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Chapter 28 Uncertainty

Then happy low, lie down; Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

SECOND PART OF KING HENRY IV.

Forty men at arms, carrying alternately naked swords and blazing torches, served as the escort, or rather the guard, of King Louis, from the town hall of Peronne to the Castle; and as he entered within its darksome and gloomy strength, it seemed as if a voice screamed in his ear that warning which the Florentine has inscribed over the portal of the infernal regions, "Leave all hope behind."

(The Florentine (1265-1321): Dante Alighieri, the greatest of Italian poets. The Divine Comedy, his chief work, describes his passage through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven; the inscription here referred to Dante places at the entrance of Hell.)

At that moment, perhaps, some feeling of remorse might have crossed the King's mind, had he thought on the hundreds, nay, thousands whom, without cause, or on light suspicion, he had committed to the abysses of his dungeons, deprived of all hope of liberty, and loathing even the life to which they clung by animal instinct.

The broad glare of the torches outfacing the pale moon, which was more obscured on this than on the former night, and the red smoky light which they dispersed around the ancient buildings, gave a darker shade to that huge donjon, called the Earl Herbert's Tower. It was the same that Louis had viewed with misgiving presentiment on the preceding evening, and of which he was now doomed to become an inhabitant, under the terror of what violence soever the wrathful temper of his overgrown vassal might tempt him to exercise in those secret recesses of despotism.

To aggravate the King's painful feelings, he saw, as he crossed the courtyard, one or two bodies, over each of which had been hastily flung a military cloak. He was not long in discerning that they were corpses of slain Archers of the Scottish Guard, who having disputed, as the Count Crevecoeur informed him, the command given them to quit the post near the King's apartments, a brawl had ensued between them and the Duke's Walloon bodyguards, and before it could be composed by the officers on either side, several lives had been lost.

"My trusty Scots!" said the King as he looked upon this melancholy spectacle; "had they brought only man to man, all Flanders, ay, and Burgundy to boot, had not furnished champions to mate you."

"Yes, an it please your Majesty," said Balafre, who attended close behind the King, "Maistery mows the meadow (maist, a Scotch form of most. That is, there is strength in numbers) -- few men can fight more than two at once. -- I myself never care to meet three, unless it be in the way of special duty, when one must not stand to count heads."

"Art thou there, old acquaintance," said the King, looking behind him; "then I have one true subject with me yet."

"And a faithful minister, whether in your councils, or in his offices about your royal person," whispered Oliver le Dain.

"We are all faithful," said Tristan l'Hermite gruffly; "for should they put to death your Majesty, there is not one of us whom they would suffer to survive you, even if we would."

"Now, that is what I call good corporal bail for fidelity," said Le Glorieux, who, as already mentioned, with the restlessness proper to an infirm brain, had thrust himself into their company.

Meanwhile the Seneschal, hastily summoned, was turning with laborious effort the ponderous key which opened the reluctant gate of the huge Gothic Keep, and was at last fain to call for the assistance of one of Crevecoeur's attendants. When they had succeeded, six men entered with torches, and showed the way through a narrow and winding passage, commanded at different points by shot holes from vaults and casements constructed behind, and in the thickness of the massive walls. At the end of this passage arose a stair of corresponding rudeness, consisting of huge blocks of stone, roughly dressed with the hammer, and of unequal height. Having mounted this ascent, a strong iron clenched door admitted them to what had been the great hall of the donjon, lighted but very faintly even during the daytime (for the apertures, diminished, in appearance by the excessive thickness of the walls, resembled slits rather than windows), and now but for the blaze of the torches, almost perfectly dark. Two or three bats, and other birds of evil presage, roused by the unusual glare, flew against the lights, and threatened to extinguish them; while the Seneschal formally apologized to the King that the State Hall had not been put in order, such was the hurry of the notice sent to him, adding that, in truth, the apartment had not been in use for twenty years, and rarely before that time, so far as ever he had heard, since the time of King Charles the Simple.

"King Charles the Simple!" echoed Louis; "I know the history of the Tower now. -- He was here murdered by his treacherous vassal, Herbert, Earl of Vermandois. -- So say our annals. I knew there was something concerning the Castle of Peronne which dwelt on my mind, though I could not recall the circumstance. -- Here, then, my predecessor was slain!"

"Not here, not exactly here, and please your Majesty," said the old Seneschal, stepping with the eager haste of a cicerone who shows the curiosities of such a place.

"Not here, but in the side chamber a little onward, which opens from your Majesty's bedchamber."

He hastily opened a wicket at the upper end of the hall, which led into a bedchamber, small, as is usual in those old buildings; but, even for that reason, rather more comfortable than the waste hall through which they had passed. Some hasty preparations had been here made for the King's accommodation. Arras had been tacked up, a fire lighted in the rusty grate, which had been long unused, and a pallet laid down for those gentlemen who were to pass the night in his chamber, as was then usual.

"We will get beds in the hall for the rest of your attendants," said the garrulous old man; "but we have had such brief notice, if it please your Majesty. -- And if it please your Majesty to look upon this little wicket behind the arras, it opens into the little old cabinet in the thickness of the wall where Charles was slain; and there is a secret passage from below, which admitted the men who were to deal with him. And your Majesty, whose eyesight I hope is better than mine, may see the blood still on the oak floor, though the thing was done five hundred years ago."

While he thus spoke, he kept fumbling to open the postern of which he spoke, until the King said, "Forbear, old man -- forbear but a little while, when thou mayst have a newer tale to tell, and fresher blood to show. -- My Lord of Crevecoeur, what say you?"

"I can but answer, Sire, that these two interior apartments are as much at your Majesty's disposal as those in your own Castle at Plessis, and that Crevecoeur, a name never blackened by treachery or assassination, has the guard of the exterior defences of it."

"But the private passage into that closet, of which the old man speaks?" This King Louis said in a low and anxious tone, holding Crevecoeur's arm fast with one hand, and pointing to the wicket door with the other.

"It must be some dream of Mornay's," said Crevecoeur, "or some old and absurd tradition of the place; but we will examine."

He was about to open the closet door, when Louis answered, "No, Crevecoeur, no. -- Your honour is sufficient warrant. -- But what will your Duke do with me, Crevecoeur? He cannot hope to keep me long a prisoner; and -- in short, give me your opinion, Crevecoeur."

"My Lord, and Sire," said the Count, "how the Duke of Burgundy must resent this horrible cruelty on the person of his near relative and ally, is for your Majesty to judge; and what right he may have to consider it as instigated by your Majesty's emissaries, you only can know. But my master is noble in his disposition, and made incapable, even by the very strength of his passions, of any underhand practices. Whatever he does, will be done in the face of day, and of the two nations. And I can but add, that it will be the wish of every counsellor around him -- excepting perhaps one -- that he should behave in this matter with mildness and generosity, as well as justice."

"Ah! Crevecoeur," said Louis, taking his hand as if affected by some painful recollections, "how happy is the Prince who has counsellors near him, who can guard him against the effects of his own angry passions! Their names will be read in golden letters, when the history of his reign is perused. -- Noble Crevecoeur, had it been my lot to have such as thou art about my person!"

"It had in that case been your Majesty's study to have got rid of them as fast as you could," said Le Glorieux.

"Aha! Sir Wisdom, art thou there?" said Louis, turning round, and instantly changing the pathetic tone in which he had addressed Crevecoeur, and adopting with facility one which had a turn of gaiety in it. -- "Hast thou followed us hither?"

"Ay, Sir," answered Le Glorieux, "Wisdom must follow, in motley, where Folly leads the way in purple."

"How shall I construe that, Sir Solomon?" answered Louis. "Wouldst thou change conditions with me?"

"Not I, by my halidome," quoth Le Glorieux, "if you would give me fifty crowns to boot."

"Why, wherefore so? -- Methinks I could be well enough contented, as princes go, to have thee for my king."

"Ay, Sire," replied Le Glorieux, "but the question is, whether, judging of your Majesty's wit from its having lodged you here, I should not have cause to be ashamed of having so dull a fool."

"Peace, sirrah!" said the Count of Crevecoeur, "your tongue runs too fast."

"Let it take its course," said the King, "I know of no such fair subject of raillery as the follies of those who should know better. -- Here, my sagacious friend, take this purse of gold, and with it the advice never to be so great a fool as to deem yourself wiser than other people. Prithee, do me so much favour as to inquire after my astrologer, Martius Galeotti, and send him hither to me presently."

"I will, without fail, my Liege," answered the jester; "and I wot well I shall find him at Jan Dopplethur's, for philosophers, as well as fools, know where the best wine is sold."

"Let me pray for free entrance for this learned person through your guards, Seignior de Crevecoeur," said Louis.

"For his entrance, unquestionably," answered the Count; "but it grieves me to add that my instructions do not authorize me to permit any one to quit your Majesty's apartments. -- I wish your Majesty a goodnight," he subjoined, "and will presently make such arrangements in the outer hall, as may put the gentlemen who are to inhabit it more at their ease."

"Give yourself no trouble for them, Sir Count," replied the King, "they are men accustomed to set hardships at defiance; and, to speak truth, excepting that I wish to see Galeotti, I would desire as little farther communication from without this night as may be consistent with your instructions."

"These are, to leave your Majesty," replied Crevecoeur, "undisputed possession of your own apartments. Such are my master's orders."

"Your Master, Count," answered Louis, "whom I may also term mine, is a right gracious master. -- My dominions," he added, "are somewhat shrunk in compass, now that they have dwindled to an old hall and a bedchamber, but they are still wide enough for all the subjects which I can at present boast of."

The Count of Crevecoeur took his leave, and shortly after, they could hear the noise of the sentinels moving to their posts, accompanied with the word of command from the officers, and the hasty tread of the guards who were relieved. At length all became still, and the only sound which filled the air was the sluggish murmur of the river Somme, as it glided, deep and muddy, under the walls of the castle.

"Go into the hall, my mates," said Louis to his train; "but do not lie down to sleep. Hold yourselves in readiness, for there is still something to be done tonight, and that of moment."

Oliver and Tristan retired to the hall, accordingly, in which Le Balafre and the two officers had remained, when the others entered the bedchamber. They found that those without had thrown fagots enough upon the fire to serve the purpose of light and heat at the same time, and, wrapping themselves in their cloaks, had sat down on the floor, in postures which variously expressed the discomposure and dejection of their minds. Oliver and Tristan saw nothing better to be done than to follow their example and, never very good friends in the days of their court prosperity, they were both equally reluctant to repose confidence in each other upon this strange and sudden reverse of fortune. So the whole party sat in silent dejection.

Meanwhile their master underwent, in the retirement of his secret chamber, agonies that might have atoned for some of those which had been imposed by his command. He paced the room with short and unequal steps, often stood still and clasped his hands together, and gave loose, in short, to agitation, which in public he had found himself able to suppress so successfully. At length, pausing and wringing his hands, he planted himself opposite to the wicket door, which had been pointed out by old Mornay as leading to the scene of the murder of one of his predecessors, and gradually gave voice to his feelings in a broken soliloquy.

"Charles the Simple -- Charles the Simple! -- what will posterity call the Eleventh Louis, whose blood will probably soon refresh the stains of thine! Louis the Fool -- Louis the Driveller -- Louis the Infatuated -- are all terms too slight to mark the extremity of my idiocy! To think these hot headed Liegeois, to whom rebellion is as natural as their food, would remain quiet -- to dream that the Wild Beast of Ardennes would for a moment be interrupted in his career of force and bloodthirsty brutality -- to suppose that I could use reason and arguments to any good purpose with Charles of Burgundy, until I had tried the force of such exhortations with success upon a wild bull. Fool, and double idiot that I was! But the villain Martius shall not escape. -- He has been at the bottom of this, he and the vile priest, the detestable Balue. If I ever get out of this danger, I will tear from his head the Cardinal's cap, though I pull the scalp along with it! But the other traitor is in my hands -- I am yet King enough -- have yet an empire roomy enough -- for the punishment of the quack salving, word mongering, star gazing, lie coining impostor, who has at once made a prisoner and a dupe of me! -- The conjunction of the constellations -- ay, the conjunction. -- He must talk nonsense which would scarce gull a thrice sodden sheep's head, and I must be idiot enough to think I understand him! But we shall see presently what the conjunction hath really boded. But first let me to my devotions."

(Louis kept his promise of vengeance against Cardinal La Balue, whom he always blamed as having betrayed him to Burgundy. After he had returned to his own kingdom, he caused his late favourite to be immured in one of the iron cages at Loches. These were constructed with horrible ingenuity, so that a person of ordinary size could neither stand up at his full height, nor lie lengthwise in them. Some ascribe this horrid device to Balue himself. At any rate, he was confined in one of these dens for eleven years, nor did Louis permit him to be liberated till his last illness. S.)

Above the little door, in memory perhaps of the deed which had been done within, was a rude niche, containing a crucifix cut in stone. Upon this emblem the King fixed his eyes, as if about to kneel, but stopped short, as if he applied to the blessed image the principles of worldly policy, and deemed it rash to approach its presence without having secured the private intercession of some supposed favourite. He therefore turned from the crucifix as unworthy to look upon it, and selecting from the images with which, as often mentioned, his hat was completely garnished, a representation of the Lady of Clery, knelt down before it, and made the following extraordinary prayer; in which, it is to be observed, the grossness of his superstition induced him, in some degree, to consider the Virgin of Clery as a different person from the Madonna of Embrun, a favourite idol, to whom he often paid his vows.

"Sweet Lady of Clery," he exclaimed, clasping his hands and beating his breast while he spoke, "blessed Mother of Mercy! thou who art omnipotent with Omnipotence, have compassion with me, a sinner! It is true, that I have something neglected thee for thy blessed sister of Embrun; but I am a King, my power is great, my wealth boundless; and, were it otherwise, I would double the gabelle on my subjects, rather than not pay my debts to you both. Undo these iron doors -- fill up these tremendous moats -- lead me, as a mother leads a child, out of this present and pressing danger! If I have given thy sister the county of Boulogne, to be held of her for ever, have I no means of showing devotion to thee also? Thou shalt have the broad and rich province of Champagne, and its vineyards shall pour their abundance into thy convent. I had promised the province to my brother Charles; but he, thou knowest, is dead -- poisoned by that wicked Abbe of Saint John d'Angely, whom, if I live, I will punish! -- I promised this once before, but this time I will keep my word. -- If I had any knowledge of the crime, believe, dearest patroness, it was because I knew no better method of quieting the discontents of my kingdom. Oh, do not reckon that old debt to my account today; but be, as thou hast ever been, kind, benignant, and easy to be entreated! Sweetest Lady, work with thy child, that he will pardon all past sins, and one -- one little deed which I must do this night -- nay, it is no sin, dearest Lady of Clery -- no sin, but an act of justice privately administered, for the villain is the greatest impostor that ever poured falsehood into a Prince's ear, and leans besides to the filthy heresy of the Greeks. He is not deserving of thy protection, leave him to my care; and hold it as good service that I rid the world of him, for the man is a necromancer and wizard, that is not worth thy thought and care -- a dog, the extinction of whose life ought to be of as little consequence in thine eyes as the treading out a spark that drops from a lamp, or springs from a fire. Think not of this little matter, gentlest, kindest Lady, but only consider how thou canst best aid me in my troubles! and I here, bind my royal signet to thy effigy, in token that I will keep word concerning the county of Champagne, and that this shall be the last time I will trouble thee in affairs of blood, knowing thou art so kind, so gentle, and so tender hearted."

(As overheard and reported by the court jester this historic prayer reads as follows: "Ah, my good Lady, my gentle mistress, my only friend, in whom alone I have resource, I pray you to supplicate God in my behalf, and to be my advocate with him that he may pardon me the death of my brother whom I caused to be poisoned by that wicked Abbot of Saint John. I confess my guilt to thee as to my good patroness and mistress. But then what could I do? he was perpetually causing disorder in my kingdom. Cause me then to be pardoned, my good Lady, and I know what a reward I will give thee.")

After this extraordinary contract with the object of his adoration, Louis recited, apparently with deep devotion, the seven penitential psalms (the 6th, 32d, 38th, 51st, 102d, 130th, and 143d, so called from their penitential character) in Latin, and several aves and prayers especially belonging to the service of the Virgin. He then arose, satisfied that he had secured the intercession of the Saint to whom he had prayed, the rather, as he craftily reflected, that most of the sins for which he had requested her mediation on former occasions had been of a different character, and that, therefore, the Lady of Clery was less likely to consider him as a hardened and habitual shedder of blood than the other saints whom he had more frequently made confidants of his crimes in that respect.

When he had thus cleared his conscience, or rather whited it over like a sepulchre, the King thrust his head out at the door of the hall, and summoned Le Balafre into his apartment. "My good soldier," he said, "thou hast served me long, and hast had little promotion. We are here in a case where I may either live or die; but I would not willingly die an ungrateful man, or leave, so far as the Saints may place it in my power, either a friend or an enemy unrecompensed. Now I have a friend to be rewarded, that is thyself -- an enemy to be punished according to his deserts, and that is the base, treacherous villain; Martius Galeotti, who, by his impostures and specious falsehoods, has trained me hither into the power of my mortal enemy, with as firm a purpose of my destruction as ever butcher had of slaying the beast which he drove to the shambles."

"I will challenge him on that quarrel, since they say he is a fighting blade, though he looks somewhat unwieldy," said Le Balafre. "I doubt not but the Duke of Burgundy is so much a friend to men of the sword that he will allow us a fair field within some reasonable space, and if your Majesty live so long, and enjoy so much freedom, you shall behold me do battle in your right, and take as proper a vengeance on this philosopher as your heart could desire."

"I commend your bravery and your devotion to my service," said the King. "But this treacherous villain is a stout man at arms, and I would not willingly risk thy life, my brave soldier."

"I were no brave soldier, if it please your Majesty," said Balafre, "if I dared not face a better man than he. A fine thing it would be for me, who can neither read nor write, to be afraid of a fat lurdane, who has done little else all his Life!"

"Nevertheless," said the King, "it is not our pleasure so to put thee in venture, Balafre. This traitor comes hither, summoned by our command. We would have thee, so soon as thou canst find occasion, close up with him, and smite him under the fifth rib. -- Dost thou understand me?"

"Truly I do," answered Le Balafre, "but, if it please your Majesty, this is a matter entirely out of my course of practice. I could not kill you a dog unless it were in hot assault, or pursuit, or upon defiance given, or such like."

"Why, sure, thou dost not pretend to tenderness of heart," said the King; "thou who hast been first in storm and siege, and most eager, as men tell me, on the pleasures and advantages which are gained on such occasions by the rough heart and the bloody hand?"

"My lord," answered Le Balafre, "I have neither feared nor spared your enemies, sword in hand. And an assault is a desperate matter, under risks which raise a man's blood so that, by Saint Andrew, it will not settle for an hour or two -- which I call a fair license for plundering after a storm. And God pity us poor soldiers, who are first driven mad with danger, and then madder with victory. I have heard of a legion consisting entirely of saints; and methinks it would take them all to pray and intercede for the rest of the army, and for all who wear plumes and corselets, buff coats and broadswords. But what your Majesty purposes is out of my course of practice, though I will never deny that it has been wide enough. As for the Astrologer, if he be a traitor, let him e'en die a traitor's death -- I will neither meddle nor make with it. Your Majesty has your Provost and two of his Marshals men without, who are more fit for dealing with him than a Scottish gentleman of my family and standing in the service."

"You say well," said the King; "but, at least, it belongs to thy duty to prevent interruption, and to guard the execution of my most just sentence."

"I will do so against all Peronne," said Le Balafre. "Your Majesty need not doubt my fealty in that which I can reconcile to my conscience, which, for mine own convenience and the service of your royal Majesty, I can vouch to be a pretty large one -- at least, I know I have done some deeds for your Majesty, which I would rather have eaten a handful of my own dagger than I would have done for any one else."

"Let that rest," said the King, "and hear you -- when Galeotti is admitted, and the door shut on him, do you stand to your weapon, and guard the entrance on the inside of the apartment. Let no one intrude -- that is all I require of you. Go hence, and send the Provost Marshal to me."

Balafre left the apartment accordingly, and in a minute afterwards Tristan l'Hermite entered from the hall.

"Welcome, gossip," said the King; "what thinkest thou of our situation?"

"As of men sentenced to death," said the Provost Marshal, "unless there come a reprieve from the Duke."'

"Reprieved or not, he that decoyed us into this snare shalt go our fourrier to the next world, to take up lodgings for us," said the King, with a grisly and ferocious smile. "Tristan, thou hast done many an act of brave justice -- finis -- I should have said funis coronat opus (the end -- I should have said the rope -- crowns the work) -- thou must stand by me to the end."

"I will, my Liege," said Tristan, "I am but a plain fellow, but I am grateful. I will do my duty within these walls, or elsewhere; and while I live, your Majesty's breath shall pour as potential a note of condemnation, and your sentence be as literally executed, as when you sat on your own throne. They may deal with me the next hour for it if they will -- I care not."

"It is even what I expected of thee, my loving gossip," said Louis; "but hast thou good assistance? -- The traitor is strong and able bodied, and will doubtless be clamorous for aid. The Scot will do naught but keep the door, and well that he can be brought to that by flattery and humouring. Then Oliver is good for nothing but lying, flattering, and suggesting dangerous counsels; and, Ventre Saint Dieu! I think is more like one day to deserve the halter himself than to use it to another. Have you men, think you, and means, to make sharp and sure work?"

"I have Trois Eschelles and Petit Andre with me," said he, "men so expert in their office that, out of three men, they would hang up one ere his two companions were aware. And we have all resolved to live or die with your Majesty, knowing we shall have as short breath to draw when you are gone, as ever fell to the lot of any of our patients. -- But what is to be our present subject, an it please your Majesty? I love to be sure of my man; for, as your Majesty is pleased sometimes to remind me, I have now and then mistaken the criminal, and strung up in his place an honest labourer, who had given your Majesty no offence."

"Most true," said the other. "Know then, Tristan, that the condemned person is Martius Galeotti. -- You start, but it is even as I say. The villain hath trained us all hither by false and treacherous representations, that he might put us into the hands of the Duke of Burgundy without defence."

"But not without vengeance!" said Tristan, "were it the last act of my life, I would sting him home like an expiring wasp, should I be crushed to pieces on the next instant!"

"I know thy trusty spirit," said the King, "and the pleasure which, like other good men, thou dost find in the discharge of thy duty, since virtue, as the schoolmen say, is its own reward. But away and prepare the priests, for the victim approaches."

"Would you have it done in your own presence, my gracious Liege?" said Tristan.

Louis declined this offer; but charged the Provost Marshal to have everything ready for the punctual execution of his commands the moment the Astrologer left his apartment.

"For," said the King, "I will see the villain once more, just to observe how he bears himself towards the master whom he has led into the toils. I shall love to see the sense of approaching death strike the colour from that ruddy cheek, and dim that eye which laughed as it lied. -- Oh, that there were but another with him, whose counsels aided his prognostications! But if I survive this -- look to your scarlet, my Lord Cardinal! for Rome shall scarce protect you -- be it spoken under favour of Saint Peter and the blessed Lady of Clery, who is all over mercy. -- Why do you tarry? Go get your rooms ready. I expect the villain instantly. I pray to Heaven he take not fear and come not! -- that were indeed a balk. -- Begone, Tristan -- thou wert not wont to be so slow when business was to be done."

"On the contrary, an it like your Majesty, you were ever wont to say that I was too fast, and mistook your purpose, and did the job on the wrong subject. Now, please your Majesty to give me a sign, just when you part with Galeotti for the night, whether the business goes on or no. I have known your Majesty once or twice change your mind, and blame me for over dispatch."

(The Provost Marshal was often so precipitate in execution as to slay another person instead of him whom the King had indicated. This always occasioned a double execution, for the wrath or revenge of Louis was never satisfied with a vicarious punishment. S.)

"Thou suspicious creature," answered King Louis, "I tell thee I will not change my mind -- but to silence thy remonstrances, observe, if I say to the knave at parting, 'There is a Heaven above us!' then let the business go on; but if I say 'Go in peace,' you will understand that my purpose is altered."

"My head is somewhat of the dullest out of my own department," said Tristan l'Hermite. "Stay, let me rehearse. -- If you bid him depart in peace, I am to have him dealt upon?"

"No, no -- idiot, no," said the King, "in that case, you let him pass free. But if I say, 'There is a heaven above us,' up with him a yard or two nearer the planets he is so conversant with."

"I wish we may have the means here," said the Provost.

"Then up with him, or down with him, it matters not which," answered the King, grimly smiling.

"And the body," said the Provost, "how shall we dispose of it?"

"Let me see an instant," said the King -- "the windows of the hall are too narrow; but that projecting oriel is wide enough. We will over with him into the Somme, and put a paper on his breast, with the legend, 'Let the justice of the King pass toll free.' The Duke's officers may seize it for duties if they dare."

The Provost Marshal left the apartment of Louis, and summoned his two assistants to council in an embrasure in the great hall, where Trois Eschelles stuck a torch against the wall to give them light. They discoursed in whispers, little noticed by Oliver le Dain, who seemed sunk in dejection, and Le Balafre, who was fast asleep.

"Comrades," said the Provost to his executioners, "perhaps you have thought that our vocation was over, or that, at least, we were more likely to be the subjects of the duty of others than to have any more to discharge on our own parts. But courage, my mates! Our gracious master has reserved for us one noble cast of our office, and it must be gallantly executed, as by men who would live in history."

"Ay, I guess how it is," said Trois Eschelles; "our patron is like the old Kaisers of Rome, who, when things came to an extremity, or, as we would say, to the ladder foot with them, were wont to select from their own ministers of justice some experienced person, who might spare their sacred persons from the awkward attempts of a novice, or blunderer in our mystery. It was a pretty custom for Ethnics; but, as a good Catholic, I should make some scruple at laying hands on the Most Christian King."

"Nay, but, brother, you are ever too scrupulous," said Petit Andre. "If he issues word and warrant for his own execution, I see not how we can in duty dispute it. He that dwells at Rome must obey the Pope -- the Marshalsmen, must do their master's bidding, and he the King's."

"Hush, you knaves!" said the Provost Marshal, "there is here no purpose concerning the King's person, but only that of the Greek heretic pagan and Mahomedan wizard, Martius Galeotti."

"Galeotti!" answered Petit-Andre, "that comes quite natural. I never knew one of these legerdemain fellows, who pass their lives, as one may say, in dancing upon a tight rope, but what they came at length to caper at the end of one -- tchick."

"My only concern is," said Trois Eschelles, looking upwards, "that the poor creature must die without confession."

"Tush! tush!" said the Provost Marshal, in reply, "he is a rank heretic and necromancer -- a whole college of priests could not absolve him from the doom he has deserved. Besides, if he hath a fancy that way, thou hast a gift, Trois Eschelles, to serve him for ghostly father thyself. But, what is more material, I fear you most use your poniards, my mates; for you have not here the fitting conveniences for the exercise of your profession."

"Now our Lady of the Isle of Paris forbid," said Trois Eschelles, "that the King's command should find me destitute of my tools! I always wear around my body Saint Francis's cord, doubled four times, with a handsome loop at the farther end of it; for I am of the company of Saint Francis, and may wear his cowl when I am in extremis (at the point of death) -- I thank God and the good fathers of Saumur."

"And for me," said Petit Andre, "I have always in my budget a handy block and sheaf, or a pulley as they call it, with a strong screw for securing it where I list, in case we should travel where trees are scarce, or high branched from the ground. I have found it a great convenience."

"That will suit us well," said the Provost Marshal. "You have but to screw your pulley into yonder beam above the door, and pass the rope over it. I will keep the fellow in some conversation near the spot until you adjust the noose under his chin, and then --"

"And then we run up the rope," said Petit Andre, "and, tchick, our Astrologer is so far in Heaven that he hath not a foot on earth."

"But these gentlemen," said Trois Eschelles, looking towards the chimney, "do not these help, and so take a handsel of our vocation?"

"Hem! no," answered the Provost, "the barber only contrives mischief, which he leaves other men to execute; and for the Scot, he keeps the door when the deed is a-doing, which he hath not spirit or quickness sufficient to partake in more actively -- every one to his trade."

(The author has endeavoured to give to the odious Tristan l'Hermite a species of dogged and brutal fidelity to Louis, similar to the attachment of a bulldog to his master. With all the atrocity of his execrable character, he was certainly a man of courage, and was in his youth made knight in the breach of Fronsac, with a great number of other young nobles, by the honour giving hand of the elder Dunois, the celebrated hero of Charles the Fifth's reign. S.)

With infinite dexterity, and even a sort of professional delight which sweetened the sense of their own precarious situation, the worthy executioners of the Provost's mandates adapted their rope and pulley for putting in force the sentence which had been uttered against Galeotti by the captive Monarch -- seeming to rejoice that that last action was to be one so consistent with their past lives. Tristan l'Hermite sat eyeing their proceedings with a species of satisfaction; while Oliver paid no attention to them whatever; and Ludovic Lesly, if, awaked by the bustle, he looked upon them at all, considered them as engaged in matters entirely unconnected with his own duty, and for which he was not to be regarded as responsible in one way or other.

国王静静地躺着,忧心如焚。

《亨利四世》第二部分

四十名武士分别手执刀剑和熊熊的火炬护送着或更恰当地说是押送着路易王从佩隆市政厅来到城堡。当他一走进城堡阴暗的氛围中,耳朵里就仿佛听见一下尖细的声音,传来了弗洛伦廷在地狱的大门上写过的一句话:“扔下你的一切希望!”

假若路易王此刻想到,曾有成千上万的人仅因为轻微的嫌疑(有的甚至完全无辜),不幸被他投入深渊般的地牢,失去恢复自由的希望,甚至憎恶仅由于动物本能才不肯舍弃的生命,也许他心头会掠过某种内疚的感觉。

火炬耀眼的光辉使得那苍白的月亮不敢露面,所以今晚月色比昨夜的显得更为朦胧。火炬在古老的建筑物周围散布的烟雾和弥漫的红光使得那称之为“赫伯特伯爵高塔”的巨大主楼比其余的建筑笼罩着更浓的阴影。这正是前晚路易带着不安的预感注视过的那个塔楼。而如今他已注定要成为这个塔楼的居民,任随他那性格暴戾、势力强大的藩属在这专横统治的秘密巢穴中对他施加一切可能的暴力威胁。

仿佛是为了加深路易王的这种痛苦感觉,当他走过庭院时,看见几具尸首,上面草草地盖着军大衣。很快他就认出这是被杀害的苏格兰卫士的尸体。克雷维格伯爵告诉他,由于卫士们对撤掉国王卧室附近岗哨的命令表示不服,他们和公爵的瓦龙卫队发生了争执,而双方官员还没有来得及调解,已经有好几个人丧命。

“我忠实的苏格兰卫士!”国王望着这令人痛心的场面忧伤地说道,“要是你们能单个地拼打,整个弗兰德加上勃艮第也找不出人做你们的对手。”

“说得对,”紧跟着国王的巴拉弗雷说道,“我还想告诉陛下,刈草靠技术,杀人凭功夫——很少有人能同时对付两三个人。除非我在执行特殊任务,顾不得站在一边点好人数再打,否则我也不介意同时对付三个。”

“是你在后面吗,老相识?”国王口过头来说道,“这么说,我还有一个忠实的部下跟着我。”

“还有一个给您出主意,照顾您御体的忠实的臣子。”奥利弗·丹轻声说道。

“我们大家都很忠实,”特里斯顿·勒尔米特粗声粗气地说道,“因为,要是他们杀害了陛下,即使我们有谁想活,他们也不会让我们活下来。”

“嘿,这正是我所说的为保证效忠君王进行人身连环保的好办法。”勒格洛里尔说道。正如上面提到过的,由于他那不坚定的头脑所特有的好动性格,他早已跨身于他们的行列。

这时,在匆忙之中,叫来的城堡管事正在使劲地扭动着一把沉重的钥匙,想打开那巨大的哥特式主塔里那扇难开的大门。最后他只得求助于克雷维格的一名随从。他们两人终于把大门打开,六个人擎着火炬走了进去,带着他们穿过一个窄狭而曲折的通道。这一通道受到后面的地下室和窗扉内以及厚厚的墙壁内设立的射击孔的严密控制。通道的末端是一个粗糙的石阶,它是由粗劈出来的巨大石块堆砌而成的。登上石阶之后,通过一道坚实的铁锁大门,进入了城堡的主塔大厅。这里,即使白天光线也很暗淡,因为墙壁太厚,窗孔看来很小——与其说是窗子,不如说更像缝隙。而此刻,要不是火炬的照耀,几乎一片漆黑。一两只蝙蝠和另外的不祥之鸟被这异常的亮光惊醒之后,都扑了过来,大有扑灭火炬之势。城堡总管拘谨地向国王道歉说,由于通知他过于匆忙,他还没来得及整理好国务大厅。他又补充说,那个大厅实际上已经有二十年没用过了。据他所知,打从“单纯的查尔斯”死后也很少用过。

“单纯的查尔斯!”路易应和着说道,“现在我知道这个塔楼的历史了。根据编年史的记载,他就是在这儿遭到奸臣维尔曼伯爵赫伯特谋害的。我原先就明白这佩隆城堡有点什么东西老在我心里嘀咕,但我总想不起这个情况——这么说来,我的老前辈就是在这儿被杀害的?”

“不是这儿,不完全是这儿。我可以告诉陛下,”年老的总管带着领客人参观名胜古迹的导游者常见的急切心情慌忙说道,“不是这儿,而是稍往上去的一间侧室。陛下的卧室正好与它相通。”

他赶紧打开大厅上端那道通向卧室的边门,这间卧室也和古老建筑物里的其他房间一样,面积很小,但正因为如此,要比他们刚走过的空荡荡的大厅舒适得多。为了准备给国王居住,房间已经过一番匆忙的布置。墙上挂着挂毯,在久已不用的生锈的壁炉里生好了一炉火。地上铺着草席,好让按当时的惯例得在国王卧室里过夜的绅士们有个睡处。

“我们会给您其他的随从在大厅里铺设床位,”那爱唠叨的老年人说道,“请陛下原谅,我们刚接到通知不久——假如陛下高兴的话,请看这挂毯后面有道边门,通向墙壁里面开出的一个年代久远的密室。这就是查尔斯遇害的地方。底下有个秘密的通道,杀害他的凶手就是沿着通道走进去的。陛下目光想必比我的敏锐,您可以看到橡木地板上的血迹,尽管这已经是五百年前的事了。”

他边说边摸索着去打开他提到的那道后门。国王阻止他说:“老年人,等一等——等不多久你就可以找到新的谈话材料,也会发现墙上有新溅的鲜血,可以指点给别人看了。克雷维格伯爵,你有什么要说的?”

“陛下,我只能回答说,您满可以像在自己的普莱西宫一样自由使用里面的两个房间,而我将守护在外面。您放心,我克雷维格还从没有让阴谋暗害这种罪行玷污过自己的名声。”

“不过,那老人刚提到过的通往密室的暗道呢?”路易王一只手紧握着克雷维格的胳膊,另一只手指着旁门,焦急地低声问道。

“这一定是摩尔纳说的梦话,”克雷维格说道,“要不就是这个地方的一个古老而荒诞的传说——就让我们去亲眼瞧瞧吧。”

看到他要打开密室的门,路易阻止他说:“不用了,克雷维格,以你的荣誉作保证就够了。不过,克雷维格,公爵究竟打算怎样对待我呢?他总不能指望长时期地囚禁我吧?况且——总之,我想请你谈谈你的看法。”

“我的陛下,”伯爵说道,“勃艮第公爵对他的近亲和盟友惨遭杀害所感到的愤怒,陛下自己完全可以判断。至于他能根据什么理由认为这事是您的特使煽动的结果,那也只有您自己知道。不过,我主人品格高尚,而且,正因为他感情强烈,所以根本不可能干出任何见不得人的勾当。不管他怎么做,总是会当着两国人民的面做得光明正大。我只能补充说,他周围的每个谋臣——也许只有一个例外——都希望他在这个事件上表现得宽宏大量,有节制,合乎正义。”

“唉!克雷维格,”路易握着他的手说道,似乎有某种痛苦的回忆使他深受感动,“一个君王能得到他周围的谋士们帮助,避免愤怒带来的后果,这该有多么的幸福!后人读到他这个朝代的历史时,肯定会用金字把这些谋士们的名字大书特书。高贵的克雷维格,但愿我有幸能有你这样的人在我周围做我的幕僚!”

“要是果真如此,陛下又会想方设法尽快把他们除掉。”勒格洛里尔说道。

“唉!智慧先生,是你在这儿吗?”路易转过身来对他说道。他马上改变了他刚才对克雷维格讲话时的感伤语调,而很自然地转换成带有欣喜味道的腔调。“你也跟我们到这儿来了吗?”

“是的,先生,”勒格洛里尔回答道,“穿紫袍的愚人前面引路,穿杂色衣的智者后面跟随。”

“所罗门先生,我该如何理解你的话呢?”路易回答道,“你愿意和我交换地位吗?”

“即使你倒贴给我五十克朗,我也决不愿意。”勒格洛里尔说道。

“那是什么道理呢?我知道一般的君王是个什么样子,所以,要是能有你这样一个人做我的国王,我已经十分满意。”

“陛下,您说得真好,”勒格洛里尔说道,“不过,问题是陛下竟聪明到了使自己陷入囹圄的地步,那么我得考虑,要是我真有您这么一个愚蠢的弄臣,我是否该为此感到害羞。”

“奴才闭嘴!”克雷维格伯爵说道,“你的舌头太放肆了。”

“让他去吧,”国王说道,“我知道,不该干出蠢事的人干出了蠢事,是最叫人嘲笑的。喂,聪明的朋友,我给你一袋子金币,同时还给你这么一个劝告:永远不要自认为比别人更聪明,这样会使自己成为一个可悲的大傻瓜。求你帮我个忙打听一下我的占星术家马蒂阿斯·伽利奥提在什么地方,叫他马上到我这儿来。”

“陛下,我一定照办。”那弄臣回答道,“我有把握在简·多波特尔那里找到他,因为哲学家也和傻瓜一样知道什么地方出售名酒。”

“克雷维格伯爵,我求你关照你的看守人员,准许这位学者到我这里来。”路易说道。

“这没问题,”伯爵回答说,“不过,我不得不遗憾地作一个补充:我接到的命令不准许我让任何人离开陛下的卧室——我祝陛下晚安,”他接着又说,“我将在外面的大厅里作出安排,好让该在那里住宿的绅士们睡得更舒服一点。”

“伯爵先生,别为他们费神了,”国王回答说,“他们都是惯于藐视艰苦生活的男子汉。而且说实话,除开想见见伽利奥提以外,我也想按你接到的指示办,今晚尽可能不再和外面接触。”

“我接到的指示是,”克雷维格回答说,“陛下在卧室内享有完全的自由。这是我主人指示的原话。”

“克雷维格,你的主人——可能也称得上我的主人——是个贤明的君主。如今我的领域只剩下一个古老的大厅和一个卧室,范围是缩小了一点。不过,对于我目前还拥有的臣民来说,我的版图仍然是很大的。”

克雷维格伯爵告辞离去。不久,里面的人就听到前来站岗的哨兵传来的嘈杂声,以及长官发出的口令声和下岗的卫兵匆匆离去的脚步声。最后,一切归于沉寂。夜空中剩下来的惟一声音就是那深沉浑浊的索姆河在城堡下面缓缓流过时发出的潺潺水声。

“你们去大厅休息吧,好伙计,”路易对随从说道,“不过,你们别躺下睡觉,得随时准备行动。今晚还有事要干,而且非常紧急。”

奥利弗和特里斯顿遵命回到大厅。他们看到巴拉弗雷和军法总监手下的两名军官在大厅里守卫。这三个人是在别人都进入国王卧室时留下来的。奥利弗和特里斯顿发现外面的三个人已经在火炉里添满了烧柴,以便能达到取暖和照明的双重目的。他们三人正裹着披风坐在地板上,以不同的姿势表现出他们内心的沮丧和不安。奥利弗和特里斯顿感到百无聊赖,也只得效法他们的榜样。他们在宫廷走运时并不十分友好,碰到命运这一奇异的突然转折,他们也同样不愿互相信赖,因此全都怀着沮丧的心情默默坐着。

他们的主人这时正在他那僻静的卧室里经历着一场痛苦的折磨。这也许能抵偿由于他的发号施令给别人造成的某些痛苦。他以急促不匀的步履在房里踱来踱去,经常停下来,把两只手握在一起。总之,他是在尽情流露他在公开场合曾经有效地抑制住的激动感情。最后他又停住,握握手,终于在那道旁门——也就是年老的摩尔纳说是通向他的前辈遇难现场的那道旁门——对面站了下来,用断断续续的独白尽情发泄他的感情。

“‘单纯的查尔斯!’——‘单纯的查尔斯!’——后人又将如何来称呼也许很快就会以鲜血来刷新你的血迹的路易十一呢?愚不可及的路易?胡说八道的路易?昏庸不堪的路易?我看这些称号都不足以形容我的极端痴愚!想想看,竟以为那些规叛乱为家常便饭的、头脑发热的列旧人会按兵不动!竟幻想‘阿登内斯野猪’会停歇他那血腥野蛮的暴行!竟以为我对勃艮第查尔斯施展说理和辩论的手段能取得成效!我真是个傻瓜,双料的傻瓜!不过,马蒂阿斯那坏东西也休想逃脱——是他搞鬼,是他和那可恶的巴卢主教一起搞的鬼。要是这次我能脱险,我将把他那红衣主教的帽子扯下来,哪怕是连他的头发一起扯下来!好在另外这个奸贼还没逃出我的手掌心。我还有足够的君权、足够的地盘来惩罚这个既把我变成了囚徒,又把我变成了傻瓜的骗子——这贩卖狗皮膏药,望星星,编造谎话的江湖骗子!星宿的际遇——好一个际遇——他尽说些连三岁小孩也骗不了的胡话,而我却硬要愚蠢地自以为懂得他的胡话!我们很快就会明白这个‘际遇’究竟是预兆个什么结局。不过,先还是让我做做祷告。”

也许是为了纪念秘室里发生的那件弑君案,小门上设有一个粗糙的神龛,里面装有一个石砌的十字。国王眼睛凝视着这个十字架,正要下跪,但忽然又停住,仿佛他打算把世俗政治的原则应用于圣像,将未经受宠爱的圣徒私下说情而直接向圣像求情看作是一种轻率的行为。因此他把目光从十字架上移开,仿佛自己没有注视它的资格。然后他从我们经常提到的那顶帽子周围装饰着的圣像当中挑出克列里圣母像,跪在它面前,作了一次不同寻常的祷告。从这祷告当中我们可以看出,他那粗鄙的迷信使得他在某种程度上把克列里圣母和他所宠爱的、经常许愿的昂布伦圣母看作是两个人。

“亲爱的克列里圣母,”他紧握双手,捶胸顿足地大声说道,“得福的仁慈圣母,万能的上帝使得你万能。请你可怜可怜我这罪人吧!我承认我因为偏爱你的妹妹昂布伦,而有点疏忽了你。不过,我是国王,我有很大的权力、无穷的财富。即便不是这样,我就是对我的臣民多征收一倍的盐税,也决不致赖掉对二位的欠债。求你打开铁门,填平可怕的护城河,像母亲领着幼儿一样领着我逃脱这迫在眉睫的危险吧!假如我把布洛涅县永远划归你的妹妹,难道我就不能对你也表表忠心?我要把那宽阔而富饶的香槟省划给你。香槟的葡萄园将把它们丰盛的葡萄奉献给你的寺院。我曾把这个省份许给我的兄弟查尔斯。但你知道,他已经不在人世了——他已被圣约翰·当热利寺院的歹毒住持毒死了。假如我能活着,我将惩罚他!——在此之前我已许过这个愿,但这回我会叫它兑现的。如果说在这个罪行上我曾与闻其事,亲爱的圣母呀,请相信,这是因为我没有别的好办法来平息国内的不满。啊,今天请你别和我算这笔旧账吧!请你像过去一贯表现的那样,对我仁慈宽厚,易于接受我的恳求吧!最亲爱的圣母呀,请你说服你的儿子,饶恕我过去的罪过以及——我今晚得干的一件小事吧!——最亲爱的克列里圣母,这不是什么罪过——不是罪过,而是私下干的一种正义行动,因为这个坏蛋是曾经向君主耳朵里灌过谎言的最大的骗子。此外他还热衷于丑恶的希腊异端邪说。他不值得你保护。把他交给我吧。请把我除掉他看作是给这世界办了一件好事,因为这家伙是个巫师,是个关亡术者,值不得你关心照顾——他这条狗,在你眼睛里,打死它应该像踩灭油灯掉下的火花或炉里冒出的火星那样无足轻重。最温柔、最仁慈的圣母呀,请别为这件小事介意,而只考虑如何最有效地帮助我摆脱困境吧!我谨把我的御印束在你的偶像上,以表示我将兑现我就香槟郡许的愿,并保证,鉴于你十分仁慈、温柔、善良,今后不再在带有血腥气味的事情上麻烦你了。”

在和他敬爱的神灵签订了这一特殊合同之后,路易貌似虔诚地念了七段忏悔用的拉丁文赞美诗,以及七段专用于圣母祷告的颂歌和祷文,然后站起来,对他获得了他所祈祷的这位圣母为他说情的许诺深感满意。特别是因为这位狡黠的老人自以为他过去求她说情的罪过大多数都属于不同的性质,因此克列里的圣母不致像他经常对之坦白凶杀罪行的其他圣徒那样,认为他是个估恶不俊、嗜血成性的杀人魔王。

路易工消除了良心的不安——或者更恰当地说,把良心当作坟墓粉刷之后——便把头伸出门去,把坐在大厅里的巴拉弗雷召进他的卧室。“我的好卫士,’他说道,“你长期为我服役,但没得到过提升。我目前的处境是生死未卜。但我不愿作为一个忘恩负义的人死去。只要圣徒降福,使我有这个权力,我也不愿在临死之际不给朋友报答,不给敌人惩罚。我有个朋友需要报答,这正是你自己。我也有个敌人需要给以罪有应得的惩罚,这就是那卑鄙、阴险的恶棍马蒂阿斯·伽利奥提。他通过他的欺骗和动听的谎言使我陷进了我的死敌的牢笼。其坚定不移的目的就是要像屠夫宰割他那赶往屠场的畜牲一样把我干掉。”

“他胆敢如此,我非向他挑战不可。人们说他很会武艺,尽管看起来很笨拙。”巴拉弗雷说道,一我相信,勃艮第公爵既然十分赞赏尚武精神,他一定会给我们提供一个面积合适的空间作为公平比武的场地。只要陛下这次能长命百岁,重享自由,您会看到我为您挥戈上阵,对这个哲学家进行您所希望的报复。”

“我很赞赏你的勇敢和你对我的忠诚,”国王说道,“但这个阴险的恶棍武艺高强。我不愿故意拿我一个勇敢的卫士的生命去进行冒险。”

“陛下请原谅,”巴拉弗雷说道,“要是我不敢对付一个甚至比他还厉害的人,那我就算不上一个勇敢的卫士。像我这样一个既不能读也不能写的粗人竟惧怕一个一辈子只读读写写的懒鬼,那我就太不像话了。”

“巴拉弗雷,”国王说道,“我不愿让你如此冒险。我已下令把这奸贼叫来。我想叫你一有机会便马上跃到他跟前,在第五根肋骨下面给他一个猛击——你懂得我的意思吗?”

“当然,当然,”巴拉弗雷说道,“不过,陛下请原谅,这种事可完全超出了我平常的行动范围。我要给您杀条狗,也得看它是否在袭击或追赶陛下,或不听警告等等。”

“想必你不是在假装慈悲吧!”国王说道,“要知道,你攻城掠地向来是一马当先的。并且,人们告诉我,你最热衷于依靠自己心狠手狠,趁这种机会多捞到一些快乐和好处哩!”

“陛下,”巴拉弗雷对答说,“我从没惧怕过您那些手持武器的敌人,也没有饶过他们的命。进攻是一种拼命的玩意,所冒的危险能使人热血沸腾——圣安德鲁在上,简直一两个小时都还平静不下来。由于这个缘故,我认为攻陷城池之后抢劫一番倒也公平合理,未尝不可。求上帝怜悯我们这些可怜的丘八:我们先是被危险刺激得发狂、以后又被胜利刺激得更为发狂。我曾听说有个军团完全由圣徒组成。我想,那是因为得麻烦他们全都为戴羽毛、披甲胄、手持大刀的军人进行祷告,向上帝说情才能解决问题。陛下提出的事的确超出了我平常的行动范围,尽管我决不否认这个范围是十分宽阔的。至于那位占星术家,要是他真是个奸贼,那就把他作为一个奸贼处死好了——我既不干涉也不插手。陛下的军法总监和他两名部下就坐在外面,他们和我这种出身和地位的苏格兰绅士比起来,更适合和他打交道。”

“你说得很好,”国王讲道,“不过,至少你有责任防止他人阻挠,并保护我执行这个最合乎正义的判决。”

“即使全佩隆的人倾巢出动,我也照办。”巴拉弗雷说道,“只要事情使我良心过得去,陛下不必怀疑我的忠诚。老实说,为了我自己的方便,也为了向陛下效忠,我这个良心容得下的东西是很多的。至少,我知道我为陛下干了许多我决不会为别人干的事——我宁可吞下自己的匕首也决不干的事。”

“别多说了,”国王讲道,“你听着——你看见伽利奥提进来,门一关上,你就得进行戒备,守住通往内室的人口。别让任何人撞进来——我要求你的就这些。现在你去把军法总监给我叫来。”

巴拉弗雷遵命离开了国王的卧室。很快特里斯顿·勒尔米特就从大厅走了进来。

“欢迎你,老伙计,”国王说,“你认为我们现在是个什么处境?”

“像是被判了死刑,”军法总监说道,“除非公爵下令赦免。”

“赦免不赦免,反正那诱骗我们陷入这个圈套的人得充当我们的先行官,先去阴间给我们安排好住处。”国王带着狰狞可怕的微笑说道,“特里斯顿,你已经干了许多勇敢的执法行动——finis——我应当说funis—coronat opus。你可得和我同生共死,直到最后一刻。”

“陛下,我会的,”特里斯顿说道,“我不过是一个平凡的人,但我是知道感恩的。无论在这个卧室之内或在别的地方我都将尽我的职责。只要我还活着,陛下就可以像过去坐在国王宝座上那样,一声喊斩,便叫人头落地。就让他们马上来和我算账好了——我不在乎。”

“我的好伙计,这正是我希望于你的,”路易说道,“不过你有好的帮手吗?——那奸贼身体强壮,肯定会喊救命的。那苏格兰人只答应守门,我用了一番花言巧语才幸好使他答应了下来。奥利弗是个饭桶,只知道撒谎,拍马屁,出一些危险的主意。该死的畜生!我看终归有一天他会自己上绞架,而不是把绞索套在别人头上。你看,你有足够的人手和手段能既快又猛地干掉他吗?”

“特罗瓦—艾歇尔和小安德烈在我身边,”他说道,“他们干这行可是能手,可以把三个人当中某一个悄悄吊死,而另外两个还毫无察觉。我们一定和陛下同生死,因为我们都知道,您一死我们也只能像我们的犯人那样落得个绞索套着喘不过气来的下场——请问陛下,我们目前的对象是谁?我想先认准是哪个人。正如陛下有时好意提醒我的,我有时会把罪犯搞错,使一个没冒犯陛下的老实人成了替死鬼。”

“你说得很对,”国王说,“我告诉你吧,特里斯顿,要处死的正是马蒂阿斯·伽利奥提——你吃了一惊。但我说的是真话。这个坏蛋用花言巧语把我们大伙都套到了这儿,好使我们一个个束手无策地落到勃艮第公爵手上。”

“他不得好死!”特里斯顿说道,“即使这是我一生干的最后一件事,我也要像一只快死的黄蜂那样把他一直叮进地狱——哪怕我自己转眼就会被踩得粉碎!”

“我知道你忠心耿耿,”国王说道,“而且也和我的其他好部下一样,你的确是以履行职责为乐事——因为正如学者们说的那样,良好的品德本身就是报酬。你去叫牧师作好准备吧。那该死的家伙就要来了。”

“陛下,我想让您亲眼看见这个人在您面前处死,好吗?”特里斯顿问道。

路易谢绝了这个建议,但他吩咐军法总监说,一当那位占星术家离开了他的卧室,他就得准备严格执行命令。“我想再见见这个恶棍,”国王说道,“看他如何对待被他引进圈套的主人。我很想看看死亡临近的恐怖如何使他那红润的面颊顿然失色,并使他那一边撒谎一边含笑的眼睛黯淡无光。啊,是主教的鬼点子唆使他作出了那个不幸的预言。但愿他和这占卜家一道来我这里!不过,要是我能活下来的话,主教大人,你可得当心你的红袍!罗马教廷也休想保护你——愿圣彼得和得福的大慈大悲的克列里的圣母保佑我这么说。你还在磨蹭什么?去叫你的手下人准备好。这坏蛋马上就会到来。我祷告上帝,千万别让他因为害怕而不敢来!否则就糟糕了。去吧,特里斯顿,我从没见你到了该办事的时候还这么慢腾腾的。”

“要是陛下不见怪的话,您可是经常说我办事太性急,往往误解您的意图,杀错了人。请陛下在和伽利奥提分手的时候,给我一个暗号,说明是否按原计划办,因为就我所知,陛下曾有一两次改变主意,反而埋怨我动手太快。”

“你这爱多心的家伙,”国王对答道,“告诉你,我不会改



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