Robert Louis Stevenson

The Fowl In The Pot

The Lock And Key Library

A Case Of Identity
A Conjurer's Confessions
A Flight Into Texas
A Formidable Weapon
A Mystery With A Moral
A Scandal In Bohemia
A Wish Unexpectedly Gratified
Addressed To The Advocate Who Defended Him At His Trial
Adventure Of The Black Fisherman
Adventures In The Secret Service Of The Post-office Department
An Aspirant For Congress
An Erring Shepherd
An Heiress From Redhorse
An Old Game Revived
By The Waters Of Paradise
Deception Explained By The Science Of Psychology
Facing The Arab's Pistol
Fact And Fable In Psychology
Fraudulent Spiritualism Unveiled[1]
His Wedded Wife
Horror: A True Tale
How Spirits Materialize
How The Tricks Succeeded
In The House Of Suddhoo
Introduction To A Mystery With A Moral
Introduction To Melmoth The Wanderer
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Mind Reading In Public
My Own True Ghost Story
My Wife's Tempter
No 1 Branch Line: The Signal-man
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Saint-germain The Deathless
Second Sight
Some Famous Exposures
The Avenger
The Baron's Quarry
The Closed Cabinet
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The Fowl In The Pot
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The Golden Ingot
The Great Valdez Sapphire
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The Hostler's Story Told By Himself
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The Lost Duchess
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The Man And The Snake
The Man In The Iron Mask
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The Minister's Black Veil
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The Name Of The Dead
The Notch On The Ax - A Story A La Mode
The Oblong Box
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The Pipe
The Puzzle
The Red-headed League
The Sending Of Dana Da
The Shadows On The Wall
The Story Continued By Percy Fairbank
Wieland's Madness
Wolfert Webber Or Golden Dreams

The Fowl In The Pot

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 majesty 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.

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