An Enemy to the King / From the Recently Discovered Memoirs of the Sieur de la Tournoire

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From the recently discovered memoirs of the Sieur de la Tournoire

By Robert Neilson Stephens

Author of “The Continental Dragoon,” “The Road to Paris,” “Philip

Winwood,” etc.







Hitherto I have written with the sword, after the fashion of greater men,
and requiring no secretary. I now take up the quill to set forth,
correctly, certain incidents which, having been noised about, stand in
danger of being inaccurately reported by some imitator of Brantome and De
l’Estoile. If all the world is to know of this matter, let it know
thereof rightly.

It was early in January, in the year 1578, that I first set out for
Paris. My mother had died when I was twelve years old, and my father had
followed her a year later. It was his last wish that I, his only child,
should remain at the château, in Anjou, continuing my studies until the
end of my twenty-first year. He had chosen that I should learn manners as
best I could at home, not as page in some great household or as gentleman
in the retinue of some high personage. “A De Launay shall have no master
but God and the King,” he said. Reverently I had fulfilled his
injunctions, holding my young impulses in leash. I passed the time in
sword practice with our old steward, Michel, who had followed my father
in the wars under Coligny, in hunting in our little patch of woods,
reading the Latin authors in the flowery garden of the château, or in my
favorite chamber,—that one at the top of the new tower which had been
built in the reign of Henri II. to replace the original black tower from
which the earliest De Launay of note got the title of Sieur de la
Tournoire. All this while I was holding in curb my impatient desires. So
almost resistless are the forces that impel the young heart, that there
must have been a hard struggle within me had I had to wait even a month
longer for the birthday which finally set me free to go what ways I
chose. I rose early on that cold but sunlit January day, mad with
eagerness to be off and away into the great world that at last lay open
to me. Poor old Michel was sad that I had decided to go alone. But the
only servant whom I would have taken with me was the only one to whom I
would entrust the house of my fathers in my absence,—old Michel himself.
I thought the others too rustic. My few tenants would have made awkward
lackeys in peace, sorry soldiers in war.

Michel had my portmanteau fastened on my horse, which had been brought
out into the courtyard, and then he stood by me while I took my last
breakfast in La Tournoire; and, in my haste to be off, I would have
eaten little had he not pressed much upon me, reminding me how many
leagues I would have to ride before meeting a good inn on the Paris
road. He was sad, poor old Michel, at my going, and yet he partook of
some of my own eagerness. At last I had forced down my unwilling throat
food enough to satisfy even old Michel’s solicitude. He girded on me the
finest of the swords that my father had left, placed over my violet
velvet doublet the new cloak I had bought for the occasion, handed me my
new hat with its showy plumes, and stood aside for me to pass out. In
the pocket of my red breeches was a purse holding enough golden crowns
to ease my path for some time to come. I cast one last look around the
old hall and, trying to check the rapidity of my breath, and the rising
of the lump in my throat, strode out to the court-yard, breathed the
fresh air with a new ecstasy, mounted the steaming horse, gave Michel my
hand for a moment, and, purposely avoiding meeting his eyes, spoke a
last kind word to the old man. After acknowledging the farewells of the
other servants, who stood in line trying to look joyous, I started my
horse with a little jerk of the rein, and was borne swiftly through the
porte, over the bridge, and out into the world. Behind me was the home
of my fathers and my childhood; before me was Paris. It was a fine,
bracing winter morning, and I was twenty-one. A good horse was under me,
a sword was at my side, there was money in my pocket. Will I ever feel
again as I did that morning?

Some have stupidly wondered why, being a Huguenot born and bred, I did
not, when free to leave La Tournoire, go at once to offer my sword to
Henri of Navarre or to some other leader of our party. This is easily
answered. If I was a Huguenot, I was also a man of twenty-one; and the
latter much more than the former. Paris was the centre of the world.
There was the court, there were the adventures to be had, there must one
go to see the whole of life; there would I meet men and make conquests of
women. There awaited me the pleasures of which I had known only by
report, there the advancement, the triumphs in personal quarrels; and,
above all else, the great love affair of my dreams. Who that is a man and
twenty-one has not such dreams? And who that is a man and seventy would
have been without them? Youth and folly go together, each sweetening the
other. The greatest fool, I think, is he who would have gone through life
entirely without folly. What then mattered religion to me? Or what
mattered the rivalry of parties, except as they might serve my own
personal ambitions and desires? Youth was ebullient in me. The longing to
penetrate the unknown made inaction intolerable to me. I must rush into
the whirlpool; I must be in the very midst of things; I longed for
gaiety, for mystery, for contest; I must sing, drink, fight, make love.
It is true that there would have been some outlet for my energies in camp
life, but no gratification for my finer tastes, no luxury, no such
pleasures as Paris afforded,—little diversity, no elating sense of being
at the core of events, no opportunities for love-making. In Paris were
the pretty women. The last circumstance alone would have decided me.

I had reached twenty-one without having been deeply in love. I had, of
course, had transient periods of inclination towards more than one of the
demoiselles in the neighborhood of La Tournoire; but these demoiselles
had rapidly become insipid to me. As I grew older, I found it less easy
to be attracted by young ladies whom I had known from childhood up. I had
none the less the desire to be in love; but the woman whom I should love
must be new to me, a mystery, something to fathom and yet unfathomable.
She must be a world, inexhaustible, always retaining the charm of the
partly unknown. I had high aspirations. No pretty maid, however low in
station, was unworthy a kiss and some flattery; but the real affaire
of my life must have no elements but magnificent ones. She must
be some great lady of the court, and our passion must be attended by
circumstances of mystery, danger, everything to complicate it and raise
it to an epic height. Such was the amour I had determined to find in
Paris. Remember, you who read this, that I am disclosing the inmost
dreams of a man of twenty-one. Such dreams are appropriate to that age;
it is only when they are associated with middle age that they become
ridiculous; and when thoughts of amatory conquest are found in common
with gray hairs, they are loathsome. If I seem to have given my mind
largely up to fancies of love, consider that I was then at the age when
such fancies rather adorn than deface. Indeed, a young man without
thoughts of love is as much an anomaly as is an older man who gives
himself up to them.

I looked back once at La Tournoire, when I reached the top of the hill
that would, in another minute, shut it from my view. I saw old Michel
standing at the porte. I waved my hand to him, and turned to proceed on
my way. Soon the lump in my throat melted away, the moisture left my
eyes, and only the future concerned me. Every object that came into
sight, every tree along the roadside, now interested me. I passed several
travellers, some of whom seemed to envy me my indifference to the cold
weather, my look of joyous content.

About noon I overtook, just where the road left a wood and turned to
cross a bridge, a small cavalcade consisting of an erect, handsome
gentleman of middle age, and several armed lackeys. The gentleman wore a
black velvet doublet, and his attire, from his snowy ruff to his black
boots, was in the best condition. He had a frank, manly countenance that
invited address. At the turn of the road he saw me, and, taking me in at
a glance, he fell behind his lackeys that I might come up to him. He
greeted me courteously, and after he had spoken of the weather and the
promise of the sky, he mentioned, incidentally, that he was going to
Paris. I told him my own destination, and we came to talking of the
court. I perceived, from his remarks, that he was well acquainted there.
There was some talk of the quarrels between the King’s favorites and
those of his brother, the Duke of Anjou; of the latter’s sulkiness over
his treatment at the hands of the King; of the probabilities for and
against Anjou’s leaving Paris and putting himself at the head of the
malcontent and Huguenot parties; of the friendship between Anjou and his
sister Marguerite, who remained at the Court of France while her husband,
Henri of Navarre, held his mimic Huguenot court in Béarn. Presently, the
name of the Duke of Guise came up.

Now we Huguenots held, and still hold, Henri de Guise to have been a
chief instigator of the event of St. Bartholomew’s Night, in 1572.
Always I had in my mind the picture of Coligny, under whom my father had
fought, lying dead in his own courtyard, in the Rue de Bethizy, his
murder done under the direction of that same Henri, his body thrown from
his window into the court at Henri’s orders, and there spurned by
Henri’s foot. I had heard, too, of this illustrious duke’s open
continuance of his amour with Marguerite, queen of our leader, Henri of
Navarre. When I spoke of him to the gentleman at whose side I rode, I
put no restraint on my tongue.

“The Duke of Guise!” I said. “All that I ever wish to say of him can
be very quickly spoken. If, as you Catholics believe, God has an
earthly representative in the Pope, then I think the devil has one in
Henri de Guise.”

The gentleman was quiet for a moment, and looked very sober. Then he
said gravely:

“All men have their faults, monsieur. The difference between men is that
some have no virtues to compensate for their vices.”

“If Henri de Guise has any virtues,” I replied, “he wears a mask over
them; and he conceals them more effectually than he hides his
predilection for assassination, his amours, and his design to rule France
through the Holy League of which he is the real head.”

The gentleman turned very red, and darted at me a glance of anger. Then
restraining himself, he answered in a very low tone:

“Monsieur, the subject can be discussed by us in only one way, or not
at all. You are young, and it would be too pitiful for you to be cut
off before you have even seen Paris. Doubtless, you are impatient to
arrive there. It would be well, then, if you rode on a little faster.
It is my intention to proceed at a much slower pace than will be
agreeable to you.”

And he reined in his horse.

I reined in mine likewise. I was boiling with wrath at his superior tone,
and his consideration for my youth, but I imitated his coolness as well
as I could.

“Monsieur,” said I, “whether or not I ever see Paris is not a matter to
concern you. I cannot allow you to consider my youth. You wish to be
obliging; then consider that nothing in the world would be a greater
favor to me than an opportunity to maintain with my sword my opinion of
Henri de Guise.”

The man smiled gently, and replied without passion:

“Then, as we certainly are not going to fight, let my refusal be, not on
account of your youth, but on account of my necessity of reaching Paris
without accident.”

His horse stood still. His lackeys also had stopped their horses, which
stood pawing and snorting at a respectful distance. It was an awkward
moment for me. I could not stand there trying to persuade a perfectly
serene man to fight. So with an abrupt pull of the rein I started my
horse, mechanically applied the spur, and galloped off. A few minutes
later I was out of sight of this singularly self-controlled gentleman,
who resented my description of the Duke of Guise. I was annoyed for some
time to think that he had had the better of the occurrence; and I gave
myself up for an hour to the unprofitable occupation of mentally
reenacting the scene in a manner more creditable to myself.

“I may meet him in Paris some day,” I said to myself, “and find an
occasion to right myself in his estimation. He shall not let my youth
intercede for me again.”

Then I wished that I had learned his name, that I might, on reaching
Paris, have found out more about him. Having in his suite no gentlemen,
but several lackeys, he was, doubtless, not himself an important
personage, but a follower of one. Not wishing to meet him again until
circumstances should have changed, I passed the next inn to which I came,
guessing that he would stop there. He must have done so, for he did not
come up with me that day, or at any time during my journey.

It was at sunset on a clear, cold evening that, without further
adventure, I rode into Paris through the Porte St. Michel, and stared,
as I proceeded along the Rue de la Harpe, at the crowds of people
hurrying in either direction in each of the narrow, crooked streets,
each person so absorbed in his own errand, and so used to the throng and
the noise, that he paid no heed to the animation that so interested and
stirred me. The rays of the setting sun lighted up the towers of the
colleges and abbeys at my right, while those at my left stood black
against the purple and yellow sky. I rode on and on, not wishing to stop
at an inn until I should have seen more of the panorama that so charmed
me. At last I reached the left bank of the Seine, and saw before me the
little Isle of the City, the sunlit towers of Notre Dame rising above
the wilderness of turrets and spires surrounding them. I crossed the
Pont St. Michel, stopping for a moment to look westward towards the Tour
de Nesle, and then eastward to the Tournelle, thus covering, in two
glances, the river bank of the University through which I had just come.
Emerging from the bridge, I followed the Rue de la Barillerie across the
Isle of the City, finding everywhere the same bustle, the same coming
and going of citizens, priests, students, and beggars, all alert, yet
not to be surprised by any spectacle that might arise before them.
Reaching the right arm of the Seine, I stopped again, this time on the
Pont-au-Change, and embraced, in a sweeping look from left to right, the
river bank of the town, the Paris of the court and the palaces, of the
markets and of trade, the Paris in which I hoped to find a splendid
future, the Paris into which, after taking this comprehensive view from
the towers of the Louvre and the Tour de Bois away leftward, to the Tour
de Billy away right ward, I urged my horse with a jubilant heart. It was
a quite dark Paris by the time I plunged into it. The Rue St. Denis,
along which I rode, was beginning to be lighted here and there by stray
rays from windows. The still narrower streets, that ran, like crooked
corridors in a great château, from the large thoroughfare, seemed to be
altogether dark.

But, dark as the city had become, I had determined to explore some of it

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