Seeing that it was the missing key to the cipher, I swallowed my rage and took it; and being assured by this time that I could effect nothing by staying longer, but should only expose myself to fresh insults, I turned on my heel, with rudeness equal to her own, and, without taking leave of her, flung the door open and went out. I heard her throw herself back with a shrill laugh of triumph. But as, the moment the door fell to behind me, my thoughts began to cast about for another way of escape--this failing--I took little heed of her, and less of the derisive looks to which the household, quickly taking the cue, treated me as I passed. I flung myself into the saddle and galloped off, followed by Maignan, who presently, to my surprise, blurted out a clumsy word of congratulation.
I turned on him in amazement, and, swearing at him, asked him what he meant.
"You have got it," he said timidly, pointing to the packet which I mechanically held in my hand.
"And to what purpose?" I cried, glad of this opportunity of unloading some of my wrath. "I want, not the paper, but the secret, fool! You may have the paper for yourself if you will tell me how Madame got it."
Nevertheless, his words led me to look at the packet. I opened it, and, having satisfied myself that it contained the original and not a copy, was putting it up again when my eyes fell on a small spot of blood which marked one corner of the cover. It was not larger than a grain of corn, but it awoke, first, a vague association and then a memory, which as I rode grew stronger and more definite, until, on a sudden, discovery flashed upon me--and the truth. I remembered where I had seen spots of blood before --on the papers I had handed to Ferret and remembered, too, where that blood had come from. I looked at the cut now, and, finding it nearly healed, sprang in my saddle. Of a certainty this paper had gone through my hands that day! It had been among the others; therefore it must have been passed to Ferret inside another when I first opened the bag! The rogue, getting it and seeing his opportunity, and that I did not suspect, had doubtless secreted it, probably while I was attending to my hand.
I had not suspected him before, because I had ticked off the earlier papers as I handed them to him; and had searched only among the rest and in the bag for the missing one. Now I wondered that I had not done so, and seen the truth from the beginning; and in my impatience I found the leagues through the forest, though the sun was not yet high and the trees sheltered us, the longest I had ridden in my life. When the roofs of the chateau at length appeared before us, I could scarcely keep my pace within bounds. Reflecting how Madame de Verneuil had over- reached herself, and how, by indulging in that last stroke of arrogance, she had placed the secret in my hands, I had much ado to refrain from going to the King booted and unwashed as I was; and though I had not eaten since the previous evening. However, the habit of propriety, which no man may lightly neglect, came to my aid. I made my toilet, and, having broken my fast standing, hastened to the Court. On the way I learned that the King was in the queen's garden, and, directing my steps thither, found him walking with my colleagues, Villeroy and Sillery, in the little avenue which leads to the garden of the Conciergerie. A number of the courtiers were standing on the low terrace watching them, while a second group lounged about the queen's staircase. Full of the news which I had for the King, I crossed the terrace; taking no particular heed of anyone, but greeting such as came in my way in my usual fashion. At the edge of the terrace I paused a moment before descending the three steps; and at the same moment, as it happened, Henry looked up, and our eyes met. On the instant he averted his gaze, and, turning on his heel in a marked way, retired slowly to the farther end of the walk.
The action was so deliberate that I could not doubt he meant to slight me; and I paused where I was, divided between grief and indignation, a mark for all those glances and whispered gibes in which courtiers indulge on such occasions. The slight was not rendered less serious by the fact that the King was walking with my two colleagues; so that I alone seemed to be out of his confidence, as one soon to be out of his councils also.
I perceived all this, and was not blind to the sneering smiles which were exchanged behind my back; but I affected to see nothing, and to be absorbed in sudden thought. In a minute or two the King turned and came back towards me; and again, as if he could not restrain his curiosity, looked up so that our eyes met. This time I thought that he would beckon me to him, satisfied with the lengths to which he had already carried his displeasure. But he turned again, with a light laugh.
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