pointed to the ground. “We are right!” he said. “There are her tracks! Come! We will overtake her yet!”

I looked, and saw the fresh prints of a horse’s shoes, and felt a great weight roll off my mind, for at least he had seen someone. I no longer hesitated to fall in with his humour, but, riding after him, kept at his elbow until he reached the end of the ride. Here, a vista opening right and left, and the ground being hard and free from tracks, we stood at a loss; until the King, whose eyesight was always of the keenest, uttered an exclamation, and started from me at a gallop.

I followed more slowly, and saw him dismount and pick up a glove, which, even at that distance, he had discerned lying in the middle of one of the paths. He cried, with a flushed face, that it was Madame de Conde’s; and added: “It has her perfume her perfume, which no one else uses!”

I confess that this so staggered me that I knew not what to think; but, between sorrow at seeing my master so infatuated and bewilderment at a riddle that grew each moment more perplexing, I sat gaping at Henry like a man without counsel. However, at the moment, he needed none, but, getting to his saddle as quickly as he could, he began again to follow the tracks of the horse’s feet, which here were visible, the path running through a beech wood. The branches were still bare, and the shining trunks stood up like pillars, the ground about them being soft. We followed the prints through this wood for a mile and a half or more, and then, with a cry, the King darted from me, and, in an instant, was racing through the wood at break-neck speed.

I had a glimpse of a woman flying far ahead of us; and now hidden from us by the trunks and now disclosed; and could even see enough to determine that she wore a yellow feather drooping from her hat, and was in figure not unlike the Princess. But that was all; for, once started, the inequalities of the ground drew my eyes from the flying form, and, losing it, I could not again recover it. On the contrary, it was all I could do to keep up with the King; and of the speed at which the woman was riding, could best judge by the fact that in less than five minutes he, too, pulled-up with a gesture of despair, and waited for me to come abreast of him.

“You saw her?” he said, his face grim, and with something of suspicion lurking in it.

“Yes, sire,” I answered, “I saw a woman, and a woman with a yellow feather; but whether it was the Princess ”

“It was!” he said. “If not, why should she flee from us?”

To that, again, I had not a word to say, and for a moment we rode in silence. Observing, however, that this last turn had brought us far on the way home, I called the King’s attention to this; but he had sunk into a fit of gloomy abstraction, and rode along with his eyes on the ground. We proceeded thus until the slender path we followed brought up into the great road that leads through the forest to the kennels and the new canal.

Here I asked him if he would not return to the chase, as the day was still young.

“Mon Dieu, no!” he answered passionately. “I have other work to do. Hark ye, M. lé Duc, do you still think that she is in Brussels?”

“I swear that she was there three days ago, sire!”

“And you are not deceiving me? If it be so, God forgive you, for I shall not!”

“It is no trick of mine, sire,” I answered firmly.

“Trick?” he cried, with a flash of his eyes. “A trick, you say? No, Ventre de Saint Gris! there is no man in France dare trick me so!”

I did not contradict him, the rather as we were now close to the kennels, and I was anxious to allay his excitement; that it might not be detected by the keen eyes that lay in wait for us, and so add to the gossip to which his early return must give rise. I hoped that at that hour he might enter unperceived, by way of the kennels and the little staircase; but in this I was disappointed, the beauty of the day having tempted a number of ladies, and others who had not hunted, to the terrace by the canal; whence, walking up and down, their fans and petticoats fluttering in the sunshine, and their laughter and chatter filling the air, they were able to watch our approach at their leisure.

Unfortunately, Henry had no longer the patience and self-control needful for such a rencontre. He dismounted with a dark and peevish air, and, heedless of the staring, bowing throng, strode up the steps. Two or three, who stood high in favour, put themselves forward to catch a smile or a word, but he vouchsafed neither. He walked through them with a sour air, and entered the chateau with a precipitation that left all tongues wagging.

To add to the misfortune, something I forget what detained me a moment, and that cost us dear. Before I could cross the terrace, Concini, the Italian, came up, and, saluting me, said that the Queen desired to speak to me.

“The Queen?” I said, doubtfully, foreseeing trouble.

“She is waiting at the gate of the farther court,” he answered politely, his keen black eyes reverting, with eager curiosity, to the door by which the King had disappeared.

I could not refuse, and went to her. “The King has returned early, M. lé Duc?” she said.

“Yes, madame,” I answered. “He had a fancy to discuss affairs to-day, and we lost the hounds.”


“I had the honour, Madame.”

“You do not seem to have agreed very well?” she said, smiling.

“Madame,” I answered bluntly, “his Majesty has no more faithful servant; but we do not always agree.”

She raised her hand, and, with a slight gesture, bade her ladies stand back, while her face lost its expression of good-temper, and grew sharp and dark. “Was it about the Conde?” she said, in a low, grating voice. “No, madame,” I answered; “it was about certain provisions. The King’s ear had been grossly abused, and his Majesty led to believe ”

“Faugh!” she cried, with a wave of contempt, “that is an old story! I am sick of it. Is she still at Brussels?”

“Still, madame.”

“Then see that she stops there!” her Majesty retorted, with a meaning look.

And with that she dismissed me, and went into the chateau. I proposed to rejoin the King; but, to my chagrin, I found, when I reached the closet, that he had already sent for Varennes, and was shut up with him. I went back to my rooms therefore, and, after changing my hunting suit and transacting some necessary business, sat down to dinner with Nicholas, the King’s secretary, a man fond of the table, whom I often entertained. He kept me in talk until the afternoon was well advanced, and we were still at table when Maignan appeared and told me that the King had sent for me.

“I will go,” I said, rising.

“He is with the Queen, your Excellency,” he continued.

This somewhat surprised me, but I thought no evil; and, finding one of the Queen’s Italian pages at the door waiting to conduct me, I followed him across the court that lay between my lodgings and her apartments. Two or three of the King’s gentlemen were in the anteroom when I arrived, and Varennes, who was standing by one of the fire-places toying with a hound, made me a face of dismay; he could not speak, owing to the company.

Still this, in a degree, prepared me for the scene in the chamber, where I found the Queen storming up and down the room, while the King, still in his hunting dress, sat on a low chair by the fire, apparently drying his boots. Mademoiselle Galigai, the Queen’s waiting-woman, stood in the background; but more than this I had not time to observe, for, before I had reached the middle of the floor, the Queen turned on me, and began to abuse me with a vehemence which fairly shocked me.

“And you!” she cried, “who speak so slow, and look so solemn, and all the time do his dirty work, like the meanest cook he has ennobled! It is well you are here! Enfin, you are found out you and your provisions! Your provisions, of which you talked in the wood!”

“Mon dieu!” the King groaned; “give me patience!”

“He has given me patience these ten years, sire!” she retorted passionately. “Patience to see myself flouted by your favourites, insulted and displaced, and set aside! But this is too much! It was enough that you made yourself the laughing-stock of France once with this madame! I will not have it again no: though twenty of your counsellors frown at me!”

“Your Majesty seems displeased,” I said. “But as I am quite in the dark ”

“Liar!” she cried, giving way to her fury. “When you were with her this morning! When you saw her! When you stooped to ”

“Madame!” the King said sternly, “if you forget yourself, be good enough to remember that you are speaking to French gentlemen, not to traders of Florence!”

She sneered. “You think to wound me by that!” she cried, breathing quickly. “But I have my grandfather’s blood in me, sire; and no King of France ”

“One King of France will presently make your uncle of that blood sing small!” the King answered viciously. “So much for that; and for the rest, sweetheart, softly, softly!”

“Oh!” she cried, “I will go: I will not stay to be outraged by that woman’s presence!”

I had now an inkling what was the matter; and discerning that the quarrel was a more serious matter than their every-day bickerings, and threatened to go to lengths that might end in disaster, I ignored the insult her Majesty had flung at me, and entreated her to be calm. “If I understand aright, madame,” I said, “you have some grievance against his Majesty. Of that I know nothing. But I also understand that you allege something against me; and it is to speak to that, I presume, that I am summoned. If you will deign to put the matter into words ”

“Words!” she cried. “You have words enough! But get out of this, Master Grave-Airs, if you can! Did you, or did you not, tell me this morning that the Princess of Conde was in Brussels?”

“I did, madame.”

“Although half an hour before you had seen her, you had talked with her, you had been with her in the forest?”

“But I had not, madame!”

“What?” she cried, staring at me, surprised doubtless that I manifested no confusion. “Do you say that you did not see her?”

“I did not.”

“Nor the King?”

“The King, Madame, cannot have seen her this morning,” I said, “because he is here and she is in Brussels.”

“You persist in that?”

“Certainly!” I said. “Besides, madame,” I continued, “I have no doubt that the King has given you his word ”

“His word is good for everyone but his wife!” she answered bitterly. “And for yours, M. lé Duc, I will show you what it is worth. Mademoiselle, call ”

“Nay, madame!” I said, interrupting her with spirit, “if you are going to call your household to contradict me ”

“But I am not!” she cried in a voice of triumph that, for the moment, disconcerted me. “Mademoiselle, send to M. de Bassompierre’s lodgings, and bid him come to me!”

The King whistled softly, while I, who knew Bassompierre to be devoted to him, and to be, in spite of the levity to which his endless gallantries bore witness, a man of sense and judgment, prepared myself for a serious struggle; judging that we were in the meshes of an intrigue, wherein it was impossible to say whether the Queen figured as actor or dupe. The passion she evinced as she walked to and fro with clenched hands, or turned now and again to dart a fiery glance at the Cordovan curtain that hid the door, was so natural to her character that I found myself leaning to the latter supposition. Still, in grave doubt what part Bassompierre was to play, I looked for his coming as anxiously as anyone. And probably the King shared this feeling; but he affected indifference, and continued to sit over the fire with an air of mingled scorn and peevishness.

At length Bassompierre entered, and, seeing the King, advanced with an open brow that persuaded me, at least, of his innocence. Attacked on the instant, however, by the Queen, and taken by surprise, as it were, between two fires though the King kept silence, and merely shrugged his shoulders his countenance fell. He was at that time one of the handsomest gallants about the Court, thirty years old, and the darling of women; but at this his aplomb failed him, and with it my heart sank also.

“Answer, sir! answer!” the Queen cried. “And without subterfuge! Who was it, sir, whom you saw come from the forest this morning?”


“In one word!”

“If your Majesty will ”

“I will permit you to answer,” the Queen exclaimed.

“I saw his Majesty return,” he faltered “and M. de Sully.”

“Before them! before them!”

“I may have been mistaken.”

“Pooh, man!” the Queen cried with biting contempt. “You have told it to half-a-dozen. Discretion comes a little late.”

“Well, if you will, madame,” he said, striving to assert himself, but cutting a poor figure, “I fancied that I saw Madame de Conde ”

“Come out of the wood ten minutes before the King?”

“It may have been twenty,” he muttered.

But the Queen cared no more for him. She turned, looking superb in her wrath, to the King. “Now, sir!” she said. “Am I to bear this?”

“Sweet!” the King said, governing his temper in a way that surprised me, “hear reason, and you shall have it in a word. How near was Bassompierre to the lady he saw?”

“I was not within fifty paces of her!” the favourite cried eagerly.

“But others saw her!” the Queen rejoined sharply. “Madame Paleotti, who was with the gentleman, saw her also, and knew her.”

“At a distance of fifty paces?” the King said drily. “I don’t attach much weight to that.” And then, rising, with a slight yawn. “Madame,” he continued, with the air of command which he knew so well how to assume, “for the present, I am tired! If Madame de Conde is here, it will not be difficult to get further evidence of her presence. If she is at Brussels, that fact, too, you can ascertain. Do the one or the other, as you please; but, for to-day, I beg that you will excuse me.”

“And that,” the Queen cried shrilly “that is to be ”

“All, madame!” the King said sternly. “Moreover, let me have no prating outside this room. Grand-Master, I will trouble you.”

And with these words, uttered in a voice and with an air that silenced even the angry woman before us, he signed to me to follow him, and went from the room; the first glance of his eye stilling the crowded ante-chamber, as if the shadow of death passed with him. I followed him to his closet; but, until he reached it, had no inkling of what was in his thoughts. Then he turned to me.

“Where is she?” he said sharply.

I stared at him a moment. “Pardon, sire?” I said. “Do you think that it was Madame de Conde?”

“Why not?”

“She is in Brussels.”

“I tell you I saw her this morning!” he answered. “Go, learn all you can! Find her! Find her! If she has returned, I will God knows what I will do!” he cried, in a voice shamefully broken. “Go; and send Varennes to me. I shall sup alone: let no one wait.”

I would have remonstrated with him, but he was in no mood to bear it; and, sad at heart, I withdrew, feeling the perplexity, which the situation caused me, a less heavy burden than the pain with which I viewed the change that had of late come over my master; converting him from the gayest and most DEBONAIRE of men into this morose and solitary dreamer. Here, had I felt any temptation to moralise on the tyranny of passion, was the occasion; but, as the farther I left the closet behind me the more instant became the crisis, the present soon reasserted its power. Reflecting that Henry, in this state of uncertainty, was capable of the wildest acts, and that not less was to be feared from his imprudence than from the Queen’s resentment, I cudgelled my brains to explain the rencontre of the morning; but as the courier, whom I questioned, confirmed the report of my agents, and asseverated most confidently that he had left Madame in Brussels, I was flung back on the alternative of an accidental resemblance. This, however, which stood for a time as the most probable solution, scarcely accounted for the woman’s peculiar conduct, and quite fell to the ground when La Trape, making cautious inquiries, ascertained that no lady hunting that day had worn a yellow feather. Again, therefore, I found myself at a loss; and the dejection of the King and the Queen’s ill-temper giving rise to the wildest surmises, and threatening each hour to supply the gossips of the Court with a startling scandal, the issue of which no one could foresee, I went so far as to take into my confidence mm. Epernon and Montbazon; but with no result.

Such being my state of mind, and such the suspense I suffered during two days, it may be imagined that M. Bassompierre was not more happy. Despairing of the King’s favour unless he could clear up the matter, and by the event justify his indiscretion, he became for those two days the wonder, and almost the terror, of the Court. Ignorant of what he wanted, the courtiers found only insolence in his mysterious questions, and something prodigious in an activity which carried him in one day to Paris and back, and on the following to every place in the vicinity where news of the fleeting beauty might by any possibility be gained; so that he far outstripped my agents, who were on the same quest. But though I had no mean opinion of his abilities, I hoped little from these exertions, and was proportionately pleased when, on the third day, he came to me with a radiant face and invited me to attend the Queen that evening.

“The King will be there,” he said, “and I shall surprise you. But I will not tell you more. Come! and I promise to satisfy you.”

And that was all he would say; so that, finding my questions useless, and the man almost frantic with joy, I had to be content with it; and at the Queen’s hour that evening presented myself in her gallery, which proved to be unusually full.

Making my way towards her in some doubt of my reception, I found my worst fears confirmed. She greeted me with a sneering face, and was preparing, I was sure, to put some slight upon me a matter wherein she could always count on the applause of her Italian servants when the entrance of the King took her by surprise. He advanced up the gallery with a listless air, and, after saluting her, stood by one of the fireplaces talking to Epernon and La Force. The crowd was pretty dense by this time, and the hum of talk filled the room when, on a sudden, a voice, which I recognised as Bassompierre’s, was lifted above it.

“Very well!” he cried gaily, “then I appeal to her Majesty. She shall decide, mademoiselle! No, no; I am not satisfied with your claim!”

The King looked that way with a frown, but the Queen took the outburst in good part. “What is it, M. de Bassompierre?” she said. “What am I to decide?”

“To-day, in the forest, I found a ring, madame,” he answered, coming forward. “I told Mademoiselle de la Force of my discovery, and she now claims the ring.”

“I once had a ring like it,” cried mademoiselle, blushing and laughing.

“A sapphire ring?” Bassompierre answered, holding his hand aloft.


“With three stones?”


“Precisely, mademoiselle!” he answered, bowing. “But the stones in this ring are not sapphires, nor are there three of them.”

There was a great laugh at this, and the Queen said, very wittily, that as neither of the claimants could prove a right to the ring it must revert to the judge.

“In one moment your Majesty shall at least see it,” he answered. “But, first, has anyone lost a ring? Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! Lost, in the forest, within the last three days, a ring!”

Two or three, falling in with his humour, set up absurd claims to it; but none could describe the ring, and in the end he handed it to the Queen. As he did so his eyes met mine and challenged my attention. I was prepared, therefore, for the cry of surprise which broke from the Queen.

“Why, this is Caterina’s!” she cried. “Where is the child?”

Someone pushed forward Mademoiselle Paleotti, sister-in-law to Madame Paleotti, the Queen’s first chamberwoman. She was barely out of her teens, and, ordinarily, was a pretty girl; but the moment I saw her dead-white face, framed in a circle of fluttering fans and pitiless, sparkling eyes, I discerned tragedy in the farce; and that M. de Bassompierre was acting in a drama to which only he and one other held the key. The contrast between the girl’s blanched face and the beauty and glitter in the midst of which she stood struck others, so that, before another word was said, I caught the gasp of surprise that passed through the room; nor was I the only one who drew nearer.

“Why, girl,” the Queen said, “this is the ring I gave you on my birthday! When did you lose it? And why have you made a secret of it?”

Mademoiselle stood speechless; but madame her sister-in-law answered for her. “Doubtless she was afraid that your Majesty would think her careless,” she answered.

“I did not ask you!” the Queen rejoined.

She spoke harshly and suspiciously, looking from the ring to the trembling girl. The silence was such that the chatter of the pages in the anteroom could be heard. Still Mademoiselle stood dumb and confounded.

“Well, what is the mystery?” the Queen said, looking round with a little wonder. “What is the matter? It is the ring. Why do you not own it?”

“Perhaps mademoiselle is wondering where are the other things she left with it!” Bassompierre said in a silky tone. “The things she left at Parlot the verderer’s, when she dropped the ring. But she may free her mind; I have them here.”

“What do you mean?” the Queen said. “What things, monsieur? What has the girl been doing?”

“Only what many have done before her,” Bassompierre answered, bowing to his unfortunate victim, who seemed to be paralysed by terror: “masquerading in other people’s clothes. I propose, madame, that, for punishment, you order her to dress in them, that we may see what her taste is.”

“I do not understand?” the Queen said.

“Your Majesty will, if Mademoiselle Paleotti will consent to humour us.”

At that the girl uttered a cry, and looked round the circle as if for a way of escape; but a Court is a cruel place, in which the ugly or helpless find scant pity. A dozen voices begged the Queen to insist; and, amid laughter and loud jests, Bassompierre hastened to the door, and returned with an armful of women’s gear, surmounted by a wig and a feathered hat.

“If the Queen will command mademoiselle to retire and put these on,” he said, “I will undertake to show her something that will please her.”

“Go!” said the Queen.

But the girl had flung herself on her knees before her, and, clinging to her skirts, burst, into a flood of tears and prayers; while her sister-in-law stepped forward as if to second her, and cried out, in great excitement, that her Majesty would not be so cruel as to

“Hoity, toity!” said the Queen, cutting her short, very grimly. “What is all this? I tell the girl to put on a masquerade which it seems that she has been keeping at some cottage and you talk as if I were cutting off her head! It seems to me that she escapes very lightly! Go! go! and see, you, that you are arrayed in five minutes, or I will deal with you!”

“Perhaps Mademoiselle de la Force will go with her, and see that nothing is omitted,” Bassompierre said with malice.

The laughter and applause with which this proposal was received took me by surprise; but later I learned that the two young women were rivals. “Yes, yes,” the Queen said. “Go, mademoiselle, and see that she does not keep us waiting.”

Knowing what I did, I had by this time a fair idea of the discovery which Bassompierre had made; but the mass of courtiers and ladies round me, who had not this advantage, knew not what to expect nor, especially, what part M. Bassompierre had in the business but made most diverting suggestions, the majority favouring the opinion that Mademoiselle Paleotti had repulsed him, and that this was his way of avenging himself. A few of the ladies even taxed him with this, and tried, by random reproaches, to put him at least on his defence; but, merrily refusing to be inveigled, he made to all the same answer that when Mademoiselle Paleotti returned they would see. This served only to whet a curiosity already keen, insomuch that the door was watched by as many eyes as if a miracle had been promised; and even mm. Epernon and Vendome, leaving the King’s side, pressed into the crowd that they might see the better. I took the opportunity of going to him, and, meeting his eyes as I did so, read in them a look of pain and distress. As I advanced he drew back a pace, and signed to me to stand before him.

I had scarcely done so when the door opened and Mademoiselle Paleotti, pale, and supported on one side by her rival, appeared at it; but so wondrously transformed by a wig, hat, and redingote that I scarcely knew her. At first, as she stood, looking with shamed eyes at the staring crowd, the impression made was simply one of bewilderment, so complete was the disguise. But Bassompierre did not long suffer her to stand so. Advancing to her side, his hat under his arm, he offered his hand.

“Mademoiselle,” he said, “will you oblige me by walking as far as the end of the gallery with me?”

She complied involuntarily, being almost unable to stand alone. But the two had not proceeded half-way down the gallery before a low murmur began to be heard, that, growing quickly louder, culminated in an astonished cry of “Madame de Conde! Madame de Conde!”

M. Bassompierre dropped her hand with a low bow, and turned to the Queen. “Madame,” he said, “this, I find, is the lady whom I saw on the Terrace when Madame Paleotti was so good as to invite me to walk on the Bois-lé-Roi road. For the rest, your Majesty may draw your conclusions.”

It was easy to see that the Queen had already drawn them; but, for the moment, the unfortunate girl was saved from her wrath. With a low cry, Mademoiselle Paleotti did that which she would have done a little before, had she been wise, and swooned on the floor.

I turned to look at the King, and found him gone. He had withdrawn unseen in the first confusion of the surprise; nor did I dare at once to interrupt him, or intrude on the strange mixture of regret and relief, wrath and longing, that probably possessed him in the silence of his closet. It was enough for me that the Italians’ plot had failed, and that the danger of a rupture between the King and Queen, which these miscreants desired, and I had felt to be so great and imminent, was, for this time, overpast.

The Paleottis were punished, being sent home in disgrace, and a penury, which, doubtless, they felt more keenly. But, alas, the King could not banish with them all who hated him and France; nor could I, with every precaution, and by the unsparing use of all the faculties that, during a score of years, had been at the service of my master, preserve him for his country and the world. Before two months had run he perished by a mean hand, leaving the world the poorer by the greatest and most illustrious sovereign that ever ruled a nation. And men who loved neither France nor him entered into his labours, whose end also I have seen.