The Man in Black
by Stanley Weyman
THE FAIR AT
Chapter 3. MAN
Chapter 4. THE
HOUSE WITH TWO
Chapter 5. THE
Chapter 6. THE
Chapter 8. THE
MARK OF CAIN
BEFORE THE COURT
Chapter 10. TWO
Chapter 1. THE FAIR AT FÉCAMP
“I am Jehan de Bault, Seigneur of—I know not where, and Lord of
seventeen lordships in the County of—I forget the name, of a most
noble and puissant family, possessing the High Justice, the Middle, and
the Low. In my veins runs the blood of Roland, and of my forefathers
were three marshals of France. I stand here, the——”
It was the eve of All Saints, and the famous autumn horse-fair was in
progress at Fécamp—Fécamp on the Normandy coast the town between the
cliffs, which Boisrosé, in the year '93, snatched for the Great King by
a feat of audacity unparalleled in war. This only by the way, however;
and that a worthy deed may not die. For at the date of this fair of
which we write, the last day of October, 1637, stout Captain Boisrosé,
whom Sully made for his daring Lieutenant-General of the Ordnance, had
long ceased to ruffle it; the Great King had lain in his grave a score
of years or more; and though Sully, duke and peer and marshal, still
lived, an aged, formal man, in his château of Villebon by Chartres, all
France, crouching under the iron hand of the Cardinal, looked other
The great snarled, biting at the hem of the red soutane. But that the
mean and Jacques Bonhomme, the merchant and the trader, flourished
under his rule, Fécamp was as good evidence this day as man could
desire. Even old burghers who remembered Charles the Ninth, and the
first glass windows ever seen in Fécamp outside the Abbey, could not
say when the price of horses had been higher or the town more full. All
day, and almost all night, the clatter of hoofs and babble of bargains
filled the narrow streets; while hucksters' cries and drunkards' oaths,
with all raucous sounds, went up to heaven like the smoke from a
furnace. The Chariot d'Or and the Holy Fig, haunts of
those who came to buy, fairly hummed with guests, with nobles of the
province and gay sparks from Rouen, army contractors from the Rhine,
and. dealers from the south. As for the Dame Belle and the
Green Alan, houses that lower-down the street had food and forage
for those who came to sell, they strewed their yards a foot deep with
straw, and saying to all alike, “Voilà, monsieur!” charged the full
price of a bed.
Beyond the streets it was the same. Strings of horses and ponies,
with an army of grooms and chaunters, touts and cutpurses, camped on
every piece of level ground, while the steeper slopes and hill-sides
swarmed with troupes more picturesque, if less useful. For these were
the pitches of the stilt-walkers and funambulists, the morris dancers
and hobby-horses: in a word, of an innumerable company of quacks,
jugglers, poor students, and pasteboard giants, come together for the
delectation of the gaping Normans, and all under the sway and authority
of the Chevalier du Guet, in whose honour two gibbets, each bearing a
creaking corpse, rose on convenient situations overlooking the fair.
For brawlers and minor sinners a pillory and a whipping post stood
handy by the landward gate, and from time to time, when a lusty vagrant
or a handsome wench was dragged up for punishment, outvied in
attraction all the professional shows.
Of these, one that seemed as successful as any in catching and
chaining the fancy of the shifting crowd consisted of three persons—a
man, a boy, and an ape—who had chosen for their pitch a portion of the
steep hill-side overhanging the road. High up in this they had driven
home an iron peg, and stretching a cord from this to the top of a tree
which stood on the farther edge of the highway, had improvised a
tight-rope at once simple and effective. All day, as the changing
throng passed to and fro below, the monkey and the boy might be seen
twisting and turning and posturing on this giddy eminence, while the
man, fantastically dressed in an iron cap a world too big for him, and
a back and breast-piece which ill-matched his stained crimson jacket
and taffety breeches, stood beating a drum at the foot of the tree, or
now and again stepped forward to receive in a ladle the sous and eggs
and comfits that rewarded the show.
He was a lean, middle-sized man, with squinting eyes and a crafty
mouth. Unaided he might have made his living by cutting purses. But he
had the wit to do by others what he could not do himself, and the luck
to have that in his company which pleased all corners; for while the
clowns gazed saucer-eyed at the uncouth form and hideous grimaces of
the ape, the thin cheeks and panting lips of the boy touched the hearts
of their mistresses, and drew from them many a cake and fairing. Still,
with a crowd change is everything; and in the contest of attractions,
where there was here a flying dragon and there a dancing bear, and in a
place apart the mystery of Joseph of Arimathaea and the Sacred Fig-tree
was being performed by a company that had played before the King in
Paris—and when, besides all these raree shows, a score of quacks and
wizards and collar-grinners with lungs of brass, were advertising
themselves amid indescribable clanging of drums and squeaking of
trumpets, it was not to be expected that a boy and a monkey could
always hold the first place. An hour before sunset the ladle began to
come home empty. The crowd grew thin. Gargantuan roars of laughter from
the players' booth drew off some who lingered. It seemed as if the
trio's run of success was at an end; and that, for all the profit they
were still likely to make, they might pack up and be off to bed.
But Master Crafty Eyes knew better. Before his popularity quite
flickered out he produced a folding stool. Setting it at the foot of
the tree with a grand air, which of itself was enough to arrest the
waverers, he solemnly covered it with a red cloth. This done, he folded
his arms, looked very sternly two ways at once, and raising his hand
without glancing upwards, cried, “Tenez! His Excellency the Seigneur de
Bault will have the kindness to descend.”
The little handful of gapers laughed, and the laugh added to their
number. But the boy, to whom the words were addressed, did not move. He
sat idly on the rope, swaying to and fro, and looked out straight
before him, with a set face, and a mutinous glare in his eyes. He
appeared to be about twelve years old. He was lithe-limbed, and burned
brown by the sun, with a mass of black hair and, strange to say, blue
eyes. The ape sat cheek by jowl with him; and even at the sound of the
master's voice turned to him humanly, as if to say, “You had better
Still he did not move. “Tenez!” Master Crafty Eyes cried again, and
more sharply. “His Excellency the Seigneur de Bault will have the
kindness to descend, and narrate his history. Ecoutez! Ecoutez!
mesdames et messieurs! It will repay you.”
This time the boy, frowning and stubborn, looked down from his perch.
He seemed to be measuring the distance, and calculating whether his
height from the ground would save him from the whip. Apparently he came
to the conclusion it would not, for on the man crying “Vitement!
Vitement!” and flinging a grim look upwards, he began to descend
slowly, a sullen reluctance manifest in all his movements.
On reaching the ground, he made his way through the audience—which
had increased to above a score—and climbed heavily on the stool, where
he stood looking round him with a dark shamefacedness, surprising in
one who was part of a show, and had been posturing all day long for the
public amusement. The women, quick to espy the hollows in his cheeks,
and the great wheal that seamed his neck, and quick also to admire the
straightness of his limbs and the light pose of his head, regarded him
pitifully. The men only stared; smoking had not yet come in at Fécamp,
so they munched cakes and gazed by turns.
“Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!” cried the man with the drum. “Listen to the
remarkable, lamentable, and veritable history of the Seigneur de Bault,
now before you! Oyez!”
The boy cast a look round, but there was no escape. So, sullenly, and
in a sing-song tone—through which, nevertheless, some note of dignity,
some strange echo of power and authority, that gave the recital its
bizarre charm and made it what it was, would continually force
itself—he began with the words at the head of this chapter:—
“I am Jehan de Bault, Seigneur of—I ,know not where, and Lord of
seventeen lord-ships in the County of—I forget the name, of a most
noble and puissant family, possessing the High Justice, the Middle, and
the Low. In my veins runs the blood of Roland, and of my forefathers
were three marshals of France. I stand here, the last of my race; in
token whereof may God preserve my mother, the King, France, and this
Province! I was stolen by gypsies at the age of five, and carried off
and sold by my father's steward, as Joseph was by his brethren, and I
appeal to—I appeal to—all good subjects of France to—help me to——”
“My rights!” interjected Crafty Eyes, with a savage glance.
“My rights,” the boy whispered, lowering his head.
The drum-man came forward briskly. “Just so, ladies and gentlemen,”
he cried with wonderful glibness. “And seldom as it is that you have
before you the representative of one of our most noble and ancient
families a-begging your help, seldom as that remarkable, lamentable,
and veritable sight is to be seen in Fécamp, sure I am that you will
respond willingly, generously, and to the point, my lord, ladies and
gentlemen!” And with this, and a far grander air than when it had been
merely an affair of a boy and an ape, the knave carried round his
ladle, doffing his cap to each who contributed, and saying politely,
“The Sieur de Bault thanks you, sir. The Sieur de Bault is your
There was something so novel in the whole business, something so odd
and inexplicably touching in the boy's words and manner, that with all
the appearance of a barefaced trick, appealing only to the most
ignorant, the thing wrought on the crowd: as doubtless it had wrought
on a hundred crowds before. The first man to whom the ladle came
grinned sheepishly and gave against his will; and his fellows
throughout maintained a position of reserve, shrugging their shoulders
and looking wisdom. But a dozen women became believers at once, and
despite the blare and flare of rival dragons and Moriscoes and the
surrounding din and hubbub, the ladle came back full of deniers and
The showman was counting his gains into his pouch, when a silver
franc spun through the air and fell at his feet, and at the same time a
harsh voice cried, “Here, you, sirrah! A word with you.”
Master Crafty Eyes looked up, and doffing his cap humbly—for the
voice was a voice of authority—went cringing to the speaker. This was
an elderly man, well mounted, who had reined up his horse on the skirts
of the crowd as the boy began his harangue. He had a plain soldier's
face, with grey moustachios and a small, pointed grey beard, and he
seemed to be a person of rank on his way out of the town; for he had
two or three armed servants behind him, of whom one carried a valise on
“What is your will, noble sir?” the showman whined, standing
bare-headed at his stirrup and looking up at him.
“Who taught the lad that rubbish?” the horseman asked sternly.
“No one, my lord. It is the truth.”
“Then bring him here, liar!” was the answer.
The showman obeyed, not very willingly, dragging the boy off the
stool, and jerking him through the crowd. The stranger looked down at
the child for a moment in silence. Then he said sharply, “Hark ye, tell
me the truth, boy. What is your name?”
The lad stood straight up, and answered without hesitation, “Jehan de
“Of nowhere in the County of No Name,” the stranger gibed gravely.
“Of a noble and puissant family—and the rest. All that is true, I
A flicker as of hope gleamed in the boy's eyes. His cheek reddened.
He raised his hand to the horse's shoulder, and answered in a voice
which trembled a little, “It is true”
“Where is Bault?” the stranger asked grimly.
The lad looked puzzled and disappointed. His lip trembled, his colour
fled again. He glanced here and there, and finally shook his head. “I
do not know,” he said faintly.
“Nor do I,” the horseman replied, striking his long brown boot with
his riding-switch to give emphasis to the words, and looking sternly
round. “Nor do I. And what is more, you may take it from me that there
is no family of that name in France! And once more you may take this
from me too. I am the Vicomte de Bresly, and I have a government in
Guienne. Play this game in my county, and I will have you both whipped
for common cheats, and you, Master Drummer, branded as well! Bear it in
mind, sirrah; and when you perform, give Perigord a wide berth. That is
He struck his horse at the last word, and rode off; sitting, like an
old soldier, so straight in his saddle that he did not see what
happened behind him, or that the boy sprang forward with a hasty cry,
and would, but for the showman's grasp, have followed him. He rode
away, unheeding and without looking back; and the boy, after a brief
passionate struggle with his master, collapsed.
“You limb!” the man with the drum cried, as he shook him. “What bee
has stung you? You won't be quiet, eh? Then take that! and that!” and
he struck the child brutally in the face—twice.
Some cried shame and some laughed. But it was nobody's business, and
there were a hundred delights within sight. What was one little boy, or
a blow more or less, amid the whirl and tumult of the fair? A score of
yards away a dancing girl, a very Peri—or so she seemed by the light
of four tallow candles—was pirouetting on a rickety platform. Almost
rubbing elbows with her was a philosopher, who had conquered all the
secrets of Nature except cleanliness, and was prepared to sell
infallible love-philtres and the potion of perpetual youth—for four
farthings! And beyond these stretched a vista of wonders and prodigies,
all vocal, not to say deafening. So one by one, with a shrug or a
sneer, the onlookers melted away, until only our trio remained: Master
Crafty Eyes counting his gains, the boy sobbing against the bank on
which he had thrown himself, and the monkey gibbering and chattering
overhead—a dark shapeless object on an invisible rope. For night was
falling: where the fun of the fair was not were gloom and a rising
wind, lurking cutpurses, and waste land.
The showman seemed to feel this, for having counted his takings, he
kicked up the boy and began to pack up. He had nearly finished, and was
stooping over the coil of rope, securing the end, when a touch on his
shoulder caused him to jump a yard. A tall man wrapped in a cloak, who
had come up unseen, stood at his elbow.
“Well!” the showman cried, striving to hide his alarm under an
appearance of bluster. “And what may you want?”
“A word with you,” the unknown answered.
The voice was so cold and passionless it gave Crafty Eyes a turn.
“Diable!” he muttered, striving to pierce the darkness and see what the
other was like. But he could not; so as to shake off the impression, he
asked, with a sneer, “You are not a vicomte, are you?”
“No,” the stranger replied gravely, “I am not.”
“Nor the governor of a county?”
“Then you may speak!” rejoined the showman grandly.
“Not here,” the cloaked man answered. “I must see you alone.”
“Then you will have to come home with me, and wait until I have put
up the boy,” the other said. “I am not going to lose him for you or
anyone. And for a penny he'd be off! Does it suit you? You may take it
or leave it.”
The unknown, whose features were completely masked by the dusk,
nodded assent, and without more ado the four turned their faces towards
the streets; the boy carrying the monkey, and the two men following
close on his heels. Whenever they passed before a lighted booth the
showman strove to learn something of his companion's appearance, but
the latter wore his cloak so high about his face, and was so well
served by a wide-flapped hat which almost met it, that curiosity was
completely baffled; and they reached the low inn where the showman
rented a corner of the stable without that cunning gentleman being a
jot the wiser for his pains.
It was a vile, evil-smelling place they entered, divided into six or
eight stalls by wooden partitions reaching half-way to the tiles. A
horn lantern hung at each end filled it with yellow lights and deep
shadows. A pony raised its head and whinnied as the men entered, but
most of the stalls were empty, or tenanted only by drunken clowns
sleeping in the straw.
“You cannot lock him in here,” said the stranger, looking round him.
The showman grunted. “Cannot I?” he said. “There are tricks in all
trades, master. I reckon I can—with this!” And producing from
somewhere about him a thin steel chain, he held it before the other's
face. “That is my lock and door,” he said triumphantly.
“It won't hold him long,” the other answered impassively. “The fifth
link from the end is worn through now.”
“You have sharp eyes!” the showman exclaimed, with reluctant
admiration. “But it will hold a bit yet. I fasten him in yonder corner.
Do you wait here, and I will come back to you.”
He was not long about it. When he returned he led the stranger into
the farthest of the stalls, which, as well as that next to it, was
empty. “We can talk here,” he said bluntly. “At any rate, I have no
better place. The house is full. Now, what is it?”
“I want that boy,” the tall man answered.
The showman laughed—stopped laughing—laughed again. “I dare say you
do,” he said derisively. “There is not a better or a pluckier boy on
the rope out of Paris. And for patter? There is nothing on the road
like the bit he did this afternoon, nor a bit that pays as well.”
“Who taught it him?” the stranger asked.
“ I did.”
“That is a lie,” the other answered in a perfectly unmoved tone. “If
you like I will tell you what you did. You taught him the latter half
of the story. The other he knew before: down to the word 'province.'“
The showman gasped. “Diable!” he muttered. “Who told you?”
“Never mind. You bought the boy. From whom?”
“From some gypsies at the great fair of Beaucaire,” the showman
“Who is he?”
Crafty Eyes laughed dryly. “If I knew I should not be padding the
hoof,” he said. “Or, again, he may be nobody, and the tale patter. You
have heard as much as I have. What do you think?”
“I think I shall find out when I have bought the boy,” the stranger
answered coolly. “What will you take for him?”
The showman gasped again. “You come to the point,” he said.
“It is my custom. What is his price?”
The showman's imagination had never soared beyond nor his ears ever
heard of a larger sum than a thousand crowns. He mentioned it
trembling. There might be such a sum in the world.
“A thousand livres, if you like. Not a sou more,” was the answer.
The nearer lantern threw a strong light on Crafty Eyes' face; but
that was mere shadow beside the light of cupidity which sparkled in his
eyes. He could get another boy; scores of boys. But a thousand livres!
A thousand livres! “Tournois!” he said faintly. “Livres Tournois!” In
his wildest moments of avarice he had never dreamed of possessing such
“No, Paris livres,” the stranger answered coldly. “Paid to-morrow at
the Golden Chariot. If you agree, you will deliver the boy to me
there at noon, and receive the money.”
The showman nodded, vanquished by the mere sound of the sum. Paris
livres let it be. Danae did not more quickly succumb to the golden
Chapter 2. SOLOMON NÔTREDAME
A little later that night, at the hour which saw the showman pay his
second visit to the street before the Chariot d'Or, there to
stand gaping at the lighted windows, and peering into the courtyard in
a kind of fascination— or perhaps to assure himself that the house
would not fly away, and his golden hopes with it—the twelve-year-old
boy, the basis of those hopes, awoke and stirred restlessly in the
straw. He was cold, and the chain galled him. His face ached where the
man had struck him. In the next stall two drunken men were fighting,
and the place reeked with oaths and foulness. But none of these things
were so novel as to keep the boy awake; and sighing and drawing the
monkey nearer to him, he would in a moment have been asleep again if
the moon, shining with great brightness through the little square
aperture above him, had not thrown its light directly on his head, and
roused him more completely.
He sat up and gazed at it, and God knows what softening thoughts and
pitiful recollections the beauty of the night brought into his mind;
but presently he began to weep—not as a child cries, with noise and
wailing, but in silence, as a man weeps. The monkey awoke and crept
into his breast, but he hardly regarded it. The misery, the
hopelessness, the slavery of his life, ignored from hour to hour, or
borne at other times with a boy's nonchalance, filled his heart to
bursting now. Crouching in his lair in the straw, he shook with agony.
The tears welled up, and would not be restrained, until they hid the
face of the sky and darkened even the moon's pure light.
Or was it his tears? He dashed them away and looked, and rose slowly
to his feet; while the ape, clinging to his breast, began to mow and
gibber. A black mass, which gradually resolved itself as the boy's eyes
cleared, into a man's hat and head, filled the aperture.
“Hush!” came from the head in a cautious whisper. “Come nearer. I
will not hurt you. Do you wish to escape, lad?”
The boy clasped his hands in an ecstasy. “Yes, oh yes!” he murmured.
The question chimed in so naturally with his thoughts, it scarcely
“If you were loose, could you get through this window?” the man
asked. He spoke cautiously, under his breath; but the noise in the next
stall, to say nothing of a vile drinking song which was being chanted
forth at the farther end of the stable, was such he might safely have
shouted. “Yes? Then take this file. Rub at the fifth link from the end:
the one that is nearly through. Do you understand, boy?”
“Yes, yes,” Jehan cried again, groping in the straw for the tool,
which had fallen at his feet. “I know.”
“When you are loose, cover up the chain,” continued the other in a
slow biting tone. “Or lie on that part of it, and wait until morning.
As soon as you see the first gleam of light, climb out through the
window. You will find me outside.”
The boy would have uttered his trembling thanks. But lo! in a moment
the aperture was clear again; the moon sailed unchanged through an
unchanged sky; and all was as before. Save for the presence of the
little bit of rough steel in his hand, he might have thought it a
dream. But the file was there; it was there, and with a choking sob of
hope and fear and excitement, he fell to work on the chain.
It was clumsy work he made of it in the dark. But the link was so
much worn, a man might have wrenched it open, and the boy did not spare
his fingers. The dispute next door covered the song of the file; and
the smoky horn lantern which alone lighted that end of the stable had
no effect in the dark corner where he lay. True, he had to work by
feel, looking out all the while for his tyrant's coming; but the tool
was good, and the fingers, hardened by many an hour of work on the
rope, were strong and lithe. When the showman at last stumbled to his
place in the straw, the boy lay free—free and trembling.
All was not done, however. It seemed an hour before the man settled
himself—an hour of agony and suspense to Jehan, feigning sleep; since
at any moment his master might take it into his head to look into
things. But Crafty Eyes had no suspicion. Having kicked the boy and
heard the chain rattle, and so assured himself that he was there—so
much caution he exercised every night, drunk or sober—he was
satisfied; and by-and-by, when his imagination, heated by thoughts of
wealth, permitted it, he fell asleep, and dreamed that he had married
the Cardinal's cook-maid and ate collops on Sundays.
Even so, the night seemed endless to the boy, lying wakeful, with his
eyes on the sky. Now he was hot, now cold. One moment the thought that
the window might prove too strait for him threw him into a bath of
perspiration; the next he shuddered at the possibility of recapture,
and saw himself dragged back and flayed by his brutal owner. But a
watched pot does boil, though slowly. The first streak of dawn
came at last—as it does when the sky is darkest; and with it, even as
the boy rose warily to his feet, the sound of a faint whistle outside
A common mortal could no more have passed through that window without
noise than an old man can make himself young again. But the boy did it.
As he dropped to the ground outside he heard the whistle again. The air
was still dark; but a score of paces away, beyond a low wall, he made
out the form of a horseman, and went towards it.
It was the man in the cloak, who stooped and held out his hand. “Jump
up behind me,” he muttered.
The boy went to obey, but as he clasped the outstretched hand, it was
suddenly withdrawn. “What is that? What have you got there?” the rider
exclaimed, peering down at him.
“It is only Taras, the monkey,” Jehan said timidly.
“Throw it away,” the stranger answered. “Do you hear me?” he
continued in a stern, composed tone. “Throw it away, I say.”
The boy stood hesitating a moment; then, without a word, he turned
and fled into the darkness the way he had come. The man on the horse
swore under his breath, but he had no remedy; and before he could tell
what to expect, the boy was at his side again. “I've put it through the
window,” Jehan explained breathlessly. “If I had left it here, the dogs
and the boys would have killed it.”
The man made no comment aloud, but jerked him roughly to the crupper;
and bidding him hold fast, started the horse, which, setting off at an
easy amble, quickly bore them out of Fécamp. As they passed through the
fair-ground of yesterday—a shadowy, ghastly waste at this hour,
peopled by wandering asses and packhorses, and a few lurking figures
that leapt up out of the darkness, and ran after them whining for
alms—the boy shivered and clung close to his protector. But he had no
more than recognised the scene before they were out of sight of it, and
riding through the open fields. The grey dawn was spreading, the cocks
at distant farms were crowing. The dim, misty countryside, the looming
trees, the raw air, the chill that crept into his ill-covered
bones—all these, which might have seemed to others wretched conditions
enough, filled the boy with hope and gladness. For they meant freedom.
But presently, as they rode on, his thoughts took a fresh turn. They
began to busy themselves, and fearfully, with the man before him, whose
continued silence and cold reserve set a hundred wild ideas humming in
his brain. What manner of man was he? Who was he? Why had he helped
him? Jehan had heard of ogres and giants that decoyed children into
forests and devoured them. He had listened to ballads of such
adventures, sung at fairs and in the streets, a hundred times; now they
came so strongly into his mind, and so grew upon him in this grim
companionship, that by-and-by, seeing a wood before them through which
the road ran, he shook with terror and gave himself up for lost. Sure
enough, when they came to the wood, and had ridden a little way into
it, the man, whose face he had never seen, stopped. “Get down,” he said
Jehan obeyed, his teeth chattering, his legs quaking under him. He
expected the man to produce a large carving-knife, or call some of his
fellows out of the forest to share his repast. Instead, the stranger
made a queer pass with his hands over his horse's neck, and bade the
boy go to an old stump which stood by the way. “There is a hole in the
farther side of it,” he said. “Look in the hole.”
Jehan went trembling and found the hole, and looked. “What do you
see?” the rider asked.
“A piece of money,” said Jehan.
“Bring it to me,” the stranger answered gravely.
The boy took it—it was only a copper sou—and did as he was bidden.
“Get up!” said the horseman curtly. Jehan obeyed, and they went on as
When they had ridden half-way through the forest, however, the
stranger stopped again. “Get down,” he said.
The boy obeyed, and was directed as on the former occasion—but not
until the horseman had made the same strange gesture with his hands—to
go to an old stump. This time he found a silver livre. He gave it to
his master, and climbed again to his place, marvelling much.
A third time they stopped, on the farther verge of the forest. The
same words passed, but this time the boy found a gold crown in the
After that his mind no longer ran upon ogres and giants. Instead,
another fancy almost as dreadful took possession of him. He remarked
that everything the stranger wore was black: his cloak, his hat, his
gauntlets. Even his long boots, which in those days were commonly made
of untanned leather, were black. So was the furniture of the horse.
Jehan noticed this as he mounted the third time; and connecting it with
the marvellous springing up of money where the man willed, began to be
seized with panic, never doubting but that he had fallen into the hands
of the devil. Likely enough, he would have dropped off at the first
opportunity that offered, and fled for his life—or his soul, but he
did not know much of that—if the stranger had not in the nick of time
drawn a parcel of food from his saddle-bag. He gave some to Jehan. Even
so, the boy, hungry as he was, did not dare to touch it until he was
assured that his companion was really eating—eating, and not
pretending. Then, with a great sigh of relief, he began to eat too. For
he knew that the devil never ate!
After this they rode on in silence, until, about an hour before noon,
they came to a small farm-steading standing by the road, half a league
short of the sleepy old town of Yvetot, which Beranger was one day to
celebrate. Here the magician—for such Jehan now took his companion to
be— stopped. “Get down,” he said.
The boy obeyed, and instinctively looked for a stump. But there was
no stump, and this time his master, after scanning his ragged garments
as if to assure himself of his appearance, had a different order to
give. “Go to that farm,” he said. “Knock at the door, and say that
Solomon Nôtredame de Paris requires two fowls. They will give them to
you. Bring them to me.”
The boy went wide-eyed, knocked, and gave his message. A woman, who
opened the door, stretched out her hand, took up a couple of fowls that
lay tied together on the hearth, and gave them to him without a word.
He took them—he no longer wondered at anything—and carried them back
to his master in the road.
Now listen to me,” said the latter, in his slow, cold tone. “Go into
the town you see before you, and in the market-place you will find an
inn with the sign of the Three Pigeons. Enter the yard and offer
these fowls for sale, but ask a livre apiece for them, that they may
not be bought. While offering them, make an excuse to go into the
stable, where you will see a grey horse. Drop this white lump into the
horse's manger when no one is looking, and afterwards remain at the
door of the yard. If you see me, do not speak to me. Do you
Jehan said he did; but his new master made him repeat his orders from
beginning to end before he let him go with the fowls and the white
lump, which was about the size of a walnut, and looked like rock-salt.
About an hour later the landlord of the Three Pigeons at
Yvetot heard a horseman stop at his door. He went out to meet him. Now,
Yvetot is on the road to Havre and Harfleur; and though the former of
these places was then in the making and the latter was dying fast, the
landlord had had experience of many guests. But so strange a guest as
the one he found awaiting him he thought he had never seen. In the
first place, the gentleman was clad from top to toe in black; and
though he had no servants behind him, he wore an air of as grave
consequence as though he boasted six. In the next place, his face was
so long, thin, and cadaverous that, but for a great black line of
eyebrows that cut it in two and gave it a very curious and sinister
expression, people meeting him for the first time might have been
tempted to laugh. Altogether, the landlord could not make him out; but
he thought it safer to go out and hold his stirrup, and ask his
“I shall dine here,” the stranger answered gravely. As he dismounted
his cloak fell open. The landlord observed with growing wonder that its
black lining was sprinkled with cabalistic figures embroidered in
Introduced to the public room, which was over the great stone porch
and happened to be empty, the traveller lost none of his singularity.
He paused a little way within the door, and stood as if suddenly fallen
into deep thought. The landlord, beginning to think him mad, ventured
to recall him by asking what his honour would take.
“There is something amiss in this house,” the stranger replied
abruptly, turning his eyes on him.
“Amiss?” the host answered, faltering under his gaze, and wishing
himself well out of the room. “Not that I am aware of, your honour.”
“There is no one ill?”
“No, your honour, certainly not.”
“You are mistaken,” the stranger answered firmly. “Know that I am
Solomon, son to Cæsar, son to Michel Nôtredame of Paris, commonly
called by the learned Nostradamus and the Transcendental, who read the
future and rode the Great White Horse of Death. All things hidden are
open to me.”
The landlord only gaped, but his wife and a serving wench, who had
come to the door out of curiosity, and were listening and staring with
all their might, crossed themselves industriously. “I am here,” the
stranger continued, after a brief pause, “to construct the horoscope of
His Eminence the Cardinal, of whom it has been predicted that he will
die at Yvetot. But I find the conditions unpropitious. There is an
adverse influence in this house.”
The landlord scratched his head, and looked helplessly at his wife.
But she was quite taken up with awe of the stranger, whose head nearly
touched the ceiling of the low room; while his long, pale face seemed
in the obscurity—for the day was dark—to be of an unearthly pallor.
“An adverse influence,” the astrologer continued gravely. “What is
more, I now see where it is. It is in the stable. You have a grey
The landlord, somewhat astonished, said he had.
“You had. You have not now. The devil has it!” was the astounding
“My grey horse?”
The stranger inclined his head.
“Nay, there you are wrong!” the host retorted briskly. “I'm hanged if
he has! For I rode the horse this morning, and it went as well and
quietly as ever in its life.”
“Send and see,” the tall man answered.
The serving girl, obeying a nod, went off reluctantly to the stable,
while her master, casting a look of misliking at his guest, walked
uneasily to the window. In a moment the girl came back, her face white.
“The grey is in a fit,” she cried, keeping the whole width of the room
between her and the stranger. “It is sweating and staggering.”
The landlord, with an oath, ran off to see, and in a minute the
appearance of an excited group in the square under the window showed
that the thing was known. The traveller took no notice of this,
however, nor of the curious and reverential glances which the
womenfolk, huddled about the door of the room, cast at him. He walked
up and down the room with his eyes lowered.
The landlord came back presently, his face black as thunder. “It has
got the staggers,” he said resentfully.
“It has got the devil,” the stranger answered coldly. “I knew it was
in the house when I entered. If you doubt me, I will prove it.”
“Ay?” said the landlord stubbornly.
The man in black went to his saddle-bag, which had been brought up
and laid in a corner, and took out a shallow glass bowl, curiously
embossed with a cross and some mystic symbols. “Go to the church
there,” he said, “and fill this with holy water.”
The host took it unwillingly, and went on his strange errand. While
he was away the astrologer opened the window, and looked out idly. When
he saw the other returning, he gave the order “Lead out the horse.”
There was a brief delay, but presently two stablemen, with a little
posse of wondering attendants, partly urged and partly led out a
handsome grey horse. The poor animal trembled and hung its head, but
with some difficulty was brought under the window. Now and again a
sharp spasm convulsed its limbs, and scattered the spectators right and
Solomon Nôtredame leaned out of the window. In his left hand he held
the bowl, in his right a small brush. “If this beast is sick with any
earthly sickness” he cried in a deep solemn voice, audible across the
square, “or with such as earthly skill can cure, then let this holy
water do it no harm, but refresh it. But if it be possessed by the
devil, and given up to the powers of darkness and to the enemy of man
for ever and ever to do his will and pleasure, then let these drops
burn and consume it as with fire. Amen! Amen!”
With the last word he sprinkled the horse. The effect was magical.
The animal reared up, as if it had been furiously spurred, and plunged
so violently that the men who held it were dragged this way and that.
The crowd fled every way; but not so quickly but that a hundred eyes
had seen the horse smoke where the water fell on it. Moreover, when
they cautiously approached it, the hair in two or three places was
found to be burned off!
The magician turned gravely from the window. “I wish to eat,” he
None of the servants, however, would come into the room or serve him,
and the landlord, trembling, set the board with his own hands and
waited on him. Mine host had begun by doubting and suspecting, but,
simple man! his scepticism was not proof against the holy water trial
and his wife's terror. By-and-by, with a sidelong glance at his guest,
he faltered the question: What should he do with the horse?
The man in black looked solemn, “Whoever mounts it will die within
the year,” he said.
“I will shoot it,” the landlord replied, shuddering.
“The devil will pass into one of the other horses,” was the answer.
“Then,” said the miserable innkeeper, “perhaps your honour would
“God forbid!” the astrologer answered. And that frightened the other
more than all the rest. “But if you can find at any time,” the wizard
continued, “a beggar-boy with black hair and blue eyes, who does not
know his father's name, he may take the horse and break the spell. So I
read the signs.”
The landlord cried out that such a person was not to be met with in a
lifetime. But before he had well finished his sentence a shrill voice
called through the keyhole that there was such a boy in the yard at
that moment, offering poultry for sale.
“In God's name, then, give him the horse!” the stranger said. “Bid
him take it to Rouen, and at every running water he comes to say a
paternoster and sprinkle its tail. So he may escape, and you, too. I
know no other way.”
The trembling innkeeper said he would do that, and did it. And so,
when the man in black rode into Rouen the next evening, he did not ride
alone. He was attended at a respectful distance by a good-looking page
clad in sable velvet, and mounted on a handsome grey horse.
Chapter 3. MAN AND WIFE
It is a pleasant thing to be warmly clad and to lie softly, and at
night to be in shelter and in the day to eat and drink. But all these
things may be dearly bought, and so the boy Jehan de Bault soon found.
He was no longer beaten, chained, or starved; he lay in a truckle bed
instead of a stable; the work he had to do was of the lightest. But he
paid for all in fears—in an ever-present, abiding, mastering fear of
the man behind whom he rode: who never scolded, never rated, nor even
struck him, but whose lightest word—and much more, his long
silences—filled the lad with dread and awe unspeakable. Something
sinister in the man's face, all found; but to Jehan, who never doubted
his dark powers, and who shrank from his eye, and flinched at his
voice, and cowered when he spoke, there was a cold malevolence in the
face, an evil knowledge, that made the boy's flesh creep and
chained his soul with dread.
The astrologer saw this, and revelled in it, and went about to
increase it after a fashion of his own. Hearing the boy, on an occasion
when he had turned to him suddenly, ejaculate “0h, Dieu!” he
said, with a dreadful smile, “You should not say that! Do you know
The boy's face grew a shade paler, but he did not speak.
“Ask me why! Say, 'Why not?'“
“Why not?” Jehan muttered. He would have given the world to avert his
eyes, but he could not.
“Because you have sold yourself to the devil!” the other hissed.
“Others may say it; you may not. What is the use? You have sold
yourself—body, soul, and spirit. You came of your own accord, and
climbed on the black horse. And now,” he continued, in a tone which
always compelled obedience, “answer my questions. What is your name?”
“Jehan de Bault,” the boy whispered, shivering and shuddering.
“Jehan de Bault.”
“Repeat the story you told at the fair.”
“I am Jehan de Bault, Seigneur of—I know not where, and Lord of
seventeen lordships in the County of Perigord, of a most noble and
puissant family, possessing the High Justice, the Middle, and the Low.
In my veins runs the blood of Roland, and of my forefathers were three
marshals of France. I stand here, the last of my race; in token whereof
may God preserve my mother, the King, France, and this Province.”
“Ha! In the County of Perigord!” the astrologer said, with a sudden
lightening of his heavy brows. “You have remembered that?”
“Yes. I heard the word at Fécamp.”
“And all that is true?”
“Who taught it you?”
“I do not know.” The boy's face, in its straining, was painful to
“What is the first thing you can remember?”
“A house in a wood.”
“Can you remember your father?”
“Your mother ?”
“No—yes—I am not sure.”
“Umph! Were you stolen by gypsies?”
“I do not know.”
“Or sold by your father's steward?”
“I do not know.”
How long were you with the man from whom I took you?”
“I do not know.”
“I do,” the astrologer answered, in the same even tone in which he
had put the questions. And the boy never doubted him. “Beware,
therefore,” the man in black continued, with a dreadful sidelong
glance, “how you seek to deceive me! You can fall back now. I have done
with you for the present.”
I say “the boy never doubted him.” This was not wonderful in an age
of spells and diablerie, when the wisest allowed the reality of
magic, and the learned and curious could cite a hundred instances of
its power. That La Brosse warned Henry the Great he would die in his
coach, and that Thomassin read in the stars the very day, hour, and
minute of the catastrophe, no man of that time questioned. That Michel
Nôtredame promised a crown to each of Catherine de Medici's three sons,
and that Sully's preceptor foretold in detail that Minister's career,
were held to be facts as certain as that La Rivière cast the horoscope
of the thirteenth Louis while the future monarch lay in his cradle. The
men of the day believed that the Concini swayed her mistress by magic;
that Wallenstein, the greatest soldier of his time, did nothing without
his familiar; that Richelieu, the greatest statesman, had Joseph always
at his elbow. In such an age it was not wonderful that a child should
accept without question the claims of this man: who was accustomed to
inspire fear in the many, and in the few that vague and subtle
repulsion which we are wont to associate with the presence of evil.
Beyond Rouen, and between that city and Paris, the two companions
found the road well frequented. Of the passers, many stood to gaze at
the traveller in black, and some drew to the farther side of the road
as he went by. But none laughed or found anything ridiculous in his
appearance; or if they did, it needed but a glance from his long, pale
face to restore them to sobriety. At the inn at Rouen he was well
received; at the Grand Cerf at Les Andelys, where he seemed to
be known, he was welcomed with effusion.. Though the house was full, a
separate chamber was assigned to him, and supper prepared for him with
the utmost speed.
Here, however, he was not destined to enjoy his privacy long. At the
last moment, as he was sitting down to his meal, with the boy in
attendance, a bustle was heard outside. The voice of someone rating the
landlord in no measured terms became audible, the noise growing louder
as the speaker mounted the stairs. Presently a hand was laid on the
latch, the door was thrown open, and a gentleman strode into the room
whose swaggering air and angry gestures showed that he was determined
to make good his footing. A lady, masked, and in a travelling habit,
followed more quietly; and in the background could be seen three or
four servants, together with the unfortunate landlord, who was very
evidently divided between fear of his mysterious guest and the claims
of the newcomers.
The astrologer rose slowly from his seat. His peculiar aspect, his
stature and leanness and black garb, which never failed to impress
strangers, took the intruder somewhat aback. He hesitated, and removing
his hat, began to utter a tardy apology. “I crave your pardon, sir,” he
said ungraciously, “but we ride on after supper. We stay here only to
eat, and they tell us there is no other chamber with even a degree of
emptiness in it.”
“You are welcome, M. de Vidoche,” the man in black answered.
The intruder started and frowned. “You know my name,” he said, with a
sneer. “But there, I suppose it is your business to know these things.”
“It is my business to know,” the astrologer answered, unmoved. “Will
not madame be seated?”
The lady bowed, and taking off her mask with fingers which trembled a
little, disclosed a fair, childish face, that would have been pretty,
and even charming, but for an expression of nervousness which seemed
habitual to it. She shrank from the astrologer's gaze, and, sitting
down as far from him as the table permitted, pretended to busy herself
in taking off her gloves. He was accustomed to be met in this way, and
to see the timid quake before him; but it did not escape his notice
that this lady shrank also at the sound of her husband's voice, and
when he spoke, listened with the pitiful air of propitiation which may
be seen in a whipped dog. She was pale, and by the side of her husband
seemed to lack colour. He was a man of singularly handsome exterior,
dark-haired and hard-eyed, with a high, fresh complexion, and a
sneering lip. His dress was in the extreme of the fashion, his falling
collar vandyked, and his breeches open below the knee, where they were
met by wide-mouthed boots. A great plume of feathers set off his hat,
and he carried a switch as well as a sword.
The astrologer read the story at a glance. “Madame is perhaps
fatigued by the journey,” he said politely.
“Madame is very easily fatigued,” the husband replied, throwing down
his hat with a savage sneer, “especially when she is doing anything she
does not like.”
“You are for Paris,” Nôtredame answered, with apparent surprise. “I
thought all ladies liked Paris. Now, if madame were leaving Paris and
going to the country——”
“The country!” M. de Vidoche exclaimed, with an impatient oath. “She
would bury herself there if she could!” And he added something under
his breath, the point of which it was not very difficult to guess.
Madame de Vidoche forced a smile, striving, woman-like, to cover all.
“It is natural I should like Pinatel,” she said timidly, her eye on her
husband. “I have lived there so much.”
“Yes, madame, you are never tired of reminding me of that!” M. de
Vidoche retorted harshly. Women who are afraid of their husbands say
the right thing once in a hundred times. “You will tell this gentleman
in a moment that I was a beggar when I married you! But if I was——”
“Oh, Charles!” she murmured faintly.
“That is right! Cry now!” he exclaimed brutally. “Thank God, however,
here is supper. And after supper we go on to Vernon. The roads are
rutty, and you will have something else to do besides cry then.”
The man in black, going on with his meal at the other end of the
table, listened with an impassive face. Like all his profession, he
seemed inclined to hear rather than to talk. But when supper came up
with only one plate for the two—a mistake due to the crowded state of
the inn—and M. de Vidoche fell to scolding very loudly, he seemed
unable to refrain from saying a word in the innkeeper's defence. “It is
not so very unusual for the husband to share his wife's plate,” he said
coolly; “and sometimes a good deal more that is hers.”
M. de Vidoche looked at him for a moment, as if he were minded to ask
him what business it was of his; but he thought better of it, and
instead said, with a scowl, “It is not so very unusual either for
astrologers to make mistakes.”
“Quacks,” the man in black said calmly.
“I quite agree,” M. de Vidoche replied, with mock politeness. “I
accept the correction.”
Yet there is one thing to be said even then,” the astrologer
continued, slowly leaning forward, and, as if by chance, moving one of
the candles so as to bring it directly between madame and himself. “I
have noticed it, M. de Vidoche. They make mistakes sometimes in
predicting marriages, and even births. But never in
M. de Vidoche, who may have had some key in his own breast which
unlocked the full meaning of the other's words, started and looked
across at him. Whatever he read in the pale, sombre countenance which
the removal of the candle fully revealed to him, and in which the eyes,
burning vividly, seemed alone alive, he shuddered. He made no reply.
His look dropped. Even a little of his high colour left his cheeks. He
went on with his meal in silence. The four tall candles still burned
dully on the table. But to M. de Vidoche they seemed on a sudden to be
the candles that burn by the side of a corpse. In a flash he saw a room
hung with black, a bed, and a silent covered form on it—a form with
wan, fair hair—a woman's. And then he saw other things.
Clearly, the astrologer was no ordinary man.
He seemed to take no notice, however, of the effect his words had
produced. Indeed, he no longer urged his attentions on M. de Vidoche.
He turned politely to madame, and made some commonplace observation on
the roads. She answered it—inattentively.
“You are looking at my boy,” he continued; for Jehan was waiting
inside the door, watching with a frightened, fascinated gaze his
master's every act and movement. “I do not wonder that he attracts the
“He is a handsome child,” she answered, smiling faintly.
“Yes, he is good-looking,” the man in black rejoined. “There is one
thing which men of science sell that he will never need.”
“What is that?” she asked curiously, looking at the astrologer for
the first time with attention.
“A love-philtre,” he answered courteously. “His looks, like madame's,
will always supply its place.”
She coloured, smiling a little sadly. “Are there such things?” she
said. “ Is it true?—I mean, I always thought that they were a child's
“No more than poisons and antidotes, madame,” he answered earnestly,
“the preservative power of salt, or the destructive power of gunpowder.
You take the Queen's herb, you sneeze; the drug of Paracelsus, you
sleep; wine, you see double. Why is the powder of attraction more
wonderful than these? Or if you remain unconvinced,” he continued more
lightly, “look round you, madame. You see young men loving old women,
the high-born allying themselves with the vulgar, the ugly enchanting
the beautiful. You see a hundred inexplicable matches. Believe me, it
is we who make them. I speak without motive,” he added, bowing, “for
Madame de Vidoche can never have need of other philtre than her eyes.”
Madame, coying idly with a plate, her regards on the table, sighed.
“And yet they say matches are made in heaven,” she murmured softly.
“It is from heaven—from the stars—we derive our knowledge,” he
answered, in the same tone.
But his face!—it was well she did not see that! And before more
passed, M. de Vidoche broke into the conversation. “What rubbish is
this?” he said, speaking roughly to his wife. “Have you finished? Then
let us pay this rascally landlord and be off. If you do not want to
spend the night on the road, that is. Where are those fools of
He rose, and went to the door and shouted for them, and came back and
took up his cloak and hat with much movement and bustle. But it was
noticeable in all he did that he never once met the astrologer's eye or
looked his way. Even when he bade him a surly “Good-night”—casually
uttered in the midst of injunctions to his wife to be quick—he spoke
over his shoulder; and he left the room in the same fashion, completely
absorbed, it seemed, in the fastening of his cloak.
Some, treated in this cavalier fashion, might have been hurt, and
some might have resented it. But the man in black did neither. Left
alone, he remained by the table in an expectant attitude, a sneering
smile, which the light of the candles threw into high relief, on his
grim visage. Suddenly the door opened, and M. de Vidoche, cloaked and
covered, came in. Without raising his eyes, he looked round the
room—for something he had mislaid, it seemed.
“Oh, by the way,” he said suddenly, and without looking up.
“My address?” the man in black interjected, with a devilish
readiness. “The end of the Rue Touchet in the Quartier du Marais, near
the river. Where, believe me,” he continued, with a mocking bow, “I
shall give you madame's horoscope with the greatest pleasure, or any
other little matter you may require.”
“I think you are the devil!” M. de Vidoche muttered wrathfully, his
cheek growing pale.
“Possibly,” the astrologer answered. “In that or any other case—
When the landlord came up a little later to apologise to M. Solomon
Nôtredame de Paris for the inconvenience to which he had unwillingly
put him, he found his guest in high good-humour. “It is nothing, my
friend—it is nothing,” M. Nôtredame said kindly. “I found my company
good enough. This M. de Vidoche is of this country; and a rich man, I
“Through his wife,” the host said cautiously. “Ah! so rich that she
could build our old castle here from the ground again.”
“Madame de Vidoche was of Pinatel.”
“To be sure. Monsieur knows everything. By Jumiéges to the north. I
have been there once. But she has a house in Paris besides, and
estates, I hear, in the south—in Perigord.”
“Ha!” the astrologer muttered. “Pengord again. That is odd, now.”
Chapter 4. THE HOUSE WITH TWO DOORS
On the site of the old Palais des Tournelles, where was held the
tournament in which Henry the Second was killed, Henry the Fourth built
the Place Royale. You will not find it called by that name in any map
of Paris of to-day; modern France, which has no history, traditions, or
reverence, has carefully erased such landmarks in favour of her Grévys
and Eiffels, her journalists and soap-boilers. But for all that, and
though the Place Royale has now lost even its name, in the reign of the
thirteenth Louis it was the centre of fashion. The Quartier du Marais,
in which it stood, opposite the lie de St. Louis, was then the Court
quarter. It saw coaches come into common use among the nobility, and
ruffs and primero go out, and a great many other queer things, such as
Court quarters in those days looked to see.
The back stairs of a palace, however, are seldom an improving or
brilliant place; or if they can be said to be brilliant at all, their
brightness is of a somewhat lurid and ghastly character. The king's
amusements—very royal and natural, no doubt, and, when viewed from the
proper quarter, attractive enough—have another side; and that side is
towards the back stairs. It is the same with the Court and its
purlieus. They are the rough side of the cloth, the underside of the
moss, the cancer under the fair linen. Secrets are no secrets there;
and so it has always been. Things De Thou did not know, and Brantôme
only guessed at, were household words there. They in the Court
under-world knew all about that mysterious disease of which Gabrielle
d'Estrées died after eating a citron at Zamet's—all, more than we know
now or has ever been printed. That little prick of a knife which made
the second Wednesday in May, 1610, a day memorable in history, was
gossip down there a month before, Henry of Condé's death, Mazarin's
marriage, D'Eon's sex, Cagliostro's birth, were no mysteries in the
by-ways of the Louvre and Petit Trianon. He who wrote “Under the king's
hearthstone are many cockroaches” knew his world—a seamy, ugly,
vicious, dangerous world.
If any street in the Paris of that day belonged to it, the Rue
Touchet did; a little street a quarter of a mile from the Place Royale,
on the verge of the Quartier du Marais. The houses on one side of the
street had their backs to the river, from which they were divided only
by a few paces of foul foreshore. These houses were older than the
opposite row, were irregularly built, and piled high with gables and
crooked chimneys. Here and there a beetle-browed passage led beneath
them to the river; and one out of every two was a tavern, or worse. A
fencing-school and a gambling-hell occupied the two largest. To the
south-west the street ended in a cul-de-sac, being closed by a
squat stone house, built out of the ruins of an old water gateway that
had once stood there. The windows of this house were never unshuttered,
the door was seldom opened in the daylight. It was the abode of Solomon
Nôtredame. Once a week or so the astrologer's sombre figure might be
seen entering or leaving, and men at tavern doors would point at him,
and slatternly women, leaning out of window, cross themselves. But few
in the Rue Touchet knew that the house had a second door, which did not
open on the water, as the back doors of the riverside houses did, but
on a quiet street leading to it.
M. Nôtredame's house was, in fact, double, and served two sorts of
clients. Great ladies and courtiers, wives of the long robe and city
madams, came to the door in the quiet street, and knew nothing of the
Rue Touchet. Through the latter, on the other hand, came those who paid
in meal, if not in malt; lackeys and waiting-maids, and skulking
apprentices and led-captains—the dregs of the quarter, sodden with
vice and crime—and knowledge.
The house was furnished accordingly. The clients of the Rue Touchet
found the astrologer in a room divided into two by scarlet hangings, so
arranged as to afford the visitor a partial view of the farther half,
where the sullen glow of a furnace disclosed alembics and crucibles,
mortars and retorts, a multitude of uncouth vessels and phials, and all
the mysterious apparatus of the alchemist. Immediately about him the
shuddering rascal found things still more striking. A dead hand hung
over each door, a skeleton peeped from a closet. A stuffed alligator
sprawled on the floor, and, by the wavering uncertain light of the
furnace, seemed each moment to be awaking to life. Cabalistic signs and
strange instruments and skull-headed staves were everywhere, with
parchment scrolls and monstrous mandrakes, and a farrago of such things
as might impose on the ignorant; who, if he pleased, might sit on a
coffin, and, when he would amuse himself, found a living toad at his
foot! Dimly seen, crowded together, ill-understood, these things were
enough to overawe the vulgar, and had often struck terror into the
boldest ruffians the Rue Touchet could boast.
From this room a little staircase, closed at the top by a strong
door, led to the chamber and antechamber in which the astrologer
received his real clients. Here all was changed. Both rooms were hung,
canopied, carpeted with black: were vast, death-like, empty. The
antechamber contained two stools, and in the middle of the floor a
large crystal ball on a bronze stand. That was all, except the silver
hanging lamp, which burned blue, and added to the funereal gloom of the
The inner chamber, which was lighted by six candles set in sconces
round the wall, was almost as bare. A kind of altar at the farther end
bore two great tomes, continually open. In the middle of the floor was
an astrolabe on an ebony pillar, and the floor itself was embroidered
in white, with the signs of the Zodiac and the twelve Houses arranged
in a circle. A seat for the astrologer stood near the altar. And that
was all. For power over such as visited him here Nôtredame depended on
a higher range of ideas; on the more subtle forms of superstition, the
influence of gloom and silence on the conscience: and above all,
perhaps, on his knowledge of the world—and them.
Into the midst of all this came that shrinking, terrified little
mortal, Jehan. It was his business to open the door into the quiet
street, and admit those who called. He was forbidden to speak under the
most terrible penalties, so that visitors thought him dumb. For a week
after his coming he lived in a world of almost intolerable fear. The
darkness and silence of the house, the funereal lights and hangings,
the skulls and bones and horrid things he saw, and on which he came
when he least expected them, almost turned his brain. He shuddered, and
crouched hither and thither. His face grew white, and his eyes took a
strange staring look, so that the sourest might have pitied him. It
wanted, in a word, but a little to send the child stark mad; and but
for his hardy training and outdoor life, that little would not have
He might have fled, for he was trusted at the door, and at any moment
could have opened it and escaped. But Jehan never doubted his master's
power to find him and bring him back; and the thought did not enter his
mind. After a week or so, familiarity wrought on him, as on all. The
house grew less terrifying, the darkness lost its horror, the air of
silence and dread its first paralysing influence. He began to sleep
better. Curiosity, in a degree, took the place of fear. He fell to
poring over the signs of the Zodiac, and to taking furtive peeps into
the crystal. The toad became his play-fellow. He fed it with
cockroaches, and no longer wanted employment.
The astrologer saw the change in the lad, and perhaps was not wholly
pleased with it. By-and-by he took steps to limit it. One day he found
Jehan playing with the toad with something of a boy's abandon,
making the uncouth creature leap over his hands, and tickling it with a
straw. The boy rose on his entrance, and shrank away; for his fear of
the man's sinister face and silent ways was not in any way lessened.
But Nôtredame called him back. “You are beginning to forget,” he said,
eyeing the child grimly.
The boy trembled under his gaze, but did not dare to answer.
“Whose are you?”
Jehan looked this way and that. At length, with dry lips, he
“No, you are not,” the man in black replied. “Think again. You have a
Jehan thought and sweated. But the man would have his answer, and at
last Jehan whispered, “The devil's.”
“That is better,” the astrologer said coldly. “Do you know what this
He held up a glass bowl. The boy recognised it, and his hair began to
rise. But he shook his head.
“It is holy water,” the man in black said, his small cruel eyes
devouring the boy. “Hold out your hand.”
Jehan dared not refuse. “This will try you,” Nôtredame said slowly,
“whether you are the devil's or not. If not, water will not hurt you.
If so, if you are his for ever and ever, to do his will and pleasure,
then it will burn like fire!”
At the last word he suddenly sprinkled some with a brush on the boy's
hand. Jehan leapt back with a shriek of pain, and, holding the burned
hand to his breast, glared at his master with starting eyes.
“It burns,” said the astrologer pitilessly. It burns. It is as I
said. You are his. His! After this I think you will remember.
Jehan went away, shuddering with horror and pain. But the lesson had
not the precise effect intended. He continued to fear his master, but
he began to hate him also, with a passionate, lasting hatred strange in
a child. Though he still shrank and crouched in his presence, behind
his back he was no longer restrained by fear. The boy knew of no way in
which he could avenge himself. He did not form any plans to that end,
he did not conceive the possibility of the thing. But he hated; and,
given the opportunity, was ripe to seize it.
He was locked in whenever Nôtredame went out; and in this way he
spent many solitary and fearful hours. These led him, however, in the
end, to a discovery. One day, about the middle of December, while he
was poking about the house in the astrologer's absence, he found a
door. I say “found,” for though it was not a secret door, it was small
and difficult to detect, being placed in the side of the straight,
narrow passage at the head of the little staircase which led from the
lower to the upper chambers. At first he thought it was locked, but
coming to examine it more closely, though in mere curiosity, he found
the handle of the latch let into a hollow of the panel. He pressed
this, and the door yielded a little.
At the time the boy was scared. He saw the place was dark, drew the
door to the jamb again, and went away without satisfying his curiosity.
But in a little while the desire to know what was behind the door
overcame his terror. He returned with a taper, and, pressing the latch
again, pushed the door open and entered, his heart beating loudly.
He held up his taper, and saw a very narrow, bare closet, made in the
thickness of the wall. And that was all, for the place was empty—the
one and only thing it contained being a soft, rough mat which covered
the floor. The boy stared fearfully about him, still expecting
something dreadful, but there was nothing else to be seen. And
gradually his fears subsided, and his curiosity with them, and he went
Another day, however, when he came into this place, he made a
discovery. Against either wall he saw a morsel of black cloth
fastened—a little flap a few inches long and three inches wide. He
held the light first to one and then to another of these, but he could
make nothing of them until he noticed that the lower edges were loose.
Then he raised one. It disclosed a long, narrow slit, through which he
could see the laboratory, with the fire burning dully, the phials
glistening, and the crocodile going through its unceasing pretence of
arousing itself. He raised the other, and found a slit there too; but
as the chamber on that side—the room with the astrolabe—was in
darkness, he could see nothing. He understood, however. The closet was
a spying-place, and these were Judas-holes, so arranged that the
occupant, himself unheard and unseen, could see and hear all that
happened on either side of him.
It was the astrologer's custom to lock up the large room next the Rue
Touchet when he went out. For this reason, and because the place was
forbidden, the boy lingered at the Judas-hole, gazing into it. He knew
by this time most of the queer things it contained, and the red glow of
the furnace fire gave it, to his mind, a weird kind of comfort. He
listened to the ashes falling, and the ticking of some clockwork at the
farther end. He began idly to enumerate all the things he could see;
but the curtain which shut off the laboratory proper threw a great
shadow across the room, and this he strove in vain to pierce. To see
the better, he put out his light and looked again. He had scarcely
brought his eyes back to the slit, however, when a low grating noise
caught his ear. He started and held his breath, but before he could
stir a finger the heavy door which communicated with the Rue Touchet
slowly opened a foot or two, and the astrologer came in.
For a few seconds the boy remained gazing, afraid to breathe or move.
Then, with an effort, he dropped the cloth over the slit, and crept
Chapter 5. THE UPPER PORTAL
The astrologer was not alone. A tall figure, cloaked and muffled to
the chin, entered after him, and stood waiting at his elbow while he
secured the fastenings of the door. Apparently, they had only met on
the threshold, for the stranger, after looking round him and silently
noting the fantastic disorder of the room, said, in a hoarse voice,
“You do not know me?”
“Perfectly, M. de Vidoche,” the astrologer answered, removing his
“Did you know I was following you?”
“I came to show you the way.”
“That is a lie, at any rate!” the young noble retorted, with a sneer,
“for I did not know I was coming myself.”
“Until you saw me,” the astrologer answered, unmoved. “Will you not
take off your cloak? You will need it when you leave.”
M. de. Vidoche complied with an ill grace. The usual stock-in-trade,
I see,” he muttered, looking round him scornfully. “Skulls and bones,
and dead hands and gibbet-ropes. Faugh! The place smells. I suppose
these are the things you keep to frighten children.”
“Some,” Nôtredame answered calmly—he was busy lighting a lamp—“and
some are for sale.”
“For sale?” M. de Vidoche cried incredulously. “Who will buy them?”
“Some one thing, and some another,” the astrologer answered
carelessly. “Take this, for instance,” he continued, turning to his
visitor, and looking at him for the first time. “I expect to find a
customer for that very shortly.”
M. de Vidoche followed the direction of his finger, and shuddered,
despite himself. “That” was a coffin. “Enough of this,” he said, with
savage impatience. “Suppose you get off your high horse, and come to
business. Can I sit, man, or are you going to keep me standing all
The man in black brought forward two stools, and led the way behind
the curtain. “It is warmer here,” he said, pushing aside an earthen
pipkin, and clearing a space with his foot in front of the glowing
embers. “Now I am at your service, M. de Vidoche. Pray be seated.”
“Are we alone?” the young noble asked suspiciously.
“Trust me for that,” the astrologer answered. “I know my business.”
But M. de Vidoche seemed to find some difficulty in stating his;
though he had evinced so high a regard for time a moment before. He sat
irresolute, stealing malevolent glances first at his companion, and
then at the dull, angry-looking fire. If he expected M. Nôtredame to
help him, however, he did not yet know his host. The astrologer sat
patiently waiting, with every expression, save placid expectation,
discharged from his face.
“Oh, d—n you!” the young man ejaculated at last. “Have you got
nothing to say? You know what I want,” he added, with irritation, “as
well as I do.”
“I shall be happy to learn,” the astrologer answered politely.
“Give it me without more words, and let me go!”
The astrologer raised his eyebrows. “Alas! there is a limit to
omniscience,” he said, shaking his head gently. “It is true we keep it
in stock—to frighten children. But it does not help me at present, M.
M. de Vidoche looked at him with an evil scowl. “I see; you want me
to commit myself,” he muttered. The perspiration stood on his forehead,
and his voice was husky with rage or some other emotion. “I was a fool
to come here,” he continued. “If you must have it, I want to kill a
cat; and I want something to give to it.”
The astrologer laughed silently. “The mountain was in labour, and lo!
a cat!” he said, in a tone of amusement. “And lo! a cat! Well, in that
case I am afraid you have come to the wrong place, M. de Vidoche. I
don't kill cats. There is no risk in it, you see,” he continued,
looking fixedly at his companion, “and no profit. Nobody cares about a
cat. The first herbalist you come to will give you what you want for a
few sous. Even if the creature turns black within the hour, and its
mouth goes to the nape of its neck,” he went on, with a horrid smile,
“as Madame de Beaufort's did—cui malo?—no one is a penny the
worse. But if it were a question of——I think I saw monsieur riding in
company with Mademoiselle de Farincourt to-day?”
M. de Vidoche, who had been contemplating his tormentor with eyes of
rage and horror, started at the unexpected question. “Well,” he
muttered, “and what if I was?”
“Oh, nothing,” the man in black answered carelessly. “Mademoiselle is
beautiful, and monsieur is a happy man if she smiles on him. But she is
high-born; and proud, I am told.” He leaned forward as he spoke, and
warmed his long, lean hands at the fire. But his beady eyes never left
the other's face.
M. de Vidoche writhed under their gaze. “Curse you!” he muttered
hoarsely. “What do you mean
“Her family are proud also, I am told; and powerful. Friends of the
Cardinal too, I hear.” The man in black's smile was like nothing save
M. de Vidoche rose from his seat, but sat down again.
“He would avenge the honour of the family to the death,” continued
the astrologer gently. “To the death, I should say. Don't you think so,
M. de Vidoche?”
The perspiration stood in thick drops on the young man's forehead,
and he glared at his tormentor. But the latter met the look placidly,
and seemed ignorant of the effect he was producing. “It is a pity,
therefore, monsieur is not free to marry,” he said, shaking his head
regretfully—“a great pity. One does not know what may happen. Yet, on
the other hand, if he had not married he would be a poor man now.”
M. de Vidoche sprang to his feet with an oath. But he sat down again.
“When he married he was a poor man, I think,” the astrologer
continued, for the first time averting his gaze from the other's face,
and looking into the fire with a queer smile. “And in debt. Madame—the
present Madame de Vidoche, I mean—paid his debts, and brought him an
estate, I believe.”
“Of which she has never ceased to remind him twice a day since!” the
young man cried in a terrible voice. And then in a moment he lost all
self-control, all disguise, all the timid cunning which had marked him
hitherto. He sprang to his feet. The veins in his temples swelled, his
face grew red. So true is it that small things try us more than great
ones, and small grievances rub deeper raws than great wrongs. “My God!”
he said between his teeth, “if you knew what I have suffered from that
woman! Pale-faced, puling fool, I have loathed her these five years,
and I have been tied to her and her whining ways and her nun's face!
Twice a day? Not ten times a day, twenty times a day, she has reminded
me of my debts, my poverty, and my straits before I married her! And of
her family! And her three marshals! And her—”
He stopped for very lack of breath. “Madame was of good family?” the
man in black said abruptly. He had grown suddenly attentive. His shadow
on the wall behind him was still and straight-backed.
“Oh, yes,” the husband answered bitterly.
“Three marshals of France?” M. Nôtredame murmured thoughtfully; but
there was a strange light in his eyes, and he kept his face carefully
averted from his companion. “That is not common! That is certainly
something to boast of!”
“Mon Dieu! She did boast of it, though no one else allowed the
claim. And of her blood of Roland!” M. de Vidoche cried, with scorn.
His voice still shook, and his hands trembled with rage. He strode up
“What was her name before she married?” the astrologer asked,
stooping over the fire.
The young man stopped, arrested in his passion—stopped, and looked
at him suspiciously. “Her name?” he muttered. “What has that to do with
“If you want me to—draw her horoscope,” the astrologer replied, with
a cunning smile, “I must have something to go upon.”
“Diane de Martinbault,” the young man answered sullenly; and then, in
a fresh burst of rage, he muttered, “Diane! Diable!”
“She inherited her estates from her father?”
“Who had a son? A child who died young?” the astrologer continued
M. de Vidoche looked at him. “That is true,” he said sulkily. “But I
do not see what it has to do with you.”
For answer, the man in black began to laugh, at first silently, then
aloud—a sly devil's laugh, that sounded more like the glee of fiends
sporting over a lost soul than any human mirth, so full was it of
derision and mockery and insult. He made no attempt to check or
disguise it, but rather seemed to flout it in the other's face; for
when the young noble asked him, with fierce impatience, what it was,
and what he meant, he did not explain. He only cried, “In a moment! In
a moment, noble sir, I swear you shall have what you want. But—ha!
ha!” And then he fell to laughing again, more loudly and shrilly than
M. de Vidoche turned white and red with rage. His first thought was
that a trap had been laid for him, and that he had fallen into it; that
to what he had said there had been witnesses; and that now the
astrologer had thrown off the mask. With a horrible expression of shame
and fear on his countenance he stood at bay, peering into the dark
corners, of which there were many in that room, and plumbing the
shadows. When no one appeared and nothing happened, his fears passed,
but not his rage. With his hand on his sword, he turned hotly on his
confederate. “You dog!” he said between his teeth, and his eyes gleamed
dangerously in the light of the lamp, “know that for a farthing I would
slit your throat! And I will, too, if you do not this instant stop that
witch's grin of yours! Are you going to do what I ask, or are you not?”
“Chut! chut!” the astrologer answered, waving his hand in
deprecation. “I said so, and I am always as good as my word.
“Ay, but now—now!” the young man retorted furiously. “You have
played with me long enough. Do you think that I am going to spend the
night in this charnel-house of yours?”
M. Nôtredame began to fear that he had carried his cruel amusement
too far. He had enjoyed himself vastly, and made an unexpected
discovery: one which opened an endless vista of mischief and plunder to
his astute gaze. But it was not his policy to drive his customer to
distraction, and he changed his tone. “Peace, peace,” he said,
spreading out his hands humbly. “You shall have it now; now, this
instant. There is only one little preliminary.”
“Name it!” the other said imperiously.
“The price. A horoscope, with the House of Death in the
ascendant—the Upper Portal, as we call it—is a hundred crowns, M. de
Vidoche. There is the risk, you see.”
“You shall have it. Give me the—the stuff!”
The young man's voice trembled, but it was with anger and impatience,
not with fear. The astrologer recognised the change in him, and fell
into his place. He went, without further demur, to a little shelf in
the darkest corner of the laboratory, whence he reached down a
crucible. He was in the act of peering into this, with his back to his
visitor, when M. de Vidoche uttered a startled cry, and, springing
towards him, seized his arm. “You fiend!” the young man hissed—he was
pale to the lips, and shook as with an ague—“there is someone there!
There is someone listening!”
For a second the man in black stood breathless, his hand arrested,
the shadow of his companion's terror darkening his face. M. de Vidoche
pointed with a trembling finger to the staircase which led to the
farther part of the house, and on this the two bent their sombre,
guilty eyes. The lamp burned unsteadily, giving out an odour of smoke.
The room was full of shadows, uncouth distorted shapes, that rose and
fell with the light, and had something terrifying in their sudden
appearances and vanishings. But in all the place there was nothing so
appalling or so ugly as the two vicious, panic-stricken faces that
glared into the darkness.
The man in black was the first to break the silence. “What did you
hear?” he muttered at length, after a long, long period of waiting and
“Someone moved there,” Vidoche answered, under his breath. His voice
still trembled; his face was livid with terror.
“Nonsense!” the other answered. He knew the place, and was fast
recovering his courage. “What was the sound like, man?”
“A dull, heavy sound. someone moved.”
M. Nôtredame laughed, but not pleasantly. “It was the toad,” he said.
“There is no other living thing here. The door on the staircase is
locked. It is thick, too. A dozen men might be behind it, yet they
would not hear a word that passed in this room. But come; you shall
He led the way to the farther end of the room, and, moving some of
the larger things, showed M. de Vidoche that there was no one there.
Still, the young man was only half-convinced. Even when the toad was
found lurking in a skull which had rolled to the floor, he continued to
glance about him doubtfully. “I do not think it was that,” he said.
“Are you sure that the door is locked?”
“Try it,” the astrologer answered curtly.
M. de Vidoche did, and nodded. “Yes” he said. “All the same, I will
get out of this. Give me the stuff, will you?”
The man in black raised the lamp in one hand, and with the other
selected from the crucible two tiny yellow packets. He stood a moment,
weighing them in his hand and looking lovingly at them, and seemed
unwilling to part with them. “They are power,” he said, in a voice that
was little above a whisper. The alarm had tried even his nerves, and he
was not quite himself. “The greatest power of all—death. They are the
key of the Upper Portal—the true Pulvis Olympicus. Take one to-day,
one to-morrow, in liquid, and you will feel neither hunger, nor cold,
nor want, nor desire any more for ever. The late King of England took
one; but there, it is yours, my friend.”
“Is it painful?” the young man whispered, shuddering, and with eyes
The tempter grinned horribly. “What is that to you?” he said. “It
will not bring her mouth to the back of her neck. That is enough for
you to know.”
“It will not be detected?”
“Not by the bunglers they call doctors,” the astrologer answered
scornfully. “Blind bats! You may trust me for that. Of what did the
King of England die? A tertian ague. So will madame. But if you
He stopped on a sudden, his hand in the air, and the two stood gazing
at one another with alarm printed on their faces. The loud clanging
note of a bell, harshly struck in the house, came dolefully to their
ears. “What is it?” M. de Vidoche muttered uneasily.
“A client,” the astrologer answered quietly. “I will see. Do not stir
until I come back to you.”
M. de Vidoche made an impatient movement towards the door in the Rue
Touchet: and doubtless he would much have preferred to be gone at once,
since he had now got what he wanted. But the man in black was already
unlocking the door at the head of the little staircase, and uttering a
querulous oath M. de Vidoche resigned himself to wait. With a dark look
he hid the powders on his person.
He thought himself alone. But all the same a white-faced boy lay
within a few feet of him, watching his every movement, and listening to
his breathing—a small boy, instinct with hate and loathing. Impunity
renders people careless, or M. Nôtredame would not have been so ready
to set down the noise his confederate made to the toad. The Judas-hole
and the spying-place would have come to mind, and in a trice he would
have caught the listener in the act, and this history would never have
For Jehan, though his master's first entrance and appearance had sent
him fleeing, breathless and panic-stricken, from his post, had not been
able to keep aloof long. The house was dull, silent, dark; only in the
closet was amusement to be found. So while terror dragged him one way,
curiosity haled him the other, and at last had the victory. He listened
and shivered at the head of the stairs until that shrill eldritch peal
of laughter in which the astrologer indulged, and for which he was
destined to pay dearly, penetrated even the thick door. Then he could
hold out no longer. His curiosity grew intolerable. Laughter! Laughter
in that house! Slowly and stealthily the boy opened the door of the
dark closet, and crept in. Just across the threshold he stumbled over
the extinguished taper, and this it was which caused M. de Vidoche's
Jehan fancied himself discovered, and lay sweating and trembling
until the search for the toad was over. Then he sat up, and, finding
himself safe, began to listen. What he heard was not clear, nor
perfectly intelligible; but gradually there stole even into his boyish
mind a perception of something horrible. The speakers' looks of fear,
their low tones and dark glances, the panic which seized them when they
fancied themselves overheard, and their relief when nothing came of it,
did more to bring the conviction home to his mind than their words.
Even of these he caught enough to assure him that someone was to be
poisoned—to be put out of the world. Only the name of the victim—that
Probably M. de Vidoche, left to himself, found his thoughts poor
company, for by-and-by he grew restless. He walked across the room and
listened, and walked again and listened. The latter movement brought
him by chance to the foot of the little flight of six steps by which
the astrologer had retired, and he looked up and saw that the door at
the top was ajar. Impelled by curiosity, or suspicion, or the mere
desire to escape from himself, he stole up, and, opening it farther,
thrust his head through and listened.
He remained in this position about a minute. Then he turned, and
crept down again, and stood, thinking, at the foot of the stairs, with
an expression of such utter and complete amazement on his face as
almost transformed the man. Something he had heard or seen which he
could not understand! Something incredible, something almost
miraculous! For all else, even his guilty purpose, seemed swallowed up
in sheer astonishment.
The stupor held him until he heard the astrologer's steps. Even then
he only turned and looked. But if ever dumb lips asked a question, his
The man in black nodded silently. He seemed not at all surprised that
the other had heard or seen what he had. Even in him the thing,
whatever it was, had worked a change. His eyes shone, his eyebrows were
raised, his face wore a pale smile of triumph and conceit.
M. de Vidoche found his voice at last. “My wife!” he whispered.
The astrologer's shoulders went up to his ears. He spread out his
hands. He nodded—once, twice. “Mais oui, Madame!” he said.
“Here?—now?” M. de Vidoche stammered, his eyes wide with
“She is in the chamber of the astrolabe.”
“Mon Dieu!” the husband exclaimed. “Mon Dieu!” And then
for a moment he shook, as if someone were passing over his grave. His
face was pale. There was dread mingled with his surprise. “ I do not
understand,” he muttered at last. “What does it mean? What is she doing
“She has come for a love-philtre,” M. Nôtredame answered, with a
The husband drew a deep breath. “For me?” he exclaimed. “Impossible!”
“Possible,” the man in black answered quietly; “and true.”
“Then what shall you do?”
“Give her one,” the astrologer answered. The enigmatical smile, which
had been all along playing on his face, grew deeper, keener, more
cruel. His eyes gleamed with triumph—and evil. “I shall give her one,”
he said again.
“But—what will she do with it?” M. de Vidoche muttered.
“Take it! You fool, cannot you understand?” the man in black
answered sharply. “Give me back the powders. I shall give them to her.
She will take them-herself. You will be saved-all!”
M. de Vidoche reeled. “My God!” he cried. “I think you are the
“Perhaps,” the man in black answered; “but give me the powders.”
Chapter 6. THE POWDER OF ATTRACTION
Meanwhile, a few yards away, in the room of the astrolabe, Madame de
Vidoche sat, waiting and trembling, afraid to move from the spot where
the astrologer had placed her, and longing for his return. The minutes
seemed endless, the house a grave. The silence and mystery which
wrapped her round, the sombre hangings, the burning candles, the
cabalistic figures filled her with awe and apprehension. She was a
timid woman; nothing but that last and fiercest hunger of all, the
hunger for love, could have driven her to this desperate step or
brought her here. But she was here, it had brought her; and though fear
blanched her cheek, and her limbs shook under her, and she dared not
pray—for what was this she was doing?—she did not repent, or wish the
step untaken, or go back on her desire.
The place was dreadful to her; but not so dreadful as the cold home,
the harsh words, the mockery of love, the slowly growing knowledge that
there never had been love, from which she was here to escape. She was
alone, but not more lonely than she had been for months in her own
house. The man who daily met her with gibes and taunts, and seldom
spoke without reminding her how pale and colourless she showed beside
the florid witty beauties of the Court—his friends—was still
her all, and had been her idol. If he failed her, the world was empty
indeed. Only one thing remained therefore; by hook or crook, by all a
woman might do or dare, by submission, by courage, to win back his
love. She had tried. God knows she had tried! She had knelt to him, and
he had struck her. She had dressed and been gay, and striven to jest as
his friends jested: he had scourged her with a cutting sneer. She had
prayed, and Heaven had not answered. She had turned from Heaven—a
white-faced, pining woman, little more than a girl—and she was here.
Only let the man be quick! Let him be quick and give her what she
sought; and then scarcely any price he could ask should strain her
gratitude. At last she heard his step, and in a moment he came in.
Against the black background, and seen by the gloomy light of the
candles, he looked taller, leaner, paler, more sombre than life. Hiss
eyes glowed with unnatural lustre. Madame shuddered as he came towards
her; and he saw it, and grinned behind his cadaverous mask.
“Madame,” he said gravely, bowing his head, “it is as I hoped. Venus
is in the ascendant for nine days from to-day, and in fortunate
conjunction with Mars. I am happy that you come to me at a time so
propitious. A very little effort at this season will suffice. But it is
necessary, if you would have the charm work, to preserve the most
absolute silence and secrecy in regard to it.”
Her lips were dry, her tongue seemed to cleave to her mouth. She felt
shame as well as fear in this man's presence. But she made an effort,
and muttered, “It will work?”
“I will answer for it!” he replied bluntly, a world of dubious
meaning in his tone and eyes. “It is the powder of attraction, by the
use of which Diane de Poitiers won the love of the king, though she
surpassed him by twenty years; and Madame de Valentinois held the
hearts of men till her seventieth winter. Madame de Hautefort uses it.
It is made of liquid gold, etherealised and strengthened with secret
drugs. I have made up two packets, but it will be safer if madame will
take both at once, dissolved in good wine and before the expiration of
the ninth day.”
Madame de Vidoche took the packets, trembling. A little red dyed her
pale cheeks. “Is that all?” she murmured, faintly.
“All, madame; except that when you drink it, you must think of your
husband,” he answered. As he said this he averted his face; for, try as
he would, he could not check the evil smile that curled his lip.
Dieu! Was ever so grim a jest known? Or so forlorn, so helpless, so
infantine a fool? He could almost find it in his heart to pity her. As
for her husband—ah, how he would bleed him when it was over!
“How much am I to pay you, sir?” she asked timidly, when she had
hidden away the precious packets in her bosom. She had got what she
wanted; she was panting to be gone.
“Twenty crowns,” he answered, coldly. “The charm avails for nine
moons. After that—”
“I shall need more?” she asked; for he had paused.
“Well, no, I think not,” he answered slowly—hesitating strangely,
almost stammering. “I think in your case, madame, the effect will be
She had no clue to the fantastic impulse, the ghastly humour, which
inspired the words; and she paid him gladly. He would not take the
money in his hands, but bade her lay it on the great open book,
“because the gold was alloyed, and not virgin.” In one or two other
ways he played his part; directing her, for instance, if she would
increase the strength of the charm, to gaze at the planet Venus for
half an hour each evening, but not through glass or with any metal on
her person. And then he let her out by the door which opened on the
“Madame has, doubtless, her woman, or some attendant?” he said,
looking up and down. “Or I—”
“Oh, yes, yes!” she answered, gasping in the cold night air. “She is
here. Good-night, sir.”
He muttered some words in a strange tongue, and, as Madame de
Vidoche's attendant came out of the shadow to meet her turned and went
The night was dark as well as cold, but madame, in the first fervour
of her spirits, did not heed it. She suffered her maid to wrap her up
warmly, and draw the cloak more closely round her throat; but she was
scarcely conscious of the attention, and bore it as a child might—in
silence. Her eyes shone in the darkness; her heart beat with a soft
subtle joy. She had the charm—the key to happiness! It was in her
bosom; and every moment, under cover of the cloak and night, her
fingers flew to it and assured her it was safe. The scruples with which
she had contemplated the interview troubled her no longer. In her joy
and relief that the ordeal was over and the philtre gained, she knew no
doubt, no suspicion. She lived only for the moment when she might put
the talisman to the test, and see love wake again in those eyes which,
whether they smiled or scowled, fate had made the lodestones of her
The streets, by reason of the cold, were quiet enough. No one
remarked the two women as they flitted along under cover of the wall.
Presently, however, the bell of a church close at hand began to ring
for service, and the sound, startling madame, brought her suddenly,
chillily, sharply, to earth again. She stopped. “What is that?” she
said, “It cannot be compline. It wants three hours of midnight.”
“It is St. Thomas's Day,” the woman with her answered.
“So it is,” madame replied, moving on again, but more slowly. “Of
course; it is four days to Christmas. Don't they call him the Apostle
of Faith, Margot?”
“To be sure,” madame rejoined thoughtfully. “To be sure; yes, we
should have faith—we should have faith.” And with that she buoyed
herself up again (as people will in certain moods, using the strangest
floats), and went on gaily, her feet tripping to the measure of her
heart, and her hand on the precious packet that was to change the world
for her. On the foullest mud gleams sometimes the brightest
phosphorescence: otherwise it were not easy to conceive how even
momentary happiness could come of the house in the Rue Touchet!
The two women had nearly reached the Church of St. Gervais by the
Grêve, when the sound of a swift stealthy footstep coming along the
street behind them caught the maid's ear. It was not a reassuring sound
at night and in that place. The dark square of the Grève, swept by the
icy wind from the river, lay before them; and though a brazier,
surrounded by a knot of men belonging to the watch, burned in the
middle of the open, the two women were reluctant to show themselves
where they might meet with rudeness. Margot laid her hand on her
mistress's arm, and for a few seconds the two stood listening, with
thumping hearts. The step came on—a light, pattering step. Acting on a
common impulse the women turned and looked at one another. Then
slipping noiselessly into the shadow cast by the church porch, they
pressed themselves against the wall, and stood scarcely daring to
But fortune was against them, or their follower's eye was keen beyond
the ordinary. They had not been there many seconds before he came
running up—a stooping figure, slight and short. He slackened speed
abruptly, and stopped exactly opposite their lurking-place. A moment of
suspense, and then a pale face, rendered visible by a gleam from the
distant fire, looked in on them, and a thin, panting voice murmured
timidly, “Madame! Madame de Vidoche, if you please!”
“Saint Siege!” madame's woman gasped, in a voice of astonishment. “I
declare it is a child!”
Madame almost laughed in her relief. “Ah!” she said, “how you
frightened us! I thought you were a man dogging us—a thief!”
“I am not,” the boy said simply.
This time Margot laughed. “Who are you, then?” she asked, briskly
stepping out, “and why have you been following us? You seem to have my
lady's name pretty pat,” she added, sharply.
“I want to speak to her,” the boy answered, his lip trembling. In
truth, he was trembling all over with fear and excitement. But the
darkness hid that.
“Oh!” Madame de Vidoche said graciously. “Well, you may speak. But
tell me first who you are, and be quick about it. It is cold and late.”
“I am from the house where you have been,” Jehan answered bravely.
“You saw me at Les Andelys, too, when you were at supper, madame. I was
the boy at the door. I want to speak to you alone, please”
“Alone!” madame exclaimed.
The boy nodded firmly. “If you please,” he said.
“Hoity-toity!” Margot exclaimed; and she was for demurring. “He only
wants to beg,” she said.
“I don't!” the boy cried, with tears in his voice.
“Then it is a present he wants!” she rejoined, scornfully. “They
expect their vales at those places. And we are to freeze while he makes
But madame, out of pity or curiosity, would hear him. She bade the
woman wait a few paces away. And when they were alone: “Now,” she said
kindly, “what is it? You must be quick, for it is very cold.”
“He sent me after you—with a message,” Jehan answered.
Madame started, and her hand went to the packet. “Do you mean M.
Nôtredame?” she murmured.
The boy nodded. “He—he said he had forgotten one thing,” he
continued, halting between his sentences and shivering. “He—he said
you were to alter one thing, madame.”
“Oh!” Madame answered frigidly, her heart sinking, her pride roused
by this intervention of the boy, who seemed to know all. “What thing,
if you please?”
Jehan looked quickly and fearfully over his shoulder. But all was
quiet. “He said he had forgotten that your husband was dark,” he
“Dark!” madame muttered in astonishment.
“Yes, dark-complexioned,” Jehan continued desperately. “And that
being so, you were not to take the—the charm yourself.”
Madame's eyes flashed with anger. “Oh!” she said, “indeed! And is
“But to give it to him, without telling him,” the boy rejoined, with
sudden spirit and firmness.
Madame started and drew a deep breath. “Are you sure you have made no
mistake?” she said, trying to read the boy's face. But it was too dark
“Quite sure,” he answered hardily.
“Oh,” madame said, slowly and thoughtfully; “very well. Is that all?”
“That is all,” he replied, drawing back a step; but reluctantly, as
Margot, who had been all the time moving a little nearer and a little
nearer, came right up at this. “Now, my lady,” she said sharply, “I beg
you will have done. This is no place for us at this time of night, and
this little imp of Satan ought to be about his business. I am sure I am
perishing with cold, and the sound of those creaking boats on the river
makes me think of nothing but gibbets and corpses, till I have got the
creeps all down my back! And the watch will be here presently.”
“Very well, Margot,” madame answered; “I am coming.” But still she
looked at the boy and lingered. “You are sure there is nothing else?”
“Nothing,” he answered.
She thought his manner odd, and wondered why he lingered; why he did
not hurry off, since the night was cold and he was bareheaded. But
Margot pressed her again, and she turned, saying reluctantly, “Very
well, I am coming.”
“Ay, and so is Christmas!” the woman grumbled. And this time she
fairly took her by the arm and hurried her away.
“That is not a good retort, Margot!” madame said presently, when they
had gone a few paces, and were flitting hand-in-hand across the Grève,
with heads bent to the wind, “for it wants only four days to Christmas.
You had forgotten that!”
“I think you are fey, my lady!” the woman replied, in an ill-temper.
“I have not seen you so gay these twelve months; and what with the
cold, and fear of the watch and monsieur, I am ready to sink. You must
have heard fine news down there.”
But madame did not answer. She was thinking of last Christmas. Her
husband had gone to the revels at the Palais Cardinal which was then in
building. She had offered to go with him, and he had told her, with an
oath, that if she did she should remember it. So she had stopped at
home alone—her first Christmas in Paris. She had gone to mass, and
then had sat all day in the cold, splendid house, and cried. Half the
servants had played truant, and her woman had been cross, and for hours
together no one had gone near her.
This Christmas it was to be different.
Madame's eyes began to shine again, and her heart to beat a pleasant
measure. If she had her will, they would go to no pageants or
merry-makings. But then he liked such things, and showed to advantage
in them. Yes, they would go, and she would sit quiet as a mouse; and
listening while they praised him, would feed all the time on the sweet
knowledge that now he was hers—her own.
She had not done dreaming when they reached the house. The porter was
drowsing in his lodge, the gate was ajar. They slipped into the dark
silent courtyard, and, flitting across it, entered the house. Two
servants lay stretched asleep in the hall, and in a little room to the
left of the door they could hear others talking; but no one looked out.
Fortune could not have aided them better. With a little laugh of relief
and thankfulness madame tripped up the grand staircase and under the
great lamp which lit it and the hall.
Margot followed, but neither she nor her mistress saw who followed
them: who had followed them across the windy Grève, through street and
lane and byway; even, after a moment's hesitation, over the threshold
of the court and into the house. A servant who heard the stairs creak
as they went up, and looked out, fancied he saw a small black figure
glide out of sight above; but as there were no children in the house,
and this was a child, if anything, he thought his eyes deceived him—he
was half-asleep—and, crossing himself, went back, yawning.
The boy could never quite explain—though often asked in
after-years—what led him to run this risk. It is true he dared not
return to the Rue Touchet; and he was only twelve years old, and knew
nowhere else to go. But—However, that is all that can be said. He did
He paused at the head of the stairs, and stood shivering under the
great lamp. In front of him hung a pair of heavy curtains. After a
moment's hesitation he crept between them and found himself in a
splendid apartment, spacious though sparely furnished, lit from the
roof, and in character half-hall, half-parlour. A high marble
chimney-piece in the new Italian mode faced him, and on either hand
were two lofty doorways screened by curtains. The floor was of parquet,
the walls were panelled in chestnut wood. On each side of the fire,
which smouldered low between the dogs and was nearly out, a long bench,
velvet-covered, ran along the wall. A posset-cup stood on a tripod on
the hearth, and in the middle of the room a marble table bore a dish of
sweetmeats and a tray of flasks and glasses. In that day, when people
dined at eleven and supped at six, it was customary to take les
épices et le vin du coucher before retiring at nine.
The boy stood cowering and listening—a strange, pale-faced little
figure, reflected in a narrow mirror which decked one wall. It was very
cold even here; outside he must die of cold. He heard the two women
moving and talking in one of the rooms on the left; otherwise the house
was still. He looked about, hesitated, and at last stole on tip-toe
across the floor to one of the doors on his right. The curtain which
hid it trailed a yard on the ground. He sat down between it and the
door, and, winding one corner of the thick heavy stuff round his frozen
limbs, uttered a sigh of relief. He had found a refuge of a kind.
He meant to sleep, but he could not, for all his nerves were tense
with excitement. Not a sound in the house escaped him. He heard the
soft ashes sink on the hearth; he heard one of the men who slept in the
hall turn and moan in his sleep. At last, quite close to him, a door
Jehan moved a little and peered from his ambush. The noise had come
from madame's room. He was not surprised when he saw her face thrust
out. Presently she put the curtain quite aside and came out, and stood
a little way from him, listening intently. She wore a loose robe of
some soft stuff, and he fancied she was barefoot, for she moved without
noise.She stood listening a full minute, with her hand to her bosom.
Then she nodded, as if assured that all was well, and, going to the
table, looked down at the things it held. Her face wore a subtle smile,
her cheeks flamed softly, there was a shy sparkle in her eyes. The lamp
seemed to lend her new loveliness.
Apparently she did not find what she wanted on the table, for in a
moment she turned and went to the fireplace. She took the posset from
the trivet, and, lifting the lid of the cup, looked in. What she saw
appeared to satisfy her, for with a quick movement she carried the cup
to the table and set it down open. She had her back to Jehan now, and
he could not see what she was doing, though he watched her every motion
and partly guessed. When she had finished whatever it was, she raised
the cup to her lips, and the boy's heart stood still. Ay, stood still!
He half rose, his face white. But he was in error. She only kissed the
wine and covered it, and took it back to the trivet, murmuring
something over it as she set it down.The boy lay still, like one
fascinated, while madame, clasping two little silk bags to her bosom,
stole back to her door. As she raised the curtain with one hand she
turned on a sudden impulse and kissed the other towards the hearth.
Slowly the curtain fell and hid her shining eyes.
Chapter 7.. CLYTÆMNESTRA
She had barely disappeared when the boy, listening eagerly, heard the
great door below flung open, and instinctively sank down again. A
breath of cold air rose from below. A harsh voice—a voice he
knew—cursed someone or something in the hail, a heavy step came
stumbling up the stairs, and in a moment M. de Vidoche, followed by a
sleepy servant, pushed his way through the curtains. He was flushed
with drink, yet he was not drunk, for as he crossed the floor he shot a
swift sidelong glance at his wife's door—a glance of dark meaning;
and, though he railed savagely at the servant for letting the fire go
out, he had the air of listening while he spoke, and swore, to show
himself at ease.
The man muttered some excuse, and, kneeling, began to blow the
embers, while Vidoche looked on moodily. He had not taken off his hat
and cloak. “Has madame been out this evening?” he said suddenly.
“No, my lord.”
“Her woman is lying with her?”
“Yes, my lord.”
A moment's silence. Then, “Trim the lamp, curse you! Don't you see it
is going out? Do you want to leave me in the dark? Sacre! This
might be a pigsty from the way it is kept!”
The man was used to be kicked and abused, but it seemed to him that
his master's caprices were taking a fresh direction. It was not his
business to think, however. He trimmed the lamp and took the cloak and
hat, and was going, when Vidoche called him back again. “Put on a log,”
he said, “and give me that drink. Nom du diable, it is cold! You
lazy hound, you have been sleeping!”
The man vowed he had not, and M. de Vidoche listened to his
protestations as if he heard them. In reality his thoughts were busy
with other things. Would it be tonight, or to-morrow, or the next day?
he was wondering darkly. And how would it—take her? Would he be there,
or would they come and tell him? Would she sicken and fade slowly, and
die of some common illness to all appearance, with the priest by her
side? Or would he awake in the night to hear her screaming, and be
summoned to see her writhing in torture, gasping, choking, praying them
to save—to save her from this horrible pain? God! The perspiration
broke out on his brow. He shivered. “Give me that!” he muttered
hoarsely, holding out a shaking hand. “Give it me, I say!”
The man was warming the posset, but he rose hastily and handed it.
“Put lights in my room! And, hark you—you will sleep there to-night.
I am not well. Go and get your straw, and be quick about it.”
Vidoche listened with the cup in his hand while the man went down and
fetched a taper and some coverings from the hall, and, coming up again,
opened one of the doors on the right—not the one against which the boy
lay. The servant went into the room and busied himself there for a
time, while the master sat crouching over the fire, thinking, with a
gloomy face. He tried to turn his thoughts to the Farincourt, and to
what would happen afterwards, and to a dozen things with which his mind
had been only too ready to occupy itself of late. But now his thoughts
would not be ordered. They returned again and again to the door on his
left. He caught himself listening, waiting, glancing at it askance. And
this might go on for days. Dieu! the house would be a hell! He
would go away. He would make some excuse to leave until—until after
He shivered, cursed himself under his breath for a fool, and drank
half the mulled wine at a draught. As he took the cup from his lips,
his ear caught a slight sound behind him, and, starting, he peered
hastily over his shoulder. But the noise came apparently from the next
room, where the servant was moving about; and, with another oath,
Vidoche drained the cup and set it down on the table.
He had scarcely done so when he drew himself suddenly upright and
remained in that position for a moment, his mouth half open, his eyes
glaring. A kind of spasm seized him. His teeth shut with a click. He
staggered and clutched at the table. His face grew red—purple. His
brain seemed to be bursting; his eyes filled with blood. He tried to
cry, to give the alarm, to get breath, but his throat was held in an
iron vice. He was choking and reeling on his feet, when the man came by
chance out of the bedroom.
By a tremendous effort Vidoche spoke. “Who—made—this?” he muttered,
in a hissing voice.
The servant started, scared by his appearance. He answered,
nevertheless, that he had mixed it himself.
“Look at—the bottom of—the cup!” Vidoche replied in a terrible
voice. He was swaying to and fro, and kept himself up only by his grip
on the table. “Is there—anything there?”
The servant was terribly frightened, but he had the sense to obey. He
took up the cup and looked in it. “Is there—a powder—in it?” Vidoche
asked, a frightful spasm distorting his features.
“There is—something,” the man answered, his teeth chattering. “But
let me fetch help, my lord. You are not well. You are—”
“A dead man!” the baffled murderer cried, his voice rising in a
scream of indescribable despair and horror. “A dead man! I am poisoned!
My wife!” He reeled with that word. He lost his hold of the table. “Ha,
mon Dieu! Mercy! Mercy!” he cried.
In a moment he was down, writhing on the floor, and uttering shriek
on shriek: cries so dreadful that on the instant doors flew open and
sleepers awoke, and in a twinkling the room—though the lamp lay
quenched, overturned in his struggles—was full of lights and
frightened faces and huddled forms, and women who stopped their ears
and wept. The doorways framed more faces, the staircase rang with
sounds of alarm. Everywhere was turmoil and a madness of hurrying feet.
One ran for the doctor, another for the priest, a third for the watch.
The house seemed on a sudden alive; nay, the very courtyard, where the
porter was gone from his post, and the doors stood open, was full of
staring strangers, who gaped at the windows and the hurrying lights,
and asked whose was the hotel, or answered it was M. de Vidoche's.
It had been. But already the man who had gone up the stairs so full
of strength and evil purpose lay dying, speechless, all but dead. They
had lifted him on to a pallet which someone drew from a neighbouring
room, and at first there had been no lack of helpers or ready hands.
One untied his cravat, and another his doublet, and two or three of the
coolest held him in his paroxysms. But then the magic word “Poison!”
was whispered; and one by one, all, even the man who had been with him,
even madame's woman, drew off, and left those two alone. The livid body
lay on the pallet, and madame, stunned and horror-stricken, hung over
it; but the servants stood away in a dense circle, and looking on with
gloom and fear in their faces, some mechanically holding lights, some
still grasping the bowls and basins they were afraid to use, whispered
that word again and again.
It seemed as if the tell-tale syllables passed the walls; for the
first to arrive, before doctor or priest, was the captain of the watch.
He came upstairs, his sword clanking, and, thrusting the curtains
aside, stood looking at the strange scene, which the many lights,
irregularly held and distributed, lit up as if it had been a pageant on
the stage. “Who is it?” he muttered, touching the nearest servant on
“M. de Vidoche,” the man answered.
“Is he dead?”
The man cringed before him. “Dead, or as good,” he whispered. “Yes,
“Then he is not dead?”
“I do not know, sir.”
“Then why the devil are you all standing like mutes at a funeral?”
the soldier answered, with an oath. “Leaving madame alone, too. Poison,
eh? Oh!” and he whistled softly. “So that is why you are all looking on
as if the man had got the plague, is it? A pretty set of curs you are!
But here is the doctor. Out of the way now,” he added contemptuously,
“and let no one leave the room.”
He went forward with the physician, and, while the latter knelt and
made his examination, the captain muttered a few words of comfort in
madame's ear. For all she heard or heeded, however, he might have
spared his pains. She had been summoned so abruptly, and the call had
so entirely snapped the thread of her thoughts, that she had not yet
connected her husband's illness with any act of hers. She had
absolutely forgotten the enterprise of the evening, its anticipations
and hopes. For the time she was spared that horror. But this illness
alone sufficed to overwhelm her, to sink her beyond the reach of
present comfort. She no longer remembered her husband's coldness, but
only the early days when he had come to her in her country home, a
black-bearded, bold-eyed Apollo, and wooed her impetuously and with
irresistible will. All his faults, all his unkindnesses, were forgotten
now: only his beauty, his vigour, his great passion, his courage were
remembered. A dreadful pain seized her heart when she recognised that
his had ceased to beat. She peered white-faced into the physician's
eyes, she hung on his lips. If she remembered her journey to the Rue
Touchet at all, it was only to think how futile her hopes were now. He,
whom she would have won back to her, was gone from her for ever!
The doctor shook his head gravely as he rose. He had tried to bleed
the patient, without waiting, in this emergency, for a barber to be
summoned; but the blood would not flow. “It is useless,” he said. “You
must have courage, madame. More courage than is commonly required,” he
continued, in a tone of solemnity, almost of severity. He looked round
and met the captain's eyes. He made him a slight sign.
“He is dead?” she muttered.
“He is dead,” the physician answered slowly. “More, madame—my task
goes farther. It is my duty to say that he has been poisoned.”
“Dead!” she muttered, with a dry sob. “Dead!”
“Poisoned, I said, madame,” the physician answered almost harshly.
“In an older man the symptoms might be taken for those of apoplexy. But
in this case not so. M. de Vidoche has been poisoned.”
“You are clear on the point ?” the captain of the watch said. He was
a grey-haired, elderly man, lately transferred from the field to the
slums of Paris, and his kindly nature had not been wholly obliterated
by contact with villainy.
“Perfectly,” the doctor answered. “More, the poison must have been
administered within the hour.”
Madame rose shivering from the dead man's side. This new terror, so
much worse than that of death, seemed to thrust her from him, to raise
a barrier between them. The soft white robe she had thrown round her
when she ran from her bed was not whiter than her cheeks; the lights
were not brighter than her eyes, distended with horror. “Poisoned!” she
muttered. “Impossible! Who would poison him?”
“That is the question, madame,” the captain of the watch answered,
not without pity—not without admiration. “And if, as we are told, the
poison must have been given within the hour, it should not be difficult
to answer it. Let no one leave the room,” he continued, pulling his
moustachios. “Where is the valet who waited on M. de Vidoche?”
The man stood forward from the rest, shaking with alarm, and told
briefly all he knew; how he had left his master in his usual health,
and found him in some kind of seizure; how Vidoche had bidden him look
in the cup, and how he had found a sediment in it which should not have
“You mixed this wine yourself?” the captain of the watch said
The man allowed he had, whimpering and excusing himself.
“Very well. Let me see madame's woman,” was the answer. “Which is
she? She is here, I suppose. Let her stand out,”
A dozen hands were ready to point her out, a dozen lights were held
up that the Chevalier du Guet might see her the better. She was pushed,
nudged, impelled forward, until she stood trembling where the man had
stood. But not for long. The captain's first question was still on his
lips when, with a sudden gesture of despair, the woman threw herself on
her knees before him, and, grovelling in a state of abject terror,
cried out that she would tell all—all! All if they would let her go!
All if they would not torture her!
The captain's face grew stern, the lines about his mouth hardened.
“Speak!” he said curtly, and with a swift side-glance at the mistress,
who stood as if turned to stone. “Speak, but the truth only, woman!”
while a murmur of astonishment and fear ran round the circle.
It should be mentioned that at this time the crime of secret
poisoning was held in especial abhorrence in France, the poisoning of
husbands by wives more particularly. It was believed to be common; it
was suspected in many cases where it could not be proved Men felt
themselves at the mercy of women who, sharing their bed and board, had
often the motive and always the opportunity; and in proportion as the
crime was easy of commission and difficult to detect was the rigour
with which it was rewarded when detected. The high rank of the Princess
of Condé—a Tremouille by birth and a Bourbon by marriage—did not
avail to save her from torture when suspected of this; while the sudden
death of a man of position was often sufficient to expose his servants,
and particularly his wife's confidante, to the horrors of the question.
Madame's woman knew all this. Such things formed the gossip of her
class, and in a paroxysm of fear, in terror, in dread lest the moment
should pass and another forestall her, she flung both fidelity and
prudence to the winds.
“I will! I will! All!” she cried. “And I swear it is true! She went
to a house in the Tournelles quarter to-night!”
“She? Who is she, woman?” the captain asked sharply.
“My lady there! She stayed an hour. I waited outside. As we came back
a boy ran after us, and talked with her by the porch of St. Gervais.
She sent me away, and I do not know what was his business. But after we
got home, and when she thought me asleep, she crept out of the room and
came here, and put something in that cup. I heard her go, and stole to
the door, and through the curtains saw her do it, but I did not know
what it was, or what she intended. I have told the truth. But I did not
know, I did not! I swear I did not!”
The captain silenced her protestations with a fierce gesture, and
turned from her to the woman she accused. “Madame,” he said, in a low,
unsteady voice, “is this true?”
She stood with both her hands on her breast, and looked, with a face
of stone, not at him, but beyond him. She scarcely seemed to breathe,
so perfect was the dreadful stillness which held her. He thought she
did not hear: and he was about to repeat his question when she moved
her lips in a strange, mechanical fashion, and, after an effort, spoke.
“Is it true?” she whispered—in that stricken silence every syllable
was audible, and even at her first word some women fell to
shuddering—“is it true that I have killed my husband? Yes, I have
killed him. I loved him, and I have killed him. I loved him—I had no
one else to love—and I have killed him. God has let this be in this
world. You are real, and I am real. It is no dream. He has let it be.”
“Mon Dieu!” the captain muttered, while one woman broke into
noisy weeping. “She is mad!”
But madame was not mad, or only mad for the moment. “It is strange,”
she continued, with writhing lips, but in the same even tone—which to
those who had ears to hear was worse than any loud outcry—“that such a
thing should be. God should not let it be, because I loved him. I loved
him, and I have killed him. I—but perhaps I shall awake presently and
find it a dream. Or perhaps he is not dead. Is he? Ha! is he, man? Tell
With the last words, which leapt from her lips in sudden frantic
questioning, she awoke as from a trance. She sprang towards the doctor;
then, turning swiftly, looked where the corpse lay, and with a dreadful
peal of laughter threw herself upon it. Her shrill cries so filled the
air, so rang through the empty hall below, so pierced the brain, that
the captain raised his hands to his ears, and the men shrank back,
looking at the women.
“See to her!” said the captain, stamping his foot in a rage and
addressing the physician. “I must take her away, but I cannot take her
like this. See to her, man. Give her something; drug her, poison her,
if you like—anything to stop her! Her cries will ring in my ears a
twelvemonth hence. Well, woman, what is it?” he continued impatiently.
Madame's woman had touched his arm.
“The boy!” she muttered. “The boy!” Her teeth were chattering with
terror. She pointed to the place where the servants stood most thickly
near the great curtains which shut off the staircase.
He followed the direction of her hand, but saw nothing except scared
faces and cringing figures. “What boy, woman?” he retorted. “What do
“The boy who came after us to the church,” she answered. “I saw him a
minute ago—there! He was standing behind that man, looking under his
Three strides brought the captain of the watch to the place
indicated. But there was no boy there—there was no boy to be seen.
Moreover, the frightened servants who stood in that part declared that
they had seen no boy—that no boy could have been there. The captain,
believing that they had had eyes only for Madame de Vidoche, put small
faith in their protestations; but the fact remained that the boy was
gone, and the searcher returned baffled and perplexed: more than half
inclined to think that this might be a ruse on the woman's part, yet at
a loss to see what good it could do her. He asked her roughly how old
the boy was.
“About twelve,” she answered, looking nervously over her shoulder. In
truth, she began to fancy that the boy was a familiar. Or what could
bring him here? How had he entered? And whither had he vanished?
“How was he dressed?” the captain asked angrily, waving back the
servants, who would have pressed on him in their curiosity.
“In black velvet,” she answered. “But he had no cap. He was
bareheaded. And I noticed that he had black hair and blue eyes.”
“Are you sure that the boy you saw here was the boy who followed you
and spoke to madame in the street?” he urged. “Be careful, woman
“I am certain of it,” she answered feverishly. “I knew him in a
“Are you sure that madame did not bring him in with you ?”
She vowed positively that she had not, and equally positively that
the boy could not have followed them in without being seen. In this we
know that she was mistaken; but she believed it, and her belief
communicated itself to her questioner.
He rubbed his head with his hand in extreme perplexity. If the boy
were a messenger from the villain whom this wretched woman had been to
visit, what could have brought him to the house? Why had he risked
himself on the scene of the murder? Unless—unless, indeed, his mission
were to learn what happened, and to warn his master!
The captain caught that in a moment, and, thrusting the servants on
one side, despatched three or four men on the instant to the Rue
Touchet. “Pardieu!” he exclaimed, wiping his forehead when they
were gone, “I was nearly forgetting him. The villain! I will be sworn
he tempted her! But now I think I have netted all—madame, the maid,
the man, the devil!” He ticked them off on his fingers. “There is only
the lad wanting. The odds are they will get him, too, in the Rue
Touchet. So far, so good. But it is hateful work,” the old soldier
continued, with an oath, looking askance at the group which surrounded
madame and the doctor. “They will—ugh! it is horrible. It would be a
mercy to give her a dose now, and end all.”
But there was no one to take the responsibility, and so the few who
were abroad very early that morning saw a strange and mournful
procession pass through the streets of Paris; those streets which have
seen so many grisly and so many fantastic things. An hour before
daybreak a litter, surrounded by a crowd of armed men, some bearing
torches and some pikes and halberds, came out of the Hotel Vidoche and
passed slowly down the Rue St. Denis. The night was at its darkest, the
wind at its keenest. Vagrant wretches, lying out in the Halles, rose up
and walked for their lives, or slowly froze and perished.
But there are worse things than death in the open; worse, at any
rate, than that death which comes with kindly numbing power. And some
of these knew it; nay, all. The poorest outcast whom the glare of the
cressets surprised as he lurked in porch or penthouse, the leanest
beggar who looked out startled by the clang and tramp, knew himself
happier than the king's prisoner bound for the Châtelet; and, hugging
his rags, thanked Heaven for it.
Chapter 8. THE MARK OF CAIN
When Jehan, in a fever of indignation, slipped stealthily out of the
house in the Rue Touchet and sped up the dark, quiet street after
Madame de Vidoche, he had no subtler purpose in his mind than to
overtake her and warn her. The lady had spoken kindly to him on the
night of the supper at Les Andelys. She was young, weak, oppressed; the
plot against her seemed to the child to be fiendish in its artfulness.
It needed no more to rouse every chivalrous instinct in his nature—and
these in a boy should be many, or woe betide the man—and determine him
to save her.
He thought that if he could overtake her and warn her all would be
well; and at first his purpose went no farther than that. But as he
ran, now looking over his shoulder in terror, and now peering into the
darkness ahead, sometimes slipping into the gutter in his haste, and
sometimes stumbling over a projecting step, a new and whimsical thought
flashed into his mind, and in a moment fascinated him. How it came to
one so young, whether the astrologer's duplicity, to which he had been
a witness, suggested it, or it sprang from some precocious aptitude in
the boy's own nature, it is impossible to say. But on a sudden there it
was in his mind, full-grown, full-armed, a perfect scheme. He had only
a few minutes in which to consider it before he caught madame up, and
the time to put it into execution came; but in that interval he found
no flaw in it. Rather he revelled in it. It satisfied the boy's stern
sense of retribution and justice. It more than satisfied the boy's love
of mischief and trickery.
He felt not the slightest misgiving, therefore, when it came to
playing his part. He went through it without pity, without a scruple or
thought of responsibility—nay, he followed madame home, and hid
himself behind the curtain, with no feeling of apprehension as to what
was coming, with no qualms of conscience.
But when he had seen all, and lying spell-bound in his hiding-place
had witnessed the tragedy, when covering his ears with his hands, and
cowering down as if he would cower through the floor, he had heard
Vidoche's death-cry and winced at each syllable of madame's
heart-broken utterance—when, with quaking limbs and white cheeks, he
had crept at last down the stairs and fled from the accursed house,
then the boy knew all; knew what he had done, and was horror-stricken!
Even the darkness and freezing cold were welcome, if he might escape
from that house—if he might leave those haunting cries behind. But
how? by what road? He fled through street after street, alley after
alley, over bridges, and along quays, by the doors of churches and the
gates of prisons. But everywhere the sights and sounds went with him,
forestalled him, followed him. He could not forget. When at last,
utterly exhausted, he flung himself down on a pile of refuse in a
distant corner of the Halles, his heart seemed bursting. He had killed
a man. He had worse than killed a woman. He would be hung. The
astrologer had told him truly; he was doomed, given up to evil and the
He lay for a long time panting and shuddering, with his face hidden;
while a burst of agony, provoked by some sudden pang of remembrance,
now and again racked his frame. The spot he had, almost unconsciously,
chosen for his hiding-place was a corner between two stalls, at the
east end of the market: an angle well sheltered from the wind, and
piled breast-high with porters' knots and rubbish. The air was a little
less bitter there than outside; and by good fortune he had thrown
himself down on an old sack, which he, by-and-bye, drew over him.
Otherwise he must have perished. As it was, he presently sobbed himself
into an uneasy slumber; but only to awake in a few minutes with a
scream of affright and a dismal return of all his apprehensions.
Still, nature was already at work to console him; and misery sleeps
proverbially well. After a time he dozed again for a few minutes, and
then again. At length, a little before daybreak, he went off into a
sounder sleep, from which he did not awake until the wintry sun was
nearly an hour up, and old-fashioned people were thinking of dinner.
After opening his eyes, he lay a while between sleeping and waking,
with the sense of some unknown trouble heavy upon him. On a sudden a
voice, a harsh, rasping voice, speaking a strange clipped jargon,
roused him effectually. “He is a runaway!” the voice said, with two or
three unnecessary oaths. “A crown to a penny on it, my bullyboys! Well,
it is an ill-wind blows no one any good. Rouse up the little shaveling,
will you? That is not the way! Here, lend it me.”
The next moment the boy sat up, with a cry of pain, for a heavy
porter's knot fell on his shin-bone and nearly broke it. He found
himself confronted by three or four grinning ruffians, whose eyes
glistened as they scanned his velvet clothes and the little silver
buttons that fastened them. The man who had spoken before seemed to be
the leader of the party: a filthy beggar with-one arm and a hare-lip.
“Ho! ho!” he chuckled; “so you can feel, M. le Marquis, can you! Flesh
and blood like other folk. And doubtless with money in your pockets to
pay for your night's lodging.”
He hauled the child to him and passed his hands through his clothes.
But he found nothing, and his face grew dark. “Morbleu!” he
swore. “The little softy has brought nothing away with him!”
The other men, gathering round, glared at the boy hungrily. In the
middle of the Forest of Bondy he could not have been more at their
mercy than he was in this quiet corner of the market, where a velvet
coat with silver buttons was as rare a sight as a piece of the true
cross. Two or three houseless wretches looked on from their frowsy
lairs under the stalls, but no one dreamed of interfering with the men
in possession. As for the boy, he gazed at his captors stolidly; he was
white, mute, apathetic.
“Plague, if I don't think the lad is a softy!” said one, staring at
“Not he!” replied the man who had hold of him. And roughly seizing
the boy by the head with his huge hand, he forced up an eyelid with his
finger as if to examine the eye. The boy uttered a cry of pain.
“There!” said the ruffian, grinning with triumph. “He is all right. The
question is, what shall we do with him?”
“There are his clothes,” one muttered, eyeing the boy greedily.
“To be sure, there are always his clothes,” was the answer. “It does
not take an Armand Jean du Plessis de Richelieu to see that, gaby! And,
of course, they would melt to the tune of something apiece! But maybe
we can do better than that with him. He has run away. You don't find
truffles on the dung-hill every day.”
“Well,” said his duller fellows, their eyes beginning to sparkle with
greed, “what then, Bec de Lièvre?”
“If we take him home again, honest market porters, why should we not
be rewarded? Eh, my bully-boys?”
“That is a bright idea!” said one. So said another. The rest nodded.
“Ask him where he lives, when he is at home.”
They did. But Jehan remained mute. “Twist his arm!” said the last
speaker. “He will soon tell you. Or stick your finger in his eye again!
Blest if I don't think the kid is dumb!” the man continued, gazing with
astonishment at the boy's dull face and lack-lustre eyes.
“I think I shall find a tongue for him,” the former operator replied
with a leer. “Here, sonny, answer before you are hurt, will you? Where
do you live?”
But Jehan remained silent. The ruffian raised his hand. In another
moment it would have fallen, but in the nick of time came an
interruption. “Nom de ma mere!” someone close at hand cried, in a voice
of astonishment. “It is my Jehan!”
Two of the party in possession turned savagely on the intruder—a
middle-sized man with foxy eyes, and a half-starved ape on his
shoulder. “Who asked you to speak?” snarled one. “Begone about your
business, my fine fellow, or I shall be making a hole in you!” cried
“But he is my boy!” the new-comer answered, fairly trembling with joy
and astonishment. “He is my boy!”
“Your boy ?” cried Bec de Lièvre, in a tone of contempt. “You look
like it, don't you? You look as if you dined on gold plate every day
and had a Rohan to your cup-bearer, you do! Go along, man; don't try to
bamboozle us, or it will be the worse for you!” And with an angry scowl
he turned to his victim.
But the showman, though he was a coward, was not to be put down so
easily. “It is the boy who is bamboozling you!” he said. “You take him
for a swell! It is only his show dress he has on. He is a tumbler's
boy, I tell you. He circled the pole with me for two years. Last
November he ran away. If you do not believe me, ask the monkey. See,
the monkey knows him.”
Bec de Lievre had to acknowledge that the monkey did know him. For
the poor beast was no sooner brought close to its old playmate than it
sprang upon him and covered him with caresses, gibbering and crying out
the while after so human a fashion that it might well have moved hearts
less hard. The boy did not return its endearments, however; but a look
of intelligence came into his eyes, and on a sudden he heaved a sigh as
if his heart was breaking.
The men who had taken possession of him looked at one another. “It
was the boy's cursed clothes fooled us,” Bec de Liêvre growled
savagely. “We will have them, at any rate. Strip him and have done with
it. And do you keep off, Master Tumbler, or we will tumble you.”
But when the showman, who was trembling with delight and
anticipation, made them understand that he would give a crown for the
boy as he was in his clothes—“and that is more than the fence will
give you,” he added—they began to see reason. True, they stood out for
a while for a higher price; but the bargain was eventually struck at a
crown and a livre, and the boy handed over.
Master Crafty Eyes' hand shook as he laid it on the child's collar
and turned him round so that he might see his face the better. Bec de
Lièvre discerned the man's excitement, and looked at him curiously.
“You must be very fond of the lad,” he said.
The showman's eyes glittered ferociously. “So fond of him,” he said,
in a mocking tone, “that when I get him home I shall—oh, I shall not
hurt his fine clothes, or his face, or his little brown hands, for
those all show, and they are worth money to me. But I shall—I shall
put a poker in the fire, and then Master Jehan will take off his new
clothes so that they may not be singed, and—I shall teach him several
new tricks with the poker.”
“You are a queer one,” the other answered. “I'll be shot if you don't
look like a man with a good dinner before him.”
“That is the man I am,” the showman answered, a hideous smile
distorting his face. “I have gone without dinner or supper many a day
because my little friend here chose to run away one fine night, when he
was on the point of making my fortune. But I am going to dine now. I am
going to feed—on him!”
“Well, every man to his liking,” the hare-lipped beggar answered
indifferently. “You have paid for your dinner, and may cook it as you
please, for me.”
“I am going to,” the showman answered, with an ugly look. He plucked
the boy almost off his feet as he spoke, and while the men cried after
him “Bon appetite!” and jeered, dragged him away across the open
part of the market; finally disappearing with him in one of the noisome
alleys which then led out of the Halles on the east side.
His way lay through a rabbit-warren of beetling passages and narrow
lanes, where the boy, once loose, could have dodged him a hundred ways
and escaped; and he held him with the utmost precaution, expecting him
every moment to make a desperate attempt at it. But Jehan was not the
old Jehan who had turned and twisted, walked and frolicked on the rope,
and in the utmost depths of ill-treatment had still kept teeth to bite
and spirit to use them. He was benumbed body and soul. He had had no
food for nearly twenty hours. He had passed the night exposed to the
cold. He had gone through intense excitement, horror, despair. So he
stumbled along, with Vidoche's dying cries in his ears, and, famished,
frozen, bemused, met the showman's threats with a face of fixed,
impassive apathy. He was within a very little of madness.
For a time Crafty Eyes did not heed this strange impassiveness. The
showman's fancy was busy with the punishment he would inflict when he
got the boy home to his miserable room. He gloated in anticipation over
the tortures he would contrive, and the care he would take that they
should not maim or disfigure the boy. When he had him tied down, and
the door locked, and the poker heated—ah! how he would enjoy himself!
The ruffian licked his lips. His eyes sparkled with pleasure. He jerked
the boy along in his hideous impatience.
But after a time the child's bearing began to annoy him. He stopped
and, holding him with one hand, beat him brutally on the head with the
other, until the boy fell and hung in his grasp. Then he dragged him up
roughly and hauled him on with volleys of oaths; still scowling at him
from time to time, as if, somehow, he found this little foretaste of
vengeance less satisfying than he had expected.
There were people coming and going in the dark filthy lane where this
happened—a place where smoke-grimed gables almost met overhead, and
the gutter was choked with refuse—but no one interfered. What was a
little beating more or less? Or, for the matter of that, what was a boy
more or less? The hulking loafers and frowsy slatterns, who huddled for
warmth in corners, nodded their heads and looked on approvingly. They
had their own brats to beat and business to mind. There was no one to
take the boy's part. And another hundred yards would lodge him in the
At that last moment the boy awoke from his trance and understood; and
in a convulsion of fear hung back and struggled, screaming and throwing
himself down. The man dragged him up savagely, and was in the act of
taking him up bodily to carry him, when a person, who had already
passed the pair once, came back and looked at the boy again. The next
moment a hand fell on the showman's arm, and a voice said, “Stop! What
boy is that?”
The showman looked up, saw that the intervener was a priest, and
sneered. “What is that to you, father?” he said, trying by a side
movement to pass by. “Not one of your flock, at any rate.”
“No, but you are!” the priest retorted in a strangely sonorous voice.
He was a stalwart man, with a mobile face and sad eyes that seemed out
of keeping with the rest of him. “You are! And if you do not this
minute set him down and answer my question, you ruffian, when your time
comes you shall go to the tree alone!”
“Diable!” the showman muttered, startled yet scowling. “Who are you,
“I am Father Bernard. Now tell me about that boy, and truly. What
have you been doing to him? Ay, you may well tremble, rascal!”
For the showman was trembling. In the Paris of that day the name of
Father Bernard was almost as well known as the name of Cardinal
Richelieu. There was not a night-prowler or cutpurse, bully or
swindler, who did not know it, and dream in his low fits, when the
drink was out and the money spent, of the day when he would travel by
Father Bernard's side to Montfaucon, and find no other voice' and no
other eye to pity him in his trouble. Impelled by feelings of humanity,
rare at that time, this man made it his life-work to attend on all who
were cast for execution; to wait on them in prison, and be with them at
the last, and by his presence and words of comfort to alleviate their
sufferings here, and bring them to a better mind. He had become so well
known in this course of work that the king himself did him honour, and
the Cardinal granted him special rights. The mob also. The priest
passed unharmed through the lowest wynds of Paris, and penetrated
habitually to places where the Lieutenant of the Chátelet, with a dozen
pikes at his back, would not have been safe for a moment.
This was the man whose stern voice brought the showman to a
standstill. Master Crafty Eyes faltered. Then he remembered that the
boy was his boy, that his title to him was good. He said so sulkily.
“Your boy?” the priest replied, frowning. “Who are you, then?”
“An acrobat, father.”
“So I thought. But do acrobats' boys wear black velvet clothes with
“He was stolen from me,” the showman answered eagerly. He had a good
conscience as to the clothes. “I have only just recovered him, father.”
“Who stole him? Where has he been?” The priest spoke quickly, and
with no little excitement. He looked narrowly at the boy the while,
holding him at arm's length. “Where did he spend last night, for
The showman spread out his palms and shrugged his shoulders. “How
should I know?” he said. “I was not with him.”
“He has black hair and blue eyes!”
“Yes. But what of that?” Crafty Eyes answered. “I can swear to him.
He is my boy.”
“And mine!” Father Bernard retorted with energy. “The boy I want!”
The priest's eyes sparkled, his form seemed to dilate with triumph. “
Deo laus! Deo laus!” he murmured sonorously, so that a score of
loiterers who had gathered round, and were staring and shivering by
turns, fell back affrighted and crossed themselves. He is the boy! God
has put him in my way this day as clearly as if an angel had led me by
the hand. And he goes with me; he goes with me. Chut, man!”—this to
the showman, who stood frowning in his path— “don't dare to look black
at me. The boy goes with me, I say. I want him for a purpose. If you
choose you can come too.”
“To the Châtelet,” Father Bernard answered, with a grim chuckle. “You
don't seem to relish the idea. But do as you please.”
“You will take the boy?”
“This moment,” the priest answered.
“Mon Dieu! but you shall not!” the showman exclaimed. Wrath for the
moment drove out fear. He seized the child by the arm. “He is my boy!
You shall not, I say!” he cried, almost foaming with rage. “He is
“Idiot! Beast! Gallows-bird!” the priest thundered in reply. “For
one-half of a denier I would throw you into the next street! Let go, or
I will blast you with—Oh, it is well for you you are reasonable. Now
begone! Begone! or, at a word from me, there are a score here will—”
He did not finish his sentence, for the showman fell back
panic-stricken, and stood off among the crowd, malevolence and craven
fear struggling for the mastery in his countenance. The priest took the
boy up gently in his arms and looked at him. His face grew strangely
mild as he did so. The black brows grew smooth, the lips relaxed. “Get
a little water,” he said to the nearest man, a hulking, olive-skinned
Southerner. “The child has swooned.”
“Your pardon, father,” the man answered. “He is dead.”
But Father Bernard shook his head. “No, my son,” he said kindly. “He
who led me here to-day will keep life in him a little longer. God's
ways never end in a cul-de-sac. Get the water. He has swooned only.”
Chapter 9. BEFORE THE COURT
Since the poisoning of the Prince of Condé by his servant, Brillaut,
at the instigation—as was alleged and commonly believed—of Madame la
Princesse, no tragedy of the kind had caused a greater sensation in
Paris, or been the subject of more talk, than the murder of M. de
Vidoche. The remarkable circumstances which attended it—and which lost
nothing in the narration—its immediate discovery, the apparent lack of
motive, and the wealth, rank, and youth of the guilty wife, all helped,
with the fulness of Paris at this time and the absence of any stirring
political news, to make it the one topic of interest. Nothing else was
talked of in chamber or tennis court, in the Grand Gallery at the
Louvre, or in the cardinal's ante-room at the Palais Richelieu. Culprit
and victim were alike well known. M. de Vidoche, if no favourite, had
been at least a conspicuous figure in society. He had been cast for one
of the parts in the royal troupe at the Christmas carnival. His
flirtation with Mademoiselle de Farincourt had been sufficiently marked
to cause both amusement and interest. And if madame was a less familiar
figure at Court, if she had a reputation somewhat prudish, and an air
of rusticity that did not belie it, and was even less of a favourite
than her husband, her position as a great heiress and the last of an
old family gave her a cachet which did not fail to make her
Gladly would the great ladies in their coaches have gone down to the
Châtelet to stare at her after the cruel fashion of that day; and,
after buzzing round her in her misery, have gone away with a hundred
tales of how she looked, and what she wore, and what she said in
prison. But madame was saved this—this torture worse than the
question—by the physician's order that no one should be admitted to
her. He laid this down so strenuously—telling the lieutenant that if
she had not complete repose for twenty-four hours he would be
answerable neither for her life nor her reason—that that officer, who,
like the Chevalier du Guet, was an old soldier, replied “No” to the
most pressing insistences; and save and except Father Bernard, who had
the entrée at all hours by the king's command, would let no one
go in to her. “It will be bad enough by-and-bye,” he said, with an
oath. “If she did it, she will be punished. But she shall have a little
But the great world, baffled on this point, grew only the more
curious; circulated stories only the more outrageous; and nodded and
winked and whispered only the more assiduously. Would she be put to the
question? And by the rack, or the boot, or the water torture? And who
was the man? Of course there was a man. Now if it had been M. de
Vidoche who had poisoned her, that would have been plain,
intelligible, perspicuous; since everyone knew—and so on, and so on,
with Mademoiselle de Farincourt's name at intervals.
It was believed that madame would be first examined in private; but
late at night, on the day before Christmas Eve, a sealed order came to
the Lieutenant of the Châtelet, commanding him to present madame, with
her servants and all concerned in the case, at the Palais de Justice on
the following. morning. Late as it was, the news was known in every
part of Paris that night. Marshal Bassompierre, lying in the Bastille,
heard it, and regretted he could not see the sight. It was rumoured
that the king would attend in person; even that the trial had been
hastened for his pleasure. It was certain that half the Court would be
there, and the other half, if it could find room. The great ladies, who
had failed to storm the Châtelet, hoped to succeed better at the
Palais, and the First President of the Court, and even the
Commissioners appointed to sit with him, found their doors beset at
dawn with delicate “poulets,” or urgent, importunate
Madame de Vidoche, the man and maid, were brought from the Châtelet
to the Conciergerie an hour before daylight—madame in her coach, with
her woman, the man on foot. That cold morning ride was such as few,
thank God, are called on to endure. To the horrors of anticipation the
lost wife, scarcely more than a girl, had to add the misery of
retrospection; to the knowledge of what she had done, a woman's
shrinking from the doom that threatened her, from shame and pain and
death. But that which she felt perhaps as keenly as anything, as she
crouched in a corner of her curtained vehicle and heard the yells which
everywhere saluted its appearance, was the sudden sense of loneliness
and isolation. True, the Lieutenant sat opposite to her, but his face
was hard. She was no longer a woman to him, but a prisoner, a
murderess, a poisoner. And the streets were thronged, in spite of the
cold and the early hour. On the Pont au Change the people ran beside
the coach and strove to get a sight of her, and jeered and sang and
shouted. And at the entrance to the Palais, in the room in the
Conciergerie where she had to wait, on the staircase to the court
above, everywhere it was the same; all were set so thick with
faces—staring, curious faces—that the guards could scarcely make a
way for her. But she was cut off from all. She was no longer of
them—of things living. Not one said a kind word to her; not one looked
sympathy or pity. On a sudden, in a moment, with hundreds gazing at
her, she, a delicate woman, found herself a thing apart, unclean, to be
shunned. A thing, no longer a person. A prisoner, no longer a woman.
They placed a seat for her, and she sank into it, feeling at first
nothing but the shame of being so stared at. But presently she had to
rise and be sworn, and then, as she became conscious of other things,
as the details of the crowded chamber forced them. selves on her
attention, and she saw which were the judges, and heard herself called
upon to answer the questions that should be put to her, the instinct of
self-preservation, the desire to clear herself, to escape and live,
took hold of her. A late instinct, for hitherto all her thoughts had
been of the man she had killed—her husband; but the fiercer for that.
A burning flush suddenly flamed in her cheeks. Her eyes grew bright,
her heart began to beat quickly. She turned giddy.
She knew only of one way in which she could escape; only of one man
that could help her; and even while the first judge was in the act of
calling upon her, she turned from him and looked round. She looked to
the right, to the left, then behind her, for Nótredame. He, if he told
the truth, could clear her! He could say that she had come to him for a
charm, and not for poison! And he only! But where was he? There was her
woman, trembling and weeping, waiting to be called. There was the
valet, pale and frightened. There were twice a hundred indifferent
people. But Nôtredame? He was not visible. He was not there. When she
had satisfied herself of this, she sank back with a moan of despair.
She gave up hope again. A hundred curious eyes saw the colour fade from
her cheeks; her eyes grew dull, the whole woman collapsed.
The examination began. She gave her name in a hollow whisper.
It was the practice of that day, and still is, in French courts, to
take advantage of any self-betrayal or emotion on the part of the
accused person. It is the duty of the judges to observe the prisoner
constantly and narrowly; and the First President, on an occasion such
as this, was not the man to overlook anything which was visible to the
ordinary spectator. Instead, therefore, of pursuing the regular
interrogatory he had in his mind, he leaned forward and asked madame
what was the matter.
“I wish for the man Solomon Nôtredame,” Madame de Vidoche answered,
rising and speaking in a choking voice.
“That is the man from whom you bought the poison, I think?” the judge
answered, affecting to look at his notes.
“Yes, but as a love-philtre—not a poison,” madame said in a whisper.
“I wish him to be here.”
“You wish to be confronted with him?”
“With the man Solomon Nôtredame?
“Then you shall be, presently,” the judge replied, leaning back, and
casting a singular glance at his colleagues. “Be satisfied. And now,
madame,” he continued gravely, as his eyes returned to her, “it is my
duty to help you to tell, and your duty to confess frankly, all that
you know concerning this matter. Be good enough, therefore, to collect
yourself, and answer my questions fully and truly, as you hope for
mercy here and hereafter. So you will save yourself pain, and such also
as shall examine you; and may best deserve, in the worst case, the
As he uttered this exhortation madame clung to the bar behind which
she stood, and seemed for the moment about to faint, so that the
President waited awhile before he proceeded. She looked, indeed,
ghostly. Her white face gleamed through the fog—which, rising from the
river, was fast filling the chamber—like a face seen for an instant on
a wreck through mist and spray and tempest. Ladies who had known her as
an equal, and who now gazed heartlessly down at her from galleries,
felt a pleasant thrill of excitement, and whispered that they had not
braved the early cold for nothing. There was not a man in the court who
did not expect to see her fall.
But there is in women a power of endurance far exceeding that of men.
By an immense effort madame regained control over herself. She answered
the President's opening questions faintly but clearly; and, being led
at once to tell of her visit to Nôtredame, had sufficient sense of her
position to dwell plainly on the two facts important to her—that the
object of her visit was a love-potion, and not a poison, and that the
instructions first given to her were to take it herself. The latter
assertion produced a startling impression in the court. It was
completely unexpected; and though ninety-nine out of a hundred fancied
it the bold invention of a desperate woman, all allowed that it added
zest to the case.
Naturally the President pressed her hard on these points. He strove,
both by cajolery, and by stating objections, to make her withdraw from
them. But she would not. Nor could he entrap her into narrating
anything at variance with them. At length he desisted. “Very well, we
will leave that,” he said; and so subtly had her story gained sympathy
for her that the sigh of relief uttered in the court was perfectly
audible. “We will pass on, if you please. The boy who overtook you in
the street, and, as you say, altered all? Who was he, madame?”
“I do not know.”
“You had seen him before?”
“Did he not open the door at this Nôtredame's when you entered the
“Nor when you left?”
“How did you know, then, madame, that he came from this abominable
person whom you had been visiting?”
“He said he did.”
“And do you tell us,” the judge retorted, “that on the mere word of
this boy, whom you did not know and had never seen, without the
assurance of any token or countersign, you disregarded the man
Nôtredame's directions on the most vital point, and, instead of taking
this drug yourself, gave it to your husband?”
“Without suspecting that it was other than that for which you had
“Madame,” the judge said slowly, “it is incredible.” He looked for a
moment at his colleagues, as if to collect their opinions. They nodded.
He turned , to her again. “Do you not see that?” he said almost kindly.
“I do not,” madame answered firmly. “It is true.”
“Describe the boy, if you please.”
“He had—I think he had dark clothes,” she answered, faltering for
the first time. “He looked about twelve years old.”
“Yes,” the President said; “go on.”
“He had—I could not see any more,” madame muttered faintly. “It was
“And do you expect us to believe this?” the President replied with
warmth, real or assumed. “Do you expect us to believe such a story? Or
that it was at the instance of this boy only—this boy of whom you knew
nothing, whom you cannot describe, whom you had never seen before—that
it was at his instance only that you gave this drug to your husband,
instead of taking it yourself?”
She reeled slightly, clinging to the bar. The court swam before her.
She saw, as he meant her to see, the full hopelessness of her position,
the full strength of the case which fate had made against her, her
impotence, her helplessness. Yet she forced herself to make an effort.
“It is the truth,” she said, in a broken voice. “I loved him.”
“Ah!” the President replied cynically. He repressed by a gesture a
slight disturbance at the rear of the court. “That, of course. It is
part of the story. Or why a love-philtre? But do you not see, madame,”
he continued, bending his brows and speaking in the tone he used to
common criminals, “that all the wives in Paris might poison their
husbands, and when they were found out say 'It was a love-potion,' if
you are to escape? No, no; we must have some better tale than that.”
She looked at him in terror and shame. “I have no other,” she cried
wildly. “That is the truth. If you do not believe me, there is
Nôtredame. Ask him.”
“You applied to be confronted with him some time back,” the President
answered, looking aside at his colleagues, who nodded. Is that still
She murmured “Yes,” with dry lips.
“Then let him be called,” the judge answered solemnly. “ Let Solomon
Nôtredame be called and confronted with the accused.”
The order was received with a general stir, a movement of curiosity
and expectation. Those in the galleries leaned forward to see the
better; those at the back stood up. Madame, with her lips parted and
her breath coming quickly—madame, the poor centre of all—gazed with
her soul in her eyes towards the door at which she saw others gazing.
All for her depended on this man—the man she was about to see. Would
he lie and accuse her? Or would he tell the truth and corroborate her
story—say, in a word, that she had come for a love-charm, and not for
poison? Surely this last? Surely it would be to his interest?
But while she gazed with her soul in her eyes, the door which had
been partly opened fell shut again, and disappointed her. At the same
moment there was a general movement and rustling round her, an uprising
in every part of the chamber. In bewilderment, almost in impatience,
she turned towards the judges and found that they had risen too. Then
through a door behind them she saw six gentlemen file in, with a flash
and sparkle of colour that lit up the sombre bench. The first was the
Louis was about thirty-five years old at this time—a dark, sallow
man, wearing black, with a wide-leafed hat, in which a costly diamond
secured a plume of white feathers. He carried a walking cane, and
saluted the judges as he entered. Three gentlemen—two about the king's
age, the third a burly, soldierly man of sixty—followed him, and took
their places behind the canopied chair placed for him. The fifth to
enter—but he passed behind the judges and took a chair which stood on
their left—wore a red robe trimmed with fur, and a small red cap. He
was a man of middle height and pale complexion, keen Italian features
and bright piercing eyes, and so far was not remarkable. But he had
also a coal-black moustache and chin tuft, and milk-white hair; and
this contrast won him recognition everywhere. He was Armand Jean du
Plessis, Duke and Cardinal Richelieu, soldier, priest, and play-writer,
and for sixteen years the ruler of France.
Madame gazed at them with a beating heart, with wild hopes that would
rise, despite herself. But, oh God! how coldly their eyes met hers!
With what a stony stare! With what curiosity, indifference, contempt!
Alas, they had come for that. They had come to stare. This was their
Christmas show—part of their Christmas. revels. And she—she was a
woman on her trial, a poisoner, a murderess, a vile thing to be
questioned, tortured, dragged to a shameful death!
For a moment or two the king talked with the judges. Then he sat back
in his chair. The President made a sign, and an usher in a sonorous
voice cried, “Solomon Nôtredame! Let Solomon Nôtredame stand forth!”
Chapter 10. TWO WITNESSES
Madame De Vidoche heard the name and braced herself again, turning
towards the door as others turned, and waiting with dry lips and
feverish eyes for the man who was to save her—to save her in spite of
king and court. Would he never come? The door stood open, remained
open. She could see through it the passage with its bare walls and
dusky ceiling, and hear in the hushed silence a noise of shuffling
feet. Gradually the noise grew louder; though it still seemed a thing
by itself, and so distant that in the court where they waited, with
every eye expectant, the slightest sound, the lowest whisper was
audible. When the usher cried again, “Solomon Nôtredame, stand
forward!” more than one glanced at him angrily. He balked their
Ha! at last! But they were carrying him! Madame shivered slightly as
she watched the four men come slowly along the passage, bearing a chair
between them. At the door they stumbled and paused, giving her time to
think. They had been racking him, then, and he could not walk; she
might have guessed it. Her cheek, white before, became a shade
ghastlier, and she clutched the bar with a firmer grip.
They brought him slowly down the three steps and through the narrow
passage towards her. The men who carried him blocked her view, but she
saw presently that there was something odd about his head. When they
set him down, three paces from her, she saw what it was. His face was
covered. There was a loose cloth over his head, and he leaned forward
in a strange way.
What did it mean? She began to tremble, gazing at him wildly,
expecting she knew not what. And he did not move.
Suddenly the President's solemn voice broke the silence. “Madame,” he
said—but it seemed to her that he was speaking a long way off—“here
is your witness. You asked to be confronted with him, and the court,
hoping that this may be the more merciful way of inducing you to
confess your crime, assent to the request. But I warn you that he is a
witness not for you, but against you. He has confessed.”
For a moment she looked dumbly at the speaker; then her eyes went
back to the veiled figure in the chair—it had a horrible attraction
“Unhappy woman,” the President continued, in solemn accents, “he has
confessed. Will you now, before you look upon him, do likewise?”
She shook her head. She would have denied, protested, cried that she
was not guilty; but her throat was parched—she had lost her voice,
hope, all. There was a drumming noise in the court; or perhaps it was
in her head. It was growing dark, too.
“He has confessed,” she heard the President go on—but he was
speaking a long, long way off now, and his voice came to her ears
dully—“by executing on himself that punishment which otherwise the law
would have imposed. Are you still obstinate? Let the face be uncovered
then. Now, wretched woman, look on your accomplice.”
Perhaps he spoke in mercy, and to prepare her; for she looked, and
did not at once swoon, though the sight of that dead yellow face, with
its stony eyes and open mouth, drew shrieks from more than one. The
self-poisoner had done his work well. The sombre features wore even in
death a cynical grin, the lips a smile of triumph. But this was on the
surface. In the glassy eyes, dull and lustreless, lurked—as all saw
who gazed closely—a horror; a look of sudden awakening, as if in the
moment of dissolution the wicked man had come face to face with
judgment; and, triumphant over his earthly foes, had met on the
threshold of the dark world a shape that froze the very marrow in his
Grimmest irony that he who had so long sported with the things of
death, and traded on men's fear of it, should himself be brought here
dead, to be exposed and gazed at! Of small use now his tricks and
chemicals, his dark knowledge and the mystery in which he had wrapped
himself. Orcus had him, grim head, black heart and all.
A moment, I have said, madame stared. Then gradually the truth, the
hideous truth, came home to her. He was dead! He had killed himself!
The horror of it overcame her at last. With a shuddering cry she fell
swooning to the floor.
When she came to herself again—after how long an interval she could
not tell— and the piled faces and sharp outlines of the court began to
shape themselves out of the mist, her first thought, as remembrance
returned, was of the ghastly figure in the chair. With an
effort—someone was sponging her forehead, and would have restrained
her—she turned her head and looked. To her relief it was gone. She
sighed, and closing her eyes lay for a time inert, hearing the hum of
voices, but paying no attention. But gradually the misery of her
position took hold of her again, and with a faint moan she looked up.
In a moment she fell to trembling and crying softly, for her eyes met
those of the woman who stooped over her and read there something new,
strange, wonderful—kindness. The woman patted her hand softly, and
murmured to her to be still and to listen. She was listening herself
between times, and presently madame followed her example.
Dull as her senses still were, she noticed that the king sat forward
with an odd keen look on his face, that the judges seemed startled,
that even the Cardinal's pale features were slightly flushed. And not
one of all had eyes for her. They were looking at a boy who stood at
the end of the table, beside a priest. The cold light from a window
fell full on his face, and he was speaking. “I listened,” she heard him
“And how long a time elapsed before Madame de Vidoche came?” the
President asked, continuing, apparently, an examination of which she
had missed the first part.
“Half an hour, I think,” the boy answered, in a clear, bold tone.
“You are sure it was poison he required?”
“I am sure.”
“You heard both interviews?”
“You are sure of the arrangement made between Vidoche and this man,
of which you have told us? That the poison should be given to madame in
the form of a love-philtre? That she might take it herself?
“I am sure.”
“And it was you who ran after Madame de Vidoche and told her that the
draught was to be given to her husband instead?”
“Do you acknowledge, then,” the President continued slowly, “that it
was you who, in fact, killed M. de Vidoche?”
For the first time the boy faltered and stumbled, and looked this way
and that as if for a chance of escape. But there was none, and Father
Bernard, by laying his hand on his arm, seemed to give him courage. “I
do,” he answered, in a low tone.
“Why?” the President demanded, with a quick look at his colleagues.
He spoke amid an irrepressible murmur of interest. The tale had been
told once, but it was a tale that bore telling.
“Because—I heard him plan his wife's death—and I thought it right,”
the boy stammered, terror growing in his eyes. “I wanted to save her. I
did not know. I did not think.”
The President looked towards the king, but suddenly from an
unexpected quarter came an interruption. Madame rose trembling to her
feet and stood grasping the bar before her. Her face passed from white
to red, and red to white. Her eyes glittered through her tears. The
woman beside her would have held her back, but she would not be
restrained. “What is this?” she panted. “Does he say that my husband
“Yes, madame, he does,” the President answered indulgently.
“And that he came for poison—for me?”
“He says so, madame.”
She looked at him for a moment wildly, then sank back on her stool
and began to sob. She had gone through so many emotions; love and
death, shame and fear, had so sported with her during the last few days
that she could taste nothing to the full now, neither sweet nor bitter.
As the dawning of life and hope had left her rather dazed than
thankful, so this stab, that a little earlier would have pierced her
very heartstrings, did but prick her. Afterwards the thankfulness and
the pain—and the healing—might come. But here in the presence of all
these people, where so much had happened to her, she could only sob
The President turned again to the king. Louis nodded, and with a
painful effort—for he stammered terribly—spoke. “Who is th-this lad?”
he said. “Ask him.”
The judge bowed and returned to the witness. “You call yourself Jean
de Bault?” he said somewhat roughly. The name, and especially the
particle, displeased him.
The boy assented.
“Who are you, then?”
Jehan opened his mouth to answer, but Father Bernard interposed.
“Tell His Majesty,” he said, “what you told me.”
After a moment's hesitation the boy complied, speaking fast, with his
face on his breast and a flushed cheek. Nevertheless, in the silence
every word reached the ear. “I am Jehan de Bault,” he pattered in his
treble voice, “seigneur of I know not where, and lord of seventeen
lordships in the county of Perigord” and so on, and so on, through the
quaint formula to which we have listened more than once.
Ninety-nine out of a hundred who heard him, heard him with
incredulous surprise, and took the tale for a mountebank's patter;
though patter, they acknowledged it was of a novel kind, aptly made and
well spoken. Two or three of the bolder laughed. There had been little
to laugh at before. The king moved restlessly in his chair, saying,
“Pish! Wh-hat is this rubbish? What is he s-saying?”
The President frowned, and taking his cue from the king, was about to
rebuke the boy sharply, when one who had not before spoken, but whose
voice in an instant produced silence among high and low, intervened.
“The tale rings true!” the Cardinal said, in low, suave accents. “But
there is no family of Bault in Perigord, is there?”
“With His Majesty's permission, no!” replied a bluff, hearty voice;
and therewith the elderly soldier who had come in with the king
advanced a pace to the side of his master's chair. “I am of Perigord,
and know, your Eminence,” he continued. “More. Two months ago I saw
this lad—I recognise him now—at the fair of Fécamp. He was
differently dressed then, but he had the same tale, except that he did
not mention Perigord.”
“S-someone has taught it him,” said the king.
“Your Majesty is doubtless right,” the President answered
obsequiously. Then to the boy he continued, “Speak, boy; who taught it
But Jehan only shook his head and looked puzzled. At last, being
pressed. he said, “At Bault, in Perigord.”
“There is no such place!” M. de Bresly cried roundly.
Father Bernard looked distressed. He began to repent that he had led
the child to tell the tale; he began to fear that it might hurt instead
of helping. Perhaps after all he had been too credulous. But again the
Cardinal came to the rescue.
“Is there any family in Perigord can boast of three marshals, M. de
Bresly?” he asked, in his thin incisive tones.
“None that I know of. Several that can boast of two.”
“The blood of Roland?”
M. de Bresly shrugged his shoulders. “It is common to all of us,” he
The great Cardinal smiled, too—a flickering, quickly-passing smile.
Then he leaned forward and fixed the boy with his fierce black eyes.
“What was your father's name?” he said.
Jehan shook his head, impotently, miserably.
“Where did you live?”
The same result. The king threw himself back and muttered, “It is no
good.” The President moved in his seat. Some in the galleries began to
But the Cardinal raised his hand imperiously. “Can you read?” he
“No,” Jehan murmured.
“Then your arms?” The Cardinal spoke rapidly now, and his face was
growing hard. “They were over the gate, over the door, over the
fireplace. Think—look back—reflect. What were they?”
For a moment Jehan stared at him in bewilderment, flinching under the
gaze of those piercing eyes. Then on a sudden the boy's face grew
crimson. He raised his hand eagerly. “Or, on a mount vert!” he
cried impetuously—and stopped. But presently, in a different voice, he
added slowly, “It was a tree—on a hill.”
With a swift look of triumph the Cardinal turned to M. de Bresly.
“Now,” he said, “that belongs to—”
The soldier nodded almost sulkily. “It is Madame de Vidoche's,” he
“And her name was “Martinbault. Mademoiselle de Martinbault!
A murmur of astonishment rose from every part of the court. For a
moment the King, the Cardinal, the President, M. de Bresly, all were
inaudible. The air seemed full of exclamations, questions, answers; it
rang with the words, “Bault—Martinbault!” Everywhere people. rose to
see the boy, or craned forward and slipped with a clattering noise.
Etiquette, reverence, even the presence of the king, went for nothing
in the rush of excitement. It was long before the ushers could obtain
silence, or any get a hearing.
Then M. de Bresly, who looked as much excited as any, and as red in
the face, was found to be speaking. “Pardieu, sire, it may be so!” he
was heard to say. “It is true enough, as I now remember. A child was
lost in that family about eight years back. But it was at the time of
the Rochelle expedition; the province was full of trouble, and M. and
Madame de Martinbault were just dead; and little was made of it. All
the same, this may be the boy. Nay, it is a thousand to one he is!
“What is he, then, to M—Madame de V—Vidoche?” the king asked, with
an effort. He was vastly excited—for him.
“A brother, sire,” M. de Bresly answered.
That word pierced at last through the dulness which wrapped madame's
faculties, and had made her impervious to all that had gone before. She
rose slowly, listened, looked at the boy—looked with growing wonder,
like one awakening from a dream. Possibly in that moment the later
years fell from her, and she saw herself again a child—a tall, lanky
girl playing in the garden of the old château with a little toddling
boy who ran and lisped, beat her sturdily with fat, bare arms or
cuddled to her for kisses. For with a sudden gesture she stretched out
her hands, and cried in a clear voice, “Jean! Jean! It is little Jean!”
It became the fashion—a fashion which lasted half a dozen years at
least—to call that Christmas the Martinbault Christmas; so loudly did
those who were present at that famous examination, and the discovery
which attended it, profess that it exceeded all the other amusements of
the year, not excepting even the great ball at the Palais Cardinal,
from which every lady carried off an étrenne worth a year's
pin-money. The story became the rage. Those who had been present drove
their friends, who had not been so fortunate, to the verge of madness.
From the court the tale spread to the markets. Men made a broadsheet of
it, and sold it in the streets—in the Rue Touchet, and under the
gallows at Montfaucon, where the body of Solomon Nôtredame withered in
the spring rains. Had Madame de Vidoche and the child stayed in Paris,
it must have offended their ears ten times a day.
But they did not. As soon as madame could be moved, she retired with
the boy to the old house four leagues from Perigueux, and there, in the
quiet land where the name of Martinbault ranked with the name of the
king, she sought to forget her married life. She took her maiden title,
and in the boy's breeding, in works of mercy, in a hundred noble and
fitting duties entirely to her taste, succeeded in finding peace, and
presently happiness. But one thing neither time, nor change, nor in the
event love, could erase from her mind; and that was a deep-seated dread
of the great city in which she had suffered so much. She never returned
About a year after the trial a man with crafty, foxy eyes came
wandering through Perigueux, with a monkey on his shoulder. He saw not
far from the road—as his evil-star would have it—an old château
standing low among trees. The place promised well, and he went to it
and began to perform before the servants in the courtyard. Presently
the lord of the house, a young boy, came out to see him.
More need not be said, save that an hour later a man, half naked,
covered with duck-weed, and aching in every bone, crawled on to the
highroad, and went on his way in sadness—with his mouth full of
curses; and that for years afterwards a monkey, answering to the name
of Taras, teased the dogs, and plucked the ivy, and gambolled at will
on the great south terrace at Martinbault.