Straight across to the Palais Seneschal went Garnache. And sorely though his temper might already have been tried that day, tempestuously though it had been vented, there were fresh trials in store for him, fresh storms for Tressan.

“May I ask, Monsieur le Seneschal,” he demanded arrogantly, “to what end it was that you permitted yourself to order from its post the escort you had placed under my command?”

“To what end?” returned the Seneschal, between sorrow and indignation. “Why, to the end that it might succour you if still in time. I had heard that if not dead already, you were in danger of your life.”

The answer was one that disarmed Garnache, in spite of his mistrust of Tressan, and followed as it now was by the Seneschal’s profuse expressions of joy at seeing Garnache safe and well, it left him clearly unable to pursue the subject of his grievance in this particular connection. Instead, he passed on to entertain Tressan with the recital of the thing that had been done; and in reciting it his anger revived again, nor did the outward signs of sympathetic perturbation which the Seneschal thought it judicious to display do aught to mollify his feelings.

“And now, monsieur,” he concluded, “there remains but one course to be pursued—to return in force, and compel them at the sword-point to surrender me mademoiselle. That accomplished, I shall arrest the Dowager and her son and every jackanapes within that castle. Her men can lie in Grenoble gaol to be dealt with by yourself for supporting her in an attempt to resist the Queen’s authority. Madame and her son shall go with me to Paris to answer there for their offence.”

The Seneschal looked grave. He thoughtfully combed his beard with his forefinger, and his little eyes peered a shade fearfully at Garnache through his horn-rimmed spectacles—Garnache had found him at his never-failing pretence of work.

“Why, yes,” he agreed, speaking slowly, “that way lies your duty.”

“I rejoice, monsieur, to hear you say so. For I shall need your aid.”

“My aid?” The Seneschal’s face assumed a startled look.

“I shall require of you the necessary force to reduce that garrison.”

The Seneschal blew out his cheeks almost to bursting point, then wagged his head and smiled wistfully.

“And where,” he asked, “am I to find such a force?”

“You have upwards of ten score men in quarters at Grenoble.”

“If I had those men—which I have not—what, think you, could they do against a fortress such as Condillac? Monsieur deludes himself. If they resist, you’ll need ten times that number to bring them to their senses. They are well victualled; they have an excellent water-supply. My friend, they would just draw up the bridge, and laugh at you and your soldiers from the ramparts.”

Garnache looked at him from under lowering brows. But for all his mistrust of the man—a mistrust most excellently founded—he was forced to confess that there was wisdom in what Tressan said.

“I’ll sit down and besiege them if need be,” he announced.

Again the Seneschal wagged his head. “You would have to be prepared to spend your winter there in that case, and it can be cold in the valley of Isere. Their garrison is small—some twenty men at most; but it is sufficient for their defence, and not too many mouths to feed. No, no, monsieur, if you would win your way by force you must count upon more than ten score men.”

And now a flash of inspiration helped Tressan. It was his aim, as we know, to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. Break with Madame de Condillac his foolish hopeful heart would not permit him. Break with this man, who personified authority and the King, he dared not. He had sought—and it had given him much to do—to steer a middle course, serving the Dowager and appearing not to withstand the Parisian. Now it almost seemed to him as if he were come to an impasse beyond which he could no longer pursue that course, but must halt and declare his side. But the notion that now occurred to him helped him to win through this difficulty. For Madame de Condillac’s schemes he cared not a jot; whether they came safe to harbour or suffered shipwreck on the way was all one to him; whether Valerie de La Vauvraye married Marius de Condillac or the meanest cobbler in Grenoble was, similarly, a matter that never disturbed his mind. He would not even be concerned if he, himself, were to help the Dowager’s schemes to frustration, so long as she were to remain in ignorance of his defection, so long as outwardly he were to appear faithful to her interests.

“Monsieur,” said he gravely, “the only course that promises you success is to return to Paris, and, raising sufficient men, with guns and other modern siege appliances such as we possess not here, come back and batter down the walls of Condillac.”

There the Seneschal spoke good sense. Garnache realized it, so much so that he almost began to doubt whether he had not done the man an injustice in believing him allied to the other party. But, however fully he might perceive the wisdom of the advice, such a step was one that must wound his pride, must be an acknowledgment that his own resources, upon which the Queen had relied when she sent him single-handed to deal with this situation, had proved insufficient.

He took a turn in the apartment without answering, tugging at his mustachios and pondering the situation what time the Seneschal furtively watched him in the candle-light. At last he came abruptly to a standstill by the Seneschal’s writing-table, immediately opposite Tressan. His hand fell to his side, his eyes took on a look of determination.

“As a last resource your good advice may guide me, Monsieur le Seneschal,” said he. “But first I’ll see what can be done with such men as you have here.”

“But I have no men,” answered Tressan, dismayed to see the failure of his effort.

Garnache stared at him in an unbelief that was fast growing to suspicion. “No men?” he echoed dully. “No men?”

“I might muster a score—no more than that.”

“But, monsieur, it is within my knowledge that you have at least two hundred. I saw at least some fifty drawn up in the courtyard below here yesterday morning.”

“I had them, monsieur,” the Seneschal made haste to cry, his hands upheld, his body leaning forward over his table. “I had them. But, unfortunately, certain disturbances in the neighbourhood of Montelimar have forced me to part with them. They were on the point of setting out when you saw them.”

Garnache looked at him a moment without speaking. Then, sharply:

“They must be recalled, monsieur,” said he.

And now the Seneschal took refuge in a fine pretence of indignation.

“Recalled?” he cried, and besides indignation there was some horror in his voice. “Recalled? And for what? That they may assist you in obtaining charge of a wretched girl who is so headstrong as to wish to marry other than her guardians have determined. A pretty affair that, as God’s my life! And for the adjustment of such a family dispute as this, a whole province is to go to ruin, a conflagration of rebellion is to spread unquenched? On my soul, sir, I begin to think that this mission of yours has served to turn your head. You begin to see it out of all proportion to its size.”

“Monsieur, it may have turned my head, or it may not; but I shall not be amazed if in the end it be the means of losing you yours. Tell me now: What is the disturbance you speak of in Montelimar?” That was a question all Tressan’s ingenuity could not answer.

“What affair is it of yours?” he demanded. “Are you Seneschal of Dauphiny, or am I? If I tell you that there is a disturbance, let that suffice. In quelling it I do but attend to my own business. Do you attend to yours—which seems to be that of meddling in women’s matters.”

This was too much. There was such odious truth in it that the iron sank deep into Garnache’s soul. The very reflection that such a business should indeed be his, was of itself enough to put him in a rage, without having it cast in his teeth as Tressan had none too delicately done.

He stormed and raged; he waved his arms and thumped the table, and talked of cutting men to ribbons—among which men no doubt he counted my Lord the Seneschal of Dauphiny. But from the storm of fierce invective, of threats and promises with which he filled the air, the Seneschal gathered with satisfaction the one clear statement that he would take his advice.

“I’ll do as you say,” Garnache had ended. “I’ll get me back to Paris as fast as horse can carry me. When I return woe betide Condillac! And I shall send my emissaries into the district of Montelimar to inquire into these disturbances you tell of. Woe betide you if they find the country quiet. You shall pay a heavy price for having dispatched your soldiers thither to the end that they might not be here to further the Queen’s business.”

With that he caught up his rain-sodden hat, flung it on his head, and stalked out of the room, and, so, out of the Palace.

He left Grenoble next morning, and it was a very tame and crestfallen Garnache who quitted the Auberge du Veau qui Tete and rode out of the town to take the road to Paris. How they would laugh at him at the Luxembourg! Not even an affair of this kind was he fit to carry through; not even as a meddler in women’s matters as Tressan had called him—could he achieve success. Rabecque, reflecting his master’s mood—as becomes a good lackey—rode silent and gloomy a pace or two in the rear.

By noon they had reached Voiron, and here, at a quiet hostelry, they descended to pause awhile for rest and refreshment. It was a chill, blustering day, and although the rain held off, the heavens were black with the promise of more to come. There was a fire burning in the general-room of the hostelry, and Garnache went to warm him at its cheerful blaze. Moodily he stood there, one hand on the high mantel shelf, one foot upon an andiron, his eyes upon the flames.

He was disconsolately considering his position; considering how utterly, how irrevocably he had failed; pondering the gibes he would have to stomach on his return to Paris, the ridicule it would incumb him to live down. It had been a fine thing to breathe fire and blood and vengeance to Tressan yesterday, to tell him of the great deeds he would perform on his return. It was odds he never would return. They would send another in his place, if indeed they sent at all. For, after all, before he could reach Paris and the force required be in Dauphiny, a fortnight must elapse, let them travel never so quickly. By that time they must be singularly sluggish at Condillac if they did not so contrive that no aid that came should come in time for mademoiselle, now that they were warned that the Queen was stirring in the matter.

Oh! he had blundered it all most cursedly. Had he but kept his temper yesterday at Grenoble; had he but had the wit to thwart their plans, by preserving an unruffled front to insult, he might have won through and carried mademoiselle out of their hands. As it was—! he let his arms fall to his sides in his miserable despair.

“Your wine, monsieur,” said Rabecque at his elbow. He turned, and took the cup of mulled drink from his servant. The beverage warmed him in body; but it would need a butt of it to thaw the misery from his soul.

“Rabecque,” he said with a pathetic grimness, “I think I am the most cursed blunderer that ever was entrusted with an errand.”

The thing so obsessed his mind that he must speak of it, if it be only to his lackey. Rabecque’s sharp face assumed a chastened look. He sighed most dutifully. He sought for words of consolation. At last:

“At least, monsieur has made them fear him up there at Condillac,” said he.

“Fear me?” laughed Garnache. “Pish! Deride me, you would say.”

“Fear you, I repeat, monsieur. Else why are they at such pains to strengthen the garrison?”

“Eh?” he questioned. But his tone was not greatly interested. “Are they doing that? Are they strengthening it? How know you?”

“I had it from the ostler at the Veau qui Tete that a certain Captain Fortunio—an Italian soldier of fortune who commands the men at Condillac—was at the Auberge de France last night, offering wine to whomsoever would drink with him, and paying for it out of Madame la Marquise’s purse. To such as accepted his hospitality he talked of the glory of a military career, particularly a free-lance’s; and to those who showed interest in what he said he offered a pike in his company.”

“Enrolled he many, did you learn?”

“Not one, monsieur, the ostler told me; and it seems he spent the evening watching him weave his spider’s web. But the flies were over-wary. They knew whence he came; they knew the business for which he desired to enrol them—for a rumour had gone round that Condillac was in rebellion against the Queen’s commands—and there were none so desperate at the Auberge de France as to risk their necks by enlisting, no matter what the wage he offered.”

Garnache shrugged his shoulders. “No matter,” said he. “Get me another cup of wine.” But as Rabecque turned away to obey him there came a sudden gleam into the eye of Monsieur de Garnache which lightened the depression of his countenance.

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