The Fowl In The Pot

: Robert Louis Stevenson

An Episode Adapted from the Memoirs of Maximilian de Bethune, Duke of


What I am going to relate may seem to some merely to be curious and on a

party with the diverting story of M. Boisrose, which I have set down in an

earlier part of my memoirs. But among the calumnies of those who have

never ceased to attack me since the death of the late king, the statement

that I kept from his majes
y things which should have reached his ears has

always had a prominent place, though a thousand times refuted by my

friends, and those who from an intimate acquaintance with events could

judge how faithfully I labored to deserve the confidence with which my

master honored me. Therefore, I take it in hand to show by an example,

trifling in itself, the full knowledge of affairs which the king had, and

to prove that in many matters, which were never permitted to become known

to the idlers of the court, he took a personal share, worthy as much of

Haroun as of Alexander.

It was my custom, before I entered upon those negotiations with the Prince

of Conde which terminated in the recovery of the estate of Villebon, where

I now principally reside, to spend a part of the autumn and winter at

Rosny. On these occasions I was in the habit of leaving Paris with a

considerable train of Swiss, pages, valets, and grooms, together with the

maids of honor and waiting women of the duchess. We halted to take dinner

at Poissy, and generally contrived to reach Rosny toward nightfall, so as

to sup by the light of flambeaux in a manner enjoyable enough, though

devoid of that state which I have ever maintained, and enjoined upon my

children, as at once the privilege and burden of rank.

At the time of which I am speaking I had for my favorite charger the

sorrel horse which the Duke of Mercoeur presented to me with a view to my

good offices at the time of the king's entry into Paris; and which I

honestly transferred to his majesty in accordance with a principle laid

down in another place. The king insisted on returning it to me, and for

several years I rode it on these annual visits to Rosny. What was more

remarkable was that on each of these occasions it cast a shoe about the

middle of the afternoon, and always when we were within a short league of

the village of Aubergenville. Though I never had with me less than half a

score of led horses, I had such an affection for the sorrel that I

preferred to wait until it was shod, rather than accommodate myself to a

nag of less easy paces; and would allow my household to precede me,

staying behind myself with at most a guard or two, my valet, and a page.

The forge at Aubergenville was kept by a smith of some skill, a cheerful

fellow, whom I always remembered to reward, considering my own position

rather than his services, with a gold livre. His joy at receiving what was

to him the income of a year was great, and never failed to reimburse me;

in addition to which I took some pleasure in unbending, and learning from

this simple peasant and loyal man, what the taxpayers were saying of me

and my reforms--a duty I always felt I owed to the king my master.

As a man of breeding it would ill become me to set down the homely truths

I thus learned. The conversations of the vulgar are little suited to a

nobleman's memoirs; but in this I distinguish between the Duke of Sully

and the king's minister, and it is in the latter capacity that I relate

what passed on these diverting occasions. "Ho, Simon," I would say,

encouraging the poor man as he came bowing and trembling before me, "how

goes it, my friend?"

"Badly," he would answer, "very badly until your lordship came this way."

"And how is that, little man?"

"Oh, it is the roads," he always replied, shaking his bald head as he

began to set about his business. "The roads since your lordship became

surveyor-general are so good that not one horse in a hundred casts a shoe;

and then there are so few highwaymen now that not one robber's plates do I

replace in a twelvemonth. There is where it is."

At this I was highly delighted.

"Still, since I began to pass this way times have not been so bad with

you, Simon," I would answer.

Thereto he had one invariable reply.

"No; thanks to Ste. Genevieve and your lordship, whom we call in this

village the poor man's friend, I have a fowl in the pot."

This phrase so pleased me that I repeated it to the king. It tickled his

fancy also, and for some years it was a very common remark of that good

and great ruler, that he hoped to live to see every peasant with a fowl in

his pot.

"But why," I remember I once asked this honest fellow--it was on the last

occasion of the sorrel falling lame there--"do you thank Ste. Genevieve?"

"She is my patron saint," he answered.

"Then you are a Parisian?"

"Your lordship is always right."

"But does her saintship do you any good?" I asked curiously.

"Certainly, by your lordship's leave. My wife prays to her and she loosens

the nails in the sorrel's shoes."

"In fact she pays off an old grudge," I answered, "for there was a time

when Paris liked me little; but hark ye, master smith, I am not sure that

this is not an act of treason to conspire with Madame Genevieve against

the comfort of the king's minister. What think you, you rascal; can you

pass the justice elm without a shiver?"

This threw the simple fellow into a great fear, which the sight of the

livre of gold speedily converted into joy as stupendous. Leaving him still

staring at his fortune I rode away; but when we had gone some little

distance, the aspect of his face, when I charged him with treason, or my

own unassisted discrimination suggested a clew to the phenomenon.

"La Trape," I said to my valet--the same who was with me at Cahors--"what

is the name of the innkeeper at Poissy, at whose house we are accustomed

to dine?"

"Andrew, may it please your lordship."

"Andrew! I thought so!" I exclaimed, smiting my thigh. "Simon and Andrew

his brother! Answer, knave, and, if you have permitted me to be robbed

these many times, tremble for your ears. Is he not brother to the smith at

Aubergenville who has just shod my horse?"

La Trape professed to be ignorant on this point, but a groom who had

stayed behind with me, having sought my permission to speak, said it was

so, adding that Master Andrew had risen in the world through large

dealings in hay, which he was wont to take daily into Paris and sell, and

that he did not now acknowledge or see anything of his brother the smith,

though it was believed that he retained a sneaking liking for him.

On receiving this confirmation of my suspicions, my vanity as well as my

sense of justice led me to act with the promptitude which I have exhibited

in greater emergencies. I rated La Trape for his carelessness of my

interests in permitting this deception to be practiced on me; and the main

body of my attendants being now in sight, I ordered him to take two Swiss

and arrest both brothers without delay. It wanted yet three hours of

sunset, and I judged that, by hard riding, they might reach Rosny with

their prisoners before bedtime.

I spent some time while still on the road in considering what punishment I

should inflict on the culprits; and finally laid aside the purpose I had

at first conceived of putting them to death--an infliction they had richly

deserved--in favor of a plan which I thought might offer me some

amusement. For the execution of this I depended upon Maignan, my equerry,

who was a man of lively imagination, being the same who had of his own

motion arranged and carried out the triumphal procession, in which I was

borne to Rosny after the battle of Ivry. Before I sat down to supper I

gave him his directions; and as I had expected, news was brought to me

while I was at table that the prisoners had arrived.

Thereupon I informed the duchess and the company generally, for, as was

usual, a number of my country neighbors had come to compliment me on my

return, that there was some sport of a rare kind on foot; and we

adjourned, Maignan, followed by four pages bearing lights, leading the way

to that end of the terrace which abuts on the linden avenue. Here, a score

of grooms holding torches aloft had been arranged in a circle so that the

impromptu theater thus formed, which Maignan had ordered with much taste,

was as light as in the day. On a sloping bank at one end seats had been

placed for those who had supped at my table, while the rest of the company

found such places of vantage as they could; their number, indeed,

amounting, with my household, to two hundred persons. In the center of the

open space a small forge fire had been kindled, the red glow of which

added much to the strangeness of the scene; and on the anvil beside it

were ranged a number of horses' and donkeys' shoes, with a full complement

of the tools used by smiths. All being ready I gave the word to bring in

the prisoners, and escorted by La Trape and six of my guards, they were

marched into the arena. In their pale and terrified faces, and the shaking

limbs which could scarce support them to their appointed stations, I read

both the consciousness of guilt and the apprehension of immediate death;

it was plain that they expected nothing less. I was very willing to play

with their fears, and for some time looked at them in silence, while all

wondered with lively curiosity what would ensue. I then addressed them

gravely, telling the innkeeper that I knew well he had loosened each year

a shoe of my horse, in order that his brother might profit by the job of

replacing it; and went on to reprove the smith for the ingratitude which

had led him to return my bounty by the conception of so knavish a trick.

Upon this they confessed their guilt, and flinging themselves upon their

knees with many tears and prayers begged for mercy. This, after a decent

interval, I permitted myself to grant. "Your lives, which are forfeited,

shall be spared," I pronounced. "But punished you must be. I therefore

ordain that Simon, the smith, at once fit, nail, and properly secure a

pair of iron shoes to Andrew's heels, and that then Andrew, who by that

time will have picked up something of the smith's art, do the same to

Simon. So will you both learn to avoid such shoeing tricks for the


It may well be imagined that a judgment so whimsical, and so justly

adapted to the offense, charmed all save the culprits; and in a hundred

ways the pleasure of those present was evinced, to such a degree, indeed,

that Maignan had some difficulty in restoring silence and gravity to the

assemblage. This done, however, Master Andrew was taken in hand and his

wooden shoes removed. The tools of his trade were placed before the smith,

who cast glances so piteous, first at his brother's feet and then at the

shoes on the anvil, as again gave rise to a prodigious amount of

merriment, my pages in particular well-nigh forgetting my presence, and

rolling about in a manner unpardonable at another time. However, I rebuked

them sharply, and was about to order the sentence to be carried into

effect, when the remembrance of the many pleasant simplicities which the

smith had uttered to me, acting upon a natural disposition to mercy, which

the most calumnious of my enemies have never questioned, induced me to

give the prisoners a chance of escape. "Listen," I said, "Simon and

Andrew. Your sentence has been pronounced, and will certainly be executed

unless you can avail yourself of the condition I now offer. You shall have

three minutes; if in that time either of you can make a good joke, he

shall go free. If not, let a man attend to the bellows, La Trape!"

This added a fresh satisfaction to my neighbors, who were well assured now

that I had not promised them a novel entertainment without good grounds;

for the grimaces of the two knaves thus bidden to jest if they would save

their skins, were so diverting they would have made a nun laugh. They

looked at me with their eyes as wide as plates, and for the whole of the

time of grace never a word could they utter save howls for mercy. "Simon,"

I said gravely, when the time was up, "have you a joke? No. Andrew, my

friend, have you a joke? No. Then--"

I was going on to order the sentence to be carried out, when the innkeeper

flung himself again upon his knees, and cried out loudly--as much to my

astonishment as to the regret of the bystanders, who were bent on seeing

so strange a shoeing feat--"One word, my lord; I can give you no joke, but

I can do a service, an eminent service to the king. I can disclose a


I was somewhat taken aback by this sudden and public announcement. But I

had been too long in the king's employment not to have remarked how

strangely things are brought to light. On hearing the man's words

therefore--which were followed by a stricken silence--I looked sharply at

the faces of such of those present as it was possible to suspect, but

failed to observe any sign of confusion or dismay, or anything more

particular than so abrupt a statement was calculated to produce. Doubting

much whether the man was not playing with me, I addressed him sternly,

warning him to beware, lest in his anxiety to save his heels by falsely

accusing others, he should lose his head. For that if his conspiracy

should prove to be an invention of his own, I should certainly consider it

my duty to hang him forthwith.

He heard me out, but nevertheless persisted in his story, adding

desperately, "It is a plot, my lord, to assassinate you and the king on

the same day."

This statement struck me a blow; for I had good reason to know that at

that time the king had alienated many by his infatuation for Madame de

Verneuil; while I had always to reckon firstly with all who hated him, and

secondly with all whom my pursuit of his interests injured, either in

reality or appearance. I therefore immediately directed that the prisoners

should be led in close custody to the chamber adjoining my private closet,

and taking the precaution to call my guards about me, since I knew not

what attempt despair might not breed, I withdrew myself, making such

apologies to the company as the nature of the case permitted.

I ordered Simon the smith to be first brought to me, and in the presence

of Maignan only, I severely examined him as to his knowledge of any

conspiracy. He denied, however, that he had ever heard of the matters

referred to by his brother, and persisted so firmly in the denial that I

was inclined to believe him. In the end he was taken out and Andrew was

brought in. The innkeeper's demeanor was such as I have often observed in

intriguers brought suddenly to book. He averred the existence of the

conspiracy, and that its objects were those which he had stated. He also

offered to give up his associates, but conditioned that he should do this

in his own way; undertaking to conduct me and one other person--but no

more, lest the alarm should be given--to a place in Paris on the following

night, where we could hear the plotters state their plans and designs. In

this way only, he urged, could proof positive be obtained.

I was much startled by this proposal, and inclined to think it a trap; but

further consideration dispelled my fears. The innkeeper had held no parley

with anyone save his guards and myself since his arrest, and could neither

have warned his accomplices, nor acquainted them with any design the

execution of which should depend on his confession to me. I therefore

accepted his terms--with a private reservation that I should have help at

hand--and before daybreak next morning left Rosny, which I had only seen

by torchlight, with my prisoner and a select body of Swiss. We entered

Paris in the afternoon in three parties, with as little parade as

possible, and went straight to the Arsenal, whence, as soon as evening

fell, I hurried with only two armed attendants to the Louvre.

A return so sudden and unexpected was as great a surprise to the court as

to the king, and I was not slow to mark with an inward smile the

discomposure which appeared very clearly on the faces of several, as the

crowd in the chamber fell back for me to approach my master. I was

careful, however, to remember that this might arise from other causes than

guilt. The king received me with his wonted affection; and divining at

once that I must have something important to communicate, withdrew with me

to the farther end of the chamber, where we were out of earshot of the

court. I there related the story to his majesty, keeping back nothing.

He shook his head, saying merely: "The fish to escape the frying pan,

grand master, will jump into the fire. And human nature, save in the case

of you and me, who can trust one another, is very fishy."

I was touched by this gracious compliment, but not convinced. "You have

not seen the man, sire," I said, "and I have had that advantage."

"And believe him?"

"In part," I answered with caution. "So far at least as to be assured that

he thinks to save his skin, which he will only do if he be telling the

truth. May I beg you, sire," I added hastily, seeing the direction of his

glance, "not to look so fixedly at the Duke of Epernon? He grows uneasy."

"Conscience makes--you know the rest."

"Nay, sire, with submission," I replied, "I will answer for him; if he be

not driven by fear to do something reckless."

"Good! I take your warranty, Duke of Sully," the king said, with the easy

grace which came so natural to him. "But now in this matter what would you

have me do?"

"Double your guards, sire, for to-night--that is all. I will answer for

the Bastile and the Arsenal; and holding these we hold Paris."

But thereupon I found that the king had come to a decision, which I felt

it to be my duty to combat with all my influence. He had conceived the

idea of being the one to accompany me to the rendezvous. "I am tired of

the dice," he complained, "and sick of tennis, at which I know everybody's

strength. Madame de Verneuil is at Fontainebleau, the queen is unwell. Ah,

Sully, I would the old days were back when we had Nerac for our Paris, and

knew the saddle better than the armchair!"

"A king must think of his people," I reminded him.

"The fowl in the pot? To be sure. So I will--to-morrow," he replied. And

in the end he would be obeyed. I took my leave of him as if for the night,

and retired, leaving him at play with the Duke of Epernon. But an hour

later, toward eight o'clock, his majesty, who had made an excuse to

withdraw to his closet, met me outside the eastern gate of the Louvre.

He was masked, and attended only by Coquet, his master of the household. I

too wore a mask and was esquired by Maignan, under whose orders were four

Swiss--whom I had chosen because they were unable to speak

French--guarding the prisoner Andrew. I bade Maignan follow the

innkeeper's directions, and we proceeded in two parties through the

streets on the left bank of the river, past the Chatelet and Bastile,

until we reached an obscure street near the water, so narrow that the

decrepit wooden houses shut out well-nigh all view of the sky. Here the

prisoner halted and called upon me to fulfill the terms of my agreement. I

bade Maignan therefore to keep with the Swiss at a distance of fifty

paces, but to come up should I whistle or otherwise give the alarm; and

myself with the king and Andrew proceeded onward in the deep shadow of the

houses. I kept my hand on my pistol, which I had previously shown to the

prisoner, intimating that on the first sign of treachery I should blow out

his brains. However, despite precaution, I felt uncomfortable to the last

degree. I blamed myself severely for allowing the king to expose himself

and the country to this unnecessary danger; while the meanness of the

locality, the fetid air, the darkness of the night, which was wet and

tempestuous, and the uncertainty of the event lowered my spirits, and made

every splash in the kennel and stumble on the reeking, slippery

pavements--matters over which the king grew merry--seem no light troubles

to me.

Arriving at a house, which, if we might judge in the darkness, seemed to

be of rather greater pretensions than its fellows, our guide stopped, and

whispered to us to mount some steps to a raised wooden gallery, which

intervened between the lane and the doorway. On this, besides the door, a

couple of unglazed windows looked out. The shutter of one was ajar, and

showed us a large, bare room, lighted by a couple of rushlights. Directing

us to place ourselves close to this shutter, the innkeeper knocked at the

door in a peculiar fashion, and almost immediately entered, going at once

into the lighted room. Peering cautiously through the window we were

surprised to find that the only person within, save the newcomer, was a

young woman, who, crouching over a smoldering fire, was crooning a lullaby

while she attended to a large black pot.

"Good evening, mistress!" said the innkeeper, advancing to the fire with a

fair show of nonchalance.

"Good evening, Master Andrew," the girl replied, looking up and nodding,

but showing no sign of surprise at his appearance. "Martin is away, but he

may return at any moment."

"Is he still of the same mind?"


"And what of Sully? Is he to die then?" he asked.

"They have decided he must," the girl answered gloomily. It may be

believed that I listened with all my ears, while the king by a nudge in my

side seemed to rally me on the destiny so coolly arranged for me. "Martin

says it is no good killing the other unless he goes too--they have been so

long together. But it vexes me sadly, Master Andrew," she added with a

sudden break in her voice. "Sadly it vexes me. I could not sleep last

night for thinking of it, and the risk Martin runs. And I shall sleep less

when it is done."

"Pooh-pooh!" said that rascally innkeeper. "Think less about it. Things

will grow worse and worse if they are let live. The King has done harm

enough already. And he grows old besides."

"That is true!" said the girl. "And no doubt the sooner he is put out of

the way the better. He is changed sadly. I do not say a word for him. Let

him die. It is killing Sully that troubles me--that and the risk Martin


At this I took the liberty of gently touching the king. He answered by an

amused grimace; then by a motion of his hand he enjoined silence. We

stooped still farther forward so as better to command the room. The girl

was rocking herself to and fro in evident distress of mind. "If we killed

the King," she continued, "Martin declares we should be no better off, as

long as Sully lives. Both or neither, he says. But I do not know. I cannot

bear to think of it. It was a sad day when we brought Epernon here, Master

Andrew; and one I fear we shall rue as long as we live."

It was now the king's turn to be moved. He grasped my wrist so forcibly

that I restrained a cry with difficulty. "Epernon!" he whispered harshly

in my ear. "They are Epernon's tools! Where is your guaranty now, Rosny?"

I confess that I trembled. I knew well that the king, particular in small

courtesies, never forgot to call his servants by their correct titles,

save in two cases; when he indicated by the seeming error, as once in

Marshal Biron's affair, his intention to promote or degrade them; or when

he was moved to the depths of his nature and fell into an old habit. I did

not dare to reply, but listened greedily for more information.

"When is it to be done?" asked the innkeeper, sinking his voice and

glancing round, as if he would call especial attention to this.

"That depends upon Master la Riviere," the girl answered. "To-morrow

night, I understand, if Master la Riviere can have the stuff ready."

I met the king's eyes. They shone fiercely in the faint light, which

issuing from the window fell on him. Of all things he hated treachery

most, and La Riviere was his first body physician, and at this very time,

as I well knew, was treating him for a slight derangement which the king

had brought upon himself by his imprudence. This doctor had formerly been

in the employment of the Bouillon family, who had surrendered his services

to the king. Neither I nor his majesty had trusted the Duke of Bouillon

for the last year past, so that we were not surprised by this hint that he

was privy to the design.

Despite our anxiety not to miss a word, an approaching step warned us at

this moment to draw back. More than once before we had done so to escape

the notice of a wayfarer passing up and down. But this time I had a

difficulty in inducing the king to adopt the precaution. Yet it was well

that I succeeded, for the person who came stumbling along toward us did

not pass, but, mounting the steps, walked by within touch of us and

entered the house.

"The plot thickens," muttered the king. "Who is this?"

At the moment he asked I was racking my brain to remember. I have a good

eye and a fair recollection for faces, and this was one I had seen several

times. The features were so familiar that I suspected the man of being a

courtier in disguise, and I ran over the names of several persons whom I

knew to be Bouillon's secret agents. But he was none of these, and obeying

the king's gesture, I bent myself again to the task of listening.

The girl looked up on the man's entrance, but did not rise. "You are late,

Martin," she said.

"A little," the newcomer answered. "How do you do, Master Andrew? What

cheer? What, still vexing, mistress?" he added contemptuously to the girl.

"You have too soft a heart for this business!"

She sighed, but made no answer.

"You have made up your mind to it, I hear?" said the innkeeper.

"That is it. Needs must when the devil drives!" replied the man jauntily.

He had a downcast, reckless, luckless air, yet in his face I thought I

still saw traces of a better spirit.

"The devil in this case was Epernon," quoth Andrew.

"Aye, curse him! I would I had cut his dainty throat before he crossed my

threshold," cried the desperado. "But there, it is too late to say that

now. What has to be done, has to be done."

"How are you going about it? Poison, the mistress says."

"Yes; but if I had my way," the man growled fiercely, "I would out one of

these nights and cut the dogs' throats in the kennel!"

"You could never escape, Martin!" the girl cried, rising in excitement.

"It would be hopeless. It would merely be throwing away your own life."

"Well, it is not to be done that way, so there is an end of it," quoth the

man wearily. "Give me my supper. The devil take the king and Sully too! He

will soon have them."

On this Master Andrew rose, and I took his movement toward the door for a

signal for us to retire. He came out at once, shutting the door behind him

as he bade the pair within a loud good night. He found us standing in the

street waiting for him and forthwith fell on his knees in the mud and

looked up at me, the perspiration standing thick on his white face. "My

lord," he cried hoarsely, "I have earned my pardon!"

"If you go on," I said encouragingly, "as you have begun, have no fear."

Without more ado I whistled up the Swiss and bade Maignan go with them and

arrest the man and woman with as little disturbance as possible. While

this was being done we waited without, keeping a sharp eye upon the

informer, whose terror, I noted with suspicion, seemed to be in no degree

diminished. He did not, however, try to escape, and Maignan presently came

to tell us that he had executed the arrest without difficulty or


The importance of arriving at the truth before Epernon and the greater

conspirators should take the alarm was so vividly present to the minds of

the king and myself, that we did not hesitate to examine the prisoners in

their house, rather than hazard the delay and observation which their

removal to a more fit place must occasion. Accordingly, taking the

precaution to post Coquet in the street outside, and to plant a burly

Swiss in the doorway, the king and I entered. I removed my mask as I did

so, being aware of the necessity of gaining the prisoners' confidence, but

I begged the king to retain his. As I had expected, the man immediately

recognized me and fell on his knees, a nearer view confirming the notion I

had previously entertained that his features were familiar to me, though I

could not remember his name. I thought this a good starting-point for my

examination, and bidding Maignan withdraw, I assumed an air of mildness

and asked the fellow his name.

"Martin, only, please your lordship," he answered; adding, "once I sold

you two dogs, sir, for the chase, and to your lady a lapdog called Ninette

no larger than her hand."

I remembered the knave, then, as a fashionable dog dealer, who had been

much about the court in the reign of Henry the Third and later; and I saw

at once how convenient a tool he might be made, since he could be seen in

converse with people of all ranks without arousing suspicion. The man's

face as he spoke expressed so much fear and surprise that I determined to

try what I had often found successful in the case of greater criminals, to

squeeze him for a confession while still excited by his arrest, and before

he should have had time to consider what his chances of support at the

hands of his confederates might be. I charged him therefore solemnly to

tell the whole truth as he hoped for the king's mercy. He heard me, gazing

at me piteously; but his only answer, to my surprise, was that he had

nothing to confess.

"Come, come," I replied sternly, "this will avail you nothing; if you do

not speak quickly, rogue, and to the point, we shall find means to compel

you. Who counseled you to attempt his majesty's life?"

On this he stared so stupidly at me, and exclaimed with so real an

appearance of horror: "How? I attempt the king's life? God forbid!" that I

doubted that we had before us a more dangerous rascal than I had thought,

and I hastened to bring him to the point.

"What, then," I cried, frowning, "of the stuff Master la Riviere is to

give you to take the king's life to-morrow night? Oh, we know something, I

assure you; bethink you quickly, and find your tongue if you would have an

easy death."

I expected to see his self-control break down at this proof of our

knowledge of his design, but he only stared at me with the same look of

bewilderment. I was about to bid them bring in the informer that I might

see the two front to front, when the female prisoner, who had hitherto

stood beside her companion in such distress and terror as might be

expected in a woman of that class, suddenly stopped her tears and

lamentations. It occurred to me that she might make a better witness. I

turned to her, but when I would have questioned her she broke into a wild

scream of hysterical laughter.

From that I remember that I learned nothing, though it greatly annoyed me.

But there was one present who did--the king. He laid his hand on my

shoulder, gripping it with a force that I read as a command to be silent.

"Where," he said to the man, "do you keep the King and Sully and Epernon,

my friend?"

"The King and Sully--with the lordship's leave," said the man quickly,

with a frightened glance at me--"are in the kennels at the back of the

house, but it is not safe to go near them. The King is raving mad,

and--and the other dog is sickening. Epernon we had to kill a month back.

He brought the disease here, and I have had such losses through him as

have nearly ruined me, please your lordship."

"Get up--get up, man!" cried the king, and tearing off his mask he stamped

up and down the room, so torn by paroxysms of laughter that he choked

himself when again and again he attempted to speak.

I too now saw the mistake, but I could not at first see it in the same

light. Commanding myself as well as I could, I ordered one of the Swiss to

fetch in the innkeeper, but to admit no one else.

The knave fell on his knees as soon as he saw me, his cheeks shaking like

a jelly.

"Mercy, mercy!" was all he could say.

"You have dared to play with me?" I whispered.

"You bade me joke," he sobbed, "you bade me."

I was about to say that it would be his last joke in this world--for my

anger was fully aroused--when the king intervened.

"Nay," he said, laying his hand softly on my shoulder. "It has been the

most glorious jest. I would not have missed it for a kingdom. I command

you, Sully, to forgive him."

Thereupon his majesty strictly charged the three that they should not on

peril of their lives mention the circumstances to anyone. Nor to the best

of my belief did they do so, being so shrewdly scared when they recognized

the king that I verily think they never afterwards so much as spoke of the

affair to one another. My master further gave me on his own part his most

gracious promise that he would not disclose the matter even to Madame de

Verneuil or the queen, and upon these representations he induced me freely

to forgive the innkeeper. So ended this conspiracy, on the diverting

details of which I may seem to have dwelt longer than I should; but alas!

in twenty-one years of power I investigated many, and this one only can I

regard with satisfaction. The rest were so many warnings and predictions

of the fate which, despite all my care and fidelity, was in store for the

great and good master I served.