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Title: The Abbess Of Vlaye
Author: Weyman, Stanley J.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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   2.  The diphthong oe is represented by [oe]

                         THE ABBESS OF VLAYE

                         By STANLEY J. WEYMAN

                              *   *   *

THE HOUSE OF THE WOLF. A Romance. With Frontispiece and Vignette.
Crown 8vo, cloth, $1.25.

THE STORY OF FRANCIS CLUDDE. A Romance. With four Illustrations. Crown
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COUNT HANNIBAL. A Romance of the Court of France. With Frontispiece.
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IN KINGS' BYWAYS. With Frontispiece. Crown 8vo, $1.50.

                              *   *   *

                  New York: Longmans, Green, and Co.

                                                    [_Page_ 113]

                              THE ABBESS
                               OF VLAYE


                          STANLEY J. WEYMAN

      _Author of "Under the Red Robe," "A Gentleman of France,"
              "My Lady Rotha," "The Red Cockade," "Count
                  Hannibal," "The Castle Inn," etc_.

                       LONGMANS, GREEN, AND CO.
                   91 and 93 FIFTH AVENUE, NEW YORK
                          LONDON AND BOMBAY

                         Copyright, 1903, by
                          STANLEY J. WEYMAN.

                              *   *   *

                         Copyright, 1904, by
                          STANLEY J. WEYMAN.

                              *   *   *

                        _All rights reserved_.



                         HUGH STOWELL SCOTT,



                            THIS STORY IS




            INTRODUCTION--A King in Council.

         I. Villeneuve-l'Abbesse.

        II. The Tower Chamber.

       III. Still Waters Troubled.

        IV. The Dilemma.

         V. The Captain of Vlaye.

        VI. In the Hay-field.

       VII. A Soldiers' Frolic.

      VIII. Father Angel.

        IX. Speedy Justice.

         X. Midnight Alarms.

        XI. The Chapel by the Ford.

       XII. The Peasants' Camp.

      XIII. Hostages.

       XIV. Saint and Sinner.

        XV. Fears.

       XVI. To Do or Not to Do?

      XVII. The Heart of Cain.

     XVIII. Two in the Mill.

       XIX. The Captain of Vlaye's Condition.

        XX. The Abbess Moves.

       XXI. The Castle Of Vlaye.

      XXII. A Night by the River.

     XXIII. The Bride's Dot.

      XXIV. Fors l'Amour.

       XXV. His Last Ride.

                         THE ABBESS OF VLAYE.


                          A KING IN COUNCIL.

Monsieur des Ageaux was a man of whom his best friends could not say
that he shone, or tried to shine, in the pursuit of the fair sex. He
was of an age, something over thirty, when experience renders more
formidable the remaining charms of youth; and former conquests whet
the sword for new emprises. And the time in which he lived and
governed the province of Périgord for the King was a time in which the
favour of ladies, and the good things to be gained thereby, stood for
much, and morality for little. So that for the ambitious the path of
dalliance presented almost as many chances of advancement as the more
strenuous road of war.

Yet des Ageaux, though he was an ambitious man and one whose appetite
success--and in his degree he had been very successful--had but
sharpened, showed no inclination to take that path, or to rise by
trifling. Nay, he turned from it; he shunned if he did not dislike the
other sex. Whether he doubted his powers--he was a taciturn, grave
man--or he had energy only for the one pursuit he loved, the
government of men, the thing was certain. Yet he was not unpopular
even at Court, the lax Court of Henry the Fourth. But he was known for
a thoughtful, dry man, older than his years and no favourite with
great ladies; of whom some dubbed him shy, and some a clown, and
all--a piece of furniture.

None the less, where men were concerned, he passed for a man more
useful than most; or, for certain, seeing that he boasted no great
claims, and belonged to no great family, he had not been Governor of a
province. Governors of provinces in those days were of the highest;
cousins of the King, when these could be trusted, which was rare;
peers and Marshals of France, great Dukes with vast hereditary
possessions, old landed Vicomtes, and the like. Only at the tail of
the list came some half-dozen men whom discretion and service, or the
playfulness of fortune had--_mirabile dictum_--raised to office. And
at the tail of all came des Ageaux; for Périgord, his province, land
of the pie and the goose liver, was part of the King's demesne, the
King was his own Governor in it, and des Ageaux bore only the title of
"Lieutenant for the King in the country of Périgord."

Yet was it a wonderful post for such a man, and many a personage, many
a lord well seen at Court, coveted it. All the same the burden was
heavy; a thing not to be dismissed in a moment. The King found him no
money, or little; no men, or few. Where greater Governors used their
own resources he had to use--economy. And to make matters worse the
man was just; it was part of his nature, it was part of his passion,
to be just. So where they taxed not legally only, but illegally, he
scrupled, he held his hand. And, therefore, though his dignity was
almost as high as office could make it, and his power in his own
country not small, no man who ever came to Court went with less
splendour in the streets of Paris, or with a smaller following.
Doubtless, as a result of this, a few despised him; a few even, making
common cause with the Court ladies, and being themselves semi-royal,
and above retort, flouted him as a thing negligible.

But, on the whole, he passed, though dry and grave, for a man to be
envied, the ladies notwithstanding. And he held his own tolerably, and
his post handsomely until a certain day in the summer of 1595, when
word came to the young Governor to cross half France to meet the King
at Lyons; where, in the early part of that year, Henry the Fourth lay,
and was ill-content with a world which, on the surface, seemed to be
treating him well.

But on the surface only. The long wars of religion, midway in which
the Massacre of Bartholomew stands up, like some drear gibbet landmark
in a waste, were, indeed, virtually over. Not only had Henry come to
the throne, but Paris, his capital, was his at last; had he not bought
it eighteen months before by that mass, that abjuration of Protestant
errors, of which the world has heard so much? And not Paris only.
Orleans and Bourges, and this good city of Lyons, and Rouen, all were
his now, and in their Notre-Dames or St.-Etiennes had sung their _Te
Deums_, and more or less heartily cried "God save the King!" At last,
after six years of fighting, of wild horse forays, that flamed across
the Northern corn-lands, after a thousand sleepless nights and as many
days of buying and bartering--at last the lover of Gabrielle, who was
also the most patient and astute of men, was King of France and of
Navarre, lord of all this pleasant realm.

Or, not lord; only over-lord, as six times a day they made him know.
Nor even that, of all. For in Brittany a great noble still went his
own way. And in Provence a great city refused to surrender. And
north-eastwards Spain still clung to his border. Nevertheless it was
none of these things filled Henry, the King, with discontent. It was
at none of these things that he swore in his beard as he sulked at the
end of the long Council Table this June morning; while des Ageaux,
from his seat near the bottom of the board, watched his face.

In truth Henry was discovering, that, having bought, he must pay; that
so great was the mortgage he had put on his kingdom, the profits
belonged to others. Overlord he was--lord, no; except perhaps in Lyons
where he lay, and where for that reason the Governor had to mind his
manners. But in smiling Provence to south of him? Not a whit. The Duke
of Epernon ruled the land of Roses, and would rule until the young
Duke of Guise, to whom His Majesty had given commission, put him out;
and then Guise would rule. In Dauphiny the same. In Languedoc, the
great middle province of the south, Montmorency, son to the old
Constable, was King in fact; in Guienne old Marshal Matignon. In
Angoumois--here Epernon again; so firmly fixed that he deigned only to
rule by quarterly letters from his distant home. True in Poitou was an
obedient Governor, but the house of Trémouille from their red castle
of Thouars outweighed his governorship. And in rocky Limousin the
Governor could keep neither the King's peace nor his own.

So it was everywhere through the wide provinces of France; and Henry,
who loved his people, knew it, and sulkily fingered the papers that
told of it. Not that he had need of the papers. He knew before he cast
eye on them in what a welter of lawlessness and disorder, of private
feud and public poverty, thirty years of civil war had left his
kingdom. One province was in arms, torn asunder by a feud between two
great houses. Another laboured in the throes of a peasant rising, its
hills alight night after night with the flames of burning farmsteads.
A third was helpless in the grip of a gang of brigands, who held the
roads. A fourth was beset by disbanded soldiers. The long wars of
religion had dissolved all ties. Everywhere monks who had left their
abbeys and nuns who had left their convents swarmed on the roads, with
sturdy beggars, homeless peasants, broken gentry. Everywhere, beyond
the walls of the great cities, the law was paralysed, the great
committed outrage, the poor suffered wrong, the excesses of war
enured, and, in this time of fancied peace, took grimmer shape.

He whom God had set over France, to rule it, knew these things and sat
hopeless, brooding over the papers; hampered on the one side by lack
of money, on the other by the grants of power that in evil days had
bought a nominal allegiance. He began to see that he had won only the
first bout of a match which must last him his life. Nor would it have
consoled him much to know that in the college of Navarre that day
played a little lad, just ten years old, whose frail white hand would
one day right these things with a vengeance.

His people cried to him, and he longed to help them and could not.
From a thousand market-places, splayed wooden shelters, covering each
its quarter-acre of ground, their cry came up to him: "Give us peace,
give us law!" and he could not. No wonder that he brooded over the
papers, while the clerks looked askance at him, and the great lords
who had won what he had lost whispered or played tric-trac at the
board. Those who sat lower, and among these M. des Ageaux, were less
at their ease. They wondered where the storm would break, and feared
each for his own head.

Presently M. de Joyeuse, one of the great nobles, precipitated the
outburst. "You have heard," said he, twiddling a pen between his
delicate fingers, "what they call these peasants who are ravaging
Poitou, sire?"

Before the King could answer the Governor of Poitou protested from his
place lower down the table. "They are none of mine," he said. "It is
in the Limousin next door to me that they are at work. I wash my hands
of them!"

"They are as bad on your side as on mine!" he of the barren Limousin

"They started with you!" Poitou rejoined. "Who kindles a fire should
put it out."

The King raised his hand for silence. "No matter who is responsible,
the fact remains!" he said.

"But you have not heard the jest, sire," Joyeuse struck in. His thin
handsome face, pale with excess, belied eyes thoughtful and dreamy,
eyes that saw visions. He had been a King's favourite, he had spent
years in a convent, he had come forth again, now he was head of the
great Joyeuse house, lord of a third of Languedoc. By turns "Father
Angel"--for he had been a noted preacher--and Monseigneur, there were
those who predicted that he would some day return to the cloister and
die in his hood. "They call them the Tards-Avisés," he continued,
"because they were foolish enough to rise when the war was over."

"God pity them!" the King said.

"_Morbleu!_ Your Majesty is pitiful of a sudden!" The speaker was the
Constable de Montmorency. He was a stout, gruff, choleric man, born,
as the Montmorencys were, a generation too late.

"I pity them!" the King answered a trifle sharply. "But you"--he spoke
to the table--"neither pity them nor put them down."

"You are speaking, sire," one asked, "of the Crocans?" It was so; from
the name of a village in their midst, they called these revolted
peasants of the Limousin of whom more will be said.


"They are not in my government," the speaker replied. "Nor in mine!"

"Nor mine!" And so all, except the Governor of the Limousin and the
Governor of Poitou, who sat sulkily silent.

Another of the great ones, Marshal Matignon, nodded approval. "Let
every man shoe his own ass," he said, pursing up his lips. He was a
white-haired, red-faced, apoplectic man of sixty, who thought that in
persuading the Estates of Bordeaux to acknowledge Henry he had earned
the right to go his own way. "Otherwise we shall jostle one another,"
he continued, "and be at blows before we know it, sire! They are in
the Limousin; let the Governor put them down. It is his business and
no other's."

"Except mine," the King replied, with a frown of displeasure. "And if
he cannot, what then?"

"Let him make way, sire, for one who can," the Constable answered
readily. "Your Majesty will not have far to look for him," he
continued in a playful tone. "My nephew, for instance, would like a

"A truce to jesting," Henry said. "The trouble began, it is true,
in the Limousin, but it has spread into Poitou and into the
Angoumois"--he looked at Epernon's agent, for the Duke of Epernon was
so great a man he had not come himself. "Gentlemen," the King
continued, sitting back in his great chair, "can you not come to some
agreement? Can you not mass what force you have, and deal with them
shortly but mercifully? The longer the fire burns, the more trouble
will it be to extinguish it, and the greater the suffering."

"Why not let it burn out, sire?" Epernon's agent muttered with thinly
veiled impudence. "It will then burn the more rubbish, with your
Majesty's leave!"

But, the words said, he quailed. For, under his aquiline nose, the
King's mustaches curled with rage. There were some with whom he must
bear, lords who had brought him rich cities, wide provinces; and
others whose deeds won them licence. But this man? "There spoke the
hireling!" he cried. And the stroke went home, for the man was the
only one at the table who had no government of his own. "I will spare
your attendance, sir," the King continued, with a scornful gesture.
"M. de Guise will answer such questions as arise on your master's late
government--of Provence. And for his other government----"

"I represent him there also," the man muttered sulkily.

"Then you can represent his absence," Henry retorted with quick wit,
"since he is never there! I need you not. Go, sir, and see that within
three hours you are without the walls of Lyons!"

The man rose, divided between fear of the King and fear of the master
to whom he must return. He paused an instant, then went down the room
slowly, and went out.

"Now, gentlemen," Henry continued, with hard looks, "understand. You
may shoe each his own ass, but you must shoe mine also. There must be
an end put to this peasant rising. Who will undertake it?"

"The man who should undertake it," Matignon answered, "for the ass is
of his providing, is the gentleman who has gone out."

"He is naught!"

"He is for much in this."

"How? Sometimes," the King continued irritably, "I think the men are
shod, and the asses come to my Council Table!"

This was a stroke of wit on a level with the Constable's discernment;
he laughed loudly. "Nevertheless," he said, "Matignon's right, sire.
That man's master is for a good deal in this. If he had kept order his
neighbour's house would not be on fire."

For the first time M. des Ageaux ventured a word from the lower end of
the table. "Vlaye!" he muttered.

The Constable leaned forward to see who spoke. "Ay, you've hit on it,
my lad, whoever you are. Vlaye it is!" And he looked at Matignon, who
nodded his adhesion.

Henry frowned. "I am coming to the matter of Vlaye," he said.

"It is all one, sire," Matignon replied, his eyes half shut. He
wheezed a little in his speech.


The Constable explained. He leant forward and prodded the table with a
short, stout finger--not overclean according to the ideas of a later
time. "Angoumois is there," he said. "See, your Majesty. And Poitou is
here"--with a second prod an inch from the first. "And the Limousin is
here! And Périgord is there! And see, your Majesty, where their skirts
all meet in this corner--or as good as meet--is Vlaye! Name of God, a
strong place, that!" He turned for assent to old Matignon, who nodded

"And you mean to say that Vlaye----"

"Has been over heavy handed, your Majesty. And the clowns, beginning
to find the thing beyond a joke, began by hanging three poor devils of
toll gatherers, and the thing started. And what is on everybody's
frontier is nobody's business."

"Except mine," the King muttered drily. "And Vlaye is Epernon's man?"

"That is it, sire," the Constable answered. "Epernon put him in the
castle six years back for standing by him when the Angoulême people
rose on him. But the man is no Vlaye, you understand. M. de Vlaye was
in that business and died of his wounds. He had no near heirs, and the
man whom Epernon put in took the lordship as well as the castle, the
name and all belonging to it. They call him the Captain of Vlaye in
those parts."

The King looked his astonishment.

"Oh, I could give you twenty cases!" the Constable continued,
shrugging his shoulders. "What do you expect, sire, in such times as

"Ventre St. Gris!" Henry swore. "And not content with what he has got,
he robs the poor?"

"And the rich, too," Joyeuse murmured with a grin, "when he gets them
into his net!"

Henry looked sternly from one to another. "But what do you while this
goes on?" he said. "For shame! You, Constable? You, Matignon?" He
turned from one to the other.

Matignon laughed wheezily. "Make me Governor in Epernon's place,
sire," he said, "and I will account for him. But double work and
single pay? No, no!"

The Constable laughed as at a great joke. "I say the same, sire," he
said. "While Epernon has the Angoumois it is his affair."

The King looked stormily at the Governor of Poitou. But Poitou shook
his head. "It is not in my government," he said moodily. "I cannot
afford, sire, to get a hornets' nest about my ears for nothing."

He of the Limousin fidgeted. "I say the same, sire," he muttered.
"Vlaye has three hundred spears. It would need an army to reduce him.
And I have neither men nor money for the task."

"There you have, sire," the delicate-faced Joyeuse cried gaily, "three
hundred and one good reasons why the Limousin leaves the man alone.
For the matter of that"--he tried to spin his pen like a top--"there
is a government as deeply concerned in this as any that has been

"Which?" Henry asked. He was losing patience. That which was so much
to him was nothing to these.

"Périgord," Joyeuse answered with a bow. And at that several laughed
softly--but not the King. He was himself, as has been said, Governor
of Périgord.

Here at last, however, was one on whom he could vent his displeasure;
and he would vent it! "Stand up, des Ageaux!" he cried harshly. And he
scowled as des Ageaux, who was somewhat like him in feature, rose from
his seat. "What have you to say, man?" Henry cried. "For yourself and
for me! Speak, sir!" But before des Ageaux could answer, the King
broke out anew--with abuse, with reproaches, giving his passion rein;
while the great Governors listened and licked their lips, or winked at
one another, when the King hit them a side blow. Presently, when des
Ageaux would have defended himself, alleging that he was no deeper in
fault than others,

"Ventre St. Gris! No words, sir!" Henry retorted. "I find kings enough
here, I want not you in the number! I made not you that I might have
your nobility cast in my teeth! You are not of the blood royal, nor
even," leaning a little on the word, "Joyeuse or Epernon! Man, I made
you! And not for show, I have enough of that--but to be of use and
service, for common needs and not for parade--like the gentleman,"
bitterly, "who deigns to represent me in the Limousin, or he who is so
good as to sign papers for me in Poitou! Man alive, it might be
thought you were peer and marshal, from your way of idling here, while
robbers ride your marches, and my peasants are driven to revolt. Go
to, do you think you are one of these?" He indicated by a gesture the
great lords who sat nearest him. "Do you think that because I made
you, I cannot unmake you?"

The man on whom the storm had fallen bore it not ignobly. It has been
said that he featured Henry himself, being prominent of nose, with a
grave face, a brown beard, close-cropped, and a forehead high and
severe. Only in his eyes shone, and that rarely, a gleam of humour.
Now the sweat stood on his brow as he listened--they were cruel blows,
the position a cruel one. Nevertheless, when the King paused, and he
had room to answer, his voice was steady.

"I claim, sire," he said, "no immunity. Neither that, nor aught but
the right of a soldier, who has fought for France----"

"And gallantly!" struck in one, who had not yet spoken--Lesdiguières,
the Huguenot, the famous Governor of Dauphiny. He turned to the King.
"I vouch for it, sire," he continued. "And M. de Joyeuse, who has the
better right, will vouch for it, too."

But Joyeuse, who was sulkily prodding the table with his spoiled pen,
neither lifted his eyes nor gave heed. He was bitterly offended by the
junction of his name with that of Epernon, who, great and powerful as
he was, had had a notary for his father. He was silent.

Des Ageaux, who had looked at him as hoping something, lifted his
eyes. "Your Majesty will do me the justice to remember," he said,
"that I had your order to have a special care of my province; and to
mass what force I could in Périgueux. Few men as I have----"

"You build them up within walls!" Henry retorted.

"But if I lost Périgueux----"

The King snarled.

"Or aught happened there?"

"You would lose your head!" Henry returned. He was thoroughly out of
temper. "By the Lord," he continued, "have I no man in my service?
Must I take this fellow of Vlaye into hire because I have no honest
man with the courage of a mouse! You call yourself Lieutenant of
Périgord, and this happens on your border. I have a mind to break you,

Henry seldom let his anger have vent; and the man who stood before him
knew his danger. From a poor gentleman of Brittany with something of
pedigree but little of estate, he had risen to this post which eight
out of ten at that table grudged him. He saw it slipping away; nay,
falling from him--falling! A moment might decide his fate.

In the pinch his eyes sought Joyeuse, and the appeal in them was not
to be mistaken. But the elegant sulked, and would not see. It was
clear that, for him, des Ageaux might sink. For himself, the
Lieutenant doubted if words would help him, and they might aggravate
the King's temper. He was bravely silent.

It was Lesdiguières, the Huguenot, who came to the rescue. "Your
Majesty is a little hard on M. des Ageaux," he said. And the King's
lieutenant in Périgord knew why men loved the King's Governor in

"In his place," Henry answered wrathfully, "I would pull down Vlaye if
I did it with my teeth. It is easy for you, my friend, to talk," he
continued, addressing the Huguenot leader. "They are not your peasants
whom this rogue of a Vlaye presses, nor your hamlets he burns. I have
it all here--here!" he repeated, his eyes kindling as he slapped with
his open hand one of the papers before him, "and the things he has
done make my blood boil! I swear if I were not King I would turn
Crocan myself! But these things are little thought of by others.
M. d'Epernon supports this man, and"--with a sudden glance at
Matignon--"the Governor of Guienne makes use of his horses when he
travels to see the King."

Matignon laughed something shamefacedly. "Well, sire, the horses have
done no harm," he said. "Nor he in my government. He knows better. And
things are upside down thereabouts."

"It is for us to right them!" Henry retorted. And then to des Ageaux,
but with less temper. "Now, sir, I lay my order on you! I give you six
weeks to rid me of this man, Vlaye. Fail, and I put in your place a
man who will do it. You understand, Lieutenant? Then do not fail. By
the Lord, I know not where I shall be bearded next!"

He turned then, but still muttering angrily, to other business.
Matignon and the Constable were not concerned in this; and as soon as
the King's shoulder was towards them they winked at one another. "Your
nephew will not have long to wait," Matignon whispered, "if a
lieutenancy will suit him."

"'Twould be a fair start," the Constable answered. "But a watched
pot--you know the saying."

"This pot will boil at the end of six weeks," Matignon rejoined with a
fat chuckle. "Chut, man, with his wage a year in arrear, and naught
behind his wage, where is he to find another fifty men, let alone
three or four hundred? He will need five and twenty score for this,
and he dare not move a man!"

"He might squeeze his country?" the Constable objected.

"Pooh! He is a fool of the new school! He will go back to his cabbages
before he will do that! I tell you," he continued, laying his hand on
the other's knee, "he has got Périgord, the main part of it, into
order! Ay, into order! And if he don't go, we shall have to mend our
manners," with a grin, "and get our governments into order, too!"

"By the Lord, there is no finger wags in my country unless I will it!"
the Constable rejoined with some tartness. "Since he"--he indicated
Joyeuse--"came over to us, at any rate! Don't think it! But there
it is. If there were no whifflesnaffles here and there, and no
blood-letting, it would not suit us very well, would it? You don't
want to go to cabbage planting, Marshal, more than I do?"

The Marshal smiled.

                          *   *   *   *   *

Late that night the young Duke of Joyeuse, leaving his people at the
end of the street, went by himself to the house in which des Ageaux
lodged in Lyons. A woman answered his summons, and not knowing the
young grandee--for he was cloaked to the nose--fetched the Bat, an
old, lean, lank-visaged captain who played squire of the body to des
Ageaux. The Bat knew the Duke in spite of his cloak; perhaps he had
him for a certain reason in his mind. And he bowed his long, stiff
back before him, and would have fetched lights; yet with a glum face.
But the Duke answered him shortly that he wanted no more than a word
with his master, and would say it there.

On which, "You are too late, my lord," the Bat rejoined; and Joyeuse
saw that with all his politeness he was as gloomy as his name. "He
left Lyons this afternoon."

"With what attendance?" the Duke asked in great surprise. For he had
not heard of it.

"Alone, my lord Duke."

"Does he return to-morrow?"

"I know not."

"But you know something!" the young noble retorted with more of
vexation than the circumstances seemed to justify.

"My lord, nothing," the Bat answered, "save that we are ordered to
follow him to-morrow by way of Clermont."

"To his province?"

"Even so, my lord."

Joyeuse struck his booted foot against the pavement, and the sombre
Bat, whose ears--some said he got his name from them--were almost as
long as his legs, caught the genial chink of gold crowns. It was such
music as he seldom heard, for he had a vision of a heavy bag of them;
and his eyes glistened.

But the chink was all he had of them. Joyeuse turned away, and with a
stifled sigh and a shrug went back to the play-table at the
Archbishop's palace. Sinning and repenting were the two occupations in
which he had spent one half of his short life; and if there was a
thing which he did with greater ardour than the first--it was the

                              CHAPTER I.


The horse looked piteously at the man. Blood oozed from its broken
knees and its legs quivered under it. The man holding his scratched
and abraded hand to his mouth returned the beast's look, at first with
promise of punishment, but by and by less unkindly. He was a just man,
and he saw that the fault was his; since it was he who, after crossing
the ridge, had urged the horse out of the path that he might be spared
some part of the weary descent. Out of the path, and cunningly hidden
by a tuft of rough grass, a rabbit-hole had lain in wait.

He contented himself with a word of disgust, therefore, chucked the
rein impatiently--since justice has its limits--and began to lead the
horse down the descent, which a short sward rendered slippery. But he
had not gone many paces before he halted. The horse's painful limp and
the sweat that broke out on its shoulders indicated that two broken
knees were not the worst of the damage. The man let the rein go,
resigned himself to the position, and, shrugging his shoulders,
scanned the scene before him.

The accident had happened on the south side of the long swell of chalk
hills which the traveller had been mounting for an hour past; and
scarcely a stone's-throw below the ruined wind-mill that had been his
landmark for leagues. To right and left of him, under a pale-blue sky,
the breezy, open down, carpeted with wild thyme and vetches, and alive
with the hum of bees, stretched in long soft undulations, marred by no
sign of man save a second and a third wind-mill ranged in line on the
highest breasts. Below him the slope of sward and fern, broken here by
a solitary blackthorn, there by a clump of whin and briars, swept
gently down to a shallow wide valley--almost a plain--green and
thickly wooded, beyond which the landscape rose again slowly and
imperceptibly into uplands. Through this wide valley flowed from left
to right a silvery river, its meandering course marked by the lighter
foliage of willows and poplars; and immediately below the traveller a
cluster of roofless hovels on the bank seemed to mark a ford.

On all the hill about him, on the slopes of thyme, and heather, and
yellow gorse, the low sun was shining--from his right, and from a
little behind him, so that his shadow stretched far across the sward.
But in the valley about the river and the ford evening was beginning
to fall, grey, peaceful, silent. For a time his eyes roved hither and
thither, seeking a halting-place of more promise than the ruined cots;
and at length they found what they sought. He marked, rising from a
mass of trees a little beyond the ford, a thin curl of smoke, so
light, so grey, as to be undiscoverable by any but the sharpest
eyes--but his were of the sharpest. The outline of the woods at the
same point indicated a clearing within a wide loop of the river; and
putting the one with the other, des Ageaux--for it was he--came to a
fair certainty that a house of some magnitude lay hidden there.

At any rate he saw no better chance of shelter. It was that of the
ruined hovels and the roadside, and taking the rein once more, he led
the horse down the hill, and in the first dusk of the evening crossed
the pale clear water on stepping-stones. He suffered the horse to
stand awhile in the stream and drink and cool its legs amid the dark,
waving masses of weed. Then he urged it up the bank, and led it along
the track, that was fast growing dim, and grey, and lonesome.

The horse moved painfully, knuckling over at every step. Yet night had
not quite fallen when the traveller, plodding along beside it, saw two
stone pillars standing gaunt and phantom-like on the left of the path.
Each bore aloft a carved escutcheon, and in that weird half-light and
with a backing of dark forest trees the two might have been taken for
ghosts. Their purpose, however, was plain, for they flanked the
opening, at right angles to his path, of a rough road, at the end of
which, at a distance of some ten score paces from the pillars,
appeared an open gateway framed in a dim wall. No more than that, for
above was the pale sky, and on either hand the black line of trees
hedged the narrow picture.

The traveller peered awhile at the escutcheons. But gathering darkness
and the lichens which covered the stone foiled him, and he was little
the wiser when he turned down the avenue. When he had traversed a half
of its length the trees fell back on either hand, and revealed the
sullen length of a courtyard wall, and rising within it, a little on
his right, a dark mass of building, compact in the main of two round
towers, of the date of Philip Augustus, with some additions of more
modern times. The effect of the pile, viewed in that half-light, was
gloomy if not forbidding; but the open gateway, the sled-marks that
led to it, and the wisps of hay which strewed the road, no less than
the broken yoke that hung in the old elm beside the entrance--all
these, which the Lieutenant's eyes were quick to discern, seemed to
offer a more homely and more simple welcome.

A silent welcome, nevertheless, borne on the scent of new-mown,
half-gathered hay; a scent which des Ageaux was destined to associate
ever after with this beginning of an episode, and with his entrance in
the gloaming, amid quiet things. Slowly he passed under the gateway,
leading the halting horse. Fallen hay, swept from the cart by the brow
of the arch, deadened his footfalls, and before he was discovered he
was able to appreciate the enclosure, half courtyard, half fold-yard,
sloping downward from the house and shut in on the other sides by a
tile-roofed wall. At the lower end on his left were stalls, and sheds,
and stables, and a vague, mysterious huddle of ploughs and gear, and
feeding beasts, and farm refuse. Between this mass--to which the night
began to lend strange forms--and the great, towered house which loomed
black against the sky, lay the slope of the court, broken midway by
the walled marge of a swell something Italian in fashion, and speaking
of more prosperous days. On this there sat, as the traveller saw, two

And then one only. For as he looked, uncertain whether to betake
himself first to the stables of the house, one of the two figures
sprang from the wall-edge, and came bounding to him with hands
upraised, flying skirts, a sharp cry of warning.

"Oh, take care, Charles!" it cried. "Go back before M. le Vicomte

Then, at six paces from him, she knew him for a stranger, and the last
word fell scarcely breathed from her lips; while he, knowing her for a
girl, and young by her voice, uncovered. "I seek only a night's
shelter," he said stiffly. "Pardon me, mademoiselle, the alarm I fear
I have caused you. My horse slipped on the hill, and is unable to
travel farther."

She stood staring at him in astonishment, and until her companion at
the well came forward made no reply. Something in the movements of
this second figure as it crossed the court struck the eye as abnormal,
but it was only when it came quite close that the stranger discovered
that the lad before him was slightly hump-backed.

"You have met with a mischance," the youth said with awkward


"Whatever the cause, you are welcome. Go, Bonne," the young man
continued, addressing the girl, "it is better you went--and tell my
father that a gentleman is here craving shelter. When I have stabled
his horse I will bring him in. This way, if you please!" the lad
continued, turning to lead the way to the stables, but casting from
moment to moment timid looks at his guest. "The place is rough, but
such as it is, it is at your service. Have you ridden far to-day, if
it please you?"

"From Rochechouart."

"It is well we had not closed the gates," the youth answered shyly;
"we close them an hour after sunset by rule. But to-day the men have
been making hay, and we sup late."

The stranger expressed his obligation, and, following his guide, led
his horse through one of the doors of a long range of stabling built
against the western wall of the courtyard. Within all was dark, and he
waited while his companion fetched a lanthorn. The light, when it
came, disclosed a sad show of empty mangers, broken racks, and roof
beams hung with cobwebs. Rain and sunshine, it was evident, entered
through more holes than one, and round the men's heads a couple of
bats, startled by the lanthorn-light, flitted noiselessly to and fro.

At the farther end of the place, the roof above three or four stalls
showed signs of recent repair; and here the young man invited his
guest to place his beast.

"But I shall be turning out your horses," the stranger objected.

The youth laughed a little awry. "There's but my father's gelding," he
said, "and old Panza the pony. And they are in the ox-stable where
they have company. This," he added, pointing to the roof, "was made
good for my sister the Abbess's horses."

The guest nodded, and, after examining his beast's injuries, bathed
its knees with fresh water; then producing a bandage from his
saddle-bag he soaked it in the water and skilfully wound it round the
strained fetlock. The lad held the lanthorn, envy, mingled with
admiration, growing in his eyes as he watched the other's skilled
hands and method.

"You are well used to horses?" he said.

"Tolerably," des Ageaux answered, looking up. "Are not you?" For in
those days it was an essential part of a gentleman's education.

The lad sighed. "Not to horses of this sort," he said, shrugging his
shoulders. And des Ageaux took note of the sigh and the words, but
said nothing. Instead he removed his sword and pistols from his
saddle, and would have taken up his bags also, but the young man
interposed and took possession of them. A moment and the two were
crossing the darkened courtyard. The light of the lanthorn made it
difficult to see aught beyond the circle of its rays, but the stranger
noticed that the château consisted half of a steep-roofed house, and
half of the two round towers he had seen; house and towers standing in
one long line. Two rickety wooden bridges led across a moat to two
doors, the one set in the inner of the two towers--probably this was
the ancient entrance--the other in the more modern part.

On the bridge leading to the latter two serving-men with lights were
awaiting them. The nearer domestic advanced, bowing. "M. le Vicomte
will descend if"--and then, after a pause, speaking more stiffly, "M.
le Vicomte has not yet heard whom he has the honour of entertaining."

"I have no pretensions to put him to the trouble of descending," the
traveller answered politely. "Say if you please that a gentleman of
Brittany seeks shelter for the night, and would fain pay his respects
to M. le Vicomte at his convenience."

The servant bowed, and turning with ceremony, led the way into a bare,
dimly-lit hall open to its steep oaken roof, and not measurably more
comfortable or less draughty than the stable. Here and there dusty
blazonings looked down out of the darkness, or rusty weapons left
solitary in racks too large for them gave back gleams of light. In the
middle of the stone floor a trestle table such as might have borne the
weight of huge sirloins and great bustards, and feasted two score
men-at-arms in the days of the great Francis, supported a litter of
shabby odds and ends; old black-jacks jostling riding-spurs, and a
leaping-pole lying hard by a drenching-horn. An open door on the tower
side of the hall presented the one point of warmth in the apartment,
for through it entered a stream of ruddy light and an odour that
announced where the kitchen lay.

But if this were the dining-hall? If the guest felt alarm on this
point he was soon reassured. The servant conducted him up a short
flight of six steps which rose in one corner. The hall, in truth, huge
as it seemed in its dreary emptiness, was but one half of the original
hall. The leftward half had been partitioned off and converted into
two storeys--the lower story raised a little from the ground for the
sake of dryness--of more modern chambers. More modern; but if that
into which the guest was ushered, a square room not unhandsome in its
proportions, stood for sample, scarcely more cheerful. The hangings on
the walls were of old Sarazinois, but worn and faded to the colour of
dust. Carpets of leather covered the floor, but they were in holes and
of a like hue; while the square stools clad in velvet and gilt-nailed,
which stood against the walls, were threadbare of stuff and tarnished
of nails. In winter, warmed by the ruddy blaze of a generous fire,
and well sconced, and filled with pleasant company seated about a
well-spread board, the room might have passed muster and even conduced
to ease. But as the dusky frame of a table, lighted by four poor
candles--that strove in vain with the vast obscurity--and set with no
great, store of provision, it wore an air of meagreness not a whit
removed from poverty.

The man who stood beside the table in the light of the candles, and
formed the life of the picture, blended well with the furnishings. He
was tall and thin, with stooping shoulders and a high-nosed face, that
in youth had been masterful and now was peevish and weary. He wore a
sword and much faded lace, and on the appearance of his guest moved
forward a pace and halted, with the precision and stiffness of
clockwork. "I have the honour," he began, "to welcome, I believe----"

"A gentleman of Brittany," des Ageaux answered, bowing low. It by no
means suited his plans to be recognised. "And one, M. le Vicomte, who
respectfully craves a night's hospitality."

"Which the château of Villeneuve-l'Abbesse," the Vicomte replied with
grandeur, "has often granted to the greatest, nor"--he waved his hand
with formal grace--"ever refused to the meanest. They have attended, I
trust," he continued with the air of one who, at the head of a great
household, knows, none the less, how to think for his guests, "to your
people, sir?"

"Alas, M. le Vicomte," des Ageaux answered, a faint twinkle in his
eyes belying the humility of his tone, "I have none; I am travelling

"Alone?" The Vicomte repeated the word in a tone of wonder. "You have
no servants with you--at all?"


"Is it possible?"

Des Ageaux shrugged his shoulders, and spread out his hands. "In these
days, M. le Vicomte, yes."

The Vicomte seemed by the droop of his shoulders to admit the plea;
perhaps because the other's eyes strayed involuntarily to the shabby
furniture. He shook his head gloomily. "Since Coutras----" he began,
and then, considering that he was unbending too soon, he broke off.
"You met with some accident, I believe, sir?" he said. "But first, I
did not catch your name?"

"Des Voeux," the Lieutenant answered, adopting on the spur of the
moment one somewhat like his own. "My horse fell and cut its knees on
the hill about a mile beyond the ford. I much fear it has also
strained a fetlock."

"It will not be fit to travel to-morrow, I doubt?"

The guest spread out his hands, intimating that time and the morrow
must take care of themselves; or that it was no use to fight against

"I must lend you something from the stables, then," the Vicomte
answered; as if at least a score of horses stood at rack and manger in
his stalls. "But I am forgetting your own needs, sir. Circumstances
have thrown my household out of gear, and we sup late tonight. But we
shall not need to wait long."

He had barely spoken when the two serving-men who had met the
Lieutenant on the bridge entered, one behind the other, bearing with
some pomp of circumstance a couple of dishes. They set these on the
board, and withdrawing--not without leaving behind them a pleasant
scent of new-mown hay--returned quickly bearing two more. Then falling
back they announced by the mouth of the least meagre that my lord was

The meal which they announced, though home-grown and of the plainest,
was sufficient, and des Ageaux, on the Vicomte's invitation, took his
seat upon a stool at a nicely regulated distance below his host. As he
did so the girl he had seen in the courtyard glided in by a side door
and silently took her seat on the farther side of the table.
Apparently the Vicomte thought his guest below the honour of an
introduction, for he said nothing. And the girl only acknowledged the
Lieutenant's respectful salutation by a bow.

The four candles shed a feeble light on the table, and left the
greater part of the room in darkness. Des Ageaux could not see the
girl well, and he got little more than an impression of a figure
moderately tall and somewhat plump, and of a gentle, downcast face.
Form and face owned, certainly, the charm of youth and freshness. But
to eyes versed in the brilliance of a Court and the magnificence of
_grandes dames_ they lacked the more striking characteristics of

He gave her a thought, however, pondering while he gave ear to the
Vicomte's querulous condescensions how so gentle a creature--for her
gentleness and placidity struck him--came of so stiff and peevish a
father. But that was all. Or it might have been all if as the thought
passed through his mind his host had not abruptly changed the
conversation and disclosed another side of his character.

"Where is Roger?" he asked, addressing the girl with sharpness.

"I do not know, sir," she murmured.

A retort seemed hovering on the Vicomte's lips, when the youth who had
taken the guest to the stable, and had stayed without, perhaps to make
some change in his rustic clothes, entered and slid timidly into his
place beside his sister. He hoped, probably, to pass unseen, but the
Vicomte, his great high nose twitching, fixed him with his eyes and
pointed inexorably at him, with a spoon held delicately between thumb
and finger. "You would not think," he said with grim abruptness, "that
that--that, M. des Voeux, was son of mine?"

Des Ageaux started. "I fear," he said hastily, "that it was I, sir,
who made him late. He was good enough to receive me."

"I can only assure you," the Vicomte replied with cruel wit, "that
whoever made him late, it was not I who made him--as he is! The
Villeneuves, till his day, I'd have you know, sir, have been straight
and tall, and men of their hands, as ready with a blow as a word! Men
to make their way in the world. But you see him! You see him! Can
you," he continued, his eyes half-closed, dwelling on the lad, whose
suffering was evident, "at Court? Or courting? Or stepping a
_pavanne?_ Or----"


The word burst from the girl's lips, drawn from her by sheer pain. The
Vicomte turned to her with icy courtesy. "You spoke, I think?" he said
in a tone which rebuked her for the freedom on which she had ventured.
"Just so. I was forgetting. We live so quietly here, we use so little
ceremony with one another, that even I forget at times that family
matters are not interesting to a stranger. Were my elder daughter
here, M. des--ah, des Voeux, yes--my daughter the Abbess, who knows
the world, and has some tincture of manners, and is not taken commonly
for a waiting-woman, she would be able to entertain you better. But
you see what we are. For," with a smirk, "it were rude not to include
myself with my family."

No wonder, the guest thought, as he listened, full of pity--no wonder
the lad had spoken timidly and shyly, if this were the daily treatment
he received! If poverty, working on pride, had brought the last of a
great family to this--to repaying on the innocents who shared his
decay the slings and arrows of unkind fortune! The girl's exclamation,
wrung from her by her brother's suffering, had gone to the
Lieutenant's heart, though that heart was not of the softest. He would
have given something to silence the bitter old tyrant. But experience
told him that he might make matters worse. He was no knight-errant, no
rescuer of dames; and, after all, the Vicomte was their father. So
while he hesitated, seeking in vain a safe subject, the sharp tongue
was at work again.

"I would like you to see my elder daughter," the Vicomte resumed with
treacherous blandness. "She has neither a ploughboy's figure, nor,"
slowly, "a dairymaid's speech. Her manners are quite like those of the
world. She might go anywhere, even to Court, where she has been,
without rendering herself the subject of ridicule and contempt. It is
truly unfortunate for us"--with a bow--"that you cannot see her."

"She is not at home?" the Lieutenant said for the sake of saying
something. He was full of pity for the girl whose face, now red, now
pale, betrayed how she suffered under the discipline.

"She does not live at home," the Vicomte answered. And then--with
curious inconsistency he now hid and now declared his poverty--"We
have not much left of which we can be proud," he continued, "since the
battle of Coutras seven years back took from the late King's friends
all they had. But the Abbey of Vlaye is still our appanage. My elder
daughter is the Abbess."

"It lies, I think, near Vlaye?"

"Yes, some half-league from Vlaye and three leagues from here. You
have heard of Vlaye, then, Monsieur--Monsieur des Voeux?"

"Without doubt, M. le Vicomte."

"Indeed! In what way, may I ask?" There was a faint tinge of suspicion
in his tone.

"At Rochechouart I was told that the roads in that direction were not
over safe."

The Vicomte laughed in his sardonic fashion. "They begin to cry out,
do they?" he said. "The fat burgesses who fleece us? Not very safe,
ha, ha! The roads! Not so safe as their back-shops where they lend to
us at cent per cent!"--with bitterness. "It is well that there is some
one to fleece them in their turn!"

"They told me as much as that," des Ageaux replied with gravity. "So
much, indeed, that I was surprised to find your gates still open! They
gave me to understand that no man slept without a guard within four
leagues of Vlaye."

"They told you that, did they?" the Vicomte answered. And he chuckled,
well satisfied. It pleased him to think that if he and his could no
longer keep Jacques Bonhomme in order, there were others who could.
"They told you not far from the truth. A little later, and you had
been barred out even here. Not that I fear the Captain of Vlaye. Hawks
pike not out hawks' eyes," with a lifting of the head, and an odd show
of arrogance. "We are good friends, M. de Vlaye and I."

"Still you bar your gates, soon or late?" the Lieutenant replied with
a smile.

A shadow fell across the Vicomte's face. "Not against him," he said

"No, of course not," des Voeux replied. "I had forgotten. You have the
Crocans also at no great distance. I was forgetting them."

The sudden rigidity of his younger listeners, and the silence which
fell on all, warned him, as soon as he had spoken, that he had
said something amiss. Nor was the silence all. When his host next
spoke--after an interval--it was with a passion as far removed from
the cynical rudeness to which he had treated his children as are the
poles apart. "That name is not named in this house!" he cried, his
voice thin and tremulous. "By no one!" he struck the table with a
shaking hand. "Understand me, sir, by no one! God's curse on them! Ay,
and on all who----"

"No, sir, no!" The cry came from the girl. "Do not curse him!"

She was on her feet. For an instant the Lieutenant, seeing her
father's distorted face, feared that he would strike her. But the
result was different. The opposition that might have maddened the
angry man, had the effect of sobering him. "Sit down!" he muttered,
passing his napkin over his face. "Sit down, fool! Sit down! And
you"--he paused a moment, striving to regain the gibing tone that was
habitual to him--"you, sir, may now see how it is. I told you we had
no manners. You have now the proof of it. I doubt I must keep you,
until the Abbess, my daughter, pays her next visit, that you may see
at least one Villeneuve who is neither clown nor dotard!"

Man of the world as he was, the King's Lieutenant knew not what to say
to this outburst. He murmured a vague apology, and thought how
different all was from the anticipations which the scent of hay and
the farmyard peace had raised in him on his arrival. This old man,
rotting in the husk of his former greatness, girding at his helpless
children, gnawing, in the decay of his family's grandeur, on his heart
and theirs, returning scorn for scorn, and spite for spite, but on
those who were innocent of either, ignorant of either--this was a
picture to the painting of which the most fanciful must have brought
some imagination. Under the surface lay something more; something that
had to do with the Crocans. He fancied that he could make a guess at
the secret; and that it had to do with the girl's lover. But the meal
was closing, the Vicomte's rising interrupted his thoughts, and
whatever interest the question had for him, he was forced to put it
away for the time.

The Vicomte bowed a stiff good-night. "Boor as he is, I fear that you
must now put up with my son," he said, smiling awry. "He has the Tower
Room, where, in my time, I have known the best company in the province
lie, when good company was; it has been scarce," he continued
bitterly, "since Coutras. He will find you a lodging there, and if the
accommodation be rough, and your room-fellow what you see him,"
shrugging his shoulders, "at least you will have space enough and
follow good gentry. I have known the Governor of Poitou and the
Lieutenant of Périgord, with two of the Vicomtes of the Limousin, lie
there--and fourteen truckle-beds about them. In those days was little
need to bar our gates at night. Solomon! The lanthorn, fool! I bid
you good-night, sir!"

Des Ageaux bowed his acknowledgements, and following in the train of
an older serving-man than he had yet seen; who, bearing a lanthorn,
led him up a small staircase. Roger the hapless followed. On the first
floor the guest noted the doors of four rooms, two on either side of a
middle passage, that got its light from a window at the end of the
house. Such rooms--or rooms opening one through the other--were at
that date reserved for the master and mistress of the château, and
their daughters, maiden or married. For something of the old system
which secluded women, and a century before had forbidden their
appearance at Court, still prevailed; nor was the Lieutenant at all
surprised when his guide, turning from these privileged apartments,
led him up a flight of four or five steps at the hither end of the
passage. And so through a low doorway.

He passed the door, and was surprised to find himself in the open air
on the roof of the hall, the stars above him, and the night breeze
cooling his brow. The steeply-pitched lead ended in a broad, flat
gutter, fenced by a rail fixed in the parapet. The servant led him
along the path which this gutter provided to a door in the wall of the
great round tower that rose twenty feet above the house. This gave
entrance to a small chamber--one of those commonly found between the
two skins of such old buildings--which served both for landing and
ante-room. From it the dark opening of a winding staircase led upwards
on one hand; on the other a low-browed door masked the course of the
downward flight.

Across this closet--bare as bare walls could make it--the grey-bearded
servant led him in two strides, and opening a farther door introduced
him into the chamber which had seen so much good company. It was a
gloomy, octagonal room of great size, lighted in the daytime by four
deep-sunk windows, and occupying--save for such narrow closets as that
through which they entered--a whole storey of the tower. The lanthorn
did but make darkness visible, but Solomon proceeded to light two
rushlights that stood in iron sconces on the wall, and by their light
the Lieutenant discerned three truckle-beds laid between two of the
windows. He could well believe, so vast was the apartment, that
fourteen had not cumbered its bareness. At this date a couple of
chests, as many stools, a bundle of old spears and a heavy
three-legged table made up, with some dingy, tattered hangings, the
whole furniture of the chamber.

The old serving-man set down the lanthorn and looked about him

"Thirty-four I've seen sleep here," he said. "The Governor of Poitou,
and the Governor of Périgord, and the four Vicomtes of the Limousin,
and twenty-eight gentles in truckles."

"Twenty-eight?" the Lieutenant questioned, measuring in some
astonishment the space with his eye. "But your master said----"

"Twenty-eight, by your leave," the man answered obstinately. "And
every man his dog! A gentleman was a gentleman then, and a Vicomte a
Vicomte. But since that cursed battle at Coutras set us down and put
these Huguenots up, there is an end of gentry almost. Ay, thirty--was
it thirty, I said?"

"Four, you said. Thirty-four," des Ageaux answered, smiling.

The man shook his head sombrely, bade them goodnight, and closed the
door on them.

An instant later he could be heard groping his way back through the
closet and over the roof. The Lieutenant, as soon as the sound ceased,
looked round and thought that he had seldom lain in a gloomier place.
The windows were but wooden lattices innocent of glass, and through
the slats of the nearest a strong shoot of ivy grew into the room. The
night air entered with it and stirred the ragged hangings that covered
a part of the walls; hangings that to add to the general melancholy
had once been black, a remnant, it is possible, of the funeral
trappings of some dead Vicomte. Frogs croaked in a puddle without; one
of the lattices creaked open at intervals, only to close again with a
hollow report; the rushlights flared sideways in the draught. Des
Ageaux had read of such a room in the old romances, in _Bevis of
Hampton_, or the _History of Armida_; a room of shadows and gloom,
owl-flittings and dead furnishings. But he smiled at the thoughts it
called up. He had often lain in his cloak under the sky amid dead men.
Nevertheless, "Do you sleep here alone?" he asked, turning to his
companion, who had seated himself despondently on one of the beds.

The lad, oppressed by what had gone forward downstairs, barely looked
up. "Yes," he began, "since"--and then, breaking off, he added
sullenly, "Yes, I do."

"Then you don't lack courage!" des Ageaux replied.

"People sleep well when they are tired," the youth returned, "as I am

The Lieutenant accepted the hint, and postponed until the morrow the
questions he had it in his mind to ask. Nodding a good-humoured assent
he proceeded to his simple arrangements for the night, placed his
sword and pistols beside the truckle-bed, and in a few minutes was
sleeping as soundly on his thin palliasse as if he had been in truth
the poverty-stricken gentleman of Brittany he once had been and still
might be again.

                             CHAPTER II.

                          THE TOWER CHAMBER.

An hour or two later the Lieutenant awoke suddenly. He rose on his
elbow, and listened. Inured to a life of change which had cast him
many times into strange beds and the company of stranger bed-fellows,
he had not to ask himself where he was, or how he came to be there. He
knew these things with a soldier's instinct, before his eyes were
open. That which he did ask himself was, what had roused him.

For it was still the dead of night, and all in the château, and all
without, save the hoarse voices of the frogs, seemed quiet. Through
the lattice that faced him the moonbeams fell on the floor in white,
criss-cross patterns; which the pointed shape of the windows made to
resemble chequered shields--the black and white escutcheons of his
native province. These patches of light diffused about them a faint
radiance, sufficient, but no more than sufficient, to reveal the
outlines of the furniture, the darker masses of the beds, and even the
vague limits of the chamber. He marked nothing amiss, however, except
that which had probably roused him. The nearest lattice, that one
through which he had noted the ivy growing, stood wide open. Doubtless
the breeze, light as it was, had swung the casement inwards, and the
creak of the hinge, or the coolness of the unbroken stream of air
which blew across his bed, had disturbed him.

Satisfied with the explanation, he lay down with a sigh of content,
and was about to sink into sleep when a low, sibilant sound caught his
ear, fretted him awhile, finally dragged him up, broadly awake. What
was it? What caused it? The gentle motion of the loosened ivy on the
sill? Or the wind toying with the leaves outside? Or the stir of the
ragged hangings that moved weirdly on the wall? Or was some one

The last was the fact, and, assured of it, des Ageaux peered through
the gloom at the nearer pallet, and discovered that it was empty. Then
he reflected. The ivy, which grew through the window, must have held
the lattice firm against a much stronger breeze than was blowing. It
followed that the casement had been opened by some one; probably by
some one who had entered the room that way.

It might be no affair of his, but on the other hand it might be very
much his affair. He looked about the room, making no sound, but
keeping a hand raised to seize his weapons on the least alarm.

He could discover neither figure nor any sign of movement in the room.
Yet the whispering persisted. More puzzled, he raised himself higher,
and then a streak of light which the low, lumpy mass of one of the
truckle-beds had hidden, broke on him. It shone under the door by
which he had entered, and proceeded, beyond doubt, from a lanthorn or
rushlight in the antechamber.

What was afoot? It is not as a rule for good that men whisper at dead
of night, nor to say their prayers that they steal from their beds in
the small hours. Des Ageaux was far from a timid man--or he had not
been Lieutenant-Governor of Périgord--but he knew himself alone in a
strange house, and a remote corner of that house; and though he
believed that he held the map of the country he might be deceiving
himself. Possibly, though he had seen no sign of it, he was known. His
host styled himself the Captain of Vlaye's friend; he might think to
do Vlaye a kindness at his guest's expense. Nor was that all. Lonely
travellers ran risks in those days; it was not only from inns that
they vanished and left no sign. He bore, it was true, not much of
price about him, and riding without attendance might be thought to
have less. But, all said and done, the house was remote, the Vicomte
poor and a stranger. It might be as well to see what was passing.

He rose noiselessly to his feet, and, taking his sword, crept across
the floor. He had lain down in the greater part of his clothes, and
whatever awaited him, he was ready. As he drew near the door, the
whispering on the farther side persisted. But it was low, the sound
lacked menace, and before he laid his ear to the oak some shame of the
proceeding seized him.

His scruples were wasted. He could not, even when close, distinguish a
word; so wary were the speakers, so low their voices. Then the
absurdity of his position, if he were detected and the matter had
naught to do with him, took him by the throat. The chamber, with its
patches of moonlight and its dim spaces, was all quiet about him, and
either he must rest content with that, or he must open and satisfy
himself. He took his resolution, found the latch, and opened the door.

He was more or less prepared for what he saw. Not so the three whom he
surprised in their midnight conference. The girl whom he had seen at
supper sprang with a cry of alarm from the step on which she had her
seat, and retreating upwards as quickly as the cloak in which she was
muffled would let her, made as if she would escape by the tower
stairs. The two men--Roger, the son of the house, and another, a
taller youth, who leant against the wall beside him--straightened
themselves with a jerk; while the stranger, who had the air of being
two or three years older than Roger, laid his hand on his weapon. A
lanthorn which stood on the stone floor between the three, and was the
only other object in the closet, cast its light upwards; which had the
effect of distorting the men's features, and exaggerating looks
already disordered.

The Lieutenant, we have said, was not wholly surprised. None the less
the elder of the two young men was the first to find his tongue. "What
do you here?" he cried, his eyes gleaming with resentment. "We came to
be private here. What do you wish, sir?"

Des Ageaux took one step over the threshold and bowed low. "To offer
my apologies," he replied, with a tinge of humour in his tone, "and
then to withdraw. To be plain, sir, I heard whispering, and,
half-roused, I fancied that it might concern me. Forgive me,
mademoiselle," he continued, directing an easy and not ungraceful
gesture to the shrinking girl, who cowered on the dark stairs as if
she wished they might swallow her. "Your pardon also, Monsieur

"You know my name?" the stranger exclaimed, with a swift, perturbed
glance at the others.

"Your name and no more," des Ageaux answered, smiling and not a whit
disturbed. His manner was perfectly easy. "I heard it as I opened. But
be at rest, that which is not meant for me I do not keep. You will
understand that the hour was late, I found the window open, I heard
voices--some suspicion was not unnatural. Have no fear, however.
To-morrow I shall only have had one dream the more."

"But dream or no dream," the person he had addressed as Charles
blurted out, "if you mention it----"

"I shall not mention it."

"To the Vicomte even?"

"Not even to him! The presence of mademoiselle's brother," des Ageaux
continued, with a keen glance at Roger, "were warrant for silence, had
I the right to speak."

The girl started and the hood of her cloak fell back. With loosened
hair and parted lips she looked so pretty that he was sorry he had
struck at her ever so slightly. "You think, sir," she exclaimed in a
tone half-indignant, half-awestruck, "that this is my lover?"

His eyes passed from her to the taller young man. He bowed low. "I
did," he said, the courtesy of his manner redoubled. "Now I see that
he is your brother. Forgive me, mademoiselle, I am unlucky this
evening. Lest I offend again--and my presence alone must be an
offence--I take my leave."

Charles stepped forward. "Not," he said somewhat peremptorily, "before
you have assured us again of your silence! Understand me, sir, this is
no child's play! Were my father to hear of my presence, he would make
my sister suffer for it. Were he to discover me here--you do not know
him yet--it might cost a life!"

"What can I say more," des Ageaux replied with a little stiffness,
"than I have said? Why should I betray you?"

"Enough, sir, if you understand."

"I understand enough!" And then, "If I can do no more than be

"You can do no more."

"I take my leave." And, bowing, with an air of aloofness he stepped
back and closed the door on them.

When he had done so the three looked eagerly at one another. But they
did not speak until his footsteps on the chamber floor had ceased to
sound. Then, "What is this?" the elder brother muttered, frowning
slightly at the younger. "There is something here I do not understand.
Who is he? What is he? You told me that he was some poor gentleman
adventuring alone, and without servants, and staying here for the
night with a lame horse and an empty purse. But----"

"He was not like this at supper," Roger replied, excusing himself.

"But he has nothing of the tone of the man you described."

"Not now," Bonne said. "But at supper he was different in some way."
And recalling how he had looked at her when he thought that Charles
was her lover, she blushed.

"He is no poor man," Charles muttered. "Did you mark his ring?"


"May-be at supper it was turned inward, but as he stood there with his
hand on the door post, the light fell on it. _Three leopards passant
or on a field vert!_ I have seen that coat, and more than once!"

"But why should not the poor gentleman wear his coat?" Bonne urged.
"Perhaps it is all that is left of his grandeur."

"In gold on green enamel?" Charles asked, raising his eyebrows.
"Certainly his sword was of the plainest. But I don't like it! Why is
he here? What is he doing? Can he be friend to Vlaye, and on his way
to help him?"

Abruptly the girl stepped forward, and flinging an arm round her
brother's neck, pressed herself against him. "Give it up! Give it up!"
she murmured. "Charles! Dear brother, listen to me. Give it up!"

"It were better you gave me up," he replied in a tone between humour
and pathos, as he stroked her hair. "But you are Villeneuve at heart,

"Bonne by nature, Bonne by name!" Roger muttered, caressing her with
his eyes.

"And stand by those you love, whatever come of it!" Charles continued.
"Would you then have me leave those"--with a grimace which she, having
her face on his shoulder, could not see--"whom, if I do not love, I
have chosen! Leave them because danger threatens? Because Vlaye gives
the word?"

"But what can you do against him?" she answered in a tearful tone.
"You say yourself that they are but a rabble, your Crocans! Broken
men, beggars and what not, peasants and ploughboys, ill-armed and
ill-fed! What can they do against men-at-arms? Against Vlaye? I
thought when I got word to you to come, in order that I might tell you
what he was planning--I thought that you would listen to me!"

"And am I not listening, little one?" he replied, fondling her hair.

"But you will not be guided?"

"That is another thing," he replied more soberly. "Had I known, it is
true, what I know now, had I known of what sort they were to whom I
was joining myself, I might not have done it. I might have borne a
little longer"--his tone grew bitter--"the life we lead here! I might
have borne a little longer to rust and grow boorish, and to stand for
clown and rustic in M. de Vlaye's eyes when he deigns to visit us! I
might have put up a little longer with the answer I got when I craved
leave to see the wars and the world--that as my fathers had made my
bed I must lie on it. Ay, and more! If he--I will not call him
father--had spared me his sneers only a little, if he had let a day go
by without casting in my face the lack that was no fault of mine, I
would have still tried to bear it. But not a day did he spare me! Not
one day, as God is my witness!"

Her sorrowful silence acknowledged the truth of his words. At length,
"But if these folk," she said timidly, "are of so wretched a sort,

"Wretched they are," he answered, "but their cause is good. Better
fall with them than rise by such deeds as have driven them to arms. I
tell you that the things I have heard, as I sat over their fires by
night in the caves about Bourdeilles where they lie, would arm not
men's hands only, but women's! Would spoil your sleep of nights, and
strong men's sleep! Poor cottars killed and hamlets burned, in pure
sport! Children flung out and women torn from homes, and through a
whole country-side corn trampled wantonly, and oxen killed to make a
meal for four! But I cannot tell you what they have suffered, for you
are a woman and you could not bear it!"

Bonne forgot her fears for him. She leant forward--she had gone back
to her seat on the stairs--and clenched her small hands. "And M. de
Vlaye it is," she cried, "he who has done more than any other to
madden them, who now proposes to rise upon their fall? Monsieur de
Vlaye it is who, having driven them to this, will now crush them and
say he does the King service, and so win pardon for a thousand

But the light had gone out in Charles's eyes. "Ay, and win it he will.
So it will go," he said moodily. "So it will happen! He has seen afar
the chance of securing himself, and he will seize it, by doing what,
for the time, no other has means to do."

"He who kindled the fire will be rewarded for putting it out?"

"Just so!"

"But can you do nothing against him?" Roger muttered.

"We may hold our own for a time, in the caves and hills about Brantôme
perhaps," the elder brother answered. "But after a while he will
starve us out. And in the open such folks as we have, ill-armed,
ill-found, with scarce a leader older than myself, will melt before
his pikes like smoke before the wind!"

Roger's eyes glistened. "Not if I were with you," he muttered. "There
should be one blow struck before he rode over us! But"--he let his
chin sink on his breast--"what am I?"

"Brave enough, I know," Charles answered, putting his hand
affectionately on the lad's shoulder. "Braver than I am, perhaps. But
it is not the end, be the end what it may, good lad, that weighs me
down and makes me coward. It is the misery of seeing all go wrong hour
by hour and day by day! Of seeing the cause with which I must now sink
or swim mishandled! Of striving to put sense and discipline into the
folk who are either clowns, unteachable by aught but force, or a
rabble of worthless vagrants drawn to us as to any other cause that
promises safety from the gallows. And yet, if I were older and had
seen war and handled men, I feel that even of this stuff I could make
a thing should frighten Vlaye. Ay, and for a time I thought I could,"
he continued gloomily. "But they would not be driven, and short of
hanging half a dozen, which I dare not attempt, I must be naught!"

"Do you think," Roger muttered, "that if you had me beside you--I have
strong arms----"

"God forbid!" Charles answered, looking sadly at him. "Dear lad, one
is enough! What would Bonne do without you? It is not your place to go

"If I were straight!"

The girl leaned forward and took his hand. "You are straight for me,"
she said softly. "Straight for me! More precious than the straightest
thing in the world!"

He sighed and Bonne echoed the sigh. It was the first time the three
had met since Charles's flight; since, fretted by inaction and stung
beyond patience by the gibes of the father--who, while he withheld the
means of making a figure in the world, did not cease to sneer at
supineness--he had taken a step which had seemed desperate, and now
seemed fatal. For if this Crocan rising were not a Jacquerie in name,
if it were not stained as yet by the excesses which made that word a
terror, it was still a peasant-rising. It was still a revolt of the
canaille, of the mob; and more indulgent fathers than the Vicomte
would have disowned the son who, by joining it, ranged himself against
his caste.

The younger man had known that when he took the step; yet he had been
content to take it. The farther it set him from the Vicomte the
better! But he had not known nor had Bonne guessed how hopeless was
the cause he was embracing, how blind its leaders, how shiftless its
followers, how certain and disastrous its end! But he knew now. He
knew that, to the attack which M. de Vlaye meditated, the mob of clods
and vagrants must fall an easy prey.

Young and high-spirited, moved a little by the peasants' wrongs, and
more by his own, he had done this thing. He had rushed on ruin, made
good his father's gibes, played into M. de Vlaye's hands--the hands of
the man who had patronised him a hundred times, and with a sneer made
sport of his rusticity. The contempt of the man of the world for the
raw boy had sunk into the lad's soul, and he hated Vlaye. To drag
Vlaye down had been one of Charles's day-dreams. He had pined for the
hour when, at the head of the peasants who were to hail him as their
leader, he should tread the hated scutcheon under foot.

Now he saw that all the triumph would be M. de Vlaye's, and that by
his bold venture he had but added a feather to the hated plume. And
Bonne and Roger, mute because their love taught them when to speak and
when to refrain, gazed sadly at the lanthorn. The silence lasted a
long minute, and was broken in the end, not by their voices, but by
the distant creak of a door.

Bonne sprang to her feet, the colour gone from her face. "Hush!" she
cried. "What was that? Listen."

They listened, their hearts beating. Presently Roger, his face almost
as bloodless as Bonne's, snatched up the lanthorn. "It is the
Vicomte!" he gasped. "He is coming! Quick, Charles! You must go the
way you came!"

"But Bonne?" his brother muttered, hanging back. "What is she to do?"

Roger, his hand on the door of the Tower Chamber, stood aghast.
Charles might escape unseen, there was still time. But Bonne? If her
father found the girl there? And the stranger was in the Tower Room,
she could not retreat thither. What was she to do?

The girl's wits found the answer. She pointed to the stairs. "I will
hide above," she whispered. "Do you go!" It was still of Charles she
thought. "Do you go!" But the terror in her eyes--she feared her
father as she feared no one else in the world--wrung the brothers'

Charles hesitated. "The door at the top?" he babbled. "It is locked, I

"He will not go up!" she whispered. "And while he is in the Tower Room
I can escape."

She vanished as she spoke, in the darkness of the narrow winding
shaft--and it was time she did. The Vicomte was scarce three paces
from the outer door when the two who were left sprang into the Tower

The Lieutenant was on his feet by the side of his bed. He had not gone
to sleep, and he caught their alarm, he had heard the last hurried
whispers, he had guessed their danger. He was not surprised when
Charles, without a word, crossed the floor in a couple of bounds,
flung himself recklessly over the sill of the window, clung an instant
by one hand, then disappeared. A moment the shoot of ivy that grew
into the chamber jerked violently, the next the door was flung wide
open, and the Vicomte, a gaunt figure bearing a sword in one hand, a
lanthorn in the other, stood on the threshold. The light of the
lanthorn which he held above his head that he might detect what was
before him, obscured his face. But the weapon and the tone of his
voice proclaimed the fury of his suspicions. "Who is here?" he cried.
"Who is here?" And again, as if in his rage he could frame no other
words, "Who is here, I say? Speak!"

Roger, on his feet, the tell-tale lanthorn in his hand, could not
force a word. He stood speechless, motionless, self-convicted; and had
all lain with him, all had been known. Fortunately des Ageaux took on
himself to answer.

"Who is here, sir?" he said in a voice a tone louder and a shade
easier than was natural. "The devil, I think! For I swear no one else
could climb this wall!"

"What do you mean?"

"And climb it," des Ageaux persisted, disregarding the question, "very
nearly to this sill! I heard him below five minutes ago. And if I had
not been fool enough to rouse your son and bid him light we had had
him safe by now on this floor!"

The Vicomte glared. The story was glib, well told, animated; but he
doubted it. He knew what he had expected to find. "You lit the
lanthorn?" he snarled. "When?"

"Two minutes back--it might be more," des Ageaux replied. "Now he is
clean gone. Clean gone, I fear," he added as he stepped into the
embrasure of the window and leant forward cautiously, is if he thought
a shot from below a thing not impossible. "I hear nothing, at any

The Vicomte, struggling with senile rage, stared about him. "But I saw
a light!" he cried. "In the outer room!"

"The outer room!"

"Under the door."

"Shone under both doors, I suppose," des Ageaux replied, still intent
to all appearance on the dark void outside. "I'll answer for it," he
added carelessly as he turned, "that he did not go out by the door."

"He will not go out now," the Vicomte retorted with grim suspicion,
"for I have locked the outer door." He showed the key hung on a finger
of the hand which held the lanthorn.

The sight was too much for Roger; he understood at once that it cut
off his sister's retreat. A sound between a groan and an exclamation
broke from him.

The Vicomte lifted the lanthorn to his face. "What now, booby?" he
said. "Who has hurt you?" And, seeing what he saw, he cursed the lad
for a coward.

"I did not feel over brave myself five minutes ago," the Lieutenant

The Vicomte turned on him as if he would curse him also. But, meeting
his eyes, he thought better of it, and swallowed the rage he longed to
vent. He stared about him a minute or more, stalking here and there
offensively, and trying to detect something on which to fasten. But he
found nothing, and, having flung the light of his lanthorn once more
around the room, he stood an instant, then, turning, went sharply--as
if his suspicions had now a new direction--towards the door.

"Good-night!" he muttered churlishly.

"Good-night!" the Lieutenant answered, but in the act of speaking he
met the look of horror in Roger's eyes, remembered and understood.
"She is still there," the lad's white lips spelled out, as they
listened to the grating noise of the key in the lock. "She could not
escape. And he suspects. He is going to her room."

Des Ageaux stared a moment nonplussed. The matter was nothing to him,
nothing, yet his face faintly mirrored the youth's consternation.
Then, in a stride, he was at his bedside. He seized one of the
horse-pistols which lay beside his pillow, and, before the lad
understood his purpose, he levelled it at the open window and fired
into the night.

The echoes of the report had not ceased to roll hollowly through the
Tower before the door flew wide again, and the Vicomte reappeared, his
eyes glittering, his weapon shaking in his excitement. "What is it?"
he cried, for at first he could not see, the smoke obscured the room.
"What is it? What is it?"

"A miss, I fear," des Ageaux answered coolly. He stood with his eyes
fixed on the window, the smoking weapon in his hand. "I fear, a
miss--I had a notion all the time that he was in the ivy outside, and
when he poked up his head----"

"His head?" the Vicomte exclaimed. He was shaking from head to foot.

"Well, it looked like his head," des Ageaux replied more doubtfully.
He moved a step nearer to the window. "But I could not swear to it. It
might have been an owl!"

"An owl?" the Vicomte answered in an unsteady tone. "You fired at an

"Whatever it was I missed it," des Ageaux answered with decision, and
in a somewhat louder tone. "If you will step up here--but I fear you
are not well, M. le Vicomte?"

He spoke truly, the Vicomte was not well. He had had a shock. Cast off
his son as he might, hate him as he might--and hate him he did, as one
who had turned against him and brought dishonour on his house--that
shot in the night had shaken him. He leant against the wall, his lips
white, his breath coming quickly. And a minute or more elapsed before
he recovered himself and stood upright.

He kept his eyes averted from des Ageaux. He turned instead to Roger.
Whether he feared for himself and would not be alone, or he suspected
some complicity between the two, he signed to the lad to take up the
lanthorn and go before him. And, moving stiffly and unsteadily across
the floor, he got himself in silence to the door. With something
between a bow and a glance--it was clear that he could not trust his
tongue--he was out of the room.

The Lieutenant sat on his bed for some time, expecting Roger to
return. But the lad did not appear, and after an interval des Ageaux
took on himself to search the staircase. It was untenanted. The girl,
using the chance he had afforded her, had escaped.

                             CHAPTER III.

                        STILL WATERS TROUBLED.

Had Bonne de Villeneuve, a day earlier, paid a visit much in fashion
at that time, and consulted the "dark man" who, in an upper room on
the wall of Angoulême, followed the stars and cast horoscopes, and was
reputed to have foretold the death of the first Duke of Joyeuse as
that nobleman passed southwards to the field of Coutras, she might
have put faith in such of the events of the night as the magic crystal
showed her; until it came to mirror, faint as an evening mist beside
the river, her thoughts after the event. Then, had it foretold that,
as she lay quaking in her bed, she would be thinking neither of the
brother, whose desperate venture wrung her heart, nor of Roger, her
dearer self, but of a stranger--a stranger, whose name she had not
known six hours, and of whose past she knew nothing, she would have
paused, refusing credence. She would have smiled at the phantasm of
the impossible.

Yet so it was. Into the quiet pool of her maiden heart had fallen in
an hour the stone that sooner or later troubles the sweet waters. As
she lay thinking with wide-open eyes, her mind, which should have been
employed with her brother's peril, or her own escape, or her father's
rage, was busy with the stranger who had dropped so suddenly into her
life, and had begun on the instant to play a sovereign part. She
recalled his aspect as he looked in on them, cool and confident, at
their midnight conference. She heard his tone as he baffled her
father's questions with cunning answers. She marvelled at the wit that
in the last pinch had saved her from discovery. He seemed to her a man
of the world such as had not hitherto come within the range of her
experience. Was he also the perfect knight of whom she had not been
woman if she had not dreamed?

What, she wondered, must his life have been, who, cast among strange
surroundings, bore himself so masterfully, and so shrewdly took his
part! What chances he must have seen, what dangers run, how many men,
how many cities visited! He might have known the Court, that strange
_mêlange_ of splendour and wickedness, and mystery and valour. He
might have seen the King, shrewdest of captains, bravest of princes;
he might have encountered eye to eye men whose names were history. He
came out of the great outer world of which she had visions, and
already she was prepared to invest him with wonderful qualities. Her
curiosity once engaged, she constructed for him first one life and
then another, and then yet another--all on the same foundation, the
one fact which he had told them, that he was a poor gentleman of
Brittany. She considered his ring, and the shape of his clothes, and
his manner of eating, which she found more delicate than her
brothers'; and she fancied, but she told herself that she was foolish
to think it, that she detected under his frigid bearing a habit of
command that duller eyes failed to discern.

She was ashamed at last of the persistence with which her thoughts ran
on him, and she tried to think of other things, and so thought of him
again, and, awaking to the fact, smiled. But without blushing; partly
because, whatever he was, he stood a great way from her, and partly
because it was only her fancy that was touched, and not her heart; and
partly again because she knew that he would be gone by mid-day, and
could by no possibility form part of her life. Nevertheless, it was
not until her time for rising came that anxiety as to her brother's
safety and her father's anger eclipsed him. Then, uncertain how much
the Vicomte knew, how near the truth he guessed, she forgot her hero,
and thought exclusively of her father's resentment.

She might have spared her fears. The Vicomte was a sour and embittered
man, but neither by nature nor habit a violent one. Rage had for an
hour rendered him capable of the worst, capable of the murder of his
son if, having an arm in his hand, he had met him, capable of the
expulsion of his daughter from his house. But the fit was not natural
to him; it was not so that he avenged the wrongs which the world had
heaped upon him--since Coutras. He fell back easily and at once into
the black cynical mood that was his own. He was too old and weak, he
had too long brooded in inaction, he had too long wreaked his
vengeance on the feeble to take strong measures now, whatever happened
to him.

But some hours elapsed before Bonne knew this, or how things would be.
It was not her father's custom to descend before noon, for with his
straitened means and shrunken establishment he went little abroad; and
he would have died rather than stoop to the rustic tasks which Roger
pursued, and of which Bonne's small brown hands were not ignorant. She
had not seen him when, an hour before noon, she repaired to a seat in
the most remote corner of the garden, taking with her some household
work on which she was engaged.

The garden of the château of Villeneuve--the garden proper that is,
for the dry moat which divided the house from the courtyard was
planted with pot-herbs and cabbages--formed a square, having for its
one side the length of the house. It lay along the face of the
building remote from the courtyard, and was only accessible through
it. Its level, raised by art or nature, stood more than a man's height
above the surrounding country; of which, for this reason, it afforded
a pleasant and airy prospect. The wall which surrounded and buttressed
it stood on the inner side no more than three feet high, but rose on
the outer from a moat, the continuation of that which has just been

The pleasaunce thus secured on all sides from intrusion consisted
first of a paved walk which ran under the windows of the château, and
was boarded by a row of ancient mulberry-trees; secondly, beyond this,
of a strip of garden ground planted with gooseberry-bushes and
fruit-trees, and bisected by a narrow walk which led from the house to
a second terrace formed on the outer wall. This latter terrace lay
open towards the country and at either end, but was hidden from the
prying eyes of the house by a line of elms, poled and cut espalier
fashion. It offered at either extremity the accommodation of a
lichen-covered stone bench which tempted the old to repose and the
young to reverie. The east bench enabled a person seated sideways on
it--and so many had thus sat that the wall was hollowed by their
elbows--to look over the willow-edged river and the tract of lush
meadows which its loop enclosed. The western seat had not this poetic
advantage, but by way of compensation afforded to sharp eyes a glimpse
of the track--road it could not be called--which after passing the
château wound through the forest on its course to Vlaye and the south.

From childhood the seat facing the river had been Bonne's favourite
refuge. Before she could walk she had played games in the dust beneath
it. She had carried to it her small sorrows and her small joys, her
fits of nursery passion, her moods as she grew older. She had nursed
dolls on it, and fancies, dreamed dreams and built castles; and in a
not unhappy, thought neglected girlhood, it had stood for that sweet
and secret retreat, the bower of the budding life, which remains holy
in the memory of worn men and women. The other bench, which commanded
a peep of the road, had been more to her elder sister's taste; nor was
the choice without a certain bearing on the character of each.

This morning, she had not been five minutes at work before she heard
footsteps on the garden path. The sun, near its highest, had driven
her to the inner end of the seat, where the elm in summer leaf
straggled widely over it, growing low, as elms will. She knew that
whoever came she would see before she was seen.

It turned out as she expected. M. des Ageaux lounged onto the terrace,
and shading his eyes from the sun's rays, gazed on the prospect. She
judged that he thought himself alone, for he took a short turn this
way and that. Then, after a casual glance at the empty seats--empty as
he doubtless judged, though she from her arbour of leaves could watch
his every movement--he wheeled about, and, facing the château, seemed
to satisfy himself that the wall of pollard elms sheltered him from

His next proceeding was mysterious. He drew from his breast a packet,
of parchment or paper, unfolded it, and laid it flat on the wall
before him. Then he stooped and after poring over it, glanced at the
view, referred again to the paper, then again to the lie of the
country, and the course of the river which flowed on his left. Finally
he measured off a distance on the map. For a map it was, beyond doubt.

A shadow fell on her as she watched him. Nor did his next movement
dispel the feeling. Folding up the map he replaced it in his breast,
and leaning over the wall he scrutinised the outer surface of the
brickwork. Apparently he did not discover what he sought, for he
raised himself again, and with eyes bent on the tangle of nettles and
rough herbage that clothed the bottom of the moat, he moved slowly
along the terrace towards her. He reached, without seeing her, the
seat on which she sat, knelt on it with one knee, and leaning far over
the moat, allowed a low laugh to escape him.

She fought the faint suspicion that, unwelcome, asserted itself. He
had behaved so honourably, so reticently, in all that had happened
that she was determined not to believe aught to his discredit. But her
folly, if foolish she was, must not imperil another. She made a mental
note that there was one thing she must not tell him. Very quickly that
reflection passed through her brain. And then--

"Why do you laugh?" she said.

He wheeled about so sharply that in another mood she must have
laughed, so much she had the advantage of him. For an instant he was
so taken aback that he did not speak. Then, "Why did you startle me?"
he asked, his eyes smiling.

"Because--yes, my brother came in that way."

"I know it," he answered; "but not why you startled me, mademoiselle,
a minute ago."

"Nor I," she retorted, smiling faintly, "why you were so inquisitive,
M. des Voeux?"

"I am going to tell you that," he said. He seated himself on the bench
so as to face her, and doffing his hat, held it between his face and
the sun. He was not, we know, very amenable to the charms of women,
and he saw in her no more than a girl of rustic breeding, comely and
gentle, and something commonplace, but a good sister whose aid with
her brother he needed. "I am going to tell you," he said; "because I
am anxious to meet your brother again and to talk with him."

She continued to meet his eyes, but her own were clouded. "On what
subject," she asked, "if I am not too curious?"

"The Crocans."

On her guard as she was, the word put her out of countenance. She
could not hide, and after one half-hearted attempt did not try to
hide, her dismay. "The Crocans?" she said. "But why do you come to
me?" her colour coming and going. "What have we to do with them, if
you please? Or my brother?"

"He has been banished from his home for some offence," the Lieutenant
answered quietly. "Your father forbids the mention of the name
Crocans. It is reasonable to infer that the offence is connected with
them, and, in a word, that your brother has done what any young man
with generous instincts and a love of adventure might do. He has
joined them. I do not blame him."

"You do not blame him?" she murmured. Never had she heard such words
of the Crocans--except from her brother. "You mean that?"

"I say it and mean it," the Lieutenant replied. But he spoke without
emotion, emotion was not his forte. "Nor am I alone," he went on, "in
holding such opinions. But the point, mademoiselle, is this. I wish to
find a means of communicating with them, and he can and probably will
be willing to aid me. For certain, if the worst comes to the worst, I
can aid him."

Bonne's heart beat rapidly. She did not--she told herself that she did
not distrust him. Had it been her own secret he was seeking she would
have delivered it to him freely. But the manner in which he had borne
himself while he thought himself alone, the possession of the map, and
the shrewdness with which he had traced her brother's movement and
surprised a secret that was still a secret from the household,
frightened her. And her very inexperience made her pause.

"But first, I take it, you need his aid?" she murmured.

"I wish to speak with him."

"Have you seen my father?"

He opened his eyes and bent a little nearer. "Do you mean,

"I mean only," she said gently, "that if you express to him the views
on the Crocans which you have just expressed to me, your opportunities
of seeing my brother will be scant."

He laughed. "I have not opened them to him," he said. "I have seen
him, and whether he thinks that he was a little more exigent last
night than the danger required, or he desires to prove to me that
midnight alarms are not the rule at Villeneuve, he has not given me
notice to go. His invitation to remain is not, perhaps," he smiled
slightly, "of the warmest. But if you, mademoiselle, will second

She muttered--not without a blush--that it would give her pleasure.
And he proceeded, "Then no difficulty on that point will arise."

She stooped lower over her work. What was she to do? He wanted that
which she had decided she must not give him. Just that! What was she
to do?

She was so long in answering, that he dubbed her awkward and
mannerless. And thought it a pity, too; for she was a staunch sister,
and had shown herself resourceful; and in repose her face, though
brown and sunburnt, was not without grace. He came to the point. "May
I count on you for this?" he asked bluntly.


"That as soon as you can you will bring me face to face with your

She looked up and met his gaze. "As soon as I think it safe to do so,"
she said, "I will. You may depend on me."

He had not divined her doubt, nor did he discern her quibble. Still,
"Could I not go to him to-day?" he said. "If he is still in the

She shook her head. "I do not know where he is," she answered, glad
that she could say so much with truth. "But if he show himself, and it
be safe, I will let you know. Roger----"

"Ha! To be sure, Roger may know?"

She smiled. "Roger and I are one," she said. "You must not expect to
get from him what I do not give." She said it naïvely, with just so
much of a smile as showed her at her best, and he hastened to say that
he left himself in her hands. She blushed through her sunburn at that,
but clung to her quibble, telling herself that this was a stranger,
the other a brother, and that if she destroyed Charles she could never
forgive herself.

He saw that she was disturbed, and he changed the subject. "You have
always lived here?" he asked.

"Yes," she answered, "but I can remember when things were different
with us. We were not always so broken. Before Coutras--but," with a
faint smile, "you have heard my father on that, and will not wish to
hear me."

"The Vicomte was present at the battle?"

"Yes, he was in the centre of the Catholic army with the Duke of
Joyeuse. He escaped with his life. But we lay in the path of the
pursuit after the flight, and they sacked the house, and burned the
hamlet by the ford--the one you passed--and the two farms in the bend
of the river--the two behind you. They swept off every four-legged
thing, every horse, and cow, and sheep, and left us bare. One of the
servants who resisted was killed, and--and my mother died of the

She broke off with an uncontrollable shiver. She was silent. After a
pause, "Perhaps you were at Coutras, M. des Voeux?" she said, looking

"I was not of the party who sacked your house," he answered gravely.

She knew then that he had fought on the other side; and she admired
him for the tact with which he made it known to her. He was a soldier
then. She wondered, as she bent over her work, if he had fought
elsewhere, and under whom, and with what success. Had he prospered or
sunk? He called himself a poor gentleman of Brittany, but that might
have been his origin only, he might be something more now.

In the earnestness of her thoughts she turned her eyes on his ring,
and she blushed brightly when with a quick, almost rude movement he
hid his hand. "I beg your pardon!" she murmured. "I was not thinking."

"It is I should beg yours," he said quietly. "It is only that I do not
want you to come to a false conclusion. This ring--in a word I wear
it, but the arms are not mine. That is all."

"Does that apply also," she asked, looking at him ingenuously, "to the
pistols you carry, M. des Voeux? Or should I address you--for I saw
last evening that they bore a duke's coronet--as your Grace?"

He laughed gaily. "They are mine, but I am not a duke," he said.

"Nor are you M. des Voeux?"

Her acuteness surprised him. "I am afraid, mademoiselle," he said,
"that you have a mind to exalt me into a hero of romance--whether I
will or no."

She bent over her work to hide her face. "A duke gave them to you, I
suppose?" she said.

"That is so," he replied sedately.

"Did you save his life?"

"I did not."

"I have heard," she returned, looking up thoughtfully, "that at
Coutras a gentleman on the other side strove hard to save the Duke of
Joyeuse's life, and did not desist until he was struck down by his own

"He looked to make his account by him, no doubt," the Lieutenant
answered coldly. "Perhaps," with a scarcely perceptible bitterness,
"the Duke, had he lived, would have given him--a pair of pistols!"

"That were a small return," she said indignantly, "for such a

He shrugged his shoulders. And to change the subject--

"What are the grey ruins," he asked, "on the edge of the wood?"

"They are part of the old Abbey," she answered without looking up,
"afterwards removed to Vlaye, of which my sister is Abbess. There was
a time, I believe, when the convent stood so close to the house that
it was well-nigh one with it. There was some disorder, I believe, and
the Diocesan obtained leave to have it moved, and it was planted on
lands that belonged to us at that time."

"Near Vlaye?"

"Within half a league of it."

"Your sister, then, is acquainted with the Captain of Vlaye?"

She did not look up. "Yes," she said.

"But you and your brothers?"

"We know him and hate him--only less than we fear him!" She regretted
her vehemence the moment she had spoken.

But he merely nodded. "So do the Crocans, I fancy," he said. "It is
rumoured that he is preparing something against them."

"You know that?" she exclaimed in surprise.

"Without being omniscient," he answered smiling. "I heard it in
Barbesieux. It was that, perhaps," he continued shrewdly, "which you
wished to tell your brother yesterday."

On that she was near confessing all to him and telling him, in spite
of her resolutions, where on the next day he could find her brother.
But she clung to her decision, and a minute later he rose and moved
away in the direction of the house.

When they met at table the mystery of the Vicomte's sudden impulse to
hospitality, which was something of a puzzle to her, began to clear.

It had its origin in nothing more substantial than his vanity; which
was tickled by the opportunity of talking to a man who, with some
pretensions to gentility, could be patronised. A little, too, he
thought of the figure he had made the night before. It was possible
that the stranger had been unfavourably impressed. That impression the
Vicomte thought he must remove, and to that end he laboured, after his
manner, to be courteous to his guest. But as his talk consisted, and
had long consisted, of little but sneers and gibes at the companions
of his fallen fortunes, his civility found its only vent in this

Des Ageaux indeed would gladly have had less of his civility. More
than once--though he was not fastidious--his cheek coloured with
shame, and willingly would he, had that been all, have told the
Vicomte what he thought of his witticisms. But he had his cards
sorted, his course arranged. Circumstances had played for him in the
dangerous game on which he was embarked, and he would have been
unworldly indeed had he been willing to cast away, for a point of
feeling--he who was no knight-errant--the advantages he had gained.

Not that he did not feel strongly for the two whose affection for one
another touched him. Roger's deformity appealed to him, for he fancied
that he detected in the lad a spirit which those who knew him better,
but knew only his gentler side, did not suspect. And the girl who had
grown from child to woman in the rustic stillness of this moated
house--that once had rung with the tread of armed heels and been gay
with festive robes and tourneys, but now was sinking fast into a
lonely farmstead--she too awakened some interest in the man of the
world, who smiled to find himself embedded for the time in a life so
alien from his every-day experiences. Concern he felt for the one and
the other; but such concern as weighed light in the balance against
the interests he held in his hands, or even against his own selfish

It soon appeared that the Vicomte had another motive for hospitality,
in the desire to dazzle the stranger by the splendours of his eldest
daughter, on whom he continued to harp. "There is still one of us," he
said with senile vanity--"I doubt if, from the specimens you have
seen, you will believe it--who is not entirely as God made her! Thank
the Lord for that! Who is neither clod nor clout, sir, but has as much
fashion as goes to the making of a modest gentlewoman."

His guest looked gravely at him. "I look forward much to seeing her,
M. le Vicomte!" he said for the tenth time.

"Ay, you may say so!" the Vicomte answered. "For in her you will see a
Villeneuve, and the last of the line!" with a scowl at Roger. "Neither
a lout with his boots full of hay-seeds--pah! nor a sulky girl with as
much manner as God gave her, and not a jot to it! Nice company I have,
M. des Voeux," he continued bitterly. "Did you say des Voeux--I never
heard the name?"

"Yes, M. le Vicomte."

"Nice company, I say, for a Villeneuve in his old age! What think you
of it? Before Coutras, where was an end of the good old days, and the
good old gentrice----"

"You were at Coutras?"

"Ay, to my cost, a curse on it! But before Coutras, I say, I had at
least their mother, who was a Monclar from Rouergue. She had at any
rate a tongue and could speak. And my daughter the Abbess takes after
her, though may-be more after me, as you will think when you see her.
She will be here, she says, to-morrow, for a night or two." This he
told for the fifth time that evening.

"I am looking forward to seeing her!" the guest repeated gravely--also
for the fifth time.

But the Vicomte could not have enough of boasting, which was doubly
sweet to him; first because it exalted the absent, and secondly
because it humiliated those who were present. "Thank God, she at least
is not as God made her!" he said again, pleased with the phrase. "At
Court last year the King noticed her, and swore she was a true
Villeneuve, and a most perfect lady without fault or blemish!"

"His Majesty is certainly a judge," the listener responded, the
twinkle in his eye more apparent than usual.

"To be sure!" the old man returned. "Who better? But, for the matter
of that, I am a judge myself. My daughter--for there is only one
worthy of the name"--with a withering glance at poor Bonne--"is not
hand in glove with every base-born wench about the place, trapesing to
a christening in a stable as readily as if the child were a king's
son! Ay, and as I am a Catholic, praying beside old hags' beds till
the lazy priest at the chapel has nought left to do for his month's
meal! Pah!"

"Ranks are no doubt of God's invention," des Voeux said with his eyes
on the table.

The Vicomte struck the board angrily. "Who doubts it?" he exclaimed.
"Of God's invention, sir? Of course they are!"

"But I take it that they exist, in part at least," des Ageaux
answered, "as a provision for the exercise of charity; and of----" he
hesitated, unwilling--he read the gathering storm on the Vicomte's
brow--to give offence; and, by a coincidence, he was saved from the
necessity. As he paused the door flew open, and a serving-man, not one
of the two who had waited on the table, but an uncouth creature,
shaggy and field-stained, appeared gesticulating on the threshold. He
was out of breath, apparently he could not speak; while the gust of
wind which entered with him, by blowing sideways the long, straggling
flames of the candles, and deepening the gloom of the ill-lit room,
made it impossible to discern his face.

The Vicomte rose. They all rose. "What does this mean?" he cried in a
rage. "What is it?"

"There's a party ringing at the gate, my lord, and--and won't take
no!" the man gasped. "A half-dozen of spears, and others on foot and
horse. A body of them. Solomon sent me to ask what's to do, and if he
shall open."

"There's a petticoat with them," a second voice answered. The speaker
showed his face over the other's shoulder.

"Imbeciles!" the Vicomte retorted, fired with rage. "It is your lady
the Abbess come a day before her time! It is my daughter and you stay
her at the door!"

"It is not my lady," the second man answered timidly. "It might be
some of her company, my lord, but 'tis not her. And Solomon----"

"Well? Well?"

"Says that they are not her people, my lord."

The Vicomte groaned. "If I had a son worthy the name!" he said, and
then he broke off, looking foolish. For Roger had left the room and
des Ageaux also. They had slipped by the men while the Vicomte
questioned them, and run out through the hall and to the gate--not
unarmed. The Vicomte, seeing this, bade the men follow them; and when
these too had vanished, and only four or five frightened women who had
crowded into the room at the first alarm remained, he began to fumble
with his sword, and to add to the confusion by calling fussily for
this and that, and to bring him his arquebus, and not to open--not
to open till he came! In truth years had worked imperceptibly on
him. His nerves, like many things about him, were not what they had
been--before Coutras. And he was still giving contrary directions, and
scolding the women, and bidding them make way for him--since it seemed
there was not a man to go to the gate but himself--when approaching
voices broke on his ear and silenced him. An instant later one or two
men appeared among the women in the doorway, and the little crowd fell
back in wonder, to make room for a low dark man, bareheaded and
breathing hard, with disordered hair and glittering eyes, who,
thrusting the women to either side, cried--not once, but again, and
yet again:--

"Room! Room for the Countess of Rochechouart! Way for the Countess!"

At the third repetition of this--which he seemed to say
mechanically--his eyes took in the scene, the table, the room, and the
waiting figure of the scandalized Vicomte, and his voice broke.
"Saved!" he cried, flinging up his arms, and reeling slightly as if he
would fall. "My lady is saved! Saved!"

And then, behind the low, dark man, who, it was plain, was almost
beside himself, the Vicomte saw the white face and shrinking form of a
small, slight girl little more than a child, whose eyes were like no
eyes but a haunted hare's, so large and bright and affrighted were

                             CHAPTER IV.

                             THE DILEMMA.

Sheer amazement held the Vicomte silent. The Countess of Rochechouart,
of the proud house of Longueville, that in those days yielded place to
scarce a house in France--the Countess of Rochechouart to be seeking
admittance at his door! And at this hour of the night! She, who was of
the greatest heiresses of France, whose hand was weighted with a
hundred manors, and of whose acquaintance the Abbess had lately
boasted as a thing of which even a Villeneuve might be proud, she to
be knocking at his gate in the dark hours! And seeking help! The
Countess--his head went round. He was still gazing speechless with
surprise when the short dark man who had entered with her fell on his
knees before the girl, and seizing her hand mumbled upon it, wept on
it, babbled over it, heedless alike of the crowd of gazers who pressed
upon him, and of the master of the house, who stared aghast.

The Vicomte's amazement began at that to give place to perplexity. The
Abbess, had she been here, would have known how to entertain such a
guest. But Bonne and Roger--they were naught. Yet he must do
something. He found his voice. "If I have, indeed," he said, for he
was still suspicious of a trick, so forlorn and childish seemed the
figure before him--"if I have indeed the honour," he repeated stiffly,
"to address the Countess of Rochechouart, I--I bid her welcome to my
poor house."

"I am Mademoiselle de Rochechouart," the girl murmured, speaking
faintly. "I thank you."

It was apparent that she could say no more. Her face was scratched and
bleeding, her hair was loose, her riding-dress, stained to the throat
with dirt, was torn in more places than one. There were other signs
that, frail as she was, she had ridden hard and desperately; ridden to
the end of her strength.

But the Vicomte thought, not of her, but of himself, as was his
custom; not of her plight, but of the figure he was making before his
people, who stared open-mouthed at the unwonted scene. "Time was,
mademoiselle," he replied, drawing himself up, "before Coutras, when I
could have offered you"--with a bow--"a more fitting hospitality. Time
was when the house of Villeneuve, which has entertained four kings,
could have afforded a more fitting reception to--hem--to beauty in
distress. But that was before Coutras. Since Coutras, destined to be
the grave of the nobility of France--I---- What is it?"

"I think she is faint, sir," Bonne murmured timidly. She, with a
woman's eye, saw that the Countess was swaying, and she sprang forward
to support her. "She is ill, sir," she continued hurriedly and with
greater boldness. "Permit me, I beg you, sir, to take her to my room.
She will be better there--until we can arrange a chamber." Already the
child, half-fainting, was clinging to her, and but for her must have

The Vicomte, taken aback by his daughter's presumption, could only
stare. "If this be so," he said grudgingly, "certainly! But I don't
understand. How comes all this about? Eh? How----" But he found that
the girl did not heed him, and he turned and addressed the attendant.
"How, you, sir, comes your mistress here? And in this plight?"

But the dark man, as deaf as his mistress to the question, had turned
to follow her. He seemed indeed to have no more notion of being parted
from her than a dog which finds itself alone with its master among
strangers. Bonne at the door discovered his presence at her elbow, and
paused in some embarrassment. The Vicomte saw the pause, and glad to
do something--he had just ordered off the women with fleas in their
ears--he called loudly to the man to stand back. "Stand back, fellow,"
he repeated. "The Countess will be well tended. Let two of the women
be sent to her to do what is needful--as is becoming."

But the Countess, faint as she was, heard and spoke. "He is my
foster-father," she murmured without turning her head. "If he may lie
at my door he will heed no one."

Bonne, whose arm was round her, nodded a cheerful assent, and,
followed by two of the women, the three disappeared in the direction
of the girl's chamber. The Vicomte, left to digest the matter, sniffed
once or twice with a face of amazement, and then awoke to the fact
that Roger and his guest were still absent. Fortunately, before he had
done more than give vent to peevish complaints, they entered.

He waited, with his eyes on the door. To his surprise no one followed
them--no steward, no attendant. "Well?" he cried, withering them with
his glance. "What does this mean? Where are the others? Is there no
one in the Countess's train of a condition to be presented to me?
Or how comes it that you have not brought him, booby,"--this to
Roger--"to give me some account of these strange proceedings? Am
I the last to be told who come into my house? But God knows, since

"There is no one, M. le Vicomte," the Lieutenant answered.

The Vicomte glared at him. "How? No one?" he retorted pompously.
"Impossible! Do you suppose that the Countess of Rochechouart travels
with no larger attendance than a poor gentleman of Brittany? You mean,
sir, I take it, that there is no one of condition, though that is so
contrary to rule that I can hardly believe it. A countess of
Rochechouart and no gentlemen in her train! She should travel with
four at the least!"

"I only know that there is no one, sir."

"I do not understand!"

"Neither do we," the Lieutenant of Périgord returned, somewhat out of
patience. "The matter is as dark to us as it is to you, sir. It is
plain that the Countess has experienced a serious adventure, but
beyond that we know nothing, since neither she nor her attendant has
spoken. He seems beside himself with joy and she with fatigue."

"But the spears?" his host retorted sharply. "The men on horse and
foot who alarmed the porter?"

"They vanished as soon as we opened. One I did delay a moment, and
learned--though he was in haste to be gone--that they fell in with the
lady a half mile from here. She was then in the plight in which you
have seen her, and it was at her attendant's prayer, who informed them
of her quality, that they escorted her to this house. They learned no
more from him than that the lady's train had been attacked in the
woods between this and Vlaye, and that the man got his mistress away
and hid with her, and was making for this house when the horsemen met

"Incredible!" the Vicomte exclaimed, stalking across the hearth and
returning in excitement. "Since Coutras I have heard no such thing! A
Countess of Rochechouart attacked on the road and put to it like a
common herdgirl. It must be the work of those cursed--peasants! It
must be so! But, then, the men who brought her to the door and
vanished again, who are they? Travellers are not so common in these
parts. You might journey three days before you fell in with a body of
men-at-arms to protect you on your way."

"True," des Ageaux answered. "But I learned no more from them."

"And you, Master Booby?" the Vicomte said, addressing Roger with his
usual sarcasm. "You asked nothing, I suppose?"

"I was busied about the Countess," the lad muttered. "It was dark, and
I heard no more than their voices."

"Then it was only you who saw them?" the Vicomte exclaimed, turning
again to des Ageaux. "Did you not notice what manner of men they were,
sir, how many, and of what class? Strange that they should leave a
warm house-door at this hour! Did you form no opinion of them? Were
they"--he brought out the word with an effort--"Crocans, think you?"

The Lieutenant replied that he took them for the armed attendants of a
gentleman passing that way, and the Vicomte, though ill-content with
the answer, was obliged to put up with it. "Yet it seems passing
strange to me," he retorted, "that you did not think their drawing off
a little beside the ordinary. And who travels at this hour of the
night, I would like to know?"

The Lieutenant made no answer, and the Vicomte too fell silent. From
time to time serving-women had passed through the room--for, after the
awkward fashion of those days, the passage to the inner apartments was
through the dining-hall--some with lights, and some with fire in pans.
The draught from the closing doors had more than once threatened to
extinguish the flickering candles. Such flittings produced an air of
bustle and a hum of preparation long unknown in that house; but they
were certainly more to the taste of the menials than the master. At
each interruption the Vicomte pished and pshawed, glaring as if he
would slay the offender. But the women, emboldened by the event and
the presence of strangers, did not heed him, and after some minutes of
silent sufferance his patience came to an end.

"Go you," he cried to Roger, "and bid the girl come to me."

"The Countess, sir?" the lad exclaimed in astonishment.

The Vicomte swore. "No, fool!" he replied. "Your sister! Is she master
of the house, or am I? Bid her descend this instant and tell me what
is forward and what she has learned."

Roger, with secret reluctance, obeyed, and his father, sorely
fretting, awaited his return. Two minutes elapsed, and three. Seldom
stirring abroad, the Vicomte had, in spite of all his talk about
Coutras, an overweening sense of his own importance, and he was about
to break out in fury when Bonne at length entered. She was followed by

It was clear at a glance that the girl was frightened; less clear that
mixed with her fear was another emotion. "Well," the Vicomte cried,
throwing himself back in his great chair and fixing her with his angry
eyes. "What is it? Am I to know nothing--in my own house?"

Bonne controlled herself by an effort. "On the contrary, sir, there is
that which I think you should know," she murmured. "The Countess has
told me the story. She was attacked on the road, some of her people
she fears were killed, and all were scattered. She herself escaped
barely with her life."

The Vicomte stared. "Where?" he said. "Where was it?"

"An hour from here, sir."

"Towards Vlaye?"

"Yes, sir."

"And she barely escaped?"

"You saw her, sir."

"And who--who does she say dared to commit this outrage?"

Bonne did not answer. Her eyes sought her brother's and sank again.
She trembled.

The Vicomte, though not the keenest of observers, detected her
embarrassment. He fancied that he knew its origin, and the cause of
her hesitation. In a voice of triumph, "Ay, who?" he replied. "You
don't wish to say. But I can tell you. I read it in your face. I can
tell you, disobedient wench, who alone would be guilty of such an
outrage. Those gutter-sweepings"--his face swelled with rage--"made up
of broken lacqueys and ploughboys, whom they call Crocans! Eh, girl,
is it not so?" he continued savagely. "Am I not right?"

"No, sir," she murmured without daring to look up.

His face fell. "No?" he repeated. "No? But I don't believe you! Who
then? Don't lie to me! Who then?" He rapped the table before him.

"The Captain of Vlaye," she whispered.

The Vicomte sank back in his chair. "Impossible!" he cried. Then in a
much lower tone: "Impossible!" he repeated. "You dream, girl. M. de
Vlaye has done some things not quite--not regular. But--but in cases
perfectly different. To people of--of no consequence! This cannot be!"

"I fear it is so, sir," she whispered, without raising her eyes. "Nor
is that--the worst."

The Vicomte clenched his fingers about the arms of his chair and
nodded the question he could not frame.

"It was with the Abbess, sir--with my sister," Bonne continued in a
low tone, "that the Countess was to stay the night. I fear that it was
from her that he learned where and how to beset her."

The Vicomte looked as if he was about to have a fit.

"What?" he cried. "Do you dare, unnatural girl, to assert that your
sister was privy to this outrage?"

"Heaven forbid, sir!" Bonne answered fervently. "She knew naught of
it. But----"

"Then why----"

"But it was from her, I fear, that he learned where the child--she is
little more--could be surprised."

The Vicomte glared at her without speaking. The Lieutenant, who had
listened, not without admiration of the girl's sense and firmness,
seized the opening to intervene. "Were it not well, sir," he said, his
matter-of-fact tone calming the Vicomte's temper, "if mademoiselle
told us as nearly as possible what she has heard? And, as she has been
somewhat shaken, perhaps you will permit her to sit down! She will
then, I think, be able to tell us more quickly what we want."

The Vicomte gave a surly assent, and the Lieutenant himself placed a
stool for the girl where she could lean upon the table. Her father
opened his eyes at the attention, but something in des Ageaux's face
silenced the sneer on his lips, and he waited until Bonne began.

"The Countess lay at Pons last night, sir," she said in a low tone.
"There the lady who was formerly her _gouvernante_, and still rules
her household, fell ill. The plague is in Western Poitou, and though
the Countess would have stayed, her physician insisted that she should
proceed. Accordingly she left the invalid in his charge and that of
some of her people, while she herself pursued her way through Jonsac
and Barbesieux with a train reduced to fourteen persons, of whom eight
were well armed."

"This is what comes of travelling in such a fashion," the Vicomte said
contemptuously. "I remember when I never passed the gates without--but
go on!"

"She now thinks that the _gouvernante's_ food was tampered with. Be
that as it may, her company passed our ford in the afternoon, and an
hour later reached the ascent a league this side of Vlaye. They were
midway on the ascent, when half a dozen shots were fired. Several of
their horses were struck, and the rest seized by a number of men who
sprang from the undergrowth. In the panic those who were at the rear
attempted to turn, but found their retreat cut off. The Countess
alone, who rode in the middle with her steward, escaped through the
devotion of a servant, who thrust his horse before the leader of the
bandits and brought him down. Fulbert, her steward, saw the
opportunity, seized her rein, and, plunging into the undergrowth,
reached by good luck the bottom of the hill, and, hidden by the wood,
gained a start. He knew, however, that her strength would not hold
out, and at the first sound of pursuit he alighted in a coppice, drove
on the horses, and crept away with her through the underwood. He hoped
to take shelter here, but passed the entrance in the darkness and
walked into the midst of a party of men encamped at the ford. Then
he thought all lost, deeming them the band that had waylaid the

"And who were they, if they were not?" the Vicomte asked, unable to
restrain his curiosity. "Eh? They were camping at the ford?"

"Some riders belonging to the household of the Lieutenant of Périgord,
sir, on their way to join him in his government. They were so honest
as to guard the Countess hither----"

"And go again? The good Lord!" the Vicomte cried irritably. "Why?"

"I do not know, sir."

"Go on, then. Why do you break off? But--enough!" The Vicomte looked
at the other listeners with an air of triumph. "Where is Vlaye in
this? Because it was within a league of his castle, you put it on him,
you baggage?"

"No, sir, indeed!" Bonne cried anxiously. "But Fulbert the steward
knows M. de Vlaye well, and recognised him. He wore a mask, it seems,
but when his horse fell, the mask slipped, and Fulbert saw his face
and knew him. Moreover----"


"One of the band rode a bald-faced black horse, which the steward saw
in M. de Vlaye's troop at Angoulême two months back, and to which he
says he could swear among ten thousand."

The Vicomte swore as one among a large number. But at length, "And
what is this to do with me?" he fumed. "What is this to me? Time was,
before Coutras, when I might have been expected to--to keep the roads,
and stay such things! But now--body of Satan, what is it to me?"

No one spoke, and he looked about him angrily, resenting their
silence. "What is it?" he snarled. "What are you keeping back?"

"Nothing, sir," Bonne answered.

"Then what would you?"

"If," Bonne ventured desperately, "M. de Vlaye come to-morrow with my
sister--with the Abbess, sir, as is not unlikely--and find the
Countess here, will she be safe?"

The Vicomte's mouth opened, and slowly consternation settled upon his
features. "_Mon Dieu!_" he muttered. "I had not thought of that. But
here--no, no, he would not dare! He would not dare!"

"He went very far to-day, sir," Bonne objected, gaining courage from
his face. "So far that he must go farther to ensure himself from the

The Vicomte was silent.

The Lieutenant coughed. "If his object," he said, "be to force a
marriage with the Countess----"

The Vicomte, with an oath, cut him short. "A marriage?" he said. "A
marriage? When he and my daughter the Abbess are--but who said aught
of the kind? Who said aught of a marriage?"

The Lieutenant did not answer, and the Vicomte, after growling in his
beard, turned to him. "Why," he demanded in a tone that, though
ungracious, was no longer violent, "why do you say that that was his

"Because," the Lieutenant answered, "I happen to know that M. de
Longueville, who is her guardian, has his hands full. His wife and
children are prisoners with the Spaniards, and he is moving heaven and
earth and the court to procure their release. He has no thought to
spare for the Countess, his cousin; and were she once married, however
violently, I doubt if he or any would venture to dispute her
possessions with a Vlaye, whose resources her wealth would treble.
Such knights-errant," he continued drily, "are not very common, M. le
Vicomte. Set M. de Vlaye's strength at three hundred men-at-arms----"

"Four!" the Vicomte muttered, despite himself.

"Then double the four--as such a marriage, however effected, would
double them--and I doubt," with a courteous bow, "if even a Villeneuve
would find it easy to avenge a wrong!"

The Vicomte fidgeted in his seat. "You seem to know a vast deal about
it, sir," he said, with ill-feigned contempt.

"I should feel it an honour," the Lieutenant answered politely, "to be
permitted to join in the defence."

"Defence!" the Vicomte exclaimed, staring at him in astonishment. "You
go fast, sir! Defence? What do you mean?"

"If M. de Vlaye learn that the Countess has taken refuge here--I fear
it will come to that."

"Pooh! Impossible! Defence, indeed! What are you dreaming of?"

But the guest continued to look grave, and the Vicomte, after
muttering incoherently, and drumming on the table with his fingers,
condescended to ask with a sneer what _he_ would do--in the

"I should keep her presence from him," des Ageaux answered. "I have no
right, I know," he continued, in a more conciliatory tone, "to give
counsel to one of your experience, M. le Vicomte. But I see no choice
save to do what I suggest, or to pull up the drawbridge."

The Vicomte sat up straight. Pull up the drawbridge? Was he
dreaming--he who had sat down to sup without a thought of misfortune?
He with four hundred yards of wall to guard, and some seven pikes to
hold it--to defy Vlaye and his four hundred ruffians? Body of Satan,
he was not mad! Defy Vlaye, whom he feared even while he sneered at
him as an adventurer? Vlaye, in whose star he believed even while he
sneered. Or would he have dreamed of giving him his daughter? Pull up
the drawbridge? Never!

"I am not mad," he said coldly. But his hands trembled.

"Then, M. le Vicomte, it remains to keep it from him."

"How? You talk at random," the exasperated man answered. "Can I close
the mouth of every gossip in the house? Can I cut out every woman's
tongue, beginning with that girl's? How can I keep out his men, or
stop their ears over the wine-pot?"

"Could you not admit him only?"

"And proclaim from the housetop," the Vicomte retorted with contempt,
"that I have something to hide?"

The Lieutenant did not reply at once, and it was plain that he was
puzzled by this view of the position. "Certainly that has to be borne
in mind," he said. "You are quite right."

"To be sure it has!" the Vicomte answered brusquely, glad to have the
opportunity of putting this overzealous adviser in his right place.
But the satisfaction of triumph faded quickly, and left him face to
face with the situation. He cursed Vlaye for placing him in the
dilemma. He cursed the Countess--why could she not have taken refuge
elsewhere? Last of all, he cursed his guest, who, after showing
himself offensively able to teach him his duty, failed the moment it
came to finding an expedient.

The solution of the riddle came from a quarter whence--at any rate by
the Vicomte--it was least expected. "May I say something?" Roger
ventured timidly.

His father glared at him. "You?" he exclaimed. And then ungraciously,
"Say on!" he growled.

"We have cut half the grass in the long meadow," the lad answered.
"And to-morrow we ought to be both cutting and making, while it is
fine. Last year, as we were short-handed, the women helped. If you
were to order all but Solomon to the hay-field to-morrow--it is the
farthest from here, beside the river--there would be no one to talk or
tell, sir."

Des Ageaux struck his leg in approbation. "The lad has it!" he said.
"With your permission, M. le Vicomte, what could be better?"

"Better?" the Vicomte retorted, throwing himself back in his chair.
"What? I am to open my gate with my own hands?"

"Solomon would open. And he can be trusted."

"Receive my daughter without man or maid?" the Vicomte cried. "Show
myself to strangers without my people? Appear like one of the
base-born beggarly ploughmen with mud in their veins, with whom you
love to mix? What mean you, sirrah, by such a suggestion? Shame on
you, unnatural fool!"

"But, M. le Vicomte," the Lieutenant remonstrated, "if you will not do

"Never! Never!"

"Then," des Ageaux answered, more stiffly, "it remains only to pull up
the drawbridge. Since, I presume," he continued, his tone taking
insensibly a note of disdain, "you do not propose to give up the young
lady, or to turn her from your door."

"Turn her from my door?"

"That being at once to help M. de Vlaye to this marriage, and to drag
the name of Villeneuve in the mud! But"--breaking off with a bow--"I
am sure that the honour of the family is safe in your hands, M. le

"It is well you said that!" the Vicomte cried, his face purple, his
hands palsied with rage. "It is well you broke off, sir, or I would
have proved to you that my honour is safe with me. Body of Satan, am I
to be preached to by everybody--every brainless lad," he continued,
prudently diverting his tirade to the head of the unlucky Roger,
"who chooses to prate before his elders! _Mon Dieu!_ There was a time
when children sat mute instead of preaching. But that was before
Coutras!"--bitterly--"when most things came to an end."

This time des Ageaux had the shrewdness to be silent, and he garnered
the reward of his reticence. The Vicomte, rant as wildly as he might,
was no fool, though vanity was hourly putting foolish things into his
mouth. He was not blind--had he not "since Coutras" always on his
lips?--to the changes which time had wrought in the world, and he knew
that face to face with his formidable neighbour he was helpless. Nor
was he in the dark on Vlaye's character. So far the adventurer had
respected him, and in presence, and at a distance, had maintained an
observance and a regard that was flattering to the decayed gentleman.
But the Vicomte had seen the fate of others who crossed the Captain of
Vlaye. He knew how impotent the law had proved to save them, how slack
their friends--in a word, how quickly the waters had rolled over them.
And he was astute enough to see, with all his conceit, that as it had
been with them, it might be with him, if he stood in M. de Vlaye's

On the other hand, had he been mean enough to deliver up the Countess,
he dared not. In the first place, to do so would, at the best, be
hazardous; she had powerful friends, and whether she escaped or
married her captor she might not forgive him. In the second place, he
did not lightly resign the plan, which he had conceived, of uniting
his favourite daughter to the rising adventurer. True, M. de Vlaye's
position was anomalous, was precarious. But a day, a bribe, a turn of
the cards might legalise it and place him high in Court favour. And

The Vicomte's train of thought ran no farther in silence. With an oath
and an ill grace he bade them do as they would. "Things," he cried,
"are come to a pass indeed when guests----"

"A thousand pardons, M. le Vicomte!"

"And children dictate what is to be done and what to be left undone!"
He looked older as he spoke; more broken and more peevish. "But since
Coutras the devil has all, I think."

                              CHAPTER V.

                        THE CAPTAIN OF VLAYE.

Danger, that by night sends forth a vanguard of fears, and quells the
spirits before it delivers the attack, pursues a different course by
day, seeking to surprise rather than to intimidate. Seldom had June
sun shone on a fairer scene than that which the lifting of the river
mists delivered to the eyes of the dwellers in the château on the
following morning, or on one more fit to raise the despondent courage.
The tract of meadow land that, enfolded by the river, formed the only
clear ground about the house lay in breezy sunshine, which patches of
shadow, flung on the sward by such of the surrounding trees as rose a
little higher than the ordinary, did but heighten. The woods which
enclosed this meadow land, here with a long straight wall of oaks,
there with broken clumps of trees that left to view distant glades and
alleys, sparkled, where the sun lighted their recesses, with
unnumbered dew-drops, or with floating gossamers, harbingers of a fair
day. The occasional caw of a rook flying fieldward over the open, or
the low, steady coo of the pigeons in the great stone cote beside the
gate, added the last touch of peace to the scene; a scene so innocent
that it forbade the notion of danger and rendered it hard to believe
that amid surroundings like these, and under the same sky of blue,
man's passions were, in parts not distant, turning an earthly heaven
to a hell.

Access to these meadows was by a sled-road, which, starting from the
great gate, wound round the wall of the courtyard, and then, turning
its back on the house, passed by a small stone bridge over the brook
which had once supplied the moat. From the bridge the track ran across
the meadows to the abandoned farms which stood on the river bank half
a mile from the château. The only building among these which retained
a roof was a long wooden barn, still used to contain waste fodder and
the like.

It was from this bridge, a narrow span of stone, that Bonne, the
following morning, gazed on the scene, her hand raised to shade her
eyes from the sun. The whole of the Vicomte's household, with the
exception of a deaf cook and of Solomon, who could be trusted, were
gone to the hay-field; some with delight, as welcoming any change, and
some with whispers and surmises. Thence their shrill voices and
laughter were borne by the light breeze to the girl's ears.

Nothing had been heard of the Countess's train, and her concealment
during the hours of danger had perplexed both the Vicomte and his
advisers. His pride would not permit him to make her privy to the
coming visit, or the precautions which it rendered needful. Yet
without acknowledging his inability to protect her, it was not easy to
confine her to one room. For, with the elasticity of youth, she had
risen little the worse for her adventures.

The council sat long, and in the end the better course seemed to be to
invite her to the hay-field. As it fell out, a small matter gave a
natural turn to the proposal. Her riding-dress--and more of her dress
than that--was so stained and torn as to be unwearable. And Bonne
could not help her, for the child, though perfectly formed, and of a
soft prettiness, was cast in a smaller mould. Here, then, was a
Countess without so much as a stocking, had not Bonne thought of a
little waiting-girl of about the same shape and size. This girl's
holiday attire was borrowed, and found to be a charming fit--at least
in the eyes of Roger. For the lad, because the Countess was shy, had
become, after a sort, her protector.

The child's timidity was at standing odds with her rank, and on first
descending in this dress she had been on the point of tears, as
infants cry when they think themselves the objects of ridicule. A very
little and she had fled. But a moment later, whether she read
something that was not ridicule in the lad's eyes, as she walked up
and down the terrace, or youth stirred in her and raised a childish
pleasure in the masquerade, she preened herself, blushing, and
presently she was showing herself off. So that at the first word she
fell in with the notion of completing her make-believe by spending the
day in the hay.

Fortunately, Fulbert, the steward, who attended her like a dog, and
like a dog glared suspicion on all who approached her, raised no
objection. And about three hours before noon the move was made. Bonne
had gone with Mademoiselle as far as this bridge, where she now stood,
and thence had sent her forward with Roger and Fulbert on the plea
that she must herself attend to household cares. Nevertheless, as the
three receded in the sun's eye, she lingered awhile looking
thoughtfully after them.

The dainty creature, tripping in her queer travesty between her
foster-father and Roger's misshapen form, showed like a fairy between
two gnomes. Bonne watched and smiled, and presently the smile became a
tear, for Roger's sake. She had other and more pressing cares, other
and heavier burdens this morning; but her heart was warm for him. She
had been mother as well as sister to him, and the reflection that his
deformity--once she had heard a peasant call him goblin--would
probably for ever set him apart and deprive him of the joys of manhood
touched her with grief as she stood.

The tear was still on her lid when she heard a step behind her, turned
and saw des Ageaux--to her des Voeux. He read trouble in her clear,
youthful face, fancied she was in fear, and paused to reassure her.
"Why so sad, mademoiselle," he asked, "when she"--with a good-humoured
nod in the direction of the Countess--"who has so much more to fear,
trips along gaily? She is another being to-day."

"I have others to fear for," she replied.

"Your brother?"

She fancied that he was about to press her to bring him to Charles,
and to change the subject she avowed her trouble. Why, heaven knows;
for though her presence of mind the previous evening had won a meed of
admiration from him, he had made no sign.

"I was not thinking of him," she confessed. "I was thinking of Roger.
I was thinking how sad it is--for him."

He understood her. "You make too much of it," he said lightly. "He has
health and strength, and a good spirit when your father is not
present. His arm is long, and will always keep his head. Have you
never heard what M. de Gourdon, Governor of the March, who is--who is
like your brother, you know--once said of himself? 'My back?' quoth he
to one who mentioned it. 'My friends mind it not, and my enemies have
never seen it!'"

She flushed and a light came into her eyes. "Oh, brave!" she cried.
"Brave! And you think that Roger----"

"I think that Roger may some day make himself feared. And he who is
feared," the Lieutenant continued, with a half cynical, half whimsical
smile, "has ever love on his other hand--as surely as dog follows the
hand that feeds it."

The words had barely left his lips when a wolf-hound, whose approach
they had not noticed, darted upon them, and, leaping up at the
Lieutenant's face, nearly overthrew him. Bonne recoiled, and with a
cry looked round for help. Then she perceived that it was with joy,
not with rage, that the dog was beside himself; for again and again,
with sharp shrill cries of pleasure, it leapt on the Lieutenant,
striving to lick his hands, his face, his hair. In vain he bade it
"Down! Down, dog!" In vain he struck at it. It set its paws against
his breast, and though often repulsed, as often with slobbering mouth
and hanging tongue sought his face.

When he had a little calmed its transports and got it to heel, he
turned to her, and for once showed an embarrassed countenance. "It is
a dog," he said, "a dog of mine that has followed me."

"I see that," she replied, smiling with something of mischief in her

"It must have followed me----"

"A full mile this morning," she said, stooping and patting the hound,
which, with a dubious condescension, permitted the greeting. "It is
both fed and dry. And its name is----"

He looked at her, but did not answer.

"Does this often happen to you?" she continued, feeling on a sudden a
strange freedom with him. "To talk of dogs and they appear? Have you
the habit when your horse falls lame of tying your dog to a tree, and
placing a sufficiency of food and water by it to last it two days?"
And then, when he did not answer her, "Who are you, M. des Voeux?" she
said in a different tone. "Whence do you come, and what is your

"Have I not told you," he answered, "that I wish to communicate
through your brother with the Crocans? That is my business."

"But you did not know when you came to us that I had a brother," she
replied, "or that he had joined the Crocans, or that we were like to
be in these straits. So that you did not come for that. Why did you
come?" confronting him with clear eyes. "Are we to count you friend or
enemy? Be frank with me and I will be frank with you."

He looked at her with the first gleam of admiration in his eyes. But
he hesitated. In the candour of a young girl who, laying aside
coquetry and advantage, speaks to a man as to a comrade there lies a
charm new to him who has not known a sister; more new to him,
more surprising to him whose wont has lain among the women of a
court--women whose light lives and fickle ambitions mark them of those
who are but just freed from the seraglio. He smiled at her, openly
acknowledging by his silence and his air that he had a secret;
acknowledging also, and in the same way, that he held her equal. But
he shook his head. "In a little time I will be frank with you,
mademoiselle," he said. "It is true I have a secret, and at this
moment I cannot tell it safely."

"You do not trust me?"

"I trust no one at this moment," he answered steadily.

It was not the answer she expected. She had thought he would quibble.
She was impressed by his firmness, but she did not betray the feeling.
"Good!" she said, with the least possible lifting of her head. "Then
you must not expect to be trusted, or that I shall bring you to my

"But you promised, mademoiselle."

"That I would do so when I could do so--safely," she retorted with
mischievous emphasis. "It is your own word, sir, and I shall not feel
that I can do so--safely--until I learn who you are. I suppose if my
brother were here you would tell him?"


Her colour rose. "You would tell him, and you will not tell me!" she
cried indignantly.

"Now you are angry," he replied smiling. "How can I appease you?"

She was not really angry. But she turned on her heel, willing to let
him think it. "By hiding yourself until this is over," she answered.
And leaving him standing on the bridge, where he had found her,
she made her way back to the house, where the only man left was
Solomon in his hutch beside the gate. He was an old servant, a
garrulous veteran of high renown for the enormous fables he had ever
on his lips--particularly when the Vicomte reverted to the greatness
of the house before Coutras. Mademoiselle as she entered paused to
speak to him. "Have you seen a strange dog, Solomon?" she asked.

"This morning, my lady?" he exclaimed in his shrill voice. "Strange
dog? No, not I! Has one frightened you? Dog? Few dogs I see these sad
days," he continued, with a gesture scornful of the present. "Dogs,
indeed? Times were when we had packs for everything, for boars, and
wolves, and deer, and hares, and vermin, and"--pausing in sheer
inability to think of any other possible pack--"ay, each a pack, and
more to them than I could ever count, or the huntsman either!"

"Yes, I know, Solomon. I have heard you say so at least. But you have
not seen a strange dog this morning?"

"The morn! No, no, my lady! But last night I mind one--was't a

"Yes, a deer-hound."

"Well, then, I can tell you," with a mysterious nod, "and no one else.
It was with the riders who brought the young lady. But I'm mum,"
winking. "Not a word will they get out of me. Secrets? Ay, I'm the man
can keep a secret. Why, I remember, talking of secrets and lives--and
often they are all one----"

"But what became of the deer-hound?" she asked, ruthlessly cutting him

"Became of the dog?"--more shrilly than usual--he was a little hurt.
"Is that all you want? It went with them as brought it, I do suppose.
It didn't stop, anywise. But as I was saying about secrets--the
secrets I have kept in old days--when there was no family had so many
as ours----"

But she was gone. She had discovered what she wanted. And she was
midway across the courtyard when the shrill sound of a hawk-whistle
caught her ear. Turning she went through the gate again, and
listened--not without a nervous feeling. Presently she could
distinguish the dull tramp of a number of horses moving on the sward,
the gay jingle of bit and spur, and mingled with these sounds the
voices of a number of persons talking at their ease.

Warmly as the sun shone, she was aware of a shiver; of a presentiment
that gripped and chilled her. Whatever it portended, however, whatever
misfortune was in the air, the risk could not now be evaded. Already
bright patches of moving colour glanced among the trees at the end of
the approach, and steel points glittered amid the foliage, and
feathers waved gaily above the undergrowth. She had barely time to
tell Solomon to run and apprise her father of the arrival, when the
head of the cavalcade wheeled, talking and laughing, into the avenue,
and her sister, who rode in the van by the side of M. de Vlaye, espied
her standing before the gate and waved a greeting.

Behind the Abbess rode a couple of women, one in the lay costume,
liberally interpreted, of her order, the other of the world confessed;
following close on their heels half a dozen horsemen completed the
first party. The young Abbess bore a hooded hawk on her wrist, and the
tinkle of its light silver bells mingled with the ripple of her voice
as she approached, while two or three pairs of coupled hounds ran at
her horse's heels. A little behind, separated from this select company
by an interval of two score yards, followed the main body, a troop of
some forty horse, in steel caps and corslets, with long swords
swinging, and pistols in their holsters.

A more picturesque or more gallant company, as they swept by threes
and fours into sight between the two grey pillars and rode towards the
house under sun and shade, or a band that moved with a lordlier air,
it had been hard to find, even in those days of show and pageantry,
when men wore their fortunes on their backs. The Captain of Vlaye,
stooping his sinewy figure to his companion, well became a horse that
moved as he moved, and caracoled because he allowed it. His dark, keen
face would have been as handsome as his form but for a blemish. In
some skirmish of his youth he had lost the sight of an eye, and the
blind orb gave his face a hard look which, so his enemies said,
brought it into consonance with his character. He wore upturned
moustaches without a beard, therein departing from the mode of the
day. But his hunting-dress of white doeskin, with a fawn hat and belt,
was in the fashion, and his horse's trappings shone almost as fine as
the riding-dress of green and silver which set off his companion's
tall figure and haughty face. In first youth a nose, too like her
father's, and something over large in Odette de Villeneuve's frame,
had foreshadowed charms not of the most feminine or the first order.
But three years had supplied the carriage and the ripened and fuller
contours that made her what she now was. To-day, if it pleased her to
have at her beck one whose will was law, and whose stern manners
invited few to intimacy--and in truth her infatuation for the
successful adventurer knew no limits--he on his side found his account
in parading, where he went, a woman whose beauty exceeded even her
birth, and fell little short of her pride.

And she was content; she at least aimed at no more than setting on a
safer basis the power she looked to share. It was she who, ignorant
that her brother had joined them, had mentioned to her sister Vlaye's
plan of suppressing the Crocans. That he had any other plan, that his
views rose higher than a union with herself, that he hoped by a bold
and secret stroke not only to secure what he had gained but to treble
his resources--that his ambition, passing by a Villeneuve, dared to
dream of an alliance with the ducal house of Longueville--of these
things she had, as yet, no inkling. Not a jot, not a tittle. Nor was
she likely to believe in their existence, save on evidence the
clearest and most overwhelming.

Bonne knew more. She knew these things; and, as she went forward to
meet the party, and after greeting her sister turned to her cavalier,
the word "Welcome" stuck in her throat. She was conscious that her
cheek grew a shade paler as she forced the word, that her knees shook.
Her fear was that he would read the signs.

Ordinarily he would not have remarked them; partly because he was
inured to meeting cowed looks, and partly because a careless
scorn--masked where the Vicomte was concerned by a veneer of
respect--was all to which he ever treated the Abbess's impoverished
family. Crook-backed brother, tongue-tied sister, and the other fool,
whose restive dislike had sometimes amused him--he held them all in
equal and supreme contempt. But to-day he had his reasons for noting
the girl more particularly; and the shadow of ill-temper that darkened
his face lifted as her timid eye and fluttering colour confirmed his

"I thank you, I will not alight," he replied. "Your father is coming
to the gate? M. le Vicomte is too kind, mademoiselle. But that being
so, I will await him here."

The Abbess, with an air of patronage, touched Bonne's hair with the
tip of her riding-switch. "Child, did you sleep in your clothes last
night?" she said. "Or are you making hay with the kitchen-maids? See
her blush, M. de Vlaye! What would you give me if I could blush as
naïvely?" And her eyes rallied him, seeking a compliment in his. "But
Abbesses who have been to Court----"

"Carry a court wherever they go," he replied. But his look did not
leave Bonne's face. The Abbess's women and the rest of the company had
drawn rein out of earshot, their horses making long necks that they
might reach the grass, or poking their heads to crop a tender shoot.
"I cannot alight," he continued, "for we are on an adventure,
mademoiselle. I might almost say a pursuit."

"Do you know, child," her sister chimed in, "that Mademoiselle de
Rochechouart never came to me last night? But you know nothing
here--even, I daresay, that I expected her. How should you? You might
as well live in a hole in the ground."

"She never came?" Bonne faltered, for the sake of saying something.
The blush had subsided, leaving her paler than before.

"No, did I not say so? And she has not arrived today," the Abbess
continued, flicking her horse's mane with her jewelled switch. "But
some of her people were in by daylight this morning--from Heaven knows
where--some hiding-place in the woods, I believe--making such a to-do
as you would not credit. If they are to be believed, they were
attacked near nightfall by the Crocans----"

"By the Crocans," M. de Vlaye repeated, nodding darkly at Bonne. He
knew more than the Abbess knew of Charles's desperate venture.

"And M. de Vlaye," the Abbess continued, speaking in the negligent
fashion, a trifle distant, in which she always addressed her family in
his presence, "has most kindly sent out parties in search of her.
Moreover, as I came this way on the same errand, he fell in with me,
and came on--more, I believe, for her sake than mine"--with a look
that called for contradiction--"to make inquiries in this direction.
But on the way--but here is my father. Good morning, sir. M. de

"Has been waiting some time, I fear," the Vicomte said hurriedly. He,
too, was not free from embarrassment, but he hid it with fair success.
"Why do you not alight and enter, my dear?"

"Because we have business, by your leave, sir," Vlaye answered, his
politeness scarcely covering an undertone of meaning. And he told in a
few words--while Bonne stood listening in an agony of suspense--what
the Abbess had told her. "Fortunately, after I fell in with your
daughter this morning," he proceeded, "I had news of the Countess. And
where do you think, M. le Vicomte, we are told that she is?" he

Fortunately the Vicomte, whose hands were beginning to tremble,
and whose colour was mounting to his wrinkled cheek, could not
immediately find his voice. It was his elder daughter who took on
herself to answer. "Where do you think, sir?" she cried gaily. "In
your hay-meadows--so M. de Vlaye says."

"Mademoiselle de Rochechouart? In my hay-meadows?" the Vicomte


"In my hay-meadows? It cannot be."

"It is so--or so we are told."

                             CHAPTER VI.

                           IN THE HAY-FIELD.

The Vicomte gasped; it was evident, it was certain, that M. de Vlaye
knew all. What was he to say, what to do? While Bonne, though her ear
hung upon his reply, was conscious only of a desperate search, a wild
groping, after some method of giving the alarm to those whom it
concerned--to Charles lurking in the barn beside the water, to the
Countess making hay for sport and thinking no evil. She had heard of a
woman who in such a strait sent a feather which put quick wits on the
alert. But she had no feather, she had nothing, and if she had, at her
first word of withdrawing M. de Vlaye, she knew, would interpose. At

"It must be!" the Vicomte exclaimed, taking anew line with some
presence of mind. "But I would not believe it!"

"It must be? what must be, sir?" his daughter Odette rejoined.

"It must be the Countess!" the Vicomte repeated in a tone of surprise
and conviction, not ill feigned. He saw that to persist in denying the
truth--with the hayfield in sight--would not serve, and in the end
must cover him with confusion. "Dressed in that fashion," he
continued, "and with no attendant save one rough clown, I--I could not
credit her story. The Countess of Rochechouart! It seems incredible
even now!"

"Yes, the Countess of Rochechouart," M. de Vlaye replied in a tone
which proved that the Vicomte's sudden frankness did not deceive him.
"With your permission we will wait on her, M. le Vicomte," he
continued in the same tone, "and as soon as horses can be provided, I
will escort her to a place of safety."

The Vicomte's face was a study of perplexity. "If you will alight," he
said, slowly, "I will send and announce to the Countess--if Countess
she really be--that you are here."

For an instant Bonne's heart stood still. If M. de Vlaye dismounted
and entered, all things were possible. But the hope was dashed to the
ground forthwith. "I thank you," Vlaye answered somewhat grimly, "but
with your permission, M. le Vicomte, to business first. We will go to
the meadows at once. It is not fitting that the Countess should be
left for a minute longer than is necessary in a place so ill guarded.
And, for the matter of that, things lost once are sometimes lost

The Vicomte's nose twitched with rage; he was not a meek man. He
understood M. de Vlaye's insinuation, he knew that M. de Vlaye knew;
but he was helpless. On the threshold of his own house, on the spot
where his ancestors' word had been law for generations--or a blow had
followed the word--he stood impotent before this clever, upstart
soldier who held him at mercy. And this the Abbess, had her affection
for him been warm or her nature delicate, must have felt. Without a
word spoken or a syllable of explanation, she must have perceived that
she was witnessing her family's shame, and that her part in the scene
was not with them.

But she, of them all, was the most in the dark, and her thoughts were
otherwise bent. "You are very fearful for the young lady, M. de
Vlaye," she said, turning to him, and speaking in a tone of mock
offence. "I do not remember that you have ever been so over careful
for me."

He bent his head and muttered something of which her sister caught not
a word. Then, "But we must not waste time," he continued briskly. "Let
us--with the Vicomte's permission--to the field! To the field!" And he
turned his horse as he spoke into the sled-road that led around the
courtyard wall; and by a gesture he bade his men follow. It was
evident to Bonne, evident to her father, that he had had a spy on the
house, and knew where his quarry harboured.

The girl wondered whether by flying through the house and dropping
from the corner of the garden wall she could even now give the alarm.
Then M. le Vicomte spoke. "I will come with you," he said in a surly
tone that betrayed his sense of his position. "The times are indeed
out of joint, and persons out of their places, but--Solomon, my staff!
Daughter," to the Abbess, "a hold of your stirrup-leather! It is but a
step, and I can still walk so far. If the field be unsafe for the
guest,"--he added grimly--"it is fit the host should share the

Bonne could have blessed him for the thought, for his offer bound the
party to a walking pace, and something might happen. Vlaye, beyond
doubt, had the same thought. But without breaking openly with the
Vicomte--which for various reasons he was loth to do--he could not
reject his company nor outpace him.

He raised no objection, therefore, and in displeased silence the
Vicomte walked beside his daughter's horse, Bonne accompanying him on
the other hand. She knew more than he, and had reason to fear more;
she was almost sick with anxiety. But he, perhaps, suffered more.
Forced on his own ground to do that which he did not wish to do,
forced to play a sorry farce, he felt, as he trudged in the van of the
party, that he walked the captive in a Roman triumph. And he could
have smitten the Captain of Vlaye across the face.

They passed only too quickly from the shelter of the house to the open
meadows and the hot sunshine, and so over the stone bridge. Bonne knew
that at this point they must become visible to the workers in the
hay-field, and she counted on an interval of a few minutes during
which the fugitives might take steps to hide themselves, or even to
get over the river and bury themselves in the woods. She could have
cried, therefore, when, without apparent order, a party from the
rear cantered past the leaders and, putting their horses into a sharp
hand-gallop, preceded them in their advance upon the panic-stricken
haymakers, in the midst of whom they drew rein in something less than
a minute.

The Vicomte halted as the meaning of the man[oe]uvre broke upon him,
and, striking his staff into the ground, he followed them with his
eyes. "You seem fearful indeed," he growled, his high nose wrinkled
with anger.

"Things happen very quickly at times," Vlaye answered, ignoring the

"Take care, sir, take care!" the Abbess of Vlaye cried, addressing her
lover. She little thought in her easy insouciance how near the truth
she was treading. "If you show yourself so very anxious for the
Countess's safety, I warn you I shall grow jealous."

"You have seen her," M. de Vlaye answered in a low tone, meant only
for her ear; and he hung slightly towards her. "You know how little
cause you have to fear."

"Fear?" the Abbess retorted rather sharply. "Know, sir," with a quick
defiant glance, "that I fear no one!"

Apparently the handful of riders who had preceded the main body had no
order but to stand guard over the workers. For having halted in the
midst of the startled servants, who gazed on them in stupefaction,
they remained motionless in their saddles. Meanwhile the Vicomte, with
a surly face, was drawing slowly up to them. When no more than thirty
or forty paces divided the two parties, the leader of the van wheeled
about, and trotting to M. de Vlaye's side, saluted him.

"I do not see them, my lord," he muttered in a low tone.

The captain of Vlaye reined in his horse, and sitting at ease, cast an
eagle glance over the terrified haymakers, who had instinctively
fallen into three or four groups. In one part of the field the hay had
been got into heaps, but these were of small size, and barely adequate
to the hiding of a child. Nevertheless, look where he would--and his
lowering brow bespoke his disappointment--he could detect no one at
all resembling a Countess. A moment, and his glance passed from the
open meadow to the ruined buildings, which stood on the brink of the
stream. It remained fixed on them.

"Search that!" he said in a low tone. And raising his hand he pointed
to the old barn. "They must be there! Go about it carefully, Ampoule."

The man he addressed turned, and summoning his party, cantered across
the sward--never so green as after mowing--towards the building. As
the riders drew near the river, Bonne could command herself no longer.
She uttered a low groan. Her face bespoke her anguish.

M. de Vlaye did not see her face--it was turned from him--but he
caught the sound and understood it. "The sun is hot," he said in a
tone of polite irony. "You find it so, mademoiselle? Doubtless the
Countess has sought protection from it--in the barn. She will be
there, take my word for it!"

Bonne made no reply. She could not have spoken for her life; and he
and they watched, shading their eyes from the sun, she, poor girl,
with a hand which shook. The horsemen were by this time near the end
of the building, and all but one proceeded to alight. The rest were in
the act of delivering up their reins, and one had already vanished
within the building, when in full view of the company, who were
watching from the middle of the field, a man sprang from an opening at
the other end of the barn, reached in three bounds the brink of the
stream, and even as Vlaye's shout of warning startled the field,
plunged from the bank, and was lost to sight.

"Holà! Holà!" M. de Vlaye cried in stentorian tones, and, with his
rowels in his horse's flanks, he was away racing to the spot before
his followers had taken the alarm. The next moment they were
thundering emulously at his heels, their charge shaking the earth.
Even the men who had alighted beside the barn, and as yet knew nothing
of the evasion, saw that something was wrong, took the alarm, and
hurried round the building to the river.

"He is there!" cried one, as they pulled up along the bank of the
stream. And the speaker, in his desire to show his zeal, wheeled his
horse about so suddenly that he well-nigh knocked down his neighbour.

"No, there! There!" cried another. And "There!" cried a third, as the
fugitive dived, otter fashion, the willows of the stream affording him
some protection.

Suddenly M. de Vlaye's voice rang above all. "After him!" he cried.
"After him, fools, and seize him on the other side!"

In a twinkling three or four of the more courageous forced their
horses into the stream, and began to swim across. Sixty yards below
the spot where he had entered the water, the swimmer's head could be
seen. He was being borne on a current towards a willow-bed which
projected from the opposite bank, and offered a hiding-place. With
wild cries those who had not entered the stream followed him along the
bank, jostling and crossing one another, and marked him here and
marked him there, while the baying of the excited hounds, restrained
by their couples, filled the woods beyond the river with the fierce
music of the chase.

Meantime the Vicomte and his younger daughter remained alone in the
middle of the meadow; for the Abbess's horse had carried her after the
others, whether she would or no, with her hawk clinging and screaming
on her sleeve. Of the two who remained, the Vicomte was in a high
rage. To be used after this fashion by his guests! To see strangers
taking the law into their own hands on his land! To be afoot while
hireling troopers spurned his own clods in his face, and all without
leave or license, all where he and his forebears had exercised the low
justice and the high for centuries! It was too much!

"What is it? Who is it?" he cried, adding in his passion oaths and
execrations then too common. "That is not the Countess! Are they mad?"

"It is Charles," she answered, weeping bitterly. "He was hiding there.
And he thought that they were in search of him. Oh, they will kill
him! They will kill him!"

"Charles?" the Vicomte exclaimed, and stood turned to stone.

"Yes!" she panted. "And, oh, sir, a word! He is your son, and a word
may save him! He has done nothing--nothing that they should hunt him
like a rat!"

But the Vicomte was another man now, moved, wrought on by Heaven knows
what devils of pride and shame. "My son!" he cried, his rage diverted.
"That my son? You lie, girl!" coarsely. "He is no son of mine. You
wander. It is some skulking Crocan they have unharboured. Son of mine?
Hiding on my land? No! You rave, girl!"

"Oh, sir!" she panted.

"Not a word!" He gripped her wrist fiercely and forced her to silence.
"Do you hear me? Not a word. He is no son of mine!"

She clung to him, still imploring him, still trying to soften him. But
he shook her off, roughly, brutally, raising his stick to her; and,
blinded by her tears, unable to do more, she sank to the ground and
buried her face, that she might not see, in a mass of hay. He, without
a word, turned his back on her, on the crowd beside the river, on the
groups of frightened haymakers--turned his back on all and strode away
in the direction of the château, with those devils of shame and pride,
which he had pampered so long, riding him hard. He had drained at last
the cup of humiliation to the dregs. He had seen his son hunted like a
beast of vermin on his own land in his presence. And his one desire
was to be gone. Rage with the cause of this last and worst disgrace
dried up all natural feeling, all thought for his flesh and blood, all
pity. He cared not whether his son lived or died. His only longing was
to escape in his own person; to be gone from the place and scene of
degradation, to set himself once more in a position, to--to be

There are tones of the voice that in the lowest depth inspire
something of confidence. Bonne, as she lay crushed under the weight of
her misery, with the merciless sun beating down upon her neck, heard
such a tone whispering low in her ear.

"Lie still, mademoiselle," it murmured. "Lie still! Where you are, you
are unseen, and I must speak to you. The man, whoever he is, is taken.
They have seized him."

She tried to rise. He laid his hand on her shoulder and held her down.

"I must go!" she gasped, still struggling to rise. "I must go! It is
my brother!"

The Lieutenant--for he it was--muttered, it is to be feared, an oath.
"Your brother!" he said. "It is your brother, is it? Ah, if you had
trusted me! But all is not lost! Listen!" he continued urgently. "M.
de Vlaye has bidden the men who have taken him--on the farther side of
the river--to convey him along that bank to the ford, and so by the
road to Vlaye. And--will you trust me now, mademoiselle?"

"I will, I will!" she sobbed. She showed him for one moment her
tear-stained, impassioned face. "If you will help me! If you will help
my brother!"

"I will!" he said, and then, and abruptly, he laid his hand on her and
violently pressed her down. "Be still!" he muttered in a tone of sharp
warning. "I have no more wish to be seen by Vlaye than your brother
had!" Lying beside her, he peeped warily over the hay by which he was
partly hidden; a slight hollow in which that particular cock rested
served to shelter them somewhat, but the screen was slight. "I fear
they are coming this way," he continued, his voice not quite steady.
"I would I had my horse here, and sound, and I would trouble them
little. But all is not lost, all is not lost," he repeated slowly,
"till their hands are on us! Nor, may-be, even then!"

She understood, and lay trembling and hiding her face, unable to face
this new terror. The thunder of hoofs, coming nearer and nearer, once
more shook the earth. The horsemen were returning from the river.

"Lie low!" he repeated, more coolly. "They have spied the Countess. I
feared they would. And they are hot foot after her--so ho! And we are
saved! Yes," he continued, peeping again and more boldly, "we are
saved, I think. They have stopped her, just as Roger and her
man--clever Roger, he will make a general yet--were about to pass her
over the bridge. Another minute and they had got her to cover in the
house, and it had been my fate to be taken."

She did not answer, her agitation was too great. And after a brief
silence during which the Lieutenant watched what went forward at the
end of the meadow: "Now, mademoiselle," he said in a more gentle tone,
"it is for the Countess I want your help. I will answer for your
brother. If no accident befall him he shall be free before many hours
are over his head. Remember that! But with Mademoiselle de
Rochechouart--if she be once removed to Vlaye, and cast into this
man's power, it will go hard. She is a child, little able to resist.
Do you go to her, support her, speak for her, fight for her even--only
gain time. Gain time! He will not resort to violence at once, or I am
mistaken. He will not drag her away by force until he has exhausted
all other means. He will suffer her to stay awhile if you play your
part well. And you must play it well!"

"I will!" Bonne cried, all her forces rallied by hope. "I do not know
who you are, but save my brother----"

"I will save him!"

"And I will bless you!"

"Do you save the Countess, and she will bless you!" he answered
cheerfully. "Now to her, mademoiselle, and do not leave her. Go! Show
yourself as brave there as here, and----"

He did not finish the sentence, but as she rose his hand, through some
accident, or some impulse that surprised him--for such weaknesses were
not in his nature--met hers through the hay and clasped it. The girl
reddened to the brow, sprang up, and in a trice was hastening across
the field towards the crowd that in a confused medley of horse and
foot, peasants and troopers, was gathered about the stone bridge which
spanned the brook. The sun beat hotly down on the little mob, but in
the interest of the scene which was passing in their midst no one
thought twice of the heat.

Bonne's spirits were in a tumult. She hardly knew what she thought or
how she felt, or what she was going to do.

But one thing she knew. On one thing she set her foot with every step,
and that was fear. A new courage, and a new feeling, filled the girl
with an excitement half-painful, half-delightful. Whence this was she
did not ask herself, nor why she rested so confidently on the
guarantee of her brother's safety, which an untried stranger had given
her. It was enough that he had given it. She did not go beyond that.

When she came, hot and panting, to the skirts of the crowd, she found
that she must push her way between the horses of the troopers if she
would see anything of what was passing. In the act she noticed that
half the men were grinning, the others exchanging sly looks and winks.
But she was through at last. Now she could see what was afoot.

On the bridge, three paces before her, stood M. de Vlaye with his back
to her. He had dismounted, and had his hat in his hand. Beyond him,
standing at bay, as it seemed, against the low side wall of the
bridge, was the Countess, her small face white, and puckered, and
sullen, and behind her again stood Roger, and Fulbert, the steward,
with a wild-beast glare in his eyes.

"Surely, mademoiselle," Bonne heard M. de Vlaye say in honeyed
accents, as she emerged from the crowd, "surely it were better you
mounted here----"


"And rode to the château. And then at your leisure----"

"No, I thank you. I will walk."

"But, Countess, you are not safe," he persisted, "on foot and in the
open, after what has passed."

"Then I will go to the château," she replied, "but I can walk, I thank
you." It was strange to see the firmness, ay, and dignity, that awoke
in her in this extremity.

"That, of course," M, de Vlaye replied lightly. "Of course. But seeing
the Abbess on horseback, I thought that you might prefer to ride with

"It is but a step."

"And I am walking," Bonne struck in, pushing to the front. "I will go
with the Countess to the house." She spoke with a firmness which
surprised herself, and certainly surprised M. de Vlaye, who had not
seen her at his elbow. He hesitated, and partly in view of the
Countess's attitude, partly of the fact that he had not precisely
defined his next step if he got her mounted--he gave way.

"By all means," he said. "And we will form your guard."

Bonne passed her arm round the young Countess. "Come," she said. "I
see my sister has preceded us to the house. The sun is hot, and the
sooner we are under cover the better."

It was not the heat of the sun, however, that had driven the Abbess
from the scene, but a spirit of temper. She had no suspicion of the
truth--as yet. But the fuss which M. de Vlaye seemed bent on making
about the little countess piqued her, and after looking on a minute or
two, and finding herself still left in the background, she had let her
jealousy have vent, had struck spur to her horse and ridden back to
the house in a rage. This was the last thing she would have done had
her eyes been open. Had she guessed how welcome to her admirer her
retreat at that moment was, she would have risked a hundred sunstrokes
before she went!

She had no notion of the real situation, however, and Bonne, who had,
and with a woman's wit saw in her a potent ally, was too late to call
her back, though she longed to do it. Between the bridge and the
house-gate lay three hundred yards, every yard, it seemed to Bonne, a
yard of peril to her charge; and the girl nerved herself accordingly.
For Vlaye's darkening face sufficiently declared his perplexity. At
any instant, at any point, he might throw off the mask of courtesy,
use force, and ride off with his prey. And what could she do?

Only with a brave face walk slowly, slowly, talking as she went!
Talking and making believe to be at ease; repressing both the
treacherous flutter of her own heart and the little Countess's
tendency to start at every movement M. de Vlaye made--as the lamb
starts when the wolf bares its teeth! Bonne felt that to let him see
that they expected violence was to invite it; and though, if he made a
movement to seize her companion, she was prepared to cling and scream
and fight with her very nails--she knew that such methods were the
last desperate resource, to resort to which portended defeat.

He walked abreast of them, his rein on his arm, his haughty head bent.
A little behind them on the left side walked Roger and the Countess's
steward. Behind these again, at a short distance, followed the mob of
troopers, grinning and nudging one another, and scarce deigning to
hide their amusement.

Bonne guessed all, yet she talked bravely. "It is quite an adventure!"
she said brightly. "We did but half believe it, M. de Vlaye! Until you
told us, we thought mademoiselle must be romancing. That she could not
be--oh, no, it seemed impossible that she could be the real Countess!"

"Indeed?" M. de Vlaye answered, measuring with his keen eye the
distance to the corner of the courtyard. The girl's chatter
embarrassed him. He could not weigh quite coolly the chances and the

"It was after nine o'clock--yes, it must have been nearer midnight!"
Bonne continued, with that woman's power of dissembling which puts
men's acting to shame. "It was quite an alarm when she came! We
thought we were to be robbed."

"It is for that reason," Vlaye said smoothly, "I wish the Countess to
be placed in safety."

"Or that it was the Crocans----"

"Precisely--it might have been. And therefore I wish her to place
herself without delay----"

"In proper clothes!" Bonne exclaimed cheerfully. "Of course! So she
must, M. de Vlaye, and this minute! To think of the Countess of
Rochechouart"--she laughed, and affectionately drew the girl nearer to
her--"making hay in a waiting-woman's clothes! No wonder that she did
not wish to be seen!"

M. de Vlaye looked at the chatterer askance, and mechanically gnawed
his moustache. He believed, nay, he was almost sure that she knew all
and was playing with him. If so she was playing so successfully that
here they were at the corner of the courtyard and he no nearer a
decision. They had but to pass along one wall, turn, and in forty
paces they would be at the gate. He must make up his mind promptly,
then! And, curse her! she talked so fast that he could not bring his
mind to it, or weigh the emergencies. If he seized the girl here----

"Roger should not have let her try to cross the brook, M. de Vlaye,
should he?" Bonne babbled. "He should have known better. Now she has
wet her feet and must change her shoes! Yes," playfully, "you must,

"I will," the Countess muttered with shaking lips.

One of the troopers who had been of the expedition the day before, and
whom the situation tickled, laughed on a sudden outright. M. de Vlaye
half halted, turned and looked back in wrath. Was he going to give the
signal? Bonne's arm shook. But no, he turned again. And they were
almost at the second corner; now they turned it, and her eyes sought
the gate greedily, to learn who awaited them there. If the Vicomte was
there, and her sister, it was so much in her favour. He would hardly
dare to carry the girl off by force under their eyes.

But they were not there. Even Solomon was invisible; probably he had
taken the Abbess's horse to the stable. Bonne was left to her own
resources, therefore, to her own wits; and at the gate, at the moment
of interest, at the last moment, the pinch would come.

And still, but with a dry throat, she talked. "To leave the sun for
the shade!" she cried with a prodigious sigh as the western wall of
the courtyard intervened and protected them from the sun's heat. "Is
it not delightful! It was almost worth while to be so hot, to feel so
cool! Are you cool, M. de Vlaye?"

"Yes," he replied grimly, "but----"

                   "Sommes-nous au milieu du bois?"

she sang, cutting him short--they were within seven or eight paces of
the gateway, and she fancied that his face was growing hard, that she
detected the movements of a man preparing to make his leap--

                       "Sommes-nous à la rive?
                    Sommes-nous au milieu du bois?
                        Sommes-nous à la rive?

_A la rive? A la rive!_" she chanted, her arm closing more tightly
about the Countess. "_A la rive!_"

With the last word--_Pouf!_--she thrust the child towards the open
gateway, and by the same movement dropped on her knees in front of M.
de Vlaye, completely thwarting his first instinctive impulse, which
was to snatch at the Countess. "It is my pin!" she cried, rising as
quickly as she had knelt--the whole seemed but one movement. "Pardon,
M. de Vlaye," she continued, but by that time the Countess was twenty
paces away, and half-way across the court. "Did I interrupt you? How
lucky to find it! I must have lost it yesterday!"

He did not speak, but his eyes betrayed his rage--rage not the less
that his men had witnessed and understood the man[oe]uvre; nay, dared
by a titter to betray their amusement. For an instant he was tempted
to seize her and crush the cursed pride out of her--he to be outwitted
before his people by a woman! Or why should he not take her a hostage
in the other's room?

Then he remembered that he needed no hostage; he had one already. In a
voice that drove the blood from her cheeks, "Take care! Take care,
mademoiselle!" he muttered. "Sometimes one pays too much for such a
trifle as a pin. You might have hurt yourself, stooping so suddenly!
Or hurt--your brother!"

Roger could no longer keep silence. "I can take care of myself, M. de
Vlaye," he said, "and of my sister also, I would have you know."

But M. de Vlaye had himself in hand again. "It was not to you I
referred," he said coldly and contemptuously. "Take me to your

They found the Vicomte awaiting them on the drawbridge at the farther
side of the court. But the Countess had vanished; she had not lost a
moment in hiding herself in the recesses of her room. For the first
time in their intercourse M. de Vlaye approached his host without
ceremony or greeting.

"The Countess must come with me," he said roughly and roundly. "She
cannot stay here. This place," with a look of naked scorn, "is no
place for her. Give orders, if you please, that she prepare to
accompany me."

The Vicomte, shaken by the events of the morning, stood thunderstruck.
His hand trembled on his staff, and for a moment he could not speak.
At last--

"The Countess is in my care, and under my protection," he said, in a
voice shrill with emotion.

"Neither of which would avail her in the least," M. de Vlaye answered
brutally, "in the event of danger! But it is not to enter into an
argument that I am here. I care nothing for the number of your
household, or the strength of your house, M. le Vicomte, or," with a
sneer, "what was the condition of either--before Coutras. The point
is, this is no place for one in the Countess of Rochechouart's
position. It is my duty to see her placed in a position of greater
safety, and I intend to perform that duty!"

The Vicomte, powerless as he was, shook with passion. "Since when," he
exclaimed, "has that duty been laid upon you?"

"It is laid on me," the Captain of Vlaye answered contemptuously, "by
the fact that there is no one else in the district who can perform

"You will perform it at your peril," the Vicomte said.

"I shall perform it."

"But if the Countess prefers to stay here?" Roger cried, interfering

"It is a question of her safety, and not of her preference," Vlaye
retorted, standing grim and cold before them. "She must come."

A dozen of his troopers had ridden into the courtyard, and from their
saddles were watching the group on the drawbridge. The group
consisted, besides the Vicomte, of Roger and his sister, old Solomon
the porter, and the wild-looking steward. Roger, his heart bursting
with indignation, measured with his eye the distance across the
courtyard, and had thoughts of flinging himself upon Vlaye, bearing
him to the ground, and making his life the price of his men's
withdrawal. But he had no weapon, Solomon and Fulbert were in the like
case, and the Captain of Vlaye, a man in the prime of life, and armed,
was likely to prove a match for all three.

If the Vicomte's ancestors in the pride of their day and power had
been deaf to the poor man's cry, if the justice-elm without the castle
gates had received in the centuries past the last sighs of the
innocent, if the towers of the old house had been built in groaning
and cemented with blood, some part of the debt was paid this day on
the drawbridge. To see the sacred rights of hospitality deforced, to
stand by while the guest whom he could not protect--and that guest a
woman of his rank and kind--was torn from his hearth, to be set for a
laughing-stock to this canaille of troopers--such a humiliation should
have slain the last of the Villeneuves where he stood.

Yet the Vicomte lived--lived, it is true, with twitching lips and
shaking hands--but lived, and, after a few seconds of moody silence,
stooped to parry the blow which he could not return.

"To-morrow--if you will wait until to-morrow," he muttered, "she may
be better prepared to--take the journey."


"Yes, if you will give us till to-morrow"--reluctantly--"we may
persuade her."

M. de Vlaye's answer was as unexpected as it was decisive. "Be it so!"
he said. "She shall have till to-morrow." He spoke more graciously,
more courteously, than he had yet spoken. "I have been--it is possible
that in my anxiety for her safety, M. le Vicomte, I have been hasty.
Once a soldier, always a soldier! Forgive me, and you, mademoiselle,
the same; and I, on my side, will say to-morrow. There, I am not
unreasonable," with a poor attempt at joviality. "Only I must leave
with you ten or a dozen troopers for her safe keeping. And beyond
to-morrow, in the present state of the country, I cannot spare them."

At the mention of the troopers the Vicomte's jaw fell. He stared.

"Will not that suit you?" M. de Vlaye said gaily. He had recovered his
usual spirits. He spoke in his old tone.

"It must," the Vicomte answered sullenly. "But I could answer for her
without your troopers."

M. de Vlaye shook his head. "Ah, no," he said. "I can say no better
than that. With the Crocans so near, and growing in boldness every
day, I am bound to be careful. I am told," with a peculiar smile,
"that some ne'er-do-wells of birth have joined them in these parts.
The worse for them!"

"Well, be it so," the Vicomte said with a ghastly smile. "Be it so! Be
it so!"

"Good," Vlaye answered cheerfully--he grew more at his ease with every
word. Some might have thought that he had gained all he wanted or saw
a new and easy way to it. "Good, and as I must be returning, I will
give the necessary orders at once."

He turned as he spoke, and crossing the courtyard, conferred awhile
with Ampoule, his second in command. Hurriedly men were told off to
this hand and that, some trotting briskly under the archway--where the
hay of more peaceful days deadened the sound of hoofs, and the cobwebs
almost swept their heads--and others entering by the same road.
Presently M. de Vlaye, whose horse had been brought to him, got to his
saddle, rode a few paces nearer the drawbridge, and raised his hat.

"I have done as you wish," he said. "Until tomorrow, M. le Vicomte!
Mademoiselle, I kiss your hands!" And wilfully blind to the coldness
of the salutation made in return, he wheeled his horse gracefully,
called a man to his side, and rode out of the court.

The Vicomte let his chin fall upon his breast, and beyond a doubt his
reflections were of the bitterest. But soon he remembered that there
were strange eyes upon him, and he turned and went heavily into his
house, the house that others now had in keeping. Old Solomon followed
him with an anxious face, and Fulbert, ever desirous to be with his
mistress, vanished in their train. The troopers, after one or two
glances at the two who remained on the drawbridge, and a jest at which
some laughed outright and some made covert gestures of derision, began
to lead their horses into the long stable.

Roger's eye met Bonne's in a glance of flame. "Do you see?" he said.
"He was to leave twelve--at the most. He has left eighteen. Do you

She shook her head.

"I do!" he said. "I do! We may go to our prayers!"

                             CHAPTER VII.

                         A SOLDIERS' FROLIC.

A few hours later the château of Villeneuve, buried in the lonely
woods, wore a strange and unusual aspect.

To all things there comes an end, even to long silences and the march
of uneventful years. Summer evening after summer evening had looked
its last through darkening tree-tops on the house of Villeneuve, and
marked but a spare taper burning here and there in its recesses.
Winter evening after winter evening had fallen on the dripping woods
and listened in vain for the sounds of revelry that had once beaconed
the lost wayfarer, and held wolves doubting on the extremest edge of
pasture. Night after night for well-nigh a generation--with the one
exception of the historic night of Coutras, when the pursuers feasted
in its hall--the house had stood shadowy and silent in the dim spaces
of its clearing, and prowling beasts had haunted without fear its
threshold. A rotten branch, falling in the depth of the forest, now
scared more than its loudest orgy; nay, the dead lords, at rest in the
decaying graveyard where the Abbey had stood, made as much impression
on the night--for often the will o' the wisp burned there--as their
fallen descendants in his darkling house.

Until this night, when the wild things of the wood saw with wonder the
glow in the tree-tops and cowered in their lairs, and the owl mousing
in the uplands beyond the river shrank from the light in the meadows,
and flew to shelter. Beside the well in the courtyard blazed such a
bonfire as frightened the sparrows from the ivy; and the wolf had been
brave indeed that ventured within half a mile of the singers, whose
voices woke the echoes of the ancient towers.

             "Les femmes ne portent pas moustache,
                    Mordieu, Marion!
              Les femmes ne portent pas moustache!

              C'était des mûres qu'ell' mangeait
                    Mon dieu, mon ami!
              C'était des mûres qu'ell' mangeait!"

As the troopers, seated, some on the well-curb, and some on logs and
buckets, beat out the chorus, or broke off to quarrel across the
flames, a chance passer might have thought the night of the great
battle come again. Old Solomon, listening to the roar of the wood, and
watching the train of sparks fly upwards, trembled for his haystacks;
nor would the man of peace have been a coward who, looking in at the
open gate, preferred a bed in the greenwood to the peril of entrance.
The more timid of the serving-men had hidden themselves with sunset;
the dogs had fled to kennel with drooping tails. The noise was such
that but for one thing a stranger must have supposed that a mutiny was
on the point of breaking out. This was the cool demeanour of Ampoule,
M. de Vlaye's lieutenant; who with a couple of confidants sat drinking
in the outer hall, where the flames of an unwonted fire shone on torn
pennons and dusty head-pieces. When asked by Roger to reduce the men
to order, as the women could not sleep, he had shown himself offhand
to the point of insolence, curt to the point of brutality. "Have a
care of yourselves, and I'll have a care of my men!" he said. "You go
to your own!" And he would hear no more.

The Vicomte for a while noticed none of these things. The events of
the morning had aged and shaken him, and for hours he sat speechless,
with dull eyes, thinking of God knows what--perhaps of the son he had
cast off, or of his own fallen estate, or of the peril of his guest.
In vain did Roger and his younger daughter try to rouse him from his
reverie--try to gain some counsel, some comfort from him. They could
not. But that which their timid efforts failed to effect, the rising
tempest of joviality at last and suddenly wrought.

"Where is Solomon?" he cried, lifting his head as one awakened from
sleep. And he looked about him in great wrath. "Where is Solomon? Why
does he not put a stop to this babel? 'Sdeath, man, am I to put up
with this? Do you hear me?" looking round. "Do you want them to bring
the Abbess downstairs?"

Bonne and Roger, who were crouching with the little Countess in one of
the two window-recesses that overlooked the courtyard, rose to go to
him. But Solomon, who had been hiding in the shadows about the door,
was before them. "To be sure, my lord, to be sure!" the old servant
said gallantly, though his troubled face and twitching beard bespoke
his knowledge of the real position. "To be sure, my lord, it is not
the first time by a many hundred the knaves have forgot themselves,
and I've had to go with a stirrup-leather and bring them to their
senses! The liquor that has run in this house"--he lifted his hands in
admiration--"'tis no wonder, my lord, it goes sometimes to the head!"

"Go out, man! Go out and put a stop to it!" the Vicomte retorted
passionately. "Your chattering does but add to it!"

"To be sure, my lord, I am going," Solomon answered bravely. But his
eyes asked Roger a question. "To be sure it is like old days, my lord,
and I thought that may-be you would like them to have their way a

"I should like it, fool?"

"You might think it better----"


"Nay," Roger said, approaching the Vicomte. "Nay, if any one goes,
sir, I must. Solomon is old, and they may mishandle him."

"Mishandle him?" the Vicomte said, opening his eyes in astonishment.
"Mishandle my steward? My----" He broke off, his hands feeling
tremulously for the arms of his chair; he found them and sank back in
it. "I--I had forgotten!" he muttered, his head sinking on his breast.
"I had forgotten. I dreamt, and now I am awake. I dreamt," he
continued, speaking with increasing bitterness, "that I was Seigneur
and Vicomte of Villeneuve, and Baron of Vlaye! With swords at my will,
and steeds in stall, and a lusty son to take him by the beard who
crossed me! And I am a beggar! A beggar, with no son to call a son,
with no sword but that old fool's blade! Mishandle him?" gloomily.
"Ay, they may mishandle him!" he continued feebly, his head sinking
yet lower on his breast. "But there. It is over. Let them do what they

He continued to mutter, but incoherently, and Roger, signing to
Solomon to go to his place again, slunk back to the window recess. The
lad had no hope of effecting more with Ampoule, a brutal man where
rein was given him; and he crouched once more where he could see the
dark figures carousing in the glare that reached to the range of
stables. In order that those in the room might see without being seen,
Solomon had lighted no more than two candles, and these were not
behind the window, where Roger and the two girls sat in the shadow.
They could therefore look out unchecked.

The day had been--and not many hours past--when the lad's cheek would
have burned under the sneer just flung at him. Now, though a stranger
and a girl had heard it, he was unmoved. For petty feelings of that
kind his mind had no longer space. The conduct of the man whom
Vlaye had left on guard, the increasing disorder and babel of the
half-drunken troopers, awoke in him neither indignation nor anger, nor
astonishment, but only fear. Not a fear that unmanned him, though he
faced his first real peril, nor a fear that disarmed him, but one that
braced him to do his best, that enabled him to think, and plan, and
determine--crook-shouldered as he was--with a coolness which some day,
as des Ageaux had said, might make of him a commander of men.

He was convinced that the men's unruliness was a thing planned and
arranged. The Captain of Vlaye had conceived the wickedness of doing
by others what he dared not do himself. The men, unless Roger was
mistaken, would pass still more out of hand; the officer would profess
himself impotent. Then, it might not be this evening, but to-morrow,
or to-morrow evening at latest, the men would burst all bounds, cast
aside respect, seize the young Countess, and bear her off. At the
ford, or where you will, Vlaye would encounter them, rescue her, and
while he gained a hold on her gratitude, would effect that which he
had shrunk from doing openly.

It was a wicked, nay, a devilish plan, because in the course of its
execution there must come a moment when all in the house--and not the
young girl only at whom the plan was aimed--would lie at the men's
mercy. For a time the men, half-drunk, must be masters. A moment there
must be of extreme danger, threatening all, embracing all; and he, a
lad, stood alone to meet it. Alone, save for one old man; for the
Vicomte was past such work, and the servants had fled. And though
Bonne, to whom as well as to the young Countess he had disclosed his
fears, persisted in the hope of rescue, and based that hope on their
strange guest's promise, he had little or no hope.

As he crouched with the two girls in the dark window recess, he faced
the danger coolly, though the scene was one to depress an older heart.
The scanty rays of the two candles which lighted a small part of the
chamber fell full on the Vicomte, where he sat sunk low in his chair,
a shiver passing now and again over his inert and feeble limbs. The
only figure visible against the gloomy, dust-coloured hangings, he
seemed the type of a race fallen hopelessly; his features, once
imperious, hung flaccid, his hands clung weakly to the arms of his
chair. He was capable still of one brief, foolish outburst, one
passionate stroke; but no help or wise counsel could be expected from
him. He was astonishingly aged in one day; even his power to wound the
mind seemed near its end.

In contrast with that drooping figure, seated amid the shadows of the
room in which generations of Villeneuves had lorded it royally, the
scene without struck with an appalling sense of virility. The lusty
troopers lolling in the hot blaze of the bonfire, on which one or
another constantly flung fresh wood, and now roaring out some
gutter-stave, now flinging coarse badinage hither and thither, were
such as years of license and cruel campaigning had made them; men such
as it took a Vlaye or a Montluc to curb. And had the lad who watched
them with burning eyes and a beating heart lacked one jot of the
perfect courage, he had as soon thought of pitting himself against
them as of raising dead bones to life.

But he had that thought, and even planned and plotted as he watched
them. "Where is Odette?" he asked in a whisper. He had Bonne's hand in
his, her other arm held the Countess to her. "They may be afraid of
her. If she spoke to the officer, he might listen to her."

"She will not believe there is danger," Bonne answered with something
like a sob. "She will not hear a word. I began to explain about the
Countess and she flew into a passion. She has shut herself up and says
that we are all mad, stark mad from living alone, and afraid of our
shadows. And she and her women have shut themselves up in her chamber.
I have been to the door twice, but she will hear nothing."

"She will hear too much by and by!" Roger muttered.

Then a thing happened. The light cast by the bonfire embraced, it has
been said, the whole of the courtyard. The men, confident in their
strength, had left the gate open. As Roger ceased to speak, a single
horseman emerged, silent as a spectre, from the low gateway, and
advancing at a foot-pace three or four steps, drew rein, and gazed in
astonishment at the scene of hilarity presented to him.

The three at the window were the first to see him. Roger's hand closed
on his sister's; hers, so cold a moment before, grew on a sudden hot.
"Who is it?" Roger muttered. "Who is it?" The court, which sloped a
little from the house, was wide, but it might have been narrow and
still he had asked, for the stranger wore--it was no uncommon fashion
in those days--a mask. It was a slender thing, hiding only the upper
part of the face, but it sufficed. "Who is it?" Roger repeated.

"M. des Voeux!" Bonne answered involuntarily. In their excitement the
three rose to their feet.

Whether it were M. des Voeux or not, the masked man seemed in two
minds about advancing. He had even turned his horse as if he would go
out again, when some of the revellers espied him, and on the instant a
silence, broken only by the crackling of the logs, and as striking as
the previous din, proclaimed the fact.

The change seemed to encourage the stranger to advance. As he wheeled
again and paced nearer, the men who sat on the farther side of the
fire from him, and for that reason could not see him, rose and stood
gaping at him through the smoke. He moved nearer to the outer ring.

"Who lives here, my good people?" he asked in a voice peculiarly sweet
and clear; his tone smacked even a little womanish.

One of the men stifled a drunken laugh. Another turned, and after
winking at his neighbours--who passed the joke round--advanced a pace
or two, uncovered elaborately and bowed with ceremony to match. "M. le
Vicomte de Villeneuve, if it please you, my lord--I should say your
excellency!" with another low bow.

"Curse on it!" the stranger exclaimed.

The men's spokesman stared an instant, taken aback by the unexpected
rejoinder. Then, aware that his reputation among his fellows was
at stake, he recovered himself. "Did your excellency, my lord
duke"--another delighted chuckle among the men--"please to speak?"

"Go and tell him I am here," the masked man answered, disregarding
their horse-play; and he released his feet from the stirrups. The
window of the dining-hall was open, and the three at it could mark him
well, and hear every word of the dialogue.

"If your excellency--would enter?" the man rejoined with the same
travesty of politeness. "The Vicomte would not wish you, I am sure, to
await his coming."

"Very good. And do you, fellow, tell him that I crave the favour of a
night's lodging. That I am alone, and my--but the rest I will tell him

The troopers nudged one another. "Go, Jasper," said the spokesman
aloud, "and carry his excellency's commands to M. le Vicomte. Your
horse, my lord duke, shall be taken care of! This way, if it please
you my lord duke! And do some of you," turning, and making, unseen by
the stranger, the motion of turning a key--"bring lights! Lights to
the west tower, do you hear?"

The faces of the three within the window were pressed against the
panes. "Who can he be?" Bonne muttered. "They call him----"

"They are fooling him!" Roger replied In wrath. "They know no more who
he is than we do! He is not des Voeux. He has not his height, and not
half his width. But what," angrily, "are they doing now? Where are
they taking the man? Why are they taking him to the old tower?"

Why indeed?

Instead of conducting the guest over the bridge which led to the
inhabited part of the house, the trooper, attended by four or five of
his half-drunken comrades, was ushering him with ceremony to the
lesser bridge which led to the western tower; the ground floor of
which, a cold damp dungeon-like place, was used as a wood store. It
had been opened a few hours before, that fagots might be taken from
it, and this circumstance had perhaps suggested the joke to the prime

"Lights are coming, my lord duke!" he said, taking a flaring brand
from one of his comrades and holding it aloft. He was chuckling
inwardly at the folly of the stranger in swallowing his egregious
titles without demur. "The Vicomte shall be told. Beware of the step,
my lord!" lowering his light that the other might see it. They were on
the threshold now, and he pushed open the door that already stood
ajar. "The step is somewhat awkward, your excellency! We have to go
through the--it is somewhat old-fashioned, but craving your
excellency's pardon for bringing you this way--Yah!"

With the word a sudden push thrust the unsuspecting stranger forward.
Involuntarily he stumbled, tripped and with a cry of rage found
himself on his hands and knees among the fagots. Before he could rise
the door clanged horridly on him, the key grated in the lock, he was
in darkness, a prisoner!

The men, reckless and half-drunk, roared with delight at the jest.
"Welcome, my lord duke!" the ringleader cried, holding aloft his
light, and bowing to the ground before the thick oaken door. "Welcome
to Villeneuve!"

"Welcome!" cried the others, waving their lights, and clutching one
another in fits of laughter. "Welcome to Villeneuve! A good night to
you! An appetite to your supper, my lord duke!"

So they gibed awhile. Then, beginning to weary of it, they turned and,
still shaking with laughter, discovered an addition to their party:
Roger stood before them, his eyes glittering with excitement. The lad
had not been able to look on and see the trick played on a guest; the
more as that guest represented his one solitary, feeble hope of help.
The men might still be sober enough to listen; at any rate he would
try. Much against their wills he had broken away from the girls. He
was here.

"Open that door!" he said.

The man to whom he spoke, the ringleader, looked almost as much
astonished as he was. The others ceased to laugh, and waited to see
what would happen.

"That door?" the man concerned answered slowly as soon as he could
bring his thoughts to bear on the emergency.

"Yes, that door!" Roger cried imperiously, all the Villeneuve in him
rising to the surface. "And instantly, fellow!"

"So be it, if you will have it so," the man replied, shrugging his
shoulders. "But it was only a jest, and----"

"There is enough of the jest, and too much!" Roger retorted. He spoke
so bravely that not a man remembered his crooked shoulders. "Open, I

The man shook his head. "Best not," he said.

"It shall be done!"

"Well, you can open, if you please," the man replied. "But I am M. de
Vlaye's man and take orders nowhere else!" And with an insolent
gesture he flung the key on the ground.

To punish him for his insolence, when they were a score to one, was
impossible. Roger took up the key, set it in the lock, turned, opened,
and, tricked in his turn, plunged head first into the darkness,
impelled by a treacherous thrust from behind. Crash! The door was shut
on him.

But he knew naught of that. As he fell forward a savage blow from the
front, from the darkness, hurled him breathless against a pile of
fagots. At the same moment a voice cried in his ear, "There is one is
spent, Deo Laus!" A hand groped for him, a foot was set hard against
him, and something wrenched at his clothes.

"Why," quoth the same voice a second later--the darkness was almost
perfect--"did I not run the rascal through?"

"No!" Roger said, and as the stranger's sword, which had only passed
through his clothes, was dragged clear, he nimbly shifted his place.
"And I beg you will not," he continued hurriedly. "I was coming to
your aid, and those treacherous dogs played the same trick on me!"
"Then who are you?"

"I am Roger de Villeneuve, my father's son."

"Then it _is_ Villeneuve, this place? They did not lie in that?"

"No, it is Villeneuve, but these scoundrels are Vlaye's people," Roger
answered. He was in the depths of despair, for the girls were alone
now and unprotected. "They are in possession here," he continued,
almost weeping. "M. de Vlaye----"

"The Captain of Vlaye, do you mean?"

"Yes. He tried to seize the Countess of Rochechouart as she passed
this way yesterday. She took refuge here and he did not dare to drag
her away. So he left these men to guard her, as he said; but really to
carry her off as soon as they should be drunk enough to venture on
it." Poor Roger's voice shook. He was lamenting his folly, his
dreadful folly, in leaving the women.

The stranger took the news, as was natural, after a different fashion,
and one strange enough. First he swore with a deliberate fluency that
shocked the country lad; and then he laughed with a light-hearted
joyousness that was still more alien from the circumstances. "Well, it
is an adventure!" he cried. "It is an adventure! And for what did I
come? To the fool his folly! And one fool makes many! But do you
think, my friend," he continued, speaking in a different strain, "that
they will carry off the Countess while we lie here?"

Roger, raging in the dark, had no other thought. "Why not?" he cried.
"Why not? And there are other women in the house." He groaned.


"Yes, yes."

"And one of them--lovely?" There was amusement in the stranger's tone.

"One of them is my sister," Roger retorted fiercely. And for an
instant the other was silent.

Then, "With what attendance?" he asked. "Whom have they with them that
you can trust?"

"The Countess's steward and one old man. And my father, but he is old

"Pheugh!" the stranger whistled. "An adventure indeed!" From the sound
of the fagots it seemed that he was moving. "We must out of this," he
said, "and to the rescue! But how? There is no other door than the one
by which we entered?"

"There is one, but the key is lost, and it has not been opened for

"Then we must go out as we came in," the stranger answered gaily. "But
how? But how? Let me think! Let me think, lad!"

The smell of damp earth mingled with rotting wood pervaded the
darkness in which they stood. They could not see one another, but at a
certain height from the ground a shaft of reddish light pierced the
gloom and disclosed about a foot of the cobweb vault above them. This
light entered through an arrow-slit which looked toward the bonfire,
and apparently it suggested a plan, for presently the stranger could
be heard stumbling and groping towards it.

"You cannot go out that way!" Roger said.

"No, but I can get them in!" the other answered drily, and from
certain noises which came to his ear Roger judged that the man was
piling wood under the opening that he might climb to it. He succeeded
by-and-by; his head and shoulders became darkly visible at the
window--if window that could be called which was but a span wide.

"There is some one in command?" he asked. "Who is it? His name, my
friend?" And when Roger, who fortunately remembered Ampoule's name,
had told him: "Do you pile," he said, "some wood behind the door, so
that it cannot be opened to the full or too quickly. It is only to
give us time to transact the punctilios."

Roger complied. He hoped--but with doubt--that the man was not mad. He
supposed that out in the world men were of these odd and surprising
kinds. The Lieutenant had impressed him. This strange man, who after
coming within an ace of killing him jested, who laughed and blasphemed
in a breath, and who was no sooner down than he was up, impressed him
more vividly, though differently. And was to impress him still
more. For when he had set the wood behind the door, the unknown,
raised on his pile of fagots, thrust his face into the opening of the
arrow-slit, and in a shrill voice of surprising timbre began to pour
on the ill-starred Ampoule a stream of the grossest and most injurious
abuse. Amid stinging gibes and scalding epithets, and words that
blistered, the name rang out at intervals only to sink again under the
torrent of vile charges and outrageous insinuations. The lad's ears
burned as he listened; burned still more hotly as he reflected that
the girls might be within hearing. As for the men at the fire, twenty
seconds saw them silent with amazement. Their very laughter died out
under that steady stream of epithets, for any one of which a man of
honour must have cut his fellow's throat. A moment or two passed in
this stark surprise; still the voice, ever attaining lower depths of
abuse, went on.

At length, whether some one told him or he heard it himself, the
lieutenant came out, and, flushed with drink, listened for a while
incredulous. But when he caught his name, undoubtedly his name,
"Ampoule! Ampoule!" again and again, and the tale was told him, and he
began to comprehend that in the tower was a man who dared to say of
him, Vlaye's right hand in many a dark adventure, of him who had cut
many a young cock's comb--to say of him the things he heard--he stood
an instant in the blaze of the fire and bellowed like a bull.

"His own sister, fifteen years old," the pitiless voice repeated.
"Sold her to a Spanish Jew and divided the money with his mother!"

Ampoule's mouth opened wide, but this time breath failed him. He

"And being charged with it at Fontarabie," continued the voice, "as he
returned, showed the white feather before four men at the inn, who
took him and dipped him in a dye vat."

"Son of a dog!" Ampoule shrieked, getting his voice at last. "This is
too much! This is----"

"Why, he never bullies when he is unsupported!" his tormentor went on.
"But a craven he has always been when put to it! If he be not, let him
say it now, and face me in a ring!"

The exasperated man ground his teeth and flung out his arms. "Face
you!" he roared. "You! You! Face me, and I will cut out your heart!"

"Fine talk! Fine talk!" came the answer. "So you have said many a time
and run! Meet me in a ring, foot to foot and fairly, in your shirt!"

"I'll meet you!" the lieutenant answered passionately. "I'll meet you,
fool of the world. Little you know whom you have bearded. You must be
mad; but mad or not, say your prayer, for 'twill be the last time!"

There was a momentary pause. Then "Promise me a ring and fair-play!"
cried the high, delicate voice, "and a clear way of escape if I kill

"Ay, ay! That will I! All that! And much good may it do you!"

"Nay, but swear it," the stranger persisted, "by--by our Lady of

"I swear it! I swear it!"

"Then," the stranger replied with a sneer, "it is for you to open.
I've no key!" And he leapt lightly from his pile of fagots to the

                            CHAPTER VIII.

                            FATHER ANGEL.

As he groped his way towards the door, he came into contact with
Roger, who was also making for it. Roger gripped him and tried to hold
him. "Is there no other way?" the lad muttered. The situation appalled
him. "No other way? You are no match for him!"

"That we shall see!" the stranger retorted curtly.

"Then I shall help you!" the lad declared.

"Would you take on another of them?" the stranger answered eagerly.
"But no, you are over young for it! You are over young by your voice."
Then, as the key grated in the lock, "Stand at my back if you will,"
he continued, "and if they--would play me foul, it may serve. But I
shall give him brief occasion! You will see a pretty thing, my lad."

Crash! The door was forced open, letting a flood of smoky light into
the dark place. He who had opened the door, Ampoule himself, strode
back, when he had done it, across the wooden bridge, and flinging a
hoarse taunt, a "Come if you dare!" over his shoulder, swaggered to
the farther end of the hollow space which the men had formed by
ranging themselves in three lines; the bridge and moat forming the
fourth. One in every three or four held up a blazing firebrand,
plucked from the flames; the light of which, falling on the
intervening space, rendered it as clear as in the day.

The stranger, a little to Roger's surprise, but less to the surprise
of Ampoule's comrades, did not obey the summons with much alacrity. He
waited in the doorway, accustoming his eyes to the light, and the lad,
whose heart overflowed with pity and apprehension--for he could not
think his ally a match for Ampoule's skill and strength--had time to
mark the weird mingling of glare and shadow, and to wonder if this
lurid space encircled by unreal buildings were indeed the peaceful
courtyard which he had known from childhood. Meanwhile Ampoule waited
disdainfully at the other end of the lists, and as one who scarcely
expected his adversary to appear made his blade whistle in the air.
Or, in turn, to show how lightly he held the situation, he aimed
playful thrusts at the legs of the man who stood nearest, and who
skipped to escape them.

"Must we fetch you out, dirty rogue?" he cried, after a minute of
this. "Or----"

"Oh, _tace_! _tace!_" the stranger answered in a peevish tone. He
showed himself on the drawbridge, and with an air of great caution
began to cross it. He still wore his mask. "You are more anxious than
most to reach the end of your life," he continued in the same
querulous tone. "You are ready?"

"Ready, when you please!" Ampoule retorted fuming. "It is not I----"

"Who hang back?" the stranger answered. As he spoke he stepped from
the end of the bridge like a man stepping into cold water. He even
seemed to hold himself ready to flee if attacked too suddenly. "But
you are sure you are ready now?" he queried. "Quite ready? Do not let
me"--with a backward glance--"take you by surprise!"

Ampoule began to think that it would not be without trouble he would
draw his adversary within reach. The duels of those days, be it
remembered, were not formal. Often men fought without seconds;
sometimes in full armour, sometimes in their shirts. Advantages that
would now be deemed dishonourable were taken by the most punctilious.
So, to lure on his man and show his own contempt for the affair,
Ampoule tossed up his sword, and caught it again by the hilt. "I'm
ready!" he said. He came forward three paces, and again tossing up his
sword, recovered it.

But the masked man seemed to be unwilling to quit the shelter of the
drawbridge; so unwilling that Roger, who had taken up his position on
the bridge behind him, felt his cheek grow hot. His ally had proved
himself such a master of tongue fence as he had never imagined. Was
he, ready as he had been to provoke the quarrel, of those who blench
when the time comes to make good the taunt?

It seemed so. For the stranger still hung undecided, a foot as it were
either way. "You are sure that I should not now take you by surprise?"
he babbled, venturing at length a couple of paces in the direction of
the foe--but glancing behind between his steps.

"I am quite sure," Ampoule answered scornfully, "that I see before me
a poltroon and a coward!"

The word was still on his lips, when like a tiger-cat, like that which
in all the world is most swift to move, like, if you will, the wild
boar that will charge an army, the mask darted rather than ran upon
his opponent. But at the same time with an incredible lightness.
Before Ampoule could place himself in the best posture, before he
could bring his sword-point to the level, or deal one of those famous
"_estramaçons_" which he had been wasting on the empty air, the other
was within his guard, they were at close quarters, the advantage of
the bigger man's length of arm was gone. How it went after that, who
struck, who parried, not the most experienced eye could see. So quick
on one another, so furious, so passionate were the half-dozen blows
the masked man dealt, that the clearest vision failed to follow them.
It was as if a wild cat, having itself nine lives, had launched itself
at Ampoule's throat, and gripped, and stabbed, and struck, and in ten
seconds borne him to the ground, falling itself with him. But whereas
in one second the masked man was up again and on his guard, Ampoule
rose not. A few twitches of the limbs, a stifled groan, an arm flung
wide, a gasp, and as he had seen many another pass, through the gate
by which he had sent not a few, Ampoule passed himself. Of so thin a
texture is the web of life, and so slight the thing that suffices to
tear it. Had the masked stranger ridden another road that night, had
he been a little later, had he been a little sooner; had the trooper
refrained from his jest or the men from the wine-pot, had Roger kept
his distance, or the arrow-slit looked another way--had any one of
these chance occasions fallen other than it fell, Ampoule had lived,
and others perchance had died by his hand!

All passed, it has been said, with incredible swiftness; the attack so
furious, the end a lightning-stroke. Roger on the bridge awoke from a
doubt of his ally's courage to see a whirl, a blow, a fall; and then
on the ground ill-lighted and indistinct--for half the men had dropped
their lights in their excitement--he saw a grim picture, a man dying,
and another crouching a pace from him, watching with shortened point
and bent knees for a possible uprising.

But none came; Ampoule had lived. And presently, still watching
cautiously, the mask raised himself and dropped his point. A shiver, a
groan passed round the square. A single man swore aloud. Finally three
or four, shaking off the stupor of amazement, moved forwards, and with
their eyes assured themselves that their officer was dead.

At that Roger, still looking on as one fascinated, shook himself
awake, in fear for his principal. He expected that an attack would be
made on the masked man. None was made, however, no one raised hand or
voice. But as he moved towards him, to support him were it needful,
the unexpected happened. The unknown tottered a pace or two, leant a
moment on his sword-point, swayed, and slowly sank down on the ground.

With a cry of despair Roger sprang to him, and by the gloomy light of
the three brands which still remained ablaze, he saw that blood was
welling fast from a wound in the masked man's shoulder. Ampoule had
passed, but not without his toll.

Roger forgot the danger. Kneeling, following his instinct, he took the
fainting man's head on his shoulder. But he was helpless in his
ignorance; he knew not how to aid him. And it was one of the troopers,
late his enemies, who, kneeling beside him, quickly and deftly cut
away the breast of the injured man's shirt, and with a piece of linen,
doubled and redoubled, staunched the flow of blood. The others stood
round the while, one or two lending a light, their fellows looking on
in silence. Roger, even in his distress, wondered at their attitude.
It would not have surprised him if the men had fallen on the stranger
and killed him out of hand. Instead they bent over the wounded man
with looks of curiosity; with looks gloomy indeed, but in which awe
and admiration had their part. Presently at his back a man muttered.

"The devil, or a Joyeuse!" he said. "No other, I'll be sworn!"

No one answered, but the man who was dressing the wound lifted the
unknown's hand and silently showed a ring set with stones that even by
that flickering and doubtful light dazzled the eye. They were stones
such as Roger had never seen, and he fancied that they must be of
inestimable value.

"Ay, ay!" the man who had spoken muttered. "I thought it was so when I
saw him join! I mind his brother, the day he died, taking two of his
own men so, and--pouf! I saw him drown an hour after, and he took the
water just so, cursing and swearing; but the Tarn was too strong for

"That was Duke Antony?" a second whispered.

"Antony Scipio."

"I never saw him," the second speaker answered softly. "Duke Anne at
Coutras--I saw him die; and des Ageaux, that is now Governor of
Périgord, got just such a wound as that in trying to save him."

"Pouf! All the world knew _him!_" he who had first spoken rejoined
with the scorn of superior knowledge. "But"--to the man who was
binding up the hurt, and who had all but finished his task--"you had
better look and make sure that we shall not have our trouble for

The trooper nodded and began to feel for the fastening of the mask,
which was of strong silk on a stiff frame. Roger raised his hand to
prevent him, but as quickly repressed the impulse. The men were saving
the man's life, and had a right to learn who he was. Besides, sooner
or later, the thing must come off.

Its removal was not easy. But at length the man found the catch, it
gave way, and the morsel of black fell and disclosed the pale,
handsome face of an effeminate, fair-haired man of about thirty. "Ay,
it is he! It is he, sure enough!" went around the circle, with here
and there an oath of astonishment.

"Has any one a mouthful of Armagnac?" the impromptu surgeon asked.
"No, not wine. There now, gently between his lips. When he has
swallowed a little we must lift him into the house. He will do well, I

"But," Roger asked, after in vain interrogating their faces with his
eyes, "who is it? Who it is, if you please? You know him?"

"Ay, we know him," the trooper answered sententiously. And, rising to
his feet, he looked about him. "Best close that gate," he said,
raising his voice. "If his people be on his track, as is likely, and
come on us before we can make it clear, it may be awkward! See to it,
some of you. And do you, Jasper, take horse and tell the Captain, and
get his orders."

Two or three of the men, whom the event had most sobered, strode
across the court to do his bidding. Roger looked from one to another
of those who remained. "But who is he?" he asked. His curiosity was
piqued, the more sharply as it was evident that the presence of this
man who lay before him, wounded and unconscious, altered, in some
fashion, the whole position.

"Who is he?" the former spokesman answered roughly. "Father Angel, to
be sure! You have heard of him, I suppose, young sir?"

"Father Angel?" Roger repeated incredulously. "A priest? Impossible!"

"Well, a monk."

"A monk?"

"Ay, and a marshal for the matter of that!" the trooper rejoined
impatiently. "Here, lift him, you! Gently, gently! Man, it is the Duke
of Joyeuse," he continued, addressing Roger. "You have heard of him, I
take it? Now, step together, men, and you won't shake him! We must lay
him in the dining-hall. He will do well there." And again to Roger,
who walked with him behind the bearers, "If you don't believe me, see
here," he said. "Tis plain enough still!" And taking a burning
splinter of wood from one of the others he held it so that the light
fell on the crown of the wounded man's head. There discernible amid
the long fair hair was the pale shadow of a tonsure.

"Father Angel?" Roger repeated in wonder, as the men bearing their
burden stepped slowly and warily on to the bridge.

"Ay, no other! And riding on what mad errand God knows! It was an
unlucky one for Ampoule. But they are all mad in that house! Coutras
saw the end of one brother, Villemar of another; there are but this
one and the Cardinal left! Look your fill," he continued, as the men
under his direction carried their burden up the three or four steps
that led from the outer hall--where the fire Ampoule had knocked
together still burned on the dogs--to the dining-hall. "Monk and
Marshal, Duke and Capuchin, angel and devil, you'll never see the like

Probably his words were not far from the mark. Anne, the eldest of the
four brothers, by whom and by whose interest with King Henry the Third
the house had risen from mediocrity to greatness, from respectability
to fame, had fallen at Coutras encircled by the old nobility whom he
had led to defeat. His brother, Antony Scipio, young as he was, had
taken charge for the League in Languedoc, had pitted himself against
the experience of Montmorency, and for a time had carried it. But his
minor successes had ended in a crushing defeat at Villemar on the
Tarn, and he had drowned his chagrin in its icy waters, cursing and
swearing, says the old chronicler, to the last. The event had drawn
from his monastery the singular man on whom Roger now looked, Henry,
third of the brothers, third Duke of the name, the fame of whose piety
within the cloister was only surpassed by that of his excesses in the
world; who added to an emotional temperament and its sister gift of
eloquence the feverish energy and headlong courage of his race.
Snatching the sword fallen from his brother's hands, in five and
twenty months he had used it with such effect as to win from the King
the baton of a marshal as the price of his obedience.

"M. de Joyeuse!" Roger muttered, as he watched them lay the
unconscious man on an improvised couch in the corner. "M. de Joyeuse?
It seems incredible!"

"There is nothing credible about them," the man answered darkly. "The
old fool who keeps the gate here would try the belief of most with his
fables. But he'll never put the handle to their hatchet," with a nod
of meaning. "Yet to listen to him, Charlemagne and the twelve were not
on a level with his master--once! But where are you going, young sir?"
in an altered tone.

"To tell the Vicomte what has occurred," Roger answered, his hand on
the latch of the inner door--the door that led to the stairs and the
upper rooms.

"By your leave!"

"I don't understand."

"By your leave, I say!" the trooper answered more sharply, and in a
twinkling he had intervened, turned the key in the lock and withdrawn
it. "I am sorry, young sir," he continued, coolly facing about again,
"but until we know what is to do, and what the Captain's orders
are--he has a trump card in his hand now, or I am mistaken--I must
keep you here, by your leave."

"Against my leave!"

"As you please for that."

"I should have though that you had had enough of keeping people!"
Roger retorted angrily.

"May-be Ampoule has," the man answered with a faint sneer. "I'll see
if I have not better luck. Come, young sir," he continued with
good-humour, "you cannot say that I have been aught but gentle so far.
You've fared better with me, ay, a _mort_ better, than you'd have
fared if the Captain had been here. But I don't want to have to hurt
you if it comes to blows upstairs. You are safer here looking after
the Duke. And trust me, you'll thank me, some day."

Roger glared at him in resentment. He felt that he who lay helpless in
the corner would have known how to deal with the man and the
situation; but, for himself, he did not. To attempt force was out of
the question, and the trooper had withdrawn and closed the door,
leaving Roger alone with the patient, before the idea of bribery
occurred to the lad. It was as well perhaps; for what was there at
Villeneuve, what had they in that poverty-stricken home of such a
value as to outweigh the wrath of Vlaye? Or to corrupt men who had
seen, without daring to touch, a ring worth a King's ransom?

Nothing, for certain, which it was in Roger's power to give. Moreover,
the situation, though full of peril, seemed less desperate. The Duke's
act, if it had wrought no more, had sobered the men, and his presence,
wounded as he was, was a factor Roger could not estimate. The respect
with which the men treated him when he lay at their mercy, and their
care to do the best for him, to say nothing of the feelings of awe and
admiration in which they held him--these things promised well. The
question was, how would his presence affect M. de Vlaye? And his
pursuit of the Countess?

Roger had no notion. The possession of the person of a prince who
ruled a great part of Languedoc might touch the Captain of Vlaye--a
minnow by comparison, but in his own water--in a number of ways. It
might strengthen him in his present design, or it might turn him from
it by opening some new prospect to his ambition. Again, M. de Vlaye
might treat the Duke in one of several modes; as an enemy, as a
friend, as a hostage. He might use the occasion well or ill. He might
work on fears or gratitude. All to Roger was dark and uncertain; as
dark as the courtyard, where the flames of the huge fire had sunk low,
and men by the dull glow of the red embers were removing in a cloak
the body of the unfortunate Ampoule. Ay, and as uncertain as the
breathing of the wounded man in the corner, which now seemed to stop,
and now hurried weakly on.

Roger paced the room. He did not know for certain what had become of
the Countess, or of his sister, or of his father. He took it for
granted that they had sought the greater safety of the upper rooms. He
had himself, earlier in the evening, suggested that if the worst
threatened they might retreat to the tower chamber, and there defend
themselves; but the Vicomte had pooh-poohed the suggestion, and though
Bonne, who persisted in expecting help from outside, had supported it,
the plan had been given up. Still they were gone, and they could have
retired no other way. He listened at the locked door, hoping to hear
feet on the stairs; for they must be anxious about him. But all was
still. His sister, the Countess, the Vicomte, might have melted into
the air--as far as he was concerned.

And this, anxious as he was for them, vexed him. He had failed! The
long silence that had brooded over the decaying house, the dull life
against which he and his brother had fretted, were come to an end with
a vengeance. But what use had he made of the opportunity? When he
should have been playing the hero upstairs, when he should have been
the head and front of the defence, directing all, inspiring all, he
lay here in a locked room like a naughty child who must be shielded
from harm.

A movement on the part of the sick man cut short his thoughts. The
Duke was making futile attempts to raise himself on his elbow.
"Ageaux! Des Ageaux!" he muttered. "You are satisfied now! I struck
him fairly."

Roger hurried to him and leant over him. "Lie still and do not speak,"
he said, hoping to soothe him.

"We are quits now," the Duke whispered. "We are quits now. Say so,
man!" he continued querulously. "I tell you Vlaye will trouble you no
more. I struck him fairly in the throat."

"Yes, yes," Roger replied. It was evident that the Duke was rambling
in his mind, and took him for some one else. "We are quits now."

"Quits," the wounded man muttered, as if he found some magic in the
words. And he drowsed off again into the half-sleep, half-swoon of

Roger could make nothing of it, except that the Duke had Vlaye in his
mind, and fancied that it was he whom he had killed. But des Ageaux,
whom he fancied he was addressing? Roger knew him by name and that he
was Governor of Périgord, a man of name and position beyond his rank.
But how came he in this galley? Oh, yes. He remembered now. His name
had been mentioned in connection with the death of the eldest Joyeuse
at Coutras.

Roger snuffed the candles, and mixing a little wine with water, put it
by the Duke's side. Then he wandered to the locked door, and again
listened fruitlessly. Thence, for he could not rest, he went to the
window, where he pressed his forehead against the cool glass. The fire
had sunk lower; it was now no more than an angry eye glowing in the
darkness. He could discern little by its light. No one moved, the
courtyard seemed as vacant and deserted as the house. Or no. In the
direction of the gate he caught the glint of a lanthorn and the
movement of several figures, revealed for an instant and as suddenly
obscured. He continued to watch the place where the light had
vanished, and presently out of the obscurity grew a black mass that
slowly took the form of a number of men crossing the court in a silent
body, five or six abreast. The tramp of their feet, inaudible on the
soil, rumbled hollowly as they mounted the bridge, which creaked
beneath them. He caught the gleam of weapons, heard a low order given,
fell back from the window. He had little doubt what they were about to

He was right. The heavy, noisy entry into the outer hall had scarcely
prepared him before the door was thrown open and they filed into the
room in which he stood.

What could he do? Resistance was out of the question. "What is it?" he
asked, making a show of confronting them.

"No matter, young sir," the man who had before taken charge answered
gruffly. "Stand you on one side and no harm will happen to you."


"Stand back! Stand back!" the man answered sternly. "We are on no
boy's errand!" Then to his party, "Bring the lights," he continued,
and advancing to the inner door he unlocked it. "Who has the hammer?
Good, do you come first with me. And let the last two stand here and
keep the door."

He went through without more words, and disappeared up the staircase,
followed by his men in single file. The two last remained on guard at
the door, and they and Roger waited in the semi-darkness listening to
the lumbering tread of the troopers as they stumbled on the wooden
stairs, or their weapons clanged against the wall. Roger clenched his
hands hard, vowing vengeance; but what could he do? And he had one
consolation. Ampoule's death had sobered the men. They would execute
their orders, but the fear of outrage and excess which had dwelt on
his mind earlier in the evening no longer seemed serious.

The sound of the men's feet on the stairs had ceased; he guessed that
they were searching the rooms overhead. A moment later their movements
made this clear. He heard their returning footsteps and their raised
voices in the upper passage. They seemed to confer, and to halt for a
minute undecided. Then a door, doubtless the one which led to the
roof, was tried, and tried again. But in vain, for the next moment a
voice cried harshly, "Open! Open!" and after an interval a crash,
twice repeated, proclaimed that the hammer was being brought into use.
A scrambling of hasty feet followed, and then silence--doubtless they
were crossing the roof--and then a pistol shot! One pistol shot!

Roger glared at the men who had been left with him. They opened the
door more widely, and stepping through seemed to listen. For a moment
the wild notion of locking the door on them, of locking the door on
all, occurred to Roger. But he discarded it.

                             CHAPTER IX.

                           SPEEDY JUSTICE.

The elder of the Villeneuve brothers was less happy than Roger, in
that the Vicomte had passed to him a portion of his crabbed nature.
Something of the bitterness, something of the hardness of the father
lurked in the son; who in the like unfortunate circumstances might
have grown to be such another as his sire, but with more happy
surroundings and a better fate still had it in him to become a
generous and kindly gentleman.

It was this latent crabbedness that had kept the injustice of his lot
ever before his gaze. Roger bore lightly with his heavier burden, and
only the patient sweetness of his eyes told tales. Bonne was almost
content; if she fretted it was for others, and if she dreamed of the
ancient glories of the house, it was not for the stiff brocades and
jewelled stomacher of her grandame that she pined.

But with Charles it was otherwise. The honour of the family was more
to him, for he was the heir. Its dignity and welfare were his in a
particular sense; and had he been of the most easy disposition, he
must still have found it hard to see all passing; to see the end, and
to stand by with folded arms. But when to the misery of inaction and
the hopelessness of the outlook were added the Vicomte's daily and
hourly taunts, and all fell on a nature that had in it the seeds of
unhappiness, what wonder if the young man broke away and sought in
action, however desperate, a remedy for his pains?

A step which he would now have given the world to undo. As he rode a
prisoner along the familiar track, which he had trodden a thousand
times in freedom and safety, the iron entered into his soul. The sun
shone, the glades were green, in a hundred brakes the birds sang, in
shady dells and under oaks the dew sparkled; but he rode, his feet
fastened under his horse's belly, his face set towards Vlaye. In an
hour the dungeon door would close on him. He would have given the
world, had it been his, to undo the step.

Not that he feared the dungeon so much, or even death; though the
thought of death, amid the woodland beauty of this June day, carried a
chill all its own, and death comes cold to him who awaits it with tied
hands. But he could have faced death cheerfully--or he thought so--had
he fallen into a stranger's power; had the victory not been so
immediately, so easily, so completely with Vlaye--whom he hated. To be
dragged thus before his foe, to read in that sneering face the
contempt which events had justified, to lie at his mercy who had
treated him as a silly clownish lad, to be subjected, may-be, to some
contemptuous degrading punishment--this was a prospect worse than
death, a prospect maddening, insupportable! Therefore he looked on the
woodland with eyes of despair, and now and again, in fits of revolt,
had much ado not to fight with his bonds, or hurl unmanly insults at
his captors.

They, for their part, took little heed of him. They had not bound his
hands, but had tied the reins of his horse to one of their saddles,
and, satisfied with this precaution, they left him to his reflections.
By-and-by those reflections turned, as the thoughts of all captives
turn, to the chance of escape; and he marked that the men--they
numbered five--seemed to be occupied with something which interested
them more than their prisoner. What it was, of what nature or kind, he
had no notion; but he observed that as surely as they recalled their
duty and drew round him, so surely did the lapse of two or three
minutes find them dispersed again in pairs--it might be behind, it
might be before him.

When this happened they talked low, but with an absorption so entire
that once he saw a man jam his knee against a sapling which he failed
to see, though it stood in his path; and once a man's hat was struck
from his head by a bough which he might have avoided by stooping.

Naturally the trooper to whose saddle he was attached had no part in
these conferences. And by-and-by this man, a grizzled, thick-set
fellow with small eyes, grew impatient, and even, it seemed,
suspicious. For a time he vented his dissatisfaction in grunts and
looks, but at last, when the four others had got together and were
colloguing with heads so close that a saddle-cloth would have covered
them, he could bear it no longer.

"Come, enough of that!" he cried surlily. "One of you take him, and
let me hear what you have settled. I'd like my say as well as

"Ay, ay, Baptist," one of the four answered. "In a minute, my lad."

Baptist swore under his breath. Still he waited, and by-and-by one of
the men came grudgingly back, took over the prisoner, and suffered
Baptist to join the council. But Villeneuve, whose attention was now
roused, noted that this man also, after an interval, became restless.
He watched his comrades with jealous eyes, and from time to time he
pressed nearer, as if he would fain surprise their talk. Things were
in this position when the party arrived at a brook, bordered on either
side by willow beds and rushes, and passable at a tiny ford. Beyond
the brook the hill rose suddenly and steeply. Charles knew the place
as he knew his hand, and that from the brook the track wound up
through the brushwood to a nick in the summit of the hill, whence
Vlaye could be seen a league below.

The four troopers paused at the ford, and letting their horses drink,
permitted the prisoner and his guard to come up. The man they called
Baptist approached the latter. "If you will wait here," he said, with
a look of meaning, "we'll look to the--you know what."

"I? No, cursed if I do!" the man answered plumply, his swarthy face
growing dark. "I'm not a fool!"

"Then how in the devil's name are we to do it?" Baptist retorted with

"Stay yourself and take care of him!"

"And let you find the stuff!" with an ugly look. "A nice reckoning I
should get afterwards."

"Well, I won't stay, that's flat!"

The men looked at one another, and their lowering glances disclosed
their embarrassment. The prisoner could make no guess at the subject
of discussion, but he saw that they were verging on a quarrel, and his
heart beat fast. Given the slightest chance he was resolved to take
it. But, that his thoughts might not be read, he kept his eyes on the
ground, and feigned a sullenness which he no longer felt.

Suddenly, "Tie him to a tree!" muttered one of the men with a sidelong
look at him.

"And leave him?"

"Ay, why not?"

"Why not?" Baptist, the eldest of the men, rejoined with an oath.
"Because if harm happen to him, it will be I will pay for it, and not
you! That is why not!"

"Tie him well and what can happen?" the other retorted. And then,
"Must risk something, Baptist," he added with a grin, which showed
that he saw his advantage, "since you are in charge."

The secret was simple. The men had got wind that morning of a saddle
and saddle-bags--and a dead horse, but that counted for nothing--that
in the search after the attack on the Countess's party had been
overlooked in the scrub. Detached to guard the prisoner to Vlaye they
had grinned at the chance of forestalling their comrades and gaining
what there was to gain; which fancy, ever sanguine, painted in the
richest colours. But the five could neither trust one another nor
their prisoner; for Charles might inform Vlaye, and in that case they
would not only lose the spoil but taste the strapado--the Captain of
Vlaye permitting but one robber in his band. Hence they stood in the
position of the ass between two bundles of hay, and dared not leave
their prisoner, nor would leave the spoil.

At length, after some debate, made up in the main of oaths, "Draw lots
who stays!" one suggested.

"We have no cards."

"There are other ways."

"Well," said he who had charge of the prisoner, "whose horse stops
drinking first--let him stay!"

"Oh, yes!" retorted Baptist. "And we have watered our horses and you
have not!"

The man grinned feebly; the others laughed. "Well," he said, "do you
hit on something then! You think yourself clever."

Villeneuve bethought him of the prince who set, his guards to race,
and, when their horses were spent, galloped away laughing. But he
dared not suggest that, though he tingled with anxiety. "Who sees a
heron first," said one.

But "Pooh!" with a grin, "we are all liars!" put an end to that.

"Well," said Baptist sulkily, "if we stay here a while longer we shall
all lie for nothing, for we shall have the Captain upon us."

Thus spurred a man had an idea that seemed fair. "We've no two
horses alike," he said. "Let us pluck a hair from the tail of each.
He"--pointing to Charles--"shall draw one with his eyes shut, and
whoever is drawn shall stay on guard."

They agreed to this, and Charles, being applied to, consented with a
sulky air to play his part. The hairs were plucked, a grey, a
chestnut, a bay, a black, and a sorrel; and the prisoner, foreseeing
that he would be left with a single trooper, and determined in that
case to essay escape, shut his eyes and felt for the five hairs, and
selected one. The man drawn was the man who had last had him in
charge, and to whose saddle his reins were still attached.

The man cursed his ill-fortune; the others laughed. "All the same," he
cried, "if you play me false you'll laugh on the other side of your

"Tut, tut, Martin!" they jeered in answer. "Have no fear!" And they
scarce made a secret of their intention to cheat him.

The four turned, laughing, and plunged into the undergrowth which
clothed the hill. Still their course could be traced by the snapping
of dry sticks, the scramble of a horse on a steep place, or the scared
notes of blackbirds, fleeing low among the bushes. Slowly Martin's
eyes followed their progress along the hill, and as his eyes moved, he
moved also, foot by foot, through the brook, glaring, listening, and
now and then muttering threats in his beard.

Had he glanced round once, however impatiently, and seen the pale face
and feverish eyes at his elbow, he had taken the alarm. Charles knew
that the thing must be done now or not at all; and that there must be
one critical moment. If nerve failed him then, or the man turned, or
aught happened to thwart his purpose midway, he had far better have
left the thing untried.

Now or not at all! He glanced over his shoulder and saw the sun
shining on the flat rushy plat beyond the ford, which the horses' feet
had fouled while their riders debated. He saw no sign of Vlaye coming
up, nor anything to alarm him. The road was clear were he once free.
Martin's horse had stepped from the water, his own was in act to
follow, his guard sat, therefore, a little higher than himself; in a
flash he stooped, seized the other's boot, and with a desperate heave
flung him over on the off side.

He clutched, as the man fell, at his reins; they were life or death to
him. But though the fellow let them slip, the frightened horse sprang
aside, and swung them out of reach. There remained but one thing he
could do; he struck his own horse in the hope it would run away and
drag the other with it.

But the other, rearing and plunging, backed from him, and the two,
pulling in different directions, held their ground until the trooper
had risen, run to his horse's head and caught the reins. "Body of
Satan!" he panted with a pale scowl; the fall had shaken him. "I'll
have your blood for this! Quiet, beast! Quiet!"

In his passion he struck the horse on the head; an act which carried
its punishment. The beast backed from him and dragged him, still
clinging to the reins, into the brook. In a moment the two horses were
plunging about in the water, and he following them was knee deep.
Unfortunately Villeneuve was helpless. All he could do was to strike
his horse and excite it further. But the man would not let go, and the
horses, fastened together, circled round one another until the
trooper, notwithstanding their movements, managed to shorten the
reins, and at last got his horse by the bit.

"Curse you!" he said again. "Now I've got you! And in a minute, my
lad, I'll make you pay for this!"

But Villeneuve, seeing defeat stare him in the face, had made use of
the last few seconds. He had loosened the stirrup-leather from the
trooper's saddle, and as the fellow, thinking the struggle over,
grinned at him, he swung the heavy iron in the air, and brought it
down on the beast's withers. It leapt forward, maddened by pain,
dashed the man to the ground, and dragging Villeneuve's horse with it,
whether it would or no, in a moment both were clear of the brook and
plunging along the bank.

Villeneuve struck the horses again to urge them forward; but only to
learn that which he should have recognised before; that to escape on a
horse, fastened to a second, over difficult ground and through a wood,
was not possible. Half-maddened, half-bewildered, they bore him into a
mass of thorns and bushes. It was all he could do to guard his eyes
and head, more than they could do to keep their feet. A moment and a
tough sapling intervened, the rein which joined them snapped, and his
horse, giving to the tug at its mouth, fell on its near shoulder.

Bound to his saddle, he could not save himself, but fortunately the
soil was soft, the leg that was under the horse was not broken, and
for a moment the animal made no effort to rise. Villeneuve, despair in
his heart, and the sweat running down his face, had no power to rise.
Nor would the power have availed him, for before he could have gone a
dozen paces through the tangle of thorns, the troopers, some on
horseback, and some on foot, were on him.

The man from whom he had escaped was a couple of paces in front of the
others. He had snatched up a stick, and black with rage, raised it to
strike the prostrate horse. Had the blow fallen and the horse
struggled to his feet, Villeneuve must have been trampled. Fortunately
Baptist was in time to catch the man's arm and stay the blow. "Fool!"
he said. "Do you want to kill the man?"

"Ay, by Heaven!" the fellow shrieked. "He nearly killed me!"

"Well, you'll not do it!" Baptist retorted, and he pushed him back.
"Do you hear? I have no mind to account for his loss to the Captain,
if you have."

"Do you think that I am going to be pitched on my head by a
Jack-a-dandy like that," the fellow snarled, "and do naught? And where
is my share?"

The grizzled man stooped, and, while one of his comrades held down the
horse's head, untied Villeneuve's feet, and drew him from under the
beast. "Share?" he answered with a sneer as he rose. "What time had we
to find the thing?"

"You have not found it?"

"No--thanks to you! What kind of a guard do you call yourself?"
Baptist continued ferociously. "By this time, had you done your part,
we had done ours! If there is to be any accounting, you'll account to

"Ay," the others cried, "Baptist is right, my lad!"

The man, seeing himself outnumbered, cast a devilish look at them. He
turned on his heel. When he was gone a couple of paces, "Very good,"
he said over his shoulder, "but when I get you alone----"

"You!" Baptist roared, and took three strides towards him. "You, when
you get me alone! Stand to me now, then, and let them see what you
will do!"

But the malcontent, with the same look of hate, continued to retreat.
Baptist jeered. "That is better!" he said. "But we knew what you were
before! Now, lads, to horse, we've lost time enough!"

Flinging a mocking laugh after the craven the troopers turned. But to
meet with a surprise. By their horses' heads stood a strange man
smiling at them. "I arrest all here!" he said quietly. He had nothing
but a riding switch in his hand, and Villeneuve's eyes opened wide as
he recognised in him the guest of the Tower Chamber. "In the King's
name, lay down your arms!"

They stared at him as if he had fallen from the skies. Even Baptist
lost the golden moment, and, in place of flinging himself upon the
stranger, repeated, "Lay down our arms? Who, in the name of thunder,
are you?"

"No matter!" the other answered. "You are surrounded, my man. See! And
see!" He pointed in two directions with his switch.

Baptist glared through the bushes, and saw eight or ten horsemen
posted along the hill-side above him. He looked across the brook, and
there also were two or three stalwart figures, seated motionless in
their saddles.

The others looked helplessly to Baptist. "Understand," he said, with
uneasy defiance. "You will answer for this. We are the Captain of
Vlaye's men!"

"I know naught of the Captain of Vlaye," was the stern reply.
"Surrender, and your lives shall be spared. Resist, and your blood be
on your own heads!"

Baptist counted heads rapidly, and saw that he was outnumbered. He
gave the word, and after one fashion or another, some recklessly, some
stolidly, the men threw down their arms. "Only--you will answer for
this!" Baptist repeated.

"I shall answer for it," des Ageaux replied gravely. "In the meantime
I desire a word with your prisoner. M. de Villeneuve, this way if you

He was proceeding to lead Charles a little apart. But his back had not
been turned three seconds when a thing happened. The man who had slunk
away before Baptist's challenge had got to horse unnoticed. At a
little distance from the others, he had not surrendered his arms.
Whether he could not from where he was see the horsemen who guarded
the further side of the brook, and so thought escape in that direction
open, or he could not resist the temptation to wreak his spite on
Baptist at all risks, he chose this moment to ride up behind him, draw
a pistol from the holster, and fire it into the unfortunate man's
back. Then with a yell that echoed his victim's death-cry he crashed
through the undergrowth in the direction of the brook.

But already, "Seize him! Seize him!" rose above the wood in a dozen
voices. "On your life, seize him!"

The order was executed almost as soon as uttered. As the horse leaping
the water alighted on the lower bank, it swerved to avoid a trooper
who barred the way. The turn surprised the rider; he lost his balance.
Before he could get back into his seat, a trooper knocked him from the
saddle with the flat of his sword. In a trice he was seized, disarmed,
and dragged across the brook.

But by that time Baptist, with three slugs under his shoulder-blade,
lay still among the moss and briars, the hand that had beaten time to
a thousand camp-ditties in a thousand quarters from Fontarabie to
Flanders flung nerveless beside a wood-wren's nest. As they gathered
round him Charles, who had never seen a violent death, gazed on the
limp form with a pale face, questioning, with that wonder which the
thoughtful of all times have felt, whither the mind that a minute
before looked from those sightless eyes had taken its flight.

He was roused by the Lieutenant's voice, speaking in tones measured
and stern as fate. "Let him have five minutes," he said, "and
then--that tree will be best!"

They began to drag the wretch, now pale as ashes, in the direction
indicated. Half way to the tree the man began to struggle, breaking
into piercing shrieks that he was Vlaye's man, that they had no

"Stay, right he shall have!" des Ageaux cried solemnly. "He is judged
and doomed by me, Governor of Périgord, for murder in Curia. In the
King's name! Now take him!"

The wretch was dragged off, his judge to all appearance deaf to his
cries. But Charles could close neither his ears nor his heart. The man
had earned his doom richly. But to stand by while a fellow-creature,
vainly shrieking for mercy, mercy, was strangled within his hearing,
turned him sick and faint.

Des Ageaux read his thoughts. "To spare here were to kill there," he
said coldly. "Learn, my friend, that to rule men is no work for a soft
heart or a gentle hand. But you are shaken. Come this way," he
continued in a different tone; "you will be the better for some wine."
He took out a flask and gave it to Charles, who, excessively thirsty
now he thought of it, drank greedily. "That is better," des Ageaux
went on, seeing the colour return to his cheeks. "Now I wish for
information. Where are the nearest Crocans?"

The young man's face fell. "The nearest Crocans?" he muttered



"Are there any within three hours' ride of us?"

But Charles had by this time pulled himself together. He held out his
wrists. "I am your prisoner," he said. "Call up your men and bind me.
You can do with me as you please. But I am a Villeneuve, and I do not

"Not even----"

"You saw me turn pale?" the young man continued. "Believe me, I can
bear to go to the tree better than to see another dragged there!"

Des Ageaux smiled. "Nay, but you mistake me, M. de Villenueve," he
said. "I ask you to betray no one. It is I who wish to enlist with

"With us?" Charles exclaimed. And he stared in bewilderment.

"With you. In fact you see before you," des Ageaux continued, his eyes
twinkling, his hand stroking his short beard, "a Crocan. Frankly, and
to be quite plain, I want their help; a little later my help may save
them. They fear an attack by the Captain of Vlaye? I am prepared to
aid them against him. Afterwards----"

"Ay, afterwards."

"If they will hear reason, what can be done in their behalf I will do!
But there must be no Jacquerie, no burning, and no plundering. In a
word," with a flitting smile, "it is now for the Crocans to say
whether the Captain of Vlaye shall earn the King's pardon by quelling
them--or they by quelling him."

"But you are the Governor of Périgord?" Charles exclaimed.

"I am the King's Lieutenant in Périgord, which is the same thing."

"And in this business?"

"I am in the position of the finger which is set between the door
and the jamb! But no matter for that, you will not understand. Only
do you tell me where these Crocans lie, and we will visit them if it
can be done before night. To-night I must be back"--with a peculiar
look--"for I have other business."

Charles told him, and with joy. Ay, with joy. As a sail to the
raft-borne seaman awash in the Biscayan Gulf, or a fountain to the
parched wanderer in La Mancha, this and more to him was the prospect
suddenly opened before his eyes. To be snatched at a word from the
false position in which he had placed himself, and from which naught
short of a miracle could save him! To find for ally, instead of the
broken farmers and ruined clowns, the governor of a great province! To
be free to carve his fortune with his right hand where he would!
These, indeed, were blessings that a minute before had seemed as far
from him as home from the seaman who feels his craft settling down in
a shoreless water.

                              CHAPTER X.

                           MIDNIGHT ALARMS.

Bonne's first thought when her brother darted to the stranger's rescue
was to seek aid from Ampoule, who, it will be remembered, sat drinking
beside the fire in the outer hall. But the man's coarse address, and
the nature of his employment at the moment, checked the impulse; and
the girl returned to the window, and, flattening her face against the
panes, sought to learn what fortune her brother had. The fire, still
burning high, cast its light as far as the gateway. But the tower to
which Roger had hastened, being in a line with the window, was not
visible, and though Bonne pressed her face as closely as possible
against the panes, she could discover nothing. Yet her brother did not
come back. The murmur of jeers and laughter persisted, but he did not

She turned at last, impelled to seek aid from some one. But at sight
of the room, womanish panic took her by the throat, and the hysterical
fit almost overcame her. For what help, what hope of help, lay in any
of those whom she saw round her? The Countess indeed had crept to her
side, and cast her arm about her, but she was a child, and ashake
already. For the others, the Vicomte sat sunk in lethargy, heeding no
one, ignorant apparently that his son had left the room; and Fulbert,
whose wits had exhausted themselves in the effort that had saved his
mistress, stood faithful indeed, but brainless, dull, dumb. Only
Solomon, who leant against the wall beside the door, his old face
gloomy, his eyebrows knit, only to him could she look for a spark of
comfort or suggestion. He, it was clear, appreciated the crisis, for
he was listening intently, his head inclined, his hand on a weapon.
But he was old, and there was not a man of Vlaye's troopers who was
not more than a match for him foot to foot.

Still, he was her only hope, if her brother did not return. And she
turned again to the casement, and, scarcely breathing, listened with a
keenness of anxiety almost indescribable. If only Roger would return!
Roger, who had seemed so weak a prop a few minutes before, and who,
now that she had lost him, seemed everything! But the voices of
Ampoule and his companion disputing in the outer hall rose louder,
drowning more distant sounds; and the minutes were passing. And still
Roger did not return.

Then a thought came to her; or rather two thoughts. The first was that
all now hung on her--and that steadied her. The second, that he whose
grasp had brought the blood to her cheeks that morning had bidden her
hold out to the last, fight to the last, play the man to the last; and
this moved her to action. Better do anything than succumb like her
father. She flew to Solomon, dragging the Countess with her.

"We are not safe here," she said. "These men are drinking. They have
kept Roger, and that bodes us no good. Were it not better to go
upstairs to the Tower Room?"

"It were the best course," the old man answered slowly, with his eyes
on the Vicomte. "Out and away the best course, mademoiselle. Fulbert
and I could guard the stairs awhile at any rate."

"Then let us go!"

But he looked at the Vicomte. "If my lord says so," he answered. All
his life the Vicomte's word had been his law.

In a moment she was at her father's side. "The Countess will be safer
upstairs, sir," she said, speaking with a boldness that surprised
herself--but who could long remain in fear of the failing old man
whose leaden eyes met hers with scarce a gleam of meaning? "The
Countess is frightened here, sir," she continued. "If you would guard
us upstairs----"

"Have done!" he struck at her with feeble passion, and waved her off.
"Let me alone."


"Peace, girl, I say!" he repeated irascibly. "Who are you to fix
comings and goings? Get to your stool and your needle. God knows," in
a burst of childish petulance, "what the world is coming to--when
children order their elders! But since--there, begone! Begone!"

She wrung her hands in despair. Outside, fuel was beginning to fail,
the fire was burning low, the court growing dark. Within, the two
guttering candles showed only the Vicomte's figure sunk low in his
chair, and here and there a pale face projected from the shadow. But
the noise of riot and disorder did not slacken, rather it grew more
menacing; and what was she to do? Desperate, she returned to the

"Sir," she said, "there is no one to escort the Countess of
Rochechouart to her room. She wishes to retire, and it is late."

He got abruptly to his feet, and looked about him with something of
his ordinary air. "Where is the Countess?" he asked peevishly. And
then addressing Solomon, "Take candles! Take candles!" he continued.
"And you, sirrah, light the way! Don't you know your duty? The
Countess to her room! Mordieu, girl, we are fallen low indeed if we
don't know how to behave to our guests. Madame--or, to be sure,
Mademoiselle la Comtesse," with a puzzled look at the shrinking child,
"let me have the honour. Things are out of gear to-night, and we must
do the best we can. But to-morrow--to-morrow all shall be in order."

He marshalled Solomon out and followed, bowing the young Countess
before him. Bonne overjoyed went next; Fulbert, like a patient dog,
brought up the rear. All was not done yet, however, as Bonne knew; and
she nerved herself for the effort. On the landing her father would
have stopped, but she passed him lightly and opened the door that led
by way of the roof, to the Tower Chamber. "This way!" she muttered to
Solomon, as he hesitated. "The Countess is timid to-night, sir," she
continued aloud, "and craves leave to lie in the Tower as the room is

He frowned. "Still this silliness!" he exclaimed, and then passing his
hand over his brow, "There was something said about it, I remember.
But I thought I----"

"Gave permission, sir? Yes!" Bonne murmured, pushing the girl steadily
forward. "Solomon, do you hear? Light along the leads!"

Great as was his fear of the Vicomte, the old porter succumbed to her
will, and all were on the point of following, when a door on the
landing opened, and the Abbess appeared on the threshold of her room.
She held a light above her head, and with a sneer on her handsome
face, contemplated the group.

"What is this?" she asked. And then, gathering their intention from
their looks--possibly she had had some inkling of it, "You do not mean
to tell me," she continued, partly in temper, and partly in feigned
surprise, "that a half-dozen of roystering troopers, sir, are driving
the Vicomte de Villeneuve from his own chamber? To take refuge among
the owls and bats? For shame, sir, for shame!"

Bonne tried to stay her by a gesture.

In vain. "A fine tale they will have to tell to-morrow!" the elder
sister continued in tones of savage raillery. "M. de Villeneuve afraid
of a handful of rascals, whom their master keeps within bounds with a
stick! The Lord of Villeneuve bearded in his own house by a scum of

"Peace, daughter!" the Vicomte cried; he even raised his hand in
anger. "You lie! It is not I"--his head trembling--"I indeed, but the
Countess! You don't see her. The Countess of Rochechouart----"

"Oh!" said the Abbess. And, the light she held shining on her arrogant
beauty, she swept a great curtsy, as if she had not seen her intended
guest before; as if her scornful eyes had not from the first descried
the girl; as if the small beginnings of hate, hate that scarcely knew
itself, were not already in her breast. "Oh," she said again, "it is
the Countess of Rochechouart, is it, who is afraid?"

"And with reason," Bonne answered, intervening hurriedly, but in a low
voice. "The men are drinking and growing violent. Roger went to them
some time ago, and has not come back."

"Roger!" the Abbess ejaculated, shrugging her shoulders. "Did you
think that he could do anything?"

But she who of all those present seemed least likely to interfere
spoke up at that. Whether the young Countess resented--Heaven knows
why she should--the sneer at Roger's expense, or only the contempt of
herself which the Abbess's manner expressed, she plucked up a spirit.
After all she was not only a Rochechouart, but she was a woman; and
there is in all women, even the meekest, a spark of temper that, being
fanned by one of their own sex, blazes up. "It is true," she replied
coldly, her face faintly pink. "It is I who am afraid, mademoiselle.
But it is not of the men downstairs. It is their master whom I fear."

"You fear M. de Vlaye?" the Abbess repeated. And she laughed aloud, a
little over merrily, at the absurdity of the notion. "You--fear M. de
Vlaye? Why? If I may venture to ask?"

"Why?" the Countess replied. She had learned somewhat during the day,
and was too young to hide her knowledge, being provoked. "Do you ask
why, mademoiselle? Because, to be plain, I fear that which it may be
you do not fear."

The Abbess flushed crimson to her very throat. "And what, to be plain,
do you mean by that?" she retorted in a tone that shook with passion.
"If you think that this story is true that they tell----"

"That M. de Vlaye waylaid and would have seized me?" the little
Countess retorted undismayed. "It is quite true."

"You say that!" The young Abbess was pale and red by turns. "How do
you know? What do you know?"

"I know the Captain of Vlaye," the girl answered firmly. "I have seen
him more than once at Angoulême, His mask fell yesterday, and I could
not be mistaken. It was he!"

The Abbess bit her lip until the blood came in the vain attempt to
mask feelings which her temper rendered her impotent to control. She
no longer doubted the story. She saw that it was true; and jealousy,
rage, and amazement--amazement at Vlaye's treachery, amazement
at the discovery of a rival in one so insignificant in all save
rank--deprived her of the power of speech. Fortunately at this moment
the clash of steel reached Solomon's ears, and, startled, the porter
gave the alarm.

"My lord, they are fighting!" he cried. And then emboldened by the
emergency, "Were it not well," he continued, "to put the ladies in a
place of safety?"

The Vicomte, urged up the steps by the women, leant over the parapet,
and learned the truth for himself. Bonne, the Countess, the Abbess and
her women, all followed, and in a twinkling were standing on the roof
in the dark night, the round tower rising beside them, and the
croaking of the frogs coming up to them from below.

But the brief clash of weapons was over, and they could make out no
more than a group of figures gathered about two prostrate men. The
movement of the lights, now here now there, augmented the difficulty
of seeing, and for a while Bonne's heart stood still. She made no
lamentations, for she came of the old blood, but she thought Roger
dead. And then a man raised a light, and she distinguished his figure
leaning over one of the injured men.

"Thank God!" she murmured. "There is Roger. He is not hurt!"

"Who are they? Who are they?" the Vicomte babbled, clinging to the
parapet. "Eh? Who are they? Cannot any one see?"

But no one could see, and the Abbess's women began to cry. She paid no
heed to them. She leant with the others over the parapet, and she
listened with them to the shuffling feet of the men below, as slowly
in a double line they bore the cloaked form towards the house. But
whether their thoughts were her thoughts, their anxiety her anxiety,
whether she was wrapt, as they were, in the scene that passed below,
or chewed instead the cud of other and more bitter reflections, was
known only to herself. Her proud spirit, whose worst failings hitherto
had not gone beyond selfishness and vanity, hung, it may be, during
those moments between good and evil, the better and the worse; took,
perhaps, the turn that must decide its life; flung from it, perhaps,
in passionate abandonment the last heart-strings that bound it to the
purer and more generous affections.

Perhaps; but none of those who stood beside her had an inkling of her
mood. For the troopers had passed with their mysterious burden into
the house, and no sooner were they gone than one of the Abbess's women
cried in a panic that they would be murdered, and in a trice all,
succumbing to the impulse, made for the Tower Chamber, and herded into
it pell-mell, some shrugging their shoulders and showing that they
gave way to the more timid, and the men not knowing from whom to take
orders. In the chamber were already two or three of the house-women,
who had sought that refuge earlier in the evening, and these, seeing
the Vicomte, looked for nothing but slaughter, and by their shrill
lamentations added to the confusion.

The security of all depended entirely on their holding the way across
the leads, and here the men should have remained; but the women would
not part with them and all entered together. Some one locked the outer
door, and there they were, in all eleven or twelve persons, in the
great, dreary chamber, where a few feeble candles that served to make
darkness visible disclosed their blanched faces. At the slightest
sound the women shrieked or clung to one another, and with every
second the boldest expected to hear the tramp of feet without, and the
clatter of weapons on the oak.

There was something ridiculous in this noisy panic; yet something
terrifying also to those who, like Bonne, kept their heads. She strove
in vain to make herself heard; her voice was drowned; the disorder
overwhelmed her as a flood overwhelms a strong swimmer. She seized a
girl by the arm to silence her: the wench took it for a fresh alarm
and squalled the louder. She flew to her father and begged him to
interpose; flurried, he fell into a rage with her, and stormed at her
as if it were she who caused the confusion. For the others the young
Countess, though quiet, was scared; and Odette, seated at a distance,
noticed her companions only at intervals in the dark current of her
thoughts--and then with a look of disdain.

At length Bonne betook herself to Solomon. "Some one should hold the
roof!" she said.

He shrugged his shoulders. "Ay, ay, mademoiselle," he said, "but we
have no orders and the door is locked, and he has the key."

"You could do something there?"

"Ay, if we had orders."

She flew to the Vicomte at that. "Some one should be holding the roof,
sir," she said. "Solomon and Fulbert could maintain it awhile. Could
you not give them orders?"

He swore at her. "We are mad to be here," he exclaimed, veering about
on an instant. "This comes of letting women have a voice! Silence, you
hell-babes!" he continued, turning with his staff raised upon two of
the women, who had chosen that moment to raise a new outcry. "We are
all mad! Mad, I say!"

"I will silence them, sir," she answered. And stepping on a bed,
"Listen! Listen to me!" she cried stoutly. "We are in little danger
here if we are quiet. Therefore let us make no noise. They will not
then know where to find us. And let the men go to the door, and the
maids to the other end of the room. And----"

Shrieks stopped her. The two whom the Vicomte had upbraided flung
themselves screaming on Solomon. "The window! The window!" they cried,
glaring over their shoulders. And before the astonished old man could
free himself, or the Vicomte give vent to his passion, "The window!
They are coming in!" they shrieked.

The words were the signal for a wild rush towards the door. Two or
three of the candles were knocked down, the Vicomte was well-nigh
carried off his legs, the Abbess, who tried to rise, was pinned where
she was by her women; who flung themselves on their knees before her
and hid their faces in her robe. Only Bonne, interrupted in the midst
of her appeal, retained both her presence of mind and her freedom of
action. After obeying the generous instinct which bade her thrust the
young Countess behind her, she remained motionless, staring intently
at the window--staring in a mixture of hope and fear.

The hope was justified. They were the faces of friends that showed in
the dark opening of the window. They were friends who entered--Charles
first, that the alarm might be the sooner quelled, des Ageaux second;
if first and second they could be called, when the feet of the two
touched the floor almost at the same instant. But Charles wore a new
and radiant face, and des Ageaux a look of command, that to Bonne
after what she had gone through was as wine to a fainting man. There
were some whom that look did not reach, but even these--women with
their faces hidden--stilled their cries, and raised their heads
when he spoke. For a trumpet could not have rung more firm in that
panic-laden air.

"We are friends!" he said. "And we are in time! M. le Vicomte, we must
act and ask your leave afterwards." Turning again to the window he
spoke to the night.

Not in vain. At the word troopers came tumbling in man after man; the
foremost, a lean, lank-visaged veteran, who looked neither to right
nor left, but in three strides, and with one salute in the Vicomte's
direction, put himself at the door and on guard. He had a long,
odd-looking sword with a steel basket hilt, with which he signed to
the men to stand here or there.

For they continued to come in, until the Vicomte, stunned by the sight
of his son, awoke to fresh wonder; and, speechless, counted a round
dozen and three to boot, besides his guest and Charles. Moreover they
were men of a certain stamp, quiet but grim, who, being bidden, did
and asked no questions.

When they had all filed through the group of staring women now fallen
silent, and had ranged themselves beside the Bat--for he it was--at
the door, des Ageaux spoke.

"Do you hear them?"

"No, my lord."

"Unlock softly, then, but do not open! And wait the word! M. le
Vicomte"--he turned courteously to the old man--"the occasion presses,
or I would ask your pardon. Mademoiselle"--but as he turned to Bonne
he lowered his voice, and what he said escaped other ears. Not her
ears, for from brow to neck, though he had but praised her courage and
firmness, she blushed vividly.

"I did only what I could," she replied, lifting her eyes once to his
and as quickly dropping them. "Roger----"

"Ha! What of Roger?"

She told him as concisely as she could.

He knit his brows. "That was not of my contrivance," he said. And
then with a gleam of humour in his eyes, "Masked was he? Another
knight-errant, it seems, and less fortunate than the first! You do not
lack supporters in your misfortunes, mademoiselle. But--what is it?"

"They come, my lord," the Bat answered, raising his hand to gain

All, at the word, listened with quickened pulses, and in the silence
the harsh rending of wood came to the ear, a little dulled by
distance. Then a murmur of voices, then another crash! The men about
the door poised themselves, each with a foot advanced, and his weapon
ready; their strained muscles and gleaming eyes told of their
excitement. A moment and they would be let loose! A moment--and then,
too late, Bonne saw Charles beside the Bat.

Too late; but it mattered nothing. She might have spoken, but he,
panting for the fight, exulting in the occasion, would not have heeded
if an angel had spoken. And before she could find words, the thing was
done. The Bat flung the door open, and with a roar of defiance the mob
of men charged out and across the roof, Charles among the foremost.

A shot, a scream, a tumult of cries, the jarring of steel on steel,
and the fight rolled down through the house in a whirl of strident
voices. The candles, long-wicked and guttering, flamed wildly in the
wind; the room was half in shadow, half in light. The Vicomte, who had
seen all in a maze of stupefaction, stiffened himself--as the old
war-horse that scents the battle. Bonne hid her face and prayed.

Not so the Abbess. She sat unmoved, a sneer on her face, a dark
look in her eyes. And so Bonne, glancing up, saw her; and a strange
pang shot through the younger girl's breast. If he had praised her
courage--and that with a look and in a tone that had brought the blood
to her cheeks--what would he think of her handsome sister? How could
he fail to admire her, not for her beauty only, but for her stately
pride, for the composure that not even this could alter, for the
challenge that shone in her haughty eyes?

The next moment Bonne reproached herself for entertaining such a
thought, while Charles's life and perhaps Roger's hung in the balance,
and the cries of men in direst straits still rung in her ears. What a
worm she was, what a crawling thing! God pardon her! God protect them!

The Abbess's voice--she had risen at last and moved--cut short her
supplications. "Who is he?" Odette de Villeneuve muttered in a fierce
whisper. "Who is he, girl?" She pointed to des Ageaux, who kept his
station on the threshold, his ear following the course of the fight.
"Who is that man? They call him my lord! Who is he?"

"I do not know," Bonne said.

"You do not know?"


The candles flared higher. The Lieutenant turned and saw the two
sisters standing together looking at him.

He crossed the room to them, halting midway to listen, his attention
divided between them and the conflict below. His eyes dwelt awhile on
the Abbess, but settled, as he drew nearer, on Bonne. He desired to
reassure her. "Have no fear, mademoiselle," he said quietly. "Your
brother runs little risk. They were taken by surprise. By this time it
is over."

The Vicomte heard and his lips trembled, but no words came. It was the
Abbess who spoke for him. "And what next?" she asked harshly.

Des Ageaux, still lending an ear to the sounds below, looked at her
with attention, but did not answer.

"What next?" she repeated. "You have entered forcibly. By what right?"

"The right, mademoiselle," he replied, "that every man has to resist a
wrong. The right that every man has to protect women, and to save his
friends. If you desire more than this," he continued, with a change of
tone that answered the challenge of her eyes, "in the King's name,
mademoiselle, and my own!"

"And you are?"

"His Majesty's Lieutenant in Périgord," he answered, bowing. His
attention was fixed on her, yet he was vividly conscious of the colour
that mounted suddenly to Bonne's cheeks, dyed her brows, shone in her

"Of Périgord?" the Abbess repeated in astonishment.

"Of Périgord," he replied, bowing again. "It is true," he continued,
shrugging his shoulders, "that I am a league or two beyond my border,
but great wrongs beget little ones, mademoiselle."

She hated him. As he stood there successful, she hated him. But she
had not found an answer, nor had Bonne stilled the fluttering, half
painful, half pleasant, of her heart, when the tread of returning feet
heralded news. The Bat and two others entered, bearing a lanthorn that
lit up their damp swarthy faces. The first was Roger.

He was wildly excited. "Great news!" he cried, waving his hand. "Great
news! I have downstairs----"

One look from des Ageaux's eyes silenced him. Des Ageaux looked from
him to the Bat. "What have you done?" he asked curtly.

"Taken two unwounded, three wounded," the tall man answered as
briefly. "The others escaped."

"Their horses?"

"We have their horses."

Des Ageaux paused an instant. Then, "You have closed the gates?"

"And set a guard, my lord!" the Bat answered. "We have no wounded,

"The Duke of Joyeuse lies below, and is wounded!" Roger cried in a
breath. He could restrain himself no longer.

If his object was to shatter des Ageaux's indifference, he succeeded
to a marvel. "The Duke of Joyeuse?" the Lieutenant exclaimed in
stupefaction. "Impossible!"

"But no!" Roger retorted. "He is lying below--wounded. It is not

"But he was not--of those?" des Ageaux returned, indicating by a
gesture the men whom they had just expelled. For an instant the notion
that he had attacked and routed friends instead of foes darkened his

"No!" Roger explained fluently--excitement had rid him of his
diffidence. "No! He was the man who rode into the courtyard--but you
have not heard? They were going to maltreat him, and he killed their
leader, Ampoule--that was before you came!" Roger's eyes shone; it was
evident that he had transferred his allegiance.

Des Ageaux's look sought the Bat and asked a question. "There is a
dead man below," the Bat answered. "He had it through the throat."

"And the Duke of Joyeuse?"

"He is there--alone apparently."


The Bat's eyes sought the wall and gazed on it stonily. "There are
more fools than one in the world," he said gruffly.

Des Ageaux pondered an instant. Then, "I will see him," he said. "But
first," he turned courteously to the Vicomte, "I have to provide for
your safety, M. le Vicomte, and that of your family. I can only ensure
it, I fear, by removing you from here. I have not sufficient force to
hold the château, and short of that I see no way of protecting you
from the Captain of Vlaye's resentment."

The Vicomte, who had aged years in the last few days, as the old
sometimes do, sat down weakly on a bed. "Go--from here?" he muttered,
his hands moving nervously on his knees. "From my house?"

"It is necessary."

"Why?" A younger and stronger voice flung the question at des Ageaux.
The Abbess stood forward beside her father. "Why?" she repeated
imperiously. "Why should we go from here--from our own house? Or why
should we fear M. de Vlaye?"

"To the latter question--because he does not lightly forgive,
mademoiselle," des Ageaux replied drily. "To the former because I have
neither men nor means to defend this house. To both, because you have
with you"--he pointed to the Countess--"this lady, whom it is not
consonant with the Vicomte's honour either to abandon or to surrender.
To be plain, M. de Vlaye's plans have been thwarted and his men
routed, and to-morrow's sun will not be an hour high before he takes
the road. To remain here were to abide the utmost of his power;
which," he added drily, "is at present of importance, however it may
stand in a week's time."

She looked at him darkly beautiful, temper and high disdain in her
face. And as she looked there began to take shape in her mind the wish
to destroy him; a wish that even as she looked, in a space of time too
short to be measured by our clumsy methods, became a fixed thought.
Why had he intervened? Who had invited him to intervene? With a
woman's inconsistency she left out of sight the wrong M. de Vlaye
would have done her, she forgot the child-Countess, she overlooked all
except that this man was the enemy of the man she loved. She felt that
but for him all would have been well! But for him--for even that she
laid at his door--and his hostility the Captain of Vlaye had never
been driven to think of that other way of securing his fortunes.

These thoughts passed through her mind in a pause so short that the
listeners scarcely marked it for a pause. Then, "And if we will not
go?" she cried.

"All in the house will go," he replied.


"I shall decide that," he answered coldly. And he turned from her.
Before she could retort he was giving orders, and men were coming and
going and calling to one another, and lights were flitting in all
directions through the house, and all about her was hubbub and stir
and confusion. She saw that resistance was vain. Her father was
passive, her brothers were des Ageaux's most eager ministrants. The
servants were awed into silence, or, like old Solomon, who for once
was mute on the glories of the race, were anxious to escape for their
own sakes.

Then into her hatred of him entered a little of that leaven of fear
which makes hatred active. For amid the confusion he was cool. His
voice was firm, his eye commanded on this side, his hand beckoned on
that, men ran for him. She knew the dread in which M. de Vlaye was
held. But this she saw was not the awe in which men hold him whose
caprice it may be to punish, but the awe in which men stand of him who
is just; whose nature it is out of chaos to create order, and who to
that end will spend himself and all. A man cold of face and something
passionless; even hard, we have seen, when a rope, a bough, and a
villain forced themselves on his attention.

She would not have known him had she seen him leaning over Joyeuse a
few minutes later, while his lean subaltern held a shaded taper on the
other side of the makeshift pallet. The door was locked on them, they
had the room to themselves, and between them the Duke lay in the dead
sleep of exhaustion. "I do not think that we can move him," des Ageaux
muttered, his brow clouded by care.

The Bat, with the light touch of one who had handled many a dying man,
felt the Duke's pulse, without rousing him. "He will bear it," he
said, "in a litter."

"Over that road? Think what a road it is!"

"Needs must!"

"He brought the money, found me gone, and followed," des Ageaux
murmured in a voice softening by feeling. "You think we dare take

"To leave him to the Captain of Vlaye were worse."

"Worse for us," des Ageaux muttered doubtfully. "That is true."

"Worse for all," the Bat grunted. He took liberties in private that
for all the world he would not have had suspected.

Still his master, who had been so firm above-stairs, hung undecided
over the sick man's couch. "M. de Vlaye would not be so foolish as to
harm him," he said.

"He would only pluck him!" the Bat retorted. "And wing us with the
first feather, the Lady Countess with the second, the Crocans with the
third, and the King with the fourth." He stopped. It was a long speech
for him.

Des Ageaux assented. "Yes, he is the master-card," he said slowly. "I
suppose we must take him. But Heavens knows how we shall get him

"Leave that to me!" said the Bat, undertaking more than he knew. Nor
did he guess with whose assistance he was to perform the task.

                             CHAPTER XI.

                       THE CHAPEL BY THE FORD.

It was after midnight, and the young moon had set when they came, a
long procession of riders, to the ford in which des Ageaux had laved
his horse's legs on the evening of his arrival. But the night was
starlight, and behind them the bonfire, which the men had rekindled
that its blaze might aid their preparations, was reflected in a faint
glow above the trees. As they splashed through the shallows the frogs
fell silent, scared by the invasion, but an owl that was mousing on
the slope of the downs between them and the dim lifted horizon
continued its melancholy hooting. The women shivered as the cool air
embraced them, and one here and there, as her horse, deceived by the
waving weeds, set a foot wrong, shrieked low.

But no one hesitated, for the Bat had put fear into them.

He had told them in the fewest possible words that in ninety minutes
M. de Vlaye would be knocking at the gate they left! And how long the
pursuit would tarry after that he left to their imaginations. The
result justified his course; the ford, that in daylight was a terror
to the timid, was passed without demur. One by one their horses
stepped from its dark smooth-sliding water, turned right-handed, and
falling into line set their heads up-stream towards the broken hills
and obscure winding valleys whence the river flowed.

Hampered by the wounded man's litter and the night, they could not
hope to make more than a league in the hour, and with the first
morning light might expect to be overtaken. But des Ageaux considered
that the Captain of Vlaye, ignorant of his force, would not dare to
follow at speed. And in the beginning all went well.

Over smooth turf, they made for half a league good progress, the long
bulk of the chalk hill accompanying them on the left, while on the
right the vague gloom of the wooded valley, teeming with mysterious
rustlings and shrill night cries, drew many a woman's eyes over her
shoulder. But, as the bearers of the litter could only proceed at a
walking pace, the long line of shadowy riders had not progressed far
before a gap appeared in its ranks and insensibly grew wider.
Presently the two bodies were moving a hundred yards apart, and
henceforward the rugged surface of the road, which was such as to
hamper the litter without delaying the riders, quickly augmented the

The Vicomte was mounted on his own grizzled pony, and with his two
daughters and Roger rode at the head of the first party. They had not
proceeded far before Bonne remarked that her sister was missing. She
was sure that the Abbess had been at her side when she crossed the
ford, and for a short time afterwards. Why had she left them? And
where was she?

Not in front, for only the Bat and Charles, who had attached himself
to the veteran, and was drinking in gruff tales of leaguer at his
lips, were in front. Behind, then?

Bonne turned her head and strove to learn. But the light of the stars
and the night--June nights are at no hour quite dark--allowed her to
see only the persons who rode immediately behind her. They were Roger
and the Countess. On their heels came two more--men for certain. The
rest were shadows, bobbing vaguely along, dim one moment, lost the

Presently Charles, also, missed the Abbess, and asked where she was.

Roger could only answer: "To the rear somewhere."

"Learn where she is," Charles returned. "Pass the word back, lad. Ask
who is with her."

Presently, "She is not with us," Roger passed back word. "She is with
the litter, they say. And it has fallen behind. But the Lieutenant is
with it, so that she is safe there."

"She were better here," Charles answered shortly. "She is not wanted
there, I'll be sworn!"

Wanted or not, the Abbess had not put herself where she was without
design. Her passage of arms with des Ageaux had not tended to soften
her feelings. She was now bent on his punishment. The end she knew;
the means were to seek. But with the confidence of a woman who knew
herself beautiful, she doubted not that she would find or create them.
Bitterly, bitterly should he rue the day when he had forced her to
take part against the man she loved. And if she could involve in his
fall this child, this puling girl on whom the Captain of Vlaye had
stooped an eye, not in love or adoration, but solely to escape the
toils in which they were seeking to destroy him--so much the better!
The two were linked inseparably in her mind. The guilt was theirs, the
cunning was theirs, the bait was theirs; and M. de Vlaye's the
misfortune only. So women reason when they love.

If she could effect the ruin of these two, and at the same time save
the man she adored, her triumph would be complete. If--but, alas, in
that word lay the difficulty; nor as she rode with a dark face of
offence had she a notion how to set about her task. But women's wits
are better than their logic. Men spoke in her hearing of the litter
and of the delay it caused, and in a flash the Abbess saw the means
she lacked, and the man she must win. In the litter lay the one and
the other.

For the motives that led des Ageaux to bear it with him at the cost of
trouble, of delay, of danger, were no secret to a quick mind. The man
who lay in it was the key to the situation. She came near to divining
the very phrase--a master-card--which des Ageaux had used to the Bat
in the security of the locked room. A master-card he was; a card that
at all costs must be kept in the Lieutenant's hands, and out of
Vlaye's power.

Therefore, even in this midnight flight they must burden themselves
with his litter. A Duke, a Marshal of France, in favour at Court, and
lord of a fourth of Languedoc, he had but to say the word, and Vlaye
was saved--for this time at any rate. The Duke need but give some
orders, speak to some in power, call on some of those to whom his will
was law, and his _protégé_ would not fall for lack of means. Up to
this point indeed, after a fashion which the Abbess did not
understand--for the man had fallen from the clouds--he was ranged
against her friend. But if he could be put into Vlaye's hands, or
fairly or foully led to take Vlaye's side, then the Captain of Vlaye
would be saved. And if she could effect this, would be saved by her.
By her!

The sweetness of such a revenge only a woman can understand. Her lover
had fancied the Rochechouart's influence necessary to his safety,
and to gain that influence he had been ready to repudiate his love.
What a sweet savour of triumph if she--she whom he was ready to
abandon--could save him by this greater influence, and in the act show
him that a mightier than he was at her feet!

She had heard stories of the Duke's character, which promised well for
her schemes. At the time of her short sojourn at Court, he had but
lately left his cloister, drawn forth by the tragical death of his
brother. He was then entering upon that career of extravagance,
eccentricity, and vice which, along with his reputation for eloquence
and for strange fits of repentance, astonished even the dissolute
circles of the Court. His name and his fame were in all mouths; a man
quick to love, quick to hate, report had it; a man in whom remorse
followed sharp on sin, and sin on remorse. A man easy to win, she
supposed, if a woman were beautiful and knew how to go about it.

Ay, if she knew; but there was the difficulty. For he was no common
man, no man of narrow experience, and the ordinary bait of beauty
might not by itself avail. The Abbess, high as her opinion of her
charm stood, perceived this. She recognised that in the circle; in
which he had moved of late beauty was plentiful, and she bent her wits
to the point. After that she might have been riding in daylight, for
all she saw of her surroundings. She passed through the ford and in
her deep thinking saw it not. The long, dark hill on her left, and the
low woods on her right with their strange night noises, and their
teeming evidences of that tragedy of death which fills the world, did
not exist for her. The gleam of the star-lit river caught her eye, but
failed to reach her brain. And if she fell back slowly and gradually
until she found herself but a few paces before the litter and its
convoy, it was not by design only, but in obedience to a subtle
attraction at work within her.

When her women presently roused her by their complaints that she was
being left behind with the litter, she took it for an omen, and smiled
in the darkness. They, on the contrary, were frightened, nor without
reason. The road they pursued followed the bank of the river; but the
wide vale had been left behind. They had passed into a valley more
strait and gloomy; a winding trough, close pressed by long, hog-shaped
hills, between which the travellers became every moment more deeply
engaged. The stars were fading from the sky, the darkness which comes
before the dawn was on them, and with the darkness a chill.

This change alarmed the women. But it did not terrify them one half as
much as the marked anxiety of the litter-party. More than once des
Ageaux' voice could be heard adjuring the bearers to move faster. More
than once a rider passed between them and the main body, and on each
of these occasions men fell back and took the places of the old
carriers. But still the cry was "Faster! Faster!"

In truth the day was on the point of breaking, and the fugitives were
still little more than two leagues from Villeneuve. At any moment they
might be overtaken, when the danger of an attack would be great, since
the light must reveal the paucity of their numbers. In this pinch even
the Lieutenant's stoicism failed him, and moment by moment he trembled
lest the sound of galloping horses reach his ear. Less than an hour's
riding at speed would place his charges in safety; yet for the sake of
a wounded man he must risk all. No wonder that he cried again,
"Faster, men, faster!" and pressed the porters to their utmost speed.

Soon out of the darkness ahead loomed the Bat. "This will never do, my
lord," he said, reining in his horse beside his leader. He spoke in a
low voice, but the Abbess, a dozen paces ahead, could hear his words,
and even the heavy breathing of the carriers. "To go on at this pace
is to hazard all."

"You must go forward with the main body!" des Ageaux replied shortly.
"Let the women who are with us ride on and join the others, and do
you--but, no, that will not do."

"For certain it will not do!" the Bat answered. "It is I must stay,
for the fault is mine. But for me you would have left him, my lord."

"Do you think we could support him on a horse?"

"It would kill him!" the Bat rejoined. "But it is not two hundred
paces to the chapel by the ford that you remarked this morning. If we
leave him there, and M. de Vlaye finds him, he will be as anxious to
keep life in him as we are. If, on the other hand, M. de Vlaye
overlooks him, we can bring him in to-morrow."

"If it must be," des Ageaux answered reluctantly, "we must leave him.
But we cannot leave him without some assistance. Who will stay with

"_Diable!_" the Bat muttered.

"I will not leave him without some one," des Ageaux repeated firmly.
"Some one must stay."

Out of the darkness came the answer. "I," the Abbess said, "will stay
with him!"

"You, mademoiselle?" in a tone of astonishment.

"I," she repeated, "and my women. I," she continued haughtily, "have
nothing to fear from the Captain of Vlaye or his men."

"And mademoiselle's robe," the Bat muttered with the faintest
suspicion of irony in his tone, "protects her."

Charles, who had joined them with the Bat, thoughtlessly assented. "To
be sure!" he cried. "Let my sister stay! She can stay without danger."

Alone of the three des Ageaux remained silent--pondering. He had seen
enough of the Abbess to suspect that it was not humanity alone which
dictated her offer. Probably she desired to rejoin her admirer. In
that case, did she know enough of the fugitives' plans and strength to
render her defection formidable?

He thought not. At any rate it seemed well to take the chance. He was
taking, he was beginning to see that he was taking a good many
chances. "It seems a good plan, if mademoiselle be indeed willing," he
said. He wished that he could see her face.

"I have said," she replied coldly, "that I am willing."

But her women showed forthwith that they were not. What? Remain in
this wilderness in the dark with a dying man? They would be eaten by
wolves, they would be strangled by witches, they would be ravished by
thieves! Never! And in a trice one was in hysterics, deaf to her
mistress's threats and to the Bat's grim hints. The other, after a
conflict, allowed herself to be browbeaten, and sullenly, and with
tears, yielded. But not until the water of the ford rippled about
their horses' hoofs, and the tiny spark of light that through the open
door beaconed the shallows shone in their eyes.

Had it been day they would have had before them a scene at once wild
and peaceful. On their right, below the ford--which was formed by
the passage of the stream from one side of the narrow valley to the
other--a lofty bluff overhung a black pool. Above the ford, on the
level meadow, and a stone's-throw from the track--if track that could
be called which was not used by a hundred persons in a year--stood a
tiny chapel and cell, which some hermit in past ages had built with
his own hands. The approach of the Crocans had driven his latest
successor from his post; but des Ageaux, passing that way in the day,
had noted the chapel, and with the forethought of the soldier who
expected to return in the dark he had seen the earthen lamp relit. Its
light, he knew, would, in case of need, direct him to the ford.

At present that lamp, a tiny spark in the blackness, was all they saw.
They made for it through the shallows and over a bed of shingle across
which the horses clattered noisily. In haste they reached the door of
the chapel, and there in a trice--for if the thing was to be done it
must be done quickly--they aided the Abbess and the lay sister to
alight, bore in the litter with the wounded man, and closed the door
on all; this last, that the light might no longer be visible from the
ford. Then they, the men, got themselves to horse again, and away at a
round trot.

Not without repugnance on the part of several; not without regret and
misgiving. Des Ageaux's heart smote him as his horse's feet carried
him farther and farther away; it seemed so cowardly a thing to leave
women to bear in that wild and lonely place the brunt of whatever
might befall. And Charles, ready as he had been to acclaim the notion,
wondered if he had erred in leaving his sister thus lightly. But in
truth they were embarked in an enterprise whose full perils it lay
with time to disclose. And other and more pressing anxieties soon had
possession of their minds.

They had been less troubled had they been able to witness the Abbess's
demeanour in her solitude. While her companion, overcome by her fears,
sank down in a fit of hysterical weeping, Odette de Villeneuve
remained standing within the low doorway, and with head erect listened
frowning until the last sound of the horses' hoofs died to the ear.
Then she drew a deep breath, and, turning slowly, she allowed her eyes
to take stock of the place in which she so strangely found herself.

It was a tiny building of rough-hewn stones, with an altar and
crucifix, also of stone, erected at the end remote from the door.
Along either wall ran a stone bench, on one or other of which the good
fathers must have spent many a summer day watching the ford; for at a
certain point the stone was polished and worn by friction. The litter
and the wounded man filled half the open space, leaving visible only a
floor of trodden earth foul with the droppings of birds and sheep, and
betraying in other respects the results of neglect. Here and there on
some stone larger than its fellows, and particularly on the lintel, a
prentice hand had carved symbols; but, this notwithstanding, the whole
wore by the light of the smoky lamp an aspect far from sacred.

Yet the prospect of spending several hours in so poor a place did not
appear to depress the Abbess. Her inspection finished, she nodded an
answer to her thoughts, and sitting down on the bench beside the
litter, rested her elbow on her knee and her chin on her hand, and
fixing her large dark eyes on the wounded man, gave herself up, as
completely as if she had been in her own chamber, to her thoughts.

Her woman, whose complaining, half fractious, half fearful, had sunk
to an occasional sob, presently looked at her, and fascinated by that
gloomy absorption--which might have dealt with the mysteries of the
faith, but turned in fact on the faithlessness of man--she could not
look away. And moments passed; the first pale glimmer of dawn
appeared, and still the two women faced one another across the
insensible man whose heavy breathing, broken from time to time by some
obstruction, was the one sound that vied with the low murmur of the

Suddenly the Abbess lifted her head. Mingled with the water's chatter
was a harsher sound--a sound of rattling stones, of jingling steel
and, a second later, of men's voices. She rose slowly to her feet, and
as the other woman, alarmed by the expression of her features, would
have screamed, she silenced her by a fierce gesture. Then she stood,
her hand resting against the wall beside her, and listened.

She had no doubt that it was he. Her parted lips her eyes, half
fierce, half tender, told as much. It was he, and she had but to open
the door, she had but to show herself in the lighted doorway, and he
would come to her! As the voices of the riders grew, and the rattle of
hoofs among the pebbles ceased, she pictured him abreast of the
hermitage; she fancied, but it must have been fancy, that she could
distinguish his voice. Or no, he would not be speaking. He would be
riding, silent, alone, his hand on his hip, the grey light of morning
falling on his stern face. And at that, at that picture of him, his
deeds and his career, his greatness who had made himself, his firmness
whom no obstacle stayed, rose before her embodied in the solitary
figure riding foremost through the dawn. Her breast rose and fell
tumultuously. The hand that rested on the wall shook. She had only to
open the door, she had only to cry his name aloud, only to show
herself, and he would be at her side! And she would be no longer
against him but with him, no longer would be ranked with his foes--who
were so many--but for him against the world!

The temptation was so strong that her form seemed to droop and sway as
if a physical charm drew her in the direction of the man she loved,
the man to whom, in spite of his faults, or by reason of them, she
clung in the face of defection. But powerful as was the spell laid
upon her, pride--pride and her will proved stronger. She stiffened
herself; for an instant she did not seem to breathe. Nor was it until
the last faint clink of iron died away that she turned feverish eyes
in search of some crevice, some loophole, some fissure, through which
she might yet see him; yet see, if it were but the waving of his

She found none. The only windows, two tiny arrow-slits that had never
known glass, were in the wall remote from the track. On that she set
her teeth to control the moan of disappointment that rose from her
heart; and slowly she sank into her old seat.

But not into her old reverie. The eyes which she bent on the sick man
were no longer dreamy. On the contrary, they were fixed in a gaze of
eager scrutiny that sought to drag from the Duke's pallid features the
secret of his weakness and waywardness, of his strange nature and
bizarre fame. And unconsciously as she gazed, she bent nearer and
nearer to him; her look grew sharper and more imperious. All hung on
him now--all! Her mind was made up. Fortune had not cast him so timely
in her path, fate had not afforded her the opportunity of which she
had dreamed, without intending her to profit by it, without proposing
to crown the scheme with success. The spell of her lover's presence,
the spell that had obsessed her so short a time before that the
interval could be reckoned by seconds, was broken! Never should it be
hers to play that creeping part, to regain him that way, to return to
him tamely, empty-handed, a suppliant for his love! No, not while it
might be hers to return a conqueror, an equal, with a greater than the
Captain of Vlaye in her toils!

She rose to her feet, and tasting triumph in advance, she smiled. With
a firm hand, disregarding her woman's remonstrance, she extinguished
the lamp. The pale light of early morning stole in through the narrow
slits, and then for a brief instant the Abbess held her breath; for
the light falling on the Duke's face so sharpened his thin temples and
nervous features, showed him so livid and wan and death-like, that she
thought him gone. He was not gone, but she acted upon the hint. If he
died, where were her schemes and the clever combinations she had been
forming? Quickly she drew from the litter a flagon of broth that had
been mixed with a cunning cordial; and first moistening his lips with
the liquor, by-and-by she contrived to make him swallow some. In the
act he opened his eyes, and they were clear and sensible; but it was
only to close them again with a sigh, half of satisfaction, half of
weakness. Nevertheless, from this time his state was rather one of
sleep, the sleep craved by exhausted nature, than of insensibility or
fever, and with every hour the forces of his youth and constitution
wrought at the task of restoration.

Odette, brooding over him, watched with satisfaction the return of a
more healthy colour to his cheeks. Time passed, and presently, while
the light was still cold and young, there came an interruption. A
murmur of voices, and the jingle of spur and bit, warned her that M.
de Vlaye, baffled in his attempt to cut off the fugitives before they
found refuge, was returning through the valley. This time, how
different were her sensations. She started to her feet and listened,
and her face grew hard, but under pressure of suspense, not of desire.
Suspense--for if they turned aside, if they entered the deserted
chapel and discovered her, her plan--and her very soul was now set on
its success--perished still-born.

It was a trying moment, but it passed. Probably Vlaye knew the chapel
of old, and knew that the good father had fled from it. At any rate he
passed by it, and rode on his way. She heard the trampling of the
horses break the singing of the ford; and then she heard only the
murmur of the water and the morning hymn of a lark that, startled by
the passage of the riders, soared above the glen, and with the
sunshine on its throbbing breast, hailed the warm rising of another

Whether the lark's song appealed to the softer strain in her, or
she began to hate the sordid interior with its grey half-light, the
moment she was sure that the riders had gone on their way she opened
the door and went out. The sun was peeping into the valley and all
nature was astir. The laughing waters of the ford, the steep bluff,
darksome by night, now clad in waving tree-tops, the floor of meadow
emerald-green, all reflected the brightness of a sky in which not one
but half a dozen songsters trilled forth the joy of life. After the
gloom, the vigil, the danger of the night, the scene appealed to her
strongly; and for a brief time, while she stood gazing on the vale
unmarred by human works or human presence, she felt a compunction;
such a feeling as in a similar scene invades the breast of the veteran
hunter, and whispers to him that to carry death into the haunts of
nature is but a sorry task.

A feeling as quickly suppressed in the one case as in the other. A few
minutes later the Abbess appeared in the doorway, and beckoned to the
woman to join her outside.

"Give me your hood and veil," she said in a tone that forestalled
demur. "And I need your outer robe! Don't stare, woman!" she continued
fiercely. "Is there any one to see you? Can the hills hurt you? Obey.
It is my pleasure to wear the dress of the order, and I have it not
with me!"

"But, madam----"

"Obey, woman, and take my cloak!" the Abbess retorted. "Wrap yourself
in that!" And when the change was made, and she had assumed over her
dress the loose black and white robe of the order, "Now wait for me
here," she said. "And if he call, as is possible, do not go to him,
but fetch me!"

She departed towards the pool below the ford, and, disappearing behind
a clump of low willows, made, using the still water for a mirror, some
further changes in her toilet.

Not fruitlessly, for when she returned to the door of the chapel, the
woman who awaited her stared, thinking that she had never seen her
mistress show fairer in her silks than in this black and white, which
she so seldom favoured. And soon there was another who thought--if not
that thought, a similar one. The Duke, opening on the glory of
sunshine and summer warmth, the eyes that had so nearly closed for
good, saw at the foot of his litter a wondrous figure kneeling before
the altar.

The face of the figure was turned from him, and for a time, between
sleeping and waking, he considered her idly, supposing her now an
angel interceding for him in the other life on which he had entered,
now a nun praying beside his bier; for he took it for certain he was
dead. By-and-by he passed over to the theory of the angel, for the
figure moved, and the sunlight passing in through a tiny window-slit
formed a nimbus about her head. And then again, moving afresh, as in
an ecstacy of devotion, she lifted her eyes to the crucifix, and the
hood falling back with the movement revealed a profile of a beauty and
purity almost unearthly.

The Duke sighed. He had sighed before, but apparently, for the sigh
had not changed her rapt expression, she had not heard. Now she did
hear. She rose, and with a deep genuflection turned from the altar,
and glided with downcast eyes to his side. Eyes softened to the
meekness of a dove's looked into his, and found that he was awake.
Then, angel or saint, or whatever she was, she made a sign to him not
to speak; and producing, by magic as it seemed, ambrosial food, she
fed him, and with a finger on his lip bade him in gentle accents,

Sleep? To think he could sleep when an angel--and while he laughed in
ridicule of the notion he slept, that heavenly face framed in its
nun's hood, that drooping form with the hands crossed upon the breast
moving before him into the land of visions. He was back again in those
earliest days of his cloistered existence, when to live in an
atmosphere, pure and apart, innocent of the passions and desires of
the world, had been his dream. He had learned--only too soon--that
that atmosphere and that innocence were not to be maintained, though
the walls of a monastery be ten feet through. For the nature which the
thought of such a life had charmed was of all natures the one most
open to worldly fascinations. He had fallen; and he had presently
replaced the vision of being good by the enthusiasm of doing good. He
had lifted his voice, and the preaching of Père Ange had moved half
Paris to a twenty-four hours' repentance. His own had lasted a little

Now, weak and unnerved, he reverted at sight of this beautiful nun's
face to his old visions of a saintly life; and in innocent adoration
he dreamt of naught but her countenance. When he awoke again and found
her still at her devotions, though the sun was high, still at his
service when she found him waking, still moving dovelike and silent
about her ministrations--he watched her everywhere. Several times he
wished to speak, but she laid a finger on her lips, and covering her
hands with her sleeves, sat on the bench beside him, reading her book
of hours. And so during the hazy period of his return to consciousness
he saw her. Awake or drowsing, stung to life by the smart of his hurt
or lulled to sleep by the music of the stream, he had her face always
before him.

At length there came a time, a little before high noon, when he awoke
with a clearer eye and a mind capable of feeling surprise at his
position. He saw her sitting beside him, but he saw also the rough
grey walls, the altar, the crucifix; and to wonder succeeded
curiosity. What had happened, and how came he there? His eyes sought
her face and remained riveted to it.

"Where am I?" he whispered.

She marked that his eyes were clear and his strength greater, and,
"You are in the chapel in the upper valley of the Dronne," she

"But I----" He stopped and closed his eyes, brought up by some
confusion in his thoughts. At last, "I fancied I fought with some
one," he whispered. "It was in a courtyard--at night? And there were
lights? It was one of Vlaye's men, and the place was----" He broke off
in the painful effort to remember. His lips moved without sound.

"Villeneuve," she said.

"Villeneuve," he whispered gratefully. "But this is not Villeneuve?"

"We are two leagues from Villeneuve."

"How come I here?"

She told him, preserving the gentle placidity which, not without
thought, she had adopted for her _rôle_. The repulse of Vlaye's men
and the Lieutenant's decision to quit the château, that and the night
retreat up to the arrival of the party at the ford--all were told.
Then she broke off.

"But des Ageaux?" he murmured. "Where is he?" And again, that he might
look round him, he tried to rise. "Where are they all?" he continued
in wonder. "They have not left me?" with a querulous note in his

"They are not here," she answered. And gently she induced him to lie
back again. "Be still, I pray," she said. "Be still. You do yourself
no good by moving."

He sighed. "Where are they?" he persisted.

"We were hard pressed at the ford," she answered with feigned
reluctance. "And your litter delayed them. It was necessary to leave
you or all had been lost."

He lay in silence awhile with closed eyes, considering what she had
told him. At last, "And you stayed?" he murmured in so low a voice
that the words were barely audible. "You stayed!"

"It was necessary," she answered.

"And you have been beside me all night?"

She bowed her head.

His eyes filled with tears, and his lips trembled, for he was very
weak. He groped for her hand, and would have carried it to his lips,
but as men kiss relics or the hands of saints--if she had not withheld
it from him. Settling the thin coverings more comfortably round him,
she gave him to drink again, softly chiding him and bidding him be
silent--be silent and sleep.

But, "You have been beside me all night!" he repeated. "All night,
alone here, and a woman! A woman!"

She did not tell him that she was not alone; that her woman was even
then sitting outside, under strict orders not to show herself. For now
she was assured that she was in the right path. She had had
opportunities of studying his countenance while he slept, and she had
traced in it those qualities of enthusiasm and weakness, of the
libertine and the ascetic, which his career so remarkably displayed.
The beauty which in ordinary circumstances his jaded eye, versed in
woman's wiles, might neglect, would appeal with irresistible force in
a garb of saintliness. Nay, more; as he recovered his strength and
returned to his common feelings, it would prove, she felt sure, more
provocative than the most worldly lures. Her resolve to carry the
matter through was now fixed and immutable: and with her eye on the
goal, she neglected no precaution that occurred to her mind.

                             CHAPTER XII.

                         THE PEASANTS' CAMP.

Something after high noon des Ageaux appeared and, whatever the
Abbess's feelings, he was overjoyed to find the three undisturbed. He
despatched a flying party down the valley that he might have notice if
the enemy approached, and then he bent himself to remove the Duke in
safety to his camp. In this the Abbess had her own line to take, and
took it with decision. She represented the patient as worse than he
was, described the fever as still lingering upon him, and using the
authority which her devotion of the night gave her, she insisted that
the Duke should see no one. A kind of shelter from the sun was woven
of boughs, and placed over the litter. He was then lifted and borne
out with care, the Abbess walking on one side, and her woman on the
other. In the open air des Ageaux would have approached and spoken to
him, for between gratitude and remorse the Lieutenant was much
touched. But the authority of the sick-nurse was great then as it is
now. The Abbess repelled him firmly, and, refusing the horse which had
been brought for her, she persisted in walking the whole distance to
the camp--a full league--by the side of the litter. In this way she
fenced others off, and the Duke had her always before him. Always the
opening at the side of the litter framed her face.

She gave her mind so completely to him that she took no note of their
route, save that they kept the valley, which preserving its flat
bottom now ran between hills of a wilder aspect. It was only when the
troopers, at a word from the Lieutenant, closed in about the litter,
that she observed--though it had been some time in sight--the object
which caused the movement. This was a small hill-town, girt by a
ruinous wall, and buckled with crazy towers, which topped an acclivity
on the right of the valley, and commanded the road. The suspicion with
which her escort regarded the place did not surprise her when she
remarked the filthy forms and wild and savage faces which swarmed upon
the wall. There were women and children as well as men in the place,
and all, ragged and half naked, mopped and mowed at the passers, or,
leaping to their feet, defied them with unspeakable words and

The Abbess looked at them with daunted eyes. There was something
inhuman in their squalor and wildness. "Who are they?" she asked.

"Crocans," the nearest rider answered.

"But we are not going to them?" she returned in astonishment. She had
heard that they were bound for the peasants' camp, and her lip had
curled at the information. But if these were Crocans--horror!

The man spat on the ground. "That is one band, and ours is another,"
he replied. "All canaille, but--not all like that, or we had some
strange bed-fellows indeed!"

He would have said more, but he caught the Lieutenant's eye, and was
silent and five minutes later the Abbess saw a strange sight. The
riders before her wheeled to the left, and, bending low in their
saddles, vanished bodily in the rock that walled the road on that

A moment later she probed the mystery. In the rock wall which fenced
the track on the left, as the river fenced it on the right, was an
arched opening, resembling the mouth of a cave--of one of those caves
so common in the Limousin. Within was no cave, however, but a spacious
circus of smooth green turf open to the heaven, though walled on every
side by grassy slopes which ran steeply to a height of a hundred feet.
There was no entrance to the basin, but neither its defensible
strength, nor the wisdom of the Crocans in choosing it, was apparent
until the green rampart cast about it by nature was examined and found
to be so scarped on the outer side as to form here a sheer precipice,
there a descent trying to the most active foot.

A spring near the inner margin of this natural amphitheatre fed a
rivulet which, after passing across it, and dividing it into two
unequal parts, escaped to the river through the rocky gateway.

The smaller portion of the sward thus divided, a portion raised very
slightly above the rest, had something of the aspect of a stage on a
great scale. About its middle a flat-topped rock rising to a man's
height from the ground had the air of an altar, and this was shaded by
the only tree in the enclosure, a single plane-tree of vast size,
which darkened with its ancient smooth-barked limbs a half-acre of
ground. Probably this rock and this tree had witnessed the meetings of
some primitive people, had borne part in their human sacrifices, and
echoed the cries with which they acclaimed the moment of the summer

To-day this basin, long abandoned to the solitude of the hills,
presented once more a scene of turmoil, such as for strangeness might
rival the gatherings of that remote age. Nor, save for a circumstance
presently to be named, could even the Abbess's sullen curiosity have
withheld a meed of admiration as the panorama unfolded itself before

Round the edge of the larger half of the amphitheatre ran a long
line--in parts double and treble, of booths open at the front, and
formed, some of branches of trees, some of plaited rushes or osier.
Under these, swarms of men, women, and children lounged in every
posture, while others strolled about the ground before the sheds,
which, crowded with sheep, oxen and horses, wore the aspect of a
rustic fair. The turf that had been so fair a fortnight before was
trodden bare in places, and in others poached and stained by the
crowds that moved on it. Only the immediate bank of the rivulet had
been kept clear.

The smaller portion of the sward had been given up to des Ageaux and
his band of troopers and refugees. A dozen horses tethered in an
orderly row at the rear of the plane-tree, with a pile of gear at the
head of each, spoke of military order, as did the three or four booths
which had been erected for the accommodation of the Vicomte's party.
But as in such a place and under such circumstances it was impossible
to enforce strict discipline, the curious among the peasants, and not
men only, but women and children, roved in small parties on this side
also, staring and questioning; some with furtive eyes as expecting a
trap and treachery, others watching in clownish amazement the
evolutions of a picked band of three score peasants whom the Bat was
beginning to instruct in the use of their weapons and in the simplest
movements of the field. Here and there on the steep slopes about the
saucer were groups of peasants; and on the top of the ridge, which was
forbidden to the crowd, were five sentinels, stationed beside as many
cairns of stones piled for the purpose at fixed distances from one
another. These were of the Lieutenant's institution, for though the
safety of the camp hung wholly on the command of its natural
battlement, which captured would convert the basin into a death-trap,
the Crocans had kept no regular guard on it. He on his arrival had
entrusted its oversight to the two young Villeneuves, and one or the
other was ever patrolling the length of the vallum, or from the
highest point searching the chaos of uninhabited hills and glens that
stretched on every side.

This hasty sketch of the scene leaves to be fancied those worst traits
of the camp, of its wildness and savagery, that could not fail to
disquiet the mind even of a bold woman. Many of the peasants were half
naked, others were clad in cow-skins, in motley armour, in sordid,
blood-stained finery. All went unshaven, and many had long, filthy
elf-locks hanging about their faces, and ragged beards reaching to
their girdles. Some had squalid bandages on head or limb, and all were
armed grotesquely with bill-hooks or scythes, or with stakes pointed
and hardened in the fire, or with knotty clubs. M. de Vlaye and his
kind would have seen in them only a horde to be exterminated without
pity or remorse. Nor could their looks have failed to startle the
Abbess, high as was her natural courage--if a thing had not at the
very entrance engaged her attention.

For there, under the archway, a group of six men sat on their hams,
their backs against the rock. And these were so foul in garb, and
repulsive in aspect, that the common peasants of the camp seemed by
comparison civilised. The Abbess shuddered at the mere look of them,
and would have averted her eyes if they had not, as des Ageaux
entered, risen and barred the way. The foremost, a tall, meagre figure
with a long white beard, and the gleam of madness in his eyes, seized
the Lieutenant's bridle and raising his other hand seemed to forbid
his entrance. "Give us," he cried in a strange patois, "our man! Our

The Abbess expected des Ageaux to strike him from his path, or bid his
men ride him down. But the Lieutenant considered with patience the
strange figure clad much as John the Baptist is portrayed in pictures,
and when he answered he spoke calmly. "You are from the town on the
hill?" he said.

"Ay, and we claim our man!"

"The man, you mean, whom we took from your hands last night?"

"Ay, that man!"

"For what?"

"That we may burn him," the savage answered, his face lit up by a
gleam of frightful cruelty. "That we may do to him as he has done to
us and our little ones. That we may burn him as he and his have burned
us, from father to son, father to son, by the light of our own thatch.
They have smoked us in our holes," he continued with ferocity, "as
they smoke foxes; and we will smoke him. He has done to us that! And
that!" He turned, and at a sign two of his five fellows stepped
forward and held aloft the maimed and ghastly stumps of their arms.
"And that! And that!" Again two stepped forward and pointed to their
eyeless sockets. "And what he has done to us we will do to him!"

The Abbess turned sick at the sight. But des Ageaux answered with
quietness. "Yet what has he done to you, old man," he asked, "that you
stand foremost?"

"He has blinded me there!" the madman answered, and with a strangely
dramatic gesture pointed to his brow. "I am dark at times, and boys
mock me! But to-day I am whole and well!"

"I will not give him up to you!" the Lieutenant replied with calm
decision. "But if he has done the things of which you tell me, I will
judge him myself and punish him. Nay"--staying them sternly as they
began to cry out upon him, "listen to me now! I have listened to you.
For all who come in to me, and cease from pillage, and burning, and
murder. I give my warrant that the past shall be overlooked. They
shall be free to go back to their villages, or if they dare not go
back they shall be settled elsewhere, with pardon for life and limb.
But for those who do not come in, the burden of all will fall upon
them! The law will pass upon them without mercy, and their gibbets
will be on every road!"

"Not so!" the other cried, raising himself to his full height and
flinging his lean arms to heaven. "Not so, lord, for the time is full!
Hear me, too, man of blood. We know you. You speak softly because the
time is full, and you would fain cast in your lot with us and escape.
But you are of those who ride in blood, and who trust in the strength
of your armour, and who eat of the fat and drink of the strong, while
the poor man perishes under the feet of your horses, while the earth
groans under the load of your wickedness, and God is mocked. But the
time is full, and there comes an end of your gyves and your gibbets,
your wheels and your molten lead! The fire is kindled that shall burn
you. Is there one of you for ten of us? Can your horses bear you
through the sea when the fire fills all the land? Nay, three months
have we burned all ways, and no man has been able to withstand our
fire! For it grows! It grows!"

The fierce murmurings of the madman's fellows almost drowned des
Ageaux' voice when he went to answer. "Your blood be on your own
heads!" he said solemnly. "I have spoken you fairly, I have given you
the choice of good and of evil."

"Nought but evil," the other cried, "can proceed out of your mouth!
Now give us our man!"


"Then will we burn you for him," the madman shrieked, in sudden
frenzy, "when you fall into our hands. You and these--women with
breasts of flint and hearts of the rock-core, who bathe in the blood
of our infants, and make a holiday of our torments! Beware, for when
next we meet, you die!"

"Be it so!" des Ageaux replied, sternly restraining his men, who would
have fallen on the hideous group. "But begone!"

They turned away, mopping and mowing--one was a leper--and lifting
hands of imprecation. And the Abbess, while the litter was being
lifted, was left for a moment with des Ageaux. She hated him, but she
did not understand him; and it was the desire to understand him that
led her to speak.

"Why did you not seize the wretches," she asked, "and punish them?"

"Their turn will come," he replied coldly. "I would have saved them if
I could."

"Saved them?" she exclaimed. "Why?"

"Who knows what they have suffered to bring them to this?"

She laughed in scorn of his weakness--who fancied himself a match for
the Captain of Vlaye! His cold words, his even manner, had somewhat
deceived her. But now she saw that he was a fool, a fool. She saw that
if she detached Joyeuse there was nothing in this man M. de Vlaye need

She left him then. She had had no sleep the previous night, and loth
as she was to lose sight of the Duke or to give another the chance of
supplanting her, she knew that she must rest. So weary was she after
she had eaten that the rough couch in the hut set apart for her--her
women after the mode of the day slept across the door or where they
could--might have been a chamber in the heart of some guarded palace
instead of a nook sheltered from curious eyes only by a wall of
boughs. She had that healthiness which makes nerves and even
conscience superfluous, and could not anywhere have slept better or
been less aware of the wild life about her. The slow tramp of armed
men, the voices of the watch upon the earth-wall, that to waking ears
told of danger and suspicion--these were no more to her in her fatigue
than the silent march of the summer stars across the sky.

When she awoke on the following morning, refreshed and full of energy,
the sun was an hour high, and the peasants' camp was astir. In one
place the Bat was drilling his three score men as if he had never
ceased; in another food was being apportioned, and forage assigned.
Neither des Ageaux nor her brothers were visible, but hard by her door
the Vicomte, attended by Bonne and Solomon, sat with a hand on either
knee, and gazed piteously on the abnormal scene.

The uppermost feeling in the old man's mind was a querulous wonder;
first that he had allowed himself to be dragged from his house,
secondly that, even since Coutras, things were suffered to come to
this pass. How things had come to this, why his life and home had been
broken up, why he had had no voice in the matter, and why his sons,
even crooked-back Roger, went, and came, and ordered, without so much
as a _by your leave_ or an _if you please_--these were points that by
turns puzzled and enraged him, and in the consideration of which he
found no comfort so great as that which Solomon assiduously

"Ah!" the old servant remarked more than once, as he surveyed with a
jaundiced eye the crowded camp beyond the rivulet, "they are full of
themselves! But I mind the day--it was when you entertained the
Governors, my lord--when they'd have looked a few beside the servants
we had to supper in the courtyard! A few they'd look. I'd sixty-two
men, all men of their hands, and not naked gipsies like these, to my
own table!"

Which was true; but Solomon forgot to add that it was the only table.

"Ay!" the Vicomte said, pleased, though he knew that Solomon was
lying. "Times are changed."

"Since Coutras--devil take them!" Solomon rejoined, wagging his beard.
"There were men then. 'Twas a word and a blow, and if we didn't run
fast enough it was to the bilboes with us, and we smarted. Your
lordship remembers. But now, Heaven help us," he continued with
growing despondency as his eye alighted on des Ageaux, who had just
appeared in the distance, "the men might be women! Might be women, and
mealy-mouthed at that!"

The Vicomte laughed an elderly cackling laugh. "You didn't think, man,
that the Villeneuves would come to this?" he said.

"Never! And would no wise ha' believed it!"

"Who were once masters of all from Barbesieux to Vlaye!"

"And many a mile further!" Solomon cried, leaping on the proffered
hobby. "There were the twenty manors of Passirac"--he began to count
on his hands. "And the farms of Perneuil, more than I have fingers and
toes. And the twenty manors of Corde, and the great mill there--the
five wind-mills of Passirac I don't think worth mentioning, though
they would make many a younger son a portion. Then the Abbey lands of
Vlaye, and the great mill there that took in toll as much as would
keep a vicomte of these times, saving your lordship's presence. And
then at Brenan----"

Bonne, listening idly, heard so much. Then the Abbess, who, unnoticed,
had joined the group, touched her elbow, and muttered in her ear: "Do
you see?"

"What?" Bonne asked innocently.

The Abbess raised her hand. "Why he has dragged us all here," she

Bonne followed the direction of her sister's hand, and slowly the
colour mounted to her cheeks. But, "Why?" she asked, "I don't

"You don't understand," Odette answered, "don't you? It is plain
enough--for the blind." And she pointed again to the Lieutenant, who
was standing at same distance from the group in close talk with the
Countess. "The Lieutenant of Périgord is a great man while the King
pleases, and when the King no longer pleases is an adventurer like
another! A broken officer living at ordinaries," with a sneer, "at
other men's charges. Such another as the creature they call the Bat!
No better and no worse! But the Lieutenant of Périgord with the lands
and lordships of Rochechouart were another and a different person. And
none sees that more clearly than the Lieutenant of Périgord. He has
made his opportunity, and he is not going to waste it. He has brought
her here, and not for nothing."

Bonne had an easy retort. "At least he is not the first to see his
interest there!" lay ready to her tongue. But she did not utter it.
She was silent. Her colour fluttered, as the tender, weakling hope
that she had been harbouring, for a few hours, died within her. Of
course she should have known it! The prize that had attracted the
Captain of Vlaye, the charm that had ousted her handsome sister from
his heart--was it likely that M. des Ageaux would be proof against
these--proof against them when she herself had no prior claim nor such
counter-claims as beauty and brilliance? When she was but plain,
homely, and country-bred, as her father often told her? She had been
foolish; foolish in harbouring the unmaidenly hope, the forward
thought; foolish now in feeling so sharp and numbing a pain.

But perhaps most foolish in her inability to await his coming. For he
and the little Countess were approaching the group, at a slow pace;
the girl talking with an animation that showed she had quite forgotten
her shyness. Bonne marked the manner, the smile, the confiding upward
look, the lifted hand; and she muttered something, and escaped before
the two came within earshot.

She wanted to be alone, quite alone, to have this out with herself;
and she made for a tiny cup in the hillside, hidden from the camp by
the thick branches of the plane-tree. She had discovered it the day
before, but when she gained it now, there in the hollow sat Roger,
looking down on the scene below.

He nodded as if he were not in the best of tempers; which was strange,
for he had been in high spirits an hour before. She sat down beside
him, having no choice, but some minutes elapsed before he opened his
mouth. Then, "Lord," he exclaimed, with something between a groan and
a laugh, "what a fool a man can be!"

She did not answer; perhaps for the word "man" she was substituting
the word "woman." He moved irritably in his seat. "Hang it!" he
exclaimed. "Say something, Bonne! Of course it seems funny to you that
because she thanked me prettily the day I tried to cover her retreat
to the house and--and because she talked to me the night before last
as we rode--as if she liked it, I mean--I should forget who she is!"

"Who she is," Bonne repeated quietly, thinking of some one else who
had forgotten.

"And who I am!" he answered. "As if the Vicomte had not ground it into
me enough! If I were Charles, she would still be--who she is, and meat
for my master. But as I am what I am," he laughed ruefully, "would you
have thought I could be such a fool, Bonne?"

"Poor Roger," she said gently.

"She clung to me that day, when I ran with her. But, dash it"--rubbing
his head--"I must not think of it. I suppose she would have clung to
old Solomon just the same!"

"I am afraid so!" Bonne said, smiling faintly. It was certain that she
had not clung to any one. Yet there were analogies.

"I suppose you--you saw them just now?"

"Yes, I saw them."

"She never talked to me like that! Why should she--a thing like me."
Poor Roger! "I knew the moment I cast eyes on them. You did, too, I

"Yes," she answered.

Perhaps Roger had hoped in his heart for a different reply, for he
stared gloomily at the swarming huts visible above the tree. And
finally, "There is Charles," he said, "walking the ridge--against the
sky-line there! Why cannot I be like him, as happy as a king, with my
head full of battles and sieges, and the Bat more to me than any woman
in the world! Why cannot I? With such a pair of shoulders as I have--"

"Dear lad!"

"I should be in his shoes and he in mine! Lord, what a fool!" with
gloomy unction. "What a fool! I must needs think of _her_ when a
peasant girl would not look at me. I must needs think of the Countess
of Rochechouart! Oh, Lord, as if I had anything to give her! Or aught
I could do for her!"

Bonne did not reply on the instant, But presently, "There is something
you can do for her," she ventured. "It is not much, but----"

"What?" he said. "I know nothing."

"You can help him."


"The mouse helped the lion. You can help him and be at his side, and
guard him in danger--for her sake. Just as," Bonne continued, her
voice sinking a little, "if you were a girl, and--and felt for him as
you feel for her, you could watch over her and protect her and keep
her safe--for his sake. Though it would be harder for a woman, because
women are jealous," Bonne added thoughtfully.

"And men too!" Roger rejoined from the depths of his small experience.
"All the same I will do it. And I am glad it is he. He won't beat her,
or shut her up and leave her in some lonely house as Court people do.
I believe," he continued gloomily, "I'd as soon it was he as any one."

Bonne nodded. "That is agreed then," she said softly, though a moment
before she had sighed.

"Agreed?" rather grumpily. "Well, if one person can agree, it is!" And
then, thinking he had spoken thanklessly to the sister who had been
his friend and consoler in many a dark hour when the shadow of his
deformity had hidden the sun, he laid his hand on hers and pressed it.
"Well, agreed it is!" he said more brightly. "They came from their
outside world to our poor little life, and we must help them back
again, I suppose. I would not wish them ill, if--if it would make me
straight again."

"That is a big bribe," she said, smiling. "But neither would I--if it
would make me as handsome as Odette!"


They sat silent then. Far away on their left, where lay the entrance
to the camp from the river gorge, men were piling stones under the
archway, so as to leave but a narrow passage. Below them on the right
the Bat was drilling his pikemen, and alternately launching his lank
form this way and that in a fever of impatience. On the sky-line men
were pacing to and fro, searching with keen eyes the misty distance of
glen and hill; and ever and anon the squeal of a war-horse rang above
the multitudinous sounds of the camp. On every side, wherever the eye
rested, it discovered signs of strife and turmoil, harbingers of pain
and death.

But though the two who looked down on the scene neither knew it nor
thought of it, with them in their little hollow was a power mightier
than any, the power that in its highest form does indeed make the
world go round; the one power in the world that is above fortune,
above death, above the creeds--or, shall we say, behind them. For with
them was love in its highest form, the love that gives and does not
ask, and being denied--loves. In their clear moments men know that
this love is the only real thing in the world; and a thousand times
more substantial, more existent, than the objects we grasp and see.

                            CHAPTER XIII.


There is born of the enthusiasm of self-denial a happiness that while
the fervour lasts seems all-sufficing. The skirmish that has routed
the van of jealousy stands for the battle; nor does the victor foresee
that with the fall of night the enemy will flock again to the attack,
and by many an insidious onset strive to change the fortune of the

Still once to have felt the generous impulse, once to have trodden
self underfoot and risen god-like above the baser thoughts, is
something. And if Bonne and her brother were destined to find the
victory less complete than they thought, if they were to know moments
when the worst in them raised its head, they were but as the best of
us. And again--a reflection somewhat more humorous--had these two been
able to read the mind of the man of whom each was thinking, they had
met with so curious an enlightenment that they had hardly been able to
look at one another. To say that des Ageaux entertained no tender
feeling for any one were to say more than the truth; for during the
last few days a weakness had crept unwelcome and unbidden into his
heart. But he kept it sternly in the background--he who had naught to
do with such things--and it did not tend in the direction of the
Countess. In point of fact the Lieutenant had other and more serious
food for thought; other and more pressing anxieties than love.
Forty-eight hours had disclosed the weakness of the position in which
he had chosen to place himself. He foresaw, if not the certainty, the
probability of defeat. And defeat in the situation he had taken up
might be attended by hideous consequences.

These were not slow to cast their shadows. The two on the hill had not
sat long in silent companionship before the sounds which rose from the
camp began to take a sterner note. Roger was the first to mark the
change. Rousing himself and shaking off his lugubrious mood, "What is
that?" the lad asked. "Do you hear, Bonne? It sounds like trouble

"Trouble?" she repeated, still half in dreams.

"Yes, by Jove, but--listen! And what has become"--he was on his feet
by this time--"of the Bat's ragged regiment? They have vanished."

"They must be behind the tree," Bonne answered. And moved by the same
impulse they walked a little aside along the slope until they could
see the section of the camp immediately below them, which had been
hidden hitherto by the branches of the great plane-tree.

The little group which Bonne had left when her feelings compelled her
to flight remained in the same place. But all who formed it, the
Vicomte and his eldest daughter as well as des Ageaux and the
Countess, were now on their feet. The Vicomte and the ladies stood
together in the background, while des Ageaux, who had placed himself
before them, confronted an excited body of men, some hundred in
number, and composed in part at least of those whom the Bat had been
lately drilling. Whether these had broken from his control and
gathered their fellows as they moved, or the impulse had come from
outside and they were but recruits, their presence rendered the
movement more formidable. They were not indeed of so low and savage a
type as the creatures who had met des Ageaux in the gate the previous
day, but viewed in this serried mass, their lowering brutish faces and
clenched hands called up a vivid sense of danger. They must have made
some outcry as they approached, or Roger had not noticed their
assemblage. But now they were fallen silent. A grim mass of scowling,
hard-breathing men, then small suspicious eyes glaring through tangled
locks irresistibly reminded the observer of that quarry the most
dangerous of all the beasts of chase, the wild boar.

Bonne's colour faded as her eyes took in the meaning of the scene. She
grew still paler as her brain pictured for the first time the things
that might happen in this camp of clowns of whose real sentiments the
intruders had so little knowledge, at whose possible treachery it was
so easy to guess. Time has not wiped, time never will wipe from the
French memory the fear of a Jacquerie. The horrors of that hideous
revolt, of its rise and its suppression are stamped on the minds of
the unborn. "What is it?" she repeated more than once, her heart
fluttering. How very, very near he stood--on whom all depended--to the
line of scowling men!

"A mutiny, I fear!" Roger answered hastily. "Come!" And, with face
slightly flushed, he hurried, running and sliding down the slope.

She was not three paces behind him when he reached the foot. Here they
lost sight of the scene, but quickly passed between two huts and
reached the Vicomte's side. Des Ageaux was speaking.

"I cannot give you the man," he was saying, "but I can give you

"Justice?" the spokesman of the peasants retorted bitterly--he wore
the dress of a smith, and belonged to that craft. "Who ever heard but
of one sort of justice for the poor man? Justice, Sir Governor, is the
poor man's right to be hung! The poor man's right to be scourged! The
poor man's right to be broken on the wheel! To see his hut burned and
his wife borne off! That is the justice"--rudely--"the poor man gets--
be it high or low, king's or lord's!"

"Ay, ay!" the stern chorus rose from a hundred throats behind him,
"that is the poor man's justice!"

"It is to put an end to such things I am here!" des Ageaux replied,
marking with a watchful eye the faces before him. He was far from
easy, but he had handled men of their kind before, and thought that he
knew them.

"There was never a beginning of such things, and there will never be
an end!" the smith returned, the hopelessness of a thousand years of
wrong in his words. "Never! But give us this man--he has done all
these things, he and his master, and we will believe you."

"I cannot give him to you," des Ageaux answered. The same prisoner,
one of Vlaye's followers, was in question whom the Old Crocans had
yesterday required to be given up to them. "But I have told you and I
tell you again," the Lieutenant continued, reading mischief in the
men's faces, "that you shall have justice. If this man has wronged you
and you can prove it----"

"If!" the peasant cried, and baring his right arm he raised his
clenched fist to heaven.

But the Lieutenant went on as if the man had not spoken. "If you can
prove these things upon him by witnesses here present----"

"You will give him to us?"

"No, I will not do that!"

"You will give him to us!" the smith repeated, refusing to hear the
denial. And all along the line of scowling faces--the line that
wavered ominously at moments of emotion as if it would break about the
little group--ran a swift gleam of white teeth.

But des Ageaux did not blench. He raised his hand for silence, and his
voice was steady as a rock as he made answer. "No," he said, "I will
not give him to you. He belongs neither to me nor to you, but to God
and the King, whose is justice."

"To God!" the other snarled, "whose is justice! Rather, whose servants
hold the lamb that the devils may flay it! And for the King, Sir
Governor, a fig for him! Our own hands are worth a dozen kings!"

"Stay!" The line was swaying; in the nick of time des Ageaux' voice,
and perhaps something in his eye, stayed it. "Listen to me one
moment," he continued. "To-morrow morning--for I have not
time to-day--the man you accuse shall be tried. If he be guilty,
before noon he shall die. If he be not guilty, he shall go!"

A murmur of protest.

But des Ageaux raised his head higher and spoke more sternly. "He
shall go!" he repeated--and for the moment he mastered them. "If he be
innocent he shall go! What more do you claim? To what beyond have you
a right? And now," he continued, as he saw them pause angry but
undecided, "for yourselves! I have told you, I tell you again that
this is your last chance. That I and the offer I make you are your
last hope! There is a man there"--with his forefinger he singled out a
tall youth with a long, narrow face and light blue eyes--"who promises
that when you are attacked he will wave his arm, and Vlaye and his
riders will fall on their faces as fell the walls of Jericho! Do you
believe him? Will you trust your wives and children to him? And
another"--again he singled out a man, a beetle-browed dwarf, hideous
of aspect, survivor of some ancient race--"who promises victory if you
will sacrifice your captives on yonder stone! Do you believe him? And
if you do not trust these, in what do you trust? Can naked men stand
before mailed horses? Can you take castles with your bare hands? You
have left your villages, you have slain your oxen, you have burned
your tools, you have slain your lords' men, you have taken the field.
Have peasants ever done these things--and not perished sooner or later
on gibbets and in dungeons? And such will be your fate, and the fate
of your women and your children, if you will go your way and will not

"What do you promise us?" The question in various forms broke from a
dozen throats.

"First, justice on the chief of your oppressors."

"The Captain of Vlaye?"

"The same."

"Ay, ay!" Their harsh cries marked approval. Some with dark looks spat
on their hands and worked their right arms to and fro.

"Next," des Ageaux continued, "that which never peasant who took the
field had yet--pardon for the past. To those who fear not to go back,
leave to return to their homes. To those who have broken their lords'
laws a settlement elsewhere with their wives and children. To every
man of his hands, when he leaves, ten deniers out of the spoils of
Vlaye to carry him to his home."

Nine out of ten marked their approval by a shout; and des Ageaux
heaved a sigh of relief, thinking all well. But the smith turned and
exchanged some words with the men nearest him, chiding them and
reminding them of something. Then he turned again.

"Fine words! But for all this what pledge, Sir Governor?" he asked
with a sneer. "What warranty that when we have done our part we shall
not to gibbet or gallows like our fellows?"

"The King's word!"

"Ay? And hostages? What hostages?"

"Hostages?" The Lieutenant's voice rang sharp with anger.

"Ay, hostages!" the man answered sturdily, informed by the murmurs of
his fellows that he had got them back into the road from which des
Ageaux' arguments had led them. "We must have hostages."

Clearly they had made up their minds to this, they had determined on
it beforehand. For with one voice, "We must have hostages!" they

Des Ageaux paused before he answered--paused in dismay. It looked as
if--already he feared it--he had put out his hand too far. As if he
had trusted too implicitly to his management of men, and risked not
himself only, but women; women of the class to which these human
beasts set down their wrongs, women on whom the least accident or
provocation might lead them to wreak their vengeance! If it were so!
But he dared not follow up the thought, lest the coolness on which all
depended should leave him. Instead, "We are all your hostages," he

"And what of those? And those?" the smith answered. With a cunning
look he pointed to the two knots of troopers whom des Ageaux had
brought with him. "And by-and-by there will be more. Madame"--he
pointed to the little Countess who had shrunk to Bonne's side, and
stood with the elder girl's arm about her--"Madame has sent for
fifty riders from her lands in the north--on, we know! And the Duke
who is ill, for another hundred and fifty from Bergerac! When they
come"--with a leer--"where will be our hostages? No, it is now we must
talk, Sir Governor, or not at all."

Des Ageaux, his cheek flushed, reflected amid an uneasy silence. He
knew that two of his riders were away bearing letters, and that four
more were patrolling the valley; that two with Charles de Villeneuve
were isolated on the ridge, unable to help; in a word, that no more
than twelve or thirteen were within call, who, separated from their
horses, were no match for a mob of men outnumbering them by five or
six to one, and whom the first blow would recruit from every quarter
of the seething camp. He had miscalculated, and saw it. He had
miscalculated, and the consequences he dare not weigh. The men in
whose power he had placed himself--and so much more than himself--were
not the dull clods he had deemed them, but alike ferocious and
suspicious, ready on the first hint of treachery to exact a fearful
vengeance. No man had ever kept faith with them; why should they
believe that he would keep faith? He shut his teeth hard. "I will
consider the matter," he said, "and let you know my answer to-morrow
at noon." He spoke as ending the conference, and he made as if he
would turn on his heel.

"Ay, when madame's fifty spears are come?" the smith cried. "That will
not do! If you mean us well give us hostages. If you mean us ill,"
taking one step forward with an insolent gesture----

"Fool, I mean you no ill!" the Lieutenant answered sternly. "If I
meant you ill, why should I be here?"

But "Hostages! Hostages!" the crowd answered, raising weapons and

Their cries drowned his words. A score of hands threatened him.
Without looking, he felt that the Bat and his troopers, a little clump
apart, were preparing to intervene, and he knew that on his next
movement all depended. The pale faces behind him he could not see, for
he was aware that if his eye left his opponents, they would fall upon
him. At any second a hurried gesture, or the least sign of fear might
unloose the torrent, and well was it for all that in many a like scene
his nerve had been tempered to hardness. He shrugged his shoulders.

"Well," he said, "you shall have your hostages."

"Ay, ay!" A sudden relaxation, a falling back into quietude of the
seething mass approved the consent.

"You shall have my lieutenant," he continued, "and----"

"And I will be the other," cried Roger manfully. He stepped forward.
"I am the son of M. le Vicomte there! I will be your hostage," he

But the smith, turning to his followers, grinned. "We'd be little the
better for them," he said. "Eh? No, Sir Governor! We must have our

"Your choice, rogues?"

"Ay, we'll have the pick!" the crowd shouted. "The best of the
basket!" Amid ferocious laughter.

Des Ageaux had suspected for some hours past that he had done a
foolish, a fatally foolish thing in trusting these men, whom no man
had ever trusted. He saw now that only two courses stood open to him.
He might strike the smith down at his feet, and risk all on the effect
which the act might have on his followers; or he might yield what they
asked, allow them to choose their hostages, and trust to time and
skill for the rest. His instincts were all for the bolder course, but
he had women behind him, and their chance in a conflict so unequal
must be desperate. With a quietness and firmness characteristic of the
man he accepted his defeat.

"Very well," he said. "It matters nothing. Whom will you have?"

"We'll have you," the smith replied grinning, "and her!" With a grimy
hand he pointed to the little Countess who with Bonne's arm about her
and Fulbert at her elbow was staring fascinated at the line of savage

"You cannot have a lady!" the Lieutenant answered with a chill at his

"Ay, but it is she who has the riders who are coming!" the smith
retorted shrewdly. "It is her we want and it is her we'll have! We'll
do her no harm, and she may have her own hut on our side, and her
woman with her, and a man if she pleases. And you may have a hut
beside hers, if one," with a wink, "won't do for the two."

"But, man," des Ageaux cried, his brow dark, "how can I take Vlaye and
his castle while I lie a hostage?"

"Oh, you shall go to and fro, to and fro, Sir Governor!" the smith
answered lightly. "We'll not be too strict if you are there of nights.
And we will know ourselves safe. And as we live by bread," he
continued stoutly, "we'll do her no harm if faith be kept with us!"

Des Ageaux endeavoured to hide his emotion, but the sweat stood on his
brow. Defeat is bitter to all. To the man who has long been successful
most bitter.

Suddenly, "I will go!" said the Countess bravely. And she stepped
forward by the Lieutenant's side, a little figure, shrinking, yet
resolute. "I will go," she repeated, trembling with excitement, yet
facing the men.

"No!" Roger cried--and then was silent. It was not for him to speak.
What could he do?

"We will all go!" Bonne said.

"Nay, but that will not do," the smith replied, with a sly grimace.
"For then they"--he pointed to the little knot of troopers who waited
with sullen faces a short arrow-shot away--"would be coming as well.
The lady may bring a woman if she pleases, and her man there, as I
said." He nodded towards Fulbert. "But no more, or we are no gainers!"

To the Lieutenant that moment was one of the bitterest of his life.
He, the King's Governor, who had acted as master, who had forced the
Vicomte and his party to come into his plans, whether they would or
no, stood out-generalled by a mob of peasants, whom he had thought to
use as tools! And not only that, but the young Countess, whose safety
he had made the pretext for the abandonment of the château, must
surrender herself to a risk more serious--ay, far more serious, than
that from which he had made this ado to save her!

Humiliation could scarcely go farther. It was to his credit, it was
perhaps some proof of his capacity for government that, seeing the
thing inevitable, he refrained from useless words or protest, and
sternly agreed. He and the Countess would remove to the farther side
of the camp in the course of the day.

"With a man and a maid only?" the smith persisted, knitting his brows.
Having got what he had asked he doubted.

"The Countess of Rochechouart will be so attended," the Lieutenant
answered sternly. "And you, Sir Governor?"

"I am a soldier," he retorted, so curtly that they were abashed. With
some muttering they began to melt away. Awhile they stood in groups,
discussing the matter. Then gradually they retired across the rivulet
to their quarters.

The Lieutenant had been almost happy had that ended it. But he had to
face those whom he had led into this trap, those whom he had forced to
trust him, those whom he had carried from their home. He was not long
in learning their views.

"A soldier!" the Vicomte repeated, taking up his last word in a voice
shaking with passion. "You call yourself a soldier and you bring us to
this! To this!" With loathing he described the outline of the camp
with his staff. "You a soldier, and cast women to these devils! Pah!
Since Coutras there may be such soldiers! But in my time, no!"

He did not reply: and the Abbess took up the tale. "Excellent!" she
said, with bitterest irony. "We are all now assured of your prudence
and sagacity, sir! The safety and freedom which we enjoy here, the
ease of mind which the Countess will doubtless enjoy tonight----"

"Do not frighten her, mademoiselle!" he said, repressing himself.
Then, as if an impulse moved him, he turned slowly to Bonne. "Have you
nothing to add, mademoiselle?" he asked, in a peculiar tone.

"Nothing!" she answered bravely. And then--it needed some courage to
speak before her father and sister, "Were I in the Countess's place I
should not fear. I am sure she will be safe with you."

"Safe!" Odette cried, her eyes flashing. In the excitement of the
moment the plans she had so recently made were forgotten. "Ay, as safe
as a lamb among wolves! As safe as a nun among robbers! So safe that I
for one am for leaving this moment. Ay, for leaving, and now!" she
continued, stamping her foot on the sward "What is it to us if this
gentleman, who calls himself the Governor of Périgord--and may be
such, I care not whether he is or not--has a quarrel with M. de Vlaye
and would fain use us in it as he uses these brute beasts? What, I
say, is it to us? Or why do we take part? M. le Vicomte"--she turned
to her father--"if you are still master of Villeneuve, you will order
our horses and take us thither. We have naught to fear, I say it
again, we have naught to fear at M. de Vlaye's hands; and if we fall
into them between this and Villeneuve, so much the better! But if we
stay here we have all to fear." In truth she was honestly frightened.
She thought the case desperate.


"No, sir!" she retorted, turning from him. "I did not speak to you;
but to you, M. le Vicomte! Sir, you hear me? Is it not your will that
we order the horses and go from here?"

"If we can go safely----"

"You cannot go safely!" des Ageaux said, with returning decision.
"If you have nothing to fear from the Captain of Vlaye, the Countess
has. Nor is that all. These men"--he pointed in the direction
of the peasants, who were buzzing about their huts like a swarm of
bees--"have forced my hand, but through fear and distrust, not in
malice. They mean us no harm if we mean them none. But the Old
Crocans, as they call themselves, in the town on the hill--if you fall
into their hands, M. le Vicomte--and beyond the lines of this camp no
one is safe from their prowling bands--then indeed God help you!"

"God help us whether or no!" the Vicomte answered in senile anger. "I
wash my hands of it all, of it all! I am nothing here, and have been
nothing! Let who will do! The world is mad!"

"Certainly we were mad when we trusted you!" the Abbess cried,
addressing des Ageaux. "Never so mad! But if I mistake not, here is
another with good news! Oh!" to the Bat, who, with a shamefaced air,
was hovering on the skirts of the group, as if he were not sure of his
reception, "speak, sir, without reserve! We all know"--in a tone of
mockery--"how fair and safely we stand!"

Des Ageaux turned to his follower. "What is it?" he asked.

"The prisoner is missing, my lord." The Abbess laughed bitterly. The
others looked at the Bat with faces of dismay. "Missing? The man we
have promised to hold for them. How?" des Ageaux exclaimed sternly.
This was a fresh blow and a serious one.

"When I saw, my lord, that we were like to be in trouble here, I drew
off the two men who were guarding him. He was bound, and--we had too
few as it was."

"But he cannot have passed the ramparts."

"Anyway we cannot find him," the Bat answered, looking ashamed and
uncomfortable. "I've searched the huts, and----"

"Is it known?"

"No, my lord."

"Then set the guards as before over the hut in which you had him, and
see that the matter does not leak out to-night."

"But if," the Bat objected, "they discover that he is gone while you
are with them to-night, my lord, they are in an ugly mood, and----"

"They must not discover it!" des Ageaux answered firmly. "Go, see to
it yourself. And let two men whom you can trust continue the search,
but as if they had lost something of their own."

The Bat went on his errand; and the Abbess, with this fresh weapon in
her quiver, prepared to resume the debate. But the Lieutenant would
not have it. "Mademoiselle," he said, with a look which silenced her,
"if you say more to alarm the Countess, whose courage"--he bowed in
the direction of the pale frightened girl--"is an example to us all,
she will not dare to go this evening. And if she does not go, the
lives of all will be in danger. An end of this, if you please!"

And he turned on his heel, and left them.

                             CHAPTER XIV.

                          SAINT AND SINNER.

An hour later the Lieutenant was with the Duke in his quarters, and
had imparted to him what he knew of the position. The Duke listened,
not much affected; nay, with something approaching indifference.

"It is a question of four days then?" he rejoined, as he painfully
moved himself on his litter. They had made him as comfortable as they
could, screening the head of his couch, which was towards the hut
door, with a screen of wattle. Against one wall, if wall that could be
called which was of like make with the screen, ran a low bench of
green turves, and on this des Ageaux was seated.

"Of four days--and nights," the Lieutenant made answer, masking a
slight shiver. He was not thinking of his own position, but of the
young Countess; neither her fears nor the courage with which she
controlled them were a secret from him. "To-day is Saturday. The
Countess's men should be here by Monday, your men, M. de Joyeuse, by
Wednesday. All will be well then; and I doubt not with such support we
can handle the Captain of Vlaye. But until then we run a double risk."

"Of Vlaye, of course."

"And of our own people if anything occur to exasperate them."

Joyeuse laughed recklessly. "_Vogue la galère!_" he cried. "The plot
grows thicker. I came for adventure, and I have it. Ah, man, if you
had lived within the four walls of a convent!"

Des Ageaux shook his head. He knew the wanton courage of the man, who,
sick and helpless, found joy in the peril that surrounded them. But he
was very far from sharing the feeling. The dangers that threatened the
party lay heavy on the man who was responsible for all. The tremors of
the young girl who must share his risk that evening, the bitter
reproaches of the Abbess and her father, even the confidence that
Bonne's eyes rather than her lips avowed, all tormented him; so that
to see this man revelling in that which troubled him so sorely,
insulted his reason.

"I fancy, my lord," he said, a faint note of resentment in his tone,
"if you had had to face these rogues this morning you had been less
confident this evening."

"Were they so spiteful?" The Duke raised himself on his elbow. "Well,
I say again, you made a mistake. You should have run the spokesman
through the throat! Ca! Sa!" He made a pass through the air. "And
trust me, the rest of the knaves----"

"Might have left none of us alive to tell the tale!" the Lieutenant

"I don't know that!"

"But I suspect it!" des Ageaux replied warmly. "And I do beg you, my
lord, to be guided in this. I am more than grateful for the impulse
which led you to come to my assistance. But honestly I had been more
glad if you had brought a couple of hundred spears with you. As it is,
the least imprudence may cost us more than our own lives! And it
behoves us all to remember that!"

"The least imprudence!"


The Duke laughed softly--at nothing that appeared. "So!" he said. "The
least imprudence may destroy us, may it? The least imprudence!" And
then, suddenly sobered, he fixed his eyes on the Lieutenant. "But what
of letting your prisoner go, eh? What of that? Was not that an
imprudence, most wise Solomon?"

"A very great one!" des Ageaux replied with a sigh.

"What shall you do when, to-morrow morning, they claim his trial?"

"What I can," the Lieutenant answered, frowning and sitting more
erect. "See that the Countess returns early to this side; where the
Bat must make the best dispositions he can for your safety. Meanwhile,
I shall tell them and make them see reason if I can!"

"Lord!" the Duke said with genuine gusto, "I wish I were in your

"I wish you were," des Ageaux replied. "And still more that I had the
rogue by the leg again."

"Do you?"

"Do I?" the Lieutenant repeated in astonishment. "I do indeed. The
odds are they will maintain that we released him on purpose, and
dearly we may pay for it!"

For a moment the Duke, flat on his back, looked thoughtful. Then,
"Umph!" he said, "you think so? But you were always a croaker, des
Ageaux, and you are making the worst of it! Still--you would like to
lay your hand on him, would you?"

"I would indeed!"

The Duke rose on his elbow. "Would you mind giving me--I am a little
cold--that cloak?" he said. "No," as des Ageaux moved to do it, "not
that one under your hand--the small one! Thank you. I----"

He could not finish. He was shaking with laughter--which he vainly
tried to repress. Des Ageaux stared. And then, "What have I done to
amuse you so much, my lord?" he asked coldly, as he rose.

"Much and little," the Duke answered, still shaking.

"Much or little," des Ageaux retorted, "you will do yourself no good
by laughing so violently. If your wound, my lord, sets to bleeding

"Pray for the soul of Henry, Duke of Joyeuse, Count of Bouchage!" the
Duke replied lightly. Yet on the instant, and by a transition so
abrupt as to sound incredible to men of these days, he composed his
face, groped for his rosary, and began to say his offices. The
suddenness of the change, the fervour of his manner, the earnestness
of his voice astonished the Lieutenant, intimately as he knew this
strange man. Awhile he waited, then he rose and made for the door.

But Joyeuse--not the Duke of three minutes before, but Frère Ange of
the Capuchin convent--stopped him with a movement of his eyes. "And
why not," said he, "to-day as well as to-morrow? No man need be afraid
to die who prepares himself. The soldier above all, Lieutenant, for
the true secret of courage is to repent. Ay, to repent," he continued
in a voice, sweet and thrilling, and with a look in his eyes strangely
gentle and compelling. "Friend, are you prepared? Have you confessed
lately? If not, kneel down! Kneel, man, and let us say a dozen aves,
and a couple of Paternosters! It will be no time wasted," he continued
anxiously. "No man has sinned more than I have. No man, no man! Yet I
face death like one in a thousand! And why? Why, man? Because it is
not I, but----"

But there are things too high for the level of such narrations as
this, and too grave for such treatment as is here essayed. The
character of this man was so abnormal, he played with so much
enthusiasm his alternate _rôles_, that without this passing glimpse of
his rarer side--that side which in the intervals of wild revelry led
him to dying beds and sick men's couches--but one-half of him could be
understood. Not that he was quite alone in the possession of this
trait. It was a characteristic of the age to combine the most flagrant
sins with the strictest observances; and a few like M. de Joyeuse
added to both a real, if intermittent and hysterical, repentance.

On this occasion it was not long before he showed his other face. The
Abbess, after waiting without and fretting much--for she had returned
to the purpose momentarily abandoned, and the length of the interview
alarmed her--won entrance at last. She exchanged a cold greeting with
the departing Lieutenant, then took his place, book in hand, on the
green bench. For a while there was silence. She had so far played her
part with success. The Duke knew not whether to call her saint or
woman; and that he might remain in that doubt she now left it to him
to speak. At the same time she left him at liberty to look: for she
knew that bending thus at her devotions she must appear more striking
to his jaded senses. And he, for a time, was mute also, and
thoughtful; so much he gave to the scene just ended.

It is possible that the silence was prolonged by the chance of
considering her at leisure which she was careful to afford him. He was
still weak, the better side of him was still uppermost; and handsome
as she was, he saw her through a medium of his own, in a halo of
meekness and goodness and purity. Thus viewed she fell in with his
higher mood, she was a part of it, she prolonged it. A time would
come, would most certainly come, when one of the wildest libertines of
his day would see her otherwise, and in the woman forget the saint.
But it had not yet come. And the Abbess, with her pure, cold profile,
bent over her book, and, with her thoughts apparently in heaven, knew
also that her time had not yet come.

Though her face betrayed nothing, she was in an angry mood. She had
gained little by the altercation with des Ageaux; and though the
simplicity which he had betrayed in his dealings with the peasants
excited her boundless contempt--he, to pit himself against M. de
Vlaye!--the peril which it brought upon all heightened that contempt
to anger. If the peril had been his only, or included the Countess
only, if it had threatened those only whom she could so well spare,
and towards whose undoing her brain was busily working, she could have
borne it bravely and gaily.

But the case was far other; and something she regretted that she had
not bowed to her first impulse in the chapel and called to M. de
Vlaye, and gone to him--ay, gone to him empty-handed as she was,
without the triumph of which she had dreamed. For the jeopardy in
which she and all her family now stood put her in a dilemma. If the
Lieutenant kept faith with the peasants and all went well, it would go
ill with her lover. If, on the contrary, M. des Ageaux failed to
restrain the peasants, it might go ill with herself.

It came always to this: she must win over the Duke. Of the allies
against Vlaye, he, with his hundred and fifty horse, due to arrive on
the Wednesday, with the larger support which he could summon if it
were necessary, and with his favour at Court, was by far the most
formidable. Detach him, and the Lieutenant with his handful of riders,
backed though he might be by the Countess's men, and the peasant rout
would be very likely to fail. It came back then always to this: she
must win the Duke. As she pondered, with her eyes on her book, as she
considered again and anew this resolution, the noises of the camp, the
Bat's sharp word of command--for he had fallen imperturbably to
drilling as if that were the one thing necessary--the Vicomte's
querulous voice, and the more distant babel of the peasants' quarter,
all added weight to her thoughts. And then on a sudden an alien sound
broke the current. The man lying beside her laughed.

She glanced at him, startled for the moment out of her _rôle_. The
Duke was shaking with merriment. Confused, not understanding, she
rose. "My lord," she said, half offended, "what is it? What moves

"A rare joke," he answered. "I was loth to interrupt your thoughts,
fair sister, but 'twas too much for me." He fell to laughing again.

"You will injure yourself, my lord," she said, chiding him gently, "if
you laugh so violently."

"Oh, but----" The litter shook under him.

"At least," she said, with a look more tender and less saintly than
she had yet permitted herself, "you will tell me what it is! What----"

"Raise that--the cloak!" he said. He pointed with his hand. "Remove
it, I mean, and you will see what--what you will see!"

She obeyed and immediately recoiled with a low cry, the cloak in her
hand. "_Mon Dieu!_" she whispered, with the colour gone from her
cheeks. "Who--who is he? Who is he?" She shuddered.

The man her act had revealed rose from his hiding-place, his face
whiter than hers, his haggard, shifty eyes betraying his terror.

"My lord!" he cried, "you will not betray me? My lord, you passed your

"Pah, coward, be silent!" the Duke answered. He turned to the Abbess,
his eyes dancing. "Do you know him?" he asked.

"He is M. de Vlaye's man," she said. "The prisoner!" She was pale and
she frowned, her hands pressed to her breast.

"Whom they are so anxious to hang!" the Duke replied, chuckling. "And
whom des Ageaux is so anxious to have under his hand! Ha! ha! Those
were his words! Under his hand! When he touched the cloak I thought I
should have died. And you, rascal, what did you think? You thought you
were going to die, I'll be sworn!"

"My lord--my lord!" the man faltered the words, holding out imploring

"Ay, I'll wager you did!" Joyeuse replied. "Wished you had let me
confess you then, I'll be sworn! He'd not have it, good sister, when I
offered it, because it was too like the end--the rope and the tree!"

"My lord! My lord!" Fear had driven all but those two words from the
man's mouth.

And certainly if man had ever ground for fear, he had. In that hut of
wattle, open to the sky, open in a dozen places to the curious eye, he
had heard the voices, the cries, the threats of his pursuers. The
first that entered must see him, even if this mad lord who played with
his life as lightly as he had in the beginning shielded it did not
summon them to take him.

Verily, as he stood, the cloak plucked from him, with every opening in
the hut's walls an eye, he tasted the bitterness of death. And in the
amused face of his protector, in the girl's cold frowning gaze, what
of sympathy, of feeling, of pity? Not a jot. Not a sign. To the one a
jest, to the other a peril, he was to neither akin.

As it seemed. But a few seconds saw a change. The Abbess, in the first
flush of amazement, had come near to forgetting her part. Under other
circumstances the trembling wretch before her might have claimed and
gained her sympathy, for he was one of Vlaye's men. At any rate, his
punishment by des Ageaux would have added one more to the list of the
Lieutenant's offences. But as it was she saw in him only a root, so
long as he lay hidden, of utmost peril to all her party; a thing to be
cast to the wolves, if she and those who rode in the chariot with her
were to escape. Her first feeling, therefore--and her face must have
betrayed it had the Duke looked at her at the first--had been one of
fierce repulsion. Her natural impulse had been the impulse to call for
help and give the man up!

But in time, with a kind of shock of the mind that turned her hot, she
remembered. The Duke was not one to see his will or his whim thwarted
lightly. And she, the saint, whose book of offices still lay where it
had fallen at her feet, she to lend herself to harshness! She to show
herself void of pity! Hurriedly she forced words to her lips, and did
what she could to match her face to their meaning.

"My lord, blessed are the merciful," she murmured with a slight but
irrepressible shudder. "You who"--her words stuck a little--"have been
spared so lately should be mercy itself."

"My sister," the Duke said slowly, "you are more than mercy!" And
he looked at her, his lips still smiling, but his eyes grave. He
knew--was ever Frenchman who did not know--the value of his own
courage. He knew that to act as a mere whim led him to act was not in
many, where life was in question; and to see a woman rise thus to his
level, ay, and rise in a moment and unasked, touched him with a new
and ardent admiration. His eyes, as he looked, grew tender.

"You, too, will protect him?" he said.

"Who am I that I should do otherwise?" she answered. She spoke the
words so well she seemed to him an angel. And to the man----

The man fell at her feet, seized the hem of her robe, kissed it, clung
to it, sobbed broken words of thanks over it, gave way to transports
of gratitude. To him, too, she was an angel. And while she reflected,
"I can still give him up if I think better of it," the Duke watched
her with moist eyes, finding that holy in her case which in his own
had been but a jest, the freak of a man in love with danger, and proud
of seeking it by every road.

Presently "Now, man, to your cloak!" he said. "And you, sister," he
continued, willing to hear the words again, "you are sure that you are
not afraid?"

"I am no more afraid," she replied, with downcast eyes and hands
crossed upon her breast, "than I was when I stayed alone with you by
the river, my lord. There was no other who could stay."

"Say instead, who dared to stay."

"There is no other now who can shelter him!"

"_Mon Dieu!_" he whispered.

He followed her with his eyes after that, all his impressions
confirmed; and as it was rare in those days to find the good also the
beautiful, the imprint made on him was deep. She thrilled him as no
woman had thrilled him since the days of his boyhood and his first
gallantries. His feeling for her elevated him, purified him. As he
watched her moving to and fro in his service, a great content stole
over him. Once, when she bent to his couch to do him some office, he
contrived to touch her hand with his. So might an anchorite have
touched the wood of the true Cross--so reverent, so humble, so full of
adoration and worship was the touch.

But it was the first step--that touch--and she knew it. She went back
to her bench, and veiling her eyes with her long lashes that he might
not read the triumph which shone in them, she fell again to her
devotions--but with content in her breast. A little more, a little
while, and she would have him at her beck, she would have him on his
knees; and then it should not be long before his alliance with des
Ageaux was broken, and his lances sent home. Not long! But meanwhile
time pressed. There was the trouble; time pressed, yet she dared not
be hasty. He was no simple boy, and one false move might open his
eyes. He might see that she was no angel, but of the same clay as
those of whom he had made toys all his life!

As she pondered, the near prospect of success set the possibility of
failure, through some accident, through some mischance, in a more
terrible aspect. She hated the trembling fugitive cowering in his
hiding-place behind the Duke's bed; she wished to heaven he were in
des Ageaux' hands again. The danger of a mutiny on his account, a
danger that despite her courage chilled her, would then be at an end.
True, such a mutiny menaced the Lieutenant in the first place and the
Countess in the second; and she could spare them. But she could not be
sure that it would go no farther. She could not be sure that its
burning breath would not lap all in the camp. Had she been sure--that
had been another matter. And behold, as she thought of it, from some
cell of the brain leapt full-grown a plan; a plan wicked enough, cruel
enough, terrible enough, to shock even her, but a clever plan if it
could be executed!

She had little doubt that the Lieutenant would overcome the difficulty
of the morning and succeed in persuading the peasants that he was
guiltless of the escape of the prisoner. Suppose he succeeded, what
would happen if it leaked out later that the prisoner had been hidden
all the time in the Lieutenant's huts? Particularly if it leaked out
at a time when the Lieutenant and the Countess lay in the peasants'
power in the peasants' camp? And for choice after the arrival of the
first batch of spears had secured the rest of the party from danger?
What would happen to des Ageaux and the Countess in that event?

It was a black thought. The beautiful face bent over the book of
offices grew perceptibly harder. But what better fate did they deserve
who took on themselves to mar and meddle? They who incited her very
brothers, clownish hobbledehoys, and her mawkish sister to rise up
against her and against _him?_ If fault there was, the fault lay with
those who threw down the glove. The Lieutenant was come for naught
else but her lover's destruction: and if he fell into the pit that he
digged for another he could blame himself only. As for the girl, the
white-faced puling child whose help M. de Vlaye's enemies were driving
him to seek, if she, with her castles and her wealth, her lands and
horse and foot, could not protect herself, the issue was her affair!
Of a surety it was not her rival's!

Odette de Villeneuve's breath came a little quickly, a fine dew stood
on her white forehead. Meantime the Duke watched her and wondered in
an enthusiasm of piety what prayer it was that so stirred that angelic
breast, what aspirations for the good of her sinning and suffering
sisters swelled that saintly bosom! A vision of an ascetic life spent
by her side, of Fathers read page by page in her company, of the good
and the noble pursued with her under cloistered yews, of an Order such
as the modern Church had never seen--such a vision wrapt him for a few
blissful minutes from the cold, lower world of sense.

                             CHAPTER XV.


The Abbess was not present that evening when the hostages transferred
themselves to the peasants' side of the camp. Had she witnessed the
scene she had found, it is possible, matter for reflection. Hard as he
had struggled against the surrender, the Lieutenant struggled almost
as hard, now it was inevitable, to put a good face on it. But his easy
word and laugh fell flat in face of a crowd so watchful and so
ominously silent that it was useless to pretend that the step was no
more than a change from a hut in this part to a hut in that. He who
knew that he must, in the morning, face the men and deny them their
prisoner--knew this too well. But, in truth, the downcast faces of his
troopers and the furtive glances of the Vicomte's party were evidence
that the matter meant much, and that these, also, recognised it; nor
did the peasants, who fell in beside the two when they started, and
accompanied them in an ever growing mob, seem unaware of the fact. The
movement was their triumph; a sign of victory to the dullest as he ran
and stared, and ran again. A section indeed there were who stood aloof
and eyed the thing askance: but two of the Vicomte's party, who
recognised among these the men whom the Lieutenant had denounced in
the morning--the tall, light-eyed fanatic and the dwarf--held it the
worst sign of all; and had it lain in their power they would even at
that late hour have called back their friends.

Those two were Roger and his younger sister. With what feelings they
saw des Ageaux and the Countess ride away to share a solitude full
alike of danger and of alarm may be more easily imagined than
described. But this is certain; whatever pangs of jealousy gnawed at
Bonne's heart or reddened her brother's cheek, neither forgot the
bargain they had made on the hill-side, or wished their rival aught
but a safe deliverance.

As it was, could the one or the other, by the lifting of a finger,
have injured the person who stood in the way, they had not lifted it
or desired to lift it. But--to be in her place! To be in his place!
To share that solitude and that peril! To know that round them lay
half a thousand savages, ready at the first sign of treachery to take
their lives, and yet to know that to the other it was bliss to be
there--this, to the two who remained in the Vicomte's huts and gave
their fancy rein, seemed happiness. Yet were they sorely anxious;
anxious in view of the abiding risk of such a situation, more anxious
in view of the crisis that must come when the peasants learned that
the prisoner had escaped. Nevertheless, they did not talk of this,
even to one another.

If Roger kept vigil that night his sister did not know it. And if
Bonne, whose secret was her own, started and trembled at every
sound--and such a camp as that bred many a sound and some alarming
ones--she told no one. But when the first grey light fell thin on the
basin in the hills, disclosing here the shapeless mass of a hut, and
there only the dark background of the encircling ridge, her pale face,
as she peered from her lodging, confronted Roger's as he paced the
turf outside. The same thought, the same fear was in the mind of
brother and sister, and had been since earliest cock-crow; and for
Roger's part he was not slow to confess it. Presently they found that
there was another whom care kept waking. A moment and the Bat's lank
form loomed through the mist. He found the two standing side by side;
and the old soldier's heart warmed to them. He nodded his

"The trouble will not be yet awhile," he said. "He will send the lady
back before he tells them. I doubt"--he shrugged his shoulders with a
glance at Bonne--"if she has had a bed of roses this night."

Bonne sighed involuntarily. "At what hour do you think she will be
back?" Roger asked.

"My orders are to send six riders for her half an hour after sunrise."

"A little earlier were no worse," Roger returned, his face flushing
slightly as he made the suggestion.

"Nor better," the Bat replied drily. "Orders are given to be obeyed,
young sir."

"And the rest of your men?" Bonne asked timidly. "They will go to
support M. des Ageaux as soon as she arrives, I suppose?"

The Bat read amiss the motive that underlay her words. "Have no fear,
mademoiselle," he said, "we shall see to your safety. You know the
Lieutenant little if you think he will look to his own before he has
ensured that of others. My lady the Countess once back with us, not a
man is to stir from here. And, with warning, and the bank behind us,
it will be hard if with a score of pikes we cannot push back the
attack of such a crew as this!"

"But you do not mean," Bonne cried, her eyes alight, "that you are
going to leave M. des Ageaux alone--to face those savages?"

"Those are my orders," the Bat replied gently; for the girl's face,
scarlet with protest, negatived the idea of fear. "And orders where
the Lieutenant commands, mademoiselle, are made to be obeyed; and are
obeyed. Moreover," he continued seriously, "in this case they are
common sense, since with a score of pikes something may be done, but
with half a score here, and half a score there"--shrugging his
shoulders--"nothing! Which no one knows better than my lord!"


"The Lieutenant allows no 'buts,'" the old soldier answered, smiling
at her eagerness. "Were you with him, mademoiselle--were you under his
orders, I mean--it would not be long before you learned that!"

Poor Bonne was silenced. With a quivering lip she averted her face:
and for a few moments no one spoke. Then, "I wish M. de Joyeuse were
on his feet," the Bat said thoughtfully. "He is worth a dozen men in
such a pinch as this!"

"The sun is up!" This from Roger.


"How will you know when half an hour is past?"

The Bat raised his eyebrows. "I can guess it within two or three
minutes," he said. "There is no hurry for a minute or two!"

"No hurry?" Roger retorted. "But the Countess--won't she be in peril?"

The Bat looked curiously at him. "For the matter of that," he
said, "we are all in peril. And may-be we shall be in greater before
the day is out. We must take the rough with the smooth, young sir.
However--perhaps you would like to make one to fetch her?"

Roger blushed. "I will go," he said.

"Very good," the old soldier answered. "I don't know that it is
against orders. For you, mademoiselle, I fear that I cannot satisfy
you so easily. Were I to send you," he continued with a sly smile, "to
escort my lord back----"

"Could you not go yourself?" Bonne interrupted, her face reflecting
the brightest colours of Roger's blush.

"I, indeed? No, mademoiselle. Orders! Orders!"

They did not reply. By this time the dense grey mist, forerunner of
heat, had risen and discovered the camp, which here and there stirred
and awoke. The open ground about the rivulet, which formed a neutral
space between the peasants' hovels and the quarters assigned to the
Vicomte, still showed untenanted, though marred and poached by the
trampling of a thousand feet. But about the fringe of the huts that,
low and mean as the shops of some Oriental bazaar, clustered along the
foot of the bank, figures yawned and stretched, gazed up at the
morning, or passed bending under infants, to fetch water. Everywhere a
rising hum told of renewed life. And behind the Vicomte's quarters the
brisk jingle of bits and stirrups announced that the troopers were

In those days of filthy streets, and founderous sloughy roads, the
great went ever on horseback, if it were but to a house two doors
distant. To ride was a sign of rank, no matter how short the journey.
Across the street, across the camp it was the same; and Bonne, as she
watched Roger and the five troopers proceeding with three led horses
across the open, saw nothing strange in the arrangement.

But when some minutes had passed, and the little troop did not emerge
again from the ruck of hovels which had swallowed them, Bonne began to
quake. Before her fears had time to take shape, however, the riders
appeared; and the anxiety she still felt--for she knew that des Ageaux
was not with them--gave way for a moment to a natural if jealous
curiosity. How would she look, how would she carry herself, who had
but this moment parted from him, who had shared through the night his
solitude and his risk, his thoughts, perhaps, and his ambitions? Would
happiness or anxiety or triumph be uppermost in her face?

She looked; she saw. Her gaze left no shade of colour, no tremor of
eye or lip unnoticed. And certainly for happiness or triumph she
failed to find a trace of either in the Countess's face. The young
girl, pale and depressed, drooped in her saddle, drooped still more
when she stood on her feet. No blush, no smile betrayed remembered
words or looks, caresses or promises; and if it was anxiety that
clouded her, she showed it strangely. For when she had alighted from
her horse she did not wait. Although, as her feet touched the ground,
a murmur rose from the distant huts, she did not heed it; but looking
neither to right nor left, she hastened to hide herself in her

She seemed to be in trouble, and Bonne, melted, would have gone to
her. But a sound stayed the elder girl at the door. The murmur in the
peasants' quarter had risen to a louder note; and borne on this--as
treble on base--came to the ear the shrill screech that tells of
fanaticism. Such a sound has terrors for the boldest; for, irrational
itself, it deprives others of reason. It gathers up all that is weak,
all that is nighty, all that is cruel, even all that is cowardly, and
hurls the whole, imbued with its own qualities, against whatever
excites its rage. Bonne, who had never heard that note before, but
knew by intuition its danger, stood transfixed, staring with terrified
eyes at the distant huts. She was picturing what one instant of time,
one savage blow, one shot at hazard, might work under that bright
morning sky! She saw des Ageaux alone, hemmed in, surrounded by the
ignorant crowd which the enthusiast was stirring to madness! She saw
their lowering brows, their cruel countenances, their small, fierce
eyes under matted locks; and she looked trembling to the Bat, who,
stationed a few paces from her, was also listening to the shrill

Had he sworn she had borne it better. But his compressed lips told of
a more tense emotion; of fidelity strained to the utmost. Even this
iron man shook, then! Even he to whom his master's orders were
heaven's first law felt anxiety! She could bear no more in silence.

"Go!" she murmured. "Oh, go! Surely twenty men might ride through

He did not look at her. "Orders!" he muttered hoarsely. "Orders!" But
the perspiration stood on his brow.

She saw that, and that his sinewy hands gripped nail to palm; and as
the distant roar gathered volume, and the note of peril in it grew
more acute, "Oh, go!" she cried, holding out her hands to him. "Go,
Roger! Some one!" wildly. "Will you let them tear him limb from limb!"

Still "Orders! Orders!" the Bat muttered. And though his eyes
flickered an instant in the direction of the waiting troopers, he set
his teeth. And then in a flash, in a second, the roar died down and
was followed by silence.

Silence; no one moved, no one spoke. As if fascinated every eye
remained glued to the low, irregular line of huts that hid from sight
the inner part of the peasants' camp. What had happened, what was
passing there? On the earthen ramparts high overhead were men, Charles
among them, who could see, and must know; but so taken up were the
group below, from Bonne to the troopers, in looking for what was to
come, that no one diverted eye or thought to these men who knew. And
though either the abrupt cessation of sound, or the subtle excitement
in the air, drew the Abbess at this moment from the Duke's hut, no one
noted her appearance, or the Duke's pale eager face peering over her
shoulder. What had happened? What had happened behind the line of
hovels, under the morning sunshine that filled the camp and rendered
only more grim the fear, the suspense, the tragedy that darkened all?

Something more than a minute they spent in that absorbed gazing. Then
a deep blush dyed Bonne's cheeks. The Bat, who had not sworn, swore.
The Duke laughed softly. The troopers, if their officer had not raised
his hand to check them, would have cheered. Des Ageaux had shown
himself in one of the openings that pierced the peasants' town. He was
on horseback, giving directions, with gestures on this side and that.
A score of naked urchins ran before him, gazing up at him; and a
couple of men at his bridle were taking orders from him.

He was safe, he had conquered. And Bonne, uncertain what she had said
in her anxiety, but certain that she had said too much, cast a shamed
look at the Bat. Fortunately his eye was on the troopers; and it was
not his look but her sister's smile which drove the girl from the
scene. She remembered the Countess: she bethought her that, in the
solitude of her hut, the child might be suffering. Bonne hastened to
her, with the less scruple as the two shared a hut.

The impulse that moved her was wholly generous. Yet when her hasty
entrance surprised the young girl in the act of rising from her knees,
there entered into the embarrassment which checked her one gleam of
triumph. While the other had prayed for her lover, she had acted. She
had acted!

The next moment she quelled the mean thought. The girl before her
looked so wan, so miserable, so forlorn, that it was impossible to
think of her hardly, or judge her strictly. "I am afraid that I scared
you," Bonne said, and stooped and kissed her. "But all is well, I
bring you good news. He is safe! You can see him if you look from the
door of the hut."

She thought that the child would spring to the door and feast her eyes
on the happy assurance of his safety. But the young Countess did not
move. She stared at Bonne as if she had a difficulty in taking in the
meaning of her words. "Safe?" she stammered. "Who is safe?"

"Who?" Bonne ejaculated.

The young girl passed her hand over her brow. "I am very sorry," she
replied humbly. "I did not understand. You said that some one was

"M. des Ageaux, of course!"

"Of course! I am very glad."

"Glad?" Bonne repeated, with indignation she could not control. "Glad?
Only that?"

The girl, her lip trembling, her face working, cast a frightened look
at her, and then with a piteous gesture, as if she could no longer
control herself, she turned from her and burst into tears.

Bonne stared. What did this mean? Relief? Joy? The relaxation of
nerves too tightly strained? No. She should have thought of it before.
It was not likely, it was not possible that this child had already
conceived for des Ageaux such an affection as casts out fear. It was
not she, but he, who had to gain by the marriage; and prepared as the
Countess might be to look favourably on his suit, ready as she might
be to give her heart, she had not yet given it.

"You are overwrought!" Bonne said, to soothe her. "You have been

"Frightened!" the girl replied through her sobs. "I shall die--if I
have to go through it again! And I have to go through it, I must go
through it. And I shall die! Oh, the night I have spent listening and
waiting and"--she cowered away, with a stifled scream. "What was
that?" She stared at the door, her eyes wild with terror. "What was
that?" she repeated, seizing Bonne, and clinging to her.

"Nothing! Nothing!" Bonne answered gently, seeing that the girl was
thoroughly shaken and unnerved. "It was only a horse neighing."

The Countess controlled her sobs, but her scared eyes and white face
revealed the impression which the suspense of the night had made on
one not bold by nature, and only supported by the pride of rank. "A
horse neighing?" she repeated. "Was it only that? I thought--oh!
if you knew what it was to hear them creeping and crawling, and
rustling and whispering every hour of the night! To fancy them
coming, and to sit up gasping! And then to lie down again and wait
and wait, expecting to feel their hands on your throat! Ah, I tell
you"--she hid her face on Bonne's shoulder and clasped her to her
passionately--"every minute was an hour, and every hour a day!"

Bonne held her to her full of pity. And presently, "But he was near
you?" she ventured. "Did not his--his neighbourhood----"

"The Lieutenant's?"

"Yes. Did not that"--Bonne spoke with averted eyes: she would know for
certain now if the child loved him!--"did not that make you feel

"One man!" the Countess's voice rang querulous. "What could one man
do? What could he have done if they had come? Besides they would have
killed him first. I did not think of him. I thought of myself. Of my
throat!" She clasped it with a sudden movement of her two hands--it
was white and very slender. "I thought of that, and the knife, and how
it would feel--all night! All night, do you understand? And I could
have screamed! I could have screamed every minute. I wonder I did

Bonne saw that the child had gone to the ordeal, and passed through
it, in the face of a terror that would have turned brave men. And she
felt no contempt for her. She saw indeed that the child did not love;
for love, as Bonne's maiden fancy painted it, was an all-powerful
impervious armour. She was sure that in the other's place she would
have known fear, but it would have been fear on _his_ account, not on
her own. She might have shuddered as she thought of the steel, but it
would have been of the steel at his breast. Whereas the Countess--no,
the Countess did not love.

"And I must go again! I must go again!" the child wailed, in the same
abandonment of terror. "Oh, how shall I do it? How shall I do it?"

The cry went to Bonne's heart. "You shall not do it," she said. "If
you feel about it like this, you shall not do it. It is not right nor

"But I cannot refuse!" the Countess shook violently as she said it. "I
dare not refuse. Afraid and a Rochechouart! A Rochechouart and a
coward! No, I must go. I must die of fear there; or of shame here."

"Perhaps it may not be necessary," Bonne murmured.

"No? Why, even if my men come I must go! If they come to-day I must
still go to-night. And lie trembling, and starting, and dying a death
at every sound!"

"But perhaps----"

"Don't--don't!" the Countess cried, moving feverishly in her arms.
"And, ah, God, I was cold a moment ago, and now I am hot! Oh, I am so
hot! So hot! Let me go." Her parched lips and bright eyes told of the
fever of fear that ran through her veins.

But Bonne still held her.

"It may not be necessary," she murmured. "Tell me, did you see M. des
Ageaux--after you went from here last night?"

"See him?" querulously. "No! He has his hut and I mine. I see no one!
No one!"

"And he does not come and talk to you?"

"Talk? No. Talk? You do not know what it is like. I am alone, I tell
you, alone!"

"Then if I were to take your place he would not find it out?"

The Countess started violently--and then was still. "Take my place?"
she echoed in a different tone. "In their camp, do you mean?"


"But you would not," the other retorted. "You would not." Then before
Bonne could answer, "What do you mean? Do you mean anything?" she
cried. "Do you mean you would go?"


"In my place?"

"If you will let me," Bonne replied. She flushed a little, conscience
telling her that it was not entirely, not quite entirely for the
other's sake that she was willing to do this. "If you will let me I
will go," she continued. "I am bigger than you, but I can stoop, and
in a riding-cloak and hood I think I can pass for you. And it will be
dusk too. I am sure I can pass for you."

The Countess shivered. The boon was so great, the gift so tremendous,
if she could accept it! But she was Rochechouart. What would men say
if they discovered that she had not gone, that she had let another
take her place and run her risk? She pondered with parted lips. If it
might be!

"You are not fit to go," Bonne continued. "You will faint or fall. You
are ill now."

"But they will find out!" the Countess wailed, hiding her face on
Bonne's shoulder. "They will find out!"

"They will not find out," Bonne replied firmly. "And I--why should I
not go? You have done one night. I will do one."

"Oh, if you would! But will you--not be afraid?" The Countess's eyes
were full of longing. If only she could accept with honour!

"I shall not be afraid," Bonne answered confidently. "And no one need
know, no one shall know. M. des Ageaux does not talk to you?"

"No. But if it be found out, everybody--ah, I shall die of shame! Your
brother, Roger, too--and everybody!"

"No one shall know," Bonne answered stoutly. "No one. Besides, you
have been once. It is not as if you had not been!"

And the child, with the memory of the night pressing upon her, jumped
at that. "Then I shall go to-morrow night," she said. "I shall go
to-morrow night."

Bonne was clear that she was not fit to go again. But she let that be
for the moment. "That shall be as you wish," she answered comfortably.
"We will talk about that to-morrow. For to-night it is settled. And
now you must try if you cannot go to sleep. If you do not sleep you
will be ill."

                             CHAPTER XVI.

                         TO DO OR NOT TO DO?

To do or not to do? How many a one has turned the question in his
mind; this one in the solitude of his locked room, seated with
frowning face and eyes fixed on nothingness; that one amid the babble
of voices and laughter, masking anxious thought under set smiles. How
many a one has viewed the act she meditated this way and that, askance
and across, in the hope of making the worse appear the better, and so
of doing her pleasure with a light heart. Others again, trampling the
scruple under foot, have none the less hesitated, counting the cost
and striving to view dispassionately--with eyes that, the thing done,
will never see it in that light again--how it will be with them
afterwards, how much better outwardly, how much worse inwardly, and so
to strike a balance for or against--to do or not to do. And some with
burning eyes, and minds unswervingly bent on the thing they desire
have yet felt hands pluck at them, and something--be it God or the
last instinct of good--whispering them to pause--to pause, and not to

The Abbess pondered, while the Duke, reclining in the opening of his
hut, from which the screen had been drawn back that he might enjoy the
air, had no more accurate notion of her thoughts than had the
Lieutenant's dog sleeping a few paces away. The missal had fallen from
her hands and lay in her lap. Her eyes fixed on the green slope before
her betrayed naught that was not dove-like; while the profound
stillness of her form which permitted the Duke to gaze at will
breathed only the peace of the cloister and the altar, the peace that
no change of outward things can long disturb. Or so the Duke fancied;
and eyeing her with secret rapture, felt himself uplifted in her
presence. He felt that here was a being congenial with his better
self, and a beauty as far above the beauty to which he had been a
slave all his life as his higher moods rose above his worst excesses.

He had gained strength in the three days which had elapsed since his
arrival in the camp. He could now sit up for a short time and even
stand, though giddily and with precaution. Nor were these the only
changes which the short interval had produced. The Countess's spears,
to the number of thirty, were here, and their presence augmented the
safety of the Vicomte's party. But indirectly, in so far as it fed the
peasants' suspicions, it had a contrary effect. The Crocans submitted
indeed to be drilled, sometimes by the Bat, sometimes by his master;
and reasonable orders were not openly disobeyed. But the fear of
treachery which a life-time of ill-usage had instilled was deepened by
the presence of the Countess's men. The slightest movements on des
Ageaux' part were scanned with jealousy. If he conferred too long with
the Villeneuves or the Countess men exchanged black looks, or muttered
in their beards. If he strayed a hundred paces down the valley a score
were at his heels. Nor were there wanting those who, moving secretly
between the camp and the savage horde upon the hill--the Old Crocans,
as they were called--kept these apprised of their doubts and fears.

To eyes that could see, the position was critical, even dangerous. Nor
was it rendered more easy by a feat of M. de Vlaye's men, who,
reconnoitring up to the gates one evening, cut off a dozen peasants.
The morning light discovered the bodies of six of these hanged on a
tree below the Old Crocans' station, and well within view from the
ridge about the camp. That the disaster might not have occurred had
des Ageaux been in his quarters, instead of being a virtual prisoner,
went for nothing. He bore the blame, some even thought him privy to
the matter. From that hour the gloom grew deeper. Everywhere, and at
all times, the more fanatical or the more suspicious drew together in
corners, and while simpler clowns cursed low or muttered of treachery,
darker spirits whispered devilish plans. Those who had their eyes open
noted the more frequent presence of the Old Crocans, who wandered by
twos and threes through the camp; and though these, when des Ageaux'
eye fell on them, fawned and cringed, or hastened to withdraw
themselves, they spat when his back was turned, and with stealthy
gestures they gave him to hideous deaths.

In a word, fear like a dark presence lay upon the camp; and to add to
the prevailing irritation, the heat was great. The giant earth-wall
which permitted the Lieutenant to mature his plans and await his
reinforcements shut out the evening breezes. Noon grilled his men as
in a frying-pan; all night the air was hot and heavy. The peasants
sighed for the cool streams of Brantôme and the voices of the frogs.
The troopers, accustomed to lord it and impatient of discomfort, were
quick with word and hand, and prone to strike, when a blow was as
dangerous as a light behind a powder screen. Without was Vlaye, within
was fear; while, like ravens waiting for the carnage, the horde of Old
Crocans on the hill looked down from their filthy eyrie.

No one knew better than the Abbess that the least thing might serve
for a spark. And she pondered. Not for an hour since its birth had the
plan she had imagined been out of her mind; and still--there was so
much good in her, so much truth--she recoiled. The two whom she
doomed, if she acted, were her enemies; and yet she hesitated. Her own
safety, her father's, her sister's, the safety of all, those two
excepted, was secured by the Rochechouart reinforcement. Only her
enemies would perish, and perhaps the poor fool whose presence she
must disclose. And yet she could not make up her mind. To do or not to

It might suffice to detach Joyeuse. But the time was short, and the
Duke's opinion of her high; and she shrank from risking it by a
premature move. He had placed her on a pinnacle and worshipped her: if
she descended from the pinnacle he might worship no longer. Meantime,
if she waited until his troopers rode in, and on their heels a second
levy from Rochechouart, it might be too late to act, too late to
detach him, too late to save Vlaye. To do or not to do?

A dozen paces from her, old Solomon was pouring garrulous inventions
into the ear of the Countess's steward; who, dull, faithful man, took
all for granted, and gaped more widely at every lie. Insensibly her
mind began to follow and take in the sense of their words.

"Six on one tree!" Solomon was saying, in the contemptuous tone of one
to whom Montfaucon was an every-day affair. "'Tis nothing. You never
saw the like at Rochechouart, say you? Perhaps not. Your lady is

"Three I have!"

"And who were they?" Solomon asked, with a sniff of contempt.

"Cattle-stealers. At least so it was said. But the wife of one came
down next day and put it on another, and it was complained that they
had suffered wrongfully. But three they were."

"Three?" Solomon's nose rose in scorn. "If you had seen the elm at
Villeneuve in my lord's father's time! They were as acorns on an oak.
Ay, they were! Fifteen in one forenoon."

"God ha' mercy on us!"

"And ten more when he had dined!"

"God ha' mercy on us!" Fulbert replied, staring in stricken surprise.
"And what had they done?"

"Done?" Solomon answered, shrugging his shoulders after a careless
fashion. "Just displeased him. And why should he not?" he continued,
bristling up. "What worse could they do? Was he not lord of

And she was making a scruple of two lives. Of two lives that stood in
her path! Still--life was life. But what was that they were saying
now? Hang Vlaye? Hang--the Captain of Vlaye?

It was Solomon had the word; and this time the astonishment was on his
side. "What is that you say?" he repeated. "Hang M. de Vlaye?"

"And why for not?" the steward replied doggedly, his face red with
passion, his dull intelligence sharpened by his lady's wrongs. "And
why for not?"

Solomon was scandalised by the mere mention of it. Hang like any clod
or clown a man who had been a constant visitor at his master's house!
"Oh, but he--you don't hang such as he!" he retorted. "The Captain of
Vlaye? Tut, tut! You are a fool!"

"A fool? Not I! They will hang him!"

"Tut, tut!"

"Wait until _he_ speaks!" Fulbert replied, nodding mysteriously in the
direction of the Lieutenant, who, at no great distance from the group,
was watching a band of peasants at their drill. "When he speaks 'tis
the King speaks. And when the King speaks, it is hang a man must,
whoever he be!"

"Tut, tut!"

"Whoever he be!" Fulbert repeated with stolid obstinacy. And then, "It
is not for nothing," he added with a menacing gesture, "that a man
stops the Countess of Rochechouart on the King's road! No, no!"

Not for nothing? No, and it is not for nothing, the Abbess cried in
her heart, that you threaten the man I love with the death of a dog!
Dogs yourselves! Dogs!

It was well that the Duke was not looking at her at that moment, for
her heaving bosom, her glowing eyes, the rush of colour to her face
all betrayed the force of her passion. Hang him? Hang her lover? So
that was what they were saying, thinking, planning behind her back,
was it! That was the camp talk! That!

She could have borne it better had the Lieutenant proclaimed his aim
aloud. It was the sedateness of his preparations, the slow stealth of
his sap, the unswerving calmness of his approaches at which her soul
revolted. The ceaseless drilling, the arming, the watch by day and
night, all the life about her, every act, every thought had her
lover's ruin for their aim, his death for their end! A loathing, a
horror seized her. She felt a net closing about her, a net that
enmeshed her and fettered her, and threatened to hold her motionless
and powerless, while they worked their will on him before her eyes!

But she could still break the net. She could still act. Two lives?
What were two lives, lives of his enemies, in comparison of his life?
At the thought a spring of savage passion welled up in her heart, and
clouded her eyes. The die was cast. It remained only to do. To do!

But softly--softly. As she rose, having as yet no formed plan, a last
doubt stayed her. It was not a doubt of his enemies' intentions, but
of their power. He whose words had opened her eyes to their grim
purpose was a dullard, almost an imbecile. He could be no judge of the
means they possessed, or of their chances of success. The swarm of
unkempt, ill-armed peasants, who disgusted her eyes, the troop of
spears, who even now barely sufficed to secure the safety of her
party, what chance had they against M. de Vlaye and the four or five
hundred men-at-arms who for years had lorded it over the marches of
the province, and made themselves the terror of a country-side? Surely
a small chance if it deserved the name. Surely she was permitting a
shadow to frighten her.

"Something," the Duke murmured near her ear, "has interrupted the even
current of your thoughts, mademoiselle. What is it, I pray?"

"I feel the heat," she answered, holding her hand to her brow, that
behind its shelter she might recover her composure. "Do not you?"

"It is like an oven," he answered, "within these earth-walls."

"How I hate them!" she cried, unable to repress the spirit of

"Do you? Well, so do I," he replied. "But within them--it is nowhere
cooler than here."

"I will put that to the proof, my lord," she returned with a smile.
And, gliding from him, in spite of the effort he made to detain her,
she crossed the grass to her father. Sinking on the sward beside his
stool, she began to fan herself.

The Vicomte was in an ill-humour of some days' standing; nor without
reason. Dragged, will he nill he, from the house in which his whim had
been law, he found himself not only without his comforts, but a cipher
in the camp. Not once, but three or four times he had let his judgment
be known, and he had looked to see it followed. He might have spoken
to the winds. No one, not even his sons, though they listened
respectfully, took heed of it. It followed that he saw himself exposed
to dangers against which he was not allowed to guard himself, and to a
catastrophe which he must await in inaction; while all he possessed
stood risked on a venture that for him had neither interest nor

In such a position a man of easier temper and less vanity might be
pardoned if he complained. For the Vicomte, fits of senile rage shook
him two or three times a day. He learned what it was to be thwarted:
and if he hated any one or anything more than the filthy peasants on
whom his breeding taught him to look with loathing, it was the man
with whose success his safety was bound up, the man who had forced him
into this ignominious position.

Of him he could believe no good. When the Abbess, after fanning
herself in silence, mentioned the arrival of the Countess's troopers,
and asked him if he thought that the Lieutenant was now strong enough
to attack, he derided the notion.

"M. de Vlaye will blow this rabble to the winds," he said, with a
contemptuous gesture. "We may grill here as long as we please, but the
moment we show ourselves outside, pouf! It will be over! What can a
handful of riders do against five hundred men as good as themselves?"

"But the peasants?" she suggested, willing to know the worst. "There
are some hundreds of them."

"Food for steel!" he answered, with the same contemptuous pantomime.

"Then you think--we were wrong to come here?"

"I think, girl, that we were mad to come here. But not so mad," he
continued spitefully, "as those who brought us!"

"Yet Charles thinks that the Governor of Périgord will prevail."

"Charles had his own neck in the noose," the Vicomte growled, "and was
glad of company. Since Coutras it is the young lead the old, and the
issue you will see. Lieutenant of Périgord? What has the Lieutenant of
Périgord or any other governor to do with canaille such as this?"

Odette heaved a sigh of relief and her face lightened. "It will be
better so," she said softly. "M. de Vlaye knows, sir, that we had no
desire to hurt him, and he will not reckon it against us."

The Vicomte fidgeted in his stool. "I wish I could think so," he
answered with a groan. "Curse him! Who is more to blame? If he had
left the Countess alone, this would not have happened. They are no
better one than the other! But what is this? Faugh!" And he spat on
the ground.

There was excuse for his disgust. Across the open ground a group of
men were making their way in the direction of the Lieutenant's
quarters. They were the same men who had met him at the entrance on
his return with the Abbess and Joyeuse: nor had the lapse of four or
five days lessened the foulness of their aspect, or robbed them of the
slinking yet savage bearing--as of beasts of prey half tamed--which
bade beware of them. They shambled forward until they neared des
Ageaux, who was writing at an improvised table not far from the
Vicomte; then cringing they saluted him. Their eyes squinting this way
and that from under matted locks--as if at a gesture they were ready
to leap back--added to their beast-like appearance.

The Lieutenant's voice, as he asked the men with asperity what they
needed, came clearly to the ears of the group about the Vicomte. But
the Old Crocans' answer, expressed at length in a patois of the
country, was not audible.

"Foul carrion!" the Vicomte muttered. "What do they here?" while the
Abbess and Bonne, who had joined her, contemplated them with eyes of
shuddering dislike.

"What, indeed?" Bonne muttered, her cheek pale. She seemed to be
unable to take her eyes from them. "They frighten me! Oh, I hope they
will not be suffered to remain in the camp!"

"Is it that they wish?" the Vicomte asked.

"Yes, my lord," Solomon answered: he had gone forward, listened awhile
and returned. "They say that eleven more of their people were
surprised by Vlaye's men three hours ago, and cut to pieces. This is
the second time it has happened. They think that they are no longer
safe on the hill, and wish to join us."

"God forbid!" Bonne cried, with a strange insistence.

The Abbess looked at her. "Why so frightened?" she said
contemptuously. "One might suppose you were in greater danger than
others, girl!"

Bonne did not answer, but her distended eyes betrayed the impression
which the wretches' appearance made on her. Nor when Charles--who was
seldom off the ridge which was his special charge--remarked that after
all a man was a man, and they had not too many, could she refrain from
a word. "But not those!" she murmured. "Not those!"

Charles, who in these days saw more of the Bat than of any one else,
shrugged his shoulders. "I shall be surprised if he does not receive
them," he answered. "They are vermin and may give us trouble. But we
must run the risk. If we are to succeed we must run some risks."

Not that risk, however, it appeared. For he had scarcely uttered the
words when des Ageaux was seen to raise his hand, and point with stern
meaning to the entrance. "No," he said, his voice high and clear.
"Begone to your own and look to yourselves! You chose to go your own
way and a bloody one! Now your blood be on your own heads! Here is no
place for you, nor will I cover you!"

"My lord!" one cried in protest. "My lord, hear us!"

"No!" the Lieutenant replied harshly. "You had your warning and did
not heed it! M. de Villeneuve, when he came to you, warned you, and I
warned you. It was your own will to withdraw yourselves. You would
have naught but blood. You would burn and kill! Now, on your own
heads," he concluded with severity, "be your blood!"

They would have protested anew, but he dismissed them with a gesture
which permitted no denial. And sullenly, with stealthy gestures of
menace, they retreated towards the entrance; and gabbling more loudly
as they approached it, seemed to be imprecating vengeance on those who
cast them out. In the gate they lingered awhile, turning about and
scolding the man on guard. Then they passed out of sight, and were

As the last of them disappeared des Ageaux, who had kept a vigilant
eye on their retreat, approached the group about the Vicomte. The old
man, though he approved the action, could not refrain from giving his
temper vent.

"You are sure that you can do without them," he said, with a sneer.
His shaking hand betrayed his dislike of the man to whom he spoke.

"I believe I can," the Lieutenant answered. He spoke with unusual
gravity, but the next moment a smile--smiles had been rare with him of
late--curved the corners of his mouth. His eyes travelled from one to
another, and in a low voice, but one that betrayed his relief, "I will
tell you why, if you wish to know, M. le Vicomte."


Des Ageaux' smile grew broader, but his tone remained low. "Because I
have news," he returned. "And it is good news. I have had word
within the last hour that I may expect M. de Joyeuse's levies about
nightfall to-morrow, and a day or two later a reinforcement beyond my
hope--fifty men-at-arms whom the Governor of Agen has lent me, and
fifty from my garrison of Périgueux. With those we should have
enough--though not too many."

They received the news with words of congratulation or with grunts of
disdain, according as each felt about it. And all began to discuss the
tidings, though still in the tone of caution which the Lieutenant's
look enjoined. One only was silent, and with averted face saw the cup
of respite dashed from her lips. A hundred men beyond those looked
for! Such an accession must change hope to certainty, hazard to
surety. A few days would enable the Lieutenant to match rider for
rider with Vlaye, and still boast a reserve of four or five hundred
undisciplined allies. While jubilant voices hummed in her ears, and
those whom she was ready to kill because they hated him rejoiced, the
Abbess rose slowly and, detaching herself from the group, walked away.

No one followed her even with the eye; for the Duke, fatigued, and a
little hurt that she did not return, had retired into his quarters.
Nor would the most watchful have learned much from her movements, or,
unless jealous beyond the ordinary, have found aught to suspect in
what she did.

She strolled very slowly along the foot of the slope, as if in pure
idleness or to stretch limbs cramped by over-long sitting. Presently
she came to some tethered horses, and stood and patted them, and
looked them over; nor could any but the horses tell--and they could
not speak--that while her hand was on them her eyes were roving the
camp. Perhaps she found what she sought; perhaps it was chance only
that guided her steps in the direction of the tall young man with pale
eyes, whose violence had raised him to a certain leadership among the

It must have been chance, for when she reached his neighbourhood she
did not address him. She stooped and--what could be more womanly or
more natural?--she spoke to a naked child that rolled on the trampled
turf within arm's length of him. What she said--in French or patois,
or that infant language of which no woman's tongue is ignorant--the
baby could not say, for, like the horses, it could not speak. Yet it
must have found something unusual in her face, for it cowered from
her, as in terror. And what she said could have no interest for the
man who lounged near, though he seemed disturbed by it.

She toyed with the shrinking child a moment, then turned and walked
slowly back to the Vicomte's quarters. Her manner was careless, but
her face was pale. No wonder. For she had taken a step--and she knew
it--which she could never retrace. She had done that which she could
not undo. Between her and Bonne and Roger and Charles was a gulf
henceforth, though they might not know it. And the Duke? She winced a
little, recognising more plainly than before how far she stood below
the notion he had of her.

Yet she felt no remorse. On the contrary, the uppermost feeling in her
mind--and it ran riot there--was a stormy exultation. They who had
dragged her at their chariot wheels would learn that in forcing her to
take part against her lover they had made the most fatal of mistakes.
They triumphed now. They counted on sure success now. They thought to
hang him, as they would hang any low-bred thief! Very good! Let them
wait until morning, and talk then of hanging!

Once or twice, indeed, in the afternoon she was visited by misgivings.
The man she had seen was a mere savage; he might not have understood.
Or he might betray her, though that could hurt her little since no one
would believe him. Or the peasants, though wrought to fury, might
recoil at the last like the cowards they were!

But these and the like doubts arose not from compunction, but from
mistrust. Compunction was to come later, when evening fell and from
the door of the Duke's quarters she viewed the scene, now familiar, of
the hostages' departure in the dusk--saw the horses drawn up and the
two whom she was dooming in act to mount. It was then that a sudden
horror of what she was about seized her--she was young, a mere
girl--and she rose with a stifled cry from her stool. It was not yet
too late. A cry, a word would save them. Would save them still!
Impulsively she moved a pace towards them, intending--ay, for a
moment, intending to say that word.

But she stopped. A word would save them, but--she was forgetting--it
would doom her lover! And on that thought, and to reinforce it,
there rose before her mind's eye the pale puling features of the
Countess--her rival! Was she to be put aside for a thing like that?
Was it to such a half-formed child as that she must surrender her
lover? She pressed her hands together, and, returning to her seat, she
turned it about that her eyes might not see them as they went through
the dusk.

                            CHAPTER XVII.

                          THE HEART OF CAIN.

Seven hours had passed.

The moon had just dropped below the narrow horizon of the camp, but to
eyes which looked up from the blackness of the hollow the form of the
nearest sentinel, erect on the edge of the cup, showed plain against
the paler background of sky. The hour was the deadest of the night;
but, as the stillest night has its noises, the camp was not without
noises. The dull sound of horses browsing, the breath of a thousand
sleepers, the low whinny of a mare, or the muttered word of one who
dreamed heavily and spoke in his dream, these and the like sounds fed
a murmurous silence that was one with the brooding heaviness of a June

Odette de Villeneuve--the ears that drank in the voices of the
slumbering host were hers--stood half-hidden in the doorway of her
quarters and listened. The inner darkness had become intolerable to
her. The wattled walls, though they were ventilated by a hundred
crevices, stifled her. Pent behind them she fancied a hundred things;
she saw on the curtain of blackness drawn faces and staring eyes; she
made of the faintest murmur that entered now a roar of voices, and now
the hoarse beginnings of a scream. Outside, with the cooler air
fanning her burning face, she could at least lay hold on reality. She
was no longer the sport and plaything of her own strained senses. She
could at least be sure that nothing was happening, that nothing had
happened--yet. And though she still breathed quickly and crouched like
a fearful thing in the doorway, here she could call hate to her
support, she could reckon her wrongs and think of her lover, and
persuade herself that this was but a nightmare from which she would
awake to find all well with herself and with him.

If only the thing were over and done! Ah, if only it were done! That
was her feeling. If only the thing were done! She bent her ear to
listen; but nothing stirred, no alarm clove the night; and it could
want little of morning. She fancied that the air struck colder, laden
with that chill which comes before the dawn: and eastwards she thought
that she discerned the first faint lightening of the sky. The day was
at hand and nothing had happened.

She could not say on the instant whether she was sorry or glad. But
she was sure that she would be sorry when the sun rose high and shone
on her enemy's triumph, and Charles and Roger and Bonne, whom she had
taught herself to despise, saw their choice justified, and the side
they had supported victorious. The triumph of those beneath us is hard
to bear; and at that picture the Abbess's face grew hard, though there
was no one to see it. The blood throbbed in her head as she thought of
it; throbbed so loudly that she questioned the reality of a sound that
a moment later forced itself upon her senses. It was a sound not
unlike the pulsing of the blood; not terrible nor loud, but
rhythmical, such as the tide makes when it rises slowly but
irresistibly to fill some channel left bare at the ebb.

What was it? She stood arrested. Was it only the blood surging in her
ears? Or was it the silent uprising of a multitude of men, each from
the place where he lay? Or was it, could it be the stealthy march of
countless feet across the camp?

It might be that. She listened more intently, staying with one hand
the beating of her heart. She decided that it was that.

Thereon it was all she could do to resist the impulse to give the
alarm. She had no means of knowing in which direction the unseen band
was moving. She could guess, but she might be wrong; and in that case,
at any moment the night might hurl upon her a hundred brutes whose
first victim as they charged through the encampment she must be. She
fancied that the darkness wavered; and here and there bred shifting
forms. She fancied that the dull sound was drawing nearer and growing
louder. And--a scream rose in her throat.

She choked it down. An instant later she had her reward, if that was a
reward which left her white and shuddering--a coward clinging for
support to the frail wall beside her.

It was a shrill scream rending the night; such an one as had distended
her own throat an instant before--but stifled in mid-utterance in a
fashion horrible and suggestive. Upon it followed a fierce outcry in
several voices, cut short two seconds later with the same abruptness,
and followed by--silence. Then, while she clung cold, shivering, half
fainting to the wattle, the darkness gave forth again that dull
shuffling, moving sound, a little quickened perhaps, and a little more

This time it caused an alarm. Sharp and clear came a voice from the
ridge, "What goes there? Answer!"

No answer was given, and "Who goes there?" cried a voice from a
different point, and then "To arms!" cried a third. "To arms! To
arms!" And on a rising wave of hoarse cries the camp awoke.

The tall form of the Bat seemed to start up within a yard of the
Abbess. He seized a stick that hung beside a drum on a post, and in a
twinkling the hurried notes of the Alert pulsed through the camp. On
the instant men rose from the earth about him; while frightened faces,
seen by the rays of a passing light, looked from hut-doors, and the
cries of a waiting-maid struggling in hysterics mingled with the words
of command that brought the troopers into line and manned the ground
in front of the Vicomte's quarters. A trooper flew up the sloping
rampart to learn from the sentry what he had seen, and was back as
quickly with the news that the guards knew no more than was known
below. They had only heard a suspicious outcry, and following on it
sounds which suggested the movement of a body of men.

The Bat, bringing order out of confusion--and in that well aided by
Roger, though the lad's heart was bursting with fears for his
mistress--could do naught at the first blush but secure his position.
But when he had got his men placed, and lanthorns so disposed as to
advantage them and hamper an attack, he turned sharply on the man.
"Did they hear my lord's voice?" he asked.

"It was their fancy. Certainly the outcry came from that part of the

"Then out on them!" Roger exclaimed, unable to control himself. "Out
on them. To saddle and let us charge, and woe betide them if they

"Softly, softly," the Bat said. "Orders, young sir! Mine are to stand
firm, whatever betides, and guard the women! And that I shall do until

"Daylight?" Roger cried.

"Which is not half an hour off!"

"Half an hour!" The lad's tone rang with indignation. "Are you a man
and will you leave a woman at their mercy?" He was white with rage and
shaking. "Then I will go alone. I will go to their quarters--I,
alone!" As he thought of the girl he loved and her terrors his heart
was too big for his breast.

"And throw away another life?" the Bat replied sternly. "For shame!"

"For shame, I?"

"Ay, you! To call yourself a soldier and cry fie on orders!"

He would have added more, but he was forestalled by the Vicomte. In
his high petulant tone he bade his son stand for a fool. "There are
women here," he continued, sensibly enough, "and we are none too many
to guard them, as we are."

"Ay, but she" Roger retorted, trembling, "is alone there."

"A truce to this!" the Bat struck in, with heat. "To your post, sir,
and do your duty, or we are all lost together. Steady, men, steady!"
as a slight movement of the troopers at the breastwork made itself
felt rather than seen. "Pikes low! Pikes low! What is it?"

He saw then. The commotion was caused by the approach of a group of
men, three or four in number, whose neighbourhood one of the lights
had just betrayed. "Who comes there?" cried the leader of the
Countess's troopers, who was in charge of that end of the line. "Are
you friends?"

"Ay, ay! Friends!"

If so, they were timorous friends. For when they were bidden to
advance to the spot where the Bat with the Vicomte and Roger awaited
them, their alarm was plain. The foremost was the man who had spoken
for the peasants at the debate some days before. But the smith's
boldness and independence were gone; he was ashake with fear. "I have
bad news," he stammered. "Bad news, my lords!"

"The worse for some one!" the Bat answered with a grim undernote that
should have satisfied even Roger. As he spoke he raised one of the
lights from the ground, and held it so that its rays fell on the
peasants' faces. "Has harm happened to the hostages?"

"God avert it! But they have been carried off," the man faltered
through his ragged beard. It was evident that he was thoroughly

"Carried off?"

"Ay, carried off!"

"By whom? By whom, rascal?" The Bat's eyes glared dangerously. "By
Heaven, if you have had hand or finger in it----" he added.

"Should I be here if I had?" the man answered, piteously extending his
open hands.

"I know not. But now you are here, you will stay here! Surround them!"
And when the order had been carried out, "Now speak, or your skin will
pay for it," the Bat continued. "What has happened, spawn of the

"Some of our folk--God knows without our knowledge"--the smith
whined--"brought in a party of the men on the hill----"

"The Old Crocans from the town?"

"Ay! And they seized the--my lord and the lady--and got off with them!
As God sees me, they were gone before we were awake!" he protested,
seeing the threatening blade with which Roger was advancing upon him.

The Lieutenant held the lad back. "Very good," he said. "We shall
follow with the first light. If a hair of their heads be injured, I
shall hang you first, and the rest of you by batches as the trees will
bear!" And with a black and terrible look the Bat swore an oath to
chill the blood. The leader of the Countess's men repeated it after
him, word for word; and Roger, silent but with rage in his eyes, stood
shaking between them, his blade in his hand.

The Vicomte, his fears for the safety of his own party allayed, turned
to see who were present. He discovered his eldest daughter, leaning as
if not far from fainting, against the doorway of the Duke's quarters.
"Courage, girl," he said, in a tone of rebuke. "We are in no peril
ourselves, and should set an example. Where is your sister?"

"I do not know," the Abbess replied shakily. It was being borne in on
her that not two lives, but the lives of many, of scores and of
hundreds, might pay for what she had done. And she was new to the
work. "I have not seen her," she repeated with greater firmness, as
she summoned hate to her support, and called up before her fancy the
Countess's childish attractions. "She must be sleeping."

"Sleeping?" the Vicomte echoed in astonishment. He was going to add
more when another took the words out of his mouth.

"What is that?" It was Roger's voice fiercely raised. "By Heaven! It
is Fulbert."

It was Fulbert. As the men, of whom some were saddling--for the light
was beginning to appear--pressed forward to look, the steward crawled
out of the gloom about the brook, and, raising himself on one hand,
made painful efforts to speak. He looked like a dead man risen; nor
did the uncertain light of the lanthorns take from the horror of his
appearance. Probably he had been left for dead, for the smashing blow
of some blunt weapon had beaten in one temple and flooded his face and
beard with blood. The Abbess, faint and sick, appalled by this first
sign of her handiwork, hid her eyes.

"Follow! Follow!" the poor creature muttered, swaying as he strove to
rise to his feet. "A rescue!"

"With the first light," the Bat answered him. "With the first light!
How many are they?"

But he only muttered, "Follow! A rescue! A rescue!" and repeated those
words in such a tone that it was plain that he no longer understood
them, but said them mechanically. Perhaps they had been the last he
had uttered before he was struck down.

The Bat saw how it was with him; he had seen men in that state before.
"With the first light!" he said, to soothe him. "With the first light
we follow!" Then turning to his men he bade them carry the poor fellow
in and see to his hurts.

Roger sprang forward, eager to help. And they were bearing the man to
the rear, and the Abbess had taken heart to uncover her eyes, while
still averting them, when a strange sound broke from her lips--lips
blanched in an instant to the colour of paper. It caught the ear of
the Bat, who stood nearest to her. He turned. The Abbess, with arm
outstretched, was pointing to the door of the Countess's hut. There,
visible, though she seemed to shrink from sight, and even raised her
hand in deprecation, stood the Countess herself.

"By Heaven!" the Bat cried. And he stood. While Roger, in place of
advancing, gazed on her as on a ghost.

She tried to speak, but no sound came. And for the Abbess she had as
easily spoken as the dead. Her senses tottered, the slim figure danced
before her eyes, the voices of those who spoke came from a great way

It was the Vicomte who, being the least concerned, was first to find
his voice. "Is it you, Countess?" he quavered.

The Countess nodded. She could not speak.

"But how--how have you escaped?"

"Ay, how?" the Bat chimed in more soberly. He saw that it was no
phantom, though the mystery seemed none the less for that. "How come
you here, Countess? How--am I mad, or did you not go to their quarters
at sundown?"

"No," she whispered. "I did not go." She framed the words with
difficulty. Between shame and excitement she seemed ready to sink into
the earth.

"No? You did not? Then who--who did go? Some one went."

She made a vain attempt to speak. Then commanding herself--

"Bonne went--in my place," she cried. And clapping her hands to her
face in a paroxysm of grief, she leant, weeping, against the post of
the door.

They looked at one another and began to understand, and to see. And
one had opened his mouth to speak, when a strangled cry drew all eyes
to the Abbess. She seemed to be striving to put something from her.
Her staring eyes, her round mouth of horror, her waving fingers made
up a picture of terror comparable only to one of those masks which the
Greeks used in their tragedies of fate. A moment she showed thus, and
none of those who turned eye on her doubted that they were looking on
a stress of passion beside which the Countess's grief was but a puny
thing. The next moment she fell her length in a swoon.

                          *   *   *   *   *

When she came to herself an hour later she lay for a time with eyes
open but vacant, eyes which saw but conveyed no image to the ailing
brain. The sun was still low. Its shafts darting through the
interstices in the wall of the hut were laden with a million dancing
motes, which formed a shifting veil of light between her eyes and the
roof. She seemed to have been gazing at this a whole æon when the
first conscious thought pierced her mind, and she asked herself where
she was.

Where? Not in her own lodging, nor alone. This was borne in on her.
For on one side of her couch crouched one of her women; on the other
knelt the Countess, her face hidden. In the doorway behind the head of
the bed, and so beyond the range of her vision, were others; the low
drone of voices, her father's, the Duke's, penetrated one by one to
her senses still dulled by the shock she had suffered. Something had
happened then; something serious to her, or she would not lie thus
surrounded with watchers on all sides of her bed. Had she been ill?

She considered this silently, and little by little began to remember:
the flight to the camp, the camp life, the Duke's hut in which she had
passed most of her time in the camp. Yes, she was in the Duke's hut,
and that was his voice. She was lying on his couch. They had been
besieged, she remembered. Had she been wounded? From under half-closed
lids she scrutinised the two women beside her. The one she knew. The
other must be her sister. Yes, her sister would be the first to come,
the first to aid her. But it was not her sister. It was----

She knew.

She called on God and lay white and mute, shaking violently, but with
closed eyes. The women rose and looked at her, and suggested remedies,
and implored her to speak. But she lay cold and dumb, and only from
time to time by violent fits of trembling showed that she was alive.
What had she done? What had she done?

The women could make nothing of her. Nor when they had tried their
utmost could her father, though he came and chid her querulously; his
tone the sharper for the remorse he was feeling. He had had an hour to
think; and during that hour the obedience which his less cherished
daughter had ever paid him, her cheerful care of him, her patience
with him, had risen before him; and, alas, with these thoughts, the
memory of many an unkind word and act, many a taunt flung at her as
lightly as at the dog that cumbered the hearth. To balance the
account, and a little perhaps because the way in which Odette took it
was an added reproach to him, he spoke harshly to the Abbess--such is
human nature! But, for all the effect his words had on her, he might
have addressed a stone. That which she had done thundered too loudly
in her ears for another's voice to enter.

She had not loved her sister over dearly, and into such love as she
had given contempt had entered largely. But she was her sister. She
was her sister! Memories of childish days in the garden at Villeneuve,
when Bonne had clung to her hand and run beside her, and prattled,
and played, and quarrelled, and yielded to her--being always the
gentler--rose in her mind; and memories of little words and acts, and
of Bonne's face on this occasion and on that! And dry-eyed she shook
with horror of the thing she had done. Her sister! She had done her
sister to death more cruelly, more foully, more barbarously, than if
she had struck her lifeless at her feet.

An age, it seemed to her, she lay in this state, cold, paralysed,
without hope. Then a word caught her ear and fixed her attention.

"They have been away two hours," Joyeuse muttered, speaking low to the
Vicomte. "They should be back."

"What could they do?" the Vicomte answered in a tone of despair.

"Forty swords can do much," Joyeuse answered hardily. "Were I sound I
should know what to do. And that right well!"

"They started too late."

"The greater reason they should be back! Were all over they would be

"I have no hope."

"I have. Had they desired to kill them only," the Duke continued with
reason, "the brutes had done it here, in a moment! If they did not
hope to use them why carry them off?"

But the Vicomte with a quivering lip shook his head. He was still
thinking--with marvellous unselfishness for him--of the daughter who
had borne with him so long and so patiently. For des Ageaux there
might be hope and a chance. But a woman in the hands of savages such
as those he had seen in the town on the hill! He shuddered as he
thought of it. Better death, better death a hundred times than that.
He did not wish to see her again.

But in one heart the mention of hope had awakened hope. The Abbess
raised herself on her elbow. "Who have gone?" she asked in a voice so
hollow and changed they started as at the voice of a stranger. "Who
are gone?" she repeated.

"All but eight spears!" the Duke answered.

"Why not all?" she cried feverishly. "Why not all?"

"Some it was necessary to keep," Joyeuse replied gently. "Not one has
been kept that could go. If your sister can be saved, she will be

"Too late!" the Vicomte muttered. And he shook his head.

The Abbess sank back with a groan. But a moment later she broke into a
passion of weeping. The cord that had bound her heart had snapped. The
first horror of the thing which she had done was passing. The first
excuse, the first suggestion that for that which she had not intended
she was not answerable, was whispering at the threshold of her ear. As
she wept in passionate, in unrestrained abandonment, regarding none of
those about her, wonder, an almost resentful wonder, grew in the
Vicomte's heart. He had not given her credit for a tithe, for a
hundredth part of the affection she felt for her sister! For the Duke,
he, who had seen her consistently placid, garbed in gentle dignity,
and as unemotional as she was beautiful, marvelled for a different
reason. He hailed the human in her with delight; he could have blessed
the weeping girl for every tear that proclaimed her woman. By the
depth of her love for her sister he plumbed her capacity for a more
earthly passion. He rejoiced, therefore, as much as he marvelled.

There was one other upon whom Odette's sudden breakdown wrought even
more powerfully; and that was the Countess. While the sister remained
stunned by the dreadful news and deaf to consolation, the poor child,
who took all to herself and mingled shame with her grief, had not
dared to speak; she had not found the heart or the courage to speak.
Awed by the immensity of the catastrophe, and the Abbess's stricken
face, she had cowered on her knees beside the bed with her face
hidden; and weeping silently and piteously, had not presumed to
trouble the other with her remorse or her useless regret. But the
tears of a woman appeal to another woman after a fashion all their
own. They soften, they invite. No sooner, then, had Odette proclaimed
herself human by the abandonment of her grief than the Countess felt
the impulse to throw herself into her arms and implore her
forgiveness. She knew, none better, that Bonne had suffered in her
place; that in her place and because of her fears--proved only too
real--she had gone to death or worse than death; that the fault lay
with herself. And that she took it to herself, that her heart was full
of remorse and love and contrition--all this she longed to say to the
sister. Before Odette knew what to expect or to fear, the younger
woman was in her arms.

One moment. The next Odette struck her--struck her with furious,
frantic rage, and flung her from her. "It is you! You have done this!
You!" she cried, panting, and with blazing eyes. "You have killed her!

The young girl staggered back with the mark of the Abbess's fingers
crimson on her cheek. She stood an instant breathing hard, the
combative instinct awakened by the blow showing in her eyes and her
small bared teeth. Then she flung her hands to her face. "It is true!
It is true!" she sobbed. "But I did not know!"

"Know?" the Abbess cried back relentlessly; and she was going to add
other and madder and more insulting words, when her father's face of
amazement checked her. She fell back sullenly, and with a gesture of
despair turned her face to the wall.

The Vicomte was on his feet, shocked by what had passed. He began to
babble words of apology, of excuse; while Joyeuse, ravished, strange
to say, by the spirit of the woman he had deemed above anger and above
passion, smiled exultant, wondering what new, what marvellous, what
incomparable side of herself this wonderful woman would next exhibit.
He who had exhausted all common types, all common moods, saw that he
had here the quintessence both of heaven and earth. Her beauty, her
meekness, her indignation, her sorrow--what an amalgam was here! And
how all qualities became her!

Had Roger been there he had taken, it is possible, another view. But
he was not; and presently into the halting flow of the Vicomte's words
crept a murmur, a tramp of feet, a sound indescribable, but
proclaiming news. He broke off. "What is it?" he said. "What is it?"

"News! Ay, news, for a hundred crowns!" the Duke answered. He moved to
the door.

The Countess, her face bedabbled with tears, tears of outraged pride
as well as grief, stayed her sobs and looked in the same direction.
Even the Abbess caught the infection, and raising her head from the
pillow listened with parted lips and staring eyes. News! There was
news. But what was it? Good or bad? The Abbess, her heart standing
still, bit her lip till the blood came.

The murmur of voices drew nearer.

                            CHAPTER XVIII.

                           TWO IN THE MILL.

It is possible that Bonne did not herself know in what proportions
pity and a warmer sentiment entered into her motives when she
undertook to pass for the Countess and assume the girl's risks.
Certainly her first thought was for the Countess; and, for the rest,
she felt herself cleared from the reproach of unmaidenliness by the
danger of the step which she was taking. Even so, as she rode across
the camp in the dusk of the first evening, into the half pain, half
pleasure that burned her cheeks under the disguising hood entered some
heat of shame.

Not that it formed a part of her plan that des Ageaux should discover
her. To be near him unknown, to share his peril whom she loved, while
he remained unwitting, to give and take nothing--this was the essence
of the mystery that charmed her fancy, this was the heart of the
adventure on which her affection had settled. He, by whose side she
rode, and near whom she must pass the dark hours in a solitude which
only love could rob of its terrors, must never know what she had done
for love of him; or know it only from her lips in a delicious future
on which reason forbade her to count.

In supporting her disguise she was perfectly successful. No suspicion
that the girl riding beside him in depressed silence was other than
the Countess, the unwilling sharer of his exile, crossed his mind.
Bonne, hooded to the eyes and muffled in her cloak, sat low-hunched on
her horse. Fulbert, who was in the secret, and to whom nothing which
any one could do for his adored mistress seemed odd or extraordinary,
helped her to mount and dismount, and nightly lay grim and stark
across the door of her hut repelling inquiry. Add the fact that the
Lieutenant on his side had his delicacy. Fortune compelled the
Countess into his company, forced her on his protection. It behoved
him to take no advantage, and, short of an indifference that might
appear brutal, to leave her as much as possible to herself.

Bonne therefore had her wish. He had no slightest suspicion who was
with him. She had, too, if she needed it, proof of his honour; proof
certain that if he loved the great lady, he respected her to the same
extent. Love her he might, see in her a grand alliance he might; but
had he been the adventurer the Abbess styled him, he had surely made
more of this opportunity, more of her helplessness and her dependence.
The Countess's fortune, the wide lands that had tempted Vlaye, what a
chance of making them sure was his! No great lady was here, but a
young girl helpless, terrified, hedged in by perils. Such an one would
be ready at the first word, at a sign, to fling herself into the arms
of her only friend, her only protector, and promise him all and
everything if he would but save her scatheless.

Bonne had imagination enough, and perhaps jealousy enough, to picture
the temptation. And finding him superior to it--so that in the
sweetness of her secret nearness to him was mingled no gall--she
whispered to herself that if he loved he did not love overmuch. Was it
possible that he did not love--in that direction? Was it possible that
he had no more feeling for the Countess than she had for him?

Perhaps for an hour Bonne was happy--happy in these thoughts. Happy
while the tones of his even and courteous voice, telling her that she
need fear nothing, dwelt in her ears. For that period the pleasures of
fancy overcame the tremors of the real. Then--for sleep was in no
haste to visit her--a chance rustle, caused by something moving in her
neighbourhood, the passage it might be of a prowling dog, made her
prick her ears, forced her against her will to listen, sent a creepy
chill down her back. After that she was lost. She did not wish to
think of such things, it was foolish to think of such things; but how
flimsy were the walls of her hut! How defenceless she lay, in the
midst of the savage, grisly horde, whose looks even in the daylight
had paled her cheeks. How useless must two swords prove against a

She must divert her thoughts. Alas, when she tried to do so, she found
it impossible. It was in vain that she chid herself, in vain that she
asked herself what she was doing there, if des Ageaux' presence were
no charm against fear, if with him at hand she was a coward! Always
some sound, something that seemed the shuffle of feet or the whisper
of murder, brought her to earth with quivering nerves; and as by the
Lieutenant's desire she burned no light, she could not interpret the
most innocent alarm or learn its origin. She was no coward. But to lie
in the dark, expecting and trembling, and thrice in the hour to sit up
bathed in perspiration--a short experience of this left her no right
to despise the younger girl whose place she had taken. When at last
the longed-for light pierced the thin walls, and she knew that the
night was past, she knew also that she looked forward to a second with
dread. And she hated herself for it.

Not that to escape a hundred such nights would she withdraw. If she
suffered, what must the child have suffered? She was clear that the
Countess must not go again. But during the day she was more grave than
usual; more tender with her father, more affectionate to her sister.
And when she rode across the camp in the evening, exciting as little
suspicion as before, she carried with her, hidden in her dress, a
thing that she touched now and again to assure herself of its safety.
She took it with her to the rough pallet on which she lay in her
clothes; and her hand clasped it under the pillow. Something of a link
it seemed between her and des Ageaux, so near yet so unwitting; for as
she held it her mind ran on him. It kept at bay, albeit it was a
strange amulet for a woman's hand, the thought that had troubled her
the previous night; and though more than once she raised herself on
her elbow, fancying that she heard some one moving outside, the
panic-terror that had bedewed her brow was absent. She lay down again
on these occasions with her fingers on her treasure. And towards
morning she slept--slept so soundly that when the light touched her
eyelids and woke her, she sprang up in pleased confusion. They were
calling her, the horses were waiting at the door. And in haste she
wrapped herself in her travesty.

"I give you joy of your courage, Countess!" the Lieutenant said, as he
came forward to assist her to mount. Fortunately Fulbert, with
apparent clumsiness, interposed and did her the office. "You have
slept?" des Ageaux continued, as he swung himself into his saddle and
took his place by her side. "That's good," accepting her inarticulate
murmur for assent. "Well, one more night will end it, I fancy. I
greatly, very greatly regret," he continued, speaking with more warmth
than usual, "that it has been necessary to expose you to this strain,

Again she muttered something through her closely drawn hood.
Fortunately a chill, grey mist, through which the huts loomed
gigantic, swathed the camp, and he thought that it was to guard
herself from this that she kept her mouth covered. He suspected
nothing, though, at dismounting, Fulbert interposed again. In two
minutes from starting she was safe within the shelter of the
Countess's hut, with the Countess's arms about her, and the child's
grateful kisses warm on her cheek.

He had praised her courage! That was something; nay, it was much if he
learned the truth. But he should never learn it from her, she was
resolved. She had the loyalty which, if it gives, gives nobly; nor by
telling robs the gift of half its virtue. She had saved the younger
woman some hours of fear and misery, but at a price too high were she
ever to speak and betray her confidence. No one saw that more clearly
than Bonne, or was more firmly resolved to hide her share in the

The third night she set out, not with indifference, since she rode by
his side whose presence could never be indifferent to her, but with a
heart comparatively light. If she took with her the charm which had
served her so well, if it attended her to her couch and lay beneath
her pillow, it was no longer the same thing to her; she smiled as she
placed it there. And if her fingers closed on it in silence and
darkness and she derived some comfort from it, she fell asleep with
scarce a thought of the things its presence imported. For two nights
she had slept little; now, worn-out, she was proof against all
ordinary sounds, the rustle of a dog prowling in search of food, or
the restless movements of a horse tethered near. Ay, and against other
sounds as stealthy as these and more dangerous, that by-and-by crept
rustling and whispering through the camp; sounds caused by a cloud of
low stooping figures that moved and halted, lurked behind huts, and
anon swept forward across an open space, and again lurking showed like
some dark shadow of the night.

A shadow fraught, when it bared its face, with horror! For what was
that cry, sharp, wild, stopped in mid-utterance?

Even as Bonne sprang up palpitating, and glared at the open doorway,
the cry rose again--close by her; and the doorway melted into a press
of dark forms that hurled themselves on her as soon as they were seen.
She was borne back, choked, stifled; and desperately writhing, vainly
striving to shriek, or to free mouth or hands from the folds of the
coverlets that blinded her, she felt herself lifted up in a grasp
against which it was vain to struggle. A moment, and with a shock that
took away what breath was left in her, she was flung head and heels
across something--across a horse; for the moment the thing felt her
weight it moved under her.

Whoever rode it held her pitilessly, cruelly heedless of the pain her
position caused her. She could hardly breathe, she could not see, the
movement was torture; for her arms, pinned above her head, were caught
in the folds of the thing that swathed her, and she could not use them
to support herself. Her one thought, her only thought was to keep her
senses; her one instinct to maintain her grip on the long sharp knife
which had lain under her pillow; and which had become more valuable to
her than the wealth of the world. The hand that had rested on it in
her sleep had tightened on it in the moment of surprise. She had it,
she felt it, her fingers, even while she groaned in pain, stiffened
about its haft.

It was useless to struggle, but by a movement she managed at last to
relieve the pressure on her side. The blood ceased to run so
tumultuously to her head. And by-and-by, under the mufflings, she
freed her hands, and by holding apart the edges of the stuff was able
to breathe more easily, and even to learn something of what was
happening about her. Abreast of her horse moved another horse, and on
either side of the two ran and trotted a score of pattering naked
feet, feet of the unkempt filthy Crocans from the hill-town, or of the
more desperate spirits in the camp--feet of men from whom no ruth or
mercy was to be expected.

Were they clear of the camp? Yes, for to one side the water of the
stream glimmered between the pattering feet. As she made the discovery
the other horse sidled against the one that bore her, and all but
crushed her head and shoulders between their bodies. She only saved
herself by lifting herself convulsively; on which the man who held her
thrust her down brutally with an oath as savage as the action. She
uttered a moan of pain, but it was wrung from her against her will.
She would have suffered twice as much and gladly to learn what she
knew now.

The horse beside her also carried double; and the after rider was a
prisoner, a man with his hands bound behind him, and his feet roped
under the horse's body. A prisoner? If so it could be no other than
des Ageaux. As she swung, painfully, to the movement of the horse
across whose withers she lay, her pendant hands lacked little of
touching, under cover of the stuff, his bound wrists.

Little? Nay, nothing. For suddenly the footmen, for a reason which she
did not immediately divine, fell away leftwards, and the horse that
bore the other prisoner strove to turn with them. Being spurred it
sidled once more against hers, and though she raised herself, her head
rubbed the rider's leg. The man noticed it, patted her head, and made
a jest upon it. "She wants to come to me," he said. "My burden for
yours, Matthias!"

"Wait until we are through the ford and I'll talk," her captor
answered. "What will you offer for her? But it is so cursed dark
here"--with an oath--"I can see nothing! We had better have crossed
with them at the stepping-stones and led over." As he spoke he turned
his horse to the ford.

She knew then that the footmen had crossed by the stepping-stones, a
hundred yards short of the ford. And she felt that Heaven itself had
given her, weak as she was, this one opportunity. As the men urged
their horses warily into the stream she stretched herself out stiffly,
and gripping the bound hands that hung within her reach, she cut
recklessly, heeding little whether she cut to the bone if she could
only cut the cords. The man who held her felt her body writhing under
his hand; for she knew that any instant the other horse might move out
of reach. But he was thinking most of his steed's footing, he had no
fear that she could wrest herself from him, and he contented himself
for the moment with a curse and a threat.

"Burn the wench," he cried, "she won't be still!"

"Don't let her go!" the other answered.

"No fear! And when we have her on the hill she shall pay for this!

It was his last word. The keen long knife had passed from her hands to
des Ageaux', from her weak fingers to his practised grip. As the man
who held her paused to peer before him--for the ford, shadowed by
spreading trees, was dark as pitch--des Ageaux drove the point
straight and sure into the throat above the collar-bone. The action
was so sudden, so unexpected, that the man he struck had no time to
cry out, but with a low gurgling moan fell forward on his burden.

His comrade who rode before the Lieutenant knew little more. Before he
could turn, almost before he could give the alarm, the weapon was
driven in between his shoulders, and the Lieutenant, availing himself
of the purchase which his bound feet gave him, hurled him over the
horse's head. Unfortunately the man had time to utter one shriek, and
the cry with the splash, and the plunging of the terrified horse, bore
the alarm to his comrades on the bank.

"What is it? What is the matter?" a voice asked. And a score of feet
could be heard pounding hurriedly along the bank.

The Lieutenant had one moment only in which to make his choice. If he
remained on the horse, which he could not restrain, for the reins had
fallen, he might escape, but the girl must perish. He did not
hesitate. As the frightened horse reared he cut his feet loose, and
slid from it. He made one clutch at the floating reins but missed
them. Before he could make a second the terrified animal was on the

There remained the girl's horse. But Bonne, drenched by the dying
man's blood, had flung herself off--somehow, anyhow, in irrepressible
horror. As des Ageaux turned she rose, dripping and panting beside
him, her nerve quite gone. "Oh, oh!" she cried. "Save me! Save me!"
and she clung to him.

Alas, while she clung to him her horse floundered out of the stream,
and trotted after its fellow.

The pursuers were no more than thirty yards away, and but for the deep
shadow which lay on the ford must have seen them. The Lieutenant had
no time to think. He caught the girl up, and as quickly as he could he
waded with her to the bank from which they had entered the water. Once
on dry land he set her on her feet, seized her wrist and gripped it

"Courage!" he said. "We must run! Run for your life, and if we can
reach the wind-mill we may escape!"

He spoke harshly, but his words had the effect he intended. She
straightened herself, caught up her wet skirt and set off with him
across the road and up the bare hill-side. He knew that not far above
them stood a wind-mill with a narrow doorway in which one man might
make some defence against numbers. The chance was slight, the hope
desperate; but he could see no other. Already the pursuers were
splashing through the ford and scattering on the trail, some running
up the stream, some down, some stooping cunningly to listen. To remain
beside the water was to be hunted as otters are hunted.

His plan answered well at first. For a few precious instants their
line of retreat escaped detection. They even increased their start,
and had put fifty or sixty yards of slippery hill-side between
themselves and danger before a man of sharper ears than his fellows
caught the sound of a stone rolling down the slope, and drew the hue
and cry in the right direction. By that time the dark form of the
wind-mill was faintly visible sixty or eighty yards above the
fugitives. And the race was not ill set.

But Bonne's skirt hung heavy, her knees shook; and nearer and nearer
she heard the pursuers' feet. She could do no more! She must fall, her
lungs were bursting! But des Ageaux dragged her on ruthlessly, and on;
and now the wind-mill was not ten paces before them.

"In!" he cried. "In!" And loosing her hand, he turned, quick as a
hare, the knife gleaming in his hand.

But the nearest man--the Lieutenant's ear had told him that only one
was quite near--saw the action and the knife, and as quickly sheered
off, to wait for his companions. The Lieutenant turned again, and in
half a dozen bounds was through the low narrow doorway and in the mill

He had no sword, he had only the knife, still reeking. But he made no
complaint. Instead, "There were sheep penned here yesterday," he
panted. "There are some bars somewhere. Grope for them and find them."

"Yes!" she said. And she groped bravely in the darkness, though her
breath came in sobs. She found the bars. Before the half-dozen men who
led the chase had squeezed their courage to the attacking point, the
bars that meant so much to the fugitives were in their places. Then
des Ageaux bade her keep on one side, while he crouched with his knife
beside the opening.

The men outside were chattering and scolding furiously. At length they
scattered, and instead of charging the doorway, fired a couple of
shots into it and held off, waiting for reinforcements. "Courage, we
have a fair chance now," the Lieutenant muttered. And then in a
different tone, "Thanks to you! Thanks to you!" with deep emotion.
"Never woman did braver thing!"

"Then do you one thing for me!" she answered, her voice shaking.
"Promise that I shall not fall into their hands! Promise, sir,
promise," she continued hysterically, "that you will kill me yourself!
I have given you my knife. I have given you all I had. If you will not
promise you must give it back to me."

"God forbid!" he said. And then, "Dear Lord, am I mad? Who was it I
picked up at the ford? Am I mad or dreaming? You are not the

"I took her place," she panted. "I am Bonne de Villeneuve." The place
was so dark that neither could see the other's face, nor so much as
the outline of the figure.

"I might have known it," he cried impulsively. And even in that moment
of danger, of discomfort, of uncertainty, the girl's heart swelled at
the inference she drew from his words. "I might have known it!" he
repeated with emotion. "No other woman would have done it, sweet,
would have done it' But how--I am as far from understanding as
ever--how come you to be here? And not the Countess?"

"I took her place," Bonne repeated--the truth must out now. "She is
very young and it was hurting her. She was ill."

"You took her place? To-night?"

"This is--the third night."

"And I"--in a tone of wonder that a second time brought the blood to
her cheeks--"I never discovered you! You rode beside me all those
nights--all those nights and I never knew you! Is it possible?"

She did not answer.

He was silent a moment. Then, "By Heaven, it was well for me that you
did!" he murmured. "Very well! Very well! Without you where should I
be now?" His eyes strove to pierce the darkness in which she crouched
on the farther side of the opening, scarce out of reach of his hand.
"Where should I be now? A handsome situation," he continued bitterly,
"for the Governor of Périgord to be seized and hurried to a dog's
death by a band of brigands! And to be rescued by a woman!"

"Is it so dreadful to you," she murmured, "to owe your life to a

"Is it so dreadful to me," he repeated in an altered tone, "to owe my
life to you, do you mean? I am willing to owe all to you. You are the
only woman----"

But there, even as her heart began to flutter, he stopped. He stopped
and she fell to earth. "They are coming!" he muttered. "Keep yourself
close! For God's sake, keep yourself close!"

"And you too!" she cried impulsively. "Your life is mine."

He did not answer: perhaps he did not hear. The Crocans who had spent
some minutes in consultation had brought a beam up the hill. They were
about to drive it against the stout wooden bars, of which they must
have guessed the presence, since they could not see them. The plan was
not unwise; and as they fell into a ragged line on either side of the
ram, while three skirmished forward, with a view to leaping into the
opening before the defenders could recover from the shock, the
Lieutenant's heart sank. The form of attack was less simple than he
had hoped. He had exulted too soon.

Whether Bonne knew this or not, she acted as if she knew it. As the
leader of the assault shouted to his men to be ready, and the men
lifted the beam hip high, she flitted across the opening, and des
Ageaux felt her fingers close upon his arm.

He did not misunderstand her: he knew that she meant only to remind
him of his promise. But at the touch a wave of feeling, as unexpected
as it was irresistible, filled the breast of the case-hardened
soldier; who, something cold by nature, had hitherto found in his
career all that he craved. At that touch the admiration and interest
which had been working within him since his talk with Bonne in the old
garden at Villeneuve blossomed into a feeling infinitely more tender,
infinitely stronger--into a love that craved return. The girl who had
saved him, who had proved herself so brave, so true, so gentle, what a
wife would she be! What a mother of brave and loyal and gentle
children, meet sons and daughters of a loyal sire! And even as he
thought that thought and was conscious of the love that pervaded his
being, he felt her shiver against him, and before he knew it his arm
was round her, he was clasping her to him, giving her assurance that
until the end--until the end he would not let her go! He would never
let her go.

And the end was not yet. For his lips in that moment which he thought
might be their last found hers in the darkness, and she knew seconds
of a great joy that seemed to her long as hours as she crouched
against him unresisting; while the last orders of the men who sought
their lives found strange echo in his words of love.

Crash! The splinters flew to right and left, the two upper bars were
gone, dully the beam struck the back of the mill. But he had drawn her
behind him, and was waiting with the tight-grasped knife for the man
bold enough to leap through the opening. Woe betide the first, though
he must keep his second blow for her. After that--if he had to strike
her--there would be one moment of joy, while he fought them.

But the stormers, poor-hearted, deemed the breach insufficient. They
drew back the beam, intending to break the lowest bar, which still
held place. Once more they cried, "One! Two!" But not "Three!" In
place of the word a yell of pain rang loud, down crashed the
battering-ram, and high rose--as all fled headlong--a clamour of
shrieks and curses. A moment and the thunder of hoofs followed, and
mail-clad men, riding recklessly along the steep hill-side, fell on
the poor naked creatures, and driving them pell-mell before them amid
stern cries of vengeance, cut and hacked them without mercy.

Trembling violently, Bonne clung to her lover. "Oh, what is it? What
is it?" she cried. "What is it?" Her spirits could endure no more.

"Safety!" he replied, the harder nature of the man asserting itself.
"Safety, sweetheart! Hold up your head, brave! What, swooning now when
all is well!"

Ay, swooning now. The word safety sufficed. She fell against him, her
head dropped back.

As soon as he was assured of it, he lifted her in his arms with a new
feeling of ownership. And climbing, not without difficulty, over the
bar that remained, he emerged into something that, in comparison of
the darkness within the mill, was light--for the day was coming.
Before the door two horsemen, still in their saddles, awaited him. One
was tall, the other stout and much shorter.

"Is that you, Roger?" he asked. It was not light enough to discern

The shorter figure to which he addressed himself did not answer. The
other, advancing a pace and reining up, spoke.

"No," he said, in a tone that at once veiled and exposed his triumph,
"I am the Captain of Vlaye. And you are my prisoner."

                             CHAPTER XIX.


The four who looked to the door of the Duke's hut, and waited for the
news, were not relieved as quickly as they expected. When men return
with no news they are apt to forget that others are less wise than
themselves; and where, with something to impart, they had flown to
relieve the anxious, they are prone to forget that the negative has
its value for those who are in suspense.

Hence some minutes elapsed before Roger presented himself. And when he
came and they cried breathlessly, "Well, what news?" his answer was a
look of reproach.

"Should I not have come at once if there had been any?" he said.
"Alas, there is none."

"But you must have some!" they cried.

"Nothing," he answered, almost sullenly. "All we know is that they
quarrelled over their prisoners. The hill above the ford is a

The Vicomte repressed the first movement of horror. "Above the ford?"
he said. "How came they there?"

Roger shrugged his shoulders. "We don't know," he said. And then
reading a dreadful question in his sister's eyes, "No, there is no
sign of them," he continued. "We crossed to the old town on the hill,
but found it locked and barred. The brutes mopped and mowed at us from
the wall, but we could get no word of Christian speech from them. They
seemed to be in terror of us--which looks ill. But we had no ladders
and no force sufficient to storm it, and the Bat sent me back with ten
spears to make you safe here while he rode on with Charles towards

"Villeneuve?" the Vicomte asked, raising his eyebrows. "Why?"

"There were tracks of a large body of horsemen moving in that
direction. The Bat hopes that some of the wretches quarrelled with the
others, and carried off the prisoners, and are holding them safe--with
an eye to their own necks."

"God grant it!" Odette muttered in a low tone, and with so much
feeling that all looked at her in wonder. Nor had the prayer passed
her lips many seconds before it was answered. The sound of voices drew
their looks to the door, a shadow fell across the threshold, the
substance followed. As the little Countess sprang forward with a
shriek of joy and the Abbess dropped back in speechless emotion, Bonne
stood before them.

"He has granted her prayer," the Duke muttered in astonishment. "_Laus
Deo!_" While Roger, scarcely less surprised than if a ghost had
appeared before them, stared at his sister with all his eyes.

She barely looked at them. "I am tired," she said. "Bear with me a
moment. Let me sit down." Then, as if she were not content with the
surprise which her words caused, "Don't touch me!" she continued,
recoiling before the Countess's approach. "Wait until you have heard
all. You have little cause for joy. Wait!"

The Vicomte thought his worst fears justified. "But, my child," he
faltered, "is that all you have to say to us?" And to the others, in a
lower voice, "She is distraught! She is beside herself. Can those

"I escaped them," she replied, in the same dull tones. "They have done
me no harm. Let me rest a minute before I tell you."

Roger stayed the inquiry after the Lieutenant which was on his lips.
It was evident to him and to all that something serious had happened:
that the girl before them was not the girl who had ridden away
yesterday with so brave a heart. But, freed from that fear of the
worst which the Vicomte had entertained, they knew not what to think.
Some signs of shock, some evidences of such an experience as she had
passed through, were natural; but the reaction should have cast her
into their arms, not withheld her--should have flung her weeping on
her sister's shoulder, not frozen her in this strange apathy.

The Abbess, indeed, who had recovered from the paroxysm of gratitude
into which Bonne's return had cast her, eyed her sister with the
shadow of a terror. Conscience, which makes cowards of us all,
suggested to her an explanation of her sister's condition, adequate
and more than adequate. A secret alarm kept her silent therefore:
while the young Countess, painfully aware that she had escaped all
that Bonne had suffered, sank under new remorse. For the others, they
did not know what to think: and stealthily reading one another's eyes,
felt doubts that they dared not acknowledge. Was it possible,
notwithstanding her denial, that she had suffered ill-treatment?

"Perhaps it were better," the Duke muttered, "if we left mademoiselle
in the care of her sister?"

But low as he spoke, Bonne heard. She raised her head wearily. "This
does not lie with her," she said.

The Abbess breathed more freely. The colour came back to her cheeks.
She sat upright, relieved from the secret fear that had oppressed her.
"With whom, then, child?" she asked in her natural voice. "And why
this mystery? But we--have forgotten"--her voice faltered, "we have
forgotten," she repeated hardily, "M. des Ageaux. Is he safe?"

"It is of him I am going to speak," Bonne replied heavily.

"He has not--he has not fallen."

"He is alive."

"Thank Heaven for that!" Roger cried with heartiness, his eyes
sparkling. "Has he gone on with Charles and the Bat?"


"Then where is he?" She did not answer, and, startled, Roger looked at
her, the others looked at her. All waited for the reply.

"He is in the Captain of Vlaye's hands," she said slowly. And a gentle
spasm, the beginning of weeping which did not follow, convulsed her
features. "He saved me," she continued in trembling tones, "from the
peasants, only to fall into M. de Vlaye's hands."

"Well, that was better!" Roger answered.

Her lips quivered, but she did not reply. Perhaps she was afraid of
losing that control over herself which it had cost her much to

But the Vicomte's patience, never great, was at an end. He saw that
this was going to prove a troublesome matter. Hence his sudden
querulousness. "Come, come, girl," he said petulantly. "Tell us what
has happened, and no nonsense! Come, an end, I say! Tell us what has
happened from the beginning, and let us have no mysteries!"

She began. In a low voice, and with the same tokens of repressed
feeling, she detailed what had happened from the moment of the
invasion of her hut by the peasants to the release of des Ageaux and
the struggle in the river-bed.

"He owes us a life there," the Vicomte exclaimed, while Roger's eyes
beamed with pride.

She paid no heed to her father's interjection, but continued the story
of the succeeding events--the assault on the mill, and the arrival of
Vlaye and his men.

"Who in truth and fact saved your lives then," Roger said. "I forgive
him much for that! It is the best thing I have heard of him."

"He saved my life," Bonne replied, with a faint but perceptible
shudder. She kept her eyes down as if she dared not meet their looks.

"But the Lieutenant's too," the Vicomte objected. "You told us that he
was alive."

"He is alive," she murmured. And the trembling began to overpower her.
"Still alive."


"But to-morrow at sunrise--" her voice shook with the pent-up
misery, the long-repressed pain of her three hours' ride from
Vlaye--"to-morrow at sunrise, he--he must die!"


The word came from one who so far had been silent. And the Duke rising
from his place by the door stood upright, supporting his weakened form
against the wall of the hut. "What?" he repeated in a voice that in
spite of his weakness rang clear and loud with anger. "He will not

"M. de Vlaye?" the Vicomte muttered in a discomfited tone, "I am
sure--I am sure he will not--dream of such a thing. Certainly not!"

"M. de Vlaye says that if--if----" Bonne paused as if she could not
force her pallid lips to utter the words--"he says that at sunrise
to-morrow he will hang him as the Lieutenant last week hung one of his

"For murder! Clear proved murder!" Roger cried in an agitated voice.
"Before witnesses!"

"Then by my salvation I will hang him!" Joyeuse retorted in a voice
which shook with rage; and one of those frantic, blasphemous passions
to which all of his race were subject overcame him. "I will hang him
high as Haman, and like a dog as he is!" He snatched a glove from a
peg on the wall beside him, and flung it down with violence. "Give him
that, the miserable upstart!" he shrieked, "and tell him that as
surely as he keeps his word, I, Henry of Joyeuse, who for every spear
he boasts can set down ten to that, will hang him though God and all
His saints stand between! Give it him! Give it him! On foot or on
horse, in mail or in shirt, alone or by fours, I am his and will drag
his filthy life from him! Go!" he continued, turning, his eyes
suffused with rage, on Roger. "Or bid them bring me my horse and arms!
I will to him now, now, and pluck his beard! I----"

"My lord, my lord," Roger remonstrated. "You are not fit."

Joyeuse sank back exhausted on his stool. "For him and such as he more
than fit," he muttered. "More than fit--coward as he is!" But his tone
and evident weakness gave him the lie. He looked feebly at his hand,
opening and closing it under his eyes. "Well, let him wait," he said.
"Let him wait awhile. But if he does this, I will kill him as surely
as I sit here!"

"Ay, to be sure!" the Vicomte chimed in. "But unless I mistake, my
lord, we are on a false scent. There was something of a condition
unless I am in error. This silly girl, who is more moved than is
needful, said--_if_, _if_--that M. de Vlaye would hang him,
_unless_---- What was it, child, you meant?"

She did not answer.

It was Roger whose wits saved her the necessity. His eyes were
sharpened by affection; he knew what had gone before. He guessed that
which held her tongue.

"We must give up the Countess!" he cried in generous scorn. "That is
his condition. I guess it!"

Bonne bowed her head. She had felt that to state the condition to the
helpless, terrified girl at whose expense it must be performed was a
shame to her; that to state it as if she craved its performance,
expected its performance, looked for its performance, was a thing
still baser, a thing dishonouring to her family, not worthy a
Villeneuve--a thing that must smirch them all and rob them of the only
thing left to them, their good name.

Yet if she did not speak, if she did not make it known? If she did not
do this for him who loved her and whom she loved? If he perished
because she was too proud to crave his life, because she feared lest
her cloak be stained ever so little? That, too, was--she could not
face that.

She was between the hammer and the anvil. The question, what she
should do, had bowed her to the ground. She had seen as she rode that
she must choose between honour and life; her lover's life, her own

Meanwhile, "Give up the Countess?" the Vicomte muttered, staring at
his son in dull perplexity. "Give up the Countess? Why?"

"Unless she is surrendered," Roger explained in a low voice, "he will
carry out his threat. He goes back, sir, to his old plan of
strengthening himself. It is very clear. He thinks that with the
Countess in his power he can make use of her resources, and by their
means defy us."

"He is a villain!" the Vicomte cried, touched in his tenderest point.

"Villain or no villain, I will cut his throat!" Joyeuse exclaimed, his
rage flaming up anew. "If he touch but a hair of des Ageaux' head--who
was wounded striving to save my brother's life at Coutras, as all the
world knows--I will never leave him nor forsake him till I have his

"I fear that will not avail the Lieutenant," Roger muttered

"No. No, it may not," the Vicomte agreed, "but we cannot help that."
He, in truth, was able to contemplate the Lieutenant's fate without
too much vexation, or any overweening temptation to abandon the
Countess. "We cannot help it, and that is all that remains to be said.
If he will do this he must do it. And when his own time comes his
blood be upon his own head!"

But the girl who shared with Bonne the tragedy of the moment had
something to say. Slowly the Countess stood up. Timid she was, but she
had the full pride of her race, and shame had been her portion since
the discovery of the thing Bonne had done to save her. The smart of
the Abbess's fingers still burned her cheek and seared her pride.
Here, Heaven-sent, as it seemed, was the opportunity of redressing the
wrong which she had done to Bonne and of setting herself right with
the woman who had outraged her.

The price which she must pay, the costliness of the sacrifice did not
weigh with her at this moment, as it would weigh with her when her
blood was cool. To save Bonne's lover stood for something; to assert
herself in the eyes of those who had seen her insulted and scorned
stood for much.

"No," she said with simple dignity. "There is something more to be
said, M. le Vicomte. If it be a question of M. des Ageaux' life, I
will go to the Captain of Vlaye."

"You will go?" the Vicomte cried, astounded. "You, mademoiselle?"

"Yes," she replied slowly, and with a little hardening of her childish
features. "I will go. Not willingly, God knows! But rather than M. des
Ageaux should die, I will go."

They cried out upon her, those most loudly who were least
interested in her decision. But the one for whose protest she
listened--Roger--was silent. She marked that; for she was a woman, and
Roger's timid attentions had not passed unnoticed, nor, it may be,
unappreciated. And the Abbess was silent. She, whose heart this latest
proof of her lover's infidelity served but to harden, she whose soul
revolted from the possibility that the deed which she had done to
separate Vlaye from the Countess might cast the girl into his arms,
was silent in sheer rage. Into far different arms had she thought to
cast the Countess! Now, if this were to be the end of her scheme, the
devil had indeed mocked her!

Nor did Bonne speak, though her heart was full. For her feelings
dragged her two ways, and she would not, nay, she could not speak.
That much she owed to her lover. Yet the idea of sacrificing a woman
to save a man shocked her deeply, shocked alike her womanliness and
her courage; and not by a word, not by so much as the raising of a
finger would she press the girl, whose very rank and power left her
friendless among them, and made her for the time their sport. But
neither--though her heart was racked with pity and shame--would she
dissuade her. In any other circumstances which she could conceive, she
had cast her arms about the child and withheld her by force. But her
lover--her lover was at stake. How could she sacrifice him? How prefer
another to him? And after all--she, too, acknowledged, she, too, felt
the force of the argument--after all, the Countess would be only where
she would have been but for her. But for her the young girl would be
already in Vlaye's power; or worse, in the peasants' hands. If she
went now she did but assume her own perils, take her own part, stand
on her own feet.

"I shall go the rather," the Countess continued coldly, using that
very argument, "since I should be already in his power had I gone
myself to the peasants' camp!"

"You shall not go! You cannot go!" the Vicomte repeated with stupid

"M. le Vicomte," she answered, "I am the Countess of Rochechouart."
And the little figure, the infantine face, assumed a sudden dignity.

"It is unbecoming!"

"It becomes me less to let a gallant gentleman die."

"But you will be in Vlaye's power."

"God willing," she replied, her spirit still sustaining her. Was not
the Abbess, whom she was beginning to hate, looking at her?

Ay, looking at her with such eyes, with such thought, as would have
overwhelmed her could she have read them. Bitter indeed, were Odette's
reflections at this moment--bitter! She had stained her hands and the
end was this. She had stooped to a vile plot, to an act that might
have cost her sister her life, and with this for reward. The triumph
was her rival's. Before her eyes and by her act this silly chit, with
heroics on her lips, was being forced into his arms! And she, Odette,
stood powerless to check the issue of her deed, impotent to interfere,
unable even to vent the words of hatred that trembled on her lips.

For the Duke was listening, and she had still enough prudence, enough
self-control, to remember that she must not expose her feelings in his
presence. On him depended what remained: the possibility of vengeance,
the chances of ambition. She knew that she could not speak without
destroying the image of herself which she had wrought so patiently to
form. And even when he added his remonstrances to her father's, and
hot words imputing immodesty rose to the Abbess's lips--words that
must have brought the blood to the Countess's cheeks and might have
stung her to the renunciation of her project, she dared not utter
them. She swallowed her passion, and showed only a cold mask of

Not that the Duke said much. For after a while, "Well, perhaps it is
best," he said. "What if she pass into his power! It is better a woman
marry than a man die. We can make the one a widow; whereas to bring
the other to life would puzzle the best swordsman in France!"

The Vicomte persisted. "But there is no burden laid on the Countess to
do this," he said. "And I for one will be no party to it! What? Have
it said that I surrendered the Countess of Rochechouart who sought my

"Sir," the girl replied, trembling slightly, "no one surrenders the
Countess save the Countess. But that the less may be said to your
injury, my own people shall attend me thither, and----"

"They will avail you nothing!" the Vicomte replied with a frankness
that verged on brutality. "You do not understand, mademoiselle. You
are scarcely more than a child, and do not know to what you are going.
You have been wont to be safe in your own resources, and now, were a
fortnight given you to gather your power, you could perhaps make M. de
Vlaye tremble. But you go from here, in three hours you will be there,
and then you will be as much in his power, despite your thirty or
forty spears, as my daughter was this morning!"

"I count on nothing else," she said. But her face burned. And Bonne,
who suffered with her, Bonne who was dragged this way and that, and
would and would not, in whom love struggled with pity and shame with
joy, into her face, too, crept a faint colour. How cowardly, oh, how
cowardly seemed her conduct! How base in her to buy her happiness at
the price of this child's misery! To ransom her lover at a woman's
cost! It was a bargain that in another's case she had repudiated with
scorn, with pride, almost with loathing. But she loved, she loved. And
who that loved could hesitate? One here and there perhaps, some woman
of a rare and noble nature, cast in a higher mould than herself. But
not Bonne de Villeneuve.

Yet the word she would not utter trembled on her tongue. And once,
twice the thought of Roger shook her. He, too, loved, yet he bore in
silence to see his mistress delivered, tied and bound, to his rival!

How, she asked herself, how could he do it, how could he suffer it?
How could he stand by and see this innocent depart to such a fate, to
such a lot!

That puzzled her. She could understand the acquiescence of the others;
of her sister, whom M. de Vlaye's inconstancy must have alienated, of
Joyeuse, who was under an obligation to des Ageaux, of the Vicomte,
who, affecting to take the Countess's part, thought in truth only of
himself. But Roger? In his place she felt that she must have spoken
whatever came of it, that she must have acted whatever the issue.

Yet Roger, noble, generous Roger--for even while she blamed him with
one half of her mind, she blessed him with the other--stood silent.

Silent, even when the Countess with a quivering lip and a fleeting
glance in his direction--perhaps she, too, had looked for something
else at his hands--went out, her surrender a settled thing; and it
became necessary to give orders to her servants, to communicate with
the Bat, and to make such preparations as the withdrawal of her men
made necessary. The Duke's spears were expected that day or the next,
but it needed no sharp eye to discern that Vlaye's capture of the
Lieutenant had taken much of the spirit out of the attack. The
Countess's men must now be counted on the Captain of Vlaye's side;
while the peasants, weakened by the slaughter which Vlaye had
inflicted on them at the mill, and by the distrust which their
treachery must cause, no longer stood for much in the reckoning. It
was possible that the Lieutenant's release might reanimate the forces
of the law, that a second attempt to use the peasants might fare
better than the first, that Joyeuse's aid might in time place des
Ageaux in a position to cope with his opponent. But these were
possibilities only, and the Vicomte for one put no faith in them.

He was utterly disgusted, indeed, with the turn which things were
taking. Nor was his disgust at any time greater than when he stood an
hour later and viewed the Countess and her escort marching out of the
camp. If his life since Coutras had been obscure and ignoble, at least
it had been safe. While his neighbours had suffered at the Captain of
Vlaye's hands, he had been favoured. He had sunk something of his
pride, and counted in return on an alliance for his daughter, solid if
not splendid. Now, by the act of this meddling Lieutenant--for he
ignored Vlaye's treatment both of his daughter and the Countess--all
was changed. He had naught to expect now but Vlaye's enmity;
Villeneuve would no longer be safe for him. He must go or he must
humble himself to the ground. He had taken, he had been forced by his
children to take, the wrong side in the struggle. And the time was
fast approaching when he must pay for it, and smartly.

                             CHAPTER XX.

                          THE ABBESS MOVES.

That Bonne failed to read the dark scroll of her sister's thoughts
need not surprise us; since apart from the tie of blood the two women
had nothing in common. But that she failed also to interpret Roger's
inaction; that, blaming herself for an acquiescence which love made
inevitable, she did not spare him, whom love should have moved in the
opposite direction--this was more remarkable. For a closer bond never
united brother and sister. But misery is a grand engrosser. She had
her lover in her thoughts, the poor girl whom she sacrificed on her
mind; and she left the Duke's quarters without that last look at her
brother which might have enlightened her.

Had she questioned him he had discovered his mind. She did not, and
she had barely passed from sight before he was outside and had got a
fresh horse saddled. One thing only it was prevented his leaving the
camp in advance of the Countess, whose people were not ready. His foot
was raised to the stirrup when he bethought him of this thing. He left
the horse in charge of a trooper and hurried back to the Duke's
quarters, found him alone and put his question.

"You made a man fight the other night against his will," he said, his
head high. "Tell me, my lord, how I can do the same thing."

The Duke stared, then laughed. "Is it that you want?" he answered.
"Tell me first whom it is you would fight, my lad?"

"The Captain of Vlaye."


"You said a while ago," Roger continued, his eyes sparkling, "that you
would presently make her a widow. Better a widow before she is wed, I

The Duke smiled whimsically. "Sits the wind in that quarter?" he
answered. "You have no mind to see her wed at all, my lad? That is it,
is it? I had some notion of it."

"Tell me how I can make him fight," Roger replied, sticking to his
question and refusing even to blush.

"Tell me how I can get the moon!" Joyeuse answered, but not unkindly.
"Why should he risk his life to rid himself of you, who are no
drawback to him? Tell me that! Or why should he surrender the
advantage of his strong place and his four hundred spears to enter the
lists with a man who is naught to him?"

"Because if he does not I will kill him where I find him!" Roger
replied with passion. And the mode of the day, which was not nice in
the punctilios of the duel, and forgave the most irregular assault if
it were successful, which cast small blame on Guise for the murder of
St. Pol, or on Montsoreau for the murder of Bussy, justified the
threat. "I will kill him!" he repeated. "Fair or foul, light or

"He shall not wed her!" the Duke cried in a mocking tone and with an
extravagant gesture. But in truth the raillery was on the surface
only. The lad's spirit touched the corresponding note in his own
nature. None the less he shook his head. "Brave words, brave words,
young man," he continued; "but you are not Vitaux, who counted his
life for nothing, and whose sword was a terror to all."

"But if I count my life for nothing?"

"Ay, if! If!"

"And why should I not?" Roger retorted, his soul rising to his lips.
"Tell me, my lord, why should I count it for more? What am I, the son
of a poor gentleman, misshapen, rough, untutored, that I should hold
my life dear? That I should spare it, and save it, as a thing so
valuable? What have I in prospect of all the things other men look to?
Glory? See me! Fine I should be," with a bitter laugh covering tears,
"in a triumph, or marching up the aisle to a Te Deum! Court favour?
Ay, I might be the dwarf in a masque or the fool in motley! Naught
besides! Naught besides, my lord! And for love?" He laughed still more
bitterly. "I tell you my own father winces when he sees me! My own
sister and my own brother--well, they are blind perhaps. They, they
only, and old Solomon, and the woman who nursed me and dropped me--see
in me a man like other men. Leave them out, and, as I live, until this
man came----"

"Des Ageaux?"

"Des Ageaux--until he came and spoke gently to me and said, 'do this,
and do that, and you shall be as Gourdon or as Guesclin!'--even he
could not promise me love--as I live, till then no man pitied me or
gave me hope! And shall I let him die to save my stunted life?"

"But it is not the saving him that is in question," the Duke replied
gently, and with respect in his tone. He was honestly moved by this
unveiling of poor Roger's thoughts. "She saved him."

"And I'll save her," Roger replied with fervour. "I will save her
though I die a hundred deaths. For she, too----"

He paused. The Duke looked at him, a spice of humour mingling with his
sympathy. "She, too, sees in you a man like other men," he said, "I

"She pitied me," Roger answered. "No more; she pitied me, my lord!
What more could she do, being what she is? And I being what I am?" His
chin sank on his breast.

The Duke nodded kindly. "May-be," he said. "Less likely things have
happened." And then, "But what will you do?" he asked.

"Go with her and see him, take him aside, and if he will fight me,
well! And if he will not, I will strike him down where he stands!"

"But that will not save des Ageaux."


"No! On the contrary, it will be he," Joyeuse retorted somewhat
grimly, "who will pay for it. Do you not see that?"

"Then I will wait," Roger replied, "until he is released."

"And then," the Duke asked, still opposing, though the man and the
plan were alike after his own heart, "what of the Countess? M. de
Vlaye dead, who will protect her? His men----"

"They would not dare!" Roger cried, trembling. "They would not dare!"

"Well, perhaps not," the Duke answered, after a moment's thought.
"Perhaps not. Probably his lieutenant would protect her, for his own
sake. And des Ageaux free would be worth two hundred men to us. Not
that, if I were well, he would be in question. But I am but half a
man, and we need him!"

"You shall have him," Roger answered, his eyes glittering. "Have no
doubt of it! But advise me, my lord. Were it better I escorted her to
the gate and sought entrance later, after he had released des Ageaux?
Or that I kept myself close until the time came?"

"The time? For what?"

The speaker was the Abbess. Unseen by the two men, she had that moment
glided across the threshold. The pallor of her features and the
brightness of her eyes were such as to strike both; but differently.
To the Duke these results of a night passed in vivid emotions, and of
a morning that had crowned her schemes with mockery, only brought her
into nearer keeping with the dress she wore--only enhanced her charms.
To her brother, on the other hand, who now hated Vlaye with a tenfold
hatred, they were grounds for suspicion--he knew not why. But not even
he came nearer to guessing the truth. Not even he dreamt that behind
that mask were passions at work which, had they discovered them, would
have cast the Duke into a stupor deeper than any into which his own
mad freaks had ever flung a wondering world. As it was, the Duke's
eyes saw only the perfection of womankind; the lily of the garden,
drooping, pale, under the woes of her frailer sisters. Of the jealousy
with which she contemplated the surrender of her rival to her lover's
power, much less of the step which that surrender was pressing upon
her, he caught no glimpse.

"The time for what?" the Duke repeated, with looks courteous to the
point of reverence. "Ah--pardon, my sister, but we cannot take you
into our counsel. Men must sometimes do things it is not for saints to
know or women to witness."

"Saints!" The involuntary irony of her tone must have penetrated ears
less dulled by prejudgment. "Saints!" and then, "I am no saint, my
lord," she said modestly.

"Still," he answered, "it were better you did not know, mademoiselle.
It is but a plan by which we think it possible that we may yet get the
better of M. de Vlaye and save the child before--before, in fact----"

"Ay?" the Abbess said, a flicker of pain in her eyes. "Before--I

"Before it be too late."

"Yes. And how?"

The Duke shook his head with a smile meant to propitiate. "How?" he
repeated. "That--pardon me--that is the point upon which--we would
fain be silent."

"Yet you must not be silent," she replied. "You must tell me." And
pale, almost stern, she looked from one to the other, dominating them.
"You must tell me," she repeated. "Or perhaps," fixing Roger with a
glance keen as steel, "I know already. You would save her by killing
him. It is of that you are thinking. It is for that your horse is
waiting saddled by the gate. You would ride after her, and gain access
to him--and----"

"She has not started?" Roger exclaimed.

"She started ten minutes ago," the Abbess answered coldly. "Nay,
stay!" For Roger was making for the door. "Stay, boy! Do you hear?"

"I cannot stay!"

"If you do not stay you will repent it all your life!" the Abbess made
answer in a voice that shook even his resolution. "And she all hers!
Ha! that stays you?" with a gleam of passion she could not restrain.
"I thought it would. Now, if you will listen, I have something to say
that will put another complexion on this."

They gazed expectant, but she did not at once continue. She stood
reflecting deeply; while each of her listeners regarded her after his
knowledge of her; Roger sullenly and with suspicion, doubting what she
would be at, the Duke in admiration, expecting that with which gentle
wisdom might inspire her.

Secretly she was heart-sick, and the sigh which she could not restrain
declared it. But at last, "There is no need of violence," she said
wearily. "No," addressing Roger, who had raised his hand in
remonstrance, "hear me out before you interrupt me. How will the loss
of a minute harm you? Or of five or ten? I repeat, there is no need of
violence. Heaven knows there has been enough! We must go another way
to work to release her. It is my turn now."

"I would rather trust myself," Roger muttered; but so low that the
words, frank to rudeness, did not reach Joyeuse's ears.

"Yet you must trust me," she answered. "Do so, trust me, and follow my
directions, and I will take on myself to say that before nightfall she
shall be free."

"What are we to do?" the Duke asked.

"You? Nothing. I, all. I must take her place, as she has taken M. des

For an instant they were silent in sheer astonishment. Then, "But M.
de Vlaye may have something to say to that!" Roger ejaculated before
the Duke could find words. The lad spoke on impulse. He knew a little
and suspected more of the lengths to which Vlaye's courtship of his
sister had gone.

If she had not put force on herself, she had flung him a retort that
must have opened the Duke's eyes. Instead, "I shall not consult M. de
Vlaye," she replied coldly. "I have visited him on various occasions,
and we are on terms. My appearance in Vlaye, seeing that the Abbey of
Vlaye is but a half-league from the town, will cause no surprise. Once
in the town, if I can enter the castle and gain speech of the
Countess, she may escape in my habit."

"I hate this shifting and changing!" Roger grumbled.

"But if it will save her?"

"Ay, but will it?" Roger returned, shrugging his shoulders. He
suspected that her aim was to save M. de Vlaye rather than the
Countess. "Will it? Can you, in the first place, get speech of her?"

"I think I can," the Abbess answered quietly. "Many of the men know
me. And I will take with me Father Benet, who is at the Captain of
Vlaye's beck and call. He will serve me within limits, if a friend be
needed. I shall wear my robes, and though she is shorter and smaller I
see no reason why she should not pass out in them in the twilight or
after dark."

"But what of you?" the Duke asked, staring much.

"I shall remain in her place."

"Remain in her place?" Joyeuse said slowly, in the voice he would have
used had Our Lady appeared before him. "You will dare that for her?"

A faint colour stole into the Abbess's cheeks. "It is my expiation,"
she murmured modestly. "I struck her--God forgive me!"


"And I run no risk. M. de Vlaye knows me, and this"--with a gesture
which drew attention to her conventual garb--"will protect me."

The Duke gazed at the object of his adoration in a kind of rapture,
seeing already the wings on her shoulders, the aureole about her head.
"Mademoiselle, you will do that?" he cried. "Then you are no woman!
You are an angel!" In his enthusiasm he knelt--not without difficulty,
for he was still weak--and kissed her hand. To him the thing seemed an
act of pure heroism, pure self-denial, pure good-doing.

But Roger, who knew more of his sister's nature and past history, and
whose knowledge left less room for fancy's gilding, stood lost in
gloomy thought. What did she mean? Was she going as friend or enemy?
Influence with Vlaye she had, or lately had; but, the Countess
released, in what a position would she, his sister, stand? Could he,
could her father, could her friends let her do this thing?

Yet the chance--to a lover--was too good to reject; the position,
moreover, was too desperate for niceties. The thought that she was
going, not for the sake of the Countess, but of the Captain of Vlaye,
the suspicion that she was not unwilling to take the Countess's place
and the Countess's risks, occurred to him. But he thrust, he strove to
thrust the suspicion and the thought from him. Her motive and her
meaning, even though that motive and meaning were to save the Captain
of Vlaye, were small things beside the Countess's safety.

"At any rate I shall go with you," he said at length, and with more of
suspicion than of gratitude in his tone. "When will you be ready?"

"I think it likely that he will have bidden Father Benet to be with
him at sunset," she answered. "If we are at the priest's, therefore,
an hour earlier, it should do."

"And for safe-conduct?"

"I will answer for that," she replied with boldness, "so far as M. de
Vlaye's men are concerned."

The answer chafed Roger anew. Her reliance on her influence with Vlaye
and Vlaye's people--he hated it; and for an instant he hesitated. But
in the end he swallowed his vexation: had he not made up his mind to
shut his eyes? And the three separated after a few more words relating
to the arrangements to be made. The Duke, standing with a full heart
in the doorway, watched her to her quarters, marked the grace of her
movements, and in his mind doomed the Captain of Vlaye to unspeakable
deaths if he harmed her; while she, as she passed away, thought--but
we need not enter into her thoughts. She was doing this, lest a worse
thing happen; doing it in a passion of jealousy, in a frenzy of
disgust. But she had one consolation. She would see the Captain of
Vlaye! She would see the man she loved. Through the dark stuff of her
thoughts that prospect ran like a golden thread.

Roger, on the other hand, should have been content. He should have
been more than satisfied, as an hour later he rode beside her down the
river valley to the chapel beside the ford, and thence to the open
country about Villeneuve. For if things were still dark, there was a
prospect of light. A few hours earlier he had despaired; he had seen
no means of saving the woman he adored, save at the expense of his own
life. Now he had hope and a chance, now he had prospects, now he might
look, if fortune favoured him, to be her escort into safety before the
sun rose again.

Surely, then, he should have been content; yet he was not. Not even
when after a journey of four hours the two, having passed Villeneuve,
gained without misadventure the summit of that hill on the scarped
side of which the Countess had met with her first misfortune. From
that point, they and the two armed servants who followed them could
look down upon the wide green valley that framed the town of Vlaye,
and that, somewhat lower, opened into the wide plain of the Dronne.
They could discern the bridge over the river; they could almost count
the red roofs of the small town that crept up from the water to the
coronet of grey walls and towers that crowned all. Those walls and
towers basking in the sunshine were the eyrie that lorded it over
leagues of country seen and unseen--the hawk's nest, the _plebis
flagellum_, as the old chronicler has it. They might, in sight of
those towers, count the preliminaries over and all but the supreme
risk run.

For quite easily they might have fallen in with Vlaye's people on the
road and been taken; or with M. de Vlaye himself, and with that there
had been an end of the plan. But they had escaped these dangers. And
yet Roger was not content; still he rode with a gloomy brow and
pinched lips. The longer he thought of his sister's plan, the more he
suspected and the less he liked it. There was in it a little which he
did not understand, and more which he understood too well. His sister
and M. de Vlaye! He hated the collocation; he hated to think that she
must be left, willingly and by her own act, in the adventurer's power;
and this at a moment when disappointment would aggravate a temper
tried by the attack on him and by the part which the Vicomte had
played in it. On what did she depend for her safety, for her honour,
for all that she put wantonly at stake? On his respect? His
friendship? Or his love?

"I will take her place," she had said. Could it be that she was
willing, that she desired, to take it altogether? Was she, after the
rebuffs, after the scornful and contumelious slight which M. de Vlaye
had put upon her, willing still to seek him, willing still to be in
his power?

It seemed so. Certainly it could not be denied that she was seeking
him, and that he, her brother, was escorting her. In that light people
would look upon his action.

The thought stung him, and he halted midway on the woodland track that
descended the farther side of the hill. His face wore a mixture of
shame and appeal--with ill-humour underlying both. "See here, Odette,"
he said abruptly, "I do not see the end of this."

Though she raised her eyebrows contemptuously, a faint tinge of colour
crept into her face.

"I thought," she replied, "that the end was to save this little fool
who is too weak to save herself!"

"But you?"

"Oh, for me?" contemptuously. "Take no heed of me. I am of other
stuff, and can manage my own affairs."

"You think so," he retorted. "But the Captain of Vlaye, he, too, is of
other stuff."

"Do you fancy I am afraid of M. de Vlaye?" she answered. And her eyes
flashed scorn on him. "You may be! You should be!" with a glance which
marked his deformity and stabbed the sense of it deep into his heart.
"How should you be otherwise, seeing that in no circumstances could
you be a match for him! But I? I say again that I am of other stuff."

"All the same," he muttered darkly, "I would not go on----"

"Would not go on?" she retorted in mockery. "Not with your sweet
Countess in danger? Not with the dear light of your eyes in Vlaye's
arms? Not go on? Oh, brave lover! Oh, brave man! Not go on, and your
Countess, your pretty Countess----"

"Be silent!" he cried. She stung him to rage.

"Ah! We go back then?"

But he could not face that, he could not say yes to that; and,
defeated, he turned in dumb sullen anger and resumed the road.

Necessarily the danger of arrest increased as they approached the
town. The last mile, which brought them to the bridge over the river,
was traversed under the eyes of the castle; it would not have
surprised Roger had they been met and stopped long before they came to
the town gate. But the Captain of Vlaye, it seemed, held the danger
still remote, and troubled his followers with few precautions. The
place lay drowsing in the late heat of the summer afternoon. It was
still as the dead, and though their approach was doubtless seen and
noted, no one issued forth or challenged them. Even the men who
lounged in the shade of the low-browed archway--that still bore the
scutcheon of its ancient lords--contented themselves with a long stare
and a sulky salute. The bridge passed, a narrow street paved and
steep, and overhung by ancient houses of brick and timber, opened
before them. It led upwards in the direction of the castle, but after
pursuing it in single file some fifty paces, the Abbess turned from it
into a narrow lane that brought them in a bow-shot--for the town was
very small--to the wall again. This was their present destination. For
crowded into an angle of the wall under the shadow of one of the old
brick watch-towers stood the chapel and cell that owned the lax rule
of M. de Vlaye's chaplain, Father Benet.

                             CHAPTER XXI.

                         THE CASTLE OF VLAYE.

Roger had little faith in the priest's power, and less in his
willingness to aid them. But at worst he was not to be kept in
suspense. By good luck, Father Benet was walking at the moment of
their arrival in his potherb garden. As they dismounted, they espied
the Father peeping at them between the tall sunflowers and budding
hollyhocks; his ruddy face something dismayed and fallen, and his mien
that of a portly man caught in the act of wrong-doing. Finding himself
detected, he came forward with an awkward show of joviality.

"Welcome, sister," he said. "There is naught the matter at the Abbey,
I trust, that I see you thus late in the day?"

"No, the matter is here," the Abbess replied, with a look in her eyes
that told him she knew all. "And we are here to see about it. Let us
in, Father. The time is short, for at any moment your master"--she
indicated the castle by a gesture--"may hear of our arrival and send
for us."

"I am sure," the priest answered glibly, "that anything that I can do
for you, sister----"

She cut him short. "No words, no words, but let us in!" she said
sharply. And when with pursed lips and a shrug of resignation he had
complied, and they stood in the cool stone-floored room--communicating
by an open door with the chapel--in which he received his visitors,
she came with the same abruptness to the point.

"At what hour are you going up to the castle?" she asked.

He tried to avoid her eyes. "To the castle?" he repeated.

"Ay," she said, watching him keenly. "To the castle. Are there more
castles than one? Or first, when were you there last, Father?"

His look wandered, full of calculation. "Last?" he said. "When was I
at the castle last?"

"The truth! The truth!" she cried impatiently.

He chid her, but with a propitiatory smile akin to those which the
augurs exchanged. "Sister! Sister!" he said. "_Nil nisi verum
clericus!_ I was there no more than an hour back."

"And got your orders? And got your orders, I suppose?" she repeated
with rude insistence. "Out with it, Father. I see that you are no more
easy than I am!"

He flung out his hands in sudden abandonment. "God knows I am not!" he
said. "God knows I am not! And that is the truth, and I am not hiding
it. God knows I am not! But what am I to do? He is a violent man--you
know him!--and I am a man of peace. I must do his will or go. And I am
better than nothing! I may"--there was a whine in his voice--"I may do
some good still. You know that, sister. I may do some good. I baptise.
I bury. But if I go, there is no one."

"And if you go, you are no one," she answered keenly. "For your
suffragan has you in no good favour, I am told. So that if you go you
happen on but a sackcloth welcome. So it is said, Father. I know not
if it be said truly."

"Untruly! Untruly!" he protested earnestly. "He has never found fault
with me, sister, on good occasion. But I have enemies, all men have

"You are like to make more," Roger struck in, with a dark look.

The priest wrung his hands. "I know! I know!" he said. "He carries it
too highly. Too highly! They say that he has caught the King's
governor now, and has him in keeping there."

"It is true."

"Well, I have warned him; he cannot say I have not!"

"And what said he to your warning?" the Abbess asked with a sneer.

"He threatened me with the stirrup leathers."

"And you are now to marry him?"

He turned a shade paler. "You know it?" he gasped.

"I know it, but not the time," she answered. And as he hesitated,
silent and appalled, "Come," she continued, "the truth, Father. And
then I will tell you what I am going to do."

"At sunset," he muttered, "I am to be there."

"Good," she said. "Now we know. Then you will go up an hour earlier.
And I shall go with you."

He protested feebly. He knew something of that which had gone before,
something of her history, something of her passion for the Captain of
Vlaye; and he was sure that she was not bent on good. "I dare not!" he
said, "I dare not, sister! You ask too much."

"Dare not what?" the Abbess retorted, bending her handsome brows in
wrath. "Dare not go one hour earlier?"

"But you--you want to go?"

"If I go with you, what is that to you?"


"But what, Father, but what?"

"You want something of me?" he faltered. He was not to be deceived.
"Something dangerous, I know it!"

"I want your company to the door of the room where she lies," the
Abbess replied. "That is all. You have leave to visit her? Do
not"--overwhelming him with swift fierce words--"deny it. Do not tell
me that you have not! Think you I do not know you, Father? Think you
I do not know how well you are with him, how late you sit with him,
how deep you drink with him, when he lacks better company? And that
this--though you are frightened now, and would fain be clear of it,
knowing who she is--is the thing which you have vowed to do for him a
hundred times and a hundred times to that, if it would help him!"

"Never! Never!" he protested, paler than before.

"Father," she retorted, stooping forward and speaking low, "be warned.
Be warned! Get you a foot in the other camp while you may! You are
over-well fed for the dry crust and the sack bed of the bishop's
prison! You drink too much red wine to take kindly to the moat puddle!
And that not for months, but for years and years! Have you not heard
of men who lay forgotten, ay, forgotten even by their gaoler at last,
until they starved in the bishop's prison? The bishop's prison,
Father!" she continued cruelly. "Who comes out thence, but the rats,
and they fat? Who comes out thence----"

"Don't! Don't!" the priest cried, his complexion mottled, his flabby
cheeks trembling with fear of the thing which her words called up,
with fear of the thing that had often kept him quaking in the night
hours. "You will not do it?"

"I?" she answered drily. "No, not I perhaps. But is a Countess of
Rochechouart to be abducted so lightly, or so easily? Has she so few
friends? So poor a kindred? A cousin there is, I think--my lord Bishop
of Comminges--who has one of those very prisons. And, if I mistake
not, she has another cousin, who is in Flanders now, but will know
well how to avenge her when he returns."

"What is it you want me to do?" he faltered.

"Go with me to her door--that I may gain admission. Then, whether you
go to him or not, your silence, for one half-hour."

"You will not do her any harm?" he muttered.

"Fool, it is to do her good I am here."

"And that is all? You swear it?"

"That is all."

He heaved a deep sigh. "I will do it," he said. He wiped his brow with
the sleeve of his cassock. "I will do it."

"You are wise," she replied, "and wise in time, Father, for it is time
we went. The sun is within an hour of setting." Then, turning to
Roger, who had never ceased to watch the priest as a cat watches a
mouse, "The horses may wait in the lane or where you please," she
said. "They are hidden from the castle where they stand, and perhaps
they are best there. In any case"--with a meaning glance--"I return to
this spot. Expect me in half an hour. After that, the rest is for you
to contrive. I wash my hands of it."

The words in which he would have assented stuck in the lad's throat.
He could not speak. She turned again to the priest. "One moment and I
am ready," she said. "Have you a mirror?"

"A mirror?" he exclaimed in astonishment.

"But of course you have not," she replied. She looked about her an
instant, then with a quick step she passed through the doorway into
the chapel. There her eye had caught a polished sheet of brass,
recording in monkish Latin the virtues of that member of the old
family who had founded this "Capella extra muros," as ancient deeds
style it. She placed herself before the tablet, and paying as little
heed to her brother or the priest--though they were within sight--as
to the sacred emblems about her, or the scene in which she stood, she
cast back her hood, and drew from her robes a small ivory case. From
this she took a morsel of sponge, and a tiny comb, also of ivory; and
with water taken from the stoup beside the door, she refreshed her
face, and carefully recurled the short ringlets upon her forehead.
With a pencil drawn from the same case, she retouched her eyelashes
and the corners of her eyes, and with deft fingers she straightened
and smoothed the small ruff about her neck. Finally, with no less
care, she drew the hood of her habit close round her face, and after
turning herself about a time or two before the mirror went back to the
others. They had not taken their eyes off her.

"Come," she said. And she led the way out without a second word,
passed by the waiting horses and the servants, and, attended by the
reluctant Father, walked at a gentle pace along the lane towards the
main street.

The priest went in fear, his stout legs trembling under him. But until
the two reached a triangular open space, graced by an Italian
fountain, and used, though it sloped steeply, for a market site, the
street they pursued was not exposed to view from the castle. Above the
marketplace, however, the road turned abruptly to the left, and,
emerging from the houses, ascended between twin mounds, of which the
nearer bore the castle, and the other, used on occasion as a
tilt-yard, was bare. The road ascended the gorge between the two, then
wound about, this time to the right, and gained the summit of the
unoccupied breast; whence, leaping its own course by a drawbridge, it
entered the grey stronghold that on every other side looked down from
the brow of a precipice--here on the clustering roofs of the town, and
there, and there again, on the wide green vale and silvery meanders of
the Dronne.

Looking to the south, where the valley opened into a plain, the eye
might almost discern Coutras--that famous battlefield that lies on the
Dronne bank. Northward it encountered the wooded hills beyond which
lay Villeneuve, and the town of Barbesieux on the great north road,
and the plain towards Angoulême. Fairer eyrie, or stronger, is scarce
to be found in the width of three provinces.

Until they came to the market-place the Abbess and her unwilling
companion had little to fear unless they met M. de Vlaye himself. As
far as others were concerned, Father Benet's coarse, plump face,
albeit less ruddy than ordinary, was warrant enough to avert both
suspicion and inquiry. But thence onwards they walked in full view not
only of the lounge upon the ramparts which the Captain of Vlaye most
affected at the cool hour, but of a dozen lofty casements from any one
of which an officious sentry or a servant might mark their approach
and pass word of it. Father Benet pursued this path as one under fire.
The sun was low, but at its midday height it had not burned the stout
priest more than the fancied fury of those eyes. The sweat poured down
his face as he climbed and panted and crossed himself in a breath.

"Believe me, you are better here than in the bishop's prison," his
companion said, to cheer him.

"But he will see us from the ramparts," he groaned, not daring to look
up and disprove the fact. "He will see us! He will meet us at the

"Then it will be my affair," the Abbess answered.

"We are mad--stark, staring mad!" he protested.

"You were madder to go back," she said.

He looked at her viciously, as if he wished her dead. Fortunately they
had reached the narrow defile under the bridge, and a feverish longing
to come to an end of the venture took place of all other feelings in
the priest's breast. Doggedly he panted up the Tilt Mound, as it was
called, and passed three or four groups of troopers, who were taking
the air on their backs or playing at games of chance. Thence they
crossed the drawbridge. The iron-studded doors, with their clumsy
grilles, above which the arms of the old family still showed their
quarterings, stood open; but in the depths of the low-browed archway,
where the shadows were beginning to gather, lounged a dozen rogues
whose insolent eyes the Abbess must confront.

But she judged, and rightly, that the priest's company would make that
easy which she could not have compassed so well alone, though she
might have won entrance. The men, indeed, were surprised to see her,
and stared; some recognised her with respect, others with grins
half-knowing, half-insolent. But no one stepped forward or volunteered
to challenge her entrance. And although a wit, as soon as her back was
turned, hummed

                    "Je suis amoureuse,
                     J'ai perdu mon galant!"

and another muttered, "Oh, la, la, the bridesmaid!" with a wink at his
fellows, they were soon clear of the gate and the starers, and
crossing the wide paved court, that, bathed in quiet light, was
pervaded none the less by an air of subdued expectation. Here a man
cleaned a horse or his harness, there a group chatted on the curb of
the well; here a white-capped cook showed himself, and there, beside
the entrance, a couple teased the brown bear that inhabited the stone
kennel, and on high days made sport for the Captain of Vlaye's dogs.

Vlaye's quarters and those of his household and officers lay in the
wing on the left, which overlooked the town; his men were barracked
and the horses stabled in the opposite wing. The fourth side, facing
the entrance, was open, but was occupied by a garden raised two steps
above the court and separated from it, first by a tall railing of
curiously wrought iron, and secondly by a row of clipped limes, whose
level wall of foliage hid the pleasaunce from the come-and-go of the

The Abbess knew the place intimately, and she felt no surprise when
the Father, in place of making for the common doorway on the left,
which led into M. de Vlaye's wing, bore across the open to the
floriated iron gates of the garden. He passed through these and turned
to the left along the cool green lime walk, which was still musical
with the hum of belated bees.

"She is in the demoiselles' wing then?" the Abbess murmured. She had
occupied those rooms herself on more than one occasion. They opened by
a door on the garden and enjoyed a fair and airy outlook over the
Dronne. As she recalled them and the memories they summoned up her
features worked.

"Where else should she be--short of this evening?" Father Benet
answered, with full knowledge of the sting he inflicted. Her secret
was no secret from him. "But I need come no farther," he added,
pausing awkwardly.

"To the door," she answered firmly. "To the door! That is the

"Well, we are there," he said, halting when he had taken another dozen
paces, which brought them to the door in the garden end of the left
wing. "Now, I will retire by your leave, sister."


He complied with a faltering hand, and the moment he had done so he
turned to flee, as if the sound terrified him. But with an unexpected
movement she seized his wrist in her strong grasp, and though he
stammered a remonstrance, and even resisted her weakly, she held him
until the opening door surprised them.

A grim-faced woman looked out at them. "To see the Countess," the
Abbess muttered. Then to the priest, as she released him, "I shall not
be more than ten minutes, Father," she continued. "You will wait for
me, perhaps. Until then!"

She nodded to him after a careless, easy fashion, and the door closed
on her. In the half-light of the passage within, which faded tapestry
and a stand of arms relieved from utter bareness, the woman who had
admitted her faced her sourly. "You have my lord's leave?" she asked

"Should I be here without it?" the Abbess retorted in her proudest
manner. "Be speedy, and let me to her. My lord will not be best
pleased if the priest be kept waiting."

"No great matter that," the woman muttered rebelliously. But having
said it she led the visitor up the stairs and ushered her into the
well-remembered room. It was a spacious, pleasant chamber, with a view
of the garden, and beyond the garden of the widening valley spread far
beneath. Nothing of the prison-house hung about it, nor was it bare or
coldly furnished.

The woman did not enter with her, but the gain was not much. For the
Abbess had no sooner crossed the threshold than she discovered a
second gaoler. This was a young waiting-woman, who, perched on a stool
within the door, sat eyeing her prisoner with something of pity and
more of ill-humour. The little Countess, indeed, was a pitiful sight.
She lay, half-crouching, half-huddled together, in the recess of the
farther window, on the seat of which she hid her face in the
abandonment of despair. Her loosened hair flowed dishevelled upon her
neck and shoulders; and from minute to minute a dry, painful sob--for
she was not weeping--shook the poor child from head to foot.

The Abbess, after one keen glance, which took in every particular,
from the waiting-woman's expression to the attitude of the captive,
nodded to the attendant. Then for a moment she did not speak. At last,
"She takes it ill?" she muttered under her breath.

The other slightly shrugged her shoulders. "She has been like that
since he left her," she whispered. Whether the words and the movement
expressed more pity, or more contempt, or more envy, it was hard to
determine; for all seemed to meet in them. "She could not take it

"I am here to mend that," the Abbess rejoined. And she moved a short
way into the room. But there she came to a stand. Her eyes had fallen
on a pile of laces and dainty fabrics arranged upon one of the seats
of the nearer window. Her face underwent a sudden change; she seemed
about to speak, but the words stuck in her throat. At last "Those are
for her?" she said.

"Ay, but God knows how I am to get them on," the girl answered in a
low tone. "She is such a baby! But there it is! Whatever she is now,
she'll be mistress to-morrow, and I--I am loath to use force."

"I will contrive it," the Abbess replied, a light in her averted eyes.
"Do you leave us. Come back in a quarter of an hour, and if I have
succeeded take no notice. Take no heed, do you hear," she continued,
turning to the girl, "if you find her dressed. Say nothing to her, but
let her be until she is sent for."

"I am only too glad to let her be."

"That is enough," the Abbess rejoined sternly. "You can go now.
Already the time is short for what I have to do."

"You will find it too short, my lady, unless I am mistaken," the
waiting-woman answered under her breath. But she went. She was glad to
escape; glad to get rid of the difficulty. And she went without
suspicion. How the other came to be there, or how her interest lay in
arraying this child for a marriage with her lover--these were
questions which the girl proposed to put to her gossips at a proper
opportunity; for they were puzzling questions. But that the Abbess was
there without leave--the Abbess who not a month before had been
frequently in Vlaye's company, hawking and hunting, and even
supping--to the scandal of the convent, albeit no strait-laced one nor
unwont to make allowance for its noble mistresses--that the Abbess was
there without the knowledge of her master she never suspected. It
never for an instant entered the woman's mind.

Meanwhile Odette, the moment the door closed on the other, took
action. Before the latch ceased to rattle her hand was on the
Countess's shoulder, her voice was in her ear. "Up, girl, if you wish
to be saved!" she hissed. "Up, and not a word!"

The Countess sprang up--startled simultaneously by hand and voice. But
once on her feet she recoiled. She stood breathing hard, her hands
raised to ward the other off. "You?" she cried. "You here?" And
shaking her head as if she thought she dreamed, she retreated another
step. Her distrust of the Abbess was apparent in every line of her

"Yes, it is I," Odette answered roughly. "It is I."

"But why? Why are you here? Why you?"

"To save you, girl," the Abbess answered. "To save you--do you hear?
But every moment is of value. Hold your tongue, ask no questions, do
as I tell you, and all may be well. Hesitate, and it will be too late.
See, the sun still shines on the head of that tall tree! Before it
leaves that tree you must be away from here. Is it true that he weds
you to-night?"

The other uttered a cry of despair. "And for naught!" she said. "Do
you understand, for naught! He has not let him go! He lied to us! He
has not released him! He holds me, but he will not release him."

"And he will not!" the Abbess replied, with something like a jeer.
"So, if you would not give all for naught, listen to me! Put some
wrapping about your shoulders, and a kerchief on your head to heighten
you, and over these my robes and hood. And be speedy! On your feet
these"--with a rapid movement she drew from some hiding-place in her
garments a pair of thick-soled shoes. "Hold yourself up, be bold, and
you may pass out in my place."

"In your place?" the girl stammered, staring in astonishment.

The Abbess had scant patience with her rival's obtuseness. "That is
what I said," she replied, with a look that was not pleasant in her

The Countess saw the look, and, fearful and doubting, hung back. She
could not yet grasp the position. "But you!" she murmured. "What of

"What is that to you?"


"Fear nothing for me!" the Abbess cried vehemently. "Think only of
yourself! Think only of your own safety. I"--with scorn--"am no weak
thing to suffer and make no cry. I can take care of myself. But,
there"--impatiently--"we have lost five minutes! Are you going to do
this or not? Are you going to stay here, or are you going to escape?"

"Oh, escape! Escape, if it be possible!" the Countess answered,
shuddering. "Anywhere, from him!"

"You are certain?"

"Oh, yes, yes! But it is not possible! He is too clever."

"We will see if that be so," the Abbess answered, smiling grimly. And
taking the matter into her own hands, she began to strip off her robe
and hood.

That decided the girl. Gladly would she have learned how the other
came to be there, and why and to what she trusted. Gladly would she
have asked other things. But the prospect of escape--of escape from a
fate which she dreaded the more the nearer she saw it--took reality in
view of the Abbess's actions. And she, too, began. Escape? Was it
possible? Was it possible to escape? With shaking fingers she snatched
up a short cloak, and wrapped it about her shoulders and figure, tying
it this way and that. She made in the same way a turban of a kerchief,
and stood ready to clothe herself. By this time the Abbess's outer
garments lay on the floor, and in three or four minutes the travesty,
as far as the younger woman was concerned, was effected.

Meantime, while they both wrought, and especially while the Countess,
stooping, stuffed the large shoes and fitted them and buckled them on,
the Abbess never ceased explaining the remainder of the plan.

"Go down the stairs," she said, "and if you have to speak mutter but a
word. Outside the door, turn to the right until you come to the gate
in the iron railing. Pass through it, cross the court, and go out
through the great gate, speaking to no one. Then follow the road,
which makes a loop to the left and passes under itself. Descend by it
to the market-place, and then to the right until you see the town gate
fifty paces before you. At that point take the lane on the left, and a
score of yards will show you the horses waiting for you, and with them
a friend. You understand? Then I will repeat it."

And she did so from point to point in such a way and so clearly that
the other, distracted as she was, could not but learn the lesson.

"And now," the Abbess said, when all was told, "give me something
to put on." Her beautiful arms and shoulders were bare.
"Something--anything," she continued, looking about her impatiently.
"Only be quick! Be quick, girl!"

"There is only this," the Countess answered, producing her heavy
riding-cloak. "Unless"--doubtfully--"you will put on those." She
indicated the little pile of wedding-clothes, of dainty silk and lace
and lawn, that lay upon the window-seat.

"Those!" the Abbess exclaimed. And she looked at the pile as at a
snake. "No, not those! Not those! Why do you want me to put on those?
Why should I?" with a suspicious look at the other's face.

"If you will not----"

"Will not?"--violently. "No, I will not. And why do you ask me? But I
prate as badly as you, and we lose time. Are you ready now? Let me
look at you." And feverishly, while she kicked off her own shoes
and donned the riding-cloak and drew its hood over her head, she
turned the Countess about to assure herself that the disguise was
tolerable--in a bad light.

Then, "You will do," she said roughly, and she pushed the girl from
her. "Go now. You know what you have to do."

"But you?" the little Countess ventured. Words of gratitude were
trembling on her lips; there were tears in her eyes. "You--what will
you do?"

"You need not trouble about me," the Abbess retorted. "Play your part
well; that is all I ask."

"At least," the Countess faltered, "let me thank you." She would have
flung her arms round the other's neck.

But the Abbess backed from her. "Go, silly fool!" she cried savagely,
"unless, after all, you repent and want to keep him."

The insult gave the needed fillip to the other's courage. She turned
on her heel, opened the door with a firm hand, and, closing it behind
her, descended the stairs. The waiting-maid and the grim-faced woman
were talking in the passage, but they ceased their gossip on her
appearance, and turned their eyes on her. Fortunately the place was
ill-lit and full of shadows, and the Countess had the presence of mind
to go steadily down to them without word or sign.

"I hope mademoiselle has succeeded," the waiting-woman murmured
respectfully. "It is not a business I favour, I am sure."

The Countess shrugged her shoulders--despair giving her courage--and
the grim-faced woman moved to the door, unlocked it, and held it wide.
The escaping one acknowledged the act by a slight nod, and, passing
out, she turned to the right. She walked, giddily and uncertainly, to
the open gate in the railing, and then, with some difficulty--for the
shoes were too large for her--she descended the two steps to the
court. She began to cross the open, and a man here and there, raising
his head from his occupation, turned to watch her.

                            CHAPTER XXII.

                        A NIGHT BY THE RIVER.

The Countess knew that her knees were shaking under her. The gaze,
too, of the men who watched was dreadful to her. She felt her feet
slipping from the shoes; she felt the kerchief, that, twined in her
hair, gave her height, shift with the movement; she felt her limbs
yielding. And she despaired. She was certain that she could not pass;
she must faint, she must fall. Then the scornful words of the woman
she had left recurred to her, stung her, whipped her courage once
more; and, before she was aware of it, she had reached the gateway.
She was conscious of a crowd of men about her, of all eyes fixed on
her, of a jeering voice that hummed:

                     J'ai perdu mon gallant!"

and--and then she was beyond the gate! The cool air blowing in the
gorge between the two breasts fanned her burning cheeks--never breeze
more blessed!--and with hope, courage, confidence all in a moment
revived and active, she began to descend the winding road that led to
the town.

There were men lounging on the road, singly or in groups, who stared
at her as she passed; some with thinly-veiled insolence, others in
pure curiosity. But they did not dare to address her; though they
thought, looking after her, that she bore herself oddly. And she came
unmolested to the spot where the road passed under the drawbridge.
Here for an instant sick fear shook her anew. Some of the men in the
gateway had come out to watch her pass below; she thought that they
came to call her back. But save for a muttered jeer and the voice of
the jester repeating slyly:

                     A perdu son gallant!"

no one spoke; and as pace by pace her feet carried her from them,
carried her farther and farther, her courage returned, she breathed
again. She came at the foot of the descent, to the carved stone
fountain and the sloping market-place. She took, as ordered, the road
that fell away to the right, and in a twinkling she was hidden by the
turn from the purview of the castle.

She ventured then--the town seemed to stifle her--to move more
quickly; as quickly as her clumsy shoes would let her move on stones
sloping and greasy. Here and there a person, struck by something in
her walk, turned to take a second glance at her; or a woman in a low
doorway bent curious eyes on her as she came and went. She could not
tell whether she bred suspicion in them or not, or whether she seemed
the same woman--but a trifle downcast--who had passed that way before.
For she dared not look back nor return their gaze. Her heart beat
quickly, and more quickly as the end drew near. Success that seemed
within her grasp impelled her at last almost to a run. And then--she
was round the corner in the side lane that had been indicated to her,
and she saw before her the horses and the men gathered before the
chapel gate. And Roger--yes, Roger himself, with a face that worked
strangely and words that joy stifled in his throat, was leading her to
a horse and lending his knee to mount her. And they were turning, and
moving back again into the street.

"There is only the gate now," he muttered, "only the gate! Courage,
mademoiselle! Be steady!"

And the gate proved no hindrance. Though not one moment of all she had
passed was more poignant, more full of choking fear, than that which
saw them move slowly through, under the gaze of the men on guard, who
seemed for just one second to be rising to question them. Then--the
open country! The open country with its air, its cool breezes, its
spacious evening light and its promise of safety. And quick on this
followed the delicious moment when they began to trot, slowly at first
and carelessly, that suspicion might not be awakened; and then more
swiftly, and more swiftly, urging the horses with sly kicks and
disguised spurrings until the first wood that hid them saw them
pounding forward at a gallop, with the Countess's robe flapping in the
wind, her kerchief fallen, her hair loosened. Two miles, three miles
flew by them; they topped the wooded hill that looked down on
Villeneuve. Then, midway in the descent on the farther side, they left
the path at a word from Roger, plunged into the scrub and rode at
risk--for it was dark--along a deer-trail with which he was familiar.
This brought them presently, by many windings and through thick brush,
to a spot where the brook was fordable. Thence, in silence, they
plodded and waded and jogged along damp woodland ways and through
watery lanes that attended the brook to its junction with the river.

Here, at length, in the lowest bottom of the Villeneuve valley, they
halted. For the time they deemed themselves safe; since night had
fallen and hidden their tracks, and Vlaye, if he followed, would take
the ordinary road. It had grown so dark indeed, that until the moon
rose farther retreat was impossible; and though the river beside which
they stood was fordable at the cost of a wetting, Roger thought it
better to put off the attempt. One of the servants, the man at the
Countess's bridle, would have had him try now, and rest in the
increased security of the farther bank. But Roger demurred, for a
reason which he did not explain; and the party dismounted where they
were, in a darkness which scarcely permitted the hand to be seen
before the face.

"The moon will be up in three hours," Roger said. "If we cannot flee
they cannot pursue. Mademoiselle," he continued, in a voice into which
he strove to throw a certain aloofness, "if you will give me your
hand," he felt for it, "there is a dry spot here. I will break down
these saplings and put a cloak over them, and you may get some sleep.
You will need it, for the moment the moon is up we must ride on."

The snapping of alder boughs announced that he was preparing her
resting-place. She felt for the spot, but timidly, and he had to take
her hand again and place her in it.

"I fear it is rough," he said, "but it is the best we can do. For
food, alas, we have none."

"I want none," she answered. And then hurriedly, "You are not going?"

"Only a few yards."

"Stay, if you please. I am frightened."

"Be sure I will," he answered. "But we are in little danger here."

He made a seat for himself not far from her, and he sat down. And if
she was frightened he was happy, though he could not see her. He was
in that stage of love when no familiarity has brought the idol too
near, no mark of favour has declared her human, no sign of preference
has fostered hope. He had done her, he was doing her a service; and
all his life it would be his to recall her as he had seen her during
their flight--battered, blown about, with streaming hair and draggled
clothes, the branches whipping colour into her cheeks, her small brown
hand struggling with her tangled locks. In such a stage of love to be
near is enough, and Roger asked no more. He forgot his sister's
position, he forgot des Ageaux' danger. Listening in the warm summer
night to the croaking of the frogs, he gazed unrebuked into the
darkness that held her, and he was content.

Not that he had hope of her, or even in fancy thought of her as his.
But this moment was his, and while he lived he would possess the
recollection of it. All his life he would think of her, as the monk in
the cloister bears with him the image of her he loved in the world; or
as the maid remembers blamelessly the lover who died between betrothal
and wedding, and before one wry word or one divided thought had risen
to dim the fair mirror of her future.

Alas, of all the dainty things in the world, too delicate in their
nature to be twice tasted, none is more evanescent than this first
worship; this reverence of the lover for her who seems rather angel
than woman, framed of a clay too heavenly for the coarse touch of

Once before, in the hay-field, he had tried to save her, and he had
failed. This time--oh, he was happy when he thought of it--he would
save her. And he fell into a dream of a life--impossible in those
days, however it might have been in the times of Amadis of Gaul, or
Palmerin of England--devoted secretly to her service and her
happiness; a beautiful, melancholy dream of unrequited devotion,
attuned to the solemnity of the woodland night with its vast spaces,
its mysterious rustlings and gurgling waters. Those who knew Roger
best, and best appreciated his loyal nature, would have deemed him
sleepless for the Lieutenant's sake--whose life hung in the balance;
or tormented by thoughts of the Abbess's position. But love is of all
things the most selfish; and though Roger ground his teeth once and
again as Vlaye's breach of faith occurred to him, his thoughts were
quickly plunged anew in a sweet reverie, in which she had part. The
wind blew from her to him, and he fancied that some faint scent from
her loosened hair, some perfume of her clothing came to him.

It was her voice that at last and abruptly dragged him from his dream.
"Are you not ashamed of me?" she whispered.

"Ashamed?" he cried, leaping in his seat.

"Once--twice, I have failed," she went on, her voice trembling a
little. "Always some one must take my place. Bonne first, and now your
other sister! I am a coward, Monsieur Roger. A coward!"

"No!" he said firmly. "No!"

"Yes, a coward. But you do not know," she continued in the tone of one
who pleaded, "how lonely I have been, and what I have suffered. I have
been tossed from hand to hand all my life, and mocked with great names
and great titles, and been with them all a puppet, a thing my family
valued because they could barter it away when the price was good--just
as they could a farm or a manor! I give orders, and sometimes they are
carried out, and sometimes not--as it suits," bitterly. "I am shown on
high days as Madonnas are shown, carried shoulder high through the
streets. And I am as far from everybody, as lonely, as friendless,"
her voice broke a little, "as they! What wonder if I am a coward?"

"You are tired," Roger answered, striving to control his voice,
striving also to control a mad desire to throw himself at her feet and
comfort her. "You will feel differently to-morrow. You have had no
food, mademoiselle."

"You too?" in a voice of reproach.

He did not understand her, and though he trembled he was silent.

"You too treat me as a child," she continued. "You talk as if food
made up for friends and no one was lonely save when alone! Think what
it must be to be always alone, in a crowd! Bargained for by one,
snatched at by another, fawned on by a third, a prize for the boldest!
And not one--not one thinking of me!" pathetically. And then, as he
rose, "What is it?"

"I think I hear some one moving," Roger faltered. "I will tell the
men!" And without waiting for her answer, he stumbled away. For, in
truth, he could listen no longer. If he listened longer, if he stayed,
he must speak! And she was a child, she did not know. She did not know
that she was tempting him, trying him, putting him to a test beyond
his strength. He stumbled away into the darkness, and steering for the
place where the horses were tethered he called the men by name.

One answered sleepily that all was well. The other, who was resting,
snored. Roger, his face on fire, hesitated, not knowing what to do. To
bid the man who watched come nearer and keep the lady company would be
absurd, would be out of reason; and so it would be to bid him stand
guard over them while they talked. The man would think him mad. The
only alternative, if he would remove himself from temptation, was to
remain at a distance from her. And this he must do.

He found, therefore, a seat a score of paces away, and he sat down,
his head between his hands. But his heart cried--cried pitifully that
he was losing moments that would never recur--moments on which he
would look back all his life with regret. And besides his heart,
other things spoke to him; the warm stillness of the summer night,
the low murmur of the water at his feet, the whispering breeze, the
wood-nymphs--ay, and the old song that recurred to his memory and
mocked him--

             "Je ris de moi, je ris de toi,
              Je ris de ta sottise!"

Here, indeed, was his opportunity, here was such a chance as few men
had, and no man would let slip. But he was not as other men--there it
was. He was crook-backed, poor, unknown! And so thinking, so telling
himself, he fixed himself in his resolve, he strove to harden his
heart, he covered his ears with his hands. For she was a child, a
child! She did not understand!

He would have played the hero perfectly but for one fatal thought that
presently came to him--a thought fatal to his rectitude. She would
take fright! Left alone, ignorant of the feeling that drove him from
her--what if she moved from the place where he had left her, and lost
herself in the wood, or fell into the river, or--and just then she
called him.

"Monsieur Roger! Where are you?"

He went back to her slowly, almost sullenly; partly in surrender to
his own impulse, partly in response to her call. But he did not again
sit down beside her. "Yes," he said. "You are quite safe,
mademoiselle. I shall not be out of earshot. You are quite safe."

"Why did you go away?"

"Away?" he faltered.

"Are you afraid of me?" gently.

"Afraid of you?" He tried to speak gaily.

"Pray," she said in a queer, stiff tone, "do not repeat all my words.
I asked if you were afraid of me, Monsieur Roger?"

"No," he faltered, "but--but I thought that you would rather be

"I?" in a tone that went to poor Roger's heart. "I, who have told you
that I am always alone? Who have told you that I have not"--her voice
shook--"a friend--one real friend in the world!"

"You are tired now," Roger faltered, finding no other words than those
he had used before.

"Not one real friend!" she repeated piteously. "Not one!"

He was not proof against that. He bent towards her in the
darkness--almost in spite of himself. "Yes, one," he said, in a voice
as unsteady as hers. "One you have, mademoiselle, who would die for
you and ask not a look in return! Who would set, and will ever set,
your honour and your happiness above the prizes of the world! Who asks
only to serve you at a distance, by day and dark, now and always! If
it be a comfort for you to know that you have a friend, know it!

"I do not know," she struck in, in a voice both incredulous and
ironical, "where I am to find such an one save in books! In the Seven
Champions or in Amadis of Gaul--perhaps. But in the world--where?"

He was silent. He had said too much already. Too much, too much!

"Where?" she repeated.

Still he did not answer.

Then, "Do you mean yourself, Monsieur Roger?"

She spoke with a certain keenness of tone that was near to, ay, that
threatened offence.

He stood, his hands hanging by his side. "Yes," he faltered. "But no
one knows better than myself that I cannot help you, mademoiselle.
That I can be no honour to you. For the Countess of Rochechouart to
have a crook-backed knight at the tail of her train--it may make some
laugh. It may make women laugh. Yet----" he paused on the word.

"Yet what, sir?"

"While he rides there," poor Roger whispered, "no man shall laugh."

She was silent quite a long time, as if she had not heard him. Then,

"Do you not know," she said, "that the Countess of Rochechouart can
have but one friend--her husband?"

He winced. She was right; but if that was her feeling, why had she
complained of the lack of friends?

"Only one friend, her husband," the Countess continued softly. "If you
would be that friend--but perhaps you would not, Roger? Still, if you
would, I say, you must be kind to her ever and gentle to her. You must
not leave her alone in woods on dark nights. You must not slight her.
You must not,"--she was half laughing, half crying, and hanging
towards him in the darkness, her childish hands held out in a gesture
of appeal, irresistible had he seen it--but it was dark, or she had
not dared--"you must not make anything too hard for her!"

He stepped one pace from her, shaking.

"I dare not! I dare not!" he said.

"Not if I dare?" she retorted gently. "Not if I dare, who am a coward?
Are you a coward, too, that when you have said so much and I have said
so much you will still leave me alone and unprotected, and--and
friendless? Or is it that you do not love me?"

"Not love you?" Roger cried, in a tone that betrayed more than a
volume of words had told. And beaten out of his last defence by that
shrewd dilemma, he threw his pride to the winds; he sank down beside
her, and seized her hands and carried them to his lips--lips that were
hot with the fever of sudden passion. "Not love you, mademoiselle? Not
love you?"

"So eloquent!" she murmured, with a last flicker of irony. "He does
not even now say that he loves me. It is still his friendship, I
suppose, that he offers me."


"Or is it that you think me a nun because I wear this dress?"

He convinced her by means more eloquent than all the words lovers'
lips have framed that he did not so think her; that she was the heart
of his heart, the desire of his desire. Not that she needed to be
convinced. For when the delirium of his joy began to subside he
ventured to put a certain question to her--that question which happy
lovers never fail to put.

"Do you think women are blind?" she answered. "Did you think I did not
see your big eyes following me in and out and up and down? That I did
not see your blush when I spoke to you and your black brow when I
walked with M. des Ageaux? Dear Roger, women are not so blind! I was
not so blind that I did not know as much before you spoke as I know

And in the dark of the wood they talked, while the water glinted
slowly by them and the frogs croaked among the waving weeds, and in
the stillness under the trees the warmth of the summer night and of
love wrapped them round. It was an hour between danger and danger,
made more precious by uncertainty. For the moment the world held for
each of them but one other person. The Lieutenant's peril, Bonne's
suspense, the Abbess--all were forgotten until the moon rose above the
trees and flung a chequered light on the dark moss and hart's-tongue
and harebells about the lovers' feet. And with a shock of
self-reproach the two rose to their feet.

They gave to inaction not a moment after that. With difficulty and
some danger the river was forded by the pale light, and they resumed
their journey by devious ways until, mounting from the lower ground
that fringed the water, they gained the flank of the hills. Thence,
crossing one shoulder after another by paths known to Roger, they
reached the hill at the rear of the Old Crocans' town. In passing by
this and traversing the immediate neighbourhood of the peasants' camp
lay their greatest danger. But the dawn was now at hand, the moon was
fading; and in the cold, grey interval between dawn and daylight they
slipped by within sight of the squalid walls, and with the fear of
surprise on them approached the gate of the camp. Nor, though all went
well with them, did they breathe freely until the challenge of the
guard at the gate rang in their ears.

After that there came with safety the sense of their selfishness. They
thought of poor Bonne, who, somewhere in the mist-wrapped basin before
them, lay waiting and listening and praying. How were they to face
her? with what heart tell her that her lover, that des Ageaux, still
lay in his enemy's power. True, Vlaye had gone back on his word, and,
in face of the Countess's surrender, had refused to release him; so
that they were not to blame. But would Bonne believe this? Would she
not rather set down the failure to the Countess's faint heart, to the
Countess's withdrawal?

"I should not have come!" the girl cried, turning to Roger in great
distress. "I should not have come!" Her new happiness fell from her
like a garment, and, shivering, she hung back in the entrance and
wrung her hands. "I dare not face her!" she said. "I dare not,
indeed!" And, "Wait!" to the men who wished to hurry off and proclaim
their return. "Wait!" she said imperatively.

The grey fog of the early morning, which had sheltered their approach
and still veiled the lower parts of the camp, seemed to add to the
hopelessness of the news they bore. Roger himself was silent, looking
at the waiting men, and wondering what must be done. Poor Bonne! He
had scarcely thought of her--yet what must she be feeling? What had he
himself felt a few hours before?

"Some one must tell her," he said presently. "If you will not----"

"I will! I will!" she answered, her lip beginning to tremble.

Roger hesitated. "Perhaps she is sleeping," he said; "and then it were
a pity to rouse her."

But the Countess shook her head in scorn of his ignorance. Bonne would
not be sleeping. Sleeping, when her lover had not returned! Sleeping,
at this hour of all hours, the hour M. de Vlaye had fixed for--for the
end! Sleeping, when at any moment news, the best or the worst, might

And Bonne was not sleeping. The words had scarcely passed Roger's lips
when she appeared, gliding out of the mist towards them, the Bat's
lank form at her elbow. Their appearance in company was, in truth, no
work of chance. Six or seven times already, braving the dark camp and
its possible dangers, she had gone to the entrance to inquire; and on
each occasion--so strong is a common affection--the Bat had appeared
as it were from the ground, and gone silently with her, learned in
silence that there was no news, and seen her in silence to her
quarters again. The previous afternoon she had got some rest. She had
lain some hours in the deep sleep of exhaustion; and longer in a heavy
doze, conscious of the dead weight of anxiety, yet resting in body.

Save for this she had not had strength both to bear and watch. As it
was, deep shadows under her eyes told of the strain she was enduring;
and her face, though it had not lost its girlish contours, was white
and woeful. When she saw them standing together in the entrance a
glance told her that they bore ill news. Yet, to Roger's great
astonishment, she was quite calm.

"He has not released him?" she said, a flicker of pain distorting her

The Countess clasped her hand in both her own, and with tears running
down her face shook her head.

"He is not dead?"

"No, no!"

"Tell me."

And they told her. "When I said 'You will release him?'" the Countess
explained, speaking with difficulty, "he--he--laughed. 'I did not
promise to release him,' he answered. 'I said if you did not accept my
hospitality, I should hang him!' That was all."

"And now?" Bonne murmured. A pang once more flickered in her eyes.
"What of him now?"

"I think," Roger said, "there is a hope. I do indeed."

Bonne stood a moment silent. Then, in a voice so steady that it
surprised even the Bat, who had experience of her courage, "There is a
hope," she said, "if it be not too late. M. de Joyeuse, whose father's
life he would have saved--I will go to him! I will kneel to him! He
must save him. There must still be ways of saving him, and the Duke's
power is great." She turned to the Bat. "Take me to him," she said.

He stooped his rugged beard to her hand, and kissed it with reverence.
Then, while the others stood astonished at her firmness, he passed
with her into the mist in the direction of the Duke's hut.

                            CHAPTER XXIII

                           THE BRIDE'S DOT.

The Abbess left alone in the garden-chamber listened intently; looking
now on the door which had closed on her rival, now on the windows,
whence it was just possible that she might catch the flutter of the
girl's flying skirts. But she did not move to the windows, nor make
any attempt to look down. She knew that her ears were her best
sentinels; and motionless, scarcely breathing, in the middle of the
floor, she strained them to the utmost to catch the first sounds of
discovery and alarm.

None reached her, and after the lapse of a minute she breathed more
freely. On the other hand, the waiting-maid--glad to prolong her
freedom--did not return. The Abbess, still listening, still intent,
fell to considering, without moving from the spot, other things. The
light was beginning to wane in the room--the room she remembered so
well--the corners were growing shadowy. All things promised to favour
and prolong her disguise. Between the inset windows lay a block of
deep gloom; she had only to fling herself down in that place and hide
her face on her arms, as the Countess, in her abandonment, had hidden
hers, and the woman would discover nothing when she entered--nothing
until she took courage to disturb the bride--and would dress her.

The bride? Even in the last minute the room had grown darker--dark and
vague as her sombre thoughts. But it happened that amid its shadows
one object still gleamed white--a tiny oasis of brightness in a desert
of gloom. The pile of dainty bride-clothes, lawn and lace, that lay on
the window-seat caught and gave back what light there was. It seemed
to concentrate on itself all that remained of the day. Presently she
could not take her eyes from the things. They had at first repelled
her. Now, and more powerfully, they fascinated her. She dreamed, with
her gaze fixed on them; and slowly the colour mounted to her brow,
her face softened, her breast heaved. She took a step towards the
bride-clothes and the window, paused, hesitated; and, flushed and
frowning, looked at the door.

But no one moved outside, no footstep threatened entrance; and
her eyes returned to the lace and lawn, emblems of a thing that
from Eve's day to ours has stirred women's hearts. She was not
over-superstitious. But it could not be for nothing, a voice whispered
her it could not be for nothing that the things lay there and, while
night swallowed all besides, still shone resplendent in the gloaming.
Were they not only an emblem, but a token? A sign to her, a finger
pointing through the vagueness of her future to the clear path of

The Abbess had thought of that path, that way out of her difficulties,
not once only, nor twice. It had lain too open, too plain to be
missed. But she had marked it only to shrink from it as too dangerous,
too bold even for her. Were she to take it she must come into fatal
collision, into irremediable relations with the man whom she loved;
but whom others feared, and of whom his little world stood in an awe
so dire and so significant.

Yet still the things beckoned her; and omens in those days went for
more than in these. Things still done in sport or out of a sentimental
affection for the past--on All-hallows' E'en or at the new moon--were
then done seriously, their lessons taken to heart, their dictates
followed. The Abbess felt her heart beat high. She trembled and shook
on the verge of a great resolve.

Had she time? The cloak slipped a little lower, discovering her bare
shoulders. She looked at the door and listened, looked again at the
pale bride-clothes. The stillness encouraged her, urged her. And, for
the rest, had she not boasted a few minutes before that, whoever
feared him, she did not; that, whoever drifted helpless on the tide of
fate, she could direct her life, she could be strong?

She had the chance now if she dared to take it! If she dared? Already
she had thwarted him in a thing dear to him. She had released his
prisoner, conveyed away his bride, wrecked his plans. Dared she thwart
him in this last, this greatest thing? Dared she engage herself and
him in a bond from which no power could free them, a bond that,
the deed done, must subject her to his will and pleasure--and his
wrath--till death?

She did fear him, she owned it. And she had not dared the venture had
she not loved him more. But love kicked the beam. Love won--as love
ever wins in such contests. Swiftly her mind reviewed the position: so
much loss, so much gain. If he would stand worse here he would stand
better there. And then she did not come empty-handed. Fain would she
have come to him openly and proudly, with her dower in her hands, as
she had dreamed that she would come. But that was not possible. Or, if
it were possible, the prospect was distant, the time remote; while,
this way, love, warm, palpitating, present love, held out arms to her.

The end was certain. For all things, the time, the gathering darkness,
her gaoler's absence, seconded the temptation. Had she resisted longer
she had been more than woman. As it was, she had time for all she must
do. When the waiting-maid returned, and glanced around the darkened
room, she was not surprised to find her crouching on the floor in the
posture in which she had left her, with head bowed on the window-seat.
But she was surprised to see that she had donned the bride-clothes set
for her. True, the shimmer of white that veiled the head and shoulders
agreed ill with the despondency of the figure; but that was to be
expected. And at least--the woman recognised with relief--there would
be no need of force, no scene of violence, no cries to Heaven. She
uttered a word of thanksgiving for that; and then, thinking that light
would complete the improvement and put a more cheerful face on the
matter, she asked if she should fetch candles.

"For I think the priest is below, my lady," she continued doubtfully;
she had no mind to quarrel with her future mistress if it could be
avoided. "And my lord may be looked for at any moment."

The crouching figure stirred a foot fretfully, but did not answer.

"If I might fetch them----"

"No!" sharply.

"But, if it please you, it is nearly dark. And----"

"Am I not shamed enough already?" The bride as she spoke--in a tone
half ruffled, half hysterical--raised her arms with a passionate
gesture. "If I must be married against my will, I will be married
thus! Thus! And without more light to shame me!"

"Still it grows--so dark, my lady!" the maid ventured again, though

"I tell you I will have it dark! And"--with another movement as of a
trapped animal--"if they must come, bid them come!" Then, in a choking
voice, "God help me!" she murmured, as she let her head fall again on
her arms.

The woman wondered, but felt no suspicion; there was something of
reason in the demand. She went and told the elder woman who waited
below. She left the room door ajar, and the Abbess, raising her pale,
frowning face from the window-seat, could hear the priest's voice
mingling in the whispered talk. Light steps passed hurriedly away
through the garden, and after an interval came again; and by-and-by
she heard more steps, and voices under the window--and a smothered
laugh, and then a heavier, firmer tread, and--his voice--his! She
pictured them making way for the master to pass through and enter.

She had need of courage now, need of the half-breathed prayer;
for there is no cause so bad men will not pray in it. Need of
self-control, too, lest she give way and fall in terror at his feet.
Yet less need of this last; for fear was in her part, and natural to
the right playing of it. So that it was not weakness or modest tremors
or prostration would betray her.

She clutched this thought to her, and had it for comfort. And when the
door opened to its full width, and they appeared on the threshold and
entered, the priest first, the lord of Vlaye's tall presence next, and
after these three or four witnesses, with the two women behind all,
those less concerned found nothing to marvel at in the sight; nor in
the dim crouching figure, lonely in the dark room, that rose
unsteadily and stood cowering against the wall, shrinking as if in
fear of a blow. It was what they had looked to see, what they had
expected; and they eyed it, one coveting, another in pity, seeing by
the half-light which was reflected from the pale evening sky little
more than is here set down. For the priest, appearances might have
been trebly suspicious, and he had suspected nothing; for he was
terribly afraid himself. And M. de Vlaye, ignorant of the Abbess's
visit and exulting in the success of his plan, a success won in the
teeth of his enemy, had no grounds for suspicion. Even the marriage in
the gloaming seemed only natural; for modesty in a woman seems natural
to a man. He was more than content if the little fool would raise no
disturbance, voice no cries, but let herself be married without the
need of open force.

With something of kindness in his tone, "The Countess prefers it thus,
does she?" he said, raising his head, as he took in the scene. "Then
thus let it be! Her will is mine, and shall be mine. Still it is dark!
You do, in fact, Countess," he continued smoothly, "prefer it so? I
gathered your meaning rightly--from those you sent?"

With averted face she made a shamed gesture with her hand.

"You do not----"

"If it must be--let it be so!" she whispered. "And now!" And suddenly
she covered her face--they could picture it working pitifully--with
her hands.

M. de Vlaye turned to his witnesses. "You hear all present," he said,
"that it is with the Countess of Rochechouart's consent that I wed
her. For me it is my part now and will be my part always to do her
pleasure." Then turning his face again to the shrinking figure, that
uttered no protest or word of complaint, "Father, you hear?" he
continued, a note of triumph in his voice. "Do your office on us I
pray, and quickly." And he advanced a step towards his bride.

The Romish sacrament of marriage is short, and reduced to its
essentials is of the simplest. Father Benet had his orders, and
thankful to be so cheaply quit of his task--for she might have
appealed to him, might have shrieked and struggled, might have made of
his work a public crime--he hastened to bind the two together. For one
second, at the most critical part of the rite--if that could be said
to have parts which was done within the minute--the bride hung,
wavered, hesitated--seemed about to protest or faint. The next, as by
a supreme effort, she tottered a step nearer to the bridegroom, and
placed her hand, burning with fever, in his. In a few seconds the
words that made them man and wife, the irrevocable "_Conjungo vos_,"
were spoken.

Then followed a single moment of awkwardness. The Captain of Vlaye's
heart was high and uplifted. All had gone well, all had gone better
than his hopes. Yet he was prudent as he was bold. He would fain have
raised her veil before them all and kissed her, and proved beyond
cavil her willingness. But he doubted the wisdom of the act. He
reflected that women were strange beings and capricious. She might be
foolish enough to shriek--more, to faint, to resist, to speak; she
might realise, now that it was too late, the thing which she had done.
And a dozen curious eyes were on them, were watching them, were
judging them. He contented himself with bowing over her hand.

"Would you be alone, madame?" he said gently. "If so, say so, sweet.
And you shall be alone, while you please."

The answer, low and half-stifled as it was, astonished him. "With
you," she murmured, with face half-averted. And as the others, smiling
and with raised eyebrows, looked at one another, and then at a glance
from him turned to withdraw, "And a light," she added, in the same
subdued tone, "if you please."

"Bring a light," he said to the waiting-woman. "And, mark you, see
that when your lady wants supper it be ready for her."

She had still, before they withdrew, a surprise for him. "I would have
a draught of wine--now," she murmured.

He passed the order to them with a gay air, thinking the while of the
queer nature of women. And he stood waiting by the door until the
order was carried out. The footsteps of the witnesses and their
laughter rose from the garden below as the maid brought in lights and
wine and set them on the table beside him. "You can go," he said; and
after a fleeting glance, half of envy, half of wonder at her new
mistress--who had sunk into a sitting posture on the window-seat--the
woman went out.

"May I serve you?" he murmured gallantly. And he poured for her.

With her face turned from him she lifted the gauzy veil with one hand
and with the other--it trembled violently--she raised the wine to her
lips. Still with her shoulder to him--but he set this down to
modesty--she gave him back the empty cup, and he went and set it down
on the table beside the door. When he turned again to her she had
raised her veil and risen to her feet, and stood facing him with
shining eyes.

"By Heaven!" he cried. And he recoiled a pace, his swarthy face gone
sallow. Was he mad? Was he dreaming? The priest had been silent on the
Abbess's visit. He believed her leagues distant. He had no reason to
think otherwise. And he had not been more astonished if the one woman
had turned into the other before his eyes. "By Heaven!" he repeated.
For the moment sheer astonishment, the stupor of bewilderment, held
him dumb.

She did not speak, but neither did she quail. She stood confronting
him, erect and stately, her beauty never more remarkable than now, her
breast heaving slightly under the lace.

"Am I mad?" he muttered again. And he closed his eyes and opened them.
"Or dreaming?"

"Neither!" she replied.

"Then who in God's name are you?" he retorted, in something
approaching his natural voice; though the awe of the unnatural still
held his mind.

"Your wife," she answered.

"My wife!" With the words the full shock of that which had happened
struck him.

"Your wife," she rejoined unblenching, though her heart beat wildly,
furiously, in her bosom, and she feared, ah, how she feared! "Your
wife! And which of us two"--she continued proudly--"has a better right
to be your wife? I,"--and with the word she flung the lace superbly
from her head and shoulders, and stood before him in the full
splendour of her beauty--"or that child? That puny weakling? That
doll? I," with increasing firmness--he had not struck her yet!--"who
have your vows, sir, your promises, your sacred oath--and all my due,
as God knows and you know--or that puppet? I, who dare, and for your
sake have dared--you know it only too well!--or that craven, puling
and weeping and waiting for the first chance to flee you or betray
you? What I have done for you"--and proudly she held out her hands to
him--"you know, sir. What she would have done you know not."

"I know that you have ruined me," he said, looking darkly at her.

"And in return for--what?" she answered, with a look as dark.

His nostrils quivered, a pulse beat hard in his cheek. Only the sheer
boldness of that which she had done, only the appeal of the lioness in
her to the lion in him--and her beauty--held his hand; held his hand
from striking her down, woman though she was, at his feet. Had she
faltered, had she turned pale or trembled, had she uttered but one
word of supplication, or done aught but defy him, he had flung her
brutally to the floor and trampled upon her.

For the Captain of Vlaye was no knight of romance. And no scruple on
his part, no helplessness on hers would have restrained his hand. But
he loved her after his fashion. He loved her beauty, which had never
been more brilliant or alluring; he loved the spirit that proved her
fit helpmeet for such as he. And thwarted, tricked, baffled, hanging
still on the verge of violence over which the least recoil on her part
would push him, he still owned reason in her claim. She was the more
worthy--of the two; such beauty, such spirit, such courage would go
far. And not many weeks back he had looked no higher, aimed no
farther, but had deemed her birth fit dower. But love sits lightly on
the ambitious, and driven by a new danger to a new shift, forced to
look abroad for aid, he had put her aside at the first temptation--not
without a secret thought that she might be still what she had been to

Her eyes, her words told a different story, and in his secret heart he
gave her credit for her act; and he held his hand. But his looks were
dark and bitter and passionate, as he told her again that she had
ruined him, and flung it coarsely in her face that she brought
herself, and naught besides to the bargain.

"It is but a little since you thought that enough!" she replied, with
flashing eyes.

"You are bold to speak to me thus!" he said between his teeth. "What?
You that call yourself my wife, to beard me!"

"That am your wife!" she answered, though sick fear rapped at her

"Then for that the greater need to heed what you say!" he replied.
"Wives that come empty-handed to husbands that ask them not had best
be silent and be patient! Or in a very little time they creep as low
as before they went high! You beautiful fool!" he continued, in a tone
of mingled rage and admiration, "to do this in haste and forget I
could punish at leisure! To do me ill, ay, to ruin me, and forget that
henceforth my pleasure must be yours, my will your rule! My wife, say
you?" with increasing bitterness. "Ay! And therefore my creature,
helpless as the scullion I send to the scourge, or the trooper I hang
up by the heels for sleeping! You--you----" and with a movement as
fierce as it was sudden he grasped her wrist and twisted her round
forcibly so that her eyes at close quarters looked into his. "Do you
not yet repent? Do you not begin to see that in tricking the Captain
of Vlaye you have made your master?"

She could have screamed with pain, for the bones of her slender wrist
seemed to be cracking in his cruel grip--but she knew that in her
courage, and in that only, lay her one hope. "I know this," she
replied hardily, forcing herself to meet his eyes without flinching,
"that you mistake! I do not come empty--or I had not come," with
pride. "I bring you that will save you--if you treat me well. But if
you hold me so----"

"What will you do?" savagely.

"Release me and I will tell you," she answered. "I shall not fly. And
if I say nothing to the purpose, I shall still be in your power."

He yielded, moved in secret by her spirit. "Well," he said, "speak!
But let it be to the purpose, madam, that is all."

"Said I not it should be to the purpose?" she answered, her eyes
bright. "And I keep my word, if you do not. Tell me, sir, frankly,
what had that child, that doll"--bitterly--"to put in the scales
against me? Beauty?"


"A skin as white as mine or arms as round?" She held them out to him.
"Or brighter eyes? You have looked in mine often enough and sworn you
loved me, sworn that you would do me no wrong! You should know them--
and hers!"

"It was none of these."

"Her birth? Nay, but she is no better born than I am! A Rochechouart
is what a Villeneuve was. Her rank? No. Then what was it?"

"No one thing," he answered drily. "But five hundred things."


"You are quick-witted. Spears."

"And her manors also, I suppose?" with contempt. "Her lordships here
and there! Her farms and castles in Poitou and the Limousin and Beauce
and the Dordogne! Her mills in the Bourbonnais and her fishings in

"Not one of these!"


"The spears only, as God sees me!" he answered firmly. "For without
these I could enjoy not the smallest of those. Without these, of which
you, beautiful fool, have robbed me--robbing me therewith of my last
chance--I take no farm nor smallest mill, nor hold one groat of that I
have won! Do you think, my girl," he continued grimly, "that I was not
pressed when I gave up your lips and your kisses for that child's
company? Do you think it was for a whim, a fancy, a light thing that I
turned my back on you and your smiles, and at risk sought a puling
girl, when I could have had you without risk? Bah! I tell you it was
not to gain, but to hold--because he had no other choice and no other
way--it was not for love but for life, that the King went to his Mass!
And I to mine!"

"All this I thought," she said quietly. She was no longer afraid of

"You thought it?"

"I knew it."

"You knew it? You knew, madam," he repeated, his face darkening, "on
what a narrow edge I stood, and you dashed away my one holdfast?"

"To replace it by another," she replied, her figure welling with
confidence. "I tell you, sir, I come not to you empty-handed, if I
come unasked. I bring my dowry."

He eyed her gloomily. "It should be a large one," he muttered, "if it
is to take the place of that I have lost."

"It is a large one," she answered. "But," with a change to gentleness,
"do me credit. I have not puled nor wept. I have uttered no cry, I
have made no complaint. But I have righted myself, doing what not one
woman in a hundred would have dared to do! I have wit that has tricked
you, and courage that has not quailed before you. And henceforward I
claim to be no puppet for your play, no doll for your dull hours! But
your equal, my lord, and your mate; deepest in your counsels, the
heart of your plans, your other brain, your other soul! Make me this,
hold me thus--close to you, and----

"Is that the thing you bring me?" he said, with sarcasm. Yet she had
moved him.

"No!" She fell a little from her height, she looked appeal. "My dowry
is different. But say first, sir, I shall be this!"

"Bring me  the spears," he answered, his eyes gleaming, "and you shall
be that and more. Bring me the spears, and----" He made as if he would
take her forcibly in his arms.

She recoiled, but her eyes shone. "I am yours," she said, "when you
will! Do you not know it? But, for the present, listen. I have a
husband, but I have also a lover. A lover of whom"--she continued more
slowly, marking with joy how he started at the word--"my lord and
master has no need to be jealous. He has not touched of me more than
the tips of my fingers; yet if I raise but those fingers he has spears
and to spare--five hundred and five hundred to that!--and I have but
to play the laggard a little, and dangle a hope, and they dance to my

He understood. A deep flush tinged the brown of his lean face. "You
have brought," he said, "the Duke to parley."

"To parley!" She pointed superbly to the floor. "Nay, but to my feet!
What will you of him? Spears, his good word, his intercession with the
King, a post? Name what you will, and it shall be yours."

He looked at her shrewdly, with a new admiration, a new and stronger
esteem. Already she filled the place which she had claimed, already
she was to him what she had prayed to be. "You are sure?" he said.

"In a week, had I not loved you, I had had him and his Duchy, and all
those spears! And mills and manors and lordships and governments, all
had been mine, sir! Mine, had I wished this man; mine, had I been
willing to take him! But I"--letting her arms fall by her sides and
standing submissive before him--"am more faithful than my master!"

He stood staring at her. "But if this be so," he said at last, his
brows coming together, "what of it? How does it help us? You are now
my wife?"

"He need not know that yet."


"He need not know it," she continued firmly, "until he has played his
part, and wrung your pardon from the King! Or at the least--for that
may take time--until he has drawn off his power and left you to face
those whom you can easily match!"

"He would have wedded you?" he asked, eyeing her in wonder.

"For certain."

"But, sweet----"

"I am sweet now!" she said, with tender raillery.

"To do this you must go to him?"

"He shall touch of me no more than the tips of my fingers," she
answered smiling. "Nor"--and at the word a blush stole upward from her
neck to her brow, "need I go on the instant, if your men can be
trusted not to talk, my lord."

"He is soon without a tongue," he replied grimly, "who talks too fast
here! You should know that of old."

She lowered her eyes, the colour mounting anew to her brow. "Yes,"
she murmured. "I know that your people can be silent. But the
Lieutenant of Périgord is here. You have not"--with a quick,
frightened look--"injured him?"

"Have no fear."

"For that were fatal," she continued anxiously. "Fatal! If things go
wrong, he may prove our safety."

"Pooh, I know it well," Vlaye replied, with a nod of intelligence.
"None better, my girl. But have no fear, he will hear naught of our
doings. Not, I suppose"--with a searching look, half humorous, half
suspicious--"that he is also a captive of your bow and spear."

"I hate him," she answered.

Her tone, vehement, yet low, struck the corresponding chord in his
nature. He took her into his arms with a reckless laugh. "You were
right and I was wrong!" he cried, as he fondled her. "You will bring
me more than a clump of spears, my beauty! More than that foolish
child! God! In a month I had strangled her! But you and I--you and I,
sweet, will go far together! And now, to supper! To supper! And the
devil take to-morrow and our cares!"

                            CHAPTER XXIV.

                            FORS L'AMOUR.

Though it was not des Ageaux' fate to lie in one of those underground
dungeons, noisome and dark, which the lords of an earlier century had
provided in the foundations of the castle, he was not greatly the
better for the immunity. The humiliations of the mind are sometimes
sharper than the pains of the body; and the Lieutenant of Périgord,
defeated and a prisoner, was little the happier though a dry
strong-room looking on a tiny inner court held him, and though he
suffered nothing from cold or the slimy companionship of the newt and
frog. On the ambitious man defeat sits more heavily than chains; into
the nature that would fain be at work inaction gnaws deeper than a
shackle-bolt. Never while he lived would des Ageaux forget the long
hours which he spent, gazing drearily on the blank wall that faced his
window, while his mind measured a hundred times over the depth and the
completeness of his fall.

He feared little for his life if he deigned to fear at all. He knew
that he was a prize too valuable to be wasted. In the last resort,
indeed, when all hopes had failed the Captain of Vlaye, and ruin
stared him in the face, he might wreak his vengeance on the King's
governor. But short of that moment--and it depended upon many
things--the Lieutenant accounted himself safe. Safe as to life, but a
beaten man, a prisoner, a failure; a blot, every moment he lay there,
on the King's dignity, whose deputy he was; an unfortunate, whose ill
hap would never be forgiven by the powers he had represented so ill.

The misfortune was great, and, to a proud man, well-nigh intolerable.
Moreover, this man was so formed that he loved the order which it was
his mission to extend, and the good government which it was his to
impose. To make straight the crooked--gently, if it might be, but by
the strong hand if it must be--was his part in life, and one which he
pursued with the utmost zest. Every breach of order, therefore, every
trespass in his province, every outrage wounded him. But the breach
and the trespass which abased in his person the King's name--he
writhed, he groaned as he thought of this! Even the blow to his
career, fatal as it promised to be, scarce hurt him worse or cut him
so deeply.

The more as that career which had been all in all to him yesterday was
not quite all in all to him to-day. Bonne's voice, the touch of her
hands as she appealed to him, the contact of her figure with his as he
carried her, these haunted him, and moved him, in his solitude and his
humiliation. Her courage, her constancy, her appeal to him, when all
seemed lost, he could not think of them--he who had thought of naught
but himself for years--without a softening of his features, without a
flood of colour invading the darkness of his face. Strong, he had
estranged himself from the tender emotions, only to own their sway
now. With half his mind he dwelt upon his mishap; the other half, the
better half, found consolation in the prospect of her sympathy, of her
fidelity, of her gentle eyes and quivering lips--who loved him. He
found it strange to remember that he filled all a woman's thoughts;
that, as he sat there brooding in his prison, she was thinking of him
and dreaming of him, and perhaps praying for him!

It is not gladly, it is never without a pang that the man of affairs
sees the world pass from him. And if there be nothing left, it is bad
for him. Des Ageaux acknowledged that he had something left. A hand he
could trust would lie in his, and one brave heart, when all others
forsook him would accompany him whither he went. He might no longer
aspire to government and the rule of men, the work of his life was
over; but Bonne would hold to him none the less, would love him none
the less, would believe in him truly. The cares of power would no
longer trouble his head, or keep it sleepless; but her gentle breast
would pillow it, her smiles would comfort him, her company replace the
knot of followers to whom he had become accustomed. He told himself
that he was content. He more than half believed it.

In the present, however, he had not her company; and the present was
very miserable. He did not fear for his life, but he lay in ignorance
of all that had happened since his capture, of all that went forward;
and the tedium of imprisonment tried him. He knew that he might lie
there weeks and months and come forth at last--for the world moved
quickly in this period of transition--to find himself forgotten.
Seventy years earlier, a king, misnamed the Great, standing where he
stood, had said that all was lost but honour--and had hastened to
throw that also away. For him all was lost but love. All!

He had passed four days--they seemed to him a fortnight--in this weary
inaction, and on the last evening of the four he was expecting his
supper with impatience, when it occurred to him that the place was
more noisy than ordinary. For some time sounds had reached him without
making any definite impression on his mind; now they resolved
themselves into echoes of distant merry-making. Little spirts of
laughter, the catch of a drinking-song, the shrill squeal of a maid
pinched or kissed, the lilt of a hautboy--he began with quickened ears
to make these out. And straightway that notion which is never out of a
prisoner's mind and which the least departure from routine fosters
raised its head. Escape! Ah, if he could escape! Freedom would set him
where he had been, freedom would undo the worst of his mishap. It
might even give him the victory he had counted lost.

But the grated window or the barred door, the paved floor or the oaken
roof--one of these must be pierced; or the gaoler, who never visited
him without precautions and company, must be overcome and robbed of
his keys. And even then, with that done which was well-nigh
impossible, he would be little nearer to freedom than before. He would
be still in the heart of his enemy's fortress, with no knowledge of
the passages or the turnings, no clue to the stone labyrinth about
him, no accomplice.

Yet, beyond doubt, there was merry-making afoot--such merry-making as
accounted for the tarrying of his supper. Probably the man had
forgotten him. By-and-by the notes of the hautboy rose louder and
fuller, and on the wave of sound bursts of applause and laughter came
to him. He made up his mind that some were dancing and others were
looking on and encouraging them. Could it be that the Captain of Vlaye
had surprised the peasants' camp? and that this was his way of
celebrating his success? Or was it merely some common-place orgie,
held, it might be, in the Captain's absence? Or---- But while he
turned this and that in his thoughts the footsteps he had been
expecting sounded at the end of the stone passage and approached. A
light shone under the door, a key turned in the lock, and the man who
brought him his meals appeared on the threshold. He entered, his hands
full, while his comrade, who had opened for him, remained in the

"You are gay this evening?" the Lieutenant said as the man set down
his light.

The fellow grinned. "Ay, my lord," he replied good-humouredly, "you
may say it. Wedding-bells and the rest of it!" He was not drunk, but
he was flushed with wine. "That is the way the world goes--and comes."

"A wedding?" des Ageaux exclaimed. The news was strange.

"To be sure, my lord.

                    'En revenant des noces,

he hummed.

"And whose, my man?"

The fellow, in the act of putting a bowl of soup on the table, held
his hand. He looked at the Lieutenant with a grin. "Ay, whose?" he
said. "But that would be talking. And we have orders not to talk, see
you, my lord. Still, it is not many you'll have the chance of telling.
And, if I tell you it is the Captain himself, what matter? Should we
be footing it and drinking it and the rest for another?"

"M. de Vlaye married?" des Ageaux exclaimed in astonishment. "To-day?"

"Married for sure, and as tight as Father Benet could marry him! But
to-day"--with his head on one side--"that is another matter."

"And the bride?"

"Ay, that is another matter, tool" with a wink. "Not that you can let
it out to many either! So, if you must know----"

"Best not," intervened his comrade in the passage, speaking for the
first time.

"Perhaps you do not know yourself?" the Lieutenant said shrewdly. He
saw that the man was sufficiently in drink to be imprudent. With a
little provocation he would tell.

"Not know?"--with indignation. "Didn't I----"

"Know or not, don't tell!" growled the other.

"Of course," said des Ageaux, "if you don't know you cannot tell."

"Oh!" the fool rejoined. "Cannot I? Well, I can tell you it is
Mademoiselle de Villeneuve. So there's for knowing!"

Des Ageaux sprang to his feet, his face transformed. "What!" he cried.
"Say that again!"

But his excitement overreached itself. His movement warned the other
that he had spoken too freely. With an uneasy look--what had he
done?--he refused to say more, and backed to the door. "I have said
too much already," he muttered sullenly.


"Don't answer him!" commanded the man in the passage. "And hurry! You
have stayed too long as it is! I would not be in your shoes for
something if the Captain comes to know."

Des Ageaux stepped forward, pressing him again to speak. But the man,
sobered and frightened, was obdurate. "I've said too much already," he
answered with a resentful scowl. "What is it to you, my lord?" And he
slipped out hurriedly, and secured the door behind him.

Des Ageaux remained glaring at the closed door. Bonne de Villeneuve
had been taken with him. Bonne de Villeneuve also was a prisoner. Was
it possible that she had become by force or willingly Vlaye's bride?
Possible? Ah, God, it must be so! And, if so, by force surely! Surely,
by force; his faith in her told him that! But if by force, what
consolation could he draw from that? For that, if he loved her, were
worst of all, most cruel of all! That were a thing intolerable by God
or man!

So it seemed to this man, who only a few days before had not known
what love was. But who now, stung with sudden passion, flung himself
from wall to wall of his narrow prison. Now, when he saw it snatched
from him, now, when he saw himself denuded of that solace at which he
had grasped, but for which he had not been sufficiently thankful, now
he learned what love was, its pains as well as its promise, its
burning fevers, its heart-stabbing pity! He lost himself in rage. He
who for years had practised himself in calmness, who had made it his
aim to hide his heart, forgot his lesson, flung to the night his
habit. He seized the iron bars of his window and shook them in a
paroxysm of fury, as if only by violence he could retain his sanity.
When the bars, which would have resisted the strength of ten, declined
to leave the stone, he flung himself on the door, and beat on it and
shouted, maddened by the thought that she was under the same roof,
that she was within call, yet he could not help her! He called Vlaye
by dreadful names, challenging him, and defying him, and promising him
terrible deaths. And only when echo and silence answered all and the
iron sense of his helplessness settled down slowly upon him and numbed
his faculties did he, too, fall silent and, covering his face with his
hands, stagger to a seat and sit in a stupor of despair.

He had put love aside, he had despised it through years--for this! He
had held it cheap when it promised to be his--for this! He had
accepted it grudgingly, and when all else was like to fail him--for
this! He was punished, and sorely. She was near him. He pictured her
in the man's power, in the man's hands, in the man's arms! And he
could not help her.

Had his impotent cries and threats been heard they had only
covered him with humiliation. Fortunately they were not heard: the
merry-making was at its height, and no one came near him. The Captain
of Vlaye, aware that his marriage could not be hidden from his own
men--for he had made no secret of it beforehand--had not ventured to
forbid some indulgence. He could make it known that the man who named
his bride outside the gate would lose his tongue; but, that arranged,
he must wink--for every despotism is tempered by something--at a few
hours of riot, and affect not to see things that at another time had
called for swift retribution.

The men had used his permission to the full. They had brought in some
gipsies to make sport for them, a treble allowance of wine was on
draught, and the hour that saw des Ageaux beating in impotent fury on
his door saw the license and uproar of which he had marked the
beginning grown to a head. In the great hall the higher officers,
their banquet finished, were deep in their cups. In the cavernous
kitchens drunken cooks probed cauldrons for the stray capon that still
floated amid the spume; or half-naked scullions thrust a forgotten
duck or widgeon on the spit at the request of a hungry friend. About
the fires in the courtyard were dancing and singing and some romping;
for there were women within the walls, and others had come in with the
gipsies. Here a crowd surrounded the bear, and laid furious bets for
or against; while yelps and growls and fierce barkings deafened all
within hearing. There a girl, the centre of a leering ring, danced to
the music of her tambour; and there again a lad tumbled, and climbed a
pole at risk of his limbs. Everywhere, save in the dark garden under
the "demoiselle's" windows, where a sentry walked, and at the great
gates, where were some sober men picked for the purpose, wantonness
and jollity held reign, and the noise of brawling and riot cast fear
on the town that listened and quaked below.

A stranger entering the castle would have judged the reins quite
fallen, all discipline fled, all control lost. But he had been wrong.
Not only did a sentry walk the garden path--and soberly and shrewdly
too--but no man in his wildest and tipsiest moment ventured a foot
within the railing that fenced the lime avenue, or even approached the
gates that led to it without lowering his voice and returning to
something like his normal state. For in the rooms looking over the
garden M. de Vlaye entertained his bride of two days--and he had
relaxed, not loosed, the reins.

They sat supping in the room in which they had been wedded, and,
unmoved by the sounds of uproar that came fitfully to their ears,
discussed their plans; she, glowing and handsome, animated by present
love and future hope; he, content, if not enraptured, conquered by her
wit, and almost persuaded that all was for the best--that her charms
and beauty would secure him more than the dowry of her rival. Their
brief honeymoon over, they were to part on the morrow; she to pursue
her plans for the Duke's detachment, he to take the field and strike
such a blow as should scatter the peasants and dissipate what strength
remained in them. They were to part; and some shadow of the coming
separation had been natural. But her nerves as well as his were
strong, and the gloom of parting had not yet fallen on them. The
lights that filled the room were not brighter than her eyes; the snowy
linen that covered the round table at which they sat was not whiter
than her uncovered shoulders. He had given her jewels, the spoils of
many an enterprise; and they glittered on her queenly neck and in her
ears, gleamed through the thin lace of her dress, and on her round and
beautiful arms. He called her his Abbess and his nun in fond derision;
and she, in answering badinage, rallied him on his passion for the
Countess and his skill in abduction. So cleverly had she wrought on
him, so well managed him, that she dared even that.

The room had been hung for her with tapestries brought from another
part of the house; the windows more richly curtained; and a door, long
closed, had been opened, through which and an ante-room the chambers
connected with M. de Vlaye's apartments. Where the wedding robes had
lain on the window-seat a ribboned lute and a gay music-book lay on
rich draperies, and elbowed a gilded head-piece of Milanese work
surmounted by M. de Vlaye's crest, which had been brought in for his
lady's approval. A mighty jar of Provence roses scented the apartment;
and intoxicated by their perfume or their meaning, she presently
seized the lute, and gaily, between jest and earnest, broke into the
old Angoumois song:--

                    "Si je suis renfermée.
                     Ah, c'est bien sans raison;
                     Ma plus belle journée,
                     Se pass'ra-z-en prison.
                     Mais mon amant sans peine
                     Pourra m'y venir voir,
                     Son c[oe]ur sait bien qu'il m'aime,
                     Il viendra'-z-au parloir!"

And he answered her--

                    "Oh, Madame l'Abbesse,
                     Qu'on tire les verrous,
                     Qu'on sorte ma maîtresse
                     Le plus beau des bijoux;
                     Car je suis capitaine,
                     Je suis son cher amant,
                     J'enfoncerai sans peine
                     Les portes du couvent!"

As he finished, disturbed by some noise, he turned his head. "I told
your wench to go," he said, rising. "I suppose she took herself off?"
With a frown, he strode to the screen that masked the door, and made
sure by looking behind it that they had no listeners.

She smiled as she laid aside the lute. "I thought that your people
obeyed at a word?" she said.

"They do, or they suffer," he answered.

"And is that to apply to me?" with a mocking grimace.

"When we come to have two wills, sweet, yes!" he retorted. "It will
not be yet awhile. In the meantime I would this enterprise of yours
were over. I doubt your success, though all looks well."

"If I had been half as sure of you two days ago as I am of him
to-morrow!" she retorted.

"Yet you must not go too far with him."

She waved her finger-tips across the table. "So far, and no farther,"
she said lightly. "Have I not promised you? For the rest--what I have
done I can do. Am I not armed?" And she rose from her seat, and stood
before him in all the seduction of her charms. "Count it done, my
master. Set Joyeuse aside. He is captive of _my_ bow and spear. The
question is, can you deal with the rest?"

"The peasants?"

"And what remains of des Ageaux' power? And the Countess's levies?"

"For certain, if the Duke be out of the reckoning," he answered.
"He is a man. Remove him and des Ageaux--and the latter I have
already--and there is no one. Your brothers----"

"Bah!" She dismissed them with a contemptuous gesture.

"Just so. And the Countess's people have no leader. The Vicomte is
old. There is no one. Detach the Duke, and there will be a speedy end
of them. And before a new governor can set to work to make head
against me, many things may happen, my girl!"

"Many things will happen," she answered with confidence. "If I can win
one man, why not another? If a Duke, why not"--she made an
extraordinary face at him, half-sportive, half-serious--"why not a
greater? Eh, my lord?"

He stared. "No!" he answered, striking the table with sudden violence.
"No!" He knew well what she meant and whom she meant. "Not that! Even
to make all good, not that!" Yet his eyes glittered as he looked at
her; and it was plain that his thoughts travelled far and fast on the
wings of her words. While she, in the pride of her mastery, returned
his look fondly.

"No, not that--never that!" she replied in a voice that more than
reassured him. "It is for you and only for you that I do this. I am
yours, all and always--always! But, short of that, something may be
done. And, with friends at Court, from Captain of Vlaye to Governor of
Périgord is but a step!"

He nodded. "And a step that might save his Majesty much trouble," he
said with a smile. "Do that---- But I doubt your power, my girl."

"I have done that already should persuade you."

"You have tricked me," he said, smiling. "That is true. And it is no
mean thing, I grant."

"More than that!" she retorted. The wine she had drunk had flushed her
cheek and perhaps loosed her tongue. "More than that I have done! Who
took the first step for you? Who put the Lieutenant in your hands--and
my sister? And so, in place of my sister, the Countess?"

He looked at her in astonishment. "Who?" he rejoined. "Why, who but I
myself? Did I not take them with my own hands--at the old windmill on
the hill? What had you to do with that?"

"And who sent them to the windmill?"

"Why, the rabble to be sure, who seized them, took them as far as the

"And who set the rabble on them?" As she asked the question she rose
from her seat. In the excitement of her triumph, in the intoxication
of her desire to please him she forgot the despair into which the act
which she boasted had cast her but a week before. She forgot all
except that she had done it for him whom she loved, for him who now
was hers, and whose she was! "Who," she repeated, "set the rabble upon

"You?" he murmured. "Not you?"

"I!" she said, "I!"--and held out her hands to him. "It was I who told
the brute beasts that he--des Ageaux--had your man in hiding! It was I
who wrought them to the attempt and listened while they did it! I
thought, indeed, that it was your Countess who was with him. And I
hated her! I was jealous of her! But, Countess or no Countess, 'twas
done by me!--by me! And now do you think that there is anything I will
not do for you? That there is anything I cannot do for you?"

He was not shocked; it took much to shock the Captain of Vlaye. But he
was so much astonished, he marvelled so much that he was silent. And
she, reading the astonishment in his face, and seeing it grow, felt a
qualm--now she had spoken--and lost colour, and faltered. Had she been
foolish to tell it? Perhaps. Had she passed some boundary, sacred to
him, unknown to her? It must be so. For as she gazed, no word spoken,
there came into his face a change, a strange hardening. He rose.

"My lord!" she cried, clapping her hands to her head, "what have I
done?" She recoiled a pace, affrighted. "I did it for you!"

"Some one has heard you," he answered between his teeth. And then she
saw that he was looking not at her, but beyond her--beyond her. "There
is some one behind that screen."

She faced about, affrighted, and instinctively seized his arm and hung
on it, her eyes on the screen. Her attitude as she listened, and her
pallor, were in strange contrast with the gay glitter of the table,
the lights, the luxury, the fairness of her dress.

"Yes, listening," he said grimly. "Some one has been listening. The
worse for them! For they will never tell what they have heard!"

And bounding forward without warning, he dashed the screen down and
aside--and recoiled. Face to face with him, cowering against the
doorpost, and pale as ashes, was the very man she had mentioned a
minute before--that very man of his whose hidden presence in the camp
she had betrayed to the malcontents. Vlaye glared at him. "You!" he
cried. "You!"

"My lord!"

"And listening!"


"But! But die, fool!" the Captain retorted savagely. "Die!" And, swift
as speech, the dagger he had stealthily drawn gleamed above his
shoulder and sank in the poor wretch's throat.

The man's hands groped in the air, his eyes opened wide; but he
attempted no return-stroke. Choked by the life-stream that gushed from
his mouth, he sank back inert like a bundle of clothes, while the
Abbess's low shriek of terror mingled with his stifled cry.

And, with a sterner sound, another sound. For as the man collapsed,
and fell in on himself, a figure hitherto hidden in the doorway sprang
over his falling body, a long blade flashed in the candle-light, and
the Captain of Vlaye staggered back, one hand pressed to his breast.
He made a futile attempt to ward with his poniard, but it fell from
his grasp. And the pitiless steel found his heart again. Silent, grim,
with unquenchable hate in his eyes, he reeled against the table. And
then from the table, dragging with him all--silver and glass and
fruit--in one common crash, he rolled to the floor--dying.

Ay, in five seconds, dead! And she saw it with her eyes! Saw it! And
frozen, stiff, clinging to the bare edge of the table, she stood
looking at him, her brain numbed by the horror, by the suddenness, the
hopelessness of the catastrophe. In a twinkling, in a time measured by
seconds, it was done. The olives that fell from the dish had not
ceased to roll, the wine still crept upon the floor, the man who had
struck the blow still panted, his point delivered--but he was dead
whom she had loved. Dead!

                             CHAPTER XXV.

                            HIS LAST RIDE.

The man who had struck the blow, and whose eyes still sparkled with
fury, turned them upon her. He took note of her stupor, frowned, and
with a swift, cruel glance searched the room. The lights were in
sconces on the walls, and had not suffered. The rest was wreck--a
splendid wreck, mingled terror and luxury, with the woman's
Medusa-like face gazing on it. The Duke--for he it was--still
breathing quickly, still with malevolence in his eyes, listened and
looked; but the alarm had not been taken. The lilt of a song and faint
distant laughter, borne on the night air, alone broke the night
silence. He passed to a window, and putting aside a curtain, peered
into the darkness of the garden. Then he went to the door, and
listened. Still all was quiet without and within. But to the scene in
the room his gliding figure, his bent, listening head gave the last
touch of tragedy.

Presently--before, it would appear, he had made up his mind how to
act--he saw a change come over the woman. Her breathing, which had
been no more apparent for a time than the breath of the dead at her
feet, became evident, her figure relaxed. Her attitude lost its
stoniness; yet she did not stir to the eye. Only her eyes moved; and
then at last her foot. Stealthily her foot--the man listening at the
door marked it--slid from her robe, and unshod in its thin silken
stocking--so thin of web that the skin showed through it--covered the
poniard, still wet with blood, that had fallen from her husband's
hand. Slowly she drew it nearer and nearer to her.

He at the door made as if he did not heed. But when she had drawn the
weapon within reach, and furtive and silent as a cat, stooped to grasp
it, he was before her--so far before her, at least, that, though she
gained it, he clutched her wrist as she rose. "No, madam!" he cried
fiercely. "No! Enough!" And he tried to force it from her hand.

No words came from her lips, but an animal cry of unutterable fury.
She seized on his wrist with her left hand--she tried to seize it with
her teeth; she fought to free herself, clinging to the knife and
wrestling with him in the midst of the trampled fruit, the shivered
glass, the mingled wine and blood that made the floor slippery.

"Let it fall!" he repeated, hard put to it and panting. "Enough, I
say, enough!" If he had loved her once he showed scant tenderness now.

And she--her lips writhed, her hair uncoiled and fell about her. He
began to wish that he had not dropped his sword when he sprang upon
her. For he was still weak; and if she persevered she was more than a
match for him. In her normal condition she had been more than a match
for him; but the shock had left its secret sap. Suddenly, without cry
or warning, her grasp relaxed, her head fell back, and she sank--all
her length, but sideways--amid the ruin.

He nursed his wrist a moment, looking askance at her, and thinking
deeply and darkly. Assured at length that the swoon was no feint to
take him unawares, he went to the door by which he had entered, passed
through the empty ante-room, and thence into the Captain of Vlaye's
apartments. In the passage outside the farther door of these a sleepy
valet was on guard. He was not surprised by the Duke's appearance, for
half an hour before--only half an hour!--he had allowed him and his
guide to enter.

"M. de Vlaye wishes to see the Captain of the gate," the Duke said
curtly. "Bid him come, and quickly." And to show that he looked for no
answer he turned his back on the man, and, without looking behind him,
passed through the rooms again to the one he had left.

Here he did a strange thing. On a side table which had escaped the
general disaster stood some dishes removed from the chief table, a
plate or two, a bread trencher, and a silver decanter of wine. After a
moment's thought he drew a chair to this table, laid his sword on it
beside the dishes, and, helping himself to food, began to eat and
drink, with his eyes on the door. After the lapse of two or three
minutes, during which he more than once scanned the room with a
strange and inexplicable satisfaction, a knock was heard at the door.

"Enter!" said the Duke, his mouth half-full.

The door opened, and a grizzled man with a square-cut beard stepped
in. He wore a breastpiece over a leather coat, and held his steel cap
in his hand.

"Shut the door!" the Duke said sharply.

The man did so mechanically, and turned again, and--his mouth opened.
After a few seconds of silence "Mon Dieu!" he whispered. "Mon Dieu!"

"He is quite dead," the Duke said, raising his glass to his lips. "But
you had better satisfy yourself. When you have done so, listen to me."

Had the Duke been in any other attitude it is probable that the man
had turned in a panic, flung the door wide, and yelled for help. But,
seeing a stranger calmly eating and drinking and addressing him with a
morsel on the point of his knife, the man stared helplessly, and then
did mechanically as he was told--stooped, listened, felt for the life
that had for ever departed. When he rose again "Now, listen to me,"
said the other. "I am the Duke of Joyeuse--you know my name? You know
me? Yes, I did it. That is not your affair--but I did it. Your affair
is with the thing we have next to do. No--she is not dead."

"Mon Dieu!" the man whispered. Old war-dog as he was, his cheeks were
sallow, his hand trembled. A hundred dead, in the open, on the
rampart, under God's sky, had not scared him as this lighted room with
its medley of horror and wealth, its curtained windows and its
suffocating tapestry, scared him.

"Your affair," the Duke repeated, "is with what is to follow." He
raised his glass, and held it between his eye and the light. "Do you
take my side or his? He is dead--you see him. I am alive--you know me.
Now hear my terms. But first, my man, what do you number?"

The man made an effort, vain for the most part, to collect himself.
But he managed to whisper, after a moment's hesitation, that they
mustered four hundred and thirty, all told.


The man moved his lips without sound, but the other understood that he

"Very well," the Duke said. "All that is here I give you. Understand,
all. Divide, sack, spoil; make your bundles. He is dead," with a
glance at Vlaye's body, "he'll not say you nay. And a free pardon for
all; and for as many as please--my service. All that I give, on
condition that you open your gates to me and render the place three
hours after sunrise to-morrow."

The man gaped. The position was new, but he began to see his way. "I
can do nothing by myself," he muttered.

"You can have first search," Joyeuse retorted brutally. "There he
lies, and his buttons are jewelled. And ten gold crowns I will give
you for yourself when the place is mine. You know me, and I keep my
word. I told your friend there, who got me entrance"--he pointed to
the man Vlaye had stabbed--"that if his master laid a finger on him I
would kill his master with these hands. I did it. And there's an end."

The grizzled man's face was changed. It had grown cunning. His eyes
shone with cupidity. His cheekbones were flushed. "And if they will
not come into your terms, my lord?" he asked, his head on one side,
his fingers in his beard, "what must I say you will do?"

"Hang while rope lasts," the Duke answered. "But, name of God,
man!"--staring--"beyond the spoils of the place what do you want? He
is dead, you have no leader. What matter is it of yours or of theirs
who leads?"

The old soldier nodded. "That is true," he said: "we follow our

"One thing more--nay, three things," Joyeuse continued, pushing his
cup and plate aside and rising to his feet. "The lady there--I trust
her to you. Lock her up where she will be safe, and at daybreak
see that she is sent to the convent. M. des Ageaux, whom you have
below--not a hair of his head must be injured. Lastly, you must do no
harm in the town."

"I will remember, my lord, and tell them."

"And now see me through the gates."

The man grinned cunningly; but as one who wished to prove his
astuteness, not as one who intended to refuse. "That is number four,
my lord," he said, "and the chiefest of all."

"Not so," the Duke answered. "It was on that condition I spared your
life, fool, when you came in."

"Then you knew----"

"I knew that his buttons were jewelled."

"My lord," the man said with admiration, "I vow you'd face the devil."

"You will do that whether you will or no," the Duke replied drily,
"some day. But that reminds me." He turned from his companion. He
looked on the bloodshed about him, and gradually his face showed the
first signs of compunction that had escaped him. Something of disgust,
almost of distress, appeared in his manner. He glanced from one
prostrate form to another as if he scarce knew what to do and
presently he crossed himself. "Lift her to the couch there," he said.
And when it was done, "My friend," he continued, in a lower tone,
"wait without the door one minute. But do not go beyond call."

The old soldier raised his eyebrows, but he, thoroughly won over,
obeyed. Once outside, however, he pondered cunningly. Why had he been
sent out? And thoughts of his jewelled buttons overcame him. After a
moment's hesitation--for Joyeuse had put fear into him--he dropped
softly to his knee and set his eye to a crack in the door.

M. de Joyeuse was kneeling between the dead, his palms joined before
his breast, his rosary between them. The lights of the feast, that
shone ghastly on the grim faces and on the blood-pool about them,
shone also on his uplifted face, from which the last trace of the
tremendous rages to which he was prone had fled, leaving it pale
indeed and worn--for the marks of his illness were still upon it--but
calm and sublime. His eyes were upward bent. Those eyes that a few
minutes earlier had burned with a hatred almost sub-human now shone
with a light soft and ecstatic, such as shines in the eyes of those
who see visions and hear voices. His lips moved without sound. The
beads dropped one by one through his fingers.

                          *   *   *   *   *

The hewers of wood and feeders of oxen who herded together in the town
under the castle walls were timidly aware of the festivities above
their heads. The sounds of brawling and dancing, of the tambour and
glee, descended to them and kept them waiting far into the night. On
occasions, rare, it is true, the war-lords above had broken loose from
their bonds, and, mad with drink and frenzied with excitement, had
harried their own town. Once, to teach a lesson, the thing had been
done--but more completely and cruelly--by Vlaye's express order.
The memory of these occasions remained, burned shamefully into the
towns-folk's mind; and many a cotter looked up this night in trembling
from his humble window, many a woman with her hood about her head
stood in the alley whispering to her neighbour and quaked as she
listened. Something beyond the ordinary was passing above, in the
stronghold that at once protected and plundered them; something that a
sad experience told them boded no good. Two or three young women of
the better class went so far as to seek a sanctuary in Father Benet's
chapel; while their fathers hid their little hoards, and their mothers
took heed to quench the fires, and some threw water on the thatch--sad
precautions which necessity had made second nature in many a hamlet
and many a market-town of France.

Had they known, these poor folk who paid for all, that their lord lay
dead in the lighted room above, had they guessed that the hand which
had held those turbulent troopers in order was nerveless at last,
never again to instil fear or strike a blow, not even these
precautions had contented them. They would have risen and fled, and in
the marshes by the river or in remote meadows would have hidden
themselves from the first violence of the troopers' outbreak. But they
did not know, and they remained. And though those who were most
fearful or least sleepy, women or men, noted that the lights above
burned all night and that the tumult, albeit its note changed, held
till dawn, they slept or kept vigil in security. The Duke's command
availed. And no man, until the day was broad, left the castle.

Then the gates were opened, and a procession numbering four score
troopers--those who had the most to fear from justice or the least
bent towards honest service--issued from them, and rode two abreast
down the hill and through the town, They were in strange guise. Every
man had a great bundle on his crupper, and some a woman; and every man
rode gorgeous in silk or Genoa, or rich furs, with feathers and such
like gewgaws. One had a headpiece damascened beyond price swinging at
his shoulders, another flaunted trappings of silver, a third had a
jewelled hilt, a fourth a bunch of clinking cups or a swollen belt.
Behind them came a dozen spare horses, roped head and tail and high
laden with casks and skins of wine; while hunting-dogs ran at the
stirrups, and two or three monkeys and thrice as many chained hawks
balanced themselves on the swaying casks. The men rode jauntily, with
high looks and defiant voices, jesting and singing as they passed; and
now and again a one aimed a blow at a clown, or, with rude laughter,
flung a handful of coppers to the townsfolk, who shrank into their
doorways to see them pass. But no man vouchsafed a word of
explanation; only the last rider as he passed under the arch of the
town gate turned, and, with his hands joined, flung behind him a
derisive gesture of farewell.

The townsfolk wondered, for the men were rich laden. Many a one
carried a year's pay on his shoulders; and what they hid in their
bundles might amount to many times as much. Moreover, they swaggered
as men who mind no master. What then had happened? Nay, what was still
happening? For it was plain that something was amiss above. From the
castle proceeded a strange and continuous hum; a dull noise, as of
bees swarming; a murmur compound of many sounds, and full of menace.

But no man who was not in the secret guessed the truth or even came
near it. And the sun had travelled far and the lads had driven the
cows to pasture before the green valley of the Dronne, that had lain
so long under the spell of fear, awoke to find its burden gone and to
learn that a better time, bringing law, order, and justice, was at
hand. About seven a body of horsemen were seen crossing the narrow
plain which divided the place from the northern heights; and as these
approached the bridge a lad, one of those who had first espied them,
was sent to carry the alarm to the castle. The townsfolk looked to see
a rush of armed men to the outer gate; or, if not that, something
akin. But nothing of the kind followed, and while they stood gaping,
uncertain whether to stand their ground or flee to hiding, the
advancing horsemen, who numbered about two hundred, marched across the
bridge with every sign of confidence.

The Duke was not among them. Fatigue and the weakness caused by his
wound had stood in the way of his return, and at this hour he lay in
utter collapse in his quarters in the peasants' camp. His place was
occupied by the Bat, who rode in the van with Charles de Villeneuve on
his right and Roger on his left. The young men's minds were clouded by
thoughts of their sister and her plight; but, in spite of this, it was
a day of pride to them, a day of triumph and revenge--and they rode in
that spirit. The Bat, to whom Hecuba was naught--it was long since a
woman had troubled his peace--wore none the less a grave face. For
time had pressed, the Duke's explanation had been brief though fervid,
and the men had saddled and started within an hour of his return.
Consequently all might be well, or it might be ill. The Captain of
Vlaye's troops might surrender the place without a blow, or they might
not. For his part, the Bat would not have risked his purse on their

But to risk his life and his men was in the way of war. And he moved
steadily up the street, and gave no sign of doubt. Nevertheless it was
his ear that, as they debouched into the market-place, caught the
tread of a galloping horse on the flat beyond the river; and it was
his hand that halted the men--apparently that the stragglers might
move up and take their places.

A minute or two later the galloping horse pounded under the gateway
and clattered recklessly up the paved street. The sound of those
hurrying hoofs told of news; and the men turned in their saddles and
looked to learn who followed. The rider appeared in the open. It was
Bonne de Villeneuve.

Charles wheeled his horse, and rode down the column to meet his
sister. "You have not come alone?" he said in astonishment, mingled
with anger.

She nodded, breathing quickly; and, supporting herself by one hand on
the sweating horse, she pulled up. She was unable to speak for a
moment. Then "I must go first!" she gasped. "I must go first."


"I must! I must!" she replied. Her distress was painful.

Her brother frowned. The Bat eyed her, in doubt and perplexity. But
Roger spoke. "Let her go," he said in a low voice. "I understand. She
is right."

And though no one else understood, the Bat let her pass the head of
the file of horsemen and ride alone up the way that led to the castle.
The men, with wondering faces, watched her figure and her horse until
the turn in the road hid her, and watched again until she was seen
crossing the bridge which spanned the road. Immediately she vanished
without let or hindrance.

"The gates are open," some one muttered in a tone of relief. And the
men's faces lost their gravity. They fell into postures of ease, and
began to talk and exchange jests. Some gazed up at the castle windows
or at that rampart walk, high above the town, which had been the
Captain of Vlaye's favourite lounge of evenings. Only the foremost
ranks, who could see the road before them and the bridge that crossed
it, continued to look to the front with curiosity.

It was one of these whose exclamation presently stilled all tongues
and recalled all thoughts to the work in hand. An instant later the
Bat's face turned a dull red colour. Roger laughed nervously. Some of
the men swayed, and seemed inclined to cheer; others raised their
hands, but thought better of it. The rear ranks rose in their
stirrups. A moment and all could see des Ageaux coming down the road
on foot. The Bat and the two Villeneuves went forward to meet him.

He nodded to them without speaking. Then, "Why are you waiting?" he
asked in a low voice. "Is it not all arranged?"

"But mademoiselle," the Bat answered, staring. "Have you not seen


"But I thought--she asked us to wait."

The Lieutenant of Périgord looked along the line of horsemen, whose
bronzed faces and smiling eyes--all striving at once to catch
his--gave him welcome. "I don't understand," he said. "I know nothing
of this."

"I do," Roger muttered. "I think Charles and I should go forward,

He did not continue. The Bat, by a movement which silenced him, called
his attention to the bridge. On it a number of persons had that moment
appeared, issuing from the castle gates, and directing their course to
the tilt-yard crest. Their progress was slow, yet the gazers below
could not, from the place where they stood, discern why; or precisely
who they were. But presently, after an interval of suspense and
waiting, the little company reappeared in the road below and began to
descend the slope towards them. Then here and there a man caught his
breath, and, as by one consent, all edged their horses to the side. M.
des Ageaux bared his head, and the troopers, from front to rear,
followed his example.

It was a brief and mournful procession. In the van, riding where he
had ridden so often, to foray and skirmish, the Captain of Vlaye rode
his last ride, with a man at either rein and either stirrup, his
war-cloak about him, and his steel headpiece nodding above his
clay-cold face. His lance, with its drooping pennon, rose upright from
his stirrup, and the faithful four who brought him forth had so fixed
it that he seemed to grasp its shaft rather than to be supported by
it. The sun twinkled on his steel, the light breeze caught and lifted
the ends of his sash. As the old war-horse paced slowly and quietly
along, conscious of its burden and of death, it was hard to say at a
glance that the Lord of all the Valley was not passing forth as of old
to battle; that, instead, he was moving to his last rest in the
cloister which rose among the trees a half-league from the walls.

A few paces behind him, in a mule-litter, was borne a woman swathed in
black cloth from head to foot, so that not so much as her eyes
appeared. On one side of the litter walked Bonne, her chin on her
breast, and her hand resting on the litter's edge. On the other side
walked a frightened waiting-woman.

M. de Vlaye passed, the litter passed, all passed. But until the
procession disappeared in the narrow street that led to the town gate
no man covered himself or moved. Then, at a low word of command, the
line of troopers rode on with a sudden merry jingle of bits and spurs,
and, winding up the little gorge between the crests, marched over the
bridge and through the open gates.

The Lieutenant's first act was to go to a low rampart on the west side
of the courtyard, whence it was possible to trace with the eye the
road to the Abbey. Bonne had not looked at him as she passed, nor so
much as raised her eyes. But he knew by some subtle sense that she had
been aware of his presence and that he had her promise that she would

Doubtless he looked forward to the moment of meeting; doubtless he
looked forward to other things. But it was characteristic of the man
that as soon as he had assured himself of her safe passage he turned
without more ado to the work of restoring order, of raising the King's
standard, and enforcing the King's peace.

                               THE END.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Abbess Of Vlaye" ***

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