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Title:      The King's Passport (1928)
Author:     H. Bedford-Jones
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.:  0400481.txt
Edition:    1
Language:   English
Character set encoding:     Latin-1(ISO-8859-1)--8 bit
Date first posted:          May 2004
Date most recently updated: May 2004

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A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook

Title:      The King's Passport (1928)
Author:     H. Bedford-Jones





Dedicated in Gratitude,
Friendship and Admiration
To
S. S. McClure

Published by A. L. Burt Company
New York, N. Y.



THE KING'S PASSPORT

CHAPTER I


Starlight and evening cold, thin snow crisp on the street-
stones; Paris in 1640.

Houses etched with snow-white roofs and gables, November
wind sharp, howling up the Seine valley; the dark streets
empty, desolate, unkindly.  Destiny, leading three men to
her crossroads -- three men, noble, prince, commoner.

To the bridge of Notre Dame came the first man.   He paused
in shelter of the parapet and gazed across  at St. Germain
in shivering indecision, He failed   to see another figure
come hurrying toward the bridge; the other failed to see
him there in shadow.  The two men collided sharply.

The man in haste snarled an oath of surprise, of  fright,
of anger. He whipped out a dagger and  lunged furiously at
the first man. The two grappled, reeled, slipped in the
snow and came down together. Pierced through the heart by
his own weapon, the assailant lay outsprawled and dead.
Beside him two objects were fallen in the snow -- a heavy
purse, and a rolled document on thick vellum.

The first man knelt, found his assailant dead, picked up
the two objects, and rose. Abruptly, the desolation gave
tongue.  The bridge held voices, bobbing yellow lanterns,
archers of the "guet," the night-watch. No passing toward
St. Germain now! Turn back to the Cite -- turn, turn
swiftly!

Hat pulled low, face muffled, the first man strode away
rapidly and yet aimlessly, as one not knowing whither he
went. Presently he came into a narrow and tortuous street,
the Rue de Ia Juiverie. Light glimmered ahead, from the
thick-glassed windows of a tavern, whose sign of a pinecone
overhung the street.

Trampled snow here, heavily marked from the tavern doorway,
sign of company lately departed. Peering in at the window,
the first man saw the place all empty, still faintly blue
with tobacco smoke. The door swung to his hand. He crossed
to the darkest corner, flung the purse upon the table, and
upon the host's appearance ordered supper at once, a
sumptuous supper. Then he unrolled the vellum document and
perused it.

Destiny had accomplished its task, had brought the first
man to the place appointed.

The second man appeared, meantime, in shadow of the nearby
church of Ste. Magdaleine. A tall figure, Gascon oaths upon
his lips, guardman's sash beneath his cloak.  A companion
was with him.  Two figures in the dim snowy street by the
church enclosure, pausing, conferring together.

"Mordious!" said the second man.  "Then the spot suits
you?"

"Agreed," said the other.  "Luckily, M. de Cyrano, it is
your sword I must face and not your nose -- "

"En garde!" exclaimed the second man brusquely. "Brr! Too
cold for long work -- at the third riposte, I warn you. The
third riposte; remember -- "

The rasp of rapiers drawn from scabbard, the salute, the
sharp click of crossed blades meeting, the sharper ring of
steel against hilt. "One!" said the second man.  His
companion cursed him. "Two!" he said, and then laughed and
bore back under a furious attack.

"Three!"  His companion coughed and fell, pierced through
the throat.

The second man stooped above him, rose with a shrug, wiped
and replaced his blade.  He stood listening.  Clamor broke
upon the night, sharp shouts, whistles. The watch? Perhaps.
In any event, haste -- the edict against duels meant death!
The second man strode rapidly, with the air of knowing
exactly whither he went. He came to the Pinecone Tavern,
thrust open the door, looked around. Seeing the dim figure
of the first man at a corner table, he himself picked the
next darkest spot and settled down.

The second man had achieved the highway of his own destiny.

Out in the street was the third man of this fated trio. A
smallish man, slender, very active, running, a man in
shivering frantic haste. He was naked except for his
fluttering shirt, held a crimsoned sword in hand, and
cursed the half -  frozen slops and garbage where his bare
feet slipped.  Somewhere far in his wake, a confused and
clamorous uproar, a riot of voices and whistles.

Young, this third man, panting and desperate, but none the
less shrewd.  The glimmer of the Pinecone's windows shone
ahead. He kept to the trampled street-center, glanced in at
the window, saw the tavern apparently empty.  No stop, no
pause; he ran on, made a sudden leap to a house-wall where
no snow lay. Then he turned, ran back to the tavern
entrance.  He flung open the door, stumbled in, and slammed
the door again. A young man, yes, young, cold, excited, yet
entirely master of himself.

The host appeared, to fling up both hands and stare open
mouthed.

"Name of a name!  Such a costume -- in this weather --"

"Silence!" chattered the third man.  "They're after me  -
don't know who I am -  get me clothes, food! I'm
d'Artagnan, cadet in the guards --"

"Eh?  Pursued, m'sieu? Aye, your sword --"

"Damnation!" cried d'Artagnan, torn betwixt cold and fury.
"I was visiting a friend, jumped into street -- clothes and
wine, fool! The watch is coming - "
He turned, saw the other two men there, and fell into
abrupt dismayed silence.

The host of the Pinecone was used to emergencies, for
beneath his roof gathered students and guardsmen, nobles
and poets. If the greatest men of Paris sometimes came
here, so did the wildest blades -  and also the sergeants
of the watch, to whom the Pinecone and its clientele were
very well known.

"Come," said he, and caught the arm of d'Artagnan, hurrying
him across the doorway giving on the kitchens. They
disappeared together.

The third man, too, had come down fate's highway to the
crossroad of his destiny.

In the great inn-room, none too well lighted, there was
momentary silence. Then broke from the second man a gust of
laughter, laughter and a hearty Gascon oath.

"Capededious! Here's a new fashion of visiting. Ho, my
shadowy unknown friend, did you see the stripling in his
shirt? Visiting a friend, says he, and jumped into the
street! Ho, ho, that's a good one! And the friend's husband
came in unexpectedly, eh? Devil take me, where's our host?
If I don't get some food before me, the watch will be along
and raise the devil! They always blame me for any trouble -
  must make 'em think I've been here a while --"

In his shadowed corner, the first man chuckled.

"I've ordered everything in the place, so you're out of
luck. Come and join me, if you like -- I also want dinner
on the table when the watch arrives.  What do you say?"

"Mordious!  With all my heart!" cried the Gascon, and rose.

To the curious gaze of the first man, he displayed a most
remarkable figure. He was tall and very long in the arm,
obviously a born swordsman, since his movements were lithe
and sure-footed. Also, he was young -- two-and-twenty, at a
guess. Twenty-one to be exact.

Heavy black brows shadowed two wide-set and most notable
eyes -- eyes glittering and gleaming with buried fires,
eyes arrogant and challenging, yet filled with an oddly
questing light as though searching for something everywhere
denied him. It was not hard to imagine those eyes filled
with savage glare; to imagine them gentle and melancholy. A
man who covered his real self with a cloak of bragadocio.

Sensitive lips, swarthy face much scarred by black mustache
-  and a nose. Large noses were never uncommon in Paris,
and to this day your born  Parisian is in town slang a
"big-beak"; still, here was something different,
noteworthy. It was not the nose of a masquer, sticking
straight out at the world. Instead, it was the curved,
thin-nostriled beak of an eagle -- larger than true
proportion justified, large enough to catch the attention
at Once.

The host came into the room, followed by a garcon bearing
dishes. At sight of this standing figure he halted.

"Ah! You, M. Savinien!  I did not see you here --"

In the street rang a whistle-blast.

"I'm here," said Savinien, striding to the table of the
first man.  "And I dine with this gentleman -- down with
the dinner!  Sharpen your wits, Francois -- get your naked
man here with us, and swift about it! The watch is in the
street now.  Quick, man, quick!"

M. Savinien de Cyrano plumped himself into a chair as he
spoke.  The host wakened and made a dash for the kitchen.
The garcon jumped to obey. Down came steaming capons,
pewter plates and flagons, bread, knives, sauce. The first
man, still a shadowy figure, slapped knife into flesh and
hastily dumped portions on the plates.

"Another Plate!" he exclaimed.  "Move sharp, now!"

The Gascon whipped about a third chair and placed it at the
table, while the waiter seized plate and mug from the rack
above the hearth. An instant later d'Artagnan appeared at
the kitchen door, buttoning a borrowed doublet. He was
across the room in an instant, flinging himself into the
third chair.  A laugh broke on his lips as he eyed the
other two men.

"Well met, comrades!" he exclaimed.  "I owe you thanks --
at your service!"

Voices in the street, whistles, trampling feet; the door
was flung open.  Into the tavern came stamping four
sergeants of the watch with an officer, bringing in their
wake hot oaths, cold air, the keen breath of snow.

"Ha!" cried the officer to the host.  "Here are riots and
tumults in the Cite, M. Francois, and all roads lead to
your door! We have business here, it seems."

"Not with my guests, M. de Moray," said the host sturdily.
"here are only three gentlemen of the guards --"

"Precisely the three men we are seeking, perhaps."  The
officer turned to the corner table. "Gentlemen, your
pardon! I am searching for, imprimis, a man in his shirt
who has wounded an honest bourgeois and killed two 1ackeys
--"

The hook-nosed guardsman broke into a guffaw.

"With his shirt or with his teeth, M. de Moray? We all have
shirts, thanks be to the saints! If your man had nothing on
but a shirt, he is obviously not present."

"Ah!" The officer peered at the speaker. "You, M. Savinien
de Cyrano!"

"Plus de Bergerac," said the Gascon easily. "I don't like
the name of de Cyrano -- it's not poetical, doesn't trip in
the right meter to suit me. Also, the names of Alexandre
Savinien -- don't they hold an Italian touch to your ear,
M. de Moray?  Plain Cyrano de Bergerac, now, goes much
better. Don't forget the de Bergerac, my dear lieutenant!"

"I shan't forget it," said the officer of police drily.
"You're no doubt aware that duels are prohibited?"

"I should be!" Cyrano stretched out his long legs and
laughed. "M. de Casteljaloux threatens to expel me from his
company if I have any more!"

"Some moments ago," said M. de Moray, "we came upon a
gentleman of the guards, dead. His sword was out, and so
was his life. He was pinked in the throat, and it appears
to have been your signature, my dear M. Savinien."

"De Bergerac," added the Gascon whimsically.  "De Bergerac,
I beg of you!"

"And the footsteps in the snow brought us here."

"Eh?" Cyrano opened his eyes widely. "Were they my
footsteps, then?  Because I am. here at dinner, and you
found footsteps in the snow -- come, my dear Moray, do not
be absurd!"
The Officer bit his lip.

"Hm!" he said, Staring at the shadowy figure.  "Who's this
other gentleman?  Perhaps it was he whose footsteps also
led thither! Perhaps it was he who killed M. Bernard of the
Cardinal's household on the Pont de Notre Dame, not long
since!"

"Perhaps, perhaps not," rejoined the first man.  You
following men or footsteps, monsieur?  If you want
footsteps, you're entirely welcome. If you want me, that's
another matter entirely. You've not connected me with any
crime."

Moray was furious at this pleasantry.  "Lanterns here!" he
ordered.  "We'll see with whom we're dealing --"

D'Artagnan rose. For all his late terror, despite his
gangling youth, he was now coolness itself as he intervened
and drew all attention upon himself.

"We're not hiding ourselves, my dear sir," he said. "I am
M. d'Artagnan, cadet in the company of M. des Essarts. Do I
understand, m'sieu, that you suspect me of having killed a
man on the Notre Dame bridge, another gentleman in the
street, and of parading naked? Come! As to the last charge,
you can see for yourself that I'm not naked. 0f the other
two matters, I know nothing, upon my word of honor! I am
dining here with friends."

M. de Moray was far from perceiving the piercing shrewdness
of this young man, whose air of patent honesty and
provincial simplicity cleared away the atmosphere of
suspicions by magic. The officer bowed.

"Perhaps we have been hasty. M. Savinien I know, but you,
M. d'Artagnan --"

"I am easily known," said d'Artagnan with a certain pride.
"My brother is 1ieutenant in the company of Persan; another
brother is in the Musketeers; my uncle bore the same name
in the same regiment, with some honor. You can see for
yourself, m'sieu, that we three have been here for some
time, dining, and naturally could know nothing of what was
passing outside."

The baffled officer turned again to the shadowy figure of
the first man.

" And you, monsieur? I do not recall your face."

The first man rose. He showed himself tall, gray-eyed,
young, of an extreme and even startling pallor. The
severity of his features hinted at suffering, but was
lightened by the laugh in his eyes. His garments were
astonishingly ragged and patched.

"I arrived in Paris only recently," he said. "I am on my
way to Jerusalem to visit the Holy Land, and have been away
from Paris for some time --"

"In which case you undoubtedly have a passport," suggested
the officer.

"Here it is."

He extended the vellum document, and watched the officer
open and decipher it.

His manner was poised, very tense and wary, his gray eyes
narrowly alert; his whole air betrayed uncertainty as to
the reception of this document. Cyrano perceived this,
laughed a little, and kicked out. The first man caught the
hint and relaxed slightly.

At this instant two other men, both rather small in build,
entered the tavern and crossed to a table opposite. They
were hatted, cloaked, faces muffled in scarves. They took
chairs and ordered wine.

"Ah! M. Nicolas Vaugon  - under the seal of His Majesty in
person!" exclaimed the officer as he read the document.


At these words, the two newcomers turned and stared at the
scene, then at each other, as though in blank astonishment.
M. de Moray returned the passport to Vaugon, with a bow.

"Gentlemen," he said, "I regret to have disturbed your
dinner, and I bid you goodnight. Eh? Two others here?"

He crossed to the two newcomers. One of them spoke in a low
voice, and the officer recoiled. Then he collected himself,
bowed deeply, turned, snapped an order at his men, and they
all stamped out of the Pinecone.

"It seems that Paris is unsafe at night," said Vaugon, his
voice shaky.

"Devilish unsafe for friends of His Eminence," amended
Cyrano.

D'Artagnan looked at them and smiled. His eyes were
singularly piercing and alert, but calculating. He bore an
air of keen sagacity, despite his evident youth -- an air
quite impressive in its magnificent self-confidence. Now he
seemed hugely amused at something.

"Your signature, M. de Bergerac -- that was neatly said!"
he observed in a low voice. "Lucky he did not notice the
smear of fresh blood on your baldric, eh?"

Cyrano started, looked down hastily, and brought the edge
of his cloak over his chest.

"You have sharp eyes -- bah! To tell the truth, footwork in
the snow was difficult, but it was a neat thrust. I'm glad
to make your acquaintance, M. d'Artagnan -- you stepped
nimbly into the breach. This new style you are setting, of
visiting friends in your shirt -- it interests me!"

A flush came into d'Artagnan's face, a flash of swift anger
into his eyes; then, before Cyrano's gay laugh, it died. He
leaned back in his chair and smiled.

"I deserved the jest, perhaps," he acknowledged. "M.
Vaugon, we both owe you thanks. Your dinner-party was an
inspiration. You were both here when I entered, I think?"

Vaugon chuckled. "Yes. M. de Bergerac had just come in. I
preceded him by a few minutes  - coming from the Pant de
Notre Dame."

D' Artagnan flung him a sharp look, then whistled. Cyrano
brought up his flagon with a bellow of laughter. The
confession was obvious.

"Good! Excellent! I drink to better acquaintance, M.
Vaugon!" he cried. "Look down upon us, spirits of the
illustrious dead who haunt these beams! We drink to your
laughter, my dear Rabelais -- how you would love this
scene! We drink to your benediction, Maitre Villon -- how I
can fancy your ghostly chuckle as you listened! To M.
Vaugon's health!"

"He needs it," said d'Artagnan, setting down his cup.
Vaugon looked at him.

"What mean you?"

D'Artagnan shrugged. "If M. de Moray had regarded the
remarkable red smear on the back of your passport, instead
of studying its face --"

"You have sharp eyes," and Vaugon smiled. "So we confess
our sins? Good. A stranger ran into me. He drew a dagger,
flew at me, and paid for it. There's the exact truth. He
dropped the passport and purse. I picked them up, having
need of both. That's all."

"And enough. Dangerous truth, my friend!" said d'Artagnan.
"It seems your stranger was M. Bernard of Richelieu's
household a little sub-secretary if I recall him aright.
Well, M. Vaugon, you're with gentlemen; your confession is
safe with us. "At the same time," he added, "look out! By
tomorrow, the Cardinal's spies will be searching all Paris
for that passport and its bearer!"

The talk was guarded, since all three were aware of the
newcomers across the room. Indeed, d'Artagnan was studying
those two men with his quick, shrewd eye, as though despite
cloaks and mufflings he found something ťamiliar in them.
Now Cyrano leaned forward and spoke half seriously, half
whimsically.

"We are comrades, we three -- each has saved the other this
night, and himself as well. But me, I am a poet, therefore
curious! My friend, I know the passport was not yours, So I
have the imprudence to ask your name. I owe you a debt, to
be paid some day."

"My name means nothing," said the stranger. "There is only
one man in Paris to whom it would mean anything."

"And that man?" queried Cyrano with frank interest.

"Richelieu."

"Bah! Come, then!" Cyrano clapped his hand upon that of
Vaugon. "If your name be that of Sathanas himself, I pledge
you friendship!  Regard our lucky triangle -- here a poet,
a guardsman, there a cadet of the guards, and a devilish
shrewd one too. And here --"
" A Montmorenci," said the stranger, smiling slightly.

At this name, Cyrano started. D'Artagnan's alert gaze left
the two men opposite and drove, at Vaugon. Montmorenci! The
great duke was dead and gone, a rebel, betrayed by his
allies, sent to the scaffold by Riche)ieu, to whose stern
grip all the princes of France had bent and broken in exile
or death. But this --

"There are no Montmorencis," said d'Artagnan under his
breath."

"There are none -- but there was one," said Vaugon simply.
"Two years ago he dwelt in England, unknown, his existence
unsuspected, living with friends of his father. Agents of
Richelieu tracked him down, seized him by night, kidnapped
him, brought him to the Bastille. He had no friends,no
money. His very name was unknown to the Governor of the
Bastille. He was plunged into a dungeon and forgotten, left
to die in the Basiniere itself, the worst hell in that pile
of gray stone."

Though scarce uttered above a whisper, these words held his
two auditors transfixed. D'Artagnan was keenly tensed,
Cyrano wide-eyed with interest.

"This man," continued Vaugon, bitterness in his
pallid face, "had not plotted against the Cardinal. In the
Bastille, he aspired to no vengeance. Yet he wanted
freedom! He had only the clothes on his back, youth, and he
wanted freedom."

"So!" Cyrano's avid imagination gulped at the truth.

"Alone, unknown, friendless, without money, rotting in the
Basiniere -- by what miracle could this man encounter M.
Bernard on the bridge of Notre Dame?"

"By using his head and a heaven-sent chance," said Vaugon,
and smiled. There was a moment of tense silence, broken by
the slow, crisp accents of d'Artagnan.

"Impossible! There has been no alarm. My friend, what you
tell us is a sacred confidence -- yet you relate the
impossible. In the Bastille is a marshal of France,
wealthy, powerful with great friends, but he has been there
ten years. If a Bassompierre could not escape --"

"A lesser man might," said the stranger. D'Artagnan
shrugged, and his eyes wandered back to the two cloaked men
opposite. Suddenly his mouth flew open. For an instant he
seemed to recoil, as though appalled by a recognition of
those men; or of one man only.

The others did not observe his consternation. From Cyrano
broke a laugh, as he pressed the hand of Vaugon and then
tipped his wine-cup over it.

"I baptize you Nicolas Vaugon!" he said merrily. "Being a
philosopher, I believe in the impossible. Good -- we are
friends! You are a man to know."

"I am a man to shun," dissented the other. "This lucky
passport saved me tonight; but tomorrow it might hang me,
as M. d'Artagnan has pointed out.  My company is dangerous.
I have no name -- my old one is dead with the past. I've no
ambitions, having gained freedom.  If I reached the King
himself, what could I ask? Nothing. I don't want the peril
of rank. I've no wealth to regain. Even His Majesty could
not protect me against the Cardinal."

"He cannot protect himself against the Cardinal," said
Cyrano drily, with all the worldly-wise cynicism of twenty-
one years -- most of them very dissipated years, too.

The statement, however, was well founded. Louis the Just,
as he was ironically termed, was old before his time, worn
down by self-indulgence, weak in vice and heritage of
vicious blood. It was not he who drove out the Medici,
quelled the princes, coalesced France into a unity,
enlarged her borders at the expense of Spain and Austria
and Lorraine, but his minister. And this minister might
himself be old, ravaged by diseased, facing death daily --
yet his strong grip on the sceptre of France could not be
broken "by the weaker man who wore the crown and lilies.

"When I got free in a workman's place," went on Vaugon
reflectively, "when I set foot outside the Bastille, got
shorn and shaved, walked away free, I swore to myself that
the past was dead -- that I'd take a new name and carve out
a new future. And I'll do it, if I must go to the Holy Land
in the guise of this unknown Nicolas Vaugon!"

D' Artagnan took his fascinated gaze from the two strangers
and looked at Vaugon,a certain youthful admiration in his
eyes.

"From what I gather," he said, "we're all in the same boat,
but you're luckier than we are. Out friend here, obviously,
was M. Savinien de Cyrano, and claps on a de Bergerac to
make it sound better. I came to Paris a few months ago
plain Charles de Batz-Castelmore, and took my uncle!s name
of d'Artagnan because it was fairly well known. Whereas,
you have the royal warrant for your change of name! That
is, if you can keep it. But we spoke of impossibilities.
Don't you know that when a prisoner escapes from the
Bastille, which upon my word is a rare thing, the alarm is
given to all Paris? Don't you -- you --"

Even while the words were Upon his Jips, the thick glass of
the windows shook, as the dull boom of a cannon lifted
heavily over the city. There was an instant's silence, and
Vaugon smiled. D'Artagnan leaned back and waved his hand.

"Eh, then, I apologize for my lack of faith!" He started
suddenly, as though remembering something. "Those two men
opposite -- they've recognized you, Vaugon!"

Vaugon laughed carelessly and lifted his flagon. "I return
your own word -- it's utterly impossible, my dear M.
d'Artagnan! Not even Richelieu knows my face! Only the
dull, half-witted jailer has ever looked in on me,"

"But devil take it, I've been watching them, and,
they're talking about you!" snapped d'Artagnan, his voice
urgent, "The man facing this way -- I've seen him often
enough at the Palais Cardinal. He's Mazarin, the
confidential secretary of Richelieu, the Italian abbe!
You'd best get out of here at once -- "

"Too late," broke in Cyrano coolly. "On guard, now! M.
Vaugon has saved us -- we must, if necessary, save him."

He fell silent. One of the two strangers was crossing to
their table, and now halted and bowed, disclosing his
features. He was no other than M. de Carbon de
Casteljaloux, in whose company Cyrano served.

"Your pardon, gentlemen. Ah, M. de Bergerac!"

"Good evening, my dear M. de Carbon," said Cyrano. "You
seek me?"

"Not at all. I hesitate to intrude, messieurs, but we have
come here to meet a certain M. Vaugon, and are somewhat
pressed for time. May I ask whether he is of your company?"

Vaugon rose. "I am he, monsieur."

"Then, if these gentlemen will excuse you for a little,
will you speak with us? No doubt you comprehend the
exigency of the case."

"Most assuredly," said Vaugon, with a dry smile. "By your
leave, my friends."

He accompanied his guide to the other table, unhurried,
unruffled. admiringly.

"There goes a man, Bergerac! And in the spider's web;"
Cyrano frowned assent and bent a dark gaze upon Mazarin,
the aide and shadow of the great minister.  M. de Bergerac
disliked Italians, and detested this particular Italian
very bitterly.



    CHAPTER II

To Nicholas Vaugon, as he now was, the brief half-minute as
he crossed to the other table and seated himself was
stretched into a mental hour. Every faculty was on the
alert; he could not comprehend the situation in the 1east.

He knew that Jules de Mazarin had been Guilio Mazarini, was
an Italian abbe, and was Richelieu's confidential secretary
and right-hand man. Mazarin kept his face cloaked, but his
eyes were sharp and brilliant, his voice was soft and
lisping, strongly tinged with an Italian accent.

"You are Nicolas Vaugon, m'sou?" he asked. "May I see your
passport?"

"Certainly, M. de Mazarin," said Vaugon. The other started
slightly. "You know me?"

Vaugon gave him a glance of surprise,  "Did you not come
here to meet me?"

"Ah!" Mazarin took the vellum and nodded. "I see M'sou
Bernard was indiscreet."

Vaugon smiled to himself. More indiscreet than this Italian
knew! But what the devil was it all about? Did it lead back
to the Bastille or ahead -- to safety?

"Your real name, m'sou?" asked Mazarin, returning the
passport.

"I have no other. It is here," said Vaugon at a venture,
and tapped the document. To his relief, Mazarin seemed much
pleased by the response.

"Admirable! How much, then, did Bernard te1l you?"

Vaugon thought rapidly. Pitched into this affair by sheer
force of chance, he was at least furnished with an
identity. Mazarin had entered the Pinecone too late to
learn from the watch that Bernard was dead. Therefore, only
a fool would fail to seize the opportunity -- and calculate
later whither it might lead!

Settling himself comfortably in his chair, Vaugon
determined to see the business through, He was conscious of
Mazarin's scrutiny, but did not fear it. In the very shadow
of the Bastille, he had obtained haircut and shave, and
even his jailer might fail to recognize him now.

"M. Bernard," he replied, "told me almost nothing. I met
him just this side the bridge of Notre Dame. He had been
seeking me vainly, was hurried and in a bad temper. He gave
me the passport --"

"And the purse?" said Mazarin anxiously.

"And the purse," echoed Vaugon. The other sighed and
gestured him to continue. Mazarin, who had hoarded the
hugest treasure in France even while under the eagle eye of
Richelieu, would far sooner lose a regiment of men than a
purse of gold pieces.

"It seems that Bernard was embroiled with some gentleman,"
pursued Vaugon coolly, knowing himself momentarily safe,
"who was awaiting him at one side. He gave me the passport
and purse, said to hurry here and meet you, no more. I
offered him my services with the other man, even gave him
my sword, as he had none, but he insisted that I come here
at once."

"You left M'sou Bernard fighting?" asked Mazarin.

"About to fight, at least."

"Well, well, he accomplished his errand! That's the main
thing. So you know nothing further?"

"Nothing, except that I have assumed the identity of a M.
Vaugon, --"

"Who does not exist."  The guards officer had remained at
the other table. Mazarin spoke slowly, picking his words,
uttering them softly and lispingly, almost under his
breath.

"I have need of a gentleman. He must be unknown in Paris,
unknown in the whole Ile de France. He must be devoted to
His Majesty's service. He must obey orders without
question. He must be unmarried, a swordsman, willing to
stake the future on the present. Such a man is not easy to
find."

"Especially one devoted to the service of His Majesty,"
said Vaugon, with a faint emphasis on the final words.
Mazarin caught the point and smiled.

"Yes. We do not seek a Cardinalist. M'sou Bernard knew
exactly the man, arrived ocly today from Normandy. He
answered for this gentleman and undertook to bring him here
to meet me. The passport has been awaiting the man for some
time. M'sou Bernard was indiscreet to hand over the
passport and purse and to use my name -- "

"He was pressed for time," said Vaugon drily.

"No matter. You are the man?"

"I am Nicolas Vaugon. Everything else is forgotten, except
that I serve His Majesty."

Again the slight emphasis. Mazarin tapped the table with
swarthy, delicate fingers. He was by far the craftiest man
in all Europe, this little Italian, destined to possess not
only the power of Richelieu, but the woman Richelieu loved
and could never win --Anne of Austria.

"Give me the passport again."

Vaugon produced it. The other opened and read snatches of
the document aloud.

"You haven't read it carefully? 'To all our lieutenants,
generals, governors, and so forth -- our friend Nicolas
Vaugon -- going to Jerusalem -- let him pass freely,
safely, with his horse, money and so forth -- cause him no
trouble, but lend him aid and help iť he has need -- such
is our pleasure.' And the signature of His Majesty. Does it
not strike you, my dear M'sou Vaugon, that this is really
an exceptional sort of document, giving the bearer liberal
and even dangerous powers?"

The lisping voice drove in. Behind the accent, behind the
sleekness, Vaugon sensed hard steel.

"Undoubtedly," he responded. "Why should such a passport be
given poor Nicolas Vaugon, a humble bourgeois of Paris?"

Mazarin returned the document. "It will repay more careful
perusal. And --"

"A moment," interposed Vaugon. "I'll be frank with you, M.
de Mazarin, I don't care to serve you, or His Eminence,
under a borrowed name. I don't care to enter into some
intrigue of state that might lead honest if misguided men
to the Bastille. I am neither for nor against His Eminence.
I am solely for the King of France, whom, as a noble, I
hold to be my master, and whose orders I shall obey with
the utmost gladness. Is that clear?"

Mazarin quietly took from his pocket a folded bit of vellum
and extended it. Vaugon opened it to see the same signature
as that on his passport.  He read:

"Let this assure M. Vaugon that under this name he will receive
commands direct from my own lips. The affair ended, he may ask
of me whatever a gentleman might ask from the first gentleman
of France.
LOUIS."

With no trace of his real bewilderment, Vaugon returned the
vellum.

"I am satisfied, naturally," he said, and smiled. "You'll
pardon my seeming rudeness? I know nothing of politics, and
did not want to be embroiled --" Mazarin dismissed the
apology with a wave of his slender fingers. "Understood, my
dear sir," he purred. "You are to serve His Majesty in a
matter requiring great delicacy, finesse, and perhaps skill
at arms. You were chosen ťor exactly these qualities. Do
you know those gentlemen at the table yonder?"

"I saw them for the first time half an hour ago, when I
entered here."

"Very well. You accept the commission?"

"I accept," said Vaugon, and the die was cast.

"Good. You will accomplish the matter as you see best; you
are held responsible only for the result. At ten tomorrow
morning go to the auberge of the Cloche, in Rue Ci-Git-Le-
Coeur. There a horse and equipment will be awaiting your
call. Mount the horse, go to the convent of the Carmelites,
ask for Madame Therese, and preform the commission she will
give you from her own lips."

"Eh?" V augon looked up, astonished, as Mazarin rose.
"That's all?"

"All, my dear M'sou Vaugon. And upon my word, you'll find
it quite enough. I bid you goodnight, and the best of luck.
To our next meeting!"

Mazarin flung a word at the captain of guards. The 1atter
joined him, and the two men passed out into the night.
Vaugon returned to the other table, sat down, and attacked
his scarcely tasted food. He was hungry and thirsty, the
crisis was past, and his first duty was to the inner man.
To the eager queries of Cyrano, the sharp inquiring glances
of d'Artagnan, he gave out his story in snatches. Presently
they had it all. The host re-entered with more wine. By
ones and twos, other men drifted in, until the old tavern
was noisy with tongues. The three in their corner remained
deaf to all around, and made away with dinner.

Vaugon at length handed the passport to d'Artagnan, and
sipped at his wine. He did not know what to make of the
affair, and said as much.

"However, I'm in for it," he concluded with a laugh. "And
why not?"

"Mordious!" swore Cyrano. "My friend, you've trusted us
this night with secrets!"

"Why not?" The gray eyes of Vaugon met the dark ones.
"You're men to trust, and well met."

"And well matched -- well matched!" exclaimed Cyrano
delightedly, his hand smiting the shoulder of Vaugon in a
hearty gesture. "Today I got a leave of three weeks --
shall we go together on this adventure of mystery?"

"Gladly!" returned Vaugon. "But remember -- the bottom may
fall out of things at any moment! Bernard's friend is in
Paris, and may have known he was to be called upon. There's
quite a loophole. Besides, they'll be searching everywhere
for me." "Not for Vaugon -- a man who does not exist!"
broke in d'Artagnan, with a short laugh. "Bah! With this
paper you could snap your fingers at the Cardinal and all
his men! It's the most extraordinary thing I ever saw. If I
didn't have it here, under my eyes, with His Majesty's fist
to it, I'd call it a forgery! Look here, now --"

All three leaned over the table, as d'Artagnan's finger
pointed to the phrases on which he paused. "Here Vaugon is
called a bourgeois -- farther on, it's Sieur Nicolas
Vaugon; There's an anomaly for you, obviously intentional.
'-- to pass freely with his horse, etc., under the
protection of every existing power.' Death of my life! What
are you -- a prince in disguise?"

"Certainly," broke in Cyrano with a -chuckle. "The
Montmorencis are princes -- that's why their power was
smashed."

"Bah! Pay attention to this," snapped d'Artagnan. "Since
when was a bourgeois of Paris called I 'Sieur' -- eh? Look!
'Without troubling him, nor giving him hindrance, nor
allowing him to be given hindrance, and so forth, but
lending him all aid favor and assistance if required.' Ask
and it shall be given to you, in the King's name! This is
no ordinary formula of words. It's an absolute grant of
free passage anywhere, with power to call upon any troops
or officers of the realm as you may need! Name of the
dev1l, somebody's gone mad!' And d'Artagnan flung down the
document with, a stupefied air. Vaugon pocketed it and
nodded.

"Mazarin said it would repay another reading," he said
drily. "It'll pay you to look to your head," said
d'Artagnan, and rose. He held out a hand to each, and a
smile warmed the sharp austerity of his face. "I'm off, my
friends -- on duty tonight My lodgings are in the Rue des
Vieux Colombiers, near the Musketeers' barracks; I shall be
most happy to see either or both of you at any time. I
fear, though, our Sieur Vaugon won't come back to Paris
once he's out of it."

"Bah! Why not? "said Vaugon, and laughed as he shook hands.
"We'll meet again!"

D' Artagnan nodded and was gone. Cyrano gazed after him
reflectively.

"Hm! That man dislikes me," he said. "Why, I don't know. I
feel it. And he's a bit shrewd for my taste -- most
devilish shrewd! Well, comrade, let's finish our dinner,
open another bottle, and you'll come home with me for the
night."

Vaugon assented gladly.

He was safe enough for the moment, yet his situation was
appalling in its potential danger. At twelve years of age
he had been spirited out of France, supposedly dead of the
plague; in reality, he lived between Flanders and England
with certain friends of the Montmorenci family who alone
knew his secret. At twenty, he had been as mysteriously
spirited back to France and into the Bastille.

Today, his face was unknown to any save his jailer. He had
nothing to win back, nothing to seek; he was a man without
a past. In the space of an hour's time he had seized the
forelock of destiny, had found freedom, friends, a name, a
mission, a future -- and a king's promise! He was abruptly
aware of the dark, powerful features of Cyrano thrust
across the table toward him, while the long arms plied
bottle and cup.

"Ha! Richelieu did not sign that passport" exclaimed the
guardsman in a low voice, and winked. "This secret meeting
with Mazarin, too -- you comprehend?"

"I comprehend nothing," said Vaugon simply. "I know almost
nothing of politics. My friend, I'm bewildered as a child."

Cyrano laughed. "The king hates his minister bitterly,
fears him ever more bitterly. Sly Mazarin knows that both
king and minister will soon be dead -- he gambles Richelieu
will die first. You see? Here's some intrigue the king is
fostering, be sure of it! Tonight you fought one of the
Cardinal's household -- tomorrow, you fight for the king
against the Cardinal himself!"

"Eh? You think so?"

"I'm sure of it," said Cyrano with conviction. "You're
playing the; king's game -- not you alone, but both of us
together, eh? And the convent of the Carmelites) ha! Great
Ladies, those Carmelites) of the noblest families --"

Vaugon gestured caution. A man was coming to their table, a
guardsman, as his scarf testified. He swaggered up, clapped
Cyrano on the shoulder, laughed a greeting.

"At your tricks again, Alexandre?"

"Tut, tut -- it's Bergerac!" said Cyrano. "How goes it, my
dear Cuigy?"

"Fairly. Come, tell me something! I hear Prieux of the
guards was found tonight near the Magdaleine, run through
the throat. Well, what was the rhyme? Repeat it!"

Cyrano shrugged. "It was too cursed cold for rhyming. I
warned him against the third riposte, and he disregarded
the warning. That's all."

The other chuckled and went swaggering on his way.

"How many names have you?" demanded Vaugon whimsically.

"I'm concentrating on one now. Mordious! You take me for a
Gascon?"

"Of course."

Cyrano grinned, glanced around, then preened his mustache
and spoke softly.

"Confidences! You've made yourself a pilgrim, I've made
myself a Gascon. Why? I was born here in Paris; my granddad
was a fish merchant to start with, and turned himself into
a royal secretary and a rich man. True, We have some right
to the name of Bergerac; that is, my grandsire bought a
seigneury 0f that name --"

He chuckled, regarding a gold seal-ring on his finger.
Vaugon studied him curiously.

"But why the Gascon? ,You don't seem a man of pretense."

"Bah! I'm a dreamer, and I like to f00l these fools. Why
the Gascon? Because nobody can succeed in the army unless
he's a Gascon; the whole cursed countryside flocked to
Paris with Henri Quatre, and are here yet. Look at the
guards' companies -- four out of every five are commanded
by Gascons! And the ranks are almost solidly Gascon. I
chose the army as a career, therefore had to become a
Gascon. And I flatter myselť that I did a good job of it."

"You did," agreed Vaugon. But you mentioned that d'Artagnan
dislikes you. I did not notice it."

Cyrano shrugged.

"Cause his shrewd brain told him that I'm not a real
Gascon. Well, no matter! It's a good thing I'm leaving
Paris with you -- as you see, they all blame me for killing
Prieux tonight. Are you ready?  I've no deslre to be
critical, my frlend, but those garments, of yours aren't
exactly modish."

They're two years old," sald Vaugon.

"I'll fit you out -- we're of a size. No protests! I won
forty louis this afternoon and paid my tailor's bill. I've
laid in a large wardrobe, I've a decent horse, and what
better than to share with a comrade?  Your star may lead me
to fortune -- here's a health to the unknown lady who
awaits us at the Carmelites!"

He drank. Vaugon noticed the seal-ring on his finger, and
touched it.

"Come, Cyrano, more confidence! You puzzle me. Are you
joking, with your talk of a fish merchant? You wouldn't
carry these arms unless --"

Cyrano grimaced.

"Pretense! Folly! Mockery of fools!" he exclaimed, shoving
back hls chair. "Comrade, all Paris is a hollow sham, and
I'm like the others. Being the man I am, I don't hesitate
to admit it to myself or to a friend like you. I trust you,
because you've trusted me. Noble? Bah! If the royal
commissaires ever dropped on me for false assumption of
nobility, they'd nail me like a shot! What matter? I ruffle
it with the others, put on a bold front, and chuckle at the
fools who are taken in. They don't laugh at me, however.
They've learned it doesn't pay to laugh at Hercule
Alexandre Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac, by the gods! Come
along before I get too drunk to find the way home --"

The imitation Gascon's nimble tongue talked them out into
the cold street, and they went their way together.




    CHAPTER III

TOW ARD ten the next morning, Cyrano ti and Vaugon crossed
the bridge of Notre Dame. The guardsmen who mounted, Vaugon
was afoot. They turned their steps toward the little street
to the right. The day was crisp, sunny, bracing, with
flurries of snow on the stones; both men had need of their
cloaks. Reaching the end of Rue Ci-Git-le-Coeur, Cyrano
drew rein.

"I will wait here," he said. "Two had best not come where
one is expected. A sentimental note this!"

"Sentimental?" Vaugon looked up at him inquiringly. Cyrano
waved his hand.

"That house on the left -- you see? Beyond the auberge.
There our noble King Francis built for one of his ladies,
hence the name -- Here Lies The Heart!  A good omen, ,my
friend. I foresee pretty things ahead."

"Bah!" said Vaugon, and with a shrug headed up the short,
narrow street.

The tavern of the Cloche showed on his left, and he turned
in at the courtyard. Two grooms were saddling a splendid
black horse. Looking on was a man whose white-plumed beaver
proclaimed him a soldier, whose costly garb and noble air
proclaimed him some great man. He turned, and Vaugon
saluted him.

"A magnificent horse, monsieur! May I ask to whom he
belongs?"

"To a gentleman, monsieur, named Sieur Nicolas Vaugon;"

The words were given significance by a steady look. Vaugon
nodded to it.

"I am he. Do you wish to see my passport?"

"No, monsieur. Tell me simply whither you ride."

"To the Carmelites."

The other smiled. "Enough. I see you have no sword -- will
you honor me by accepting mine? There are pistols at the
saddle, yet one finds a sword handy. When through with the
horse, return it here -- also the sword, which is more
important than the horse."

Vaugon bowed. The cavalier removed a very handsome baldric
and sword from his shoulder and handed it to Vaugon, then
turned and disappeared in the auberg without awaiting
thanks.

Donning the baldric, Vaugon fastened his cloak again;
mounted, and headed the black out into the street. When he
regained the quay and his companion, Cyrano regarded him
with a stare and a laugh.

"Horse, pistols, a sword! Excellent. Ahead, lady awaits us.
Better yet! I knew this would prove interesting. Forward to
the Barrier St. Jacques!"

"I've thought of something," said Vaugon, as they rode
together. "Your theory of last night -- remember? If it
were correct, then why should a man of the Cardinal's
household have taken the passport and money to Vaugon?"

Cyrano shrugged. "Why did he attack you so hastily? There's
the answer. He was serving Mazarin rather than his red
eminence. He thought you were spying on him. You see? That
wily little Italian devil has undermined half Paris, let me
tell you! Well, never mind the past. Look to the future!
Richelieu's spies are thick, and if he hasn't got wind of
his business, whatever it is, then I'm much mistaken. He'll
hear about your passport, too. Are you determined to go
through with the errand -- or take to your heels and regain
England?"

Vaugon did not respond at once, and Cyrano regarded him
curiously, half in liking, half in frowning wonder. In
repose this gray-eyed face, older than its years; bore a
certain inflexible severity; one does not lie in prison two
years, with one single fixed purpose in mind, and not show
the traces. Yet in relaxation, this same face was swept
into something of the Gascon's reckless youth, with a
merry, level-eyed smile that could be winning enough.

Behind all this, Cyrano sensed in the man a certain odd
disregard of others, a queer self-sufficiency, almost
selfishness. He liked the man, but he did not like this
indefinable something. And he was to remember it in later
days.

"Through with it!" said Vaugon abruptly, decisively. "I've
won freedom -- now I serve His Majesty and win a future.
I'll win it!"

"We'll win it," corrected Cyrano gaily. Passing Port Royal
and the fields beyond, they came to the barrier of the
Faubourg St. Jacques, where the massive gray walls and
buildings of several convents and monasteries rose ahead.
One of the guards halted them.

"Service of the king," said Vaugon. "Call your officer."

The officer came from the guard-house, opened the passport
Vaugon presented, read it wide-eyed, and doffed his beaver
respectfully.

"Pass, service of the king!" he said. To the salute of the
guards, the two rode on into the Rue de St. Jacques.

When they came to the corner of the Rue d'Enfer, a man on
horseback pushed out ahead of them, hand on sword, barring
the way. It was no other than Carbon de Casteljaloux, in
whose company Cyrano served -- the same who had accompanied
Mazarin to the Pinecone. A keen-eyed, stalwart, swarthy
Gascon.

"Ah!" said Cyrano, drawing ahead. "Good morning, my worthy
commander! I left you last night at the Pinecone, I find
you today in St. Jacques! Why this lonely promenade in a
street of friars?"

The other put forth his hand to that of Cyrano. He shot a
look at Vaugon, and must have recognized him.

"I thought you on leave, M. de Bergerac?" he said.

"Precisely," said Cyrano. "On His Majesty's business, my
dear captain. Do I understand you are halting us?"

"I am," said the officer drily. "This is no place for a
duel, let me warn you. Her Majesty the Queen is in retreat
at the Carmelites since yesterday. I am in charge of --"

"Good, good, -- then we go to the Carmelites," broke in
Cyrano. "The passport, M. Vaugon!"

The officer stared. "Cadedis! Are you jesting, my good
Savinien?"

"I jest with this, my good Casteljaloux!" and Cyrano,
taking the passport from Vaugon,extended it.

The officer saluted stiffly. "Good. Pass. Go to the devil
if you like! That is to say, go to the postern gate in the
Rue de la Bourbe."

"We accept your advice," replied Cyrano. The other halted
him.

"One moment! In regard to a gentleman of the guards found
dead near the Magdaleine last night, and another gentleman
found on the Pant de Notre Dame --

"Too late, my dear captain!" Cyrano chuckled. "If you'd
come to the Pinecone a bit earlier last night, you would
have seen that M. de Moray did me the honor of questioning
me. He appeared quite satisfied that I had nothing to do
with either unhappy demise."

The officer chuckled, returned the salute of Vaugon, and
motioned them to pass.

The two rode on, Cyrano leading the way down the Rue
d'Enfer, where high garden walls rose on either hand. They
turned into the Rue de la Bourbe, and midway of these walls
saw a small gate, surmounted by a cross, outside which a
musketeer stood on guard, Cyrano swung from the saddle and
knocked, tugged at the bell-pull, and nodded to the
guardsman.

"Will you watch our horses, comrade? Good. Come on,
Vaugon."

The little port in the gate swung back, and a nun's face
looked through the grill.

"Sieur Nicolas Vaugon and a companion," said Cyrano. "To
see Madame Therese, by appointment."

The gate was opened in silence. The two men stepped in, and
found themselves in the snow-touched gardens of the
convent. Their wordless guide beckoned them on across the
bleak garden to the building on the right, and through a
doorway into an austere hall. Here the nun swung open a
door, showing a reception room that was anything but gay.

"Wait," she said, and departed. Vaugon looked around the
room, met the disgusted gaze of his companion, and smiled.

"What did you expect -- beauty in a convent?" The other
made a gesture and went to the window, staring out on the
garden.

"Come here," he said suddenly. Vaugon strode to his side.
"Do you know that man?"

"No."

From a door in the building opposite this one, a man was
leaving, leisurely crossing the garden toward the gate,
fastening a furred cloak as he went.  He was richly dressed
in blue velvet. pointed with gold; a blue plume adorned his
beaver, and his cloak was of the same hue. Rlding boots and
gauntlets betokened the traveler. Cyrano watched the
gallant pass with a shadowy frown darkening his face, then
turned.

"Comte de Fleury, a relative of the Duchesse d' Aiguillon
who happens to be the niece of the red cardinal. Fleury is
an ambitious man, a tremendous gambler, a soldIer of some
distinction --"

"Whom you don't love, by the tone of your praise."

"Each one to his taste!" said Cyrano. "He's handsome,
popular, able, sure to get on in the world --

"I'm envious."

"Envious? You?" Vaugon clapped him on the shoulder. "Bah!
When you're bitten with envy, the sun will spill rain --
eh?  What's the matter?"

The imitation Gascon put out a hand and pushed Vaugon away.
His jaw had dropped, his eyes were widening in blank amaze.
Such utter stupefaction was printed on his face that Vaugon
turned to follow his gaze, and saw a woman who had entered
the room and was coming toward them. She was plainly
dressed, and though in middle age, was extremely beautiful.

An incredible suspicion seized upon Vaugon. It was
confirmed when Cyrano took a step forward, dropped to his
knee, and kissed the hand Anne of Austria extended to him.

"Your Majesty!" stammered the guardsman, for once utterly
at a loss.

"You are M. Vaugon?" asked the queen.

"I am M. de Bergerac, of the guards, Your Majesty. My
companion is Sieur Vaugon."

Vaugon came to his knee, touched his lips to the queen's
fingers, and looked up to see startled hesitation in her
eyes. He divined its cause, and spoke. "Your Majesty, I am
Nicholas Vaugon. I know little of Paris, but am fortunate
in a friend who is a better man than I. When he offered to
accompany me in this unknown errand, I accepted with joy.
He asks only to serve Your Majesty. Should you wish him to
retire --"

"No, no," said the queen, and smiled a little. "I have
heard of M. de Bergerac, and I know I have no more devoted
servant. You did not know you were to see me?"

"I undertook this errand in the service of the king," said
Vaugon. "Since it is also in the service of Your Majesty --
could any man ask more?"

Meeting his quick gray eyes, his warm smile, the queen's
hesitancy fled. "Your name, monsieur?"

"I have none other than that on my passport, Your Majesty.
It has been given me by the king -- therefore I shall keep
it, and it alone."

She laughed softly at this. "Courtier! But no -- you speak
in earnest. Are there such men, then? Well-time presses.
You know of your errand?"

"I know only that I was to come at this hour, ask for
Madame Therese, and do what she told me to do.  Nothing
else."

The queen's gaze widened slightly, searched his face, read
truth there, and then she relaxed.

"Well -- do you know the country south of Paris? The Forest
of Esugny?"

"No, Your Majesty."

"One follows the Orleans road to Lonjumeau, from there the
paved road to Ste. Genevieve des Eois, a matter of six to
seven leagues. Half a league from Ste. Genevieve, on the
forested heights above the Orge, is the Chateau de Closset
-- property of Mlle. de Closset, ward of the king. Can you
find the place?"

Cyrano made a gesture of assurance, and Vaugon assented
silently.

"What day is this -- Thursday? On Saturday, Mlle" de
Closset enters into contract of marriage with a gentleman.
She does not wish it. I do not wish it. The King himself
does not wish it. Yet, for certain reasons of state, or
rather of policy --"

The queen checked herself -- bitterness was in her voice,
and she had nearly said too much. A slight flush of anger
was mounting her white cheeks. Vaugon could easily enough
finish her sentence. What anyone else in France did or did
not wish, mattered nothing, if Richelieu wished it.

"Your Majesty desires this marriage prevented?" asked
Vaugon quietly.

"The king has promised Mlle. de Closset that it will be
prevented."

Vaugon rose and bowed. "Easily enough done, then. If Your
Majesty will confide to me the name of the gentleman in
question --."

"Stop!" exclaimed the queen imperiously.

"Not in that fashion, monsieur. Certain plans have been
made. You were given your passport for a purpose, and that
purpose is to take Mlle. de Closset away with you."

Vaugon smiled. "To the Holy Land, your Majesty?"

"Where you like. She expects you, and you will give her
this ring in token." Into Vaugon's hand the queen dropped a
small circlet of gold. "The way, the means, the road --
these are for you to say, as she will be in your charge.
Sieur Nicolas Vaugon is presumed to have certain qualities
placing him, in respect to this lady, in the position of
His Majesty himself." It was g!aciously said. Cyrano's
ironic eye suggested that the position of His Majesty
toward the young ladies of honor was not altogether what it
might have been, but Vaugon was not watching his companion.
"Your Majesty shall not be disappointed," he rejoined. "May
I point out that evasion is one thing -- the prevention of
the marriage quite another thing?"

"In this case, time fights for us -- evasion is
prevention," said the queen, a flash in her eye. She was
fighting the red minister with his own weapons, now.
"After the fifteenth of December you may bring Mlle. de
Closset openly to me at the Louvre -- but not until that
date."

"On the sixteenth of December, Your Majesty, she comes to
the Louvre."

"I can give you no reward, gentlemen, except my thanks,"
and the queen extended her hand. Vaugon went to his knee.

"That, Your Majesty, is the greatest reward we could
possibly ask," he said quietly.

The queen smiled, gave her hand to Cyrano, and departed.
The silent nun appeared and beckoned, led them out and
across the garden to the gate, and closed it behind them.
 As Vaugon was mounting, Cyrano paused for a word with the
musketeer there.

"Mon vieux, some ten minutes ago a very fine gentleman came
out this way. I perceive you belong to the company of
Treville -- hence you may be aware that while the gentleman
was outwardly garbed in blue, he might better have been
dressed in red."

A Gascon like most of his company, the musketeer caught the
allusion and chuckled.

"We're all good Cardinalists, M. de Bergerac," he returned.
"Aye. Your friend was met by two other men, with horses.
They spoke of taking the Orleans road. One of them asked
about your horses, but I gave them no information. Eh?"

"Thanks, comrade!" exclaimed Cyrano, and climbed into the
saddle.

For a space the two companions rode in silence, Cyrano
leading the way for the Barrier d'Enfer and the highway
leading south to Orleans. Then the pseudo-Gascon broke out.

"We'll save the horses -- a splendid animal, that of yours!
Eh, comrade? You're cursed thoughtful. What about?"

Vaugon looked at him. "If they wanted to hide the girl for
two or three weeks, why not put her into some convent?"

"What good?  M.Duplessis is a cardinal. Convents are no bar
to him."

"True. But she did not mention the cardinal."

Cyrano laughed at this. "No! For a wonder, and it's no less
than a miracle, here the king and queen are working
together. Both suspect and fear each other, yet both hate
His Eminence; here, for once, they combine. Now, I've heard
of this Mlle. de Closset -- she's a great heiress, and said
to be a trifle crack-brained, queer, wrong in the head.
Richelieu needed her money for his own purposes, and swung
Their Majesties to his will. Under the surface, they've
dared to rebel against him."

"Also," he added thoughtfully, "it happens that the girl is
related to the Duchesse de Chevreuse, who's at present
staying outside France for her health. She's Richelieu's
arch-enemy, the queen's most intimate friend, and a devil
for intrigue. There's a sweet business! The fact stands
clear, comrade, that we're en route for great things!"

Vaugon nodded. "I told you there was a future to be won. If
we can carry off this girl and keep her safe for a
fortnight or so --"

"Mordious! We must take her to the moon, then! Every
Cardinalist spy in France will be out for us. And what the
devil to do with a woman on the highway during a fortnight?
And where to go with her?"

"Where we like," said Vaugon. "That is, providing we get
away with her. If she's a fine court lady, we'll have a job
on our hands. May have to get a coach for her."

Cyrano held out his hand.

"The ring she gave you -- let's have a look at it." Vaugon
held out the ring, a circlet of plain gold, in which was
carved the initial M and nothing else. Cyrano examined it,
then returned it and whistled softly.

"Marie de Rohan, Duchesse de Chevreuse!" he ejaculated.
"Perhaps, perhaps not -- but what did I tell you, eh?
Softly, now -- the barrier --"

In five minutes they were past the gate, and on the route
of the south. Then Cyrano uttered a joyous laugh and flung
out his hand toward the horizon. " All clear -- except one
thing!" he exclaimed.

"Look now! Richelieu and Chevreuse are bitter This girl is
a relative of Chevreuse and the king's ward. Richelieu
determines to marry her -- to whom? There's the hidden
thing, with its queer time element. Well, he forces the
king to agree. Chevreuse somehow gets word to the queen --
she has friends here, spies. For once queen and join forces
against Richelieu. What happens?

"The scent thickens. They work with Giulio Mazarini -- ha!
The Italian's too sharp for Riche1ieu. He never uses force,
this Italian -- he has brains! M. Bernard is drawn in, to
supply the needed man. He, too, betrays Richelieu. Fate
sends the man -- you see? How did they get this passport
secretly? Undoubtedly Cinq-Mars is in it somewhere. Since
Richelieu installed him as Grand Equerry, he has become the
king's favorite arid has turned dead against Richelieu.
They're all turning against the red minister. Well, no
telling!  The king signs this passport, and the game of
destiny is set in motion. Result -- you wear a ring Mlle.
de Closset will recognize!"

Vaugon looked sharply at his companion.

"You mean -- it's a conspiracy to crush Richelieu?"

"Crush Richelieu? Mordious!" Cyrano clapped his thigh
delightedly. "While that man has breath in his body, all
Europe can't crush him! No, it's a conspiracy to betray
him. Let them look out,then! The old lion has claws. I hate
Cardinalists, but I admire the cardinal. He's the best man
in France today, bar none."

Vaugon shrugged. "After two years in the Bastille, I don't
share your sentiment of admiration. Besides -- why should
Comte de Fleury, in all his court finery, be taking the
Orleans road?"

"Ha!" The dark eyes of Cyrano gleamed suddenly. "Exactly!
He's had heavy gambling losses of late, this same Fleury --
ruinous losses! Why was he at the Carmelites? He had
business here with someone. With whom? Spies, spies, spies
-- there's our man, Vaugon! There's our bridegroom! And the
cardinal will learn soon enough that we had audience with
the queen. Our business lies ahead with Fleury -- spurs,
comrade! Spurs and after him!"

The horses quickened their pace, broke into a gallop; went
thundering down the paved wintry highway toward the south.



CHAPTER IV

Upon the evening of the day Vaugon and Cyrano quit Paris,
it appeared that a number of people had business in the Rue
Vaugirard, beside the gardens of the Luxembourg.

This was rather astonishing. Tonight all this quarter of
palaces, of monasteries, of "hotels" belonging to great
nobles, was dark and silent. Across the Seine, the Louvre
shone with gaity as the king made court to La Fayette and
his other mock mistresses, the while he planned more real
debauchery with his favorite Cinq-Mars, the so-called
Monsieur le Grand. The magnificent new Palais Cardinal,
too, glittered with a less somber court, yet a greater one.
If the king dwelt in the palace of the Louvre, the ruler of
France dwelt in the palace just completed by the cardinal-
duke! Richelieu.

Yet people came into the Rue Vaugirard, the narrow little
street beside the Luxembourg, and others went.  Folk of all
classes, it seemed; soldiers tradesmen, bravos, even a
woman or two, lackeys, monks. The really odd thing about it
was that they all came and went by a small unlighted door
in an unlighted house.

The door, however, gave entry into a central courtyard
where a lantern showed an officer and guards. This house
was the Hotel d'Aiguillon, belonging to Mme. de Combalet,
Duchesse d'Aiguillon -- the niece of Richelieu.

A man in black, looking as though he might be the lay
brother of some religious order, came into the courtyard,
passed the guards to the entry beyond, and gave his name,
to a lackey at a door there. He paid no heed to the
assembly in the reception salon, but waited with eyes
downcast until the lackey returned and gestured.  He
fo1lowed to a room on the floor above, where sat at a desk
a gray-clad man, sharp-featured, cold-eyed, with grayish
hair and goatee. This man was Leon de Bouthilier de
Chavigny, Secretary of State.

The man in black came forward and stood humbly waiting
until he was addressed.

"Your report?" said Chavigny, with his usual icy air.

"Excellency, two visitors today. They came about ten this
morning, evidently by appointment. They asked at the
postern gate for Mme. Therese, and were taken into the
convent at once."

Chavigny laid down his quill. "Their names?"

"One was a M. de Bergerac, of the company of Casteljaloux.
The other, a stranger."

"His name?"

"Vaugon. It was he who had the appointment. Sieur Nicolas
Vaugon."

" A soldier?"

"A young man, very grave, handsome, even distinguished. He
is not of the court, and his face is unknown."

"He entered by the postern gate?"
"In Rue de la Bourbe."

"Good. Continue."

"They remained for perhaps fifteen minutes. I learned that
a certain person saw them in private. They departed, clad
as though for a journey. They had excellent horses, and
rode toward the Barrier d'Enfer."

Chavigny fingered his grayish beard.

"Very well. Nothing else?"

"The report for the day regarding a certain person." And
the spy laid a paper on the desk. At a gesture, he
withdrew. Chavigny touched a bell, and a secretary entered.

"The officer who was on duty this morning at the Barrier
d'Enfer. Send for him on the instant and bring him here to
me."

The secretary bowed and withdrew. Chavigny glanced over the
written report and tossed it aside, frowning. He looked up
as another visitor entered, bowing to him.

"Ah! Good evening, M. de Moray! What developments in the
cases of MM. Prieux and Bernard?"

"I regret to say, none," said M. de Moray. "My police --"

"It is of you I ask, not of your police," said Chavigny
with glacial manner. "You made the discovery of the bodies
in person, I believe, And you say no developments?"

The officer changed countenance. "M. Bernard was killed
with his own dagger," he replied. "The snow was fresh. We
traced footprints as far as Ste. Magdaleine, where they
became lost. There we found M. Prieux, sword in hand --
obviously a duel. It seemed that the footprints led on to
the Pinecone Tavern, but we could not be certain. Also,
there was a riot in the Rue d'Anvers. A man visiting his
mistress was surprised by the husband. He fled in his
shirt, killed two lackeys, wounded the husband -- and
escaped. His tracks also led toward the Pine- cone, but
were lost among others in the street."

"His name?"

"Unknown. The woman knew him as Comte de Silly. No such
person exists."

"If he fled, his clothes remained."

"The woman threw them into the street. They disappeared."

"And no developments at the Pinecone?"

M. de Moray shrugged. "In the auberge were only three
gentlemen at dinner -- none was the naked man of the Rue
d'Anvers. One was a gentleman of the guards, M. de Bergerac
--"

"The most confirmed duellist in Paris!"

"He laughed at my questions," and Moray flushed slightly.
"Another was a cadet of the guards. one M. d'Artagnan,
nephew of the former gentleman of that name, young, but
conveying a remarkable impression. He denied all knowledge
and obviously spoke the truth. As he pointed out, all three
of them had been dining there, and --"

"Three? Who was the third?"
"A stranger, one Sieur Vaugon."

Chavigny started. "Vaugon! A stranger? You're certain?"

"Bearer of a passport signed by His Majesty -- an unusual
thing, as you know," said Moray stiffly. At this instant a
small, dark-clad man entered the room without a sound,
advanced to the desk, and laid down some papers. Chavigny
gave him a glance and a nod.

"In a moment, M. de Mazarin. Moray. This Sieur Vaugon?"

"The passport was most emphatic," said Moray. "He was to be
offered no hindrance, but to be given every aid he might
demand. Before such sweeping orders --"

"You were helpless, naturally. Nor was there reason to
arrest him. There was no one else in the place?"

The dark eyes of Mazarin rested upon the officer with
singular intensity, and M. de Moray caught the look.

"There was no one else," he said.

"Very well, thank you. We shall look into it."

The officer bowed and withdrew. Chavigny turned to his
other visitor.

"Well, M. de Mazarin?"

"Monsieur," and Mazarin bowed with deference, "His Eminence
requests that you bring him the report from Sedan as
quickly as it arrives."

"In ten minutes at latest. It has but just arrived, and is
being decoded."

Mazarin withdrew. Chavigny touched the bell and gave his
secretary swift orders.

"A special passport was issued some time ago to one Sieur
Vaugon. Send to the clerks of the seals in the morning and
demand why no report was made of it. I wish to speak as
quickly as possible with a cadet of the guards, a M.
d'Artagnan of Artagnan."

"I think such a man is on duty tonight, here," said the
secretary. "Let me go down and see."

In five minutes d'Artagnan entered the room. He had donned
the scarf of blue and silver, the only vestige of a regular
uniform yet known in the Guards; and while he lacked the
cassock or cloak of a guardsman, he was proud enough of the
uniform scarf.

"Monsieur," said Chavigny without preamble, "I believe you
dined at the Pinecone Tavern last evening with a certain M.
Vaugon. Will you kindly tell me what you know of him?"

"With pleasure, monsieur," said d'Artagnan coolly. If the
gaze of Chavigny were icy, his own was poised and
penetrating, unruffled. "When I entered the tavern, M. de
Bergerac of the guards was there. He asked me to dine with
him. A certain Sieur Vaugon was also his guest, so I met
the gentleman for the first time in this way."

"Who is he? Where is he from?" demanded Chavigny brusquely.

"Unless the information is offered, monsieur, one gentleman
does not ask these things of another."

It was sweetly said. Chavigny bit his lip, and a trace of
color rose in his cheek.

"Then this Vaugon was a stranger to you?"

"An absolute stranger, monsieur."

From outside the curtained doorway, a shadow moved swiftly;
it developed into the noiseless figure of Mazarin, slipping
rapidly down a corridor. The wily Italian realized that
unless he got ahead of Chavigny, whom he hated and feared,
there would be questions to answer. He much preferred to
make Chavigny do the answering to these questions.

He penetrated to a large chamber whose curtained windows
overlooked the gardens of the Luxembourg. This room was
dark, lighted only by the blazing fireplace and a pair of
candelabra upon a table piled with papers. Writing at the
table, sat a man in a vast pillow-heaped armchair -- a man
wrapped against the cold in furred mantle. On his head was
a tiny scarlet skullcap. His hair was thin and gray. His
high forehead, his imperious features, were drawn as though
with slow unending pain; yet above the pain was stamped in
them the sign of an inflexible will. Gray mustache and
chin-tuft enclosed thin, bitter lips which seemed incapable
of smiling.

"Not arrived?" asked Richelieu, glancing up at Mazarin's
entry.

"In ten minutes, Monseigneur," lisped Mazarin. "I have just
been given a very curious report, which you might find of
interest."

Richelieu laid aside his quill and leaned back among the
cushions, with a gesture of assent. Mazarin spoke softly,
slowly. His abbe's costume became him well; his face was
sleek, swarthy, showing no emotion. His air was humble and
deferential.

"A fortnight ago, Eminentissime Signor, a document was
taken to the clerks of the seals by M. le Grand in person."

Mazarin paused. At the name of Cinq-Mars, that intolerably
ambitious young man whom he had raised to power as royal
favorite, and who had turned against him, a slight shadow
crossed the face of the cardinal-duke. Thanks to his
haughty airs and his position of Grand Equerry, Cinq-Mars
had been given the appelation of M. le Grand -- partly in
mockery.

"This document," continued Mazarin, "was a passport made
out by M. le Grand and signed by His Majesty, in the name
of Sieur Nicolas Vaugon, a gentleman of Paris. No such
person exists. It seems M. Vaugon was granted rather
exceptional powers in order that he might make a pilgrimage
to Jerusalem and the Holy Land."

Richelieu first looked faintly amused, then puzzled. "Yes?
To the Holy Land? And your information comes from --"

"A lady," said Mazarin, with a modest smirk. "The point is,
Monseigneur, that one could very well go to Jerusalem by
way of London, Madrid, Vienna or -- Sedan."

At this word, a flash of lightning seemed to fill the eyes
of Richelieu. He relaxed, thoughtful, silent. Mazarin said
no more, but waited.

Richelieu was France. His hand alone had broken the power
of the nobles and princes, slowly forming a strong central
authority, making France an entity rather than a  loosely-
tied bundle of petty dukedoms. He paid for it with enemies,
such as were left alive, for some men could not be brought
to the scaffold. Chief of these was Monsieur, brother of
the king, Duke of Orleans, arch-traitor, coward and rebel,
the most dishonored gentleman of France, married to
Margaret of Lorraine but just now residing in Paris much
against his will.

Outside of Paris, outside France itself, were greater
enemies. Duke Charles of Lorraine, allied with Austria
against France; Bouillon; Comte de Soissons; and, looming
far above all the petty men who bore these historic names,
one woman, Marie de Rohan, Duchesse de Chevreuse, allied by
her second marriage to the royal houses of England and
Lorraine.

She, queen of beauty and debauchery, with neither scruples
nor morals, fearing nothing, daring everything, alone had
fought Richelieu these ten years and more, and alone had
been able to menace the grip of that iron man. Within a few
months she was to all but overturn France itself -- only a
quirk of destiny was to keep the enemy from Paris.

Soissoris held Sedan for the Duc de Bouillon. This city, on
the frontier, independent of France, was the rally-point
for every enemy of Richelieu. For some time, Chevreuse had
been in London, her adventurous career sadly hampered by
poverty; the long fingers of Richelieu had reached her,
holding her tightly if precariously by lack of funds. She
was the only living person he feared, if he feared any, for
she was implacable.

"So you think Cinq-Mars dares to send messages to Sedan?"
mused Richelieu aloud. "He would join hands with them if he
could. They would join hands with Spain and Austria against
us, if they could. Ah, Marie, you are never long quiet!
Always treachery from within -- always!"

"This Sieur Vaugon," broke in the lisping Italian voice,
"left Paris only today with a companion. Doubtless M. de
Savigny will have news of him."

So Chavigny's name slipped in. Richelieu nodded. Had he
glanced up, he might have caught something like a flash of
malignant triumph, instantly gone, in the eyes of Mazarin.

"This M. le Grand grows too great -- poor little debauched
Cinq-Mars, to feel himself so high!" said Richelieu in
contempt. "There should have been a report from London
today. It has not arrived?"

"I have just decoded it, Your Eminence," and Mazarin 1aid
down a paper.  He knew what was coming now, and was
impassive, ready, alert.

Richelieu glanced over the paper. His countenance changed.
With an exclamation, he sat up sharply.

"Chevreuse -- disappeared! Why didn't you give me this
before?"

"Perhaps there is a connection, Your Eminence," said
Mazarin smoothly. "If she has disappeared, then she has
reached Flanders and Spanish help. If she has reached
Flanders, then she has plans afoot --"

"Yes, yes! This messenger from Cinq-Mars, you mean? This
Vaugon? It's possible." Richelieu frowned. "Let it wait --
I'll think it over. By the way, what of this escape from
the Bastille yesterday? I asked M. du Tremblay to report to
me personally."

"He is waiting now, Moriseigneur."

"Bring him in."

Still brusquely startled by the news from London, Richelieu
looked up savagely as Mazarin ushered into the room a
gentleman of fifty years, whose usually jovial air was now
somewhat disconcerted. The governor of the Bastille, thanks
to his connections, was as safe as anybody well could be,
but when things went wrong nobody was safe before
Richelieu.

"Well, monsieur, this is sad news I hear of you," said
Richelieu coldly. "It seems you have permitted a prisoner
to escape; above all, a prisoner of importance. Is the
Bastille, then, at fault? Have I done wrong to convert it
into a prison?"

"It is I who am at fault, Your Eminence," said Tremblay
firmly.

"Expound, if you please."

"Two years ago this prisoner was committed under a lettre
de cachet, accompanied by strict and explicit orders. He
was inscribed on my register as Monsieur Personne,
'Nobody'. He was to be placed in the Basiniere in solitary
confinement, was to be seen only by his jailer, was to be
allowed one hour of liberty each day, but only after dark.
As ordered, Your Eminence, I forgot his existence. I forgot
it so completely that when, a week ago, it became necessary
to repair the walls of the Basiniere,I still forgot it.
This prisoner overpowered a workman, left him in the cell,
and departed in his place."

"You've taken measures to find him again?"

M. du Tremblay threw out his hands. "His name is unknown.
His face is unknown, though I find that a man of his
description was shaved by the barber outside the gates,
last night. Your Eminence, how can I trace such a person?
Only his jailer has seen his face, and the man can give me
no intelligent description,"

Richelieu's icy sternness was melted by the complete
avowal.

"M. du Tremblay, I ordered you to forget your prisoner, it
is true -- but not to forget his existence." Do not obey
your orders too well, in future."

Dismissed, delighted at getting off so easily, the governor
of the Bastille made all haste to depart. At the doorway
appeared Chavigny.

"The report from Sedan, Your Eminence."

"Good. Remain, M. de Mazarin."

Mazarin withdrew into the shadows beside the fireplace.
Chavigny advanced and gave Richelieu a document; the
cardinal opened and read it carefully.

A curious observer might have noted how the man in the
armchair and the man standing before the table shared a
startling resemblance. The one was, perhaps, fifty; the
other, though given an older look by prematurely gray hair,
perhaps thirty. Both faces showed the same sombre air, the
same cold self-control, the same features, eyes, lips. Only
the face of Chavigny lacked, in some indefinable fashion,
the look of majestic assurance that so held Richelieu apart
from other men.

Why this singular resemblance between the minister and the
secretary of state? Coincidence, perhaps -- or perhaps not.
According to some, it was the most natural thing in the
world.


Richelieu looked up, laid aside the paper .

"Nothing new, then?"

"Nothing, Your Eminence. I have not seen the report from
London. That of four days ago showed Chevreuse feverishly
trying to borrow money, writing, appealing. She is quite
helpless."

"On the contrary," said Richelieu drily, "she has fled
secretly from London. She is either in Flanders, raising
the Spaniards to fresh efforts against us, or, for all I
know, in France!"

Chavigny started. A sly, malicious smile touched Mazarin's
lips and was gone.

"Bad news then, Monseigneurr But I have another matter to
lay beťore you," said Chavigny. "This morning a gentleman
called at the convent of the Carmelites, asked for Madame
Therese, and was given an audience of fifteen minutes by
Her Majesty in private. He departed with a companion, and
at the Barrier d'Enfer took the Orleans road."

Now, indeed, the flash in Richelieu's eyes was not to be
mistaken. rhe Queen conspiring with Cinq-Mars and the
enemies of France! His voice crackled with imperious
command.

"Who was this gentleman?"

"A man whose passport bore the name of Sieur Nicolas
Vaugon. This passport --"

"Vaugon!" exclaimed Richelieu. "The passport sealed for M.
le Grand!"

"Your Eminence knows of it?" said the startled Chavigny.

"Yes, of course. Wait a moment, now --" Mazarin smiled
again at the disconcerted air of the Secretary of State.

Richelieu was suddenly alert, roused, facing emergency.

This man, who had exiled Marie de Medici, who had humbled
Austria and Spain, saw the gage again flung down to him by
a woman he had deemed crushed and helpless.

"Chevreuse gone from London -- only the devil knows where
she is now!  And here's her hand at work -- Guise,
Beaufort, Cinq-Mars, sending a messenger, gaining a word or
letter from the queen, going whither?  Not to Jerusalem,
that's certain! To Sedan, beyond doubt. Chavigny, who is
this Vaugon? His description?"

"A stranger," and Chavigny gave what description he had
gleaned. "The horse he rode was from the royal stables."

"Furnished by the Grand Equerry. Good! Such a horse, such a
man cannot escape notice."

"He had a companion," added Chavigny. "A M. de Bergerac of
the guards, on leave."

"Send out men, a hundred men in parties of five. Not to
follow, but to head off this messenger. Let them ride north
and east, and work back around Paris, covering every
possible route. Vaugon rode south, meaning to circle around
and so gain Sedan. You comprehend? Then act -- quickly!"

Chavigny bowed and departed. Mazarin came forward, with
deference.

"M. de Savigny has forgotten something," he lisped, "or
perhaps does not know it. Last evening, as I have learned,
this Vaugon and his companion dined at the Pinecone Tavern,
with a third person, a young cadet of the guards by the
name of Artagnan. He is the youngest of three brothers in
the corps, I believe, a nephew of the well-known M.
d'Artagnan, and something of a swordsman -- perhaps you
recall the affair of a Swiss officer recently killed near
the Pont Neuf. He is worth a hundred other men to us now."

"Why?" snapped Richelieu, frowning.

"Because he alone knows the face of Vaugon. He is on duty
here tonight."

Richelieu nodded. "Send for him."

Instead of obeying at once, Mazarin came to his side and
spoke softly.

"Monseigneur, you recall the description of this Vaugon?
Young, smooth-faced, blond! An unknown name. A stranger.
Given great powers by a special passport secretly issued.
An interview, and a private one, with Her Majesty --"

The cardinal started.

"Impossible!" he exclaimed sharply, with a movement as
though to leap from his chair. His austere features
contracted with pain. "She would not dare! In disguise --"

"It has served her before," said Mazarin gently. "True, she
is no longer young; she is therefore the bolder. As for
daring -- is there anything she would not dare?"

"True." Richelieu's eyes were smoldering now, "Ah, Marie --
if you've ventured into my hand -- where is that man?
Swiftly, swiftly!"

Mazarin, foreseeing the imperative word, had summoned a
secretary.

D'Artagnan, for the second time ordered up from the
courtyard, entered the room and bowed. His rapid gaze
touched upon Mazarin, who stood just behind the cardinal.
Richelieu gave no sign of impatience, but assumed a
paternal air .

"Approach, M. d' Artagnan. I believe you made your first
campaign this summer, at the siege of Arras?"

"I had that honor, Monseigneur," and d'Artagnan so stressed
the words that the empty formula took; on its full worth.
Richelieu studied him a moment, struck by the air of
youthful eagerness which yet masked a perfect coolness.
Then, with a slight sigh, the red minister leaned forward
and opened one of the many drawers in his desk. He produced
a dossier, from which he selected a paper.

"Yes," he murmured. "Undoubtedly this is the man --" He
studie:d the paper. D' Artagnan's gaze drove suddenly at
Mazarin, who made a slight gesture of reassurance.
Richelieu looked up, frowning, menacing! and spoke with
sharply penetrating voice.

"M. d'Artagnan, some days ago a mattet was brought to my
notice regarding a Swiss gentleman, of that corps, found
last Monday by the archers of the Chatelet with a sword-
thrust in his heart. What do you know of it?"

Perceiving that the whole affair must be there under the
minister's eye, d'Artagnan assumed a reflective air.

"I did hear something about it, Monseigneur. If I might
speak plainly "

"By all means."

"It came to my ears that the man in question had maligned
you, terming you a foul traitor to France and to His
Majesty," said d'Artagnan bluntly. His words fell on the
silence like a bomb. "I presume, Monseigneur, that someone
in the French guards took the fellow to account."

"Eh!" Richelieu was genuinely astonished. "Maligned me --
and was taken to account? The gentlemen of your corps,
monsieur, are not noted for their attachment to the royal
ministers," he commented drily. "Particularly for their
attachment to me. Do you mean to affirm that you, for
example, would draw sword on such a flimsy pretext?"

"The noblest pretext in the world, Your Eminence,"  said
d'Artagnan firmly. "I do not prate of attachment. I am a
gentleman, and I serve the king my master. If any man cast
so vile a slander upon any one of my comrades, it would be
my duty as a gentleman to resent it to the utmost."

At this speech, uttered with candor and sincerity, a tinge
of color crept into the pale cheeks of the minister.

"Ah, M. d'Artagnan, you disarm me!" he said simply, and
pushed away the dossier. "And more, you honor me. Let us
come to plain speech; then, as between comrades. Last
night, I think, you dined with a certain M. Vaugon."
Behind the speaker, Mazarin made a gesture of assent -- at
the same time, frowning.

"Not so, Monseigneur," said d'Artagnan. "I went to the
Pinecone to sup. A fellow guardsman was there, M. de
Bergerac of the company Casteljaloux. He invited me to join
him. I accepted. This Sieur Vaugon was with him."

Mazarin looked his approval.

"Then you had not met Vaugon previously?" asked Richelieu.

"He was a total stranger to me, and, I think, to M. de
Bergerac also."

"You would know him if you saw him again?"

"Most assuredly."

The minister reached into a, drawer. "Did you learn
anything about him?"

Mazarin gestured caution, but the gesture was needless.

"Very little, Monseigneur. While we were dining, M. de
Moray and,his sergeants entered, in search of someone who
was not there. This M. Vaugon was questioned, and produced
a passport which apparently satisfied M. de Moray. I left
soon afterward."

From his drawer, Richelieu produced a miniature portrait of
a woman. Mazarin's eyes widened slightly as he saw it.

"Did Vaugon look like this picture in the face?"

D' Artagnan took the miniature and frowned. "Your Eminence,
it is difficuJt to say if a man looks like a woman -- hm!"
To his astonishment, from the corner of his eye he caught a
sign of assent from the Italian. "Yes," he said. "I might
say there was some resemblance -- in a geperal way. I
cannot say the man Vaugon actually resembled this lady."

"Recalling him to mind," said Richelieu? "would it appear
possible to you that he was a woman wearing the clothes of
a man?"

"Possible, yes," said d'Artagnan, catching another sign of
assent, "but improbable. His oaths would have done credit
to the late M. de Brantome himself."

Richelieu almost smiled at this. "So would the tongue of
the woman I believe him to be, M. d'Artagnan. You are a
cadet, therefore ambitious; a Gascon, therefore shrewd.
Prove your ability to me, and the cassock of a guardsman is
yours."

D'Artagnan bowed.

"You," pursued the minister, "appear to be the only person
to know this Sieur Vaugon by sight. I believe him a most
tricky individual, guilty of treason. He left Paris this
morning by the Orleans road in company with M. de Bergerac.
I think he means to go south, then circle around the
environs of Paris, perhaps from Berny, and so make for
Sedan. I have sent out men to head him off -- I send you to
follow and overtake him. M. de Mazarin, write an order for
two of the best horses in my stables, to be selected by M.
d'Artagnan, and give me the purse on the sma11 table
yonder."

With a repressed sigh, Mazarin handed him the purse, then
leaned over the table to write out the order.

"Follow and overtake Vaugon," and Richelieu extended the
purse to d'Artagnan. "Join company with him, discover whom
he meets and what he does."

D'Artagnan stiffened slightly.

"Monseigneur, I am a soldier."

"I absolve you from any duty of a spy -- you'll arrest
Vaugon and bring him to me!"

The young man bowed. "I am to leave at once?"

" At once -- tonight -- within the hour! They'll
undoubtedly stop at Berny, perhaps at Lonjumeau, for the
night. You, on the contrary, will stop nowhere. Thus you'll
be able to pick them up sometime tomorrow morning.

"Do nothing in a hurry, once you've joined Vaugon," went on
the minister thoughtfully. "It's extremely probable that he
will either receive some letters on the way, or deliver
some. In either case, seize the letters, the messengers,
and Vaugon. He may not turn for Sedan at once; gjve him
rein. When, in your judgment, he heads for Sedan -- then
persuade him, arrest him, do what the devil you please, but
bring him to me in person. You comprehend?"

Mazarin was smiling down at the parchment under his quill.

"Perfectly, Your Eminence. I am to go alone?"

"Yes; this needs wits, not force. Seize any documents
possible. In order to get hold of them, take your time with
Vaugon." Richelieu signed the order for horses and
sprinkled sand over it. "Pick what horses you like. Speed
is essential if you are to catch him."

"I am to arrest him in your name, Monseigneur?"

At these apparently guileless words, Richelieu bent a grim
smile on the speaker."

"Ah, Gascon" he said. "You are an officer of the king. When
the time for arrest comes, you will act in the king's name.
Your uniform is your commission."  "Very good. And
regarding M. de Bergerac --"

Bah!" Richelieu gestured impatiently. "It's the other I
want at all costs -- at all costs, you understand?" he
added, with the flash in his eye that betrayed his bitter
and inflexible spirit. "Use your own time, your own
weapons, your own discretion -- but do not return without
this Vaugon!"

"I shall return with him, Your Eminence."

"And he is not to be harmed. He is more than a woman -- he
is a great lady. Only at extremity are you to use force.
That's all."

D'Artagnan bowed and departed. Richelieu sank wearily back
into his chair.

"I have her, Mazarin -- I have Chevreuse in my hands at
lastl" A deep breath escaped his tortured body. "That is,
if it be Chevreuse indeed. Well, a good night's work here!
Let's turn to other things. The marriage of M. de Fleury
with Mlle. de Closset is arranged?"

"Fully, Monseigneur," lisped Mazarin. "M. de Fleury left
this morning to pay his respects to the lady, remaining at
the chateau until the contract is signed."

"Good. Ah, my excellent Mazarin, if you were not an abbe,
what a match I might reward you with, you also!"

A sardonic gleam flickered in the secretary's eye, as
though to say that he might some day reward himself with a
better match than any the red minister could arrange for
him.



CHAPTER V
As he clattered south with Cyrano on the stone-paved
Orleans road, past Chatillon and Arcueil, with his whole
past and future pinned to the passport in his pocket,
Vaugon realized clearly enough on what a precarious reed of
faith he was leaning.

Certainly, Richelieu was being craftily betrayed by those
who dared not face him openly; and in the past, none of
those who had dared betray the cardinal-duke had come to
any good thereby. Vaugon knew he was acting directly for
the queen, upon the commission of the king and upon the
engagement of Mazarin; so far, all well and good. The
passport would serve its purpose -- up to a certain point.

If the matter came to a definite issue of authority, Vaugon
saw clearly he could hope for nothing. The queen was
powerless.  The king was weak,  ruled by his favorite
Cinq-Mars, or M. le Grand, a young man mightily puffed up
by his brief authority. Mazarin was a shifty Italian who
would cover his own traces adroitly. Sieur Nicolas Vaugon
must trust to luck that Richelieu knew nothing of what was
going on, and must lean hard on his own wits. With Bergerac
at his side, hope beckoned. That dissipated young poet was
extremely self-reliant, was enjoying his errand and his
morning gallop, and had no apparent care for the future.
When two leagues had fallen behind, and at Bourg la Reine
they found themselves only fifteen minutes behind their
quarry, Cyrano leaned over in the saddle with a gay laugh.
"They'll stop at Berny, a league ahead," he said
confidently. "Good wine there at the Croix, I can tell you!
I don't know Fleury, but the odds are even I'll know his
companions, so we'll stop them in gentlemanly fashion and
go our way ahead of them."

"Three of them, eh?" said Vaugon. "Pity d' Artagnan isn't
with us! I like him. But the queen commanded that Fleury
should not be killed."

"He can be wounded then," said Cyrano. A mile further they
passed the post-diligence from Paris, swept past Chambord,
and with foam-flecked horses bore down upon Berny, where
the Versailles highway crossed that of Orleans. Just before
reaching their crossroads, and at the edge of the great
park running west into the forest of Verrieres, was the
aubetage named the Croix de Berny. As the two riders turned
in at the courtyard, they saw three very fine horses being
rubbed down by grooms.

"Caught," said Cyrano.

"But not stopped," added Vaugon, and swung to earth.

"Groom! Rub down these horses, cover them; a short drink
and a handful of oats. We leave in half an hour."

He strode after Cyrano into the inn-room, where three
previous arrivals were making a hearty noon meal, and
ordered wine and food. They were brought in short order,
and proved excellent. Across the room were the other three
travelers, talking among themselves. Cyrano discussed them
as he ate and drank.

"No hurry -- a sword always works better on a full
stomach," he said, grinning. "My grammar may be faulty, but
the reasoning is excellent. I thought I'd know the others
--!  Both are gentlemen of the court, or rather of the
Palais Cardinal! One's M, de Breuil, an excellent blade.
The other, in the large beaver, is St. Aubin, without
exception the worst fool in Paris."

St. Aubin looked the part, being foppishly attired, loud-
voiced, vacuous. Breuil was a dark, solid, level-eyed man;
as with Cyrano, his long arms bespoke the swordsman. It was
upon Fleury that Vaugon's attention centered, however. He
studied the man, sensing here an implacable antagonist.
Tall and powerful, Fleury became his handsome costume. As
he laughed and talked with his companions, Vaugon decided
that the man must be popular among other men; behind the
arrogance of a noble was a reckless vigor and driving
force, a steely fund of character, which might lead either
to wild excesses or inflexible greatness. Like his
comrades, he wore chin-tuft and mustache. Black heavy-
lidded eyes glittered beneath heavy black brows which
formed a bar across his face. Altogether a headstrong,
passionate, dangerous man.

Hunger appeased, thirst lightened by the excellent wine,
Cyrano stretched, rose, and stood looking around. Breuil,
gazing at him, leaned over to Fleury and made some remark,
at which Fleury burst into laughter. Cyrano turned and
approached their table, Vaugon following slowly.

"Ah, my dear M. de Breuil," said Cyrano suavely, "you are
in jesting mood today?"

The other laughed. !'Upon my word, M. de Cyrano, I didn't
see you for the moment! There was -- what shall I say? --
an impediment. Yes, that's the word! Impediment to the
sight! Really, M. de Cyrano, you should do something about
it!" The insult was patent, and as such, was obviously due
to the wine-bottle. Cyrano went white, and his hand flashed
out suddenly to the other's face in a hearty slap.

"I have done something about it, then," he said. Breuil
started to his feet, but Vaugon came between them,
fastening his gaze on Fleury.

"When one gentleman forgets himself and draws attention to
the misfortune of another," he said gravely, "only a
stable-boy would guffaw."

"Death of my life! Are you talking to me?" snapped Fleury.

"To the stable-boy who laughed, monsieur ," said Vaugon
calmly.

St. Aubin attempted startled protest. Fleury swept him
aside and stood up. Cyrano with an air of great delight,
bowed.

"May I present Sieur Nicolas Vaugon, messieurs?"

"Here! M. de Fleury cannot fight!" cried St. Aubin
excitedly. "He goes to his --"

"Silence!" exclaimed Fleury angrily. "Fight? M. Vaugon
shall discover if I can fight. Gentlemen, shall we ride
down the road together?"

"As soon as I can pouch a couple of bottles of this wine,"
said Cyrano.

"Agreed!"

The host was summoned, scores were paid, the horses called
up. In five minutes all had mounted and were riding forth,
Fleury leading the way.

"Devil take it," said Cyrano, jogging at Vaugon's stirrup,
"remember not to kill your man, or you'd be strung up in no
time. A relative of the Cardinal isn't a mere M. de Breuil.
I'll kill him, and that'll delay them sufficiently."

"You seem sure of yourself," said Vaugon curiously.

Cyrano only grinned. A quarter-mile from the inn, they drew
out of-the road, and in a moment were encompassed by trees.
In a long glade, free of snow, Fleury dismounted. Cyrano
nodded assent; it was an excellent spot, sunlit in the
center, with good footing. While the excited St. Aubin
remained with the horses, the four removed mantles, hats
and coats, and bared their blades.

"Look here, comrade -- I forgot where you'd been the past
two years," exclaimed Cyrano suddenly, drawing Vaugon to
one side. "Let me compose your little matter --"

"Nonsense!" said Vaugon, drawing his sword.

"I was a good hand with the tool two years ago; besides,
they've all drunk far too much. Let be, and look at this
blade. What do you think of it, eh?"

Instead of being a fairly heavy rapier, it was a piece of
extremely thin steel; second look showed this steer to be
damascened in gold on either sideJ and the fairy-like
balance of the weapon was a marvel.

"Mordious!" exclaimed Cyrano, "You're going to fight with a
bodkin! Let's see it --"

He took the sword, balanced it, bent the blade between his
fingers, and whistled in astonishment as he returned it.

"Every man to his own taste in women, wine and weapons! It
may serve. Ready, messieurs? If you'll be so good as to
give the word --"

"Do we fight separately, or as four?" demanded Fleury.

"As you like," said Cyrano carelessly. "Put St. Aubin in
and make it a party of five, for all I care --"

"Separately, then," said Fleury. "En garde, monsieur!"

"En garde!" echoed Breuil. Vaugon found himself crossing
swords with a wrist of steel -- and then, tb his own vast
surprise, his duel was won almost before it had begun. The
rapier in his hand was like a flash of light, so marvelous
was its balance, so deftly did it counter the steel of
Fleury, who attacked rashly, impetuously. At Vaugon's first
thrust, Fleury staggered and dropped his weapon -- that
needle-like blade had ripped across his upper arm. He
stooped and picked up his rapier in his left hand.

"Continue, monsieur," he said. "I can use the weapon with
either hand --"

Vaugon drew back, and pointed to the rush of blood.

"Not now, monsieur -- here, St. Aubin! Quickly!" Fleury
staggered. St. Aubin sprang forward, lowered him to the
ground, and went to work binding up the wound. It was in no
way serious, save for the loss of blood. Vaugon turned and
stared at the scene presented by the second combat.

And it was worthy of being stared at. If Breuil were
accounted one of the foremost rapiers in Paris, then
Bergerac, despite his youth, was known as the most savage
yet delicate duelist in France. His long arms, his powerful
torso, his agility, all served him in attack -- and he was
attacking now, with a certain deliberate ferocity singular
to see. And as he attacked, he began to talk, lightly,
carelessly.

"We're well matched, my friend -- well matched, eh? A
pretty thing to watch, this -- impossible to foretell the
end? Ah, no! I know a very neat little feint and riposte in
tierce -- when the time comes. One must wait the time.
There's the subject for a very satisfactory rondelet --"

"Curse your rhyming!" panted Breuil, with a savage lunge.
"I've heard of your tricks -- they'll not work with me.
Rhyme all you please, long-nose!"

"Exactly," and Cyrano laughed gaily. His tongue seemed
completely disassociated from his brain and sword. He
fought mechanically, pressing the attack, and yet went on
speaking as he fought, his voice light, and almost jesting.
"One who waits the time, in love or war -- there's an
excellent opening line. Come -- what does it lead to, my
dear Breuil? Not hard to guess. slight change or two --"

"One waits his time, in love or war
In travel, politics or crime;
Though gain be distant, victory far, One waits his time --"

Cyrano's foot slipped. He was down to one knee, up again,
Breuil's rapier driving through his shirt without touching
the flesh beneath. It was fast work, furious work! and both
men were beginning to stream sweat. Then the lightly
mocking voice of Cyrano rang out anew.

"A rondelet, you say, instead of a rondel? So be it. We've
an excellent start, but one should have a bit of philosophy
in the center of the feast. Just to prepare for that feint
and thrust in tierce I mention it to you --

"Fools hurry on, where wise men climb
With care; a moment's haste may mar
A lifework -- patience is a star
Beckoning on to heights sublime!
One waits his time."

Breuil growled in his throat. He was fighting for his life
now, and knew it, read it in the hot and blazing dark eyes
of Cyrano. He drew himself together, pressed in to attack
in his turn, bore the guardsman back and back. The veins of
his face stood out in fury, and he seemed set on steel
springs, so perfect was his footwork, so fast and deadly
were his lunges. Yet Cyrano, face glistening with sweat,
only smiled scornfully as he gave ground. The swords of the
two men held entwined like glittering serpents in the
sunlight, with click, clash, slither and ring -- their feet
stamped fast on the hard earth, their breaths whitened
frostily on the air.

St. Aubin shouted shrill encouragement at his friend.
Fleury, white-faced, sat and stared in fascination. Vaugon,
sword still in hand, had not moved from his place. Then
Cyrano stiffened, once more assumed the offensive as though
tireless, and his braggadocio laugh startled even his
opponent.

"Ha! I've found the rhyme at last -- and we'll not need
that thrust in tierce either!" he cried out. "For the
throat, M. de Breuil -- for the throat! My signature, as M.
de Moray likes to term it! When the moment comes, then --
now to finish that pretty rondelet.

"The moment comes, fate draws the bar ,
Throws wide the portal! Here's my rhyme
Complete--death holds the door ajar --
One bides his time!"

Cyrano thrust, thrust again, disengaged, and his arm shot
out like light. A terrible cry broke from his opponent. The
rapier fell from Breuil's hand and he stood clutching at
his throat until suddenly he pitched forward on his face.
Cyrano wiped the sweat out of his eyes and stood panting,
then;

"Finished, Vaugon? Very well. Not a bad rondelet I made
there, eh? My dear comte, can we be of any assistance to
you?"

"You've killed him!" shouted St. Aubin. He ran to Breuil,
stooped over him, and came erect with ghastly face. "You've
killed him!"

"Eh?" Cyrano gave him a slow, disdainful stare. "What the
devil else did you expect?"

"Silence, St. Aubin!" commanded Fleury, getting to his
feet. "Gentlemen, we need not detain you -- we'll return to
the Croix de Berny. To our next meeting, M. Vaugon!"

Vaugon saluted him in silence, then took up his coat and
mantle, donned them, and followed Cyrano to the horses.
They mounted and made their way out of the trees to the
road.

"So! That fool St. Aubin will have a little work to do
now," said Cyrano, breaking silence. "Well, not so bad, eh?
How did you mariage him so swiftly?"

"By accident," said Vaugon. Cyrano gave him a swift look,
and grinned.

"Heaven send a few such accidents my way! I had hard work
of it for a moment. On, my friend -- we've a good ride
ahead if we're to reach that chateau before nightfall. And
reach it we must. How did you like my rhyme?"

"Better than its object," answered Vaugon. The guardsman
broke into laughter.

"Object? My dear fellow, my sole object is to put point
into the other man as rapidly as possible! Granted that my
rhyming ability confuses him -- but consider! I must do two
things at once! The odds are palpably even."

Vaugon nodded. "True enough."

"Besides, I confess to you the scrape of swords excites me,
lifts me to far heights, takes me out of myself!" continued
Cyrano. "Life's a miserable thing at best for a poor devil
who must live on his guard's pay and the remnants of his
patrimony -- credit at the Pinecone, a wench wherewith to
ponder the temptations 0ť the flesh, and nothing in the
future except perhaps the fame of a starveling poet. Bah!
What's this kind of a life, when one has dreams and cannot
get on with them? Here, we'll split this bottle as we ride
--"

Breaking off his self-revealing speech, Cyrano got out one
of the bottles he had fetched from the Croix de Berny, and
managed to get it open. He gulped down a good half of it,
handed the bottle to Vaugon, and the two men rode on
refreshed. Rested by the double halt, the horses held
steadily to the south at a brisk trot.

Vaugon did not forget his glimpse into the guards-man's
heart. Nothing in the future -- it was only too true, for a
man without great connections or wealth; especially for a
man marked out by nature apart from other men, as was
Cyrano. Stamped as he thus was physically, he accepted the
matter with a blithe heart, faced the world bravely and
defiantly, and when mockery touched him too bitterly,
cloaked his savage resentment with rhymes. After all, there
was much to be said for Savinien de Cyrano.

They covered the two leagues farther to Lonjumeau at a
brisk, steady pace, and when the old town on the Yvette
opened out before them, and they slowed down for the
sharply descending approach, Cyrano broke silence.

"My friend, here's where we leave the Orleans route -- you
can see the Ste. Genevieve road cutting across the crest
beyond town, there to the left. With your permission, I
propose to let you go on alone."

"Eh?" Vaugon flung him a glance of sharp surprise. "You're
in earnest?"

"I'm always in earnest," and Cyrano chuckled. "First, my
horse isn't from the royal stables, and he'll not go much
farther at your pace. Second, I've a feeling, a mental
inspiration, that we're being followed; and whoever is
after us, knows you chiefly by my face -- rather, my nose.
You comprehend? And third, our Mlle. de Closset expects one
man, not two. Now, if I wait here until night, any pursuers
will come up and be thrown off the scent. I'll put them on
the Dampierre road. After dark, even early in the morning,
I'll come on to Ste. Genevieve and meet you."

"Fleury wouldn't set anyone after us," protested Vaugon.
"At least, so swiftly. And what need of sacrificing
yourself?"

"Tush and nonsense!" ejaculated Cyrano. "It's not Fleury I
fear, but cardinalist spies back in Paris. Don't you know
the queen is watched like a hawk? I have the sensation of
being followed; animal instinct, perhaps. No harm done if I
wait here at the post tavern until morning, and then come
along to our meeting place."

"If you like. But what meeting -- place? I'm utterly
ignorant of the country --"

"That am not!" said Cyrano confidently. "If the girl goes
along with you, she'll serve as guide; If not, find your
way! We'll meet at noon tomorrow, or before, at the inn of
Savigny -- it's on the Orge, not so far from her chateau,
but well off the roads. I was down there after the summer
campaign, curing a wound in my throat and another in my
heart, in the most pleasant of company. A lady who -- well,
no matter now. Agreed?"

To the echo of his laughter, Vaugon shrugged. "Agreed,
then. Stop here for the night; the inn of Savigny, tomorrow
noon, without fail!" They clattered over the bridge and
rode into Lonjumeau, and so on to the post tavern, Vaugon
made no pause other than to ascertain his route out of
town, then shook hands with Cyrano and departed.

The afternoon was sunny and warm. Cyrano, who had shared
Vaugon's ample purse, made himself comfortable with a few
bottles of exce1lent wine and a rosy-cheeked serving girl
who capitulated to his nimble tongue. In ten minutes he was
getting all the gossip of the countryside, and making silly
rhymes to the vast admiration of his audience.

Next morning, he was just descending the stairs for his
morning draught, when he turned sharply from the inn-room
doorway and strode out into the courtyard. A single rider,
with a led horse, was just arrived. Cyrano gaped at the two
magnificent beasts, then again at the cavalier, under whose
cloak showed his blue-and-silver uniform scarf.

"D'Artagnan!" The cadet was ordering the saddle changed to
his ťresh horse, when Cyrano's delighted shout reached him.
Cyrano ťollowed it in person, and clapped his long arms
about the smaller man in a warm embrace.

"Mordious! What horses you ride -- uniform scarf, too! On
business?"

"Of a sort," replied d'Artagnan. "I've ridden most of the
night. Well, this is a lucky meeting! Where's our friend
Vaugon?"

"Riding the roads." Cyrano checked himself suddenly, on
meeting the searching eyes of the cadet. Peril abruptly
dilated his nostrils. "But come in, come in, rest and
talk!"

The other followed him silently, and to their order the
host brought bread and wine. Cyrano shoved flagon and
bottle at his guest.

"There! Wash the dust from your tongue, then , tell me what
the devil you're doing away down here when you should be
standing guard at the Louvre or the Palais Cardinal!"

D'Artagnan nodded and drank deeply. When he set down his
cup, his gaze countered that of Cyrano intently, probingly.
"Horse's," he said, "from the stables of His Eminence.
Uniform, Pistols at the saddle. What do all these suggest?"

"Something devilish unpleasant," said Cyrano. "Arrest?"

"Perhaps, perhaps not. As one good Gascon to another, my
business doesn't concern you; does that make you rest
easier?" D'Artagnan smiled. "If I'm not mistaken, there's
trouble in your wake -- at Berny, to be precise. Eh?"

"Frank talk or none," said Cyrano, suddenly impassive,
level-eyed. "I'm off in five minutes."

"Then I'm with you, at your service!"

Cyrano's black brows met, as he frowned across the table.
"Only yesterday we were wishing for your company -- but, my
friend, I smell a rat somewhere, and it smells like a rat
in red, upon my word! Not that I doubt you in the least,
but I doubt those beautiful horses of yours."

"Not badly put. A fair exchange, then?"

"Done with you. Whom are you to arrest?"

"No one, perhaps. I've been sent to keep an eye on a lady,
if I can find her. She's disguised as a man and is cooking
up treason against the state. There you are."

"Mordious." Cyrano relaxed slightly, and stared. "I'm with
Vaugon on his errand. Do you want to know what it is?
We're to carry off a lady; what's better, a ward of the
king. How's that for a fair exchange?"

"As far as it goes. Are you serious?" D' Artagnan stated in
turn. He knew Vaugon was thought to be a woman in disguise;
this was utterly absurd, but was none of his affair. "Eh? A
royal ward? Man, that means the Bastille!"

"Not under the king's seal," said Cyrano confidently. "You
rascal, be frank with me! Has your errand anything to do
with our Mlle. de Closset?"

"Nothing, upon my honor." Amazement seized upon d'Artagnan.
"De Closset? But she's the wealthiest unmatched lady in
France, and a bit crazy to boot!"

"How d'you know?"

D' Artagnan shrugged. "My dear Cyrano, I make it my
business to know. Having no other means of advancement, I
must advance by means of the ladies; so far, at least,
they've not been indifferent to me! My campaign's most
methodical, I assure you. I have all the good ones marked
down --"

Cyrano guffawed at this naive statement; it reached his
sense of humor, for it was not in the least cynical. In
fact, such a ladder was a deliberate road to glory for more
than one eminent soldier of France, and d'Artagnan was in
the best of company.

"Agreed, then," said Cyrano. "You're not telling the
secrets of His Eminence, and I'm guarding those of my
friend. We're at truce. Get a bite to eat and we'll be off,
for I'm to meet Vaugon at noon. We can go into matters more
fully then. Eh?"

"Right. I heard about your duel at Berny.  If you're
followed --"

Cyrano touched his sword and shrugged, and the cadet nodded
assent. They were, for the moment, at truce. It was no more
than truce, as d'Artagnan knew very well -- and as Cyrano
shrewdly suspected.



    CHAPTER VI

It was nearly dark when Vaugon, after dining comfortably
and leisurely at Ste. Genevieve, passed the gates of the
Chateau de Closset and rode up the tree-dark avenue to the
gray stone chateau beyond. He wondered vaguely what sort of
a woman he would meet, but this point troubled him little.
A groom came running out to take his weary horse, and from
the entrance hurried a foot-man with eager word.

"M. le Comte de Fleury? You have baggages --"

"M. de Fleury will not arrive until tomorrow," said Vaugon.
"No, don't lead the horse off! Keep him here, as I'm not
stopping. I have important news for Mlle. de Closset and
must see her at once. Announce Sieur Nicolas Vaugon."

"If Monsieur will follow me?"

Vaugon followed. That swift inquiry for Fleury put him on
guard -- the count was expected, then -- by whom? Beyond
doubt, by spies here installed.

Richelieu was said to have more spies at his command than
the king had soldiers; to get this watched and guarded
blossom of the court safely away might well prove no easy
matter . He found his expectations confirmed when, after
ten minutes of waiting in a very handsome little salon,
Mlle. de Closset entered, followed by an older and grimmer
woman, who took a chair and said nothing, but inspected the
visitor sharply.

At first glance, Vaugon's heart sank. The girl before him
was pretty enough, but he had hoped for other qualities.
Violet eyes under dark brows, frippery of high-piled hair,
laces and flashing gems; he almost shrugged as he bowed low
to her. Then her voice, a rather deep and rich contralto,
struck quickly at him.

"So you're from M. de Fleury -- and he is not coming
tonight?"

"He has been unfortunately detained, mademoiselle," said
Vaugon gravely. "I was asked to give you this token and to
say he would arrive tomorrow."

Had his name meant nothing to her, then? Had the queen been
mistaken in saying she expected him? Vaugon could not tell.
He extended the ring given him, and a little cry of delight
escaped the girl. She held it up, turning gaily to her
companion.

"See, here's the ring M. de Fleury promised to bring me!
Look at the pretty gold-work on it -- but I forget.
Monsieur, you are one of his friends? You must remain --"
Vaugon bowed. "Mademoiselle, I regret I must depart
instantly, for I am called by most important business
elsewhere, and must ride back the same road I came hither
--"

"But surely you'll see M. de Fleury?  He is stopping at
Lonjumeau, perhaps?"

Vaugon assented, wondering. Swiftly, impulsively, the girl
turned and pulled open an escritoire against one wall,
seized a quill, and scratched a few lines. Then, as the
older woman was about to speak, she turned quickly to
Vaugon and extended the paper.

"Take this to him, monsieur -- may I so far impose upon
you? I trust he's not ill?"

"Not very," said Vaugon. ."A slightly hurt arm, I believe.
He fell from his horse. The surgeon has advised him to wait
the night, and come on tomorrow."

He saw a flash of impish laughter liven her face at this,
yet failed to divine the reason. Insisting upon taking his
leave at once, knowing the letter in his hand must tell him
more than she dared say, he bowed again and took his
departure -- cursing his mission and his apparent inability
to carry it through.

Regaining his horse, he mounted, gave the groom a coin, and
headed back down the avenue toward the gates. It was not
yet dark. Half way to the entrance, he ventured to open the
paper, and to read its message. His eyes widened on it:

"In an hour. Half a league from here, on the Morgan road."

A slow whistle of amazement broke from him. Had the girl
been acting at the time?  Yes, beyond doubt -- here was
proof of it! He laughed, thrust away the paper, and for a
space his mood lightened. She had been quick enough, sharp
enough, after all!

And yet -- once past the gates, once back in the road
curving through the forest of Esugny toward Morsan, he
faced realities once more. She had been warned, yes, and
would somehow get away, regarding the whole affair as a gay
lark, a bit of madcap jest, a pretty game in which she had
naught to lose. She would join him, a powdered, luxury-
loving girl, a tender and precious thing in her fine silks
and laces and jewels, and he was supposed to hide such a
creature as he rode through France!

"She may have sense enough to put a cloak over her silks,
devil take her!" thought Vaugon in no little chagrin.
"Cyrano was right; we must have a coach and cart her about
from inn to inn, from town to town -- pest on the whole
thing! It's mad folly."

He rode on through the gathering darkness until the road
broke from the forest depths to strike out across the high
ground for Morsan. Then he dismounted, took a bottle of
wine from his saddlebags, and set himself to pass the time.
It was fortunate he had the wine, since his wait was a cold
one. There had been much snow on these heights above the
Orge; the fields were white, and here at the edge of the
forest the road was crisply heaped with snow, which beneath
the growing starlight left the approach fairly clear to
sight.

Vaugon had finished the bottle, and was tramping up and
down to keep warm, when he heard a voice caroling gaily
under the trees. It was a strong and joyous voice, and at
first he thought Mlle. de Closset was approaching, but on
hearing the words of the song he changed his mind. This, a
new and popular air of Paris, had been much on Cyrano's
lips during their morning's ride south, and was no song for
drawing-rooms or young ladies :

"Oh, Jacques was young, and he longed to see
The joys of a soldier's life;
So he joined a troop of the cavalry,
By help of the captain's wife!

Oh, Jacques was sent to the Low Countree
And down there he learned to fight;
But I heard tell in the cavalry
That he fought his best at night!"

Vaugon caught sight of a horse walking along the road
toward him. The song went on:

"Oh, Jacques came back to gay Paree
And married a wealthy dame:
She bought him a troop in the cavalry --
Woman's the road to fame!"

The singer was approaching, and after another verse or two
involving a young marquis and touching very frankly on
matrimonial escapades, came to its conclusion:

"Oh, Jacques grew old, and proud was he
Of his marshal's baton now!
But how they grinned in the cavalry
At the horns on his battered brow!"

The singer came to an abrupt halt, perceiving Vaugon, and
uttered a resounding oath.

"What ho, my lonely guardian of the forest! 'Ware of the
wolves hereabouts! Come along with me and we'll go seek
warm wine and a deep-bosomed country wench, eh? It's not
far to Morsan, and at the White Horse there we can find all
we seek and more. Come! Better a crust in company than a
loaf alone, so into the saddle and we'll show these country
folk how the game's played in Paris. Eh, comrade?"

Vaugon saw a cavalier, whose plumed beaver and scarf
proclaimed the soldier. A young blade, evident1y -- perhaps
some noble of the neighborhood intent upon practising Paris
debauchery in the provinces, and careless what happened.

"Thanks for the invitation," he rejoined, "but I've other
business, so don't let me detain you."

"Bah! Life's long and love's short," answered the other,
and with lithe agility swung out of the saddle. "Leave a
soldier and a comrade alone here with the wolves ? Perish
the thought! I'll keep you company, comrade --"

"Be on your way," said Vaugon irritably. "I've no desire
for company."

"Eh? Why not, then?" The reckless merry voice deepened in
swift anger. "Is this the way to treat a comrade? Let's
have a look at you, my friend! Death of my life -- if you
haven't the look of that same rascal who pinked poor Fleury
this morning! Eh?"

The other swaggered close, long rapier cocking up his cloak
behind. Vaugon cursed under his breath, scenting trouble
with this drunken sprig of nobility.

"Comrade, I'm awaiting a lady," he said with assumed
frankness. "Therefore, I beg of you, ride your way and --"

"A lady? Oh, ho!" exclaimed the other, stepping back. "No
lady hereabouts except MIle. de Closset -- so that's the
way of it, eh? Be damned to you for a foul liar, then! She
meets no wandering gallant on the roadside! Here's what I
think of you --"

His rapier scraped forth and flashed in the starlight. "En
garde!" he cried, and lunged. Vaugon's thin blade was
already out; he parried, cursed, found his own steel
gripped and held by the other, knew he was facing a real
swordsman. Then, as the blades clicked and rasped, his
opponent broke into a laugh.

"Fell from his horse, eh? That was a rare one! All the
world knows Fleury is the finest horseman in France --"

Vaugon disengaged and leaped back, in sudden amazement.

"Who the devil are you?" he demanded. His opponent lowered
blade and broke into a laugh.

"So we condescend to questions now? I'm, Chevalier de
Berville, at your service, in search of a certain Sieur
Vaugon."

"I am he," said Vaugon.

"Naturally. If you'd been halfway polite about it, instead
of devilish gruff and dignified, I'd have I'd have given
you my message in the first place."

"Your pardon," said Vaugon, putting away his sword. "You
have a message?"

"For your ears. We're to ride on together. The lady whom
you await will join us tomorrow morning."

Vaugon shrugged. Probably the girl did not care to trust
herself in the hands of an unknown man, regardless of who
had sent him.

"I know nothing of you, M. de Berville,"  he said. "If you
--"

The chevalier chuckled and thrust away his rapier.

"Monsieur, I'm an old friend of mademoiselle, and in her
confidence. Come! I was but jesting with you; let us be
friends, and speak frankly. You were sent by the queen,
therefore you're to be trusted."

Vaugon met with a firm yet delicate handclasp, and knew
then he was dealing with a noble, no soldier.

"Very well. I have a friend who arranged to meet me at the
inn of Savigny, somewhere near here, tomorrow."

"An excellent place," said Berville. "I'm to leave word for
her at Morsan. We'll be there in half an hour, ride on to
Savigny, and wait there -- a quiet place, none better. To
horse and on our way, then!"

They mounted and set forth, leaving the trees behind and
jogging along the wind-swept heights.  Berville, after a
little silence, broke talk.

"Comrade, you know nothing of me; easily told. On the
contrary, I know nothing of you, except that you're sent by
eminent people. A little mutual knowledge might well be
shared, since our heads, or at least our liberties, are
very much at stake in this matter. Mademoiselle will have
the devil's job to get rid of that old hag of an aunt -- my
own aunt, too, as mademoiselle is my cousin, but all the
same a perfect fiend, I assure you! She hates the sight of
me. I've been hiding in a summer-house for the past day,
because I'm not supposed to collie to the chateau. And
spies -- the country down this way is filled with them.
Dampierre belongs to Mme. de Chevreuse, and his most
scarlet eminence keeps a close eye on things connected with
that poor lady!"

"For all I know," said Vaugon, "you may be a spy yourself.
I came to your cousin with certain guarantees; you come to
me with a wine-thickened tongue --"

Berville held out a band, and in the starlight Vaugon saw
the glitter of the same little gold ring tbe queen had
given him.

"Answer enough?"

"Enough. You're her cousin, bear her trust -- I ask no
more."

"Then pardon the wine if I do," and Berville laughed. "Who
are you?"

"Sieur Nicolas Vaugon."

"Bah! That name was agreed upon qecause no such person
exists. You're a gentleman, but I'm devilish curious to
know more! And who's the friend we meet tomorrow?"

Vaugon laughed and unbent a trifle, for about this man in
the darkness there was a very winning quality, an engaging
appeal.

"Nothing more to know about me. His Majesty has given me my
present name, therefore I keep it. My friend is one M. de
Bergerac, a guardsman."

"Therefore a Gascon. Pest take it, but you're a stiff one!"
cried the chevalier, half angry, half amused, to judge by
his tone. "What do you plan to do? Where go?"

"That depends on the danger --"

"Of which there'll be plenty;"

"and on your fair cousin. We'll have to get a coach for
her, drag her around over the country, Lord knows what
else!"

"You don't seem to relish the prospect."

"Who would ?"

"Bah! She's a pretty baggage, that girl. Most men would
think themselves in luck."

Vaugon shrugged. "I grant you that, Berville, Pretty, and
has brains, no matter what they say of her; a rare
combination! None the less, she's a fine lady, a frail chit
of a girl -- well, you see for yourself how it'll be. If
there's hard riding to do, then luck's against us."

The chevalier seemed vastly amused, and roared with
laughter.

"Stick her on a horse and tie her feet!" he advised. "But
she'll pull through; I've ridden with that girl, trained
her. Work and weather won't spoil her."

"That remains to be seen. There's Morsan ahead, eh?" They
rode into Morsan, a little village crouched above the long
hills, paused at the tavern while Berville spoke a few
words to a groom, and then rode on. The chevalier led the
way to a narrow road winding down the hill and on toward
the Orge.

"You've left directions for her, therefore for any
pursuers," said Vaugon, as the horses descended the steep
path.

"We'll leave further directions at Savigny for the
pursuers." Berville laughed gaily. "Half a league away in
the wood -- we'll soon be there. It's an honest tavern,
with a most admirable cellar. I know it well."

A short road, indeed, and desolate. In half an hour they
were clattering across the bridge and heading on to the
village, where a comfortable old inn jogged elbows with the
church and monastery. Vaugon suddenly recalled that he was
utterly weary and saddle-sore, and could scarce stand once
he was out of the saddle.

"Shall we share a room?" said Berville, when a groom came
to his call. "I'm minded to eat and try a bottle or two of
wine --"

"Suit yourself as to that," said Vaugon. "All I want is a
bed. I haven't ridden a horse before today in two years,
and you know what that means."

"Death of my life -- two years?" Berville stared at him
amazedly. "Where've you been, then -- in the Bastille?"

Vaugon caught his breath. What a fool, to talk thus freely!

"Perhaps," he said with a laugh, and staggered toward the
host, who had appeared. "A room, a fire, my saddle-bags --
and peace!" he ordered. The host waved his lantern
jovially.

"All these and whatever else you seek, monsieur. A room is
ready. Will you mount?"

Leaving the chevalier to his own devices, Vaugon mounted
the stairs along the courtyard wall and in ten minutes more
was shivering himself into an excellent bed. He was asleep
before the cold sheets had yet taken on warmth. He wakened
to a misty morning, the sun showing as a dim red ball above
the hills. He was dressing when a knock sounded at his
door, and to his call Berville entered. Vaugon swung
around, waved his razor in reply to a gay greeting, and
examined the chevalier with no little curiosity.

"You're a late one!" said Berville, dropping into a chair.
"Saddle-stiff?"

"As the devil. I'll be through in a moment." He continued
shaving, with half an eye on his companion. Berville was
fair, blue-eyed, perhaps forty years of age -- older than
Vaugon had deemed him the previous night. His face was
stamped with a singular expression of vigor, energy -- the
heavy-lidded eyes were almost startling in their imperious
command.  The man was rather stout, his clothes were
travel-stained yet of princely material, and on his slender
white fingers glittered half a dozen jeweled rings of great
value.

"When does our friend arrive?" asked Vaugon. "She's here
now."

"What? Already?" Vaugon turned. "Where?"

Berville jerked thumb at floor, and smiled. "Ordering a
morning meal for us all: Don't worry. I've trained her, and
she'll not bring any trouble on us!" The sharp blue eyes
probed suddenly at Vaugon, with a most singular expression
of puzzled wonder. "Come, my friend; I expect to leave you
here, perhaps this very morning. And I have a certain
responsibility toward this fair cousin of mine. Would you
object to telling me why you haven't straddled a horse for
two years?"

Vaugon carefuJly wiped his razor, dried his face, and then
met the keen blue eyes of the chevalier. "I would object,
M. de Berville," he said coldly. Berville laughed, showing
very white and even teeth.

"So? It's true! I get very little news from Paris," he said
easily, "yet occasiopally some comes to me from other
quarters. I was in England some time ago, and there I heard
of the odd disappearance of a very promising young man.
Shall I continue?"

"If you like." Vaugon continued his dressing, yet a cold
hand had laid hold of him. Who or what the devil was this
country noble?

"I might say I know who this promising young man was," said
the chevalier calmly. "In fact, I might say,I know who you
are, Sieur Vaugon."

Vaugon turned, and so chill and terrible were his eyes that
Berville started.

"M. de Berville," he said, quietly and yet with evident
meaning, "if you persist in a subject which is distasteful
to me, I shall kill you in two minutes."

"My dear friend, I'm thinking only of your good --"

"No protests," said Vaugon curtly. "I should kill you here
and now, but I'm not yet so afraid for my own neck. De
Berville -- that name also is a lie, I think! Touched you
there, did I?" He smiled thinly as he noted the chevalier's
slight change of expression. "Perhaps the question of
identity is as tender with you as with me, eh? Last night I
took you for a rustic young man; this morning, I perceive
you are neither so very young nor so very rustic. I'm not
interested in you. If your interest in me continues, I
promise you it'll meet with a sword-thrust. Do I make
myself plain?"

"Perfectly." Berville waved his slender hand graceťully.
"At least, may I give you a well-meant bit of advice?" He
rose. "Whatever you do, don't go to Paris!  There are
certain people alive who may remember that the late Duc de
Montmorenci had a triangular mole just before his ear.
Well, comrade, you'll find us below. Come soon! I'm
expecting a messenger to meet me here this morning -- if he
comes, I may have to ride off on the instant."

Berville swung out of the room, humming a gay tune.

For a moment Vaugon stood motionless, staring blankly
before him. That mole! He knew well enough it was the only
possible means of betrayal, and so he had left his hair
uncut before his ears, to cover it. And this country noble
had pierced to the truth of everything almost at a glance!
Vaugon finished dressing, put away his things, packed his
saddle-bags. Who was this somewhat effeminate nobleman,
this amazing character obviously using an assumed name,
this cousin of Mlle. de Closset, who appeared to be a
person of power and command? Well, no matter. The girl was
waiting. Remembering this, Vaugon hastened to descend.

He found the two of them at a window-table in the main room
of the tavern, and met with a distinct surprise. Instead of
a girl, he found himself meeting a very handsome young man.
The previous evening he had talked with the girl, yet now
he could not recognize either her features or her sex in
the cloaked and velveted cavalier who bowed to him with
laughing eyes and a gay greeting, though he did recognize
the warm violet eyes.

"Good morning, Sieur Vaugon!" she exclaimed merrily, and
even her voice could scarce betray her. "You didn't expect
to see me?"

"You, but not as you are," said Vaugon, and Berville
laughed out at this.

"No, he was looking for a frail damsel who'd shriek at the
rasp of a sword! Well, M. Vaugon, this is our friend the
Comte le Plessis, so sit down and ask him what my real name
is, if you like.

"None of us are using our own names, it appears." Vaugon
shrugged, as he took a seat, and felt the eyes of the girl
studying him.

"I'm not interested in your name, monsieur. I happen to be
using my own; since the king bestowed it on me, I shall
keep it."

"Is that cunning or simplicity?" asked Berville in mockery.

"Devil take you)" snapped Vaugon, leaning forward with a
sudden blaze in his eyes. "What are you driving at? My word
is my word. If you've anything to say about it, then say it
now! If not, keep your tongue between your teeth."

A flash of anger shot through the blue eyes of Berville,
then was gone.

"The subject's closed," he responded quietly.

Plessis had looked from one to the other anxiously, sharp
uneasiness in those violet eyes. Vaugon divined that this
anxiety was not for him, but for the chevalier. At this
instant, however, came interruption. A horse pounded into
the courtyard and a man called out sharply, urgently, as he
swung to earth.

"M. de Berville! Is M. de Berville here or not?" The rider
appeared in the doorway, dust-covered, blue with cold --
evidently a gentleman, and as evidently in desperate haste.
Berville rose and beckoned.

"This way, Armand! All's safe. You have news? Give it
freely,"

The man staggered forward, saluted the three, dropped into
a chair, and gulped at the wine Berville put into his hand.
A long breath escaped him. "Diantre! A cold night's ride!
Safe to talk?"

"Quite," said Berville impatiently. "Your news?"

"Danger. Something is discovered -- St. Bris brought word
that men are out on all the eastern roads -- a network of
parties, working east and south from Paris, combing every
road and track. If you head north and east, you're lost.
Nothing is known for certain yet."

"No news from Mazarin?" asked Berville, his eyes shining as
though he enjoyed this message of danger. At the Italian's
name, Vaugon's sharp gaze went to him.

"Not a word. I saddled and rode to Morsan! got your message
and came on he,re, Your only chance now is to head
westward, swIftly."

"Good. Ride at once, eh? Host! Have my horse saddled!"
Berville rose, held out one hand to Plessis, the other to
Vaugon, and laughed gayly.

"My friends, I'm off -- we'd only bring danger on one
another. Plessis, you can trust Sieur Vaugon absolutely,
you comprehend? Absolutely. His presence, his aid, is a
miracle! Vaugon, forget your worries. Remember only that
Comte le Plessis is a comrade who needs no coach, but can
endure as much as you or more, and use sword or pistolet at
need. Farewell, and good luck! Damnation to the cardinal,
and a joyous meeting at his funeral! Adieu, my cousin;
don't see us off. Remain here. Adieu!"

He embraced Plessis, gave Vaugon a firm grip, and strode
hastily out with the messenger. Vaugon looked after them,
saw them mount and go spurring forth, and then dropped back
into his seat -- still astonished by the warm encomiums of
the chevalier.

"I'd give a good deal to know who that man is!" he
muttered.

"Is that a question?" Vaugon looked up, met the laughing
eyes of Plessis, and remembered.

"No, it's not a question, comrade," he said, with the quick
smile that so relieved the gravity of his features. "People
who live in glass houses -- you know!"

"The chevalier said to trust you absolutely, and I do,"
came the bright response. "However, that was only so far as
I'm concerned. So I'd best not tell you who M. de Berville
is, my friend. If the cardinal catches him, though, all
France will ring with it!"

Vaugon dismissed the subject.

"Let it pass, Our present occupation is more personal.
You've a horse?"

"And saddle-bags. Enough for my needs, I assure you. Did
you really think I'd want a coach?"

"Hard to say." Vaugon met her eyes, and they exchapged a
smile. "Since you're a man and a comrade, you understand
that such a ride as ours may have unpleasant moments?"

Plessis nodded cheerfully.

"Granted. None so unpleasant as that in which  I'd marry
Fleury, though! So cheer up, comrade!  I wasn't brought up
at court, I'm not half the fool they say I am, and if you
need a good oath at a pinch, I can help supply it.  A groom
tr1ed to stop  me when I rode off this morning, and I had
to put a bullet into him. One spy the less for Richelieu!"

"You're pursued?" asked Vaugon quickly. Plessis shook his
head.

"They think I went the other way, to Ste. Genevieve.
What's your plan?"

"To await a friend here, M. de Bergerac of the guards. Then
trust his head and yours."

"You couldn't do better," said Plessis, and laughed merrily
over his wine-up. "So here's luck all around -- and
damnation to the cardinal!"

It was just noon when Cyrano and d'Artagnan rode into the
tavern courtyard.




   CHAPTER VII

NAME of a name -- d'Artagnan here! What luck!"

Vaugon, gripping hands at once with the guardsman and the
cadet, stared at the latter in open astonishment. He caught
a grimace from Cyrano but did not understand it.

"Aye," said Cyrano. "We joined forces at Lonjumeau, rode
hard, and here we are! When we left the main road at
Epinay, we heard that M. de Fleury had just passed through,
but riding alone. I'll wager a pistol that devilish fool
St. Aubin stopped behind to set the world after me for
killing Breuil! Well, what luck?"

"Plenty," said Vaugon. "But you, d'Artagnan -- it's a
miracle to find you! Come in and thrice welcome!"

He led them into the tavern, and to the table where Plessis
stood up to meet them.

"Two friends instead of one," said Vaugon gladly. "M. le
Comte le Plessis, I am happy to present M. Cyrano de
Bergerac, and M. d'Artagnan."

"If this keeps up, we'll have an army!" and Plessis laughed
as they shook hands. In his manner, d'Artagnan showed
instant comprehension of the comte's identity. Cyrano was
slower, but the girl's next words plainly revealed the
truth.

"So you ride with us, gentlemen? I give thanks -- it's all
I can give save my friendship; that is already yours. Sit
down, sit down! Time enough for food and drink."

D'Artagnan caught the eye of Vaugon, made a slight gesture,
and Vaugon comprehended.

"Cyrano," he said, "I leave the road of evasion to your
wits. Confer with M. le Plessis, while I have a word apart
with d'Artagnan, by your leave."

"Eh?" Cyrano turned. His challenging, black-browed gaze
drove at the cadet. "Oh, all right! Ask him for whom he
carries an order of arrest, while you're about it."

With this, Cyrano turned again to the girl. Vaugon sensed a
certain definite antagonism, and scented it anew in the
manner of d'Artagnan, as he accompanied the latter to a
table across the room. The host brought wine and cups, and
they could speak freely.

"Well?" asked Vaugon, his gaze on that of d' Artagnan. "It
seems there's some tension in the air -- yet we parted
friends."

"We are friends," responded d' Artagnan. slight flush
mounted his cheek. "The best proof is that I'm going to lay
my cards before you --- aye, on this very table! Cyrano
suspects my errand and misconstrues it. The fact is, I have
been sent to arrest a woman who is masquerading as a man."

Vaugon frowned. "What? Surely not Plessis."

"Yonder? Oh, not a bit of it." D' Artagnan smiled
whimsically.  I gave Cyrano my word that this errand was
not concerned with Mlle de Closset, nor with him. Look you,
comrade! I've only one aim in life -- to rise! Here's frank
speech. There are two ways one may follow this ambition; by
the road of duty, or the road of women. Some men chose tbe
one, some the other. I choose both! And here, death of my
life, I'm in conflict on both heads! It's a devil of a
predicament."

Vaugon sipped at his wine. The other went on quietly.

"Richelieu rules France, but Mazarin has his fingers
clenched in the old lion's mane, my friend. That Italian is
a sharp man, twists the cardinal to his notion -- a good
one to work with, this Mazarin. Well, the cardinal thinks
that one of his personal enemies, a woman, a traitress, a
spy, is going about France disguised as a man. Further, he
thinks this man carries a passport naming him Sieur Nicolas
Vaugon."

"Eh?" Vaugon started, and his grey eyes widened. "Is this a
jest, d'Artagnan?"

"It's damnable earnest!"  D'Artagnan flung out his hands,
then leaned forward. "Absurd? Of course it's absurd! All
tragedy is absurd. I suspect Mazarin's hand in this, too.
It may be your name came up, and to avert suspicion from
your real identity, your real errand, crafty Mazarin swung
the cardinal into this false trail.   At all events,
someone reported our dinner at the Pinecone, and I was
summoned as knowing your face."

D'Artagnan emptied his cup, wiped his mustache, and
continued.

"Richelieu questioned me, and learned nothing, I assure
you. He had already sent out men in one direction -- devil
take it, I can't tell you more than duty permits! There's a
line drawn by duty which friendship can't pass --"

Vaugon nodded, alertly. "Understood. Tell me what you can."

"I've been sent to find you, as they know you headed south.
When you head for a certain city, or when you exchange any
letters -- I'm to seize the letters and arrest you.
Meantime, I'm to give you free rein, on condition that I
bring you ultimately to Richelieu, by arrest, guile, or
otherwise. You see? Up to a certain point, I'm a free
agent."

"I see. Richelieu doesn't suspect my real identity?"

"Not in the least, upon my word! He thinks Sieur Vaugon is
some female spy, or some lady whom he has exiled -- I don't
know who you're supposed to be. Now, I've nothing to do
with M. le Plessis, who of course is our m'amselle in
disguise, or with Cyrano. My errand lies solely with you.
There are my cards, comrade, and damned if I know how to
play them!"

Vaugon frowned thoughtfully. "This is a devilish
imbroglio!" he mused. "If Richelieu knew I was a man --"

"Easily proven," and d'Artagnan grinned. "But orders are
orders -- I'm to bring Sieur Vaugon to him."

"Hm!" Vaugon met those laughing yet keenly shrewd eyes, and
knew he had no loophole of evasion except frankness. "And
meantime, you're to accompany this Vaugon?"

"Awaiting my time. And I'm to keep him unharmed."

"Excellent." Vaugon broke into a laugh and held out his
hand. "Then carry out your orders. When it comes to
arresting me, that'll be another matter to discuss. Until
then, we're comrades. Agreed?"

"Agreed." D'Artagnan gave him a firm grip. "You'll not try
to give me the slip, I'll not take you unawares. We ride as
comrades -- faith of a gentleman!"

"Faith of a gentleman!" echoed Vaugon gravely. "Then let's
rejoin our friends -- and I hope you don't head for the
danger point."

They returned to the other table. Vaugon caught a sharp
look from Cyrano, and clapped the guards -- man heartily on
the shoulder.

"We make four," he announced. "M. d' Artagnan rides with us
-- our cause is his. Now whither shall we ride? For Sedan?"

Only Cyrano, who missed nothing, caught the sharp glint in
d'Artagnan's eyes at this name. Plessis shook his head.
"Not for Sedan," he said. "The roads are closed that way.
We've concluded, Vaugon, our best chance would be to cut
back across the Orleans road, and either make southwest for
the Forest of Ivelines, or else north around Paris for
Pontoise."

D' Artagnan relaxed, and reached for the wine. "As you
like," said Vaugon indifferently. "But we've no definite
objective, except to kill time and stay out of sight, so
why try to map out a route? Let's get across the Orleans
highway first and put danger behind us, then follow our
luck. If by any chance things get too hot, we can always
double back to Paris -- the best of all places in which to
hide."

"At a pinch, yes," agreed Cyrano. strike first for
Palaiseau, beyond Lonjumeau -- and make further plans
there. To your taste, M. d'Artagnan?"

"Admirably!" said the latter, twirling his mustache. He
lifted his cup with a flourish. "To our good comrade, Comte
le Plessis! By the way," he added, when the toast was
drunk, "how are we off for money?"

"Mazarin provided me," said Vaugon.

"I provided myself," and Plessis laughed as he tapped his
pocket.

"Richelieu provided me," said d'Artagnan, whereat Plessis
gave him a glance of sharp astonishment. Cyrano made a
grimace.

"Naked I came into the world," he intoned, "and naked I go
out of it. For me, the lord will provide -- thanks to the
cardinal and an Italian abbe! We've an extra horse, too!"

"Then seli mine at Lonjumeau," said Plessis, rising.
"Finish your wine, friends -- Vaugon and I wili get our
beasts ready."

Vaugon accompanied him to the courtyard. In the eager,
nervous stride of Plessis, in the too-soft accents, he
could distinguish the woman; but in little else. Once
outside, Plessis turned quickly to him, after sending a
groom for the horses.

"Who's this d'Artagnan? He spoke of Richelieu --"


"Who sent him to arrest me." Vaugon laughed and explained
briefly, as they waited. "You see? The great cardinal is
caught in a net of errors. He thinks Sieur Nicolas Vaugon
is some woman in (I disguise, and wants to catch her.
There's no peril in it for you. If anything goes amiss with
me, if that passport has drawn me into danger instead of
lifting me above it, Cyrano will take care of my mission.
Meantime, d'Artagnan can be trusted."

"Yes, but not forgotten," murmured Plessis. "What would
happen if you were arrested and taken!"

"To Richelieu?"

Vaugon smiled amusedly as he pictured such a contingency.

"Faith, I don't know who'd be more confounded -- the
cardinal or I! What woman could he take me for, I wonder?"

The violet eyes danced merrily. "Whom, indeed?  Marie de
Medici, perhaps, or Mme. de Chevreuse, or any of a dozen
others! Come along, then.  We four have no secrets, it
appears, so here are the horses and the road's awaiting us.
Hola, comrades! All ready."

All ready."

No secrets, indeed! In the sudden flash of her eyes, in the
nuance of her voice, Vaugon read the truth. Berville must
have imparted to this girl what he knew or suspected about
Vaugon's identity. Well, what matter? With a shrug, Vaugon
turned to pay the inn-keeper his score. None the less abode
with him the sensation as of a cold hand upon his neck. A
chance meeting had shown how his secret, supposedly so
secure, might yet be flashed out before the whole world
without warning.

A few minutes more, and all four of them were jogging along
a hillside path for Grand Vaux, Epinay and the western
highway, which crossed the Orleans road at Lonjumeau.
Plessis and d'Artagnan, with the spare horse, rode ahead,
Cyrano followed with Vaugon. The mists of an early morning
had not dissipated, but on the contrary had continued and
were thickening into a blanket of fog hanging close upon
hills and valley.

"A splendjd cavalier, this little lady of ours!" observed
Cyrano. "Mordious! The game may go well enough, comrade!"

Vaugon nodded, eyeing the lithe cloaked figure of Plessis
with approval. The girl made a very proper cavalier, to any
casual eye.

"Hm! See if you know such a man as this," and Vaugon told
of his meeting with Berville and how the latter had ridden
away hurriedly. "Who the devil could the fellow be? No
ordinary person -- some high noble at least?"

"Faith, I don't know all Paris," said Cyrano. "Never heard
the name, and can't place the description, unless it's the
Due d'Orleans -- but that's nonsense. So that's how you
know the eastern roads were watched? Berville did us a good
turn there. If he's an enemy of the cardinal, we needn't
fear him. What I don't like is having d'Artagnan with us."

"We've made truce," and Vaugon detailed the agreement.
Cyrano, thus getting full details of d'Artagnan's mission
for the first time, sniffed scornfully.

"Truce! He's a real Gascon, that one; look out for
yourself! A gentleman? Of course, but a shrewd and devilish
sharp young mam And with a supreme eye to his own fortune.
On the road hither, I got to know the rascal, and I'1l
wager a pistole he's making love to Plessis this moment.
Comrade, we're not sitting in a tavern -- we're on the road
to death and fortune, and devil take the hindmost!
Gentleman my eye! I've nothing to lose, everything to gain,
by sticking to you. D'Artagnan doesn't give a hang for
anything except winning his own play, so look to it! He'll
get on in the world, that one."

Vaugon refused to accept this view. "Leave him to me. All
the future hangs on incident, so don't force it. If I'm put
out of the game, you take Plessis and carry on to the end
without me."

"Aye; likely enough, too," said Cyrano gloomily. "Fleury is
no fool. We'll run risks at Lonjumeau, if that cat St.
Aubin is after us, but we're well ahead of any alarm from
Fleury and the escape of the girl. So forward!"

Having thus unloaded his burden of woe, Cyrano promptly
swung to the other extreme, and when the four riders
clattered into the paved highway at Epinay, he was matching
campaign yarns with d'Artagnan in a species of wild gusto.

In all he did, Cyrano was not only intense, but went to
astonishing extremes. D'Artagnan, too, flung off his sober
air, matched youth with youth, and Vaugon found himself
catching the contagion. Within an hour ali constraint had
vanished, and if some of Cyrano's jests were broad, Plessis
laughed as heartily as the others. It was not a squeamish
age by a good deal.

Early in the afternoon they rode into Lonjumeau. When they
perforce halted at the post tavern, came an incident to
more than justify Vaugon's confidence in the Gascon. The
valley of the Yvette was thick with fog, the town was
shrouded with it. The four had just dismounted; Cyrano and
Plessis were at the inn door, Vaugon and d'Artagnan were
directing the ťeed of the horses, when into the inn-yard
poured a number of riders, most of them cavalry officers
from the regiment quartered here.

Vaugon caught one startled howl, and turned to find St.
Aubin and two officers at his side.

"Here's the one who fought Fleury!" cried the noble. "There
at the door -- he's the one who killed Breu:il -- seize
them all for duelling -- quick!"

"Your names, messieurs?" demanded an officer of Vaugon.

"And authority." Vaugon drew out his passport. "If you'1l
have the goodness to silence this yelping fool, here's a
document to speak for me."

St. Aubin broke into curses. The officer, glancing over the
passport, changed countenance as he got its import.

"M. Vaugon, you are under His Majesty's seal -- and yet --"

"And yet;" spoke out d'Artagnan, opening his cloak to show
his uniform scarf, "one of His Majesty's officers refuses
to acknowledge the royal signature? I must say, monsieur, I
find this very singular, to say. the least!"

The officer bowed. "Gentlemen, I do not refuse. I salute!"
he said, and turned away. "Come, St. Aubin -- you've been
too hasty in this affair."

They were gone into the mist. D'Artagnan caught Vaugon's
arm.

"Take your time! Eat, drink, bait the horses and ourselves
-- they'll not bother us. We're safe in the town, at least.
Once out of it -- well, that's to be seen!"

Securing a table in the tavern, the four made light of the
occurrence.

"Bah!" exclaimed Cyrano grandly. "The passport has saved
us, from the cavalry at least. Now St. Aubin will scurry
round and raise a few local gentlemen to get after us, and
we can't hope to throw them off without hard riding.
D'Artagnan, a health to you! We seal friendship afresh.
Now, if my invention were but perfected, how easy to
evade!"

"What invention?" demanded Plessis, laughing. "An invisible
cloak?"

"Aye, wherewith to reach the moon! Here's the meat -- at
it!" Cyrano attacked his platter, and spoke between bites.
"Certain laws of physics, you comprehend? Smoke rises,
being lighter than air; gas or hot air rises, for the same
reason. Regard, then! Make a great bag of silk or other
light substance, fill it with smoke or gas -- what will
happen? It will rise -- curse me if it won't! Now attach a
box to this bag, and climb into the box. If box and man
aren't too heavy, they'll rise too. The moon's in sight,
comrades! Up!"

"A madman's dream!" laughed d'Artagnan. "Tell me when you
test the invention, and I'll be there to preach the funeral
sermon."

"Devil a bit of it!" said Cyrano stoutly. "I've gone over
the figures carefully -- it will work, I assure you! All I
need is enough money to try it out."

" And that's as far away as the moon," said Vaugon,
chuckling.

"Jest away, scoffers!" cried Cyrano. "You'll wish you had
my moon-bag before we're a league out of town, though! That
coxcomb St. Aubin will be after us. Fleury is probably at
the Chateau de Closset now -- in another twenty-four hours
they'll know everything and the whole country will be
raised against us. Swordplay ahead, comrades -- so drink
today, and let tomorrow take care of itself. Who's going to
sell that extra horse?"

"Try the inn-keeper," said Plessis. "This is the post
tavern, and the best place."

"Didn't your friend Berville," said Vaugon, when Cyrano
departed with d'Artagnan, "come westward? Then he must have
come through here."

Plessis shrugged. "Perhaps. He daren't pause in any town
where there are soldiers, though -- his face is too well
known. His danger is less from actual pursuit, than from
chance recognition."

"He must be devilish well known, then -- a great person of
the court, at least!"

"He is," and Plessis regarded Vaugon with merry gaze.
"Come, you'll know some day! We may even meet him, though I
doubt it, as he's headed now for the frontier."

The horse sold, the money paid, they ordered the horses
made ready. They saw or heard no more of St. Aubin, though
a number of officers were in the inn-room. With small loss
of time they had mounted and were once more on their way.
They would have a clear field ahead, once they got through
town and on the road to Palaiseau.

Across the bridge, past the gates unhindered, the ťoUr
swung into a ťast trot. The fog lessened somewhat as they
gained the higher ground, yet continued as a thick, cold
mist veiling everything. With luck, they should reach
Palaiseau for the night.

Here was a good leagth of riding over upland road to the
village of Champlan, with never a hamlet in between, scarce
a struggling farm -- all these lay leftward toward the
river. They had covered half the distance when toward them
through the mist loomed up a galloping horse, riderless yet
saddled. The animal clattered past with a snort and a fleck
of white foam, and was gone.

"Fright and blood!" exclaimed d'Artagnan, twisting in his
saddle to stare aťter the vanishing shape. "Ride ahead,
Cyrano -- army tactics here!"

"Right," replied Cyrano, and spurred off into the mist
ahead.

They followed him more slowly, priming their pistols
afresh. Vaugon cursed the fog which prevented any sight of
the country or road: His glimpse of that riderless horse
had brought a sense of familiarity; he had seen the beast
somewhere, and recently, yet the clue eluded him. He
struggled with memory -- then came peril pressing in to
divert him.

From the road behind he caught a faint thrumming throb, the
clatter and pound of hooves galloping in unison. He touched
d'Artagnan's arm.

"Pursuit -- hear it?"

The cadet listened, nodded. At this instant, from the mist
ahead, broke a pistol shot and the bellowing voice of
Cyrano.

"Assassins! To me, comrades -- assassins!"

"In between us, Plessis!" snapped d'Artagnan. "Close in,
Vaugon. Forward!"

The three horses plunged on abreast. Shadowy figures took
shape in the mist. Sword in one hand, pistol in the other,
Vaugon stared -- glimpsed two men against a huge oak-tree
beside the road. They were afoot, hemmed in by half a dozen
cavaliers, among whom Cyrano's horse was plunging madly.
Even as yells of alarm rang up, one of the men by the tree
crumpled and fell forward, a bullet through his head.

"Vive le Cardinal!" went up a shout.

"Vive le Roi!" retorted d'Artagnan, and the three struck
headlong into the tumult.

Pistols banged, men yelled, steel rasped. Vaugon found an
opening, drew rein -- and saw that the man against the tree
was the Chevalier de Berville. He emptied his pistol into a
rider thrusting down at Berville! then was borne afar by a
rush. For half a moment it was all a mad, blind melee of
plunging horses and cursing men, and Vaugon damned the wild
recklessness of Cyrano. The dead man by the tree was the
messenger Armand -- the chevalier himself had now caught a
riderless horse and was scrambling for the saddle.

Sharp amazement at such a meeting swept Vaugon. He saw
Plessis at one side, turned his horse -- and then, like a
thunderbolt, another band of xiders burst from the mist and
came smashing headlong into the confusion. St. Aubin's
sharp yelp showed the pursuers were come up.

What with the cloaking fog, the bursting pistol-shots, the
ring of swords, there was no time for question or reply --
the scene became a wild riot of insensate, panic-struck
fighting without rhyme or reason. A fallen horse blocked
the road, others piled up across its body, and here
gathered a swirl of striking figures.

"Aside, Plessis!" he cried, shouldering the other horse
aside with his own beast, engaging his own blade with that
of a cavalier -- a scarred rascal who grinned and lunged
viciously. The horses plunged as the blades clicked and
clung -- then Vaugon felt his lithe, slender steel drive
home, saw his opponent lean over and clutch at the saddle,
saw him go away into the mist and be swallowed up.


Vaugon turned, searching Plessis -- and a sudden harsh
scream was wrenched from him. He felt the deep bite of
steel, felt the blade go into him from behind. A shrill,
fox-like yelp and he twisted to see St. Aubin at his
stirrup with contorted, exultant features. Only dimly did
Vaugon realize how his own rapier swept around and drove
in. He sent the point home on shortened blade and followed
it to the very hilt -- followed it until his fist touched
the face of St. Aubin, as the latter clutched his throat
and went shrieking backward.

The wrench of his sword almost unseated Vaugon, yet it came
clear in his hand. Beside him loomed the shape of Plessis,
face white, eyes blazing large. Vaugon put up his sword,
caught at the other's bridle.

"Out of it, out of it!" he cried, but his voice was very
weak, His spurs drove in, and the two horses swerved aside,
dashed from the road into a field, emerged from the
lessening fury of the tumult.

A tree loomed before them, then Vaugon's memory of events
went blank.



    CHAPTER VIII

VAUGON wakened to strange peace, afteR that horribly
confused nightmare of fog and men gone mad.


True, he was still in fog, but now he lay on the ground,
his head pillowed in the lap of Plessis, while Berville
completed the work of bandaging his side and then held a
flask of cognac to his lips. The fiery stuff brought him
around fast enough, and warmed him.

"Not dead, then!" he said, and smiled.

"Far from it," returned Berville, and wiped blood from his
jeweled fingers with an odd expression of distaste. "We
must get on -- they'll be searching. What a devil of a
scrimmage, eh? Here, give me your arm."

Vaugon was presently on his feet, leaning on Plessis, while
Berville brought up the three horses.

"Our comrades?" he queried.

"Heaven knows!"  and Plessis shrugged.  His face was
thin-seeming and strained, the violet eyes large. "I
thought you dead -- met the chevalier --"

Ber:ville came up to them, laughing. "What a reencounter it
was, eh? Those cardinalists had us done for--one of them, a
scarred rusty-faced rascal, had once been in my service,
and recognized me. Poor Armand's dead. Then you came -- and
after you, who?"

"St. Aubin and some friends in pursuit of us," said Vaugon.
"Cyrano and I were recognized in town -- vengeance for
killing Breuil. Well, St. Aubin's dead now, and so is your
rusty-faced rogue, I think."

"Good news, then," said Berville. "You were making westward
too, eh? This means hiding for us all. Now -- can you get
into the saddle? Steady, now -- your arm --"

Vaugon was helped up, and settled into the saddle. St.
Aubin's blade had torn his side, slipping along his ribs,
but had not thrust into him. A moment more, and he was
riding through the mist, the others on either side. They
were off the road, enveloped in the ghastly silence of
thick fog, apparently alone in the world.

Cyrano and d'Artagnan -- well, whatever had happened to
them, worry would do no good. Vaugon, weak with loss of
blood, sank into a dazed coma as the endless ride
continued, hour upon hour. He dimly realized they had come
upon a country road, and that Berville appeared to know
their whereabouts and to have some definite goal in view;
but he took no great interest in it all.

Even the strange trick of fate which had again flung them
into contact with Berville quite failed to arouse Vaugon.
He plodded on, head hanging, conscious yet in a daze, all
his faculties concentrated on keeping in the saddle. Little
by little he was failing, and he fought against the
weakness.

The chevalier appeared entirely untroubled, entirely sure
of himself. Plessis begged him to ride on and leave them;
the girl stated truly enough that she could take Vaugon to
some country auberge where they would be safe. Berville
only laughed at her.

"Bah!  I left you because my company was dangerous for you
-- now that we're together for the time, my company will
get you safety and good bestowal. Besides, I can't go on as
I am. They'll know I'm at large, will have my description,
will search every road. Comte de Fleury will be hotfoot
after you and me both. I'll get hold of a monk's garb and
use that," and he guffawed as though the notion were highly
amusing.

"Where are you going, then?" demanded Plessis.

"To the Tour de Gisy -- a long chance but our best hope.
Although he hates me, although I've wronged him and bitter
things lie between us in the past, Sieur de Gisy will aid
us -- or rather, you! Leave it to me, cousin. There's
humiliation in it, and you know how I love such a thing,
but better humiliation here in the woods than in the Palais
Cardinal!"

Vaugon thought the chevalier was out of his head, and
laughed hollowly.

"Both of you go on, leave me," he muttered. "I've failed
you, Plessis -- I'll be safe enough at any tavern --"

"Because a coward stabbed you in the back? Devil take me if
I'll leave you!" swore Plessis, and reached over to clap
him on the arm. "Brace up, comrade! We'll beat the red
minister yet!"

They rode on. Presently Vaugon sank again into coma, for
the bandage had slipped and his wound was bleeding slowly,
steadily, seepingIy. He said nothing of this to the others
-- what matter?

He remembered little more until, late in the afternoon,
they were out of the mist and riding through woods red with
sunset, keen with biting wind, black snow-clouds massing up
from north and east. The sun was gone when the road brought
them to a strange old turreted building, half in ruins,
standing solitary where once had been a great chateau and
open park. A thread of smoke went up from the building, and
as they approached it, a dog howled.  Vaugon roused
himself. The cold had stopped his wound, but he was half
frozen and in much pain. A massive iron-bound door was
flung back, and before them appeared a surly-faced man.
"Tell the Sieur de Gisy he has guests," said the chevalier,
not dismounting. "Two fugitives and a wounded man."

"We take no guests here," said the servitor churlishly. "Go
die of your wounds, for all we care. If you know my master,
you know none gain admittance here."

"But I gain it," said Berville, and took from his finger
the same ring Vaugon had borne from the queen. "Give him
this in token."

The man took it, re-entered, slammed the door , left them
standing there. In two minutes he came back hastily, bowed,
and advanced.

"Enter, guests!" he said. "I'll take the horses. There are
no other servants. Go into the room on the right, where a
fire is burning. My master will join you presently."
"Aye, " muttered Berville, as he supported Vaugon, "he'll
join us to taunt me! Well, I'll have a surprise fot him!"

Snow was beginning to fall as they entered, Berville
helping the stumbling Vaugon, to whom all this was an
incomprehensible, fantastic dream. There was fantasy
inside, too, for they came into a huge sombre room lighted
by candelabra and a wide fireplace, and Vaugon saw great
paintings of handsome women on the walls, as he sank into a
chair and sat half conscious.

Then he was aware of a man bowing, bringing Berville's
fingers to his lips, and this drew a laugh from him -- only
a woman, or a prince of the blood, could exact such a
greeting. Was Berville, then, the king!s brother, the Duc
d'Orleans? At his laugh they turned and stared.  But
Vaugon' s head had sunk again on his breast, his eyes
closed.

"You do me too much honor," said the Lord of Gisy, his
voice very bitter. Not half so bitter as were his eyes,
however. From his gaunt bearded face they looked upon
Berville with a cold and gloomy stare of hatred. "Too much
honor by far! These fifteen years you have forgotten me,
after vilely betraying my honor and my love --"

"Why, that's true enough!" Berville faced him steadily,
white-faced in the ruddy firelight, but unflinching. "True
enough, Raoul de Gisy! I don't hide behind excuses."

"Then how dare you come here asking my aid?" The cold voice
deepened. " Aid? By the lord, I'll give you nothing, sell
you nothing, not if you bartered yourself in exchange!"

It certainly must be Monsieur, thought Vaugon dimly --
Monsieur, the royal prince who had betrayed all of his
associates. Yet the Duc d'Orleans was a coward, a vile
craven, and this Berville was anything but a coward.

"You're not the devil, to barter for souls," and the
chevalier laughed a little. "No, Raoul, if alone I'd never
have come here. It's for others that I humiliate myself."

"Aye, you were always generous enough," said Sieur de Gisy
in a grudging voice. "Generous with gold, with love, with
friends, with crime and intrigue -- never with honor! Why
should I do anything for your friends? Richelieu is after
you? Then let the damned cardinal take you, for all I care!
He has taken every friend I had in the past --"

"Aye, Raoul, he took your best friend," said Berville, "and
that was eight years ago. And I wronged you -- that's true
enough. Today, with two friends, with the roads searched
for us all, I turn to you and ask aid. Why?" Sieur de Gisy
laughed harshly, and his eyes glittered like ice in
sunlight.

"Let Richelieu have your friends, traitors like yourself!"
he retorted. "I'd not turn over my hand to saye them from
him, much as I hate him! Shelter, hospitality, aid -- go
seek them elsewhere, you and yours, or die in the snow.
It's all one to me."

Vaugcin was conscious of sudden light upon his face. He
looked up to see Berville holding a candelabra above him so
it illumined his profile.

"All one to you, Raoul?" Berville's voice was half mocking.
"Is it all one to you, indeed? Then, look! You knew, and I
knew too, a man who bore this selfsame visage, feature for
feature, even to the mole by the ear --"

Vaugon stirred, anger piercing him, rousing him.

"Blast you!" he cried thickly, and struggled to reach his
feet, his hand feebly lashing out at Berville. "Devil take
you, I warned you before to drop that  subject --"

Pain stabbed through him, and he had fainted.

It all came back to him afterward in disconnected
fragments, like morsels of an uncanny dream. He found
himself lying in a huge testered bed, the sun glittering on
snow outside his window. At his side was Berville,
upholding his head, feeding him broth from a bowl. "You!"
Remembrance stirred in Vaugon. "You --"

"Peace, my friend." The bright blue eyes of the chevalier
were no longer merry, but sad and clouded. "I bought aid
for you at some small cost -- forget all else. I'm leaving
at once, for two, days are gone and I must be on the road.
You're all right, except that strength lacks, Plessis is
here --"

"But, I know you now!" said Vaugon, and at this a flash
came into the blue eyes above. "The king's brother --
Monsieur! That's who you are!"

The blue eyes widened on him, and then, to his amazement,
Berville broke into a clear ringing laugh and rose.

"No, no, comrade -- too much honor there, and too little!
Farewell. A safe journey to you, and I pray we don't meet
again -- yet one never knows. Your secret is safe with me,
as with Gisy. Trust him. My own case is desperate, and I
dare not linger another hour, Farewell!"

He waved his jeweled hand and went from the room, Vaugon
looking after him with troubled and wondering gaze. A long
while after, the Lord of Gisy came to the bedside and stood
there looking down at Vaugon.

"I owe you thanks,!" said the latter, "for hospitality-"

"You owe me nothing," said Sieur de Gisy, and those bitter
icy eyes were anything but kindly. "Is it true, as I hear
from your companions, that you do not take your own name
again but desire to be Sieur Vaugon?"

"Quite true. Why?"

"Then I think the less of you," came the harsh,
uncompromising words. "Once, my dearest friend was the Duc
de Montmorenci. That you should willingly give up your
name, the proudest heritage in France, is past
understanding; but you give it up, and with it my respect.
For the sake of old times, this house is yours. I ask no
questions, I desire to see you no more. When you wish to
leave, then leave. That you should renounce your name and
heritage is an insult to the dead and to the living.
Farewell."

Sieur de Gisy strode out of the room, and Vaugon saw him
never again; after this, the man must have remained
straitly in his own chamber. His words left hurt enough
behind, however.

Some little while after, Plessis came in, sat down on the
bedside, and gripped Vaugon's hand. "No fever? You're doing
excellently, comrade! Tomorrow you'll be up, and the day
after we may hope to get off. Your wound's no great matter,
and we've plenty of fresh meat to bring back your
strength."

"Has Berville gone?"

"Yes. Just now."

"What lies between him and M. de Gisy?"

"The past." The violet eyes clouded. "I can only guess --
and it's not my secret. I think the chevalier once did a
great wrong to our host, who seems to have lived here like
a recluse for a long while. He's a strange man!"

"A harsh and bitter man," said Vaugon, closing his eyes for
an instant. "He was just now here -- his passing was like a
curse."

He knew now there was no secret between them regarding
himself, and told Plessis what the Lord of Gisy had just
said to him. For response, he had a warm hand grip.

"Dear comrade, take no thought to him!" said Plessis
earnestly, "That was pride and caste speaking -- chiefly
pride. And he was very wrong about it. Surely I have no
blame for you! You have chosen to follow a difficult path,
and if it comes to a good ending, so mttch the better for
you -- believe me, the king will not forget it, if we can
manage this affair of ours! Every man to his own future.
Gisy lives in the past."

Vaugon smiled. "I can almost imagine you a girl again,
now," he said. "When I first saw you, it was a
disappointment. I thought you so fragile, so merely pretty,
so --"

"So cursed useless, eh?" Plessie broke into gay laughter.
"You never thought I'd prove a comrade, eh? Well, live and
learn. And do you know what I thought of you?"

Vaugon looked up into the dancing violet eyes. "What,
then?"

"Exactly .the same thing. A ptetty doll of a courtier, some
mincing friend of Cinq-Mars put in to stop the gap -- a
useless, inefficient gentleman! Well, live and learn. We'll
get on all right, comrade -- pity we've lost your friend
Cyrano. He's a live rascal."

"With a loose enough tongue at times."

"Well, what the devil do you take me for?" The violet eyes
widened at him almost angrily. "I've not been at court for
five years, and then I was a mere child. Why, I've been
riding, fencing, coursing about the country enjoying life -
- lord, lord, these dolls of Paris!" Plessis flung out his
arms with an air of exasperation. "What's a woman for, to
paint and powder, simper, lend her body to a man in dark
places, play at intrigue and admiration -- faugh! What I
do, is done before all the world, and plague take those who
don't 1ike it! No court and Paris for me, thank you. I
enjoy life too much to dissimulate it behind any woman's
mask."

Vaugon laughed out. "Good for you, comrade! I've met women
like you in England -- not like you, either. None with just
your qualities --"

"A truce to compliments," Plessis started up. "I forgot
your wine -- a rare vintage our host sent along. He's
plenty of it, so we'll share the bottle together. Our
horses are well cared for, not a soul has appeared, and as
soon as you can ride we'll start out and go to traveling
again. And no bad luck this time I trust!"

Instead of another two days, however, four had passed
before Vaugon and Plessis could ride forth of the Tour de
Gisy, since lost strength was made up but slowly.

During these four days, their host never appeared. The
surly servitor attended them, and with Vaugon lingered
heavily the dark words of Sieur de Gisy. None the less, he
knew the man wrong. It were utter mad folly to claim a name
and title suppressed by Richelieu, to which his very claim
might well be contested by others.

Times had changed, the past twenty years had seen the
princes broken, exiled or dead, and Vaugon was firmly
convinced that the part of wisdom lay in looking ahead, not
behind. The grim cardinal himself would die ere long, yet
this could not undo the changes his hand had wrought upon
France.

During these days a fierce wind-storm raged, bringing no
fresh snow but sweeping bare the roads and heaping white
drifts in long windrows among the trees. Of Plessis, Vaugon
saw much in this time. Their rooms adjoined, they had only
each other for cqmpany, and their friendship attained to
swift intimacy that held no secrets. Thus, Plessis for the
first time learned how Vaugon had left the Bastille to be
pitched headlong into a new identity, and of that evening
at the Pinecone tavern.

Vaugon, in turn, not only learned more of his present
errand, but cleared up a point that had puzzled him and
Cyrano alike -- that of the time element.

"A queer comedy of errors, all of it!" mused Plessis,
staring into the fire as they talked one cold night. "This
Comte de Fleury is a reckless, headstrong man. He got into
huge gambling debts, went to the money-lenders -- you see?
Richelieu could not turn over to him any such staggering
sum as he had lost, for the cardinal is too closely
watched, too narrowly bayed by his foes. Instead, Richelieu
arranged a marriage with me. Even the king was forced to
assent outwardly. On the fifteenth of December at latest,
Fleury must meet his engagements; if my money lacks,
Richelieu will have to turn elsewhere. So there you are."

"But your disappearance will raise a scandal!" said Vaugon.
Plessis turned, and gave him a queer smile.

"A scandal -- me? I've made scandals enough, through
wanting to be free; that's no novelty! Once I get to court,
too, I become my own mistress -- the king gives up his
wardship. He's promised it to me, through the queen, and
the papers are already made out but had to await the
outcome of this Fleury matter. Richelieu will find another
rich match for the count, and it'll blow over."

"What sort of scandals have you raised?" asked Vaugon,
smiling.

Plessis chuckled. "Enough! Last spring that lout of a Baron
de Launay, whose lands adjoin mine, thought he could grab
one of my best farms. Having seigneurial rights myself,
with those of high and low justice to boot, I hanged two of
his bailiffs and whipped the rest of his men home. Then
Launay tried to get the farm by marrying me, which was
worse, and one market-day in Ste. Genevieve I tumbled him
in the mud. Well, after that I joined some Rhineland
pilgrims last summer and went with them to Mont St. Michel
on pilgrimage, and had a grand time. Things like that.
Everybody thinks I'm mad -- but I enjoy myself!"

Scandal, indeed! Vaugon laughed heartily. During these days
he gained gradual insight into the girl, and wondered at
how poor had been his first judgment of her. She might say
or do startling things, yet one must seek twice for reason
behind word or deed, and seeking, would find one. She
looked at life frankly, inquiringly; not with the bored
frankness of Paris which only served to spice licentious
thought, but with a spirit high above any fear of evil or
of contamination.

Nor did she love to play the man. As she admitted freely,
she longed for pretties, for the gew-gaws and laces of a
woman, but had put them away because they meant servitude
to custom. They were chains.

"I want no trammels -- I'm a rebel!" she cried, laughing
yet passioriate enough. "To do what other people think you
should do, to rule your life so that nobody might look at
you in holy horror -- bah! That's not life, it's stiffling
tyranny. Mind you, it's ohly because I'm a girl, too! I
could get a husband, shift him off, go to Paris and act as
I like -- that would be all right, even if I played street
courtesan! Plenty of them have done it and do it every day.
But because I'm unmarried, because I won't sell my body to
gain freedom -- faugh! Well, some day I'll get to England,
where a woman can be free and do as she likes."

"She never can, anywhere," said Vaugon slowly.

"None of us can comrade."

"Your friend Cyrano can!" she flashed out, her eyes dark
and stormy. "We talked about it. He can!"

"And die in the gutter like a sick dog -- ask him some day,
when the mask's off. No, we can't defy the world, beyond
certain limits --"

"Well, I shall! And that settles it." With this, she flung
away.

So the days passed, until, on the morning they left the
Tour de Gisy, Vaugon gained a new and unexpected light on
his companion. They had broken their fast, the servant
reported their horses saddled and waiting; and together
they came to the entrance of the half-ruined old structure.
There Vaugon gave the servant a gold-piece, or attempted to
give it -- he met with blank refusal.

" At least," he said, "tell your master that I owe him
much, and we would express our gratitude and say farewell."

The servant shrugged and left them. Presently he returned.

"My master says to tell you," he reported, without emotion,
"that he has no words for you, and does not accept
gratitude from one who is a coward and a traitor to a great
name."

Vaugon caught his breath at this -- it burned in him, far
more bitterly than his half-healed wound. He stood
wordless, frozen, the hurt of it in his eyes. Then, swiftly
and suddenly, Plessis caught his hand, and he found her
lips warm against his cheek.

"There's to take the sting from proud injustice, comrade!"
she cried softly, a flush in her cheeks, impulsive warmth
in her eyes. "Come, mount and ride -- the future lies
ahead, and we're comrades!"

So they mounted and rode off among the trees, while the
iron-bound door slammed shut as though blocking out all the
world from the Tour de Gisy and its lonely occupant.




    CHAPTER IX

Upon one side of the royal forest of Verrieres, a scant few
leagues from Paris, was the king's pavilion and hunting
lodge. Upon the other was a smaller patch of forest, known
as the Wood of the Hanged Wolf. Forest and wood lay just
off the southern route to Versailles, and were separated by
a road that ran through a tiny village. The one auberge of
the place was, naturally, the Loup Pendu -- the Hanged
Wolf.

Upon a brisk December afternoon, a somewhat tattered
cavalier on a very fine horse rode into this village from
the south. Despite the fresh red scar across his cheek
where a bullet had burned the flesh, none who had seen that
face with its fierce hawknose and brooding liquid eyes
would ever fail to recognize Cyrano de Bergerac the second
time. Coming into the village, he pulled his broken-plumed
beaver down over his eyes and drew his horse to a sudden
halt.

It was a Sunday. Into the open village church to the left
were flocking a number of folk, and three persons had
caught  the attention of Cyrano.  Beside an austere,
black-clad man, obviousJy the village notary, walked a
demure and quite pretty young woman, but her eyes were
neither upon her lord and master nor upon the church
entrance ahead. They were all for the cloaked gallant over
to one side, a very handsome young gallant who twirled his
mustaches with an air, and who made certain cabalistic
signals to which she responded very cautiously. All three
filed into the church, and Cyrano loosed his reins with a
chuckle and headed for the tavern.

"So, my fine d'Artagnan, at least I've run you to earth,
and at your tricks again! Hm -- shows I was right in coming
here, and you're on the same scent. If Vaugon doubles back
toward Paris, he's bound to pass this way, and you're
evidence that he's not yet passed. So forward, my Pegasus!
Repose awaits us."

Cyrano dismounted in the inn yard. The host looked very
doubtful when he eyed the rider, very hopeful when he eyed
the horse. Cyrano chucked a gold piece into his inquiring
palm.

"There's an earnest," he said, "I hope to meet some friends
here -- one of them, M. d'Artagnan of His Majesty's guards
--"

"Ah, a friend of M. le Comte d'Artagnan!" ex- claimed the
host, thawing and bowing low, while Cyrano chuckled afresh
at hearing his friend's new title. "Welcome, monsieur! He
has been here for a week past -- a gallant young man,
indeed! I have myself looked after his wound --"

"Eh? He's wounded?" asked Cyrano.

"A scratch in the left arm, a mere nothing, m'sieu, now
well healing. Will you enter?"

"I have that intention," said Cyrano dryly. "Prepare a room
for me; I may remain for a day or two. Send up my saddle
bags. Meantime, have you any good Chinon, for example?"

The host beamed and rubbed his hands. "The best in the
world, m'sieu! The cru of '28, which M. Cinq-Mars himself
is pleased to drink whenever he comes here! He may be here
today, for there is a royal hunt in the forest, yonder."

"Too good for that rascal by far," said Cyrano with a
lordly air. "Two bottles as a starter, while you're
preparing a dinner fit to be offered an intimate friend of
Comte d'Harcourt. You comprehend?"

"The first epicure of Paris! M'sieu, I assure you we shall
exert ourselves. You are, no doubt, from the royal hunt --
of the court, perhaps?"

"If I were," and Cyrano laughed, "I would have eaten since
yesterday. As it is, I'm cold, famished, weary and devilish
thirsty. So to work!"

He entered the empty auberge. By the side of the fireplace
was a small table and settle with high back and sides, and
in this Cyrano esconced himself. Here, hidden from the
whole room, he relaxed comfortably to warmth, ease and the
dusty bottles of old Chinon placed before him.  His riding-
boots off, his belt loosened, he was nodding across his
table before the first bottle was more than half emptied,
and fell asleep with his head on his arm.

Voices, interspersed with curses, wakened him ťrom repose.
Two men had entered the place and were seated at a table
behind his settle, and he gathered that one of them had
received a bad fall from his horse. Presently he caught
words to pique his curiosity.

"We'll have to get back to the pavilion before the king
returns," said one. "We can do it by road, easily enough."

Cyrano sniffed at this. Two of the court, then!

"Time enough,!' and the other man laughed.

"The Grand Equerry flung from his horse -- a rich jest
there for the Palais Cardinal, eh?"

Cyrano whistled to himself and came wide awake. He was in
the presence of Cinq-Mars, then; M. le Grand, royal
favorite, wastrel, greatest noble of the court! He listened
with avid interest, but for some little time caught nothing
definite. He was nodding again when a question brought him
wide awake.

"This new dagger, Cinq-Mars, a present from a lady, eh?"

"A present for that damned cardinal!" came the snarling
response. "Listen! Everything is arranged for next Saturday
-- that's why I brought you here. We can talk safely, and
attend to the details on the way back. You're certain of
your men? What news of Treville?"

"Hooked," came the response. "The king said this morning,
in Treville's hearing, that he'd not be sorry if Richelieu
were to die before Christmas. Treville thinks it was said
as a hint of encouragement to us; it was not hard to
persuade the old fool that Louis is a party to the plot. So
Treville is satisfied, and will fall in with our plans.
It!s only a question now of who'll do the thing itself --"

"I'll do it myself," snapped Cinq-Mars. "I'll be riding
beside Richelieu's carriage. So leave that to me, and you
attend to the other details. What about Chevreuse? I can't
get any word from her. Hasn't anyone seen her?"

"Nobody," came the answer. "They say she's in France, and
was nearly caught, but got clear. The cardinal's men are
raking the roads, and she's probably in hiding. Yet we must
get word to Sedan at once, for the moment Richelieu's dead
there must be sharp action."

"Enough of names," said Cinq-Mars with belated caution.
"Finish your wine and we'll be off, if they've got my horse
bandaged. We'll see to the details on the ride back."

Cyrano, when the two had departed, untwined his stiff legs,
rose, and went to the window. One of the two nobles he did
not know. The other, every-one in Paris knew -- that young,
handsome man so stamped with intolerable and passionate
arrogance! Cinq-Mars, indeed.

"Mordious! Here's big news," thought Cyrano excitedly, as
he returned to his table. "So Richelieu dies on Saturday,
stabbed by the rascal he raised to power! I don't like
that, me! And they've tricked honest old Treville into
compliance, so he thinks the king's in the plot and won't
interfere with his guards, I don't like that, either, M, de
Treville is a good soldier.  Devil take all court intrigues
and their workers!"

He fell to drinking, gloomily thoughtful, and fully
conscious of the risk he had run, If those two had known he
was there, listening --whew!  He would be in the Bastille
quick as a coach could reach Paris.

Darkness had fallen, and Cyrano was lingering over the
remnants of a gigantic repast, when d'Artagnan swung into
the tavern, looking considerably pleased with himself. He
came toward the fire, saw Cyrano sitting there, and stopped
short in blank recognition. Cyrano grinned and waved his
hand.

"Come, join me! A church is an excellent place for flirting
with a pretty dame, but it's devilish cold. How goes the
wound?"

D'Artagnan looked somewhat disconcerted. "Name of the fiend
-- how are you? You're alone? Where's Vaugon?"

"Damme if I know," returned Cyrano." After that most
ungodly scrimmage, I found myself straggling down the road,
with a bullet-scrape across the cheek to increase my
beauty. Nothing but dead men and horses when I got back,
later -- no sign of Vaugon or Plessis. That cur St. Aubin
was dead as a nail, praise be to the saints! I've been
wandering around ever since, and finally struck up this
way."

D'Artagnan swung into a chair.

"And you've been using your eyes, eh? Well, Vaugon took the
chance to give me the slip. I might have known."

"Softly, softly!" Cyrano stiffened a little. "Haste speaks
there, my friend. I'm not particularly noted for
discretion, but I don't find it advisable to stroke a cat
the wrong way unless my hand's gloved."

"So?" D'Artagnan regarded him steadily, with mounting heat.
He had not relished that reference to flirting. The eyes of
the two men met in a sharp clash of wits, the one pair
darting, alert, angry, the other very steady and composed.
A spark would have struck fire instantly, but Cyrano wanted
no quarrel -- he was too thoroughly sobered by what he had
so recently overheard.

"You're suspicious, my friend, and it shows a bad
conscience," he observed calmly. "You know well enough that
I'll uphold Vaugon's honor, so why ťorce matters? I've no
intention of fighting you, just at present; that pleasure I
must reserve, for the best of reasons, to a future
occasion."

"Yes?" D'Artagnan spoke softly, bordering upon an outburst.

" And the reasons?"

Cyrano shrugged. Now it was false Gascon against real
Gascon, shrewd city wits against native sagacity, but here
Cyrano had imagination to aid him.

"One's enough. For example, I'm the only disinterested
person to know that on a certain day of next week, an old
man in a red robe will die in a Paris street, and more, to
know exactly how, by what weapon, by whose hand, at what
spot, he will die!"

Although slightly exaggerated, the shot was not slow to
reach its mark. As he comprehended just what lay behind
these words, d'Artagnan's eyes widened slightly. Cyrano
calmly went on finishing up his scraps, then quaffed his
wine with a contented sigh, sharply watched by d'Artagnan,
whose gaze was now narrowed by calculation, slow credence,
astonishment. As Cyrano very well knew, this actual Gascon
had a very keen eye to the main chance.

"That is to say," added Cyrano carelessly, "all this will
happen unless someone intervenes with a warning. Ah, this
excellent Chinon! Come, taste of it, my friend -- it's the
very blood of Bacchus indeed!"

D'Artagnan disregarded this urging. "Hm!" he observed
cannily, "I heard that M. le Grand and a friend had been
here this afternoon, the court being at hunt in the forest
-- hm! And you were devilish well hidden in that settle.
It's not hard to put two and two together, Cyrano -- what
the devil have you chanced on, eh?"

Cyrano grinned widely; He had caught his fish, sure enough.
He could see with half an eye that d'Artagnan's busy brain
was already figuring what reward would be due the man who
brought Richelieu warning of the plot.

"Why, I've chanced on admirable old Chinon!" said Cyrano.
"As regards Vaugon, I had a glimpse of him with St. Aubin
thrusting sword into him from behind, and Vaugon paid him
for it with a rip in the throat that let out his dog's
life. Probably our friend is lying up wounded at some
tavern, with Plessis to care for him. A jolly guardian, eh?
I envy the rascal!"

He caught sight of the host, beckoned, raised his voice.
"Hola, host!  Another half-dozen of this excellent old
Chinon! That is, if M. d'Artagnan will do me the honor!"

D'Artagnan glanced at the two bottles already emptied. If
two had served to render Cyrano garrulous, another half-
dozen --

"By all means, " he assented, with an air of determination
not lost on Cyrano. "By all means! And if you've left
anything in the place to eat, I'Il have some dinner, too."

Thus was the slightly over-confident M. de Batz-Castlemore
d'Artagnan led into the resolve to drink his companion
under the table and worm the secret from him -- a secret
which certainly held fortune for the possessor. It was an
excellent resolve, and had only one drawback. D'Artagnan
did not know he was dealing with the most gloriously
dissipated young man in all Paris.

He discovered this fact for himself, and wakened next day
to a great forgetfulness of what had taken place.

Toward noon it was when d'Artagnan descended to the inn
yard, staggered to the pump, and held his aching head under
the stream of water forced by a grinning groom. Presently
he straightened up, dried hair and face, suppressed a
groan, and turned bloodshot eyes upon the groom.

"M. de Bergerac has not been about yet?"

"Oh, yes, m'sieu! He was about quite early."

"The devil he was!"  D'Artagnan blinked. "Get me a cup of
the same wine we had last night. Where's M. de Bergerac
now?"

"He rode away ten minutes ago, m'sieu, with M. Noyac, the
notary. They went to look at a property M. de Bergerac was
thinking of buying."

D'Artagnan's jaw dropped. "A property? And M. Noyac -- what
the devil's all this?"

"I think he left a note for you -- one moment, m'sieu."

Five minutes later d'Artagnan put down a beaker of Chinon
with a wry grimace, and fastened his astonished gaze upon a
short note:

"Comrade:
As we arranged last night, I shall keep M. Noyac pleasantly
entertained for at least two hours, and I wish you all good
luck during his absence. Be sure to carry out your part of
the bargain. Until later!"
CYRANO.

D' Artagnan was stupefied -- "As we arranged --" the
bargain -- what the deuce did we arrange, then? And M.
Noyac -- why, this devil knows everything! Hm! But I
mistake. He's no rascal. He has every instinct of a
gentleman! Two hours, eh? Come, come, no time to lose
here!"

And breaking into a laugh, d'Artagnan smoothed down his
hair, adjusted his blue and silver scarf, called for his
hat, and in five minutes was swaggering down the road to
visit the notary, with whose pretty wife he had become well
acquainted during his stay at the Hanged Wolf.

Later in the day, the two men met in the tavern room.
Facing Cyrano across a table, d'Artagnan solemnly lifted
his flagon.

"Comrade, I drink to your newly purchased property!" he
said, a twinkle in his eye. "And to --"

"The notary's wife," added Cyrano with a guffaw. "I hope
you entertained her to more purpose than I did her dried-up
rogue of a husband! Come, I did you an excellent turn there
-- confess it!"

"With all my heart," said d'Artaghan, laughing. Yet despite
his laughter, a slight uneasiness sat upon him, as his
companion noted.

"Give me no more quips about Vaugon," said Cyrano placidly.
"The fog did us an ill turn that day, but I fancy he'll
turn up with Plessis sooner or later -- we'll see him
either here or in Paris. All's for the best, and the
bargain we made last night settles the matter admirably."

"Ah!" said d'Artagnan. "The precise terms of our
arrangement aren't so clear as they might be."

"Mordious! You've forgotten already?"

D' Artagnan flushed. Cyrano always rubbed him the wrong way
-- the hint of mockery in those savage black eyes rather
touched his quick pride on the raw.

"I was drunk," he said simply. "What was the bargain?"

Cyrano stared at him in assumed astonishment, then laughed.
"Faith, the one you proposed! I was to get you an hour or
two with the notary's wife, and in return you were to give
up your pursuit of Vaugon and not arrest him."

D'Artagnan's eyes widened, and then his face became very
white.

"No, no!" he said in a choked, incredulous voice. "You
mistake, Cyrano!"

"Mistake? I?" Cyrano gaped at him, "Mordious!  I've done my
share of it, and -- mistake? How, then?"

"It's false!" cried out d'Artagnan in sudden wild
indignation. "Barter my honor, my duty, for a woman? Drunk
or sober, that were impossible! It's false, I say!"

Cyrano emptied his flagon at a gulp, set it down, looked
hard at the enraged and dismayed cadet. Wine hever confused
the Bergerac brain -- only clarified it, set it mightily to
work. His dark eyes blazed with strange fires, as he stared
at the other man.

"Vivadiou! What's honor, then -- how bounded, how
qualified, how described? You, who sat here and swore to me
last night on the faith of a gentleman, now cast the lie in
my teeth? That's honor o' the moon for you! One of these
days I'11 lay by the sword and write a book upon the moon,
the states and empires of that strange planet; perhaps my
gas-machine will carry me thither, who knows? But I'd never
put in the book that a gentleman of Gascony would gainsay
his word given a comrade! That would never be believed --"

"Enough!" D'Artagnan's fist pounded the table, his tortured
eyes shot fire at the speaker. "I say it's impossible that
I should so bargain away my honor! Lie in your teeth --
aye, a dozen times and more!"

Cyrano disregarded the enraged glare, the challenging words
-- he knew very well that d'Artagnan spoke only the cold
truth, and chuckled to himself. This was the moment for
which he had been angling all the while.

"But," he said slowly, pausing to let his words sink in,
"you can see for yourself that I've carried out my share of
it! And besides, I told you everything -- everything! You
agree that you'd ride to Paris tonight, take word to
Richelieu -- pox on the whole thing! I was drunk myself,
and that's the truth. You played me for a fool, eh? You
mean to trick me out of it all, eh? Well, let it pass. I'd
still keep the bargain for Vaugon's sake, but if that's the
sort you are --"

So saying, he shook his head sadly and stared down gloomily
at his wine cup.

D' Artagnan, hearing all this, positively froze in
his seat. Was it possible that Cyrano had revealed the
secret to him, and him too drunk to remember it? Cold sweat
sprang on his forehead, as he balanced the possibilities.
For a long moment he struggled with himself, duty clashing
with opportunism. He had strict orders not to return
without Vaugon, yet he had already lost Vaugon. And here
was news that meant life or death to Richelieu! All the
world gossiped already of how Cinq-Mars urged the king to
have the cardinal assassinated, and here was the whole
detailed plot to take Richelieu! What mattered Vaugon, what
mattered orders --

"Ah, keep your damned secret!" he burst out in sudden
decision. The veins swelled dark on his forehead with
surcharge of passion. "It's impossible, impossible!  I made
no such bargain drunk, and will make none sober!"

Cyrano lifted cool and steady eyes.

"Come, a last chance!" he said slowly, deliberately
tempting the other. "The day, the hour, the manner, the
very weapon which strikes the blow, the share M. de
Treville will have in it mean nothing to you?"

"Cadedis! Devil take you and Cinq-Mars and your blasted
secret as well!" shouted d'Artagnan furiously, starting to
his feet. "I've my orders, and I'll stick to them -- if you
don't like it, out with your sword like a man!"

"No," and Cyrano dropped his head sadly. "No, we've been
comrades, friends, stood together in, battle; I'll not
fight you now. Perhaps, when we meet again --"

He stared moodily down at the table. D'Artagnan, still
raging, mouthed a curse and stamped out of the tavern.

Left alone, a sly grin broke upon Cyrano's wide lips. The
grin developed into roar upon roar of mirth, heroic
laughter that came echoing back from the beams overhead,
wave after wave of it. Then, quenching mirth in a deep
beaker of wine, Cyrano fell to chuckling.

"More of a man than I'd thought him!" he muttered
admiringly. "I had him there -- had him snared and trapped,
fighting against himself -- and he broke out of the trap! A
man, indeed, and the more dangerous if he can conquer
himself. Mordious! I'll have to fight him sooner or later.
Garcon! De qluoi ecrire!"

Before him on the table were set ink and paper, quill and
sand. He sharpened the quill to his taste, then wrote a
very brief epistle, read it over with a nod and a twinkle
in his eye, and signed it, not with his own huge sprawling
"Cyrano," but with another name. He called for wax, and a
light, sanded and folded the paper, and over its edges
dropped two blobs of wax. Into these he pressed the gold
seal-ring from his little finger. He looked down at the
large lion en sautoir, the two lion-skins, the chevron
separating the three, and smiled slightly.

"They should be fish-skins, by rights -- eh?" he said in
sardonic mockery. "Well, well, if I don't get hanged for
wearing them, these arms will yet be known in Paris!
Richelieu won't know them or care about them. Poor wastrel
poet, poor half-baked philosopher, poor amateur scientist,
at least the good God gave you a sword-wrist better than
most!"

Outside, d'Artagnan stood in the inn-yard, talking
earnestly with the host, but Cyrano did not observe this.
The afternoon was half spent.

His letter finished and pocketed, Cyrano applied himself to
the wine, turning his time to scribbling bits of verse with
more or less abstraction. He had small hope of now
encountering Vaugon, but was not pressed to return to
Paris. If Vaugon by any chance did turn and make for the
capital, the chances were good that he must pass through
here, since he most certainly would not return by the
Orleans road. True, a week had passed since that wild
affray to the south, a week and more -- however, this was a
fairly logical chance, and the only one.

Cyrano drank steadily. After a time he took out the letter
and turned it over in his hand, rubbed his long nose,
hesitated.

"A fortune here," he muttered thickly. "Aye, fortune -- if
it reached the right hand! Not Mazarin's -- that cursed
little cat of an Italian may be hand in glove with Cinq-
Mars, indeed! Why not keep all the ruck for myself, then?
Lord knows I need it -- but nonsense! You're damned to
start with, poor Cyrano! Drown life in liquor if you can,
wallow in the mud so you can look the better at the stars,
turn fierce front to all the world and kill those who
laugh. It's the one thing you can do, this killing! So pass
the luck to a better man, and be damned to you."

He shrugged, repocketed the letter, finished the last
bottle of wine, and with rather unsteady step sought the
crisp clearness of the open air. D'Artagnan had vanished,
the inn-yard was empty except for a groom washing down the
stones near the stable. Cyrano stood leaning against the
door-post.

Two riders turned in from the road. The horses were sorry
hacks, skin and bones, heads adroop. Cyrano chuckled at
them, and chuckled again at the dismounting riders, very
obviously some country gentleman and his lackey, clad in
queer garments that had certainly been cut a generation ago
under Henri Quatre. Then the lackey touched his master's
arm and pointed; they both turned and stared at the figure
in the doorway.

Cyrano's jaw fell. He blinked rapidly, thrust his head
forward and peered at them in stark amazement, fell back a
pace as they advanced.

"A miracle!" he exclaimed, still staring. "A veritable
miracle!"

"Not a bit of it," said Vaugon, laughing, and put out his
hand to grip that of Cyrano. "Not a bit of it! At Igny, we
heard you had passed this way, and followed."

"Eh? You heard -- at Igny?" stammered Cyrano. Plessis
laughed gaily.

"Just so, comrade, just so -- how are you? We met a Norman
gentleman at the inn there, with a sword-thrust in his
body, who reported your passing."

"Ah, that Norman!" Cyrano grinned delightedly as he wrung
their hands. "You know what he said? That they had named a
city in Canada after me, one Quebec. Because when the
Normans discovered the headland where it lies, they said:
'Quel bec!' What a beak, you get the point? He thought it a
fine joke until I taught him otherwise -- oh, devil take
me, I'm drunk as a fool! Come in, come in, comrades! My
heart's full to see you again -- that rogue d'Artagnan's
here. You'll have to look out for him, Vaugon. And what a
charming lackey we have here! I don't think much of your
clothes. Where'd you find them?"

"We went to some trouble to get them," and Vaugon broke in
upon the garrulous flood of words, as Cyrano led them back
to his table. "A wound on your cheek, eh? I was nearly done
for, but Plessis got me away, with Berville -- well, we've
a lot to talk over, and we're half famished and frozen. By
the way, we had a glimpse of Comte de Fleury in Igny -- he
was there with a number of other gentlemen. I don't think
he noticed either of us, but one can't always be sure."

"To the devil with him," said Cyrano. "Sit down, sit down.
Half a dozen bottles, host, and dinner on the spit! Let's
get our talk out before d'Artagnan finds us. I don't like
that shrewd rascal by half, let me tell you. Well, to the
tale. Where've you been?"

"Wandering," said Vaugon. The three settled down, broke
into rapid words, filled the gap of days with elapsed
incident. As both Cyrano and d'Artagnan had rightly
reckoned, Vaugon had determined to circle around to Paris,
and there hide out his appointed time. He and Plessis had
sold their fine horses, had located some old-fashioned
garments, and thus counted on evading any possible
recognition.

More than once the passport had saved them from unpleasant
questioning, and there was no doubt that the roads were
being watched by a small army; but since the passport had
procured every help and furtherance, obviously no alarm was
out for Sieur Nicolas Vaugon. It was no mere chance but
shrewd road-logic that had brought the two of them to the
auberge of the Loup Pendu, scarce a short day's ride from
Paris.

"It's for Berville the country is being scoured" said
Plessis confidently, "and not for us -- in general. Fleury
is probably conducting a hunt of his own for me."

"Berville?" Cyrano looked at her curiously, but she only
laughed and refused to answer. Vaugon shrugged. He knew no
more of the chevalier than before, though he was strong in
his suspicion that they were dealing here with Monsieur,
the king's brother.

Over the wine, Cyrano grew confidential -- to a certain
degree. He told of having overheard a plot against
Richelieu, but gave no details of it; then drew forth the
letter he had written, without superscription. He flung it
at Vaugon.

"Here, take this, I give it to you! Get that into
Richelieu's hands before Friday -- you've all week ahead.
You have the secret in your pocket, I have it in my head."

A flush mounting in his face, Vaugon hesitated, "This is
your affair."

"It's yours," said Cyrano stubbornly. "Your head's looser
than mine, comrade. We'll go back to Paris together, but in
case of accident we're prepared -- you comprehend?"

A flush mounting in his face, Vaugon hesitated, then
angriiy threw down the letter.

"Prepared -- to give the red minister warning? Not I!
Damned if I do! Let him be killed, and good riddance. The
quicker they put bullet or knife into him, the sooner
France is safe for me. Warning -- warning! Damned if I do!"

"Damned if you don't," returned Cyrano, with a weary
gesture, as of one who must explain to a fool. Vaugon
sensed stubborn steel will in the man's gaze, and wondered.

"What business is it of yours?" he snapped. "And why should
you --"

"Tut, tut!" Cyrano emptied his cup and gave Plessis a
glance. "Here, comrade, should we warn him or not, eh?
What's your advice?"

"Mine? I'm no friend to Richelieu," said the girl. "Yet --
assassination --"

"Just so," mimicked Cyrano, with a gust of laughter.
"Assassination! My instincts of a gentleman rebel before
it, my instincts of a grand-sire fish-monger!"

"Stop your cursed satiric tone and speak soberly," growled
Vaugon, irresolute. The swarthy hook-nosed face thrust at
him across the table.

"Soberly? All right. Do I love Richelieu? Bah! You're a
fool, Vaugon, a fool! I'd not warn him for love of him, be
sure. Still, I've got enough common sense to use a sword
when it's put in my hand, haven't I?" His fingers tapped at
the folded letter. "There's a sword, a key, a weapon, a
what you like! Get it into Richelieu's hands, and your
pardon --"

"Richelieu be damnedl He's nothing to pardon me for!" cried
Vaugon hotly. "I'll ask nothing from him. I'll go to the
king, yes, and I'll keep the name that's been given me, and
get a royal warrant for it --"

"Yes, I said you're a fool," and Cyrano grimaced. "Get this
letter to Richelieu, then, as Sieur Nicolas Vaugon! Surely
Vaugon has nothing against the cardinal. Touched you there,
eh? All your prating of a dead past, eh? Well, look at it
this way, then. Richelieu's a great man. I admire him,
respect him. I'm not a gentleman, but I don't like to see
him knifed in the gutter by a cowardly little devil who's
afrald to face hlm openly."

Vaugon flushed again,. this time with abrupt shame.
Perhaps," he sald. "Perhaps --"

"Looks different from that angle?" Cyrano grinned.
"Sensible man! Why despise a gift of the gods? Whoever gets
that letter to Richelieu -- his fortune's made! We'll
manage it. I don't love the red minister, but I can't
stomach this dirty method of killing. Besides, they have
tricked old Treville to make sure of him and his guards --
well, no matter. You have the thing there, so use it as the
chance comes. It's set for next Saturday."

"Next Saturday? That's the fifteenth of the month," said
Plessis, violet eyes wide.

"And a lot can happen in the four days between now and
then," said Vaugon, turning over the letter in his hand,
then pocketing it. "Very well. In case --"

He looked up to see d'Artagnan standing there watching him.
He half rose, hand outstretched, but d'Artagnan only bowed
slightly.

"I regret that I must obey my instructions, M. Vaugon," he
said, "I arrest you, in the king's name."

With a bellow, Cyrano swung to his feet, hand on sword. But
behind and around d'Artagnan were the host, two grooms, and
two scullions from the kitchen, all of them armed. Before
Cyrano could draw blade, Vaugon's hand checked him.

"Wait! M. d'Artagnan, you mean this arrest?"

"I do," said d'Artagnan, in a firm yet somewhat gloomy
tone. "I was ordered to arrest you when any despatches were
given or received. Our comtadeship is ended; I must do my
duty. You cannot escape --"

Vaugon smiled. "My dear d'Artagnan, I have no intention of
escaping, I assure you! That is, provided your orders have
nothing to do with M. le Plessis or M. de Bergerac."

"Nothing," said d'Artagnan. "They concern you alone."

His attitude was inflexible, cold, stern. Vaugon smiled
again and held out his hand.

"No blame to one who does his duty -- won't you join us?"

"Thank you, no!" D'Artagnan shook hands, then stepped back.
"We must have an understanding now. Ride with me in the
morning -- I accept your parole.Eh?"

"Agreed," said Vaugon. "I give yoU my word that 1'11 ride
with you in the morning -- but I don't say that I'll
accompany you to Paris."

"In which case, I'll ask for your weapons before we leave."

"Very well."

"And touching those despatches in your pocket -- I must ask
you for them."

There was a little silence. Vaugon was not aware of all
that had preceded his arrival, but perceived something was
in the air. Cyrano sensed the whole thing instantly --
d'Artagnan knew what was in that letter, had taken this
means of obtaining it! He broke into a laugh, half of
amusement, half of scorn at the ruse, and under this laugh
d'Artagnan reddened deeply.

"Despatches? The letter Cyrano just gave me?" said Vaugon.
"Hm! Your orders are to arrest me, bring me with any
despatches to Richelieu? Very well. The letter stays in my
pocket. When you bring me to Richelieu, I give it to him.
Agreed?"

Cyrano chuckled delightedly. D'Artagnan was furious, but
checkedmated; he bit his lip, bowed, motioned the tavern
host and servants to withdraw, and followed them. The three
at the table found themselves alone, staring one at
another.

"Mordious! You blocked him there," exclaimed Cyrano. "He
knows what's in the letter -- wants to use it himself, you
see? But, Vaugon, this is utter mad folly! It's useless!
There's not even a highway tavern until you reach
Chatillon, and there he can get guards. He'll do it,
certainly. You mean for me to set out ahead, lay in wait,
and take care of this rascal --"

"No, no!" Vaugon laughed, as he met the anxious gaze of
Plessis. "You and our friend here leave ahead of me, by all
means. I place M. le Plessis in your care, Cyrano. Go on to
Paris, and we'll make rendezvous at the Pinecone or at your
lodgings."

"Eh?" Cyrano frowned.  "But if you let this rogue arrest
you --"

Vaugon chuckled. "Come, have faith! You'll make a brief
stay in Chatillon, arrange certain things, then go on and
leave the rest to me.  The safety of Plessis is all-
important."

"It's not!" broke in the girl abruptly. "I won't have this!
You can't give yourself up in order to save me."

"I don't intend to," said Vaugon with such emphasis as to
convince them. "Cyrano, take orders from me and all goes
happily. Do you agree?"

"If you insist," said Cyrano, frowning. "But I don't like
it. I tell you this Gascon is a sharp little fox -- here he
comes back again. What now?"

D'Artagnan approached them, alone, and bowed. "Sieur
Vaugon," he asked, "would it suit you to ride at nine in
the morning?"

"Certainly," said Vaugon. "And I'll give you my parole as
far as Chatillon."

"Excellent! You haven't secured a room here yet? I believe
they're rather scarce," and for an instant d'Artagnan's eye
went to Plessis. "In fact, there's only one other. So
perhaps you'll Consent to share mine for the night, and
Plessis can take the extra one."

Vaugon assented, despite Cyrano's narrowed, inquiring gaze.
He was far from guessing the exact reason for this request,
and laid it to d'Artagnan's delicacy. He might much better
have laid it to d'Artagnan's sagacity. The young guardsman
was already thinking of certain queries that would in-
evitably be asked at the Palais Cardinal.

"Come," said Vaugon warmly, "sit down, join us, forget
anything lies between us."

"Impossible, monsieur," and d'Artagnan bowed stiffly. "We
are and must be, I regret to say, officer and prisoner --"

Cyrano came to his feet with a growling oath. "When we meet
in Paris, M. d'Artagnan, you and I will have a very prompt
settlement. Do you understand? I think you're a churl."

D'Artagnan's mustache quivered with concealed rage as he
regarded the other.

"I shall be honored to cross swords with you, M. de
Bergerac," he said formally, "when I do not happen to be on
duty."

With another bow, he swung loftily away and disappeared
into the inn yard.

"Impudent puppy, trying to impress us with your damned
importance!" growled Cyrano. "I know you better. You'll
learn something when our swords meet."

Vaugon laughed and pulled Cyrano down into his chair.

"Sit down -- listen to orders! If I leave at nine in the
morning, you and Plessis leave at eight. And I promise you
swift and sharp revenge on our friend yonder, if you listen
carefully --"

Cyrano listened most carefully.



CHAPTER X

In the morning, Vaugon and d'Artagnan broke their fast
together. The cadet made no comment upon the departure of
Cyrano and Plessis; in fact he said very little until the
host was paid and they were pulling on hats and cloaks.
Then he turned to Vaugon, impulsively.

"I'm sorry for this," he said frankly. "I know the
cardinal's in error -- that's not my business. You're no
woman. He'11 never learn your real identity from me,
however -- be sure of that!"

Vaugon put out his hand.

"Of course -- I never doubted you. Last night --"

"Bergerac and I don't get on," and d'Artagnan shrugged. "I
was trying to be formal and cold lest he and I come to
blows, that's all."

"So we're friends to Chati1lon. There we become officer and
prisoner. Is that it?"

"Yes."

Thus they rode forth. If d'Artagnan turned in the saddle,
as they passed the notary's house, and blew a kiss at a
moving curtain in a window, that was strictly his own
business.

Circling the forest, they presently came into the
Versailles highway -- a straight ride ahead of them to
Chatillon and Paris. The two men talked as they rode,
filling up the gaps of elapsed time. Vaugon had no
hesitation in speaking frankly with d'Artagnan; the latter
might be shrewd, indeed, but above all else he was
honorable.

When Vaugon, then, told of the Norman gentleman whom Cyrano
had laid low in Igny, and of how he himself had seen Comte
de Fleury there, d'Artaglian broke into a whistle.

"Faith, I wish you'd told me that yesterday -- we're lucky
to be clear! Don't you see? Fleury will certainly hear of
Cyrano from that Norman. He'll know you and Cyrano were in
company, and will know you are both concerned in the
disappearance of Mlle. de Closset -- you get it now? If he
hears of Cyrano,  he'll be after him to the Loup Pendu
post-haste! And if he gets there, follows us, finds you --"

"Yes?" prompted Vaugon, as the other paused.

"He finds me," said d'Artagnan, and gave him a sharp look.
"Kindly give me your sword, here and now. If Fleury comes
up with us, I don't intend you shall fight him -- my orders
are to protect you from all harm."

"Since I'm a woman in disguise, eh?" Vaugon chuckled and
unloosed his baldric. "Take it, then. I certainly don't
want to fight with Fleury again. However, I think you're
far wrong. We're well ahead of him -- we don't even know
he'll trace us."

"I'll wager you fifty pistoles he heard of the Norman last
night, got his story, and is making for the Loup Pendu now!
You'll see. And we can't keep ahead of him."

D'Artagnan glanced regretfully at Vaugon's horse. He
himself still had one of the superb animals furnished by
Richelieu, but Vaugon's mount would be lucky to stagger
into Paris alive, much less outrun any pursuit. So the
cadet shrugged and awaited the event, but he did not have
long to wait ere he was proven right.

They were halfway to Chatillon when Vaugon, glancing back
from a slight eminence along the straight, snow-bordered
road, uttered a low word.

"Ah -- look!"

D'Artagnan turned, saw three horses spurring hard behind
them, and nodded calmly.

"I knew it. Fleury and two friends."

"Three of them, two of us," said Vaugon quickly. "Give back
my sword, if you like --"

"No!" Pride mantled the cadet's cheek darkly. "Cadedis, no!
Remember, you're my prisoner -- I'm on my rights here!"

D'Artagnan relapsed into frowning thought, as they rode on.
It was curious, reflected Vaugon, how matters were working
out, how the slight threads of destiny were drawing
together and slowly knotting. Here was Fleury -- the
foremost of the three riders, now close enough to be
recognized -- who had picked up the trail from Cyrano's
encounter in Igny. Plessis was for the moment safe enough,
ahead with Cyrano, yet there were other threads still
floating free. Berville, for instance, that man of mystery!
Yet perhaps this thread, too, would be gathered into the
knot --

"I have it!" exclaimed d' Artagnan, with a sudden start,
and lifted a delighted face. "By the saints, I have it --"

"Bola!" rang the sharp shout from behind. "Messieurs!"
With a thin smile, d'Artagnan drew rein and turned his
horse. He waited, impervious, stern, cool, fully dominant.
Comte de Fleury was well in advance of the other two
riders, and came on at a gallop. He drew rein impetuously,
his angry gaze on Vaugon.

"So I've caught you!" he cried out.

D'Artagnan's horse barred his way.

"Pardon,"  said the cadet. "I am M. d'Artagnan of the
guards --"

"Then kindly get out of my way," exclaimed Fleury. "I have
business with this gentleman!"

"Does your business supersede mine, M. de Fleury?"  asked
d'Artagnan calmly. Remembering that exclamation: "I have
it!" Vaugon listened curiously. He saw that the cadet was
pursuing some deliberate line of conduct, and wondered what
it might be.

"Name of the devil, it does!" cried Fleury potly. "Do you
know this rascal ran away with a lady -- do you know he
kidnapped a ward of the king --"

His two companions came up at this instant and drew rein.
"I think you mistake," said d'Artagnan. He was very polite,
very formal. He completely held the center of the stage,
and was quite aware of it. By the attitude of Fleury's two
friends, he shrewdly judged them to be irresolute. "This
gentleman is Sieur Vaugon."

"Exactly!" cried Fleury, his strong, dark features
convulsed by anger. "Sieur Vaugon, Sieur Nobody, blast him!
He must answer to me here and now --"

"Softly, softly," interposed d'Artagnan. "Gentlemen, I call
you all to witness that Sieur Vaugon is under arrest. He is
a prisoner in my charge, and I'm responsible for his
safety. I have my duty to"

"To the devil with your duty, and you too!" stormed Fleury.
His companions attempted to intervene, but with a snarled
oath he swept them aside and brought his horse up beside
that of d'Artagnan. Passionate fury had him in its grip.

"You know who I am, monsieur," he exclaimed menacingly.
"Stand back -- out of my way! I'll become answerable here.
His Eminence will back what I do --"

"Monsieur ," said d'Artagnan with cold and excessive
politeness, "I receive orders only from the king or his
minister. In this instance, they come from His Eminence in
person, and are very precise. I advise you not to
interfere."

"Damn your advice and you too!" fumed Fleury in headstrong
rage. "D'you think I've been coursing the roads the past
week for nothing? Not a bit of it. I've run down the
quarry, and I meah to see the matter through here and now.
M. Vaugon, where is the lady? Answer me, you cursed
scoundrel!"

Vaugon had intention of intervenihg.  D'Artagnan was
playing some shrewd and deep game, and he refused to spoil
it. He only smiled in silence, and before this mocking
smile, Fleury completely lost his head --  He leaned out
and struck d'Artagnan across the face.

"You cursed young fool --"

D' Artagnan slipped from the saddle. "Gentlemen," he said
calmly, "you are witnesses to what has passed. Since you
have a sword, M. de Fleury, perhaps you're not afraid to
use it? That is, if your late wound does not hinder --"

Fleury, who had apparently quite recovered from the wound
given him by Vaugon, dismounted eagerly enough. Once again
his companions protested, but he flung them savagely aside
and whipped out his rapier. They, it seemed, were more than
dismayed by his passionate rage, knowing he had pushed
things too far; they displayed no intention of molesting
Vaugon, who received his sword back from d'Artagnan and
waited, like them, motionless.

"En garde, puppy!" snarled Fleury, and threw himself into
the attack with a vicious and determined anger driving him.
D'Artagnan, smiling slightly, received the assault with
perfect ease, and from the outset Vaugon perceived there
could be but one ending. The one man was absolutely cool,
perfectly master of himself and of his weapon; the other,
panting forth threats and oaths in headlong rage, was
fighting recklessly and not well. Indeed, Fleury attacked
with bursts of blind fury, wore himself out, effected
nothing.  His foot slipped, he came to one knee, and
d'Artagnan lowered his point and spoke sharply.

"Wait! I beg of you, M. de Fleury, consider what you're
doing --"

Fleury's steel drove up at him -- an unexpected, vicious
lunge from the ground. The point touched, barely broke the
skin on d'Artagnan's neck; at this, for the first time, the
cadet flung himself forward in a direct assault.

Before the dazzling mastery of this attack, Fleury was all
but helpless. D'Artagnan was at work in cold precision, as
though he had only been waiting lor the touch of blood on
his neck to spur him -- but Vaugon judged that the wound
had not touched his temper at all. He knew exactly what he
was doing.

No more waiting now, no more hesitation -- his face set in
pitiless lines, d'Artagnan lunged, lunged again, drove home
a lightning-blow, and stood waiting. Fleury, pierced
through the heart, collapsed and was dead ere he fell to
earth.

"Gentlemen, I ask you to witness what happened," said
d'Artagnan, scarce out of breath. "If you will be kind
enough to give me your names --"

The other two bowed. They had dismounted, stooped over the
dead man, found their task useless. One of them, gloomily
assented to the request, and gave their names.

"You were not at fault, M. d'Artagnan," he said, The cadet
mounted, gestured to Vaugon, saluted the two, and took up
the road again for Paris. For a Space neither man spoke,
until d'Artagnan broke silence.

"Well, duty is duty!" he said with a grim smile. "A
marvelous phrase, that!"

"Hm!" said V augon. "Fleury is a relative of the cardinal.
You're in for trouble."

"Ah! I know our cardinal!" D' Artagrian twirled his
mustache. "Trouble? Not a bit of it. Rather, promotion!
Until now, I've been a cadet, unremarked, unobserved,
unnoted. Now I'm the man who killed Fleury -- you perceive?
I've made my first step."

"Eh?" Vaugon stared at him. "You're in earnest? But you'll
be punished --"

"Not I! Richelieu's a great man, no petty rascal," said the
other confidently. "I did my duty, Fleury attacked me,
wounded me. I've two witnesses -- one of them will
certainly make all haste to Paris and will teli his story
before I get there. Justice, in the cardinal's eyes, is
inexorable, particularly where his friends are concerned.
What's the answer? My guardsman's cassock. You'll see. I've
made my first step up!"

Vaugon whistled in amazement. Shrewd calculation, daring
gamble -- but probably safe enough! He flung the cadet a
look of admiration.

"Well," he said with a laugh, "at all events, I owe you
thanks! Upon my word, I begin to feel Sorry for what I must
do."

"Eh?" D'Artagnan shot a look at him. "What you must do?"

"You'll see." Vaugon shrugged. "I regret it, my friend --
but never mind. Is that Chatillon ahead?"

D'Artagnan nodded at sight of the towers, rather uneasily.
Vaugon's words perturbed him, and he probed his companion
with sharp frowning glances.

The town opened out ahead of them -- it was still an hour
before midday. When they came to the market square before
the church they found it crammed with folk, for market was
in full swing. The square and streets around were not easy
of passage.

"Unless you renew your parole," said d'Artagnan, "I must
obtain guards here."

"My parole's ended, and there are guards now." Vaugon
gestured to a number of soldiers regulating the crowded
traffic ahead.

"As you like," said d'Artagnan. " Ah, the provost's guard -
- and the provost himself!"

It was indeed the provost himself, as his gold chain and
baton indicated, who held up a hand to them with an order
to halt. His men closed the open lane.

"Who are you, messieurs?" he demanded curtly. Before
d'Artagnan could respond, Vaugon pushed out his horse and
extended his passport.

"In the king's name! I demand aid, monsieur -- this
gentleman has arrested me without cause and without any
warrant. I demand your help, in the king's name!"

For an instant d'Artagnan was speechless, stupefied with
amazement. Then an oath broke from him and he started to
speak. The provost, who had taken the passport, checked
him.

"In your turn, monsieur, in your turn! One moment, please."

D'Ar1agnan bit his lip, flung one angry look at Vaugon, and
waited. The provost read over the passport, and returned it
to Vaugon with a low bow.

"Sieur Vaugon, I salute the orders and signature of His
Majesty. I was advised of your coming. Now, monsieur of the
guard, what is all this?"

"This gentleman is my prisoner," said d'Artagnan. "As you
see, I am of His Majesty's guards. I demand free passage,
and two cavaliers to escort my prisoner to Paris."

The provost smiled. "I have every respect for His Majesty's
guards, monsieur, but still more respect for His Majesty's
signature. You have, no doubt, a written order of arrest?"

"I have not," said d'Artagnan, seeing now in what trap he
was fallen. He was white with rage but was utterly
helpless. "I warn you that --"

"Save your warning, monsieur," said the provost calmly, and
turned to Vaugon, "Under the royal seal, Sieur Vaugon, you
have only to ask what you like. Is it your pleasure that I
arrest this gentleman?"

Vaugon looked at d'Artagnan, and brfore the white despair
of the cadet's face, his sense of triumph died out.  Cyrano
had managed things well, and Vaugon felt sorry for
d'Artagnan in this moment.

"Not at all, monsieur," he returned.  "M. D'Artagnan has
exceeded his orders only through too great zeal.  Let us
speak together apart, and I think we can arrange matters."

The provost assented.  Vaugon brought his horse beside that
of the cadet, and took out the sealed letter Cyrano had
given him.  He had already guessed the letter to be
anonymous, though Cyrano had not said as much; as a
warning, it would be no less effective.

"My friend, we owe each other something!" he said. "Here's
the letter Cyrano gave me. I haven't read it, but he stated
that it contained details of a plot -- must be given into
the hands of Richelieu in person. You know about it? Then
take it, deliver it!"

The bitter chagrin of d'Artagnan was melted by these words.

"Vaugon, you're too generous," he said hoarsely. "No, I
can't --"

"Take it." Vaugon smiled and extended the letter. "My dear
fellow, you forgot about my passport, and you're helpless.
Take this -- it'll save the day for you with Richelieu."

"I accept, then, with thanks," and d'Artagnan took the
missive. "But why should you send this, to him?"

Vaugon shrugged. "Not from any love of him, believe me! By
all logic, I should burn the warning and let fate take its
course -- bah! Cyrano was right. Why despise such a gift of
the gods! Here's a valuable thing, and it's yours to use.
I'd not use it myself, I tell you frankly. Let the red
minister die tomorrow, for all of me!"

"Very well. Then avoid Paris," said d'Artagnan. "Otherwise,
you're lost. The chances are that your passport will be
annulled and I'll be ordered to find you. Even if I say you
gave me the warning --"

"Eh? Don't you dare!" snapped Vaugon angrily. "Don't dare
tell him that -- I'Il deny it! Devil take him for all of me
-- I ask nothing from that man!  As for going on to Paris,
never fear. Do me one favor, and we'll be quits. Remember,
I told you about the document signed by the king, which
Mazarin showed me that night? Then see Mazarin, tell him I
have urgent need of that document, and get it for me --
send it to me at the Pinecone. Do this in friendship, do
what must be done in duty, and don't worry about the
consequences. Agreed?"

"With all my heart! I'll get that paper for you if I have
to wring Mazarin's neck for it!"

D'Artagnan's face brightened. His hand went out and he gave
Vaugon a strong, warm grip. "I only hope we don't meet
again -- hope I don't have to arrest you a second time, my
friend! Be advised, then. Don't come to Paris, but make
quickly for England before this passport of yours is
annulled."

Vaugon shook his head. "No, it's win or lose all,
d'Artagnan. Good luck -- and don't turn over that warning
to Mazarin!"

"I'm not that much of a fool -- farewell, and thanks!"
D'Artagnan turned his horse and saluted the provost.
"Monsieur, I have released my prisoner from arrest. Have I
your permisson to ride on?"

At a nod from Vaugon, the provost ordered his men to open
ranks. D' Artagnan drove in his spurs, and was gone on the
road to Paris.

An hour later, after baiting his horse and himself, Vaugon
followed. He rode slowly out of Chatillon, unhurried,
content to reach Paris toward evening. The passport would
still serve to give him entrance, for it could not be
annulled before the following day at least. And as he
jogged on, he smiled to himself at thought of the scene in
Chatillon.

"Odd how d'Artagnan forgot the little detail of that
passport!', he reflected. "He ran slap into the snare --
well, he's a good fellow enough, and I'm glad I gave him
the warning letter. Richelieu will easily enough pardon him
for losing me, after that! Yet if he and Cyrano meet again,
fur will certainly fly; those two men don't like each other
by half. What a swordsman this d'Artagnan is, too! If they
meet, Cyrano must look to his laurels."

So far as he himself was concerned, Vaugon had no
particular worry. Comte de Fleury was dead, he could take
Mlle. de Closset openly to the Louvre, he could there claim
his reward, and he knew exactly what reward he meant to
claim.

There was a reverse to the medal, of course, Richelieu was
no man to be easily baffled, to accept defeat without
striking shrewdly back. Vaugon was under no illusion as
regarded his peril, but he meant to forestall it by
reaching the Louvre as soon as possibie, and the ear of the
king.

Also, he had considerable faith in Mazarin. Upon this wily
Italian, Vaugon was content to place full trust and
confidence; his one meeting with the man in the Pinecone,
added to what he had learned of Mazarin, had been enough to
show him the tremendous potentiality of the dark little
abbe. Then, Mazarin was certainly working with both the
king and the queen in this whole matter, and would stand
behind Vaugon to a large extent.

"There's no gratitude in princes," thought Vaugon, "but
there's a world of self-interest in M. de Mazarin -- and
for his own sake, he'll help to keep me out of the
cardinal's toils. Besides, I've got to see the game through
to the finish, play it hard and strong! I've staked
everything on this bid for the future, and I'll not turn
back now."

So the heights of Chatillon fell behind, and he rode on
toward Montrouge and Paris, passing group after group of
charcoal-burners, the heaviest users of this road. He had
only a league left ahead of him, when he descried a
cavalier sitting his horse beneath a wide oak-tree, whose
scant brown leaves whistled in the wind.

As Vaugon approached, the cavalier, muffled to the eyes in
a tattered old cloak, pushed out to meet him.

"Your passport, monsieur!" cried a mocking voice. Vaugon's
jaw fell as he recognized Berville.

"You!" he exclaimed, amazed. "By what magic --"

"By force of circumstances! like yourself no doubt," and
the chevalier broke into a ringing laugh. "Well met! Whence
come you? Where are our friends?"

Vaugon looked steadily at the man for a moment. Evidently
Berville knew nothing of Cyrano, Plessis or d'Artagnan
having passed by this road today.

"Safe enough," he said presently. "You were not waiting
here for me?"

"Don't flatter yourself," and Berville made a wry grimace.
He looked oddly drawn and weary, ex-hausted. "I'm about at
the last gasp, and waiting here for promised help. If it
doesn't come within half an hour -- then His Eminence will
be a merry man tonight! Well, well, you're still angry with
me, my Montmorenci!"

Much as he owed the chevalier, Vaugon could not check sharp
anger.

"My dear M. de Berville, or Monsieur, or whoever the devil
you are," he rejoined, "I don't like your pleasantry. There
is no Montmorenci alive. I've warned you for the last time
on this head. Farewell."

He picked up his reins, when Berville flung back his head
and laughed.

"But the joke of it is, my dear Moritmorenci --"

Vaugon was stung by the words, by the manner of them, by
the laugh. He reachtd down suddenly and caught Berville by
the throat, in no gentle grip. Before his cold anger,
Berville's blue eyes went wide with abrupt fright -- then,
unexpectedly, the chevalier fell forward in a dead faint.
Instantly contrite, cursing his own hot temper, Vaugon
dismounted. He carried Berville off the road to the clear
ground beneath the oak. After all, he owed this man
gratitude; it had been petty of him to so vent his dislike
and irritation. Why, the poor devil must have been at the
very point of exhaustion.

Vaugon got a flask of cognac from his saddle-bag, poured
some between the pallid lips, began to chafe the slender
jeweled hands, opened Berville's collar.  After a moment he
removed his own cloak, doubled it, placed it under
Berville's head, and came to his feet, He was speechless,
gripped by utter amazement. Mechanically he looked back
along the road, saw a clump of horsemen coming along, and
got his own horses over beneath the oak. Then he stood
looking down, wonder in his eyes. For Bervine was no man,
but woman.

When those blue eyes opened, Vaugon knelt and helped her to
sit up.

"Your pardon," he said gently. "I could not guess, madame
-- I did not know -- "

"Did I faint? Oh! So you know the secret now, eh?" Berville
scrambled erect, looked at Vaugon with a quick laugh, and
quite without any embarrassment. Vaugon nodded, and was
much the more confused of the two.

"Yes. Once more, I ask your pardon -- for many things."

Berville's hand came out warmly to his. "Ah, no need, my
friend! There's no need -- ah!" Into Berville's face came a
rush of color, the blue eyes sparkled suddenly. "Look,
look! They've come at last -- they got the message."

The clump of riders were coming indeed, spurring their
horses now, half a dozen of them in all. Next moment they
were reining in, dismounting, and the stupefied Vaugon
watched them crowding around with almost ceremonious bows.
He glanced at Berville in curiosity -- who was she, whom
they greeted as "Madame" with every respect? She caught his
look and broke into a laugh.

"Welcome, welcome, friends!" she cried eagerly. "Let me
present a very dear friend and comrade, Sieur Vaugon. And
-- leave us for a little moment, then I'll ride with you."

They bowed, one and all. Vaugon saw they were no mere
roadrunners, but gentlemen, nobles, men of high position.
They withdrew a space, and Berville turned.

"And you never guessed!" She put out both hands to him,
warmly. "I'm Marie de Chevreuse, comrade. Where's Plessis?"

The Duchesse de Chevreus -- ah! Vaugon colored a little as
he bowed above her fingers. He might have guessed, yes,
--"Gone to Paris with Cyrano, madame," he said. "Comte de
Fleury is dead."

"Dead? Good!" She caught her breath, then cried out
swiftly. "Good! Then come with us -- we ride to Sedan, out
of France I Come! the princes are there, I'll be there --
and we're comrades, all of us. I guarantee you protection,
alliance, restoration of your name and rights --"

"Stop, stop!" exclaimed Vaugon, for the moment confused,
dazzled.

Marie de Rohan, Duchesse de Chevreus, confidant of the
queen, sworn enemy of Richelieu, paramour of an emperor and
many another, the most beautiful and licentious woman of
her age -- this was Berville, then! No wonder the Sieur de
Gisy had been so bitter -- no doubt he was one of those she
had ruined; marshals, ministers, ambassadors, princes, even
more than one sovereign, had lost much for Marie de Rohan.
"You can't go to Paris," she hurried on. "That would be
suicide -- join us! We'll make Issy, cross the Seine at
Passy, circle around to Montmartre and be clear of Paris
before we halt tonight. And ahead waits everything -- rank,
friends, safety! More, I'll tell you a secret, comrad --
you! What not a dozen people know --"

Vaugon scarce heard what she went on to say, for he was
still confused.

"-- all arranged, you see? I've won over Sarmiento,
governor of the Low Countries -- he sends Spanish troops to
aid us, others come from Austria. Guyenne rises in revolt
at the same moment. Comte de Soissons raises the standard
at Sedan, with the whole force of Lorraine behind us; an
army is gathering even now --"

Yes, she could well guarantee him his rank, wealth,
friends! This still beautiful, tireless, reckless
adventuress, she who had fought Richelieu these fifteen
years tooth and nail -- she might well offer him these
things! But there was no time to argue, to plead. Chevreuse
was riding for her life now, these cavaliers would meet
block or Bastille unless, they got clear swiftly.

"Montmorenci is dead, dear madame!' he said, and as he met
her gaze his gray eyes were very clear and serene. "Your
secret is safe with me. Nicolas Vaugon lives -- and goes to
Paris. I thank you for your offer, for your friendship --"

"In the devil's name, don't be a fool!" she cried sharply.
"Why this folly?"

"Plessis might ask that," and Vaugon smiled. She
comprehended instantly.

"You're in love with that wench? Then you're done for, fool
-- finished!"

Vaugon shrugged. "I win or lose all, madame, for Nicolas
Vaugon!"

Chevreuse leaned forward impetuously, caught him by the
shoulders, embraced him.

"Farewell, fool, glorious fool -- you're the sort of man I
like!" she exclaimed, then swung about to the waiting
party. "To horse, gentlemen -- for Sedan!"

There was quick mounting -- Chevreuse was in her saddle ere
Vaugon could assist her. She leaned over and gave him a
strong grip of the hand.

"Luck to you -- heaven knows you need it!"

"And a safe journey to you," he responded, then watched
them sweep off at a sharp gallop, in haste to leave the
highway and cut north.

With a shrug at destiny dismissed, Nicolas Vaugon mounted
and slowly jogged along again for Paris -- and a madder
destiny than had just offered.



CHAPTER XI

THE olD lion OF France was wasting slowly, steadily, and
like many ill men, he was not to be lightly thwarted or
faced with any tale of failure -- Richelieu did not forgive
failure. The disease gradually consuming him, draining his
body of blood, had but one end; less than three centuries
later, this disease might have been stayed or cured a very
simple operation -- not the first time the course of
history hung upon the discoveries of medicine.

In the Palais Cardinal, the stately pile he had reared as
rival to the Louvre, the ruler of France made the evening
very trying for all around him. He had heard of the death
of his relative, Comte de Fleury, by one of the gentlemen
who had witnessed it. His caustic tongue, his bitter notes
and comments, his merciless disregard of human frailty,
were never more pronounced; even Chavigny watched his step
careťully that evening.

The only person to escape was Guilio Mazarini -- not
because the Italian was immune, but because his defenses
were impregnable. Behind his spoken word was ever another,
unspoken. He had the gift, not of meeting an attack with
defense, but of guiding that attack whither he wished it to
break and shatter.

"Who!" Richelieu looked up from his work with a frown, as
Mazarin murmured a word in his ear. "M. d'Artagnan -- oh!
Yes, yes, at once. Wait! Is he alone?"

"Alone, Monseigneur," lisped the Italian. A sardonic gleam
shot through the eyes of Richelieu, and he gestured silent
assent as he relaxed on his cushions.

D'Artagnan had purposely delayed his arrival, so that news
of Fleury's death might precede him. On his way through the
anterooms, he had received warnings in plenty -- it was
known he had killed Fleury. Imperturbable even to the
warning Mazarin lisped to him, he nodded careless greeting
here and there, and now, entering and saluting the
cardinal, he seemed to gather himself, summn up every atom
of his native shrewdness. He faced emergency, and was well
aware of his peril.

"You may retire, M. de Mazarin," said Richelieu to the
secretary, who bowed and withdrew. "Well, M. d'Artagnan? It
is evident that I am growing old and losing my memory. As I
recall the affair, I ordered you not to come before me
without this M. Vaugon. Or am I in error?"

"Your Eminence is quite correct," said d'Artagnan, with
perfect self-possession, and even smiled slightly as he met
the savage gaze. He knew very well that Richelieu knew all
about Fleury's death -- but he was not supposed to know it.
"I have the honor to believe," he went on composedly, "that
I was sent on this errand for two reasons. First, because I
knew Sieur Vaugon by sight. Second, because I possess a
certain intelligence."

"A cadet of the guards can display only one sign of
intelligence -- by obeying orders. You were sent to arrest
this Vaugon."

"I arrested him, Your Eminence," was the cool retort.

"Eh?" The shaggy gray brows went up. "Are you jesting with
me, monsieur?"

"I would not so presume, Your Eminence. I take for granted
you are not interested in the reasons of failure --"

Richelieu gestured impatiently. "You arrested him? But he
is not with you. Why?"

"Because his passport, signed by the king, enabled him to
call upon any royal officer for aid. This morning at
Chatillon, he made that demand of the provost, who obeyed."

The cardinal's thin lips curved sardonically. "Is that what
you term intelligence, M. d'Artagnan -- thus abandoning
your prisoner and returning here alone in defiance of
orders?"

"By no means, Monseigneur. When this mission was confided
to me, Your Eminence made certain remarks which led me to
believe Sieur Vaugon was a woman."

"Well?"

"This, Monseigneur, is not the case!"

Richelieu struck his bell. Mazarin entered, almost too
quickly.

"The report regarding Mlle. de Closset, if you please."

"Instantly, Monseigneur ."

Within ten seconds, indeed, Mazarin laid a paper in the
cardinal's hand, gave d'Artagnan an uneasy glance, and
withdrew. Richelieu glanced at the paper.

"Sieur Vaugon," he said harshly, "was no other than Mme. de
Chevreuse in disguise. She came to the Chateau de Closset
one evening, departing almost at once. Next morning Mlle.
de Closset rode away and joined her."

"Mlle. de Closset is now in Paris," said d'Artagnan. The
cardinal looked up.

"You know that? How?"

"I have been with her and with Vaugon for some time,
Monseigneur. I can assure you with the utmost certainty
that Vaugon is no woman disguised, but a man."

"Hm!" Richelieu frowned, his eyes very sharp. "How can you
be certain?"

"Only last night, Your Eminence, we shared the same room at
the inn of the Loup Pendu, after I had arrested Sieur
Vaugon."

Richelieu stared hard at him for a moment.

"Hm! And Fleury fought a duel with him at Berny -- perhaps,
perhaps! If a man, then whom could he be?"

"Your Eminence, he assured me that he was really Sieur
Nicolas Vaugon."

"No such person exists. So he's not Chevreuse -- yet she is
in France, was nearly caught, but managed to get away! You
say Mlle. de Closset is now in Paris?"

"So I believe, Your Eminence. Unfortunately, I met with
interference on the road this morning. You will recall my
orders to keep Sieur Vaugon unharmed --"

Richelieu's eye flashed. "M. d'Artagnan, tell me instantly
what you have to say, and no more beating around the bush.
Out with it!"

D'Artagnan bowed. He told of meeting Comte de Fleury, and
of how it had ended. Richelieu listened impassively until
the recital was done.

"You killed him -- and you boast to me of it?"

"No, Your Eminence." D'Artagnan showed the slight wound at
his throat. "I defended myself and my prisoner, as was my
duty."

"Duty! You cub of a cadet, to prate of duty -- "

"To France, Your Eminence1 It was this brought me on to
Paris." The sharp, pregnant words drove home. For an
instant the eyes of the two men met and held in a singular
sort of conflict, and then Richelieu frowned.

"What do you mean by that?" he asked sharply.

"I arrested Vaugon in order to secure a letter in his
possession -- Your Eminence was most explicit in desiring
any documents seized."  D'Artagnan produced the sealed
epistle, which bore no superscription. "I believe this
letter to be of the utmost importance to France,
Monseigneur, and to you personally. Therefore, in the light
of my highest duty, I came --"

"Give it to me," and Richelieu held out his thin, slender
hand.

He took the letter, regarded the wax seal with a slight
frown, tore it open carefully without hurting the
sealprint, and held the writing to the candles. As he read,
he changed countenance; a sudden alert gleam shone in his
eyes, and his thin lips tightened. Slowly every particle of
color drained out of his face. With an effort, he rose,
thrust the letter inside his soutane, and began to pace up
and down before the fireplace, eyes on the floor,
momentarily forgetful of the guardsman.

D' Artagnan caught these signs of agitation very
eomplacently. He was certain that Cyrano had there jotted
down the details of the plot against Richelieu, so Vaugon
might give them to the cardinal. Since he, not Vaugon, had
presented them, everything was for the best!

Had he been aware of the shabby trick Cyrano was playing
him in this letter, he would not have been so confident.

"Va,e Solisf' murmured Richelieu, almost sadly. "Woe to him
who stands alone -- and am I then so alone? Cinq-Mars would
dare thus far, from words to acts! If --" He checked
himself, halted, drove a sharp look at the guardsman.

"M. d'Artagnan, are you aware of the contents of this
paper?"

"Of its purport, yes. Of its precise contents, no."
Richelieu regarded him steadily for a long moment.

"Do you know where Vaugon is at this moment?"

"In Paris, I believe. He spoke of coming on here alone."

"Describe the man to me minutely, if you pleqse -- every
feature and detail."

D' Artagnan was more than a little astonished at the
minister's sharp interest in Vaugon at such a moment, and
at receiving no word of thanks for the warning; however, he
obeyed the command. Richelieu frowned suddenly and
interrupted his description.

"Wait! Has he a small mole, triangular in shape, just
before his ear?"

"He has such a mole, Your Eminence."

"So!" An expression of blank amazement came into
Richelieu's face, then was gone. He tapped his bell, sank
into his chair, and gathered up his robe around his knees.
Mazarin entered and bowed.

"A blank order of arrest, if you please."

Mazarin went to a secretary, opened it, and produced a form
already signed by the king and minister, which he brought
to the table. Richelieu took the letter from his breast and
carefully tore off one of the wax seals, while Mazarin eyed
the document sharply and then drove a sudden glance at
d'Artagnan. The cardinal extended the seal.

"If possible, discover at once to whom these arms belong.
Send Chavigny to me."

Mazarin withdrew. After a moment Chavigny entered the room.

"Ah! You've heard of M. de Fleury's death?" Chavigny
assented in gloomy silence.

"Mlle. de Closset," went on the cardinal's dry, precise
voice, "has defied the king's wishes, and by her
disobedience has caused much trouble. Have an order in
council issued tomorrow, declaring her entire properties
forfeit to the state. It must be signed and put into full
execution before tomorrow night. This point is important,
since she will cease to be a royal ward in another day or
two."

D' Artagnan could not repress a look of appreciation.
Having failed to obtain the deClosset fortune by marriage,
Richelieu was now obtaining it by a much simpler method --
that of seizure.

"Do you recall the affray of a week or so ago on the
highway near Lonjumeau," went on the cardinal, "when Mme.
de Chevreuse was supposedly recognized in disguise and was
nearly taken? The report just made by M. d'Artagnan
confirms this as a fact -- it must have been Chevreuse in
person. She was not using the name of Vaugon, as we had
thought, but another. If we knew that other name --"

D'Artagnan made a gesture. The cardinal looked at him
swiftly, sardonically.

"You were about to speak, monsieur?"

"The other name, Monseigneur, is that of Chevalier de
Berville."

"Eh?" Richelieu's eyes lighted up. "You know that,
monsieur."

"I suspect it, your Eminence. I have heard such a person
discussed."

"Good. Chavigny, send word to the frontier to stop anyone
of such a name for most thorough investigation."

Chavigny assented silently, and was dismissed with a
gesture. Richelieu leaned over the table, dipped a quill,
and wrote a few words on the blank order of arrest. He
sanded it and shoved it across the table. "This, M.
d'Artagnan, will serve to annul the precious passport of
our friend Sieur Vaugon," he said, and gave the cadet a
long look. "You are a very shrewd young man," and the
suavity of his voice concealed a sarcastic note. "You
believe in carrying out your duty at all costs, do you
not?"

"At all costs, Your Eminence." Impassive as he appeared,
d'Artagnan could not help glancing down at the order of
arrest on the table. When he saw there not his own name but
that of Vaugon, he exhaled a slight breath of relief. He
now knew there must have been something most peculiar about
Cyrano's letter, and cursed himself for not having slid a
hot knife under the seal and examined that letter before
its delivery.

"Monsieur, I admire your devotion to duty," said the
cardinal, still with the same ominous undertone. "I predict
it will lead you either to a marshal's baton or to the
Bastille. If my memory still serves, I promised you full
commission as a guardsman, provided you succeeded in your
mission? Well, you failed."

He leaned forward, picked up the order of arrest, and read
over what he had written, then nodded and looked up.
"You are hereby impowered to seize the person of Sieur
Nicolas Vaugon and bring him to my presence, this order
taking precedence of any previous order or act -- and over
His Majesty's signature and my own," he said, and extended
the paper. D'Artagnan took it with a bow. "You have until
tomorrow night, monsieur, to perform this errand -- to gain
either a guardsman's cassock or a cell."

"I choose the cassock, Monseigneur," said d'Artagnan with
an effort at 1ightness.

"So you said before, I think. Hm! My tragedy of Rachel is
to be performed at the Luxembourg tomorrow evening --
later, I'm to attend the ball at the Louvre and sup with
the king. Yes, there's time enough. Attention, monsieur!
The perform!ance ends slightly before eight-thirty. At
precisely eight-forty, my carriage will be in the courtyard
below here. I shall remain in the carriage, and shall
expect you to present Sieur Vaugon to me at that time. I
must myself see if he is the man I think him to be. You
fully understand?"

"Fully, Your Eminence;" D'Artagnan bowed, and so departed.

"Poor Vaugon!" thought the cadet, as he left the room.
"This time, Richelieu has certainly placed his identity
aright -- well, I warned him! Now he goes back to the
Bastille, and no escape either."

In the antechamber, where a number of people awaited
audience, d'Artagnan saw Mazarin make a slight gesture. He
followed through other rooms, until they were alone behind
a closed door.

"You're ordered to arrest Vaugon?" lisped the Italian.
D'Artagnan assented.

"To arrest and bring him to Richelieu-diantre! He's done
for now! As I told you before seeing the cardinal, he
insisted on returning to Paris. It seems that Richelieu had
believed him to be a woman in disguise -- no other, indeed,
than Mme. de Chevreuse."

Mazarin ori1y smiled -- this was no news to him, since he
had provoked this very error .

"Then His Eminence has discovered the mistake?" he
inquired.

"Yes. It seems he's learned that Chevreuse is another
person -- going under the name of M. de Berville, I think."

A sharp pallor struck into Mazarin's face for an instant.

"You can find M. Vaugon, then?" he asked.

"Unluckily I can, and I must," said d'Artagnan frankly. "At
least, I know where to look. Now, where is the paper he
asked me to bring from you -- the document bearing the
king's signature, promising him a certain reward for his
errand?"

"Softly, softly, m'sou!" said the Italian reflectively. "If
you are quite certain that you can and must arrest this
M'sou Vaugon --"

"I am," said d'Artagnan. "Under the circumstances, I have
no choice."

"Excellent, then!" Mazarin sighed in mock resignation.
"Undoubtedly, my dear M. d'Artagnan, the best thing is to
perform your duty to the very letter!

The best course possible. Nothing must interfere with duty.
It is the cardinal virtue of a soldier!"

D' Artagnan eyed him sharply. The sly Italian had been
listening at the door, then -- meant the thrust for him!
How much had the man overheard?

"Well, where is the paper Vaugon demanded? I must take it
to him, or send it, without delay."

" Alas, m'sou, I know nothing of it!" said Mazarin with a
helpless gesture. It was entirely clear that he had decided
to abandon Vaugon to his fate, but d'Artagnan was not
giving up the battle so easily. "Nothing! At least -- hm!
Let me think, now -- is it possible that I did put that
paper in my other pocket?"

"The evening is early, and my dinner can wait, if you
desire to look," suggested d'Artagnan. "As I told you, M.
de Mazarin, all Vaugon's hopes depend on the possession of
that paper. You might go and look for it."

"An excellent idea!" approved Mazarin, but without
hastening to obey the suggestion. "By the way, m'sou, did
you not bring some sort of letter to His Eminence -- a
letter bearing a seal in red wax?"

D'Artagnan started slightly-so this was it, eh? Well, no
harm now in bartering, since the letter was delivered. The
least he could do for Vaugon, he reflected generously, was
to secure the document at any cost. Since Mazarin had
resolved to abandon Vaugon as a tool no longer useful, the
document must be obtained.

"Why, yes -- a letter of a personal nature, confided to me
for His Eminence," he rejoined, lightly. "It contained some
rather interesting information, of which I have the general
purport. Come, M. Mazarin!" he added. "You find the paper
Vaugon needs, and I'll tell you what was in the letter to
Richelieu, or its purport. Word of honor! Agreed?"

Mazarin appeared not to hear this proposal. He was
exploring a pocket, and upon his smooth swarthy features
came an expression of astonishment.

"Hold -- hold -- a hole in this pocket!" he exclaimed. "And
upon my word, a paper fallen into the lining! If by any
chance -- yes, here it is, the very one of which we were
speaking! Ah, what good luck, M. d'Artagnan!  But you were
about to say something, I believe?"

He glanced at the paper in his hand, then peered at
d'Artagnan, who smothered a curse and then laughed openly.
"Why, yes! The letter related the details of a plot against
His Eminence -- a plot in which M. le Grand is the leading
actor, to go into effect sometime this week, I think. Is
that sufficient?"

It was. For one swift instant a mortal pallor swept across
the sleek visage of the Italian. This told d'Artagnan
everything -- told him Mazarin not only knew about the
plot, but was probably concerned in it most vitally. Then,
forcing a mirthless smile, Mazarin thrust the document into
the cadet's hand.

"Here it is, M. d'Artagnan," he said in a stifled voice.
"Here it is -- but I fear it will do M. Vaugon no good.
Adieu!"

D'Artagnan saluted, turned and departed.

As he left the room, and the velvet hangings dropped behind
him, he checked himself, turned, peered back between the
curtains. Mazarin still stood in the center of the room,
but now, where there was none to see, his face was
contorted in an expression of silent, indescribable fury.
D'Artagnan whistled to himself and made all haste to get
out of the Palais Cardinal and find some dinner .

"Now the devil's let loose!" he told himself. "Luckily,
that Italian cat doesn't know who Vaugon really is. Still
more luckily, he doesn't know Bergerac wrote the letter of
warning -- or Cyrano would pay dearly! The seal might
betray him -- but no, I think he's safe. Well, to the deuce
with it all! And thanks be to the saints, Richelieu didn't
ask for his horses back!"

Mazarin, meantime, was making his way through the
anterooms, speaking to one and another, and waited there
until the cardinal was alone. Then he entered Richelieu's
presence, and laid on the table the wax seal from Cyrano's
letter.

"Monseigneur," he said softly, "I was just given a message
from the soothsayer in the: Rue Monge -- the Sardinian who
tells fortunes. He sent word that on no account must you go
to the Louvre on Saturday next or take part in the
reception of the English ambassador."

Richelieu gave him a sharp, startled glance. "I do not
accept orders from soothsayers, M. de Mazarin," he said
drily, and struck his bell, "Wait, if you please. Send
Chavigny."

In a moment Chavigny entered the room. "Monsieur," said the
cardinal, "do you happen to recall what dispositions have
been made regarding my going in state to the Louvre on
Saturday, and to the reception of the English ambassador?
What guards will accompany.me?"

Mazarin stood very still, and his face was like old wax as
he listened.

"The company of M. de Treville is to accompany you,"
answered Chavigny.

"Change the orders," said Richelieu. "Request, instead,
that the company of M. des Essarts be assigned to duty here
on Saturday. That is all."

Chavigny bowed and departed. Richelieu took up the wax
seal.

"And this, M. de Mazarin?" In the dark eyes of the Italian,
as he came forward, was a malignant, swiftly-shaded
glitter.

"These arms, Monseigneur, are borne without any right
whatever by a gentleman of the guards, company of
Casteljaloux. His name is Savinien de Cyrano, or de
Bergerac. He is Parisian by birth and family, though he is
commonly taken for a Gascon."

It was evident that Mazarin had made quick, sharp work of
his investigation.

"Yes?" murmured Richelieu, looking at the seal. "This is
all very singular."

"It was this Bergerac," purred Mazarin, "who accompanied
the mysterious Sieur Vaugon on his visit to the Carmelites,
when a certain lady was interviewed!"

"Oh!" Richelieu looked up suddenly, as though he now
understood something that had puzzled him. "Sa Majeste!"

"Sa Mazeste" assented Mazarin. "This Bergerac is known as a
most dissipated character, a roistering poet, a duellist
who makes rhymes as he fights --"

"Ballads?" asked Richelieu drily.

"His duels never last long enough, Eminent Signor -- he is
forced to make roundels or triolets, I believe, since he
invariably kills his man within a few moments. This, of
course, is mere gossip. The edict against duelling is
laughed at by him. It was he who killed M. de Breuil a week
or ten days ago, at Berny."

Richelieu waited, a question in his eyes. He knew more was
coming, knew the climax was at hand -- and he was right.
Mazarin went on smoothly, suavely, yet with words that
drove home hard.

"When Madame de Chevreuse was so nearly taken near
Lonjumeau some days ago," and a flicker of vengeful,
triumph shone in his dark eyes, "it was this same M. de
Bergerac who intervened, and who caused her escape. He was
recognized."

The long, firm fingers of Richelieu closed upon the wax
seal and crushed it, with a slow and powerful gesture.
Mazarin, however, was far from done. He had put his victim
in the net -- now he had to draw closer the meshes.

"If you recall, Monseigneur," pursued the subtle Italian,
"the passport for Sieur Vaugon was secured by M. Cinq-Mars,
according to the report made by the clerks of the seals. I
made the unfortunate error of thinking Vaugon was Mme. de
Chevreuse in disguise, when apparently he was a mere
messenger.

"It is now obvious," he went on, "that Bergerac has been
more active than we had supposed. Evidently it was he, and
not Vaugon, who bore a commission from Her Majesty -- and
we can guess to whom the commission was destined. If
Chevreuse, or if Cinq-Mars or others, were attempting to
form some new conspiracy against Your Eminence --"

Mazarin paused, for Richelieu had stiffened slightly at
this. He concluded curtly.

"Then, this M. de Bergerac is undoubtedly the key to the
whole affair!"

"Ah!"  murmured Richelieu. "You are right, my dear Mazarin
-- upon my word, you are right! It fits in excellently."

Something was slightly amiss, but impossible to tell what
-- Richelieu was smiling. Mazarin waited, a thing at which
he was very good. He did not know what was in the letter
Richelieu had received, but if he had known its exact
wording he could not have spoken with more subtle
penetration.

"The cardinal drew a sharp breath, and was about to speak,
when Chavigny suddenly entered the room.

"Yes?" Richelieu looked at him. "Speak freely!"

"Half an hour ago, Your Eminence," said Cha-vigny, "a
gentleman appeared at the Louvre and asked for M. le Comte
de Guitet, captain of Her Majesty's guards. He spoke with
Guitet for a moment, then was taken to the private
apartments of Her Majesty, It appears this gentleman was no
other than Mlle. de Closset."

Richelieu's lip twisted in its sardonic grimace. "Very
well. Don't neglect the order regarding the forfeiture of
her estates. If Her Majesty wishes that young lady in the
Louvre, she's entirely welcome. By the way, I thlnk there
has been some disregard lately of the edict against
dueling?"

"Unhappily yes, Your Eminence. The matter of M. de Fleury
this morning --"

"Was nota duel, but an attack upon an officer, and wholly
unjustified,"

Chavigny bowed. "At present three gentlemen are under
arrest for various matters --"

"You recall the death of M. de Breuil at Berny, something
over a week ago?"

"Certainly, Your Eminence. A certain M. de Bergerac --"

"Exactly," said Richelieu. "You will kindly have this
Bergerac arrested and brought to me. I wish to interrogate
him myself, and we shall afford the gentlemen of our guard
an example they'11 remember. Bring him to me here tomorrow
night."

Chavigny departed. Richelieu pulled his chair to the table
and took up his quill. Mazarin melted into the shadows with
a quiet smile.



    CHAPTER XII

EVENING had come before Vaugon's stumbling nag brought him
into Paris, unquestioned and unhindered.

He jogged along the narrow streets toward the Seine in no
little perplexity as to his course. Delay was dangerous, he
knew well; he must seek out the king immediately, 'yet this
he could not well do without the paper from Mazarin, unless
he used the passport to prove identity. Yet, how to seek
the king?  He was totally ignorant of ways and means,
knowing little of procedure at the Louvre. Cyrano could
instruct him there, however, and he counted on d'Artagnan
bringing him the written promise which would be redeemed by
Louis.

His most immediate need was to get some dinner, and to rid
himself of the horse -- the sorry animal only rendered him
conspicuous here in Paris. Then rose the question of his
shabby garments; but he could replace these at Cyrano's
lodgings, for Cyrano had no lack of clothes.

"I must be close to that auberge in Rue Ci-Git-Le-Cceur,"
thought Vaugon, "where I found horse and sword! Therefore,
leave them again, get a bite, look up Cyrano."

Thus it was no ploy of the fates, but sheer inexorable
cause and effect, which led him on the road destined to set
all Paris laughing before the morrow's noon.

Inquiring his way, he soon found himself in St. Germain,
and presently turned into the narrow street with the
sentimental flame. When he dismounted in the courtyard of
the Cloche, he called for the host. It was early dinner
hour, and Vaugon had the entire evening ahead.

"Ten days or so ago," he said, when the host appeared, "a
gentleman waited here with a horse for me -- M. Vaugon. Do
you remember the circumstance?"

The host bowed, threw a glance at the horse, and his jaw
fell.

"Perfectly, monsieur, perfectly, but what a devil of a
change in the animal!"

"It is not the same," and V augon laughed. "However, I'll
leave it for the gentleman who was here. If he doesn't
claim the horse, it's yours."

"Hm!" said the host dubiously. "He left word regarding the
horse and sword, m'sieu, asking that I send both to the
Hotel de Nevers if you returned them."

Vaugon removed his baldric. "The sword's more important to
him than the horse -- here it is. Good! I need some dinner
at once."

In ten minutes he was appeasing the inner man with much
satisfaction. Food and wine can lend a remarkably roseate
hue to lowering clouds. Owing to his sorry horse, Cyrano
must have arrived some hours ahead of him, so Plessis was
undoubtedly taken care of ere this and safely bestowed at
the Louvre.

His best plan would be to seek Cyrano's lodgings in Rue St.
Etienne, rather than take chances on the Pinecone. With
this resolve, Vaugon paid his score and set out afoot. On
gaining the quay, he turned to the left, heading for the
Pont Neuf rather than the closer bridge of Notre Dame.

He was now in no great haste, and walked along slowly, for
his recent wound was still a bit troublesome. An enjoyable
sense of safety descended upon him, "thanks, probably, to
the crowds around, to the lights, to the insignificance of
one lone man in a whole city. And ahead was opening out
before him the strangest scene in Paris of the day, the
Font Neuf.

It was far more than a bridge alone. It was a promenade
lined with booths, a perpetual street fair, aflame with
torches and cressets, where great braziers of glowing
charcoal warmed the chill air of winter and where all the
mountebanks, jugglers and street merchants of Paris were
assembled. From the bridge and its approaches ascended the
raucous merriment of an ever-changing crowd, a shrill and
joyous babble of voices. As the proverb said, one could not
cross the bridge without meeting a girl, a monk and a white
horse, and this diversity of scene never lacked.

Certainly there were girls enough this night, and no very
modest ones either, while more than a few monkish cowls
appeared in the throngs surging about the open-air
spectacles.  As it was the dinner hour, when most lackeys
were free, they had gathered here in throngs -- impudent,
brazen rascals for the most part, quarreling among
themselves, aping the manners of their masters, rapiers
acock under cloak and oaths hot on their lips. Above all
this swaggering crowd rose the bronze statue of Henri
Quatre, seeming to preside from his horse over the whole
joyous and merry madness of the scene.

Vaugon found himself suddenly entrained and carried along
in a rush of the "rainbow regiment," as the gaily liveried
lackeys were named. Just to one side the bridge entrance,
opposite the Rue Guenegaud, where a little tower arose over
the river, was the marionette theater of one Jean Briocci,
and this had suddenly become the center of attention for
all the crowd of swaggering rascals, to whom the carrying
of arms had not yet been forbidden by law.

This was not because of the flaming, smoking cressets
lighting the scene, nor because of the marionette-play,
which had not yet begun, but because of the extraordinary
creature strutting up and down in front of the stage, to
the orders of his master. Small wonder the crowd rushed and
gaped and guffawed, small wonder Vaugon himself was nothing
loath to pause and stare in amusement!

Briocci and his assista11t, both of them nimble-tongued
enough, were firing back and forth volleys of repartee
calculated to gain and hold an audience, but it was neither
the master of marionettes nor his clownish aide, but the
central figure, on which all attention was fashioned.

This was the figure of a monkey. No small monkey, but
nearly man-sized, the beast was excellently trained. For
all his malignant simian aspect, he was harmless enough,
and unchained. He wore a cavalier's plumed hat, a gay suit,
high boots, and at his side hung a blunt-pointed sword.
Grimacing, shaking his head at the laughing throng around,
he caught a word from his master and drew his rapier nimbly
enough. He presented it at the circle of lackeys, made the
pass or two which had been taught him, and chattered
excitedly. There was a roar of laughter. Vaugon, now wedged
tightly in to one side of the scene, found the thing
ludicrous enough.

He wondered ironically what these men would say if they
knew the secret lodged in his head -- that civil war was
bursting upon France, foreign war returning, the cardinal
about to be assassinated -- and all these things from the
intrigues of a woman! But he must keep his mouth shut about
Soissons and the political affair; Chevreuse had trusted
him there as a comrade, and it was not his place to let the
news slip out.

"Fagotin!" exclaimed Briocci sharply, amid a lull. Here was
another jest -- the monkey had a name, and knew it!
"Fagotin, I see a gentleman of His Majesty's guards
approaching!"

Instantly, Fagotin brought his rapier to the salute.  "No,
mistake," said Briocci. "The gentleman is a Cardinalist --"

On the word, Fagotin lowered his sword and made a very
different sort of gesture. The crowd broke into wild howls
of mirth, for the Cardinal was richly hated by all Paris.
Even Vaugon smiled and came out of his abstraction. There
was something undeniably ludicrous about this Fagotin, this
beast So nearly like a man, and fully as large as some of
the men around. The throng, constantly gaining in numbers,
pressed in more closely. Vaugon, squeezed against a wall,
could scarce move a muscle.

"Ah!" suddenly cried out Briocci, peering at the crowd.
"Here's luck, my masters -- here's luck for our poor
Fagotin! All he lacks to make a man of him is to have a
real nose -- you comprehend? Come, you over there!  We'll
make a trade with you! We'll trade half a tail for half a
nose, and all will be well balanced!"

Vaugon could not make out who was being addressed, but
shouts of laughter began to spread. and the throngs
swirled. For a moment, Vaugon caught sight of a handsomely
attired figure, apparently a gentleman, but it was shut
from his sight almost immediately. Briocci continued his
impudent tirade, and presently one of the lackeys took it
up with a loud and more. direct assault.

"Ho, m'sieu!  You there with the nose! Come and make the
trade with Fagotin, d'you hear! Here, I'll help you."

A sharp, cold presentiment seized on Vaugon. The nose --
could it be? If so, he knew what must happen. He made an
effort, strove to fight his way through the crowd. An
opening showed ahead. He saw the shouting lackey receive a
tremendous kick in the rear that sent him flying half
across the bridge-head.

"Canaille! Street-sweepings!" bellowed a voice all too
familiar. It was drowned in a storm of shouts. In a flash,
the temper of the throng was turned from laughter to ugly
and vicious anger.

Vaugon endeavored desperately to force a passage, but in
vain. He saw the lackays all around him whipping forth
rapiers, heard their furious imprecations, while Briocci
attempted shrilly but vainly to quiet the upraised tumult.
Then swords flashed in the ruddy flares, and over the
uproar rose the shrill and terrible scream of a man dying.
His own shouts drowned in the confusion, Vaugon devoted
himself to forcing a passage through the mass. Cyrano or
not, here were twenty or thirty lackeys. with weapons
bared, and it would not be the first or last time that a
gentleman went down under the blades of the rainbow
regiment, smothered by their numbers.

Little by little Vaugon wormed clear. By rhe time he gained
the outskirts, he knew the affair was serious enough. The
girls had gone shrieking away, and the throng had become a
milling whirlpool of armed men swirling madly about a focal
point. Clear at last, Vaugon found a yelling lackey
blocking him. He buffeted the fellow, tore the sword from
him, then flung forward.

Cyrano indeed -- and what a Cyrano! Plumed out in all the
finery he could muster, Cyrano was a gay figure; also, he
was undoubtedly drunk. He stood with his back to the
marionette enclosure, bawling forth oaths entirely lost in
the uproar, and before him was an open space crossed by the
glitter of swords in the ruddy light.

Around him was a wall of attacking steel, two figures lay
prostrate, and his long blade glowed and flickered back and
forth as the crowd pressed in. Drunk or not, Cyrano was
superbly master of his weapon, and the ring of steel could
not pass his guard. Abruptly, Cyrano gathered himself in a
burst of fury, and leaped. The one man charged the thirty.
For an instant he not only charged but broke them. His
blade licked home again and again, faster than eye could
follow; men staggered, sank down, broke away howling from
that frightful rapier-flash. Then a swirl came surging in
from one side, Cyrano was all but carried off his feet, and
they were in at him from behind.

Somehow Vaugon found himself there in time, caught a yell
of recognition from Cyrano, and came back to back with his
friend. The blades scraped in furious lunges, thrusts, wild
slashes. A man went down, another staggered away -- cleared
again! Cyrano had regained his first position, Vaugon now
at his side! and once more the encircling wall of steel
came flashing in around them.

"Well met, comrade!" Cyrano's bellow was exultant. "At
them, now -- at them!"

The voice of Briocci came from behind in a wild lifting
shriek.

"Fagotin! To me, you devil's imp -- Fagotin! To me!"

Startled cries from all sides, a sidelong surging burst of
the crowd. Vaugon stared in amazement. Cyrano was engaged
with two 1ackeys in front, when suddenly a third broke in
upon him. A third? No -- not a lackey, but Fagotin the
monkey, chattering shrilly, driving in his pointless rapier
-- gone frantic with excitement and the mad confusion all
around.

Now blades reached for Vaugon, held him desperately
engaged. From the corner of his eye he saw Cyrano stagger,
as the blunt point of Fagotin went driving home to his
ribs. In the flickering light, in the dust and tumult,
Cyrano sensed only another assailant, and with a sidelong
leap he disengaged and thrust viciously in response.
Fagotin, pierced through the throat, went over in a
grotesque dying heap.

"The monkey!" went up a wild yell. "The monkey! He's killed
Fagotin!"

The encircling rapiers drew away. A laugh started up, and
grew into a shaking roar of hysterical mirth. Only now did
Cyrano realize what he had just done. For an instant he
stood transfixed, staring at the dead monkey. Then an oath
burst from him, and he went at the crowd like a madman.
He broke them, drove them headlong before him, Vaugon
assisting; raving wild curses, he beat them with the flat
of his sword, kicked, struck. And through ail the uproar
came a high piercing whistle, a sharper yell. The archers
of the watch had arrived.

Fortunately, they did not come by way of the island and
bridge, but along the quay, toward which Cyrano was driving
his hapless assailants. Vaugon, waking to the emergency,
caught his comrade's arm and checked him.

"The watch, Cyrano! Here, across the bridge,-- quick!"

"Right," panted Cyrano, with a nod, and dashed the sweat
from his eyes. "Run for it!"

Cyrano sheathed his sword, Vaugon dropped his borrowed
blade, and together they sped into and among the circling
crowd, now in panic and forgetful of everything. They
worked their way past the statue of Henri Quatre, and at
length, slowing into a fast walk, were striding between the
booths along the garbage-studded street. The riot and
tumult were fallen behind. They were safe.

Neither man spoke at once, until Vaugon was aware of a low
and frightful groan, seemingly wrenched from the very soul
of his companion. Thinking Cyrano wounded, perhaps, he kept
silence until they might be out of the passing throng. They
came opposite the water-house of the Samaritaine, with its
high pictured story of Christ and the woman of Samaria,
just as the chimes of its great clock were ringing out
nine.

Cyrano halted. A stifled sob broke from him. He seized his
sword, bared it, whirled it up around his head, and sent
the blade end over end out into the river. The passing folk
stared as if deeming him mad. So, too, for the moment, did
Vaugon -- then the other caught his arm.

"Come, come!" he exclaimed in a terrible voice. "Come,
comrade -- there's the end of Cyrano; come along, get wine,
drown it all!"

Vaugon was far from comprehension. With the archers at the
other end of the bridge, however, this was no time for
delay.

"Lead the way," he rejoined. "I was heading for your
lodgings, hoping to find you. Where's Plessis?"

"At the Louvre," said Cyrano shortly, and broke into his
long stride.

Leaving the bridge and its throngs behind, they plunged
into the maze of narrow streets beyond, and in ten minutes
had reached their destination. This was a small cabaret,
empty at the moment, where Cyrano seemed well known. He
headed for a table in one corner, and flung a word at the
host.

"Wine, my own particular wine! Half a dozen of it, master
Jacques."

"Instantly, m'sieu." Before they were well seated, the wine
arrived. Cyrano flung down money, seized a bottle, and
filled the cups. On his face was stamped a fearful
brooding, a perfect agony of despair.

"What in the devil's name is wrong with you?" exclaimed
Vaugon, catching the other's wrist. "Are you wounded?"

"Wounded?" Cyrano glared at him, then uttered a harsh
laugh. "Would to heaven one of those blades had gone
through my body! Wounded? Aye, wounded in the soul and
spirit, wounded to the very quick -- done for, damned and
done for!" Lifting his cup, he emptied it in two gulps.

"But why?" demanded Vaugon, amazed and startled. "What's
happened?"

"Eh?" The dark eyes blazed luridly at him. "Don't you
understand -- back there? Bad enough to have lost my
temper, crossed swords with a pack of despicable lackeys,
dishonored myself and my blade! But worse yet -- that
damned monkey! Ah!"  Cyrano groaned, spat an oath, and
reached for the bottle.

"Why worry about themonkey?" asked Vaugon.

Cyrano gulped again, set down the cup, calmed himself. He
had undoubtedly reached such a point that the wine sobered
him instead of inflaming him anew.

"My friend, look at me," he said, with a certain sad
simplicity. "I am a man marked out from others by nature. I
have little fortune, no hope in life. I'm a living laugh
for other men! Well, then, those others have learned not to
laugh, you comprehend? One thing I can do supremely well --
kill those who laugh. Do you know that one night a band of
assassins tried to catch my friend, poor old Lignieres, and
caught me instead? I killed two of them, wounded seven, and
put the rest to flight. That's a sober fact, comrade --
it's history -- that's Cyrano de Bergerac as they tell of
him in Paris, as they know him. But now -- now! Now!"

The strong, passionate face was contorted for an instant.
"Look at me now!" and Cyrano flung out his hands. "I have
slain all laughter, driven it to hiding, you understand? I
have made myself respected, feared; in two campaigns I've
been twice wounded, twice noted for bravery. This evening
at the Louvre I met M. de Bourgogne of the Regiment de
Conti; do you know how he greeted me? 'Cyrano, the first
swordsman of France!"  That's the honest truth, comrade.
And now -- now! Cyrano, the killer of monkeys. Cyrano, the
battler of lackeys. Cyrano, the slayer of the immortal
Fagotin. Cyrano -- Cyrano the damned! Ah -- it's too much.
It's the end."

Anguish in his eyes and voice, Cyrano flung his arms on the
table and dropped his head in them and sat there
motionless, gripped by bitter despondency.

Vaugon saw it all now -- saw the supreme tragedy of the man
before him, in stark and pitiless clarity. "It was true,
yes; with the rapier-thrust that slew Fagotin, Cyrano had
destroyed himself beyond hope. Within a few hours Paris
would be rocking with laughter, from the faubourgs to the
Louvre. The story would gain addition at each telling.
Nothing could ever quench it -- it would pass into fable.
The great-nosed swordsman, the noseless monkey -- here was
monstrous and irresistible mirth for all Paris!

"Cyrano!" Vaugon's hand gripped the man's shoulder. "Come,
my friend."

Cyrano lifted a tortured face, and then broke into a wild
laugh.

"Do you know what they'll say? By the lord, I'll say it
ahead of them!" he cried vibrantly. "There's the pun
that'll never down! Cyrano embroche le singe' de Brioche!
Cyrano spits the monkey of Signor Spit-bah! Fareweli to
Cyrano the swordsman. Fareweli to Cyrano the soldier. I'll
never again draw rapier in this life, comrade -- I swear it
by my faith, by my honor -- mordious, by my nose!  Here,
fill up!" and he shoved over the bottle.

"One thing, one thing alone, remains to me. At least, I can
laugh louder than they; I can make the sting drive deeper;
I can use a quill to fill all the world with gall and
bitterness and raillery! Here's a health to the new Cyrano
-- down sword, up quill! This very night I'll resign from
the guards. I vanish! We hereby baptize Cyrano the mocker,
Cyrano the poet, Cyrano who attacks with his quill all the
drab hypocrisy of life! Drink!"

The two cups touched. When Cyrano wiped his mustache, there
was indeed a new light in his eyes. The sharpest of his
passion was endured; now Vaugon saw a shadow of the old
smile come back to his face, the old brave glint into his
eyes, the braver for the misery so resolutely crammed down.

"A truce to poor old shabby Cyrano -- he's dead, so no more
of it!" Cyrano thrust out his hand. "Welcome, comrade, and
thanks for your help. All's well?  You caught that rascal
d'Artagnan in the snare we fixed for him?"

Vaugon nodded, glad to distract the other's thoughts, and
told of what had happened at Chatillon this same morning.
"I gave him the letter because I felt sorry for him -- and
he was grateful enough," he added in conclusion. Cyrano
stared in round-eyed amazement. "Eh? What's the; matter?"

"Mordious! You swore you'd never warn Richelieu!"

"I didn't." Vaugon smiled. "But I let d'Artagnan do it.
That warning would save him from punishment, and after he
had killed Fleury, I owed him something. Besides, it's a
dirty trick to know a man is to be assassinated and not
give him a word."

Cyrano exploded in abrupt nervous laughter that passed into
wild guffaws of mirth, until he put hand to side in pain.

"Oh, what a jest, what a jest! Oh, most ineffable
d'Artagnan!" he bawled. "Vaugon, you didn't know what I had
written in that letter, then?"

"How the devil would I know? You wrote a warning of the
plot, I supposed. You said it was to warn the cardinal."

"I did, I did, sure enough." Cyrano wiped the laughter-
tears from his eyes. "But it was the manner in which I
wrote it; there's the crux of it all! For the love of the
saints, I'll die of this jest yet, and to think of
d'Artagnan presenting that letter!

I'd give ten years of life to have seen what happened!"

"Explain!" demanded Vaugon impatiently. "Explain!"

"Damned if I will!" roared Cyrano, "Find out for yourself.
Here, comrade, look at this! Plessis went to the Louvre,
you comprehend? I took her. A fine girl, that! She knew you
must reach the king at once, and promised to send me cards
of admission for us both. There's a ball tomorrow night, we
learned, a great affair. But not for me, comrade -- the old
Cyrano's dead and gone. Here, come into the back room and
get into these clothes -- a brand new outfit, worthy any
gentleman! I'll trade with you."

Vaugon protested. He did not at first comprehend the
whimsical urge of his companion, but finally it drove in
upon him that Cyrano had no heart for his new finery, felt
the need of hiding from the sight of all men. Better,
perhaps, to assent for the moment, until the wine was out
of Cyrano and better sense in. He nodded and rose.

Outside, a queer face thrust itself against the thick glass
of the window, peering in at the two men.  It was a brutal
face, scarred, unintelligent, more like the face of an
animal than that of a man. Then it was gone again, swiftly,
as they passed to the inner room of the cabaret.

From plumed beaver to shoes, Cyrano insisted on stripping
and exchanging garments. His clothes fitted Vaugon well
enough, and hegot into the torn, stained, shabby garb of
Vaugon with a laugh and a shrug at the ancient cut. He was
more than unsteady on his feet. From scattered comments,
Vaugon knew his first premise had been correct. Cyrano had
probably been drunk when he came to the Pont Neuf.

Presently the two returned to their table in the main room.
Vaugon spoke of seeking bed and quarters, but Cyrano
dismissed the notion, opened another bottle, set himself to
drink again. He had relapsed into a dark mood, and was
intent upon drowning everything in wine. Vaugon realized
more and more clearly what an appalling tragedy had taken
place when Fagotin was spitted.

The last bottle had just been opened by Cyrano's unsteady
fingers, when the tavern door was flung wide and into the
place broke half a dozen men. Cyrano lodked up, started to
rise, then rolled back helplessly into his seat. Vaugon
turned, and was petrified. Facing him were a number of the
watch, and at their head, pointing to him, a brutish-faced,
ill-dressed man whom he recognized on the instant. It was
the one man in all Paris who might have known his face --
and who knew it. His jailer from the Bastille!

Before Vaugon could speak, before he could move, he was
jerked from his seat. A cloth was flung about his head, his
arms were bound, and a moment later he felt himself being
carried out into the cold night air, back to death in life.


    CHAPTER XIII
Before that same night was gone, all Paris was howling with
glee over the story of Cyrano de Bergerac and the monkey of
Briocci. All Paris, that is to say, except the owner of the
late Fagotin, Signor Briocci, who like Mazarin had
gallicized his name to Brioche, had no difficulty in
learning the identity of the slayer, for Cyrano's face and
sword were known throughout Paris. With morning, then?
Briocci took unto himself much wine and a few friends, and
instituted search for Cyrano through all the taverns of the
city. Not finding him, and having no recourse except the
law, he straightway engaged an avocat and filed suit for
fifty pistoles damages. This activity on Briocci's part
only gave impetus to the story, sent it rolling afar upon a
mounting wave of laughter. Long ere morning it had reached
the guards' barracks, and from there it came to the Palais
Cardinal, the Louvre, and the Faubourg St. Geril1ain. By
noon, half the wits of Paris were busy embroidering the
tale, lampooning it, and enlarging upon it most
fantastically.

D'Artagnan heard it in the morning, as soon as he dressed
and gained the street. In order to find Vaugon, he had to
find Cyrano; but M. de Bergerac had dropped completely out
of sight, as a visit to his lodgings proved. While there,
d'Artagnan ran into a fellow guardsman, M. Isaac de Portau,
also of the company des Essarts -- a large-built, rather
stupid gentleman, who commonly went by the name of Porthos,
thanks to a barracks jest. D'Artagnan was quick to sniff
the errand of Porthos, and pried into it.

"Why, yes," returned the other easily. "Between you and me,
it'll go hard with our friend if I find him! He killed M.
de Breuil, you know, and I'm sent to fetch him to the
Palais Cardinal in consequence.  Where the devil can he
be?"

"Exactly the query I'm pondering," said d'Artagnan. "I must
find him in order to find another gentleman who's also
wanted at the same place. Since our errands run together,
my dear Porthos, why not pursue them in company?"

"Admirable thought!" declared M. de Portau. "Agreed!"

By noon they had encountered no luck whatever, and so
sought out the Pinecone for food and wine and further
information. D'Artagnan, far more worried than he cared to
admit, cursed Cyrano and the monkey of Briocci most
heartily. He had only until a definite hour that evening to
produce Vaugon, and was under no illusions as to the result
of failure.

By all report, the cardinal had entertained no great
affection for his scapegrace relative, whose head-strong
passions and reckless gambling had involved him in more
than one dark affair; but relatives are relatives, and
d'Artagnan was pointed out on all sides as the man who had
killed Comte de Fleuty.

It was clear, to him at least, that if he succeeded in his
present errand he would be pardoned all things else;
otherwise, not. Somehow, all his shrewd calculations had
slipped a cog. Try as he would, he could not tell how; yet
he suspected that the letter he had delivered to the
cardinal was not exactly as he had thought it would be.
This was another reason for finding Cyrano. He wanted most
urgently to discover exactly what had been in that epistle.

At the Pinecone, the two guardsmen ran into a riotous
assemblage, both of their companions in arms, and of the
poetical and philosophical element from nearby colleges --
all friends of Cyrano, and all making merry over the story
of Fagotin. To them, as to all Paris, the ironic quip of
the thing was irresistible -- Cyrano, the deadliest
swordsman of the day, slaughtering lackeys and a monkey on
the Font Neuf! The nose against the noseless -- this would
never down.

Lignieres the poet was making epigrams on the tale, a gay
crowd around him. Tristan l'Hermite, Moliere, Chapelle and
others from the College of Lisieux were going into roars of
laughter while the huge epicure St. Amant, Comte
d'Harcourt, sat at a table and recounted the story between
bites and sups, as he interpreted it.

At another side, Le Bret and half a dozen other officers
were talking loudly and drinking hard -- but no Cyrano. To
all the questions of d'Artagnan, but one response was
returned; nobody had seen or heard of him. Cyrano had
apparently vanished out of all human ken.

By the time their meal was finished and a second bottle
discussed, d'Artagnan was uncomfortably conscious that time
was slipping rapidly by.  M. de Fortau had nothing to
suggest except another bottle, and blinked solemnly around
and grinned at the jests in the air. D'Artagnan's
uneasiness grew, for all were talking about Cyrano's
disappearance.

"Perhaps," suggested someone facetiously, "he's hidden
himself in the Bastille! Faith, it wouldn't be past him."

"Ha!" exclaimed an officer. "I hear they caught some
escaped prisoner last night -- might be Cyrano by mistake,
if he had a nose!"

"What's that?" asked d'Artagn.c:tn quickly. "An escaped
prisoner? Where?"

"Damme if I know," and the officer shrugged. "I understand
they found him drunk in some tavern in Rue St. Etienne -- a
man who esaaped some time ago. What's all this about
Briocci? Somebody ought to go over there and wreck that
cursed Italian's outfit -- teach him to play his damned
monkey-tricks on gentlemen!"

D'Artagnan gestured to Porthos, paid the score, and rose.
Outside, in the street, he caught the other's arm.

"Attention, now! We're on the trail.  To the Rue St.
Etienne, and inquire in every wineshop we pass. Forward!"

"Aye, and a drink with every inquiry," hiccuped Porthos
genially. "Forward!"

D'Artagnan, now afire with impatience, hurried his
companion along and presently they were instituting their
search. They had little to go on, and owing to its
proximity to student quarters, the street in question was
replete with cabarets! Porthos, too! insisted stubbornly
upon priming each inquiry with a drink, which took time!
And they met with no luck at all.

It was pearly four o'clock when d'Artagnan led his now
staggering comrade into a small wineshop, not a block from
Cyrano's lodgings. It was empty. Porthos called for wine,
while d'Artagnan instituted cautious inquiries of the
proprietor. To his sharp delight, the host nodded assent.
"You are comrades of his? Good. It was last night, m'sieu,
in this room. Regard! Poor M, de Bergerac was here with a
friend -- they broke in suddenly, seized on his friend,
hauled him out, and all without a word, mind you! Service
of the king. An evade from the Bastille, someone said --
hm! Perhaps and perhaps not. A very proper gentleman --"

Vaugon retaken, then -- what devilish luck!

"And M. de Bergerac?"

"In the rear room, m'sieu. Ah -- thete he goes again! He's
beautifully drunk, I can tell you. Listen to his Greek and
Latinity, would you?"

In fact, the voice of Cyrano broke upon them, faintly
sonorous, rolling forth a maudlin flood of words from the
rear room.

"Man is not a beast because he looks down", bellowed the
voice. "Ha! A beast looks up, and why? Because he seeks to
complain to heaven of his condition, quite naturally! A man
looks down in order to contemplate the creation of which he
is lord and master -- for there's nothing in heayen to
cause him any envy. Ovid says it, messieurs, plainly enough
--'Os homini sublime dedit' and so forth. If you accept the
thesis, damme if you don't have to accept --"

D'Artagnan shoved his way into the rear room. There sat
Cyrano, a heap of empty bottles around him. He was alone,
shut up with himself, pouring forth a pseudo-philosophic
rhapsody, staring blankly at the world from bloodshot,
unseeing eyes. He did not know d'Artagnan in the least.

"By the saints!" hiccuped Porthos. "He's drunk as a lord!
Can't arrest a drunken man, that's certain --"

"Nor make him talk," said d'Artagnan. "Catch hold, now! Up
with him."

The stupid guardsman had the strength of three. Between
them they dragged Cyrano to his feet. He could scarce walk,
much less protest or realize what was going on. They got
him out to the street, and the obliging host followed with
a bucket of water , thoroughly dousing the unhappy
profligate.

Cyrano protested then, stoutly enough. Spluttering,
fighting, roaring, he broke away from them and rushed back
to his den. His head was somewhat cleared, however, and
when d'Artagnan followed, he recognized the cadet.

"Ha! It's you, rascally Gascon! No use -- can't arrest our
Vaugon now ,blast you! They got him, took him back to the
Bastille -- safe from you there, eh? This is a scurvy trick
to play a comrade -- who soaked me with water -- you, M. de
Portau? Blast you! Poor Cyrano's done for, anyhow. He'll
never hold sword again, has sworn never to draw blade -- or
he'd put a point in your fat throat!"

Bastille! D'Artagnan went cold at this confirmation of his
fears. He broke into queries, and presently wormed out of
Cyrano how Vaugon had beeR recognized by his jailer and had
been promptly apprehended. He tried to get some information
about the letter he had given Richelieu, but here Cyrano's
brain refused to click.

"Letter? No letter at all -- only one right here, left at
my lodgings for Vaugon. Here it is -- keep it," and he
flung down a sealed and folded documenL addressed to Vaugon
in his care. "I'll give it to you, devil take your sharp
eyes! Take it and clear out. For a pistole I'd crack a
bottle over your head -- don't like your face and never
did."

"Nor I yours, you hawk-nosed imbecile!" growled d'Artagnan.
However, he took the letter and called Porthos. "I'll give
him up to you, my friend," he said, indicating the
dropping, maudlin Cyrano. "Take him, drink with him, sober
him if you can -- the saints and angels defend you if you
take him to the cardinal in this condition! Farewell. I've
enough worries of my own."

So saying, he left the two there in company, slammed the
door, ordered a bottle of wine, and flung himself down at a
table in the outer room to think. Examination of the letter
to Vaugon showed an illegible seal, so he pocketed it and
considered his own situation with increasing gloom.

D'Artaghan was, to speak plainly, in a desperate strait. He
had absolutely no choice, and no excuse would avail him, If
he showed up with word that Vaugon was in the Bastille, the
cardinal would then learn everything about Vaugon --
probably had guessed it anyway. This worried d'Artagnan no
whit, He was occupied entirely with his own emergency.
Bastille or not, failure had no excuse, and failure meant
absolutely no mercy, no forgiveness, his whole future
blasted. The cardinal had promised him a cell in such
event, and would most surely keep that promise to the
letter.

With a hearty Gascon oath, d'Artagnan produced his order of
arrest and read it over and over, despondently. Suddenly he
checked himself, frowning; He looked more closely at the
paper, glanced up, stared speculatively at the street, and
his eyes widened. An eager breath flared his nostrils, as a
dog who scents game. Hastily, he examined his purse, found
it still fairly well supplied, and leaped to his feet.

"Cadedis!" he exclaimed. "Not for his sake. but for my own
-- I'll try it!"

He flung down a coin, caught up his hat and rushed out into
the street.

On the eastern side of Paris, beyond which had pushed the
Faubourg St. Antoine, and with its triangular bastion
pointing toward this faubourg, stood the Bastille. Its
eight massive and gigantic towers appeared like so many
vast cannon set on end and threatening heaven itself.

Its huge stones were blackened by four centuries. Primarily
erected to defend Paris against the English, it now
appeared rather to menace Paris; from a royal chateau, it
had been converted into a royal prison by Richelieu. On the
side toward Paris, the slime-filled moats and ancient walls
were masked by other buildings crowded close. On the Rue
St. Antoine, just past the convent of the Filles de Ste.
Marie, was a massive entrance that opened on a wide tree-
filled court surrounded by shops and dwellings; where the
families of the garrison lived. This fortress was in itself
a small city.

There were no embarrassing formulas, no questions, no
noise, about the entry of this fortress. No papers need be
shown. Three bare words sufficed. Those who entered, all
too often without knowing why, also remained without
knowing where or when, and if they departed, it was without
knowing either why, where or how.

Late in the afternoon,an hour or more after d'Artagnan had
discovered the hopeless Cyrano in his hiding-place, a coach
with closed shutters came rumbling from the direction of
Paris and halted at the Rue St. Antoine gate of the
Bastille. The sentinel there barred the way with his one
question.

"Ordre du Roi!" came the response.

At these three magic words, the sentinel stepped aside and
presented arms. "The King's Order!" The horses tugged at
the coach, the rumbling wheels passed the gate and crossed
the wide court within; but those magic words had already
gone ahead. Shop-windows were hurriedly closed, loiterers
vanished from sight. In a moment, the huge court became
empty, deserted, silent. Curiosity was dangerous.

The coach disappeared at the other end of the court.  It
crossed a large bridge and came to another inner court,
this one paved, treeless, bleak in appearance. At the
bottom of this second court was a very pretty house, with a
little park behind it; in this house lived the Governor of
the Bastille.

Here the coach stopped, a question was asked by the driver,
he was directed onward. Continuing its way through the
park, the coach came presently to a wall two hundred feet
high, and halted before a slimy green moat. Opposite was an
iron-grilled door, the only opening in this massive wall.
Once more the three magic words rang out. With clang and
clatter, a draw bridge descended,the portcullis was raised,
and the coach finally entered the Bastille itself, the
courtyard surrounded by those massive towers, each of which
had a name.

The coach halted, its door opened, and d'Artagnan
descended.

"M. du Tremblay?" he who met him.

"He is with the chief jailer, m'sieu. follow?"

D'Artagnan assented, but from a doorway appeared the jovial
figure of the governor himself, who advanced cordially.
"Ha, monsieur! You bring me another guest?"

"Not so," said d'Artagnan. "I come to relieve you of a
guest."

"In any case, welcome! Come, we've a fire in here and can
be comfortable while we discuss the matter."

D'Artagnan grimaced and did not reply to this pleasantry.
He knew Tremblay by reputation, and was counting heavily
upon what he had heard. He bowed in a very cold manner
which caused the governor to lose his genial aspect.

"By all means, M. du Tremblay," he said frostily. "Of
course His Eminence can wait, so let us seek the fire and
warm ourselves."

"Devil take it, you have orders -- I must read them, and
it's getting too dark here to make out a word! Come inside,
with lights and warmth."

D'Artagnan, confident he had struck the right note, smiled
to himself and followed the,governor into a large room
where a fire burned and candles shone, The governor had
been going over his massive register of "guests" with the
chief jailer, whom he now dismissed.

"Well, monsieur?" he inquired a trifle nervously. "His
Eminence knows that we have recaptured the prisoner
recently escaped?"

D'Artagnan did not reply, except by holding out his order
of arrest. Tremblay took it, with a disturbed air, and held
it to the candles. He looked up, astonished.

"But, monsieur -- this is not an order to deliver a
prisoner to you! This is an order to arrest -- and for a
man named Vaugon! We have, I assure you, no one of that
name here."

Now, d'Artagnan knew perfectly well that he was risking his
neck in this matter, and had only been driven to it by
desperation. His one chance of success lay in persuading
Tremblay that the governor risked his own neck by
disobedience. He knew, too, things no one was supposed to
know about Vaugon.

With a glance at the closed door, d'Artagnan threw off his
icy manner, came close to the governor, and tapped the
latter on the arm. He must take a chance here.

"Come, come, my dear sir!" he said, smiling, "We're alone,
we do not need to bandy words, we may speak frankly, eh?
It's most unfortunate you did not see His Eminence today."

"Eh, eh?" Tremblay stared at him. "But I went to the Palais
Cardinal this morning! He was too busy to see me -- I left
the report of the recapture --"

D'Artagnan repressed a sharp breath. What a discovery! It
delighted him, as did the evidence of Tremblay's agitation.

"Just so," he said coolly. "This Vaugon was recognized in a
wine shop last night, was seized and brought here -- so
far, excellent! But, my dear M. du Tremblay, why didn't you
advise His Eminence of it last night? There's the whole
difficulty!"

"The devil!" exclaimed Tremblay. "Because -- in confidence,
eh?"

D'Artagnan bowed to conceal his keen delight. What target
had his blind shot reached?

"Upon the word of a gentleman," he replied. The other took
his arm confidingly.

"Because, my dear fellow, I knew nothing of it until this
morning! There was a little party last night in the
apartment of Marshal de Bassompierre -- you comprehend?"

D'Artagnan comprehended thoroughly, for the governor had a
certain reputation. Now he was fairly sure of himself.

"Well, His Eminence is furious," said d'Artagnan. "Come! Do
you insist that you have no Sieur Vaugon here?"

Somewhat uncertainly, the governor pointed to his massive
register.

"See for yourself. It is true that a passport was taken
from the escaped prisoner, and this passport bore the name
you mention, but --"

"M. du Tremblay, we speak as friends," said d'Artagnan with
a confidential air. "When I was given this order of arrest,
shall I tell you what was said? Not to me, of course -- it
was not even intended for my ears. But -- does it interest
you?"

"Yes, yes!"h~t did His Eminence say?" demanded the other
quickly.

"Just this, That no order of release was to hand; and that,
if an order signed by the king and his minister, with a
note added in the minister's own hand, would. not allow me
to bring a prisoner to the presence of that minister,
something must be done about it! Now, I leave to your
imagination! my dear Tremblay, what might be done. It is
even possible this order might be a test of your good
faith, of your obedience -- you see?"

Tremblay dropped into a chair, troubled.

"But, devil take it! It's not an order to deliver a
prisoner -- it's not the right form!  It's not the wording
--"

"May I ask," said d'Artagnan, "under what name your
prisoner is entered?"

The governor started. "This -- this Vaugon?"

"Exactly.  This Vaugon.  He's an ordinary prisoner, is he?"

"Not a bit of it," said the governor. "Not a bit of it!
The whole thing, my dear sir, is most unusual --"

D'Artagnan waved his hand. "Exactly. So is this order! For
the loveoť the saints, monsieur, use your good sense! Was I
not sent here to get him? Didn't the cardinal personally
send me, write that order with his own hand? Look at the
wording of it! It's to take precedence above all other
orders or acts! What the devil more can you desire?"

"It's not the correct form," objected Tremblay.

"Granted." D'Artagnan shrugged. "The whole point is that
His Eminence sent me to bring this man before him, desiring
to interrogate him personally and privately. There's his
signature in evidence, which I'm to leave with you in
exchange, as a receipt, after signing it. Now, consider! Is
such a receipt satisfactory or not?  If not, I return to my
coach, I return to the Palais Cardinal, I tell His Eminence
that you refuse to surrender M. Vaugon to the express order
of the king and his minister, Upon my word, my dear
Temblay, I sbouldn't like to be in your shoes when such a
message reaches Richelieu!  However, since it's your choice
--"

"For the love of heaven, hold on!" exclaimed Tremblay in
some agitation. "Beyond doubt, you're right enough -- yes,
yes, you have the righL of it! Corbac! You've the right of
it, my friend. But here's the hic of the whole thing --
this order under which our man is held au grand secret!
Now, I've no M. Vaugon to deliver to you. No such name
appears on my register. He's down as M. Personne, you
comprehend?"

D'Artagnan cursed the petty formalities of this by no means
petty place.

"It seems to me, monsieur, that if you found on your
prisoner a passport signed by the king and made no mention
of the fact either on your register or in the report which
you 1eft with His Eminence --

"Ha!" Tremblay started up, and d'Artagnan knew the shot had
gone home. "Come here, come here, let's see about it! I
believe you've the right of it, curse me if you haven't!
Here, move those candles a bit closer --"

Tremblay leaned over the huge register on its rack, and
d'Artagnan joined him. The finger of the governor fell upon
the last entry, dated that same morning. After the name of
"M. Personne" was the entry: "Bearing passport in the name
of Sieur Nicolas Vaugon."

"There's your hic and your hoc," said d'Artagnan, and
glanced at the clock on the wall, which indicated a few
minutes after six. "Diable! I must ask for your decision
instantly, my dear governor. His Eminence made a definite
appointment with me, and I intend to be there to the
minute. You've no possible excuse now -- here's the name of
Vaugon in your books! However, suit yourseJf. I'll return
without my prisoner, and you'll answer --"

The governor sighed. "You assume full responsibility, of
course, when you receipt for him? Good." He leaned over and
struck a bell. His chief jailer appeared. "You will summon
the head turnkey, monsieur, and bring to us the prisoner
named M. Personne, Jast evening returned to our hospitality
and placed in the Basiniere. And now, monsieur, the
receipt?"

D'Artagnan had won.

"Receipt on delivery," he said, and dropped into a chair.
Tremblay laughed.

"Correct enough, I suppose. Hm! Where was that cursed
passport put? We'll have to give it back to your gentleman.
You'll return him to me later?"

D'Artagnan shrugged.  Ask M. Duplessis, not me! I have a
strong suspicion that I will. Between you and me, His
Eminence is in a stormy mood today."

"So I learned this morning," said the governor,
and d'Artagnan blessed the latter's morning visit to the
Palais Cardinal.  Although Tremblay's brother was Pere
Joseph, the so-called "gray eminence," familiar and
confidant of Richelieu, the jovial governor knew all too
well how any mis-step would be none the less fatal to him.

Five minutes passed, The scrape of feet was heard, and
between two jailers Vaugon was led into the room.  At sight
of d'Artagnan there, a gleam shot into his eyes, and his
shoulders straightened a trifle. Despondency had weighed
heavily on him this day, and despair had sunk into his
heart and soul -- yet here was d'Artagnan! And Tremblay's
next words enlightened him, sent his shoulders still more
erect.

"Monsieur, this gentleman has come to remove you from our
hospitality for a little while. I trust you have no
complaints?  Well, and now for the receipt" D'Artagnan
produced his order of arrest, counter-signed it, then
signed again the paper Tremblay handed him-the regular form
of receipt for departing guests.

"This is all?"

"All," echoed the governor. He had been handed the few
belongings of Vaugon, and now restored them, passport and
money included. Entirely unaware of what was happening, not
daring to ask, Vaugon said nothing. D'Artagnan turned
ceremoniously to him.

"Monsieur, will you have the goodness to accompany me?"

Vaugon assented silently.

In another five minutes they were in the coach, taking
leave of Tremblay. A moment afterward, the coach was
rumbling out through the inner portal, crossing the park
and the bleak square beyond. Not until the outer entrance
was passed and they were actually in the streets of Paris,
did either of the two men speak. Then Vaugon's voice broke
the silence, tremulously.

"D'Artagnan! Is this a miracle?"

"Faith, I think myself that it is!" and d'Artagnan uttered
a short laugh. "Richelieu gave me an ordet of arrest, to
bring you before him. I found you were in the Bastille and
persuaded Tremblay to hand you over. I had the devil's own
job of it. What will come of it I don't know, but I want
your parole -- to save my own neck.

"You have it, and my thanks," said Vaugon simply."

"Let thanks wait -- you may be out of the pan and into the
fire! Shall we let this coach go and get some supper? It's
six-thirty -- we've time enough and to spare."

"If you like. Where's Cyrano?"

"Drunk. Arrested. Heaven knows where!  Wait -- he gave me a
letter for you. Too dark to see now, though. Let's dismiss
this coach -- I hired it for the occasion. We'll drop into
the nearest tavern and get a bite to eat and a bottle of
wine."

"Find Cyrano," said Vaugon. D'Artagnan shrugged, and
directed the driver to the wine shop where he had left
Porthos and Cyrano. When the coach halted, it was paid off
and dismissed, and the two entered the cabaret, The host
recognized d'Artagnan and bowed -- then he recognized
Vaugon, fell into a blank stare, and his eyes became like
saucers.

"Not you, m'sieu -- not the gentleman taken to the
Bastille--"

"Bah! That was a joke," said d'Artagnan. "Where are our two
friends?"

"Gone, m'sieu. Gone ten minutes ago, each of them holding
up the other. I believe they started for the Palais
Cardinal, but they'll be a long while on the way. M. de
Bergerac appeared to be sobering -- at least, he was able
to walk."

"Very well. We'll occupy tht: rear room for a space -- give
us wine, food, whatever you can."

Vaugon followed him, and when they were seated with the
door closed, d'Artagnan smiled.

"Faith, you look dressed for a court ball! Where'd you get
all the finery? And have you heard about Cyrano and the
monkey --"

"I was there," said Vaugon.

For some time they talked, exchanging news -- then
d'Artagnan clapped hand to pocket.

"That letter Cyrano gave me -- here it is! Also, the
document with the king's promise to Sieur Vaugon -- good! I
had a hard time getting it out of Mazarin, plague take that
Italian cat!  But here iy is. What's the letter?"

Vaugon took the folded and sealed paper, opened it, and
held it to the light. To his astonishment, it bore the same
signature as that on the other document:

"Admit Sieur Vaugon to our presence this evening. Louis."

He passed it to d'Artagnan, who read it and whistled.

"Cadedis! You're the only man in Paris with three
signatures of His Majesty in your pocket this minute -- and
an appointment with the cardinal. That'll spoil all three
of them, I'm afraid. Listen!  Do you want to go to the
Louvre here and now, chance everything, see the cardinal
later? There's just time. Yes or no?"

Vaugon pocketed the papers with a weary gesture. He knew
the pass had been obtained for him by Mlle. de Closset; but
now --

"No," he said. "My friend, I must face the thing out with
Richelieu -- as well now as another time. He asked you
about the mole on my cheek, eh? Then he's recognized me.
Face it like a man, see what happens -- and whine to the
king for help later on if needs must! I want to end the
suspense."

"As you like. Another thing -- can you tell me what was in
the letter you gave me the warning for Richelieu?"

Vaugon's brows lifted. "The warning? Nothing but a warning,
I suppose. Cyrano didn't say what else might be in it. But
--"

"Bah! Let it pass. We'll eat, drink and be merry -- this
time tomorrow, both of us may be in the Bastille!"

Vaugon shivered slightly. This long day back in his dpngeon
again had nearly broken him.



    CHAPTER XIV

LIKE most men who have won to thorough success in one
field, Richelieu deemed himself more highly gifted in
another. That "Rachel" was to be performed with the king
and court in attendance meant far more to him than the fact
that an hour or two afterward he would be the dominant
figure at the royal ball and supper in the Louvre. He was
an indifferent dramatic poet, yet he privately delighted
more in his stage triumphs than in all his political
mastery.

That evening, robed in scarlet glory, Richelieu spent the
last half-hour before departing for the performance in
going over the day's despatches. He would meet his enemies
face to face that evening -- those of his enemies who
remained in Paris to face him. That he be prepared in
advance against innuendo, calumny, and covert hatred was
imperative; each latest report must be in his mind, each
fragment of news from the great system of intelligence he
had built up across most of Europe. He must be ready, not
only to meet the unexpected, but to crush it with a word.

That the cardinal was in excellent spirits this evening was
plain enough to all, and the news from abroad was good.
England had received the exiled queen-mother, but dared not
insist that France receive her back, The Duke of Lorraine
was in Nancy, but appeared quite impotent, The Spaniards
were extremely polite, which meant they were afraid. The
only cloud on the horizon hovered over Sedan, where Comte
de Soissons and Duc de Bouillon remained in seeming
lethargy. Nothing had been heard from Chevreuse, but in
this quarter no news was good news, As to enemies closer
home, only Richelieu knew what would happen when he came
face to face with Cinq-Mars this evening, and the old
cardinal was grimly smiling at the thought.

Mazarin entered and advanced deferentially, with an
impressive air, The wily Italian had but one present aim
and purpose in life -- to render himself absolutely
indispensable to Richelieu. He had his own ways of doing
this, and succeeded admirably. He even managed deftly to
impose his own policies upon the cardinal, to a certain
extent. Richelieu made his foes the enemies of France, and
killed them, Mazarin played with his as with pawns on a
board, for Mazarin had the magnificent faculty of ignoring
personal enmities or even insults, and then turning them to
his advantage.

"Your Eminence will recall the matter of M. de Bergerac?"

"Eh? Oh, the duellist poet!" Richelieu leaned back and
smiled. "Yes. What's this tale I heard today about the
monkey of Briocci? Is it true?"

"Quite true, Monseigneur. M. de Bergerac, it seems, has not
yet been arrested -- and very luckily. The whole city is
laughing over that story, if Bergerac were now brought to
the scaffold for duelling -- well, Your Eminence can see
that the entire effect would be irremediably lost!"

Richelieu had not thought of the matter, but it was quite
clear that Mazarin was right. The effect would certainly be
lost.

"So the monkey of Briocci has saved the neck of M. de
Bergerac? Droll! A situation for a comedy, eh?" and the
cardinal actually laughed indulgently. "None the less, I
desire to interrogate Bergerac myself when I return from
the Luxembourg."

"Your Eminence has seen the report of M. de Tremblay
regarding the recapture of an escaped prisoner?"

"Eh?" Richelieu looked up sharply. "No. Where is it?"

Mazarin had deftly sequestrated this report until he could
deliver it himself, and he now produced the document.

"M. du Tremblay was here this morning, while you were
closeted with the Spanish envoy."

The minister glanced over the report, and laid it down.

"That cadet of the guards, M. d'Artagnan, has not asked for
me?"

"He has not been here, Monseigneur."

"Give me an order of delivery," and Richelieu smiled
grimly, at thought of d'Artagnan's hopeless errand. "Send
one of the guard in here, if you please."

He leaned over the table, wrote rapidly, and had just
signed the order when a guardsman entered and saluted.
Richelieu glanced up, nodded, and handed him the order.

"Go to the Bastille and bring this prisoner here to me at
eight-thirty. Be waiting with him in the court. Take full
precautions, but no escort will be needed."

The guardsman departed. Richelieu relaxed in his seat.
"I'll return here after the performance, but shall wait in
the courtyard in my coach. I don't want to move about, you
understand. Must save myself for the Louvre. I can't afford
to collapse there, of all places. No further news?"

Mazarin came closer, murmured a name, said that the man was
waiting. Richelieu stiffened and made an imperative
gesture.  Mazarin went to the door and returned with a
dark-faced and powerful man wearing the soiled robes of a
Capucin friar, This man was the head of the intelligence
service in Sedan.

"You!" exclaimed the minister. "When did you arrive?"

"Just now, Monseigneur," and the Capucin inclined his head.
"I came straight here."

Richelieu glanced at the clock, triumph in his eye. He
would be armed now, armed against them all!

"News?"

"So important that I dared not trust it to letter."

Mazarin had discreetly melted into the shadows, but
Richelieu turned to him.

"You may go, M. de Mazarin. Thank you." Left alone, the
Capucin came to the table, leaned over, and spoke in a very
low voice.

"My news was important -- my ride was more important, On
the road this morning I met a party of cavaliers. Among
them was Mme. de Chevreuse, garbed as a man. They were
making for the frontier."

Richelieu gestured impatiently. Even this message did not
disturb his good humor.

"Bah! Let them ride. Speak quickly, I'm pressed for time!
Your news?"

"Chevreuse has reached Don Antonio Sarmiento, governor of
the Low Countries; she has seduced him personally and
politically. He will send troops and officers to the Comte
de Soissons, who intends to begin open war from Sedan as
soon as the snow clears. Further, he has arranged a payment
of a thousand ecus per month to MM. de la Valette and
Soubise, who undertake to raise the Protestants of Guyenne
in revolt at the same moment. Olivares, the Spanish
ambassador here, is in communication with Comte de Soissons
in regard to a Spanish army moving against our southern
frontier at the same time. Olivares has promised nothing
and remains discreet, but will probably act as desired. M.
Cinq-Mars has undertaken to make a Spanish treaty if our
army moves south in the spring, but of this I have no
evidence. "

The eyes of Richelieu gleamed frostily, and his long,
delicate fingers moved slightly as though in the act of
crushing something.

"And what evidence have you of the rest?" he demanded
coldly. "If Soissons revolts -- good; I will add Sedan to
France. If the Spaniards move -- good; I will move the
frontiers of France to the Pyrenees! But -- what evidence?
Letters? Despatches? I must be certain."

The Capucin rested mute, his gaze meeting the probing
regard of Richelieu silently. The cardinal frowned.
"I absolve you. Speak!"

"The evidence of the confessional, Monseigneur. You may be
entirely certain."

Even the red minister was startled at this, and for an
instant, a look of repugnance flashed over his face, then
was gone. He did not ask further; he knew he could depend
on this man. The clock sounded, and he rose.

"Good! Now 1et them speak if they dare tonight! Ah,
traitors -- I have you once more in my hand!"

And catching up a furred cloak from a chair; he hurried
from the room as though twenty years had dropped from his
shoulders. In another five minutes he was rolling toward
the Luxembourg Palace, on the left bank.

Time passed. Shortly before eight, a coach came into the
great courtyard of the Palais Cardinal. An officer jumped
out hastily, dashed into the building, and was presently
standing before Mazarin, to whom he made a somewhat
agitated report.

"You are positive?" exclaimed the Italian.

"I saw the receipt and signature myself.  M. d'Artagnan
carried off the prisoner a good two hours ago, on order of
His Eminence."

Mazarin touched a bell, and secretary appeared. "Has M,
d'Artagnan, a cadet of the guards, arrived here with a
prisoner?"

"He has not, certainly --"

"When he comes, bring him to me."

Mazarin, however, was fated not to be before-hand with his
master in this affair, since d'Artagnan had neither the
need nor the intention of applying ťor admission. While
Mazarin was puzzled, he attached small importance to this
news, for as yet he did not know that Vaugon and the
mysterious M. Personne of the Bastille were one and the
same man. The wide inner court of the palace, securely shut
off from all the world, now began to shine ruddily with
torches and cressets, while the galleries surrounding it
were grouped with men, knots of horses standing waiting in
the corners. Short as was the distance to the Louvre, the
minister was going in state with a company of guards to
attend him; and since everyone knew His Eminence to be in
excellent humor tonight, there was no constraint in the
air.

A sudden hum of voices, an astonished murmur, passed among
the groups of guards, then there was an abrupt stir of
movement. Two figures had appeared, arm in arm, figures
only too well known to their comrades. A laugh started up,
but was instantly stilled. M. de Portau and M. de Bergerac,
both obviously drunk, came to a halt, stood leaning against
each other, and stared vacuously around.

"Pris'ner for's Eminence," hiccuped Porthos vacantly.
"Where's 's Eminence, eh?"

"In the devil's name, take care of those two fools!" said
someone. There was abuzz of voices and a burst of laughter
at mention of Briocci's monkey. The two were surrounded.

Porthos, swaggering and boasting, was persuaded in one
direction. Cyrano, ragged, miserable, stupefied and
unprotesting, was led in another. Heroic measures were
taken, and for Cyrano were provided baldric and sword, with
a cloak to partially hide his shabby attire. Since no one
had great belief that Cyrano could possibly be very drunk,
restoratives were chiefly applied to Porthos, who was
utterly lost if he appeared in such a condition with a
prisoner. Cyrano, indeed, seemed rather dazed than drunk,
and would not utter a word.

Presently the pair were led back into the courtyard, now
ablaze with lights from all sides. M. de Portau was at
least in control of himself, and realized his position. A
swift warning came from the gates.

"To stations! To stations! His Eminence comes!"

Instantly the two figures were left alone, there was a
scramble for saddles, and about the galleries the guards
took their places. A rattle of hooves, a rumble of wheels,
and into the courtyard rolled the huge state coach of the
minister, coming to a halt before the palace entrance. The
coach window opened, showing the face of Richelieu half
muffled in furs. Servants came forth with hot wine and
food, but Richelieu dismissed them curtly. Now M. de Portau
came forward and saluted. "Your Eminence, I have brought M.
de Bergerac as you desired."

"Very well. Come forward, M. de Bergerac," said the dry
voice of Richelieu, and Cyrano obeyed like an automaton.
Richelieu glanced around. "Where is the gentleman I sent to
bring a prisoner from the Bastille?"

The guardsman in question made his appearance and saluted.

"Your Eminence, the prisoner had already been removed. He
was no longer there!"

"What?" The brows of Richelieu drew down, as he looked at
the man. "Do you dare to jest with me, monsieur?"

"By no means, Your Eminence. He had previously been removed
by M. d'Artagnan, at your command and upon your warrant."

Two figures detached themselves from the shadows of the
gallery. D'Artagnan advanced, twirling his mustache, fully
appreciating the moment, and was followed by Vaugon. The
gaze of Richelieu rested upon thetn, and d'Artagnan
saluted.

"Your Eminence ordered me to bring this gentleman to you,"
he said. "Therefore I have brought him -- from the
Bastille. I have the honor to present M. Vaugon."

Cyrano turned, stared at them, his jaw fallen in
stupefication. For a long moment Richelieu was silent,
sitting there face to face with Vaugon, who bowed and
waited. If the cardinal had any doubts in the matter, they
were quelled by a long sigh and a startled, half-muffled
exclamation which burst from Cyrano.

"Mordious! It's you, Vaugon -- you? Or else I'm drunk
still."

"Advance M. Vaugon, and M. Bergerac," said Richelieu, his
tone vibrant and piercing.  "I wish to have a word with you
two gentlemen."

They obeyed, the others remaining at a little distance.
Richelieu was in a keen good humor.  He had just come from
a most flattering triumph at the Luxembourg; despite the
adulation underlying that triumph, it pleased none the
less." He was going, as he very well knew, to a sharper and
more sweeping triumph at the Louvre. The man and the
minister, the poet and the politician, were equally warmed
and melted in the tide of this night's victory. For once,
Richelieu was in mood for jesting, but his jests were not
those of ordinary men.

Meeting the steady gaze of Vaugon, Richelieu examined him
attentively.

"Who are you! M. Vaugon?" he asked crisply.  Vaugon
extended his folded passport.

"If YOur Eminence will glance at this, you'll see that I
am, over the signature of His Majesty, Sieur Nicolas
Vaugon."

Richelieu took the passport, opened it, glanced through it
curiously. Then his gaze struck again at Vaugon, as he
returned it.

"I do not care to bandy words; Monsieur," he said coldly.
"Your former name?"

"Your Eminence may remember it," said Vaugon.  As for me, I
have forgotten it, and am content."

"So?" Ricllelieu studied him in some surprise, probed the
face so oddly grave for its youth, met the calm and
unflinching eyes. "Upon my word, M. Vaugon, I begin to
think that when I put you in the Bastille, I did wrong!"

"you did," came Vaugon's laconic assent. Those who heard,
caught their breath. D'Artagnan made a hopeless gesture,
giving up all for lost. Richelieu, who for many a long day
had not heard so uncompromising an accusation delivered to
his very face, started, frowned, stared hard at Vaugon.
Then his eyes shifted to the half-stupefied Cyrano.

"Yesterday," he said slowly, "I received a letter bearing
the name of one man, the arms and seal of another. Which of
you two gentlemen can explain -- Vaugon, being ignorant of
the contents of Cyrano's letter, held his peace. But Cyrano
turned, blinked at the cardinal, and wakened. An abrupt
laugh burst from him, a half-maudlin guffaw --

"Mordious! Your Eminence means our letter, eh? Come, that's
droll enough." A sudden flood of garrulity broke from his
lips. "You see, Monseigneur," he cried, with familiarity
that drew a gasp from the listeners, "Vaugon and I are good
comrades, excellent comrades -- trust each other
absolutely! Well, we pitched upon the secret of that shabby
rascal who's called M. le --"

"No names, if you please!" cut in the icy voice of
Richelieu. For an instant it had a sobering effect. Cyrano
managed a bow.

"Right, Your Eminence, no names! Well, we had this secret,
you see? Devilish worth while secret, too! We don't like
that sort of thing by half, I can tell you! Vaugon isn't
what you'd call a Cardinalist, not by a good deal, and for
that matter neither am I; but we know a great man when we
see one --"

D' Artagnan, seeing that Cyrano was apt to mouth anything
that came into his head, with a scandalous and damning lack
of all respect or caution, stepped forward to intervened.

"Back, if you please, M. d'Artagnan," said the minister
dryly. "It seems that for once I am hearing the truth
spoken. It is a pleasant novelty. Continue, M. de
Bergerac!"

"Your Eminence is exactly right," said Cyrano affably,
preening his mustache. "In vino veritas! I have a devilish
lot of truth in me tonight, for a fact there's nothing like
a drop or two of good wine -- but where was I? Oh, yes!
Well, the idea of a pack of cowardly rascals resting their
rumps and planning to stick a knife into the only great man
in France was a bit too much for us to stomach and there's
the truth.

"Being a poet myself,"continued Cyrano, "and knowing there
are too few good poets in the world already, I resented the
affair on the score of art. Your Eminence is a good poet,
in my estimation. An occasional line here and there will
bear tinkering, but on the whole there's no one else in
France who has so much proper feeling for scansion, for the
effect of a phrase well turned, for the mot juste -- but
you comprehend my meaning, eh?"

It was evident to d'Artagnan that Cyrano had wakened to his
precarious position, and was by no means so drunk as he had
appeared.

"I comprehend, M. de Bergerac," said the cardinal, with dry
amusement. "And since I have heard of your poetical ability
also, I respect your criticism. We were, 1 believe, on the
subject of a letter? Let us return to it,"

"Oh, yes, the letter!" said Cyrano easily. "Well, Vaugon
and I decided there was only one thing to do. How to do it
was the whole question. Here was that cursed rascal
d'Artagnan trying to get his nose into the secret when it
was none of his business--"

Richelieu shot a glance at d'Artagnan, who stiffened.

"-- while the chances were a bit bad for Vaugon to reach
Your Eminence without reaching the Bastille first," went on
Cyrano with a grand air. "so we made up a combination;
Vaugon carried the thing in form of a 1etter, which I
sealed, and I carried the thing in my head, and there we
were! One of us was sure to get the word to you in time,
eh?

"Lucky thing we arranged it so, too! I got embroiled with
that monkey who walked like a man. This duty-bound of a
cadet arrested Vaugon and got into a mess himself; however,
his devilish devotion to duty has its merits! Vaugon gave
him the letter, it got to you -- so everything's all right
after all. Your Eminence has nothing to worry about now,
and everybody!s happy as a king."

With a sweeping gesture, Cyrano staggered into a
magniloquent bow and was silent.

Now, for the first time, comprehension broke fully upon
Vaugon. His name must have been signed to that letter by
the ever-generous Cyrano!

Startled, Vaugon opened his lips to protest, then realized
he could gain nothing and might lose everything by a word.
Accept -- he must accept the situation, could do nothing
else! And after all, he did not regret the warning.

"Come here, M. Vaugon," said the minister. Vaugon came and
stood close beside the coach. For an instant Richelieu's
brilliant old eyes searched him, then the cardinal spoke
very softly, almost under his breath, so none other might
hear.

"I have reason to think your word means something. Kindly
tell me on what errand you and M. de Bergerac rode from
Paris."

"Our errand," said Vaugon in the same low pitched tone,
"was to call at her chateau for Mlle de Closset, and bring
her to Paris. We accomplished it. She is here."

"So. I know with whom you had an interview before your
departure, monsieur. What relation had your errand with
Mme. de Chevreuse, if you please?"

"None, upon my honor."

"How, then, did you learn of the project outlined in that
letter?"

"A certain gentleman boasted incautiously of what his
dagger would do -- and when. This was at the Loup Pendu,
off the Forest of Verrieres, on Sunday last. He was
overheard!"

"The afternoon of the king's hunt -- ah!  I see it now!"
Richelieu drew a sharp breath. "M. Vaugon, you have reason
to be an enemy to me, I think. Why have you done this
thing, then?  Few of my enemies but would have rejoiced
over the event of next Saturday, had you kept quiet."

"Proving, Monseigneur," said Vaugon, "that few of your
enemies are gentlemen."

Across the bleak, austere features framed in the window of
the coach broke a shadowy smile.

"I cannot be less generous than the man whom I -- or my
agents -- wronged. You have nothing more to fear from me,
monsieur. May I ask your intentions as to the future?"

Vaugon bowed. "Your Eminence, I hope to obtain admission to
the Louvre tonight and see His Majesty, and to ask that the
name of Sieur Nicolas Vaugon be confirmed as my own. This
is all I seek. I shall perhaps remain in France, perhaps go
to England again --"

"Good. Then, monsieur, at the Louvre I shall have a further
word with you. M. d'Artagnan, I instruct you to set your
prisoner at liberty."

D'Artagnan saluted stiffly. He was quivering with rage and
glaring at Cyrano, whose innuendoes had rendered him
furious; The cardinal, too, glanced at Cyrano.

"Come! M. de Bergerac, another matter. Something over a
week ago there occurred an affray upon the highway not far
from Lonjumeau. Your appearance ih that affray has been
reported to me --"

"Ah, Your Eminence, that was a sad matter!" broke in Cyrano
gustily. "Two poor devils were being surrounded and
assaulted, murdered and assassinated by a whole pack of
rascals! There was a thick fog to cover the work. Like any
honest man, I came to their rescue. Do not, I beg of you,
mention the matter again. It is not worth thanking me for,
Monseigneur."

"I am seriously thinking of hanging you for it," said the
minister, and at these words there fell a silence. Cyrano
swallowed hard, and blinked at tbe austere, angry face
framed in the coach window.

"Also," pursued Richelieu after a moment, "I had considered
hanging you for dueling. However, M. de Bergerac, I do not
see any particular good in hanging anyone, so instead, I
pardon you freely on all counts. If in future --"

At this instant took place one of those trifling and
unexpected happenings which seem due only to a malign
destiny, yet which can change the course of lives or
empires.

Cyrano stood gaping open-mouthed at the cardinal. A torch
in its socket, on the wall above, spluttered and sent a few
sparks floating down. One of these sparks lodged upon the
ear of Cyrano.

Dropping hand to sword, Cyrano whirled about with a
bellowing exclamation, his other hand clapping against his
ear, His cocked-up rapier slapped sharply against
d'Artagnan, who shoved him violently away. Cyrano
staggered.  His long hand lashed out, striking d'Artagnan
squarely across the face. Whether by intention or by
accident, none could say -- but the blow was given. It all
happened swiftly, swiftly.

"Gentlemen!" exclaimed the cardinal sharply.

"Bah!" broke out Cyrano, hand to ear, other hand to sword.
"This rascal has been too damned devoted to duty for my
taste, anyway --"

"Silence!" At the new, vibrant note in Richelieu's voice,
even Cyrano felt the keen breath of peril. "M, d'Artagnan!
what does this mean?"

For d'Artagnan had quietly drawn his sword. Now, holding it
in both gloved hands, he brought up pis knee and with one
powerful effort snapped the blade. He dropped the pieces io
the stones with a clang and saluted, livid with anger and
restraint.

"Your Eminence," he returned, "there is only one, method of
chastisement open to a gentleman, and that is forbidden by
edict. I have no other choice except to leave the service
of His Majesty."

"You become a little bold, M. d'Artagnan," said Richelieu
coldly. "You have earned the cassock of a guardsman --
would you resign it before it is given?"

"Certainly, Your Eminence, unless I could wear it with
honor."

Cyrano took an unsteady step forward. "Well, Your Eminence,
he couldn't fight me in any event -- that is to say, I
wouldn't fight him. Poor Cyrano's done for. I've sworn an
oath that I'll never draw sword again, after that cursed
monkey --"

Richelieu pulled his furred robe closer, and a frosty smile
touched his lips.

"M. d'Artagnan, you have appealed to me as a gentleman," he
said. "Very well. Will someone have the kindness to provide
M. d'Artagnan with another sword?"

In the torchlight, there was a scurry to obey, and one of
the guards came forward, thrusting a rapier into the hand
of d'Artagnan. The minister looked at Cyrano.

"Come, M. de Bergerac! I do not tolerate brawling. M.
d'Artagnan has demanded satisfaction, and he shall have it.
You two gentlemen have my permission to settle your quarrel
here and now. The survivor will go to the Bastille on the
spot. En garde, messieurs!"

For a moment stupefied astonishment held them both
motionless, held all who heard paralyzed, for it was clear
that Richelieu meant his words to the letter. Then Cyrano
shook his head.

"Impossible, your Eminence. I've sworn an oath --"

"And an admirable one," broke in Richelieu drily. "Having
the power to absolve you from this oath, I do so for this
occasion. Further,I beg that you'll honor me with a verse,
after your rumored habit when engaged in the gentle art of
duelling. On guard!"

"On guard, monsieur!" echoed d'Artagnan coldly, and faced
Cyrano.

The latter fumbled uncertainly at his baldric -- then
abruptly flung himself forward in position of defence,
There was a stir of movement all around the courtyard as
men craned to see better -- here was such a duel as would
be talked of for many a day!

While it was clear that Richelieu was quietly amusing
himself, his promise of the Bastille held good.

The blades touched and crossed -- then a sudden sharp cry
of anger broke from d'Artagnan.

"You think this is a jest, buffoon?"

What the exclamation meant, none could tell. Cyrano uttered
a short laugh.

"Why not? A jest with death, my dear d' Artagnan! His
Eminence has given the subject for a very pretty little
verse --" both men were thrusting rapidly, d'Artagnan on
the attack, Cyrano on the defense -- "and we'll make the
word 'death' the signal for a touch in the throat, eh?
After the manner of that little rondelet on  M. de  Breuil
--"

Vaugon stood watching frowningly. He, too, found something
decidedly strange in this duel, yet could not place it --
the ruddy flickering light, the shifting figures, were very
deceptive. In the coach window was framed the countenance
of Richelieu, watching with sparkling eyes.

The attack of d'Artagnan was angry yet cautious. For all
his skill, he encountered a defense like a wall of steel;
feet stamped, breaths came fast, there was now and again a
ring of metal as the scraping blades touched the hilts. It
was, in this first moment, last and furious work, yet
d'Artagnan could not break through that guard. And Cyrano
was laughing ar him, gaily, merrily.

"Come, a little more spring i' the wrist there! Not bad,
not bad -- at all events, I'm not facing a monkey tonight,
eh? Aye, laugh on that if you like, d'Artagnan! I suppose
the monkey had a funeral.  Well, birth and death come fast
-- why, there's an excellent little couplet to start with,
for the better amusement of His Eminence -- wait, now until
we try this riposte in tierce --"

Scrape and flash of blades, lunge quick-parried, then
Cyrano went on calmly.

    " A christening is gay
One day:
  Then comes a fun'ral text
    The next."

"Not such a bad meter there -- short,sharp, suited to the
accompaniment, eh? So you know this Spanish feint and
parry, do you? But of course you would -- well let's about
it -- "

Cyrano was off the defensive now, beginning a fast and
vicious attack. D'Artagnan was cursing him softly, enraged
and furious for some reason Vaugon could not divine. The
blades crossed, held, licked in and out, disengaged.

"Nothing quite so appropriate as the subject of our verse,"
resumed Cyrano with his light and careless air, "Death
comes to all alike, M. d'Artagnan -- why, there's good meat
for our second verse! All of us alike, man or woman --"

  " A prostitute, a nun --
    All's one!
A cardinal, an ass-
    Both pass."

"Not very original, to be sure --" Cyrano leaped back from
a deadly lunge, recovered, engaged the lightning rapier of
d'Artagnan anew. "However, it'll pass -- as wean must.
Now for you, my friend! Look to the throat! We must not
keep His Eminence waiting too long -- must get about our
final rhyme --"

Perforce he fell silent; panting, under a superb attack
that demanded all his skill and agility, while murmurs ran
admiringly among the shadowy figures watching. Time after
time, Vaugon saw the point of d'Artagnan drive in as though
for certain finish, yet the wrist of Cyrario was better
steel than his weapon. Vaugon frowned again -- something
odd about that rapier of Cyrano -- what was it? The point
out of line, perhaps, tempting thrust after thrust; yet
ever warding them --

Ah! Now Cyrano was takihg the offensive, attacking with a
laugh, yet with so dazzling a skin! so deadly a precision,
as to force d'Artagnan back, ever back. The white
desperation of the cadet's face was evident to all; so were
his furious curses, though not the reason for them. Cyrano
pressed him hard, harder still.

"Coming, my friend, coming!" rang out the lightly mocking
voice. "Remember the rhyme, I beg of you -- remember the
word 'death' as I foretold! We'll close the argument with
the proper contrast in our final verse. His Eminence is a
good craftsman, and appreciates the full effect of
contrast, and
  "A cry, a gasp at earth--
   That's birth!
 A sigh, a gasp of breath --
    That's --"

For one terrible instant Cyrano seemed to hang poised,
immobile, motionless; like a bird above its prey. Then he
fairly swooped, His rapier drove, drove again, D'Artagnan
back in desperate, futile defense:

  'That's death!"

rang out the voice of Cyrano. His whole body seemed to
uncoil in the lunge; like an arrow his point went to the
throat of d'Artagnan.

The cadet dropped his blade, which clattered on the stones;
staggering backward, he clapped both hands to his throat --
then he regained his balance, stood there gasping, yet
unhurt. The sharp cry bursting from the men around was
drowned in a sharper cry, as Cyrano turned and flung his
sword down in the full torch-light.

The weapon was still in its scabbard.

Ah, Your Eminence!" Cyrano strode toward the coach,
panting, his yoice ringing out like a clarion. Gone of a
sudden was all his drunken braggadocio. "This d'Artagnan is
too good a swordsman; too splendid a soldier, to be lost to
His Majesty! Cyrano has fought his 1ast duel -- fought it
with the monkey of Briocci, the damned monkey!  Cyrano is
damned, too. Take me, then, send me to the Bastille if you
like -- but give my comrade d'Artagnan his cassock. and his
free pardon!"

It was an appeal magnificently generous, a splendid
gesture. Nothing could restrain the sharp murmur of
applause, the vividly emotional cries, breaking from the
guards who heard it. Then fell dead silence again, and in
this silence, Richelieu leaned forward in the coach window.
A slight smile seemed to touch his lips, and his hand moved
in the gesture of benediction.

"M. de Bergerac," he said, "you're too good a poet to be
lost to Parnassus. Go in peace and remain in peace. Come to
me in the morning, M. d'Artagnan, and we'll see about that
cassock for you. Messieurs of the guard! We're late. To the
Louvre."

The austere face disappeared, the window closed. A cracking
of whips, and the horses plunged with a ringing spark-fire
of hooves. Orders sounded. The guards filed out before and
behind the coach. Rolling wheels, clattering hooves, torch
bearers -- all went out through the high grilled gates of
iron.

Gone were the guards, vanished was the shape of Vaugon,
disappeared was d'Artagnan. Nothing moved in the vast
courtyard save a few 1ackeys, excitedJy talking as they
extinguished the torches and replaced them with fresh ones
for later lighting. Darkness closed in as the red sparks
fell and were gone.

A single lone figure stood unmoving, then drew a hand
across his eyes. After a moment Cyrano turned, looked
around, uttered a low and bitter laugh. Alone, forgotten,
he gathered his cloak around his shoulders and strode out
of the Palais Cardinal.



    CHAPTER XV

At that same night the dark-raftered room of the Pinecone,
whose thick beams had echoed the wild laughter of Francois
Villon and the sardonic jests of Rabelais, fell upon
silence. The tobacco smoke thinned. The shouts of
gamesters, the rattle of dice, the clatter of bottle and
cup, had died.

The company had departed. One man alone remained -- a
gamester and a mad one, as the tumbled heap of gold on the
table before him bore witness; a tremendous drinker, as the
empty bottles around his feet testified. He still was
drinking as he sat alone, his dark and brooding gaze
staring out upon the room.

Suddenly the door swung open and a shivering gallant
entered. As his scarf and gay costume tokened, M. de Cuigy
was an officer in the Regiment de Conti, and more of a
courtier than his friend at the table, whom he hailed with
delight.

"Ha, Savinien! By all the gods, where've you been today?
All the world's been asking questions about you!"

"What have I to do with the world?" growled Cyrano. "Sit
down. Drink. We'1l be put out of here ere long."

"Not we." Cuigy swung into a chair, gasped at the pile of
gold, and seized a bottle. "Gambling again -- and with the
devil's luck, eh? Damme, I couldn't get away from the
Louvre until too late. We had fun enough there, and no
mistake!"

He drank, set down his cup. "No end of gossip tonight,
Savinien. Richelieu came in like a devastating angel --
rumor says he has unearthed some new plot. He spoke to one
and another, and left a veritable train of disaster behind
him -- ha ! You should have seen Cinq-Mars turn white as a
ghost! And --"

"Richelieu be damned," said Cyrano. "More wine, here! More
wine! You and your gossip!"

M. de Cuigy laughed and regarded him. "Old gamester, you'1l
damn our cardinal once too often! Peste, man, you've a
small fortune on the table!"

"Fortune be damned too," said Cyrano darkly. "I've resigned
from the service, resigned from everything. I'm going to
the moon.!'

"On the next bottle? Good! I'm with you. Why the
resignation?"

"Why? In the devil's name, haven't you heard the story?"

"About the monkey? Bah!"  M. de Cuigy put out a hand,
gripped Cyrano warmly by the arm, and spoke with unexpected
feeling. "Come, old friend, don't be a fool!  You're too
fine a soldier to be afraid of a laugh or two -- nonsense!
We'll help you stem the tide, be sure of it! Nobody will
dare laugh to your face --"

"My friend, all of Paris laughs," said Cyrano gloomily.
"No, the die is cast! If Henri Quatre couldn't fight Paris,
I follow his example. I turn my back upon the world from
this night."

"Eh? A tonsure?" The officer stared.

"Not a bit of it. A college. I shall become a philosopher.
I'll enter the College of Lisieux and take to books."

"You're drunk," declared the other, and leaned back,
relaxing. "Eh! You should have seen the Louvre tonight, my
old one! And there was romance in the air. A new gentleman
came to court, and pox take me if he didn't have a private
audience with the king and have a chat in the corner with
Richelieu. Then he kissed the queen's hand and danced with
Mlle. de Closset, who turned regular sheep's eyes on him --
a devil of a thing! And by his garb a regular countryman,
too."

Cyrano's gaze lit up suddenly. "Who was he?"

"Some damned outlandish name," said the officer carelessly.
He took the long pipe tendered him by the waiter, held it
to the proffered coal, and drew luxuriously at the tobacco.
"Comte de Vaugon, or some such name -- the chamberlain
announced it after his private audience. Never heard of it
in my life, and neither did anyone else. Some say he's
Prince Charles of England incogito, and another said he's a
Spanish grandee. Bah! He's probably some country noble
whose father lent Henri Quatre money. The luck of fools!"

Cyrano laughed harshly at this -- a long, harsh, bitter
laugh.

"The luck of fools!" he repeated. " Aye, good or bad, the
luck of fools holds good --

    "Pox on your logic, sophistry and rules!
    Some win success; and othersome in pools
    Of Stygian drink forget what might have been --
    God, what a world! It's all the luck of fools!"

And he brooded there above the table, a sombre and
prescient figure.



THE END




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