Assuring myself that he did understand, and that Maignan and La Trape were at hand if he should attempt anything, I went back to my place, and sitting down by De Vic began to watch that strange game; while Mademoiselle's laughter and Madame de Lude's gibes floated across the court, and mingled with the eager applause and more dexterous criticisms of the courtiers. The light was beginning to sink, and for this reason, perhaps, no one perceived the Spaniard's pallor; but De Vic, after a rally or two, remarked that he was not playing his full strength.
"Yes," I said. "Who plays well against kings plays ill."
De Vic laughed. "How he sweats!" he said, "and he never turned a hair when he played Colet. I suppose he is nervous."
And so they chattered and laughed--chattered and laughed, seeing an ordinary game between the King and a marker; while I, for whom the court had grown sombre as a dungeon, saw a villain struggling in his own toils, livid with the fear of death, and tortured by horrible apprehensions. Use and habit were still so powerful with the man that he played on mechanically with his hands, but his eyes every now and then sought mine with the look of the trapped beast; and on these occasions I could see his lips move in prayer or cursing. The sweat poured down his face as he moved to and fro, and I, fancied that his features were beginning to twitch. Presently--I have said that the light was failing, so that it was not in my imagination only that the court was sombre --the King held his ball. "My friend, your man is not well," he said, turning to me.
"It is nothing, sire; the honour you do him makes him nervous," I answered. "Play up, sirrah," I continued; "you make too good a courtier."
Mademoiselle d'Entragues clapped her hands and laughed at the hit; and I saw Diego glare at her with an indescribable look, in which hatred and despair and a horror of reproach were so nicely mingled with something as exceptional as his position, that the whole baffled words. Doubtless the gibes and laughter he heard, the trifling that went on round him, the very game in which he was engaged, and from which he dared not draw back, seemed in his eyes the most appalling mockery; but ignorant who were in the secret, unable to guess how his diabolical plot had been discovered, uncertain even whether the whole were not a concerted piece, he went on playing his part mechanically; with starting eyes and labouring chest, and lips that, twitching and working, lost colour each minute. At length he missed a stroke, and staggering leaned against the wall, his-face livid and ghastly. The King took the alarm at that, and cried out that something was wrong. Those who were sitting rose. I nodded to Maignan to go to the man.
"It is a fit," I said. "He is subject to them, and doubtless the excitement--but I am sorry that it has spoiled your Majesty's game.
"It has not," Henry answered kindly. "The light is gone. But have him looked to, will you, my friend? If La Riviere were here he might do something for him."
Reminder: Arrow keys left and right (← →) to turn pages forward and backward, up and down (↑ ↓) to scroll up and down, Enter key: return to the list