The King's Scapegoat
AUTHOR OF "THE SEVEN HOUSES," "A MAN'S FEAR," ETC., ETC.
FRONTISPIECE BY CYRUS CUNEO
THE COPP CLARK CO., LIMITED
I My Claim to be heard for Truth's Sake
II The Bruisings of a Friend
III Fire and Sack
V Paris in "Eighty-Three"
VI The Muse in Draggled Skirts
VII The Shrewdest Brain in France
VIII The Doors of the Louvre only open Inwards
IX How I met Mademoiselle the Second Time
XI The Plot of the Four Nations
XII Monseigneur's Counterplot
XIII His Most Christian Majesty
XIV Monsieur de Commines Explains
XX A Lesson in Diplomacy
XXI A Mission of Peace
XXII South from Plessis
XVIII Count Gaston de Foix
XIX Mademoiselle Suzanne, Gouvernante
XX What Happened at the Grey Leap
XXI "I Trust You, Come what May"
XXII The Message of a Foot of String
XXIII A Rose of Promise
XXIV Jean Volran, Tapster, and Translator of Latin
XXV In What Way the King Sought the Peace of Navarre
XXVI The Justice Hall in Morsigny
XXVII "God Keep You, Now and Always"
XXVIII A Lie for a Life
XXIX How Martin won his Heart's Desire
XXX Mademoiselle Speaks
XXXI There is Hope—Till Dawn on Sunday
XXXII The Mercy of Louis the Eleventh
XXXIII "It is the Finger of God!"
XXXIV A Race for a Life
MY CLAIM TO BE HEARD FOR TRUTH'S SAKE
Of the many ways, worthy or vile, honourableor ignoble, whereby men, as my excellentfriend the Prince de Talmont has shown in hishistory, may rise to court favour, few, I think, aremore curious than that by which fate led me. Ledme? The word is too soft, too gracious, toosolicitous: fate kicked me, rather; for it was a viciouscuff of misfortune's contempt which made me aKing's envoy; and a gentle stroke of the mercyof God which flung me back again to the humbleobscurity of a simple gentleman.
But not without reward. And it is of thatmisfortune, that mercy, and that reward this storytreats. God be thanked! the last was greater thanthe first, for love is a salve that heals all woundsthe world over.
If the embassage committed to me by his latemajesty finds no place in the admirable memoirs ofthe Prince de Talmont, better known it may be, asMonsieur Philip de Commines, Lord of Argenton, itis because at my earnest solicitation he expungedthe narrative from his records. These, in hisearnest desire for accuracy, he had submitted to mefor revision. But, deeply conscious of my ownunskilfulness in such matters, I humbly pointed out,first, that the story did not redound to the creditor honour of the late King, his master. Second, thatthe disclosure could not possibly gratify the sonwho so worthily fills his august father's throne; and,third, that Monsieur de Commines, having alreadyknown the cold shadows of banishment from regalfavour, there was a danger—but doubtless thethird reason moved him not at all. Historiansmust be superior to considerations of privateadvantage.
But if these three reasons were insufficient towarrant the fearless historian to consent to such asuppression, I had yet more to urge. The inclusionof the details served no worthy purpose. Nopolitical result followed my mission, which wasabortive for reasons I hope to make clear. Franceand Navarre were neither of them a penny the betteror the worse for it. Why, then, stir up old ashes?Many a conflagration has sprung from a fool'sraking over of half dead embers, which, left tothemselves, would have cooled to safety. Stories thatare to no man's credit are best let sleep.
That brings me to the final reason that I urged.Perhaps it was the most instant of them all, and theone on which I laid the most stress, since a thorn inour own finger-tip troubles us more than a sword'sthrust in our neighbour's ribs: it would give myenemies grounds for speaking ill of me. Little orgreat, we all have gnats to bite us, and evil tonguesare so many that if they burnt like fire the poorwould have charcoal for nothing the winter through.
"There goes the man who stooped to such andsuch an infamy," they would say, wilfullyignoring—but that is the story.
Why, then, do I give that to the world which Ihave successfully influenced Monsieur de Comminesto suppress? Just because of these same eviltongues. Let no man dream that any act of hisever dies: good or bad, it is co-existent with hislife, if not with the sun itself. What I had hopedwas buried in the dust of the past, ghouls, infamousdevourers of men's reputations, have disinterred,and for the sake of those who are to come after methe whole truth must be told. My children's loveand reverence are more to me than all I possess,whether in Flanders or Navarre. Partly I tell thetale myself, and partly it is told by another outsideof myself, but whether it be Gaspard de Helville inperson or that other who speaks, this I solemnlyassert, both are alike true.
THE BRUISINGS OF A FRIEND
It has been said that the first third of a man'slife is the sowing, the second the growing,and the last the mowing, but with seedtime thisstory has nothing to do. The first more thantwenty years of life may be brushed aside. It isenough that in them I lost first, my father; then,fifteen years later, my mother; and for three yearshad been my own master; if a man could callhimself his own who was the slave and worship ofhis mother's nurse and his father's squire. Thestory then begins on a late spring day in 1483.
It was curious, though at the time the coincidencepassed unnoticed, but so sure as I pressed Rolandhard, rasping the poor willing brute's ribs cruellywith both spurs, just so surely did Martin meet witha trifling accident that delayed him. Once, as wegalloped down from La CrÍle to the river, he brokea stirrup leather. Once, too, he dropped his ashstick and had to go back for it; and once, as we roderound the pinewood at Berseghem, Ninus pickedup a stone. At least, Martin said he did, and inface of his anxious concern as he bent over theupturned hoof how could I be angry? Ninus washis faithful servant even as Martin was mine, andthat a horse should pick up a stone is no one'sblame. The most I could do was to hasten him asurgently as my diffidence dared.
"Even as it is we may be too late," I added.
From the hoof in his palm he looked sourly up.
"That is the girl's fault. What business has aHellewyl of Solignac philandering after a cow-herd'sdaughter? Which of you two had the redder faceI don't know, hers from honest sun and weather,yours from you know what best yourself. Comenow, is it an honest thing to play at courting underthe trees with such a girl? What's more, shedespised you for it. I saw that in her face when Isaid 'Solignac's a-fire' 'A-fire!' she cried; 'whofired it?' and her black eyes grew hard as shelooked at you. 'Jan Meert,' I told her, and whatwas her answer? 'God be good to us! but that'sgreat news.' Yes, it's her fault. All you own inthe world flaring to ashes, and you philanderingmiles away." Then, letting Ninus slip his footdown, which he did with no sign of tenderness,Martin said a strange thing. "God bless her for it.We can ride on now, Monsieur Gaspard," and hegathered his reins into his left hand.
Until he had mounted I made no reply. Traininghad made me a patient man, and Martin, my onefollower, was my best friend. I knew his dour,loyal nature too well to be angry at his frankness.For fifty years—that is all his life—he had servedSolignac, and I, half his age, was to him no morethan a child to be humoured when I could notsafely be driven. Besides, if ever men had needfor haste, we had, and I was not such a fool as toplease my temper at the cost of a solid advantage.That he hated the girl Brigitta I had long known,but that, again, was loyalty to the house that fedhim. Martin was still too much of the peasant notto despise his own class.
But once he was in the saddle I went back on myquestion, in different or more direct words, perhaps,but the sense was the same.
"Are we too late? Jan Meert works quickly,and these mishaps of yours have cost us half anhour."
"Jan Meert works quickly," he echoed; then,though he never looked at me, but straight beforehim, his face wrinkled, and he broke into a relishingchuckle for which his words gave no warrant tillhe added, "He'll have gone by this time, curse him,for a thieving Hollander, and these mishaps of mine,as you call them, have saved more than theycost."
Then I understood. He had been playing someof his old campaigner's tricks upon me, and I, likethe innocent he knew me for, had never found himout. Thank God! it has always been my way tobelieve men honest until they show themselvesrogues. That was not the King's way; yet ofthis I am sure, in my humble life I won to myselfmore love than he did, and more faithful service.Even now love and service were at the root of Martin'strickery, and knowing it was so, I did not turn andstrike him. For that control, and rememberingwhat happened so shortly after at Poictiers, Igratefully give God thanks.
"You make a coward of me," was all my reproach.
But when I pressed Roland to a gallop, he leanedforward and caught my rein.
"No, Monsieur Gaspard, no, no," he said, almostcrying; "what sense is there in that? Better aburnt Solignac than a dead Hellewyl."
"We may save it. Leave go my rein, Martin,or—or—I'll draw my dagger on you."
"Not you—or I'll risk it, though a man's lifeis worth more any day than a dry roof. Hearreason. Save Solignac? Save it from Jan Meertand his twenty devils? We two? Curse away if itpleases you, the leather's round my wrist and I won'tleave go. Listen now," he went on coaxingly,"what good can you do? What's Solignac but ashell and you the kernel? Why fling away thekernel after the shell? And how could we twoface Jan Meert and his twenty brutes, sons of thedevil every one of them? Are we to splash waterfrom the Heyst with our palms, or carry it in ourbonnets, to drown that roaring furnace? Listennow, listen; this was the way of it. Up he rode ata soft trot, in no haste at all, so safe and sure washe, and when I saw him coming I slammed-to thebolt of the great door, ran out old Babette to thewoods behind, she in one hand and Ninus, here,in the other, tied up Ninus out