"The Man at Arms" tells the story of Jarnac and Moncontour, and ends with the fatal day of St. Bartholomew. "Henry of Guise" takes up the history of the Religious Wars, with sympathy chiefly for the Catholics, and closes with the assassination of that great soldier; then "One in a Thousand" resumes the tale just before the murder of Henry III. and the battle of Ivry. The two former are rather short and remarkably brisk in movement, this one is somewhat longer and much more elaborate. It has a complex plot, a large crowd of characters from both factious, and has evidently been worked out with, perhaps, less vivacity but more pains. "Willingly" says the novelist, "we turn once more from the dull, dry page of history ... to the more entertaining and instructive accidents and adventures of the individual characters which, with somewhat less skill than that of a Philidore, we have been moving about on the little chess-board before us." There is an ironical undermeaning here; but so far as James suggests that his flagrant romanticism, mysterious dwarfs, princesses disguised as pages, and battles prefigured in the thunder-clouds are more interesting than his retelling of historical events and careful portraiture of historical people, we must venture to dissent from him. The fiction is simply his favourite story of a wealthy heiress held out as a bait by the heads of rival factions to attract the allegiance of two powerful nobles. We feel not the slightest anxiety as to the ultimate happiness of the fair lady and the blameless lover, or the appropriate fate of their enemies. On the other hand, the intimate picture of the Leaguers at Paris, of the headquarters of Henry Quatre, and more particularly the speaking likeness of the Duke de Mayenne, the head of the Guises, are keenly interesting and real contributions to the history of those times. Though the stage effects are well done, this shows far more talent. With all his fierce ambition, his lack of scruple, and his froward temper, the Duke stands out as a man, and is infinitely more alive than the purely romantic characters; furthermore, the family likeness between the various members of that powerful house, the Guises, is admirably brought out in this series of romances, and the figure of Henry of Navarre is not less well done, though he is a personage that we meet with less rarely either in James's novels or in those of other historical raconteurs.
Such was the aspect of the day, though the scene was in the south of France, at a spot which we shall leave for the present nameless, when at about seven o'clock in the morning--an hour in which, at that period of the year, the sun's rays are weak and powerless--a tall, strong, florid man of about four-and-thirty years of age was seen upon the edge of a wide wood walking along cautiously step by step, carefully bending down his eyes upon the withered leaves that strewed his path, as if he had dropped something of value which he sought to find.
The wood, as we have said, was extensive, covering several miles of undulating ground, broken by rocks and dingles, and interspersed by more than one piece of water. It contained various kinds of tree, as well as various sorts of soil; but at the spot of which we now speak the wood was low and thin, gradually increasing in volume as it rose along the slope of the adjacent hill, till it grew into a tangled thicket, from which rose a number of tall trees, waving their grey branches sadly in the wintry air. On a distant eminence, rising far above the wood itself, might be seen towers, and turrets, and pinnacles, the abode of some of the lords of the land; and at the end of a long glade, up which the man we have just mentioned was cautiously stealing, as we have described, appeared a little cottage with one or two curious outbuildings, not usually found attached to the abodes of the agricultural population.