Queen of the Jesters/Yerut the Dwarf

pp. 259-289.

VIII
YERUT THE DWARF

Chamillart, Marquis de la Suze, entered the garden of the Hôtel Beautreillis when the clocks of Paris were striking five. He was dressed with scrupulous care, but the heavy coat of black satin with the ample skirts, dictated by fashion in the year 1766—the heavy coat, and the full wig which fell upon his stooping shoulders, were allies of the summer heat. Chamillart, Marquis de la Suze, also Grand Marshal of the palace, used his handkerchief very freely, and declared that the weather was atrociously warm. And this was an observation not to be contested.

There was no one in the garden—an old garden umbrageously sweet and alive with the vesper note of birds—when the lacquey led so distinguished a visitor to a little bower of chestnut-trees, girt about with roses in full bloom, and carpeted with ripe grass and the petals of the flowers of yesterday. Here was a couch of ivory and satin and a little table, upon which a golden flagon of wine was set, and cups beside it, and fruit to cool the lips. Chamillart, Marquis de la Suze, bade the lacquey tell his mistress that his business was urgent. Then he filled a cup of wine and drank it at a draught. Certainly, the day was atrociously hot.

Had it been anywhere else than the Hôtel Beautreillis in the Rue St. Paul, had the mistress of the house been any one but pretty Corinne, with whom all Paris was properly in love, the Grand Marshal would have swollen visibly before the eyes of that lacquey who had asked him to cool his heels in a garden; but since it was the Hôtel Beautreillis, and Corinne was unquestionably mistress of it, he con- tented himself with a prodigious pinch of snuff and many impatient shufflings of the feet, and an attempt to stoop and pick a trailing rose; but there nature hindered him, for he was very stout,—without doubt it was a hot day.

Corinne de Montesson came tripping out of the house like a schoolgirl from a convent. She was dressed in that costume known as the négligé apparent—a girlish dress, suggesting shepherdesses and Elysian fields, and masquerade at Trianon. A straw hat half concealed the wealth of pretty silken hair which fell upon her shoulders, and was rebelliously untrammelled about her little ears. Her arms and neck were bare, and white as the marble of the fountains. She carried a volume of Racine in her hand; a merry laugh rippled upon her lips.

Chamillart, Marquis de la Suze, leaned heavily upon his gold-mounted cane, and watched the pretty picture.

“Ventrebleu!” he said to himself, “she cannot be twenty-five years old—I do not believe it; she is eighteen, fifteen—she is an angel, and I am going to make her cry.”

It may have been that, among the other reflections of this wicked old fop, there was one which told him how pleasant it would be to wipe away the tears of Corinne de Montesson. But that he concealed when he rose to salute her. Indeed, following the extravagant habit of the times, he stood bowing for quite a long time; and while he did so, he covered his heart with his three-cornered hat, as though in heart and hat lay all the emotions which had prompted his visit.

Chère Corinne, you have no pity, you make me wait,—me, Chamillart—the minutes are hours—I grow old in this garden—”

She laughed coquettishly, for the day was rare when Chamillart, Marquis de la Suze, did not amuse her very much.

“Oh, monsieur, it is really too hot for compliments,” she said, sinking into a low chair placed by the side of his couch. “Am I not grateful to any one who comes to the Hôtel Beautreillis on such a day? Let me give you some wine, and you shall repay me with all the news.”

The Grand Marshal put down his hat very carefully, and then took up that position upon the sofa whence he could look with least effort into the pretty eyes of his hostess.

“The news!” he said, “oh, as for that, there is no news. Madame de Bouffleurs is not in Paris.”

“She is at Yères, then?”

“Nowhere else. She left yesterday with two coaches, seven lacqueys, and a letter full of scolding from her kinsman, the Bishop of Bruges. She has gone to keep a retreat, and the Chevalier Leduc will follow her to-morrow. But, of course, we do not know that he is going to Yères.”

The Grand Marshal chuckled horribly. Corinne was amused.

“If Madame de Bouffleurs has gone to Yères,” she cried, “we shall have a holiday indeed. It will be Lent again, my dear marquis. There will be no scandals, and think of it, no unhappy lovers. How will Paris live for a week when that wicked tongue is still?”

“Impossible, my child. As impossible as the happiness of Chamillart, without the words of Corinne de Montesson.”

“A compliment, a compliment! Is not that forbidden, Monsieur le Marquis?”

“Mademoiselle, beauty is as far above the law as the stars above the darkness.”

He covered his heart with his hand again, and said to himself,—

“It is a pity that she must cry presently.”

But Corinne knew nothing of his thoughts. She was telling herself that the visit of this doddering old man, whose gallant antics had amused her so often, was a misfortune of an already troublesome day. How long was he going to stop? Why was he at the Hôtel Beautreillis at all?

“You come from the palace, monsieur?” she asked, when the Grand Marshal had ceased for a moment to ogle her.

“From the palace, mademoiselle.”

“And of whom were they talking?”

“Of the Count of Brives, chère Corinne.”

Corinne's face flushed crimson. The Grand Marshal turned away his head.

“I would give half my riches if she would flush for me like that,” he thought.

“And what did they say of the Count of Brives?” asked Corinne, making a violent effort to conceal her emotion.

“They were very sorry for him, mademoiselle.”

“Sorry, monsieur, for Eugène—that is, for Monsieur le Comte?”

“Certainly, my child; but have you not heard the news?”

“Did you not tell me there was no news?”

“Yes; but how should I know that this would be news—to Corinne de Montesson?”

“Oh, for pity's sake, tell me!” she exclaimed, rising and stamping with a pretty gesture of impatience. “Tell me. Monsieur le Marquis, what are they saying of Eugène Sabatier?”

The Grand Marshal shrugged his shoulders.

“She is going to cry,” he thought, “and I forgot to bring a second lace handkerchief.” But Corinne persisted.

“Mademoiselle,” he said at last, “I thought you would have known. Madame has prevailed with the king, and the Count of Brives will be in the Bastille to-morrow.”

A cry escaped her lips; Corinne's cheeks were rosy no more. She stood, white as marble; a blow would not have hurt her more than the tidings which the Grand Marshal carried.

“Oh, it cannot be! it cannot be!” she cried. “Eugène—the Bastille—oh, I will not believe it!—what crime has he committed—whom has he wronged—is he not the king's friend, monsieur?”

“Without doubt, all that is true, my child; but there are other friends, and they are more powerful. It has been the misfortune of Monsieur le Comte to offend one of those friends. He who puts honesty against a pretty face fights a losing battle, Corinne. When that pretty face has for its neighbour the ear of a king, poor honesty is already worsted. Your friend the count is young, or he would know that the compliments we pay a woman are the apologies for the slander we shall put about when that woman's back is turned. He is also very foolish to be so many months at the palace without finding a word of flattery for its mistress.”

He chuckled, for he was grown old in the practice of polished mendacities. But Corinne was thinking—her quick brain was already at work; one idea possessed her—she must save Eugène Sabatier.

“Tell me,” she cried with sudden impatience, “did the king wish this, monsieur?” And then, without waiting for his answer,—

“Oh, I do not believe it; the king is his friend; if Eugène could speak for himself, it would never be. They have told lies about him; it is the work of Madame du Barry—she has hated him from the first; it is her triumph, but it will not last—I shall prevent it, Monsieur le Marquis, I, Corinne de Montesson—”

Her face was crimson again, but it was with excitement. Old Chamillart watched her with chuckling admiration. His little eyes danced; he leered and ogled like some old man of the sea who found himself, clothed in satin and jewels and fine lace, in some welcome garden of delights.

“Ma foi,” he cried enthusiastically, “who would not have such a deliverer! Of course you will save him. It is for that I am come here. You will begin work now—to-day, this instant.”

She stared at him with a new surprise, but began to listen intently.

“Hark to this,” continued the Grand Marshal, with new gravity, “the Count of Brives is now at his château by the Weeping Rock of Ussy. If he could be warned to-day, to-night—if he could be warned by one who would tell him to ride for his life to the palace and there to see the king without a moment's delay, the letter which Villefort, the Captain of the Gendarmerie, now carries to Ussy, might yet be powerless to harm him—”

“They have sent Villefort, then!” exclaimed Corinne.

“He left Paris at four o'clock; he carries the king's warrant for the arrest of Eugène Sabatier; he will arrive at Ussy at midnight. After that hour, chère Corinne, no one in all France can save Monsieur le Comte from the woman he has insulted, and whose hour of vengeance has come. But you will act before then—you will be on the road before the clock strikes again—you will find a plan. Ma foi, it will be a strange day when Corinne de Montesson, the cleverest woman in Paris, is outwitted by Villefort, the buffoon of the guard, the lumberer, the ape! But she will not be outwitted; to-morrow I shall hear a good story. It will be the story of the confusion of Captain Villefort—”

But Corinne was listening to him no longer. The great silver gong at her side already gave out its mellow note warningly; Bénôit, her kinsman, the first swordsman in Paris, came hurrying to her side.

“Where is Yerut?” she asked, utterly unable to suppress her excitement. “Send Yerut to me, and then let them bring horses. We ride to Ussy before the sun sets.”

“Bravo! bravo!” cried the Grand Marshal, as he rose to go. “It is my own Corinne after all; to-morrow all Paris shall laugh at the Captain of the Guard and his twenty men—”

“You said twenty, monsieur?”

“No more, no less; twenty and one against the prettiest wits in Paris. It is good to have the friendship of those pretty wits, chère Corinne—but, blood of Paul, who comes here?”

He started, clutching his cane convulsively, for there came of a sudden to the bower a figure so strange that nothing like to it had been seen by any one in Paris. It was the figure of Yerut, the dwarf. Hideous, stunted, with hair shaggy as the fur of a bear, with hands like claws, with deep-set shining eyes, agile and quick, ready to leap or dance—Corinne de Montesson had no more faithful servant in all her great house than Yerut. And now she knew that the life of her lover depended upon the sagacity and the fidelity of this poor creature.

“Yerut,” she said, “you know Villefort, the Captain of the Guard?”

A grunt of assent seemed to come from the heart of the dwarf.

“He has ridden from Paris to arrest the Count of Brives. He will pass the Weeping Rock before midnight. You must overtake him at the Inn of Ussy and detain him there until we come. Take the swiftest Arab we have—you understand?”

Yerut bowed low. He vanished from the garden like an arrow from a bow.

“To horse! to horse!” cried Corinne, clapping her hands impatiently. “There is not an instant to lose.”

But old Chamillart hobbled away to his coach with a heavy heart.

“I should have postponed the day of my birth for thirty years,” he said to himself. “Certainly, she will never cry 'to horse' for me.”

And that was another observation not to be contested.

The great clock in the tower of the monastery of Franchard struck eleven when Villefort, the Captain of the King's Guard, found himself at the foot of the Roche qui Pleure. He could hear the strange note of that watery bell, melodious as the sound of weird music, in the silence of the vast forest of Fontainebleau. Winter or summer, drought or flood, the great rock would shed its silver tear musically into the pearly shell below it. Guides listened for the splash of the water, and went on gladly because of it; peasants worshipped before the heavenly well, and quenched their thirst at the pure fount of miracles. But to Villefort it was no more than the signal that his work was almost accomplished; that when another hour had passed he would lay his hands upon the traitor, Eugène Sabatier.

He rode slowly, his twenty men following with heavy eyes and hard words for a task which brought them to the forest when they should have been in their comfortable beds in Paris. The glory of the hour was nothing to Henri de Villefort. The enchanting light which fell upon the mighty thickets, the moonbeams playing upon the rippling lake, the lengthening shadows, with all their suggestion of elves and spirits, had no enchantment for him. For Henri de Villefort was afraid—afraid of the dark places of the wood, afraid of the silence, afraid of the hag's tales which his men had not failed to recite to him during their ride from the Barrière d'Enfer.

“Bah!” he had said, spurring his horse in anger. “Who would believe such things, at this time of day? I shall follow the great road to Ussy; there are twenty men with me. I care not a crown for all the devils in the legends. Saint John be my witness, I fear no living man.”

The trooper addressed shrugged his shoulders disdainfully.

“They do not live, captain,” he said gloomily. “They are the dead who died a thousand years ago; they breathe upon you cold breath, and your skin dries up with fever. You go mad and leave your bones for them to lie upon. I heard it at Franchard when I was a singing boy there. God bring us all back to Paris again, is my word.”

Villefort swore a big oath, and rode on in silence. He did not speak again until the music of the Weeping Rock was a melodious echo, but thereafter he began to learn that it was no great highway which led to the château of Ussy. Through dreadful copse and darkened brake, by paths overhung with trailing creeper and thorny bramble, in the gloom of mighty oaks and spreading chestnuts,—so must this hostile pilgrimage be made. The glory of the moonbeams, sparkling upon the dewy grass, did but light up weirdly the tangled heart of the deeper forest. The fireflies glowing in the woods were for him the evil eyes of the elves he could not see. The nightingale sang warningly. It was as though unseen enemies peopled the groves about him. He thought every minute to feel the touch of a hand upon his shoulder.

And this was his state of mind when a dreadful cry, like the cry of a soul in agony, came without warning out of the thicket upon his left hand and seemed to freeze the very blood of the twenty-one who rode to Ussy.

“Saints and angels, hark to that!” cried Villefort, drawing rein with trembling hands.

Again the cry arose—again and again. The troopers sat still as statues in the moonlight. Villefort could hear his heart beating; the fiend himself, he thought, was at his elbow.

“Pish!” he said presently, though the words seemed to choke him, “it is a wolf at supper, and that is the cry of the dish. Are we all women, to draw rein at shadows?”

“Not at all, Monsieur de Villefort, not at all,” answered a voice from the thicket whence the cry came; “I will stake my life that there is not a woman among you, or if there be, why then she wears a better face than the Captain of the King's Guard.”

A deep laugh, like the boom of a merry bell, followed the words. The guards were still listening to it when, with a great snapping of twigs and bursting of bramble, the speaker forced his horse from the covert and confronted Monsieur de Villefort.

“Holy Michael, defend us from all devils this night!” groaned Villefort, while cold sweat stood upon his brow and his quaking hand closed nervously about the butt of his pistol.

Yerut, the dwarf, for it was he who had raised the cry and had answered the Captain of the Guard, was clothed from head to foot in scarlet. Great boots, which appeared to be almost as large as the wearer, dangled from his saddle-flaps nearly to the ground. He wore a three-cornered cap cocked on the side of his shaggy head, and rode an Arab horse which still champed at his bit, though spurred from Paris to the Weeping Rock. Never did a stranger apparition confront man.

“Amen to your prayer, Monsieur de Villefort,” cried the dwarf, gaily,—“amen and amen. The holy saints save us from all devils, and give us the light of their lamps to follow the road to Ussy.”

“You go to Ussy, monsieur?” asked Villefort, taking heart a little when he saw the diamonds glistening upon the hilt of the stranger's sword. At the same time he said to himself, “Here is a brother of all the fiends.”

The dwarf did not answer the question put so directly to him, but fell instead into a fit of uncontrollable laughter. The very woods rang with his merriment; he reeled in his saddle until his fore- head touched the mane of his horse.

“Ho, ho, ho, ho!” he laughed, “how you amuse me, Monsieur de Villefort!”

“Amuse you.” exclaimed Villefort, losing his temper; “who the devil are you that you should be amused?”

“A cat may laugh at a king, monsieur, and I am the cat. Is it not good to laugh? If it come to that, I have as good a reason to laugh as the Captain of the King's Guard to cry.”

“As good a reason—?” gasped Villefort.

“Certainly, since I go to Ussy to bury its master.”

Villefort reined in his horse with a gesture as much of surprise as of will.

“To bury its master, monsieur!” he stammered, “but he is not dead. How can you bury a man who is not dead?”

The dwarf burst again into a merry fit of laughter.

“Ho, ho, ho, ho!” he roared, “what a dull fellow you are, Monsieur de Villefort! It is lucky for you that we met this night.”

“Lucky?” exclaimed Villefort.

“As I say, lucky. For what is luck but gain, monsieur, and what is gain but happiness, and what is happiness but laughter, and what is laughter but wine,—which, by my faith, carries us back ex argumento to this, that wine is luck, and that Monsieur de Villefort of the King's Guard is a fool.”

Villefort spluttered with rage; the dwarf touched his Arab lightly with his spurs, and began to hum the popular ballad,—Voilà la taverne à la mode.

“Name of the devil!” said Villefort, when he had found his tongue, “I have the mind to write my answer upon your back, coquin—”

The dwarf turned in his saddle, and showed a face so horrible that the Captain of the Guard felt his blood run cold. It was like the face of a Barbary ape. Villefort crossed himself instinctively; he prayed to all the saints to bring him quickly out of the cursed wood.

“Monsieur,” snarled the dwarf, chattering horribly, “he who writes upon the back of Yerut the singer will read his own epitaph.”

Villefort shuddered; the twenty behind him rode with white faces and prayers upon the bloodless lips.

“Yerut the singer,” said the Captain of the Guard, in a very humble voice; “you sing then, monsieur?”

“Like Lucifer himself,” answered the dwarf; and then he fell into a strange, weird chaunt in a voice so harsh and grating that the very leaves of the thicket seemed to tremble—

De tous les corps de métiers,
Voilà ce fléau redoutable.”

“Sing!” he continued, breaking off suddenly; “have I not the charm of Levasseur and the style of Legros? Do you not admit that, Monsieur de Villefort?”

“Certainly he is mad,” muttered Villefort, in a low voice, but not so low that the dwarf did not hear him.

“Mad,” he repeated, “ay, surely, as mad as Monsieur de Villefort, who goes to Ussy and blows a horn to tell all that he is coming.”

“A horn,—I blow no horn,” cried de Villefort.

“Let us not chop words. And I will tell you this, monsieur, that if you think to arrest the Count of Brives you are a fool for your pains.”

“Pah!” said Villefort, “I ride with one of his friends.”

“With so good a friend that at dawn I shall sing a requiem for him.”

Villefort pricked up his ears.

“How can that be?” he asked.

“Ma foi,” answered the dwarf, “it is no good asking you riddles, my captain. A wench at a book would be quicker. Do you not see that if I am to sing a requiem for the Count of Brives at dawn, some one must kill him to-night?”

“Ho, ho!” cried Villefort, “it is a duel, then?”

“Exactly, a duel.”

“He goes out with you, monsieur?”

“With me?—pah, I do not kill men with swords.”

Villefort bit his lip. His head was clearer now, and fear of the forest possessed him no longer. They had passed from the darkness of the wood by this time, and the lights of an inn shone through the vista of the trees. The Captain of the Guard was perplexed. He did not know what to make of the dwarf or of his story.

“Come,” he said after a pause, “there will be no duel to-night; I shall prevent it.”

“You!” replied the dwarf, who did not attempt to conceal his contempt. “You will prevent it. Monsieur de Villefort!”

“Certainly; I shall arrest the Count of Brives.”

The dwarf roared with laughter.

“Ho, ho, ho, ho!” he laughed; “we will kiss the sun, we will walk with the moon, we will put the stars in our pockets.”

Villefort ground his teeth.

“You think that I cannot arrest him?” he snarled.

“Think? I think nothing, monsieur; it is for the count to say. Were there no eyes in yon wood when we rode through? “ere there none to cry, 'Here comes the fat Villefort to arrest our master'?—none to gallop to Ussy and give news of you? Body of Paul! if you think that you came unheralded to the château, you have not the wits of a German mountebank.”

Villefort swore lustily.

“I never thought of that,” said he. “You mean that he has been warned of my coming?”

“What else could I mean?”

“Then I have ridden upon a fool's errand.”

“Could you ride upon any other, Monsieur de Villefort? I beg you, if you can employ those great ears of yours, to listen to that music. It is a horn winded in the park of the Château of Ussy. What think you now of your journey?”

The clarion note of a horn rang out musically in the stillness of the night. It echoed from copse to copse, and thicket to thicket, as though phantom horsemen hunted in the purlieus of the forest.

“Thousands devils!” exclaimed Villefort, “I am too late.”

“There is no doubt of that, my dear captain. And being too late, you will do well to draw rein awhile at yonder tavern, where I shall introduce you presently to the Count of Brives himself.”

“The Count of Brives is coming here?”

“Unquestionably he is. He will come before the clock strikes again, to fight my master, who stands before the door there. Meanwhile let me present you to the Chevalier Guibert.”

They rode up to the tavern door with a great clatter of spur and caparison. Villefort, on his part, did not know whether he stood on his head or his heels; he was saying to himself that the Count of Brives had escaped him after all. While he did not believe the dwarfs story, and was still determined to search the château, he had the wish, nevertheless, to hear what the stranger might say, and to delay for that purpose while the host of the auberge could water the horses of his men and bring cups of wine. The troopers, glad in their turn to leave the darkness of the wood behind them, dismounted joyously, and were soon swarming in the little courtyard, to the great delight of the wenches of the inn, and the great confusion of its master.

There were two horsemen before the door of the auberge; one a big fellow dressed in black velvet, the other possessing a figure so fragile and so pretty, so slim and boyish, that passers-by might well have called it the figure of a girl. A group of servants, heavily armed and mounted on magnificent bay horses, stood apart, awaiting the pleasures of the travellers, the younger of whom was dressed in a suit of purple silk, and carried a sword in a scabbard frosted with diamonds of exceeding brilliancy. It was to the latter that Yerut the dwarf now presented Monsieur de Villefort.

“My master, the Chevalier Guibert—the Chevalier Guibert, my servant,” he said, with a gesture of self-importance not to be described.

“Your servant!” roared Villefort. “Body of Paul, I have the mind to write that upon your tongue!”

The dwarf grinned horribly.

“You could not spell it, Monsieur de Villefort,” said he.

Corinne, for she it was who wore the purple dress, silenced Yerut with a look.

“Monsieur,” she said very sweetly, “you must forgive one who, though young in years, is old in liberties. That will be easier to do, since I am able to be of some service to you to-night.”

“To be of service to me, monsieur?”

“As I say, to be of service to you. Have you not come to Ussy to arrest Eugène Sabatier?”

Villefort regarded the questioner closely.

“You know that, monsieur?”

“Undoubtedly, I know it; and since I alone can help you to succeed, you may not think it a waste of time to drink a cup of wine with me.”

Villefort bowed stiffly, and entered the house with her. At the same moment, the dwarf was deep in talk with Gaspard, the rider in black, who had turned his horse towards the forest.

“We shall keep him an hour, if that be possible,” said the dwarf. “The men will be drunk before then. Let the count ride for his life to Versailles; if time serve, he will find us at the cross-road beyond Essonne.”

“The devil dry their throats!” muttered Bénôit, giving rein to his horse. “I count upon you, Yerut, in all things. Hold yon booty but an hour, and no woman in France shall keep Eugène Sabatier from the king.”

The dwarf stood to watch the darkness of the forest enshroud the galloping figure. Then he returned to the inn and found that Villefort and the Chevalier Guibert, his mistress, were already busy over a flask of wine, set out in a little room upon the first floor. But while the mock chevalier was comfortable in a low wooden chair, the Captain of the Guard paced the room as one who delays but an instant, and that unwillingly.

“Chevalier,” he was saying, “it may be true that the Count of Brives is warned of my coming; yet if that be so, what madness will carry him to this inn when he should be upon the road to the frontier?”

“The same madness which makes the lark sing at dawn and the sun set at eve, monsieur,” chimed in the dwarf, who squatted upon the table and raised a flagon merrily; “the madness of the cow for the moon; the howl of the dog when the horn is winded—the folly of Monsieur de Villefort who chases the stag—ma foi, the quest of a wench's pretty lips, and hey, for her eyes in the dark.”

Villefort stopped in his walk. The flickering light of spluttering candles fell upon his angry face weirdly.

“Heaven deliver me from this madman!” he cried.

“Monsieur,” said the dwarf, “it is the duty of fools to be sane. Would you have me dull my wits until they were no brighter than those of Henri de Villefort? And there you fall upon a plain tale, and shall see how truly I am mad. For if Nature teaches the lark to call for his mate, and sheds the dew upon the thirsty ground, shall she less befriend the man who, learning that the wench is at the inn, has the mind to sample the lips of yesterday! God's truth, my captain, it is writ as large as the nose on your ugly face.”

Villefort raised his fist as though to strike the dwarf, but Corinne stood between them.

“Hold your tongue, Yerut,” she said. “Indeed, monsieur, I know not how to excuse him, unless it be that with it all he tells you the truth. The Count of Brives would go a hundred miles to avoid this inn if he knew that the Chevalier Guibert awaited him here; but he would ride a hundred miles to reach it if one told him that Corinne de Montesson was to make it a house of call.”

Villefort forgot his anger.

“You mean to say that he will come here to-night to meet her?”

“As he thinks, monsieur. My servant has even now ridden to the château to tell him that you have turned back to Franchard, and that Corinne de Montesson is here with news which will save his life.”

Villefort roared with laughter. The dwarf roared, too; so that the very rafters rang with their shouts.

“Ho, ho, ho!” laughed Henri de Villefort, “you tell him that his mistress is here, and when he comes you will cut his throat. How you love him, Chevalier!”

“How I love him!” muttered Corinne; and she meant every word she said.

“How he loves him!” roared the dwarf, choking with laughter and with wine.

But Corinne's heart beat wildly. She was asking herself if the tale had, indeed, borne such good fruit. She looked at the clock and saw that they had been already twenty minutes in the inn. She said that Bénôit was at the château, now; they were saddling the horses,—oh, for an hour, for an hour yet to win her lover's liberty!

Villefort ceased to laugh and went to the window.

“Saint John!” said he, “if the Count of Brives rides towards the inn, I will even go a little way to meet him,” and then he bawled to his troops: “ho, there, you sots!—do you hear me calling?”

The dwarf leaped from the table and put his grinning head beside that of the captain.

“Ho, there, you sots,” he repeated; “another bottle apiece to the health of the Chevalier Guibert!”

The troopers, who had come out into the moonlight, went, shouting, back to the kitchen of the inn—

“Ho, there, another bottle apiece to the health of the Chevalier Guibert!”

Yerut pulled Monsieur de Villefort from the window and shut it. Corinne's heart seemed to stand still.

“Upon my word, Monsieur de Villefort,” said the dwarf, “you are a very foolish man. Would you tell all Ussy that you lie here this night? For Heaven's sake, hold your tongue, or if you cannot do that, bury it in this flagon.”

He pushed a flagon of wine toward the Captain of the Guard. Villefort did not notice the curious taste of the liquor; but when he had drunk, his head swam and the candles danced before his eyes.

“I shall go to Ussy,” he cried doggedly. “It is a plot to detain me here.”

The dwarf took a pack of cards from his pocket and began to cut it. Corinne looked at the clock. Would the great hand never reach the hour? It seemed so to her.

“Go or stay,” cried Yerut, with indifference, “it is the same to me and to my master; and I will tell you this, captain, that if we did not wish to see the Count of Brives very much we would not rest another hour with so impertinent a fellow.”

QueenOfTheJesters 284--with a crash upon the head of de Villefort.jpg

Brought it with a Crash upon the Head of Henri de Villefort.

Villefort, who was dizzy with the drugged wine and enraged beyond endurance, drew his sword and confronted the dwarf.

“Dog!” he roared, “I will teach you manners. That is the tenth time you have insulted me this night.”

“The eleventh, monsieur,” said Yerut, who still squatted upon the table. “The eleventh, as I live; and you do well to count, for I am going to make it twelve.”

Leaping up with a cat-like agility, the dwarf seized a flagon of wine and brought it crash upon the head of Henri de Villefort. So terrible was the blow, that the Captain of the Guard reeled back to the wall; and, while the liquor still poured down his gaudy vest and dripped from his lank hair, the drug they had given him did its work, and he fell senseless upon the sanded floor.

Two minutes later the Chevalier Guibert and Yerut the singer rode from the courtyard of the inn. To the troopers, gathered round them inquiringly, they said,—

“Another flask to the health of the Captain of the Guard!”

And so, throwing crowns upon the flags, they galloped from Ussy, and soon were lost to view in the labyrinth of the forest.

Dawn, grey-garbed and melancholy, was hovering above the valley of the Seine when the Count of Brives and Bénôit, who rode with him, drew rein at the parting of the ways beyond Essonne. A mist of morning lay upon the awakening pastures; the rushes bent to the flood of the swirling waters; night answered reluctantly to the heralds of the lagging sun. Dew lay thick upon the brown-burnt grasses; the air was chill and searching as a breath of winter.

“They do not come,” said Bénôit, whose horse, like that of the other, was white with foam. “God grant that Yerut has not failed us.”

“I think of mademoiselle,” said the count, impatiently. “What is it to me that I am upon the road to Versailles if misfortune has overtaken her at Ussy?”

Ma foi, you complain too soon, count. Hark to that music; it is the ring of hoofs behind us!”

They listened a little while, and then were sure. The sounds magnified and became clearer; care passed from the boyish face of Eugène Sabatier.

“It is Corinne,” he cried joyfully. “Oh, God be thanked!”

Two figures loomed up from the mists; two horses were reined back upon their haunches.

“Eugène, is it thou?”

“Corinne, beloved!”

But Yerut the dwarf was looking at the river, and Bénôit, the kinsman of mademoiselle, became so blind of a sudden that he could scarce see the mane of his horse.

Henri de Villefort entered the gardens of Versailles at three o'clock of the afternoon. He still wore a coat upon which purple patches spoke of the inn at Ussy. His high boots were brown with the dust; his head was bandaged and his walk uncertain. Side by side with him walked Chamillart, Marquis de la Suze.

“You have failed, monsieur,” exclaimed Chamillart, with assumed astonishment, “yet the Count of Brives was at his château last night.”

Villefort ground his teeth.

“His friends surprised me,” he stammered; “I crossed swords with one of them, and was wounded. There is fresh blood upon my coat now, and it was fifteen hours ago—”

He was about to continue his apologies when from a tree upon his right hand there came that haunting demoniacal cry he had heard in the forest of Fontainebleau when Yerut the singer had confronted him. It rose and fell like the wailing of the wind; it froze the words upon the lips of Henri de Villefort.

“Thousand devils!” he yelled, “it is the man monkey again—”

“At your service, Monsieur de Villefort—you seek the Count of Brives; he is yonder with the king, who has just given him a command.”

The dwarf was perched upon the branch of the tree. His lap was full of sweetmeats; he grinned like a cat, but fell presently to laughing incontrollably, as he had laughed in the forest.

“Ho, ho, ho, ho!—you crossed swords with one of the count's friends, Monsieur de Villefort! Body of Paul, it was with the wine bottle that you fought—”

“You lie,” retorted Villefort; “I fought with the Chevalier Guibert—”

“Who is yonder with the count?—but he wears a petticoat this morning, my captain. What a thing to tell in the palace that Henri de Villefort was worsted by a woman!”

“Dog!” roared Villefort, “it is to you that I owe this, to you and your lies—you who were to bury the master of Ussy—”

“Tais-toi, tais-toi,” answered the dwarf, “look at yon pair, and tell me if my mistress is not also master of Ussy, cher Monsieur de Villefort. But the Chevalier Guibert we buried last night. A truth, a truth! And now they laugh at you, captain. The king laughs. The queen laughs. I, Yerut, laugh.”

Villefort could stand it no more. He strode away with the dwarfs horrid laughter still ringing in his ears; but old Chamillart, who watched Corinne and the count pacing the distant avenue by the side of Louis the Well-beloved, chuckled horribly.

“I said she would fool him,” he muttered; “I said that she would save her lover—Saint John, if she would but look into my eyes like that!”

“Ho, ho!” said the dwarf in the tree, “she can look into the eyes of a wolf every day.” And then he fell to singing:—

A quel diable ce drôle allait-il à l'école?

Chamillart, Marquis de la Suze, shook his cane at the imp, and turned sadly from the garden.


THE END