The King nodded, and could not repress a shudder. "Yes," he said; "but not, thank Heaven, until he had left the closet. He had something about him."
Sillery began anxiously to clear himself; but the King, with his usual good nature, stopped him, and bade us all go and dine, saying that we must be famished. He ended by directing me to be back in an hour, since his own appetite was spoiled. "And bring with you all your patience," he added, "for I have a hundred questions to ask you. We will walk towards Avon, and I will show you the surprise which I am preparing for the queen."
Alas, I would I could say that all ended there. But the rancour of which Madame de Verneuil had given token in her interview with me was rather aggravated than lessened by the failure of her plot and the death of her tool. It proved to be impenetrable by all the kindnesses which the King lavished upon her; neither the legitimation of the child which she soon afterwards bore, nor the clemency which the King--against the advice of his wisest ministers extended to her brother Auvergne, availing to expel it from her breast. How far she or that ill-omened family were privy to the accursed crime which, nine years later, palsied France on the threshold of undreamed-of glories, I will not take on myself to say; for suspicion is not proof. But history, of which my beloved master must ever form so great a part, will lay the blame where it should rest.
In the month of August of this year the King found some alleviation of the growing uneasiness which his passion for Madame de Conde occasioned him in a visit to Monceaux, where he spent two weeks in such diversions as the place afforded. He invited me to accompany him, but on my representing that I could not there--so easily as in my own closet, where I had all the materials within reach--prepare the report which he had commanded me to draw up, he directed me to remain in Paris until it was ready, and then to join him.
This report which he was having written, not only for his own satisfaction but for the information of his heir, took the form of a recital of all the causes and events, spread over many years, which had induced him to take in hand the Great Design; together with a succinct account of the munitions and treasures which he had prepared to carry it out. As it included many things which were unknown beyond the council, and some which he shared only with me--and as, in particular, it enumerated the various secret alliances and agreements which he had made with the princes of North Germany, whom a premature discovery must place at the Emperor's mercy--it was necessary that I should draw up the whole with my own hand, and with the utmost care and precaution. This I did; and that nothing might be wanting to a memorial which I regarded with justice as the most important of the many State papers which it had fallen to my lot; to prepare, I spent seven days in incessant labour upon it. It was not, therefore, until the third week in August: that I was free to travel to Monceaux.
I found my quarters assigned to me in a pavilion called the Garden House; and, arriving at supper time, sat down with my household with more haste and less ceremony than was my wont. The same state of things prevailed, I suppose, in the kitchen; for we had not been seated half an hour when a great hubbub arose in the house, and the servants rushing in cried out that a fire had broken out below, and that the house was in danger of burning.
In such emergencies I take it to be the duty of a man of standing to bear himself with as much dignity as is consistent with vigour; and neither to allow himself to be carried away by the outcry and disorder of the crowd, nor to omit any direction that may avail. On this occasion, however, my first thought was given to the memorial I had prepared for the King; which I remembered had been taken with other books and papers to a room over the kitchen. I lost not a moment, therefore, in sending Maignan for it; nor until I held it safely in my hand did I feel myself at liberty to think of the house. When I did, I found that the alarm exceeded the danger; a few buckets of water extinguished a beam in the chimney which had caught fire, and in a few moments we were able to resume the meal with the added vivacity which such an event gave to the conversation. It has never been my custom to encourage too great freedom at my table; but as the company consisted, with a single exception, of my household, and as this person--a Monsieur de Vilain, a young gentleman, the cousin of one of my wife's maids-of-honour--showed himself possessed of modesty as well as wit, I thought that the time excused a little relaxation.
This was the cause of the misfortune which followed, and bade fair to place me in a position of as great difficulty as I have ever known; for, having in my good humour dismissed the servants, I continued to talk for an hour or more with Vilain and some of my gentlemen; the result being that I so far forgot myself, when I rose, as to leave the report where I had laid it on the table. In the passage I met a man whom the King had sent to inquire about the fire; and thus reminded of the papers I turned back to the room; greatly vexed with myself for negligence which in a subordinate I should have severely rebuked, but never doubting that I should find the packet where I had left it.
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