Discerning nothing for it at the moment save to bow before this storm, which had arisen so suddenly, and from a quarter the least expected, I hastened to comply. I had not proceeded far with my story, however--which fell short, of course, of explaining how the key came to be in Madame de Verneuil's hands--before I saw that it won no credence with the queen, but rather confirmed her in her belief that the King had given to another what he had denied to her. And more; I saw that in proportion as the tale failed to convince her, it excited the King's wrath and disappointment. He several times cut me short with expressions of the utmost impatience, and at last, when I came to a lame conclusion--since I could explain nothing except that the key was gone--he could restrain himself no longer. In a tone in which he had never addressed me before, he asked me why I had not, on the instant, communicated the loss to him; and when I would have defended myself by adducing the reason I have given above, overwhelmed me with abuse and reproaches, which, as they were uttered in the queen's presence, and would be repeated, I knew, to the Concinis and Galigais of her suite, who had no occasion to love me, carried a double sting.
Nevertheless, for a time, and until he had somewhat worn himself out, I let Henry proceed. Then, taking advantage of the first pause, I interposed. Reminding him that he had never had cause to accuse me of carelessness before, I recalled the twenty-two years during which I had served him faithfully, and the enmities I had incurred for his sake; and having by these means placed the discussion on a more equal footing, I descended again to particulars, and asked respectfully if I might know on whose authority Madame de Verneuil was said to have the cipher.
"On her own!" the queen cried hysterically. "Don't try to deceive me,--for it will be in vain. I know she has it; and if the King did not give it to her, who did?"
"That is the question, madam," I said.
"It is one easily answered," she retorted. "If you do not know, ask her."
"But, perhaps, madam, she will not answer," I ventured.
"Then command her to answer in the King's name!" the queen replied, her cheeks burning with fever. "And if she will not, then has the King no prisons--no fetters smooth enough for those dainty ankles?"
This was a home question, and Henry, who never showed to less advantage than when he stood between two women, cast a sheepish glance at me. Unfortunately the queen caught the look, which was not intended for her; and on the instant it awoke all her former suspicions. Supposing that she had discovered our collusion, she flung herself back with a cry of rage, and bursting into a passion of tears, gave way to frantic reproaches, wailing and throwing herself about with a violence which could not but injure one in her condition.
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