Philippe d’Orléans, regent of France, although having a hard time with his two daughters and a son, wants to take care of another young girl, his illegitimate and hidden daughter, Helene de Chaverny, raised in a convent as an orphan. Helene, who ignores his parentage, is in love with Chevalier Gaston de Chanley, a conspirator who has sworn an oath to a cabal of plotting Bretons to murder their enemy, the prince regent Philippe Duc D’Orleans. Young lovers, eager to get married, head towards the Paris unaware of the dramatic tangle that is played around them. A sequel to „The Conspirators”, this thrilling romantic adventure is reminiscent of Dumas’s seminal „Three Musketeers” saga, and will not disappoint those looking for an exciting tale of adventure, romance, royalty, intrigue, misfortune, and love.
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CHAPTER I. AN ABBESS OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
CHAPTER II. DECIDEDLY THE FAMILY BEGINS TO SETTLE DOWN
CHAPTER III. WHAT PASSED THREE NIGHTS LATER AT EIGHT HUNDRED LEAGUES FROM THE PALAIS ROYAL
CHAPTER IV. SHOWING HOW CHANCE ARRANGES SOME MATTERS BETTER THAN PROVIDENCE
CHAPTER V. THE JOURNEY
CHAPTER VI. A ROOM IN THE HOTEL AT RAMBOUILLET
CHAPTER VII. A SERVANT IN THE ROYAL LIVERY. MONSEIGNEUR LE DUC D'ORLEANS
CHAPTER VIII. THE UTILITY OF A SEAL
CHAPTER IX. THE VISIT
CHAPTER X. IN WHICH DUBOIS PROVES THAT HIS POLICE WAS BETTER ORGANIZED AT AN EXPENSE OF 300,000 FRANCS THAN THE GENERAL POLICE FOR THREE MILLIONS
CHAPTER XI. RAMBOUILLET AGAIN
CHAPTER XII. CAPTAIN LA JONQUIERE
CHAPTER XIII. MONSIEUR MOUTONNET, DRAPER AT ST. GERMAIN-EN-LAYE
CHAPTER XIV. TRUST TO SIGNS OF GRATITUDE
CHAPTER XV. HIS EXCELLENCY THE DUC D'ORLEANS
CHAPTER XVI. MONSEIGNEUR, WE ARE BRETONS
CHAPTER XVII. MONSIEUR ANDRE
CHAPTER XVIII. THE FAUBOURG SAINT ANTOINE
CHAPTER XIX. THE ARTIST AND THE POLITICIAN
CHAPTER XX. BLOOD REVEALS ITSELF
CHAPTER XXI. WHAT PASSED IN THE RUE DU BAC WHILE WAITING FOR GASTON
CHAPTER XXII. IN BRETAGNE
CHAPTER XXIII. THE SORCERESS OF SAVERNAY
CHAPTER XXIV. THE ARREST
CHAPTER XXV. THE BASTILLE
CHAPTER XXVI. HOW LIFE PASSED IN THE BASTILLE WHILE WAITING FOR DEATH
CHAPTER XXVII. HOW THE NIGHT PASSED IN THE BASTILLE WHILE WAITING FOR THE DAY
CHAPTER XXVIII. A COMPANION IN THE BASTILLE
CHAPTER XXIX. THE SENTENCE
CHAPTER XXX. THE FAMILY FEUD
CHAPTER XXXI. STATE AFFAIRS AND FAMILY AFFAIRS
CHAPTER XXXII. SHOWING THAT WE MUST NOT ALWAYS JUDGE OTHERS BY OURSELVES, ABOVE ALL IF WE ARE CALLED DUBOIS
CHAPTER XXXIII. MONCEAUX
CHAPTER XXXIV. THE PARDON
CHAPTER XXXV. THE LAST INTERVIEW
CHAPTER XXXVI. NANTES
CHAPTER XXXVII. THE TRAGEDY OF NANTES
CHAPTER XXXVIII. THE END
AN ABBESS OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY
On the 8th February, 1719, a carriage, bearing the fleur-de-lis of France, with the motto of Orleans, preceded by two outriders and a page, entered the porch of the Abbey of Chelles, precisely as the clock struck ten, and, the door having been quickly opened, its two occupants stepped out.
The first was a man of from forty-five to forty-six years of age, short, and rather stout, with a high color, easy in his movements, and displaying in every gesture a certain air of high breeding and command.
The second, who followed slowly, was short, and remarkably thin. His face, though not precisely ugly, was very disagreeable, although bearing the evidences of a keen intellect. He seemed to feel the cold, and followed his companion, wrapped up in an ample cloak.
The first of these two made his way up the staircase with the air of a man well acquainted with the locality. Passing through a large antechamber containing several nuns, who bowed to the ground as he passed, he ran rather than walked to a reception-room, which, it must be confessed, bore but little trace of that austerity which is ordinarily ascribed to the interior of a cloister.
The other, who followed leisurely, was saluted almost as humbly by the nuns.
“And now,” said the first, “wait here and warm yourself, while I go to her, and in ten minutes I will make an end of all these abuses you mention: if she deny, and I want proof, I will call you.”
“Ten minutes, monseigneur,” replied the man in the cloak; “in two hours your highness will not have even broached the subject of your visit. Oh! the Abbess de Chelles is a clever woman!”
So saying, he stretched himself out in an easy chair, which he had drawn near the fire, and rested his thin legs on the fender.
“Yes, yes,” replied he who had been addressed as “your highness;” “I know, and if I could forget it, you take care to remind me of it often enough. Why did you bring me here to-day through all this wind and snow?”
“Because you would not come yesterday, monseigneur.”
“Yesterday, it was impossible; I had an appointment with Lord Stair at five o’clock.”
“In a house in the Rue des Bons Enfants. My lord does not live any longer, then, at the English embassy?”
“Abbe, I had forbidden you to follow me.”
“Monseigneur, it is my duty to disobey you.”
“Well, then, disobey; but let me tell stories at my pleasure, without your having the impertinence to show me that you know it, just for the sake of proving the efficiency of your police.”
“Monseigneur may rest easy in future–I will believe anything!”
“I will not promise as much in return, abbe, for here I think you have made a mistake.”
“Monseigneur, I know what I said, and I repeat it.”
“But look! no noise, no light, perfect quiet, your account is incorrect; it is evident that we are late.”
“Yesterday, monseigneur, where you stand, there was an orchestra of fifty musicians; there, where that young sister kneels so devoutly, was a buffet: what was upon it I cannot tell, but I know it was there, and in the gallery on the left, where a modest supper of lentils and cream cheese is now preparing for the holy sisters, were two hundred people, drinking, dancing, and making–”
“Well, making what?”
“Making love, monseigneur.”
“Diable! are you sure of this?”
“Rather more sure than if I had seen it, and that is why you do well in coming to-day, and would have done better in coming yesterday. This sort of life does not become an abbess, monseigneur.”
“No, it is only fit for an abbe. Ha!”
“I am a politician, monseigneur.”
“Well, my daughter is a political abbess, that is all.”
“Oh, let it be so, if it suits you, monseigneur; I am not so particular in point of morals, you know. To-morrow there will be another song or two out, but what does that matter?”–”Well, well, wait for me, and I will go and scold.”
“Take my word for it, monseigneur, if you wish to scold properly you had better do it here, before me; if you fail in memory or arguments, sign to me, and I will come to the rescue.”
“Yes, yes, you are right,” said the person who had undertaken to redress wrongs, and in whom we hope the reader has recognized Philippe d’Orleans. “Yes, this scandal must be quieted a little, at any rate: the abbess must not receive more than twice a week. There must be none of these dances and assemblies, and the cloisters must be re-established. Mademoiselle d’Orleans passed from gayety to a religious life; she left the Palais Royal for Chelles in spite of all I could do to prevent her; now, for five days in the week she must be the abbess, and that will leave her two to play the great lady.”
“Ah, monseigneur, you are beginning to see the thing in its true light.”
“Is not this what you wish?”
“It is what is necessary. It seems to me that an abbess who has thirty valets, fifteen footmen, ten cooks, eight grooms, and a mute–who fences, plays the horn, and the violincello–who is a surgeon and a hairdresser–who shoots and makes fireworks–cannot be very dull.”
“Has not my daughter been told of my arrival,” said the duke to an old nun who crossed the room with a bunch of keys in her hand; “I wish to know whether I shall go to her, or whether she is coming to me.”
“Madame is coming, monseigneur,” replied the sister, respectfully.
“It is well,” murmured the regent, somewhat impatiently.
“Monseigneur, remember the parable of Jesus driving out the money-changers from the temple; you know it, or ought to know it, for I taught it you when I was your preceptor. Now, drive out these musicians, these Pharisees, these comedians and anatomists; three only of each profession will make a nice escort for our return.”
“Do not fear, I am in a preaching vein.”
“Then,” replied Dubois, rising, “that is most fortunate, for here she is.”
At this moment a door, leading to the interior of the convent, was opened, and the person so impatiently expected appeared.
Let us explain who was this worthy person who had succeeded, by repeated follies, in rousing the anger of Philippe d’Orleans, the most indulgent man and father in France.
Mademoiselle de Chartres, Louise-Adelaide-d’Orleans, was the second and prettiest of the regent’s daughters. She had a beautiful complexion, fine eyes, a good figure, and well-shaped hands. Her teeth were splendid, and her grandmother, the princess palatine, compared them to a string of pearls in a coral casket. She danced well, sang better, and played at sight. She had learned of Cauchereau, one of the first artists at the opera, with whom she had made much more progress than is common with ladies, and especially with princesses. It is true that she was most assiduous; the secret of that assiduity will be shortly revealed.
All her tastes were masculine. She appeared to have changed sex with her brother Louis. She loved dogs and horses; amused herself with pistols and foils, but cared little for any feminine occupations.
Her chief predilection, however, was for music; she seldom missed a night at the opera when her master Cauchereau performed; and once, when he surpassed himself in an air, she exclaimed, “Bravo, bravo, my dear Cauchereau!” in a voice audible to the whole house.
The Duchesse d’Orleans judged that the exclamation was somewhat indiscreet for a princess of the blood, and decided that Mademoiselle Chartres knew enough of music. Cauchereau was well paid, and desired not to return to the Palais Royal. The duchess also begged her daughter to spend a fortnight at the convent of Chelles, the abbess of which, a sister of Marechal de Villars, was a friend of hers.
It was doubtless during this retreat that mademoiselle–who did everything by fits and starts–resolved to renounce the world. Toward the end of the holy week of 1718, she asked and obtained her father’s permission to spend Easter at Chelles; but at the end of that time, instead of returning to the palais, she expressed a wish to remain as a nun.
The duke tried to oppose this, but Mademoiselle de Chartres was obstinate, and on the 23d of April she took the vows. Then the duke treated with Mademoiselle de Villars for the abbey, and, on the promise of twelve thousand francs, Mademoiselle de Chartres was named abbess in her stead, and she had occupied the post about a year.
This, then, was the abbess of Chelles, who appeared before her father, not surrounded by an elegant and profane court, but followed by six nuns dressed in black and holding torches. There was no sign of frivolity or of pleasure; nothing but the most somber apparel and the most severe aspect. The regent, however, suspected that he had been kept waiting while all this was preparing.
“I do not like hypocrisy,” said he, sharply, “and can forgive vices which are not hidden under the garb of virtues. All these lights, madame, are doubtless the remains of yesterday’s illumination. Are all your flowers so faded, and all your guests so fatigued, that you cannot show me a single bouquet nor a single dancer?”
“Monsieur,” said the abbess in a grave tone, “this is not the place for fetes and amusements.”–”Yes,” answered the regent, “I see, that if you feasted yesterday, you fast to-day.”
“Did you come here, monsieur, to catechise? At least what you see should reply to any accusations against me.”
“I came to tell you, madame,” replied the regent, annoyed at being supposed to have been duped, “that the life you lead displeases me; your conduct yesterday was unbecoming an abbess; your austerities to-day are unbecoming a princess of the blood; decide, once for all, between the nun and the court lady. People begin to speak ill of you, and I have enemies enough of my own, without your saddling me with others from the depth of your convent.”
“Alas, monsieur, in giving entertainments, balls, and concerts, which have been quoted as the best in Paris, I have neither pleased those enemies, nor you, nor myself. Yesterday was my last interview with the world; this morning I have taken leave of it forever; and to-day, while still ignorant of your visit, I had adopted a determination from which I will never depart.”
“And what is it?” asked the regent, suspecting that this was only a new specimen of his daughter’s ordinary follies.
“Come to this window and look out,” said the abbess.
The regent, in compliance with the invitation, approached the window, and saw a large fire blazing in the middle of the courtyard. Dubois–who was as curious as if he had really been an abbe–slipped up beside him.
Several people were rapidly passing and repassing before the fire, and throwing various singular-shaped objects into the flames.
“But what is that?” asked the regent of Dubois, who seemed as much surprised as himself.
“That which is burning now?” asked the abbe.–”Yes,” replied the regent.
“Ma foi, monseigneur, it looks to me very much like a violincello.”
“It is mine,” said the abbess, “an excellent violincello by Valeri.”
“And you are burning it!” exclaimed the duke.
“All instruments are sources of perdition,” said the abbess, in a tone which betrayed the most profound remorse.
“Eh, but here is a harpsichord,” interrupted the duke.
“My harpsichord, monsieur; it was so perfect that it enticed me toward earthly things; I condemned it this morning.”
“And what are those chests of papers with which they are feeding the fire?” asked Dubois, whom the spectacle seemed to interest immensely.
“My music, which I am having burned.”
“Your music?” demanded the regent.
“Yes, and even yours,” answered the abbess; “look carefully and you will see your opera of ‘Panthée’ follow in its turn. You will understand that my resolution once taken, its execution was necessarily general.”
“Well, madame, this time you are really mad! To light the fire with music, and then feed it with bass-viols and harpsichords is really a little too luxurious.”
“I am doing penance, monsieur.”
“Hum, say rather that you are refitting your house, and that this is an excuse for buying new furniture, since you are doubtless tired of the old.”
“No, monseigneur, it is no such thing.”
“Well, then, what is it? Tell me frankly.”
“In truth, I am weary of amusing myself, and, indeed, I intend to act differently.”
“And what are you going to do?”
“I am going with my nuns to visit my tomb.”
“Diable, monseigneur!” exclaimed the abbe, “her wits are gone at last.”
“It will be truly edifying, will it not, monsieur?” continued the abbess, gravely.
“Indeed,” answered the regent, “if you really do this, I doubt not but people will laugh at it twice as much as they did at your suppers.”
“Will you accompany me, messieurs?” continued the abbess; “I am going to spend a few minutes in my coffin; it is a fancy I have had a long time.”
“You will have plenty of time for that,” said the regent; “moreover, you have not even invented this amusement; for Charles the Fifth, who became a monk as you became a nun, without exactly knowing why, thought of it before you.”
“Then you will not go with me, monsieur?” said the abbess.
“I,” answered the duke, who had not the least sympathy with somber ideas, “I go to see tombs! I go to hear the De Profundis! No, pardieu! and the only thing which consoles me for not being able to escape them some day, is, that I shall neither see the one nor the other.”
“Ah, monsieur,” answered the abbess, in a scandalized tone, “you do not, then, believe in the immortality of the soul?”
“I believe that you are raving mad. Confound this abbe, who promises me a feast, and brings me to a funeral.”
“By my faith, monseigneur,” said Dubois, “I think I prefer the extravagance of yesterday; it was more attractive.”
The abbess bowed, and made a few steps toward the door. The duke and Dubois remained staring at each other, uncertain whether to laugh or cry.
“One word more,” said the duke; “are you decided this time, or is it not some fever which you have caught from your confessor? If it be real, I have nothing to say; but if it be a fever, I desire that they cure you of it. I have Morceau and Chirac, whom I pay for attending on me and mine.”
“Monseigneur,” answered the abbess, “you forget that I know sufficient of medicine to undertake my own cure, if I were ill: I can, therefore, assure you that I am not. I am a Jansenist; that is all.”
“Ah,” cried the duke, “this is more of Father le Doux’s work, that execrable Benedictine! At least I know a treatment which will cure him.”
“What is that?” asked the abbess.
And he went out in a rage, followed by Dubois, who was laughing heartily.
“You see,” said the regent, after a long silence, and when they were nearing Paris, “I preached with a good grace; it seems it was I who needed the sermon.”
“Well, you are a happy father, that is all; I compliment you on your younger daughter, Mademoiselle de Chartres. Unluckily your elder daughter, the Duchesse de Berry–”
“Oh, do not talk of her; she is my ulcer, particularly when I am in a bad temper.”
“I have a great mind to make use of it by finishing with her at one blow.”
“She is at the Luxembourg?”
“I believe so.”
“Let us go to the Luxembourg, monseigneur.”
“You go with me?”
“I shall not leave you to-night.”
“Well, drive to the Luxembourg.”
DECIDEDLY THE FAMILY BEGINS TO SETTLE DOWN
Whatever the regent might say, the Duchesse de Berry was his favorite daughter. At seven years of age she had been seized with a disease which all the doctors declared to be fatal, and when they had abandoned her, her father, who had studied medicine, took her in hand himself, and succeeded in saving her.
From that time the regent’s affection for his daughter became almost a weakness. He allowed the haughty and self-willed child the most perfect liberty; her education was neglected, but this did not prevent Louis XIV. from choosing her as a wife for his grandson the Duc de Berry.
It is well known how death at once struck a triple blow at the royal posterity, and within a few years carried off the dauphin, the Duc and Duchesse de Bourgoyne and the Duc de Berry.
Left a widow at twenty years of age, loving her father almost as tenderly as he loved her, and having to choose between the society of Versailles and that of the Palais Royal, the Duchesse de Berry, young, beautiful, and fond of pleasure, had quickly decided. She took part in all the fetes, the pleasures and follies of her father.
The Duc d’Orleans, in his increasing fondness for his daughter–who already had six hundred thousand francs a year–allowed her four hundred thousand francs more from his private fortune. He gave up the Luxembourg to her, gave her a bodyguard, and at length, to the scandal of those who advocated the old forms of etiquette, he merely shrugged his shoulders when the Duchesse de Berry passed through Paris preceded by cymbals and trumpets, and only laughed when she received the Venetian ambassador on a throne, raised on three steps, which nearly embroiled France with the republic of Venice.
About this time the Duchesse de Berry took a fancy to fall in love with the Chevalier de Riom.
The Chevalier de Riom was a nephew or grand-nephew of the Duc de Lauzun, who came to Paris in 1715 to seek his fortune, and found it at the Luxembourg. Introduced to the princess by Madame de Mouchy, he soon established the same influence over her as his uncle, the Duc de Lauzun, had exercised over La Grande Mademoiselle fifty years before, and was soon established as her lover, supplanting Lahaie, who was sent on an embassy to Denmark.
The duchess had the singular moderation of never having had more than two lovers; Lahaie, whom she had never avowed, and Riom, whom she proclaimed aloud.
This was not the true cause of the malice with which the princess was pursued; it arose rather from the previous offenses of her passage through Paris, the reception of the ambassadors, her bodyguard, and her assumptions. The duke himself was indignant at Riom’s influence over his daughter. Riom had been brought up by the Duc de Lauzun, who in the morning had crushed the hand of the Princesse de Monaco with the heel of the boot which, in the evening, he made the daughter of Gaston d’Orleans pull off, and who had given his nephew the following instruction, which Riom had fully carried out.
“The daughters of France,” said he, “must be treated with a high hand;” and Riom, trusting to his uncle’s experience, had so well schooled the Duchesse de Berry that she scarcely dared to give a fete without his permission.
The duke took as strong a dislike to Riom as his careless character allowed him to take to any one, and, under pretext of serving the duchess, had given him a regiment, then the government of Cognac, then the order to retire to his government, which almost made his favors look like disfavors and disgrace.
The duchess was not deceived; she went to her father, begged, prayed, and scolded, but in vain; and she went away threatening the duke with her anger, and declaring that Riom should not go.
The duke’s only reply was to repeat his orders for Riom’s departure the next day, and Riom had respectfully promised to obey.
The same day, which was the one preceding that on which our story opens, Riom had ostensibly set out, and Dubois himself had told the duke that he had left for Cognac at nine o’clock.
Meanwhile the duke had not again seen his daughter; thus, when he spoke of going to finish with her, it was rather a pardon than a quarrel that he went to seek. Dubois had not been duped by this pretended resolution; but Riom was gone, and that was all he wanted; he hoped to slip in some new personage who should efface all memory of Riom, who was to be sent to join the Maréchal de Berwick in Spain.
The carriage stopped before the Luxembourg, which was lighted as usual.
The duke ascended the steps with his usual celerity, Dubois remained in a corner of the carriage. Presently the duke appeared at the door with a disappointed air.
“Ah, monseigneur,” said Dubois, “are you refused admittance?”
“No, the duchesse is not here.”
“Where, then–at the Carmelites?”
“No, at Meudon.”
“At Meudon, in February, and in such weather; what can she be doing there?”
“It is easy to know.”
“Let us go to Meudon.”
“To Meudon!” said the regent, jumping into the carriage; “I allow you five-and-twenty minutes to get there.”
“I would humbly beg to remind monseigneur,” said the coachman, “that the horses have already gone ten leagues.”
“Kill them, but be at Meudon in five-and-twenty minutes.”
There was no reply to be made to such an order; the coachman whipped his horses, and the noble animals set out at as brisk a pace as if they had just left the stable.
Throughout the drive Dubois was silent, and the regent thoughtful; there was nothing on the route to arrest the attention of either, and they arrived at Meudon full of contradictory reflections.
This time both alighted; Dubois, thinking the interview might be long, was anxious to find a more comfortable waiting-place than a carriage.
At the door they found a Swiss in full livery–he stopped them–the duke made himself known.
“Pardon,” said the Swiss, “I did not know that monseigneur was expected.”
“Expected or not, I am here; send word to the princess.”
“Monseigneur is to be at the ceremony?” asked the Swiss, who seemed embarrassed.
“Yes, of course,” put in Dubois, stopping the duke, who was about to ask what ceremony; “and I also.”
“Then shall I lead monseigneur at once to the chapel?”
“To the chapel?” asked the duke.
“Yes; for the ceremony is already commenced.”
“Ah, Dubois,” said the duke, “is she also going to take the veil?”
“Monseigneur,” said Dubois, “I should rather say she is going to be married.”
“Pardieu!” exclaimed the regent, “that would crown all;” and he darted toward the staircase, followed by Dubois.
“Does not monseigneur wish me to guide him?” asked the Swiss.
“It is needless,” cried the regent; “I know the way.”
Indeed–with an agility surprising in so corpulent a man–the regent darted through the rooms and corridors, and arrived at the door of the chapel, which appeared to be closed, but yielded to the first touch. Dubois was right.
Riom, who had returned secretly, was on his knees with the princess, before the private chaplain of the Luxembourg, while M. de Pons, Riom’s relative, and the Marquis de la Rochefoucauld, captain of the princess’s guard, held the canopy over their heads; Messrs. de Mouchy and de Lauzun stood, one by the duchess and the other by Riom.
“Certainly fortune is against us, monseigneur,” said Dubois; “we are five minutes too late.”
“Mordieu!” cried the duke, exasperated, “we will see.”
“Chut,” said Dubois; “I cannot permit sacrilege. If it were any use, I do not say; but this would be mere folly.”
“Are they married, then?” asked the duke, drawing back.
“So much married, monseigneur, that the devil himself cannot unmarry them, without the assistance of the pope.”
“I will write to Rome!”
“Take care, monseigneur; do not waste your influence; you will want it all, so get me made a cardinal.”
“But,” exclaimed the regent, “such a marriage is intolerable.”
“Mésalliances are in fashion,” said Dubois; “there is nothing else talked of–Louis XIV. made a mésalliance in marrying Madame de Maintenon, to whom you pay a pension as his widow–La Grande Mademoiselle made a mésalliance in marrying the Duc de Lauzun–you did so in marrying Mademoiselle de Blois, so much so, indeed, that when you announced the marriage to your mother, the princess palatine, she replied by a blow. Did not I do the same when I married the daughter of a village schoolmaster? After such good examples, why should not your daughter do so in her turn?”
“Silence, demon,” said the regent.
“Besides,” continued Dubois, “the Duchesse de Berry’s passion began to be talked about, and this will quiet the talk; for it will be known all through Paris to-morrow. Decidedly, monseigneur, your family begins to settle down.”
The Duc d’Orleans uttered an oath, to which Dubois replied by a laugh, which Mephistopheles might have envied.
“Silence!” cried a Swiss, who did not know who it was that was making a noise, and did not wish the pious exhortation of the chaplain to be lost.
“Silence, monseigneur,” repeated Dubois; “you are disturbing the ceremony.”
“If we are not silent,” replied the duke, “the next thing they will do will be to turn us out.”
“Silence!” repeated the Swiss, striking the flagstone with his halberd, while the Duchesse de Berry sent M. de Mouchy to learn who was causing the disturbance.
M. de Mouchy obeyed the orders of the duchess, and perceiving two persons who appeared to be concealing themselves in the shade, he approached them.
“Who is making this noise?” said he; “and who gave you permission to enter this chapel?”
“One who has a great mind to send you all out by the window,” replied the regent, “but who will content himself at present with begging you to order M. de Riom to set out at once for Cognac, and to intimate to the Duchesse de Berry that she had better absent herself from the Palais Royal.”
The regent went out, signing to Dubois to follow; and, leaving M. de Mouchy bewildered at his appearance, returned to the Palais Royal.
That evening the regent wrote a letter, and ringing for a valet:
“Take care that this letter is dispatched by an express courier to-morrow morning, and is delivered only to the person to whom it is addressed.”
That person was Madame Ursule, Superior of the Ursuline Convent at Clisson.
WHAT PASSED THREE NIGHTS LATER AT EIGHT HUNDRED LEAGUES FROM THE PALAIS ROYAL
Three nights after that on which we have seen the regent, first at Chelles and then at Meudon, a scene passed in the environs of Nantes which cannot be omitted in this history; we will therefore exercise our privilege of transporting the reader to that place.
On the road to Clisson, two or three miles from Nantes–near the convent known as the residence of Abelard–was a large dark house, surrounded by thick stunted trees; hedges everywhere surrounded the inclosure outside the walls, hedges impervious to the sight, and only interrupted by a wicket gate.
This gate led into a garden, at the end of which was a wall, having a small, massive, and closed door. From a distance this grave and dismal residence appeared like a prison; it was, however, a convent, full of young Augustines, subject to a rule lenient as compared with provincial customs, but rigid as compared with those of Paris.
The house was inaccessible on three sides, but the fourth, which did not face the road, abutted on a large sheet of water; and ten feet above its surface were the windows of the refectory.
This little lake was carefully guarded, and was surrounded by high wooden palisades. A single iron gate opened into it, and at the same time gave a passage to the waters of a small rivulet which fed the lake, and the water had egress at the opposite end.
In the summer, a small boat belonging to the garden was seen on the water, and was used for fishing.
Sometimes, also, in summer, on dark nights, the river-gate was mysteriously opened, and a man, wrapped in a large brown cloak, silently dropped into the little boat, which appeared to detach itself from its fastenings, then glided quietly along, and stopped under one of the barred windows of the refectory.
Soon a sound was heard, imitating the croaking of a frog or the cry of the owl so common there, and then a young girl would appear at the window, and pass her head through the opening between the bars, which were, however, too high for the man to reach. A low and tender conversation was then carried on, and at length, after a different hour and a different signal had been agreed upon for their next interview, they separated, the boat disappeared, the gate shut gently, and the young girl closed the window with a sigh.
But now it was the month of February, and in the terrible winter of 1719. The trees were powdered with hoar frost, and it was at this time impossible to glide quietly along in the little boat, for the lake was covered with ice. And yet, in this biting cold, in this dark, starless night, a cavalier ventured alone into the open country, and along a cross-road which led to Clisson. He threw the reins on the neck of his horse, which proceeded at a slow and careful pace.
Soon, however, in spite of his instinctive precaution, the poor animal, which had no light to guide him, struck against a stone and nearly fell. The rider soon perceived that his horse was lamed, and on seeing a trail of blood upon the snow, discovered that it was wounded.
The young man appeared seriously annoyed at the accident, and while deliberating what course to take, he heard a sound of horses’ feet on the same road; and, feeling sure that if they were pursuing him he could not escape them, he remounted his horse, drew aside behind some fallen trees, put his sword under his arm, drew out a pistol, and waited.
The cavalcade soon appeared; they were four in number, and rode silently along, passing the group of trees which hid the cavalier, when suddenly they stopped. One who appeared the chief alighted, took out a dark lantern, and examined the road.
As they could not see far, they returned some steps, and, by the light of their lantern, perceived the cavalier.
The sound of cocking pistols was now heard.
“Hola!” said the cavalier with the wounded horse, taking the initiative; “who are you, and what do you want?”
“It is he,” murmured two or three voices.
The man with the lantern advanced toward the cavalier.
“Advance one step further and you are a dead man,” said the cavalier. “Declare your name at once, that I may know with whom I have to deal.”
“Shoot no one, Gaston de Chanlay,” replied the man with the lantern, calmly; “and put up your pistols.”
“Ah! it is the Marquis de Pontcalec.”
“Yes; it is I.”
“And what do you come here for, may I ask?”
“To demand some explanation of your conduct. Approach and reply, if you please.”
“The invitation is singular, marquis. If you wish for an answer, could you not ask it in other terms?”
“Approach, Gaston,” said another voice; “we really wish to speak with you.”
“A la bonne heure,” said Chanlay, “I recognize you there, Montlouis; but I confess I am not accustomed to M. de Pontcalec’s manner of proceeding.”
“My manners are those of a frank and open Breton, monsieur,” replied the marquis, “of one who has nothing to hide from his friends, and is willing to be questioned as freely as he questions others.”
“I join Montlouis,” said another voice, “in begging Gaston to explain amicably. Surely it is not our interest to quarrel among ourselves.”
“Thanks, Du Couëdic,” said De Chanlay, “I am of the same opinion; so here I am”–and sheathing his sword at these words, the young man issued from his retreat and approached the group.
“M. de Talhouet,” said Pontcalec, in the tone of a man who has a right to issue commands, “watch that no one approaches.”
M. de Talhouet obeyed, and rode round in a circle, keeping both eyes and ears open.
“And now,” said the marquis, “let us put out our lantern, since we have found our man!”
“Messieurs,” said De Chanlay, “all this seems to me somewhat strange. It appears that you were following me–that you were seeking for me, now you have found me, and may put out your lantern. What does it mean? If it is a joke, I confess I think both time and place ill-chosen.”
“No, monsieur,” replied Pontcalec, in his hard, dry voice, “it is not a joke; it is an interrogatory.”
“An interrogatory?” said De Chanlay, frowning.
“An explanation, rather,” said Montlouis.
“Interrogatory or explanation, it matters not,” said Pontcalec, “the thing is too serious to argue about words. M. de Chanlay, I repeat, reply to our questions.”
“You speak roughly, Marquis de Pontcalec,” replied the chevalier.
“If I command, it is because I have the right to do so. Am I, or am I not, your chief?”
“Certainly you are; but that is no reason for forgetting the consideration which one gentleman owes to another.”
“Monsieur de Chanlay, all these objections seem to me like shuffling. You have sworn to obey–do so now.”
“I swore to obey,” replied the chevalier, “but not as a servant.”
“You swore to obey as a slave. Obey, then, or submit to the consequences of your disobedience!”
“Monsieur le Marquis–!”
“My dear Gaston,” cried Montlouis, “speak, I beg, as soon as possible: by a word you can remove all suspicion.”
“Suspicion!” cried Gaston, pale with anger, “am I suspected, then?”
“Certainly you are,” said Pontcalec, with his ordinary roughness. “Do you think if we did not suspect you we should amuse ourselves by following you on such a night as this?”
“Oh, that is quite another matter!” said Gaston, coldly; “tell me your suspicions–I listen.”
“Chevalier, remember the facts; we four were conspiring together, and we did not seek your aid; you offered it, saying, that besides being willing to aid in the public good, you had a private revenge to serve in this. Am I not right?”
“We received you–welcomed you as a friend, as a brother; we told you all our hopes, all our plans; nay, more–you were elected, by chance, the one to strike the glorious blow. Each one of us offered to take your part, but you refused. Is it not so?”
“You have spoken the strictest truth, marquis.”
“This very morning we drew the lots; this evening you should be on the road to Paris. Instead of that, where do we find you? on the road to Clisson, where are lodged the mortal enemies of Breton independence, where lives your sworn foe–the Marechal de Montesquieu.”
“Ah! monsieur,” said Gaston, scornfully.
“Reply by open words, and not by sneers: reply, M. de Chanlay, and quickly.”
“Reply, Gaston,” said Du Couëdic and Montlouis, imploringly.
“And to what am I to reply?”
“You are to account for your frequent absence during the last two months–for the mystery which surrounds you–for refusing, as you do, once or twice weekly, to join our nightly meetings. We confess, Gaston, all this has made us uneasy; by a word you can reassure us.”
“You see, monsieur, that you are proved guilty by hiding, instead of pursuing your course.”
“I did not pursue my course, because my horse was wounded; you may see the stains of blood upon the road.”
“But why did you hide?”
“Because I wished to know first who was pursuing me. Have I not the fear of being arrested, as well as yourselves?”
“And where are you going?”
“If you had followed my steps as you have done hitherto, you would have found that my path did not lead to Clisson.”
“Nor to Paris.”
“I beg,” said De Chanlay, “that you will trust me, and respect my secret–a secret in which not only my own honor, but that of another, is concerned. You do not know, perhaps–it may be exaggerated–how extreme is my delicacy on this point.”
“Then it is a love-secret,” said Montlouis.–”Yes, and the secret of a first love,” replied Gaston.
“All evasions,” cried Pontcalec.
“Marquis!” said Gaston, haughtily.
“This is not saying enough, my friend,” replied Du Couëdic. “How can we believe that you are going to a rendezvous in such weather, and that this rendezvous is not at Clisson–where, except the Augustine Convent, there is not a single house for two miles around.”
“M. de Chanlay,” said the Marquis de Pontcalec, in an agitated voice, “you swore to obey me as your chief, and to devote soul and body to our holy cause. Monsieur, our undertaking is serious–our property, our liberties, our lives and our honor are at stake;–will you reply clearly and freely to the questions which I put to you in the name of all, so as to remove all doubts? If not, Gaston de Chanlay–by virtue of that right which you gave me, of your own free will, over your life–if not, I declare, on my honor, I will blow your brains out with my own hand!”
A solemn silence followed these words; not one voice was raised to defend Gaston; he looked at each one in turn, and each one turned away from him.
“Marquis,” said the chevalier at length, in a tone of deep feeling, “not only do you insult me by suspicions, but you grieve me by saying that I can only remove those suspicions by declaring my secret. Stay,” added he, drawing a pocketbook from his coat, and hastily penciling a few words on a leaf which he tore out; “stay, here is the secret you wish to know; I hold it in one hand, and in the other I hold a loaded pistol. Will you make me reparation for the insult you have offered me? or, in my turn, I give you my word as a gentleman that I will blow my brains out. When I am dead, open my hand and read this paper; you will then see if I deserved your suspicions.”
And Gaston held the pistol to his head with the calm resolution which showed that he would keep his word.
“Gaston! Gaston!” cried Montlouis, while Du Couëdic held his arm; “stop, in Heaven’s name! Marquis, he would do as he said; pardon him, and he will tell us all. Is it not so, Gaston? You will not have a secret from your brothers, who beg you, in the names of their wives and children, to tell it them.”
“Certainly,” said the marquis, “I not only pardon but love him; he knows it well. Let him but prove his innocence, and I will make him every reparation, but, before that, nothing: he is young, and alone in the world. He has not, like us, wives and children, whose happiness and whose fortune he is risking; he stakes only his own life, and he holds that as cheaply as is usual at twenty years of age; but with his life he risks ours; and yet, let him say but one word showing a justification, and I will be the first to open my arms to him.”
“Well, marquis,” said Gaston, after a few moments’ silence, “follow me, and you shall be satisfied.”
“And we?” asked Montlouis and Du Couëdic.
“Come, also, you are all gentlemen; I risk no more in confiding my secret to all than to one.”
The marquis called Talhouet, who had kept good watch, and now rejoined the group, and followed without asking what had passed.
All five went on but slowly, for Gaston’s horse was lame; the chevalier guided them toward the convent, then to the little rivulet, and at ten paces from the iron gate he stopped.
“It is here,” said he.
“At the convent?”
“Yes, my friends; there is here, at this moment, a young girl whom I have loved since I saw her a year ago in the procession at the Fete Dieu at Nantes; she observed me also–I followed her, and sent her a letter.”
“But how do you see her?” asked the marquis.
“A hundred louis won the gardener over to my interest; he has given me a key to this gate; in the summer I come in a boat to the convent wall; ten feet above the water is a window, where she awaits me. If it were lighter, you could see it from this spot–and, in spite of the darkness, I see it now.”
“Yes, I understand how you manage in summer, but you cannot use the boat now.”
“True; but, instead, there is a coating of ice, on which I shall go this evening; perhaps it will break and engulf me; so much the better, for then, I hope, your suspicions would die with me.”
“You have taken a load from my breast,” said Montlouis.
“Ah! my poor Gaston, how happy you make me; for, remember, Du Couëdic and I answered for you.”
“Chevalier,” said the marquis, “pardon and embrace us.”
“Willingly, marquis; but you have destroyed a portion of my happiness.”
“I wished my love to have been known to no one. I have so much need of strength and courage! Am I not to leave her to-night forever?”
“Who knows, chevalier? You look gloomily at the future.”
“I know what I am saying, Montlouis.”
“If you succeed–and with your courage and sang-froid you ought to succeed–France is free: then she will owe her liberty to you, and you will be master of your own fate.”
“Ah! marquis, if I succeed, it will be for you; my own fate is fixed.”
“Courage, chevalier; meanwhile, let us see how you manage these love affairs.”
“Still mistrust, marquis?”
“Still; my dear Gaston, I mistrust myself: and, naturally enough; after being named your chief, all the responsibility rests on me, and I must watch over you all.”
“At least, marquis, I am as anxious to reach the foot of that wall as you can be to see me, so I shall not keep you waiting long.”
Gaston tied his horse to a tree; by means of a plank thrown across, he passed the stream, opened the gate, and then, following the palisades so as to get away from the stream, he stepped upon the ice, which cracked under his feet.
“In Heaven’s name,” cried Montlouis, “be prudent.”
“Look, marquis,” said Gaston.
“I believe you; I believe you, Gaston.”
“You give me fresh courage,” replied the chevalier.
“And now, Gaston, one word more. When shall you leave?”
“To-morrow at this time, marquis, I shall probably be thirty leagues on the way to Paris.”
“Come back and let us embrace, and say adieu.”–”With pleasure.”
Gaston retraced his steps, and was embraced cordially by each of the chevaliers, who did not turn away till they saw that he had arrived safely at the end of his perilous journey.
SHOWING HOW CHANCE ARRANGES SOME MATTERS BETTER THAN PROVIDENCE
In spite of the cracking of the ice, Gaston pursued his way boldly, and perceived, with a beating heart, that the winter rains had raised the waters of the little lake, so that he might possibly be able to reach the window.
He was not mistaken; on giving the signal, the window was opened, then a head appeared nearly at the level of his own, and a hand touched his; it was the first time. Gaston seized it, and covered it with kisses.
“Gaston, you have come, in spite of the cold, and on the ice; I told you in my letter not to do so.”
“With your letter on my heart, Helene, I think I can run no danger; but what have you to tell me? You have been crying!”
“Alas, since this morning I have done little else.”
“Since this morning,” said Gaston, with a sad smile, “that is strange; if I were not a man, I too should have cried since this morning.”
“What do you say, Gaston?”
“Nothing, nothing; tell me, what are your griefs, Helene?”
“Alas! you know I am not my own mistress. I am a poor orphan, brought up here, having no other world than the convent. I have never seen any one to whom I can give the names of father or mother–my mother I believe to be dead, and my father is absent; I depend upon an invisible power, revealed only to our superior. This morning the good mother sent for me, and announced, with tears in her eyes, that I was to leave.”
“To leave the convent, Helene?”
“Yes; my family reclaims me, Gaston.”
“Your family? Alas! what new misfortune awaits us?”
“Yes, it is a misfortune, Gaston. Our good mother at first congratulated me, as if it were a pleasure; but I was happy here, and wished to remain till I became your wife. I am otherwise disposed of, but how?”
“And this order to remove you?”
“Admits of neither dispute nor delay. Alas! it seems that I belong to a powerful family, and that I am the daughter of some great nobleman. When the good mother told me I must leave, I burst into tears, and fell on my knees, and said I would not leave her; then, suspecting that I had some hidden motive, she pressed me, questioned me, and–forgive me, Gaston–I wanted to confide in some one; I felt the want of pity and consolation, and I told her all–that we loved each other–all except the manner in which we meet. I was afraid if I told her that, that she would prevent my seeing you this last time to say adieu.”
“But did you not tell, Helene, what were my plans; that, bound to an association myself for six months, perhaps for a year, at the end of that time, the very day I should be free, my name, my fortune, my very life, was yours?”
“I told her, Gaston; and this is what makes me think I am the daughter of some powerful nobleman, for then Mother Ursula replied: ‘You must forget the chevalier, my child, for who knows that your new family would consent to your marrying him?’”
“But do not I belong to one of the oldest families in Brittany? and, though I am not rich, my fortune is independent. Did you say this, Helene?”
“Yes; I said to her, ‘Gaston chose me, an orphan, without name and without fortune. I may be separated from him, but it would be cruel ingratitude to forget him, and I shall never do so.’”
“Helene, you are an angel. And you cannot then imagine who are your parents, or to what you are destined?”
“No; it seems that it is a secret on which all my future happiness depends; only, Gaston, I fear they are high in station, for it almost appeared as if our superior spoke to me with deference.”
“To you, Helene?”
“So much the better,” said Gaston, sighing.
“Do you rejoice at our separation, Gaston?”
“No, Helene; but I rejoice that you should find a family when you are about to lose a friend.”
“Lose a friend, Gaston! I have none but you; whom then should I lose?”
“At least, I must leave you for some time, Helene.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that Fate has endeavored to make our lots similar, and that you are not the only one who does not know what the morrow may bring forth.”
“Gaston! Gaston! what does this strange language mean?”
“That I also am subject to a fatality which I must obey–that I also am governed by an irresistible and superior power.”
“You! oh heavens!”
“To a power which may condemn me to leave you in a week–in a fortnight–in a month; and not only to leave you, but to leave France.”
“Ah, Gaston! what do you tell me?”
“What in my love, or rather in my egotism, I have dreaded to tell you before. I shut my eyes to this hour, and yet I knew that it must come; this morning they were opened. I must leave you, Helene.”
“But why? What have you undertaken? what will become of you?”
“Alas! Helene, we each have our secret,” said the chevalier, sorrowfully; “I pray that yours may be less terrible than mine.”
“Were you not the first to say that we must part, Helene? Had not you first the courage to renounce me? Well; blessings on you for that courage–for I, Helene, had it not.”
And at these last words the young man again pressed his lips to her hand, and Helene could see that tears stood in his eyes.
“Oh, mon Dieu!” murmured she, “how have we deserved this misery?”
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